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.