Hello, kids, it’s that time of week again: Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge. We had a challenge of 1500 words, I come in at 1480.
This is my favorite type of challenge: Chuck gives us a few lists with multiple possibilities. We roll a die (i.e. online random number generator) and write a story with those elements. I rolled the virtual die and got a 9 and a 2: a faithful hound and an infernal bargain, respectively. I played a little bit with the idea of a faithful hound, as you’ll see. Enjoy!
Briony woke up but she did not open her eyes right away. What was the point? Assuming she had counted correctly, today was day sixty of her imprisonment; for two months she had been in the custody of an alien race for a murder she did not commit.
She reluctantly opened her eyes when she heard the door open. D’lheera, the alien doctor, walk in the small room.
“At last, you are awake. Excellent. My master has an important job for both of us. You will lead the task and I am to accompany you.” D’lheera almost sounded excited about this job, as if she was happy to finally get out of the house.
Thank God. Then maybe Briony could go home. “What’s the job?”
“Master will inform us tomorrow in a special audience.”
“Wait, you’ll accompany me?” Briony said.
“Yes, my master is calling upon my natural skills as a huntress, which will be of great use to you. And depending on the danger of our mission, you may need a doctor.”
Oh, great, Briony thought. So this assignment, whatever it is, could kill me. I’m dead any way you look at it.
The next day, Briony’s guards ushered her into a small, ornate room and she stood on the spot indicated by one of the guards. A side door opened and D’lheera entered and sat on a footstool placed very close to a large chair. Her mouth turned up slightly and she gave Briony an encouraging smile.
The sight of what next came through the side door made Briony’s heart stop. She wanted to scream but no sound would come. Instead, she stood there with a horrified look on her face, her mouth wide open as if to scream. The largest spider she had ever seen scurried toward the large chair and sat down, its metallic blue body shimmering in the light above Briony’s head, the only light in the room.
“Do not be afraid. I will not harm you,” the spider said and Briony began to relax a little. She was clearly hallucinating, for there was no such thing as a talking arachnid. “You are aware, Earthling, that you are in my custody for the murder of my son, the heir to my throne. However, D’lheera informed me that you were not guilty of this crime. Other intelligence confirms this fact.
This same intelligence informs me that the Gondeks perpetrated this horrible act. I have no issue with the daughter, the one they now call the Spider Hunter. She spared my life in an act of mercy. Her mother is a different matter entirely. I will release you and allow you to return to your home planet on one condition: you must infiltrate the Gondek kingdom kill their leader. D’lheera will go with you as your guide. Even among her own race of excellent trackers, she is one of the best.” Briony watched the spider as she spoke, understanding that refusing to do the job would not be an option. Was the spider aware that Briony had never killed anyone and had no training for this kind of thing? She glanced at D’lheera who shifted slightly in her seat. She would not have thought anything of it if D’lheera skin had not suddenly gone so pale.
The spider motioned to the guard on her left. The door opened at four guards came in with what, to Briony’s eyes, looked like a human man: tall with dark black skin. As she turned to look back at the spider, she noticed the horrified expression on D’lheera’s face.
“Briony, this is one of the sons of the Gondek leader,” the spider said. “I’ve brought him here so that you know how to recognize the Gondeks.”
Briony turned her attention away from D’lheera’s shocked face and back to study the captive. She looked into a pair of emerald green eyes, a striking contrast against his dark skin. Around his neck was something that appeared to be a gold necklace, but upon further scrutiny, Briony realized the skin surrounding the collarbone was golden.
“The gold around his collarbone identifies him as a member of the royal family. The plebian Gondeks will not have the same mark.” She extended a leg toward D’lheera’s head, causing D’lheera to flinch. Her body relaxed a little when the spider’s leg stroked her head. She turned and stared into her master’s eyes.
“This was not, perhaps, the best decision, D’lheera.” The spider’s calm voice matched the soothing touch she applied to her servant’s head. “You foolishly thought you could hide this from me. If you fail at this task, or if you do not return,” she pointed to the captive in front of her, “then your husband’s life will be my recompense.” She turned to the guards. “Take him away.”
She motioned to the guard at her right. He walked forward and produced a garment, then handed it to D’lheera, allowing her to smell it so she could recognize the scent. This struck Briony as odd, but perhaps the Ka’chera leader found it necessary.
The next morning, in the spacecraft on the way to the Gondek side of the galaxy, Briony looked out the window and stared up at the stars, amazed at their expanse and brilliance. She had often done that on chilly, cloudless nights on Earth. But her enjoyment of the view was short-lived for she remembered the task at hand: murder. Or maybe she would wake up in her own bed and realize this had all been a bad dream.
“Who are the Gondeks?” Her voice trembled.
“My master rules the western half of the Andacassian galaxy. The Gondeks rule the eastern half.”
“Your leader said ‘I have no issue with the daughter.’ What was she talking about?”
D’lheera told Briony the story of Gondek leader and the long-awaited birth of her daughter – an event dating back nearly twenty Earth years – and how this now-adult daughter spared the life of the Ka’chera leader. At least Briony understood why there was a feud between the two races.
“And now we’re supposed to kill your husband’s mother.”
“But there’s a good chance that we’ll be killed.”
D’lheera said nothing at first. When she finally spoke, her voice was like that of a frightened child. “The Gondeks are highly skilled at combat.”
Great, Briony thought, that means there’s a 99% chance we’ll be killed. They were quiet for several minutes. “Why didn’t you tell anybody you were married to a Gondek?”
“Many reasons.” D’lheera answered shortly. She then turned to Briony. “Master let me see my husband last night. We both agree that you never should have been involved in this feud.”
“Well, that makes three of us,” Briony retorted. “You said ‘many reasons.’ Like what?”
D’lheera looked at her for a long moment. “Well, Gondek subjects may marry whomever they choose. The offspring of the Gondek leader, on the other hand, may only marry another Gondek. That way, the future descendants to the throne will not have the tainted blood of another race.
Also, if my master were to learn that one of her most trusted servants married the son of her enemy…” her voice trailed off.
Briony didn’t see the issue. D’lheera’s master had clearly been aware of the marriage for some time and didn’t seem offended. Except for the whole ‘kill his mother or I’ll kill him’ thing. A punishment for D’lheera?
“But, if you’re married to a Gondek, why aren’t you working for them instead of the spiders?” The giant, talking spiders, she corrected herself.
D’lheera shook her head sadly. “Impossible. I do not have the luxury of leaving.” She saw that Briony looked confused and continued. “In the time of my ancestors, about three or four generations ago, my people were conquered by the Ka’chera. Though it was usually their custom to annihilate their opponents, they recognized our loyalty and our natural skills as hunters. We have been in their servitude ever since.”
D’lheera sat up a little straighter and smiled. “I am different, though. When I was small, my intelligence brought me to the attention of the leader of the Ka’chera. Because I was far more intelligent than the other children of my race, my master sent me for training as a physician.”
“And you’re loyal to your master, no matter what,” Briony observed. Loyal, outside of the fact that she hid the truth of her marriage from the Ka’chera leader. Maybe this was an indication that D’lheera – and maybe even her race – was ready for a new master. If Briony could somehow change D’lheera’s allegiance, then her intelligence and loyalty would work in her favor. She wouldn’t have to kill anyone, she could go home, and D’lheera and her husband could go live somewhere else in peace and freedom.
The question remained, how could Briony make D’lheera loyal to her?