It’s time for some Fiction Shots — flash fiction, that is! A Drift of Quills are at it again: one picture, three authors, little bitty writing space. The inspiration for our tiny tales comes from an untitled piece by the artist JuYoung Ha on ArtStation. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
It’s always fun for me to see how other authors interpret a picture or invent a story from it. Isn’t it delightful how wonderfully, crazily different we all are? Let’s see how these fiction shots play out…
Flash #1: Trapped
by Robin Lythgoe
She’d lived for so long in the monster’s dreams that his reality felt false. Too bright on her eyes. Too sharp against her skin. Too pungent in her nostrils. The flames, though, they were the same. They licked at her as they always had. Insatiable. In the dreams they did her no harm. In reality they would consume her.
“I am Tashami yen Okuro, soldier of the empire and dream walker. This is no dream,” she reminded herself. A critical concept to remember, but so slippery to hold. She’d spent too long in his wasteland. Deliberately, she held her hand out to the crackling flames of the burning storehouse. When they bit at her fingers, she drew back with a hiss. “You will not take me.” Better her than the children…
They were his stock-in-trade, precious innocence reduced to a commodity. He’d grown bold of late, which begged the question of longer, quieter activity. His dreams might have answered that question and provided more information. Tashami had asked time and again for a shaper. Someone with the ability to mold dreams rather than limited to observing them.
“Find one,” she was instructed.
She’d tried. Oh, how she had tried! The one dream-shaper she’d known was dead, killed in the coast war three years gone. Tracking down another took time and made her doubt her slender talent. The rising number of missing children forced her to choose whether to hunt a shaper or a child-thief. Either way, the price was high.
Tashami pressed a hand to her belly. He would not have her child—this child whose energy within her gave rise to twin feelings of elation and terror. Loss was a familiar foe, but Nakato, the child’s father, knew how to coax her away from that dark path. Fierce Nakato, with his scarred face and his generous heart. She could go back to him when this was done. She could hide against his broad chest and tell him all the secrets she’d had to harbor on this hunt. It wasn’t fair that she’d had to keep them from him; that this mission had demanded both her silence and her absence. Life wasn’t fair, and she was a solider. Soldiers dealt with the unfair things, the attacks by foreign armies, the mages and demons. She’d chosen this path.
With a crack and a whoosh! a supporting beam collapsed. It made her jump. The timbers above it fell, hungry flames dancing and singing. Embers leaped at her. Splinters shot past her like arrows launched from a bow. Hand tightening on her own weapon, Tashami reluctantly surrendered her vantage point at the window. Slipping through the opening, she crept down the overhang roof and crouched low. She still overlooked the village square, but there was no hiding now. The fire lit her. The fire threatened her and the entire mission. The children… Blessed gods, the children.
What darkness would twist a man that he would steal the younglings to sell as slaves? Was it a man they hunted, or something else? The pervasive fire charring his dreams cultivated doubts of his humanity among the officers. There were arguments. There was Tashami pointing out that the flames of contention would consume them all, and the monster would only mock as more children vanished. It made her angry, so angry.
She had a child of her own to protect. Past grief to inspire her. Now was not the time to dwell on that long-ago loss, no matter how bitter. Not the time to confuse the present with either the past or the future. Now she had the monster within her grasp.
Resettling the arrow against her bow, she sighted down the length of it. Where were the others? If they did not hurry, the whole village would burn down around them. Beneath her perch the monster’s vassals hurried to and fro. Their cries mingled with the roar of the flames. If only the fire would consume him. But the flames were his companions. He needed drowning, except drowning was too good a death. Too clean. And it was not worth the risk to hope he could be killed like any other mortal.
He was unmistakable. Tashami had never seen his face, for she’d observed his dreams from his own perspective. Arrogant dreams. The characters in them called him “master.” Did he have a name?
She slid her glance to the ground at his feet lest he notice her focus upon him. He strode through the village, shouting orders as if by his will alone enemies would be vanquished and order restored. She knew his voice well. After months of walking his dreams, she ought, but the sense of familiarity ran deeper than that. It was a hazard of their nightly intimacy. When you walked with darkness, some of it was bound to rub off on you.
The fire’s hot breath blew a strand of hair across her eyes. Embers alighted on her leather bracer. Several kissed her cheek. She ducked her head to wipe her face on her shoulder. It was then that she saw the mage net, glimmering fainter than starlight.
Those who made such strategic decisions had chosen a two-fold death for the nameless child-taker. An arrow through the heart. A tumble through a portal. They would send him back to the black abyss that spawned him and pray he arrived as a corpse.
Memories flitted alongside the mages bearing the net as they slipped up behind their target. Her parents. Her twin. Her mentor.
She refused to be distracted by the past.
An explosion of violence struck the mage guard. Expected. The guards pushed off the attack, the mages pushed forward. Push, push…
“Open the portal,” Tashami urged, teeth gritted, bow flexed.
Another assault on the rear. Two of the guards went down, exposing the mages. One of them staggered.
“Get up. Do it. Do it!”
The monster turned toward the threat. Toward the net. His cloak billowed around him like thick smoke, concealing his figure. Tashami loosed her arrow. A distraction to give the mages precious seconds. Time slowed to an ooze. A curious silence enveloped her, beyond which she was aware of a dozen different things. Soldiers and mercenaries fighting. Fires burning. A child shrieking. The mage net activating with a shuddering thump! that shook the air. The monster flinching as her arrow scored.
Blind habit had a second shaft nocked and drawn.
The monster’s hood fell back.
The ooze stalled entirely.
His scarred face lifted toward her, and he smiled. Her beautiful, terrible Nakato smiled. “Come to me.” The words came to her as clearly as if he spoke them into her ear.
How could a thousand questions fit into the space of a single heartbeat? How could she not have known? Did the others? How? Why? A hundred times why. Tashami heard the noise of her heart shattering like glass. Tasted the ashes of bitter defeat. Smelled the stench of doubt planted in her belly. His child.
“But I love you,” she whispered.
“As I love you.”
How surreal. Here she stood, on the edge of the world. Facing her demon. What did you do with demons? Tashami let the arrow fly. Disbelief painted his ravaged face. Her scream followed him into the abyss…
Flash #2: The Myths We Didn’t Tell
by P.S. BROADDUS
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
Our city was rotting, from the inside out. Any city has a bit of corruption. It’s the nature of our world. Everything is fallen. Except the naiads, if you believed the legends borne in the shadow of their sacred mountain, towering above us. But in Trichor we did not believe in myth and legend. Only gold and silver. (Go ahead, you know you want to read the rest of the story!)
Flash #3: The Resistance
by PATRICIA REDING
Author of the Oathtaker Series
They call me stealth. No, not that kind of stealth. Let’s see… How can I make this easy to understand?
Oh, I know!
Imagine the largest man you’ve ever seen. You know the one. He has legs the size of a cathedral’s pillars, and biceps like boulders. His neck is reminiscent of a bull’s. He might be a bit—yes, all right, quite a bit—overweight. His middle hangs over his beltline . . . And don’t even start me on what happens when he bends over. Honestly, that is a sight I do not want to think about.
There. Can you picture him? That’s right. He’s the guy the others call “Tiny.” So… that should give you an idea of what I mean when I say they call me “Stealth.” In short, I earned the nickname because I’m anything but. (Looks like a great start to me! Let’s read the rest!)
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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 fiction as much as we enjoyed writing it! We want to make this a regular feature. Have you got a title or a picture to inspire us?