We are not friends… Or maybe we are! Maybe you want to be careful about your friends when they’re standing next to an apothecary shelf full of antidotes… or poisons A Drift of Quills have been typing their little hearts out, bringing you fun new stories to read!
Our picture prompt today (in case you haven’t guessed) is an apothecary shelf jam-packed with inspiration.
If you know who to credit for this, let us know. I’ve searched high and low for the artist with no success!
Fiction Shots #10
We like to keep our Fiction Shots at 1500 words or under, but, well… I’ve gone overboard this time. Sorrynotsorry. Patricia aims for short, I strive not to get too carried away. It’s hard. (Parker is always juuuust right.) This story needed 244 more words. What can I say? It’s the equivalent of two or three paragraphs. I’ll do better next time. Maybe?
Flash #1: We Are Not Friends
By Robin Lythgoe
Smoke and the stink of rotten eggs shrouded the Issves te Ergint encampment. Thin, powdery ash drifted in eddies, settling over buildings, camp tents, wagons, hitching posts. Men… Despite the season, soldiers wore scarves over their faces, wet to stifle the fumes and poison. Ergint jidoma, the natives called it. Live silver. Invaluable to the rich and powerful; death to those forced to extract the stuff from the bowels of the earth.
Heat challenged winter’s bitter cold as the nearby mining town died in fierce shades of red, orange, bronze. Mostly red. It was foolish to set fire to wood permeated with poisonous dust. Or so the Dog thought as he strode between rows of gray- and vermilion-streaked canvas. Foolish, too, to be so greedy that one’s symbols of prestige came at the cost of countless lives. Not that anyone cared about the Dog’s opinion, knowledge, or even his experience. They cared about his terrible talent for ridding them of problems.
Like the handful of miners clever enough to shelter in an unassailable rock cavity. They’d gathered catapult weapons—small but deadly. Miners were criminals, and criminals were resourceful. The Dog suspected many of them had soldiering backgrounds. What better way to keep the conquered army out of trouble than by turning soldiers into slaves? He should know; he’d occupied the position himself often enough. He could think of worse things than mining. Generally, though, his captors preferred his fighting skills over his pick-wielding prowess. Dogs excelled at ripping and tearing, not digging.
They didn’t call him “the Dog” here. They didn’t use his given name, either, except for the healer, Sorin Timir. To everyone else, he was ol batiç istran, the foreign savage. Sometimes just “batiç,” which didn’t seem so different from “dog” or any of the usual insults. The name didn’t matter; in this country and the others, men moved out of his way. They spat in the dirt, mumbled prayers and curses, made signs against evil. Some challenged him. They all forged a wall between themselves and their prized demon. In an encampment of 700 men, he was alone.
Except for Sorin.
Sorin treated him with cautious, determined friendship. Like a wild thing certain only of pain, yet longing for the slightest hint of affection. And wasn’t he? After all these years, he still wished—still hoped—for acceptance. Not love, that was impossible, he knew. Friendship was just as farfetched. His friends died. At his hands. No… that was the doing of the demon housed within him. Curse the wretched thing.
“Sorin!” he hollered as he approached a structure half wood and half canvas. No good came from dwelling on the ugly inevitable. He pushed it away in the same manner he pushed through the plank door.
A palpable sense of wrongness struck him. A jangling vibration, lingering contempt, a bitter scent, then the sound of strained breaths. The front room held nothing but cots for the sick and injured. A wagon carted their previous occupants off to the standing hospital every other morning. Knife in hand, the Dog went to pause beside the doorway into Sorin’s cramped living quarters.
He sensed no one and nothing but Sorin sprawled on the floor, in obvious distress.
Sheathing his weapon, the Dog went to one knee beside Sorin, searching him for wounds. A bruised temple and split lip couldn’t put him in this state.
“P-poissshhonnn,” Sorin wheezed through clenched teeth. “Tulannndesh t’am’t. Gr-gr-gruba.” A grimace pulled his features. Wrong language. “Hurry.”
A cabinet stood against one wall. The top half held shelves filled with books, mortar and pestle, funnels and measuring vessels, little boxes, bottles of all kinds. The Dog reached for the—
Labels marked every item, neatly penned in the local tongue. A tongue he could barely speak. “Which?”
“Tulandes te amet.” Clearer this time, but no more helpful. Something about snow.
Eyes narrowed, he searched the labels for something—anything—familiar. Gibberish, all of it. Pictures would have helped. Sorin’s moans made the Dog clamp his own teeth tight. They were not friends. He wouldn’t do that to such a good man.
Sorin jabbered something about a bottle. Then he stopped and shook his head again, sharply. His breath hissed in and out too fast. If the poison didn’t make him faint, his breathing would.
“Calm yourself,” the Dog ordered.
Strange, curling letters connected by decisive lines on the tags spelled out salvation for his friend. For the one man who didn’t just speak to the Dog, but talked to him, smiled at him, taught him the language, explained critical customs.
“We are not friends,” he growled.
“Fool. How did you get yourself poisoned, of all things?” His own breathing increased. A knot grew in his chest.
Sorin answered with a string of half-intelligible words.
“I cannot read them!” he shouted back. Worry turned helplessness into anger. Black, hard, and violent, it crept across his vision and stole through his senses. He slammed his fist into the side of the shelf. Bottles juddered and shook. He caught one as it fell. Another struck the lower cabinet and rolled against a box, minus its stopper. A piquant lemon-orange fragrance filled the air. It did nothing to banish the darkness.
“I need you to help me.” Sorin’s voice came strained. Shaky.
Then magic touched him, warm, soft, resolute, but still magic. Instinct spun him, knives scraping leather as he freed them, eyes black as the Abyss, lips drawn back in a savage snarl.
He got no further.
Mages had stopped him before, but never so sweetly or profoundly.
And then, “Sherakai,” Sorin whispered the Dog’s name, voice tattered with pain, certain with faith.
The magic shifted. Became a connection. Brief. Ambiguous.
Sorin gasped, and his red-rimmed eyes widened.
In that single instant, they both saw the Dog—Sherakai—in another place. Another time. He crouched in the mud, features misshapen, rocking, chanting. Deep amber light gleamed through shifting cracks and creases in his body. Broad, flat nubs marked his shoulder blades. Patiently, he picked at the skin of one arm with one wicked talon. Peeling it away, he dropped bits like shale into a small pile at his feet. When he lifted his head, fractured lines shot through brilliant silver eyes. They bled bronze light.
With a shout, the Dog broke away. He crashed against the wall next to the precious potions. More bottles tumbled to the floor, shattering as they struck.
Sharp as glass, Sorin’s fear cut through the shock and horror of the vision. “What was that?” the Dog demanded hoarsely.
“I don’t—I don’t know.” He thumped his head against the floor, countenance twisting. The flush on his skin deepened to an angry blotch even as the Dog watched. “The future. A possibility, not a certainty, and I cannot help you if you will not help me. Now.” He struggled to speak clearly, to hold still, but his body jerked and spasmed.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for.” The convulsions dismayed him and he took a step closer, torn between what he should do and what he could do.
“S-s-see, my friend.” Erratic magic compelled obedience, though it made the Dog twitch in defiance. Unbidden, an image of the jumbled potions filled his vision. One bottle lying at the back of the shelf drew his attention and the next thing he knew, he gripped it close.
What’s the smell?
He yanked the stopper out and sniffed. “Fragile. Green… Flowers.” He saw them, white bells bobbing.
Without questioning, he knelt and lifted Sorin’s head. Bottle to lips, he poured the liquid contents into the healer’s mouth. Was it enough? Too much? “Live,” he whispered, shifting to hold him. “You must live.” He did not know why, except that a world without this man would be more drab and ugly than he wanted to bear.
Stroking the healer’s hair back from his face, he waited. And waited. Until Sorin’s breathing eased and his heart slowed. Until the panic loosed in each of them. “Who did this?” Still, the vision remained, stark and terrifying.
No name, only the awareness of an identity. The prince’s second in command.
The man didn’t know it yet, but he was dead. “Why?”
“Power. Jealousy.” A scant whisper. “He will kill the prince.” And without his healer, the prince had no chance of survival.
It was always the same. Chaos followed the Dog. Chaos was the Dog. For the thousandth time, he wanted to be quit of it.
“You can choose,” Sorin breathed, eyes still closed.
“You do not understand.”
His fingers wrapped around the Dog’s wrist. “Break free.” He squeezed.
How could he do that, and what would it cost him?
A tiny drip, drip pricked the silence.
“You can’t stay after you kill him.” Politics. Petty machinations that meant nothing but spilled blood and wrecked lives. “Take me with you.”
“No,” he said automatically.
“I would help you escape.” The prince. The chains that bound the demon to him. Anything.`
“No,” he repeated more quietly, though he knew it for truth. His hand stilled on Sorin’s hair. “It would kill you.” The demon would kill him…
Neither spoke for a long time.
“This vision—” The Dog hesitated. “What does it mean?”
“I think it is hope.”
“I think it is horror.” He heard again the sound of stones clicking as they fell, but Sorin huffed a laugh.
“How did this—How did we—” He did not know the question to ask.
Sorin pushed himself up, leaving a chill behind. One hand scrubbed patchy, worn features. “It was nothing I did purposely. Magic is sometimes a fickle thing, especially with visions.”
He wanted to know more. He didn’t want to ask. “Will you be well?”
Sorin nodded. “Thank you. You saved my life.”
He quelled his gladness lest it bring the demon back. The thing must still be close to the surface. Getting to his feet, he picked up the knives he’d dropped.
The healer blew out a long breath. “Be safe, my friend.”
“I always am.”
He came close to tap the Dog’s broad chest. “Here. Keep hope. You are meant for more than this. Believe it.”
“On what grounds?” He did not brush away the familiarity. It would be gone soon enough.
Sorin considered. “Defiance. Sheer, stubborn defiance.” Abruptly, he embraced the Dog, then turned to the mess of his cabinet. “I’d best get to work on this.”
No goodbyes, then. No promises. Only a funny, lopsided hope…
(You can read of Sherakai’s adventures in “The Mage’s Gift” series on Amazon! Grab your copy now!)
Flash #2: Calico Dew and the Vial of Duplicate Sin
Author of the Oathtaker Series
Calico held back a chuckle as a memory bubbled up of her younger brother, River, calling the local cemetery a “skeleton park,” but then she quickly grew serious again as she continued, tiptoeing her way through the Graveyard of the Devout.
Stopping occasionally to hide behind a marble statue or concrete monument…
Flash #3:Stoppering Death
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into an apothecary. Or an herbalist’s shop. It was actually a dead man’s home. If you could call it a home.
A single room occupied the back of the junk and trinket shop, “Treasures and Troves,” where the proprietor, Janey Muld, allowed, (or had allowed until very recently), Thadeous “Gutrot” Flynnder to live, in exchange for some small rent payment, (more often forgotten by both than not).
“Gutrot” Flynnder made a meager living doling out herbs, medicines and cures for everything from warts to the more severe and deadly cases of “blueface.” He never set a price. Whatever the widow, or tramp, or jobless father from the Wayfair could afford. Which was often nothing. His remedies, unlike his finances, often hit the mark. This might have surprised anyone who cared to take notice, but hardly anyone except the hopeless even knew “Gutrot” Flynnder’s name, much less where he could be found.
Which means, almost no-one.
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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 flash as much as we enjoyed writing it! This has become a regular feature now, and if you’ve got a title or a picture to inspire us, we’d love to see it!