Champion of the Dragon Empress: A Writing Contest Entry

In an effort to make up for the lack of activity on the TotallyTawn WordPress blog, I offer a short story.  I hope you enjoy it.

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Champion of the Dragon Empress

The Dark Knight stood—legs spread, gauntlet-encased hands resting comfortably on the hilt of a gilded longsword—knee deep in the shattered remains of the enemy. The flames of battle stained the sky an oppressive orange-amber, kindling a symphony of ominous sparks which played lovingly across the knight’s immaculate gold and onyx armor. Though torn and stained, the Dragon Empress’ standard—a scarlet dragon on a field of blood—poked forlornly from the muck behind and to the right of the champion, and taunted the vanquished as they fled.

The knight watched the broken figures retreat, knowing they would return to fight another day. The enemy combatants would certainly die drowning in their own blood on that day, yet somehow there would always be more clamoring to take their place. The carnage was unrelenting, and the Dark Knight was its orchestrator, snuffing lives as easily and frequently as an acolyte douses the candlelight at the conclusion of Rites.

The visor of the knight’s winged helm was closed, affording none a view of the weariness veiling the warrior’s thundercloud-gray eyes. Only the Dragon Empress herself had seen the wrinkles marring her paladin’s aging, pitted skin, and the streaks of silver coursing through the Dark Knight’s long, stringy locks. If it was known how timeworn the Defender of the Realm had become, there would be no quarter, no respite until the Dark Knight had fallen. Only the diaphanous illusion of this single warrior’s invincibility spared the empress’ forces from being overrun.

The victorious soldier returned the perfectly balanced sword to its scabbard, rigidly turned, and began the trek to the Palace of the Dragon Empress. A lustrous diamond among the wretched, stinking masses, the Dark Knight was untouched by the grime of battle, further underscoring legendary claims of fortitude. The throngs parted with silent reverence, clearing a dusty path through soldiers and civilians alike to the marble steps of the palace, and then on into the opulent throne room.

“The Defender of the Realm, Champion of the Dragon Empress, and The Vanquisher of Fears: The Dark Knight,” the Herald announced to the empress’ court, ushering in the towering, metal-clad, soldier with a modest bow and lowered eyes.

“Leave us,” the Dragon Empress commanded, beckoning the knight forward. The empress patently ignored the murmured grumbling of the courtiers—barely heard over the swishing of silk and brocade—as they exited the room, imperial guards at their heels.

Once the cavernous room had cleared of all save monarch and champion, the Dark Knight finally removed her helm with a sigh, and knelt—right knee and fist to the ground—before her regent. “The battle is won, Your Majesty,” she intoned, as she had thousands, perhaps millions of times before. “The Fears have been defeated and all is quiet. You may proceed as you will without their hindrance .”

“You have done well, my champion,” praised the empress. “How do you fare?”

The Dark Knight lifted her stormy eyes and captured an identical pair belonging to her twin, sitting stiffly upon the throne. “There will come a day when the Fears will overpower me, my liege. I have conquered them for you every day since you were but a babe, but we both know that Fear cannot be kept at bay for an eternity. Are you prepared for that happenstance?”

The empress nodded. “I am,” she breathed. “On the day when you can no longer hold back the Fear, I shall exit this world as we entered it—together. And know this, my sister, only by defeating Fear have We truly lived. You have made this happen, and We are grateful.”

* * *

Marsha took a deep breath and stepped into the spotlight, her internal battles won and her mind calm. Blinking the glare from her thundercloud-gray eyes, she adjusted the microphone, took a small sip of water, and began her prepared speech.

Fearless.

Mother of Dragons – Writing Contest Entry

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Mother of Dragons

“Again!” The hatchlings darted around her as she waded through the hip-deep water, pleading – as they always did before she returned to the surface – for her to recount the tale one more time.

“You have already heard it a thousand times over,” she admonished.

“Please?” They begged in unison.

Drawing the smallest dragonet from the murky fluid, she held it before her with a stern expression. As she gazed into its earnest, slitted eyes, it lovingly wrapped its tail around her slender wrist. Her lips twitched, revealing her resigned bemusement.

“Very well,” she relented, as she always did. Gently returning the creature to the water of the birthing chamber, she glided to the far end of the chilly, stone temple, and settled regally onto the edge of the central dais. She absently tucked a loose strand of her lustrous dark tresses behind one sharply pointed ear, smoothed the wrinkles from her sleek, cerulean tunic, and began to speak, her voice low and smoky.

“In the days when the World was new, Men and Dragonkind became embroiled in a bitter war. Whatever incident sparked the conflict was lost from the Chronicles and it was not for many ages that it became clear that neither side could ever emerge victorious. In order to broker a peace, Kalani, the Queen of Men, offered to become one with the Dragon Caliph, Garron, so that the races would be forever joined by blood. Garron accepted the queen’s proposal and an extravagant celebration was prepared to commemorate the end of the Great War.

However, Kalani never intended to fulfill the agreement. On the day of the feast, she secretly adorned her lips with a poison so that the first kiss she shared with Garron would be his last, paving the way for her conquest by treachery.

All went according to the queen’s designs, until her youngest daughter, a girl in her twelfth year and the only person – besides herself – that Kalani had ever loved, congratulated Kalani with an impulsive kiss.

The little princess fell into a state a hairsbreadth from death. Consumed with anguish, Kalani begged Garron to save her daughter.”

At this point in the story, she paused to allow the hatchlings to consider what Garron might have done. She watched them impassively as they swarmed before her, and then drew a breath to continue.

“Garron had had his fill of battle, yet he was not a weak ruler. He demanded that Kalani immediately surrender all subterranean territory to his people while Men remained above ground before he would heal the girl. Once Kalani agreed before the entirety of the World, Garron took the young princess below to his stronghold – to this very temple, in fact – to be restored.

Her recovery was not an easy thing. It took two seasons and left her significantly less human than she had been. Her survival was of such importance to the fragile peace that Garron supervised her care personally, and in doing so, gradually came to love her.

When the day came for her to return to her mother, the princess left Garron with a heavy heart and ascended to the surface. Her ordeal had made her unrecognizable to Kalani, who demanded she prove her identity. Humiliated and betrayed, the princess spurned her mother and declared her love for the Caliph.

Realizing her mistake, Kalani begged to make amends with her daughter. The princess was soft of heart and relented. A contract was made which finally brought a lasting peace to the World.

This is how it came to pass that the Mother of Dragons consented to spend two seasons of each year on the surface in the company of Kalani, and the other two seasons below with her love and their many children.”

Her countenance softened as she said, “So you see, my loves, why I must go? If I do not, our races will be plunged into a conflict that none would survive.”

“Yes, Mother,” came the discordant response from the water.

A proud smile graced her lips as she regarded her dragonets. Rising, she moved from the dais to the adjacent stairway. She slithered up four steps before turning to lift a hand sadly in farewell. “I will return soon, my loves.”

She turned back quickly to hide her tears as her sinewy, undulating tail carried her to Kalani.

2012 Wrap Up

It’s hard for me to believe that I now have yet another year of blogging under my belt.  I have made many new friends, ventured outside of my comfort zone, and learned so much that I cannot judge 2012 as anything other than a fantastic year for which I am ecstatically grateful.

I have done the prerequisite year-in-review post for 2010 and 2011, but this year, I thought I’d do something a little bit different by sharing with you the short stories that I’ve written throughout the year instead of just my most popular or my favorite posts.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.  And I wish each and every one of you the very best in 2013!

The Jacket

A Mother’s Love

The Well of Souls

A Time To Reap

Undead No More

Flying Squirrel Cargo

Breathe

Otterbox

I am Werewolf – Hear Me Howl

An Exercise in Empathy

You can also read or listen to my eSeries Darkling Drake and The Pirate Princess, my mini-eSeries Pirate Princess Adventures, and my Valentine’s Day special Love Never Dies: A Zombie Love Story, while you’re checking out the amazing work of all the talented authors, narrators, editors, and artists at BigWorldNetwork.com.

Happy New Year!  With love and thankfulness – TotallyTawn

A Time to Reap – Another Writing Contest Entry

I am once again attempting to hone my writing skills by entering a short story contest hosted by Theresa Oliver’s Short Story Page.  I hope you like it!

The basis for my story.

A TIME TO REAP

Eilain hated her job. It was bad enough that she had to partner with that lech, Thanatos, on the occasional unusual reaping call. But recently, the number of cases had been growing, resulting in her having to spend more and more time rebuking Death’s sexual advances. The guy just wouldn’t give up. It was exhausting.

“Knock knock!” a jaunty masculine voice chimed through the closed – and locked – door.

Eilain rolled her eyes. Speak of the devil.

“I’ll be ready in a second, Than,” she called. “I have a few things to finish up.”

“Just don’t take too long, beautiful,” he replied, his voice heated. “This one’s special. I’m getting a chubby just thinking about it.”

She sighed heavily, her hands resting on the heavy mahogany desk, and bowed her head in helpless disgust. A moment later, the off-key rendition of Nelly’s Hot in Here assailing her senses from the far side of the door finally spurred her into action. With a resigned heave, Eilain pushed herself back and to her feet. She snagged her Hourglass off of the corner of the desk before padding across the room, throwing the bolt, and hurling open the door.

“Hey, baby!” Thanatos greeted her with a sleazy smirk, “Wanna touch my scythe?”

Eilain shouldered past him and gracefully descended the front stairs, grumbling loudly, “Let’s just get this over with, okay? I have a million things to do.”

“You know,” he leered, gliding up behind her and breathing into her ear, “there have been studies that prove that sex improves concentration. Maybe after this, I could help you -”

She cut him off. “Give it a rest, will you, Than?” His breath on her hair was making her stomach turn. She reached the portal and turned to face him. “I am not in the mood.”

A spark of anger flashed in his sockets. He sneered, “What the matter? Is it that time of the month again? I would think you had better control of that, being the Mistress of Time, and all.” Predictably, he injected overt sexual tones into his pronunciation of her title.

Eilain rubbed her temple with her empty hand and spat, “Just shut up and do your job, Death. I know it’s hard for you to refrain from being a lecherous ass, but just this once, try. Try hard. This call is worse than the rest.”

“What’s eating you, Lainey?” he murmured, sounding like a whipped puppy, his anger doused by confusion.

She turned her back on him, effectively putting an end to his loathsome attempt at conversation, and activated the portal. Holding her Hourglass before her chest with both hands, she took the lead, and stepped decisively through the shimmering black membrane.

Thanatos followed, one hand on his scythe, the other gripping her right shoulder so they would not be separated in transit. Once they had arrived safely, he quickly removed his bony fingers before she could shrug them off, possibly aware that he was pushing his luck too far tonight.

They walked to a small cottage – alone in a misty, wildflower-laden field – in silence. Nothing moved but them. No birdsong reached their ears. No breeze ruffled their hair. A pregnant hush blanketed the surroundings, welcoming them with resigned, bated breath.

Entering the cottage, they glided unopposed to the bedside of an exceptionally beautiful woman. She reclined peacefully – her glossy hair artfully spread over silk linens, her lips full and red, her body curvy and voluptuous beneath the thin sheet, the thick lashes of her closed eyes fanning over her flush cheeks.

“Is it time already?” the beauty whispered, her voice heartrendingly weak, eyes still shut.

“I’m afraid it is, Venus,” Eilain answered gently. She watched the last grains of sand pour through her Hourglass rather than Venus’ perfect face, unable to bear witnessing the death of Love.

Thanatos shattered the somber mood by proclaiming gleefully, “Look at the jugs on this one! JACKPOT, baby!”

Eilain closed her eyes. I hate this job.

The Well of Souls: Another Writing Contest Entry

This week’s writing contest entry is based on this picture: I hope you like it!  🙂

The Well of Souls

The girl sat cross-legged in the dirt at her grandfather’s feet. Only by absently braiding her long, jet-black hair could she manage to not wiggle in anticipation of the story he would share today from his crude, wooden stool. It was her favorite, and even though she could recite it herself, she preferred it when Grandfather told the story.

As she unbound her hair to begin plaiting again, she swept her eyes over the audience. In addition to herself, there were 8 other children, ranging in ages from 4 to 13, gathered in the small thatch hut to hear the tale. Chattering and fidgeting, they settled down swiftly once they heard Grandfather’s deep, smooth voice fill the chamber.

“When the world was not yet born and the heavens lay fallow,” he began, his dulcet tones capturing the undivided attention of even the youngest child, “the Goddess chose to fill her realm with Light to balance the Darkness.”

The girl closed her eyes and sighed in pleasure. Lightly reclining against her grandfather’s leg, she envisioned his words coalescing into a richly woven tapestry displaying scenes of the Goddess and the Well as the story progressed. In her mind, the girl could see the Goddess – beautiful, serene, powerful – kneeling purposefully by the Well of Souls, pouring the very essence of life into the glistening, translucent pool.

With the Pillars of Creation at Her back, the Goddess caused the Well of Souls to overflow its banks, bringing all that is to the barrenness of the Universe. Stars winked into being across the velvet of the heavens, flashing like jewels, and birthing planets, comets, moons. The Goddess then fashioned a planet, the cradle of our ancestors, and tethered it delicately to Her wrist so as to keep it close. The planet, secured like a bracelet, transformed droplets spilled from the Well into lifeforms. These creatures were mortal and eventually returned their spark of life to the Well, causing another soul to spill from the pool. Thus was the Circle of Life perpetuated.

“As the Goddess surveyed Her work,” Grandfather’s voice dropped to a dramatic whisper, causing the children to listen even more intensely, “She smiled. And all of Creation knew Her Love.”

The girl reluctantly opened her eyes, sad to have reached the end of the story, and looked up to find her grandfather watching her. Her heart fluttered for a moment, frightened that she had somehow displeased him by appearing to sleep while he spoke. Alarmed, she searched the faces of the other children – still rooted in place as if waiting for Grandfather to continue – for a hint of her offense. Finding nothing, she twisted to face him once again and beg his forgiveness.

The corners of his gray eyes crinkled in amusement as he silently drew her first to her feet facing him and then warmly into his sinewy arms. He murmured softly into her ear, “Never forget, Granddaughter, that we will all one day return to the Well of Souls from whence we came. But even when my soul has rejoined our ancestors, my love for you will continue to rival that of the Goddess. You bring Light into my heart, child.”

The other children could not have heard the words the old man had whispered to his grandchild, but their joyful whoops clearly made it known that this was the ending to the story they preferred.

A Mother’s Love: Writing Contest Entry

It amazes me how, whenever I seem to run low on inspiration, the Universe provides.  This post is my entry into Theresa Oliver’s writing contest based on the following image.  Please check her out on Facebook and don’t forget to let me know what you think of my short story.  Thank you!

A Mother’s Love

“Captain, I’m telling you, there’s nothing here,” the scout informed his superior over the comm link. His voice was steady, but his eyes darted nervously, searching the sparse landscape for movement. Suddenly spinning in place, he pointed his drawn energy weapon at…nothing.

His skin crawled. He felt as if there were eyes upon him every second he was on this barren chunk of cosmic rock. But he had found nothing to indicate there was – or ever had been – anything alive on this dwarf planet.

“You sure, Winston?” The crisp voice of Captain Joquani reverberating from the link startled the scout.

Winston Kessel jumped. This reaction, melded with embarrassment and his unease, intensified his already deep loathing of the planet. “Yes, Captain. Of course I’m sure. There’s no structures. No water. The scanner’s not picking up any life signs at all.” This last part Winston delivered through gritted teeth because it wasn’t entirely true. The scanner had indicated something, but…

“All right,” Joquani’s voice dripped with annoyance, “get back up here on the double, Kessel. No point in wasting any more time on that emergency beacon if there weren’t any survivors.”

Winston’s relief was palpable. “Roger. On my way.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Winston instinctively squawked a curse and struck out, delivering a lightning quick blow that would have seriously injured whoever had touched him…had anyone been there. The sensation of being watched grew more vivid in conjunction with the stiffening of the baby fine blond hairs on the back of his neck. A warm puff of air, akin to the breath of a lover, caressed his right cheek. He winced, knowing nothing was there, but feeling a presence just the same.

“I’m going now,” he mumbled softly and he felt an instant ebb in his sense of foreboding. The bony fingers dancing a jig up and down his spine did not evaporate entirely, but Winston no longer had the burning desire to claw free of his own skin. He walked the short distance to his shuttle – his steps measured, his back stiff – opened the hatch and climbed inside as indifferently as his overworked imagination allowed.

The scanner is malfunctioning, he told himself for the hundredth time. Alia is not here. It’s crazy.

Winston buckled himself in, worked through the checklist as quickly as possible, and blasted off the desolate dwarf planet without a backward glance.

* * *

Alia Kessel stood near the edge of the rocky precipice – her long black hair and deep navy dress undulating in the soft breeze of her son’s departure – and exhaled a sigh of relief tinged with regret. As she watched his ship retreat over the sandy ocean into the somber blue clouds of the alien planet, Alia allowed her form to slowly fade once again into the ether, satisfied that Winston would now be safe from the true denizens of this planet – creatures so alien that they did not even meet humankind’s definition of alive.

A single tear glided down Alia’s right cheek as she whispered, “I love you, my son. I will watch over you always.” A heartbeat later, she was gone.