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.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Flash Fiction # 363 -- Connor of Northgate/47

 For Connor, waiting until dawn gave him a few more minutes to think through this new aspect of the problem.  Had Liam hit upon something?  He couldn't tell if he hoped so or not because it opened up a far more extensive range of possible issues.  History, in the fae sense, was very, very, very long.

Connor, though, had spent a good part of his free time up in the library and he at least had some idea of where to look for answers.  He wanted, in fact, to find the answers there in the pages of old manuscripts and not at the clash of swords.

He hated everything that had happened, and if he got this mess straightened out, he thought he might willingly give the power over to one of the others.  Connor would not, however, run from the war and let others face what he was not willing to deal with himself.

Druce was the one who finally nodded, and they began to gather themselves for the trip to the library.  Liam kept to Connor's side, and that might put him in danger -- but then it might keep him safe, too.  The others looked ready to protect them both.

Guards stood outside the door when Druce opened it, the light little more than a line of gray on the horizon.  They'd not talked much, but just having them close had helped Connor to calm again.  That and sitting in his own room.  Druce spoke to them and nodded, which made Connor feel better.  He didn't want to distrust everyone in the castle.

They met servants in the hall who reported that Rion had already gone up to the archives.  The group trooped up that way, all of them worn and tired.  Rion looked up from his desk, which sat almost blocking the entry.  No one got past the man.

"Get to the point," Rion said with a wave of his hand.  "I have the feeling we don't have a lot of time."

So Connor did, which seemed to relieve the others.  He found a little humor in the idea that they still feared their teacher.  However, Rion nodded, frowned, and nodded again.

"This may be the link you need, but do we have the ability and time to ferret this out?  Call for breakfast -- yes, here.  I trust none of you will spill things and destroy ancient and irreplaceable manuscripts."

"I think I'd rather not eat," Antisha admitted, starting to look worried at the shelves.

They sent for the food.  Connor hadn't thought he was hungry until the baskets arrived, but as he reached for some fruit, Druce caught his arm.  "Not until I check for poison," he said.

The food was fine.  The work was tedious, and by mid-morning Connor and his companions were all, including Rion, starting to get short-tempered.

"If there is something buried, we'll need a better link than what Liam has given us so far.  Any chance of that, Liam?" Rion asked.

"I don't know," he said, sounding embarrassed.  "I wish I had some control."

"I know," Rion replied with a nod and a softening of his face.  "This is not something we blame you for, boy.  I've seen you struggling with this power of yours since you arrived, and it would not be a gift I would wish on anyone.  At least you have pointed us in the right direction --"

"Or maybe close to it," Connor replied.  He leaned forward, his hands on the table.  "What about myth rather than history?"

That drew an unexpectedly startled look from Rion and then a look of surprise from Liam.

"I think --" Liam began.

"There is a myth," Rion said.  He frowned and leaned back in his chair.  "An ancient myth that says  we won Northgate from the trolls, and they will take it back when the fae ties are broken."

Connor was on his feet before he even realized.  "You must replace me!  Now!"

He would have thought, given the situation, that they would have moved immediately.  He didn't know what it would take?  His death?  He hoped not anything that drastic.

"No," Liam said.

He looked at his friend in shocked disbelief.  "We can't risk --"

"You, clearly, have not lost the link to the fae," Liam replied and waved a hand to silence Connor when he started to speak again.  Liam rarely sounded so assured.  "If we act too quickly, we might do what the myth says.  The myth might be created by trolls, which could be a way of keeping us worried about the wrong thing at a time of danger."

"Ah," Rion said.  He looked impressed.  "Liam is thinking quite a bit clearer than the rest of us, I see."

"There's a first time for everything," Liam replied with a bright smile.  Then he reached out and caught Connor by the arm.  "Sit down.  We have to think this through, Connor.  We dare not move too quickly.  Think Connor -- there may well be a reason they are trying to kill you.  It might be the true break that they want."

Connor settled in the chair, though still shaking his head.  None of this made sense to him.

"I don't know if we should take the chance," he admitted.  "Surely one of you -- a fae --"

"If you gave up the power now, it would go back to the court," Druce said, and Antisha nodded agreement.  "Then we would lose the link to fae until the King named someone else and gave over the power.  You have no designated heir, and you have not been Lord of Northgate long enough for the power to be stable and pass on.  No, Connor -- you cannot give it up.  There is no easy answer.  We must be wise."

"And prepared," Liam added.  He looked towards the door, his eyes unfocused again.  "Trouble coming."

A moment later, they could all hear the sound of an attack.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Flash Fiction # 362 -- Connor of Northgate/46

Chapter 15

Connor had not expected to rest for long.  Nothing had felt right since they got back and he knew that the enemy would take advantage of the unsettled state of Northgate Keep.

So, he wasn't surprised when the attack came, though well after midnight. The assassins were careful of their sounds and their magic, and they moved along the outer walls of the building, cloaked in shadows, unseen by anyone.  They broke into the room without ever sounding an alarm.

Lucky for Connor, they chose the wrong room.

Someone stronger than the trolls had used magic -- fae magic, Connor feared -- to hide the creatures before they bounded into the room yelling their attack, and became very confused to find no one there.  The local guards had come at a run and arrived before Connor and his people and were viciously fighting the trolls.

"Connor!" Someone shouted and sounded relieved to see him.  He took that as a good sign as he and his people charged in to help. There had only been a dozen trolls, and while they were hard to kill, Connor's people still won.
Connor, who had at least been wise enough to grab his sword from his room, leaned back against the nearest wall and scanned the area.  There were several injured, including Nylia, but the others were already working at healing them.  He had a cut on his arm, but Antisha moved up and laid her fingers on it.  It hadn't been a bad wound, but he was glad to have it gone.

Captain Beckwith, the head of Guard, stopped in front of Connor and frowned.  Antisha's hand had gone to the sword she wore at her side, and Erlis moved up on his left, his sword still in hand.

"You weren't here," Beckwith said.  "And we weren't warned about the coming attack."

"Warned?" Connor said, confused.

Beckwith glanced at Liam.

"I didn't see it," Liam replied with a surprising touch of annoyance from the usually calm Seer.  "I don't catch everything, you know.  If I did, I would have saved myself a lot of pain recently."

Beckwith frowned but nodded.  He still looked back at Connor, though.

"I was not in these rooms because they are not my rooms.  They belong to Lord Northgate, and I cannot simply pretend that I am now the man he was.  Do you think this has been any easier on me than it has been for anyone else?"

Beckwith's face changed slightly, and he gave a nod.  Then the Captain turned and left again, working with his people to take care of the dead trolls.  Connor, feeling as though he could move again, pushed away from the wall and headed back down the hall to his own rooms.  The others went with him, all of them silent.  Connor could tell they were not happy and he had the feeling it wasn't just about the trolls.  Beckwith had been close to rude, but Connor had no intention of calling him on that attitude.  They didn't need to get into that sort of childish game.

Everyone appeared to be up and moving now, he noted.  The castle had come alive, and he suspected no one was going to sleep much for the rest of the night, if at all.

"You might as well all come in.  It's not long until dawn, and I doubt any of us are going to sleep," he said and held the door open for them.

They filed in, except for Druce who sent Connor ahead of him and then closed and barred the door from the inside. The others had searched the room for trouble by then.

"We can't trust them," Druce said.  "We can't trust the guard if they are questioning you, Connor."

"And yet they came at a run and fought the trolls," Connor reminded them.  "That's good enough for now."

Druce wanted to argue, but he didn't.  It was Liam who went to the window and looked out and then turned back, clearly upset about something.

"I really didn't see the trolls," he said with a shake of his head.

"We don't doubt you," Nylia replied.  Her shoulder must still bother her, but she was alive and moving.

"Thank you.  But there is more to the problem.  Things are moving too wide, too much flux right now.  I need to stay close to Connor to see the possibilities that will affect him, and through him, the rest of the keep.  You are the focus, Connor, of all change right now."

"I would like to think that the trolls were part of an attack by outsiders," Nylia said.  "But not even the guards realized you weren't there, so we can't rule anyone out."

"There is one more aspect of this to consider," Antisha added.  She looked around at the others and gave a glare to the window when a breeze rattled the edges of the covering.  "Someone appears to be very anxious to get you, Connor. There have been two attempts in a few hours.  From the timing, I suspect something is going on, and we need to find out what it might be."

"If it were obvious, someone would have noticed by now," Connor said.  He shook his head.  "And how can we tell if anything is out of the ordinary when everything seems to be?"

"Oh," Liam said.

He drew all their attention.  Seeing him stare out at nothing was actually a relief.  They all waited in silence.  Then he blinked and shook his head.

"This isn't going to be a lot of help," he said apologetically.  "But I have the odd feeling we have to look at history."

"Master Rion," Conner said.  He started to stand and then sat down again.  "But we'll at least wait until dawn.  Rion is not a man to wake in the middle of the night."

They'd just faced trolls without flinching, but no one argued. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019