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Prose Tales of the Astras [Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Stories]



Welcome to Tales of the Astras! This thread will feature a collection of short stories set in the sci-fi/fantasy city of Trinity, a world of advanced technology and ancient mysteries ruled ruled by a powerful empire. Among the people of this world walk the Astras, warriors gifted with supernatural powers who are often believed to be the gods incarnated among men. Heavily inspired by both Hindu mythology and cyberpunk, the setting follows the exploits of these Astras as they struggle to find a place in this world. Further documentation on the setting is available in The Codex.

This thread will, hopefully, be a place where I can share some of the short stories I've been inspired to write for the setting, and a place to further hone my skills as a writer. Please enjoy, and provide constructive criticism if you can!

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Astra of Kali, The Black Night​

“They are greed, ruthless, without mercy. But you...you will be worse. Rip and tear. Until it is done.”

Jace took a long drag of his cigar. He looked out into the dark, gloomy skyline of the first level, barely lit by dilapidated lights. The grimy, dirty streets, wet with sewer water and other substances he’d rather not think about, were deserted. At this late an hour they were likely asleep in their homes; or otherwise keen to avoid those dangerous enough to confidently wander these streets at night.

Up above was the rusted, dripping platform that formed the roof of this level and the foundation for the next. He hoped, despite the decay of thousands of years, it would continue to hold strong. It was his preference to typically be far away from depths this low, and instead relish in the luxuries of Trinity’s mid-levels. However, the nature of the smuggling business forced him and his associates to often do dealings in places below the reach of the law.

That was the advantage of being here. On the ground there were no officers, and the only enforcers were his and his competition’s.

The air rustled lightly behind him, so quietly he almost didn’t hear it. Immediately Jace spun, breathing quickly. Slowly he reached towards the sword by his side, grasping it tightly around the hilt. He began to scan the area, heartbeat pounding. There was no one.

He crept forward cautiously, eyes darting back and forth. It’s probably nothing, he thought to himself. But he couldn’t shake the eerie paranoia that maybe it was something. He heard stories of monsters and demons walking around on the ground floors. Previously he had dismissed them, but now the tales came surging back to the forefront of his mind.

Before him were stacks of cargo crates, stacked messily into dozens of piles. The spoils of their unsavory business. Jace surveyed them as he moved forward, wary for a potential threat. His heart thudded faster with each step. More than once he spun at the glimpse of a long shadow, formed from the dim light of a nearby streetlamp. One that seemed miles away now, a beacon just out of reach that left him in near darkness.

He internally cursed the poor visibility. Jace found himself fumbling with small steps as he continued across the wet surface that squelched with every movement. As far as he knew, this place should have been abandoned. That was why they choose this place as their base of operations in the first place. He began taking deep, cautious breaths, trying to force himself to relax.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move. Adrenaline and sudden panic surged through his veins. With a sound halfway between a war cry and a yelp, he drew his blade as he turned to face it.

But all he saw was his own reflection in the sheen of a wet crate, looking wide-eyed back at him. Jace breathed a deep sigh of relief, suddenly feeling stupid for being so paranoid. He sheathed his sword, and began turning to return to his post—

Only to nearly bump into the eviscerated, terror-stricken body hanging upside down behind him. His heart suddenly beat like a war drum in his ears. “Oh my god,” he managed to squeak out, nearly ready to vomit as he instinctually backed away from the corpse. The man, who he barely recognized as one of his associates, stared back at him, eyes rolled into the back of his head. His chest was split open, as if ripped apart by an angry beast, revealing the bloody bone within.

Jace shook his head frantically, convinced it was a hallucination. But as he eyed the scene once more, it began to settle in that this was no illusion. His hands shook as he gripped his sword with a deathlike grip. Breathing increasingly rapidly in short, shaky breaths, he suddenly realized the stories were right. There were monsters down here.

“He-help,” he stuttered to himself. “I need help.” His eyes darted from one shadow to the next. Searching for any sign of whatever was here. Throwing a quick glance at the lights from the window of the nearby building, he knew he had to get out of here and find some backup.

Slowly at first, he began walking. Then, with each rustle of sound, he jumped. Jace turned his sword at every shadow with shaky hands, feeling a bead of sweat rush down his cheek. Moving faster, and faster, he fell into a full run. He immediately pounded his fist on the door when he reached it.

“Hey! Hey! I-I need help out here,” he shouted, voice shaky. “Let me in! Please!”Feeling eyes on his back, Jace felt a lump lodge itself in his throat. He spun, sword forward. “Stay back!” he shouted into the darkness. Once again, there was nothing there except the long shadows cast by dim light.

Then the lock in the door clicked open behind him. “Thank you,” he said, suddenly relieved, as he quickly pulled the door open. With a few more men and some specialized equipment, they should be able to track down the beast. He remembered that they had some light flares they could pick up to flush it out, and then with a couple hunting bows they should be able to—

The thought disappeared as he looked in, feeling a sudden heaviness in his chest as his breath whoosed out. There, in the room, were all his associates. The light in the room flickered, washing the room in darkness and then dim light, each flash revealing the brief image of their fate. Arranged messily in the ruins of their base of operations, still wide-eyed with their mouths open, as if screaming for help. Blood still dripping from their bodies into deep pools in the floor, some pinned by sinister spikes to the walls, their bodies all bearing the same marks of a grisly death as the man outside.

He felt his mouth dry. His heart pounded violently against his chest. His blood chilled. Stepping back, his hands suddenly weak as he dropped his sword, he felt the color drain from his face. Jace made it a couple paces before bumping into something soft. He froze, his breath trapped in his throat.

From the corner of his eye he saw a long, dark claw appear. He felt its sharp tip trail gently along his cheek. It caressed it tenderly as Jace tensed, frozen in place. Internally he prayed to every deity he could think of, frantically screaming for their help.

The claw then rested under his chin and gently lifted it up, sending a cold shiver down his spine. Jace felt something breath hotly onto his ear, and whimpered.

“Sssssssh,” it whispered, with a smooth, womanly voice. “Sleep now.”

“How was it?” asked the holographic projection of Artanian. He looked as dignified as ever, dressed in official uniform with his legs spread wide apart and hands folded behind his back.

She glanced at the corpses around her, idly pushing one with the tip of her foot. “It was…” she said. She looked up as she pondered on an appropriate answer.

Then her eyes fell upon the body of her most recent victim, whose eyes were still red with fresh tears. She licked her lips in delight as she finally settled on the right word.

“Relaxing,” she said.

Comments This story is my first attempt at writing horror. In retrospect it's a little excessive, but I believe I've learned a little more about expressing fear through my words. The quote from the very beginning was inspired by the videogame Doom (2016). Elvira is a Divya Astra, one of the seven holy guardians of Trinity, and the subject of many nightmarish tales.
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Minority of One
Not a bad effort. I certainly don't think the horror imagery was excessive; it felt appropriate for the setting. If you're interested in hearing brief constructive criticism I could say a bit more?


Minority of One
Cool. The story was properly planned, paced, set in an interesting environment, and was fairly scary. Those are the good parts. Having said that, imo it would have been significantly elevated by stronger sentences. Here's a few examples.

"The grimy, dirty streets, wet with sewer water and other substances he’d rather not think about, were bereft of people."

"Bereft of people" isn't very evocative; It's mundane. Better description for the surrounding area would be: vacant, deserted, lonely, ect. Choose a word that reenforces the mood.

"Something shifted behind him."

The word "something" is rarely gripping enough to instill fear, and it's not here. Describe the ruckus. Let me hear it so I can start to get unnerved.

"There was no one there."

With sentences that small I don't love starting and ending on the same word.

"He stepped forward cautiously, still on alert."

Here's an opportunity to use a better verb than "stepped." Crept, snuck, slinked, slipped, ect. And "still on alert" is also boring. Paint him as spooked, skittish, or jumpy. Again, something more evocative. I could go on with description criticism but you'll probably spot the others if you care to find them. I'll skip to the end.

"The claw then rested under his chin and gently lifted it up, sending a cold shiver down his spine. Jace felt something breath hotly onto his ear, and whimpered.

“Sssssssh,” it whispered, with a smooth, womanly voice. “Sleep now.”

The claw dug into his flesh. He screamed."

We don't need the last two sentences. End it with "Sleep now." Our imagination is more than capable of finishing him off and providing his dying screams.

“Relaxing,” she said. “Elvira out.”

Just end it with "Relaxing." It's her sinister moment, let her punctuate it. The words after add nothing of value and weaken the effect. That's the gist of my suggestions. You might be surprised just what a difference polishing a story up makes.
Insightful commentary! I was concerned about the diction when I was writing it, but couldn't think of many alternatives. Those were some excellent suggestions, so I'll keep them in mind for next time. And you're correct that I should have left more to the imagination, looking at it that way. I was imitating another writer's work and maybe ended up picking up some bad habits.

Thanks for reading and putting the effort in to analyze it!

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