Friday, October 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #325 -- Connor of Northgate/9



Liam said little during the dinner -- not unfriendly, but more as though he studied them to see what was permitted.  Connor's friends soon joked and laughed again, and even Liam smiled more than once.

Connor had the feeling that maybe Liam didn't often relax.

As they stood to leave the dining hall, Connor noticed how Liam lost his link to now again.  Connor had started to take note of the changes which had occurred sometimes as they ate; the flickering of his eyes, the way the pupils grew larger, and how he moved out of step with what was around him.  Connor caught him by the arm when Liam almost blundered straight into his chair.  He wondered how Liam had avoided broken bones before now, though perhaps that was part of the problem -- just keeping Liam alive.

"Thank you.  That was very kind, Honor."

Druce, who had been passing nearby broke out into rude, loud laughter.  "Honor!  Him?"

Connor looked into the young man's face.  "I think I should be very proud to be called Honor by someone who glimpses the future."

Druce went red all the way to the tips of his pointed ears, and Connor feared they were about to come to blows.  However, his new companions, all older than Druce, and maybe wiser, caught him by the arm and took him away.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry --" Liam began.  He looked frightened and half ill.  "That happens around me.  I say things --"

"Don't worry," Erlis said with a tap on Liam's arm, a friendly touch and a smile.  "Truth is that was a long time coming between Connor and Druce, and I'm rather glad to see it go in Connor's favor.  Druce made a fool of himself and in front of a lot of others.  No harm done, except to his ego -- and trust me, Druce has ego enough to recover from this little confrontation.  Druce will get over it."

From the look Liam gave Erlis, Connor feared those last words were not going to prove true.

No matter.  Erlis had been right in one respect; this had been coming for a long time now.  He was sorry Liam got caught up in this mess, and right on the night of his arrival, but he said nothing.

Lord Northgate caught up with them at the door. 

"All is well?" he asked.  Connor had no doubt he'd heard about the little byplay already.

"Fine, thank you," Connor said and was purposely less formal.  He thought it would help if Liam realized they could be friendly here. 

"Good," Northgate smiled brightly.  Then he stopped.  "I think I have made a mistake I'm going to rectify right now.  Magra?  Can you have our new friend's room moved to the spot across from Connor's suite?"

"Oh yes," Magra said and gave a quick nod.  "Yes, that will work very well."

"If neither of you has any complaints?" Northgate asked.

"None from me," Connor said with a smile.

"I am honored that you took me in at all, sir," Liam said, which was more than he had said for most of the night.  His hand went to brush at his hair; a nervous gesture, Connor thought.  "I am grateful for the help and advice I will find here.  I need to be helped to the right path.  It's hard to see where to turn when so much else is crowding in."

"I don't envy you this power," Northgate replied.  Magra had already rushed off, calling to Isole and a few others. They would have the rooms changed quickly.  "If you are troubled, though, you can come to me at any time.  I'll help you as best I can.  And I'm sending to the Royal Court for more information.  They've had seers there in the past, and I think they might have some words of wisdom for all of us."

Connor suddenly wondered if Seers were so rare that Liam might be the only one alive.    He hadn't considered it, which made Liam a rarity indeed.  Maybe as much so as the only human ever born to the Keep of Northgate.

The others bade them good night.  Connor and Liam headed up the stairs to the rooms.  However, Connor paused at the first landing and looked at Liam, frowning this time.

"You don't want to be here, do you?"

"I want --" Liam began, then shook his head in dismay as though he had already said too much.

"You can talk to me.  I'm not like any of the others."

"You are different, but it's not because you are human. You have made yourself open to understanding.  The others -- most fae, in fact, -- are set in their ways.  They are not willing to open doors to things they don't understand.  It's part of their nature and no fault of theirs.  That so many have accepted you here comes from having seen you grow up among them.  You aren't really different, you know.  But that ... that will change.  They are coming of age, your friends."

"I know.  My friends will come into their magic and leave me behind."

"No."  He said the word with such determination that it caught Connor by surprise.  "No.  Your true friends will never leave you behind.  However, they will be changed in ways that will be obvious and sometimes painful.  I know."

"Ah."  He started up again but looked at Liam.  "The voice of one who has lived through it, in his own way."

"I had friends," he said with a sigh.  "We ran the woods together; climbed the trees, swimming in the ponds.  Then I changed, and they were worried about what I would see in them.  Especially after I saw Alisin fall from the cliff.  I tried to warn him.  He survived, though barely.  And changed.  And now the others --"

He stopped midway up the stairs and shook his head, giving Connor a look of worry again.  "I don't want to make the same mistake here."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Flash Fiction #324 -- Connor of Northgate/8




The fae introduced themselves to Lord Northgate, but Connor paid little attention.  The woman pointed to Liam and gave his name, but no more.  Connor stayed out of the way; if they thought this little of one of their own for being different, they wouldn't think much of him at all.

Godewyn gave him a nod when Connor stepped out of the way and made no show.  Everyone swept past him, Liam coming at the rear, a bag slung over his shoulder and looking more like a forgotten servant than the person around whom all this excitement revolved.  He was not very tall, his dark eyes looking downward, and a fall of black hair hiding half his face.

Liam looked his way and nodded.  "I'm Liam."

"Connor," he said with a bow of his head. 

"Human."

"Yes."

Liam nodded and fell in beside him.  He looked distracted as he glanced to his right and nodded as though someone spoke to him.  Afterward, he sighed, his head bowed.

"It's hard, sometimes, to track the now and not the then."

Connor didn't know quite what that meant, but he thought he would learn.  He almost asked a question, but someone came up to the right of Liam.

"The rest of us won't be staying long," the man said.

And Liam gave the same nod he had a moment before.

So, that was worth noting.  Liam had trouble telling the real from the unreal -- or not unreal, but not yet happened.

Once in the Great Hall, Lord Northgate took formal custody of his new fosterling.  The rest of Liam's group left with such haste that it shocked the others.

Liam went to the door to see them off.  Lord Northgate followed and signaled Connor along as well.  The others quickly rode out the gate, not even staying for dinner.  Liam looked just as happy to see them go.

"Well, are you up for a good meal, young man?" Lord Northgate asked, giving him a friendly smile at last.  Apparently having the rest of the Wildland fae away didn't bother him much either.

"Thank you, yes," Liam said with a bow of his head.  Well-mannered.  Some of Connor's friends had told him the wild fae didn't know about court rituals and common politeness. Liam knew, even if the others were not quite as polite.

Liam had trouble fully connecting to here and now, though.  He apparently had to concentrate, but in a lapse, he took a misstep as they entered the dining hall, and nearly went down.

Connor caught him before he fell and Liam gave him a grateful nod.  "Thank you."

"You can sit at Connor's table if you like.  You should meet his friends.  You'll be spending a great deal of time with them, I think," Lord Northgate said with a nod towards the table at the side of the room.

"If it won't bother them?" Liam asked, looking to Connor.

"If it does, they'll get over it," he replied -- an honest answer, which was better than telling Liam there would be no trouble at all.  He would not lie.

Liam went with him to the table, concentrating while he introduced Nylia, Erlis, and Rendon. Erlis moved slightly to make room on the bench where he and Connor usually sat. Most groups had six or more to a table, but the four of them had always had this spot to themselves.

"I will not tell you anything you do not want to hear," Liam said before he sat down.  "That I promise you.  Never on purpose, at least -- but I am sometimes lost in the visions, and I can't help what I say.  Sometimes what I say is not what you think -- my people learned that quickly enough and were glad to be rid of me rather than trying to second-guess everything."

Bitterness there.  Connor wondered about Liam's family, and if they had been with the group.

"Sit down," Nylia said with a wave of her arm.  Gracious, really, and smiling.  "Sit down and have dinner."

The other two nodded, less certain, but that had always been their way.  That they still sat with Connor, though, showed them open to things outside their normal world. There had been others -- like Druce, who had taken leave of their table a couple years before when he began to understand that human meant.

Connor happened to be looking Druce's way as Liam settled into the chair.  Druce glared, but then he often did, and Connor didn't think it was Liam who won that look tonight.

The people serving tonight brought the food to the table, polite and quick.

"Let us be thankful to all creation for the gifts of the table tonight," Lord Northgate said, giving the nightly blessing.  "Let us live in abundance and peace, and do naught which is evil in the eyes of any."

Liam nodded, his eyes lingering on the Lord of Northgate, the man who now ruled his life.  Connor had studied what fostering meant, and usually, it was the passing of a child --an heir -- on to another keep so the child would be raised by strangers, and not spoiled by his or her parents.

Lord Northgate had no heirs, though.  None of the other lords had fostered children here, either. Connor had assumed it was because Northgate was a dangerous place.  Tonight, though, he wondered if the reason might be because of the human who lived here.

The meal went well.  Liam relaxed, and although there were lapses when he stared or started, he remained polite and quiet.  Connor hoped he became more used to them as the days went by.

The meal went long as everyone relaxed.  That felt good after the last few days when everyone worried about the coming of the seer and what he might see in them.  None had said it, but they couldn't help but think those thoughts, Connor realized.  He had as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Flash Fiction #323 -- Connor of Northgate/7


Conner stared down where they took the bodies from the cart.  He felt no love for trolls, who had killed both his parents.  He also knew that being near the creatures, even dead, gave him nightmares that he didn't want to relive.

Now wasn't the time to drag them back to the light. Instead, Connor took up the book he had been studying about the Fae High Court.  He'd feared it would be boring when Rion, the teacher who saw over his generation, handed the collection to Connor.

Instead, the tales proved to be fantastic adventures, deeds of wonder, hope -- and treachery.  He had read more than half of it already.  The stories called to him in an odd way; it wasn't always magic that won against evil.

The day went normally enough, despite the whispers and worries that spread through the keep.  No classes and no training today, it being a tenth day anyway.  Conner spent some time in the library but hadn't found much on seers.  He didn't bother to ask the others; they speculated so much that he realized he'd done more research than any of them.

The day drifted to a gray and blustery mid-afternoon.  Clouds scuttled across the bright sky and a brisk breeze blew past cracks.  People had stopped whispering about the boy and speculated on the weather again, which was always changeable.  Connor went to his room.  He had an excellent view from his window and saw anyone coming into the courtyard.

The party arrived late; almost the hour of dinner, which he had feared would be held up, much to his stomach's dismay.  Connor heard Lord Northgate and his people heading down the hall to greet the strangers as the gate opened.

Connor almost joined them, but he had not been invited.  He knew how to act appropriately in court, and one did not push his way into the Lord's retinue, though some who knew better still did so.  Connor waited until Lord Northgate was well down the stairs and then followed, along with others probably hoping for a short ceremony and a long dinner.
 
Connor paused as others took their places in the High Hall.  His own position was at the front row of benches, before the Northgate throne. Lord Northgate's own children would sit there once he married.  For now, his human ward held the place of honor.  That infuriated some visitors -- and a few locals as well, though they rarely dared say anything to him and never to Northgate.

Connor started for the bench, but instead, he move to the double doors where his benefactor and a few others stood. He kept back, but Lord Northgate gave a signal with his left hand.  The right, as always, rested in a silken sling.  He'd taken that injury in the same battle that had killed Connors parents.  It would never heal.   heard the word poison whispered sometimes, and it seemed a dire word, and something others wanted to ignore.  He never asked.

Connor came forward and gave a proper little bow of his head.

"Good to have you here, Connor," Northgate said and meant those words.  Truth was a power that came clearly to Fae words.  "The boy is going to be troubled enough, and I fear the others are going to be wary of him because of his gift."

"I thought so as well, my Lord," Connor said softly.  He looked out the partly open door. They were just dismounting now, a dozen fae with one smaller figure in their midst.  "I thought we might have some things in common, the two of us being different and neither really belonging here."

He hadn't expected Lord Northgate's hand to come down on his shoulder, the fingers tightening and drawing Connor's startled attention.  There was a look in the man's face that he had never seen before.

"This is your home, Connor," he said, his voice soft.  "You do belong here.  I can't deny you are different than the fae children, but I don't ever want you to feel as though you don't belong."

"That was badly worded on my part," he said in haste.  He didn't want Northgate upset. The man had always -- always -- been more than kind to him.  "I can't imagine any other life. I am different, and so is Liam from what I learned.  It might help him to realize he's not the only one."

Lord Northgate gave a pensive nod.  Godewyn, standing beside him, looked bothered and gave Connor a frown, though he couldn't of a reprimand or only an agreement that things were not, indeed, normal.

No matter.  The group started up to the steps to the Keep's great outer doors, which stood open already.  A group of four fae led the way, all of them in the bright colors and varied styles of the Wildlands.

"Lord Northgate," the woman in the lead said, bowing her head to him.  "We are grateful that you are willing to help us with our problem."

The tone of the words almost made Connor wince. They apparently wanted Liam out of their hands, and they weren't trying to hide the fact. He looked past the woman and the others and saw Liam lingering a step lower, looking up at the Keep with a bit of worry.  He would never have lived in such a place, Connor realized. In the Wildlands they didn't even live in cottages, but only temporary huts and tents.

"It is an honor to have him here," Northgate replied with the words steady and the truth a power in themselves.  Connor saw Liam look his way with surprise. "The gifts of the Seer are difficult to bear, and I hope that we might make this coming into power easier for him."

The woman gave a nod, half-distracted, as though she genuinely didn't care.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Flash Fiction # 322 -- Connor of Northgate/6


Chapter Two

Growing up at Northgate was an adventure.  Connor had understood that from the time he began to walk and got into trouble like all the other children at the keep.  He wasn't the only one often reprimanded by an older fae and sent back out of the armory or out of Askela's kitchens.
 
He had friends among the half-dozen fae children born to the Northgate Keep. Human not fae the adults would sometimes say of him, though as a child he hadn't understood.  When he grew a little older, Lord Northgate, to whom Connor was a ward, said it had to do with magic, which humans didn't have.

At first Connor thought that made him less than the fae, and he felt sadness his ten-year-old mind couldn't quite grasp and understand.  That passed, though, as his friends sought him out and dragged him along to more adventures.

"I don't care if you are human," Nylia said with a lift of her head, her golden hair swinging back to show those curved ears, so different from his own.

Connor's hair was almost as blond, at least, so he didn't stand out too much.  Nylia was a year older than the rest of them and seemed wiser for it.
 
Erlis and Renden muttered agreements.

"You belong to Northgate.  You were born here.  My mother says your parents were very, very brave and saved Lord Northgate.  She said you deserve all the honor we couldn't give to them because they died."

He'd heard the tale from Lord Northgate, but listening to the words from Nylia made the story different. "I would rather have honor for myself," he finally said.

"That you'll have to gain on your own.  However, being human isn't bad," Nylia said and looked directly into his eyes.  "Don't ever let them tell you so."

And then they went on and played some more.

At fifteen, the first serious change took place in his life.  It came unexpectedly, though.  Lord Northgate had agreed to foster a young fae from the wild lands -- areas outside the keeps and even outside the villages.

"Liam is a seer," Lord Northgate said to the gathered court the day before the newcomer arrived.  People looked shocked and worried.  "He's just coming into his power and obviously confused.  Liam had no early training and no one realized his power until it began to seriously manifest.  I expect all of you to treat him well and help him through this time.  A seer has a difficult task, sorting through the visions to learn what is real, what is possible and what is only his imagination."

The others nodded, looking troubled as they slipped away.  Connor went with Erlis and Rendon, both of whom looked bothered.

"I know what a seer is," Connor said.  "Why is that a problem?"

"Because sometimes they can tell you things you don't want to know," Erlis replied, shaking his head with worry.  "And sometimes they can even tell you things you shouldn't know, and then you try to change the future.  That's dangerous, especially for the fae."

Rendon nodded as well.  "I heard he's Nylia's age.  That means we'll be dealing with him. I wouldn't want his power, and I really don't want to deal with him, either."

"We'll all start coming into our powers soon," Erlis said.

Then he looked at Connor, shock in his face, as though he only now realized Connor would not have powers.

They walked on in silence to dinner.  The table where Connor and his friends sat remained quiet that night, and Connor felt as though he had lost something precious with the arrival of Liam.  He thought he ought to be angry at the intrusion.

That night, sitting on the bed where he had been born, Connor thought about what it meant to be different from the others.  This Liam would have that taint, too. First, he was an outsider, and he couldn't remember the last time anyone had moved into the Keep. They had visitors, of course, but people didn't stay.  Even the people from the Royal Court only came now and then, looked things over, and returned to the safer keeps and castles.

Yes, safer. Connor hadn't thought that through, either.  He knew that there had been trolls and an invasion and the death of many people besides his parents.

Connor went to the window and looked down at the courtyard below.  People moved there with bobbing lights trailing above them like glowing birds on a leash. 

He would never make that light.

He felt cold then; cold at the very essential difference between him and his friends and the one thing he could not change.

Like Liam couldn't change.  That thought brought him back to his original musings about how he and Liam were perhaps a bit alike.  They could not change the difference that set them apart.  Maybe he shouldn't be upset at the arrival of this strange fae. Perhaps, for Lord Northgate's sake if nothing else, he should make no judgments and see if he could befriend this stranger.

Connor didn't know much about the wild lands except it was where some of the odder magical creatures lived who didn't like to be in the cities and castles.  In truth, he had never been far beyond the keep's walls in all his life, and he'd never thought much about it.  This was home.

Connor slept lightly that night, awoke before dawn and dressed.  He sat by the window and waited. Not long after sunrise, he heard the sound of others arriving, but that would not be Liam -- not at first light.

In the faint light he could see several huge creatures, all of them dead and strung across a wagon.  Sounds erupted from the castle and he saw others rushing out.  The guards had plainly found Trolls in the nearby hills.

Connor stood.  Then he settled in the chair again.  They did not need him underfoot.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Flash Fiction #321 -- Connor of Northgate/5


Lord Northgate did as she ordered, letting his mind clear as he accepted that he had survived to make it home.  He recalled everything, and the anger must have shown in his eyes, though he hadn't the strength to make any other show.  Magra gave a grim nod, though, as if understanding his mood. She said nothing.

He sipped tea imbued with herbs and magic.  They'd taken him to his own rooms, and he looked about the tapestry covered-walls and at the window thrown open to the warmth and bright light.  He had expected a storm still, and that made him wonder how long he'd lain here, senseless. He didn't worry about himself, though.

"The woman -- Clarice," he said softly.

Her eyes told him the truth before she spoke.  "The poison got into her system, Lord Northgate.  We've done our best to keep it from the child as well, but she cannot live much longer.  The healers say it is best if the child is born within the hour.  A little young to be brought into the world, but the healers will keep him safe.  No, be still.  The poison, Lord Northgate -- the healers even from the Queen herself could not get it from your system.  They've found a way to hold it at bay.  It will not kill you.  Not yet."

The news sent a chill through him, but he still moved to sit up.  Magra clucked her tongue in protest but finally helped him.  The room spun, and he gasped, but he stayed conscious.

"I must see Clarice before she dies," he said; horrible words.  Humans lived such short lives, and that always bothered the fae, but to have the lives cut short by foul magic, and to have lost those precious years to help protect him was a heavy weight on his soul.

Magra went to the door and called others.  She might have used magic, but they were used to doing things for themselves here at home.  Magic was for other places; to use it too often made a fae lazy and eventually deadened his very soul.  They were not merely creatures of magic, the fae.  They were bodies as well, which Lord Northgate knew too well as he tried to stand.

He tottered to his feet before Godewyn and Tage arrived.  Both looked ready to argue, but Magra silenced them before they began to protest.

"He needs to see the fine lady who helped save him.  There will not be another chance."

So they gathered him up, Magra adding a little magic to help him as he moved.  They went through the dark, cool halls of Northgate Keep, a place of loss and sorrow today.  He would have to ask about all those who had died here.

He would have to find out how and why this had happened.  This had not been merely an attack of trolls, a random outbreak of their old hostilities.  They had poison and needles to deliver death that could not be countered, and trolls would not have managed that subtlety on their own.  Something had set the trolls on this path and given them the power to arrive on the wind.

He would find the answer.

They arrived at the door to a guest suite, not very far from his own rooms though it had felt like miles.  A soft knock brought Isole out, tears in her eyes.  She bowed her head to Lord Northgate and took one ragged breath before she spoke.

"The child comes now, my Lord.  You cannot go in to see her until this is done.  She is courageous, is Clarice.  Calm.  She knows she will die, but the child will live.  Sit here. This will not take long."

With a wave of her hand, she made a bench for him; a kindness and he settled there, trying to calm the hard beats of his heart and the dread that came over him, knowing death lingered only a doorway beyond.

Isole went back inside the room.  He caught a glimpse of a bed, of several healers, of Clarice's dark hair falling across a pillow.

They waited in silence.

Not long.  He heard the cry of the child, a quick protest at being born.  A good cry, for all the trouble that came with this birth.  He sounded strong.

Isole arrived almost immediately at the door.  Her eyes were dry now but her face bleak.

"Quickly, sir.  There is little time."

He stood without help, the others hurrying to keep up with him as he crossed through the door and into the room.

Clarice looked to him and gave a little nod, as though she had no more strength.  He could see her eyes fluttering and felt the magic that kept her from the pain that would have dragged her down and made this moment anything but calm.  He gave a grateful nod to the healers, all of whom stood in a solemn array to the far side of the bed now.  One of them held the baby, wrapped in a blanket of spring green.  The child moved.  The healer laid the bundle upon the bed, nestled in the woman's weak arm.

"You -- you will take care of him?" she whispered, looking to Lord Northgate.  The words were bare sounds, her eyes flickering.  "Promise you will --"

"I give you my promise that I will do all to keep the child from harm," he said.

Magra and Isole both took startled gasps.  He had put power into those words, and such a promise meant more than words to a fae.  He had taken the child fully and completely into his care.  He thought that somehow Clarice might have understood as well.

"What will you name the child?" he asked, fearing each breath would be the last.

"Chad liked Connor," she whispered, tears of loss in her eyes.

"Connor," he said with a bow of his head.

By the time he looked up, she had died.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Flash Fiction #320 -- Connor of Northgate/4


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

And died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Wake up, Chad.  Wake up.  Wake up."

The words drove a different pain into his heart.

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

No.

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

Only one answer.

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

"We must go," Northgate whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lord Northgate!"

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

"Trolls," Northgate whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything went dark.

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

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

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Flash Fiction #319 -- Connor of Northgate/3



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something splashed nearby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go!" Northgate warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northgate could hear Clarice rushing back toward them --

Not fast enough.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Flash Fiction # 318 -- Connor of Northgate/2


 (Previous)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wall there.

They both went over.

Neither of them could fly.

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

No.

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

Grabbed at it and pulled them both there.

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

They hit the water, the troll finally letting go.

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

Get to the air.

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

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

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

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


To Be Continued...

Friday, August 24, 2018

Flash Fiction #317 -- Connor of Northgate/1

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

Chapter One


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned back, lifting his hand again --

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Flash Fiction # 316: Fallen Flowers/2



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The creature made a slight laughing sound, inhuman.

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

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

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

Father would die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No --"

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

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

They hadn't told their mother yet, though.

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

None of them argued.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Flash Fiction # 315: Fallen Flowers/1



There were dead flowers on the spiral staircase.  The rose blooms had cascaded downward over the steps and died, the colors fading and some leaves turning to dust.  They couldn't have been there more than two weeks, the last time Catlyn and her brother had been to the mansion, and yet they looked as though they'd been dead a year or more.

"How did the flowers get there?" Catlyn asked, looking at Terrance with a lifted eyebrow.  "You didn't --"

"Not me," Terrance replied with an emphatic shake of his head.  He'd pulled his hair back into a tie hoping to make it look more acceptable.  "I told you that I haven't come back here since the gathering.  Grandmother scares the fu --"

Catlyn had put fingers to his lips.  While Grandmother didn't scare her, there was no reason to straight out annoy the older woman with language she did not approve.  Catlyn couldn't begin to figure out why grandmother had sent for the two of them, though.  That worried her, especially on the eve of what had seemed like two uncommonly long days.

"Well?  Are you coming up?" the familiar voice shouted from somewhere above them.

"Yes, Grandmother," Catlyn replied, her voice steady.  She tapped Terrance on the arm and gave him a nod of encouragement.

Terrance started up ahead of her, carefully avoiding the debris of flowers.  A fallen vase sat at the top of the stairs, dusty along the edges.  Why hadn't anyone picked it up yet?  Grandmother might be eccentric, but she did have maids and other people working in the house.

Grandmother was, as usual, in her sitting room and on the high-backed chair by the window. She wore a long, gray gown, more than a century out of date, but exquisite in a way that made Catlyn wish, for a moment, that women could still dress that way, at least sometimes.  Grandmother's silver hair formed an intricate design above her thin face, and jewels glittered in the tresses, the light from the window catching them as she turned from one side to another, looking at the two.

Catlyn always felt as though they ought to bow to the queen, and that wasn't merely a snarky response to the elaborate scene.  There was something both majestic and powerful that Catlyn felt every time she came near the woman.

"Thank you for your promptness," Grandmother said.

That threw Catlyn, and no doubt Terrance as well.  While Grandmother was never overtly rude, she rarely made anyone feel welcome or even that they had done something well.  Catlyn mistrusted the change.

Terrance was quick to respond, though.  "We are honored that you wanted to see us here.  What can we do for you?"

The woman looked from one to the other, her green eyes narrowed and her thin lips pursed as though she weighed them both.  Then she gave an unexpected, and very un-grandmother-like, shrug.

"Neither of you are much like your mother."

Catlyn weighed the tone and the implications and then gave a slight bow of her head.  "No, we aren't.  Mother is drawn to making money and living in a style that seems more confining the richer she becomes."

"Yes!"  Grandmother sat forward, as though they had made a connection for the first time.

"I've nothing against money," Terrance added.  Oddly, this was a conversation Catlyn had had with her brother before.  "I just don't want to be trapped by it.  Mother doesn't understand, but at the same time she's glad enough that we don't try to interfere with her life any more than father does."

"What is it you want, Grandmother?" Terrance asked.

Grandmother stood.  She was a tall woman and thin.  She did not stoop from age, and her movements were steady as she crossed to the side of the room and stood by a massive globe.  She signaled the two of them over to her.

"I have a problem," she said and gave a sigh that held a hint of disgust.  "One of my own making, I fear.  I got careless.  Look. This is where your father is now.  He's sailing."

"Yes," Terrance said and looked down at the expanse of water where Grandmother pointed.  We both knew father was sailing from Honolulu to Osaka on the latest stretch of his quest to sail all the oceans and seas.  "We can't be certain where --"

Grandmother touched the globe.  It changed.  Three dimensional, Catlyn thought at first.  That was pretty high-tech for a woman who dressed as though she lived in the 1890s.  And really cool -- it had a cloud layer coming in --

She felt chilled.  Terrance took a step back and then forward again, staring down at the globe.

"This happened yesterday, children," Grandmother said.  "I got careless, and something slipped into the house through the back door.  I felt it coming up the stairs, so I grabbed the vase of flowers as a handy weapon.  The water, you see, is special."

She waved a hand toward a vase of roses.  Catlyn began to fear they were the same roses that were dead on the stairs.  She wanted to say something.  So did Terrance, but neither of them spoke.  Grandmother looked from one to the other and gave another nod as though they'd passed a test of some sort.

"While I was throwing the roses at the ghoul, something else came through and straight into my room.  They set a storm in motion," she said.  The globe turned a bare quarter of an inch, and a storm swept in, dark and ominous, reaching for their father.  "By the time I realized the trick, my enemy was gone.  I turned back the time once, twice -- but no matter what I do, I cannot be in two places at once.  I must throw the roses and stop the ghoul. The two of you will stop the other from setting the storm against your father."

We didn't argue.
To be continued...



Friday, August 03, 2018

Flash Fiction #314: Myth of the Rainbow (Drabble)




Tiny pixies once ruled the sky, darting everywhere with flashes of bright color, pleasing all who saw them -- except for the orcs who hated and envied their beauty.  The orcs drove them into caverns and wells, using dark magic to trap them away from the sky.

Ors also hate rain.  When it falls they hide and their spells weaken.  Storms are dangerous for pixies, though, so they can only take advantage of the breach in the last momenst of gentle rain.  Then they swarm up from one spot and down to another to visit others.


And so we have rainbows.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Flash Fiction # 313: Calis Rules



(Previous Story: The Throne of Obsidian)

Calis liked the new throne made of wood and jewels.  Since the death of Argonis a year before, things had quietly slipped back to normal.  People still did not entirely trust the flying fortress that had been a place of evil for a few years, but Calis began to slowly win them back.

"We'll sit down in the capital before noon," Draken said as he came into the throne room.  "Locan says he senses some trouble there.  And I just saw smoke on the horizon."

Calis grabbed his cane and stood to follow Draken out to the balcony.  Smoke meant fire, and that was never a good sign.  At best it was a disaster, but at worst it was a sign of the Fire Mages rising up again.  Argonis had been their leader, but after his death Locan, the king's elderly mage, had learned there were far more of the mages most of them slipping over the borders from the southern lands.

Argonis had won the throne for a while, and now it seemed that every dark mage with longings for power had decided to try his or her hand at taking over the rule.  The fact that they considered Calis crippled did much to encourage them.

Draken stopped by the doors that led outside, signaled Calis back, and opened the right-hand door partway, checking outside.  He took his duties very seriously, this guard who was the true hero of the country, though he denied it.  Without his help, though, they never would have gotten close enough to Argonis to kill him.

"Safe," Draken said.  "But a bit breezy."

Calis braced himself as he stepped out into the cold wind.  He thought he could feel a little snow in the air.  That might help with any fires.

He could see the smoke curling upward along the horizon.  The city was not far away, at least, and the fire did not appear to be large.  An accident of some sort, he hoped.

"It is near the city center," Draken said.  "That could be a problem for us."

"Have Locan meet me in the throne room."

Draken nodded.  He called for a servant and sent her on her way, but he did not leave Calis's side.  He'd always been a good guard.

Locan strode into the throne room a few minutes later.  He looked distracted, and some might think him old and forgetful, but Calis only knew him to be distracted by too many things the mage must keep under watchful eyes.

"How bad is it?" Calis asked.  He'd learned not to waste the man's time.

"Not a natural fire, King Calis," the man said.  He never forewent courtesies, even when they were alone except for Draken.  "I can't say how serious, though.  It has the feel of something that's already gotten out of hand."

"I don't know if I should be pleased or not," Calis said.  "I don't want to see any damage done, but if it's gotten out of hand, that does mean the mages are not as good as they thought they were."
"True enough, sire," Locan replied.  He tilted his head and blinked a couple times.  "This may work for us.  I don't think we'll have much trouble putting this fire out."

It turned out he meant those words seriously.

They hovered over the fire, far lower than Draken obviously liked, but it would help with control of the water.  Locan had placed himself in the lower levels of the fortress and prepared to blow a hole in the bottom of their reservoir.  He said it shouldn't be hard to fix again.  Calis had to hope he was right.

The fire spread upward towards them, and for a moment, Calis could see the enemy in the heart of the flames, untouched by the fire as he sent destruction everywhere.  It reminded Calis far too much of his father's death and the mass of emotions -- mostly hatred and fear -- rushed over him.  Then the view passed and he waited for the next step.

It should have happened by now.  They were going to be too far over --

The fortress shuddered and bounced slightly.  The sound of the falling water was louder than the explosion of rock that had opened up below them.

Steam rose up around them -- uncomfortable and dangerous.  Flames followed, but the steam swirled, became a mass of water, and dropped again.  Draken grabbed hold of Calis who started to slip on the stone platform, and they both retreated back into the fortress.

Calis thought they must have done well because the Pyromancer did not attack them again.  He hoped the man was captured.

Argonis brought them down in the square where the fortress usually settled.  Calis had done a quick job of changing clothing since he knew that he always had to make a good impression.

The people started yelling as soon as he appeared.  For a moment, Calis feared they were angry, but he soon learned from the Mayor that the Pyromancer had been harassing them for days already and this was not the first building to have gone up in flames.

"I hope that we can quickly capture him," Calis said.  "I will not leave you unprotected unless I learn that he's moved on to some other spot."

"Most kind, your highness," the mayor said and gave a better bow than usual.  Calis had the impression he'd finally won the man over, and hopefully the rest of the people as well.

Locan made his way to where the others had gathered.  He looked less grumpy than usual.

"Good news?" Calis asked.  "Have you already caught him?"

"Better than that. The man drowned.  The floor gave way beneath him and the basement filled with water."

"That is excellent news, my friend!  Let us celebrate!"

They had a feast the likes of which they had not shared since the days of the old King.  Calis had the feeling they might finally be accepting him.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #312: Serena's Baby Buffy/3




The odd women who had been stealing babies were getting away, but they'd only gotten one child this time, and that baby was not what they expected.

Serena, though, had a slight problem.  The women of the village were upset, and they were not listening to her as she tried to get away from them.

"You can't follow them, my dear.  Look, look --"

"So much magic --

"Oh, that poor baby --

"It could have been any of us --"

"Be QUIET!"

They looked at Serena in shock and dismay, but at least she had their attention now.

"I must go after them before they get away," she said and began to strip away all her excess clothing.  "The rest of you will still need to take care, but I don't think they'll be back --"

"But, child -- the magic -- You can't --"

"I can."  She pulled off the shawl from across her shoulders and let her wings flutter out.  The others backed up in shock.  "I have magic, too.  And the baby they took is really my familiar.  I need to get to them before they realize the mistake and I lose my link to Buffy.  Take care."

Serena hurried out of the building and into the darkness of pre-dawn.  She had no trouble following where they women went, at least as long as they didn't go to some other realm.  She hadn't counted on the women slowing her up, and now, in a haze of panic, she took to the sky and flew straight toward the odd stairs. The women were already nearly to the top and one still held Buffy.

The breeze off the ocean was against her, and she feared that if she gave herself away, they would figure out about Buffy and do something to the cat.  The best she could do was to fly higher into the still dark sky, keep a tight hold of the magical link to Buffy, and follow as close as she could.

As she had hoped, the women used so much magic of their own that they didn't yet feel the bit of disguise on Buffy.  Once they started examining her, though --

A surge of magic warned her that something was about to change.  She swept down closer and even dared use her magic to grab a tighter hold of Buffy.

"What was that?" one of the women demanded.  "What --"

But the world changed as the woman spoke and the fog and sea disappeared.  In their place came a swirl of colors and stars.  The beauty of the area took her so much by surprise that she had only started to be scared when they dropped out again.

They were over the ocean, but an island sat below them, a vast castle perched on the rocky rise out of the twisted trees. It had a forlorn look, an empty and lonely place.

Serena thought she might feel sorry for the three women, though she still worried about what they had been doing.  She could see them heading in the doors that swung open and snapped shut behind them.

They had Buffy trapped somewhere inside!  She would be in danger because those women would figure it out soon --

Serena flew frantically back and forth over the building before she realized that many of the gaping windows seemed to be open.  She swept downward and felt no magic, so she landed on the edge of a second story windowsill and then leapt inside.

The room hadn't been used in a while, so she had gotten lucky.  Or maybe it was more than luck because she really couldn't hear anything nearby at all, except for the startled scrabbling of mice running for cover.  That feeling of desolation and loneliness swept through the area. 

She hurried out into the hall, the place full of dust and cobwebs, but she could see a light glowing at the bottom of the stairs, and as she started down the steps, Serena could hear voices, too.

"I tell you, it's a cat!  She wasn't a cat when I picked her up."

"Don't be silly, Jana.  No one would dress a cat in -- oh."

"What a lovely cat she is, too," another said.  Well, Buffy didn't seem to be in too much danger.  "But she does present a problem.  I can feel the magic on her now and --"

"And I am here," Serena said from the steps.  One of the women held Buffy, and the other two petted her.  She could hear Buffy purr.  Some help!  Baby cribs sat everywhere, rocking and with bottles ready for feeding, magically sitting in the air.  "What do you people think you've been doing?"

The three women turned and stared at me.  They looked -- well, embarrassed more than anything --like children caught cheating in a game of hide and seek.  Despite all the magic and power, she'd seen, there was nothing dangerous here.

"We -- we wanted -- the palace needs -- so alone --"

The three talked over each other.  I lifted my hand, and they fell silent.  "You can't steal children.  Someone far more angry than me would have come after you.  We must take the children back."
"We thought they would grow up to like it here," Jana said. "We could give them a good life."
"Maybe we can work something else out."

Within three months everything had changed.  The babies were home.  Six families had moved to the castle, though they came and went to the mainland as often as they liked.  Serena had visited often.  Everyone seemed happy because the Jana, Mara, and Misi were quite nice -- and rich.  The families who went to help at the Island Castle would grow rich and famous.

The ladies were especially happy when Serena and Buffy brought them a basket full of gifts.

Jana opened the top. "Oh!  Fluffies!"

"There are stray kittens everywhere in the villages.  You can have as many as you like," Serena said, though she thought that might not be entirely wise...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Flash Fiction #311: Serena's Baby Buffy/2


Serena didn't have much time to do anything except a quick illusion spell.  By some miracle, the magic worked without any trouble.  Buffy's face now looked like that of a baby, though Serena could see the fur from the shoulder's down, and a tail that twitched.

"Quick, into the clothing," she whispered and shoved Buffy, complaining slightly with a few muttered curses, into the baby clothes and blankets.

Barely in time.  Someone knocked politely on the door.

"Yes?" she asked, sounding timid.  It was an act she had to keep up so that she could sit by herself and act very shy.

"It's Mistress Lali, my dear," the woman who ran the inn said.  "Can we talk to you?"

"Ummm ... yes?"  She tentatively opened the door, Buffy in her arms.

"My dear," the woman said.  She looked worried, as did the two women, both with babies, who had followed behind her.  "I should have told you straight away, but I supposed it would do no harm to wait.  You could not find a safe way to leave the village anyway before the night came."

"Safe?" she said, her voice a little higher.  Buffy, drama queen that she always had been, gave a little whimper of her own.

"Babies are being stolen in the night from villages nearby," one of the other women said.  She had a harsh, bitter voice, and looked too old to be the baby's mother.  Her next words confirmed it.  "My daughter-in-law has four other children, all of them older.  I brought the baby here for safety."

"Safety?"

"You must bring your baby down into the Common Room with the rest of us.  We will do our best to keep all the baby's safe tonight.  Tomorrow you should move on to somewhere away from the shore.  So far, they haven't struck farther inland."

"Who?  Who would do such a thing?  How?" she asked and gathered a few things for Buffy.  Mistress Lali took the pack from her and helped her down the stairs.

Another seven women sat in the Common Room.  The two who had come to her room, along with Serena, made ten.  That was a bumper crop for babies, she thought.  But she carefully took a place in the corner, thanked everyone for their concern and help, and did her best to blend in and draw no notice.

As the sun went down, the others began to fall asleep -- a natural sleep, she noted.  Babies started to fuss, were fed, and mothers slept again.

The hardest part for Serena was to not go to sleep at all.  Buffy even fell asleep midway through the night, still complaining of the clothing.

Twice she got up and paced as though the baby were cranky.  The second time she settled closer to the door.  No one made much show of it.

The night wore on.  Serena finally dared a sip of the tea her mother had made for her with just a touch of magic to keep her awake.  It had to be closer to the dawn, right?  She'd lost all track of time in this endless night, and even Buffy's funny curses on those who designed baby clothing had stopped amusing her. 

Everything had gotten quiet.  Serena shifted, and Buffy murmured something impolite but didn't wake up.

Everything had gone too quiet.

This was it.

Serena shook Buffy slightly.  The cat yawned -- the baby face still in place -- and didn't wake.  Doing her best not to make too much noise or movement, Serena took out her flask and put it to Buffy's lips, making sure she sipped a little.

The cat's eyes flew open, and she hissed.  Serena put a finger to her mouth and almost got bit, but she blinked and gave a little baby nod.

Serena could hear sounds outside -- the steps of the three women who came to take the babies.  She knew they had to do this carefully.  If the women suspected --

No time to think any more about it.  The women came in through the door.  Serena got a glimpse of them through her mostly closed lashes. They were, of course, the same three that had struck her own hometown.  She could not see much of their faces, but their long hair still flowed around them, and their dark robes made them seem more substantial than they were.

Serena had purposely placed herself near the door in hopes that they would find the baby held loosely in her arms as a quick one to grab.  They were still as nervous as they had been the last time she saw the women, which she hoped would help.  They were not any sort of magical being that she recognized, though, and that worried her.

The last of the three looked over and took Buffy from her arms.  Step one complete.

She let the three move on, but Serena knew she had to act soon.  If the strange woman kept hold of Buffy for too long, she might feel the magic there.  Besides, she didn't want them to take any of the other babies.

So, with a bit of a dramatic cry, she stood and wobbled, as though still mostly asleep.

"My baby!"

The others began to wake. The intruders gave cries of dismay and retreated -- and yes, the one still held to Buffy.  They fled in haste while women shouted, babies cried, and men who had been guarding outside came awake.

Serena was the first to follow them out of the building, though she dared not rush too quickly for fear they'd throw Buffy back to her.  Like before, a strange staircase of fog stood at the edge of the village.  The three were already heading up it, and in a moment they and the mist disappeared.

"Oh dear Goddess," Mistress Lali whispered.  "I am so sorry.  If you hadn't been with us --"

"Then this wouldn't have worked," Serena replied, startling the woman.  "It is time to take care of this trouble."

Friday, July 06, 2018

Flash Fiction #310 -- Serena's Baby Buffy


Sometimes having wings was a definite distraction and problem, Serena decided.  Now as one of the worst as she tried to push Buffy into the swaddling clothes.  The cat was not cooperating.

"Buffy, do you like your wings?" she finally asked, her voice uncommonly calm.

Buffy blinked bright blue eyes and looked at her with a slight bit of worry.  "Ummm ... yes?" she offered.

"Then if you want to keep them, stop flapping them about and get into the clothing."

Buffy, the cat, sighed and folded her wings down.  "It's a reaction to feeling as though I'm being trapped," the cat admitted.  "I'm trying very hard not to bite or scratch."

"I appreciate it," Serena replied and finally got the long gown over the cat and her front paws out the arms.

"This is uncomfortable.  No wonder babies always cry."

"I kind of agree, but you need to look the part.  I'd rather do this with illusion, but that's not a good idea.  Whatever those three women were, they would know magic.  And besides, I suspect something would go wrong.  After all, it is my magic."

"We'll do okay," Buffy replied.  "I don't like this much, but I think this it will work.  We know the women are apt to hit the next village.  Let's stop them and see what they've done with the other babies."

Serena didn't really think Buffy cared much about the missing children from the other two villages.  She did like adventure, though, and that worked in this case.  They'd managed to save their own village's children, but the news had spread quickly about other babies gone missing elsewhere.

Serena's mother was at the dock to see them off.  She looked worried.  So did some of the others, but they wished her well.  Serena's mother had wanted to go, too -- but being the village wise woman meant she and her magic might be needed at home.  Strange things were happening in the world; Serena and Buffy were the best two to try to help.

Just the same, Serena thought the people had reason to worry.  She and Buffy had managed some rather spectacular near failures ever since the spell that went wrong and gave them both wings.  Serena wanted to prove herself -- but she did worry about what was going to go wrong this time.

The trip from home to the village of Goodport took all the day.  Buffy was cranky by the time they got to the inn, and Serena not much better -- only to be told there was no room -- but the woman took pity on Serena who was in tears, mostly for fear that Buffy would claw her way out of the clothing.  They had a little closet of a room that had belonged to a servant who now lived at home with her husband. The room was dusty and musty, and the only window was too small for Serena to even stick her head out -- but she was glad for the place and thanked the woman.

"Get me out of these clothes!" Buffy hissed as soon as the door closed and the footsteps moved away.

"Quiet!" Serena ordered, but she did quickly undress the cat, though she feared she would never get her in the outfit again.

Buffy slid out of the gown and plopped down on the bed, grooming, and growling.  "Human babies have to be the most useless creatures on earth," she finally said looking up at Serena.

"I think you're right.  But babies do grow up to be helpful, even to cats."

"Huh." She jumped down and explored the little room.  "No mice.  Well kept place, but I hope we don't have to stay here long."

Serena agreed.  "I don't think I can come up with a good excuse beyond that my aunt didn't arrive, so we're heading back home.'

"A couple days," Buffy said.  She sounded resigned.  "I should go scout now."

Serena didn't like the idea, but she nodded agreement.  Buffy could take a look around and report back to her with anything out of the ordinary, and still be ready for their visitors tonight.

They were going to have a very long night, she feared.  And if they had no trouble tonight, then they would have a lot of long days and nights ahead.

"Don't be gone for long," Serena whispered.  "I'll do a little magic so that it sounds as though I have an upset baby here.  You know how that's apt to go badly, though."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Buffy promised.

Serena propped the little window open, and Buffy squeezed out onto a corner of the roof.  Then she peered over the edge, waited a moment, and finally spread her wings to glide away.  Serena suddenly wanted to do the same.  Wings were helpful things -- and had proven an excellent way to escape from stress.

Not this time.  Instead, Serena set a little spell of a baby crying.  The spell-child howled at first, but Serena quickly dampened the sound and began to pace, as though walking the child.  The pacing helped.

Buffy came back sooner than she expected. The quick tap on the glass startled her, but she was glad to bring the window up and let her in.

"Good news and bad news," Buffy said as she leapt toward the bed, eying the baby clothes with some disgust.  "The bad news is that they already know about the problem and they're taking precautions.  The good news is that all the women and their babies are gathering downstairs where they will spend the night."

"Well -- ummm -- good?"

"You see the problem, right?" Buffy asked and glared at the clothing again.

"Oh.  The locals will expect us to go down there with the others."

"Which means I have to be a useless little human baby for the night," Buffy added with disgust.

Serena could hear a few women coming up the stairs.  They didn't have much time.

To be continued...