The stars are performing a concert as sound waves travel through them. Telescopes sensitive to stellar vibrations help scientists learn a lot about stars, as well as their planets.
The tall men with squared shoulders in red and blue uniforms garnished in gold with swords hanging at right side of their hips were meant to intimidate the most dangerous political prisoners. They may look like toy soldiers, but every one of these men had been hand-picked. They were hard men.
The gray stone chiseled walls rose up around Hilda. She looked into the hard eyes of the leader with head held high as she stepped into the formation. Six men dressed in the king’s colors may have looked like an honor guard, but they weren’t. They were there to escort her to a dwelling that housed political prisoners. At least it wasn’t a cell.
She had been a part of this guard a few times when rogue wizards had been escorted to the university for rehabilitation. It was a euphemism for having their magic stripped from them. Some of the wizards had not survived the process.
Men and women in the gray robes that signified the Mage University gathered at the end of the corridor to watch them pass. A slight shiver ran down Hilda’s back and she could feel a vague unease coming from her gut, telling her that the onlookers wanted to do her harm.
She didn’t look or acknowledge them in any way. The guard formation marched through them. Hilda kept her face still and didn’t show her unease. She had been a mercenary, despised by the soldiers who guarded her now.
No one spit at her and the group was strangely quiet. All she could hear was her breathing and the hard rhythm of marching feet.
Sassy, her boisterous fire elemental, had been hiding in Hilda’s shirt. The little elemental stirred at the feelings of malevolence pouring over them. She slowly settled around Hilda’s waist. At least Sassy hadn’t popped her head through the neck opening. That would have been a disaster in front of so many mages.
They didn’t need to know that she had a familiar.
The corridor opened into a larger courtyard. The cobblestones glistened. Hilda’s head stayed high even when the rising sun hit her in the face. She could feel her body give out just a little. There was a glitch in her right hip as she kept pace with the guard.
Where were the others? Her brother, Michael, even with a limp would know this city. He had been a mage in training at this same university. His fire magic had been burned out when he had stood against a dragon-possessed mage. Still his body and his magic had healed enough that now he had a familiar, an undine water elemental. It was mostly healing magic, which was normally found in female mages.
She was more worried about the dragon and his blacksmith. If Davi was found out, then the mages would drain him and then use his body parts for magical experiments. She wished that the two young ones had just stayed with the dragons. It would have been much safer for everyone.
In the courtyard near the stone-gray walls, men and women were training with wooden swords. Hilda could smell the sour sweat coming from them.
After the war the colonel had been honored by the King and given the job to whip the king’s guard into shape. Even the mages looked physically fit. They were doing more than training in the magical arts.
She wasn’t sure if the changes were good or bad.
The colonel had smiled and shook her hand. Hilda couldn’t quite put a finger on why her stomach was twisting. She breathed evenly. The muscles in her shoulders tensed slightly. He had believed her, hadn’t he?
It was a relief when they marched to the door of a two-story white-washed garden house set in the middle of a formal garden garnished with lilacs and carefully trimmed bushes.
The leader of the guard produced a key from his waistband, put the ornate key into the lock, and opened it.
The rest of the guard surrounded the house and began a slow patrol. So she was right. They were prisoners.
Hilda followed the guard inside. The twisting in her stomach settled when she saw Michael sitting on a soft plush chair in a small parlor.
He stood up and leaned heavily on his cane. Hilda’s eyes widened a little. Michael’s dark hair had been recently combed. He had changed into a gray robe that showed his status as a University trained mage.
“I thought your leg…” She paused when Michael shook his head slightly, causing her to stop her voicing her thoughts. She changed the subject. “Where are the others?”
Michael glanced at the guard who was still standing next to her and who was probably told to listen to their conversations.
“The others will be back soon. The king’s interrogator wanted to question them.”
Hilda’s stomach twisted a little. If the interrogator was a mage, then it was all over for Davi.
Michael must have felt her anxiety because he said, “They’ll be back soon.”
“I think I’m tired,” she said. “Where are the bedrooms?”
Michael pointed to small spiral staircase just a few feet away from the parlor door. They guard stayed in the parlor as she climbed the stairs. The hitch in her hip grew worse and she sighed as she reached the top of the stairs.
There was a hallway with four doors on each side. She walked to the very end of the hallway. Sassy would have warned her if there was anyone there. She grasped the metal handle in her hand and opened the bedroom door quickly.
The room was dimly lit. A soft bed with a canopy was the centerpiece of this bedroom.
Someone, probably Michael, had anticipated that she would pick this room because her bags were sitting on the cold floor near a small wooden chair next to a small table.
A bowl of water and a hand mirror were set on the table. Hilda put both hands in the water and splashed her face. She took a deep breath and then took a small drink of water from a glass next to a pitcher. Sassy crawled up to see what she was doing, and then sniffed the water.
Hilda sat on the bed and it bounced just a little under her weight. She tugged and pulled off her boots. She stripped off her leathers next. Using a washcloth, she washed the dust from her arms and legs.
She finally felt clean enough until she could spend a some time soaking in a bath.
Exhaustion became her friend and she wanted to lie on the bed and sleep. She pulled a white nightgown over her head.
Someone thoughtfully left her some bread and cheese. The bread and cheese was hard, so she nibbled it. Her stomach settled.
She was so tired that she wanted to sink into the mattress and sleep for days. Instead she waited for Michael.
Not too much later she heard the clump, clump, clump as Michael navigated the stairs with his cane. He knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she said.
He leaned on the cane. “The interrogator isn’t a mage.”
Hilda nodded. It was a relief. As Michael stood there, Hilda saw the hard lines of his face and body. When had her little brother grown into this hard man?
He could take care of himself and her. Hilda sank into the mattress.
“Good night sister,” Michael said. She watched him clump out the door and down the stairs.
Sassy leaped to the fireplace next to the bed. She didn’t start a fire—not yet. Sassy curled up in the ashes. Hilda feel asleep watching Sassy.
Soon, only a slight harmonic snoring came from the room.
First off it is half past the witching hour and my stomach woke me up with its shenanigans. I can’t sleep.
I know I won’t go back to sleep because my mind is awake, my toes hurt, and if I lie back down, the acid reflux will start again.
I was hit with a realization yesterday that I’m as prosperous as I will get. I have an apartment, a dog, and barely enough money to cover medical. There are people out there who aren’t doing as well. If I could figure out how to eat sunshine, I would then be able to afford my food addiction.
A lot of my money goes toward medications, supplements, and doctors. It keeps me alive.
This is about the time I start looking for a job because I do feel well. Unfortunately, the last three times I tried to work with a chronic illness, I became sick–flu, infections, and more recently pneumonia. Last year, I ended up in the hospital. Being around too many people for too long a period overwhelms my immune system.
I have the problem that most chronic illness sufferers have. I look good. I look perfectly healthy.
So I live in a Catch-22. I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.
I have no answers so I write and for a moment I’m at peace.
“I am in no mood to give consideration to drills that get their cords trapped under the fridge.”
“Shelves in a cabinet, who would have thought?”
“It’s okay to put the chipped board here. The cabinet goes on top of it. Lady Catherine will NEVER know.”
“I hate this varnish. I send no compliments to its mother, it deserves no such respect. I am most seriously displeased.”
Yeah, we’re still installing and refinishing cabinets. Should be done tomorrow. Aka: the Tilening, this time it brings a wet saw. Eh.
I called you on the phone,
You let the call
go to voice mail.
I dialed again —
you did not answer.
Last night, I wouldn’t answer;
you shut off your phone.
I called again
I filled your voice mail
with many calls.
“Please return my call,
you’ll get an answer,”
I begged on your voice mail.
You shut off your phone,
I feel remorse again.
Why dial again?
You won’t receive my call.
or any day, you will not answer
I only get your voice mail.
Snail mail, voice mail–
should I try again?
I worry that your phone
is out of order, and cannot take the call.
The question or the answer
are less important than finding you today.
I go to look for you today.
I’d rather see your face, than hear your voice mail.
I reach the door. Will you answer?
Or refuse to talk to me again?
You answer. I forget about the phone.
I pull you close into my arms, again.
You had not heard the answer to your call;
for in your hands, you held a broken phone.
It was a job. Sweep the sand across the land so that the little humans and animals could sleep. The night owls and other predators had the night to eat and feed. The humans had built light poles and other electrical gadgets so that they could see in the night, but every mortal in this world needed sleep except the Sandman.
He had lived for a millennium, making sure that all creatures had a chance at sleep. Of all the jobs this job was the most thankless. Children whined when they had to go to bed. Insomniacs cursed him when they couldn’t sleep. He never had a vacation or rest from his duties.
Around the world he went with this one job.
It was a strange night when he heard the small whimper, or thought he heard the small whimper of a baby. The whimper led him to a dumpster in the middle of the city. He put down his bag of sand, climbed into the rusted dumpster, and searched through the stink of garbage.
He found a small black garbage bag. When he tore it open there was a baby, blue in color, lying quietly in the bag. He could still hear the baby’s whimpers in his head. He placed his hand on the baby’s face, trying to feel for breath.
When he couldn’t feel the breath, he blew into the child’s mouth.
“The child is mine,” said a voice behind him. The Sandman ignored Death and continued to work on the baby, massaging its heart, throwing his magic into the little baby’s organs. Growing and coaxing, the baby changed color to a normal pink.
The Sandman turned and faced Death, “No, this little girl is mine.”
“What are you going to do with her? You know you can’t raise her.” Death almost looked interested as if he could with a skeletal face.
“I will take her to a hospital. They will find someone to raise her,” said the Sandman. Death nodded, yes, and pulled out the baby’s hourglass and turned it over.
The Sandman hadn’t told Death that this baby would one day be more than a child to him. She would grow to great strength and one day they would work together, bringing sleep to the world.
By Cyn Bagley, a microfiction from Smoke & Mirrors
“Did you buy her story?” asked the young man, who had been taking notes. He wore a dark black robe that marked him as a full mage. To the colonel, they seemed to get younger and younger every year.
The colonel looked down at the paperwork on his desk. “Hilda Brant is a loyal citizen.”
“But she was a mercenary.” The mage’s voice rose to a squeak.
The colonel looked at the mage and frowned. “You know that most of our mercenaries were fighting in the Dragon wars. They might not be of the aristocratic class, but they are hard fighters and loyal to a fault.” He didn’t like where this discussion was going.
“So what do you know of her personally?” The mage settled back into his chair and watched him closely.
“Why are you asking?” The colonel fiddled with the quill pen in his hand. He set it down in its stand and put his full attention on the mage.
The mage began to shuffle his papers. “Lord Barton has a lot of support in this city.” He looked down and avoided the colonel’s eyes.
“And where do you stand?” asked the colonel. This time he was on the offensive.
“With King and country, of course,” said the mage. He looked up and smiled. It seemed just a little insincere. The colonel didn’t say anything. Soon the mage got bored of baiting him, or so the colonel assumed.
The mage stood up, pulled on his black cloak, and walked behind the colonel. The colonel turned to watch him. He still had his instincts that told him to keep his back safe.
The mage put his hand on a board in the wall, a panel opened, and he walked through. The panel closed silently behind him. The colonel knew of the hidden passageways. It made him more cautious to know that there was one that led to his office and opened behind his back.
Anyone at the peephole could see what he was signing. This mage was too open about showing him the panel. He noted it for future use.
Even more troubling, the young mage had been checking his loyalties. He would have to be very careful. Maybe Hilda was right. Maybe there was a coup in the offing.
He cleared his mind, sighed, and grabbed a quill pen that dripped ink stain on the papers on his desk. He began signing supply orders.
Josephine listened to the retired mercenaries sing a bawdy song about love gone wrong. She smiled as she listened to the words and hummed. In her hand was a scroll. The messenger had said it was from Koenistadt
She sat on the bench in front of the inn, untied the ribbon, and unrolled it. She read.
Michael had arrived safely in Koenigstadt with Hilda, Davi, and Kayla. Soon he would be home. He missed the Inn and her.
She smiled sadly, put the scroll in her apron pocket, and walked into the kitchen.