We created two, seven-part micro stories, especially for FaRoFeb. Each part was created by a different author. Here’s the second story – enjoy!
Part 1: Competition winner, Naomi Kelly
“Another.” Mila grins, tapping her finger against her empty glass and sliding a coin across the bar.
It’s not often she actually pays for something. Granted, the coins weighing down her stolen cloak were won through cheating, but at least her spending is helping the community, right?
A scarred hand slaps a coin beside hers. “Make that two. I’d like to congratulate the man who so easily emptied the pockets of my soldiers.”
Even without meeting his gaze, she recognizes his voice in an instant. The general.
“Thanks,” she mumbles, trying to mimic his deep tone, but her racing heartbeat drums in her ears.
She removes her enchanted deck of cards from the table, trying to stash them away, but the general grabs her wrist too quickly.
“I cannot decide if you’re incredibly smart or stupid, Mila.”
Lurching off the stool, she nearly knocks over the frothy tankards being set down before them, but he doesn’t let go.
Beneath her itchy wig and fake beard, her cheeks burn scarlet.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t remember your eyes?” he mutters, taking a deep sip of his beer. “Now sit, and let’s discuss what I’m to do with you.”
Part 2: L. Penelope
Mila sits, cursing herself silently for giving in to the general’s demands. But his deep voice brooks no opposition. It wraps unseen fingers around her limbs and makes her act in ways she otherwise wouldn’t. What she needs to be doing is searching for an exit, or maybe readying a distraction so she can slip away from his piercing gaze. Instead, she stills, not willing to meet his stare.
He remembers my eyes? That causes an unexpected sensation to race through her, though she’s not sure if it’s dread or excitement. She tamps it down, wrangling her senses to stay focused on the task at hand. Getting away.
“It seems I underestimated you the last time we met, Mila. But I will be sure not to do so again.”
“It’s a mistake many men make,” she says. From the corner of her eye, she sees his smile, then drags her gaze away from his full lips. “Are you here for your men’s money?” She’d won, if not fairly, then definitely squarely, and his soldiers should be aware of that.
“No. I’ve warned them about gambling in taverns with strange…men.” He cocks a brow at her disguise. “I need someone with your particular talents. You are going to help me win this war.”
Part 3: Scarlett St. Clair
“No,” she says immediately.
The general’s brows rise. “You seem to think you have a choice.”
“I don’t win wars for my enemies. I steal from them.”
“What a coincidence—that’s exactly what I need from you.”
She glares at him. “We are not on the same side, general.”
“You really wish to make me your enemy?”
“We are enemies,” she hisses. “I asked you to help save my sister. Instead, you had her exiled.”
“Exile was the best I could do,” he says. “You try convincing the empress a murderer should be pardoned.”
“She is not a murderer!” she shouts, and the pub goes silent. She cringes, hating that she’s drawn attention to them…to herself.
The general smiles. “You know the best thing about the day you came to me and begged me to save your sister?”
Mila clenches her teeth so hard her jaw hurts.
“I learned your weakness.”
Her eyes burn. She cannot believe she ever thought this man was handsome.
“You will help me win this war,” he says again. “Because I am the only one who knows where to find your sister.”
“I hate you,” she seethes.
“If only you did,” he replies almost wistfully. “Let’s go.”
Part 4: Colleen Cowley
“There. You see the jewel around his neck?”
Through the spyglass, she glimpses a flash of red against the wizard’s throat. But she doesn’t give the general the satisfaction of a reply.
“That is the source of this army’s unnatural power.” He takes back his spyglass, the brush of his calloused fingers sending a jolt up her arm. What explains his unnatural power over her, blast him?
She shifts on her stomach, trying to put some space between them on the narrow ledge. “You overestimate my skill if you think I can steal that.”
“It’s our only chance.”
“To win a war we should never have started. Same as the last one, and the one before! Our empress calls my sister the murderer, but she’s killed—”
His hand over her mouth is shockingly warm. “For God’s sake, Mila,” he says, lips to her ear, barely loud enough to hear over the pounding of her heart, “sound carries. And besides, that’s not why I want the stone.”
She stares at him, astonished. The general…in the resistance?
“You hold my life in your hands,” he murmurs, confirming it.
Part 5: Emma Hamm
The wizard will be difficult to trick, but Mila’s entire life is based on trickery. She knows how to convince a man to turn his gaze from what she wants.
Which is why she dressed the general up in an overly large gown and a rather unimpressive wig. Patting the top of it, she gives him a saucy grin. “You look lovely.”
“Just get it over with,” he snarls.
“On my signal then.”
Mila clambers over the ledge and drops down into the crowd below. She weaves through countless people, their clothing vibrant colors and hair a wild tangle. They’ll hide her until the very last minute.
When she’s close enough to the wizard, she lifts a hand over her head and waves the handkerchief from her pocket.
The general starts shouting, drunkenly staggering through the crowd, and making a racket.
The wizard looks at this ridiculous showcase with his eyes narrowed and attention thoroughly captivated. It’s all she needs. With a swift lunge, she throws herself at the wizard, wraps her hand around the necklace, and then tumbles back into the crowd.
All she has to do now, is run.
Part 6: Amanda Bouchet
Mila’s thieving fingers tingle as she darts through the crowd, the red jewel pulsing hot magic against her palm. She slides the key to victory into the secret pocket of her sleeve and slips down an alleyway leading out of town. Her heart thuds, far louder than her footsteps.
The wizard’s bellow of rage barely reaches her ears as she hurries under a toothy portcullis and joins a group of pedestrians. Guards cry out to lock down the gates. Will the general make it out? Should she care?
She breaks off from the travelers and heads to the meeting point, an anxious knot in her stomach. The flood of relief when she sees the general can’t be normal.
“You did it!” He beams at her. “You’re incredible.”
A flush of pleasure leaves her breathless. With a flick of her wrist, the jewel glides into her hand. “Cheat at cards… Save an empire…”
“By depriving the wizard of his power, we save our people and bring your sister home.” The intensity of his gaze burns her down to ashes.
Mila swallows. “In that case, long live the general.”
Voice gravelly, low, he says, “Maybe it’s time you called me Kole.”
Part 7: HR Moore
He leans in, breath caressing her cheek, and she tips her head back, meeting his eyes. “Kole…”
A roar sounds behind them: the wizard, rallying his troops. Kole snaps to life, grabs the necklace, drops it to the ground, and stomps on it. The jewel shatters. They watch as the shards wither, then disappear, leaving nothing but charred rock behind.
They look back over the town. The soldiers, a jumble of activity, cease all movement. The silence is eerie, and a shiver runs down Mila’s spine.
Kole retrieves his cloak from his stash of clothes, and wraps it around her shoulders. His smell, of wood smoke and pine, is suddenly everywhere, and she inhales deeply, barely even noticing as the wizard falls to the ground, unmoving.
“We should go,” says Kole, changing back into his uniform. “If our plan worked, then the empress is already dead.”
The empress…dead…which means… “My sister. Where is she?”
His face morphs into a look she can’t decipher, and angry heat rushes through her veins.
“You promised to tell me.”
“If the empress is dead, then she’s already on her way.”
Her sister…finally safe. Relief floods her and tears pool in her eyes that she quickly blinks away. Kole reaches for her, gently pulling her into his arms. “Mila, you saved your sister. You saved us all.”