Week 152 performance reviews are in!
RE: St. Maria
Hello, [VALUED STAFF MEMBER]. We’d like to use your first sentence as a Teachable Moment Opportunity. Surely there are better ways to indicate your protagonist is a narcissist than the tired ol’ “so-and-so looked in the mirror for the nth time today” routine. Going on to describe his “onyx” hair color made management wonder if we’d been transported to a ‘90s AOL RPG chatroom. Come on.
Okay so I finished the story. I guess I’m not too surprised someone went for the “Voidmart is purgatory” angle. I think that might be the thing I like best about this story, though to be quite frank, the whole thing is a bit of a mess. You switch from past to present tense. There are so many names that don’t matter at all. The last, I dunno, third of the story is two characters discussing a bunch of people I don’t know anything about. All leading up to the ~Big Reveal~ that these people are dead. This is 2015. That twist was ruined for everyone a long time ago.
And like, the whole story hinges on this “moving out” thing, AKA going to heaven, or whatever. You play super coy, dragging out the discussion between Milburn and Ali and giving very little in the way of context. I think you were trying to do something with like...sin? Vanity, lust, suicide. None of it comes into play in any meaningful way whatsoever.
You did a lot of stuff like this:
“Party at Bones’ I guess. I might just down a bottle of vodka and see if I can skip the entire weekend.” Even through dry wit, you could hear the truth to Ali’s words.
Actually, dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], I cannot hear the truth to Ali’s words. Because Ali is a character inside the story. The funny thing is, the dialog itself actually conveys the bitter irony she’s expressing. But then you went and over-explained it by telling us she’s half-joking, basically. Beyond that, there were just so many unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. You’re trying so hard to tell me, the reader, how I should perceive these events and actions instead of letting them stand on their own.
I think what annoyed me most was, like, you had several more days to work on this. You could’ve put it down, come back to it, and cleaned it up into something more coherent. But what you gave me was a first draft with a bunch of half-realized ideas. I don’t know if you got freaked out or over-excited or what, but generally it’s best to use the time you’re given to refine your story.
RE: Neddy and Roger Hunt a Giant Spider in the Voidmart™ Rare Meat Vault
This title is promising. Hopefully, the story delivers all that and more. The first line is pretty great, too. Everything about it is so mundane, but then...chitin??
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], having reviewed your submission, we are concerned by some of your assertions vis a vis the CEO’s handwriting. The CEO most certainly does not put stars, hearts, or smiley faces on official Voidmart communiques. Secondly, the CEO’s relationship with certain kings, Bulgarian or otherwise, is not a subject for employee speculation. Please review the Employee Compliance manual for guidelines on approved topics of employee speculation.
Fortunately, [VALUED EMPLOYEE], this story was a ton of fun. Just the right amount of worldbuilding. This could just about stand on its own. I loved how, uh, meaty everything felt. Even the characters. Normally my eyes glaze over when I read action sequences in short fiction. But in this case, you did a good job combining action with description. I care about the action because the subjects and setting make it interesting.
RE: A Cat-Sized Void in My Heart
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], it has been brought to our attention that you used an unnecessary past-perfect construction in your first sentence. Specifically, you used “I’d” unnecessarily. We are also concerned that you spent copious amounts of time outside of your assigned department, and must inform you that, due to your neglect, Guns, Ammo, and Liquor is now being contested by two feral militia groups. We expect you’ll rectify the situation at the earliest possible opportunity. We’ve decided to forgo any disciplinary measures, however, because of the slight implication that the CEO is interested in the well-being of cats. Voidmart’s CEO is deeply invested in appearing like a Human with Human emotions, which can’t happen without the cooperation of Loyal Employees like you. Please enjoy this Subsidized Drink Ticket at the employee cantina.
OK. I was a little frowny that your actual department was only mentioned in passing, but I’m not going to fret too much about it. This story was a bit simple, but sweet. I wasn’t a huge fan of how Sarah’s attitude turned around because of a technicality of store policy. But at least there were defined stakes: save the kitty before she gets chucked into the Void. It would’ve been more fun if Sarah and the narrator had to face some larger obstacle together, maybe? As it is, the resolution to your conflict is a little bit limp. Guy wants cat, guy briefly argues about cat, guy gets cat on a technicality.
UPDATE: Having read “These Diode Stars,” I really enjoyed the background on why Benny wasn’t in his department. Consider my frown turned slightly upside-down.
RE: The (One Note) Ballad of Bean Hill
EMERGENCY PERSONNEL MEETING ATTENDANCE MANDATORY
Attention [THANKLESS AGITATOR], please report to [REDACTED] for exit interview. Voidmart thanks you for your creative contribution to our beloved Golden Bean brand!
This story was fun, if not a little bit...nebulous? If I didn’t know this took place in a cafe, it wouldn’t have been too clear what was going on at first. You did a good plot thing, which was: your character had a larger motivation (organize her coworkers), but you honed in on one step of that goal (getting the manager on her side). This is a fantastic thing to do in flash fiction. It would probably take a lot more than 1300 words to successfully show your protag achieving all her goals. I chuckled at the slapfight. I’m not so sure this would work too well as a stand-alone story as it is now, but for the purposes of this prompt, it was a fun piece that rounds out the Voidmart world nicely.
RE: LEAVES BY NIGHT AND FLOWERS BY DAY
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], we would like to remind you that you did sign a nondisclosure agreement re: the recent Angler Flower Incident. Voidmart appreciates your continuing commitment to brand confidentiality. Additionally, we would like to remind you that any employee is free to die when they wish, so long as they sign the exclusion waiver as outlined the the Death With Dignity section of the Employee Compliance manual.
But so, okay. A dystopian megastore is the backdrop for a cute romance. I found Angie relatable. I thought the ending was palatable, though it felt a bit rushed compared to the rest. You wove her day-to-day conflicts (dealing with the various vermin that regrettably populate Voidmart’s fine gardening section) with the more immediate conflict (working up the courage to ask Jen out). I thought it was a good thing you did, using the pixie escape to give Angie her moment of courage re: Jen. Most issues I have with this story are on the line-by-line level. Unfortunately, due to high story volume, we are unable to offer linecrit services at this time.
FWD: RE: next
ATTN: SHIFT SUPERVISORS
Please inform all personnel that EMP ID #3740, commonly called ALEX was transported to [NICE UPSTATE FARM] for a Therapeutic Voidmart Brand Retreat. Do not, under any circumstances, confirm she was [REDACTED]. Please report any employees who inquire about [REDACTED] to management without hesitation.
This meandered a lot. There was so much labored description of this character’s aches and pains. Yet you lacked a central conflict. Alex hates her job and doesn’t feel good. Okay, what then? She just goes through her day. It’s dull for her and it’s dull for me. Granted, some of the setting stuff was fun. I was a fan of the huge queue and conveyer belts. But playing with the setting isn’t enough. I thought it was awkward how you described the manager’s head bobbing in and out. I was already lost in a sea of aimless description, so an odd image like that only tripped me up. Of course, I know what you mean. But the first thing that popped into my mind was a literal floating head. Because we’re dealing with a setting where virtually anything could happen.
But really, the biggest problem was that lack of conflict. Alex is sad. Then she gets sadder. She has a brief moment of respite in the form of coffee, but it’s still all just pointlessly drab and depressing. At the end she is both sad and probably crazy. Not a super satisfying arc, IMO.
RE: These Diode Stars
Voidmart is currently seeking a dedicated psyche wizard to facilitate our patented, award-winning Employee Retention Program (ERP). The ideal candidate will be willing to be rehomed for the position, will be accustomed to working in artificial light for long periods of time, is free of any long-term commitments or hobbies, and is demonstrably unsentimental. Marketing or political background a plus.
I enjoyed this, for the most part. I liked Keane. His practice of laying on the floor with his patients was a nice little detail to set the tone. I was a little worried you were going to sacrifice the plot for the sake of namedropping a bunch of other people's’ characters, but I think you managed alright. Did you guys get together and decide to write a, ahem, Benny who was a pacifist softy? Either way, it was kind of nice to have some background as to why he wandered out of his department in his own story.
But okay. Keane is more or less living with his job, soulless and terrible as it might be. Through a couple employee encounters, he remembers the outside, and hopefully escapes Voidmart forever. That’s not a bad arc. It was a little odd to me that, after talking to tons of sadbrains employees, this is the first time he’s encountered someone who makes him think of his wife and life outside of Voidmart (Ha, ha, Life Outside Voidmart. What a silly idea! - CEO <3). I guess Benny’s optimism is really rare, but I wasn’t toootally convinced. That’s kind of a minor point though, the shape of the plot was fine.
Also LOL another sticky note. U guys
RE: Forever Voidmart
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], please note that it is against Employee Compliance practices to die abruptly at the end of an otherwise okay story.
I get that this was trying to be a little bit funny. Or at least, you were doing a sort of caricature of gun-obsessed crazies, which is perfectly fine in a story about a depressing american megastore. The hints that Voidmart does some sort of brainwashing poo poo are cool, and seems to be a neat commonlity throughout of a lot of these stories. So yay for worldbuilding. That said, the ending relied on the fact that Dayton was cartoonishly stupid. It was kind of a let down. Like, it’s not super interesting to read about a decent guy going up against an improbably stupid guy with a gun, then getting shot by the idiot with the gun because lol dumb gun-nuts. It was a nice change of pace when the protag ran in to try and calm Dayton down, but I wish he’d succeeded, or at least failed more interestingly.
RE: Brian, the Bean, and the Ball pit
ATTN: LOSS PREVENTION
In the event of Bean Theft by Culture Crusaders, please at least attempt to secure the bean. Relying on a super convenient coincidence, such as dropping a fake bean in a ballpit sometime prior to the story, is not considered a viable Loss Prevention tactic.
Brian does one sick tackle at the beginning of the story, and from then on he’s mostly a walking camera/exposition machine. Sure, it’s nice to walk around voidmart. The ballpit was sufficiently gross. I just wanted Brian to actually DO something. The bit about the insurance policy and the golden bean was too convoluted to really add anything to the plot. It felt cheap, being introduced so late in the story. I thought I was going to read about a security card sifting through a shat up ballpit, instead I got an outdated Occupy reference and a convenient coincidence re: the tungsten bean. Brian only succeeds because of his clever plot to steal the golden bean, I guess? By leaving the tungsten one in the ball pit in anticipation of a bunch of protestors stealing the real one, then dropping it? Maybe there’s something clever going on here, but it’s all too convoluted to really hit home.
RE: oop north, in the devil’s den
Dear [VALUED CONTRACTOR], please review the portion of your terms wherein it is outlined that you shall never detail offsite operations for Voidmart. Additionally, and we can’t stress this enough, please make sure all xenoforms are deceased before delivering them to our retail outlets.
This technically breaks one of the rules. Specifically, where I said all stories need to take place in/immediately around Voidmart. But I don’t really consider prompt germaneness a valid critique, honestly. And you did give the backstory for another story which DID take place in Voidmart. I think you got a little lost in your character’s voice. It oscillated between being amusing and flavorful to being a bit much. I tentatively agree with Arnult’s conclusion at the end, that Man Is The Real Monster, especially given the setting. I thought you tried to illustrate that idea via Arnult, who defeats the spider by virtue of being a drug addict, basically. This was interesting as a character piece, but slightly weak on plot when viewed as a standalone story. As part of the Voidmart mythos, it was pretty cool.
RE: Babies Are Cute Because They Want You To Think That
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], we would like to remind you that the customer always wins. Additionally, we ask all Baby Supply staff to utilize designated smoking areas within their section.
This was actually pretty fun. I saw some errors that could’ve been caught with closer editing. But, in general, this story aimed to amuse, and it did that reasonably enough. It was a bit like reading a cartoon. Stories like these are difficult to critique because I know that I, as the reader, am meant to just kind of accept each bizarre or unlikely element that gets thrown my way.
Sometimes the description was a little nonsensical:
Jack’s eyes dilated into black, shaky pinpricks, the whites in his eyes large as golf balls.
Like, I think I know what you mean there. His eyes get all huge and his pupils kind of comically pop. But “dilated into pinpricks” is a very contrary image. Overall, pretty fun, though I’m not sure how well it would work as a standalone story without the Voidmart gimmick supporting it.
RE: Deals on Wheels
Dear [EMPLOYEE], we were dismayed that you chose to divulge Golden Bean trade secrets in this piece. In the form of a cheap epilogue straight out of a made-for-TV movie, no less! You were exempted from a trip to see the CEO because your story had a reasonably coherent arc.
You had some odd phrasing and tense issues. Such as:
“Yeah, all good.” answered Hunter, he sat up slowly rubbing his head.
That’s a weird comma splice. And:
Six rows of fluorescent lights pass overhead before he cracked his head on the floor.
You should’ve written “passed”. I spotted a lot of errors like that throughout this piece.
While the plot more or less hangs together (I wasn’t ever confused, per se), it doesn’t actually work very well. You connected your plot to other people’s stories, but not in a very meaningful way. I mean, the crux of the story is, Jason/Hunter doesn’t want to deal with Lara’s union agitating, so he goes after Betty the pastry thief to escape. You could’ve spent more words establishing Jason/Hunter’s aversion to Lara’s cause. The name mixup doesn’t really have much bearing on the story, other than the knowing remark made by security at the end. You could’ve scrapped that and expanded on a more relevant plot point.
Betty as the “villain” wasn’t terribly compelling. She’s this cardboard cutout stereotype. She’s apparently crafty enough to come up with a logistically improbable purse designed specifically for pastry theft, but oooh boy you steal her sugar and she turns into a mindless charging animal, because lol fat people. If you’re going to use the well-trodden trope of Rascal-riding Scooter-Americans, you have to do something more interesting with it. The confrontation between Hunter/Jason and Betty is slapstick at best, and contributes nothing meaningful in terms of plot or characterization.
Also, if you have to tell us something is “completely out of character” for your protagonist, you haven’t characterized them very well.
RE: The View from the Top
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], this is a reminder that superfluous chatting amongst staff is heavily discouraged.
The writing in this is pretty good, and the dialog was realistic. And that was kind of the problem, actually. It felt too chatty. Also, it felt just a tiny bit stiff when Sarah and Chase were talking about Ashley in the beginning. It was purely for the reader’s benefit, and was kind of expository. Also, I needed something more than, “I think Voidmart is a shadowy, sinister organization!” *Voidmart turns out to be a shadowy, sinister organization*. Some of that has to do with the collaborative stuff you guys did. But if I were to take this as a standalone story, I’d say the plot felt too straightforward, without much of an arc. There was some slight movement in Sarah’s character. She goes from not believing Chase’s theory to believing it after doing some of her own investigating. But she didn’t really feel like the focus of the piece.
RE: The Black Line
Follow the lines faithfully
and you will ever walk in the light of the void
I think what really made me like this piece was how gradual and casual the creepy elements were. There aren’t any cheap scares, and your characters feel reasonably competent. I liked that “Eminem” was ostensibly the villain, but the further you go along those lines, the more you start to suspect maybe even some junkie doesn’t deserve whatever is at the end of the black line. I think you did a good job with the banter, especially the way you scaled it back as the characters get more and more freaked out. I’m a bit on the fence regarding Eminem disappearing from pictures. On the one hand, it felt slightly overkill. On the other, it makes sense, since the junkie ostensibly disappeared into the void. Either way, it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of this piece.
RE: American Sleep
ATTN: ALL STAFF
Voidmart management has decided to revise its promotion policy. Seemingly, some supervisors have been making sub-optimal advancement decisions, such as promoting unqualified floor staff to senior positions regardless of their qualifications.
Your character spends this whole story fretting and sweating and freaking out. When Marshal first got the message from the CEO, I was kind of hoping it was a trick. Like, by telling him a very important customer would need his help, the CEO is forcing Marshal to treat every customer like the CEO’s friend. Which I thought would’ve been an amusing way to deal with slackers. But that’s not the story you wrote. This story is about a guy helping a covert giant squid find an ugly suit. Which is apparently the only qualification needed for a promotion. Marshal doesn’t do anything proactive or super effective, he just kind of reacts to stuff then gets promoted and oooooOOOOOooo spooky alien squid monsters. Eh. Also:
The slimy tentacle that was now his arm snaked upwards and caressed my face. It was wet, but not sticky. I cling to that thought, on the nights when I can’t sleep.
This is such a clunky way to do the squid monster reveal. I visualized a 60s monster movie transformation, where in one frame you have a normal dude and then in the next frame there is a clunky monster puppet.
Dearest [VALUED ANIMAL WRANGLER], we urge you in the future to refrain from discussing patented Voidmart teleportation and Morale Enhancing Serums. They are not necessary to the story of our beloved Arthur.
The truth was that when Arthur outlived his owner, Voidmart used its special warp technology to teleport him back into the store. As the rare pet specialist, Harris was one of the few who knew that Voidmart had access to all sorts of crazy technology. He couldn’t talk about it because of the special serum that they had injected him with. This serum had coated his brain cells and would fry him should he breach his contract for any reason, including talking about what he knew.
Most of this is super unnecessary. I think you were sort of trying to encompass a bunch of other people’s plot points, but at the expense of dropping a chunk of irrelevant exposition right at the beginning of your story. You had some neat visuals, and the protagonist’s interactions with the little girl were sweet enough, but I thought “no one can touch the turtle cause it might shock him to death” was kind of weak as a central conflict. Still, I kind of liked the idea of these middle-aged moms or whatever coordinating an assault on a pet shop because they just can’t stand being told not to touch the animals. Harris’s dedication to Arthur is also pretty endearing.
I think you’re really coming along in terms of having real characters in your stories, so good job. I just wanted to say that you’re doing a pretty good job applying the crits you’ve received.
RE: Human Resources
Dear [VALUED MANAGEMENT TEAM MEMBER], congratulations on being one of the few competent people to get promoted! You demonstrated quick wits and agency, which was something several of your fellow promotees this week didn’t have.
This was an easy to read, fun yarn. A few of people took the “YOU WERE ACTUALLY BEING TESTED THE WHOLE TIME” tact, but of all those, I think this is one of the best. Hadley is kind of a nice mix of defiant and willing to play along. Her character made decisions that I would like to think I’d make, which IMO is a hallmark of a fun protagonist. The action was reasonably clear, and there wasn’t a part that made me want to stop reading.
I think you could’ve edited this down a bit and it would’ve been punchier and more memorable. Beyond that, I don’t have too much to say. This was in my upper middle pile. There were two VERY strong and descriptive action pieces (Bad Seafood and Newt) that are great examples of how to write action with serious oomph. You should check them out and contrast them with this piece to see what I mean.
Somewhere in the shadowy bowels of Voidmart…
CEO: So they haven’t caught the thief yet.
MINION: N-n-no, M’lord CEO. Not yet. But we w--
CEO: So what you’re telling me is, in spite of the fact that Voidmart is a leader in cutting edge Loss Prevention, we can’t apprehend one petty criminal whose tactics amount to wearing a mask??
MINION starts to shake uncontrollably, as though his very atoms are struggling to uncouple from one another. With an agonized scream, MINION bursts into a cloud of fleshy confetti. MINION 2 nervously comes by and sweeps the remains into a bin labeled GOLDEN BEAN.
But so okay, a regret-filled alcoholic divorcee tries to make amends by working in a terrible megamart and getting overly personal with his customers in the baby section. That’s not such a bad idea. I thought the characterization of the customers was a bit cardboard. You’ve got your ornery white trash and a weepy teen mom. The fact that he just sort of gets away with theft, by doing nothing more clever than wearing a mask, kind of left me feeling cheated. There’s nothing really cathartic or redemptive about the ending, since Donald still feels like he has penance to do. His character comes across as a mix of saccharine and maudlin. As with many, many TD stories, everything here is more or less technically proficient. There’s just nothing truly unique about the characters or events to set it apart.
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], we appreciate your commitment to the Voidmart way. If there is anything we can do to make your tenure as an employee more pleasant, do not hesitate to contact management. Your good cheer and optimism make you a pleasure to work with. Your ability to keep certain trade secrets confidential make you an asset to the Voidmart Family.
I got some genuine smiles out of this. A couple noticeably funny lines in there. Protagonist is likeable, action is clear, plot resolves entertainingly. Unfortunately, your character doesn’t actually do a whole lot. His narration is engaging, but he’s kind of just an endearing lens through which the reader gets to see wacky Voidmart happenings. Which doesn’t make it a bad story, as such. It just got edged out of the running for an HM because other stories had more effective characters.
RE: In Repose
Dear [GATEKEEPER OF HEAVENLY DELIGHTS],
I don’t know what to say. On the one hand, this is a story about a group poop. On the other hand, it’s so much more. I read it all in one sitting….heh. I mean, it’s kind of gimmicky in its way, but the premise is just so darn silly and vaguely refreshing. Sorry, I want to give more constructive feedback, but sometimes when I’m reading I just really like a thing exactly the way it is. And that was the case with this story.
RE: The THWUMP
Dear [SHITHEAD], u suck.
Some fun voidmart worldbuilding. I liked Mike and Earl, though they were basically the same character. Well, you had the Smart One and the Doubtful One, I guess. Granted, it wouldn’t have been fun with just one character monologuing to himself, and I enjoyed watching them solve the mystery of the thwump tubes. The blocking was a little unclear when they went down the staircase:
One such door, in the janitors’ breakroom, opened with a puff of dust.
I mean, it makes sense when I read it closely. I’m having trouble describing what about it tripped me up on the first read. It’s like, the wideness of the hole (which you don’t explicitly say is set in the ground) isn’t too important. The scary-rear end staircase is important. And then the word “turns”. A spiral staircase “turns”, but so do people when they walk down a spiral staircase. It’s a teensy little nitpick, but since this is the lead-in to the story’s climax, I think everything should be super crisp and clear and well-blocked. Everything else in the story was well described and the blocking was pretty clear throughout, so I guess that’s why that part stuck out.
Also, seems like the CEO would have other people to deal with the Voidmart overmind if it started screwing up the store, but then, who knows. Voidmart works in mysterious ways. Like I said, my only real problem with this piece was the sort of sameness of the protagonists. But otherwise, it was a fun read.
VOIDMART IS GOOD
YOU ARE GOOD
GOOD JOB RHINO
This is another “protagonist muddles through another day at Voidmart”, but it’s actually very interesting and good. Style and voice were spot on. I enjoyed how this tied together lots of other stories, but it wasn’t too bogged down with call-backs. I mentioned this to you in IRC, but I misunderstood this part:
This is where I sit. I supervise the shifts. I look at the screen and the shifts pull up out of their little coloured boxes and float in a grey void, without aim. They ask, please have the shifts moved around now. Here are the employees who desire the shifts, for they are their purpose.
I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to interpret the fixed-width lines as messages Jolyne was receiving from upper management, or messages she was sending out to staff. I have no idea if anyone else had that issue, could just be me! I think it’s the phrase “they ask” that threw me off. Who’s asking? The colored boxes? I think that’s what you meant, but on my first readthrough, I interpreted that to mean management was asking Jolyne to move the shifts around per some mysterious staffing protocol, or something.
Looking over the stories that got HMs this week, I guess the judges all leaned toward more straightforward action-oriented stories (with the exception of Profane, who pandered to us with literal toilet humor). In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure why stylistically distinct stories get overlooked in TD so often. But I really enjoyed this.
ATTN: MAINTENANCE and LOSS PREVENTION. It has been brought to our attention that there is a missing piece of plot somewhere on Voidmart premises. It could be as small as one sentence or piece of dialog. Please be on the lookout.
Okay, I kid. Partially. What think happened here is that the protagonist was party to a murder, or possibly a drunk driving accident? And now, through the semi-magical powers of The Back, her guilt has finally caught up with her. The fact that she’s the one holding the gun at the end of it is mostly what made me think this was some sort of Voidmart-induced hallucination. But you slipped back into your too-coy thing! Even on a line-by-line level. For example:
...he reaches into his jacket pocket and half-pulls something out, something hard and metal with a barrel and a trigger.
It’s ok to say he pulled a gun on her. I wasn’t too keen on the reveal of the severed hand, either. You never actually use the word hand! Sometimes that sort of omission is effective, but usually it’s just frustrating. Once again, I think if you’d just made a couple details more explicit, this would be a fine story. A lot of the description was good, and the way you made use of the odd mechanics of The Back was cool.
RE: Take Charge Marketing
Dear [VALUED EMPLOYEE], we’ve put our best and brightest together in a think-tank and we still can’t come up with anything terribly witty to say about this piece. We can’t actually remember much about it, in spite of multiple rereads. In fact, we’re contacting you today to inform you that we’re interested in purchasing your story so we can further study its memory-suppressing qualities.
So. Flora is a plant lady, I guess? The whole story consists of her running around, worrying about “flowering”, and trying to help some lady find batteries. It’s very frantic, yet limp. In spite of Flora’s unique attributes, I didn’t find her terribly compelling as a character because she never really grows beyond “lol im a plant and also a hapless employee”. Her rooting and flowering don’t ultimately come into play much, either, except to literally trip her up at one point.
Also. So! Many! Exclamation! Points!
RE: Discontinued Voidmart Training Document #037, Revision 656, Declassified
ATTN: ALL STAFF
While this “blooper” of a training document might be amusing, we urge all staff to remember that the Voidmart way is NOT to interject a random chunk of tonally-inconsistent narration right at the end of your story.
I think I might’ve liked this better if it was less tongue in cheek and more corporate-sounding? It was entertaining, I suppose. I liked the idea of Slackers as a weird, zombie-like class of invader. I guess it just kind of reminded me of a Zack Parsons article? Which is good in a way, but it lacked zazz. And the shift to a more story-like tone in the second to last section was a bit jarring. It works in a worldbuildy sort of way, but doesn’t have much merit on its own. Like, the whole point of Voidmart is that it’s weird and scary and probably sinister. That’s a given. You have to do more than confirm that through wacky, creepy details.
I get this was a gimmicky prompt, and I didn’t really mind the gimmicky entries. But since I’m here to give a critique, I’ll just say that I wish there’d been more of an apparent plot beyond “the author of this guide went slowly insane after writing so many training documents”.
Dear [BELOVED WRITER], if your character is bored and resentful and itching to get off the clock, and that is their one defining characteristic, you risk alienating your
Tina was just one of many employees this week who only wanted to punch out and go home. And that’s sort of...it. She’s not even terribly competent in her own department. She is just reacts to the crazy guy and fiddles with his phone with no real intent to fix anything, because she knows the issue is unfixable. Then, at the end, OMINOUS VOIDMART THINGS. Once again, we have a story populated with vague caricatures. The downtrodden employee, the stupid, unreasonable customer, and the intrinsically soulless and malicious manager.
RE: The Crow Aisle
Dear [OBVIOUSLY SEBMOJO EVEN ON JUDGEMODE], thank you for causing us to utter the phrase “a man kills a crow with a baby”.
I liked this a bunch, but you played real fast and loose with your sentences. FOR EXAMPLE:
Dribbling out of the pink plastic table-mounted SyrupBuddy! unit…
The fact that it’s some sort of sugar goo coming out of this thing is more important than the fact that it’s pink, plastic, or table-mounted, yet you mention that last. Too much of this sort of piled-up description gets fatiguing to read, because I’m constantly having to make sure I’m parsing the sentences correctly. A couple more commas here and there couldn’t have hurt.
I loled at BIRDS ARE THE HARBINGER OF THE CLOSURE, and Jimmy was a great
RE: Zero Days Since Our Last Accident
576. I’ve heard sometimes ghosts stick around in The Back. Is that true?
No. However, Voidmart strives to maintain the most extensive array of products available in any store on Earth(s). We are also committed to Loss Prevention. Occasionally, one of our Valued Employees passes away in an unplanned incident. The Back, in its constant effort to Maximize Stock Retention, will retain a small after image of the deceased. Consider it like this, if it helps: Voidmart loves you, and never want to let you go.
Anyway. This was sweet but uneventful. I liked all the words I read, but had a hard time finishing them in one sitting. Jackie kind of feels like she’s just...there. I guess the narrator faces the threat of being “relocated” or whatever if he acknowledges Jackie’s existence, but that’s kind of a vague threat that goes away instantly. This isn’t quite a vignette, but also none of the events in it fully resolve into a super memorable plot. There needed to be some sort of movement. I mean, the narrator is sad at the beginning and sentimental at the end. That’s not a huge amount of change in terms of his character arc.
RE: Barista Blues
CEO is currently Out Of Office. Reason: watching Cowboy Bebop.
Tons of fun. Action was engaging, dialog was amusing. I pretty much heard a 70s cop movie soundtrack the whole time. Or possibly jazz. This was punchy in the best way. The unobtrusive OCK was a nice touch in my book. Doesn’t make or break anything, and it isn’t necessary to know “the joke”. Since I happen to know you’re working on longer stuff outside of TD, I hope you take whatever you did vis a vis dialog and pacing and apply it in your other works.
There were a couple small things I raised a slight eyebrow at. For example:
He was the picture of surprise when Bruce roundhouse kicked him out of nowhere.
“He was the picture of surprise” is weirdly wordy, and kind of a clunky way to lead into a surprise attack. I could probably find more stuff like that on a thorough line crit, but the characters and action were good enough that, on my first readthrough, I barely noticed any issues.
Dear [HUBRIS-FILLED EMPLOYEE], you volunteered for special extra assignments from management, yet failed to follow through on one of them, and only tenuously used another. There’s no “show-off’ in TEAM. Show-off isn’t even a letter!
So, you pretty much decided to focus on Ska’s flashrule, but oh well. I don’t actually care that much. The thing about stories like this is, there’s no real logic do it. All of this stuff happens because plot needs to happen and WHOA there goes an angry pile of shoddily reanimated skulls. Crazy, man. It’s hard to critique because everything is operating on cartoon logic. And I assume any editing errors are because you finished this right before the deadline. I don’t hate this story, but it’s the kind of thing you’d only see in Thunderdome and other informal fiction postin’ places. Not a magazine or anything like that. I did enjoy seeing Angie again, so good job referencing a cool story. I guess I’d like to see less wacky stuff from you and more sincere, character-driven stories.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 00:05|
|# ? Feb 1, 2023 19:35|
Thursday judging, adequate judging. Thank you Ska and Sitting Here.
The prompt post has been updated to include all current participants and their accompanying flashrules. Probably. Let me know if I missed you.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 00:12|
In with a flash, please.
e: v I really need to watch that now, thanks.
Tism the Dragon Tickler fucked around with this message at 02:40 on Jul 10, 2015
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 01:29|
In with a flash, please.
One of your characters has managed to foster a larger than life reputation. Too bad none of it's true.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 02:18|
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 03:56|
The great wizard Screaming idiot enters the tavern and sits upon a nearby stool. He tosses a few copper pieces onto the counter and scowls at the innkeeper.
"I'm in," he husks, his voice heavy with weariness, his face stony.
"Great!" the innkeeper says, beaming. "Because a dwarf, an elf, and a hero with spiky hair and a giant sword are going on an adventure!"
Screaming Idiot nods, gets to his feet, raises his robes, and farts long and deep and loud. It is a proud fart, a fierce fart, a man's fart, unfiltered by trousers or undergarment.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 04:07|
But really, the biggest problem was that lack of conflict. Alex is sad. Then she gets sadder. She has a brief moment of respite in the form of coffee, but it’s still all just pointlessly drab and depressing. At the end she is both sad and probably crazy. Not a super satisfying arc, IMO.
Thanks for the crit. Much appreciated.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 13:51|
Dear Dungeon Master Bad Seafood,
I'm hoping there's room for a new player in your current campaign. I already have a level one adventurer ready to go. He's actually the reincarnated version of my very first character who died off unfairly in another campaign because that DM didn't understand the rules. As a heads-up, the reincarnation roll resulted in the half-dragon template, my best friend can confirm the roll as he was a witness. If you don't have that supplement I can email you the pdf file I torrented. Also, due to his 19 charisma and loyal followers feat, I can assure you that his elven female henchman would have spared no expense or hardship in finding his reincarnation. I think you will agree that it is only fair I get to keep all of his previous items and treasury. She would not have kept any for herself because she is in love with him.
I'm a collaborative player. So if there is a girl in the campaign who would like to play my henchman, I am okay with that.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 21:37|
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 23:08|
Dear Dungeon Master Bad Seafood,
*Rolls behind DM screen.*
Your characters wake up in the middle of the woods to find someone's stolen all their stuff.
|# ? Jul 10, 2015 23:53|
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 00:10|
Last minute in because I think I can manage one this week after all!
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 05:19|
Sign ups are now closed.
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 07:01|
The great wizard Screaming idiot enters the tavern and sits upon a nearby stool. He tosses a few copper pieces onto the counter and scowls at the innkeeper.
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 10:09|
How Slug Got His Shell
Onanda’s stomach growled for a third time. Truth was he had given up on the search when his insides had first roiled at him in hunger. The moonlight had barely filtered down to them through the dense treetops, now even that seemed like something missing. He stopped, frustrated that the others hadn’t given up as quickly. “Just admit that you lost the trail, Tsoka. Admit it now and I won’t make fun of you.”
“Tch.” The girl from the dog-lodge scoffed, not even looking back at him through the uneven bangs of her brown hair. “The day I let you tell me how to track is the day I teach a crow how to steal.”
“Tsoka.” Her name was said again in a part-pleading, part-disappointed tone. “I don’t need your nose to smell the wind working against us.”
She moved around the trunk of a large cottonwood tree, still failing to find any signs of the locusts who had raided their camp.
She stopped and turned, fingers running across her collarbone, her body forgetting again that her bow, and all of her other equipment, was gone. “Tulimak,” she asked the third member of their band, “Do you agree with the crow?”
Tulimak looked all but naked. Tsoka only now realized how used she had grown to the faint starglow of his wooden breastplate, that visual cue keeping her secure that the brave was plodding after them. But it too was gone. The warrior flexed his hands, and after two deliberate breaths of consideration, answered. “Yes.”
Tsoka frowned, but they were right. She had lost the trail, and finding it again would require great luck or friendly spirits. “The salmon village to the southwest, then.” She pointed at Onanda, “You were supposed to be on watch, so you will be the one to find a shaman.”
Three hours later, the companions were finishing a meal of steamed fish and mushrooms. The salmon-wife who fed them seemed more interested in ogling Tulimak then listening to Onanda’s trade-stories. She not-so-subtly slipped the big man a slab of dried catfish wrapped in tobacco leaves. “Our shaman swam the ghostwaters last summer. The only guide here is the old man from the south. He doesn’t get much business.”
The deerskin and straw-mud hut they found was typical for the village, but it was the obsidian which gave Onanda real pause. “Nahua.” He turned back toward the river, casting his eyes away from the glittering rocks strung across the entrance as he considered their options.
Tsoka attempted the unfamiliar word, “Nah-wah? Are they insect-tribe?” It would not be the first time one of the elders of the crawling lodges had sought to join civilization, hoping to avoid being devoured by some younger bug brave in their cannibal rites.
Tulimak silently waited with them, displaying the eternal patience his tortoise-lodge was known for, listening to the crow.
“They are a great tribe with many lodges. Some like us: Jaguar, hummingbird. Many others choose a man or woman as their totem. The lodges call them gods, and instead of telling tales, they play games of death for those gods’ amusement. When those gods are bored, they kill the land, and the tribe must migrate. Four times their lands have died.”
Bony fingers peeled back the entrance flap from the inside, “Close enough to the real stories for this far north, crow.” The old man poked his head from the hut, the ruddiness of his skin showing through his wrinkled face and balding crown. “But not quite correct.” Flat, wooden plugs inhabited the lobes of his ears. A long, ivory tooth pierced his inner nose, large enough that he breathed only through his mouth. His accent sounded as if he were chewing on a stone. “If you’re looking for river magic, there’s an otter lodge two days downstream.”
“Two days?” Tsoka looked with concern to the crow. Half a day was bad enough. “That we cannot do. Should we have any hope of catching them, surely you must realize…”
“I realize perfectly,” Onanda quipped in frustration.
That quieted her only for a moment. “I will go on the spirit journey in your place. I refuse to let these thieves vanish without justice.”
“No, no. We will have justice.” The crow shook his head with a loud sigh. “We need Bat’s blessing to hunt these locusts. It would be faster to find the otters than teach you how to fly, Tsoka. And we might as well hibernate if we expect to get this one off the ground.” Tulimak didn’t react as the crow’s knuckles thunked against his sternum. “What do you charge to spirit-guide, old man?”
The berrywine had been difficult to acquire for the nahua, mostly because the salmon merchant suspected exactly who it would be going to. It took Onanda offering one of the rare riddles he had learned from the dolphin-lodge to loosen the trader’s grip.
Minimal supplies were replenished with the handful of wampi shells they still had between them. Sweetgrass for making poultices, flint chips for making sunsparks, two clutches of river oysters for making stew, half a dozen snails for Onanda didn’t know what but that Tulimak had insisted they get. A stone headed club replaced the tortoise warrior’s lost weapon, Tsoka tested her very questionable short bow, and the crow sharpened his new wooden hand lances to a point better suited for fighting.
“Don’t bare your breast or he can steal your heart. If he drags a wire through his tongue he’s trying to burn your flesh, to make it rain I think. Watch for a knife made of feathers, if he hits you with it you’ll become his slave for a year. If he turns into a jaguar, wrestle him to the ground or he can trap your spirit.” On their way back, Onanda attempted to warn Tsoka and Tulimak of every dirty trick he had heard done by nahua mystics.
In the old man’s hut, the crow peered with one eye at the brew of cactus fruit wafting in his direction. The nagual (his word for shaman, he said) ladled the potion into the already empty gourd, offering it to the would-be spirit traveler. “You’ve done this before, crow. Make your entreaty, hunt your insects, I’ll map your progress.” He sat down cross-legged, unrolling a scroll of pale leather. Reaching for his thorn and ink, he noticed Onanda’s hesitation. “Go on, now.”
Tsoka voiced a warning on his behalf. “Any strange business and Tulimak will look inside your head the difficult way.” The rounded club-head made a good noise against the flesh of the big man’s palm.
The crow drank, his senses immediately slipping across the threshold under the influence of the nagual’s recipe. The hut faded into memory, the village too. The Sun vanished overhead, likely chasing one of the girls from the star signs. He heard the song of the ghostwaters, where the souls of the salmon people would swim upstream to sit one last time with their great mother.
Onanda called out, reciting his tales of Bat. He spoke of the bird and animal wars, when Bat played both sides. Of Bat making Opossum a better mother by stealing her babies. Of how Bat rescued the Sun from the tangled branches of Great Redwood. Still, Bat did not come to him. Onanda understood it would take a new story to entice the spirit to help. The crow closed his eyes and thought back over his day, looking for inspiration. Onanda began to weave his tale.
“You don’t know how easy you have it,” Crow complained to his friend Bat. “You can trade the wings of the bugs you hunt for good money. The worms and slugs I eat are so poor they don’t even have legs.”
Bat agreed on the garbage nature of worms and slugs. “Caterpillar is the best among them. At least he makes something of himself.”
They hunted together for a while, with Crow always letting one of his wriggling prey escape. After he flew off, Bat would remark to the newly-pecked bug, “Seems like Crow has it out for you.”
Slug complained bitterly about the unfairness.
“You should do what Crawfish did.” Bat offered. “Got some armor for his back and now Crow leaves him be.” When Slug thought aloud about rocks or treebark, Bat kindly suggested he find river shells as a lighter, prettier alternative.
Crow got skinny that summer, making sure Slug and his friends bought the idea. And truth be told, sometimes the hardened shells did block Crow’s beak and let a meal get away. But more often than not, it just got Crow a new shell that he used to trade, especially for the berrywine he would share with his friend Bat.
“You are hunting locusts, crow?”
Onanda looked up into the sky at the totem now circling overhead. “We are, Soars-With-Teeth. And we need your wings.”
1490 Words. Your characters wake up in the middle of the woods to find someone's stolen all their stuff.
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 18:53|
A Sword Story
It's not the party you want, but it's the party you got.
The sword knew why it did this to himself so many years ago. Mostly he it was a fear of death. Of course, he had done it under the guise of saving the kingdom. Unfortunately, the sword ran out of things to think about decades ago. It’s probably been hundreds of years since the last festival brought visitors to his cathedral turned tomb.
Today, however, visitors had returned to his tomb. No doubt to fulfill the prophecy. The torch light in the hall was visible, and the sword shouted, “In here! Come forth adventurers!”
The only response to this was the unified surprise of four voices. One was female, two male, and the fourth was merely the sound of a creaky floorboard amplified, though it seemed as more excited than surprised.
A short goblin lass looked over to Professor Phillip Britz (no relation to the Davisport Britz family), “What was that?”
“Hmm… Well, Muriel, I think that is what I hired you to bring me to.”
An ethereal form moved past them and into the chamber, making the sound of wind through bamboo.
“Yes! At long last you’ve arrived, great heroes!”
There was a moment of silence, and the party began to move into the wide space of the former chapel, joining the soldier’s ghost which had preceded them, led by the half-elf cartographer. He was followed by Professor Britz and the Goblin.
Montgomery set down his satchel and put away his tools, “Great Heroes? Pfft… Greatest thing Phil’s done was convince people that his work has academic merit.”
Phillip Britz glared at Montgomery as they entered the room, before breaking into a smile.
“Well, go ahead. This is what we came for, professor,” Muriel urged.
“Yes, uh... very well then.”
Britz grabbed hold of the sword and picked it up, “I can’t believe it is real, it sounded like such a farce!”
“Yes. I am real. If the story we passed down has reached you, then it is time for you to kill the monster below! I assure you it was no farce.”
“Hmm… Interesting, it has a working mouth, but no voice box. Eyes, too. Seems like this is the sword that was written about. Seems odd that they could see how to seal a man in a sword but not run a society.”
“Did you hear me?”
“I wonder if they used alchemy, or some other methods… Or maybe the sword gained sentience by some others means?”
“Ho, I bet we could pull the essences out of this blade—“
“Quiet! It was alchemy, and you need to listen, this is important!”
The ghost put a hand on the professor’s shoulder, and made the noise of a window pane being assaulted by the limbs of a tree.
“Ack! What is that… oh, yeah. Right.”
“Forgot about the ghost again? Still scares you like when we first ran into it.”
“Hmm… Well, it’s a ghost. Right, Monty? We should get out of here, we got the sword, now.”
“You aren’t going anywhere, except deeper. The beast Lilith awaits, and she must be dealt with!”
Muriel stepped forward, “No-no, you didn’t pay me nearly enough to help you with that professor. Chief says we don’t go this deep, much less deeper.”
“Uhmmm-hmm…. No, we need to keep going. If this part of the legend is true, then there are more artifacts even deeper,” He stroked a magnificent beard as he spoke, looking at the sword in torchlight.
“What’s the worst that could happen? Let’s take the sword and go, the last thing I need--”
“Ah, ah, ah! I’ll double your pay, and tutor your children at the Academy. Personally.”
Muriel put a finger up, mouth open, then tilted her head for a moment. Enthusiastically, she nodded.
“Ah-ha. Great. So now, the legends were truer than I thought! Who can wield a sword?” Professor Britz turned around and found a sea of blank faces in front of him.
His looked over the cartographer, clutching a bag of maps and gridded paper, and the goblin lass, with a bow over her shoulder and sighed. The blankest face of them all moved forward, beckoned with one hand. Yhe noise it made was similar to an ocean wave lapping up onto a beach.
“What’s this? Four of you and the ghost is the only one who can wield a sword? That will never work. How are we going to fight a demon?”
Dead silence answered the swords doubts. “I suppose we don’t really have a choice, do we?”
The ghost held the sword and looked at it, making the sound of wind moving through trees.
“If that’s settled, there’s a door in the back of the chamber. Look for a slot next to the statue on the right, and put me into it.”
“Well, gonna make a bundle off of these maps when we’re done! Maybe there is some merit to your research, Phil.”
They did as instructed, and a chamber opened up before them, dust filling the air. After a simultaneous sneeze they continued forward. Muriel took point with a torch, darting through the caves that branched off them, trying to find the path.
Montgomery tried to map and keep up, “How deep does this go? Any idea how they built it?”
“It goes quite a ways, we had to hit the Leyline to seal the beast.“
The path was eerie and dim even by torchlight, and not even a slime interrupted their journey. Along the way Muriel was able to kill a handful of Tunnelers.
“At least we’ll be able to eat,” smiling, she pulled an arrow out of the thick juicy bug, “It’s really not bad!”
“This is it, at last! Thrust me into that monster, and the future will be safe.”
“Hmm… Perhaps we should take a look at the monster first, we could—“
“I’m sure you’ll get a close enough look, now put down some signs, we’ve got a beast to kill!”
The coiled half-lady, half-worm was in the corner of the suddenly expansive cave they entered.
Muriel set an arrow in her bow, “I’d prefer if we got this done with quickly.”
A noise like slippers on a wood floor answered, and the ghost soldier stepped forward, sword in hand. The bundle of flesh in began to stir and let out a roar that raised the temperature in the room orders of magnitude.
The monster swiped at the ghost soldier, and seemed to do no damage to him. The soldier responded in kind, swinging the sentient blade at the beast and barely making an impact on it. “Oh no, this won’t do at all,” As he was swung at the target.
The professor swas hidden and safe in an alcove, furiously taking notes as the battle waged, “Ahh.. hmm… so the beast is… very well then!”
The goblin girl shook her head, notched an arrow, and fired. It connected, but the impact was neglible.
“Ohhh.. just keep swinging, you will get him eventually,” cheered Montgomery, from somewhere near Phillip.
This was answered by the creak of a door opening on rusty hinges and the battle continued.
“Swing me harder! The beast must die today!”
The swings were not getting any harder. The fight was going to be a long one, and even Lillith seemed frustrated with it, wailing as she attempted to wound the ghost.
“We should all go, I don’t think that this battle will end soon.”
“Aah.. No, go ahead! I must make notes of this.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll go, Muriel.”
The sword was silent as it was used to attack the beast like a dull razor.
“We'll set up camp. I made note of a room with one entrance.”
They rested over the next two days that the ghost and the beast did battle. Eventually they awoke to the sound of a boulder falling down a cliff, and rushed into the Leyline Chamber to find the beast a pile of blood, and the sword stuck in it.
“It’s finally over,” said the voice of the sword, exasperation clear to hear.
“So, now we take the sword back to the Academy and live off the riches, right, Phil?”
A bright light burst through the chamber, and the ghost, beast, and sword vanished, absorbing in trails into the Leyline that ran through the room.
From deeper in the chamber the sword’s voice called out, “Not quite! But I can teach you what I know,” the bearer of the voice stepped forward, now originating from a human, “But first, we’ve got to fight the other Leyline beasts!”
|# ? Jul 11, 2015 19:03|
Sword and Sorcery (1989 words)
Elsie's group of vagabonds had been under the skull-shaped hill for three days, and they were already so used to coming across the corpses of previous parties that they'd stopped remarking on it. Deacon liked to mutter over the bones, committing the faithless to the service of Pelor, 'just in case'. Being out of the sun was a bit more difficult for a cleric of the sun god than for most people, Elsie supposed, so she was patient with it.
Word said the tomb contained an evil creature that had made itself immortal by tearing out its very soul. It sent rotting, drooling minions into the villages to cause havoc, so once a month the kingdom's prisons were swept for those desperate and capable enough to brave the tomb's horrors.
Of course some were more capable than others. The bard's body was barely recognisable. He had reached for a glowing orange gem despite the protestations of the wizard, and only Deacon's quick thinking had got the rest of them back to safety in time. He'd shouted, swept the wizard kicking into his arms and dived around the corner. Now the four of them stood over the remains. Deacon looked grim, hefting his mace in his hand. Helix, the wizard, hugged himself, about two unkind words from crying. Breya fidgeted, giving off metal-on-metal sounds as her armour moved. She looked irritated more than anything.
"Hey," she said, "I know it's all very sad and all, but there's more of this to get through and we're not gonna rest in here. Unless you want to wait," she added sharply to Helix, "and see if maybe that darn thing reforms itself so we can *all* get fried."
Helix looked up at her wide-eyed. He didn't seem to notice when Breya tried to bully him, and Elsie had to admit that was admirable. They'd kept him from being able to make magic somehow in that prison, and whatever they'd done had left him squirrelly and strange. "M-maybe *you'd* get fried, in that great armour of yours. I th-think I'd be just *fine*."
Breya glared and half-started towards him. Deacon cleared his throat, though, and lifted his mace to rest it casually on his shoulder. He wasn't even looking at Breya, but Elsie saw her glance at him, frown, and ease the anger from her face.
"Maybe you're right, son," Breya said. "Maybe you're right, but it don't matter none. Let's get moving before some other drat trap goes off."
It had been nothing but traps non-stop since they walked in here. Elsie had disarmed more mechanisms than she cared to bother counting now, and once Deacon had had to haul her out of a pit before her fingertip grip on the edge could give way. She usually had no time for clergymen but Deacon seemed like a solid guy. He didn't preach.
Not an hour after losing the bard, they came across three chests lined up in a square room. There was a long sullen silence, until finally Elsie sighed and padded forward, scanning the room as best she could for loose stones or hidden switches.
"Ain't there some kinda spell you could cast to open em from here?" Breya asked Helix. Elsie wasn't looking but she could just imagine the kid's downcast expression.
"N-not any more. I'd need to s-study it again, it's done."
Breya snorted, but Deacon said, "He's right. That's magic."
"Magic ain't worth nothin' if you can't do it when you need it."
And that, Elsie thought to herself as she crouched in front of the golden chest, was why she had no time for magic. As far as she could see, the only problems cured by magic were the ones it caused in the first place. And people who did too much of it ended up like Helix. Big-eyed and twitchy and not properly connected to the world. She'd never met a wizard who seemed like a good time at a party.
The chest was trapped, of course, but it was a relatively simple pressure-plate mechanism and Elsie disarmed it without even trying hard. Without waiting for the others to approach, she shoved the lid up, hoping for the gleam of gold. Instead something dark leapt at her; she tumbled backwards and felt fangs sink into her arm. A snake! The burn of poison roared through her veins and her vision swam to black. She heard Breya swearing and her sword hitting stone. Someone touched Elsie's arm even as the numbing cold of paralysis began to sweep up her arm towards her heart. A roar of flame came close enough to singe the ends of her hair, and then Deacon was murmuring a prayer, his rough hand pressed firmly to her forehead. She would have expected something warm and gentle, but the rush of magic through her felt filthy and corrupt, like being plunged into dark water. She felt warmth and life returning to her limbs; she sat up all at once, staring into Deacon's worried eyes.
"That was *horrible*," she said.
"The touch of the gods isn't meant to be gentle," he said, worry easing into a smile. He scuffed his hand across the top of her head. A hard thump of sound made Elsie look over to where Breya was stamping on the head of the last living snake. There'd been a dozen of them, Elsie realised, staring at the sinuous corpses now scattered around the room. Most were in pieces now, but more than a few were charred to ash. Just like that bard. Helix was sitting on the floor with his head in his hands.
"You know what," she said, "never mind the other chests. Let's rest and when we've rested, let's just get out of this horrible place." The others threw her odd looks. Maybe she'd played up the 'materialistic jerk' persona a bit hard on the way down here.
They lit no campfire, not knowing what the scent of smoke might attract from further in the tomb. Helix pored over his books for a while, then curled up on the floor and slept like a child. Breya slept too, back against the wall, head lowered, sword across her knees. Elsie had to admire whatever strength of will let them do it. All she could do was sit and fiddle with cleaning her daggers, and worry about how much worse it could get. "Why are you even here?" she asked Deacon as he settled to sit beside her.
He shrugged. "Same reason most of us are. I need what's down here." When she lifted an eyebrow at him, he smiled. "Little girl at home. Not much anyone can do for her. Hoping with a big enough sacrifice, Pelor might intervene. The gold from this place will buy me what I need." It was the most Elsie had ever heard him say at once. What she didn't know about the gods would need a whole library to write down, so she just made noises like she understood and Deacon seemed okay with leaving it at that.
It was late in the next afternoon, by Elsie's dubious reckoning, when they finally reached the burial chamber. The room was ten by twenty feet or so but the ceiling was high and vaulted, churchlike. Dust had settled in a thick layer on everything, and Elsie knew that wasn't right. If nothing living had been down here in ages, as the legends said, where did the dust come from?
"Gods above," Breya muttered behind her; the others were crowding in, though Helix flattened to the back wall, wet eyes wide. "I ain't ever seen this much gold in one place."
Gold in coins of a dozen stamps and ages was scattered about the floor. Here and there it had heaped up against the walls like snow. Elsie's quick appraisal of the room, the jewels and decorated weapons of the treasure pile, led her to a number she could hardly believe, and she spun on her heel towards Deacon, beaming. "This ought to buy you the--"
His mailed fist slammed square into her face. Pain exploded from her nose, she felt it break, and she was barely even conscious of falling backwards. As if from a great distance she heard Breya shouting, furious, and she struggled to sit up. She could taste blood. Deacon stood over her, his back turned, his mace raised, and his other hand reaching towards a skull that lay on a shelf nearby.
"It won't be you!" he said urgently to Breya, who had her sword in hand, her eyes huge with outrage. "It won't be you! He's half-mad anyway! A sacrifice, see? A sacrifice to buy my daughter's life!"
Half-mad? Elsie fought for focus, to see Helix still frozen just inside the door, horror on his face, baffled by how fast things were changing. She tried to call his name but couldn't get words out past the thickness of pain in her jaw.
Deacon put his hand on the skull and it rose from its shelf. Gems in the eyesockets lit up and the room filled with a dark, filthy crawling of magic that Elsie recognised. The healing Deacon had given her had felt just like this. The light of the skull's eyes passed across her and she felt a cold probing at her mind; she was catching her breath to cry out but it passed on and settled on Helix.
His scream was animal, primitive; his own eyes filled with red light as he fell to his knees. Deacon chanted in a foreign language Elsie didn't know, all his attention on the howling wizard. He had betrayed them all; he had lied from the beginning, and Elsie's pain resolved itself into a cold fury that was more than familiar. She jerked her dagger from her belt and lunged forward to drive it into the unarmoured back of Deacon's thigh.
He screamed and swung his fist back. It caught Elsie under the chin as she flinched backwards and she lost her balance, sprawling back among the gold. Breya broke her own paralysis and sprang forward. She slammed Deacon aside with her shoulder, jerked his own mace out of his flailing hand, and slammed it into his face. Elsie rolled aside as he fell. She heard the solid, wet sound of Breya striking Deacon again and again. She knew when he died because the high, drilling shriek of Helix's torment cut off abruptly and the skull, once more a dead thing, dropped to the floor.
The silence was cavernous. Breya's hand on Elsie's arm hauled her to her feet. Without a word the warrior moved on, lifting Helix up by the collar of his robe to plant him on his feet too. He stared at her, uncomprehending, and she laid one hand along the side of his face. "You're all right," she told him. It was an order rather than a question and he nodded.
Not one of them even considered lifting any of the treasure from that room. They limped their way over the threshold and Helix pressed one trembling hand to the brickwork outside. Power flared between his fingers. "Sealed it," he said in answer to Elsie's look. "N-no more like that. Let him stay there with it."
It was dawn when they reached the outside. Elsie felt herself growing weaker with each step. She needed healing, she needed rest. They had barely made it to the road when her knees buckled, but Breya caught her and lifted her up like a child. "What do you think, son?" Breya said to Helix. "This one to the priests, then see about gettin' paid?"
"Paid?" he said.
"Sure, boy, you sealed the tomb. That's gotta be worth something."
Worth something, Elsie thought as she finally let herself slide into exhausted sleep. Maybe not as much as all the treasure in that tomb, but yes. Something.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 13:43|
The Price of Magic 1,489 words
We stood on the docks and watched the horizon swallow our ship, saw the white sails fade into a sky the colour of smoke. Lena was holding back tears, her bottom lip quivering. Darius stared straight at me, his scarred face an expressionless mask. Did he know I was responsible? That I did not sleep last night, but worked strange magics and sent a dream to the ship’s captain, urging him to set sail at first light of day, to not wait for us?
“They sailed without us.” Lena said, her voice crackling like a campfire. “We’re stuck here. Are we going back for Magriette?”
Darius shook his head. Not so quick, I thought. You don’t make the decisions here.
Magritte had been captured the night before, in our flight across the Dour Duke’s lands. She was most likely in his dungeons now, awaiting execution. Her last order was to “go and don’t come back for me”. That was wise. Nemus the Forever-Dragon was assembling the Puzzle of Tears in his lair already, half a world away from here. We had to stop him, had no right to delay - not even to rescue our leader.
Darius knew this, and crossed his tree-trunk arms over his chest to make it clear. His knightly order only allowed him to speak one hundred words each year (was it hard keeping track?), so his body did most of the communicating for him. We were a study in opposites - I was short where he was tall, fat where he was muscular, weak where he was strong - and I knew he’d always held me in deep contempt. With Magritte gone, though, I was now the leader.
“Darius does not think we should back.”, I said. “The Forever-Dragon could have the Puzzle in days, and then he’d grow stronger than ever before. Every day lost is a gamble.”
“There are no more ships here”, I said, “We could ride around by land, but that adds days to the journey. Too long.”
A chill wind blew, carrying a foul smell. Lena wrapped herself tighter in her cloak.
“Magritte is a prisoner, rotting in the Dour Duke’s dungeons.” I went on. “She’ll be beheaded in days. We’ve already missed the ship. We can ride to the Duke’s fortress, rescue her, find passage on another vessel. There’s a merchant trader expected in two days. We could stow away on it.”
Lena’s gaze darted between Darius and me. Darius spat.
“Lena,” I said, trying to sound wise and comforting, like wizards are expected to sound. “Darius has made his opinion clear. So have I. Magritte’s in a dungeon, waiting to die. Our ship has left without us. What do you think?”
And I thought: you stupid woman, I know you love Darius, I’ve seen the way you look at him, but no matter what - you’re going to side with me. We’re getting Magritte out, because I decided so. What else are you sorry wretches going to do?
I contorted my face into the kindliest expression I could muster and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s save Magritte” she said quietly.
We rode swiftly under a low sky, out of that port that stank of fish and filth. We rode through silent woods, past sleeping swamps, and when the sun disappeared and the moon’s pale face rose to relieve it, we still rode, spurring out poor steeds onwards. We slept for only two hours, and I dreamt of Magritte - of her snow-white hair and how it glows in the sunlight, of her blue eyes, her voice like wind-chimes.
We had a quick breakfast - Darius glaring at me with disgust, because I always eat twice as much as anyone else - and then I cast a tracking spell, since we were close enough now. I read the magic and breathed relief: Magritte was alive and in the Dour Duke’s dungeons.
The Duke’s fortress squatted atop a hill like an stone toad. We crept to a wall under a concealment charm. I cast a sleeping spell on the guards above, and Lena and Darius went up with grappling hooks. Not having the fitness to follow, I wasted precious magic on a levitation spell. We composed ourselves on the battlements, and one of the guards begin to stir. Darius slit his throat with a dagger, paused for a moment, and then did the same to the others. Blood flowed over the cobblestones. Lena did a nervous shuffle backwards, before a crimson puddle could reach her boots.
“He woke up too quick.” she whispered. “Your magic’s almost out, isn’t it, Reinhart?”
My reserves were indeed running dry. I looked at my hands - they were wrinkled as if I’d just been swimming, and one fingernail was black, ready to fall off. Spell-shock. The price of magic. I needed to slow down, or it would rip my body apart. I needed rest but there was no time.
We hurried through the rotten place, past walls of grey-brown stone, my tracking spell showing the way, sapping my strength. I had a vicious headache that got worse with each step. My gums were bleeding.
I don’t know how they found us, but when we came to the dungeon entrance, the clatter of men in armour sounded from behind. We turned to see half a dozen bloodguards marching forwards, clad in black plate, a wicked sword in each hand.
“I’m going down to save Magritte.” I said. “Hold them off! I have to find her before the tracking spell fades!”
“We won’t make it!” Lena hissed. “Don’t leave us!”
Darius snarled and said: “Stay together.” A whole two words. Wonder how many he had left?
The bloodguards were close now. Darius readied his greatsword. Lena moved behind him, throwing knives in hand.
I turned and fled down into the dungeons.
I don’t know how I found her. I raced through the tunnels, abandoning all care, magic flowing through my veins, tearing my body to pieces. I remember guards, and lightning bursting from my hands. I remember death and the burning-skin stench of magic gone savage. My left hand was a blackened husk and all my hair was gone when I’d finally found Magritte. I snapped off her shackles with the last of my magic and collapsed on the dungeon floor. She shook me and spoke, but her words made no sense.
“The amulet, my neck”, I spoke through the pain. “Teleportation charm. One use only, carries two people. Grab me.”
She said something about Lena and Darius, how we shouldnt have come.
“They’re done for!” I said. “Forget them! Grab me. The amulet!”.
But she wouldn’t. I tried to speak again but gurgled blood instead, and then darkness took me.
When I came to, Magritte was standing over me. Her white hair glowed in the sunlight just like I remembered, and her eyes were bloodshot but still the deepest blue. She was covered in blood and dirt but she’d lost none of her cold beauty. I tried to move but my body didn’t respond.
“He’s gone,” she said, and her voice was like music. “I doubt that he can even hear us. He’s alive, technically, but he’s a husk. Spell-shock burnt him out.”
She walked out of sight, leaving me staring at a cloudless sky. Where was I? What happened? I wanted to thrash, to scream, but I was completely paralysed, unable to even blink. Drool seeped from the corner of my mouth.
“What do we do?” Lena said. She sounded like she’d been crying.
“Go on, after the Forever-Dragon. We’ve wasted enough time already. We must hurry. Lena, I’m sorry about Darius.”
A pause, then: “What about Reinhart?”
“Only one decent thing to do. I’ll do it. Wait by the road.”
“No” she said. “Reinhart always said I was too squeamish when it came to the difficult parts. I need to do this. For him.”
“I’ll be waiting”, Magriette said. I heard her bootsteps fade into the distance. Lena’s freckled face came into view, mouth pursed, eyes narrowed.
“Darius is dead,” she whispered, “because of you. The bloodguards cut him to shreds. I don’t know if you can hear me but, by the Goddess, I hope you can, because I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to leave you like this. You don’t deserve the mercy of a quick death.”
She moved her hand over my eyes and closed them. My world went dark. I listened to her footsteps, and then I listened to the distant trot of horses, and that faded, too. A bird sang somewhere. A cold wind blew.
It hadn’t turned out that bad, really. My death meant something. Magriette was free and my wretched self had saved her. That made everything else OK.
And then I lay smothered by darkness, felt the wind grow colder, and wondered if I really meant that.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 15:12|
POOL IS CLOSED fucked around with this message at 20:59 on Jan 2, 2016
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 18:10|
The Coven Told Me It Would Be Like This on the Outside
Selena snapped back from her fantasy about being anywhere else. Rufus had just said something about mislaying his Wilful Amulet of Misgiving.
“Sure,” Rufus said, “it’s cool that guilt will stop endlessly tormenting me every time I murder a walking skeleton, but that Amulet gave a pretty huge bonus to my spellpower. Who knows, next time I might feel the stabbing pain of a sword in my chest instead of the stabbing pain of my conscience.”
“Fascinating,” Selena said. “Nice talking to you, Rufus,” and, draining the last of the pint Rufus had bought her in what was no doubt a desperate attempt to get into her witch cloak, she got up and moved her way through the crowded tavern. As one of the drunk patrons noticed her and began to move in her direction, she murmured a quick incantation. The man screamed and began to tear at his smoking clothing.
Oliver and Tashi were sitting at a table in a far corner, the paladin looking depressed and the monk looking bored. “Eldrash Cave,” Selena said. “Rufus left his amulet there, not to mention all that treasure that’s probably just lying around.”
Oliver started to lay coins down on the table. “I’m bit short,” he said gloomily. “Could you cover me, Selena?”
It figures, Selena thought. If someone pays for your drinks, you end up paying for someone else’s. With these paladins it’s an occupational hazard. After enough decayed corpses have tried to steal your body for themselves, you start to wonder if your chosen God of Goodness is even worth following. Then you become a liability and start looking for handouts after you’ve exhausted your coin on mead.
Tashi has the right idea, she thought. Swear off all material things and nobody comes to you for anything. She looked at the monk, who had stood up and assumed a beatific expression, hands clasped together. Hands of death, she thought. At least one of my partners is reliable.
She fished out a coin. “Let’s go,” she said. “You can pay me back by watching my butt in Eldrash Cave. Tashi, make sure he doesn’t stab me by mistake.” Tashi nodded.
Eldrash Cave used to be home to the old folk, the Sphevil, the spider-people. Or at least, according to the tomes, they had begun as spider-people. Now they were simply giant spiders, their love of complex silk artistry becoming a love for the blood of anyone who might happen to enter their dwellings.
Now they stood at the maw of the cave and felt the chill wind that burst forth from within.
“I’m not sure Harek’s light will be able to reach me in there,” Oliver said nervously.
Oh, like every other place we go, Selena thought, but what she said was, “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Remember, all you need is faith.”
Tashi placed a hand on his shoulder and nodded sagely.
Selena cashed Incandescence, lighting her hand aflame. She stepped forward into the cave and her partners followed suit.
Rufus had been here. That much was certain. Even putting aside the scorch marks on the cobwebbed walls, evidence of Rufus’ chaotic low-hit-percentage style of spellcasting, the odour that followed him around like a pet was noticeable even over the overpowering dank dungeon smell. Selena gagged and fought back the bile that was rising in her throat.
“This is an evil place,” Oliver said, as if trying to compensate for Tashi’s silence with useless babble.
The dungeon began as a narrow tunnel, but it eventually opened up into a wide cavern. Clustered in the centre was a brood of spiders and spiderlings. They hissed as the three adventurers came into the open space, brushing aside the webbing that lay everywhere. Their eyes reflected Selena’s flames, seeming to shimmer like rubies in the half light.
“Oliver,” Selena said. “Cast a protective ward on Tashi so he can mix it up.” As the spiders came closer, she cast an intensifying spell on her flamelight, shouting the arcane language for maximum effectiveness. Her words echoed throughout the cavern, so that it sounded like a whole coven﹘the one she had left behind, maybe﹘was performing an elaborate and dangerous ritual.
Flames burst forth from her hand in a continuous stream that began to dance and spread as it reached the center of the cavern. A scream went up from the spiderlings as they began to smoke and melt. The babies, she knew, were easy prey for her magicks, but the adults would survive, maddened by the loss of their young. Tell me Oliver did what I said, she thought. We can survive this if Tashi doesn’t go down easily.
Tashi hurtled past her, and Selena saw with despair that he had no rune glow. Oliver, you idiot, she thought, you’re officially as worthless as the boil on my butt. “Help him out!” she shouted, and Oliver stumbled past her, weighed down, she thought, by his own uselessness as much as that heavy sword. As her mana recharged, she could only watch: Tashi, a blur of expert precision, striking more times than she could count; Oliver, by contrast, moving slowly, his hits not particularly effective.
Goddess of fate, she thought, be with us now. See that Tashi does not fall.
The blur of movement had stopped so suddenly it was if he had been petrified. He turned back, his eyes searching Selena’s, and pitched backwards, soon swallowed up by the mass of eyes and legs.
“Oliver!” she shouted. “Get out of the way!” Her mana was filling her up; in her head she sang the ancient song. She used all of it to cast Eruptus. The cavern was flame and death and as she scrambled back into the tunnel to get clear she found herself hoping that Oliver hadn’t made it.
The spider-folk, she saw as the smoke began to rise, writhed on their back in their dying throes. In some places there were only twitching legs to show where there had once been scuttling, crawling life.
And Oliver, getting up, his armour blackened but intact, his hair burnt off and eyebrows singed.
“You made it,” Selena said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s press on.”
“What?” Selena asked in disbelief. “We’re a man short and-” she stopped. Oliver was making his way further into the dungeon. Shocking as this decisive action was, what had shocked her more was what she had seen in Oliver’s eyes. They had glowed with a flame equal to any she could create.
So she followed him as he led the way through the stretches of rock and webbing.
In front of them, she saw after following him for what felt like ages, was a layered wall of webbing. Oliver barely paused as he clove through it. With a roar of anger he pushed through the tatters, and Selena was behind him, holding her breath.
The room was a vertical tunnel that stretched out higher than Selena could see by flamelight. Like the throat, she thought, of some terrible monster. But now she could hear the clicking of leg against stone. Everything echoes in these places, she thought dazedly.
Then the spider-king was upon them. In the flamelight it was huge, thick fangs glistening, eyes the size of dinner plates. Legs swatting her aside. This is between it and Oliver, she had time to think, before she was crumpled against the rocks. Desperately, she kept her hand aflame, and raised it high, so that the room was lit, but everything was so hazy…
The spider-king was attempting to crush Oliver with its massive body. Oliver was striking with his broadsword, but it looked like it couldn’t get through the beast’s carapace. He could barely move now, the legs pinning him down.
“Frenailr waefulr!”, she shouted, and the fire leapt from her hand to Oliver’s sword.
Blood began to pool under the two struggling creatures, staining the webbing on the the floor black. Then it began to gush as Oliver worked the sword deeper. The body stopped moving; only its twitching legs were animated. Its body seemed to deflate a little, as if it had been filled completely with blood and nothing else.
Then the body began to move again. What devilry is this, she thought, before it sank in that it was Oliver, pushing the body aside.
As her vision cleared up she saw that Oliver was now standing above her. There was a clunk as something dropped in front of her. “There,” Oliver said. “Our blood prize.” Then he began to walk back the way they had come.
Selena tried to pull herself to her feet, couldn’t quite make it. “Wait!”, she shouted hoarsely. “We can talk to Tashi again! I’m a witch, remember? I can talk to spirits!”
“Even in death,” Oliver said, “he would not break his vow of silence.”
Then he was gone, leaving her alone with the spider-king’s carcass.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 19:56|
The Swamp Mage
With a disgusted groan, Har wiped black sludge from his face and shook it off onto the swampy ground, then dropped down to sit on a moss-covered log. His broadsword dangled loosely in his hand.
"These things really stink, you know? What did you call them, Vorkin?"
"Reanimates. Dead bodies animated to do their master's bidding," Vorkin answered, bending down to banish any residual magic from the corpse.
"Yeah, well, they stink. Couldn't he have found any fresher bodies? I mean what kind of a f-OOOF!" Har cut off with a short grunt of pain.
"You've really got to work on that swearing, Har," Salic said. He sighted down the shaft of an arrow, checked the point for damage.
Har snorted. "Easy for you to say, you get to just hang back and shoot them; I'm the one up there chopping bits off! Try not swearing when you're covered in rotten blood, swamp muck, and every other d-AAHHHHR!" He winced and rubbed his forehead.
"We'll get the geas removed as soon as we get back, I promise."
It had been two days and dozens of battles with reanimates since they'd left the town. Salic had pitched it as a quick little job: kill the swamp wizard, take his treasure, go get drunk. He'd even found an enchanter, Vorkin, to provide magical backup. They hadn't counted on the sheer unpleasantness of slogging through a swamp while fighting off rotten walking corpses. All three were by this point covered in a reeking combination of mud, decaying guts, and maggot-flecked flesh.
"Look at it this way," Salic offered, "At least the rations will last longer if we can't stand to eat anything."
The only response Har gave was a dirty look. He'd been in a foul mood since he'd been nearly run over by a high priest's carriage back in the town--his stream of profanity had been cut short when the priest put a divine censorship geas on him.
With a slightly impatient look, Vorkin pointed to the south. "Shall we continue? I think we're getting close now, I can feel his magic more strongly."
Har heaved himself to his feet. "Fine. Let's get out of this sh-UFFFF!"
In the end, the tower wasn't close at all. It took most of another day's travel to reach it; by that point, Har's already foul mood had reached astounding heights. The eventual appearance of the tower itself did not help matters.
"You can hardly call it a tower if it's only got one blo--umm, one floor!" Har exclaimed.
"A wizard's stronghold is always a tower, be it ever so humble," sniffed Vorkin, "My tower is, at present, a small cottage on the edge of Silverfeld."
Salic silenced the two with a wave of his hand. "Enough! We're here, let's get in there, crush this guy, and take his jewels!"
"Recall that my reward is his spellbook--you can divide the rest!" Vorkin said.
The trio opted for the direct approach and simply kicked in the decaying wooden door of the tower.
"SHOW YOURSELF YOU SPELL-SLINGING SON OF A MUDLARK!" Har roared as he charged into the dark interior. No response came.
Vorkin called up a light spell, illuminating the single large room of the "tower". No sign of the swamp wizard; the only furnishings were a table, a single chair, a bookshelf, and a lumpy bed.
Salic stalked into the room, scanning the corners for hidden doors, anywhere the swamp wizard might have hidden. He flipped back the tattered blanket on the bed.
"Ah! Oh... Oh." He looked in disappointment at the robed skeleton lying in the bed, all flesh long since picked clean by the rats of the swamp. His companions joined him at the bedside.
"Well, that was easy. Let's find this ba--errr, let's find his treasure and get out of here. I'm sick of this place already," Har muttered.
While Vorkin paged through the swamp wizard's spellbook, occasionally mumbling excitedly to himself, Salic and Har ransacked the tower. Their findings made a disappointingly small pile on the table.
"This is it, Salic? This is the great treasure of the Great and Powerful Mage of the Swamp?" Har's voice was strained from the effort of minding his language in the face of his rage. "A handful of coins, a cheap silver-plated dagger, and this imitation Hand of Glory? I spend three days killing reanimates, covered in zombie-slop so filthy I can't even eat my dinner, I wade through swamps up to my co--my waist, and I get this? This is BUL--OUUUUAAAA MY HEAD!"
Salic held up his hands placatingly. "Look, I'm sorry! This guy in the bar told me about this place, and then Vorkin said he'd heard the Swamp Mage had some really valuable stuff! By the way, Vorkin, you were really off on that part, not trying to point fingers or anything."
Vorkin looked up from the spellbook. "Oh? I'm sorry, I meant that he had something of value to me." He tapped the page in front of him. "Like this spell, for instance."
In a quick chanting rhythm Vorkin read the words on the page and flicked his hand at Salic and Har, who were whipped into the air and blasted back out through the door of the tower. They smashed down to the muddy ground outside, the impact momentarily knocking the breath out of both.
Vorkin's magically-amplified voice boomed from inside the tower. "I TAKE THIS TOWER AS MY OWN! I AM THE MAGE OF THE SWAMP! NOW LEAVE ME, O YE MORTALS!"
Salic and Har rolled over to face each other.
"Cut our losses?" Salic sighed, looking at Har in defeat.
"I NEED NOT THESE TAWDRY TRINKETS!" Vorkin shouted from the tower, as the scant collection of valuables scattered through the door toward the pair.
Har picked up the silver-plated dagger from where it had fallen and hefted it thoughtfully, glancing back at the doorway. Strange lights began to shine from inside.
"Yeah, forget this crazy son of a --" He caught himself just in time. "Let's get out of here. We're spending those coins on getting this geas removed, I hope you know that."
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 20:00|
For Sale: Swords of Legend, No Questions Asked
I have eyes for the princess, said the voice in Anja's head.
She ignored it, threading her way through the crowds with her tray of glasses balanced precariously on one upturned palm. The baron's banquet hall was large, but packed. It teemed with merchants and nobles and dignitaries. Enough of them to run a... to fill... There were a lot of them, anyway.
The hall was torchlit, warm, humid. Flickering light at the windows illuminated falling snow outside. Six guards stood watch in the blizzard, snow piling up in drifts on helmets and shoulders. Anja knew this. She'd brought them drinks earlier while no one was looking.
I said -- the voice continued.
"I heard you," Anja muttered.
Aren't you going to correct me? You know, 'eyes on,' not, 'for.'
"I get the joke, Jan."
You're no fun sometimes.
No one paid her any notice as she moved, retrieving and replacing empty tankards and glasses. After all, she wasn't anybody here. Just part of the furniture. The guests were here to talk to one another, or to the baron, or to the princess. People who mattered.
Baron Masterson. Once a hero, in his earlier years. Wielder of the unbreakable sword Winteredge; saviour of the Four Isles; dragonslayer; et cetera et cetera. Now a fat, greying socialite, whiling away tired days on the outskirts of the capital. Enough money to court the favours of the aristocracy. Not enough that he could do without them.
An easy mark, really.
It's a nice dress, said Jan.
"Yes, I know. Can you just... pay attention? Just this once? What are they doing?"
Well, they're on the landing up here, Jan said. You know, where I am. He's going on and on and on about... titans, sounds like. Did he ever kill one of those? She's laughing at every little thing he says and doing that thing with her eyelashes. He's hooked. Big arm gestures with every... oh, hold up, they're coming my way.
Twelve minutes and fifteen seconds ago, when she started her circuit of the hall, Anja had counted thirty-two men and forty-one women here. She'd served seventy-two so far. It was important to keep track.
In the cluster ahead she recognised the remaining one. A tall, slim woman. Probably a countess. Mid-forties. One-thirty pounds, give or take. A slight sheen of sweat on her forehead. She was too hot in those skirts, slightly drunk already, and would probably down whatever she was given in a matter of moments.
Anja ran through some quick mental calculations. The red, then, slightly diluted. She half-filled a glass with wine, topped it up from a water pitcher, and after a few moments' thought added an extra quarter-dose of nightglove from a pocket. The powder dissolved with a faint hiss.
She pressed the glass into the countess' hand as she passed. The woman didn't even look at her nor pause in whatever she was prattling about, but her fingers closed automatically around the glass' stem. That was fine.
And that was the last of them.
"I'm finished down here," she said, voice low. "Five minutes thirty spare, by my count. How is she... Jan, are you purring?"
Can't help it! Jan's voice said. It's an instinct thing. Baron gave me a scratch behind the ears. Now I feel kinda bad for relieving myself in his slippers earlier.
Cats do that! He sounded... proud? I'm maintaining character. You wouldn't under... oh, here we go. He's got a key out. And... yes! The princess is in the tower. I repeat, the princess is in the tower. We are go go go for Operation... A pause. What did I call this operation again?
"I really don't remember, Jan."
Well... we are go for it. I guess. Come on, get yourself up here.
Anja made her way across the room, stashing her tray in a corner behind a potted shrub. As an afterthought she upended the remaining pitchers and mugs bar one into it, then tucked that in the crook of her elbow. Best to make absolutely sure no one here got too much of a dose and messed up her timings.
No one noticed her leave. She took the stairs two at a time, counting down the seconds in her head.
There was a cat on the landing. Brown, kind of mangy. It gave her a bored look and yawned at her.
The cat padded over to a door near the far end of the hall and curled up next to it.
Anja paused at the door, one ear against the mahogany. Muted conversation filtered through. One voice high and soft, one low and thunderous. The low voice seemed to be doing most of the talking. The door wasn't locked.
It led to some kind of trophy room. That was good. That was where it was meant to lead. A dozen swords were mounted on the walls, above plaques naming them Starlight or Hubris or something illegible in Elvish. Suits of unnecessarily ornate armour occupied each corner. Anja supposed it made sense. The baron was a martial man, after all.
His back was to the door. He held a longsword in one hand, its blade ice-blue and runed and glittering in the light. It looked... as expensive as she'd hoped. Opposite him, Princess Lena Arinborne, heir to the Realm and to the Four Isles and whatever else made up the rest of her full title, was making a passable attempt at looking interested in it.
She spotted Anja over his shoulder and waved. Her smile made Anja's thoughts stop.
Jan was right. It was a nice dress.
"Baron Masterson, sir," Anja said. He rounded on her, and she saw confusion turn slowly to anger as she spoke. She thrust her tankard at him. "A drink from the cellars, sir."
He stared. He wasn't standing straight, and his gaze was unfocused. She supposed he might have had enough already tonight. "Why are... Who sent... I thought I locked that door."
He had, of course. It would only be a matter of seconds before he realised that fact, or that he no longer had the key. Really, trying to get him to down a tankard containing enough sedative to floor three men his size had been a bit of a long shot.
Anja threw the wine in his face. He sputtered, raised the Winteredge, and then Princess Lena Arinborne of the Everything brained him from behind with a breastplate. He hit the floorboards nose-first.
"You did," Anja said, before Lena darted over and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Anja flushed and failed to cover it with a hand. "You don't have to do that every time."
"I know." Lena stepped daintily over the baron's snoring bulk and picked up the Winteredge by the pommel. "I just like being rescued from... from boring old men with swords." She waved a hand at the walls. "Lots of swords."
"They are nice swords," Anja said, taking down Unknown, Probably Dwarven from the wall with a grunt. It amazed her that anyone could even swing something so heavy. "Besides, this was your idea. Your romantic heist. Take your pick."
"I should have thought this through. I don't even like swords."
"Does that matter?"
"I guess not!"
Everything good? Jan's voice said. I'm down here now. How are we for time?
"Everything is fine," Anja said. "They should start falling --"
From the floor below, something went thud. It was the deep, solid thud of someone falling onto floorboards, nose-first.
A couple of seconds later, another followed. And another. And another. Seventy-three in all. Anja counted.
"...falling asleep about now," she said after the last one. It felt good.
I seriously don't understand how you do that.
"It's just herbs and mathematics."
"Does that mean it's time for our great escape now?" Lena asked. It was endearing how her face lit up when she said it.
Anja nodded. "Downstairs, then."
The hall was still packed. Merchants and nobles and dignitaries, slumped across tables, chairs, the floor. A job well done.
There was a horse in the centre of the room. Anja stared at it for a long while.
"Six legs," she said eventually.
Look, horses are difficult, okay? They're all... knees, and shoulders, and things.
"I like it," said Lena. "It's... unique. Like it's from a story."
That's exactly what I was going for, yeah.
"And now we get to ride away into the sunset like proper thieves?"
Anja glanced at the window. Darkness. Falling snow.
"Something like that," she said.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 21:16|
Lord Drever's Cat
A noble family pays you good money to locate their missing cat. You get nothing if it's dead.
A barren, flat landscape surrounded the town of Stromness. Except for one area; Binscarth Wood. A place the townsfolk avoided at all costs. Along a path in Binscarth Woods, a dwarf hauled an empty wheeled cage. She had light hair and wore a leather jerkin, dark woolen trousers, and sturdy brown boots. A short steel sword hung at her side and a round shield rested on her back. Her name was Angheor. Alongside her walked a wood elf. He was twice as tall Angheor and carried a crossbow slung at his hip, a bronze battle-axe at his other, and a kite shield on his back. He was clad in a bronze chain-mail vest atop a linen shirt and red cotton trousers. He was bald and half of his left ear was missing. His name was Hunllef.
“I knew this would be a waste of time,” said Hunllef.
“We just have to find its tracks again. It can't have gone far,” said Angheor.
“It can't have gone far in two days? Ha!”
“We saw tracks yesterday, Hunllef,” she said. “We'll find this cat soon, friend.”
“We better,” he said. “Hey! Hoel! Hurry up!”
Behind Angheor and Hunllef trailed an eight-foot tall orc. Hoel wore a dark orange robe and a pointed blue hat. He had a long, thin mustache. He carried a gnarled stick, too short to aid him as he struggled up the mild incline of the path.
“Sorry, I don't do much walking you know,” Hoel puffed as he spoke. “Any sign of that cat?”
“No,” Angheor and Hunllef said together.
They struggled on with Angheor and Hunllef taking turns pulling the cage. Hoel labored behind. Night came and filled the sky with a pale lunar glow. They made camp. Hoel tried to start the fire with his magic, but Hunllef grew tired of waiting and started it with a pair of sticks.
“Sometimes it just doesn't listen to me,” Hoel said.
“Great. Where did you find this guy, Angheor,” said Hunllef.
“He was the only remotely magical person in Stromness,” she said. “And we need magic to stun the cat, Lord Drever won't pay us for a dead one.”
“Oh!” Hoel said excitedly. “What are you going to use the gold for?”
“Whores and ale,” said Hunllef.
Hoel's mouth gaped. Hunllef and Angheor laughed together.
“But there aren't any whores in Stromness!”
“Plenty in Kirkwall though,” Angheor said. “But that's not how I'll spend my gold. I need it to pay a witch in Thurso to heal my father. He is very ill.”
“Not long for the world even with the witch's help, if you ask me,” Hunllef said.
As they sat around the fire eating dried meat and black bread, a star seemingly removed itself from the sky and drew closer to the camp. A bright white spot turned into a blue glow the size of a hand. It fluttered around their camp like a clumsy moth. And then it spoke to them.
“Help me please, my friend is in danger!,” it said. “My name is Ciniúnt of the Binscarth fairies. Will you help my friend? Please?”
Surely enough when Angheor strained her eyes she could make out the features of the fairy in the blue glow.
“What's wrong?” Angheor said.
“A giant cat is playing with her!” she said. “I fear she is going to eat her!”
Hunllef and Angheor rose together.
“Where is it?” Hunllef said.
The dwarf dragged the cage, and she and the elf followed the fairy. Hoel slowly stood up. Hunllef stopped. “Move, wizard!”
The trio followed the fairy, with Hoel lingering behind. They entered a small clearing. A colossal black beast was illuminated by a green glow held under its paw. The cat was almost as tall as Hunllef. It turned its bright yellow eyes onto its hunters and its bared teeth glimmered green.
“Lord Drever failed to mention his missing cat was so monstrous,” said Hunllef.
“Thank the gods the cage is large enough.”
“Wizard, make your magic listen and stun that cat,” the elf said.
Hoel sat on the ground hugging his legs and whimpering quietly.
“Angheor, next time I'll find us the magical help.”
“Lets get this done,” she said.
They advanced on the cat, and it left its green toy. Ciniúnt flew to the motionless fairy. The cat leaped at Angheor. They both tumbled to the ground. They rolled as the dwarf tried to disentangle herself. Hunllef attempted to grab the cat but couldn't find a way into the scuffle. He picked up a stone and threw it at the cat. It snarled. Hunllef ran towards the open cage. The cat chased him. Angheor rose. As the cat neared the cage, she charged. She sent the cat soaring into the cage. It crashed against bars and crumpled to the floor. Angheor slammed it shut. She slumped to the ground and sighed.
“Thank the gods.”
“More exiting without magic,” Hunllef said.
Ciniúnt thanked them. Her friend still lived. She showed them the shortest path back to Stromness. Hunllef had ordered Hoel to help with the cage so they hauled the cage together as Angheor walked beside the fairy.
“If you follow this path, you'll reach a fork,” the fairy said. “You must take the right path or you will find yourself at the Lake of Wasdale where the trolls sleep.”
Ciniúnt departed, and the party, tired but content, made camp.
They awoke not long after dawn. The path towards Stromness was lined with tall, lush trees. At midday they arrived at the fork. Hunllef asked which way the fairy had told them to go. Angheor pointed right. They pressed on. The sun set but they were eager to return with their prize, so they persevered.
Hours later, the path opened up and a large lake appeared. The water seemed black, the darkness emphasized by the bright reflection of the moon.
Hoel gazed at the lake. “The lake of Wasdale,” he said. “We should turn back.”
“This path takes us to Stromness anyway.” Hunllef whispered. “Just don't disturb the trolls.”
They continued but paused at each creak and crack. The path passed between the lake and lifeless trees. Worried, they searched for movement in the shadows.
When they reached the middle of the lake, the cat roared. It echoed amongst the rocks for an age.
“We need to hurry up! Now!” Angheor said.
Hunllef and Angheor dragged the cage as fast as they could. The cat growled. Hoel scurried in front of them. The end of the lake was no more than fifty yards away. The handle slipped from Angheor's hand. The cage slumped to the ground. Hunllef held onto his.
“Pick it up!”
She fumbled for the handle in the darkness.
She found it and pulled with all her might. They hurried. Hoel was now a step away from the forest. A troll surged out the shadows. He knocked Hoel to the ground. His head crashed against a rock.
The troll waved about his club. “Pozra hungry! Pozra eat!”
Angheor armed herself, sword and shield ready. Hunllef had his battle-axe in hand.
“Pozra not eat talkers! Pozra eat cat!” the troll said. “Move!”
They stood in front of the cage.
Angheor spoke softly, “You won't be eating this cat.”
The troll charged. He swung his club wildly. Hunllef couldn't raise his battle-axe in time. The club clattered against his thigh. The elf buckled and fell. The troll brought the club down from behind his head. The club rushed towards Hunllef's face. He rolled away and the club rebounded of the ground where his head had been. Angheor slashed at the back of the troll's knee. It thrashed at her. As she stumbled backwards deflecting each blow with her shield, Hunllef tried to work his crossbow. He lay on the ground working the clogs. He struggled to reach a bolt. The next strike shattered Angheor's shield. She screamed as pain seared her arm. She collapsed. Hunllef continued to fumble. The troll raised his club.
A ball of fire flew past the fight. And then another. Hoel stood, his face bloodied. He pointed his stick at the troll, but the fire expanded in all directions. It skimmed over Angheor and Hunllef as they lay on the ground. The troll howled as it was set aflame. It fell to the ground, its limbs flailing. Eventually he stopped moving. They stood around its smoldering remains.
“So you're not so useless after all, Hoel.”
The orc grinned.
“Thanks, but less chaotic next time,” said Angheor. “We need to leave this place.”
She turned towards the cage. “NO!” She fell to her knees and wept. Angheor saw her father dying. All that remained of the cat was its scorched corpse. Hunllef tried to drag her away, but she resisted. She ran forward. She held the Lord Drever's cat and sobbed.
“Angheor, if we stay here any longer, we'll soon be dead too!”
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 22:15|
Adventurers for hire, reasonable rates
The sun beat down on the dry, dead soil. In the distance, behind the bones of a hedgerow, three skeletons were chipping at the dust with worn hoes.
“I must admit, this is hardly the all-conquering horde of darkness one might have been led to expect.” Hawkins knocked his pipe out against a dead tree and turned to face the group.
“Always the critic.” Marron was leaning on her staff, shading her eyes. Behind her, Scatha and Aranina looked on with amused expressions. “Look, they’re skeletons. And where you find skeletons, you get necromancers. It’s a symptom.”
“It will admit the current vista is symptomatic of something, though I’ll reserve judgement on just what.”
“Just what are you implying?”
“My dear Marron, I would never do something so uncouth as ‘imply’ anything.”
“You would too. Fine, apparently I have to do everything around here so let’s go look at these skeletons.” Marron barged through the hedge, the rest of the group trailing behind.
The skeletons didn’t appear to pay her any attention, even when she got close enough to see the chips and cuts in their bones.
“There! Battle scars. Told you,” Marron said. Scatha loped up, longbow in hand, and leaned down to inspect the skeleton. It continued to prod at the dirt.
“Marron’s right,” she said eventually.
“That she may be, dear leader, but they’re hardly rampaging around the countryside any longer.” Hawkins folded his arms. “I remain sceptical.”
“Nothing new there then.” Marron prodded the nearest skeleton with her staff. Its arm knocked against a hip-bone. Rattle.
“Maybe they’re tired.” She prodded again. Rattle rattle.
Rattle rattle rattle.
Rattle rattle rattle rattle rattle.
They all turned. “Maybe you shouldn’t’ve done that,” Aranina said, pointing across the field to an old barn. “I knew it was a bad idea,” she added under her breath.
Dozens of skeletons were pouring from the barn door, clutching a variety of rusty weaponry and farm implements. The rattling became a chorus.
“Whoops!” Marron turned back around, then ducked as a hoe whistled through the air above her head. She lashed out, her staff smashing bone. The skeleton fell to the ground, limbs twitching.
“My dear Marron, you do have such a knack for starting brawls.” Hawkins sighed theatrically, drawing his swords and stepping between the party and the oncoming horde.
“Must be my charming personality.” The other two skeletons were circling around Marron and Scatha, hoes raised. Marron’s staff caught one in the shin-bone, but it stumbled backwards before she could follow through.
“Skeletons,” Scatha said, letting out a long sigh. “I hate skeletons.” She slung her bow over her shoulder and raised her guard just in time to catch a hoe aimed at her head. She wrenched the tool out of the skeleton’s grasp, threw it to one side and countered with a left hook that sent a skull bouncing across the field. She turned to watch Marron dancing around the remaining undead with a broad grin on her face, staff weaving.
Marron sighed and stopped for a moment. “Spoilsport,” she said. The skeleton tried to take advantage of the lull and swung for her head. “That goes for you too.” She caught the hoe crossways against her staff, kicked out to shatter its hip, and brought the head of the staff down to pin its ribcage to the ground as it fell. White fire ran the length of the oak staff and the skeleton shattered into dust.
Scatha rolled her eyes. “Ara? Hawkins?” she asked, turning.
Hawkins was standing in the middle of the field, swords loose in his hands. Scorched scars marred the field, and one corner of the barn was burning merrily. Of the skeletal army, there was no sign, though the air did carry a pungent scent of scorched bone.
“Don’t worry, I think we’ve got this,” Hawkins said, sheathing his swords.
“‘We’?” Aranina muttered. The sleeves of her robe were rolled up and her hood was down, revealing dishevelled hair and a scowl.
Scatha ignored her. “Done? Safe?”
“Perhaps a little surplus to requirements right about now, but otherwise just splendid, thank you for asking.”
“Never been better!”
“Good. Let’s move on. Marron, less poking skeletons please.”
“You never let me have any fun.”
It was another two days of long walking and uninteresting scenery before they reached the shadows of the mountains and the looming castle that nestled beneath. The occasional group of skeletons paid them little attention on the road, seemingly content to continue poking at the soil.
“Now this is more like it,” Marron said, gazing up at the blackened oak gates festooned with spikes. “Proper fortress of evil, this.”
“I’ll admit, it does forbode quite well,” Hawkins said, coming to stand next to her. “Perhaps the empire is merely… reduced.”
“I hope so. Would be a shame to not have a single good fight this entire time.” She walked up to the door and rapped with her staff. The door boomed satisfyingly and creaked open.
“Knock knock! Anyone in?” She called. “Scatha and Company, adventures ventured, treasures treasured, evil overlords overthrown, at your service!” There was no reply.
“Are you sure about this, Marron?” Aranina asked, peering around the taller woman. Her hood was back over her head, hiding her eyes from the sun.
“Sure I’m sure. Got the mark right here. Overthrow evil empire, slay necromancer, rescue princess. You know, the usual.” Marron reached under her jerkin and pulled out a sheet of parchment. It was yellowed and brittle, but the wording was still clear enough.
“Far from me to critique your selection process, dear healer, but where exactly did you find that mark?” Hawkins squinted at it.
“Oh, uh, this little place I know back in Nexus. Quite off the beaten path. Secluded.”
Aranina rolled her eyes. “Did you get kicked out of the Seasick Dragon again?”
Marron had the decency to look embarrassed. “Maybe. Maybe a few other adventurer inns too.”
“Some job-finder you are.” Aranina sighed, pulled her hood down further still and stalked past Marron and Hawkins to enter the castle.
“If you’re quite done bickering, we move.” Scatha stomped past them.
The pair looked at each other, shrugged in unison and followed through the door.
Past the gates, the castle opened up to a dusty courtyard littered with fallen stones. An old woman bustled her way along one wall, sweeping ineffectually at the dust as she went.
“Ahoy!” Scatha called. “Lady!” She strode across the courtyard, long legs eating up the distance while the other three scurried in pursuit. The old woman turned, eventually, to face her.
“Hmm? What is it, little girl?”
Scatha raised an eyebrow. “Astrodal the necromancer. His undead army of darkness. The princess…” she paused, snatched the mark from Marron’s hand as the latter caught up, cast an eye over it. “Princess Angelina. Where are they?”
The old woman stared at her for a long moment, then doubled over, clutching at her stomach.
“Hee. Heeheeehee. Oh dear oh dear oh dear,” she wheezed, tears running down her cheeks.
“What’s so funny?”
“Who are you, little girl? Why are you asking me this, now?”
“I’m Scatha. Adventurer. You know of the Nexus?”
“I’ve read books. Never thought I’d see a visitor from another plane, though. Why are you here?”
Scatha presented the mark. “A job. Defeat the necromancer, rescue the princess. Where are they?”
The woman laughed again. “How do I break this to you? You’re a bit late, dear. Forty years or so late.” Scatha blinked. “Astrodal won. Nobody came to stop him, or rescue me. I guess that mark of yours was father’s last-ditch plan and that didn’t work either.” She sighed and sat down on a fallen stone. “But apparently undead armies of the night aren’t very good at farming, or stonemasonry or, well, anything else much.”
Behind them, Aranina stuffed a fist into her mouth.
“Astrodal starved to death twenty years ago. My people, well, we don’t need to eat so much. But what’s left of his armies still have orders to keep me prisoner, so here I am. I’d curtsey, but my knees aren’t up to it any more.” She looked up at Scatha’s blank stare. “Princess Angelina. At your service, I suppose.”
Scatha turned to glare at Marron, who merely shrugged helplessly.
“Oops?” she offered. “I guess it did look a bit faded.”
“You never checked?”
“I was in a hurry. Sorry.”
“If I may, esteemed leader?” Hawkins beamed a smile and knelt before the princess. “Fair princess Angelina, may I humbly offer you what meagre hospitality we may supply and, perhaps more relevant to your current predicament, transport to the Nexus via the next convenient portal? I have it on good authority one might be opening in the near future.” He looked backwards under his arm and winked at Aranina.
“Hmm. I suppose it can’t be any worse than here.”
She rose, and took his hand.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 23:24|
The cleric was dead and that was bad because now nobody could raise the cleric. Duran examined the body. It was wrinkly, and full of dagger holes.
"T'was the bard," Fop said. "I saw it with me own eyes."
"And here I thought mole people tended to be rather blind," Marius the Magnificent said.
"Well, okay. But I heard everything!"
"Heard what?" Duran said. It fell to him to keep the group in order. He was a Champion of the Just Way after all.
Fop pointed at the corner of the room, where party bard Leileif enthusiastically performed an unplugged rendition of the famous tavern hit I Stabbed the Cleric (But I Did Not Stab the Paladin). He had stars in his eyes, but then, he always did. Duran made a mental note to check the glowy sticks Leileif always smoked.
Marius stroked his long black beard as if it was another mischievous pet of his. "I must admit... it renders me a little suspicious as well."
"Leileif!" Duran said.
The bard stopped, his smile open and honest, pearly whites beaming at them. "Just a little In Memoriam for our poor cleric here," he said. "You know how Jim was. He would have liked it." He pulled off his cap and clutched it to his chest, inclining his head for a moment of silence.
The he began playing again.
The hall was big as a barn, just one of many cooperative puzzle rooms in this dungeon. This one, they’d had to solve in the dark. Find five buttons in the walls and press them at the same time to unlock the opening mechanism. The lights had come back on at that same moment, and that’s when they’d found the cleric’s body leaning against his switch, silently departed.
“With my superior intellect,” Marius said, “I have perused our surroundings and found them to be void of any incriminating evidence as to the murderer’s identity. I am, however, fairly certain that it was one of us.”
“I’m telling ye, it was the bard.”
“It could have been anyone. Mayhaps not our dear leader. He is a rather stalwart defender of the Just Way. And me, obviously. I do not resort to unrefined methods such as multiple stabbings. But the blind buffoon and the cutpurse? Sure.”
“Who are ye calling a cutpurse?!”
“To be fair,” Leileif said, “you could have made it look like this to incriminate us. You are very smart.”
“Enough!” Duran bellowed. “We don’t know who it was. We don’t even know if it was one of us. This dungeon is full of tricks. Let’s all keep our eyes open. We will settle this later. Now, let’s bury our poor Jim and get moving.”
Marius took out a knife and moved towards the cleric’s body.
“What are you doing?”
“If it hasn’t escaped your notice, the door lock mechanisms are magically engineered as to require the hands of all original entrants to lay upon them. If you wish to bury the cleric, we do need his hand.”
“I will have no defiling the cleric’s corpse.”
“So ye want to drag the poor bastard ‘round the dungeon?” Fop said.
“As you wish,” Marius said, and with a flick of his wrist, the cleric hovered in the air behind him. It didn’t seem any less sacrilegious.
Beyond the door lay a long hallway. As they proceeded down, Leileif played a gentle song on his lute. Duran didn’t know about the others, but it sure soothed his nerves.
He still prefered to stay a step behind everyone.
The hallway seemed to go on forever. It took a long time for someone to actually turn around and point out that the previous door was still there, right behind them.
“A magical loop,” Marius said. “How intriguing.”
“What can we do?” Duran said.
“I propose we stop one at a time, to establish a collective line of sight along the hallway.”
“We will use each other as landmarks. If this is a mere illusion, this process might circumvent it. Otherwise I shall find where precisely the portal lingers.”
They walked until they could barely see the door. Duran stayed behind, and then further down Fop stopped just barely at the edge of his vision. Marius and Leileif proceeded even deeper down the hallway. The sound of Leileif’s lute slowly faded, but it never ceased entirely, always lingering somewhere in the background.
Then it cut off, and Duran blinked. Fop was gone. This was wrong. He sprinted down the hallway. This was very wrong.
The others had found the door to the next room. Marius’s body lay in front of it, bleeding out of an open knife wound along his throat. The dead cleric was next to him. Both had their hands chopped off.
Fop was pressing his cutlass against Leileif’s throat, his other hand on the pistol at his hip. Despite the standoff, Leileif still played that uplifting song, gentle and softly, just barely audible, still smiling.
“What is going on here?” Duran said.
“The bard disappeared without a word. I heard him run. So I followed. I stumbled over the bodies.”
“What a nasty lie. The mole killed them, you know. He was also going to kill me. He is a greedy person. And mean.”
“No more stalling. This ends now!” Fop tore his pistol from its holster.
“Stop this!” Duran said. Sword in hand, he dashed towards them. Fop turned. His bullet shot past Duran so close it singed his sideburns.
With the moleman distracted, Leileif strummed along his muted lute with such faintness, Duran wouldn’t have noticed it without seeing it. The lute whispered, and translucent daggers shot out, skewering Fop like a shishkebab. The moleman slammed against the wall, where he collapsed into a miserable pile of flesh and bones.
“Thank you,” Leileif said. There was a spring in his step as he moved to chop off Fop’s hands.
“Hold on now,” Duran said.
Before Duran could move, Leileif played a menacing tune on the lute, all shrewd and loud and distorted, very unlike his usual music. The notes began to resonate within the hallway, layering over one another, the melody from moments ago reaching into the present when Leileif’s fingers had already moved on. Ice grabbed hold of Duran, cold hands from the netherworld reaching for him, his wrists, his ankles, covering his entire body in their grubby fingers, holding him in place until he was unable to do anything but grit his teeth and jerk his head.
“It was you all along,” he said.
“Do you know what irony is?” Leileif said. “Only the moleman saw it coming.” He laughed. He worked another faint strum into the tune, and an ethereal knife slid into Fop’s wrist, opening it to rivulets of blood. The bard hummed a little tune as the knife scooped up the hand and served it to him on a platter.
“Why?” Duran said. “Why did you do this?”
Leileif stepped closer, like a panther on the prowl, his smile intensifying with each step until it his teeth threatened to engulf his entire face, loop back around and eat themselves up. The sound of his lute grew louder, unbearably aggressive. He leaned in to Duran, looked him deep in the eye, still smiling, leaning further in, closer and closer, and then he whispered:
“I. Hate. People.”
Duran caved in the bard’s head with an earth-shattering headbutt. Leileif stumbled back. He
The music still hung in the air long after his death.
The icy hands let go, but Duran just stood there, looking at his slaughtered teammates for many moments. Finally, he moved. He collected the hands. He didn’t chop off Leileif’s. Instead he dragged the body all the way to the door lock. He would bury everyone. Properly. But right now, he had to finish this. Finish the dungeon and leave. It drove him mad. The stench of blood; the resonance of Leileif’s lute poisoning the air. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t just imagine that last part.
In the next room, there was a simple treasure chest in the middle. Inside was only a note.
if you have reached this chest, you have indeed proven yourself capable of the greatest extent of teamwork. As such, I can only commend you on finding my treasure – one you have proven to have always had within you. Of course, I am talking about friendship.”
Duran lowered the paper. He looked back out into the hallway, where the walls were red with the blood of his comrades.
There was one more note at the bottom.
“That, or you slaughtered all your teammates and used their chopped-off hands to open this door. But you’re no psycho, right? Right?”
The walk back outside was long. Duran carried the bodies one at a time.
|# ? Jul 12, 2015 23:40|
Our Immortal Master's Divine Fetus 1497 Words.
Our immortal master lay sprawled on the forest floor, his divine head punctured with a pickaxe.
“What happened?” I asked Jenk.
Jenk rubbed his bruised arm, and some blood dripped down his face. “They caught me off guard. Killed the Master before I could draw my sword.”
“And you didn’t kill a single one?”
He shook his head.
“So they brutally murdered Master Ganura, hit you ever so gently, and just left? What kind of bodyslave lives when his master dies?” I asked.
“Drop it, Yera,” Jenk said, “you was getting your beauty sleep while they beat me up. Guess they was too busy looting the master to finish me off.”
I didn’t trust Jenk, but maybe it was better that Ganura was dead. The dreams had nearly taken him over.
Baldgleich stumbled out of his tent and looked down at the corpse, biting his lip. His fat face looked like an oversized mango, and Jenk and I both glared at him, knowing what he’d say.
“I have to bring him back,” Baldgleich said.
“You don’t,” Jenk said, “he’s dead, so he’s not our master no more.”
“Ganura will never die,” Baldgleich said.
“We could kill you,” I said to Baldgleich. I pressed my body into his back and held my dagger up to his soft neck. His folds of fat spilled over the cool metal, but I didn’t draw blood.
“You’re indentured,” he said, raising his eyes to me, unafraid, “and your contract’s almost up, why risk breaking it now? And Jenk, you already know what happens to bodyslaves whose masters die.”
I gritted my teeth and let go of Baldgleich. He was right.
Jenk grabbed his own sword, but I put my hand on his wrist and said in a low whisper, “Ganura is reasonable. He’ll forgive you, as long as it wasn’t you who killed him.”
He squeezed his sword until his knuckles whitened, and he said, “I didn’t do it.”
“Even if you did,” I said, “he won’t remember what happened. If you run, we’re surrounded by slavers, you’ll just get caught and sold again.”
“Fine,” Jenk said, loud enough for Baldgleich to hear. “This gonna make his dreams even worse though, ain’t it?”
“Yes,” Baldgleich said, “but we can travel for a day while he gestates, and, um, it feels sacrilegious to say so, but he’ll be conveniently easy to carry after he’s reborn. Though he'll grow fast.”
“Get on with it,” I said to Baldgleich, poking him with the hilt of my dagger.
Baldgleich opened his mouth as if forcing a yawn. He opened and shut his mouth several times, then gave up and slammed the side of his jaw with his meaty fist.
“My God,” I said, “this is your one job. This is why you eat even more than our master, and you can’t even unhinge your jaw?”
Jenk drew his sword and slammed the butt into Baldgleich’s face. His jaw cracked open and hung limp.
“Annkkuuu,” Baldgleich muttered, his tongue writing along his soft palate like an engorged worm.
I looked away, disgusted.
I tried to take stock of my potions and poisons, but the sounds from Baldgleich were too distracting.
Against my best judgement, I snuck a look at Baldgleich, and I saw Ganura’s pale white face and dead eyes hanging slack out of Baldgleich’s throat, our divine master’s legs and torso already consumed. Ganura’s arms writhed back and forth out of Baldgleich’s throat, like overcooked noodles escaping the pot. I looked away just as fast, but the wet crunching sounds took on new meaning, and I couldn’t unsee what the sounds implied.
“We need to move faster,” I said.
We couldn’t even see the ziggurat over the horizon, which meant we were more than a full day’s walk.
Jenk slapped Baldgleich’s shins with the flat of his sword. “Fasta’! You ‘erd the lady!
Baldgleich’s waddles sped up, but his face turned red, and sweat dripped down his face in thick sheets.
I looked down at Baldgleich’s gut. It was big, but not nearly as big as Ganura’s corpse had been. “Is he really that heavy?”
“It’s not the weight,” Baldgleich said, “most of my energy is being used up to rebuild him.”
Jenk turned to me and said, “You’re lucky you missed it last night, when fatty ‘ere blasted all the extra parts out, and I don’t mean outta his mouth. Never thought I’d see any part of our holy master lookin’ like what I see in my chamber pot after I eat bad meat.”
Baldgleich stopped walking. “How can you disrespect him like that? It’s blasphemous.”
Jenk spat, “I don’t got no fancy contract, and I don’t get to eat all the best food. He ain’t never done nothing special for me, I’m just his slave.”
“Would you really want to trade places with Baldgleich?” I asked.
Jenk grunted and walked ahead of us.
A puff of dirt shot up, and I saw an arrow in the ground by Jenk’s foot. Jenk dove and rolled behind a tree just as another arrow whizzed by.
I got a running start, then tackled Baldgleich down into the thick foliage.
“Oops!” A voice shouted out from in front of Jenk. “I almost hit ya! Did ya burn ‘em?”
“No,” Jenk yelled from behind the tree, “The kaumancer ate ‘em.”
“Which side are you on?” I yelled out to Jenk.
He looked back at me, his brow furrowed and mouth hanging open.
I got on my knees just long enough to toss a throwing knife at Jenk. It pinned his sleeve to the tree, and I raised another one. “Which side?” I asked.
“Ah, I’m on your side!” he said, tearing his sleeve off. “There’s four of ‘em, assassins hired to kill Ganura, but only two are up front. Other two are probably circling around.”
“Guard the front,” I said, “I’ll watch Baldgleich.”
Baldgleich cowered in the dead leaves, and I led us, crawling, to a tree. An arrow sunk into the ground a few feet from us, but I finally got the tree between Baldgleich and the archer. Jenk--assuming I could trust him--could cover our backs. All I had to do was look forward and stop whoever came for Baldgleich.
“He’s coming,” Baldgleich said. “Ganura!”
He wailed and gripped his stomach.
“You’re giving away our position!” I slapped my hand over his mouth.
“It must be the stress,” Baldgleich said, his voice muffled from behind my hand, “he’s coming out early.”
I saw a man with a big hammer rush behind a tree in front of us.
“Cut my stomach open,” Baldgleich said.
“Where?” I asked, lifting his robes and readying the dagger. The assassin would be on us in moments.
Baldgleich ran a line with his finger across his lower stomach, and without hesitation I slit it open. Before the cut was done, I was already up on my feet, and the assassin was taking his last steps toward us.
I darted to the assassin’s side, drawing him away from Baldgleich. He could still ignore me and crush Baldgleich and our divine master’s fetus, but he knew he’d leave his back exposed, and that I’d kill him.
He faced me and swung. He missed, but the air from his hammer blew into my eyes and ears as I rolled away.
I threw my last knife up at him, but it missed his neck and sunk into the thick leather on his shoulder.
He rushed me before I could stand and kicked me into a tree, pinning me with his boot, and despite all air rushing out of my lungs, I jammed my dagger into his side. I held the dagger in him and twisted, and then I heard his hammer slam into the tree. I could still see my hand gripping the weapon, but I couldn’t feel or move it. I looked down and saw the hammer had shattered my arm.
I waited for him to crush my head, and as my vision started to blur, I saw Baldgleich holding the divine body of Ganura, raising him up to the heavens, and despite Ganura’s infantile appearance, I saw understanding in my master’s eyes, and the assassin’s head exploded like overripe fruit just as I passed out.
My vision unblurred, and I saw Jenk standing above me.
“Where’s Ganura?” I asked.
“We made it to the ziggurat and Ganura cleansed his dreams or whatever. He let you outta your contract and even freed me, on account of me being so loyal and all.”
I looked down and saw my arm--the one I shouldn’t have had--and the skin was soft and clean. I looked at my hands, and all my old scars were gone.
Before I could ask, I realized what happened, and I threw up all over Jenk’s boots.
“That don’t even phase me no more,” he said, “not after seeing what Baldgleich did to ya.”
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 00:36|
All at Sea
Amongst a jungle of masts and rigging, two policemen were being conspicuously inconspicuous. They strolled from ship to ship, asking very loud questions that nobody wanted to answer, in hopes that anything resembling work would see them coming a mile away and find somebody else to bother.
The first was older. He used to be strong, but he’d let himself go. His moustache was the best-kept part of him; its grey tips curled upwards in a second smile. His rusted badge said Sgt Somchai Anwar 04486.
The second was younger, and a woman. Some kinda foreign, from a land where they wrote everything in little pictures. Her eyes darted from place to place, taking in her surroundings. Her badge said Rk Chen Xinling 18877. It was a little weatherbeaten, but exceptionally clean.
“Sir,” said Chen. Anwar grimaced. He knew that tremor in her voice. He knew she was gonna say something sincere, and he was gonna have to give her a few home truths vis-a-vis the less pretty realities of police work.
She took a breath. “Lovely day,” she said. She frowned, only a little.
“You were going to ask me,” said Anwar, “what this accomplishes.”
She shrugged. “Something like that,” she said.
Anwar stopped walking. “Firstly,” he said, “it gets us out of the barracks, which is good for the circulation of vital humours. Secondly, it lets the public know that the Law is out and about, which raises morale. Thirdly-”
He nodded towards the horizon. For a second, there was nothing. Then, two men appeared from the shadows on a nearby deck. Despite the muggy summer heat, they wore all black, with wide-brimmed hats covering their faces. They darted back into the shadows, and were gone.
“Thirdly,” said Anwar, “there’s mischief afoot.”
Suso wrung his hands together. He’d been doing that a lot lately, in between the running for his life. It was pathetic- the fall of the greatest Thaumachemist in the islands brought on by something so little as who he chose to love. The booth at the back of the pub was concealed, but not well enough for his liking. He stared down his hired muscle.
The man was called Canning. He was pale, with slicked-back orange hair. He was covered in scars and powder burns. He liked the sound of his own voice.
The woman, Warral, was more worrying. She had tattoos on her hands. A pair of alleycats --one white, one black-- padded around her feet. She would hum, and the cats would meow in response.
The mercenaries would share the occasional touch, or glance. More than just comrades, then. Suso didn’t personally see the appeal of women, not like that, but their love was comforting to see. “Two thousand,” he said, “for a week’s work. Passage and protection. I need to get out of the country.”
Canning took a swig of his ale. “That’s more than your bounty,” he said. “It’ll do.”
He spat in his hand and stuck it out. The ship rocked a little in the wind. The chains holding it to the rest of the fleet groaned. Suso stared at the pale hand for a moment, then bowed. Foreigners were weird.
With dread, Chen realised she recognised the two men they were following. One big, one little. The big one no doubt had a laugh that went huhuhuhuhu like cheap wine going down the drain. Xiao and Dao- Special Branch. Cops like her, if you were willing to extend the definition far enough. No badges and no oversight, but they made up for it with an endless enthusiasm for inflicting violence.
They lurked about three ships away, outside a grotty pub. Something gleamed in one of their hands- a mirror! Chen gasped as another light in the distance returned the message, then two, then five, then enough that she lost track. They were coming from all directions, and converging. “Sergeant,” she said, “I don’t mean to alarm you, but I suspect we have company.”
Anwar grunted and hefted his carbine. “Looks like work,” he said. Chen was starting to suspect that the man’s integrity worked backwards- he put all his effort into appearing like he didn’t have any. They both knew they needed to deal with the situation fast, before it spiralled out of control. There was no lost love between Special Branch and the regular coppers, but they couldn’t just arrest them. Even policemen knew you didn’t arrest policemen.
“Do you have a plan, Sir?” said Chen.
“Specials don’t like their work being disturbed,” said Anwar. He tapped his gun against the ship’s railing. “Have you got your bell?”
Pushka the black cat returned from a short trip outside, and let out a little meow. Warral’s face went stony. She hummed a little tune, then Pushka hissed in response. “Two men,” she said, “Vultures in black. At the door. Armed.”
She enquired of the cat again. It paced in circles. “We should leave,” said Warral. “Now.”
Her fingers itched. They could deal with two men, but killing a Special put you right in their crosshairs and she wasn’t being paid enough for that. Canning was already aiming his revolver at the doors.
He shook his head. “Only one way in or out. Come now lass, let’s earn our keep.” He was smiling, drat him. After a life of piracy they were both struggling to get used to civilian life, but she didn’t miss it like he did. She’d fought alongside him ten years now, but she was done fighting. She’d lost too much already; she wasn’t going to lose him. Not for some slimy Thaumachemist.
Outside, there was a lot of shouting. Somebody was ringing a bell. Clangalangalang “All’s well! All’s well!” Through cloudy windows, Warral saw two men in dark cloaks try to saunter away.
The doors swung open, and a fat man, and a small woman strolled in. Both wore deep blue police uniforms. The man held a very big gun. There was a turning of heads and a few muttered insults. “Are the public alerted as to the predicament?” said the woman.
“I do believe they are, Rookie Xinling!” said the man. Gods, it was Anwar. She paid him to not have to deal with this sort of thing. Without missing a beat, he sauntered up to their booth. “If it ain’t a pair of well-known vagabonds and their associate who I do not recognise at all one bit. My partner and I were just saying there was a writ put out to bring you two in on suspicion of harbouring a fugitive, but we have not received that writ, have we Rookie?”
“Nosir, we have not,” Chen said.
Anwar seemed to be enjoying himself very much. Warral sighed, and pulled a few gold pieces out of her pocket. This was no time for a shakedown. Anwar was the most reliable crooked copper in the city. This wasn’t like him. She stared him down, and saw a hint of panic in his eyes, hiding behind the bluster.
The shoe dropped as the pub doors came smashing down. Specials filled the room, brandishing weapons that said they were willing to consider taking people alive, but it wasn’t high on their list.
Suso stood, and pulled back his hood. Idiot. He put his hands in the air. “It’s me you’re looking for.”
“Yeah,” said Xiao. He leered. “Smart man.”
“Huhuhuhuhuhu,” said Dao. Their men spread out, guns trained on Suso. Canning was signalling something with his hands, but she wasn’t going to take her eyes off the men who would kill her in a heartbeat. She heard her husband sigh.
“You’re nicked!” said Canning. The other shoe dropped. She saw Anwar’s panic twist back into his crooked smile. He pulled out his cuffs, and for a second she thought he was going to arrest her, but he slapped them on Suso. He grabbed the man by the collar.
“Deputy Warral and Deputy Canning,” said Anwar. His eyes said just go with it. “Let’s get this criminal down to the station.”
And with that, they strolled through the crowd of Specials, out through the doors and into the humid summer air. After a half hour of walking a twisting, hard-to-follow path, Anwar took the cuffs off Suso. Warral stared at him, and he stared back.
“I owed you a drink,” said Anwar, “now you owe me two. Get lost before I decide the bounty’s worth the trouble after all.”
Chen watched them go. She sighed. “We should’ve arrested them,” she said. “They’re aiding and abetting. The regulations are very clear about this.”
Anwar shook his head. “This city’s got enough dead bodies without adding three more. Justice ain’t just about regulations, it’s about making the world a better place.”
She frowned, then nodded. She spat on her hand, then scrubbed at the dirt on her badge. It didn’t make sense, but she knew it would in time.
1500 words exactly
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 00:48|
anime was right fucked around with this message at 05:56 on Oct 27, 2015
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 01:02|
Searching for a Familiar Face - Flasher Rule: You are forbidden from including any of the standard menagerie of fantasy races. At least half your characters must be non-human.
It began as an itch, slight and steady, and slowly descending from the crown of Donovan’s happy, dreamy, head, before becoming the type searing gnaw that laps a man’s skin and drags him, screaming, from his bedlinens. Only, Donovan weren’t sleeping; this were an inn, he remembered as much, but Donovan hadn’t stopped in the Cock and Crow for food or bed, no, he were hunting a sorcerer.
“Up, up, up. Up now, thin bones.”
The sorcerer’s name were Marcellus, and rumours had that he locked himself deep within his hillside estate shortly after the death of his only son, only to emerge in a month’s time having mastered the four summoning disciplines.
“Give it a moment, Salty. The man was just swallowed up by a blueflame spell; it’s a miracle his bones aren’t fused at every joint.”
The innmaster were telling Donovan a story when the fire struck. Marcellus sought to necromance his son, but the magic failed; it ate away his mind and left him as a corrupted soul growing madder with each day. Marcellus sought to cure himself by culling the populace of Deepwater Muck to use in his desperate experimentation.
Donovan had just tipped the keeper for his helpful tale when he heard a rabblement on the distance and the kicking in of timbers in the door, but once he turned to check the sound and defend himself, the hero were blown from the entrance in a blue inferno.
“Smell smell smell bad. Bad and burned hair. Flesh.”
“Of course it smells bad. Every singular thing and person inside this room unexpectedly burst into one unified barbecue. What would you expect it to smell like? Pork pie?”
“Pork pork pork. Pork Pie?”
“Nevermind. Where’s Pup, anyway? Make sure he’s not gorging on corpses or baked apples; you know they are bad for him, lest I need to remind you of what happened last time he ate himself sick? Pup!”
“No no no remind. Puppy!”
“Hey, Salty, there’s no time for that. Lazy-bones is up.”
Two white figures stood out against the charcoal of everything. The taller were a pile of cloudy salt boulders, vaguely human shaped, yet featureless, save for crudely drawn expressions on each facet of the upmost stone: a smile, a frown, a fighting-gaze. The shorter figure, a series of white and twisted, tubers topped with green stalks, seemed to stare directly into Donovan’s being. There was something in his slatted, mud crusted eyes which commanded attention.
“Salty. Pup. Lets go! You too, Bones.”
It were true; Donovan looked down to not a strong and lean body, but the dangling bones of a living skeleton peppered with chunks of his old muscle and flesh.
“What sort of wicked vegetable are you?” Donovan asked.
“I’m an enchanted goliath mandrake, and your master, so pick up your sword and let’s go. We’ve got a sorcerer to find.”
Donovan felt the shrill voice move his bones to action. “The sword’s too heavy, sir.”
“Salty,” Tubers asked, “would you keep our new friend’s sword safe? He’s not strong enough to wield it. Not yet.”
“Stick stick stick,” The golem declared as he handed Donovan a ruined plank from the tavern’s roof before wedging Donovan’s prized bronze sword between his central rocks. “Safe safe safe for friend.”
“You heard the salt,” Tubers said, “he’ll keep the sword safe. You can use the club.”
The golem rotated his headstone to the crude smile. “Skeleton skeleton skeleton, club,” Salty announced as he lifted his gigantic fist high into the air before slamming it into the floor, “and Salty club!”
Suddenly, a shriek filled the basement.
“I guess we know where Pup is,” the mandrake said.
“Puppy!” Salty echoed.
The wolfish lizard waddled through the marching trio, occasionally flicking its black, forked tongue through the damp sewer air. Pup stopped, flicking to taste the air again before snorting three times and popping out of the chest-high water like an overboiled kettle lid and diving headfirst into the silt.
“Puppy, good,” Salty said.
“You are aware that the beast you have in your company is actually, in fact, a young basilisk and not a canine?” Donovan asked.
Ahead in the tunnel, Puppy emerged with an arm lodged in his mouth, severed from its body and clad in heavy plate, the town’s armorsmith. “Armor armor armor man!” Salty announced as he pulled the mangled limb from the lizard’s pointed mouth.
“What, oh my!” Tubers exclaimed before turning back to his skeletal companion. “Thank you for the insight! Why don’t you try to teach Salty to pronounce basilisk?”
“Basil sick!” Salty added.
“Are you aware that you are no longer, in fact, human?” Tubers asked.
“A splendid illusion, but when this charm is broken, I will boil you.”
Tubers lifted a dripping tendril; he only needed one word, “dismissed!” and the bones collapsed lifelessly.
Salty rotated his head to the angry face.
“Salty,” the mandrake said, “put that face away!” The golem shifted weight, lifting his column-like leg high enough to touch the roof of the sewer. “Put that leg down, Salty! If you hurt me, you won’t even make it back to Marcellus! That’s a promise!”
The golem’s leg crashed into the water, creating a tidal splash that filled the chamber.
Tubers emerged from the grime to face the angry sentinel.
“I drew those eyebrows on your stupid face, you salt-monster!”
Yet, Salty didn’t move, guarded on his side by Pup.
Tubers righted himself, lifting a root in the direction of the scattered bones. Moments later, Donovan was right again. “Fine,” he said.
Donovan wanted to rush the overgrown plant and crush it under his heelbone, but the magic forced him to march on.
“Look, Bones,” Tubers said, “when we find the sorcerer, we may have a fight on our hands, so let’s try to set our differences aside.”
“Aye, but I’ll not bat an eye should you perish.”
“You haven’t an eye to bat; just let Salty be big and scary, and Pup’s got enough venom to finish any man. Really, with my magic, the three of us don’t even need you.”
Donovan dragged his bones through the wastewater, “Then let your trinity go on without me. Allow me the honor of living with my ancestors in the beyond.”
The mandrake stopped to face his minion, “if your desire is strong, I should oblige it.”
But before Tubers could cast his dispel, a warm glow and the hooting and jawing of laughter invaded the tunnel, and everything was forgotten, save the eight angry men staring down the three. Donovan knew in this moment of silent confrontation that he would have to attack the group, as the mandrake’s will demanded, and it was in that calm moment of reverie, when a javelin flew from the eight, clanging against the golem’s center and falling away impotently.
As the men watched its precise flight, Pup reared his head from the murky depth to strike two in the necks. They only had enough time to call for help before the venom ate away at their heart, and as their comrades turned, swinging their blades into the brown water, Salty and Donovan, clubs raised, rushed the cluster.
While this was happening, the mandrake set his roots to grow and crawl along the tunnel bottom, binding the feet of the mob, and before Donovan could strike at even one, Salty swiped his giant arm across the bodies of the men, leaving them crushed, beaten, and, minutes later, dead.
“Bones,” Tubers demanded, “pick the bodies clean for anything useful.”
“Among the wreckage of blood and bodies, sir, there’s only one thing of note, a ninth head.”
Severed above the mandible, cheeks still warm, was the sorcerer Marcellus’ head.
Tubers stood over the dripping sack and peered inside. “Master-”
“Master?” Donovan questioned, “You mean to tell me that you have allied yourself with this man? I thought we were to cut the necro’s throat ourselves if given the chance.”
“He never once consorted with the dead. Your presence in this matter is my doing.”
Down in the tunnel, Pup snorted.
“Puppy?” Salty asked.
“That is the man that killed me!” Donovan shouted.
Salty shuffled into the darkness as the two argued.
“And he is the one that gave me life, the one to pluck my soul from the ether and teach me the four magical arts: animal, vegetable, mineral, and man, just as a father would.”
The two stood in silence.
“Are you the mage’s son?” Donovan asked.
“Does it matter?”
“Your father killed me as he fled from the families of the others he murdered.”
“And I am not him,” Tubers said, “yet I sought to give you life again as he did for me, but should you desire release then I will grant it to you.”
Somewhere within, a warning yelp and the sound of rock hammering into flesh and stone ripped through the air.
The two turned to face it.
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 01:37|
The Greatest Day
Word Count: 1496
Flash: Your party consists of exactly one weathered veteran with everyone else being novice greenhorns. The veteran cannot be brooding or jaded
Richter used Gar’s rhythmic axe sharpening to keep pace. Schink. Richter pushed off with his good leg. Schink. Gar vanquished another foe in his imagination, miles and years away from where he should be focusing. Schink. Richter tried to keep pace with his younger companions as they marched through the forest, oblivious to the fact it boiled around them. He peered around Gar’s broad body to try to catch a glimpse of their scout. He wished she didn’t go so far ahead. Parchment rustled behind him.
“Put the book away,” Richter said to Voss.
Voss scanned the last few lines of the page and shut the tome. “I need to study.”
“You can learn more from your immediate surroundings at any given moment,” Richter said, “than you can staring at a book.”
Voss glanced back and forth at the dense forest surrounding them. “You don’t understand, sir. There’s so much I don’t know.”
“You know everything you need to get through today,” Richter said. “Concentrate on what’s around you, on the magical energies and whatnot flowin’”
Voss rolled his eyes.
“Feel that breeze, Voss.”
Voss closed his eyes and walked blind down the path, letting the sound of the others’ footfalls and Gar’s incessant sharpening guide him. The air felt cool on his sweaty brow. It flowed through his loose robes. Somewhere in the distance a hawk cried. He couldn’t calculate its distance in the forest’s quiet. The sound could have traveled for miles. He opened his eyes and ran to catch up with Richter and Gar through the still wilderness.
“Gar,” Richter said, interrupting Voss.
Gar grunted. He continued sharpening his axe, schink, lost in his daydreams of retribution.
“We’ll need firewood to make camp soon,” Richter said. “What do you reckon these trees are?”
Gar’s throat emitted a deep rumble as he analyzed the surrounding foliage. “Beech.” He grunted. “Leaves ain’t movin.”
Voss pressed against Richter’s back, leaning over his shoulder. “What kind of force could freeze the trees like that, Richter? What is happening?”
Richter stared straight ahead. He gave Gar a push to keep him moving forward at the same pace they had been traveling. “Fall in line, Voss,” he said in an even tone. “Keep cool.” He whistled a blackjay’s melody. After another ten paces he whistled it again.
Richter spotted Eve in the distance squat-walking toward them, keeping low. Her dark brown skin and leaf strewn cloak would have camouflaged her had she not been moving so fast. Even crouching she moved faster than others could run, and showed it off whenever she could.
Eve did an about face in front of Gar and took up the lead. She straightened and then arched her back. “What’s up?”
“It’s nice to have our point-woman here with us,” Richter said.
“I was scouting ahead.”
“And what did you find that was so important it justified being separated from the group in dangerous territory?”
“There’s a good water source. Several sheltered spots we can make camp. Dangerous?”
“Choke points up ahead?”
Eve thought for a moment. “A river crossing. A part of the path that curves with a ditch to one side.” She looked back to Richter. “What’s going on?”
“Ambush,” Gar said, more growl than speech.
Eve peered into the forest.
“Don’t-“ Richter started.
“The trees,” Voss said.
Eve looked up.
Richter shoved Gar forward again. “Keep the pace.”
Eve stepped out of the way of Gar’s stumbling. She drew her bow. “They’re everywhere! In the treetops!”
“Where?” Voss said, taking a step back. “I can’t see them!”
Richter grabbed Voss by the shoulder. “Protection. Now.”
Voss murmured and swayed, as if in a trance. The air shimmered around the group. Rocks hurled from the treetops crashed into an invisible barrier.
Gar spit. “There.” Ape-like creatures, no longer trying to remain concealed, leapt from branch to branch flinging stones from crude slings.
Richter sat down in the flattened undergrowth of the path and stretched his right leg out. He reached for his toes and groaned.
Eve trained her nocked arrow on one attacker and then another. “Richter. Richter, what are you doing?”
“At my age, the most dangerous enemy is sometimes your own body.” He grimaced as he reached for his other foot. “I ain’t goin down on account of a tight hamstring.”
Eve rotated. “We are completely surrounded, Richter.”
Richter stabbed the dirt with his sword and pushed himself back up to his feet. “Listen up. This is the only fight there is. Don’t think about the next one or your final one or the one that people will write songs about. This is the only one that matters. Don’t think about your vengeance or your education or your rep. The enemy, the only enemy that matters right now, are in those trees. Voss-”
Voss stopped chanting, dropping the barrier. Eve loosed an arrow at an attacker. She drew another. Gar shouted and charged into the forest.
Richter ducked a rock. “No!” He dove prone. “Gar! That’s not- Voss, bring him back!”
Voss reached out and pulled back. Gar flung back to the group, landing hard in a crouch.
“Eve!” Richter shouted. “They’re pawns! Save your arrows!”
Eve froze mid draw.
“Voss! Reveal whatever traps are in there.”
Voss shook his head. “I don’t, I don’t think I know that . . . .”
Eve somersaulted forward then rolled back, dodging missiles.
A rock caught Gar in the small of the back below his armor. He gritted his teeth and spun around, preparing to charge again.
“You know it, or something like it, Voss.”
Voss closed his eyes. He muttered one phrase after another. Beads of sweat formed on his creased forehead. Something popped at the tree line. Wood snapped. Voss put up another barrier. Splintered traps erupted all around, peppering the assailants with wooden shrapnel. Ape-men rained from the branches. The survivors scampered away.
A great gray ape charged out of the woods and bared its fangs. It raised a long bone-strewn staff and howled in anger.
“Gar, with me.” Richter said, trotting forward. “Eve, disarm him, please.”
Voss dropped his protective barrier, allowing two of Eve’s arrows to pass. They caught the gray ape in its exposed forearms. It dropped its staff and roared. Gar charged past Richter straight for the enemy. Richter dove for the staff.
Gar raised his axe. The gray ape grabbed Gar’s wrists. The two strained against each other. Richter rolled out of the way as the two behemoths stomped back and forth. The ape bit into Gar’s shoulder. Gar head-butted it in the side of its face.
Richter scrambled to his feet and ran back to Eve and Voss. He called back over his shoulder to Gar, “There’s no honor to be won in this fight.”
Gar kneed the ape in the crotch. Its legs buckled. He brought his elbow down on the creature’s neck, loosening its grip on him. Gar thrust his axe up and back down again.
Richter dropped the staff at Voss’s feet.
The young mage knelt and examined the gnarled thing. “We should burn it. There are many deaths connected to this weapon.”
Richter sucked in air. “Sounds good to me.”
Eve rotated in circles, her bow drawn, an arrow nocked.
Richter sat down. “They gone?”
“As far as I can see,” she said.
He laid flat on his back. “Take a rest then will you?”
She crouched by his side. “Are you injured? I spotted May Weed down the path, I can fetch some.”
“I said take it easy.”
Gar loomed over Richter. His massive head partially and then fully eclipsed the setting sun.
“That’s great, stay right there,” Richter said. “Sorry about that rough landing earlier. That was on me for not being clearer.”
Gar grunted. “Will the Heretic feel this?”
“Naw,” Richter said. “This lot was probably independent. Bandits. Local outfit.”
Gar snorted. He stared at his axe.
“We did a good thing today,” Richter said. “Who knows how many travelers this will help, how many lives we avenged.”
“I think,” Voss said, “I figured out what they used to freeze the trees like that,”
Richter plucked a handful of grass. He tossed the torn blades toward Voss. “Good. Try to replicate it.”
Voss twirled a piece of grass between his thumb and finger, whispering at it. He blew on it, causing it to shake. He tried something different.
“It’s going to be a clear night,” Eve said, watching the sun set.
Richter got to his feet with a groan. “And tomorrow?”
“Too soon to tell. Come, let’s find shelter for tonight.” She stayed close as she led her party down the forest path in the dimming evening light.
Richter took up the rear, following his charges into the unknown, only focusing on the imminent. There was nothing waiting for Richter up ahead. No family. No glory. Only these three, today.
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 01:43|
The party bard parties hard. Everyone else is varying degrees of done with him.
Thomas considered himself a man well traveled, but even he stood awestruck at the sight of the Forgotten City sprawling on for miles at the base of the hill. Towers, homes and stores alike shimmered beneath the sun, the faint remains of ancient magic clinging to the bleached white weavestone. Already a song formed at Thomas’s lips to mark the occasion, something snappy - city ditty tragic magic- instead, he rummaged in his mind for something more informative.
“They, uh, they say the Forgotten City is named because of the protections placed on it by wizards. Wards. An invisibility field wrapped around it. Traps! Should - do we really want to mess with a city half the size of the... capital?"
Thomas frowned, his words tapering off and his shoulders slumping at the familiar realization that nobody was listening. Nobody cared. How many times was he going to go through the same little song and dance? Bel'Vas, at least, showed the kindness to pause, antennae bouncing with every brisk step of all six legs.
“A no-see field of such size would be almost, but not entirely impossible, Master Thomas, we have been over this repeatedly! Just as we discussed most traps and wards would have expired by now,” Bel'vas explained, mandibles clicking in his effort to handle the common tongue. His oversized hat almost fell from his head as he rose up on his back legs, reaching with the top pair to force it down. “And pause for a moment, think! The knowledge such weavers of magic must have left behind if they could work such. Just the thought - oh! Come, or we will be late!"
Thomas blinked, watching the strange little wizard dart and scurry his way down the hill with a renewed burst of speed. Sighing deeply, and with a rub of his throbbing forehead, Thomas checked his gear one final time and hurried to catch up.
Bartholomew swung his blade, a harsh cry of triumph escaping him as the steel found its mark. The broadsword cut cleanly through the body of the enormous toad, then moved to deliver a backswing right into the neck of its goblin jockey. Two shards of earth whizzed by Bart's face, finding their marks in the charging ogres, nailing one straight through the heart and in the right eye of the second. Bart raised his blade to charge, but barely got two steps - the last of the overwhelmed ogres stumbling, grasping at wounds that seemed to come from nowhere. Their suffering was brief, throats slit by daggers flickering back into view along with their owner.
“Barty, if you keep on throwing yourself at everything that moves, I’m not gonna be the one to save you if you throw yourself right into a trap,” Cele lied, shooting the mass of armor and weaponry a lingering look. Her fingers traded blooded blades for a torch, wasting little time in providing further illumination to the dim, yet surprisingly clean great hall.
"Yet you come a'running to save me when I stumble right into one, don'tcha?" Bart flashed her a wink. "Besides. I can't help being so jumpy. Something about this place rubs me the wrong way. Magic. Ghosts. Pixies. One for three and you know one of the other two ain't far behind, sweets. Stupid - tears between realatees."
"Re-al-i-ties," clicked from the room's shadows.
"Three things, Bart, and just to let you know: the first is to never call me 'sweets' again."
"Shoot, sw— Cele."
"Two is a two-for-one: this city isn't haunted by anything worse than the stench of ogres and pixies don't exist. Thomas just made 'em up for his stories."
Cele paused, beginning to trace her gloved hand along the walls. It drew back with barely a hint of dust clinging to the leather, a detail eliciting a quiet 'hummh' of consideration. Bart cleared his throat behind her.
"Sorry. Three, I really think you should go talk to Thomas. Have you noticed him being drunk all the time these days?"
"No. Why do you suddenly care about Tom? Are you - did he do something while drunk?" Bart said.
"For - look. This isn't the first time I've asked you. And no, Thomas would never do something like that. If you don't believe me - Bel?"
"Master Thomas is exhibiting behavior typically indicative of what is commonly known as an alcoholic. It disrupts our—"
"Thank you, Bel'Vas. Look, are you the group's mother, now, Cel? Worried for little Tom? Tom is fine, an adult and he can take care of himself."
"Bart! Listen. We watch everyone's backs. That's how this works, that's how it's always worked. If Thomas can't keep himself sober..."
"Fine, fine, save me the speech, both of you." Bartholomew sighed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "I'll do it. Was there anything else you both wanted to pile on to me about, or is it just our drunken bard?"
A sharp click rang out, followed by several quick taps against stone. Perking up, Celes hurried along the wall to where Bel'Vas indicated, digging her fingers into the stone. With a grunt of effort it came free, her arm reaching into the hiding place.
"Yeah. Four." The fat purse of coins jangled with every shake, a smile on the woman's lips. "Payday."
Camp duty was boring, but Thomas pulled the short straw, that much
Sentinel duty was worse. Sentinel duty was belittling.
Bart considered himself above sentinel duty.
Bel'Vas viewed himself too valuable to leave alone and always bugged out at the suggestion. (Thomas continued to find such a joke amusing to no end.)
Cele volunteered on occasions, but Thomas knew is ability to strike unerringly from a distance provided an advantage. It still didn't make the duty of being forced away from the rest of the party any easier. Where was the glory, the thrill? Even cleaning out the inn that could serve as their camp - a dozen goblins and one runty ogre - seemed to only further serve as a reminder of his inadequacy.
Demons. Now there were some worthwhile opponents. Strumming his lyre with one hand, his other fought a losing battle against such familiar demons as he refilled his flagon. A stray thought gave him pause, however, ceasing his strumming to listen to the sound of ale filling his mug for several quiet seconds.
Giggling, snorting, Thomas resumed his playing, the air beginning to shimmer around his lyre.
"I told you so! This place is haunted! Tom! TOM!" Bart yelled above the dull roar of constant, idle chatter.
Groaning, Cele held her head in her hands, trying her hardest to ignore their fearless leader. Bel'Vas, meanwhile, chirped with disapproval, waving his legs through the so-called ghosts. The chatty phantoms seemed to pay him no heed. Men and women alike continued to play out the strange tavern scene, drinking and laughing and arguing. "Ghosts do not fizzle when touched. We do not believe these to be spirits, do we? Simple illusions."
"Come on. Bart, check the basement, Bel, upstairs. We find Thomas, we leave. I think you were right, Bart, this place is off."
"You, uh, you know, I tried to tell you all that," came a familiar voice from the other room. Stumbling, a drink in both his hands and his bow around his neck, Thomas almost fell right onto Bel'Vas in a failed attempt to swerve around one of the illusions. Cele and Bel rushed forward to support their friend while Bart kept a tense hand on the pommel of his blade.
"We better get out of here, Barty! You know, you know, if they weren't on the way now, they are now! All my - all my new friends know about it!" Thomas gestured to the flickering illusions.
"Thomas, you're talking nonsense. Come on, let's get him out of here, Bart. Bart?"
"They? Who are they, Tom?"
"Making this whole - this whole place invisible would cause a stir every time some idiots - like us, or explorers - also like us! - bumped into this place. No, no, no!" Laughing nervously, the twisted grin that was spreading on Thomas's face was enough to make Bart draw. Moments later, the illusions began to wink out of existence, one by one.
"They wrapped it in a bubble, a time bubble! For the whole - the whole city. So tidy, barely any dust, weak monsters, and, guess what? Perfectly good magic-detecting wards!" By then, the nervousness was gone and Thomas seemed almost crazed in his laughing.
"And every single one of my poor, poor departed friends required a casting of an - an illusion. If they didn't know we were here before, they sure know now!"
Thomas kept laughing. Laughing as the realization crept into the party's faces, laughing as Bel'Vas' teleportation failed to go off, laughing as something roared far, far off in the distance. He laughed all the way out of the city, cursed every step of the way by the warrior that bore him on his back.
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 01:55|
Dancing the Dorado Run
Djeser fucked around with this message at 05:38 on Jan 1, 2016
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:02|
Four of Five Come Down Vesh Mountain, Carrying with them Divine-Ordained Change
“We chose the wrong boon,” said Lyssa, not for the first time since the descent of Vesh Mountain began.
“Enough,” whispered Cail.
“We all know full well what Pylus himself would have chosen,” said Father Gelm. “It's the same decision he made when he faced down the Nethermen. The same decision we all made when we set off for Temple Vesh in the first place.”
“I'm not saying I disagree with you,” said Loris. “But, I mean, what kind of God is it who'd make us make that decision at all?”
“Enough,” said Cail.
“I mean,” continued Loris, “Closing the Netherportal was an all around good thing, right? Shouldn't a God of good just want to do that without even being asked?”
“The pixkin's right, for once,” said Lyssa. “If we'd taken the Ressurection Seed and He'd left the Netherportal open, the consequences would have been on Him.”
“It's not nearly that simple,” said Father Gelm.
“That's why I'm glad that my people worship trees,” said Loris. “You know where you stand with a tree. Keep it watered and fertilized and it'll shade you from the sun and give you places to hide. And the occasional apple or walnut on top of that. A tree doesn't force you to make hard choices, or force you to run errands for it afterward for that matter.”
“Enough!” shouted Cail. “Lyssa, you know full well that Pylus would never have forgiven us if we had made the other choice. Not me, not you, not even himself. That's a burden he'd have been unable to live with, not for long. Before long he'd have died in despair, rather than what can unmistakably be called a state of perfect grace.”
“I didn't think that you-” said Father Gelm.
“Being shut out of the afterlife doesn't make me unable to appreciate its value,” said Cail. “If anything, I understand it better than most. Pylus lived a full life as a soldier and a hero-”
“But never as husband,” said Lyssa. “Or a father.”
“Wait,” said Loris, “Are you saying-”
“I'm going to scout ahead,” said Lyssa, adjusting her pace from the group's slow march to a graceful walk that covered ground faster than most people could at a run, all the while keeping her concealed behind each piece of cover on the mountain trail.
“That was less than kind, Cail,” said Father Gelm.
“We Soulless are not exactly known for our kindness, Father.” said Cail. “It was necessary. Even with the Netherportal closed, we are not yet out of danger. God would not have chosen a group such as ours to deliver this scepter if the task were as easy as a walk through the wilderness.”
- - -
The first ambush came a bit more than halfway down the Mountain. It was a very polite ambush, as such things go. The leader, a Demigiant, flanked by Spartoi bodyguards, stood directly in their path. “I bring you a fair offer on behalf of the Great Dragon Kytherax,” he said. “Turn over the Jubilee Scepter and live. Or refuse,” he continued, pausing to gesture up and behind them, where two Lightning Drake circled in the sky and half a dozen skeletal archers stood with bows drawn on a ledge above and to the right of them. “And die.”
There was no debate. There would likely not have been any even without the compulsion of the divine quest. Cail cast two spells at once, bringing an invisible shield up above them with his left hand and causing a blinding flash directly in the eyes of the Spartolos with his right. Lyssa charged the Spartolos on the left, sword and dagger drawn. Father Gelm began a chant while Loris vanished from sight.
The first set of arrows bounced off Cail's shield and fell off the cliff face on the opposite side of the archers, just as the twin warrior angels summoned by Father Gelm's ritual struck the drakes with their fiery spears. The Demigiant swung its massive spiked club down, breaking through the invisible shield and shattering it with a force that Cail felt as a spike of pain. The club struck the ground, burying its spike in the dirt. Cail manifested crackling bolts of energy in each hand and launched them both at the Spartolos on the right, taking enough pressure off Lyssa that she was able to drive her dagger through a gap in the creature's scaly skin and into its heart. It disintegrated into light ash, leaving behind only the dragon tooth from which it had originally sprouted.
Loris struck the skeleton archers from behind, shattering vertebrae with his Faestick, which, when not being used as a spearthrower made a more than serviceable club. Three of the archers were separated from their skulls and taken out of the fight before the remaining ones could attack.
Father Gelm dropped his book, the chain keeping it close to hand, and drew his warhammer. The priest rushed forward, climbing up the Demigiant's club and arm as if they were a ramp and swinging the hammer directly at its massive head. It lost its grip on the club as it tried to grab Father Gelm and throw him off, but the priest jumped from shoulder to shoulder, landing the occasional blow to the head and dodging each attempted punch.
The angels grabbed the drakes by their heads and snapped their necks, perfectly synchronized, then flew upward, back toward the heavens. Loris swept the legs of the remaining skeletons with his Faestick, disabling them, and then finished them off with skull-crushing downstrikes. Lyssa knocked the second Spartalos off balance and Cail's next set of bolt struck it squarely in the head, reducing it to ash and tooth just like the first. The Demigiant appeared to consider surrender or retreat in the face of the loss of his followers, but instead roared defiance, finally catching Father Gelm. It threw the priest directly at Cail, knocking both backwards toward the cliff. Father Gelm grabbed hold of an outcropping rock, and Cail clung to the priest's leg as they dangled off the cliff.
Lyssa faced the Demigiant, backing the huge beast off with threatened strikes to its kneecaps, neither of the two able to land any kind of telling blow. Then a spearpoint crackling with lightning burst through the Demigiant's neck and it fell, revealing behind it Loris, standing triumphantly on the ledge above, Faestick in hand.
- - -
“So,” said Father Gelm after camp was set up,” What have we learned?”
“That the Great Dragon Kytherax is our enemy,” said Lyssa.
“One of our enemies,” said Cail. “What else?”
“That the thing we're carrying is called the Jubilee Scepter,” said Father Gelm.
“What's a Jubilee?” said Lyssa.
“I know!” said Loris. “It's a giant slime demon, right? Or maybe some kind of fruit? Or a party?”
“The party is closest,” said Cail. “But that's not nearly the whole of it. Father?”
“I admit I'm less knowledgeable than you on matters historical,” said Father Gelm. “The last one was, what, six hundred years ago?”
“Seven hundred and forty. The Jubilee, which will occur when we put the scepter on the altar at the Temple in Kyros, is a time of universal forgiveness. All standing debts are canceled, along with prison sentences, contracts for bondservants and apprentices. Also all marriages, although most of those are renewed in the month-long celebration that follows.”
“Why would a great dragon want to stop that?” said Loris.
“Great dragons are well known for their piles of treasure,” said Father Gelm. “Maybe this one has used his to start a bank.”
“No doubt,” said Lyssa. “And just about every banker, dragon or otherwise between us an Kyros will do whatever they can to stop us.”
“Indeed,” said Cail. “Which brings up another eventuality.”
“Go on,” said Father Gelm.
“The Great Dragon has access to powerful magic, anything money can buy and much beyond. It was somehow able to know our quest nearly as soon as God charged us with it. It's not impossible that it, or some other among our list of enemies, could come by a Resurrection Seed. And a Geasbreaker as well, of course.”
“Are you even suggesting..” said Lyssa. “No. Not in a million years, not even for that.”
“You know,” said Loris, “I bet Pylus would have loved this whole Jubilee thing. Maybe even more than closing the Netherportal.”
Lyssa's scowl deepened for a second, then broke into the first smile she'd worn in weeks. “He would have, wouldn't he. I can almost see the look on his face.”
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:10|
Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 19:27 on Dec 30, 2015
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:21|
No Other Way
(In the archive)
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:35 on Dec 28, 2015
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:26|
Temple of Glass
Prompt: High Fantasy with no cursing
Lucille Marcia Mourir stood in the sunshine, smiling as she let it soak through her violet robes into her wan form. She was careful not to look at the bright rays, nor did she push back the hood of her robe, though she longed to do both -- she was always cold, even in the warmth of spring, but she knew well what the sun could do to an unprotected albino.
"Lucy! C'mon, we're goin! Yeh donnae want to be left behind, do ye?" A woman's voice, tart and sweet with a heavy brogue drifted to her from ahead like a warm, soothing wind. The voice belonged to a tall, beautiful woman in the white hooded cloak of a priestess, and a green tunic and leggings. Her lips were curved into a faint, warm smile.
"Coming, Jo!" Lucy lifted her satchel and trod up to the rest, panting even under that slight burden. Lucy wasn't a strong woman, but she didn't want to appear weak in front of the others. Her condition was embarrassing enough.
"Oi, lemme have that," said one of the others, a man in tattered, poorly mended clothing and thick, smoked glasses. He grabbed Lucy's pack and hefted it without the faintest effort despite the huge and ungainly pack he carried as well. He was also albino, and with the exception of his face, every inch of bare skin was heavily bandaged, though he was apparently uninjured. "Ain't gonna let a lady strain herself in this heat. 'Snot proper."
"You're embarrassing the poor woman, Kreed," said Nikev, a lightly built man dressed in rich clothing. Despite traveling for weeks, his clothing was immaculate and he looked freshly scrubbed. Indeed, he'd obsessively washed himself and everything he had with him at every body of water larger than a puddle they'd come across after they'd refilled their waterskins. He also carried an oversized pack; it clattered and clanked.
Despite Nikev's obsessive-compulsive tendencies, the group put up with him. He was wealthy for one, and he paid the group handsomely to come with him on his journey. He was also a genius, having made great advances in the fields of alchemy and mechanical engineering -- his clockwork devices were marvels to behold, and his experiments with steam engines were getting some serious looks from leading scholars all over the continent.
The last member of the band was silent. He was a giant of a man, clad in black leather armor inlaid with ivory, but he carried no weapons. But his casual stance and calm, predatory smirk hinted that he might not need them. Lucy shivered when she looked at him; he reminded her of her late father's undead guardian Dumont, but somehow less human. He looked at her and winked.
Lucy was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she tripped over one of the stones sticking out of the rocky plain and came down hard, crying out as she landed on a jutting stone at an awkward angle.
Josephine was at her side in an instant, followed by Kreed. Nikev kept a respectful distance, while the black armored man merely shook his head in sad amusement.
"Does it hurt when I do this?" Josephine's voice was gentle as she carefully manipulated Lucy's injured arm. Lucy winced, but shook her head.
Kreed carefully got Lucy to her feet and dusted her off.
"There we are, good as new," he said, kindly. "I'll hold onto your things, they ain't heavy."
They continued onward over the rocky plain toward the huge ruin at the foot of the mountain. Walls of natural stone surrounded it, leaving only a narrow pass to enter the ruined temple.
"No wonder the place was abandoned," Nikev said dismissively as they approached. "The mountain provides solid protection, but unless there are underground water reservoirs and hidden escape routes, the place is simply indefensible."
"This place wasn't a fortress," said the huge man in black leather armor, speaking for the first time since Lucy had been among them. His voice was the rumble that preceded an avalanche. "It was a temple. A place of power. What we seek waits within."
They entered through the ruined double-doors into the mildew-scented darkness. Kreed removed his glove and bandages from one arm and placed a scarred hand on a torch, which burst into flame. He pulled his hand back and blew out the flames that licked his fingers, then replaced the bandages and glove.
"Pyrokinesis," he beamed proudly as Lucy gaped. "Us plague-touched usually get some nice little talent, yeah?"
Lucy looked away, abashed. She didn't like discussing the plague that robbed her of her mother and left her pale and weak and sick. Kreed rested a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"It'll be all right, luv. C'mon, the others are ahead already."
Nikev held his own torch high and frowned.
"No," he said under his breath. "This can't be it. This is supposed to be the Temple of Glass. But the map-"
"-didn't lie," the man in black finished. "It is here, but it isn't here. It must be awakened."
"How might one 'awaken' a temple, pray tell?" Nikev said, gesturing with the torch. "Shall I ring a bell? Prepare it some breakfast? Come on, out with it!"
"Patience," the man in black growled, displaying a substantial amount of it himself. He turned to Josephine and nodded curtly. "If you would be so kind?"
Josephine nodded back, then walked to a wall and placed a hand upon the rough, water-stained surface. She closed her eyes and began to sing under her breath, the notes high and breathy, the ghosts of syllables dancing in that wordless tune. Lucy felt the hairs of her neck stand on end as she felt power rise to Josephine's call.
The man in black snarled and crouched, baring long fangs. His huge hands clenched and unclenched. "The temple awakens! Prepare yourselves, laggards!"
The stones rumbled beneath their feet as the air lightened. The stink of mildew and age gave way to the scent of ice, and the surroundings chipped and flaked away to reveal the bizarre reality beneath the facade of age and ruin.
Nikev took in a sharp breath, his eyes wide. He dropped his torch into the multicolored abyss below -- he no longer had need for it. He readied his hand crossbow and clenched his teeth.
"We're coming, dad," he murmured to himself, wild-eyed. "We'll get you out of here. I swear it."
Lucy had no idea what a "fractal" was, but if someone sat and calmly explained the concept to her she would have paused and said the temple was formed of them.
They were surrounded by jutting staircases and platforms at bizarre mathematically precise angles spiraling about them in infinitely repeating patterns. The area had been known as the Temple of Glass in legends, but in truth, the glistening surfaces resembled glass only in that it was hard and smooth and faintly transparent. In truth, they resembles slices of hardened color assembled by a hand more meticulous than the human mind could conceive, and with the exception of the man in black, the party was dizzied by the beautiful, incomprehensible array.
"Your fool of a father sought this place to understand its mysteries," the man in black snarled, looking about with contempt at the mesmerizing display. "He failed to understand the power of the seat of the creator -- a seat long abandoned."
"I donnae believe it," Josephine breathed, glistening emerald eyes drinking in the impossible beauty. "The power here... by the gods, 'tis overwhelmin'!"
Lucy froze in place as she felt something shift close by -- or far away. Distance meant nothing in this bizarre place. It felt like a snake slithering by her foot.
"Down," she whispered. "Get down now!"
The group dropped to their stomachs as hundreds of razor-edged panes flew into the air above them, flowing and folding into countless polygons which arranged themselves into the shape of a man. Nikev and Kreed gasped as they looked at the face.
"Dad?" Nikev's voice was soft, breathless.
It nodded, then looked at the group curiously, tilting its head. There was a sound like a finger gently stroking the edge of a wine glass, but it was deafening. The man in black stood and snarled. "The creator left this place to me, Nikolai! I led your son here -- leave this place and I might forget your usurpation!"
Nikolai let out a long, keening cry and dove toward the man and black, and they wrestled with one another. Tendrils of living shadow wreathed the man in black as his shape grew less distinct, and soon the party found themselves staring at a huge, shadowy phantom with two malevolent yellow pinpricks for eyes. The patterns all around them began to crack and warp as darkness flowed about them.
"Gods help us, the Temple's collapsing!" Josephine grabbed Lucy and shook her. "Get us out of here, lass!"
"I don't know-" Lucy stammered.
"The words," Josephine pleaded. "Sing the words!"
As Lucy tried to protest, Josephine's song came back to her, but when she tried to sing it the words came out backward, distorted. The surroundings faded.
"Dad! No!" Nikev ran toward the still-struggling figures, but was restrained by Kreed.
"He's gone -- they both are, mate!"
Reality asserted itself with the stench of mildew and the feel of crumbling stone, and Nikev fell to his knees.
"We lost him," Nikev sobbed. "My god, we lost him!"
Josephine released Lucy and knelt beside Nikev, taking his hand into both of her own.
"It's all right," she said tenderly as she wiped tears from his cheeks. "He got what he desired in the end -- he learned what he wanted, though it cost him. And yeh survived."
"We all did," Kreed said softly. "Close, though."
Lucy was quiet for a while, then she asked, "What do we do now?"
Nikev looked up at her, his expression turning thoughtful. "Now? I suppose we keep going."
"Keep going? To where?" Lucy frowned.
Kreed grinned as he got Nikev's meaning. "I dunno, but I figure we'll know when we get there."
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:32|
Waiting for Gu’Dul, 1258 words
For the third time today, Isa rattled the bar of their cage and searched for a weak point. For the 15th time since they had been captured, the young wizard sighed in defeat.
“It’s no use,” muttered Thrun. The dwarf was trying to nap in the corner. “You’re just making noise at this point.”
Isa turned to glare at him. “I don’t see you doing anything! Didn’t you brag about getting into or out of anywhere? Some thief you turned out to be!”
“Treasurer Hunter,” Thrun replied sharply. “And I said ALMOST anywhere. But goblins make very solid locks. Even if the look a bit… ramshackle.”
“So what!” Isa stomped her foot. “You should still be doing something!”
“I’m waiting for Gu’dul to get back with help. Conjure up some arcane fire and melt a hole if you’re in such a hurry.”
“Isa, come here,” interrupted Antona before Isa could release a stream of obscenities. “Practice your sword work with me.”
“But!” Isa caught the wooden sword Antona had thrown to her, and managed to parry the elf’s swing.
“Watch my torso, not my arms,” chided Antona as she swung again. “Parry away, not towards.”
“BUT!” Isa sputtered as the strong practiced blows wore her down.
“Watch your feet, dear. Strong stance!” Thrun said from his corner.
“Hush, dwarf,” Antona turned to glare at him. “Her feet are fine.”
“For falling over,” muttered Thrun.
“But I’m a wizard!” screamed Isa, throwing her sword down and stomping her foot. “I’m not suppose to be good at sword fighting!”
The three prisoners turned to stare at the goblin herald just outside their cage.
“The Goblin King is preoccupied with the kobold tribes to the south, and is too busy today. As such, your trial has been postponed til tomorrow. The Goblin King ordered me to convey his apologies.”
“Oh, don’t bother yourself on our account,” Thrun said graciously. “We’re in no hurry.”
Antona blinked the sleep from her eyes. Bits and pieces of the dream flitted through her mind. It was foggy now, but she remembered being a she-wolf. Gu’dul had been there as well, transformed into a strong and handsome alpha. The elf chuckled to herself - the only time she found the orc handsome, he had been on four legs and covered with fur.
Isa had been snuggled between her and Thrun. Antona looked down at her matronly. Humans always looked awkward and vulnerable to the elf warrior, but Isa especially so. Like a puppy, really.
Isa stirred awake, and gave out a powerful yawn. “I just had the strangest dream about Gu’dul.”
“You and him were wolves in the forest?” Antona asked.
“How did you know?”
“It’s too early for chittering and chattering,” grumbled Thrun. “Lemme sleep!”
“Our execution is today.Are you going to spend it sleeping?” Isa asked.
“Our execution was last Thor’s Day, and the Freya’s Day before that.” Thrun sat up now and started combing the straw from his beard. “Let me tell you the best part about dealing with goblins. Everything is an emergency, or something you can deal with later. We aren’t going anywhere, therefore we can wait.”
“Hmph,” Antona snorted as she pried the stone loose from the wall.
“Not convinced?” Thrun asked.
“You said we’d never go to trial either.”
“Yeah, well,” Thrun blustered, “That was before you tried to snap the jailer’s neck!”
“I didn’t try.”
“Nevermind!” Isa interrupted. “Let’s focus on the important thing. How are we going to escape before we die?”
Antona held up the stone for Isa to see. It was smooth, except for the edge. There, Antona had knapped into a sharp point.
“I don’t think one arrow will do us much good,” Isa replied.
“A spear, dear,” Thrun said. “She’s making a spear.”
“Do you think it’ll be enough?”
“No,” Antona replied. “It’s not finished, and I’m just one elf. That’s why we’ve been practicing your sword work. Really, I’m surprised they don’t teach it at that university of yours.”
“We have magic to defend us,” Isa said meekly.
“Hmm.” Antona gave a meaningful look at Isa’s staff, locked in another cage with the rest of their gear.
The door to the dungeon opened, and in walked the goblin herald. We was very careful to stand outside Antona’s reach.
“You’re late,” Thrun said. “Where is the royal executioner?”
“There, ah, has been a small difficulty. The royal executioner has been executed for the crime of murder.” The goblin said with a tinge of embarrassment.
“Oh,” said Isa.
“Who’d he kill?” asked Antona. “I mean, besides all those people he executed.”
“The ah, well, um,” the goblin had turned a bright green at this point. “The Goblin King.”
“Hold on a moment,” Thrun said, sitting up from his corner. “That means the decree for our death is void. We get a new trial.”
“You’re awfully familiar with Goblin criminal law,” muttered the herald.
“Hold on!” Isa shouted. “Is it true? We aren’t going to be executed?”
“I’ll inform the new Goblin King that you want a new trial as soon as possible,” replied the herald as he turned to go.
“If it’s convenient!” Thrun called after him. “I’m sure he’s busy!”
“Isa,” Antona called, trying not to sound stern. “That’s not how you swing a sword. You’d never disembowel a foe like that.”
“I’m not trying to disembowel anyone,” Isa strained through gritted teeth. “I’m trying to - rrr - cast a spell using - uh - this wooden sword.”
“Don’t you need, like… magical wood, or something?” Thrun asked
Isa dropped the wooden sword and collapsed into a puddle of exhaustion. “No… but makes it easier. Some wizards can write the runes with only their finger. I was hoping with enough practice…”
“So you don’t need wood,” Antona said. “Could you, in theory, use iron?”
“Sure,” Isa said. “It’d be heavy though. Why?”
“Oh, I was just wondering,” Antona replied as she looked from Isa to her collection of weapons.
“Well, nevermind that,” Thrun said. “Gu’dul should have just about reached civilization now. Yep, help is on the way.”
Isa and Antona gave synchronized snorts of derision.
As Gu’dul entered the town, he dropped the shaggy form of a wolf and become his true, unkempt orc self. The townsfolk looked on with mild amusement.
He stretched and turned, getting used to the feeling of hands and two legs before stumbling towards the town bar.
“You look like you’ve come a long way,” said the bartender.
“Ways are but a means - all steps are journeys,” Gu’dul replied before gulping down a mug of ale. “But my steps have covered the earth like leaves.”
“Er, right…” said the barkeep, as he settled in for another adventurer’s story.
“Now!” yelled Thrun, as he ducked. Antona vaulted over the dwarf, and sunk her crude spear into the Goblin King’s throat. With one smooth motion, Isa grabbed the royal blade and tossed it to Isa.
“Flee before the wrath of Isa the War-Wizard,” shouted the young woman. A burst of flame erupted from the sword tip and burned half the royal guard. “HA HA HA HA!”
“A bit, uh, maniacal there,” muttered Thrun from their shelter behind the throne.
“I know,” Antona replied. “I’m so proud of our little human.”
“Burn! BURN IN THE INFERNO OF MY RAGE! HA HA HA!”
“Yes, right, time to go,” said Thrun. “I’ll let you handle… that.”
“WHO DOESN’T HAVE THE MENTALITY FOR PYROMANCY NOW, PROFESSOR ALGOL! HA HA HA!”
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:38|
"Maybe you're right, but it don't matter none. Let's get moving before some other drat trap goes off."
He was smiling, drat him.
"Zeke," he snapped, "smooth out the drat river!"
"I didn't think we was gonna make it, but hell," Bec said.
“God, why do you guys have to be such goddamned di—”
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:39|
VOIDMART BOTTLE REDEMPTION
Djeser fucked around with this message at 05:39 on Jan 1, 2016
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 04:40|
|# ? Feb 1, 2023 19:35|
Two hours remain.
|# ? Jul 13, 2015 05:00|