Snowbound Wire (Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge)
It’s Midsummer’s Eve, and as darkness falls, the stars are moving.
Zan struggles with his bonds, cursing the brat just metres away who is busy drawing symbols on stones with his blood and tossing them into the fire. Around them gum trees stand watch like white ghosts. Zan’s backpack lays on the other side of the fire. God, he wants his herbs and his equipment. Anything to stop this lunacy.
The boy’s chanting stops. A hesitation in the fire’s crackle, and then the stones crack, magic wafting up into the air to move the stars. Zan can feel their convulsions in his blood, and he kicks up the dust and dirt as he struggles. The ropes burn his wrist, the coarse material stinging the raw skin. The heat gathers around them, oppressive – the pressure of a humid day before a storm breaks. The vibrations reach a climax, and the sky flashes grey.
It snows. At first the man-child pays it no heed, but as the snow piles up and threatens his fire, he scowls, and orders it away. It should work. It’s worked for him before. His power is sacrosanct.
But the snow does not stop falling. And when he goes to stand, the stone he threw into the fire a moment ago burns cold, and the magic floods out to pin him to the ground.
Zan wakes cold. More than cold – freezing beyond all measure. It reminds him of the time he fell into the ice river and was rushed to hospital, the paramedics dripping warm saline into his veins. He could use some of that warmth now.
The fire is banking, the brat nowhere to be seen. Snow lies a good 10cm on the ground. His skin isn’t used to this kind of cold, isn’t used to the wet that comes with snow, and it’s screaming at him to find warmth.
Fuck, why couldn’t the brat have just taken the old fashioned traditional path to magical stardom? Who the hell had the ego or the negligence to go mucking around with the weather of all things.
He struggles to his feet, first curling his knees into his chest, then rocking from side to side until he manages to swing over to kneel. It is not a dignified kneel – face mashed to the ground, chocking and suffocating on the snow.
Nothing. The fire still burns, but it is spluttering. No sign of the brat. Just a good metre of snow and…
No. What is that?
It takes another five minutes to wriggle into standing, and a bit more than that to dispel the dizziness. Being on the ground for a good hour does wonders for lowering one’s blood pressure.
A thin line in the snow. A wire? Red hot too, melting the snow around it.
The fire flares, and the shadows draw back a moment, dips, valleys and mounds appearing in the snow around the campsite. One such mound looks suspiciously like a young 20-something brat .
“Yeah.” Zan plants his legs wide, gaze flickering from the grey sky, to the wire, to the covered form of the brat. “This is why we don’t muck around with this shit.”
The wire isn’t just hot – it’s burning the air around it. Zan twitches towards his backpack , and then spins back. Herbs and incantations will probably just make whatever is going on angry. Again, ten years of education is preferable in dealing with this stuff.
“Couldn’t you have been mucking around with insect?” He mutters, walking around the other side of the mound. “That I could have managed.”
He has to get the kid out of here though. Anyone else he would have given up as lost, but it’s a pretty sure bet that the wire is the kid’s doing. It runs right from his summoning fire to the mound of snow, and it’s glowing red. Blood magic. And the brat had been using blood.
Okay, what do I have? Bound hands, the kid’s rocks, his herbs and scales. A pestle and mortar.
“So nothing worthwhile then.” He eyes the sky, shuddering as snow slides down the back of his shirt. Given the circumstances, it’s hard not to think of it as anything other than death trickling cold down his spine. He’s heard that weather magic can often be reasoned with, but…
“What the hell do I say?” He wants to pull at his hair, but the brat’s knots are good.
The snow is encroaching on the the wire. The brat’s power will only last so long before it abandons him to the magic he wrought.
“Alright, negotiation it is.”
Zan steps up to the fire, the pain in his wrists largely forgotten. The flame flares as he draws close, it’s colours stained red now. The slightly dull red of blood. Zan licks his lips.
“I’m not entirely sure how to go about this,” he admits, shrugging. “I do insects and ecology, not…” he stares up at the sky. The cold is biting deep now, and his hands are shaking. “You’re a lot more than I’m used to. So I know you’re not impressed with humanity at the moment, but… well, he’s just a brat. He doesn’t know better.”
Nothing. It doesn’t seem impressed.
“If you can let him up, like you let me up,” and he’s not fooling himself about why he woke up, “they I can get him to reverse it.”
No reaction. The air above the wire is calm now, the snow that’s falling is gradually creeping up on it.
Fuck, what does he have to use. There must be something. Something that he’s missed…
Ah. He has a summoning fire, the brat’s blood already in said fire, and blood on his own wrists. That’s what he was missing before. Blood.
“Look.” He steals himself against the pain. Master-apprentice bonds don’t come easy. “I can guarantee it.”
He shoves his bloody wrists forward into the fire