fiction

The Majestic by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1 of 9

You may have read my last sci-fi serial, The Silent Serpent, (and if you haven’t, you can find it here.) This nine-part serial meets up with that same crew as they pour every last credit they have into a new ship of their very own… The Majestic. 

***

“McGrath’s Scrapyard,” the sign overhead boldly proclaimed.

Nell eyed the rusty crooked letters cynically, This doesn’t bode well…

Once past the garbage heap-style entrance, the moderately-sized yard was entirely hidden from view by a monstrosity of a ship, rust-coloured from top to bottom as if it had lain in that exact spot for a hundred years or more. It wasn’t large as far as ships go, but ships always seemed comically oversized when parked on a planet, and this one looked like nothing more than a rusted metal turtle flipped on its back.

“Ah, there you are!” An unfamiliar voice proclaimed, causing Nell’s fur to prickle and her tail to whip about, ready to strike if needed. “I was hopin’ to show you the beauty myself, but it seems you’ve found her already.”

The man came to a stop before her. He was full human, not Terian, since his dull brown eyes had no glow. He stood maybe six feet in height, with broad shoulders, but it was clear from his paunch that if he worked here, he didn’t do any of the heavy lifting. His gruff tanned face was mostly covered by a white-laced ruddy mustache that hung from the sides of each cheek like a piece of rope glued there for comedic effect.

“Oh, where’s my manners?” He stuck out his hand. “Hank McGrath.”

Nell eyed the calloused fingers encrusted with dirt, rust, and who-knows-what-else and decided quickly she wasn’t about to touch this man, let alone shake his hand. I’ll need a sonic shower just from standing in this place, she wrinkled her nose at the sour smell of rust and garbage, no need to make it worse.

If McGrath noticed her discomfort, he made no show of it. “Ah, and you must be Captain Xendri.” Not missing a beat, the middle-aged human shifted his hand as if he had been intending to hold it out for the Koowan Captain all along as she scurried over to join them.

“Oh, is this how humans do it?” Xendri questioned, trying to position her arm to mirror McGrath’s gesture. At half his height and with limbs more suited to running and climbing, it looked a little silly when she tried to do it.

The next several minutes were lost to Hank McGrath trying to teach Xendri how humans shake hands. The part furred, part carapaced Koowan seemed fascinated by the man’s lesson and eagerly practiced the gesture half a dozen times, despite the dirt on McGrath’s hands.

This gave Quattro and Vox enough time to arrive, followed by their former Captain, James Claw. Quattro and Claw were both Terian, their purple and blue eyes respectively giving off a faint glow, noticeable even in the orange-ish light of a sunny day on Mars. Otherwise they looked to be the same species as McGrath, though supposedly there were some other subtle differences between the two variations of human. Vox, however, was a different being altogether. At nearly eight feet, he was the tallest of them all, and though he was humanoid in shape, the resemblance ended there. He stood stiffly, barely moving, and he never bothered to turn to look at you since he could see in all directions, being made entirely of a white opaque crystal.

“Good to see you, Nell.” Words came from somewhere around Vox. He didn’t have a mouth, so Nell had no idea how he managed to make vibrations, or where the sound came from exactly. “I wasn’t sure you were going to be joining us, but I’m pleased to know we will have a pilot.”

Nell shifted uncomfortably. She had considered going her own way when the last ship they were on together needed to be scrapped after unexpectedly finding itself in the middle of a firefight. But this is what I want, right? The chance to pilot my own ship?

Captain Claw managed to draw her attention back to the present. “So this is it, huh? What do you guys think?”

Nell turned to look at Claw and then followed his gaze to the rusted metal turtle. “Wait. This is our ship?”

“Ain’t she a beaut!” McGrath proclaimed.

“She’s somethin’ alright,” Quattro twisted his mouth dubiously, fighting off the urge to laugh.

“It’s… it’s…” Nell struggled to put her thoughts into words. Garbage? A Scrapheap? Junk?

“It appears to have the shape of a space-faring vessel, without the substance of one,” Vox stated. “A picture of a ship, if you will. It also appears to be far below the value in credits we provided you to build it.”

McGrath just laughed, his belly shaking up and down in a disconcerting manner. “Ah, that’s just the outside! A good coat of paint’ll fix that right up. It’s the inside that counts, my crystalline friend. Come on, lemme give you the tour.”

***

To be continued in Part 2, next week. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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Flash Fiction from Regan W. H. Macaulay: The Kiss.

This week is another piece of short fiction from Regan W. H. Macaulay whose children’s picture book, Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast, launches September 1st. You can learn more and pre-order this book here

The Kiss

His heart raced when her full, parted, lips touched his. His mouth welcomed her warm breath, her soft tongue.  From deep inside his stomach, he felt the familiar feeling of falling.  Every muscle in his body contracted as, eyes closed, he pictured her face that was so close to his right now.  His body collapsed in on itself while his heart thumped maniacally, exploding, like birth.  He saw her wintry skin in his mind’s eye.  He watched her hair flow before him like blood from a wound. It was burnt amber, like falling leaves in autumn.

He was sinking.  He felt small and insignificant next to her.  She could cradle him in her hands.  She could crush him.  He opened his eyes hesitantly and watched her hazel eyes deepen before him into a green as deep as a dark, fabled forest.  She was watching him, too.  He could not break free from her enduring kiss.

He shut his eyes again and remembered.  It seemed like he had watched her over the course of a lifetime.  She had ignored him as if unaware of his obsessive observations.  She sat in the lecture hall, her gentle form bent over her notes as she stared at them with the intensity of a marble statue.  Her willowy form strode through the halls with an air of absolute entitlement.  He could see she had the world by the short hairs – the world and all the people in it.

But Marianne saw nothing impressive in her.  His friend warned him that type of woman would never need him.  Would she even want him?  He had said he didn’t know.  And what difference did it make to Marianne, anyway?  He must know her.  He bent all his will towards that end and let everything else slip away into a vortex spinning in the back of his mind.  He built his confidence a little every day just to gather the strength to say hello.

Now she shone down on him like orange twilight or burnt sunshine, so far away.  And he was still sinking.  No, shrinking before her.  Was he falling?  Why did she tower over him?  He was hard all over, tense with panic.

He experienced a waking reverie of the time he spent trying to woo her, all the while staring at her far above him.  He recalled their first words for a fleeting moment, but that was soon gone.  His mind was falling in on itself.  Imploding.  He remembered the name of her cat – Sookie.  She was the darkest cat he’d ever seen.  Like a deep forest with bright eyes, like her mistress.  He remembered the first time he ever stepped into her apartment, which was where he stood now.  No, he was sitting.  His limbs felt springy.  They flopped around, spaghetti-like.  They slapped on the floor.  His fingers felt nubby.  He gazed down at them.  They were alien to him.

His frantic mind turned over images around the room.  He both saw and recalled his first time noticing all the terrariums in her apartment.  They glowed at him with a green-tinted fluorescence.  They were decorated like small jungles.  He wondered then, as he did now, why she would have so many pet frogs.

His lips had left hers now.  His eyes felt plump as he gazed up at her.  Surely they would bulge out of his skull if these strange sensations continued.  She gazed back at him with an expression he could not discern, but it made him feel helpless.  Like loving her had made him feel hopeless.

She smiled and her expression changed.  Her eyes sparkled and in those last moments of rational thought, he knew he had obtained her love at last.  She doted on him, bending over him, gently picking him up off the floor in her enormous, pale hands.  Her fingers cupped his bloated stomach.  She pulled him out of his crumpled clothing.  Now he had her!  He could see she would obsess over him, now.

She carried his orb-like form to one of the terrariums and opened the door on the front of the tank.  Gently, she slipped his gelatinous body onto the soil.  His mind grew dark.  He stared about and noticed the other gargantuan frogs sharing his new habitat.  He gazed at his golden, bulbous eyes, tomato-like form and twilight orange skin reflected in his water dish.  He matched her hair.  Perhaps that made him special.  Then it dawned on him that she had had a lot of first and only kisses, and his awareness slipped away with the click of the terrarium lock.

rhcmacaulay-headshot

 

Regan writes novels, short stories, children’s literature and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film and television. She is an animal enthusiast as well, which led her to become a certified canine (and feline) massage therapist.

“Envy” Flash Fiction by Regan W. H. Macaulay

You may already be familiar with Regan W. H. Macaulay. We introduced her a while back as a member of the Mirror World family. She’s a children’s author and has two upcoming Children’s picture books with us. The first, Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast launches September 1st, 2018 and we’ll be revealing the cover and some of the art around the beginning of August.

Mixter Twizzle is an odd, red, round-shaped, mischievous creature.  He lives in a hovel, beneath a rustic barn, underneath the chicken coop at Riverdale Farm.  He’s a snoozing sneezer and a snoring barker; a peculiar sort that both annoys and pleases. At first, Mixter Twizzle is thrilled by his egg-gorging fests, delighting in his own wickedness, but he soon realizes he is lonely. He longs for companionship, but the hens will have nothing to do with him. Can this fiendish creature learn to make friends at the farm?

The second is another Children’s picture book called Beverlee Beaz, the Brown Burmese, and this one’s about a curious and adventurous cat who uses her imagination to get herself both into and out of trouble. Beverlee Beaz, the Brown Burmese, will be launching sometime in 2019.

In the meantime, we’ve got some flash fiction to share from Regan W. H. Macaulay. So, here goes:

ENVY

The woman pauses and heaves a sigh. She clutches a live cricket with her index finger and her thumb. It wriggles for its life, which will end shortly. Not like her life. Not like theirs.

She is the woman at the end of the universe and her time will never come. They are the creatures she looks after: the last of the Moca salamanders, the final pair of Bumble Frungit toads, a single Royal Fish of the New Siam government, and three mammals whose names are long forgotten. There are more–feeding them all is an endless and repetitious task. They are suspended in perpetual time. Immortal. Trapped. And they all eat crickets. That’s all that’s left to eat.

A Frungit toad laps the cricket from between her fingers. Squish. The toad gulps, swallows hard. The cricket is gone. The woman’s envy swells inside her like an angry flame.

rhcmacaulay-headshot

 

Regan writes novels, short stories, children’s literature and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film and television. She is an animal enthusiast as well, which led her to become a certified canine (and feline) massage therapist.

You can connect with Regan on her website: https://reganwhmacaulay.weebly.com/

 

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – FINALE (part 6)

Nell banked left, into the laser fire. The Silent Serpent rolled and Claw fell on top of Xendri, knocking her to the wall, which was now, or at least for the moment, the floor. There was another shudder as the laser-fire struck the ship. Xendri closed her eyes, thinking this was the end, but after one heartbeat and then another, they were still flying.

Claw was climbing off Xendri as the ship righted itself once more.

“What happened?” Xendri questioned struggling to her feet.

Instead of answering, Nell simply tapped the scanner screen with her metal-tipped tail. Xendri climbed onto the back of the pilot’s chair to be able to see over Claw’s shoulder. Below them, or was it above now? Xendri could never really tell, in space, and besides, Nell was still pulling them away and maneuvering deftly to keep any of the rest of the shots being fired from hitting them. Somewhere away from them, a mangled-looking version of their cargo bay dropped with what seemed like agonizing slowness toward the Delkrit city.

There was a moment of anticipatory silence and then the scanners lit up, reporting the explosions, one after the other, as the bombs caused a cascade reaction within the Delkrit vessel. Captain Claw let out an unexpected whoop, breaking the silence as he thrust his fist in the air. “Good job, Nell! Now get us out of here as fast as you can!”

Nell nodded, trying to catch her breath now that adrenaline was no longer ruling her. “Got it, Captain.”

Xendri just blinked, feeling shaken. The turret’s laser fire had come within inches of hitting their armed cargo and blowing them all to bits and pieces, and instead it had hit the stubborn clamp, freeing the bombs and saving their lives.

It occured to her in that instance that out in space, survival was balanced on the head of a pin. And if nothing else, Xendri intended to survive.

***

Two days later, the Silent Serpent landed safely on Mars with only a skeleton crew left, the rest having been asked politely to depart at the last station they’d passed through.

“I’m selling the ship,” Captain Claw announced to the few of them that remained. “Vox, excellent work setting up the gold exchange on Denain. With what we’ve made, split up evenly between us, plus the sale of the Silent Serpent to the scrapyard, I’ll have enough to retire.”

Xendri blinked a few times, confused. “What about the rest of us?”

“Well, that’s up to you, of course,” Claw allowed, “but I’m thinking that with your cuts combined, you might just have enough to buy a ship of your own, or cobble one together from used parts, at least. I’d be willing to help put you in touch with the right people.”

“But who’d be Captain?” Quattro asked the pertinent question.

“Not me,” Nell said. “I’m not the ‘Captaining’ type. I’ll happily fly whatever, wherever you tell me to, but I’d just as easily catch a ride on the next ship out of here.”

Vox, Xendri, and Quattro looked around at each other, but when Vox said nothing, Quattro and Xendri both spoke at the same time, drowning one another out.

“Listen, you don’t need to decide now,” Claw suggested. “Why don’t you sleep on it for the night? We can meet in the morning at the scrapyard to go over the options and the numbers.”

Claw’s authority still ingrained in them, they filed out, talking amongst themselves. All but Xendri. She lingered behind, watching Captain Claw. Finally his eyes fell on her and she mustered up the courage to ask, “What makes a good Captain?”

Claw smiled, his expression wistful, “The best kind of Captain is one who asks questions like that,” he told her, adding after a beat, “You’ll figure it out.”  

“Me?” Xendri was taken aback by his endorsement.

“Vox and Nell don’t want it, and Quattro really wouldn’t make a good Captain, so that leaves you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only that you’re the only logical choice, you’ve got the spark, I can see it. You want to know what’s out there, what lies beyond the next Jump Gate, and the one after that.”

Xendri found herself nodding. “That’s why I left home.”

Claw put a hand on Xendri’s carapaced shoulder. “I think ‘Captain Xendri’ has a nice ring to it, don’t you?”

To be continued… 

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 5

Here’s Part 5 of my sci-fi short story! If you haven’t started yet, click here to read from the beginning. Part 2 is here, Part 3 and of course, Part 4. Now that you’re all caught up, keep reading! 

***

“Identify yourself.” The words came sharply through the Silent Serpents’ speakers.

“Olympus, this is Captain James Claw of the Silent Serpent. We’re a small cargo vessel, but we happen to be carrying cargo that may be of use to you against the Delkrit.”

There was a pause. “What kind of cargo?”

“Explosives,” Captain Claw answered and Xendri flinched, knowing the Terran ship wouldn’t be too happy to hear that. The Council was really particular when it came to transporting weapons and the Terrans, or humans as they usually called themselves, basically ran the Council.

“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware of the law regarding-”

“They were a delivery meant for the mine on Elu,” James cut the person off. “Perfectly legal. I even have a manifest signed by the mine’s owner requesting the delivery. However, I think, under the circumstances…”

There was another pause. “Yes, I think you’re right, Captain. Under the circumstances, it would be your duty to use everything at your disposal to defend the system. I’ll make a note of your sacrifice, so that the owners of this mine can file for insurance.”

“Thank you, Olympus,” Claw said, grinning now. Xendri raised a brow in his direction.

“Captain, will you be dropping these explosives of yours off to us?”

Instead of answering immediately, Captain Claw met Nell’s eyes questioningly. The pilot settled her nerves by taking in a deep breath and then nodded to the Captain, some silent exchange taking place between the two of them. Xendri wasn’t sure what it was or what her place was in all this, but she was fascinated and couldn’t tear her eyes away from the action unfolding before her.

“That won’t be necessary, Olympus,” Claw said then, squeezing Nell on the shoulder. “We’ll manage.”

“Best of luck, Silent Serpent, and thank you for your help. Olympus out.”

Xendri heard a growling sound behind her and she whirled around to see the Silent Serpent’s main pilot, a burly-looking orange-skinned Jorn male, his short horns pointed. As soon as she made eye contact with him, his expression contorted as his growl cut off and he spun on his heel, taking off back into the ship. Ahead of Xendri, Nell started at the sound, trying to whirl around to see what was going on behind her, but Captain Claw squeezed tighter on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. Keep your focus on the task ahead.”

Nell nodded again, squaring her shoulders and taking a few more deep breaths as she gripped the steering column firmly with both paws.

“Xendri, shut that door and don’t let anybody through it, alright?” Claw ordered.

Spurring into motion, Xendri dove for the door mechanism and sealed the cockpit away from the rest of the ship. Abruptly it was just the three of them cramped into a very small space facing a Delkrit platform and a swirling mass of ships and weapons fire; the rest of the ship felt very far away.

“Here goes,” Nell announced suddenly and the Silent Serpent surged forward at its maximum velocity toward the dreaded machine-city.

To his credit, Captain Claw hung on to the back of Nell’s chair and said nothing; he just let the Pentaurii pilot do her job. Despite Xendri feeling like she was staring down the barrel of a gun as they hurtled toward the massive metal structure, flying like this was exhilarating. It was one thing to go fast in a Jump tunnel where there was little danger of anything going wrong and even less danger of hitting anything. It was quite another to go full speed while surrounded by chaos and to dive headfirst toward something much larger and much deadlier than you. It made her feel powerful and fearless, even though she wasn’t even the one piloting the vessel.

Thankfully the Enbi fighters were still drawing most of the fire, but the Silent Serpent still shook with the force of their passage and occasionally with the graze of a laser scraping the hull. Xendri could smell smoke and she wondered if being sealed away in the cockpit kept them from realizing how much damage the ship was really taking.

Nell weaved, getting in as close as she could, her tail hovering over the control panel as if she might need a third limb just to get the ship to do what she wanted it to do. She deliberately positioned the Silent Serpent to pass in the space between two enemy turrets. Those turrets were currently occupied, firing doggedly at the swarm of Enbi, but at any moment they could swing around and obliterate them.

“Now,” Captain Claw commanded, the authority clear in his voice.

Nell’s tail swiped downward like a scorpion striking, hitting a button on the control panel. Xendri heard the mechanism in the ship click and it was the sound that clued her in to what they were attempting to do. The button was meant to unlock the clamps that held their detachable cargo bay in place. Nell made to reach to her right for the lever that would physically detach the arms and release the cargo bay, bombs and all, onto the unsuspecting Delkrit ship below, but Captain Claw beat her to it. He pulled hard on the mechanism and it wrenched downwards with an audible whine. Nell didn’t wait for confirmation; she pulled upward on the steering column to send them up and away so the bombs could do their work.

But the cargo bay didn’t detach.

At least, not all at once. There was a horrible shudder accompanied by the sound of tearing metal, as the top of the ship went one way and the cargo bay tried to go another. A shared look of horror crossed all three of the faces in the cockpit as they collectively realized what had gone wrong; one of the clamps hadn’t let go.

And that was only the first sign that their luck had run out. As they passed too close to the Delkrit turrets, the weapons locked onto them as the biggest and most dangerous thing in sight. Two guns, each one almost the size of their entire ship, visibly cocked back as they prepared to fire.

Xendri gasped, watching the laser shoot straight for them.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 4

If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, follow the links. Otherwise, read on! (This is a sci-fi short story by J.A. Dowsett that you don’t want to miss!) 

***

The Silent Serpent surged out of the Jump Gate into regular space and slowed immediately, though still moving far faster than the well-worn ship could have managed under its own power. Nell was back in the pilot’s chair and Xendri stood behind her, eager to see another new region of space. However, no sooner had Nell caught sight of what awaited them in this sector did her gold-flecked black fur stand on end. Whipping her tail around, she used the metal tip to tap the button that allowed her access to the ship-wide communications system, setting it to high-alert, while every other part of her remained focused on the ship’s controls.

“Xendri,” Nell said, tension making her voice clipped, “get the Captain. We have a problem.”

Before Xendri could so much as turn around, Nell knocked the controls forward and the old cargo vessel lurched, nose pointed downwards. Weapons fire was visible in the cockpit’s narrow window, but it made no sound until it grazed the side of the vessel, where it sounded like metal grinding against metal and sparks.

Xendri’s breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t let the stop her. “Captain!” she yelled into the rest of the ship as she exited the cockpit, clinging to any handholds she could find on the ship’s metal interior.

Captain James Claw stumbled into view just as Nell was righting the ship once more, sending the Terian shoulder-first into a metal wall. “What’s the prob-” He stopped mid-sentence, cleary able to see the issue for himself.

Xendri turned around to see what he was looking at and she finally was able to understand fully what Nell had grasped in those first few seconds out of the gate. It wasn’t just one ship firing at another or some sort of defense system they were on the wrong side of. They’d entered into an active warzone.

Ships of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions flew this way and that, defending the gate and the nearby space station from the largest ship in the area, which looked less like a ship and more like a floating platform atop which sat a silent, technologically advanced city. It was massive, as large as the space station itself and oddly square in shape, not like most of the vessels that flew around it. It was also…lifeless-looking. There were a few minor lights here or there, mostly near the guns, but otherwise the vessel was dark and unornamented as it drifted slowly through space.

“Delkrit,” Captain Claw whispered as he pushed absent-mindedly past Xendri.

Even being from one of the more remote corners of the galaxy, Xendri recognized the word. Everyone had heard of the Delkrit, though it was rare for anyone to have seen one, let alone survived to tell about it. They were the modern-day boogeyman. Tales that were told about the horrors that lurked out in the black of space to keep pilots and captains from venturing too far out into the uncharted parts of the galaxy. Not exactly a race, or even alive in the traditional sense, the Delkrit were machines with an AI hive mind programmed for one thing: to destroy all organic life. They were said to be the scourge of the galaxy.

Despite herself, Xendri followed the Captain back into the cockpit and squeezed herself beneath the wall and his arm so she could see what was going on. Nell had brought the ship around to join with the multitude of ships that were arrayed in a semi-organized fashion in their united goal to keep the Delkrit from destroying the gate. No matter which race this sector belonged to, the Delkrit were everybody’s enemy, and if the gate fell anyone within it would be stranded somewhere between here and the gate they left from, with no way to know how far they’d been tossed off course. And that was if they survived the gate’s collapse at all. It wasn’t lost on Xendri that had they not exited the gate when they did, that could easily have been their fate. As a spacefaring vessel, they owed it to whomever might be travelling through that gate to do what they could to ensure it didn’t shut down unexpectedly.

“Captain?” Nell questioned.

“You have any skill with guns?” Claw asked her and she nodded without taking her eyes off the task ahead of her. “Then use your best judgement,” he told her.

Xendri held her breath as Nell brought the Silent Serpent within firing range and strafed to the left, using the ship’s lasers for all they were worth. She left a few small explosions in her wake and managed to avoid being shot out of the sky. Xendri allowed herself to breathe again only when they were again skirting away from the horrifying cold and impersonal-looking Delkrit city, which fired at them only because its sensors detected their proximity, not because it ‘felt threatened’ or even felt anything at all. Xendri shuddered.

Just then, a team of Enbi ships swooped past them, so close their sudden appearance took Xendri’s breath right back out of her and Captain Claw swore audibly. Tiny one-man vessels, the Enbi fighter-ships were like a swarm of bees compared to the Delkrit city and just as angry, but as Xendri learned a moment later, they weren’t what had Nell or the Captain’s attention.  

“Shit, is that a Terran dreadnought?”

Between one breath and the next, by far the largest ship Xendri had ever seen popped into the sector, blocking out her view of this system’s sun. It was easily the width of the Delkrit vessel, if not wider, and it towered upwards as well, like a giant ark without sails. The words, ‘The Olympus’ were painted on the side, each letter easily the size of their own meager cargo ship.

“Wait, that gives me an idea,” Claw declared. “Nell, open up a communication to that Terran vessel.”

Nell’s eyes went wide at the command, but she followed it and hailed the Terran ship, even as she kept them moving, so as to make a difficult target for Delkrit guns.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1

It’s time for another short story! This one’s not a pre-quel, or attached to any book at all, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi adventure following a group of characters that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. Please, enjoy! For more about me, just look around, or check our authors page here. 

***

The Silent Serpent hurtled through space at a speed only made possible by Jump technology. The old cargo hauler shuddered in protest at the velocity, but the pilot, Nell, paid the vessel no mind. Instead, her golden-green cat eyes were narrowed lazily over the cards in her hand as she deliberated her next play, her metal-tipped tail twitching idly.

Xendri watched her carefully, but the black and gold tortoiseshell cat, or Pentaurii as her race was called, gave nothing away by her expression; she was good at this game. Nell played the Queen of Spades, placing it on the foldout tray between them in the cockpit. Xendri frowned, looking between the cards at play and the ones in her hand before realizing all of a sudden that she’d been outmaneuvered. There was no way she could win now.

Xendri clicked her tongue in displeasure, speaking a few less-than-polite words in her native language before standing. “I’m going to check on the cargo.”  

“Cargo?” Nell questioned. “We’re mid-jump. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

Nell rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” Yawning, she put her hand of cards down as she turned to inspect the ship’s controls, absently going through the motions her job as thes ship’s secondary pilot required.

Xendri left her there and swung out into the main body of the ship, nimbly making her way to the ladder that led down into the detachable cargo bay.   

“Hey, Kiddo,” a deep male voice rumbled, catching her off guard. “Where you goin’?”

Looking up, Xendri found one of the loaders, a human man named nicknamed Quattro, looking at her curiously. He was much taller than her, six feet to her four, well-muscled, and he wore a impressive-looking pistol on his belt. Despite all that, there was no malice in his expression or in his glowing purple eyes, so she decided to let the ‘nickname’ he’d chosen for her slide, for now.

“Looking around,” she answered briefly. “Stretching my legs.”

Quattro nodded. “Yeah, gets a little boring in Jump-space, doesn’t it? Alright, go on then. Can’t hurt nuthin’.”

But Xendri wasn’t listening to him any longer; her eyes had fixated on the other device his belt contained. “Hey, can I borrow that?” she asked, gesturing with her chin.

Quattro looked down, confused. “You mean the scanner?” He unhooked it and tossed it to her. “Sure thing, Kiddo, knock yourself out.”

Xendri nodded, catching and pocketing the device before scurrying down the ladder, dismissing the burly loader from her thoughts. She took the ladder rungs two at a time and jumped the rest of the way to the floor of the cargo bay, landing gracefully on all fours before standing and making sure she was alone. The cargo bay was quiet; the only sound the occasionally creak to remind her that they were still moving very very fast, even if the floor beneath her feet felt stationary. She tapped the metal-plated floor with her foot as if to test the artificial gravity, but it felt the same as standing on any other surface. Space travel was weird that way, the universe had no up and down, but people made their own. Xendri wasn’t sure she’d ever really get used to it. She shrugged and pulled the scanner device out of her pocket, fiddling with the dials and buttons until she got the display to show what she wanted.

Walking slowly between the long cargo containers that filled the bay, Xendri let the scanner device do its thing, even going so far as to climb on top of one of the massive containers to scan closer to the middle.

“That’s odd,” Xendri muttered after some time spent in contemplation of what the hand-held device was telling her.

Eyes still on her findings, Xendri climbed back down off the crate, then back up the ladder to the rest of the ship. There was no sign of Quattro, but she wasn’t looking for him anyways; she went straight for the Captain’s quarters.

To be continued… 

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J.M. Walker – Part 8 (of 9)

If you’re new to this story, I suggest starting at part 1, here. Otherwise, read on!

The greenhouse was a tiny building just south of the main school building. It was frequented by gnome mages who took classes in gardening, as well as other mage disciplines that involved nature, such as elf mages and fairy mages.

“Why would she choose the greenhouse?” Oriella asked as they walked briskly.

“Because fire mages rarely go there?” Trina suggested.

Oriella nodded as the greenhouse came into view. No one else was around so the girls quickly ran inside. They looked around the interior of the building; there were long wooden tables full of potted plants and hanging baskets hung from hooks in the ceiling. There was green everywhere with spots of brightly coloured flowers. The greenhouse had a musty feel to it that was very similar to when Trina followed Oriella through a tree. They searched the entire greenhouse but there was no pixie mage to be found.

“She’s not here,” Trina said.

“Maybe she hid the feather here and already left,” Oriella suggested. “Could you see in the pool-image where she might be hiding it?”

“Not really…it was kind of blurry. I just knew it looked like she was in the greenhouse,” Trina said.

“Yeah, same here,” Oriella said, “but where could it be?”

Trina scanned the rows and rows of potted plants but nothing looked out of place. Most of them looked like they had been recently watered and many had been recently planted or repotted. It was impossible to tell where Chantelle may have hidden the feather.

“I say we go back to Flora House,” Oriella said, “and see if Eddy figured anything out from his chat with Chantelle, like where exactly she hid the feather.”

Trina inhaled sharply and began to sneeze. No, not now, she thought. She sneezed five times before she could stop herself. Flames were shooting everywhere and the wooden tables caught fire. The flames grew taller, until they were reaching the hanging plants, and soon the roof rafters began to burn. Oriella grabbed Trina, yanking her out of the greenhouse and into the cover of the Whispering Woods.

“Great gryphons!” Trina said as she watched the greenhouse burn. She could hardly believe she had created such a huge disaster. She had no idea she was even capable of setting an entire building on fire. She felt her stomach tighten with…fear? With dread? What would happen to her if they found out it was her fault? What if she continued to accidently cause more destruction?

She continued to watch the flames as a crowd began pouring out of the dorm houses and gathering. There were at least three water sprite mages who could create spouts of water, similar to Trina and her flames, except they actually knew how to control their water powers.

Within minutes the flames had died down. More water sprites arrived to douse the greenhouse with even more water, just to be safe, but the damage was done. There would not be any classes in the greenhouse on Monday – or anytime soon.

“Let’s get out of here!” Oriella said and yanked on Trina’s arm again, pulling her away from the scene of the fire.

“Where are we going?” Trina asked as they ran along the edge of the Whispering Woods, still under cover of the trees.

“Back to Knox! We’re going to pretend this never happened!” Oriella said.

The girls ran out of the woods as they reached Knox House. Instead of running to the front door they went to the left side of the building where their room was. Ivy grew up all sides of the building, especially on their side, and it was particularly thick right beneath their bedroom window.

“I’ve been doing some tweaking,” Oriella explained and quickly found handholds in the ivy. Trina watched as her nimble friend scaled the side of the wall, with the ivy growing in the pattern of a ladder.

“I’m not so sure I can do that,” Trina said.

“You have to at least try,” Oriella called as she reached their window and slid it open.

Trina took a deep breath and found the first handholds of ivy Oriella had used. It was surprisingly stable; the ivy was so thick it felt like she was climbing a regular wooden ladder. She took a deep breath and continued to climb, reminding herself to not look down. Oriella reached out when she made it to the top and helped her climb through the window.

“Now, let’s casually walk down to the common room as if we’ve been here all along,” Oriella said, brushing bits of leaves and dirt from her clothes.

“They’re never going to believe us,” Trina said.

“Only one way to find out,” Oriella said and headed out the door.

When they entered the common room, Trina was surprised to see someone with sky blue hair.

Chantelle gasped as Trina and Oriella entered and the pixie mage dropped the golden feather.

“Sir Gadison’s Golden Phoenix Feather!” Trina said and rushed forward to pick it up. “Why did you steal this? What are you doing here?”

“No, I’m returning it!” Chantelle said. “I’m trying to help!”

“How?” Oriella asked. “Why are you even here?”

“I’m trying to return it,” Chantelle said again, “because I feel awful, and so Corbin doesn’t lose his suite.”

“So, you did steal it?” Trina asked.

Chantelle hung her head. “Yes.”

“Why?” Oriella asked.

“Because Loukas asked me to the spring dance,” Chantelle said.

What?” Oriella asked loudly.

“Loukas asked me to the dance, but I said I couldn’t go, because I already have a boyfriend,” Chantelle said.

“Great gryphons, what pixie nonsense are you talking about? Who’s your boyfriend? What does any of this have to do with our feather?” Oriella asked.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 6

If you’re new to this short story, I recommend starting at Part One. Once you’re caught up, read on!

Trina felt as though at least an hour had passed. Her right leg was cramped under her and had completely fallen asleep. She was pretty sure Oriella had fallen asleep; she could hear the familiar sound of her roommate snoring. But just then, her nose began to tickle! She tried not to get too excited or to accidently do anything that would stifle the sneeze.

“Achoo!” Trina sneezed and a burst of flame shot from her nose, catching the second bed sheet of the day on fire.

Trina tore at the fabric and freed herself. She tried to stand but her leg was numb and she fell over. She crawled back to the flaming bed sheet and put out the remaining fire with her hands.

“You sneezed!” Oriella shouted. “Are you free?”

“Yes!” Trina said as she pulled herself over to Oriella’s bed sheet and pulled apart the knot the boys had made.

Oriella came tumbling out. “Did I fall asleep?”

“I think so,” Trina told her, and then looked around at their surroundings. “Do you have any idea where we are?”

Oriella looked around and frowned. “Not really, but I still might be able to find a tree to take us back to the school grounds.”

One of Oriella’s elf mage powers was being able to travel through trees and take companions with her. Trina had travelled with her several times already. She watched as Oriella went from tree to tree, searching for one that would take them back to school.

“This one…I think,” Oriella said.

Trina stood, her leg now stable, as Oriella put her hand on the rough bark of the tree. Trina walked over as a black doorway opened in the tree’s side, just big enough for Oriella to step inside. Trina had to duck to follow.

Inside the tree was dark and silent. All the other forest noises ceased and all Trina could hear were her own footsteps and Oriella’s much quieter and more graceful footsteps. The doorway they’d come in through sealed behind them, making the tunnel completely dark. The opening on the next end had yet to appear. Trina’s nose began to tickle.

“Uh-oh,” Trina managed to say before she sneezed and then sneezed again and again. Flames began to lick up the tunnel’s dark walls.

“We’re not there yet!” Oriella said as she began to run forward.

“I know!” Trina said, frantically trying to put out the flames, but there were too many.

There was a white burst of light and Trina felt herself blown over. She went flying to the ground and rolled head over heels at least twice before coming to a stop against a tree trunk. Her whole body ached, but nothing felt severely injured. She pushed herself up and got back to her feet. She was surrounded by trees.

“Oriella?” she called. Her friend was nowhere in sight.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 1

Have you read Elizabeth J. M. Walker’s young adult fantasy novel, She Dreamed of Dragons? Well, you can find it here or in our store. You can also learn more about Elizabeth J. M. Walker on our website. This short story is a prequel, so read on!

***

Trina woke with a sneeze. It was an alarming way to be brought out of dreamland. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But then the scent of burning began to fill her nose and her eyes shot open.

“Trina!” her roommate Oriella yelled, jumping out of bed. “Your bed is on fire!”

Trina had already realized this and was trying to extinguish the flames by smothering them with her hands. Being a dragon mage, the fire didn’t harm her skin, but it did harm her comforter. By the time she had successfully smothered the small fire, her periwinkle blue bedding was burned to a crisp and faint tendrils of smoke were floating about the tiny dorm room.

Oriella rushed to open the third-storey window. She began to cough, she so stuck her entire head of dark blond waves out the window and into the early morning fresh air.

“What just happened?” Oriella called back into the room.

“I think I sneezed,” Trina said as she shoved the charred remains of her bedding onto the floor. She’d have to find a dustpan to clean it up. And she’d have to find a new comforter.

“You sneeze fire?” Oriella asked, bringing her head back into the room. The smoke was beginning to clear.

“Sometimes?” Trina said meekly.

“I don’t sneeze leaves,” Oriella said, referring to her own powers as an elf mage, which included being able to travel through trees.

“I think I’d rather sneeze leaves,” Trina said.

There was a knock at the door.

“Hey! It’s Corbin!” their house don called. “Everything okay in there, Trina? I smell smoke.”

Trina went to open the door.

“Sorry,” she told her don, a Fifth Year with dark brown skin and shoulder-length black hair. He was a phoenix mage and knew a thing or two about having fire powers, but nothing nearly as powerful as Trina’s dragon mage abilities.

“Everything is under control,” Oriella chimed in.

“Please don’t burn our dorm down,” Corbin said. “It’s bad enough we have scorch marks in nearly every room, so let’s try to keep our house in one piece.”

Being the don of Knox House, the dorm that housed mages with fire powers, was not an easy task. The dorm was placed the farthest from the main school building of the Mage Academy and the cluster of other dorm houses due to the risk of student mages not always having full control over their fire powers.

Trina jumped as she heard the sound of breaking glass.

“Forest pixies!” they heard someone shout from the ground floor and Corbin sighed.

“Again?” Corbin said as he headed down the stairs. Being farther from the school and the main dorms also meant being deeper in the Whispering Woods, which meant being plagued by the forest pixies who lived in the woods.

“I hate pixies,” Oriella said as she yanked open a drawer and began to pull out some clothes. “I’m getting dressed before we go find out what they did this time.”

Trina nodded as she shut the door. She found a plain brown dress with singe marks around the wrists of the sleeves to change into. She tugged on her brown boots as Oriella did the same, pulling hers over a pair of green leggings she wore under a black tunic. Trina ran her fingers through her brown hair, which was so short that she didn’t need to properly brush it. She would have liked to have longer hair like Oriella, but she kept accidently burning it.

***

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