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Monthly Short Stories Winner: Alien or Eldritch Artifact

overgrown tomb by noahbradley

A massive artifact appears all of a sudden and (violently) disrupts the everyday life (of a tribe, a city, a country, the world). It can either be an alien artifact (science fiction) or an eldritch artifact (fantasy). This month, we wanted our entrants to think big. Something huge happens and humanity (or whoever else) barely (if at all) has time to react. Disruption is the key word and nothing will ever be like it was again.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or poetry.
2. Disruption through an artifact must play a big role in the story.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by Alex Hormann (@HormannAlex), with “Forever”. Congrats on your win, Alex!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

Content Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of blood and gore. Read with caution if you find these themes disturbing.

– – –

“Forever”
by Alex Hormann

Hanyin screamed his way out of oblivion. Pain lanced through his lungs as he breathed the air of the living once again. The memory of a sword-cut flashed across his throat. He’d died. How could he even know that? Had he somehow survived? No. No, he was dead. He had to be. And yet, here he was.

He rose from the ground, shaking off a thin layer of beach sand. There were bodies everywhere, the aftermath of some great battle. It took him a second to remember that he had been there for it. That he too had died storming the beach at Galhath. The shattered and burned remnants of a longboat loomed over him, the fires long since dead.

A scream rang through the still air. Hanyin staggered to his feet, falling twice before steadying himself. That had been a man’s scream, he reckoned. Someone like him perhaps. Another miraculous survivor. It had come from somewhere along the beach, and he shambled in that direction. But first, he picked a sword from the carnage around him. A good soldier never travelled unarmed.

Everywhere he looked was death. Bodies stacked high in pyres. No more to them now than ash and bone. Not all the dead had been treated with such reverence however. The wet sand underfoot was churned red with spilled blood, and all but buried under a carpet of the fallen. Each step Hanyin took brought him into contact with the dead. Finger bones crunched underfoot. Once he slipped on innards, stretched between a man’s open abdomen and a woman’s sword. The reek of it threatened to overpower him, but the screaming did not stop, and neither did he.

The other survivor was a man not too dissimilar from Hanyin himself. Squat, thinly-bearded, clad in the pale grey of the Shah’s army. He too was caked in the blood and gore of so many men. He stopped screaming when he saw Hanyin approach. But then his cries began anew. This time it was fear, not agony that echoed across the dead beach.

“Don’t worry,” said Hanyin, the words rasping out through a worn throat. He extended a hand to the man. “We are brothers. Family under the Shah.”

The survivor screamed. His head lolled back to reveal a widening slit across his throat. It looked like it should have killed him. The poor man was probably delirious. Hanyin backed away, knowing well the danger of approaching a man in such a state. As he did so, he stumbled over a corpse and fell.

The corpse screamed. A woman’s scream, high pitched and in agony.

Hanyin backpedalled, using his hands to drive himself away from the obscenity. Surely this woman could not be alive. There was almost nothing left of her. Raw patches where skin had been torn away by carrion beasts, aggravated by salt water. Jagged bone stumps broke through her ragged skin, and there was nothing left of her right leg. Her face, if you could even call it that anymore, was a labyrinth of lacerations, most still bleeding. One eye was lost, either sunken into the blood and pus of her injuries or carried off by scavengers. The orb that remained flashed left and right incessantly, searching for something, yet never finding it.

“I’m sorry,” Hanyin mumbled, as that dreadful eye passed over him. “I can’t help you.” He pushed himself upright and fled from the scene of the battle. More screams pursued him, coming from a dozen different mouths.

West of the beach the ground rose in a sandy hill, sparsely coated in marram grass. Hanyin clambered up this rise in his attempt to escape. His hands scrabbled for purchase, his feet kicking up plumes of dust. He grabbed a sturdy tussock and used it to haul himself over the lip at the top of the hill. Free, he thought at last. Free from the nightmare. He lay on his back and gasped for breath. Something warm and wet pressed against his chest. His undershirt, he realised, slick with his own blood. When he found civilisation, or at the very least shelter, he would have to examine his wound more closely. There was no real pain. More a dull throbbing that had settled deep into the fibre of his being. He was, he supposed, one of the lucky ones.

A dull hum came into focus, like the droning of a thousand wasps. High above, even the clouds had parted. As if they too wished for no part in the horrors around them. They left a ragged hole, which Hanyin had time only to glimpse as he rolled onto all fours. Where was the hum coming from? That was his main concern.

Rising to his feet, he followed his ear, tracking the sound to its source. The more he focused, he came to realise there was a rhythm to it. A tune. More than that, a familiar one. He hummed along to it, but could not quite place where he had heard it before.

His pursuit led him far from the beach, up a second hill. He walked for hours, maybe longer. Time no longer seemed to matter. Only the hum. He crested the hill, and stared.

A vast cube, dull grey and pitted like time-worn iron, its corner embedded in the earth, leaving the remainder suspended like a precious jewel on display. It must have been the size of the Shah’s palace in Kezzared, if not larger. How had it come to be here? It looked to have fallen, like an acorn from an oak. But surely that could not be. Had some god in a fit of pique hurled this wonder from the heavens?

Part of Hanyin, that part which had driven him to pledge his life to service in the Shah’s grand army, demanded that he return to Kezzared to inform his liege of this wondrous discovery. He ignored it, driving the urge away. He could not return without investigating. Not just for his own curiosity, but for the Shah also. They had to know what this mystery was.

Nervously he approached the cube. As he drew near, he noticed another man, coming to greet him it seemed. He had not been there a few minutes previously, Hanyin was sure.

The new man beckoned Hanyin to come closer, which he did. There was something strange about him. A stillness, as though he were the calmest man in all the world. His hair did not shift in the breeze, though his grey robes did. His eyes never broke away from Hanyin, and his limbs were locked in place, aside from that welcoming arm. The man’s face slowly cracked open in a wide smile.

“Hello,” he said. “You are the first. No doubt you have questions.”

Hanyin halted. “What?” he asked. “I don’–”

“No doubt you’re disoriented. Don’t worry. It’s quite common, given your circumstances.”

“Circumstances?”

“Your return,” the still man said. “From your injuries.”

Hanyin placed a hand over the bloody patch on his shirt. For the first time, he truly noticed the pain it was causing him, spilling into his lungs.

“Ah,” said the still man. “I see we have company.”

Hanyin turned and saw a group approaching. Some limped, some staggered. All were injured in some way. As they drew closer, he recognised one of them. A man. The survivor with the torn throat. Hanyin turned back to the strangely still man.

“There will be more,” the man said. “So many more.”

There were so many questions Hanyin had to ask, he found himself unable to ask any of them.

The still man seemed to understand his inner turmoil. “My name is Turyat. I am an ambassador, of sorts. But it is not a message I bring you. It is a gift. To show you, and your friends, and your Shah, of our intentions.”

“I am not the one you should be speaking to,” Hanyin began.

Turyat shook his head. “You are exactly who I sought. You and all the others like you.”

“Like me?”

“The fallen. The forgotten. The left behind and abandoned.” He reached forward and grasped Hanyin’s shirt. He pulled it up to his chest, ignoring his half-attempt at protest. The act revealed his wound. A large gash, dripping with vital fluids.

“The dead,” Turyat finished.

For a long moment, Hanyin did not breathe. “You mean…?”

“Yes,” said Turyat. “My people bring a change to your world. A release from your pains. No longer shall you die. No longer must you kill to get your desires. We have brought an end to death. Forever.”

– – –

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

Happy Writing!

Title image by noahbradley.

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