Flash Fiction Friday: Tree Wizard

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The sun pierced the old man’s pale blue eyes despite the brim of his grey hat. The frayed hem of his grey robes rustled last year’s crumbling underbrush, as his quick steps pressed into the carpet of damp decaying brown leaves.

Yellow beaked blackbirds swooped low and chortled at his invasion of their woods so near their nest of chicks. Towering oaks and maple trees crowded against the single-track trail zig zagging lazily up the sunbaked side of Mount Klymene.

Abbernak giggled at the silly little feather heads and kept his pace steady toward his ramshackle home. For home was where he was bound, even if it was only for a moment. The rest among familiar smells and sounds would do his body and mind good.

Stopping at the edge of a small clearing, Abbernak listened. A redtail hawk screeched and dove after a cottontail among the purple and white wild flowers. The emerald green leaves rustled in the breeze. Abbernak scanned the world that stood before him and stepped into the clearing.

His tree was cuddled against the bend of a sparkling creek. The melody of water over the smooth stones reminded Abbernak of quieter times long past. He turned and again scanned the clearing, never can be too careful these days.

A glint of light lashed out of the ancient gnarled trees causing him to freeze. Standing stalk still he listened, the morning birdsong continued to drift among the branches, and the far off rustling of creatures scavenging the underbrush reached for his ears. Shaking his head, he placed a wrinkled hand on the equally wrinkled bark of the tree.  Closing his eyes, he whispered the familiar magic words, and stepped into his home.

A wooden staircase wound its way into the earth. With each confident step of Abbernak’s feet the luminescent moss clinging to the walls of the corridor brightened. At the bottom of the stairs stood a walnut door.It swung open without a sound. He stood there a moment and breathed in the sage, rosemary, and cedar.

A simple straw mattress lay to one side of the room along with four trunks, which contained mostly leather bound books filled with yellowed pages of elemental spells and creature conjuring.

From one of his many pockets, Abbernak pulled a set of small black iron keys. He fit one into a trunk. Neglected hinges gave a sigh of relief as he rested the lid against the wall. He was sure that the book he needed was in this trunk. One after another, the books rose from the trunk and rested on the floor in a neat stack. There it is, he thought. The deep crimson book with a charcoal eight pointed chaos star imbedded on the cover stared back at him.

I never thought I would need you, he thought. At least I had hoped I would never have to turn your pages in more than a casual interest. Times had changed indeed, if a son of neutrality was willing to sink his mind into pandemonium for a mere chance of a better life.  Perhaps he was mad, as all the other wizards of his order believed. Madness had a certain strength about it, for within madness was creation and destruction dancing hand in hand.

Abbernak sat upon the dirt floor, picking his teeth with a bit of stick contemplating the runes on the delicate pages. The runes skittered across the page until he placed his bony finger in the center and spoke an ancient word. He spent many hours hovered over the book. Page after page of spells swirled in his mind like a whirlwind. Thoughts careening into one another and weaving intricate nonsensical patterns that threatened to strip his grip on reality all together.

A crack like that of lightening striking a tree reverberated within his skull. Abbernak sunk to his knees, yanking at his matted brown hair, and choking on his own saliva. Then there was silence so deafening, Abbernak thought his ears were stuffed with wax.

A darkness descended upon the forest like a fog as thick as amber tree sap. Abbernak had not noticed until now that he was holding his breath. He let it out and began to climb the stairs to the surface.

The moon shone upon the world in a solitary beam of white light in the small clearing. He felt her presence before he saw her watching him from the shadows. The deep-set feline eyes of the necromancer sent ice dripping down Abbernak’s spine.

“All your brothers have fallen before me, begging for their souls,” she purred.

“You’ve tipped the scales too far, Nightlark,” Abbernak said, a hint of sadness creeping into his baritone voice.

“You and your balance. You are no different than the rest of the grey robes.”

“Balance can only be maintained so long as there is equal effort on both sides.”

“Then you have already failed, because the Shadow realm has made a snack out of the Light.” She stepped into the clearing. Purple robes gently waving in the fog surrounding her. Her golden eyes began burrowing into his heart. He gagged and fought for air. At last, she withdrew laughing.

“What is left for you now that your precious balance has been devoured?” she asked as she sent black mass of nebulous smoke gliding in his direction. He moved toward the heart of the clearing. His body was relaxed and his mind quiet.

“New growth,” he said.

His eyes flashed sapphire and green flames crackled in his hands. The flame arched and morphed into red lightening, and then contracted like a coiled snake. All the air in the clearing pulled into center. The fabric of time was wrenched open and chaos spread its great webbed wings.

Nightlark’s voice escaped her and her golden eyes locked on Abbernak. Thunder rumbled across the deep grey sky as the tree wizard released Chaos into the world.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Amarathine Firestorm

This story was written in response to a 1,000 word prompt to write a story based on two sets of randomly drawn words that created a title. The challenge was to then fit the story around the title. My two words were ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Firestorm.’  This challenge is sponsored by Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds blog.

I had a lot of fun writing this and it was a nice reprieve from the more serious topic of my current book about my bipolar son. I hope you enjoy it.  I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sweat tricked down Dedrick’s spine. A few drops clung to the small of her back. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and coughed. Her chest heaved and lungs burned. The smoke and ash were contaminating the air her body needed. She could taste the wood that lingered in the ash. The fires had been burning for three days. Dedrick knew she had to keep moving. The village was still thirty miles away.

The screams and images of the last village she passed through flared up in her mind. Her stomach convulsed. She had reached the thatched huts after the flames had begun to eat them. A woman had run from one of the huts, her face blackened by ash and smeared with tears. The woman clutched a bundle to her breast. She tripped as she ran toward Dedrick. Dedrick dashed forward reaching out her arms. She bent lower as the woman continued to fall. Dedrick’s center of gravity passed the point of no return, and she launched herself forward. Her feet left the ground, and she flopped onto the sunbaked dirt. Her four silver daggers pressed against her ribs. The woman’s bundle rolled into Dedrick’s waiting arms. The blanket unwound as the bundle came to a stop. Dedrick’s stomach lurched with smell of scorched flesh and the sticky wetness against her upturned face.

The child’s skin was a violent red, blistered, and peeling away from the underlying tissue. Dedrick fought the urge to fling the charred corpse away from her. She gently wrapped the bundle in the blanket and placed it back into its mother’s arms. Her eyes skittered across the devastation before her. Charcoal, embers, and crumpled bodies littered the streets. The roaring flames and cries of the dying blotted out all the other noise, including the voice in her head urging her on. Time froze while Dedrick had stood there, paralyzed by the destruction laid before her. She could do nothing.

The day before, Dedrick had kneeled at her king’s side. His eyes sprung open. Blood bubbled from his lips as he spoke, “Dedrick! You must reach the Queen. Warn her Dedrick.”

His commanding voice was failing him. He coughed. Flecks of blood splattered on Dedrick’s face.

“The mages.” His voice was a fading whisper as his last breath left his body.

The far off mages had seen her crouched at his side. The Black Robes’ magic fire arched between their outstretched hands, and they directed it, in a cascade, toward the fallen king. She scrambled to remove his crown, ring, and sword as drops of fire rain singed her cropped dark hair. Clinging to the items, as if they were her soul, she began to run.

A tree crashed to the ground on her right showering her with hot embers and bringing her back to the present. Dedrick shook her head to clear the smoke and began to run again. Hot ash swirled around her face. Leaves and branches fell to the ground spreading the mage fire farther than she had thought possible.

The granite-chiseled stone of the castle’s battlements came into view above the deep green of the forest’s canopy. Of course, the queen would see the fire coming, but the river would stop it from reaching the castle. It wasn’t the fire that the king had wanted the queen warned of. It was the mages. The river would not stop the Black Robes.

She dashed into the small village of Tammirack. She called out to the villagers, but her voice came as a crackling whisper. She ran from door to door pounding with her fist.

“Get out! Run!” she said. The people peered out of their doorways and saw the firestorm moving toward their homes. Their eyes became wide with fear. They looked back at Dedrick, and recognition flashed across their faces.

“You’re the king’s messenger,” they said, in quavering voices.

“The king is dead, there’s an army behind that firestorm. Get your families out. Run! Don’t look back,” Dedrick said.

It was all she could do. She set her feet in motion once again. This was the final village before the river. She hoped that at least some would escape. She didn’t know how they would manage it, but she had to believe they would survive. It’s what drove her on. Dedrick was born among the Amaranth tribe. The king’s messengers were selected from her tribe because of their unfading endurance and everlasting courage.

Her feet barely skimmed the earth’s surface as she passed trees, jumped logs, and crashed through streams. Her feet molded to the earth with each step. Branches scratched at her bare legs and arms. Only a few more miles, her lungs seared with effort, and her legs were heavy like iron. Vomit rose in her throat as she continued to push her body past what it believed it could accomplish.

The words of her dead father entered her mind, “We run until we deliver our message or we die empty of all that we are.” It was the Amaranthine way. She plunged into the shallows of the river unwilling to slow down before reaching its shore. The ferryman drew his sword and swung it, wild with surprise. His fear morphed into a clipped laugh, and he grabbed Dedrick’s collapsing form.

“Not yet Dedrick, you must reach the queen,” he said, splashing icy river water onto her face and mouth. She nodded and pushed herself onto her feet. She rested against him, as she boarded the ferry, and the six burly ferrymen began to tug the guide ropes.

The queen stood ready. She had known the mages would come for her. They’d been searching for her since she had escaped as a child. An abomination, the Black Robes had called her. All women born with magic were destroyed. She called upon her forbidden magic now. The waters of the river rose. A rolling crackling echoed as the water crystalized into glacial blue ice.