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Fantasy Fiction

There’s a small village in the mountains, tucked between towering peaks. Balanced on a cliff at the edge of the world, just on the line between falling and flying. They live in a world where stories happen, where gods come down from the sky and mingle and mate and sometimes demand that men march to war. Where monsters roar. Where heroes learn to swing swords. 

  But in this village, the people herd goats up and down the crags. They grow olives and churn olive oil and pick figs, sell them to the merchants and their carts to carry to the bustling cities. The sun darkens their skin and the rocks toughen their feet. They keep their eyes on the ground because it keeps them safe. 

As far as stories go, this village is an in-between place. Providing food for the cities. Providing men for the armies when Kings call for it. Providing a way station for heroes to stop and rest their feet before their fate takes them onward. People stay because they can’t imagine going anywhere else unless called. Because these are the narrow bounds of their lives, not because this is home. 

This is the village where I was born. 

Born into a world where men are called to march on a walled city for glory they never get. They are just soldiers, after all. Not the heroes, not the main characters. Just the ones who make the story possible, providing cannon fodder so the heroes may have their moments of glory.

Born into a world where drought cripples the village, where the crops wither and die. A world where famine sweeps through the little mountain towns. Bones jut through the skin. Dark circles grow under hollow eyes. Children wail in the streets, covered in dust, and adults turn their faces away, knowing they barely have enough to feed their own families. A world where monsters roam boldly, snatching up villagers without a second thought, the heroes and gods all too busy to hold them back.

Shame and fear coated the villagers, the taste thick and acrid on their tongues.

The gods have turned their back, preoccupied with a war for vanity, for power, for pride. They stand split in half. 

So I am born, and they think me a miracle. The first of my kind to grace this lonely village high among the crags.

Because I have a mother who carries hope in her heart like a fragile bird, who sings at the sight of wildflowers and the rising of the moon. And a father made of thunder and lightning, pride and rage, who is war-weary and drawn to the maiden who turns the promise of peace into a melody. 

Because I could stand and run and hold a sword like I was born to do it (and I was, the first time I pick one up it is as if my soul sings) all before I could even talk. No one like me has ever been born in this village. I am not the lineage of kings or warriors, like other heroes. Just a simple healer, born herself to simple healers.

And still, when I am born, they say I am a blessing, a savior, the answer to their prayers. 

At first, I screamed like I have been dragged into this life. I was all my father’s storms, racing after snakes and predators, attempting to toddle into the woods and strangle monsters with my bare hands. I ran my mother ragged. 

She chased after me with outstretched hands and endless patience, always saying “come home and rest, my son. Come home.” 

The villagers all cooed over me, proud and hopeful and desperate to hang their prayers on someone. It only makes sense that it is me. Though I am but a child, I am the only one they have ever met with divine blood in his veins. And how it sparked and surged, like my father’s lightning. How the clouds rolled in dark and the thunder cracked whenever I cried. Everywhere I went, the hair-raising smell of ozone followed. 

Already, it seems to them, that I am fulfilling my great destiny, stopping the droughts. 

When they see me, they whisper “he will be like Heracles, like Theseus and Jason. If only he were older, he would fight alongside Odysseus and Diomedes, Ajax and Achilles.” 

I used to square my shoulders, raise my chin as I passed by. Even then, I felt too big for my skin, assured of my special destiny. 

My poor mother. Even as she hoped with the rest of them, she worried for me. Of course, she knew firsthand the sort of pain gods could cause, and the undue burden they left behind. Already she, barely a woman, was now unmarriable. Tainted by the lust of a god and raising a babe without the help of a husband. She is the hero. And she feared for my fate under my father’s legacy. 

So to calm my storms, she would sing to me stories of heroes past, her voice as sweet as spring blooms, or the soft spread of the sunrise. For many years, it was the only thing that could soothe me. 

She taught me how to bandage wounds and mix salves, and how to use my hands for help as well as harm. 

And though she could not smooth the warrior out of me—for I was gods-blessed, and needed no teaching when I first picked up weapons—she could soften it. 

So I grew unafraid of anything, racing through the woods, relishing each prick of brambles against my skin to remind me that I am alive. I spend my days swinging a sword, shooting a bow and learning never to miss, climbing trees and reaching for the highest fruit, never even pausing to be afraid of the fall. 

I killed my very first monster when I was twelve, a slithering thing I didn’t know the name for at the time. It crawled out of the woods in the predawn hours, leaving a trail of slime and carrying with it the smell of rot and musk, the deepest, darkest parts of the forest where decay lives. It was spotted snapping up livestock by a group of farmers whose days began too early, its lemon-yellow eyes glowing like lanterns in the dark. 

It swallowed several of them whole before anyone else even knew, the skinniest and smallest and youngest of them running for the town while his companions tried to fight it. They called him a hero and I called him a coward when he came tearing into the town screaming my name until his voice gave out. 

It was hard for me, back then, to understand why those without lightning in their veins or natural ease with weapons might not always find it in them to stand their ground. I always had faith in my godly blood and faith in my own two hands. What was a miracle to them was second nature to me. I was too used to magic, too dazed by the fervor of youth. Running away was not a quality either parent had instilled in me, not my father’s divine blood or my mother’s guiding—but running toward, always toward, that was something I understood. 

So I called him a coward and charged into the night, leaving him to the judgment of the village. 

I remember the pounding of the blood in my ears, mimicking the thumping of my feet on the packed dirt road. I remember the creature’s eyes, ghastly lanterns in the dark, like something acidic and poisonous. I remember its breath, hot on my cheek when it roared and stinking of death, a meal just consumed. I remember the jagged teeth. 

I do not remember the battle. 

I remember roaring a challenge, remember swinging the sword. 

And then standing there with the dirt clumped to my shoes. Thick, viscous liquid trailing down my arms. And the blood, wicked-green mixing with red, human, spattered around me. On my clothes, sticking to my skin.

The smell was like a handful of coins shoving their way down my throat and choking me, bitter and metallic. 

At that moment, I was suddenly aware of the empty space. Empty farms, empty homes, empty lives. Where there once was

This was emptiness like I had never known. And it was the first time that it seemed to me that perhaps no gods were listening. Not if they could allow something like this, such loss of innocent, hardworking blood. 

I remember the hot, angry tears that cut down my cheeks. My knees hitting the dirt and the prayer I whispered to my father then. 

And then I wiped them away with my sleeve, smearing blood on my face like warpaint—it would become my signature look—and walked back to town. I dragged that monster behind me. 

I was greeted then with celebration, with relief, with thanks. I would be lying if I said I did not believe, in that moment, that I was a miracle. After all, I could avenge those lost lives, and stop anymore from becoming past tense. I was young. And hopeful. Now I know that is the same as being foolish, being blind. 

As it was, many years went by like this, and many victories. And soon the monsters began fearing me, fleeing from me. Falling one after another.

By the time I was a man, I thought myself the answer to everyone’s prayers. The guardian of my village’s fate, the mighty demigod warrior. 

And though my mother would take my face in her hands and stroke my hair like I was still young, and whisper “my darling son, do not forget about the little things…the breeze and the flowers and a mother’s love...” I was fierce and quick and fiery. Like I thought my father and his lightning would want me to be. 

But nothing loved lasts forever, least of all peace. 

With the heroes far afield in a war that began to feel less and less vital to those left behind, monsters began to crowd our shores. We needed our Achilles’ and Odysseus’ and Diomedes’, and all we had was me. Half a god but half a healer too, half a human. And when it came down to it, just a village boy. Lacking the proper training.  

Other villages, they didn’t even have that.

Just women and children, missing men dragged off to war and the spaces they left behind. 

I tried, how I tried. But I could not be everywhere, all of the time. And when I could, I was not fast enough. Exhaustion clung to my limbs like a second skin, weighing me down. My eyes ached and my legs trembled. And rapidly, victories turned into injuries and more spilled blood.

My prayers, first in confusion, then in rage, still were not answered. 

What sort of gods abandon their chosen hero? 

But these thoughts I kept to myself because the town still believed in me. A small protector is better than none, I suppose. 

So my mother held my hand with every healing, and for too long, I tried to be both. I think my whole life, I have been trying to be both, caught between two worlds. 

The monsters got worse, things with many heads and many more teeth. They raced out of the woods and braved broad daylight, sometimes in more than one place.

The day I lost my heart, the final straw, I was too far from town to help, way out where the goats graze. There was a beast out there, great and shaggy with eyes like the endless abyss. I was trying to protect our livestock when I heard the screaming, even from high up the crags. I tripped over my own feet on my way back to town, stripping the skin off my knees. 

A creature like none I had ever seen outside of stories. Four legs, forked tongues, many heads. And it was too late. 

Gone was the apothecary, the temple. Gone was my home. 

And gone was the only part of me that was ever human. 

Oh, my rage was fearsome to behold. 

I tore that thing limb from limb, to shreds, until I was dripping greenish blood. Better green than red. 

I do not remember the sound that came out of me after, crouching in the ruins of my home. But others tell me it was like a scream, hoarse and inhuman and endless. I do know my throat was raw for days after. 

I believe them because this account matches the scream I felt in my soul when I realized what was lost. 

Afterward, I climbed the highest mountain, intent on raging at the sky. 

When I reached the top, where the sky stretched out and out into a river of endless blue, I felt my rage flee into desperation. This was the second time I ever cried, and up so high, I felt like a rain cloud. 

I tried to reach my father. Prayed and hoped and begged until the words sounded rehearsed. But where there perhaps once was a hum, a buzz, the sense of a guiding hand on my shoulder, there was only vast, echoing silence. There has been every day since. Perhaps the gods have been gone too long, or have gone too far. Perhaps the war effort has taken a turn for the worse. Or perhaps there was only ever my foolish hope. 

Whatever the case, I learned that day that there are no gods here. I wonder if they weep for us?

I climbed down from that mountain and returned to the village. Before I recovered my sword, I sat in the remnants of my home and looked at my hands, and thought about hope. I thought about my mother and what that had gotten her. Then I picked up the herbs and I taught others all she had ever taught me. 

When I was satisfied with their abilities, I took up my sword and climbed back up into the crags. I’m there still, watching for monsters. Taking them out when I can, training every day. I have long since given up hope that the gods will swoop in and save us. The healers in the village, and me—the harmer—up here, must be enough to hold the line. 

I am not a hero with my hands on the string of fate. It takes the gods to make a hero. It takes helping people, and I have failed at that. I cannot be both any longer. I do not say this, of course. Because if there are no gods and no heroes to save us, the people must have something to believe in. They have hope enough for all of us.

But the truth is this: I am not a miracle. I am not even a memory. 

The gods have abandoned the demi-god from the mountain village. The stories will not remember the half-god boy from the tiny village who could not save them all. I am not magic. 

But I am, however briefly, a moment of life, a minute of strength. I still have my own two hands. 

So I will guard the road and hold back the monsters. I will not witness any more spilled blood. 

I will run toward my destiny, whatever it may be. 

And if the people in the town below me think me a miracle, then the only harm is believing for a little longer that they are being watched over. And there is nothing wrong with needing to feel loved, even if it's only by me.

 If this is all I will be remembered for, at least it is something worthy.

Word Count: 2625

June 30, 2022 02:32

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2 comments

Katy Borobia
03:27 Jul 04, 2022

You have a beautiful writing style! I was captivated by your descriptions and the mythical imagery. I think you do a good job conveying emotion through showing, not telling. Great job!

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20:11 Jul 04, 2022

Thank you so much!!

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