Dark Ages

Happy #FlashFictionFriday, everyone! Here is a piece I wrote as soon as I finished formatting my manuscript for my new novel. Stay tuned for updates, but, for now, enjoy!

The lights blinked off and the front door’s lock clicked. Rothe Pontius looked around slowly. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be doing this.

This was 2048; magic should have long been mainstream by now. Witch hunters weren’t so worried about killing anymore; there was no profit in it. These days they were into blackmail.

It was all a big mistake. He wasn’t even a wizard, he was a high elf. He didn’t use magic, he was magic. But, the bastards at Hunter Acquisitions weren’t into splitting hairs. They made their millions with the extorted help of the magic community.

If you were found out, you not only faced being ostracized from your clan, but you also had to do something for Hunter or they would send you to the state run asylum. Rothe’s father was sent there a few years back, and he hadn’t seen him since. No one ever came back.

Rothe was lucky. His mother was dead and he was an only child. This extortion would end with him. All he had to do was every little thing that popped into the heads of the uppity-ups at Hunter; there was no one else they could hurt to make him cooperate.

The coast was clear now and Rothe let himself shift toward visibility. It gave him a headache to stay camouflaged for very long. If he was going to break the law, he wanted to make damn sure that he was at least comfortable doing it.

This little hovel of a shop seemed such an unlikely place for the next generation of nanotech to be invented, but even the mighty computer was made up in someone’s garage. Rothe shook his head.

This place advertised that they could fix anything. Their track record was 100%; great, but more than a little suspicious.

“Thanks, Pop,” he muttered as the Hunter implant gave him a gentle shock to get him moving already. It wasn’t really his dad’s fault, but it wasn’t really his either. It just felt good to have someone to blame.

Rothe’s footfalls made no sound as he walked the length of the little repair shop. When he got to the back, he found the door labeled private locked. It had a retina scanner and a card reader. He chuckled. Nothing was ever truly locked to a high elf.

He began to sing to the lock, coaxing it, seducing it, into opening. Singing magic was the most powerful and no one could sing like an elf. His voice rose higher and higher until only dogs could hear his beautiful melody.

The door unlocked and swung open before he even finished his song. Mundane locks were really no challenge, but with Hunter breathing down everyone’s neck, magic locks were just too dangerous to parade about in the open.

Rothe slipped inside and shut the door behind him. The overhead lights came on when he got about five steps in. There was a worktable, but on it were no tools. Pieces of broken handheld devices and damp computers were strewn around.

Rothe saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and spun himself around in time to have a net thrown over him. Then someone started singing.

“Shit!” Rothe cursed as the net shrank around him, binding him and tearing at his tanned flesh.

The song stopped when he could no longer move. Then, a lone figure strode silently out from the corner of the room. It was another high elf.

“Shit is right,” the high elf tittered. She was taller than Rothe and her hair was pale lavender, a shade many mortals paid handsomely to try and copy without much success. “Why are you here in my shop?” Her voice was high and sharp.

“I’m looking for something.”

“Oh? What might you be looking for?” There was venom in her words and the magic coming off them stung Rothe’s face.

“I can’t tell you.”

“You will.” She began to sing again and the rope in the net twisted and transformed itself into iron. Iron was the only thing that could leach the magic out of your bones. It burned as it worked it’s evil.

“I’m looking for the nanotech,” Rothe admitted. “I was sent by Hunter Acquisitions to find the nanotech you are using for your repair business.”

The high elf flicked her hand and the net was gone. She stepped carefully toward him, her feet silent. “Is that really what they told you?”

Rothe nodded.

“I don’t like liars.” She sang soft and low. “But, I can see you aren’t lying. Get up. We need to talk.”

“My name is Hetta Locke. I was given up for adoption just after birth because Hunter Acquisitions was coming after my family.” she said. The way she looked at Rothe told him that he could show pity at his own peril. “I have no clan. I had to learn to use magic on my own.”

“It’s lucky high elves are so good at singing,” Rothe said, steering the subject toward something safer. “My mother sang to me every night.”

“I got hit for singing at my first foster house.” Hetta said. She stood and stretched her legs, rolled her neck. “I think it may be time for us to go public.”

“Pardon?”

“With our magic. I’m sick of being hunted. I’m sick of living in fear.”

“We’d still be hunted and we’d still be living in fear. Everyone would be hunting us. Everyone would have a new reason to be afraid.” Rothe shook his head. “Hunter already has me.”

“I know, but instead of going back to them, let’s call the local news. They are always hungry for a story.”

“I can’t,” he said and tapped the scar above his implant. “How would that even be better? How would bringing us to the forefront of every mortal’s mind make us safer?”

“Because there are a lot more of us than you or Hunter think there are. All of us are living in fear, and I guarantee that all of us are sick of it.” Hetta grabbed Rothe’s hands. “Trust me.”

Rothe ripped his hands out of hers and turned to leave. “I don’t even know you.”

He didn’t sleep well. Every couple of hours, his implant would go off and wake him up. It was miserable, but he didn’t want to think about how much more miserable it would be when they found out he didn’t have what he was sent to get.

Hunter Acquisitions picked him up the next morning in a black van. Rothe thought it was a little cliché, but that seemed to be the aesthetic Hunter was selling these days. He wasn’t blindfolded or restrained in any way, and the driver even offered him a something to drink.

Rothe declined. Rumor had it that Hunter was not above slipping extras into the drinks they offered. Between that and the implant, they could make him do or say anything. He didn’t want to betray Hetta, but he worried about his own skin. He had no new nanotech to show for last night’s endeavor.

Instead of letting him off at the front entrance, they pulled into the garage and went through the service door. The elevator ride to the top floor was short. He was ushered down the hall to an ornate wood paneled office by a rather intimidating security guard. Jonah Hunter was standing at the door waiting for him. His expression was grim.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” he barked.

“I’m sorry, but there was no tech to steal-“

“I’m not talking about that, we already knew that! Do you really think that I didn’t know that?” He clicked a remote and the large painting in the office switched to a television screen. The 24 hour news channel showed Hetta’s face with a crawl beneath it saying magic was real. “What do you have to say about this?”

Rothe was speechless. He hadn’t really thought that Hetta would have gone ahead with it. He glanced at the screen again and this time saw security footage of himself slowly becoming visible, then him caught in the net.

“Shit.”

“Yeah, shit!” Jonah Hunter paced the room. “You are completely useless to us now!”

“Does that mean I’m free to go?” Rothe asked hopefully.

Jonah clicked another button on the remote and sent waves of pain through Rothe’s body. Jonah clicked it again and it all stopped. He came at him with a letter opener and dug out the implant, tossing it to the floor.

“Free to go? Free to go! I can’t fucking hold you here! I can’t have you seen around my business. We are ruined!”

Rothe looked at him incredulously. His blue blood was already clotting and the wound healing, but it still hurt like hell.

“Did you even hear me, you freak? Get out!” Jonah came at him again with the letter opener. This time Rothe scrambled to his feet and ran from the room. He heard Jonah Hunter begin to sob just before the doors closed.

As he was shown to the service elevator, he saw a group of dour looking men and women in smart suits marching their way to Jonah’s office. It didn’t take Rothe’s elfin powers of perception to know that the brass was about to come down hard on him.

Rothe tried to feel some compassion for the poor, little ruined man, but all he could feel was contempt. This was what the mortals liked to call kharma.

It didn’t matter. It was a miracle. He was free to live his life. If other high elves came forward, maybe he could join a clan and have a normal life.

But, for now, there was only one place to go.

He didn’t know where Hetta lived, but judging by the amount of news vans parked outside her shop, she was there. It took some pushing, but he made it to the front door. It was locked.

Rothe banged on the glass door. The shade was pulled all the way down, so he hollered too. He was about to give up when the door opened a smidge and he was yanked inside.

A thousand flashes went off in his face and a cacophony of voices shouted questions. When he was inside, he could hear none of it. Hetta must have done some new magic to protect her sanity.

“I told them I’d come out again in an hour. What are you doing here? I thought you didn’t want to go public.”

“You put my picture on the news; whether or not I wanted it has nothing to do with it.”

“Sorry. They said they needed proof of someone other than me to run the story.”

“Don’t apologize. You freed me from having to work for Hunter Acquisitions. I don’t have to spy for them anymore.” He turned and showed her the new pink scar from where the implant had been ripped out.

“Looks painful. I still can’t believe they made you do that. Spying on me for witch hunters?” Spots of color appeared on Hetta’s cheeks.

“I wasn’t spying. I was there to steal whatever nanotech you were using to fix old electronics.”

“I think we both know that I don’t use any tech.”

“Yeah, but this morning they said that they knew there was no tech. I think they were going to harm you.”

“You think?” Hetta asked sarcastically. “A firm comprised of known witch hunters asks you to steal from someone and it just so happens that they are magic? You must have really believed in coincidence to not be able to wrap your little head around that one.”

Rothe didn’t say anything. She was right. He asked her about other magical beings coming forward.

“Yeah, I’ve had a few calls. Funny how no one wants to closet themselves and pretend that they are something they’re not.”

There was a light tapping at the fire door on the side of the shop. When she opened it there were about half a dozen other magical beings there. She was right. It was time to go public.

When Hetta opened the door, the scintillating light of a thousand flash bulbs hammered Rothe’s retinas. As he went to raise his hand, Hetta stopped him.

“No, let them see your face,” she hissed. “In fact, let them see the scar. Tell them what those witch hunters did to you.”

Rothe shook his head but Hetta didn’t take any heed. She approached an improvised podium where there were dozens of microphones and recorders mounted. She drew a breath and smiled.

“Good human men and women! We mean you no harm!” She turned her head, making eye contact with as many of the cameras as possible. “We have been living among you in fear, in secret, for all of time.”

“Why in secret? What were you hiding?” Shouted a reporter from somewhere in the middle of the crowd.

“We didn’t always live in the shadows and on the fringes. There was a time, before your great Renaissance when we walked freely among you. You called it the Dark Ages, we called it our Golden Era.”

“Why did you hide?” shouted a woman toward the front.

“Religious zealots believed that we were of your devil. They hunted us, persecuted us, and forced us into hiding. But no more!”

“Are you still being hunted?”

“Yes, there are those among your people who still wish to do us harm,” Hetta took a practised steadying breath. “They have been called many things- Inquisitioners, witch hunters, even Hunter Acquisitions.”

A gasp wracked the crowd and Hetta furrowed her brows.

“Does it surprise you? To know that there are those in power who wish to harm and exploit us?” She grabbed Rothe’s arm and pushed him toward the podium. “This high elf was one of their slaves, forced to hunt his own people.”

Angry and confused murmuring erupted from the crowd. Hetta silenced them with a pale hand.

“They implanted a control chip in him,” she said as she turned him so that the pink scar would be more visible. “They imbedded their own sadistic version of a shock collar on him.”

“Are you seeking retribution? Vengeance?” Asked a reporter near the back of the crowd.

A shadow passed over Hetta’s face as she considered her next words very carefully. After a moment, she spoke, “Nothing further.” She led Rothe and the others back inside to the safety of the shop.

When the door was shut, Rothe looked at her. Her eyes were dark with murderous thoughts and her skin bloomed with angry color.

“Why didn’t you answer their question?” he asked. “What are you planning?”

A sickeningly sweet smile crossed her face. “The last time we were out, they called it a Dark Age.” Hetta licked her lips and smiled. “I’d like to show them what a Dark Age really is.”

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