Thursday, December 31, 2020

Flash Fiction #439 -- The Fae Underground/15


I'd feared that she would ask me that sort of question.  I had not expected it to take such a personal form.  This was, in fact, the first time I'd been acknowledged publicly at court.

"Son of the Queen?" Lycan glanced my way.  His voice didn't sound entirely steady.

"One of many," I said with a nod to my mother -- I could think of her that way now that she'd made the acknowledgment, but I would be wise to keep the title of Queen firmly in mind.  "And I've lived many years in the human realm.  The one thing I can say is that no one else should pack up their people and scurry off to the safety of the humans' world.  It is not safe."

"They have no magic," someone said, and it sounded like a scoff against my first official statement as a Prince of the Line.

Typical.  I hated court politics.

"They have no control of magic," I agreed.  "However, their realm is filled with power everywhere.  Anyone trying to push you in that direction has already settled in and has harnessed enough magic to make certain of control.  Second, the more of us who arrive there in such large groups, the more likely we are to draw attention."

"We should wipe the humans out."

I tried to find what fool had said those words.  The voice had come from the back of the room, and though the statement hadn't surprised me, I did see how my companions reacted.  Lycan almost snarled and barely caught himself.  Sylph glared, and I feared Lady Snow might transform.

It wasn't that many of them probably had a great love for humans, but they saw the threat to themselves in that blatant bit of bigotry.  The fae were strong, and too many of my own thought that meant we should destroy anything that caused us the slightest trouble.

"Lord Suntur," the Queen said, her tone so cold I even took a step back.  I hadn't recognized the voice, but I knew the name.  "I think, if you cannot be polite and helpful, then this is not the place for you to be at all."

Other fae moved aside and left one tall fae standing alone toward the back of the room.  The man looked right and left in dismay but then straightened and gave a slight nod to the Queen.

"The humans," he said and then paused with a shake of his head.  "They don't appreciate or utilize what they have.  I would not be opposed to sharing, except that they simply cannot be trusted, can they?  Better to be rid of them."

Some of the others were starting to whisper in that way you hear at court, which meant they were quiet, but they also made certain Lord Suntur heard them.  No one was happy with the man.

Suntour gave a humph of sound and took several long-legged steps until he stood no more than an arm's length behind me.  I turned half to face him.  My companions turned entirely, and I saw the Queen's eyebrows inch up at the confrontation -- but she did not try to stop it.

Fine then.  I had a few things to say.

"They use their world in their own way --" I began.

"You have no say in this, boy.  Look at you -- coming to court in human clothing and bringing these ... others with you.  Should we listen to one who clearly doesn't even know how to stand among his own people with pride?"

Sylph was the one who made a sound of disgust this time.  She moved slightly, her hair twisting for a moment, but then it settled, and she took a deeper breath.  

"Be wary of whom you insult, my fine fae lord.  I am a member of the Twelve -- the High Council of the Trees.  My companion here is one of the four goddesses of Winter.  Lycan?"

"Just a humble guard -- one of the Lycan King's own."

I kept silent, and I hoped that the surprise did not show on my own face.  Lycan gave me a toothy grin, though.  

"Well, no matter," Lord Suntur said as though Councilors, King's Guards, and even wild winter goddesses were nothing to him.  ""You are not relevant to the fae people --"

"You are the one unimportant," Lycan said with a slight tilt of his head.  "This man does not command the trouble, Great Queen.  He is bluster without intelligence, and even the beat of his heart gives a sign of his position.  No, not this one.  He has talked with others, though.  They are the ones you will want to find."

Lord Suntour had flushed with anger, but the Queen nodded agreement.  "He likes to talk, but he does not think and rarely listens."

I nodded, but I was bothered by something else.  "I fear this makes me believe the heart of all this trouble is here in our own lands."

"You would dare to suggest --" Lord Suntor began.

"Be silent," the Queen ordered.  "I want to hear why my son believes this possibility."

To be called son twice in one hour, almost unsettled me.  I had the feeling there was far more to this than she knew, though.  I even wished for a private audience -- but since she was not suggesting such a thing, she must have wanted the others here to hear the tale.

And to see their reactions?

I glanced and Lycan, but he wasn't going to offer to take up any of this tale.  Sylph and Lady Snow both looked to me as well.

"Something has pushed all the others over to the human realm," I said, trying to sort out the strings and make a coherent tale.  Lord Suntor started to say something, but the Queen's Guards moved, and he fell silent.

And in that silence, as everyone listened, I heard something that made me know we had no time left.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Flash Fiction #438 -- The Fae Underground/14


Yes, I knew this place.

And I kept walking anyway.

I brushed at my clothing -- human-made and hardly appropriate for where we were heading.  I supposed, under the circumstances, I would be forgiven.

I also came with an unusual array of guests, some of whom might look more like guards.  Well, all of them looked that way, in fact.  Even King Pixie could be dangerous in the right, or wrong, situation.  He flew ahead of me for a little while and kept looking back as though he expected me to turn aside.

Oh yes, he knew where we were going.

The Queen's castle came into view at the top of the next hill, the turrets flying her bright silver pennant.  The building had never sat so close to the human lands before.  I had not even brought us through a portal that should have been close, and that meant only one thing.  The Queen wanted us in her presence, so she moved -- castle and all -- to where we could reach her quickly.  She didn't have time for us to wander around the Faelands and probably getting into more trouble.

I could sense trouble in the air, a literal feel of magic darting everywhere in a frantic race of powers.  Someone was making a move here, and from the energy pouring out of the castle, I thought the Queen was not happy at all.

"That is the castle of the Queen of the Fae," Lycan finally said.


"It shouldn't be here," he added and gave me another quick glance.

"No, it should not," I agreed and didn't slow.  "Something is going on  -- but then we expected it, didn't we?  This is why we headed here, and honestly, I would rather she came to us than we went looking for her."

"You intended to go to the Queen of the Fae from the start?" Sylph asked with a tilt of her head.

"No," I said, and she nodded, having figured that out already.  "But she's here, and that means something."

"Dire," King Pixie added and came to land on my shoulder.  "It means something dire, Fae.  She should not be here, castle, court, and all, so near to the human realm.  She cannot mean to take it all across, can she?"

"I wouldn't think so," I replied and tried hard not to shiver.  We were starting down the hillside, moving slowly over the uneven ground.  Then a path appeared and led straight to the great castle gatehouse.  "But the Queen clearly wants to see us as soon as possible.  I wish we had something helpful to tell her."

We reached the gate quickly, all of us nearly breathless, except for King Pixie, who just held on.  I thought he might be cursing, though he kept his words very quiet.

The guards at the castle only waved open the great portcullis and sent us hurrying through the narrow passage beyond.  Lady Snow was in her human form again, but even so, we made an interesting group and drew attention the moment we came back into the light.

The Queen's Own army had camped within the walls.

Many of them were injured.

That sight slowed me and sent a chill I'd been trying to avoid until now.  These people had not only seen battle, but it had been severe enough that they came away without enough magic left to heal those who had taken wounds.  Lycan and Sylph both made sounds of worry, and King Pixie moved from my shoulder to my pocket again.

People moved out of our way and made an easy path to the castle itself.  That by itself sent a chill through me since I had never been anyone of such importance before.  My lack of status was why I could be so easily shuffled off into the human world.

Things had changed, and I'd had no hint of it until I followed those pixies down into the subway.  I'd been intrigued then, but now I was working far past worried and on to panicked.  Not the least of my worries was that someone -- someone important -- might expect me to have answers.

Lycan had picked up that panicked heartbeat the way predators did, and I saw the way his eyes started to get a narrow focus.  All of the weak and injured did not help keep him calm.  Since he came with me, it was my responsibility --

I took a quick breath, forced calm through my body, and looked into his narrow-eyed stare.  The corners of his fangs were starting to show.

"I didn't expect to come back to this," I said as we paused at the bottom of the stairs.  I was not going to take Lycan inside the castle in this state, but I didn't dare leave him behind, either.  The only hope I had was to make certain Lycan understood that my worry was my own.  "I don't like that I have no answers at all at a time when we need them."

"It may be that we will find some of the answers here," Sylph said and came up on the other side of Lycan.  "Be calm, companion.  This is not a place to fight, not with our allies already in such condition."

"Yes," Lycan said, though the word still sounded too much like a growl.  "The trouble is not here, but I think it might not be too far away."

Not what I wanted to hear.  I started up the steps, the others falling in behind me.  I hope they kept Lady Snow in order.  She seemed more likely to be a problem than Lycan, and he was trouble enough.

At the top of the stairs stood four of the Queen's guards, weapons in hand.  I stood straighter, prepared to argue -- though not fight -- my way through.

They opened the door without comment and even bowed their heads as we went inside.

Yes, this was getting really scary...

Friday, December 11, 2020

Flash Fiction # 437 -- The Fae Underground/13

 I hadn't returned to the Faelands in many years.  My heartbeat faster as I opened the way, and I saw Lycan give me a quick frown.  He could sense heartbeats, but I didn't think he'd understand my feelings as I stepped through and into the world I'd longed to see again for years.

Have you ever gone home, walked into your house, and simply felt that something was wrong, even though you couldn't put your finger on it right away?

I was already waving the others to step back.  That almost got me killed since I should have been paying better attention to the area around me rather than worrying about my companions.

"Down!" King Pixie shouted in my ear.

I did as he said, just as something large bounded over me.  Sylph and Lycan leapt aside, but Lady Snow simply changed and went from being a large woman to a substantial polar bear again.

The troll couldn't stop in time.

I scrambled out of the way with King Pixies still holding tight to my shoulder.    By the time I got back to my feet, one troll had died, and several others were running as fast as they could.

"She's big," King Pixie whispered.

I hadn't clearly seen the troll until I turned, and by then, it was already in pieces. Lady Snow was kicking those aside with such ferocity that the head itself disappeared over a low mound several yards away.

"We have to leave!" I shouted.  "Someone has a watch for others entering the Faelands.  That guard arrived too quickly, and others are going to follow."

"Or they plan to slow us down some other way," Sylph said.  She lifted her head into a sudden breeze, and that dangerous hair of hers swept around so quickly that I threw myself back down on the ground.  "Snow is coming."

"Damn --"

"Let it come!" Lady Snow shouted into the growing wind. She dropped with her belly in the snow.  "Climb up.  Hold on."

That seemed like a wise idea because the wind already held ice that hit like pellets of stone.  Cold pellets.

"King Pixie, into my vest pocket," I said.  I wanted to be more polite, but my teeth were chattering.  Besides, he lost his hold, and I barely caught him before he fell to the ground, his wings already coated in ice.

I put him in my pocket as carefully as I could, feeling a cold spot on my chest -- but then he moved a little and relieved me of some of my worries.  Lycan began scrambling up to Lady Snow's back, and Sylph followed.  Then she reached down with an elongated arm and pulled me up to sit between her and Lycan.  I was glad not to be behind her and worry about that hair -- well, not until the wind changed.

Lady Snow began moving, and she did head straight into the wind running for the heart of the storm.  And yes, she could run well.  We held on, but I mostly feared the cold and wind more than her movement.  She was, after all, magical and had no trouble moving through the worsening weather.  Her fur was warm and plush, and if I hadn't worried so much about our lives, I would have closed my eyes and napped for a little bit.

I tried to get some idea of where we might be headed.  I was fae, after all, and this was my homeland.  The storm, though, seemed to blur all links with the land.  I could feel little beyond the ice and magic-infused storm.

Which meant that I had no choice but to let Lady Snow take us straight toward the enemy.  Maybe even the surprise of it would help us.  I was certainly surprised -- and I wondered if Lady Snow even realized what she was doing now.  She had stopped to gather us up, but after that action, I think her mind turned entirely toward the enemy, and she just let herself go.

I might have tried to stop or slow her, but I wasn't sure the four of us would survive the encounter.

I tried to think of something else helpful -- but suddenly, we were out of time.

We were also out of the storm.

It was like stepping through a wall from a freezer into spring.  The shock alone got a violent tremble from my body, but Sylph held me in place while Lady Snow made a swift stop and turn that almost unsettled all of us.

I looked back to see the wall of snow -- and someone in a long robe and hooded robe with hands lifted.  The hands suddenly dropped, and the storm began to die away.

"Well, damn," the woman said with barely a glance at us.

And then she disappeared.

I had been ready for an attack and held the magic in my hands for a moment longer.  The storm had all but died already, leaving only a line of demarcation with melting white on one side and bright green grass on the other.

Lady Snow turned back to human and then sat on the ground, panting.  "Where did she go?" she demanded.

"Why did she go?" Sylph asked, which was a question I was more willing to try to answer.

"I don't think she expected us," I said.  I sat down by Lady Snow and leaned back on an elbow, trying to calm myself and my companions.   "That storm wasn't intended as an attack against us."

"No?" Lycan asked.  Then he nodded.  "That was a lowland troll.  "A storm like that would have frozen and killed him -- but we killed him first."

"Then why did she run?" Sylph asked with an annoyed twitch of her shoulders.  She and Lady Snow still wanted a battle.

"My guess is that she didn't want trouble with us," I said.  "But I know where she went.  We don't have far to go."

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Flash Fiction #436 -- The Fae Underground/12



The bigger problem was that the others had started to look at me for answers.  I saw it in their eyes and the way they waited as they expected me to speak.

This was not, I realized because I held a title back in the Fae lands.  Most of them -- maybe all of them -- had no idea whom I might be.  Some who did know might think I was a disgraced fae and should be without powers -- but it was clear I had magic.

More than anything, I think they turned to me right now because I looked and acted more human than any of them.

"As much as I think we need to find the crowns and other missing things," I began, letting my voice take on some magic so that everyone could hear it, "I think our first problem is to find a safe way to remain hidden from the humans.  We do not want to draw them into our problems."

That drew a quick murmur of agreement from the crowd.  Good so far, though I hadn't actually asked them to do anything.

"You cannot remain here for too long.  This much magic will draw notice even of the humans.  I don't think that would be safe for any of us."

"But they are less safe spread out in small groups," Sylph replied.  "Most of these beings have never been on this side of the veil.  They don't know how to behave in ways that will not draw attention."

And with those words, she gave a quick glance at Lady Snow, reinforcing those words.  She was right, too.  

"If they can't go, then I guess we'll just have to work faster to find the answer to what is going on," I said.  I kept from shoving both hands through my hair out of pure frustration.  I had no idea at all where to start.

"I can help," a small voice said by my ear, and I looked to see a pixie land on my shoulder.  I saw the little crown on his head and bowed my own as best I could in the awkward position.  "I think you need something to lure the enemy out."

He put his tiny fingers to his crown.

"This would be dangerous, King Pixie," I said, but softly.  I did not want to call his bravery into question.  "Both for you and for the rest of us if they got your crown."

"It is only time before they try again," he said.  Steadier than most pixies.  He looked into my face, and I had the feeling I knew why he was the Pixie King -- and why they did better these days than they used to do.  "I do not want to send my pixies against some force that it appears even the bigs are having trouble with this time.  We will all do better if we can work together.  If something still wants my crown, I don't see why any of us would want to make it easier for this enemy."

"You are right," Sylph said and bowed her head.

Then she looked at me.

"I have no more idea of what is going on than the rest of you," I said.  I didn't like to admit to it, but the others only nodded.  "I think the one thing I can do is try to get to the Faeland and find out what the fae themselves know.  There is a reason why they are not here, and that may lead to the answers that we need."

"You do not go alone," Lycan said and then lifted his hand when I started to protest.  "No."

I saw that Lady Snow and Sylph nodded agreement.  Even King Pixie gave a quick nod, but I thought that might be his worry about having to face the enemy.  He had to know, though, that we were bound to face something dangerous as well.

But at least he wouldn't be facing it alone.

"I will return as soon as I can with an answer," I said to the others, letting my voice drift out across the strange crowd.  "Try to keep magic to a minimum.  If humans come, don't fight them unless you must.  You might defeat them, but that just means more will come the next time -- or they will come up with something that might be as dangerous to them as it would be to you.  They do not give up."

I had to trust that some of these people had dealt with humans before and knew the truth of what I was saying.  I looked at my companions and wanted to ask them to stay behind -- but they'd just argue with me.  And I would lose.
We went back out the way we had entered.  It grew progressively colder, and I thought that was as much my state of mind as the colder area away from so many people.

"This is a mess," I said and looked to Lycan.  King Pixie still sat on my shoulder and nodded in agreement.  I stopped worrying about what he might or might not understand. He had one hand to his crown, though, as though he intended to hold on to it no matter what anyone else wanted.

We had to get to a spot away from this area to where I could open a portal to Faeland.  I could do it here, but the mass of unintentional magic the others had created here would have made that dangerous.

Besides, I didn't want to give away their hiding place, even to my own people.  Who knew what else might be lurking on the other side, waiting for someone to zip through.  I said so to the others.

"Only one way to find out," Lycan said.  He had his hand on his sword.  "And at least it would be a quick answer."

I agreed.  "Get ready," I said.

I opened the portal, and we stepped into -- yeah, more trouble.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Flash Ficion # 435 -- The Fae Undergroud/11

This was every fae creature in this realm.  Maybe more than would typically have been in the human lands, in fact.  I found myself stepping backward in shock.

"What does this mean?" Slyph asked softly, her own voice trembling.

"The problem stretches across realms," Lycan replied.  "Power is moving -- most of it stolen.  This has the feel of a problem long in the making, my friends.  It has the feel of someone -- something -- that wants to wrench the old power base out of the faelands and move it to ... here, perhaps."

"Oh, not wise," I said with a quick shake of my head.

He didn't argue.  Maybe I had just proved some shred of sanity on my part.  The idea of bringing fae rule to the lands of the humans was something made of nightmares.  Even if the Fae didn't intend to rule the humans themselves, but only the Fae who lived here, it would still be a powerful assemblage of magical beings who would start to affect the world around them, if only to keep their own people safe.

Single Fae had come to this realm and brought magic in the past.  Merlin had not done too poorly, but Lilith fell on the other side.  No humans knew even a quarter of what she had done to the human world, and yet they still reviled her name in many places.

Other beings had come in groups and left their imprint on fairy tales and myths.  Things that were not quite human enough to walk down the street side-by-side with the humans were relegated to the pages of 'let's pretend.'  Humans had a unique ability to see themselves as the only real intelligent life on their world.

It made them blind, but we had used that blindness against them in the past.

Unfortunately, the human world had changed drastically in the last two hundred years.  Now they had technology -- and worse than that, they had mass communications.

A couple centaurs walking down Main Street might be passed off as a beautiful FX show, at least the first time.  But for every appearance of something strange, a few more humans were going to start doubting their version of reality.


So then they know magic is real.

And then they want it, too.

Humans rarely know how to handle true power.  And besides that, they tend to be vindictive and rash, a combination that is not good for a being with powers.  There are a few such among our own, but we do our best to police them.  Some have been stripped of powers.

My own people thought I had been stripped of power and sent here, in fact.  I thought, now, that I'd only been sent ahead because something far larger was happening.

"Where does the loss of the crowns fit into this? I asked as I looked at Lady Winter, Sylph, and Lycan.

"I would really wish to know," Sylph answered.  Lycan nodded, but Lady Snow only stared out into the gathering.  I thought she might hope to find her daughter there.
I hoped for it, too.  It would be one easy problem solved.

I even looked, hoping to find someone or group with the crowns.  I wanted an answer to some smaller problem than trying to find out what all these beings were doing here.

"What do you know, Lycan?" I asked softly.  We were drawing attention, a slow shift of stares that turned our way from front to so far back that I couldn't clearly tell what stood there.

"I think we face a change none of us care to see," he answered.  His hand moved to his belt-dagger as though he meant to fight some enemy off and then came away again.  "I don't know what to do in this mess.  I was rather hoping you and your two odd companions might have a better idea."

Not what I wanted to hear.

I looked back at the crowd and searched the scattered groups for the Fae and hope of talking to someone I knew.  I searched and searched again, looking from one group to another until I could not see clearly.  A group of fae would ot be that far back in the mass of beings.

"Where are the Fae?" I asked, at last, my voice softer than I had intended.

"They haven't joined us yet," Lycan answered.  He looked troubled.  "We fear they might be holding off something else from coming through.  Something powerful."

If that were true, then my duty was not to be here but rather with them.  "Where is the portal?"

Lycan looked at me and must have known what I meant to do.  Lady Snow didn't seem to notice at all, and Sylph might not have understood the implications of my words.

"I can take you there, but I don't think one more fae is going to help in that battle," Lycan said with a shake of his head.

"I go with him," Lady Snow said, surprising us all.  "My daughter is not here.  I must go on and look elsewhere.  I go with the Fae who has at least tried to help."

"I'll help," Sylph replied.  She even dared one long-fingered touch of her hand on the other creature's arm.  "I shall help you, and all of us together might yet find answers to all these mysteries."

I saw Lycan's odd glance at Sylph and then the quick nod of his head in agreement.

"And I with you.  The more types of our kind, the more likely we are to find the path to answers.  Will you have us, Fae?"

I had not expected that question, but I nodded agreement.  We had chanced into meeting each other and headed on the same path in search of answers.  Now I began to wonder if something more powerful might be directing us all into this quest.

I couldn't say if it was for good or bad, though.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Flash Fiction # 434 -- The Fae Underground/10


Lady Snow moved before I did, shoving me aside with a hand that changed into a sizeable clawed paw and swept through the empty air no more than a foot from my face.

Not so empty since something gave a howl of pain, and blood splattered the air.  A moment later, a Lycan appeared, one hand to his bleeding muzzle as he backed up.  He lifted a hand to start another spell but stopped when I raised mine.

"What the hell are you doing?" I demanded and hoped Lady Snow wasn't on the verge of going berserk.

"I am the guard.  You will not get past me to attack the others."

"If you mean the pixies and gremlins -- and whoever else might be with them -- you don't have to worry.  And where were you when we came by the last time?"

"I was detained," he said with a snarl.

I did think he looked more than usually scruffy, and what might have been a nice suit now had a few rents and splatters that might be blood.

That meant the Lycan might know more of what was going on than the rest of us.  We just had to get him to trust us.

I knew of one way.

I stepped back and drew the knife I carried at my belt.  Everyone started to react, so I moved quickly, slicing across my hand, and holding it out.

"We are telling the truth," I said.

The Lycan knew what I offered with that hand.  He stepped closer with a quick sniff and then leaned forward so that his tongue lapped quickly across my palm.  I wasn't sure if the other two understood the ritual, but they held back.

The Lycan stepped back as well.  He was more than a head taller than me, the tips of his pointed ears lost in a mass of dark curls and his slanted dark brown eyes blinking.  I hoped he came to a decision soon so I could wrap my hand, but I just kept it held out and waited.

"Enough," he said.  "It is the truth.  We are allied, then, fae -- and fae friends."

He didn't particularly trust Sylph or Lady Snow.  That was fine as long as he could work with me.  I used a bit of magic to tear some cloth and wrap it around my hand -- awkward work, but Sylph helped tie it off.  I was not going to use magic for something that trivial.

Lady Snow was not bothered by our companion, probably because he was more like her than me.  I told him everything that I'd learned so far.  Sylph and Lady Snow filled in a little bit more, but not much I hadn't already heard.

Lycan listened to us all with a grave frown and then gave a nod of understanding.  "All of us, for one reason or another, have been drawn to this city and to this place.  I have sensed the gremlins and the pixies in this place -- they are not far away.  I am here to guard them, but now I see this is far more than they have realized.  None of us can name the enemy yet, can we?"

"No," I said.  "We can't even guess at the nature of what we face, let alone name it."

"Come with me," Lycan said.  He gave a nod of his head to me, and I guessed he put me at the head of the group.  I would have put Sylph, but she didn't seem bothered.

We finally slipped entirely into the area where humans would not find us.  Not that I thought this made us any safer.  This was an unusually dangerous group just on its own.  The Lycan was not as much of a surprise as Lady Snow (whatever she might genuinely be) or Sylph.  Lycans often hired out as guards to individuals and to groups.

This was a high-level Lycan, though.  I knew that from that rather expert level of magic he'd used that almost got me killed.  That made me wonder who had hired him because it was unlikely that he worked for the Gremlins or the little Pixies.

"I have the feeling everyone has been called out in this trouble," I said.  Lycan dabbed at the cut on his snout and gave a quick nod.  He even whispered a little magic and reshaped his face into something that would pass for human, as long as no one looked too closely.  I didn't expect to find any humans in these crevices where he led us, but humans sometimes turn up where you least expect them.  Or maybe he just knew more than I did.

Considering the situation, that wouldn't be difficult.  I walked beside Lycan and wondered how to voice questions and concerns given the situation.  It wasn't as though he blindly trusted this Lycan -- he was ready for any kind of trouble -- but he did hope that their new companion had some clue.

From the way Lycan looked my way, there wasn't much trust on that side, either.  Good.  If Lycan had been outgoing and chummy, I would have backed out of this as fast as he could.

"We have a dilemma," I offered and won a quick nod from Lycan.  The other two said nothing, but I could sense their curiosity.  "All of us have turned up at the same fortuitous spot, which means any of us might not be trustworthy.  Despite that Lycan knows I have not lied, that doesn't mean I am telling the entire truth."

"And I have given you no reassurance at all," Lycan admitted.  "Until now."

We had passed through another crevice.  I had felt magic, but the stone had blocked how very much of it there was.  I thought there was a bit of light --

And then I stepped through into a vast cavern filled with fae land creatures and globes of magic -- thousands of them stretched out so far that the opening must have been carved out under most of the city.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Flash Fiction #433 -- The Fae Underground/9


The humans in the underground area didn't know what had happened, and they panicked -- really panicked this time.  I saw one woman holding a baby and trying to grab the hand of a toddler --


"Be calm, Lady," I said, and dared to go near the bear.  "Be calm.  You hurt the child."

"Not my child!"

"And should someone feel that way about your daughter?  Not her child, so what does it matter?"

That had been a dangerous thing to say, but I knew I had to work fast to get her to draw back her powers.  I could hear people screaming and running.  Many would fall, and this would be a dangerous place to have an accident.

Lady Snow grew angrier at my words.  I had expected it might go that way.  I en-spelled the air between us when I saw that glare, and even with the shield in place, I felt the blast of killing cold.

If Sylph hadn't arrived, I think I would have been dead in the next few seconds.  Sylph drew Lady Snow's attention, and the blast came to a quick halt.  By then, almost everyone was out of the area, and those left were trying to scramble away as well.  I didn't know what the locals were going to do to explain this one.  Luckily for all three of us that the last of the humans fled, and I didn't think he could see much in the last of the snow and ice.

Sylph had gotten the beer in hand.  She gave me a worried look, though, and I couldn't decide if that was because of the trouble with Lady Snow or because of the missing bear-child.

I had other trouble to consider, though.  The snowstorm out of nowhere was going to draw too many questions.  I looked around quickly and even dared use a little to find a sight crack in the rock wall not far away.  I built a slight wedge into the rock and filled it with enough frost to make it look like it had given way and then subsided again.  Someone would be checking it out, but it wouldn't be any real trouble.

"Do we know anything about this problem?" I asked when I joined the two at the edge of the walkway.  It was a purposely open-ended question.  I knew that many fae responded to specifics.

"No more than you and I have figured out," Sylph said with an almost glare at our companion.  I wasn't sure what that meant -- except maybe Sylph didn't appreciate the cold any more than I did.  "We know that someone -- more likely something -- is trying to gather power.  I do not know who or why."

I looked at Lady Snow.  She frowned as she looked around, almost startled.  "Not just my beloved daughter?"

"No other children that we know of yet," I said.  "We do not belittle your loss -- but crowns are gone, too.  Several of them.  We have felt something else involved -- something of nature more than fae, and it has not been friendly."

Sylph looked bothered by that admission, but I didn't want Lady Snow to simply trust anything magical that happened along.  We were in a dangerous situation, and she could make it far worse without any guidance.

"I had a guest in my cave home," Lady Snow said.  She sounded more assured and focused now.  "One who moved like shadows and whispered on the wind.  I had such in the past.  This one whispered of danger, and then took my child."

I blinked and looked at Sylph.  I wasn't sure that she'd caught the implications.  When I turned back to Lady Snow, she looked contrite this time.  I thought she might have gotten better control of her emotions.  I feared that she looked at me with hope, though.  And I didn't have a clue except, maybe, the part of one that she'd just passed on to me.

"This being that warned you -- did it warn, and then something took your child?  Or did it warn and then took your child itself."

"It took the child, and I followed to here."

"Here," I said with a nod.  Sylph frowned.  "That might have been what we sensed before we escaped, Sylph."

"Yes, that might be so," she agreed.  Then she tilted her head.  "We ran thinking it the enemy -- and maybe, we drew the enemy straight to us instead.  We may have done good, no matter how unwittingly.  You and I are powerful beacons of magic, friend fae."

"I felt no malice in the being we knew was near.  I couldn't see around it, though."

"And I never looked.  What attacked us when we came back to the surface ... it might not have followed us from the subway."

"I felt --" Sylph began.  Then she stopped and shook her head.  "The attack surprised us both.  What are we dealing with?  How many?  Who are our friends, and what is our enemy?"

"And did the creature take Lady Snow's child to get her daughter out of danger?" I added.

They both looked at me with a frown, but I could tell that Lady Snow considered the words and might not be as confident of the problem now.  

"There are still too many pieces we don't understand," I admitted.  "Let's see if we can find the pixies and the gremlins."

Neither argued with me.  We moved away from the area where humans would see us and into the site where the others had been.  I felt out the magic, but I sensed nothing dangerous there.  I even tested out the smaller crevice through which they had escaped, but I sensed nothing nearby.  I realized the gap opened wider only a few feet beyond the tiny opening.  I could probably make it larger, but would then just put the gremlins and pixies in more danger?

They weren't nearby.  I could sense nothing nearby, in fact.

I should have tried harder.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Flash Fiction #432 -- The Fae Undergroud/8

The polar bear saw me as well.  I was closer to her than I had expected, and besides, she was a lot larger than anything that should have been out here.  She growled and lifted paws with claws as long as my arm.

I swerved as she started to yell in anger -- then rage changed to despair, and she cried.  Every breath created more wind and snow.  She looked at me again, her eyes narrowed, the ice of tears on her colossal face.  I held off a little out of reach and wondered how I could deal with her.

"Where is she?" the bear asked.  Not a demand.  I heard fear in her growling voice and more ice in the air.  "What have you done with her?"

"I've taken no one," I said and tumbled a bit because I lot a little hold on my magic.  I pulled myself back with some effort and held there in the sky.  I didn't want to drop into the ocean.  "You are Winter of the Northland, are you not?  What are you doing in the human lands?"

"They took her and brought her here.  My sweet daughter."  Her face changed, the eyes narrowing --

"It was not me.  Others have lost things, though you are the first I heard who has lost a child.  Please stop the storm.  You will kill others' children, and that won't help us find your daughter."

I said those words while facing a growing glare of anger.  I dared not lift my hand because Lady Snow (a good enough name) could easily misinterpret that move as the start of an attack when all I really wanted to do was put a slight shield between us so that I didn't entirely freeze.

"You are here, fae, to help?" she asked, her face softening this time.

"I will do all that I can to help you get your daughter back," I promised.  A fae's promise has power, and I saw a slight whisper of hope in her face.  "You need not do this alone.  I am also working with a Sylph who is in human form.  Can you --"

"I will go with you," she said, and at the same time, her shape changed and contracted so that I looked down at a tall, but not outlandishly so, woman with long white hair and wearing a plain white pantsuit.

"Yes," I said and settled beside her.  The storm had died down, and even the iceberg had started to disappear.  "This is helpful.  Remember that humans are not part of the trouble we face.  Something far more powerful has moved in here.  Why did you choose Boston?  Why this location?"

"This is where I last felt her, following by sweet child to here before she disappeared.  She blinked and looked around, her focus on the things human around us.  "These humans are blind to such power.  It cannot be them."

I only dared not agree since I knew no more than that and didn't want her to realize it.   The storm, at least, had already died down to a slight dusting of snow on a breeze.  No one really moved yet since it would take a bit for the ice to melt, but that was good.  I wanted Lady Snow away from the bay and the area where the storm had obviously centered.

Not that the humans would figure out that it was her, but I didn't want anyone to set her off again.  I could feel the tension in her body.  It echoed in mine.

She, of course, had no trouble with the snow, while I had to skip along to keep up and also to curse aloud.  I still wasn't entirely sure what I dealt with here except that she was an aspect of nature and clearly related to the winter world.  Not winter as a season so much, but instead winter in places where it should never leave.  She did not belong here in this place of tall buildings and yelling -- often frightened -- humans.  Truth be told, I didn't enjoy being here with them, either, when they were in this state.  Because humans do not have magic to fall back on, they're unpredictable and sometimes violent.

I knew where Sylph had gone, at least.  I thought she might have a better chance of dealing with Lady Snow than a lost fae male right now.  This was not the assignment I had taken on --

Or maybe it was. Perhaps I had not noticed how this trouble fit into the few small things I'd heard before my 'exile' to the human lands.  The fae hadn't known much back then.  Now I wondered ... I wondered if the Queen of the fae still held her crown.

I hadn't heard from home for a long time.  I had thought they had begun to trust me out on my own.  Now ...

I turned my attention back to Lady Snow, who looked around with growing wonder and distrust missed in equal measure.  I led her straight toward the subway without any undo sight-seeing.  We were starting to get in among other people, and they spared quick looks at her.  I realized some of those stares were because she and I had no coats, and the weather had been chill enough that most people had been wearing them.  We didn't look bothered by the storm, either, while everyone else seemed half panicked still.

I could feel Sylph off in the direction where we had met with the pixies and gremlins.  We had to be careful now, especially since Lady Snow was drawing so much attention and suddenly disappearing -- really, disappearing -- would not be a good idea.

I wasn't entirely sure what to do now.  Sylph would have sensed us, and I hoped that she would join us and help -- though adding another strange-looking person to the mix --

Lady Snow suddenly let out a wail, and the subway filled with the roar of wind and the feel of ice.


Friday, October 30, 2020

Flash Fiction # 431 -- The Fae Underground/7

The humans we found along the way were often panicked.  The storm alone frightened them, but they had sensed some of the magic in it as well, even if they couldn't put a name to such powers.

Or at least didn't want to say such things aloud.

Sylph had to remain hidden when I dealt directly with humans.  Her presence would have sent them screaming off into the storm, and if not lost, very likely insane.  Sylph was a creature who could not be explained away.

I could not save them all -- not in this way.  So I only dealt with those in most dire need: a woman who could not find her car, a family with two young children and a dog, a police car stuck in a drift.  I hoped by freeing the last, they could help others, but the truth was that we needed to find the source of the trouble.

The wind came from the direction of the city.  I thought we could focus on it if we got close enough, and Sylph agreed.

"And then we do what?" she asked.  "This is a power beyond my ken."

"And mine," I agreed.  "But we still have to at least find it."

Once we were in town, there were far fewer people to save since most of them had quick access to buildings in the city itself.  Sylph and I could use our magic more easily now, and though my leg hurt, I could still sprint through the snow with her as long as she didn't move too quickly.

I let her take the lead, and I just followed.  That allowed me to try and consider the situation.  I really, truly, had no idea what we were heading into, but I could feel the bite of that icy magic grow the closer we got to the harbor.

I suppose that shouldn't have surprised me.  The locals would think it an unusual nor'easter, and they wouldn't have any clue about the magic involved.  I don't know how the weather people would explain this one, especially if -- as I suspected -- the storm was centered on the harbor itself.

We slowed and stopped with warehouses to block the worst of the weather.  The wind howled past with a fury that made me think more of hurricanes rather than blizzards.  A large piece of metal siding went flying past -- dangerous stuff, especially for anyone from the fae lands.  

We knelt lower.  The wind seemed to be picking stuff up and tossing it high and wide.  I could hear the ships groaning at the wind and sea, at least one large craft repeatedly battering at the dock.

This was not good.  There would be crew on those ships.  A quick look around the edge of the warehouse showed at least one of the craft almost entirely encased in ice already.  I saw someone trying to fight his way toward a door, slip and almost go over --

I helped him, of course.  I even cracked the inch thick ice on the door (and this door was out of the wind -- I couldn't imagine the other side) and got him inside.

Sylph gave me a quick nod when I finally dropped back, panting.  It had been challenging to shove magic through that wind, not just because of how strong it was, but because it was so filled with the power of its own that I thought the snow would glow if it got any darker.

"There has got to be something out in the water," I said, gasping still.

"I fear so.  That is not a place where I can help."

I had suspected so.  "I think you should go back to the city.  I'll join you as soon as I can.  I might find that I can do nothing here, and I'll join you soon."

She carefully laid fingers on my cheek.  I froze surprised.  

"You will find me."

A touch of magic surged through that contact.  I would find her.  She had given me a link that would make it all the easier to trace her when I finished with ... whatever problem this might be.

I turned to say goodbye, but she had stood and dashed away, long legs leaping through the snow much faster now that she no longer had to drag me along.

I wished Sylph had maybe suggested a plan of action before she left, though.  Granted, she didn't know anything about what I was facing -- but neither did I.

Could I trust that whatever had taken residence out in the harbor would run out of power to keep this up much longer?  It had been going for more than an hour and produced a record snowfall already.  The wind did not seem any less for it, and the snow and ice still fell in a white wall that obscured most of the world.

I had to put all my focus into a spell that would get me out into the harbor and find the problem.  That meant I had to ignore the pain in my leg and the freezing cold.  

I hadn't used much magic in the last few years.  It took me a bit longer to draw this spell into place and focus on what I wanted.  When I finally did, I stepped away from the building and back out into the wind, ice, and snow.  I planted both feet in the snow and lifted my hands, focusing on whatever might be out beyond the ships --

Good thing I had my magic ready and began to move immediately.  A flash of lightning hit where I had been moments before, warming the air around me.  It helped.

I moved faster, sailing over the ship, over the thunderous surf, and out toward a shape that looked more and more like an iceberg.

Yes.  Iceberg.

And on it stood the most massive polar bear I had ever seen.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Flash Fiction # 430 -- The Fae Underground/6

I had surprised Sylph.  I wasn't sure why, but I could see the confusion on her face.  By then, the snow was falling hard, and my leg hurt so much that I just had to sit down.  I dropped down by a large cedar and felt protected in its shadow.

But not safe.

Sylph knelt in front of me.  I started to protest.

"Listen to me," she said, her voice a whisper on the wind.  "We are targets.  We know something, even if we don't realize it.  I had been ready to run back at the trouble -- but I think your question deserves more notice.  What can the others no longer do?  This isn't a question those of us from the forest could answer.  We do not truck with humans or Fae much at all.  And yet, this being has taken our crown as well.  Why?"

I thought about it for a moment -- not long because the storm grew worse and we wouldn't have much time.  "The first use of any crown is to draw others to you.  Maybe someone -- something -- wants us to be unable to call the groups together.  If we couldn't do that first step, we wouldn't be able to join into a larger group, would we?"

She gave a decisive nod and then looked at the growing storm with a snarl.  "Matters are unsettled in the human world.  Whatever walks here cuts too wide a path and pushes even nature and unsettles the very air."  She gave a long-fingered wave at the sky where snow fell so prodigiously that it already lay at least two inches on the ground around us.

"This is going to kill some humans," I said.

She looked startled.  "Surely only an inconvenience --"

"They have no magic to keep their vehicles moving, and those will get trapped by the snow if -- when -- it gets too deep.  There are also ones who are already out on the streets, some of them with nowhere safe to go at all."

"Not safe from weather," she said as though this were something that had never occurred to her.  Maybe so.  Sylphs did not often leave the deep forest, after all.  They were not the type of Fae, like him, who could walk among the humans.  "They live in places made of stolen trees that, even in death, protect them from the seasons."

"Some use other material to build their homes, but yes -- that's true.  And remember that they have no feeling of magic.  They don't know what they are doing on levels that we would understand."

She looked around, still bothered.  

"Sylph --"

"I cannot leave you here and go on to your people.  I need you to explain such things as I clearly don't see.  So we do what we can here first.  Maybe wisely,  not lead this being somewhere else that could be more dangerous to even the Fae."

I thought to argue and then thought again.  "See if we can do anything," I agreed and gritted my teeth as I stood.  I tried a little magic, but it didn't help.  I would need some serious work to repair my injury."

Just then, a small owl tumbled from the tree.  I caught it out of reflex -- the poor thing was mostly covered in ice, and I brushed that away and then turned awkwardly to put it back on a branch, but one hidden from the wind.  It did not take me long, but I had the feeling of too much time passing.  When I looked back at Sylph, preparing to apologize, I saw an odd look on her face.  She looked from me to the owl and then back again with a slight frown.

"I am fae," I said -- oh, words that rushed through my soul.  I'd had to deny it for so long.  "Unlike humans, I am linked to nature.  I would not leave any creature, even humans, to suffer in this weather."

"Fae.  The Link between the wilder ones like me and the humans who do not feel the world."

"I guess so."  I took a look around and then forced myself to stand.  "Let's at least get away from here."

I tried to move on through the growing snow.  My foot was already too cold, so that didn't hurt it any worse.  The damage, though, made it impossible for me to keep moving.  Sylph finally just lifted me in her arms again.

"For a distance," she said.  "No magic, either of us.  I believe that is how it tracks us."

"And something is following us?" I asked, relieved to be off my feet even if it was embarrassing.  I'm fae.  I should have been able to move on my own.

"Oh, yes.  Something still comes.  I am not sure if it is what we faced in the subway or not.  This seems ... angry.  The other simply seemed to be there, with no intentions."

I took her word for it -- but my mind quickly agreed anyway.  The snakes were a sure sign, if not the storm itself.  And that storm grew worse as we headed toward the edge of the forest.  The world beyond was a swirl of white, wind, ice -- and panicked humans.

We did what we could to get most of them out of immediate danger.  Sylph encased my leg in a thin wooden covering from knee to toe, and that helped.  It still hurt, and it was difficult to move, but my leg didn't give out with each step.  Since I was so human-like, though, it gave me a chance to deal directly with humans.  Many bundled into cars with total strangers, something they could not do on their own.  Those cars I gave power and direction to the nearest place to find shelter.  I could not do it for everyone, though, and I knew thousands upon thousands would be in trouble in the city alone.

My duty was to protect them from something I didn't even understand...

Friday, October 16, 2020

Flash Fiction #429 -- The Fae Underground/5

 Sylph stared at me for a long moment.  Sylph's face went through changes, some of them accompanied by hues of green or the slight roughness of bark that came and went.  I watched in silence, unwilling to press her.

"We moved through a few feet of ground," she said at last.  "It almost killed you.  How would you survive for miles and miles?"

I shivered, but I'd already been considering the possibility.

"I think it best if we remain together," I said.  "At least if you can count me as an ally in this --"

"Yes, that at least," she agreed.  "But still --"

"I have magic of my own that I can use to protect myself.  I had no chance to prepare the last time.  Between the power of what we felt and the sudden need to move, I couldn't have done any magic.  This time I am prepared. I have the power to keep a shield for at least back as far as the subway again."

She nodded, but her head tilted slightly.  "We will go as far as we can on foot, above ground."

"You need not --"

"I think I do," she replied.  "I have ... a sense of things."

Since she started out on foot, there was nothing I could do but tag along.  We moved quickly, at least -- faster than humans could cover the ground.  I felt a sense of urgency in her, and I wasn't sure if I caught it from her or if I had the feeling all on my own.  

Maybe the feeling came on the wind, that sudden rush of cold that felt worse than ice in the air.  Something was out of sorts in the human world.  Something --

"What is a force of nature doing in the human world?" I asked as I jogged along with her.  

"What am I doing here?" she asked.  "I may not be as much force as what we faced, but I am not of this world."

"You came looking for the Holly Crown," I said.  And then I stumbled to a stop.  "Do they even have crowns?"

She went on for only a few more steps and then turned to me before I could catch up.  "A crown is a symbol of power.  We all use them in some way, and though I am not conversant in the ways of nature and those who rule her, I suspect they might have some equivalent item."

That was something to consider.  I shivered again -- and I saw Sylph look at me, her head tilted, her green eyes narrowed.  I worried I had done something wrong --

"Something is far out of balance and moving faster toward a cliff over which it might not return."  She had said the words carefully and then blinked and focused on me again.  "Crowns and such.  Where would you look?"

"I've hardly had time to consider it," I said.  We began to walk again, slow steps.  "I can't imagine what others could do with such power.  Or maybe ..."

"Yes?" she said, sounding intrigued and annoyed.

"Maybe it isn't what another can do with the crowns, but rather what those who usually have the crowns now can't do."

She had that look again, but this time it turned to worry at the end.  I thought she might be having visions, and I didn't like that what I said triggered something that looked bad.

The wind blew harder.  Ice, not snow, hit the side of my face.  The wind howled, and I thought about all those people who had been out at the park enjoying the crisp autumn day.

Something changed at that moment.  We both stopped and stared back into the wind.  I could see movement there like fog coalesced into sinewy shapes.  They were not near us, but I still found myself backing up a step or two.

Sylph put a hand on my arm.  "We go now."

I called up the spell to protect me, and barely in time.  Sylph literally dived head-first into the ground, flipping me down with Sylph, arms tight around me -- but I had put my shell up and wasn't instantly crushed --

Something caught hold of my right leg -- grabbed tight with a grip that felt like ice spreading through my ankle and both up and down from there -- like daggers shoved in through my skin, muscle, and bone.

It was not letting go, either.  Nor was it coming with us, and for two heartbeats I feared it would yank my leg out, but Sylph came to a sudden stop and changed direction, jerking me upward --

I was grateful not to lose the leg, but we surged out of the ground and into a swarm of ice creatures that looked like snakes.  One had bitten into my leg and still held on while others retreated.

The others began to snap at us, but Sylph moved faster than I could with any magic.  She sent them flying away, and I followed with a wave of warmth, hoping it would affect the magical ice.  It did.  They melted, though the one on my leg wrapped around my ankle --

I sent warmth straight through it, too.  The unnatural creature melted away, but my leg still felt filled with ice, and it was all I could do to keep that cold from spreading upward, like a poison.

The wind still blew.  Ice and snow blew too hard, and for a moment, I could barely see Sylph, who stood no more than a yard away from me.

"We must go," I said, trying to deal with the pain.  "Now."

"Yes.  You are not able to do your spell."

I began to protest, but I feared she might be right.  I focused on my leg right now, and I had the feeling that if I ignored that wound for something else, I was going to be in real trouble fast.

"No choice," I said and leaned against a tree.  "You have to go without me."

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Flash Fiction # 428 -- The Fae Underground/4

Eastern red cedar, common yew: Middlesex Fells -- I sensed the location more than recognized it.   This wasn't the wildest area, but it was relatively close and this time of year, with the weather changing, apt to be mostly empty.

She left no trail, of course.  I could sense magic in the area, but all places like this drew magical creatures, though mostly the little ones.  Sylph stood out like a fire among them.

She wasn't far away, sitting in the shadow of a cedar with the dying ferns around her. Sylph looked spent, and I realized how much magic it must have taken to drag me up through the ground to safety.

"Thank you for saving my life," I said and settled on the ground in front of her.  Maybe we would both have a little time to rest before we had to face the enemy again.

"I wasn't sure you would come here," she said.  Her head tilted.  "I'm not certain what that says for your sanity."

"Troublesome things, I'm sure," I replied, and she laughed a little this time.  I saw that her feet had dug down into the ground.  She fed herself that way, and I wished I had a ready source of food.  I'd taken a liking to tacos in the last couple of years.  "What attacked us down there?"

"I am not certain we were attacked," she said with a tilt of her head.  "The power seemed -- unfocused to me.  A field that the other generated --"

"I've never met anything like that, not on either side of the veil," I said and tried to think back to the encounter.  Sylph might have been right, though all my thoughts had been so muddled that I couldn't get a clear picture.  "Do you think it had come after the pixie crown?  Or did it just happen by?"

"I do not believe in such coincidence, as much as I would like to think that it was not our enemy.  I have never met such a creature."  Her green hair snapped around a little in agitation, and I was glad not to be too close this time.  "It did not have a feel of fae magic."

"No, I didn't sense that sort of power," I agreed.  But then I closed my eyes for a moment and called back what I had sensed.  "The power was overwhelming -- but there was a feel of nature in it, wasn't there?  Not Fae... but something related?"

Sylph nodded, and she looked no more assured than I felt.  It worried me when something so strong and tied to magic didn't seem any more aware of what to expect than me.

"Why are you in the human lands?" she said.  "The full story."

I didn't think that really pertained to our problem at hand, but on the other hand, she needed information before she could fully trust me.  

"I used to spend a lot of time in the human lands with a few of my cousins," I said and tried not to sound too much as though I missed those days -- even though I did.  "We were a bit wild in those days, but we never did harm, and we never let the humans know about magic.  We played tricks, yes -- but never anything evil."

She gave a definite nod, as though she never would have believed anything else of my behavior.  How very odd. The belief threw me for a moment, but then I plowed on into the story.

"The Queen met secretly with me at my father's keep.  She said that there had been visions about the human world of late, and eddies of odd power moving through their land.  She feared that some of the visitors might not be from the fae lands exactly -- from outside, perhaps.  I was supposed to find out what I could, but honestly -- I've been here for years, and as fascinating as I have always found humans, I have not seen much sign of anything else.  Until now."

Sylph nodded and leaned back against the tree.  I blinked.  If I had not known she was there, I wouldn't have noticed her.  Hair looked like moss, arms like branches, her face a bole against the trunk.  It wasn't as though she was any less human-shaped, only that her coloring and the drape of shadows across her body and face.  

Sylph was far more of nature than me, and the Fae have a special kinship with the wild.  Facing her, I could see why we did not mingle much.

"What do you think is happening?" I finally asked.

"That your queen might be right.  Or maybe she is not looking in the right places outside.  What we had down there --"  She stopped and shook her head, the rustle like wood and leaves in an autumn wind.

"I have never touched on that sort of power," I said.  I called back the feeling of it.  Even at a distance of time and space, I still shivered.

"I think you have never felt such a power so close," she said and frowned.  "But you have felt it, and I have felt it.  That was nature, Fae.  The full power of nature."

I had to consider that thought for a moment.  "You mean one of the gods."

"Yes, you might name it so.  I do not think what came there was after the crown, though.  Such trinkets couldn't mean anything to it."

I nodded and sat still, trying to feel out what might be going on.  None of it made sense at all.

"There are too many things moving," I said.  "We --"

"We ran too soon," she said and stood suddenly.  "We thought ourselves I danger, but perhaps nature moved for another reason.  Perhaps there was something more we did not see."

I wanted to curse.  Sylph could be right, but even so --

"I am going back," Sylph said.  "You --"

"Take me with you," I replied.  "We dare not waste time."

Friday, October 02, 2020

Flash Fiction #427 -- The Fae Underground/3


In the next breath, everything felt odd.  Really odd in a way I had never experienced before.  I saw Sylph look startled and then hurriedly try to back away -- but we had nowhere to go.

"Not safe," I said.  I could barely force the words out.

Sylph nodded and then did something I hadn't expected.  She held out her arm toward me; I looked startled and worried, so she simply pulled me close to her chest.  I felt the brush of bark, there, and gone again.

"Hold on.  No matter what, hold on, fae."

I nodded, though I didn't know what --

Sylph moved straight upward through rock in a surge of blue and green magic.  It hurt as if the stone pressed in on me, smashed me into her unyielding body, which had become as hard as oak.  I couldn't breathe, and when I tried to move, she held m tighter --

I became aware of a different surge of magic below us.  That felt hot, powerful, deadly.  I turned as much of my focus on it as I could and tried to catch some aspect of it that would help us later.  That had been the enemy.  I would need to know more about this creature that unsettled even fae.

If I survived.  My sight was starting to go black, and my ears felt ready to explode.  I didn't know how long --

And then we were free of the pressure.  Dirt exploded out around us, and we were in some green area, hardly more than a plot of weeds between buildings -- but I could breathe again.

Sylph let go, and I dropped to the ground and barely kept from falling onto my back and probably bashing my head open on the wall beside me.  I gasped and gasped some more.  My ribs felt bruised but not broken.

I looked up, blinking at Sylph.  The journey had not bothered her at all, but then she was a creature of the land, far closer to the soil with her tree roots than me.

"I saw no other way," she said, which sounded oddly like an apology.  Sylph's do not apologize very often.

"I am grateful," I said, coughed, and put a hand to the back of my neck.  "Grateful to survive.  Whatever that was, it already had me half in thrall, and that is no easy job."

Sylph nodded agreement, but she looked distracted and perhaps even upset.  I knew better than to bother her, and besides, it gave me a moment or two to get my wits back -- at least if whatever had been down there in the tunnels didn't come straight up after us.
I tried to call back to feel of that creature's power to try to get a clue of what we faced.   Unfortunately, all I could remember was how confused I'd felt.  Lethargic, too, now that I thought about it.  Such an attack would typically have won a surge of fear, but even though I had known there was danger, I had not felt a need to escape.

Sylph had, though.  I wasn't sure if she'd experienced the same thing as me and could still move against it, or if the magic had not quite struck her the same way.

I looked over to where she stood.  Sylph leaned against the wall of the nearer building, her back to it, and her eyes shifting around the area as if she expected the enemy to pop up at any moment.

I suppose I felt the same way.  It didn't help me think any clearer.  I forced myself to stand with my back to the wall opposite here.  There was so little room that we could have kicked each other.

"Now?" I asked softly.

"Away from here," Sylph said.  She looked at me and nodded.  "Northward to the free trees.  I will go there and draw notice.  You follow.  I think whatever found us below does not realize you are here.  Move carefully."

"Free Trees?" I repeated, still uncertain about any of this.

"Here."  She gently tapped a finger to my forehead.  I knew the destination as though I had stood there in the forest, a perfect image.

I nodded, blinked -- and she was gone in a whirl of dry dust and dead leaves.  Magic trailed after her, a sinuous trail of power that I thought she must have done on purpose.  That put Sylph in danger.  I decided that I had better follow quickly --

Magic moved under my feet.  It was not the tingling dance of the pixies this time.  The feel of it was dark and painful.  I went back to my knees and couldn't even breathe --

That might have saved me.  Whatever was in the ground below, it didn't seem to sense me.

I walked away, moved over high walls with as little magic as possible, and worked my way out into the crowded streets.  I did not feel safer for being out among the humans, either.  There was a sense of foreboding in the air that even the magic-less people around me seemed to have sensed.  Or perhaps they caught that feeling from me.

I noticed a lot of them were avoiding the subway in favor of a brisk afternoon walk, and that despite the cold wind in off the bay.  I expected snow before the next dawn, and I'm rarely wrong.

I had been heading north and not just in a random direction. Sylph had given me a key to where she went, and I knew I would soon have to follow, and a lot faster than going on foot.  I even considered a car, though I had never gotten used to driving.  It did tend to be less noticeable sometimes, though.  I did not want notice -- not from humans and not from whatever else lurked in the city right now.

Should I contact my own people?  No.  Instead, I found a dark corner, pulled in my magic, and moved with the wind.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Flash Fiction #426 -- The Fae Underground/2

I saw her eyes narrow and her hair move -- though there was no breeze strong enough to ruffle it.  She had not, however, made a move against me.  I suspected that my question had touched on something else that bothered her.

"There are matters which have drawn me here, perhaps on a more direct path than you," she replied.  Then she looked at the crevice.  Shall we go inside?"

I nodded agreement.  We had to slip sideways through the opening, and our appearance inside the cave brought a squeal of protest and a few dozen shocked faces, both pixies, and gremlins.

That was not a combination I'd expected.  The creatures all stared at us with surprise and fear and made me anxious to know what was going on.

Sylph was the one who took the lead and asked a question I had not expected.

"Who has lost a crown?" she asked with a sweep of her hand toward both groups.

"We have," the gremlins said, a group of them all at once.  "We have lost the crown, and we no longer have a king."

I sucked in my breath and considered the truth of what they said.  For many fae communities, the crown is more important than the person who wears it.  The Gremlins may have been small in stature -- the tallest reached my waist -- but they were a large and essential part of the faelands.

Which brought the first of my questions to mind.

"What was the Gremlin Crown doing in the human realm?" I asked.

A few of the Gremlins and the Pixies looked at me, then at the Sylph, and then to me again.

"He has not been in touch with the faelands for a while," the Sylph said.

Her answer seemed to be enough for them.

"We brought it in hopes it would escape the monster, but it came even here," a Gremlin answered.  "Even here!"

I looked at Sylph.  "You knew a crown would be gone.  What other ones?"

"Oh, half a dozen or so, including the Holly Crown of the Sylphs.  Someone is collecting power.  I followed the Holly Crown to this realm, but ... lost the feel in this strange place."

"Do the Pixies still have their crown?"

The Pixies grew worried at that question.  I saw something unexpected as a couple dozen pixies swarmed into a circle, obviously intent on protecting one of their own.  I stepped back and gave a bow of my head, and without moving my hands, which they would have taken as a sign, I intended to use magic -- and steal their crown.

"So you still have it," I said as I bowed.  "Good.  Why are the Pixies here, then?"

I had turned that question to the Sylph with the unstated question about what brought her here -- well, except for another missing crown.  She frowned, though, and looked back at the Pixies, waiting for them to answer.

And that might take a while.  I know it's a rather impolite joke to say that Pixies need several brains to make even a simple decision, but sometimes their tendency to make group decisions could drive the rest of us mad.  I wanted an answer now --

Why now?  We weren't really in a hurry, were we?  

Fae have an odd sense for trouble heading their way, and that was precisely what I felt just now.  The sudden surge of that uncomfortable tingle made me not care what the Pixies said.  I even grabbed hold of Sylph -- not a wise thing to do.

Her hair slashed out at my face, and I felt the sting of tiny cuts, while her hands moved, fingers growing longer with wood-like claws --

I went completely still.  If I had tried to run, Sylph would have ripped my throat out before I could have spun away from her.  Sylph's unnaturally green eyes glowed brightly for a moment -- and then she blinked and pulled back two quick steps.

Everything else in the cavern had gone silent and very still.  I worked at getting my heart to slow down, but that was not helped by the feeling that had set this all off --

"Something is coming," I said.  Soft words, despite my growing panic.  "My apologies, but something --"

"Yes," Sylph said.  She lifted a hand toward the crevice, and I saw definite worry grow on her face.  "The crown -- you must go with the crown.  We will hold this place as long as we can."

That 'we' included me, I realized.  I did not protest the assumption since I had intended to face whatever showed up anyway.  I was surprised that Sylph would place herself in the same danger with me, though.

As the pixies and gremlins scrambled away into the dark cavern and I heard the sound of a rockfall that closed off the area they went.  Gremlins were good at that kind of work.  They and the pixies would be safe for now.

I looked at Sylph and gave a slight bow of my head.  "Do you know what to expect?"

"Trouble," she replied with a snarl.  I saw pieces of bark appear on her face and then disappear again, the sign of a Sylph holding back emotions.  This time I had no doubt that she felt rage.

"I apologize for the touch --"

She shook her head.  "I reacted badly.  The emotions, the trouble -- that we have lost our own crown, fae, means trouble of a sort that we don't even know where to look.  It was no easy task."

"I would think not.  Do you have any idea?"

"I thought to ask the Gremlins if they saw anything amiss before they lost their crown.  That the Pixies still have theirs bothers me, though.  It would be far easier to get theirs, would it not?"

"Yes.  Maybe so easy that the enemy thinks it hardly worth the effort -- except that whatever is coming this way ... it is coming for that crown now, I fear."


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Flash Fiction # 425 -- The Fae Underground/1


Once upon a time, I was a fae lord's son -- but I did something stupid, so they exiled me into the human lands. That's the official story, anyway.

Nothing in the faelands is ever that simple.  The few fae I've encountered on this side the veil look curiously at me when they hear the story, but I've kept to it.

The truth is that I did do something stupid -- but I did it on purpose so that the officials would have a reason to send me here with the notice that I'd been stripped of my magical powers and would spend the rest of my life with the humans.

That was four years ago.  It's been hell.  But I'm holding on ... and I am still doing my job.  Oddly, magical things have been happening in the human world, but I can't find the prime cause. I was ready to give up and head for the nearest veil (a place between the two worlds) and head for home.  I wanted my old life back.

Just the day before I took that step, things started to go stranger than usual.  I sensed a magical trail to the east coast and in strange places -- a tourist town in the north, a quiet backwater village farther south, and a hive of activity near Boston.

Or actually, under Boston.

It's well known that there are magical colonies living in off-shoots of the Chicago subway as well as New York's maze of underground tunnels.  People don't say much about the Boston area, but from Alewife to Braintree, there are scattered small enclaves of exiles and self-exiled creatures from the faelands, especially those that would be noticeable out on the streets.  If you find your way into the area, you'll see hidden gems and horrible landscapes.  The MBTA does its best to ignore them -- like all the other subways around the world -- but sometimes even a human can stumble into such a place.

The feel of magic from such a location isn't usually unnatural -- but what I felt made my feet tingle as I crossed the upper world.  I probably looked like a drunk from the way I danced around and nearly fell, my feet going all but numb.

The nearest subway entrance was only a few yards farther on.  I rushed that way and bought my way in -- and then disappeared at the first real opportunity.  Really, disappeared.  That was the one spell I'd used most often during my exile.  It allowed me to watch places where there was already enough magic in place to hide the little bit that I used.
I had to wait, but somewhere in the night's dark hours, I felt a swarm of magic nearby.  It didn't take long to find the flock of pixies racing along in the dark, looking like random sparks.  Heading northward toward Alewife.
I followed on foot.  There was no telling where they might find an exit and disappear.  I was right, too.  After no more than a mile from where I had started, I felt both a welling of more magic and saw the flock take a sudden swerve to the right where there was no subway tunnel.
Cautious of the trouble I faced, I inched forward to a crevice where I could feel a surge of magic drifting out.  I could even see the flickering of light, which might have been the pixie wings, or maybe some candles or even torches.  Some of the beings from the Faelands preferred that sort of illumination to anything unnatural -- which meant anything technical.  Light bulbs were apt to blow out.

Pixies let out high-pitched squeals, but something else answered in a much lower pitch.  The pixies were not alone.  Other, low voices joined in.  I thought I heard consternation on both sides, but nothing out of the ordinary.

"You know, it's really not nice to eavesdrop," a voice said right at my ear.

I squealed and leapt aside.  I was still invisible.  No one should have seen me -- and it didn't help that I couldn't see whoever had spoken.  My hand went to my belt knife, but a hand caught hold of it.

I didn't panic.

The pixies and their companions had heard us, though, and I could tell they were even more upset now.  I just stood still because while I'd been startled, I was more curious now.

"How did you find me?" I asked at last.

The other laughed.  Female.  I was sure of it now, and either fae or something very close to it.  I let my magical veil drop, and a moment later, she dropped her as well.

Not fae.  Wood Sylph, with dark brown skin, flowing green and brown hair.  I had never spent much time with them, even as my father's son.  They're Wild Things -- and to find one in the tunnels below Boston sent a chill through me that had nothing to do with the cold winter weather above ground.

"Lady," I said with a very proper bow.

"Oh, you didn't learn those manners in this world," she replied, a laugh in her voice -- but it was said a Slyph might have an odd sense of humor and laugh while she killed you.

Her long-fingered hand reached out and lifted my chin, even though I tried to pull away.

"Lordling," she said, surprised.


"So it would seem -- and yet you still have your powers, no matter what the proclamation read.  And spying on others, are you?"

Her voice had taken on a different quality that I didn't much like, but I still knew better than to try to escape her notice.

"Something is happening here in the human world, Lady.  My father -- and others -- fear it is something dangerous."  I paused and then forged ahead, hoping not to get killed by asking a stupid question.  "Do you know anything about it?"

Friday, September 11, 2020

Flash Fiction # 424 -- Anything but Ordinary

 My granddad was the one who made the arrangements through some site on the Internet.  He'd been known to make odd deals all his life.  I liked the jovial old man, even if the rest of the family tried to keep their distance.

I am a cross country truck driver, though, and I stop if I am within 100 miles of the old homestead just over the Texas border from Oklahoma.  Most people driving within a half-mile of the place would miss it, or if they saw anything, they'd think it was an old shed ready to fall down in the next big wind.

Granddad had been born in that shed -- or at least in the place below it. The shed had little more than a set of stairs that led into a lovely cedar-lined entry.  The rest of the residence stretched out on both sides, and the windows were set in stone outcroppings.

Usually, you just didn't see the place, but today I had trouble getting up the drive because of the crates piled up along the way.  It worried me more that they were all being kept wet by an elaborate set of hoses and sprinklers.

Granddad came out of nowhere, waving his hat to me as though I would just drive on by, despite that the driveway ended in a few more yards.  I braked to a stop, and dust rose all around us.

I should have stayed in the truck and backed out.  Instead, I climbed down into the heat and dust.

"Hey, boy! Thought you'd be along soon.  Good thing.  Got some shipments for you.  Make us a fortune, they will!"

The dust had begun to settle, mostly on granddad and me.  I didn't notice that so much, to be honest.  The crates had started to draw my attention.  They moved.  They hissed.

"What in the name of God --" I said, my voice a bit higher than usual.

"Gators!"  He all but shouted.  I was sure I misunderstood.  Made me a deal, boy."  He laughed and slapped me on the shoulder.  I had been convinced for a couple decades that he didn't actually know my name.  "Met this guy on a swap page.  Sad business, his ma taking sick suddenly, and he couldn't transport the gators like he'd contracted."

"A ... yeah," I said and moved away from a particularly active crate.  "Granddad, there are laws --"

"I got me them papers," he said.  "Come on in."

I followed him down into the lair.  He'd gotten a new computer and a larger screen.  So while I went looking for information on transporting gators, granddad went and cooked us a couple steaks and taters.  He also got out his homebrew, which probably explains why we got the trailer rearranged and loaded with crates before first light.

I had a shipment of pillows for Barstow, California.  They were easy enough to move and shove back into the first third of the trailer.  We stacked gators.

And then we headed for Ordinary, North Dakota.

No, I hadn't heard of it, either.

Granddad insisted on going with me.  "You'll need help off-loading them, and if we get stuck somewhere, we might need to feed them."

Hell, it was October.  We didn't have to worry about the weather in North Dakota this early in the year, right?

Actually, it was the ice storm in Kansas that nearly did us in -- well the first time.  We had to get pulled out of the ditch, and the gators were a bit loud about being tossed around a bit.  We got bags of cheeseburgers as we passed through Kansas City, and that quieted them down.

But the farther north we went, the worse the weather got.  Even Granddad began to fidget by the time we reached the South Dakota Border.  The snow fell in a light haze across the sky, but there were reports of worse heading northward.  I also noted that far less traffic had started to come from that direction, and some of the vehicles were encased in snow and ice.

Granddad fell asleep.

I've been told that I remind people of granddad.  I'm just as stubborn.  I kept going.

It was luck alone that they hadn't closed down the Interstate somewhere along the way and trapped us, maybe somewhere without enough cheeseburgers.  I only stopped once for the restrooms and checked on the gators.  They were quiet.  Too cold for them, probably, but not much I could do about that.  I just tried to drive faster -- not too fast, but we didn't crawl along the road either.

I didn't count the cars and trucks in the ditches, either.  I just kept my eyes on the road.

With Canada less than fifty miles away, I found the turnoff.  Someone had scooped the road clear -- must have in the last few minutes -- and I had no trouble driving straight to Ordinary.  On the edge of town, there was a vast square building with a flashing sign -- Extra-Ordinary.  The plowed snow ended there, and a man came out of the door and waved us to a loading dock.

I backed in.  Granddad and I climbed out and hurried into the building -- and into a jungle.

"Well damn," Granddad said as he looked around.  "Reminds me of home."

"Going to draw a lot of tourists come spring," the man said.  "Got the monkey's coming in a couple months.  Want the gators settled first!"

So we unloaded the thirty crates.  The man knew what he was doing.  He used a pulley to cart each one up to a high slide and then opened one end and sent the stunned creatures down into the water.  The slide stopped ten feet off the water, and even if they wanted to climb back and have words with us, they couldn't.

The man paid us $20,000 -- not really bad at all.  I might look into the monkey shipment.

What could go wrong?