Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pulp Ark 2011 Spotlight - Nancy Hansen's "Masquerra and the Storm Lord"

Nominated for "Best Short Story"
at this year's Pulp Ark.
"Masquerra and the Storm Lord" was pubished in
PRO SE PRESENTS Fantasy and Fear #2 


The Storm Lord Koli terrorized the land periodically, at first arriving in the form of a devil wind to ravage the area he chose to feed off of. After growing stronger, he would harness great storms and ride them. He lived for the misery and pain he caused the paltry mortals that quaked beneath him, laughing while they prayed for deliverance or ran away in abject terror. He began with ordinary storms, building them bigger than they would naturally occur, learning to bleed off the energy generated as lightning slashed and thunder boomed in deafening rumbles.
Eventually the regular weather patterns would resume as he drained off the storm’s energy in order for his magic to become fully recharged. Because of this, Koli had learned to use the native inhabitants’ apprehension and dread over the destruction of their lives and livelihood to his advantage, for he gained as much of his powers from the torment he caused as from the storm energy itself. The more suffering and lamentation caused by his passing, the more negative energy that entered the atmosphere to feed his insatiable hunger for dominion over others.
Koli’s last visit to the trader plains of Samarhas was well timed. He arrived during quite a potent storm and so was able to add immensely to his power. He rode in on the top of a thunderhead and directed the swirling winds down through it until a damaging tornado formed. Wherever it touched ground huts were leveled, crops destroyed, and the grazing land was ruined. The people suffered greatly and Koli became even stronger than ever before. Thriving off the energy he had absorbed, Koli didn’t need to visit again for a long time. But everyone knew the Storm Lord would eventually be back again, and so they trembled and prayed for relief.
Buru-Buru, the headman of the once thriving trade village at the heart of the devastated land, called a conference. He stood amongst the ruined huts and destroyed crops in the fields, facing a circle of robed and elaborately dressed figures. He had invited in all the most powerful wizards and enchantresses of the surrounding lands to show them what had occurred, and he offered them what little gold, silk, gems, and ivory the village had left.
“We must have a plan for the next time the Dark Cloud of Koli brings this kind of undeserved punishment from the skies down upon us. My people are strong and good warriors, but we cannot fight magic. We will not survive another such attack,” implored a defeated sounding Buru-Buru. Knowing magic makers were seldom ever paid, let alone well compensated for their work, he pointed to the small pile of precious trade goods at his feet. “This is all we have to offer, but it would keep one of you fed and clothed for at least the next year. It goes to the first mage with a workable solution to our defense from the Storm Lord.” He crossed his arms upon his wood and bone breastplate, and stared out of his heavily tattooed face. His brown eyes narrowed and no smile appeared upon his wide lips.
So it was to be a contest! The mages all looked at each other speculatively, but there was little chatter amongst them now and not much interest in the task at hand. No one wanted to give away any trade secrets or ideas lest they be stolen by another; but also no one really wanted this assignment. Koli the Storm Lord was a very powerful and dangerous enemy sorcerer who had set himself up as a demigod to be feared and appeased. He would drain them all of their power if they dared oppose him. So most bowed and nodded a goodbye to the grimacing headman before wandering off to seek secure lodgings somewhere far away from that devastated area. For those who stayed behind, there was need for a secure place where one could eat and sleep, pace the floor trying out incantations, or conjure over a cauldron and perhaps meditate a while upon an answer.
Masquerra was amongst those few who remained, although she stood way in the rear amidst her very skilled contemporaries. The short, slender woman was dressed simply in a bright blue linen tunic and trousers with a jaunty silver sash. Her waving dark hair was drawn away from her oval face and tied back in a long tail. Masquerra knew she had no business answering this summons in the first place, being only a minor magician of questionable skills at best. The others were all great wizards, enchantresses, sorcerers, or high powered witches. But she was curious by nature and had nothing more important to do, so came to at least witness the others in action, if not to actually help.
Looking around, Masquerra realized that she knew at least two-thirds of those assembled, having studied under dozens of master mages over her fifteen year apprenticeship, but they always sent her on to another because she never showed any real power. One thing she did have to her advantage was an excellent memory for lessons and methods and a nimble mind that could think outside the norm. She was not greedy, nor did she live a lavish lifestyle as many of the more famous mages did, but she did enjoy a challenge. So unlike the others, she ignored the reward offered and instead listened to the recounting of what had occurred, turning it over in her mind like a puzzle, looking for the key to unlocking the solution.
Masquerra could perform some actual magic if she had the spell memorized to make it work. What she could not seem to do was power the spells up properly. What should have been thunderous blasts of mage fire turned out to be pitiful little puffs of smoke and heat. Conjured lightning bolts were no more that static sparks. Spells designed for raising the dead back to life instead only healed abrasions.

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