Flash Fiction Mash Up… again

This week’s challenge is another genre mash up,  but Mr. Wendig has added to the pot, not only requiring a stew of two sub genre’s but also the addition of two extra ingredients. I RNG’ed the numbers and came up with Grindhouse, Occult Detective, an Ancient Book and a Dual Personality.

In my usual fashion I have written too many words, and still feel the story could have used more.

Be warned, if you’ve got sensitivities, this story features sex and naked bodyparts.

On the trail of Abaddon

by Trine Toft Schmidt

Whoever thought a derelict warehouse district waas the perfect place to put a sleazy sex dungeon, must have been out of their minds on mushrooms or something. Martin shudders at the deep shadows and knocks on the door set into the back of a run down warehouse. A few seconds pass and the locks click and the door creaks open, exposing the hunched over silhouette of a small woman.

“Yes?”

“I am here to see Mistress Heaven.”

“You have no appointment.” The woman’s voice is utterly lifeless.

“No, but I hoped I could get to talk to her anyway.”

The woman steps back, out of the shadow of the door. She is much younger than her silhouette would suggest, not even twenty. Dark hair tied back. A shapeless black dress hangs on her frame like a bag.

He steps into what would have looked like the average suburbian living room, had it not been for the chains dangling from the fake domed ceiling and the two large wooden X’s that hang side by side on the opposite wall.

“Master.” The girl has stopped, her head turned ever so slightly toward him, as if she is waiting for him to follow her. He takes his eyes away from the manacles carelessly slung across the back of an old Winchester chair, and follows her.

She leads him down a long corridor. Black candles flicker in crevices set into dark stone walls. Faux cave, Martin thinks with a sullen smirk.

The maid stops in front of a dark polished mahogany door. It slides open at her touch and he follows her inside. With a tiny click it closes behind them.

The room is completely empty apart from a string of black candles standing on the floor. He turns around and looks at the girl, who is standing up against the wall.

“Is this going to take long?” She doesn’t answer and Martin shakes his head, looks at his watch. He doesn’t have time for weird power plays, he has to be on that plane to Rome in little over an hour. He pulls out his notebook.

He flips through the pages until he reaches the sketch the old Jesuit monk in Havana drew in almost three months ago.

He holds the book out toward the girl. She might know, and he will take his answers from anyone, submissive maid or power-hungry dominatrix, he doesn’t care.

“Have you ever seen this book before?” Her head is turned down, cast into heavy shadow. She doesn’t answer. Doesn’t even move to look at the sketch.

He steps closer. Thrusts the sketch under her nose.

“Please?”

Silence.

He waits, watches her closely, but she doesn’t move. Her body is held completely still. As if she is a doll, hanging lifeless from unseen strings. He shakes his head, bends a little and try to see if she is even looking. Her eyes are fixed on the floor.

“It’s called the Book of Abaddon, it is said to hold the secret of eternal life.” He slings information at her, just to see if she will react.

There is a subtle shift, more a shift of air than a movement. He has her attention now and he presses on. Maybe he can still make it to the airport in time.

“It is ancient. Look at the symbols. Have you seen them somewhere before?” He pats his coat pocket for the pen that is in there somewhere.

“You shouldn’t have come here.”

“Excuse me?”

She lifts her head. She is beautiful in the way all young girls are, with their flawless skin, bright eyes and cupid lips. But as he watches, her features shift, her eyes widen, changes color from a dark blue, to a greenish turquoise. Her pink lips stretch and widens into an experienced sultry smile of someone much, much older. Her dark hair slips free and slides around her shoulders.

“Now, why would such a young man need the Book of Abaddon?” Her voice is no longer lifeless, it is dark, rich and vibrant. It sends chills up and down his spine.

She takes a step forward, straightening. The dress slips off her shoulders and falls to the floor. He closes his eyes and stumble backwards. She follows him, until his back is up against the wall. “The hope of an eternal life is for the old, Mr. von Gott.”

“It’s for a client. And I am in a hurry.” He looks pointedly at his watch. His heart pounds in his ears. How does she know his name?

“Oh well. Too bad then, that we don’t get to…” she pauses, run a finger down along his ribs. “…become better acquainted.” The finger slides into the waistband of his pants. He looks away, tries to ignore the heat that spreads from his belly button on down.

“Do you have the Book of Abaddon?” His voice is trembling and he swallows, tries to gain control over the situation.

She jiggles her breasts playfully and the heat spreads, his dick straining against his pants.

She cups her breasts, pressing them up, her tongue flicking out and pushing at a raised nipple, a teasing smile curling her lips.

“Now, why worry about some dusty old book when you could play with this instead?”

She steps closer, slides her hand back into his pants. The pants slide down his hips as the sound of the zipper chases the last coherent thought away. He kicks them off and with trembling fingers he grabs her arms, twisting around until she is against the wall. She grins up at him and he drives a hand between her legs and slides a finger inside her.

Her wetness is exhilarating, her taunting laughter in his ear fueling his mindless lust. He grinds her up against the wall and slams inside her with a groan.

 

“Sir?” Someone is shaking him out of the darkness. “Sir. You have to wake up now.”

He wrenches his eyes open and blinks. The light is blinding and he squints at a petite woman in a bright emerald green uniform.

“I am sorry to wake you sir, but we are landing in Rome in a few minutes. You have to buckle your seatbelt.”

He turns, looks out of the tiny window, and sees the sprawl of sand colored buildings  below. He blinks again.  Tries to remember how he got on board the plane. He can’t,  the last thing he remembers is stepping out of a cab somewhere dark.  God, once he’s located that blasted book he’s going to take a month off. He is so sick of jet lag messing with his mind.

He shifts in the seat, fumbles with the seat belt and feels a slight tug in his pants, like the ghost of passion pulling on his dick. He shakes his head and snaps the buckle into place. Two months off, he thinks and closes his eyes.

 

 

Summer reading

So, I was talking to a colleague about summer reads, and she asked me what I was going to read. I really hadn’t given it any thought, though I know I am going to be spending a large portion of my summer lazying it in the garden with a book in hand. That is what summer holiday’s are all about IMO.

So I gave it some thought.

My new-book consumption right now is almost exclusively e-book related. I read blogs and sites, and get various ideas about what I want to read, then I zoom off to amazon and spend my money there.  I am kind of short of money right now, so I thought maybe the library would have to fill my summer needs. But then my colleague said that since she had nothing new to read, she would just start over on the books on her shelf.

Hmm.. my brain buzzed about a bit. I have a few books on my shelves.   And I don’t think I have taken a single book down from those shelves in about a year.

My poor neglected books. How sad is that? Sad is what I think it is.

So here is my newly formulated summer reading plan.

-Go to book shelves

-Look, run a finger or two through the dust. Probably sneeze a million times.

-Think. What haven’t I read in a long time. What would I like to re-read? What wouldn’t I like to re-read?

-Pick a good generous handful of the former, and maybe, if I am feeling adventurous, pick a few of the latter

-Then I’ll go to the attic and root around the boxes of books that languishes there. (Even sadder than shelf neglected books: Boxed up books, stored in the forgotten nooks and crannies of said attic.)

Now the thing about the books on my shelves is that none of them are new. They are almost all of them at least 5 years old. I have read them before. And I tend to get impatient when I reread, because I remember what is going on. I remember the plot twists. I remember who murdered who and why.

Or I think I do anyway. Most of the books I haven’t read more than once. And age related forgetfulness has started to set in.

So… when I’ve done my picking I will return with titles, and reasons… and books. Lots of books.

 

Flash Fiction: Bad dads

This week, Chuck’s challenge was to write a story about a bad dad, and make him sympathetic. There’s no doubt that Harry, my protagonist, is bad, but I am actually not sure I managed to make him sympathetic. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and criticisms.

My mind refuses to come up with even the slightest hint of a title, so it’ll just have to do without.

Untitled

By Trine Toft Schmidt

“Daaad”

Harry lifted his head, and wiped his forehead, sweat trickling down the sides of his face as if he was standing under the shower.

She came barreling out through the screen door, it chu-chunk’ed after her, the sound stretching and repeating itself again and again, shot back from the mountains around them.

“Yeah?” He struggled not to let his impatience shine through.

“What was that sound?” She was wearing sneakers and some piece of fabric that barely qualified as a bikini, but she claimed was a gown. Showed way too much cleavage, it did. Not that she would put something else on, even if he told her to go change.

“What sound?” He bent down over the heavy-duty black plastic bag he was hauling from the compost heap toward his truck.

“What sound? What do you mean what sound? Are you deaf or something? It sounded like a shot.”

Harry straightened again, looked her in the eye.

“I didn’t hear a shot, you probably have the music on too loud.” He shook his head and wiped at the sweat again.

“I am listening to Vivaldi, and no viola sounds like a god damn shot being fired.”

“Watch your mouth young lady.” His voice hitched with the effort of speaking and dragging the damn bag at the same time. She just rolled her eyes.

“Or what? You’ll ground me? Pffff.” She turned on her heel and stomped back toward the house. A sigh made its way through Harry. Teenagers. Sure, he had caused his parents a measure of heart ache, but this girl! Some nights he wasn’t sure if he shouldn’t have left her with her mother. The grief she’d already caused him!

Chu-chunk

“Can you zip me up?” He dropped his grip on the bag. She was standing right behind him, looking a lot sweeter than she had just a few seconds ago. It was like living on a roller coaster ride. You fucking never knew when she was up or when she was down.

“Sure honey.” He pulled off his gloves and she turned, the dress flapping down each side of her spine. She was almost as tall as him now, he realized with a start. Only a few more inches and she could look him straight in the eye.

“When did you get so big, sweet pea? I can’t believe you’re going to a prom already.” She turned her head and he saw the corner of her mouth curl up in a real smile.

“I guess you just forgot to look dad.” He nodded to himself. Yeah, he probably had forgotten to look. He gave her shoulder a kiss. She smiled again and was gone.

Chu-chunk.

He pulled on the gloves and started dragging again.

 

He had just gotten the bag up into the back of the truck, when the screen door slammed again. He flipped the tailgate closed, pulled the tarp over the truck bed and turned. She had changed out of the sneakers and into high heels that made her a good three inches taller. His heart soared. She looked stunning, her dark hair swept up into a complicated do that curled and twisted in impossible ways. As far as he could tell, the only war paint on her beautiful face was a touch of mascara to her eyelashes.

“Wow, honey.” He never knew exactly what to say, how to pay the compliment just right, so he left it at that, afraid to ruin her mood. She shot him a quick worried smile.

“Is something wrong?”

“Have you seen Malcolm?”

“Who?” He turned and started to snap the elastic band in place around the tarp, to keep it in place.

“You know. My date? Malcolm Farling from Harriston? I told you last week. Twice.” He could hear her rolling eyes, and he fought to keep calm.

“No, honey, I haven’t seen him. It’s early yet isn’t it?”

“No, he should have been here ten minutes ago. I bet he’s stood me up or something. The bastard.” She tried to sound tough, but he could still hear her heart-break.

“I am sorry, honey. You want me to have a word with him?” He flashed her a quick grin and she wrinkled her nose as if she was considering. Then she shook her head.

“Thanks dad, but I’ll manage. Can you give me a ride into town?”

 

A quarter of a mile down the county road, they passed a car, standing in a layover, with its bonnet open and Anna gasped.

“Dad, stop the car. That’s Malcolm’s car.”

Harry pulled in, pushing down on the anxious twitch in his stomach. She was out of the car, before the truck came to a stop behind the green Honda. He watched as she circled the car twice and tried the locked door. He rolled the window down.

“Honey, I am sure he’s got some of his friends to come pick him up. He’s probably waiting for you down at Queenies, don’t you think?” She bit her lip, and nodded slowly.

“Maybe. But I don’t understand. He could have called. Hell he could’ve walked.” She dug her hand into her purse and pulled out her phone, and Harry’s heart stopped. Faster than lightening she flipped it open, tapped in a number and held the phone up to her ear. Harry was half way out of the car when something began ringing in the back of the truck. He stopped. Suspended between car and layover.

Why hadn’t he checked?

Anna’s eyes widened, and she pulled the phone away from her ear. Listened to the tune that played, muted and a little tinny, out of the back of his truck.

“Dad?”

He closed his eyes.

“What… why… is that Malcolm’s phone? What is it doing in the back of your truck?”

“Honey, I can explain.” He had perfectly reasonable reasons. She probably wouldn’t understand them, gripped in her teenage hormone flip as she was.

“You can explain.” Her eyes were molten lava on a bright summer day, black, but the promise of fire lurking underneath. “Is Malcolm back there? Did you…” She stopped. Started again.“The gunshot. It was you.”

“I CAN explain honey. You don’t know the vile things he was thinking.”

“YOU KILLED MY FUCKING DATE?” Her pale skin was blotched with red, her eyes bulged,  her hand clutched so hard around her phone it looked like it might break.

“I had to. I know what he’d planned. He was going to…” Harry closed his eyes and shuddered.

“He was going to do WHAT?”

“Touch you. Take you back to Mariot’s, he was going to…” He couldn’t say it. The thought alone was enough to constrict every muscle in his throat.

“I BLOODY WELL KNOW!” He could feel the physical heat from her fury, rolling toward him. She stomped her foot hard into the gravel and the heel snapped. She bent and pulled off the shoe, threw it at him. He let it hit him. She wouldn’t make him regret. Not this time. Not ever.

“How sick is this, dad? Something is wrong with you. Just because you saved me from that kid back in Lewistown, doesn’t mean you have to save me from every guy who wants to get into my pants.” Her voice sounded dead, flat. It was the build up, he knew, to the explosion. “Newsflash dad. I WANT THEM TO. I want them to touch me, I want them to fuck me. I’ll take it in the bloody ass, just to fuck with your brain.” She turned and stomped away, emitting a piercing screech.

He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped down the handle of the Honda. She would be back. Like the other times.

Flash Fiction Mash Up

So, Friday Chuck Wendig set us a new challenge, choose two  pop culture properties — books, movies, comics, from a list of 20, and write a story mashing them up.

I got Star Wars and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ahh. Well at least I know a bit about them both. Star Wars is hard to avoid, at least if you live in my family, though I have only seen them one or two times. And Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, all I remember is it being funny back when I saw it, about one million years ago.

So, I have written, and written and written and … well you get the idea of course. The story evolved into being much more Star Wars than Ferris Bueller, and it is long, as usual, almost 2000 words, but I had too much fun writing it to change or shorten it. I do apologize. I pledge to learn restraint, and to start planning my story before it gets away with me.

 

Bounty Hunt

By Trine Toft Schmidt

“God I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this Han.” Leia swatted at a gnat the size of a tennis ball. and Luke rolled his eyes.

“Stop being such a spoilsport, Leia, where’s your sense of adventure?”

Han just pushed aside a curtain of hanging moss.

“Its probably sunk into one of those bogs by now.” She pointed to a spot on the forest floor where a tree had sunk most of the way into a hole.

“Han, can’t we just get back to the base?”

“No.” Han said and stepped aside, a huge grin covering his face. “Look. There she is. I told you. Imagine what the bounty is going to be on this beauty, we are going to be RICH.”

A square bulky mountain rose out of the ground before them, covered in creepers and moss. Here and there dull light gray metal showed through.

“Is that it?” Leia raised her eyebrow and Han and Luke nodded as one. “Doesn’t look like it’s worth many credits, to be honest.” She pointed to the large elephantine legs, sticking out like logs across the swampy forest floor.

Han shrugged and started pulling off the creepers off the neck part of the hull.

“Give me a hand, and we’ll see.”

 

Ten minutes later they were all covered in burrs and sweat, but the escape hatch to the AT-AT was free of creepers, and Leia was resting against the hull. She felt inexplicably uneasy. Han and Luke were fiddling with multi-tools, trying to figure out what they needed to open the hatch, and did not seem worried at all.

“I don’t like it. Something is watching us.” She scanned the surroundings.

“You’re just a worrywart.” Luke dug an elbow into Han’s side, but Han shook his head. “Besides, just imagine what’s inside. Imperial weapons, artifacts.” Luke’s eyes was alight with excitement. He watched as Han flicked out a screwdriver with a flat head and inserted it in the opening between hull and hatch and wriggled it back and forth.

“No. No give at all. Luke, can’t you do something.”

“What? With the screwdriver?”

Han rolled his eyes.

“With the Force, you dimwit.” Luke looked hesitant, and Leia snickered.

“Blah. Its not like he’s Master Yoda in the Force department you know, Han.”

“Shut up sis.” Luke closed his eyes and his whole face scrounged up in concentration. After a minute something creaked inside the hatch and Han inserted the screwdriver again, wriggled it and with a metallic moan, the hatch sprang open, exuding a gust of stale dead air with a hiss.

“Yes!” Han pumped his fist in the air, and looked inside. “It’s dusty as hell, but it looks OK.”

A howl echoed through the forest, and a flock of birds rose into the air above them.

“What the fuck was that?” Leia moved closer to Han, whipped out her light saber just as both Han and Luke did the same.

A couple of hundred feet to the left of them something moved hidden by the trees and shrubbery. Something big. Heading their way, fast.

They looked at each other, and without a word they scrambled into the hatch opening, right as a large mud covered cat sprang from the bushes, closing the distance to the hull with a frightening speed.

“Fuck. I think it’s a Sludge Panther. Luke, god dammit, close the hatch.” Han’s voice a good octave higher than usual but Luke was already wrestling with the hatch. It swung closed way too slowly, grinding to a halt, a hands breath of green forest and dark brown Sludge Panther still visible. Leia pushed him away, grabbed the hatch, stemmed her feet against the door frame and with a moan heaved at it until it closed. Another howl pierced through the thick layers of metal, and something slammed against the hatch.

“Jeez, that was close.” Han dusted his hands and got up, and set about exploring the AT-AT, his fingers leaving dusty trails on the light gray metal.

“Close? What do you mean it WAS close?” Leia shrieked after him. “We are trapped. Inside an Imperial AT-AT, no one knows anything about, and there’s a huge panther out there waiting to eat us. How can you be so fucking calm about this?” There was another slam against the hatch and Han grinned.

“It won’t make its way through that. Its enforced steel or whatever, it’ll hold him out.” He disappeared around a corner, his footsteps echoing in the hollow hull of the transporter.

Luke sent Leia a mocking grin and went after him. Beside her the panther clawed the hatch, howling. Leia shook her head and ran after the boys.

 

Everything inside seemed more or less intact, if a little dusty. Even the straps on the seats were still intact, though a couple of the buckles disintegrated with the slightest touch.

Han was sitting in one of the pilot seats in the command section, strapped in like he was going to take them for a ride, his hands hovering over the complicated control panels. Luke was sitting in the second pilot seat, wearing an imperial helmet, his breath wheezing in and out of the mouth guard. He looked ridiculous, Leia thought, but she had bigger concerns. Outside the panther had given up clawing its way inside, instead it was circling the transporter continuously. The third time it went past the view port, Leia sighed.

“We are never going to get out of here alive. Nobody knows where we are, and that thing, it won’t ever give up. It’ll just wait for us to become desperate enough, and then it’ll eat us.” She fiddled with her light saber, flicking it on and off.

“Leia, relax, I’ll get us out of this, I promise. I think I know how to do this.” His hand hovered over a set of three buttons set off to one side. He pressed down on the one in the middle and suddenly the whole hull was shaking, and a sound much like the buzzing of a hive of bees filled the transporter.

“Fuck me. It still works.”

Luke whooped in his seat, grinning his stupid grin.

“Oh my god.” Leia felt sick to her stomach. She decided then and there that if Han ever wanted to go scavenge hunting again, then she would rather spend an hour meditating, contemplating zen, or something.

Han pushed a couple of buttons seemingly at random and something under them started to move. The carriage tilted sharply to the left and Leia almost tumbled to the floor. She fought herself upright, holding on to the periscope handles hanging down from the ceiling.

“Hang on. I don’t think this is going to be pleasant.” Han shouted over the din of creaky old metal moving against itself. And tilting strangely the AT-AT made its way onto its feet pads. Once it seemed the world had righted itself again, Leia stood and looked out of the view port. The forest looked like matchsticks from up here and a tiny flutter of excitement in her stomach made her grin at her dirty reflection in the viewport.

“Now, lets get her back to Dearic, I know just who to impress with this. Luke, you’re second pilot.”Luke saluted him, pushing off the helmet. Han grabbed a set of control sticks and pushed them forward, and Luke copied him. The AT-AT moved forward with a stomach rolling lurch, and the limited view out of the port tilted downward, righted itself and then they were moving through the forest.

 

They were out of the forest, crossing the plains, when an earsplitting noise made Leia clap her hands to her ears. Several monitors flickered into life in front of Han and Luke.

“What the hell was that?” Luke eyed the gyro balance, but nothing seemed amiss.

“I think it’s the attack alert.” Han shouted above the noise.

“Attack?” Luke shook his head and laughed. “Who would attack us here?”

Luke stretched and looked out.

“Shit. Are those hover tanks?”

“Yes. I count at least three, and there are free runners as well.  They must think the Imperial Forces have landed. I told you this was a bad idea, Han.” She was shrieking again.

“Leia shut the fuck up, it’s not exactly helping.” Luke turned and screamed at her, and Leia closed her mouth around her next tirade of insults.

“Can’t you shut it off Han, make it lie down, or something.”

Two free runners broke rank and whizzed by, circled them several times,  both equipped with heavy laser canon turrets. Han just stared at the controls and the view port, obviaously at a loss.

“Han, do something” They will start shooting at us soon if we don’t do something.”

 

Just then, two free runners flew out of the formation ahead of them, whipped past them, shooting something solid out of their front weapon’s array.

The AT-AT’s legs wobbled underneath them and there was a sound like metal being torn apart. Han started to desperately push buttons and moving the stick this way and that. But no matter what he did the world continued to tilt. He looked up and looked at Leia.

“They’ve tripped us up. Leia get yourself strapped in. NOW!” He was deadly pale, and Leia quickly hauled herself into an auxiliary seat, wrapping brittle netting and straps around herself.

Then the AT-AT tilted sharply to the left, and it felt like they were in free fall. Time slowed down, through a sliver of the view port Leia could see the yellow grasses of Talus rush up to meet them. She closed her eyes and twined her hands into the straps. Then everything turned black.

 

She opened her eyes to a searing white light. God, this is it, she thought. I am dead. Next time I see Han, I am going to kill him. Never again. I will never listen to him again.

“Princess Leia.” A muted voice, pleasantly respectful whispered in her ear. She blinked at the light, struggled to see past its brilliance. “Are you awake Princess?”

“Awake she is.” A high pitched, very familiar voice forced her to abandon the thought of her prematurely death.

“Master Yoda.” Her voice was hoarse, probably from all that shrieking, and it hurt her head talking. “Han… and Luke?”

“Quiet Princess, you must be. Fine, Master Solo and Skywalker is.” There was silence for a few seconds. “Quite a find, the transport is. Find good use for the precious transporter, the Rebel Alliance will.”

“So no bounty for Han then?” A little flicker of glee sparkled in her and a giggle made its way up her sore throat.

“Sadly no, Master Solo rewarded in thanks only will be.” Master Yoda chuckled quietly and the world turned black again.

Dragons and flash fiction

So it is that time of the week again. As per Chuck’s request, I’ve picked three words, Mint, Scarecrow and Moon. I have on top of that willfully ignored the 1000 word limit this week, again, mostly because I am too tired to wrestle with words, but also because I’m not so sure I can realistically manage to wring 500 words out of this story. Besides, its got dragons. Dragons! That ought to make up for a lot.

It is not really so much a story as a continuation of my exploratory into the world I am building for another story that is pinging around in my brain.

 

Dragon Initiate

(crappy title, too tired, see above)

By Trine Toft Schmidt

Dway held his eyes fixed to the horizon as he ran down the Market Street toward the south gate. It seemed that the sky brightened noticeably for every step he ran. The houses and shops sped past him, light from shuttered windows punctuating the dwindling dark. Ahead, the wide northern gate grew larger. In another hour or so the gate would be bustling with carts, farmers, horse traders, peddlers and travelers, but for now it was closed, so he veered right, aiming for the smaller Prayer’s Gate, which was more of a tunnel carved through the twenty feet of wall, narrow and dark.

He was almost at the gate when a large man stepped through, a cloak drawn in around him in the early morning chill. The man jumped to the side as he saw Dway, and put a hand on a heavy bulky pouch hanging on his belt, as if he feared that Dway would steal it. Dway snorted and shook his head. He was an Initiate, not a common thief. That should be obvious from the white Initiate tunic and the red belt that was tied around it. He caught a glimpse of the man’s face, an older man with deep wrinkles carved into leathery skin, as he thundered past, but forgot all about it when he glimpsed the horizon at the end of the tunnel. Almost too late.  He burst out of the tunnel and took a sharp left turn,  sprinted the few hundred paces to the Southern Gate.

He slid to a stop on his knees in front of the dragon, towering above him, just as the first rays threatened to break away from the horizon. He upended his satchel on the ground, grabbbed the wax candle in one hand and the fire stick in the other. With shaking hands he struck the fire stick on the cobbles and watched as the stick sputtered and came to life with a bright yellow flame. He lit candle wick and the smell of mint and honey rose up in the chilly air.

He sat the candle by the tip of the tail that was coiled around the dragon, the knife sharp edges of the tip half buried in the dusty brown soil. With trembling fingers he crumbled strips of dried meat into the small stone bowl, and drizzled a tiny amount of fire oil over. He re-lit the fire stick in the candle flame and held it to the oil and meat, as he mumbled the prayer under his breath. The first rays cleared the horizon and he felt the first tentative heat on his back. He smiled with relief, but didn’t stop praying. The scent of mint and honey was accentuated by the bitter smell of charred meat. He prayed until the fire burned out and the meat was black dust in the bottom of the bowl.

“That seems an awful waste.”

He yelped like a dog and felt his cheeks redden as he looked around, trying to find out where the voice had come from. Right as he spotted her in the deep shadows within the half unfolded right wing of the dragon, she stepped out into the sun.

She was tall and wiry, lean in a boyish way, and dressed in a weird outfit, that looked sampled from here and there, dusty mauve riding boots, dark gray trousers that would fit a farmer twice her size and a tattered nobleman’s shirt, embroidered in gold and copper. Draped behind her shoulders was a thick blue woolen cloak. She looked a little like the scarecrows his mother had built out of hay and discarded pieces of clothing. All the girl needed, to complete the look, was a wide brimmed straw hat.

Her face was long and narrow, and prominent cheekbones distinctively marked her to be from the desert lands. Perhaps she was Eruvian or Arahan. Her skin was a dark golden brown, her short black hair curled in tight curls that were not common in the north.

“You are not from here.” He blushed deeper, what a stupid thing to say, he might as well have said that grass is green or the night sky black.

“No.” She turned her head and looked up at the dragon. Where her left ear should have been was only a half moon crescent of nubby shin. She continued to study the dragon for a long time while Dway studied her.

The arms of her shirt was ripped off and showed bare arms, defined with muscle like she was a man, she had a dagger hanging in a beautiful sheath on her right hip. When she turned to face the dragon fully he could see the outline of something under her cape. Another weapon perhaps?

“I don’t understand, this…” she tilted her chin toward the dragon “this mountain of rock, is going to save you? Why you think it can save you?” Her spoken Common was accented with something hard edged, more rim than desert.

“It is not rock, or mountain. It is a dragon.” Dway stood up and walked up to her, pointed to the head high above, the flared nostrils, the open mouth where rows of teeth glittered in the morning sun. “She breathed fire. She was the mightiest of them all.” As always when Dway talked of her, his heart swelled and his vision tinted ever so slightly. The bright gold of the sun became a a deep copper. A shiver ran down his spine and heat spread from his neck to his fingers.

“But if she is dead, she will not be alive again. It is silly. Dead things are dead.” Her tone was a little impatient.

“But she is not dead. When the Middle Kingdom is in grave danger she will rise from this gate, as will all the others, and save us again.”

“Pah. I do not believe this nonsense. Why do you not save yourselves? Why Middle Kingdom men, soldiers, do not fight? Why do the rim kingdoms fight so much, but not you.” She shook her head, as if she truly did not understand. Dway struggled to find the words to explain, to convince her of the magnificence of the dragons, the red especially. He wanted to grab her and shake her, because how else could he underline the importance of them?

“I’ll show you something.” It was the only thing he could think of that did not involve heated words or physical contact. She turned and glanced at him. Then she looked away as if she saw nothing of importance.

“No. Really look.” Had he been a black it would have been difficult, but he was red and here, in the morning sun, where power of red was fresh and new it should be easy.

She rolled her eyes a bit, but did as he asked. He locked eyes with her and concentrated, felt the shiver and the heat intensify. He really shouldn’t be doing this. If he was seen, if word got back to the Master… he forced the thought from his mind and concentrated on the heat and shiver instead.

He stepped away and held out his hands, palms down. Heat gathered under his skin, and then liquid drops of it began to fall from his palms, spluttered on the ground as if dropped into water. A shower of fire. She stepped back and frowned. Looked down on his hands and into his eyes.

“How do you do that?” she asked. “And why are your eyes red.” She stepped closer, so close he could feel the heat from her body, and the shiver in his spine changed and became something different. The fire rain stopped, and the red tinge subsided.

“I am a red. Some of her gifts are mine. Like the fire.” Now it was his turn to tilt his chin to the dragon.

“But, I don’t understand. These rocks,” she looked back at the dragon “gave you power?” She made a dismissive movement with her hand, and looked into his eyes again, as if studying the flames that always flickered there, visible or not.

Dway nodded, explaining it in detail would take all day.  She tilted her head to the side and gave him another long look. Then she shrugged and turned on her hee. She started to walk toward the southern road.

“Hey.” Dway shouted after her. “What is your name?” He felt a little frantic that she was leaving, just like that, without being convinced of the magnificence of the dragons.

She turned her head, but kept walking.

“Max.” She said, her voice carrying back to him with ease.

“Max.” He said and looked after her. It wasn’t until after she cleared the bend in the road and was gone from view, that he realized he hadn’t told her his name. He almost ran after her. But then he picked up the candle, stone bowl and the fire oil instead and stuffed it back into the satchel. Master would also be quite mad if he dawdled too long in the shadow of the dragon. And Dway would see the girl again. He was sure of it.