Friday, March 05, 2021

Flash Fiction # 449 -- The Fae Underground/25


 

The darkness was not utterly black.

For the first few steps, I focused on the light ahead of me, so far in the distance that I couldn't guess how long it would take us to get there.  I could only see it as a distant point of brightness.  Maybe it was just tiny.

Like we'd had that kind of luck so far.

Then I noticed that the facade that I had thought was a solid black shifted in design and hue.  Blues and reds, so dark it was hard to see where they melded into the black, were the predominant colors.  Purple was a rarer thread moving in thin lines on both sides.  I had the feeling that beings moved there in shapes I would not recognize.  I found the designs enthralling, but I was glad when Lycan tapped my shoulder and drew me back.  Forgetting where I walked could have been far too dangerous.

"Someone is coming," he said with a nod over his shoulder.

I looked back, fearing to see the Queen -- but it was not her.  Instead, Lady Snow moved at a jog to catch up with us.  I wondered how she had found us in this realm -- and then realized she had not hunted after her former companions.

"Lady Snow," I said with a bow of my head.  "You have come back to the place where you had last tracked your daughter."

"Yes," she said with a narrow-eyed glance at the darkness around us.  "And she is near."

I hoped that was good news.  It didn't give me much hope for our survival still, but something nice happening wouldn't hurt.

I had started looking at the wall of black again.  Sylph got between me and it and shook her head.  "Move on, Fae.  You are worn, and your mind wanders -- and I think you do not want to be leading this group.  But we trust you.  Go on."

I knew she was right, but at the same time, I thought that knowing something about the darkness would help us in this battle.

"How does the dark fight back the chaos?" I asked.  I wasn't certain if I would get an answer from our allies or not.  I did note that I seemed to have gotten their attention.  "We don't know what tactics to use.  What weapons."

"We will learn," I heard from more than one voice.  The others did not slow, but it reassured me.  We could communicate.  They worked to discuss problems with us.

Only a few steps later, something else gave me more hope.  I saw a white spot ahead of us, but I didn't know what it might be at first.

"Mama!"

We got out of the way, all of us including our dark counterparts.  Lady Snow changed to her giant polar bear form and charged ahead.  I could tell that the tunnel opened up wider as she moved.

I heard childish laugher that changed to happy bark-like sounds as the two collided.  The rest of us slowed.  I imagined it would not be any safer to go among them now that they were happy.  Eventually, they calmed, though.  I was glad to move again since it was growing increasingly cold.

They walked back to us, and both changed as they came -- a mother with a child who looked about seven or eight.  They held hands.  I thought they might stay in this form just so they could keep hold of each other.

"I must --" Lady Snow began.  She looked at her daughter, her eyes wide with worry --

"You must take her and go stand the ground with my Queen," I said.  "Or, if you can, take her home.  You have done your part, and we want you and your child to be safe."

She stared at me, her eyes blinking.  Lady Snow looked at her daughter without love and fear --

"Go," I said softly and dared a hand on her arm.  "Go and be safe; if not here, escape to elsewhere.  Warn others if you can."

Those words might have hinted too much that I didn't expect us to survive.  I did not say the words outright, though.  My people know too well the power of ill-spoken omens.

Lady Snow gave one more look around, then put a hand on my arm and nodded.  She led her happy child away.  I hoped that they had long years of joy together.

Then I turned away and began moving toward the distant end of the tunnel again.  I didn't look much at the walls around us now.  At least moving helped to hold off the cold a little longer, but even Lycan pulled his collar up, and Yating did the same.  I didn't bother.  It wouldn't help.

"What are we going to do?" Sylph finally asked.  I didn't think the cold bothered her much.

"Take a look," I said, trying to come up with a plan.  Then I shrugged and felt how the cold had stiffened my clothing.  "Before we do that, I can't see how we can make any decisions."

No one argued.  So we kept walking.  I saw with some relief that the opening did appear to be closer.  Maybe we wouldn't freeze before we found answers.

I shouldn't have been so optimistic -- not about freezing, but about answers.  I should have considered what we were walking to see.  Chaos.  By its very nature, Chaos does not have enough coherence to facilitate finding solutions we could use to deal with it.

As we stood on the very edge of the tunnel, I looked out into something so utterly wrong that I couldn't find words to encompass the sight.  It was bright and dark and every shade between.  None of it stayed long enough to name.  Colors and an absence of colors swirled and rippled, producing a plethora of shapes in their wakes.  I stared.  My companions did as well.

I realized one truth:  You cannot fight Chaos...





 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Flash Fiction # 448 -- The Fae Underground/24

The closer we moved to the wall of darkness, the colder and darker it became.  I could see my breath, but only by the occasional flash of light back behind us.

Yating had moved up beside me.  He brought a tiny ball of light to his hand.  "I think we had better be able to at least see where we put our feet.  I'll drop the spell if it seems to be creating a problem."

"Yes.  Good idea," I said.  I would have just kept walking into the darkness, and maybe that was not the best idea.  "I don't know what I'm doing."

"You are going to see if you can learn something," Sylph said from the other side of Yating, hardly more than a shadow moving in the faint light.  Lycan walked by me, and King Pixie sat on my shoulder.  "And I think we are learning something already.

I looked ahead.  A shape had moved apart from the rest of the dark.  As we neared, I realized it was mirroring our group.  I hoped that was a good sign and not a plan to hit us with equal force.

We stopped hardly more than four yards from each other.  They were shapes like us, but not mirrors.  The darkness had sent out four of their own.  I didn't think they saw or sensed King Pixie, and that might be good.

"Danger," a voice whispered.

And that reminded me of Lady Snow's story about how she had lost her daughter.  I wondered, suddenly, what had driven her to Boston's harbor and where she might be now.

"You are not the enemy," I said softly.  "It comes behind you, doesn't it?"

"We hold, we hold," two or three voices said. "Chaos.  Oblivion -- but we hold."

"Destruction," I said.  "You are standing between us and destruction."

"We hold, we hold," they repeated.  "But it builds.  It pushes.  Chaos, oblivion, destruction."

"We need to work together to stop it," I said.  "I need to see what we face."

"To go through us."

"Yes."

Our dark counterparts stopped for a moment, still and silent.  We waited, saying nothing more.  I did look beyond them, though, to the wall of black that stood behind them.  I wasn't sure we would survive going any closer to that mass of darkness, but I could come up with no other idea for finding out what we needed to know.

I glanced right and left.  "If either of you has any better idea --"

"None," Sylph said.  The other two nodded.

If the Dark Ones disagreed, then the best we could probably do was stand on this side and just wait for our chance to fight.  That struck me as a bad idea, though it might give us time to bring in more forces, to be prepared.  Could we convince the humans to work with us as well?  That didn't seem likely.  Humans overreacted to anything out of their usual understanding.  They would band together to stand up against terrorists.  They might even take on aliens?

Magic, though?  They'd have to first decide it was real, and by the time that conversation was over, they'd likely have lost the war.  We had to do something that would not require the cooperation of the humans.

I realized we couldn't keep this madness fully from them, though.  The ones already in the tunnels might not fully realize all that was going on. There would be questions, and more questions, theories, and conspiracies -- and it was bound to get messy.

I sensed a shift in the group before us, though I couldn't say they actually turned their attention from us.

Behind them, a dark tunnel appeared in the mass of darkness.  I thought I could see something brighter at the far end -- but that end was a long, long way away.

"We have our answer.  King Pixie, would you to tell the queen --"

The pixie took off from my shoulder.  I sensed the others' notice, and I thought I felt a little touch of surprise this time.  Maybe even wonder.  I suspected they thought I had sent a piece of myself back to talk to the others.

We had no time to discuss anything more, though.  The others began to back away.  They never turned, just started moving in the direction opposite of how they'd arrived.  I took a step forward to follow and almost told the others to stay behind.

They wouldn't have listened to me anyway.

It grew colder as we neared the darkness.  Not overpowering cold, but chilly.  I was a bit uncomfortable, but I imagined the others had been too warm when they came to greet us, so this was only fair.  If it got too cold, we would have to back away.  I wouldn't dare use any warming magic for fear of the harm it would do to our maybe allies.

I wanted to tell the others one more time that they should stay back, but the press of time came over me.  I knew that if we didn't move soon, then we'd never survive.  Maybe that just came from my panic, but given the situation, I didn't think it an unlikely guess.

We followed the others, down the deserted human road, past the abandoned cars and locked doors.  A few people may have looked from windows.  We were going to have a mess here later.

If this world survived.

I found myself almost gasping as we neared the edge of the darkness.  My hands began to tremble, and I couldn't decide if it was because of the cold or my nerves.

"No turning back," I said as I glanced left and right.

"None," Lycan agreed.

We went on ahead and into the tunnel.  King Pixie had not returned, and I was glad of it.  He might have frozen too quickly, being so small.

It would take us a little longer.

 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Flash Fiction # 447 -- The Fae Underground/23


 I sorted out the groups in my mind, trying to decide how best to handle whatever we were facing.  Far behind us, hidden in the ground, the mass of Faeland beings hid in their huge cavern, most if not all of them without their natural leaders.  Next came a multitude of humans, not nearly as many as the others, but dangerous enough because they were, well, humans.  The Queen and Yating held them in place for the moment, but I didn't think they could manage that for much longer.

Next was me, Sylph, Lycan, and King Pixie with his people.  We'd already done the impossible and sent an army of orcs, trolls, and others on the run.

Next though ... next came the darkness.  Light made no difference to whatever they were if there were even more than one.  I had the feeling of it, but at best, I might have seen a ripple or two of black against black to show anything of substance at all.

"If we knew what they wanted, we would have a better chance of dealing with them," Sylph said.

"Maybe --" I began and then shook my head because it was crazy.

"Say," said Lycan, a quick glance my way.

"Maybe they're not the enemy either.  Maybe there is something behind them."

"They haven't attacked," Sylph agreed.  "They've been loud, they've been scary, and they do bring darkness -- but not as a weapon.  Now, what do we do?"

I didn't like how she looked at me as though I should have an answer to this.  But just the same, I looked at the darkness and tried to consider the entire situation.

"I think they followed us here," I said.  "Or more like the gleaned where we were going and appeared at the same time.  And that makes me think it is probably the fae queen they are trying to reach."

"But not to kill her," Lycan said.  The words sounded reasonably uncertain.

"That would be my guess, but that's all it is.  I don't think we can risk the Queen on such a flimsy idea.  We need more information.  More time --"

"We have neither," King Pixie said.  "I'll take this idea to her."

And he buzzed away before I could stop him -- as though it might be my right to do so.  Fine.  I spent the time studying the darkness instead.  How could we even communicate?  It was too large, too vast.

I was convinced now that the orcs, trolls, and others had only taken advantage of the darkness that had probably swept down on them, too.  They had gathered in their groups and charged off to attack anything in their path, running ahead of a darkness they didn't understand any more than we did.

"We've run from the darkness," I said, drawing the attention of Sylph and Lycan.  "We need to find out what it is.  I'm going to walk toward it, and if I can, into it --"

"Not alone," the Queen said from just behind my shoulder.

She startled me, but she smiled when I turned.  Yating nodded as well.  They acted as though I had done something right, and I could not even imagine what it could be in this mess.

"King Pixie and his people will hold the illusion for as long as it needs to be," the Queen said.  "We --"

"Oh, no.  Not you with us," I said with a quick shake of my head.

"And that is why you will never do well in court," she replied with a narrowing of her eyes.

"Fine.  I won't do well at court.  Yating, she needs to stay here because there are thousands of fae beings less than a mile away, and if they decide to leave hiding --"

Yating looked panicked, caught between her will and what was clearly the wiser choice.

"This isn't to keep you safe," I said.  "Nothing in this situation is safe, my Queen.  It is a matter of what you can do that none of the rest of us could."

She frowned again but then gave a nod of agreement.  "Yes.  And if nothing goes right, I'll be dealing with it anyway.  Yating, go with them.  King Pixie, if I might have a bodyguard --"

"You shall have my very best, two hundred strong.  You need not worry, fae.  We will keep the Queen safe."

If he had said so before that last battle, I would have bowed my head to hide my smile.  Having seen them take on orcs and trolls, I gave a real nod of thanks instead.  Yating looked equally relieved.

The Queen reached out, her hand moving in the air, and a surge of power fell over the four of us.  I felt not only a rise in energy but also a new strength in my usual abilities.

"I have gifted you with magic for the duration," the Queen said.  "Use it wisely."

She turned and walked away, heading back toward the humans and the magic that kept them placated for a little while longer.  I stayed where I was, feeling the rush of magic that melded with my own powers.  The scene seemed more apparent now, the darkness just as black but rippling more than I had expected.  We all four watched it for a moment, getting a better feel of our powers and what we faced.

I began walking forward, the others moving in to follow me a step behind.  I suppose it was time I took up the mantle of a Prince of the Realm, something I'd done my best to avoid before now.  I am not good at court functions as the rest of my siblings.

I had spent my life learning other things, and that was what brought me here.  I may not have been as knowledgeable as I would have liked before this battle, but I had faced trouble before.  I didn't slow.  Whatever problem we met, I was as ready as I could be.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Flash Fiction # 446 -- The Fae Underground/22


 Lycan was the one who said what was in my mind.

"Running," he said.  "Running would be very good about now."

I gave a quick nod of agreement.  There was just one problem.

"We can't run back and disrupt the Queen's work.  They have us blocked off in other directions.  Our only choice is to run straight ahead."

"Sounds good to me," Sylph said.

I glanced her way.  She was serious.  So was Lycan.  And it made a certain amount of sense.  If we remained where we were, they were just going to start throwing things and kill us.  We had to move anyway.

"Fine," I said.  I sent a quick wave of magic down to my leg.  I hoped that kept it from giving out.

For how long?

"Ready?" I asked.

"Ready," they chorused.

We started forward.

This wasn't as entirely suicidal as it might have looked at first.  The trolls and orcs were in the first lines and forming up into squads.  If we could keep them from preparing for battle, we would have a chance ... well, of holding them back for a little while.  Our magic would help, too.  Orcs had virtually no magic, and only a few trolls had powers.  So we had a lot going for us.

Including, of course, surprise.

As I started forward, I called up my armor and sword.  Until this moment, I had only ever worn it for a show at some court function.  Praise the gods that I'd had even that much practice.  The armor reinforced the brace on my leg, too -- a quick stab of pain, but then a steadier step.  I pulled the sword and heard a slight sound of dismay from the trolls where I headed. They knew a royal blade when they saw it, and I think everybody realized just then that this was not the battle they'd thought it would be.  Going after helpless humans?  Not this time.

Anger at what they'd intended to do gave me more strength.  Oh, there was a limit to it, of course.  I had to draw that power partly from within my own body, and I could feel my heart already pounding too hard -- but I kept going.
 
Lycan had attacked the orcs.  I wasn't sure where Sylph had gone.  I was aware of humans' distant cries, but they still sounded more ecstatic rather than fearful.

Let this work...

I took wounds, but I also took down trolls.  I had no pleasure in it.  I also had no belief that we could win, either.  I had blocked some weapons, dodged others -- but a couple of the trolls finally teamed up to take me off my feet.  I used magic to send them bowling into several others, and I thought some took wounds in that crash.

Still not enough.

I didn't have a chance to stand before a troll with more magic than the others made it through my defenses.  His sword glowed with power and managed to cut through the armor on my right arm.  I switched the blade to my other hand, but I was in no position to stop the troll who rained down blows against the sword.  He was, I could tell, aiming to take my head.

I couldn't stop him.

That next blow --

Never reached me.  Something bright seemed to explode in the face of the troll, strong and deadly magic that killed the creature before it could swing.  The body and sword dropped --

And King Pixie flew down to hover before my face.  "Up!  We need help!"

I scrambled to my feet, almost too startled to think clearly.  I did grab the troll's magical sword before it fell into other hands, though, and shoved it into the sheath at my side, the covering reshaping itself to the larger weapon.  I kept my sword in hand.

Pixies were everywhere.

And they were vicious.

The swarms of small wings flashed through the air around us -- thousands of them.  King Pixie shouted orders and spread the magic of his own.  I'd never seen such a battle.  The little pixies mostly sent spears of magic straight through the enemies' ears, and from the reactions, the spells must have all but melted their brains in the next few seconds.  Howls rose and ended abruptly as they started.  I had to scramble to keep from being buried beneath falling trolls and orcs.

Lycan and Sylph found me, too.

"We did not expect such help," Lycan said with a bow of his head and a more serious look than he'd given the pixie king before this.  I knew how he felt.

"We are not helpless," King Pixie said.  "We just don't often show our powers because it draws trouble.  But this -- this is a danger for all of us.  We must stand together in this battle."

"It's good that you came with us," I said and leaned on my sword as a sort of cane.  

"I didn't.  I came my own way to be with my people -- and found the battle had all come here after all.  I think we were drawn to this, all of us, for a reason."

That reason still moved at the edge of our light -- vast and dark.  I had the feeling that no light would ever touch it.  The light did not exist for such a being.

The few trolls, orcs, and other creatures who had not fallen to the pixies were retreating -- but I noticed something odd.  They were not retreating back to their dark companions.

"They're not allies," I said.  Lycan frowned.  "Orcs and trolls were just taking advantage of the spread of the darkness.  I don't think they know any more than we do about what's going on.  I wonder if they lost all of their crowns."

Lycan, Sylph, and King Pixie watched the orcs and trolls, but it seemed evident that they were no longer part of the larger problem.

I didn't know what we could do.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Flash Fiction #445 -- The Fae Underground/21


 We stepped out into the utter darkness that we had left behind in the Fae Lands.  Somehow it felt more forbidding here.  Colder.  I thought about the humans huddled in the cavern below, bringing all the light they could find, setting up their watch against the darkness.

And fighting each other because humans were territorial and prone to overreaction whenever they faced danger.  I'd done my best to avoid finding myself in a battle with any of them because they don't often give up, either.

Which meant that before too long, humans all over would swarm back out of the dark and attack whatever monster they could find.  And there was a monster out there.  It moved with a deliberate thumping step, louder and closer. However, it was impossible to judge any real distance in the dark with the world literally trembling around us.

"I hadn't expected this," I said softly.  I leaned against the wall, taking the weight from my leg again, trying to think if there was anything we could do.  I even lifted my hand and tried to feel out whatever might be behind the darkness, even though that was an open invitation to find me.  We didn't have a lot of other options now.

I glanced back and wondered if I dared do something magical.  Then I wondered what I could possibly do otherwise.  This was magic coming at us, human and fae alike.  Doing nothing to try and help would be worse than doing magic.

I desperately wanted to see what was out there in the dark  Desperation can provide all kinds of extra power for a fae.  The magic I sent out was like a mini-sun, illuminating all the area around us in a bright glare of light.

Two things happened.  

"Angels have come to guard us!" someone yelled from down the stairs in the place where the others hid.

I hadn't been called an angel before.  I would have been amused except that the light showed we were far from alone.  Outside the opening, I could see creatures stretched out as far as I could see, all of them moving toward us in an unnatural silence that had to be part of the magic that created the darkness as well.

"Damn," Yating said.  "But at least this is a battle that I understand.  Trolls to the right, (something) to the left -- but I suspect our true enemy is whatever moves in that dark cloud in the center."

I had not noticed the cloud, having been so caught up in the horror of so many creatures about to surge into the place where humans tried to hide.  Had some already attacked people in other buildings?

Maybe not.  Maybe the problem was that the humans here stood between them and the fae creatures hiding down in the depths of those secret caves.  It hardly mattered since I would not be able to get the humans out of the way.  Desperation gave me yet more power, and the light remained -- a gift to us, but an annoyance to those who thought they would arrive undetected.

A small win for us, then.

"So," a familiar voice said.  "You thought this was the best place as well."

I looked over my shoulder to see Sylph and the Fae Queen slipping out of concealment -- probably magical, in fact, but with this much magic being tossed around, I didn't feel it.

I should not have felt so much relief to find the Queen of the Fae here in this danger.  It was probably cowardice on my part.  It meant that I was not the one in charge.

But then she turned to me and said, "What do we do now?"

So much for my moment of hope.

"We can't hold them off on our own," Lycan said.  I gave him a grateful nod.  "Even with the power of the Queen on our side.  But I know where there are others who will help us.  Unfortunately, they are on the other side of the humans down there."

"They think we're angels," I said and felt a glimmer of an answer.  "And isn't that better than letting them know the truth?"

"I do not like to lie to humans," the Queen said, though, after one quick glance back into the depths, she nodded.  "Although under the circumstances, I think it better than dealing with them and with magic.  What do we do?"

"You know about angels?  Good.  An image, set just behind us and warning them to be calm and quiet, might work.  I can help --

"Keep the light going," she said with a mistrustful stare out at the enemies.  At least they were not rushing at them.  "Yating --"

"Yes, I know what we need to do."

And that made me wonder when the two of them had had this sort of practice in the past.  I had the oddest feeling that there was more going on than this piece I had stumbled upon.

Yating and the Queen created a vision behind us that even took me by surprise.  Light, shape, angelic choruses, the music of the heavens -- If I had continued to watch, I would have been mesmerized.

Of course. The magic was filling the vision with a touch of power to hold the attention of the others.

I turned away and looked at the enemy coming at us still, though with slower steps.  I thought they might even be uncertain now.  The darkness had been their greatest weapon.  With that in mind, I reinforced my own mini-sun that hung over the scene.  I had never tried anything like this before, but I could funnel some of the ambient magic in this real straight into my construct.  It should continue until I stopped it -- or I died.

Not the thought I wanted just then.  The trolls had started to form up in the more familiar attack lines.  There were only me, Lycan, and Sylph to hold them back.