The following is a story I submitted for a writing challenge at the writing message board I frequent. It's right here.
So the first draft was 1500+ words. This is what it looked like after I hacked it down to a thousand.
Let me know what you think.
Kellen stood, rubbing his eyes. It was time to close up the shop and not just for the day. Nobody used freelance investigators anymore.
He closed his eyes, enjoying the pull of a cat-like stretch. He opened his eyes and gasped, all relaxation gone.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"Oh, um... No problem." His startlement had become... something deeper, before vanishing. From a little girl?
Scanning her showed nothing.
"It's my sister," she started. "She was taken by a mage-guild. It is time for her to return."
"I need a little more context than that," Kellen replied.
"We recently found out where she is. We need your help with the Shields."
It was not unusual for a family member to go missing. Kellen had personal experience with guilds holding people against their will. Could he challenge an entire guild? Did he want to, for this child's sister?
"I do not know enough about the situation: why or where she is held or what her release would mean."
The girl considered. It was unnerving to Kellen to see this little girl with the cherubic face completely frozen in thought. He wondered if he should say something when she looked up at him.
"I'll tell you what you need to know."
The details were slim and the guild's motivation unclear but Kellen, champion of the helpless, as he saw himself, agreed to rescue the girl from Armo Mazzenisto, one of the more powerful guilds in the city.
Outside the gates of the stronghold, Kellen felt the buzz of a Probe, no doubt placed around the perimeter.
'There are ways around a Probe.'
He tapped into the Probe and rerouted the Sensors to one metre past the fence - enough room to climb without alerting the guild.
The outbuilding to the south of the main keep held the girl's sister. Kellen walked, hunched, until he reached the door. He Listened and heard nothing.
'The Mazzenisto have too much faith in Probes.'
An Opening and Kellen stood before a young woman, suspended in air. He Felt the Shields that had been constructed about her. He was glad that there was nobody around to contend with, but even with all the time he wanted, the challenge of the Shields would still be daunting.
Nine layers of spell construction kept the sister from freedom. These were Shields on her physical body - keeping her in complete stasis, a Shield on her consciousness, a Shield on each of her senses and two Shields that he did not understand.
Kellen chose to begin on one of the unknown Shields. It was the simplest in design and the easiest to work through. Five minutes work saw that shield evaporate.
He moved on to her physical shield. He could take his time, somewhere else. An attempt to re-Route failed. There was nothing to reroute it to. Kellen decided to move on. Next he-
His mind flashed. He saw a figure that resembled the sister but with slight alterations with eyes casting a dim red glare and coal-black wings spread wide.
Kellen shook the image from his head. The sensory Shields would come next. They were the next easiest to remove. They went quickly, save for sight. Kellen re-Routed the fields dampening the light onto themselves, sloughing the last sensory shield away-
Another flash. He saw the same figure as before, changed even more. Talons replaced her feet, her legs were covered in scales, and her face was gaunt. Beauty and terror co-mingled.
Kellen gasped in surprise as he recovered. What was he seeing?
'Six Shields down and three to go.'
He Felt the consciousness Shield and decided to try that one last. The girl would presumably be upset if she woke up, still Bound.
Having found no ability to dispel the physical Shield, he decided to work on the second unknown barrier. As he did so, images flickered through his mind of fire. Buildings blazed and the figure of his previous visions had completed her transformation. Cities were destroyed at her command and mankind was set to slavery in a reign of fire. This Shield - a barrier against physical communication, he now realized - fell away.
The visions left him. Next was the consciousness Shield.
"You don't want to do that, just yet."
Kellen jerked back and tried to climb the air at the sound of the voice, so small and so innocent behind him.
He spun and faced the same little girl that had confronted him in the first place.
"You don't want to wake her up. We can do that."
"What- who is she?" Kellen asked. "You got in here, you can wake her up - why did you need me?"
"None of the shields presented a problem to us but the last. It requires a... price. One we cannot pay."
And then he knew. He knew where the visions came from, he knew what the family was, and he knew what lay in store for humanity.
"But what of humanity?" He knew it was absurd looking to this thing for assurance.
"There will be no war. Humanity will have its place."
"But the fires, the destruction-"
"All revolutions come to that in the end. It will be quick."
"Will I-" he could not finish the question.
"You will function, in a sense."
"My magic?" Immortality was all well and good but that price was unbearable.
"You know the answer to that," the girl replied.
And he did know the answer.
"I could replace the shields and walk away. You would not have your uprising."
"That is true. You could do that." The girl did not move, only continued looking at him.
A moment's pause and Kellen returned to the form of the young woman. He knew what to do. Redirecting the suspension field to encompass him, Kellen bound the spell and traded places with the demon that had been held by the Armo Mazzenisto, the self-styled Guardians of Humanity.