Thursday, August 30, 2018

Flash Fiction # 318 -- Connor of Northgate/2


As Lord Northgate shouted a warning to the rest of the keep, something hit the tower's open level with a wild splattering of magic. He spun to find a troll where one never should have landed, breaching his magic.

Northgate reached toward the stone as the lumbering beast started forward. The power was only Northgate's to use, and strands of blue magic drew out of the stone and into his hands, forming into a sword that he quickly wielded, finding the troll already within his reach. Other trolls flew closer, and he dared not let one land behind him.  The only protection he could see was the covering over the steps.

He retreated to that bit of protection, even though the stairwell wasn't the best place to fight for either of them.  Northgate found that he couldn't maneuver well in the curve of the stairs, and the huge troll kept battering against both sides of the power-laden wall.

That turned out to be dangerous in another way. Power sparked around them, wild and bright. The troll howled in pain and grew enraged, reaching to swipe claws that would have beheaded Northgate.

He ducked and shoved the sword into the troll's groin, then threw himself to the ground as the thrashing beast went over the top of him and tumbled down, leaving a bloody trail behind him.

Another appeared at the entrance to the stairwell. Northgate didn't want to fight here on the steps again. He scrambled up to the open area instead, despite the worsening wind filled with snow and ice -- and trolls.

The second troll roared and tried to block his way, and in the glitter of light from the stone, Northgate saw something odd. The troll held a metal object in his hands: long, narrow, and needle-like. Trolls did not use weapons.

They didn't fly on winds into a gate keep, either.

Something more than the usual troll trouble stood behind this invasion. Northgate could almost feel the outsider's magic, but he hadn't the time to sort out that problem. The troll leapt and swung the small -- at least in comparison to the enormous hairy troll hands -- needle at him. Northgate leapt away and got better control of his wandering mind. Think about why later; now he had to survive.

Oddly, the needle weapon hampered the troll who was more used to fighting tooth and claw. The creature moved awkwardly wielding the little bit of metal as he tried to jab.  Frustration grew in each move. Lord Northgate concentrated on disabling the hand with the needle first and took a couple cuts from the other one.

Fewer trolls flew past the tower, though a third one landed there. It gave a bark of triumph, rushing in at him from behind.

Northgate dropped to the ground, let go of the magic sword so he didn't cut himself, and started to roll away. The charging troll put one huge, hairy foot on Northgate's chest and the creature lost his balance even as he cracked ribs. The two trolls collided and then hit the battlement wall with enough force to break away the ancient stone. The opening scattered rock and dust to the air, and one troll went over. It did not fly, he was glad to see.

The last troll still had the needle and looked at him with a glare of such pure hatred that it felt like another chill in the cold wind. Northgate stepped backward, pulling up a magic sword again. Not so easy this time, even with the stone so close and bright with power. He'd taken injuries, and he hadn't time or energy left to do anything dramatic.

Magic? Always iffy against trolls. The power in the stairwell would have killed a lesser creature who came in contact with the walls. Even another fae couldn't walk here -- only the Lord of Northgate, who was immune to the powers.

Northgate had somehow gotten to his feet and stayed there as he swung the sword at the troll and missed. The creature made a sound of pleasure and leapt at him. He tried to duck and reach for the wall as the troll snared his arm --

No wall there.

They both went over.

Neither of them could fly.

The wind and snow blinded Lord Northgate. The troll kept hold of him. They were going to hit the ground --


The most potent power Lord Northgate held was to open a Gate to somewhere else. He did so now out of desperation, spinning the magic quickly and reaching for somewhere he'd been before: a lake in another place, a lovely location --

Grabbed at it and pulled them both there.

For a brief moment, he saw bright morning sunlight, tall pine trees, the glitter of blue water --

They hit the water, the troll finally letting go.

The shock nearly knocked Northgate unconscious. He fought against the urge to curl up -- and die -- and fought his way back to the surface.

Get to the air.

He couldn't reach any magic that would save him from this water. His senses were fading, his body wracked by the pain of wounds. Troll? Did it drown? No matter. Just get to the surface.

He did. He gasped for air, went under, and fought his way back up again, annoyed now. Gasped for air again and thought he heard the troll floundering nearby. He spun, trying to decide what spell he could call up here. No stone, but the place had magic in the very air he breathed. It was one of the reasons he loved the reality so much.

Humans ruled this world; powerless fae, they seemed to him. He had once thought of them as crippled creatures until he saw what they did without magic --

The troll wasn't coming for him, but rather humans in a rowboat, fishing gear hanging over the side, a man rowing and a woman leaning over to reach for him.

To Be Continued...

Friday, August 24, 2018

Flash Fiction #317 -- Connor of Northgate/1

For the next few months I will be posting a flash fiction serial based on a novel I wrote some time ago.  I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter One

The wind blew through the open window; a cold, baleful blast that was not, in itself, much of a surprise at the Northgate Keep. The fae could not always keep such weather at bay, nor worked to do so. Nature would take her revenge against magic, and they tried not to tip the balance too far, those fae who lived on the edge of Nature's true domain.

But this northerly wind? Lord Northgate sensed something darker in the touch of ice and snow.  He stood from his desk, crossing to the window with such haste that the servant who had brought him tea watched in dismay.

"Sir?" she whispered, looking to the window as well.

Northgate didn't ask if she felt the change that unsettled him. Likely not; as Lord of Northgate, he had a unique tie to the keep and her lands. He could feel trouble; that was his power and his purpose for being here, so far from the fairer fae lands.

"I am going to go up to the tower, Magra," he said and offered her a smile. "I doubt this will amount to anything, so don't worry. Leave the tea. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Magra gave a distracted nod as she put down the tray and glanced at the window where the wind blew harder. Something felt out of place in that cold breeze that twisted cloth and blew steam from his tea.

Lord Northgate left his cozy office, going by the back halls rather than the shorter walk across the open courtyard to the High Tower. Through the arched windows, he could see people everywhere in the square today, bustling around on whatever business brought them to Northgate. His keep was not as busy as the other three cardinal keeps, but beings of many sorts wandered through, especially those who made their homes even farther north, outside the fae lands.

Northgate didn't want to be waylaid. People were not used to him as Lord of the Keep, and they tended to treat him as they would have one of the pages come to serve here. He'd been Lord Northgate for ten years, but for fae that wasn't very long at all.

He'd grown up at Northgate, squired here from the Royal Court when he was quite young. He'd always been groomed for this post, but the sudden death of Lord Northgate -- the last Lord Northgate -- had put him into the position decades before he had expected to have the power willingly handed over to him.

That caused troubles too, of course. He was young for a Lord of a Gate. However, he held the power and even the Royal Court had not made any suggestion that he might not be ready for the position.

So today, he hurried down one cold hall and around another; he circled the courtyard and then came out into the open.  The door to the High Tower stood to the left. He found no one else nearly. This was his place, and no one could even open the door, let alone work with the power that coursed through the very stones.

The High Tower was Northgate's magic incarnate. He alone could tame this power.

Others had wanted the post he held, but he was good at the work, and he didn't shirk it even now, when he felt the wind grow stronger at his back and the tingling of power, uncomfortable, beneath his hand.

He tapped the door; no more than that. The enormous oaken door sprang open into a place far too bright for being enclosed, and he blinked several times as he stepped inside the narrow interior. His feet found the stairs by memory while his eyes watered; he knew the way, the curve of the wall, the number of steps to the highest point in the keep.

The walls glowed with power that moved up and down or circled around him, like water running through rock. He could tell the tower felt  anxiety, in whatever way living rock felt emotions, by the uneven swirl of colors. He caught the feel of it as well, an increase in tingling through his feet and he dared not touch the wall, for fear that the power would overwhelm even him.

Something must be very much wrong, and now he regretted not having told the others to be careful and keep watch. If there was any weakness he had as Lord Northgate, it was that he did not want to deal with court politics and all the trouble of having to explain himself to others.

Now, standing in the opening to the highest room, with the Stone of Northgate pulsing on the stand in the middle, he realized he had been a fool.

The wind wasn't just cold now but also tainted with something that made him wince, as though he tasted something foul. He turned into the wind and squinted, his hand lifting to feel out whatever might be there.

He thought he could hear shouts far below and took a moment to glance down -- too far to see anyone individually, but many people moved in haste. So, they didn't need him to tell them to get to safety. Good.

He turned back, lifting his hand again --

Something huge came straight out of the howling wind -- no, the creature howled. More than one. He couldn't see what at first --

Trolls! He couldn't guess at the number of them, and he didn't even try to learn how they were flying on the wind. He didn't care. Trolls were enemies of the fae, and the fact they were coming straight at Northgate meant more trouble than he had anticipated. If they had marched in, his people would have had some time to prepare.  But this --

He tried to give a shout of warning, adding the power of magic to his voice, but it was already too late.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Flash Fiction # 316: Fallen Flowers/2

Caitlyn stood by the doorway and thought through the last hour or so of her life.  Being called to visit her eccentric grandmother had been a bit of a surprise.  Catlyn and her brother Terrance had been to the mansion just a week before.  Grandmother was not known for liking family visits.

Before the hour was out their grandmother had gone from being eccentric to being a witch of some sort, and they were there to help her save her son -- their father.

Catlyn looked at her brother who stood by the magical globe, a long-bladed knife in hand.  He gave an expressive shrug that seemed to say what she felt:  I don't really want to believe, but we best go through with it.

Grandmother sat on her throne-like chair, her hands moving in arcane patterns and her eyes mostly closed.  Catlyn held the vase of roses in her hand.

"You have to be ready for something outside your normal world, Catlyn," Grandmother had said to her.  "You must let it get halfway up the stairs before you throw the vase and flowers.  The water must splatter the beast.  It's infused with magic, you see.  I always keep some on hand."

Catlyn looked down in the vase and thought, perhaps, that it did sparkle just a bit.  However, standing in the shadows at the top of the stairs gave her time to consider the insanity of this situation.  Nothing would come up the steps --

Where had the dead flowers gone that they'd seen when she and her brother arrived?  She had watched Grandmother turn the globe back and felt an odd bit of dizziness, but --

"Be ready," Grandmother whispered from inside the room.

Her hands began to perspire.   She looked back at Terrance again, but he had stepped into the shadows as well.

A sound at the bottom of the stairs.  Catlyn turned back, a slow moment, hoping not to draw the attention of --

The ghoul stood at the bottom of the steps.  It had not come through the door.  In fact, it didn't seem to be fully there for a moment.  Gray-skinned, skeletal, gleaming eyes: this was not something from her world.  She froze.  She couldn't breathe.

The creature made a slight laughing sound, inhuman.

If she did not do something, her father would die.

The trick, grandmother had said, was to make the ghoul think that grandmother was only just coming out of the room and crossing to the steps to throw the vase.  In those moments when she had left the room, and before she reached the stairs, the other intruder would appear by the globe and set the dangerous storm in motion against her father.

If Grandmother had to come all the way to the stairs, the battle was lost.  She could not turn back time again.

Father would die.

The ghoul's gray-on-gray eyes watched where grandmother appeared.  It never saw her until she stepped forward and threw the flowers -- and magical water -- straight into its face.

The thing howled with a sound that made her cringe, but in the next heartbeat it was only a scattering of dust, and she could hardly believe it had been real --

Something flashed, far too brightly, behind her.  Catlyn turned and rushed back to the room, remembering that this was only half of the battle. 

The room was filled with bright light, shouting voices, an odd echo as though everything was not quite here.  Grandmother stood with both her hands reaching outward, and tame lightning flickered from her fingers toward the creature that loomed up over the back half of the room, stoop-shouldered and snarling. This was not a ghoul, but the size and shape of the thing made her cringe backward again.  Not of her world!  This couldn't be real!

Terrance was on the floor, and at first, she thought he was writhing in pain -- but then she saw that he had hold of some man.

"Help your brother," Grandmother ordered, her words strong and her eyes never leaving the other enemy.

Catlyn passed behind her and around the side of the room as quickly as she dared.  The huge creature kept glancing her way, though, anger in its bright red eyes.  She had almost reached Terrance when the more massive beast growled and turned on her, taking a step closer --

She still had the vase in her hands.  She threw it as hard as she could.  The glass shattered and the last of the water spattered across him.  The creature drew back in shock, made a sound of surprise and pain, and seemed to disappear into the shadows.

"Well done, Catlyn!" Grandmother said as she rushed past to Terrance. She reached down and yanked a scrawny, hook-nosed man to his feet.  "And you did well, too, Terrance.  Quick thinking -- I had gotten distracted by the giant.  If you hadn't noticed there were two visitors, we still would have lost."

Terrance grinned.  He had a scratch on his face, and his lower lip looked swollen, but that was nothing compared to the man grandmother held by one arm.

"Vincent," she said, shaking the man like a rag doll.  "I should have known it was you."

The man tried to snarl, but Catlyn could see the worry in his eyes.  "What do we do now?" he asked, and his voice squeaked.

Grandmother smiled.  "You are going on a long, long, trip, Vincent."

"No --"

But he was gone in the next heartbeat.  "Well, we won't see him for a while.  Come along, children.  Let' see what we can find in the kitchen.  I can call the servants back now, too."

By the time their father returned from his trip, Catlyn and Terrance had moved into the mansion and begun a serious study of magic.  He wasn't even surprised.

They hadn't told their mother yet, though.

"Some dangers are just best avoided," Grandmother said.

None of them argued.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Flash Fiction # 315: Fallen Flowers/1

There were dead flowers on the spiral staircase.  The rose blooms had cascaded downward over the steps and died, the colors fading and some leaves turning to dust.  They couldn't have been there more than two weeks, the last time Catlyn and her brother had been to the mansion, and yet they looked as though they'd been dead a year or more.

"How did the flowers get there?" Catlyn asked, looking at Terrance with a lifted eyebrow.  "You didn't --"

"Not me," Terrance replied with an emphatic shake of his head.  He'd pulled his hair back into a tie hoping to make it look more acceptable.  "I told you that I haven't come back here since the gathering.  Grandmother scares the fu --"

Catlyn had put fingers to his lips.  While Grandmother didn't scare her, there was no reason to straight out annoy the older woman with language she did not approve.  Catlyn couldn't begin to figure out why grandmother had sent for the two of them, though.  That worried her, especially on the eve of what had seemed like two uncommonly long days.

"Well?  Are you coming up?" the familiar voice shouted from somewhere above them.

"Yes, Grandmother," Catlyn replied, her voice steady.  She tapped Terrance on the arm and gave him a nod of encouragement.

Terrance started up ahead of her, carefully avoiding the debris of flowers.  A fallen vase sat at the top of the stairs, dusty along the edges.  Why hadn't anyone picked it up yet?  Grandmother might be eccentric, but she did have maids and other people working in the house.

Grandmother was, as usual, in her sitting room and on the high-backed chair by the window. She wore a long, gray gown, more than a century out of date, but exquisite in a way that made Catlyn wish, for a moment, that women could still dress that way, at least sometimes.  Grandmother's silver hair formed an intricate design above her thin face, and jewels glittered in the tresses, the light from the window catching them as she turned from one side to another, looking at the two.

Catlyn always felt as though they ought to bow to the queen, and that wasn't merely a snarky response to the elaborate scene.  There was something both majestic and powerful that Catlyn felt every time she came near the woman.

"Thank you for your promptness," Grandmother said.

That threw Catlyn, and no doubt Terrance as well.  While Grandmother was never overtly rude, she rarely made anyone feel welcome or even that they had done something well.  Catlyn mistrusted the change.

Terrance was quick to respond, though.  "We are honored that you wanted to see us here.  What can we do for you?"

The woman looked from one to the other, her green eyes narrowed and her thin lips pursed as though she weighed them both.  Then she gave an unexpected, and very un-grandmother-like, shrug.

"Neither of you are much like your mother."

Catlyn weighed the tone and the implications and then gave a slight bow of her head.  "No, we aren't.  Mother is drawn to making money and living in a style that seems more confining the richer she becomes."

"Yes!"  Grandmother sat forward, as though they had made a connection for the first time.

"I've nothing against money," Terrance added.  Oddly, this was a conversation Catlyn had had with her brother before.  "I just don't want to be trapped by it.  Mother doesn't understand, but at the same time she's glad enough that we don't try to interfere with her life any more than father does."

"What is it you want, Grandmother?" Terrance asked.

Grandmother stood.  She was a tall woman and thin.  She did not stoop from age, and her movements were steady as she crossed to the side of the room and stood by a massive globe.  She signaled the two of them over to her.

"I have a problem," she said and gave a sigh that held a hint of disgust.  "One of my own making, I fear.  I got careless.  Look. This is where your father is now.  He's sailing."

"Yes," Terrance said and looked down at the expanse of water where Grandmother pointed.  We both knew father was sailing from Honolulu to Osaka on the latest stretch of his quest to sail all the oceans and seas.  "We can't be certain where --"

Grandmother touched the globe.  It changed.  Three dimensional, Catlyn thought at first.  That was pretty high-tech for a woman who dressed as though she lived in the 1890s.  And really cool -- it had a cloud layer coming in --

She felt chilled.  Terrance took a step back and then forward again, staring down at the globe.

"This happened yesterday, children," Grandmother said.  "I got careless, and something slipped into the house through the back door.  I felt it coming up the stairs, so I grabbed the vase of flowers as a handy weapon.  The water, you see, is special."

She waved a hand toward a vase of roses.  Catlyn began to fear they were the same roses that were dead on the stairs.  She wanted to say something.  So did Terrance, but neither of them spoke.  Grandmother looked from one to the other and gave another nod as though they'd passed a test of some sort.

"While I was throwing the roses at the ghoul, something else came through and straight into my room.  They set a storm in motion," she said.  The globe turned a bare quarter of an inch, and a storm swept in, dark and ominous, reaching for their father.  "By the time I realized the trick, my enemy was gone.  I turned back the time once, twice -- but no matter what I do, I cannot be in two places at once.  I must throw the roses and stop the ghoul. The two of you will stop the other from setting the storm against your father."

We didn't argue.
To be continued...

Friday, August 03, 2018

Flash Fiction #314: Myth of the Rainbow (Drabble)

Tiny pixies once ruled the sky, darting everywhere with flashes of bright color, pleasing all who saw them -- except for the orcs who hated and envied their beauty.  The orcs drove them into caverns and wells, using dark magic to trap them away from the sky.

Orcs also hate rain.  When it falls they hide and their spells weaken.  Storms are dangerous for pixies, though, so they can only take advantage of the breach in the last moments of gentle rain.  Then they swarm up from one spot and down to another to visit others.

And so we have rainbows.