When a herd of dragons visits the small town of Valley, the mayor decides it’s his civic duty to greet them only to get caught in a mystery.
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. Mayor Axepen was dead set on giving the unfamiliar herd of dragons a friendly welcome as part of his civic duty. In his 42 years of living on the Black Planet, Brutüs occasionally saw dragons fly throughout the skies, wait in line at the drive-through of a coffee shop, or deliver kegs of beer from a local brewery. Seeing over two dozen together was a rare sight.
Upon hearing of the arrival of dragons, Brutüs skimmed through Hugging Dragons: A Cultural Etiquette Guide to Befriending Flying Serpentines by Peigi MacLeòir. After all, Brutüs won the democratic mayoral race based on his platform of owning and reading the most books in the Valley. During his campaign, he also decorated his horns to appear less threatening, invited constituents to tea parties to listen to their concerns, and held ice cream soirées at the library while reading children’s stories. He successfully proved to the citizens of the Valley that he wasn’t some dumb, mean, brawny minotaur but a well-educated, compassionate, brawny minotaur.
Brutüs minded his steps up the hill of rainbow-colored flowers to not ruin the plants. He made a mental note to discuss adding gravel trails to the hill at the next town planning meeting as he thought all should enjoy the calming scents, colorful sights, and overall relaxing walk.
As he reached the top, he recalled MacLeòir’s advice on figuring out the leader. The book warned not to judge based on the size as sometimes the leader is the smallest one, or sometimes the leader was the largest, or the one with the most heads, or somewhere in the middle. The book said not to ask because if you happen to ask who the leader was and that was their leader, a fight would break out. Instead, the best course of action was to study the dragons to see who they watched the most. Everyone tended to keep an eye on the leader. However, with current technology, MacLeòir advised scanning the herd with a networker to find the answer.
Brutüs’ owned a networker designed to look like an ax, which he wore as a necklace. He lifted his networker and asked, “Networker would you tell me who is the leader here?”
“Scanning!” the networker replied in a cheerful tune as a holographic spinning rainbow ball projected out. “No information found. This appears to be an unregistered group. Sending out a request for more information.”
“Uhm,” Brutüs said, letting the network fall to his muscular chest. The holographic display faded off. “I’m glad I read that book first.”
Following the author’s advice, Brutüs watched the dragons, studying who they watched the most. Everyone seemed focused on a white, single-headed dragon, who was small by dragon standards but was still twice as big as himself, a 7-foot tall minotaur. He straightened his blue suit and decided to take a shot at welcoming the leader.
“Greetings,” Brutüs said with a big wave. “I am Mayor Axepen, and I welcome you to the Valley.”
The white dragon lowered her head in a bow, her spikes glistening in the morning sun. “Hello, Mayor Axepen. My name is Swift. We mean you no burden or trouble as we merely pass through to visit The Black Dragon.”
Brutüs nodded. The Black Dragon was the oldest and most influential living being on the planet. Although officially, The Black Dragon wasn’t the planet’s ruler – unofficially was a different matter. As a town leader, Brutüs was in charge of the yearly tribute in which the most talented artists competed to send their works of art to The Black Dragon. Fame often followed the winners as only the best would win. With The Black Dragon being practically immortal, the dragon would often auction or donate the works in the future for a significant profit. Brutüs viewed the tribute as a win-win and held neither a positive nor negative opinion of The Black Dragon. Although writing about The Black Dragon in his journals was a tiny bit of an inconvenience as The Black Dragon had no pronouns or titles. However, such an “inconvenience” was a nonissue matter for respecting one’s personal preferences.
“Very well,” Brutüs said, straightening his red and black striped tie. “If you are interested in obtaining coffee before your long journey, the drive-through at Gratitude Coffee can accommodate you.”
Fun fact about dragons: dragons are caffeine sensitive, and what would be a large coffee for a human would often be the perfect size for a dragon.
“Thank you, Mayor,” Swift said. “We may consider that.”
As Brutüs was about to leave, he caught sight of a tattoo of a human woman in a green dress with a green door on Swift’s arm. “If you don’t mind me asking, Swift, what is the story behind that tattoo?”
“Why do you think there’s a story?”
“I’ve never seen a tattoo of a human on a dragon before, that’s all.”
Swift brought up her arm to see the tattoo in question. “This…This was someone special to me. She saved my life. It’s a long story.”
“I do enjoy a long story if you enjoy sharing one.” Brutüs sat on a clean patch of ground. “I do have the time.”
Swift laid in a rested state. “Well, a long time ago, when I was about your size, I was an actress, and she was a director. She had a fiery spirit like the mightiest dragons – for a human. I later learned she was a time-traveler, but that’s getting ahead of myself.”
“A time-traveler?” Brutüs repeated, trying not to scoff in disbelief. In the entirety of Brutüs’ library, he only owned one book about time-travelers. In How to Survive an Encounter with a Time-Traveller by Filip Webb, the 150-page book only consisted of the word “Avoid” written on each page in different languages, font styles, and graphical representations.
“I sense your skepticism,” Swift said, “as I was a skeptic myself. To this day, she was the only time-traveler I met.”
“My apologizes,” Brutüs said. “I mean no disrespect. Please, do continue.”
Swift nodded. “This happened around when people believed rumors that a dragon’s spikes were potent aphrodisiacs. As I was leaving a solo act one night, I got mobbed by a gang. They had me chained and in a cage before I knew what was happening. They were professionals.”
A red tear ripped the clouds above Brutüs and the dragons. A ginormous spaceship–larger than the field of dragons–flew out from the portal. The sudden, looming shadow and the engine’s raging hum gave away the ship’s presence. Swift stood up, fully alert, while Brutüs sat in confusion.
“Gods,” Swift cursed. “Did you scan us by any chance?”
“I was trying to figure out who the group leader was,” Brutüs said.
Swift groaned and faced her fellow dragons. “Everyone, Evacuation Formation Beta. Rally together at point 13. Go!”
The dragons flew away, splitting into eight groups and going in separate directions. Without saying another word to the mayor, Swift left, joining up with one of the groups. Brutüs watched them leave as the ship opened fire on the dragons. He felt like someone had given him a prologue to a book while keeping the rest of the story for themselves.
I wrote this story for a short story contest at Vocal. The challenge was to write the first chapter of a fantasy novel with the following first sentence as a prompt: “There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.”
Thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the scene of Brutus and Swift meeting at the Valley.
I know this story has a total jerk ending, which I was playing to this being like a prologue. I may continue this saga if the story is well received. 😉
Rumors are floating around of children having memory loss while playing on their own in the new Star Light District. After solving two mysteries, Haley “The Sounds” Riot and Robin Bee venture to the Underground Zone of Aequus to uncover the truth.
Haley and Robin stepped off the elevator as a sasquatch, a minotaur, and bipedal humanoid mechanical got inside. While the sun was shining above ground from where they came, an artificial starry night sky illuminated the Star Light District of Aequus’ Underground Zone.
“Now that we’re here, how do you suppose we find some parents willing to talk to us?” Robin asked her human girlfriend.
Haley pulled out her music player from her pink hoodie. The small, rectangular device had only physical buttons and no holographic interface. There wasn’t a speaker or way for her to listen to the music, but the song titles provided her hints about the future and revealed hidden truths. She felt confident after solving a murder at a concert and a mystery surrounding an abandoned village. Now she wanted to discover why children in the district reported memory loss.
“How do we find affected parents?” Haley said to her music player and then pressed the shuffle button. “‘Guided by Angels.’”
The two scanned the lobby for any artistic interpretation of the mystical and religious winged creature. Haley started with the ceiling, searching for any angel consultations. With no luck, she looked lower at the golden flora walls for any angels but only saw 12-foot tall statues of notable vampires.
“Found one!” Robin said, pointing to a fountain with three statues of angels.
“Great work,” Haley thanked Robin as they walked over to the fountain.
A ghaukvoi mother and her child watched streams of water and flames perform a coordinated dance around the towering angel statues. Haley was dating a ghaukvoi, so she was familiar with their biology and customs. She could tell them apart from tutelagions as ghaukvoi had pointy ears and varying shades of blue skin and hair. In contrast, tutelagions lacked hair and genetic diversity.
“Excuse me, but has your child complained of memory loss?” Haley asked.
“Yes, but so has practically every child here has lately,” the mother answered.
“You don’t seem concerned,” Robin said.
“We’re pretty sure it’s all some sort of prank or trend the kids are into these days.”
“I think there might be more going on,” Haley expressed politely. “I’m investigating this mystery. You can call me The Sounds, and this is my partner, Robin.”
Robin waved hello.
The mother crossed her arms. “What will this cost me?”
“Nothing,” Haley said, talking with her hands. “I’m technically not an officially licensed detective, so this is more of a hobby right now.”
The mother checked on her child, still enjoying the water show. She sat on the black granite bench with Haley and Robin doing the same.
“My name is Aura,” the mother said. “What would you like to know?”
“Have you noticed when your child’s memory is missing?” Haley asked and quickly added, “Or other children from parents, you know.”
Aura sighed and thought for a moment. “Sometimes, when I would let Uris here go play with his friends, I would ask him what they did, and he would blank out on me.”
“Is there a spot they tend to play?”
“They run all over the district.”
“Have you tracked Uris’ movement with his networker by any chance?”
“I have, but there was no data,” Aura said. “It was like wherever he went when he claimed he didn’t know, his networker wasn’t working.”
“That is weird,” Robin commented.
“As I said earlier, I’m not too worried about it. Uris hasn’t come home injured, and neither have any of the other kids from the parents I’ve spoken with.”
Haley bowed her head. “Thank you for sharing.”
Aura returned the bow. “May the Goddess guide you in your quest.”
The water show ended after a finale involving a large burst of fire and water. Uris clapped. His mother chuckled at his enthusiasm.
“Wait, I just remembered something,” Aura said. “I don’t know if it’s relevant, but the first time I remember this happening to Uris, he came home with a new hat. I asked him where he got it, and he said he didn’t remember.”
Haley nodded. “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Uris ran up to his mother, and together they left the angel fountain.
Robin turned to Haley. “So, what’s next?”
Haley held up the music player and asked, “Where should we go next?” She pressed shuffle. “It says, ‘Put Your Records On.’”
Robin paused for a second. “What does it mean by ‘record?’”
Haley shrugged. “I swear, some of these songs are not from our solar system.” She held up her purple networker hanging around her neck in the shape of two beamed eighth notes. “Hey, networker, what are some things considered a record besides information?”
A spinning rainbow holographic ball projected from her networker. It then morphed into a vinyl record with a text box beside the artwork.
“This is the closest match based on your conversation,” the networker answered. “On Earth, they have round black discs called records that contain music.”
“That’s our answer!” Haley exclaimed, putting her devices away as she stood up. “There must be a music lounge nearby.”
Haley grabbed Robin’s hand and rushed over to the nearby information kiosk – a full-body holographic virtual intelligence of the district’s founder. From Haley’s preliminary research, Iris Ironglass built the community seemingly overnight, while Iris reported the project was years in the making. Iris wore a two-piece sparkling white dress with a long trail for the interactive kiosk.
“Wow, look at her dress,” Robin said, admiring how the silky smooth the dress looked against Iris’ dark skin.
Haley stroked the side of Robin’s arm. “That would look good on you too.”
Robin’s cheeks brighten. “Please. I prefer my leggings and sweaters.”
Haley beamed with love and faced the kiosk. “Back to the task, could you tell us where we can enjoy some music?”
“The Star Light District has 16 music venues,” the virtual Iris replied.
Haley scratched her short rainbow-colored hair. “Hum. Any of them play records from Earth?”
“There is one venue – Celebration – specializing in playing records from Earth.”
“That’s our place!” Haley said. “Send the directions to my networker, please.”
“Directions sent,” the kiosk replied. “Thank you for visiting the Start Light District.”
Haley led the way, taking them down a corridor. While Haley focused on getting to the destination, Robin darted her head from statue to statue. There were no shops or homes in the passage – just the starry ceiling and giant sculptures. Although, she did spot a few static posters featuring Iris advertising affordable homes coming soon. The advertisements lessened her worry, but not completely.
“All of these statues are kind of creepy,” Robin said, walking closer to Haley’s side.
“At least they’re too tall to be real people.”
“Real people?” Robin repeated, shocked.
“Yeah, I read this protector report about a detective who caught a gorgon turning people into stone for an artistic statement.”
“That’s wild,” Robin mumbled. “Never going to look at a statue the same way again.”
The corridor opened up into a hub of small shops of homes. Purple streaks of light dominated the hub, making the area feel more youthful to Haley than the previous hub’s golden motifs. Across the central playground, Haley spotted the wooden sign for Celebrations, between a salon called Sister Golden Hair and the hoverboard shop, Landslide.
“Found it,” Haley proclaimed. “Let’s go.”
Children of various species ran around, playing tag, climbing over the replica spaceships, and making noise with the neon flower musical lights. As the couple crossed through the playground, Haley hopped on a series of light-up tiles while Robin walked by her side. Each tile flashed and color and played a musical note, bringing a smile to Haley’s face.
“Perhaps we should keep an eye on these kids?” Robin asked.
While still moving forward, Haley consulted her music player. “‘Left Alone’ is the answer I get. Steady the course!”
Upon entering Celebration, the venue positioned itself like a bygone era with wooden walls, seating, and tables. Despite the choice of materials, the calming fire-glow lights glistened against the wood. In one corner, two couples spoke with each other while their kids played games on their networkers. Haley and Robin took a seat at the bar. Haley ran her finger against the countertop.
“Smooth,” Haley whispered, then she spotted the record player on a shelf. “Excuse me. Is that a record player?”
The tutelagion mixologist finished squeezing a lime and handed the drink to a customer. “Yes, it is. The song is Last Friday Night by Katy Perry. But, before you ask, I have no clue what she is singing about. When is Friday and what’s so special about it? I just love collecting records from Earth, even though they are insanely expensive. Anyway, can I get you two anything to eat or drink?”
“I was hoping to get some information.” Haley paused, searching for a name tag. “Aspen. What do you know of the missing memories of the children in the Starlight District?”
“I used to think it was a rumor until some parents nonchalantly brought it up,” Aspen replied. “No one seems worried about it. Maybe kind of annoyed, if anything. Why do you ask?”
“I think there’s something bigger going on,” Haley explained, keeping her voice down. “I just can’t figure out what. Does the phrase, ‘Cowboys Don’t Cry’ mean anything to you?”
Before Haley ventured to the Star Light District, she directly asked her music player who was responsible for the missing memories. The device responded with the song title, Cowboys Don’t Cry. She nearly threw her device across her home in frustration from the cryptic answer. She asked for motivation and got the answer, Mad World.
Aspen chuckled. “You know, we had Iris Ironglass personally stop by last week for one of our Bloody Orangeritas, and there was this kid. The kid scraped his knee and was crying pretty loudly. She kneed down by that kid, kissed his wound, put some healing gel on it, and then pulled out this weird hat from her purse. She put it on the kid and said, ‘Cowboys don’t cry.’ The kid calmed down.”
Robin awed. “That was nice of her.”
“Yeah, Iris is more approachable than people assume,” Aspen said. “Speaking of which, there’s that kid. He’s still wearing that hat.”
Haley and Robin watched the human child in the tan cowboy hat run past Celebration and out of sight.
Haley stood up. “Thanks. We should go.”
“Enjoy the day,” Aspen said and walked over to a group of customers.
Haley and Robin followed the child. The child ran down the corridor from where they originated. The child disappeared behind a statue. They waited a moment to see if the child would reappear, but when he didn’t, they went to investigate. Behind the stone figure was a large grate for a ventilation system.
“Well, I’ll be,” Robin said. “I knew there was something creepy about this area.”
Haley scanned the area to ensure no one was watching them and then pulled the cover off. She stuck her head and looked down the shaft.
“This looks big enough for us to crawl through,” Haley said as she started to crawl inside.
“Wait. Are you serious?”
“If kids are crawling through this, then this has to be safe.”
Robin grumbled and got down on her hands and knees. “I guess you have a point.”
Haley gently pushed open the grate, crawling out into a construction zone. The two crawled 30 feet before reaching the end. They took cover behind a pile of wood boards and peeked over.
Dozens of children were all wearing various hats and were building homes and businesses. The children operated with the professionalism and skill of adults. Haley looked around for any adults but didn’t spot any, so she checked her networker.
Haley groaned. “My signal is blocked.”
Robin checked hers. “Well, I guess we know why tracking was lost.”
The grate behind them slammed open. Haley and Robin turned around, their hearts racing. Exiting the ventilation was Uris, wearing a black top hat.
“Uris?” Haley asked. “What are you doing here?”
Uris did not respond. His eyes were steady as he stood up, ignoring the couple. As he stepped away, Haley grabbed for the hat. As she pulled the hat off, a pair of shadowy hands from inside reached for Uris’ head and pulled themselves back onto his head.
Haley let go. “What was that?”
“You should leave,” Uris spoke, with an echo like two people speaking simultaneously.
Haley pulled on the child, turning him around. “Not until I get some answers like who are you and what have you done to Uris?”
“My identity was forgotten ages ago, but I mean no harm to this child.”
Haley tightened her grim and raised her voice. “Then why are you possessing this child?”
“We are repenting for mistakes in a past life. We were in the Underworld when we found ourselves floating upward one day where we got caught in these hats at Ironglass’ boutique. We told her our stories, and she came up with this idea to make this area better. We only wish to help.”
Robin placed a hand on Haley’s shoulder. “This whole topic sounds like a wild ethics debate.”
Haley loosened her grip on Uris. “Yeah, but why children?”
Another voice behind them spoke. “Children have a strong sense of good and innocence which keeps the spirits in check.”
Haley and Robin turned around and looked up to Iris Ironglass towering over them. Although she wasn’t wearing her trademark dress, she sported a cropped white hoodie and black leggings with the same class.
“The children are perfectly safe, and I ensure that happens,” Iris continued. “Granted, I did have one rouge spirit temporarily possess me, but they’re gone. Adults with these spirits are not a good mix, but as they help, they find themselves freed. Call it karma, balance, justice, whatever, but everyone gets a happy ending. Take a look.”
Haley and Robin stood up, looking over the construction.
Iris pointed to a large building. “We’re about to have the first school in the Underground Zone. I know it’s a mad world out there, but this whole area is going to be more than just entertainment.” She turned to Haley. “So, how about you let this whole mystery drop, Haley Riot?”
“How did you know—”
“I had an identification scanner installed in the vent,” Iris interrupted.
Haley took a deep breath. She pressed the shuffle button on her music player. “‘You’ve got a friend.’”
For this short story, I knew I wanted to write another mystery with The Sounds. The concept of children missing their memories was inspired by the writing prompt: “Mysteriously, children are starting to lose memories. You’re a detective assigned to this case, and you just found out what is causing them to forget.”
As with past stories featuring The Sounds, I asked people to submit songs for me to incorporate into the story. Some of the songs were used as messages given from the music player while others were worked in other ways. The songs were: Cowboys Don’t Cry by Oliver Tree, Put Your Records On by Ritt Momney, Mad World by Tears for Fears, Left Alone by Fiona Apple, Last Friday Night by Katy Perry, Sister Golden Hair by America, Landslide by Stevie Nicks, You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor, Celebration by Kool & the Gang, and Guided By Angels by Amyl and The Sniffers.
In a fantasy world where everyone gains a power of light on their 17th birthday, a group of adventurers searches for a place to rest for the night after destroying a laboratory performing harmful experiments on people. The boutique treehouse-style hotel they do find has some secrets of its own.
“For the advancement of Light!”
The guard thrust his spear at Kilyn. The glowing yellow tip glazed against Kilyn’s bare purple arm. She screamed from the searing pain, losing her concentration and making the five-foot spider she created out of light disappear. She wanted to rip off the guard’s head for making her lose her familiar, for hurting her, for all of the innocent youth they killed. She bit her lower lip, pushing away the pain in preparation to summon another.
“Foxbeam, get down!” Div shouted.
Kilyn dropped to the ground, and then an arrow pierced through the guard. The guard collapsed, and the arrow Div fired reappeared in his bow.
Kilyn stood back up with a hand covering the wound. “Thanks, Div.”
“It’s time to leave, team,” Finnea Brightwish ordered as she and Ash raced into the laboratory.
“Leave now?” Kilyn asked. “Didn’t you find any of the missing people?”
“They’re all dead….” Ash answered in somber. “I couldn’t save any of them.”
“And I’ve set explosives to make sure whatever experiments they were doing won’t continue,” Finnea added. “So, we need to leave, now. Div, take point.”
Div nodded and led the way out of the laboratory into the underground cave hallway. Chucks of blue rocks broke away from the impact of the explosives detonating in the distance. The group picked up their pace, leaping over the guards they killed earlier as they ran up the rocky stairs to the outside. The explosions concluded.
Kilyn took a deep breath of the night air as she looked back. She thought the cave entrance was obscure when they first found the location, but with the rumble covering the way, no one would even think there was once a tunnel system there.
Ash Glowspring collapsed to her knees, exhausted.
“Woah, there.” Div rushed to her side and helped her to her feet. Ash was the shortest of the group while Div was the second tallest, so Div bent his knees to allow Ash to put an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get you to the wagon.”
“What now, boss?” Kilyn asked.
“Take a moment to rest,” Finnea replied. “I’ll send out a guide bug to search for someplace to rest for the night.” Kilyn nodded and started to walk toward the grassy field when Finnea added, “Good job.”
“Doesn’t feel like a good job,” Kilyn mumbled to herself.
As Finnea, Ash, and Div returned to the wagon they hid, Kilyn wondered deep into the field. Satisfied with the spot, Kilyn put her hands behind her head for a makeshift pillow as she gazed upon Nilnora’s two moons. Since a guard burned her jacket during the quest, she made do with the wild grass ticking against her purple skin.
With the nearest village being a day’s ride away, there was zero light pollution to obscure her view of the night sky. She focused on the sky, pushing out the flashbacks of people drained of their lives, chained against the clean white porcelain diamond tiled walls. Combined with the relaxing scent from the shade-lamp flowers, she finally allowed herself a deep, unwinding sigh of relief after several minutes.
“We did everything we could,” Kilyn told herself.
A glowing yellow arrow whizzed in front of her face, exploding into a tiny sparkle of crackling lights upon hitting a tree.
Not in any hurry, Kilyn sat up and glared at Div. “Was that really necessary?”
Div flicked his bow made of light, causing his weapon to collapse into nothing.
“Of course,” Div Ironfire winked. “The team’s found a hotel to stay for the night.”
Kilyn stood up, brushing off her pants along the way. Div walked back to the main road, with Kilyn jogging to catch up. I will kill for a bed, Kilyn thought.
“I have killed for a bed,” she corrected.
Finnea fidgeted with the rope connecting to the lizard responsible for pulling their caravan as Kilyn and Div jumped aboard. Their arrival prompted a golden bug to fly out of Finnea’s long red hair, hovering over the lizards.
“Please tell me the guide bug found a proper hotel and not a tavern with some beds,” Kilyn asked as she sat next to Finnea.
Finnea smiled. “Count yourself lucky then. They found a boutique hotel, built into trees.”
“Fancy, fancy,” Div repeated. “I think we deserve some pampering.”
“Yes, you all worked hard, and it’s only best for us to get some proper rest,” Finnea said.
“Thank you.” Kilyn lifted the curtain into the caravan then closed it. “I take it Ash is asleep.”
“Healing all of our sorry asses took a lot out of her,” Finnea said as she whipped the ropes for the lizard to start. The guide bug flew in front of them, leading the way to the hotel. “I can’t remember the last time we drained her that badly.”
“What happened in that laboratory was rough,” Div mumbled while watching the sides of the dirt road.
Finnea slouched into the padded seat. “Still, the village elders will be pleased no one else is getting kidnapped.”
“Yeah, about that,” Kilyn said, sitting up. “I noticed some of the victims didn’t look like they belonged to the village.”
“I noticed that too,” Finnea said.
“What do you think was going on there?” Kilyn asked the group.
“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Div answered first, still keeping watch. “They didn’t leave anyone alive, and we didn’t leave any of the guards alive.”
Finnea shrugged. “Most of the people there were around 17-years-old. I wonder if they were experimenting on them in connection with the Ritual of Emerging Light. Maybe finding rare abilities, forcing new ones, or changing the process with chemicals? I don’t know. I just burned everything.”
Kilyn reflected on her Ritual of Emerging Light. Before the sunrise of one’s 17th birthday, Nilnorians would bask in the light from their favorite spot or a place of personal significance. They would stay there without food or drink until nightfall. Upon completion, the sun would bestow a power of light to aid them in adulthood. Some would discover their gift in a few days while others–albeit extremely few–never learned.
“Say, where did you all bask for your Ritual of Emerging Light?” Kilyn asked.
“My favorite boulder that I would play around at when I was a kid,” Finnea answered. “What about you, Div?”
“On a tree stomp that my great-grandparents first cut to build their house,” Div replied without breaking his guard.
“Mine was a patch of flowers,” Kilyn said. “Anyone know Ash’s spot?”
“I think she mentioned she basked in a river,” Finnea said as the lizard turned down a side road. The guide bug flew a circle around Finnea’s head and went back to work. “We’re almost there.”
The Blue Motel was more grandiose than Kilyn expected. Dozens of small cabins were built into a colossal tree, forming a network of treehouses. Blue crystals covered each building, enhancing the lights from the lamps.
Kilyn’s jaw dropped. “Remind me never to doubt your guide bug.”
Finnea parked their vehicle. She stepped down to hitch the wagon to a post while Div opened the curtain to caravan and fired one of his arrow’s inside. Ash bolted awake, cursing at Div as he laughed and hopped off.
Kilyn opened the curtain for Ash to see. “Ash, you got to check out this hotel.”
Ash grumbled as she crawled up to the curtain. “Wow. Okay, I will only half kill you, Div, for that stunt.”
“Got to catch me first, little one.” Div twirled his bow around his arm before making his weapon disappear.
Finnea threw a sack of coins at Div’s head. “Pay for the room.”
Div rubbed his face as he picked up the sack. “Got it, boss.”
Kilyn helped Ash with everyone’s bags while Finnea cooed the lizard goodnight. The freelancers were within a year of each, with their leader, Finnea, the oldest and tallest of the four.
As Kilyn pulled out the last trunk, Div returned with spinning the room key around his finger.
“Got us a cabin where we each get our own room.” Div tossed the key to Finnea, which she caught. “Our cabin’s name is Dawn, which we can find on the third level.”
“Any issues?” Finnea asked.
Div shrugged. “I may have bragged to the owner–John Bluelight was his name–that we were famous adventurers. Also, I may have entertained his kid for a moment as he was running around the lobby pretending to be a monster. He seemed to be quite the prankster.”
“So you two are best friends?” Kilyn teased.
Div chuckled as a reply and picked up their weapons crate. He led the way to their cabin on the third level. Upon entering, they dropped their luggage in the entryway and then checked out their place.
Ash picked the first room and collapsed on the bed. “This is the softest bed I have ever touched.”
The rest claimed their rooms. Kilyn sat on the bed, feeling the same sentiments as Ash.
A hand gripped her ankle. She screamed. She kicked, flinging a small beast with a green scrunched face toward the door. Before the monster could move, Kilyn used her fingers to conjure one of her constellation creatures. A four-legged familiar with a body outline of stars, like a constellation in the night sky, sprouted from her fingers. The starry wolf pinned the monster down.
The rest of the team appeared in the doorway in response.
“What’s so funny?” Kilyn shouted angrily.
Div kneed down and removed the mask, revealing the same child who played with him in the lobby. “I see you all met Mark.”
Finnea walked with Mark Bluelight to ensure he left while the others returned to their rooms. She returned to Kilyn’s room, knocking as she entered.
“Everything okay, Kilyn?”
“Yeah, everything is fine.” Kilyn removed her socks. “That last job just got me all twisted.”
Finnea sat next to Kilyn on the bed. “It’s over. They won’t be hurting anyone else.”
Ash screamed and yelled for help.
Finnea bolted up as Ash’s cries were quickly muted. She paused for a moment, waiting for more or a never mind. “Something is wrong.”
“You don’t think it’s just that kid again?” Kilyn asked.
“I feel like we’re supposed to think it was the kid to make us ignore it.”
Kilyn put back on her shoes and followed Finnea to Ash’s room. Both Ash and her bed were gone.
Div popped in from behind and stood where the bed once was. “There was a bed here, right?”
“Definitely,” Finnea replied. She started to feel along the wall. “There must be some sort of rotation mechanism here.”
Div and Kilyn joined in the search for the trigger. Div pressed a plank on the floorboard that was a shade darker than the rest. The wall and floor spun around, putting them behind. The hidden room was a mirrored copy of their cabin, with three additional mechanical rotations, one for each bedroom.
Div armed his bow and arrow and approached the metal chute in the center. “I’m going in after her.”
“I should go get my guide bug and send it first,” Finnea said.
“No time,” Div said as he jumped.
Finnea grumbled and followed him. Kilyn scanned the room one last time and joined them. Her hair flew behind her as she slid down faster than any fun slide. A few seconds later, her descent ended on a comfortable foam block. A robust and chlorine-like smell overwhelmed her nostrils for a moment. Div and Finnea had their weapons pointed at a man in a black robe on the other end of the room next to Ash. Beside the man was the child who scared her earlier, Mark. Ash was unconscious with her arms chained above her head.
“Shadow of a chance you took with that chute,” the stranger commented.
“I knew it had to be safe enough to move people around without them getting hurt,” Div said. “Now, John, since you’re in the hospitality industry, I think you’ll let our friend go. After all, you don’t want us to leave a bad review of your hotel. Besides, it’s three against one.”
“Hey, what about me?” the kid cried.
“You don’t count, Mark,” Div said. “You’re not even of age yet.”
Mark scoffed and pulled out a pair of dangers from behind. “We’ll see about that.”
The daggers pulsed with light, but the kid wasn’t old enough to have been gifted with the power of light.
“How the…” Finnea mumbled.
“Hey, team,” Kilyn interrupted, but only loud enough for them to hear. “This place looks exactly like the laboratory we destroyed.”
Finnea glanced around at the white diamond-tiled walls. “By the light, you’re right.”
“What kind of operation do you got here?” Div shouted.
“There is so much about the Ritual of Emerging Light that we don’t know,” John explained. “We take the process and powers for granted, never wondering why or how. Did you know you can take someone’s power by bleeding it out of them under a moment of extreme fear? I call the process Bleeding Fear, and Mark here. Let’s just say you should count him as at least seven people.”
Mark leaped forward at the trio. Div fired an arrow, but Mark vanished, and the arrow hit the wall. Div fell to his knees in a scream as a dagger pierced him in the back. Mark revealed himself long enough to stick his tongue out at Finnea.
“So much for being friends,” Div grumbled as he stood.
Kilyn pushed everyone down, dodging a whip of yellow lightning from John. Finnea flung one of her special fire grenades as a counter-attack, but Mark appeared in time to create a bat of light and returned the grenade. Div fired an arrow at the grenade, destroying it before hurting them.
“Time for our special clean-out move,” Finnea ordered.
“But what about Ash?” Kilyn asked.
“She’ll survive,” Finnea said as she pulled out several grenades.
Kilyn nodded to go ahead. Finnea rolled a dozen grenades on the floor in every direction, filling the room. Div pointed an arrow directly above them and fired at the ceiling. Just as the bolt left, Kilyn finished conjuring a spider creature that covered them as they all huddled down together. Upon hitting the ceiling, Div’s arrow split into dozens as the grenades exploded.
As the smoke dissipated, Kilyn vanished her conjuring. She rushed to Ash’s aid while Div aimed his arrow around the room, searching for John and Mark Bluelight. Except for some tattered and chard clothes, Ash was uninjured as Finnea promised.
Div lowered his bow. “Where in the shadows are they?”
Kilyn lifted a fallen bookcase. “Found John, but no sign of the kid.”
“What did I miss?” Ash’s eyes fluttered open.
“Just that this hotel is a getting a negative review,” Div said as he searched through the cabinets.
In a more serious tone, Kilyn explained as she searched for a way to unlock the chains, “You were kidnapped by the person leading the experiments of the lab we destroyed earlier.”
“I thought we cleared that place of anyone responsible,” Ash said.
“Me too.” Kilyn summoned a giant crab that used its pinchers to cut the chains and then made the conjuring disappear. “Can you walk?”
“Yes, I’m good.”
“What will we tell the client about John and Mark?” Div asked everyone.
Finnea stopped her search. “I don’t think anyone will believe us about Mark, but we’ll tell them about The Blue Hotel and John. This does explain the other victims we were talking about earlier. They must’ve been guests.”
Div nodded. “Sounds good to me. Let’s finish our search, blow this place up, and sleep for days.”
Finnea chuckled. “Agreed.”
Bleeding Fear is a complete overhaul of a short story that I wrote in my teenage days where the characters were based on some of my high school friends. Similar to this story, the original followed a group who destroyed an evil lab and unknowingly stay a hotel connected to that lab. I took the retelling in a hard fantasy direction. For my supporters on Patreon, I shared the original there (amateur and all).
I think one could consider Bleeding Fear my first strict fantasy story if fantasy is defined as having magic, lack of technology, and connection to other planets. This was a fun world to write! I spent a few days brainstorming how the world works.
Although the planet Nilnora and this story is part of my 16th Phoenix Universe, the world isn’t connected to Earth or the Five Following Planets, but the end-timers have visited Nilnora. You may have noticed the Nilnorians do look like Modva.
Huge thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the Blue Hotel building to life! She said this was one of her favorite pieces as she loves to draw fantasy scenes.
A morning news show host receives three tips on his phone about the future as he spends time with his sister.
Ever since our parents died, my sister and I made a point to take a weekend vacation around their wedding anniversary as our way of honoring them. We lived in separate states, living separate lives, so getting together once a year – just the two of us, no spouses – would’ve made our parents happy.
This year was my sister’s turn to pick a destination. She watched a travel video showcasing the moonshine, mountain gondolas, and food in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When she suggested Gatlinburg, I was surprised as the city was nowhere near a beach like she favored, but after doing some research, I was excited to visit too.
Weekends were easy for me to take off but tricky for Sarah. My sister was the Operations Director for a lake resort while I was a co-host for a morning news show. Our parents’ anniversary was toward the end of March, which was a slow period for her work.
After breakfast at the hotel, we visited one of the local moonshine distilleries. We tried Friday night when we first arrived, but we didn’t have the patience to deal with the crowd. Plus, we’d figured we would have better luck in the morning. Gatlinburg’s walkability motivated us to leave our cars at the hotel. (Side tip: you should do the same as parking is hard to come by.)
The winter season still had a grip on the trees, but the skies were clear and sunny, although cold enough to warrant jackets for us as Sarah led us into Ole Smoky Moonshine. Marcus (I think that was his name) entertained us with jokes and samples of six different moonshines. I liked the sour lime while she favored the apple pie flavor. The pickle was…interesting.
My phone buzzed as my sister stepped away to use the restroom. There was a notification that read, “You Have 3 Unread Prophecies.” I had no idea what app of mine would display such a message. I opened the notification, which brought up an app I didn’t own with a mail-like interface.
The first message said, “Bring cash for donuts.” I didn’t have any cash on me at the moment, but I remembered seeing an ATM outside the building.
“That’s a good tip,” I said as I swiped open the following prophecy.
“Go to Clingmans Dome when prompted.”
When I drove through the Smokey Mountains to get to Gatlinburg, I saw a sign for Clingmans Dome. I didn’t know anything about the place, but the name and location made me think this dome would be like an observation post. I was game to visit. I figured I could get some breathtaking photos.
The last message was the most crypt and eyebrow-raising one. “When you arrive, have your video camera ready, but be safe and don’t get caught.”
This is all so weird, I thought. I bet my sister sent these. She knows of my affection for donuts and exploring.
I tried to re-read the messages, but the app disappeared.
My sister returned. “You ready for our next stop?”
“Sure,” I said. “Just let me hit up this ATM for some cash.”
“Good idea,” Sarah said with a straight face.
With cash now in my wallet, we strolled over to The Village, which had German architectural motifs in a cute, walkable shopping district. The place was like nothing I’d experienced before. Buildings weaved all over the place, not following any sort of grid pattern like a standard city block. Since there were no streets, delivery people hauled packages on handcarts, which I’m sure was also quite the workout for them. There were hardly any flat surfaces. I took picture after picture with my iPhone.
Then as the prophecy foretold, we discovered the donut shop that only accepted cash. The warmth and smell of fresh donuts in the tiny cottage-like business brought a wide grin to my face. Using the money I pulled out, I paid for our treats.
“Good thing I got some cash,” I said with a wink to my sister as we each enjoyed a chocolate long john.
“Yeah, good thing.” Her casual reply and straight face made me wonder if she did indeed send me those prophecies. She changed the subject. “What do you want to do after lunch, Lucas?”
I thought for a moment. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a woman with long, vibrant blue hair starring at me, but she turned away and around a building. I shrugged the watched feeling off. “Maybe we can drive around or go hiking.”
“How about Clingmans Dome?” my sister asked. “I saw a photo taken out there in the hotel lobby and thought you would like to take some pictures yourself.”
Sarah crossed her arms. “What’s so funny?”
In my big brother teasing voice, I said, “Nothing.”
She repeated “nothing” in a mocking tone and then asked what I wanted for lunch. I told her anything, and she suggested we walk around some more and eat wherever caught out attention. We settled for a small burger joint, which I thought was okay. Every summer, we would do a special on creative burgers on our morning show, so I was spoiled. Technically, I’m spoiled on excellent food because of my job, but I appreciate all food, and I didn’t nitpick. My sister liked the place, and that was good for me.
Then as planned, or prophesied, we took my car and made the hour-long drive to Clingmans Dome. The information we found online warned that the road to Clingmans Dome may be closed for the season, but the gate was open for us. Despite being the weekend, the parking lot for the vantage point was empty. We chalked the lack of visitors as luck, or maybe this was the first day they opened for the season? We weren’t going to complain.
We didn’t get far into the hike when we saw a woman dressed like a spy with a long, black trench coat talking to a blue, reptilian alien creature. The alien had on this black leather outfit that made me think he needed extra warmth while also being ready to fight. I yanked my sister down, and we hid behind some rocks.
“What’s going on?” she whispered.
“You tell me,” I mocked, keeping my voice low as I pulled out my cellphone. “This was your plan for me to film this, huh?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I believed her. But who sent me those messages?
My phone had full cell service, which I thought was odd as I didn’t have any bars on the way up. I started a live stream on my Instagram. I positioned my phone like a periscope to watch without them seeing me.
“This is an interesting location you picked.” The woman’s tone didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the location. She pulled in on her jacket.
The alien checked his surroundings. “I wanted to make sure we would be alone.”
“Of course,” said the woman. “I understand.”
The alien brought up the briefcase to his chest. “See, I don’t think you do understand. My sources told me that some other people who tried to sell to your group are never heard from again.”
The woman scoffed. “Don’t believe in rumors. Do you have the artifact?”
“My price has doubled.”
“Don’t be obscene. Give me the item at our original price.” The woman snapped her fingers, signaling the alien to bring over the briefcase.
“And cut!” I about dropped my phone from the sharp, booming voice. The voice seemed to startle the people, too, because they both jumped. A woman with a long, flowing red scarf marched from around the corner and straight toward the two people. “I think we’re done here.”
I looked around for any other film crew, but I only saw the director. My only explanation was that they were on wireless mics, and this was a drone shot, so everyone was out of sight. At least, that’s how my brain processed their setup at first.
A fire truck honked its horn as they pulled up behind us.
The woman with the alien held up both hands like she was trouble. “Director Lux. This isn’t what you think-”
The director turned and looked at us. “Hey, how did you two get on this set?”
I stepped forward and sort of explained. “The front gate was open.”
“That gate should’ve been locked. Now, get out of here,” the director ordered. “I better not see any footage online.”
“Right, sorry.” My sister had a good laugh at the situation. I turned off the live stream and deleted the clip.
The firetruck pulled in front of us, blocking the path. People dressed in uniforms like no other firefighter I had ever seen got out from the vehicle. I shrugged them off as actors. Before we returned to my car, Sarah said she needed to use the restroom. Luckily, there was an outhouse next to us in the parking lot.
I listened to the film crew on the other side as I waited.
I heard the alien character complain. “I should’ve known you would’ve double-crossed me.”
“I’m in cuffs too,” the spy snapped back. “Hey, how did you find us anyway?”
“Lucas was live-streaming you, idiots,” the director said. “Our V.I. monitor caught the feed and dispatched us. You got a lot of explaining to do.”
The spy grumbled something I didn’t understand, but I understood when she said, “I bet he got a text message disguised as a prophecy.”
In the fall, my wife and I, along with my parents and sister, visited Gatlinburg. We didn’t even spend a full day there, but we knew we all had to come back (during a warmer month). I used the location as inspiration for the third unread prophecy stories, which are connected by the end-timer, Veritas, working to anonymously expose the illegal activities of a rouge fraction of Unity.
Thanks to Janine De Guzman and Mikey Marchan for bringing the scene at The Village to life. Thank you for reading my December short story. I got another one coming for January. Been busy with the holidays, client work, and sickness last month.
A mysterious man offers a woman dressed as a witch a device that allows her to cast real spells on Halloween.
Jill spun around with the box of wines wine she held, about to punch some guy for calling her a nasty name, but lowered her fist when the gentleman in a white suit and pink ascents continued. “I love your costume.”
“Oh, thanks,” Jill replied, her face flushed red in embarrassment from the misunderstanding. She was outside the liquor store, about to get her car after picking up some last-minute alcohol for her and her husband’s Halloween party tonight. She was dressed as a witch – decked out with a pointy purple hat, black corset, ripped leggings, and red heels for the occasion.
“It’s missing an accessory,” the man commented as he looked her over.
Jill clenched her tongue, bracing for whatever line he would give.
The man shook a finger at the sky when he realized his answer. “Real spells.”
Jill tilted her head back in unexpected confusion. “Real spells?”
“Or, more specifically, the ability to cast real spells,” he elaborated in a manner of an eccentric billionaire.
The man in the white suit reached behind himself and impossibly pulled forward a green metal chest the size of a watermelon. Before Jill could respond, the man opened the case, revealing a glowing green fog surrounding a crystal ball.
“Trade me one of your bottles of wine, and this device is yours,” the stranger offered.
Jill leaned forward and stared into the box. “How does it work?”
“Simply hold the crystal and say, ‘I cast,’ and what you want casted. Although, this device will only work until midnight, and you’ll have to live with whatever you created.”
Jill thought the deal over. Even if the crystal ball weren’t magical, the item would make for an excellent display prop or an accessory for her Halloween outfit. The exchange may be more in favor of the stranger, especially if the ball was mass-produced. Besides, she could always go back inside the liquor store and get another bottle of wine. She was grateful she was able to buy booze on a Sunday now.
Jill held out the case of wines. “I accept your offer.”
Without studying the selection, the man pulled out one of the wines. He reviewed the label for a moment – not long enough to read everything – before holding the chest forward for Jill. Jill picked up the crystal ball, losing herself as stars and planets swirled around inside. The display consumed her focus until the liquor store door dinged from someone entering did she snap out of her trance. Jill looked around for the stranger, but he was nowhere. She shrugged.
“I wonder,” Jill said as she held out the crystal. “I cast five boxes of red wine.”
The crystal glowed red before unleashing a spark of purple lighting at the pavement. Jill closed her eyes and jumped back but held tight onto the crystal. When she felt the danger pass, she saw five cases of premium boxed wine sitting before her.
“Holy shit!” Jill cussed. “It fucking worked!”
Jill glanced around to see if anyone else saw what happened, but no one was around. She loaded up the wine in her black Jeep. After buckling in, Jill grabbed her iPhone from the phone mount and texted her husband. She told him to meet her in the garage as soon as she pulled inside.
Upon arriving home, her husband followed her instructions. The garage door closed as Jill jumped out of her car.
“You won’t believe what I got,” Jill said, her voice racing as she pulled out the crystal ball from her pocket.
Her husband, Mike, took the crystal. “Neat. Where did you get this?”
“I traded a bottle of wine for it to this weird guy in a white suit,” Jill explained, still in a hurry. “It’s magically.”
Mike flipped up his eye patch for his pirate costume as he studied the crystal ball against the garage light. “I’d say.”
Jill yanked the crystal ball from him. “No, I mean, this is really magically. Watch. I cast a vanilla cake the shape and size of a human skull on a silver plate.”
The crystal glowed red before and then unleashed a spark of purple lighting at the ground, creating a vanilla skull cake. Jill smiled, proud of herself for holding steady during the spell casting this time. When she noticed Mike hadn’t said anything, she saw his face was drooped down and whiter. She picked up the cake.
“Don’t you think this is cool?” Jill asked, her voice soft.
“I’m worried,” he responded softly. “Remember that old Simpson’s Halloween special where the things they wished for had negative side effects?”
“Oh,” Jill uttered but then perked up. “But what’s wrong with this cake then?”
“I bet the cake has that fondant icing I hate,” Mike said.
Jill nabbed a tiny piece of icing from the back of the skull for a taste test. “Damn. It is fondant. But I bet other people will enjoy it.”
Mike shrugged. “I guess small spells have small consequences, so how about we keep it that way?”
Jill huffed. “I suppose you have a point. Besides, the guy said this would stop working at midnight anyway.”
“Of course he did. Typically spooky wares guy. Was he dressed in a black robe?”
“No, I said he wore a white suit with pink accents.”
“Oh, that’s right. You did say that.”
“Yeah, and he also had this strange, pink tie with white swirls,” Jill added. “The pattern made me think of Norse mythology or something like that. He wasn’t an old man either. He looked about our age.”
“Well, we should get this stuff inside,” Mike said. “We do have guests.”
“Right, you go back inside, and I’ll bring in the wine. I might have cast a spell for more wine earlier.”
Following the recommendations of her husband, Jill kept the spells small throughout the night. Whenever she wanted something, she went to the garage to create the item, which made for the perfect cover. She casted spells for things like more food, new wine glasses after being broken by a guest, full-size candy bars for the trick-or-treaters, additional Halloween decor, and other small items that wouldn’t raise suspicions.
The party lasted until almost midnight. As Jill and Mike cleaned the living room with the house to themselves, a thud hit their window. Jill thought nothing of the sound until she heard another one. She peeked out behind the curtain. A group of teenagers was throwing eggs and toilet paper at their house.
Jill pulled out the crystal from her pocket. “Oh, I’ll teach you a lesson.”
Jill stormed outside, prompting her husband to stop vacuuming and follow her. The teens laughed and started to run away. Jill’s eyebrows lowered and pulled closer together as she aimed the crystal ball.
“I cast a giant black widow to scare them!”
The crystal glowed and sparked to life a 10-foot tall black widow spider. The pranksters screamed in terror while Jill laughed in delight. The spider chased after them, knocking over her mailbox and some streetlights in the chase. The spider spewed webs, capturing the teenagers.
“Okay, this is going to have some major consequences,” her husband said.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Jill agreed with a sigh. “I cast spider be-gone.”
The crystal did not respond. Jill shook the device and tried again, but with no result.
“It’s 12:02,” Mike said while looking at his watch. “Didn’t you say everything would go away at midnight?”
“Yeah, I thought it would be like Cinderella, and everything would turn to normal, but I guess that’s not what he meant. He did say I would have to live with whatever I created.”
The black widow returned with the three teenagers, dropping them off like a cat offering a mouse. From above, three firetrucks landed like flying saucers, surrounding the spider and their home. Troops of humans in bright white and yellow uniforms poured out from the firetrucks. One with a rifle fired at the spider, stunning the creature and causing her to collapse. Another group rushed over to the teenagers and proceeded to free them.
Jill and Mike stood close together as a short woman with a yellow overcoat approached them. The couple read the name Captain Mists on her silver name tag. The leader glanced over the couple, spotting the crystal ball in Jill’s hand.
“May I see that,” Captain Mists formally requested, pointing at the crystal ball. Jill handed over the spell casting device without saying a word. The woman grunted in frustration. “Not another one.”
Captain Mists whistled, getting the attention of her team. “We got another spell caster situation. Standard procedure. Clear out anything that’s not theirs and wipe their memories.”
This short story was triggered by my random logic process. As I was leaving a convenience/gas store, I saw a woman dressed as a witch leaving, which got me thinking of how witch rhymes with another word and what if someone offered the power to cast real spells. I’ve written a story with just Raven, so I wrote this one to feature Loki by himself.