Contest Entry #1 – The Cyclic Ruse

Tonight I’m going to post my first full short story; I don’t feel the Dialogue 500 one counts, as it was kinda gimmicky with just dialogue. The contest creator is a fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, so the prompt was “Use ‘Winter is coming’ in your submission.” Of course that phrase is well known, but I wanted to use it well in an original way. I feel I did a pretty good job of integration while keeping the whole setting unrelated to Martin’s series. In fact, I’ve begun development of a novel skeleton based on this short story. I’m looking forward to it, after I finish my current novel (which I’ll talk about in a future post).  Tomorrow, I will post the review and discuss how I felt about it.

This story won first place in the round I participated in.

Without further ado, here is: The Cyclic Ruse

winter is coming…

The faint words echoed off the icy columns. Its subtle yet forceful whisper reverberated around the rime-encrusted iron throne. The words lingered on the ice-lined walls and slid forlornly into the silence of the ancient throne room. The orb he sought rested on the throne, its pale blue form vibrant and ethereal.

The warrior shivered, an unfamiliar feeling to him. The cursed castle was now just a glacial tomb, the remnants of life rising in vaporous forms. Faint and hollow faces appeared at the edges of the fog-like vapor, silently echoing the simple message spoken before. He could fight these, but they were inconsequential; the sword of the sun would decimate their number, but they would reform and overwhelm him. It would be better to wait for the guardian.

winter is coming…

The chorus spoke louder, no longer a whisper. The warrior stepped back, the chill of the room reaching under his armor. Icy rivulets of sweat trickled down his back, the touch of cold fear threatening to break him.

The vaporous shades coalesced into a single form, the outline of a man; at least, a sort of man. Its solidifying limbs were clear, as clear as fresh ice, thick with frozen life. Its torso became smooth and slick, the vapors not quite solid inside, writhing internally with a life of their own.

winter is coming….

The voice was single now, repeating its prophetic sentence. The warrior stood frozen, not in a literal icy sense; although he now thought that frigid oblivion would be a blessing. There was no turning back. The object of his venture into the barren grave of a castle lay mere yards behind the chilly manifestation. Despite the terror cascading through him, he must complete his objective. He had no choice.

The warrior stepped forward, raising the sun sword up and back, the tower shield firmly held straight and true. Many comrades had perished in their quest for the creation of this sword, and they would finally rest easy in the frozen depths of hell as he vindicated their sacrifice.

The guardian of ice had formed a gaping maw now. Its mouth, if it could be called one, was lined with thousands of icicle-like teeth, and it salivated a congealing frost beneath its stalagmite feet. It towered above the warrior, stretching its glacial mass as it flexed its newly formed limbs.

winter is coming…

The chorus had returned with its whisper, and new foggy apparitions formed along the edges of the chamber.

The warrior took another stride forward. The guardian noticed him now, and forcefully blasted a gale of sleet at him. He was ready for this, and he hunkered behind the tower shield and waited for the blizzard to finish. His long and tedious study of the rituals required had paid off; he was prepared for this guardian.

As the guardian finished its torrent, the warrior stood fast and charged. The guardian swung its fist powerfully at him, and the warrior slashed downward with the sword of the sun. As if it was still vapor, the fist of the guardian fell to the ground and shattered. A surge of confidence filled the warrior and he pulled back his shield to a more offensive stance. Lunging forward, the warrior slashed across the leg, hoping to cripple the glacial monstrosity.

The guardian predicted his attack and moved back its leg. The warrior had hoped it would be unintelligent, but apparently it possessed some modicum of strategy. As it moved back, it swung its undamaged arm at the warrior swiftly. He was able to turn and absorb the impact with the shield, but it flung him across the chamber. He slid into a column, raining shards of ice down from its frost-covered surface. A spasm of pain erupted across his back; but he retained control of his limbs, so he concluded that it was not a paralyzing injury, fortunately.

winter is coming…

The chorus of vapors repeated their distracting sentence. He was well aware of the meaning of their declaration. The bite of brutal life-ending winter could only be halted by this cycling combat. The kingdom had forged the sword of the sun during the high heat of summer, completing the necessary trial to end the scorching heat. The orb ahead had fueled the intense summer, providing the heat required for the sword; it had regenerated when defeated as its polar opposite: the bitter chill of winter. The seasons would worsen until the orb was quenched with the tool made from its opposite essence.

The warrior felt a twinge of despair. The battle he fought would not be the end, only the beginning of more suffering, despite the immediate respite from the orb’s torment. Everyone knew it, and the fate of being chosen to reset the orbs was a singular honor. After he died, they would add his name to the songs they sang during the brief months of spring and autumn. Small comfort, he thought. Glory was not his goal, only salvation of those he loved.

The guardian waited for him. He stood up slowly and stretched his tormented back; sharp cramps caused the warrior to wince noticeably. Nevertheless, he had a job to do. The warrior picked up his tower shield, flexed his sword arm, and advanced again.

winter is coming…

He did not hesitate this time. The warrior bellowed his fury as he ran directly at the guardian. It could sense the conviction in the warrior, or perhaps it knew the warrior had finally accepted his role. The guardian spread its maw wide and gushed a new torrent of slick ice and sleet, some of it condensing tighter into hail. He blocked the assault partially with his shield, but a portion of the gale struck his sword arm. The sun sword kept his glove and vambrace thawed, but his elbow had frozen solid. He cried out in pain, as his skin was now fused to the gambeson underneath his steel.

His shoulder still worked, though. The warrior collided with the leg of the abomination, pushing it off balance and forcing it to stagger one step back. The warrior did not relent. He slashed outward with his sword arm, pivoting his torso to compensate for the loss of flexibility in his elbow. The sun sword severed the leg readily, and the glacial beast fell.

As the guardian landed, the warrior dodged its flailing limb and thrust the sun sword as well as he was able into its gaping maw. It bit down with its icicle teeth, but they had no physical force. He had defeated the orb’s guardian and it dissolved into a wet chilly fog.

The vaporous shades were silent. The emptiness of the tomb-like throne room was oppressive as the warrior stood exhausted, breathing heavily. The light from the bluish-white orb resting on the plain iron throne grew visibly brighter, and the warrior gazed deeply at its new light.

winter is coming…

The words came from his own lips. He still had a task to complete; it was not yet over. Tossing aside the useless shield, the warrior walked to the throne wearily. The orb’s intensity did not lessen, and he sensed it had an awareness; at least, it was aware of him.

He knew what he had to do, but he paused. Would ending the cycle by not destroying the orb be so bad? Would not an endless winter be preferable to a cycle of oppressive extremes? He could then live, if not a warm life then at least a longer life than now.

No. It must be this way. It had been this way for centuries. He was too weak-minded to solve this puzzle of seasonal extremes. Let the next warrior save the world. He had only to end the bitter winter. Glory was not his place.

The warrior thrust the sun sword into the orb, and immediately the fiery essence of the sword absorbed into the blue orb. The orb ignited, pulsating with incendiary force, and his blade withered into ash. Blue icy essence filled the handle, and as the orb grew brighter with new flames, he threw the handle into the air and recited the return spell; it vanished with the crisp sound of ice breaking. Hopefully it made it to the kingdom; he had no way to be sure.

The warrior tried to pull away from the increasing inferno, but the vaporous shades from the edges of the chamber had come behind him, preventing escape. He could not retreat and he closed his eyes as the brightness grew intolerable. He felt his armor begin to melt and he screamed as the metal burned through his gambeson and into his soul. The vaporous shades wrapped around him and ignited as well. Engulfed, the pain swept his awareness into oblivion.

The concept of time became meaningless. Yet, the pain lessened gradually. The chamber’s icy scene had disappeared, and the deep desert sands of the floor became evident to him. Confused, the warrior gazed down at himself and saw flames, flames in the form of a man. The orb, now a dull red, lay on the throne behind him.

Then, he understood. He would be the guardian now. The full nature of the curse became apparent. The cycle would never end, as the tormented people fueled the orb each season. The kingdom itself maintained the cycle of bitter extremes. He had no way to explain to them their error.

But that was not his problem any more.

Summer is coming, he whispered.

Copyright © 2012 – Oren’s Realm – All Rights Reserved

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