Thursday, May 21, 2020

Flash Fiction #408 -- Lost in Elsewhere/18


The Griblic king came straight at me, his long-bladed sword raised above his head as he screamed his challenge.  I probably should have been afraid or something.  Instead, it just annoyed me more.

I don't think he expected me to have a sword, and especially not an Iceling sword.  I didn't expect the sword to cut straight through the blade of his, so I guess we were both surprised.

The Greblic king backed away in haste.  He dropped his broken sword -- and then he gave a howl, spun, and ran away.  The rest of his people kept close to him, and they almost trampled each other on their way out.

We had silence then.

Edmond moved forward a few steps, checked the broken sword, and then looked back at me.

"Mark, where did you get that sword?" he asked.

"I found it.  I think one of the Icelings dropped it.  If they want it back --"

"That's not an Iceling sword," Lord Snow replied.  He came closer and sniffed -- and then leapt away, his ears back, his tail bushy.  Edmond had done the same.

"What the hell?" I asked, more than a little put out with the behavior.  "I thought I'd helped, you know."

"Akanthursta," Lord Snow said.  I had no idea what he meant.  "The sword, Mark, is Akanthursta.  She's ancient, powerful, and she disappeared a long time ago."

"So, why do I have her?"  I looked at the long, thin blade.  I had taken it for ice, but now I could see that it was actually glass.  "And why is it so cold?"

"I don't know why it's cold," Lord Snow said.  "But you'll need a sheath for it.  Don't set it down.  I don't think we want it to disappear again.  Why it came to you ... I have a theory."

"Yes?"  I switched it to my other hand before the fingers went completely numb.

"I think you are going to do something significant for Elsewhere -- but right then you ran the risk of being killed.  The sword and whatever power is behind it, didn't want that to happen."

He was telling me that I had come close to dying.  If I hadn't picked up the sword --

"I think I need to sit down."

"Let's go back to the cavern," Edmond suggested.  "I think they left the food."

That was as good as anything.  The Icelings had the entrance covered.  I suspected they'd have the place they took Maggie and Lady Lorla out covered as well.  I wanted to sit down and think.

It was possible, I hoped that Lord Snow was wrong about the sword.  I glanced his way, but I could see the consternation even on his cat face.  Edmond looked bothered too, but that might only be worry that the food was gone.

It was not, but I wished more that Maggie and Lady Lorla were here.  It's not that I mistrusted my current companions, but I wanted someone more akin to me right now.  They might know more about the sword and what it meant to my future.

I found bowls and gave Edmond and Lord Snow both their share of the stew.  I took half a bowl and a spoon, but after I sat down, I found myself playing with the food rather than eating it.

"Where do you think Maggie and Lady Lorla went?" I asked.  I shifted the sword where it sat on my lap.  It was still too cold.

"Either somewhere safe," Lord Snow began and gave a slight shake of his head.  "Or else they have gone to try and find help for us.  I can't say that would be unwise, either.  I think, Mark, that there is far more going on here than a kitten with a spell that went awry.  Tell me what happened."

"Six said that he'd read something in the library and wanted to repeat it for us," I said.  I sat the bowl aside.  "We were in the safe room, so it wouldn't have been that bad -- but Maggie opened a door right then --"

"How did a kitten like Six get hold of such a powerful spell?"

Now there was a question that needed an answer.  "That does seem unlikely, doesn't it?  The people in the castle library are always happy to have him come by and study, but I don't think any of them would have given him such a spell.  So it was likely a set up from the start."

"I would suspect so," Lord Snow said.

Edmond gave a soft growl, his ears back.  "Someone did that to my kitten?  I will find out who."

Well, that sounded troubling.  I was glad to have Edmond on my side, especially when Lord Snow gave a nod of his own.  No, not the two I would have wanted to face.

"It's possible someone wanted Maggie and me -- and Edmond -- out of my father's castle," I suggested. Never forget to add in the cat.

"Oh," Lord Snow said.  "That sounds possible.  I do hope your father took note --"

"He wasn't in the castle," Edmond said.  "A pixie came by and asked for his help with a downed tree.  That could have been a ploy to get him out in the open -- but then why work so hard to get the rest of us away?  I think it was just luck that he wasn't there.  But --"  Edmond stopped, and his ears went back again.  "The rest of the kittens were still there."

"We'll get back and help them," I promised.  I moved the sword again.  "Let's find something to use as a sheath.  Then we'll rest for a bit longer and figure out where to go from here -- as long as the Griblics don't attack again."

Nods from my two companions.

"Eat your food," Edmond ordered.  "You really don't know when you'll get a chance at anything warm again."

Wise words from the black cat.  I ate that bowl and a bit more.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Flash Fiction #407 -- Lost in Elsewhere/17





Lord Snow was right to question why the snowmen had turned us loose so easily.  At the time, I'd only been grateful to get away and thought maybe I could settle some trouble here in the snow lands.

Now I looked at the large snow leopard with a bit of dismay. "Maybe the Snowmen thought we'd lead them to Lord Ice and make it easy for them to attack him."

"Only he, being a wise dragon, had already moved off so that his enemies didn't find him where he'd dropped."

"He won't have gone far," Maggie added.  She had Five in hand, at least.  Edmond had curled up on the hearth.  "He was still weak, and it takes some time for dragons to rebuild that kind of energy."

"The Snowmen hoped he'd be here, and we would escort them right to him," I said.  "I could be wrong -- but they gave in too quickly."

"And instead, we have brought them to Lady Lorla," Maggie replied.  "Maybe we can --"

"Whatever she had meant to say was stopped by high-pitched yells. 

The icelings were fighting a battle.  I was not going to leave it to them, either.  I started out, and Maggie moved to join me, but I shook my head.

"You have a duty to the Council, Maggie," I said with a hand on her arm.  "You may need to get Lady Lorla away from here.  Lord Snow --"

"Let's go deal with this," the snow leopard said and darted out ahead of me.  I was surprised to see Edmond do the same, but he stopped and turned back.

"Five -- you keep Maggie safe!" he shouted above the growing noise.  Then he darted away.

I followed, hoping that Maggie kept hold of Five and that they both stayed with Lady Lorla.  The fae lady must have powers of her own, but I thought it wiser to leave Maggie to help there.  Since my cousin didn't argue, she must have felt the same way.  I didn't think she was happy about it, though.

As I came out of the warm cavern, I was not surprised to see Icelings and Snowmen in combat.  What did surprise me was that the Snowmen were not alone.  I had never seen these creatures before moving with them, thin and long-legged with a fine gray pelt.  I couldn't tell if they were intelligent or not --

"Oh damn," Lord Snow hissed.  Really hissed.  "Griblics!"

Those creatures all seemed to turn our way at once.  Even the Snowmen stopped -- but for a different reason.  They melted away to show even more Griblics beneath the snow.

"Icelings, scatter!" Lord Snow shouted as he charged straight toward the Griblics.

I followed at a slightly slower run and not feeling in the least bit as tired as I had been a few minutes ago when we walked down this street.  I was mad, too.  All I had wanted was a few minutes to sit and think, maybe eat a little food.  Sleep would be really nice again, but I tried not to count on that happening anymore.

Lord Snow had leapt into a mass of Griblics, and I think several died in short order.  I was not used to him being so bloodthirsty, but it did tell me that these were not creatures to take for granted.  I slowed down, trying to decide what I could even do.

"I'll keep watch from above," Edmond yelled.  Wise, getting off the ground.  I wished I had Maggie's wings right then.  I didn't even have a weapon until an Iceling handed me a sword. 

The sword was made of ice, which stung my palm and numbed my fingers, but I was grateful for any protection.  A Griblic had just started leaping at me, but the sword cut through -- and froze -- the creature in mid-leap.  It fell and shattered.

Good sword.

We fought, though not for long.  The Griblics pulled back into ragged lines of ten across and four deep.  I glanced over my shoulder; the Icelings had lined up as well.

I shifted the sword to my other hand and moved the aching fingers of my right hand.  If there had been another sword around, one that wasn't made of ice, I might have taken it up, even though this one had spectacular results.  At least I'd learned a few basics of wielding a sword from my father.

Trouble in the Council, I remembered.  He might be in danger, too.

Edmond swooped down and grabbed at my shoulder, nearly pulling me off balance as he landed.  The Griblics had started to move, but I didn't go down, and they stopped moving forward.

Edmond leaned close to my ear, his whiskers tickling my neck --

"Maggie got the lady out," he whispered.  "The Icelings made another door for them.  We need to hold here and give them a chance."

I nodded.  Edmond launched off of my shoulder and landed on Lord Snow, who grunted in surprise.

"How can anything that small weigh so much?" he demanded.  I glanced over to see Edmond repeating the news to Lord Snow.  The larger cat glanced my way.  We both understood.

I wasn't sure what the Icelings would do.  I hoped they mostly stayed back and looked menacing for now.  Since I had no idea what Snow and I would do, I just didn't want them to get in the way.

While I was deciding what to do, the Griblics took the choice out of our hands.  Someone pushed his way forward.  Unlike the others, he wore chains and pelts, and he stood a good head taller when he straightened.

"Griblic king," Lord Snow said, his ears laid back.  "Take to the air, Edmond.  Be damned careful."

I could hear the Icelings growing restless behind us.  No one appeared to like that the Griblic king was here.  I took that seriously and shifted the ice sword back to my right hand.  The Griblic King snarled.  Then they attacked.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Flash Fiction # 406 -- Lost in Elsewhere/16


We didn't have far to go before we reached ... well, somewhere.  I hadn't seen the opening until we were almost to it.  Someone seemed to have made a giant snow cave in a mound of snow.  In fact, the land in this area was not flat like we'd been crossing.  Beyond this point, it looked like rolling sand dunes, but of snow instead.  I did not look forward to crossing that landscape.

"Ah, here are," Lord Snow said.  "Good.  Come along."

He walked in ahead of us and looking far happier than he had since he first arrived in our company.  I trusted Lord Snow, but even so, I had trouble stepping under that icy covering.

"I need to speak with Lord Ice," I reminded him.  The opening was too small, so I knew the dragon could not be here.

"We will.  Soon.  It's safe here, and we should take hospitality from friends and rest for a  while."

To rest sounded good, but I couldn't see how I would find it here.

Maggie was waiting for me to make the decision.  Edmond was asleep across my shoulders, and Five was curled up in Maggie's arm.  What was I going to do?  Walk off and head right back into trouble?

It didn't take long to catch up with Lord Snow.

"Huh," Lord Snow said with a sideways glance.  "Didn't think you trusted me for a while there."

"I trust you," I protested.  Then I shrugged.  "I have to admit that I wonder where our ideas of safety might diverge since we're not the same."

"True.  And, quite honestly, I never have worked quite so closely with fae and humans before.  I serve the Ice Dragon, and until you came along, I was hardly ever out of the Snow Lands."

"I'm sorry --"

"I'm not complaining.  Much.  Even a snow leopard can get tired of the snow and trying to talk to dragons.  That is going to be a big problem, Mark.  Dragons don't listen very well."

"Much like kittens."

Lord Snow laughed.  "You may have something there.  Ah, here we are, and among friends."

The cave had opened into a vast area filled with beautiful ice buildings that reached all the way to the high roof.  Then I saw movement -- and I knew Lord Snow was right.  These were Icelings, human-like creatures who taller than me, thin, and with icy blue skin and whitish hair and clothing.

From the joy with which they greeted me, I thought they might be the same Icelings that I had helped save from their hiding place on Earth.  They'd desperately wanted to return to Elsewhere, and I had gotten the door open for them.

They led us down a wide street, and I thought they'd put us up in one of the ice houses.  I wondered how to stay warm -- but no, we passed the buildings and went to another cavern, and then a place with rugs, blankets, a fire blazing in a pit, and the smell of food.  The Icelings did not come into this warm, beautiful sanctuary with us, and Lord Snow said some things to them in their own language.

Edmond woke up.  "Food."

I just headed for a pile of blankets and pillows.  I didn't care about the food, at least not at that moment.  I wanted to sit down, maybe nap --

We were not alone in the room.  A woman stepped out of the shadows, startling both me and Maggie.  She stood taller than us, white-haired and tan-skinned, her eyes green and bright.

"And you are Mark, Lord Cayman's son," she said in a voice that sounded like silk and water.  He felt calmer just for hearing her.  "Maggie, how good to see you again!"

"Lady Lorla!" Maggie replied with a bow of her head and evident surprise.  "I had not expected to see you away from court."

"The court is in hiatus until further notice," she said, and I sensed something worrisome in those words.  Maggie looked shocked, too.  "We have scattered, my dear, and have taken what refuge we can.  Something is hunting us, and four had died before we got away.  I cannot say if others have survived or not."

"My father," I said, startled and afraid.

"Alive when we parted," she reassured me.

I felt a little weak-kneed.  Lady Lorla might have noticed since she waved me over to that spot I had so coveted a moment before.  I didn't feel nearly as tired, though I felt cold for an entirely different reason.

Maggie settled by me, and Edmond rolled off my shoulders and down to curl up in the blankets.  Maggie dropped Five in beside him, and they made a sweet picture, there sleeping.  You never would have realized the hell they could both get into without even trying.

Lady Lorla sat gracefully on a few pillows, facing us.  She did not look so happy, this woman.  I had the feeling that she might be more used to living in places filled with silver and gold, and with better food than what was in the pot cooking over the fire.

Though, to be honest, that smelled very good to me.

Lord Snow entered the refuge now, too, having talked to the Icelings.  "Lady Lorla," he said with a bow of his head.  Whoever this woman was, she must have powers.  I really didn't understand most of what the Council did, except that they generally kept various groups from going to war with each other.

Or from invading other realms, like Earth, where both Maggie and I had been born.

"The Icelings related the tale of you coming among them," Lord Snow said.  "Tell me all that you can, Lady.  I will take the news to Lord Ice.  I do not trust what has happened -- or the fact that there was already an attack on Lord Ice, but it did not succeed.    And that makes me wonder why the snowmen really let us go."

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Flash Fiction #405 -- Lost in Elsewhere/15





You know that moment when you think things are starting to look better?

Never, ever think that -- especially in Elsewhere.

Five screamed what I suppose was her battle cry.  I shouted as I tried to leap and grab her -- but she sailed over my head.  She had wings, and I did not.

I heard something growl behind me.

I spun and found a large white wolf.  He stared at me, dark eyes intent, and his lips drawn back.  I'd had no idea he was coming up behind us.

I don't think the wolf ever knew what hit him.

Five had apparently learned something from her father -- though not how to land.  She grabbed the fur on the wolf's head, startling him before she bit his ear.

Hard.

The wolf yipped and shook his head with enough force that Five lost her hold and tumbled off into the snow.

That saved her.  Five was so small that the snow-covered her and the wolf looked around with a howl of anger, finding no enemy.

Maggie shouted, and magic formed into a bright ball in her hands.  The wolf growled again, but he did take a step back.

"We are not easy prey," Lord Snow said, coming out of the haze of snow.  The wolf put his ears back, one of them bleeding a bit. 

I saw Edmond bounding over to where Five had fallen in a snowbank, and I trusted he would get her out and make sure she didn't become a wolf snack.  I also realized that Five had acquired the chihuahua syndrome: she had no idea that she was so small.

Edmond, full-grown, had much the same problem.  I didn't know how we were going to break either of their habit of attacking things.

Maggie took a step closer to the wolf, and I kept pace with her.  This creature was larger than me, and I had the impression of more than canine intelligence in those eyes, even if it hadn't spoken.

I also had the feeling that Lord Snow and the wolf had met before, and not in any useful context.  The snow leopard's ears were back as he walked past Maggie and me, moving with that sort of stiff-legged step that a cat gets when it is stalking something.

The wolf held his ground.  I heard Maggie take in a quick breath.  The magic in her hand swelled a bit, and I prepared to bring up my own magic.

"You do not want part of this one, wolf," Lord Snow said.  "The boy is not what you think.  He is a friend of Lord Ice and the son of Lord Cayman."

The head came up, and eyes blinked in what could only be surprise.  He took a step back and started to turn --

Unfortunately, that was the moment Edmond came up out of the snow with Five by the scruff to the neck.

I think the wolf must have caught the scent of his own blood on Five.  He might not even have seen the kitten up against her father's black fur.

The wolf howled and leapt at Edmond.

"ACK!"

Edmond dropped Five straight back into the hole and spread his wings, flapping furiously to get into the air.  Maggie and I charged toward the wolf, and Lord Snow did the same.
The wolf made a swipe at Edmond and knocked him down.  Lord Snow caught the wolf by the leg and dragged him backward away from Edmond, who had stood and shook his head, dazed.

Lord Snow dragged him back --

And Five popped back up out of the hole.

"I fight!  I fight!"

She threw herself back at the wolf and swiped his nose this time.  The wolf -- I was starting to feel sorry for him -- howled and tried to snap at her --

And that's when he learned that you don't mess with one of Edmond's kittens. 

"Don't you dare bite her!" Edmond yelled just before he changed into a howling, ball of black fur. 
I had never heard Edmond make that kind of sound before as he hissed and leapt straight at the wolf's face.  Lord Snow still had his leg, and Five was going for his ear again.

"We need to stop this!" Maggie shouted.  The four of them had formed into a melee that sent plumes of snow up so that we couldn't see anything.


I thought of something I sometimes did to break up kitten fights when they got too serious.  I had to get closer, and I feared Maggie might grab at me -- but there was no time.  One of our guys were going to get seriously hurt --

I leapt at the fight.  Maggie gave a shout of shock, but she didn't have time to stop me.

I lifted both hands and clapped once, calling up far more power than I used with the kittens.

"Everyone apart!"

And they tumbled in the snow in four different directions.  Not very far, but Edmond and Five landed near us.  Lord Snow was to the right, and the wolf rolled away straight ahead.

Maggie grabbed Five.  Edmond was still hissing, even at me when I reached for him, though he calmed a moment later.

The wolf sat back up.  He looked dazed.

"What do you say we just all walk away from this, wolf?" I said.   "Seems to me that none of us really want this much trouble, do we?"

The wolf snarled.  Lord Snow sighed and stepped forward again.

"Or we could call Lord Ice in to help settle things," Maggie suggested.

The wolf snarled and stomped away.

"I'll keep watch behind us," Lord Snow said.  "You keep that hell kitten out of trouble."

"You are the one who brought her," Maggie pointed out.

"Nowhere to leave her," Lord Snow admitted. "And I didn't think she was that crazy."

"She talks, she has wings, and she's Edmond's daughter.  What part of that doesn't say crazy?" I asked.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Flash Fiction #404 -- Lost in Elsewhre/14






"Talk to Lord Ice," Maggie repeated with a frown.  "And side with the snowmen in this one?"

I looked at those creatures where they waited just outside the warmth of the fire.  I suspected that they knew about fae magic and realized we couldn't keep this fire going for long.

"I wonder if they could tell me what they don't like about Lord Ice," I said, turning my attention to them.  "I don't think we could really help them if we don't understand."

She looked skeptical, and I had to admit that it was an odd idea.  I didn't like the snowmen, and I didn't trust them, but part of me thought this needed to be straightened out before it got worse.

"What do you want?" I said and kept the feeling that I ought to shudder at the sight of them from showing.  There were many odd creatures in Elsewhere and some even more dangerous.  I'd dealt with many of those.

Maybe that was even part of being fae.  I tried to consider that idea and wondered if it made me feel different at all.  I always felt different, though.  I had never fitted in, and I still didn't.  I would never be really fae --

The warmth I had been holding started to fail.

"Mark?" Maggie said and sounded worried.

"Who am I, really?  What makes me think I should be talking to dragons about treating snowmen better?"

"Sounds odd, doesn't it?" she agreed.

"Yeah."  But I noticed something even stranger.  As we talked, the snowmen were starting to get less agitated, and I had the feeling they were listening to me.

Maggie glanced toward them as well and then nodded.  "We'll talk to Lord Snow first and get a clear idea of how to approach Lord Ice.  Dragons have trouble with communications sometimes.  They don't understand all the things we are saying."

"We go," one of the snowmen said.  "We leave you."

"I can't say we'll gain anything for you," I replied as I stood.  "I will try."

A murmuring of voices as they started away --

"Wait," Maggie called out.  Dark-eyed faces turned back at us.  "What do you want of Lord Ice?"

"Our villages.  Ice knocks them down, destroys some of us, and we must rebuild homes and ourselves.  He flies to low."

I nodded.  "I suspect he doesn't realize.  White on white -- a dragon does not see things the same way that we do."

And I didn't even ask what a snowman might see.

"Banners," Maggie suggested.  "You should put banners up on poles at the four corners of your villages.  That should help.  But we'll still talk to Lord Ice."

The snowmen made sounds of agreement, and they headed away.  It was, at least, a little less cold.

But also dark.  Snowy.

"We have the path to get back," Maggie said and took hold of my arm.  "Let's get going before it disappears beneath the snow."

"I sent Edmond for help.  Listen for him," I said and moved along with her.  "This isn't much like the walks we used to take in the hills near home, is it?"

"No, it isn't," she agreed and gave a shake of her head.  "But this is home to me more than that ever was.  You have a different past, though it intersected with mine.  You had a good home."

"My mom was saving money to buy you from your parents.  That sounds bad, doesn't it?  But she kept saying that money was all they really understood, despite their act of being holier than thou."

"I never knew.  That's sweet."  She dabbed at her eyes and smiled.  "She was right about them."

"I liked our walks in the woods," I said and tried to move the conversation back to more pleasant things.  At least the path we followed back was plain enough, and I tried not to think too much about plowing through the snow.  "I sometimes miss walking through an area where the most dangerous creature might be a skunk."

"Hadn't considered that," she said with a nod.  "Yeah, I guess you're right about that part.   I like to fly, though, so I don't always think about what's going on at ground level.  You should get wings."

"Get wings," I said and looked at her with shock.  "I mean, you can just get wings?  Like Edmond did?"

"Yeah, kind of," she said.  Then she looked up in the sky.  "Edmond!  Are you there?  We're down here!"

I heard a distant sound.  We both stopped and turned.

"Edmond?" she said again.

A dark ball of fur came out of the sky, overshot us, and landed in the snow, rolling head over heels several times before he stood up.  Edmond shook off the snow and looked around --

"We're back here," I said.

He spun around, tail fluffed and ears back.  Then he settled again.  "Lord Snow should be along here soon.  Did you melt the little monsters?"

"We talked to them," Maggie said. 

"Figures."

"And they let us go without a fight," I added.    "We just have to let Lord Ice know what the problem is with them."

"Talk to the dragon," Edmond said, walking along with us.  "Well, good luck with that one.  Do one of you want to carry me before I freeze my paws off?"

I laughed and picked him up.  He settled around my neck and over my shoulders -- I always appreciated the warmth in the Winter Lands.

But honestly, I was ready to get out of the snow.  I thought fondly of wandering through a swampland with a friendly dinosaur -- and yes, I had done that in the past.  Travel in Elsewhere has always been exciting.

Though nothing had prepared me for a snow leopard bounding through the snow with a small black kitten attached to the top of his head.

"We help!" Five shouted and bounced as Lord Snow came to a stop.  "We help!"

And then she launched herself straight at -- something.