Gaia’s Child

Writing Prompt: Urban Fantasy

UrbanFantasy

One gloomy, cloud-covered day in the small town of Callahan, a tree sprite leapt out in front of Auntie Yolanda. It chittered angrily in treespeak, waving twig arms like an orchestra conductor. It obviously had some urgent need, a warning of some cosmic event that might shatter the world.

Auntie Yolanda rolled her eyes and walked right past it.

She was too old for this sort of nonsense. She was pushing sixty now, battered mentally and physically by years of conflict. She didn’t fancy fighting an oil bogle today, or a mirror bogle, or any bogle, really.

The sprite wobbled after her, legs flailing like thin stilts. It stood to her knees, and no one else could see it — at least, no one without Gaia’s blessing — but Auntie Yolanda was certain it would give up soon. How it had managed to keep a single thought in its head for even this long spoke of its urgency.

The sprite still followed when she reached her modest little home, or not her home, precisely. It was a pleasant single-story with a decently maintained lawn and a picket fence. This was a common house available to all who served Gaia, but Auntie Yolanda was currently its only occupant.

She had come to Callahan to get away from the endless war between Gaia and the bogles who plagued Gaia’s children. She had come to end her years playing Bingo, and watching returns, and feeding stray cats. An ordinary life for an ordinary woman.

Yet Auntie Yolanda was not ordinary, and this sprite sensed that. It whooshed into the home like a falling leaf. It wouldn’t stop chittering, and eventually, Auntie Yolanda knew, she would have to do something about that.

She put a kettle on the stove. She sat and read today’s paper as the tree sprite wobbled about on her table, relating harrowing tales. Once the kettle whistled, Auntie Yolanda poured herself some tea, flavored it with honey, and sat on the worn orange couch. The cushions were covered in cat hair.

“All right, all right,” Auntie Yolanda said. “I’m listening, little one. What’s the emergency?”

The chittering began again, and this time, Auntie Yolanda listened. She tuned out the sounds of the real world and listened for the world beneath it, the secret world that existed beneath what everyone else could see. She nodded, and grimaced, and took one more sip of her honeyed tea.

“Well,” Auntie Yolanda said. “That certainly is an emergency.”

The tree sprite chittered something snarky at her.

“Settle down, little one.” Auntie Yolanda sipped her tea. “Just let me finish this cup.”

They had time. She would call a taxi, because Callahan was big for a small town.

The taxi arrived twenty minutes later, long after her tea was done. The cabbie, a large man with a big smile, greeted her with a wave and a “How’s your day been?”  Auntie Yolanda offered only a token pleasantry before stating her destination and staring out the window.

The tree sprite hopped in beside her — it was a surprisingly single-minded little thing — and they drove across town to Sadie Parker’s sagging white rancher. It was one of several houses off Service Road 80, a path untraveled by most. It was closer to nature than any house in Callahan, which explained things.

“This the place?” her cabbie asked.

“Yes.” Auntie Yolanda paid the man.

“Your granddaughter live here?” Apparently, this particularly cabbie enjoyed awkward conversations.

“No.” Auntie Yolanda stepped out into the cold and drizzle. “Have a safe trip home, young man.”

She stood on the lawn until he drove off. Only then did she walk toward the run-down rancher, tree sprite dogging her heels. She climbed the creaky, peeling steps. She knocked on the battered front door.

Floors creaked, and then the door opened a crack. A frazzled woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties peeked past the door chain. “Yes?”

The tree sprite whooshed in through the door crack, chittering happily and bouncing around the room. It had a strong attachment to this place, Auntie Yolanda saw now. A strong attachment to this little girl.

Auntie Yolanda smiled and breathed out Gaia’s breath. “Your daughter is very sick.”

Sadie Parker’s mother stiffened when Auntie Yolanda said that, but only for a moment. Gaia’s breath was a powerful relaxant. Soon enough, the younger woman unchained her door and invited Auntie Yolanda inside.

“I’m Jessica,” Jessica Parker said, in a way that implied she wasn’t quite awake just now. “And yes, poor Sadie has been ill for the past few weeks. We’re saving for a doctor visit.”

“Is she in her room now?” Auntie Yolanda asked.

“She’s sleeping.”

“I’d like to see her.”

“Okay.” Jessica led her down the hall with slightly drunken steps.

The tree sprite knew the way, obviously, yet it hesitated outside Sadie Parker’s door. It bounced from stilt leg to stilt leg, chittering angrily. A bogle drunk off a child’s energy would be sluggish in the daytime, unlikely to stir for a tasty tree sprite, but the tree sprite couldn’t be sure of that. The fact that it would wander this close to its primary predator told Auntie Yolanda just how much it loved Sadie Parker.

“Could you get me a glass of water, dear?” Auntie Yolanda asked.

“Of course,” Jessica said. They both waited.

“Now, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes.” Jessica turned slowly. “I’ll see if I can find some ice.”

Auntie Yolanda took a moment to center herself before bracing what waited inside. She traced the tiny ley lines stitched into her wrinkled palms with her thumbs. She traced glyphs of protection on her heart, mind, and loins. She stepped into the darkened bedroom and wrinkled her nose at the stench.

Normal people couldn’t smell a bogle, but people like her couldn’t stop smelling them. Its stench was an ancient stench, like pitch bubbling in a methane swamp. Sadie Parker’s eight-year-old form breathed fitfully in her little bed, covers pulled to her chin. Her eyes twitched, and sweat rolled down her brow.

Auntie Yolanda stood silently and let her eyes adjust. Once the room was twilight, she swept its length for possibilities. It was obvious the Parkers didn’t have much, but what they had, they spent on their daughter. Stuffed animals had no wood in them, so those were out. The xylophone had wood, but not enough, and though the desk and chair seemed perfect, those were too obvious for a crafty bogle.

Her eyes fixed on the wooden monkey atop Sadie’s tall bookshelf, a battered representation of See No Evil. Hear and Speak were missing. It was likely Sadie found the monkey while walking, or riding her bike, or in her backyard. That was how bogles entered a home, as innocuous objects discovered by chance.

Its hateful mind shrieked into hers before Auntie Yolanda could glyph anything.

She gasped as the bogle’s unexpected attack tore open her surface thoughts. It wriggled about inside her head, lashing out madly at memories of Auntie Yolanda’s own daughter, and her dead husband, and her parents and friends. It, too, could smell Gaia’s blessing, and that smell made it vengeful and mean.

Auntie Yolanda took a step as her head pounded. She took another as her palms bled. She felt her heart slow and her lungs swell, but she kept walking. This old body still had a few years of fight left.

She fell to her knees at the bookshelf, glaring at See No Evil. The boggle taunted and tormented her, just out of reach. She pulled herself up with a trembling arm. She stretched out one hand as the bogle chewed on her good memories, polluting, corrupting, distorting.

One of her bleeding fingers glowed green. When she touched the wooden monkey, it vanished with a hellish shriek. The smell vanished.

Auntie Yolanda collapsed against the bookshelf, sucking in deep breaths. So much for pushing sixty. She felt at least seventy now. Maybe seventy-two.

Jessica Parker entered the room and gasped. She hurried over, water in hand. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, dear.” Auntie Yolanda glanced at Sadie Parker, who breathed evenly in her bed. “I’d like that water now, if you don’t mind.”

Jessica handed it to her. Auntie Yolanda drank. When she was done, she handed the empty glass back and watched the tree sprite climb into bed with the little girl it loved.

“Sadie will be fine now,” Auntie Yolanda told Jessica.

“Really?” Jessica didn’t question that, because you didn’t question things while in a dream.

“When she tells you about the little sprites who live here,” Auntie Yolanda said, “believe her.”

“How did you…” Jessica blinked. “How do you know about her imaginary friends?”

“They aren’t imaginary,” Auntie Yolanda said, “any more than I am. When Sadie turns fourteen, send her to 10 Roanake Way, across town. I’ll be waiting. I’ll teach her everything.”

“All right,” Jessica said.

From the bed, Sadie Parker’s tree sprite chittered encouragement.

THE END

About the Story:

Our theme for the month was urban fantasy, and  naturally, my mind immediately went to my favorite urban fantasy to this day, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks. This story takes a great deal of inspiration from that book and that world. While I haven’t written any real urban fantasy (yet) it was a fun exercise and feels like a world I might want to revisit some day.

photo credit: pontesrocs <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/134177452@N02/32832584952″>Masure</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Vengeance, of a Sort

Writing Prompt: Dragons

DragonsWordpress

The man’s skin showed he hadn’t been dead long — maybe a day — and Sekia recognized him. He was Darhold from Manner’s Ford. He had come for the king’s bounty and had his legs torn off instead.

Sekia’s own legs trembled, her spear and shield heavy in her hands, as she stepped over half a dead man. She stared up the rise leading to Rothalvor’s cave. Her brother’s armor felt too big for her, and its worn padding chafing her skin, but it was warded and fireproof — or so he claimed, before he died in it.

Collecting the king’s bounty on Rothalvor would never bring her father and brother back, but it would make her feel better about losing them. Maybe. The thought that she might die and make her mother’s grief worse hadn’t seemed real until this moment, as she stared at half of Darhold and wondered where his other half had gone. Probably devoured. Probably dragon shit by now.

She should go back. She should tear off this armor and sprint away like a startled rabbit. She should, but she wouldn’t. Sekia was here to kill a dragon, and running away while tearing your own armor off wasn’t how you did that. The comforting words of old Mayer, the retired constable who trained her with bows and spears, echoed in Sekia’s mind.

Shield toward your opponent, always. Stay low. Walk no matter how much you want to run. Only throw if your opponent is running straight at you.

Good advice for fighting bandits. Good for fighting an angry wolf filled with arrows, when it decided it didn’t want to die until it ate your throat. But a dragon? There was no good advice for fighting a dragon. She’d just have to muddle through and hope she didn’t die making a fool of herself.

Walking, not running, meant it took her a good while to reach the entrance to the cave. Sekia braced herself for a deafening roar as she crossed the threshold, a burst of fire that would heat her brother’s magically-warded armor as she crouched, teeth gritted, behind her shield. No roar or fire came, and she knew then how Rothalvor planned to kill her.

He was going to make her walk herself to death.

Sekia walked as the cave descended and water dripped. She walked until she found the great dragon Rothalvor curled around a pile of treasure. The dragon was a winding tree branch of endless brown scales. He might be a snake, if he wasn’t long enough to wrap around her house three times over. Rothalvor opened one foggy yellow eye and snorted.

That single eye rolled as steam rose from the nostrils in the dragon’s triangular head. That eye watched her as she advanced, cowering behind her shield. The dragon was practically daring her to throw a spear she knew, now, would bounce right off those thick scales.

“Well,” Rothalvor said, in a voice that grated like rocks over other rocks. “Get on with it.”

Sekia had not known the dragon could speak like a human — the bounty didn’t mention that — and his greeting startled her. She slipped as she stepped onto a carpet of gold coins of countless sizes and shapes. She kept her balance just well enough to not completely drop her shield.

The cavern shook as coins bounced in all directions. Rothalvor slithered off his giant pile of treasure, an avalanche of teeth and steam and scales. Sekia dropped to her knees, planted her shield, and set herself to throw.

Rothalvor skidded to a stop ahead of her and reared up, towering over her. A single black scale below his head fell open, revealing a red and beating heart. “Throw well, human.”

Sekia didn’t toss her spear. She wanted to, desperately, but none of this made any Gods damned sense. She hated things that made no sense, which is why she had done so poorly in philosophy.

“You…” Sekia hated how small her voice sounded. “You want me to kill you?”

“Dense,” Rothalvor agreed. “You humans always did strike me as dense.”

“You killed my father.” Sekia’s voice grew. “You charred him and my brother like mutton, you sick, sadistic, wormthing!”

“Yes, yes, I murdered your family.” Rothalvor stomped one back foot, and more gold coins tumbled like sand down a dune. “As your hunters slaughtered my daughter. What of it, human? We all kill. Get killing.”

Sekia could not throw until she understood. “Your daughter?”

Rothalvor lunged, and Sekia tossed on blind instinct. The dragon’s beating heart filling her vision. Her spear struck true, penetrating beating flesh in a shower of steaming blood.

Rothalvor roared a deafening roar. Some of his black blood spattered her armguard, steaming and hissing, and Sekia shrieked and tumbled over backward. She struggled with the armguard, tearing off one glove and then tearing at the straps. Her warded, unmeltable armor melted. She ripped the armguard off just in time to avoid losing her arm.

“There.” Rothalvor shuddered as his body collapsed like a sock kite falling to earth. “Well tossed.”

Sekia rose, trembling, and threw down her shield. It was obvious she didn’t need it any longer. She shouted the words that had been clawing their way up since the dragon first spoke. “Why did you want me to kill you?”

Rothalvor bared dozens of long white teeth. “Vengeance.”

“For what?”

“My Aranara was a crown jewel among dragons, the best of us, graceful and sleek and pure. She was meat to your king’s hunters. They lured her in and slaughtered her like a common pig.”

Sekia knew then that might be true. She knew her father and brother died on a noble mission for a king. She knew Rothalvor killed them — knew, because a few survivors told the tale — but she also knew the king’s men triumphantly killed another dragon that day, a smaller dragon, an ally of Rothalvor’s. Or his only daughter.

“Your king,” and Rothalvor coughed blackish blood, “believes he no longer needs us. He believes he can have all his treasure back, that blind fool.” Rothalvor’s body shook as he laughed. “Stupid humans.”

“I’m stupid?” Sekia trembled with rage that felt misdirected. “I’m not the one with a spear in my heart!”

“Fraust is coming for you,” Rothalvor whispered. “So long as I lived, I balked him. That was our pact, mine and your king’s, until your king’s greed overcame his common sense. When I die, my territory dies with me.”

“Fraust?” That name squeaked out of Sekia’s mouth, because it was a name few dared speak aloud. The refugees from the northern kingdoms whispered the great ice dragon’s name like a curse. The king assured them Fraust was a dragon of pure ice, unable to tolerate the southern climate, and Sekia believed their king, then.

“Go home, puny human,” Rothalvor whispered. “Go home and cower.” His body trembled for the absolute last time. “Go … die…”

Sekia did go, eventually. But the walk home took a whole lot longer than the walk to the cave.

* * *

“Sekia!”

Sekia squinted and wrapped the pillow around her ears. Her fresh bed in Mayer’s all but empty inn felt harder than she liked.

“Sekia!” the voiced shouted again, shrill and exited.

It was that annoying girl who worked for Mayer, Ane something. Anebel or Anebeth. Sekia would remember if her head wasn’t pounding from last night’s mead.

“Come look!” Anesomething grabbed Sekia’s hands and pulled her from the bed. “It’s a miracle! You’ve brought a miracle down upon us!” Gods, this woman could haul a horse around.

“What?” Sekia blinked as reality suffocated her.

What happened last night was no dream. Rothalvor was real. That spear in his heart was real. His horrifying last words were real, but they were just a hateful lie to taint her victory, a bluff from a defeated foe.

Ana-whateverhenamewas dragged Sekia off. She followed, but only because fighting might send them both tumbling down the stairs. They burst from the inn together, and Sekia only then realized she was still in her smallclothes. Goosebumps rose on Sekia’s arms.

“It’s a miracle,” Mayer whispered, staring up at the cold gray sky. He lifted a hand and caught one of the many glittering snowflakes descending from the heavens. “Your miracle, Sekia.” Mayer smiled, proud as her father might be if he was still alive. “The Gods cry over your victory.”

As the goosebumps spread, as Sekia stared up at falling snow in the middle of a warm summer, a chill took her. That great chill was colder than knowing how her father and brother died. It was the chill her mother, her village, and her kingdom would all feel soon, as they froze and died together.

Fraust was coming.

And Sekia couldn’t even find the tears to cry.

THE END

About the Story:

I’ve actually never written a single story about dragons, before this one. They’re one of the most iconic creatures in fantasy, and that may be why I’ve shied away from them for so long. It just feels like everything that can be done with dragons has been done with dragons, but dragons was our writing prompt, so I did what I could with it!

Ultimately, this story came together very quickly once the name of the great ice dragon popped into my head (Fraust, LOL) and once I hit upon the idea dragons of staking out their territories (or losing them to other dragons, upon death) Rothalvor’s vengeful plot became clear.

photo credit: garryknight <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/8176740@N05/16692987962″>Chinese New Year London 2015 – 08</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Patent Pending

Writing Prompt: Time Travel to 1750

1750

“All rise!” The bailiff’s shout announced the arrival of Judge Miller, ruler of Delaware’s small court.

Bill Demidov stood among people wearing everything from moth-eaten suits to threadbare rags. The judge, a short man in a long powdered wig, entered and sat. Bill swallowed his nervousness. It wasn’t every day you filed a patent application that changed your life.

To his left, a woman in soot-stained clothes coughed into a handkerchief. Behind him, Bill sensed workers from the factories and canneries eying his fine clothes and judging him. Thinking him soft.

He was not soft. All these people had to deal with was other immigrants and low wages. They had never labored under a hot sun on an island farming camp.

“Be seated!” the bailiff boomed, and Bill sat with the others in a massive creaking of seats.

The courtroom was drafty, the windows frosted. To Bill, the very idea of “cold” was bizarre — in his time, the tiny islands remaining on Earth no longer experienced “cold” — but he knew he didn’t like it. Cold was annoying. It chewed on your skin and made your insides hurt.

If all went right today, he would never return to the cramped working islands of 2182. People presented claims as Bill toyed with his pocketwatch that wasn’t a pocketwatch. The reason he was here.

Two tenants accused each other of stealing firewood. One man accused another of misrepresenting the age of a packhorse who dropped dead. A woman in fine clothes claimed another stole her prize hunting dog. Through it all, Judge Miller listened, questioned, and dispensed justice.

Before the judge got to his case, Bill heard the double doors at the back of the courtroom creak open. He turned with many others to evaluate the newcomer. Who was coming into the courtroom late?

It was a tall, thin man with gold-rimmed glasses and a fancy suit. He eyed those in the room like one would eye a paddock of growcows, then sat on the edge of a bench. Probably some rich man’s lawyer.

“Bill Garrison!” The bailiff’s voice boomed. “Approach the bench!”

Bill stood. This was the day he finalized his patent application, the single most important event in his sad life. He couldn’t screw this up, could he? The patent was reviewed and approved. This was a formality.

Bill approached the bench clutching his own small suitcase. All he had to do was present the paperwork and get the judge to approve it, and then he would have his patent. He would finally be rich.

“You have your paperwork in order?” Miller asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Bill said, reaching for his briefcase.

“Ah, uh, excuse me.” The man with the gold-rimmed glasses stood. “May I approach?”

“Why?” Miller sounded bored.

“My client, a Mister Franklin of Philadelphia, wishes to contest the patent filed by Bill Garrison.”

Bill’s heart sank. How was this possible? How had Franklin even learned he was here?

“Approach,” Miller said. “This might actually be interesting.”

“Your honor,” Bill started, but Miller raised a hand to shush him.

“Your name,” Miller demanded.

“Thomas File, sir.”

“Why are you in my court today, Mister File?”

“It is my contention,” File said, narrowing his eyes behind his thick lenses, “that Bill Garrison, a former employee of Mister Franklin’s, stole Mister Franklin’s work.”

“Now hold on!” Bill said, as that was ludicrous. “I never worked for Benjamin Franklin.” Two years in this muddy backward time was more than enough. “I’ve never even met him. Whatever this man claims—”

“Mister Franklin has been researching his pointed lightning rod conductor for more than four years,” File said, “and I have correspondence dating back to 1746. You first filed your patent in 1748, did you not?”

“Still filed before you,” Bill said, his stubborn streak kicking in. “If anyone stole anything, he stole my idea.” That was almost true.

File opened his briefcase. “Your honor, here is a diagram Mister Franklin drew for his invention. Note the date and details.”

The bailiff passed the document to Miller, who squinted and frowned. “What is this, a weathervane?”

“It’s a lightning rod!” Bill said, because he couldn’t let this frustrating little man steal his idea — or rather, his idea to steal this idea. “It protects buildings from lightning by channeling it to the ground, instead!”

“If you would kindly compare Mister Franklin’s diagram to that provided by Mister Garrison,” File said.

“What?” Bill frowned at him.

“You will find them identical,” File said.

For the first time, Bill smiled. This man was just making things up! The lightning rod design was his own — he had drawn it based on designs on the worker tents — which meant File had no case.

“That’s completely untrue.” Bill opened his briefcase and produced his diagrams. “If you’ll review my design, your honor, you’ll clearly see … that…”

Bill stared at the papers. The papers that weren’t his papers. These were Benjamin Franklin’s originals.

What were they doing in his briefcase?

The bailiff plucked the papers from his hands before Bill could do anything more than gawk.

“Now wait a minute,” Bill said, but Miller was already comparing. “Your honor, those aren’t mine!”

“That’s obvious,” Miller said, shaking his head. “Next time you steal your boss’s idea, Mister Garrison, you might consider blotting out the initials.”

“But I didn’t—”

“Your patent claim is denied.” Miller hammered his gavel. “Mister File, are you bringing charges?”

“No, your honor,” File said.

“You sure?” Miller looked dubious. “Didn’t he steal your client’s design?”

“In my client’s opinion, justice has been served.” File closed his briefcase and bowed his head.

“Very well,” Miller said. He glanced at his bailiff. “Next case!”

Bill hurried after File, who was already leaving. He caught up with the man outside the courtroom, grabbing his arm. “How did you do that?”

File pulled his arm away. “Do what, Mister Garrison?”

“How did you sneak those papers into my briefcase?”

Gradually, File’s flat face curved into a satisfied smile. “You really should be more careful with your things, Mister Demidov.” He produced a silver pocketwatch that wasn’t a pocketwatch. A pocketwatch just like Bill’s.

Bill gasped as the man used his real name. “You’re from…”  He lowered his voice. “The future?”

“Did you really think you could steal from one of the most well-known personalities of the 1700s?”

“He stole the lightning rod design from my ancestor!” Bill said, standing up straight. “Akinfiy Demidov designed the lightning rod years before Franklin filed his patent!”

“You can’t change the timeline because Benjamin Franklin beat your ancestor to court.”

“But he stole the design first!” Garrison said. “Who sent you?”

“Who do you think sent me?”

“No one knows how to build time machines! I only developed the design two years ago!”

“And your first action, having invented time travel, was to try to conduct patent fraud?”

Bill grimaced. “It was a first step! Did you steal my design?”

“Your design,” File said, “was uncovered in 2294, over one hundred years after you mysteriously escaped from your island work camp.” File opened a pocketwatch with luminous numbers and dials that looked much nicer than Bill’s own, primitive time machine. “We have, of course, made improvements.”

“But how?” Bill demanded. “I only left two years ago!”

“You must understand, Mister Garrison, that once time travel was invented, the concept of ‘years’ became irrelevant. Once we could defend the timestream, we would always defend the timestream.”

“What do you mean, defend the timestream?”

“Two-hundred forty years after you invented your device, President Ivanapolos founded the Bureau of Time Management to stop plots just like yours. Our experts believe tampering with the established timeline is simply too dangerous.”

“People know I designed a time machine?” Perhaps his fortune could be made in the future, not the past. “I’m famous?” Bill felt hope again.

“Your name is now taught in all orbital universities. You are known across the solar system, Mister Demidov, as the inventor of time travel.”

Bill couldn’t believe it. “Am I rich in the future?” Could this all be true?

“No, Mister Demidov.” File clicked his pocketwatch. “You are in jail.”

Bill blinked. “Huh?”

“Timestream tampering is punishable by life in prison,” File said, and that’s when the world dissolved.

When it returned, Bill’s word was a small cell with a soft-looking bed, a tiny window overlooking a blue planet covered in water, and a single metal toilet. Bill’s pocketwatch was gone. So was Mister File.

“Wait a minute!” Bill shouted. “You can’t do this to me! I’m the inventor of time travel!”

Vents hissed as gas filled the room, and then Bill didn’t feel upset. He felt happy. His little white cell was the best little white cell in the world.

He settled on his bed, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He dreamed of warm skies and open seas. For the first time since he’d been born, he was content.

He forgot all about his time machine.

THE END

About the Story:

I’ve actually never written a time travel story due to the glaring scientific problems with it, not the least of which is the Earth, its solar system, and everything else moves in space, so most time travel stories would end up with you sucking vacuum. Historical fiction is one of my least favorite genres, soinitially, I wasn’t excited about this month’s theme at all. However, after toying with time travel plots, I did like the idea of someone using time travel to file a patent application before the original owner. It was silly and petty enough that I hadn’t seen it elsewhere, and then I just needed to find a patent.

After doing some cursory Google research on inventions patented near 1750, I came across the history of the “pointed lightning rod conductor” and the various claims about it’s inventor (whether Afinfiy Demidov or Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea first or independently) and found the perfect subject for my patent claim. Obviously, I’m sure this story is rife with historical inaccuracies (another reason I don’t write historical fiction often is because I am lazy :p) but I hope it was entertaining nonetheless.

Photo Credit: Tadie88 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/68748051@N06/32742605572″>26.01.17 Flash Gun..</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Navigator

Writing Prompt: Corpses

navigatorpic

The hissing of an air pump. The beeping of a low oxygen warning. It was these sounds, and no others, that woke Adrian Martinez from his pleasant dream. He was watching the ocean with Mia and Scott.

There was no ocean in deep space. Deep space was where Adrian was now, and he realized that with the lazy certainty of an oxygen-starved brain. Above him, his scout ship’s canopy looked out onto the stars, a canopy with three tiny holes in it. Bullet holes.

The system sun crested the horizon on his cockpit’s left edge, and Adrian realized his silent ship was slowly spinning. He squinted through crystals of water and blood. How the hell was he still alive?

Hands that moved slowly in zero-gravity thumped his flight suit. Gloved fingers slid across his faceplate, the one that had automatically snapped shut when the enemy bullets zipped through the canopy. There were no holes in his suit, or if there were, his suit had sealed them.

The sun set on the right edge of his cockpit, and the world went dark again.

Their ship had vented to vacuum long ago. His suit’s internal oxygen had kept him alive while he slept, but he had obviously slept too long, because now it was angry at him. He needed to get them home.

Adrian sorted through blurred memories. Flight command had given him constellations to use as guides if the waypoint system malfunctioned. Those constellations would help him orient the ship. Maybe his navigator…

Shit! She hadn’t said a word since he woke up. What if she was hurt, or dying?

Adrian twisted in his chair, but the straps fought him, so he popped the straps and floated off his seat. He pushed up and started a slow twist, careful not to overdo it, and stared at the shadow in the seat behind him. Airman Shelly Hart didn’t speak, and no lights glowed on her suit.

The sun rose, illuminating Hart’s suit, and her shattered faceplate, and the staring blue eyes inside her helmet. The pale face covered in little flecks of ice. No oxygen warning was beeping inside her helmet.

Adrian watched her until the sun set.

His oxygen-starved brain refused to focus on anything but the woman who should be alive right now, but wasn’t. His partner. He tried to remember who Hart had waiting for her back on Earth. He vaguely recalled a sister, and a father. Hart’s mother died on Titan, in one of the first enemy attacks.

Adrian pushed against the canopy and back into his seat. He fumbled with his straps as the sun rose and set, squinting through droplets of Hart’s blood. Once he was strapped in again, he focused on the stars that would guide them both home. They, like his memories, were blurry now.

He couldn’t die out here, not yet, because he needed to get Hart’s body home. He knew what it felt like when someone you loved didn’t come home, because that’s where his brother was now, not home. Not dead, not prisoner, just missing, and forever. He wouldn’t do that to Hart’s family or his own.

Adrian flipped the emergency start. Nothing happened. He flipped off all the auxiliaries, counted to 10, and flipped them on again. He waited as the sun rose and set.

A single yellow button glowed inside his cockpit. That glow was joined by others, banks of tiny green lights that rapidly turned yellow or red. As glowing guidelines floated before him and a 360 threat sphere materialized above his flight stick, hope struggled to the surface of his drowning mind.

Yet as Adrian’s gloved hands wrapped around the flight stick, as his booted feet hovered above the thrust pedals, he didn’t know where to go. Navigation was one of the red lights – the destroyed systems – and while he knew the fleet had set a rendezvous point for survivors, he had no idea where it was.

Hart would have known. She could read the stars of this system better than any map. She would tell him how to spin the ship and go home, but she was now a corpse in his back seat.

Adrian focused on the briefing he barely remembered and tried not to scream. There were no constellations beyond his canopy. Just thousands of tiny blinking lights, all waiting to watch him die.

The sun rose and set again.

The sun. He would aim their ship for the sun, because the engagement map had them heading rimward from the carrier, toward the enemy. Heading coreward would take them home.

Adrian only had one thruster left, but it wasn’t like he actually had to stop. He cancelled the spin and pushed toward the sun. He had always hated how the stars didn’t move, how it felt like nothing was moving at all. With no navigation screen to track their velocity, the stillness was maddening.

He wanted to tell Hart they’d make it home. He wanted to sleep because he was very, very tired, but falling asleep was also falling dead. He couldn’t do either just yet.

“Martinez?” Hart’s voice echoed through the speakers in his helmet, barely audible.

Was he hearing things? “Hart?” He was too tired to look behind him.

“The fuck are you doing?” Her voice was weak, quiet, but it was her.

“You’re alive!” Had he imagined the cracks in her faceplate?

“No shit.” Her familiar snark cut through the blanket of disorientation infesting his brain. “Is that why you’re trying to kill us?”

“I’m not trying to kill us.”

“On this vector you are. The Slingshot’s 40 degrees off port.”

The Slingshot! Adrian saw it then, the constellation, just where Hart said it would be. “Hot damn.”

“Turn the ship, you idiot.”

Adrian oriented their nose toward the constellation. “Done. What’s next?”

“Straight up from the Slingshot, 20 degrees.”

Right. That’s what Captain Fallon said in the briefing, up 20 degrees. Thank God for Hart’s clear head.

“Now right 15,” she whispered. “Right 15.”

Adrian turned the ship. He fired the thruster, burned the last of their fuel, and grinned wide. “Hey, think we’ll get a medal for this?”

“Just get us home, pilot,” Hart whispered inside his helmet.

That ended the small talk, because they both needed air to live. Yet they were headed in the right direction now. Rescuers would find them, alive or not, so no matter what, their families wouldn’t wonder.

Adrian eventually lost his fight with sleep, but a loud pop shattered that peaceful black. He blinked bloodshot eyes as a plastic mask crushed his face, as oxygen fought its way back into his lungs. Even though the blur, he recognized the blocky lines of the carrier’s launch bay. Medals for everyone.

He struggled as medics in red jumpsuits pulled him from a ship filled with holes. As they settled him on a stretcher, holding the mask over his face, he tried to ask them about Hart. He couldn’t, but that was okay. They’d find her and save her, too, and they’d have one hell of a story to tell.

He slept again.

Adrian woke once more in a soft bed. Captain Fallon sat beside him. The sight of his commanding officer caused one arm to stiffen instinctively, but Fallon said “at ease” before he could try, and fail, to salute her. He nodded instead, and then he asked her the first question to enter his head.

“Did Hart make it?”

“No, and I’m sorry.” Fallon squeezed Adrian’s shoulder, but her comfort felt cold in the face of her words. “There was nothing we could do for her.”

Adrian felt a heavy weight settle in his chest.

“Even so,” Fallon said, “you got her home. You got the both of you home, and that’s something.”

Adrian sat back. “It was Hart who got us home, sir.”

Fallon narrowed her eyes. “How’s that?”

“I blacked out after we took three rounds to the canopy. After I woke up, Hart told me how to orient the ship. She remembered the constellations, sir.”

Fallon was quiet for a moment. “Hart told you how to get home?”

“Yes sir. It should be on the tapes, sir.”

“The only voice on those tapes is you, Martinez, and your vitals are clear. Hart died the moment those bullets penetrated. It wasn’t your fault.”

Nausea blossomed as Adrian remembered Hart’s pale face and staring eyes. “She was alive, sir.”

“The tapes say otherwise.”

“Then the tapes are wrong, sir.”

Fallon watched him for a moment. “Airman Hart guided you home, correct?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then that’s what I’ll report.” Fallon stood. “That’s what I’ll tell her family.”

Adrian relaxed. “Thank you, sir.”

“Get some rest.”

Adrian tried to make sense of things after Fallon left. He knew he’d heard Hart’s voice in his helmet, her whispers directing their ship. The tapes were wrong. The tapes had to be wrong.

But even if they weren’t, his navigator had guided them both home.

THE END

About the Story:

I actually struggled with this theme and it took me a good while to come up with anything. While our theme was corpses, the corpse had to be entirely mundane (no zombies or other supernatural elements) which immediately blocked off 90% of my ideas (though this was good, as it forced me to be creative).

Anyway, it was down to the wire, maybe five days left, and I watched an episode of Robotech (it is now on Netflix!) where Lisa Hayes was flying in a two-person fighter with her pilot. They get in a dogfight and her pilot gets killed, so now she’s (briefly) in a Veritech with a corpse in a seat behind her. I thought that was incredibly creepy, being trapped in a damaged fighter with a dead guy, unable to fly (Lisa isn’t a pilot, so I flipped the idea to be a pilot who doesn’t know here to go).

That was part one of coming up with the story.

Part two was old ghost stories, particularly involving downed flights. I remembered a ghost story from decades ago regarding the crew of a doomed flight that went down in the Florida Everglades. The pilots crashed because there was a malfunctioning height warning or something, and they (and everyone on board) were killed.

There were ghost stories (supposedly confirmed by flight crew, if you believe the Internet) of the ghosts of the pilots of that flight returning to warn future flights and crews of problems. For instance, supposedly the captain of the flight’s ghost appeared to flight crew on another flight and said “There’s going to be a fire” before vanishing. It turned out the airplane’s stove had a short or something, and would have caught fire in case they hadn’t checked it. So, I loved the idea of the ghost of a pilot reappearing on other flights to try to warn other flight crews of danger.

Finally, I remembered the scene in Gravity where George Clooney helps Sandra Bullock’s character (or does he?) and decided to add that as the final element. So the question in this story is the same. People who believe in ghosts can assume that Shelly Hart’s ghost manifested to help her co-pilot navigate home. People who don’t believe in ghosts can assume that Martinez’s oxygen-starved mind caused him to hallucinate something he subconsciously remembered (he did see the star charts, he just didn’t remember them).

I never say either way, and leave the conclusion up to the reader.

photo credit: X-Nergal-X <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/135887904@N06/30903320800″>Yela</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The Treasure of Saint Curio

Writing Prompt: Pirates!

Skull And Cross Bones Flag

Sailing the seas for plunder and fame was often a glorious adventure, but it did not come without perils. Having a loaded flintlock shoved in one’s face was one peril among many others, and it was one with which Captain Amaro de la Plaza was well familiar. That didn’t mean it annoyed him any less.

“Captain.” Amaro greeted Peter “Dogface” Davis with a tip of his own feathered cap. “Is the pistol necessary?”

“Don’t ‘good evenin’ me, you wily Spaniard.” Davis looked like a dog had chewed up his face and spit it out. “What are you doing in this cave? Answer me, or you’ll answer to God Almighty!”

“This cave” was a tunnel that flooded at high tide. Smoldering torches in wall brackets offered illumination, just enough to make Davis look crazy.

“Accepting Horatio’s invitation,” Amaro said in an airy tone. “You?” He hoped Davis’ finger didn’t slip.

“Why’d Horatio invite a pretty little sot like you out here?”

“A promise of treasure and glory?”

“My treasure,” Davis said, “and my glory. I should shoot you right now.”

“True. Yet wouldn’t your chances improve with a man watching your back?”

Davis scowled just a bit less. “You want to partner?”

“Fifty-fifty.”

“Seventy-thirty, or I shoot you right now.”

“Forty-sixty, and we work together to please Horatio.”

“One day,” Davis said, “I’ll smash that clever mouth of yours.” He uncocked his flintlock and holstered it with the others hanging on his chest. “Deal.”

Having now successfully not been shot in the face, Amaro cheerily followed Davis into a low sea cave. Captain Jean du Grammont waited inside, magnificent in a king’s silks. Horatio de Algier waited as well, dark-skinned and beautiful, and torchlight glistened on the gold in his nose, ears, and eyebrows.

“My captains, my captains!” Horatio called. “Today we shall crown one master among you!”

Captain Grammont offered a jaunty bow before rising. His perfect face would make an angel weep. “de la Plaza. Dogface. Did you have difficulty following the map?”

“Shut it, you briny peacock.” Davis spit again—the man did keep a remarkable reservoir of spit—and stomped into the cave. “What’s this ‘grand adventure’?”

“The treasure of Saint Curio.” Horatio beamed. “I’ve come into possession of his map.”

“You sun-dried monkey cock!” Davis worked his stubbled jaw. “You dragged me here for a sea shanty?”

“Is it no shanty,” Horatio said, in a melodic voice that had charmed many a man and woman into his bed, “and tonight, you shall compete for its location.”

Horatio had invited pirate captains from France, England, and Spain, but of course he had. That was, Amaro knew, classic Horatio. The best fence in the Indian Ocean lived for his games.

“As much as it pains me,” Grammont said, “I concur with Dogface. Saint Curio’s treasure is a legend.”

“You better have more,” Davis said, “or you’ll leave this cave with some new holes.”

“That would be … unwise,” Horatio said.

Amaro spun as a slab blocked the cave opening. Davis had flintlocks out faster than Amaro could blink, pointed at Horatio. “You mean to bury us, you coal-faced weasel?”

“Only if I die,” Horatio said, eyes not so merry now. “If I die, none of you shall ever leave.”

“A reasonable precaution,” Amaro added, “when tempers and pistols are involved. Let’s listen, shall we? Let’s hear what Horatio has to say.”

“I concur,” Grammont said. “Where’s your proof, dear man?”

“I hate the way you wankers talk.” Davis lowered his flintlocks and shot Amaro a not-so-subtle look.

Amaro shot a far more subtle nod back. Their partnership remained intact.

With the speed of a veteran cutpurse, three coins appeared between Horatio’s clenched fingers. He tossed one to Grammont, one to Amaro, and one to Davis, who dropped a flintlock to catch it.

Davis bit down and stared. “Real gold.”

“One of thousands,” Horatio promised, “that prove my map accurate.”

“This is the Vatican’s seal.” Grammont turned his coin in torchlight. “Could it be true?”

The gleam in Davis’ eyes revealed his belief. “So what’s tonight’s game?”

“Riddles.” Horatio beamed again. “Only the most clever captain shall claim Saint Curio’s treasure, and thus, only the most clever man shall leave with his map.”

“I do enjoy riddles,” Grammont said, as a gleam entered his own eyes.

“Bugger riddles,” Davis growled. “Let’s wrestle for it.”

“My cave,” Horatio said. “My rules. The first to answer three riddles shall claim the map, the treasure, and, of course, my contract. A ten percent commission.”

“Fair,” Grammont said. “l agree.”

“As do I,” Amaro added.

Davis just grunted. About as much as one could expect.

“First riddle.” Horatio preened. “What has one head, one tail, and no legs?”

“A coin,” Grammont said, before Davis or Amaro could so much as breathe.

“You snot-nosed pantywaist!” Davis glared. “You’re colluding!”

“I swear upon my dear mother’s soul,” Horatio said, “that I have discussed these riddles with no one. One point, so far, to Grammont.”

“Quite.” Grammont grinned wide.

“Second riddle. The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?”

“Booty!” Davis shouted.

Horatio merely smiled.

“The answer,” Grammont said, “is footsteps.”

“Two for Grammont,” Horatio said, cocking an eyebrow at Amaro. “Captain de la Plaza, has weather softened your tongue?”

Amaro shrugged. “You’re too clever for me, I’m afraid.”

“Next riddle,” Davis growled. “Now.” He shot Amaro another dirty look, one that said, You aren’t helping.

“What has six faces, but wears no makeup?” Horatio asked.

For once, Grammont only frowned.

“A dock whore!” Davis shouted. “A two-faced mutineer!” He grimaced. “A hydra!”

Amaro resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Where had Davis even heard of a hydra? The man obviously couldn’t read.

“No answer?” Horatio said. “A pity. What belongs to you, yet is more often used by others?”

“Ah,” Grammont said.

“Shut it,” Davis warned.

“My own name,” Grammont said, with hands on hips and a smile on his face.

Davis shot Grammont in the head faster than anyone could blink. He dropped the spent flintlock and pulled two more, one pointed at each of them.

“Treachery!” Horatio shrieked. “I will have your head for this!”

“Worry about your own head, you gold-encrusted leech.” Davis motioned with a flintlock. “Map, now.”

“No harbor will take your cursed ship. No pirate shall ever again parley with you!”

“I won’t need any of you,” Davis said, “once I claim Saint Curio’s treasure.”

Horatio glowered. “You violated my rules.”

“Technically,” Amaro added quietly, “he didn’t.”

“What?” Davis and Horatio glared at him.

“You said none would leave if you died,” Amaro pointed out. “As of now, you’re alive. Grammont isn’t,” and with that, he gestured to the warm corpse, “but you never said we couldn’t shoot each other.”

The evil grin that crossed Davis’ face was the best sign yet that Davis wasn’t going to shoot Amaro, too. He turned both flintlocks on Horatio.

“That’s right. You never said we couldn’t shoot each other. Give me that map, and you’ll get your ten percent. I swear.”

“Do as he says,” Amaro suggested. “Really, what choice do we have now?”

Horatio glared, but faced with the Davis’ ferocity (and, no doubt, reckless stupidity) he grudgingly handed over the map.

“The door,” Davis said.

“Open!” Horatio shouted, eyes narrow. “I expect my commission, Davis.”

“Oh, you’ll get that.” Davis backed from the cave, flintlocks raised. “Oh, and de la Plaza?”

“Yes?” Amaro smiled.

“You’re an idiot.” Davis cackled as he vanished.

Horatio sighed. “You’re quite useless in a fight, aren’t you?”

“I prefer not to fight,” Amaro said, “when I can avoid it.”

“Well, now you shall never fight for Saint Curio’s treasure.”

“True,” Amaro said, as he pulled another coin from his pocket. He flipped that coin, a different coin, to Horatio, who caught it instinctively.

Horatio’s eyes widened. “This is the Vatican’s seal.”

“Aye,” Amaro said. “It’s on all the coins Saint Curio stole.”

Horatio gasped. “You found the treasure?”

“How do you think you acquired that map?”

“But … I acquired this map from my best fence! She swore to its authenticity!”

“As I’m sure the thief who sold it to her did,” Amaro said. “The thief who stole it from me, after loose talk in a tavern inspired the biggest score of his meager life.”

Horatio stroked his chin, not smiling. “You deceived me.”

“I deceived Davis,” Amaro said, “and perhaps Grammont. Yesterday, three captains competed on the high seas. Now the pirates of England and France shall kill each other while Spain, ever blameless, shall benefit.”

Horatio ruefully shook his head. “You are a most interesting man.”

“And for your silence,” Amaro added, “you shall have your ten percent.”

Slowly, Horatio beamed again. “I have been considering retirement.”

“Oh, and those six faces?”

Horatio cocked his head.

“A die,” Amaro said. “One with twenty-one eyes.”

“You clever rat,” Horatio said. “You knew them all, didn’t you?”

“Aye,” Amaro said. “But I don’t care to be shot in the face.”

THE END

 

About the Story:

There’s not much to tell with this one, other than I’d never actually written a “pirate” story, so this was a fun exercise for me. The entire idea for the story (Amaro’s gambit to screw over the other pirates) came to me as I was trying to go to sleep one night, so I rolled out of bed, wrote down the outline, and wrote it the next day. By far, the most fun I had was coming up with the various ways for Davis to insult people.

As far as the riddles, I can’t take credit for those … they’re the result of a quick Google search.

photo credit: Dave Dugdale <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37387065@N05/5065481797″>Skull And Cross Bones Flag</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The True Origins of Bjord the Commanding, Washer of Sheets, Undisputed Ruler of Absenthia

Writing Prompt: Potions and Elixirs

Potions

“Psst.”

“What?”

“Pssssst.”

“You don’t have to psst me, Neesh. There’s no one here, and I can see you just fine.”

“Just keep your voice down.”

“The library’s empty. I’ve checked.”

“You can’t be too careful.”

You can’t be too careful. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“I did it.”

“Did what? Why couldn’t this wait until morning?”

“I’ve mixed the potion, Artur! The Potion of Command Galidor mentioned in his historical journals.”

“You did not.”

“It’s right here.”

“Let me see that!”

“Well? Look at it!”

“Sure, this looks like a potion, Neesh. So do all the flasks we mixed last week.”

“It’s not a potion. It’s the potion. Don’t ask me what I had to go through to get my hands on a Yuk-Yuk’s heart.”

“What did you have to go through to get your hands on—?”

“I told you not to ask!”

“It probably wasn’t even a real Yuk-Yuk. Old King Harold killed all the Yuk-Yuks, after his son’s nose fell off. Every noble in Absenthia assumed he was snorting faerie dust.”

“Look, I have it on extremely good authority that it was a Yuk-Yuk … I mean, the flying possum from which the heart was cut … and the instructions said that adding it would create a poof of green smoke that smelled specifically of mint and goat.”

“I think one of those smells will overpower the other.”

“Not for a nose like mine. The smoke was green, a nice poof of it, and the smell was minty goat.”

“When have you ever spelled a minty goat?”

“The weight’s just right, too. I checked it against the figures Galidor left in his journals.”

“Did you remember to add a half-crown for the weight of the flask?”

“Of course I remembered the half-crown. I’m not an idiot.”

“Well, you did tell Alchemaster Palu that the difference between a Potion of Short Flight and Long Flight was the length of the feather you ground—”

“That was an honest mistake! And besides, you mixed up green sand and red in reagents class.”

“That’s because I’m colorblind, you insensitive dolt.”

“Oh, right. Sorry, Artur. I just don’t like it when you belittle me. Alchemaster Tonjold always belittles me, and you know what he thinks about smallfolk becoming alchemasters.”

“Look, Tonjold’s an old prick, and I’m not belittling you, Neesh. I’m just being realistic. I just don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to replicate Galidor’s Potion of Command.”

“But I just did.”

“Well, if you think so, how do you plan to test it?”

“That’s why you’re here.”

“Oh, no.”

“I’m going to drink the potion, and then I’m going to tell you to do something. If you do it—”

“Absolutely not happening.”

“—then we’ll know the potion works!”

“What were you going to tell me to do?”

“I don’t know, um … hop on one leg, maybe?”

“How would you know I’m not just messing with you?”

“Because you wouldn’t do that! How long have we known each other, Artur?”

“Too long. Far too long.”

“I know you wouldn’t mess with me like that. You’re nothing if not brutally honest.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true.”

“So, stand right there, and I’ll—”

“Stop!”

“Hey, let go!”

“You can’t just drink it, you dolt. What if you got the formula wrong?”

“I didn’t.”

“You could end up attracting slugs, or turn into a purple mushroom and migrate spores all over the library, like that second year that ground up a tree frog.”

“There’s no tree frogs in this potion.”

“Or you could end up burping crickets.”

“Name one time that’s happened.”

“Potions Exhibition, last year. Dilution training, four months ago. Smell control, last—”

“Name one time recently.”

“All I’m saying is, if you really think this does what it does, we should test it first. On someone else.”

“Oh. Well … let’s think. Who do we know who’s stupid enough to drink a potion without asking what it is?”

“We’re at a school of potion makers, Neesh. The stupid ones never make it through the first year.”

“Haha, true. Oh hey, do you remember that long-nosed guy from Estonir, the one with the ponytail? What was his name?”

“Lejo something.”

“Lejori?”

“Yes, Lejori. That’s the first and last time I’ve ever seen anyone projectile vomit their own tongue.”

“Okay, fine, let’s say we do it your way. We still need someone who’s not part of the school.”

“A mundane?”

“Why not? We’ll just tell them it’s a love potion or something.”

“Love potions are illegal, and if he reports us—”

“He won’t report us, Artur. They don’t even let mundanes in the guild anymore, not since the last peasant uprising. Steward Snodgrass had to order eight-dozen new vials from the Illusion Embassy.”

“Didn’t they get into the reserves as well? Some rumor about strength potions they could use to bash through the king’s guards?”

“Honestly, I think that’s where all the new statues in the hedge maze came from.”

“All right, so, we’ll go find a mundane. But we’re not going to tell them it’s a love potion. Maybe a truth potion, instead.”

“Ha! That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?”

“Not if you know what that word means.”

“I like this plan. I like it a lot. So, first thing tomorrow?”

“Yes. Fine. But we should only offer the mundane a single drop. Assuming Galidor’s old journals aren’t all donkey scat, a single drop should give him the power of command for … ten minutes, tops.”

“Say, um … what if he commands us to give him more?”

“That’s why we take a dropper, with one drop, and hide the rest of the potion in your room.”

“Ooh, good idea.”

“Mix up a bit of ForgetMeSo. We’ll both take a drop before we leave tomorrow. That way, neither of us will know where the potion is, so even if he commands us to give it to him, we won’t be able to. ”

“But … how will we find it again?”

“When the ForgetMeSo wears off. Assuming you mix it right, that’s less than a day.”

“Oh, good idea! That’s why I always call you, Artur. You have all the good ideas.”

“Well, Seven forbid, if you have managed to somehow replicate Galidor’s Potion of Command, you’ll be the one with all the good ideas, Neesh. They’ll promote you to alchemaster for sure.”

“Gosh, you really think so?”

“They promoted Bujor, and all he did was turn the Potion Master’s cat into a slightly larger cat.”

“Alchemixed milk, wasn’t it?”

“He’s lucky the cat didn’t explode.”

“Okay. I’ll hide the potion tonight. Tomorrow, we prove it works, and tomorrow afternoon—”

“Alchemaster Neesh becomes the new head of the Galidor Restoration Project!”

“With his new Steward of Potions, of course, Artur Rainwater.”

“I like the sound of Steward Rainwater. He sounds very rich.”

“I could be Galidor, Artur! They could speak of me like Galidor someday!”

“Just remember to hide the potion better than the Potion of Flatulence you mixed last year, for Jester’s Day. Old Bjord always turns down the bunks. If he turns down your bunk—”

“Seven take me, I couldn’t go in the dorms for a week after that! But he won’t find it.”

“He’ll drink anything he sees, Neesh. It’s a compulsion he’s had since he mixed up the ingredients in his Dietary Elixir. That’s why they demoted him the Dorm Master.”

“Head sheet washer, you mean. I still don’t see why they don’t just fire him.”

“Honestly, how do you pass anything? He’s the last member of Galidor’s tenure track.”

“Tenure track?”

“That’s why you become an alchemaster, Neesh! So you get tenure. So no one can ever fire you.”

“Oh, right.”

“No one can fire Bjord even if he lacks the wits the Seven gave a caterpillar, which is why they have him turning down bunks.”

“He won’t find it. Besides, we’ll be back before turn down.”

“Just don’t hide it in your bunk.”

“I told you, Artur, I’m not an idiot!”

“I know. I know you’re not an idiot, Neesh. I’m with you.”

“Really?”

“We’re doing this. We’re going to be the toast of the Absenthia, thanks to your alchemical brilliance, and my political brilliance.”

“But mostly my brilliance?”

“Whatever you want to put on the wall.”

“Seven take me, Artur, we’ll be famous!”

“And rich, remember, but only if your potion works.”

“It’ll work! I know it’ll work!”

“Well I suppose we’ll see tomorrow, won’t we?”

THE END

 

About the Story:

This month’s theme, “Potions and Elixirs” was open, and didn’t initially inspire me to write any specific story. I eventually decided to try to do something I believe I always have trouble with: comedy. Once I’d decided I was going to try to write a “funny” story I then, just for the heck of it, decided I’d also try to write a story that was all dialogue … no descriptive prose whatsoever, and no dialogue tags.

Could I tell a complete story, using only the dialogue of two main characters? That was my experiment! You can judge if I pulled it off.

Finally, for those curious about the ending of this story, just go read the title again. Hopefully, that should make it rather clear what happened.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51771794@N07/5238433505″>Dry Ice Experiment 1</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The Frozen Glass

Writing Prompt: Story Generator

TheFrozenGlass

It was past dark when Ren came in sight of old Prophet’s Church, and the local militia were gone. Perhaps in the first days, when the fires of revolution still burned in the minds of the people, those guards had not shirked their duties. Those days were decades past now, the great people’s revolution now reduced to boring history.

No one had worshiped in this building in decades, since it was abandoned by royal decree. Newly crowned King Darenth had not ordered it burned or torn down—that would imply the land’s newest monarch thought the Prophet’s rantings meaningful—but had instead ordered it left to decay in obscurity. Forgotten, like the Prophet herself.

Still, the church was in better shape than the Prophet. You could not behead a church.

Ren’s trusty velociraptor, Shrike, hunkered down as Ren reined him in at the stone fence. Time and opportunistic villagers had left its stones depleted. Shrike hated the church, hated what waited inside it, but that was because raptors were, by nature, distrustful of magic. What had brought them into the world could easily send them back out again.

“There now, girl.” Ren slid off Shrike and stroked his hand down the raptor’s long neck. “Don’t fret. I’m going in alone.”

Tonight, Ren knew, he would finally hold Elen into his arms. He would free her from her magical prison and bring her home to his father, to marry. He would tell her he loved her.

The inside of the church was in worse shape than the exterior. While stone and mortar had weathered the years gracefully, the wood inside was peeling, broken, and rotting. Ren chose his steps carefully. He was going down to the cellar, but he preferred to take the stairs.

He felt his way down stone steps in darkness, using the wall as his guide. Only once concealed by the cellar did he produce his wand and light it with a word of power—Solyr. Long ago picked clean by scavengers, the cellar was empty of all valuables save one—the full-length mirror with the golden frame and frosted glass. The mirror that had called to Ren from his dreams. Elen’s prison. A prison for the woman he loved.

The scavengers hadn’t touched the mirror. They hadn’t even been able to see it. Ren could see the mirror because he knew the old words, like Solyr and Vanis, because he had learned those words from his father. King Darenth’s mastery of those words had allowed him to seize the throne. All Ren wanted was to free Elen.

He walked to the mirror and set the wand aside. He focused and waited until a blue tint grew at the edge of his vision. He said the words that brought him to Elen six weeks ago, on the first of many nights they spent talking, commiserating, falling in love. “Revel.”

The frosted glass melted from top to bottom, revealing a surface beneath like the side of a soap bubble, transparent but always shifting. Elen waited beyond the frost. Her brilliant smile when she saw him lit Ren’s world brighter than the glowing wand.

“You’re back!” She was everything he wanted. “I thought I’d never see you again!”

Elen was close to his age, old enough to marry but only just, with golden hair to her shoulders and a green dress—the same dress she always wore—that rose to her neck and fell to mid-calf. She had soft curves and a nose that was just a bit rounder than his. She owned his heart.

“I found the word,” Ren said, and Elen’s eyes grew wide. “I can free you. We leave this church tonight, together.”

“You found it?” Elen clasped her hands together at her breast. “Oh Ren, I knew you wouldn’t fail me. I love you! I love you! I love you!”

Each repetition made the words more powerful, and Ren felt his face flush and his body heat. He thought of all the nights they had spent talking in this cellar, her on one side of the glass and him on the other, and the bond that grew as they learned they shared the same dreams, and beliefs, and hopes. Her to be free once more, and him to free her.

“I need you to stand back,” Ren said. He couldn’t wait to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her, at last. “Stand well back, Elen, and I should be able to make a hole in the mirror.”

“Will it hurt?” She swallowed and stared from behind the glass that kept them apart. “The Prophet told me it would hurt. She said I would die if I went free.”

The Prophet again. Ren worked to hide his anger. The Prophet deserved to lose her head for all the awful things she had done, least of which was imprisoning her own daughter in this mirror when King Darenth took power. No one deserved to suffer forever in a mirror.

“It won’t hurt,” Ren said, because he wanted to reassure her. “And you won’t die.” That he did know, having researched every book in the old king’s library regarding enchanted mirrors. “You’ll be free, we’ll be together, and we’ll rule the kingdom as husband and wife.” He smiled. “In a few decades, of course. After Father passes.”

“I’m ready.” Elen stepped back. “I trust you, Ren. I know you’d never hurt me.”

Ren focused on the golden frame, on the bubble glass, and waited until the blue tint came. It was all around the edges of his vision now, crackling more than normal. Was that a warning? Ren didn’t care. He focused on the word, fixed it in his mind so he could think it as urgently as he said it, and spoke. “Liber.”

The surface of the mirror shimmered like a still pond struck by a heavy stone. A wind grew inside it, tossing Elen’s blond hair and pressing her dress close against her body. Frost appeared at the edges of her hair, and her teeth chattered. “Ren!”

“Come out, Elen!” Ren shouted. “Walk toward the wind!”

“I can’t!” Her eyes were wide now, the frost spreading across the glass. She reached for him, struggling. “Help me, Ren! Help me!”

Something was wrong. He had said the word of power wrong, but he couldn’t let her die in that mirror. He couldn’t let her freeze.

Ren dashed forward and, for the first time, reached through the mirror. He strained for her and Elen for him. Their hands touched, warmth upon warmth, and for the barest of moments time ceased to be. There was just Elen, her hand in his, her smile and her love.

The world melted around him.

Ren stumbled into hard stone, except it was not stone, not any longer. It was glass, clearer than any he had ever seen and tall as the sky. A golden frame surrounded a mirror shape in the wall of glass, and behind that glass and endless sky was a dark cellar and a glowing wand. Elen stood in it, staring at him, smiling, her hair still tipped with frost.

“Elen?” It was cold in this world of sky and glass, and Ren saw his breath mist as goosebumps rose on his arms. “Elen, what’s happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine now, Ren.” Elen’s smile grew as she watched him through the glass that had once separated them. “No, beyond fine. I am perfect. I am avenged.”

“What?” Ren didn’t understand any of this, and he pushed his hands against the glass that separated them. It was no longer a bubble, and it was hard and cold. “Elen, what are you doing out there? How am I in here? What is this?” He loved her!

“Your father’s reward.” Elen’s smile turned chill. “My mother’s gift.”

She was the Prophet’s Daughter. The Prophet had imprisoned Elen, hidden her, damned her, and King Darenth had killed the Prophet. Elen should be grateful!

“Elen, no. I love you!” Had she lied about everything? He realized he didn’t care. “I’m not my father. We can overthrow him, Elen! We can rule together!”

“My mother can’t rule without her head.” Elen picked up his glowing wand and turned her back on him. “And your father can’t pass on a kingdom to a son that doesn’t exist.”

She was mad! She was going to leave him here, in this mirror, where no one would find him, because he loved her. Because he wanted to save her. “Stop! Please! Don’t do this!”

Even as he shouted, even as his heart pounded and his head thumped, Ren knew she wouldn’t listen. He knew, because he remembered those words. The Prophet had uttered those same words, in that same tone—before King Darenth chopped off her head.

“Farwell, Ren Darenth.” Elen climbed the steps. “Farewell, you blind fool.”

Ren was still screaming when the cellar grew dark again.

THE END

 

About the Story:

This month, the mods made their own “story generator” and everyone rolled a set of random numbers to determine what elements they would have to incorporate into that month’s story. This resulted in a number of stories with similar elements, but those stories ended up being very different. It was a remarkably fun exercise, and I was surprised by how much of this story “wrote itself” as I worked to incorporate all the elements I had rolled. Below, the story generator matrix:

934irgw

My roll ended up as the following:

Paranormal Romance
Royal Heir
Church
Wand
Too Trusting
Evil Wizard/Witch

AND…

DINOSAURS

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/25494789@N02/27894292603″>Chapelle de Cazeneuve</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;