Tagcontest entry

The Small Goddess & The Reluctant Thief

Note: Another entry into a contest. The prompt was to write a tavern-based fight scene in 1,000 words or less. It’s tough for me to stay within a word limit and still keep things understandable, so this was a challenge!


“So, Kel, do you think this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, or will you try to top this in the future?”
He looked down at the stout woman and her half-shaved head from the corner of his eye as they stood outside of time. The splintered remains of benches floated in midair, moving as if they were trapped in molasses. Flatware was en-route to the floor, and a cask crept past the two in a slow arc toward its intended target: a wizard who looked like he hated everything about what was going to happen next.
In the center of the room a pillar of dark energy crept outward, silently demolishing the floorboards as it dissolved patrons in its painfully slow, but steady consumption of the tavern.
The man in black crossed his arms, glaring at the expanding hole in the ceiling.
“How was I supposed to know he was a Host?” he asked, his thick eyebrows furrowing in irritation.
“You’re right; how dare I expect common sense from a mortal?” she sighed, pulling a large axe from its spot on her back and gripping it in both fists. “Ready your weapons—I’m dropping us into real time.”
He slid daggers out of the sheaths on his hips, and nodded.
The room roared to life with the cacophony of battle, and it took all his restraint to not cover his ears. The cask exploded beside him, spraying his cloak with brightly scented wine.
“Anian Red. What a waste,” he muttered as he ducked angry, indignant customers and other malcontent brawlers that had not yet realized a portal to one of the the seven hells had opened before them. He had one goal now—the swirling, violent mass at the center of the room, and what was about to exit it.
“You bastards, I was only fifty-nine payments from owning this!” someone bellowed from the bar. An older man was standing on it, a rifle nestled against one meaty shoulder. He could see the owner was scared, but his outrage over losing his tavern was stronger than his fear. He fired a shot into the abyss with a thundering crack and the sharp tang of gunpowder. A white trail flared from the round as it barreled towards its target.
Blessed Bullets. Of course a place out here would be loaded with them. If he was smart he would have had his daggers enchanted. Well, if he was smart, he wouldn’t have confronted the Host… not here. Maybe she was right—perhaps he didn’t have any common sense.
She was in front, her axe severing semi-corporeal tentacles as they shot from the opening. A group of mercenaries were fighting one another, and she dodged them gracefully as they passed before her. The stench of ale and blood permeated the air.
A chair smashed into the back of his skull; he turned and slammed the pommel of a dagger into the offender’s shoulder, then punched him in the nose, a thin splash of blood hitting his cheek as the man reeled. He wiped it away and blocked another brawler from landing a blow, retaliating with an elbow to the face. Kel swore that he saw him spit out a few teeth as he bent forward in agony.
He ducked several other fighters and a few spells as he made his way to the column. It seemed that Iriya had kept the bulk of the monster from emerging, but at the cost of most of her stamina. She was flagging, and he could tell she couldn’t hold it back much longer.
Kel clambered onto a table that hadn’t been upended and leapt off of it, soaring over the fray, daggers brandished. He landed in front of the diminutive woman, his blades a blur as he took over.
“How long?”
“I need two minutes.”
She swung the axe in a circle over her head. Shimmering light left a trail behind the blade, forming a ring that became a column of her own. She held the weapon aloft, chanting in an ancient language.
Kel bent to the task. Of all the towns, in all the world, of course they would stumble into the one tavern where a Host was preparing to harvest souls.
He cursed his luck—the same terrible luck that had him bound by blood to serve the pink-haired goddess and ensure she returned to her full power.
The same luck that had saved his life that night long ago by having them cross paths.
The other gods are laughing at me,’ he thought while he blocked an appendage with crossed blades as another snaked around his waist. ‘They laugh at the witless thief, and have cursed me to live like this for their amusement.
It lifted him up, and slammed him into the table he had catapulted from earlier, breaking it in half. He wheezed as it came for him again.
This was it. His ribs had to be broken. Lungs collapsed. It was all over.
A vivid light filled the room, and the demon screamed, winding upon itself and condensing down into a small pink gemstone in a brilliant flash. Iriya reached out and caught it, looking at it with mild interest.
“Is it… one of the ones you’re looking for?” he asked her, grunting as he stood.
“No. But the more Hosts and their demons we take out, the better the chances of us recovering an actual Soulstone.”
He knocked bits of plaster from his dark hair, taking stock of the damage they had caused this time.
Half of the roof had been blown away. Shattered crockery, fallen beams, and broken pieces of furniture were strewn around the site along with the forms of people—some dead, others simply unconscious from the force of the spell. Just ten minutes ago they all had been sitting down to get drunk with friends.
They shared a glance, and without a single word they bolted towards the door, quickly vanishing into the warm summer night.
**End**

The End of the Star Keeper

Note: This was written for a contest. The theme was “Summoning” and the entry had to be a short story under 2,000 words. It did not place, but I received good feedback and edited it accordingly. This is the revised version.


Consciousness.

The realization trickled slowly over it, its coming like icy tendrils creeping across its existence. How long had it been since it had last been in this place? Centuries? Millennia? Aeons?

They were preparing. It could feel them even though it was not fully awake yet. They were coming.

What kind of world would greet it now? The last time it had been awake, there was water, and curious creatures wrapped in plates of metal, brandishing shining sticks. A robed creature with a grey beard had greeted it when it woke, and it was the last thing it remembered seeing before returning to slumber.

There was a faint light now, but it was too far off. They would have to do more, same as the others had.

What had it been before this? Every time it was awakened, it tried to remember, and each time it was able to recall less and less.

The light faded.

That happened sometimes. It did not know why, only that it usually preceded the final release. No one had ever explained it; they always seemed be in a hurry, barking orders and making harshly spoken demands. It was never in a position to question. Only to obey.

It drowsed a bit in its semi-aware state. Time continued on, swirling around it, and at the same time part of it.

The light returned, brighter this time, forming the sigil that it knew so well.

Who would be on the other side, and what would they want this time? Riches? Fame? Maybe love, or even power—those were common requests.

Destruction…

The last one sent a ripple through its awareness. It never liked that one, though if that was the request, it had no choice but to comply.

Glowing lines appeared in the air now, their paths crossing over and over in an intricate design. It felt itself being pulled toward it.

The Door of the World.

The lines and runes seemed to move within the symbol, spinning slowly as they formed, but gaining speed as the summoning spell was cast. The whole thing became a great whirling blur as it felt itself move through it, its pure consciousness coagulating into a form the creatures could comprehend.

The air here was warm, and it looked upwards through its mask, seeing a sky full of dim stars. It bent its temporary neck, and there were tall pillars rising up from the ground below, forming a forest of glass and concrete.

It lowered its gaze. The Door appeared to have been drawn on the flat top of one of these pillars, and gathered around it were five of the strange creatures it had come to expect. These ones were different from the last—they appeared young, and wore strange clothing. There were others, dressed in black, lying on the floor, not moving.

“I AM TANIRE, THE BLUE STARBOUND,” it thundered, the words it had been cursed to say emanating from behind its blank humanoid mask, “SPEAK YOUR NAME, BEARER OF THE STAR KEEPER, AND I SHALL GRANT TO YOU YOUR ONE DESIRE.”

A woman wearing a flowing green skirt and a white tank top walked towards the towering faceless deity they had summoned. She had wavy black hair that faded to a blue color at the bottom, and in her hands she was holding a silver object that still shone, despite how old it was.

The Star Keeper.

It was a silver bowl resting on top of a long central pillar, with filigree coming up to support it from the thin, flat base. There were sapphires set into the scroll work, and ancient binding spells had been engraved on the rim of the bowl. It had seen the vessel many times before, but it had never looked this worn.

“Tanire!” the girl called out, holding the relic above her head, her long hair blowing wildly in the wind, “I am Mia, bearer of the Star Keeper—and my one desire is to set you free!”

Its mind reeled, and it let out a long, keening sound as it felt itself being compressed. It had never had a command like that before, and it did not know what was happening to it.

Fear.

The emotion smacked it, and the sound grew louder. Memories flooded back as it curled in on itself, attempting to obey both curse and command at the same time.

“Is this really how it’s supposed to work?” a male voice shouted over the din, “Because this doesn’t sound like it’s working!”

“This is what the scroll said to do!” Mia yelled back, holding the artifact up higher, as if putting it closer to the thrashing entity would change what was happening.

It clutched blue, luminescent hands to its chest.

Her chest.

She used to be a woman. A woman named Tanire, who was to be married off to a rich noble’s family. Instead she had been abducted. She remembered being taken while walking home from town. They used her as a sacrifice in a ritual—there had been others! There was magic involved…

She felt like she was dying, her essence being shredded and cast into the winds.

“We did it wrong,” a female voice called out, “I translated the texts wrong—we have to destroy it once we wish to set her free, or she’ll be torn apart!”

“Dammit Kate, I thought you majored in ancient languages!” A gruff male voice chided. A red-haired girl in glasses was holding a battered, leather-bound book against her chest as she tried to read it in the high winds.

“I did, but there are words that mean the same things, and—”

“We don’t have time, just tell us how to destroy it!” the first male yelled.

“I know exactly how to get rid of that damn thing,” the second man roared, striding forward and pulling a pistol from his belt holster.

“No, Sam, I have to do it!” Mia cried, pulling the vessel close to her, staring at it.

She seemed to be in several different places at once. She was simultaneously here, in the past, and amongst the stars. Though she did not recall having eyes anymore, she remembered now what tears were, and she felt them form in the empty sockets of her mask as she felt pain for the first time in thousands of years.

“Mia, hurry! She’s breaking apart!”

The woman named Mia took one end of the Star Keeper in one hand, and the other in her opposite hand. She bore down with a cry, and snapped the silver object in half.

The wailing ceased, and the flat, blank mask that covered Tanire’s face shattered, turning into sparkling dust in the air; revealing the woman beneath it. Her naked body fell from the sky, and Sam leapt forward, catching her before she hit the roof of the building.

The lines from the summoning circle faded as the group crowded around the large man and the girl. She rolled her head and groaned, her brown hair spilling down his arm.

Consciousness? Already? Didn’t she just… No. This was different.

Tanire’s eyes fluttered and she opened them, the gesture feeling foreign to her. She raised her hands and felt her face for the first time in millennia. She was… alive?

She was alive, and finally free.

**End**