Friday, January 22, 2021

Flash Fiction # 443/ The Fae Underground/19


 I looked back as one of the guards closed the outer door, and for a brief second, I thought I saw a ripple in the darkness.  But then it was gone, the door closed, and we were heading downward as fast as we could manage.  Yating glanced my way once and nodded.  I thought it meant he had seen the ripple as well.

"Slower," I dared to say as we passed the next level.  "I should hate to see what would happen if some of us at the back went tumbling down on the rest of you.  We can slow back here --"

"Slower," the Queen agreed.  She even stopped at the next landing, which was not what I'd had in mind, and I started to protest.  "No," she said.  "Rest a moment, all of us.  We are in a place where we are free of anyone eavesdropping, too.  How is your leg?"

I realized she was addressing that to me.  I looked down with a start -- despite the constant underlying ache, I had mostly forgotten the injury.  Sylph's wooden bandage and brace had kept it from disabling me.

"I seem to be doing fine," I offered after a moment of silence.  "Thank you, Sylph."

She bowed her head but glanced upward toward the darkness.  It still bothered her.

"We'll find a way to defeat it," I said when she looked my way again.  "Or else we will find a way to move all the sacred forests, even to the human realm if that's what it takes."

It was not the sort of statement a minor prince of the line ought to make under normal circumstances.  There was nothing ordinary about this time. Sylph, though, turned to look at the Queen, which was probably wise.  The Queen glanced my way, but I saw no reprimand in her face.

"Yes," she said and started down the steps again.  "We shall do all that we can to save everyone in the fae lands -- but I should not like to think we are giving up just yet.  Let us see if we have a chance against the enemy first."

The ground shook harder, and a wall cracked.  I wasn't the only one to send a wave of magic to reinforce the damaged area.

We hurried faster after that.  The trip to the top of the tower had seemed useless at the time, but now I thought differently.  It wasn't so much what we found there, but rather that the group of us had formed a bond.  Even quiet Lady Winter and King Pixie had joined us.  I could feel it the way a fae could in dire circumstances.

It was no less dark when we stepped out into the open area, though I could see more spots of lights nearby.  Soldiers were trying to form up in battle lines, though I could tell that no one knew what they faced.  I could hear sounds, the scraping of feet, the soft growl of creatures that must be close but unseen.

Yating moved closer to the Queen, and barely in time.  Movement erupted from the dark in a mass that seemed to be nothing more than shadows, claws, and teeth.  Lycan and Sylph threw themselves into the fight around the Queen.  Lady Winter changed, and in a moment, the giant polar bear was grabbing creatures by the neck with her huge teeth or sweeping paws across them in quick killing blows.

As they fell, I could see that we faced mostly Trolls.  That, at least, made it easier to do battle -- though I was aware that there was still the darkness and the pounding of something else coming our way.

King Pixie flew off in a sparkle of lights, and I almost yelled for him to come back, but he swept upward out of the main focus of the battle.  He was probably safer up there anyway.

It was not safe down here.  How did the enemy get into the castle grounds?  The guards fought, but many of them had already been injured.  Were there no more soldiers around to help?

The others, whatever they might genuinely be, were coming closer.  A wall fell -- I couldn't see it, but I heard the crash of the stones and calls of surprise and pain.  Something moved out there -- I could sense it more than feel it, like a wall of black closing in from the right.

And then another from the left.  We were being walled in, and the others realized it.

"Get the queen out," I yelled to Yating.

"How?  Where?" he sounded frantic, and I understood that feeling.

Then Sylph came to my side and took hold of my arm, pulling me over to the Queen so quickly that I hadn't had time to protest.

"I can take her somewhere safer."

"Go with Sylph," I said, and without any doubt that she'd be safe.  "Go, please.  Form a shield around yourself -- just get out of here because I have the real feeling they've come for your crown."

"Why would any of the Lords of Chaos want --"  But she stopped herself from saying more.  "To take control.  They don't understand how it works, but they know the symbols."

"Go!"

Yating gave me a look of disbelief, but the Queen had figured it out, and she moved to Sylph with a nod.  The shield she put around herself was so strong that I couldn't see her.

And then dust rose, and they disappeared, dropping away below the stone and dirt so quickly that I had barely blinked, and they were gone.

Something knew she was gone, too.  A howl rose out of the darkness, and for a moment, it seemed as though the world swirled and everything disappeared.  I grabbed at Lycan, and Yating must have caught hold of me.

Because when things settled again, it was just the three of us ... and we were somewhere else...


Friday, January 15, 2021

Flash Fiction # 442/The Fae Underground/18


 (My numbers are off somewhere on the entries for this story.  I haven't figured it out yet, but I hope to soon)


We had stepped out into a sky as black as the darkest night.  Worse, really, because there were not even clouds.  The guards all created lights, but even those small flares seemed to disappear into the inky black.  We instinctively huddled together, all of us moving closer to the Queen.  I wasn't sure if we went to her for help or to make sure she remained safe.

"This cannot be good," Sylph said.  I could hear a hint of fear in her voice for the first time since we met.  "What power could rob us of the sun itself?"

Ah.  Sylph was a spirit of the trees, and the loss of the sun would mean the end of her world.  The trees could not move to other places like the fae and the rest of our kind could.  I began trying to figure out how to transfer a forest, in fact.

Not what I should be considering, but it gave me a moment to think we could deal with this problem, one way or another.  When I looked to the Queen, I could see her eyes narrowed in consideration.  Distant sounds came from the ground below, but I did not think they were the sounds of battle.  That would come soon, though.  Something moved in the darkness, the thumping still growing louder.

"What is out there," I asked, just to say something in the silent darkness.

"My guess would be the Gods of the Outer Dark," Lycan answered.  He put his hand to his weapon and then pulled the fingers back with a shake of his head.

If he was right, this was not an enemy that you could take on with mere swords and shields.  I didn't know what we could use to face it.  The beings of the Outer Dark were not like us -- never mind that these might be their gods.

"What did the army face?" I asked with a wave of my arm down toward the ground we could not see.

The Queen nodded to Yating.  She had her attention elsewhere.  I wondered if she could better feel what was out there than I had managed.

"Mostly trolls and ghouls," he said to me.  "Not anything I would have related to this problem."

"And that's the problem overall," Sylph said.  "None of this seems related, from missing crowns to whatever we faced in the subway, all the way to this."

Lycan and I both looked at each other.  "Chaos," we chorused.

The Queen turned our way with a start -- and then gave a quick nod of agreement.  "Yes, something out of Chaos seems a likely answer if we have the pieces explained properly."

"We could be wrong," I was quick to point out.

"Something to pursue," she said.  Then gave a slight twitch of her shoulders.  "Unless someone comes up with another idea, it seems our best chance to fix something."

"And how do we deal with Chaos?" Captain Yating asked.  He looked to me, and I almost protested that I was not even a soldier --

But then I had an idea, odd as it was.  I looked at Lady Snow.

She met my stare with a nod, though her eyes looked bleak.  "Yes, I am something of Chaos," she said and drew the looks of others.  "Weather nature exists because life is not balanced.  I believe my companions might be right about the nature of the problem ... and I will think about that problem.  There may be others I can call upon.  I want my daughter back."

"We'll do all we can to help you," I promised.  The wording somewhat included the Queen, but I would leave that up to her if she wanted to help.  She didn't nod, but she didn't glare, either.  

It fell chill up here in the dark, and I couldn't tell if that came from the outside or if I just felt the fear of what was happening.  If I stood with the Queen here, right now, that put me in a place of power that I had never sought to hold.  I was the youngest child.  By rights and by custom, I should have been the one who was turned free to roam, learn things -- yes, to spy.  I liked that position in life.  I saw no reason to want to live at court.

Lycan looked my way with another of his frowns.  Of course.  He'd picked up my worry about the court life, but he couldn't know what had set me off.  I gave a little shrug and turned my attention back to the current problem.  After all, if this didn't work out, court life would not be a worry for the future.  Not for any of us.

The pounding grew louder, but the Queen had spread out the magic that settled the tower to a slight tremble rather than feeling as though we were going to crash.  I thought, instead, that something would likely smash us down.  I still could not see it, though.  The thumping sound had become so pervasive that I couldn't tell what direction it came from, either.  Maybe there was no single direction. Perhaps it came from everywhere.

"Is there anything more we can learn from here?" Yating dared to ask.  "Is there anything we can do?  Because if not, I think we had best get back to the ground, my Queen.  The magic you use to keep us safe would be better used elsewhere, don't you think?"

She gave Yating a little glare, glanced around as though she could see beyond our slight flickering of light, and then nodded agreement.  Yating didn't even try to hide his look of relief, but then neither did the rest of us.  We cleared the tower's upper level faster than we had come up into this dark abyss.

Chaos?  That was not an enemy -- it was a way of nature, not something that could be controlled.

Though I began to doubt the truth of that last statement...

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Flash Fiction #440/ The Fae Underground/16


 Thump

Thump, thump.

And the sound of the soldiers shouting as they prepared.  Lycan turned my way with his eyes wide and the edges of his teeth showing.

"I know," I said.  I can hear it.  My Queen, we have no time for more discussions.  We seem to be under attack."

"What have you brought on us, boy!" Suntour demanded.  I looked at him with a little surprise because I hadn't thought he was that blind.  He even dared a step closer --

Lycan had a blade in hand before I could protest.  Sylph moved just as quickly, though, strands of her hair snapping out, one of them cutting across his face and others wrapping around his neck -- but those did not cut, I was glad to see.

"Shall I slit his neck, great Queen, and we can get on to the business of survival?  Do you hear that great booming sound that makes the building shake?  We are in trouble."

"That we are," the Queen said.  She rose and gave a sigh that sounded far too much like regret.  "Please let the fool go, Councilor.  We might still have use for him."

"We could toss him to the oncoming trouble," Lycan suggested.

Suntour finding himself released, put a hand to his bleeding face and retreated in haste.  The look he gave Sylph showed there might be more trouble there, later.

However, they would have to survive to reach that point.  The guards signaled the Queen, and she stood without argument.  Everyone bowed their head out of habit, but by then, the building had started to tremble.

"Take what cover you can," she told to her people and then looked at me and gave a quick nod.  "I am going to the tower."

I nodded as well and then glanced at my companions and back to her.  She gave a subtle second nod that others probably didn't notice since they were rushing to getaway.  I half expected to see some transport straight from the room to somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

Fae, in general, are not easily frightened.  However, there was a feeling to this attack that I think must have left us all on edge.  The thumping unsettled thoughts.  The feel of strange magic in the air made me shiver.  This was more than just some other clan coming to take hold of Queen and Castle.  This was not anything I'd felt before.

The Queen left, and I followed in her wake, a nod to my companions who looked uncertain if they wanted to go along as well.  I didn't blame them.  Wherever we went, we were bound to be in the heart of the trouble.

I was surprised to see how fast those who had been in the castle had cleared out, though.  I saw Lycan give a snarling look around, too, and I thought it best to settle that trouble right now.

"They were not the soldiers, you know," I said, even though I would have liked to have seen some willing to actually stand with the Queen.  "Sometimes, it is best that those people are out of the way."

"All of my people are warriors," Lycan replied with a lift of his head.  Then he gave a slight shrug.  "But some more than others.  And the High Fae are not the same, are they?"

"Not at all," King Pixie replied.  He had gone very quiet but seemed happier that we were doing anything at all.  I tried to feel the same way.  "I do not like the feel of whatever is out there, my friends.  I think this is a new aspect of the war.  Something such as this would have been mentioned before now."

The Queen had stopped at a locked door to the highest tower where only she could go, along with those she invited.  The guards had already spread out to guard the door, and I thought I saw the shock in the faces of a couple when they realized that my friends and I were going up with her.

"My Queen," her captain said, his voice soft.  "I ask --"

"Yes, yes," she said with a wave of her hand.  She had always been impatient.  "You and one other with us.  But I trust these people, Captain Yating.  Don't let me regret bringing you up with us."

Yating gave a nod of gratitude to her, maybe just in knowing that she did trust him.  Under the circumstances, that reason for going with us might be more critical than any mistrust he felt toward the strangers.  Whom did you trust in the High Court these days?

I had been gone too long.  That meant I knew nothing of what was going on -- and that I was suspect for the very reason that I was away in the human lands.

Oh, and because I came to the Queen in such odd company.  That didn't help.

I had only been up these stairs once before in my life.  As the son of the Queen, my coming of age ceremony took place on the highest tower in the brisk wind of what I had considered an unseasonably cold day.  Someone could have fixed that, at least for the ceremony.  

I knew we would face more than bad weather once we reached the summit this time.  Even here, the walls shook, and I wondered about the wisdom of going up in the tower in this situation.

I said nothing.  I looked at the fair, white walls and thought of the countless others who had come this way, usually on more grave business than a coming-of-age ceremony.

My companions said nothing, but if they knew anything about the Fae Queen's Castle, they knew that outsiders rarely went up these steps.  In fact, I couldn't think of a single one.

I remembered coming out into the bright, blinding light of day and feeling as though I stood before the gods for judgment.  

Instead, we stepped out into utter and complete darkness.