It’s time for A Drift of Quills and another round of Fiction Shots! In case you’re not familiar, we take turns choosing a picture, then each write a story using it as a prompt. So fun!
This round we’re taking our inspiration from “Steampunk Key Necklace” by nedacat on DeviantArt. It’s a beauty. I don’t know about the others, but I had about twenty ideas for this. It was so hard to choose just one!
Fiction Shots #3
Do we call them “short” or “fun-sized”? They’re the perfect solution when you want a quick read. Take five and settle in for adventure!
Flash #1: Destroyer of the World
By Robin Lythgoe
“This is it?”
The question broke the ice of silent scrutiny, startling Issovel Johdris where she knelt at the feet of the Master Keeper. She did not shatter. She was not dead, then; had not frozen beneath the contemptuous assessment.
“My daughter, yes.” Mother remained admirably unruffled.
Head still bowed, Issovel strove to emulate her. They’d practiced this. Self-control, whether on the field or off. The Master’s next words might have undone her had she not been too cold and stiff to do more than twitch.
“I can’t give her the key. She will destroy us. Destroy the world.”
“You’ve become a seer since last we spoke?” Zyldi Johdris wielded a sharp tongue. Sharper than others would dare.
The Master snorted, easing aching bones by shifting in his chair. Like everything else about him, it was stiff and austere. Duty was paramount, and too much comfort led to negligence. No Keeper could afford to let down his—or her—guard. Ever. “You should have had a boy.”
“As should you.”
Silence crept back into the bleak room, Issovel again the subject of the Master’s lengthy consideration. Perhaps she would freeze after all. His clear blue eyes seemed capable of such a thing. Or maybe he would die of old age. He was nearly there already. “Helfaen Jamis will make her a suitable husband,” he rasped at long last. “He has proven his ability to produce sons.”
Issovel’s head jerked up at that, eyes flashing and chin jutting. Her mother made a little motion with one hand. Hush.
“Are you so petty you will punish your granddaughter for your own flaws and mine?” Zyldi asked. “Jamis is useful for his zeal. Like a good hunting hound. He has also sired several daughters. Do you have time to play that game?”
“Now who is the seer?” the Master snarled. “How do I know you’ve trained her properly?”
“The same way your father knew you’d been trained properly. I’ve taught everything you taught me, and then some. I’m sure you’ll wish to test her skills.”
“Is she ready?”
* * *
On reflection, the conversation was more insulting than anything Issovel had ever heard, and savage in a fashion difficult to pinpoint. It flaunted that genteel rule declaring one should not answer a question with a question. That incivility aside, every word was a sharp-edged knife.
Mother had warned her to expect nothing less.
“If you hate him so,” Issovel had once asked, “why are you giving me to him?”
Zyldi had gripped her daughter’s jaw, eyes like flint. “What I give you is the means to survive. To be true to yourself. You are his heir, but you are also mine. I want you to remember that you possess a brain, a heart, and strength. You are no one’s puppet. Your grandfather is dedicated absolutely to the letter of the law. His law. Learn those letters, my darling, but think long and hard about who and what you are. Hard, cold people make a hard, cold world.”
Issovel had seen things with different eyes after that. Her home, the streets, the markets, the very city in the heart of the oh-so-glorious empire shed their masks of normalcy. She began to wonder what it would be like if the factories no longer belched smoke into the skies. If she didn’t have to hear the constant clank and bang of workshops, or the clatter of the trains. What if green places weren’t limited to the grow houses? What if people weren’t divided so rigidly into occupations and status?
Those were treasonous thoughts. Order reigned because order was safe. Chaos had been captured and locked away for good. The Keepers made sure of that.
And despite her risky imagination, Issovel eventually found herself living beneath the black slate roof in the bleak halls of Keeper Johdris, exactly as law and order decreed.
He tried to break her, but she was, after all, the Master Keeper’s granddaughter. She knew all the histories, all the laws, all the convoluted secrets that kept the Thirteen Great Houses safe. She knew how to fight, how to hunt the dissidents, how bring them to confession.
Eventually, she learned how to execute them.
It was the first time she saw her grandfather smile. The slow, triumphant exposure of yellowed canines revolted her. It had brought as many nightmares as the killing. It took all the strength her mother had coaxed and encouraged in her to stay by his side. Not for him, not for herself, but for her mother.
“Grandfather,” she asked one day, “why do you say I will destroy the world?”
“Because you are a woman. Women are soft.”
She chewed on that insult for a moment or two. “No, not soft, resilient. We must be to survive the blustering and roaring of men. And we are strong. How else could we bear to keep birthing more of you?”
“Do you think you have a choice?”
“I should like to see you try to do it without us.”
The Master Keeper glared at her. “Did your mother teach you that? You’re too much like her for your own good.”
Issovel met his gaze. What his aging body lacked in strength, his eyes made up for. “Why do you hate her? Is there nothing about your own child that you admire?”
“She is the emblem of my failure.” His words rang hollow and cold. “And you are the emblem of hers.”
“Because we are women?”
Issovel rose slowly from her chair. “How strange…” she murmured. “You have such bright, beautiful eyes, and yet you are blind. The duty of the Keepers is to preserve the safety of the empire’s people. They guard the Great Key and seek out those who would try to take it or fan rebellion. Nothing matters so much as keeping the prison gate locked and preventing the return of the dark times.”
“This is true.” Her grandfather’s, eyes narrowed.
“Then anyone committed to that cause is a worthy soldier.”
“A soldier, yes. A leader, no.”
“Well, then.” She turned on her heel. “You are doomed to have only half solutions to whole problems.”
* * *
Grandfather didn’t allow her to visit her mother, and he didn’t have the good grace to die before an epidemic of Sunset Flux swept through the city, taking Zyldi with it. The Keepers did nothing to stay that darkness.
Issovel’s faith wavered. She began to understand how terrible loss could turn people to stone. But Grandfather had not lost Zyldi; he had refused her. Issovel could not refuse her mother’s lessons. She walked the dreary grounds of the great house until it was safe to go out into the city again. She visited the mausoleum where her mother’s ashes rested. Bodies weren’t buried anymore. They said it prevented disease, but she knew it was to prevent resurrections. Dark work. Magic.
She hated the mausoleum and never returned. Her mother was not there. Instead, she began going to the museum. Hundreds of exhibits, all post Dark Age. One mustn’t risk exposing the public to subversive material. Guards accompanied her, as one might expect for the Master Keeper’s granddaughter. As they’d once escorted him when he’d gone out in the world. She wondered if they realized the gate they guarded was right here.
It was clever and awful. A plain black three-by-five frame held a collection of keys of all shapes and sizes. Each key had wings, representing the hateful fairies—the last defenders of magic. The keyhole itself was key-shaped. The whole had been painted over in shades of gray. Most people glanced at it, grimaced, then turned away. Issovel stared at it for hours. She couldn’t even say why. Something about it… hurt.
She was there when Grandfather called her to his bedside. She nearly didn’t go. What would he make of that chaos?
The Keeper officers attended him and witnessed him giving the Great Key into her care. Watched like vultures as he took his last breath. “Be worthy,” he said, which seemed anticlimactic.
“This seems like it was… ruined,” one of the guards ventured, hesitant.
It was months after the funeral. Issovel didn’t visit the museum much now. Keeper business. Darkness, always darkness. Letters, law, and ruination tangled with images her mother had set into motion. In her pocket, she rubbed the Great Key. Brass and pearls. Intricate and beautiful. All the Keepers carried a symbolic key; hers was the only one that fit the lock. “Have you ever thought about blue sky?”
He gave her a startled look. “I—yes. Who hasn’t?”
“Indeed.” She smiled, took the key from her pocket, and set it into the keyhole.
“What are you doing?” the guard cried, even as gray paint fell away and wings stirred. Light and warmth and hope spilled out of the frame.
“Destroying this world.”
Flash #2: Aladdin
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
The giant sand tiger’s jaws snapped shut, swallowing our latest chump—er, candidate, apparently not as worthy an individual as we had hoped. The teeth of the door came dangerously close to my tail feathers. I sputtered, my mouth too full of gritty sand to form a proper curse. “Of all the—”
READ the rest of the story: https://www.psbroaddus.com/2018/11/05/drift-quills-aladdin/
Author of the Oathtaker Series
Unfortunately, Trish is unable to join us this month. Please join us in sending good thoughts and warm wishes her way…
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Want to read more short-short fiction we’ve written? This link will take you there.
This is such a fun way to write a story. I hope you enjoyed reading our fiction shots as much as we enjoyed writing it! We’ve decided to make this a regular feature. Have you got a title or a picture to inspire us?