Tag Archives: #isg #storiesmyfriendsstarted #nicoledragonbeck #shortstory

Early Release by Nicole DragonBeck

For my uncle Paul, one of my biggest fans, love DragonBeck

15 years hard labour on the mining planet Oryon with no hope of reprieve … is your sentence.

Kelvin opened his eyes to find the grey ceiling of the prison berthing on Oryon staring back at him, the memory of the judge’s voice thundering through the courtroom.

“Fourteen years, six months, two weeks, six days,” Kelvin told the unforgiving ceiling. For some reason, perhaps a sense of nostalgia and homesickness, they still measured time here by Earth-rotation – Oryon’s years were over ten times that of Earth’s.

A clanging bell sounded, and Kelvin’s legs swung over the side of the bunk of their own accord, trained by repetition and routine of his life here. The doors slid open with a sinister swish, and Kelvin pulled on his oversuit and tool-belt in a swift motion.

The other inmates were already streaming down the catwalks, their orange oversuits absurdly cheerful for their depressing existence down here in the mine. Kelvin joined the human flood, buckling the belt tight against his lean frame. Breakfast was as unexciting as usual, protein porridge and calorie-dense syrup that tasted like sweaty socks, and Kelvin’s stomach clenched in protest as the old lift clattered and grumbled as it took the first load of miner-prisoners down even farther into the planet’s core.

It shuddered to a halt, and Kelvin walked out, trying not to notice the dead-eyed miners waiting to be taken up after the shift that further sapped any semblance of life in them. Someone handed Kelvin one of the sonic blasters, and not for the first time he thought about turning it on his captors, but that would get him nowhere. Much like the ocean around Australia, the space around Oryon made it the perfect prison.

Kelvin walked down the mineshaft. No one really cared where the miners went, or if one or two got lost in the labyrinth. If they found a rich vein of Orynium, they were rewarded with extra rations at dinner for a week. It was a win-win situation.

Kelvin left the line, and turned down a side shaft, firing the blaster at random spots in the wall. The stone liquefied and rippled back to solidity, but didn’t crystallize, indicating the presence of the precious Orynium.

He continued firing, his mind wandering to more pleasant places. It was jarred out when something rumbled. Kelvin stopped. The rumbling increased, the floor vibrating under his feet. Then it stopped. Kelvin breathed a sigh of relief. Though life was hell here, and sometimes dying seemed a better alternative, when push came to shove, a miserable life was better than no life.

He decided to go check out the collapse. A few turns later he found the impasse, a solid wall of crumbled rock. Out of habit, he fired the blaster. The rock shimmered and turned into white crystal.

Kelvin blinked, and forgot for a moment what that meant. Orynium. He pressed against the crystal, and it gave under his hand like sponge. He dug it out and it came out in chunks. It took about an hour before he reached rock again.

He frowned. He should’ve found some of the metal, but there was nothing. He fired the blaster again, and dug through the foamy rock. After he had repeated this three or four times, he lost count.

He sat on his knees, and wiped sweat from his brow, panting. He should probably turn back and check in. It was probably dinner time by now. One more time, he decided.

The spongy material came away easily, then his hand hit something hard. Pulling more of the morphed stone away revealed metal, but it wasn’t Orynium.

Kelvin dug more, and uncovered the back fin of a planet hopper. Dinner forgotten, Kelvin worked until he had uncovered the entirety of the vehicle, complete with its load of Orynium.

Kelvin stood back and admired his prize, no longer concerned with checking in. An extra portion of dinner wasn’t as appealing as an early release.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

The Painter by Nicole DragonBeck

For Heather, thank you for continuing to support my very bad habit of lying (or at least stretching the truth) with your story starters.

White knuckles turn to bloody fists.

Sofia paused, taking deep, calming breaths. She didn’t like where her paintings went, but she didn’t have a choice. She held the brush up, the red paint burning in her vision, her fingers shaking. She wanted to stop, but she could no more stop painting than she could stop breathing. She could hold her breath for a while, but eventually she would cave in and give her body the oxygen that it needed.

The brush moved against the canvas like a lover’s touch, coaxing more detail, bringing the scene to life. The subjects were still faceless, and mostly formless. She always left the faces for last. The ring appeared next, and the audience, blurry and uninteresting. The contestants were tight, locked together in a battle of no mercy or quarter. Tears burned in Sofia’s eyes, and left a cold trail down her cheek when she blinked to clear her vision.

She hated the pain, and the fury, and the ugliness she saw, but it was too late to stop now. She heard the door open, but did not turn her head, dark eyes trained on the canvas, her hands steady as they drew forth the images, shaking only when she held them back from their work. Henri hovered behind her, eyes that were the same color as hers watching her and the painting, but she ignored him.

Finally came the most difficult part. The people were the hardest to call, the hardest to paint, and the hardest to see. She connected with them in the painting, and their pain was hers. The expressions were twisted, and hers matched theirs as she painted. Their skin was bruised and broken, their eyes filled with the monster they were made to become. She finished the shadows and the shading, the subtle lines and colors that made them something more, that made them come alive, and drew back to see her work as a whole.

Something was wrong, something was missing. It wouldn’t let her leave the painting, or put down her brush.

“What is it?” Henri whispered.

She shut out his voice. He would be angry at her insolence, but he wouldn’t disturb her while she painted. The brush dipped towards the pallet again, taking the blue-black color from the corner. The paint swirled onto the arm of the contestant with his back to the outside world, only a profile of his face to view. The tattoo was simple, and unmistakable. She began to shake anew as she stared at it, and the brush fell from her grasp.

Henri grabbed her arm. “What is it?”

“It’s finished,” Sofia told him, her voice soft, taking refuge in numbness while her thoughts clashed and clamored on the other side of her mind. “I can see no more.”

“Who is the victor?” Henri demanded, though he let go of her.

“The one you see,” she said. “It’s always the one you see.”

Henri looked at the painting, at the contestant with his face in full view, eyes wild and bloodshot, his arm locked around his opponents neck, then nodded at someone standing in the shadows. A man came to remove the painting, then the door opened and slammed shut again.

“You did well,” Henri praised, and it was like a knife in her gut, her eyes fixed on the tattoo she knew so well.

The world spun around her and swallowed her. Henri caught her as she fell, and she heard fear in his voice as he yelled for someone to help. Not fear for her, only fear of losing his control of the fights, and another part of her withered. Something was pressed to her mouth, and she tasted cool water.

The spinning slowed, and the room came back into focus.

“Air,” Sofia murmured. “I need air.”

“Take my sister outside,” Henri ordered, and one of his henchmen appeared at her side, lifting her with surprising gentleness. The trek through the stark passageways was like a march to the gallows, the tattoo and the man who wore it following her like a ghost.

The fresh air did little to make her feel better, but she savored it anyway. The promise of rain hung heavy against her skin, and lightning flickered in the grey sky. They had Leo, and he would die tonight. The painting was like a window, and she could see a little to each side, not much, but enough, and the paintings never lied.

She painted truth, only truth. She clenched her hands to stop them from trembling. Leo.

“Are you ready to go back inside?” the henchman asked, his voice not unkind.

Henri always took care of her, in his own twisted way, and no one was ever cruel or rough with her. She had her run of the place, but was never allowed outside without supervision. She was not a prisoner – the fighters were prisoners – she was a precious treasure to be kept safe and secure.

“Yes,” she nodded.

When she stepped through the doorway, the thought that Leo was somewhere in this fortress of cement and iron hit her like a physical blow. In the moment just before she succumbed to darkness, something Leo had told her echoed from an invisible memory. You control the painting. Don’t let it control you.

For the first time in a very long time, something akin to life kindled in her chest. She wondered where the fighters were kept prior to their matches. She wondered if she would be allowed to see them. A plan so simple and daring it could never work except maybe it would was set into motion before she could stop the words from coming out of her mouth.

“Take me to the contestants.”

The henchman looked startled, and Sofia took advantage of his hesitation.

“The contestants I painted this morning. I want to see them.”

She could see him struggling, trying to determine what Henri would want him to do.

“Please, I must know,” she said, using the same flat voice of defeat she used with Henri when she didn’t want him to argue with her. “I have to know before I can paint again.”

That was enough to spur the man to action – he had no desire to incur Henri’s displeasure – and the man led her through stark corridors and metal doors, until he stopped in front of a plain white door.

While Sofia held her breath, he drew a badge across the lock sensor, the light turned from orange to green, and he pushed the door open. The small room on the other side was dark. A figure stood with his back to them. At first Sofia thought it was the wrong man, but then he turned, and the light from the corridor fell across his profile, highlighting the mark on his arm.

Leo looked at her for a long moment before recognition brought a light to his eyes. They stared at each other, lost in an eternal moment of silence. In the peace she found in his eyes, she realized the single important detail she had missed in the shock of seeing Leo in the painting. The other man in the painting hadn’t been Leo’s opponent – it was the henchmen standing at the door of the cell.

You control the painting.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

Unwelcome Guest, Unwelcome Past by Nicole DragonBeck

For Jen, who brings me great books.

The door is alarmed.

Jilla could feel the waves of apprehension, and she froze, all other senses on alert. She crouched, and invoked a faint masking spell, nothing too strong in case whoever was inside could sense magic. Her little house looked normal enough, the curtains drawn, the gate closed, but the protection spells were telling a different story.

Jilla crept around the back of the house, and let herself in the kitchen door. Inside it was dim and quiet, and it took great effort to breathe slowly and evenly. A faint thump from the sitting room made her jump, and them a voice came.

“Jilla, you need to clean more frequently.”

Jilla forced back a groan. What was he doing here?”

“You can come out now.”

Jilla seriously considered sneaking back out, and moving to the next town over. She briefly considered the fact that it seemed a little extreme, then considered who was in her house. Gritting her teeth, she walked around the corner.

The man sitting on her sofa was handsome, with dark hair, and blue eyes that sparkled with subtle humor. He wore old-fashioned clothes, a grey vest over a white shirt with flared sleeves, and dark trousers. His hat was on the coffee table.

“Jilla,” he smiled. “It’s so good to see you.”

She glared at him.

“What, no hi, how have you been?” he asked, and smiled.

“I don’t care how you’ve been,” she said. “What are you doing in my house?” she frowned. “And how did you get in anyway?”

He held out his hand. In it was a tarnished bronze key.

“Why do you have a Master Key?” Jilla demanded. “And what gives you the right to use it to come in to my house without my permission?”

“You didn’t answer my letters,” he said.

“You didn’t write any letters,” Jilla said. “What did they say?”

“I said I was sorry,” he told her. “Multiple times.”

She couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or not.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re sorry or not. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Okay, so maybe being sorry doesn’t change anything, but the other thing I came to tell you will,” he said.

She froze. She didn’t know if she wanted the past to change. It wasn’t great, but at least she knew what it was, and knew how she felt about it. If it changed, then she didn’t know if she could be angry about it. She turned to face him.

“Jaz,” she began. “What happened, it should just stay in the past. Brining it up again, it will just make it worse.”

“But what if it’s already been brought up, not by me, by someone else,” he hurried to clarify. “Please, just hear me out.”

She sighed. “I’ll go make some tea.”

“Great!” Jaz sighed. “Do you have any of those orange biscuits?”

Jilla came back with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits.

“Sorry, not the orange ones. These ones are vanilla. I like them.”

Jaz took one and ate it in two bites. “Good. I like them.”

Jilla poured tea and sat across from him. “So?”

“Right,” Jaz said, and scooted forward on the sofa, holding his hands out in preparation for animated gesturing. “Guess who showed up out of the blue about a month ago? Harry. You remember Harry?”

Jill nodded. Of course she remembered Harry. He was the one who brought back the damned thing in the first place. He was also the one who lost it, and started the whole mess rolling.

“Well, Harry told me that he’d had word of the location of it.”

“Well, why didn’t he go get it?” Jilla said.

“He did, but it wasn’t there.”

“Oh.” Jilla frowned. “Why did he come to you?”

“I don’t know. He was going to tell me, but before he could, he disappeared.” Jaz looked at her, eyebrows raised expectantly. “He disappeared! In a cloud of blue smoke!”

“Oh gods!” Jilla groaned, and buried her hand in her hands. “He gave away his soul. Why did he do that?”

“I think he needed information,” Jaz said. “That’s the most logical thing I can think of.”

“And you want to get involved again?” Jilla said. “It was a bad idea when there weren’t demons involved. Especially demons who have claim on Harry’s soul.”

“Well, I think we have some responsibility for Harry,” Jaz said, without looking at Jilla.

“Maybe you feel that way, but I don’t,” Jilla replied without hesitation. “Harry got himself into this mess, and then dug himself in even deep when he went and gave away his soul.” Jilla shook her head. Sometimes people can be so stupid! she fumed to herself. Had Harry given even half a thought to the consequences of his actions?

“But you can see where this is going?” Jaz pressed. “If a demon has his soul, and that thing has popped up again? Trouble of epic proportion is about to descend.”

“Do you really feel that much better about yourself when you propound with such ominous certainty?” Jilla asked, her eyebrow raised.

“Jilla, come on,” Jaz pleaded. “I can’t do this by myself.”

She sighed, and silently asked her tea what she should do. Harry had been a friend, at one time. So had Jaz. More than a friend, a little voice reminded her. That was a long time ago, she argued back.

“For old times sake?” Jaz tried again, almost as if he could read her mind.

She looked around her sitting room. She had built a comfortable life for herself here. It was cozy, and it had nothing in it to remind her of her unwelcome past. Nothing except Jaz, that is. And the only way to get rid of him – aside from killing him – was to help him out.

“I’ll help you find the demon with the claim to Harry’s soul,” Jilla said at last, looking up to meet Jaz’s intense gaze. “But that’s it. After that you’re on your own.”

For a second Jaz looked like he was about to argue, but then he smiled and nodded. Jilla looked away. His smile always set fluttering off in her stomach, which was very distracting.

“Let’s go. The sooner we start, the sooner we can get this over with,” Jilla said.

It took about five minutes to gather her traveling supplies, and then she was walking out the door. She paused, and then with a wave of her hand, she banished the warning spell. No sense have the whole house alert to danger when she wasn’t even here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

Never and Nowhere by Nicole DragonBeck

For Felix, who is one of my favorite people in the universe, and not only because he gives me marvelous story starters.

“P.S. I love you all” read the typeset note in her hand. Hopefully it would be enough of a clue to find out who she was – and how she died.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Katie said aloud, and turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back. “And I know who I am, thank you very much.”

The paper was blank, only the faint tracery of the letters “lla uoy evol I .S.P” showing through from the other side.

Katie sighed and sat down on the vast white ground under her, which stretched away forever, or perhaps it became walls which went up and up to a ceiling far over head, but it all looked white to her.

“Why would I bring this with me?” she wondered. “Wouldn’t a knife or a rope or a fire starter be more useful?”

She sat there for quite a while puzzling over this, until she became frustrated, and then bored. For no other reason than it was something to do instead of sitting there, she got up and started walking.

Katie walked and walked through the whiteness, and several times she thought about changing direction, that there was nothing in front of her, but she pushed on. Just as she was about to give in to the desire to turn and head off in a tangent, a black speck appeared in the distance.

Katie shielded her eyes and peered forward, but it remained no more than a black dot. She broke into a jog, and the dot grew, and grew, until she could tell it was a person, and then resolved some more until she came upon a very familiar face, although this one was scowling fiercely.

“Hi,” Katie said, looking down at Katie.

Katie looked up, and her scowl deepened. “What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Katie admitted.

“This is going to get very confusing very quickly if we’re both Katie,” Katie snapped. “I’m Katie. You can be Katherine.”

“That’s a good idea,” Katherine said, and pushed blond hair behind her. “Do you know what this means?”

She held out the note to her counterpart on the floor.

“Why would I know that?” Katie said in a nasty tone. “You’re the one who’s got it.”

Katherine was going to answer, but a sound drew both their gazes.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I heard it. I’m not deaf.”

Katie scrambled up and started in the direction of the sound, and Katherine followed. They came upon a third person, who looked like the first.

“We’ll call her Kate, just to keep things simple,” Katie informed them.

“Are you always this bossy?” Katherine wondered.

“Who are you calling bossy, stupid?” Katie said.

Katherine pretended not to hear the insult, and looked at the person with their arms wrapped around their knees, making small frightened sounds as they rocked back and forth, eyes darting about.

“What’s wrong?” Katherine asked, putting a hand on the girl’s – Kate’s – shoulder.

Kate jumped and gave a startled shriek, looking at Katie and Katherine like they might eat her.

“It’s okay,” Katherine said in a soothing voice.

“Yeah, sure it is,” Katie butted in. “She looks real okay.”

Katherine was saved by a loud wail, and the three finally identified the sound they’d heard.

“That’s someone crying,” Katherine said.

“Oh, well done,” Katie clapped. “Where are you going?”

Katerine made her way farther into the whiteness and found a girl crying pitifully on the floor.

“Everyone, meet Kathy,” Katie waved her hand. “Aren’t we a great little group? Just missing the leper.”

The girl they’d dubbed Kathy was crying more now, loudly and messily, snot dripping down her chin.

“What’s the matter?” Katherine asked, and Katie snorted.

“Who cares? What are you going to do about it anyway?”

Kathy’s sobs increased in volume and frequency, and Katherine became alarmed that she might choke and asphyxiate herself. She knelt beside the crying girl and patted her shoulder.

“There, there,” Katherine said awkwardly, but her words only made Kathy cry harder. “It’s going to be okay…no, no, shh, now. Okay. Let’s just go this way and maybe there’s a way out.”

Katherine helped Kathy stand, and found a tissue in her pocket, which the other girl went through in two seconds and kept crying. They walked some more, Katherine mulling over her note, and keeping her eyes peeled for anyone else. She was rewarded a short time later when they happened across another one of themselves, standing there and staring down at her hands with an unblinking gaze, seeing nothing.

Kate wouldn’t look at the new girl and tried to hide behind Kathy, and Katie looked unimpressed. “Now you can ask what’s wrong, because there’s something definitely wrong with her. Her name is Mary, by the way.”

“Hi there,” Katherine said, ignoring Katie, and feeling a strange completeness now. “Do you know what this place is?”

“This is Never and Nowhere,” the fifth mumbled, her gaze not moving from her hands.

“How do we get out?” Katherine asked, pleased with the progress.

“You can’t,” the fifth said. “It’s no use. You’re trapped here forever.”

“This is ridiculous,” Katie grumbled. “I can’t take this anymore.”

Kathy started hiccuping along with her now silent sobs, eyes red and puffy.

This can’t be the way out. There’s no way the five of us are getting out of here like this, Katherine thought. It’s too complicated. It has to be simple. Katherine looked down at the note – P.S. I love you all – and then up at the group of people clustered here. Simple enough to write in in five words.

“P.S. I love you all.”

“What?” Katie snapped, as tears started pouring down Kathy’s face. Mary just stood there as if she hadn’t heard.

“I love you all,” Katherine repeated and knew how to get out of this Never and Nowhere. “I love you all.”

“No you don’t,” Mary mustered the energy to say. “Love isn’t real.”

“I love you all.”

“You’re lying!” Katie shouted, her face going red as a vein pulsed in her temple.

“I love you all,” Katherine said simply and knew it was true.

The white began to crumble around her with great crashes and shakes.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Kate said, her eyes darting about. “What’s going to happen to us?”

“I love you all,” Katherine said to herself and let the note fall from her grip.

Somewhere else, in a place that was Sometime, a real place with color and motion and good things, Katie opened her eyes.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

Keldrin’s Story by Nicole DragonBeck

For Alexis, who is quite wonderful!

It was amazing to see him after all this time!

Valeria couldn’t contain her relief and joy at the unexpected pleasure, and a smile grew on her face. Her pace quickened, and she caught up to the tall man walking ahead of her on the street.

“Keldrin?” she asked, her hand reaching out for the broad shoulder.

The man stopped and turned. Valeria’s smile faltered. It was definitely him, but there was something off. He eyes were duller, the face tired and blank. Valeria noticed that his coat was threadbare, and his clothes needed patching. He was thinner, his belt barely able to keep his pants up.

“Keldrin?” Valeria asked again, her voice hesitant.

He searched her face with a frown, and finally a small spark lit his eyes, and brought this shadow of the man closer to her memory. “Valeria. It’s been so long.”

“Yes, too long,” she agreed. “Where did you go off to?”

He was silent for a long time. “Not where, but when.”

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I broke it.” Keldrin’s voice was so soft she had to strain to hear it.

“Broke what?”

“Everything.”

Valeria didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t really know what to do, but she couldn’t stand there and do nothing, so she took his arm and led him along the street. He didn’t say anything, and he wouldn’t look at her, not even when they were seated at a small table in a tavern, surrounded by the warm sound of chatter and laughter, and the smells of meat and bread.

Valeria smiled at the young man who brought them plates of food and tankards of ale, twisting her skirt through her fingers. A terrible fear turned her mouth sour, a fear of what Keldrin might say. What on earth could he mean, he broke everthing?

Keldrin didn’t seem to notice there was food, though it appeared he had not eaten regularly for some time. Valeria pushed the plate towards him, and his eyes flicked to it. Again, it took him some time to really see what was in front of him. When he did, life sparked to life, and he dug in enthusiastically. Valeria had no appetite whatsoever so she just watch him demolish his plate, then hers, without stopping for breath.

When both plates were cleaned, Keldrin leaned back, and a small smile played on his chapped lips.

“That was mighty fine,” he murmured. “Almost like it was before.”

“What happened?” she asked.

He sighed. “I went to the Raladam, and fell through. It was so dark, but the bindings got easier and easier to find, and I pulled myself back. But the cracks followed me, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. The bindings were coming loose, and I don’t know how to tie them up. I don’t think I have much time.”

Valeria was lost. She didn’t understand anything after Raladam, and even that she didn’t think she fully understood what he was talking about. The Raladam was an area, and also the people who lived there, but little was known about them.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to stay long,” Keldrin continued, the regret in his voice made her flesh crawl.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. The cracks never tell me.”

He chuckled at a private joke, but it was hard for Valeria to do more than breathe. Something inside her was desperately trying to understand something she instinctively knew was more than she could handle.

“Goodybye Valeria. I’m glad I got the chance to see you again.”

He held something out. She looked down, and his fingers uncurled to reveal a single flower with wilted petals. It looked like nothing she had ever seen, and though it was hard for Valeria to believe it, she knew it was from a land that she would never go to.

She looked up just in time to see Keldrin walk into the tavern and stop just inside the door. His left leg dragged a little, and a white scar closed his one eye. Wild brown hair was knotted around bones and feathers. The staff he carried was topped by the skull of a creature with two mouths full of fangs.

Valeria looked at Keldrin, who sat at the table with her, and her eyes widened as he faded until just the hint of his smile remained, and then that too disappeared totally.

A heavy thunk on the other side of the table made her look up, and Keldrin glared at her with his one good eye, his hair rattling as he looked from side to side. She didn’t know what to do, but she couldn’t do nothing, so she waved over the serving boy for more food.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

Liabilities of Language by Nicole DragonBeck

For Desi, from Story Starter number four.

I could not make any sense of her words.

The writing was formed by graceful, flowing script, unfaded despite the obvious age of the fragile paper Gelma held in her hands. The dialect was strange, and the grammar just a bit off, so Gelma often had to reread the sentences to make sure she had it right before she wrote down the translation. Concentration creased her forehead, and her mouth held tight, lips pressed together. The world faded, and only the ancient account had any force of reality.

The beautiful creature continued to speak to me, her words tumbling over one another, too fast for me to understand fully. She kept saying something about the golden crown, the golden crown. I held my hand up, trying to slow the rush, but she was too frightened to heed me.

Gelma sighed ,pulled her dark hair over her shoulder, and bent forward, her eyes beginning to pound as she glared at the paper with a predatory gaze, her fingers white around her pen, her hand slow and careful in the formation of common glyphs. The store of ancient scrolls, tomes, and scraps of paper had been found almost a year ago, and the best translators had been gathered from the four lands to decipher the wealth of knowledge.

Gelma had been working on this unbound sheaf of paper for two months. It appeared to be part of a journal. Markings at the top suggested a record of the date, or time passing, though she was still waiting for a mention of an eclipse or other significant event to correlate the marks to anything.

She was lost in the nuances of the next sentence – was that “will be destroyed” or “may have been destroyed”? – when an insistent knock interrupted her. She looked up to find a thin, awkward-looking young man with a shock of blond hair and a pen behind his ear glaring at her. A red band across his chest marked him as a messenger he ran dispatches between departments.

“What can I help you with, Murin?” Gelma asked, already turning back to the sentence she was working on.

“I’ve come from Liabilities,” he announced.

Gelma sighed. Liabilities of Language crosschecked the data and translations to find discrepancies. Gelma appreciated the importance of the department, but sometimes she wished they weren’t such a nuisance.

“What is it?”

“They want you to look at this piece-” he glanced down at the paper, “number twenty twenty four. There’s just one line,” he added helpfully.

Gelma sighed and waved her hand at him. “Give it here then.”

He gave her two sheets – the original and the translation. It was short, only seven lines.

“It’s the third line,” Murin said, peering over her shoulder.

“Thank you Murin,” Gelma said, reading and rereading the line.

It said the same thing each time. Over and under, up and down, it comes and goes, the golden crown. The translation said the same thing.

Gelma shrugged and handed the papers back to Murin. “Seems fine to me. What’s this about?”

“I’m sure I have no idea. You don’t think they actually tell me anything, do you?”

Gelma gave him a look. “I know you have ears and a brain between them.”

Murin looked pleased, and he leaned close to whisper to her. “If you want to know, I’m to take this to Sensitive if you confirmed the translation. They want anything to do with that phrase, the golden crown. Do you know what it means?”

Gelma shook her head. Sensitive was the department that handled anything that might dangerous, confidential, or more than unusually important for any reason. She didn’t really care for Sensitive any more than she cared for Liabilities. She liked her place here and the work she did.

“Well, off with you then,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll want it up there five minutes ago.”

Murin gave her a nod and rushed out of the room. Gelma turned back, reread the sentence she had been working on, and still couldn’t be sure about the tenses, so she determined to diagram it to be sure. No need to cause extra work for Murin or Liabilities.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck

Magic Mirror Part 4 by Nicole DragonBeck

For Brandon, this is the last one of a four-part series, and I hope you like what I did with it 🙂

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.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Nicole DragonBeck