Another Friday, another of fellow-writer T.S. Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” challenges answered. Honestly, I didn’t think I would be able to do this one. Between school and career obligations, and not feeling terribly inspired this week, I wasn’t sure I had a new story in me this week.
I was partly wrong. It’s not an original premise, but I think it’s a half-decent little story. It’s a little longer, at about 1,180 words. This week’s challenge was to:
Write a story (1000 words or less) that incorporates a variety of pacing. The theme for this week, “red”.
I thought, if I was going to succeed at this, I wanted to begin in medias res. Which, for some reason, meant an explosion, to me. Okay, so there was an explosion. Now what? The next question was “will it be a fantasy or a science fiction?”
I’ll let you be the judge of that. I call this little piece of flash fiction:
After the Quest is Done
By: Stephen Watkins
The explosion ripped through tree and rock, shearing shards into deadly shrapnel. Fire rained on the trampled brown grass, catching it ablaze. The concussive force knocked Cadoc back. He hit the ground with a thud, and he knew his arm was broken. Pain shot through his left side. He was still surprised every time at just how bad it really hurt. He rolled to his right side and pushed himself up. He caught the scent of sulfur just in time to avoid another blast. He dodged left and right. Streams of flame and lances of light fell around him. The air gleamed with the energy of powerful magicks.
Cadoc dove behind a large outcropping of rock. His chest heaved with the exertion. He only had a moment, so he quickly checked his stats. Damn. His HP were almost exhausted. And he only had enough MP left for one final assault. He was down to his last healing potion.
There was a time when he would’ve thrown caution to the wind. If he failed, there was always next time, right? But things change. Getting ghosted had become more than just an inconvenience.
Cadoc glanced over the rock. The dragon was still raging, but his teammates had its attention. Marlock’s spells glowed as meteorites pelted the dragon’s adamantine skin. Artemia’s enchanted arrows detonated with each strike. But still the dragon had a massive amount of HP left. There was no help for it. The only hope was a critical strike. Cadoc nodded and downed the last potion in his inventory.
The enchanted sword, The Glittering Retribution of the Seventeen Saints, appeared in Cadoc’s hand. “Buff!” he shouted, knowing his teammates would hear him, even if he couldn’t hear them above the din and roar of the dragon’s fury.
He launched himself around the boulder, holding the Glittering Retribution aloft. He roared as he rushed the dragon. He felt the healing warmth of the potion take effect. There was no time to check, but he sensed the boost in stats provided by Peregrine’s spells.
“Hold the dragon’s attention!” Cadoc yelled. “I need to get close for a critical strike!”
Artemia triggered her Rain of Hail Fire ability, trying to pull the dragon’s aggression toward her. A dozen burning, freezing arrows struck the beast at once.
Cadoc’s sword glowed bright. Sparks of energy trailed as he ran. He danced in and out of the rain of hail and fire, rolled beneath a blast of blue and yellow light. The dragon roared angry defiance. Claws flashed in the air, and teeth ripped through the sparking ghosts of light. Cadoc’s ears thundered, sweat streamed from his brow. He leaped. He was on the dragon’s back. The monster’s tail lashed at him like a whip. His HP were dropping like rocks in a pond. There were only seconds left. He had to hold on! The dragon’s HP weren’t low enough for the strike to finish it off, yet. He didn’t know if he had enough to pull through.
The dragon reared back, and the air around Cadoc crystallized into a glowing red aura. Damn! It was the Uttermost Immolation defense. Cadoc winced as he raised the Glittering Retribution above his head. He drained his remaining MP into the blade. He swung with all his might. He had only a split second to pray to the gods of chance that he rendered a critical strike.
The sword plunged deep into the dragon’s hide, sparking the Uttermost Immolation. Everything became fire. Cadoc’s world became searing heat and blinding pain. He felt separated from his body.
In that moment, he was dimly aware of Artemia and Marlock moving in to deal the final blow to the weakened beast. He felt, or saw, his body dashed against the nearby boulders. The dragon’s body imploded. Its long neck slammed against the ground, sending up plumes of dust and ash. Its head lay still, then it shimmered, and the whole creature was gone. Peregrine was standing over Cadoc’s body.
And then the pain happened again, in reverse. Every part of Cadoc’s body was run through with knives. He hated this part. It all went black.
Cadoc opened his eyes to the grinning of his teammates.
“You did it!” Artemia beamed. “You made the critical strike. It was easy to finish it after that!”
“You should see the loot this thing dropped!” Marlock agreed. “There’s enough gold in my share to buy that new Comet Storm spell I’ve been wanting!”
Peregrine clapped Cadoc on the back. “Your deeds were brave this day, Cadoc. Songs will be sung of our victory. We have indeed fulfilled this part of the quest. But the dark grip of Mezmar still holds these lands. Our journey is not yet done.”
Cadoc grinned in spite of himself. In spite of all he’d been through, the praise of his friends still made it worth it all. Even getting ghosted.
The group took to divvying up the loot. Cadoc claimed a Great Helm of the Emperor-on-the-Sea. Besides having a great armor rating, it would boost his MP stats. He could afford a few more uses of the Glittering Retribution in combat with that extra MP.
“So, what’s next?” he asked.
“We’ve got to take the Dragon’s Spine back to Cantovalia in order to trigger the next part of the quest,” Peregrine replied. “But the Feast of Baccal isn’t until tomorrow, so there’s no point in taking it back until then.”
“Yeah, there’s a special item being offered to those who bring in their quest flags on the Feastday, right?” Marlock agreed.
“That’s cool,” Artemia said. “I’ve got to get some laundry done, anyway.”
“If I don’t finish some homework, my mom is going to kill me!” Marlock sighed.
“Then we’ll meet again, tomorrow, in Cantovalia?” Peregrine decided. The others all nodded agreement.
“Later!” Marlock shimmered and was gone.
“See you tomorrow!” Artemia smiled and winked before she, too, disappeared.
“Well met.” Then Peregrine was gone, too.
One by one, Cadoc watched as his friends went back to their real lives. Then, he sat on the nearby boulder, and gazed off into the sunset. The sky turned from the golden glows of soft pinks and fiery oranges into the purple and inky hues of night. Time moved quickly in Panagaia. He sighed as he turned away from the deepening sunset, and began the march back to Cantovalia. He’d need to rest soon to fully restore his HP and MP. There were often Goblin and Orc Raid parties roaming the wilderness after nightfall. Pointless level-grinds that dropped useless loot if they dropped any at all. Sometimes, Cadoc thought, for a moment, that reconciling financial statements, or doing the dishes, or getting stuck in traffic might be a nice break from those long, lonely nights in the wilderness of Panagaia.
Cadoc couldn’t go back. Theodore the Accountant was dead. Now, there was only Cadoc the Paladin. Cadoc the Tank. He never thought he would miss it. He held back the tears that brimmed on the edge of his eyes. Tomorrow was another quest.
(Note, see more stories [mostly flash-length] here.)