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Part 1 of 2
An image crossed her mind. The pale blonde woman child of the vision blinked her green eyes and the dream was gone.
Vykstora’s cattish claws gripped the smooth even stone floor of the wizard’s sanctum. Avoiding the mop blows and the sleeping greyhounds, she popped the wizard’s cat on the end of its nose with her tail and bounded out the door.
There once was a time when I could; something, something more than odors, something bold and strong. Now? Now is all there is, and it is less somehow; less than what?
"Victory, victory mine ..." It ended. "My love."
The vision of the pale blonde woman child said, “Sing it again.”
The wench dream image complied and Vykstora loped along to the rhythm soaring further and higher with each leap. Through the tall dead dry grass of reality her dream world pressed her. Dream World wanted her soul.
“That won’t be,” she barked but she longed for Dream World.
Snow fell faster. The pines in the distance faded and disappeared in its whiteness. Her run, mostly hop-flight, stuck ice on her whiskers and in her nose. The glides longer and longer, she beat her wings and flew.
An updraft caught her. She shook her head. Snow caught and piled in her ears. They sang. An ice induced buzz brought dizziness. White out; blind blinking she glided higher. No sight, no smell, no sound but the buzz turned to ringing and stilled her senses.
Where did the ground go? It was here when I started to soar. Snow stuck to her eye lids and in her nose. Her head nodded. Her shoulders tucked and she tumbled through what? A snowball covered with ice among snow flakes; wings out wings in, tail up down, she could not straighten her flight.
The wind gusted: light, fast-slow, faster-harder. Another updraft, then a gust caught her, bought her, owned her and snow poured from her ears. She squirmed in cascades of sleet. With a loud smack the white world shrank to a dot and went black.
“It’s got wings. It flew in from somewhere.”
“Do you think its dead?”
“We could throw it over the wall.”
“Get a bucket with a lid.”
Quiet and damp Vykstora tried to stretch; she couldn’t. In total darkness she tried another direction and stretched again. The bucket lid popped off and Vykstora stumbled out onto stone. Hearth smell and glow came from a crack that soon proved to be the bottom of a door.
Dizzy; even with all four feet splayed wide, she fell. Chin touched flat stone. The lighted crack remained motionless but her head told her she still spiraled in a descending arc.
She stood and took a step, then another. Encouraged she walked, gripped air and found herself falling. She beat her wings and saved a hard landing on the floor. But pain knifed through her back and head.
Where is the potion vial? She sniffed for it and felt for it. Her inner eye still showed billows of white. The lead chain was gone too. She laid still. Her back and wings ached when she breathed. She breathed slowly and the pain eased. Breathing is good. Alive is good. Where can this place be? I’m close to Kiln Tower aren’t I? Could I have been blown over High Plane’s Edge; down where the enemies of Wizard Flemen dwell?
A fox as much liquid as animal only seems to move though locked doors. The white vixen slipped by the corner of the portal, aided by wet fur, decrepit wood and a lithe body.
A long dark corridor hung with tapestry and smelling of burning elm wood stretched before her. She crept along. Here with dim light a hearth peeked from around a corner. A ruddy image of fire spilled onto the stone floor and wall. Thoughts of heat filled Vykstora’s mind. She shivered and dripped. She sneezed.
Near the fireplace a child that smelled of honey, cinnamon, and milk spoke. “What was that?”
A woman that smelled of fear and bread was near the child. “You hear a ghost, my princess.”
Vykstora crept and crawled. Perhaps they will have mercy and let me stay by the fire, my back, oh my neck. I’m so cold. I’m hungry maybe they will share a mouse.
“Kitty,” Vykstora allowed herself to be picked up.
The child dropped her on the hearth, “She’s wet; drippy but pretty.”
“That’s the demon from the ramparts.”
A green eyed child pointed at Vykstora, “Get a towel. Dry the kitty,”
“Yes, my princess,” the woman curtseyed.
The feathery fur on the vixen’s wing caught a spark and smoldered. Vykstora yipped in pain and whimpered. The child patted it out, “Nurse will dry you kitty and then we can play.”
Vykstora’s pain overcame her fears, “Hurt,” she barked, “pain.”
“Kitty hurt?” The child went to a cabinet and returned with a cask of wine and poured it on Vykstora. “Better?”
The nurse knelt and patted the shivering Vykstora until she no longer dripped. She wrapped the vixen in a small clean blanket and laid her close to the fire. Vykstora’s head swam. Falling through the halls of a distant sky, she fell asleep.
The wizard watched water drip from his bird and lifted his eyes. Through the aviary’s portal he perused; ice. Trees hissed and fried the air writhing within its frigid grip. A light wind stirred a frozen universe that rattled from hoarfrost. Kiln Tower’s battlements shined. Ice coated sleet. Snow dusted ice. Frozen rain water covered the whole world.
The wizard’s breath fogged, “The Duke of Dirt will wait. He has no choice. When the East Wind blows it will melt; like every third winter since the dawn of time.” He laughed.
“Maybe the vixen will die. But I hope she lives. I wish to disturb her father. Her mother died quickly; a mistake. With the promise of ransom her bondage will remain and my purse fatten.
“Perhaps the crystal will tell me something.” From the height of his aviary he descended a spiral of granite steps. Pausing at the hearth to smell and stir a fresh potion, the odor is too soft, he dusted a three finger pinch of ground stag’s skull into the spell-mix and continued to Seer’s Crystal.
The size of a mature boar’s head, the uneven twelve facetted stone sparked a pale violet fire at his touch, “Show M’ Vykstora.”
A thrum started from the huge gemstone, and rocked the crumpled purple velvet cushion on which it rested. The vibration moved down along the massive polished tusk that held the pillow.
The ivory darkened. The deep rumbling passed to the rock floor. The chamber vibrated. The sound wavered and decreased softening to silence in the distance.
The violet spark became a weak fire and then a graying haze that parted showing a small child holding something white wrapped in a blanket. She stood before a large hearth with a stout fire.
Above the mantle hung a portrait of a tall lean woman with long straight white-blonde hair and fierce deep green eyes. A gold chain about her neck held an uneven emerald cross between her breasts. As big as her hand it shone in the image and faintly colored her white gown a delicate pale green. The artist showed that the clear diamond crown on her head picked up its light too.
Words dribbled from the wizard’s lips, “How can she be there? The Pale Citadel is four days away and near the south end of Elm’s Valley. She’s in the Fox King’s bed chamber.”
“I made her a vixen, a joke, a curse or worse.” He laughed without mirth.
“Now she returns. I must not let her stay. The circle must curve on.” He stared at the moving image.
“Princess, you must go to bed now.” The nurse folded down the coverlet on the huge oaken bed and patted out a child-sized spot.
“Kitty, are you comfy?” The little girl rocked the frigid vixen
Vykstora dry, wrapped in towel, and held in the little girl’s arms, cuddled in warmth but chilled from deep inside, thought cold thoughts, The wizard iced my soul and I am cold within. I could stand in that fire and be cold. The child’s neck is close. If I bit and drank could I be warm?
She licked her nose. She readied her fangs. Come fire.
The green-eyed-wench dream came instead. The wench reached out. Vykstora squirmed and brought pain into her back and head, “Put it down, Daughter of Foxcraft.”
When the child released her burden fire appeared and the vixen lay upon the hearth in a ball of silver flame.
The princess hopped from foot to foot and yelled, “Save kitty, save kitty.”
“Be still Daughter of Foxcraft.” The green eyed wench picked up the burning Vykstora, the blaze was gone, and Vykstora’s pain with it.
“Be still, vixen.” Ashen lumps of towel fell. The wench held Vykstora at arm’s length and studied the small quivering animal. The wench of flesh, powerful indeed, breathed a hot breath.
Vykstora warmed. Her ears burned but did not char. The wench released her. She fell lightly to the floor and sat.
Light from the hearth’s fire played over the room. Bed, chairs, and wardrobe changed shapes and colors. Shadows played with reality and won. Save an ice dart in her heart, Vykstora stilled in the soft gaze of the dream-wench become life. Her ears cooled.
“This creature is bound by a powerful curse. The cold and snow bleaches her coat. But the Wizard of Kiln Tower hooks her soul. Songe Gladia, Daughter of Foxcraft do you understand the trial?”
“Auntie, why my long name?”
“Names have power, Songe Gladia of Foxcraft. Be safe in thy name, Glad Song of the Snow Vixen.”
Vykstora spread her wings and cocked her head towards the wench. “Vykstora,” she said.
“I spoke to my niece. So, you have voice do you? You who would lust for the blood of Foxcraft beware; to crush thy neck would be a small act. To skin thee but a mite more; a silver dagger for a were-fox.” The green eyed wench produced the weapon of her boast and severed a single whisker from Vykstora’s face.
Wizard-fear did not come. Vykstora felt peace, “Your pleasure, My Lady.” The vixen bowed her muzzle to the floor and cast down her eyes. When she raised her head she stood in a blue surge. A haze, a mist, a blue smoke engulfed her.
The green eyed wench’s lips moved. Words followed the blue wave; flowing, growing through fur and fang. Tears flowed down the wench’s face. She spoke most faintly, “Child of Foxcraft...”
Vykstora’s muscles flexed and twitched without call. Cold heart-fear grabbed her. She ran. A wall blocked her. She ran. The fireplace blocked her. She ran and hopped a stool to a vanity. The reflection in the mirror stilled her. The dream image of the pale-blonde woman-child stared from the looking glass.
She ran down: passage ways, under bars, under doors and over an open window’s ledge. She jumped. She fell in darkness but spread her wings and soared clear of the battlements. She beat her wings without pain and climbed towards the rising moon.
She sniffed the air and searched the sky for the pole star. If the Little Bear sits thus, Kiln Tower is yonder. Moonlight bathed stone walls in silver and Vykstora climbed higher into the cold clear sky.
Snow and ice covered the ground but the sheer cliffs of High Plane’s Edge glistened in the distance from moon’s glow. That way, Stag’s Hill is just beyond.
Silent and still, the cold air held her in flight. The wind blew towards Flemen. She saw him straining his eye towards her from Seer’s Crystal. A look of surprise played upon his features. Is this second sight? I see him as clearly as if I were there. Were-fox? What can that be? Who is Victoria? Why are my magics stronger?
The middle spire of Kiln Tower held the aviary. Vykstora stopped the beat of her wings and changed their shape. They curled over from the front and curled down from the back. She fluffed and spread her tail. Slow and slower; she hung in the air like a bubble, descending.
The landing perch beckoned. But the birds’ stand was quickly disowned by Vykstora with only a toe touch. Still slower she floated past and down over the spiral granite stair, down and down. The Snow Vixen glided into the Wizard’s chamber and passed among the rafters, “I’m hungry.”
“I said; I’m hungry. Give food. Now!” Little blue-green flames blazed in her eyes. She trailed a thin blue mist in her wake.
The Wizard raised Short Wand. Vykstora dived. Thorns of fire and steel sprayed from short Wand. The flying vixen, agile and quick, avoided them all. She grabbed his pointed enchanted hat, “Does that mean no dinner?” She flew a steep climb and dropped Flemen’s starred cap into a spell potion simmering in his caldron.
“M’ Vykstora, come,” he said.
“You’ve starved me long enough. Your only desire for me is discomfort and pain. You’ve intoxicated me for the last time. Unwanted slaves run away. Good day.”
The wizard picked up and threw his caldron, half-full of half-boiled potion. The vixen dodged the liquid, the mist, and the half-formed half-harpies that flew after her.
Flemen sidestepped the pot that clattered to the stone floor. He spoke a curse-spell and thus assisted ran the spiral stair but the vixen without magic was faster that the wizard propelled by a running spell. He almost followed her into mid-air at the aviary’s threshold.
Her yips and barks dissipated into the cold night. She dived beyond the battlements and became a white ghost-star flying away in the moonlight. Flemen raised his hands and began a weather curse.
The Song of the Snow Vixen played inside Vykstora-Victoria. It warmed the ice-dart within her heart. The wound leaked. The putrid melting stung and stank on her chest between her breasts. Her skin became sticky from it. Her hair streamed from her head. Pine scent, moon light, and the cold seemed new, strange, and strong. Her skin goose bumped. She laughed.
The song ended, "My love. My Victoria," only to begin its winsome riddle again.
She pulled herself through the air. Her wings no longer sounded little foxy pops but gave massive soft sound with feathery slaps on the rearward power stroke and a slick sing on the forward lift lash. Her airspeed quadrupled but her ground speed only doubled. Moon’s glow on tall becoming taller clouds disappeared in a blinding flash of blue-white lightening. The air became rough. She bounced. Her slim body reported unfamiliar tugs from strange spots. A four footed creature levels terrain with her gait and footfall but wings must swim whatever current comes. Her altitude changed in abrupt wing wrenching slaps.
Tiny drops of cold, colder water-become-ice stuck to her face, eyes, and hair. Oh no, I’ll not be ice blinded twice. When she turned from the storm she saw the clear night still in peace but a scant five-hundred paces away. The thunderstorm’s tail wind blew the lift from under her wings and she fell like a wet stone.
A flailing, flopping turn back into the wind gave lift. She descended in fits, starts, stops and drops. She beat her wings to land and could only settle for a two footed touchdown. Biting sleet, egg sized hail, and freezing rain driven by a wind that pulled her hair from her shoulders pummeled about. Ice coated trees swayed and separated from themselves. It rained iced tree limbs too.
When she dropped to four feet, “What’s happened to my forelegs and paws?”
She lifted a forelimb before her nose and eyes. She sniffed and stared, A person’s hand? My hand. She stood, “Mother, where is my mother?”
The Lord of Skulk’s Den stood in his audience chamber “That’s impossible. She was mortally wounded. I felt her cold, dead, lifeless.”
“I saw her, Foxcraft, last night in your bed chamber on the hearth on the floor. When she beheld her image in the glass, she stood a blonde virgin of fifteen years. She stared at her reflection in awe.”
“Then fear cloaked her again. A vixen once more, she ran. Ran away and got clear of the fortress by flying over the walls.” Foxcraft frowned at his sister, the Lady of Leads.
She frowned herself, “No, a star filled sky of naught, no. She lives. She flew. I chased her and saw her leap. With the furred wings of the Snow Vixen she flew. She lives. She lives yet. I can see her in Foxstone and feel her in my heart. She lives.” The Lady of Leads sat, bowed her head and wept.
Foxcraft, The Lord of Skulk’s Den, stood in his carpeted hall and laid his hand upon his sister’s shoulder. “What can be done?”
Dark sticky ooze clung to Victoria’s chest. Sleet stuck to her breast and chin and icicles grew from her nose but her heart was soft and warm. Her skin puckered from the cold. Tiny hair stood rigid on her arms. Her feet and fingers numbed with cold but her heart was new fire within her.
She stooped and took handfuls of snow and rubbed her chest, breast and stomach with sharp strokes. Even though thunder rang in her ears and tree limbs broke loose and fell amid a steady freezing rain, her reddened skin became clean. Her hair stiffened with ice.
“I’m turning blue; my hands. What happened to my fur?”
I’ve always been a snow vixen. That’s not what fogged my mind and chained my soul. Wizard Flemen enslaved me. “Fur follows the nose of a fox. White fur adorns The Snow Vixen.”
The aura of the lightning, standing fur and buzzing blood, preceded the white hot bolt, with its hiss and its heat, and its mind splitting thunder clap. Trees burst into flame about her. A fresh melted pool of water boiled into steam a few steps away.
A quick shake of her head cleared the icicles from her muzzle but all four of her feet were numb. I can’t fly in this. I must find a den.
The lightning set small fires all about her. A fallen oak offered the beginnings of a den. She dug. The snow pinked from her bloody feet.
The freezing rain couldn’t totally consume the storm’s fires. Fire blazed among the fallen oak’s limbs but the ice coated trunk was beyond combustion. Vixen-Victoria peeked out from her freshly dug den beneath the massive oak’s trunk. Her breath fogged before her eyes.
She turned away her face from the storm. Her hideaway warmed. She hugged the earth. She prayed to The One Who Knows if a sparrow falls and where every vixen digs.
Trees collapsed from weight of ice and stroke of storm; blue-white fire dribbled through the enfolding mist and fog. The air stank of ash and ozone.
She shivered and cried and prayed. Freezing rain slowly extinguished the fires. The thunder weakened and stopped. The rain changed to sleet and then light snow. She quivered and shook but her hiding place warmed.
Flemen pronounced curse upon curse to Seer’s Crystal but the safety of the Snow Vixen showed just beyond the veil of violet mist among the crystal’s facets. Safe, warm, and snug, Vykstora in peaceful sleep stopped shivering and snuggled in peace.
The wizard’s spells warred with each other. The ice stopped the fire and the wind blew the trees away from the lightning bolts. He struck Seer’s Crystal with Short Wand yelling but it deflected his own lightning into his chamber. He caught fire and cursed some more.
He poured the stinking filth of a spoiled potion over his body. The fire hissed out. Its odor gagged Flemen and his two frightened greyhounds. The wizard pulled the dogs by their collars. The three coughed their way from the chamber.
In his stable, Flemen bypassed his horses and his oxen and hitched the whining greyhounds to a sleigh of ivory bound around with strips and nails of silver. Silver sleigh bells hung from the dogs’ harness.
Screaming a spell propelled by Short Wand, thus he enraged and strengthened the dogs. “I’ll kill her with my hands.”
Growling with fangs bared the greyhounds lurched against harness and began to move the sleigh. Bells jangled, dogs growled and howled, the wizard cursed and called for hate and death. Sneezing sparks and smoke the dogs ran. The sleigh followed. Fog poured from Flemen’s mouth laced with promises of death and torture. He grabbed a hand hold and regained his feet.
“That makes it two or more days from here. Leave off the talk. Let us go.”
“My Dear Lady of Leads, the Stout Twenty need this knowledge.” Foxcraft perused his courtyard. Twenty horsemen armed for combat and five Women of Deeds stood beside their mounts. A clear moonlit sky bathed their meeting with cool crisp light. Water from melting ice dripped from battlements, towers, and the open drawbridge.
Hanna, The Lady of Leads, drew her sword. Her white fur lined cape reflected silver light. The blade flashed a cold moon’s fire, “The lady Victoria lives, my brothers, my sisters. Let us go to Red Miller’s Wood.”
The Stout Twenty, even the five Women of Deeds, muttered and mumbled but fixed their gaze on Foxcraft. Horses flinched and tapped their hooves. No one moved more.
“Silence sister,” Hanna wagged her head from side to side and mouthed the phrase silently the third time. She rammed her sword back into its sheath and grimaced at Foxcraft. She mounted her horse but moved no further.
“The uh, The Lady of Leads will guide us by the second sight of Foxstone,” Foxcraft winced. Hanna held the gnarled crystal high above her bowed head. It scattered reflected moonlight and pointed the way.
Foxcraft signaled. The troop mounted and rode across the drawbridge which closed behind them. Ice fell and broke the thinning frozen layer in the moat. Snow crunched beneath horses hooves. Their moon borne shadows skulked with them.
With their eyes red on red and their jingle-harness a cacophonic hymn, spark and smoke flew from the distended nostrils of Wizard Flemen’s greyhounds. They drooled foaming blood. Faster, with enchanted speed, they ran howling. He strengthened them with his magic again and their chests swelled. Their legs swelled and their claws ripped frozen earth from the ground.
Silver and ivory hissed over snow and broke through ice coated grass and brush. The sled cut a swath through snow and ice. Its track smoked; cut by dull anti-white rails.
Flemen convulsed in hate consulting Seer’s Crystal for directions and Black Book of Dark Spells for curses. Frozen onto the sled’s dashboard with spell-ice, the book and stone infused their darkness into the world with Flemen’s tongue.
He paused from time to time to flail his hounds with Dark Whip of Evil Rage, freshly conjured from the nether. His chant for macabre results resumed after each flogging.
High Plane’s Edge loomed in the near distance. Flemen spewed a flying spell, the dogs ran, and the sled slid on air. The ledge passed beneath. The ground dropped a thousand paces below. The hounds shrieked and Flemen laid Dark Whip on their backs again and again. They began a descent.
“She is near,” his laugh overpowered his tongue and his eyes rolled. “She is near.”
END of Part One of two parts
|Outrunning the Storm|
|Louisville's Silent Guardians|