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anatomi
Jan 31, 2015


sebmojo posted:

i was literally about to ban you so good timing

You should've—because now you're gonna have to brawl me.

Edit: If you're too busy ThirdEmperor may substitute for you.

Edit: Nope nope nope. I got too excited and forgot a deadline. Please don't respond to my poorly thought out challenge.


Edit: Okay, back in the game.

anatomi fucked around with this message at 22:22 on Mar 7, 2019

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crimea
Nov 16, 2012


Accursed Crits for Week 343

I'm not very good at crits. Also I don't believe in marking out of 10 for ideological reasons.

Yoruichi ‘Three Hundred and Forty’ - The line 3 paragraphs down made me smirk. Very imaginative response to the prompt – perhaps the terror or weirdness of the pit could’ve been highlighted more, but at the same time perhaps its distant threat is more effective. The hellrule is navigated well and the story is running on more than just weirdness for weirdness' sake. Made me check out NZ’s parliament buildings which I agree look very nice.

Staggy ‘The Sound of Rain’ - A strong opening. In general this story is very accomplished with a really good use of the prompt and well-realised setting. Some lines like "I'm glad it's over but I miss the intensity." are great, like seriously good, and some lines like "[...] ascending into the depths of sleep as I go.” are sort of too clever. A little too overwritten in places but on balance a very good story about isolation and loss. Also they still have wifi in the acid rain apocalypse?

Obliterati ‘The Baroque Variant’ - I feel like just in my short time here there's been multiple stories about the relationship between someone and their robot companion. In any case, this story has a nice sense of flowing action and a believable central relationship until they try to kill each other but then they're friends again. To me that part is sort of underwritten. Still, it reads well. Also I mark it down on a personal level due to my dislike of chess metaphors, but I mark it up for my like of Northern Cyprus as a setting.

Selaphiel ‘One May Ride a Free Horse to Death’ - I don't want to put too fine a point on this one but the prose is at once too clean and modern-sounding to fit with the content, and also suffering from multiple wonky phrases that could do with a reread. ("Fearsome yet ugly"?) I don't really care about any of these characters and I don't particularly care about this poor passive woman who gets brutalised by some horse guys. The whole first part on the beach could've been cut and the information it conveys could've been placed later. The dog stuff took me out of the story, as previously established. Also I don't get the title or the connection to the prompt.

Apophenium 'Highgate' - I used it in the judgement but annoying is really the word I would use to describe this story. We get a broad sketch of this grandma character and her problems, her grandson who (ugh) is like a streamer tells her to smoke weed, but he doesn't give her any of his weed. Horrible child. So she goes to the graveyard and meets Death with a 'Toothy grin' which is one of two times this phrase appears this week - it sucks. It's not scary. It's cliche and boring. Of course he has a toothy grin, he's a skull. It all turns out ok after they avoid the lone cop patrolling this graveyard - I dunno much about policing, is that a regular beat? I don't know why Death sells weed. It's a wacky supernatural element which does nothing but annoy me.

NotGordian ‘All the Neighbours Have Moved Away’ - I really don't mean to be too harsh with this stuff but this story I used my veto to condemn this to a DM and save Salgal's story because this is just so boring, dry, dull, etc. and this is not your first TD submission. Every single phrase and idea feels like the first, most cliche and obvious form of that idea. “with his short, wiry beard he looked the hero, and damned if he wasn't going to play the part” The information being given is that this guy has a short beard and he's a leader, and this trope phrase is the most cliche and obvious way to convey both those pieces of information. There is something to be said for ambiguity, and I do kinda like how you don't launch into a whole thing about why everyone is moving away, but you also give me no reason to care about any of it. Nothing happens in the story.

Salgal80 ‘Baki the Baka: A Moral Tale’ - Call me bias as a newbie judge but this newbie submission I felt deserved a little leniency. Obviously, the clear problem is a lack of proofreading, meaning the story is not pleasurable to read, and the ending confuses me no end. Did the crab commit crab suicide? Did his imprisonment end? Why? What was the moral? The joke in the title annoys me also. But I feel like this tale of crab love and crab loss in the crab kingdom required at least a bit of crab imagination - and much like the humble crab, this story is ultimately harmless. But again please proofread.

Entenzahn ‘Fraud’ - The opening joke got me on the second read. There is a fair attempt made at creating an atmosphere but I wish there was more build-up. Things start at a spook level of 7 and go up from there. “a thunderstorm approaching him, one chuckle at a time” the idea of using chuckles as a system of measurement isn’t spooky. This story also has a toothy grin in it. The twist ending doesn't really make sense. He's a ghost? The old man is a ghost? The woman was a ghost? Was everyone in this story a ghost?

The Saddest Rhino ‘Final Transmission’ - An imaginative and sincere take on the prompt. I do like the style it's written in with all the repetition and all that but it is perhaps a bit too heavy and leaves us kind of plodding along until the denouement at the end. Even still I am a sucker for this sort of thing.

Bad Seafood ‘A Gift as an Apology’ - Due to the hellrule this one is pretty simple, but that doesn't stop it from being quite a heartfelt, poetic submission. The limiting structure gives everything an interesting herky-jerky vibe.

Anomalous Blowout ‘A Seeker in the Soil’ - Another story with a really strong opening. A good tale of a disturbed family unit is always appreciated, and this one is very readable, has a lot of nice, genuine character work. The prompt is used both literally, in that the car makes a cameo, and also figuratively, as that same uncanny, slightly menacing vibe found in the prompt is translated into the world of the story, a world which feels much bigger than the glimpse we as readers get of it. This story feels like the first chapter of a really good novel.

Applewhite ‘Dancing Lights’ - A story which is actually as atmospheric and spooky as the prompt image it’s based on! I actually found this one quite gripping and evocative! And the happy ending feels earned after the darkness most of the story scrambles around in.

SlipUp ‘Dragonstorm’ - “'Violence virtually vilifies virtuous vermin,' Jerry jokes. Forest fogged his fate from his foe, his players part in this play. The lute laid low the little liar, laden with lacerations. Chords cut the Commander like a caesarian. The body bleeds blue.” I don't like that. I already talked a lot about this one in judgement but just to expand: I feel like one of the main issues is the overtly-literal use of the prompt. Just describing the scene in the picture is in my opinion not fully using the prompt, especially considering some of the stories above which 'read' the prompt to find some underlying feeling or energy from it and have that energy inform the story, as opposed to here where the story is on a different planet. Frankly when reading this story I was expecting some kind of subversive twist that never happened. Some suggestions as to how to make me like this story more is to have it be about a bunch of guys loving around with an old 70's computer, or perhaps earn the respect of everyone by keeping the adventurer story but have them all have sex with each other in the end. That'd really get us.

Thranguy ‘Wake Up’ - Another good horror story which is well-informed by the prompt. At the start I liked the style of prose and found it endearing but I was worried it would get old. Thankfully it did not. The end stinger is very evocative.

Anatomi ‘Bringer’ - An accomplished story with functional prose and a good sense of character. For some reason I feel quite neutral about it – I’m not hugely gripped by anything in particular. I would say though that the prompt was used well and the stork was a good evocative element. I think the last few lines are sort of obvious but that’s probably my own taste. Shame about the lateness but nobody's perfect.

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


anatomi posted:

Edit: If you're too busy ThirdEmperor may substitute for you.

:getin: hey buuuuuuddy

anatomi
Jan 31, 2015


ThirdEmperor posted:

:getin: hey buuuuuuddy
:sweatdrop: Let's roll, douche canoe.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

timeless Ned Flanders style


In again!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



anatomi posted:

:sweatdrop: Let's roll, douche canoe.

Thirdtomi Brawl: THE GREATEST CHALLENGE

I saw some allusions in chat to wanting a generous brawl deadline, so I'll give you one, but in return, I expect you to write in a speculative mode perhaps even beyond human comprehension:

Write a story about an April Fool's Day prank that is not malicious, in awful taste, or otherwise lovely.

1500 words. Deadline April Fool's Day (April 1st), 11:59 PM Pacific. Toxx if you're down.

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


I want to try my hand at judging a brawl. Two of you jerks get mad at each other so I can.

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!




saucy thranguy results

thranguy wins mostly because i like the comparision of wasps and atomic bombs. you almost lost because you said wasps die when they sting which they dont and normally i wouldnt be mad about that except thats what your entire poem is based on!!!!!!!!!!! but thranguy's ultimately flows better than rodent's and rodent's central idea of "we need bad things for there to be good things" is alright, but played out. thranguy's take on comparing human nature to a wasp's hosed-upness is a lot more original. i do wish u had toned down on the philosophizing tho.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Speaking of judging I still need a co-pilot and a navigator. Lemme know if you’re up to the task.

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


A well-deserved win, Thranguy. Thanks for brawling.

Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


Goddamn you goons for not updating the latest prompt link. gimme ahot second.

okay , yeah in, flash me.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk





Noah posted:

Goddamn you goons for not updating the latest prompt link. gimme ahot second.

okay , yeah in, flash me.

sup

Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


im just a crinkly old washcloth thats been left in the sun. dont mind me.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Noah posted:

Goddamn you goons for not updating the latest prompt link. gimme ahot second.

okay , yeah in, flash me.

Your authoritarian has seen the future and fears it.

anatomi
Jan 31, 2015


Antivehicular posted:

Thirdtomi Brawl: THE GREATEST CHALLENGE

I saw some allusions in chat to wanting a generous brawl deadline, so I'll give you one, but in return, I expect you to write in a speculative mode perhaps even beyond human comprehension:

Write a story about an April Fool's Day prank that is not malicious, in awful taste, or otherwise lovely.

1500 words. Deadline April Fool's Day (April 1st), 11:59 PM Pacific. Toxx if you're down.

:toxx:

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


Talamar the Strong

“For the first hundred million millennia, there was only the Serpent and me. The Serpent fought with ice and I with fire, the Serpent with death, and I, my grateful subjects, with life. And for those long millennia, I struggled and I sweat as I battled the Great Serpent until that holy day I strangled it with my flaming hand and won dominion over the void. Then I ripped the icy skin off the defeated Dragon and formed the Earth from its bones. And I breathed onto the great skull to create life.

“I come to you today for the Great Celebration, to honor that glorious victory by fighting your strongest champion! Every century I have come, and every century my pride in my people grows! For though I handily win every fight, your champions have only gotten fiercer. So who today shall step forward and die gloriously at the hands of Talamar, God of Strength?”

A little man with dyed hair and painted nails stepped forward out of the crowd.

“Hi, Talamar. Real honored to meet ya. Weevil Stevens’ the name. The rest of humanity and I had a chat, and we decided to do things a little differently this century.”

“Differently? I don’t understand,” boomed Talamar.

“Well, since you last came, war and bloodshed and ritualistic gladiatorial combat have kinda fallen out of favor. People just don’t really like the blood or the screaming or the orphaned children anymore. I mean, it’s not like we never do war, but it’s really, really frowned upon. So we decided to treat you to a more modern sort of competition. Won’t that be fun?”

Talamar should have known something was up. Several people in the crowd looked like they didn’t even lift!

“You really would have known all of this if you’d been on social media, Your Vicious Holiness,” said Weevil. “Do you play chess?”

“I wouldn’t say I play, necessarily, but I know how,” stammered Talamar. “Are you sure I can’t fight anyone? That guy over there looks pretty big.”

The guy over there who looked pretty big shook his head politely.

“What about her?” said Talamar, pointing at a woman in the crowd. “She looks like she can handle two swords at once.”

“Your Blood-Stained Excellency, you are pointing at one of our most beloved TV recappers!” said Weevil. “I know this is unorthodox, but I must insist that we play chess for the Great Celebration.”

“Very well,” growled Talamar. “But come a hundred years, I demand to be challenged in glorious bloodshed!”

Weevil looked at the crowd. Several people were nodding.

“I think we can agree to that,” said Weevil and led Talamar to the chessboard.

“You fool,” said Talamar as he and Weevil made their opening moves. “You know me only as a God of Strength, but I am also a God of Intellect! After all, without divine intelligence, how would I have crafted the mountains and carved the riv—“

“Checkmate,” said Weevil.

“No, wait, can’t I move my king here?” sputtered Talamar.

“Nope, my bishop can get it there. So what happens if a human beats you, we still have the feast, right?”

Talamar let loose a great scream and tossed the chessboard in the air.

“No need to be such a sore loser,” Weevil laughed.

Then all the chess pieces rained down like great asteroids and shattered the world. The Earth split apart atom by atom and all mortal life was super dead, regardless of chess ability.

Talamar regretted his anger at that world, but not so much that he would do something so unmanly as to cry. He wondered where he could find another Serpent

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2019



Anomalous Blowout posted:

Speaking of judging I still need a co-pilot and a navigator. Lemme know if you’re up to the task.

I'll do the thing if you're interested.

SlipUp
Sep 30, 2006


in

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME



:toxx: :toxx:

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Also in with a flash

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


ThirdEmperor posted:

Also in with a flash

Your authoritarian believes the sea is a place of great power and it must be protected.





SIGN-UPS NOW CLOSED.

crimea
Nov 16, 2012


Stars Are Right
Word Count: 1032
Flash Rule:Your authoritarian makes all their decisions by reading signs and portents.

I was born with a blood clot in my fist and a caul over my face. That day the stars had shone auspiciously bright and the solar winds had been favourable; between the hanging spires of the fortress ruins my family called home, a space-faring vessel drifted into dock. The sailors bought my caul gladly, for they believed it would save themselves from suffocating. A billion billion lightyears away, a diviner emerged from the entrails of a skywhale, proclaiming that today the stars had delivered a hero. I had no choice in any of this.

I did not choose to plot the course to Alpha Centauri just in time for the Anarchy to snuff out civilization there; I had simply let my solar sails carry me where I needed to go. It was after my arrival into that reign of terror that I first dreamed of the Commissar of the Outer Planets – before I met him, and came into his service. The last time I dreamt of him was right before I jettisoned him into the black hole his dread capital orbited.

It was on the heed of the seers that I took power. It was not me. They huddled around me, wide smiles on each of the faces of those ancient crones – older even than the Sinistra Dirge, or the Days of Want. It was with their wisdom that I came to know I was ordained. They showed me the wonder of everything – how marvellous it is to see yourself in the universe! When I saw the ashy deserts of Calremer IV were the same greys as the hair on my head, I built a temple there. When I saw the living ocean of Iyth III was the exact, the exact shade of blue as my eyes, I wept for days. Everywhere I was heeded to go, I would go, and I would take that place into my kingdom, my heart.

In every way everything was my guide; when I set foot on the vineyard planet Palatine IX and witnessed the soil sour and fruit wither under my footsteps, I knew the planet to be degenerate, and that I was brought there to right that wrong. So I did. I smote that planet from orbit.

***

Once the stars had fortified my reign, rebellion and resistance ebbed away. The dreams of the masses told them to work and rest, and divining rods led the curious to bodies of water where, searching for their own reflection, they would see only me. Some even began to believe that strange mysteries – unusual births, natural disasters, unforeseen eclipses – were not omens at all, but instead my will acted upon the universe. Discontent, therefore, began to take more solitary and theatrical forms. There was one such fiend who would brave the jungles of Opal-Night and come out caked in blood, who would cut down my servants who stood in his path, who would whip up the common people until they were in a frenzy I had not seen since the Anarchy.

I did not move against him. I had no sign.

Even the stars that shone the brightest did not lead the way. Even the entrails of the most alien of beasts held nothing for me. No dreams presaged his actions. I could not move. I could not breathe!

When he stormed my throne room, dancing through the air on rocket-boots, his jumpsuit pulling against his slender form, I could do nothing but admire the way his quaffed blond hair caught the fractal light. Courtiers looked on with awe; my guards, clad in red and gold, tried to yank him to the ground, or else paced dumbstruck, waiting for an order. The Winged Ones and the Exiles and the Bulgasari and all the rest of my gathered subjects laughed at such a spectacle. The trickster could’ve rushed to drive a blade through my heart, but instead he weaved and taunted; he threw around my guards, joking with himself. His smile was beautiful. A truly free agent.

I never found out which of my commandos fired the corrosive round which caught him mid-flight. I often wondered after if perhaps they had seen an omen I hadn’t, something that said ‘fire away!’ Maybe that would’ve made it better. The trickster, wings clipped, tumbled onto the steps before me; the acid was already eating into his chest. His heart was beating. I could see it. I crouched down next to him.

“N-Never fuh-forgive you for Palatine.” He managed to whisper. “All those p-planets. I won’t forgive. I won’t forget. Wuh-won’t forget.”

“Shhh. Just think of the glorious things.” As I muttered this consolation to him, I ran the tip of my elongated fingernail down his cheek. Our eyes met. “Remember that. Just forget the parts you’ll never need. All these things I’ll tell you when you wake up.”

I ordered the interloper stabilised and ready for travel – I knew what to do. I knew what it meant. There was still the flicker of life in him when I dropped him into Iyth III. His body dissolved into the living ocean, excess drifting away as vapour. It would take a long time for his consciousness to adapt to the vast alien consciousness which dwarfed it down there – aeons, perhaps, facing a madness made from the mind diffusing itself into mass. But eventually he would find his place, and have his own thoughts again. It would all probably only last a moment for him. I would be there with him, in the end, for the both of us are out of the aeons. Then he would understand.

He would know I had no choice in any of it. Perhaps down there he would dream of me, as I wish I would dream of him.

***

What a wonderful burden, to be the vessel of the universe. What a glorious scar to inflict upon me. Meaning sings from every atom. Every star desires to sun-kiss me. And there are still so many stars in the universe. My head is in my hands and I will wander into the dark until a portent bids me to rest, and dream of nothing more.

Viscardus
Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.


Week 343 Crits

Look upon my crits, ye mighty, and despair.

I see that the convention is to crit entries in the order that they were submitted. I reject this convention. These crits are order from best to worst; the longer you have to scroll to reach your crit, the greater the shame you deserve and the greater the shame you shall feel. I have also assigned letter grades rather than a number system, because I felt like it.

I have declared the five worst stories to be truly cursed. They will thus receive a more comprehensive treatment, including a dose of (constructive) mockery. This poo poo got so long I'm going to have to split it between four posts.

Oh yeah, and the late entry wasn't included, because it has no official standing here. But I'll probably crit it later or something; I just got kind of tired.


A Seeker in the Soil by Anomalous Blowout

I don’t really have a lot to say about this one. While I was reading through each story for the first time, I took notes as I went. I managed one note for this one before getting so into the story that I forgot to write anything down.

The one note I did make, and the one that sticks out to me in retrospect as well, is how elegant the world-building and character-building are. You tell the reader everything they need to know about the setting and characters without ever dwelling excessively on either. A third of the way through the story I felt like I understood the characters and the world they’re living in better than in any of the other stories this week. It helps that you’re mostly in territory that will be familiar to readers, even with the semi-apocalyptic setting, but at the same time nothing comes across as obviously clichéd.

If I were to try to find a criticism it might be that the logic of Susannah’s plan feels a little confusing to me on some level, but I felt like I understood the underlying meaning of the scene well enough that it didn’t bother me too much: you’d already built up enough goodwill that I was willing to take it on faith that it made sense even if I was a little unsure. I think this is the only story this week I can say that about.

Grade: A


Dancing Lights by Applewhite

I’m not generally a fan of creepy stories, but I liked this one. I appreciated that it didn’t really dwell on the creepiness of the wisps, for the most part: they are fairly mundane to the character despite how sinister they are. We see her fear and anxiety, but it’s tempered by the fact that she’s largely accustomed to the threat. It’s an interesting angle that I enjoyed throughout the story.

It’s a good choice not to explain too much about June’s whole situation: you describe what’s necessary for the story and that’s it. This helps avoid obvious questions like “Why ever go out at night at all?” Maybe there’s a good answer, but I doubt there’s one good enough that it would actually improve the story.

Unfortunately, that does lead me to the biggest weakness in the story: the ending. While I see what you were going for, I feel like it ultimately undercuts the rest of the story. The threat of the wisps works best when you don’t overanalyze it, and by introducing the idea that June has just solved the problem for good you invite the reader to actually view the threat logically. At which point you have to wonder why the hell June didn’t think of it sooner. Did her husband(?) die because neither of them ever heard about Theseus and the Labyrinth? And then you start wondering why this is a problem at all. Why can’t she just use a flashlight? Why does she have to go get groceries in the middle of the night? Why doesn’t she just move? The story works better when the reader isn’t asking these questions.

Grade: B


The Sound of Rain by Staggy

I think this story contains some of the nicest prose in any of the stories this week. There are some great lines here (along with a few that are maybe a bit much). The central theme is good, and though not much actually happens, the exploration of the protagonist’s life is still well-paced and mostly interesting (even managing to have a climax of sorts).

My biggest problem with this is, admittedly, something that may come across as nitpicky, but it did take me out of the story a bit. The problem I have is that the central motif of no longer being able to hear the rain doesn’t actually make sense to me. I get the idea: it’s a matter of acclimation. That part works well enough. What doesn’t work for me is the idea that the protagonist can’t hear the rain even when trying to. This isn’t how acclimation to anything works. Arguably this is necessary for the whole theme of the story, but I feel like there are other, more logical ways to play with this idea. Forgetting what silence actually sounds like. A fresh wound every time the sound breaks back into their consciousness. Frankly, I think either of those would work better metaphorically anyway.

There were smaller but more obvious logical issues: I’m sceptical that the house would still get fresh water in this situation (although you do at least reference how limited it is), let alone electricity and loving wifi.

Oh, and I don’t want to hear about your character taking a poo poo.

Grade: B


Final Transmission by The Saddest Rhino

I really love the whole vibe of this story. It’s loving beautiful in a way that I have trouble putting into words. I’m not usually a sucker for sad stories about animals, but I’ve always felt like there’s something tragically beautiful in the story of Laika: an animal who achieved something no other living being ever had before in her final act – sacrificed on the altar of history – without ever having the capacity to understand any it. So a story that is basically about explaining a space dog’s situation to her and apologizing for it at the same time appeals to me in on surprisingly deep level. And the affection the narrator feels for Niu Niu and the hope they have for her make it even more poignant. “If you ignore them, I do not blame you.”

There’s a lot in the writing that works, and I particularly enjoyed the repetition of “Please understand”. I just wish you’d proofread it. Or proofread it better. There are so many grammatical errors and awkward phrases that it detracts significantly from the story. A better-edited version of this story would probably have been my second-favourite this week, even with the various other nitpicks I had.

Speaking of which, I don’t like the slug thing. I know that it’s because of your prompt, but I don’t really think it was necessary (besides, those are snails). It just feels a little too gross and bizarre to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the story. The whole volcanopocalypse info-dump was a little awkward as well. I feel like you could rewrite the story without those elements and have it end up stronger in the end.

Grade: B-


Three Hundred and Forty by Yoruichi

Credit where credit is due: I’m pretty impressed how much you managed to do with that hellrule. Despite the absurdity of the premise, you managed to put together a real story that works fairly effectively. Well done.

I probably have fewer clear problems with this than with any other story this week, the winner excluded. I will say that I feel like you’re a little too generous with the adjectives – if the adjective isn’t doing real work, you’re probably better served by being concise. At times it feels like you feel the need to give every noun an adjective for its own sake rather than as an attempt at conveying anything meaningful. You don’t really need to clarify that a loving bottomless shaft is vertical; I am going to assume that it’s vertical unless you tell me otherwise. You describe the wind as both “blustery” and “desultory”, which frankly leaves me with a less clear mental image than if you’d said nothing at all.

But other than that the story’s main flaw is just that it’s a bit boring. You had a lot of work to do to make the premise work at all as a story, so it’s understandable, but that only goes so far. Ultimately the story still has to be interesting on its own merits, and this one is decent at best in that regard.

Grade: B-


The Baroque Variant by Obliterati

I have to admit, I admire your dedication to making a point (and possibly pandering).

Jokes aside, I mostly like the story. The writing is generally good, and the characterization – particularly the relationship between the two main characters – is pretty strong (with one major exception that I’ll get to in a moment). The environmental descriptions are also very solid.

The big problem is the climax. It doesn’t make any goddamn sense to me. These two guys go from being best buddies to being ready to murder (or at least threaten to murder) each other in ten seconds flat. Over whether to go full Elgin Marbles (nice one, by the way) on some loving sword. Okay, sure, it’s a potentially contentious ethical question – but it’s one that they surely must have considered beforehand. I mean, what exactly is the new information that causes L-GIN to change his mind? They knew they were robbing a loving mosque of a priceless historical artefact. Was he just that impressed by the way it’s displayed? Must be one hell of a plinth. Is it just the fact that it’s well-maintained instead of dumped in a pile of rubble or something?

In one sense it’s not a crippling flaw with the story, because the scene still sort of works, but the issue is that it brutally undermines the greatest strength of the story, which is the relationship between the two main characters. The conflict ends up feeling forced and ultimately meaningless, especially because they go back to making jokes while still threatening to kill each other. And then they’re totally fine with it immediately afterwards. So Martin felt strongly enough to potentially die or kill his friend over completing their mission, but not strongly enough to hold a grudge for so much as five minutes? Is this just supposed to be a big joke, like a sort of very dark buddy comedy? I honestly don’t know what you’re going for here and it really hurts the story on multiple levels, not least of all because I’ve now spent the entire climax being taken out of the narrative.

Oh, and what the gently caress is “Nineteen-Fifties”? Are you allergic to Arabic numerals? Because you don’t have a problem with writing “1566-74” later on. Why not go all out and call it “The Year of Our Lord Fifteen Hundred and Sixty-Six”? Or just write “1950s” like a normal goddamn person.

Grade: B-


A Gift as an Apology by Bad Seafood

This was easily the most difficult story to evaluate and critique. The hellrule ends up creating something that feels more like poetry than prose. In one sense I feel like the story is about as good as it could be, given the restriction, but it still needs to stand on its own.

There are some nice lines, but the short sentences mean that the narrative often feels choppy or even disjointed. And there’s not really much there in terms of plot, although what is there works well enough.

Honestly, this just isn’t a very fun story to crit, because the things that are wrong with it are mostly obvious and intentional. I guess that’s praise, but the end result is still kind of forgettable but for the gimmick.

Grade: C+


Wake Up! by Thranguy

With a lot of the stories I feel like I have a clear idea of what about them didn’t work for me. I have a slightly harder time pinning it down for this one. Maybe it’s that your premise is that the protagonist was at the centre of events that permanently changed the world in some enormous way, but the actual story of how that happened just isn’t that interesting. Or maybe it’s that we never see any actual consequences of this beyond the people who summon it being murdered (seems a tad ungrateful) and the protagonist being immortal, I guess, which sounds like a pretty good deal. At least one old man is sad about the spooky Cthulhu monster or whatever it is that runs the world now, so maybe it’s doing something really horrible, but people are still flying around in airplanes and poo poo, so it hasn’t exactly caused an apocalypse. Like a bad action movie, you tell me that the stakes are really high without actually doing anything to make me feel it.

Speaking of action, the fight/murder scene feels disjointed and nothing really has enough weight to it. I nearly missed Cheryl getting murdered, which is supposed to be the pivotal moment of not only the scene but the modern history of the world, according to your premise.

All that said, I didn’t hate the story or anything. The premise is interesting, even if I don’t really think the story does it justice, and I liked the general tone of the protagonist’s reminiscences.

Grade: C


All the Neighbors Have Moved Away by NotGordian

I’ll start with what I liked: there’s some good imagery, especially around Dory’s endless melancholy, and I enjoyed the way that you teased at the time period and what’s forcing them to move without ever making it explicit. I didn’t get it when the kid referred to a “funny”, but the wage reference made it more clear, and then in combination with the rest of that sentence I was able to guess that she’s probably being displaced by the construction of an urban freeway or something similar (although the reference to the construction company promising tax revenue made me question that a bit). I like feeling like a story is rewarding me for paying attention instead of just spelling everything on clearly, so I appreciate this. On the other hand, there are also several rather more clunky bits of prose, especially in the form of people over-explaining things for the reader’s benefit – how often do you announce to other people what month it is in your real life?

As a portrait of a sad lady being sad, the story is perfectly serviceable. The problem is that this not a particularly interesting thing to write a story about if you’re just going to leave it at that. Dory starts the story sad, goes through four distinct scene of being sad, and then ends the story sad. She doesn’t change or grow, and the meeting that comes close to serving as the climax is exactly as pointless as she predicts. So what’s the point?

Speaking of the meeting, I found that scene annoying for another reason. The story obviously wants us to sympathize with Dory, and it feels like it’s agreeing with her perception of the meeting: that it’s pointless, and that the time would be better spent accepting things and reminiscing or whatever. It feels like I’m supposed to think that Steve is a well-meaning but slightly delusional individual, perhaps even a bit of a narcissist. This is problematic because Steve is the actual hero of the story. He is the one who is trying to overcome an obstacle, who is actually an active participant in the conflict of the story. Freeway revolts worked when enough people were willing to fight, and it was people like Dory who prefer to give up in the face of opposition that made them fail. Dory is a passive observer of her own misery whose inaction exacerbates it. Obviously there is no rule that your protagonist has to be a hero, or even a decent person, and if you want to write a story about someone wallowing in their own misery, that’s perfectly fine. But then you should at least make your reader feel like you realize that that’s what you’re writing.

Also, I keep wondering what sort of background the Cancios are supposed to have. Cancio is a Spanish name, but Paulo is a Portuguese one (the Spanish and Italian equivalents being Pablo and Paolo respectively), and the food Maria gives Dory is obviously Italian. Obviously none of that is inherently an issue: someone can have a Portuguese given name and Spanish surname while making Italian food. But I couldn’t help but feel like that’s a weirdly specific vibe and that it probably wasn’t intentional.

Grade: C-

Viscardus
Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.


Week 343 Crits

Next we have the truly cursed stories. These three, along with the last two to follow in their own posts, will be quoted in full and critted along the way.


Baki the Baka: A Moral Tale by Salgal80

Salgal80 posted:

Here we go again.


Nine months ago if I’d asked my best buds, “What’s the worst thing someone can do to deserve a yearlong curse?” they’d say things like making a pendant out a and dollar, teasing a pufferfish without a license, or hailing an underwater Uber. Pretending to be something you’re not? Never. Well, that can’t be said anymore.

You’re already not off to a great start here for a few reasons. First of all, you need to proofread, but there’s not much point dwelling on that. Second, “underwater Uber” is a very lame phrase that really just serves as a lame way of telling us that this crab is like a person. But what does crab Uber look like? Is it actually called Uber, or is this a genericization of the term? Do these crabs have cars? Do they also live in the endless nightmare of modern capitalism? We’re going to find out later that they’re ruled by wizard-kings, which to my mind clashes a bit with that interpretation. And why is it “underwater” Uber. Surely to the crab it would just be Uber, right? Also, why is hailing one a crime? Uber is illegal in my city, but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime for me to hail one; it means they just can’t operate here. Or does this mean hailing someone else’s Uber? Perhaps this makes sense to someone who has ever used one of those lovely fake taxis, but I have no idea what’s happening here.

And we haven’t even gotten to the worst problem with this sentence, which is that I’m pretty sure Baki’s question means the opposite of what you intended it to. What is he asking, exactly? What’s the worst thing you can do to deserve a year-long curse… rather than a longer one? Like where’s the line between a year-long curse and a two-year-long one, or whatever the next highest form of curse is? Because that’s what the actual wording of the question would seem to imply, but it’s not what the rest of the paragraph does. It sounds more like the narrator wants to ask what the least bad thing that could earn you such a curse is, although that would probably be awkward as well. Honestly this whole introduction has already thrown me way out of the story.

On the bright side, “teasing a pufferfish without a license is a funny line”. So there’s that.

Salgal80 posted:

So here I am on display pretending to be something I’m not because I pretended to be something I’m not. The initial, “This is stupid,” wore off months ago. The “I’m going to kill Minamoto,” came and went. At the six month point I’d learned my lesson and petitioned for a reduction in my sentence. Denied. Three months a numb servitude to go.

So he learned his lesson three months ago. I’ll just note that down right here in case it’s relevant later.

Salgal80 posted:

So, here we go again. 9 a.m. opening for the Tokyo Museum of Bizarre Marine Life. Ikko, Mr. Gomon’s right hand man,, is barking out, “Places.” I shuffle to my spot, get into position, and wait.

So I’m very curious, especially in light of the rest of the story, whether Ikko and Mr. Gomon are humans or crabs or what. Presumably the museum is run by humans, right? So does Minamoto have pull in the human world? Or is this all under the humans’ noses? Do any humans know that crabs are sapient? Do all of them? I assume not, or else this would be even more hosed up. This will be relevant again later, too, so I don’t think these are unfair questions to ask. If you just set the story in the middle of the ocean or whatever I wouldn’t care, but you explicitly have humans and crabs interacting, which makes me want to know the rules of this universe.

The idea of a Tokyo Museum of Bizarre Marine Life is cute, though. It sounds just plausible enough that I even checked in case it really did exist somehow. I suppose if it did exist it’d probably be in Japan.

Salgal80 posted:

I pass the day reliving how I got myself into this mess because what are my options? Watching snotty nosed brats cry at the site of me, or nerdy adolescents stare me down from claw to claw, or a stray art student draw my monstrous figure? No thanks.

Presumably you’re going to be doing those things anyway, though, unless your imagination is so amazing you can completely tune out the world. Also you’re a crab, what the hell else would you normally do?

Salgal80 posted:

Truth be told, at this point I’m not only comforted with the memory, it’s what keeps me going. Picturing Chiya in my mind still makes my gonopods tingle, even if I know there’s no way in hell she’ll ever speak to me again. If only Hydeko wasn’t snooping around, I might be engaged, (it was well rumored Chiya had a thing for us peasants). If only. But, who am I kidding? Her father, Rida, would never have permitted a marriage. Not in a million years. I see that clearly now. What an idiot I was to dream otherwise.


It was a sunny day. Low tide. My horsehair buds and I were hanging out on the rocks at Osaka Bay. I was chowing down on seaweed stuck in the cracks when Yuki starts to whistle. I turned and there she was, Chiya Minamoto, the most beautiful king crab I’d ever seen. I wasn’t the only one transfixed. We’re all standing there in a huddle staring like a pot full of horsehair crabs about to be boiled for a royal feast, knowing immediately our lives would never be the same.


I was the first to move. Behind me I heard a chorus of, “No, Baki, don’t do it!” But did I listen? Of course not. I was invincible. I’d once stuffed a dead mackerel into the mayor’s mailbox and strug nori all over the front yard of the chief of police. Never caught. Not once. Every time my Haha saw mischief in my eyes “heading to hang out with my buds, and warned me. I’d kiss her cheek and strut out of our hole like I knew better. Poor Haha. Now she’s the mother of a disgraced son. If Otosan was alive I’d be dead.


It seems like yesterday I sauntered up beside the lone princess and nonchalantly asked, “Come here often?” She laughed tossing her head upward. The sun sparkled from her eyes blinding me.
I put my claw on hers, “I’m sorry. I know that was stupid. But, give me a chance,” I puffed myself up as large as I could, “I’m Baki, heir to the horsehair kingdom.”

First of all, the proofreading problems continue, including multiple tense changes.

I hate the way Chiya is characterized. What kind of personality does she have, besides laughing at things that aren’t even jokes? She is rumoured to have a thing for peasants, but she doesn’t say or do anything besides smile and laugh at a non-joke and then passively obey her father later. Baki says she’ll never speak to him again (it’s not clear how he knows this, either, since there was no indication that she was angry with him), but the “again” is unnecessary because she never even speaks to him in the first place! She’s just a prop to drive the story forward in the most boring way possible.

Baki’s interactions with her don’t even make sense. She’s rumoured to like peasants, so his plan was to pretend not to be one? It’s not even clear if we’re supposed to think that Chiya believed him (because, again, she’s a completely passive object), or if he expected her to in the first place.

Also, some of the descriptions here are just awful. How does a crab even toss its head upward? Wouldn’t that mean tossing its entire body upward? And in what universe besides a lovely romance novel can one by blinded by the light sparkling from another’s eyes? This is just clichéd nonsense and I hate it.

We also get some pointless backstory about Baki’s prankster nature. This accomplishes nothing except implying something about Baki which will immediately be disproven.

Salgal80 posted:

Chiya gazed into my eyes, reading my soul. She was about to speak when I heard the cackling laughing of Hydeko, her brother and heir to the throne. He’d followed her to the bay to catch her doing something that would bring her shame so he could find even more favor with his father. I suspect he had nothing better to do, as he was known throughout all of Japan as a universal jerk, and spurned by any self respecting female crab of any species. “Horsehair Kingdom? Where’s that? In the kitchen of Kani Doraku?” he taunted.


Within seconds, King Minamoto appeared atop a high rock, claws raised. The sky turned dark, winds blew, and rain began to fall as he commanded Chiya back to the kingdom immediately. She took one last regretful look at me and scurried away. Minamoto pressed his claws together like a madman uttering in an ancient language I couldn’t understand. Some lackey next to him interpreted. “You want to be the big guy, bottom dweller? So be it. You’re sentenced to one year exhibition labor at the Museum of Bizarre Marine Life in Tokyo. And, never speak to my daughter again, or you’ll be sentenced to a large pot of boiling water.”

First off, I object to the implication that Baki knows anything about what Chiya is thinking, given that, again, she never loving does anything.

More importantly, this is where Chiya’s jerk brother and her jerk father both appear out of nowhere within seconds of each other. There’s a bit of an explanation for Hydeko, but nothing for the king. This is very lazy writing, but on top of that we were just told that Baki is a master prankster. I assumed that this was meant to imply that he was clever or at least perceptive, but apparently not, since he doesn’t notice Hydeko lurking nearby. Nor does he notice a loving king and his servants, unless the implication is meant to be that Hydeko summoned him somehow. Or was the king spying on his daughter with magic or something? Who loving knows, it’s never explained.

Anyway, this is where the all-important curse happens. And I would like to point out that the implication from both this passage and the rest of the backstory section seems to be that Baki’s crime here is trying to get laid above his station. There is nothing to indicate that Minamoto or really anyone else actually gives a poo poo about Baki’s lie, only the end that that lie was meant to accomplish. This is a bit of an issue in what is apparently supposed to be a story with a moral about lying, but I’ll get to that later.

Salgal80 posted:

I was frozen in place as I felt a strange sensation move from my abdomen, down my legs, and into my claws. My body seemed to be moving upwards. King Minamoto, who had been high above me, was staring me in the eyes. Behind me I heard my buds scream. I turned to see them scurry away without a word. Everything went black.

Later I was told it took twelve guards to reign me in and transport me to Tokyo. When I awoke, Ikko was staring at me shaking with pleasure as he gave me the lowdown of what my life would be like for the next twelve months.

No huge problems here, though it all feels quite clichéd. Which is impressive when you’re writing a story about a cursed mutant crab.

Salgal80 posted:

A toddler is tap-tap-tapping on the glass. Good God, please stop! What do you think I’m going to do? Jump? Dance? Put on a show? His mother grabs his hand telling him to stop. She says, “Don’t bother the poor crab, it’s bad enough he’s so hideous.”

Okay, remember when I was wondering about whether humans know that crabs are sapient in this world? Because the mom’s line here really bothers me. It seems like such a bizarre thing to say in either scenario. If she knows the crab is sapient and understands her, it’s obviously incredibly rude to insult it to its face. In the more likely scenario that she doesn’t believe that it’s sapient, why does she think that the crab feels bad about being ugly?

Salgal80 posted:

As the exhibit room turned dark that night, and Ikko barked the order to return to our cells, I quickly used my claw to write in the sand: “I get it now.”




The next morning when Ikko called “Places,” Baki was nowhere to be found.

This ending sucks. Let me explain why.

First of all, it’s too ambiguous. I initially wasn’t certain whether Baki had been released or if he’d somehow escaped or what. The obvious conclusion (although probably not as obvious as you wanted it to be) is that he was released because he learned his lesson, hence the “I get it”. But this doesn’t actually work well for a couple reasons. First of all, he says that he learned his lesson three months ago. Okay, maybe he learned the wrong lesson. But what lesson did he learn, and why was it wrong? It’s never explained, but he says before that that he was punished for pretending to be something he’s not, so if that’s what he’s supposed to learn was wrong, he’s clearly learned his lesson.

On top of that, the story heavily implies that he was not actually punished for lying. He was punished for hitting on a princess when he’s just a dirty poor. So is that the actual lesson he was supposed to learn? Or was that the fake lesson he thought he’d learned? Neither explanation makes sense, because he never references learning that lesson in any way, whereas the whole “pretending” thing is at least somewhat incorporated as a theme (plus “don’t try to date above your class” would be a lovely lesson anyway).

Now, okay, you could say that the point is that even if he was punished for hitting on the princess, the lesson he actually needed to learn was not to lie. Fine. But then who the gently caress paroled him? The king is the one who charged, convicted, and sentenced him, so he clearly has pretty much unrestrained judicial power. Shouldn’t it be he or one of his subordinates deciding whether Baki has learned his lesson? Or is there some inherent magic in the curse that just knows what lesson Baki really needs to learn? But that doesn’t work either, because Baki writes on the ground to notify someone, and he earlier makes reference to petitioning for a reduced sentence. So who the gently caress is deciding that he’s learned his lesson and why don’t they agree with the king? And, again, why didn’t they let him out earlier, considering he’d apparently already learned his lesson months ago?

None of this makes any sense, and considering that you literally put “A Moral Tale” in the title of your story, having an incoherent moral is a significant problem.

To wrap this all up, the idea of a cute little fairy tale about crabs is fine, but the execution really fails throughout the story. There are a few bright spots in the prose, but otherwise it’s mostly just a mess (and, again, the lack of proofreading doesn’t help). I will give you this, however: at least it never got so bad as to make me angry.

Grade: D+


Fraud by Entenzahn

Entenzahn posted:

“Dear God,” Earl said, scrunching up his face as if in agony. He massaged his temples and focused, visibly, on the energy in the room. Thunder struck in the background.

“Are you getting anything?” Mrs. Samson said.

“I see… a knife. In the darkness, a knife. White knuckles. Fist clenched around the handle. I sense anger, jealousy. Blood. Iron. My blood. I can taste it, the iron. It warms my mouth. It hurts. My heart, it hurts. No, no… don’t. Please don’t, I swear I didn’t cheat, I would never, no, NO!”

Aghast, Earl was hurled back a step, and opened his eyes.

“There’s definitely a ghost in here.”

“Oh dear.”

“Did you not have a reading done before you bought the mansion?” With a motion he cut the lady off before she could reply. “Don’t worry, ma’am. Happens all the time. So that will be one hundred dollars for the reading, and an additional two hundred fifty to carry out the exorcism.”

Don’t quote me on this, but I’m starting to suspect that maybe this character is a con artist.

But seriously, yes, that’s obviously the point. I guess you’re trying to play it for laughs, but it’s not really funny enough to work, so it just comes off like you think your readers are morons. More cynically, it comes off like you can’t imagine what an actually convincing con artist would sound like, so you just exaggerate it instead. How about instead you display basic respect for your readers and at least try to make me believe that this man could actually be convincing to someone.

The other problem here is that some of your descriptions call your narrator’s perspective into question. Saying that Earl focused on the energy on the room implies that, you know, he’s actually doing that rather than putting on an act, even with “visibly” inserted in there. You say that he’s “aghast” and that he was hurled back (how can one be hurled back only a step, by the way?), but again, he’s not, he’s putting on an act. Neither an omniscient narrator nor one limited to Earl’s perspective would say these things. You seem to acknowledge this in other lines, like when you say that he scrunches up his face “as if in agony”.

Entenzahn posted:

“And that will make the flickering lights go away?”

“Or your money back.”

“Well,” Mrs. Samson said, “I gotta say this is all very exciting.” She fumbled for her purse and counted bills. “I can’t wait to see--”

“Now, this is a very, very vengeful ghost,” Earl said, graciously leading her out of the room. “Very vengeful. So I’d say, you go for a ride, treat yourself to an afternoon at the salon, and let me work my magic over here. We’ll have your house ghost-free lickety-split.”

Before she could protest, he snatched the bills from her hand, ushered her out and closed the door. For a short moment, nothing happened. Then there were muffled high heels on hardwood, moving away from him.

First of all, the dialogue still feels utterly silly while simultaneously not being funny. But more importantly, the actions being taken are completely insane.

Please take a moment to actually picture this scene with actual real people in it. Imagine grabbing the money out of someone’s hand and then forcing them out of their own home before they can even protest. Are you writing a loving cartoon?

And that’s not even getting into the fact that there’s a loving thunderstorm outside. Sure, it seems like technically he’s just kicking her out of the room, but he’s still telling her to leave the house (and assumes she’s done so when he hears her walking away, which is a bit weird).

Entenzahn posted:

He vented a long-pent-up sigh through his nose and opened his suitcase. It was kind of a gay piece, colorful, decorated with arcane symbols, and filled with standard lightbulbs and simple tools. With a screwdriver, he opened the cover on the light switch next to the door and fixed the contacts. Then he sat down and continued reading ‘The Shining’ where he’d last left off.

The Shining (which should be italicized, because it’s a novel, not a short story) was published in 1977, by which time the modern meaning of “gay” was well-established. Unless this guy is supposed to be especially old or old-fashioned, it feels very strange for him to refer to his suitcase as gay.

Entenzahn posted:

He didn’t even feel bad. Mrs. Samson was a dentist’s wife. Some people just had more money than they deserved. And judging from this room he wasn’t the only one who had robbed her. Old, tacky paintings of old tacky people hung from the walls. A weird life-sized doll collected dust in the corner, arms folded in front of her like a chaste maid. There was so much trash. He didn’t understand what it was for, but the rich probably had art rooms and all that kind of baloney.

This paragraph (or the first half, at least) is probably the best part of the whole story. I like the line about not being the only one to rob her. It gives a bit of insight into who this guy is and how he thinks.

Entenzahn posted:

“Fraud.”

He closed the book, just for a second, but enough to feel embarrassed. Obviously he misheard. There was nothing but the rain pattering against the window. Nobody was here. For a room stuffed with art pieces, it felt amazingly empty.

The light flickered.

“gently caress,” Earl said. He hurried over and unscrewed the cover, but the contacts were fine. Maybe he had to change the lightbulb. Maybe it was the wiring. Dear God, he hoped it wasn’t the wiring.

The first part of this fine, I guess. But the last paragraph has me asking serious questions about this guy’s modus operandi. Obviously the basic idea is that he’s taking advantage of the woman’s ignorance about her lighting system so that he can fix whatever her problem is and pretend that he got rid of a ghost. I have a couple questions, like how many hauntings are actually just caused by faulty appliances, but let’s put that aside for now. My main issue here is that earlier he acted like he already knew exactly what the problem was. It almost made me wonder if he’d caused it deliberately, but that really doesn’t make any sense in light of anything else in the story, so I assume that he just immediately knew what the problem was (I don’t know enough about this stuff to know how realistic that would be). But now he’s suddenly unsure and thinks it might be a wiring issue. Does he have a back-up plan if it’s a wiring issue? Given how panicked he sounds, it doesn’t seem like it. Which makes his whole scam seem even more flimsy.

Entenzahn posted:

“Fraud.”

This time he was sure somebody was whispering at him. Had Mrs. Samson mentioned having kids? Brats could get into the tiniest spaces.

“Okay, you can come out,” he said. Nobody came. “Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. You can watch me do the ritual, you know.”

Holy poo poo, he doesn’t know whether or not she has kids? How bad is this man at being a con artist? Not to mention that that makes locking her out of her own house even more hosed up.

Entenzahn posted:

The light flickered again. Lightning struck. He could have sworn something had moved in the corner of his eye, but that was obviously bogus. Had the doll always been facing towards the door? Seemed like a strange way to arrange her.

He waved his thoughts away. Now was not the time to go crazy – at least not while the light was still busted. He listened for the voice, but again there was nothing but the rain, and his own thudding heart. Maybe the kid had scrammed.

Sorry, it’s obviously bogus that something moved while you still think that there are possibly kids in the house? This man’s thought processes are incoherent, and it seems like you’re just shoving clichés in without regard for the fact that they blatantly contradict each other.

Entenzahn posted:

Lightning struck again. There was a weird shadow on the wall opposite of the window, sticking out into the large rectangle of light that fell through from outside. It seemed almost human-shaped, but he couldn’t see where it would be coming from. Perhaps the doll, somehow. Or an oddly-shaped cloud he couldn’t make out. Maybe it came from a weird angle.

Or a human, since until a minute ago you thought that there might be other humans in here with you. It’s not clear why you stopped. Did you just figure out how idiotic that would be? If it was plausible five minutes ago that you accidentally locked yourself in a house with a bunch of kids, I don’t see why it’s suddenly unthinkable now.

Entenzahn posted:

The shadow turned and moved out of the light.

“Fraud.”

Faint laughter.

“Fraud.”

Now Earl for sure heard it. He heard it through the pitter-patter. Through his racing heartbeat. Through the laughter that seemed to swell up behind the door on the other end of the room, the one that lead deeper into the mansion. He tried to calm himself down, but now even the people in the pictures seemed freaked out. They followed his every step, as if silently urging him to leave. Earl anxiously eyed the door that led back to the front entrance.

The doll had definitely moved.

The muffled laughter from the other door got louder, swelling up, like a thunderstorm approaching him, one chuckle at a time. And then it stopped.

There was a knock.

Earl bolted. He threw the door open and ran down the hallway. Malicious laughter seemed to rain down on him from all sides. “Fraud,” it said, “Fraud. Fraud. Fraud.” The other end got farther away with every step. Shadows were growing longer, deeper. Doors were slightly ajar, eyes peeking out at him from behind, white fingers curled around dark oak. They reached out for him. Tried to pull him in, keep him here, buried deep in this mansion like the hack fraud he was. He had to get out. He had to--

The last door spat him out into the foyer.

Yeah, yeah, a bunch of spooky bullshit. Whatever, I’m bored.

Entenzahn posted:

Light seemed to rush back into the mansion. It was quiet. The rain had cleared and the sun was setting outside. Earl had left his suitcase back in the art room, but now he was not so sure about getting it back.

But then, if he left it, it would seem mighty suspicious.

He took a deep breath. Convinced himself he was going crazy. In five years, not a single house had… this was bananas. He would just quickly get it and later give Mrs. Samson her money back.

Dude, what? I mean, okay, I’m sorry if it’s boring to say “your horror story protagonist is not acting rational”, but this all just feels so hopelessly clichéd.

Also that thunderstorm sure cleared up fast. Although, wait, how much time has actually passed? When he kicked Mrs. Samson out it was early afternoon at the latest, since he told her to spend the afternoon at the salon. And now the sun is setting? How long did he spend reading The Shining? I thought the implication was that he’d just sat down to read it when he started hearing the voice, but I don’t see any other points at which he might have spent literal hours. Did the doll create a loving temporal rift? Does this take place in the Arctic?

Entenzahn posted:

He turned back around.

The doll looked straight at him. Its toothy grin stretched from one ear to the other, dotted by two malicious eyes, glinting pins piercing his soul. It stood on top of the grand set of stairs, watching him.

And then it loving moved.

What it had attempted to do, Earl had no idea. He was too busy tripping over himself as he burst out the front door, onto the streets. ‘Fraud’, it echoed through his head, but as he stumbled away from the mansion, the calls ebbed off.

Oh no, a toothy grin and malicious eyes. What do malicious eyes look like, you ask? Why, they’re eyes filled with malice, of course. Isn’t it obvious? Also they look like “glinting pins”, apparently.

Entenzahn posted:

“G'day,” an old passerby said. Unkempt and amused, the old-timer chewed on his pipe. “I see you’ve been to the Samson mansion?”

“I, uh, yes,” Earl said. He composed himself. “Do you know the owner? Can you relay them a message from me when they come back?”

“Owner?” Curious, the man stroked his stubble beard. “Has nobody been living in that mansion. Not ever since that thing what happened to poor Mrs. Samson.”

First of all, I can’t tell if this man is supposed to be speaking in some particular dialect or what. Is “Has nobody been living in that mansion” a grammatical way of saying “nobody lives in that mansion” in some variety of English? Am I supposed to assume he’s Australian because he said “g’day”? I honestly don’t know.

Second of all, that’s not what “owner” means, you bloody yobbo. You don’t have to live in a house to own it.

Entenzahn posted:

Earl’s gut churned. “What?” he said.

“Well, t’was a few years ago. Some sorta self-proclaimed psychic they hired, from what I hear. Saw all the money for the taking and just up and robbed the poor woman. Hit ‘er a bit too hard with the sap, and that was that.”

Oh my god! Mrs. Samson was a ghost! I can’t believe it! Now it’s really spooky that Earl was chased through a haunted mansion by an evil sentient doll!

This “twist” is not foreshadowed and affects nothing about our perception of previous events. It is just a lazy nothing. Who cares?

Entenzahn posted:

“...oh.”

“Gives me the jeepers, that place.” The man took a long drag from his pipe and looked out at the mansion. He didn’t seem to notice the shadow standing in the window. But Earl noticed. Earl knew it was watching him. Waiting. Laughing.

“Well, you’d best go along now,” the man said, and laid an amicable hand on his shoulder. He leaned in. “You goddamn FRAUD.”

gently caress you.

Entenzahn posted:

Earl only stopped running when he was back in his downtown apartment.

An honest career in electrical engineering seemed like a mighty good idea all of a sudden.

Okay, hang the gently caress on. He’s an electrical engineer? This man got a four-year degree at engineering school and he’s using it to run this scam? I’m already sceptical enough that this bullshit would be profitable for an electrician, given how comparatively little business he would get, but a loving electrical engineer? Or am I meant to believe that he’s now planning on going to school for electrical engineering? And yes, I know that actually you probably just meant that he’s an electrician, but this story has annoyed me enough that I’d not giving you the benefit of the doubt.

It’s just boring clichés and twists that don’t matter. Even in a ghost story, you can’t just have things happen for no reason! It seems like you mostly proofread it, at least, although there were bits I’d rephrase. The prose is mostly functional, but it functions to tell a story that did little more than waste my time.

Grade: D


Highgate by apophenium

apophenium posted:

Paz knew death and she knew pain. Her years as a hospice nurse taught her well. But those years were behind her now. Forced into early retirement by a back injury, Paz was more familiar with pain than she liked. Sleep came rarely and the leaden sleep her pain pills afforded her didn’t really count.

Not a great start. First of all, you’re starting with a cliché, but on top of that you’ve doubled the cliché in a really awkward way. You then have a passable segue into some backstory for her, which is fine, but then follow it up with what ends up feeling like an awkward info-dump. And then on top of that you half-repeat the initial cliché, so you end up stating that she knows pain for two different reasons. Almost everything about this paragraph is awkward.

apophenium posted:

On top of the pain, Paz battled feelings of inadequacy. The gripping pain in her lower back made working impossible. She missed helping the dying into fresh clothes, their slow smiles and whispered thank yous. Missed the purely mental pain of losing a favorite patient.

Just more awkward backstory. You’re repeating yourself, too – you already said that she was forced into retirement by her injury, you don’t need to clarify that it was because the injury made work impossible. That is the usual method by which injuries force people to retire.

The last sentence here is also awkward as hell. I see what you were going for, but it just doesn’t work.

apophenium posted:

Her nephew, Cesar, lived with her. He helped with groceries and other errands. Paz didn’t understand how he made money. He stayed in his room smoking pot and playing video games for people on the Internet. His YouTube checks were almost twice Paz’s monthly allowance.

Cesar always pestered Paz to try a joint. Just one. He said it would help not only with the pain but also with the depression. Paz always said she wasn’t a druggie. He would roll his eyes and ask her how many pain pills she was on.

The last line her is good, but you’re still doing nothing but feeding me backstory. Nothing has actively happened in the story yet; the first four paragraphs have been general statements about her life or things that have happened at undefined moments in the past.

Also, Paz clearly does in fact know how Cesar makes money. It sounds more like she doesn’t understand how he can make as much money as he does, but clearly she does in fact understand that he makes money by playing video games for people on the Internet.

apophenium posted:

But the thought of relief nagged at her and eventually she caved. Cesar gave her £60 and told her to meet a guy in the cemetery after sundown. Despite her reservations, Paz went.

Okay, so the good news is that we’re getting closer to an actual story happening. The bad news is that the second sentence here has some remarkably stupid implications.

Let’s break this down for a second. Cesar has been pestering Paz to “try a joint” for some time. And then she finally caves. So she tries a joint, right? No, apparently not. Apparently Cesar changed his mind and doesn’t want to share. A bit selfish, but okay. Will he at least sell his poor aunt the drugs he’s been pestering her to try for ages? Nope, he won’t do that either. He’s going to actually force her to go buy them herself. What a cool nephew! But wait, it doesn’t even stop there. Despite forcing his aunt to go buy her own weed when he has plenty of his own to share, he is willing to give her the money to buy it. What the gently caress is happening here? I get that he’s flush with YouTube cash and she’s probably struggling on disability or whatever, but it feels like Cesar is removing the less important obstacle for her here. It’s bizarre and there’s no explanation given at all, which makes it obviously that things are not happening for any kind of logical reason but rather because you need to set up the story and couldn’t be bothered to do it in a way that makes sense.

And of course Paz is fine with this, somehow. This woman who refused to even try a joint because she didn’t want to be a “druggie” is suddenly totally cool with going to meet some unknown drug dealer alone in a cemetery in the middle of the night. Excellent characterization here.

apophenium posted:

The gate was closed and sliced the dying sunbeams into pale orange stripes. Her back wouldn’t allow her to climb the thing, so she circled the cemetery looking for a gap. Once inside, the sunset ended abruptly, leaving little light for her. She squinted, looking for her nephew’s dealer.

I enjoy that the only reason Paz didn’t climb the cemetery gates was because of her back. Otherwise she would have been totally cool with breaking into a cemetery to score drugs.

Why is this even happening in a closed cemetery? I guess it’s pretty out of the way, but it’s also awfully suspicious if someone does see you. Again, I know that the actual answer is “because it’s necessary for the story”, but every time your reader actively thinks about that fact you’re losing them a little more.

apophenium posted:

She paced down aisles of graves and wondered if any were her former patients. The names were hard to read; a roiling blue-gray fog had settled on the ground.

“Paz?” asked a voice behind her. She turned but saw no one. There was a cough, and then the voice said, “Over here.”

Fear took hold of her, almost enough to distract from her back. “You know Cesar?” she asked, eager to confirm the voice’s identity.

“Yeah, that’s me.” After the voice spoke there was a strange whirring sound. The fog at Paz’s feet bubbled and thickened.

What does “eager to confirm the voice’s identity” add here, exactly? Do you think that your reader will not understand why she’s asking this question otherwise?

apophenium posted:

Another cough and then Paz could see the dealer. He was a head taller than her and wearing a black hoodie. Paz couldn’t see his face in the hood’s shadow. The figure raised a boxy thing to his mouth. That same whirring. Then the figure exhaled a cloud of the supernatural fog. “You got the dosh?”

Is the implication supposed to be that he rose out of the fog? Am I supposed to find it spooky that she couldn’t see him at first and then she could? It’s very unclear.

apophenium posted:

“Is that a vaporizer?”

“Sure is. Cesar told me to give you one. It’s easier on the lungs than a spliff.”

“Will mine make so much smoke?”

The figure chuckled and held out a gloved hand. Paz put the envelope of money in the hand. In return, Paz received a paper bag.

“If you need help just ask Cesar.”

I thought Cesar wanted her to try a joint? Did he change his mind? Is this why he told her to go buy it herself with his money? Why couldn’t he have just bought it for her? Also, why is she buying a vape from a drug dealer in the first place? I checked, and they’re legal to buy in the UK, so it seems like a pretty questionable decision to buy one like this.

apophenium posted:

A new voice yelled “Hey!” Paz and the dealer turned in its direction. A police officer, scrambling over the cemetery fence.

Boy, that’s convenient. This lone police officer just happens to stumble upon them, despite the fact that they’re in a deserted cemetery in the middle of the night. And right at the most appropriate point in the story, too!

apophenium posted:

“Can you run?” asked the dealer, taking another puff.

“I’d rather not,” said Paz. In a panic, she said, “Sorry officer, we wanted to pay respects. Hadn’t noticed them locking up. We’ll be out of your way.”

The cop pointed to Paz. “What’s in the bag, ma’am?”

“Take-away. My husband was a chef. We like to share a meal at his grave.”

If the cop scowled any harder, Paz thought he might have an aneurysm. “Can you put your hood down, sir?”

Both the cop and Paz eyed the dealer, who made no move to reveal his face. Instead, the hooded person took a long drag from the vape, forcefully exhaled in the cop’s face and yelled, “Run, Paz!”

Very cool that the dealer decides to shout her name right next to the loving cop. Also, how close to them was the cop standing, exactly? There’s no indication that the cop was up in the dealer’s personal space or anything (and the fact that he was asking him to remove his hood suggests otherwise, for that matter), so it seems a bit weird that he’s able to launch a concentrated stream of vapour into the guy’s face.

apophenium posted:

Ignoring the screaming pain in her back, Paz scurried back to where she entered the cemetery. The cop beat at his face, howling in pain. She had lost sight of the dealer.

Howling in pain? I’m not an expert, but this seems a little unrealistic to me, especially in light of my previous comments. I guess he got it in his eyes? Why is he beating at his face? Honestly this cop just seems like the world’s biggest wuss, so I guess you get realism points for that bit, at least.

apophenium posted:

Heart racing, Paz took a bus back to her street. Instead of going home, she walked to a nearby park and looked in her bag. A vape much like the dealer’s and a refill cartridge. Hesitantly, Paz took a puff. The vapor stung the back of her throat and burned her lungs. She coughed and thought back to her encounter in the graveyard.

Cool, and she’s already out of danger and we’re skipping ahead. Why not give us a bit more of her escape from the cop? It doesn’t have to be a long chase scene or whatever, but this just feels like a disjointed mess.

Anyway, instead of going home to her idiot nephew who got her into this whole mess she decides to get high on a park bench. I guess she already knows how to use a vape despite barely recognizing it before? Does it not need to charge or anything? Like I said, I’m not an expert here, but this all feels very sudden. She was so scared by her encounter with that cop, but given that cops in this world seem to just wander around random places at night on the hunt for shady-looking people, I’m not sure why she’d suddenly feel safe to get high in the middle of a public park.

Also, she thinks back to her encounter in the graveyard, but you give no indication of why or what she’s thinking about, and it’s not relevant at all to what happens next. What is the purpose of this line?

apophenium posted:

“Feel anything yet?” It was the dealer, sitting beside her on the bench.

“What the hell, man. Don’t sneak up on people. And no, I don’t think I feel anything.” She took another hit. “Wait, okay. I think I get it.” Her feet tingled and her thoughts drifted.

“How’s the back?”

“Better. But this stuff is messing with my head.”

“You’ll get used to it. Hit me up when you need another cartridge.” The dealer stood up. For a second a streetlight revealed the dealer’s face. To Paz it looked bone-white. Sockets instead of eyes and a broad toothy grin.

Paz chuckled and shook her head. “See ya,” she said. The dealer left the park in a cloud of dense vapor.

Sorry, is the implication supposed to be that she’s already so high it doesn’t freak her out that she’s talking to a motherfucking skeleton?

Also, why do you specifically say that his face looked bone-white to Paz? Would it not have looked bone-white to anyone else? Is there supposed to be some sort of ambiguity here? You make it pretty loving clear that his face is a literal skull, so I don’t see what being coy about it accomplishes.

apophenium posted:

“Thanks for watching, amigos. I’ll be back tomorrow night. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already. And check me out on Twitter.” Paz got through her usual sign-off speech. She had begun supplementing her disability stipend with streaming herself playing the latest video games. Turned out people enjoyed watching a stoned middle-aged lady playing games and swearing in Spanish.

Her dealer started giving her good deals, calling her “my best customer.” They still met in the cemetery, but were much more discreet. It did help her pain. Cesar had been right, after all. Paz felt well enough to help out with the groceries and chores.

But yes, Paz knew death. Death was her weed guy.

Yeah, I see what you did there. Too bad it’s clunky, especially because the first paragraph was more about pain than death.

I don’t appreciate that you spell out even more clearly that the drug dealer is Death, though. It was already obvious enough; leave it as a vaguely spooky thing instead of making a joke about it.

Of course, it’s a bit of a moot point because it’s not really spooky, it’s just dumb. What is the point here? Death is helping her out because she was a hospice nurse and helped people die peacefully? Did they put in a good word for her with Death? Okay, fine, I guess that works okay, but here’s the issue: what the gently caress did Cesar do to get Death as his drug dealer?

Because he’s the one who bought from Death first, right? I mean, I assume I’m supposed to take all that at face value. I suppose Death could have somehow replace Cesar’s actual dealer and used his spooky magic Death powers to get all that information, but then presumably Cesar and Paz would eventually figure out that they have different dealers, right? So I’m forced to assume that Death is Cesar’s dealer as well, which kind of takes away from whatever point you’re trying to make in the first place.

Also, how the gently caress are they “more discreet”? They didn’t do anything indiscreet the first time; they just got stumbled upon by some idiot cop. For that matter, Death has magic powers and can just teleport to the park near her house (which is apparently reliably cop-free), so why not just meet there? Why does this rear end in a top hat make a woman with chronic back pain take a bus across town just so he can hang out in a spooky cemetery?

And the streaming poo poo is lame; you obviously just thought the image of this middle-aged woman streaming video games is funny, because it sure doesn’t seem to fit thematically with anything else.

Overall this story really just does nothing for me. The prose is flat, the plot and characters make no sense, nothing really comes together. It’s still vaguely coherent, but that’s about all I can say for it.

Grade: D-

Viscardus
Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.


Week 343 Crits

Behold, the first of our two profoundly cursed stories!


Dragonstorm by SlipUp

SlipUp posted:

A solar flare erupts on the surface of the sun and the energy speeds across the vast expanse of space, reaching earth’s orbit in eight minutes, supercharging a particle suspended high in the atmosphere. The microscopic particle grows to the size of a pea as it fills with white light. It falls back towards earth, like a tear.

Thanks for the science lesson. The prose here is dull and it’s not at all clear what this means or what I’m supposed to be getting out of it.

SlipUp posted:

Lucy’s camera flashes, capturing the full glory of the Saturday night LAN party. Four monitors line the wall, linked together, like a budget command center. Set up had taken an hour. A night of glory awaited.

Is this supposed to be the picture in the prompt? Either way I don’t think this accomplishes anything. Why is she taking an awkward photo of a bunch of computers? And the prose is still stilted as hell.

SlipUp posted:

“What adventure this time?” Lucy inquired.

“Dragonstorm!” Michael replied from his spot beside the window.

Jerry claps his hands together. “Oh snap it’s out?”

“Almost,” George said as he holds up a USB drive, “It leaked early.” He plugs it into his backward facing PC.

They didn’t decide what game they were playing until after arriving and setting everything up? Or did Michael and George just keep Lucy and Jerry out of the loop for some reason? For that matter, what is Dragonstorm exactly? Lucy refers to it as an adventure, which would suggest to me that it’s something more like a module for a particular game rather than a game itself (this would also help explain why they didn’t decide what game to play in advance), but maybe she’s just being dramatic?

And why do you feel the need to tell me that George’s PC is backwards-facing, besides the fact that there is a backwards-facing PC in the picture?

Oh, and you’ve suddenly switched from present to past tense here. Don’t do this.

SlipUp posted:

“Cool, way to go Georgie!” Lucy said as she put her camera in her bag, taking her place among her friends.

“Ready?” She asks.

“Launch in three… two… one…” Michael counts down, as is their cheesy tradition. They turn their monitors on at the same time.

Okay, you’ve switched back to present tense now.

But also, why are they just turning their monitors on now? Didn’t they have to, like, install the game or something? It feels like you committed very hard to trying to fit the exact picture into the story no matter how little sense it made.

SlipUp posted:

A bright ball of light enters into the room through the window, on a breeze.

“Whoa!” Somebody exclaims.

“Is that an alien?” Jerry asks as the ball floats over the top of their computers. Each is showing the Dragonstorm logo of a prince, riding a dragon.

“I think it’s ball lightn—,” Lucy begins but is cut off by the detonation of blinding light that fills the room with the smell of sulfur.

So their computers boot directly to the game somehow? Or were their computers already running and their monitors were just off for some reason? How did they install and open the game in that case? What is going on here?

And I guess the magic solar flare particle or whatever the gently caress has decided to come visit them. I realize that you wanted to include some sort of wacky mad science explanation for what happens, but I really don’t feel like this accomplishes anything interesting. It’s just random magic.

SlipUp posted:

Everything fades to darkness. The pixels of black in their mind’s eye that comprise the sea of unconsciousness begin to vibrate and then fall away.

This second sentence is a nightmare, which I suppose is appropriate under the circumstances.

SlipUp posted:

Green. Lucy can see small blocks of green, and now blue, even yellow. It is as if the resolution is improving.

Okay so you reference pixels here, I guess, but then the resolution just improves and it’s never an issue again, so what is the point?

SlipUp posted:

She’s outside, lying in a blowing field of long green grass. A clear blue sky suspends the sun above her.

Her armour clinks together as she rises from the ground.

“Huh,” she remarks, studying the gauntlets she’s wearing. She notices she has a sword in its sheath at her side and a shield on her back as well.

“Hey Lucy, looking good!” Michael says from behind her. She turns to see him in a white robe and with a staff in his hands.

Oh great, it’s an isekai.

They’ve already been given classes and dressed appropriately, I guess. I feel like it would have been a bit more dramatically-appropriate if they’d had time to make characters or something and then been made to play those characters, but okay, sure.

They’re also taking this awfully well.

SlipUp posted:

“Not too bad yourself,” she replies.

Jerry pushes himself up from the tall grass between his companions, he’s wearing a vest and a dress shirt, with a lute strap around his back.

“Did we just travel to the past?” he asks.

Really? Is this really what you would think? I mean, who knows what you would think if something this bizarre actually happened, but they’re taking it pretty casually, so I feel like I’m supposed to be treating this as if they’re thinking clearly right now. And once you’re at the point where “something completely bizarre and unlike anything in the entirety of known human experience has happened” is your assumption, why would you go straight for time travel at this point? I don’t know, this just feels like you didn’t want them to immediately get to the right answer but couldn’t actually think of something more plausible.

SlipUp posted:

“Maybe,” Michael answers as he examines his staff. It’s heavy, made of iron with leather wrapping. It forms a triangle at the top and holds a thick blade that resembled a stake at the bottom. “Except… I think I remember this, and I never paid attention in history.”

“Well that’s badass, but definitely not historical.” Lucy says, “We’re in Dragonstorm aren’t we?”

“You nailed it,” he says, “When George told me he was downloading the game last night, I looked for a beta walkthrough.”

Cool, I’m glad they figured out the mystery by rationally analyzing their loving weaponry. Also this “beta walkthrough” comment is never really explained. Michael recognizes the staff from the walkthrough? What?

SlipUp posted:

A woman’s figure rises from the tall grass a distance away. She is wrapped in leather, with a quiver of arrows around one shoulder and a bow over the other.

“Something’s different,” the woman says.

Lucy feels something familiar in the strange woman’s voice, “George?”

The figure looks down and examines themself. They cup their breasts.

“This isn’t what I thought it would be like,” they say.

“You’re still Georgie to me. We’ll figure this out, Mike saw the walkthrough,” Lucy says.

“Beta walkthrough,” Michael corrects as he pulls his staff from the earth.

“How did I end up like this?” Georgie asks.

“Dragonstorm has a unique character generation system. It asks philosophical questions and generates your character based off your answers,” he says.

“I don’t remember any questions,” Georgie says as they touch their elbows. “These feel weird.”

“Our subconscious must have answered for us,” Lucy says in realization. Georgie sighs.

loving kill me.

Where do I even start here?

You know what, let’s put aside the gender stuff for just a second. My assumption up to this point is that everyone looks the same as they do in the real world. None of the other three make any comment about looking or feeling different, nor is there any such reference in the story. They all recognize each other immediately, so if there are any differences from their real-life bodies they’re probably minor (maybe they’re in better shape or something, whatever). But George is different for some reason. We’ll get into this more in just a moment, but if something about George’s subconscious affected his character’s appearance, why wouldn’t it also affect the others? None of them want to look different and/or have a character who looks different? This isn’t necessarily a huge issue but it just feels very lazy that everyone looks exactly the same besides one character who looks totally different due to being a different gender.

Okay, now for the gender stuff. This is clumsy as hell, to say the least. Is the implication that George is trans or otherwise gender-questioning in some way? That’s fine, you could totally explore a theme like that, but it’s very unclear, and talking about the character cupping their loving breasts really does not help. Is the implication that George subconsciously (or perhaps consciously but secretly) feels like a woman or wants to try being a woman? Or is it just that he wants to play a female character? Or, worst of all, is it that he somehow has “feminine” philosophical opinions? I honestly cannot tell if you’re trying to write a sensitive portrayal of a trans person (in which case you failed, by the way) or just trying to get some laughs from someone being stuck in the wrong body (which feels very out-dated), or maybe whether it’s supposed to land somewhere in the middle. No matter what you were going for, it didn’t work, unless your goal was to annoy me. In that case you succeeded magnificently.

The switch to gender-neutral pronouns (and a more gender-neutral name) suggests to me that you want to be sensitive, but it doesn’t really work for me, because it just adds to the ambiguity. I mean, I appreciate that you didn’t just start using female pronouns because George has a female body now, but if the implication is that George is actually supposed to be trans, that would actually be appropriate. If the implication is that George is just a man in a female body (and so is trans in the game world, I guess?), it’s weird to not just continue to use male pronouns. I don’t really expect you to put an extended discussion of pronouns into your story, but maybe don’t put yourself in a situation where it is totally ambiguous to the reader whether or not you’re actually being respectful of someone’s gender identity.

Okay, so I’ll leave the gender stuff there; there’s probably more than could be said but hopefully you get the point by now. I just want to add that while I can kind of see the idea between philosophical questions determining a class for your character (although it seems a bit pointless), I don’t understand how the hell they could determine your gender or appearance unless you’re getting into real biotruths territory. Or am I supposed to understand “philosophical questions” to also include questions about your true gender identity or something?

Long story short, this whole thing is a mess that you really, really need to rethink.

SlipUp posted:

“Hey, at least you have a sick bow.” Jerry says, idly strumming his lute, “I guess I’m supposed to hit people with a guitar.”

“Nope. You play it. Trust me,” Michael responds.

“Well as long as their weakness is a bad night’s sleep I got us covered.”

This dialogue is incredibly bad. These are not funny jokes. And does this nerd really not know what a bard is? I got the impression these guys were supposed to be into this sort of thing, but maybe this is there first-ever fantasy game?

SlipUp posted:

“Hey, look at that,” Georgie says, pointing towards a path that runs through the clearing and the surrounding woods. A cloud of dust is moving closer. “Is that a friendly?”

Lucy surveys the situation. “You three hide in the ditch beside the road. I’ll block the way and try to find out what’s going on. I’ve got the armour. If they try anything, Georgie, Michael, turn them into a kebab.”

“I guess that’s why you’re the one with the sword,” Jerry says as he plays a few more chords.

Lucy takes her place in the center of the road as the others hide. A rider emerges from the curved forest road, at a high-speed gallop. They see each other too late. She leaps into the ditch. He shouts. The horse rears back, unsaddles him, and flees back the way it came. His shape lies on its back, motionless in the bare dirt.

I’m struggling to understand the geography of this area. They see the rider (or a cloud of dust, I guess, because this is a cartoon), and Lucy stands out in the middle of the road… at which point she loses sight of the rider because she’s in the woods now? And the rider never sees them at any point? This doesn’t seem totally impossible, I guess, but the scene you’re describing feels very strange. Almost like you constructed it around lazy clichés instead of any kind of sense of logic.

SlipUp posted:

Michael runs to him. He stakes his staff in the ground and forms a triangle with his fingers.

“Producat in regeneratione,” Michael says over the injured man. A triangle of green light emerges from the staff and joins his fingers, forming a prism. It blinks and disappears.

The stranger’s eyes flutter and open. He gazes at the sky for a moment, as if he forgot what brought him here. As the memory dawns on him, he looked at the four people surrounding him.

“It seems Commander Smith’s coup is successful. If you brought me back to life to torture me, know I would die a thousand deaths for my people. Do your worst charlatans. I do not yield,” the man says.

This dialogue really sucks. I feel like I’ve mentioned this a couple times but very little that anyone says in this story feels remotely natural.

And “Commander Smith” is a terrible name for an enemy in a video game fantasy world. Is it bad on purpose? I don’t know or care. It’s still bad. If you’re going to make it cheesy at least go all the way and name him Zythrak or something.

SlipUp posted:

The four look between themselves and solemnly nod in unison. Jerry turns his back to the man, lowers his trousers, and farts loudly in the man’s face. It cracks like thunder and trails off into a high pitched squeal.

I think this is the point at which I gave up whatever small amount of hope I still retained that the story might not be terrible. Why are the characters behaving in such an unnatural and confusing way? What about them have we seen so far that would give the impression that this solemn nod has any discernable meaning to us or to them? What is it conveying besides being the clichéd set up for a terrible joke? Oh, yes, they nod solemnly at each other as if sharing some profound insight or plan and then one of them farts, how droll. This is a completely insane reaction to what the man said and nothing about this makes sense.

Oh yeah, and it’s a loving fart joke. gently caress you. You know the worst part? It feels like you put more effort into describing the fart than nearly anything else in the story.

SlipUp posted:

“Yield fool!” Jerry says, “I can play this lute poorly at you as well!”

“Enough, enough! What manner of assassins are you?”

“We’re simply adventures searching for our home,” Lucy says, “We weren’t looking for anybody.”

The characters all continue to behave unnaturally, of course.

SlipUp posted:

“Truly? Perhaps this meeting was by divine providence. I am Prince Nath, of the Kingdom of Cibbia. We were a peaceful people. My father, the King, wished to reform the army, reduce its size, and focus on improving the lives of the common people. Commander Smith did not wish to see his power reduced. He murdered my father and his dragon as they slept. I tried to flee with my dragon Zoe, but she is young and not yet capable of flight. They caught us at the bridge. She knocked a man off a horse and placed me on it. She saved me. Now that bastard has her.”

Cool, thanks for the lovely backstory. Is this commentary on how NPCs in video games talk? Because so far nothing else this guy has said has come across as particularly NPC-like, and he can obviously react to the players dynamically.

Also very cool that he trusts these people implicitly because they said they weren’t baddies. Despite the fact that one farted in his face.

SlipUp posted:

“You need to raise an army,” Michael comments. Prince Nath disagrees.

“The dragon is the symbol of my office. I cannot be king without her. Besides, she’s my only friend. She saved my life. I’m not letting her suffer,” Nath says, “Smith will try to break her to his will with torture so he can seize the throne.”

“You speak of her as if she was more person than beast,” Georgie says.

“She is smarter than any human, but she is not human. Nor is she a beast. You seek to put labels on her, to understand her easier. Understanding Zoe is not easy. Nor does she wish to be labeled. She is a colossus and a creator, a pyroclast and a poet, a killer and a kindred soul. Just call her Zoe and let her speak for herself. Rescue her, and we will send you home.”

I’m getting tired of talking about how bad the dialogue is, but it’s really bad. First of all, I don’t really buy Georgie’s line here. The guy could very plausibly just be talking about a dog or something; it’s not that weird.

But boy, Nath’s reply is really something. Did he have this speech prepared in advance? It feels weirdly hyper-sensitive, like this guy spends a lot of time thinking about how to shame people for not taking his relationship with his pet dragon seriously enough. And I have no idea what he means when he says she’s a pyroclast, even metaphorically. She’s a volcanic rock fragment? What? This feels like lazily-written purple prose.

SlipUp posted:

“It’s kind of a long way,” Michael says.

“Young wizard, I see you bear the triangle of the three elements; fire, water, and nature. While you memorize slices of magical theory for practical application, she is a master of fire magic and can bend the sun itself to her will.”

Michael shrugs. He looks to his friends. “Best shot we have.”

Stop talking about your loving dragon you goddamn weirdo.

Okay but seriously, how does Michael know that it’s “a long way” home? None of the characters appear to have given any thought to getting home yet, let alone come to any conclusions about how hard it would be. But sure, I guess maybe he’s just trying to make the point that it’s not as easy as Nath is assuming.

And then Nath starts defending his dragon waifu’s honour again and Michael immediately gives in. I don’t know what the gently caress fire magic has to do with getting you out of a video game dimension, but sure, whatever, nobody actually seems to be interested in examining their circumstances at all anyway.

SlipUp posted:

Prince Nath pointed back down the road. “The bridge is two hours away by foot. They’ll no doubt… Drag her into the river. It will keep her weak,” Prince Nath says with a crack in his voice, “I don’t know yet what they plan, but it will be some time. Smith’s skill with the sword is unmatchable, his golden armour is too thick to penetrate with arrows, and he carries a magical charm to ward off all but the mightiest spells.”

“Can you walk?” asks Lucy.

Don’t capitalize the next word after an ellipsis. Also the ellipsis feels very weird here, even if it is supposed to represent his voicing cracking from sadness or whatever.

By the way, this adventure seems lame as gently caress if it’s actually the one from the game. Like, what, you just randomly run into the prince and then go have a boss fight? It just feels so lazy.

SlipUp posted:

The soldiers camp was on the other side of the river. They were fifty strong. The bridge and road were adjacent to them. Zoe lay in the river, huge chains pulled from one shore to the other to keep her in captivity.

I haven’t really mentioned it, but you really need to work on proofreading. You have a missing apostrophe here, but these kinds of issues litter the story. Also, the sentences here feel clunky; they’re just disjointed description.

SlipUp posted:

The soldiers were unaware of the group's presence. Georgie had soundlessly eliminated the scouts from afar by piercing their throats.

“drat Georgie.”

“Natural born killer,” Georgie jokes, “You’re up Lucy.”

She draws her longsword, shield on her other arm, and walks to the bridge. She rests her sword on her shoulder and whistles as she goes.

The sentries on the edge of the camp can hear her approach. They shout to the rest of the soldiers who gather their arms and armour, and hurry towards the bridge. From the largest tent emerges a figure wearing ornate golden armour. Commander Smith.

“I warn you all,” Lucy shouts at the advancing horde, “I am the master of this bridge, and I charge my toll in souls."

The lone figure screaming defiantly at them seems to shake the troops for a moment. They were no fools. Prince Nath’s pursuers had not returned. The scouts were missing. The bridge would act as a funnel against them and in favour of this berserker woman. A woman?

They reach the bridge and cross it. Lucy blocks the first man’s charge with her shield and cuts his legs out from under him.

That is the group’s signal. They hear a shout from the woods.

“Fiat ignis!”

“They were no fools,” the narrator said, before having them be fools. So the bandits noticed the scouts were missing and did nothing about it? They realize that they shouldn’t all run onto the bridge but do it anyway?

Again, it all just feels so lazy. I don’t know if this is too vague a criticism, but I don’t know what else to say. It doesn’t feel like you really put any thought into why any characters do anything, or how to set the scene in such a way as to make it interesting. You just sort of shove a bunch of clichés into the shape of a story and then hack together a mishmash of subpar prose to roughly describe it.

SlipUp posted:

A blazing blast burns the bridge, breaking its boards and beams beneath the brothers-in-arms. The construct collapses completely into the current, carrying them 'cross the country.

Smith sallies to the sleeping serpent, sword sharp.

“Violence virtually vilifies virtuous vermin,” Jerry jokes. Forest fogged his fate from his foe, his players part in this play. The lute laid low the little liar, laden with lacerations. Chords cut the Commander like a caesarian. The body bleeds blue.

I’m sorry, what? Where did the alliteration come from? Why are you doing this? In case you were wondering, I loving hate it.

And “caesarean” (which you loving misspelled) does not start with the same sound, so you couldn’t even get that right.

SlipUp posted:

“Sick poo poo,” they say.

Jerry farts loudly.

gently caress you.

SlipUp posted:

“For rescuing my dear Zoe, we will return you to your time whenever you please,” proclaims Prince Nath. Zoe jumps up and down, nods her head, and licks Nath so hard he falls over.

“Seems like a dog to me,” Jerry whispers to Georgie.

“A dog who mastered fire magic in her free time,” they reply, “Looks can be deceiving.”

“It’s not really a time problem—“ Michael begins.

“Wait, whenever we please?” Lucy says.

“Of course,” the prince says as he wipes drool from his tunic. “Why? Do you wish to remain? With this foul beast?”

Zoe holds her nose at him.

Lucy laughs at them both and her eyes catch Nath’s, who smirks like a child from his spot on the ground.

“I thought Zoe could take us for a ride?”

“Sure, but there’s only room for two,” Nath says.

Lucy looks at her friends. “Don’t wait for me, I’ll catch up.”

Jerry shakes his head and laughs. “Let’s hit the tavern! Look out ladies, I got a lute! The adventure's just begun!”

More terrible dialogue, whatever, I can’t stand to think about this story anymore.

It’s bad, my friend. It’s bad on basically every level. It is an absolute miracle that this was not the losing story. It’s insufficiently-proofread, the prose is stilted, the plot is simultaneously boring and nonsensical, the characters are awful, there are no discernable themes, it’s full of clichés. It really has no redeeming features at all. All that said, there is a certain innocence to its badness and on some level I at least appreciate that it is unpretentious in what it is trying to do.

I still hate it, though.

Grade: F

Viscardus
Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.


Week 343 Crits

Lo! It is here! Our most extraordinarily cursed story of the week!


One May Ride a Free Horse to Death by selaphiel

selaphiel posted:

Tonight, something had come.

A man's body had washed ashore, tangled in water reeds and sand. From afar, Elise had assumed him dead. She approached him carefully, her dog plodded dutifully beside her. Brandishing her hiking stick she jabbed him none too gently in the ribs.

Cool, this character already loving sucks. “Hey cool, a dead body! Or possibly a person in need of medical help! Both of these things would be improved by jabbing it in the ribs with a stick!” No explanation is given for why she does this.

And it’s “none-too-gently”. Hyphenate multi-word adverbial (or adjectival) phrases like this. I wouldn’t normally pick out particular grammatical errors, but a lot of people seem to make this one, and repeatedly.

selaphiel posted:

This action elicited a groan from the nearly drowned figure who promptly rolled over and peered up at her.

“Ah, the sea couldn't finish me off so Poseidon himself sent an awful wench to finish the job?” His humor fell flat, but he still sent her a small smirk.

I know that when I wash up on a beach having almost drowned and am awoken by someone jabbing me with a hiking stick, my first thought is to wisecrack about a Greek god trying to murder me. Also this wisecrack is phrased weirdly. Why is Poseidon referenced in relation to a random woman with no connection to his domain rather than the sea itself? I mean, okay, the implication is obviously that he was also trying to kill this guy by drowning and the lady is his back-up plan, but it still just comes across as very awkward.

More importantly, his humour falls flat for the audience, too.

selaphiel posted:

Elise did not return it. Beside her, her hound snarled.

“Who are you, and why are you here?” Elise's voice cracked, unused and almost unfamiliar to her as she hadn't needed to speak aloud since her husband passed four years ago. She'd been alone ever since, lived off the land and her small collection of livestock.

Oh yeah, that’s some loving seamless backstory integration right there. Also, Elise continues to be weirdly hostile to this man. He just washed up on the shore half-dead, why the gently caress do you think he’s here?

I mean, okay, maybe she’s justified because this guy does turn out to have an agenda, but it’s very unclear to me why she’d have any reason to know that.

selaphiel posted:

The man stood, and it was only then that Elise noticed his feet–or rather, his equine like hooves–and blanched.

I’m sorry, what? You only just noticed this? Did approaching him “carefully” not involve loving looking at him? You have poked him, stood next to him, engaged him in conversation, and somehow through all of that did not notice that he has horse legs?

Also, is he wearing pants or something? What’s the situation here? As far as I can tell his clothing is never described, which only makes this more confusing. Did she not notice because he’s wearing pants? Would human pants even fit horse legs? Does he have special horse pants? If he’s not wearing anything, that makes it even more inexplicable that she didn’t notice.

selaphiel posted:

She'd heard the stories and the myths, but never had she believed them to be true.

This sentence is so loving bad. It’s a cliché, but one that simultaneously manages to sound completely unnatural, which is the one thing clichés are supposed to be good at avoiding.

What I really want to know is how Elise perceives this. Clearly it’s a weird thing, seeing a man with horse legs. But how weird? What sort of world does Elise live in? Does she live in something like the modern world, where most people would regard a man with horse legs as entirely scientifically impossible? Or does she live in a world where lots of people believe in these kinds of stories and myths, but she personally doesn’t? This sentence does absolutely nothing to answer my question.

Speaking of which, my struggle to guess what the gently caress kind of world this is supposed to take place in will be a recurring theme, and I will never get any kind of satisfaction.

selaphiel posted:

He followed her gaze and nervously rubbed his head, “Ah, I can see you're quite perturbed by my predicament. Let me explain.”

The stranger took a step back, as if readying himself.

“My name is Achaius. I've come upon some trouble, you see. I need to find my way back home. I had a boat but it broke on the rocks,” Achaius gestured north towards the sea.

“I'm wounded. I know the way, but I will not make it without the aid of another. My people, they can heal my afflictions, change me. The stories say so. I just need the assistance of a young woman,” he finished.

What is the “predicament” that he believes she is perturbed by? She’s obviously actually perturbed by the fact that he has loving horse legs, but despite his promise to explain he doesn’t do anything of the sort (and it’s unclear whether or not that can really be called a predicament).

So is he actually saying that he thinks (or is pretending to think) that she is perturbed by his having washed up on shore looking like a dead body? That would make more sense, except that that’s obviously not what’s bothering her, so it’s not clear if I’m supposed to believe that he’s an idiot or deliberately misinterpreting her.

Also, his dialogue is painfully awkward, like he’s reciting a hastily-scribbled speech. The end result is that I can’t tell if he’s supposed to sound awkward and pretentious or if you just wrote him like that by accident. Either way, it does nothing but take me out of the story.

selaphiel posted:

Elise narrowed her eyes, evaluating the horse hooved man. Blood oozed from a brutal tear on his back, stretching to his chest. She reckoned he must have slammed it upon the rocks when his boat met its dreadful end.

“What do you think, Doc?” Elise murmured to the dog at her feet. The shepherd perked his lopsided ears, sniffed at the ground where Achaius stood and huffed.

Excuse me?

Okay, I’m not going to harp on it too long because it already got a lot of time in the judgement, but I hate this. If she is the kind of person who talks to her dog, why did she not do so for four years? Does she only do it performatively, when there are other people around to hear?

To be clear, this is telling not only because it doesn’t make sense, but because it reinforces how lazy your characterization of Elise is. You had her not have spoken in four years because it sounded like a neat idea or something, and then you had her talk to her dog because dogs being suspicious of people is a cliché you wanted to use, and you thought the line sounded good or something. I don’t really know your exact thought process, maybe I’m a bit off here, but the end result is that you put less thought into Elise’s character than any of the people who judged your story did. That’s a problem.

selaphiel posted:

“Doc here, he doesn't like you sir. I take that as a sure sign you are not to be trusted.”

Achaius laughed despite looking visibly agitated, “Ma'am forgive me for being so rude, but you've been out here far too long if you believe that dog has any more sense than to piss on a tree and howl at the moon.”

Elise brushed the belittlement aside.

Both of these characters are assholes. I assume that this is mostly intentional in Achaius’s case, though I don’t fully think that justifies it. The problem is that it’s hard for me to care about this story when it’s just two strangers being assholes to each other for no reason. Your characters don’t have to be good people, but I have to care about them on some level. At this point I just dislike both your characters and don’t care what happens to them.

I have no engagement with this story. I would be more engaged if Elise reacted to literally anything like a normal human being, or if Achaius actually said something that made him remotely sympathetic. A nice woman helping out a rude stranger or a friendly stranger being treated poorly by a suspicious woman are both frameworks upon which you could easily build a much more interesting story. You have just presented two people being dicks to each other for no real reason. There is nothing to care about here, and it’s a terrible framework to build a story upon.

selaphiel posted:

“Achaius, I do apologize for the woes that have befallen you. However, I cannot be of aid to you. I recommend traveling south, there's a good trader town not five days from here. Plenty of fine women too,” Elise nodded respectfully and turned, bidding him ado.

Le mot que tu cherches est «adieu».

Also, the reference to a “trader town” only deepens my confusion over the setting of this story.

selaphiel posted:

She'd only gone a few steps before Doc let out a frightening yelp. Elise turned back to see Doc writhing on the ground with a dagger protruding from his belly, Achaius above him. He withdrew the weapon slamming it into Doc's throat, silencing the dogs cries of pain. Blood leached into the sand.

Elise screamed, her voice tearing through the night. Doc had been the last thing her husband gave her, her best friend all these lonely years.

Here’s the thing: I already care as much about a dog dying in some random story as I’m ever going to (which is not very much, for the record). Adding in some John Wick bullshit about it being a last gift from someone’s deceased spouse does not actually make it any sadder. If anything it makes it less sad, because now I’m laughing at how you literally copied a plot point from John Wick. It’s just melodramatic bullshit.

selaphiel posted:

Without thought she threw herself at Achaius, her hikers stick aimed for his head. He dodged her, and despite injury was far more nimble than her. The stick was ripped from her grasp.

“Now, since you haven't the wise advice of a mutt what do you say about helping your new friend out?” Achaius said, grinning almost politely.

“gently caress you!” Elise spat. “I'll die before I help the likes of you.”

“Well. I can't have that,” he stated plainly before swinging the stick into Elise’s left temple.

She fell, hitting the ground and did not stir again.

You’re describing a fight but there’s no energy to any of it. It feels like you’re describing everything in the most detached way possible.

selaphiel posted:

Elise awoke to the soft flicker of fire light. Her head pounded and her ears rang. She attempted to rub her throbbing skull only to realize she had been bound with seaweed. She struggled against her binds but to no avail, a small whimper escaped her.

Achaius appeared in her line of sight, he sat polishing his hooves with a rag. He glanced her way, “Now now, don’t be foolish. That is each-uisge weed, you cannot break it with your feeble human body.”

I don’t want to keep saying the same things, but your prose is very dull. You’re technically giving information but you’re not really painting a picture of the scene. I can’t picture this scene in my mind at all. What position is Elise in? What parts of her are bound and in what position? How far away is Achaius? Where is the fire relative to them? What sort of environment are they in? It’s not that you need to answer all of these questions, it’s that you really do nothing to illustrate what anything actually looks like. It feel like the characters are just interacting in a void.

selaphiel posted:

“Don't worry, my people are coming. You won't have to wait long,” he finished.

Elise noticed that Achaius had cleaned himself up, and that his wound had healed. Maybe self healing was a perk to being a mythological sea horse. If there had ever been a wound at all.

It’s “self-healing”, and this is a very weird way to phrase it, like she’s listing superpowers or playing a video game. This whole thing is so awkward.

selaphiel posted:

The sea lapped the shore nearby.

“What do you want with me?” Elise questioned, her voice raw and scratchy.

Achaius continued polishing, “What is your name, human? Tell me that and you shall know of my needs for you.”

“Elise.”

“Lovely name, Eli.”

Her nose wrinkled in disgust, only her husband had ever used that pet name.

How convenient that Achaius just happens to hit upon the nickname that will annoy her. Literally every time you have mentioned her husband it has been a bad idea. Her dead husband does not appear to give any depth to her character; he just exists to make your reader feel bad for Elise (and fails in this, because Elise is an annoying jerk).

Also, I’m assuming that this is meant to be pronounced like “Ellie” rather than like “Eli”, since that’s a completely different (generally male) name.

selaphiel posted:

“Well, Eli. My family is coming shortly. If you wish to see this night out alive I'm going to need you to work with me here. I've tried for two hundred years to get a woman to go with me willingly, that's a stipulation you see,” he rolled his eyes and continued. “You women, you are stronger than men. However, I cannot wait any longer.”

What does the comment about women being stronger than men have to do with anything?

selaphiel posted:

“What are you saying?”

“Eli, I need you to put on a show. When my brothers come, I need you to act as if you are here of your own volition. It's the only way for me to meet my true form. Do that and you will be set free.”

Achaius reached forward and brushed his fingers along her cheek bone. Elise flinched backwards. “Do we have a deal?”

Elise swallowed, she understood the gravity of her situation.

“You have your deal, Achaius.”

The dialogue still doesn’t feel genuine. Again, I’m repeating myself, but it’s a constant problem. Think about how your characters think and what they want, and then think about how you would talk about those things in that situation. It feels like you’re trying to turn every line into some kind of dramatic moment instead of just writing something that feels natural.

Also it’s annoying how ridiculously oblique Achaius is about all this. I get it, you’re trying to be mysterious, but it’s not working.

selaphiel posted:

A commotion sounded not far from where they were camped. Possibly a mile away.

Thanks for the precise estimate.

selaphiel posted:

Achaius clapped his hands together gleefully. “Here they come! See, I told you it won't be long yet.”

I really do not have a clear mental picture of Achaius. Maybe you do, but you’re not conveying it, because it feels like he just acts and talks kind of randomly. I have no sense of his personality beyond the fact that he’s a creepy jerk.

selaphiel posted:

Elise watched, she had been untied and properly cleaned up in order to play the part of a girl smitten with Achaius. Eventually the sound had a visual. A herd of five horses galloped across the shore in unison. They were the most magnificent equine she had ever seen. Even with the blood and sweat that adorned their hides. She was entranced.

Don’t just use synonyms for their own sake (especially when you don’t know how to pluralize them). Different words have different connotations even if they have the same basic meaning.

You do something again here where you use a comma to separate two complete clauses. This is bad; don’t do it.

selaphiel posted:

The leader of the herd, a black stallion cantered towards them. His horse flesh shed from his skeleton morphing into that of a handsome man. Elise blushed shamefully for having such thoughts.

Sorry, what? He sheds his horse-flesh from his skeleton… which morphs into a handsome man? The flesh morphs into handsome man-flesh? I do not understand how I’m supposed to be imagining this.

Also, what thoughts? That he’s handsome? Was she having sexual thoughts about the handsome horse-man that weren’t actually mentioned? When did she become a virginal schoolgirl? This is completely at odds with the rather more grizzled version of her I had mentally before this, but of course I have no idea what she looks like or how old she is or even really what her personality is like beyond “she’s an rear end in a top hat”.

selaphiel posted:

“Achaius. I see you have succeeded,” the leader dipped his head in approval.

“I did as the laws have asked, Niklaus. Now it is my time to ascend to my true form," Achaius removed Elise from his side and approached the other man. He dropped to his knees and bowed to Niklaus.

“Please, brother.”

Niklaus did not address his brother, but rather Elise.

“Human, have you come with my brother of your own free will?”

Elise took a moment to fully focus on Niklaus. With the best straight face she could muster, she spoke.

“Of course, Mr. Achaius here was wounded. It wouldn't have been ladylike of me to deny him the aid he needed. I have sworn myself to him in anyway he desires.”

Niklaus nodded.

“Achaius, it's only taken you half your lifetime. But tonight you shall meet your true form. Get the girl ready for the ritual.”

Maybe it’s just me, but if I were Elise I would strongly consider confessing the truth to this handsome man-horse. It’s a bit risky, true, but it sounds like he wouldn’t approve of what Achaius is doing, and it’s not like Elise has the remotest reason to trust or be loyal to Achaius. It feels weird to me that she doesn’t even consider it. But not only does she not do that, she doesn’t even try to get any more information about what she’s agreeing to. She just blindly makes a disturbingly broad oath. Why is she suddenly so passive? This man murdered your beloved dog, which was simultaneously your last gift from your departed husband! Why are you just doing everything he wants now, even when you’re no longer compelled to by threat of violence?

selaphiel posted:

Achaius stood alongside his five brothers, he being the youngest of them all. Their hooved feet were submerged in the sea. Elise kneeled in the middle of them, her form shivering as the cold sea water pooled up to her waist.

Why is this the point you choose to inform us that Achaius is the youngest brother? Why does this matter enough to be awkwardly inserted into the description?

selaphiel posted:

All five brothers sliced their palms, allowing for their blood to drip upon Elise.

Bending down, Achaius gathered Elise to his chest. Slowly, Achaius walked deeper and deeper into the embrace of the sea until they were both enveloped by water. The world stayed silent.

Once the water swallowed her whole, Elise shoved against Achaius, her fingernails digging into his flesh. She thrashed and she thrashed. Her screams were nothing but air bubbles.

Yeah, you really picked the perfect time to start fighting back. Very clever.

selaphiel posted:

A large and dark figure swam towards them. It was both horse and dragon-esque, fearsome yet ugly. It stopped short of Elise. It must have sensed something, her unwillingness to die maybe. It had been summoned in the face of a lie and payment was still due. Right now, she was not its intended target.

“Both horse and dragon-esque” is an incredibly clunky phrase. There are about a million better ways to describe this, most of which would read better while simultaneously conveying more information about what this thing actually looks like. I have no idea what I am meant to be visualizing here. I am currently picturing a Chinese dragon (because it’s underwater) with a horse’s head and laughing at the mental image.

Also, it’s cool that Elise is so good at reading the emotions of this terrifying sea-god. Otherwise your audience might get confused about what’s going on.

selaphiel posted:

Achaius did his best to shove away from the creature before it lurched forward with its maw parted. It ripped Achaius away from Elise. Blood churned in the water turning it a mahogany hue, bits of flesh and guts floated by her. She took this chance to thrust upwards. Her head broke the surface. Elise gasped once air met her lungs.

She flapped her arms in panic. But before she could swim the creature appeared beside her. Something about the look it gave, calmed Elise.

Watch. It commanded.

I know you are not willing. But you are not a child of the sea, young creature. I cannot spare your life for a blood calling cannot be taken back. Know you do not die for the benefit of a liar.

Achaius had been deposited on the shore, his family had not moved to support his tattered remains. He screamed as what was left of his body shed its man form and warped into a mutated, discombobulated beast that resembled a premature colt. He stumbled on legs no stronger than those of a newborn doe.

This is probably the closest you come to painting a decent picture of anything that’s happening, although there’s definitely still room for improvement. I don’t think “discombobulated” is really doing the work you want it to here; it’s too silly a word.

On the other hand, this feels like a literal deus ex machina. Maybe that’s appropriate, given the mythological stuff, but it’s still kind of boring.

selaphiel posted:

One cannot fool me, child. A sacrifice must be entirely committed to giving themselves to the blood calling. If not, the sea Gods of Old and New take great insult and act on that accordingly. I cannot save you from your current life as your blood has been promised to my makers. But just as they did for me, I can do for you. You can be remade.

Elise floundered in the water, her body had gone numb and her limbs had begun to fail her. As it was she didn't have much time left regardless.

“Please. Please help me," Elise whispered faintly.

Close your eyes, land child.

I don’t pretend to understand Sea God Law, I just enforce it.

selaphiel posted:

The creature watched, assuring that its creation was nestled safely in the sand. She would grow to become a magnificent maiden of the sea, her shell and body were small now but one day she would be one of the largest and most sought after breeds of turtle in the world.

You are home now, sea child.

What the gently caress is this?

Okay, so she got turned into a turtle. But I’m really unclear on if she just individually got turned into a turtle, or if she somehow got turned into an entire breed of turtle, like some kind of mythological origin story for an animal species. Either way it’s weird as hell that the narrator feels the need to inform us that she’ll be sought-after. For what, food? Decoration? As pets?

Is there supposed to be some kind of symbolism here? Because if so, I don’t get it. It just seems like a random thing that happens for no discernable reason.

But this brings me back to the mythological bullshit. Clearly there are mythological overtones here even beyond the referenced to Greek and Celtic mythology. I cannot figure out what your actual intentions here were. Was this whole story supposed to be tonally like an ancient myth? Is that why Achaius and his brothers sound kind of formal? Is that why everybody acts like a weird rear end in a top hat and nothing really makes any sense? Those are frequently features of Greek myth, after all. But I’m honestly not sure. If this is what you were going for, I’d say that the biggest problem is that your prose is way too dull and direct most of the time. Unless you’re trying to do some kind of deliberate contrast, a mythological story should use mythological language.

I also have no idea where or when this story was meant to take place. Is it modern? The reference to a “trader town” makes me feel like it’s not, as well as the whole vibe of Elise’s living situation. Or maybe it’s supposed to take place in the past, though how distant I have no idea. It’s not always strictly necessary that we know when a story takes place, but in a case like this I feel like it sure would be nice to have any available bit of context for trying to understand these characters.

The end result is a story that really doesn’t work at all. Worse, it’s a story that feels quite pretentious while not working at all. It doesn’t really make sense or convey any meaning, nor does it do anything to hold the reader’s interest. The characters are unlikeable jerks who do stupid things for no reason, the prose rarely actually conveys much of anything besides the most nakedly functional descriptions, and the dialogue is insufferable. And then the ending is just… I don’t even know. I finished this story feeling baffled and it has only gotten worse on repeat readings.

Grade: F

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Really above and beyond critting there. Thanks much.

Doctor Zero
Sep 21, 2002

Would you like a jelly baby?
It's been in my pocket through 4 regenerations,
but it's still good.

The Truth Shall Set You Free
1,342 words
Flash: Your authoritarian believes they can sense when a person is lying.



Talana was dying. Her death sped on raven wings as she lay in front of the shrine, wounded, starving, parched, exhausted. Darkness enveloped her. The world retreated.

Then she heard the gods.

“This one?” Incredulous. Harsh. “She grovels in the dust while her family lies rotting in the smoking ruin of her home.”

“She has potential in her.” Softer.

“Once. Now she is spent - of no use.”

“She has faith as few do anymore. This is why I came.”

“Faith. Feh. She squanders her faith.”

“Perhaps you are right. It is too late.”

No! she thinks with wild panic. No! Not after all this! I prayed myself to death! I can prove myself! Test me! But she finds she has not the strength to move.

“A test, eh?”

“A test, yes. So it is done.”

Then the rain came.


#

Warm rains bathed her, drenched her, turned to clay the dust in which she lay. The clay became mud. The mud, having drank its fill, puddled under her face.

She sucked weakly at it through cracked and peeling lips, tasted iron, and sweat, and salt.

It moistened her mouth. Burned her throat. Her fingers flexed, her arms convulsed.

She began to cough. The coughing grew until she struggled to all fours and spat out a gobbet of dark, thick, coagulated blood.

Strength returned to her limbs, even while they shook. The warm wetness running down her face, her neck, seemed to make her buoyant.

She raised her head. The offering bowls at the shrine filled with a gray, dusty water.

She crawled forward with a speed that she couldn’t imagine possible a few minutes before. She forced her face into the water, drank deep -

- and then turned her head and was sick.

After a pause, she plunged her head back and drank again. This time the water stayed down. She drew a deep breath and looked up.

There was a sword.

It balanced on its pointed tip, impossibly standing upright on the shrine to the gods. It gleamed, lit with an inner glow. The blade, long as her arm and as delicate, tapered smoothly from hilt to tip. The cross-guard formed from golden, metallic wings curled in two perfect arcs.

She struggled up the steep, mossy stairs, reached out splayed fingers, gripped the blade.

The smooth metal felt warm to the touch as if recently heated. It was very sharp.

She pulled it to her, half expecting her palm to be sliced open, but her skin stayed whole. She cradled it as she had her younger brother, his body broken after … after the raiders had -

She remembered why she had come.

Fury thundered through her, she the rod and it the bolt. The warmth of the blade filled her, shoving aside the emptiness, the hunger, the exhaustion. She stood up as easily as as if she had taken the merest rest and had not been prostrated, praying in the dust to the gods for seven days.

“The gods have made me an instrument of vengeance.” She whispered to the sword.

The warm rain stopped abruptly. The sword sung in her mind.


#

The first person Talana encountered as she came down the steep, narrow path from the old mountain shrine, stood staring at her, mouth agape. He had been sitting on a fallen log across the road, picking a blade of grass apart, watching up the road that passed under the mount. As she descended, he noticed her and stood. She knew must have looked a sight, barefoot, bloodied, wearing a torn grey (once white) frock, brandishing the golden sword in front of her like a torch.

He blinked and shook his head. He ran forward.

“Miss,” he said looking at her with a squint. “Are you all right?”

She gave what she felt was an imperious flick of her jaw and brushed a bloodied lock of hair from her face.

“Yes,” She said. “Now.”

He tilted his head. His eyes rested on the sword. Flicked back to her clothes.

“Right. Um, look my wife and I are having a bit of trouble around the bend but if you’d like we could help you.

“What happened to your voice?” She asked.

“What d’you mean?”

“It changed for a moment - “ she frowned. “screechy. Like a rabbit pounced on by a fox.”

“No it didn’t.”

“Yes, it did when you mentioned your wife. And when you said, you’d help.”

“Not that I heard.” He screwed his face up before shaking the expression away.

“Those are the lies,” she heard in her mind. Startled, she looked around.

Following her gaze, he peered around as well, confused.

“Look, that don’t matter, my wife is around the bend with our wagon that broke it’s wheel.

“There, it did it again.”

“Look miss, I don’t know what’s wrong with your ears, but there’s nothing wrong with my voice.”

He glanced again at the sword. Licked his lips. Rubbed his fingers together.

“Just come with me, and it will be all right.

“No, it won’t,” a wisp of a voice said.

Talana stiffened and looked at his face, into his eyes. Was that perspiration on his forehead?

He slowly put an arm around her shoulders, turned her, and began to lead her up the road.

“My name’s Jorren.”

‘No, it’s not.” The sword whispered in her head.


#

How long Talana stood by the wagon with its carefully removed wheel, staring at the broken and slashed bodies of “Jorren” and his female accomplice, she couldn’t say.

She heard the clup clop of a horse approach, but not until the sound stopped and she heard a soft whistle and steel being drawn, did she turn.

The man astride the horse was heavy and cloaked. His long hair receded as his stomach expanded. He wore a silver chain of office around his neck. Despite his shabby appearance, he held a broadsword expertly and confidently, and even she with only her seventeen years, could tell that this man was no stranger to arms.

“What happened here, miss?” he asked in a tone used for discussing weather. His furrowed brow and darting eyes belied his true mood.

“Sir,” she said. “these two were liars and thieves that meant to rob me, possibly worse.”

“Oh?” He surveyed the bodies and then looked at the sword still clutched in her hand. “And did you -”

When no answer was forthcoming, he continued.

“- do all this yourself?” He waved his sword at the carnage.

“Yes. I think so.”

“You think so?”

“It’s all sort of a blur, but yes I’m sure I did. They lied. They meant harm.”

“So you said.”

He looked her up and down.

“You should come with me to my … post. Do you have family nearby?”

“No, sir. We live… lived south, in Hardlesty. We were marauded. They’re… dead.” She blinked away tears.

“Hardlesty?” He stiffened. His jaw set. “I see. Well, come along my dear. Will you hand over your blade?”

“Am I in trouble?”

No, you’re safe now.

“Untrue,” the sword whispered.

“You’re lying,” she said.

She looked anew at him. His beast’s pack bore the symbol of a griffin with an outstretched claw. A symbol she would never, could never forget. The Riders of the Griffin came with the night and the mist, pillaging everything. She could still hear her family’s screams while the men burnt their village and hacked, and slashed, and killed.

Talana looked into his eyes, peering back at her from within the fat face. Her own eyes flashed.


#

Talana rode the fat man’s horse north after leaving him split, groin to neck. The man’s chain of office hung around her own neck now, smeared with blood.

She felt elated - an arrow, nocked and loosened, unable and unwilling to veer from destiny. She would find the Griffin riders. They would pay. Everyone would pay.

She cradled the sword like a child once again.

“I prayed for healing. I prayed for vengeance.

She stroked the sword.

“The gods answered those prayers.”

“Yes,” whispered the sword, “but which god did you answer?”

Viscardus
Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.


Flash Rule: Your authoritarian is a convert, a once-rebellious individual who now understands the error of their ways. They were wrong. The system is good.

I Have Seen the Light and It Is Beautiful
1350 Words


I wake slowly, caught between dream and thought.

I feel the pain in my head first – aching, pounding, like my younger days, when I still drank to excess. It is disorienting. Sickening.

The worse pain reveals itself moments later, when I breathe too deeply. Stabbing, twisting agony buried deep in my side. An animal cry escapes my throat, becoming a moan as it passes my cracked lips.

My eyes are still closed, and I focus on the Light. The wounded animal within me writhes in fear, but the Light muzzles it.

There is so much wrong. I suspect that the pain in my side is a broken rib; breathing is difficult. My head is numb, my entire body sore beyond the aches of age; whatever I was sleeping on is no proper bed. My arms are bound painfully at my front.

I open my eyes and the darkness pours in.

I am on the floor of a small room – a wooden dwelling, illuminated by lamplight, I think, though my eyes are still fixed on the ceiling. Looking around will be painful.

I hear movement in front of me, out of my sight. Straining, I lean my head to see. Two young men in plain garb: one sitting at a table, the other just having stood. My captors – no, my gaolers; they are not in control here.

I cannot see what is on the table, but one man has cards in his hand, hanging limp and forgotten. They are staring at me: one with obvious hatred and the other with fear.

Hatred is the one standing. He lost someone, I expect. There is nothing better to inspire hatred. A father executed for withholding taxes, perhaps? I’ve heard so many stories; that one is as good as any other.

Fear is sitting, still holding his cards. He is harder to read: a rare idealist, perhaps – a true believer, not one who cloaks his anger in empty words and thinks it makes him a hero. A noble fool, admirable in his own way. Or maybe not. It’s difficult to care.

“Get him up,” Hatred orders. He stares at me for a long moment, and I wonder what he’d give to drive a knife into my throat. I try to remember how it feels to hate like that, but I can’t.

The moment passes and he leaves the room. Fear obeys the order, awkwardly pulling me upright by my arms. I groan in pain, but do not cry out.

Fear sits me on his vacated stool, then clears the table of cards and coins. I can see the whole room now, but there is little of interest: straw bedding in the corner, a boarded-up window above it. I surmise that it is night from the absence of light peeking through the cracks.

I’m uncertain how long I wait there, my pain worsening in my new position. Fear watches over me nervously. I close my eyes and focus on the Light.

Eventually I hear the door open.

Some part of me that is not surprised to see her. If I believed in fate, I might have expected this; it feels appropriate somehow.

She looks good. Older, of course, but somehow not as much as I’d have thought. We were born the same winter, but she looks so much younger than I feel.

She is dressed as plainly as her men. I’d feel overdressed were my clothes not dirtied and torn.

“It’s good to see you,” I lie. I’d hoped this day would never come, for both our sakes. Certainly not like this. Neither of us will get what we want here.

She looks at me with darkness in her eyes. Sadness? Pain? I don’t know. I could read her so well once. Not anymore.

She sits down, but says nothing.

“You took me on the road, I assume.” My memory is hazy, but my last recollection is of riding.

She nods. The silence continues. Can she not find the words? Or is this a tactic?

“We both know what you want to ask,” I finally say. “You’re not going to get a satisfying answer.”

“Try me,” she replies. Is there anger in her voice? This must be hard for her. Maybe even harder than it is for me.

She wants to know why. Why I’ve spent nearly two decades serving – becoming – what we both once sought to destroy. She wants to know why we are enemies now.

And I know that I can’t explain it to her in a way that she will understand. I want to, so badly. I want to persuade her that I’m right, convince her to abandon the cause she has wasted her life on. I know that I won’t succeed. But perhaps I should try anyway.

“What do you think it was?” I ask. “I’ve heard so many rumours. Most just think I wanted power. Some think I blamed my old comrades for my capture, or some other grievance. A stolen love, a personal slight – the sort of thing it would be in a song.” I smile a little at that. She doesn’t. “Some claim that She simply seduced me, as if that would be enough. And of course there are those who think it wasn’t my fault. That I was ensorcelled by Her ‘demonic magicks’. That my mind is no longer my own.”

She doesn’t visibly react.

“The truth is that She convinced me that She’s right. That what She is trying to build is worth the cost.” I know how unconvincing I must sound.

“How?” she asks. Her scepticism is undisguised.

“I was taken to see Her after I was captured,” I say. “I wanted nothing more than to spit in Her face, to show Her my defiance to the last breath. But… She was so polite. So serene. She said that She believed She could convince me. And you know that I could never turn down a debate. She visited me almost every day, for weeks. I don’t know how She had the time. Eventually I began to think She might be right.”

“And then She… showed me something.” My words truly begin to fail me now. I have never been able to describe the Light to anyone. The agony I felt as it scalded my soul and scoured my mind of self-delusion. Seeing myself for who I really am and the world as it really is. The terrible sight of truth revealed in all its naked glory. Truly understanding the vicious ugliness of humanity. And the knowledge that despite this, She still has hope for us. That She still loves us more than I ever could have imagined.

“She showed me things I can’t describe. She showed me a way to overcome our race’s eternal cycle of violence and misery,” I finally say.

“With more violence and misery?” she spits back.

I want to explain that it’s not the same. But I know it won’t make sense to her.

The silence stretches.

“Have you ever considered that you might be wrong?” I finally ask. I don’t know what I think it will accomplish.

“Have you?” she replies.

I’m a little taken aback. “Of course,” I say. “I think about it every day. And every day I come to the same conclusion.”

We sit in silence for another endless moment.

She pulls out a knife – the same one I gave her a lifetime ago. For a moment I wonder if she’s decided to kill me, but she simply places it on the table.

I realize what she’s offering. She still doesn’t understand. She still thinks that this might end in a way that satisfies her.

“I appreciate the offer, but no,” I say. “Do with me what you will.”

I watch her eyes as she sheathes it. I can see the sadness now. The confusion. This was always going to be how it ended.

She leaves me alone in the darkness. Eventually I stumble back into my makeshift bed.

I close my eyes and see the Light. I hope that one day she might see it too.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

timeless Ned Flanders style


The Madness that Defines Us
1100/1100 words

With the power given to me by the Souls, I have brought humanity into an unprecedented golden age. As a young rebel, I had toppled a despot, my mentor for fledgling Soul abilities. Was thrust into responsibility as his successor far too early, stepped up to the unwanted task. I struggled, I learned, I grew. I tried, I failed, then died. My soul diffused into the vast lifeforce surrounding us, the melting pot of all Souls that ever lived, and I was ready to surrender my sense of self.

Instead, they spoke to me, made me understand the power I had only used like a flailing child before, and told me what I needed to do.

Our chaotic race was squandering its potential. Unlimited creativity, wasted on petty squabbles. We could be arbiters of the entire universe, but we were like children throwing tantrums. The Souls had taken a chance on my mentor and me, liked what I did with their gift much more, but it wasn’t close to enough.

So I was rebirthed in an immortal body brimming with Soul energy. I took the reins the humans desperately needed. I eradicated war, I abolished money, eliminated sickness, gave every man the tools to rise to enlightenment.

It’s been millenia - and I haven’t succeeded yet. Sometimes, as I behold the gleaming cities from high up, so perfectly in balance with nature, I wonder if my task is by its very nature even possible. We have always defined ourselves by dissatisfaction. We reshaped the very world, even ourselves, to suit what we thought we wanted. We laughed in the face of evolution for being slow. How can I hope to conclude a process defined by a desire that can never be fulfilled? How can I guide what is informed by irrational passion?

The Souls want me to take the raw stone of that passion and cut it into a gem, its facets highly ordered, a beautiful and shining arbiter, an example for all other races. But human nature stubbornly refuses to be shaped like this.

We claim to want stability and safety, but I provided that. We get bored in safety, and boredom leads to unrest, and unrest leads to our particular brand of impetuous madness. A madness I sense boiling in the mind of my latest apprentice as he makes his way up to the place I decided to manifest in. I can be wherever I want in the world with a thought. But I’m expecting him here and now, so this anachronistic penthouse office it is.

The door bursts open, and the madness bursts out. “Silas! Your death grip on humanity ends today!”

“You have one last chance to cease this mad rebellion, Raleigh.”

“I am not afraid, master”, he lies as if I couldn’t see the inside of his brain. I could flip a chemical switch and calm him, disable him or kill him. But that would be the actions of the kind of man I’ve never been, and hope to never become.

I failed to make him see my ideals. I need to bloody my own damned hands. I draw the sword, badge of my position, and Raleigh’s follows suit. Soul power flows through us both, allowing us to overcome the limits of physical reality.

We fight. A dance that leads its own steps. On the table, on the ceiling, in our minds. In the air as I toss Raleigh through the window, then back inside, the shards new weapons for both of us to wield, daggers slicing through the places our bodies did or might occupy.

Throughout, he pleads against my wall of silence.
“You keep us from what we could be!”
I sidestep a thrust.
“If you gave us freedom, we would have conquered space by now!”
My counter opens skin.
“Why would you unite us without leading us to more?”
He feints in his mind, and attacks in actuality. Clever - yet I still evade.
“Answer me, Silas! What is your plan for humanity? Do you even have one, or do you intend to just let us stagnate forever?”

Why am I even sparring with him? I could end him with a thought.

Maybe I think he deserves answers? I start talking.

But he has heard my arguments countless times before; why would they start working now? His mind is set, and he will die in his madness like any human who senselessly challenges what might as well be a God.

Which is exactly how this entire mess started. When I got the mad idea to end my own master’s reign.

I receive the first genuine wound of the fight. Why is his madness worse than mine was? Just because he has no way of succeeding?

And then, finally, almost too late I realize what he is doing. He keeps me musing to prolong the fight, gaining time to spin a web of Souls around me. In just a few seconds, it will close, and my powers will be cut off for just the moment he needs.

He almost made it. But this is where it ends for him, and I will continue to reign and guide humanity towards…



The web closes, my sword falters, and my body becomes a physical necessity. He takes my head off, and I actually die from that.


☥☥☥


About half a century later, the true me gains consciousness in a body where I lived a life from birth to now in ignorant innocence. I remember growing up as Raleigh became more radical. I saw his adepts march the streets to stomp dissenters who were happier with Silas. I was drafted into a new military for eventual space warfare. My mad ploy for sabotage makes me smile. My wife and kids they took make me shed a tear. They will join the vast parade of loved ones lost so far.

I awakened on the cusp of my execution; instead, Raleigh’s death squad got destroyed by Soul power. And now, I fear, I’ll have to knock on his door, and make good the mistake I made by letting him kill me.

But what a wonderful bout of madness that was! It’s been long since I felt so connected to my own humanity. I hope they will forgive me for allowing decades of oppression; but at least it wasn’t me, this time. Though I do wonder, did I make them forget that there are other ways but having a single strong leader? Can I ever truly leave them to their own devices again?

After all - this isn’t the first time this scenario unfolded.

SlipUp
Sep 30, 2006


See archive.

SlipUp fucked around with this message at 19:59 on Dec 30, 2019

Staggy
Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes



TULIP
Your protag is a Calvinist but is unaware of the proper term for Calvinism or that it even exists as a thing.
1,338 / 1,350 words

Read it in the Archive.

Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:32 on Dec 30, 2019

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Hi, Thunderdome! There's been some confusion about Archive accounts recently, so I want to remind combatants of a few things:

  • If you don't have PMs, never sign on to IRC, and forget to provide crabrock with your e-mail address, there's nothing I can do for you--including contacting you to let you know why your account isn't happening.

  • Archive accounts are only open to people who have submitted at least one entry.

  • Archive account names need to match your SA usernames.

Thank you, and have a blessed pleasant tolerable week!

Joda
Apr 24, 2010

When I'm off, I just like to really let go and have fun, y'know?



Fun Shoe

Hands of fate
Flash rule: Your authoritarian is a palm reader.
1327 words

The embers of the fire-place were glowing orange witnessing the fire that once was. Smoke was rising from it, producing twisting and turning curves in constant movement, reminiscent of a sensual dance, and enchanting anyone whose gaze might be caught for a second too long. Leila, who might as well had have grown up in this chamber, had long since learned to absolve her mind of the concretions of the dance of the smoke, and its pungent smell of burnt pine. Her mind was on the subject before her, and how they would fit into the Great Mural.

In front of Leila in this moment, was a boy in his mid teens, who was not quite as comfortable with the fumes. His eyes were uneasy as she held his right hand, and traced the lines in his palms with her fingers. Silently she dragged her finger-tip across his life-line in a smooth motion, then rotated his hand clock-wise in a jerking motion, that produced a whelp of pain that she scarcely noticed. With a pensive expression she traced each line across the bases of his fingers.
“Hm, this is very strange,” she whispered to herself.
The gaze of the boy grew uneasier still, at this remark. The boy used his free hand to wipe the sweat off his brow. “W-what do you mean?” he said.
“These lines,” she said, tracing two lines from under his index finger to the broad side of the hand. “they don’t match; I’ve never seen anything like it. Has anything happened to you that might have altered your Pattern of Fate?”
“No. N--not that I remember.”
“Show me your other hand.” She said, as she let go of his right and gestured towards his left.
“Why?” he asked, raising his voice. “The right hand has the Pattern of Fate!”
One of the Enforcers stationed at the entry to the Chamber stepped in, “Are you questioning the orders of the Great Reader?”
“N-no, of course not,” the boy said, as he lowered his head and extended his left hand.
Leila took the hand and pondered it for a few seconds. “They’re always sloppy with the left hand,” she said, and continued “You have mutilated your hand and committed sacrilege. For refusing to -”
The boy suddenly bolted for the door, but the Enforcer caught him before he was even on his feet. “PLEASE!” He cried, tears now running down his cheeks, “M-My father was a Miner and died before I was born, I can’t be a Miner too!”
Leila said, calmly, “It is not for us to say where we belong in life. The gods have a place for us in the Great Mural,” she said, gesturing to the massive painting on the wall of the chamber, extending several meters across, and ever-changing in shape from the constant smoke in the room. “Our palms is their medium through which they communicate their plan, and you have mutilated this gift.”
Leila moved to the fire-place and picked up a red-hot rod of iron by the handle. “Hold out your hands” she said. The boy sat sobbing, and held his hands to his face. The Enforcer grabbed him by his wrists and forced out his hands.
“For the crime of this sacrilege, I hereby sentence you to exile.” She said, as she held out the rod, and the Enforcer forced his hands unto the red-hot iron. The boy let out a blood curdling scream as his palm prints were erased from existence. Leila suppressed a wince. She had always found exiles uncomfortable, but they were necessary to maintain the balance of fate.

***

Before being left on the street, the boy had revealed the location of the defacers who had mutilated his hands, and they were headed there with a group of Enforcers. One of them kicked down the door to the third-floor apartment. One defacer came running past the group, and managed to pass by them, as an Enforcer ran in pursuit.

The apartment was dimly lit, and with the kind of nondescript brown furnishing, that made it hard to discern dirt from intended color. One window was open from a defacer who had jumped, but his screaming witnessed to the fact that his escape was ultimately unsuccessful. One room at the end of the hallway marked “Modding room,” stood out from the rest of the apartment. Unlike the rest of the decor, this room was well-lit and clean. Along the walls were posters detailing the meaning of the hand-lines, and illegal propaganda posters reading “Don’t be another line in the mural,” and “Don’t play a hand in her game.” In the middle of the room was a barber’s chair with straps added to both arm-rests, next to which was a surgical table with scalpels and scissors drenched in blood. A trail of blood droplets led from the chair to the door.

Leila followed the trail, and it led her to a broom closet. She gestured to one of the Enforcers, who opened the door. A kid, no older than 15, and with great, black, unruly hair tried to push her way past the Enforcer, who held her back with ease.
“Let me go!” she yelled.
Leila nodded at the Enforcer and he unhanded her. She grabbed the hand from which blood was dripping; the defacer had not managed to do much damage. Despite the blood, Leila was able to discern the long life-line, long head-line and short heart-line.
“Bureaucrat,” she muttered to herself.
“I’d rather die” the girl said, and ran, as a black book fell from her coat. Leila picked it up, as the Enforcer captured the girl and took her away.

***

Back in the Chamber, curiosity got the better of her as Leila started to browse through the book. The first few pages were unsurprising, the bored doodles of an unruly teenager. Simple hearts and primitive patterns. But as she moved on the patterns became more intricate. Nothing spectacular, but she was impressed that a Bureaucrat could train herself to produce something even pleasant to look at. As she moved on realistic depictions of real-life became more frequent, and they were good. The abstract patterns, however, were what caught Leila’s attention the most. Several pieces seemed to almost move like a bird made entirely of straight pencil lines that looked like it was in flight. This work was professional. Worse, it was creative. Certainly not within the abilities of a Bureaucrat. In the final parts of the book they were outright expressive, producing emotions in Leila she didn’t know she was capable of.

A massive cloud of guilt overcame her as everything she had known to be true, everything that gave her control came crashing down around her. How many fates had she ruined? How many times had she denied someone their potential because they might have fit better into the plan? What if she was not truly supposed to be a Reader? In her delirium she picked up an ember from the fire-place, her overwhelming impulse to create overcoming the excruciating pain. She moved to the Great Mural where she began to trace over the intricate, curving lines with rough, thick strokes of black. All the while the fire produced even wilder and darker smoke from the disturbance. She did not let up until the entire mural had been covered by a distorted hand, whose chaotic palm patterns seemed to lack concrete form. Leila looked at her hands, and noticed that all traces of her Pattern had been eradicated by the embers.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Anomalous Blowout posted:

Your authoritarian does not trust modern medicine.
Huòluàn (850 words)

It’d been three months since the Christians arrived. They claimed they were doctors. Chen Zi knew better.

They’d come down the river, from Lanzhou, and set up shop along its banks. They lived in tents and flew the British flag. They offered their services to anyone for free. Provincial peasants, young and old, gathered by the river in hopes of treatment. Even the village headmen would come.

Even the headmen. Chen Zi shook his head.

He sat at the threshold of his quarters, facing east. Before him, in the courtyard, his daughter bowed her head. She was on her hands and knees.

Zi paid her no mind. He had heard her request, but did not respond. He was composing a letter to the regional governor. Surely he would intervene.

Bao waited in silence, each brushstroke an eternity. Beyond the gates, several more stood waiting. Waiting for the headman to acknowledge his daughter. Waiting for permissions their neighbors enjoyed.

Zi removed his glasses. He produced a silk handkerchief, wiping them clean. Bao didn’t move. He didn’t look at her.

“Get up,” he commanded. “Return to your husband.”

Bao remained still. She spoke to the stones without raising her head.

“Father, please. Your grandson is dying.”

“You may take him to Zhou Chang, up the mountain.” He inspected his glasses. “He’s a trustworthy man. Well-versed in Li Shizhen.”

Bao shook her head. “We took him last week. Father, please, the doctors by the river are-

Hóng máo guǐ. Thieves and liars.”

“They offer their services free of charge!”

Zi looked past his glasses. “Nothing they offer ever comes for free.” He placed them back upon his face. Once again he took up his brush. “Yáng guǐzi. They will steal your mind with their foreign tinctures; then your soul, with their foreign religion. Then you will be English, like the ā chā down in Hong Kong. No. You will not go. I will not lift my ban.” He paused. “You may tell that to the others.” He then resumed the letter.

Bao sat up. Her face was streaked with quiet tears. “In the next village over, everyone is healthy. They no longer vomit or soil themselves. Down by the river, the head doctor-”

“Is a woman,” Zi said, pinching his beard “Like their dreadful empress. Like our own dowager.” A soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Is this female doctor a widower as well? Women do strange things when they lose their husbands. But you do not even have that excuse.”

Bao gripped the hem of her ruqun dress. She lowered her gaze, holding back the words she could not say.

“The sickness of a child is a serious matter,” Zi continued, “I suppose I cannot begrudge you some silliness; such is your infirmity.” He raised his brush, his letter finished. He folded the paper and signaled for a servant. A trusted one arrived and was given the letter.

At last Zi looked at his daughter. He offered her a smile. “Rise, my daughter. Rise, Chen Bao. When your son is well, such silliness will leave you. You’ll have no more thoughts of those yáng guǐzi. Go now, and arrange a trip with your husband. Zhou Chang will see you. I will prepare a gift.”

He rose to his feet and turned toward his chambers.

“And if he should die?” Bao asked his back.

Zi hesitated a moment before answering.

“Then he dies one of us. I would not owe his life to the mercy of foreign gods. He will not be dependent on dubious potions.”

Bao lowered her head, and stood. A servant came and escorted her out.

Zi waited until he was sure she was gone. He turned and looked around. The courtyard was empty.

He swallowed and shuddered, his hand to his stomach. His intestines had been churning. He entered his room.

To the north he’d hung a mirror. Every morning and evening he’d examine his reflection. When he’d accepted this post, in his youth, there were many village headmen who’d grown fat while the peasants under their charge were lean. When the villagers under his care were lean, he was lean. He made sure of this. He made no exceptions.

He pinched his beard. He thought on the bureaucrats stationed at port. Men who’d grown fat off deals with Europeans. “Yín chóng,” he muttered.

He thought on his father. A serious man who’d valued order, but was willing to entertain new ideas. He’d been a proper official. No mere headman. A true gentleman.

He kept his father’s hat in a trunk at the foot of his bed. An official’s hat, his old guanmao. He thought on his daughter, and on the villagers he knew had entreated her to do this. He thought on their children, his own grandson.

He reached for the hat and held it to his chest. He raised it to his face and inhaled.

Years later, it still stank of opium. “Hóng máo guǐ.” He threw it in the trunk.

His intestines churned.

emgeejay
Dec 8, 2007

and if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you

Dear Leader
(710 words)

Great news! The star-bright savior of our wicked and impure world has declared a territorial holiday to celebrate our recent and ongoing victories. As promised, our leader has purged the cabinet of traitorous opposition, built a thriving new economy, and ground our enemies into dust. And he did it all without ever having sex, not even once.

Wow!

Please continue reading this mandatory communication for a closer look at our great patriarch's stupendous achievements, all of them accomplished 100-percent intercourse-free.

When we stormed the offices of the Journal in February, the avenging angel led the charge. Many saw him light the fuse that exploded the printing presses into oily, smoky flames. Many remember that after the holy fire had finished its work and gone out, our great hero stood astride the ashes and led the crowd in a galvanizing, cheering hymn. Of course the flawless protector of truth could have spent the evening nailing hot chicks – if he wanted to – but that would have jeopardized greater victories.

For example: it wasn't hot, sweaty loving that qualified our intrepid father to drop a record amount of explosives on XXXXXXXXX in April, nor was he motivated by clenching, quivering orgasms to triple that same record in May. Our leader's firm control of every branch of our military is matched only by his tight-fisted mastery over the human libido. Certainly vulgar, drooling mouth-jobs may hold some appeal to the fallen sinners of XXXXXXXXX, but not for anyone following the example of our iron-willed father hawk.

Bleeding hearts among our ranks have claimed our leader wields an undue amount of military force, and they should be weeded out as quickly as possible. Don't forget: we cannot abstain from death when building a perfect world from an imperfect one. But our messiah was able to finish the war against XXXXXXXXX without shooting a single load.

Now in September, of course the world at large has taken jealous notice of our territory's newfound invincibility, and has pathetically attempted to stagger our resolve. Rumors of foreign powers sending their deadliest and sexiest agents to either kill or take the virginity of our northern star should not alarm the faithful among us, but citizens are required watch the skies for parachuting supermodels, and we remind cabinet officials not to sign for delivery of any oversized cakes. (Unless accompanied by a completed CAKE-095 form – see your handbook for details!)

Reports that our dear leader once tolerated – and even pursued – sexual activity are obviously ludicrous and untrue. The leader has always strove for moral perfection and bodily purity, and in his infinite ability he has always achieved and surpassed it. Citizens will remember that one persistent and particularly nasty rumor – about our leader getting to second base with a Ms. V____ Smyth, years before the Great Upheaval, is an evil falsehood. Anyone caught spreading lies of this nature are to be re-educated immediately and then shot.

Ms. V____ Smyth was, of course, found out to be a loyal subscriber of the venomous Journal and has been missing since its headquarters went up in February's cleansing fire. Anyone with information about Smyth's whereabouts should be forwarded immediately to the authorities. A reminder that when the traitor is located, she must be brought to our unerring master's quarters swiftly for questioning. (Note: allow our unerring master enough time to put on some music and change into a nice outfit!)

Citizens, these hateful whisperings can never drown out the accomplishments of these first nine months of the year. For this reason, our leader has decided to call the year early. We look forward to beginning January (next month) with an invigorated resolve to continue overtaking our rivals, crushing our opponents, and never ejaculating. This will technically shorten our leader's Gilded Vow to abstain from the vile act of sex for 500,000 years, but he explained our territory has achieved more than enough for any year – and hinted that he may even jump the calendar a few more decades ahead if we continue to shatter the expectations set by ordained prophecy. Our unfailingly wise and impossibly strong champion said this would “probably be fine.”

Remember: hold no one above the leader, as the leader holds no one below him!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Since it's Accursed Daylight Day in the US I'm giving you shitbirds an extra hour. Your stories may be terrible, but nobody who actually writes a story deserves to fail out because the world's governments believe we still need arbitrary clockfuckery so nonexistent peasants get an extra hour of daylight to toil in their nonexistent fields.

See you in a few hours.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


The Notary
999 words
Your authoritarian wishes people were more like bees: organized and aware of their place.


John walked into the courthouse with an unearned swagger, messenger bag thumping his thigh. The people surrounding him were still in shock, still screaming and pointing at the senator’s corpse. Anyone who had been following the senator’s trial should have seen it coming. Though maybe not public suicide.

And now John held the power he deserved. The senator was dead and John was to anoint his successor. John barely knew Greg Hinds, but knew he was in the governor’s pocket. Biting down a grin, John approached the pale man.

“Are you the notary?” asked Hinds.

“Yes, John Munge. Nice you meet you.” John glanced around. “Come with me.” He escorted Hinds to the back of the courtroom. John noticed the blood still pouring from the dead senator’s mouth. He shook his head and led Hinds into the judge chambers.

The room felt close and hot in a way that enlivened John. He breathed in Hinds’s nervousness and took his time arranging things. The Bible and a laminated copy of the oath. John passed his eyes down the oath. The margins just so, the serif font beautiful and dark on the paper’s cream surface. Halfway down, a misplaced comma. John’s heart skipped a beat.

John cleared his throat, loud enough to startle Hinds. John offered towards Hinds with reverence. A wave of pleasure shook John when Hinds broke into tears. The power he felt holding that Bible, watching Hinds’s hands shake, reaffirmed John’s choice to become a notary.

Though his pulse obscured it, John’s voice boomed through each line of the oath. He allowed himself quiet giggle at Hinds’s pitiful echo. Careful pauses raised the tension between John’s words. Then it was over. John wished he could lean over and taste the sweat off of the new senator’s upper lip, taste the tears drying on his chin.

The late senator’s wife and daughter sat in the jury’s deliberation chamber. John, still puffed up from swearing in Hinds hummed as he approached. Too late he contorted his face into a mask of compassionate sadness.

The women were broken already, beyond tears. A police officer sat with them. John nodded to the officer, who handed him two written statements.

John looked at mother and daughter then scanned their statements. He furrowed his brow and asked, “Did you know he had gotten the gun?” They shook their heads no. “Can you write up a new statement including that fact?” He handed them new forms and smiled. Once done, the women were in tears again. “These statements will be very important going forward. Thank you so much.” John stamped them and handed them to the police officer.

Back at home, John watched TV. It showed senator Hinds issuing his first public statements. John watched the white-on-black closed captioning, taking masochistic pleasure in the numerous typos.

He typed away on his manuscript, a treatise on the importance of structure hierarchy in society. In such a society the senator would still be alive. The grieving women would have no cause to cry. The disparity between John’s ideal world and reality was his cilice, constantly chafing him, urging him to continue his work.

John sat across from a man he had loathed the moment he saw him. A spoiled real estate tycoon. Between the two were John’s carefully arranged forms. Signing them concluded a deal worth several millions of dollars. Despite that, the tycoon’s eyes were glued to his phone as he searched for another person to call. John’s head buzzed with rage.

The ungrateful prick hadn’t even noticed John’s attention to detail. The crispness of the paper, the neon yellow stickers denoting where to sign. No staples, all ready to be sealed in its envelope. The man was now bragging to a client or girlfriend. John’s hierarchy would have ensured such an awful person had no contact with anyone, no one to exert his ego upon.

“Okay, mmbye,” the man said. He pulled a pen out of his breast pocket. A cheap fountain pen. To cover a scoff, John cleared his throat. The man scratched his facile and artless signature onto each page. Without a thank you or even a glance, he left the room.

On the elevator ride to the parking deck, John imagined throwing the guy out a window. After stabbing him in the eye with that stupid pen, of course. When the doors opened on the gray of the parking deck something changed in John. He sent himself back up to the tycoon’s floor, unsure of how his revenge would manifest.

The tycoon spotted John immediately. “Forget something?”

“No. I never forget things. I came back to tell you what a loving worm you are.”

The man quirked his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“You were hugely disrespectful. Did you not realize that I facilitated your deal? You would have made nothing without me.”

“Hey, I know your job sucks, but don’t take it out on me. You should leave.”

“It’s only a matter of time before the harsh light of day reveals you for the wretch you are. Goodbye.” John dropped off the notarized documents and then headed to his boss, at her request.

“Hey, John, everything okay?”

“Yes Margie, why?”

“Well, I’ve received some complaints about your demeanor.”

“Ah, that. Yes.”

“I’m going to need your ID card and your stamp.”

“Sure, Margie. How long are you suspending me for?”

“Not suspending, John. Firing. I don’t know why you thought you could act like you did.”

Stupefied, John handed over his notary implements and went home in a daze. He furiously typed a vitriolic conclusion to his manifesto. It was dark when he finished. Packing the thick stack of papers into a sturdy envelope, John headed back to his boss’s house.

The nanny found John’s meticulously typed manuscript. On the front it said, “This is why.” Puzzled, the nanny dropped the package into the recycling.

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!




Your authoritarian believes in samsara.

816 words

The Moth

archives

flerp fucked around with this message at 21:29 on Apr 12, 2019

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Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


Long Live the King
Words: 800

From the command deck, echoing explosions signaled the approaching confrontation, and Baron Terrorstar lounged in his cybernetic throne, fingertips pressed against each other in contemplative thought.

“Sir, we should make haste, or fortify our position,” Lieutenant Chromesour said, pointing towards the escape pod bay.

“Stand down, Chromesour. We will be fine. I have been dreaming of this moment my entire life.” Terrorstar queued up the signal anomaly from his armrest control pad. A terrifying, digital horror of gnashing teeth and undulating purple chaos roiled on the bank of wall-to wall displays. A cosmic entity, expanding and consuming, growing ever larger with each atom eaten.

“What in God’s name…” Murmurs arose from the Systems and Navigation crew. Terrorstar smiled, his crew was taking this revelation much better than he had when he had first seen the Creeping Doom. Perhaps their resolve had been steeled by their decades long campaign across the stars, whereas he was but a child when he was wracked by visions yet to pass; a psychic backlash that had comatosed him for two months. Two months were two eternities trapped in his dreams with that thing eating at the periphery of his consciousness, only to be reborn and recycled again, and again until he finally had found the course of events that led him to this very moment.

A shower of sparks flooded their side of the Command Center blast doors. General Sarah Berenholdt would be through the door in no time, and the crew began to back themselves away towards the escape pods. Terrorstar breathed in as deeply as his skull-shaped mask would allow. He had felt this sense of peace only once before, when he had first met Sarah Berenholdt, when she was just a child.

“Sir, why not the girl too?” Private Chromesour had his gauss-rifle leveled at the overwhelmed and distraught child. Her parents were still smoldering where the plasma charges cooked the tissue with residual heat.

“Stand down. I want them all to know what happens when you forget your place in the universe,” Baron Terrorstar lied. He knelt in front of the small, weeping child, such that he encompassed her entire vision. He knew at once he had finally found the chosen one. “Remember this day, child. Remember the day when you first met Baron Terrorstar.”

He had been thinking about this face for centuries. The rage bubbling to the surface, chipping away at the grief and anguish that had filled her eyes. A smile spread under Terrorstar’s mask, and he took an elementium-gilded finger to her forehead, right above her left eye. With his other hand he grabbed the back of her head, and dragged his finger down through her brow, and buried into the top of her cheek. Sarah Berenholdt screamed in pain and fell backwards into the dirt.

Terrorstar wanted to tell her he was sorry. That he was sorry for the scar, her teacher, her wedding, her home planet, but she would never understand. She couldn’t understand, not until he had a chance to show her the Creeping Doom.

“Lay down your arms men, and witness, finally, the ascension. You are to witness a universe changing moment!”

The blast doors careened open as the thermium charges exploded, and rebels poured through the breech. Terrorstar jumped to his feet, his arms outstretched, his cloak billowing behind him. He wondered if he would embrace her, hug her, and tell her that her pain had all been for something, something bigger than all of them.

“General Berenhodlt, we meet again! I have so much to—”

Plasma charges cut through Terrorstar’s elementium armor, ripping through the back of his cloak and punching holes through his throne. Dozens of piercing beams riddled Terrorstar, and his sizzling corpse flattened upon the Command Center floor. A series of concussion grenades blanketed the perimeter of the room, destroying the monitors and control panels that Center crew had once been sitting out. From the smoke and debris, the rebel squad opened fire on Chromesour and the remainder of the crew, scattering their remains against the unopened escape pod doors.

A tall, brown haired woman stepped forward towards the body of Terrorstar. A scar ran down the left side of her face, pale and white and faded from age. Her green eyes shined brilliantly through her scowl and sneer. She stepped on the back of Terrorstar’s helmet and emptied several more shots into the corpse.

“It’s over,” she said. “It’s finally over,” but her voice had no elation or triumph in it, it was as though she were only stating a fact. “Kill any survivors and turn this over to the Council. Then we move.” Her squad saluted her, and she turned on her heels back out the blast door from which she had come.

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