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Eye of the Storm · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000


The following prizes are courtesy of horizon and Trick Question:

  • $25 USD to 1st place
  • $15 USD to 2nd place
  • $15 USD to 3rd place
  • $20 USD to the top placing entrant who has never entered a Writeoff before

A complete detailing of the prizes on offer is here.

We Are Five
It began as many things do, with a meeting that was running late, and a simple disagreement that was anything but simple.

“We are Four. We must be Five before deciding.”

“We are enough, Speaker!” snapped Synysysis with a piercing glare at where Golonaphrax was drawing abstract designs in the dust. Despite the inky darkness that filled the rest of the olive orchard, the brilliant moon shone down brightly enough that he squinted as his gaze passed over the rest of the gathering. Patience was not a strength of his tribe and the rest of the Four knew it, arranging themselves at a respectable distance while they waited. Despite the low muttering and constant movement of Synysysis over the last two days, Golonaphrax remained calm and immune to his appeals. Instead, he simply sat in place, day and night, drawing in the dust of the Circle, until Synysysis could take no more.

“Waiting only can damage the Mage we are here to protect. Pravus are too flighty about these things. The lazy fools frequently don’t even show if they suspect they are not to be chosen.”

“He’s right, you know,” said Fa from her inverted perch on a nearby olive tree. “Once I went to a Gathering where it was obvious that the Mage was Earth oriented, and I told them there was no reason—“

“I reluctantly agree with Golonaphrax,” said Nyserx as he shifted to a more comfortable position on a large warm rock. “Although we are only Four, we must wait a little longer. The power of the call was great. This Mage must be of great power. Pravus always show for the powerful, even if they are not chosen to guard.”

“He’s right,” said Fa again. “There hasn’t been an Arch-Magi in centuries that—“

“Archmage?” asked Synysysis with a disbelieving shake of his slender head. “I doubt it. The Awakening Cry we all heard was mixed in whatever magical concussions that have been shaking the Eastern Empire for the last month. An echo, no more, no less. This Mage was Awakened by the disturbance, or it was coincidence. Every hour we wait, the Mage’s power will dwindle and grow more distant. The gift will gutter and fade, and the new Mage will surely go mad without our assistance to release the power. We must act now! You know my preferences. I call for the vote! Nyserx?”

“Hmmmm,” muttered Nyserx as he shifted again on his rock, moving to where the warmth of the sun had not yet faded with the chill of night. “If you are willing to call for the vote, I will concur. Two days. Two nights. The hours grow long and the Mage will grow distant. Too long and it will be injured beyond repair. Time is of the essence in more ways than one. Golonaphrax?”

“Umph. No.” Golonaphrax continued drawing in the moonlit dust, adding to a trail of dark letters and symbols that criss-crossed across the clearing floor, punctuated with the olive pits that Fa had been spitting out beneath her tree. “Patience.”

Fa fidgeted from her perch in the olive tree, internally torn with the decision that had to be made. Her mind was ill-suited for this kind of thing, having less wit than her fellows, and the ancestral memories of generations before churned into froth what little thoughts she could claim as her own. A decision had to be made. She had to make it. Nobody had told her the job was going to be this hard. Then again, nobody had told her anything about the role she had been fated to play, from the time she had first heard the whisper of her ancestors and left the colony, until the present as the sound of rapid footfalls began to come from the darkened woods.

“Someone comes!” she called, keeping her ears pivoted towards the growing sounds until a slender figure stumbled into the clearing and slumped to the ground, panting in exhaustion. It was a very young Pravus, battered and bloody with matted hair and signs of more than one fight on the way to the Circle. Still, it was what they were waiting for, and the sight made Fa flap her wings in anticipation that the long wait was now over.

“We are now Five.” Golonaphrax abruptly quit his drawing and turned to the rest of the Circle. ”Time is of the essence. We shall start in the order prescribed. First.”

Taken aback by the sudden change, Synysysis paused and glared coldly at the new arrival before beginning. “It is obvious that I should be chosen. I was here right after the Speaker. Were it not for a certain individual—” He paused to glare at Golonaphrax “—the frail newborn would already be taken care of and protected. I am mature and wise, able to guide the Mage through the dangerous responsibilities of its gift. I ask that this vote be taken at once before any more damage is done by your meddling.”

“Next,” rumbled Golonaphrax.

“Wait! I am not done!” Synysysis glared at the rest of the group and moved forward to continue, only to be brought up short as Golonaphrax continued.

“No. You spoke of your concerns and called for a vote. You are done. We shall now hear from the Second, according to the Tradition.” Synysysis gathered himself, staring into the old cold eyes of the Speaker for a long minute. Dead silence filled the clearing until Synysysis broke off with a sharp hiss and began muttering quietly to himself.

“Uh,” started Nyserx as he stepped forward with a quick glance at First. “After consideration, Second agrees with the First. Time is critical if we are to assist the new Mage, but it will need the wisdom of age, not the folly of youth. This war has swept across the lands like an uncontrolled storm for decades, but the disturbance in the Eastern Empire has finally brought the bloodshed to a halt. Many claim it as a victory, or even hope for a final end to the eternal conflict, but the Wise One says it is only a brief breath before the blood begins to flow again between East and West.”

“We take no sides.” Golonaphrax spoke with a flat, dead certainty in the way a sailor would talk of the sea, or a Healer, blood.

“Truth.” Nyserx nodded, pressing his chin against the stone as if to eke out the last bits of warmth to counter a sudden chill. “My kind exist on both sides. The war has been very hard on the Healers as of late. The East treats Healers with contempt now, and the West’s Healers are hard-pressed to make a dent in the piles of wounded that heap up after every battle. An experienced touch will be needed for a Mage this powerful. My vote is for Synysysis.”

A long silence filled the clearing before the Speaker turned to Fa. “Third.”

Fa fidgeted on her branch. Truthfully, she felt more comfortable this far above the rest of the group, even if she had been requested to descend and sit with them as equals. Fa quickly snapped, “Third Abstains”, then clapped a hand over her mouth. The words had came from deep within, and were spoken without any choice or hesitation, which caused a sense of enlightenment to dawn inside her small head. Perhaps this was the way these things were supposed to work, with instinct instead of confusing thought. A smile emerged onto her face, her spine straightened, and she passed the point on with a quiet confident “Fourth?”

For nearly a minute, the Speaker sat quietly, almost not breathing or blinking. Then he looked at where the Pravus lay panting in an exhausted heap. Its ribs could be counted even in the moonlight, with feet beaten bloody and black hair matted by sweat and grime, but its green eyes were open and a fire burnt within that chilled Golonaphrax to the core. There was no doubt that the Fifth’s hold upon upon sanity was very thin, if it existed at all.

“Speaker Abstains. Fifth.”

Long minutes passed as the Four all watched the Fifth with various degrees of fear and curiosity, until finally the Fifth stood up with a shaky heave. Shuffling forward to enter the circle, it left little blotches of blood on the leaves and grass until it stopped at the edge of Golonaphrax’s drawing. Then, with green eyes staring eerily at the rest of the circle, Fifth began.

“I must be joined to this Mage or die. This is the second time she has Called to me. The first happened some time ago. I don’t remember how long, because I was too small, and had just become aware of the ancenstors. I wanted to come then, but my mother stopped me. Something triggered the Mage early, a trauma, something involving darkness and fear. I cried and tried to run, but my mother held me down. It hurt so, but within a day the feeling passed and I could not feel her presence anymore. I feared she had died until I felt the Call again.”

“Stop.” Golonaphrax raised one stubby hand and stared into the dark, tear-filled eyes of the battered Pravus. “Speaker is allowed questions by the accords. This Mage you seek to be joined with is female?”

“Yes, as am I.”

“Second, you claim this Mage has called out to you before, but none of us heard the call until two days ago. How long ago was this first call?”

“Eight moons.”

“Third, what is your name.”

“I have not been named.”

“Umph. Continue.”

“I knew which direction the pain had come from. When I was grown, I traveled in this direction. I was slow and careful, listening to the voices of my ancestors as my guide. When this last surge came, I lost all reason and ran. I have been running ever since.”

“Wait,” hissed Synysysis. “Are we to believe that you have been running for two days without rest. That is—“

“Where were you when you received the second call, child?” interrupted Golonaphrax.

“A small village just south of Kernuba’s Well. I think it was called Delp. Or Delt.”

The silence following the response was broken by Fa, who said, “I have been to this place. It’s over a hundred miles from here as the bat flies, across the Duchy of Flint and up the River Sdal.”

“I... I remember the river. There were some trees part of the way across. I almost drowned without them.”

“Umph. Continue.”

“That is all. I felt the call of the Circle some ways away. If you had been on the other side of this farm, I would have missed it. I do not care about East or West, only the Mage to whom I must be joined. She is in so much pain that I can hardly bear it. I must go to her at once! She needs me.”

“Ha, a likely story,” snapped Synysysis. “More likely that—“

“I shall support the Fifth to be the Champion,” stated Golonaphrax in a tone of absolute certainty. “Young and inexperienced she may be, but so will be the Mage to which she is to be joined. Were I a Believer, I would say the Goddess has sent this one. Which aspect is yet to be seen.”

Synysysis recoiled and turned to snap at a response, only to be interrupted again by Fa. “I also shall support the Fifth.”

“Watch it, pipsqueek!” hissed Synysysis in a rage.

“The Count is Three to Two,” intoned Golonaphrax solemnly.

“Four to One,” exclaimed Nyserx, who quickly moved his position on the rock to get farther away from his one-time ally.

“Then it shall be Done, as it has been in the past, and shall be forever in the future. What is Done, is Done.” Golonaphrax looked sideways at where Synysysis was slowly changing colors as rage began to fill his normally stoic features. “The Challenger is entitled to a closing statement.”

“You! You shall all rue the day of this event! What was Five can easily become Four, or even Three, not by my tribe’s withdrawal, but the loss of yours! My Master shall have his revenge, and all of you shall pay! One day, when you all think this is behind you, your little schemes and plots, your traditions, all of which you claim to be protecting will be destroyed. The toy kingdoms of the West will become dust beneath the feet of the Master, and our kind will guide his hands. Go guard your fragile flower, for the Master will pluck it from the earth to bring it to his side, and crush whoever stands in his way.”

Golonaphrax quietly stepped forward in a short hop, smearing the lines he had drawn in the dust. “Those Who Guard have no Master.”

“So.” Synysysis drew himself to his full height. “I have allied myself with the Master who will ultimately prevail. My kind will survive while yours are doomed.”

“Those Who Guard have no Master. It is Death to be otherwise. It is Death.”

Synysysis glared back and slowly withdrew his twin weapons from their sheaths, their slim blades slick with poison. “And who of your kind would stand against me. Certainly not you. Age has dimmed your vision and broadened your belly. Fa will not come out of his tree, and Nyserx has no nerve for bloodshed.” The faintest traces of a smile seemed to cross his reptilian face. “I will claim the Mage for my Master on your death and the death of your so-called Champion of the Circle. She is but an exhausted youth, who—“ He stopped and stared into the moonlit clearing where the Fifth had been a few moments before. Nothing but a few bloodstained olive leaves showed there had ever been anybody there, and then the sky seemed to drop on him.

The battle was longer than it should have been, as the youthful Champion was exhausted, and her experienced opponent fresh. But in the end, there could be only one outcome and one small body was left in the clearing for the scavengers the next morning.
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