Contest #142 shortlist ⭐️

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Adventure Fantasy Fiction

Sylise was one of Grand Isle Library’s most beloved and committed librarians. Born of harpy descent, her scaled hands and taloned feet made her stand out from her peers. The brown feathered wings that sprouted from her back made traversal around the grand library easy, especially when she needed to grab a book on the top shelf. Be it human or elf, thief or hero, she gave everyone a chance to take out her books, on the one condition that they return them on time.

Sylise’s golden eyes carefully watched the three hourglasses that sat in front of her. The sand was nearly gone from each of them, and they all had a name engraved on the bottom. As the last grain of sand fell, a point appeared on her magical compass, one to the north, one to the west, and one to the east. 

Zar’mhul the Berserker, Ormund Karlsson, and Kurzol Backbreaker. Your time is up, you were warned.

Sylise reached behind the front desk and grabbed a satchel and her shortsword. She pulled one of her fairy assistants that fluttered around the library aside as she left for the exit.

“Yes, milady? What is it?” asked the fairy.

“I will be leaving for the day. I need you to take over my duties,” said Sylise.

The fairy glanced at Sylise’s shortsword and nodded her head.

“I see. Don’t worry milady, you can count on me!”

The fairy darted away, yelling commands to the others as she passed them. 

Zar’mhul the Berserker was the first target. He was the closest, and despite the moniker, he was the least likely to cause trouble.

Sylise followed her compass to the center of town and stopped in front of Zar’mhul’s residence. Zar’mhul was a middle-aged man of orc lineage. Muscularly built and lined with scars, he adopted an intimidating presence. Zar’mhul stood outside, overseeing two young orc men undergoing a sword training exercise. 

“Stay grounded Thrak! If your opponent breaks your stance you are as good as dead!” yelled Zar’mhul.

Sylise placed her hand on Zar’mhul’s shoulder. “Do you have a moment?” asked Sylise.

“Can’t you see that I’m in the middle of something?” asked Zar’mhul as he turned around. His expression softened as he recognized Sylise. “Oh, It’s you. Is it time already?”

“I’m afraid so. Could you fetch it for me?”

Zar’mhul nodded and entered his house. He came back out with a book clutched in his hands.

“Would it be possible to let me hold onto it for just a little longer?”

“Normally, I would've. But I can tell just by looking at the binding that you’ve read that book through multiple times already, probably memorized half of it. You don’t need it anymore.”

Zar’mhul glanced back at the two young men. “They need me, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“That’s ok. You have the whole town by your side, and if all else fails, you have me.” Sylise outstretched her hand.

Zar’mhul gave a solemn nod and placed the book in Sylise’s hand. Single Parenting, by Tawny Igarf. A popular title in the library, an unfortunate result of the recent war. 

Zar’mhul turned back to the training men. “Dari! You want to lose that head of yours? Keep your shield up!”

One down, Ormund was next. Sylise headed to the west side of town. Secluded on top of a hill was a long-abandoned church. She approached and pushed through the weathered doors. Sylise has dealt with strange patrons before, but Ormund was certainly a special case. Inside, Ormund stood atop a podium in the back. A strange black pattern was painted on his face, and he was draped in long black robes. A congregation of similarly dressed individuals surrounded the podium and listened intently as Ormund spoke.  

“Friends. I am happy to say that the Dead Queen has been delighted with our progress,” said Ormund. “She has blessed me with visions of the near future. Towns set ablaze. Our enemies slain at our feet, and us side by side, basking in glory. Our time is coming brothers and sisters, the Dead Queen’s revolution is nearly upon us!”

The crowd erupted into a cheer and began to chant Ormund’s name. Sylise pushed her way to the front of the crowd.

“Ormund, I must speak with you,” said Sylise.

Ormund’s eyes remained focused on the crowd.

“Ormund!”

Still, no reaction. Her voice was drowned out by the incessant chanting. Sylise inhaled deeply and let out a piercing shriek; a greeting call among other harpies but particularly unpleasant to other creatures. It cut through the chant and left the space completely silent.

Ormund’s eyes widened at the sight of Sylise, and beads of sweat visibly formed on his forehead. 

“Sylise old friend, have you come to join our family?'' asked Ormund. 

Sylise crossed her arms. “Not quite. I’m here to collect—"

“Right, of course! I forgot to tell you, but I need more time.”

“Is everything alright seer Ormund?” asked someone from the crowd.

“Is this person bothering you seer Ormund?” asked another.

“Yes! This individual has been harassing me for weeks, and now they sully our sacred haven with their vile feet!” said Ormund.

“Whatever it is that you need, it can wait,” said one of the hooded individuals.

The crowd grew tenser with each passing moment and started to surround Sylise. 

Ormund’s lips cracked into a sinister smile. “My thoughts exactly, brother. I fully intend to return your item to you Sylise, once my work here is done. But for now, I must ask you to leave us to our worship.” 

Sylise’s hand drifted to the handle of her sword. No, it’s too dangerous. There must be another way. 

“Very well. I will leave,” said Sylise.

The crowd parted, giving Sylise enough room to leave. She pushed through the heavy doors and drifted to the back of the church. A light shining through a window on the second floor caught her eyes. Sylise grabbed a nearby rock, took flight, and threw the rock at the window. The rock punched through, leaving a sizable hole and spider-like cracks through the rest of the windowpane that still stood. Sylise reached through, unlocked the window, and slipped through to the inside. 

Without wasting time she raided the drawers, cabinets, and bookshelves. In just a few moments the floor was littered with loose papers and books, but not the one Sylise was looking for. Where could it be? It must be here somewhere. Sylise paced back and forth and stepped on a loose floorboard. She dug her long nails between the gap and pulled it out. Inside was a secret compartment with the book, How to make a cult, by Marisse Flowgator. One of the Library’s more quirky books. Regardless, Sylise intended to bring it back to its home. Just as she was about to leave, the door in front of her opened, revealing Ormund. His eyes widened as they focused on the book in Sylise’s hands. 

“Drop the book at once, Sylise,” said Ormund.

Sylise pulled out her shortsword, the tip pointed at Ormund. “You are in no place to make demands. This book belongs to the Grand Isle Library, and I am leaving with it.”

“Please, these people listen to me, but I wouldn't have been able to get this far without that book. I need it!”

“You had plenty of time with it. You should have taken notes. Feel free to borrow it again if you need it. After your three week probationary period of course.

“Three weeks? That’s too long, they’ll see right through me!”

“That's unfortunate. Goodbye Ormund, and good luck.”

Sylise flapped her wings and flew out of the room. She sheathed her sword and placed the book safely into her satchel. Only one more target remained. 

Sylise continued her flight to the outskirts of town. Sitting in a nearby forest was a large cave. Decapitated human heads stuck onto pikes decorated the outside. Gnarled bones lie strewn about on the sides like tossed litter. Kurzol was no doubt the most dangerous of the three. Sylise’s heart raced, but she steeled herself and went inside. 

A dim orange light flickered deep inside the cave. Sylise turned around a corner and saw Kurzol Backbreaker, sitting by a campfire and roasting some unidentifiable meat above it. He was a Cyclops and a fearsome one at that. His single bulbous eye peered up from the fire and scowled at Sylise. 

“You must be lost harpy. I suggest you fly away before you get hurt,” said Kurzol.

“I’m right where I need to be,” said Sylise. “You are in possession of Grand Isle Library property and I’m here to retrieve it.”

Kurzol bellowed a booming laugh that echoed through the cave. “It’s quite a good read. I think I’ll keep it.”

Sylise unsheathed her sword. “I’m leaving with that book, Kurzol. With or without your permission.”

Kurzol bellowed another laugh, even louder this time. “You intend to fight me on your own? I must thank you then. I won’t have to search for breakfast tomorrow.” 

Kurzol cracked his knuckles and stood. He was much taller than Sylise, about three times the size of a normal man. Kurzol charged, his heavy feet causing the ground to shake with each step. He balled a fist and brought it down toward Sylise. Sylise dodged out of the way, using her wings to get more distance. Kurzol swung that same hand in an arc and smacked Sylise mid-flight with an open palm. She was sent flying from the blow and slammed hard into the cave wall. As she righted herself, another fist approached her. She slipped underneath it and sliced the arm as it passed her. The cut was not very deep, the equivalent of a papercut for a normal-sized man. A Cyclops' hide was tough against even the strongest of weapons. Sylise read enough tales to know that Kurzol had only one true weakness.

Sylise flapped her wings and took flight toward Kurzol’s face. Kurzol reached to grab Sylise but she dove quickly to evade his grasp. His other fist came barreling toward her. Sylise flapped her wings with all her might and rose just above the attack. Rocketing toward Kurzol’s face, she gripped her sword with two hands and thrusted. The blade pierced the cyclops’ eye without much resistance. The blade went down to the hilt and punched through the skull. Kurzol let out his final gasp and tumbled backward in a mighty heap. The cave trembled under his massive size, causing some loose rocks to fall from the ceiling.

Sylise caught her breath and yanked her sword out of Kurzol’s head, the blade now coated in viscous orange blood. Her eyes glanced around and spotted a large book beside a bed made of animal pelts and approached it. Spices and Herbs: A collection, by Talorna Darona. Sylise shuttered at the thought of what Kurzol would use the book for and placed her hand on it. The book magically shrunk to a size more suited for her, and she stuffed it in her satchel. A wooden chest also sat beside the bed, and Sylise opened it. It was filled with gold and various baubles, but more importantly, there was a multitude of books inside as well. Not just regular books, however, many of these tomes were lost or reported as stolen by other libraries years ago, some even decades. Sylise stuffed as many of them as she could into her satchel and swiftly flew out of the cave. 

***

Night had fallen by the time Sylise returned to the library. Exhaustion and pain wracked her body. She threw her satchel on the front desk and a fairy darted over to her.

“Welcome back Sylise! How did it go?” asked the fairy.

“It was arduous but successful. Take my satchel, there are some new pieces in there that I would like to be added to our collection,” said Sylise.

“Right away milady!”

The fairy taps the satchel with a small wooden wand. It began to float and followed her as she fluttered away. As she did, a young man approached the front desk. 

“Excuse me, can I borrow this book?” asked the man.

He held a copy of The Siege of Darham. A good read.

Sylise smiled. “Absolutely, you may borrow it for five weeks. You can return it on the due date or anytime before it. There is no fee, I just have one requirement. You must return it to me on time. 

April 22, 2022 20:00

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18 comments

Philip Ebuluofor
11:19 May 05, 2022

One submission, already a hit. Congrats. Welcome to the show.

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Graham Kinross
10:25 May 03, 2022

Epic, Sylise kicks butt and takes names in her register. Congratulations on being shortlisted. Great things to come I think.

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02:58 May 03, 2022

It's a nice fantasy setting you've created, and the idea of a creature going to get back overdue books in the setting is at once humorous and lends itself to interesting scenes. Overall, well done. Unfortunately we just didn't have a big enough word-limit to really make it into 'a story.' It felt like you had a cool story planned, but had to peg it back to basics because of the word limit, which was a shame. You know - big battle coming up, and a couple of words later the villain is dead? And it would have been good if you could have at...

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14:45 Apr 30, 2022

This is absolutely fantastic! I enjoyed every word! You really have a gift for making fantasy writing feel relatable. I can't wait to read more!

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Craig Westmore
20:16 Apr 29, 2022

What a fun story, Malik! I love the titles of the books they borrowed. The story was well structured. You established character and purpose in the first paragraph and the conflict by the third. The contrast of each book-borrower's persona and the book they borrowed added to the humor.

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20:11 Apr 29, 2022

This is a nice piece of fantasy fiction. It is quite self contained! Nice.

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Kevin Broccoli
19:31 Apr 29, 2022

I'm so happy you were short-listed. I love this story. Well done!

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R W Mack
15:18 Apr 29, 2022

First submission on the account and it got shortlisted? Sir, you're one to follow! I expect good things.

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Ashley Cullen
14:48 Apr 28, 2022

Malik, this was a really well-written story! It flowed so nicely and the descriptions of the places and the characters and their actions were all very vivid. I liked how you snuck in some funny moments with the different book choices. Really creative character names too!

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Malik White
16:01 Apr 28, 2022

Appreciate the kind words, thank you!

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Michał Przywara
21:26 Apr 27, 2022

A fun adventure! It's rare to see a harpy as a character, much less as the protagonist, so that was refreshing. In fact I can only think of Harpy Thyme by Piers Anthony, which is great if you like puns, and if you don't… less great. I like that each recovery was handled differently, and the borrowed books were amusing. We only saw a bit of the world here, but it seemed a vibrant one filled with all sorts of people. The hourglasses were also a great touch, a very believable magic item. One thing tripped me up: "Sylise shuttered at the tho...

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Malik White
16:00 Apr 28, 2022

Thanks! And you’re absolutely right, thank you for pointing that out, completely missed it.

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Michał Przywara
21:42 Apr 29, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Shea West
03:19 Apr 27, 2022

This was a wild romp, Malik! I was thrilled to see another adventure genre tagged story. You have quite the way with world building so well in such a short amount of story too. The golden sands in the hourglasses were described so well I could picture them on her desk.

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Malik White
15:57 Apr 28, 2022

Thanks! The idea for this kind of came to me last minute, I’m glad I was able to turn it into something!

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Shea West
15:41 Apr 29, 2022

Congrats on your shortlist Malik!

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Elizabeth Holly
15:27 Apr 25, 2022

Fantastic and very fun.

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Malik White
15:52 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you!

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