Friday, July 24, 2009

Week Update

Just goes to show how very few people read the blog as no one has yet castigated me for missing 2 days of posts. Well, I'm not gonna make them up. I will, however, post a FFF later today. Just so you know.

All four of you. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Secret Life of Pets"

This short is in response to a challenge about the secret life of pets. What would our pet's secret life be? Hmmm.....

"Hey, Sky."


"How are you this morning?"


"Me, I'm tired. Jarom was up at 2:00 again. He's nine years old, you'd think he could sleep through the night. How are you doing on food?" Todd checked the parakeet's food dish. "Still looks okay. But you've pushed your water bowl out again. That's the third time this week."


"Yeah, okay. Look, I'm gonna refill this, but you gotta stop pushing it out."


"Smart alec."

Todd filled the water container and pushed it back into place. "You know, Houdini pushed that out the very first day we got her. We put the cage in our room, came back ten minutes later and she was flying around. That's how she got her name; she was a great escape artist. We had to keep her wings clipped just in case. At least with you we don't have to worry about that. You don't leave your cage even when we leave the door open."


"Well, I gotta go to work. Have fun."

Sky watched as her Ward left the kitchen. She hopped to the front of the cage and tilted her head to one side, listening for the tell-tale signs he had left the house. When she was sure he was gone she hopped over to the water container.

"Houdini was just plain stupid," Sky thought. "You never leave the cage when the Wards can see you."

She pushed on the water dish. It hardly budged. Sky sighed. When Adam-Ward filled the water dish he only managed to get it half full. Dad-Ward was more careful. The heavier dish was very difficult to push. Sky was forced to make several attempts before she succeeded in pushing the dish out of place. It fell to the floor, splashing water every which way. Sky waited a few minutes, listening carefully. Sometimes one or the other of the adult Wards would still be in the house long after she thought they were gone. When no one came running, she used her beak to lift up the plastic piece that fell to cover the hole left whenever the water dish was removed, and then slipped out of the cage.

It was only a short hop to the kitchen table. Jarom-Ward had eaten cereal for breakfast. It seemed her subliminal suggestion was still working: there was milk spilled around where his bowl had been. Dad-Ward thought Jarom was just messy, which was true in a way. Sky's suggestion would never have worked had the general tendency not existed already. There was a large quantity of milk today. That was good. Last night's incursion had been particularly harsh, severely depleting the arcane shielding. Without a fairly substantial reinforcement spell the shadowlings would break through.

Sky hopped over to where the spill was and wet her claws. Taking a deep breath, she began a very complicated song. As she sang she traced an intricate design on the table top. It took almost an hour, and she was close to being hoarse when she was done, but when she stepped back to look at her handiwork she was pleased. Everything was just as it should be. Only one more step.

Careful not to disrupt the pattern lines, Sky hopped to the centermost point of the design, and then focused her chi. The chakra responded and a third eye opened on her forehead. Using her Sight as a guide she infused the design with her life force. It drained her reserve tremendously, but when she was finished the rune web radiated protective energy. It was finished. The spell was active. The shadowlings would gain no entry tonight or many nights to come.

Exhausted, Sky returned to the cage. She felt like napping, but knew she had to eat if she wanted to replenish the chokata she had spent on the spell. She ate the millet out of the food mix the Wards provided her. She was tired of millet, but the artificial color on the other pieces would harm her balance, so she avoided it. When she had finally eaten her fill she flitted up to her swing and drifted to sleep.

She was awakened by the sound of the back door opening. Dad-Ward came in and set down his things. Sky game him a welcoming, "Chirp!"
"Hi, Sky," he said. He took a look at the table. "What a mess! Not only did Jarom spill his milk today, he played with it afterward. I've told him a million times...." He continued to mumble as he left the room.

Sky gave a satisfied chirp. Jarom would catch some grief, it was true, but his dreams would be safe from the shadowlings, and that was what really mattered.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"The Game - Chapter 3"

This is Monday's story - I was sick last night and didn't get it posted...

If you haven't read Chapter 2, read that first.

The party moved more cautiously than before as they traced the path back to the site of the ambush. Valinor would scout ahead for several minutes and then return to tell them the way was clear, only to disappear again as the others started forward. Teserk was impatient at the frequency of the stops, but Valinor was insistent. His argument was that they couldn't be sure exactly where the bandits had appeared from, or disappeared to. Care was needed to ensure they didn't stumble into the outlaws' camp or fall into ambush themselves.

Colin used the time to inspect and care for the horse that had come into their possession.

"She's a beauty," he declared as he checked the mare's hooves for any loose stones.

Teserk had heard the remark over and over again as Colin continued his ministrations. The half-dwarf was somewhat of an expert in the care and handling of horses, having spent a decade or so with the Kings' Lancers. Teserk had to admit that this horse was a prime specimen, but he tired of Colin's continual declarations. It wasn't as if Colin was trying to woo the horse. But, then again....

The thought put a smile on Teserk's face. Thoroughly cheered, the fighter moved over to where Theadina and Mort were talking in hushed tones.

He heard Mort pose the question, "So how does a noble and her companions end up traveling between cities without a horse to their names?"

Theadina blushed. "That would be my doing. We came upon a merchant and his family traveling toward Riversend a few days back. It was the day after that massive thunderstorm - the roads were a mess. The merchant had two large wagons and had been trying to pull them with only two horses. The poor things weren't up to the task. One of them had died from the strain, the other looked to follow soon after."

"He must not have been a very good merchant if he could only afford two horses to haul two wagons."

"My thought exactly," Teserk said, earning him an icy look from Theadina.

"Both he and his wife were extremely young," she continued, "And they had just started their business. They intended to set up shop in Riversend and had brought with them everything they owned. All of their money had gone into merchandise. They hadn't thought about how they were going to get it all there."

"A hard lesson, and one he needed to learn if he's going to be successful," said Mort.

Theadina nodded. "I agree. Still, we couldn't just leave them there."

"So you sold them your horses."

"She GAVE them our horses."

"They had no money! It was my spiritual duty to help them any way I could."

"So you're WALKING back to Fen Halven?"

Teserk grinned. "Yup. Course, if we're lucky maybe we can talk this bandit group of yours into donating a steed or two. If they're all as nice as that one there, we'll have traded up."

At that moment, Valinor emerged from the woods to the north.

"The road is just a half-mile away. The way is clear."

The group followed quickly and they were soon standing upon North Road. The "road" was really just a dirt wagon trail that cut a narrow path through the Wildwoods. Still, it provided a more direct route from Caddington to Heart's Gate than did the Duke's Highway, which skirted the forest. While partially paved and guarded by ducal patrols, it added nearly a week to the length of the journey.

"North Road" was known as "Bandit's Alley" to the locals. Countless bands of outlaws and brigands made the surrounding forest their home, but the groups spent so much time hassling each other that travelers were rarely bothered. It seemed that Mort had been an exception.

Mort's wagon sat like a beached whale on the side of the road. Every useful part had been scavenged - wheels, brake, even one axel had been taken. The remaining axel had cracked, evidence as to why the bandits hadn't just driven the wagon back to their camp.

Mort hopped up to where the diver's seat had been and began pulling frantically at the loose boards beneath. One came up almost immediately revealing a hidden cavity under the seat. His face fell as he realized the space was empty.

"They found the ransom money," he said with a slight catch to his voice.

"We expected that, didn't we?" Teserk reminded him.

"Yes, but that didn't stop me from hoping that, just maybe, we wouldn't have to go after them."

Valinor was checking the various tracks that led to and from the ambush site.

"How many of them jumped you?" the ranger asked.

Mort thought for a moment. "I remember about eight men on horseback, including the man that chased me."

Valinor nodded. "That concurs with what I'm seeing. These marks here indicate they had a cart waiting in the woods to carry away any booty. I'm guessing they loaded the wagon parts into the cart to haul them back to their storage area. They took your other horse, too."

Teserk blinked. "Other horse?"

"Sure, I had two," Mort said.

That something that felt out of place back at the ravine suddenly clicked into sharp focus in Teserk's brain. His eyes narrowed.

"There wasn't any harness on Betsie back in the ravine. She was saddled. You only used one horse to pull that thing?" He motioned at the relatively large wagon bed.

"Mammoth was up to it," Mort said after the slightest pause. "He's a big Clydesdale and he hates being teamed up."

Valinor nodded. "I can make out his footprints here. In fact, it looks like they hitched him up to their cart."

"Then why even bring Betsie," Teserk went on, "If Mammoth didn't need the help."

The pause was slightly longer this time, but no one else seemed to notice. "I wasn't sure that this big wagon was going to make it all the way to the Wizard's home. You know these country roads - one big rainstorm and they're all muddied up. Betsie was my back up plan in case something went wrong."

"And you're lucky you had her along," Theadina chimed in, giving Teserk a withering look. "She saved your life."

Mort nodded his agreement.

Teserk shook his head slightly. Something was not right here. Mort's answers did fit the facts in evidence, but the fighter was convinced now that the farmer was lying. He just couldn't put his finger on how. Then he had another thought.

"Where's the body?"

"The body?" asked Colin

"Yes, the body of that guy you picked up...Finch. You said he was killed here, but there's no body."

"W-well," Mort stuttered as he backed away from Teserk. Teserk's face had become strangely distorted and his hand had grasped the hilt of his sword. "They must have t-taken it with them."

"A convenient..."

"There is a trail of blood that leads from there," Valinor pointed at a point next to the wagon bed, "To here, where the cart was parked when it was loaded. Looks like they dragged poor Finch over here, then loaded him up."


"That's enough now, lad," Colin said sternly as both he and Theadina stepped between Teserk and the now terrified Mort. "This is not a court an' our friend isn't on trial."

"What's got into you?" Theadina added harshly. "This man has lost his daughter and needs our help. We have pledged it to him. We should be trying to figure out how we're going to get the ransom back from the bandits, not questioning this good man's character!"

Teserk knew from experience that he would never win this argument. Theadina was too into her "help the innocent" mode to listen to reason and Colin was clearly interested in finding more horses so he didn't have to walk all the way back to Fen Halven. He could appeal to Valinor, but the ranger's sense of justice was such that he would need much more substantial proof of Mort's lies before he would be convinced of treachery. The evidence so far matched Mort's story...or was Mort matching his story to the evidence? Teserk couldn't prove anything, so he didn't bother pursuing the matter. He took his hand from his sword hilt.

"Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. I'm not too excited about the prospects of taking on a whole band of outlaws. I guess I'm a little on edge. No hard feelings?"

Teserk extended his hand toward Mort who accepted it, if somewhat reluctantly.

"The cart headed into the woods over here."

The group moved off, back into the Wildwoods. Teserk played rear guard, turning one image over and over in his mind.

He was certain Mortimous de Vous had winked at him as they had shaken hands.