Thursday, August 15, 2019

Flash Fiction # 368 -- Connor of Northgate/52

Chapter Eighteen

Connor staggered as they entered the crowded royal courtyard.  The world spun around him so that for a moment he wasn't sure they had actually made to their destination.  Nothing settled and he almost went to his knees with the sudden pain.  Liam caught his arm and then shoved him aside and into the protection of his friends.

People began to shout all around them.

"There he is!  There's the traitor!"

Connor realized they were yelling about him.  He looked around in shock and dismay, the headache redoubled.  Colors still blurred and flared, but he could stand on his own feet now -- something important, so his companions didn't have to protect him.

He thought Galen yelled something and it couldn't be good.  Druce grabbed hold of the frail lord and shook him so hard that Connor would have worried about the older man's life if he could have found the empathy to care at all.  Galen had gone too far.
Liam moved to stand before Connor and lifted one hand to signal the people to silence.  Then he suddenly went to his knees as well.  People had weapons in hand --

Antisha, herself pale and shaky, suddenly shoved forward and yelled loud enough to get everyone's attention.

"What the hell is going on!  Back off, you fools, or I'll see your heads on the walls before the sun is down!"

Silence.  Now there was power.  And worry, Connor thought.  He doubted Antisha had ever made such a threat before, but even he didn't question her intentions, at least at this moment.

"Princess --" one of the men said, but he lifted a hand and held the others back.  "We heard what Connor did --"

"I don't know what you heard, but maybe you better learn the truth before you do anything that cannot be undone," she said. People shifted nervously, but they remained quiet. "This is the real heart of our trouble: Galen, our good lord of Southgate, made a mirror creature of himself.  That creature is in the building, isn't he?"

"That can't be --" the man began.  "No Gate Lord would do such a thing --"

Antisha and Druce dragged the real Galen forward and held him up.  He tried to bow his head, to make sure they didn't see him -- but it was no use.

"At least stand up like a man and face what you've done," Erlis ordered, his voice so full of disdain that even Connor flinched at the sound.

"This is Galen," the soldier said.  He seemed to be someone of rank.  The others were listening to his tale.

Connor left them to tell the tale as he and knelt beside Liam.  His friend had a bad cut across his shoulder, and Connor feared he couldn't do the magic to heal the wound.  He tugged at Nylia's pant leg, too far gone to even speak --

"Oh hell," she said and dropped to her knees.  Her magic spread over Liam, but a moment later, she looked at Connor and gave a cry of worry that drew the attention of the others.

Connor wasn't certain what had happened.  He thought everything had gotten very quiet, but maybe he had started losing his connection with here and with himself.  He wanted to close his eyes and rest.  He trusted the others would handle --

Druce quickly put a hand on his shoulder and pushed magic through Connor so fast it felt like fire bursting through his head.  He cried out.  What had been fuzzy before became sharp and loud.  He found himself gasping as though he had not breathed for some time, and if they'd had any meal of note in the last few days, he would have been violently ill.

Erlis caught hold of Connor and pulled him to his feet -- the last place he really wanted to be, but apparently, they were moving.  Maybe they would go somewhere he could rest. Possibly somewhere safe --

No, not safe.

The battle had raged up around them again, with both weapons and some magic.  Connor looked around as much as he dared because he feared he was still going to pass out.  Royal soldiers encircling his small group and protected them, so apparently whatever Antisha had said finally got through to them.  They shouted to others, and the Connor feared cacophony of sound would kill him.

Other things might kill him faster, though. Trolls had appeared, and very many of them.  He saw ogres as well and other things that climbed walls and leapt into the fray, attacking anything that came within range of their blows and weapons.

The trolls were fighting viciously to get to Connor's group, which finally must have convinced the others that they were not part of the enemy attack.  They still held Lord Galen captive, dragging him toward the castle.  He didn't want to go, and Connor wouldn't have trusted the man to work with them.  Wise of the others to keep him in hand.

They reached the door at least.  Fae were fighting against the trolls and their army, but the trolls only fought them if they were attacked.  They were still interested only in Connor's group, and he had to wonder if it was Galen they wanted now.

"Tell -- tell the fae to pull back," he said to Antisha and guard beside her.  "They only want us.  Don't get killed now!"

The guard gave him an odd, quick glance.  It touched on honor, he supposed.  Then the guard gave a quick bow of his head, an acknowledgment of Connor's status that he had not expected.  The fae sent a few soldiers out and around the mass, and almost immediately, the fae began to fall back.

"Antisha -- your parents?" he finally managed to ask.
"With the stones," she said.  "We didn't dare leap straight there with magic.  You don't look well, Connor."

"Human," Galen snarled, as though he spat the word out.  "He's not one of us.  He shouldn't be allowed to touch magic."

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Flash Fiction # 367 -- Connor of Northgate/51

"Creature?" Galen snarled with a shake of his head.  The shadows moved as if half alive, and even the others looked around with new worry.  "It is no such thing.  The mirror is a copy of me, set to do what I am now too weak to do --"

The sound of his voice had grown stronger, and the fire in his eyes made it evident that the real Galen was no better than the copy he must have created.

"You should have stepped down," Druce replied with hardly concealed anger.  "If you are too ill for the work, you should have moved aside."

"Ordin isn't ready," Galen said.  "Ordin has much to learn still."

Galen must have seen something in their faces.  He took a step away before Antisha even spoke.

"Your mirror killed your son for his magic. Your creature has been moving against the fae and killed many.  He's working with the trolls.  And now -- now we know the true answer to the myth, Connor.  It isn't you.  The thing we have been fighting isn't even truly fae.  It is magically made and given purpose.  You told it to rule, didn't you?  And didn't limit how or where it might rule."

"And that's why you are hiding here," Connor added.  "You already knew you couldn't trust it."

"It is me! I have nothing to fear --"

"Don't lie to us!" Antisha sounded very much like her father at that moment.  Galen frowned and made a little waving motion with his hand, but he didn't snap at her.  She leaned closer to him, her eyes blazing. "You are hiding here because you thought this would be the only place where you would be safe.  Where is it?"

"I don't know."

"Don't lie to us."

Galen's face went white with fear. He knew he couldn't get away, and he plainly didn't want to anger Antisha more.  Connor realized that Galen knew she was a member of the royal family.

"He's somewhere in the fae lands.  Not here. He has reason still to fear me."

"Yes, he does," Druce agreed.  He reached forward and caught the man by the arm, drawing a glare from Galen.  "And that's why you are coming with us to undo him."

"No, I will not!"

Galen reached his free hand toward the stone, but Connor moved faster and stood between the Lord of Southgate and the source of his power. Had the stone seemed slow to respond? The others began wrapping Galen in a blanket of power that held the weaker Lord without any trouble.

"How do we find this mirror?" Nylia asked.

"A few drops of Galen's blood will do the trick," Rion replied.  He'd gone stone-faced with his anger.  "With the blood, I can do a simple trace."

"You wouldn't dare wound a Gate Lord --"

Antisha pulled her knife and swiftly cut across the back of Lord Galen's hand, drawing a startled yelp from the man.  Connor could not figure out why Galen thought he was immune, given what he'd admitted. Maybe the illness had unsettled his mind. And what of Ordin? Perhaps instead of illness, it was the family line that had a problem.  Maybe it was time to remove them from power.

Not his decision, though.  He only needed to deal with the problem Lord Galen had created.

The man did not mourn the loss of his son.  As far as Connor knew, Ordin had been his only child, but with the long age of fae, there may have been another.  They were not a prolific breed, though.

Rion had spoken the spell, creating a field of light in his hands.  At his nod, Antisha let a drop of blood from her knife land within the light.  It sparkled and spread in a line, and from that came a view of a room.

"The Court," Antisha said with a hiss of anger and worry.  "That's the room above the royal hall."

"Then that's where we go," Connor said, already preparing to head out again.

"Let's go," Antisha urged.

Connor had used magic for two big leaps already.  He had to concentrate past a growing headache to focus on the way to the Royal Court.  They could not drop in close enough to grab the Mirror Galen and chances were that he was going to feel the magic when they arrived.

Those thoughts stilled him while the others were starting to make the portal.  He looked at Antisha.

"I assume you have some way of getting into the castle quickly," he said.

"Oh, Gods.  I hadn't thought of that problem.  We can't simply leap there.  We'll have to go to the courtyard, and then I can go on in."

Connor nodded.  "You need to be ready to move straight to your parents, and to open the way for the rest of us."

"Yes," she said.  She took a deeper breath and nodded, forcing some of the panic away.  "Let's go."

They had no time for any more planning.  Connor didn't know what was going to happen, but he looked back at Galen and thought what a fool the man had been and what a mess he had created.

"You've not only lost your position but also any good name you may have had," Connor said as he looked at the man.  Galen shook his head in mute disbelief; a fae's name in history was as important as his place in life. 

"I have done nothing -- my mirror --" he began.

Connor didn't wait for any more excuses.  He looked at Druce, Nylia, and Rion who had the man in their control.  Even weakened, he was still a Gate Lord, and they would not take chances.  Connor would keep aware of him, too.

Connor closed his eyes against the growing pounding in his head and turned his attention to the spell.  He had to concentrate and not let his mind wander.

One step forward and another and another.

And they stepped out into chaos.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Flash Fiction # 366 -- Connor of Northgate/50

Chapter Seventeen

The others helped get the portal ready -- a rush of movement and growing magic. They all needed rest, but better to settle the trouble first.

Connor studied what they did because he couldn't quite get the feel of the magic.  At first, he had thought this might be something fae could do, but a human could not grasp.  However, as he watched and felt it out, Connor began to understand how the spell worked.  The intricacy and beauty of the massed spells filled the corner of the room, a dazzling array of light.

Amazing, really.  If this had not been such a dangerous mission, Connor would have enjoyed learning the magic.

"I have the link to the Tower," he said when Rion asked.  "I think it's going to stick with me, even in other places, right?"

"Yes.  It has become part of you.  Lord Northgate would have been proud of what you've done so far, Connor, and under very troubling and trying circumstances."

Connor bowed his head in thanks and looked around at the others.  The soldiers who were coming with them had all volunteered for this dangerous journey.  Connor didn't want to drag anyone off to the troll lands if they didn't think this was a good idea, though.  Druce had talked to them and explained the situation.  Druce had become as strong an ally as Antisha.

Connor had already told everyone thank you.  Maybe he should have said more, but they didn't have much time left.  So he went to the portal and with his friends was the first to step through.  Even Rion went with them.

The troll lands turned out to be rocky land with dots of trees on hilltops.  Clusters of stone buildings looked very little different from the stands of rocks, except that trolls stood by them -- or sometimes on them.

The soldiers came in behind Connor, and that drew attention everywhere.  He heard the shout of trolls go all across the land in what seemed to become just one howl, so loud the ground trembled.  However, they'd chosen the area well. There were no troll cities here, though he thought the pile of stones in the distance might be one.  In some ways, he found this place fascinating.

"We have to move quickly," Nylia reminded him when he had paused to look around.  "We don't want them to have time to call an army in before we're gone."

He nodded agreement.  The soldiers fanned out around them and prepared for battle in case anything did come their way.  From the panic Connor saw, he wasn't nearly as worried as he had been before they made the jump to here.  Everyone was right; trolls didn't react well to anything unexpected.  As long as you were not right next to one at the time (because they were always apt to hit things) surprising them was always to your advantage.

Connor had made sure he was seen, and as importantly, felt.  The power of Northgate radiated out from him so there would be no doubt he led this group.  The others were moving to make certain no troll got close to him.  He and his companions moved back into the crowd and back to the portal that still stood open, as it would be while the soldiers were here, drawing attention while Connor and his companions moved elsewhere.

They went into the portal, and Connor lifted his hand, feeling out the magics that twined here.  Northgate felt the most powerful, but the gates were all linked.  He felt the court, and the other three as well.  With a nod, he turned towards Southgate.

Distance meant nothing, only the concentration of the traveler.  Connor and his companions very badly wanted this over with quickly.  Five steps and they could already see the indistinct shape of things at the other end.

They headed elsewhere to attempt something perilous.  Connor and his companions were going straight into the Southgate Tower itself because they needed to cut Galen from his power.  Only gate lords should have been able to enter the tower, but the others were certain if they remained close together, Connor's presence should protect them.

The place was more in focus and looked much like the Northgate Tower, Connor supposed.  At the last moment, Nylia took his hand on the left and Antisha on the right, while the others joined hands so that they formed a small circle.

No talking.  No questions.  They stepped forward.

Southgate took him by surprise.  The tower's stone blinked feebly with power and the place stood shrouded in cold and fog, even within the building.  Galen was draining the energy so much that he had weakened his own power base.  Fool.

And probably desperate.

The others remained close to Connor, but they understood the situation here.  Whatever Galen had hoped to gain, he was draining away the power of his holding to get it.

The Lord of Southgate wasn't here.  At least that's what Connor thought until a figure moved in the fog and stepped forward.  The man who moved forward had Galen of Southgate's face, though it looked worn and pale.  His body stood hunched over, and he walked with the slow movements of --

Of someone very ill.

"Lord Southgate?" Connor said.

The man frowned.  "You are the human boy.  You can't -- what happened to Lord Northgate?  Surely he didn't name the human boy --"

"You killed him," Connor said.

This odd semblance of Galen stopped and then took a step back, hand to his chest.  "No.  No, not me.  My mirror."

Antisha made a hissing sound of frustration and took a step closer to the man, even letting go of Connor's hand.  Rion whispered a curse, and though Connor wasn't entirely certain what the man had said,  he could tell from the others that this wasn't good.

"You fool," Rion said, his voice still a snarl.  "Why?  Why would you set such a creature loose?"

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Flash Fiction # 365 -- Connor of Northgate/49

"Get back!" Connor shouted and spread magic out in a wave that staggered Galen and sent trolls flying yet again.  Galen raised his own hand, but when the others moved to stand with Connor, he recognized the danger.  He spread his own magic around, and in that maelstrom, they felt him disappear.

The trolls quickly retreated as well, and Connor wondered if they were here of their own will.  His people did not try to stop them, and in the sudden silence, Connor felt the drain of the battle on him. He leaned against the nearest wall, gasping and trembling in reaction.

The magic had worked.  That was something at least.

"Damned good work, Connor," Druce said.  The words startled him.  "We hadn't even considered Galen's actions, you know.  Horrific as they were, they were still just actions of an enemy."

"He had to leave quickly," Nylia added.  "He isn't truly fae, and if we figured out what he is, we would have power over him."

"We need more research," Liam said.  He looked around as though he only now realized the battle was over.  "That none of us noticed until the words were said -- that means something about what Galen is."

"No rest," Erlis said and looked around at the others.  "But maybe some food."

Connor wasn't hungry, but he didn't argue.  They reached the kitchens along with many others, and the cooks were already at work.  Connor and his party were waved on ahead, which he appreciated since he wanted nothing more than to sit down.

They took their usual table, but then Connor looked at the Lord of Northgate's table, empty.

"Not yet," he said when he turned back tot he others.  "I'm not ready for that yet."

No one argued.

Rion entered the hall as well and soon joined them at the table.  He had been in the battle as well -- nearly everyone had turned out, but there didn't seem to be many serious injuries.  Connor hoped no one had died.  They hadn't told him yet.

"How did you turn the battle?" Rion asked as he settled with a cup of broth and some bread.  "I felt your magic surge up, and then the trolls suddenly backed off and left.  We would have won anyway, but it's not like them to suddenly give way."

Connor explained and saw the Rion's face show shock and amazement for the first time in all the years he'd known him.  The look had not gone unnoticed by others, either.  Silence fell across the room as Rion sat back, shaking his head.

"We have all been fools."

"Blinded by our worries," Connor said.  "And I hope that having this piece of an answer will make matters easier."

"It makes it imperative that we move quickly," Rion replied.  He sipped soup and ate some bread, though.  "Since we know the truth now, Galen -- or whatever this is -- will be forced to move to against us to keep from learning his secret."

"But how?" Antisha asked.  She had played with her food and now pushed the bowl aside.  "What can we do?"

"Southgate," Liam said.

Rion nodded.  "And you didn't even get that one from a vision.  Yes, the attack must be made against Southgate, the seat of Galen's power.  No matter what this is, he is drawing from there.  If he weren't based from there, the truth would have been noticed far sooner."

"Then we have to go through," Antisha said.  She didn't look happy. "And unfortunately, we've already alerted him that we know he's not right -- so he'll be waiting."

"An excellent point," Nylia said.  "Not exactly the kind of leap I would want to make."

"Then we need to do this is a way that he doesn't think we're coming," Erlis said.  "I suggest we go to the Troll lands and then on to Southgate."

Connor was about to say that was crazy; then he rethought the situation.  "We wouldn't have to leap into a Troll stronghold or anything," he said.  "Just make the jump to there and make it look as though we are attacking that area."

"Take the army with you," Rion said.  Connor began to shake his head.  "Listen to my reasoning before you make up your mind.  A small group, heading into the troll lands would look like exactly what it is -- people who have no intention of staying there.  At least a moderate group of soldiers will give the impression that you intend to fight the trolls."

"But I don't want to put the troops where --"

"Where they are in no more danger than staying here," Rion said with a wave of his hand.  "Less so, if you choose your drop position wisely.  Staying here, they are simply waiting for the trolls to show up."

"And we might distract and worry the trolls, who do not do well with unexpected changes to their plans," Nylia added.  She had a touch of a feral smile.  "If they think they are about to be attacked in their own lands, they are not going to come leaping into ours."

"Unless someone has full control of them," Connor added.

"In which case, we still would be wise to get to Southgate quickly and end that control," Liam said.

"You cannot protect everyone all the time," Rion added and met his startled look.  "Yes, this is a situation you and I discussed a few times, Connor.  Remember: I knew Lord Northgate intended to name you as his heir."

"I thought you only wanted to know how humans thought about such things."

"Well." He looked at Connor with a nod.  "Yes, that at least now makes sense of why you never thought it strange.  I had thought you might have figured everything out.  At any rate, you always did well."

"And I have to call on that I've learned now," Connor said.  "And listen to people who are speaking wisely. We'll go through the Troll lands."

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Flash Fiction # 364 -- Connor of Northgate/48

Chapter Sixteen

By the time Connor and his companions reached the lower hall, the battle had surged across the courtyard, through the outer doors, and into the vast room. Trolls had fought their way almost to the stairs, but they didn't come alone this time. Orcs and gargoyles joined against the Fae, their shouts, growls, and roars almost overcoming the sound of swords and magic.

Connor looked around in dismay before he leapt forward to help the others. He fought with his friends at his side -- though Liam kept behind them despite the sword he held. Wise. Liam might well know how to wield that weapon, but he might go into a vision trance at the wrong time, too. Connor thought -- between one sword swing and the next -- that he ought to order Liam not to take part in battles at all. That command might hold as long as he remained Lord of Northgate.

The enemy did not target just Connor this time. Their mistake, because it allowed Connor to make a decision and do something he should have realized from the first.

"I'm going to the tower," he said to Druce who was at his side.

Druce gave him a quick look of worry -- and then nodded agreement. "Let's go. I'll guard your back."

The others joined them as well. Liam had a cut on his shoulder, but Antisha took care of it. Beckwith looked their way with narrowed eyes when Connor started away.

Connor moved closer to the captain and spoke softly. "Tower," he said.

The man nodded and went back to the battle.

"Beckwith needs to make up his mind soon," Nyla said and not too softly. "He's going to mistrust you at the wrong time, Connor."

Connor agreed, but this was not the time to start a discussion about that problem. Connor realized that the stone of power had been calling to him since the trouble began, and he knew that was where he would do the most good.

The others could not come up with him. They looked worried.

Only one way to rid them of this worry. They charged out of the building, found fewer enemy in the courtyard, and those being harried by the troops. Connor went to the tower door, and without pause, he threw it open and headed up.

The stone glowed. It did not speak as such, but Connor had the feel of communications and the touch of knowledge that helped him to create magic he had never touched before. It swept down from the tower, and he was aware of the consternation of those enemies who fought.

Who had, perhaps, thought that Northgate had lost the link to fae and to power.

Lord Northgate had believed in him; so much so that the stone seemed to have learned that acceptance without any trouble. Connor knew this was not always the case; he had studied the history of Northgate extensively, after all.

The bit of practice at dealing with magic helped. He knew the feel of the power, even though he didn't always know what to do with it.

This time Connor used the magic to look down at the battle, quickly discerning one side from the other. He needed to do something fast. What would be --

There. Connor could feel the heart of the trolls' power. They had brought some source of strong magic with them, and it pulsed with the beat of the battle. He brushed against it, getting the feel. It sensed Connor but seemed confused. This was the best time to attack.

Connor sent a spear of power straight into the heart of the enemy's magic, shoving despite the backlash of pain and anger. He held on, though. He pushed harder.

Someone else -- ah, Antisha -- had moved in to attack as well. She was a smart woman, but Connor feared Antisha might not have the protection she needed to guard against something this powerful. He did not want to lose the princess, who was both a strong ally and an unexpected friend.

He had come to realize that his real power was in his friends. Galen's side had forced cooperation through magic, which was not the fae way.

Galen was there, manipulating the magic that was being used against them. He could not fight Galen from here, though. And he knew what he needed to do.

He looked out over the battle one more time, sent magic where he hoped it would help, and then hurried back down out of the tower and into the midst of the fight.

His friends were not happy to see him come back down, but they didn't argue, except when he headed straight into the heart of the trolls.

"Connor, you fool!" Druce shouted, but came with him. The others followed, a powerful surge of magic that the trolls could not stop, but that Connor knew they could not hold for long.
Connor had concentrated his power on knocking trolls aside, and they went flying with startled yells. His companions kept them back, and they soon found themselves facing Galen who stared at them with a feral sort of snarl, magic playing in his hands.

"I thought he must be here," Antisha said as she joined them. She had a cut on her face. "Connor --"

"He's using power to control the others," Connor said. A wave of his hand knocked Galen back for a moment, but that wouldn't hold him for long. "He's also allied with the trolls to attack us. What does that say to you?"

Antisha stopped and looked at Galen and then back at Connor. "Damn. That he's the one who lost the link with the fae. That he is not one of us."

"And we dare not let him win Northgate," Druce added. He had brought up his own sword.
Galen had begun to snarl. And then to howl in anger, and at that moment Connor realized the worst; Galen was not even Fae.