If the heat didn’t kill him, the scorpions would.
Zeyr drank from his canteen. The water tasted hot and stale. Above, the blazing sun beat down on his robes, and he kept moving forward, his leather footwraps pushing into the burning sands with each step. If he hadn’t come to do a job—one that needed to be done—he would’ve avoided the region entirely.
As he approached the gates, a young man raised a bow and pulled back on the string. He looked down at Zeyr from a guard tower and called to his brethren. They rushed to their positions. In seconds, a dozen men appeared with bows and throwing spears.
“State your peace, mage!” one called.
Zeyr cleared his throat. His glowing azure eyes had given him away.
“I’ve come to see Nadine,” he said. “It is of grave importance.”
With weapons still raised, the guards climbed down and opened the hardwood entrance—a rarity in the desert. It groaned as it pushed sand into a pile. Men walked out to guide Zeyr through the growing village, refusing to lower the tips of their spears.
Every face turned to him. Women paused as they washed clothes in an oasis pool. Two men stopped their board game on a table of polished soapstone. Others peeked from windows of beige homes. A child, no older than five, pulled on his mother’s hand and pointed to Zeyr.
“Momma, look, it’s a mage!” he said. “You’ve come to help us, right?”
“You could say that,” Zeyr replied. He barely spared the child a glance.
The guards led him to a decorated building surrounded by palm trees. More armed forces stood ready at the doors, dressed in leather wraps, spears in hand. They stepped aside as Zeyr approached. As the doors opened, he steeled himself for the conversation to come.
A tall woman inside spoke with her advisers. At the sight of the mage, she dismissed them, turned, and smiled. She brought up her arms as if to embrace him. Her golden bangles clinked together, and her amethyst necklace glowed a shimmering violet.
“A light-skin in my village!” she called. “Come and sit, friend. Tell me of how far you’ve travelled.” Nadine motioned to a cushioned chair. She sat down across from him and laid her arms out on the table.
“Many nights,” Zeyr said. “Through dunes no man should walk.”
Nadine laughed, as loud as thunder. “Auraq!” A servant appeared at the door. “Make our friend a drink, would you?” She turned back to Zeyr, her eyes inspecting him over. “It’s rare we have visitors out here. A mage, no less. What brings you so deep into the sands?”
Nadine smiled, and they both laughed. He could feel his guard dropping. Very few people in the world would speak with the rogue mage, and it did his soul good to talk to one. A servant brought them drinks—Nadine spoke of how the children had made the cups from clay.
Over the course of a half-hour, they spoke of whatever came to mind. Of legends of the desert—three-headed beasts and a lucky red fox. Of the world outside the sands; of countries that complained about the heat. They laughed over small things, and Zeyr had forgotten how nice it felt to converse with another human.
“So, friend,” Nadine said at last, “what brings you to the desert?”
The question jolted him back to reality. He exhaled, recalling the words he’d prepared ahead of time.
“Miles from here,” Zeyr said, “more than a week’s walk, a tribe of nomads found the ruins of an old empire. They dug out artifacts more powerful than they could understand, and when I asked for them to turn them over, they resisted. I did what had to be done.”
He lowered his voice to match the silence of the room.
“At times, terrible things must be done for the land to remain peaceful. These terrible things are far better than the cataclysms that could unfold otherwise.”
Nadine nodded. Her smile had disappeared.
“I’ve heard,” Zeyr continued, “of one artifact finding its way to this village. A necklace from eras past.” He looked at the space below her neck, where the amethyst gem glowed. “It must be kept safe. Far from the reaches of corruption.”
Any sense of camaraderie in the room vanished. Nadine leaned forward, her bangles gleaming in the light.
“You would take it from me,” she said, “knowing it is all that keeps the monstrous scorpions at bay?”
“Head north. Find men to wield weapons. Build new traps. That necklace is an artifact of destruction, and I can not let it fall into the wrong hands.” Memories flashed through his mind, one frame after another: Souls severed in two. Bodies obliterated down to ashes. Entire countries blown to ruins, shell-shocked mages left roaming across wastelands that once gave home to millions.
“Assassins will soon come to take it from you. You must give it to me today.”
“You…” Nadine stumbled over her words. She looked at the guards, then back at Zeyr. Her dark eyes locked onto his glowing ones. “You understand we can not simply move. We’ve worked too hard to be here—the desert is too unforgiving for us to build somewhere new. We have many women bearing children right now-”
“How many people are in this village?” Zeyr asked.
“One-hundred and four.”
“How many are in this region?”
Nadine narrowed her eyes.
“Now, how about the world?”
“You’ve made your point.” She stood, motioning to her two guards. They approached with their spears at the ready. “Leave before you find your head on a spike.”
“Not without the necklace-”
Zeyr stood as a guard reached for him. He stepped back. Azure lightning formed on his fingertips, and mist drifted off his eyes. He threw his hand forward—a bolt coalesced midair, crackling, striking the man’s chest. It burnt his leather armour and melted a hole within him. Hot blood dripped to the ground.
The guard fell backward, hitting the floor with a thud.
The other rushed forward to jab. His spear didn’t make it halfway through the air before Zeyr shot a second bolt of energy, leaving him to suffer the same fate as the first.
Behind the table, Nadine shouted as she took form. The gem glowed against her neck. She raised both hands in front of her and channelled the artifact’s power. The air went stale. Zeyr conjured an arcane spell shield to hide behind—there’d be no stopping it now.
His vision flashed white behind his eyelids. Violet explosions cascaded off of Nadine’s palms, blowing the table to wooden shrapnel, the cushioned chairs to shreds. Each explosion shook the building’s foundation and threatened to shatter Zeyr’s barrier—cracks formed on the cobalt waves of energy protecting him.
A second wave of explosions caved in the roof. The walls crumbled and guards shouted out as they ran from the building. Blocks of stone rained down upon Zeyr. One hit Nadine and pinned her to the ground, a second piled atop her chest, and a third broke her legs. Sunlight beamed down from the sky.
The explosions ended. Zeyr let the shield protecting him dissipate. He stepped over broken rock, then kneeled beside the village’s leader. She coughed blood as she gasped for air.
“I only wanted,” Nadine mumbled, “to protect my people.”
Zeyr reached down and grabbed the artifact from around her neck.
He tightened his grip around the gem.
The mage walked toward the village gate. He kept on edge, ready for an attack, but not a single guard approached. They were no longer fierce defenders—they were people stunned to know they faced their end. Each looked at Zeyr with wide, helpless eyes.
“What do we do now?” a woman asked. The child from earlier clutched onto her robes.
“I’d leave,” Zeyr said.
The giant scorpions would descend on the village in the days to come. There’d be no survivors without the help of magic. The child broke from his mother’s grasp and ran to the mage.
“Can we go with you?” he asked. “Please?”
Zeyr stopped. Somewhere within, in the depths of his consciousness, a remnant of compassion struck at his heart. It told him to shield the child. Safeguard the people. Forget about the rest of the world.
But he knew he couldn’t.
He walked on.
A relationship meant protecting others. Zeyr trudged through the sands and looked over the horizon. He refused to glance back at the faces of the dead. He’d worry more about who he could still save, hiding the necklace far from the reaches of mankind, favouring the lives of many over the few.
the ends would justify the means.
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You’re always creative with your magic, and this story is no different—beautiful descriptions. I’m also a huge fan of the theme and character you chose—they compliment each other extremely well, and I think you wrapped up the ending well while still leaving it open-ended (this is one of your stories that I think could have a really, really cool sequel or two to explore Zeyr’s character and arc more). Honestly, I don’t really have any crit to give on this story—there’s always something to improve on, but this is one of those stories I love so...
Thank you, Tommie. I appreciate the kind words on this one - I've wanted to write it for weeks and was just waiting for the prompt that could fit Zeyr's character. I'm really glad you liked it. This one is one of my favourites. I could definitely, at some point, write more on him and how he came to be a lone, rogue mage trying to prevent another nuclear-like war.
Alex this was such a great story! What an interesting interpretation of the prompt. I could visualize the scene perfectly because of your well-written descriptions. It would be so interesting if you expanded this into a longer story with more background. So much potential with this! Thank you for sharing! Great job!
Thank you, Maggie. I appreciate the read and comment. Your words are very kind - I'm glad you enjoyed reading through my story.
I absolutely did! I’ve enjoyed many of your stories and look forward to more. :) Good luck to you!
I think your writing style is really fluid and unmistakable. Worthy of emulation. Your words and the actions of the Characters resonated really well. Your story lives, as the setting was finely depicted -- in the sun, the dunes, the Oasis. My imagining your story wasn't too difficult. I hope to read more of You.
Hi Alex, how are you? I haven't seen you write for a couple of weeks. Are you writing this week?The prompts haven't been my thing for a while but I've forced myself to write this week anyway. I'd really appreciate your crit on When The Thunder Started, if you have any time. I hope all is well. Sending best wishes. K X
Hi friend - I appreciate the kind words 🙂 I would be happy to read your story. I'll try to get around to it today/tomorrow. I'm glad to see another story from you. I do plan to write this week! It has been a busy set of weeks, but I'm hoping the idea I have works out, and I'll have it out either Tuesday/Wednesday.
A villain that eclipses this character that he has to overcome would be awesome. It would be worth writing into a longer story. This is really cool.
Thanks, Brad - I appreciate the read & kind words.
Great world-building! The main character is both so lonely and so driven. We feel the weight of the distance he puts between himself and others. I also like your magic/combat scene- I do think a word might be missing in one place ("Nadine shouted as she took form")? I enjoyed your story.
Thank you, Lm. I appreciate the kind words! I'm glad I could get Zeyr's character across effectively. Same with the combat scene - I always enjoy writing action scenes so it is nice to hear it worked 🙂
The world-building here is really good, and I love the potentially morally grey MC. This is my first story of yours but I'm looking forward to reading more!
Thank you, Astra! I'm really glad you liked it. I had a lot of fun writing this one.
Always nice to read well written and immersive fantasy stories like this one. Nicely done, it was a great read.
Thank you, Alp. I appreciate the kind words - fantasy is my favourite genre, and I'm glad to hear it worked for you.
Interesting story. Reminded me of The Witcher and the Mummy combined. I love stories about mystical artifacts. I’d love to read a sequel with some giant scorpion battle. So much you can do with this! I enjoyed it a lot.
Thank you, Sharon - there is definitely a lot I could do with this. I'm glad you enjoyed my story, and I appreciate the kind words 🙂
Your main character seemed so strong. His strength oozed off the page. Well written descriptions and dialogue helped to create these images in my head. Thanks for sharing a great story.
Thank you, friend. I appreciate the read. I really liked writing Zeyr's character, and I'm glad it worked for you 🙂
Alex! This was wonderful! I love fantasy, and it makes me so happy to see it here 😊 the pacing was spot on, and you have wonderful descriptions of the magic as well as the world. Well done👏
Thank you, Hannah - I always enjoy writing Fantasy stories. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this through.
When are you bringing out your full length fantasy novel Alex? Can't wait to read it! As for the story, great world building and action- as usual 😊
Thank you, Suma - I appreciate the kind words. I had a lot of fun writing the world-building here and I'm glad it worked 🙂
Just another quick typo Alex.... Others peaked from windows of beige-coloured homes. I think it should be "peeked".
Oh, and also....cut the "coloured" 😂
Thank you, friend. Adding '-coloured' is a habit I can not seem to break 😂
Nice story that definitely shows that you have mastered the art of making one visualize
Thank you for the kind words, Darrell. I appreciate the read.
Very descriptive story! It reminds me of the movie "A Key to Rebecca" with David Soul. Especially the trek through the desert. Kept me on my toes. I enjoyed reading your story very much. Thanks for reading my stories as well.
Thank you, Kathryn - I appreciate the kind words. I'm looking forward to your next story.
This was really good! You have lots of amazing descriptions to picture. I like the whole concept with the necklace and the giant scorpions. I like that the reader can appreciate all sides to this story. There isn't someone that seems like a bad guy or good guy really. They all have their reasons and it makes for an interesting story. I think the pacing and world building were really well done. I enjoyed reading it!
Thank you, friend - I appreciate the kind words. I really enjoyed writing the dilemma to the story, with no real evil to it with everyone following what they think is right. I do find word-building with fantasy difficult in such a short story, so hearing it worked is nice.
Hi Alex, So happy to read another entry from you. First - love the name Zeyr. Second, I like how you characterized him. This line especially: A relationship meant protecting others. I almost get Jedi vibes from Star Wars reading it. I also enjoy the mystery about the mage. I felt drawn into this fantasy world you created. It definitely felt like a piece of something larger. As always, awesome job!
Thank you, friend - I'm glad you enjoyed reading this one. I like the name Zeyr a lot too, it felt so fitting as soon as I wrote it down. I appreciate the kind words - fantasy has always been my favourite genre, and it is nice to hear the world-building worked out, especially in a short story. Thanks again 🙂
Hi Alex, I dont have too much time so I'll cut straight to the crit - I hope thats ok. If the desert’s heat didn’t kill him, the scorpions would. - I'd cut "deserts" thats going to be apparent later and the line would flow better without it here. With weapons still raised, the guards climbed down and opened the hardwood gates—a rarity in the desert. It (THEY) groaned as it (THEY) pushed sand into a pile. - Gates is plural. Every face turned to him. Women paused as they washed clothes in an oasis (spring / pool). An oasis doesn't necess...
Thank you for reading! I appreciate the feedback as always - I'm glad you liked the story, I had a lot of fun writing this one and the world-building with it. I made some changes, and I'll probably make more, but I'm not too sure yet. I especially like your note to change sandstone to soapstone, and the one on the word 'obliterate'. A really good catch. A couple notes: Violet explosions cascaded off of Nadine’s palms, blowing the table to wooden shrapnel, the cushioned chairs to shreds. - Double check - violet or violent? - Don't worry, I m...
That was great!
Cheers, Miles. I appreciate the read.
Hi Alex, I just read this through and I really like it. I'm on a tram just now so can't really do proper crit on my phone, but I was excited to read it so started now. When I get home I'll leave some comments, I spotted a few things for you to check. Best, K