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Monthly Short Story Winner: Winter

Welcome back everyone! Big news this month! In January, I hinted that there was something big coming from Fantasy-Faction for short story writers. For those of you who didn’t catch the official January announcement, here we go.

Fantasy-Faction is going to release a fantasy short story anthology! So far, five contributing authors have been announced: Mark Lawrence, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jon Sprunk, Myke Cole, and Michael J. Sullivan. And there are three more to be announced!

But this anthology won’t just be a collection of stories by famous authors; we want your stories too! Here’s how it works:

– Each person may submit 1 original, unpublished fantasy short story of any subgenre. (Sci-fi and horror are only allowed if they include fantasy elements.)

– Stories may be up to 8,000 words in length.

– Authors must be unpublished within the fantasy genre. (This means you have printed less than 2,500 copies of a single book within the fantasy genre.)

– Entries may be in English only.

– There is no entry fee for normal entry. *(There is an optional Entry Plus option see below).

– Authors keep all story rights. (We require just one year of exclusivity.)

– There will be six winners and the top three will receive a monetary prize as well as being published in the anthology!

Sounds great right? But I’m sure you’re wondering about the little * next the Entry Plus line. Well, Entry Plus is one of the reasons this contest is so cool. If you opt to enter using Entry Plus, not only will you have a chance to be published in the anthology, but you will also get a one-page critique from the judge who reads your entry! The critique will include helpful advice including what the judge did and did not like about your story, and how you can improve your writing for future contests. Entry Plus is only £7.00 and is limited to 300 entries. Choosing Entry Plus will not increase your chances of winning, but it will give you a better idea of where your work needs improvement.

The submissions for the Anthology Contest opens today and will stay open until June 30, 2012. You can find out everything you need to know about the contest here.

And you can join the discussion on our forums here.

But of course, the Anthology Contest isn’t the only writing contest we have going on our site. There are still lots of monthly contests yet to talk about. Let’s see what our talented authors have come up with this month.

December’s theme was winter

Winter Crystals by spirithelpers

It’s December and winter is coming, spreading its icy fingers over the land. It brings death to the greens of summer and sends chills to the very heart of man. However, even at its darkest, winter has a beauty all its own. And under the frosty white snow, is the promise of spring sleeping silently – waiting. But to reap the bounties that spring will surely hold, one must first make it through the winter. In fantasy, this is not always as easy as it seems.

December’s challenge is to write a short story or scene set in the winter.

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must take place during the winter and include element of fantasy.
4. Please no A Song of Ice and Fire fanfic. I know I used the quote, but I couldn’t help myself.

And the winner of October’s challenge is Geri! You can read her story, “The Last Dragon Keeper”, at the end of this article. Congratulations Geri!

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

January’s theme was mythical creatures

Air Colossus by sandara

One of the staples of fantasy stories is unique creatures. Some of them are on the side of good, others evil, and some won’t be bothered with picking sides. But whether it be grand dragons flying through azure skies, dark demons spawned from the pits of hell, magical unicorns hiding in deep forests, or otherworldly spirits guarding the sacred places of the land, mythical creatures are one of the things that make fantasy so fantastic.

To ring in the New Year we’d like to challenge you to write a short fantasy story using a mythical creature. It can be a known creature (dragon, unicorn, etc.) or something you’ve created yourself, but it must be something that’s never existed (i.e. no dinosaurs).

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must contain a mythical creature and include an element of fantasy.
4. Your creature must play a significant part in your story.

You can vote for January’s winner here.

Voting ends on February 28th. Check back next month to see who wins!

February’s Writing Challenge

Secrets by NostalgiaCaptured

February is the month of love. But it is also the month of secrets: secret gifts, secret admirers, secret lovers. But in fantasy, there are many kinds of secrets besides these. There are secret groves where wood spirits dwell, secret spells that no man should utter, and secret plots whose success can change the course of history. Whether they are kept for good or evil, secrets play a huge role in fantasy, as does how they are revealed and who they are revealed to.

This month, your challenge is to write a fantasy story or scene about a secret. It can be good or bad, big or small, but it must be the main point of the story.

Rules:

1. Must be prose.
2. 1,500 – 2,000 words.
3. Must include a secret as a major part of the story in addition to some element of fantasy.

Contest ends February 29th! 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 story short story!

– – –

“The Last Dragon Keeper”
by Geri

Eui watched as the waves surged towards the shore. Ice had formed on the water, the motion turning it to mush as it covered the smooth grey rocks that acted as boundary between land and sea. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying but failing to keep out the wind, which threatened to tear her clothes and pick at her bones. She knew that her mother would scold her for forgetting her jacket but in her desperation to get out of the house, she had left it, stowed snugly in her wardrobe. Eui stamped her feet to try to warm them but the wind kept forcing its way through her thick boots, biting her toes.

The ground began to shake. It started with a slow trickle of the smaller rocks, which quickly blended with the mush of the ocean water. The larger rocks began to vibrate then roll down the hill and into the water. Eui stood her ground as rocks large and small snapped at her heels, flinching as the larger ones bruised her. Eui breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar ash scent that covered the island more deeply than the perma-snow.

The earth juddered to a stop and Eui carefully stepped out of the pile of stones that covered her feet. The icy slush boiled along the shore then all was still once more. Eui turned as she heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and smiled at her father.

“Your mother is worried about you,” he said, not looking her in the eye but focusing on the ocean.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.” Eui risked a look at her father but could not read his expression. The silence settled over them, only slightly comfortable.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Eui said, “The dragons are dying father.”

“As are we, Eui, as are we. We can only hope that they die before we do. A dragon alone in this world, without a Keeper, would soon fall prey to the blades of the Sagar.”

If they’re lucky, thought Eui, but she did not pursue the matter.

Every Keeper knew the challenges faced by the dragons. The Sagars were hunters who sold dragon meat and their scales and teeth, which held magical properties. For over a generation they had hunted and killed dragons, depleting their numbers in an unending quest for the perfect hunt: A mythical beast, defined by its purity and beauty. With each retelling of the myth, the dragon grew in grace and size until Eui, who had been told stories of the Sagar which had kept her awake at night, did not recognise the creature as being a dragon but an animal of pure virtue. Knowing no dragon had ever been born matching the myth kept the Sagars hunting and Eui from peaceful dreams.

However, the biggest threat was the dragons themselves. Females would lay between 15-20 eggs and would continually defend her nest from attacks by males. Of the eggs that survived, not all would hatch, with some being trampled. Finally the female, tired and undernourished, would die. If she was lucky, she might see the one or two of her offspring who would emerge from their eggs, snorting flames and growling to be fed.

In the absence of a mother, when the infant dragons smashed from their eggs, they would bond with a Keeper. The Keepers were almost as old as the dragons themselves but they too had slowly grown fewer and fewer until Eui and her brother Rowan were the only non-bonded keepers. The last surviving female was guarding her egg, waiting to die.

“It’s a very special time for your brother. He will be bonded, probably today,” said her father, his eyes remaining on the waves.

“And what about me?” asked Eui.

“Is that why you wish to leave? You lack purpose?”

Eui flashed a quick look at her father. He would claim that it was the wind that brought tears to his eyes, but the clench in Eui’s stomach reminded her of the argument with her mother.

“There is a world beyond the isle, father. I wish to explore and there is nothing here for me. There will be no more dragons once this has hatched and bonded with Rowan. A Keeper with nothing to keep.” Eui’s eyes flooded with tears that threatened to fall. Her father swung an arm around her and gently pulled her close for a brisk hug.

“Come, Eui. They are preparing for the ceremony. I have to get to the Great Hall. Greeson and the elders are waiting for me.”

Together they walked slowly up the beach, slipping occasionally on the loose gravel. Kissing her on the head before gently pushing her towards the settlement, Eui’s father walked towards the mountain. Suddenly he called Eui and she ran to him as the wind stole his words.

“Eui, Keepers are like the seasons. We are currently in the darkest winter we have known, filled with darkness and despair, but after the winter, the spring warmth always comes. Remember, your name means spring in the old tongue. Wait and you will see the beauty when we emerge from the darkness. I know you feel there is nothing for you here, but your brother will need your support and love. Being a Keeper is not easy and he still has a lot to learn.”

Eui gave her father a small smile, then turned and jogged into the settlement, flinging open their door. Her mother looked up from where she was sat by the table, her sewing needle raised. She regarded Eui with a stony expression.

Eui paused, looking contrite under the glare of her mother. “Father said you might need some help preparing for the ceremony,” she said finally.

Her mother laid down her needle. She studied the garments laid out across the table then quietly said, “Go and wake your brother. He needs to get dressed. The ceremony starts soon. The egg is hatching.”

Eui dipped her head and avoided eye contact with her mother as she wound around the large table and up the stairs. Launching into her brother’s room, she jumped onto his bed, bouncing up and down.

“Wakey, wakey,” she called as Rowan swatted at her.

“Get off,” he shouted as Eui continued jumping.

“Mother says you have to get up. The ceremony is going to start soon so you need to get into your dress,” teased Eui.

“It’s a robe,” roared Rowan, sitting up and pushing Eui off the bed.

She landed with cat-like grace, giving him a smug smile. “Whatever. The egg’s hatching. You’re about to become a Keeper.”

“Yeah,” said Rowan without enthusiasm, pulling a shirt from the floor and sniffing it. Deciding it didn’t smell, he dragged it over his head, then ran his fingers through his hair.

Eui watched her brother. Three years older than her thirteen, his training made him appear older but seeing him first thing in the morning always reminded Eui of how young her brother really was.

Playfully kicking him, she ran from the room, calling, “Your dress is on the table. Hurry up or I might spill my breakfast on it.”

Eui charged into the kitchen, Rowan a few paces behind. They both stopped when they saw their mother’s stern face.

“Hurry up,” their mother said, handing Rowan his robe. Smoothing her hair, she stood a little straighter and scowled at her children. “I will see you at the Great Hall,” she said, leaving them.

Eui grinned at her brother. Rowan ignored her and carefully picked up the robes his mother had spent weeks embroidering. Slipping the delicate fabric over his head, it cascade down his body. Checking the sleeves were straight, he tugged at the hem. Eui bit her cheeks to stop from laughing while Rowan slipped into his boots.

“It’s a robe,” he growled.

Eui couldn’t contain herself and started laughing.

Looking down at himself, Rowan sighed, then he too started giggling. “Ok, it’s a dress. Can we go? I have a dragon to meet.”

Together they walked from the settlement towards the Great Hall, Rowan complaining about the cold and the snow getting into his boots. Entering the cave that would take them to the Great Hall, they could hear the Elders singing, and the pained final breaths of the female dragon. The Great Hall was a large cave, which had formed in the mountain, decorated by generations of Keepers. There were designs showing the bonding ceremony, the history of the keepers and dragons, with some designs used to train young keepers.

Eui and Rowan joined their parents, on a large platform just above the pit where the dragon rested with her last remaining egg. The female dragon was large, her scales a burnt orange turning to red on her belly and yellow on her wings. Her breath was shallow and laboured; the keepers knew that it would not be long before she would join her brethren in the flame halls of the underworld.

Eui stole a peek at the egg. It was about the size of a boulder, with mottled brown spots and she heard the frustrated squeaks as its occupier nosed its way out. The Elders stood on the opposite platform, their chants rising and falling with the breaths of the female. The large dragon’s head drooped, rose, then fell again.

Greeson silenced the Elders with a raised hand. “She has passed to the underworld,” he said.

No one made a sound as they watched the dragon ease its nose, then its body and finally its long tail from the egg. It opened its mouth and coughed, sending a ball of flame harmlessly against the wall. Shaking itself, its wings unfurled and the Keepers stood amazed. The baby dragon’s body was a paler colour than its mother’s, but its wings were pure white, veins highlighted in golden scales that caught the light. Shaking its head, it emitted a small bark before experimentally flapping its wings. Its dark green eyes took in the unmoving body of its mother before it spotted Rowan standing on the platform. Another flap of its wings and it was eye level with the platform, barking happily.

The Elders began chanting in the ancient tongue. Eui did not understand all the words but knew it was the song to encourage the dragon to choose its Keeper. Rowan grinned as the dragon looked at him and bowed deeply as he had been taught. The dragon started to dip its head when it caught sight of Eui behind Rowan. Cocking its head to one side it forgot to move its wings, flapping quickly as it began to fall. Rowan remained bowed, but his mother shifted nervously. Rowan dared to peek and frowned when he saw that the dragon was not returning his bow. Finally, he stood and looked at his father, who shrugged his confusion.

Standing, Rowan blocked the dragon’s view of Eui. The dragon craned his neck to look around the boy. Eui looked back wide-eyed back at the creature floating effortlessly before stepping past Rowan and raising her hand towards the dragon.

The dragon swooped close, it’s sudden movement causing Eui to step back in surprise until the dragons long black tongue flicked out, licking her hand. Eui giggled, running her hand along the dragon’s muzzle as it growled contentedly.

“The dragon has chosen its Keeper,” called Greeson, his voice echoing.

Eui stopped playing with the dragon as the words struck her like a physical blow. She looked at Rowan, his face contorted with anger, her mother with her hand covering her mouth in shock and finally her father who was smiling at her. Stepping forward he lifted Eui onto the dragon’s back. Eui hugged the dragon’s neck as it rose and circled the Great Hall.

“Spring has come with the last Dragon Keeper,” Eui’s father said.

– – –

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

Title image by MarianneLoMonaco.

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Monthly Short Story Winner: Winter, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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