Friday flash: Something Blue

Something Blue

Cherry blossom petals, drifting on the breeze, caught in Angelica’s hair. She grinned but did not falter in her notes, singing the change of seasons as Drake had taught her. With the orchard full of pink blooms and the hum of bees, spring had come to the hilltop, but the dragon had told her she needed to keep singing until even the apple trees had leafed out — another month at least!

And Verena hadn’t even made a match, like she had thought. Instead, Father had sent her off to some fusty school, and Mother wouldn’t tell her why, only that they would be getting her a new tutor soon. Whatever, it gave her plenty of time to talk to Drake or to go prowling around the forest with Smoke.

Speaking of the mist cat, where had she gone? She had been lying in the sun between some of the trees, soaking up the warmth. Now she’d vanished again, disappearing like the mist she was named for. Thank goodness Angelica wasn’t as flighty as her pet.

A high-pitched sound cut across the buzz of the bees, and Angelica flinched, remembering her trip to the woods with the apples. Something had happened there, but she still didn’t know what. Maybe today, she’d talk to Drake about it. Though he’d probably just give her another song to learn.

Behind her, she heard a crunch. She whipped her head around, worried that Smoke had broken a tree limb, but instead the mist cat crouched over something at the base of a tree, her fur standing rigid all along her back. A whiff of something noxious wafted toward Angelica, and this time, she did break off her song.

A wisp of cloud blew across the sun, making her shiver momentarily.

“Smoke! Drop it.” Angelica pushed to her feet and walked toward the mist cat, hoping it wasn’t too late to rescue whatever robin or songbird had been Smoke’s prey, but the mist cat didn’t move.

Glaring at her pet, Angelica reached down, ignoring Smoke’s warning growl, and twitched something from between the mist cat’s paws. Angelica stared at the piece of blue, sort of like a crab, hard shelled. What was it? Maybe a leg or a spine? She glanced around, but saw nothing it could come from.

“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked Smoke, as though the mist cat could understand her.

Like a typical cat, Smoke sat back and started cleaning herself, completely ignoring Angelica.

Fine, then. Angelica slid the bit of shell back into her pocket. She’d talk to Drake about it later, but she knew he wouldn’t give her any answers if she didn’t finish the season song first.

448 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

And if you want to read a little more from me today, you remember when I posted the questions with Alex Fayle that I said I had some drabbles coming up there? Today’s the first one, “A Heartbeat Away.”

Spring comes

Inside the tower, Drake huddled near the coal fire, curled to conserve its warmth. Goose call and robin song had been on the wind for the past week, but it was still too chilly for him. His wings would crack if he attempted to fly. He might make his way up to the roof to sun himself later, after the bricks had had a chance to warm, but for now, he would remain here.

Closing his eyes to slits, he hummed the fire-song his mother had taught him, crooning to the coals to stoke their flames, feel their twisting and turning light, immerse himself in their heat. Orange and red, banked for continuity, filling him.

“That’s not a wind-song, is it?”

Drat the girl! Angelica had no business here; she knew from years past that he would emerge when he was ready. He opened one eye an inch, letting the flame glint off it to spark at her, but he did not stop humming.

She ignored his truculence and sat down with her back against one of his talons. “I think Father has made a match for Verena. She’s as twittery as the birds right now, and no one in the castle has any time for me. Even my tutor has vanished!”

Drake chuckled, interrupting his song. The coals would continue to burn. “And did he vanish before or after Verena began to act so?”

Angelica snorted, a most unladylike sound that could have come from her mist cat. “What does that matter to anything?”

He didn’t answer, instead asking, “Has your father said anything about a match?”

“No, but then, he wouldn’t. I’m too young to worry about.” She shifted to look at him. “As I’m just in the way, I thought maybe you could teach me the next bit of wind-song? Whatever comes after focus?”

“Let me hear that you’ve been practicing first.” He knew she had; he could hear her every time she faltered on a note.

She sighed, but began to sing, softly at first, her voice gaining strength with each note, until they swirled through the inside of the tower, a tonal staircase of magic and sound. His voice joined hers, humming again the basic fire-song, adding warmth to the air, blending it to a place of joy. After a few minutes, they let their voices fade.

“Very good.”

She flushed at the praise.

“Now listen carefully. This next is the song that must be sung at the turn of the seasons, summoning the good to come. You don’t have much time to master it, so you will have to practice it — not just daily, but several times daily.” That should keep her from fretting about what was going on with Verena, and she would have the time to do so if her tutor really wasn’t here to give her other assignments.

He sang it through five times before she attempted to copy it. Then they spent an hour more working on her tones, her splits, and her note carries until he was satisfied that she understood the basics of what she had to do. “Come back in three days to show me.”

She left, and he watched her go, a warm glow in his throat that had nothing to do with the coals. She would make a good singer in time. He closed his eyes and listened to the soft echoes of her song, captured in the tower by repetition. Beyond, he heard again the birdcalls that presaged spring. It was enough.

588 words

I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve done my Friday flash, let alone a Smoke and Drake tale. Like Drake, my brain shuts down in winter.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Autumn leaves

Autumn Leaves

Leaves crunched underfoot as Angelica slipped under the trees. Father didn’t like her passing beyond the grass, but it wasn’t as if she’d gone out of sight — she could still see the castle quite clearly. And even if Father and his archers couldn’t see her, Drake could from the top of his tower, as could Smoke, who slunk along the shadows, quiet even among the deepest leaves.

And how else was she going to test out what Philomena had told her? A charm to tell what the coming year would bring — who could resist?

Still, it was kind of creepy here with the oak branches reaching up against the sky like so many dead things, blackberry bushes grabbing at her skirt and the bag over her shoulder, and bird calls that vanished mid-note. There was a smell in the air she didn’t recognize, either, layered beneath the moldering leaves. It reminded her of the kitchen and the middens and the straw where Father’s hounds slept, but it wasn’t like any of them precisely. Nervously, she began to whistle the minor wind-song Drake had taught her. He had said it was good for focus, implying she needed that, and she should practice it whenever she felt uneasy or confused. This qualified, although she wouldn’t tell him that.

She pushed between two more brambles that caught at her clothes, exclaiming as a thorn scraped her right arm, and found a pond in front of her, quiet but not stagnant, tiny ripples here and there where a leaf had just fallen to join the others scattered across its surface. A fallen oak stretched along the near bank, white mushrooms stair-stepping up its sides. The trees didn’t block the sky here, letting shafts of sunlight slide through the blaze of leaves and into the green-brown water, hinting at boulders and snagged trees below. Perfect!

Smoke chuffed, the first sound the mist cat had made since they left the castle, then leapt to a branch that stretched out over the water in a patch of sun. Such a cat!

Now what had Philomena said? Yes, the apple first — peel it, eat it, throw away the core, then drop the peel into the middle of the pond.

Seemed silly, and Verena would probably laugh at her for even listening to Philomena. Angelica flushed. Verena was always a proper lady, and Angelica didn’t want her scorn. On the other hand, to do something Verena hadn’t . . .

She sat on the fallen tree, swinging her legs up to cross them under her skirts. Next, Angelica pulled the bag from her shoulder and took out the apple and the knife she’d borrowed from the kitchen — well wrapped in a towel so she wouldn’t cut herself, of course. The towel went across her lap to catch the peel.

The off smell intensified, and Angelica thought she heard Smoke growl — as if the cat would do that! A branch crashed nearby, and she jerked, startled. Sharp pain in her hand made her flinch, and she looked down and realized she’d cut herself when she jumped.

Ow, ow, ow! She shook her hand, and drops of blood hit apple, dress, and tree. No — Mother would notice blood for certain. She blotted the blood with the towel, then wrapped the towel around her hand, leaving her fingers as free as she could. Her skirt would have to do to catch the peel.

If this didn’t work, Philomena was going to hear about it, for certain.

The apple mostly fit into her hand, even with the wrapping, and she began slowly peeling the fruit, stopping as necessary to turn it in her hand. Philomena hadn’t said the peel had to be a single cutting, but it only made sense, right? If she had to drop it in the pond? Without thinking too much about it, she started whistling again, letting her movements fall into the rhythm of the music, feeling the breeze playing with her hair, just being in the moment.

The end of the peel dropped into her lap. She broke off her song. Some blood had seeped through the towel, and there were blotches on the fruit. She grimaced, but took a bite. A little metallic, but the crisp tartness of the apple was stronger, and she quickly ate it. Now came the true test.

She set the knife on the tree trunk, scooped up the peel, and stood. The middle of the pond looked too far to throw the peel, but the tree went out partway. Carefully, she clambered to stand on top of it. Biting her lip, she walked toward the pond.

This time, there was no mistaking Smoke’s growl for anything else — part mrowl of a housecat, part snap of a wolf, it was clearly the sound of an unhappy animal.

Angelica paused and looked around. Everything looked as it had. She tilted her head to look at the mist cat, only to see Smoke staring back at her, the tip of the cat’s tail lashing the branch she lay on.

“Don’t you dare pounce on me,” Angelica scolded the cat. She returned her attention to the tree in front of her. Yes, she could get close enough, she was certain of it.

Five more steps. Bunch the peel into a ball and heave.

The water shimmered blue just before the peel struck, the clearest magic Angelina had ever seen, light lancing upward, clearing the water, striking her in the eyes. Startled, she lost her balance and toppled backward. As she fell, she thought she saw something the same mottled green-brown as the pond, part insect, part shaggy pelted beast, run along the tree trunk where she had just been.

She hit the water, and her eyes snapped shut in reflex. She opened them almost immediately to see Smoke sitting on the tree trunk as if guarding her. Angelica spit out brackish water and dragged herself upright. Using the trunk to steady herself, she waded back to the bank.

“That could have gone better.” She pushed her hair back and wiped her face. The cut hand was bad enough, but to return to the castle looking like this? She would probably be locked in her room with nothing to do but write essays for her tutor. For a week!

Sighing, she picked up the knife. She could at least return it to the kitchen. “Come on. I’m going to go back to the grass, lie in the sun, and hope it dries my dress.”

And do her best not to wonder what that thing was she had seen — or why Smoke had acted as if she saw it, too. No, much better to think the blood on the apple had messed up the charm, or Philomena had been wrong all along.

Certainly, Angelica wasn’t going to tell the other girl about this attempt, nor anyone else. No future here to be seen at the turning of the year. Far better to think about more concrete things.

She unwrapped the towel to look at her hand once more and almost dropped towel and knife both in surprise. Only a faint line showed where she had cut herself — and if the line shimmered with a faint blue hue, that was just the shadows of the forest. No magic here at all.

— The End —

1,222 words — not exactly flash length, I know!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about Smoke or Drake. I hope you enjoy this little dip back into their world. Yes, clearly, there’s a lot more story here to come. Note that I did add a “Smoke and Drake” tag (you can find it at the bottom of this post) so you can find all the linked stories more readily.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Seeking Blue

Seeking Blue

The chess set had been put away, and Verena had gone off to her afternoon pursuits of embroidery and painting, in true ladylike fashion. Angelica wouldn’t be along until shortly before dinner; she never saw the obvious, thus making her studies take longer than they should.

Drake stretched, fanning his wings to catch more sunlight, then lay upon the roof, wings splayed as if he were an indolent cat rather than a master of the elements. Three were his to call upon: the air he rode, the earth he sheltered in, and the fire he breathed. Only one remained, and this his mind sought out as his eyes drifted closed.

Deep beneath the castle, within the hill, a pool of purest water murmured to him, calling in a song he did not yet know. Earth-song had cradled his egg, hardening his scales and toughening his bones. Later, fire-song crackled from his mother, heat and light dawning to wisdom. Last, wind-song bore up his wings, giving him the world. He didn’t know what gift the water bore, only that he must seek it.

Air shifted, and tremors carried through the stones of the castle — footsteps. Angelica was early today. Time, then, for her lesson, whisper of a gentle breeze. It would take years for her to learn all the songs, but she was young. She had time.

As did he. Time to hear the water, to make it part of himself, to be more than any dragon before him. He would need it for what was to come.

Now, he raised his voice in song.

— The End —

267 words

Yes, clearly, there will be more.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Smoke in the Trees

Smoke in the Trees

Edge of grass and trees, short clear space behind, tall dark ahead. Scent of green and squirrel and a familiar musk, not smelled for seasons. The mist cat pushed into the shadows, following the trail. Brother, here? After so long?

But no — his scent faded. Had touched these shadows, yes, in the underspace, had been so close, hunting the chitters, but gone now. Chitters not gone; chitters spread through trees, hid in spaces only Smoke and other mist cats would see. Even the winged one would not see them unless they came out into the sun.

This was Smoke’s job, one the girl didn’t even know of. Best to keep it so.

Smoke faded into patchy sapling shade, faded out near big rock at center of trees. First chitter there, water clear and cicada-song between the oak branches. The mist cat crouched, haunches tensed, sprang. Teeth closed, bitter black and yellow taste mouth filling as song screeched high into nothingness.

Pain plunged sharp into Smoke’s back, mandible and claw. She spun, fluid cat twist, to sink her teeth into attacker, and two more gouged at her flanks. She slid sideways, shadow to shadow, escape, attack, evade, bite. More of them, always more, until there weren’t.

She held still on thick branch, pads resting on rough bark, tang of tree in her head. Nothing. Chitters gone. Gone, too, all trace of brother, any hope of fading and following him home. Smoke licked fur, washing clean ichor crusting wounds. These had come close.

Back to grass’s edge, fade in, fade out, nip at flowers tickling whiskers. More might come, but girl safe for now. Smoke would stay, keep her safe. When girl had grown, time enough then to find brother, return to family, seek home.

Now, evening shadows. Slip to blankets in cool room. One thought, in grass, next with girl. Now was good.

— The End —

313 words

Better late than never, right? I discovered last week’s cat has a voice of her own. I imagine that means Drake is going to want his say as well. I hope you enjoyed it.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Happy solstice!

Friday flash: Top Five Reasons Dragons Are Better Than Cats

Top Five Reasons Dragons Are Better Than Cats

In her room in the northwest tower, Angelica stood up from her oaken writing desk and crossed to the window. She brushed the vanes of her quill against her cheek and stared out at the gray and green scene, castle and clouds against grass and trees. She was happy, she supposed, that her parents had hired a Tiremish tutor for her; they were supposed to be the best, and Philomena had been positively chartreuse with jealousy. Still, he gave her such inane assignments. What did he mean “Compare and contrast the characteristics of two noble beasts of which she had personal knowledge”?

Below, near the copse of trees that stood to the north, she saw Smoke, her mist cat, fade in and out of shadows, stalking something hidden within — one of her father’s deer, no doubt. That was one difference, right? Dragons didn’t play with their prey. Except . . . there, on the northernmost tower, Drake curled in the sun in front of a chessboard, facing the son of the neighboring barony. Well, at least Drake talked to his potential prey, so he was polite about it!

Drake noticed her watching — his keen sight was a little scary — and nodded an acknowledgment. Definitely polite. Smoke had no idea Angelica was watching her and wouldn’t have cared if she had.

What else? Smoke could travel outside the castle, but she was the guardian spirit of the hill, so she couldn’t go very far. Drake’s wings, in theory, could take him to the corners of the world — except he had given his word to Angelica’s father, which meant he was as trapped as Smoke.

The sun came out from behind the clouds, and gold glinted from beneath Drake. Not his full hoard, of course, just enough to keep him comfortable. Smoke didn’t keep such pretty trophies; Angelica glanced over her shoulder to the corner of her room where the mist cat had left spools of thread stolen from the weavers, broken arrows from the fletchers, and bones that Angelica didn’t want to know any more about.

Drat the tutor, anyway! Angelica couldn’t leave her room until she’d written something, and Drake had promised to teach her wind-song. She crossed back to her desk and glared down at the blank parchment. If only she could think of something to write.

— The End —

386 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.