Contest #196 shortlist ⭐️

26 comments

Adventure Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Jon Trevino sat at his computer doing his very favorite thing in the world: writing of adventures in his fictional world of Oaleth with his six-year-old son on his lap. 

Jon watched Henry read the paragraph he’d just typed, the boy’s delighted eyes scanning across the screen in the blue glow of the monitor. Teaching his young son to read had been the most fulfilling experience of Jon’s life. He felt that he’d instilled in Henry the same love of story and of fantasy that drove Jon to write, and having seen the boy devour the old children’s classics, Jon decided that if he accomplished nothing further in his life, kindling and tending this flame was enough.

A knock at the door. Jon’s heart sank.

“Already?” Henry complained.

“Looks like Momma's here," Jon said. "Next week, okay?”

“What’s gonna happen next?” Henry said.

“I don’t know yet, bud. We’ll have to wait and see.”

“But you’re making it up! Are the magi able to summon help through the portal?”

More insistent knocking. 

“Jon, it’s seven-thirty!” Sheila’s voice, impatient.

Jon helped Henry to his feet and opened the door. “Sheila.”

Sheila pushed her head in. “Henry, let’s go, honey. Get your coat.”

“Hey, how about leaving him with me for the class?” Jon said. “He’s really into the story tonight.”

“When are you going to give up on all this childish sword and sorcery nonsense and get a real job? Or are you trying to stay poor to keep your child support payments low?”

A bitter spike of ice drove into Jon’s guts, but he’d armored himself against these things over the years.

Henry appeared, donning his coat. “Hi, Momma. Can I please stay over? Daddy and I just found a portal in the bowels of the keep, and--”

“The bowels of the keep?” She shot Jon a withering look. “Come on, love. Momma needs to get to spin class.”

“Next week, pal. I love you.” Jon hugged his son. Moments like these filled the gaps and cracks in his life, and he stretched them out as long as he could.


Jon woke with a jolt to his phone ringing. His sister's name glowed on the screen.

“Kate?”

“Hey dummy,” Kate said. “Listen, good news. Bruce was able to pull some strings. Someone dropped out last minute, and he got you that booth at Comic-Con.”

Jon shot upright in bed. “Oh my god, Kate. You’re saving my life here. Please, please tell Bruce I’ll make it up to him.”

“You just get all your copies together and whatever else you need to promote. We want to help, but this wasn’t cheap. Just do your best, okay?”

“I’ll be there, all business. I love you both.”


San Diego Comic-Con was among the most spectacularly ridiculous things that Jon had ever seen. A scrum of color and noise and nerdy fandom, his modest banner promoting his Oaleth book series was dwarfed by the enormity of it.

Jon actually had fans here. He was signing a copy of Ruinwalker when he noticed her: a burly woman in a distant aisle peering around the huge convention center, hard-edged but bewildered, like a wild predator waking up in a shopping mall. He’d have sworn that her cosplay was that of his own invention, the heroine of Fall of Kings. Then she spotted his booth and paused. She marched toward him, a woman on a mission. He was reminded vividly of The Terminator.

The warrior woman shoved a fan aside as she reached Jon’s booth. “You are Jon of House Trevino, Worldsmith of Oaleth.” She bowed, but there was mistrust in her narrowed eyes.

Her costume was incredible. The green warpaint, the scalemail cuirass, the wolf’s head pauldron on the left shoulder. She was Mad Marion to a T.

“Wow, well done.” Jon began. “That’s--”

“We must speak,” the costumed woman said. She gripped Jon's arm and began toward an exit. 

“Whoa, easy!”

She was undeterred. And strong.


His protests amounted to nothing until they reached what looked like a utility closet door in a quiet corner of the complex. The jamb appeared to have been kicked in at the handle.

“We’re in desperate need of your help,” she whispered. “I’ve been sent by the magi of Freehaven to bring you back with me to Oaleth.”

“Right,” Jon said. “Listen, I appreciate that you enjoy the books, but I need to get back to my booth. And you may want to speak with a professional.”

She cursed in the tongue of Avedmora. “We don’t have time for this.” She pulled open the utility closet to reveal a shadowed room within.

“And what’s in the closet?”

“It links to the rift door that the magi unearthed beneath the keep. The portal. You created it, didn’t you? The Enemy’s army is marching toward Freehaven, and our only hope is to sacrifice one of the Staves of the Old World and send a lone traveler through the portal and bring help from beyond the world, yes?”

Jon put his hands up in protest. “Whoa, whoa. What the hell is this? I haven’t even finished a draft yet, much less submitted anything to my publisher. How’d you get into my Google Drive?” 

“I’ve seen your face in the Farseer’s Glass. The magi said that beyond the portal I’d emerge at a site of a great confluence of World-weavers, a nexus of many strange realms and their creators.”

Jon blinked at the doorway. “Comic-Con?”

She grabbed him by his shoulders and turned him roughly toward her. “Look at me. Who am I?”

He took in her features, the deep scar beneath her ear from a slitherhawk’s talon. The long braid which had never once been cut. She smelled of iron and woodsmoke. His disbelief cracked and drifted like an ice floe. "You're Marion,” he said, awestruck, “once called the Lioness of Avedmora. Lately called Mad Marion. You hate the name, but it keeps people away from you, so you endure it. You’d rather be alone, as it keeps you from hurting anyone.”

She stared stonily at him.

“You took on bounties that the other hunters of the realm wouldn’t dare to, until…”

Her muscles tensed. There was rage simmering in the wetness of her eyes, the hardness of her mouth. He had written her just this way, but there was something more here now: Her anger mingled with a keen fear and guilt that he himself had carelessly etched there.

At the worst of times, during the spiteful, hazy gin vapor nights at his word processor, when the divorce loomed large and bore its fangs and threatened to take Henry away from him, Jon had plunged deep into the abyss of his mind’s eye. There he had authored a hideous trauma that had broken this woman.

“Until Brimhollow,” Jon said at last.

Marion inhaled sharply, struggling to keep her composure. Finally, the dam broke. “Children. They were children!”

The vulnerability in her voice shook Jon profoundly. He had never heard this voice when he’d been writing Marion -- the great warrior, the lioness -- but of course it was there, muted by the pages upon which she had lived. Until now.

Jon remembered the pages, the ones he’d never dared to share with Henry.

It was to be her most daring quest yet: Unsettling whispers of an enchanter in the town of Brimhollow, rumors that the townspeople’s minds were being usurped by old magic. When Marion arrived, only the children remained.

“Their parents were splayed out in their homes, in the streets,” Marion said, “because of course they’d never bring harm to their children, even after he’d changed them. The men and women were half-eaten by animals. Some by the children themselves.” Her voice steadied, soft, her eyes distant with memory. “Their chins were dark with gore when they began to surround me, grinning, animated by the very insects that spilled from their mouths. Little eyes like silver coins. And then, perched upon a pile of bodies -- him.”

It was no mere enchanter that had come to Brimhollow, but the dread champion of the Enemy in his black platemail: Azerazet, Lord of Illusions, darling servant to the Queen of Worms.

The wizard vanished, smirking, and let Marion live. It was crueler that way.

“And then the children came for me,” she said, her voice trembling, “and there was nothing human left in them. Not until afterward.”

Marion was going to die, and her warrior’s instincts wouldn’t allow it. She clawed them off of her and kicked them away and swung her greatsword in broad, sweeping arcs. The children poured from the homesteads and clambered from the rooftops and scuttled spiderlike toward her in a throng of shrieking bodies. They fell like wheat before her, black gouts of insects spraying from them, and she wept as she cleaved through them until all was silent but the scuttling insects as they abandoned their young and dying hosts.

“And afterward I could see it on their faces. Then I could see the children that they used to be.” Marion’s eyes bore into Jon, and he saw at last the true danger that had been the Lioness of Avedmora. That which was now “Mad” Marion. “But you knew all that. Didn’t you? That’s what you did to me.”

Jon finally breathed. “I’m so sorry, Marion. I thought I was just writing a story. I didn’t know.”

She spun on him. “Now you know what you’ve done. What you’re capable of. And you’re going to make up for the suffering you’ve caused. For me. For all of us.”

Jon peered into the shadowed doorway. 

Just a closet. Nothing special.

He stepped through, and world went blue.


They emerged onto an ornately carved stone dais in a torchlit cavern, a company of robed and bearded men bowing low as Jon found his footing. He knew this place. These were the very bowels of the keep that had so excited Henry, and the supplicants before him were the magi of Freehaven.

Jon Trevino had stepped through a closet and into the world of Oaleth.

“Hail, World-weaver!” the violet-robed magus said. “We’ve sacrificed a great boon to summon you, but by the storms, you’re truly here.

“I don’t--” Jon began. 

All looked up at him raptly. 

“I’m afraid I don’t know how to help you. I’m just a storyteller, and frankly I have no idea what’s happening. I need to sit down.” Jon sat down hard on the dais, bewildered.

“My Lord,” the red-robed magus said, “You need only do what’s in your nature.” The old man smiled reverently at him. He produced from the folds of his robe a roll of parchment, ink and quill.

***

Ever since things with Sheila had begun to fall apart, Jon had grown accustomed to disappointing people, but his failures beyond the portal eclipsed everything that came before.

For days he had worked his quill and ink, attempting to write things into existence. When he was unable to simply remove the threat of the Enemy’s army, he tried to summon rock-dragons and pyromancers, even modern weapons from his own world. Nothing happened. He was their last and shining hope, and he’d proven even more impotent at affecting change here, in a world of his own creation, than he had at home. 

Marion had watched him. As he struggled, his hope waning, her coldness toward him seemed to melt by degrees.

***

As the invasion loomed, the magi and captains of Freehaven called a great war council, and Jon stood before them now, crestfallen.

“I may not be what you think I am,” Jon told the gathered company. “Perhaps I never created this world, but rather channeled it somehow. I may have seen visions of another place and thought it my own invention. But as you’ve seen, I’m powerless to change things with my quill in this place.”

A great murmuring erupted.

One captain cried, “If you cannot help us, then what shall we do against this evil?”

“I’ll help you yet, if I’m able,” Jon said. “Before I came here, Lady Marion made me realize that there are consequences to what I’ve done. I intend to make right what I can. 

“I know how and where the Enemy will attack, and how you might prepare. If their champion is defeated, they will fall.” He looked to Marion, whose expression hardened with resolve. “But please: I ask that whatever happens, I must find a way to return to my son. He’s all I have in my world.” Jon’s voice broke. “He’s out there somewhere, without his father.”

Thus did Freehaven prepare, and the torches of the Enemy grew ever closer on the horizon.

***

The red sky boomed and thundered on the day they arrived at the gates.

Freehaven’s outskirts crumbled under the assault, but the Enemy’s war machines collapsed into the secret trenches dug by her militia.

Archers died on the wall, but great swaths of the land were made impassable when flaming arrows alighted the oil-soaked battlefield.

Jon’s stratagems had bought them time and saved many lives, but this beast was not beheaded yet. 


Marion rode hard around the army’s flank, toward the northern rise above Freehaven, Jon’s arms about her waist.

“Azerazet won’t be expecting anyone so far afield,” Jon shouted over the din, “and though he knows that his illusions won’t work twice on the same foe, he won’t recognize you with your helm closed. That’ll be your chance. But don’t underestimate him in close quarters; there’s a reason he’s the Worm Queen’s favorite.”

“He won’t have time for his weapon,” she said. “Lord Trevino, you must know something: I didn’t know of your son. I’m sorry to have taken you from him.”

The idea that Jon may not live to see Henry again firmly struck home. “I believe in you, Marion. You’re stronger than him.” 

They crested the rise, and there he was, alone: Azerazet clad in black plate, helmless, looking down upon the field. His sword sheathed, his black staff in one gauntleted hand.

“Prepare to take the reins,” Marion said.

“What?!” He hadn't begun to grasp her meaning, but already she was moving. They galloped forward, and Marion nimbly stood, balancing upon the saddle. Azerazet turned as she gripped her greatsword in both hands.

“For the children,” the Lioness said, and leapt from the horse.

Marion flew toward the creature, screaming, winding back and chopping downward in a great overhead blow. Azerazet raised a hand to conjure a defense -- a mirror image, Jon knew -- but nothing came. A grimace of horror alighted upon the wizard’s face, then split. The blade cleaved him cleanly from head to waist, and he fell shuddering as Marion landed and rolled upon the hardpan.

A horrid, multitudinous shriek boomed across the valley as the invaders below shed their parasitic animators -- millions of insects scuttling from them and dying upon the battlefield -- and collapsed as human beings once more.   

Marion carefully collected the staff and inspected it. “I have never seen its like. This is a mighty weapon, a Staff of the Old World.” She held it out to Jon.

“I know,” he said, taking it reverently. It was an ornate yet delicate thing, unspeakable in its beauty. It was just as Jon had imagined it, and it thrummed with power in his hands. "I can't believe I'm holding this. That it's actually real."

“It will open the portal and ferry you home.” For the first time, her eyes were kind and gentle. Her haunting pain had relented, and the Lioness had retreated within her. This was Lady Marion, the once-promised triumvir of Avedmora, who had abdicated her noble seat in favor of adventure. “Be mindful of us, Worldsmith," Marion said. "We are in your hands.” She bowed deeply, and Jon bowed in return. 

***

When he next hugged his son, Jon held on for a very long time.

Henry eagerly wanted to hear what happened next in the story, and Jon had quite a story to tell.


May 05, 2023 05:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

26 comments

Amanda Lieser
14:25 May 26, 2023

Hi Jamie, I was utterly enchanted by this piece, because I think that by our very nature, writers tend to infuse the issues and problems that we’re facing in the real world with our writing. I really liked how in the middle of the action of the story you took a moment to give us a glimpse into your protagonist’s mind. I thought it was interesting that he chose to reflect on his marriage, and on calls to action in his own life. Congrats on the shortlist!!

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:18 Jul 01, 2023

I appreciate that tremendously -- thank you so much, Amanda! I imagine that most writers have had some similar idea or fantasy of traversing into the worlds they put on the page, and yes, if we're being truthful with ourselves, that ought to also include the darkness and the ugly stuff as well. But hey, maybe we get some insight into ourselves and are better equipped to deal with things going forward. Writing can be cathartic, right? Thank you so much taking the time to read and for your feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
19:00 May 17, 2023

Wonderful descriptive ability. Fine work.Congrats.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:16 Jul 01, 2023

Thanks, Philip! That's very kind and it's always encouraging to receive comments like this, even I come to them way later than I ought to have!

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
08:49 Jul 01, 2023

Welcome.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
John Siddham
10:40 May 14, 2023

Wow, excellent read! You managed to take us into this other world via the portal with your character Jon. Very clever how you weaved Jon's dialogue with his characters in this other universe. Well done, congrats!

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:15 Jul 01, 2023

Thank you, John! I really appreciate you reading my story and taking the time to shoot me a comment! I'm only now discovering these and I'm bowled over at how lovely this community is. Thanks again!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
12:41 May 13, 2023

The relationship between father a son is very sweet (though if he’s six maybe it should be mentioned that he’s a genius?). The idea of the enraged warrior approaching him at Comic-Con is theoretically hilarious, but actually executed with seriousness and urgency. This is beautiful writing: “At the worst of times, during the spiteful, hazy gin vapor nights at his word processor, when the divorce loomed large and bore its fangs and threatened to take Henry away from him, Jon had plunged deep into the abyss of his mind’s eye. There he had autho...

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:14 Jul 01, 2023

That's so kind -- thank you!! I'm grateful that you took the time to read my story and that you enjoyed it. And you're right -- this kid is likely a little farther along than he should be, realistically. I'm not around kids much, so I appreciate the insight! :D Thank you for reading and for your lovely feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
19:12 May 12, 2023

Quite the world you built, Wordsmith. Congrats on the shortlist. I read so many this week but missed several that were shortlisted. Shows how tough the competition was this week.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:12 Jul 01, 2023

I appreciate that, thank you kindly! I discovered these Reedsy competitions fairly recently and I can't imagine how many great stories are stockpiled over here from all these weekly contests. Looking forward to diving in when I find the time one of these days. Thank you for reading!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Viga Boland
17:56 May 12, 2023

Congratulations on being shortlisted on your third submission. 👏 Nice to see someone else on Reedsy who uses dialogue well.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:11 Jul 01, 2023

Thank you so much! I very much appreciate your kind words about the dialogue; that's something that I sometimes feel I'm struggling with, but all we can do is keep practicing. The shortlist was certainly a welcome surprise! Appreciate you taking the time to read it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
DeAnna Myers
21:10 May 11, 2023

This is a good story and I enjoyed reading it. I think it needs a bit more at the ending. He goes through this tremendous time in the other world, and then he's home hugging his son.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:10 Jul 01, 2023

Thank you! I absolutely agree with you about the ending. I tend to get caught up being fairly liberal with the word count early on in a story, and then realize halfway through that I'm going to need to wrap it up a lot sooner than I'd hoped to. In this case, it feels a bit backwards -- the whole siege in Oaleth at the end feels like it really ought to be the meaty, developed section of the story, but I found myself in a crunch without time to go back and maneuver things accordingly and still meet the word cap. Anyway, the good thing about...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Fox
19:35 May 08, 2023

This was so much fun! I love the premise, and the characters are wonderful.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:07 Jul 01, 2023

Thank you very much! I'm just now getting around to these comments (pretty new around here). I appreciate your feedback and kind words! Thank you for taking the time to read my story. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Love Spell
02:00 Nov 13, 2023

I can’t believe that with just a contact to Dr. Salem, I got my ex husband back. I had read some stuff about Manifest Temple before I contacted him but I didn’t know that all those stuff were so accurate until I got my husband back, After getting my ex husband back I taught it wise to share my testimony with everyone on this website that how Dr. Salem was able to get my husband back with his powerful reunion love spell. That rebuild my broken marriage. All my hope has been fully restored and am happy to share my experience to everyone. Do fe...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Love Spell
02:00 Nov 13, 2023

I can’t believe that with just a contact to Dr. Salem, I got my ex husband back. I had read some stuff about Manifest Temple before I contacted him but I didn’t know that all those stuff were so accurate until I got my husband back, After getting my ex husband back I taught it wise to share my testimony with everyone on this website that how Dr. Salem was able to get my husband back with his powerful reunion love spell. That rebuild my broken marriage. All my hope has been fully restored and am happy to share my experience to everyone. Do fe...

Reply

Show 0 replies
22:59 Jun 02, 2023

wow. I'm blown away. Great job.

Reply

Jamie Campbell
04:19 Jul 01, 2023

Thank you! I'M blown away by how lovely this community is and how kind and supportive you guys are. I appreciate you taking the time!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
14:49 Jun 06, 2023

I NEED AN URGENT LOVE SPELL CASTER TO BRING BACK MY EX LOVER My Husband broke up with me after 9years of relationship. It started from small misunderstandings after which he told me that it would be good to take a break, which I think turned into a breakup. He no longer looks for me, he blocked my number and people said they saw him with another woman, this brought tears to my eyes because we are about to marry, I searched for help when I came across this spiritual man called DR ABDUL who have helped many people having relationship problem, ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
14:49 Jun 06, 2023

I NEED AN URGENT LOVE SPELL CASTER TO BRING BACK MY EX LOVER My Husband broke up with me after 9years of relationship. It started from small misunderstandings after which he told me that it would be good to take a break, which I think turned into a breakup. He no longer looks for me, he blocked my number and people said they saw him with another woman, this brought tears to my eyes because we are about to marry, I searched for help when I came across this spiritual man called DR ABDUL who have helped many people having relationship problem, ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
14:49 Jun 06, 2023

I NEED AN URGENT LOVE SPELL CASTER TO BRING BACK MY EX LOVER My Husband broke up with me after 9years of relationship. It started from small misunderstandings after which he told me that it would be good to take a break, which I think turned into a breakup. He no longer looks for me, he blocked my number and people said they saw him with another woman, this brought tears to my eyes because we are about to marry, I searched for help when I came across this spiritual man called DR ABDUL who have helped many people having relationship problem, ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
14:49 Jun 06, 2023

I NEED AN URGENT LOVE SPELL CASTER TO BRING BACK MY EX LOVER My Husband broke up with me after 9years of relationship. It started from small misunderstandings after which he told me that it would be good to take a break, which I think turned into a breakup. He no longer looks for me, he blocked my number and people said they saw him with another woman, this brought tears to my eyes because we are about to marry, I searched for help when I came across this spiritual man called DR ABDUL who have helped many people having relationship problem, ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
14:48 Jun 06, 2023

I NEED AN URGENT LOVE SPELL CASTER TO BRING BACK MY EX LOVER My Husband broke up with me after 9years of relationship. It started from small misunderstandings after which he told me that it would be good to take a break, which I think turned into a breakup. He no longer looks for me, he blocked my number and people said they saw him with another woman, this brought tears to my eyes because we are about to marry, I searched for help when I came across this spiritual man called DR ABDUL who have helped many people having relationship problem, ...

Reply

Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.