Thursday, October 17, 2019

Flash Fiction # 377 -- Reports






(Pellin is a major force in the Inner Worlds Council books.  This is just a peak at a busy day.)

Reports defined President Pellin's world; reading them, writing them, and hearing them.  Occasionally, he read his own statements to the Assembly, just to make certain they remembered who was in charge of things. 

Today's reports didn't cover the critical problem that he'd placed in the hands of Inner World Council Security.  The fear of a new weapon and falling into the hands of the wrong people --

No, he didn't cover that trouble in the briefing.  Instead, he gave good news about plights averted, reported dangerous flooding in the Tempest backlands -- nothing new there -- and welcomed the new delegation from Paradise.  They all wore pale blue and green and might as well have been cloned.  He would never be able to tell them apart and hoped that Fabroni came up with an answer so he could tag each one.  Sometimes he thought the people from Paradise did this sort of thing on purpose.

The report went well.  Pellin answered a few questions afterward.  The Ambassador from Astrakhan was hostile, but he didn't get as rude as he had been in their private meeting.

The usual crowd tried to talk to him between the Great Hall and his office.  Pellin stayed polite despite a growing headache.  A pod of teens from Terra Nova waited in the office; Pellin spent an hour with them, listening to the award-winning report that had brought them here -- actually quite good -- and talking with them afterward.  There were a few who would become politicians, without a doubt.

Then they were gone, and he could sit down at the desk, glance over a few more reports --

The door opened.  Fabroni looked in, worry on his face.  "Epona is on her way to see you.  I'll keep the office cleared."

He left without saying more -- so either he didn't know, or this was so bad he didn't want to be the one who to tell him.  Considering the problem with the Alrand Institute, their prototype weapon, and the mercenaries who took over their supposedly hidden labs -- yeah, this could be all kinds of trouble.

It wasn't what he had expected.

Epona, the head of Inner Worlds Council Security, came in and stopped a few steps from the desk.  "We lost Devlin."

His heart pounded.  "Oh dear God --"

"Oh -- oh, no.  Not dead.  I don't think so.  Lost.  We can't find her."

Pellin took a couple deep breaths and leaned back in his chair.  "Damn.  You know, I'm not certain that's any better."

Epona nodded and finally threw herself into one of the chairs by the desk.  Fabroni came in with tea and closed the door behind him.  He heard the news and frowned as he sat down, but said nothing.

"I was going to put her and her team on the Alrand problem," Epona admitted.  "Aldebaran could wait.  That's when I found out that she hadn't sent a message of any sort in months.  Granted, Devlin isn't always good at reporting in, but someone should have mentioned how long it had been.  I'm trying to figure out if it was intentional or just a case where one handler didn't think to mention the time span to the next one who took over."

Pellin nodded.  "It could be that she's just working.  And her team?"

"Dancer and Cha," Epona said.  "No word from either of them.  I made discreet contact with the Science Board.  They haven't heard from Cha, either though he'd been filing interesting reports on the local drug that's such a problem on Astrakhan."

"Both of them dropping out of sight does seem like a problem.  And what will we do about Alrand?"

"I'm going to send Kim's Team in," she said.  "They're a good Gold Card team that's been together for a while.  I'd already been looking at them.  And I'm sending Delphian with them."

"Have you decided that he's not actually crazy, or is that just no longer relevant?" Fabroni dared to ask.

"No longer relevant," she admitted and then shrugged.  "But I'm not so sure Delphian is crazy anyway.  Too many accidents aimed at him.  I'm going to get him introduced to Kim -- and probably Allie since she'll be the problem.  If the woman could just control that attitude of hers, she'd probably have a gold card of her own by now."

"And what are you going to do about Devlin?"

"I'm looking at who is available, but I'm leaning toward Mossi.  He's close, he's good, and he's worked with Devlin.  No matter who I decide on, I want a military craft to transport them within a world of Astrakhan -- the fastest trip we can get."

Pellin nodded, and Fabroni was already checking his pocketcomp.  "Where is Mossi now?" he asked.

"Terra Nova, so close to us, but far from where I want him to be.  I keep hoping for another agent closer, but there's no one so far that I'd put on a case that maybe Devlin couldn't handle."

"Alrand," Pellin said with a shake of his head.  "Devlin missing is bad enough -- but Alrand in the hands of people who could use that weapon anywhere.  I understand that a cannon version could destroy an entire ship?"

"That's what I heard.  One shot.  And it could do massive damage to landmasses, too," Epona added.  Of all the people at the Mars HQ, she was the only one who knew the depth of most of the problems.  "I'll go see who I can round up for the Devlin problem.  I'm probably going with Mossi, though.  And I'll get Kim and his people moving.  Damn mess."

She stood and walked out again, clearly too much on her mind.  Fabroni followed her.

Pellin placed a call to earth and tried to contact Keri Ibn Karim -- a psi and a friend to Devlin and her companions.   He was not around, and Pellin hoped he was already working on the Devlin problem.

And Pellin?  He went back to reading reports...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Flash Fiction # 376: Sunrise on a New World (Drable)



The ship landed without incident, the only time the ponderous craft had touched a world, having been built in orbit of the moon.  It would never lift again.

Computers ran tests while robos disassembled the ship.  Every piece would be used to build the first settlement.

Humans lined up at the bay doors, a line stretching back far into the ship.  Captain Tanton keyed the door open to Terra Nova and the sunrise.

Pink sky and a landscape of shadowed plants that would not be like those from Earth.  The air tasted sweeter. 

Tanton smiled. "Welcome to humanity's new home."

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Flash Fiction #375 -- Terson's Choice






(A side story related to Vita's Vengeance)

First, Terson had never meant to be part of Jarak's High Command.  The turnover rate at that exalted position was rather high, and the Verdi Elite who made it that far rarely retired.  Jarak's temper had grown short the last few years as people who dared to stand up to his decision to take over all the worlds in the Aquila Fringe.

Second, there was Idela, of course.  Jarak's homicidal daughter had too much freedom to pursue her own interests, and those were often bloody and dangerous for any Elite who served anywhere near her.  Jarak kept her somewhat close and a bit in hand, but Terson had seen the look of despair in her guard's face, and he didn't envy Avrial that place beside Idela and Jarak.

Third, Terson did not like Jade.  The world was nothing but dust and heat, and even a nice collection of Jadian jewels did little to improve the long days here.

The sullen locals were starting to work themselves into riots -- and that helped no one.  If they'd just calm, Jarak would move off to some other trouble spot.  He always had to be in charge of anywhere that glory might be won. In fact, the rest of his Generals, including Terson, had to work hard not to do too well.

Stupid way to fight a war.

Stupid war.

Terson swallowed back that thought and all the others before it, forcing his face to calm again.  Jarak would expect a report about how the King and Crown Prince had managed to kill themselves.  He had to put the best face on it that he could -- and with that in mind, he straightened his shoulders and went to another High Command Meeting from hell.

And left the room not too much later with the feeling that he -- and probably the rest of the High Command -- would not survive their stint on Jade.  Commern had bought them a little more time, but that meant they now owed Jarak's favorite for keeping them alive a bit longer.  Terson didn't trust Commern, of course.  Even Jarak wasn't fool enough to trust him -- but if anyone could come up with an answer to their current problems, it would be Commern.

Not an answer Terson would like, except that it would save his life.

Did they have a chance to get Jade in order in the next few days?  Terson stopped at the end of the hall and stared out where he could see the low lying city stretched out below.  He could see just the hint of a sandstorm in the distance and hoped it did not head into this area again.

"You don't seem happy, Terson," Idela said from behind him.

Damn.  Terson had to keep from frowning or glaring at her.  He did not want to be on her list of enemies, though probably anything he did wouldn't help. 

"Idela," he said as he turned and gave a little bow of his head to the princess.  People were starting to say Emperor when they spoke of Jarak, too.  How could they have come to this?  They were Verdi Elite!

"You don't look happy," she accused.

And what in this mess could possibly instill happiness -- but no, he kept that thought to himself as well.

"I fear we are in for another damn sandstorm," he said with a wave at the window.  Avrial shifted slightly at that movement, always ready for trouble -- though Terson couldn't guess what kept him loyal.  "This is a miserable excuse for a world.  I don't know why those fools are fighting so hard out there.  Why are we wasting good Verdi blood --"

But he stopped there.  Letting his emotions run wild now would not help him.

"Ah, but there are the jewels," Idela said with a lift of her hand.  A fortune in Jadian jewels sparkled as she moved her fingers.

Oh yes, of course, the jewels were essential to Idela.  Human lives were not.  Power and prestige -- that was all that mattered to Idela.  Pretty things on her fingers.

Terson worried that she could read too much in his face.  Damn this woman who was more of an enemy to the Verdi than the Jadians down on the streets.  And damn him for bowing to her and playing this game.  He thought he could beat Avrial to the draw and kill them both.  He still wouldn't survive, of course, but --

No.

"Don't you like the jewels, Terson?" she said with a little tilt of her head and the touch of a smile that hinted at nothing good for him.

"I am a soldier, Idela.  I am a Verdi Elite," he said and stood straighter for those words.  They still meant something, at least to him.  "The jewels are fine, but I have other interests."

She stared a moment longer as though trying to find some hook she could use against him.  She no doubt knew he had some jewels -- they all did in the High Command.  Many were gifts from Jarak himself.  Some of the others had rings made.  He did not.

"Well," she said and finding nothing more to say, turned and headed away.

In that half moment, when Adela looked elsewhere, Avrial bowed his head and dared a salute, which Terson had noted he did not give to anyone else but Jarak.

Then he spun and went after his ward.

Leaving Terson standing there, confused now rather than angry.  He felt as though he had just been given a gift with that salute.

What would he do with the touch of dignity that settled in his heart?  Nurture it.  Wait it out.  The IWC was sending people to look over the situation.  Terson could wait to see what came of that visit.

He might find a way to redeem his soul, along with his dignity.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Flash Fiction #374 The Last Chance





They were starting to pull out, the fae and all their allies.

Arturin had watched the long line of fae passing through the veil, two or three at a time, each taking a whisper of magic away from the world.  Most were more than happy to go, but a few ...  a few of his friends lingered at the bottom of the hill.  Like Arturin, they had all been born to this world, and they would be the last to leave it behind.

"Nothing more we can do," Talitian said with a shake of his head.  Arturin had never seen such a look in his uncle's face as the elder fae lifted a hand to touch the world one last time.  Magic played at his fingers.  "So much potential wasted."

Arturin kept silent.  His views were too well known and had never been popular.  However, he was now vindicated in those views -- too late to help the fae or the humans.  The magic would be gone soon, and there would be no hope to help the humans find a better way -- to find salvation and even survival.

Talitian looked at him with one eyebrow raised but said nothing at all.

"It seems a bit rude to say 'I told you so' at this point," Arturin finally admitted when his uncle didn't turn away.  "I'm sure we all have regrets at this point."

"You've ever right to be rude," Talitian said and turned to watch the fae heading through the veil and back to the lands that many had not seen in centuries.  Most appeared happy enough to go home, as though all the time they'd spent here meant nothing, and the humans were already ghosts in their eyes -- left behind and forgotten.  "I always thought the humans were wiser, Arturin.  I honestly did."

"So did I," he admitted.  He knelt and picked a flower -- a dandelion, a simple memory to take with him.  Arturin could not imagine why Talitian wanted this discussion now.

He stood again, cupping the flower in his hand.  He brushed a touch of magic over the petals, and now the flower would be yellow forever.  Almost all the fae were through the veil, just a few of the younger ones lingering.  Those were mostly friends of Corden's who had taken up the battle with him when they still thought there would be a chance to bring magic to the humans and help them past their own destructive tendencies.

Too late now.  Too late as fae after fae passed back into their own world --

"Arturin," Talitian said, a hand suddenly on his shoulder.  "What would you do if the veil closed right now?"

"Do?  I'd go home to my house and join my human friends --"

He stopped.  The look on Talitian's face told him that this was not a 'what if' question at all.  He felt a shiver pass through him and didn't know if he came from fear or hope.

"Uncle?" he whispered.

"You were right.  A little magic spread to the others, and not hoarded for ourselves, would have changed everything here.  Do you think it is too late?"

A serious question and not much time to contemplate.  Arturin's friends still lingered at the edge of the veil, looking back at the two where they stood on the hill.  They knew the question he'd been asked.

"Arturin?"

"I don't know," Arturin replied.  It was the only real answer he could give.  "Could a handful of us make a difference when the humans are already so firmly on this path?  There will be war -- we know it.  And more wars after that, ever more destructive.  That path is set.  Can we still nudge them another way?  Maybe a few.  Maybe enough --"

"Your choice, Arturin," Talitian said.  "I can't say how long it will be before another veil might come this way.  I can't say you'll survive -- the humans are volatile.  Even your friends might turn on you if you start to show them what you can do."

He nodded, but his heart had settled suddenly.  "It's a chance I'll take."

Talitian smiled.  Honestly smiled for the first time in years.  "Then I'd say we have some work to do, don't we?"

"You will stay?" Arturin asked, surprised again.

"If you will have me," he said.  "This is your work, Arturin.  I'm not going to step in now and pretend that I hadn't opposed even the best ideas that you've had down through the years."

"I would be honored to have your help."

Arturin turned toward his friends -- about twenty of them, he thought, we acted as though they only waited for him to join them.  The last of the line of fae started through the veil, including Scoland, the eldest.  He had also been the one most opposed to any link with the humans, despite living in the same world with them.

Scoland stopped and looked back, a frown on his face and his shoulder's straightening.  Oh, he'd picked up the plan without a doubt, and he'd never agree.  Arturin's friends were starting to back away from the elder fae, a whisper of worry coming from that area.  Scoland lifted a hand --

But it was no attack that came.  Instead, he took a chain from around his neck and sent it flying through the air -- and not to Talitian.  Arturin caught the chain -- and the key that it held.  The way to open a gateway back to home.

Scoland stepped through.  The veil shimmered and disappeared, leaving the last of the fae standing in the light of a summer sun.  Birds began to sing in the tree nearby, and a rabbit's head appeared in the grass.

He saw hope in those animals.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Flash Fiction # 373 -- Lost People






The sun had almost set on another day, the landscape the same -- dead brown and broken only by occasional spots of green weeds.  Taller plants clustered around rare waterholes.  Corden scanned the scenery for another such place, hoping to find one still within walking distance tonight.  He only saw desert and ruins, old and some far more ancient.

His canteen was already dry, and he didn't like to think about another night without water, waking miserable and weaker in the morning.  The hydronet might get him enough liquid from condensation to go through tomorrow, too, but it would be a dry and miserable day. 

Then something odd caught his attention.  Something glittered in the distance, somewhat north of the way he walked. Flashed again, red and orange -- he realized it was something catching the last light of day.

Windows?

His map had shown no city in this area, new or ancient.  He pulled out his pocketcomp, just to be sure. Nothing in the files, not even a lost listing for this area.  He had already turned that way and started walking a little faster despite being worried about what exactly he might have spotted.  It had been more than a century since anyone had found a true unknown settlement and all of those in ruins.

When Corden's aircar had dived toward the ground in a sudden catastrophic failure, he'd thought he would just die in the crash.  Thanks to the long side across the sand, he'd come out of it with hardly more than a few bruises.  He'd thought someone would come out to find him.  Three days later, and with water and food nearly gone, Corden decided it was time to help himself instead.  He was a government surveyor by trade, specializing in finding old supply caches in the Wildlands of the American Southwest.  He'd always liked flying over the barren land, marking out old towns, finding the occasional working well.

Walking through it was not nearly as much fun.

The longer he walked into the dark, the more he doubted his sanity when it came to that glittering jewel in the distance.  It could not be a town -- not of that size and clearly out in the open rather than buried beneath the sand.  Such a place would have been seen in a flyover.  Hadn't there been a report of things that looked like tilled land in this area?  The directors had waved it off pointing out that there were no settlements large enough to support those kinds of fields -- it was just chance the plants seemed to grow in ordered plots of land.

Corden hadn't questioned it.  But now -- now he could see lights glittering in buildings, and he walked down a path between tall rows of maize.  He drank a little water from an artesian well and thought he'd never had better.  And kept walking all the way to a brick wall and gate where a guard stood.

"Stranger!" the man said startled.  Not much of a guard, but he guessed maybe a single person wasn't why he'd been watching.

"Crashed -- days ago," Corden said with a wave back at the dark desert behind him.  "Saw -- lights?"

Corden stared past the gate made of tree limbs tied together into a crisscrossed box.  The lights were still there, but shadows as well ... a settlement built under a substantial cavernous overhang.

"Come on in," the man said, pushing the gate open.  "Welcome to Shangri-la."  Then he laughed at Corden's sudden glance.  "Yeah, local joke.  Not much of a paradise -- but we do have water."

It took Corden two days to figure out that he'd wandered into something ... unusual.  It wasn't just the hidden buildings, but all the rather modern equipment they used -- and the fact they spoke perfect Basic rather than any local Earther dialect.  At the morning meal of the third day, he finally asked the questions that had kept him awake for most of the last two nights.

"Where are you from?" he said, looking straight at Sani.

Sani put his cup aside and offered a bit of a worried smile.  "Mostly from Terra Nova.  Some from other colonies.  We petitioned to make a small settlement in some backwater location to test out theories.  The Earth Gov said no.  We had expected it."

"And you came anyway," Corden said with a nod.  "I wonder how they expected to stop you."

"Nothing personal, but too many Earthers have delusions of godhood," Sani replied.  "If they say it, it is so."

"I won't argue," Corden said with a grin.  "And I've spent a lot of years off-world."

"Obviously.  Earthers don't learn Basic.  Why did you come back?"

"Family, mostly.  But my parents died, and I just took another job and another -- I liked the surveying at first, but I've come to realize that it's just work for no good reason.  Pays well enough, I suppose."

Sani nodded.  "You can go back.  We won't stop you.  You can let the Earthers know we're here --"

"I won't," he said.  He looked at the gate and the crops beyond.  "What are you trying to do here?"

"Survive," one of the others said.  "Re adapt to Earth after several generations elsewhere.  Earthers claim that we're not the same anymore.  This is our proof -- for them and for colonists who tend to think the same way."

"You know the tale of Shangri-la?" Corden asked.  "If you leave, you can't find your way back, can you?"

"Somehow I don't think that would be a problem for you," Sina said with a laugh.  "You have the coordinates, don't you?"

"Yes."

"We're not magic, you know."

"I don't think I want to take the chance just yet."

Corden stayed a long time, one generation passing into another -- and if some nights he and others looked at the stars and counted the places where they'd been ... well, they were just old tales, and there were wonders enough at their feet.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Flash Fiction # 372 -- Cat Drabble


Professor Fluffytail dropped the papers on his desk with an ear-back glare.  "You cannot be serious."

Little Prettykins ears stayed up despite Fluffytail's angry stare.  "I am serious."

"You believe that cats, the smartest creatures on earth, reached sentience because of humans?" he demanded.

"No, sir. I said we learned to speak because we wanted to talk to humans.  When we found they wouldn't listen to our language, we learned theirs.  By then we knew they had nothing to say.  I propose the time has come to make them listen to us."

And that is how the change began.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Flash Fiction # 371 -- Connor of Northgate/55






Chapter Nineteen

The King himself created the passage back to Northgate and took them there; a rare honor to have the King of the Faelands to visit any Gatekeep, let alone one that had been so much trouble.

None of Connor's party could be certain they wouldn't suddenly be attacked by trolls again.  No one was sure what had set the trolls off on this war.  Connor thought it had been Galen manipulating them, but it might only have been them taking advantage of a situation already in the making.  They had allied with Galen, though.

The trolls had been quiet, at least, since the battle at the Royal Court.  Connor feared that his return to home might set things in motion again.  Having the King with them did not make him feel any better about the possibility of trouble.

Though at least the King brought his own soldiers, and they were more than happy with the idea of taking on some more trolls or maybe finding another mirror Galen.

Word had gone ahead that they were returning to Northgate, and his people made a good show of welcoming both Connor and the King.  They even had a feast ready.  Connor would have liked to skip that part since it would be his first official meal as head of Northgate.  Besides, he was still worn and sore, even ten days after the battle.

Connor said all the right things, welcoming his guests, thanking his people, and hoping that all would go well for everyone.  The King thanked him for his part in quelling the trouble at the Royal Court.  He had already confirmed Connor in his role of Gate Lord.  The Lords of the East and West Gates had been called in to swear they were not part of the plot with Galen.  They could not lie, of course.

The King hit another problem.  Somewhere, a mirror Galen held firmly to the Southgate stone and the magical power from it.  The King could not name a new lord until they broke that power.  It would be trouble in the future.  But not tonight.  Not yet.

The meal went well, the King pleased and his people honored -- but Connor was glad to have the feast done and the King ready to head back to the Royal Court without even a stay for the night.  He dared not spend that much time away from the royal court.

"I'm staying," Antisha said with a nod to her father.  "I think I'll do more good here than prancing around in pretty dresses at court."

"Now there's a vision I won't soon get out of my head," Druce said.  "You might have waited until morning to say it, you know.  The nightmares --"

Antisha laughed, though the King had looked startled at first.  Now he smiled as well.

"Yes, you're right," the King agreed with a quick nod.  "Connor seems to be a magnet for this trouble."

"A weak link," Connor said with a bow of his head.

"Only fools would believe so," the King replied.  His portal was already formed, half of the soldiers passing through.  "Take care, all of you."

He stepped away and was gone.  Connor looked at Antisha with a slight frown.

"You don't want me here?" she said, a little worry on her face.

"Oh, I'm glad to have you with us.  I just wondered if you really think there is going to be more trouble here."

"Yes," she said plainly and then sighed.  "Let's just hope it isn't too soon."

Connor nodded agreement.  The others didn't seem surprised or bothered by the idea, though they all looked as weary as he felt.  Connor bade them all goodnight.

Connor didn't go to his rooms, and he didn't go to Lord Northgate's suite, either. Connor left the building and followed the path to the little mausoleum.  He sat on the bench before it.  The locals had set everything back to right,  so Connor did not look in at the bones of his parents.  He'd have to thank the people who took care of the grounds.

Liam found him there.

"It's where my parents are buried," he explained.  "I didn't come here often.  But I used to wonder how they could do what they had done, and save Lord Northgate whom they didn't know."

"And now you understand," Liam said, sitting down beside him.

"Yes, I think I do.  It's about seeing the wider picture and knowing you can do something good, whether it helps you or not.  Maybe especially when it doesn't help you, because that means you are helping a wider world.  My parents didn't even know about the fae, Liam.  They could not imagine this world."

"Can you imagine theirs?" Liam asked.

"Not really.  A world without magic?  A world of technology and dark places.  No trolls and ogres, but I've been taught that there are dangers enough in such a place."

Liam nodded.  He said nothing more as they stared at the building.

"We are going to have more trouble, aren't we?" Connor finally said.

"Yes.  But you already knew that, Connor."

"I'm ready for this.  We'll finish this right."

"I never doubted."

"Liam, did you really see what I would do inside the Stone Room?"

Liam gave an unexpected laugh.  "No, I didn't.  I just knew you well enough to realize you would do what you saw as best.  I merely pointed you in a direction I thought would help.  And I did so in a way that the others didn't ask."

"Oh, very wise," Connor said with a laugh.  He stood, and Liam did as well.  He looked back at the building again but gave a nod this time.  "So much to do. I'm ready for my own future."

The End

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Flash Fiction # 370 -- Connor of Northgate/54



Connor could think of only one thing to do to stop Galen from killing them all.  Connor would have killed Mirror Galen without a moment's thought at this point.  However, the moment he drew the knife, the weapon went flying across the room and clattered on the floor by the Southgate Stone.

Maybe one chance.

Connor shoved Mirror Galen into the path of an oncoming troll, hoping the creature kept him busy for just a moment.  Connor then threw himself at the knife he had lost, scrambling across the floor on his hands and knees as he moved through the forest of trolls.

At the last moment, Connor stood and shoved the stone of Southgate off the pedestal.

The rock hit the floor with a bright spray of magic, and Connor feared he had just killed everyone --

Mirror Galen screamed in rage.  He heard the sounds of angry and frightened trolls as the magic spread outward in waves of almost blinding light and color. The waves hit the shell around the King and Queen and flashed even brighter.  Dangerous -- dangerous with the shield, and hazardous if they dropped it.

Connor had to stop the magic.

So he threw himself over the stone and dared just a little more magic to try and hold everything in place.

Mirror Galen caught him, screaming words Connor really couldn't hear or understand.  He only saw that the man had a sword in hand and that meant --

The King had a sword as well. So did his friends.  Mirror Galen looked up at the King with a shake of his head and started to step back.

Antisha and Liam were the ones who killed him. Mirror Galen still had a little magic left, but not enough to hold all the others back.  Connor saw a look of disbelief on his face more than fear.  Liam kept him busy, his weapon swinging relentlessly forward against the weapon Mirror Galen suddenly called to him.  Liam took one cut, but by then Antisha had moved in and had no trouble striking the fatal blow that went straight through his heart.

And then he was falling dead.

Good.

Not a lot of help for Connor.  He dared not let go of the Southgate Stone, but the power kept building within it.  His eyes blurred, and he couldn't clearly hear what the others said.  He needed help!

"Hold on," Liam said at his ear.  "A moment.  Taking out stones."

Praise the gods for that.  However, this one burnt him with power and anger.  He was Northgate, not Southgate, and the stone didn't know what had happened.  It didn't understand the evil that had drawn power from it, but the stone did know that the person who touched it now should not have dared.

The stone was magical enough to know rage -- or perhaps it had learned such an emotion from Galen.

Connor didn't believe he could survive. He should have named an heir.  He should have told the others -- no, they would do fine without him.  He was a latecomer and an outsider.  He thought he had done well, though --

"Easy now," the King said somewhere nearby.  "I have a feel for the stone.  Get him away from it."

"Let go, Connor," Nylia said.  "We can't move you until you let go."

"Safe?" he whispered.  He wasn't sure if he had really said the word.

"Let go," Nylia repeated.

Connor knew that he had to trust them.  So he made his hands work, even though none of his body wanted to obey him now.  Connor knew what was going to happen once he relinquished what little power he had over the Southgate stone.  He hoped the others were wise enough to stay back.

His fingers moved, though slowly.  He had his eyes closed.  No use looking destruction in the face --

The stone was free.

Connor felt a wave of fire hit, and he could make no sound, unable to breathe, and the darkness came --

And then the darkness retreated, and the sounds of voices returned.  Connor blinked.

"Damn crazy thing to do," Druce said, his voice unexpectedly trembling.  "Didn't anyone tell our fine Lord Connor never to touch the stone of another keep?  Why do you think the Mirror Galen wanted Ordin to take that Lordship at Northgate?  He dared not do it himself."

"You knew what he was going to do, didn't you, Liam?" Nylia asked.

Someone brushed a hand over Connor's face, trailing cool magic that spread through his body.  He knew it wasn't the first time from the tingles he could feel.  The magic helped, but so did the voices of his friends.

"I knew what he should do.  I trusted him to do it without saying so," Liam replied.  "If I had, the rest of you would have protested.  And we would have lost."

"We?" Connor asked.  He wasn't sure how to ask the question.  His mind refused to do more than listen and hold to the words.

"We survived," Nylia said.  He was still on the floor of the stone room, he realized.  Others were sitting by him.  "But it was damned close for all of us, especially you."

Connor nodded.  No use in speaking right now.  No use in --

"Galen?" he finally asked.

"He tried to kill the King.  After that, there wasn't enough of him left to clean up.  Probably the best way he could die, given the evil he'd done.  Fool," Nylia said.  "A shame he won't have to face the anger and ridicule of others."

"But --" Rion said.  He stopped and shook his head.

"Hell," Connor said, something coming clearly to his mind.  "The spell fractured."

"Bright boy -- you always were," Rion said.  He looked around at the others.  "I don't think that was the only Mirror Galen created."

"Others," Antisha said and shook her head in dismay.  Then she sat down on the floor with them.  "I guess we still have work to do."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Flash Fiction # 369 -- Connor of Northgate/53


Antisha looked back at the man with a glare that almost felt like magic in the air, and none of it good.  "You have no right to make judgments of any kind.  Shut up."

Galen glared.  Connor began to think the man wasn't nearly as smart as people thought.  Connor also felt as though he could move and think again.  They had fought off all the creatures that had come for them and barely survived.  Connor didn't understand why the others here thought he was the one who had led the trolls -- or maybe he did.

"Ah.  These people think I'm behind the trouble, not just because I'm human, but also because we leapt to the Troll Lands," he said aloud.
Liam, looking pale and as annoyed as Connor had ever seen him, nodded.  "Yes.  And they weren't going to listen to us.  Praise the Gods we had Antisha with us.  They know her since she's worked with these people all her life."

"They knew Galen too, right?"

"Not so well. I had the feeling no one liked him," Liam said.  "No matter what else, Connor, you at least are polite."

"And you killed my son because you didn't like him --" Galen began.

A soldier to the side caught the man's arm and glared. "You killed him -- or your mirror did the work.  I was there and saw it happen.  And you are a damned fool."

Galen looked shocked, but still not worried and not upset.  Maybe there was a reason the mirror being had no trouble with the idea of killing Ordin. Perhaps he got that straight from Galen.

There would be a lot of things Connor would want others to explain to him later.  So much he didn't understand -- and he hoped he survived long enough to learn the answers, even if he didn't remain Lord of Northgate.  He wanted what was best for that place and those people.

That thought brought Connor a new feeling of peace and calm.  Worries began to settle in Connor's mind, and he knew that he had to make sure he helped make things right.

Antisha led the way as the group headed for the stairs, gathering more people at every level until they were packed in tight. He wasn't certain what they intended to do, though.

Connor also wasn't surprised to find a shell of magic around the stone room.

"If we try to break through this, it's going to be a disaster," Antisha warned, almost touching the shell.  Bits of power danced out toward her fingers, and she drew back  "The shell is going to keep any magic out, and if we try to break it, the magic will implode and -- that would be horrible.  Those inside would not survive.  Neither, I think, would we."

"Then we have to find a way to deal with this creature," Druce said, snarling at Galen who didn't seem at all upset.  The man was crazy.

"There's another way," Connor said.  He even smiled, which didn't appear to set his companions at ease.  "Antisha and I realized something --"

"Oh hell," she said.  She took hold of Connor's arm.  "If you can get in --"

"Go to the right," Liam said.  He stared ahead, not seeing here or now, but just a little into the future, Connor hoped.  Enough to give him an edge.  "Go right and down.  Get to the Southgate stone."

"Southgate," Connor said.  "But --"

"You would never get to the Northgate one," Antisha agreed.  "It's clear across the room.  "However, if you can stop the Mirror from using the Southgate power --"

"Ah.  Yes.  But not with magic."

"Not unless you have to," Antisha said and met his look.  "If you can get the shield down, though, we can help you."

Connor narrowed his eyes, recalling the layout of the room.  They were right about not going for the Northgate stone.  Besides, even if he could reach the stone, he wouldn't be able to use any magic that might cause a problem.

Connor took a deep breath before he stepped forward -- and then threw himself at the shield. The magic tested him, but Connor didn't fit the criteria for which it had been created.  Even with the core of stone magic in him, it sensed him as a non-magical being and as something that was no danger.

Connor stepped through the shield, threw himself to the right, and dropped to the ground. He saw several trolls in the room, along with the King and Queen in a shell of exceptional magic that flickered dangerously as lights played over it.  He didn't see Galen at first --

There he stood with his hands on the Southgate Stone. Mirror Galen concentrated on reaching the King and Queen.  He had to work subtly. The creature did not pay much attention, even when a couple trolls growled.

Mirror Galen had no idea Connor had arrived.

Connor scrambled past the trolls who still had trouble with surprises and hadn't started to move against him.  Their inability to react saved Connor from more than a vicious kick that half numbed his leg.  No matter.  He was already close to Galen.

Connor reached out and caught the man by the leg, yanking him off balance.

Mirror Galen lost control of the subtle magic -- it grew suddenly into a firestorm of multi-color lightning that spread all across the room.  Everything went crazy.

Connor hadn't gotten the shield down, though, so no one could help him.  Mirror Galen yelled for the trolls who recovered enough to stomp towards him.  As long as Connor held tight to Mirror Galen, though, he figured he would be safe enough.  Trolls were big, clumsy and they would be as likely to hit -- or stomp on -- Galen as him if he could stay close enough to his enemy.

Mirror Galen proved to be strong, and he had magic.  He reached out towards the stone and grabbed at it, shouting in anger --

Change in plans. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Flash Fiction # 368 -- Connor of Northgate/52



Chapter Eighteen

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

People began to shout all around them.

"There he is!  There's the traitor!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, not safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Flash Fiction # 367 -- Connor of Northgate/51






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I don't know."

"Don't lie to us."

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

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

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

"No, I will not!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let's go," Antisha urged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One step forward and another and another.

And they stepped out into chaos.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Flash Fiction # 366 -- Connor of Northgate/50






Chapter Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No talking.  No questions.  They stepped forward.

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

And probably desperate.

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

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

Of someone very ill.

"Lord Southgate?" Connor said.

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

"You killed him," Connor said.

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Flash Fiction # 365 -- Connor of Northgate/49



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

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

The magic had worked.  That was something at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one argued.

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

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

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

"We have all been fools."

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

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

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

"Southgate," Liam said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Flash Fiction # 364 -- Connor of Northgate/48



Chapter Sixteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man nodded and went back to the battle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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