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Monthly Short Story Winner: Elements

In August’s short story contest, participants wrote us stories about elements. There were a lot of great entries, but before we look at the winner, here is the write up for the contest.

Lava and Ocean by CJ Kale

Earth, air, fire, and water: in ancient times these were thought to be the building blocks of our world. They were the bases for alchemy and the principles that were thought to govern the natural world. In fantasy they are the building blocks of many magic systems and religions. They can even manifest as aspects of different kingdoms and magical races.

This month, your challenge is to write a fantasy story or scene involving one or more of the classic elements: earth, air, fire, or/and water. Your story could feature a forest of magical flame, a race of earth elementals, a city protected by a wall of enchanted water, or a wind mage learning her first spell. You can also use other classic elements such as metal or wood. (No fan fiction please.) Once again, we are opening the contest to both prose and poetry.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem. Be creative.
2. One or more classic elements must be a core part of your piece.
3. Prose must be 500-2000 words long. Poetry must be 100-500 words long. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits by any more than 10%.

You can see all the contest entries here. And our winner this month is ladygreen! Congratulations!

– – –

“A Fine Morning for Running”
by ladygreen

Hesta pushed up from the earth with a languorous stretch and a sigh, wiping dark, moist crumbs from her shoulders and hips. The autumn ground was cool beneath her feet and she wiggled her toes experimentally. Yes, toes today. Good, she thought, and made her way carefully through the soft morning mist towards the stream. The occasional sica tree reached towards her longingly, the hanging tendrils of the heat-seeking branches unable to resist her quickly warming form.

It had been a cold night. She would have to find a stone on which to sun this body. Momentarily bemused, she looked down. Yes, female today. Good, she thought, and took the few remaining steps towards the water. Checking her skin carefully, she tentatively dipped her hand into the clear water, satisfied when it emerged whole, her green-tipped fingers dripping. Bathing too early, when the waking cycle had not yet completed, was a mistake only the young made. Well, she thought wryly, one I also make occasionally, despite my ancient age. No real bother though – unplanned crumbling was a sometimes annoying and often unavoidable part of life. Despite the teasing of her siblings, she knew it happened to all earthwey every once in a while.

She strode confidently into the chill morning water and dipped below the surface. Dozens of curious waterwey instantly surrounded her, reaching with tiny pearlescent fins and flippers to tickle her unprotected skin. Shivering, she flipped her body, swept past them and waggled her fingers. Such pathetic, playful things. Nothing like she and her kindred brothers and sisters who were the earth.

Finished with her scrubbing and swimming, Hesta climbed out and onto a large flat rock dappled with sunlight, admiring the lean muscles that had been gifted to her today. Each sturdy leg tapered into two well-formed, albeit green feet. These will be good for running, she thought happily as she leaned back on the slowly warming rock. The Father must have been pleased with her to let one as old as she experience such a youthful freyden form.

As Hesta sunned herself, and thought of the places where she would run, a low hum began to thrum in her veins. She sat up and clasped her forearms curiously. No, not her veins, not her body, but the rock? Splaying her green-tipped fingers across the warm smooth slate, she waited to feel the slight reverberations again. Yes, it had to be the rock. Leery, she slipped down and crouched on the earth, plunging her hands through the confetti of fallen leaves. Even from here she could feel the Father’s soul vibrating too. Looking up she scanned the water, but the waterwey were gone, leaving only cold empty trickles.

A sudden, violent shout made her crumble. Two thick freyden men pounded across the forest floor, kicking up golden leaves in their wake. Hesta watched cautiously from beneath their feet, feeling their leather soled shoes slam into the earth. As they passed and the leaves finally settled, she felt a flash of annoyance. The Father had given her a perfect body today, and she had wanted to run in it. Instead, those lumbering freyden men had made her crumble and now she would need to wait until she was gifted another body tomorrow. Vexed, she followed them swiftly and raised a stone, causing one of them to trip and stumble. To her dismay, he didn’t fall – he righted himself after a hop and continued to barrel through the forest like a spooked woodhog.

Hesta watched them go and sighed her disappointment. The trees shifted their branches, rustling with her breath. It wasn’t often that she toyed with the freyden. Unlike her siblings, she liked to keep to herself, opting to stay out of mischief. While not dangerous, freyden could be unpredictable. Their ways were strange, too – always building this or that with their sticks and hammers, always trying to pull the earth in ways that it did not want to go. Didn’t they know that the Father would take it all back again in a blink of an eye? Silly beings.

Turning her attention back to her immediate surroundings, she realized with surprise that the earth was still vibrating. The humming – it was audible, louder now, and getting louder. Hesta reached with her mindself and found nothing, no source. Perplexed, she reached farther. Nothing. The humming grew louder and the earth pulsed frantically, numbing her senses. Confusion turning to panic, Hesta reached to find a sibling but found her mindself blunted. A flower whimpered and she realized the sound was hers.

*Father?* she asked, sending the thought shooting through the earth, feeling for his soul. The Father was silent.

More footfalls. Softer than before, quick as a running fawn. A light thump and a cry. Hesta followed the sounds, finding a young freyden woman on her hands and knees, crying. Afraid. Hesta quickly searched the earth behind the woman, looking for the source of her fear. With a horrific squeeze, her soul dropped and the earth frosted in a ring around the fallen woman.

Cythan, dozens of them. Their enormous forms sat upon even larger horned beasts that dug into the earth with their great black talons. Hesta had never seen the cythan before, but she had heard. Cythan, the soul dead. Cythan, the blackened warriors. Cythan, the ones who set fire to the earth.

*Father?* she asked again frightfully, willing the protector to help. Nothing.

The woman gave a strangled cry and propelled herself up again, plunging into the tangled bramble of the wood, her skirts catching hopelessly in the clawing growth. The wind picked up and Hesta smelled it. Flame mingled with fear. Death. The freyden village lay not far behind where the cythan stood now. Hesta’s mind clicked into sudden understanding. This woman, those men – they were the last. Hesta watched the woman stumble away, fear driving her senselessly deeper into the brush instead of the open spaces where she would at least have a chance. The dark cythan warrior at the front of the pack made an irritated noise and then signaled with a tired flick of his wrist.

He was bored, Hesta realized with sudden, unexpected wrath. He may as well be plucking chickens as hunting freyden.

Behind the leader, a huge beast took off with a great lunge, its heavy claws tearing the earth as it landed, its great maw widening in a deafening shriek as it ran towards the fleeing woman. Without thinking, Hesta threw up a wall of earth before the beast, knocking it down along with its rider. The woman cast one backwards glance and Hesta saw the look of wonder on her face. She only lingered for a second and then ran, finally ripping herself away from the clinging bramble. The cythan on the ground roared his anger and knocked his beast. The leader looked puzzled, his dark brows knitting together over black bulbous eyes. Gaining confidence, Hesta pushed again, toppling another cythan from his mount.

With a sudden bark of guttural laughter the cythan slapped his leather-clad knees.

“An earthwey!” he exclaimed and laughed again. The others looked at each other, confused, but laughed quietly with their leader.

Hesta stilled, not expecting the cythan to have guessed her presence. Not many knew of her kind. The Father protected them well.

“Earthwey! Come out earthwey!” The leader called tauntingly, swinging one booted leg over his saddle and thumping both feet with heavy purpose on the ground.

Hesta winced and started to move away. At once the leader held up his hand to his chest and the low thrumming, which she hadn’t realized had stopped, began once again. What is it? Hesta thought frantically, her senses once again numbed. She froze in confusion.

*Father!* she called again, for the third time. Nothing. *Brothers! Sisters!* Nothing. Helpless, she cried out and the flowers growing at the base of a nearby sica tree cried for her.

The cythan leader’s wide craggy ears perked and he strode towards her heart, buried in the soil.

No! How did he know? The Children could never be found!

The cythan plunged a hand into the earth and the humming grew louder. Hesta, violated, terrified and trembling, was pulled from the earth. Bewildered she looked up at him. She had never known evil, had only heard of it, but she was sure that she was looking at it now. Long blackened teeth gleamed, slick with spittle, from his grinning mouth. His dark face, long and lean, was covered with jagged white scars that warned of past brutal violence.

Hesta shuddered and cowered before him. With sudden shock, she realized that she had reverted back to her freyden form. Green-tipped fingers clutched at the earth before her, willed themselves back in, but to no avail. She was locked away from the Father’s soul. A terrible sense of abandonment, of aloneness swept over her. As she gasped, the cythan laughed again, and reached for her with one clawed hand. The other he kept firmly clasped to something tied to a leather string around his neck. His huge mitt closed easily around her arm, roughly bringing her to her feet. Frantic, throwing herself at the only thing she could think of, she leaned forward and bit the back of his hand as hard as she could, breaking the odious flesh. He yelped, temporarily releasing the object around his neck, allowing her to see and then furiously snatch the flashing golden pendant.

With a harsh tug, she broke the string as well as his hold on her, leaping away and plunging into the earth as she crumbled, carrying the pendant below with her. Down, down, down, she went, listening to his fading howls of fury and useless scrabbling on the surface. The pendant glowed brightly as she took it deep into the Father’s soul.

*Father!* she cried as she pushed herself as fast as she could towards the safety of his core.

*Yes, child?* finally came the answer she had been waiting for, flooding her senses with sweet relief.

In the hot damp darkness of her beginnings, she brought out the pendant.

– – –

Congratulations again to our winner ladygreen! If you would like to enter this month’s contest or vote for October’s winner, check out the Monthly Writing Contest board in our forum. 🙂

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