What Abides Within

Part Four

“Stop it!”  Eva clenched her fists as she faced Dyvolik.  “He wasn’t attacking you!”

The dozen cricket creatures still leaned toward her and Copper, their papery wings rustling.  Her companion’s struggle to breathe made him wheeze, and wisps of blue mist rippled around him, only to evaporate.

“Yes, he did.”  Dyvolik smirked as he unfolded his arms and held them out.  “He challenged my proposition.  That is an attack on my authority.”

“Authority?”  She glared at him.  “Is that how you plan on benefiting – that we’ll be so grateful to you for giving us a potion of magical ability that we’ll submit to your will?”

Dyvolik’s smirk darkened.  “Such a shame he corrupted you before I could complete my plans.  Oh well, if you don’t cooperate, I’ll find someone who will.”

She turned back to Copper and grasped his elbow, and tried to pull him farther from the creatures.  His hands were still pressed below his neck, and the light breeze she noticed when the assault began continued to ripple against her face.  His gaze rolled toward her, but she seemed as unable to move him as he was to move himself.

“You’re killing him!”

“Yes, that’s the punishment for defying me.”

Eva’s heart thumped against her chest as Copper’s face began turning a shade of crimson that palely reflected the hue of his vest.  She’d known this realigner for less than an hour, and still didn’t entirely trust him, but Dyvolik’s spell convinced her which of the two was more dangerous.

Copper had enlisted her aid, but what good was she in a duel of enchantments?  The potion Dyvolik dispersed last night was supposed to give her a hexer’s ability.  He’d claimed if she vividly imagined an outcome, it would happen.

But what could she do that would stop him?  The blue mist around Copper that kept fading must be evidence he was trying to change into – something less vulnerable to – being choked?  Should she try to help him breathe?

Except … it wasn’t choking.  The soft breeze brushed across her again, and she looked back at the trembling, monstrous crickets.  They were the ones affecting him.  It was as though they were pulling his very breath from his lungs.  But how?  They were only Dyvolik’s pawns.

Pawns….  Was Dyvolik, like Copper, limited to performing magic within a certain range?  Was it possible the greater variety of enchantments he performed didn’t include remoter influence?

Did he hex the crickets not only into gruesome creatures, but also as a relay to leapfrog the spell upon Copper?

She imagined the crickets turning back into miniscule insects.

Nothing changed.  Of course, Copper had already said those creatures were protected by a shield spell.  And even if they weren’t, was it possible the potion he convinced her to drink back in the shack had neutralized Dyvolik’s concoction of magical ability?  Eva glanced back at her companion, whose face was taking on a purple tinge.

Her clothes rustled, turning back into the skirt and blouse she’d donned earlier that morning.  The nearby piles of fruit resumed being sassafras trees, their branches more tattered than before.

If she correctly understood Dyvolik’s comment about punishment, it could well be her turn after he murdered Copper.


An eerie sensation seeped through Eva’s body.  Her quest to earn money that would help pay for her brother’s medical treatment had ultimately brought her here.  If Dyvolik’s plan succeeded, Jordan might lose all chance for recovery.

Even if she tried to flee, that wouldn’t help.  Dyvolik would only catch up and finish the job.  And if Copper died, she was as good as snuffed….

Her companion had promised he would see to Jordan’s care if anything happened to her.  And if anybody stood a chance against Dyvolik, it was Copper.

Eva’s eyes burned.  Would the potion she drank actually benefit her?  Copper said only it would offer some protection – and bring out qualities in her, whatever that meant.

If she wanted Jordan to be healed, there was only one thing she could do.

Her throat tightened as Eva faced the crickets and stepped directly in front of Copper.

Her gasp was like the time years ago when she fell from a tree and got the wind knocked out of her.  Like then, she was unable to draw in breath.  The breeze no longer brushed her, but seemed to flutter from her very being.

Dyvolik’s laugh was as welcome as fingernails scraping a chalkboard.  “Foolish girl!  You can’t stop a spell that way!”

And then warmth swelled from beneath her ribcage.  It burst from her like a lightning bolt, which would have made her gasp, but she was unable to utter anything.  The white beam crashed into the crickets, and even as a protest roared from Dyvolik, the bolt ricocheted into his chest.

The beam vanished.  In that instant, Eva audibly sucked in air as she sank to one knee.  The creatures disintegrated into scores of regular crickets.  And Dyvolik began screeching as he thrashed about, but his feet remained planted on the ground.

He pointed toward the scrambling crickets.  “This isn’t over!”

The insects whirled into the air as though caught up in a dust devil – and changed into sharp spikes.  Eva squeaked and twisted to one side, arms thrown up, as they hurled toward her. 

Blue mist spun past her, swirling like a small cyclone.  It collided with the spikes, and they were sucked into its vortex.  Then it careened toward Dyvolik and hurled the spikes toward him.

Their assailant shouted and held out his hands.  The spikes scattered around him as though they’d stuck an invisible dome, and the blue whirlwind plunged into the ground like a flock of pelicans diving into an ocean.

Dyvolik lowered his hands and glanced around, apparently missing Copper’s descent.  “Contrary realigner!”

Eva, still gasping for breath, staggered to her feet.

The whirlwind exploded from the ground underneath Dyvolik, enveloping him.  Through the streaking mist she could make out his silver robes whipping and twisting around him.  Was it her imagination, or were they twirling into ropes?

Dyvolik cursed as he struggled, which became more like twitching as the ropey robes bound around him like a spider’s thread restraining an entangled bug.  The whirlwind pulled to one side, and he tottered for a couple of seconds before dropping to the ground.

The swirling mist slowed and congealed, and Copper once again appeared as a young man.  He also staggered, and his dark hair was more disheveled than ever.  The blue coat hung askew from his shoulders and the matching trousers were twisted, like somebody had tried to pull them off.  Dirt stained his clothes and face.

Eva stumbled over to him.  Copper was breathing heavily, and she wasn’t sure if it was from lingering effects of his recent exertion, Dyvolik’s attack, or a combination of the two.

She managed to gasp, “Are you all right?”

He dipped his chin once.  “Squirmy dirty grubs!  Are you no worse for wear?”

“I … feel quite normal.”  She drew a deeper breath while adjusting the cloak pinned around her neck, and looked down at Dyvolik.  The robes were also coiled around his mouth, preventing speech.  “Is it over?”

“Mostly.”  Copper shuddered, a few wisps of mist appeared and vanished, and his clothing and hair got back into shape although there was still a smudge on his left cheek.  “I need to finish incarcerating him, but your role is complete.  And, may I say, you were absolutely brilliant.”

She stared at him.  “I didn’t really do anything … I just stepped in front of you, and … was what happened because of the potion you gave me?”

That familiar smile touched his lips.  “There’s a reason I needed somebody keen of mind and selfless of heart.  Your willingness to accept harm in order to save another gave the potion its potency.  Because your intention was directly opposite of Dyvolik’s, it neutralized his enchantments and rebounded some aspects upon him.”

“Even the shield spell?”


She frowned.  “But why didn’t you just use a potion like that on yourself?”

Dyvolik gave a muffled grunt, and Copper flicked an index finger.  The rope around his prisoner’s mouth tightened.

“Not while Mommy and Daddy are talking.”  Then his attention returned to her.  “The sacrifice had to be genuine, or it wouldn’t have had the power to break the enchantments, much less the shield spell.  My prior knowledge was a hindrance.”

She squinted at him.  “I had to not know how it would work in order for it to work?”

“That’s why I had to be vague about it extracting certain qualities from you.”  He smirked as he held up one hand and flexed the digits.  “There’s much more to magic than just wiggling fingers.”

“So … you counted on me to save you?”  She studied him.  “That seems like a big gamble.”

“Not me.  We’d just met.  But I could tell you’d do anything to help your brother.”  His grin broadened.  “And I had a backup plan in case I’d misjudged you.”

“So your promise to help Jordan if something happened to me was all part of your scheme?”

His smile softened.  “A promise I intended to keep, but not only because it maintained the strength of my enchantments.  Speaking of your brother….”  He tucked his thumbs into the lower pockets of the vest.  “Did you know that over a century ago, that shack we met in was the home of a miser?”

Eva frowned.  “How does that matter?”

“When he built it, he hid a chest of gold coins beneath a floorboard of the back room.”

She stared at him for a couple of seconds.  “You mean I can pry back a board to find it?”

“Unnecessary.  When I changed the shack back to its actual appearance after my promise to you, I left that floorboard out of place.  Consider it payment for your services.”

Her jaw dropped and heart fluttered.  “I … I don’t know how to thank you.  I don’t believe I can thank you enough.”

His smile broadened.  “You more than earned it.  I couldn’t have made this capture without you.”

“I’ll forever be grateful.  And … Copper?”

“Yes, Miss Eva?”

“It … turned out to be a pleasure meeting you.  Before today, I didn’t trust hexers.  Any of them.  At all.”

He nodded.  “Both our peoples are guilty of judging each other on the misbehavior of certain bad eggs.  Meeting you has been a delight for me as well.”  He bowed to her.  “And with your leave, I’ll take Dyvolik to his destination.”

He evaporated into a swirling blue mist that drifted down and around Dyvolik.  Eva stepped back as it thickened, lifting the prisoner atop it while he rolled face down.  The color shifted to bronze as the mist coalesced, and a palomino horse took form.  Dyvolik was draped across the steed’s back … and a smudge remained on Copper’s left jaw.

“Take care of yourself, Miss Eva, and may your brother heal quickly.”

“Thank you again.”

He took off at a canter, and she raised one hand in farewell as he traveled across the pasture and slipped into the woods near the top of the next hill.  Eva glanced down as she turned back toward the village, and spied a few crickets scrambling under leaves and into tufts of grass.

Of course … magic that defied truth was temporary.  The effects were lasting, but nothing could remain changed into something it wasn’t.  Her clothes and the sassafras trees had changed back when Copper was under duress, no longer manipulating their appearance.  A moved floorboard, however, was still a board.  It was merely in a different place.

The warmth from the sun above cut through the earlier chill, and Eva pushed back her cloak as she walked to the trail that would lead her back to the ramshackle cottage.


Here is my submission to this month’s #BlogBattle

The prompt word for this round is Extract.  This concludes the longer short story, and if you just now discovered it, you can check out Part One and Part Two and Part Three.  And be sure to catch all the other submissions!

Courting Trouble

Part Three

Dark gray crickets, as large as Eva’s hand, tumbled from the sky and bounced as they landed on rooftops and the cobblestone roadway of the nearby village.  Shouts and screams began merging with their clatter as more people discovered what had just happened.

Fewer of the insects had fallen beyond the edge of town, where she and Copper stood in front of the run-down shack, but all the crickets scrambled and hopped, making the ground seem to writhe.  One leaped on Eva’s arm, and with a strangled shriek she swatted it off.

Copper waved his hands above his head as he faced the town.  “Hey, garbage guts!”

The blue coat of her suit rustled again, and for a couple of seconds a green mist swirled around both her and Copper.  Nothing appeared different when Eva looked down, but a potent, sweet smell filled her nostrils.  Had he stuffed her pockets with fruit?

She looked back up to see the crickets were getting organized.  The mottled ocean now swelled in one direction, toward the two of them, and the nearest ones sprang upon them.

Eva gasped as she tried to swipe them off, but Copper grabbed her by the wrist, apparently ignoring the multiple crickets clinging to his coat.


He led her away from the village as they broke into a sprint.  Several strides in he released her as they raced down the pebble-strewn path that meandered away from town, crickets scrambling all around them.  Several leaped upon her and fell back off.  But her cloak jerked on her neck, feeling heavier and then lighter.  Some unlucky crickets crunched beneath their feet.

The clatter loomed behind them, but she dared not look back.  When Copper veered from the stony route they were following, Eva followed close on his heels.  Her lungs started aching and she hoped he had some sort of plan to stop this pursuit before they got dogpiled by hungry crickets.

They neared a grove of sassafras trees, new buds scattered on the branches, and he flung one arm toward them.

A red and yellow mist, sometimes blurring into orange in spots, swirled about the grove.  He grabbed her wrist again as they slowed from a sprint to a jog, and turned toward his latest realignment.  The green mist reappeared around their torsos.

“Why are we stopping?”  Eva gasped as she cringed and swatted at surging crickets.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

The mist about them drifted toward the trees, and the sea of crickets surged toward the grove.  The haze evaporated as piles of apples and grapes and peaches replaced the trees.

Despite her relief as the crickets swept toward their new target, his curt response annoyed her.

“I know your range of magic is limited,” she snapped.  “But couldn’t you have changed the trees into fruit before we stopped?”

“What’s the matter?”  The familiarity of his smirk actually soothed her slightly.  “Don’t like being live bait?”

“Not if it leaves me on the hook.”

“That’s a sharp retort.”  He grinned and pointed two fingers toward the crickets.  “I’ll change them back to normal size.”

But instead, his smile vanished and brow furrowed.  And with a pop he suddenly transformed into an enormous, golden eagle.

Copper lunged into the air, and Eva ducked as the gust of his wings swept against her.  She watched his rapid ascent and gasped upon spying what – or rather who – was above them.

The person soared upright like a kite, arms thrust down at sides and silver robes billowing.  Long, blond hair streamed in the wind.  Copper twisted nearly upside down, talons stretched toward the intruder.

A pale darkness, like the gray of twilight, burst from the newcomer.  It surged against Copper, striking the eagle back to the ground.

“No!” Eva shrieked as he crashed a couple of paces before her.  Some feathers floated around him as his assailant sailed over the chomping crickets and descended.

Eva sprang to Copper’s side even as he rolled over, and a blue mist swirled around him and the loose feathers.  The plumage vanished as he changed back into a young man, his hair more tousled.

“Are you hurt badly?”  She grasped his arm to help him up.

“Scattering slimy cockroaches!” he wheezed.  It was possible changing instantly into an eagle had been as taxing for him as being smacked down.  “No, not yet.”

A voice, lower than hers but far from Copper’s bass, rang across the damp meadow.  “That was a foolish attempt, realigner.”

The person who was supposed to be their quarry stood several paces beyond the swarming crickets – outside Copper’s sphere of influence – with arms folded over his chest.  Blond hair coiled about his shoulders, and his lips were as red as freshly pricked blood.  He appeared to be a little older than Eva.

Her companion staggered to his feet and brushed off his coat.  “Got your attention, didn’t I, Dyvolik?”

The instigator’s smile was more of a sneer.  “You did that by interfering with my agents.  And trying to impress the young lady with heroics won’t prevent her from accepting my gift.”

A slight chill rippled through Eva as she stared at him.  “What gift are you talking about?”

“The one I’ve given you and your people.”  Dyvolik unfolded his arms and raised his hands toward the sky.  “Didn’t you notice the green lightning last night?”

She glanced toward Copper, who frowned and muttered, “This can’t be good.”

“Yes.”  Eva returned her attention to the intruder.  “It was frightening.”

He lowered his hands as he shrugged.  “It’s nothing to be frightened about, as you can tell the others in your community.”  He glared at Copper.  “Although I’m sure this quester regaled you with breathless tales of how dangerous I am.”

“My respiration worked fine,” her companion quipped.

“He’s misinformed you.”  Dyvolik turned to one side and raised his chin.  “Although he believes his own delusion, he’s more guilty of crime than I am.  And we shall prove it by conducting an inquiry of his claims.”

He flicked his fingers toward the munching crickets.  They began writhing again, but this time lunged toward each other.  Eva could have sworn she heard squeals and groans as they became entangled with each other.

No, wait … they were melding together.  The undulating mass broke up into twelve separate mounds.  Each mound quivered as it grew taller and thinner.  And then twelve creatures with the heads of crickets, but two legs that were almost human, and four arms twitching on their torsos, lumbered toward her and Copper.

Eva cringed as she took a step back.  The beings were like monstrosities from a nightmare.

Copper’s calmness offered little condolence.  “I don’t call that a jury of my peers.”

“Objection overruled.”  Dyvolik sneered again.

Eva stepped back again as Copper, limping slightly, placed himself between her and the approaching abominations.  At least the creatures stopped about five paces away.  He pointed two fingers at them, and a gray mist began to swirl around the throng, but then evaporated after a couple of seconds.

“Shield spell,” he grumbled.

The abominations stood, grouped together, and seemed to stare at her and Copper.

Dyvolik folded his arms.  “Now, young miss, we can set you straight about recent events.  In spite of that realigner’s claims, I’ve entered your realm in order to give you and your people an ability that will allow you to flourish.”

Eva frowned.  “By frightening us with lightning and attacking us with oversize crickets?”

“You misunderstood what you saw.  The lightning was green because I used the storm’s winds to disperse a potion over your community.  That’s what affected the color you saw.”

A tremor pulsed through her as she gaped at him.  “You poisoned us?”

“Not at all.  I improved you.  Humans, having no innate magical ability, have to resort to potions when defending yourselves from aggressive arcane beings.  But you never discovered a potion like this one.  I gave you the ability to tap into enchantments.”

Her attention shot to Copper, who glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.  Had he known that when he convinced her to drink a potion before the crickets descended?  What did he not tell her about it?

The creatures continued staring.

Dyvolik had to speak the truth for his magic to work effectively, but his explanation still didn’t make sense.  “Why would you give us an advantage?”

He wagged a finger at her.  “Assistance, not advantage.  The crickets have hearty appetites, but they’re no direct threat.  I scattered them upon the village to help you learn your new abilities.  People who imagined or wished creative ways to dispose of them would’ve seen those impulses realized.  They’d learn they could execute magic.”

She glanced at Copper again, who shrugged, and then folded his arms and addressed Dyvolik.  “At which point you’d make an appearance and tell them of the wonderful thing you did?”

Dyvolik flicked one hand up.  “After they realize I’ve made them equal to our people, they’ll be able to live in safety and strength by fighting magic with magic.”

“Useful idiots.”  Copper glanced toward her.  “He intends to pit our peoples against each other.”

“Incorrect.”  Dyvolik tilted his head.  “Humans can finally seek the justice they’ve been so long denied.”

She studied Copper, and he met her gaze.  Until today she’d never really met a hexer.  A couple of times her family had to apply potions to the house and outbuildings because the goats were discovered trashing the kitchen in the middle of the night, and the chickens laid empty eggs.

But those were inconveniences compared to stories she’d heard about travelers who wandered too far into the wilds.  Some never returned, and those that did expressed tales of narrow escape from vicious hexers that attacked with enchantments.

Relying on magic instead of potions did sound more efficient.  And … was it possible it could help heal her brother’s illness?  What other opportunities might lurk within this ability?

“For how long?”  Eva asked.  “Potions always wear off after a while.”

“It would have to be reapplied daily.  But what I gave you last night is only the beginning.  There are many other potions you’ve yet to discover.”

“Like what?”  Her heart fluttered.  “Could any of them heal sickness?”

Copper’s brow furrowed.

“Whatever your heart desires.”  But then Dyvolik sneered at her companion.  “Although this realigner would prefer you remain at the mercy of arcane beings.  Don’t believe his version of the truth just because he got to you before I did.”

The right side of Copper’s mouth curled.  “Ask him how he benefits from giving you this gift.”

“More importantly,” Dyvolik interjected, “ask him how he benefits by denying you my gift.”

Denying?  Had the potion he convinced her to drink neutralized Dyvolik’s potion?  Was that the spell he claimed it would protect her from?  When Copper explained it to her, it did seem at the time he left some information out.

“What about Jordan?” she asked Copper.  “Could magic help to heal my brother?”

“Enchantments and potions have something in common.  They–”

The creatures trembled, and their long, thin wings fluttered.  Eva felt a light breeze across her face as the enchanted crickets leaned forward and uttered one word, their voices creaking like someone stepped on a hapless frog.


It appeared the consequence of their so-called verdict was immediate.  Copper’s hands flew to his sternum and his mouth dropped open.  His chest heaved as he gasped, and wisps of blue mist appeared and disappeared around him.

Her attention shot to Dyvolik, who cast his sneering smile toward her.

“I told you he was breathless.”


Here is my submission for this round of #BlogBattle, and the word this month is Jury.  If you noticed this is Part Three and wonder how it all started, just go to Part One and Part Two.   Next month will be the (hopefully exciting) conclusion.

And be sure to catch the other contributions this month!

Believing the Unreal

Like most people you’ve probably had something unusual happen in your life now and then.  The other night I was bringing in the tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings from their afternoon introduction to the great outdoors.  I carried the first tray into the kitchen, set it under the grow light, and turned to head out for the second tray.

From the corner of my eye, through the window, I spied someone on the porch.  He appeared to be stepping toward the tray and in the process of bending down to pick it up.

“Huh,” I thought, “I didn’t hear Hubby go outside.”

So I opened the door, thinking I would make it easier for him to come in, but he wasn’t there.  I stepped out on the porch.  No Hubby, and the tray of plants was right where I’d left it.

Okay … that’s weird … what did I see?

A brief investigation into the topic of Shadow People (the first phenomenon I could think of off the top of my head that reflected this experience) helped me settle on one theory:  From the corner of my eye I saw some kind of movement, and my brain filled in the gaps by coming up with an image of Hubby getting the tray.

Now, I like a good ghost story as well as the next person, so part of me wants to argue against the rational explanation.

For instance, why would my mind conjure up Hubby getting the plants when that prospect never occurred to me?  It’s also typical that when we can’t see something clearly, our brain will usually fill in the gaps with something threatening – it would rather err on the side of danger in order to help keep us alive.

What strikes me most about this occurrence is the fact that for a few seconds, I believed something that wasn’t real.  When reality asserted itself, there could be a few ways I’d respond differently.

Instead of investigating a rational explanation, I could declare our place is haunted; or interrogate Hubby on how he accomplished bilocation; or accuse the dog of dressing like a man and gallivanting on our porch.

The alternatives do sound like interesting stories, and maybe I’ll use this experience someday in a future fictional work.  We’re a lot better off living in reality, but writing might be one constructive way to let our crazy out.  Don’t forget, reading does involve suspending your disbelief.

So what happened on my porch the other night?  Only the shadow knows….


Of Threats and Promises

Part Two

A chill seeped through Eva as she eyed the sagging door behind him.  “You’re a morpher!”

The smile melted into a grimace, and he muttered, “Fat hairy spiders!  I sure hope that was meant to be an insult.”

His reference helped to spur Eva’s realization she had misidentified him.  Morphers could only change their own appearance.  This presumed shopkeeper had also caused the dilapidated shack they stood in to look like a spruced-up cottage until a minute ago.  His magical influence was literally broader.

“No.”  Her voice became hoarse.  “It’s worse.  You’re a realigner.”

His countenance lightened again.  “Oh, good.  You had me worried for a minute.”

“What the blazes are you talking about?”  If she couldn’t flee, maybe she could outsmart him … somehow.  “And why did you decide to look younger now?”

“It all has to do with the job I’ve given you.”  He folded his arms and tilted his head.  “Or rather, I need a human partner to help me accost the miscellenarian.  And since we’re going to work together, I chose to look closer to your age.”

Eva stared at him.  “Help you do what?  I thought a miscellenarian was someone who wrote collections on various subjects.”

“In my realm, it’s someone who casts a collection of various spells instead of specializing in the enchantment he was born with.  The green lightning last night that spooked everybody in your community proves he’s a threat to both our realms, which is why I’ll need your assistance.  And naturally you’ll understand why I couldn’t ask for help up front.”

Naturally.  Humans and hexers didn’t mix well.  Too many people either feared or coveted the magical abilities of the arcane beings.  And too many hexers were willing to use those abilities against people.

“That doesn’t give you any right to kidnap me.”  She clenched her fists.

“I didn’t kidnap you.  I hired you.”  He shrugged.  “If you’ll remember, you wanted a job, Miss … ah ….”  There was something sheepish about his smirk.  “I don’t know your name.”

“That makes us even.”

“Oh, well, introductions would be in order, I suppose.  You can call me Copper.”

Of course he said you can call me.  Hexers notoriously never gave their real names to humans – something about it compromised their magical power.  Eva took a step to her right as she eyed the door behind him.

“I’ll call you something worse if you don’t let me go.”

“You won’t be able to help your sick brother if the miscellenarian devastates your world.”

Her throat tightened as her attention shot back to him.  “How do I know you’re not in league with him?”

“Because I’m not an idiot.”  He squinted.  “In fact, I’m what’s known as a quester.  In your realm that would be like a constable.  This miscellenarian is a theurgist that took on too many enchantments to increase his powers, which always leads to delusional tyranny.”

“Always?  Why haven’t I heard of this before?”

“Because it’s rare, and they don’t usually go as loopy as this loon.”  Copper folded his arms.  “Bringing both our worlds under his complete control is the maddest scheme I’ve confronted.  If he’d stayed in my realm, I could have dealt with him myself.  But because he dragged your realm into his plan, I need your help.”

Eva stared at the realigner.  His statement about how she wouldn’t be able to help her brother, Jordan, echoed in her mind.

“How could I be of any help?  Our only defense against your folk is potions, and I don’t have any with me.”

“Ah, that.”  His mouth twisted on one side.  “I have the potion you’ll need, but it doesn’t work like the others, because you’ll use it on yourself instead of on an object against him.”

A tremor rippled through her.  Potions and poisons weren’t so different from each other.  People never allowed such substances to even touch their skin because of the injuries it could cause, so potions were always applied to things like windows or tools.

“What hex are you trying to put on me?”

“It’s not a hex.”  His smile returned, but was subtle.  “I need someone who is selfless of heart and keen of wit.  This potion will bring out those qualities in you and give you some protection.”

Eva frowned.  “Protect me how?”

“That’s hard to explain without a common frame of reference.”  He reached beneath a panel of his blue coat and withdrew a round vial no longer than her index finger.  “But if you drink this, it will make you less vulnerable to a magical attack.”

Drink it?”  The container resembled a fat, copper coin, and for all she knew it could be a moldy tin cup realigned to appear as a vial.  “And besides, I never agreed to help you.”

He studied her face as he held out the bottle, and then drew a deep breath before speaking.

“Do you still want to help your brother?”

Her stomach clenched.  If Copper was telling the truth, then she had more to worry about than earning enough money to pay for Jordan’s medical treatment.  But could she really trust the realigner?

Eva focused on his face.  “You said you needed a human’s help because this miscreant also threatens my world, but you didn’t say why.”

His nod was slow and steady.  “He’s more familiar with his own realm than yours.  And I admit I don’t know everything about your community.  You’ll be the unanticipated element thwarting his plans, and a guide to me as well.”

Was that all?  His response rang as shallow, as though he was leaving out some information.  But she couldn’t deny that a hexer who was powerful enough to change the color of lightning could pose a greater threat than usual.

Copper straightened his arm and held the vial closer to her.  “Drink this, and you can help not only your brother but everybody else as well.”

She pursed her lips as she stared at it.

“After you,” she murmured.

Copper smirked.  “Little fuzzy caterpillars!  If I wanted to snuff you out, I’d have done so already with a method faster and more efficient than trying to slip poison to you.  Besides, you need the full dose, and this is formulated strictly for a human.”

“What about Jordan?”


“My brother.”  Her heart seemed to tremble against her chest.  “If something happens to me, our parents would be crushed by losing two of their children.”

“If our culprit attacks your world, many children could be lost.”

“But couldn’t you find somebody else?  Then I could return to my family, and help them … after whatever happens.  Aren’t your chances as good with somebody else as they are with me?”

He studied her for several seconds, and then drew a deep breath before speaking.  His bass voice was smooth and soft.

“Time is of the essence.  I might not find somebody else before he strikes.”  Copper inhaled again.  “But I’ll strike a bargain with you.  Help me with this quest, and if you’re … incapacitated … I’ll look after your brother’s care … assuming I survive.”

Eva frowned again.  “Why should I believe your offer?”

“Don’t forget, how well our natural ability works is dependent upon the words we use.  Even those with nefarious goals cannot tell an outright lie without compromising their skills.  They might bend the truth, they might omit parts of it, but lies neutralize the magic.”

He snapped the vial into the palm of his hand as his other arm swung out to one side.  The same low roar that rushed into her ears when the cabin changed surrounded Eva again.  For a couple of seconds green mist swirled around them.  It cleared to the sight of trailing, leafy vines, twisted together, replacing the beams, walls, and ceiling of the derelict cottage.

And before her, instead of a young man with dark, tousled hair, there stood a majestic ram with broad, curled horns and a coppery fleece.

“I give you my word.”  His voice was the same.  “If ill should befall you, I will do what I can to assist your family in trying to cure your brother.”

Despite their many ways to deceive, hexers did have their own limitations.  His display of magical adeptness had to be the offered proof that he would keep his promise.  And it would appear he was telling the truth….

She drew a deep breath before responding.  “All right, but I’m doing this for Jordan.”

The low roar and green mist swirled around her, and then young man Copper stood before her in a ramshackle shack again.

He held the vial out to her.  “That’s good enough.”

She had to extend her own arm to pluck the container from his grasp, and only then noticed her hand was trembling.  Eva pulled off the cap and sniffed the contents.  A whiff of moss or damp wood brushed her nose.

Might as well get this over with.

She dumped the liquid into her mouth and downed it with one swallow.  It was the consistency of very thin gravy, and the light mossy aroma now lingered in her mouth.  She closed her eyes as she grasped the vial and waited for what might happen next.

A warm tremor pulsed through her abdomen for a couple of seconds.  Was that a precursor to burning pain?  Instead, the sensation faded.  Even the flavor seemed to vanish.

She opened her eyes and looked at Copper, who was still smiling.  “That’s it?”

He nodded as he held out his hand.  “Now you’re halfway to being properly outfitted.”

“How do you mean?”  She returned the vial.

He snapped it back into his palm and flicked at her with his other hand.  “You can’t run around dressed like that.”

This time the mist was blue, but there was no roar as it swirled around her torso and legs.  Her clothes rustled against her skin, and Eva gasped as she clutched her cloak.  She looked down as the mist evaporated.

Instead of a blouse and shin-length skirt, she wore a blue suit with a red vest.  Except there was no cornflower in the vest pocket like Copper had, but blue lace adorned the cuffs and lapels.  Only her cloak, donned as protection against the chill of early spring, remained unchanged.  Even her shoes had been changed to supple boots.

He grinned as he folded his arms.  “That is a right smart look.”

“Why the change in clothes?”

“Because, Miss – I still don’t know your name.”

Since she appeared to be stuck with assisting him, she might as well cooperate.  “Eva.”

“Miss Eva, we must be swift of foot and free to maneuver.  Now before we get started –”

Thunder clattered overhead.  Clattered?  It sounded more like pebbles cascading to the floor than a weighty rumble.  Her heart fluttered as she looked at the bowed ceiling, half expecting to see a cavalcade of stones burst through and upon them.

“Great bounding crickets!”  Copper frowned as he glanced toward the door.  “Our time’s grown even shorter.”  He grabbed her upper arm, and she was too startled to resist as he pulled her toward the entrance.  “I’ll explain on the way!”

Eva gasped as they burst onto the steps.  Great bounding crickets wasn’t just another one of his epithets.


Here is my contribution to #BlogBattle this month, and the word this round is Miscellanarian.  You’ll notice I tossed the real meaning of the word into the story … but hey, storytelling is a magical process, and I kinda sorta realigned the word a little … yeah, that sounds good….  Anyway, if you just found this post and noticed it’s Part Two, that’s because it’s the second part of a longer short story, and you can go to Part One to catch up.  And don’t miss out on the other submissions this month!


The Write Side of the Brain

You’re likely aware of the observation how writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.  But do you know how your brain works?

You probably know it’s roughly divided between two hemispheres, colloquially known as the right and left sides of the brain.  The right side is considered to be artistic.  It’s the hemisphere that folks who draw and play music rely upon.

The left side wants to get down to business.  It’s where language and math get processed.  And according to some mystics, there’s a fifth state of consciousness the brain can achieve (beyond active, relaxed, deep relaxation, and sleep) when new patterns of neural activity affect both hemispheres at the same time.

So when you write, you use the left side of your brain, right?

Not so fast.

Our lives are filled with irony, including the fact that studying mathematics helps musicians to play even better.  During a conversation with a fellow writer years ago, she and I agreed that we see images in our heads (which might be slightly better than hearing voices in our heads) and then use words to translate those images to readers.

Coming up with the right words is a left brain job.  Not only do the words need to be precise (use mumbled instead of said softly), they need to be in the right order (use Young and foolish, I thought the game would be easy, not Young and foolish, the game seemed easy to me).  And that’s just two of many rules.

Yet words can be strung together artistically.  Once upon a midnight dreary has more of a ring than It was a dark and stormy night.  Writing, ultimately, does involve the brain as a whole, with ideas bouncing back and forth between the two hemispheres.  That’s the perspiration part.

And so I wonder, during those ten percent moments of inspiration, have right and left come together in unison?  Do we enter a fifth state of consciousness when the words flow and come out right the first time?

That seems like a hard nut to crack….

The Charm Net

Part One

It wasn’t the green lightning from last night’s tempest that nagged at Eva as she gazed down the lane of various shops in the village.  She’d been among those who saw it in person, and now that word had spread, several residents in the area were spooked.

Of all the arcane beings that lurked in the hidden places of the world, one that could affect a force as powerful as lightning could only be equally powerful.  And more benevolent hexers didn’t announce their proximity so blatantly.  The ones that tended to be more neutral in their attitudes toward humans were also more content to stay in their hidden places.

But the pressing matter Eva had to confront urged her to push that event to the back of her mind.

She tugged her cloak tighter to her neck against the chill of early spring.  A light breeze twirled the loose tendrils of her pinned-up, ash blonde hair.  The ragged, gray clouds overhead limped across the sky as though battered from the overnight storm, and shallow puddles lay scattered on the flagstone walkway.

“Let’s have at it, then,” she murmured, and walked into the first shop, Seams Sew Right.

But they didn’t need any additional clerks or even somebody to sweep up the place.  She stepped into the next shop, and the next, but everyone told her the same thing.  They weren’t hiring.

And it seemed like most of them were distracted and distant to her inquiry, perhaps fretting about the unnatural storm and what might happen next.

She shouldn’t blame them, she supposed, and debated whether to mention the urgency of her quest.  But their general disconcertion suggested otherwise.  And to make things worse, Potion Peddler was busy.

That shouldn’t have been a surprise.  Mere humanity had little recourse against magical beings beyond applying potions that targeted weaknesses in their spells.  At first Eva hoped that would motivate them to hire another clerk.  Instead, they didn’t have time to talk about such matters now.

With a sigh and a sinking heart, she stepped back out onto the wet flagstone and gazed up the lane she’d come down.  There were no more shops or businesses….

Wait a minute.

The ramshackle shack just outside of town, barely close enough to notice where it peeked out from behind a stand of budding trees, had been spruced up since her previous visit to the village last week.  Eva strode closer to confirm what she was seeing.

Yes, the building had been painted the soft yellow of risen cream.  The doors and windows had been repaired and the color on their trim mimicked velvety sage leaves.  And over the door perched a broad sign, blue letters emblazoning a single word:


Was this a new shop?  And if so, what types of solutions were sold there?  If this was a new establishment, maybe they needed to hire some help.  Unless they’d hired everybody they needed already….

She wouldn’t know unless she asked.

Eva drew a deep breath, shoved down her apprehension, and strode thirty paces down the lane.  She then stepped inside the building.

Goodness, somebody had accomplished much in a week’s time.  Not only was the plank floor polished, the hewn beams overhead had been rubbed to a warm glow.  Equally immaculate shelves lined the walls and formed a couple of aisles in the middle of the room.  Various books and boxes of all colors were arranged neatly atop them.  A subtle but musky aroma lingered.

Books.  This seemed promising.  She enjoyed reading books.

An elderly, bearded gentleman walked out from what might be the storeroom behind the counter.  He smiled as he paused beside the ornate cash register.

“Good morning, miss.”  His bass voice could have belonged to a younger, brawnier man.  “May I help you find something?”

“Well, yes.”  She returned the smile, slightly forced because her heart was fluttering but also downtrodden from her earlier failures.  Eva strode the few paces toward him.  “I hope so.  I mean, I’m not here to buy something.  Actually, I was hoping – you need to hire some help?”

He raised one eyebrow.  The merchant was as groomed as this cottage, with his gray hair and white beard clipped and combed.  His dark blue coat matched the slacks, and a blue cornflower peeked out from the pocket of a red vest.

“You have an affinity for puzzles?”

“Oh, is that what you sell?”  Her face grew warm, and Eva gritted her teeth.  This had to be her most inept inquiry yet.  Odds were he would turn her away as well.

But his smile broadened.  “Every kind of puzzle you can imagine, my girl.  Word puzzles, picture puzzles, mysteries and games.  And although I do love a mystery, I believe I’ll go ahead and ask:  Why are you so eager to get a job?”

Eva swallowed, afraid she might stammer in her response.  This was no time to reveal her purpose.

“I … need money like everyone else.”

The merchant tilted his head, and his gaze seemed to burrow into her.  “I’ve been around long enough to recognize when someone’s pursuing a goal.  What is it, lass?  Do you want a new dress?  Or perhaps some jewelry?”

She gawked at him.  Perhaps his forthrightness rattled her all the more because, unlike the other proprietors, he didn’t keep glancing out the windows or surveying the room.  His attention was fully on her.  And he was smiling as though she amused him.

There was nothing amusing about her purpose, however, and Eva inhaled deeply to settle her nerves before replying.

“No, it’s nothing like that.  I….”

Did she dare tell him?  Would it change anything?  He did seem like a pleasant fellow, and he hadn’t turned her away already, despite her clumsy inquiry.  Maybe she should go ahead and let him know why she needed this job.

“It’s for my brother.”  Her gaze slid to the floor.  “We just found out a couple of days ago that he’s very sick.  The local doctors can’t help him, but if we take him to Repostia they have the resources to cure him … possibly.  It’s an expensive trip for expensive medicine.”  Her gaze returned to his face.  “So you’re right.  That’s what I want the money for.”

His smile waned to subtle.  “It does seem callous to say no when the reason is that important.”

He regarded her for a few seconds.  Was he considering the possibility of hiring her?  Or was he trying to come up with the kindest way to turn her down?

Then he nodded.  “I’ll tell you what, if you can prove you’re good at puzzles, I’ll give you the job.  It is just me around here, after all, and it could get busier as more customers find this place.”

Eva’s heart skipped a beat.  “What do I need to do?”

“We’ll see if you can solve something simple.”  He stepped behind the counter and pulled out a sheet of heavy paper and a fountain pen.  “I call this one the Charm Net.  I offer it as a free trial to potential customers.”

Her brow furrowed.  “Charm Net?”

“It’s a charming way to capture candidates.”  His smile broadened as he pushed the pen and paper toward her.  “Are you familiar with anagrams?”

“I believe so.”

“This one is short and straightforward.  The letters are arranged in a way that formulates one sentence.  But if you rearrange those same letters, you reveal the true sentence.”

She glanced down at the paper.  It was blank except for one statement at the top:

Stop these chartmen who bathe an ear tip.

Eva frowned.  “What does that mean?”

That is nonsense.  To figure out the original sentence, you first find the key word, the anchor.  One of these words shares the same letters as its anagram.  But the letters of the remaining words are rearranged at random throughout the rest of the sentence.”

“I think I understand.”  She nodded.  “And considering I’ve never heard the word chartmen before, that would seem to be your anchor.”

He grinned.  “You are a quick study.”

“So let’s see….”  She scribbled those letters in different orders, and on the fourth attempt penned a word that prompted her to squint back up at him.  “Merchant?”

“Extraordinary start!”

The door to his shop opened, and Eva recognized the middle-aged woman who entered the room.  This was a small community, so everybody was familiar with everybody, but she had never chatted with this resident.  The merchant tapped on the paper.

“See what you can accomplish while I wait on her.”

Eva tackled the task with renewed vigor.  If this could get her a job, if this could help her earn the money to get her brother the treatment he needed, then she would find the solution to this puzzle.

She wrote out the remaining letters and rewrote them in different configurations, striking out the ones she used.  When the words didn’t all work out, she tried again.

Despite her concentration, she overheard the woman ask for something that would be a good distraction from the green lightning omen.  The gentleman made his recommendations with the same smooth confidence.  He was neither surprised nor concerned about the event.

Maybe Eva would find out later why it didn’t worry him.  She would have plenty of time for that if he hired her.  She focused on the letters, and words started coming together.  And then she shuffled them into a pattern that formed an actual sentence.

The woman bought a boxed puzzle, and as the customer left the shop, Eva stared at the new configuration:

The merchant is not what he appears to be.

She looked up and frowned at her potential employer.  “Is this right?”

He looked at the paper and grinned again.  And then he chuckled.  And then he laughed.

What was happening?  Had she flubbed solving the puzzle that badly?  Or … or was something else going on?  She took a step back and gaped at him.

“What – what does this mean?”  Her heart thumped against her chest.  “Is this some kind of – of spell?”

Did this have anything to do with the green lightning?

His grin remained broad as he held out his arms.  “Bright gleaming fireflies!  You’re hired!”

Her head spun.  Eva clapped her hands over her ears as a dull roar filled them and the shop seemed to evaporate into a yellow mist.  And then the fog cleared, and she stood in a ramshackle shack, sagging beams and floor covered in dust.

The bass voice behind her prompted Eva to twist around.  “Shall we get to work?”

Instead of the elderly gentleman, a young man stood before her.  His dark hair was tousled and he was clean shaven, but the blue suit and red vest were the same.  And that smile was familiar.

He also stood between her and the door hanging at an angle by one hinge.

It seemed that whatever a charm net was, she had been ensnared.


Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this time is Merchant.  You might have noticed this is the beginning of what will be a longer work.  Ultimately it will still be a short story, but will be produced in approximately 2000 word bites.

Check back for future installments, and be sure to discover the other submissions this month!

Unless You Don’t Feel Like It

There are many things in life, including writing, that demand discipline to get accomplished when your motivation seems to have gone on vacation.

We’ve all had those mornings when getting out of bed doesn’t seem worth it, or heading out to work only feels like drudgery.  But one of the characteristics that make us human is the fact we can rise above our feelings.

Think of the chaos that would ensue if the rules of society were amended to accommodate feelings:

Take a shower and brush your teeth, unless you don’t feel like it.

Feed any pets you have, unless you don’t feel like it.

Love your neighbor as yourself, unless you don’t feel like it.

Stop when the traffic light turns red, unless you don’t feel like it.

A society ruled by feelings might make a good backdrop for a dystopian story, but I suspect it would be a rather short story.  Writing, like practically everything else in life, is an accomplishment that must be tackled even when you don’t feel like it.  Yet accomplishing something always gives you a good feeling.

Yes, this post is shorter than normal, but at least it got written, even though I didn’t feel like blogging….


Manifestation of Force

Was it possible to leash a demon?  Boreas considered the likelihood as he strode to the command tent, but every idea crumbled under scrutiny.  If there was, he hadn’t yet discovered the means.

There had to be some way to bend Fercos to his will.

He buried those considerations under other thoughts while hesitating before the closed flap.  The brute inside claimed to provide council regarding the legion Boreas commanded in these wild lands far from the civilized city of Rome.  It was vexing to permit Fercos this much influence over the soldiers, but sometimes seizing power required deference to a mightier strength … temporarily.

One of these days he would no longer request permission to enter his own tent.  “Are you present?”

The voice from inside was low and gravelly.  “Come inside.”

Boreas pushed past the flap into the dimmer interior.  Only a couple of paces before him, Fercos sat upon a bearskin and grasped a roasted goose in clawed hands.  At first glance the fiend appeared as a tall and brawny man, especially when he concealed his deformities, but it was his custom to remove his gloves while dining.

Other meats and some bread, with a few knives scattered in their midst, were arranged on a tanned pelt between them.  Miscellaneous supplies, including spare armor and swords, were stored behind the brute.

Fercos bit into the breast of his fare with teeth like a wolf’s, and lowered the bird as his gaze locked on Boreas.

Those swirling pupils were too unsettling to gaze upon, so he focused instead on Fercos’s bearded chin.  Months ago, when Boreas allowed this creature to gain access to his mind, he had to regard those otherworldly eyes.  The experience had left him feeling drained.

But it would all be worth it in the end.

“We have intelligence on the traitor’s current location.”  Boreas’s attention diverted to the half dozen wine flasks beside Fercos before darting back to his dark beard flecked with gray.  “He’s struck up a trade with another backwoods village.  They call it….” Local pronunciation annoyed him.  “Goonree.”

“The lad is still with him?”

“Definitely.  The mountainous region presents its usual challenges, but if I divide the troops so we can surround the village—”

“No.”  Fercos set the cooked goose on the hide.

“But we can either detain him so you can kill the lad, or you can engage him and we’ll execute the upstart.”

“Fool.”  Fercos leaned forward, and each following word proceeded with deliberation, his Latin accented by a language from yet some other far-flung region.  “Have you forgotten the traitor is my kith?  You will never hold him.”

Understanding this bizarre dynamic among demons was like seining for minnows with bare hands.  “His companion is as vulnerable to our weapons as any man.”

“Do not underestimate the traitor as you underestimate me.”

Boreas almost met his gaze and a light tremor rippled through his core.  Was Fercos aware of what he’d been thinking as he approached the tent?  When he agreed to allow the creature access to his mind, he’d believed that entry would be limited to sharing information that would help reach their goal.  Considering how Fercos had to initiate that action, Boreas hadn’t considered the link would make it this easy to spy upon him.

Could that communication work both ways?

Perhaps some flattery would play in his favor.  “Considering your power, I thought you would be able to subdue the traitor.  I confess, I still don’t understand why you don’t just mow down the local peasants and take control of these lands since you could do so with ease.”

Fercos seemed to study him, and his mouth twisted into a toothy smile that brought to mind the gleeful sneer of a soldier dragging a woman captured as booty into his tent.

“I take control?  You know nothing of my kind, general, and you are incapable of learning.  You do not desire to see me in power.  You only plot how to bring glory to yourself through me, to place yourself in authority and live off the backs of others.”

“We have the same goals.”

“Only in your imagination.”  Fercos’s hands clenched into fists.

The knives on the pelt sprang, spinning, into the air.  And as Boreas stepped back, his sword flew from its scabbard.  He reached for its grip, but the edge whipped toward him.  His hand snatched back a second too late, and the point struck his smallest finger hard enough to draw blood.

The other swords stored behind Fercos flew into the air to join the knives and Boreas’s own weapon in a dancing whirlwind around him.  They spun and jabbed as they whisked about, slicing the air with whooshing and clanging.  He didn’t dare move lest some body part slip within range of their momentum, not even to pinch his bleeding digit.

“Let me make myself clear.”  Fercos raised his hands and uncurled those clawed fingers.  “You are here to serve me.  I care not for the trifles you yearn for, and you can have them.  But you will do as I tell you and spare me your pitiful strategies.”

“I thought you wanted the lad dead, and possibly the same for the traitor.”

“I will act upon my terms, not the traitor’s.  All I require of you now is to keep me updated on his whereabouts.  Do nothing unless I tell you.  And banish the foolish notion you would ever be able to keep me on a leash.”

The chill that crept through Boreas accentuated his frozen stance.  To be honest, he never really trusted this creature … and it was no surprise that distrust would be mutual.

“If that is what you wish.”  The words seemed to hang in his throat.

“Then you may take your leave.”  Fercos’s hands clenched again.

The knives slammed down to the pelt, and the spare swords hurled back to their sheaths.  Boreas’s weapon shoved into its scabbard with a force that tugged on his belt.

Fercos picked up the goose and resumed eating.

Boreas bowed slightly as he grumbled, “Yes, sir.”  He turned and left the tent.

He retreated at least forty strides before contemplating recent events.  Infernal creature.  It was apparent Fercos’s mind-reading ability was limited to a certain range, otherwise Boreas would never need to report to him.  In the future he would be more wary of the fiend’s proximity when plotting how to best use Fercos to his advantage.

Despite his sneaky ally’s claim, Boreas would not submit completely.  The stories he’d grown up, regaling him of deeds by gods and monsters, also admitted they were fraught with their own shortcomings.  This bizarre fixation Fercos held for a traitor and his ward was further evidence these beings were not as fully powerful as they claimed, and one could take advantage of any weakness they tried to hide.

Demons or gods, it made no difference.  After all, they weren’t so different from mankind.


Here is my submission to #BlogBattle, and the word this month is Dynamic. Don’t miss out – be sure to check out all the other contributions!

The Moaning Twenties

A hundred years ago Americans were jazzing through a decade that got tagged as the Roaring Twenties.  The world believed it had come out of the war to end all wars, and the populace embraced amusement to help forget those troubles.

Our politicians, in their typical wisdom, decided to prohibit alcoholic beverages.  Breaking the law became fashionable as bootleggers supplied speakeasies where people gathered to drink and dance.  Both hair and skirts on women got shorter.  And stores offered the “buy now, pay later” option to folks who were also told that investing $15 a month in stocks would earn them $80,000 in twenty years.

Soon after 2020 dawned, the COVID scare set much of the tone for the beginning of this decade.  Our politicians, in their typical wisdom, decided to prohibit congregational gathering.  They then proceeded to make up more money which created the inflation that made prices go up on everything.

Suicides and death from drug overdoses skyrocketed.  Crime and violence have become more rampant in many cities while anything traditional is also attacked as a form of oppression.  And the question of the year for 2022 has got to be What is a Woman?

We seem to be gearing up for a decade that may come to be known as the Moaning Twenties.

It’s not all bad, of course.  We’re a step closer to creating nuclear fusion, which is even cleaner for energy production than the fission we’re using now.  We’re also making progress in returning to the moon.  And tradition isn’t going down without a fight.

The decade is young.  It’s having a rough start, but that doesn’t mean it’s doomed for failure.  The Roaring Twenties began with a whoop and ended with a crash.  The Moaning Twenties might be starting with a whimper, but maybe that’s all the more reason to work toward ending with a whoop.

We won’t know unless we try….

What Path Lies Ahead

“I don’t want to.”  Rejali started to fold her arms, but realized that gesture might come across as bratty rather than just hesitation to negotiate.

The left corner of Cormac’s mouth curled up.  “Since when has not wanting to ever stopped you?”

Blazes, they’d met each other only a few days ago, and he was already taking advantage of her sense of duty.  They hadn’t agreed to accepting this marital arrangement – yet – but she suspected Cormac had already made up his mind.  In all likelihood they were only waiting on her decision.

He flicked a finger toward a nearby maintenance pod, one of the various vessels scattered through the holding bay.  “If you get a feel for what it’s like to navigate a spacecraft, you can better determine if you’ll ever want to do it again.”

He had a point, which counted both in his favor and against.  His approach to problems relied primarily on logic, which was good.  But it was possible he relied too heavily on his own judgment.

She glanced toward Father Garfin, a somewhat elderly gentleman about twenty paces behind them and visiting with some random stranger working in the bay.  “What if he doesn’t want to go off-world on a lark?”

“There’s no ship called a lark.”  Cormac shrugged as he began walking toward the priest and motioned for her to follow.  “But we can ask him.”

Was that a joke?  She did appreciate his sense of humor, but pondered just how dry it got sometimes as she fell into step beside him.  The levity counted as a positive trait, especially for someone who for all the under two decades of his life had been hunted for something he’d never done.

And now, because of her training in a particular branch of defensive arts – and the other parameters she met – she’d been tossed into his trajectory.  Since they were going about the business of getting to know each other, a chaperone always accompanied them.  This time Father Garfin was stuck with that duty.

Cormac did wait for the priest to wrap up his chat with the stranger before asking, “How about we go for a celestial spin, Father?  Rej agreed she ought to try piloting a spacecraft, considering it’s something she might need to know later.”

She could take umbrage with Cormac’s choice of words, but the light frown that crossed the priest’s face stirred hope he would decline.  If he didn’t go, they couldn’t go.

Garfin’s voice was deep and smooth.  “Fly a ship?  You aren’t a registered pilot.”

“Ah … hah.”  Cormac’s gaze darted to her and back to the priest.  “I’ve been known to take off in the nearest vehicle that facilitated an escape.”

“I see.”  Garfin studied him with a deadpan expression.  “You might tell me more about that later.  But if this knowledge plays a role in your survival, then perhaps Disciple Rejali should try it out.”

Although hearing her recently acquired title still seemed anomalous, that wasn’t what caused the tremor in the pit of her stomach.  Until a little over a week ago she’d never traveled off the planet of Hin where she’d grown up.  Hurtling through space was still … extremely disconcerting.

So Garfin dashed her hopes by making the arrangements to borrow a shuttle, a basic passenger and cargo ship used for commuting between the planet and larger spacecraft.  The cylindrical, ivory vessel fit three in the operating cab, which might have been one of the reasons the priest chose it.

Rejali sat on the far left where most of the control panel was mounted.  As Cormac took the seat beside her, she frowned at all the switches, buttons, and display screens before her.

“I don’t even know where the On button is,” she grumbled.

Cormac smirked again as Father Garfin settled on their right.  “There’s not just one button to start it.  And first of all, you have to put it through a systems check.  You can’t even take off until you do.”

He talked her through that process, and all the readouts and lights confirmed the systems were ready for takeoff.  And then he instructed her on the motions to actually start the shuttle.

The roar of the thrust engines beneath them caused her heartbeat to quicken, but as the vessel lifted from the ground, only the knowledge they were headed for space nagged at her apprehension.  She was no stranger to flight itself, and always enjoyed gazing upon the expanse of creation.

Rejali tried to hold on to that satisfaction as they sailed through the air.  This, she could take a liking to.  It wasn’t heights that distressed her.

But as they rose ever higher, the sky ahead growing darker, she contemplated that perhaps she knew too much about space.  If only she didn’t understand that exposure to its vacuum would force the water in skin and blood to vaporize and the body to expand like a balloon filling with air.  Since there was no air, however, the lungs would collapse, not to mention the person would freeze within ten seconds.

There were few good ways to die, but that one seemed too unnatural.

Because they were on the side of the planet facing the sun, no stars emerged in the dark distance.  Her stomach fluttered again as Rejali reminded herself that even in this vast desolation, they really weren’t totally alone.

Cormac’s tone was warm and approving.  “You’re a natural.”

“Can we go back now?”  There might have been some tension in her voice.

“Glide along the curve of the horizon for a few minutes.  You’ll find—”

Their craft shuddered, and a red light started flashing on the panel.

Her heart pounded against her chest as she snapped, “What happened?”

Garfin leaned forward to study the panel.  “Fuel cell?”

“No big deal.”  Cormac still sounded completely calm.  “It’s just a minor clog, probably some grit that managed to suck in.”

Rejali frowned at him.  “Why didn’t the systems check find that before we took off?”

He shrugged.  “Because it didn’t happen until after we took off.  We’re not in any danger.  A clogged fuel cell just makes the ride a little bumpier.”

He might also be a liar.  She was pretty sure she’d heard of explosions brought about by fuel cell malfunctions.

“I’m taking us back.”  Rejali tapped the instrument panel in the method she hoped she remembered to turn them around.

The craft shuddered again.

She glared at Cormac as Garfin asked, “Was that another fuel cell or the same one?”

“Looks like the same one.”  Her companion’s tone was more pensive.  “But yeah, I agree, we might as well head back.”

“So much for inspiring my confidence in space,” Rejali muttered.

A few seconds passed before Cormac responded, “Nothing like a crisis to build confidence.  You’re still operating the controls correctly.  Very commendable for a first outing.”

“Very likely my last outing.”

The vessel rattled several more times as it made its descent, each time renewing a quickening of her heart.  The reentry into atmosphere shook them around more than when she first arrived at this planet, but Rejali wasn’t sure if that was because the first craft had been larger.  She was in no mood to ask.

The engines shifted to a high whine as they approached the landing pad, and the shuttle bumped considerably as it touched down.

“Hit that row of switches to shut it off.”  Cormac’s tone was calm again.  “See, we made it back just fine.”

A realization struck her as she followed his instructions.  The engines hummed into silence while she locked her gaze on him.

“Why didn’t you take over navigation when the fuel cell failed?”

He smiled as he placed his palm against the back of her hand.  Its warmth and steadiness made her aware that she was cold and trembling.

“You were handling it perfectly.  And the cell never failed.  We were in no danger.”  He glanced toward the priest who’d remained silent once they started entering atmosphere.  “Right, Father?”

“Not now.”  Garfin’s voice was lower than ever.  “I’m in the middle of the Confiteor.”

“Aha, see?”  As the words left her lips, Rejali’s conscience cringed with the fact their chaperone had reflexively prayed, but she had not.  She’d been far too focused on operating the craft in order to return alive.

If only Cormac had taken over the controls, she wouldn’t have been so distracted.  Her glare deepened as she continued speaking.

“He knows we were in danger.  The last thing I need is a bunch of sweet talk when it’s time to confront the grittiness of reality.  And as the experienced pilot, you should have taken over.”

Cormac watched her for a few seconds, his lips slightly clamped.  He shrugged.

“You may be right.  I just thought that if you did it all yourself, it would help you overcome your anxiety.  But maybe I should’ve stepped in, helped you even more than I did.  It’s just … you really did do an excellent job.”

“Don’t put too much faith in my abilities.”

He nodded, and a smile touched his lips again.  “It wasn’t just your abilities I had faith in.  I sorta figured that since I was sitting between a priest and a disciple, whatever happened could only be for the best.”

Rejali stared at him.  For the first time since they’d met, he’d confessed belief in something beyond facts and data.  He’d alluded to part of what had brought her into the Discipline.  Maybe … maybe she was beginning to see there was more to him than she first noticed.

Perhaps she should continue to think about this arrangement for a while longer.


Here is this month’s submission to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this time is Navigate.  Give yourself a treat for the holidays and check out the other contributions.  Merry Christmas!