It’s Free Flash Fiction time again, you lucky, lucky people!
It’s the latest distraction I gave to myself over the weekend to get my head back into things. It’s based on Daniel Pilla’s The Journey of the Wandering Mage, courtesy of Charlie Hoover and his Geekscape page. Please check them both out, but I suggest pulling up Daniel’s work in a separate window as you read to get the full effect. And while you’re on his page, be sure to show him some love. Encourage the arts. Encourage creativity.
Paal would rather be elsewhere right now. He would rather face the daily consternation from his wife about how much of a charlatan he is, and how her father was right in saying she should marry someone who was rich. He would rather be surrounded by squealing, rosy-cheeked, snot-nosed children as he would astound and amaze them with basic magic for a few coins a day in the village square. He would rather be surrounded by the safe and familiar walls of his Kingdom, or at the very least, surrounded by the prison walls of which he’s more accustomed to. Literally anywhere else would be preferable to be standing before the Kingdom of Krauthuga, whose very walls seemed to be carved from nightmares as it reflects and refracts the light of the rising Witch’s Moon.
Murrir stood resolutely by Paal’s side. Claws extend and contract methodically around the leather woven handle of a battle axe that has been wielded by his father many times in battle. A golden eye scans the stone walls, ramparts and battlements for the slightest weakness to exploit. The other eye rests cold and dead behind a crude and tiny eyepatch. Murrir has been aching for this day. Before the blood red moon sets, he will finally win his freedom for his family and for the rest of his Feliformian brethren.
The wind changes direction. Murrir points his nose to the sky, his whiskers follow suit. His tail twitches as his ears spin to capture the smaller details of the night’s landscape.
“What do you smell?” Paal was interested in what caught his diminutive companion’s interest.
“Shhh,” Murrir extended a paw. “Voices, Mage. Our presence hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Paal sqwaked as he tried to count the number of torches and angry howls echoing across the valley. ” They know we’re here?”
“Hmm? Oh. No, not them. The Fae Folk. They know of our quest. They…” his feline ears flatten closer to the ground. “They warn us that the horde will attack when the moon is high… and…”
“We know this already, can they point us in the direction of a way in? I guess going through the front door is out of the question. because that bridge seems to lead to nowhere.”
“Quiet, Mage!” Murrir growled as he struggled to translate the rest of the message. “There is a way. Under the wall. No one will be paying attention.”
“I can see that. The shouting is pretty articulate even all the way back here.” Paal is convinced he can smell the collective stench of their breath every time the black speech of the horde rises in a hellish chorus. Fires from a thousand torches and the clang of a thousand swords carry across the chasm. In a matter of hours, the countryside will be scorched by an evil that will bring about the end of all life.
“Well, this has been… an experience, my talking tabby friend. I think now would be a good time to start warning the nearest village that they’re about to be mowed down like a winter harvest.”
“No, Mage.” Murrir’s voice was as fragile as a bundle of dried reeds. “We stay. Rescue Kova. He protect my clan. Must keep Tabbi Clan safe. Must keep family safe. You help.”
Paal’s cheap boots have already started the retreat. “Yes, that’s all well and good. Family should come first, yes, but you see…”
“You no help?”
“No, you see..”
“Why you no help?”
Paal’s reaction got the better of him. “I’m NOT…I’m not who you think I am.”
Murrir cast a skeptical gaze at his reluctant partner. “What you mean, Mage?”
“That’s just it. I am no mage. I am no wizard. I’m just a street performer who practices sleight of hand for cash, and not very well, I’m afraid.”
“That not true,” Murrir chuckled, playfully slapping Paal’s knee with the back of his paw. “You are The Great Palindrome! Weaver of Time and Space. Master of Dark Arts and Illusion. You very clever.”
“Ah, how wonderful. You’ve… you’ve memorized my intro. Look, nothing I say or do is real. It’s an act. It’s all make-believe. There’s no such thing as magic,” Murrir’s whiskers wilted as his words land like soft blows to his ears. “This jewelry I wear is fake. Nothing more than shards of glass and strands of copper. There are no magic properties to them. This cape is a piece of a tapestry I stole from a traveling minstrel show. Nothing there either.”
“What about your staff?”
“Your staff. Where did that come from?”
“This,” Paal had been walking with it for so long, he almost forgot that he’d been leaning on it for days. “This is just a prop. The crystal,” he pointed to the deep blue iridescent rock crowning his staff, “was payment for performing at a birthday celebration. Nobody seemed to think it valuable enough to trade, so I kept it. The staff itself is a tree branch that broke over a dog’s head. This dog wanted to kill me so I ran, I climbed the tallest tree I could find, I stepped on this branch and it snapped and fell right on top of him. Knocked him out cold. I supposed it’s been my good luck charm ever since. I don’t know, I think it adds to the whole ensemble, don’t you think?”
“So, you made that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You are Mage.”
“I’m not a… right, why do you insist on thinking that I am some magical being that will aid you in your quest? I am a clown that occasionally gets incarcerated for practicing magic in public. Why you would trust me to help you with anything is beyond me. You should have let me rot in that cell.”
Murrir turned slowly to face him. “You can believe what you want. You can be a street performer if it will bring you comfort, or a thief if it will give you spirit. But only true Mages have the power and wisdom to forge their own magic staff. You may think it nothing more than a fancy thing, but this eye can see much. I can tell you real Mage.”
“How do you know that,” Paal said as his own disbelief paints his face.
“You told me there were Fae Folk nearby.”
“A few minutes ago. When we passed that tree.” It was information that was a just a bit too much for Paal to handle at this moment. Waiting for a tree to do something answers no questions. Murrir is getting anxious. The moon is rising, and they are running out of time. And so is Kova. “Here, I show you.”
Murrir turned to face the ancient tree growing precariously from the raised wall of Earth just behind them. He took a deep breath and mewled a soft song from his throat. It was an ancient tune sung in a Feline dialect. It was what Cat Folk mothers sang to their young to call them home.
It would seem that the tree was unimpressed with his vocal ability, but one by one, tiny winged, glowing creatures the size of moths would take flight and paint the night sky in a brilliant azure hue. Soon, a cloud as blue as a robin’s egg on a spring day and as dense as a murmuration of starlings encircled the tree and hovered over their heads in joyous flight.
“But, how did I tell you they were here? I don’t remember saying, ‘hey Mur, there are little flying faeries over in that tree.’ Unless I’m mistaken.” Paal stretched out a palm to invite a tiny faerie to land.
“You no say one word, no.” Murrir rasped through purring vocal chords. “Your staff did. The gem is what they call an Angel’s Tear. It is not valuable to eyes of man but is very precious to magic users. The crystal glows bright when magic is near.”
The crystal atop Paal’s staff radiated with the same blue faerie hue. He was too awestruck to notice. “I did this?”
“Yes,” replied Murrir bluntly. “Only true Mages can capture magic from nature. This is no accident. You real Mage now.”
“I’m sorry,” said Paal. “I just don’t believe it.”
Murrir slung his mighty axe over his shoulder. “Well, I believe in you, Palindrome The Great,” and with that the fearless Murrir, The Feliformian Warrior continued on the path. “Come. Great heroics will happen. Stories to tell your children.”
Paal waited for the last of the blue Fae Folk to return to the tree and for his stone to dim. The Witch’s Moon is higher, and the horrific chanting has yet to cease. He faces the dark castle and knows that there is a possibility that he will not make it out alive. But that doesn’t matter. He is no longer Palindrome, Prince of Parlor Tricks and Master of Illusion. He is now Paal, Mage, and Steward of the Blue Light. A deep breath and his cheap boots bring him a few steps closer to legend.
Author’s Shameless Plug Corner:
Thank you all so much for reading. Please be sure to sign up for notifications so you’ll never miss a post.
Also, I’m considering publishing this as well as other short stories into one book. I’ll be putting my first short story up for sale soon, but until that time, donations are greatly appreciated. Thank you all again.