15 Jun 2012 17:43:59 EST
The Jury has spoken and the winners of the Sudiva Contest have been chosen. Thank you and congratulations to all participants. It was great to read all the different stories, but there can be only … three. And here they are:
‘Sudiva Enshrined’ by Jhym
Sudiva stopped in her endless pacing and shivered in the darkness.
She had heard… something. A distant, keening, fitful wail, almost as though a puff of smoke had extinguished the last of the embers remaining from a conflagration that had almost destroyed the world. She raised an eye ridge in thought, unconsciously mimicking the bipeds that had interrupted her solitary torment for centuries.
“Perhaps, change has come?” She let the thought percolate through her brain, until it found one tiny, unnoticed shred of Hope. She touched the thought carefully, pulling at it as a fledgling would at his newly born wings. “I…”
Whispers surrounded her. The Shadows had held her for so long, had kept her from so much. She carefully folded her wings and settled down to ponder these thoughts. After the thousands of attempts at breaking her bonds, after the painful offers of help from the bipeds only to crash in disappointment, after the solitary darkness of yearning for something… something…. all she felt now was absence. Absence that wouldn’t turn into yearning or longing. It had been so long she didn’t know what was missing, and didn’t know what to do. A nearby stalactite dripped onto its matching stalagmite, causing her to automatically count it.
Dragonkin were solitary in their nature. Other more social creatures would have gone mad in the centuries of mind-numbing absence and repetition. But Dragons, True Dragons, could resist the ease of madness. It served no purpose, it gained nothing and lost too much. Their pride would not allow them to succumb. And so, a Dragonkin could abide. However, they are not unaffected by the driving sameness of imprisonment, the constant absence of outside life or the loss of the touch of the air and sun upon their skin as they flew.
She shifted slightly on the cool cave floor, murmuring.
“It has been long since they have appeared.” She nodded.
“Perhaps the bipeds have defeated….” She stopped, perplexed. She only knew them as the Shadows now, but there were names in the far past. Long moments passed as her thoughts wrapped around each other, the tiny shred of Hope gradually blowing into an ember.
Blinking, she raised herself up and stretched her limbs. She had found it simpler and less painful to squash the flames of Hope early, now should be no exception.
She stepped lightly through the cavern towards the distant exit, waiting for the signs of her shackles to begin. The soul shaking cold that would turn into pain and finally freezing, deadly agony. Each step, she tensed in anticipation only to relax. Her steps slowly began to increase in speed, in strength, as she forged her way to the entrance. Suddenly she was through and into another cavern, and another. Faster and faster she raced, her great heart beating faster than it had in many years, muffled roars of excitement escaping from her throat as gazers, headless and harpies raced to get out of her way.
With a great roar of triumph, she burst out of the final cavern and out into the light of a bright morning, frighting a flock of ravens into flight. Standing clear of the sheltering rock she let forth a huge bellow of flame into the sky.
“Freeee!!!” she called into the wood and sky. She laughed at a doe as it raced from the scene. Then, in unfettered delight, unfurled her wings and launched herself crookedly into the sky. Scraping various trees, she veered over the landscape until her muscles once again remembered how to move. Up she flew, straining with all her might to touch the sky, to feel the sun upon her carapace, to taste the cool rain bunched within the morning clouds. Higher, until she felt the snap of cold of the upper atmosphere. Momentarily fearful, she dropped, until the sun touched her wings again. She laughed at a normal, physical cold, something she could now relish.
After hours of flight, Sudiva settled to the ground and picked up some deer, her appetite suddenly larger than ever. After finishing the herd, she settled contentedly in a clearing, the midday sun warming her through. She napped, a luxury she barely remembered sharing….
“Under a warm sun Sudiva relaxed with Ferrude, idly touching his chest plates with her claw. He opened an eye, laughing, and pulled her close in a slow embrace of passion that took her breath away…
… in the coolness of the night sky, they flew together, twisting and diving, touching and embracing in silvery laughter…
Ferrude draping her in the cloak of his wings as…
… a rumbling gentle laughter… random images…
warmth of a cave, Ferrude bringing food since he knew she couldn’t hunt… why was that… It is time, my love…”
Startled, she raised herself and looked around the clearing.
“Time? Ferrude?” Her features anguished in thought as she tried to remember. The Absence made itself known, she dropped to the ground, shrieking. “Lost.. I’ve lost… I…!!!”
Rising again, she concentrated, her eyes wide in panic.
“What have I lost… WHO have I lost?!!?” she moaned. “I… I need to go HOME.”
Concentrating, she closed her eyes and thought of the word, turning slowly until a mental tug pointed her in a direction. Lifting herself into the air, she allowed herself to mindlessly fly northwards until coming to a high range, softly dropping to a ledge that opened into a large cave. Inside she haltingly stared at the disused trappings of Dragonkin. Shaking, she touched shredded books, various furniture pieces, beds of fine straw, a hearth shaped from the natural stone. The glint of a small golden chest caught her eye as she shifted some items.
Her claws touched its lock in some automatic way and it opened. Her eyes beheld a gentle golden cloth, which her claw shifted carefully to show several golden/reddish shards of what appeared to be an egg. Tears blurred her vision as she vainly tried to remember….
‘Sudiva’s Last Tear’ by Martyna Z’muir
A barbed tail lazily flicked the surface of the crystal clear subterranean pool, sending gentle ripples lapping against cavern walls. A curious darkfish darted out of its concealment to investigate, oblivious to scaly manus poised to seize it. With preternatural speed, the doomed fish found its world suddenly upended in a flash of talons, flipping end over end through cool dry air, before falling into massive maw of gnashing teeth. A light snack for an ancient draconian.
Her minor diversion passed, Sudiva returned to endlessly surveying her domain. Nay, she thought with some disdain, my prison. A fate more than earned for colluding with primeval malevolence, the sacrifice fitting.
A weary sigh sent wispy tendrils of smoke twining toward the all-too-close stalactites as she coiled around her sole possession for a brief respite. The overlarge flawless citrine had been skillfully cut into a teardrop. A symbol of that which her existence had come to embody, a gift from a being who walked between the shattered realms. She settled into a dreamless sleep, the brief comfort of oblivion.
A single slitted eye cracked open, amber pupil briefly flaring.
Silently, Sudiva shifted to focus her gaze on the worn brick construct at the far side of the cavern.
Biped, the thought came unbidden. Finely scaled nostrils flared as a forked tongue tested the air, Human.
She coiled tighter. Another adventurer braving the depths of Covetous. Perhaps it will think this cavern barren and leave me in peace. Memories of past encounters peppered her thoughts. Righteous petitioners seeking to undo her aid to the Shadowlords’ corruption. Angry souls seeking retribution for the chaos consuming their world. Boastful warriors seeking to prove their valor against her immortality. She had stoically weathered them all.
“Filthy dungeon,” a shrill voice complained.
She tested the air again, tasting the unmistakable tang of magic. A lone female mage, hardly worth bothering. Her eyes slowly closed, preparing to resume slumbering.
“You there, beast! Remove thyself at once!”
Ah, the impudence of youth. Without opening her eyes, Sudiva gracefully rose to her full height, flattened her spiked hood and spread wide her leathery wings for dramatic effect before letting lose a menacing roar. Beast, indeed.
Opening her eyes, the wyrm saw a tanned, hawkish woman clad in gaudy green armor, flaxen hair coiffed in unflatteringly severe buns. Clutched in eel skin gloves, she carried a radiant cerulean crook which shimmered with barely contained magics. The woman’s narrowed eyes and icy expression conveyed poorly restrained contempt.
“Puh-thet-ic.” The woman enunciated slowly, as if speaking to a dense child. With a flurry of movement, she spun the crook around her lissome form, “My turn,” she slammed the end of the crook onto the ground before her. Azure energy crackled along the ground, radiating towards Sudiva.
Showy, the wyrm thought the moment before the energy writhed around her talons, resulting in a subtle wave of fatigue washing over her, magical energies ebbing away. An enraged snarl was the only warning Sudiva gave before lunging at the mage, jaws gaping as an inferno burst from her craw.
Defiantly, the woman stood her ground, the conflagration spreading around her. The only thing she moved to protect was a roll of vellum tucked into her belt. As Sudiva’s fire abated, the woman seemed to steam slightly, barely phased. “Loathsome beast! How dare ye presume to defile my person with thy feeble flames, I who shall command the ether!”
Were the wyrm prone to laughter, this would have been worthy of a derisive howl. Such arrogance, little one. She mused sadly. There may be power within you, but I also sense much hate. The memory of Astaroth’s foul bargain came to the fore. No, I shall not sit idle as another ill infects Sosaria.
Ignoring the great wyrm before her, the woman took the vellum from her belt. Unrolling it, several pages of a large book presented themselves, unharmed by the flames. The woman appeared pleased with herself, a covetous taint aglow in her eyes as she pressed the pages to her bosom.
Sudiva’s eyes widened upon seeing the scraps of text visible on the page. She watched in disbelief as the words reformed themselves through several languages: runic, gargl, Anskitan, Jukan, Elven, and even Ophidian before settling on an ancient language common to draconian species. Abject horror gripped the wyrm’s heart. How? she managed to think. This woman must be the one who caused the great rent in the veil. The Codex wasn’t meant to be possessed by any single being! The damage she could wre…
“It’s MINE, beast!” The woman spat, her face contorting in exaggerated rage. She began to advance, the crook twisting wildly before her.
Sudiva backed against the cavern wall, toppling the citrine tear. Inspiration struck as her talons grasped the precious symbol. With a surge of speed born of desperation, the great wyrm reached out and seized the woman, slamming her to the cavern floor. Focusing the power gained from the Virtuous of Sosaria on the symbol of Sacrifice, the gem began to glow with an ever increasing incandescence.
After more than sixty years of silence, Sudiva spoke. “I bind you here, to forever covet that which belongs to all, to learn the bitter loneliness of greed.” A blinding pulse of orange light suffused the cavern. The citrine tear turned to ash as Sudiva’s form faded from sight, unshackled.
“No!” screamed the woman. “Nobody binds Cora! Nobody!”
Sudiva found herself standing atop cool stone pavers in the form of an ankh, floating amongst the scintillating majesty of the Void. Next to her stood a man in a gold-trimmed white shroud.
“Splendid, my friend, splendid!” the Time Lord congratulated, patting her left foreleg affectionately. Removing his hood, he looked up at her with startlingly blue eyes and a wide, toothy grin. Running a hand through his unruly mop of brown curls, he continued mysteriously, “Welcome to your next adventure…”
‘Treasure’ by Alouenikah
It was in the winter that he came for her.
She was old, and a lack of sunlight had warped her bones like mouldering wood. The winter cold turned her blood to syrup. She lay still and silent for most of the season, barely breathing, unaware of the passage of time.
Then, one day, a sound woke her. A slither in the shadows: something moving, vast and slow.
Sudiva snarled, arching her neck like a scorpion’s tail, and slid down from her mountain of gold. The ground here was charred and scored by her talons; the stalagmites at the lake’s edge were slumped like soft butter, melted by her rare but white-hot rages. He stood beyond them. She could make out little but a silhouette, massive and craggy, more like some rock formation than a living creature.
Her firelight reflected off a pebbled hide. Far above, toward the ceiling, she caught the gleam of golden eyes.
It was a dragon.
He did not respond to her aggression; he merely stood silent, unafraid, haunch-deep in the icy water. Posturing and snarling before his vast and inscrutable bulk, Sudiva felt suddenly small and absurd and very young.
In a voice like the deep rasp of continental plates, he asked her why she was here, alone.
Sudiva pranced backward toward her hoard of treasures. She hissed defiance, her saliva boiling into steam. She hated him. She hated him because he’d come to her now – after all this time – to see her like this. She had been beautiful once. Now she was old, a scarred and ugly cave creature hiding from the light. And, at last, here he was.
They had sent her here. Her people, his people: the ancient wyrms. She had been young, still gangly with adolescence, when they’d sent her away. They’d sent her to find treasure in the realms of men, the true treasure of the ancients, and they’d told her to wait. She had gathered riches, nesting in them like some monstrous bower-bird, and she had waited.
A thousand years. They’d never come.
He asked her then: were these the treasures that they’d sent her to find?
Slowly, gracefully, the ancient wyrm emerged from the water. Sudiva crouched and growled as he approached her. He lowered his head; his icy eyes met hers. She saw herself reflected in them. Her back was hunched and twisted, her wings flaccid from lack of use; her hide was dulled to the colour of old rust.
Look at you, he said, with immeasurable pity.
Behind her loomed the wall of treasure. There were raw jewels and finely made weapons, filigreed crowns and coins from city-states long since fallen into dust; there were human skeletons and crushed daemon skulls, bits of driftwood and yards of rotting cloth. In her youth, she’d seized the bulk of it by force. Later, the dead men who lived above her, hollow-eyed and sticklike in their sumptuous robes, had brought her tributes. She’d grown to love her wealth, as she lay in this abyss alone. The hoard was her child; she had guarded it like a precious egg.
But now she saw it through another’s eyes, and she realised suddenly what it was.
It was all human garbage. Sudiva reared and snarled in grief. How long had she nested down here, coveting this trash heap? What had she become? A mindless magpie, drawn to the glitter of fool’s gold, rotting away on her throne of debris? She rose onto her hind legs, reeling with disgust at the pathetic, greedy, broken thing she saw in the mirror of the great wyrm’s eyes. Her tail lashed. Coins and skulls shattered and bounced away into the darkness. She swiped with her forepaws, breaking down the wall of debris, weeping tears that sizzled on the silt floor like burning oil. Fire leapt into her throat, and she convulsed with the force of it. Her spine arched sharply. She vomited a searing, pure stream of flame.
Wild shadows danced on the walls. For a moment she saw her hoard silhouetted in the blaze; then it burned, wood popping and gold melting into bright rivulets.
The wyrm let out a laugh like distant thunder. Sudiva whirled around.
He kissed her.
She felt the flame in his throat, deep and old. It warmed her. Her blood ran hot; her bones thawed. There, as she drank in his power, he showed it to her: the treasure of the ancients.
Opals, emeralds, and sapphires beyond compare; sterling silver and rich yellow gold. The dancing opal of the northern sky. The emerald of open fields. The sapphire of a sunlit sea, broad and calm beneath a clear blue sky. The silver of the snowy peaks. The gold of unbroken sand, a pristine beach at the height of noon.
Sudiva closed her streaming eyes.
The ancient wyrm laid his head against her flank and said:
Let me take you home.
The day dawned bright and clear. Sudiva lay coiled in the sand. Lenmir Anfinmotas was a perfect crescent, a cove tucked into the hollow of the mountain. It was silent, save for the babble of gulls and the hiss of the incoming tide. Overhead, the Ilshenari sky was cloudless, the full twin moons and the stars faintly visible even in broad daylight.
She slunk toward the cliff’s edge. She’d built a mound out of bits and pieces that had washed ashore. It was not as grand as her old treasure pile; it was mostly feathers and scraps of bark, old petrified driftwood bleached white by salt and sun. But it would do.
She lay down, curling her tail protectively around it. Snaking her neck, she nudged the meshed branches aside with her nose, revealing something smooth and bone-coloured within.
It was warm as a coal, and stirring with some dreamy internal motion. She lapped it gently with her tongue.
A single hairline crack split the surface of the eggshell.
And Sudiva smiled.