Stories my friends started

The Link – A Stories My Friends Started

Here’s another one from the vaults of time – a Story I wrote for Stories My Friends Started – this one is kind of cool because I took several of the writing exercises I do every fortnight with the Ink Slingers Guild, and wove them into one tale 🙂

For my dad, with love ❤

The Link

His heart was pounding at the speed of light…there wasn’t much time left. No, scratch that; there was no time left. Harvy glanced at his watch as he yanked it off. Half past ten. He was going to be late. His clothes followed his watch. He didn’t want to call undue attention to himself, and wearing outlandish clothes was a great way to do that. Harvy thanked his stars that he had packed the night before.

The message had been brief and to the point. It was happening soon. They were needed. Harvy thought of Leva. It was a shame that he had to bring her into this, but she was the only one he could think of that would be resourceful enough to carry on if he was…well, he didn’t want to think about that.

A sound outside made Harvy freeze, ears straining. He didn’t hear anything more, but he knew it was time to go. He let himself out of the back as silently as he could. Crouching close to the ground, he ran along the thick shrubbery that passed for a back yard. Harvy had a moment to be pleased that he was never home to care for his garden; then three pairs of shining eyes glared at him from the other side of the fence.

* * *

He was late. That was not a good sign. He was never late. Not for the important stuff. Leva was hesitant to go on without him, despite his injunction of last night. She glanced down the path into the trees and decided she would wait a few moments more. The pack on her back hardly weighed anything thanks to Harvy’s spartan packing list. A blanket. Water. A knife. Nothing superfluous. Leva sighed and tapped her foot, thinking of all the useful items she wanted to bring but couldn’t.

“Things that were set in motion long ago are coming together, and we have to be there by yesterday,” Harvey’s voice echoed in her thoughts.

He hadn’t had time to give her more details, but his eyes had burned intensely and something in his manner had struck a chord deep in the place that knew the right thing to do, even if her mind couldn’t make it make sense.

“Hey!” Harvey’s voice came through in the real world. “What are you waiting for? I told you to go without me if I didn’t show up!”

“I know,” Leva said turning around, and her jaw dropped.

Behind Harvey’s six-foot frame was a pack of something that looked like rabid wolves, but Leva was fairly certain wolves didn’t have wings or glitter that flew from their paws as they ran.

“What the….” she started to say.

“No time!” Harvey said, catching her around the waist and throwing her towards the path. “You should have left when I told you to!”

* * *

Ferma had been given several clues, but the slave with the raven hair was the key to all of them. He strode through the crowded market place, using his long legs and broad shoulders to clear a path. The auction was held on the plateau, in full view of the city. Ferma stopped behind a huge pillar and glanced around. He didn’t want to be noticed or worse, recognized.

The row of people in chains looped around the arena twice, and Ferma started to panic slightly. He didn’t have time to look over all of them! He looked up next to the auction block. A fat man was entering the slaves into the register one by one, the camera an old model that still flashed and clicked, and he had to lick the back with his fat, purple tongue to stick it next to the entry of the slave’s name. Ferma looked at the next slave in line, and his heart stopped.

A small girl with dark skin and the blackest hair he had ever seen stood in chains so large it seemed she should be able to slip out of them with ease. Across the distance of the arena, Ferma caught her eye, and his knees went weak. That was the one!

His eyes widened as a thin man in a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat took her arm and led her away, towards the white palace on the hill. Ferma started to follow, determined to keep her in sight, but his view was blocked by a familiar red uniform, and he looked into the cold eyes of the woman with the scar, already planning how not to die, again.

* * *

Harvey’s grip was too tight on Leva’s arm, but when she glanced behind her and the wolves and their weird eyes that smoldered with green fire, she didn’t mind so much.

“How much farther?” she panted, trying to keep up with him.

His eyes stared grimly ahead. “The portal should be here, should be close,” he said.

As he spoke, Leva felt like she had just ran into a brick wall. The world took on a glossy hue. It looked like a huge cartoon bubble, all shimmery and bouncy.

“What’s happening?” her voice stretched out, warped.

Harvey didn’t answer and suddenly they were falling. Leva opened her mouth in a scream, but no sound passed her lips. Then they were in the middle of a crowded market. Leva tried to keep her balance, feeling as though someone had just pushed her, and she stumbled into a woman in a red uniform.

“I’m so sorry,” Leva started to say as she pulled herself upright using the woman’s very muscular arm.

When she looked into the woman’s eyes, all words fled from Leva’s mind. The cold glare was enough to freeze blood, and the scar across her eye pulsed with rage.

“Get out of my way,” the woman snarled.

Leva was grabbed on both sides. To her left was Harvey. To the right was a man she had never seen, tall, handsome, in plain clothes with a gold chain around his neck.

“Run!” they both screamed, and Leva was swept off her feet into a crowded street.

* * *

Aniph walked with the man in the black hat. She wasn’t worried about the chains or the man with the picture machine. By tomorrow morning, her face would have faded from the book and the ink that marked her name would be gone. Her kind were impossible to remember or keep in mind for very long. Even the physical world couldn’t hold an impression of them.

The little fairy creature didn’t like coming here, but this was where she was to meet the man who would save their worlds. And just as promised, he had found her with no problem.

A rough tug on the chains pulled her onwards. Somehow Aniph knew that now was not the time to get free. The man would soon be in danger; he did not need to be distracted. The fairy kept turning though, trying to see. Now there was another man with the first, and a woman. They were running. A second woman, a giant in red, was fighting to come after them. That as not part of the plan. Aniph decided that contrary to her feeling, she should go to him now.

The chains let her go as gently as a mother puts down her baby. The man in the hat didn’t even notice she was gone until it was too late. The fairy made her way through the crowds towards the beacon that was the woman in red, because that was where the man was.

Aniph found the man fighting to get past two tough old men. She touched his elbow, but even when she concentrated, she couldn’t find his center. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The little fairy knew despair. Then someone grabbed her elbow. A dancing rain of sparkles and music exploded in her head. Aniph swung around to find a man who was desperately trying to blend in, but his style was definitely not from around here. Beside Aniph’s childlike stature, he seemed very tall.

“Corlax elehtrast nonstras tem pax ter lexum,” he said.

It took Aniph a moment to translate the horribly garbled version of the mostly dead fairy language the man was attempting to speak.

“Perhaps we could just try this,” Aniph said, switching to the common tongue he would undoubtedly be more able to express himself in.

“Good idea,” the man was relieved. “Now we just need to get out of here, and we can have a proper conversation.”

“I can help with that,” Aniph said.

* * *

One moment, Ferma was fighting for his life to get away from the woman in red, wrestling with two stubborn men who seemed to think he wanted a better view of the slavers’ wares. Then he was in a cool, green paradise, the silence pressing on his ears.

“Where am I?” he asked no one in particular.

“This appears to be the emperor’s private garden,” a voice said beside him.

Ferma swung to see he was not alone. Another man, a woman, and a child stood behind him. The man and the woman were looking around, enraptured as he was with the beautiful garden. The child was equally enraptured with the people. Ferma focused on her and realized with a shock it was the slave.

“You!” he cried.

“Me,” the creature said, turning alien eyes on him. “You.”

“Me?” Ferma said uncertainly.

“Stop. What is going on?” the woman interjected.

“Perhaps we should do introductions,” the man said. “My name is Harvey. This is Leva.”

The woman gave a curt nod.

“I’m Ferma Du Tari Ver Sarathael.” Ferma didn’t know why he gave the last part of his name, but he felt it was important.

“My name is Aniph,” the creature said. “And you are mine.”

“Pardon?”

The fairy frowned. “You are for me?” she tried again. “From me?”

“Corthain,” the man called Harvey said.

Aniph looked pleased. “Yes. Corthain.”

“What…is…that?” Ferma said.

“Yes, what is that?” Leva demanded. “Does that have anything to do with the things…”

“Yes,” Harvey cut her off.

Aniph came forward, eyeing Harvey curiously. Ferma watched the pair; it slowly dawning on him that they knew more of what was going on than either he or the woman did. Then he wondered if they would bring more clues, or the answers to the ones he already had. They did both.

* * *

Harvey waited, holding very still as he allowed the fairy to approach. He didn’t want to spook her. There was no telling how long she had been in this plane, or how well adjusted she was. Leva had no such compunction.

“I still don’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “Where are we? Why is there a child here? Who is this man? Do you know these people?”

“Leva, please, you’re making my head hurt,” Harvey said. “We are…well, it’s difficult to explain, but we’re somewhere important and that’s what matters. The child is older than all of us put together. She is a creature of Fae. This man is her Corthain. Her other half, if you like. And while I know them, I don’t really know them. That is, I’ve never met them.”

“You realize how little sense you’re making?” Leva said, the first stages of panic making her eyes bigger than they already were. “Did you give me something? Is this some kind of trippy hallucination?”

“This is all very real, and if you calm down and breath for one moment, I’ll explain everything.”

Harvey saw that he was holding her arms so tightly his knuckles were white, but Leva was so freaked out that she didn’t feel it or didn’t think to protest. He released her, checking to make sure she was breathing like he had told her to. Then he turned on the man named Ferma and held out his hand.

“We haven’t been properly introduced, Mr. Du Tari.”

The Corthain reached out tentatively and gave Harvey’s hand a quick shake. The electric jolt he received when he touched Harvey’s skin made him squeak and convulsively grip the other man’s hand.

“What the…” Ferma said, yanking his hand back and giving it a shake. “Who are you?”

“My name is Harvey Seth Ver Gurrod,” Harvey said. “And I’m the Link.”*

* * *

Leva still wasn’t sure this wasn’t all a very bad dream. Harvey had gone beyond scaring her. She was now officially terrified to the point of not caring. The wolves could come back, and she’d probably be okay about letting them sniff her hand and then scratching their ears. Or maybe not. Using a lot of very strange words wasn’t helping her state of mind. But Ferma apparently didn’t know what that meant either, so that was comforting, if she didn’t think about it for too long.

“The link?” the man in the black hat was asking. “I don’t understand.”

The fairy was interested in a different part of what Harvey had said. “Ver Gurrod. Not Ver Huntentes?”

Harvey shook his head. “No. That’s a long story, and we’ve no time for it right now.”

“I can make time for it,” the fairy said, holding up her hands.

“No, no, no, that’s okay,” Harvey said quickly, grabbing her wrists and bringing them down. “We don’t want to do anything rash. We’ve all met up, and that’s a good occurrence. Almost a perfect occurrence, if I do say so myself. More than I could hope to expect, really…”

“Wait. Why do you sound like it’s a lucky happenstance that we ended up here?” Leva asked. “What might have happened instead?”

“Do you know how many autonomous entities there are in the universe? And how many particles those entities influence? And how many universes, independent and otherwise, there are? If you take all of that, do you know how many different possible and actual occurrences occur in any give instant of any give time continuum? To many for a normal mind to fully comprehend.” Harvey turned back to Aniph. “Now, I don’t want you messing with an already messy set of circumstances, alright? We’re going to do this thing, and we’re going to get it done right, but that’s only going to be an actual occurrence if we do things logically and systematically.”

The creature of Fae (whatever that was) nodded dutifully, gazing at Harvey with her very unusual eyes. “Very well, Ver Gorrod. Now, what of the Corthain?”

“Yes, what of the Corthain?” Ferma tried to cover his nervousness with a laugh.

“You don’t know what that means, do you?” Harvey said.

Ferma shook his head.

“Do you know what is about to happen?”

Again, Ferma shook his head.

“Do you know anything about anything that is going on?”

“I know I needed to find her,” Ferma pointed at Aniph. “And…that’s about it.”

“That’s a start,” Harvey said, setting his arms akimbo. “I’ll do my best to explain.”

Leva smiled. Finally.

“You and Aniph are the Corthain for your worlds. Together, you are the…well, let’s just say you’re the ones who are going to fix things up when they go wonky.”

“When…?” Leva asked. “No if?”

“When,” Harvey said firmly. “And when is unfortunately now. I am the Link. I help you to communicate and work together, in a manner of speaking.”

“That is why I can’t hear him,” Aniph said.

Harvey nodded as if that made perfect sense.

“And what do we have to do?” Ferma asked. “All I know is that I get given the task of finding out why the water is going rotten, and one thing leads to the next, I’m being hunted by a demon in a red uniform…”

“Speak of the demon,” Harvey muttered.

In the entrance to the garden, partially hidden by a row of green hedges with big golden flowers, stood the woman in the red uniform. She glanced across the garden, searching. Even from here, with the cover of the plants, her eyes stung Leva.

Then a large canine animal appeared at the woman’s side, wings dragging on the ground, sparkles remaining where its paws touched. The woman petted the wolf and pointed into the garden. The wolf sat down and scratched its ear with a hind leg, making its wings jump and flop. The woman scowled, and from her fingers came a bolt of blue fire, which ignited the fur of the wolf. It set off with a howl.

“There is something very wrong with that woman,” Leva whispered.

“How does she always find me?” Ferma moaned, shrinking back.

“She’s her own type of Corthain,” Harvey said. “Not really someone we want to mess with.”

“So you’re a Link and they’re all Corthains, and that’s a creature of Faith…”

“It’s just Corthain, and she’s a creature of Fae.”

“Whatever. The point is, what the heck am I?” Leva said.

“Backup.”

“Backup for what?” Leva said heatedly. “I have no idea what’s going on!!”

“You’re the backup Link,” Harvey said. “You know, in case anything happens to me.”
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hope you enjoyed that – if you would like to leave your own “Story Starter” for one of the Ink Slingers, just click the link: https://storiesmyfriendsstarted.wordpress.com/contact-us/

If you think I should continue the story, just comment below and let me know!

More soon!

❤ DragonBeck

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Advertisements

Shadow Road – A Stories My Friends Started

I haven’t done one of these for a while, so I thought I should remedy that. This is the first SMFS that I ever wrote, and it’s still one of my favorites 🙂 For Shaina Clark. May you find reasons to smile abound.

Although he had spent every day of his childhood being pampered and spoiled to within an inch of his life, he was still one of the most melancholic individuals his associates had ever encountered.

No, Judianna thought, not pampered. Groomed. Yes, groomed from before he could walk. Though Mage Doneron had told her to study all faces present, Judianna could not help but watch golden-haired Prince Quiteas brood at one corner of the triangular table.

It had been a long time since she had seen him this close and he did not remember her face. Quiteas sat ramrod straight yet still seemed to slump in the angular chair with a veiled expression and pale eyes that missed nothing and gave away less. The prince was not dissimilar in physical appearance to the boy Judianna had known so many years ago, but other than that, he was a different person.

The armored bulk that was General Armareus occupied the second corner. The silver-robed stick figure of High Mage Doneron sat at the third. Judianna was a fourth of the Mage’s retinue. The General had a full dozen men with him, but only four were allowed at the table. Quiteas had one accompanying him, a slim figure bowed beneath a hooded robe. As such, his corner of the table looked somewhat desolate.

“Your majesty,” Doneron the Mage said, his voice smoothed by eons of chanting spells. “You cannot wait any longer. A decision must be made.”

“And I say you make it,” Quiteas said. Judianna didn’t believe it possible, but his mouth turned down even further. “It means nothing to me.”

The General cleared his throat. Had Quiteas been an underling, Judianna had no doubt the General’s meaty fist would have been around his throat by now. As it was, the General merely raised his hand in a conciliatory gesture.

“My prince,” he began. “The man who is chosen to take the place of the late Lord Sardaen must be someone trustworthy. The new Lord inherits all of the Harmand Way. I should not need to remind you that the Way is a very strategic point and the surrounding lands very productive.”

“I know my history,” Quiteas sighed a world weary sigh. “And I trust the both of you to choose wisely.”

“Traditionally, it has been the monarch who…” Mage Doneron began.

Quiteas silenced him by rising. The shadow by his side rose as well. Judianna kept her head down, though her eyes remained fixed on the prince. “Traditions come and go. You make your choice and I will speak the words if it will make you happy.”

“I don’t think your father would be happy to hear his son make a mime of the throne,” General Armareus.

“If my father has a problem with my ruling, I look forward to hearing from him in person.”

Prince Quiteas left the Council room frozen and fragile in the wake of his parting statement.

“It’s just as well you didn’t bring up his coronation again,” Armareus said with a glance at the empty chair.

Doneron poked at his face with long fingers as though to iron out the lines in his skin. “I wish the boy would just accept his father’s demise, come to terms with it and move on. He cannot be prince forever.”

“He is a stubborn boy,” the Armareus said, his armor creaking as he stood. “Give him time.”

“It has been a full seven years,” Doneron said, exasperation leaking from every syllable. “I do not know how to make him understand that when one travels the Shadow Road, they do not return and not even a Mage can make it so.”

“He will not give up on the King,” Armareus said, his men falling into place behind him. “It may be us who will be made to understand that we will be calling him ‘prince’ until he follows his father’s steps on the Shadow Road.”

Mage Doneron grunted in reply and it was long moments before he rose. Judianna rose with him and took up the rear of his procession, folding her hands serenely across her chest. Her lilac robe trailed long behind her, as did the robes of those in front of her. In this way, they were always evenly spaced as they walked. They traipsed along, their footsteps lost in majestic halls where only Mage Doneron seemed at ease among the towering columns and gilded glass windows.

As they strode from patterned tiles to snow white marble marked only by the shadow of statues, a messenger hurried up to Doneron and the entire procession halted. Hurried words were exchanged and the Mage nodded. The messenger disappeared and Doneron beckoned Judianna forward. He pulled a dark bottle from his robes and handed it to her.

“I had meant to give this to Prince Quiteas, but it slipped my mind. Please deliver it forthwith.”

Judianna nodded and took the bottle. Despite having learned the castle passages from schematics until she could walk them blindfolded, she had never actually trespassed within the prince’s personal wing. A nervous flutter made her stomach clench. She stood without the huge pair of black doors and knocked.

A moment later the left door opened and the robed figure that had shadowed the prince stood on the other side. The hood had fallen back to reveal a pale face, soft brown hair and pointed ears. Forest green eyes flecked with gold appraised Judianna and a slim hand came out to silently request the bottle.

Judianna gave the elf the bottle, bowed her head and turned away as the door closed. She had barely started down the hall when the door was thrown open and the prince’s voice yelled at her, gloomy even in wrath.

“Mage, what is the meaning of…oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you were Doneron.”

“He sent me in his stead,” Judianna said, bowing her head. “Is something amiss?”

“Yes!” Quiteas said, waving the bottle. “This is not what I asked for.”

“I’m sorry,” Judianna said, reaching for the bottle. “I will return it…”

“No,” Quiteas sighed. “No, that will not do.”

Judianna stood silent, puzzled by his vacillations. The prince deigned to explain himself, for what reason Judianna couldn’t say.

“I have had increasing trouble sleeping of late, and I asked the Mage for a draught to ease my nerves. This…this is milk and honey. I used to drink it as a boy,” Quiteas said. “I wager it is his way of rebuking me. Tell me, do you think he is right to tell me to accept that my father is forever gone down the Shadow Road?”

The question threw Judianna further off guard and she stammered. “I…I think the High Mage is very wise and has your wellbeing at heart, your Majesty.”

“That is not an answer,” the prince leaned against the wall, sad eyes studying her. “I saw you in the Council room, attending Doneron. You were almost as watchful as he. You seem familiar. I think perhaps I might have known you, a long time ago.”

Judianna contemplated how to answer the unasked question. She chose the forthright response. “As children we played in the halls whenever you could get away from hawking or divination, your least favorite lessons.”

“Judianna!” Recognition dawned in the prince’s eyes, and his frown lifted a little though he did not smile. “I thought you had left the palace some time past.”

“It was judged I had some magical potential. Doneron took me to apprentice,” Judianna said. “I have been here, but keeping to corners and shadows.”

“Doneron is teaching you to see and not be seen. I remember those lessons.”

“I find it quite useful. Observing is the easiest way to learn things,” Judianna said with a smile. “Words and eyes may lie, but actions cannot be other than what they are.”

“Indeed,” Quiteas said. “Doneron’s pupil to the heart. Come. Join me and tell me of what has transpired since we last spoke.”

He held open the door to his suite. Judianna drifted inside. Her eyes immediately went to the figure standing at the window. The elf had discarded the cloak and wore deep green satin trousers and tunic. Quiteas nodded in his direction.

“This is Masatri. He was bound to my father by some ancient, forgotten pact and he, like everyone else, assumes that he is now bound to me. No matter how I try to dissuade him, he insists on following me everywhere.”

The elf bowed, bronze highlights gleaming in his hair. “Men are strange creatures with short lives and shorter memories, but this pact is not something to take lightly despite His majesty’s obvious discomfit.”

“Don’t mind him. He is very sociable though he doesn’t say much. Come, sit.”

Quiteas gestured toward the sitting-place under a spread of windows. Outside the sky was grey and a stiff wind pulled at the trees, sending showers of leaves swirling about like dervishes. The three sat on cushioned lounges. Masatri brought iced lemon water, candied fruit and spicy biscuits. Quiteas ate with dainty, solemn bites. The elf filled a plate and ate with gusto. Judianna nibbled on a biscuit and spoke between bites.

“I learned history, language, simple sorcery and enchantment. Now, I’m learning the finer points of diplomacy and intrigue in preparation for accompanying Doneron to the courts of Glorina, Holvard, Athmar, Yoland and Itread to learn their dispositions and intentions to this kingdom.”

“No doubt you will do wonderfully and come back to lecture me on international politics as Doneron does.” Quiteas could have been making a joke but his dolorous expression did not change.

“No, I think he enjoys that too much to delegate that task,” Judianna said.

“Truer words were never spoken,” Quiteas said, rubbing his chin and gazing at nothing with his pale eyes.

It would be easier to judge what a painting was thinking than what thoughts lay behind the prince’s triste expression. Judianna thought that he might be handsome if he smiled and let the light touch his eyes. “Why do I never see you smile anymore, Prince Quiteas?”

“Perhaps you are not looking hard enough.”

“I do not think that is the reason, for your entire court would be as unobservant as I.” Judianna paused. “And yet, I recall you were quite gay as a boy.”

“Children have the freedom to be carefree,” Quiteas said. “Then they must grow up and become accustomed to reality.”

“Your kingdom prospers, your people want for little, your General grows fat for lack of war and your Mage has nothing to do but brew sleeping potions and fret about court invitations from foreign royalty yet this reality calls for such a dour outlook? What, I wonder, will your outlook be in times of strife, famine or war?”

“It is knowledge that strife, famine and war could come upon us at any moment that restrains my lightheartedness. It is not an easy thing to forget that even when the sun is shining, a hundred storms may be brewing beyond the horizon.”

“Yes, I do not think I would smile if I was always worrying about storms beyond the horizon,” Judianna said. “That, or I would learn to love the rain.”

“You already love the rain. Thunder and lightning as well, if I recall correctly.”

“You do,” Judianna said.

As she spoke a slow peal of far-off thunder reverberated. Quiteas looked up, then stood and threw open the windows. Wind whipped the curtains into dancing ghosts of lace and the smell of rain flooded the room. Judianna stood and walked to stand next to him.

“The gods heard us,” she said, her voice soft as she watched lightning flash across the clouds.

“I doubt the gods pay attention to anything I say,” Quiteas said, the light making planes and hollows of his face.

“Would your father wish you to be this miserable because of him?” Judianna asked softly.

“He came back,” Quiteas said, pointing at Masatri. “The elf left with my father, and came back without him. When I ask him if my father is dead, he gives the same answer.”

“He walks the Shadow Road,” Masatri whispered behind Judianna, making her jump.

“He pretends bondage to me, but obeys very little of what I say. He would not leave my father but for death or command. He will not say my father is dead. He cannot lie, so he was told to say that. If my father were truly dead, his allegiance would shift to me and I could make him tell me what happened. But I only hear about the Shadow Road. Until I hear differently, I await my father’s return.”

Judianna knew a little regarding the forest folk and could not fault the prince’s logic, but still, to be unhappy until such a time came…“You must cheer up, Quiteas. Surely there must be something you can smile about.”

“One day, when there is a good reason to smile, I shall do so.”

“And what would be a good reason to smile?” Judianna probed.

Quiteas turned away from her but for once she could see his thoughts plain as day. My father returning.

“You should not pick so lofty a reason to smile,” Judianna said. “Reasons abound all around, and if they are not apparent to you, then you can always make one up. You are the prince, after all.”

Quiteas looked at her for a long time. “You have not changed at all.”

Judianna shrugged. “I suppose I did not become accustomed to reality.”

“No I suppose not.” Quiteas paused. “I have kept you long enough. Doneron will be looking for your return. You must come and visit me more often. I will ask Doneron to send you.” Judianna thought she may have imagined it, but very slowly one corner of his mouth turned up. “That will vex him, I think.”

“He does not enjoy being vexed,” Judianna said, thinking of the Mage’s wish that the prince take up his father’s crown and Quiteas’ refusal.

“No, but he can be quite entertaining.”

Judianna smiled and bowed, making her exit.

“Wait.”

Judianna paused in the doorway.

“And please tell him: I choose Tamburn to be the next Lord Sardaen. Tamburn is a good man. He traveled with my father when he was younger and has kept the Donner Way faithfully.”

“I will tell the Mage. I’m sure he will be pleased to hear your Majesty’s decision.”

Judianna left still imagining the ghost of a smile on Prince Quiteas’ lips.

__________________________________________________________

If you’d like to start a story (and help a writer out at the same time), please go to storiesmyfriendsstarted.com and leave a sentence for us!

❤ DragonBeck

Unraveling – A Stories My Friends Started

For anyone who’s not familiar with Stories My Friends Started, the concept is simple: a person gives us a single sentence, and one of the Ink Slingers writes a story beginning with that sentence. Below is one of my favorites 🙂

For my mom, love, DragonBeck

I opened the door and couldn’t believe my eyes.

Standing on the doorstep was Glenson. He was a medium built man, half an inch taller than I, with dark hair and blue eyes. The only problem was that Glenson had died two days ago. I’d seen it with my own eyes, the blood, the death rattle, and the burning of the body. And yet…

“What are you doing here?” I asked, too stunned to stop him as he brushed passed into my house and marched through to the study.

“Not much time, not much time,” he muttered, beginning to rifle though my effects, pulling things out of drawers and off bookshelves, glancing at them briefly and tossing them aside.

Some of the things were quite valuable, and others quite old and delicate, but his jitters were getting on my nerves, and I had little attention for that. And all this about not much time…that didn’t bode well. That didn’t bode well at all.

“Glenson, tell me what’s going on,” I demanded. “You…you died!”

That made him pause. “Oh, did I?” he wondered in an absent voice. “Yes, I suppose I did.”

“So what are you doing here?” It was taking all my will-power not to scream. “This is not part of the plan! What is happening in the Underealm? Where are the others? What about the Homestones?”

For the first time, Glenson turned to look at me. His eyes were different, the eyes of a man who had seen things he would never forget, things that got stuck inside the head and changed the way one thought about things. I didn’t want to know what those things were, but with him standing in front of me, I didn’t really have a choice.

“What about the Homestones, Glenson?” I demanded.

“They weren’t there,” his voice was heavy. “Someone moved them.”

“They were stolen!” I said, my heart leaping to my throat.

“No,” Glenson was shaking his head. “Much worse. They were moved.”

I tried to wrap my mind around what he was saying. “What does that mean?”

“It means the whole world is in danger,” Glenson said. “If the Homestones have been moved to other locations…”

“Then the fabric of the universe is no longer held in place,” I whispered, the full scope of our problem becoming clear to me. “Are there…” I could barely bring myself to say it, “…unravelings?”

Glenson rolled his eyes and gestured to himself. I felt like slapping myself. Of course. People coming back from the dead would be one of the first, and indeed, milder things that would be expected to happen.

“Alright, so what do we do?” I asked. “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Glenson said, turning back to my study and continuing his dismembering of it. “I think…yes, I think we might have brought it back from one of our trips.”

Now I rolled my eyes at him. We had been on a thousand excursions and brought back many artifacts, some of which were in my study. Others were in the vaults at the University, and in others’ homes, and some of the most powerful pieces were held in secret places known only to a few.

“Aha!” Glenson exclaimed, holding something aloft.

It was a small carved piece, from some ancient society that was no longer with us, a man with two faces and no features, and four arms with no hands. I speculated it was from some board game, but Glenson was looking at it as though it were much more.

“What is that?” I asked, reaching out for it.

He snatched it back, cradling it in his hands, shaking his head. The strange light in his eyes flared up again, making me cold inside. I knew then that it might look like Glenson, but it was no longer completely my friend. I withdrew my hand and waited for him to explain.

“I cannot tell you accurately what it is like to travel the deep, dark rivers between here and the Underealm. The Ferrymen are silent, and their eyes…” he shuddered. “I was on my way to the Underealm when the Ferryman disappeared. The creature that replaced him was unthinkable, unimaginable, not seen above ground. It told me that the Homestones were gone, and that if I did not put them back, then everything goes poof.” His hands came together illustrating the world collapsing in on itself.

“How did you get out?” I wondered.

“I dove into the water,” he said, as if that were something similar to going out for tea. “And swam upstream.”

He smiled a haunted smile in response to the expression on my face. He was always so dedicated, so headstrong, so certain of what he was doing. I was suddenly struck by the thought that there was a reason Glenson had been the one to die that day, some strange cosmic logic too big for mortal minds to fully understand. I shook off the feeling.

“So what do we do with that?” I nodded at the figurine.

“I don’t know,” Glenson said, turning it over and over in his hands. “I think we have to find them all, and put them together, and then something will happen.”

There was that cosmic logic, I thought, but what else did we have to go on?

“I’ll get the others,” I said, making to grab my coat and my bag.

Glenson shook his head. “No. There can only be two. You, from the Upperland, and me, from Underealm. Perfect balance.” He smiled sadly. “We are the last Homestone, holding the world together and apart.”

The responsibility hung heavily in my chest, and I didn’t like it one bit. It made me feel very alone and inexplicably doomed because of Fate’s terrible sense of irony. I imagined the ground tipping under me, sending everything into chaos and darkness.

“Let’s get this over with,” I told Glenson. “I’d like the world to go on for a little while longer.”

_______________________________________

Hope you enjoyed that! We’d love to write you a story, so head over to StoriesMyFriendsStarted.com, and submit a sentence for us!

❤ DragonBeck

Magic Mirror

Forward

This is a collection of four related Stories My Friends Started, written by yours truly. They appear in the same order they were written and published. If you would like to have a part in this ongoing endeavor of literary awesomeness, please go to the website and leave us a sentence from which to start a story, or tweet it @StartedStories, or send it in smoke signals. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy!

– DragonBeck

Magic Mirror

(or “The Master of Mirrors”)

Upon looking at my reflection in the mirror, I could not help but notice the child in the corner eating ice cream… yet to my shock, the child was me when I was 5 years old..

Katerin looked down at the notes from the interview and shivered. Most people would say the old woman was delusional, out of her mind, but most people hadn’t been there, in the room, interviewing her. Katerin had been, and she wasn’t so sure. Something in the woman’s white eyes and the expression on her wrinkled face told Katerin that the woman, at least, believed what she was saying to the core.

Katerin continued to read the shorthand written in her own large, loopy handwriting.

You understand I was almost fifteen at this time, but the identity of the child was unmistakable. I was sure this was the magic mirror that the people with no faces had been telling my father about. Here it was, hidden in plain view, but only one with the Sight would be able to see it for what it truly was.

Katerin knew about the Sight. Although the Order had tried to stamp it out, the ability kept popping up, and now people were smart enough to keep their mouths shut about it. This meant the old woman, who had wished to remain nameless, had the Sight. It didn’t matter; she was dying and she had no family, so even if the Order came for her, there was little they could do, for she had no descendants that could be harassed to worry about. But the implications of her story were very dangerous. So dangerous I might have to put them in the box, Katerin realized.

Pushing the thoughts from her mind, she brushed a strand of red hair out of her eyes and continued reading.

I was young and foolish at the time, so I thought of course I could take on the dangerous men who had smuggled it in to the small mountain town where I grew up. I thought I could use the mirror against them, to protect my father who I thought was in great danger, into something that he would drown in. How stupid of me. How arrogant. How lucky I did not lose my life.

Here the woman had paused, her fingers moving in front of her, painting an invisible picture of that place and that day in her childhood. Katerin remained silent, letting her gather her thoughts and memories. When the woman started to speak again, her voice had the breathless wonder of a child recounting the sight of a far-off dragon.

I broke into the ice cream parlor later that day, after it was closed, and tried to take the mirror. It was too heavy for a girl to carry, and though I managed to get it off the wall, it fell on me. I doubt it would have survived the fall, despite the cushion my body would have provided, but there was someone else in the shop with me! He was very tall, and thin, and had glowing red eyes…

Katerin imagined the terror the young girl must have felt at the sight of that. She knew she would have been terrified. The scribe pulled her thoughts back to the present, and her pen flew across the paper, capturing the old woman’s words in shorthand.

I thought for sure I was going to die, right then and there. This beastly creature was going to rip my still-beating heart right out of my chest. But he didn’t. After catching the mirror and leaning it safely against the wall, he offered a hand to help me up. I thought he was some kind of devil or demon. Turns out I wasn’t far wrong. Thankfully, I was even wronger about his intentions.

His name was Gehlen, and he was one of the men my father was speaking too.

At this point in the interview, Katerin had asked if the woman’s father had the Sight. The woman hadn’t known, her father had never told her anything about it. The nameless woman hadn’t even known she had the Sight until Gehlen explained what it was. The woman – then a young girl – had been thrilled and terrified to know her own eyes glowed red to his eyes, just as his did to hers.

But only in the presence of the mirror, the tall man told me. The mirror was special, in a way that no mortal man could understand. The Order, just in its formative stages back then, would do anything, including kill, to possess it, in order to manipulate its power to the Order’s ends.

The mirror must be kept safe, for the good of all. Gehlen was to take it onto a boat, bound for the Hinterland. I agreed to watch the street so he could take it out the back without being seen.

After that night, I never saw or heard from Gehlen again. I don’t know what happened to the mirror. I don’t know if it made it onto the boat. I never saw it in the ice-cream parlor again, though I went there frequently to check. The woman had patted her ample stomach with an expression of regret and nostalgia.

Why did you call me now? Katerin wanted to know.

I just wanted the story to be told before I died, the woman had shrugged, her blind eyes wandering a bit as she spoke. Katerin had tried to see if they had a hint of red at all, but could see none.

Perhaps she was making it up, Katerin thought, looking down at the incredible record on ivory parchment curled over her knees, though a part of her did want to believe it. Even if it were true, Katerin thought with despair welling in her chest, what does it matter? The Order still reigns supreme in Merivia. I am only a single scribe, not even well-known. What could I possibly do with this story?

There was no other course of action. The red-headed scribe stood and went to the back of the study, where a curtain of purple velvet hung on the wall. Pulling it aside, Katerin counted bricks in the closed-up fireplace – the excuse for the tapestry was to hide the unsightly blemish on the wall – and pressed the right one. Before her, the wall opened up and she looked down at the old wooden box.

The box held all the stories that should never be repeated that Katerin had gathered over the years. Before she had become a scribe, she would never have thought a story shouldn’t be told, but the Order was very clear about what was acceptable in writing and what was not.

Katerin knelt and put the story in the box, and pushed it back into the hidden recess in the wall, drawing the curtain across the opening. One day, maybe, but for now, it’s best if that story, and that mirror stays out of sight and out of mind.

_________________________

The translation read: peel open to find the truth, but only when ready for the consequences.

Gehlen fiddled with the scrap of paper he had found tucked in the corner of the mirror frame. He had plucked it off before he shrank the mirror to a size it could be easily managed. The mirror now rested in his jacket pocket, the size of a post card. The message was a code, of course, written in a dialect of goblin that few people could read. It wouldn’t fool the Order, but it would confound them.

The tall, thin man took a moment to make sure he was alone. One couldn’t be too careful, not in these times. The tavern he was holed up in was old and passed over by the rich and timid for the newer ones along the Main Street. Only a red-headed dwarf shared the common room with Gehlen.

Gehlen was a wizard. His power was called the Sight, though why that was had been lost in the forgotten sands of time. He reached inside and drew on the warmth of the fire of magic burning in him and drew apart the piece of paper. As he did so, the words dissolved and formed an entirely new sentence, this time in the language of the shadow elves. It was even harder to decipher because the glyphs were written in a singular order and rearranged themselves after each reading.

First mate compromised, now his eyes see for Order.

The breath went out of Gehlen in a quiet sigh of almost-despair. So much was rallied against them, and the enemy grew stronger every day. At times, it seemed an impossible task to make it so the Order couldn’t just bring those with the Sight before the mirror and exterminate them one by one.

He waited for more, but there was none. The situation was so dire, he was left to his own devices. That way the orders couldn’t be intercepted. No one knew what he was going to do because even he didn’t know what he was going to do.

What am I going to do?

The First Mate had been contacted and agreed to aid a single fugitive to get out of Merivia fast. He was given no more details than that, but of course he would suspect with all the propaganda the Order was putting out, who wouldn’t? Whether the Order had paid him or tortured him, it made no difference to Gehlen.

They will be watching the boat, Gehlen knew. To try to get on would be suicide, not just for myself, but for our cause. I have to find another boat.

He reached down and felt the purse of coin he carried. It was not much. He had mostly silver, and only two or three pieces of gold. The gold would be risky – anyone paying with gold was to be reported. Perhaps he could be away before the Order came looking for him.

Well, Gehlen told himself in the most enthusiastic manner he could, I’m not doing anything useful by sitting here.

He stood, put a copper on the table for his drink, and left by the back door. Pedestrians were sparse on the streets, and Gehlen drew his cloak tighter and lowered his face so the few would not be able to get a clear look. He took a circuitous route to the wharf and waited in the shadow of a narrow alley to make sure no one was tailing him.

When he was convinced that he was indeed alone, the wizard stepped out to view the boats. A dozen skiffs of local fishermen were dotted here and there among their giant cousins. Three were incorporated merchant vessels. A passenger would be suspect on any of these, and a stowaway would be keel-hauled. Two ships not flying colors were at the far end, probably in for repair.

Then his blue eyes lit on the most likely option. A small ship, double-masted, flying independent colors. It was difficult to tell in the twilight, but Gehlen thought he could make out a dolphin and a trident over a slash of gold. It was probably one of the small countries south, that traded with Merivia. It didn’t take long for the wizard to make up his mind, but he still needed a plan to get on.

Something presented itself in the next moment, catching him off guard. A train of men carrying frames of cloth, fruit, and other valuables marched around the corner, towards the southern ship. With a glance, Gehlen counted fourteen men and assessed they were no more than manual laborers. Gathering his wits, he quickly threw together something that wasn’t completely suicidal.

Again, Gehlen reached towards the warmth of his Sight and used the magic to disguise his face and cloak him in the appearance of a dock-worker. He fell in behind the last man and took hold of the back corner of the frame. The man in front of him looked back when his load lightened, but his eyes only saw a sunburned man with a beard and a dull gaze.

Gehlen sweated as the supply master of the ship inspected the goods and marked them off on his ledger. The master wore a fine jacket with the insignia of the Order pinned in plain view. Gehlen thought he spent longer than was necessary examining the boxes of fine china on Gehlen’s frame. Twice the supply master’s eyes flicked to Gehlen’s face, but they registered nothing but mild contempt.

Gehlen plodded up the gangplank and set down the boxes. Quick as a flash, he slipped behind before anyone noticed. While they were buys unloading the freight, he snuck down to the hold and hid behind the barrels of fresh water for the voyage.

If he was caught, he wasn’t sure he would be able to talk his way out of it, and the penalty for stowing away was harsh. He changed his hold on his Sight, his false face melting away to the sheen of general invisibility. One step at a time, he told himself. One step at a time, and at last we will reach the end of the journey.

___

The storm tossed and threw the ship about the sea.

Perhaps, Gehlen thought as his stomach threatened to come up through his mouth once more, all our troubles will be solved by this mirror being swallowed and taken to the depths.

The horrible weather had beset them three days ago and hadn’t stopped. Nor did it show signs of letting up, much to Gehlen’s dismay. He was regretting his spur-of-the-moment decision to stow away more every minute.

In the week aboard the ship, the wizard had learned it was called My Sweet Susanne, after the captain’s wife, and it was homebound for Blackmeer, a small province which was mostly desert, carrying a load of luxuries for Lord Hamington, the ruler of the land. Gehlen didn’t remember exactly how far it was to Blackmeer, but it couldn’t be close enough.

The ship shuddered once more, and then it fell still. Gehlen waited for the next heave, but it didn’t come. It was as if a giant hand had scooped the ship out of the raging sea and held it unmoving. A tingle in the wizard’s fingertips told him there was something unnatural about the calm. Shouts came from above-decks, as the superstitious sailors began to panic.

The wail of an unearthly music silenced the sailors, and Gehlen strained his ears to hear what was happening over the ethereal notes. He shrank back from the beam of light that pierced the dimness when the hold was thrown open and ungraceful steps thudded down. They made straight for Gehlen’s hiding place behind the barrels, and the wizard had no time to move before the craggy face of the first mate appeared over the barrels.

The mate’s eyes roved the shadows, and Gehlen was reassured that his cloak of invisibility was in full force.

“Mr. Gehlen?” the first mate asked in a voice like waves breaking on the shore. “Mr. Gehlen, I know you’re there. Show yourself.”

Gehlen waited, pressed against the wooden slats, holding his breath, trying to figure out how the mate could know he was there.

“Mr. Gehlen, there’s someone out there who wants to talk to you. I think you’d better come out.”

The first mate turned and started for the ladder. Gehlen waited until he had disappeared, then the wizard followed, but kept his invisibility about him. He blinked in the light his eyes were not used to. The sailors were gathered at the stern in a tight group. The captain, a tall, dark haired man with a ponytail and tattooed arms, stood at the fore, peering over the side. The deck was steady under Gehlen’s feet as he walked over.

After a moment’s thought, the wizard waited before brushing away the glamour of invisibility – the sailors were scared enough as it was without a strange man appearing out of thin air. A voice of the music of rushing water floated up and greeted him before he could be seen.

“Gehlen, I have a message from the queen.”

The sailors turned just in time to see Gehlen appear out of thin air, and their faces went even whiter. He sighed, put his chin up, and stepped forward, leaning on the gunwales. Hovering on a fountain of silvery water, a glorious creature with a sapphire blue fish-tail and long tresses to match watched Gehlen with piercing green eyes. She was as beautiful as any of her sisters, but Gehlen couldn’t tell her apart from them. He nodded with great respect.

“My lady,” he greeted her. “How did you know I was here?”

“The sea tells us many things,” the mermaid inclined her head. “But we do not have much time. My queen wishes me to tell you that in the end, all your efforts will come to naught.”

Gehlen’s fingers tightened on the wooden beam, but when he spoke, his voice was even. “How can she know that?”

“You do not possess the only mirror that makes clear the past, present, and future,” the fae creature told him. “She did not see all, but she did see that you will fail. The Order will reign supreme before winter turns.”

“Then there is no hope,” Gehlen said.

The mermaid shook her head. “There is always hope. The darkness of the Order will birth a light, many years from now. This light will be the end of the Order. We must prepare for that time.”

“What is this light?” Gehlen demanded, his voice urgent. “Why can we not kindle it now?”

“It is not a what, but a who,” the mermaid told him. “A girl with hair the color of flame will come for the mirror.”

Gehlen nodded. Prophesy was a rare skill, but the queen of the merfolk would have a strong Sight, strong enough to pierce the shrouds veiling the future from common knowledge. It would do no good to argue with her.

“What should I do?” he asked.

“You must hide the mirror, as you planned. In the land of Half-men, there is a man at a tavern called the Magic Mug. He will help you. Give him this.”

She held out a pearly shell on a thin golden chain. It was warm in Gehlen’s palm. He put it in the same pocket that held the miniature mirror, then glanced at the captain of the ship, who stood watching the exchange with uneasy eyes.

“And what of these men?” Gehlen said. “The land you speak of – the land of the Half-men – is a week west. It will double the time to Blackmeer.”

“We will help you, the wind and the waves will carry you swift and true,” the mermaid said, and glanced at the captain and his sailors with a sly smile. “I am sure they will not mind aiding you in this.”

The captain gave a begrudging shake of his head. Though his eyes were stormy, he would not cross the powerful denizens of the deep with the power to control the elements that most affected his life. Gehlen nodded his thanks to the man.

“Do not despair, Gehlen,” the mermaid told him as she sank back into the water. “Though the sky grows dark and the storm looms and thunder crashes, on the other side of the horizon waits a glorious dawn.”

Gehlen lifted his hand in farewell, her words reverberating in his ears. He doubted he would live to see this light she spoke of, but he would do all he could to make sure the mirror would be waiting for the girl with hair the color of flame.

________________________________

The mug never empties; the thirst never ends.

The inscription under the name of the inn – The Magic Mug – was a bit creepy, but as another peal of thunder shook in his ribs, Gehlen realized no matter how bad it was inside, outside would soon be worse, so he pushed open the door and stepped inside. Besides, where else was he going to go?

After the mermaid had delivered her message, the sea had cooperated, speeding My Sweet Susanne to her destination. The land of the Half-men was called Urlin by men, and its inhabitants called dwarves. Harsh and rugged, only the hardiest adventurers and seekers of fortune braved the stone giants of Urlin. I’ll have to write a book about my travels one day, so the world knows the truth of what happened, Gehlen thought. Under the shadow of the Order, who knows what will change?

Gehlen shrugged his jacket farther up to shield his face, though what good that would do, he didn’t know. He was at least twice as tall as every other person and stood out like a sore thumb. Trying not to draw even more attention than he already was, he made his way to the bar.

“I’m looking for a man named Despin,” he said to the barman.

The short, bearded man gave him a surly glare from under heavy brows. “Do I look like an address book?”

Gehlen fumbled with his money sack and pulled out a gold piece. This far south, the Order was only a whisper of a shadow, and Gehlen could spend freely without fear that he would be traced. The downside to that was the dwarves’ avarice was not curbed, and Gehlen suspected his purse would be empty before too long.

The barman took the coin, and it softened the sullen fix of his face. “Despin hasn’t been by for a few weeks. Don’t know what happened to him.”

“Did he leave a message? Some way to get in contact with him?” Gehlen asked.

The barman barked a laugh. “You don’t know old Despin that well, do you? He wouldn’t want anyone to ‘get in contact with him,’ so no, he didn’t leave a message.”

“Oh. Thank you,” Gehlen nodded.

His mind was already making plans to overcome this dead end, figured the next logical step, and he wasn’t really paying attention as he made his way to the door. He ran into a figure in a dark cloak, and the two tangled and fell into a table. Gehlen crashed into a chair, bruising his leg and shoulder, and his elbow smashed into the hard ground, sending hot and cold spikes shooting up and down his arm.

The other person leaped up, apparently no worse for wear, and offered a pale, long-fingered hand to help Gehlen up. The wizard grasped the hand and felt himself lifted from the ground as if he weighed no more than a feather. He blinked when he saw the person stood head and shoulders above him.

Gehlen stared into dark eyes twinkling at him from under the large cowl. “Penny for your thoughts,” the stranger said in a gravely voice. “Hope they were worth the tumble.”

Then he moved on to the bar. The barman looked up and blinked in surprise. They spoke in voices too soft for Gehlen to hear, but the conversation was short, and as soon as it was finished, the tall stranger made his way back to where Gehlen was still standing.

“Mordu tells me you were looking for me,” the stranger said.

“You’re Despin?” Gehlen said.

The man gave a dramatic bow at the waist, his cloak billowing out. “I am he. What can I do for you?”

“I have something for you,” Gehlen said and brought out the small, pearlescent shell the mermaid had given him.

It swung on a fine gold chain, the motion mesmerizing. Despin snatched it out of Gehlen’s hand and stuffed it under his cloak.

“What are you doing, waving that about in here?” the tall man muttered with a glare.

“I’m sorry,” Gehlen said. “I didn’t know–”

“You didn’t know what?” Despin interuppted, his scowl deepening. “That this is a very old, very delicate, very powerful little trinket? That if it comes into contact with just a drop of water, or the merest puff of steam, it will go off and nothing will be left standing for league in every direction? That around these parts, something like this is worth more than your life?”

“No, I didn’t,” Gehlen said in a small voice, realizing that just as he thought he knew what he was doing and the scope of it, he would inevitably learn, as he had a dozen times before, that he was in a much bigger part of the world than he had ever been before, and what he thought he knew, perhaps he didn’t.

“You don’t know much, do you?” Despin said, his exasperation tempered by easy smile. “Well, come with me then, and we can discuss what you’re doing with this, and why you’re looking for me.”

The man took Gehlen to another tavern of sorts, but instead to taking a table in the common, he led Gehlen up seven sets of stairs to the top floor. Gehlen was sure the building looked shorter from the outside. The room was round and cluttered, giving it a homey feel with a flavor of eccentricity.

Despin indicated a chair with a wave of his hand and busied himself at the bench. When he turned around, he held a tray of mugs, steaming coffee in a kettle, and a plate piled so high with cakes it was in danger of toppling. After the hot drink was poured, Despin peered at Gehlen over the rim of his cup.

“Tell me everything.”

Gehlen did, starting with the discovery of the mirror in the abandoned underground keep of Stormgrim, the plan to take it to the Hinterlands, taking it through Merivia to the sea, stowing away on the boat, and his trek though Urlin. “And then I ended up in The Magic Mug.”

Despin nodded, as if Gehlen had made a particularly astute commentary about the weather, and finished his coffee in one sip. “Where is this Mirror?”

Gehlen pulled out the shrunken mirror, cradling it in the palm of his hand, and Despin gazed at it from the corner of his eye – now twin ruby lights peering from his face – as he spent several moments choosing between the chocolate creme, the strawberry custard, or the coconut puff. Without being told to, Gehlen called the Sight forth, and warmth bloomed in his fingers, allowing the mirror to grow to its proper size. When he glimpsed his reflection, his eyes stood out, also blood red and glowing.

“I see you have gained a measure of skill,” Despin told Gehlen with a nod of respect and finally settled on the chocolate creme.

“Yes, but it’s not enough,” Gehlen said, frustration creeping into his words. “I cannot truly control the mirror, or stop the Order, nor find this light the merqueen spoke of.”

“What you need is a Master of Mirrors.”

Gehlen’s skin tingled just hearing the words. “What is that?”

“What does it sound like?” Despin gave him one of his condescending yet strangely understanding looks. “A person who has mastered the true power of a magic mirror.”

“Which is?”

Despin’s eyes glazed over when he gazed inwards, making them look more pink than true red. “Mirrors are funny things. They have no power on their own; they only reflect what they find. This makes them fickle, and the use of them is a fine art, something that must be learned but cannot be taught, that must be real, but cannot be touched.”

Gehlen leaned in closer, hanging on the silence, but the other man had nothing more to say. He finished his pastry and licked the crumbs from his fingers, brooding for a moment more before banishing the dark thoughts that haunted him. He prompted Gehlen with a smile. “Any other questions?”

“How can I find a Master of Mirrors?” Gehlen asked.

Despin’s smile widened, a sly twist making him older and a little more sinister, and his answer sent shivers running over Gehlen’s skin.

“You already have.”

Real Magic – A Stories My Friends Started

For anyone who’s not familiar with Stories My Friends Started, the concept is simple: a person gives us a single sentence, and one of the Ink Slingers writes a story beginning with that sentence*.

I’ve been doing this for about three years now, and I’m going to share some of my favorites with you now and then. This is a story about writers and real magic, hence, why it’s one of my favorites 😉

For Kayle Hayle, who may have been joking when she gave me this. I hope you like it!

“I hate pie,” said Billy. Joey said, “Do you mean pie as in cake or pi as in math?” Billy said, “That’s up to your imagination.” The end.

“That’s very clever,” Sarah’s mother said after Sarah fell silent. “Did you write that?”

“Yes,” Sarah said, looking down at the lined paper covered with her neat script. She had even drawn a little picture of a steaming pie in the corner. “I got an A+.”

“That’s wonderful,” her mother said. “But you don’t look very happy.”

“It’s a good story,” Sarah said. “But it’s not what I want to write about.”

“I see.” Her mother was quiet for a moment. “Well, what would you like to write about?”

Sarah smiled and it brought a sparkle to her whole face. “I want to write about wizards and heroes and princesses. I want to write about adventures. I want to write about dragons and castles and enchanted forests and duels and spells and…” she paused to catch her breath. “I want to write about magic.”

“Why don’t you write about that then?” her mother said, as if it were very simple.

“Because there’s no such thing,” Sarah said sadly. “It’s only in books and in people’s imaginations. And I’m supposed to write what I know.”

Sarah’s mother frowned and put down the dish she was drying. “Who told you that?”

“No one. Everyone knows it.”

“I don’t know any of it,” Sarah’s mother said.

“But have you ever seen any magic? I haven’t.”

“You don’t have to have seen something to know it. You can know something here.” Her mother tapped her head. “But you can also know something here.” She put her hand over her heart.

Sarah was still put out. It wasn’t that simple, not in this land of homework, new cars, trash cans, plastic bags, electricity lines, bubblegum under the cafeteria tables, holes in her shoes, the leaky tap in the bathroom, and Brussels sprouts for dinner.

Sarah’s mother smiled at her. “Come with me.”

Sarah took her mother’s hand and allowed herself to be led out to the garden.

“What do you see?” her mother asked.

The late afternoon sun shone down, warming and giving everything a pale halo. Two great oaks stood in silent guard. Rows of yellow flowers bobbed beside the fence. Garden gnomes in bright yellow hats and pointed shoes peeked out from under bushes and shrubs. A path of flat stones wound in an out through the green and a small fountain chattered merrily.

“It’s the garden,” Sarah said warily.

“Do you remember how you used to play out here for hours?”

“I was three years old and wasn’t wearing any clothes,” Sarah said. “What does that have to do with writing stories?”

Sarah’s mother smiled. “You used to tell me about all your adventures. Can you tell me one now?”

Sarah frowned, trying to dredge up one of her play fantasies to humor her mother. Her eyes crept up into the boughs of the closest oak tree. She chewed on her lip, the first pale memories surfacing.

“There was a squirrel who made a nest up there. I called him Sir Bushy. That wasn’t his real name, but he couldn’t tell me what his real name was because he’d forgotten what it was…” Sarah walked around the tree, looking up. “He would bury his acorns in the grass, but I always knew he was looking for buried treasure…the treasure that the evil gnome Shalmaldaron stole from his family when he cursed Sir Bushy with the form of a rodent!”

Sarah smiled, pulling the lower branches of a shrub away to reveal a gnome with his hands on his hips, a faded red cap on his head, and a roguish expression on his face.

“Shalmaldaron was after a powerful magic he could use to take over the whole world from the Neverending Sea to the Ancient Forests and the White Mountains. But all the people of the lands knew he was up to no good and thwarted him at every turn. Especially Sir Bushy, who knew where the magic was.”

Sarah skipped down the stone path to the second tree. Hanging from the lowest branch was a glass wind chime. It tinkled softly at her, turning in the gentle breeze. Fairies were glazed onto each tube.

“Trisellae, queen of the Fae and beloved of Sir Bushy was trying to find a way to undo the spell and set him to his right form. Shalmaldaron would send fierce storms her way and his minions roamed the land, causing trouble, uprooting the houses of little elves and scaring the baby animals of the forests…”

Walking to the fountain, Sarah dipped her hand in the clear water. “The merpeople had all but disappeared in these dark times. One brave merman stayed to help Trisellae, because she had saved his life once when the kraken came up and wrapped its poisoned tentacles around him. Shalmaldaron found out he was helping the fairies, though, and killed him by poisoning the water…”

Sarah turned to face her mother, the smile falling from her face. “But I made it all up! It’s not real magic, not really…”

“I thought it was real,” Sarah’s mother said.

Sarah looked around the garden. It had been real to her once, too. If she looked in just the right way, she could see the fairies flying around their tree and Trisellae watching over her people from the topmost branch, the sun turning her wings to diamonds. Above her, Sir Bushy donned his mail and helm, taking the great sword from his leafy castle. The gnomes slunk back from her gaze, hiding in the shadows where they were most powerful, and watching her with glittering black eyes.

“Okay,” Sarah said. “Okay, I can do that. I can believe it’s real.”

She took her mother’s hand and the two walked out of the garden, leaving the sleepy bushes and bright flowers to the timeless caress of the sun-warmed air. Sarah glanced back once when a bird squawked urgently, but it was only the wind in the shrubs that had startled it.

When the mother and daughter had turned the corner and disappeared from view, Shalmaldaron slowly stepped from under the shrub, pushing the red cap out of his eyes. A sly grin appeared on his face, then he turned and melted back to the shadows where he was most powerful.

______________________________________________________________

Hope you enjoyed that! We’d love to write you a story, so head over to StoriesMyFriendsStarted.com, and submit a sentence for us!

Dragonlore – A Stories My Friends Started

The ISG meeting was moved on a week, so in the interim, in place of writing exercises, here’s another one of my favorite Stories My Friends Started.

Anything with dragons is bound to catch my attention, and as Mr. Tolkien said, it simply isn’t an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons. 🙂

For Jenifer D’Elia Paquette. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting a dragon in here. As Erika would say, I heart your face.

“No,” her brother insisted, “Today it’s your turn to defeat the dragon.”

He did not mean a real dragon, of course. There hadn’t been a dragon sighted in the realm of Catania for a hundred years, only rumors and speculation. But the Greybeards remembered and uttered their warnings in gravely voices, so the villages trained their wizards to fight. Young Fina and Flor D’Elia were the only wizards in the village of Orado.

They stood together in the small clearing, singed tree stumps littering the grass, painted dragons nailed to treetops swaying in the breeze. Flor wore his old blue coat with the hood pulled up. Fina was in a sensible dress, suede boots muddy from the trek up to the practice grounds.

Fina shook her head, dark blonde hair flying over her shoulder. “I practiced all day yesterday. Look. I still have burns on my hand.”

Flor glanced at her scorched fingers and was put out. He brushed hair that was noticeably darker than it had been some days ago out of his eyes. “Right. I just don’t feel up to it today.”

He did look a little flushed and his eyes had an unusual glaze. A stab of worry pierced Fina. Since their parents had died in the fire, Flor was the only family she had and she wasn’t going to lose him as well. Which meant she had to take care of him. She put the back of her hand against his forehead.

“You’re burning up!”

Flor put his own hand up to his head. “It doesn’t…”

Fina gave a cry and snatched his hand, turning it over. The silvery sheen of scales went from the inside of his wrist to his palm and partway up his thumb.

“Flor! When did this start?” Fina asked.

He took his hand back and cradled it on his chest. “A little more than a week, I think.”

“And it has spread so far? We have to go to the Greybeards…”

“No!” Flor’s eyes were panicked. They were a brighter green than normal, the pupil more slitted. “No. I don’t think that is a good idea.”

“They’re the only ones who have any chance of helping you…”

“No one can help me. Please, Fin, don’t tell anyone.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Flor said. “Maybe it will go away.”

He sounded so hopeful, Fina wanted to believe it. Dragon Fever was not common but it didn’t “go away”. No matter what the Greybeards did, they had not managed to cure it. If it progressed too far…Fina didn’t want to think about that. She began to cry. Flor patted her arm and she threw her arms around his neck. Then she remembered what he had and drew back with a gasp.

“It’s not contagious,” Flor said.

“You don’t know that,” Fina sniffed.

“Why are all the cases isolated, never widespread?” Flor countered.

Fina started crying again. “Because they’re killed before it spreads.”

Just last winter in the neighboring village of Kreptin, a man caught the Dragon Fever. The scales crept up his arm to his neck before the Greybeards were called. Nothing they gave him slowed the spread. He was in so much pain his screams could be heard two valleys over. Before spring, they cut off his head and burned his body to prevent it from spreading. Even so, no one went to Kreptin until after the summer cooled.

“I’ll think of something,” her brother tried to reassure her.

“What? What will you think of that hasn’t already been thought of?”

“I have time,” Flor said. “A little, at least. I will have to hide, though, or everyone will panic.”

A crazy thought came to Fina, riding on his words. Five minutes ago, she would have scoffed at anyone who said something like that. But the more she thought about it, the more it seemed like the best thing to do.

“The Hermit,” Fina said. “You have to go to the Hermit.”

The Hermit was an ancient story, a half-human beast gone mad and deformed by the Fever. He hid in the mountains and would carry away bad children who did not listen to their parents.

“The Hermit is a myth. Besides, he cannot be found if he doesn’t want to be,” Flor said. “And what could he do anyway?”

“They say he had the Fever and he survived.”

“They also say he cut off his own leg,” Flor said. “That doesn’t sound appealing.”

“And dying does?” Fina said. “I don’t care if he doesn’t want to be found. I can find him. I will find him.”

They left the village quickly and quietly and journeyed into the wild. They camped under trees and in small caves when the mountain allowed. Fina was mentally scrambling, trying to think of a way to find the Hermit.

They went over ground twice, sometimes three times. Fina used her wizard power to see the unseen and track that which wished to remain hidden, to no avail. A week passed, then a month. As the days wore on, more and more of their time was spent finding food. Flor ate a lot and still complained of hunger. And he grew.

Fortunately, though the Fever started quickly in Flor’s case, it spread slowly. Now the silver scales crept past his shoulder and into his chest. His nails hardened into sharp black claws. His eyes flashed reptilian more often now, but Flor always returned.

They never did find the Hermit. The Hermit found them. He woke them with a rough shake, his eyes stormy. He leaned on a crutch, one leg gone at the knee.

“I have been following you for almost two weeks now,” he grumbled. “If I didn’t do something, you two would wander around here forever while you cleaned the forest out of all easy game.”

“We need help,” Fina said. “My brother is ill.”

“You don’t need help; he needs help,” the hermit said. “Come with me. Quickly, and do not speak.”

He took them along winding trails only he saw, narrow passes that were little more than cracks in the stone, behind a giant waterfall to his home. He lived in a dry cave with no furnishings save one stool and an old chest.

Flor stood, hunching in the cave. He had always been taller than Fina, but now he towered over her. His teeth were sharp when he smiled. “It smells like dragon.”

The Hermit grunted as he hobbled over to the hearth. It was large and filled with glowing coals. He stoked them into a blaze. Fina started to sweat. Flor didn’t appear to mind, and sat close to the flames.

“Though the Fever is gone, I still like the warmth,” the Hermit explained.

“So you did have Dragon Fever!” Fina exclaimed. “How did you cure it?”

“The Fever, it is not an illness that you can cure. It’s a transformation.”

“Into…?”

The Hermit raised an eyebrow. “What do you think?”

Flor and Fina looked at each other. “Dragon,” they mouthed to each other.

“What do we do?” Fina asked.

The Hermit indicated the cave and his missing leg.

“What if I didn’t want that?” Flor asked before Fina could say anything. “You say it’s not fatal…”

“The transformation isn’t. But you would be hunted down and killed,” the Hermit said. “Like the rest.”

“You mean…?” Fina couldn’t finish the question.

“The Dragons were our brothers and sisters,” the Hermit said. “They came from us, our own flesh and blood.”

It didn’t occur to Fina to question the fact; the words struck a chord of an ancient song sleeping inside her and the music resonated to the marrow of her bones. The Hermit spoke the truth. “We have to tell the Greybeards! They have to know…”

“My dear, sweet naive child. They already know.”

“But what about the potions? Why do they…kill them?” Fina asked.

“They try first to kill the victim quietly with poison. But hardly anything thing can kill a dragon. If the Fever is too advanced, the poison won’t work. So they have to do it by beheading.”

Fina stared at him, horrified. “Why?”

The Hermit shrugged. “They weren’t exactly forthcoming with reasons when I asked them. But it is an ancient hurt, I feel, one that has carried down through ages.”

“What happened?” Flor asked.

“In the beginning people, wizards and dragons lived in peace together. But the Greybeards were jealous of the power of the wizards and they feared the most powerful of wizards, those who eventually became dragons.

In an event lost to history and buried by the sands of time, the dragons were betrayed and outcast by the Greybeards. The people and the wizards followed their leaders, certain they would not be misled. The dragons attacked the people of Catania in retaliation for the injustices. And the dragon war has gone on ever since.”

“How does the transformation work?” Flor asked, scratching his shoulder-blade.

“The magic,” the hermit explained.

“Not possible,” Fina said automatically, earning an irritated look from the hermit.

“You shoot fire from your fingers. You have spells to deflect things that come towards you, like a dragon’s scales. Some wizards can even levitate, as a dragon can fly. What exactly is not possible?”

Fina had no answer for that. “Does that mean I’m going to become a dragon?”

The Hermit shook his head. “You have the magic, and your children will have it. But that doesn’t mean that you will become a dragon, just that you could. It doesn’t happen to everyone, obviously.”

Fina’s world was tumbling down, and she tried to find something, anything, to grasp onto that would make everything make sense again. Before she could do that, Flor started to cough with violent heaves. He put his hand over his mouth and it came away red. The Hermit gave him something to drink from a worn clay cup. Flor smiled drowsily and lay down beside the fire, almost in the coals.

“The Fever is too far gone,” the Hermit told Fina, drawing her away. “It has reached his organs. He has only two options: to allow the thing to run its full course or death by beheading. No other way will kill a dragon.”

Fina’s insides crawled around as if she were the one changing. “What will happen if he turns fully?

“That has not happened in a very long time,” the Hermit said. “Most of the Dragonlore has been forgotten.”

“Oh. Do you think it will it hurt?”

“Some muscle cramps, nausea, lethargy but very little pain. The transformation is gradual so the stress on the body is not too great.”

Fina was glad for that. An agonizing transformation was not something she would wish upon her brother, but she would never be able to sentence her brother to death. She would just have to find a way to deal with having a dragon for a brother.

“What will he be like when it is over?”

“He will always be your brother, Fina,” the Hermit said. “The magic changes the body, not the soul.”

“But his eyes, they turn Dragon and then Flor comes back.”

“Because the eyes are different does not mean the person looking out of them is not the one you know.” He paused. “Where is your family? Your parents? They must be worried about you.”

“Our parents died in a fire when we were young.”

“What happened?”

“The word Dragon was thrown around, though no one actually saw it. Flor was badly burned but the Greybeards put a poultice on. There’s no scar.”

The Hermit snorted. “The Greybeards are witch doctors with snake oil and rattles. Flor is a wizard; he healed himself.”

“He’s always been strong. After our parents died, we always leaned on each other, but I think Flor did it to make me feel better, to make me feel normal,” Fina said. “He never cried as a child, and he understood things before I explained them, sometimes he knew things even before I did.”

“He’ll be alright,” the Hermit said. “I will do my best to see to it, whatever happens.”

“Thank you. He likes you, you know,” Fina smiled. “He feels comfortable here. See the blond tint to his hair? His hair gets lighter when he feels safe. It was black when you found us, now it is almost white again.”

The Hermit started. “What?”

“It’s one of Flor’s oddities. He had very blond hair as a child. After the fire, it was dark, almost black. At times it lightened. Never as much as before, and then it would turn back, but…what?! What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. It’s just unusual. How is your Dragonlore?”

“Incomplete, evidently. Backwards, a lot of it,” Fina said. “Why?”

“Something…vague. About…shapeshifters, no… changelings! The Lore says something about changelings. ”

Fina didn’t particularly like the sound of that, but things could hardly get any worse. “What’s that?”

“Changelings are very powerful. Not just a dragon or a wizard, but either or both. At will. Maybe…” the Hermit trailed off, eyes pensive as he looked at the bulk of Flor sleeping by the fire.

“Flor is…is a…a changeling as well?” Fina asked, wondering how much more she was going to have to cope with today.

“I don’t know. What you said…the signs are there. We’ll have to wait until the Fever runs its course,” the Hermit said. “He can’t shift in the middle of it.”

“What do we do?”

“Flor will know. The Dragonlore resides within the dragons; a shadow of it resides within wizards. It’s the Lore that tells you I speak the truth. I have the Lore, but it’s faint now, after so many years. Flor…well, he’ll know. We just have to wait.”

Fina shivered despite the warmth from the fire. Flor slumbered, the flames licking his body yet not even his clothes burned. The Dragonlore whispered to Fina, telling her that all their lives were never going to be the same. And she had no choice but to believe it.

Inspiration – A Stories My Friends Started

For anyone who’s not familiar with Stories My Friends Started, the concept is simple: a person gives us a single sentence, and one of the Ink Slingers writes a story beginning with that sentence*.

I’ve been doing this for about three years now, and I’m going to share some of my favorites with you now and then.

This is a sentence I received from one of my best friends, and I really liked where this went. I hope you enjoy!

_______________________________________________________________

For Zhenya, one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life 🙂

I was sitting there looking at the best person I’ve ever met in my life.

Well, not exactly the best person, but it was the best person I could hope for right now. As I had the guards on my tail, and I had no way to get rid of the ruby necklace.

Harry looked down at the last line, mussed his already wild brown hair, and sighed. Setting his pen down, he took the piece of parchment and balled it up, tossing it over his shoulder in disgust.

This story is going nowhere, he thought miserably. How am I going to get my hero out of this one? He glanced around at the lumps of discarded paper littering his study. Preferably without spending a fortune I don’t have on reams of parchment.

He read back over the previous pages, pages he was tentatively considering not crumpling up and putting in the fire. Nathanial Dumond, the disgraced Duke of Northland, had gotten himself into a bit of a conundrum with a horde of goblins and some stolen goods in the third or fourth chapter of Harry’s latest attempt at a novel, and now Harry had no idea how to get Nathanial to the ship that was supposedly waiting for him at the port city of Albahedron, just over that mountain ridge with no name.

“If only there was some way…” Harry muttered to the empty room, rubbing his eyes. “Some way I could just make it all work out…”

“What if I told you there was?” a voice chirped right next to him.

Harry gave a startled yell and fell off his chair. Looking up from where he was now lying on the floor, he saw a small creature perched on the edge of his desk, feet dangling over the side. It was a muddy red color and had small, sharp horns, on which rested a glowing gold halo. Fluffy white wings protruded from its shoulders and it twirled something that looked like a trident in its hands. It smiled down at Harry, revealing sharp teeth.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” the thing told him.

Harry pushed himself off the floor and brushed the indignity from his clothes. “Yeah, that’s alright,” he said, trying to look anywhere else but at the creature. “What are you doing in my study?”

The creature gave a delighted beam. “Why, I heard your call for inspiration, and…” the creature spread its arms wide, “here I am!”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, hoping he looked polite and not horrified.

The creature frowned and it became a lot less friendly. “What, you didn’t think inspiration just came from the gentle thought of a benevolent god, or the silver ringing of magic bells, did you? Or maybe a cup of particularly fine coffee, is that it?” it said with a faint sneer. “Well, it’s not that easy, I can tell you.”

“You’ve, um, had lots of experience with it then?” Harry replied, pulling his chair upright and sitting down.

He noticed the creature was sitting on one of the pages of his story.

“Lots?” the creature barked. “It’s all I do all day, cater to whingeing, whining, pathetic…” it stopped suddenly, collected itself, and forced a smile back onto its face. “But that’s really beside the point.”

“And what is the point?” Harry wasn’t sure of the wisdom of asking this question, but he couldn’t see anything else that he could do.

“The point is, you called for help, and I came,” the creature smiled. “Now let’s see, what are you writing here?”

It looked down, and pulled the disorganized sheaf of papers from under its bottom. It read for a bit, then turned the papers the right way up with an apologetic smile. “Styles differ, you know, and I thought perhaps it was a new way of expressing yourself, with no apparent grammatical structure. I’ve seen worse.”

“Oh, well, that’s good, I suppose,” Harry said, watching the little imp read the words he had attempted to wrench from his heart and soul, the intangible ideas he had tried to give corporeal form to with ink and paper. And blood and sweat and tears, lots of tears, Harry thought, his mind started to wander just a bit, as was not unusual. A sharp cough brought him back into the real world.

“It’s got potential,” the creature announced.

“Really? You think so?” Harry said, greatly cheered.

“No, that just what I have to tell you all, or I would be out of a job,” the creature sighed. “But it’s not horrible. I didn’t want to scratch my eyeballs out and set my head on fire when I was reading it.”

“Do you feel that way often?” Harry asked, trying to be sympathetic.

“Of course. Every time I set my head on fire after reading some particularly bad piece of…” the thing nodded and waved its hand inarticulately at the instruments of Harry’s work.

“Oh,” Harry nodded, and carefully extracted the complimentary aspects out of the creatures words, namely that its head was not on fire at the moment. “So, um, what are you here for exactly?”

The creature huffed impatiently. “I think that should be rather obvious, really. Intervention! Incentive! Inspiration!” It didn’t seem impressed with Harry’s blank look. “I’m here to help you finish your story!”

“Oh!” Harry’s expression morphed into something like hope. “Really?”

“No, I’m a figment of your imagination,” the imp said with a scowl. “Yes, really.”

“Excellent!” Harry said, and then thought of the million caveats that would most definitely come with something appearing on his desk with this offer. “What’s the catch?”

“You mean what is the price for the service?” the imp sniffed. “Well, we have several different options we are able to provide our clients…”

It whipped out a black ledger and shoved some brochures at Harry. Harry looked down at them, and saw pictures of people showing off stacks of books, people rolling in gold, people writing with beatific faces in exotic locations with cocktails and gorgeous sunsets. He looked at the prices and paled.

“Do you have anything, um, cheaper?” he asked.

“Why?” the creature demanded.

“Well, these are a bit out of my budget,” Harry explained.

The imp peered at him with unveiled contempt, then snatched back the promotion. “Well, we have our starter package, but I can tell you, everyone who has tried it would recommend going for the higher-end options.”

“I think I’ll start with the starter,” Harry said. “What’s the price on that?”

“One hundred gold pieces,” the imp answered promptly.

“One hundred!” Harry gasped.

“Or,” it continued as if Harry had not spoken, “your soul for two years.”

Harry blinked. “That’s a bit…”

“A bit what?”

“Steep,” Harry said softly. “I sort of…need my…soul.”

“It’s just a lease,” the creature said. “We give it back when the contract is up. Besides, how do you know you need your soul? How do you know life isn’t better without it?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s fairly common knowledge,” Harry said, but the creature just stared at him, unimpressed.

Harry vacillated, acutely aware of the imp squinting at him with beady eyes. Harry looked down at the papers filled with his frantic handwriting now scattered even more haphazardly across his desk, and recalled the happy writer in the picture, showing off the dozen books with his name on them. He looked around his dingy, messy office, and thought of the serene writer on the beach with the brightly colored cocktail in hand. Then he thought of the writer lying on the mountain of gold.

“You know, I rather think my soul is worth more than fifty gold pieces a year,” he found himself saying.

“That’s what they all think,” the imp rolled its eyes. “Inflation and all that. Fine. I can cut you a deal. One year.”

“A month,” Harry said. “My soul is in mint condition.”

“Six months, final offer,” the creature countered.

“Okay,” Harry nodded.

“Sign here please.”

“Can I read it first?”

The creature stared at him in shock, then handed over the contract. Harry read it through carefully, his finger following the line of tiny legalese. It looked straightforward enough, one measure of inspiration to finish the novel, in exchange for one soul for the time of sixth months, at which point it would be returned, in a condition not unlike it had been deposited, etc., etc.

“Satisfied?” the creature gazed at him over crossed arms.

“What’s your refund policy?” Harry inquired.

The creature gave him an impatient look, which made Harry wilt. He took the pen it handed him and signed his name in shining red ink on the bottom of the contract. The creature snatched it back, rolled it up, and stuck it in the black ledger. Then it stood up, making ready to leave.

“Wait! What about the…” Harry indicated the papers splayed out on his desk.

“Right.” The creature looked at its trident with shining eyes, then leaped at Harry and stabbed him with it.

“Ow!” Harry shrieked, the sight of blood on his arm worse than the slight sting of pain. “What was tha…”

His vision was going blurry, and his body felt heavy.

“Sweet dreams,” he heard someone say from a long way off.

Then all was black.

When Harry opened his eyes again, he did not know where he was. It looked like he was in the mountains, but the nearest mountains from where he lived was two weeks’ travel north. In fact, Harry had never seen a mountain in his whole life. They were nothing like he imagined, much harder and stonier.

He groaned as he sat up and realized he was not alone. He also realized his hands were tied. Someone was watching him, hunched close to the ground, a sword lying across his knees. The person looked familiar, the piecing blue eyes and the dark hair, fine features, and the scar that ran down his cheek.

Nathanial Dumond, the disgraced Duke of Northland!

The person started. “How do you know my name?”

Harry didn’t realize he had spoken aloud. He opened his mouth to answer, then thought better of it.

“Where am I?” he asked instead, struggling against his bonds.

“More importantly, how did you get here?” the Duke asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted, giving up on the rope. “One moment I was in my study, the next, I woke up here.”

The Duke studied him for a long moment, then nodded. With a brisk motion, Nathanial stood and advanced on Harry, sword out. Harry closed his eyes, heart beating frantically, but the blade only cut through the bindings on his wrists. Harry sighed and opened his eyes. A horn blew, somewhere in the trees, and the Duke looked up that way, his face tense.

“Those would be the goblins,” Harry moaned to himself. Why oh why did I think stacking the odds so badly against him was a good idea?

“Those would be the goblins,” the Duke agreed. “And this is where we part ways.” He hefted a sack, which Harry knew contained some very old and powerful objects – objects which, Harry realized, the Duke had no idea what they were capable of – and began to make his way down the mountain. He rounded a boulder and disappeared from view, leaving Harry by himself on the mountainside.

This can’t be happening, Harry tried to convince himself. I must be dreaming.

Sweet dreams, the echo of an impish voice told him. Harry pinched his arm, hard enough to bruise, and gave a wounded yelp, though he had no one else to blame but himself for the pain. He definitely wasn’t dreaming. This was happening.

“How is this supposed to be inspirational?” he yelled at the sky. “I’m not going to be able to finish my novel if I die out here!”

The horn sounded, louder and closer this time. All of the sudden, Harry was rather less worried about Nathanial Dumond, the disgraced Duke of Northland, and more interested in how he was going to get himself out of this mess.

___________________________________________________________

If you enjoyed that, go on over to Storiesmyfriendsstarted.com and leave us a sentence to start a story!** The Ink Slingers would love to hear from you.

❤ DragonBeck

*Submitting a sentence doesn’t guarantee a story, but the sentence will be brought to the next ISG meeting, and if one of our authors can tackle it, you might see it posted here in the next few weeks.

**Also, for the lawyers, if you send a sentence, you understand you are giving up any rights to any stories that may be written with the sentence, and if it is chosen to be published in the book, you will be required to sign a release form before publication. Otherwise, you will simply be mentioned in the story post. Any questions, please ask!

 

Doing a Little Author Stuff…

representin

This past weekend, I went with Jen to represent Witching Hour Publishing and the intrepid Ink Slingers Guild at an art walk (thanks to Wordier Than Thou for putting this on!).

It was very nice to get out, meet some new people, and be around books and authors. As you can see, we had an impressive array of our own books on display and for sale:

5 Ink Slingers Annual Anthologies,  including the most recent – 2016’s Serenity Rising,

The Guardians (Gargoyles Den Book One) by Lisa Barry,

My Home on Whore Island by Dalia Lance,

Klauden’s Ring by J.M. Paquette,

The first three books in the Guardians of the Path fantasy series by Nicole DragonBeck (yours truly),

and Waitress: a Memoir by Angel Woolery.

It was a little chilly, but Jen had a handy-dandy blanket she lent me, and our own very personal delivery service brought us hot chocolate and cheese quesadillas (thanks Remi!). We even got a little plug in for Stories My Friends Started – one can never have too many of those!

All in all, it was quite fun! I hope to see you at some point out there in the great wide world – I’ll remember to bring my gold pen and sign a book for you!

❤ DragonBeck

 

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m a few days late (I had to think about it for a bit) but here are my resolutions for 2016.

1. Take over the world.
2. Smile a lot.
3. Drink lots of coffee.
4. Publish a novel.
GOTP_FirstMagyc_eBook_Final_Sm ria's mark
5. Get my ISG anthology story in by the deadline.
6. Write some Stories My Friends Started.
7. Maybe publish two novels.
8. Find and tame a dragon.
9. Travel the world a-dragonback.
10. Make magic.
11. Write, every day.
12. Read, when I get the chance.
13. Be awesome, always.
14. Spread the awesomeness.
15. Treat myself once in a while.
16. See Star Wars.
17. Try some new recipes.
18. Make new friends.
19. Eat good food.
20. and chocolate!
21. Do my part to help make the world a better place, before or after taking it over is fine.

So, I’ll be working on the above over this next year, and I’ll keep you updated on progress (or lack thereof). I hope everyone had goals and dreams they’re working towards, and I wish them the best in seeming them come to fruition this year.

I’m sure I’ll see you down the road somewhere 🙂

Peace and Love!

❤ DragonBeck

DragonBeck – 2015, a review

(I love this picture; it is tied for first place in my favorite photos of the year 2015.)

When one gets to the close of a year, a certain reflection on the past year is due. This is a look at 2015 (mostly in pictures).

It had been a busy year, and I’ve learned a lot about writing, editing and publishing books. I’ve been working diligently on my writing goals, using my cover as an author to achieve total world domination. I began my own dragon hoard of dragonish stuff, including my towel for when I go hitchhiking across the galaxy, pens, jewelry, cups, and bookends. I believe in this way I will preclude forgetting my name. I started blogging, and broke 100 followers on twitter (I’m hoping I look back on that statement some months or years from now and am able to laugh at how cute and naive I was when I was a young writer).

The biggest accomplishment came earlier in the year, when I released my first novel First Magyc and had an awesome party to celebrate (with color-coordinated decoration!!):

Decorations
(This is other photo tied for first place in the Greatest-DragonBeck-photo-of-2015 contest.)

I started reading at local events hosted by Wordier Than Thou, and commiserating about the nervous butterflies which accompany same with Alanna Cormier helped get over the pre-show jitters in a marvelous fashion:

ISG

Naturally there were many awesome ISG meetings, and yet I don’t think there could ever be enough of that particular brand of awesomeness:

ISG bw 02

Along the way I penned a few Stories My Friends Started, which was a lot of fun.

There was the book fair:

bookfair

and my short story “Blood Oath” published in the Ink Slingers Guild’s fourth annual anthology Bent Horizons:

antho

All in all, 2015 was a fantastic year; thank you to everyone who was a part of it. I am really very glad you were there to share it with me.

May the coming year bring abundant love and laughter, and as many good memories, good friends, and triumphs as there are stars in the sky, and a few dragons as well (the good kind) 😉

❤ DragonBeck