Got another short story for ya. This week, the Terribleminds challenge was to get a randomized D&D type character and make a story out of it. I got a “grave dragonborn wizard from the sea of sand who hates silence.” Wow that was a lot to unpack, but it sounded like a cool character. The story’s a bit rough, as I’m running out of time before a certain tiny someone is finally born. Hope you enjoy anyway!
The Beast of the Sea of Sand
A warm wind howled above the rim of the amphitheater. Sorrel looked up from her scrolls and furrowed her brow at the sky. Something didn’t sit right with her. This wind, it reminded her too much of her homeland. The other wizards-in-training also noticed the wind, and murmured amongst themselves. Headwizard Ekthar raised his voice to attempt to regain everyone’s attention.
Sorrel closed her eyes. She focused on the sounds of the city around them. The Magus Campus around her. The bustling market outside the campus gate. The noise of people and animals and a million other things soothed her. It was a reminder that she was far from the land of her youth. She would never have to return to the Sea of Sand. She would never have to endure the eerie silence that embodied that land of death and ruin.
The Sea of Sand had been a thriving farmland dotted with shining cities not two decades ago. Then, a terrible beast came. It brought scorching winds in its wake, and all life turned to sand where its claws touched the earth. Sorrel’s family were among the last survivors. They wandered for years among the cursed dunes, hoping to find a place untouched by the beast. Finally, they settled in the city of Daakport, far to the south.
Daakport, though half as great as their original home, was lush and green and oh so alive. Sorrel soaked in every sight and experience. She vowed from that first day that she would never allow herself or her family to suffer again. She started her schooling at the Magus Campus as soon as she was of age. What she lacked in innate talent, she made up for with grave determination.
A shrieking roar pierced Sorrel’s thoughts. Her eyes shot open. No! The beast. It had come for her new home!
The class panicked. Headwizard Ekthar barked orders for everyone to return to the student house. Most bolted for the door. Sorrel and a handful of others stayed put.
The headwizard gathered his staff and a handful of talismans from his leather satchel.
“I assume this means you are volunteering to fight whatever creature made that noise?”
The small group nodded together.
Sorrel raised her training staff.
“It was the beast. The one who made the Sea of Sand.”
The other students shuffled nervously at her words.
Ekthar knotted his bushy eyebrows together.
“You’re certain of this?”
“I know that cry. It’s the roar that comes before the silence.”
“Well then.” He swallowed nervously. “Any willing to test themselves, follow me. We must collect as many wizards as we can for this fight.”
None of the others fled. Sorrel exhaled with relief; perhaps with so many willing fighters, this new home would not suffer the same fate as her last.
The group rushed out of the amphitheater and towards the fight. Along the way, they were joined by more wizards. Masters of plants, necromancy, storms, potions, crystals, and all other manner of magecraft were added to the group. Headmaster Ekthar filled them in on the danger. Daakport and all of its people were in danger. Those whose field of magic could only aid the beast instead of harming it were sent to assist in the evacuation of the city.
Pillars of smoke rose from the streets. The roaring came from the center of the city. It seemed the beast was attracted by the noise of humanity. People screamed, ran, and were incinerated.
Sorrel hadn’t been more than three when the beast destroyed her homeland. She’d never seen the monster itself, only heard the horrid cries and walked through the sandy ruins. It had been a faceless thing of her nightmares for years since then.
It was faceless no longer. It was a massive dragon, bigger than Sorrel could ever have imagined.
Its scaled and muscular neck rose above the destruction. It dwarfed the domed senate hall it was coiled around. Every wizard and soldier of the city now surrounded the dragon. Its golden scales reflected the sun, blindingly bright at certain angles. A hot wind from its wingbeats whipped at Sorrel’s robes. It lifted its head to roar again, flashing a hundred sword-sharp fangs.
A poisonous mixture of hatred and determination filled Sorrel. No matter the size, any dragon could be killed the same way. There were no protective scales on the eyes. One straight shot would penetrate those fiery orbs and the brain tucked behind them.
She waved her staff and chanted the words to allow her to fly for a limited time. A creature so big, there would be no other way to reach its head. Looking around, she saw a dozen other wizards had the same plan.
Headmaster Ekthar was among those now in the air. He gestured approvingly to Sorrel.
“It seems you’ve been studying well.” He then raised his voice to be heard by all the airborne wizards. “Spread out and aim true! It can’t eat us all!”
It was a suicide mission. Sorrel knew that. It didn’t matter. Her family was down in the city. The friends she met through her training. Innocent people she’d never met, but nonetheless wanted and deserved to live.
She pointed her staff behind her for an extra boost of speed. Each wizard might only have one or two chances at the eye. The trick now was finding this particular dragon’s weakness. Lightning? Ice? Metal? She’d studied a bit of all three forms, not needing to choose a specialty for her advancement yet.
Another wizard beat her to the dragon’s head. His beard a long and white. Jagged thorns sprung from his hands toward the beast. The right eye took scratches and bled, but the thorns could not penetrate deep enough. The dragon snapped its great jaws, and that first brave wizard disappeared.
More and more of the master wizards tried their specialties against the beast of the Sea of Sand. All the while, Sorrel dodged the dragon’s attacks. She needed time to form a metal shard sharp and large enough to do damage. Then a thought occurred to her. Why choose one discipline? It clearly wasn’t working for the others. The dragon swatted away all of their attacks. Even those who worked in tandem had no success.
Sweat dripped down her brow as she formed a slender cone of iron. Ice and electricity might counteract one another, but blue flame – much hotter than the dragon’s desert-causing abilities, might work. She forced as much of the magical fire into the metal as she could.
She felt herself losing altitude as she did so. She didn’t have much time left. She took a deep breath, aimed, and sent the metal cone spiraling through the air toward the dragon. Lastly, she shouted a lightning spell. A white-hot arc of electricity sprang from her mouth and surrounded the metal cone.
As she fell, she watched and hoped. She thought she saw blood spurt from the beast’s eye. Imagined the fiery payload spraying from the wound. But had it really happened? Was it enough?
Sorrel suddenly felt her descent slowing. Those wizards attacking from the ground had seen her. They had created a funneling wind to guide her to the ground. The force of the impact still knocked the wind out of her. Wizards and soldiers gathered around, blocking her view of the dragon. She looked instead to their faces. Were their expressions those of concern or relief?
Then Headwizard Ekthar was standing over her. His grin was wide. He pulled her to her feet just in time to see the dragon tumble to the ground. The earth shook so violently, she fell back down again and took the headwizard with her.
As the dust settled, it sounded as if the whole city were cheering as one. Sorrel couldn’t imagine a sweeter sound in all the world. It was what she would cherish, more than the victory ceremony celebrating all the fighters. The sound of humanity triumphing over sandy silence was even more precious to her than the magic-enhancing, dragonsblood tattoo she and the other wizards received that marked them as dragonborn for all time.
This month I read The Devourers by Indra Das. From the back blurb, I got that this was about shapeshifters in India. Sounded pretty interesting just from that, so I picked it up. Wow, though, this book is so much more. It’s about sex, brutality, the child of rape, and both the good and bad of being true to one’s nature.
The story follows college professor Alok Mukherjee, who agrees to transcribe a couple of journals for a shapeshifter in exchange for knowing more of the shapeshifter’s personal history. You get little snippets of Alok’s life and experiences as he goes through this process, which helps tie everything together. In the first journal, he learns the story of three ancient shapeshifters from Europe who are on a migration. These are pretty terrible dudes, and while it can be hard to read at times, it’s a well written and compelling tale. The second story he transcribes gets into a more revenge-y journey of one of the shapeshifter’s victims. She’s a pretty cool character, so I was glad to read some of the book through her eyes. Once the two inner stories get wrapped up, we get to learn more about the initial shapeshifter we met and learn how he fits into the larger picture. It’s just as interesting, harsh, and heavy as the rest.
After reading, I struggled with one question. Can I recommend the Devourers? The answer I came to was yes. It’s just, well, potentially problematic for some readers. It’s violent and cruel in the middle and steamy toward the end. If that’s cool with you, I’d give this one a try. It has fascinating characters, a great sense of place and history, and kept me curious to the very end.
My rating: Oof. This one’s making me change my rating system! This one takes more thought and care than a beachable book, but it didn’t quite earn my top rating. So, I give in. I’ll use stars from now on.
4 stars out of 5 (forgive me; I’ll have to get a stars graphic later!)
Holy crap, it’s amazing when you have people that just GET you. My friends threw me a baby shower that was themed as “dinosaurs playing board games.” Dinosaurs everywhere, themed trivia, a baby version of Cards Against Humanity, the works. I even got to help a bit by sketching out this for the invitation. There …
Got another Terribleminds challenge story for you. The idea was to mix two randomly selected subgenres. I got kaiju and shapeshifter.
The Kaiju Curse
Finn tugged the ill-fitting edges of his borrowed hazmat suit. He yawned, fogging up the face shield. Why was a biologist, a herpetologist no less, getting pulled in at the last minute at this disaster site in the middle of the night, anyway?
A woman strode up to him carrying a yellow box.
“Ah good. You’ve arrived. Join the others down in the crater.”
She gestured with the box toward a blackened ditch. Now that he was looking, it looked like this woman was holding a Geiger counter. But that made even less sense than his being summoned. He wanted to ask her why for both of those things, but the woman rushed off to bark orders at a pair who were digging in the ashy debris.
Finn yawned again as he wandered toward the crater. Little trails of steam rose up from the ground. There were a few others in hazmat suits in the crater. One of them pointed to a metal ramp that had been set up. Finn gave a thumbs-up and descended into the charred bowl of earth.
It was warm in the crater, and there wasn’t any debris here. The news said that several blocks had been set for demolition, but everything about this little adventure had screamed cover story – from the soldiers and their tanks guarding the area, all the way down to this crater. He hoped one of the scientists in the group ahead could answer some of his questions.
That was when he realized the crater was not devoid of debris. His fellow scientists were gathered around a large cluster of oval shapes. The ovals looked a bit like pale watermelons. A few were cracked open. Finn heard a faint shrieking somewhere beyond the group.
He stumbled over nothing as he gazed at the shapes.
“They… Are those… eggs?”
I had all these great intentions last week to update the blog, but got caught up in baby preparations. Here’s what I’ve been up to, artwise! Four more argyle animals. Two mammals (tiger and zebra), a reptile (sea turtle), and a fish (whale shark). They’re all up on my Redbubble shop.