Flocked JP 30
Ryan Watt
(11 reviews)
Once Upon A Time... kingdoms in trouble had to wait for a wandering hero to come along and save the ... Show More
Adventure, Comedy, Cross-Genre, Fantasy, High Fantasy
Fairy Tale, Guild, Magic, birds, curses, Champions

Five Months

Flocked Volume 4 - A Flight of Instinct
Chapter 1 - Five Months


              The first time she had fled the witch, it had been through a forest. The last time the witch found her had also been in a forest.
If this is where she catches me, the girl thought, at least there would be symmetry. She had never been a fan of humor at such tense moments, but she had begun to understand why people fell back on them. Anything to lighten the intension, so you did not have to hear the beating of your heart and the mad laughter of the airborne mortar riding witch come to re-imprison you.
An orange leather bag bounced against her hip. She only noticed its weight and presence anymore when she ran. She listed through the magical items in the bag to see which might help her. There was a mirror that could show what pursued her or where the next step in her quest lay. She knew the former, and it would take too much concentration to try and see the later. There were the pair of hair sticks that become weapons, useful only if she had to fight her way free. The broach that could become an invisibility granting fan might have worked, but she knew from experience the witch could detect the fan’s magic. There was the soup spoon which could turn into a boat, the scarf that could turn into a river, and the hair brush that could turn into a grove of trees. She already had trees, more would not help. Nor did she need a boat. A river was useless against a pursuer who flew. This left her with nothing but her own feet to help her escape. Thankfully she had grown better at running since she first fled the witch’s chicken legged cottage.
For not the first time, nor the last, she wondered if throwing the bag to the witch would end this. What if the witch only wanted the bag, and did not care about her? As always, she eventually remembered that it was her the witch originally cared about. Even if the witch’s curse, the one that still trapped her brothers as geese, had not worked on her, the witch wanted all the royal children, otherwise her vengeance against Dvina would remain unfinished.
Her foot caught on a root and nearly sent her tumbling head over heels. Her core muscles tensed and forced her balance back into cooperation. She was tired, her body was taxed by the stress of being pursued.
She pressed on and soon came to the end of the woods, a ravine, with a distant trickle of a stream flowing far below. Winter had not yet returned, the storms not yet restoring the stream to its full glory. It was too far to jump across. It was too steep to climb down and hope to still evade the witch, whose laughter she could still hear.
“When is this going to stop?” she said, her tears only staying inside due to years of practice stifling them, and her body’s greater need to take in oxygen through deep breaths. “When? When will I be able to stop running?” She looked behind her. The witch was not yet visible.
“Is this running worth it? I have been running for years and am no closer to freeing them, and she is no closer to letting me go. What’s the point anymore?”
She cast her eyes back down to the ravine. If only the river were flowing, but then, that too would be foolish. She doubted it was deep enough to catch her fall without major injury.
Unless she brought the river with her. The idea sprang into her mind, granting her instant hope, and instant frustration. She did not want to run anymore, but now that she had a way to run, she could not say no any longer. Perhaps she should check the mirror and see if there were other ideas?
The trees behind her creaked and cracked, at the magical will of the predator on her way. She had no time to check. She only had time to jump.
Her hand disappeared inside the bag and emerged trailing a long blue scarf. She sucked in one more deep breath and threw the scarf out in front of her. Hoping this might carry her towards the future she was so desperate to reach, she jumped.
              Despite the sea, the air hung heavy with late summer heat around the Three Wings tavern. As the door opened, mystically cool air rushed out. For those outside, it was a welcome relief, for those inside, it caused frustration as the heat from outside tried to find its way in.
“Thank the powers you managed to make that cooling spell work, Oleg,” Satu huffed as she tumbled in. She closed the door quickly. She moved through the tavern with exaggerated motions of her legs, hoping her knees and calves would not lock up. She had just spent nearly an hour running around town.  
“It still seems strange to me that you now go outside and run around only to run around,” Jorinda said.
“I find the more I run, the easier it becomes,” Satu said between huffs. She had hoped to be back before the day warmed up so much, but heat blossomed earlier than she expected. It would have also allowed her to go more unnoticed than she had. Everywhere she ran, people raised their heads to look, and immediately looked behind her to see what was behind her. “Do I have time to freshen up, or is she here?”
“Fanta is not here yet,” Oleg sighed. He was sitting at his customary table, the one he had practically grown roots into since he had returned from his prolonged adventures with the Court of Refuge. He had not told Satu much about what he was working on, but it always involved the book of curse basics he had purloined from Koschei a year ago.
A year. Satu struggled to comprehend how much they had done in a year. During her three years as a Champion before joining the Guild, she had done perhaps a dozen Calls total. She felt she had easily matched that, if not doubled it in half the time with the guild, and there were still a number of Calls she had not gone on.
Back when they had gone to face Koschei, the Guild was walking a fine line with the people of the allied kingdoms, who still questioned the wisdom of the Order in creating these splinter organizations. That concern seemed to have melted away, in part because of the Guild of Feathers successes against Koschei, and the web of witches headed by Sycorax.
She was counting on these successes to grease the axel of the cart she was going to be pushing through with Ghiro in a matter of hours. That was the other reason she had gone running. Her head always cleared when she was running. Paths and options seemed clearer, and she had needed the chance to find the path she wanted to take with Ghiro.
“I will be back shortly then,” she said, heading to her room to fetch fresh clothes and her bathing supplies quickly before heading back out.
Never had she been more thankful the bath house was only two doors down from the Guild. She soaked for as long as she dared, allowing the magically heated water, a spell Oleg said had inspired the cooling charm he was testing on the tavern, before emerging and preparing. She placed on her articles of clothing like a suit of armor, to protect herself more from her own past than from those she was going to speak with presently, or the future she would be proposing to them.
Outside the bathhouse, she saw her old friend Fanta Ghiro heading towards the Guild.
“Officiant!” she called. The woman, dressed as usual in her impeccable white coat and large hat, turned and smiled.
The two women embraced, but as they pulled away Ghiro gripped Satu’s upper arm tenderly and her smile faded. She said nothing for her eyes were too busy trying to translate the language written across Satu’s face.
“I am fine. Terrified, but fine.” Satu turned, as if pulling Ghiro away from the moment and towards the next.
“This is quite a leap you are proposing.”
“I am no stranger to taking leaps,” Satu said back.
“Yes, I have been there for the aftermath.”
Ghiro referred to how they had first met, or rather how they had formally met. Several years ago, Satu had leapt from a cliff to escape the very witch at the center of today’s meeting. She had survived by using a magic scarf to carry her away in a sudden river of magical waters, waters which Ghiro had pulled her out of. Satu recognized her at once as the Champion who had told tales the night before at a tavern. Now she counted Ghiro as one of her dearest friends, and one of only three people who knew her entire story. The other two waited inside.
The tavern was empty, save for Oleg, working at his table still. He looked up and sighed as Ghiro shook her head slightly at him. Satu’s heart broke. She knew what it was to not have news on a sibling in distress.
Up the stairs they went, and into the Guild hall. Cyril and Torias stood talking but stopped as soon as the women entered.  The four settled into seats around the room, and silence joined them. They looked between themselves, from person to person, each one expecting one of the others to start up the proceedings. To be fair, none of them expected Torias to be the one to start it, except he worried they did.
“Alright,” Satu said. Her legs tensed, wanting to push her to her feet so she could leave. “So, you three are the only people in the world who know my story. Ghiro, what you do not know yet, is that she is coming back for me.”
Ghiro blinked, but otherwise did not seem to react.
“Torias met her, on a Call last year. Since then she has sent her geese, my… brothers, to try to force him to bring me to her.”
“That would imply she knows where you are? Why not come and get you herself?” Ghiro asked.
“I don’t believe she realizes we know each other,” Torias said. “When we met, she made it the condition for securing her help on a Call.”
“You made a contract with a witch? With that witch?” Ghiro shouted.
Torias’s face burned with anger and a twinge of shame. “I did not! I asked her a question and she answered, then declared it was a contract. That was a backhanded deal and she knows it, but that does not matter here.”
“Torias, you have to be more careful-“
“No, Cyril. Why is it that only I get grief for this? Oleg made a deal that could have killed someone, and willingly! We all understand and forgive him, so why do I not receive the same understanding for being coerced into a deal?”
“That is not really the issue here right now,” Cyril said, trying to exert a little control over the conversation.
“You’re right. This should be a non-issue. The real issue should be how we help Satu!” He realized too late to stop that he was shouting.
“You are one of the best assets this guild has, Torias,” Ghiro said, though everyone could tell she had a large counterpoint to make. “Which is why it is concerning that so many of your decisions seem to be ill made, or for self-gain. I cite your entry into Count Westerberg’s contest, choosing to try and solve the incident with Koschei’s daughter through theft, which made matters worse leading to this unplanned contract, as well as the events that led to the death of the King of the Gryphons last month, including an attack on this city by a giant Pelican.”
“I was not in town when the Pelican attacked, and my only participation was what actually drove it away,” Torias said, barely containing his anger.
Ghiro folded her arms. “Fair enough, still… you know that your participation in the Guild is contingent on my feeling that you are doing good for the world, and you are, but you are doing it in a complicated way.”
“Can we talk about that later? We are here now, and we need to press forward to a solution,” Torias said. The others seemed stunned he had such a voice within him.
“So, the witch now has ties to two of you now,” Ghiro hummed, closing her eyes. “One bid to bring the other to h- Oh, Satu. You are intending to let Torias take you to her?”
Hearing the idea spoken aloud by someone else brought new terror to Satu, even though it had been her idea originally. On that day, a few weeks ago, talking with Katya, another princess in hiding, about their lives Satu had felt this moment of revelation. As if her mind pulled away from her life and looked down upon it from outside and she could see the weave of Fate. Everything lined up. Her time running, her time with the Order, with the Guild, conversations with Torias, Kess, Cyril, Fanta, each of those moments had all at once felt like a roadmap.
Now, today, she doubted herself. “Yes, that is what I think might be the right step.”
“Why? Why now?”
How could Satu explain to them the feeling she had then that she did not have now? Most likely, the feeling now was born only of fear, and she had to get past that in order to continue on this path. But how? Maybe her mirror… She stopped herself mid-thought as she dug the object out of her pocket.
“When Torias and I went looking for Princess Katsiryanna, and met the witch, I consulted my mirror. I asked it to show me what was Before Me,” her tone shifted as she said the last words, as they were both story and command, as her thumb swiped along the ancient characters engraved on the silver handle. The glass rippled and changed, showing her something she did not expect. Her heart jumped into her throat one beat and down into her stomach the next.
Cyril! A voice called that only the gentlemen in the room could hear. Kess and I found a client! She is at a park- oh! As the voice cut off, Torias and Cyril looked to the window where two birds had just come in for a landing.
“Hold on a moment, Taree,” Kess said outloud for the benefit of the non bird-cursed among them. “This is important.”
“Satu? Are you alright? What do you see?” Fanta asked, beginning to stand. Satu had grown pale.
“That is now what it showed me last time.”
Fanta, Torias, and Cyril came to look. Upon the surface of the glass stood three figures on horseback, riding furiously through the woods. One in armor of deepest black. One in armor of eerie grayblue. The last in armor of burnt red. Satu knew them at once.
“Her Knights.”
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 8/6/2017 5:58:30 PM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    9/18/2017 10:21:27 PM
    I agree with Jorinda and the townspeople. Running IS weird. Fun fact: When I typed, "I agree with," my tablet suggested Torias. I guess it has its own opinion on this ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Always agree with Torias... usually Thrilled at the idea of you plugging along on Vol 4. (Someone needs to)
      9/19/2017 1:59:16 AM