All Is Not As It Seems   Leave a comment

 This is an example of what can be done with a few sentences. It happens to be what I might do, but there are hundreds of other paths the first few lines can take.

 ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS

 

 The bedraggled dog ran through the tangled brush trying to lose the determined trackers, but he knew his time was running out. It was time to face them and let them know just what spirit they had really been chasing. The dog, Barton, ran down the snow, brush covered slope, sometimes tumbling more than running until he came to the bottom. Barton looked up the slope to the tree line at the top. He could hear the tracking dogs baying in pursuit. He started to run down the creek bed at the bottom of the slope.

Barton wouldn’t have much time to change into a more intimidating form, but he was sure he would be able to make the transformation before the trackers would be on him. He just needed to find the right place. He ran on looking for a clearing so that he could stop. Finally, he came upon one that was nestled up into the hill. It was a notch in the hill slop with three sides protected by rocky outcrops.  He thought it would do. Barton stopped and crouched in the middle as his body made the change. Since it was a magical change it happened fast and was relatively painless. It only took a moment as his body realigned itself into its new form.

Soon he stood up on his hind legs to his impressive height of thirty-five feet and stretched his wings. He couldn’t fully extend his wings in the narrow space of the notch in the hill. He pulled his wings in and thumped down onto his front legs and listened for the dogs. He had noticed that their baying had taken on a certain anxious note. In fact, they were doing everything in their power to run away from what they now scented ahead. He didn’t blame them. The trackers were hauling them forward with brute strength. They would be rounding the shoulder of the outcropping shortly.

He strode out to meet them, the bright sun seemingly absorbed by his black scales so that he looked more like a shadow than a dragon. When he moved lightening fast his body disappeared into a void. He positioned himself close enough to the wall so that his wing would have room to move but not far enough away so they could sneak behind him.  His left flank was exposed and there was nothing he could do to change that. His claws dug into the ground in anticipation. These were only trackers, not soldiers. He almost felt sorry for them, but he remembered who they held and what was happening to his family at this moment.

They thought they were picking up simple ignorant peasants, but they had picked on the wrong Freemen. The King was supposed to honor his obligations to free citizens, but lately his honor had become more than tarnished. Ever since that black wizard, Lyster, had come to the realm and started to whisper into the King’s ear about the King’s right to expand his empire and his right, given to him by God to rule all men. These God given rights made him above the law. He made and unmade the law as he saw fit.

Barton knew that recovering his family was only the beginning. Steam trickled out his nostrils as his belly slowly built up heat. He had tried to stay out of the revolution that had been building, not wanting to face Lyster because he knew that when the reckoning came it would come down to Barton and Lyster. He was a shape shifter, but he was much more. Barton was a white wizard. He controlled the natural elements and with this control could stand against the black wizard. Black wizards had their potions, incantations, and innate power or they would not be a strong wizard. A black wizard was all the stronger since he derived his strength through the death of others.

Barton had something that many in this age had forgotten, since there were so few elemental wizards and shape shifters left. Many white magical creatures had left during the great Leaving for a different land leaving this place for men and his easy susceptibility to evil. A few had stayed hoping to help humans find the right path.

 Barton and others like him got their power from the life force around them. The power of life was so much more powerful than death but it could only be used sparingly and with care. The power of life would destroy death with just a breath. Barton didn’t kill to take the life force, but borrowed small bits from all the elements around him, rock, tree, sunlight, butterfly, baby, mother’s love, tear’s of joy, laughter, and comfort of a kiss. Even tears of pain because the pain is from the loss of something: parent, honor, shame, anger, hopelessness. All these and more carry small bits of life, however tenuous. Barton never took from the life in pain that clung to someone because sometimes that bit of life was all that was keeping a person alive. If he took that they would die and he would be no better than a black wizard. In fact, when life was normal his position was as a priest of the Creator. In this position he could counsel and heal others.

He poked his wide nose into the air again and smelled. They would be upon him in seconds. It was time for him to stop thinking of the whys of it all, and start concentrating on killing the trackers and their dogs quickly. He hated to kill the dogs, but they would run back to the castle and everyone would know that something was wrong. He sunk low so his shadow quality blended with the surroundings. As they rounded the corner he saw the five trackers and twenty dogs. Everyone was there. The men were moving at a much more cautious rate, looking all around. He saw the dogs were not fooled by his rouse and one of the trackers, a young man with a shaggy blond beard, was watching his dogs. He then looked directly at Barton. Before he had a chance to make a sound Barton raised his head and let lose a tremendous blast of fire.

The first three men and dogs were caught fully by the blast and dropped without even having time to scream. The following two caught fire, but quickly rolled and put it out. Unfortunately, by the time they had gotten the fire out Barton had leapt over the other men and landed among them. Speed was his intention so he dispatched all those living with brutal efficiency. A couple of dogs got away and started to run into the forest. Barton bent his head and hesitated but then jumped up and crashed through the trees, first on one dog and then the next.

When it was over Barton turned back into a man and walked over to one of the men. He had only broken his legs so he could not get away. He walked up and looked down at him silently. The man for his part stared up with resignation on his face.

 “What are you?” the man asked.

 “I am a Freeman that you came to enslave,” Barton answered.

 “You’re not human.”

 “Depends on what you think of as human. Do you think the King’s wizard is human?”

 The man lay there staring at Barton. “Kill me now.”

 “Answer my question and maybe I will.”

 The man turned and looked at his burned fellows. “More human than you.”

 “Yes, you are right there. Yet I have for years done nothing but help people until your soldiers came and took my family away. They would have gotten me as well but I was out tending a woman giving birth. I am sure the soldiers have taken the babe from the mother so the wizard can sacrifice infant, all in the service of the magician and our great King’s ambitions. Young life is always the most power to sacrifice. Yet you say I am less human than him. I would have gladly let all you go but none of you could be trusted.” Barton looked at the man who looked away.

“Kill me.” The man asked again.

“Where do they take the new prisoners?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “I can torture you, but that is so human.” Barton got down and knelt in the snow and placed his hands on the man’s head. At first the man struggled than he became very still. Barton stayed like that for many minutes. He sighed, got up and brushed the snow from his pants.

 The man lay on the ground breathing very heavily not knowing what had just happened to him. Barton spoke as if to the air, “They have taken my family to be sacrificed for the war effort.” Barton’s hand became a claw and as fast as blur he bent over and ripped open the man’s throat. The man never even had time to know he was going to die.

Barton knew he had to get to the sacrificial temple before his family. A dragon was too slow; a falcon would be what he needed now. He jumped into the air and changed instantly into a falcon. Soon he was climbing and streaking towards his target.

****

Sarif was trying to be strong for the children. They were resting during their forced march. The ground was cold and hard and she was hungry. She could only imagine how her children felt. There was a stench of decay in the air and the more they marched the worse it got. Obviously, they were marching into whatever was making that stench, that smell of death. She looked at the sky and there was a low cloud cover making any attempt of the sun to heat them wasted.

It was not easy to keep Frelan and Garth from changing into some creature to attack the guards. It would be a futile gesture at most. At least young Lee understood that she could not leave her mother with baby Ally. They could all change except for Ally and Sarif was not going to give up Ally just yet. None of the children could change anything that was dangerous enough to kill all the guards that was protecting the convoy. However, Barton was not the only magi in the family. All were talented, to different degrees in manipulating the elements and the forces behind them. If they had a chance to speak together they could make a plan to free themselves as well as the other prisoners. However, the soldiers had kept the women and men about so far. However even working together they would not be able to get far.

She could see the growing frustration on Frelan and Garths’ faces. Frelan was the older at ten followed a year later by Garth. Sarif had endured many miscarriages until Lee had come along five years ago and then Ally just two years ago. All the children could change into several shapes such as mice, birds, and different people. Frelan’s favorite was that he could turn into a medium sized dragon that was scary looking if nothing else. His scales would protect him and he could fly a fair distance. He couldn’t, to his utter shame, breath fire yet. Lee also surprised them all one day, changing into a full grown panther. Sarif had asked her how she had come up with that and she said she saw a picture. The panther was quite large and deadly. After seeing Lee’s panther Garth had worked on his wolf until it was as large as a pony with teeth and claws that were definitely intimidating and very efficient at killing. Even with these beasts they were no match for forty guards.

She was proud of her children however what she really needed was a magical, thirty-five foot, fire breathing dragon. If it came to it she would use her magic to disable the guards. It would only be a short term fix though. They needed their father to help them get far enough away so the soldiers could not readily get them.

“Lee honey would you hold Ally. I am going to try and go to Frelan and Garth.” Sarif said.

“Mother, you’ll be caught and killed just like the boy who tried to run earlier.”

“No I won’t honey. They won’t even see me. Just hold Ally and I will be back before they start us marching again. If I’m not it is only because I have been held up. Just start marching and act as though everything is fine.”

“Mother, please don’t leave me.”

“I have to speak to the boys or they may try something stupid. Trust me, I will be back.”

She quickly handed Ally to Lee before she could voice anymore complaints. Then she was gone, clothing and all. That was the joy of magical shape shifting when you changed everything went with you and when you came back it was still there.

She had changed into something that very few shape shifters could. She vanished into mist. She floated over to the boys. She had some control over where she went by her control of the element of air. She hovered above them and then just sank over them like a blanket. They both froze. They were very aware of their mother’s talent and knew what was happening. She slowly pulled into a ball and manifested as a small boy sitting between her two sons. They didn’t look at her or make any movements that would draw attention to them. She looked like one of the boys that went to Barton’s parish. Finally Frelan spoke.

“I wondered when you would visit.”

“We haven’t stopped long enough for me to get everything set up. I don’t have much time. We will be moving any moment. I know you are anxious to try to fight your way free but you are only boys and do not have the training in shape shifting or elemental magic to succeed. You will just get us all killed. If you shift I will have to betray myself to protect you and so will Lee.”

“You have no confidence in us.’ Frelan said.

“I have tremendous confidence in your abilities for a boy of ten but a boy of ten and nine cannot hope to overcome forty soldiers and twenty dogs.”

There was silence as that statement struck home. Garth kicked the ground. “We can’t just go to the slaughter. You know that is where they are taking us, to the black wizard’s temple.”

“Yes, I can smell the stench also. I also know that by now your father is aware of what has happened. When he arrives all chaos will descend. I need you to run to your sisters and protect them. Frelan I want you to become your dragon and Garth your wolf. Lee will become her panther. You three will keep anyone from hurting Ally while your father and I kill the guards. Fellow prisoners may try to attack you; warn them off. If they don’t go, then kill them.”

“Mother, what if there are too many for us?” Frelan asked.

“If we are overrun, your father and I, or you are in danger of being overrun then Frelan take Ally and fly to Eagles Peak. Do you think you can make it carrying Ally?”

“I’ll make it mother, but what of Lee and Garth?”

Sarif turned to Garth, “You will have the most difficult task. You will be on your own. Leave your sister. You are safer apart than together. Garth, also head for Eagles Peak, but first head east. I know that is towards the wizard’s temple but they won’t expect it. Run as a wolf for a bit then change to a sparrow but keep heading east for several miles. When night comes stop and start to head around towards Eagle’s Peak. You must head for Eagle’s Peak as a sparrow, then a mouse if others are around. Garth, keep changing but do not become a wolf again. If you can, try to become a horse. They travel fast and far. I am going to tell Lee to head west and do as you do. Hopefully in two days you will all be back together.”

“What about you and father?”

“If we can we will meet you. Wait a week, than try to find the rebels and join them. I must go now they are already getting people up for the march.”

Tears were running down the little boys face and he wiped them away brusquely. “Your dad will find us and everything will be alright. One more thing boys, quickly, we have another two days of marching. Late tomorrow I will disable the guards. Follow the plan as if we have been overrun. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I will get Ally and go to Eagle’s Peak.” Frelan said.

“And I will go east for a while. I can’t go far or I will get to the temple.” Garth said.

“Go for a few miles as a wolf than become a mouse and go to ground. In the morning, follow the plan. Now do not wait for me. I love you so much.”

Then she became mist, but where she crossed the ground a slight rain fell on those below. She got back to Lee a minute before the guard arrived. Just in time to grab Ally but not enough time to fill Lee in on their plan. Lee had the presence of mind to act as if she were bored and exhausted and when the guard kicked her she just rolled away and got up silently.  Sarif knew she would have time to tell Lee what to do on the march. The hard part was over.

****

Barton flew up into blue sky heading northwest.  He would be happier with cloud cover but he was pretty certain that the closer he got to the temple the thicker the clouds would get. He got into rapid rhythm of stroking his wings up and down, getting closer to his family with every stroke. He also used the air element in the form of wind to increase his speed until he was making unbelievable progress. He was sure that even if Lyster knew he was down south he would never expect him to appear amidst his prison convoy. However, Barton knew Lyster didn’t even believe his kind existed. He believed that all elemental magicians and creatures had disappeared during the Leaving

As expected the clouds got thicker and slowly the cloud ceiling lowered towards the surface. He skimmed along, just inside the cloud cover, only coming out to check the road. Towards the mid afternoon he saw them. It was a long line of bedraggled people who looked hungry and exhausted surrounded by forty armed guards, half of whom had cruel looking dogs. He could see that they had split the men and woman so he first looked for his wife and daughters. He was really appreciating his falcon eyes. It only took a moment for him to find Sarif carrying Ally and Lee keeping up next to her. He could just tell by looking at them that although everyone else in that convoy had given up, his family was not going to go peacefully to their deaths.

Next he located his sons. While he was watching them Frelan looked up and saw him. Frelan smiled and whispered something to Garth. To Garth’s good sense he didn’t move or change expression. Barton took a deep breath. He had to hope that Sarif was able to coordinate some plan for when he arrived. Sarif was on the left side so he decided he would start on the right. He went up into the clouds and changed into a dragon. Then he reached down to the earth and pulled out fire. He seldom did this but he wasn’t going to fry these people, he was going to embed them in glass. He intended to leave a powerful message.

He banked out of the clouds and flew to the back end of the guards. He started to roast them and he didn’t stop until he was out of fire. By this time the guards were screaming and running, trying to escape the horror that had descended upon them from all sides. There was another dragon roasting guards on the front of the left column.  This dragon was golden and shown with a light that almost hurt the eyes. He made a sharp right turn pulled in more fire and blew fire balls at any running guards. He noticed that Frelan, Garth and Lee were in a defensive circle in their beast forms. He assumed they were guarding Ally. He should have known Sarif would have everything ready for him. At this point, he just started to jump and pouch on the guards, ripping them to pieces in a quick jerk. Most of the prisoners had run away and some of the guards were also running.

He was about to pursue the other guards when Sarif called to him.

“Barton, enough, we are safe! We need to leave now while we can. They will regroup quickly and hunt us till the ends of the earth.” Never had the King or black Magician been so challenged and attacked by such a dangerous foe.

Barton’s blood was up, but his wife was right. They needed to get their young children to safety. Sarif and Barton landed next to their children.

“I will take Ally. Lee, become a mouse and ride with your mother. Garth, do the same and ride with me. Frelan, we will be setting a fast pace and you will not be able to maintain it. Keep it up as long as you can, then you will have to become a mouse and you can ride with your mom or me depending on who is strongest.”

“I don’t need to be a mouse!” Frelan said.

“Frelan, you have done wonderfully. Promise me that when you need to rest you tell me. Now promise.” Sarif said.

“Come on Frelan, you don’t see me making a big deal about it. I know my limitations.”
Garth said.

“Okay, okay.”

Well, we’re together again which, is a mistake they will learn to regret, Barton thought.

 

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Posted 06/11/2011 by J.L. Carson

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