Time for another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck. This week it involved the random selection (which I had to tweak a bit, as some selections were inappropriate for me) of two sub-genres and two elements of the story. I got "occult detective" and "picaresque," which I didn't do super well, and the two elements were a dead enemy's revenge and a pool of blood. So, borrowing a character and a world from my WIP, I came up with. . .
The Dead Man’s Revenge
Bovrell the Bold looked furtively about him before ducking through the low doorway next to the sign, “Maya Kinten, things discovered.” He’d heard about this woman who had the power to find just about anything. He wanted something found, and couldn’t admit to just anyone that he’d lost it.
He blinked a moment in the dim interior. All interiors in Kargor were dim, but this one seemed to have an extra layer of opacity. His chain mail clinked as he moved away from the door, just in case, and a voice said,
“You have come for my services, Bovrell the Bold?” The voice was not, as he’d expected, old and cracked. His eyes adjusted to the dim light, and saw that the woman behind the table was heavily veiled, in the accepted tradition of those who practiced the mystical arts. His impression, however, was that she was neither young nor old. Ageless? He cleared his throat.
“I have lost some things, and need help in finding them.”
“I see. They are important to you?”
Maya Kinten studied her hands. He’d expected she would gaze into a crystal, or a mirror, or something, but she looked up and said, “That is only somewhat true.”
Bovrell felt a chill. He didn’t really believe in the powers of the occult seekers of Kargor, even if he had come looking for one. But this woman. . . he pushed his doubts aside.
“I have lost my apprentice, and a Fair Maiden I rescued. You know the rules.”
She gazed unblinkingly at him this time, before answering. “I know the rules. You have no sorrow for the loss of the apprentice. You left him behind to pay your bills with his own sweat. You regret the princess, but I sense you also left her intentionally.”
“Perhaps, but I need them back now.” Bovrell tried his most winning smile on the woman. It worked on all the young women. All except maybe that pesky girl in Carthor, but she wasn’t a princess anyway. The one he’d lost was in Duria, and she’d been pretty and compliant and he’d been very sorry to have to leave in such a hurry.
The Seeker appeared unmoved by the winning smile. Bovrell shifted position, the better to display his well-muscled torso, and tried again. “I have sought you, Mistress Kinten, because I have been told that you are the best. I can pay you well.” He crossed his fingers behind his back, since he had, as usual, less than enough money for his next meal. The life of a roving Hero can be hard. Unless he keeps his hold on the princesses, and Bovrell had a surprisingly poor record there.
Now the woman took up a mirror, and studied it as though seeing more than her veil in its depths. Bovrell hated seeing any woman covered up, unless she was old and ugly. Already he itched for his next quest—or conquest.
Maya Kinten stiffened, and bent to look more closely at the mirror. “So much blood,” she murmured.
Bovrell shifted uneasily. He’d prefer to just find the girl and get on his way, without raking up uncomfortable bits of his history.
She spoke again. “You must tell me of the pool of blood, and the one who lies in it.” Her voice carried less of mystical seduction and more of command, and he felt himself unable to refuse.
“He held the princess against her will in a grim, dark castle. I am a Hero. I had to kill him, and rescue her. That is all. I was the better swordsman.”
She gave him a look so knowing, what he could see of the eyes over the veil, that he felt certain she knew the truth. That he had hidden in the curtains and tripped the man while he was carrying a tray of kitchen knives back from the smith who had just sharpened them. The man had fallen, and cut his own throat in the falling. “I slew him and freed the princess, and returned her to her own people.”
“And then?” Maya Kinten prompted gently.
“And then,” Bovrell found himself saying, “ill luck began to dog my footsteps. I was forced to ride from village to village, ever seeking something I could not name. I visited the tiniest of Durian villages, and found myself accepting an apprentice. He was the most useless of lads, and I do not deny that I left him when I could bear it no longer.”
“And the princess? You left her even sooner.”
“I returned her to her people.”
“You have left so much unsaid.”
“I left her with her people,” he found himself saying, “and they threatened to kill me. They said she had been given rightfully to the man in the grim castle, and that my action had brought a curse upon them and me.”
“And now,” said Maya Kinten, “you wish to find her and them, and see what must be done to remove the curse.”
“I haven’t been able to find a single princess since leaving Loria! And every one I ever did find turned out to have been promised in marriage to another, thus overriding the rule of The Hero’s Guide to Battles, Rescues, and the Slaying of Monsters that the Hero shall marry the princess he rescues.”
The woman pushed aside her veils, and Bovrell saw that she was the princess he had rescued long ago, at the beginning of his troubles.
“You!” he exclaimed.
“Yes. I am the princess you ‘rescued’ by slaying my lover. I am the one who has made certain that you will never again have success in your endeavors.”
He felt himself frozen to the spot. “And now you will slay me as the dead man’s revenge?” he managed to croak.
“Oh, no,” she smiled. “I shall leave you to continue as you have begun. You shall spend the rest of your life as a Hero, riding gallantly about, but never quite succeeding. Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “and you might want to know that your hopeless apprentice has done well for himself. Quite well,” she repeated with a smile that stabbed Bovrell’s icy heart.