Friday Flash: Once and Future…

So, here’s today’s Author Aerobics, and Friday Flash.  The challenge today was:

The challenge: Take a stereotype, cliché, or topic that’s been done to death, and write a scene (1000 words or less) that infuses a fresh spin on things. The theme: sparkle? hah just kidding! “Thirst”

Okay, no, I didn’t write about vampires, but I think I’ve got some unique takes here on a few common fantasy tropes.  It’s a little long for “Flash” fiction, at 1,788 words, but I rather fancy it anyway.  So, enjoy:

Once and Future…

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

“Where are we now?” Rob tried to gain his bearings after the world stopped spinning. He was in a green, grassy field on a gray morning.  The field was dotted with trees and studded with the rubble of ancient walls, the ruins of some gothic edifice.  Mist swirled through the arched portals, over broken masonry, and around the tall, leafy oaks and flowering hawthorns.  He glanced over at his companion, a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties or early-forties.  He had a week’s growth of beard, streaked with the first hints of gray, in a thick, hooded sweater embroidered with stars and a monogram in some kind of wingding font. Continue reading

Friday Flash: Shadow Pilgrim

So, I’m doing something a little different, this week, for T.S. Bazelli’s Author Aerobics: I’m telling a story set in the same world as the story I wrote last week.  It’s not a direct continuation, but the two tales are related.  Here was this week’s challenge:

Write a story (1000 words or less) that involves multiple layers of conflict. This week’s theme: “shadows”.

At 1,262 words, this one is longer than the first story set in this world.  And as with last week, this week I still feel like I’m touching on something that could be good, but I didn’t quite grasp it.  Anyway, I’ll let you all be the judge of:

Shadow Pilgrim

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

Marobi descended the dimly lit stairs into the heart of the Kaimbodi Shadow Shrine.  His bare feet flapped against the damp paving stones set loosely in the wet soil.  He reached out his hands to steady himself, brushing the earthen walls formed by the deep roots of Kaimbodi, the brightwood tree that sheltered the shadow shrine.  At irregular intervals the roots glowed faintly with a warm, yellow light that threw strange shadows down the long, narrow stairs.  Continue reading

Friday Flash: Bright Hands

I don’t know if this is my strongest piece ever, it was a little experimental (on my part) and a little rushed (under the circumstances, vis-a-vis having virus-interrupted access this week), but here’s my answer to this week’s Author Aerobics challenge:

This week’s challenge: Write an action scene (1000 words or less). The theme “light”.

I wasn’t really clear on my direction, in this story.  I was struck by the idea in the opening paragraph, so I just kind of ran with it.  Frankly, for an action scene, I could do better…

Bright Hands

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

Taruth reached out and grabbed a beam of light.  It pulsed and writhed in his hands, glowing warm and incandescent.  Around him, beams and shards of light were dancing, shimmering, exploding.  The battle was not going well.  He ducked, gripping the beam tightly, trying to find a little cover in the long grass.  His hands worked quickly.  He bent the beam of light in his hands, twisted it, weaving it into a long oval shape, nearly the length of his body.  A shield.  Another shaft of light became a long spear. Continue reading

Friday Flash: Kathryn’s Child

This week, T.S. Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” challenge is on internal monologues.  Here it is:

This week’s challenge: Write a piece of fiction (1000 words or less) that includes moments of internal dialogue. The theme: “fireworks”.

Well, after two straight epic-fantasy stories and a contemporary fantasy story, last week I decided I’d put up something a little more sci-fi for my next short story.  And thus, this story.  At first, I didn’t have any particular purpose to this story, but as I wrote it, I decided I wanted to set it in the space opera-themed world I had created several years ago that I called, at the time, “The Alchemist” (and that I don’t currently call anything, yet).  How this story fits in with that setting, I’m unsure.  Several elements in this story didn’t appear in my original write-ups.  Anyway, I’ll get out of the way, now, and let you read.  It’s a tiny bit shorter than what I’ve been doing lately – only 1,066 words – and I’m calling it:

Kathryn’s Child

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

“Time for the fireworks to begin.”  Kathryn gazed through the wide window at the tiny red, yellow and brown orb suspended in a sea of blackness beneath her.   In the distance, a pale red light glimmered, the shell of a dying star.  Doctor Vanwick shuffled his feet on the deck beside her. Continue reading

Friday Flash: Where It All Began

Someday I’ll write a sci-fi or something else like that in response to T.S. Bazelli’s weekly writing prompt.  I thought it would be this week, if I wrote anything, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, as is often the case, fantasy happened.  The challenge this week was to focus on setting:

The Challenge: Write a story (1000 words or less) that is set in a place you have never been. This place can be real or imagined. The theme: “home”

I sort of cheated, though.  I used a place I really had been to (the Dun Beag fort outside Dingle, Ireland) as the source of inspiration for the setting of this tale, even if the place itself is “imagined”.  (Also, of course, it’s just over 1,000 words, but I do that almost every time, so that’s not new.  This one’s 1,306 words long.)  And so, let’s take it back to:

Where It All Began

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

Sea foam sprayed up as waves crashed against the cliffs of Dun Chuain, where Aran was born.  At the very edge of the cliff, as though a stray wind might rip it from the cliffside and send it plunging into the churning waters a hundred feet below, rose the House of Dun Chuain.  It was a small wooden manse – long oak planks, steeply-pitched roof, and a watchtower – growing out of a mortared stone foundation some seven feet in height.  The current House was built seventy-five years ago, and the gray wood showed its age, but the House of Dun Chuain had been inhabited for several centuries.  Around the cliffside manor were the remains of the old village – stone huts and walls built without mortar, stacked with exacting care, by Aran’s ancestors. Continue reading

Flash Fantasy: From That Eternal Summer Isle

Okay, the theme of Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” this week was a tad too irresistable.  As soon as I read her post, I had an opening line in mind.  Shortly thereafter followed the main character.  It took only a little longer to come up with the situation.  I’m still really busy with school and related challenges, so this is kind of cheating.   But the idea stuck, so here we are.

The challenge was thus:

“Show, don’t tell.” You hear it over and over again. It’s one of the most often quoted ‘rules of writing’, but pick any novel off your shelf, and you’ll find that the authors do not just show, they also tell. Perhaps the reason that we’re encouraged to “show” is because, in unskilled hands, telling can be badly done.

This week’s challenge: Write a piece of short fiction (1000 words or less) that involves ‘good’ telling. The theme for this week: “afterlife.”

That being the case, I present to you another little fantasy flash piece, clocking in at 1,076 words, entitled:

From That Eternal Summer Isle

By: Stephen Watkins

The sky was blue on the day I died.  That came as some surprise.  Not so much that the sky was blue, but that I died.  Or that I was able to remark on the color of the sky at all.

I’ve never  been one to believe in the afterlife.  Nor in the gods, or any of that other claptrap.  Maybe I’ve spent too much time with the humans. Continue reading

A Flash Fantasy: After the Quest is Done

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.

The End.

(Note, see more stories [mostly flash-length] here.)