Flash Fiction Challenge: Graveyard of Heroes

bok tower gardens 1998 fairy tale flash fiction prompt KS BROOKS
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

A thousand warriors of the Kandima stood on the grassy bank of the pond across from the castle tower.

Sorbo placed his hands on his hips as he surveyed the site. His battle-scarred face was unaccustomed to smiling, so instead it seemed he wore a grimace. He looked at Davi and arched an eyebrow as he spoke. “This is it, then? Not really very formidable for a place with such a reputation.”

Davi was unmoved by the commander’s skepticism. His attention was fixed on the tower. He spoke slowly, almost as if he were in a trance. “This is the place. You heard the horns as we approached. They know we are here. They are preparing inside.”

Sorbo turned to see the sky almost blotted out by the flight of thousands of arrows sailing from the top of the tower…

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Tuesday night, judges will select the strongest entries, and on Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Graveyard of Heroes”

  1. The arrows were headed toward them. Within minutes, the arrows would rain down on Sorbo and his troop of warriors, who were already badly injured.
    Sorbo turned to face his troop and yelled forcefully, “Retreat!”
    The men noticed the commotion, and their faces mirrored the same horror as on Sorbo’s face. They hustled back away from the pond, hoping to find cover in the thicket that lay ahead.
    Nevertheless, the masterfully aimed arrows pierced through the warriors’ backs. Stunned by the penetration, each man had his life flash before his eyes before succumbing to death.
    The troop dwindled to 5 warriors, including Sorbo and Davi. Sorbo used a tree as a shield in the case of another attack. Sorbo breathed heavily, gulping air. As he gained his composure, he realized something.
    “You heard the horns as we approached. They know we are here.” Davi had said.
    How had Davi known the significance of the horns. Sorbo had assumed they were a celebratory gesture. Sorbo looked up to find Davi aiming an arrow at him. Sorbo looked around and saw that Davi had already killed the other three warriors that had survived the attack.
    “Traitor!” the word escaped Sorbo’s mouth before the arrow plunged into his chest.
    Assuming victory, Davi turned around to walk toward the tower.
    “Daaaviii…” Sorbo’s voice was strained.
    The moment Davi turned around, he was met with an arrow. The impact knocked him down. Davi, a traitor, laid there…a misfit in the graveyard of heroes.

  2. ***FINALIST***

    One by one arrows found their intended targets. Soon Sorbo found that his following of warriors had dwindled to but a few. The grimace on Sorbo’s angular face turned to savage anger.

    Amongst the hundreds of dead scattered across the field lay Davi with an arrow through his heart.

    As the remaining warriors fled, Sorbo grunted his disapproval. “Cowards!”

    Dismounting from his black steed, he knelt next to Davi’s wounded body. Death was as commonplace as rain in the Kandima territories and Sorbo had witnessed much loss in the battles to maintain his Queen’s rule. Losing Davi would prove a mighty battle all its own, as Sorbo had developed a deep love and respect for his second in command.

    Sorbo pulled a knife from the sheath tied to Davi’s armored thigh. One swift flash of silver against soft pale flesh freed Davi from his fatal misery.

    “I shall spend the remainder of my days avenging your death my faithful friend.” Lifting the lifeless body with ease, Sorbo laid Davi across the back of his saddled gray. Doing so allowed Davi’s helmet to fall to the ground, freeing a long, flowing mane of fiery red curls.

    Stammering, “What..what’s this? A woman? ” Sorbo gulped in mournful disbelief. “All this time?”

    The Queen stood at the top of the tower observing with her traitorous heart what she had known to be true all along. Declaring her victory she hissed. “At last, Davi is dead. Now Sorbo will be mine!”

  3. On Sorbo’s order, the troops drank up. Poison was a far more efficient way to die than enemy arrows, no useless wounded. But the enemy would never know it wasn’t the arrows.
    Sorbo had not expected to glow when he got back up, but he liked it, it increased the terror in any confronted eye. The hovering added to his unsettling appearance, as did the fact that a second hail of arrows came down quickly, passing right through the now intangible army.
    Silently, they glid forward, ignoring any arrows as well as the sachets of exploding powder that joined in as they came closer. The curse, the only chance the Kandima still had had, worked. As invulnerable ghosts, they would finally be able to beat the invaders that erected their castle on this formerly holy ground.
    Davi was the first to pass the castle’s wall, then everybody else. Inside, terror had frozen the enemy soldiers in place. Sorbo took his sword, swung it at a high-ranking adversary and ran it right through him. It passed his body as though it did not exist.
    The victim stared at him for a split second, then burst into laughter.
    Grinning, the officer addressed Sorbo, “I guess it is mutual, then. In that case, you have my thanks.”
    Sorbo’s lips formed a realizing “No”, but did not produce it with his lungs unable to grasp at the air flowing through them.

  4. As soon as Sorbo saw thousands of arrows launched from the top of the castle tower, he commanded “Shields Up!”

    Instantly his army of a thousand warriors obeyed him and raised their shields against the onslaught of arrows. Even though it was a hailstorm of arrows, they held their shields high to protect themselves.

    When the hailstorm ended, Sorbo angrily barked, “Davi, you urged us to attack this castle because of it’s riches. So far we have only seen a hail of bewitched arrows.”

    Glassy eyed Davi replied, “You knew this place was bewitched, what did you expect?”

    Sorbo looked harshly at Davi, and started to reply, but instead drew his sword across Davi’s insolent throat. Davi should have collapsed and died instantly, instead he just stood there eerily staring glassy eyed at Sorbos.

    Sorbos looked through him and around him at his warriors; only to discover they were all standing there translucent and glassy eyed.

    Sorbos screamed out, “What’s wrong with all of you?”

    No one replied.

    He looked more closely across the field of battle, and realized at each warriors feet was an arrow riddled body. All thousand warriors were dead. Bowing his own head down he looked at his own feet. To his horror he saw his own face in the bloody grass staring back at him, glassy eyed and dead.

  5. ***FINALIST***

    Protected beneath their shields, the warriors charged the castle tower. Sorbo led the advance and the Kandimians drew their swords in preparation to do battle. Within moments the army realized that the arrows were not what first they thought. The black forms grew wings to fly away rather than strike their shields.

    As the tower gate was lowered they were met by giants carrying swords the length and heft of a large tree. Sorbo courageously led his army forward. As the Kandimian’s swung their mighty weapons they met nare resistance. With each attempt to land a blow, their swords fell to the ground and the giants vanished before their eyes, like a mist in the wind.

    Sorbo turned to give an order to his bewildered warriors when a table the length of an acre forest appeared. An abundance of food and buckets of wine, goblets of gold and vessels dripping with jewels sparkled by candlelight.

    “Do you hear the music Sorbo?”

    “I do Davi, just as I heard the horns earlier, saw the flight of arrows and smelled the breath of giants.”

    Cautiously Sorbo reached for a goblet and tasted the sweet wine if offered. Satisfied it didn’t disappear at his touch. “It appears this is a tower of trickery. This wine is sweet and real. Let us celebrate our good fortune! ”

    As the warriors took a place at the table and toasted with golden goblets, poof! They all landed on their rumps on the floor.

  6. ***FINALIST***

    There was no distinction; no difference. Each man was his own graveyard, marked by thin, feathery, indistinguishable tombstones. All were dead.

    The Kandima were a curiously civilized crowd of savages. As they saw the incoming wave of arrows, the leaders quickly identified themselves, followed by the strongest warriors, the healers…
    Those that could not identify as anything assumed the nameless position of a human shield. They would die honourable deaths, meaningful deaths, heroic deaths, they repeated to themselves.

    The arrows neared, slicing the air in between.
    They would die honourable deaths, meaningful deaths.

    The feathers adorning the arrows blew in the wind, focused on their targets.
    They would die honourable deaths.

    Stony arrowheads flew towards them.

    They would die.

    As though this were a collective thought, the shield disintegrated. Men flew in different directions in a futile attempt to escape their deaths, in the process only securing their deaths, as well as the ‘identified’. Confronted with the face of death, they forsook logic; they forsook bravery.

    And Death struck blindly. Below rows of arrows, the leaders were no more dead than the cooks, the strongest warriors no less dead than the weakest, the healers no less remarkable than the afore-wounded.
    It was a graveyard of both heroes and villains, because, among the same crimson blood, among the identical mock tombstones, none could tell the difference.

  7. ***FINALIST***

    Sorbo had predicted what would happen when they planned the attack. He shouted to Davi, “You know what to do. Follow the plan. It’s me they want.” The arrows were flying across the pond directly at the warriors. Davi screamed and ran back toward his men; they scrambled like frightened rabbits back into the protection of the forest. Sorbo stood calmly, back straight, looking directly at the castle, then, he raised his arms heavenward and welcomed the arrows. Many pierced his body and the remaining thousands struck the earth and stood, upright, like deathly poisonous flowers. The field was silent for hours with no sound except the cawing of crows in nearby trees. Soon, shadows deepened and darkness crept across the single, lonely victim of the battle. Later, a huge throng of warriors could be seen wending their way around the pond, torches in hand. They rejoiced and shouted the victory over their hated nemesis, Sorbo. He had caused them misery for years and now they had killed him. Their leader, Arten, reached the body and stood over it, gloating. He raised his wine flask for another celebratory drink when he heard the sounds of a thousand warriors rushing at him. Within minutes, Arten and his men were slaughtered and blood soaked the moonlit field. Davi knelt beside Sorbo and wept, then, his men raised the lifeless body and carried it, silently, back into the forest. Sorbo’s plan had worked.

  8. The door opened, revealing a stooped crone in a tattered gown.

    “Peace, grandmother,” said Geltsman. “I come to parley. Bring me your Castellan.”

    A taller figure stepped forward. He nodded to the ancient servant. “Leave us, grandmother.”

    He faced his visitor. “Kerry, ensign. Procurator.”

    “Geltsman, lieutenant. Quartermaster.” He peered through the smoky doorway. “You are in charge?”

    “I am. This castle is my responsibility.”

    “And how many souls are here?”

    “Thirty elders, like that grandam; sixty lads and maidens too young to ride; forty scholars and priests. And the archers, whom you have met.”

    “Have your archers souls?”

    “They do, all of them, yet. They are too young to know war. They are but apprentices, youths just freed from their studies: one hundred ten of them. I am entrusted with their care.”

    “Perhaps, you may save your people from their fate. We require your tower.”

    Kerry looked askance at the soldier. “If we accommodate you and grant you access, what do you propose?”

    “We carry a mighty balm. It soothes our wounds and restores our troops. It brings wisdom to our officers and strength to our legions. It makes us invincible.” Geltsman produced a leather pouch. “Pinch this powder between your fingers; then inhale it.”

    The Procurator did as instructed. His eyes teared. “This is a powerful physic.” Kerry blinked. “We shall form an agreement. You will bring us this balm. We will allow you the Tower.”

    “Agreed.”

  9. ***FINALIST***

    Like their commander, the thousand feet army looked up to witness the arrows flying toward them. They stood firm like Sorbo. They were confident that their distance from the tower had assured them of safety. The arrows would surely fall into the pond that separated them from the tower, they thought. This was merely a display of strength and a show of numbers – for how else could the tower unleash what seemed like a thousand arrows without an equal number of men.

    However, at what should have been the turning point of the flight of arrows – the time for their descent – they formed like a flock of geese, and they climbed higher and higher into the sky. Inch by inch and second by second they made room for another flock of arrows and then another, and slowly they drew a dark clock over the sky until Sorbo was encased in night.

    “Raise your shield,” cried Davi, “raise your shield.” But, Sorbo didn’t move.

    Then came the screams, one, then two, then a chorus of indistinguishable notes playing seamlessly. Sorbo steadied his legs as the grass beneath his boots softened.

    “Sir we must retreat,” begged Davi.

    Eventually, the screams faded, and Sorbo could once again see the clouds and sky above. Before him the pond still reflected the castle’s tower, but its white façade was now colored red.

    “I am sorry,” said Sorbo. “We were dead the moment I decided to come here.”

    Davi nodded.

    “I knew.”

  10. “Shields!” The cry shocked the army’s ranks into action. The scrape of metal to wood echoed over the sound of the force reacting as one to the command. Sorbo pulled the war-tipped arrow from his shield and gave the tower a reproachful glare. “The direct assault won’t work.”

    Davi turned his gaze from the tower back to his commander. “Traps cover the other sides of the tower,” he said. “This is our only way to the gate.”

    Sorbo grimaced. “There is another way.”

    Five warriors, the elite led by Sorbo himself set out across the lake in the cover of night. The moon had fallen behind a cloud bank and gave them freedom. Sorbo’s army lay at the ready to rush the gates when they fell.

    He hefted the weight of the stones, all six of them, before he handed one to each warrior. “Hold this to the roof of your mouth,” he said. “It will protect you from the lake.” He placed the stone in his mouth to demonstrate and then fell over the side of the boat. The rest followed his lead and they slipped under the waves into the murky depths.

    They sank, sank to the sandy bottom of the lake but true to the wizard’s boast, they could breathe. The stone turned the water into nothing more than the coolest winter air. Sorbo motioned toward the tower and they trudged through the silt. Water and sand fought against their movements but they were able to find the hidden opening in the base of the tower. It was exactly where the Seer had told him it would be.

    Two of the warriors set to work on the crack in the rock; their blades wedged into place to pry the opening further apart. In short order they had broken it free and could squeeze inside.

    They clawed their way through the stonework into a tunnel within the base of the tower. It had flooded long ago through the crack, but they were inside. They half crawled/ half swam through the lower tunnels up and up to a stairway that climbed out of the wet. Single file, with weapons drawn, the warriors climbed up the stairs to the main floors of the tower. Only to be stopped by a wooden doorway that had been barred on the other side.

    As Sorbo Approached the doorway, a small window in the upper center slid open and light burst through. “I told you the tower was impenetrable,” Davi said.

    “Traitor!” Sorbo slammed his fist against the door.

    “Never,” Davi said. “I have always worked for a higher calling. Only those who are worthy may pass into these halls.” He stepped away from the window while speaking gibberish words.

    The hairs on Sorbo’s arms and neck stood up and his skin tightened as a strange energy filled the air around him. The surface on the water below began to bubble and seethe. The first of the tower’s original guardians broke the water’s surface.

    Bone and steel scraped against the stone stairway as the shambling mass climbed up the small stairwell toward the six warriors.

    “I will see you in hell!” Sorbo pressed past his warriors to take the lead toward their doom.

  11. ***FINALIST***

    “Shield’s up.”
    Every warrior raised their shield at Sorbo’s booming command. A thousand metal plates snapped together into one solid barrier just as arrows rained down on them. Davi’s force field flared to life around the two of them. Hands on hips, Sorbo watched as the projectiles burst into flame on contact. The swan in the small pond they stood near flapped its wings and moved away. Sorbo ignored its irritated vocalizations. It seemed more perturbed than alarmed at the army standing on the grassy bank or the arrow shower.

    “These cowards hide in their tower and toss twigs,” he said.

    Beside him, Davi gazed at the castle tower, a faraway look in his eyes. Moisture beaded on his furrowed brow.

    “Commander!” Davi’s voice rose in pitch. “Take cover. Another attack is coming.”

    “Stand your ground, wizard,” said Sorbo. I’ll not let a few pinpricks keep us from our prize.”

    With slow, but deliberate movement, the swan returned. Its snowy white neck tilted to the side and a strange sparkle radiated from the bird’s eyes, as though it were studying him. Amused wrinkles creased Sorbo’s scared face. The animal would make a nice victory meal.

    Suddenly, it trumpeted louder than the tower’s horns, raised is wings, and charged. Dozens of swans popped out of bushes and shrubs, hissing and snapping at his soldiers. Screams erupted as the shield fell apart. Even Davi’s magical barrier disintegrated. Sorbo’s confidence fled as the swan army turned his attack into a rout.

  12. ***FINALIST***

    Sorbo watched the arrows land fifty yards from the front line. “Do we have the secret weapon ready?”

    Davi arched his eyebrow. “You really think it will work?”

    The Commander turned the corner of his mouth up in his only smile. He gave the signal. Behind him, the cries went up. A mass of humanity rushed forward. Behind the troops came a creature spreading its leathery wings. In one leap, the creature beat downward, lifting into the air.

    It flew higher. Sorbo and Davi watched from the hillside. The creature blew out a funnel of fire burning the tower walls. Crispy flesh fell from the torrents.

    The troops reached the castle entrance and rammed the gate allowing Sorbo and Davi to venture forward safely. When they arrived at the castle entrance, the creature came out to greet them.

    “Do you have my payment?” Its voice bellowed with the smell of sulfur.

    “Yes.” Sorbo threw down a small bag. In it, something wiggled.

    The dragon used its small forearms to open the bag. Out walked a small kitten. It sat, looking up at the dragon, eyes blinking in the noonday sun. It let out a small meow.

    “Thank you.” The dragon bellowed. He picked up the kitten. Cuddling it in his forearms, he jumped into the air.

    “That’s what it wanted?” Davi looked at the Commander in disbelieve.

    “It’s the power of kittens. Those cute, big eyes are mesmerizing.”

    Davi nodded watching the dragon fly away.

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