So we’ve got fantasy again this week for the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction challenge. But, really, how could I not answer the call and throw down some dark, messy fantasy when I rolled a 19 and a 6 for It’s X Meets Y!:
“It’s like Game of Thrones meets Scooby Doo!”
I’ve had way too much fun with this story, so much so that I’m afraid the requisite 2,000 words doesn’t begin to hold it all. If y’all are good, maybe I’ll post the remaining scenes next week.
The carriage creaked into town on a winter Sunday, if you could still call it winter. The weather had turned and now, instead of fluffy snow, the people had seen nothing but grey and rain for weeks.
As the carriage passed low stone residences on its way to the fortress, people emerged from their shelter to watch. Its high sides were splashed with garish blues and greens, with little disregard to order. It could almost be a sigil declaring fealty to one of the houses, except the sign was nothing anyone respected or payed tribute to anymore. No, it wasn’t loyalty that drew their eye, nor was it the driver, though his exceptional height, and rough, some would say barbaric, trappings were certainly unusual. It was the beast that drew the cart. Hulking, immense, and with coarse fur as black as pitch. Its back stood nearly as high as the driver, coal-black claws gouging the earth as it walked. Its head was vaguely canine; but no dog had ever hunted prey with teeth this large, had treed its quarry with eyes this red.
They came to the fortress gate. It was closed, despite the early hour. There were no guards to be seen. The squat stone walls seemed to amplify the winter gloom, the structure hunched and glowering.
“That’s far enough.” The driver said. Amazingly, the beast listened, despite the driver having no reign or bridle to guide it.
He leapt down and drew himself to his full height, standing nearly seven feet, with shoulders that seemed to be half his height. His unkept hair reached down his back, deepening his barbaric appearance. The beast growled low as he approached.
He put a steadying hand on its neck. “I know, I don’t like it either.” With a sour look at the closed gate, he strode back purposefully to the door of the carriage and knocked roughly. “Phred! We’re here!”
A man’s voice drifted from inside. “I assumed as much. Why else would we have stopped? Inform the watch of our arrival and request an audience.” There was movement and whispers from inside the carriage “I’m occupied at the moment.”
“Gate’s locked. There’s no one here. Unless you want to have audience with the wet stone, I suggest you get your trousers on and get out here.”
The window opened to reveal a man as clean cut as the driver was rough. His blond hair nearly glowed, his skin had none of the scars of battle or weary marks of age. If not for his conveyance, he could be royalty. He leaned his naked torso out the window and took in the courtyard. “Fine.” He exhaled loudly. “But the Lady is not going to be pleased.” He closed the window with a snap.
The driver turned and walked back towards the beast. “I doubt she was going to be pleased anyway, ya fop.” He murmured to himself.
By the time Phred emerged from the carriage, a crowd had gathered, murmuring and shuffling, but not engaging the men by the gate.
Phred pulled on his creamy white tunic as he walked, so clean it seemed offensive in the rough weather. “You’re sure you brought us to the right town, Fenris? You weren’t in one of your ‘distracted states’ again?” he sneered at the giant.
Fenris stopped whispering to the beast, turned, and pulled himself to his full height, dwarfing Phred by two heads. “You’re sure that the old man was expecting us?”
“Hey! You speak respectfully of Duke Jenkins!” a voice shouted from the crowd. A young man stepped forward, raven black hair covering one eye. Thick, ropey muscles clenched and unclenched as he balled his hand into a fist repeatedly.
Phred drooped his head to the side and gestured, playing the deferent servant. “Of course! I apologize for my companion. He is a brute and can barely be trusted to keep our pack animal in check. He speaks out of turn.” Phred straightened up and snapped back to attention. “You mention Duke Jenkins. We are here at his request. Do you know why the gates are barred?”
The man, caught off guard by the lack of fight in the stranger, looked around for assistance.
“What’s your name, son?” Phred let his full timbre edge into his tone. Behind him, the beast had turned to look on the scene, its blood red eyes practically glowing.
“Athen?” he looked like he might be sick, or run away.
“What happened here, Athen?” Phred’s voice was a honed edge.
The boy stammered. “Haunted.” Was all he could manage.
Phred rolled his eyes and turned back to Fenris. “Do you hear that? Another ghost story!” He whipped back to Athen grabbing him and pulling him forward out of the crowd he was trying to shrink back into. “What did you see, boy? Were there funny lights and wails and mysterious moaning in the night?”
Athen nodded, his face pale.
“God-blighted peasant. That’s not a haunting. That’s just what happens when you murder a clever king.”
“Duke.” Athen squeaked.
Phred narrowed his eyes at him. “Duke. King. They all bleed the same.” He let go of Athen’s arm in disgust and walked back towards the carriage. “M’lady! We have need of your service.”
Fenris pulled a bone from his mouth that he’d secreted from one of the pouches around his waist. “Can’t we just have Thor here dig it up?” The beast’s eye gleamed over Fenris’ shoulder.
“If we want the entire thing to blow up in our faces and the fortress to implode, then yes, let’s do that.” Phred rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you been listening? If Achilles-“ he pointed to the boy.
“Athen.” The boy corrected.
Phred stopped and glared down his arm at him. “Athen here isn’t a complete idiot, then there’s magic involved. If King-“
“…Duke Jenkins was smart enough to bewitch himself, then there will be other traps. What we need is subtlety. And you two are about as subtle as a dragon fart.”
A soft voice broke in. “And you’re as eloquent as always, Phred.” They hadn’t heard the Lady emerge from the carriage. Covered in a long lilac robe, her hood was pulled up so that only the tip of her alabaster chin could be seen.
Cutting off any response, she raised her arms, letting the sleeves drift back to expose nimble hands. Her fingers deftly wove the air in front of her. After a time, glowing filaments of light could be seen hanging in the air. With a gesture, the strands of light attached themselves to the gate, until it was completely covered. Long filaments lead back to her hand. She pulled her hands into fists and tugged backwards. The gates groaned and then blew open with a clang.
“See? All we needed was a little craft and none of your rough fumbling. Thank you…” Phred turned to where the Lady had been, but she was already gone, a soft click of the carriage door the only indicator that she had even emerged.
Fenris leaned against Thor, scowling at the gate. “Bet it was open the whole time.”
Phred cleared his throat and gestured, ““Enough. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Agamemnon-“
“You seem to know so much, you get the pleasure of being our guide today. Come along.”
The motley crew strode forward, carriage in tow and Athen reluctantly following. The gates slammed shut behind them, scattering the crowd.
Phred wrinkled his nose at the mess. “Did you have to flay him? He was slightly endearing with his earnestness.”
A fat beam of moonlight crept towards where Athen lay on the floor. Black blood pooled underneath him, his torso ripped open to display his organs. Impossibly, his heart still beat.
“Bloody deeds call for bloody responses.” The Lady’s fingers danced in the air above Athen, creating a delicate web of blood that somehow hung where she placed it. She gestured with her chin. “The mouse is trying to speak.”
Phred wrested his eyes from the wound and looked at her. “How do you know that?”
“His diaphragm keeps twitching.” She pointed at the exposed muscle.
“That’s truly horrific.”
The Lady shrugged and continued building her web.
Phred knelt at Athen’s head, leaning in close to the man’s lips. “What is it, little mouse?”
Athen’s eyes bulged with shock. His throat twitched rapidly, eventually disgorging a single, whispered word. “Why?”
“Well that’s certainly a packed question!” Phred stood and started pacing “Why have we done this to you? Why has your royalty forsaken you? Why are we even here?” He stopped and grinned, all teeth. “The answer to all those questions, you poor, dead bastard, is as simple as your question: Power.
“Your idiot of a duke wanted more of it, so he dallied with things far beyond his ken. We are here simply to collect what he has foolishly let loose and twist it to our own uses.
“As for you, well, the Lady has found few other methods as effective in trapping the newly dead.” He gazed on the ever growing construct. “Incidentally, are you nearly done?”
She didn’t take her eyes from the spell. “The only thing to speed the summoning is more blood. Would you care to make an offering to those ends?”
Phred threw his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “Point taken!” He strode towards the blackened remains of the throne that once gave this room its name. It was more a greasy spot on the floor than anything else, surrounded by great rents in the stone. Blood covered nearly every surface that wasn’t blackened.
There were no bodies.
The strike of a flint made him turn back around. The Lady inhaled deeply from a packed bundle of leaves. The moonbeam had reached the body and seemed to catch in the spell. She exhaled and the form filled with smoke, taking the shape of Duke Jenkins.
His robes were in tatters, his pate slashed, his eyes nothing but dark holes in his skull.
“Finally!” Phred clapped his hands together and took two great steps to stand in front of the apparition. He executed a clumsy, mocking bow. “Well met, your majesty.” Straightening up, the predatory grin flitted across his face again. “Now, you little pretend king, lets play a game of questions and find out what happened to the bauble that put you in this sorry state.”
Fenris leaned back with his eyes closed, his head against the door. He could hear Phred prattling on the other side. God’s Blood, but the man liked to hear himself talk.
A deep chuff from Thor made him open his eyes. The beast had torn a rent in the fancy rug that decorated the entrance chamber. He fixed Fenris with a stare and then went back to pacing.
“You’re right. We might as well be errand boys ever since he found that blood witch of his. He’d do good to remember who it was that found him, stinking of whores and moonshine.”
Thor wandered over to the far end of the hall, where he sniffed deeply at the only doorway large enough to accommodate his bulk.
“What is it? You smell something?” His stomach growled. “Food, maybe? Big place like this, it’s got to be chock full of fine things to set your teeth to.”
He hefted his great axe from beside the door to his shoulder. “C’mon you slavering animal. Let’s go show Phred we don’t need his augury to find a missing royal.” He hit Thor’s shoulder as he walked past. “And we’ll fill our bellies along the way.”
As they exited the hall, a group of figures, all clad in guard uniform, none breathing, detached from the shadows and followed.