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Monthly Short Story Winner: Paths

Welcome back writers and readers! Last month was busy wasn’t it? Here at Fantasy-Faction we saw the last day of our Anthology Contest come and go. Amazingly, we received 1,734 entries in total! Now we have the pleasure of getting to read them all and try to figure out which six amazing stories make it into the anthology. And trust me when I say, they are going to be tough to pick!

Now that you all have your submissions in, I’m sure you’ll be raring to write another short story with all your newfound free time. Right? Right. But before I tell you about this month’s writing challenge, let’s look at our winner from May!

May’s theme was paths

Path by gordon.adler

Traveling in our world is pretty simple. We print out our directions or type our destination into our smart phones, then take off along marked roads to destinations where we will arrive (barring traffic) exactly when we know we will. In fantasy, traveling is not only difficult, but it can be deadly. And fantasy roads don’t always lead where we believe they do. In fact, sometimes the biggest adventure in a fantasy world is the road itself.

This month go where the path may lead you, and write a short story or scene involving travel on a road, trail, or path. It could be a hidden tunnel through the trees, a cart path cut over rolling hills, or stone steps up the side of a snow covered mountain. All roads lead somewhere. Where does yours go?

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must include a road or path as a major element or theme in addition to some element of fantasy.

And the winner of May’s challenge is DeltaDawn! You can read their story, “Alvaro’s Passage”, at the end of this article. Congratulations again DeltaDawn!

You can view all of our past winners’ entries here.

June’s theme was deserts

Africa Desert by BethWold

Deserts are mysterious places. They burn with heat during the day and freeze at night. They can be full of life and still look empty and desolate. In fantasy, they can conceal hidden ruins or magical oases. They contain bustling civilizations or stand as barriers between kingdoms.

This month’s theme is deserts. Your desert can be filled with vast hills of rolling sand, towering pillars of stone, or populated with unusual and hardy plants. It can take place in the star covered darkness or the blinding heat of the noonday sun. All deserts hold challenges and secrets all their own. Show us what lies hidden in yours.

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must include a desert as a major element or theme in addition to some element of fantasy.

You can vote for June’s winner here.

Voting ends on July 29th. Check back next month to see who wins!

July’s Writing Challenge

Flying Ship by Ben Wootten

Airships and locomotives, corsets and parasols. Steampunk is more than just steam; it’s a melding of fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and even horror. It can involve pirates on flying ships, pedigreed ladies doubling as assassins and spies, or even steam-trains rushing through the Wild West.

This month we’ll take a break from straight fantasy and instead write a short story or scene in a steampunk universe. Whether its clockwork robots or a steam-powered voyage around the world, show us your version of steampunk and let your inner mad scientist shine!

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must have a steampunk theme.

Contest ends July 31st! If you’re interested, you can enter here.

Good luck to all entrants! Check back next month for more Writing Challenge fun!

Now please enjoy our winning short story!

– – –

“Alvaro’s Passage”
by DeltaDawn

For as long as children have been tucked into bed, their dreams have been filled with mysterious beings called Earthen, that according to legend, live just below their feet. Ariana was no exception, but they were only children’s tales. Beyond her days of playing at make-believe, the princess was no child.

Fast approaching was the day her father would choose for her a husband and she had already made sure the king was aware of her interest in the handsome Lord Gavyn. When Ariana’s brother, Prince Daemyn, had been invited to a hunt on the grounds of Lord Gavyn’s estate, she begged her father to allow her to go along.

Daemyn reluctantly agreed to chaperone, though he wasn’t overly concerned. Gavyn was a very respectable gentleman. The prince was more interested in the hunt, the real reason for the trip. Daemyn didn’t even notice when his sister’s mare began to fall behind as the party traveled.

The winding road to Gavyn edged along the Ancient Forest, flirting with its mystique beauty as it occasionally dipped into the cool shade of her canopy. The road, seduced by the forest, turned into the woods. Daemyn and the men were engrossed in conversation and Ariana was dreaming of Lord Gavyn. Each was preoccupied with the destination, not the road. If Daemyn had been paying attention to his sister or if she had been paying attention to anything other than her daydreams, they may have arrived safely at Lord Gavyn’s estate with little to tell of their journey, but as often happens, the real journey began when Ariana left the road.

The small squirrel was nothing more than a flash as it darted between the hooves of Ariana’s mare, spooking the horse into the forest.

“Ariana!” Daemyn yelled, but his sister had disappeared.

Ariana screamed as the horse, barely missing trees, cut sharply to the left, throwing her rider before galloping out of sight. Ariana landed hard on her back, knocking the breath out of her, leaving her scared but unharmed.

Ariana lay on the ground, her eyes closed, unable to breathe.

“Where in Earth did you come from?” a voice asked.

The language was Aurelian, but the accent was so strange the words sounded foreign. When Ariana opened her eyes, a young man hovered inches from her face.

“What kind of question is that to ask the princess?” Ariana replied as the strange young man helped her to her feet. Concluding that she was lost, but not hurt, the princess noticed the strange clothing her would-be rescuer wore. “I’m Princess Ariana,” she said, deciding he was definitely not Aurelian.

“Alvaro.”

“Pleased to meet you, Alvaro,” she said and she really was. Alvaro, even dressed in such simple clothes, made her forget all about Lord Gavyn. “You’re not from Aurelia,” she said, more as a question than an observation.

“No.” Alvaro confirmed, but offered no further information.

“Where are you from?” she pried.

“Is that your mare?” he said, avoiding her question. He knew he shouldn’t have wondered so close to the edge of the forest. When he’d seen the girl fall from her horse, he had only meant to make sure she was alright. She’s more than alright, he thought. She’s beautiful!

“Maybe you can catch her,” she said motioning to the mare. “She never has liked me.”

Almost on command, the horse trotted up and nestled her head against Alvaro. Ariana was amazed and a little jealous as she gently rubbed the mare’s soft neck.

“I should show you back to the road.”

“Yes. Daemyn must be looking for me.”

“Daemyn?” he asked, disappointed.

“My brother,” she explained, smiling. “I can’t wait to introduce you. I’m sure he will insist that you come and stay with us at Carawyn Castle.”

“No!” Alvaro squeaked. “Uh hum… I mean, I couldn’t impose.”

“It would be no imposition. I must do something to repay your kindness. Please say you’ll come to Carawyn.”

“I really can’t.” Again, he offered no explanation, but his eyes conveyed a more sincere apology than words could have. He reached to take her hand. Then suddenly drew back, but the mistake was already made.

The instant Ariana saw the dirt on his hands, everything made sense and nothing Alvaro could have said would have hidden the truth. A boy alone in the fabled Ancient Forest. He wears such strange clothing, yet he speaks perfect Aurelian. He never said he wasn’t from here, just not Aurelia, she thought.

As Ariana put all the facts together, Alvaro wanted to run, but he couldn’t move. Enchanted by her beauty, he could run forever and never escape her. A chance encounter it was, but their paths had crossed and their hearts collided.

“Ariana!” Daemyn’s voice was faint, but growing louder.

“I have to go.”

“I know.”

“Ariana!” Daemyn was drawing closer.

Ariana looked for him over her shoulder. When she turned back, Alvaro met her with a kiss. It was simple. Innocent. Gentle. And it was over before Ariana even knew it was happening.

“Ariana! Thank God, you’re safe!”

Ariana turned, blushing, to greet her brother.

“Look at you! You’re flushed and you look as though you might faint. Are you all right? Were you talking to someone?”

“Daemyn, this is-” But when she turned back, Alvaro was gone.

“This is… what?”

“There was a boy… a young man that helped me up and found my horse.”

“Ariana, there’s no one here.”

“Not now, but there was.”

Daemyn unsheathed his sword.

“Daemyn, no! He rescued me!”

“A man rescued the princess of Aurelia and then disappeared without a reward? He must be a thief! Get on your horse Ariana. These woods are not safe.”

“Daemyn, he is not a thief.”

“Do as I say!”

“Daemyn, I think he is an…Earthen.”

“Dear sister, you must have hit your head.”

Daemyn forbade Ariana to tell anyone about the stranger she met in the forest. But as silly as his little sister could be at times, she wasn’t prone to making up tales.

At Lord Gavyn’s, Ariana was as polite as ever, but Daemyn noticed she seemed distracted even when Gavyn paid her special attention. For the journey home, Daemyn, on the pretense of entertaining friends at Carawyn, tripled the size of their group and stayed close to Ariana’s side.

As they passed the place where her mare had bolted, Ariana strained to see through the dense brush, hoping to catch a glimpse of Alvaro.

Alvaro, though he was right beside her at times, was Earthen and easily blended into the forest that had concealed his people for centuries.

As summer passed, Ariana stayed busy. She lost count of the balls and banquets she attended, but at night after the laughter and tinkling of crystal had quieted; she would sit alone at her window and look out over the vast darkness that was the Ancient Forest.

Alvaro’s life was very different from the fanfare of Ariana’s. The Earthens were strictly against such extravagance. Their society held strong to the belief that everything was of the Earth and a gift from the Creator. To take more than was necessary was a disgrace.

Alvaro was not an Earthen prince, but he was counted among the most respected of all the Earthen. Alvaro was a Terrae. He had been blessed by the Creator with the ability to command earth by simply laying his hands to the soil.

At first, Alvaro fell behind in his studies and seemed almost ashamed of his gift. But then even Alvaro’s mentor noticed a renewed interest and sudden improvement in his abilities. Alvaro shrugged it off, but he knew what the difference was. An idea had come to him as he lay awake wishing that he could actually go to Carawyn as Ariana had suggested. The next night he began to work.

The plan was simple. He would open a passage from the Earthen village, right to Ariana’s door. The princess is accustomed to such luxuries. Could she ever be happy living like the Earthen, he thought. He continued anyway, hoping that she would at least be willing to try.

When Alvaro reached the halfway point between Carawyn and the Ancient Forest, he found that an underground river blocked his path. At first, he thought about going over or under it. Eventually he decided to expose its natural beauty. Never did he think of quitting.

Alvaro wasn’t the only one building something for Ariana. Her father, proud of the beautiful woman she had become and noticing her constant presence at her window – looking towards Lord Gavyn’s he assumed – commissioned a garden, complete with a statue of the princess to be built beneath her window. He decided it would improve her view and also be a wonderful place for her wedding.

Staring blankly out at the darkness, Ariana never noticed the swift shadow moving about the garden, but Alvaro noticed her. How beautiful, he thought, like a painting framed by the window, her face bathed in moonlight. The newly placed statue, however, intrigued him the most. A stunning stone replica of Ariana stood causally upon a tall dais. Alvaro fancied the stone princess was looking towards the Ancient Forest, longing for her Earthen love, but the thing he liked most was that the podium was hollow, a perfect entrance to his secret passage.

Alvaro ached for the princess, but covered in dirt, he decided to wait until the next night before showing Ariana the escape he’d made for them.

Just as he had planned, Alvaro returned for Ariana the following night. She was amazed at what he had done in such a short time. Where Alvaro had run into the underground river, he’d excavated an impressive chamber that allowed the river to flow through. Over the water, he’d designed a unique bridge by carving away the earth around it.

It was there, standing on the bridge between their two worlds, that Alvaro asked Ariana to be his bride. As Ariana looked into his eyes, she was never more in love. She wanted him more than anything, but he had come to her too late. Everything had been arranged. Her marriage to Gavyn was to take place the next day.

“I’m sorry, Alvaro,” she sobbed, running back through the passage.

At the top of the stairs, she pushed back the heavy stone Alvaro had loosened as a doorway at the base of the statue. She sat there, tears streaming down her face, when Daemyn found her.

“Ariana, what are you doing out here? Mother and father are worried,” Daemyn said. “What’s this? Tears of joy, I hope. Happy wedding day, sister.”

Ariana looked around and tried to be happy as she realized that her wedding day, the day she’d waited for all her life, had finally come.

Later, from inside the statue, Alvaro watched the ceremony. He couldn’t see the tears hidden by Ariana’s veil, but they were there. That night, knowing she’d made a terrible mistake, she left Gavyn’s bed and entered the passage.

Inside, the torches Alvaro had placed along the walls still flickered with light and, to Ariana, hope. She ran as fast as she could down the secret passage. She crossed the bridge, her feet barely hitting the ground, knowing she had crossed over into another world, his world. Then suddenly she stopped.

The passage was closed. A wall of dirt blocked her path. Ariana sat down beside the wall and leaned her head against it as she cried. She tried to dig through, she tried until her delicate fingers bled, but it was no use.

Ariana sat there facing the wall, when she realized that some paths, especially the ones that lead to our hearts’ desires, are open only for a time… Then, like Alvaro’s passage, they remain, hidden from the world, vacant except for the ghosts of what might have been.

– – –

Congratulations again to DeltaDawn! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information. Happy Writing!

Title image by AndrekaPhotography.

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