other world

“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.

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Flash Fiction Challenge, this week from Chuck Wendig…

From the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes this week’s Flash Fiction challenge: a story of no more than 1000 words, incorporating the following three random sentences.

“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”

“A poetic pattern retains inertia.”

“The criminal disappears after the inventor.”

Here goes…

It was a study in contrasts. Lord Felwin se Vaan, a man born to one of the purest noble lines and a knight of the Emperor’s own Praetorian elite, dressed in a uniform of vibrant crimson, pressed so cleanly, so tightly that he looked more toy than soldier…though nothing could be further from the truth. Before him, the sneak-thief, Rawley, a bastard-born son of the gutter, his greying robes disheveled and sooty, and only newly returned to him. The latter rubbed his wrists gingerly, massaging the lingering ache of the manacles from which he’d so recently been freed. Lord Felwin regarded him with a cold, cautious stare, then handed him a small bundle of similarly colored cloth. The rogue took them, rolled them open, and regarded the pair of blackened daggers that they held.

“Remember,” Lord se Vaan said, his voice crisp with authority, “the nature of your parole. You are to find the artificer, Taalien Kreg. You are to retrieve from him the schematics from his…device. And you are to silence the creation of any further constructs of their nature.”

Rawley flipped the daggers deftly, caught them, and made them vanish from sight. To Lord se Vaan’s right, a wizened, wrinkled old man gasped. The rogue smiled.

“Right. And you remember your promise. My crimes wiped clean. My debts paid full. My freedom guaranteed.”

Felwin nodded sharply. The rogue bowed, and took his leave. The old man, Master Daen of the Artificer’s League, sighed.

“And thus,” he spoke, his voice dry and raspy, and colored with no small amount of regret, “the criminal disappears after the inventor.”

Lord se Vaan turned and regarded the old artificer, one of his Emperor’s most trusted advisors.

“You  think I am wrong to do this? You think there is a better way?”

“Taalien is a brilliant creator, my lord.”

“A brilliant creator?” Felwin cried out. “A brilliant destroyer! Gods be merciful, Daen, have you seen the men that return from the havoc your ‘creator’ has wrecked? The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins! A hundred VIOLINS! What madness drives a man to make warfare with such a thing as sound?”

The old master shrugged.

“A poetic pattern retains inertia. Its waves carry, grow, amplify. In the grasp of a musician, these waves rise and fall, make beautiful sounds of questionable use. In the hands of a genius though…”

His words trailed off, and over them, outside, separated from them by not just walls of stone and sand, but miles of terrain and air, the horrid wailing of Taalien’s creation could still be heard.

“Your words border on treachery,” Felwin warned. Again, the master shrugged.

“If acknowledgement of genius is treachery, then I willingly condemn myself every day. That said, genius is no excuse for wickedness. No, Lord se Vaan…I cannot think of a better way. Trust in me, I have tried. Taalien was a brilliant student. Hmmm…yes, even my superior in intellect. But he must be stopped. I question only your choice of instruments, my lord. This Rawley…what makes you think him trustworthy?”

“I have my reasons.”

Silence then, save for the distant wailing of the sonic weapon, the hundred violins and their damnable, impenetrable shield. The master nodded, turned, and took his leave. Felwin stood there, silent, alone.

Rawley would succeed. He had to. He alone knew the passages well enough, beneath the keep in which Taalien had walled himself. He alone could move with the silence and deadliness this act would require. He alone carried the fate of the empire on his sneaking shoulders.

“Speed of the Gods,” Felwin whispered, “little brother.”

Beyond, the violins wailed.

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!