Thursday, July 31, 2014

Flash: Predator and Prey

Wolf stalked through the cold forest. The sky aboves was as grey as his coat. The trees were bare of leaves and reached up into the sky like cold, dead claws. They wanted to cut through the clouds to the warm sun that would bring spring. That season was far off though. It was cold and the nights long. It was the season of the wolf.

Frosted leaves crunched under his paws. Each breath turned into a curling ghost. His gleaming yellow eyes peered between the trees in search of his prey. The scent was growing stronger. He sniffed again, and the world came alive. It was like being able to see into the past, the faded image of a memory. He knew every step his prey had taken and its twisting trail through his wood.

He continued along the host trail. The baren oaks formed a line ahead. He could see beyond the sentinel wall that a small glade was open to the dim sun. In warmer weather it would be a lush meadow. There were no birds to sing the songs of summer though. Instead dead grass whipped about in the frigid breeze.

Standing in the glade was his query. The great stag was a massive specimen. He had seen many summers. Even as the season grew late, he still bore his antlers. A massive rack of points that marked him as a successful buck. Now, though, his head was bent with the weight of years. His steps were weak and his breathing ragged. He gave a cough that sent a cloud spiraling through the air.

Wolf stepped into the glade and padded towards his query. This was an elder of the forest, not some yearling to be ran down. Hart raised his head as he saw Wolf approach. He scrapped at the ground with his hoof.

“You have come for me, Wolf,” said Hart.

“Yes, Old One, I have,” Wolf replied, “You have seen many turns of the season.”

“Many, perhaps too many,” Hart said, “I am old. I am tired and feel my strength slipping away.”

“Are you in pain?” asked Wolf.

“Yes. My body is sore and my injuries are many. In my youth I ran often from your kind. I outran them all. Now though, I cannot run. My legs will not carry me. I have grown sick and weak. There is something in me that is taking away my strength,” said Hart.

“Blight has come to you, I can smell it. If you continue on it will spread to trouble more of your kind,” Wolf told him.

“I have sired many fawns. I would not wish this to spread on to them. Now is my time. I wish to pass with my pride and dignity,” said Stag.

“That is why I am here. I have come to see your passing. I will end your pain,” said Wolf.

“I understand. It is my time now and I shall go back to the earth from which I came,” said Hart.

“You will nurture the grass and your kind, as you and your kin shall nurture me,” said Wolf.

“Then let us finish this!” said Hart as he reared up, his front hooves raking the air in a final burst of energy. His antlers gleamed as a thing ray of sun broke the clouds to glint off of the frost that covered them.

Wolf bared his fangs as he growled. His fur bristled in predatory furry. Iron muscles tightened and he leapt through the air. His bone crushing jaws opened wide as they sped towards the stag’s throat, his alabaster fangs shining in the cold light. Tonight he would sing the Old One’s praise to the moon.

The cold dead ground was nurtured then by hot, red life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Concerning Fanfiction

Fanfiction are stories created by fans about their favorite shows, movies, books, and the like. I discovered it when I was a teenager. I read people’s ideas for how the Legend of Zelda might have continued on after the game was beat and explorations of subjects that were never fully explored in my favorite animes. That is most often what you find in fanfiction, peoples thoughts and feelings on subjects that were never fully fleshed out or what might have been. It is also common to find stories of what people think will happen as they wait for the next chapter to be revealed.

I found it inspiring to see that anyone could write a story and put it out there for everyone to read. Being a writer had seemed like such a far away idea, but in the internet forums, anyone could become an author. Not everyone was good of course, but it was understood to be amature hour. It is something shared in a community of people dedicated to a love of a particular subject. It took a while, but eventually, I gave it a try. I had written short fiction before. This was different though. I was putting something out there to be shared and read with the masses. Fanfiction is what made me think, I can do this. I can be a real author.

Among the more “professional authors,” fanfiction can be a controversial topics. Some see it as an infringement on their intellectual property. Anne Rice has been aggressive in fighting fanfiction based on her stories and even asked that it be removed from websites. Others seem to be just dismissive of the writing style in general. Are they wrong? In the question of copyright, that is a tough call. In the case of the quality of the writing of fanfiction, I would say unequivocally yes.

I am going to address the writing quality issue first. I think that is a miss conception, plane and simple. There are of course some very bad pieces of fanfiction. It is by its nature an amature art. That said though, there are also very good works. Some are even better than what the original creators come up with. After all, if you have a thousand people coming up with ideas, sooner or later, someone will hit on gold.  As to the idea that fanfiction writers are unoriginal, just playing off of someone else’s ideas, that is ridiculous. No one calls Timothy Zhan or Michael Stackpole’s works in the Star Wars EU unoriginal. They were simply creating stories within a shared universe. Ultimately, that is what fanfiction is, an unofficial shared universe.

Copyright can be a touchy subject for authors. If that is your profession, then someone violating a copyright is practically robbing you. As well, most writers feel strongly about the characters and worlds they create. They do not want to see them violated or misused. George R. R. Martin likes to point to an instance where an author scrapped a novel when a fanfic writer threatened to sue concerning similarities with a story he made based off of her work. I wholeheartedly agree that the fanfic writer was in the wrong on this. Martin also likes to compare Edgar Rice Burrow and H.P. Lovecraft. ERB held tight control of his characters and creations, and made good money off of them. HPL sadly died in poverty, which Martin attributes to HPL not keeping tight control of his property. I feel this comparison is a bit of an oversimplification. As well, HPL’s Cthulhu Mythos has more in common with a shared world than a fanfiction community.

Now, I will not pretend to be an expert on copyright, creative commons, or the what falls into the public domain. Perhaps my thoughts on the issue will change as I learn more on the subject, but for now, here is my thoughts on how it relates to fanfiction. So long as the fanfiction author credits the source material and does not try to profit from it, I do not see any real harm. The idea that the original author is the only one who has any right to the characters seems a bit stretched in this area. Everyone that reads their work will naturally come up with their own ideas of “what if,” or “I think this will happen,” and play it through their heads. Fanfiction is just taking that idea and writing it down.

There are some times when I do feel a bit more control is appropriate. My own works for example. I would be rather flattered if someone liked one of my stories enough that they wanted to play around with it. However, at this point, that would make it harder to maintain control of my characters. I would be open to someone doing a shared world based off of my works, but I would need to maintain tight control to retain my rights to the property. Now, if I sell a book or two and a few fans want to put up a few stories, at that point, I would be quite fine with it. Heck, I would love to see that. George Lucas does not have to worry about losing control of Star Wars to a few fanfiction writers, but a small novice like myself cannot afford to have his works taken over.

Those are my personal thoughts on fanfiction. I still love to read it now and then. Sometimes I even think of writing some. However, I have moved on to creating my own original works. I had thought of throwing some of my old fanfiction works up on The Word Crafter’s Lair. I decided against that though, wanting it to be a place to showcase my own creations. If you are interested, though, my works can still be found on my fanfiction.net profile.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blood for Blood

Author's Note: This story is dedicated to my dear friend Ariel Pond who passed away last month. It was her birthday this weekend, so in tribute I have striven to compose a story that she would have enjoyed.

Casandra through her head back in a long moan of pleasure. Her hips worked up and down as she rode the sweating man beneath her. They had been having sex for over an hour. She was glad he could keep up the pace, though he was starting to wear down. He was only human after all.

She licked her lips at the feel of his hands playing across her naked flesh. Each time she slid back down it was another jolt of pleasure that reminded her of what it was like to be alive. It was a faint memory from more than a century ago.

“Fuck, I need to cum,” he told her as she raked her nails down his chest. She had chosen a fine specimen this time.

Leaning in she groaned in his ear, “Fill me up.”

He bucked under her, his entire body shaking. She kissed him hard as he released inside of her. It was a rush knowing that he was pressing that elixir of life inside of her. She sunk her teeth into his neck as her own orgasm washed over her. She had given him more than a few nips this evening, but this one was different. This was the final one.

Her fangs punctured his artery to let his warm blood flow. She sucked it down without restraint. She was starving. Not just for nourishment, but for the feeling of warm life inside of her and pleasure. They were both caught up in an ecstasy, more to his detriment than hers. By the time his orgasm had subsided she had drained half of his blood. He was weak and lightheaded, unable to fight.

She looked down at the new corpse under her as she licked her crimson lips. She placed a fierce kiss on his lips as she slowly dismounted. She could feel his life’s blood coursing through her veins. She stretched sensuously like cat as the feeling washed over her.

She looked over to the mirror. Her skin was less pale as the flush of life took effect. She was still of fair complexion, emphasized by her flowing dark tresses. She spied a drop of blood slipping down her neck and over her full breast just as his seed was sliding warmly down her thighs.

She was using his shirt to clean up when her phone started to ring. She would have let it ring, except she could not ignore a call from Nicodemus. With a sigh she picked up her phone, “Hello?”

“Casandra, I need you to come over,” the sibilant whisper told her, “There seems to be something amiss that I want you to look into.”

“Give me about two hours. I have a cleanup to take care of,” she told him as she checked the clock.

“You have one hour,” was the reply before the line clicked off.

Casandra scowled, but there was no arguing with her sire. She grabbed an industrial sized garbage bag. Cleanup was always such a pain in the ass, and she wasn’t even going to get to bask in afterglow. At least she did not have someone bothering her to cuddle.

***

She was fairly sure that it was Bach playing on as the elevator traveled up the floors. It was doing nothing to relax her though. The high of life was already fading and her mood was sour. Sadly she could not show that with Nicodemus.

The elevator doors slid open and she stepped into the penthouse foyer. The entry was lavishly furnished with rugs from India and paintings from around the world. The walls were paneled with black cherry. All of the opulence was lost on her though. Nicodemus’s majordomo standing there, waiting to see her in was the ultimate eyesore.

Alexander was whip thin with hair almost as pale as his skin. He was a half step away from being an albino. His thin lips were pulled back in the grin that he greeted everyone with. So far as she was concerned, he was a weasel in a fine suit.

“He is waiting for you in his drawing room,” he told her as he turned to lead her to the room, not that she needed him too. He was rather insistent on showing everyone around and reminding them of his authority and position. She could have asked him what was going on, but he rarely gave straight answers. With a knowing smirk, he held open the door for her.

Inside the well appointed room, Nicodemus was waiting in high backed, throne-like chair. His features were sharp and aristocratic. He was old, over a millennium. It showed, giving him a withered look. “I am glad you finally arrived.”

“Yes, Sire. As you know, it takes time to hide the bodies.”

“That it does. I miss the days when a corpse could just be left in the street if you were in a hurry,” he said. He laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them. His piercing glare fixed on her and she knew he was ready to get down to business. “Daryl is missing. He has made no contact in two nights now.”

“You suspect something has happened to him,” she said as she thought for a moment. “When was he last heard from?”

“Thursday evening. I had him over to discuss some issues with the Vitalli Clan. They have been eyeing our territory,” he said as his lips curled in a scowl. Nicodemus considered the Vitallis upstarts. “I called him last night, but I have not heard from him as of yet which is highly unusual.”

“Could the Vitalli have taken him?”

“Unlikely, but not impossible. That would be too bold for them. You shall clear the haze from this situation. Punish any that have wronged us, or drag Daryl here so I can deal with his insolence.”

“Yes Sire.”

“Inform me once the issue is resolved. You are dismissed,” he told her and turned his attention to a small ledger that had been resting on stand next to his chair.

Casandra fought down her scowl. She hated being dismissed so abruptly. Even immortality had its downsides though. She was bound to Nicodemus whether she liked it or not. He did look out for her and the rest of his brood, but he was a distant and demanding patriarch to say the least.

As she exited the drawing room she considered her next course of action. If nothing else, this would at least provide some distraction from the mundanity of unlife. That was what she found to be the greatest threat. Growing complacent and sedentary. She could see the signs of it in Nicodemus. Most who reached his ancient stature would start to fall into a degenerated state. She knew that he had secluded himself at least once to sleep away half a century. He had awoken again with some new vitality and focus. Perhaps he would do that again soon. She did not mind the idea. It would open the clan to danger for sure, but it would also offer her more freedom.

Alexander was waiting for her and walked silently with her to the elevator. She did not care for being escorted around like some child. It left her wanting to slug him and put him in his place. He might be in favor now, but it was only a matter of time before he felt out of favor with Nicodemus.

“I haven’t been to Daryl’s new place. Give me his address,” she said with as much insubordination as she could muster.

His eyes flashed in anger for an instant, but he smoothed it over quickly. The weasel was too slick to show something like that. Instead he took a small note card from his pocket and jotted down what she had asked for. “Inform me if you find anything or when it becomes too daunting for you. I am curious as to what has happened wish to see it quickly resolved,” he told her as she stepped into the elevator.

She simmered at his tone, but was surprised to hear him say such a thing. He was not one to show much interest in the other members of the clan and had a known rivalry with Daryl. Still, she did not give a damn about his concerns. Just before the doors closed she flipped him off.

***

It was one in the morning when she arrived arrived at Daryl’s apartment. She picked the lock and entered with a dagger in hand. She was not sure what to expect, but she was not willing to be caught off guard.

The inside of the apartment was a mess. Chairs were knocked over and the coffee table was broken. Several vases were left in pieces from either being knocked over or thrown. A more telling sign was that the plasma TV had been shot.

As she slowly searched the living room she found the reason for Daryl’s silence. A pile of ash with a vaguely human outline was behind the couch. She leaned down to poke through it and found another bullet hole right at where his heart would have been. Flecks of silver were mixed in with the ash. There was no question to her mind that someone had slain Daryl. The question was who?

She continued to search, but found no clues that jumped out at her. She righted one of the chairs and put it back in a corner. Sitting down she looked over the whole scene and started to run scenarios through her head to piece what had happened together. Events slowly unfolded in her mind’s eye.

There was no sign of forced entry and the alarms were off, so he must have let the person in. Possibly, it was someone he knew. He had invited them in, maybe even started to talk when he suspected something was wrong. She could imagine the fight playing out. She was starting to suspect more than one assailant. Someone was distracting him while the other tried to shoot him. That was the shot through the TV. The fight had gone on hard from there until he was knocked down and shot on the floor.

“Great, I know what happened, but not who the fuck did it.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. She needed a clue, a lead, anything. She could only think of one possibility. “I hate dealing with that mutt.”

***

It was an hour after she had checked out Daryl’s apartment. Water dripped off of the buildings that made up the alley to splatter on the pavement below. A short rain right before sundown had left things cool, but damp. Casandra waited impatiently with her back leaning against a wall. She checked her watch again in frustration.

Waiting was always torturous to her. She needed something to stimulate her, to keep her interested. Being alone in a dark alley with nothing but her thoughts was enough to bore her to tears. At least things would be a bit more interesting when he arrived. Of course, he never arrived on time, just to piss her off.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” she said to herself as she turned to the sound of paws splashing in a puddle.

Materializing out of the darkness was a gray wolf. A stripe of black fur ran along his spine. His yellow eyes glowed in the flicker. There was an intelligence behind them, far too cunning for any animal. What grated at her at the moment though, was that truly wolfish grin that said he was pleased with himself for showing up late.

“You took your damn time getting here.”

He just tilted his head in a kind of shrug. Then his mouth started to twist ever so slightly and he seemed to wince in pain. Then he spoke, his voice eerie in the way it came out of a mouth not meant for human words, “It takes time to cross town paws. I think it is rather discriminatory how they won’t let me on the subway. Oh, sure, they’ll let “service” dogs down-”

“Cut it Parker,” she said sharply. “If you wanted to chit chat you should have arrived early. This is a business call, and I need to get things done sooner rather than later.”

“Oh? Well, you know the standard price on information.”

“Not information this time. I need some more direct help from you,” she told him, fighting down the urge to bite on her lip. It was both embarrassing and unorthodox to ask a lycanthrope for help like this. “I need you to see if you can pick up some scents for me.”

“Hey now, I’m not your damn bloodhound!”

“Look, I’ll pay you double your normal price.”

“Tempting, but I will need to know more if I am going to do this,” he said in a half a growl as he opened the option at least. Of course, that was part of the real price, having to let him know of what was going on inside of her world. She had no doubt that he had other customers and that one of them would be quite happy to learn of her clan’s inner workings.

“Someone killed a member of my clan. I need help figuring out who.”

He was silent for a minute than spoke, “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll need a ride to wherever it happened though.”

“I figured as much. My car is around the corner. I don’t want my car smelling like wet dog though.”

He gave a barking laugh, “Stand back for the show.” His body started to grow and twist in violent bursts. The sounds of bones cracking echoed through the alley. Painful growls escaped a mouth that shrunk from a canine muzzle to human lips. Fur receded except for a short hair on his head and a trim beard. Under the wolf skin he was a tan, muscular man with a tribal tattoo crawling up his right bicep. He was also quite naked.

Casandra eyed him up and down. It was the first time she had actually seen him in his human form. The corners of her lip curled in a thin smirk as she took him all in. He was well built, and well equipped. “So that is what you keep under the fur.”

“Glad you like,” he said utterly unabashed, “Care to show the way. It’s a bit chilly without my coat.”

She turned and led the way. It was a risky thing to turn her back on him, but then again, it was risky talking to him to begin with. The vampire clans and werewolf packs were old enemies. They were both alpha predators fighting over the same territory. Nicodemus would have her skinned for talking with a mut. She imagined that his pack, if he had one, would probably kick him out or kill him for the indiscretion.

That was one of the things she was never sure about with him. She had tried to pin down his pack, but had no luck. No werewolf would betray their pack though. It would be like her trying to attack Nicodemus. She came to him for information on the movements of the packs. On a rare occasion he had a lead on some of the vampire clans. She paid him good cash, and occasionally information.

They got into her car and she put it into high gear heading to Daryl’s place. This was the real dangerous part for her. She was trapped with him in the car. She might take him in a fight in an alley, but not trapped in a confined place. A vampire was fast, strong, and durable, but a werewolf was a rage powered engine of destruction with fangs and claws. The idea that she was that close to death gave her a thrill.

***

The trench coat that Cassandra had loaned Parker was a poor fit, but it would keep anyone from noticing a naked man wandering through the building. Once they were inside the apartment, he hung the coat on the coat rack. The formality seemed almost surreal given they were at a murder scene.

She watched as he transformed again, but this time it was not the full metamorphosis. Instead he stayed human, but became more bestial. He hunched forward as fur grew over his body and his features twisted up into a feral countenance. He might have passed for human at a distance, if he was clothed. That, she reflected, was the real difference between the werewolves and the vampires. His power came from being a human in a monster’s body, while hers came from being a monster in a human body.

He began to sniff around the room. He got leaned down so that he was on the tips of his toes and fingers as he moved across the floor. He took a whiff at the couch, then moved on to where the dust formerly known as Daryl lay. He continued on around the room for several minutes before standing up again. With a growl he transformed back into his human form.

“So? What’s the verdict?”

“There was a fight here and someone was dusted,” he deadpanned.

“That joke is coming out of your pay, which may be non-existent if you can’t offer me more than that.”

“Fine, fine. I could tell a few things,” he told her as he went over to the kitchenette and started to raid the cabinets. He was coming up quite disappointed. Vampires do not keep a lot of snack foods laying around. “There have been at least three vamps in here in the last two days, including you and dusty there.” Finally giving up the search for food, Parker turned back to her and said, “There has also been a male human here in that time frame as well. He was injured, bled a bit. I don’t think he was food though, and fairly sure he didn’t die, at least here.”

Casandra closed her eyes and tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Another vampire might have been someone that Daryl knew. That would explain how they got in without setting off an alarm. Who would Daryl just let in his apartment though? Did the vampire bring the human? The human could have been presented as a meal. That would have gotten them both in. A ruse to get Daryl to let down his guard. It was a workable theory, but it still gave her no clue as to who did it.

“Can you tell me anything else?” she asked in frustration.

“Not really. I mean, if I smelled them again I could point them out,” he said with a shrug, “Pretty distinct smell, especially the vamp. Guy needs to lay back on the cologne and try something a bit less spicy.”

Cassandra's eyes narrowed and she fished around in her pocket for the address card that Alexander had given her. She held it out to Parker and asked, “Does it smell anything like this?”

He took the card and sniffed at it before telling her, “Right on the mark for the cologne. Hard to tell about the other scents though.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’ve told me more than enough,” she told him as she pulled a stack of cash from her coat pocket and tossed it to him.

He flipped through the bills quickly. Then with a smirk he said, “You know I accept payment in trade as well.” She could see that he had grown a bit turgid. The offer was not without appeal. She needed a shot of life in her. She had also heard that lycanthrope blood was like a mix of hard liquor and an energy drink.

“Don’t hold your breath mut,” she told him with a snort. Fun was fun, but she had business to deal with. Besides, dealing with him was enough of a risk without sleeping with him.

He shrugged then morphed back to his wolf form. In his eerie voice he told her, “Well, be careful then. I do you one more favor and I can finally buy a new car.” He took the money in his mouth and waited for her to let him out.

Cassandra went back to her car and popped the trunk. She was going to need a few items for what was coming. A concealable bulletproof vest was a good start if people were going to be throwing around silver jacketed bullets. Two concealed daggers would do for offense. The final trick she concealed was a specialty of hers: razorwire garrotes.

***

She would have preferred to just kick in the door, but she needed to speak with him first. Casandra knocked on the door and put on an impassive face. After a moment the door opened and Alexander was looking at her sternly.

“What are you doing here unannounced?”

“I have a possible lead on the case. You said you wanted to know if I did,” she said, “Now invite me in so we don’t have to discuss business in the hallway.

He sighed then said, “Fine, come in. This had better be good.”

This was her first time in Alexander’s apartment. It was spacious and finely appointed. The walls were white and the furniture black. Expensive appliances including a remote controlled system of blinds (a luxury to any vampire). Everything about it was sleek, modern, and cold.

“Daryl has been slain, in his own apartment,” she informed him.

“That does constitute important news,” he said with a frown.

“He let another vampire into his apartment. This other then had the aid of a human in slaying Daryl,” she explained as she circled around Alexander, “I think I have an idea of who this other vampire is.”

“Hmmm, and what of this human?” he asked calmly.

She locked her eyes on him and answered, “I have not determined that yet.”

“Allow me to enlighten you then,” he said, “Robert.”

Cassandra half turned to see a man stepping out of the bathroom with a revolver pointed at her. He was an older man with close cropped, salt and pepper hair. Most telling was the metal gorget protecting his neck. That meant only one thing, he was a slayer.

“Really, working with a slayer? Not the best choice of company don’t you think Alexander?” she asked as she slowly adjusted her center of gravity.

“Not really. You see, Robert and I have formed a mutually beneficial partnership,” Alexander said, “He is very good at killing out kind, but really only wants to kill one. It turns out that our dear Sire slaughtered his entire family about thirty years back. I’ve offered to help him with that. In exchange I am freed from Nicodemus and in position to take control of the clan.”

So that is why he killed Daryl, she thought to herself. Then she looked at the slayer and asked, “And you think you can trust someone that slays his own clan to honor your bargain?”

“I don’t trust him to awful much, but he made me an offer that was hard to refuse,” he said with a wry smile, “Not a lot of people in this line of work get to retire, and he proposed a very good retirement package on top of getting to kill that leach that spawned you.”

“Yes, so congratulations on solving Nicodemus’s final task to you Cassandra,” Alexander told her.

“No, my final task is to kill you two,” she hissed and spun into a blur of motion. Robert fired too late. She drew out one of the daggers and through it at him, striking his gun arm.

Cassandra never thought of Alexander as one to get his hands dirty. However, as the weasel struck her from behind, she was reminded that he was as much a vampire as her. She smashed through the black glass of the coffee table. She kept rolling to avoid him stomping on her abdomen.

They snarled like beasts as he pressed the attack. She blocked his punches and kicks from her knees. She grabbed his wrist as she sprung up and twisted it hard. She would have liked to torn it off, but had to dodge a stab from the slayer with her own knife. She kicked Alexander away as she drew out a garrote.

When the slayer lunged at her again she leapt over him, twisting in the air. With her arms crossed, she let the razor wire catch under his chin, biting into his skin above the gorget. She landed in a crouch and threw her arms apart. The wire cut clean through his neck, severing his head from his body. The decapitated corpse collapsed in a spray of arterial blood as his heart gave it’s last few pumps.

She turned to face Alexander just in time to see him raising the slayer’s dropped gun. She sprung to the side, but still felt a bullet tear through her leg. She landed bad next to the broken coffee table. Things were not looking good. A knife at a gun fight was something she was use to dealing with. Not being able to move freely, however, would make it a lot tougher.

She looked at Alexander and his weasley smirk. He was not foolish enough to move in closer. He was using his advantage, and there was little she could do to nullify it. She needed a plan, and for that she needed time. So she asked him, “Do you really think the others will accept you as Clan Patriarch?”

“Of course. Who else would they choose?” he responded with a chuckle. “Edgar is a halfwit. Jonathan is a coward. Matilda is half mad. Daryl was the only real competition, and only because he would have had support from some of the younger kin.”

“Oh, and what about me?” she asked as she saw what she needed on the floor among the remains of the smashed table.

“Don’t make me laugh. I’m faster, stronger, and more experienced than you Casandra. You are a good assassin, until now, but no leader. Do you really think you are smart enough to run the clan?”

“No, but I am smart enough to know when sunrise is!” she growled as she slapped down the button on the controller for the blinds. She felt the bullet strike her back, but the vest stopped it from penetrating. Gritting her teeth against the pain she made a clumsy leap over a chair to roll into the hallway. It was not graceful, but it got her out of the way.

From her shadowed cover she could hear Alexander scream as the morning light burned his undead flesh. The smell of charred skin filled the air. She heard sound of the gun clacking against the floor as it dropped from his grasp. She could imagine him flailing about trying to get to the remote and close the blinds. After several moments, the sounds of Alexander’s destruction had stopped.

Casandra had to crawl to reach the kitchenette without getting fried. She opened the fridge and grabbed several blood packs. She limped to the second bedroom, thankful she would not have to lay down on the weasel's bed. She flopped down on the bed and drunk down the two packs. By the time the sunset and she could leave, her leg would be fine.

She was going to have a lot of explaining to do to Nicodemus. For one, she was going to have to make sure her story was good enough that he did not find out about Parker’s involvement. All in all though, she was happy with the way things turned out. The weasel was no longer an issue, and she was enjoying the rush from the fight. She closed her eyes and thought about it as she settled into her daytime repose, a bit of blood sliding down her lips.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thirty Minute Fiction: The Grass is Greener

Dice: Turtle, Flower, Bridge

Themes: Nature, protection, reaching a new point, growth, slow and steady

Time: Prep 4 min, writing 26 minutes

Lauren looked across the river and could see the verdant field in stark contrast to the barrens where she now stood. After her long travels, she wanted nothing more than to reach the vibrant lands on the other side of the great Mothune River. She had left her home and risked her life for the chance at a new start. Now, though, she was so close, and yet so far away.

The river was to swift and strong to swim. Even if it was, she would be a fool to risk the beastly creatures that lurked below the surface. Of course, most thought her a fool to leave home in the first place for the promise of some far off land. So she continued walking up stream, hoping to find some kind of crossing. After two days, though, she held little hope of that.

It was well past noon when she stopped to rest. She sat down on a rock in the sparse shade of a twisted tree. Her supplies were running low. If she could not make her way across soon, she would die in the barrens, proving to all that she was nothing more than a foolish little girl.

As she contemplated her fast approaching and rather grim fate, she saw a turtle walking along the bank. As it moved closer to the water’s edge, a serpentine body raised out of the water. The turtle withdrew into its shell as the creature struck down at it. The turtle did not even flinch as the viper-like creature struck it’s shell. The hard shield deflected the venomous fangs, causing the river beast to retreat. After a minute the turtle extended its legs and head, to continue on, sliding into the water. A bit later, she watched it emerge on the other side and start to munch upon a leafy, green plant.

Inspired, Lauren set to work. She took to gathering up all the smoothest pebbles she could in her cloak. She then harvested the sticky sap of some the barren’s odd cacti. She spread it over one side of her cloak to use to glue the stones in place. She fitted them tightly against each other, working them so they fin like colorful puzzle pieces.

With that done, she took her small hatchet and started hacking at her shade tree. It took her the rest of the day and the night, but by mid morning, the exhausted Lauren had her self a log stripped of its branches. She fashioned one of the branches into an oar.

After resting for a bit, Lauren donned her cloak of stones. She pushed the log into the river and climbed aboard, careful to keep her feet out of the water. As she paddled out, the river beasts emerged. She pulled her cloak tight over herself and prayed that her plan would work.

The beasts struck again and again. They battered her, but their fangs could not find a way through her stony shield. It took three minutes, but they finally gave up. Reaching one arm out, Lauren continued to paddle on until she reached the other side.

Overjoyed, Lauren ran from the river’s edge to fall down onto the soft, green grass. It felt so good under her skin after so long in the bleak barrens. She laughed with glee and rolled about. She knew that she could find the green land, and here she was.

Finally, she stood up and declared to all the world, “I am Lauren, the Stone Turtle!”

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Goblin King Chapter 2: Rising Fear

Fland groaned as he slowly woke. He was sore and from the battle the night before. In particular his left side hurt where a goblin had tried to stab him with a stone knife. He was fortunate that the small monster had not the strength to penetrate his armor. Now it seemed that the sun wished to assault his eyes.

Damage control had ran late into the night. Fires had to be put out and bodies taken care of. It was fortunate that there were more dead goblins than villagers. Almost everyone seemed to bare some kind of wound. A watch was organized to make sure the goblins sneak back for another attack. Fland agreed that it was prudent, though he hoped it would be unnecessary. These goblins had proved braver than most of their kind, but he could not see them returning after being routed.

Fland looked around the room and saw that Elarr’s bed was empty. He was a bit surprised. The elf mage seemed to require little sleep most of the time, but after such draining magics, Fland would have thought that he would sleep the day away. Fland pulled on his tunic and splashed his face with some water from the wash basin. After doing the bare minimum to look presentable, Fland headed for the common room.

He could smell food as he came down the stairs and his stomach growled. The common room was filled, every seat occupied. While people were eating, most were talking. He caught snippets of conversation, all pertaining to the attack the night before. Across the room, seated in the corner by the window was Elarr. Fland started towards his companion. Several people called greetings and thanks to him as he wound his way between the tables. They offered him their seat, but he declined.

“It is good to see that you have finally risen,” Elarr said without looking up from the book he was pursuing.

“I’m amazed you are up at all,” Fland replied as he took a seat. He waved over the serving girl. “You were about dead on your feet after that little trick.”

“Indeed. There is no time for rest, though, I fear,” Elarr said as he finally looked up. He indicated something behind him. Fland glanced down and saw that it was the lead bugbear’s shield from the night before, the one that bore the odd mark. “That rune is carved into all of the goblins and bugbears. Easy to miss in the dark, but I checked several of the bodies this morning to make sure.”

“Alright...so its a tribal mark or something?” Fland asked, unsure of where Elarr was going with all of this.

“No, not unless they were part of the tribe we dealt with ten days ago,” Elarr said.

Fland sat up straighter. They had been commissioned to find the den of goblins that had been raiding farms and villages a while back. What they found had been far more than a few goblins in a cave. It was a putrid wound in the earth housing a small army of goblins. Worse yet, they had found that at the heart of the goblin lair was a foul pit being used to transform lowly goblins into ferocious and deadly bugbears. The pair had barely made it out with their lives intact. They had gathered up the local millitia and helped stamp out the vermin. That was a week back, however, and they had been ridden over two hundred miles since then.

“Now, let me show you what makes this particularly disturbing,” Elarr said as he reached down into his satchel. Fland had a hard time imagining this growing more worrisome until Elarr unwrapped a black rune covered cloth to reveal a shard of the orb from the goblin pit.

The hobgoblin that they presumed to be ruling over the goblin pit had possessed an orb of foul power. He had been using it to empower his magics and to create bugbears. During the battle with the hobgoblin, Fland smashed the orb. The result of this, beyond Fland needing new maces, was the release of a great deal of dark energy.

“I have been examining this,” Elarr started in a lecturing tone. He took out a vial of what appeared to be water and started to sprinkle it onto the shard, “I have discovered that if you pour something pure, such as rain water or powdered silver, onto the shard it has a curious reaction. At first, this seems to just be a piece of broken,” Elarr put a great deal of emphasis on the word broken, making it clear who he blamed for that condition, “black glass, smooth and unadorned. However, you can see that the water is being drawn into a patern on its surface, the focus of power trying, struggling to corrupt the introduced purity.”

Fland watched as the water beaded up and started to slide down the glass. Suddenly, it changed direction, sliding back up the gradient. It formed into thin, liquid lines. His hands tightened into fists as he saw the patterns that had formed. It was the same as the one on the shield. “That can’t be good.”

“No, no it is not,” Elarr said flatly. He covered the shard again with the cloth as he continued, “The goblins were not just from some extended tribe. They were exposed to the orb, or another like it. The runes seem to indicate that it is not a source, but a conduit. I would be able to study it better if someone had not shattered it.”

“Hey! How was I suppose to know we might need that accursed thing in one piece,” Fland shot back. This was not the first time he had gotten a lecture on the subject and was getting tired of it. “I saved both of our lives when I smashed that thing.”

“Our lives would not have been in danger if you had not blundered into that trap, as you always do.”

“And if it were up to you, we never would have made it that far. You never would have gone to the den. Hells, you never would have left your nice cozy room.”

The two stared daggers at each other. While they managed an effective working relationship, the man and elf were as different as night and day on many points. This issue between them highlighted that quite clearly. One was accused of being too rash, the other of being to slow to act. They glared back and forth in a battle of the wills, each convinced that by not being the first to look away they would prove their point superior. In short, two grown men that the just the night before had saved a village had degenerated into petulant children. The angry contest would have likely continued for quite some time had they not been interrupted.

“Ahem, excuse me,” said a man in a blue coat that would have been described as nice if not for the soot stains. The man was of middling years and showed the first signs of grey in his hair. His face was open and friendly, the kind that invites you to discuss the weather. The way he held his hat in both hands was a sure sign that he had come to make a request.

The two broke eye contact at the same time, a cooperative skill that had developed between them to allow arguments to end with no looser, and turned to the man. They let their disagreement fade away, though each catalogued it away in some corner of their mind for later. They appraised the man quickly and it was Fland the first to reply, “Good morning. Is there something we can help with?”

“My name is Dylan, the town mayor,” he explained, “I will be holding a meeting at my home in an hour. The captain of the guard and a few others will be there to discuss last night and what is to be done about it. I was hoping that you two would attend.”

“That would be prudent,” said Elarr, “I think we all have much to discuss.”

“Ah, good,” Dylan replied, obviously pleased, “My house is on the other side of town. There is statue of an eagle I carved in front of it, very hard to miss. Anyone should be able to direct you there. We plan to meet in an hour.” Offering a final bow of his head, the mayor turned and left.

***

Fland and Elarr made their way through the streets. In the daylight they could take in the toll of the damage better. It seemed that about a third of the buildings bore scorch marks. Fortunately only a few had been destroyed beyond repair. People were busy repairing the damage. They fixed doors and windows, threw out anything broken, and tried to wash away blood stains. The bodies had already been moved early in the morning. Those who had been killed would be buried, the goblins were being burned. The nauseating smell wafted through the air.

Fland had donned his armor and weapons. This mainly included a quiver of javelins in addition to his light maces. Elarr wore a sash lined with little pockets. Each held spell components. Behind them, they led their horses, saddle bags filled with their possessions. They had already concluded that they would be leaving after the meeting, whatever came of it.

The house was not hard to find just as they were promised. Sitting in front of it was an eagle carved from a log. It was rough, but distinct. It was perched on what remained of the log, standing there with its wings folded. The eyes peered down the street as though standing silent guard over the row of houses. A slight bit of blackening showed that one of the goblins had tried to start fire to it, but was interrupted or changed its mind.

“Humans desire art,” Elarr said with disdain, “but they are unwilling to perfect it, just settling for something crude.”

“It’s a project for his free time, not a life’s calling Pointy Ears,” Fland responded as they went to the door. “Not everyone has a century to waste decorating their house.”

The door opened and they were ushered inside by a young woman whose features suggested she was the mayor’s daughter. The main room had a few decoration here and there, other little carvings that Dylan had done. There were a few shelves on the walls with  little figurines and a few books.

At the center of the room was a large table. Six men were seated around it on a mix of chairs and stools. The mayor was at the far side from the door. To his left were three guardsmen, one older and two younger. Two his right was a large, burly man that looked to be a smith and then an elderly man with a long beard.

“Ah, the final two have arrived. Please have a seat so we may get started,” Dylan said. As the duo sat, Dylan made introductions, “This is Madoc, Gilden, and Edard,” he said as he indicated the three guardsmen who all offered a polite nod at their name. “That is Cardec, the blacksmith. He is representing the tradesmen,” he indicated to the burly man who only gave a grunt in response. “And this is Hywel, the village elder,” he finished.

“I am Elarrolinas Ulidarrai, son of Lord Yendelis Ulidarrai of the Shin-velis Wood,” Elarr said in a formal and practiced tone that bordered on haughty.

“Just call him Elarr,” Fland said in a deadpan voice before adding, “and I am Fland. Just Fland.”

With the introductions made, the meeting got underway. They started with an assessment of the damages and injuries. Twelve dead and twenty people with injuries that would take time to heal was bad, but better than it could have been. It was also revealed that some of the outlying farms had been raided as well. They were burned down and robbed of all livestock and harvested produce. Cardec demanded to know how the attack happened, how so many goblins could get into past the gates with so little resistance. This of course incensed the guards and lead to a shouting match. Dylan was able to calm tempers down to a low boil.

“Now,” said Dylan, “We need to look to the future. A rider has been sent to Lord Tudwal to request assistance. I hope that he can be convinced to send soldiers to find the goblins that escaped to ensure there is no return.”

“We gave the gobs a thrashing. The cowards will not be coming back,” said Cardec confidently.

“I would not be so sure of that,” replied Fland, “Goblins are cowardly, but those bugbears sure aren’t and the more numbers they have, the bolder they will be.”

“Bah, goblins might breed like rats, but they feast on each other as well,” Cardec said dismissively, “We cut their numbers down and I can’t see them getting back to such a large size again soon.”

“There was likely more of them than what we saw at the attack,” Fland responded with a touch of heat to his voice.

“Goblin raids are on the rise,” Elarr added, “We helped deal with a tribe east of here only a week back and have reason to suspect that attacks like this may soon become more common.”

“They already have,” said Hywel. The old man had been silent for most of the meeting. His low, dry voice attracted everyone’s attention. “I keep in touch with some old acquaintances by pidgeon. Several of them have told me of goblin attacks. They are all a hundred leagues away so I had not felt to concerned. I was going to bring it up at the town meeting at the end of the month. Now I wish I had sooner.”

Cardec looked like he was about to make a sharp remark, but Fland interrupted, “No, there was no way you could know that an attack like this would happen, especially so soon. I really doubt more could have been done to make the town more ready unless you wanted everyone living like they were already under siege.”

Dylan and the guardsmen nodded. Cardec only grunted, but did not add what he had been about to say. Hywel looked relieved. It had weighed heavily on his conscience since last night that he might have averted the disaster.

“This does, however, help confirm my suspicions,” Elarr said in a grim tone, “I think that the goblins are coordinating their efforts.”

“What?! Goblins don’t organize,” said Madoc, the older guard, incredulously, “They can barely get along in their own little tribes and they are as dumb as a rock.”

“Hobgoblins are smart though,” said Elarr, “There was one with the tribe we encountered, and I bet there was one with last night’s as well. Your people may not remember the horrors of the Goblin Wars, but mine do. My grandfather fought in them. He told me of the flood of corrupt little creatures spreading over the land like a disease. It was not easy, but the goblins were beaten back, their numbers decimated. Since then men and elves and dwarves have worked hard to prevent such a thing from happening again.”

The village men all looked pale and nervous at Elarr’s implication. The idea that goblins might overrun the land had never occurred to them. For the most part, goblins had just been something to frighten children. Madoc, Cardec, and others that had faced goblins before knew that they could be dangerous, but even that was only to the unprepared. Last night had changed that view entirely. They had fought for their lives and barely won, and now they had been told that it might be on the frontline of a war with deadly monsters.

“Th-then we must prepare,” Dylan said, breaking the silence, “You must help us if there is a war coming.”

“No, preparations are something that you must attend to yourselves,” Elarr said, “My companion and I will be leaving after this meeting. We intend to discover the true extent of this threat.”

“I’m figuring to track the remnants of last night’s raid,” added Fland, “They might lead us to a larger force or give us a clue where to find whoever is controlling them.”

“But what if they return in a night or two with more forces?” asked one of the younger guards.

“That is not my concern,” said Elarr coldly, “If a goblin army is on the rise it could threaten the borders of Sylana.”

Cardec snorted, “And what about you, ranger? Are humans not your concern either?”

“Some are, and some aren’t,” Fland replied back with a hard stare, “Finding the true threat is likely to save more lives than sitting around here.”

“They are right,” added Dylan, forcing firmness into his voice, “Two men, even skilled ones, will not make much of a difference if an army comes. If they can possibly stop the threat before it gets here, then all the better.

“Madoc, you are the new guard captain. Start looking over our defenses and see to recruiting every man you can. Cardec, start smithing weapons. Get together men to work on reinforcing the walls, and I want that gate repaired and sturdier. Hywel, send pigeons to your friends with news of what has happened here. Maybe others will be spared our troubles if they know to prepare. A town meeting will be this evening, I will inform everyone then of our concerns.”

“That sounds like a good course of action,” said Fland as he stood from the table. “I don’t think that me and Pointy-ears are going to be of any more help here, so I’d like to get going before midday.”

“Of course,” said Dylan as he stood and escorted the pair out the door. He stopped to talk with them alone once they were outside, “I shall say prayers for your safe journey, and that we are all fearing only shadows. If there are any provisions you need before leaving, tell the shop keepers that I will cover it. It is the least that can be done to thank you for all you have done, and all that you may do.”

“Your generousness is appreciated,” Elarr said with politeness then turned to his horse. Fland clasped Dylans forearm and shook, then gave him a parting nod.

The pair made a quick trip to several shops. They procured food for the most part along with a few odds and ends. In almost no time at all they were riding out the front gate. Fland waved at a few of the people that called to them.

“I hope we haven’t started some kind of panic over nothing,” Fland said at last.

“Goblins are creatures of fear. Panic is to be expected when they are involved,” Elarr responded solemnly.”