Friday, January 15, 2021

Flash Fiction # 442/The Fae Underground/18


 (My numbers are off somewhere on the entries for this story.  I haven't figured it out yet, but I hope to soon)


We had stepped out into a sky as black as the darkest night.  Worse, really, because there were not even clouds.  The guards all created lights, but even those small flares seemed to disappear into the inky black.  We instinctively huddled together, all of us moving closer to the Queen.  I wasn't sure if we went to her for help or to make sure she remained safe.

"This cannot be good," Sylph said.  I could hear a hint of fear in her voice for the first time since we met.  "What power could rob us of the sun itself?"

Ah.  Sylph was a spirit of the trees, and the loss of the sun would mean the end of her world.  The trees could not move to other places like the fae and the rest of our kind could.  I began trying to figure out how to transfer a forest, in fact.

Not what I should be considering, but it gave me a moment to think we could deal with this problem, one way or another.  When I looked to the Queen, I could see her eyes narrowed in consideration.  Distant sounds came from the ground below, but I did not think they were the sounds of battle.  That would come soon, though.  Something moved in the darkness, the thumping still growing louder.

"What is out there," I asked, just to say something in the silent darkness.

"My guess would be the Gods of the Outer Dark," Lycan answered.  He put his hand to his weapon and then pulled the fingers back with a shake of his head.

If he was right, this was not an enemy that you could take on with mere swords and shields.  I didn't know what we could use to face it.  The beings of the Outer Dark were not like us -- never mind that these might be their gods.

"What did the army face?" I asked with a wave of my arm down toward the ground we could not see.

The Queen nodded to Yating.  She had her attention elsewhere.  I wondered if she could better feel what was out there than I had managed.

"Mostly trolls and ghouls," he said to me.  "Not anything I would have related to this problem."

"And that's the problem overall," Sylph said.  "None of this seems related, from missing crowns to whatever we faced in the subway, all the way to this."

Lycan and I both looked at each other.  "Chaos," we chorused.

The Queen turned our way with a start -- and then gave a quick nod of agreement.  "Yes, something out of Chaos seems a likely answer if we have the pieces explained properly."

"We could be wrong," I was quick to point out.

"Something to pursue," she said.  Then gave a slight twitch of her shoulders.  "Unless someone comes up with another idea, it seems our best chance to fix something."

"And how do we deal with Chaos?" Captain Yating asked.  He looked to me, and I almost protested that I was not even a soldier --

But then I had an idea, odd as it was.  I looked at Lady Snow.

She met my stare with a nod, though her eyes looked bleak.  "Yes, I am something of Chaos," she said and drew the looks of others.  "Weather nature exists because life is not balanced.  I believe my companions might be right about the nature of the problem ... and I will think about that problem.  There may be others I can call upon.  I want my daughter back."

"We'll do all we can to help you," I promised.  The wording somewhat included the Queen, but I would leave that up to her if she wanted to help.  She didn't nod, but she didn't glare, either.  

It fell chill up here in the dark, and I couldn't tell if that came from the outside or if I just felt the fear of what was happening.  If I stood with the Queen here, right now, that put me in a place of power that I had never sought to hold.  I was the youngest child.  By rights and by custom, I should have been the one who was turned free to roam, learn things -- yes, to spy.  I liked that position in life.  I saw no reason to want to live at court.

Lycan looked my way with another of his frowns.  Of course.  He'd picked up my worry about the court life, but he couldn't know what had set me off.  I gave a little shrug and turned my attention back to the current problem.  After all, if this didn't work out, court life would not be a worry for the future.  Not for any of us.

The pounding grew louder, but the Queen had spread out the magic that settled the tower to a slight tremble rather than feeling as though we were going to crash.  I thought, instead, that something would likely smash us down.  I still could not see it, though.  The thumping sound had become so pervasive that I couldn't tell what direction it came from, either.  Maybe there was no single direction. Perhaps it came from everywhere.

"Is there anything more we can learn from here?" Yating dared to ask.  "Is there anything we can do?  Because if not, I think we had best get back to the ground, my Queen.  The magic you use to keep us safe would be better used elsewhere, don't you think?"

She gave Yating a little glare, glanced around as though she could see beyond our slight flickering of light, and then nodded agreement.  Yating didn't even try to hide his look of relief, but then neither did the rest of us.  We cleared the tower's upper level faster than we had come up into this dark abyss.

Chaos?  That was not an enemy -- it was a way of nature, not something that could be controlled.

Though I began to doubt the truth of that last statement...

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Flash Fiction #440/ The Fae Underground/16


 Thump

Thump, thump.

And the sound of the soldiers shouting as they prepared.  Lycan turned my way with his eyes wide and the edges of his teeth showing.

"I know," I said.  I can hear it.  My Queen, we have no time for more discussions.  We seem to be under attack."

"What have you brought on us, boy!" Suntour demanded.  I looked at him with a little surprise because I hadn't thought he was that blind.  He even dared a step closer --

Lycan had a blade in hand before I could protest.  Sylph moved just as quickly, though, strands of her hair snapping out, one of them cutting across his face and others wrapping around his neck -- but those did not cut, I was glad to see.

"Shall I slit his neck, great Queen, and we can get on to the business of survival?  Do you hear that great booming sound that makes the building shake?  We are in trouble."

"That we are," the Queen said.  She rose and gave a sigh that sounded far too much like regret.  "Please let the fool go, Councilor.  We might still have use for him."

"We could toss him to the oncoming trouble," Lycan suggested.

Suntour finding himself released, put a hand to his bleeding face and retreated in haste.  The look he gave Sylph showed there might be more trouble there, later.

However, they would have to survive to reach that point.  The guards signaled the Queen, and she stood without argument.  Everyone bowed their head out of habit, but by then, the building had started to tremble.

"Take what cover you can," she told to her people and then looked at me and gave a quick nod.  "I am going to the tower."

I nodded as well and then glanced at my companions and back to her.  She gave a subtle second nod that others probably didn't notice since they were rushing to getaway.  I half expected to see some transport straight from the room to somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

Fae, in general, are not easily frightened.  However, there was a feeling to this attack that I think must have left us all on edge.  The thumping unsettled thoughts.  The feel of strange magic in the air made me shiver.  This was more than just some other clan coming to take hold of Queen and Castle.  This was not anything I'd felt before.

The Queen left, and I followed in her wake, a nod to my companions who looked uncertain if they wanted to go along as well.  I didn't blame them.  Wherever we went, we were bound to be in the heart of the trouble.

I was surprised to see how fast those who had been in the castle had cleared out, though.  I saw Lycan give a snarling look around, too, and I thought it best to settle that trouble right now.

"They were not the soldiers, you know," I said, even though I would have liked to have seen some willing to actually stand with the Queen.  "Sometimes, it is best that those people are out of the way."

"All of my people are warriors," Lycan replied with a lift of his head.  Then he gave a slight shrug.  "But some more than others.  And the High Fae are not the same, are they?"

"Not at all," King Pixie replied.  He had gone very quiet but seemed happier that we were doing anything at all.  I tried to feel the same way.  "I do not like the feel of whatever is out there, my friends.  I think this is a new aspect of the war.  Something such as this would have been mentioned before now."

The Queen had stopped at a locked door to the highest tower where only she could go, along with those she invited.  The guards had already spread out to guard the door, and I thought I saw the shock in the faces of a couple when they realized that my friends and I were going up with her.

"My Queen," her captain said, his voice soft.  "I ask --"

"Yes, yes," she said with a wave of her hand.  She had always been impatient.  "You and one other with us.  But I trust these people, Captain Yating.  Don't let me regret bringing you up with us."

Yating gave a nod of gratitude to her, maybe just in knowing that she did trust him.  Under the circumstances, that reason for going with us might be more critical than any mistrust he felt toward the strangers.  Whom did you trust in the High Court these days?

I had been gone too long.  That meant I knew nothing of what was going on -- and that I was suspect for the very reason that I was away in the human lands.

Oh, and because I came to the Queen in such odd company.  That didn't help.

I had only been up these stairs once before in my life.  As the son of the Queen, my coming of age ceremony took place on the highest tower in the brisk wind of what I had considered an unseasonably cold day.  Someone could have fixed that, at least for the ceremony.  

I knew we would face more than bad weather once we reached the summit this time.  Even here, the walls shook, and I wondered about the wisdom of going up in the tower in this situation.

I said nothing.  I looked at the fair, white walls and thought of the countless others who had come this way, usually on more grave business than a coming-of-age ceremony.

My companions said nothing, but if they knew anything about the Fae Queen's Castle, they knew that outsiders rarely went up these steps.  In fact, I couldn't think of a single one.

I remembered coming out into the bright, blinding light of day and feeling as though I stood before the gods for judgment.  

Instead, we stepped out into utter and complete darkness.




Thursday, December 31, 2020

Flash Fiction #439 -- The Fae Underground/15


 

I'd feared that she would ask me that sort of question.  I had not expected it to take such a personal form.  This was, in fact, the first time I'd been acknowledged publicly at court.

"Son of the Queen?" Lycan glanced my way.  His voice didn't sound entirely steady.

"One of many," I said with a nod to my mother -- I could think of her that way now that she'd made the acknowledgment, but I would be wise to keep the title of Queen firmly in mind.  "And I've lived many years in the human realm.  The one thing I can say is that no one else should pack up their people and scurry off to the safety of the humans' world.  It is not safe."

"They have no magic," someone said, and it sounded like a scoff against my first official statement as a Prince of the Line.

Typical.  I hated court politics.

"They have no control of magic," I agreed.  "However, their realm is filled with power everywhere.  Anyone trying to push you in that direction has already settled in and has harnessed enough magic to make certain of control.  Second, the more of us who arrive there in such large groups, the more likely we are to draw attention."

"We should wipe the humans out."

I tried to find what fool had said those words.  The voice had come from the back of the room, and though the statement hadn't surprised me, I did see how my companions reacted.  Lycan almost snarled and barely caught himself.  Sylph glared, and I feared Lady Snow might transform.

It wasn't that many of them probably had a great love for humans, but they saw the threat to themselves in that blatant bit of bigotry.  The fae were strong, and too many of my own thought that meant we should destroy anything that caused us the slightest trouble.

"Lord Suntur," the Queen said, her tone so cold I even took a step back.  I hadn't recognized the voice, but I knew the name.  "I think, if you cannot be polite and helpful, then this is not the place for you to be at all."

Other fae moved aside and left one tall fae standing alone toward the back of the room.  The man looked right and left in dismay but then straightened and gave a slight nod to the Queen.

"The humans," he said and then paused with a shake of his head.  "They don't appreciate or utilize what they have.  I would not be opposed to sharing, except that they simply cannot be trusted, can they?  Better to be rid of them."

Some of the others were starting to whisper in that way you hear at court, which meant they were quiet, but they also made certain Lord Suntur heard them.  No one was happy with the man.

Suntour gave a humph of sound and took several long-legged steps until he stood no more than an arm's length behind me.  I turned half to face him.  My companions turned entirely, and I saw the Queen's eyebrows inch up at the confrontation -- but she did not try to stop it.

Fine then.  I had a few things to say.

"They use their world in their own way --" I began.

"You have no say in this, boy.  Look at you -- coming to court in human clothing and bringing these ... others with you.  Should we listen to one who clearly doesn't even know how to stand among his own people with pride?"

Sylph was the one who made a sound of disgust this time.  She moved slightly, her hair twisting for a moment, but then it settled, and she took a deeper breath.  

"Be wary of whom you insult, my fine fae lord.  I am a member of the Twelve -- the High Council of the Trees.  My companion here is one of the four goddesses of Winter.  Lycan?"

"Just a humble guard -- one of the Lycan King's own."

I kept silent, and I hoped that the surprise did not show on my own face.  Lycan gave me a toothy grin, though.  

"Well, no matter," Lord Suntur said as though Councilors, King's Guards, and even wild winter goddesses were nothing to him.  ""You are not relevant to the fae people --"

"You are the one unimportant," Lycan said with a slight tilt of his head.  "This man does not command the trouble, Great Queen.  He is bluster without intelligence, and even the beat of his heart gives a sign of his position.  No, not this one.  He has talked with others, though.  They are the ones you will want to find."

Lord Suntour had flushed with anger, but the Queen nodded agreement.  "He likes to talk, but he does not think and rarely listens."

I nodded, but I was bothered by something else.  "I fear this makes me believe the heart of all this trouble is here in our own lands."

"You would dare to suggest --" Lord Suntor began.

"Be silent," the Queen ordered.  "I want to hear why my son believes this possibility."

To be called son twice in one hour, almost unsettled me.  I had the feeling there was far more to this than she knew, though.  I even wished for a private audience -- but since she was not suggesting such a thing, she must have wanted the others here to hear the tale.

And to see their reactions?

I glanced and Lycan, but he wasn't going to offer to take up any of this tale.  Sylph and Lady Snow both looked to me as well.

"Something has pushed all the others over to the human realm," I said, trying to sort out the strings and make a coherent tale.  Lord Suntor started to say something, but the Queen's Guards moved, and he fell silent.

And in that silence, as everyone listened, I heard something that made me know we had no time left.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Flash Fiction #438 -- The Fae Underground/14

 

Yes, I knew this place.

And I kept walking anyway.

I brushed at my clothing -- human-made and hardly appropriate for where we were heading.  I supposed, under the circumstances, I would be forgiven.

I also came with an unusual array of guests, some of whom might look more like guards.  Well, all of them looked that way, in fact.  Even King Pixie could be dangerous in the right, or wrong, situation.  He flew ahead of me for a little while and kept looking back as though he expected me to turn aside.

Oh yes, he knew where we were going.

The Queen's castle came into view at the top of the next hill, the turrets flying her bright silver pennant.  The building had never sat so close to the human lands before.  I had not even brought us through a portal that should have been close, and that meant only one thing.  The Queen wanted us in her presence, so she moved -- castle and all -- to where we could reach her quickly.  She didn't have time for us to wander around the Faelands and probably getting into more trouble.

I could sense trouble in the air, a literal feel of magic darting everywhere in a frantic race of powers.  Someone was making a move here, and from the energy pouring out of the castle, I thought the Queen was not happy at all.

"That is the castle of the Queen of the Fae," Lycan finally said.

"Yes."

"It shouldn't be here," he added and gave me another quick glance.

"No, it should not," I agreed and didn't slow.  "Something is going on  -- but then we expected it, didn't we?  This is why we headed here, and honestly, I would rather she came to us than we went looking for her."

"You intended to go to the Queen of the Fae from the start?" Sylph asked with a tilt of her head.

"No," I said, and she nodded, having figured that out already.  "But she's here, and that means something."

"Dire," King Pixie added and came to land on my shoulder.  "It means something dire, Fae.  She should not be here, castle, court, and all, so near to the human realm.  She cannot mean to take it all across, can she?"

"I wouldn't think so," I replied and tried hard not to shiver.  We were starting down the hillside, moving slowly over the uneven ground.  Then a path appeared and led straight to the great castle gatehouse.  "But the Queen clearly wants to see us as soon as possible.  I wish we had something helpful to tell her."

We reached the gate quickly, all of us nearly breathless, except for King Pixie, who just held on.  I thought he might be cursing, though he kept his words very quiet.

The guards at the castle only waved open the great portcullis and sent us hurrying through the narrow passage beyond.  Lady Snow was in her human form again, but even so, we made an interesting group and drew attention the moment we came back into the light.

The Queen's Own army had camped within the walls.

Many of them were injured.

That sight slowed me and sent a chill I'd been trying to avoid until now.  These people had not only seen battle, but it had been severe enough that they came away without enough magic left to heal those who had taken wounds.  Lycan and Sylph both made sounds of worry, and King Pixie moved from my shoulder to my pocket again.

People moved out of our way and made an easy path to the castle itself.  That by itself sent a chill through me since I had never been anyone of such importance before.  My lack of status was why I could be so easily shuffled off into the human world.

Things had changed, and I'd had no hint of it until I followed those pixies down into the subway.  I'd been intrigued then, but now I was working far past worried and on to panicked.  Not the least of my worries was that someone -- someone important -- might expect me to have answers.

Lycan had picked up that panicked heartbeat the way predators did, and I saw the way his eyes started to get a narrow focus.  All of the weak and injured did not help keep him calm.  Since he came with me, it was my responsibility --

I took a quick breath, forced calm through my body, and looked into his narrow-eyed stare.  The corners of his fangs were starting to show.

"I didn't expect to come back to this," I said as we paused at the bottom of the stairs.  I was not going to take Lycan inside the castle in this state, but I didn't dare leave him behind, either.  The only hope I had was to make certain Lycan understood that my worry was my own.  "I don't like that I have no answers at all at a time when we need them."

"It may be that we will find some of the answers here," Sylph said and came up on the other side of Lycan.  "Be calm, companion.  This is not a place to fight, not with our allies already in such condition."

"Yes," Lycan said, though the word still sounded too much like a growl.  "The trouble is not here, but I think it might not be too far away."

Not what I wanted to hear.  I started up the steps, the others falling in behind me.  I hope they kept Lady Snow in order.  She seemed more likely to be a problem than Lycan, and he was trouble enough.

At the top of the stairs stood four of the Queen's guards, weapons in hand.  I stood straighter, prepared to argue -- though not fight -- my way through.

They opened the door without comment and even bowed their heads as we went inside.

Yes, this was getting really scary...

Friday, December 11, 2020

Flash Fiction # 437 -- The Fae Underground/13


 I hadn't returned to the Faelands in many years.  My heartbeat faster as I opened the way, and I saw Lycan give me a quick frown.  He could sense heartbeats, but I didn't think he'd understand my feelings as I stepped through and into the world I'd longed to see again for years.

Have you ever gone home, walked into your house, and simply felt that something was wrong, even though you couldn't put your finger on it right away?

I was already waving the others to step back.  That almost got me killed since I should have been paying better attention to the area around me rather than worrying about my companions.

"Down!" King Pixie shouted in my ear.

I did as he said, just as something large bounded over me.  Sylph and Lycan leapt aside, but Lady Snow simply changed and went from being a large woman to a substantial polar bear again.

The troll couldn't stop in time.

I scrambled out of the way with King Pixies still holding tight to my shoulder.    By the time I got back to my feet, one troll had died, and several others were running as fast as they could.

"She's big," King Pixie whispered.

I hadn't clearly seen the troll until I turned, and by then, it was already in pieces. Lady Snow was kicking those aside with such ferocity that the head itself disappeared over a low mound several yards away.

"We have to leave!" I shouted.  "Someone has a watch for others entering the Faelands.  That guard arrived too quickly, and others are going to follow."

"Or they plan to slow us down some other way," Sylph said.  She lifted her head into a sudden breeze, and that dangerous hair of hers swept around so quickly that I threw myself back down on the ground.  "Snow is coming."

"Damn --"

"Let it come!" Lady Snow shouted into the growing wind. She dropped with her belly in the snow.  "Climb up.  Hold on."

That seemed like a wise idea because the wind already held ice that hit like pellets of stone.  Cold pellets.

"King Pixie, into my vest pocket," I said.  I wanted to be more polite, but my teeth were chattering.  Besides, he lost his hold, and I barely caught him before he fell to the ground, his wings already coated in ice.

I put him in my pocket as carefully as I could, feeling a cold spot on my chest -- but then he moved a little and relieved me of some of my worries.  Lycan began scrambling up to Lady Snow's back, and Sylph followed.  Then she reached down with an elongated arm and pulled me up to sit between her and Lycan.  I was glad not to be behind her and worry about that hair -- well, not until the wind changed.

Lady Snow began moving, and she did head straight into the wind running for the heart of the storm.  And yes, she could run well.  We held on, but I mostly feared the cold and wind more than her movement.  She was, after all, magical and had no trouble moving through the worsening weather.  Her fur was warm and plush, and if I hadn't worried so much about our lives, I would have closed my eyes and napped for a little bit.

I tried to get some idea of where we might be headed.  I was fae, after all, and this was my homeland.  The storm, though, seemed to blur all links with the land.  I could feel little beyond the ice and magic-infused storm.

Which meant that I had no choice but to let Lady Snow take us straight toward the enemy.  Maybe even the surprise of it would help us.  I was certainly surprised -- and I wondered if Lady Snow even realized what she was doing now.  She had stopped to gather us up, but after that action, I think her mind turned entirely toward the enemy, and she just let herself go.

I might have tried to stop or slow her, but I wasn't sure the four of us would survive the encounter.

I tried to think of something else helpful -- but suddenly, we were out of time.

We were also out of the storm.

It was like stepping through a wall from a freezer into spring.  The shock alone got a violent tremble from my body, but Sylph held me in place while Lady Snow made a swift stop and turn that almost unsettled all of us.

I looked back to see the wall of snow -- and someone in a long robe and hooded robe with hands lifted.  The hands suddenly dropped, and the storm began to die away.

"Well, damn," the woman said with barely a glance at us.

And then she disappeared.

I had been ready for an attack and held the magic in my hands for a moment longer.  The storm had all but died already, leaving only a line of demarcation with melting white on one side and bright green grass on the other.

Lady Snow turned back to human and then sat on the ground, panting.  "Where did she go?" she demanded.

"Why did she go?" Sylph asked, which was a question I was more willing to try to answer.

"I don't think she expected us," I said.  I sat down by Lady Snow and leaned back on an elbow, trying to calm myself and my companions.   "That storm wasn't intended as an attack against us."

"No?" Lycan asked.  Then he nodded.  "That was a lowland troll.  "A storm like that would have frozen and killed him -- but we killed him first."

"Then why did she run?" Sylph asked with an annoyed twitch of her shoulders.  She and Lady Snow still wanted a battle.

"My guess is that she didn't want trouble with us," I said.  "But I know where she went.  We don't have far to go."