Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: The Frog and the Book

“Let’s just start from the top,” Sadie advised. “What happened this morning?”

“I went to the park because I got a new book and was reading it and then my neighbor Frank helped with my tablet and—”

“Slow down,” Sadie cautioned and held up a hand. The overexcited teen in front of her inhaled, holding her breath with pursed lips. “You got a new book?”

“Yeah,” Sofia said. “It’s old and it’s written in some sort of weird language. Which is why I wanted it! But Mom said no more weird junk.”

“And the book is weird?”

“It’s like—here.”

Sofia turned sharply, yanking open a drawer on the antique vanity that served as her desk. The book she withdrew had been bound in leather and decorated with tiny gilt images all over the front cover. The attached strap and buckle showed it was meant to be kept closed.

“Here.” Sofia thrust it towards Sadie. “I mean it’s really cool. I’m not sure what kind of language it was written in. I thought maybe it was Arabic, but I can’t identify any sort of words in it.”

“You can read Arabic?”

“Not really, but kind of? I mean, I can google the words and match them up to what’s on the page, so yeah? Just not well. Or at all really. But that’s the book.”

Cautiously, Sadie opened it. The letters on every page had been inked in blue, and boxes on every corner showed some sort of image. Animals, plants, planets, a couple of swords. Those, she noted, had been done in a variety of colors—green, red, black and a sort of silvery grey.

Sadie nodded, handing the book back to Sofia and rubbing her hands together. She frowned, noticing her palms glittered.

With a book that old, perhaps the gilt had flaked off.

“Alright, so you know your Mom’s going to have something to say about your new book, so you took it to the park to try and translate it?”

“My tablet has a good enough camera that I figured I’d do a reverse image search to figure out what language it is. Only, it was…so weird. Like, hidden QR code kind of weird?”

“And your hidden QR code did what exactly?”

“Totally fried my tablet. But that’s not why I called you!”

“Okay, then why did you call me?”

“See, my neighbor Frank? He knows a ton about tech and stuff so I figured I’d ask him because my tablet was fried, and he’s a pretty cool guy, you know? And besides, at that point, I didn’t know what had happened so I figured I could avoid Mom getting mad because she would freak if she found out I broke my tablet.”

So far, everything made sense, but Sadie still wasn’t seeing what the problem was. “Okay, and I’m guessing Frank couldn’t help you out?”

“Oh no, he fixed the tablet, no problem, which is when I figured out it had done something really weird because when I went to check the picture, it looked like it had been translated? They were definitely not the same letters on the page as they were in the picture.”

“And what did the letters say?”

“Not a clue!”

A sigh escaped Sadie. “I say this because I adore you, but I’m not seeing why you called me in a panic. Your tablet could have just glitched and corrupted the file.”

“That’s what I thought but uhm—you know what. Hang on.”

Sofia tossed the book on her bed, already spinning away from it. As soon as the book had landed on the bed however, a flash of blue made Sadie look over. She frowned, looking at the bed.

Which, before had been a simple Ikea frame. Now however, a four-poster bed rose up, thick embroidered blankets and downy pillows replacing the bedding Sadie knew had been there.

It didn’t exactly match the rest of Sofia’s room either. “Here.”

Sadie scrambled to catch the green frog Sofia dropped in her hands. “Uh—”

“He’s not poisonous, I checked. He’s just a frog.”

“Did not know you had a pet frog.”

“That’s my neighbor,” Sofia said.

Sadie looked at the frog in her hands, who seemed just as concerned and wild about the situation as Sofia.

“Your neighbor Frank?”

“Yeah.”

“The one who fixed your tablet?”

“Yes.” That came with an emphatic head bob which threatened to knock the clip out of Sofia’s honey blonde hair.

“Your neighbor is a frog?”

“He is now. See, I was trying to read the new page out of the book and then there was this weird blue smoke and the next thing I know, Frank was gone and there was this frog hopping all over the place totally freaked out.”

Sadie had to look over at the bed, out of pale as it was in the pastel green décor of Sofia’s room. Her motion served to make Sofia look over. Sofia did a double take and gasped.

“What happened to my bed?”

“Well, this is Bright City so you’ve either developed superpowers, or we need to know where you got that book.”

“The antiques shop down on Gardener,” Sofia answered. “I go there at least once a week. And…Mom kind of banned me from going back after I brought home a mummified bird. That’s kind of what set her off on the no-more-weird-stuff kick.”

 “Which means you going there is going to cause trouble.” 

“Oh, I got the book after Mom already banned me. Mom doesn’t know about the book yet.”

The frog in Sadie’s hands finally succeeded in freeing itself and managed to land on the bed, hopping around several times before it came to a rest on top of the book, croaking in displeasure.

“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Sadie advised. “Starting with how we’re transporting Frank.”

Tucked into a plaza half-hidden by larger office buildings, the antiques shop would have been easy to miss with a casual look. Approaching however, Sadie frowned at how dim it seemed. It lacked the lighted displays of its neighbors, only a simple wooden sign hanging from the one window declaring that it was the Magician’s Tower, Purveyor of Genuine Antique and Vintage Finds.

Looking at it, Sadie wasn’t sure it was actually open. “I don’t see any store hours.”

“They’re never posted.” Sofia shrugged it off. “I think it’s between eight and six though.”

Sadie glanced at her watch, noting that it was just passed ten. Sofia seemed confident enough that this was where she’d gotten the book and at this point, Sadie wasn’t willing to discount any possibility. Not after the last three years of keeping up with some of Bright City’s unusual events.

Sofia’s phone rang and she sighed. “It’s my Mom,” she said. “Give me one minute. Two, Mom talks a lot.”

Reminded of the times she’d chafed under her own parents’ sometimes-suffocating care, Sadie smiled as Sofia took a couple steps away, turning her back to Sadie.

Deciding to just poke her head into the shop, Sadie tried the door. Rather than opening when she pulled it, the door held fast, rattling in a way that indicated it had been locked.

She frowned at it. It was gone ten, and a Tuesday besides.

Pushing produced the same results. Sadie gave it one last tug and hummed a little before pulled her own phone out.

A quick search opened no answers. The only possibility Sadie could think was that either it was closed for lunch, or it opened much later than she and Sofia had thought.

“Okay. Yeah, I love you too. Bye. Yes. Bye Mom.” Sofia rolled her eyes as she hung up and shook her head before she smiled at Sadie. “You didn’t have to wait for me.”

“The door’s locked,” Sadie answered.

“Really?” Sofia adjusted her hold on the mason jar they’d put Frank in. He seemed relatively calm, and with airholes poked in the lid, Sadie wasn’t worried too much about him running out of air.

Although, as a frog she wasn’t sure she trusted the mason jar for more than a couple of hours.

“I tried both pushing and pulling,” Sadie answered.

“It usually pulls,” Sofia said and reached out to pull on the handle. The door swung open, a bell chiming as it did.

Sadie had to take a step back while Sofia opened the door a little wider, frowning. “That was definitely locked,” she said.

“Doesn’t seem to be now,” Sofia said, and stepped inside, holding the door for Sadie.

If this sort of shenanigans was common to the shop, Sadie could see why Sofia’s mother would bar her from it.

Despite that she couldn’t see any lights from the outside, stepping into the shop proved it to be bright. A classical hush filled the shop as Sadie followed Sofia’s wandering.

A glass cabinet housed hundreds of tiny figurines. Sadie paused for a moment to examine them and read the sign on the door.

Absolutely NO photography of any kind.

Frowning, she looked closer at the figurines and realized that several of them held cameras. The detailing on their clothes keyed her into their time frames, with a Victorian-styled dress and hat, a man in a top hat. A little further away, a figurine in a suit held a camera with the odd, circular style camera Sadie vaguely recognized as something prevalent to the nineteen fifties. Yet another however, stood in what could have been a denim jacket and held a tiny black square, almost like a smartphone.

Alarmed, Sadie took a large step back. Sofia had continued on ahead, and Sadie followed.

“Mr. Blum?” Sofia sounded almost confused as she moved towards the counter in the back. A faint meow signaled a cat as it slunk out from under a cabinet. Sofia giggled. “That’s Grey,” she added.

“Cute cat,” Sadie said as it jumped onto the counter.

“I’ll check in the other room,” Sofia said as Sadie let the cat sniff her hand. Grey shoved his head under Sadie’s touch and Sofia chuckled. “He must like you.”

Sadie chuckled, scratching at his ears while Sofia wandered a little farther back. “Too bad I’m not in the habit of carrying cat treats around. Sorry, but you’ll have to settle for chin scritches, kitty.”

He purred and then pulled back, audibly clearing his throat. “I’d say the lack of treats is a serious oversight on your part.”

Sadie froze and then looked around before she sighed. “Tell me there’s a normal explanation for this.”

Grey purred again. “I’m surprised at that. Normally Stone Holders have some grasp on the unusual.”

Startled, Sadie took a step back. “How did—”

“Formally, my name is Greymalkin, but Grey is acceptable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Stone Holder, but I know enough to recognize the source of that power anywhere. I see that the last Magician chose well if little Sofia can gain help from people like you.”

It took Sadie a full ten seconds to process that before she inhaled. “Hey, Sofia? Can you come back here?”

A moment later and Sofia returned. “I don’t see Mr. Blum anywhere.”

The purring from Grey increased and Sadie crossed her arms. “I think I’ve got an idea why that is, and hopefully our furry friend here can help because I have a hard time believing there’s not some sort of letter or something somewhere.”

Grey stretched and yawned. “Spoilsport,” he teased.

An audible gasp escaped Sofia and she started as Grey turned, batting at a cabinet until it opened to reveal a book stand which contained only a thick envelope. Curly script on the front spelled out Sofia’s name.

“That…Grey talks?”

“Of course I do.” Grey answered and curled his tail around his toes. “It tends to be unnerving the first time.”

“Oh no. Did you get turned into a cat?”

This time, Grey seemed speechless as he yawned again, the purr coming out louder. Sadie shook her head.

“I don’t think he did,” she said. “But I do think he can start by explaining why that letter has your name on it.”

“I thought it was obvious. The letter contains a brief explanation of why the former Magician chose you.”

“Former?”

“Yes. Normally when someone takes the book out of the shop it does something to alert them to their latent abilities. Strange that it hasn’t already done so.”

“Uhm. Well.” Sofia set the mason jar containing Frank on the counter. “This is Frank. He’s my neighbor.”

“Ugh. Frogs. Inedible and quite noisy.” Grey’s ears flicked as he spoke.

“He’s not supposed to be a frog,” Sofia explained.

“Hardly anyone ever is. Ah well, I believe you’ll find the reversal spell somewhere between pages fifteen and eighteen.”

“Reversal spell?” Sadie asked.

“She’s a magician. That’s normally how they fix wayward spells,” Grey answered. “I don’t recommend trying it while he’s in the jar. Compression does funny things to people.”

“I can’t do magic,” Sofia said.

“I doubt your friend turned himself into a frog. Although, if he has he should be asking the Stone Holder for assistance in shifting back to a more appropriate form.” Grey lifted one paw to clean it.

“Stone—This isn’t making any sense,” Sofia said and Sadie sighed, moving around the counter.

“Let’s start with this,” she said. “Try opening that up and seeing what it says.”

Sofia hesitated a moment before she set the book next to the jar and took the letter. The envelope hadn’t been properly sealed, only had the tuck flapped to close it.

Papers rustled as Sofia sorted through them, setting two of them down and then unfolding a third sheet of paper. She inhaled a little. “It’s a letter,” she said.

“What’s it say?” Sadie asked.

“I can sum it up if you like,” Grey noted and jumped down. “You’re now the Magician, responsible for keeping an entire library of magical artifacts in check. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for sunbathing.”

Sofia watched as he sauntered off and then returned her attention to the letter, her lips pursing for a moment before she began to read aloud.

“I apologize for the suddenness and for how confusing this must be. As a means of short explanation, this shop and everything it is now yours. I’m passing the role of the Magician to you.”

The silence fell in the shop and Sofia looked up. “What does he mean the role of the Magician?”

“I don’t know. Does the letter say?”

“Not really.” Sofia turned her attention back to the letter. “There’s keys in the third drawer, and glass stones in the fourth for the book. It—”

A drawer scraped open, and Sofia turned sharply, barely catching the ring of keys as they flipped up at her. She stared at them and then at the drawer for a moment before returning her gaze to Sadie’s face.

“Did I do that?”

“I think you might have,” Sadie answered.

“How?”

“Probably the same way you turned your neighbor into a frog.”

Concern contorted Sofia’s round face into a grimace. “I’m not sure how I did that either.”

“You remember what I said earlier, about either developing superpowers or needing to find out a little more about the book?”

“Yeah, but this doesn’t sound like a superpowers. We’ve got heroes on the news all the time—there’s shapeshifting and fireballs and flying but…turning people into frogs? A talking cat?”

A soft chuckle escaped Sadie and she bent to open the fourth drawer and retrieve two or three small glass stones. “Trust me. They hardly ever feel like superpowers. In this case, just…see if you can use one of those to find that reversal spell Grey mentioned.”

Hesitation trembled in Sofia’s fingers as she selected a stone and then glanced at the mason jar before she opened the book, flipping through to page fifteen.

She consulted the letter for a moment before she set the stone on top of the page, moving it slowly over the top of the page. To Sadie’s surprise, the letters in the glass were different from the marks on the page.

“You need to read it through a reflection,” Sofia murmured. “That’s a memory spell…huh, spell of finding? Could be useful. And…Oh! Reversal! Here it is. Page seventeen.”

Sofia hesitated for a moment and then looked at Sadie. “Are you sure about this?”

“Fairly sure,” Sadie answered. “Especially since to me, those just look like random letters.”

“They kind of are? But it’s…almost like old English, I think. Or something. Super old. It doesn’t read like English. It—I’m not making any sense, am I?”

“Not exactly, but we’ll worry about explaining it some other time,” Sadie advised. “As long as you understand it. You think you can follow whatever instructions those are?”

“Maybe? I won’t really know until I try, right?”

“You won’t,” Sadie answered and reached out to open the mason jar and tip it until Frank slid out onto the counter. “Let’s try this, okay?”

Sofia nodded a couple of times, picking up the book. She paused for a moment longer before she began murmuring, moving the stone with care over the page to reveal it.

Bits of blue smoke formed at the edges of the book, and Sofia glanced at them nervously as they swirled towards Frank. Though almost inaudible, her voice held steady. The smoke glowed as it began circling the frog.

Sofia’s voice grew steadily, a slow crescendo into firm words full of confidence. Thickening, the smoke congealed around Frank.

A pop and a bag and Sofia yelped as the glass jar on the table fell off and shattered at her feet. The smoke flooded the room and Sadie coughed, waving it away.

“Hello? Sofia? Hello?”

Through the thinning smoke, Sadie realized there was someone else in the shop, sitting on the counter. A bell rang, and the smoke sucked out, vanishing and giving Sadie a decent look at the unlucky man who’d suddenly appeared in the antiques shop.

He was of an average height. At a guess, Sadie would have said he was thirty-five or so. A strong jaw complimented the round face and he’d combed his dark, thick hair to one side.

Judging from the wideness of his earthy brown eyes, he was also very thoroughly confused.

“Mr. Frank!” Relief pitched Sofia’s voice upwards, and he turned.

“Sofia! How you doing?”

“Great, actually,” Sofia said. Sadie smiled as she eased back around the counter, shutting the cabinet on the way by. “It’s nice to see you.”

“Good to see you too.” He looked around. “Where’s this?”

Alarm crossed Sofia’s features, and Sadie stepped in. “It’s the Magician’s Antique shop. Sofia was saying you needed a unique gift for someone?”

Surprised, Frank spun towards her and frowned. Sadie smiled and held out a hand. “Sadie Lewis, Bright Day paper.”

“You’re that reporter,” he said. “The one that gets all the articles on the heroes.” 

“That I am,” she agreed. “But Sofia mentioned you were looking for a gift. Said something about you needing it to be unique. I couldn’t really think of anywhere else that would have something as unique as an antiques shop.”

“Yeah, yeah! My daughter’s birthday is coming up,” Frank said. He shook himself a little and looked at the floor. “What happened to the glass?”

Sadie lifted a hand. “Me, being the giant klutz I am. Mr. Blum was just grabbing a broom real quick while Sofia helped you look for that gift.”

 “Here! Your daughter likes flowers, right?” Already Sofia was off, asking questions and leading the somewhat-disoriented Frank a little deeper into the shop.

A purr and Grey reappeared, jumping onto the counter. “I would have let the kitten figure it out on her own.”

“It would have taken longer and someone would eventually file a missing person’s report,” Sadie answered.

“Ah, people. Always concerned with where other people are. I don’t see what it matters. Though, I do have to wonder how you plan on covering the fact that my dear Blum isn’t in the shop.”

“You said it yourself,” Sadie replied. “If it’s shapeshifting help you need, ask the Stone Holder. I’ve got this covered, but I want to know. What’s the story with the talking cat?”

“I’m a cat and I talk.” Grey stretched out. “There’s no story there. There is however, a broom in the cupboard you might need.”  

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Cheat for a Cheat

Most racing dragons came from species of the only slightly intelligent kind. Horned reds tended to be a little smarter than most.

Which, as Ashlynn opened the main gate and saw that at least one had figured out the newest lock and was happily sunning himself on the roof, was why she preferred the blue-tipped quetzal. 

At least her dragon had figured out that if he opened his gate that meant a scolding. Her brother’s red however, did this at least weekly.

“Burner’s out!” she shouted it over her shoulder, knowing that if nothing else she could poke him off the roof with a broom.

The first order of business would be figuring out how he’d opened his stall gate and then correcting it before she could secure him.

Ash closed the heavier main gate behind her. She’d have reach through the hole in the bottom to undo the latch and open it, but it kept the dragons from getting out. They couldn’t maneuver their claws that well.

Not that Burner hadn’t tried.

His stall looked like any other dragon stall—bricked walls with a few rocks in the corner for him to chew on. A wooden post for him to claw at, though after a week it had been reduced to mostly splinters. An open back which would allow him out to the dust yard where he could have sunned and bathed himself.

The problem was, the roof was metal and he liked the metal.

The latch, she saw, had been sheared in two. Ash would need to find the second half before she could worry too much about how to deal with the dragon on the roof.

She nudged the rocks aside and frowned as she noted how they crumbled. They didn’t look particularly well-chewed, and even if they had been, Burner would have probably eaten them. Not only did they help with digestion, but they made it easier for him to create a spark when he needed to breathe fire.

Yet these crumbled at the slightest touch, leaving her with some sort of powder on her hand.

“What are you doing?”

Her brother’s voice made her look up. “Your dragon got out,” she retorted. “Jet, something is up with the rocks.”

“Nothing’s wrong with his rocks. I just checked them this morning.”

“Look.” She grabbed one and gave it a squeeze, letting it powder. “I’ve never seen rocks do that before. Not even when he’s spit them out.”

“They’re fine,” he insisted and snatched up the broken part of the latch.

“No they aren’t,” she said. “This sort of powdering isn’t normal. It’s almost like…” she paused. “Like charcoal.”

Charcoal, which when given to a dragon, would make them lighter over a period. They wouldn’t have the weight of rocks to keep them down, and the build-up of gases in their flame cavity would make them more buoyant.

It resulted in a dragon that could go higher and fly faster.

“I’ll deal with it in a minute,” Jet said. “Go get a broom or something.”

“Have you been feeding him charcoal?”

Jet half-froze before he glowered at her. “Which of us is the senior rider?” he demanded.

“That’s not what I asked. Have you been feeding him charcoal?”

In response, he crowded her space, forcing her to back up. “Listen. There’s only one qualifying race left for the Scale Cup and I’m not about to let anything get in my way. Dragons are dangerous. You know this. I know this. It would be terribly upsetting if something happened to your little Daydreamer over there before that race.”

Her heart dropped. “You wouldn’t.”

“Depends. You still think I’m feeding my dragon charcoal?”

Inwardly, Ash could draw out how that would work. She could tell her parents who would immediately go poking. Jet would be disowned.

It would also stain the family name. Everyone would look at her races harder too. Her parents would be questioned for how they’d let it go so far.

Her little sister, just now old enough to start learning how to race, might be shunned from the things she needed to make it a career.

“No,” Ash answered.

“Then go get a broom.”

She scowled after him as she headed towards the tack shed. There would be a broom in there, and a bridle to help steer Burner back into his stall.

The tack shed had an old broom specifically for chasing Burn back in. Ash reached up for the bridle first, distentangling it from the hook Jet kept the saddle and gear on.

Her gaze lingered for a moment on the straps used to keep a saddle on a dragon.

There was one other side effect to giving a dragon charcoal.

The day of the qualifying race, it was easy to see Burner wasn’t feeling his best. Jet coaxed and pleaded with his dragon quietly, but Burner kept turning his head away.

“Problem?” Ash’s father asked as he finished tightening down the straps to keep her in the saddle.

“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just race jitters,” Jet said. “You’ll be okay. There’s no way we can lose. You got a nice scrub last night and afterwards I’ll get you a whole pig for a treat.”

Burner let off a low growl and Ash looked at him. “Maybe you shouldn’t race him,” she said.

“It’s the last qualifier. We have to or you’ll be the only one racing in the Scale cup,” Jet said.

“If he’s not—

“He’s fine,” Jet cut her off and she narrowed her gaze at him. “Pop, mind helping me strap in?”

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said.

It only took a few moments and inwardly, Ash went over the planned race route in her head. She knew the curves on some of them might be a little harder on Daydreamer and reached forward to gently scratch at the feathers on his crest.

Three gongs sounded, signaling racers to their marks.

“You ready?” Her father asked and Daydreamer cooed, shaking his feathered tail and starting forward. She grinned.

“Good boy,” she said.

They were number six, owing to the fact they’d placed higher in the last two pre-qualifying races. Her brother of course, moved ahead to head one line. He leaned over. “Just race your best. At least one of us will be in the Scale Cup,” he promised.

“One indeed,” she muttered and inhaled before she leaned down. “Ready, Daydreamer?”

He responded by clacking his tongue against his teeth and shaking his tail again.

“On ready!”

Ash gripped the loops on the saddle, knowing that it would be connected to his bridle. He clicked his tongue again, telling her he was ready.

“Wings up!”

Daydreamer’s wings, feathered along the membranes lifted. For a moment she was closed in by the sight of sky blue and bright gold feathers. He would lose the gold soon, replacing them with red for signs of mating season.

A thought for later.

“Away!”

Daydreamer shot into the air, managing to twist and pull ahead of the fifth racer almost before they’d even gotten all the way off the ground. The powerful wingbeats shoved him even farther ahead, and she knew as they managed to get into line with the third racer that the first turn would be the true test.

Her gaze shifted to where Jet was competing to get to first place.

That first turn wasn’t the sharpest, but it was around a vertical plane. Racers only had two options. Get high enough to get over the seventy-foot wall, or turn right to go around it. With it being the first turn she knew it wouldn’t be easy to get enough height to get over it.

Jet, still competing for first, was forced to turn right.

As he did, his saddle slid sideways, rotating. Several people gasped and Burner, already uneasy, dove to prevent his rider from injuring himself.

Disqualification was immediate.

Daydreamer however, paid no mind to this, turning with the gentlest tug on his handles. Ash smiled to herself as he managed to pull ahead, taking the newly-opened second place.

There was nothing she could do to help her brother. Not with such an important race.

She only had to focus on staying in the top five competitors today.

Third place wasn’t a bad place to finish, not for a qualifier and once she’d finished untacking and oiling Daydreamer’s scales, she went to see how her brother was doing.

Furious, as it turned out. “What did you do to my saddle?” he demanded.

She shrugged.

“If you don’t feed a dragon the right kind of rocks, it loses weight. It gets thinner.”

“And?”

“And that means the straps from his previous fitting would have been too loose,” she said as she headed out.

“You cheated,” he said.

Ash looked over her shoulder at him, catching sight of another figure coming up towards Burner’s stall. “Actually, it’s not. Both his previous straps and the new ones were to regulation. I did nothing.”

“You disqualified me.”

“Actually, son. I think you did that all on your own. Thank you, Ash. I think your mom and sister are waiting to congratulate you and get Daydreamer back home for some special treats.”

Her father’s tone told her what would happen next and Jet’s face paled. “You told him.”

“All I did was ask him where your old straps were,” Ash replied and sauntered off. “Pop asked all the rest of the questions.”  

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: A Sister’s Love

Crown was resting, though buried under half a dozen blankets. Blade sighed a little, happy she’d finally managed to get to sleep. For now at least, she was resting comfortably.

Getting enough rest would be at least half of a long battle. The diagnosis was grim.

Mana sickness.

Trapped in a well of magic for almost three hours, Crown had been hit with so much raw magic her body was rejecting it. For someone who didn’t have any magic of their own, that would have been fine. A temporary ailment, gone in a few weeks.

For someone with budding magic of their own, it was a chance to permanently cripple any magic they had.

A sniffle from his eldest daughter’s room made Blade pause and turn. He’d thought Snow would have been in bed and asleep hours ago. At least, she should have been.

He heard the shuddering breath as she tried to hide a hiccup. She was laying perfectly still, faced away from the door and curled tight into herself.

Blade inhaled slowly as he came to the bed. “I know you are not asleep, ehla meh,” he said as he settled on the edge.

This time Snow hiccupped. “I’m trying to,” she muttered.

“Mhmm, and not succeeding, are you?” His hand was gentle as it landed on her shoulder. “What bothers your dreams tonight? More ice snakes?”

She shook her head and curled tighter, pressing her face almost into her knees.

“I cannot fix what you don’t tell me about,” Blade said. “What is it?”

“Crown’s not going to have magic.”

It startled him the way she said it. “What?”

“Crown. She’s sick and it’s my fault and she’s not going to have magic because of it.”

Snow had been there. She’d tried to get her sister out of the well first. They weren’t supposed to have been playing in that area anyways, but neither could resist exploring just once.

No one had known about the well, just about the decaying ruins over it. Snow and Crown had been the ones to find the well when part of their game had dumped the younger sister into it.

“Sit up,” Blade said gently and Snow grumpily complied. “What is this about it being your fault?”

“It’s my fault. You told us not to be over there and she hates playing chase. I’m the one who chased her over there and I tried to get her out and I should have gotten help sooner. Now she’s sick and she’s not going to have magic and it’s my fault. I’m supposed to help look after her.”

Ehla meh,” Blade said gently. “This is in no way your fault. True, you were not supposed to be playing there in the first place, but I know the two of you and Crown has already admitted to being the one to suggest that as your game area. No one knew about the well of magic.”

“But—”

“Enough,” he cut her off. “You did what you could to help your sister. You recognized the well and you knew enough to know it could do some harm if she wasn’t retrieved quickly. We were lucky you weren’t hit with it as well.”

She sniffed and he reached over for one of the small cloths from her nightstand drawer. “Crown’s sick.”

“She will get better,” Blaze replied. “It will take time, but she will recover. Snow, there’s nothing crying will do to fix it and it isn’t your fault. No one knew there was a well of magic.”

“Then what will fix it?”

Her love for her sister made him smile as he smoothed her hair back behind one pointed ear.

“She’ll need lots of care,” Blaze said gently. “She’ll need rest and she’ll need to be kept warm. Lots of tea and for a while she won’t leave the house much. She’ll need someone to keep her company and tell her stories. Do you think you can do that?”

Snow nodded, eyes still bright with tears and Blaze smiled. “She likes animal stories best,” Snow murmured.

“That she does. I also happen to know she loves her sister a great deal and wouldn’t want you crying like this.”

“I just want her to feel better.”

“She will get there. Come here.”

Snow was almost too big for him to carry properly, but he managed to scoop her up anyways, letting her wrap around him while he carried her down the hall.

Crown was asleep, true, but Blaze settled Snow down next to her. “See?” he said gently as Snow automatically nestled in with her sister. “She’s sleeping now.”

Snow shook her head. “She’s not asleep,” she said.

“Oh?” Blaze couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice.

“It just hurts too much to move,” Snow said and kissed Crown’s cheek. “I think she needs some water.”

“Is that so?”

Crown opened one eye, surprising Blaze. He could tell she tried to speak, but no words formed, only a gentle pursing of her lips.

“Let me get a glass for you then.” Blaze murmured. Perhaps he’d add something to help with the pain.

By the time he got a glass and a spoon of the pain reliever his wife kept on hand, Snow looked to have settled comfortably in with her sister. “You’ll have to sit up,” he said gently, and Crown squeezed her eyes shut for a moment.

And yet, Snow shifted and shimmied under her sister, using her own body to help lift Crown and her mountain of blankets upright. Crown smiled, leaning her head back on Snow’s shoulder while Blaze smiled.

“This first,” he said. “Open.”

Crown complied, and Blaze popped the spoon in, letting her take the potion first. He knew it tasted bitter, but Crown never reacted. Once she’d swallowed that, he helped her hold the glass to her lips, taking little sips until she’d had enough to satisfy her.

By then her eyes were drooping closed and Snow had taken to petting Crown’s hair gently as she finally fell asleep.

Blaze smiled and watched while Snow helped lower her sister again, tucking blankets and pillows back in around her. “You see?” he murmured. “You can do a lot to help her.”

“Can I stay with her tonight?” Snow asked. “In case she needs anything?”

He nodded. “As long as you get some sleep too,” he said and leaned forward to kiss her temple. She flinched back a little. “Are you alright?”

“My head hurts.”

He chuckled and pulled another blanket over, draping it over both his daughters. “That’s what happens when you miss out on dreams in favor of worrying yourself into tears. Sleep, ehla meh.”

She smiled a little and settled down, head tucked under a pillow the way she liked to sleep. Blaze slunk out again.

Strange how Snow had known what Crown wanted, even before she’d managed to ask. Then, he decided, Snow had been ecstatic when she’d learned she would have a little sister. Even more so when she’d learned it meant she would need to help look after and care for her sister. Growing up out here in the Frozen Wastes around ruins of what had once been the frost elf capital had sometimes been lonely for Snow.

It was no surprise she knew what her sister needed or wanted. She loved her sister.

 

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Under Her Own Power

Inhaling brought cool air to her lungs as she stood outside the parliament chamber. Exhaling dispelled some of the internal heat, but did nothing to calm her anger.

“Are you ready, Your Majesty?”

Sola lifted her face. She didn’t have a choice. Either she stood out here all day or she walked into the parliament knowing full well they would want their demands met. If it was merely a waiting game, she had no end of patience.

Her people did not.

“Open the doors. Please.” She added the please perhaps a little hastily, remembering what she’d been told just that morning. She was queen, and though she’d spent seven years locked away, manners were just as important to people as they were to spirits.

The gilt doors swung open and Sola strode forward, letting the lace cape hanging from her shoulders flutter in the wind created by her passage.

“Queen Sola Diem. Hail the Queen!”

“Hail the Queen.”

The hundred voices of the parliament annoyed her, more than having her presence announced in every bloody room she entered. Sola took another slow breath as she stepped up into the empty, central pedestal, looking at the gathered faces of parliament.

Silence for a moment, and then the head of Parliament cleared his throat and shuffled his papers.

“Your Majesty—”

“You will speak only when spoken to.”

Her voice cut him off. Shock and surprise coated the room and Sola drew in another breathe, taking the air deep.

Roses, she realized. She could smell roses. A hateful, sickly smell that told her there were greater forces at place than one queen and one kingdom.

Smartly, one of the smaller members of parliament raised his fan. “Yes, Councilor?” She didn’t bother looking at the nameplate in front of him, didn’t bother acknowledging him beyond that. These men had plenty of acknowledgement from the people. No need to give them more. They needed a reminder of what their job was.

“In regards to today’s meeting, we’ve asked Your Majesty why you’ve refused to reclaim some of the private lands currently left abandoned or otherwise unused.”

“No, you’ve not. You’ve demanded my presence to try and cow me into submission. My answer remains as it has been. No. Those lands do not belong to the Crown.”

Several annoyed grumbles and once more the Head of Parliament cleared his throat. “Those lands—”

“Have I spoken to you?” Sola turned her gaze on him directly and he sank back.

“Ah…permission to address you, My Queen?”

“If you must.” Her temper won over her patience.

“The lands did originally belong to the Crown. It’s merely a matter of reclaiming the titles, which you do have the power to do as you are Queen of the First Kingdom.”

“They belonged to the Crown until they were purchased by their current owners. As they have not been sold back to the Crown or deemed forfeit by any competent official—”

“Several officials have deemed them forfeit.”

“Excuse you.” Sola’s attention moved to the unexcused speaker. The stench of roses grew, permeating the chamber. “I was not finished speaking, do not interrupt me. No competent official has declared those lands forfeit. Several incompetent and heavily bribed officials have and I will be rescinding those declarations effective immediately.”

Outcries. Rage. Several parliament members stood up.

What little remaining control over her temper snapped, not unlike a thread.

Silence!

Roses erupted out of the wood of the podium. Several bloomed on the tables in front of the parliament. Petals exploded into the air and drifted to the floor, leaving a crimson carpet all around.

The effect was immediate. The gathered members of parliament froze, recoiling from the roses in horror and fear.  Sola inhaled again.

“Let me remind you of something. Your jobs are to serve the people of the First Kingdom. You have been given your positions because you were educated enough to qualify for them. That does not mean I cannot find a replacement for all of you. Continue to harm the people of the First Kingdom and I will do exactly that.”

“We are—”

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Already formed, the rose thorns grew bigger. Sola glowered down at the petty men still cowering back from the flowers. Anger trembled in every limb.

“You are all the same men who allowed a weakling king to lock his daughter away for seven years. You are all the same men who left a princess to the care of spirits. Unfortunately for all of you, princesses have a habit of becoming queens. I am that queen now and my time away has reminded me of who I serve. I owe no loyalty to any of you. Your attitudes towards both me and my subjects are only adding black marks to the pages of loyalty you owe me.

“The lands do not belong to the Crown and that is final. Remember that there are rules to dealing with a spirit and remind yourselves that you’ve allowed your Queen to be raised by those same rules.”

She turned, steps kicking rose petals up into the air again. One or two clung to her as she exited. The doors closed behind her and Sola had to inhale, closing her eyes. The weight of the traditional diadem pressed on her.

“Your Majesty?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Sola shook her head to chase the thoughts away and looked at one of the doormen. “Kindly ask the housekeepers to leave the roses be. I’ll take care of them once the parliament chambers have been cleared.”

“I can have the gardeners brought in, my lady.”

Sola smiled. “That’s very sweet of you, but it will have to be me. As I said. I’ve been raised by the same rules as a spirit.”

The doorman smiled and bowed. “If I may?”

“May what?”

“Thank you,” he said and smiled. “My father owns some of the lands they’ve been trying to get you to reclaim. He’s too old to farm it anymore so it’s supposed to be my sister’s dowry. Without it, we’d have lost an entire orchard. So thank you for standing up to them, but if it’s all the same to you, you’ve done a good favor to us and it’s a small price to get you some help cleaning up those roses.”

For the first time that morning Sola laughed. The sound surprised her and she brought a hand up. “My thanks,” she said. “But it’s not a concern about having help. Rather, those roses are from a fairy’s blessing.”

“Then if it’s all the same to you, may I request we leave them? Can’t be messing with fairy’s magic now and might serve as a good reminder to the parliament about not crossing spirits of any sort.”

Sola considered it and looked back at the doors. She couldn’t hear anything and smiled. Perhaps parliament needed a reminder of several things.

“You know, I think you’re right. Perhaps just have the gardeners do a little trimming to keep them healthy, if you don’t mind?”

“My pleasure.”

“My thanks.”

After all, there were rules to dealing with spirits and people alike.

_________

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Posted in Stories

Short Story: Blessings and Gifts

“There is a difference between fairy blessings and gifts, child. Both can be equally dangerous, but one binds the recipient in ways worse than death.”

Juniper paused in her sweeping to look up at the old woman. “Blessings are supposed to be given when a child is born, aren’t they?”

That earned her a chuckle “They are, but that’s not what makes them different from gifts. Blessings bind a person to a fate. A role in destiny.”

“That seems like some blessings would make people terrible.”

“People can always be terrible. A blessing of beauty does not give you a good heart, and a good heart does not protect against misfortune either.”

Juniper smiled a little. “I think I’ll be happy I don’t have any blessings then.”

Before her mentor could respond, someone knocked on the door and Juniper jumped a little. The old woman chuckled as she began shuffling towards it. “No blessings, but perhaps just enough bravery to see you through.”

If by bravery she meant the terrible voice in her head that screamed she was doing things wrong, Juniper didn’t want it. She returned to her sweeping as the door opened.

“Ah. Miss Cleary. Come in, come in. What do you have today?”

Juniper usually kept her head down, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but still glanced up at the girl who came in. She couldn’t have been much more than seventeen. Deep shadows underscored her velvet brown eyes and her raven-black hair had been tossed into a messy braid.

“Some carrots. Fennel and anise. A few mouse bones. A yard of spun wool.”

“A yard isn’t much.”

Juniper returned her attention to the floor, sweeping the dust towards the door where she could sweep it out. That would be a sign to anyone looking at they were open for business, for requests for this or that charm or fixed pot, pan or box.

A soft hum came from the girl. “No,” she said and suddenly there was a hand thrust in front of her. “You dropped this.”

The ribbon Juniper had strung in her hair earlier stood out against the sun-graced bronze. Gently, Juniper took it. An odd tingle went through her as her fingers brushed that palm and she pulled back a little sooner than was really polite. “Thank you,” she murmured.

The girl, who Juniper only ever heard as ‘Miss Cleary’ studied her for a moment before she nodded and turned. “I only have a yard for you this week.”

“I suppose I’ll make do. Any twigs?”

“A few.” Miss Cleary reached into her bag and withdrew several. “Apple and pecan.”

“Those will do nicely. It’s almost autumn you know. It’s a season of preparing.”

“For some,” Miss Cleary answered.

The usual rattle of coins as they were counted out filled the small room. Juniper had only just opened the door when Miss Cleary approached again.

“Sorry,” Juniper said. She stepped aside, expecting their visitor to pass by. Yet, the girl paused for a moment, tilting her head a little before she reached in her bag and pulled something out.

“Here. They’re fresh.”

Blackberries. They were all contained in a little glass jar which Juniper took reverentially. “I don’t—”

“They’re a gift,” Miss Cleary said and nodded only once before she stepped out. Juniper stood there, a little shocked before she turned and looked at her mentor, who only grinned.

“I don’t understand,” Juniper said.

“That’s Crystal Cleary. She’s the third generation seventh child of the Cleary family.”

“Seventh children are powerful,” Juniper said as she held the glass jar with its treats a little closer.”

“That they are. And Crystal herself got a fairy’s blessing. She always finds what she needs at hand.”

Juniper was silent a moment before she came around to put the jar on the sideboard nearest the hearth. Perhaps she’d make some tarts later, she decided.

“If she’s fairy-blessed, isn’t she bound to a fate?”

“Of course she is. That is between her and the fairy that blessed her however.”

“What about fairy gifts? Don’t they bind someone?”

“Not at all. A gift from a fairy is freely given, and that is what makes it dangerous. Wrong a fairy, and you may find yourself gifted with something nasty.”

Juniper smiled a little as she looked out the door. “Would it be alright if I made some tarts for her?”

“For Miss Cleary?”

“Yes. She gave me the blackberries, I can at least give her something to say thank you.”

The old woman studied her a moment before she nodded. “I suppose you can. Besides, I know you do love your blackberries.”

Juniper smiled. “It’s a very nice gift.”

_________

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