Friday, September 15, 2017

Flash Fiction #268 -- Dusty & Friends/13

Dusty looked back and slowed -- the orcs looked confused.  That would not help.

"I need you to be brave again, Blue," she said and reached her hand into the bag.

Blue grabbed hold, scurried up her arm and to her shoulder.   She stopped, Fox beside her, though he looked worried.

"You will never have the baby dragon again!" she shouted.  "And you had better hope his mother never catches you!"

The orcs shouted in dismay and maybe fear.  With no doubt that they had their attention, Dusty turned her anxious horse and started away again.  However, before they had gone more than a yard, the horse Dusty was riding became frightened by the growing roar of sound behind them.  Blue gave a cry of dismay and darted back into the bag.  Dusty feared she would be thrown, and wrapped one arm tight around the bag with Blue while she held tight to the reins with the other.

"Calm, my friend!" she shouted over the roar of angry orcs, the yells of people, the cries of dozens of birds, and the barks of every dog in the town.  "Calm!  We will get away!"

The horse calmed, took on a long-legged gait, and ran steadily toward the end of town.  Fox's horse did the same.

"Well done!" Fox yelled.  He'd probably thought she was going to end up on the ground, bones broken. 

Dusty gave him only a nod and held tight still. The horse would sense her own fears, and she needed to get control or else this would end badly.  It helped that the sounds of the village were already less loud.  She dared to look back.  Two soldiers rode with them, but behind that group, she could see the turmoil the others had created. The orcs had not yet gotten past them.

She hoped no one was hurt.

They sped past the edge of town where crumbling old buildings were slowly crumbling back into the sand from which they'd been born.  Fox still rode close beside her, the horses almost neck and neck as though they raced for fun.  Dusty wished to make the ride a game, but she knew that a long, hard journey stood between her and the dubious safety of the river.

 Fox pointed out the trail just ahead, and she prepared to turn, daring one look back.  Somehow, the townspeople were still holding the orcs at bay, though she didn't think they could do so much longer.  As soon as they took the turn, she and Fox both let the horses run full out down the road, around a curve, and down a hillside covered with fig trees and small plots of crops.  Before Dusty stretched nothing but desert hills now, golden in the growing light.

How far to the river? She couldn't see it from here, but the land rose and fell in low lying hills.  She could see no line of green, which would be a sure sign of water.  Would they dare ride through the heat of the day?  It wasn't bad now, but soon the sand would reflect as much heat as the sun beat down on it.

Daring one glance back, she knew they had no choice.  The orcs had gotten free of the townspeople, but now the few troops they left behind had started to slow them.

"Hold on and ride fast!" Fox shouted.

Fox clearly did not intend to ride off without her, and the idea that he might put himself into danger on her account worried her enough that she stopped looking behind and pressed the horse forward again.

The shouts and yells behind began to fade as they went down one hill and then up again.  Fox looked back, so she did as well.  The soldiers, though few in number, had held the orcs.  One of the massive creatures might even be dead.

"Down fast and then slow on the next incline," Fox said. 

Her horse panted badly, but he liked the down hill rush.  He didn't mind slowing on the next hill, which had been a little steeper and higher.  At the top, Fox stopped finally.

"Rest for a little while," he said.  "We need to be careful of the horses, and I think the orcs will have trouble on the hills.  We're going to hit the flatlands soon, though.  We'll want to keep a good distance as long as we can."

"Yes," she said, barely catching her own breath.  "Are you all right, Blue?"

"It was kind of fun to bounce up and down on the fluffy stuff in here.  And I landed on a piece of apple."

She laughed and related what he said to Fox.  The soldier looked at her with a touch of wonder on her face. They started away again, though not very fast.   The orcs hadn't even made it to the first hill yet, but she knew they dared not go too slow.

"What will we do at the river?" she asked.

"I hope to find some sort of craft. The current is with us so we can float down stream to the canal.  We're sure to find some help to reach the capital from there.  The orcs are found to follow the river bank. We have to hope that it doesn't narrow too much that they might be able to reach us."

"I always wanted an adventure," Dusty admitted.  "This is not what I thought it would be like, though."

"Adventures are always better when you can tell about them after they're done," Fox replied.

"I suppose so.  They do make good reading.  Have you had adventures?"

"Oh, a few," he replied and pressed to go a little faster. Dusty stayed with him, grateful that she did not need to make this journey alone.  "We'll have to sit down and talk about adventures sometime."

"I would like that very much," she said.

He looked startled, but she smiled.  And then they moved faster once more.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Flash Fiction # 267 -- Dusty & Friends/12

"I think we're ready to go," Dusty said as she came back out.  She put Blue in the bag.  "You need to be safe, my friend."

"They'll need to see him," Fox reminded her.  "Unless we try to truly sneak away, which is not entirely a bad idea."

"That would leave the orcs destroying things here," Dusty protested.  "We'll have to let them know, but we should get to the edge of town first.  If I can get some obstacles in the way, that might help."

"We might manage to upset things a bit as well," one of the men said.

"Carefully," Fox replied.  "Confusion will help.  Shouting.  Pointing that we have a baby dragon. Since they haven't said what they're looking for that should get their attention."
Dusty put the food Happy had gathered into the bag with Blue.  He sniffed appreciatively.  "We better go. The longer we wait, the more damage they'll do, and they might find us."

"True," Fox agreed.  "The horses are at the stables half way through Goodwater on the main road."

"I really don't know this town at all," she admitted.  She'd remember the name, though.  These people had helped her.  "I'll have to follow you."

Fox dared to put a hand on her shoulder.  "If anything happens to me, you must ride to the end of town and take the first trail heading for the river.  It is the best chance you have of getting away."

Dusty thought of how dangerous this would be and how she did not want to go on alone.  She gave one nod to Fox and dared not say anything aloud for fear she might, finally, break down into tears.

Just going to ride a horse, she thought.  Race the horse.  She had out ridden her brothers on more than one occasion, much to their chagrin.  Horses responded well to her.

Like birds, dogs ... baby dragons.

Did that make her special?  No one else had heard Blue's cries as anything more than some creature upset somewhere in the mass of people and orcs.  She didn't understand birds, dogs, cats, and rats -- but the more Dusty thought about it, the more she realized how they'd always obeyed her and even came to her aid when she needed help. 

So maybe she was special.  Being able to do something no one else could made Dusty feel strange.  It also gave her responsibility, and she held tighter to the bag.

Happy gave Dusty the sort of hug her mother did whenever Princess Destiny headed to the capital for her stay with Grandmother.  It was what she'd needed just then, and she whispered her thank you to the older woman.

Then Dusty, Fox, and another soldier went out the door and into the brisk morning air.  Dusty tried not to shiver, and that feeling didn't come from the cold anyway.  She could hear the orcs far too loudly out here and didn't want to think about what would happen to her or Blue if they were caught now.

Fox sent the other soldier on to get two horses ready.  The man frowned slightly but then nodded.

"He wants to come with us," Fox said softly.  He helped Dusty over a fence, letting them stay out of sight as they hurried past the backs of buildings and through gardens.  "But I want the soldiers to do all they can to help slow the orcs and then to help the others."

"Should someone go to my grandmother?" she asked.  She could hear the horses.  They'd soon be riding as hard as she ever had in her life.

"There are only six of us," he said with a bit of worry.  "Four of those are going to follow us and try to harass the orcs and slow them down enough for us to get across the river.  Once we're there, it's hard to say what the orcs will do."

"Probably head for the nearest bridge," she said.  "Even if they don't like bridges, I would think they'd head that way in this case."

"Yes, that's true," he said and offered her a smile.  "I'll tell them that if it's possible, one of them should head back to the capital.  Otherwise, you and I on the river might get there faster."

"Oh, that's true," Dusty said and felt pleased with the idea.  "I am eager to get back home now."

"I imagine so," Fox replied.

"And Blue wants to go home, too.  Poor little guy.  I hope we can get this settled soon.  The first step is getting back to the palace and finding someone who can send word to his mother."

Fox nodded, looking worried again. She didn't know if that was because they were nearly to the horses, which she could see saddled only a few yards away, or if he considered the damage that a full grown dragon might do if she didn't get her son back soon.

"Are you ready?" Fox asked.

Dusty took one deep breath.  "Yes.  Let's hurry before anything else happens here."

"I'll help you on your horse.  You start riding immediately.  Head down the street," Fox pointed in the direction opposite of from the orcs.  "I'll follow.  There will be a lot of yelling about you having the dragon.  If it is safe, bring Blue out for a moment -- but don't stand still for very long."

"I won't.  Thank you," Dusty said.  She hoped that nothing happened to Fox.  She didn't want to ride off into the desert by herself.  This was not the sort of thing that should be entirely in her hands.

Dusty knew she had done well so far.  Time to move on and start heading for home. That thought gave her hope again.  So she hurried over to the horses and Fox helped her quickly up on one.  She grabbed the reins and started away, even as she heard the first shouts from the orcs.

Time to ride!

995 Words

Friday, September 01, 2017

Flash Friday # 266 -- Dusty & Friends/11

Orcs shouted louder again, and something crashed to the ground.  Dusty feared a building had been destroyed.  Her heart caught with a combination of fear and anger.

"They have no right!" she shouted.  Blue sat on her shoulder, observing the others.  Dusty stood straighter though despair tried to make her feel helpless.  "We have to get Blue away, but we also have to make certain the orcs realize that he's no longer here in the village so these people will be safe."

Everyone in the room nodded, but she didn't see hope or help there.

"You need travel food," Happy said suddenly. She got up and began moving.  "No matter what you do, you need to be prepared."

"Yes, thank you," Dusty agreed.  "And a piece of fruit for Blue would be nice right now."

Happy got him a nice slice of apple and seemed to have gone from afraid to enchanted, which Dusty appreciated far more.  Dusty turned to the soldier who had recognized her and gave an embarrassed shrug.  "I'm sorry, but I don't know your name," she apologized.

"Well, of course, you don't!" the young man said.  He couldn't be more than a year or two older than her.  "There are several hundred of us at the castle.  I'm Fox, Princess Destiny."

"Fox," she said with a nod of her head.  "And please call me Dusty.  Just Dusty.  I've always preferred it."

He looked troubled by that idea, but then they drilled etiquette into everyone who came anywhere near the royal family.  Dusty couldn't be certain he would stop calling her princess, but she thought it might help the others.

"The orcs are fast," Fox said with a frown.  "And they have more stamina than a horse.  We might ride fast enough to get away from them for an hour or so, but that wouldn't get us nearly far enough, and we couldn't count on finding another horse."

Orcs yelled again.  The ground shook.  She feared they were closer and they had little time.  "Is there anywhere we can go?  Somewhere we can reach --"

"The river," Blue said.  "The river can't be too far away."

She looked at him in surprise and then back at the others.  "He says to go to the river."

"Oh yes!" Fox agreed and smiled so brightly that she almost wasn't afraid again.  "He's right!  Orcs are scared to death of water, and they won't even cross a bridge if they can avoid it.  It's because they -- well -- they sink like stones."

"How far?" she asked.

"A couple hours of hard riding," he said and looked her over.  "How good are you on a horse, Princess -- Dusty?"

"Better than my brothers," she admitted and won a slight smile.  "I'll need something else to wear."

"I'll find you some clothing!" Inis said and hurried off.  Dusty wondered if the young woman wanted to help or if she was anxious to get Dusty and her friend away from here.  It didn't matter; Dusty appreciated the change.

"The orcs are out in the streets, and they'll see us get to the horses and leave," Fox said with a shake of his head.  "They might overtake us before we can get more than a few yards since we'll need time to mount.  Then there's the problem of finding a spot where we can cross the river."

Another building crashed to the ground.  Dusty winced, but then her anger grew.  "Tell the others not to despair.  My grandmother will make good on the ruined buildings.  We just all have to be wise and get Blue free from here."

"We need a diversion," Fox said and looked at the people around them.

"I think I can do something," Dusty said.  "I've done it before by accident.  Birds, I think."

She went to the door, Fox close beside her, and peaked out.  A single sparrow sat on a spindly tree.  Dusty gave a nod to the bird and thought about how much she would like to see others --

They started coming immediately.  A dozen, then two dozen, then other birds as well, many that would not usually share a branch, all of watching Dusty with anticipation and being uncommonly quiet.  Even a hawk took to the top of the building

"Ah.  I didn't know you had the gift, Dusty," Fox said.  He sounded pleased and surprised.

"Neither did I.  I never knew I had anything special, even though creatures of all sorts have always taken an interest in me.  Well, at least now I know I can help!  But I do hope the little birds are careful.  I don't want to see them hurt, either.  Oh, maybe another diversion?  Dogs, I think.  Though they'll have to be careful as well."

Somewhere close by a dog barked, as though she knew exactly what Dusty wanted.  She heard the sound repeated elsewhere.  By then Inis had brought her a riding skirt, and they went to her mother's room to change.

"I'm sorry for the way I treated you," Inis apologized.  "I shouldn't have, not matter who you are.  I'm just so frustrated, living in this little town."

Dusty thought it must be much like living in the castle, though she didn't say so.  Still, they were both small worlds.

"Maybe when this is done, you can come and visit me in the castle," Dusty said.

Inis looked at her with her eyes large and shock on her face.  "Oh, I would like to see the city, at least once.  Do you think mama would let me?"

Odd to be thinking about such mundane things right now, but it made Dusty feel better as she picked up Blue.  "I think so.  But maybe you should help her for a while."

"I should anyway," Inis said.  "I'll try not to be such a brat.  Thank you."

Inis hugged her as though they were equals and friends.  Inis would never know how much that meant to Dusty as she headed out into danger.

999 Words

Monday, August 28, 2017

When things don't quite go right

On August 1, I started the rewrite of Singer & St. Jude 1: The Lost Cause.  This book has already been published by Double Dragon, but I asked for the rights back because I wanted to move the story about a hundred years into the future and use the series (there are several more that have not been published) as the starting point for the Inner Worlds Council Universe.  The books introduce two important factors for many of the later works. The first is the introduction of the psis and their powers, as well as the fear that moves a lot of humans against them.  The second is the start of the organization that later becomes the Old World Morals Society, a group much like the Far Right of today with their insistence on people living in ways they have decided are correct.

So I started the work.  The rewrite has been going very well, in fact, at least on one level.

But something kept bothering me.  Really nagging at me every time I sat down and started typing.  I could not figure out what the problem was, however.  So I kept working.  I changed things, I nudged this and that.  I liked a lot of what I got, but I felt something essential was missing.

Missing is the important word.  What the story missed was a sense of the future.  I had a few terms and a couple gadgets.  I had a reason why this particular area of the world would not be as advanced as other places, but even so, the story lacked a feel for the hundred and some years that had passed.  I had, in fact, not done any real world building for the new version.

This is embarrassing.  My favorite author wrote a lovely quote for me: A talented author with a gift for world building.

She said that about me.  And here I sit with a story that might as well be taking place right now, except for the ruined city. 

I am finishing out this rewrite to fix the rest of the plot problems.  Then I will put the book aside and start thinking about how I might change things.  I don't think I'll work on the novel again until next year -- which isn't that far away.  I will, however, start looking at the world building aspects that I ignored.

Next up is the final run through on Tales of Grey Station 9.  And outlines.  Having trouble there, too.

But at least I finally figured out the problem with the current novel.  I can deal with problems I see even if they take me a while to fix.  The ones you simply can't find are the ones that will drive a writer crazy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flash Friday # 265 -- Dusty & Friends/10

Dusty gave a  cry of despair, the sound lost in the shouts from the others.  She held the bag close and could feel Blue trembling.  She wanted to reassure him.  Even if he went back to the orcs, they would keep him alive.  He'd be safe.

"There's more trouble.  I don't know what it is, but a couple soldiers arrived and said they'd be talking to everyone.  One was only a little ways behind me," the soldier said and looked at the door.  "Shouldn't be long."

"More excitement than we ever had here," Happy said with a shake of her head.

Others had wandered back in again, the sound of voices growing louder.  They wanted the person who had brought this on them.  They would give back what was stolen. They would --

Someone knocked at the door. The soldier went to it, a hand on his sword.  Dusty had turned to see, but at the same moment someone caught hold of her shoulder and began to viciously shake her.

"It's you!"  Inis shouted.  "You're the one!  What did you steal, you little fool!  What have you got in that bag!"

"Don't do that!" Dusty cried out in dismay as Inis grabbed the bag away and turned it upside down, shaking vigorously.  Dusty gave such a cry of despair that the guards both pushed their way to her.

"Here now," the first guard said and took hold of Inis.  "Let's take this calmly, shall we?"

"It's her!" Inis shouted.  "She showed up right after the orcs left and she holds that ratty little bag like there's something in it.  It's her that's caused us all this trouble!"

Blue must have held on tight inside the bag since he didn't fall out.  Dusty tried to grab the bag back, but Inis held it out of reach. The guard looked sternly at Dusty now. 

"Is this true, girl?  Are you --"

The second guard had pushed in beside the man and gave a cry of surprise.  "It's you!  Your grandmother is sick with worry about you, Princess Destiny!"

Silence fell across the little room.  Inis let go of the bag which fell to the floor with a thump.  Dusty quickly knelt and grabbed it back.  Time, she realized, for truth all the way around.  She and Blue needed help.

"I hadn't meant for there to be this kind of trouble," she said as she stood.  "We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for a few days before they noticed," she offered.

"We?" the new guard said.  She recognized him from the castle and felt a huge welling of relief to see someone she knew.  "Is someone helping you, Princess --"

"I --" Happy said and looked faint.  One of the men took her by the arm and settled her on the stool by the table.  "I -- I made a princess wash dishes and sleep on the hearth -- I --"

Inis went pale and looked as upset as her mother.

"You helped me," Dusty replied.  She stood straight and tried to seem like a princess rather than a homeless child.  "And if I'd told you I was Princess Destiny, you would have laughed at me.  And rightly so."

Happy looked a little less frightened and more intrigued.  Inis, though, apparently realized the sort of trouble she could be in for the way she'd treated Dusty.  Under the circumstances, Dusty could hardly blame her for getting carried away.

"How did you come to be here?" the palace guard asked.  "Did the orcs take you?  We feared as much."

"I was in their wagon, but they didn't realize it."  She looked around and shook her head.  People stared at her, and she'd never liked to be on show.  Dusty felt small, dirty, and far too unimportant for this much to be in her hands. 

This was her responsibility. She'd made it so when she went to help the crying child.  That seemed, in fact, a good place to start.

"I don't know why no one else heard the child crying," she admitted now.  "He sounded terrified.  I thought I would get to the cart, see if he really was in there, and then call the guards.  The orcs, though -- they made so much noise and started moving almost immediately.  I had to hide inside. There was no way to escape until we reached this village.  We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for another day or two and by then I'd have found someone to take us back to the capital."

"Us?" the guard asked.

Dusty opened the bag and looked inside.  "It's all right.  We have help now.  Are you okay, Blue?"

"Afraid," he whispered.  "So many loud people!"

"You are safe."  She held her hand down to him, and he took hold, his little fingers tight as she pulled him back up.

Silence again.

"Is -- is that --" Happy said softly.

"A baby dragon," Dusty said.  "The orcs trapped him.  So I had to get him free and back to his mother before she came looking for him.  She'll track him you know and grow more frantic.  There will be trouble if he isn't returned soon."

"Already trouble in the north," the guard admitted.   "We didn't know why."

"I want to go home," Blue cried and scurried up to nestle near her neck  She felt little dragon tears flowing against her skin.

"You will go home now, Blue," she promised.  "We'll do our best to make you safe."

"Do you promise?" he asked, looking into her face.

"Yes, I promise," she said and even offered a smile.

"Ummm, Princess?" the palace guard said leaning a little closer.  "Do you understand what he's saying?"

Dusty looked at the others in surprise.  "The rest of you don't?"

She knew the answer from their startled looks.  That changed things.  Dusty dared not hand Blue over to someone to get him away as quickly as possible.  He needed her.  They must move carefully -- and quickly before the orcs found them.