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THE NEXT GENERATION
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- 1ˢᵗ place $200
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- 3ʳᵈ place $50
In the far distance, she could hear the small war taking place. The mechanical roars of the monster were loud enough to shake the windows, and she could see the fires burning well enough to read by. She didn’t bother trying— she wouldn’t be able to focus right now.
A large crash from somewhere below shook the house, rattling the dishes and almost knocking the teapot off the table. She caught it with practiced ease and set it back on the table for a moment, before sighing and standing up.
Grumbling as the constant thumps made it hard to walk, Pyria secured her tea set and made sure everything was tied down. Maybe the monster would flatten her house, but if it didn’t there wouldn’t be fractured plates and glass all over the floor. As she turned to her leave, her gaze lingered on the axe she hung near the door. Her hand trailed in longingly up its shaft, and she considered hefting it and taking it with her.
Pyria snorted bitterly. Like I can lift the thing anymore.
Limping slightly, she left her house and began walking down the street. The sun was setting, providing her with a beautiful view of the entire city down below her. It had been built into the side of a great mountain, with the gates on the bottom and the residential areas and government buildings near the top. Normally, the view was breathtaking. It still was, but less because of the way the sun caught the golden streets and more because there was a large clockwork dragon destroying everything in sight.
The dragon was made from metal, gleaming in the setting sun. It towered over the streets, so big that she could see it clearly even at this distance. There was so much fire and smoke that she couldn't make out any details clearly, other than the general idea that it was really really big . The Knights of the city Watch looked like ants, scurrying around the streets below.
She couldn’t see what was happening clearly enough from this distance— just the desperate motion of battle. Pyria definitely couldn't see the one person down there that she was worried about, so with a sigh, she turned and carried on down the road. At the very end, she came to a large door leading into the mountain itself. It was one of the more expensive dwarf houses; big enough to hold the block if need be. The rest of their neighborhood had fled when the dragon first appeared outside the city gates, so as far as she knew it was just the two of them. Opening the door and stooping to fit inisde, she called out, “Ruvor? Ruvor Brickbreaker, where are you?”
“Back here!” A voice called in a thick dwarvish accent. “Ye know where I am by now! Come in! Brin’ a drink from the kitchen, will ye?”
Pyria snorted irritably and made her way to the sitting room. Old Ruvor's house always smelled like smoke and meat in a way that always comforted her. She could stand up straight there; Ruvor was a hospitable member of the community and one of the few dwarves that insisted on being able to entertain elves as well as dwarves. It was lit with an enchanted fire, casting a warm yellow light across the room. She felt her muscles relax as she walked inside and she breathed in the warm smell of beer and beef. Back when they first met— when she was a self-righteous firebrand and he was a loud-mouthed idiot— the smell would have repulsed her. Old age hadn't granted her a lot, but she was grateful she'd at least grown a little wiser.
Ruvor sat in his specially-made throne, which was enchanted to never decay and had been built on a stand that could rotate in every direction. He didn’t notice her come in, staring deep into the huge magical mirror he’d bought a few weeks ago. “Pyria!” He shouted, “Are ye there? Did ye bring me beer?”
“I most certainly did not!” She snapped. “If you want an elf maid, you should hire one.” She sniffed. “Besides, you drink far too much anyway.”
“If I wanted someone to tell me what to do,” Ruvor yelled good-naturedly, “then I’d let me daughter live ‘ere, wouldn’t I?”
“Oh, I don’t know know why you do half the things you do, you old kook.”
He chuckled. “If I’m an’ old kook, what does tha’ make ye, then?”
She flinched and didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure if Ruvor didn’t notice, or just decided to let the flinch go, but either way, she was grateful it didn’t come up. She sat down beside him, watching the magic mirror’s commentary of the dragon attack. After a moment, he silently slid her the bucket of roasted nuts to share.
Inside the mirror, what looked like a mask made of smoke floated in front of a still image of the city. Its eye was glowing a soft grey, and it managed to sound excited and invested in everything it was saying without breaking its monotone. “I see that we have one or two new viewers just joining us. This is The Herald, repeating our top story. In the largest attack since Malicor’s return, his dragon has leveled parts of the merchant district and is trying to make his way up towards the center of the residential district. All attempts to stop it have proven to be futile, though the latest of the Champions, an elf maiden named Shaina Daeyarus, is on the scene.”
Pyria bit into a handful of nuts. Her hands were still shaking.
“None of her weapons have been able to penetrate the creatures scaly armor, and we appear to be seeing for the first time the limits of her incredible strength. The City Watch has considering calling for an evacuation, but of course, the question is, ‘where would we go?’ The Dragon is slowly making its way towards the Great Tower, where the King and his wizards are attempting to create a plan—”
“Ha!” Pyria laughed. “As if any of those coots ever did anything useful.”
“That’s tellin’ ‘em!” Ruvor agreed. “We don’t need some politician—” he made sure to pronounce politician as if it were a slur— “tellin’ us what ta’ do! We need action!”
Neither of them was sure what action was needed, but that was beside the point. The point was, the people in power were awful at everything and that was the only reason everything was awful. Everyone knew that.
“We go now live to the scene of the fight with one of our meatbag reporters Alwin Glyndan. Alwin, how do things look?”
The new image floated forwards from the back of the mirror, full of motion. The dragon was at the other end of a city block, trying to push itself through a large blockade that had been hastily erected. It moved with unnatural efficiency, ignoring everything around it. Its wings were all but gone, the left one on fire and the right one hanging limply to the side. In the foreground, a tall Eflin reporter with a thin mustache and striking eyes stared solemnly into the mirror. “Things are beginning to look bleak. The Champion hasn’t had any luck finding a way to disable this monster, and the city Watch is steadily losing ground. We give it about five more minutes before its clear of our fortifications and can attempt an attack on the Great Tower directly.”
"Do we have confirmation that the King and the rest of the governemt are the Tower now?
Alwing shrugged. You're guess is as good as mine. So far, my sources say that the Coalition of Wizards is confident they can repel the creature.
“Yes, I'm sure we all have every confidence in them," The Herald said politely. Despite being a magical being himself, the Herald shared a skeptical view of the Wizards Coalition with essentially the rest of the city. "And where is the Champion now?”
Alwin was to professional to openly sneer, but Pyria had talked to the man to often to be able to miss the intent. “She got knocked out of the fight a few minutes ago. The last time I checked, she was attempting to dig herself out from under a pile of rubble after failing to harm the dragon. I know I was hard on the previous Champion, Pyria Daeyarus, but considering what a poor showing her daughter—”
Pyria slashed the word out like a sword. As the mirror silenced itself, she took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Ruvor gave her a few minutes to get herself under control before he spoke. “Ye know this ain’t the first time she’s got 'erself in trouble.”
“Oh, I know that!” Pyria took another deep breath and tried to speak without using her words as blunt objects. “I know that, but… Well, when I was her age…” She leaned back in her chair, striving to ignore the pops from her old bones. “I had to train every day to get stronger, to be ready for a fight. She trains, but she's nowhere near as strong as I was. And she spends so much more time out in the city, not even fighting things but—"
"Helping people?" Ruvor asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, you know that's not what I meant!" She snapped. "I— I'm not saying she doesn't take this seriously. Honestly, she could loosen up from time to time. But she's not as tough as I was, and I would have died a million times over without your help. She's all alone!"
Ruvor grunted and took a deep swig from his mug. Frowning to find it basically empty, he set it down with a loud clunk. “Well, I dunno about that. She’s got the Watch.”
Pyria’s laughter was so sharp it almost sounded like she was barking. “Since when has the City Watch been good for anything? They do right by you— as long as you’re rich and a dwarf!” She winced. “Not that I…”
Ruvor waived her apology aside. “Aye, I know what ye meant. But ain’t you seen the fresh Captian, that Axebreaker feller? Got a good head on his shoulders, that lad. Most o’ the other nobles hate him.”
“Hmpf.” The watched the mirror in relative silence, each action the dragon undertook punctuated by the sound of it moving outside. On the screen, the Watch grew increasingly desperate, firing crossbows and throwing spears hoping to find some kind of weakness. Alwin was eventually joined by another member of the Watch, a dwarf wielding a ball of spikes attached to a length of chain. Ruvok reached over and turned the sound back up.
“...and by the time it reaches the main Watch-house, the fuse will reach the powder, igniting the whole thing,” she was saying proudly. “Some o’ my best work, I’ll admit.”
“So,” began Alwin, who was never one to let something go if it caused someone else pain, “You’re saying we didn’t even need the Champion in the first place?”
“Well,” the dwarf technician began, scratching the back of her neck with whatever weapon it was she was holding, “Outside the technical fact that we’d ‘ave died before we coulda set them bombs in place, I guess not exactly?”
“There you have it,” Alwin said in triumph. “We no longer need the Champion to deal with these monster attacks. Is it time to get rid of this pesky—”
The sound came from both the mirror and outside, shaking the whole house. The one-way mirror that Alwin was using to report fell against the street, and it was a few moments before someone picked it up again. “... the devil was that?” A tinny, distant voice asked.
Ruvor grimaced. “Whoever it was ‘at set the charge didn’t lay a long enough fuse. It went off early.”
Pyria tore her gaze away from the mirror to look at his uncharacteristically cold face. “Will it still be enough?”
He didn’t say anything.
Smoke filled the screen, making it impossible to see. Whoever was holding the mirror kept moving around, sending everything jittering one way or the other. Someone finally took the mirror back and set it on a tripod. For a moment, it seemed as though the dragon was finally dead.
Then, with a growl that sent men scurrying away with all speed, its face emerged through the smoke. Its eyes were lit up like small bonfires, and it exhaled a huge ball of fire. It didn’t stream forwards like it was supposed to; instead, it hung in the air, growing larger and larger by the second. Pyria rose to her feet. “Ruvor; something that big—”
He was already scrambling to his feet and pulling her under the table with him. “Git down!”
A huge KA-THAMM smashed them down, shaking the very ground. The dished clattered to the ground, the mirror cracked, and she was sure that there was going to be a lot more than some broken china when she returned home. Her hands were shaking again. All those people… even if they were Watchmen…
Coughing, she pulled herself up and turned to look into the mirror again. She’d expected to see static, or maybe the disembodied visage of the Herald grimly reporting the death of the cities entire police force. Lights flashed across its surface, making it look like the thing was broken, but as they slowly vanished she realized it was a magical shield. In center frame, standing between the Watch and the dragon, was her daughter.
The suit had been refitted since the days when she'd worn it. It was less armored, with larger gold plates covering vital areas, shored up by much smaller red plates and connected with skin-tight blue fabric. She held a great spear in both hands, projecting a mystical shield over the street. As she watched, it shone with magical power and reformed into a ball and chain several times larger than her body. She rose into the air, spinning the weapon in front of her defensively. There was something in the crook of her right arm, but Pyria couldn't see it properly.
Pyria could still remember what it was like to wear it. The strength to do anything, the speed to go anywhere, the sheer freedom of being the strongest woman alive. Oh, she knew every inch of that armor inside and out.
The dragon roared again, but it was cut short as the Champion leaped into the air and smacked its head away. The dragon staggered back, falling through some of the ramparts and almost slipping back down into the merchant's district. It let loose another fireball, but the Champion smacked it away. Pyria frowned as the analytical part of her mind took over. “She can’t hurt that thing, and if she keeps trying she’ll just wreck the city. If there’s no way to overpower it—”
Ruvor rolled his eyes. “That’s how ye did things. Ye solved things by either hittin' them or hittin’ them harder. Your lassie may not be as strong as ye, but she’s got a plan, mark me words.”
Pyria ignored him, approaching the screen with trembling legs. Most people would expect her to curse the dragon, or shout encouragement to her daughter, or just complain that the risk wasn’t hers to take any more. Instead, there was only one thought it her mind.
May God preserve you.
A younger Pyria would never have considered praying for anything. Then again, a younger Pyria didn’t have anything to lose.
The Champion was a constant blur of motion, darting around to strike the dragon and spinning away before it could strike her. None of her strikes truly hurt the thing, but she didn’t let up. After a few more failed strikes, the mechanical monstrosity gave up and turned back towards the tower. "Hey!" The Champion called out. "Hey, where are you going? You... your mother was a toy soldier!"
The dragon ignored her. Pyria blinked. "What is she doing?"
Ruvor shook his head. "She ain't gonna be able to upset a machine like 'at."
"No I mean— she never talks when she fights. She says it's just a distraction."
The Champion tackled the dragons head again, smashing it against a tower. She hung in the air as she waited for it to get up. "That's right, you big... thing, you! Do you want to eat me? I'm right here!"
Pyria realized what was going to happen a split second before anyone else. “Look out—”
With a snap, the dragon reached its neck out and bit down, catching the Champion in its mouth. Sparks spun away from the armor as its enchantments tried to keep her intact. The monster growled as it began to charge its flame.
Ruvor reached for her hand, but she pulled it away. She didn’t need comforting right now. “Oh, clever girl,” she whispered.
The Champion reached around, twisting as much as she could. In her right hand, she held one of the explosive charges the Watch had tried to use to destroy the monster earlier. Twisting her body around as much as she could, she pried open the mouth of the thing and shoved the package down as far as it could go.
The Dragon froze. It didn’t have much of a face, but it seemed surprised. A muffled explosion came from its interior, and fire streamed out of every gap in its metal skin. It let the Champion go and she fell, landing on the street with a muffled crash. She stood quickly enough that Pyria was confident that no one else noticed her hesitation. She swung the ball and chain around and around, building up momentum until she finally smashed it agaisnt the dragon. It's feet lifted off the ground it and went flying over the edge, landing in the evacuated Merchant district below.
The fireball knocked everyone in the street to the ground. They lost a few precious minutes waiting for Alwin to grab the mirror and make his way to the edge of the district. Smoke poured from every hole in the machine, and its metal skin was glowing red from the fire inside. Part of it was already beginning to collapse.
Pyria released the breath she didn’t know she was holding. “She really did it.”
Ruvor nodded. “Did ye really think she wouldn’t? Ye taught to well for ‘at.”
“I just…” Pyria let herself collapse back into the seat. She winced as her bones began complaining at the sudden motion. “I… never thought I’d get too old to do these things, Ruvor. I got old, and so many others didn’t, and now my little girl is stuck trying to clean up something I never would have been able to because I’m just too damn old to do anything!”
Ruvor didn’t say anything, something had gotten better at as he grew older. She sighed. “I know, I’m cantankerous, but I just… I can’t help people anymore. Not like I could back then.” She pointed at the screen where her daughter was already helping clear away rubble. “I just want to be able to do something important again.”
Ruvor put a hand on hers. “I dunno what to tell ye, Pyria. Bein’ old ain’t somethin’ none of us expected to happen. But raisn’ that little girl, teachin’ her how to be a knight… ye did all that, and she saved the whole city. That’s somethin’ ain’t it?”
Pyria looked again her daughter, dragging people away from burning buildings. The armor looked different, she used a spear instead of an axe, and as she watched she actually shook the hand of one of the Watchmen. No one would ever mix the two of them up.
She chuckled. "Heh. I guess I did something right, didn't I?"
"If ye went an' got us another tankerd, it'd be two somethings."
Pyria burst out laughing and slugged him in the shoulder. "Oh— you are incorrigible, you know that?"
"I don't know what ye mean." He picked up his tankard and sighed. "C'mon. I know I've got another barrel somewhere. Maybe ye don't drink, but I wouldn't mind gettin' a crakin' buzz on before I have to find out what happened to my stores tomorrow."
He swayed off towards the kitchen, Pyria following and occasionally helping him balance. Maybe the city was changing a little. Malicor's attacks were forcing Elves and Dwarves to get over themselves and work together. The City Watch was nearly competent now. Maybe in a few years, the government might even start working.
Maybe this won't be so bad after all.
But I think it's the plot of the story that I can't really get behind. I worry that too much thought has been put into this fantastical world, and so the crux of the story—the message you're trying to convey—got a little malnourished.
I'd point to Pyria herself as being mostly to blame for this. She's meant to be the vessel to deliver the message of the story, but she's not a very good one. Her duality is astounding—she acts and talks as if a dragon attack is just another day at the office, but then her body language (trembling, mostly) gives the notion that she's truly terrified of what could happen to her daughter. These two personalities—nonchalant and terrified—would work well individuallyfor this story if it was straight comedy or straight drama, but when they're both together popping up at random places, I can't get a read on her. And as such, her fear of watching her daughter's fight came off as insincere. It's as if seeing her daughter appear on-screen (on-mirror) reminded her that she should be at least pretending to care.
And it could be part of the reason the revelation at the end felt very heavy-handed. She's just seen her daughter claim victory in clever fashion, and her first thought is that she's just so old now, and it sucks. And it's Ruvor that has to remind her that her daughter was just a badass. In my opinion, it would have made more of an impact if these worries of being old were a lot more apparent during the fight, and for the victory to be the cathartic moment when she realizes that maybe growing old isn't so bad after all so long as the next generation's doing alright.
But that's all from me. Good luck in the contest!
I liked your characters, the worldbuilding was fun and unfolded nicely, there was some plot; yeah, it's pretty good.
I think, though, that you could go a lot deeper with it. If you bring in the emotional conflict stuff that Pyria's dealing with earlier, you could deepen them a bit; she feels useless because she's old, and she takes that out on her daughter, etc; this comes through in the end, but bringing it up earlier would give you more time to work on what it means, and show how her daughter deals with it more effectively. As-is, it's all there, but it's not as strong as I think it could be.
Anyways, I rather enjoyed this. I think it could be stronger, but it's pretty fun. Thanks for writing!
There were a couple of spots where I noticed minor technical mistakes: "Maybe the monster would flatten her house, but if it didn’t there wouldn’t be fractured plates and glass all over the floor." for example. I had to read that twice and I'm still not sure if it shouldn't be "...if it didn't there would be fractured plates..." I also think that there was some comma abuse, but since I pepper the damn things like buckshot over everything I write, I'm hardly an authority on how commas ought to be used.
That aside, I really liked it. It's an interesting world you came up with with sort of a fusion of traditional high fantasy and also some modern technology and ideas (for lack of a better word).
There were a couple of spots where I noticed minor technical mistakes: "Maybe the monster would flatten her house, but if it didn’t there wouldn’t be fractured plates and glass all over the floor." for example. I had to read that twice and I'm still not sure if it shouldn't be "...if it didn't there would be fractured plates..."
But isn't she putting them away so they won't break? Maybe that should have been made clearer.
The clockwork dragon section is awkward. It says that it towers over everything, but the details are hard to make out. In fact, it repeats the fact that the details are hard to make out several times. I think giving a description of the upper part of it sticking up beyond the smoke would be more effective.
I’m also confused by the “meatbag” part – is the main reporter a magitek robot thing? If so, that could be made clearer, as it seems like an extraneous detail.
My thought on this story on the whole was that it was competent, but kind of underwhelming. I didn’t really invest in the story, and it seemed a bit rote. We don’t really end up getting a good grasp on anyone, don’t have a strong investment in anything, and the story’s overall message seems to be “Well, parent, you did good,” seeing as the actual warrior in the story isn’t even really a person to us, just something we see on magic TV.
Thanks. I hope to write a real book about this place, and this was very helpful.
I’m also confused by the “meatbag” part – is the main reporter a magitek robot thing? If so, that could be made clearer, as it seems like an extraneous detail.
It's how I remembered the talking mirror from Snow White