Excerpt for Fury and Fire (Short Stories) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Fury and Fire

A Collection of Short Stories


M. R. Mathias


Copyright 2018 by Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

All Rights Reserved


Smashwords Version


A very special thank you to the great

Larry Elmore

who allowed me to grace this book with one of his paintings for a cover.

See "The Complete Elmore" to find more of his incomparable works.


Special thanks to:

Tim Marquitz for editing services

John H. Carroll for formatting Services



Table of Contents

The Legend of Foxwise Posy - Thorn

The Bride

Crimzon & Clover I - Orphaned Dragon, Lucky Girl

Believe in Dragons?

Crimzon & Clover II - The Tricky Wizard

A Hunger in the Night

Crimzon & Clover III - The Grog

The Blood of Coldfrost

Crimzon & Clover IV - The Wrath of Crimzon

ROAR

Crimzon and Clover V - Killer of Giants

The Next Big Thing

Crimzon and Clover VI - One Bad Bitch

Parallax the Rogue

Crimzon and Clover VII - The Fortune’s Fortune

Family First

Crimzon and Clover VIII - The First Sarax

The Girl Who Slayed a Dragon

Alpha Sint-Holo

The First Dragoneer

King of Fools

Other titles by M. R. Mathias

About the Author



The Legend of Foxwise Posy - Thorn


by M. R. Mathias


Copyright © 2013 by Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

All Rights Reserved



Author’s note about the timeline of this story:


This tale starts at about the same time The Legend of Vanx Malic Book Two - Dragon Isle does. It can be read at any time during the series, but will serve readers best if they read it before They read book four, which is due for release Jan. 9th 2014. This story is not part of the main Vanx Malic tale, but the character Foxwise Posy-Thorn is destined to become relevant, if he can survive this ordeal.


Thank you and enjoy, M. R. Mathias



Legend of Foxwise - Chapter One



General Foxwise Posy-Thorn, “Thorn” to his friends, had never been as nervous as he was now standing before Queen Corydalis, and her council of elders, in the Nexus. She was beautiful and her huge, lavender eyes sparkled with the same fractal sheen as her glassine wings. The cherry blossom scent of her breath and the vibrating tingle of the Heart Tree’s magic had him shivering.

Thorn was the elven delegate of the Pixie Queen’s court, as well as the leader of her Honor Guard, and General of Defenses. He was around the queen often and somewhat used to all the pomp and ceremony, but the way this evening unfolded, he knew he was about to be given a task of great importance. The glorious pixie queen had called him and two other elves into the field generated by the root clusters of the Heart Tree. Inside the shimmering energy of the Nexus they could speak without the scores of sprites, brownies, gnomes, and skorks milling around in the great central cavern hearing. Thorn was trying to read her expression, but he found his nervousness wouldn’t allow him the concentration he needed. Then she started speaking, her musical voice full of great sadness and dire warning.

“Thorn, Bristle, and Barb, of all my ranks, you are my most loyal, my fiercest, and my sharpest of wit.” She nodded at strawberry haired Thorn, his lieutenant, stubble-headed Bristle and the girlish, blue-haired spellcaster, Barb, who could tell you something about everything.

“You need not know why, other than this. The Heart Tree and the future of the Lurr Forest Fae is at stake. The three of you must cross the Ice Falls and travel to a lake near where men dwell. There you will find Three Tower Island.”

Thorn tried to concentrate, but the silky metallic flow of the Pixie Queen’s hair threatened his ability to listen. Apparently she noticed this, for she placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed him so hard that it hurt.

“Under the towers there is a series of hidden tunnels and rooms. You must find them and follow them to Falriggin’s hidey-hole. There should be a small chest there with an assortment of valuable coins, gems, and artifacts.”

“What do we need with those?” Bristle asked.

Thorn made to command the insubordinate elf, but the Pixie Queen smiled at the ornery oaf and dispelled the tension.

“We don’t want those things, Bristle,” she said as she looked deep into Thorn’s eyes. “We want Falriggin’s shard. It is a milky crystal about the size and shape of a carrot. Dire times are coming and there is naught we can do but cast forth a beckoning, and hope that a champion answers the call.”

“I will be your champion,” Thorn said proudly.

Barb chuckled and earned a sneer from Thorn, but he didn’t say a word. She was of the same rank as he, but of a different order. He would speak with her in private though, that was certain.

“You are my champion Thorn. That is why you will take this, and lead these two to Three Tower Island to retrieve the shard.”

She handed him a cloth—wrapped bundle that he understood to be a sword the minute he was holding it. It was the Glaive of Gladiolus, also know as Witch Bane, he saw when he let the wrapping fall away. He quickly buckled it around his waist and stood that much taller when he was done.

“Pardon, my queen, but why are you sending three and the Glaive?” Barb asked with deep intelligence twinkling in her bright blue eyes. Thorn only sensed the slightest bit of jealousy from her. “Sounds like a simple task. Are there wards, or guardians, watching over our prize?”

“Falriggin was as tricky as they come. He sent us missives dozens of years ago, when he was still alive.” Elva Toyon the eldest member of the Troika Sven answered. The other six members of the council were cringing along the inner edge of the Nexus, for they’d seen the Pixie Queen’s look as she was spoken over.

The Pixie Queen forced a smile over her scowl and touched her chin. “His last message said that only my most loyal, my fiercest, and my most intelligent warriors could retrieve it, and only after he passed on. He knew we would need it, and he didn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands, and now I wish I’d acted sooner, for there is no time to waste. If you’ll place your hands in mine, I will see you off from the Shadowmane at once.”

Thorn held his breath. He hated it when the queen escorted them up to the Overland. Afterward his skin always felt flaky and crawly. There was a stair and door with an active portal that worked just fine. As it was, he took Barb’s hand and then the Pixie Queen’s. Bristle joined the circle, and there was a brief but intense feeling of being swarmed over by buzzing bees. They appeared in an oval clearing surrounded by a ten-foot-tall bramble shrub that was so prickly and dense that even the smallest birds avoided it for fear of impaling themselves on the thorns.

As he expected, his skin felt as if it were peeling, but he kept his face solemn. Barb didn’t seem to be affected at all, yet Bristle was scratching at his neck as if there was a red ant crawling on him.

At one end of the turf-covered oval was the towering Heart Tree. It’s lowest branches were ten feet higher than the top of the wall. It was lush and thick with green, heart-shaped leaves, save for one branch that was dead. Fluttering sprite Medikas zipped about and tended the branch, but it was clear to all that it would have to be cut.

The tree was sick, Thorn understood. The hoar witch had poisoned it or some such madness, he wasn’t sure, but it was done. Only the fabled emerald eyed champion of lore could take her power from her and save it. Queen Corydalis needed Falriggin’s shard to cast a beckoning to him.

“We won’t fail you my Queen,” Thorn told her as they neared the passage that would take them through the bramble wall to true Overland.

“I know you won’t, General Posy-Thorn.” She smiled a smile that threatened to turn his knees to water. “Be careful, but make haste. Barb, Bristle, I expect you to follow his orders. Now go and bring us back the shard.”

Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Two



Three days and a few hundred miles had passed since they’d left the Shadowmane. Now the group was skirting well around the gargan city of Great Vale.

“...I’d bet I’m waist high to a man at least,” said Bristle as they tramped along through the snow. “How tall can they be?”

“Not as tall as a gargan, but almost.” This came from Barb, who always spoke knowingly. She was tiny, with a shapely form, and her voice was thick and husky. Though Thorn would have never said it aloud, he thought quite highly of her and her lineage.

“Not quite to the waist of a man, I tell ya. You could run ‘tween a gargan’s legs and not touch his dangles, I say.”

She turned to Thorn as they moved along the edge of a line of cedar and spruce. She brushed her long blue bangs back. “What ‘bout ya Thorn, you ever seen a human up close?”

“I seen a dead one once.” Thorn gave them both a hard look. “We killed him when he started pissin’ in the mushroom grove.”

“Killed him good,” Bristle nodded. “I remember.”

“Killed him for pissing?” Barb asked incredulous. “Really?”

Thorn was saved from answering when they came around a bend and the land fell away from them in a slow, sloping roll of snow-covered, rock-pocked, magnificence. The lake was out there too, a blue glassine sheen at the bottom of the massive valley. There was an Island in the lake and on the island there were the remains of three old towers. One was mostly crumbled and one was leaning and missing part of its top. The other stood straight, but Thorn thought he could see gaps in the mortar from where they were.

“Humans.” Barb pointed at a thin trail of smoke rising from a group of buildings on the far side of the lake.

“How do we get to the island?” asked Bristle. “I don’t see any boats on this side.”

“First we have to get to the lake,” Thorn said. Bristle had brought up a good question, but they needed rest before they crossed over, and they were still half a day from the lakeshore. “We can row a log over if it comes to that, but if we get down to the water before nightfall we might be able to find something better.”

“Good thinking,” Barb said.

They didn’t find much when they finally made it to the bank. It was more of a fracturing ice shelf than a shore, and there was nothing to aid them except a single log about the size of a gargan’s leg.

They decided to use the log and keep going. It was cloudy but the moon was full and its pale yellow glow found its way through. The water was freezing cold, but Barb promised a hot fire for when they were on the island, so no one complained.

They were half way across the glass-smooth lake when they saw something circling in the sky. They knew what it was immediately. It was Sloffin, one of the hoar witch’s foul beasts and now it was diving right at them. Part griffon, part mountain cat, and covered in slick gray scales, Sloffin was hard to see in the blustery mountains, but down here he was far more visible. It didn’t matter though. All it meant at the moment was that they could see Sloffin diving at them. There was nothing they could do. They were floating on a log in the middle of a lake.

“Just dive under the water when it’s on us,” said Thorn. “We can swim while it circles back and eventually we will get over.”

“Yes,” Barb agreed, as she slipped off of the log so that it was under her arm and she was mostly in the water.

“I’ve got it,” Bristle said and Thorn saw that he had drawn his bow. “Dive away now.”

Thorn had no reason to doubt Bristle’s deadly accuracy, but what happened next churned the meager food right out of his guts.

Bristle clamped his legs on the log and steadied his aim, then just as Sloffin was on them, he made to loose his arrow. The gut bowstring stretched because it was wet. The arrow flew like a windblown twig. Then a reptilian claw crushed Bristle’s body to a pulp as it snatched both him and the log up and banked back toward the mountains.

“Oh no,” Barb sobbed. “It squaw—squaw-- squashed him.”

Thorn was suddenly aware of the importance of their quest again.

“Swim,” he said as he did the same.

When they finally reached the shore they barely had enough strength left to drag themselves off of the icy cold beach and into the shrubs.



Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Three



Being elves they needed no light to see, but Barb made a bit of arcane fire to help warm and dry them. Under a thick-leaved sticker bush, Thorn felt fairly well protected. He had no idea what sort of predators inhabited the island but he doubted any of them would prickle their mug to get at them where they were. He was having a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that Bristle was dead. He’d been a good elf, and had a wife and daughter back in the Underland.

“Look,”

Barb pointed up into the sky. Her magical fire vanished with a static pop.

Thorn saw Sloffin up there circling. The malformed griffin beast circled again and again, but eventually moved out of view.

They took turns sleeping until the sun pinkened the sky, then they started exploring the island. It wasn’t pleasant for either of them. They’d both respected Bristle and missed him dearly. Their hearts were heavy, but they closed in on the towers in a safe and methodical fashion. The climate was another thing. They were used to the Heart Tree’s perpetual spring. The cold quickly began taking its toll on what little energy they’d restored with their rest.

“Let’s go down here,” Barb pointed at a snow-slicked stairway that led down from the rubble of the tumbled tower.

“We can at least get warm and have a sit while we prepare. I’ve a flask of battle-berry juice, and another of rum.”

“I’ll sip the juice. I was thinking the whole tower would be where the wizard kept his valuables,” Thorn replied, but didn’t hesitate to follow Barb as she crept into the rubble and down the stone stair.

“Queen Corydalis said that we would find the shard in the complex of passages that connect the towers underneath.”

Thorn followed her with his hand on the hilt of his sword. They didn’t need light to see by, but Barb cast forth a small glowing orb and sent it ahead of them. They were lucky for it.

As Barb stepped onto a lower floor, Thorn saw a large shape dive at her from the shadows. The old magic blade he was carrying came clear of its scabbard and went slicing down between his companion and her would-be attacker. He felt the slightest bit of resistance when it met flesh, but it only slowed a fraction as it clove through the wolfish thing.

There was no jolt of powerful magic when the blade impacted, so thorn knew this was no witch born beast. It didn’t matter what it was now anyway, for it was in two pieces and bleeding out on the dingy half-rotted planks.

Barb moved away and made her light flare brighter. To his surprise there was nothing on the floor. Had the creature he’d just slain been an illusion? Or did it disappear after it died?

“’Twas a door ward is all,” Barb said as she gathered her composure. “’Twas put there to scare off scavengers and such.”

“About scared a stain in my britches is what it did,” Thorn said.

“Here,” she cast a sizable blue blaze into existence. It appeared in its own fire bowl right there in the floor. “Pull up a stool and get warm. I will cast a few detecting spells and we can get on with it.”

Just as soon as he was comfortable Barb handed him the flask she had been sipping from. He could tell by the smell that it was battle berries. Once he drank of the stuff he would be revived and eager to get into a scrap. He knew he would be warm too, so he tilted the tin back and took two good swallows.

The tower’s weather-rotted furnishings were all made to accommodate a human, or maybe a gargan. Thorn wasn’t sure which the wizard had been, but he was sure he felt small here. The tabletop Barb had placed her pack on, was really the seat of a sitting bench and the dusty wooden spoon he’d spied looked big enough to row a ship with.

“Have you found anything?” he asked.

He sat the flask in Barb’s reach and climbed over a fallen beam of tar-covered wood. He could see a perfectly straight line of shadow on the far wall, and after considering it, he was hoping he’d found a secret door or something similar.

He stopped before a tilted wood divider panel. It was a small door all right, but he doubted it had been any sort of hidden thing. It was probably just a cabinet. Thorn wasted no time wondering. He let the confident surge of the battle berries fill him and opened the door.

“I sense a trap or two is all,” Barb said over her shoulder just as a sharp, pain-filled jolt of energy zapped Thorn into a momentary stupor.

“Tha—Thanks for that,” he managed. He hoped she didn’t see his foible. As he eased away from the cabinet he stopped. He saw a shining bit of something in the corner of the cubby and grabbed it. It was a piece of polished silver with a symbol carved on it. The symbol was a triangle over an ellipse and seeing it made him drop the thing and move back over to Barb’s side.

“What was that?” Barb asked as the trinket thunked on the floor.

“A Trigon pendant,” Thorn said. He patted at his hair and adjusted his armor. He was sure it looked like a self-conscious gesture, but he was just trying to make sure he wasn’t on fire or something because Barb was looking at him as if he had suddenly sprouted leaves.

Barb giggled and Thorn followed her eyes. His chest and arms were splattered with a thin coat of yellow goo.

“Falriggin studied the Trigon. By the way, you were just sprayed by Lectrius Aracnus. You should probably wipe that stuff off before it gets hard and ruins your gear.”

“What? Lectris Arcanus?”

“A shock-spider,” she shook her head and helped him clean the sticky stuff from his leather armor. “This isn’t our tower,” she spoke as she helped him. “I think you were right. The two ruined towers were damaged long before the old wizard died, so he probably lived and worked in the whole one. I don’t sense anything below us here, save for a cellar.”

Thorn found the flask and took another long pull from it. He handed it to Barb who only nipped at the stuff before putting it away and repacking her gear. A moment later she made their fire disappear and led them up and out into the cold again.

They only made it twenty paces before Thorn stepped past and stopped her.

“Look,” he pointed at some fresh tracks in the snow. “Dire rats.”

“We must have scared them from their holes. They don’t usually brave the cold.”

“They lead right to the entry of the whole tower,” Thorn said.

“Maybe they’ll try and surprise us.”

“Let’s go find out,” Thorn nodded his agreement. The battle berries had his blood up and he was ready. Obviously Barb was too, for she was mouthing the words to a spell as she stalked ahead of him.

Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Four



Dire rats were dog sized, but not very formidable creatures. Thorn was aware that they could be a terrible foe if there were enough of them though. Many a time he and his elves had been dispatched to get a rat out of one Underland tunnel or another. The tracks he and Barb were following were left by three of the vermin and Thorn was hoping they would get the chance to face them. He loved the feel of the Glaive of Gladiolus in his hands and the smell of fresh blood. He skipped ahead of Barb to open the door for her, but she caught his sleeve and stopped him.

“How did the rats close the door?” She pointed down and it was clear that the fresh rat prints lead inside.

Just then a sound of clanking dishes came to them. After that there was nothing but silence.

Thorn watched as Barb concentrated on a spell. She was beautiful, he’d already decided, fierce and smart, and then he was forced to channel his sudden ardor, lest the battle berries get something besides his blood up.

Barb’s eyes shot open in what Thorn thought might have been fear and the door creaked open of its own accord before them. The elven mage cautiously pushed it the rest of the way and eased inside. Thorn followed her, drawing the Glaive as he went. They both saw a flittering rat-tail as the creature it was attached to shot up the chimney. A disturbed saucer rolled and rolled on a table as if that had been where the rat had been feeding when they disturbed it. The sound was nerve-racking and went on and on, until finally it ceased in a frantic rattle.

“Maybe the wind blew the door closed,” Thorn suggested.

“Maybe,” Barb nodded. “But I sense something bad here. I sense real evil.”

“It smells like that fireplace has been used recently,” Thorn took a deep breath and let the power of the battle berries lift his courage.

“That’s brimstone you’re smelling, not the fire hole,” Barb said before she pointed her finger at one of the cabinets and caused the door to swing open revealing a score of beady red eyes.

Both elves were instantly on guard. Thorn couldn’t figure how they were all stuffed in the cabinet so tightly, but it didn’t matter because the not-so-little vermin were now leaping out to attack.

All around the two surprised elves the cabinet doors flew wide and rats of all sizes came pouring into the room. The main door slammed shut and Thorn cleaved the first one that came close enough. He’d hoped the violent move would have scared the others but instead they went into a frenzy, even snatching up the pieces of their fallen and ravaging them as if they hadn’t eaten in months.

Barb cast forth a streak of yellow energy and Thorn saw that the rats squinted and shied away from the brightness of it. When the magic connected with the cabinet on the far side of the room, a bloody, furry mess exploded outward and those rats which weren’t rent apart in the blast came charging over the others to get at them. It was all Thorn could do to step in front of Barb and stab the nearest of them as they came.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Barb called over all the squeaky roaring noise. “There are just too many of them.”

“Arghhh,” Thorn replied as he stepped into the fray and used his decades of training to wield the magical blade.

A stab here, then a twirl, and a hacking slice that split a couple of the smaller beasts in two. Then the battle lust was on him. He saw Barb standing slack jawed as one of the larger rats leapt onto her back, but then he was forced to fight again as another wave of them closed their circle.

Blood splattered Thorn’s face and his weapon was almost torn from his grasp when it didn’t come completely free of his last victim.

He saw Barb again, this time her expression was savage and her face was bleeding. The sight of her gave him strength and he yanked his blade loose and attacked with even more vigor than before.

Another streaking flash of a yellow energy shot across the room and more rats exploded into bloody pulp. Before him, one of the largest rats he’d ever seen, a toothy bastard that was three feet tall at the shoulder, had set its beady eyes on him. This one was a real dire rat, and Thorn knew from experience that if they killed the dire rats the others would lose their courage and flee.

“Just kill the big ones!” he yelled as he lit into the one before him with a series of savage thrusts, spins, and hacks. He sank his blade into it but was tripped by some of the smaller rats as they got under his feet. In a matter of heartbeats he was swarmed over so thickly that he couldn’t even see anymore. One of the little buggers shoved its head in his mouth and he felt them pushing into every opening his armor would allow them. He felt their teeth as they started taking tiny little bites. Then the dire rat pounced on his chest sending the other vermin scrambling away. Finger long teeth bared in anticipation as warm slobber dribbled across his face.

Thorn tried to raise his sword but his arm was pinned. He tried to roll away but couldn’t. He could do little more than squeeze his eyes shut and say a prayer to Babd, the elven god of battle, and hope his life left him quickly. To make it worse, the last thing he heard as the dire rats finger long teeth closed over his face was Barb screaming now too. Somewhere in the room she was meeting the same sort of end as he.

Barb yelled again, this time she was calling his name.

“Thorn! Don’t move a muscle!” she yelled and he wondered why she hadn’t seen that he was pinned?

There was a low grinding sound then a powerful whooshing of heat flashing over him. Then he realized the dire rat was no longer there. In fact his whole area was free of them. Without hesitating, he rolled to his feet and understood why she hadn’t wanted him to move. A blast of her arcane fire had scorched everything in its path to cinders. The path he realized had passed less than a finger’s breadth over his armor, which showed clearly, with soot, how close her spell had come to ending him too.

“Look,” Barb was pointing as she wielded her dagger against the last dire rat Thorn could see. Thorn turned and saw that her fiery spell had not only killed a good portion of the rats but had blasted away another set of cabinets revealing a stairway leading down. “Go down,” she grinned through the bloody mask her face had become.

“You’ll not want to be up here when I cast again.”

Then her dagger bit deeply into the dire rat’s neck and her hands started moving the gestures to a spell.



Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Five



Thorn didn’t doubt her ability, but he had a hard time just jumping into the stairwell and leaving her. When the crackling power started gathering in her hands, he didn’t wait though. He took three strides and leapt headlong only to crash into the far stone wall, fall to the landing, and start tumbling down the fancy stone-worked stair.

Barb’s shadow met her at the same wall and a flash of orange and yellow blinded Thorn so that he didn’t see her until she came rolling down and stopped right beside him.

“You alive?” he asked.

“Barely,” she sat up with a groan. “I think were closed in now.”

“Looks like it, but at least the rats all seem to be up there.” Thorn looked at the bites on his exposed skin. There were others that he couldn’t see. They were far from debilitating, but left untended they would fester and eventually blacken his blood. He dug a cork-stoppered vial out of his gear and stood before Barb.

“Let me tend your face before we go any further.”

The claw slice was thin but had bled enough that her neck and the collar of her belted robe were saturated.

She let him and he didn’t try to hide his admiration for her. He never said anything, but several times while he was cleansing her wound, their eyes met.

Another time and place, he thought her’s said.

He had to agree.

Even though he wanted her at that moment, the weight of their quest and the loss of Bristle wouldn’t slip from the back of his mind. They way she shied away and batted her long lashes though, told him she was indeed interested in pursuing the idea after they were home.

This time Thorn only took a tiny sip of the juice, then he unlaced his chest armor and removed his gauntlets so that he could apply the salve to himself. In the meantime, Barb searched the room with her magic and went straight to a cabinet similar to the one she’d just destroyed. After a few moments she opened a small panel and pulled the lever she found behind it.

There was the sound of what might have been a rolling marble, followed by a small splash, and then a hissing sound. After that the wall sparkled and started disappearing, revealing a far cleaner, and better-maintained stairway leading down.

To Thorn’s amazement, the torches ensconced on the walls came sputtering to life and a slight, yet noticeable, breeze of fresh-smelling air passed across his barely covered torso. He shivered and saw Barb smile at him.

“You’ve missed a bite or two I think,” she came over, took the vial and went to a knee behind him.

He wiggled and almost yelped as her finger slid through a hole in the back of his leather britches. She found three more bites that he’d missed as well. Thorn was thankful for her help and made a mental note to strip down to his skin and double check again just as soon as he could. He knew a brownie that had been bitten on the earlobe once by a dire rat. Three days later, the thing was swollen to the size of a gourd.

Thinking about that caused Thorn to draw his sword and use its shiny surface as a mirror. Looking over his shoulder he saw Barb shaking her head at him.

“What do ya think I’m gonna do back here?” she asked with a forced grin.

“‘Twas thinking about that brownie that lost his ear to a rat bite a while back.”

“They call him ’Whatter,’ now,” she nodded as she stood. “Says ‘what?’ every time you speak to him.”

This time her giggle was a little more genuine.

“I didn’t miss any of the bites, unless they’re under your skivvies. If you feel obliged, take it all off and look.”

Thorn blushed despite the battle-berry juice he’d been sipping. She gave him the salve and then took the flask of juice and downed its contents. After that she helped Thorn back into his armor, all the while his head was filled with a mixture of battle lust, embarrassment, and quite a bit of desire. But finally it was time for them to move on and Thorn took the lead, letting Barb advise him from behind.



Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Six



“I sensed a small area with quite a bit of magical protection cast around it. That is where we’ll go first,” said Barb.

“There’s only one way to go at the moment.”

“There will be a floor or a landing soon. I don’t think we will have to go much deeper.”

No sooner had the words finished leaving her mouth Thorn was peeking around the wall of the curving stair to see what was in the room that opened off of the landing. She was wrong this time though, for the stairway did continue down. Apparently that wasn’t where they needed to go because Barb stepped around him and walked right up to a table displaying several candles and a book stand with an open volume sitting in it.

The room was tiled and remarkably clean. The same type of ensconced torches flickered along the walls and two paintings stood out from the rest of the ornate furnishings. One was of the Ice Falls, shining brightly under the sun. The other was of an old bearded man in a wizard robe. Thorn could only guess that the crooked-nosed fellow was Falriggin.

Barb stood there still for a long enough time that Thorn grew alarmed and stepped over to see her face. She was in deep concentration.

Not knowing what else to do he sat on a stool and waited.

Eventually Barb started feeling around the table and the wall behind it, but nothing presented itself. The tip of her tongue was poking out of the side of her mouth and she seemed oblivious to everything else around her.

She got on her hands and knees and began feeling around the underside of the table but eventually she huffed out in frustration and plopped her rear end on the floor.

“There’s not a series of leaping stones set over a bottomless pit we have to cross, or a maze, or some foul guardian to fight?”

He sounded disappointed even to himself.

“I can’t find the mechanism to open up our hidey-hole, if that is even what I am sensing.” She swatted her hand backwards and hit the table and Thorn saw a few pages of the open text flip over.

“Did you look under the book?”

“Now I know why your Mama named you Foxwise, Thorn. That has to be it.”

Barb stood excitedly and indeed the lever they needed to push over was there, mounted on the table top under the bookstand. This time the rolling marble sounded like it was as big as Thorn’s head and instead of a splash there was a deep rock-on-rock thump.

A section of the wall, right where Barb had been searching only moments before, slid down into the floor revealing a cubbyhole containing a wooden chest and three glass vials. Barb inspected these by pulling the cork and taking a whiff. By the way her nose scrunched up, he knew he didn’t want to smell them. She tucked one of the vials away in her robe and then with an arcing red flare from her finger, cut through the lock and opened the chest.

From where he had moved up behind her all Thorn could see was the yellow glow of gold reflecting the light around them. It didn’t draw either of them all that much, for the elves of the Lurr Forest had little use for gold, but it was beautiful.

Barb turned suddenly and Thorn felt a cold wave of nauseating bleakness waft over him. He turned too and the power of the battle berries fled him, for there was Pwca.

Pwca was only two feet tall and he looked like a tadpole, or maybe a living turd, with flipper-like appendages. It had a round, apple-sized head, and a toothy mouth that opened up far too wide. He could probably pose an immediate physical threat to them, but Thorn wasn’t sure how. The little devil commanded legions upon legions of rats, and the rumor was that he owed the hoar witch a few favors.

“Give that chest to me,” a voice that grated inside their heads and was as loud as thunder sounded.

“Now!”

“There is your terrible foe,” Barb heaved out a sigh and then darted past Thorn towards the stairs. Thorn started to follow, but Pwca’s menacing chuckle and the squeaking snarls of all the large dire rats coming down the stair stopped him. Thorn wasn’t sure what happened next. The stuff in the chest was clattering and ringing as it spilled all over the stairs and the rats.

Pwca made a whistling sound that was accompanied by a deep hum and a pulse of dark devilry shot forth and slammed Barb violently into the wall. She hit the floor limply and blood poured out of her mouth and ears, then the battle rage consumed Thorn and he started killing rats, as swiftly as he could manage, with no regard for Pwca whatsoever.

To his great disappointment he eventually collapsed in a heap of exhaustion amid the score of vermin he’d slain. The contents of the chest were gone though. Besides the rat corpses only Barb’s limp form remained. Once he could control the heaving of his chest, he crawled to her side. She was breathing, he could tell, but her arms and legs were broken and swelling faster than he thought possible.

“Go,” she croaked. “Heeere. Swallows-- Two swallowsss.”

The vial she’d kept, along with a crystal shard a little bit bigger than Thorn’s finger, fell out of her robe and clanked together on the tile floor.

“I’ll not leave you,” Thorn screamed at the ceiling and gnashed his teeth together.

“Yessss,” Barb hissed through a bubbling gurgle of blood, and then went still.

It took a few long moments for Thorn to accept the fact that she was dead.

His years of service as a soldier, and then commander, helped separate the pain of her loss from the moment. His duty was to get the shard back to Queen Corydalis now, as fast as he could manage. He wasn’t sure about taking two sips of the stuff, but he decided he would do so after he hauled Barb up and buried her deep in the snow so they could come retrieve her later and bury her properly.

He was so exhausted that he could only get her halfway up the stairs. He knew he had to get the shard back to his queen and as much as it pained him, he left Barb’s body there on the ornate stairway and fled the tower.

Any regret over leaving Barb behind was wiped away when Sloffin nearly clawed him from the open expanse of snow between him and the lake.

Two swallows, he heard Barb and as he ran as fast as his tired legs could carry him, he pulled the cork with his teeth and took them and was immediately grateful for the stuff.

The frigid world around him sizzled and popped, and everything took on a slightly blue tint. Sloffin was coming back around but Thorn followed the creature’s eyes and saw that it was looking right at his boot-tracks in the snow. Thorn was now looking at his boot-tracks too, the only thing was he was still standing in them but didn’t see himself.

He took two swift steps backward and made sure to put his feet back as close as possible to where they had been. He was lucky. As he looked up, the witchborn creature swept past where he had just been. Even invisible, he would have surely been mangled had he not moved away. Nevertheless, he charged crazily toward the water while his attacker was turning for another pass.

He knew he was leaving a trail of prints, but he hit the icy liquid and swam, mostly underwater until the cold and exhaustion sent his mind floating completely away from him.



Legend of Foxwise - Chapter Seven



When he woke, he knew he was back in the Underland. The sugary smell of the place was unmistakable. He remembered the lake, and the freezing water and having to dive a few times to avoid the hoar witch’s beast, but he didn’t remember traveling to the Lurr, or even climbing out of the far side of the lake.

“You’ll be taking it easy for bit,” a tiny sparkling finger-sized sprite with a white vest marking it as a Medika, told him. Another sprite zipped away and Thorn heard her calling down the tunnel ahead of her, “General Posy-Thorn has awakened. Posy-Thorn has come to!”

Within a matter of moments Thorn’s healing room was filled with his fellow honor guards and Queen Corydalis. The beautiful, lavender-eyed ruler of the Lurr Forest Fae seemed sad and Thorn suddenly remembered that Barb and Bristle hadn’t made it back.

“You’ve cast the beckoning then?” His voice was raw and speaking wasn’t easy. He figured he must have been unconscious for some time.

“Most of a season ago.” The queen touched his brow gingerly.

“Rest, as the Medika have told you. Soon you will venture from the Shadowmane again, for the Emerald-Eyed Champion will need someone to guide him into the Underland.”

“He’s answered the call then?” Thorn and a few others around the room grew hopeful. Thorn tried to sit up, but his body wouldn’t allow it.

“Answered isn’t the proper word. His name is Vanx Malic Saint Elm. His father was Captain Marin Saint Elm from the sea tales. He has ridden on the back of a red dragon and saved the Kingdom of Parydon from powerful evil. He knows not why he is drawn to us, or that he is even being drawn, but he has stepped off of a ship and is in our land. I have felt it.”

“Let us pray he hurries,” one of the Queen’s honor guard said. “The Heart Tree is waning.”

“Let us have hope and faith that he will,” the queen kissed Thorn’s forehead and then ushered everyone out of the room. “Let us have hope and faith.”


THE END


The Bride


by M. R. Mathias


Copyright 2017 © by Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

All Rights Reserved



He remembered the wedding as if it were yesterday; the country club’s perfectly manicured lawn, the crape paper lanterns hanging in the trees, the bride in her wonderful dress, and all those happy people twirling around like sparkles from the disco light the real “Disk Jockey” brought along.

He looked at her now, the bride, laying peaceful and still, and reflected on those first few nights after the ceremony. Ah, those were grand times. She had adored him then. All of her smiles and love had been his. It still was of course, but the fires of passion had withered down to frail embers now.

Time is an evil old bastard, he thought to himself as he took her in. A ray of golden sunlight was cutting through the dusty room, giving her an angelic sort of glow. Despite the years, her hair was still the same shade of auburn it had been when they’d first come here to honeymoon three decades ago. It looked like molten copper even now.

She didn’t wake as he passed through the mote-filled shaft of illumination that was bathing her, even though his shadow swept across her like a ghoul.

“I’ll always love you,” he whispered softly.

He didn’t expect a response, but not hearing one hurt none-the-less. It always did.

He sat in an old recliner, stirring up whirls of dust. He noticed a cup that he’d sat on the table the last time he’d been here. Was it eight years ago? After he situated himself so that he could better see her, he recollected their first night together.

She was a dream in her negligée, all soft, and wet, and as smooth as silk against his skin. She’d kissed him and purred in his ear. She gave herself to him. She’d made him a man that first night, and over the next few days, she made him her lover. Looking back on all of his life he realized he’d never felt that sort of enrapture again.

The second and third wives hadn’t been the same. Thinking of them, the second bride in particular, he stood and walked to another of the large standing wardrobes that decorated the honeymoon cottage’s attic. He threw open the doors. There she was, as still as a statue, wearing the dress she’d worn to the party the third night they were here.

He laughed. He’d sported a “Burt Reynolds” mustache then. He even owned a Trans-Am. “Showing off is what I do best,” he’d told her just before he pushed the ice pick into her temple and swirled it around. Unlike his third bride, she had stayed alive for several weeks. She kicked and squirmed and shit a lot, but she couldn’t get a word out. She stilled when he was inside her, and he fed her so that she would learn to be calm. It was too good to be true though. One day he came to give his wife some lovin’ and she was stiff as a board.

God, he’d nearly lost himself in alcohol after that. He remembered how the third wife pulled him out of it. He actually thought that they might have nights like he and his first love shared, but the third turned out to be terrible in the sack. He killed her by twisting her neck around out of sheer frustration. She was in a wardrobe too, but her head lulled to the side and the maggots had gotten in her skull and eaten most of the flesh away. It was a shame because she’d been the most beautiful of his previous wives.

Movement outside the window caught his eye. He stepped over and looked down being careful not to let himself be detected from the yard.

There was his latest bride. She was a girl half his age, all bubbly, and perky, and full of shit. She was standing in the yard by her brother, or cousin, or someone. Thank God her family was leaving in a few hours. He wanted to enjoy her a while after they left. She was different. She acted like she loved him. She seemed so much like his first bride, when she did so, that he wondered if she’d been faking back then. It was troublesome to his mind. This one couldn’t really love him, yet she slid across his old hide and caused him to tingle. She stoked the fires that age had all but extinguished. She was a “gold digger,” a “whore.” These ideas made him think about his first bride, how she’d used her sex to tame him too. It made him angry.

He stewed on it while shutting up the wardrobes. He paused only to kiss his first wife on her crusty dry lips. The sun’s ray had shifted past her and her husk of a body looked like some B-rate horror movie mummy now. He didn’t care. She still had his heart. She was his love-of-a-lifetime

On his way out the door he grabbed his jacket and slipped the ice pick into his pocket. He would put it in the bedroom before he took the in-laws to the airport. He didn’t plan on using it for a few days, but wanted to be ready in case he changed his mind.

He sighed as he locked the door to his attic and though about his new bride. After this one, he’d have to buy some more wardrobes, two at least. At fifty-three years old he figured he could squeeze two more marriages out of life. Three, if he was lucky.

“Are they ready to go?” he asked stepping to his new bride’s side on the lawn.

Her eyes were full of joy when they met his, and she purred to him seductively. “Just about, I can’t wait until they’re gone, Love.”

“Me either, babe.” He couldn’t help but chuckle. “Me either.”


THE END


Crimzon & Clover I - Orphaned Dragon, Lucky Girl


by M. R. Mathias


Copyright © 2009 by Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

All Rights Reserved



The week-old hatchling nudged its horny head against the cold, lifeless bulk of its mother. Getting no response again, the puny male dragon whined pitifully. Instinctively, he reared his weary head back and squeaked out a high-pitched wail. The sound would have brought a living mother dragon raging home from a hundred leagues or more. A living mother dragon would have stopped at nothing to feed her hatchling’s hungry belly. This hatchling wasn’t so lucky. His mother was dead. After a long, sorrowful time of nudging and wailing, the song of misery finally ended. Mercifully, the starving little dragon fell into an exhausted slumber.

Being highly intelligent creatures, dragons are taught by their mothers the skills they'll need to thrive in the ever-dangerous world of men. This particular hatchling's mother was now four days dead. She was once the proud and ferocious high predator, and undisputed queen of the small, but very active, range of mountains sheltering her nest. Sadly, her reign had ended.

Years ago, she summoned a mate. His seed readily quickened inside her. She laid her eggs in this remote cavern high up in the rocky passes. Then, as all female dragons do after laying their eggs, she began warning away every living creature that might threaten the welfare of her unhatched young. It wasn’t long until every beast in the area, great and small, understood what valleys, caves and streams to avoid, and what the consequences were for not doing so. She then returned to her nest and spent a full year tenderly and methodically incubating the eggs.

When the day of hatching finally came, she proudly coaxed her two little ones out of their shells. She fed them their first meal of red meat from a valley stag she slaughtered. The two baby dragons devoured it greedily. She beamed as they began growling and tumbling with each other all around the gravel-strewn cavern floor. They were working their tender muscles and fluttering their wings awkwardly. Every now and then, one would pause to shriek at the wonder of life and belch out a puff of smoke. More than once a thin tendril of flame accompanied the swirling gray clouds that left the hatchlings' toothy mouths.

On the second day after the hatching, she left them to hunt their next meal. She didn’t know how horrible a mistake she was making. She hadn't considered the small group of men traveling through the neighboring valley a viable threat to her nest. Her valley was much higher in elevation, and no man had ever dared venture into it.

In her campaign to warn off possible threats to her eggs, she attacked and terrorized several nearby human towns. She scorched a human dwelling or two, and plundered their animal herds. She devoured a few humans as well. Humans aren't very high up on a typical dragon's preferred sustenance list, but to keep the rest of them frightened and wary of her nest, more than a half dozen men ended up in her belly. In her long life she had been lucky in her dealings with the pesky humans, but her luck in that area, as well as the luck of her two rambunctious hatchlings, was about to run out.

The men came a short while after she left to hunt, and they came with murderous intent. The male hatchling woke to see his nest mate being roped by the angry men. He lashed out at them in a feeble attempt to save his sibling. He clawed one man to the ground and lashed another to the floor with his whip-like tail, but he was too small to do any real damage. Ultimately, he ended up tangled in a throw net the clever humans had brought. The humans paused to argue whether the two young dragons would be taken and sold or killed on the spot. If the mother dragon hadn’t returned during the argument, the latter is exactly what would have happened to both of them.

With a single blast of her noxious breath, the mother roared out her anger at the intrusion, scorching several of the men to cinders. Then she unleashed her true fury on them. A purplish-turquoise blast of prismatic dragon magic erupted from her claw and pulverized the bones of two more of the attackers. A blade slid between her scales, but the pain only angered her further. Relentlessly, she went about destroying the men who violated her nest.

The battle that followed was swift and bloody. Though she managed to slay all of the men and save the life of one of her precious young, she took several wounds that couldn’t be healed with her magic. Some of the wounds were mortal. She lived just over two days, and in that time she used her remaining energy to try and instill everything she could think of into her surviving hatchling's mind. She wanted to increase his severely slim chances for survival any way she could. She named him Crimzathrion. He was only two days old when the men came, so he understood almost none of his dying mother's melodic ravings, but she wisely cast a spell on her words so they would come to him again and again as he grew. It was all she could do to help him survive in a world full of ignorant men. He would have to find a way to prosper as a hunter while often being hunted himself.

She let Crimzathrion feed on the human bodies she killed, but only because in her wounded condition, she could not hunt for him. She regretted this, because he was so young that he could grow used to the taste of them. She knew a young dragon might mistake the humans for easy prey. Though most of them were generally easy to kill, some were not. Some men were brave, and that made them dangerous. Beyond that, some humans were just plain lucky.

The mother dragon died singing the complex, harmonious songs of magic to the hatchling. She sang the contagious songs of battle, the light and airy songs of flight, and all the songs her own mother sang to her. Then she cursed the Gods for her hatchling’s misfortune, as well as for her own. She managed to do more than she ever could have hoped possible to increase her hatchling's chances for survival. She died listening to his persistent whine of hunger, knowing it meant all of the human flesh had been consumed. She couldn’t help but cry a tear of sadness for Crimzathrion as she passed into the Everland.

The tear she cried crystallized as it fell. It thudded loudly on the rocky floor. Held inside its sparkling blue beauty was a wealth of magical power, born from love, pain, hope and misery.

Now Crimzathrion lay against her cold, scaly body in a state of partial slumber, exhausted, hungry and afraid. Of all the lessons she'd forced so overwhelmingly upon him, the lesson of death was the one he learned best. He wouldn’t get to grow up feeling the immortality of youth. He understood all too well the nature of death, and the magnitude of his loss. He too cried a tear of sorrow that hardened and clacked away across the cavern floor like a shiny pebble.

It wasn’t long after his mother’s death that her soft voice magically filled his ears. It urged him to go out and hunt for a meal. Feed to grow. Grow to survive. The voice told him. Ravenous with hunger, and with no knowledge of what lay beyond the protective walls of the cavern, he eventually summoned the strength of will to leave his mother's side and do just that.

He screeched out in frustration as he started from the nest to find himself a meal. He was humming the melody to the song of magic as he made his way through the cavern entrance toward the bright and scary light. Crimzathrion didn’t know it, but as he stepped into the first sunlight he'd ever known, he was also leaving behind the horrible run of bad luck that the Gods had thrust upon him, for he wasn’t alone now.

Far across the valley, a lone traveler, strawberry haired and clad in leather hunting attire, heard the hatchling's long, anguished wails. She was coming as fast as she could to investigate.

Clover Shareon was lucky, to say the least. Some said she was the luckiest human alive. She hadn't the slightest idea what luck really was, but luck was with her this day, as it always seemed to be. She was a third-rate swordsman and a second-rate archer, but a first rate hunter. She knew by heart nearly every peak and valley of this treacherous mountain range. She hunted here for the skins and meat she sold to earn her way. Miraculously, she managed to survive peril after peril over the dozen years she’d been coming here.

Once, the sudden and highly improbable fall of some loose rock and built up ice saved her from being dinner for a pack of hungry snow cats. A deflected fist she once threw at an angry campsite gambler caused her to stumble just out of the way of a surely lethal bolt loosed by the sore loser's friend. She’d been barred from all of the wager houses in the nearby towns because she won too much and far too often. In a battle with road bandits, she'd taken a sword clean through the middle of her belly and survived with only the two scars the blade left on her skin.

Once she fell through a hole in the ice. That was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to her. She fell only moments before the sleeping wind gusted and sent a massive ridge of loose ice and snow avalanching down into the valley where she was traveling. The hole she fell into turned out to be a tunnel-like shaft that led to an underground cavern. The cave had glowing patches of moss on the walls, illuminating the area well enough to see. There was a spring-fed stream that pooled up in the middle of the bowl-shaped floor. In the pool, schools of eyeless albino fish swam lazily against the mild current. The pool not only provided her with sustenance on her long wait for spring to come and melt away the snow piled above her, but its warm water kept the cavern relatively cozy.


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