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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

TerribleMinds Flash Fiction Challenge for 14 September – A Game of Aspects: Blood and Iron



Here is my entry for this week's Flash Fiction Challenge from the terribleminds blog. Barring the title, it is exactly 1,000 words long.

Blood and Iron
“Every woman he touches. The only thing they have in common is you.”
Haft knew Stan would tell him they had to leave and Haft had his eye on the prettiest wench yet. Stan did not know about her; Haft liked it that way. He glared at Stanislau.
Stanislau was a tall man, dark-haired and bronze-eyed, handsome and smart enough to turn his hand to anything, but not smart enough to back down.
“You know I’m right, Haft,” he said.
Haft curled his lip in a snarl. He knew no such thing. They had left the last city because of the killings, and Haft now had a price on his head.
“Haft will be blamed,” he said. “Like before.”
The words rang like a truth, and the bar stilled.
Stanislau looked surprised, and Haft suspected the sneak had known, but chosen not to share. He reached for the wine bottle, contemplating whether or not to drink or tighten his grip so that the clay shattered. In the end he drank.
“Be gone, wizard,” he said, looking past Stan’s shoulder.
“Our problems are aligned.” The wizard stalked up to the table and reached it as Haft swigged a mouthful from the bottle. Quick as light, he reached across took the bottle and tossed back a mouthful just as big.
“There,” he said, handing the bottle back. “We have drunk together. Now we will speak.”
Haft had grasped the bottle instinctively. Part of his head wanted his sword, and part of his head reminded him the wizard was right.
“So, speak,” he said, his face like thunder.
“You’ve been seeing my daughter,” the wizard replied. “I do not want the Garitzik to kill her.”
“Garitzik?” Stanislau asked.
“You speak Westlander,” Haft said to the wizard.
To Stanislau, he answered, “The people of stone and shadow.”
He lifted the two, heavy-bladed, short-axes from the table. When he called their names in battle his voice sounded like thunder and rockfalls. Their names translated to ‘Blood’ and ‘Iron’ but they meant much more. The great sword he carried over his back was called ‘Justice’, but Haft had never told Stan that. The sneak might ask him to use it more often.
The Garitzik were angry with him, but they would not stoop to killing the women he made pleasure with, and they did not despoil their kills the way these dead had been despoiled. There was one, however, who dwelt among the shadow people. Haft had known he would be trouble. Haft just had not thought he would be Haft’s trouble.
“Where are you going?” Stanislau asked.
“To make peace,” Haft said.
Stanislau followed.
“Aren’t you going to ask a price?” he asked.
Haft didn’t answer; he just kept walking. Out of the tavern and into the street. Truth, he had been thinking of a price. The wizard would pay richly for the life of his daughter. He had thought to ask for the girl, even though Stan would demand his share. He had thought to ask for gold. He had tried to ignore the small voice which said it was his fault, and he should fix it just because it was so. This made Stan’s question hard to answer. So Haft did not answer it.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Stanislau had followed him, lengthening his stride to match.
Haft grunted in assent. When Stan opened his mouth again, the Westlander spoke.
“Fight beside me or go drink with the wizard,” he said.
They had reached the fountain where Haft’s dark-haired prize had promised to meet him. She was staring into the pool, clothed in robes of silver and gray. She turned and smiled as Haft and Stanislau entered the square.
“You came!” Her gaze caught his companion and her smile broadened. “And you brought a friend.”
Haft registered her robes, the newly engraved tattoos on her cheeks and wrists, and felt shock jar through him. He was too late to save her from the Garitzik; she had made her pact.
“She’s not your usual type,” Stanislau said, as the air above the water opened.
Haft pretended not to see, but closed the space to the fountain before the first Garitzik appeared. Swift as light, he drew Blood and swung it down, cleaving through the girl’s shoulder and chest with a roar, as he pulled Iron from its hanger. Blood and Iron met through the sorceress’s rib cage and Haft used his booted foot on her torso to pull them free.
The shadow gate snapped shut, but not before three of the gargoyle-like Garitzik had dropped through it, vengeance in their eyes. Haft took two, angry because his blades would chip against their stony hides, furious the sorceress had tried to make them her sacrifice for power. Stone flew as Blood and Iron struck home, hewing the creatures to pieces. When he was done, he rescued Stanislau, who had been skewered through the shoulder by a tail and was holding the gargoyle’s teeth from his throat by placing both hands on its neck. Haft used Justice to take its head off.
Stanislau was struggling out from under its body when applause sounded from behind them and another man stepped out from between two buildings at the square’s edge. He kept clapping as he crossed to the sorceress’s body.
Stooping, he reached into her chest and pulled out her ruined heart.
“What a waste!” he said.
“You!” Haft roared and hefted Justice, but the man held up a hand and the sword rebounded from solid air.
“You despoil them; I purify them,” he said. “The impure should be punished.”
“There are others,” Haft said. “Why only mine?”
“I don’t have time for them all. Yours are easy to find; I only have to follow you.”
“But I am blamed.”
The man shrugged.
“That is only justice after all.” He examined the heart in his palm, and raised it to his lips.
Haft and Stanislau struck together, but their blades found only mist and shadow.

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