Flash Fiction: “The Last Stormcaller”

Oh, the weather outside is frightful… and so’s the daemon controlling it.  Better call your neighborhood weatherman to cast a few counter-spells or else you’ll be needing FEMA real soon.

Enjoy.

The Last Stormcaller, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 829

Raindrops whipped across Danny Trenton’s face as he skidded to a halt on the pier.  Ancient planks creaked beneath his feet as he stared up at the oncoming storm.

The clouds advancing onto San Ignacio Harbor were black and heavy—an entire mountain range of precipitation, rumbling with barely-contained thunder.  Below them, the Pacific Ocean was choppy, throwing up waves against the pier and splattering over the abandoned boardwalk.  No chance of continuing today’s carnival. No Procession of the Saints tomorrow—not unless Danny could do something about it.

But fuck me, thought Danny as he reached into his jacket, what can I do against that?

His fingers tightened on the amulet under his t-shirt.  A gold coin, caked with dried blood and fresh dirt from the parking lot at San Ignacio High School.  That was all an amulet needed—blood from the one who carried it and dirt from the place it was meant to protect.  But amulets were good for cheap tricks, like conjuring up a little rain and snow in July.

Danny Trenton knew a thing or two about sorcery.  He knew all about the water cycle and the ancient heroes who could bend it to their will.  But he was no Stormcaller.  Just some smartass kid in a jacket and blue jeans, too dumb not to run back inside when the storm showed up.

“Well,” he whispered past a mouthful of rain and wind, “guess I don’t have much of a choice…”

Gulping down some of that rain, Danny smiled.  He let the wind buffer him and pressed both hands over his amulet.  The storm continued to advance, slowly gathering speed and strength.

And then he Spoke.

From deep within his chest, Danny found his true voice.  The primordial Voice upon which all sorcery is founded.  And he let it Speak through him to the heart of the storm.

I give you a name,” said the Voice through Danny Trenton.  “I name you Thor.  I name you Zeus Brontios.  I name you Perun.  I name you the Wild Hunt.

A streak of blinding light filled the skies, followed by the deafening tiger-roar of thunder.

The Voice was making Danny’s ears ring and his throat burn, but he let it Speak.  “I know you and I do not fear you.  I want to ease your suffering.  To share your pain.  Let me in.”

Another flash, another snarl from above.  The rain pounded at the harbor and the choppy waves grew taller.  Almost defensive.

Now the amulet around Danny’s neck began to tingle.  He was soaked through to the bone and deathly cold, but the amulet was only growing warmer.  A pleasant warmth, a spiritual warmth like his first kiss or graduation day.  Danny held onto that warmth as the Voice prepared its next words.

This one will share your pain,” the Voice declared.  “This one will give you peace.  Let us in, mighty Thor.  Let us in, Zeus Astrapios.  Let us in, Great Perun.  Let us in, ye Wild Huntsmen.”

The storm did not challenge the Voice coming through Danny’s lips.  The rain and the wind continued as before.  But slowly, they began to abate.  Inch by inch, the rain decreased.  Knot by knot, the wind eased up.  To Danny’s eyes, the waters were still rolling fierce, but they weren’t attacking the boardwalk like a pack of rabid dogs anymore.  The waves kept their distance.

The warm feeling in his amulet grew stronger.  Danny held on tight as he felt something move inside the storm.  Something huge and old.

In his mind’s eye, he saw the storm as an old man in a tunic, striking at the ground with his walking stick.  He saw it as an angry teenager, sullenly spitting at the ground and flipping him the bird.  He saw it as a crying child, lost and terrified in a crowd of strangers.  It was all these things and none of them.  A cheap metaphor for the truth behind the storm.

An element of nature who’d simply lost its way.

Danny wanted to give it a home.  He pictured his hands pulling the amulet open like a door.  In his mind’s eye, there was a silhouette beckoning the storm inside.  Yes, come in, weary traveler.  Lay down your burdens with me…

The elemental inside the storm heard the offer.  Danny could tell by the way his heart suddenly grew tight.  He dropped to his knees.  For one irrational moment, he wondered if this was how he was meant to go.  A heart attack on a stormy day, just like Uncle Jake the day after he retired.

But the pain was short-lived.  Danny felt the elemental breach the warm barrier of his amulet and disappear.

With labored breath, he forced himself to look up and smiled at the pale gray skies and the dark churning waters.  He was soaked and numb, but deliriously happy.

He supposed there was one Stormcaller left in San Ignacio after all.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “Time-Honored”

Time travel is tricky with tenses, but after a while, you get used to it.

Enjoy!

Time-Honored, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 742

He recognized this place.  This exact moment.  The knowledge weighed him down, bringing him onto his arthritic knees.

Master Veo took solace in the darkened sacristy of the Solar Temple.  He knew his death had come at last.

“So this is how it ends,” said his adversary.  Beside the door stood Tsar Fell, leader of the Occult Brotherhood—soon to be crowned Emperor of all Artha once he usurped the throne.  “After all this time, we find ourselves back here again.  Where we first met, Annas.”

“I told you there was no stopping it.”  Veo reached into his robe and pulled out a small trinket.  A simple ring of jade and magical carmot, forged and refined within four dimensions.  “There are laws where Time is concerned.  You can’t break the chain of causality.”

“I still can’t accept it.”  Tsar waved dismissively at the ring in Veo’s hands.  “If that artifact can bring us back in time, back to where the war started—then why can’t it change history?  That’s what human beings do!  We shape our future.”

“From the present onward, never looping back.”  Veo sighed.  “Show me a tree and tell me you could destroy the seed from which it began.  I’ll show you the greatest fool of them all.”

“You always were so full of riddles,” Tsar spat.  He looked back through the door.  “They’re coming now.”

“You mean, we’re coming now.”

“Again, that fondness for wordplay.  It’s a good thing I’ve already killed you.”

“Correction.  You are killing me.”  Veo set the ring on the sacristy floor.  “It is remembered that Tsar Fell struck down Veo before his pupil’s eyes… and that he was then struck down by his own treacherous student.”

“Havel learned well from Tsar.”  The Occult Master lifted his arms in triumph.  “But I am Havel.  And I am Tsar.  I can do more now.  I can ensure my rule over Artha is everlasting.”

“All those years of studying lore and you never learned an ounce of wisdom.”  Veo folded his hands into his lap.  He was almost anxious for this to be over.  He’d been fighting for so long.

“Time to end this,” Tsar muttered.  He withdrew a curved blade from his sash and advanced on Veo.

It was so cold.

The blade protruding from his chest.  The sudden burst of agony as his lifeblood ebbed out.  Veo stared down at the blade, then up at the door.

There stood young Annas Brand, his prized pupil in the ethereal arts.  His heir.

His younger self.

Now I know why Veo was so content when he was killed, he thought.  Now I know what drives Annas so much… because I’ve been both of them.

He knew what followed next.  He was at peace now.  He would watch it unfold all over again.

“Not much of a master is he, boy?” Tsar sneered.  Before Annas could raise his sword against him, Tsar cast a lightning spell that sent the boy flying back against the altar outside.  Annas groaned and lay still.

Veo by now had collapsed onto his side into a pool of his own blood.  He was so weak.  He remembered that pain and humiliation that Annas felt now.  And then…

From behind the tapestry outside, as Tsar walked over to Annas with his blade raised—

Another hand struck out, clutching a serrated knife.  The blow was dealt quickly.

Tsar cried out and fell to the ground.  Before he could comprehend what was happening, young Havel Thorn emerged and fell on him with a sharp stab to the throat.  The Occult Master twitched and lay still.

Veo watched Havel flee from his master’s body—from the corpse he would still become.  Then he felt a pair of young hands pull him from the floor.  He looked up into Annas’s teary eyes and smiled.

“Take my ring…” he groaned.  “Remember this moment, my boy.  You… will succeed.  You will stop Havel and bring peace again…”  He choked on the blood in his throat and touched the boy’s face, remembering what it was like to be that young.

“I will remember,” he heard his younger self say.  “Master, I will keep fighting.”

Veo knew he would.  He was fine with that.  He had taught Annas everything.  And when he saw him take up the Time Ring from the floor, he knew he could die in peace.

There was a cause for everything, even for the death of mentors.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “The Doctor and the Druid”

Magic and science really aren’t that far apart; they just take different roads to the same goal (and one currently has a better track record).  More stories should get into the possible friendship those two fields can have.

Enjoy.

The Doctor and the Druid, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 784

“Okay, we should be coming up on the heart of the forest,” said Shevaun.  She looked down at the topographic map on her phone, then smiled.  “Only two more kilometers to go!”

A soft voice squeaked behind her.  “Oh… wonderful!”  Kimiko was holding onto her knees, panting desperately.  “I’m sure it’ll be lovely…!”

Shevaun favored her with a sympathetic smile.  “If you need a break, just say so.  I’m sure Kyle’s team can wait.”

The willowy fey flinched at the suggestion.  “No, I’ll… I’ll be fine.”  As she caught her breath, she adjusted the greatcloak around her shoulders.  Shevaun put her phone away and leaned against a tree while her friend closed her eyes to concentrate.  “I think the way ahead is clear.”

Looking ahead, Shevaun tried to glimpse anything through the incoming fog.  The Orkwood was a mysterious place, but the Alliance was counting on their expedition.  Their first real attempt to bring sorcery and science together for a common cause.  Kyle’s team of sorcerers and engineers should have reached the middle of the forest already.  All that was left was for a physicist and her druid companion to join them.

Shevaun did a quick check of the pockets in her field suit, making sure all their supplies and equipment were there.  Then she marched ahead into the mist, with Kumiko silently following.

No sign of Kyle or his team.  The clearing in the heart of the Orkwood was empty.  Only a few birds singing in the trees, bright blue things on gnarled black branches.  Shevaun peered at the surrounding woods, but she couldn’t spot a thing.

“Oh, no,” Kumiko whispered.  She knelt in the middle of the clearing, brushing her fingers into the soil.  “I was afraid of this…”

“What is it?”  Shevaun whipped out her phone and turned on the spectrometer app immediately.  Maybe a soil sample was what they needed.

The elf-girl swallowed.  “It’s wights.  I found signs of barrow-wights in the grass.”  Her gold eyes slid shut in despair.  “We might be too late.”

“I’m not giving up on them that easily.”  Shevaun lifted her friend off her knees.  “I’m sure we can get there in time.  Just tell me where to go next.”  When the fey shook her head, Shevaun decided to change her tone.  “Listen, I know you’re scared.  But you’re not alone, Kumiko.  I’ll be facing those spirits right alongside you.”

Kumiko looked up at her in wonder.  Then she cocked her head, listening to something.  Shevaun heard a twittering over her shoulder and saw a pair of bluebirds fluttering overhead.  They seemed to be chirping directly at Kumiko.

“Really?”  Kumiko smiled.  “Thank you!  Yes, we’ll be right behind you!”  Without warning, she grabbed Shevaun’s hand and pulled her through the clearing.  “Come on, we’ve got a lead!”

When she took her first step into the tomb, Shevaun brandished her flashlight.  She heard the wights hiss and saw something pale swirling through the mists within.

“Over here!” Kyle called out.  Shevaun found him chained to a post near the back, dusted with cobwebs and white as a sheet.  “Thank God you’re here!”

Shevaun didn’t waste time getting out her multitool.  The chains holding Kyle in place were old and easy to break with the right amount of force.  But it was hard to focus with the hissing and the deathly chill pressing down on her.

“Where’s everyone else?” asked Shevaun, nearly getting Kyle free.

“I don’t know,” he muttered.  “Maybe turned into ghosts?  This place is bad, Shev.  We need to get outta here right now.”

“They’re fine,” said Kumiko.  She appeared beside Shevaun, waving her hand over Kyle.  A pair of squirrels climbed up the post and removed the last of the chains binding him.  He fell into Shevaun’s arms, too weak to stand, let alone walk.

A low-throated snarl echoed throughout the tomb.  Dust and cobwebs rained down from fresh cracks in the ceiling.  Kumiko grabbed Shevaun’s hand and pulled her and Kyle for the door as fast as she could.

The barrow-wight’s hissing turned into an anguished howl as they made one valiant leap through the passage and into the cold sunlight.  Branches and stones rose up from the ground to seal the tomb behind them.

Shevaun lay on the ground, panting desperately with Kyle curled up on her chest.  When a shadow fell over her, she saw Kumiko leaning over them with a tired smile.

“Not bad… for a druid?” she panted.

Shevaun laughed, though it hurt to do so.  She patted the fey’s hand and said, “Yeah… not bad at all.  I’m glad the Alliance paired us up.”

“Me, too…” Kyle gasped.  Shevaun laughed again and ruffled his hair.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Black Fire, Golden Heart: “Demonic Redemption” by Sheldon Lewis Tichkowsky

Copyright © 2011 by Sheldon Tichkowsky.

I have to say, I’ve never really cared much for demons in fiction (or angels, for that matter, Wings of Desire notwithstanding).  It seems like the only trait all demons share is that they’re pure evil and want only to feed on human misery.  You could pretty much apply this to Orcs, Klingons, and countless other evil fictional creatures and it’d hold true for all of them.  Demons are an easy source of conflict in a story, but who says stories have to be easy?

This brings me to an intriguing story by Sheldon Tichkowsky called Demonic Redemption.  It’s the story of a demon who, well, undergoes redemption for all the misery he’s inflicted and the horrors he’d suffered along the way.

On the surface, I have to say that I wasn’t entirely impressed.  The dialogue is fairly trite, the setting is your generic medieval fantasy landscape, and the demons all have savage minions called Gormocks who are just Orcs by another name.  The plot itself moves pretty fast–handled mostly by expository monologues and the occasional flashback–but it doesn’t give the reader much of a chance to appreciate the setting or some of the other characters.  It just goes from Demon Sets Out On Quest to Demon Finds Romance to Demon Learns Backstory to Demon Atones For His Past Sins.

But once I got a little further in, I started to notice a few nuances that the author had woven into the story.  While it isn’t hard to guess what a story called Demonic Redemption is about, I was surprised at some of the development that the human characters got.  The most surprising example was the lead human, Andahar, often styled as “Andahar the Great.”  At first glance, he seems like just another stock heroic character, but as the plot progresses, we discover that his motives aren’t entirely benevolent and he turns out to be more of a monster than the demon protagonist.  The final confrontation with Andahar proves to be quite stirring and emotional for everyone involved, making it an enjoyable twist to what seemed like a pretty standard tale.

On the whole, I’d have to rate this story as satisfactory.  There’s a spirit of adventure with a little self-awareness thrown in, even though at times the delivery can be a little forced and cliche.  But this is still one of the better reads I’ve had from Dorrance Publishing.

I received a complimentary copy of Demonic Redemption as a member of the Dorrance Book Review Team.  Visit dorrancebookstore.com to find out how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Bibliography: Tichkowsky, Sheldon Lewis.  Demonic Redemption.  Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2011.

Now It’s Personal! (But Not Too Exciting): “MageTech Assassin’s Vendetta” by J.R. Urie

Copyright © 2011 by J.R. Urie.

Admittedly, there is something kinda cool about blending magic and technology together.  It doesn’t make sense given Clarke’s law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“), but it’s more for aesthetic value, like having mystical Jedi Knights in a mostly science fiction setting.

But as a tip for writers, if you’re going to throw magic and science together, you could at least make the rest of the story just as interesting.

Case in point, MageTech AssassinVendetta by J.R. Urie.

The Story: They Took Away His Family, So He’ll Take Away Their Lives…! (Dun dun dun)

Matherion is a young man living in a world where hi-tech meets high fantasy, with laser guns and hovercraft (excuse me, “mobis”) alongside elves, orks, and gargoyles.  However, when his father kills a drug dealer, it means the end of his family except for his sister Adella, from whom he becomes separated.  To avenge his family and earn a living, Matherion becomes an assassin and pursues a vendetta against the now-successful individuals who ruined his life…

…For about the first hundred and forty pages.  After that we get a surprise “What If?” section where we see Matherion become a police officer instead and his family is whole and everything is wonderful.  And then we get a glossary for all the made-up jargon and slang.  And then some strange epilogue involving elves and by that point I have no clue what I’m reading anymore.

The Cast: Life Among The Dregs Of Town

Matherion is our protagonist, the titular MageTech Assassin (in that he assassinates people using a combination of magic and advanced technology).  There’s something about him that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Half the time he seems content to be an assassin and spending his money in nightclubs, but the other half of the time he’s wracked with pain about his family and suddenly gets uncomfortable being an assassin.  I’d say this would show some depth to his character, but there doesn’t seem to be any consistency to his attitude.

Other characters include Adella, his beloved sister who disappears after their parents and other sister get brutally murdered, and a Duke (whose name I can’t begin to figure out) who sponsors Matherion through assassin school.  Between the very fantastic names and slow pacing, it was very hard to distinguish all the supporting characters from one another.

The Style: Pretty In Purple Prose

Essentially, what gets me most about this story is the way it’s written.  Normally, I’d think a family vendetta would be rather interesting, but here the pacing just plods along and the tone doesn’t seem to change much between when Matherion is killing someone for a job and when he’s out in a nightclub drinking with an exotic dancer.  The dialogue is so stilted that the only way to tell emotionally impacting scenes from the rest of the fluff is to check for an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

Also, it seems that it’s impossible for anything to be ordinary in this fantastic world.  You can’t have a door lock; it has to be a “maglock.”  You can’t have just any old limousine; it must only be a “Verton-Titro’en limousine.”  And God forbid any material in this story should not be “synthetic” — synthetic leather, synthetic concrete, synthetic steel (I’d make a joke about how even the characters and plot are synthetic, but that’s too easy).

Final Verdict: Nice Premise, But Not Yet A Thriller

Honestly, I have to give the author credit for making a strong attempt at building his own fictional world and giving it history and depth.  With a little more polish, it could seem as vivid as the urban environments from William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy or Steven Brust’s Dragaera series.  But the characters aren’t too fleshed-out, the plot jumps around a bit, and the dialogue is too stiff to be taken seriously.  But what it lacks in focus, it makes up for in potential.

I received a complimentary copy of MageTech Assassin’s Vendetta as a member of the Dorrance Book Review Team.  Visit dorrancebookstore.com to find out how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Bibliography: Urie, J.R.  MageTech Assassin’s Vendetta.  Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2011.