Thursday, May 28, 2020

Flash Fiction #409 -- Lost in Elsewhere/19

I felt better after we ate, and slept for a couple hours, though not well.  I had nightmares -- what a shock.  I couldn't help but feel like everything kept getting worse.

I had no idea what to do.  I didn't say so aloud.

We soon walked back through the Iceling city and back out into a winter storm.  I wore the sword at my side, wrapped in several layers of cloth with only the hilt showing.  I still felt a persistent cold spot on that side of my leg, but I was starting to get the feeling back in my fingers again.

So, I had a mythical sword now.  Akanthursta.   I glanced down at it and wondered what the weapon meant for my future.  The sword didn't talk.  It didn't try to take over my mind, either, so I counted that for good.

I'd wrapped in two cloaks against the cold.  I feared they'd be too heavy, and I'd end up leaving one behind on the snowy plain we would soon cross.  However, at least for the moment, I felt warm.  I even had Edmond in a sling with one cloak wrapped over him and secured with the belt to the makeshift sheath.  The other cloak hung loosely over both of us so that I could reach the sword if I needed to.

I had never heard Edmond purr so loudly.  He was a lovely warm counterpoint to the cold spot of the sword against my leg.

"A moment," Lord Snow said before we stepped out into that freezing snow.  "I have a thought."

He stood still for a moment and then gave a violent twitch.  Strands of fur flew everywhere, but a sweep of his paw, and a bit of magic, drew it all into a pile before him.

"Hold out your hands," Lord Snow said.

I did so.  Lord Snow breathed on the fur and then reached up with one huge paw and touched first my right hand and then the left. 

The fur came up, swirled around my hands, and became two incredibly soft and warm gloves.

"Wow!  This is great!"

"Touch the sword and see if it helps," Lord Snow suggested.

I did.  "I can barely feel the cold.  Thank you."

"Good."  The snow leopard sounded happy.  "They are keyed to you and will work like regular gloves, but no one else can wear them.  I should make a pair for Maggie as well.  And maybe a coat for Edmond."

Edmond purred louder.  Lord Snow laughed.

So it wasn't such a bad way to start yet another part of this journey.  The Icelings were able to point us in the right direction, too.  From what Lord Snow had gathered, we only had about ten miles to go to the edge of civilization.

I didn't ask where Maggie and her companion had gone, or where the dragon had gone either.  I thought it might be wise if I didn't know too much.  I'd made a bad mistake with the snowmen, even though I had instinctively not trusted them.  Now, with the worry about all of Elsewhere being in danger, I didn't trust my own decisions.  For now, I let Lord Snow lead the way.

I tried to figure out what I should be doing.  I suspected my father was in danger, along with the rest of the Council.  Maggie and Lady Lorla might have walked off into a new threat of their own, and with Five along with them.  That worried me, and not just because Five was so small.  She had no way to recognize danger, and she was far too brave.  She might get herself and the others in trouble.

And what about me?  Concentrate on our trouble.  Right now, it only consisted of walking behind Lord Snow, who at least had an idea of where to go.  Every few minutes, I tried to scan the horizon and get an idea of where we might be, but I saw nothing but white, flat land, and more falling snow.

Edmond had gone to sleep, of course.  For a moment, I thought to be annoyed -- but that passed.  It wasn't as though he didn't do his part.

So, walk and walk and walk ...

The ground trembled.

"What now?" I asked.  I couldn't even get enough enthusiasm to be annoyed, let alone worried.

"I don't know," Lord Snow said.  "My nose is too cold to smell anything."

The ground moved again. I looked at my feet and saw eddies of snow moving aside like water in a disturbed lake.

"Well, this doesn't look good.  Edmond, you might want to --"

The snow opened up, and we dropped.  Of course, we did.  I could see Lord Snow flailing as he tried to grab the edge, but in a moment he was tumbling straight down into the white abyss with the Edmond and me.

And we kept falling.  I did notice that we were not falling very fast, though.  Worry about splattering on some surface below -- which I could not see -- stopped worrying me so much as the thought of never finding the bottom of this hole.

"Why can't I get just a couple hours of sleep?" Edmond mumbled.  He was working his head up out of the cloak, his ears brushing against my chin.  "Oh, this is wonderful."

"Do -- do you want to fly?" I asked and looked upward.

I couldn't see the top of the hole now, either.  No top, no bottom.  Great.

"I'll just stay here for the moment," Edmond said.  He ducked his head back in and probably meant to go back to sleep.

"Lord Snow?" I called out to where he was falling, just a bit higher than me. 

"Still no idea," he said and sounded just as annoyed as I felt.

"Ha.  Maybe we've found Alice's hole into Wonderland."

And maybe I shouldn't have said that because things began to change...

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Flash Fiction #408 -- Lost in Elsewhere/18

The Griblic king came straight at me, his long-bladed sword raised above his head as he screamed his challenge.  I probably should have been afraid or something.  Instead, it just annoyed me more.

I don't think he expected me to have a sword, and especially not an Iceling sword.  I didn't expect the sword to cut straight through the blade of his, so I guess we were both surprised.

The Greblic king backed away in haste.  He dropped his broken sword -- and then he gave a howl, spun, and ran away.  The rest of his people kept close to him, and they almost trampled each other on their way out.

We had silence then.

Edmond moved forward a few steps, checked the broken sword, and then looked back at me.

"Mark, where did you get that sword?" he asked.

"I found it.  I think one of the Icelings dropped it.  If they want it back --"

"That's not an Iceling sword," Lord Snow replied.  He came closer and sniffed -- and then leapt away, his ears back, his tail bushy.  Edmond had done the same.

"What the hell?" I asked, more than a little put out with the behavior.  "I thought I'd helped, you know."

"Akanthursta," Lord Snow said.  I had no idea what he meant.  "The sword, Mark, is Akanthursta.  She's ancient, powerful, and she disappeared a long time ago."

"So, why do I have her?"  I looked at the long, thin blade.  I had taken it for ice, but now I could see that it was actually glass.  "And why is it so cold?"

"I don't know why it's cold," Lord Snow said.  "But you'll need a sheath for it.  Don't set it down.  I don't think we want it to disappear again.  Why it came to you ... I have a theory."

"Yes?"  I switched it to my other hand before the fingers went completely numb.

"I think you are going to do something significant for Elsewhere -- but right then you ran the risk of being killed.  The sword and whatever power is behind it, didn't want that to happen."

He was telling me that I had come close to dying.  If I hadn't picked up the sword --

"I think I need to sit down."

"Let's go back to the cavern," Edmond suggested.  "I think they left the food."

That was as good as anything.  The Icelings had the entrance covered.  I suspected they'd have the place they took Maggie and Lady Lorla out covered as well.  I wanted to sit down and think.

It was possible, I hoped that Lord Snow was wrong about the sword.  I glanced his way, but I could see the consternation even on his cat face.  Edmond looked bothered too, but that might only be worry that the food was gone.

It was not, but I wished more that Maggie and Lady Lorla were here.  It's not that I mistrusted my current companions, but I wanted someone more akin to me right now.  They might know more about the sword and what it meant to my future.

I found bowls and gave Edmond and Lord Snow both their share of the stew.  I took half a bowl and a spoon, but after I sat down, I found myself playing with the food rather than eating it.

"Where do you think Maggie and Lady Lorla went?" I asked.  I shifted the sword where it sat on my lap.  It was still too cold.

"Either somewhere safe," Lord Snow began and gave a slight shake of his head.  "Or else they have gone to try and find help for us.  I can't say that would be unwise, either.  I think, Mark, that there is far more going on here than a kitten with a spell that went awry.  Tell me what happened."

"Six said that he'd read something in the library and wanted to repeat it for us," I said.  I sat the bowl aside.  "We were in the safe room, so it wouldn't have been that bad -- but Maggie opened a door right then --"

"How did a kitten like Six get hold of such a powerful spell?"

Now there was a question that needed an answer.  "That does seem unlikely, doesn't it?  The people in the castle library are always happy to have him come by and study, but I don't think any of them would have given him such a spell.  So it was likely a set up from the start."

"I would suspect so," Lord Snow said.

Edmond gave a soft growl, his ears back.  "Someone did that to my kitten?  I will find out who."

Well, that sounded troubling.  I was glad to have Edmond on my side, especially when Lord Snow gave a nod of his own.  No, not the two I would have wanted to face.

"It's possible someone wanted Maggie and me -- and Edmond -- out of my father's castle," I suggested. Never forget to add in the cat.

"Oh," Lord Snow said.  "That sounds possible.  I do hope your father took note --"

"He wasn't in the castle," Edmond said.  "A pixie came by and asked for his help with a downed tree.  That could have been a ploy to get him out in the open -- but then why work so hard to get the rest of us away?  I think it was just luck that he wasn't there.  But --"  Edmond stopped, and his ears went back again.  "The rest of the kittens were still there."

"We'll get back and help them," I promised.  I moved the sword again.  "Let's find something to use as a sheath.  Then we'll rest for a bit longer and figure out where to go from here -- as long as the Griblics don't attack again."

Nods from my two companions.

"Eat your food," Edmond ordered.  "You really don't know when you'll get a chance at anything warm again."

Wise words from the black cat.  I ate that bowl and a bit more.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Flash Fiction #407 -- Lost in Elsewhere/17

Lord Snow was right to question why the snowmen had turned us loose so easily.  At the time, I'd only been grateful to get away and thought maybe I could settle some trouble here in the snow lands.

Now I looked at the large snow leopard with a bit of dismay. "Maybe the Snowmen thought we'd lead them to Lord Ice and make it easy for them to attack him."

"Only he, being a wise dragon, had already moved off so that his enemies didn't find him where he'd dropped."

"He won't have gone far," Maggie added.  She had Five in hand, at least.  Edmond had curled up on the hearth.  "He was still weak, and it takes some time for dragons to rebuild that kind of energy."

"The Snowmen hoped he'd be here, and we would escort them right to him," I said.  "I could be wrong -- but they gave in too quickly."

"And instead, we have brought them to Lady Lorla," Maggie replied.  "Maybe we can --"

"Whatever she had meant to say was stopped by high-pitched yells. 

The icelings were fighting a battle.  I was not going to leave it to them, either.  I started out, and Maggie moved to join me, but I shook my head.

"You have a duty to the Council, Maggie," I said with a hand on her arm.  "You may need to get Lady Lorla away from here.  Lord Snow --"

"Let's go deal with this," the snow leopard said and darted out ahead of me.  I was surprised to see Edmond do the same, but he stopped and turned back.

"Five -- you keep Maggie safe!" he shouted above the growing noise.  Then he darted away.

I followed, hoping that Maggie kept hold of Five and that they both stayed with Lady Lorla.  The fae lady must have powers of her own, but I thought it wiser to leave Maggie to help there.  Since my cousin didn't argue, she must have felt the same way.  I didn't think she was happy about it, though.

As I came out of the warm cavern, I was not surprised to see Icelings and Snowmen in combat.  What did surprise me was that the Snowmen were not alone.  I had never seen these creatures before moving with them, thin and long-legged with a fine gray pelt.  I couldn't tell if they were intelligent or not --

"Oh damn," Lord Snow hissed.  Really hissed.  "Griblics!"

Those creatures all seemed to turn our way at once.  Even the Snowmen stopped -- but for a different reason.  They melted away to show even more Griblics beneath the snow.

"Icelings, scatter!" Lord Snow shouted as he charged straight toward the Griblics.

I followed at a slightly slower run and not feeling in the least bit as tired as I had been a few minutes ago when we walked down this street.  I was mad, too.  All I had wanted was a few minutes to sit and think, maybe eat a little food.  Sleep would be really nice again, but I tried not to count on that happening anymore.

Lord Snow had leapt into a mass of Griblics, and I think several died in short order.  I was not used to him being so bloodthirsty, but it did tell me that these were not creatures to take for granted.  I slowed down, trying to decide what I could even do.

"I'll keep watch from above," Edmond yelled.  Wise, getting off the ground.  I wished I had Maggie's wings right then.  I didn't even have a weapon until an Iceling handed me a sword. 

The sword was made of ice, which stung my palm and numbed my fingers, but I was grateful for any protection.  A Griblic had just started leaping at me, but the sword cut through -- and froze -- the creature in mid-leap.  It fell and shattered.

Good sword.

We fought, though not for long.  The Griblics pulled back into ragged lines of ten across and four deep.  I glanced over my shoulder; the Icelings had lined up as well.

I shifted the sword to my other hand and moved the aching fingers of my right hand.  If there had been another sword around, one that wasn't made of ice, I might have taken it up, even though this one had spectacular results.  At least I'd learned a few basics of wielding a sword from my father.

Trouble in the Council, I remembered.  He might be in danger, too.

Edmond swooped down and grabbed at my shoulder, nearly pulling me off balance as he landed.  The Griblics had started to move, but I didn't go down, and they stopped moving forward.

Edmond leaned close to my ear, his whiskers tickling my neck --

"Maggie got the lady out," he whispered.  "The Icelings made another door for them.  We need to hold here and give them a chance."

I nodded.  Edmond launched off of my shoulder and landed on Lord Snow, who grunted in surprise.

"How can anything that small weigh so much?" he demanded.  I glanced over to see Edmond repeating the news to Lord Snow.  The larger cat glanced my way.  We both understood.

I wasn't sure what the Icelings would do.  I hoped they mostly stayed back and looked menacing for now.  Since I had no idea what Snow and I would do, I just didn't want them to get in the way.

While I was deciding what to do, the Griblics took the choice out of our hands.  Someone pushed his way forward.  Unlike the others, he wore chains and pelts, and he stood a good head taller when he straightened.

"Griblic king," Lord Snow said, his ears laid back.  "Take to the air, Edmond.  Be damned careful."

I could hear the Icelings growing restless behind us.  No one appeared to like that the Griblic king was here.  I took that seriously and shifted the ice sword back to my right hand.  The Griblic King snarled.  Then they attacked.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Flash Fiction # 406 -- Lost in Elsewhere/16

We didn't have far to go before we reached ... well, somewhere.  I hadn't seen the opening until we were almost to it.  Someone seemed to have made a giant snow cave in a mound of snow.  In fact, the land in this area was not flat like we'd been crossing.  Beyond this point, it looked like rolling sand dunes, but of snow instead.  I did not look forward to crossing that landscape.

"Ah, here are," Lord Snow said.  "Good.  Come along."

He walked in ahead of us and looking far happier than he had since he first arrived in our company.  I trusted Lord Snow, but even so, I had trouble stepping under that icy covering.

"I need to speak with Lord Ice," I reminded him.  The opening was too small, so I knew the dragon could not be here.

"We will.  Soon.  It's safe here, and we should take hospitality from friends and rest for a  while."

To rest sounded good, but I couldn't see how I would find it here.

Maggie was waiting for me to make the decision.  Edmond was asleep across my shoulders, and Five was curled up in Maggie's arm.  What was I going to do?  Walk off and head right back into trouble?

It didn't take long to catch up with Lord Snow.

"Huh," Lord Snow said with a sideways glance.  "Didn't think you trusted me for a while there."

"I trust you," I protested.  Then I shrugged.  "I have to admit that I wonder where our ideas of safety might diverge since we're not the same."

"True.  And, quite honestly, I never have worked quite so closely with fae and humans before.  I serve the Ice Dragon, and until you came along, I was hardly ever out of the Snow Lands."

"I'm sorry --"

"I'm not complaining.  Much.  Even a snow leopard can get tired of the snow and trying to talk to dragons.  That is going to be a big problem, Mark.  Dragons don't listen very well."

"Much like kittens."

Lord Snow laughed.  "You may have something there.  Ah, here we are, and among friends."

The cave had opened into a vast area filled with beautiful ice buildings that reached all the way to the high roof.  Then I saw movement -- and I knew Lord Snow was right.  These were Icelings, human-like creatures who taller than me, thin, and with icy blue skin and whitish hair and clothing.

From the joy with which they greeted me, I thought they might be the same Icelings that I had helped save from their hiding place on Earth.  They'd desperately wanted to return to Elsewhere, and I had gotten the door open for them.

They led us down a wide street, and I thought they'd put us up in one of the ice houses.  I wondered how to stay warm -- but no, we passed the buildings and went to another cavern, and then a place with rugs, blankets, a fire blazing in a pit, and the smell of food.  The Icelings did not come into this warm, beautiful sanctuary with us, and Lord Snow said some things to them in their own language.

Edmond woke up.  "Food."

I just headed for a pile of blankets and pillows.  I didn't care about the food, at least not at that moment.  I wanted to sit down, maybe nap --

We were not alone in the room.  A woman stepped out of the shadows, startling both me and Maggie.  She stood taller than us, white-haired and tan-skinned, her eyes green and bright.

"And you are Mark, Lord Cayman's son," she said in a voice that sounded like silk and water.  He felt calmer just for hearing her.  "Maggie, how good to see you again!"

"Lady Lorla!" Maggie replied with a bow of her head and evident surprise.  "I had not expected to see you away from court."

"The court is in hiatus until further notice," she said, and I sensed something worrisome in those words.  Maggie looked shocked, too.  "We have scattered, my dear, and have taken what refuge we can.  Something is hunting us, and four had died before we got away.  I cannot say if others have survived or not."

"My father," I said, startled and afraid.

"Alive when we parted," she reassured me.

I felt a little weak-kneed.  Lady Lorla might have noticed since she waved me over to that spot I had so coveted a moment before.  I didn't feel nearly as tired, though I felt cold for an entirely different reason.

Maggie settled by me, and Edmond rolled off my shoulders and down to curl up in the blankets.  Maggie dropped Five in beside him, and they made a sweet picture, there sleeping.  You never would have realized the hell they could both get into without even trying.

Lady Lorla sat gracefully on a few pillows, facing us.  She did not look so happy, this woman.  I had the feeling that she might be more used to living in places filled with silver and gold, and with better food than what was in the pot cooking over the fire.

Though, to be honest, that smelled very good to me.

Lord Snow entered the refuge now, too, having talked to the Icelings.  "Lady Lorla," he said with a bow of his head.  Whoever this woman was, she must have powers.  I really didn't understand most of what the Council did, except that they generally kept various groups from going to war with each other.

Or from invading other realms, like Earth, where both Maggie and I had been born.

"The Icelings related the tale of you coming among them," Lord Snow said.  "Tell me all that you can, Lady.  I will take the news to Lord Ice.  I do not trust what has happened -- or the fact that there was already an attack on Lord Ice, but it did not succeed.    And that makes me wonder why the snowmen really let us go."