So on the amazing website of Figment, some users are holding Season 4 of Figgy Idol. Figgy Idol is a writing competition that mirrors American Idol and similar competitions.
I’m lucky enough to join for the fourth season, and things are booming. My audition story–A Real Fighter–served well enough to get me into Round One. Today was the deadline for the first real part of the competition however.
The prompt was simple, but also infuriating. The focus was creativity, and the goal was to create a legendary character, much in the same style as Greek and Roman mythology.
Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments! Even though I’ve turned in my submission already, I would still love to expand my abilities.
A brief explanation of my strange schedule lately: My family just took a vacation, so I missed two updates. I apologize for that! I also decided to put off my Book Blab until next Monday, where I’ll be reviewing Challenger Deep.
So, with that aside, I’m proud to present A Real Hero!
“I was a real hero once,” said Trayn, picking at the fraying edge of his tunic. “A real hero. I had a sword twice your height, and I hefted it like it was half your weight.”
The boys nodded eagerly, urging Trayn forward in his story.
“I killed dragons. I destroyed ogres. I decimated armies,” Trayn insisted.
More nods came. A blind beggar woman by the door snorted into her cup of coins, as though she doubted Trayn’s stories.
Trayn sighed and rubbed his calloused thumb along the rim of his mug, trying to stop the appendage from shaking. “I could fight anyone and win. I could fight any thing and win. I had armies at my side. I had friends among the most powerful courts of this world. Jael even fought by my side.”
As soon as he said the last sentence, he regretted it. The boys sat up a little straighter. This was why they had come to the public tavern house during the sticky heat of summer. But Trayn wasn’t planning on talking about Jael just yet. He always ended up talking about Jael, and he was sick of it.
“I once fought Kerlson of the Southern Fjords,” Trayn said desperately. “My sword against his axe. They now call him Kerlson the One Handed.” He was looking over the ale-slicked table at the boys. “That was my doing.”
“You told us that one last week,” said a tow-headed girl named Feld from across the tavern. She held her hands behind her back, looking up at the drunken once-warrior. “I wanna hear about Jael.”
“Jael,” the man mumbled into the rim of his mug, eyebrows furrowing over the top to hide his eyes. He came here to forget the blasted girl. Not that he could forget anything. Not how she left, not how she came.
Jael came while holding the hand of a goddess.
“You are Trayn,” said the goddess. She stood on Trayn’s doorstep, looking smaller than he would have thought. But anyone would look small outside of his grand fortress. And even it looked small when surrounded by rolling hills of grass and flowers.
“I am,” said Trayn, chest puffing up to fill his breast-plate. “I am the greatest warrior in the Six Citadels.”
“This I have heard even from the Holy Citadel,” said the goddess. “I require your services.”
Trayn faltered for a moment, but tried to keep his expression nonchalant. “My services?”
“You must raise this child for me. An apprentice.” The goddess looked down at the little girl. She had big eyes and a soft smile.
Trayn hesitated. He thought the goddess would ask him to kill a demon inhabiting the child. Or maybe take the child’s village back from a horde of ogres.
“And who are you?” asked Trayn, dropping to one knee to look at the child.
“I’m Jael,” she whispered.
The girl was soft. She was likely sweet. But Trayn killed for a living. He looked up at the goddess hesitantly.
“Your holiness,” he said in his most humble voice. “Why am I training this child?”
“I have need of a champion,” said the goddess. “A champion with the largest heart of the Six Citadels, to defeat the warrior destined to destroy me. A heartless woman with an impossible weapon. Who better to defeat her than her opposite? A heartful child, trained with a common man.”
Trayn contemplated the barb, and then the consequences. He always did this. It was part of why he was the most successful warrior in all of the Six Citadels. He knew how to choose his battles.
He could take on this girl with too large a heart, or he could risk the wrath of a fearful goddess.
Trayn gave his best smile.
“It would be my holy honor,” he said, bowing.
“You just want to hear about Jael cause you’re a girl,” said a big boy from the front of the group. He picked up a bit of apple peel and threw it at Feld.
The other boys fell quiet, but Feld stamped her foot. “You wanna hear about Jael too!”
The boy didn’t argue. A farmer sitting at the bar chuckled.
Trayn set down his mug, alcohol trickling down his beard and onto his arms folded onto the table. “Jael. I fought besi-she fought beside me. She was a good fighter. She even got to save my life once.”
“She was the best warrior in the land,” declared the little gir. She smiled up at him, eyes large. “She-”
“She was my sidekick,” Trayn snapped. “She worked beside me.”
“What did she do?” asked Feld innocently. Trayn glared at her.
“Jael helped me defeat Kerlson,” Trayn said. “She helpe-”
“She slit his throat and threw you the skin,” said another man from his corner. “And you hung it on your wall to brag about surviving.”
The tavern’s occupants turned in their seats to look at this new man. He wore a long cloak and hood, his grey hair falling out of the shadows beneath. Only a small smile was visible on his face.
“Well, what can you tell us about Jael?” asked the farmer from the bar. A serving girl set down a bowl of mutton stew and against the counter, watching the man in the corner.
“Jael,” he said, leaning forward. “Killed a dragon.”
The blind woman by the door harrumphed, as though she didn’t believe in dragons. Or perhaps she was as unimpressed as Trayn liked to sound when he talked of his own dragon-slaying.
“How did she kill a dragon?” asked Feld. She looked up at the new storyteller, Trayn forgotten. Why was Trayn always the forgotten one?
“When Trayn went in to slay the beast, he came running out with fire on his heels,” the man began.
Trayn looked down into his mug, watching invisibly small pebbles of mineral send bubbles spiraling up through the alcohol. The memories spiraled up into his brain, unbidden and unwanted.
Trayn fell onto the rocky ground face-first. Something in his nose burned, and he felt blood pool into the shale beneath him. The dragon soared overhead, his wings beating the heat against Trayn’s burnt back. Fire raged behind them both.
“Trayn!” a girl screamed.
“Jae…?” Trayn lifted his head, brow furrowed as blood poured from his nose and into his mouth. He spat it out. She was supposed to stay at the foot of the hill!
The dragon’s head snapped to the side, orange eyes looking for the source of the higher-pitched voice.
“Jael, go back!” Trayn tried to say. But his voice was thick with pain and ash. More blood. His fire-licked back protested any movement.
A roar cracked the slate beneath his equally-shattered ribs as the dragon’s claws struck the mountainside, preparing to launch the beast towards Jael. But the girls prang from the bushes first, tears streaming down her face.
Trayn felt as though he could hear her thoughts. She had so much emotion in her. She cried for him, as he lay broken on the mountainside. She cried for the life she should have lead. She cried for the dragon that she would have to kill. Jael cried so hard that she cried her very heart out.
And when the last shred of that heart was gone, Jael looked up at the dragon, a smile curving her tear-stained lips.
“Jael thrust a spear into the dragon’s thigh and pinned it to the mountain. And when she was covered in the dragon’s blood, she reached into it’s chest–right between the ribs–and crushed it’s heart with her bare hands,” finished the man.
Feld’s eyes were even wider. The boys hollered a bit, re-enacting the scene even in the summer’s heat. Trayn shrank into his seat, rough-spun pants catching on the cracked leather.
How did this man know of that tale, yet couldn’t speak of the blood, the broken bones? As Trayn thought this, he watched the blind woman’s hand scrabble along the floor for a bone to suck on. Her knobbled fingers found one, and she popped it into her unchoosy mouth.
“What else did she do?” asked the serving girl who stood beside the farmer. She pushed a plait of hair off her shoulder and onto her back, the tip brushing the farmer’s cheek. He blinked, then looked uneasily at the maid as though she might crush his heart too, but in a different way entirely.
“She destroyed ogres too,” said the man. “Jael was known as Jael the Ogre-Crusher in the east. Few men can claim that they have killed one, but Jael killed dozens.”
Trayn had been one of those men. He irritably tapped a shaky finger against the splinters of his table. Why couldn’t this man speak of his ogre kills?
Feld walked across the tavern towards the man in the corner and looked up, as though trying to peer under his hood.
“What about armies?” she asked.
The man looked down at the child. “Armies? Armies cowered in front of Jael. She had the very gods on her side.”
“Which armies?” asked the big boy.
“Which gods?” asked the farmer.
“Every army, and most of the gods,” said the man. “Once she destroyed the entire kingdom of Gromery.”
Trayn frowned. “There is no kingdom of Gromery.” His fingers curled and uncurled around the sticky handle of his mug.
The man in the corner smiled. “There isn’t anymore.”
There never had been. Not a true kingdom. But Trayn knew what this man was referring to, even if he didn’t know how the man knew. How did anyone but Trayn know?
The King of Gromery stood before Jael and Trayn, his spear pointed between them.
“Leave this garden,” he said, voice emotionless.
“Leave us,” Jael spat back, voice just as flat.
“Jael,” Trayn said. “Fall back.”
Jael ignored Trayn, diving forward. Her sword cut sharply along the King’s spear shaft. Once, then twice. The head clattered to the ground, looking foreign among the flowers.
“Leave us,” Jael repeated. She pressed the tip of her sword to the King’s chest.
The Kingdom of Gromery lay just behind him. A garden fit for gods–one that only existed in legends. And if Trayn could get in, he would become a legend as well. For inside lay a sword long prophesied to be the downfall of a god. The King of Gromery was it’s sworn guardian, a man who possessed the only weapon that could render him mortal.
The King of Gromery, looked down at Jael. Though she could not see it, the head of his spear was growing back.
“Leave this garden or endure the severest mortal punishment,” the King said.
“Jael, fall back!” Trayn said. “His sp-”
Jael stepped back and dropped her sword. But instead of raising her hands into the air, she snatched the King’s spear and wrenched it from his hands before thrusting it into the King’s chest.
“I will endure no such mortal thing,” Jael whispered. “Until I have reclaimed it from the one who took my humanity.”
The bar maid smiled. “What about other heroes? Did she duel any of them?”
“Jael fought Treel. She fought Graimson. The King of Gromery, of course, and the Duke of Vrill. She even dueled a goddess,” the man said.
Trayn remembered each duel well. The first had been his kills, the latter had become hers. She gave the orders, she chose the plans, she made the kills. Somehow, their roles had reversed. Trayn nearly spoke up, but instead took another gulp of his drink.
“Which goddess?” Feld asked. She tugged at her blonde hair, eyes trained on the man in the corner.
“Jaylol, her namesake. Jael grew too arrogant.” The man’s voice became quiet. “Jael no longer prayed, sacrificed or even gave thanks to the goddess for her victories. Jaylol the goddess was upset at Jael the hero for neglecting her faith. So the goddess came down from the sky and demanded that Jael pay the price.”
“She did not!” Trayn blustered from his seat. The sky! Jaylol had not come from the sky. She had come from the air itself, materializing as only the goddess could do. And arrogance had nothing to do with Jaylol’s coming down. She had come down for Trayn, and Jael had stepped in the way. Jael made him hide, like a coward.
“She did,” said the man. “Jael refused to die, and attacked the goddess with a powerful sword that was prophesied to destroy the goddess.”
“Like this?” One of the little boys stood and mimicked thrusting a sword at his brother’s gut. The blind woman winced, as though she could see what the boy was doing.
The man in the corner nodded. “Aye, like that. But Jaylol was not to be so easily defeated! The goddess turned Jael’s sword to molten metal, burning her hand beyond use.”
The barmaid raised a hand to her mouth, drinks and meals forgotten. The farmer wrung his hands grimly. The boys yelled, and the Feld clasped her hands in front of her.”But she didn’t lose. She had the prophecy sword.”
The man grinned again before continuing the story.
This memory too Trayn could tell. This story was seared into his mind so sharply that no amount of drink could wipe it free.
Jael stood before the goddess, smoke rising from her hand. A puddle of metal was at one foot, a puddle of blood at another. And Trayn cowered in the back. He had always feared the goddess, but now he also feared Jael.
“Your impudence will be smote from this very earth,” the goddess screamed. Trayn watched the holy hand rise to strike the girl that was meant to be Jaylol’s hero and Trayn’s apprentice. But Jael refused to be bound to any such thing. Not to law, not to deity, not even to the laws of nature. The laws of pain.
Jael raised her hand as well. Trayn thought at first that it was a slow sign of submission, but he realized that everything only moved slowly to his own eyes. A spray of molten metal was arcing from Jael’s fingers towards Jaylol’s face, faster than the goddess could react. It landed in her eyes, steaming and hissing even more loudly than it had in Jael’s hand.
Jaylol screamed, stumbling away from her would-be champion. She fell to her knees on the earth, smote by her hero.
Trayn couldn’t even comprehend the consequences.
Jael didn’t care to try. She walked forward, drawing a dagger from her breastplate.
“You will lose your life,” Jael said. “One life more than I will ever lose to your hand.”
Jaylol shook her head, a moan of pain slipping past the lips that had only sounded delight before.
“You will lose all your life,” Jaylol whispered. “Your entire life’s purpose. Purpose is what I gave to you, purpose is what I take. You will wander as only a legend, never a human.”
Jael screamed. She screamed more loudly than Jaylol upon her first feeling of pain. She screamed like a person who has lost the one thing they ever fought for. But before the dagger could strike the goddess’ breast, Jaylol vanished.
“Did she die?” the big boy asked, his eyes as wide as the little girl’s.
“The goddess was never seen again,” said the man mysteriously. “But neither was Jael.”
“Where did she go?” the girl asked.
“She ran away,” said Trayn desperately. He stood so quickly that his mug fell to the floor. Everyone looked from the man in the corner to the shattered glass. “Coward. Not a real hero.”
The man in the corner smiled.
“A real hero never stops fighting,” said the man. “Even if it means learning how to hide. Jael took what was left of her molten sword and had it cast into coins, not one of which she spent. Ever since, she’s been in hiding.”
Trayn puffed up his chest. “Ne’er hid a day in my life.” That was almost true. It should have been true. Only Jael could break his rules, just as Jael managed to break every rule.
“You hide,” snapped Feld. “But you hide ‘hind your mug.” She pointed at the man’s drink. Trayn’s face went bright red as the farmer, bar maid and gaggle of boys laughed.
The man in the corner stood. His chair scraped against the wooden ground, catching the attention of even the drunkest sot and busiest mother in the tavern.
“The little girl is right. You never did stop hiding. You hide behind your mug, your skins, your stories.” He walked over to Trayn. “You always did love your stories, Trayn. Tell me when you would like me to fight beside you again to make some more.”
Jael walked across the tavern, a horribly burned and scarred hand came out from beneath her cloak to drop a coin into the blind woman’s lap. The beggar flinched, her dress smoking around the disk as Jael went out the door.
Trayn frowned at the coin.
Feld smiled at the door.
The farmer looked at the blind beggar.
And the bar maid ran after.
“Wait, where are you going?” demanded the farmer, standing up. His stool toppled, and Trayn jumped at the clatter.
The bar maid turned, breathless. “I’m going to see a real hero.”