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Concept Art Writing Prompt: A Village Sheltered by a Dragon's Corpse

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A Village Sheltered by a Dragons Corpse

Each week, we invite you to participate in the Concept Art Writing Prompt by writing a story based on a fantastical image. In this week's writing prompt, we take you to a small village with a large and unusual landmark.

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This painting is by Chris Ostrowski and it's titled "Dragon's Village," via r/ImaginaryVillages. See if you can come up with a story inspired by this image—is it the remains of a dead dragon? a sculpture? evidence of alien life?—and post it in the comments.

In the past these challenges have been held on Saturday afternoons. You can now expect them on Thursday evenings. Have fun!

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laurendavis
Lauren Davis

Bellax tried not to shuffle her feet as she made her way up the slope, but the load balanced on her head was great and her legs were growing weary. The climb to the Fabulist's shrine was not much farther, she reminded herself, and once she was the Fabulist's slave-bride, she could bathe and apply the rosewood oil and select the finest gown from her basket. A muffled sob reached her ears and she turned to see Glory, tears streaming from her eyes and her head bowed so low her basket threatened to tip over.

Bellax slowed her pace so that Glory could catch up. "Hey, Glow Worm," she said, nudging her shoulder into the younger girl's, "you doing okay back here?"

Glory sniffed, refusing to look up. "I'm scared, Bell. I know this is supposed to be a great honor, but I don't want to leave the Great House, the village…"

"Hey now," Bellax smiled that smile that always told people she believed what she said, "we were going to leave some time. And this beats a human sacrifice."

Glory scoffed. "Isn't that what we are, though? We're going to be his slaves, to do with as he pleases."

Bellax lifted her head as much as her burden would allow, pointing her chin forward. "You know what's going to happen, Glow? He's going to take us to his palace made of books, with scrolls for sheets and windows. Some evenings, he'll come home and regale us with stories—the best stories you've ever heard, and never the same one twice. But most of the time, he'll be gone. Being Master of Stories is busy work. You and me, we'll lounge and read and play games until we're old."

Glory had stopped weeping, but she still frowned. "But sometimes, he'll want…" Her words drifted off into the cold.

"Sometimes," Bellax conceded. "But gods don't do it like we do. He'll fill your head with every pleasure until you're ready to burst. And anyway," her gaze shifted to the figures ahead, "maybe he'll prefer the boys."

Glory giggled in surprise, and by the time they reached the shrine, she was smiling.

Mother Rhell directed them to place their baskets on the ground in front of them and turned toward the altar, where a book—old but in impossibly good condition—flapped its pages against the wind. She held up a sharp nib, pricked her finger with it, and signed her name in the book in her own blood.

The Fabulist appeared from the shadows, as if he had been waiting there all along. His skin was navy blue and his eyes a gleaming gray. He was wrapped into parchment coat that couldn't disguise how slender he was and his great sheep's horns made him even taller. Bellax resisted the urge to shrink to her knees, instead snatching Glory's hand and holding her steady.

"Why do you summon me, Rhell of the River's Keep?" he asked, his voice like a cello's.

Mother Rhell clasped her hands. "Master of Stories," she began, "I have brought you four youths from the River's Keep as a gift to you, the two most beautiful girls and lads our Great House has to offer."

Bellax would have known from the flat tone of Mother Rhell's voice that the woman was lying, even if she didn't know how eager Mother Rhell was to be rid of them. She was always scolding Bellax for spreading gossip among the girls, and Glory had broken a party's worth of crystal goblets since she had entered the Great House.

The Fabulist narrowed his stormy eyes. "I can see what you have brought me, Rhell of the River's Keep, though I have no use for mortal flesh. What favor do you mean to ask of me?"

The color drained from Mother Rhell's face as Glory squeezed Bellax's hand. Bellax felt her heart begin to throb. If the Fabulist didn't want them, would he grant their favor?

Mother Rhell's voice wavered for only a moment as she replied, "There is a threat to our village, a foreign force that is conquering nearby lands. We are a peaceful people with no army to defend ourselves. But we know of monsters from the ancient stories, monsters terrible enough to slaughter an army."

"And you wish for me to pluck one of those monsters from such a tale?"

"If you pity us, my lord."

The Fabulist bowed his head and remained silent for several minutes. Fat drops of rain plunged from the sky, but he seemed not to notice the change in weather. Finally, he looked down at Mother Rhell and said, "I cannot give you a monster, but I can give you the history of a monster and a legend that it will wake if your village is threatened. That will be enough to keep this army at bay."

Mother Rhell clasped her hands against her chest. "Thank you, my lord—"

The Master of Stories held up a silencing hand. "It will not work unless someone tells the story. The people of River's Keep must believe that it's true."

"Of course, my lord," said Mother Rhell. "I am their priestess. They will listen to me."

The Fabulist shook his great horned head. "Obedience is not belief," he said. Then he stretched one bony finger toward Bellax. "This one will tell the story. She has the tongue for it—and the smile."

Mother Rhell looked back at Bellax with a look so cold Bellax could swear she felt her blood freezing. But before the priestess could argue with the god, he had melted back into the shadows.

The youths had to carry their baskets back down the hill, but the mood was lighter and their loads felt lighter as well. The first fingers of dawn pushed through the clouds as they rounded the path and looked down upon the village.

Glory gasped. Mother Rhell muttered a curse beneath her breath. Bellax just froze, entranced.

An enormous dragon's skull loomed protectively over the village, while stony claws broke up through the marshlands. As far as the eye could see, the spines of what appeared to be a massive beast speared the mountain ridge. ahead.

"The history of a monster," murmured one of the boys.

As the pressed on, Bellax stared at the dragon body, the start of a story stirring within her brain.