Friday, March 28, 2014

Flash Friday #88: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 36 -- War Cows

(Link to Part 35)

Maybe I should have felt better since I finally had some answers, but they weren't helping right now. I was half fae -- but that made a lie of my entire life. I was a Protector, but only if I could be sanctioned by a council that clearly didn't trust me, or else they wouldn't have kept sending things out to stop me.
I was feeling sullen and annoyed.
But I kept going.
Maggie and Davis discussed the best way to get to Forest Street. Lord Snow patrolled around us, coming back often. He would glance at Edmond and then move on.
At least Edmond had stopped hiccuping and he seemed to have relaxed again. He was a heavy cat, but I only shifted my arm now to ease the weight on wounds of my own. And for a while, at least, nothing else leapt out to try and stop us.
Maybe I needed to relax, too. I stopped twitching at every touch of a breeze. I stopped watching buildings as though I expected them to leap out and attack us. I still expected it, but I didn't have to linger on that feeling. Much.
And then Lord Snow arrived with the next bit of bad news.
"We're being followed," he said. "And he has a gun."
"Sheriff Creston," I said. I glanced over my shoulder. "So he is in Elsewhere. I didn't think he would give up."
"We're not far from Forest Street," Maggie said. She glanced back as well and frowned. "We can use some of the trees as cover there, unless they decide not to help us."
"We are going into a forest full of sentient trees and you expect help from them?" I asked.
"We have to believe that with the Council no longer testing you, that we're going to have fewer problems."
"Except that I still have enemies," I said and shifted Edmond again.
"Hey guy, everything is all right now," I said. Okay, I lied, and Edmond wasn't taken in. He looked up at me, eyes narrowed. "Well, it's okay with the dragon, right? You have to start somewhere. We're going to be heading into the forest soon, and you know, I'd feel a lot better if you were back to yourself by then. You've kept me safe."
He blinked a couple times. "Meow. Ah. Meow -- no. No meow."
"Well that's better," I said and smiled.
He took several deep breaths. "Never, never play tricks on dragons."
"Sounds like a wise, life-changing decision."
Edmond wasn't the only one to laugh. And by the time Lord Snow came back around, Edmond went off with him to scout. We were getting closer to the woods now. I could see tall trees above the last of the buildings. The street began to change as well, from stone to what had looked like puddles of water, but were as solid as stone.
"They sent a path for us. Good," Maggie said. "We won't be wandering around the forest hoping to find them. That's a good sign."
"Except others will know where we are going," Davis added.
We cleared the last of the buildings and the trees sprang up right at the back of a white picket fence, which seemed an insubstantial barrier against the massive woods just beyond. Did those trees watch us?
Maybe not, but something else did.
"What --"I started to say. I stopped. They were too strange -- huge heads, small wings, spotted bodies, gigantic hooves --
"Oh. Draconian War Cows," Davis said. "They're okay. They're at war with dragons though, so they won't be happy we met with some, but they don't do more than get rude to fae and humans."
"War cows," I repeated.
"Yeah," Maggie said. "The cows got tired of the dragons picking them off for light snacks, so they grew wings and started fighting back."
"The cows decided to grow wings and fight back."
"Yes. They've made a few other modifications, but even so, they mostly stay to the woods and keep out of dragon sight."
I nodded. At some point there isn't much more you can do than nod and pretend like life still makes sense. I glanced back to see Lord Snow and Edmond coming behind us, both of them glancing backwards often enough that I thought maybe facing the War Cows wasn't the problem I should be considering. The trees did look like they'd offer more cover, and we didn't have to stay on the path as long as we could see it. That might help.
I was willing to try to find anything that would help, both me and my companions. I thought I ought to be more afraid about Creston coming behind me, but maybe I'd burnt out that emotion. I found that I was weirded out by the War Cows. I was annoyed by Sheriff Creston. I just wanted to get to this Council and get that part over with -- but I knew, no matter what happened there, it was not going to be the end of my troubles. Either I would be sanctioned as a Protector and then find myself saving others from trouble or else I wouldn't be sanctioned and who knew what that might mean?
One problem at a time. Right now it was the War Cows who were stalking towards us, growling softly. There's something really, really wrong with cows (even weird one like these) growling.
"We're just passing through," Davis said and lifted his hand. Both war cows stopped and glared.
"You're running errands for dragons," the larger of the two growled. "And that one is the dragon's minion!"
I didn't think calling a snow leopard a minion was really wise. So maybe growing wings and big hooves didn't increase the brain power any. I was amused as I watched the war cows take a couple steps back when he came closer.
And then I looked back to see Sheriff Creston finally appear at the edge of the buildings.

And don't miss out on

for more fantastic quick reads

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flash Friday #87: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 35 -- Tests

(Link to Part 34)

I felt a claw tear across the back of my shoulder and down towards my spine, a quick hot pain that made me anticipate worse to come. From the corner of my eye, I could see the dragon's head jerking aside --
Something odd happened. The dragon gave a sound very much like a yelp and tried to scramble backwards so fast that he tripped on his own feet and sprawled sideways, his huge tail snapping across my legs.
I heard the others scrambling to get out of the way as the dragon tried to right himself, knocking several stones free from a building wall so that they rained down on us as well. I curled up around Edmond as best I could, hoping we both survived.
"That was not supposed to happen," Lord Fire said, sounding . . . Embarrassed? "My apologies."
I dared to move a little, turning my head to see where the huge creature stood a couple yards away, shaking bricks off of himself.
"Lord Fire?" Davis asked. He had moved over to me and knelt, his hands already working on the cut across my back.
"A test, nothing more," the dragon said, frowning now. "We have been sent as tests."
"Oh," Maggie said and seemed to sound relieved. "Sent by the Council?"
"Yes," the dragon said with a quick nod. "I would not have ate the cat, you know. He's a troublesome little creature, but he has his uses. I expected, at worst, that the boy would order me to stop. I would have. I didn't expect him to throw himself into the danger to protect another."
"Test?" I said, letting Davis help me sit up. My legs ached where the tail had hit me. I tried not to wince at every movement and every breath, but I was feeling more than a little battered by now. And confused. "All those attacks --"
"Not all of them," Lord Fire said, his head coming down to look me in the face. "There are those who are your true enemies. My brother from the north did his best to warn you, but he has little contact with humans these days."
"Why did the Council set all of you to test him?" Maggie asked. "Usually, they'd do that as part of being Sanctioned, once the Council deems him a candidate."
"You didn't mention any tests," I said, glancing her way. Magic, the drug Davis had given me, and natural adrenaline were all joining up to make everything swirl and move again.
"You had enough to worry about just getting there," Maggie said. "I didn't want to worry you. Lord Fire --"
"There is a matter of time involved," Lord Fire said. "Dragons don't understand the concept of time in the way that the rest of you do, but I had the impression that there was not much time left to prepare."
"Prepare," I repeated.
"There is a darkness coming," the dragon said. He turned to look towards the setting sun. "Get to the Council. I was the last test anyway. They are waiting for you at Stonewild." He stood finally and took a step away, then stopped. "As odd as this may sound from a dragon, don't waste time."
Lord Fire took several ponderous steps away, more stone shaking loose from the building. Then his huge wings spread and flapped, bringing a summer wind to brush over us as he took to the sky.
"Hell," Maggie said. "Stonewild. That's like heading for the bunker as soon as the war begins."
"I'm starting to think this was not the time to show up in Elsewhere," I sighed. "You okay, Edmond?"
He shook his head a couple times. "Mew. Mew. Meow."
I realized Edmond was trembling almost as badly as I was. And he looked distinctly worried as he shook his head from side-to-side.
"I think he's upset," Davis said.
"I think that sounded rude," Maggie added. "Probably just as well we couldn't understand him. Calm down, Edmond. You'll be fine. The dragon is gone."
Edmond hiccuped. Davis helped me to my feet and I held on to the cat. He wasn't trembling nearly as much now, but he did burrow his head right up against my neck and I could feel his claws digging into my shirt and skin. Oh well. I wouldn't notice a few more scratches.
"We need to go," Maggie said. She reached over and gently brushed her fingers across Edmond's head. He almost gave a little purr, but then he hiccuped again. "Stonewild is at the far end of Forest, far out into the wilds. It's going to be dark soon, and I think that's no help to us. Do you know the way, Lord Snow?"
"Yes," he said. "And you don't?"
"I do," she said. She looked at me and gave a shrug. "This is dangerous. It may be that I'm not the one who gets you there, Mark. I'll do my best to make certain I'm with you, but it's important that we take all the precautions we can to be certain you get to the Council."
I wanted to argue, but that would belittle everything the others were doing for me. I gave a short nod, hoping it didn't look sullen. I was starting to feel more than a little annoyed at the idea of all this being shoved into my life without me having a say. I said nothing. Davis and Maggie looked more worried now than they had during this entire fiasco. Lord Snow walking with his tail twitching and Edmond continued to hiccup, which I took as a sign of truly being upset.
I did the only thing I could; I walked along with them, keeping my head down because I was having overload problems again, and tried to imagine why people thought I could be so important.
"Meow," Edmond whispered softly. "Meow."
"I agree."
But neither of us turned away.


And don't miss out on

for more fantastic quick reads

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flash Friday #86: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 34 -- Fire

(Link to Part 33)

It may not have seemed as though anything was settled, but for some reason I felt better as I followed Edmond out of the area. Yes, that was probably a sign of insanity, that I let the crazed cat lead the way. However, it did have one good side: I didn't have to make a decision. Neither did anyone else. Even Lord Snow had started to look shell-shocked.
I couldn't keep my mind turned off, though. After we had gone down a couple more alleys and past more fountains, I began to wonder what Edmond had seen and if he was leading us to trouble or if he could somehow foresee enough of the trouble that we might avoid it.
"Well damn," Edmond muttered and stopped.
Apparently not.
Light flared ahead of us; bright and golden against the darkening sky. I hadn't noticed that night was coming on. I saw stars brighten and blink -- and I realized little fairies were darting through the sky like over-sized lightning bugs. I would have been delighted, except there was something far stronger in the air, too. I felt the warmth of magic like the rolls of ocean waves, growing stronger as something came closer.
"Dragon," Maggie said. She looked up into the sky and her wings fluttered slightly. "The Great Lord of Fire. I didn't expect him to come this far into the city. Edmond, maybe you ought to --"
"I'm not going to hide," Edmond said. "If Lord Fire is still angry with me, then we might as well find out now."
I thought to argue; a cat didn't stand much of a chance against an angry dragon. However, I still didn't understand the dynamics of the situation and since Maggie didn't say more to Edmond, neither did I.
Something streaked across the darkening sky, like a meteorite flinging off streaks of red fire. A roar filled the air and the world around us went silent in awe and fear. This was not the ponderous movements of Lord Ice, with the snow and north winds preceding him. Lord Fire came with a flash of bright light and a warmth that took the breath away. I feared the fire at first, but my newly found magical senses told me this was magic, not real -- at least not real in the sense I would have understood it not so long ago. This fire could burn, but only at the wish of its dragon master.
Apparently, for the moment, Lord Fire was not seeking destruction. I had no doubt he could level this entire town with little more than a thought and a wave of his huge wings.
When he came down we knelt. I felt as though you could not stand in the view of such majesty and not do something to acknowledge that you knew you were not equal. Maybe the realization came from my magic again; I had not felt quite the same way before Lord Ice -- but then I hadn't seen the full splendor of the Dragon of the North, since the winds and snows hid most of him.
Lord Fire was magnificent as he came to ground; magnificent and frightening.
Edmond sat at my side. I saw the dragon's head turn and lower towards the cat, the tongue flicker out as though he saw a particularly tasty treat. Edmond's fur rippled in a slight shudder, but he made no sound.
"Lord Fire," I said, drawing the creature's attention. This was probably not wise, but I simply could not stand by and do nothing to protect Edmond.
I couldn't. I was beginning to feel out my job as a Protector.
"You," the Dragon said, the word a hot breath against my face. "You are not what you pretend."
"I pretend to nothing," I replied, though something told me arguing with dragons was unwise at any level. "I am only learning my place."
"Human, not human. Fae, not fae. Shall you be Lord Ice's toy to send out among us?"
"I'm not a toy. I'm not playing a game."
"The dragons have each our own place. We know what is expected of us; we know to keep the balance. Where is your place, half-thing."
"Wherever I'm needed."
The dragon's golden eyes narrowed and I suspected I had angered him. I prepared to take a step away from the others and face whatever might happen. How could I feel such a chill in the face of such warmth?
But then I realized that was not a look of anger; it was contemplation this time.
"You gave a fae, not a human, answer."
"I gave my answer," I said and tried not to sound too pretentious. "I can't tell what is fae and what is human in me, you know. Except for the feel of magic, but that's so new and alien that I can't really understand it yet."
"Go to the council. I'm told by my friends that is the best course, and I trust them."
The dragon's eyes turned to the others, measuring them, and back to Edmond for a longer time.
"I am no longer a smart ass kitten who thinks he rules the world," Edmond said and bowed his head. "I apologize."
Okay, this time I did see surprise. The dragon's head lowered and he considered Edmond for more than a minute of silence before he gave a slight nod. "Dragons do not bear well with being laughed at."
Edmond nodded. I thought he might be keeping his mouth clamped shut to keep from saying anything to make matters worse. I suspected that much of what would happen now depended on Edmond. The cat had apologized. What more did he want?
The dragon opened his mouth and reached for Edmond.
"No!" I dropped down, grabbed Edmond and rolled away. I felt the dragon's hot breath on the back of my neck and I heard the others give shouts of dismay.

999 Words
Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here:

And don't miss out on

for more fantastic quick reads

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Flash Friday #85: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 33 -- Connections

(Link to Part 32)

I could feel magic in the air.
I felt magic and intent moving all round us, and some not good. Something wanted to stop me and I still couldn't find out why. Emotions powered magic and they are not logical. They don't come with a list of points showing exactly the cause. Whatever had angered and worried my enemy, I wasn't going to find out by touching his magic.
I would have to deal with him.
I started walking away, following a tendril of darkness curling through the air and brushing against me, as though trying to make sense of my actions. I was driven by my own emotions, though, and no more logical than what I felt from the enemy. I wanted the trouble to end, so I did my best to head straight to it.
The others came with me. I was aware of Davis and Maggie talking and of Edmond and Lord Snow discussing something else. I was also aware of buildings with feelings and flowers with laughter. The sunlight brought joy, the rain brought life. . . .
I had never been so awake and the onslaught of everything started to overcome me. I went on a few more steps --
"You better sit down, Mark," Edmond said.
I looked down at him. Curious creature, this cat. Very cat-like, but at the same time I saw a deeper power in him. He was not just a cat --
"Sit down!" Edmond said, frustrated.
I had nearly stepped on him without realizing. And the world had begun to swirl around me in a dozen colors, a multitude of sounds, and so many emotions I couldn't name them. The dark string I'd been following disappeared in the mass and I gave a shout of frustration that turned bright red and pulsed.
"Hell," Davis said. He was reaching in his bag. "Too much input. He's catching all the magic around him."
Maggie had taken hold of my arm. She was golden and bright and worried. I let her take me to a bench and sat down. Davis pressed something against my wrist, a sharp little pain --
"What --"
"You need calm," he said. "You need to let go."
I didn't know what he meant. But then the shot caught hold and I lost touch with the colors and the sounds dulled. I felt my heart pounding too hard. My mouth had gone dry and I wasn't sure if that was a reaction to the magic or to the shot. For a moment, I didn't think I could move at all.
"There. Better," Davis said with a nod to Maggie rather than me.
"Better," I repeated, though I wasn't certain the word was true. "Too much."
"Yes. Should have considered it. Fae young come slowly into their powers. It's rate for them to awaken everything at once. There was no way you could be ready for it."
"You were moving like you knew where you were going," Maggie said. She settled on the bench before me and I felt the slight flutter of her wings. I'd have to ask her about that -- about her wings and her magic, and how she -- who was clearly human -- came to have them.
"I felt a dark thread, looking at me. Trying to find a way to stop me," I said. My words slurred a little and I wanted to sleep. Just sleep and drift away from everything for a while. "Thought I could follow it."
"Wow," Maggie said. I glanced her way to see she was, truly, surprised. "You have a lot of power and gifts. It's going to be a bitch sorting them out and getting you stable, but still -- wow."
I gave a sight laugh. "I lost the feel even before the shot," I admitted. "Wished I hadn't. Would have liked some answer to all of this."
"You are in Elsewhere," Lord Snow said. He flopped down on the stones at my feet and Edmond settled next to him. "You cannot expect answers to come easily in a place where emotions rule."
"Not easily," I agreed. "But answers nonetheless. Since I lost that thread, where should we go? Back towards Forest Street?"
Maggie looked around for a moment and then gave a nod. "I think our best hope for you is to get you Sanctioned."
"And that will help?"
"It will give you authority," Lord Snow said. "And responsibilities. The two define what you are in the land of the fae. A Protector is very high up in rank and that's going to mean that whomever is working against you cannot use your lower status as a way to move other creatures against you."
"Ah," I said. It finally made some sort of sense. "I have no rank. I am no one here, and they are free to move against me in whatever way they can."
"Yes," Edmond said. He looked up at me and gave a quick nod. "You are going to be good at your work, Mark. You see things clearly."
"When the magic isn't distracting me," I replied. But I was ready to move on, even though I felt a bit wobbly and not exactly steady on my feet. I was the first to get up through. "The sooner we do this, the safer all the rest of you will be, too."
"Spoken like a true Protector," Lord Snow said. He stood as well and his head brushed gently against my right hand. "It is an honor to help you in this quest. We do not often get to help those who will truly aide Elsewhere in the future."
"You can't know --"
"But I can," Edmond replied and looked up into my face.
I had forgotten he had visions. I almost asked -- but then I didn't. Instead, I choose to believe that I could help."
"Yes, very wise," Edmond said. "And it's time to go." He blinked several times and then looked at us all again. "Trust me. Really time to go."

998 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here:

And don't miss out on

for more fantastic quick reads