Short Story Friday – History Lesson

This is a fragment of a story that I have wanted to write for a long time.  In sequence, it’s out of order from any of the materials I have put together or intend to publish in the near future.  That presented a challenge in how to write this, put it out there to be read, and yet still avoid giving too much away or spoiling it.

I took the perspective of an outside storyteller here who tells things from their perspective with a bit of motivated self interest involved.  So, the narrative details will later be different but it’s interesting to know some of the characters presented and to see where it all moves to.

Without any further wordiness, I present:  History Lesson

Dell sat out on the porch overlooking the farmland. It stretched out further than his old eyes could see and beyond that point the sun was setting off on the horizon. He held a wrinkled hand out as if to push the heavenly body down further but the burning mark of the sky disobeyed him yet again.

Dell’s wife approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder. Even after all this time she still caught him off-guard. He wondered if she still practiced her soft footfalls or if it was so ingrained that it was merely habit now.

“The grandchildren were asking when we would leave for the parade. You promised them Dell.”

“I know. I know… I wouldn’t miss it. Fifty years, can you believe it Jacki? She has reigned for fifty years and tomorrow is the end of it. We were there. You remember don’t you?”

She smiled but Dell did not see it. “I remember.”

“And the way you used to dress! Those days… It’s hard to imagine…” he looked back over his shoulder to see Jacki’s smile turn crooked with embarrassment.

From inside the house a powerful gust of wind threw open the door and a child blew out of the entryway, laughing all the while. The gust of wind literally lifted the boy up and out of the building. It was quite graceful the way in which the boy bent with the blast of air up until the child met with his landing. He fell unceremoniously to the porch and rolled off the short series of stairs to the ground below. Behind him, two young girls gave chase on foot.

The first one reached out and touched the other on the arm. A burst of energy was shared between the two and then at once the older girl leaped a distance of ten feet or more to finally grasp the boy and retake a doll that had been stolen in jest.

Dell looked on with amusement. His wife, their grandmother, was far less tolerant.

“How many times have I told you that you will NOT use your powers in my house or on my porch?”

The children stopped their game of chase at once and shared a collective look of guilt.

“We are sorry Grandmother.” the older girl began.

“Just passing some time until we go out to the parade. It’s so quiet here in the countryside…”

The boy plead his case.

Dell looked to Jacki with a knowing smile, “Do you remember the time when there was no one who would complain of such a thing.”

His wife laughed, “They are young and…it’s been a long time since the wall was taken down.”

Dell nodded at this. He asked the children, “Do you know why they are celebrating the Governess and her fifty years of rule?”

“Because she’s not dead?” the boy hopefully responded.

“That’s… not a bad answer.” Jacki grinned at Dell.

Dell chuckled and began a story, “There was a time when people who lived in Britania did not have the luxury to live in the countryside you know. There was a time when all of our people lived behind a massive wall that protected us from the outside world. The Governess was one of the heroes who helped to cast Envy out of this world.”

When he said those words, the children made a motion over their hearts as if to ward off the evil that had been mentioned.

“We know all that Grandad…they teach it in school.”

The girls shook their heads in agreement and the little one added, “It’s booorinnngg…”

Dell laughed out loud and even Jacki could not help but to reveal a smile at this.

“Do you know the story about when Britania went dark? Do you know about the Long Night?”

Again the children shook their heads.

“It’s something that they won’t tell you about in school until you are much older. Even then they may not tell you what really happened the night that Governess Wellington took over the whole City State.”

Jacki nodded her agreement, “There aren’t even many who remember much less know the whole story. There may be a handful of us still alive…”

“What…what happened?” It was the younger smaller girl who finally asked.

Dell picked his youngest granddaughter up onto his lap, “Well, when your grandad was a boy, they used to require special little children like you to join up with the Elemental Guild.”

He let his words have a hint of playful mirth to them despite the serious nature of what he was telling the child.

“Special children with special talents had to do their part and serve the State.”

“I wouldn’t like that…” the girl admitted.

Dell had to look to his wife and smile at that.

“There were some people back then who did not like it either. People who could hear the dance of the elements, who could see the magic in the world around us…were very rare in those days. They were so rare that the State got to pluck you right out of your home so that you would be helpful to everyone else…even if you did not want to be helpful to everyone else. Families that did not do their duty, they were put in a place called Southwall and kept away from everyone else.”

The other two children sat down and began to listen.

“Back then there was a boy who had control over wind, much like you do boy. He taught the people in Southwall who would listen and prepared them for a time when they might be free to live as you do now. That boy was named Vavian. It was he and the would-be Governess who brought freedom to everyone in Britania by showing how far the Guild had fallen and how corrupt the Elemental Master of Fire had become…”

**********

50 Years Ago…

“That confirms it. We have to act now. Tonight.”

Vavian looked at the young mage who was tied down to the table with regret. He knew this boy. The child was named Joshua. He was a water mage of reasonably potent abilities. Vavian had helped the boy awaken to and control his powers. Now the child was writhing in agony and shouting as though possessed. The Guild had captured him in a recent raid and awakened something inside him that drove his powers to the brink of insanity.

The twins, a boy and his sister approached both Vavian and the captured boy. It was the male twin who voiced his concern first.

“What does this mean for us Vavian? It was bad enough that the Guild was rounding us up, that they had actually brought the Templars into Southwall…but this? What the hell is this?”

Vavian had no answer for him. He turned back to see the gathered mass of people who had sided with he and Sarai in Southwall. There were the free-wielding magi, they were in the most danger if this boy was an example of things to come. There were Jacki and Sarai’s Black Cats, they were in this out of loyalty. There was probably more to it than simply that. Jacki was clever. She and Sarai had probably come to realize that if the Guild was hunting down free-wielding magi, they were probably at risk too.

He did not have to answer to the question. Sarai knew what needed to be said.

“Vavian’s right. We move tonight. We take the State House by force. Our girls will provide the chaos that will allow enough of Vavian’s free-wielders to escape into the streets. We move to the State House and remove that filthy Master of Fire from office by throwing him into the street…from the fourth floor window.”

The girl twin objected immediately, “And just whom will be left in charge when you’ve gone and done this thing hrm? You? Will it be you Governor’s daughter? I would not fear leaving Vavian in charge of the Guild but that’s not what you’re planning is it?”

Sarai frowned. The wind mage was too smart for her own damn good.

“Yes, I plan to take my father’s place as the executive of the city. Removing Richter is only a single step on this path. Despite his villainy, there are many on the Senate who agree with what he has been doing. In their eyes, Southwall is a problem to be fixed, not a people to be saved…”

Vavian moved to quickly smooth over tensions. He could see some of Sarai’s girls moving around to the girl’s back-side in the event this turned into a forceful argument.

“Whoa. Whoa. Hold on Sarai, you’re scaring them.”

Vavian turned to the collection of young magi who hung on his every word. He closed his eyes and tried to center himself.

“There are things transpiring that are even worse than the conditions we find ourselves in here. The fact that the Guild is now actively hunting our kind down is no coincidence. We only need to look at Joshua here to know what kind of future awaits us.”

All eyes moved towards Joshua who was raging at something or someone and struggling against the bindings that kept him from injuring himself. Vavian nodded towards one of the twins who cautiously approached the boy and used his powers to tune Joshua out of his elemental powers. The effort nearly exhausted the young water mage but the effect of being separated from his power actually seemed to help Joshua.

Vavian continued despite the distraction, “Many of you have come to know Sarai. I know there are some of you who have families so injured by the State and the Guild that you will never trust those in positions of power. The choice we all face now is clear. We move together tonight, with the promise of a better future when Sarai takes her father’s place in the State House or we surely face death tomorrow when the Templars come back. Every confrontation with them means that more of our kind end up like Joshua there. You know well that life and its choices are never easy. Everyone here has the power to create change. I’m asking you to have faith in me one more time.”

A quiet murmur ran through the collected young magi. The girl stepped back and stood next to her brother. She had relented. If Vavian’s words could reach her, there was hope for the rest too. After a few moments where no one spoke or made a move to leave, one of the twins spoke.

“Then what would you have us do? How will you take the State House?”

Vavian’s faith in his own words was restored as his friends rallied around him now.

“We attack the power grid.”

That got their attention. The pride of Britania was the complex integration of magic into its city buildings. All throughout the City-State a complex series of delivery systems were set up to provide magical current that brought light to the citizen. It was a living testament to Guild power and influence. Where Britania hailed itself as the light of the civilized world, there was literal truth to that claim.

Even Sarai blinked her eyes at this proposal, “You’re serious aren’t you Vavian? How?”

Vavian nodded, “One free-wielder per sector. They find the Guild Station in the area and tune-out the elemental power reserves. They’ve all trained in it. It should be simple actually. The difficulty is in getting them out into public to do it. That’s where you come in Jacki.”

The young girl, clad in black with the bored expression on her face finally found something to be interested in.

“Let’s hear the plan Mr. Magic Man.”

The other Black Cats began to giggle. Mischief was soon to be in their hands. The gravity of the situation no longer mattered. It would be fun.

Vavian returned their enthusiasm.

“I think it’s been far too long since your girls were sent out into the city-proper to play. I’d like you all to go out and have a good time. The only rule is that everyone needs to come home when you’re done. That means working in pairs and keeping an eye out for one another.”

Going out to play meant that Jacki and the Black Cats would be let loose on Britania to vandalize, steal, and generally cause havoc. The girls often used play time as a means to distract the authorities while a select number of them went about acquiring food and supplies. The order and prosperity that Vavian and Sarai had helped bring to Southwall had all but put an end to the need for such activities. The girls grinned with anticipation to finally cut loose once again.

“Make a show of it ladies. Stir up the bee’s nest. That’s the only way that the free-wielders will make it to their targets unhindered.”

“Oh, it’ll be a show alright daddy…”

Jackie winked and pointed at Vavian. He was glad it was dark enough in the building to hide his embarrassment.

It was the male twin, the one with control over water came to understand something that the others had not put together yet.

“Vavian…how will you and Sarai gain entry into the State House? Some chaos in the streets will only go so far. The House Guards aren’t going to leave their posts and I know that you can both fight but…”

“I was hoping that you and your sister would come with actually. Some borrowed skills would be most useful. I hesitate to bring anyone with fire based abilities…I think somehow Richter can affect them.”

The twins looked at one another as though they knew somehow that the conversation would end up this way.

“We’re with you but…the four of us still isn’t what I would consider a threat to a Guild Master.”

Sarai stepped forward, leaving behind what little shadow was obscuring her features. She moved towards the magi and the Black Cats all at once ceased their idle chatter.

“I’ve got that covered Actually.”

Sarai snapped her fingers and from the shadows she left behind a slender vision of death and darkness slipped down from the ceiling above. It was a woman, clad entirely in black with a pair of swords strapped to her back, and a wild look about her. Her hair was unkempt and somewhat dirty but that only served to make her appearance even more threatening.

Sarai smiled, “This is LeKitaoli. I call her Kit. Her job is to protect me…no matter what.”

LeKitaoli took a knee next to Sarai and as she did, every one of the Black Cats with the exception of Jacki did the same.

“By your will Mistress.”

“Kit, we’re going to storm the State House. A man is waiting for us there who intends to hurt my friends and kill me if given the opportunity.”

Kit pulled her hair back behind her head into a single strand and pinned it into place on her head with a small sheathed dagger.

“This man will never lay a hand on you.”

The others could now see that Kit was not human. Her elven features were revealed to everyone, even the Black Cats who had suspected but never confirmed this were in awe.

Sarai approached the twins and offered them her hand.

“I promise. With the help of you and the others, we will change this place. The Curtain Wall will come down and your families will be free to live as they like. I can make no other promises to you other than the chance to fight for your own future.”

Vavian nodded at her words. Whether Sarai knew it or not, a chance at something better was all these young people had ever wanted.

**********

Vavian and Sarai followed Kit up the steps to the grand State House. Vavian knew what Kit was, he knew what she was capable of. The two younger magi that followed in their wake found that they were unprepared for the brutal savagery that the dark elf engaged combat with.

Sarai had been explicitly clear with Kit. Unless our lives are a breath away from death, you will under no circumstances kill these men and women who are merely doing their job.

Kill, she did not.

With the need for death removed, Kit let all of her effort fall into other forms of victory. She shattered swords, hamstrung those slower than her, and delivered injuries that made continued combat nearly impossible.

As Vavian and Sarai approached the grand door to the State House, they found themselves standing next to a blood drenched and wordless Kit. At her feet were two unconscious Templars and just beyond them were another two, still conscious but crippled never the less.

One of the more dedicated Templars attempted a last ditch attempt at preventing these intruders from gaining entry into the building. His reward was a prompt kick to the chest that stole the breath from his lungs.

Sarai looked concerned but did not utter a word of complaint over the way Kit was handling things. There would be time for apologies and recompense later. Too many people were making sacrifices now for her resolve to weaken at the sight of pain. These men were alive and that would be good enough.

The twins did not object to seeing Templars finally get rewarded for the brutal way in which they had persecuted those in Southwall however, they were still essentially children at this point in their lives and the bloody truth of combat did nothing to relieve the sickened sensation in their stomachs.

Vavian had a better vantage point at the top of the entryway to evaluate how things were progressing out in the open city. He opened up his connection with wind and allowed the sounds of the city to come to him. Chaos was indeed being strewn through out. The streets were beginning to take on widespread panic. Forces had been dispatched to deal with the civil unrest that Sarai’s Black Cats were creating. Everything was moving according to plan.

“I need you.” He waved the water mage to come forward. “Lend me your strength.”

“You got it Vavian.”

The water mage reached out and grasped the hand Vavian offered to him. A flash of light came forth and both men staggered back slightly.

“What is this?” Kit quietly asked of Sarai.

“Human elemental magic can be shared, offered to another. It confers onto the one who receives the power enhanced abilities according to the element. Water for strength, Fire for precision, Air for reflexes.”

“Strength then?”

“Strength.” Sarai nodded knowingly.

Vavian approached the grand door and placed his hands into the seam of the two great wooden panels. With a considered effort and after a few seconds of prying, Vavian threw the doors off their hinges. The sound of cracking wood and tearing metal made an awful sound that caused the others to clutch at their ears.

Vavian fell to a knee panting. He had used up the entire boost of power in one tremendous effort. The twins quickly moved to his aid and lifted Vavian up to continue on.

The interior of the State House was luxurious and fully lit with numerous lumen devices integrated into the room. It was somewhere that Sarai was all too familiar with. Vavian had been here once before and the return now felt far more ominous than his first daring adventure into the seat of Britania’s power. The twins never imagined they would be in such a place. Seeing the splendor and wealth that was revealed in every corner was almost too much for young people who grew up in squalor and filth.

Sarai held up a hand to stop the group from moving forward.

“Guardian, ready yourself.”

The dark elf drew her second sword and moved several bloody strands of hair from her face. The room slowly found itself populated by Templars and guards who quietly and efficiently surrounded the group. They entered from any and every available door and another group stood ready at the top of the stairs that would deliver them to the second of the four flights they would need to ascend.

The Templar at the top of the stair spoke for the rest.

“Sarai? You? We did not believe Richter when he assured us that you were somehow behind these attacks. We had…faith in you my lady. I am saddened that it has come to this. I am Sidar Malachi. I am sorry to say it, but you will go no further Ms. Wellington.”

“Things are about to change Templar. You are not the true Sidar. You do not bear the ring and you do not…well… Enough of that. Stand down. Escort me to my father and to Richter. It is time for a reckoning.”

Malachi shook his head reluctantly, “I am sorry for this my lady. Guards, arrest the young governess. You may dispatch of the others as necessary.”

“Wrong move.”

Sarai looked to the twins and asked the wind mage, “The lights if you’d please.”

From her pockets, Sarai produced two handfuls of small rocks and pebbles. She threw them up into the air and as she did, the girl immediately understood what she was getting at.

Centering her powers, the girl twin grasped the element of air and created multiple currents of wind to separate the stones before flinging them about the room. The tiny clouds of projectiles danced on her gusts of wind and shattered the lumen containers. Darkness began to spread through the chamber. Like a conductor before a symphony, she waved her hands about and the stones swam through the currents, shattering the remaining sources of light as they went. Only the lights that lit Sarai’s path remained in place.

Sarai began walking forward, unconcerned about the armed Templars waiting for her. All around them the room began to fill with the anguished cries of injured men. The water mage caught glimpses of Kit moving with superhuman speed through the shadows, winning fights against men who had neither the training or capacity to fight within the darkness as the Elf of Deep Shadow had.

The Templars still standing beside Malachi recoiled slightly. It was the first time Malachi could ever remember seeing his men move in fear of something. He began to consider that Sarai was correct in her assertion that he had made a mistake. Moving now before him with a deadly purpose, the cries of his men ringing out amidst the darkness, and this girl walked forward still. Unconcerned with the possibility of injury or death, her determined eyes locked onto his while her followers made embarrassingly short work of his trained soldiers.

With only several yards separating Sarai and her companions from Malachi and his men, the young woman stopped. The darkly clad warrior appeared before her as if she had melted out of the shadows surround them.

Malachi did not understand why he was hesitating to engage them now except for the nagging suspicion in the back of his mind that any attempt to do so would be futile at this point. He watched as the dark woman knelt before Sarai and quietly spoke.

“Your way is clear. Shall I remove the others?”

Sarai shook her head, “No. They must bear witness.”

Looking past her servant, Sarai calmly and evenly addressed the Templar who claimed to be Britania’s Sidar.

“You can’t stop what will happen here. Take me to Richter. I have instructed my Guardian to spare the lives of your men. They are…injured but they will live. In return, do as I ask now and take me to the Master of Fire. That bastard has to answer for his crimes. And if you still feel the need to fight us, you can then do so with his support. I think that’s a fair compropmise when the only other option I offer you is defeat.”

As if in response to Sarai’s words, the dark servant turned and growled at the Templar.

It would be as Sarai demanded. Malachi relented, regrouped his men, and began to lead them to where the Master of Fire held council with Britania’s Senate.

**********

The door to the fourth floor meeting chambers of the Senate was kicked in and as it slammed open against the old stone walls of the State House, every one of Britania’s nine Senators recoiled at the site they saw before them.

Kit held the Master of Fire aloft by what remained of his robes. Richter hung without moving in her grasp. She threw the powerful mage on to the table where the Senators had gathered to discuss the civil unrest that was brewing like a storm outside their window in the city below.

Kit’s flesh was bruised and cut. Her hair had been singed such that most of it was gone now. The stench of burning hair was pungent in the otherwise clean and sterile room.

Sarai stepped out in front of her Guardian. Vavian accompanied her and his two magi followed behind with great trepidation. In the hallway behind them, Malachi and his Templars stood waiting. The memory of what they had seen only moments before had burned a loyalty into their blood that reminded them of the true meaning of duty and honor. They watched the scene play out with pride.

One of the Senators rose up from his seat to protest the brash intrusion. He had not moved half way out of his seat when Vavian stepped forward and commanded him to sit back down.

“No. There is not going to be any discussion this time. You’ve kept generations of families in a pen of your own design. Silenced their voices and crushed their dreams. You’ve done this all while shaking a finger of rebuke at them, shaming them for refusing to give up their children to State interests…to the Guild.”

Vavian moved forward and stood up on the table where Richter’s body lay unmoving.

“You accepted the rule of a mad man out of fear. You joined with him to persecute a people who have never even raised a hand in their own defense. You never even knew what it was you sided with…”

Vavian reached down and tore off the rest of the cloak and mask that hid Richter’s face. To the shock and horror of the Senators present, they found that the mage had been dead for some time. His skin had rotted and hardened against his bone. A great wound could be seen on his neck where a blade had severed his head at some point in his previous life. What Britania had feared they encountered when LeLayhilani had entered their realm, had been welcomed with open arms in the form of Richter.

The Senators sat silently disappointed in their own failing. Vavian was not done rebuking them yet though.

“In your blind greed and lust for power, you saw fit to remove the one man from office who actually had some inclination that things were not right. Siding with Richter you arrested Governor Wellington and locked him away in the very dungeon where his daughter had been held just months before. Right now, each and every one of you is trying to figure out a way in which you walk out of this room alive. Well, do not fear. Though you are stupid and clumsy, the lady Sarai has no intention of either killing you or removing you from office. Oh no…you are going to bear witness to what is to come. Just like the Templars waiting in the hall, you will understand by the end of this night…”

Vavian was a frighteningly effective public speaker in spite of his youth. Seeing him face the Senate now without fear or regret made the twins proud that they had followed him all this time.

Sarai gently took Kit’s hand into her own.

“Thank you. You have gone beyond what your duties require of you. It is time for me to go beyond my own.”

Kit nodded her understanding and watched as the child she knew to be a hero of legend took Britania into her own hands.

“The Guild is dead.” she proclaimed.

Taking Richter’s body from the table, Sarai cleaved its head off and threw the bloody stump out of the window overlooking Britania. She heaved the remainder of his body out with it seconds later. Glass and thick corrupted blood outlined the shattered glass.

“What ever experiment was planned for Southwall, it ends tonight. Join me in observing how our path forward will be lit not out of fear but out of hope for our own greatness.”

She beckoned them to stand and watch, then requested Vavian to send out the first signal.

Vavian approached the window but not before bringing the twins along with him to bear witness.

“You have just as much right as anyone you know…”

They smiled and took one another’s hand.

Vavian stepped out onto the balcony and lifted his hands to the sky. A single but expansive burst of heat lightning appeared over the Capitol Building. Seconds later, as if in response to the flash of light, Britania began to go dark. Its man-made lights, powered by Guild magic, fueled by fear and tradition…all began to go dark. Within a moment, the city was almost completely without the magical power that was the central pride of its existence.

“This is the darkness you have left your own kind in for hundreds of years. Bask in the fear and terror that comes with it just as those families have done for generations.”

Vavian’s condemnation of Britania’s social structure was damning.

One of the Senators turned to Vavian and laughed.

“This…this is your grand justice? You would condemn us all to the same fate as those unfortunate souls in Southwall? You would destroy everything we have built to ease your sense of social justice? Boy you are no better than the creature you threw before us tonight. And as for you Ms. Sarai Wellington, you are not fit to stand in your father’s house…”

“I will decide who is welcome in my home and who is not.”

The resounding voice of Virgil Wellington caught them all by surprise. He was escorted and slightly supported by one of Malachi’s Templars. The man was in poor physcial shape but still carried himself with as much dignity as his injuries could afford.

“Father?!?” Sarai pushed her way through to see the man.

He shook his head, “Finish what you started girl. You promised me that you would prove your worth. So show them.”

Sarai nodded.

“Vavian…please.”

Vavian smiled, “Of course.”

Lifting his hands yet again to the night sky, he let loose another volley of heat lightning into the air. It was a signal yet again.

This time the signal was to those still residing in South Wall. All at once the quarter of the city became alive with light and magic. Free-wielding magi from all corners of the slum worked to illuminate their homes, light their furnaces, and cast fire into the night sky. It was a spectacular display.

“Each one of them, a human in control of his gifts. Every one of them a point of light in the city. All of them offer hope for a future that may be frightening but also holding the gift of potential in all of us.”

Sarai’s voice softened.

“They hold no malice. This is not a victory. There are no sides. There is only us…US. A people united for once in our miserable existence. There is worse yet coming than what we saw in Richter. My Guardian warns me that an army is being raised in secret in the south. We must be ready. We must be whole and it must begin now.”

To her amazement, a few of the Senators took to a knee before her. The one who protested so openly to her but a moment before was the first. As his old knees sank uncomfortably to the floor, the man looked to Virgil.

“You were right my old friend…you were right.”

Virgil looked down. Being right did not change the fact that the truth was more frightening than any of them truly knew yet. As the fifth Senator took a knee to acknowledge Sarai’s ascendance to the executive office of the city, it was confirmed. Sarai would lead the great City-State of Britania. There was much to explain and far more to do but a revolution had ended here without true bloodshed and the city would unite as one.

Sarai looked about and wondered where it would all go next. She caught sight of Vavian, and the twins taking a knee before her as well.

It was sudden anger that made her words sound fearsome in this company. She pointed at the twins and commanded them.

“Never! You will never kneel before me.”

She grasped Vavian and pulled him up, firmly holding his hand in hers.

“You especially. We…I, owe you all a debt that will never and can never be repaid. You and anyone else who has shown me kindness over the past two years will never be anything other than equals in this house.”

Years of her training in politic and governance were shining through now, polished by experience and colored by love, Sarai made no attempt to hide her emotions. They looked out together at the changing scene of night in Britania.

“It is just as you said once…a thousand points of light, a thousand chances for a future.”

**********

Present Time…

Dell had become so wrapped up in telling the story that he had failed to notice how late it was getting. They would have to hurry now to make it into the city in time for the celebration.

If his grandchildren noticed they were in risk of missing out on the parade, they made no sign of it. To his surprise, they were full of questions about the two magi who accompanied Vavian and Sarai into the State House that night.

Dell could not help but smile at this. It was something that went without discussion in his family. There would be time to tell them later.

Jacki had gone into the house and come out again with a glass of water. She knew Dell would be parched from the long story but in her own sly way she was giving him an opportunity to reveal the truth to the children. Dell just sipped the water and returned the sly glance to Jacki.

With the story concluded, the children rose up, began their back and forth fussing at one another again, and ran towards the house to gather their things.

Dell pulled Jacki close to him. The story brought back a lot of memories for them both.

“You spared them the worse of it.” Jacki said quietly.

“That’s because the victor gets to decide how competent the opposition was in hindsight.”

“You left me out entirely.” she chided him.

“It would not do well for our grandchildren to hear how their grandmother went about slitting throats and using foul language.”

“Oh…I don’t know about that. The girls could use a role model.”

They laughed but Jacki’s hand instinctively moved to her side where the Guild Master’s fire had left a permanent reminder of that night.

Dell saw it and straightened her hair to move her attention away from the wound.

Their embrace was interrupted when they heard one of their grandchildren running back through the house and again bursting out of the door. It was controlled this time. The boy stopped in front of his grandfather and pointed a finger at him.

“It was you! You were the water mage!”

Dell grinned and flung what remained of his glass of water at his grandchild.

The little boy shrieked in surprise but when the liquid stopped mid flight and returned into the glass as the old man righted it in his hand, the shriek turned to laughter.

The little boy turned and ran back to his sisters bragging that he was right.

Jacki gave Dell a smirk, “If you get to show off to them, I should be allowed to swear around them.”

Dell laughed and together they prepared to join the celebration of a revolution that history would not remember their parts in.

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Another Day and New Potential

The story begins here.

This week saw the culmination of a project began earlier this year.  My follow up work to Master of the House finished its initial draft.  Initially the book was to be titled “Children of the New Potential”.  I’ve decided to change that and use the series title along with a shorten version of that tentative title. That being said, I am happy to announce Legacy of Shadow: The New Potential (TNP) is complete and ready to face the challenges of the market.

So, how do I explain this book?  TNP is the story of a group of characters who make a similar decision to walk away from the lives they are leading into the unknown.  Each of the characters does this for a different reason but as they end up on the same path, together they are given a warning that the answers each of them seeks rest at the top of a frozen mountainous wasteland at the top of the world.  Over the course of a week these characters fight against the forces pursuing them, against their own fears, and against the fear of passing the point of no return.

Laylani is an Elf of Deep Shadow who has taken up a burden that was not her own.  Her arrival in Britania spells doom for its people and spreads fear that the City State is under attack from the undead forces at its door.  She has come seeking refuge after her failures in the northern lands.  Laylani finds no refuge in Britania but manages to regain control of her destiny and perhaps the friends who will see her through it.

Eric is a Templar in the service of Britania.  He is smart, skillful, and has a promising career ahead of him however a nagging sense of worthlessness and isolation leave the warrior feeling as if there should be something more.  When he comes face to face with Laylani and senses something familiar and kindred in the supposed threat to his homeland, it becomes the catalyst that will either ruin his life or save his soul.

Vavian is a free-wielding mage who works and lives outside the control of Britania’s Magi Guild.  He is a sought after criminal.  He is a threat to the social order.  He knows what the Guild has in store for the downtrodden of Britania.  Using the chaos around Laylani’s arrival to move on his own plans, he becomes hopelessly wrapped up in a struggle that he could have never imagined.

Dempsy is a wealthy ‘Copter pilot with a keen eye and a strong distaste for the law.  He plans to help Vavian escape Britania and life a life of comfort, ease, and coin but when his friend returns to him and reveals that their plans have changed, Dempsy has a choice to make.

I never could have imagined how difficult writing this book would be.  It was not that the actual writing, typing, and plotting were hard, overcoming doubt was the challenge.  Master of the House lent itself to an ever tightening plotline and left plenty of room for character evolution.  TNP is a lead off book, meant to spark a whole series but still be self contained.

I had to capture a world, introduce new characters, justify motivation…  Of course every book does this.  I’m not complaining, not at all.  What I wish to express here is that this book is the first step in a bigger story.  This overall story is something I have captured in my mind and now had to find a way to condense the important parts into an opening act.

I was not even sure I liked my own characters as I wrote the book.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.  (Rest assured they ARE awesome and the book turned out great.)  It’s simply that when you are inside a story, crafting it and setting the stage for later, you know who these characters WILL be.  As you write them, you see them only as they are on the first page or first chapter and it feels wrong.

The further along I traveled in this book, the better it felt.  Not only were my own fears unjustified but many of them were incorrect too.

I plan to do some site expansion and add information about these characters in the coming weeks.  I will also post my query that I will send out for this book for anyone to see and comment on.

I should really take a lesson from Dempsy.  He pretty much nailed it:

 “You can never bake the same cake twice. That’s a life lesson. Don’t forget it.”


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Short Story Friday – Shooting the Messenger

This is a fun thing for me to post because it means I’ve finished drafting my next book, tentatively titled “The New Potential”.  So, today’s story is simply Chapter 1 of the book.  It was a shorter but much more difficult process to put this work together for me.  The reasons for that I can’t even really begin to understand.  The end product however is something that I’m really enjoying.  The project has taken shape nicely and as I begin to edit the thing, may of my fears have been assuaged.

Less talk, more rock.  Presenting The New Potential – Chapter 1: Shooting the Messenger

Chapter 1: Shooting the Messenger

Bad news will always find a way to deliver itself. One can hardly be blamed for shooting first in times like these.

-Twitch

Past

The Governor of Keldj and his sons trudged out to the border of their known territory so that the edge of the great forest was in sight. Core prepared a campfire to ward them against the frigid temperatures. There was no telling how long they would actually be out here.

Governor Stiven went about rousing the woman while Lucius stood over her with his scatter-gun pointed menacingly in her direction.

The girl arose with a violent start, her eyes darting back and forth. Her clothing was different from the men that surrounded her. Dark cloth interlaced with leather covered the woman. Where the others were draped in multiple layers of fur and heavy materials, the woman only had a heavy cloak to shield her against the cold.

“Where am I? Why is it so cold? Who…who are you?” She focused her gaze on Core and then Lucius. “You…and you…Old Kin!” She staggered to her feet, losing her footing in the snow but still rising to face her captures. Core was the largest of the three men, taller than the other two by a foot or more and nearly twice as wide. He stepped in front of the woman and gruffly shoved her back to the ground. “This is not a discussion that will happen on equal footing young lady.”

She fell back to the ground undeterred, none of the fight had left her eyes. Stiven put his hands behind his back and paced around the campfire before he addressed her, “You claimed my children are in danger. What are they in danger of?”

The girl’s eyes took on a wild look to them. Core noticed subtle signs that foretold of rash action. He loomed over her threateningly in response.

The girl scuttled like a crab away from him, moving as fast on all four limbs as most men do on two feet. She pointed at Stiven and began to shout. “YOU! Even now she conspires to turn you against them! She will take EVERYTHING from you. She will corrupt everything, steal everything you love…and you, YOU will help her!” Her cries were desperate and somewhat pathetic. She raged against a darkness and a conspiracy that all others were oblivious to. Core and Lucius moved to protect their father while the girl staggered backwards, her footing uncertain in the unpacked snow.

Stiven looked to his sons with uncertainty.

She screamed again, “Why can I not remember? No, no no! I have to remember. I have to stop you. I have to protect them. I…can’t remember anything else!” She was panting, having screamed the very breath out of her body. She composed herself slightly and continued, “Core Stiven, Lucius Stiven, heroes against the darkness, that old sin moves to take her vengeance now. When a fallen knight and his followers arrive with word from the south, you must heed them. You will know them by the authority they wield and by the strength of their conviction…”

The girl staggered some more before collapsing into the snow.

Lucius lowered his scatter-gun, “Father, your taste in woman is wretched.” Her frantic antics gave Lucius the impression that she was more loud than dangerous.

“She is an elf Lucius. I do not know how or why an elf has made its way into our lands. I never thought in my lifetime I would encounter one. You will indulge my curiosity.” Stiven replied with the authority of a father.

Core moved towards the girl, “She’s mad. That much is obvious. Could it be that an elf has survived for all these years alone out there? I think that might make anyone mad.”

Lucius interjected, “What if she isn’t alone? If there’s one, there’s many.”

“I’m not sure old axioms about undead apply to living elves.” Core replied. “We best do what we originally claimed we were going to do. She should be imprisoned.”

Stiven shook his head. “If there are others, they may come looking for her and if the legends are true, having elves about is not something I want in my lands.”

“Then what of her claims?” Lucius spoke while looking down at the darkly clad elf, “How exactly do you plan to destroy us father?”

Core grunted, “That much concerns me as well. Something she said, something about “that old sin”, I’ve read or heard that before somewhere.”

Lucius spat as he responded, “The Oracle.”

Stiven looked down and quietly said to himself, “Yes, that’s it. That damned Oracle. If there’s even a hint of truth to it… I’ve made a decision. The girl is to be released to the forest. If she is tied to old prophecy, then she will survive. If not, then it is on her to find her own way. She will not be executed nor will she be imprisoned.”

He turned with a solemn glance to his two children. “Tomorrow morning, I pass on leadership of Keldj to you Core. Sparring the life of this elf is the last action I take as Governor. By midday tomorrow, I will retire to the great forge in the mountain.”

“I am far from ready Father. This land needs you, not me.” Core dreaded the idea of taking the mantle of leadership while his father still lived.

Stiven replied, “You would do well to respect the decisions of your elders, particularly when they involve you.”

Lucius took what few supplies he had on him and tossed them at the woman. He returned her sword to her and left an empty pistol and a few rounds next to her. Kneeling down, he spoke quietly to the elf, “Run. Run now. If you ever come before me again and pose a threat to my family, I will kill you.”

The girl gathered up the sword and food but left the pistol, “We are all family Lucius. It is all we have.” She trudged away through the snow, faltering at first before breaking into an impressive running stride. The familiarity of the elf spoke to them with disturbed Lucius greatly.

Present

Will looked out from Britania’s western wall. He could see the lush green landscape beyond the city walls and wondered what it must be like to freely walk out into the wilderness. His duties as a rifleman for the great City State of Britania kept him high above the massive city he was sworn to protect. It separated him from people but it allowed him to look out upon the natural world that nearly all citizens were forbidden from stepping into.

Of course no one had any desire to step out from behind Britania’s massive walls. Beyond the great walls was a pristine natural world, unblemished by the hand of man yet completely filled with unyielding horror. Humanity had long been relegated to holding up in their massive cities, of which only five existed. The world outside the safety of the walls was populated by an ancient race of slain elves, remnants from a forgotten war that left the losing side doomed to walk the land as undead monstrosities.

At some point in the past, beyond the memories of those living today, an entire people had been slaughtered. Their bodies were risen up and used as a terrible undead army to assault humanity. Only through the sinister machinations of The Tyrant King had humanity united under a plan that might ensure its own survival. Despite that plan and the emergence of the great walled cities, humanity remained on the verge of extinction since that time.

As a rifleman, Will was part of the first line of defense in Britania. The undead were almost manageable when in small numbers. One, two, even five were a trifle, no threat to the city at all. However, when they began to gather, when several of them were within close proximity to one another, the undead monsters became something cunning…something dangerous. As they gathered in larger numbers the undead would become faster and smarter. They would begin to remember aspects of their old lives. They would formulate strategies and use weapons. Worst of all, on occasion, they would employ magic.

The riflemen were there to cull the heard. They were there to head off danger before it became a threat. Though Britania kept trained warriors and could ready an army in short order, open conflict against the horde was never an option. The curse responsible for the presence of the undead hordes never left the world it was set upon and it never diminished. Open conflict against the horde was not an option because any man, woman, or child who died for any reason in this world also found themselves rising up against their fellow man.

Life within the great City-States was an exercise in living under constant siege.

Will considered these things as he had every morning he spent atop the wall. “This is hell.” he muttered to himself.

“Talking to yourself old man?” the voice called out mockingly to him. “Pressure getting to ya? How about letting me put this here bit of tin to use for the first time?” It was one of the new recruits. Recently the Central Government had gone to great lengths to increase their numbers. There was no end to the number of people who would jump at an opportunity like this. The pay was amazing, you got to legally carry a firearm, and there were many unofficial perks as well. The standards for entry had been quite high until recently.

Will sneered under his mask, “I tell ya what kid, you plug the first one we spot today with your first shot and I’ll pay our tab tonight at the tavern.

The new recruit turned back to the others on the wall, “Looks like we’ve got a wager gents! So what do you want if I, and I know it’s unlikely, but what do you want if I should miss?”

“Nothing. Call it a welcoming gift to your new job.” Will tried his best to smile. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement below. “Looks like there is one approaching now. Lucky for us, isn’t it? No time like the present to show off those skills Ace.”

The kid looked down the wall, “Yea, you’re right.” He lifted up his rifle still new and shiny. There were no powder burns, the butt of the gun was still polished, and the kid’s bandoleer had a full compliment of ammunition. He took his time, lined up the shot. His finger edged the trigger. Right as he was about to make the precise nerve twitch that would destroy the unholy creation below, there came a massive crack of fire from slightly to the right and behind him. This caused the new recruit to jerk and fire wildly off into the forest. He knew at once what, or rather, whom had caused it.

“You bastard!” He could see Will leaning casually against the adjacent wall, his rifle resting on his shoulder and a column of smoke brewing up from it.

“You missed. Hunh. Who’d have thought. You’re really going to have to work on those nerves Ace.” The newbies might be good on a range without distractions but the wall was a different world. They would learn in time.

The other riflemen were laughing. They had seen this play out more times than they could count. The new recruits that kept their nerves could count on a bright future with the Central Government. Word always got around. For those that could not keep a steady hand, they would at least ear steady pay. The kid realized at once what happened to him and knew enough to not make it worse by making a scene.

“Will, you want this thing downed or what?” one of the other riflemen called out.

“Take it out.”

A series of 3 shots rang out. The situation should have been settled.

“WILLIAM!” Something was wrong. “Will, it dodged…It dodged the shots!” the man called out in alarm. “Send for the Templars! We’ve got LEGION!!!”

The word made Will sick to his stomach. ‘Legion’ They were the “living” undead, able to call and gather the roaming shamblers to their side. They were unholy contradiction. Legion were those of sound mind and soul, slaughtered in rage and anger, who even in death managed to keep their cognitive abilities. They could act alone, think alone, and cause great destruction through dark magics. Worst of all, with Legion, where there was one, there would soon be many.

The alarms sounded and the Templars were on the streets before the citizenry even knew that they should no longer be in the same place.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Legion of one stopped in front of the massive ancient gate to Britania, lifted its hand and the gate gave way.

The world, was about to end.

 

 

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