August 2022 Stories, Number One Contender’s Tournament, Grimdark Story World Cup 2022


Welcome to the Number One Contender’s Tournament for the Grimdark Story Battle Royale 2022! Each month, stories will be scored on a 5-Point System. The 5-Point System takes into account the following criteria:

A. Worldbuilding

B. Characters

C. Plot

D. Enjoyment

Each of the 4 criteria are judged on the 5-Point System. A score of 20 would be considered a perfect story by the judges’ standards.

1: Hated it, confusing, illogical, or has mostly negative aspects

2: Didn’t like it, had a lot of negative elements

3: Middle of the road, nothing good or bad particularly stood out

4: Very good, shows a lot of positive elements

5: Great, on par with some professional stories you’ve read, mostly positive aspects

Prompts for August 2022

1. A Key of Ash

2. A Desecrated Altar

3. A Golden Promise

4. A Shattered Image

5. A Time of Decay



An Ash Among Oaks by Sharon Rivest

Brandon Oakenguard stood in the belltower of Brightburn Abbey looking out over the town and fields he’d taken from his brother, King Gunthar. He’d split the kingdom in half, seizing what he believed was a second son’s due. The king disagreed. No matter.

At the beginning of his campaign, he captured the town of Brightburn and it became his base of operations. The Abbey was the grandest building in the Marshlands. Brandon’s wife, Ravena was the finest woman he had ever known. Flaxen-haired, she’d given him three strong, blond sons. Ravena deserved a home as beautiful as she. The five of them lived in the abbey. The Abbot had disagreed with this decision. Not that it mattered to Brandon.

Once the Abbot was dead, his monks fell quickly into line. Brandon set them to work building a treasury to hide his spoils. Spoils taken from barons and rich merchants. From those who opposed him.

Gunthar’s loyal friend, the Duke of Lofield was Brandon’s latest target. He slit the duke’s throat and removed his fingers to get to his rings. When he asked her to hand over her necklace, the duchess strongly disagreed. The matter of contention solved when Brandon parted her head from her shoulders.

Striding through the abbey chapel, which had become Brandon’s audience room, he headed for the apse, now his dining hall. It was far quieter here now that he’d killed all the monks but one. He tossed the duchess’s necklace onto the dining table before his wife. The last monk, Jacob, stood nearby. Attendant to the mistress of this house, his clean-shaven face below a fringe of short cut hair was unreadable. As always.

Dressed in blue linen and rich green damask, Ravena looked at the necklace. “Where did you get this?”

“From the Duchess of Lofield. She was eager for you to have it.” Brandon threw himself into the seat opposite his wife, the light coming through the stain glass windows making a colorful pattern on the tabletop.

Ravena didn’t touch the plastron, a shining collar of gold and gems. “Have a care, my love. I know you think you are only taking what you are owed, but Gunthar will not see it so. God will not see it that way, either. The very table we eat at is made from the desecrated altar of this church. God always sees that men suffer for their sacrilege.”

Jacob’s eyes cut toward Brandon before returning to the floor. The monk never spoke to him, but Brandon was not certain what Jacob whispered in his wife’s ear.

“You worry for nothing. I plan to live forever, my love. I’ve yet to lose a single fight.”

“Oh, Brandon, you speak so prideful. What happens when you cannot squeeze tribute from your vassels? When you cannot find dukes and barons to relieve of their gems? What will you do when the wealth that was this church disappears into the pockets of mercenaries who in turn desert you when the money runs out?”

Brandon stared at Jacob, wondering if the words were his wife’s or the monk’s. He looked at the wooded statue in the nave. It had once represented Saint Aldan. Jacob, the abbey woodcarver, had changed the likeness into Brandon’s. It was the reason the monk was still alive.

“Insert the iron lock box into the statue’s chest today,” Brandon said. “I would have it finished.”

Jacob bowed low. “As you wish.”

The door at the end of the nave burst open and a soldier ran in, his footfalls on the marble floor echoing in the perfect acoustics of the church.  Brandon rose to receive his report. The soldier fell to a knee before him.

“King Gunthar has come, my lord. His forces mass just beyond the abbey fields.”

“Then we will have an end to it,” Brandon said to the soldier. He turned to Jacob. “I bid you see my family safe during the fighting, priest. And after, should I fall.”

Jacob met his eyes. “As God’s servant, how could I do otherwise. I will guard them with my life.”

Brandon moved to his wife, kissing her flaxen locks as she wept in his arms. “Fear not, my love. If I cannot protect you, God will.”

*****

Gunthar strode into the nave, a bloody sword in his hand, his muddy cloak dragging across the stone floor. Behind him, his men dragged the broken usurper, his brother. He swept off his crowned helmet and took in his surroundings. The church was much changed since he’d last been here, more like the home of a rich man than a place of worship. His vain brother had made Oak the theme of the decorations. He could see it in the furniture. The frames on the wall. Even the oak dinnerware displayed on oak shelves and emblazoned with the Oakenguard crest.

In the center of the nave stood a wooden statue with Brandon’s face on it, an iron box imbedded in its chest. The rest of the figure was recognizable as Saint Aldan. Blasphemy. How could the brother he once loved stoop so low as to compare himself with a saint?

The soldiers continued on, up the steps of the aspe, at last throwing their prisoner against the dining table. A table with an oaken top but the base of an altar. Gunthar shook his head. He half expected to see Father Abbot’s blood staining the floor. His noble brother had fallen far and would fall farther still today.

He approached the apse to stand eyelevel with Brandon. “Where is the plastron you took from Lofield’s wife? It was a gift from me. I would have it back.”

Brandon barked out a laugh, spitting blood from between his many lost teeth. His blackened eyes went to a dark corner. Gunthar followed his gaze. A lone monk stood in the shadows, his hands clasped, his head bent in prayer.

Turning back to Gunthar, Brandon said with a smile, “It’s safe. As is all my golden treasure.”

Gunthar growled. “Again I ask. Where?”

“Locked away where you’ll never find it.”

“Come here, priest,” Gunthar commanded.

The man came dutifully forward and stood before him. He did not kneel, but Gunthar little expected it of a man of God. When the man raised his eyes, they went to Brandon. The king saw an unexpected hatred in them.

“Do you know where my brother’s treasure is Father…?”

“Jacob,” the man said. “And I could not say, my lord.”

“Could not?”

Standing straighter, Jacob replied, “I have made a promise, my lord, and shall keep it.”

“You would defy your king?” Gunthar raised his sword, but the priest stood firm, no sign of fear on his face.

“Your argument is with me, brother,” Brandon shouted. “He knows nothing.”

“Then the world will lose no knowledge with his death,” Gunthar said, plunging his sword into the monk’s throat. He ripped it free, letting the dead man fall. He turned to Brandon. “See what you made me do? Tell me where it is?”

An anxious flicker passed over Brandon’s face. “Will you let my wife and sons live?”

“Never!” Gunthar spat. “Traitors to the king are condemned to death. Even when they are brothers, wives, sons, or nephews.”

“Then it does me no good to tell you,” Brandon growled. “I’ll share none of my wealth with you as you shared none of yours with me. Find what you seek on your own. You’ll get no help from me.”

“Put him on the table,” Gunthar said to his men. “I’m going to cut out his heart.”

Gunthar climbed the steps and his cursing, struggling brother was soon laid him flat on the table. He pulled up a chair and used it to reach the tabletop where he stood straddling the prone man. His blade came to rest on Brandon’s chest, but the fear Gunthar hoped to see wasn’t there.

Instead, Brandon ignored him. His brother’s eyes roamed about his home as if he were committing it to memory. They traveled to his statue in the center of the nave. To the stained glass windows. To the shelves displaying his bowls, cups, and platters of oak. Then his eyes widened and he went white.

“No!” he screamed, straining to get free from the hands that held him.

Gunthar plunged his sword into his brother’s chest, grunting with satisfaction at the scream he received. He twisted and carved. Grinding deeper, until he was able to flick Brandon’s heart out. It sailed through the air before skittering across the marble floor leaving behind a streak of red. Brandon’s head fell to the side and his eyes seemed to look at his heart, staring at what he’d lost, a tear falling down his cheek.

Was it a tear of contrition? Of sorrow? It mattered not to Gunthar.

*****

Owen looked up at the abandoned abbey of Brightburn. A hundred years had passed since the monks were all killed by the Great Oak Brandon. King Gunthar would not let the church return to its former role and the town died because people believed it cursed. The king spent years searching for his brother’s hidden wealth. He never found it. The legend of the Golden Treasure persisted. Even to this day, pilgrims came here searching for some clue Gunthar must have overlooked. All without success.

Gunthar’s great grandson, the latest Duke of Lofield, had commissioned Owen to write a history of the brothers’ conflict. So it was that Owen found himself in Brightburn. A place now existing on the backside of fame. It’s prosperity gone. A ghost town trapped in a time of decay, the years crumbling her buildings, eating away at her stones.

Festin, Owen’s servant and bodyguard, stooped to enter the church and still his head brushed the lintel. A giant of a man, as slow of wit as he was tall, Festin was the complete opposite of Owen in every way, but he took his work seriously. He went ahead to see the way was safe. A moment later, he motioned for Owen to enter.

Once inside, Owen took a piece of charcoal out of one of the many pockets of his once bright red coat. He began to record what he saw on some scraps of parchment retrieved, after much searching, from another. The floor of the nave was covered with debris. Leaves blown through the broken windows lay on the floor. The juices of their rotting stained the patterns in the once white marble floor. Despite the decay, a single clear path weaved its way through the wreckage of the once beautiful room. A path made by pilgrims lusting after Brandon’s Golden Promise. People come seeking clues to where Oakenguard hid his treasure.

Hmm, Golden Promise. Good name for a story. Owen jotted it down.

The path ended at a statue of a man in the center of the nave, the image of its face shattered over the years by the swords, knives, and axes of unsuccessful treasure hunters. On the floor at its feet sat a lockbox, its metal surface still bright from the oils of a thousand hands. It was thought a map to Brandon’s treasure was hidden inside. No key had ever fit it, no amount of battering or cutting had broken it open. A sign hung on a rope around the statue’s neck.

I wish you luck, good pilgrim

and hope you have the best of him.

He leaves behind a mighty haul

of gold that never dims.

If you should fail to find his hoard,

and depart without a just reward,

leave the box within these walls,

for its secrets fall of their own accord.

Gunthar

A little clunky, but a good poem, all in all. Owen recorded it. He moved past the statue leaving Festin sitting on the floor beating the lock box against the marble. On the apse, he found a dining table, its oaken top still stained by Brandon’s blood. Most of the shelves lining the wall had been broken, their contents scattered. Oaken bowl, plates, and platters mostly. Left behind because the cursed nature of the place.

Owen circled the table, taking notes when he kicked a sizable bowl laying on the floor. It skittered across the flagstones and appeared different than the others. On close inspection, it was not made of oak, but what looked like ash. There were large cutouts in the sides similar to handles. Equally large geometric shapes were carved into the bottom of the bowl making it useless for holding anything. Was it a child’s puzzle toy?

Setting aside his papers, Owen picked up the heavy bowl, holding it up to the light shining through what was left of a stained glass window. As useless as it appeared, the workmanship was exquisite.

Festin walked up behind him. “Seen that before,” he said.

“Seen what, my good man?”

“Them shapes. Same ones as on the floor by the wooden man.”

Intrigued, Owen said, “Show me.”

Festin led him to a spot beside the statue where he’d been sitting. The same pattern that was on the bowl was craved in a circular stone there. Owen lined up the cutouts and set the bowl over them. The bowl fell into place, the pattern fitting perfectly. But why?

“Isn’t that strange,” Owen said.

“Looks like wheel,” Festin said. “Like a wheel for turning.”

Owen gasped as he realized what they’d found. “Not a wheel, my good man. A key. Turn it.”

Taking firm hold of the handles, Festin tried. Nothing happened.

“No, the other way,” Owen prompted.

Festin tried again, pushing in the opposite direction. The bowl turned as did the stone it fit in. A grinding sound came from beneath them. As Festin continued to turn, a section of the stone floor nearby dropped and began to slide aside. Owen rushed to the opening and saw a flight of stairs.

The scholar slapped his thigh, the resulting clap echoing through the chapel. “What a clever man our Brandon was. The lockbox is a ruse. A diversion. The real entrée to his treasure was sitting in plain sight. A lowly ashen bowl, key to his golden promise.

As he peered into the darkness, he said, “Find us some kind of light, my good man.”

 Festin plodded off, dutifully retrieving some candles from his pack. After taking some time to light the wicks, the two of them descended the steps. Halfway down a ledge led to one side. Owen walked down it and held up his candle. There was a pattern matching the bowl’s on the ceiling. A way to close the secret door from this side.

“Truly clever,” he laughed.

They continued down the stairs. At the bottom, the staircase widened into a room. A room filled with sacks of coins. Piles of jewelry. And… Owen gasped.

Sitting among it all were four petrified corpses. A flaxen haired woman comforting three blond children in her arms. Brandon’s wife and heirs. The golden promise of his bloodline. Hidden from his brother here. Hidden but without the ash key which opened the door. His cleverness had doomed his family in the end.

What a tragedy. Truly a great pity. What an amazing find. It was more than he’d ever expected. Who had out clevered who, Brandon Oakenguard?

“This will make the most excellent story,” Owen gushed, poking a finger at the dried skin on the cheek of the mummified woman. “I’ll call it, An Ash Among Oaks. That’s catchy, isn’t it?”

Festin had picked up a jeweled ring. “Why tell?” he said, eyeing the horde of riches.

Owen hadn’t expected the question. In fact, Festin rarely questioned anything.

“Why? Because I’ve been paid to write this saga. And a tragic one it will be. It will make me famous.”

“You gettin paid this much?” Festin spread his exceedingly long arms wide.

“Well, no.”

Owen frowned at his bodyguard, then turned in a circle to take in the wealth surrounding him. The usually slow-witted giant had a point. In fact, Festin was making a great deal of sense.

“Perhaps I won’t write this story,” he said, causing Festin’s great maw to spread in a gap-toothed grin.

What did it matter if only they knew the truth? Did it matter if Owen never became famous? The scholar found himself grinning as wide as Festin. Grinning so hard his cheeks hurt. Perhaps it only mattered they were rich.

*
Judge #1’s Scores
Worldbuilding: 4
Characters: 4
Plot: 3
Enjoyment: 4
Total: 15

Judge #2’s Scores
Worldbuilding: 3
Characters: 4
Plot: 4
Enjoyment: 4
Total: 15
*

The Shadow of the Moon by Joe Price

The Moon ensnares us in Darkness, its embrace invokes the daemons of the night to feast upon our flesh. We must find means to kill the moon. In the Sun God Kirav’s name, we pray.

The night grows long, and crops die. We need sunlight. We need Kirav’s blessing, or we will starve come winter.

Father Sun, please end the Moon’s Night. Bring us sanctuary in your warm Light’s embrace. Oh, Powerful Sun hear my prayer.

Lord of the Sun’s Splendor, protector of your humble servant. Protect me from the daemons of the night. For I fear I will not last until the morrow. They hunt me ever still. I flee and they relentlessly pursue. Your light has thus far saved me, but my strength wanes. Please of O Lord Kirav, Bring an end to the Moon’s Cursed Children.

***

           
“Forever and always my dear, you will have my protection.” Kirav said as he wrapped his arms around Neoma. “No harm will ever befall you.” Lies.

“You cannot foretell the future my dear.” Neoma said turning her eyes to her betrothed. “You cannot make such claims.”

“But I do so make this promise banded in gold, a sign of our eternal vow.” Kirav said as he fingered the gold ring within his robes. “We are gods my love. We should celebrate as such.”

“We can celebrate after we finish with the planning. dear.”

Kirav watched Neoma sifted through the extensive guest list. They had spent weeks deciding who and how many to invite. Obviously, the other gods were required to be invited. Bertrand, God of Ale and Meade had already volunteered to cater the event. Liliya the Goddess of Protection had volunteered to learn the ceremony ritual. This was not the first marriage between gods, and it surely would not be the last.  The mantel of the God of the Sun came with many obligations, including officiating marriages between gods. This however was different; he could not officiate his own marriage.

“We could have the ceremony in Kleg’buldar at the Alter of the Moon. At the very base of the tallest mountain in all the realm. Would it not be magical sight for everyone to see?” Neoma said looking to Kirav. “What do you think?”

“It sounds like a lovely plan my sweet.” You Lie.

The bags under Kirav’s eyes grew as the day progressed, the prayers of his people still spun in his mind. How could his sweet Neoma be so hated by his followers? The Sun was nothing without its Moon. Too many thoughts raced within Kirav’s mind to notice the presence of another in his chambers.

“How is my dearest little brother fairing in the preparation for his nuptials?” the rolling of dice accompanied the voice as it spoke.

“Fortuna, when did you get here?”

“An hour ago, I already fleeced most of your staff of their coin. They should know better than to gamble with the Goddess of Chance.” Fortuna said with a smile as she stacked several piles of coins before Kirav.

“My followers flip their own coins. They played worse than you and lost.” Kirav said looking at the pile. “And they lost gravely it seems.”

“You overpay them anyway.” Fortuna snickered. “You treating Neoma well? Do I need to stand up for her and object to your wedding?”

Kirav frowned, his brow furrowing at the still present memories of the prayers. “No, I do believe we are both happy for the coming wedding. Are any of our kin from the isles coming?”

“Ha, you jest. Our kin will hold to their banishment. They will not cross the sea for your wedding.” Fortuna said as she collected her earnings again. “I haven’t been back there myself since the wars ended.”

Kirav hadn’t thought of the past in a long time. No other gods would remember his history as one of the last two gold dragons to walk the realm. Rarer than phoenixes, and similar in lifespan. A never-ending cycle of death and rebirth from the ashes of their pyres. There were a handful of smaller colonies of the firebirds remaining, but only Kirav and Fortuna remained of the gold dragons.

“No need for the glum face little brother. You are doing what your heart commands. The Fates always say to follow your heart.” And there Fortuna went on again about the Fates. The secret set of gods who operated outside the rules of the rest. Past, Present, and Future, all working secretly behind the scenes, only the fates knew their members. “You will do what you must little brother.”

As quickly as she revealed herself, she vanished. Kirav was left alone with his thoughts.

Hours passed and Kirav descended from his chambers into the temple.  Clerics and Paladins busied themselves as clerks and pages cleaned. Ulrith sat polishing his sword, a tired look in his eyes.

“What bothers you, my champion?” Kirav said. Ulrith was his most trusted ally and friend seeing him exhausted was never a good sign.

“Some of the clerics have returned from their travels, there is much talk of those who fear the darkness of night and the daemons who thrive in the moonlight. Ah’men had returned recently, he is severely wounded. Master Lewen and his crew of healers are working on him now.

“Take me to his side.” Kirav said and followed his champion.

Ah’men lay comatose as a team of seven clerics and a sorcerer worked over him. His left arm was missing below the elbow, his right hand was missing half its fingers. There was a large section of his thigh missing entirely as well. Deep claw wounds crossed his face.

“He will live, but he is weak. Time will be needed to heal his wounds.” Master Lewen said.

“Stand aside.” Kirav said as he stepped forward and placed his hand on Ah’men’s chest.

Kirav’s body glowed as radiant energies channeled through him. He was the Sun, and he would shine like it if he must. He could feel the breathing of the man beneath him gaining strength as his wounds closed, and his arm and fingers began to reform under the shining splendor. Once he knew Ah’men was stable Kirav severed the connection to the applause of his clerics and champion. Kirav knew what must be done.

***

The harps played their tune as all rose at the foot of the Alter of the Moon. Liliya stood on the tenth step as Kirav awaited Neoma one down. He watched as his betrothed walked from the furthest gate of Kleg’buldar, a slow march in all her beauty. Her pale blue skin complemented by the ivory of her dress. Her vale’s train was carried by two children, far too young to know how important this was. Her violet hair held in a bun pinned with a sun and a moon. In her hands she held a bouquet of white lilies and forget-me-nots. Kirav could not take his eyes off his Neoma. She was beautiful. Far more than he would have expected. The harps were joined by a cello and then violins, violas, the sound of trumpets joined as she ascended to meet Kirav on the ninth stair. The House of Capella had demanded to play for their goddess’s wedding, and they proved their worth.

“My friends, family, and disciples of faiths, we gather here today for the union of the Kirav and Neoma. The Sun and Moon which keep our realm in balance. If any should deem this marriage improper you are far too many centuries removed to speak. This is no new flame, but a blazing hearth of long-lasting love and commitment. Kirav and Neoma have grown together so much over many centuries working together to ascend to the highest heights our pantheon has ever achieved.

“The two wished to share this most blessed occasion with you all. The Sun and the Moon, eternally in harmony. A union symbolized by two rings.” Liliya said pulling both rings from her pocket. She held the first to Kirav. “Kirav, repeat after me. With this ring, I give you my heart, its gold my promise of eternal love.”

“With this ring, I give you my heart, its gold my promise of eternal love.” Kirav said taking Neoma’s left hand in his and sliding the ring onto her finger.

Liliya presented the second ring to Neoma. “Neoma, if you could repeat after me. With this ring. I give you my heart. Its gold my promise of eternal love.”

Neoma smiled as she took Kirav’s hand. “With this ring, I give you my heart, its gold my promise of eternal love.”

“The bond has been made; the promises vowed. Kirav, you may now kiss the bride.” Liliya said smiling.

Kirav leaned forward and kissed Neoma, he could now smell the lavender and vanilla of her perfume. He could feel the warmth of her lips. He felt the ebony dagger in his hand. As it slid cleanly into Neoma’s back the first screams began.

Bertrand was running up the stairs rage in his eyes and a war-hammer in his hands. Ulrith blocked his path. Liliya fell backwards, horror on her face. Fortuna stood her eyes wide open in silence. The music died as the Capella’s bore witness to the death of their goddess. Kirav stood motionless with Neoma in his arms. Her breathing was faint she would die any moment.

“I am sorry my love, but I must answer the prayers of my people.” Kirav whispered the few tears in his eyes slowly falling. “I will love you always, but I cannot let your daemons harm our realm.”

“I… understand m-my love. Forever and always.” Neoma’s lips smiled slightly. “May time see you to me…again.” Neoma’s final words fell like lead as her eyes glossed over and breathing stopped. Kirav turned from the chaos below as tears fell from his eyes. He did what he must. Now his paladins and clerics fought the followers of Neoma. The ring on his finger felt tight as he ascended the steps of the Alter of the Moon the highest mountain where all could see him.

“Forever and always my dear, you will have my protection. No Harm will ever befall you.” You Lied. A voice whispered.

“BASTARD.” Bertrand yelled as his hammer fell. Kirav caught its blow with his wing now extending from between his right scapula and spine for the first time in over a thousand years. Refusing to let Neoma fall from his arms. “What have you done?”

“What my worshipers prayed for. An end to the Moon. Stand down, do not make me kill you.” Kirav’s voice shook as he spoke.

“By the Abyss, I will slaughter you.” Bertrand’s hammer falling again though this time it only hit the ground as did his head. When gods died blood was never shed. The husk which once was Bertrand tumbled down the stairs into the ongoing war at the base of the alter.

***

Kirav sat disillusioned on his throne in his temple atop the Alter of the Moon. Ninety years of labor completed with a marvelous throne for the strongest of the Gods. None opposed Kirav now and why would they? Only those newest members of the leading counsel knew the truth.

“War in the east continues. Those Godless Ape-kin and their machines eat away at the dwarven lands daily. The humans and elves remain hostile to this day and only interreact when working with dwarves. The Feylands beyond the rift remain in check as well so says the champion of the Earth Mother. The Merfolk have also seemingly died off or gone dormant. We have had no contact with them, neither as the God of Waves. I do believe we are otherwise in a time of peace.” Kirav said sipping wine from a dragon-clawed chalice.

“I would disagree, the Abyss stirs ever more. New daemons rise daily and there are fewer paladins to issue to the cause of killing them.” Edrid the champion of the Earth Mother said.

“The harvests dwindle. With all my effort answering the prayers of my flock becomes difficult. Plants are shriveling under the overabundance of sunlight.” Zeno the Harvester God said.

“Daemon Lords are less in check than ever. Newer cults form to their cause.” Herro the God of the Forge said. “We are in a time of decay.”

“There will be no talk of decay.” Kirav said his voice like a knife. “We will act as we have. Time shall pass and we will see our flocks through trial and tribulation.”

The meeting adjourned and Kirav was left alone. The time of decay had started after Neoma’s death. The gap between the abyss and the mortal realm thinned daily. Kirav knew he was to blame. He was betrayed. For all the power the gods held, they still could be swayed by the Daemon Lords. Neoma had not called forth those creatures, the branded beasts did the bidding of their lords alone. They disguised their words as his worshipers’ prayers. Why Fortuna had led him to take the mantle of God of the Sun so many centuries ago was gone to Kirav. To maintain the façade, he had killed so many. Liliya was the first to die, she became the most troublesome after Neoma’s death. It had been forty years without a God of Protection. He looked to his hand and fingered the once gold now obsidian black ring. Forever stuck on his hand a permanent reminder of his deeds.

 ***

Kirav sat in his once might throne, centuries of neglect had tarnished the gold and silver masterwork. He was old now, middle aged in appearance, his hair gone grey, and crow’s feet and wrinkles adorned his face.

Salvation died, the day the alter was desecrated by his hand. The Sun should never sit upon the Alter of the Moon. The realm was dying in eternal sunlight. Sixty years or more had passed since the last minutes of nighttime blessed the lands. Famine and draught were prevailed. Kirav’s lies were more apparent than ever the truth could not be hidden anymore.

A lone woman stepped from the darkness of his chamber. How had she gotten here? Not through the door, his champion would have killed her on sight. She had entered another way. Kirav would have words with the God of Protection and their shadow walkers later.

“What brings you to the domain of Kirav, God of the Sun?” Kirav’s voice reverberated through the room in a low tone.

The voice which greeted him sent a cold shiver down his spine. Two voices speaking as one.

“I am Nahzeen Capella, newly ascended Goddess of the Moon. I am here to reclaim Neoma’s Alter.” “I am Neoma, the Goddess of the Moon. I am here to claim my Alter.”

Kirav paused a moment to look at the woman again. His ears played tricks on him. This woman had hair black as night and eyes with a galaxy of stars like the cosmos. This was not his Neoma. Yet she spoke with her voice.

“You Capella and your blasphemous Moon worship. Have you not been banished from all cities?” Kirav watched as the girl Nahzeen pulled from a sheath an all too familiar dagger. Its ebony blade shined in the dim light of the chamber.

Kirav stood and descended the dais. As he walked tarnished gold scales began to form across his body. Not a mortal soul had seen a dragon since ages past. They were a myth and yet Kirav would not let this blasphemer of his love live another minute. His wings nearly reached the vaulted ceiling as his body morphed. Muscles long unused stretched and tore as he grew.

Yet this Nahzeen faltered not. Kirav could admire her resolve to die if he had still cared any for the living. As his transformation finished standing tall in his true form of tarnished gold a dragon true. His teeth replaced with fangs his pupils expanding to grant him full slight within the darkness. No shadow could escape his gaze.

“Come, at the end of your path lies death, and death alone.” Kirav growled as he released a breath of radiant splendor. Its radiant beam blindly bright set the room aglow and yet it did not affect the girl. Where most would turn to ashes and dust, she stood resolute as darkness returned.

The girl walked forward, but not alone. Within her shadow a taller woman adorned in a beautiful dress, with a train longer than it needed to ever be. Her hair not loose but in a bun with two pins holding it in place. The flowers in her hands as she ascended the alter.

The blade slid cleanly through Kirav’s scales as the shadow’s hands rested where his should have been.

Forever and always, may time see you to me again. Neoma’s words echoed in Kirav’s mind as he burst in glorious radiance and turned to ashes. The room darkened leaving Nahzeen all but alone.

“Rest well little brother, may your rebirth be less troublesome.” Fortuna said appearing from the darkness. “You did well Goddess of the Moon, the throne is yours now.”

“Mine? You must be mistaken Lady Fate of the Present. I just did what I must.”

“As Goddess of the Moon, this is your throne, it is at the top of your alter. You are to lead the pantheon now.” Fortuna said picking up the small golden lizard which crawled within the ashes. “Look outside and see for yourself.”

The first full moon Nahzeen had seen in her life shown bright in the nighttime sky. The cosmos visible to the eyes in all their splendor. A tear welled within Nahzeen’s eyes.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Nothing, let us both hope he has little memory of this.” Fortuna said cradling the small lizard which was once the God of the Sun.

*
Judge #1’s Scores
Worldbuilding: 4
Characters: 4
Plot: 3
Enjoyment: 4
Total: 15

Judge #2’s Scores
Worldbuilding: 4
Characters: 3
Plot: 3
Enjoyment: 4
Total: 14
*


OVERALL SCORES FROM JULY 2022-AUGUST 2022

*Sharon Rivest: 61 points

Joe Price: 58 points

*Sharon Rivest is the winner! She will go on to face the winner of the Grimdark World Cup 2022 at a later announced date. This ends the Number One Contender’s Tournament! Thanks all for participating.