Category: Other Worlds

Varyk stepped over to one side, his smaller stature made it harder to find him in a crowd. He smiled as he noticed that Dagny was also at the retreat. “Hi, Wingnut. Think if we lose these packets they’ll let us skip out on the workshops?”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, Freckles,” she said.

“You know,” Henry said as he edged over to the side where the dwarves had settled. “I just noticed that there are seven dwarves.”

“Snow White you are not, Big Guy,” Varyk said to the older man.

“I am,” Conrad said. He handed everyone in the group their packets.

“I didn’t say that,” Varyk said, his cheeks flushing as he realized that his words could have been insulting, especially given that Conrad was an albino. “I just meant… personality… Snow White is sweet and innocent and the Big Guy here is neither of those things.”

“Of course,” Conrad said, his tone slightly sarcastic.

Varyk ducked his head and chuckled. “Yeah. Seven dwarves.” His eyes went round as he realized something. “Not Dopey,” he snapped at nearly the same time as the other six dwarves. A couple pointed over at Victor, who had been just a beat behind the others.

“I’m always Dopey,” he said.

“Yes you are, but we forgive you,” Conrad said with a smile.

“As long as you aren’t Gus, he gets killed,” one of the other dwarves said. “I’m Otto Bergmann, by the way. I’m an office assistant. I don’t know why they decided I needed stress management.”

“Greta Rothstein, personnel office,” a pretty dark-haired lady said with a smile. “I suppose that’s a bit stressful.”

Going around the circle to the left, the dwarf that Varyk had already greeted said, “I’m Dagny Goebel. I’m in Forensics with Leuthar Vogel.” She nodded toward a dwarf standing beside her. “Back to the topic at hand, Gus dies nobly, protecting Snow White.”

“He was the eighth dwarf,” Varyk pointed out. He smiled. “Varyk Tiefen, technical analyst.”

“You’re the one who’s actually an agent… so cool! And again, back to the topic, that’s what happens when you get one too many. Remember, the same thing happened to the sneaky one in that television show,” Leuthar said. “I know Dagny and Greta because she works in personnel and now I know the rest of you… except,” he pointed at the last dwarf and smiled.

“Barnabas Ehrlich,” he said. He looked around, frowning.

“We have a Barnaby,” Varyk said. He glanced at the other dwarves and grinned. “Remember that one?”

“It’s the only one where the dwarves have names and not strange designations,” Dagny said. “They all begin with the letter ‘B.’ I thought it was clever.”

Barnabas frowned and looked around. “I thought Anna would be here.”

Victor frowned and shook his head. “She e-mailed me and said that something had come up with her apartment.”

Varyk frowned. Anna would have been their eighth dwarf. He shook his head. There wasn’t really a curse on an eighth dwarf. That was just silly. He focused on the conversation that was still going around him

“You know in Mister Maggoo, they have real names, starting from the letter ‘A’ and going on through ‘G.’ It’s terribly corny though,” Otto said.

“It’s Mister Maggoo, you can’t watch it expecting good theater,” Varyk said.

“Do you all know every incarnation of Snow White?” Henry said. He sounded torn between shocked and frustrated.

“Self defense,” Varyk said. “Big Guy, that and the series of books by Tolkien are the first things that spring to mind when people see dwarves. We need to know the references people are making.”

“So we can figure out if we need to be offended or amused when they’re made,” Victor agreed.

The Cat from the Briny Deeps

Sailors and longshoremen alike love a tall tale. Whether the stories are of the enormous fish that got away or the storm that wrecked their last ship, taking all hands save them, tales are made to be swapped. One such story is the the tale of the Cat from the Briny Deeps. The Cat is a hideous creature. It’s fur is matted and tangled with seaweed and bits of flotsam. It’s eyes glow, as any cat’s will in the moonlit dark of night. Sailors say that if you are good to cats – feed them, house them, care for them – you have nothing to fear. However, beware the Cat from the Briny Deeps if you should harm an feline; especially if you harm a cat with water, for that is the Cat’s element.

Amos hated cats. If he’d been asked, he could never have said why. All he’d say was that they were horrid creatures. They couldn’t be trained. They shed everywhere. They smelled. He’d give all these reasons and more but none of them really truly fit.

Thus, the last person who should have found the bag of kittens was Amos. He was exiting the creek-side bar and heading toward his boat when he heard a soft cry. Where many people would have taken the kittens to a pet store or vet; others might have kept the kittens or given them to cat-loving friends. Amos scooped up the mewling bag, tied it tightly shut and hurled it into the creek.

He huffed out a breath and directed a kick at a kitten that had escaped the bag before he found it. The baby cat scurried under a dumpster and hid until he’d disappeared. She listened the cries of her brothers and sisters as they faded away and the bag disappeared beneath the water.

Amos stomped down the dock and stepped over on to his boat. He’d sleep on the boat tonight. The water was cooler than his house on a summer night. He undressed and got ready to climb into bed. He was almost asleep when he heard a loud splash, as if something had fallen in the water.

He peered out the porthole and, seeing a small pool of water on the dock and nothing else, he shrugged and laid back down. He flipped the radio on and laid there listening to the music. He was starting to drift off when he realized that there was a sound that was rhythmic but contrary to the beat of the music.

Amos jerked awake. He flipped off the radio and a soft sound like sopping wet footsteps reached his ears. It sounded like something was on his boat. He stood and climbed up onto the deck. There was nothing there, but the deck was wet. He looked around the boat. He looked toward the front of the boat. He even looked over the edge. He was alone.

Shaking his head, Amos headed back down to the cabin. He laid back down, listening to the water gently slapping on the side of the boat. He was nearly asleep when he felt something join him on the bed. He tried to rouse himself but he was too relaxed. He felt the intruder’s hands on his chest. Now, he finally woke.

At first he didn’t know what he was seeing. Then he realized that he was gazing into the glowing eyes of a cat. There was a soft low growl and then Amos screamed.

In the morning, Frank, whose boat was next to Amos’s arrived. He was planning to head out with his family for a picnic on the islands. He saw that the door to Amos’s boat’s cabin was open and, frowning, climbed on board. He crept down to the cabin and looked around. There was nothing and no one in the cabin. However, everything was covered in cat hair. As for Amos, he was never seen or heard from again.

Timothy was quiet and reserved. He preferred playing his violin to playing sports. He had excellent grades English and history but squeaked by in math and science. He was tiny and almost frail looking.

He was the exact opposite of the new boy on the baseball team his father coached. Eric was tall for his age and a consummate athlete. He was bold, even while he was well mannered. He didn’t seem to care if what he said was wrong or might offend someone. He stated his opinions respectfully and without fear of reproach. He did well in all his classes at school.

“Tim, go collect the balls,” his father said. The other boys continued batting practice while Timothy headed out into the field. He could hear the resigned tone in the man’s voice. He’d disappointed him, as usual.

“Good job, Eric,” rang out over the field. This time his father’s tone was different. He was proud. It was a tone that Timothy knew he would never hear from the man directed at him.

“I hate him,” Timothy said softly as he began collecting the balls that the other players had hit out into the field.

He took his time. There was no point in hurrying. He couldn’t hit. He couldn’t catch. No matter how much he practiced or how hard he tried, he would never be any good at baseball.

There would always be more balls to collect. The other boys would see to that. They could hit. Some even hit the ball over the back fence. Timothy sighed as he moved far enough away that he could hardly be seen. He settled on the grass and watched the practice. He couldn’t hear his father now, nor the other boys. It was as if he was alone.

He closed his eyes and began practice the fingering to Pachelbel’s Canon. The piece was fun to play and pretty. He could hear the song in his head as he fingered his glove like it was his violin. His stance was a little awkward, of course, but he didn’t care. He looked up after some time had passed and realized that his father had gathered the boys over to the mound to give his end-of-practice talk.

Sighing, Timothy finished collecting the ball and headed back toward the in field. He returned to the mound at the end of practice. Other parents had arrived to collect their sons. Eric was helping put away the bats and gloves.

A burly man shouted over, “Eric, get a wiggle on. We have to go pick up your sisters from ballet.”

“Coming, Dad,” the boy called back.

Timothy sighed. It would figure the boy would have sisters too. He was lucky to have siblings. He was lucky to have such skill at sports. He was lucky to be so smart that all the classes in school came easy to him. Timothy was never lucky – ever.

“Tim, what kept you?” his father said, waving him over. “I told you to collect the balls, not lolly-gag out in the field for the entirety of practice. You didn’t get your turn at bat.”

“It’s okay,” Timothy said softly. He followed his father to the car.

“Your uncle is being deployed so your cousin will be staying with us for a while,” his dad said softly.

Timothy looked up, grinning suddenly. “Felix? He’s gonna stay with us?”

“You’ll have to share your room, so when we get home, clear off that upper bunk of your bed,” the older man said as he started the car.

“Alright,” Timothy agreed. Felix staying with him was almost like having a brother. They had a lot in common. Felix loved listening to him play the violin. It was the one reason that even though his father didn’t care he continued to practice.

Felix wasn’t perfect. He liked to have his way in things and cheated at every board game but that didn’t matter. Timothy always looked forward to seeing Felix.

Later that night he was chatting with his cousin about what had been happening at school and on the baseball team. “Eric is so perfect,” he said. “Dad loves him. He’s always so proud. He’s never proud of me. All he does is yell at me.”

“He wants you to do better,” Felix said softly. “He knows you can do better if you try.” He leaned back on the bed and rolled his eyes. “Tim, don’t glare at me. I’m not picking sides. It’s something my dad always tells me. ‘I’m not angry. I’m disappointed because you can do better. I want you to live up to your full potential.’ I think all dads are like that… well good dads anyway.”

Timothy sighed and nodded. “I hate baseball. I’m no good at it and it’s… no fun for me.”

“Maybe because you think you’re no good at it,” Felix pointed out. “When I first started learning how to play guitar I was excited because then I’d be able to make music, just like you do with your violin. I pictured being able to play duets and… all kinds of stuff. Then, when I couldn’t do it right away, I told my dad I wanted to quit lessons. I hated guitar. But he made me stay at it and… after a while I learned to play better and better. I’m not up to the point where you are with your violin. But I like playing guitar now because I know I can do it.”

Timothy chuckled. He could well imagine his cousin railing at his uncle about how unfair it was that he had to keep going to guitar lessons even though he was no good at it. “I suppose I shouldn’t hate Eric then. It isn’t his fault he’s perfect.”

“He’s not perfect, Tim. He has to have some faults. Everyone does,” Felix said. “Maybe he’s got OCD or something and everything has to be just so. You might not be able to see it, but he’s got a flaw.”

“Mine are just so much more obvious,” Timothy murmured. He lay back on the bed beside his cousin staring up at the poster he’d gotten from the planetarium.

“That’s because you dwell on them. You gotta play to your strengths more and focus less on what you can’t do.” Felix stood up and grabbed Timothy’s journal off his desk. “Look at this thing. You can write and draw and you play violin so well and you can sing. You can remember all those dates that the teachers want us to know for school, but more than that, you know what’s important about those things globally. Those are pretty good skills.”

“I guess,” Timothy said softly.

“I know,” Felix said, tossing him the journal. “FAWM just finished, show me your songs.”

Chuckling softly, Timothy opened his journal and turned it toward the beginning of February. The next hour and a half, until dinner, was spent in music.

“Eric, what do you call this?” the older man shouted through the house.

Eric tensed and peered out of his room. “Dad?” he said softly. He padded down the hallway toward the living room when his name was repeated.

His father was looking over the photographs on the wall. They showed a perfect family. His sisters at dance recitals. Him on various sports teams. His father with a hand on each of the oldest children’s shoulders while little Bella stood between them. Happy grins plastered on their faces. His father wasn’t talking about the pictures though.

“I though you said you did you chores today,” he growled. “Why is there a layer of dust on the edge of all these frames?”

“I… didn’t get a chance to dust them before… before it was time for baseball practice and then… then I had to get to work on my school assignments. I’m sorry. I’ll do it now.” Eric spun toward the kitchen. In moments he’d caught up a Swiffer cloth and headed back to the living room. Then he saw stars as his father backhanded him into the wall.

“No more lying, Eric. When I ask you if you’ve finished all your chores I want an honest answer,” his father snapped.

“Yes, sir,” Eric said. He stood and began dusting the frames with a murmured, “Sorry, sir.”

“I expect all the furnishings in the house to be dusted before bedtime tonight,” his father added before he stalked off to his study.

Eric sighed and continued dusting all the pictures on the walls. Then he moved on to the knick-knacks that decorated the shelves and tables. Lastly he dusted the shelves and table themselves. By the time he was finished it was nearly ten o’clock and he still hadn’t finished his homework.

Heaving a sigh, he returned to his room and sat at his desk. Nothing he did was ever good enough for his father. He needed to be absolutely perfect. His thoughts returned to baseball practice. Timothy was the coach’s son but instead of making the boy play a game that he obviously didn’t care for, the coach had let him wander out in the field picking up balls.

Timothy wasn’t very good at math or science, he sometimes received grades that would get Eric a beating and just shrugged them off. He excelled in history and writing; in art and music. But, strangely to Eric, his father didn’t seem to mind that these were the only areas he excelled in. Timothy wasn’t always happy to be shown lacking in these areas but when his father picked him up from school on report card days he’d point out all the good grades and praise them. He’d point out the lower grades and say things like, “You can do better than that. I know you can.”

The tone wasn’t one of anger. He seemed genuinely proud and appeared to want his son to do better. Eric was jealous if he let himself admit it. His father wouldn’t tolerate anyone on a team he coached wandering around collecting balls for the entire practice. He wouldn’t tolerate how poorly Timothy played ball either though. If their positions were reverse such things would get Eric locked in the basement until he learned focus. Eric sighed, wondering if the smaller boy had any idea how lucky he was.

Affable drunks

Merlian grinned at his drinking companion two hours later. Tal was described variously as high-strung, wound too tight, angry, grumpy and just plain mean. Others said he was closed mouthed and secretive. None of these phrases could apply to him at this moment.

He leaned back against the bar, a glass in one hand, chatting up one of the girls from the communications department. So far he’d told her about several of the missions they’d been on and his own life growing up. He’d also listened while she spoke about her duties and the people she worked with. He was well at ease and down-right friendly. He was showing the side that he usually on displayed to his close friends, a welcome sight in Merlian’s eyes.

The girl spotted a friend and waved a hand as she bounded away. “Well, well, Tal, get a few drinks in you and you really loosen up,” Merlian said, as he nudged the man gently.

Tal chuckled and shrugged. “I’m relaxing. I don’t have to be stern and in control right now,” he explained. “M’master always said, ‘Talesin, there are times to be serious and times to be friendly and with magic it’s best not to confuse the two.’ So I don’t.” He shrugged and brought his cup to his lips. Then he frowned and looked at his glass. “It’s empty,” he said, with all seriousness.

“Maybe that’s a signal,” Merlian said, with a soft chuckle.

“Means I need another,” Talesin said with a grin. “You want?”

“Sure, thanks,” Merlian said. He turned toward the door as Vivien came in. With a welcoming smile on his face, he waved her over. “Hey, Vivien,” he greeted. “Tal’s buying if you want a drink.”

“Sure, sure,” Talesin agreed. “What’s your pleasure, m’dear?”

Vivien giggled and shook her head. “I’ll have an apple martini,” she said. As the other man turned to the bartender with their orders, she looked at Merlian. “Is he usually like this when he’s drunk?”

“I’ve never seen him drunk before, so I wouldn’t know.” Merlian smiled and looked over the crowd in the mess hall. “It’s good that we can get together like this between planet falls.”

“All part of the plan to teach the normals that mages are just like them?” Vivien said. When Merlian smirked she waved a finger and said, “You’re a sly one, Merlian Jones. I still can’t tell if I like this side agenda of yours or not. It has the potential to backfire horrendously, you know.”

“Yes, human nature being what it is. We fear the unknown,” he said. He took a sip of his wine and shrugged, before he added, “But maybe we can make it become the known and therefore not so frightful, eh?”

“Maybe,” Vivien agreed as Talesin returned to them juggling three glasses in his hands. “Thanks, Tal,” she said. When the communications officer returned with her friend, she grinned at Talesin’s warm greeting for the pair of ladies. Merlian’s plan might just work out after all.

Talesin shook his head then broke off before he could reply. “What the devil are you doing, Gwyon?” he asked. He approached the litle mage and shook his head. “Pretty,” he added as he got a good look at the window.

“I miss flowers, Tal,” Gwyon said softly. “All the worlds we’ve visited and they just don’t have them the same as back home. So I figured that I’d make some.”

“Please tell me that they’re illusions,” Merlian murmured.

“Of a sort,” Gwyon said. “They’re on the windows, like paint.” He reached out a fingertip to one of the swaying blossoms and as he touched it, it seemed to meld to the glass of the window. “It won’t hurt anything.”

“You couldn’t have done this in your own room?” Talesin said. “You know how the captain feels about magic, Gwyon. He won’t let you keep them there.”

“They brighten up the place so well though,” Gwyon protested. He glanced back along the corridor and the older men followed his gaze. All the way down the corridor, on every window, bright flowers bobbed on a breeze that only affected them.

“You know you can’t leave them, Gwyon,” Merlian said softly. “Not only are they magic – which not only the captain but half the crew will take amiss, but they’re distracting.” He looked over at the smaller man and sighed. “I’m not trying to upset you, Gwyon. You simply can’t leave them there. Put some flowers in your own quarters.”

“You can put them in our work space, too,” Talesin said. “They won’t freak us out and they will brighten up the place.”

“I know,” Gwyon said. He drew his wand and painted a glyph in the air. One by one the flowers that danced in the windows disappeared in a sparkle of light. “Everything here is so cold and clinical. I miss my tower and workshop back home. I had a garden, did you know?”

“I suspected,” Merlian said. “You know why I chose you for this mission, Gwyon? With all the plant and animal mages I had to chose from?”

Gwyon shook his head and slipped his wand back into his robe. “Because… I’m not very threatening for the normals, since I’m young and small?”

“That’s one reason,” Merlian agreed. “There’s also this: your magic, the way you use it and the way you view it, is the least threatening of all the research mages in the Brotherhood. Your magic is the stuff of fairy tales and that’s not going to be seen as threatening toward the normals.”

Gwyon looked up, smiling shyly. “Really?”

“Really,” Merlian agreed. He set a hand on each of the younger man’s shoulders and said, “Master Gwyon, we are out here, among the stars as research mages. Our purpose – officially – is to help discover new life and new civilizations and to help build friendly relations with them. Unofficially, however, our purpose in this crew is to help the people of our home world learn that magic is not to be feared simply by its being. They need to learn the good side of magic and we’re here to show it to them.”

“Right then,” Gwyon said. He tilted his head and said, “Maybe I can put flowers in the common room. No one is going about their duties there so if they’re distracted it doesn’t matter as much.”

“I think that’s a fine idea,” Merlian said with a nod. Gwyon was smiling brightly as he bounded down the corridor and Merlian chuckled as he turned to Talesin. “I suppose I should warn the captain about his little endeavor.”

Talesin shrugged, “I don’t see why. They painted the common room last week with all those bright colors and he didn’t have anything to say about it. He said he wants the common areas to be… relaxing and cheerful.”

“A place to get away from the stresses of space travel,” Merlian said, quoting the memo that everyone had received.

“What could be more relaxing than flowers?” Talesin said with a grin. “Let’s get going to the mess. I could use a drink.” He chuckled and took out his own wand. With a wave, he traced a small glyph in the air. As they walked a soft, warm breeze swept through the corridor. He grinned at Merlian’s smirk. “People are always saying that the corridors are chilly,” he said.

continued here

Gossip overheard

Talesin hated gossip. Not only was it generally either simply an exaggeration or outright wrong, it was a tremendous waste of time. He’d heard people talk about him when they thought he was out of earshot. He was mean, they said. He was cold and sarcastic. He hated everyone and everything.

All of these were wrong. He wasn’t mean; though he admitted to a bit of a temper and being moody now and again. He wasn’t cold. He was shy. It took him a long time to open up to people. That didn’t make him cold. He wasn’t sarcastic. He had an ironic wit. He saw the absurd things people said or did and pointed them out. He certainly didn’t hate anything or anybody. Hate was far too strong a word for any feeling people truly felt for people they hardly knew. He was grumpy and that was that.

Now, as he worked on the elemental containment field, he listened with half an ear as other members of the crew gossiped about his fellow mages. The magineer should be doing this, not him. However the magineer was too busy chatting to do his work. Talesin sighed and shook his head, trying to tune out the drivel behind him.

Finally he could bear it no longer and spun to face the rest of the men in the room. “I’m working here,” he snapped. “I don’t care that you think Gwyon is a fluff-for-brains. I don’t care that you think Vivien is hot. I don’t care that you think Math had it coming. I don’t care that you think the captain is going to give Merlian his comeuppance some day. I have work to do and I’m sure you all do too. So do it!”

The men collided with one another a few times in their haste to follow his order and he moaned as he spun back around to continue sealing the containment field. Sometimes, he hated working with normals.

“I understand that you dislike gossip, Talesin,” Merlian said later that day as they headed toward the mess hall to share a drink. “I appreciate that you want to defend the rest of us.”

“But?” Talesin said, eyebrow raised. Merlian shot him a baffled look and he snorted. “Come off it, Ian. You’re going to say more. You appreciate me defending you and you understand that I dislike gossip but I shouldn’t go off on the normals like I did.”

Merlian grinned and waved a hand at the younger man, “You already know that, Tal. Why should I tell you?”

continued here

Girl meets airship

Vivien hurried through the station. She’d found where the ship was to dock earlier but now that it was docked, she couldn’t find it again. “Stupid,” she said softly. “I should have just stayed there. Why did I have to find something to eat? Why couldn’t I just stay there?”

“Gwyon, hurry up,” she heard ahead of her. “She could be there any minute if she isn’t there already. I can’t believe you had to stop and get supplies. Couldn’t you have done that earlier?”

“Tal, I wanted to but the captain said that we weren’t allowed to leave the ship until all the normals had a turn for shore-leave,” came a reply. The voice was soft, almost child-like. The speaker sounded hesitant or shy, even as he used familiar terms with his companion.

“Norms, always getting special privileges. I can’t see how that’s right,” the first voice said. Vivien smiled. The term ‘normals’ could only mean one thing. These were mages. The first voice sounded courser and sharper than the latter one. She hoped that Tal wasn’t as mean as his voice made him sound.

“Hello,” she said, peering around the corner at the men. One held a pile of packages, the other held a single traveling bag. There could be no doubt that they were mages. “I’m Vivien Martin. Could you tell me where the Lady Mara is?”

“We’re headed there,” one of the men said. His eyes widened and he grinned brightly. “You’re the new mage that’s been assigned to us. I’m Gwyon Murphy and this is Tal Brightman.”

“Talesin Brightman,” he said. Now his voice sounded less course, more cultured. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mistress Vivien.” He smiled and waved a hand toward a corridor that she hadn’t noticed in her searching and said, “Right this way.”

“Talesin, Gwyon,” a man called from down the corridor. He continued to speak as he rounded the corner, interrupting himself as he saw her. “The captain wants – ah, Mistress Vivien, I presume? Merlian Jones, Head of Magical Research on the Lady Mara,” he said, placing a hand on his chest.

“Pleased to meet you, Master Merlian,” Vivien returned. “Is this our entire department?”

“Unless the captain sees fit to increase our funding, yes,” Merlian replied. “Did they tell you why you’re being transferred to a ship?” When Vivien bit her lip and shook her head, he sighed. “When I tell you not to try anything sketchy with the local fauna, don’t.”

“Math was killed by Teymarians,” Gwyon said softly. “Merlian told him that they were sentient, even though they were tiny but he didn’t believe Merlian and tried to take a sample of them.”

“They saw it as an attack and moved to defend themselves,” Talesin said. “You can’t blame them really. They’re the size of dust compared to us. We could kill them so easily.”

“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Gwyon said sagely.

“Right,” Vivien said softly. This was going to be an interesting assignment.

continued here

Reach for the Stars

Later that day, released from sick bay with orders to relax, Gwyon Murphy looked out his window. It still felt strange to see stars outside without a treeline or rooftops beneath them. It was also strange to see stars at lunchtime. Stars had always been for night time in his experience. Now, unless they were visiting a world, they were all he saw.

A chirp at the door made him turn. “Yes,” he called. The door slid open and he blinked as the light from the corridor flooded his apartment.

“Master Gwyon, the captain requests your presence,” an ensign at the door said softly.

He pulled a robe on over his casual clothes and headed out into the corridor to follow the young man. It was his first meeting with the captain since Stevens had been killed. He wasn’t sure what to expect but he was vaguely worried. The sense of unease grew as he approached the captain’s office. He couldn’t tell if it was his gifts warning him of danger or just his own anxiety.

He almost sighed in relief as he saw that Merlian was also in the office. Then he saw the grim look on the older man’s face. “Is something wrong?” he asked.

“What exactly happened to Stevens,” the captain said.

“He… the Teymarians killed him, sir. He was about to… well, he said he wanted a sample of them, sir. They didn’t seem to like that idea so they responded… strongly, sir,” Gwyon said. He darted a glance at his superior and saw that the man was smirking. Gwyon knew it wasn’t because of what happened to Math. It was something to do with the captain, he was certain.

“I see. You are dismissed, Mister Murphy.”

“With due respect, Captain. If you please, properly, I’m Master Gwyon,” he corrected, though his voice was hardly heard over the hum of machinery that was always present on the airship.

“You’re both dismissed. Thank you,” the captain said.

Gwyon echoed Merlian’s salute and followed him out of the room. “What was that about?” he asked as soon as they were alone.

“The good captain doubted my veracity,” Merlian said calmly. “Gwyon, Stevens wasn’t like us. He was chosen by the captain because the captain doesn’t entirely trust mages and he knew that Stevens would tell him if we were up to something.”

“What would we be up to?” Gwyon asked softly.

“Bewitching the crew,” Merlian said with a shrug.

Gwyon giggled and said, “You’re not – ” he broke off when Merlian shot him a serious look. “You are. You’re serious. The captain really thinks we’d… magic the crew? To what end?”

“We reach for the stars, Gwyon Murphy,” Merlian said as he glanced out one of the windows. “The captain is afraid that somehow something’s going to happen to send us crashing down to earth.”

“Even if we fall, we’re here to see that we land on a cloud,” Gwyon said quietly.

“Indeed,” Merlian agreed. He beckoned to Gwyon and said, “Let me tell you about who I think will replace him.”

continued here

Like a Mote of Dust

To say Teymarians were small was an understatement to the gravest degree. They were tiny. That didn’t mean that they could be ignored. In fact when working in concert, they could be quite dangerous. They could hide the sun and make it dark as night. They could invade clouds and cause tremendous rains and snows. They could even occlude breathing if they so chose. In short, they were not to be trifled with.

Thus, when observing or studying them, it was important to do so with the utmost respect. One did not want to anger them. Merlian watched in horror as one of his colleagues, a mousey man by the name of Math Stevens, forgot this small but important fact. He wanted a sample – or so he said.

As Merlian watched they swarmed him. He’d get his sample, but he wouldn’t like it. Merlian watched as he struggled and gasped. He was lifted into the air as he smothered. He floated above the heads of the silent trio of mages for some time before he was dropped to earth in a heap.

Talesin looked on in silent horror as Gwyon knelt besie their colleague’s still form. “He’s dead,” Gwyon whispered. “Can we go… now… please?”

Merlian nodded. He considered collecting the body but the tiny beings swarmed around it seconds after Gwyon confirmed his death. Talesin dragged the smaller man to his feet and pulled him away from the swarm. Merlian spoke into the communicator on his wrist, “Home base, we’re returning. Stevens is dead and the locals need some time to calm down.”

Gwyon and Talesin were already at the shuttle as the reply came, “Affirmative. Report to the sick bay upon arrival.”

continued: here

A Christmas Legend

Henry finished hanging the last strand of garland at the same time as the bell rang to show that the cookies were finished. “Alright kids,” he called. “You’ve all worked hard. I think we deserve a break. Who wants fresh-baked cookies and milk?”

With a cheer, the children came from all around and settled into the sitting room for cookies and milk. The new children, Carol and Chris, were the last to arrive. Both looked a little sad and Henry could understand why.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas when you’re away from home, huh?” he said softly.

“Not without Mama and Daddy,” Carol agreed.

“Not without presents,” Chris said softly, clutching his plush bear to his chest.

“Now, who says you aren’t getting presents?” Henry said. “Every year the kids here get a gift from me and Miss Maggie and, of course, you’ve all been making gifts for each other, right?”

“The boys at school say since we’re poor now we won’t get gifts,” Chris said. “Because we don’t have a Mama and a Daddy to buy us a toy for Christmas this year.”

“See, what they don’t know is that when you have no Mama or Daddy is when the snow elves and Master Nicholas work extra hard to make sure you have exactly what you want,” Henry said. He looked up at the group of children and asked, “Who wants to hear about the story of Master Nicholas?”

There was another cheer as the children began to settle into chairs or on the floor around him. Henry smiled and drew out his wand. He waved it like he was painting a picture and an image began to form as he spoke.

“Once long, long ago, before Shynia was put back together, before Shynia was broken up, before the Bear Clan even formed a nation, there was a master magician who dreamed of having children. He wandered far and wide, searching for something that he couldn’t define.”

Nicholas had no idea how long he’d been walking. It seemed like days, but that would be impossible. Old tales aside, people couldn’t walk for days without rest. He felt numb; like he was walking through a dream.

The wilderness he walked through was beautiful. Trees were coated with snow. Ice coated logs and covered streams. Everything seemed frozen, even the sky. He saw what appeared to be a statue ahead and paused to admire it. Suddenly, it moved. It was no statue, but a woman of unearthly beauty. She was so pale, even her hair was almost white, that she seemed made of stone.

But her smiled was kind and when she beckoned to him, Nicholas found that he followed almost against his will. Soon their trek through the frozen woods ended at a small beautifully decorated house. “It’s like a candy house,” he murmured.

“What’s that?” the woman asked.

“Well,” Nicholas said as he paused to think. “There’s a baker in the village I was in up until a short while ago who made them for festivals. He took a heavy, spicy bread or cookie and formed a little house from sheets of it. Then he decorated it with frosting and sweets.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “Did you summon me here?” he asked.

“I did,” she replied as she led him toward the back of the house. Though everything else around was frozen, the garden behind the house was full of flowers of all shapes and colors. She led him to a fountain and as she brushed the water, the little village he’d left behind appeared. There the baker stood before his window, showing off his latest creation.

“It does look like my house,” she said, smiling. “My name is Crystal Kringa. This is my home and my garden – my whole world. I summoned you here because I am lonely. I could sense that you longed for a companion as much as I did.

Nicholas nodded and smiled, then blinked, remembering his manners. “I am Nicholas of Eldatorn. You are right when you say I’ve long for a companion. I have no family and no home to call my own. If you wish it, Lady Crystal, I will stay by your side.”

Crystal smiled and led him inside the house. Within, there were more treasures to be found. The panty was always stocked with all sorts of wonderful foods, even fruits from far away lands. There was a closet that was always supplied with firewood. There was a cabinet that could endlessly duplicate any item placed inside. Outside, still more wonders waited. Beside the fountain and beautiful flowers, wonderous creatures filled the garden. Most amazing of all were the sweet friendly deer that could fly magically where ever they wished.

The greatest secret of all, Crystal held for last. “Do you think that you’ll stay with me, Nicholas? Do you think you can be happy here? Have you found a home for your wandering heart at last?”

“Yes,” Nicholas said. “Where ever you are is my home, dear Crystal. I will stay with you for all eternity, if you wish it.”

Crystal smiled and handed him a glass. “This holds an elixir that grants immortality. Think before you drink it. If you ever change your mind, you will have to wander endlessly so that none will realize that you are unaging.”

“Until I met you, Crystal, I had no one in the entire world. I will drink this and stay by your side forever.” He drained the cup and took her hand. “I don’t feel any different, but I will take your word for it. Shall we eat?”

They ate and talked late into the night. For centuries they spent happy days learning from each other and laughing with each others. Neither was lonely ever again.

The days passed unchanging until one day when Crystal was out gathering spell ingredients. Nicholas sat on the porch, whittling. He looked up as a small perfect face emerged from the wood and found himself surrounded by children. They looked alike enough to be related. All had the same dark hair and pale skin.

“Are you a wood carver?” one child asked.

“Not by profession,” Nicholas replied with a soft chuckle. “I was just whittling to pass the time. Where did you children come from?”

“We’re not children,” one boy said.

“We’re snow elves,” a girl said. She smoothed her skirts and added, “Though we do look like children and the other elves say we act like children. We’ve been trying to find a nice place to make our home. Someplace where we can make our toys and carve our wood without being bothered or bothering anyone.”

“Who do you make toys for?” Nicholas asked.

“Well, we use them,” the boy who’d spoken first said. “We also give them away whenever we meet a child who has no family. Everyone should have a chance to play and have fun, especially children.”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Nicholas said. “I’ll bet you could find so many deserving children if you used the fountain in the garden. It shows whatever, where ever you wish it to.”

The spokesman smiled and said, “So, can we build our village in the little valley there, big guy?” He pointed over his shoulder and added, “Maybe we’ll be in touch about that fountain. Though I expect we’d have to make a lot of toys to full all the children’s wishlists we could find with something like that.”

“I think it would be great to have neighbors,” Nicholas said. “I’ll talk to Crystal about the fountain. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind though.”

It wasn’t long before there was a bustling complex of buildings in the valley below the home. The little elves visited Nicholas and Crystal often. Many times they brought gifts of food or beautifully carved furniture or ornaments. They spent an enormous amount of time watching the outside world through the fountain. Nicholas took to helping them make lists of children who were poor or orphaned, where the children lived and what they most wanted.

After a few months of this, Nicholas and Crystal went down to the village to visit. They found the elves busily getting ready for a festival. It didn’t take long for Nicholas to recognize the Winter Festival decorations or treats.

He chuckled as Frosty, the male elf who’d spoken to him on the first day, bounded over to him. “Living up here where it’s always winter, I’m afraid I forgot the time of year.”

“Yeah, figured on that, big guy,” Frosty said with a grin. “We have a tradition of exchanging gifts for the last day of the Winter Festival. The humans do too.”

“I remember that,” Nicholas said. “Children always got a toy to play with. Birthdays they might get a book or a new outfit. For Harvest Festival, they always get a new outfit. Winter Festival gifts were always toys.”

“Yeah, we got a request.” Frosty said with a grin. “Thanks to looking into your fountain, we figured out that we have a lot of work to do. We’ve been working on making a lot of toys for all the boys and girls we’ve seen in that fountain that don’t have someone to give them a toy for the Winter Festival.” He shot Nicholas a sidelong glance. “Any chance you could help us with that?”

“I’ll see what I can do?” Nicholas promised.

“From that day to this Master Nicholas has been doing his very best to make the wishes of all the good little boys and girls on Ekudo come true,” Henry said. “The deer in the garden pull a sleigh full of toys through the night sky on Christmas Eve. The elves work all year to make sure that there is one special toy for each boy and girl. Master Nicholas delivers the toys and Mistress Crystal packs the sacks of fruit and nuts the children get.”

Chris smiled and hugged his bear closer. “So we get a toy this year, no matter what the big boys say?”

“You do,” Henry said, as he ruffled the boy’s hair. “Let’s sing some carols, shall we?”

The children cheered and bounded over to the piano. Henry was pleased to note that the twins seemed a touch less sad. They would be alright, he was sure.

Monica Ferris

an author with many hats

A Land of Curiosity

From the files of Shynian Intelligence

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