Ayken’s Steps

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Lori Dehn

“They’re coming, Kaya!”

The girl was just a wisp of blood and bone and straight blond hair. She couldn’t possibly be strong enough to shoulder this burden. But then again, she couldn’t be a day over 15, and yet she had seen a hundred winters melt away. Just because something couldn’t be never meant that it wasn’t.

Kaya nodded at the dark-haired sentry on his horse. He reined the animal around and headed back down the path. The young priestess turned toward her unusual refugees and laid a hand on the stone wall of the mountain.

“This is the place where you must make your decision,” she told them. “After this place, this time, there is no step back.”

“But… how do we know this is right?” The voice was weak and vibrated like a too-tight lute string.

“You don’t, my lady. As with any decision, there are a thousand things that will happen because you choose this over that, and a thousand things will happen for each of those. Is it better than standing and fighting, or hiding, or taking that jeweled knife at your waist and saving the Dragon Lord the trouble? No one can say, because that answer could be different for everyone.” Kaya reached into her pocket and pulled out a pure white crystal on a long, silver chain. It cast a pattern of colored lights around the granite alcove. “What I can promise you is that action and intellect are Goddess-given, and those of pure intent are Goddess-guarded. All else is up to you.”

The tall boy pulled himself to his gawky height, placing his hands over the queen’s faintly trembling shoulders. “Father would want this. He would have done it himself,” said Ayken.

A tear slid down her cheek, splashing on the grey silk like a drop of blood. “I lost him already. That doesn’t make this easier.”

Kaya pressed her palm against the wall, opened her mouth and music pure and natural as rain filled the alcove. Slowly, the rock receded beneath her hand, like a sinkhole opening in sand. Behind the granite, a staircase spiraled up toward the peak and down through the earth.

Ayken frowned. “Which way?”

“That, too, is your decision,” Kaya said. “Either direction will take you to a new destiny.”

The rider thundered back up the path. “Kaya, the horses are entering the pass!”

The queen’s white skin paled so that her veins stood plain upon her face. “You have to go,” she whispered.

“Which way?” Ayken asked again.

The queen looked to Kaya, then back at her son. “Follow your heart, and we will find each other.”

Now it was his tears that fell. “How do you know?”

She smiled. “Because half of your heart is mine.” She kissed his bloodscraped knuckles. “Now go.”

He stepped onto the staircase, and the world dissolved in white light around him. He looked up at brightness, down into fearful dark, and hesitated. He started to lift his foot, preparing to head up the steps into the more reassuring light, but the glare hurt his eyes. Instead he swallowed his fear and headed below.

A moment later, Ayken was in the courtyard of his father’s palace, just as it had been three days ago, before the Dragon Lord’s coup. There were his father’s Lion pennants fluttering from the tower parapets, the golden edging declaring him king. There was his father’s horse, Whisper, nickering from the stable paddock. And there, feeding him some fruit, was his father, talking to a man in blue steel armor.


He looked up at Ayken. “Lad! I thought you would be at the races with your friends.”

I was, thought Ayken, feeling slightly sluggish, as though the air was thick and he waded through time. I cheered for my horse to win while you died.

It hit him. While you died. Now is when the Dragon Lord strikes. And as he thought the words, he saw the blue knight draw his blade.

“For Draconis!”

“No!” screamed Ayken, diving headfirst to the ground in a somersault. In his slowed, thickened world, time crept while he dashed, and the 14-year-old prince rose to his feet between the knife and his father’s side, a pitchfork in his hand. The tines found the articulated scales of the knight’s gauntlet, pushing through steel, through flesh and bone. The Dragon Lord’s man screamed like a frightened girl, his shining blade falling to the ground. Immediately, four of the king’s guard were upon him.

King Lyn fought down fatherly panic, allowing himself only a protective arm around the son who had saved his life. Instead, he faced the knight. “For Draconis? What message must my brother send me on the tip of a blade?”

E-mail: progressdownriver[at]hotmail.com.

Mustafa’s Manifesto

Best of the Boards
Lori Dehn

The trees whispered secrets in the wind. It was hard to hear them over God’s voice, an echoing sound always just at the edge of Mustafa’s awareness, but still, the whispering was audible, and he knew that the trees were talking about him. He ignored them, just as he ignored the pain of the gravel digging into his knees. He ignored the smell that came in waves from the latrine not fifty feet from where he knelt. He ignored the hardened black blood that caked his sweatshirt.

God wanted him to ignore it all, and so he did.

“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet. There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet. There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet. And I am Allah’s Beast. I am Allah’s Beast. I am Allah’s Beast.” He muttered the words with the solemnity of a saint and the devotion of a dervish. It was a litany that rang in his mind with every breath he took.

A car whipped past along the highway behind him, the doppler whine disappearing in the whispering of the trees.

His hands raised before him, Mustafa keened and rocked back and forth, muttering the words over and over like an incantation. His eyes were closed, and God began to show him things on the movie screen of his mind. At first it was flashing lights, but after a moment, those lights began to take shape. They were pictures. They were instructions. They were Allah’s commandments.

Mustafa whimpered. Not again. His hand still ached from the crushing blow he had dealt the woman in Georgia. It was bruised, he knew, and even the pressure of the steering wheel made it hurt so that tears sometimes squeezed from the corners of his eyes. And the look of fear in the eyes of the other woman, the one in the pretty store, it hurt him inside like a gunshot, a spreading, burning hole that he couldn’t explain. No, not another one. The blood was still sticky on his hands from the last one.

But the pictures flashed faster, the lights becoming more insistent, and in his mind, the voice of God boomed in Dolby Surround sound. Yes, it would happen again. He had no choice. If God wanted it, he would do it. Mustafa bowed his head, hot rivers of suffering streaming down his dark cheeks.

“Yes, Lord,” he whispered. Maybe she would know the answer, he thought. Maybe she wouldn’t have to die. Maybe he wouldn’t have to hurt her. But if God asked it, then he would.

How do you say no to God?


Lori, aka Bookbinder, is a regular at several Toasted Cheese boards. This 15 minute “speed story” was written in response to Boots’s challenge to “Write a quick manifesto for your antagonist.” and was originally posted at Maxim Tremendous. Lori can be reached at progressdownriver[at]hotmail.com.