November 18, 2018, 06:57:17 PM

Author Topic: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread  (Read 595 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« on: October 01, 2018, 11:49:02 AM »
Small Magics


Watercolor: Afghan Cobbler by Zarrakan

We often read stories about magical prodigies, arch mages, evil necromancers and so on. Stories, where a character is predominantly defined by their magic. She may be the cook of the party but mostly she's their battle mage. He may be a loving dad but nobody cares because of his ability to raise undead armies.

But what about those who only got lesser magics? Magic practitioners who got one specific talent? Those who aren't strong enough to throw fire or heal sword wounds. The midwives, goose girls, vagabonds, tinkers and fish mongers?
Those who don't (and can't) use their magic for saving the world-style events or to get admitted to the university but who use it to do their jobs better? Help their communities in a small way or simply have a (maybe even unknown) advantage at surviving?

This contest is to put them in the unfamiliar spotlight. This is their stage. Saving a baby might not save the world but for its parents it might mean the world.


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The story has to be about a practitioner of small magics (see above).
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close October 31st/November 1st, 2018 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
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Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2018, 09:01:28 AM »
Better With Bread

1500 Words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Granny had been baking bread for decades even before Pom came along. She’d been doing it another decade since. She’d grown increasingly fragile and withered in that time. It pained Pom to see her so.

“It really did work wonders,” said the spritely man across the counter in awe. “I mean, I’d heard stories of the famed Granny Curie and ‘Better With Bread’ Bakery, but hadn’t thought it possible until today.”

“You enjoyed the bread then?” Granny said.

“Oh, we all did! The whole family. It was only when I woke up this morning with no aches that I realised my back pain was finally gone! Astonishing!”

“We are glad to have been of service.” Granny winced, a hand pressed to her spine. She quickly recovered her smile. “You won’t be needing another. Though can we interest you in any of our more ordinary wares?” She gestured around the earthy space of the bakery and its rows of wooden shelves adorned with loaves of wheat, rye and even barley bread.

“Indeed,” the spritely man said. “I think I shall, anything to help.”

Pom, from his seat in the corner, grinned when the man’s gaze came to him, then went back to kneading his own dough in silence.   

Pom could make bread rise the old fashioned way, with yeast, and the taste would be all the same for it. When Granny Curie made it rise though, it performed miracles even ordinary bread couldn’t achieve. Something about the kneading, Pom knew that much. And seeing her now, hobbling back to the kitchen, he also knew it took something from her, each and every time.

Pom, slumped over the counter with the midday heat, juddered upright on hearing a clattering of footsteps.

Three men entered. Flanking the leader were two overly armoured guards, such as would bring a fright to any humble baker boy. Between them stood an elderly, imposing gent with a big bushy beard and pointed red hat. His girth suggested a wealth befitting one sent from the upper echelons of palace life.

“Granny,” Pom yelled without greeting. “There’s people from the castle here.”

The boy retreated to his corner and gingerly kneaded his dough.

The elderly man winked at him. “No need to be coy, lad. No one’s in any trouble. We just have urgent business with your Granny, is all.”

“And what business would be so urgent, they’d send the great Reza Lamak?” Granny inched her way to the counter looking only marginally improved. Pom brooded alone, kneading, quietly. 

The wizard sighed. “You may have heard, that one of the king’s nieces has recently been struck with some uncertain affliction. A young girl, one of His Majesty’s favourites. I forget her name, there are so many. Can’t even move. Girl’s been confined to bed for weeks. She may not last the night, poor thing.”

Granny grunted and cast a glance at Pom that put the boy on edge. “And this is not something which the great Reza can be of help with?”

“But that I could. This is beyond my abilities, I’m afraid. We wouldn’t be here at all if not for the desperation of the king. We need one of your miracle loaves. You would be paid handsomely, of course.”

“How handsomely?”

Reza paused while one of the guards wittered something in his ears. “A thousand gold crowns, to be paid on any immediate and noticeable improvement in Her young Highness’s condition. And a further five thousand upon the princess’s full recovery.”

Pom near fell out of his seat, earning him humorous looks from the guards. Five thousand gold crowns! A thousand alone was worth ten years’ solid graft! His heart set to explode before noting Granny’s less than enthusiastic response.

The old woman nodded solemnly. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Pom caught the eye of the old wizard – Reza, Granny had called him – and something he saw there alarmed him. His concern was reflected in the older gent’s deepening frown.

“We’ll need some time to fire up the oven again,” Granny said.

“No bother,” Reza said. “I’ll have one of the men wait here.”

Granny waved a frail arm. “No you won’t. He’ll scare off the customers. Come back in a few hours.”

“As you will.”

Pom was up the moment the intruders had left. Followed her into the kitchen. “You can’t do it, Granny!”

Granny dropped into a solid oak chair. “Heavens, boy, why not?”

“Don’t you see how it makes you? This is not like the others. If you fix the girl, it could be the end.”

“Pom, dear, I’m old already. I’ve surely not long left in this world in any case. Fire up the oven, would you?”

“No! I won’t let you.”

Granny rose. “Do it myself then, shall I?”

“No!” Pom jumped to the oven without further protest. “I’ll do it. Please, Granny, don’t hurt yourself.”

As Pom began burning wood, Granny went on. “You remember when you came to me? A scruffy little street urchin. Couldn’t have been more than five. Cheeky then as you are now.” She’d moved to the baking counter now and begun mixing, lest Pom get in the way of that, too. “You are the only family I’ve ever known. I didn’t bring you in to leave you destitute when I’m gone. Five thousand gold! That secures you for life. You must be sixteen already, or near as. Old enough to claim full entitlement as my adoptive kin.”

“I don’t need it. You taught me everything you know.” He flung a few more blocks into the oven.

“Not everything. Not that which can’t be taught.”

Pom slammed the oven door shut. “I don’t need to know that. Nor do you. We have healthy savings. We make enough money from ordinary bread to stay where we are. You bake the best bread in town!”

Now it was Granny’s turn to be angry. She put the mixing bowl aside and turned to Pom waving hands caked in bread mix. “Listen. You heard what that man said. There is a young princess, a girl, perhaps your age, perhaps younger. And she needs my help. If you know anything about me, boy, it ought to be that you know I will do what I can, when I can.”

Pom strode to the door to the shop. “You think of her but not of me?” His voice caught. “The king has lots of nieces. I only have one Granny.”

“Pom…”

Too late, he was gone before the first tears came.

Granny, heart pounding, soggy hands shaking, returned to her mix and tried to believe she was doing the right thing.

Once ready, she kneaded the dough thoroughly, feeling her life force soaking into the soppy substance which each flop and fold. She’d no idea how she’d come to possess such power, or if it could ever be used for anything beyond easing back pains and rheumatism. All she knew now was that it could set Pom up for life; she’d have given everything for that boy. She would.

Pom, meanwhile, kneaded his own dour dough. He loved the process. It eased his own stress and tension like nothing else. Didn’t need magic for that. The move to King Street had been the pinnacle of his and Granny’s success, so he’d thought. He’d been a skinny little runt when Granny found him. Still was really, though his belly had gotten near as doughy as the bread since things got good.

He couldn’t imagine life without Granny there for him: scolding him, working him, comforting him.

When the scent of freshly baked Granny Curie bread permeated the air, Pom hopped from his stool at the counter and found Granny dozing in her chair.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Pom dear, could you hand that to the guard when he arrives? There’s a good lad.”

The guard came late that afternoon and took the loaf Pom gave him with a gloomy expression.

“Please,” Pom said. “If for any reason this shouldn’t work out as my Granny expects, don’t be angry with her.”

The guard nodded. “Worry not, lad. None expect as much. Not even the king, gods be true.”

Pom smiled. “Send our best to the princess.”

That night, Granny, who’d been more sickly than ever, finished her bread supper with much energy and good cheer. “That was truly delightful, Pom. It’s good to know I’m leaving the bakery in safe hands!”

Pom looked to Granny with eyes all innocent.

It was then bells rang out from the castle, and all across the city. Bells of sorrow.

Granny raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps that bread was a little too good?”

Pom came to her in silence, hugged her tight.

“My Pom; what have you done?”

He pulled back a little, though she held him close. “Granny, if you ever knew me, you’d know I could do nothing else.”

And though she tried, Granny couldn’t help but smile a little.

He smiled too, then hugged her again.
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Offline JMack

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2018, 12:44:56 AM »
1,498 Words

Inheritance (two small magics)

Spoiler for Hiden:
Mama led her two boys deep into the Blackwood, following a faint fairy trail that seemed to wander in circles. She stopped frequently to rest. The boys danced around her. “Real fairies?” asked Aulie breathlessly. “Fairies aren’t real,” Padden scoffed, imitating their da.

“Shh.” Mama put a finger to her lips while she pushed aside a mat of vines to reveal a twilit grotto tucked behind an ancient ash and a moss-clad cleft in the land. She sat the brothers down on a bed of brown leaves and brought out four cups and a clay jar she'd brought in a hamper. “Many years ago,” she said, “my grandfather’s father, his name was Carbin Hode, was a trapper and hunter here in the Blackwood.”

“Da’s a farmer,” offered Aulie.

“Yes, sweet. I married a farmer, so you’re sons of the field. But my da and and his da were men of the forest.”

Aulie and Padden shared a wide-eyed look. Their ma had a da? They only knew their da’s da. He was a hard man who answered any mistake with a mean smack. Like their da did, but even worse.

“Now,” Mama continued. “Carbin Hode was checking his traps one day when he came across a fairy caught by the leg and dangling from a tree.” She touched the bole of the ash. “This very tree.”

“Fairies aren’t real,” Padden said again, then “Ow!” when the normally peaceful Aulie punched his shoulder.

Mama was silent until they settled. “Your great-great-grandfather struck a deal with fairy, then set him free. In return, the fairy gave him a small magic, and promised that any child of his, and any child of his children down to seven generations could come to this hidden place and receive another magic. Just one. And it could be used just once, for one small thing. One little wish.”

The talking tired her, so she let the boys think a while.

“Did you get a magic from the fairies?” Aulie asked.

Mama’s smile had sadness mixed in. “Yes, sweet.”

“What happened to it?” asked Padden.

“I used it to catch the eye of a handsome lad.”

“Was that Da?” the boys asked together.

“Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but what’s done is done, and what’s done isn’t always what we think it is.” She ignored the boys’ confused looks, while setting out four portions of bread and butter on little plates. “My question, though,” she said after the food was ready, “is whether you want your own small magic. It’s all I have left to give you. But you don’t have to take it. It might even be simpler for you if you don’t.”

Aulie nodded first, then Padden. Their eyes filled with tears, and they rushed into their mama’s arms, babbling.

*******

When she died, they buried their magics under a stone near her grave in the church yard. “What good are they, anyway,” said Padden.

“We should have used them before she…” Aulie trailed off.

“She told us not too.” Padden kicked dirt over the shining things. “They’re not real, anyway.” Aulie sprang at him, and the two rolled on the ground, throwing punches.

It was that way from then on. While their father drank and raged and the farm went to weed, the brothers ignored each other or fought when they couldn’t stand it anymore.

The day sixteen-year-old Padden ran off, Aulie found his brother’s magic dug up and gone. Good riddance, he thought. Maybe now he’d have some peace. He walked home, kicking stones. Peace. He’d not get any. Da would be waiting, and only Aulie would be there to take the brunt of him. The summer wind gave him shivers.

He stopped dead in the road, one foot forward, one foot back.

The fairy’s magic. Aulie wondered what it could really do. Maybe it could trip a man, send him sprawling. A man could get himself killed, falling. Or maybe it could make a horse kick, catch a person on the side of the head. Just a little wish and he’d be free, too, just like Padden.

Aulie shook himself. I’m such a coward, he said to himself, and continued home. He went around to the barn. “I’m back, Da,” he called.

His father lay stretched out unmoving in the yard. Aulie’s heart caught and stopped. Then he saw the empty bottle by his outstretched hand and heard a long, drunken snore. Aulie marched to the horse trough, scooped up a bucket of stinking water, and flung it across the old cuss’s face.

Da rose yelling and spluttering, scrubbing water from his eyes. Aulie stood frozen, open-mouthed, gripping the bucket. “You!” Da roared. “You’re dead, boy!” If he’d not been reeling drunk, he’d have caught Aulie in his first lunge. Instead, his boots slipped in the fresh mud, sending him sprawling again. He struck a rock in the ground headfirst with a sound like a melon splitting.

Aulie stared, sickened. His world spun. A man could trip. A man could get killed just from falling. All it took was a little magic.

But he hadn’t used it. He knew he hadn’t! But he’d wished it. Maybe that was enough.

He found himself running, back to the church, back to the place they’d buried the magics. He dug and dug, searching, dreading. He only stopped when the pastor’s daughter followed the sound of weeping and took him shaking in her arms. The magic was gone.

Aulie tried to live with what he’d done. He fixed up the farm. He courted the pastor’s daughter and carried her over the threshold. He dreamed of children, but somehow they didn’t come. He tried to be a good man in spite of himself. He loved his wife, and hoped she loved him in return; but he sensed more than saw the wall between them.

The year that Aulie bought his neighbor’s orchard and was voted onto the village council, a stranger rode up to the farm and dismounted. He looked with wonder at the white-washed boards where rough logs had sided the house, the orderly yard where only weeds had grown, and the trim woman throwing seed to a cackling flock of chickens. She shaded her eyes against the sun.

“Can I help you? My husband’s just around back.”

“Anna? Is it Anna Millman?” asked the man.

“Not Millman, not for a while now.” She looked the stranger up and down. Then the feed dropped from her apron as her hands came to her mouth in an O of surprise. “It can’t be Padden, can it?”

Padden smiled at being recognized. “I heard Aulie took a wife. I'm pleased it’s you.” He remembered Anna, remembered they’d smiled across the pews at each other on a Sunday. Who knew what might have happened had he stayed.

Anna took Padden’s travel bag. “Don’t just stand there, Padden Fields. Aulie’s in back. I’ll put another chicken in the pot for dinner.”

Padden found his brother clearing a stone from the shoe of a stolid plow horse. Aulie straightened. A rare smiled creased his lips, then was gone. He clapped Padden on the shoulder. “You look good, brother,” he said. “You’ve done well.”

“You grew taller than me,” laughed Padden. “When did that happen?”

They waved to Anna and walked to the church. Da’s headstone was next to their mother’s. Aulie had kept them both well-tended. He said a prayer over their graves while Padden stood back. They sat under a tree by where they’d buried the fairy magics.

“You used her gift well,” said Aulie to his brother, eying his well-made clothes and polished boots.

Padden looked away. “Oh, certainly,” he said. Then he shook his head. “Actually, no. I never used it. I thought to, many times.” He licked his lips. Aulie saw a vein throbbing in his temple. “Both of them.”

“Both?” The weight on Aulie’s heart shifted.

“I’m ashamed, brother. Truly ashamed.”

Aulie turned away, feeling tears come for the first time since da’s death.

“I came back that same day.” Padden’s voice had a ragged edge. “And I stole your magic. I was selfish, stupid. I wanted to hurt you.” He brought a fine linen handkerchief from his pocket and unwrapped two tiny glowing spheres.

Aulie hands clenched. His jaw ached.

“Will you forgive me?” Padden pleaded. “Say you will.”

A vision of their mother’s face came to Aulie. She wouldn’t want them at odds. Not even with their da, dead as he was. “What’s done is done,” he said. “and what’s done isn’t always what we think it is.”

He placed his magic on their father’s grave, and broke it under his shoe. When he stood back, a lily shoot broke free to kiss the air.

After a moment, Padden set his down on their mother’s side. A little magic. What could it do? He thought of Aulie and Anna and the old house, so empty of children, and made a wish.

« Last Edit: November 03, 2018, 02:39:47 PM by ScarletBea »
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Offline Jenny HJ

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2018, 10:49:51 PM »
This was a fun topic! thank you  1490 words including the title.


The HMRC

Spoiler for Hiden:
The warmth of the autumn sun on his back heated the well-worn armour up to a boiling point. The fragrance of unwashed warrior and dried blood filled his nostrils. Greasy knots of grime in his hair were entwined with burrs and twigs. Light reflected off Reen’s gauntlet in a multitude of directions, the reflections were dull from the many dents and patches. Small rust spots had appeared and there were positions his legs could no longer reach due to the cracks in the plate.
He had been busy this summer. It was his first campaign, and he had helped subdue the ravaging hordes of wolven in the briarwood, along with a fair number of villagers. He wasn’t sure why they were so desperate to brawl, but it always seemed to happen to him. Now he could enjoy a triumphant arrival home.

As the youngest son of a duke, in a lower house of the nobility, war might be his only chance to shine. He had watched his older brother Nepe return from battle looking like he had barely broken a sweat, his glorious blonde hair shining, his armour not having seen any action. All the women at court had fawned over him. Just imagining how they would react to a real hero who had actually seen conflict, caused the corner of his mouth to twitch upward with anticipatory thrill.

Mid morning they arrived at the first village of the city ten. The hardened soldiers amongst his group peeled away, heading for a rough looking building at the edge of town. Reen checked his coin pouch, enough remained for lunch at the main tavern so he wandered off towards it. The rotund landlord accommodated him with obvious satisfaction, offering him many fine delicacies and excellent Ale. Sated and happy, Reen rode out an hour later to rejoin his band.

He couldn’t put his finger on what was different at first. Then realised their horses seemed somehow cleaner.

The same thing took place at the next village, the old-timers peeled off right at the entrance, and when they reconvened their weapons were looking fresh.

By the time they reached the third village that evening, Reen’s curiosity was eating him up. He followed the others as they went to an older building on the outskirts. One by one he watched the men present a token at the door and disappear through the entrance.

“Good evening. Do you have your HMRC membership card?” The woman blocked the threshold.

“HMRC card?” Reen repeated back at her.

“That’s the one. Did you not sign up when you joined the Army? Or do you not have benefit privileges?” She peered out at him squinting into the light at him until another of the company, Jed, elbowed him out of the way.

"Ee’s our current nobility. Nepe’s brother.“  He gave a big wink at the old woman and flashed a card. She stepped aside to allow him to go in. Reen could feel his fists clenching and a freshly chipped tooth was hurting due to his tightly clenched jaw. The woman’s eyes widened, and she licked her lips greedily as she studied him. “Hair, beard, armour, stench, weapon, and your horse is as unkempt as you are too?’

Reen nodded, “Yes,” then standing up taller he raised his chin and pushed his shoulders backward. Her smirk told him he was failing to look any kind of impressive. “So madam, what is the HMRC and why should I pay you?” he asked.

“Heroes Magical Repairs Co-operative.” She said looking very proud. “You pay us, and we fix you so you can look like a returning hero, rather than a grisly.” She paused and stepped back, “stinking mess. - what is that?” She asked, pointing at something buried in his beard.

“Um” Reen responded.

“My, my - aren’t you are the eloquent one? I assume that as you are Nepe’s brother,” Rolling his brother’s name around in her mouth as if it were a delicate wine. “You have the means to pay for full repairs?. Would you prefer a one stop treatment - or graded recovery as you get closer to the city?”

“One stop.” Reen replied, and lighter by a substantial quantity of coin, he entered through a dimly lit hall, into a large open chamber.  Purple seats were arrayed around a rug in the middle and queues of people snaked towards small side rooms. There was one door with no queue. He knocked politely.

  “Enter,” spoke the scrawny young girl. She was sat on a wooden milking stool and aside from a whetstone, he could spot no other tools. “Weapons services, let me see the damage,”

Reen handed his nocked weapon over, “Wolven woods?” She inquired.

“Yes, and a few bar brawls.”

The  girl nodded. “Excellent. How do you want it? As new, or a few nicks to imply bravery?”

“Nicked?” Reen replied, feeling his eyebrows crease together, he caught her eye and could see she was smiling. The girl picked up the whetstone, and gently ran it along the edge of the sword, at each passing he could see a small but noticeable improvement. He shut his open mouth before she looked up at him. That would have taken him far more than three wipes. Returning the now sharpened sword to him, she gestured towards the door.

“Go now. There’ll be others waiting.” Reen walked out to the sound of gentle laughter from behind the door.

The next door had a queue, and as he went to join it he saw Jed in front.

Jed turned with his nose wrinkled. “A could smell ya before I saw ya, you need that line now Cap’n.” Pointing to a short line containing the dirtiest patrons of the HMRC.

“They are all filthy!”

“So are ya- that’s the line for the cleaning magikers. Do us all a favour and go there next Cap’n, Please!“ Jed held his nose in mockery and waved him away.

“NEXT” came a shout in front of him as a young woman called someone over. Several minutes passed, and people in front entered filthy and left the rooms clean. As he reached the front of the queue a fourth door opened and an elderly man poked his head out, pointing a bony finger at Reen.

“You’re up next.”

Reen stepped into the room. In front of him were two steaming hot tubs of water, soap and no towel.

“Your clothes go in that one. You go in this one,“ he gestured.

Following  instructions, Reen climbed in and washed. The soap cleaned him, but tangled up his long, matted hair even further. He watched the old man swish his clothes around in the other tub, take them out and lay them on the floor. Steam rose out of the clothes which dried within moments. The old man caught him staring.

“We heaters can’t make  fire, but I can dry clothes well!. Get out, you need to be dried ready for the grooming team.”

Water ran off Reen’s legs as he stepped out, and as a blanket of magical warmth draped around him it made his skin tingle. True to the elderly magikers word, the clothes and Reen were dry, and he got dressed in moments.

The grooming team made the knots in his hair and beard slide out easily with only a couple of comb strokes. His unidentified beard object turned out to be a mushroom, and he soon had his golden flowing locks and beard back.

The armourists pushed the metal of his cuirass back into shape gently and as they stroked it, the rust disappeared. It wasn’t perfect, but to an observers eye, it was clean and shining. They assured Reen it needed a true smith to check it over before battle, and he should be gentle with it until he had seen one.

As he came back to the central room, he spied Jed half way through the same queue.
“What is this for then?” he asked

“It’s for the magikers of the bedroom art. If ya know what I mean.” He winked at Reen. “They’ll make ya feel like a proper Hero.”

Reen laughed, stepped back and scanned the room for a clue to sleeping accommodation. He spotted a small counter.  It cost him yet more money, but he secured a room for the night.

They entered the city two days later, triumphant and successful, a whole summer of campaigns and not a mark on their armour. As he led his men, Reen saw upturned faces and waving handkerchiefs. Drunk in the admiration of the masses, he decided that the returning Hero look was better after all. As they marched towards the barracks, they passed a small house he had never noticed. It was on the corner of the road leading to the Fellowship of High Magic.  Small writing on the swinging sign said,

HMRC assessment centre,
New members welcome.
 Positions available, apply within.





/spoiler]
« Last Edit: October 29, 2018, 02:46:28 PM by Jenny HJ »

Offline Slaykomimi

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2018, 10:07:55 PM »
1022 Words long, warning, it could be too harsh for some people, please tell me if it is too much or let someone remove it since my activity here decreased heavily due to work.

Muis little prayer

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was a silent night at the fields of Goha as a small group of carriages rode on. They went through the night, lined up like ants on their march watched upon by the stars. No one dared to break the silence, not even the lively crickets who are comon at this time of the year. Inside the carriages everyone remained silent, even though they were awake and worried about their future.
Inside one of the carriages is a group of kids, none older than twelve. They sit around on hay to keep them warm with their legs chained to each other. The end of the chain was mounted to the roof so no one can run away. The kids all look depressed, knowing the fate they met, all of them were kidnapped and are now transported to a farm to work as slaves.
Among them is Mui, a little girl at the age of 7, her parents were killed in front of her eyes and she kept on weeping. The other kids kept on telling her to remain silent or else the adults will come and punish them. The only one kind to Mui is Rao, the oldest kid in the carriage. He told the other kids to repose as they don't know what she's been going through and they would surely act the same if they would share the same experience with her. And so, everyone remained silent, waiting for their destiny to arrive.
Many hours passed till they finally took a pause from traveling. The slave traders gave little bread and cheese to the kids and tell them how nicely they behave. Some of the kids started to smile after being praised and fed with cheese, some of them never had a slice of cheese in their entire lices. But Mui kept her sad face, tears never stopped rolling down her crestfallen cheeks. The campfire started to make crackling noises while everyone ate, pushing Mui to burst out a loud cry.This of course dissatisfied the slave traders and led them to punish the kids by beating them with long wooden sticks.
When they went back on their journey, everyone was mad at Mui, even Rao who used to protect her. She seeked for comfort in his arms but he pushed her into the dirty hay. Everyone glared at her and some of them even threatened her. Mui covered her mouth with her hands but her it sotears kept rolling down her cheeks.
Most of the kids finally felt asleep, but Mui kept awake, she couldn’t sleep due to her grief and fear. When the carriage went over a larger rock she hit her head and started to cry out loud again, waking the others up. They quickly pushed her to the floor and beat her up, one of the kids even showed her his pocket knife to scare her even more. What hurt her most was that Rao was the first one to hit her and also the one who hit her most. Hate filled the eyes of the kids as Mui´s tears wet the floor.
It was a long painful trip during that night. Besides the horrible pain that Mui felt from her loss and wounds, the most hurtful feeling was the hate of all the other kids. Her tears stopped and her face went to an blank expression. Her pure eyes filled only with agony and sadness are now empty.
In the early morning the carriages arrived at the cliffs of Mohi, besides its size it is known for the long bridge built by the ancient tribes who once populated the area. It is remarkably stable, made out of giant logs and many ropes, crossing the cliffs over a large distance, there were many researchers still puzzled about how they managed to build such a sturdy bridge that lasts hundreds of years.
The sun rised allready, showing all the carriages filled with many slaves that are about to be sold  and to be transported to far away lands. Many of them already accepted their fate and just waited for their life in slavery. As the sun started to wake up the people on the journey, the kids noticed that Mui´s face was dry and her gaze was barren. They had nothing left, so they started to mock her. Mui´s hair got pulled and she got pushed arround, thrown into the dirt and spit on. She kept laying in the dirt and the kids just smiled. Even Roa enjoyed the misery of the little girl.
While everyone cheered each other on how well they made fun of Mui, she suddenly started to get to her legs. She stood still with her head hanging down, facing the hay covered floor. Her Lips started to move but no one heard her silent words. With no hope and energy left, she dropped down to her knees, her arms hanging limp at her sides as her words continue. While repeating the same words, her head raised and looked up to the ceiling of the carriage. Both arms started to raise and her voice became louder and louder.
The driver of the carriage started to look back as he heard the chanting of the little girl. He was frozen by the shock, not able to move or warn the others as it became too late. Muis prayers to the dragon god were answered and she was granted with power. Although her frail weak body couldn’t handle more than casting a single spark, it was more than enough to set the hay afire and torch up the whole carriage in seconds.
A giant fire spread over the whole bridge, devouring all and everyone crossing it. Some were too slow and got caught off guard, others who saw the fire panicked and jumped down into a pit that seemed endless. The Work of hundreds of years ago was gone within minutes, and with it all the slave traders, the captured ones and of course Mui too. As soon as the fire started, it also ended, leaving nothing but a big gap between two giant cliffs.
Truly, if there is evil in this world, it lies within the heart of mankind.

-Edward d. Morrison

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2018, 01:58:06 AM »
Well here’s mine.  Think I must be averaging two pieces a year, really need to up my work-rate. 

It’s called: The Magic In Death and Love
And comes in at 1,276 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

A murder of crows rose from the thatch roof screaming their discontent, they heralded our arrival as I collided with the door jamb and a deep wooden thud foretold my presence.  As I limped into the dark cramped confines of the single roomed serfs cottage, phantom pains raced through the wooden veins within the density of my prosthetic toes and the bitter taste of dampness suffused deep into my lungs.
There was a tension in the faces turned to greet me, I knew it too well even then.  It is the mask we show the living when those we love are soon to be the dead.  Yet I was instinctively drawn to a pair of sharp bright eyes, they looked out from the dirty pock marked face of a boy of around twelve years.  The boy watched his elders from the shadows of the room for reactionary cues to my strange and abrupt appearance.  Light from the fire surreptitiously avoided the touch of his skin, hiding him in an unnatural darkness.  I wondered absently within the confines of my mind, did he feel the warm kiss of the flames heat.  Mentally I took note of the raw and unconscious use of magic. 
It was then I saw her.  A small package swaddled in frayed blankets, the soft nature of which belied the hard truth within.  A child lay dying here.  A child in pain within blanket folds, atop a small cot in one corner of the room.
“Thank you Sentinel.” A woman’s voice choked out from the thick folds of her own blankets from beside the wretched child.
I turned to the boy “Outside.  Bring me the wildling.”  There were gasps from the adults and the boy drew back from me.  “Now! Boy, bring me my wildling.” My voice rose, chasing him as he fled from the cottage. 
“Sentinel…” The mother whispered “the Wildling’s bring only evil.  Daemons walk in their shadow.”  I ignored the woman’s superstitions and crouched down to closer examine the child.
“What happened?”  There was no answer, and the tension in their faces tightened and stretched.  “What happened to this child?”  This time I held the woman’s eyes, she had nowhere to hide from my question.
“The lord, he…” She searched for words but found none palatable enough.
“He broke her.  The bastard.”  The boy said what the grown could not.  Perhaps the fire grew a little brighter then, the room a little warmer.  Perhaps.  I had felt the old anger begin to rise with his words.  Deep inside, in a place long forgotten.  Reacting as it felt the touch of a kindred spirit, as in this boy child a similarly deep pool had sprung.  Tonight would take not only his sister from him, but his innocence too.  Regardless, he had returned and not alone.
“Fray,” I spoke to my wildling now “the child needs your kindness.”
“Wait!” At last the father spoke.  “She’ll kill her, take her soul for her evil magics.  Feed it to her pet daemons.”
“Your child will die, it cannot be helped now.  But Fray can take her pain away.  It is a little thing, a small magic, but we would not see a child suffer.” The father did not look wholly convinced “She cannot take that which is not willingly given, it is how the magic works.”
“Death magic.”  The man whispered.
“No.  Not death magic.” I replied.
“How can you trust it, how can you know she wont hurt her?” He asked
“I possess her heart.  Fray will do as I ask so long as I hold it prisoner.” I reassured him.

The wildling woman crouched by the cot, taking my place at the child’s side.  Strong hands tenderly sought out sweat slick flesh and where she placed gentle touches on the child, the poor wretches limbs began to loosen.  As pain began to recede, so did the tension in the girls muscles and so too the shaking of her body.  Long moments had passed before I realised my lungs were beginning to burn with the torture of breath held trapped within.  I breathed out slowly so as not to disturb Fray’s concentration.  The girl soon lay stretched out, breath in a soft but regular rhythm.  Her mother took the small hand into her own, kissed it and began to whisper precious words.  A smile even touched the girls lips, another small magic. 
Frey rose slowly, pain clearly visible in those bloodshot eyes of hers.  I felt an ache in my chest as her face painted the harsh details of an internal struggle.  My wildling had taken every drop of that child’s pain, pulled it from her until no more was left to give and now she wrestled with that agony, trapping it within herself.  The whispers of her soft shoes on wooden floorboards drew frightened looks as she shuffled from the small cottage, fleeing on tender steps into the night. 
My senses pulled back from Fray as the mother began to moan, a deep anguish escaping on breath that would not come.  I knew that sound of torment intimately.  As intimately as only a parent can know.  I saw then the girl lay still, limbs loose.  Muscles released by a soul no longer trapped within its fragile wrapping.
Outside Fray answered with her own deep and guttural moan.  She mustn’t have made it ten paces before the next scream rent from her.  Wild and Inhuman.
“The daemons have come!” Whimpered an older woman.
“Do not be afraid” I cautioned, “It is the sound the light makes as it touches the darkness.”
The boy crept towards me, suddenly emboldened “Where do you keep its heart?” He whispers.
“I keep it with my own-”
“It’s death magic.” Interrupts the father.
“Taking pain from a dying child is… Love magic if it is anything.” I counter.  Though so far as I have ever known, there is only one magic.

As I left the serfs cottage and entered the night, I found Fray clinging to the neck of her mare for support.
“There is still work to be done this night.” She grunts the words out, teeth gritted.  It is said both in acknowledgment and as a command.
“I need your magic once more tonight my love.  We will visit the master of the house and speak of death.” 
“The child is important?”  I look at her, surprised by the callus nature of the question “I mean the boy.” She clarifies. 
“The child is important.” I agree, but it surprised me that she had felt the touch of his magic.  I felt the hair rise on my neck at the promise of his strength.
“I want to go with you.” I spun to find the boy had slid out of the cottage behind me.  How much had he heard, too much? I wondered.  “To the big house.  To the Lords house.” I nodded ascent, words of permission were not needed here.  It had been a statement and not a request.
Fray stilled and I knew disagreed.  “We are made of the trials we face Fray.  That is how heroes are made.” I said.
“That is how villains are made also.” She replied.

None of us spoke again that night.  Not until it was done.  Not until the bloody work was done and a balance was restored.  And when the Lords end did come, Fray returned that child’s pain ten fold.  Returned it to the one that had rend it.  By dawn we were gone, all three.  And perhaps when they sought the Lords house that morning they found nothing but charcoal and flame.  Charcoal, flame and charred remains.
   
It's the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears.

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2018, 08:29:06 PM »
Here is my entry. This one is called:

The Well Wisher

1487 words

Spoiler for Hiden:

The Well Wisher

The sea heaved and the ship rose and in her small cabin, Sephia’s carefully arranged mementos from home first slid across the table-top then tumbled to the restless deck. The book of travellers’ tales her father used to read to her from lay open where it fell, it’s yellow pages, brittle and nocked at the edges, slowly turning through the well-read chapters as the ship tilted port again.

The long round candle, the last of the bundle from Ginnifords her mother had given her, rolled noisily back and forth across the grain of the wooden planking. Mother bought all her candles from Ginnifords. Theirs’s was the light that had guided Sephia for near every night of her life, up the stairs from the kitchen and into her warm bed. And in the winter, when the ice came right up to the harbour front, they were the ones that greeted her each morning, mixing with the smells of breakfast, drop scones on the stove and spiced tea in the pot.

Finally, the picture, which hadn’t survived the fall from the table as well as the rest, slowly scratched its frame against the broken glass that lay beneath. It had been expensive. A photograph was not something you did every day, but when news went round that a man had arrived from Balefort and was offering to take pictures for half the usual price, his camera being a new, more efficient model, and with Sephia due to leave the very next month, well, her parents had gladly paid.

Her father had worn his best clothes and even trimmed his beard, which he hated to do in the winter, and her mother spent all the previous night repairing holes in her finest dress. They had stood on either side of her, the proudest parents, and from the image captured you would almost be fooled that they weren’t worried at the dangers their daughter might face on her long voyage.

When Sephia had packed these items three weeks ago, and when she set them in their places in the cabin, and even a few hours ago before the storm hit full fury, if she’d imagined them in the places they now occupied, she would have seen herself leaping from her bunk and swooping them up to safety like a great bird rescuing her drifting chicks.

But on this voyage of discovery, the main truth she had uncovered so far was that imagination rarely meets on equal terms with reality, and as the waves crashed and the swell rose and fell, she huddled under the blanket in her bunk, knees close to her chest, hands clasped tight, and eyes on the slosh and splash of foam on the porthole and the sea beyond.

*

More and more the children of Cook Bay left by the sea. There was little work to be had in the town and thanks to its place as a key stopping point on the journey from East to West, there was no shortage of rich young men and women to tell the local youngsters how they made good pay and good living when they travelled to the great cities across the waves. But such travel was a costly thing and return visits from those who left were always more by chance than design. To get a letter one had to have a destination to send it to, and the left-behind parents often had to wait over a season for that first missive to find its way back and then the same again for the answers to all the questions they had been storing up as worries, hopes and fears.

With modernity thus only stretching so far, many in Cook Bay whose children left to try their luck abroad found themselves sitting in this small house, with its large back garden that ran all the way down to the Cook stream, which in turn ran all the way to the Bay, which in turn ran to every shore in the world. Sephia’s parents sat in the small house now.

‘And what would she know you by?’ asked the round smiling man. ‘What messenger would she be sure to say, this is from Cook Bay?’

Sephia’s mother looked to her husband. ‘What do you think dear? Perhaps a mouse, like the small white one she used to say hid under the coal pile but never got dirty. Could you do that?’ Sephia’s mother turned to the round smiling man. ‘A white mouse?’

The round smiling man nodded. ‘Yes, I believe I could. Although it would not reach her until her ship landed, unless we are very lucky. Something airborne might be better, until you know she has arrived.’

‘How about a cricket?’ Sephia’s father said thoughtfully.

‘Yes,’ said the round smiling man. ‘Yes, that is a good choice. That will do nicely.’

Sephia’s father smiled too as another thought took him. ‘There is a tune they make, in the meadow by the old bridge. Do you know it?’

‘I do,’ said the round smiling man.

‘That’s what we’ll send then. A cricket with that tune, and then when she is off the ship the white mouse too.’

‘Excellent,’ said the round smiling man. ‘I will conduct the service this evening.’

‘Thank you,’ said Sephia’s parents together.

*

When evening came the round smiling man made his way out of his house, down the meandering path through his garden to the banks of the stream and prepared himself. He lifted his orange robes and stepped barefoot into the stream, then let the robes down again so they flowed across the top of the water.

Gently, he began to hum a chorus of simple notes. Each one started deep within and while at first they seemed random, slowly they melted into the rhythm of the rushing water, the rustle of the trees above, the creak of branches, the chirps of birds in their nests and the tiny movements of the multitude of minuscule creatures winding their way through the grass and earth of the banks, right down to the pond-skaters that wisped to-and-fro by the borders of his robe. As the humming continued, the round smiling man held out his hands, palms slightly cupped.

After some moments, a single butterfly with moon white wings dropped from the foliage above and settled on those upturned palms. The round smiling man lifted the creature to his lips and whispered his message to it, then held it out again so it could depart.

As it did so, as its slightly sticky feet lifted off from the round smiling man’s hands, the change of weight sent the smallest of ripples through his body and down into the stream. The pond-skaters skipped a step, the fish that had gathered around his feet scattered and the noises from the undergrowth stopped for just a beat, a single pulse of the heart, then they returned and all was as if nothing had happened at all.

The round smiling man let down his hands and watched the moon white butterfly rise into the closing night.

*

The storm had raged for three days now and Sephia was thoroughly sick. Her sense of adventure had been cast adrift and her thirst for the new had curdled in her stomach. As the candle still rolled back and forth across the deck of her cabin, now doing so through the thinnest sheen of sea water, she wished only for home.

She had rescued the book and the photograph, broken frame and all, before the water seeped in to her cabin, but the candle wouldn’t stay put and had broken free again.

She sat on her bunk and looked at the picture of her parents. She wondered what they were doing now, while she sat storm-tossed in this wooden cavern. Then she felt the floor rise again below her, up, and up, and up, for such a duration that she felt this wave must be the biggest of all, sure to smash them in its trough. But when the point came, the intake of breath when she felt sure the ship had to be crowing the crest, there was nothing. No dive down again, no lurch in the gut. The candle had stopped rolling.

She realised her body had been leaning far to one side and what had felt like rising up was in fact flattening out. The storm was over.

Elated she crossed the cabin on unsteady feet and made it to the porthole. Sure enough, the waves were calm and the sun sparkled across them. Unscrewing the porthole locks she opened it and breathed in the fresh windless air. And a she did so, the strangest thing.

A cricket, slim and delicate, came to rest on the rim of the porthole. It folded away it’s mist fine wings and began to sing. Somehow, to Sephia, it felt like home.


“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” Neil Gaiman

Check out my book Here Be Dragons here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Here-Be-Dragons-David-Macpherson-ebook/dp/B07CCGBDQW/ref=sr_1_3?s

Online Alex Hormann

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2018, 11:44:36 AM »
Sand

1500 Words

Spoiler for Hiden:

The day starts like every other: with a bucket of sand being thrown over me. The thump of it hitting my chest was enough to knock the air out of me, and it sprays across my face and scratches my features. Where it falls inside my collar  it becomes stuck to fabric and skin alike, cutting and rubbing. Not painful, never causing physical damage. Just an irritation. One there is no getting rid of. I guess that’s why they use the sand. It stays with you forever.

I hear in some prisons they use water to wake up the inmates, but in Ruat, it’s always sand.

There are fifty of us in Ruat. No, wait. It’s only forty-eight now. Jebber finally went crazy and shredded his cellmate. The guards had to put him down after that. I didn’t see the body, but Cunn says there wasn’t much of one left. So many ribbons you couldn’t tell where clothes ended and person began. I shudder at the thought. Maybe it’s a good thing we’ve all been given separate bedrooms. It’s not for our own safety of course. The guards just don’t want another mess to clean up.

“Brush yourself down hothands. You’re on breaker detail.”

I acknowledge the guard with a nod and pat myself down. If anything I only push the sand further into my pores. But she already knew that. It’s one of the games people in power like to play. They hate us. Truly hate us. Any chance to prove their superiority they get, they’ll take.

I’m old enough to remember when it was different. Can’t say that about too many magickers these days.

Back before the Rising you could make a decent living with your gifts. Ha! Can you imagine we actually called them ‘gifts’ back then? In my village, Oannon, there were three of us. Me, Teb and Musin. Musin was the most powerful of us. She had perfect hearing. Could hear a mouse climbing grass from two miles away. Couldn’t control it though. Couldn’t end it. In the end it drove her mad. We found her one morning with her face in a cattle trough. Cold and blue. Dad said she must have been there the whole night. We didn’t know what it was that finally broke her, but something did. She didn’t even leave a note.

Teb and I grew up together. At fifteen we were suddenly the only magickers in the village. That’s a lot of pressure. Teb’s gift was immediately apparent. He could soothe or inflame emotion with just a touch. People or animals. He could mediate arguments, calm a raging bull, rally the village to finally hunt the wolves that assailed us every winter. Mostly though, he used it to convince Smana Mat to sleep with him.

My magick is rather less useful when it came to women. I can make my hands hot. Hot enough to boil water or melt metal. Naturally I was apprenticed to the blacksmith, but I helped out around the farms, especially in winter. If the pond ice was too thick for cattle to drink, I had to sit there and run my hands over it until the could. It was a good life. Right up until the rising.

“Keep moving,” the guard snaps, and pushes me out into the open.

The breaking yard is the hardest part of prison life. It’s a pit, fifty by fifty metres with a rim at least half that. The sand underfoot cuts into your feet, and it’s only because the guards are worried about stabbings that the chunks of stone are taken away every night. If you’re on breaker detail, like I am, then your job is simple: Make the pit bigger. Not allowed tools in case we made weapons of them, we have to claw at the walls with our bare hands. It’s like digging a hole at the beach, except if your hole isn’t structurally sound, it can cost you your life.

I take up position next to Riss. He can sniff out iron like a pig rooting for truffles, and he’s harmless enough. Maybe too harmless for his own good. After the Rising, they say he turned himself over to the authorities. I think he’s the only one of us who didn’t try running. Not sure sure if that makes him stupid or smarter than the rest of us. We exchange a quick greeting in the form of nods and then set to work. As my hands rake through the cold earth, I think back to when they caught me.

The Rising had failed. Aster Bant and his magicker legions had been decimated. Being gifted was one thing, bu it couldn’t transform villagers into an army. Once they’d executed the ringleaders we’d hoped things would settle down. It was strange not having Teb around anymore, but I figured if he was naive enough to believe Aster Bant’s madness he probably met a swift end. I’m not saying he deserved to die, but I hope he did. He’d have hated it in here.

About a month after the last executions, we realised things were never going to be the same. People stopped asking for my help, even if the ice in their troughs was too thick to smash with a bar. Joil the blacksmith apologised as he let me go. Said it was nothing personal, but my presence was affecting his sales. I don’t blame him, but I was still angry. Even Smana Mat, who’d latched onto me after Teb left to join the fight didn’t want to be near me anymore.  I don’t blame her either.

I was twenty-three when the soldiers came with their Imperial writ. Any magickers, they said, were to make themselves known. They told a good lie about taking us to sanctuaries so we could be protected from those who would see us dead, but everyone in the village knew what would happen. That didn’t stop them from turning me over. Even my own family didn’t think I was safe to be around. I gathered everything I had, which was a fistful of pennies and a knife I had been making in my spare time, and I ran. Out into the woods and through them to the hills.

I don’t know what I was thinking. They caught me only days later, trying to lift food from a baker in Rundlemill. I didn’t put up a fight. Even insisted the baker take my coin by way of apology. He took the money, but not the sentiment. Then I was dragged out to the Southlands, and thrown in Ruat. Been here fifty years now. I think so, anyway. It gets hard to tell.

Digging through the sand, my hands found something hard. A rock, about the size of my two fists bunched together. I work the sand away with my fingers so I could get a grip on it, and then start to pull. It comes away slowly, with a soft sucking sound. Loose trails of sand trickle down the pit wall, and I see from the clumps that it is wet. You hit patches like that sometimes, where rainwater has pooled. With a twist, I wrench the rock out. And then I hear the wall shifting.

“Collapse! Collapse!” Riss’ cry rings out clearly, and magickers scramble away from our segment of wall. I join them. Last time there was a collapse we lost two prisoners. Hopefully this one isn’t too sever.

But it is. Ten metres of wall slide down, at least two metres back. Sand cascades down like a gritty waterfall. Most of the others make it away in time, but Riss disappears under the torrent. As I look over my shoulder in horror, seeing his hand reach up for aid, I too am swept under. Thankfully it only takes my legs. I am stuck but I am alive. Magickers swarm to our aid, but it’s too late for Riss. His lungs are crushed. He’ll never take another breath.

This isn’t fair. I clench a fist, feeling the heat rising. Not wanting to draw the guards’ ire, I push my hand into the sand. If they see magick, no matter how small, they are within their rights to kill us on the spot. As I calm myself, the heat recedes. I pull my hand out.

And then I see it.

Where heated skin touched sand, there now lies a chunk of glass. It glows with trapped heat, white hot along its sharp edges. I turn it over with my hand, glad it cannot feel its own heat. The glass nicks my skin, drawing blood, and I suppress a wince, and then a smile. I cover it back up and join the other prisoners.

In this prison, filled with the angry and the damaged, I an now make weapons. Crude, simple weapons. But that may be all I need. For the first time in decades, I have hope for the future.


Offline Carter

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2018, 10:13:24 PM »
This is mine for the month.  It comes in at 1465 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Into the Spider's Web

“Are you here about the kittens?”

The two men on the front step stare at me momentarily confused.  One's mouth even hangs slack before the other recovers.  I glance over their heads at the dark sedan sat idling on the kerb.  Another man waits inside, bored and looking everywhere but at the house. 

“Ah, no.  We're here to see Mr Anderson.  He is in, I assume?”

He fixes a fake smile to his face, betraying his own lack of experience at this line of work.

“So, you are here about the kittens then?  I must admit I'm impressed you took the time to learn their names.  Most people don't bother.”

I shuffle aside and open the door wider.  They hesitate, unsure and surprised at how welcoming I am.  Always best to keep them on their toes, I find.  It certainly helps to spin my webs regardless. 

The hallway is straight from the seventies, all avocado and ochre with stereotypical touches like the trio of flying ducks hanging from the walls.  It creates just the right impression, throws my guests off their stride and has their eyes flickering from place to place, seeking any sign of their quarry. 

Of course I know that all they'll find are strands of cat hair and claw marks along the varnished pine skirting boards. 

I move behind them, carefully herding them towards the yawning door into the front room.  Other doors care carefully ajar, allowing glimpses into prosaic domesticity; a kitsch kitchen, a dining room complete with retro serving hatch, an off-beige downstairs toilet. 

“You'll have to excuse me.  I was not expecting anyone to come today,” I say, gesturing for them to find a seat amidst the clutter of needlework and magazines dotted across the floral, three-piece suite.  “Usually people phone first.”

A hint of a frown creases my wrinkled forehead.  Almost as if I mean it as a subtle chastisement.  Almost as if I'm only just starting to doubt inviting them in. 

“Take a seat and I'll go and fetch Mr Anderson.”

“Thank you,” says the first man. 

I leave him carefully moving aside and stacking the magazines.  When I first took this job, I would glance at the door beneath the stairs, a little unsure about what I was doing, a little concerned that somehow my employer might reveal himself.  Experience and a close call with a particularly perceptive visitor had broken that habit. 

Slowly, like the sixty-seven year old I am, I move through the kitchen and out into the verandah.  Sweet, high-pitched mewling greets me and lifts my heart.  My babies, my family, totter around their pen, some rushing in from their run outside. 

“Hello, my darlings,” I say, easing my way through the gate and in amongst them. 

A dozen in all, the kittens mill around my feet, brushing against my woollen tights or reaching up to seek my stroking hands.  I give them the fuss and attention they crave, promising them more to come once I have taken care of my guests. 

Bending down, my knees protesting, I pick up the calico.  He wriggles in my hands, desperate to turn himself upside down and play with the strands of my hair that dangle in front of his face.  I carry him through, letting him tug and bite as much as he wishes. 

“Here he is,” I say as I come back in.  “Isn't he adorable?”

I tickle Mr Anderson's belly while pretending not to notice that the second man has just closed the sideboard.  It contains nothing more interesting than old videos and half-finished knitting projects of course. 

Setting Mr Anderson on the Axminster rug, the kitten darts off towards the second man, eager to meet a new friend.  I smile as I watch MrAnderson cavort, bravely stalking and attacking the man's shoelaces.  As I hope, he takes a tentative step backwards and then kneels down, palm outstretched in welcome.  How quickly he has succumbed. 

I turn my attention to the first man.  He was always going to be more of a problem. 

“I'm sorry, I think you must have misunderstood me.  I was looking for the master of the house?  Thomas Anderson?  I rang a couple of days ago.  He should be expecting us?”

Crinkling my brow, I make a slow, deliberate show of remembering.

“We're from the electricity company.  With the amount he's been using recently we thought it best to pay him a visit.”

“Tuesday?  About half-three was it?  While Countdown was on?”

He shakes his head. 

“Wednesday morning, I rang.  And I spoke to Mr Anderson directly.”

A edge of frustration has crept into his voice.  His gaze is darting to his colleague who is paying more and more attention to Mr Anderson's charms and increasingly less to our conversation. 

“Oh no.  You can't have rung then.  Wednesday mornings are when I go shopping.”

“Exactly.  That's why I spoke to Mr Anderson himself.  You weren't here and - ”

I clasp my hands to my chest, a look of horror plastered to my face.  Shakes ripple my upper body, travelling down into my legs so I have to steady myself against the arm of sofa. 

“You're spying on me?”

My voice breaks on the final word.  The second man's head jerks up, astonished as the change in my tone.  In retaliation Mr Anderson reaches out a paw and swipes it across his hand.  He's a good boy. 

“Of course not,” the first man says hurriedly, realising his mistake.  “Thomas only said that - ”

I burst into tears; the final strand to the web I've woven just for them.

“I don't know who you mean.  I've lived her all my life.  Just me and my cats.  I don't know any Thomas and now you come in here and...”

I struggle onto the sofa, my head in my hands. 

“Come on Gary.  It's the wrong place, clearly.  Head office must have given us the wrong address.  Again.”

The first man glares at his colleague.  My magic is finally reaching out to him, disrupting everything he believes about why he is here, about why he has been sent.  Finally he sighs. 

“I'm sorry, miss.”

I peer through my fingers as he reaches out an arm, almost as if he wants to console me.  He doesn't.  They never do.

They leave, inching out of the room and back into the hallway.  They close the front door with a quiet click while Mr Anderson mews his distress at being abandoned by his newfound friend.  I drop a hand to the floor and, predictable as always, he trots over to rub against my skin.  I smile as the car drives away. 

After spending some time consoling Mr Anderson and allowing my guests to get a fair distance away, I make my way to the door beneath the stairs.  A couple of rhythmic knocks and I ease it open.  Amidst the coats and shoe-racks, among the smell of mothballs, a hole gapes, a ladder descending into the darkness.

I climb down, taking great care of my old bones.  A steel door bars further progress but there are only two keys.  I keep one close and the other lies on the other side and it's been a long time since that one has seen any use. 

“Hello Thomas,” I say, shielding my eyes against the blinding fluorescence. 

It looks like he has not shaved in a couple of weeks, his beard grey and straggly.  Half-eaten plates of food from the past couple of days are scattered across his workbenches. 

“Ah.  Mrs Higgins.  I'm close now.  I know I am.”

He fiddles with the open chest cavity on the slab in front of him, attaching more wires connected to the generator behind him.  He hardly looks at me.

“I think the electricity company reported us again,” I say.  “You need to be more careful with how much you use.”

I try to be stern but it never works.  And besides his enthusiasm for his work is too infectious.  It is what attracted me to him after all. 

“You'll take care of it.  You always do.  You and your obfuscation.”

He waves a hand my way; part dismissal, part thanks. 

“I'm close though.  A week?  Maybe two?  Then it will be alive.  I know it will.”

As quietly as possible, I make my way back up the ladder.  He always gives the same answer.  He is always close.  Maybe this time he is even right. 

In the meantime, I rejoin my kittens and wait for the next government agents to arrive, considering what tale to weave for them this time. 

Offline Nora

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Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2018, 09:13:57 AM »
1485 - Artist and Hound

Kind of recycling a story I never got to use, but I've reworked the whole of it and completely changed the ending so I hope it qualifies.


Spoiler for Hiden:


Iain Hund, former supernatural homicide detective, now mere magical vandalism inspector, feels the staleness of his car's air like a strangling hand upon his thoughts.
He sends a last baleful glare at the wall he has pointlessly stalked for the past eight hours and starts his car to drive back to the station.

In all his years in the Sup-PD, Hund had never doubted his own righteousness. When the Harris case had come his way, he'd broken all the rules necessary to land the damn man behind bars and still felt like it was right.
He had accepted his demotion as a cheap price to pay to save the public from the likes of Jack Harris.
So when he put down his things on his new cramped desk at magical vandalism, and even after a year chasing Blues dealers, petty curse carvers, and weres doing their claws on public property, Iain Hund had remained serene.
Regret bloomed in him when the Artist's case was made his top priority.

Tom, whom he shares his desk with, is a cold shoulder to cry on.

"No chance with this new stake-out then?" Met only by moody silence, Tom pushes a box of donut accross the desk. "You look like you need some."

"You eat donuts like a road cop."

"Well, those guys know what's up. Didn't you work with them, back in the day?"

"Yes," Iain sighs, dunking his hand in the proffered box, "and this case is the most pointless and disheartening task I've been given in my career, which includes these old patrols with the normal's police, writing tickets and shit."

"Come on, the Artist has been taunting us for years, but she can't be flawless. Guy with an ability like yours, what's that? Magikolour synaesthesia? Why go for stake-outs and CCTV? Why not make some traps? You've got more magical ability than this whole floor put together!"

"Tom, I'd need so many warrants for one trap, it's not ever happening. I think I got given this task as extra punishment. Something senseless to run after until I retire."

"What if they really think you can catch the vandal who's never been caught?"

"Why do they want that anyway? Because some loony normal might scrap some paint off a wall and somehow figue out there's something off with it? What am I to say to her if I catch her? 'You're under arrest for artistry. Your fingers will be broken... No, sorry, I mean, I need your address so we can send you fines!' Don't you think we'd all be better off with more art like hers in NY, and less wendigos or murderous weres I could put behind bars?"

"Hund, I don't wanna disappoint, but the world's been doing just fine without you. Also, moaning to me isn't getting you back into homicide and you know it. Artist is no murderer, maybe you've got to change your tactic, get original."

Iain, knowing good advice when he hears it, wonders about the changes he could make. The police, sup or normal's, has no name or face to put on the Artist. Even her gender is as good as the street word, rumours from the guy who knows a guy who's seen her.

Dusting donut crumbs from his notebooks, Iain peruses through weeks of drawings. When seen by normals or photographed, the Artist's work is static, if beautiful graffiti art.
The drawings were to capture the details of what sups–anyone with a shred of magical ability–saw instead: myriads of images, sometimes a whole scene, with characters turning to the watcher, mouth opening in mute calls, sometimes the paint exploding out of the walls, pulling you in clouds of coruscant particles.
In his book Iain has little boats on the calm waters of a lake, the face of a submerged god half hidden under lotuses; a pale man weeping liquid gold; a woman playing a sitar, each sound coming alive in the shape of a fantastical animal; a highway bridge pillar turned into an aquarium in which twirled a bigger-than-life mermaid; and many more. His notebook is far thicker than the case file ever was.
In the last pages he finds the sketches made of a long mural of dancers. Their appearance changed depending on the angle you looked at it, a masquerade of shape-shifters. In it is a message for the man the Artist knows is on her trail, for hidden behind the legs of a dancer stands a black wolf-dog and though it has no collar, a golden tag gleams beneath its jaws, etched in the faintest strokes with the name Iain.

That's how she must see me: the law's dog on his invisible leash.

"Alright, let's get original."

"Mmh? Where are you going?"

"Hudson Heights. I'm gonna get friendlier with our local alchemists."

He leaves Tom to choke on his donut.

Alchemists have no claws or tooth to rend through you, but they don't need them. The power they wield, and their tendency for single minded obsession, makes them a prickly bunch, and the Sup-PD has a special unit for policing them.
Iain's badge feels like a flimsy shield in his hand as he steps down from the sunny, all-American street and into the subterranean entrance to the alchemy quarters.
The skills of the Artist and the finesse of her alchemical paints has already sent Iain deep inside those hidden galleries of shops and studios, where his questions revealed envy, admiration, and wholesalers of raw materials who did most business online and all proudly claimed her as a loyal customer, whilst unable or unwilling to prove anything.

The man at the entrance smiles at Hund.

"What do you want this time, cop?"

"Just visiting Toby Smith as a customer today." Iain grimaces. "Please."

The doorman grins sardonically, Smith being a famously irascible alchemist. He reaches for the door handle and applies his magic to it. To Iain it looks like a blue aura. A small displacement magic, that opens doors to other places. He nods his thanks and scuttles past and right into the maddening chaos of Toby Smith's shop.

"You again? What do you want now?" a disembodied voice asks from all corners.

Smith does business like this, never bothering to be present in the same room as his customers, his store guarded by an arsenal of curses that would make any hardened criminal as docile as a puppy.

"Paints."

"You're still after the Artist?"

"Ah, yes sir."

"You planning on defacing her work?"

"No sir. I–well, I like her work too. She caters to her fans though, and I thought, maybe, I can get to discuss with her somehow?"

Drawers open at invisible hands, glass jars and packets start drifting towards Iain.

"You're planning some sort of painting show-down? You've got guts Hund, I like it. Leave two hundred behind, follow the instructions on the packs, and work on your magic before mixing, unless you want blowing your moronic face off."

"Thanks sir."

"You're a better guy than I assumed."

"Sir?"

"Mixing paints to life is a tiny magic, but it's also very rare. The Artist has a unique gift. That someone with such a high grade magic as yours can appreciate her work is good. Maybe with you on her case she won't get wiped after all."

Iain mouth goes very dry.

"Wiped? Why would..."

His mind reels. It makes perfect sense now. Why bother with breaking fingers, indeed! Such a small gift, to breath life into a pot of already alchemical paint. It would take a tiny trap seal with her name on it to erase her magic as surely as if she were born a normal. He can picture his bosses, patting him on the shoulder. Good job Hund.

"Hund?"

"Thank you sir. For your honesty."

Iain goes home on autopilot, lost in his thoughts. He spends several evenings practising, and more building the final spell-works and paints before going out. He's mapped the Artist's work throughout Manhattan, and picked a wall she is likely to walk by. Finally he sits behind the wheel of his car and works a small shifting magic on his face.
He has decided to go into the night to do what he's paid to stop. He feels shivers of anticipation and dread, a kinship and a respect stronger than ever before for the Artist who so inconspicuously prowls the nights. 

He does her portrait, suggested, unfinished, broad strokes of paint revealing how little he knows of her. Sitting beside her stands a black hound with a golden tag, his muzzle resting in her lap, adoring eyes gazing up into her unpainted face waiting to be filled. Artist and Hound, he titles it.

A promise.

Two days later, Iain finds that the mouth of the Artist has been painted over in a slight smile.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2018, 09:34:24 AM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty