magic

“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

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Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.

Duke Lazell’s Missing Finger – A flashback flash fiction!

So, this is a flash fiction I did a couple months back, but I wanted to share it here because it was a fun exercise. The deal behind it was this – my buddy sent me a text with a title and the first sentence of a story, and I had to come up with the rest of the tale, in under an hour. This is my result.

That fucking bird didn’t know it, but it had seen its last sunrise. It wasn’t even properly dawn, for light’s sake, but the bloody thing was there, just outside the window, caw-cawing away at the great threat it perceived rising in the east every morning, a threat that even now was only thinking of creeping over the horizon. And this bird, this loathsome little jackdaw, overly impressed with its size and ability, thought that its mere voice could keep that great fiery bird from infringing on its courting territory. Enough.

The hangover, of course, didn’t help. My head throbbed with the beat of a thousand swords against a thousand shields, a relentless thump-thumping that alone could drive a man to madness. When combined with that shadow-sworn bird and its ceaseless melody of avian chest thumping, it was a cacophony that even I, Galmor the Great, newly appointed wizard supreme of the court of King Phalian the Kind, could not endure. And trust me, normally, I can endure quite a lot. You have to when you’re a wizard.

I stumbled from my bed in a wobble, a half-stumble, half-fall towards the washbasin. Thank the light that the porter had seen the pitcher filled, and a touch at its side confirmed that it was at least still lukewarm. I chanted a brief incantation, and the copper that formed the pitcher glowed. In moments, steam rose, and I poured a bit of the now hot water into the basin, splashed it upon my face, and tried to wash away the remnants from last night’s feastings that still remained in my beard. The bird continued to screech, and my face in the looking glass sneered.

“Bloody bird,” the image spat, “I really wish you’d see to that beast.”

I sighed, irritated that what I had previously wished was now being demanded of me. Like most wizards, I have a deplorable dislike of authority, and it took nothing more than the vocalization of my own desire from someone other than me, no matter how incorporeal, to spark a thought of resistance in me. And then the bird called, and my resolve returned.

“I intend to,” I growled, and the me in the mirror gave a smug little smirk of satisfaction. Shadows take me if I didn’t think seriously then about breaking the glass, but such things bear ill fortunes and clearly my day was full enough of those as it was. Right then, to the bird.

Storming over to the window (literally storming, I might add, for a small cloudburst had formed over my head in my wrath, and even now was growing in size and darkness), I flung back the curtains and immediately closed them. Blast, but the sun was growing bright already, despite the desperate efforts of that damnable bird! A flicker of lightning danced within the cloud over my head, and the air filled with the scent of pending rain. I reached over, grabbed my staff, and pried the curtain back more slowly, letting my eyes adjust to the brightness, wincing through the pain it caused behind my much abused and still slightly inebriated optical nerves.

There it was, my tormentor, my torturer, my morning nemesis. There, perched upon the outstretched hand of a statue of Duke Lazell, father of my king (and current employer) and to my unceasing consternation, a great lover of all things fowl. Indeed, the wretched squawker that so constantly irritated my mornings was no doubt one of the many specimens the late duke had collected in the palace gardens, with the assistance, no doubt, of the former wizard supreme. Much to my displeasure, when the two accidently blew themselves up (and the previous king, to whom the Duke was heir) several years prior to my employment, the explosion didn’t take the damnable birds with them. And doubled to that displeasure was the fact that Phalian the Kind, earning his name, took a soft-hearted liking to all the things his father loved (at least, the things his father loved that suited him), and had declared that all things feathered protected under kingdom law. To kill a fowl was to foul the king’s law, and the punishment, surely, would be far less kind than the king’s sobriquet implied.

But I was wizard supreme, and damned if I was going to suffer one more early awakening. Thunder rumbled over my head as I took aim upon the blighted beast, pointing my staff in its cursed direction, and with a fury equal to any demon of shadow, I muttered my lethal curse at it. Lightning struck from the cloud above my head, coursing down to my staff and then arcing outward towards the bird. There was a sharp snap, the deep, tangy smell of electrical discharge, and shortly, the lovely scent of roasted bird. And then, a crack, a thud, and a gasp.

I rushed to look out the window to see the cause of the latter. There, on the ground at the feet of the statue of Duke Lazell, lay a great stone finger. I glanced to the statue’s hand, and winced when I saw that perhaps my fury had been a bit over exuberant. For in my need to unalive the beast of my disdain, I had added a bit too much umph to my spell, and it had severed from the stone effigy the rocky likeness’s middle finger. As for the gasp, that likely belonged to the manservant who even now scurried off towards the king’s guard. Lovely. Great. Just what my morning needed. I had better think quick.

“Good morrow, and light be praised!” I exclaimed when, very shortly thereafter, the door to my chambers was kicked open by said guard. And who should be there with them, but his Majesty, still in his dressing robe, and his seneschal, his chief royal advisor, and if some were to be believed, his lover.

“GALMOR!” the king bellowed, “What is the meaning of this?”

“The meaning of what, your Majesty?” I asked, my voice the essence of calmness and civility.

“You know damned well what!”

I shrugged noncommittally. The king sighed, and pointed out the window at the statue of the duke, framed perfectly through that portal.

“Ah!” I said, as if it had just occurred to me what he was speaking of, “You’ve noticed my improvement to your father’s statue!”

“IMPROVEMENT?” he roared.

“Yes, your Majesty. You see, I noticed upon taking residence in this tower that the statue of your father was…imperfect. The middle finger on his outstretched hand was clearly too short. And as any learned wizard can tell you, a too short middle finger is a sign of bastardry. It has bothered me since my appointment to this position, and I could bear the insult to your name no longer!”

The guards glanced at each other, clearly confused. The king looked to his seneschal, who shrugged. The great advantage to being a wizard was that no one ever questioned your logic. The king harumphed a bit, as the seneschal shifted nervously from foot to foot, and the guards continued to stare in evident confusion.

“Well then,” the king said, clearly still angry but unable to justify punishing me for removing any doubt to his lineage, “There is still the matter of the bird!”

“The bird?” I asked innocently.

“Yes, the bird, shades curse you! You killed one of my father’s birds!”

My face took on a look of abject horror.

“Light, no!” I cried out, “Alas, the poor beast must have seen what I saw, must have meant to cover the insult with its own presence, and alighted just as my spell was cast upon that wretched finger!”

The seneschal sniffled suspiciously, but I ignored him. The king harumphed again.

“Then you did not intend to kill the fowl?”

“Your majesty, I assure you,” I said extending my middle finger, “I aimed but for this. I never in my life intended to shoot the bird.”

A Little Bit of Magic…

A short piece, just a scene really, that popped into my head. Not written for any contest, just written for the heck of it. Should I continue it?


Boom! Magic – it’s a crazy kind of thing. It doesn’t always work the way we want it to, and when it does, it’s not always predictable. So the fact that it did work this time, that I found myself staring at a pair of shocked but pouty lips and two eyes sparkling like diamonds under a star field, left me almost as shocked as it left her, the girl of my desires. There was no time to waste here – right then. Down to business.

I reached forward, before her shock could vanish – shock is a funny kind of thing, with magic. It can actually make effects last longer, so I intended to take advantage of it. I took her quickly into my arms, and pulled her close, pausing only for a moment to breathe in deeply of her scent. I wanted to remember that later. I heard her gasp, felt her chest contract as her lungs forced themselves empty in shock. I gave her a half second to breathe back in again. She was going to need it.

Time was running short. I could feel it,  had wasted enough already. My right hand moved up to her head, fingers digging into that luscious sea of blonde locks and grasping tightly at her scalp. My left stayed low, cupping the small of her back and drawing her impossibly close to me. I leaned slightly, and pulled her close, my eyes and hers closing subconsciously as our lips began to part.

They touched. And fuuuuuuuuuuck. I hope you’ll excuse my lack of interesting transition there, but there really is no other word to describe the way we sparked when our lips met. It was, for lack of a better term, climactic. It was the bang at the end of the big one, the kind that forms universes in its wake. Our tongues darted back and forth, carefully dancing about one another and drinking deeply of the myriad of feelings that erupted with every touch and taste. She began to moan softly into my mouth, and damned…I can tell you now, there’s not much sexier than that. I moaned too. Couldn’t help it.

My left hand slid down her back, across the magnificent roundness that was her perfect ass, and I thrilled as she jumped a bit from my squeeze. Her shock was fading, her arms wrapped around me and for a moment, it felt like we were going to melt.

And then pop!

The magic reversed, and I found myself kissing nothing but air. I sighed, ignoring the strange looks of passersby. The thing was, it worked…and if it worked once, it damned sure would work again.

Hopefully for longer next time.

A contest entry…

The specifics of the contest were as follows: Just tell me, if you were gifted with the ability to see the creatures of the supernatural world – all things fae, angelic, demonic or otherwise – what would you want to see first?

 

My response?

 

Ah yes, to see what other eyes cannot,

The world that frolics well beyond the veil,

Where faery lords and beasts that man’s forgot

Make mischief, there, beyond the mortal pale.

To have my eyes awakened to their sight

By mystic means, however they are wrought,

T’would be like sunlight dazzling in the night,

Beguilling and bewitching is the thought.

But of them all that dance beyond the shroud,

There be not one that I would rather see

Than she who stands alone, so bright and proud,

The Queen of all the fae, the Lady Sidhe.

Oh, sweet Titania, merciless and fair,

What I would give to see you standing there!

Logical Consistency in an Illogical World…

As I mentioned in a previous post, I just recently finished reading a great book – “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch. I really enjoyed his writing and I have already purchased the next two books in the series. There is just tons to love in them, and I definitely recommend them to fans of fantasy and witty scoundrels alike.

That said, I do have a tendency, once I’ve read a book, to go back and reflect on what I liked and what I didn’t like. Usually, the things I didn’t like are things that came off as logical inconsistencies – that is, actions or events that don’t seem to make sense given the world they are set in. And while I definitely liked the book I read, there was one inconsistency that stood out to me, and bothered me just a bit through my reading it, and that one thing was the magic system. Beware, minor spoilers follow – if you like to read as an absolute “virgin” to the material, stop here and skip the next two paragraphs.

Still with me? Great! Here is basically what I found puzzling with the book: in the world that Lynch has created, magic is pretty rare. It is, in fact, practiced only by a very elite group of magi, a group that is fiercely protective of one another, insanely powerful, and in general, not to be crossed. One of the most powerful aspects of their magic is their ability to use a person’s name to manipulate them. This, of course, becomes a problem when a plot pivotal character (or two. Or three. Minor spoilers, remember? ;) ) has their name used in just this manner. While that seems to be a logical step in the story, it bugged me.

The thing is, these magi are well known throughout the world. Their powers are known, their fierceness is known, their unrelenting nature is known. It is no secret that a magi with your true name could do very bad things to you. And this is where the problem of logical consistency comes in. When you have a world where this is the truth, where it is known that true names have power and that magi of incredible strength can and will use that against you…why would anyone ever give out their true name? It just doesn’t make sense to me that *any* one would. True names would be a matter of great secrecy, something whispered in the ear of a baby at the time of their birth, in the presence of no one but their parents (or perhaps a priest). They would be something strange and long and unpronounceable. They would be guarded with more care than a king’s treasure room. They would then be given a “day name”, something that they go by and identify with, though it is not their true name. Who in their right minds would take the risk of using their actual name if they knew that it could be used to not just control their thoughts, but their very actions? The logical thing to do is to hide that name and let no one know it who doesn’t have to!

Spoilers over, you can read now! My point from above, without spoilers, is that fantastical powers and abilities need to have a logical effect within the world they exist in. This all comes back to world-building, really. It is perfectly fine and acceptable to have magic in a fantasy setting. It is perfectly fine and acceptable to have that magic take a certain form. It is also fine and admirable to give that form limitations. When you do so, though, make sure that you follow a form of logic that allows those powers and limitations to have an impact on the rest of your world.

For a not-as-yet published example of what I’m talking about, I am going to use the magic system in my current fantasy endeavor as an example. In my fantasy setting, magic is powered by darkness. Light is the bane of all things magical, and thus, practitioners of magic do so in as little light as possible. They are quite literally the Dark Arts. When I first started writing up the ideas behind my setting, I really didn’t think about the impact of that. I just thought it was a neat idea, and a fun play on the words “dark arts”. As I write, though, I found that certain scenes in my story just don’t make sense because of the rules I established for my magic system. When I wrote a scene where a magic user uses his abilities to manipulate a room full of people, I had him do so in a dark warehouse, where his powers were strong. It seemed like a good idea, because the people he was dealing with were outlaws and thieves, and what image fits them more than a shadowy warehouse filled with shady characters?

The problem, though, is that these outlaws and thieves live in a world where it is known that shadows have power, and that people can manipulate that power. In such a world, important business deals, no matter how criminal, are going to take place someplace light and sunny, with as few shadows as possible to influence them. Even the shadiest (pun intended) of thieves is going to know that you DON’T trust anyone in the dark. Even if their meetings have to take place at night, they are going to take place in a warehouse with blacked out windows but full of lanterns, so that they can remain concealed but protected from the wiles of a wicked magi. That would be logically consistent with the world they live in. That would make sense.

That said, you *can* write loopholes into such a system. In my case, there are certain casters who are “shadowbound” – that is, a being of shadow (for brevity’s sake, a demon) is bound to their inner soul. They can cast in full daylight where no other shadowcaster can, but at the cost of increasing the power of the shadow within them, a being that is both enslaved and enraged by its servitude to a mere mortal. Too much daylight casting, and a shadowbound will lose themselves to their shadow forever. And the process to become one is both insanely painful and typically deadly – less than one human in a hundred survives the process. This means shadowbound are incredibly rare, and restricted by countless laws throughout the kingdoms of the world.

That still doesn’t change the fact that my warehouse scene needs to have light, and lots of it. I’ve rewritten it so that it does. But I made the caster into a shadowbound, so that he can still manipulate the denizens of said warehouse without suspicion. This small change allows me to keep the intent of the scene without sacrificing logical consistency with the rules of the world.

So, there it is. What do you think? Does that all make sense? Do you agree with the need for logical consistency? Let me know!