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We chose Outsiders as the theme of our first short story contest. There were some reservations among the team about this theme. Would we get a bunch of entries so dark and devoid of hope, stories that may have merit but were not how we imagined the first issue of Mirk?

Our prompt hardly eased those worries. We suggested authors think about a character who was lonely, misunderstood, or burdened by their past. Cheery stuff.

Worse still, we worried that the theme might be too restrictive, resulting in a collection of similar stories. This was not what we were trying to achieve with the first issue. The idea was always to have a magazine that showcased a breadth of subgenres in fantasy fiction, while mostly preferencing secondary world fantasy.

But we need not have worried. There were darker stories, some which were phenomenal and made the shortlist, but also pieces where our writers took the prompt and did something unexpected. Stories of redemption, hope, and even the odd happy ending.

Flicking through the pile, Antonia Ryder’s Dragon Bane immediately grabbed our attention. We smiled, laughed even at the instantly relatable protagonist, Gray. There was something about the tone of Antonia’s depiction of Gray that brought Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind to mind.

The story revolves around Gray, an alchemist who is racked by doubts, and fears, and feelings of inadequacy. Gray is immediately confronted with a shocking and wholly unexpected situation when Diasse, a dragon and unofficial leader of the town, appears on his doorstep seriously ill.

Gray doubts his abilities to save Diasse throughout the story, but he eventually succeeds and, in the process, faces down that little, doubting voice in his head.

The tension builds throughout the piece, and it comes to a satisfying resolution. Gray, the newcomer to the town and, thus, the outsider, has the chance to step into the most inner of inner circles. But it is the characterisation of Gray that carries this story and, ultimately, why we chose it as the winner of our first short story contest.

In just shy of 2,500 words, Antonia managed to create a fully-rounded character, and she didn’t shy on the world-building, either. We particularly enjoyed Gray’s constant inner dialogue.

There’s so much potential in Dragon Bane. I hope this is not the last we read of Gray and the Spades.


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