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Monthly Short Story Winner: Magic and Technology

Predator's Gold cover art by Christophe Vacher

This month we had our entrants write a story in a world where traditional fantasy with magic and science fictional technology coexist. Or meet. Or clash. Or fight.

There are only two books I can think of at the moment that fit this genre. One is a German fantasy saga which was never translated to English (fantasy world invaded by aliens—it’s way better than it sounds—with dragons) and the other, if it counts at all, is Ready Player One where we learn that they have in the OASIS magic worlds, technology worlds and worlds where both is allowed.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or poetry.
2. The story must contain a traditional fantasy world with magic and sci-fi technology.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by J. R. Darewood, with “The Forbidden”. Congrats on your win, J. R.!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

– – –

spirits by Lucy Plowe

“The Forbidden”
by J. R. Darewood

Do not listen.”

Nyssa clutched the key that dangled from her neck and put the dead woman’s warnings out of her mind.

Billowing greys and whites hid the soil beneath her horse’s hooves and a cool dampness sunk into her clothes. This fog was born of the ocean.

“We’re close,” she whispered to her companions.

Only four had been brave enough to attend her. To follow the counsel of forbidden voices. To travel to the Forbidden Isles. She wrapped her blue cloak around her as she shuddered. Surreal shadows danced in the mist, things that were not quite there.

You can still turn around,” her dead grandmother whispered in her ear. “No one would fault you. You can’t trust them. They are forbidden for a reason.”

She was the first Magir in three generations with the power to hear the dead. The dead were… restless…. In the history of her tribe, the few who had been bestowed her gift usually fled their calling, quieting the voices with the help of rowan-root tea. But Nyssa had no such luxury. The mountain tribes to the northeast were cruel, ruthless and worst of all: organized. Soon the Deusalan Horde would come to subjugate her people, along with all the remaining free tribes of the west. Her tribe begged her for counsel, to read the omens and consult the dead, but Nyssa did not like what she heard.

You cannot listen to them…” Her grandmother was nothing but a voice now, with no power to stop the living.

You cannot…” said her uncle, murdered in battle.

…listen…” spoke her great-grandfather, dead before her birth.

…to them!” her cousin, taken early with disease.

They will bring nothing but hatred, folly, and death,” a dead elder.

They cannot be trusted,” her great aunt, Magir before her.

They are the Ancient Ones, and they are forbidden!” her grandmother finished.

“Enough!” Nyssa shouted. The men around her jumped in confusion, and Nyssa’s face softened. “I’m sorry, I just mean to say that we should eat now. It will not be safe to tarry once we are on the island.”

The men slid off their mounts pulling salted goat from their packs. Their cloaks, blue like hers, seemed to blend eerily with the fog. Blue was the favored color of Natoh.

“Athan…” Nyssa chided.

The man to her left, hulking and strong-jawed, slowed his chewing until he held the meat in his mouth, perfectly still. His eyes fell to the ground. Slowly he joined hands with his companions.

Satisfied, Nyssa lifted her arms to the air. “Natoh, our Guiding Star, bless this food as you bless our journey. May the free find solace under your protection.”

The men dove into their rations, but Nyssa paused. The men did not cherish religion. Perhaps that is why they had agreed to come. But Natoh’s blessing was more important than ever. The battle with his nemesis Lah, god of chains and sands, had raged for centuries, until Natoh rained fire on the earth, to crush Lah and the mortals who had displeased him so that a new, free world could rise from the ashes. The Forbidden Isles to the north and the Dead Lands of the far east had been destroyed in the Great Battle they had waged. It was said that echoes of unearthly fires still hung in the air, burning those who dared traverse those solemn lands.

Her fingers found the key hanging from her neck. When she had first found it, around the neck of another buried deep in the earth, she had heard voices far older than she thought possible. Voices who had answers her grandmother didn’t. The Ancient Ones had promised freedom, whispering of ancient magicks to rain death on their enemies. Magicks hidden away in the Forbidden Isles.

“I haven’t seen a road in hours,” Athan spat.

“Of course, you haven’t. I can’t even see my own feet,” Calix, the man to his left replied.

“If there even are any roads this far west,” Jayce shouted from the rear, his voice unsteady.

“We’re lost,” Aleus brooded.

He is right, granddaughter,” a voice whispered in her ear.

The elder spoke next, urgency in his voice, “Turn around, Nyssa.

Her great aunt, “I’m begging you!

Her grandmother, “Please.

Animus incons ulendo liber,” Nyssa whispered almost inaudibly. It was an incantation the Ancient Ones had taught her. She did not know what the words meant, but it helped her control her powers, shutting out the voices of the present to delve deeper into the distant past, to those killed in the ancient hellfires of embattled gods.

No…” the dead elder hissed.

She clutched the key. “Animus incons ulendo liber.”

You mustn’t!” her great-aunt’s voice was fading, they all were. Replaced with a sea of hisses. The pleas of her ancestors gave way to a multitude of whispered promises.

Animus incons ulendo liber.

Yesss, they whispered.

By Natoh’s grace, there were so many here!

A hiss, We can bring you what we promised.

Death! said another.

Death! another.

Death! another.

Death… death… death… the word echoed from a thousand mouths with hungry reverence.

Come closer, an eager whisper. Your ferry awaits!

She closed her eyes and let the voices guide her, urging her horse forward. The Ancient Ones were taking her to their home, to the Forbidden Isles. “Follow me,” she said.

Nyssa opened her eyes and smiled. The fog broke before her revealing a rocky shoreline. Some ancient ruin jutted out of the ocean, jagged colored metal defying the waves. Just as the voices had promised, a skiff lay tied to the beach.

The men bid farewell to their horses as Nyssa guided them to the boat. Pushing into the water, they began their row into the unknown ocean, drifting past the ancient wreckage as they left the shore.

Nyssa gasped. On the ancient debris, peeking beneath green algae, she spied a four-pointed star in a circle on a field of blue. “The sign of Natoh!”

The men looked at each other uneasily.

It was grueling work, rowing in the harsh water. Within moments they were drenched in sweat. The skiff rocked precariously. Nyssa sensed fear in her companions as the shore disappeared.

“What if we–” Aleus began.

Nyssa held up a hand. “Animus incons ulendo liber,” she began softly, her chant rising in volume. “Animus incons ulendo liber!

Ancient spirits whispered in the waves, shadows of sea foam picking up the skiff in its current.

Dungeon! Ssss! Dungeon! they called to her.

The men lifted their oars in amazement, as the choppy waves smoothed and a current took their boat. The sun had newly risen when they took the skiff; it wasn’t until it was low in the sky once again that they saw the shore.

Dungeon! Ssss! Dungeon!

The skiff glided into the ancient ruins of a marina, but the city beyond it gave them pause. Crumbling towers framed the sky to the north—misshapen behemoths of metal and stone.

“Natoh’s mercy,” whispered Athan, placing two fingers to his temple to beseech the god’s protection.

Now he found religion, Nyssa thought with a grim satisfaction.

“Are we going there?” he asked.

“No,” Nyssa replied.

She took them west along the coastline. The sun was gentle, but the wind brought an acrid sting. Grasses, trees and dirt interspersed with enormous slabs of some sort of black stone. Soon their destination appeared on the horizon.

Towers, perfectly smooth and perfectly round. As if they had been carved from a single giant white stone. Athan gaped.

They passed what once might have been a gate, entering a complex of ancient blocky structures. An ancient glyph of a tiny sun with three thick rays of light marked the walls as they entered.

“Are we going to the towers?” Jayce asked.

“No,” Nyssa said. “Beneath them.”

They arrived at an unattractive low-lying building at the foot of the towers. Nyssa paused eyeing the sweeping translucent facade, caked with grime. “There’s an entrance to the side.”

She circled the building along uneven earth, debris caked in layer upon layer of dirt and dust, until Athan placed a hand on her shoulder. “Your face, it’s red.”

Nyssa frowned. She did feel a faint burning sensation. She looked at Athan’s face, it was red as well. He was sweating despite the cool air, and his skin was blistered and peeling. She gripped the key around her neck nervously.

“Here,” Nyssa said, motioning to a solid yet nondescript door on the side of the building.

A metal plate caked in dirt was centered on the door. She wiped it with her hand. DUNGENESS, the background was blue, N.A.T.O., a four-pointed star in a circle, NUCLEAR, a tiny sun with three rays, INSTALLATION.

Here, beneath this building, she would find another sign marked LAUNCH. There her key would unlock the wrath of Natoh.

Death, the forbidden voices whispered. There were more dead here than she’d heard in her entire life.

Rain death upon them all.

– – –

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

Happy Writing!

Title image by Lucy Plowe.

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