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Author Topic: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread  (Read 2450 times)

Offline xiagan

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[May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« on: May 01, 2018, 10:53:09 PM »
Technology and Magic, Science Fiction and Fantasy



In the merry month of May we want you to write a story in a world where traditional fantasy with magic and science fictional technology coexist. Or meet. Or clash. Or fight. That's up to you. It was really hard to find a fitting picture which may be a sign that this is a neglected genre.
There are only two books I can think of at the moment. One is a German fantasy saga which was never translated to English (Fantasy World invaded by Aliens - it's way better than it sounds. And 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.

We're really curious what you'll manage to come up with!


Rules:

1. This must 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.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close May 31st/June 1st, 2018 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2018, 06:17:10 AM »
First Contact

1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:



The old man came as they asked, walking alone up to the high hills overlooking the sea to their immense vessel. Armored soldiers waved him up a ramp that opened like a drawbridge into the vessel’s belly. He gaped at the size of the craft as he stumbled up.

“You must forgive me,” sighed the wizard, leaning on his stick and staring at the king’s ransom of steel all around the belly of the sailless ship. The walls, the floor, even the cavernous roof were all of lustrous steel. “I am a poor and simple man and, like my people, I am easily overawed.”

Around him, the Newcomers were arrayed in an arcing phalanx of shining armor that, remarkably, didn’t look metal at all. Rather, it seemed they were armored in shining black, like the shells of beetles. They held their stringless bows leveled at him, the ones he had heard so much about when they attacked. Behind and above them, their Marshal stood with his hands on his hips, grinning from the top of a ramp that led further into the ship, where countless more soldiers waited, the wizard was sure.

“It’s to be expected,” the Marshal said with a magnanimous shrug. “It’s always this way when we come out to the backwater worlds. You’re not as bad as some primitives – you speak as we do, not like the burping and chirping ones. And you wear clothes, so we don’t have to see and smell your unwashed asses. Eh, boys?”

A ripple of laughter moved through the phalanx.

The wizard smiled and shrugged. “Why have you come?”

The Marshal’s grin tightened. “To take ... everything, old man. Everything worth taking, anyway. That’s why we’ve asked you here – we don’t want to kill anyone we don’t have to. We don’t need primitives getting worked up and trying to kill us while we work. We got a program.”

“A ... what?”

The marshal shook his head and sauntered down the ramp. The soldiers made way. “A program. A method of doing things that works best for us and best for you. We show up, blow up a city, and leave enough survivors to carry the word. We wait while they do. Then we come down, ask for their leader, and wait for him, in this case, you, to arrive. Then we tell ‘em what I’m telling you now – everything you have? Ours. Everything on the land or in the seas or under them – all of it mine now. Well,” he grinned at his men. “Technically, it’s the Consortium’s. I’m just the one who takes possession.”

“Consortium?” asked the wizard. “You are one of a number of nations?”

“We are a collective of worlds – three-hundred and six the last I heard. All living in peace and bloody harmony under the guidance of a handful of the most advanced.”

“Advanced?” the wizard asked, scratching his beard. “In what direction?”

The soldiers lowered their weapons and shook their helmeted heads.

The Marshal chuckled out loud. “Up! Up the ladder of invention, of thought, of engineering, of science, of course. What did you think I meant?”

It was the wizard’s turn to grin. “The people of this world pursue a different kind of ... advancement, as you say. May I ask, if you represent so many worlds, this ...” he waved his hands at his surroundings. “This craft must be only one of many.”

“A great many, chief. Thousands and thousands.”

“How,” the wizard stammered, “can an admiral command a fleet so vast?”

“Comms, chief. We got translight comms from one end of the galaxy to the other. Matter of fact, the rulers of the Consortium can see and hear us right now. They like to listen in on these little get-togethers.”

“They hear our words? They can see us from, from across the void? But the distance! How is this possible?”

The Marshal laughed. “The first rule of the program, chief, is never, ever tell primitives how shit works. Call it magic, if you like. Hell, multi-spectrum, tri-focal retrans IS magic. We have an antenna the size of your ocean that’s so far away, the light from its glow won’t reach here for half a million years. But as for our business here, let’s get this going.”

He snapped his fingers, and two soldiers came forward with a black chest that they set down in front of the wizard. They opened it, and inside was a series of stacked trays with scores of recesses. In each was set a small ingot of metal or stone. There was gold, silver, platinum, and other metals the wizard could not name.

“Is this a gift?” asked the wizard.

“Ah-ah-ahh!” The Marshal turned to the crowd and pointed to a pair of soldiers in the back. “You owe me fifty credits each!” He turned back to the wizard. “You primitives always think it’s a gift. It’s not. These are specimens. What we need is for you to scoot off and tell your king or whatever that everything you have made of these materials is now ours. Bring it to us, neat and orderly, whether it’s a statue you pray to or gold in your wife’s bloody teeth - because I will melt this land to glass and pry it from your wife’s mouth if you don’t. In my world, ‘neat and orderly’ means right fucking now. Understand me?”

The wizard raised his glance from the chest to the man’s face. “I believe I do. Do your rulers still listen and watch? If I speak to them, will they hear?”

The Marshal nodded. “They’ll hear ... but I’m not sure they’re going to listen, if you take my meaning.”

The eyes of the wizard turned hard with something fierce, something ... unconquerable that dried the marshal’s throat. “I am not interested in your meaning. I am interested in mine.”

He muttered phrases in what seemed three voices at once and raised his arms. The Marshal was lifted into the air as if by the throat, legs thrashing beneath him. The phalanx of soldiers was thrust back as though by a wall of storm. The old man’s eyes gleamed like bottled lightning. Gleaming bolts flew from a few soldiers’ weapons but careened off a near-invisible sphere around the wizard and into their comrades.

The wizard bellowed, and the soldiers flew up and were dashed into the ceiling then slammed down onto the steel floor with a sickening crunching crash.

“Hear me!” he cried, raising his stick over his head. The Marshal began to spin. “Hear me, rulers of the Consortium!” His voice grew to an unnatural volume and a cold light washed over him. “You have erred in coming here.”

The marshal spun faster and faster. His arms flung out. The wind they made buffeted the wizard’s old cloak.

“Turn your fleet around, or I swear by the gods you have forgotten that not one will leave this world. Not one will return with what you seek, for you have erred. We are not the primitives you imagined.”

The marshal spun faster and faster, became a blur.

“You bent your minds to the crafting of things and the piercing of mysteries. Our interests are in a power beyond your reckoning – one not of the mind, but of the spirit. You are masters of the material – we are masters of the moral. And when the heart and the head war – the mind loses.”

He stamped his stick onto the floor, and the marshal’s head stopped spinning. The rest of him did not. There was a shredding snap, and blood flew all around, soaking the wizard, the corpses of the soldiers, and everything else. The marshal’s remains dropped in a heap.

“Long ages past, we were as you, masters of all but ourselves. But we freed ourselves from a tyranny of our own making, the likes of which you cannot imagine. Now we are masters of nothing but ourselves, achieving and wielding a strength beyond the reckoning of your most learned, a wisdom deeper than your subtlest philosophies. Go back to the void from whence you came. If you doubt me, turn your far-seeing eyes to what I do to your ship.”

 The old man turned to leave but paused.
   
“If you fill us with resolve, you will learn that you have advanced up a lower path, from which you can only return by walking backward. The weapons and navies of your many worlds are no more to us than the toys and trinkets of children. Go back to the void, and trouble us no more. For with a whisper and a thought, we, too, can cross the void.”

He descended to the ground and walked from the hulking metal craft. With nothing but words and a gleaming glance, he heaved it into the air, crumpled it like paper, and rolled it crashing into the sea. It hissed and bubbled as it sank. The old man turned and began the long walk home.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2018, 06:22:57 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline JMack

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2018, 02:35:57 AM »
The Orchetype

<1,500 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
“The Orchetype?” The name was as unimpressive as the ship itself, a squat, old bucket I wouldn’t trust to break orbit.

“My Lady’s little Joke,” replied the dwarf, puffing a bit from keeping up with my longer strides across the length of the spaceport.

I’ve spent some time with dwarves, what with a little light syndicate work, some illegal asteroid mining ops, and a short stint as a bouncer in a Gabranian whore house. Doesn’t matter if they’re three spanners to the wind or stone cold sober, they’ll emphasize just about any Noun that can’t outrun a Capital Letter.

“Your lady has an odd sense of humor. I wouldn’t name my left testicle after one of those brutes.” As the blast doors closed safely behind us, the prickling on the back of my neck eased; though to be honest, it never actually goes away. That rumor my last lover spread about me sleeping with my boots on and a vibra knife under the pillow? Not a word of it true. It’s grav shoes and a blaster.

“Brutes? Oh, you refer to O.R.C.s.” How the dwarf managed to jam Capital Letters and periods into normal conversation, I have no idea. Something in his clone code, probably.

“Yeah, orcs. Big, dumb, terrible breath, and way too many of them infesting the galaxy.” I looked up the gangway into the unlit depths of the Orchetype. I wasn't sure I really wanted to go up there. Or meet the dwarf’s “Lady”. It’s one thing to sell illegal, rare genetic material of dubious quality to a crazy old wizard, it’s another to walk willingly into her lair.

“O.R.C.s,” corrected the dwarf again, passing me on the ramp. He muttered a long phrase into the ship’s security system, something bristling with Capitals and completely unintelligible, and the ship’s interior lit up like it was plugged into a planetary power stack.

“OK,” I breathed, as my eyes adjusted and my brain caught up to what I was seeing. “Color me impressed.”

The hold of the ship was stuffed with glowing trees. Or, maybe, Trees, since these were  rooted directly in the ceremsteel floor, made out of living jewels stretched into trunks and limbs, and reeking of magic. The dwarf himself looked stuffed with pride, and if it was his work, I could see why. I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I got over it quickly.

“Through there?” I asked. The dwarf led me through the fantastic forest and into the main cabin.

“Lady-Wizard Catlin Greystar,” he announced, now all major domo. “Trader Apollo Landing,” he continued, introducing me.

I'm not sure what I expected, but the wizard Greystar wasn’t it. She stood two meters plus and was draped in a black-as-space robe that must have been straight off a New Paris runway. Her grey hair flowed like silver from her high forehead to her trim, silver-belted waist. She appeared young at first, through magic or more mundane means, but her eyes showed her age. She was old. Very old.

“Mr. Landing.” The wizard’s voice was a rich, mesmerizing contralto. Magic, lad, I told myself. You hate magic, remember? “Thank you for joining me. A man in your profession prefers public places, I'm sure. But I assure you, you are not in any danger here.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve always considered myself adaptable.”

“An important trait for a smuggler.”

“Please,” I interrupted with a smirk, “I’m just a simple trader.”

“Who finds things that others want and will pay a great deal for.”

I spread my hands. “It’s a talent.”

The wizard waved me to a seat at a galley table. The dwarf stood against a bulkhead, fingering the handle of a small axe stuck through a gold-filigree belt.

“Of all the… traders who answered my advertisement,” Greystar began, “you are the only one who provided the details I was looking for. I would very much like to see the merchandise.”

I tried to look in those eyes to read the woman - was she going to do things the hard way or was she a straight dealer - but it was like staring into a black hole. And I'd come this far, figuring I could handle whatever came along. I pulled out a handscreen and fired it up.

“Please, Mr. Landing.” Greystar laid a cool hand on my own. “Only the actual material will do.”

I hate being rushed, but then, I hate dealing with wizards. I should have been born a few hundred years ago, when it was just humans out here in the stars. Then some scientist cloned up our ancient racial competitors out of a bunch of old bones she found on Sirius Five - dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls - and magic somehow came back into the universe along with them. I've heard the theories, but all they mean is that no one really understands any of this, unless it’s the wizards.

I pulled out a little black box and set it on the table in front of Greystar. The dwarf twitched when I reached my hand in my jacket. I moved nice and slow. No sense getting the little guy riled.

The wizard reached for the box. “Now, now,” I said. “It’s keyed to my voice, and’ll take your hand off if I don’t give the right command.”

I guess even magic has its limits. She pulled her hand back pretty quick.

“There’s the matter of payment.” I could almost feel the metas going into my account. Enough to buy my own ship again. I’d had a run of bad luck, until I’d won the little box in a poker match with a very drunk elf. Imagine my delight when I read Greystar’s advertisement and realized I was only a few cheap jumps from a good mutual meeting point.

“Could I interest you in some magic beans?” asked the wizard, arching one perfect white eyebrow.

“Ha ha,” I said.

“No, really. They’ll fetch a fortune on any cloud planet.”

I slid the box back an inch. “Ten thousand metas,” I said with more confidence than I felt. I couldn’t get a read on the woman.

Greystar nodded slightly over at the dwarf. “Baffin,” she said, “Would you please bring over the godmium?”

I barely kept from squealing like a kid with his first taste of buddha cream as the dwarf nonchalantly placed a shining silver sphere next to my little black box.

“More than you requested, I believe,” said the wizard. “But there will be some difficulty converting it to metas, so…”

I swallowed, and scanned the metal ball with my handscreen. The confirmationcame back with a distinct ping. “I believe this will do,” I said, with only a hint of greed. I reached to take the godmium, but the wizard stopped me with a shake of her head.

“Now, now.” She pointed at the box. “Your turn.”

I leaned over it and intoned: “One ring to rule them all.” The box chimed and a tiny keyhole appeared in its top.

“Really?” the wizard complained.

“The elf set the code!” I protested.

She turned her black eyes to mine, and I felt something pull on me like losing atmosphere from a leak in an airlock. “The key,” she said.

I don’t know why I hesitated, but I said, “What does O.R.C. stand for?”

“Orc?”

“No. O.R.C.”

“You're not saying it right,” put in the dwarf. “He means O.R.C., my Lady.”

“That’s what I said.”

“And if I answer your question, will you produce the key?” she asked, a little impatiently.

I nodded.

“Original Re-magicked Clone-type,” she said.

I was sliding down the fifteen kilometer slope of Mt. Pilgrim on Rigel Ten, and couldn’t stop until I knew everything. “Which means…”

Greystar smiled, and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “The O.R.C.s were my first creation. Their DNA was easier to work with than the dwarves and much less complicated than the elves with their eight MNA fiticules for every one of the four basic proteins in their DNA. Though I admit I made a few mistakes with the orcs. I'm really quite surprised how quickly they've re-produced.”

She sat back with something like satisfaction while I processed everything. She was relaxed and confident, which made me nervous and antsy. I don’t like feeling antsy. It's not my style.

Original Re-magicked Clones, I thought. Her first creations. Dwarves and elves with DNA and MNA. I didn’t like where this was going.

“I want that key, Mr. Landing,” said the wizard, her dark eyes burning. “I want that box. I want the precious  fragment of bone inside that box. More complicated than elves by magnitudes.” She sat back. “Because, really,” she mused, “What good is a Dark Lord without a Space Dragon?”

I took the deal, of course, and hightailed it to the other side of the galaxy as fast as my new ship could jump. Because, really, what good is a simple smuggler if he’s a dead hero?

« Last Edit: May 15, 2018, 10:57:57 AM by JMack »
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Offline bdcharles

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2018, 10:45:44 AM »
Fallen City

1438 words excl. title

Spoiler for Hiden:


The sky opened moments after I had finished playing with Casha Ampathy in the Rolling Meadow.

“Mama! Mama!” A finger pointed heavenwards. “The clouds!”

I looked up to see black swirls spinning across an angry firmament. Neryu the Protector must be woeful displeased; the Pages depict first the terrible storm, then the rain of spikes, and after that, Lady Plague would walk among us. So it is written. But all the books and teachings in the world can never quite prepare you for when a dread event comes to pass. We ran for the trees and threw deadwood over ourselves. It wouldn’t have saved us against a Charred siege, much less the wrath of a disappointed creator, but that’s what we did. Casha’s tiny body thrummed against mine.

“Who among us has displeased the mighty Neryu?” demanded Marcheld. None would withhold any sin from him – he’d sniff it out anyway – and none dare lie. “Who?”

A light wind ruffled the firs, zephyrs that the tempest pushes before it. We had nothing to say. Yet the sky further resolved itself into an oblong shadow of vengeance. Something was definitely coming. But if not Neryu’s ire, then what?



* * *


On the bridge of the Domina Morbus, red lights flashed their unmistakable message: Panic. Christopher “Kipper” Canroyd struggled against the steeply-sloping floor and seized a strut of the captain’s seat. It came away with a plastic snap.

This, he thought with curious calm, is what it feels like. We’re actually going down.

A barrage had hit them. Vipers from the Caustic Nebula or somewhere equally turbulent. But there were no reports of any in the area. A massive solar flare from one of the twin stars that now strobed past the metre-thick panes of sunglass in a sickening tumble? Maybe. Or perhaps a catastrophic system failure had done them in. There was a deep shudder from somewhere far below as they struck the atmosphere. Their first new world in over a hundred years, and here they were, crashing into it.

“Captain!” Toria Onimbla held a baton towards him. “Grab it! We can get you into the Pod!”

He seized the slick metal but it slipped out of his hand in a sheen of moisture. Existential death-sweat, he thought as klaxons warbled and shrieked all along the bridge. But his crew – Onimbla, Oscar Woodlight, Ferris McFadden and the others – would be looking to him, needing him to lead. Canroyd wiped his palm on his grey tunic and leapt, felt his wrist snared by the first mate’s tawny hand. The ship’s vast hull would be burning up, the lower levels breached, sucking out engineers, medics, passengers, cargo, everything into the burning rush of heat.



* * *


The shower of hard shards had passed, killing fully a third of our tribe but now something new was happening, something that the Pages had not accounted for.

A city was falling. From the sky. A city on a granite-grey blade that burned with a thousand flames, brighter than the fiery axe-head of the gods. And a rumble, a dire howl that seemed for all us Neryu’s Children to rise and rise and never abate.

Casha was screaming. “Mama! Mama! It’s too loud, make it stop!”

But I couldn’t, Marcheld and his bewitchments couldn’t, and our gibbered incantations yielded nothing except more noise. For many hours the city fell. My eardrums rebelled against the punishing airwaves that were laying waste to our tents and assaulting our treeline with a vitriolic fury. All we could do then was bury our heads in our arms and wait.



* * *


Hours passed in a traumatised wonder.

“Captain?” Onimbla’s was the first voice he heard. “Captain, are you all right?”

Was he all right? The Pod, a large zorb-shaped structure designed to protect the Domina Morbus’s top brass – any fleet ship’s top brass – seemed to be intact, but he couldn’t get the image of corpses whapping into the sunglass and disintegrating in a bloody shower out of his head. The final impact had been mercifully slow; the lower decks would have taken much of the brunt and there’d be precious little remaining of them. The Pod had done the rest.

“I’m all right,” he managed.

She turned, looked at something behind her. “Woodlight’s dead.”

Oscar Woodlight had been the closest thing Kipper Canroyd had to a friend on the bridge, in the whole fleet in fact. They had known each other since they were cadets, both green as a leaf and terrified of everything. The world suddenly seemed a little darker.

“I see.”

“But we’re alive, Kipper, and on an unexplored world.” Inexplicably she had found a bottle of champagne. Priorities, Canroyd supposed. You could always trust an officer to have a tipple handy. She produced two glasses. “Let’s drink to that.”

“Yes,” said Canroyd, struggling out of the mountains of protective foam. He daren’t think of what awaited them outside. Their glasses chinked. “To that.”



* * *


After what felt like a thousand rotations of Neryu’s thoughts, we looked up. The air was a biting grey fog that scalded the face and stole the breath, though the ripping din had ceased in a diabolical and ground-shaking thunder. I lessened my grip on the sides of Casha Ampathy’s head, for I worried that I had crushed her skull, but she seemed unhurt.

Unlike Marcheld.

Marcheld’s ears were bleeding and his skull seemed to have collapsed. He had dropped his staff, power gone, was on his knees, like us and staring at the fallen city. Above the ruined land, the sky had returned to such a shade of the purest azure that many wondered aloud whether Neryu had absolved us of whatever transgression we were guilty of, and was transporting us straight to Earthright. Were we dead? No. I looked around. Too messy. This couldn’t be Earthright; that was, according to the Pages, a place of cleanliness and restoration.

“Saddle up the Dawn Child!” A voice I didn’t recognise, but I knew the authority it carried. With Marcheld deafened, his son or another Gifted would rise up to lead us. And so it started and ended with the Dawn Child – our living physical embodiment of Neryu who would bear a hundred of our boldest warriors to whatever danger threatened us; in this case the fallen city.

Hordes of fighters swarmed up the sides of the winged terror, so high that its back seemed to touch the tattered fragments of cloud.



* * *


“Captain, you need to see this. Ferris, power up the drones.”

Canroyd peered through the scuffed porthole. An army of humanoid shapes studded with spears and bows, and a thousand wide, was advancing. And laid across both them and the slope down which they poured, a shadow, a horror-shape, he didn’t dare think what it was—

“Drones released,” shouted Ferris. At least the systems were still functioning, Canroyd thought. What was it that had hit them? He still didn’t know. It had felt like a giant fist. The swarm of tiny buglike machines went buzzing away through the opened Pod. There hadn’t been time to test the atmosphere. There were living creatures here; the plants and forests would have to be indication enough. Ferris squeezed himself into the tiny control dock. His hands flew across the console.

It had just been the three of them, then, that survived. Drink to that, Onimbla’s voice said inside his mind. And for once that seemed like good advice. The shadow raced across the rolling meadow.



* * *


The Dawn Child disappeared into the humming mass that closed, re-opened, like a black flower but fast, very fast, a flexing fist. Sparks flew, and for a long time we heard, almost as loud as the awful artefact that had descended from the heavens, her tearing roar, snapping and biting at the thousands of terrible pests that beset her.

But soon, even that grew quieter and less frequent. Later, pumps of sound came from the strange city that had fallen onto those distant fields, heavy wallops which cast invisible shocks through her wings until they were as torn up as old cheesecloth. Our hearts went out to her. Casha’s face was streaked by tears and in the end, the vile bugs hung the Dawn Child in the air like Infolk raiders displaying a flayed victim. I imagine that all who rode on her back had died. They would rip her apart now, pull her wings from her body and disappear down her throat, ending her life that way.

But they don’t know what happens when you slay such a being.


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Offline OnlyOneHighlander

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2018, 01:57:21 PM »

"So many worlds to conquer"

I tried here to mix fantasy and sci-fi with a war story/rebels against incredible odds aesthetic. A lot of the inspiration came from the scenes of the future in the early Terminator movies, where it's grittier than a quarry worker's lunchbox. It's 1496 words. Hope you like it.

Spoiler for Hiden:

The sewer meant safety. Alabaster Scroll peered cautiously out of the window of the cellar he’d hidden in for the better part of a day. He’d managed to avoid the patrols stomping through the smouldering remains of the once great city of Moot and now, with the cover of night rising, he was ready to make the final dash to Cover 67.

His once bright robes were washed ash grey and he’d cut his hair and beard to a close crop with his dagger after they’d become caked in blood and grime. A week is a long time in a war, he thought. He’d stolen a precious few moments of sleep through the day but each one ended with him gripped in terror, mind flicking back to the days before, to the coming of the sky ships, to the siege from the air, to the scouring of the city, to friends faces already fading, and to the slow rumble of more buildings succumbing to the weapons from above and the fires burning uncontrolled. But this short rest was going to have to be enough. He had a mission to finish and a promise to keep.

He gripped the broken window frame and checked the rubble of the surrounding streets for signs of movement. A bank of cloud cleared from Gripon Square, revealing a tangle of charred merchant stalls. Beside one of the blackened stalls, the grey figure of one of the traders, the flaking ash of his face staring upwards in terror, shouted a silent warning, forever silenced. Scroll had passed the figure two days ago, and already the wind was wearing down the remains like a statue in the desert. Soon all would be dust.

But the square was quiet. It was now or never.

Scroll checked his satchel one last time. The book rattled against its chains within. The Arcane Library had spent centuries keeping the dreaded tome from falling into the wrong hands. Scroll hoped it was worth the hype.

Scroll heaved himself out of his bolt hole, scrambled to his feet, and broke into a full sprint across the square.

Long shadows reached out from the buildings ahead. Scroll skirted around the burned-out market stalls and the crumbling Ozymandias before locking eyes on the iron manhole cover that led to temporary safety. Still running, he reached for the pry bar on his belt. As he gripped it, a blast of laser fire scorched past his shoulder and smashed through the stained-glass window of the Merchant Guildhall, throwing shards of fused, coloured glass across the cobbles.

‘Halt mage! In the name of Gigamesh!’ Three invaders on a hovership rushed over the broken market stalls, the jets from their flight engines crushing the brittle charcoal and releasing the dead trader to the winds.

‘I’d rather not actually,’ shouted Scroll, racing towards the sewer cover.

‘Then die,’ shouted the lead invader and his two companions opened up a volley of boiling laser fire.

Scroll dived into the dirt as the deadly blots flew across his head. He looked back at the hovership, closing in, and then to the sewer cover. But instead of the iron circle he expected, his eyes met twelve huge moss-covered toes.

‘Topaz!’ he yelled, looking up at the gigantic troll. ‘Great to see you. A little help?’

Topaz glanced down at the mage, the heavy sewer lid held in her massive hands. ‘This doesn’t mean I like you, Scroll,’ she said hurling the sewer cover at the hovership.

‘I love you too, Topaz,’ said Scroll as the deadly discus struck the invader’s ship in the bow, tipping it end-over-end and throwing its occupants into the dirt.

‘Dover is waiting for you under Chamber Hill Street.’

‘What about them?’ Scroll looked back at the invaders. They were heaving themselves to their feet and didn’t look pleased to have solid ground under them.

‘I’ll handle them. You get the book to Dover.’

‘Thanks Topaz. Did anyone else make it back?’

‘Mourn later, Scroll.’ The troll cracked her huge knuckles and waded through the smoke-filled square.

*

The Immortal Gigamesh stood on the bridge of his Black Ark and surveyed his legions’ work. He’d been promised this city was the most powerful on the whole planet, but there it was in ruins, like so many before it. Hardly worth the time.

‘Report, Admiral,’ he growled.

Admiral Mosul approached his master’s dais. ‘The scouring is nearly complete, sire. The final remnants of the population have been driven underground.’

‘And how do you plan to deal with these remnants, Admiral?’ Gigamesh turned his back on the devastation below.

‘How we always deal with rats, sire. I’m going to drown them.’

‘Very good, Admiral. Have the scout ships sent back to space and see if we can’t find a more testing challenge. This invasion has been a significant disappointment.’

‘I am sorry, Mighty Gigamesh.’

‘Not yet, Admiral. But you will be.’

*

Dover glowered over a map of the city, its once intricate lines now scratched and marked to show roads blocked, bridges destroyed and known enemy positions. The sickly light struggling against the dark of the cavernous Chamber Hall Street sewer made the old orc’s skin look more brown than green and transformed his hardly sunny disposition into a shadow at midnight.

‘You better have good news, Scroll,’ he growled through tusks and ever-present cigar.

‘I’m alive, aren’t I?’ said Scroll, joining Dover at the map table.

‘You’ll have to do better than that. Do you have it?’

Scroll dropped the lock grimoire onto the map of Moot. ‘Have you chosen a place for the ritual?’ he asked.
‘Gallows Hill,’ said Dover, taking a long drag from his cigar, the end glowing in the gloom.

‘You sure?’ asked Scroll.

Dover plucked the cigar from his mouth and stabbed the burning end in to the spot marked on the map. ‘Dead certain.’

*

The Black Ark hung like a shroud across the ruins of Moot. The rest of Gigamesh’s invasion fleet had spread across the planet, bringing other cities to heel and smashing those who still dared resist. Soon it would be just another world in the ever-expanding empire of the immortal titan.

Gigamesh hadn’t set out to be a conqueror. Quite the opposite. But power inevitably draws followers and if tools came into his hands, why not use them.

‘We are ready, sire.’ Admiral Mosul approached his master. ‘We will open a portal to the Ocean of Caliban and wash the whole city from the map. Would you like to give the order?’

But Gigamesh turned away from his observation platform. ‘No, Admiral. You do the honours. I’ve seen enough of this world.’

‘Admiral!’ The Black Ark’s science officer called across the bridge. ‘We’re detecting a significant energy build-up in the city.’

Gigamesh paused as the Admiral rushed to inspect the ship’s readout.

‘What kind of energy, Lieutenant?’

‘Unknown, sir. But it is growing exponentially. Readings off the charts, sir.’

‘Show me.’ The Lieutenant trembled as Gigamesh himself leaned over his console.

‘Ye, ye, yes, my lord.’ He hit a button and the main display screen changed to an image of a hill on the far side of the city. The slopes of the hill were covered in tombs and grave markers, while the very top was crowned with an expanding dome of arching blue energy.

‘Should we fire on it, sire?’ Admiral Mosul asked.

‘No,’ the Eternal Emperor let a smile edge across his face. ‘I will deal with this personally.’

*

The magical field swirled around Scroll as he chanted the incantation, the grimoire open in front of him.
Dover, Topaz and the remaining rebels sheltered in a nearby crypt as the blue dome of magic grew brighter and brighter.

‘How will we know if it’s working?’ Topaz shouted over the coursing magical tides.

‘This is my family’s crypt,’ Dover shouted back. ‘When my mum gets here, we know it’s working.’

As the old orc spoke, blue tendrils rose from the restless earth around his feet. They were soon joined by hundreds more, rising from every grave, a whole army.

*

Scroll finished the incantation as the magical winds reached their peak. On the final words the dome of energy raced outwards, covering the whole city, before it split and dissipated. As the blue energy field faded, he saw for the first time the face of his enemy.

Gigamesh’s personal hovership touched down on the edge of the graveyard and the Immortal Titan stepped onto Mootian soil. All around him, the army of the dead picked up spectral weapons and formed into ranks. Scroll, his hair turned pure white by the effort of using the Necromancer’s Bible, shouted a challenge. ‘Gigamesh, I presume?’

‘Yes, worm,’ replied the terror of systems.

‘Prepare to face death,’ Scroll shouted, stretching out his mind to take control of his new army. To his surprise, the Beast from the Void smiled.

‘Gladly,’ said Gigamesh. ‘I’ve been waiting for this.’

***
“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” Neil Gaiman

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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2018, 05:17:49 PM »
Against The Lightning

1277 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Another flash lit up the sky, the clouds blossoming with light from above. Whatever great battle was transpiring in Heaven, it was more fierce than the battle below could ever be.
   Tahnek gripped his shield tighter and tucked his head down. There would be a time for the Gods later. Now he had to focus on his own survival. He tuned out the flashes above, and breathed. Slowly, deliberately, falling in sync with the hundred other men who made up the shieldwall. Bekan was to the left of him, the man on his right unfamiliar.
   “Are you ready for this?” hissed Bekan through clenched teeth.
   “Yes,” Tahnek lied.
   The unfamiliar man spat blood and phlegm. “How is anyone supposed to be ready for this?”
   “If the Gods fight, then so do I,” declared someone further down the line.”
   “And I,” called someone else, followed by another “And I” from beside him. The pledge travelled the length of the shieldwall, and Bekan smiled at Tahnek.
   “You see? We are ready. And if we die, we do so as brothers.”
   Tahnek nodded and steeled his resolve. He wanted to live more than he could say. But if he was to die this day, there could be no better company.
   The ground nearby exploded, sending clumps of dirt crashing into Tahnek’s shield and across his face. He stayed firm, but his heart pounded like a festival drum. They are almost here.
   “On me!” cried a voice. Tahnek did not recognise the speaker, but it had to be the leader of the line. No one else would dare give commands. “They are here,” the speaker continued, his voice echoing down the line. “We march as one. Death or Heaven!”
   “Death or Heaven!” Tahnek cried back, his voice joining a hundred others.
   The shieldwall stepped forward as one. One step at a time, they advanced across the churned earth of the battlefield.Each pace punctuated by a collective grunt.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   “Hold.”
   The commander’s voice brought the line to an instant stop. A moment passed without further instruction, and Tahnek risked a peek over the rim of his shield.
   A Royal Mage stood a hundred paces ahead of the shieldwall. Soil and dirt swirled around her in a vortex, her bright green robes twisting around her thin body. Her hands moved too fast for the mortal eye to comprehend as she wove a spell. No wonder they’d stopped. A Mage in the midst of battle was just as much a threat to her own side as to her enemies.
   Facing the Mage was a line of the Invaders. It looked like they wore no armour, but Tahnek had hear stories of how the fabric of their white shirts turned aside even the sharpest of blades. To a man, they were armed with the ferocious thunder-rods that had made them so feared. The lightning-spitting tubes could decimate a line of infantry from a thousand paces.
   Or so Tahnek had heard. He had not encountered them in person until this day. He silently prayed that he would not encounter them again.
   The thunder-rods hissed and spat at the Mage. Light flashed from the weapons, like sparks spitting from a fatty fire. The shieldwall braced as one, locking shields tighter as if that would protect them from the sorcery employed by the Invaders. Tahnek tucked his head down and readied himself for the hot sting of death.
   But it did not come.
   The Mage spread her arms wide, like a dancer taking a bow. The swirling debris around her flew across the gap to the Invaders’ line. Clumps of blood-soaked soil and chunks of broken rock intercepted the lightning strikes. The resulting spray of dust and pebbles spattered against Tahnek’s shield with a rattle.
   The Mage spoke. “Advance. While they recharge.”
   As the Invaders fumbled with their rods, the shieldwall took another unified step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Bekan and Tahnek stepped aside to allow the Mage through the line before closing the gap once more, all without falling out of step with the shieldwall. This, absolute unity even in the thick of battle, was what they had trained for all these years. As they marched on, the Mage followed four paces behind, weaving another spell and mumbling in the forbidden language of the Gods.
   “Spears ready!” called the line’s commander.
   Continuing their advance, Tahnek and the others raised their spears - an iron tip on a seven foot wooden shaft - so that the tip was at the height of an Invader’s throat. His heart hammered in his chest - he could feel it throbbing against his strained lungs.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   Step.
   Hargh.
   And then they were in range. With a shout that was equal parts anger and fear, Tahnek stabbed furiously at the Invader before him. Again and again he thrust his spear at the white-clad fiend, but the tip never penetrated the Invader’s armour. The iron skittered across the surface and away from Tahnek’s target. Up and down the line, everyone was experiencing the same issue.
   The Invaders responded by using their fell weaponry as clubs. It seemed even sorcery had its limits, and close range combat was one of them. The spears could hold them at bay, but not make any progress. Like the ancient tale of Makki and the bear, it seemed they could fight forever.
   At least it did until the Mage finished her spell. A black word flew from her lips, and the ground shook underfoot. The shieldwall stood firm, but the Invaders were clearly caught by surprise. They stumbled back, exposing their unarmoured throats and faces.
   “Now!” cried the line commander.
   Tahnek did not need to be told twice. He jabbed out with his spear, catching a recoiling Invader across the temple. The blood was a startlingly vivid blue.
   The Invader snarled and raised his rod for a retaliatory strike.
   Tahnek, crushed between Bekan and another man, found himself unable to move away from the blow.             
   Gritting his teeth and planting his feet firmly on the earth, he gave the Invader a roar of defiance.
   As the rod came down on Tahnek’s shield, the Invader was flung backwards. A spear of hardened earth took him through the gut and carried him into the air. He gasped as blue blood burst from his broken body. The same death struck many other Invaders, though some managed to react fast enough to avoid such a fate.
   The Mage lowered her arms. “Push the advantage,” she ordered. “I have done all I can for you.”
   Tahnek held his spear aloft and cried out, “We are winning. Onward. Onward to glory!”
   The shieldwall broke as each man and woman sought their own prey. Lightning spat at them as the downed their foes, but it served only to anger those who survived. The Invaders broke too, but into retreat. Whatever sorcery the Invaders had relied on, the Mage’s spell had broken them. This was no longer a battle, it was a massacre.
   Tahnek drove his spear into a fallen Invader’s neck, relishing in the gurgling death he wrought.
   Bekan appeared at his side. “The field is ours,” he said simply.
   Tahnek nodded, pulling his spear free of the Invader’s corpse. What little remained of their forces had scattered and was in full retreat. “They will bring more next time,” he said.
   “Maybe. But that is a problem for another day.” He patted Tahnek’s shoulder. “Victory is ours.”
   Overhead, the clouds parted. The lightning had ceased, and the massive silver God of the Invaders was fleeing with them.
   Victory indeed. But how long could it last?
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Offline Carter

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2018, 10:04:46 PM »
Here's mine for the month, coming in at 1498 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Exhumation

“What do you desire?”

The voice resonated inside Alana's head.  Amidst the grime, the dirt and the sweltering heat of her trench, it was her only company.  Unlike the other members of the expedition, even Verania, she had not succumbed to its dispassionate question.  Instead she focused on the secrets the steppes were slowly revealing to her.

A scrape of her trowel, a soft breath, and another potsherd emerged.  Ochre and cyan pigments whirled on the surface together as she carefully brushed it clean.  On the reverse she saw the tell-tale dark stain she had grown accustomed to; yet another piece of funereal urn.  She tossed it amidst the others.

It was becoming increasingly frustrating.  From the tales of this place from local, oral legends, she had expected much more.  Myth spoke of an ancient civilisation based here, of farms and cultivation, of buildings and culture.  Yet however deep she dug, all she discovered was dry, loose soil and countless porcelain shards that spoke only of a mass grave. 

“What do you desire?”

The voice almost seemed to hear her desperation; her craving for some earth-shattering discovery that would dwarf anything Verania might accomplish with her random, thoughtless excavations.  But she had taken the shamanic warnings from the few surviving texts and the Arenii people to heart.  There were too many signs of deeply hidden truths to ignore. 

For so long she and Verania had thought them to be just cautionary fables.  It was only through their work on the oral traditions of the Gularan nomads, after Alana had spent two years with their wise-women, that they had come to believe otherwise.  A published paper of their findings and somehow Verania had secured funding from the Melustian Elders for an expedition.

And yet now she regretted every moment of it. 

Had this new Verania lurked beneath the surface all that time?  Had she always longed for the great, single archaeological discovery at the cost of all else?  Or was it somehow a symptom of what they had discovered since arriving at the site?

The answer no longer mattered.  For all they had shared, for all their joint academic achievements, they no longer spoke.  She just wished Verania had left her at least one assistant instead of commandeering every last one for her folly.

“What do you desire?”

She needed a break.  Overhead the sky had darkened, only an amber glow reminiscent of the earlier blazing sunshine.  The temperature in her trench was plummeting and it was becoming more difficult to resist the pressure of holding herself apart from the voice.  She stretched and began her ascent up the ladder.  She craved a bath, even a dip in the river.  Grime, dust and sweat clung to her in a sticky mess.  To slough it all off along with her concerns would be a luxury. 

“What do you desire?”

She frowned.  It was too soon after the last one.  The frequency had remained largely constant.  Any change worried her.

Once extricated from her trench, she saw it.  A makeshift canopy stretched across Verania's latest shaft.  None of the other abandoned holes had warranted such attention.  Normally a day, two at most, and she moved on to the next attempted delve.  This was worrying.  In the quiet of dusk, she could still hear distant digging and the working songs of labourers.  Only now, gone was some of the drudgery.  Instead she detected hope and enthusiasm.

She crossed the scratchy, sparse grasses to investigate. 

Brushing aside a tarpaulin, she froze.  Verania had brought the crates all the way from Meluthis, refusing to offer any final explanation.  And now here they lay, opened and emptied.  Her chest felt hollow. 

A single worker stood atop the pit, peering into its depths. 

“What's happening Georg?”

He started and almost toppled.  When he turned, a wide grin split his face. 

“We're almost there.  Verania says it's just a few more feet and we'll be at the edge.”

“The edge of what?”

He gave her a strange look, as if he had only now realised who she was and remembered the arguments around the campfires.  Fortunately, it did not stop him divulging the truth.

“The metal entrance.  We found it this morning.  A giant, thick sheet of it.  Verania says if we find an edge or a flaw then - ”

His eyes flicked to the crates.  Her blood ran cold.  Before she could ask a flood of workers surged up and over the edge. 

“Get back,” said the first.  “She's found it and she's going in.”

She stood still as they flowed around her, ignoring her presence as they sought to get away.  Every face showed only delight.  Not a single one was disturbed by events.  That was her burden.  She waited until Verania appeared, nonchalantly climbing out of the pit, her face plastered with a beaming grin Alana had long associated with some magnificent discovery.  One that she had so often shared.  Now she felt only dread. 

“What are you doing?”

“I'm getting her out,” she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. 

Fire flickered at Verania's fingertips as she looked back over the edge.  Nausea filled her throat. 

“You can't.  You'll destroy the whole area.  Think about this.  Please.”

“She's told me it will be fine.  There's a cavern.  Large enough for all the disturbed earth.”

“No.  I mean that too.  But you can't let it out.  You don't know what you're doing.”

“You always were so naïve.  You think we came for the history?  You think the Elders funded us to scrape around in the dirt?  For worthless rubbish?”

The words shocked her, rooted her to spot as sparks dripped into the depths.  Verania ran and she had the sense to follow.  In scant moments she was flung forwards, the earth plummeting beneath her feet as a tremendous explosion rippled beneath her feet.  The ground twisted and bucked; a wild, angry beast roused from slumber.  The roaring of a thousand storms assaulted her ears.  Soil spattered like rain across her skin.   

The soil dropped and together they slid back towards the pit.  The particulate scratched against her skin, igniting lines of fire across her body.  She looked over her shoulder and her heart stilled. 

Beneath her yawned a gigantic maw.  Shards of metal twisted into distorted teeth.  As she watched multi-hued lights twinkled into existence like earth-bound stars.  A deep hum thrummed, making the soil dance and itch. 

“She's mine!  She's mine!”

Almost she could have mistaken Verania's shout for the voice in her head.  And that more than anything threatened to paralyse her.  In her absence, in her self-imposed exile in her trench, she had missed something essential being torn out of her former friend to be replaced with something other, something alien.

They slid to a stop on cold metal.  Around them the walls were studded with glittering lights.  The floor, those areas not strewn with soil and dirt, was covered in detritus. 

No.

Not detritus.

Shards of pottery. 

Funereal urns.

Slowly, too slowly, her mind began to work.  Alongside her Verania gingerly got to her feet, peering around and searching for something.

“Verania!  Stop!  Please stop!  Listen to me.  We have to get out of here.  We have to bury this place!”

She did not listen.  Instead Verania disappeared into a still dark corridor.  Thoughts continued to chase each other around her brain.  Everything she knew about the steppes, about the oral traditions of its people, it all crashed together, eroding away the tales to a potential kernel of truth.  A single piece of mosaic amidst a sea of broken pots. 

A mass grave.  Some vast underground cavern.  A buried cavern.  A forgotten civilisation.  Deliberately perhaps?  Some catastrophe?  Unlikely given other tales.  It had to be something they had done.  Something created?  Something unleashed?  Some demon of metal?  Offering wishes like a djinn of legend?  Twisting them into something else?

It fitted together with jagged, ragged edges, missing pieces and gaping flaws.  Yet it held together.  Just.  And the Elders had funded them.  Had Verania thought this far ahead?  Had she known and said nothing?

She felt betrayed.  By the Elders.  By the city.  By her closest friend.  And all she wanted was to put an end to it.  To the hidden plotting.  To their stupidity and short-sightedness.  Their willingness ot risk everything on a dangerous rumour. 

“Granted.  I will go to Meluthis and grant your request.”

Her mind went blank.  She stopped her thoughts, her mind hammering.  What had she done?  What had she suggested?

From the dark corridor strode two figures.  One she recognised but she was dwarfed by a shining, metallic being.  It echoed a woman's shape but golden, gleaming and unmistakably fashioned from nothing but metal. 

“Did you hear Alana?  Isn't it wonderful!  She has agreed to come back with us.”

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [May 2018] - Magic and Technology - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2018, 09:54:31 AM »
1492 words

The Forbidden

Spoiler for Hiden:

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--" her uncle, murdered in battle "--listen--" 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," Jace shouted from the rear, his voice unsteady.

"We're lost,” Aleus brooded.

“He is right, grandaughter,” 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," she 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!

"We can bring you what we promised.” A hiss.

"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 lie 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. A 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, when she found another sign marked "LAUNCH" 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.”
« Last Edit: June 03, 2018, 03:55:03 PM by Bradley Darewood »