The Fern Flower Summons (5 of 5)

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This is the fifth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Five)

Stumbling to his feet, raising a hand to protect his eyes, Connor squinted into the unexpected glare. Off to his right, he could discern a frail old man’s silhouetted figure walking toward him within the brilliance.

“What? Who are you?”

“Someone you should trust.”

“I don’t understand.”

(connor time runs low)

“Wait! Where is that light coming from? Is that another fern flower?”

(connor a better life awaits take it)

“Ignore the voice! Yes, by God, it is another fern flower! Listen to me, Connor! You’re making a mistake!”

“What? I’m so confused! How do you know…?”

(connor the bloom fades)

“Using the flower is a mistake. What you’re asking for is wrong.”

“Asking for my fair share is wrong? You don’t understand. It’s humiliating how they treat me, my family, everyone living in orbit!”

“I know how you feel. But, this isn’t the right way.”

(connor)

“You don’t know how I feel! You don’t know me!”

“I do because I remember. The exhilaration of stepping into a new world intoxicated me. I gave in to the temptation, ignoring the warning I felt, the warning you feel now. My greed destroyed me, leaving only anguish, robbing me of the joy I sought.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you. I’m what you become. I am your future.”

“Impossible.”

“It’s true. Trust me, Connor. Wanting for nothing, having everything life offers is a lovely dream, but….”

“You’re lying, trying to trick me out of what I deserve!”

“No, I’m trying to save you and prevent me from ever happening.”

“This is crazy! The flower won’t give me what I want? The voice lies?”

“The voice speaks truthfully, but it does not reveal the cost of wishing.”

“What cost?”

“Choosing this path will provide you with unimaginable wealth. But, you can never share it.”

“And that’s a bad thing? Surface-dwelling snobs hoard everything without consequence!”

“Connor, you will gain what you wish but lose everything you love. The fern flower’s power can never be used to help anyone else, even friends and family.”

“Hey! Disembodied voice! Is this true?”

(using the flower to help others will negate its power undoing your wish)

“Will my wish hurt my family?” 

(no your good fortune need not come at their expense)

“See! I can make things better for myself. I’ll explain everything. My family will be happy for me. They’ll understand. Finally, I’ll be able to help them if there’s a real emergency. I’ll give everything up when I need to.”

“Connor, altering reality is dangerous. It changed me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I began to think of myself as invincible, above the law. Justifying my actions became easier the further I slipped into the world I created for myself. But, it all came crashing down when Phoebe…when she….”

“What about Phoebe? Why are you crying? What happens to her?”

“I had the power to save her, but I hesitated. Addicted to the life I created, I feared losing the flower. I reasoned the odds of helping her were slim. I told myself I would sacrifice everything when all other options ran out, but I waited too long. She died unexpectedly from complications during an experimental procedure. My greed subjected her to needless suffering.”

“What? I’d never allow that to happen!”

“Connor, I’ve lived a privileged life, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my memories of enduring ridicule have always prevented me from doing the right thing. No matter how I tried to have it all, the flower has consistently denied me the true treasure of sharing my life with someone else.”

(infinite are the paths the flower offers with foresight you may choose differently)

“Yes, you’ve given me the warning I need.”

“No, don’t do this.”

“Why shouldn’t I enjoy the good life while I can? If I make wise decisions, nothing bad will happen.”

“Think of Phoebe.”

“I’ll write all this down! I promise to remember! I’ll be better than you!”

“Will you? Is it worth the risk? Will you accept wealth, power, and status now, knowing people you love might suffer and die because of it?”

“But, the voice says I can take a different path.” 

“I beg you! Walk away from this evil!”

(it is time to choose)

His future self’s warning frightened Connor. He rejected the possibility of ever becoming this wretch. But, the thorny seed of doubt had been planted. No matter how he tried to pluck it out, the grotesque image of a bleak, lonely future grew, threatening to overwhelm him. He shook, cried, and stamped his feet as he gazed between the ugly old man and the exquisite flower.

“Connor, all the universes have to offer isn’t worth a damn thing without someone to share it.”

(will you take the flower)

Connor hesitated, hoping to ascertain the true strength of his character. He desperately wanted what his other classmates possessed but feared the uncertainty. He knew he couldn’t rule out the danger of making the same mistakes. 

“Connor, reflect on the happiness you have now being amongst friends and family. Contentment comes in many forms.”

He recognized the truth in the old man’s words, realizing he only yearned to be accepted. Suddenly, he understood if Bright Star Academy couldn’t give him that, somewhere else could. Fate had dealt him a difficult hand, but he suspected changing reality should happen, moment by moment, throughout one’s life.

“I’m afraid I must decline. Some things are just too good to be true.”

0500 hours, June 21, 2433

Connor found himself abruptly standing in the meadow overlooking the school campsite. His teachers and classmates gathered quietly about the fading fire. He entered the circle and sat down next to a fellow student whose name he couldn’t remember.  

“Where’ve you been, Connor?”

“Got lost. Thought I found something. Turned out to be nothing.”

“Well, you missed the excitement. Freddy fell into the river, trying to fish a wreath out. He almost drowned! Ironic, he’s so athletic but apparently can’t swim.”

“Must’ve been quite the sight.”

It occurred to Connor his classmate spoke to him normally without any hint of derision. 

“Wait…why… why are you talking to me?”

“Ouch! But suppose I deserve that. Hey, I know I shouldn’t let those jerks intimidate me. And I’m sorry, Freddy and Brad give you such a hard time.”

“It has made things kind of rough.”

“Well, you seem like a nice guy. Anyway, I’m tired of letting them decide who’s cool and who’s not. Personally, I could care less if you live in orbit.”

“Now, I need to apologize. I’ve no idea what your name is. In my defense though, I don’t talk to anyone.”

“Nathan.”

“Nice to meet you, Nathan.”

Professor Dalton interrupted the quiet of predawn as he jumped up and down excitedly. 

“Amazing, Dabrowski! That last spike in multidimensional radiation topped everything! I hope it didn’t damage my scanner. It’s completely silent now. I’m not even picking up the background levels we saw yesterday afternoon. Whatever it was, it’s gone now. But, I must say this has been a worthwhile experiment. Plenty of data to publish!”

“Ah, sorry to hear that, Dalton. Perhaps, the approaching dawn drives the denizens of Para away. Look, the sun’s beginning to rise.”

Connor smiled eagerly, facing east to witness his first sunrise. He couldn’t help but feel as if he had passed some test. He didn’t expect his difficulties to vanish, but he felt hope again. 

1200 hours, June 21, 2507

Jeeves and Alfred waited, watching the sun climb higher and higher.

“It’s 12:00. Sir, has not returned. What does this mean?”

“Sir has found what he sought.”

“Now, what?”

“Per his instructions, seek out our new master in New Seattle.” 


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (4 of 5)

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This is the fourth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Four)

Convinced the source of the distant glow was multidimensional, Connor rushed off, determined to confide in Professor Dabrowski. Having misjudged the distance and his ability to navigate the darkness, he stopped to recover his bearings. His heart sunk, realizing the light had vanished. As Connor searched for it, the dazzling radiance rematerialized in the field before him. Staring in disbelief, he couldn’t shake the feeling it beckoned to him. Mesmerized, he stepped tentatively forward. 

(come closer)

Startled, Connor halted. Rooted in place, he trembled, doubting his sanity. 

(don’t stop now)

“Who’s there?”

(follow the light all will be revealed)

An unbearable urge to enter the woods welled inside Connor. But, he found the light’s retreat into the dense undergrowth disconcerting. His courage failed at the forest’s edge.

“What do you want?”

(to help you connor)

“How do you know my name?”

(your mind is easy to read)

“Why couldn’t anyone else see the light?”

(you are the one chosen)

“Why?”

(you endure great unhappiness)

“Why should that matter?”

(is it wrong to remedy harm inflicted)

“No, but I don’t understand. Who are you? Why do you move deeper into the woods?”

(the gift resides there within)

“What gift?”

(indulge your curiosity bravely follow the light)

“Why should I trust you?”

(risk abides in every action and refusal to act)

“What will I find?”

(what you already suspect)

“The fern flower?”

(yes)

Connor wrestled with conflicting emotions. Endless possibilities ran through his mind. Although the offer tempted him, experience had taught Connor nothing in life was truly free. He supposed interacting with another dimension could have unforeseen consequences. Faltering, he tried to decide whether to play it safe and return to the bonfire or accept the risk, follow the light and take his fair share of wealth and privilege. 

“Stay there. Don’t move. I’m coming.”

Connor tramped forward, pushing through the brush until he stepped into a hollow filled with radiant light emanating from a floating orb of energy. A large oak stood in the middle, its branches thickly overhanging to create a secluded grotto. Nestled between the tree’s gnarled roots, a beautiful woodland fern grew. Fine motes of light drifted down from underneath its fronds, coating the ground with glittering dust. A golden stem extended up in its center, bearing a magnificent flower. 

Connor watched the luminous sphere descend and merge with the blossom to cast an array of iridescent light through its translucent petals. Connor felt an intense heat radiating from the bloom. 

(rarely do mortal eyes gaze upon the ferns fiery blossom)

“I… I am honored.”

(do you know the magic it holds)

“Professor Dabrowski says it has the power to grant wishes.”

(correct)

“If I wish for something, will it happen right away?”

(the magic works subtly until time brings your desire to fruition)

“How’s this possible? Magic isn’t real in this world.”

(what you call magic is simply energy capable of shifting reality bringing desired aspects from countless parallel universes into this one)

“I want to be like my classmates. I want to live on the surface. I want to be respected and admired. I want the life they have!”

(ask for limitless wealth the rest will follow)

Connor crept closer to the fern. Variegated light illuminated his body as he fell to his knees. Tentatively, he extended a hand to touch the flower.

“Do I pick the blossom?”

(fear not the bloom is imperishable utter a wish pluck it forever yours to keep)

The crack of snapping wood and crunching leaves startled Connor out of his reverie. He vainly searched the surrounding darkness, his eyes struggling to adjust. He suddenly suspected someone had followed him. The thought angered him.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

(a woodland creature ignore it make your wish)

Connor recalled his mother’s fear of wildlife.

“Animal? It sounds huge.”

(the hour grows late)

Detecting a trace of irritation in the voice’s tone, Conner again reconsidered accepting help from the multidimensional entity. But, his qualms fled as he turned back to behold the flower’s ethereal beauty. An intense desire for wealth and status reconquered him.

“Yes, of course. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

(hurry)

Energy pulsed up his hand as he grasped the flower, numbing his entire arm. The stem resisted his pull. 

(state your desire to reap the bloom)

“I want….”

A dazzling flash accompanied by the crackle of arching electricity interrupted Connor’s wish.

“Wait! Stop! Say nothing! There’s something you need to know!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (3 of 5)

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This is the third installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Three)

“Shall we get started, Dabrowski? I have conducted baseline scans for dimensional radiation, but I’m depending on you to guide us through these archaic rituals.”

The literature professor set his suitcases down near the bonfire, opening one with a flourish. 

“Now, everyone, gather around. I’ve had costumes specially fabricated for this experiment. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.”

Connor’s classmates bunched forward, shoving him aside. 

“Don’t touch anything, Orbit!” someone whispered.

“Yeah, careful! I hear Orbitals are allergic to everything down here. You could go into anaphylactic shock.”

“It’s like Orbitals aren’t even human.”

“Probably why resettlement restrictions exist. It’s for their own good.”

“Nah, if we let everyone back, it’ll ruin the climate again.”

Mortified, Connor fled to another part of the circle.

“Tonight’s the eve of the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Humanity has long revered the solstice, believing it a time when a portal to the fey realms opens.”

“Fey realms? Professor, is that another name for Para?”

“Yes, I suspect so. Now, I’ve brought along plenty of traditional Slavic costumes for anyone wishing to dress the part. The academy has graciously provided funding for replicas made with transforma-cloth. You’ll find everything adjusts to fit.”

“Professor, they’re so garish!”

“Ah, but that was the style.”

The students began picking through the pile of multicolored garments as Professor Dabrowski opened the other suitcase to reveal a jumble of clippings. 

“Now, we have violet, rosemary, vervain, thyme, hyssop, mugwort, lavender, and St. John’s Wort.”

“What are we doing with flowers, Professor?”

“Making wreaths. These plants were believed to be magical, especially on Midsummer Night’s Eve.”

“How so? 

“Providing protection from wayward spirits or conversely attracting good luck. Some even claimed such herbs could help find true love.”

“Scandalous, Professor!”

“What kind of field trip is this?”

“Don’t be gross!”

“I think it’s romantic!”

“Ladies, gentlemen, please control yourselves. Remember, this is a school function.”

“Professor, how’re a bunch of flowers going to find true love?!”

“Glad you asked! Simply weave them into a wreath and toss it into the river. If your suitor retrieves it without getting wet, rest assured knowing their love is true!”

“Why can’t we get wet?”

“Because of the rusalka.”

“The what?”

“Spirits lurking beneath the waters eager to lure helpless young men and women to their doom! Remember, the veil between worlds is at its weakest tonight!”

“I’m not afraid.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“It’s not real.”

“Para is real.”

“That’s different.”

“Yeah, this is just a superstition.”

“Ah, but we’re here to test that conviction. Are these truly just fairytales? Other dimensions and parallel universes hid around every corner. Science has proven this. Contact with the inhabitants of Para has cast everything into doubt.”

“You’re scaring me, Professor.”

“Rest assured, you’ll be completely safe provided you remain dry. In the event you fall into the water, our bonfire will ward you from harm. Its flames summon kindly faeries keen to bestow aid and good fortune.”

“Really? What kind of aid, Professor?”

“Success during the coming year or good health.”

“How about passing all my exams?”

“A worthy aspiration for all my students!” 

“Professor, what’s special about the fire?”

“It’s the bravery displayed about the bonfire that’s important.”

“Professor?”

“Our ancestors leapt the flames hoping to prove themselves worthy of otherworldly gifts, favors, and secret knowledge.”

“Like hidden treasure?”

“Most sought help procuring the fern flower, a rare blossom found only on Midsummer’s Eve.”

“And if you find it?”

“Discovery grants a wish.”

“We should try to find it!”

“Yeah, where do we look, Professor?”

“I should warn you. The flower is guarded. Legend says only true desperation reveals its location.”

Connor wondered why any of his classmates would ever need to find such a flower. Wishes were meaningless when you already had everything, he thought. 

“Remember, everyone, make time to acquaint yourself with the dim-scanner. I’ve collected rather unusual readings with Professor Dabrowski’s arrival and subsequent lecture. Perhaps there is something to all this nonsense. Sorry, Dabrowski, no offense intended.”

“None taken, Dalton. You are, undeniably, a consummate man of science. Leave the imagining to me!”

With instructions given, the students dispersed. Some plopped near the fire with armfuls of cuttings for making wreaths, while others danced about waiting to jump the bonfire. Connor sat on the outskirts quietly surveying the antics. He found himself distracted by the countless fireflies flickering about in the surrounding darkness.

“Finished my wreath. Protect me as I toss it into the river, Brad?”

“Absolutely, Chelsea!”

Connor watched the couple stumble off, giggling. As usual, everyone ignored him, but tonight he didn’t care. Leaning back on his elbows, he stretched his legs and gazed across the meadow. Above, the lights from Earth’s ring of artificial structures twinkled brightly. While trying to locate New Seattle, his eye was suddenly drawn to a glimmering glow near the forest’s edge. It appeared to him to be another fire. Startled, Connor jumped up to get a better view.

“Do you see that?”

Several heads turned toward Connor.

“Are you talking to us?”

“Ah…yes. Do you see that light?”

“They’re called fireflies, Orbit.”

“No, in the woods. See the light changing color?”

“I don’t see anything. You feeling ok?”

 Out of character, Connor grabbed hold of someone walking by. 

“Tell me you can see that!” 

His classmate angrily brushed Connor’s hand away. 

“Let go of me, Orbit! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Uh…sorry.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”

“He’s hallucinating or something.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t even be here.”

Embarrassed, feeling trapped, Connor’s eyes darted about frantically. Spying Professor Dalton, he rushed over to the man. 

“Professor! Professor! Professor Dalton!”

“Connor? Whatever is the matter?” 

Connor glanced quickly again to the forest seeing the light still blazed conspicuously. His stomach clenched, realizing he alone could see it. He paused to recollect himself.

“Sorry, Professor. Nothing’s wrong. Just a bit excited to be here.”

“I should say so.”

“Professor, I’m curious. Has the scanner picked up any indication of an actual dimensional rift developing nearby?”

“Why yes, Connor. I owe Dabrowski an apology. The readings are off the charts.”

“Any idea where?”

Surprised to hear such eagerness in his student’s voice, Professor Dalton quickly scrutinized Connor. 

“Well, multidimensional radiation is high everywhere, but it increases significantly on this side of the bonfire.”

“Is the scanner difficult to use?”

“No, not at all. Give it a go, Connor. It’s straightforward enough once calibrated, which I accomplished painstakingly earlier. Simply point and press this button to capture a reading.”

“Have you scanned closer to the forest?”

“What? Well, no. I’ve focused my attention around Dabrowski’s activities.”

“Professor, may I sample levels further away from the bonfire?”

“A budding scientist, eh Connor? By all means, but let’s not stray far. Lady Science demands controlled methodical inquiry. Remember, our objective is to uncover any correlation between concentrations of dimensional radiation and reenacting superstitious practices.”

Walking several paces towards the woods, Connor took a measurement.

“Interesting, Connor! This warrants further investigation. Unquestionably, this uptick in energy suggests the presence of a nearby weakening of the division between our universe and the next.”

“Perhaps, the bonfire really does provide some kind of protection.” 

“Interesting. Dabrowski will be delighted to hear this.”

“Where is Professor Dabrowski, sir?”

“He’s down by the river. The notion of treacherous spirits skulking about is absurd, but youthful shenanigans are not.”

“I’ll tell him what we found. Thank you, Professor!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (2 of 5)

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This is the second installment of five. Here is the link for part one for anyone who missed it.


The Fern Flower Summons”(Part Two)

1800 hours, June 19, 2433 

“Connor! You’re home!”

Connor’s little sister tackled him as he entered their family’s modest living quarters. 

“Hey, Phoebe.”

“Please help me with my presentation! Mom’s useless.” 

“Sure, what’s it about?”

“How interacting with parallel universes will change society.”

“Really?”

“Hey! I’m not little anymore. I’m learning important stuff.”

“Relax, I know. It’s just we also talked about Para in literature class today.”

Phoebe beamed triumphantly. 

“I’m catching up to you! We’re studying the same things!”

“Guess you should advance your application to Bright Star Academy now. Well, only if you can stomach spending time with condescending jerks.”

Phoebe frowned.

“Is anyone nice there?”

“The teachers can be.”

“Oh, Connor.”

Her genuine concern touched him.

“Don’t worry. I’m tougher than I look.”

“I’ve got an idea for my presentation!”

“What?”

“Contact with Para means we can travel to all sorts of parallel worlds. Nobody has to live in space anymore!”

“Always the optimist. Hope you’re right.”

“If you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”

“Can you convince Mom and Dad to give me money for transport to the surface?”

“The surface?! Wow! Why?”

“School outing.”

“Where? To do what?”

“Professor Dabrowski thinks myths and folklore about fairies are based on actual historical encounters with dimensional rifts into Para. He wants to use the school’s dim-scanner to prove his theory.”

“I wish I could go! You’re so lucky!”

“Not if I can’t get money for the fare.”

“I’ve saved some money from babysitting. You can have it if you pay me back.”

“Let’s see what Mom and Dad say first. Hopefully, I can use the money I’ve saved working during breaks. Supposed to be for university, but this is a school trip. They might say yes.”

Connor’s mom looked apprehensive. Rarely on the surface, being outside frightened her. 

“I don’t know, Connor. Is this trip safe? You’ll be in the wilderness? I’ve read about animal attacks.”

“I’ll be with a bunch of people.”

“Still makes me nervous. School’s providing transport?”

“No. We have to arrange our own ride.”

“What about the school’s private transport your scholarship provides?”

“I asked. It’s only for travel to and from campus.”

“Can’t someone offer you passage?”

“Everyone lives on the surface, Mom. They’ll already be there. No one’s going to make a special trip up for me.”

His father balked at the cost.

“Ship fare’s a month’s worth of wages.”

“I have the money.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, Connor! That money is for university.”

“Mom, please! I can work extra shifts.”

“Your mother’s right. That money is for school, not entertainment.”

Frustrated, Connor gave up.

“Mom, you always say breaking into surface society requires good connections.”

“Phoebe, your point?”

“Everyone at Connor’s school treats him differently. This is a chance for him to fit in.”

“I’m sure he has friends. Don’t you, Connor?”

Connor shrugged, staring at his feet. 

“And Dad, you’re always preaching that we should stand up for ourselves and force others to acknowledge us. You say things will never change if Orbitals keep floating around up here, manufacturing everything for the elites below.”

Their father smiled proudly at Phoebe, nodding his head.

“This idea of crashing a surface-dweller’s party is beginning to appeal to me.”

“Honey? I don’t want Connor getting political.”

“No, this is perfect. He can wear my union protest gear.”

 “Dad, that’s not going to help Connor fit in.”

“Well, he could wear a slogan. How about Celebrate Climate Restoration! Bring Everyone Home!

“Dad, stop!”

“I’m serious. I could ask the action committee to pay for the trip. Think of the publicity!”

Connor hated the idea. But desperation got the better of him.

“I’ll do it.”

“That’s my boy!”

“Honey, no. This isn’t fair to Connor. I’ve money tucked away for emergencies.”

“But, Babe?”

“I won’t have him used as a political pawn. Connor, you can go. But, I expect extra help around here while your father and I work overtime.”

Phoebe jumped gleefully as Connor hugged his mother.

1300 hours, June 20, 2433

After waiting in line for close to an hour, Connor managed to find a seat on the commercial Earth-bound shuttle. A throng of people swarmed about the cabin, filling the space with noise, odors, and clutter. 

“Connor. Mind if I sit with you?”

Professor Dabrowski struggled to stow several cumbersome bags before dropping into his seat. 

“Professor? What are you doing here? Why all the luggage?”

“Traveling to our campsite.”

“But, I thought….”

 “And… you’ll have to wait to see what I’ve packed for our expedition.”

“What are you doing in New Seattle?”

“Just because I teach at a prestigious school on Earth doesn’t necessarily mean I live on Earth.”

“You live in New Seattle?”

“Used to. Visiting with family for a couple rotations. My wife and I live on Manchester Station.” 

“I’ve never seen you on the school transport.”

“I stay down in staff quarters on campus when school is in session. But, when I do travel, I prefer commercial ships. They’re more interesting than stuffy, private shuttles.”

“I guess.”

“Oh, come on, Connor. Humanity is enriched by diversity. In some respects, you’re better off than other Bright Star Academy students.”

“Sorry, Professor? How could I possibly…?”

“No, I’m sorry, Connor. I forget how limiting it is to grow up in orbit. I, too, dreamed of living on Earth. I remember feeling cheated by my circumstances.”

Professor Dabrowski’s admission piqued Connor’s curiosity.

“How did you do it?”

“What? Oh, you mean, how did I avoid an unfulfilling, low-wage job in an orbital manufacturing plant?”

“Yes.”

Professor Dabrowski took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“Just like you, I studied. I aced my exams and earned a scholarship to a school on the surface.”

“Why don’t you and your wife live on Earth?”

“Connor, there’s more to it than making enough money. The elites living below have a plethora of unspoken rules. Life there is restrictive, stifling. I prefer to keep a wider perspective.”

“What restrictions? Surface-dwellers have everything one could want!”

“And they don’t appreciate it. They’re bored, trapped in a scripted world of endless leisure.”

“Sounds great to me.”

“You’re lucky to be able to think outside of the box. You can take risks because you have nothing to lose.”

Connor flinched.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so brusque.”

“No, you’re right. Thanks to the government, my family has just what’s necessary, but nothing else. Opportunities to get ahead are scarce. Earning my scholarship to Bright Star Academy was a dream come true.”

“And what do you intend to do with this opportunity?”

“Become filthy rich, move permanently to the planet and never come back.”

“You’ll leave your family, friends, and countless others like you behind?”

“I’ll never abandon my family.”

“Well, a word of caution, the privileged like to talk about equality and rewarding hard work, but there’s very little they want to change or share when it comes to action.”

“But, you’ve been able to work and live on the surface.”

“Yes, because I’m an amusing oddity. Think of me as Bright Star Academy’s mascot for charitable contributions.”

His conversation with Professor Dabrowski unsettled Connor. Excusing himself, he lingered in the crowded dining compartment, only returning to his seat just before their destination. 

“Ah, Connor. I feared my pessimism scared you away.”

“No, not at all. Just grabbing snacks.” Connor lied.

“I remember those days. My father contemplated getting a second job to buy food!”

Connor felt guilty hiding. He really did like Professor Dabrowski. Discovering their common background made him realize he had unexpectedly found someone at school who understood how he felt.

An announcement sounded, indicating the shuttle had reached Krakow. Connor prepared to disembark, eager to finally visit another part of Earth. After navigating through security, they found themselves standing in a waiting area jam-packed with boisterous reunions and the shrill calls of vendors hawking souvenirs. Extensive lines queuing for refreshments, lavatories, and taxis branched about, creating a chaotic maze of people. 

“There’s our ride. Come on.”

Connor briefly caught a glimpse of a man leaning against a hovercraft, holding a sign for Bright Star Academy.

“Glad you’re leading, Professor. I’d be overwhelmed on my own!”

During the ride, Professor Dabrowski and the driver chatted amicably. At the same time, Connor gawked at the rolling pastoral landscape and immense country estates. Witnessing firsthand the stark contrast between life in orbit and that on the surface angered him. He knew he’d do anything to live here. 

“Oh, excellent! Professor Dalton has already built a lovely bonfire.”

Connor’s heart leapt into his throat, seeing his classmates frolicking about the encampment. He felt the weight of his awkwardness return. Even more than at school, he felt like an intruder here.

“Dabrowski! How good of you to join us! I was beginning to worry. Trouble with public transport?”

“Never fear, Dalton. I am here. All is well. Traveling with the masses may be slow, but I find it exhilarating!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

“The Forging of Isaz” (Part 2 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons.
  • Kalda: servant of Skadi. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics. 
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.  

Part 2 The Arrival

A master smith, Gobban was often completely confident his skills were sufficient for any task. He began his training when he was a young boy. He had learned from the best. Tonight though, the only thing he felt secure in was his understanding of the predicament facing the kingdom. Gobban knew his limitations. His extraordinary skill and the modest magic he wielded would still not be enough. The king demanded a miracle. Skadi could undoubtedly use her wintery magic to forever keep the flame demon at bay. Yet, the cost would be to forever go without warmer weather.

Never summer, ever winter would destroy the kingdom just the same. Let’s hope Greta and the other völvur are correct! I am not a man above learning something new. 

Waiting for his guest, the smith chose his steel carefully. He was sure of his process and technique. The weapons he constructed were well-made. Gobban prepared as he would typically to forge a sword. He added more coal to the furnace and quietly chanted his spells. Soon the smithy was ablaze in heat. Accustomed to the workshop’s hellish conditions, Gobban was in his element. He continued to sing to his forge, stoking, cajoling ever more heat from the coals. 

The smithy was otherwise deserted. In fact, this entire section of the citadel had been cleared. Skadi had requested only the smith be present. The king agreed readily, himself concerned for the well-being of his people. Supernatural intervention, whether divine or jötunnic, was a rare occurrence. No one knew exactly what to expect. Greta advised Gobban how to act and speak. The captain of the guard explained how to signal if there was danger. The king thanked Gobban for his bravery and willingness to put the kingdom first. Lastly, the smith had been instructed to leave the eastern window open. His ally would enter from there.

While his back was turned to shovel more fuel onto the fire, Gobban heard a rush of wind and felt a drop in temperature. Turning, he beheld a figure standing outside the window. After allowing his eyes to adjust from the bright light of the fire, he could discern it was a woman. His first thought was she was too small to be a giant. Gobban tried to recall if he had heard tales of giants having the power to magically alter their size. He supposed Skadi could have acquired such ability from the gods. 

“I’m surprised you came.” Gobban managed to say.

 Stepping closer to the window, the smith sought to better see his visitor.

“A promise was given.” a cold voice replied.

The woman’s skin was pale as freshly fallen snow, and what appeared as her raiment shimmered like a glacier hanging at a fjord’s edge. Her silver hair, severely cropped short, resembled a jumble of jagged shards of ice. Yet, her face appeared delicate with a radiant aura like a brilliant boreal night sky. Her eyes were of the brightest blue. Gobban was reminded of sapphires reflecting the noonday’s sun.

Gobban, in contrast, stood like a dark, gritty lump of coal silhouetted against the orange-red glow of the fire. His dark hair was tied back with a strap of leather worn and stained with sweat and grime. His rugged build was the very essence of a resilient, earthen ore, hardened and tempered by intense heat.

“Even so, I am still surprised,” he said. 

“You think the gods are above the oaths they make?”

“I do not presume to know what it is gods do or don’t.”

“Ah, Master Smith, I have been told much about you. You presume to know all about the forging of mighty weapons.”

“There is nothing I do not know of smithing and forging metals. I am proud of my work. But, I do not claim to know all regarding talismans and weapons of power.”

“And now, flame and heat, elements essential to your success, have emerged from the wilds in strange, treacherous form. Your crafting is undone by the same forces from which it is constructed.”

“The hell beast will not be turned. I have tried all I know. But, no blade will hold its shape ere it pierces the beast’s heart. This is true. Certain doom is upon us all unless another way to defend ourselves is found.”

“And that’s what you expect me to provide?”

“That’s what the völvur hope.”

“Do you believe I can help?”

Gobban’s bowels squirmed. He suspected there was little she did not know about him.

“I honestly confess I am unsure. Steel is remarkable, but it is the fire that strengthens it. Quenching it properly is essential. Extreme cold makes such a metal brittle and prone to shatter. I have spent my life imbuing weapons with fiery magic to withstand the frigid cold, and its minions come down from the mountains.”

The smith was surprised how easily he gave vent to his anger and frustration. This outburst was precisely what he had been counseled to avoid. The stranger stood unmoving, her icy presence filling the length and breadth of the window. Her silence was unsettling. Gobban’s breathing and heartbeat boomed in his head. 

“You speak of the jötunn,” she stated.

Gobban bowed before the woman.

“Forgive my manners, my lady. I am not accustomed to the company of gods. Welcome. Please enter. May we forge a weapon together to save the kingdom.”

“I am no god, master smith.”

“But, the queen’s seer indicated Skadi, queen of the snows and ice, was offering assistance.”

“I am ice sprite. Your people call me an ice maiden. My mistress has sent me. She said I would be able to aide you.”

“Forgive me again. My welcome still stands.”

Gobban gestured with his hands to enter. But, the woman did not move to join him.

“I am ill-suited for your fires. I will remain here until the time comes for me to assist.”

Gobban was surprised to realize he was disappointed. He wondered if the winter sprite was attempting to charm him with faerie magic. It was common for woodland spirits to play such tricks. Yet, he didn’t feel as though he was under any spell.  

“My name is Gobban.”

As if seeing him for the first time, the woman gazed intently at the smith. He felt a chill air cascade down about him. 

“My name is Kalda.”

Gobban shivered upon hearing her name. He realized he was utterly taken with the supernatural beauty of the ice maid. 

With a cough and a stamp of his boots, he vigorously rubbed his hands together to rid himself of the chill and embarrassment he felt. 

“How should we begin? What changes with the forging do I need to make to facilitate your assistance?”

“Alter nothing, master smith. I will partake in your ritual work when I see an opportunity.”

Gobban smiled warmly.

“Then I hope to provide you a worthy display of smithery. I shall begin.”

Turning back to his furnace, he fancied he saw an amused look pass briefly over the ice sprite’s face. 

“I confess I watch with great interest, as I know little of the crafting of swords,” Kalda said. 

Gobban beamed.

“Fear not, I do.”

“Yes, I sense the fierce magic of fire rules your heart. Your skill is evident.”

Gobban realized the ice sprite had come inside. She stood against the window wreathed in a swirl of snows that clung to her body. He, himself, had never before seen a display of this type of magical power. He began to suspect his earlier suspicions and doubts were wrong.  

“Your arrival and words have wrought a change upon me I did not expect. Hope glimmers again in my heart.” Gobban said. 

“Why is this?” Kalda asked. 

“I fathom not how your icy elemental magic works. But, I am now more inclined to accept the völvur’s omens as true.”

“The völvur walk between this realm and others. Their insight is keen. Only a stubborn fool ignores their counsel.”

 Gobban stifled an urge to laugh. Obstinate, inflexible, headstrong, and bull-headed were just some of the words used more often to describe him. He was eager to lay aside talk and get to work. 

“Would you care to see the steel before it enters the fire?” Gobban impulsively asked. 

Kalda tilted her head, considering. 

“Yes.”

The smith retrieved the bar of steel and walked over. He remarked the rapid fall in temperature as he drew near the ice sprite. His sweat crackled as it froze in his hair and on his bare skin. His breath billowed forth in a frozen mist of air. 

“Look adamantium! The king has provided the resources for the strongest steel. There is no higher quality metal for a sword.” Gobban crooned.

The ice sprite hesitated with her hand poised, almost touching it. 

“I assure you it is cool.”

Her touch produced a sound, not unlike the chinking of metal on metal. The bar of steel was instantly covered in frost. Both the sprite and the smith startled. 

“My lady, you have chilled the steel straight through! I feel as if I am suddenly grasping a length of solid ice.”

Kalda regarded the wisps of moisture steaming up from her hand. 

“To me, sir, the metal is quite hot! I now understand why the weapons you craft are mortal to the jötunn from the frozen lands and northern mountains.”


Coming Next: (Part 3 of 7) “Fire Draws Breath

“The Forging of Isaz”(Part 1 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics. 
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.  

Part 1 “Prologue

The attack had come unexpectedly upon a village situated far to the north, close to the mountains. Its people were a wary lot. Raids were not uncommon, but everything about this assault was unusual. In the middle of winter, the village looked to fire for comfort and protection. Instead, it gave rise to utter ruin and death. The settlement was destroyed, burnt to the ground. The survivors fleeing south whispered of an infernal creature composed entirely of flames. 

The borders were reinforced with more of the king’s guard from the cities. Eventually, the fiery beast appeared again. Steel and magic were brought to bear against this unknown threat but to no avail. The creature blasted and melted all it confronted.

The kingdom had until recently enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. The king’s smith had labored tirelessly to produce fantastical items of power capable of keeping the countryside safe throughout the darkest times of the year. But, Gobban wrought in with fire. Heat, light, and flame were essential to his craft. With the aid of these elements, he shaped and imbued his metals with fiery magic. His weapons enabled the king’s guard to drive back icy giants who came down from the mountains with their cold, cruel pangs of hunger to hunt. 

Now, Gobban was faced with an entirely different kind of threat. He threw himself into the task of forging a weapon to slay the monster. The smith efforts were thwarted by the incredible intensity of the beast’s fires. Gobban knew success depended on founding his weaponry within the mightiest heat he could bring to bear. But, the fiend proved capable of burning far hotter than any fire the smith could fashion. No matter how he hardened and tempered the steel, the weapons melted and turned to slag upon striking this implacable foe.

Gobban revealed with great pain and embarrassment, he did not have the wherewithal to protect his craft from the ruinous effects incurred within the fiend’s internal firestorms. Only the random appearance of harsh winter snows did anything to hinder the fiery demon. But, ever the threat returned when the storms abated.

As time passed, people fled south, seeking safety behind city walls. The king’s guard was reduced to keeping peace and order among the refugees or providing swift transport to seiomenn attempting to conjure foul weather to douse the devilish brute’s inferno. 

As soon as the news reached the citadel of the first assault on a fortified city, tensions ran high as people waited to discover if its defenses would hold. Grim was the report declaring even solid stone walls gave way beneath the onslaught of hellishly hot blows. Everyone wondered what would stop this new terror when the summer suns returned?

With Gobban’s armaments failing and the seiomenn’s abjuration magic proving ineffective, the king turned to the völvur to uncover a way to save the kingdom. The seers, with the queen, withdrew into solitude to probe the spirit world for answers. Err long, the völvur, with the aid of their seidr magic, announced a strategy had been divined to defeat the enemy. 

During the king’s council, a path to salvation was laid out. Beyond the borders, a being existed with the knowledge Gobban lacked. The seers spoke of marrying the power of fire and ice to create a sword. They urged the king to dispatch an envoy with speed to parley and strike a bargain securing the desired assistance.  

Gobban was dismayed. He begged to learn more details regarding the exact nature of the omens. He could only perceive a great folly in their plan. He wondered how he could be expected to lay all he knew aside, to ignore reason! He argued some laws of nature could not be disregarded. And yet, Gobban was expected to try.

Greta, the queen’s seeress, a woman greatly respected, if not afeared, was adamant Gobban must forge a great sword to serve as a talisman against the unstoppable devil. She vowed there was no other way. She insisted salvation lie within Gobban’s reach. Every portent the völvur read alluded to a blade quenched and tempered within frigid forces only Skadi, the winter goddess, could provide. This paradox would forestall the perils posed by the diabolical heats wreathing the beast. 

The smith balked at the absurdity of this idea. Fire and ice did not suffer each other’s company; they could not co-exist. Gobban was dreadfully afraid. He refused to believe deliverance would come from steel. He begged the völvur to scry again. Gobban suggested looking to the boundless waters of the sea to bring about an end to the monster. But, the king and the other council members were confident this was the course of action to take. 

Eventually, the smith acquiesced, agreeing to carry out this preposterous scheme. But, he was devoid of all hope. Gobban granted a radical change in tactics was necessary, but he doubted this approach was it. He could find no solace in the auguries. All others were convinced a frost forged blade would endure the inferno long enough to pierce the beast’s heart. But, Gobban worried his skills were insufficient for the job. 

The fleetest messengers were dispatched to the wilds of the mountains and forests. Quick was the reply. Now, a stranger was coming to work with the smith. Disliking the unknown, Gobban’s mind fell to endlessly speculation.

Who or what was coming? Was this wild ally human? Could it be possible, Skadi herself would arrive?

Gobban didn’t believe the winter goddess would deign to intervene directly. Indeedhe thought she’d send a vassal or minion to nose about his smithy. But, the question of what or who continued to torment the smith.  

What he did know failed to allay his trepidation. Whatever journeyed toward him and his forge was traveling from the hinterlands, a place inhabited by giants, spirits, and gods. He had been taught from an early age to avoid such areas. In the counsels, Gobban did not reveal his immense distrust of the jötunn. Now, he regretted holding his tongue.

Blast the völvur and their signs! Help must come from the jötunn? Twaddle, I say! Gibberish indeed! Only a fool harkens to dubious advice from a chaotic otherworldly being!

Gobban believed unless Skadi and her attendants chose to directly confront the fiery monster, no genuine aid would come from that quarter. He wondered quietly what her motives were. Many invoked Skadi for warmth and succor throughout the dark months of the year, but Gobban was not one of them.

He remembered and distrusted the goddess’ origins. Skadi was not always exalted as one of the gods. She was a giantess, a member of the jötunn. Gobban had dedicated his life to keeping the darker jötunnic powers at bay. Reflecting, he realized the prospect of collaborating with the winter goddess had quite unnerved him. The smith prayed he was up to the task. 


Coming Next: (Part 2 of 7) “The Arrival”