We had a really awesome selection of entries for the writing contest! It was super difficult to pick a winner, but I think you'll agree that this story is engaging, concise and has a very satisfying ending. I was so stoked to get a bunch of good entries, so even if you didn't win please don't be discouraged. There will be another contest up soon!
As promised, the winner gets to promote anything they like here in this post. Jordan Kurella's story, On A Cold & Lonely Evening (seen below) is the winning entry. She's chosen to promote her website, which has links to several other stories she's written, her published works and her fascinating blog, in which she discusses living with mental illness.
Click the awesome picture to check out her site and read her winning entry below!
On A Cold & Lonely Evening
by Jordan Kurella
She’d killed two bears for a change today, rather than her usual three. Audre Day was getting sick of the elf’s reaction to maggots on her dinner, not to mention the cleanup. So two bears it was. They had been skinned, trimmed, and the meat stored to be cooked for tomorrow’s dinner, and the next day’s. Her roommates ate like horses, not that Audre even remembered how horses ate.
The trap in the doorway was still good. The other two hadn’t a crisis of faith or the need to redecorate while she was gone. Spikes stuck out from the window frames in decorative places so the orc could hang plants or whatever from them later, and more thick tripwires criss-crossed the common area on the way to Audre’s bedroll. She needed to get this armor off.
She stopped dead in her tracks. That voice was unmistakable; the scraping gravel of it, the thin Lordaeron accent. But how Caeryn Peyton got so far in here without setting any of the traps off was a mystery, and it was probably going to stay that way.
“Caeryn,” Audre said. “Nice to see you.”
The woman made a grunt. Audre knew Caeryn couldn’t say the same, even if she wanted to.
“Did you come all this way just for me? You shouldn’t have. It’s so dangerous traveling alone.” Audre drew her axe off her back slowly, trying not to make any noise, but Caeryn’s head tilted, she was listening. She raised her sword defensively, the blade black from poison use.
“You are under arrest,” she said. “Come now. There is no need for violence.”
“No need for violence in here,” Audre said. “Because somebody tipped you off.” She pulled a rag from her glove, also black, and smoothed it over her axe’s blade. “You got through way too easy.”
“I have allies,” Caeryn said. “Unlike you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
She’d had enough of this. Her axe was prepared. She was prepared. And the longer Caeryn crouched there, motionless and listening, the better her chances got. Audre had to start this now, and end it fast, while she still had the upper hand. And plus, from everything the goblin in Everlook had told her, she only had about three minutes.
“Believe whatever you wi-”
Caeryn couldn’t finish, as Audre’s axe swung down from over her head, closing the small space between them with its handle and dripping blade. But Caeryn had been listening, and quickly blocked her blow with both swords, pushing Audre up and back as she stood. She was strong. Too strong.
Audre had underestimated her.
There was a tripwire at Audre’s heel and she stumbled over it, activating it with her toe as she fell back. It sprung a trap, throwing a spike from the window that missed Caeryn’s head by a second. So she halted, her swords up and waiting.
Maybe the noise had been too much. The falling, the loud armor, Audre’s cries. Maybe all that had disoriented Caeryn, because she stood motionless in the dwindling light. Audre hadn’t lit a candle or a lantern when she came in. Too much longer and the whole cabin would be plunged into darkness, and then Caeryn would have the upper hand. Audre had to get into the light and level the playing field.
“Stuck?” Audre asked.
But Caeryn neither answered nor moved until Audre pushed herself off the ground, and only then did Caeryn’s head track her movements as she stepped over the traps toward the door. Audre would hold out here, there was an opening, and room to maneuver. If Caeryn hadn’t learned the layout, she might still have a chance. But that was a big if; Audre had never known Caeryn to be unprepared.
The plate armor was a dead giveaway of her position, and Audre was exactly where she wanted to end this. All she had to do was use the armor to lure Caeryn right to her. Here she had the advantage. Out there, in the snow, without the traps, she might as well give up. So with gentle rolls of her shoulders and flicks of her wrists, she watched as Caeryn took the bait.
One thing about Forsaken, they had this focus that made them easy to manipulate. And Audre had found Caeryn Peyton one of the easiest to manipulate of all. Maybe it was their shared history, or maybe it was because Audre knew she was Caeryn’s end goal. All Audre ever had to do was fake the bait, and remove the reward.
With one last roll of her shoulder, Audre stepped over the trap in the doorway and into the thick snow outside. The snow not only muffled her steps, but any other sound she made. This was what she needed. She was confident; she was ready. Fake the bait, and remove the reward.
“You scared?” Audre asked.
No answer. Caeryn was concentrating too hard. Good.
There was that crease in the forehead Audre knew so well. The one Caeryn got when she was really and truly pissed off. When she was too angry to think straight. Now she would make a mistake, but Audre wanted to push it a little further.
Caeryn stood in the clear area by the door, her swords down, held at her sides. She was seething; her rage boiling over. Audre could see she was ready to strike, ready to kill her for everything she had ever done. To her, to anyone, to everyone; this had gone beyond personal, and Audre couldn’t be happier. She’d met her goal: drive Caeryn into a murderous rage. Audre had seen rage do things to people. It made them forget things, make terrible mistakes, and go against what they believed in. And Caeryn was in the thick of it.
“Bet you couldn’t kill me, no matter how bad you want to,” Audre said. “You care too much. You always have. You’ve got too many feelings. It’s why the plague killed you. It’s why the Apothecaries got to you. And it’s why I’m still alive. You’ve never been able to do it. You’re too soft.”
“You … do not … know who … or what … I am.”
She was so angry she could barely spit out the words.
“Oh, Caeryn, honey. I know you better than you know yourself.”
That did it. Her swords snapped to attack position and she crouched low to leap forward, but then changed her mind. It was all happening so fast, Caeryn didn’t know what she wanted to do. Audre had seen this before. Sometimes people had wanted something so bad for so long that when they were so close they could touch it, they didn't know the next step. Manipulating this part of people was how Audre had gotten through the past five years happy and rich.
And although time was ticking, Audre was happy to wait until Caeryn made her next move.
But she didn't have to wait long. It was only a matter of seconds before Caeryn bolted forward, running three quick steps into the tripwire at the door. Her ankle caught it, but Caeryn had always been agile. She didn’t fall, but instead corrected her steps with graceful precision. She pulled her leg up and over the rope, leaping six inches into the air, and into the heavy net that brought her down, trapped, into the cold, cold snow.
It was too perfect.
With about 30 seconds left, Audre had no time to gloat. She stalked up to Caeryn who was flailing in the net — her swords trapped underneath her; the rope too thick to be cut with either her claws or her raptor talon in the short time she had left. So taking care to do as the goblin had instructed, Audre swung her axe, stopping right after it bit through Caeryn’s armor, into her midsection, and had sliced neatly into her rotten skin.
Pleased with herself, she cleaned her axe and walked away.
“Coward!” Caeryn said, calling after her. “If you are not woman enough to finish me off, you are nothing at all.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Audre said. “I finished you off. What’s that thing you Forsaken always say about patience?”
In Everlook, Audre wrote the note she knew she had to write and gave it to a goblin with a hefty tip and the instruction: Deliver to Xiser Brightsun at the volcano, or else. If Caeryn had said anything else as she’d been walking away, Audre had forgotten it. It didn’t matter anyway. That chapter of her life would be over in a matter of hours, and she’d be long gone, with her problems dead behind her.