Thursday, September 13, 2018

Flash Fiction #320 -- Connor of Northgate/4


The troll swept a huge hand around, the needle in his hairy fingers catching the light.  It growled and jabbed the man, who fell with hardly a gasp of pain.

And died.

Northgate bellowed in protest and rage as he staggered to his feet and rammed the troll, which did not knock it down, though the creature was off balance. Lord Northgate tried to pull a sword from the air, but he couldn't collect enough power.

He spotted the sharp end of a broken paddle at his feet. He dared not listen to the wife -- to Clarice -- as she arrived, though he could not block out her cry of anguish. Did she have the rifle? Could he get hold of the weapon, or was she as likely to kill him? Use the paddle first, then go for another weapon.

The troll held the needle up, ready to kill him with a second blow. So be it. However, it would not kill Clarice as well, or the unborn child, which he only now remembered.  He would take the troll with him when he died.

Northgate swept the paddle in low -- and at the same time heard the loud retort of the rifle.  The bullet went close by him and slammed into the chest of the troll, splattering fur, bone, and blood everywhere.

"You bastard!  You bastard!"  She fired again.

The troll didn't die.  Trolls were harder than hell to kill with anything but pure magic, but she had given Northgate a chance.  He pulled up magic again, the power pulsing with his labored heartbeat.  The troll appeared stunned; enough so that when Clarice charged in, swinging the rifle in uncontrollable rage, it missed disemboweling her, though that needle -- the damned needle it should not have -- pierced her hand.

She did not die immediately.  Northgate wasn't sure why.  Less of the poison on the needle?  Her emotional state?  It didn't matter.  Northgate used her attack to make his final blow of bright red magic to the head, straight through the eyes. The troll crumpled and died, the body falling into the lake.

Clarice went to her knees, still screaming with what breath she had left.  When Northgate reached for her, she hit him with the rifle as well, until she hadn't the strength left to do more.  Then she gathered her husband's body into her arms.

"Wake up, Chad.  Wake up.  Wake up."

The words drove a different pain into his heart.

Northgate could see the spot on her arm where the needle had scratched, an ugly wound pulsing with a combination of magic and poison. She would die of it, and the child with her.  All three deaths on his soul.

No.

Northgate could barely hold the poison at bay in his own body, but he'd been doing that instinctively from the moment he felt the power in the needle.  She had no such magical abilities.  He hadn't enough magic to aide her.

Only one answer.

He took hold of her cold left hand, drawing it away from the body of her husband.  She had gone numb now, staring at Northgate with gray eyes that didn't see him or the world around her.  Touching her, he was aware of the child as well. A boy, near-term, and aware of something wrong in the way only a child might be, linked so closely to his mother.

"We must go," Northgate whispered.

She shook her head and still held tight to her husband's arm.

He could have told her Chad was dead, to leave him.  He said nothing for fear of breaking into that numbness that had taken over her mind.  He needed her calm because he was not going to be able to try this next desperate action more than once.

He reached out with his other arm, the one filled with poison and screaming in pain, and forced himself to concentrate on home as he made a portal.  Northgate Keep, so far away, was still part of him.  He had the link to it always, a compass point in his soul.  He was Lord of the place, and that meant far more than just ruling the people.

He caught hold of home and dragged her, her dead husband, and himself back to the Keep.

He almost lost the way for one terrifying heartbeat and thought he would be trapped forever in a miasmic swarm of magic between here and there.  He fought against the fear and the darkness that almost took them.  He could sense home, not far away.

Arrived somewhere, the cold stone floor beneath his knees.  Blackness tried to take him, so  he could not even lift his head to look around.  It felt like home.  Surely --

"Lord Northgate!"

Northgate looked up into the face of Godewyn, one of his most trusted retainers, and someone who had been at Northgate longer than him.  The older man dropped to his knees and grabbed a tight hold of him.

"Trolls," Northgate whispered.

"We know.  We fought them off, but we couldn't find you.  We thought you were still in the tower and sent word to the Royal Court, thinking you must be hurt and we couldn't get in."

He nodded.  Didn't care much.  He finally let go of Clarice since someone was trying to pry his fingers from her arm.

"The man is dead, I fear," Godewyn said with a shake of his head.  "The poison.  It has killed many."

"Damn," he said, a quiet word.  "I knew ... dead.  She would not let go.  She saved me."

Fae understood about obligations and ties, and Godewyn knew why he'd dragged them both, living and dead, back to Northgate.  His honor would not allow him to leave her and the child to die.

Everything went dark.

He awoke later to find Magra holding a cup of tea to his lips.  She offered a tired smile.

"Go easy, Lord Northgate.  We have the poison controlled, but you must regain strength.  Sip the tea."

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Flash Fiction #319 -- Connor of Northgate/3



Lord Northgate floundered in the icy water while the humans shouted.  His ears rang and understood nothing of what they said, even though, being a fae, he translated the language.  Words had power and fae had an inherent ability to understand almost anything spoken.

The humans had turned their boat to come for him. Humans were, on the whole, gentle creatures in their own way.

"Must have fallen from a plane," the man said as he reached over and grabbed Lord Northgate's arm. He almost went unconscious from the pain.

"I'm telling you, there was no plane!" the woman said. She looked over the side, watching. "Are you all right?"

"Fell," he said, and could not think how else to explain the situation. They had no magic here, though in earlier times the humans had understood that it existed. Northgate couldn't begin to come up with an answer to how he came to be in their lake, not with his mind addled. A little magic later would make them believe in the plane. Just get in the boat. Just --

"What the hell is that?" the man demanded as he looked past Northgate. "Bear? Do bears swim out this far?"

"Get him in! Get him in! We have to get away from here!"

The man grunted and pulled Northgate the rest of the way in with a surprising surge of strength.  The fae lord flopped like a fish out of water as he gasped and fought back the pain, and then forced himself to sit up.

The woman, who sat on a bench towards the back of the little craft, was pregnant, which took him by surprise. Young, too. Healthy with the look of someone who spent considerable time in the sun.

Observant as well. The woman took in his odd clothing, wounds, and probably even the curve of his ears with one glance and shook her head as though denying it all.

Something splashed nearby.

"We must -- go," Northgate said, assimilating more of their language.

He glanced around the little craft and managed not to groan. No engine. The man had been rowing by hand, it seemed. A pleasant morning before a fae and troll dropped into their midst.

They were not far from the shore. Northgate grabbed at the paddles, but the man took them quickly and began to row towards the lake shore. Northgate saw a dock not far away, and a pretty little cabin just beyond in the shaded woods.

Northgate turned to the lake and saw the troll's head bobbing in the water. He feared he must do something drastic. Northgate began to call on his inner power and draw a little magic into his hands from the air. Not much -- slow work while the man rowed quickly, breath gasping as they neared the dock.

The woman stared at him. She glanced to his hands where the magic had begun to glitter a little and shook her head, her face going white. He wanted to reassure her, but the troll moved closer.
They reached the dock with the creature only a couple yards behind. The man tossed a rope up and scrambled up, securing it and reaching in to help them. He'd said nothing, but he wasn't blind. The creature in the water was not a bear, and the magic in Northgate's hands was noticeable now.

"Up," Northgate said to the woman. "Both of you up and away from the dock!"

She scrambled out of the rowboat and stood by her husband, who had not moved. Lord Northgate started to pull himself out, but the man reached and lent him aid, even now with the troll's hairy arm coming up over the side of the dock.

"Go!" Northgate warned.

The troll surged upward with enough strength that boards shattered beneath his claws. His red eyes glared with rage as he focused on Northgate and didn't even notice when the man -- far too daring -- reached back into the boat and yanked up one of the paddles for a weapon.

"Clarice! Get to the cabin and grab the rifle!"

Wise. Northgate nodded, but he waved the man back stalked his way.  He heard Clarice heading away which might be both safety and hope.

The man stepped forward and swung the paddle with enough force that it broke over the side of the troll's head, stunning the creature. Northgate threw as much power at it as he could. The drain put him to his knees, but he saw the troll go back down, fall into the water, twitching -- and then stopped moving. Dead. He knew it.

"Praise the gods," he whispered and looked up at the man who was watching the creature float away. "Thank you --"

A second troll leapt straight from the water and to the dock. Northgate hadn't even the strength to curse. He couldn't get back to his feet. So he threw himself at the creature's knees and knocked it down. Unfortunately, it did not go back into the water, which might have given them some hope.

He saw another of the needles in the thing's hand. It snarled and jabbed, but the needle barely pricked his skin. Even so, the result was startling and frightening.
His arm hurt with a pain that drove out the thought of all other wounds. He couldn't breathe, and the troll was already coming at him again, it's mouth open in a wide grin of trollish delight, showing the double rows of teeth that would end his life.

Northgate had not counted on the human leaping in to save him. He yelled in protest and fear and tried to get between them. The man had grabbed the other paddle, and he used it well. The troll growled in protest and swiped at it after two blows struck home, cutting the paddle apart with his razor-sharp claws. The man leapt backward in surprise.

Northgate could hear Clarice rushing back toward them --

Not fast enough.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Flash Fiction # 318 -- Connor of Northgate/2


 (Previous)

As Lord Northgate shouted a warning to the rest of the keep, something hit the tower's open level with a wild splattering of magic. He spun to find a troll where one never should have landed, breaching his magic.

Northgate reached toward the stone as the lumbering beast started forward. The power was only Northgate's to use, and strands of blue magic drew out of the stone and into his hands, forming into a sword that he quickly wielded, finding the troll already within his reach. Other trolls flew closer, and he dared not let one land behind him.  The only protection he could see was the covering over the steps.

He retreated to that bit of protection, even though the stairwell wasn't the best place to fight for either of them.  Northgate found that he couldn't maneuver well in the curve of the stairs, and the huge troll kept battering against both sides of the power-laden wall.

That turned out to be dangerous in another way. Power sparked around them, wild and bright. The troll howled in pain and grew enraged, reaching to swipe claws that would have beheaded Northgate.

He ducked and shoved the sword into the troll's groin, then threw himself to the ground as the thrashing beast went over the top of him and tumbled down, leaving a bloody trail behind him.

Another appeared at the entrance to the stairwell. Northgate didn't want to fight here on the steps again. He scrambled up to the open area instead, despite the worsening wind filled with snow and ice -- and trolls.

The second troll roared and tried to block his way, and in the glitter of light from the stone, Northgate saw something odd. The troll held a metal object in his hands: long, narrow, and needle-like. Trolls did not use weapons.

They didn't fly on winds into a gate keep, either.

Something more than the usual troll trouble stood behind this invasion. Northgate could almost feel the outsider's magic, but he hadn't the time to sort out that problem. The troll leapt and swung the small -- at least in comparison to the enormous hairy troll hands -- needle at him. Northgate leapt away and got better control of his wandering mind. Think about why later; now he had to survive.

Oddly, the needle weapon hampered the troll who was more used to fighting tooth and claw. The creature moved awkwardly wielding the little bit of metal as he tried to jab.  Frustration grew in each move. Lord Northgate concentrated on disabling the hand with the needle first and took a couple cuts from the other one.

Fewer trolls flew past the tower, though a third one landed there. It gave a bark of triumph, rushing in at him from behind.

Northgate dropped to the ground, let go of the magic sword so he didn't cut himself, and started to roll away. The charging troll put one huge, hairy foot on Northgate's chest and the creature lost his balance even as he cracked ribs. The two trolls collided and then hit the battlement wall with enough force to break away the ancient stone. The opening scattered rock and dust to the air, and one troll went over. It did not fly, he was glad to see.

The last troll still had the needle and looked at him with a glare of such pure hatred that it felt like another chill in the cold wind. Northgate stepped backward, pulling up a magic sword again. Not so easy this time, even with the stone so close and bright with power. He'd taken injuries, and he hadn't time or energy left to do anything dramatic.

Magic? Always iffy against trolls. The power in the stairwell would have killed a lesser creature who came in contact with the walls. Even another fae couldn't walk here -- only the Lord of Northgate, who was immune to the powers.

Northgate had somehow gotten to his feet and stayed there as he swung the sword at the troll and missed. The creature made a sound of pleasure and leapt at him. He tried to duck and reach for the wall as the troll snared his arm --

No wall there.

They both went over.

Neither of them could fly.

The wind and snow blinded Lord Northgate. The troll kept hold of him. They were going to hit the ground --

No.

The most potent power Lord Northgate held was to open a Gate to somewhere else. He did so now out of desperation, spinning the magic quickly and reaching for somewhere he'd been before: a lake in another place, a lovely location --

Grabbed at it and pulled them both there.

For a brief moment, he saw bright morning sunlight, tall pine trees, the glitter of blue water --

They hit the water, the troll finally letting go.

The shock nearly knocked Northgate unconscious. He fought against the urge to curl up -- and die -- and fought his way back to the surface.

Get to the air.

He couldn't reach any magic that would save him from this water. His senses were fading, his body wracked by the pain of wounds. Troll? Did it drown? No matter. Just get to the surface.

He did. He gasped for air, went under, and fought his way back up again, annoyed now. Gasped for air again and thought he heard the troll floundering nearby. He spun, trying to decide what spell he could call up here. No stone, but the place had magic in the very air he breathed. It was one of the reasons he loved the reality so much.

Humans ruled this world; powerless fae, they seemed to him. He had once thought of them as crippled creatures until he saw what they did without magic --

The troll wasn't coming for him, but rather humans in a rowboat, fishing gear hanging over the side, a man rowing and a woman leaning over to reach for him.


To Be Continued...

Friday, August 24, 2018

Flash Fiction #317 -- Connor of Northgate/1

For the next few months I will be posting a flash fiction serial based on a novel I wrote some time ago.  I hope you enjoy it!

The wind blew through the open window; a cold, baleful blast that was not, in itself, much of a surprise at the Northgate Keep. The fae could not always keep such weather at bay, nor worked to do so. Nature would take her revenge against magic, and they tried not to tip the balance too far, those fae who lived on the edge of Nature's true domain.

But this northerly wind? Lord Northgate sensed something darker in the touch of ice and snow.  He stood from his desk, crossing to the window with such haste that the servant who had brought him tea watched in dismay.

"Sir?" she whispered, looking to the window as well.

Northgate didn't ask if she felt the change that unsettled him. Likely not; as Lord of Northgate, he had a unique tie to the keep and her lands. He could feel trouble; that was his power and his purpose for being here, so far from the fairer fae lands.

"I am going to go up to the tower, Magra," he said and offered her a smile. "I doubt this will amount to anything, so don't worry. Leave the tea. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Magra gave a distracted nod as she put down the tray and glanced at the window where the wind blew harder. Something felt out of place in that cold breeze that twisted cloth and blew steam from his tea.

Lord Northgate left his cozy office, going by the back halls rather than the shorter walk across the open courtyard to the High Tower. Through the arched windows, he could see people everywhere in the square today, bustling around on whatever business brought them to Northgate. His keep was not as busy as the other three cardinal keeps, but beings of many sorts wandered through, especially those who made their homes even farther north, outside the fae lands.

Northgate didn't want to be waylaid. People were not used to him as Lord of the Keep, and they tended to treat him as they would have one of the pages come to serve here. He'd been Lord Northgate for ten years, but for fae that wasn't very long at all.

He'd grown up at Northgate, squired here from the Royal Court when he was quite young. He'd always been groomed for this post, but the sudden death of Lord Northgate -- the last Lord Northgate -- had put him into the position decades before he had expected to have the power willingly handed over to him.

That caused troubles too, of course. He was young for a Lord of a Gate. However, he held the power and even the Royal Court had not made any suggestion that he might not be ready for the position.

So today, he hurried down one cold hall and around another; he circled the courtyard and then came out into the open.  The door to the High Tower stood to the left. He found no one else nearly. This was his place, and no one could even open the door, let alone work with the power that coursed through the very stones.

The High Tower was Northgate's magic incarnate. He alone could tame this power.

Others had wanted the post he held, but he was good at the work, and he didn't shirk it even now, when he felt the wind grow stronger at his back and the tingling of power, uncomfortable, beneath his hand.

He tapped the door; no more than that. The enormous oaken door sprang open into a place far too bright for being enclosed, and he blinked several times as he stepped inside the narrow interior. His feet found the stairs by memory while his eyes watered; he knew the way, the curve of the wall, the number of steps to the highest point in the keep.

The walls glowed with power that moved up and down or circled around him, like water running through rock. He could tell the tower felt  anxiety, in whatever way living rock felt emotions, by the uneven swirl of colors. He caught the feel of it as well, an increase in tingling through his feet and he dared not touch the wall, for fear that the power would overwhelm even him.

Something must be very much wrong, and now he regretted not having told the others to be careful and keep watch. If there was any weakness he had as Lord Northgate, it was that he did not want to deal with court politics and all the trouble of having to explain himself to others.

Now, standing in the opening to the highest room, with the Stone of Northgate pulsing on the stand in the middle, he realized he had been a fool.

The wind wasn't just cold now but also tainted with something that made him wince, as though he tasted something foul. He turned into the wind and squinted, his hand lifting to feel out whatever might be there.

He thought he could hear shouts far below and took a moment to glance down -- too far to see anyone individually, but many people moved in haste. So, they didn't need him to tell them to get to safety. Good.

He turned back, lifting his hand again --

Something huge came straight out of the howling wind -- no, the creature howled. More than one. He couldn't see what at first --

Trolls! He couldn't guess at the number of them, and he didn't even try to learn how they were flying on the wind. He didn't care. Trolls were enemies of the fae, and the fact they were coming straight at Northgate meant more trouble than he had anticipated. If they had marched in, his people would have had some time to prepare.  But this --

He tried to give a shout of warning, adding the power of magic to his voice, but it was already too late.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Flash Fiction # 316: Fallen Flowers/2



Caitlyn stood by the doorway and thought through the last hour or so of her life.  Being called to visit her eccentric grandmother had been a bit of a surprise.  Catlyn and her brother Terrance had been to the mansion just a week before.  Grandmother was not known for liking family visits.

Before the hour was out their grandmother had gone from being eccentric to being a witch of some sort, and they were there to help her save her son -- their father.

Catlyn looked at her brother who stood by the magical globe, a long-bladed knife in hand.  He gave an expressive shrug that seemed to say what she felt:  I don't really want to believe, but we best go through with it.

Grandmother sat on her throne-like chair, her hands moving in arcane patterns and her eyes mostly closed.  Catlyn held the vase of roses in her hand.

"You have to be ready for something outside your normal world, Catlyn," Grandmother had said to her.  "You must let it get halfway up the stairs before you throw the vase and flowers.  The water must splatter the beast.  It's infused with magic, you see.  I always keep some on hand."

Catlyn looked down in the vase and thought, perhaps, that it did sparkle just a bit.  However, standing in the shadows at the top of the stairs gave her time to consider the insanity of this situation.  Nothing would come up the steps --

Where had the dead flowers gone that they'd seen when she and her brother arrived?  She had watched Grandmother turn the globe back and felt an odd bit of dizziness, but --

"Be ready," Grandmother whispered from inside the room.

Her hands began to perspire.   She looked back at Terrance again, but he had stepped into the shadows as well.

A sound at the bottom of the stairs.  Catlyn turned back, a slow moment, hoping not to draw the attention of --

The ghoul stood at the bottom of the steps.  It had not come through the door.  In fact, it didn't seem to be fully there for a moment.  Gray-skinned, skeletal, gleaming eyes: this was not something from her world.  She froze.  She couldn't breathe.

The creature made a slight laughing sound, inhuman.

If she did not do something, her father would die.

The trick, grandmother had said, was to make the ghoul think that grandmother was only just coming out of the room and crossing to the steps to throw the vase.  In those moments when she had left the room, and before she reached the stairs, the other intruder would appear by the globe and set the dangerous storm in motion against her father.

If Grandmother had to come all the way to the stairs, the battle was lost.  She could not turn back time again.

Father would die.

The ghoul's gray-on-gray eyes watched where grandmother appeared.  It never saw her until she stepped forward and threw the flowers -- and magical water -- straight into its face.

The thing howled with a sound that made her cringe, but in the next heartbeat it was only a scattering of dust, and she could hardly believe it had been real --

Something flashed, far too brightly, behind her.  Catlyn turned and rushed back to the room, remembering that this was only half of the battle. 

The room was filled with bright light, shouting voices, an odd echo as though everything was not quite here.  Grandmother stood with both her hands reaching outward, and tame lightning flickered from her fingers toward the creature that loomed up over the back half of the room, stoop-shouldered and snarling. This was not a ghoul, but the size and shape of the thing made her cringe backward again.  Not of her world!  This couldn't be real!

Terrance was on the floor, and at first, she thought he was writhing in pain -- but then she saw that he had hold of some man.

"Help your brother," Grandmother ordered, her words strong and her eyes never leaving the other enemy.

Catlyn passed behind her and around the side of the room as quickly as she dared.  The huge creature kept glancing her way, though, anger in its bright red eyes.  She had almost reached Terrance when the more massive beast growled and turned on her, taking a step closer --

She still had the vase in her hands.  She threw it as hard as she could.  The glass shattered and the last of the water spattered across him.  The creature drew back in shock, made a sound of surprise and pain, and seemed to disappear into the shadows.

"Well done, Catlyn!" Grandmother said as she rushed past to Terrance. She reached down and yanked a scrawny, hook-nosed man to his feet.  "And you did well, too, Terrance.  Quick thinking -- I had gotten distracted by the giant.  If you hadn't noticed there were two visitors, we still would have lost."

Terrance grinned.  He had a scratch on his face, and his lower lip looked swollen, but that was nothing compared to the man grandmother held by one arm.

"Vincent," she said, shaking the man like a rag doll.  "I should have known it was you."

The man tried to snarl, but Catlyn could see the worry in his eyes.  "What do we do now?" he asked, and his voice squeaked.

Grandmother smiled.  "You are going on a long, long, trip, Vincent."

"No --"

But he was gone in the next heartbeat.  "Well, we won't see him for a while.  Come along, children.  Let' see what we can find in the kitchen.  I can call the servants back now, too."

By the time their father returned from his trip, Catlyn and Terrance had moved into the mansion and begun a serious study of magic.  He wasn't even surprised.

They hadn't told their mother yet, though.

"Some dangers are just best avoided," Grandmother said.

None of them argued.