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 --"


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."


"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...