Treasure Hoard – a flash fantasy story

Dragon eye

The troll stumbled into the cave, his club trailing on the ground behind him. The light coming in through an opening high above twinkled golden and gleaming off heaps of treasure that made his eyes go wide. But they were nothing compared with the creature that lay across them. The dragon flexed her coiled crimson body and peered down.

“Do you know what I do to intruders?” she asked, fire flickering between her teeth.

“Just want rest,” the troll said. “Heroes come, kill other trolls. They come for you next.”

“Let them try,” the dragon said, flexing a claw the length of a sword blade. “I’ll tear them to ribbons then roast their remains.”

“Please I stay here?” the troll asked, unable to keep the desperation from his voice. “Until they gone.”

“Nobody stays here but me,” the dragon said, raising her head. “This is my private domain. You can go face the heroes or you can burn here.”

“Why?” the troll asked.

“Because this is my treasure and no-one else can have it.”

“Don’t want it.”

“But it’s treasure! Great beautiful heaps of treasure.”

The troll shrugged.

“You beautiful. Treasure OK.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” The dragon smiled. “No-one ever says that. Of course, there’s never anyone here to say it.” She lowered her head and peered more closely at the troll. “Alright, you can stay. Find somewhere safe behind me until the heroes are gone.”

The troll abandoned his club and scrambled up the treasure heap. Gold doubloons and emerald necklaces slid away beneath him. A silver dish clattered as it hit the floor. He slid back down on a cascade of coins. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get any higher, and the heroes might be here any moment.

The dragon pinned the troll between a pair of claws, lifted him up, and deposited him by her shoulder, at the pinnacle of the heap.

Together, they watched the entrance to the cave.

The dragon’s neck drooped and she turned to the troll, her eyes downcast.

“I’m not going to win, am I?” she asked. “I’ve heard the stories.”

“You strong,” the troll said. “You smart. You crush heroes.”

“It’s sweet of you to say so, but dragons are always strong and smart. That doesn’t mean we get to win.”

The troll stroked the dragon’s scaly side.

“I sad too,” he said. “Had tribe. Had cave. Had idol of demon we pray to. All gone now.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you for listen. Was lonely. Good to have friend again.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

The dragon trailed her claws through the treasure heap.

“Centuries of hoarding,” she said, “just so that we can die on it.”

“Better than die alone in dark.”

Voices emerged from the tunnel, the distinctive sounds of a knightly oath and a wizard chanting incantations.

“Time come.” The troll sighed, stood up, and picked up a golden candelabra which he hefted like a club. “You fight, I fight with you. Die together.”

The dragon stood, sending treasure tumbling down the side of the hoard. She narrowed her eyes and flames flickered between her teeth as she looked across her life’s work one last time, seeing the sunlight gleam across the gold.

The fire subsided as she looked up at the opening high in the cave.

“I can’t believe I’m going to say this,” she said, “but if I leave it all behind and fly away, would you like to come with me?”

The troll nodded. “I like live.”

The dragon laughed.

“Your simplicity is quite soothing,” she said.

“No, your simplicity soothing!” the troll shouted.

“It’s a compliment.”

“Oh. Then yes. I soothing.”

The voices came closer. The light of a burning brand flickered in the tunnel.

“Climb on my back,” the dragon said.


The troll climbed up. The dragon flexed her body and leapt, soaring into the air with long, graceful movements of her wings. As they reached the opening, the troll looked back and saw five figures far below, peering up at them in confusion.

They flew out into daylight and glided along the mountain side. The world around them was lush and green, the air fresh and full of possibilities.

“Where to?” the dragon asked.

“East,” the troll said. “I know great cave. I bring thing for you to start new hoard.”

He waved the golden candelabra.

“For us to start a new hoard,” the dragon said.


Why shouldn’t the monsters get happy endings, that’s what I’d like to know.

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By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

The Midnight March – a flash fantasy story

Picture by Carl Milner via Flickr creative commons
Picture by Carl Milner via Flickr creative commons

Hank stood on his lightless porch, furiously trying to drag calm from a cigarette. He could hear Grace pacing in the kitchen, waiting for an apology or another round of the row. He wasn’t ready for either yet, or sure which it would be. The row seemed to be all they had right now, but it was better than nothing.

The garbage can fell with a clang, its lid rolling away as something scrabbled inside. Grace hated those racoons and the mess they left around the yard. Normally Hank chased them off. Today he was feeling more sympathetic to the critters.

Something scampered out of the garbage can, a piece of old bacon between its teeth. It had matted fur, a face like the world’s wartiest child, and it ran, hunched over, on two legs. Spidery fingers trailed on the ground. It was like no racoon Hank had ever seen.

Thoughts of Grace and their troubled finances lost to curiosity, Hank followed the creature out of the yard and down the street. It didn’t seem to notice him, focusing on where it was going, sniffing out a route with its long nose. As it emerged onto the deserted high street it was joined by a similar creature and a bearded man a foot tall. After a few minutes, Hank realised that the creatures’ shadows had grown, and they were now accompanied by seven feet of lumbering, ape-like darkness that strode to its own steady rhythm.

More creatures joined them as they walked quietly through town, including that beast the Hendersons had always claimed was a dog, which howled softly as it rose up on two legs and joined the procession. Hank trailed behind, unwilling to let them out of sight, but scared of what might happen if they noticed him.

They tramped out of town, up the hill to Epiron labs. Grace’s cousin Dill was a janitor there. He claimed to have seen pale, clammy men wandering the halls at night, bullet holes in the walls and fishmen bathing in vats of slime. But cousin Dill was thirty-four and still believed in Santa, so Hank had never paid him much mind. Not until now.

The motley crowd stopped at the lab doors, which were locked for the night. The shadow thing picked up the creature from the trash can – Hank had decided it was a pixie – and flung it up onto the roof. There was a creak of metal slats bending, followed by ten minutes of silence. Then the lights went out, including the red LEDs that flashed on alarm boxes around the building. The swearing of a distant security guard echoed through the night.

The Hendersons’ dog leaned against the door, which sprang open. Hank waited in the bushes as the creatures crept into the lab. The night was quiet and still, scented with pine and wild garlic. Then a rancid, sweaty smell returned as the monsters emerged. They were carrying a steel box, seven or eight feet long, and the twitchy quiet with which they had approached the building was replaced by solemnity. They processed in double file into the woods, and Hank followed them, trying not to tread on the noisy twigs. The moon spilt glorious white light across their path as it snaked between the trees, eventually emerging into a clearing.

There was a pit in the middle of the clearing, wide enough to bury the box and at least six feet deep. It was flanked by four pale men in black coats, hunched crane-like over spades. They doffed their top hats as the procession approached, then took the box and lowered it carefully into the ground. Their arms extended, flesh and bone stretching into the depths before emerging empty-handed and taking up the spades.

The creatures formed a ring, facing the trash-can pixie at the head of the grave.

‘He weren’t nice,’ it said, voice scratching through the thud of falling dirt. ‘He drank their blood and kicked our butts, and blamed everyone but himself for his lonely, bitter life. He hated most things, and cursed ’em all. But he was one of us, and losing him lessens us. I doubt we’ll miss him now, but someday we’ll miss every last lost bit of magic. I won’t say you should weep, but mourn while you can, ’cause it could be you next. Some day, they’ll get us all.’

One by one, the creatures took handfuls of dirt and cast them onto the grave before disappearing into the woods. At last there was only the pixie and a soft mound of mourning.

Hank stepped out of the treeline. Sadness drew him forwards despite his fear. He’d never seen these creatures before, but something about the dead guy and his lonely, angry existence struck a chord. It seemed right to pay his respects.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, taking his turn with the dirt. ‘For you and for your friend. I know it ain’t worth much, but I am sorry.’

‘Thanks.’ The pixie gave a half smile, looking up at him with watery eyes. ‘It helps a little, and sometimes that’s all we’ve got.’

It patted a last crum of earth onto the mound and turned away into the night.


Hank opened the kitchen door. Grace’s glare moved from him to the clock, then back again.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hank said. ‘I don’t rightly remember why, but I know it’s my fault and I’m sorry.’

She hugged him, tears welling in her eyes. Hank had missed that embrace, but even now it didn’t feel right.

‘It’s good you can say that, Hank,’ she said. ‘But it just ain’t enough.’

Hank nodded.

‘Guess this is how it feels when the magic dies.’

Across town, the Hendersons’ dog howled.

* * *


This story was originally published in Bards and Sages Quarterly in April 2012. Life got in the way of me writing a fresh story for today, so I thought is was time this saw the light of day again.

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A few great blogs

The end of this week’s got a little bit crazy, so it’s time for another lazy Friday post listing my favourite things. This week, some blogs I’m really enjoying.

Owen W Brown

 For Whom the Gear Turns

You like steampunk, right? Then you’ll like this one. For Whom… features reviews, videos, picture collections and craft ideas on steampunk themes. It’s my favourite blog for going through and pointing excitedly at shiny things.

Creative Writing With The Crimson League

The name of this one surprised me, as I used to play in a completely unrelated Victorian live roleplay campaign also called The Crimson League. But personal nostalgia aside, this is a blog full of regular writing advice with an active community of readers adding their own ideas in the comments. Well worth a look if you’re seeking writing guidance.


More writing advice from another smart cookie. Everwalker and her Raptor are among the people who have kept me mostly sane over the years and who most provoke me to think hard about my views of the world and of writing. Highly recommended.


Blog posts about monsters myths. What more do you want? These pieces are fascinating and well researched. It’s a great resource for fantasy fans and writers.

Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog

What, you want more than that title? OK, fine, it’s a blog of obscure and fascinating historical incidents. Great if you love history. Even better if you want odd ideas to throw into your writing or impress people in conversation.

Jane & Bex’s Book Blog

My friend Jane works in a book store, so she gets to see all the latest releases. She and her colleague Bex review the books they read. A lot of the books aren’t my normal thing, which makes it even better for dragging me out of my science fiction and fantasy corner. Who better to advise you on what to read than people who spend their days surrounded by books?

What am I missing?

So there you go – some reading to see you though the weekend.

What other great blogs are out there that I should be reading? Let me know, make some recommendations below.


Picture by Owen W Brown via Flickr creative commons

The manticore under the bed – writing animals

My brother’s cat is angry with me.

She’s staying with us for a week over Christmas, and when I brought her into the house for the first time she prowled for five minutes then completely vanished. An hour later I found her sulking under the bed in the back room. She glared at me but otherwise failed to acknowledge my presence or my attempts to coax her out to a warmer, more comfortable spot.

I guess she likes sudden change as much as most people do.

It’s easy to forget when writing animals that they have their own personalities. I’m about to write a scene where my potagonist fights a manticore. My previous monster fighting scenes have treated the creatures more as forces of nature than characters, just something to be overcome. This time I’ll try to think about the manticore’s intentions – what it likes, what it fears, how it feels about being screamed at by an arena crowd. Finding ways to show that should make its actions more interesting and the scene more exciting.

Maybe the manticore also wants to hide under the bed.