Cycle 8 - Stories!!

Posted by Kat 07/29/2020 3 Comment(s) Inanna's Game,

Ready, Set, Write!!

 

We are ready for the next batch of Inanna’s Game stories! What have you created with this cycle's inspirations?

 

This cycle’s stories should be utilizing the inspiration that was posted yesterday. Once you have written your tale and corrected it to make it as readable as possible, please post it here as a reply to this post, so that others can read your work. Make sure to put the snippet, character, and scenario numbers that you used in the top part of the post!

 

Two days before the next cycle starts, comments and voting for the best story will be cut off at EOD Central. The following day, a winner will be announced.

 

Each story remains the copyrighted material of the author posting the story. Please give us the title of the story, the identification of the snippets, characters, and scenes that you attempted to use, as well as any comments you think applicable.

3 Comment(s)

Paul C. Middleton:
08/06/2020, 03:59:13 PM, http://Paulcmiddleton.com
Reply

Here we are with the next installment, 2 more chapters for everyone. Snippet 3, Scenario 2, Character 4

Chapter 6 – Guarded Thoughts

Fintan led the Master Hunter, his apprentice, and the female cub back up the hill toward the fortification. Once the conflict had been defused, the kitten had wriggled free and rushed to Rhodri’s side, rubbing herself against his leg with affection. The lord’s guards walked behind them. Along the way back, several stopped to talk to townsfolk.

As they walked, Rhodri found his eyes drawn to the buildings around him. They were both familiar and different from those that he was used to. The walls formed a similar, round-ended rectangular shape. However, these walls were much shorter, despite the young man’s estimate that the people were on average taller than in his hometown.

Some people were wandering the streets, and as he watched, Rhodri began to understand one of the differences. Rather than bending over to enter most of the houses, people walked downward. These residences had to be dug into the ground, although nothing told the young man why people would do that.

Several people greeted the lord politely as they walked, and one or two greeted Aldrig warmly. However, not everyone was so welcoming.

A man spat at the ground near Rhodri, then hurried off at a glare from Fintan. One of the remaining guards hurried to disperse a group of youths, one of whom had a rock in his hand. At the approach of the stern-faced warrior, the boys scattered like a herd of spooked deer.

This act seemed to make some of the townspeople nervous, and those people hurried away for the last, brief, stretch to the gateway in the wall.

Rhodri’s observations of the outer town were cut off by the group’s entry into the fortified area. Those walls were something new to him. They had a different impact up close than they had at a distance. His father had told tales of walled towns in the Highlands and fortified cities near the sea, but Rhodri had not understood their purpose. Now, he did.

This place fit none of the descriptions his father had told Rhodri. It was too small for what his father had described as a city. There could barely have been 4000 people living here as far as he could tell. Nor did it fit the account of a fortified town. Such places had a wall around all the houses, to defend the people, and this did not.

Rhodri found himself looking at the thickness of the stonework of the walls. His father had one of the finest houses in Dalcree, with walls more than a foot thick. These walls had to be at least ten times as thick. The work that had been put into their creation was inconceivable to the young man.

Once they walked through the gate, Rhodri’s jaw dropped open in awe. There was one building in Dalcree with a stone roof – the Merchant Guildhall. Every single building inside the somewhat irregular ring formed by these walls had stone roofs, and some of them were at least as large as that guildhall.

Rhodri looked at the roofs in confusion at first. The merchant guild had insisted on a stone roof to prevent water damage to its records. At least that was what his father had told him. No town this size would need this much space for documents, so there had to be some other reason or danger for them to be built this way.

“Tell me, lad, how do you find my clan’s safehold?” Fintan asked, spreading an arm outstretched and circling it to indicate everything within the walls.

It took a moment for Rhodri to register that he had been asked a question. As he had been taught by his father when dealing with someone he had just met, he thought before answering. “The fortification is beyond what I had pictured from my father’s description of such places. I cannot see how so few people have created such an impressive structure. Your clan should be proud.”

Fintan puffed out his chest in pride at the response. Then he realized the boy had not been introduced. Somewhat more cautiously, he asked, “Who would your father be, lad, and from where do you hail?”
“I apologize, lord. I am Rhodri, second son of Sedhi, Merchant of Dalcree.”

Aldrig interrupted, “That would be Master Merchant Sedhi, Lord Fintan.”

The lord’s son nodded in understanding. “Ahh, now I can understand your response. As a Master Merchant, your father would have seen much and told you of it. Briwanon could not have even half the people of Dalcree. Not only that, but Dalcree belongs to no Clan. That, in some ways, is a great defense, when the Horsepeople are also its allies and defenders.”

“But to answer your question of how the Dun was built, it was the work of decades. First, when the clan was young, the broch was raised. The walls outside it that you see were only finished while I was a lad, and it was my grandfather who started their construction.”

“It is the largest Dun for more than a hundred miles in any direction. No enemy has closed on it since my father became Lord of Clan Briar,” Fintan finished with pride as they approached the broch.

The group continued past a pair of mail-armored guards with swords at their hips. One of them started at the leopard cub with them but made no move to intercept. Aldrig glanced at the warriors, and a troubled expression occupied his face. As they walked up the massive tower, his concerns only grew. Usually, when the lord or his son wanted to talk, they used one of the large guard rooms on the ground floor. Now, they were heading to the tower study.

Before he opened the door, Fintan invited Aldrig to look out one of the windows in the far wall of the broch. There, the Master Hunter could see much that explained why they were meeting in the more secluded location.

The Hunter’s Lodge had been expanded to nearly twice the size that it had been. Dozens of new houses lay down the gentler slope to the rear of the Dun. Clearly, there had been an influx of people since Aldrig was last home. Aldrig grunted as if punched. The expansion of the Lodge made sense now.

The Master Hunter had left near the end of planting. Those houses represented hundreds of new people. To guarantee food supplies for that many additional mouths after planting had been completed would require significant foraging and hunting throughout the year.

There has to be a risk of food shortages, even with the increased number of hunters, Aldrig thought as he headed towards the office door. Fintan opened the door, and Rhodri, not knowing what to do, waited.
“Come in, lad,” Aldrig said, “You need to know what is going on, I imagine.” The older man looked at Fintan, who reluctantly nodded before continuing. “This will have to do with the lodge members who accosted us earlier.”

Rhodri cautiously entered the room, his feline companion shadowing him. Fintan closed the door and gestured to a bench up against the back wall. Aldrig and Rhodri sat while the young lordling drew a stool out to sit closer to them. The kitten jumped up and laid its head on Rhodri’s lap.

Once he was seated, the lord’s son began. “There have been wars between the clans in the North. The sea-people landed and forced the submission of Clan Huec, and then their leader started trying to expand. Though it failed, at least two clans have dissolved. The new people you saw? All of them have some connection to Clan Briar. Father thought it best to keep them here, where we can watch them.”

Aldrig nodded, but Rhodri was confused. Rather than interrupt, he kept listening. His father stopped a story if someone interrupted him, and Rhodri felt the circumstances were similar.

“There were a couple of hunters among these newcomers who wanted to set up a competing lodge. Both of them are now dead in ‘hunting accidents.’ With no-one else experienced enough willing to create one, there was no choice. Rather than nine hunters and their apprentices under Heneg, he now has fifteen hunters and as many apprentices!”

Aldrig sneered in irritation, “I always knew Heneg was a jealous fool, but thirty hunters are too many for a town this large to support for long. The forest animals will be hunted clean before the winter is out. The area will be devastated for years to come.”

“Oh, he is being careful. He always sends hunters out on longer trips, a week or more, and sends pairs back loaded down with meat after at least three days. If they are traveling that far out, it helps.”

“Not as much as more crops would.”

Fintan began, “Yes, but we had good harvests here, and some of those settling here brought enough supplies to feed their families over the winter. The situation is not all grim. When taxes arrive in the spring, things are looking hopeful.

“I will admit these circumstances do put you in a difficult position, with you having a new apprentice. Heneg is sure to attempt to claim Rhodri should come under the Lodge’s authority.”

Aldrig snorted in contempt. There was no legal justification for such an assertion. Heneg was a Huntmaster, someone who organized hunts for the benefit of the village. He knew prey animals and how to hunt them.
Heneg might be able to organize a group to tackle a bear or a pair of wolves, but he did not know predators like a Master Hunter did. By Clan Lord Briar’s decree, he was not allowed to take boar or sow.

Finally, a Huntmaster differed in a final achievement. To reach the status of Master Hunter, one had to succeed in hunting an accused criminal. Either a murderer or bandit had to be hunted down and brought in alive for judgment. Only then would a Hunter be recognized as a Master of the craft, rather than merely a leader of others.

Many Huntmasters had tried and failed that test. Some of the ways they failed were killing their targets, being forced to flee, or needing assistance. In Heneg’s case, he had never attempted to bring in a criminal alone, being too much a coward.

Both the older men focused on Rhodri, and the young man shifted uncomfortably. Remembering that his master could not use a bow, an inspired thought occurred to him. “Perhaps…” His voice trailed off into uncertainty.

“Yes, lad?” Aldrig asked intently. Rhodri had good instincts and was raised by a man very different from the Master Hunter or the Lord’s Heir.

“Perhaps we could use me being taught bowmanship at the Lodge as something to trade. Insist that if the Lodge wants to supervise my progress, they can teach me that skill in exchange for… something.”

Aldrig frowned. He had planned on asking one of the soldiers he was friendly with to teach the boy that skill. Still, the idea had merit. Fintan sat straighter in his chair, somehow relaxing as he did so. A trade… yes, they could ambush Heneg when he came across as demanding to the lord.

“A fair idea, lad. This is something we can work with.” Fintan said, then he sniffed the air, “There will be a feast tonight, and both of you smell like you’ve been on the road for a month. May I suggest a bath and a change of clothes? The barracks have warmed water, and spare tunics and leggings.”

Aldrig started, then nodded sheepishly. All Rhodri could do was agree with the lord’s son. They both smelled of long travels, like when his father did when returning from a trading trip.

Chapter 7 – Welcome Feast

Rhodri felt much better after the bath. The kitten had avoided straying near the water as he washed, and had viewed the new clothes suspiciously. The tunic that replaced his was rougher wool than he was used to. It itched. The leggings were far more comfortable than his had become after twelve days of nearly constant wear.

The apprentice sat in the barracks waiting for Aldrig. As he waited, some of the younger warriors greeted him cheerfully as they went about various duties.

The veterans barely acknowledged his presence. For the few that were in the building while he waited, it was as if he did not exist. They were not dismissive, just busy supervising the juniors. By the time Aldrig was ready to leave, the barracks were almost empty. A single young man remained near the door to the courtyard.

“Time to go, lad.”

Rhodri rose at Aldrig’s voice and followed his master as they left the building, the kitten following behind. The sun was setting, and torches were being lit around the town. They headed towards the broch tower and were casually waved through by the guards at the entryway.

The hall was both familiar and unfamiliar. It was ovoid in shape, rather than the usual rounded rectangle he expected. Like the feast room in the guildhall of Dalcree, it was a spacious open room with many tables, seats, and benches. Warmth filled it physically. However, unlike the events Rhodri’s father had taken him to, there was a chill between several groups clustered inside.

He could feel the tension buzzing on his skin. The only calming aspect was the familiar aromas that wafted through the air from the firepit. Even the braziers smelt slightly different.

One thing greatly impressed Rhodri. In the center of the room were four massive stone pillars surrounding the large firepit. Near the top, they had slabs that formed a rectangle, and most of the smoke went up through it. Aldrig saw the boy’s interest. “None living here today know for sure, but the legend is Dwarves built that for the clan in return for the first lord’s aid. I have been in many brochs, and most have something similar. But this one is special.”

In the guildhall, the table of honor was near the entrance. Here, the Lord and his family sat at the far end from the entryway. There were several dogs present. Two of them were massive warhounds who sat calmly on the raised platform that held the table of honor. Neither moved unless someone approached the platform too closely.

Aldrig had to force several other dogs away as they approached Rhodri and the everpresent kitten. One earned a sharp smack from Rhodri when it tried to accost his companion. By the time they reached their destination, which was a table adjacent to the platform, the cub was snarling and hissing at the dogs in a fashion Rhodri found adorable.

Aldrig made sure that Rhodri found his seat first, then sat near the end of the table. The leopard cub jumped up between them. A small dog started barking at it from one side, and it hissed back. Claws slashed against muzzle from the elevated position, and the little canine ran off whimpering.

Kare and others joined them at the table. Rhodri was quickly introduced to an elderly farmer by the name of Aedan, who declared the day planting began each year. The man had clearly been a warrior in his youth. He was still muscular, and the scars and missing eye attested to his former role.

Another person who joined their table was the Swordmistress. Every town had one, and every person received weapons training from them before they could be declared an adult. She was called Caly and brought with her an apprentice of her own, her daughter Vorana. Rhodri found himself tongue-tied and blushed deeply as he stuttered over his introduction to the pretty redhead lass. Then there was Eynys, the midwife.

As more people joined them, Rhodri was certain any attempt to learn their names would be overwhelming. He began muttering their names quietly to himself several times once the introductions were done.
Later, two journeymen joined Kare. They were cousins from the south, journeymen who had traveled far to learn from the best Beastmaster there was. Their names were Toma and Teodo, and one had already married into the clan. With them came Kare’s oldest son, Bozel. Rhodri remembered this journeyman from the earlier incident as the man who had picked up the cubs and whisked them to safety. The three journeymen were obviously close friends.

There was little room left at the table, and Rhodri had not been introduced to everyone. A soft, female voice was heard from behind him.

“Could you please move slightly left?” a woman asked gently, with a light hand on his shoulder.

Rhodri nearly jumped out of his seat, and his hand was snaking for his dagger at the surprise. Aldrig caught it, then looked across at the lady.

“Hunter Lula, I’ve warned you about surprising people before,” he admonished the newcomer.

“I never try to, Master. But it seems I have the talent for never being seen or heard.”

Aldrig chuckled as Rhodri turned. He found himself facing a very plain young woman. Everything about her was ordinary, and somehow she seemed to blend into the background even while the young man tried to look at her. Still, as he watched her, the lad realized the young woman was quite intriguing.

Her age was impossible to judge from her looks. The woman wore an impish smile as she said, “I am sorry. It seems I startled one eminently skilled for their apprenticeship. Wary, even in a Lord’s hall!”

Aldrig put a stop to the shenanigans by introducing them, “Lula, Child of the Forest, be known to Rhodri, son of Sedhi.”

She grabbed his hand and shook it. “I am glad the old grouch has another apprentice. He has always been disappointed in me.”

Rhodri looked at her, confused, “But Master Aldrig told me it has been some time since he had an apprentice. I cannot believe that you are so old for that much time to have passed between your apprenticeship age and mine.”

“It is impossible to call someone you had so little to teach an apprentice, lad,” Aldrig answered, looking across to Lula and giving the first open grin Rhodri had seen on his face. “When, Lula, are you going to take the Master’s mantle so I can stop traveling as wide, you she-wolf?”

“The next time a woman needs to be tracked and brought in,” Lula replied firmly. “Three times have I tracked down and captured men, and three times they have forced me to kill them on the way to judgment. A woman, now, won’t be as stupid. Then again, few women are stupid enough to murder or become bandits,” she grinned at Aldrig, “so it may be some years yet.”

Aldrig shook his head at her boast. Rhodri was beginning to realize this was an inescapable aspect of his future. Someday he might be in a similar situation to what Lula described. He would end up deciding if he needed to kill a captured criminal for his own safety. The thought made his stomach roil. Seeing others at the table already eating some of the bread, he tore a small, crusty piece off a nearby loaf and chewed it slowly.

It helped some. The lad did not notice the silent communication that passed between his master and Lula. A raised eyebrow from her, a shrug from him. The first asking if Rhodri really had the personality for the job, the second answering that time always answered.

Realizing how jumpy the lad was, Lula made sure to be noticed. She had heard of the Lodge’s actions earlier that day. When the huntress had confronted Heneg about it, she pointed out her Lodge membership stemmed not from fear, but for convenience. The Huntmaster had sneered in response, followed by vague warnings about how often accidents seemed to happen these days.

This had aroused her suspicions about how those convenient hunting accidents had happened. The people killed had been outsiders to her, but perhaps the incident warranted a closer look. She resolved to look for evidence that the accidents might have been something more. Aldrig had been a good teacher and was a good friend. Finding a way to weaken Heneg was the least she would do.

Finally, after what seemed like hours to the younger apprentices in the hall, dishes were brought in by several servants. The smell of warm food filled Rhodri’s senses, and the telling sound of hunger growled up from his stomach. It had been too long between meals, not that he had chosen to miss food today.

Large pots of stew were thunked unceremoniously on the table, followed by thick slices of venison on boards. Following his master’s example, Rhodri used the ladle in the pot to fill the bowl in front of him, before spearing a slice of venison. The apprentice chose one of the smallest ones on the platter and put it on the wooden board next to the bowl.

Aldrig tore a loaf of bread in half and passed the second part to his apprentice. With better manners than most at the table, Rhodri tore pieces of his half-loaf before dipping them into the stew to soak up some of the gravy.

He did not notice Swordmistress Caly looking at him approvingly. Even though he was clearly famished, he maintained a discipline others at the table could learn from. Slowly, as the food he ate warmed him and put something in his stomach, he found himself becoming more comfortable.

Aldrig noticed Caly’s approval, though, and was glad of it. Though not as famed for her skills as Kare, she was one of the few people the wily Master Hunter would fear facing with sword or axe. He believed she did not like him, not since an argument after a tryst more than a decade ago. However, she was still unwed. It was rare for a Swordmistress to do so, and many claimed they were married to the art of weapons.

Rhodri steadily ate through his first bowl of stew, then savored the slice of roast venison. Seeing a hint of regret on his face once he finished, Aldrig nudged him and said, “Go on, lad, have your fill. It is a feast, and we traveled hard.

Rhodri’s face shone at the permission, and quickly served himself more stew. Aldrig also pointed to the mug of watered ale, making sure the lad drank as well. The room was warmer now, with conversations at most of the tables.

There was one isolated table, a chill mountain peak in the pervasive warmth of the room. This was where most of the Lodge members sat huddled together and whispering. The servers did their best to avoid lingering around that table. Instead, they struck up conversations with the occupants of the friendlier groups.

By the time Rhodri was finished, it was late in the evening. It was later than he had been awake for many days. With a full belly, the lad struggled to stay awake. He jerked upright with a shamefaced expression when a thumping sound came from the table of honor.

Silence fell across the hall as the Lord stood. Clearing his throat, he began, “I know it is late, but I would first like to thank the gods Delaninos and Cerrannos for providing us the food for this feast.” Everyone bowed their head at the mention of the deities.

“Also, my thanks to those who prepared us this meal.” A murmur of agreement rustled through the hall.

“Now, before rumor spreads too far, I will tell all here that there will be a judgment on the incident earlier today. Three days hence, all involved must present themselves here, as must any witnesses.”

At that statement, Heneg rose stiffly from his seat, as did many of his hunters and apprentices. With the Huntmaster leading, they left the hall without acknowledging the Lord, as was tradition. The Lord’s face froze as he contained his anger at the show of disrespect. Rhodri was shocked that anyone would leave the room without the Lord’s permission. The warmth from the room seemed to be sucked out with the departing hunters.

His face softening, Lord Briar finished, “All are welcome to stay and enjoy my hospitality, or leave for their beds.” Then he sat down and speared some more venison.

Aldrig yawned and stretched, telling the others at the table, “These old bones need rest. Thank you for your company, and good luck until next we meet.” A rumble of agreement went around the table. Both master and apprentice rose and bowed their heads in respect to the Lord.

Picking up the sleeping kitten, Rhodri sighed softly in relief and followed his master down the path and outside the Dun to Aldrig’s house.

The lad was so tired that he was stumbling and unaware of his surroundings. The journey from the Dun to the inside of Aldrig’s home was a fog. Only when he bumped into the Master Hunter’s back did he realize that they had arrived.

Rhodri only noticed the pile of furs in the corner when Aldrig pointed to them. The lad was asleep nearly as soon as he lay down. Aldrig smiled gently as he rummaged around in a cupboard to find a blanket to lay over his apprentice and the kitten.

None had noticed Lula as she followed Aldrig out of the hall and Dun before heading towards the Lodge.

<<<>>>


I hope you enjoyed this fortnight's dose. If you are looking for my published works, you can find them on Amazon. If you want something similar, I recommend Khazali's Tale. If you want something a bit different, you might enjoy A Mongrel's Curse, or Through the Veil. This serial is not set in the same universe as any of my published pieces.

Mary Sullivan:
08/08/2020, 08:42:55 PM

I love this and my kids do too. I vote for this one.

Anne Borden:
08/08/2020, 08:49:05 PM

I vote for this one. We do not have enough teener male fiction. Thanks for doing it!

Marcus W.:
08/08/2020, 08:56:42 PM

This is a good serial. I look for it each week!

Taki Drake:
08/08/2020, 08:40:44 PM
Reply

Flower Power Weave

By Taki Drake

A Knitastrophe Tale

Inanna’s Game Cycle 9 – Snippet 3, Scene 2, Character 2

Chapter 1 – A Special Request

Tivnenta was working on an intricate lace and cable pattern that she had just finished designing. Working with fine silk and alpaca yarn, the retired Drakon Corps Witch Agent was painstakingly counting out her chart. “… Yarn over, knit two, yarn over,…” she was saying when the intent knitter was interrupted by the younger of her two assistants. Bethany came charging into the room, calling out, “Tivnenta, we have a special request, and I know that we’ve already reached our maximum for the week. However, I think you’re going to want to make something for this customer.”

Carefully putting her partially completed sample down, the silver-streaked green Dragon asked eagerly, “I admit that I could probably fit in another special project, but what has you so excited?” Tivnenta dearly loved the special projects because those were the ones that she could put more artistry in and even weave some of her magic within the fibers.

Bethany started to explain but paused as Dorcas walked in. The second of Tivnenta’s assistants, the older woman was Bethany’s aunt. She was smiling, and her eyes were twinkling with good nature as she moved to join the other two. Dorcas explained, “I heard the excited note in Bethany’s voice, so I decided to join you and find out what was happening.”

For a moment, Tivnenta looked concerned, asking, “Is everything under control on the orders and the shipping? I haven’t heard of any problem.”

Both women shook their heads, before Dorcas continued, saying, “All the shipping for today went out on time. We even have all the orders boxed up and ready to go for tomorrow. Things are going pretty smoothly on that end.” The efficient woman ran the entire fulfillment side of the Etsy business that Tivnenta had started. From packing through accounting, Dorcas ran a tight ship.

Bethany had responsibility for the order side of the business. The younger woman was very good at organization and also like to talk to customers. By giving her the oversight of the incoming activity, the Dragon felt that she had assigned the right people to the various roles.

“Then, business is good, and we can pay attention to things that may be out of the ordinary. We would not want to get bored now, would we?” commented Tivnenta. The three women shared a laugh, remembering what had happened the last time that Tivnenta had gotten bored. The Dragon had been tired and feeling useless after her retirement. When she complained to her two friends, they had encouraged her to learn a handicraft.

On a whim, Dorcas had suggested knitting as a suitable hobby. Tivnenta had fallen in love with the whole process of creating beautiful items with twisted and intertwined yarn to the point that her cavern rooms started to fill with the piles of her knitting. Rather than stopping knitting, the Dragon had decided to sell her handicrafts on Etsy.

From the first sale, the business had been an overwhelming success. The hustle and bustle of dealing with customers, producing the knitting, and shipping it out kept all three women busy and happy.

From the beginning, Tivnenta had reserved a small amount of time every week to working on custom projects. These were in response to individual needs or modifications to something that she had already knit. Bethany had a constant struggle between accepting enough of the custom projects to keep Tivnenta’s boredom at bay without taking too much of the Dragon knitter’s time away from the regular product production.

It was very seldom that Bethany suggested that they go over their weekly allotment, so Dorcas and Tivnenta both knew that something extraordinary had to be in the customer’s request. Anxious to hear what it was, the Dragon demanded, “Okay, spill it! What is the request, and why do you think we should take it?”

Bethany excitedly explained, saying, “The customer is Melanie, the sister of a woman whose family has been plagued by health issues. The woman, Suzanne, and her husband, Darrell, have one child, a son that is about ten years old. They tried for a long time to have a second child, but it wasn’t working until all of a sudden, she became pregnant.

“Apparently, sometime a year or so after her son was born, Suzanne told her sister that she really regretted that she could not get cute baby things for her son because of the sensitivity and allergies that affect the whole family. So, Melanie wanted to know if you could make a blanket and sweater set for a little girl out of yarn that wouldn’t cause them severe allergic reactions.”

Looking thoughtful, Tivnenta asked, “What are their allergies, or better yet, what do we have to avoid?”

Chewing her lower lip a little bit in concern, Bethany offered, “They cannot deal with silk, wool, or anything that is made with a petroleum base. I am not sure what that leaves us, but I just feel for the pregnant woman wanting to celebrate the upcoming birth of her baby girl and not being able to have the experience of the adorable little outfits!” By the time Bethany finished talking, tears were starting to leak down her face.

So affected was the younger woman that both Tivnenta and Dorcas were trying to comfort her. While Dorcas held her niece against her shoulder and patted her back, Tivnenta organized what she regarded as a mission. Feeling that she was in back in the Drakon Corps in a way, the Dragon said briskly, “Let us start with some fast Internet research until we locate the place that we can get the yarn that will fit that profile. I do not want to use bamboo by itself because it will tend to stretch out when it is washed too many times, and I understand you are constantly washing babies’ clothes and blankets. So let us find some alternatives, and then we can see the best way for me to get there to obtain the yarn.”

Both startled and amazed with Tivnenta’s response, Bethany stopped crying. She and her aunt turned to stare at Tivnenta.

Embarrassed at their focused stares, the green female Dragon felt a wave of heat run over her and knew that if she were in human form, she would be blushing. Irritated because she could not seem to control that type of response, Tivnenta groused, “It is a very logical thing that I am talking about. Why are you both staring at me?!”

Dorcas was the first one to snap her mouth closed and start to answer, saying, “This is the first time you have ever offered to go traveling. And I admit, I have never seen a forty-foot Dragon on any plane that I have ridden.”

Restored to good humor, Tivnenta laughed musically, reminding Dorcas of a harp piece she had heard played just last month at the local orchestra’s program. The woman could not help but smile at the mirth that filled the Dragon’s laughter, as she waited for the explanation.

“Remember, my friend that for many years I was in the Drakon Corps working as part of their stealth and covert activity section. I have many disguises, including some shifted shapes that allow me to pass as a human. I should have no problem with this.”

As Dorcas got up to begin her part of the research, she muttered under her breath, “Famous last words! You really should take one of us with you.”

Tivnenta’s enhanced hearing picked up the low-toned comment, but the Dragon just smiled, thinking to herself, It is just a simple shopping trip. A quick visit to buy what I need and a flight back. It is not too complicated, and I should be fine going by myself. It will just be a little adventure, and I will be back quickly.

Chapter 2 – Hunting Trip

“… All we are is dust in the wind,” saying Tivnenta as the wind blew through her hair and bathed her skin with a combination of exhilaration and the warmth of a perfect sunny day. The Dragon had forgotten how much fun she could have in disguise. Now that she remembered, Tivnenta was determined to enjoy her rare outing.

It had been a bit of a rushed twenty-four hours since Bethany had brought the unusual request to Tivnenta’s attention. With all three of them doing research, it did not take Tivnenta and her two assistants very long to eliminate many of the yarns that the Dragon knew about or considered. The few candidates that seem to fit the requirements were all plant-based and avoided many of the family’s known allergies.

The decision had finally come down to the speed of acquisition and the range of colors that were available in the yarn. After all, the addition of the chemical compounds of dye did not seem to be smart, considering how sensitive the family was to irritants.

The winner was something called Bloomsterish Yarn, supposedly made out of flowers mixed with cotton. The only mill that produced it was several hours away by plane, so Tivnenta found herself on an early morning flight wearing the form of an elegant woman in her forties with a no-nonsense face and a slender but sturdy body.

I remember why I like this form, she thought to herself. Not only is it easy to get in and out of places, but I love long hair! Something about the silkiness of it feels good. When the wind blows through it, and it flutters up and tugs against my head, it is like little sparks of energy zooming from my head to my toes.

Continuing to sing and enjoy the scenery and the feeling of air moving around her, Tivnenta soon saw the sign informing her that the next two exits would take her to Bloomster. This picturesque little town was her target destination.

The Dragon noticed as she drove to the outskirts that the town supposedly had approximately six thousand residents. Although it did not appear to be that dense of a population area, Tivnenta was not familiar with the shape of the city limits and was instead busy being impressed by how perfect the entire town seemed to be.

Neatly trimmed yards and ultraclean streets and sidewalks lent a wholesome layer of respectability, while the infrastructure seemed straightforward and easy to access. Tivnenta thoroughly approved of the logical layout of the roads and buildings. All too often, she had been on missions where the danger was highly increased by unexpected dividends and one-way streets.

As she pulled into the main downtown area, Tivnenta was reminded that she had not eaten that day. Caught in the hurry of an early morning flight and the nervous anticipation of what she would find at her destination, the Dragon had skipped her meals. When the flight attendant had tried to feed her a continental breakfast, she had politely thanked the man but refused to put something that smelled that bad in her mouth.

Spying a restaurant called the Yarn Over Café made Tivnenta smile. The owner must be an avid nature, she thought to herself. That seems as good as any place to stop and get something to eat. I am certainly not going to go any longer without putting something in my stomach.

Luckily, the press of traffic in this small town was much easier to navigate, and the parking spaces were more extensive than usual since one of the town’s most significant income sources was from tourism. Happily pulling into an angled parking space that was only a hundred feet from the entry to the café, Tivnenta grabbed her purse and straightened her brightly colored cowled top as she headed for food.

She had taken very many steps when she realized that the instinct that had kept her safe across all of her covert activities was screaming a warning at her. A frisson of danger was pressing on her, chilling her skin and sending flashes of almost painful intensity into her core.

Slowing down to inspect the contents of a display window filled with garments and shoes, Tivnenta unobtrusively used the reflection to check behind her while appearing to be enthralled by the merchandise displayed. Unable to see a physical sign of danger, the former covert operative mentally shrugged her shoulders and would have chalked it up to jet lag if two small groups of people had not crossed her path in the next fifteen feet.

The first warning flags that she picked up was from the fear and worry that the three women walking silently together seem to radiate out of every pore on their bodies. Tivnenta had to take a deep, calming breath before she could continue because the depth and the intensity of their emotions felt like a sledgehammer slamming into her unsuspecting sternum.

When Tivnenta glanced at them out of the corner of her eye at the exact moment that they were passing her, going in the opposite direction, she saw the plastered on smiles as well as noticing the white-knuckled grip on their purses and packages.

What on earth? Tivnenta thought to herself. Before she could process any more about the encounter, four men walked quickly around her, going in the same direction as she. The Dragon could not remember the last time anyone was able to walk up close to her without her knowledge. Her survival sense was well developed, and her hearing was extraordinary. How had these men managed to do that? she wondered.

Sliding her Magical Sight over her eyes, Tivnenta was so startled that she almost stumbled and fell. Those men were light gray blanks, their auras totally washed out. Yet their physical forms were still alive and moving. Dumbfounded but knowing that she had to keep up her own disguise, the Dragon Witch reached for the door of the café.

Another customer was coming out of the restaurant at the same time that Tivnenta wanted to go in, and he politely held the door for her. When her site touched his aura, she felt fear and worry almost identical to the three women she had passed earlier. I need to really be on my guard, she thought to herself. Something is very wrong here, and I do not know what it is. I am not even sure that I should be investigating it.

Moving almost on autopilot, Tivnenta was not prepared for the intense aroma of well-cooked food filled her senses. Immediately her mouth started watering, and the intensity of her hunger caused her stomach to growl audibly. Some of the people the surrounding table laughed, with one older man calling out, “That is exactly how I feel when I walk in your, young lady.”

The Dragon was pleased with the friendly interaction and gave him a brilliant smile. It was her turn to be amused when his cheeks reddened an embarrassment, and the two other old men at his table started to tease him.

Tivnenta saw a sign that told customers to seek themselves, and she headed for an empty table that commanded a good view of the sidewalks and roads through the downtown. Settling on a rather comfortable chair, she perused the placard of specials and even opened the menu. Oh my God, she thought, I could come here every night for months and never have to repeat a meal. This is a fantastic menu for such a small town!

Just as Tivnenta came to a decision as to what she wanted to order, a cheerful waitress came bouncing over and greeted her. Obviously experienced, the young woman quickly took the hungry visitor’s order and headed off toward the kitchen. Returning in just a few moments, the waitress brought a basket of warm bread and a large glass of iced tea to stave off hunger pangs until Tivnenta’s main order was done.

After watching the traffic on the street and sidewalks for a few minutes, the retired Drakon Corps agent felt that sharp scratching of her danger sense the told her that someone was watching her. Determined to not show the observer that she was aware of him or her, Tivnenta made a very obvious scan of the room.

Smiling at the things that she liked and looking a bit pained at others, the Dragon was attempting to appear less skilled and more transparent than she was. Hopefully, that would make whoever was watching underestimate her.

It was while she was scanning the room that she realized that the broad open room was filled with tables and chairs, as well as a few booths with built-in tabletops and benches. Although crowded, the cafés still had a sort of no man’s land that was clear of most occupants. She and two others were the only customers seated at those tables.

The bright sunlight filled the room with illumination and warmth, but there was almost a psychic chill in the room. Tivnenta could feel the tension buzzing on her skin like biting wisps of energy. It took everything she had not to get up and leave, so great was the irritation and sense of impending doom.

The Dragon inhaled deeply and let the familiar aromas of the food Homer and soothe her sense of panic and fear. Forcing herself to relax her shoulders, Tivnenta pushed back a little bit from the table and stretched her long Jean covered legs out in front of her as she continued her public inspection of the restaurant. Under cover of her bold movements, the retired agent was cataloging everything she saw and assembling the puzzle pieces of this mystery.

The first thing that struck Tivnenta was that the men and women on one side of the restaurant obviously worked with her hands. Dressed in typical garments for carpenters, plumbers, and the like, they were shooting an occasional angry glance at the group on the other side of the empty divide, before muttering to each other in low-toned voices.

Tivnenta looked from person to person, wondering what had caused this animosity and the singing, screeching tension in the room. About halfway through her individual consideration of the players on one side of whatever game was going on, the Dragon was startled to see the biggest man looking straight back at her.

At first, Tivnenta was just stunned, but then she realized that the man had a faint cocky grin on his face and was inflating his chest. Oh, dear, now are going to have more mating rituals, she thought to herself. Perhaps if I look away from him, he will not make the pain out of himself.

Quickly turning her eyes toward the other side of the restaurant, Tivnenta saw that the majority of the people seated over there were obviously white-collar professionals. Dressed in designer clothes or suits, they were also shooting angry looks across at the other group. Instead of just angry-looking, though, these people had looks of contempt on their faces as if their enemy was below their notice.

Glancing from person to person, Tivnenta found herself trying to understand what could have engendered such a chasm in what otherwise was a charming town. She was almost at the end of her examination when she met a pair of deep green eyes and felt the resounding shock deep into her core. Holding onto her composure with claws sunk deeply, the Dragon realized that the man was none other than Solomon, the mysterious sorcerer that she had encountered before.

He must be here on an assignment, she thought to herself. I do not want to break his cover, so I am not going to react to him even though he was smirking at me. What a doofus to do something so obvious out on assignment!

Just then, the cheerful young waitress came bustling back to Tivnenta’s table and laid out her order in front of the visitor. Promising to check back with her in a few minutes in case she wanted anything else, the young woman immediately sprinted back to the kitchen to bring out another order.

Smiling in response to the waitress and her enthusiasm, Tivnenta looked down at her meal and was very impressed. Every hunger pang she had felt was back and redoubled, so the woman began to eat, focusing on the sensations of the food and putting any other consideration out until later.

Every bite was delicious, and the aromas increased her enjoyment with their rich earthy aspects. Tivnenta was lost in feasting, immersed in the sensorium of taste and smell. Stretching out her senses, she opened the filter that held much of the world at bay so that she could better appreciate the flavors in her mouth and the scents that were inundating her sense of smell.

Her stomach replete and her hunger banished, Tivnenta had just swallowed a gulp of the cold iced tea when a frightened mental voice invaded her mind through the opening she had made in order to appreciate her meal. Weary and pained, the sound was soft at first. When Tivnenta did not push it away, it gained in strength and volume so that the Dragon could hear the desperation and fear that filled it.

Holding her glass tightly, Tivnenta heard, << Help me! Please, help me. I am being held hostage in their forcing me to do something wrong. If I do not, they are hurting my people. >>

Cold sweat broke out on Tivnenta’s skin, and she had to place the glass down on the table so that it was not crushed in her grasp. Taking a deep breath through her nose, the Dragon thought first to herself, I had to go and tell myself that this was going to be simple to do. I did not want to pay attention to the fact that things always get complicated. Now what way do? I have no support and no contacts in this area, so how am I supposed to do anything?

Her moment of self-doubt and resentment was short-lived as Tivnenta answered calmly, << of course, I will help you. I will need to get Sue someplace quiet so that we can talk more. But yes, I will help you. >>

Dennis:
08/08/2020, 08:47:59 PM

I loved this story. I desperately want to know what happens next!

Jonathan V:
08/08/2020, 08:50:38 PM

Good story, very empathetic characters. Write more!

David D:
08/08/2020, 08:58:29 PM

I vote for this one.

Vic McConnel:
08/08/2020, 08:59:47 PM

This is good, fun and family friendly. I vote for this one.

Matthew McCallister:
08/08/2020, 09:01:20 PM

Nice! you have my vote.

Kris Endicott:
08/09/2020, 05:16:25 PM, http://krisendicott.com
Reply

I spent most of the week writing a western for the next Story Hour. I didn’t start this story until this morning. If you’d like to hear how I got from the prompts to this idea, check out the podcast on my website. I did have to change slightly from the story I brainstormed in order to finish something today.

I hope you enjoy!

Character 2, Scenario 2, Snippet 2



How to Destroy a Magical World in One Easy Lesson

By Kris Endicott

The grass on the town square was perfectly trimmed. Far from the tables set up near Main Street, the sweet summery scent of fresh-cut grass could be enjoyed. Alvira cut the lawns in the park with magical precision. Her spell ensured that no one’s shoes or pants bottoms turned green from contact with the fescue blades.

Walking across the large square in the middle of downtown, the aroma of baking filled the air. Sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon all wafted through the air in what should have been a comforting wave. For most people, those enchanting smell would have caused delighted anticipation.

But in Witch Hollow, those scents were anything but comforting and delightful. Sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon were the signature smells of a massive power battle. One that had its origins in a fierce war for supremacy that was waged every ten years for almost a Millenium. The victor would be crowned the leader of the powerful Witches’ Council.

About three hundred years ago, it was decided the community was losing too many of its most experienced practitioners in these grueling, to-the-death battles. A replacement method of determining the supreme witch was found. The name for this battle royale was the Great Bakeoff.

Alvira dragged her feet as she walked across the great lawn. She could feel the tension buzzing on her skin. As she drew closer to the area set up for the contest, the buzzing increased until it felt like being attacked by a swarm of bees.

The only bright spot in an otherwise ridiculous day were the tables, benches, and seats placed around the baked goods displays with an eye for festive drama. That would be her best friend Satrina’s doing.

Halfway to the battle site, Alvira was surprised to notice that although she kept walking, she was not getting any closer. The ground still passed under her feet, but she was on the magical equivalent of a treadmill.

Thankful for the friendly effort, the despondent witch knew the gesture was more symbolic than actually helpful. She stopped and said, “Thanks, Hollow.” For that was what the residents always called the town. “But I think I need to get there even if I don’t want to.”

When Alvira began walking this time, she covered the distance to the table quickly.

“Oh, there you are!” exclaimed Honey Duworth. Her sweet voice as artificial as saccharine and as deadly as snake venom. Her parents had named her after a baking ingredient in the hopes that it would help her climb to the top of the hierarchy one day. Too bad they hadn’t thought to help Honey be a better human being.

Suppressing the desire to flee screaming like a madwoman, Alvira instead put a polite smile on her face. As the outgoing council chair, it was her duty to decide who won this contest.

Honey stopped and leaned in, with a confident conspiratorial whisper, she said, “There’s been a mistake. My display is off to the side away from the main traffic.”

“The Rules Committee decided participant locations. Nothing I can do about that,” Alvira said, glad that this was one argument she didn’t have to have. “You’ll have to take it up with them.”

Upset with what was obvious to her as not the correct answer, Honey wrinkled up her nose and looked as if Alvira had just smeared dog poop on the woman’s favorite designer handbag. Without another word, Honey pivoted smartly and stalked off. Alvira assumed it was to find a member of said Rules Committee. “Better them than me,” she mumbled.

Exasperated with the politics of transitioning out of her role, Alvira would have considered such a childish act if there had been a steaming pile nearby. A sudden foul, earthy stench drifted up. She looked down and tried to stop a hysterical giggle from escaping. “I know you don’t like her any more than I do, Hollow. But I can’t do that.”

The pile of dog poop disappeared. A second later, a horrendous screech assaulted everyone’s eardrums. Honey jumped up and down holding one foot in front of her and continued shrieking. One of her cronies tried to calm her, but Honey only became more melodramatic.

There was sudden stunned silence when one of Honey’s flailing arms swept the display of her nearest competitor onto the ground. Slices of cake bounced on the ground while dishes and crystal pedestals shattered, leaving a minefield for someone’s bare feet later in the day.

In a temper fueled by the atrocity of destruction that destroyed her chances for the council chairmanship this decade, Honey’s competitor returned the favor. The cut-glass opaque domes hiding Honey’s secret entry flew to the cement and exploded in a rainbow of lethal shards. Honey’s yellow frosted cakes were quickly trampled underfoot as the two combatants took their rage out on each other.

Alvira let out a sigh of relief. Even though battle wands had just been drawn, her day was on the upswing. “Well, Hollow. At least I don’t have to pick Honey as my replacement.” Her own battle wand materialized in her hand. Alvira went once more into the fray.

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