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Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


gently caress, thought it was PST. Oh well... here are my bad words anyhow.

Love Machine
999 Words
Kali Uchis - telepatía

Despite wearing an anonymity overlay, Carmen kept her eyes fixed on the pavement as it moved like a film reel underfoot. She pulled open the door to the hotel and was greeted by the scent of stale smoke that had yet to waft free of the clerk it clung too. The slightly sour twang of fast-food ketchup added to the aroma to create an oppressive, not at all intimate, atmosphere. Still, Carmen thought, at least Victor remembered their anniversary this year. She approached the clerk awkwardly. He appeared young, at least too young to be working at a place like this, and it wasn’t until the face and pigmentation of the clerk shifted under Carmen’s scrutiny that she realized he was also wearing an anonymity overlay.

“You book a room?” the nondescript clerk asked.

“Ah, sorry. It should be under the name…” Carmen paused for a moment to look around the empty lobby and then leaned in conspiratorially to whisper, “…Cartwright.”

The face the clerk was wearing looked annoyed. He sighed and keyed the name into the kiosk and produced a keycard shortly thereafter. “You’ll take the elevator on your right to the third floor; your room will be the last at the end of the hall. No food, drinks, or nudity in the Mindspace device. Fabricator rendered snacks and beverages are complementary to your suite package. Checkout is at 11.”

Carmen went to her room. It was a cramped space that was clearly designed around the Mindspace device. Carmen set her bag at the foot of a small twin-sized bed adjacent the large and studied the device. Peering in through the entrance panel Carmen saw a cushioned seat that was similar in appearance to a recliner. It all looked rather plain for the purported effects that she had heard so much about at work and in reviews online. ‘See other worlds. Experience mind-blowing intimacy and interconnectedness.’

She was skeptical, but Victor was spot on about her interest. Honestly, Carmen had been hoping for some of the passion they once had. She knew nothing was ever the same as it once was, she just didn’t expect so much of their lives to ultimately end up revolving around their children. The absence brought on by their adulthood highlighted an area of Carmen and Victor’s relationship had been left barren. However, they filled it with added work and hobbies that didn’t include one another, and as such, they entered a cycle of coming, going or complacently enjoying each other’s company with the awkward politeness that two strangers might have had.

When work called Carmen away, she had lost hope of doing anything for their anniversary. A shared Mindspace hotel was the last thing she considered. They had talked about it, but Victor had become technophobic over the years. She never considered that he might do it for her. “I sent a session link to your phone.” Victor text. “I’ll see you soon then,” Carmen text back, genuinely excited about the experience. She slipped into a nightgown and climbed into the machine. Its translucent cover turned opaque briefly, but soon an awe-inspiring display of stars surrounded her.

‘Welcome to the Mindspace Interpersonal Connectivity device. Communicate with friends and loved ones in a truly revolutionary way as you cooperatively explore and share memories or sensations in a total sensory immersive environment. Please provide your session key.’

Carmen scanned the link Victor had sent her and the final piece of internal machinery presented itself as a loose-fitting mesh helmet wired with electrodes. It cinched neatly around the top of her head like a hairnet, and the world went black. She panicked as she found herself temporarily blinded. She shrieked, but then felt a hand grab hers and she opened her eyes. “Took you long enough.” Victor said looking some twenty to thirty years younger. “Sorry if anything looks off. My memory isn’t exactly what it used to be.” Victor said presenting the beach he and Carmen were married on. Carmen was amazed. Sand clung to her suddenly bare feet as she walked the beach from their shared memory. The illusion was only betrayed by the lifelessness of the guests whose warm, hopeful smiles seemed to be the only thing either of them could remember.

Then with some eagerness, Victor took her by the hand down an alley into the office they first met at. Carmen was hardly around then too, seldom there long enough for a chat. However, one day everything changed when she took the time to tell Victor hello. “This was when I first knew that I loved you,” Victor said showing her the precise moment from his memory. “You were marching towards the door with your coffee, and for whatever reason you stopped and told me hello. It changed my life.” Carmen scrunched up her face at this revelation. “This can’t be the moment…” Carmen said stifling a laugh.

“What do you mean?” Victor asked. Carmen put her hands on her hips, “I was getting onto you for always staring. This misunderstanding explains so much. Oh my god.” Victor looked embarrassed. “You cannot be serious right now,” he said. “I’ve gone our whole relationship thinking you were into me because of this moment. You thought I was a creep?”

“Well, yeah… Mostly. I mean, I didn’t think you were a complete creep, obviously.” Carmen assured him playfully.

“Wow, I completely misread that. Our relationship is literally built on a lie.”

“Time for a divorce? Should I call the kids?”

The landscape shifted to that of an exotic jungle and Victor stood mostly nude with oil glistened, perfectly sculpted, thews. It was like he was lifted from the cover of a romance novel. “I won’t tell them if you don’t.” Victor said beckoning his magically transformed Jungle bride. Carmen laughed before willing the illusion away.

“You’re no fun, you know that?” Victor said slyly taking her into his arms, appearing as himself, every perfect imperfection where it should be.

“Happy anniversary, honey.”

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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


WEEK 462 RESULTS

God, gently caress y'all motherfuckers.

Idle Amalgam eats a DQ.

Djeser wins for writing a competent and perfectly fine story.

No HMs this week. Kiss my rear end.

DMs this week go to Dome Racer Alpha, Dome Racer Sigma, ZearothK, Rhymes With Clue, and QuoProQuid for wasting my time.

The Loss goes to Barnaby Profane for making me read Adam Levine snuff fanfiction. You could've written your story via RNG and it would've come out better. Try harder.

Djeser, wash the taste of this week out of my mouth, please and thank you.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


old pop week crits

Dome Racer Alpha - “I just like to drive fast”

The one where a veteran race car driver gets lectured by upstart P. P. Weiner for not being woke and is saved from a diabetic coma by P. P. Weiner.

This is basically the poo poo geyser but for boomers instead of gamers. There’s some nice verve in the details here but it’s just gratingly broad, just this tired boomer caricature in between political screeds. Obviously this was written as a joke by a talented writer, but I just wish the joke was funnier.

Dome Racer Sigma - “I Just Like To Drive Fast”

The one where there’s a lot of banter, movie references to films I haven’t seen, and our protagonist has a bike chase from the cops.

This story hinges on us thinking what’s going on is very cool, and here I’m just wondering if I’m supposed to be rooting for our reluctant protagonist who’s seen too many movies. Again, I don’t think this story was written very seriously or with a lot of forethought. The dialogue could definitely use another pass, as it’s pretty stiff at the moment, and the blocking is a little hard to follow. But there’s an energy here I like, and I think this guy processing his dangerous task through a movie-rotted mind is a fun idea for a character. I just kind of wish the story had explored the limits of that a little bit more, instead of just letting him emulate all these movies as wish fulfillment.

Yoruichi - “My Body”

The one where an old woman runs a race.

This is a sensitive, intimate portrait of this character, and for the most part it works for me. It kind of reminds me of the “Readers Write” section from The Sun I used for a prompt last year, in that it uses a single moment in time to get us to reflect on this sense of coming to terms with an aging body. I think there’s a good balance of personal history and the flashes of the race in the present to keep the piece engaging. That said, I wonder if it would be possible to go a little deeper into the woman’s sense of alienation from her body after childbirth – it feels like there’s more to explore there, and I think giving more context here could make the story’s sentimentality feel slightly more earned.

Barnaby Profane - “if you want a beautiful vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on Adam Levine’s face — forever”

The one where Adam Levine is cryogenically frozen and an AI banters with him.

Honestly, not sure what to say here. It’s another story that’s banter and no substance. There are jokes but I didn’t find them especially funny – it’s basically “this guy sucks and I’m gonna make fun of him.” I think there’s some energy here but I wish it had been used on something more compelling than Adam Levine making GBS threads out his intestines for eternity.

Djeser - “Isabel of Eastmuir Crag”

The one where a lady turned into a dragon doesn’t want to be un-turned.

After taking forever to crit a bunch of dull-as-dishwater dragon stories, reading a good dragon story is a relief. I don’t think there’s that much here, but I think Isabel is sketched in nicely, enough that we understand and sympathize with her desire to just keep being a dragon and to think that the kid who tries to save her is a feckless putz. I think it’s just this pretty light story about a lady-dragon standing up for herself against creepy suitors who don’t want to be cool dragons. Nice work.


Sailor Viy - “The Old Man and the Tree”

The one where bird-loving Gus wages war against the homeowner’s association.

I like the mythic, wistful tone of this, and I kind of wish the story had stayed in that place. Once the story becomes a satire about neighborhood councils and homeowner’s associations, the story just feels a little broad and less personal, less special. It also vanishes Maria from the story, which robs the ending from paying off. At least give us some flavor about what’s happening with Maria and the birds while Gus is having his legal troubles!

Black Griffon - “Big Crunch”

The one where a guy is really good at being at a nightclub that he distracts everyone while they do a heist. Also it’s cyberpunk.

It needs to be clearer from the beginning that the Thyme Lover is a nightclub; I shouldn’t need to know what Berghain is to figure that out. Then we go full William Gibson, sentences full of metaphor and jargon and big sweeping technospiritualism and I frankly have no idea what’s actually happening. Why does the protagonist keep returning to the Thyme? Why is he involved in this scheme? How is his sense of losing himself to the ecstasy of a club experience enough to help with this heist? It’s frustrating and confusing, if ambitious and pretty good at the style pastiche it’s trying to do.

Staggy - “Missed Message”

The one where a guy gets a call from an old friend but decides not to answer.

I like the concept here, of our protagonist deciding that he doesn’t necessarily want to dwell on the past and romanticize his youthful indiscretions. But I think the structure here really takes the weight out of it. Jenn feels like she’s just in this story to be right and tell the protagonist what he wants, and, although I like that it lands with the protagonist choosing not to dwell in nostalgia, it doesn’t really seem like a difficult decision for him. I think this story would work better if Jenn was less of a forceful presence here (the dialogue could use a few more passes to give these characters more definition), or if the protagonist felt more of a sense of nostalgia, a sense of what they hoped Bill was calling for, what they hope would happen if he reconnected to Bill. In this draft, the ending feels like a foregone conclusion from the beginning.

My Shark Waifuu - “Rollin’ Down in the Deep”

The one where John, an old diver, beats up a squid.

I’m sure this will be frustrating feedback, but I found this story incredibly dull, even though I think you’re doing a lot of things right here. I like that the story lets us into John’s head and tells us what he’s thinking, but I just wish there was something more surprising about it. He doesn’t like loud rap music when he’s diving because it disrupts his sense of serenity in diving. But that doesn’t play into his character; it’s just there so we know he’s old and doesn’t like rap music. It’s also essentially the only thing that happens in this story until halfway through, and when that happens it’s just a pulpy action scene. Again, it fits story logic that both John’s old school might and the kids’ techno-knowledge defeats the squid, but it doesn’t feel surprising or interesting. Even though the story tells us a lot what John is feeling, I still feel like I’m at a distance from what’s actually bothering him. I want to know the spiteful thoughts, the panicked thoughts, running through his head when he’s feeling out of his element with the kids, when he thinks he’s going to be killed by the squid, or when he finally feels like he belongs again after the victory. Without that sort of thing, or any sort of surprising imagery, this story just kind of feels like a bunch of stuff that happens.

MockingQuantum - “Warp-runner”

The one where there’s a comforting dimensional anomaly and Carston the warp-runner meets someone else who feels at home there.

I like this one as a mood and atmosphere piece. The Warp, as it’s described here, feels weird and eerie but also sort of mystical and beautiful; the story makes it clear while Carston loves it. It’s a little saggy in the middle, as other than breaking down, there’s not really any conflict or a sense that the kid is a threat, or even that Carston feels at risk broken down inside the Warp. That said, I like that it ends with Carston finding a friend in the Warp. The story does a nice job at conveying Carston’s sense of loneliness without outright stating it, and so his connection with the kid feels like a meaningful, happy ending.

ZearothK - “Farewell, Diana”

The one where it’s a bunch of letters to an ex and she blows up the moon.

I was going to say that the last section of this reminded me of the ill-advised emails I sent to my exes when I was younger until I got to the frankly bizarre “By blowing up the moon” in the second to last sentence. Look – this doesn’t work as a story. The one-sided sense of longing here, and especially most of the last section, feels like a deeply felt E/N post: without more context, these feelings captured in spiritual, galactic metaphors are just feelings out of place. But then you add that she literally blew up the moon and the lack of context feels like comedy. The story feels so low-stakes up to this point that this second-to-last sentence feels like a joke about how inflated the sense of emotion was up to here. It’s possible that’s what’s happening! But I think the story is aiming for poignancy here, and that simply isn’t how this feels – it’s a “what the hell?” line. And it certainly makes the story more interesting to think about!

Also, her name is Jen but the story is called “Farewell, Diana” – am I missing something?

QuoProQuid - “Our Time”

The one where Charlie’s boyfriend breaks up with her and Future Charlie goes back in time so they can vaporize him.

Huh, I get the sense that there’s a lot to unpack here, in that healthy, well-adjusted people don’t go back in time to get their past selves to murder their dumb high school exes. (And create paradoxes, probably?) It’s muddy enough that, despite the euphoria in the ending, I’m not sure the story satisfies the “no bummer endings” part of the prompt. That said, the writing is very good, and I like the specifics of the Riverdale memes and the little details about the future. But emotionally and thematically, this feels like a little bit of a mess. I think the ending is supposed to feel like uncomplicated wish fulfillment and validation, but the emotional truth of the story feels a lot more complicated in ways that go beyond the text.

Thranguy - “Pull the Mask Off”

The one where our main character’s grandma stands up to a gorilla mask militia, gets shot, but survives.

This is pretty good! I like the arc and pacing of this, with backstory delivered at the right moments to give the story tension and sell the heroics of what Pauline did. The setting’s a little generically post-apocalyptic but there’s enough specificity in the setting’s details to make this feel real and lived-in. I think the ending kind of rushes to wrap things up. “I wish I'd known sooner, but I feel lucky to have been taught well enough to have gotten there by now” feels mealy and kind of vague; I’d rather have a specific image than this general “avoid getting dinged for a bummer ending” sentiment.

Rhymes With Clue - “Yes! And?”

The one where Jude conducts an elaborate improv ruse to embarrass her son-in-law.

This is just a little confusing, although I like its thematic stuff. It feels like an open question as to whether Jude dealing with her sense of hurt and embarrassment through embarrassing her children through improv is good or bad for her, and I like the ambiguity here. I guess I just don’t understand her plan here – act drunk and horny in front of her son-in-law so he posts about it online? But she confronts him before he can get a chance to do that, so I’m not sure I understand. Not quite sure why Michael comes along for this, either – feel like I might have missed something.

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

Read and judged in random order.

:sirenL The thing I am worried about, and am hopefully wrong about, this week: :siren:

Most stories will have a crotchety, clint eastwood, get-off-my-lawn, character that will be made to feel old instead of me. Prove me wrong thunderdome!

If you want something more in depth, I'm happy to chat further in discord about your words.


My Shark Waifuu’s Rollin’ Down in the Deep

This was nice enough. It did feature The Thing I Am Worried About, so poopoo on you for that but it’s nice that John actually turns around on the boys and sees their worth. Good combo of old school and new school so the victory at the end is indeed somewhat justified. I’m left wanting for a bit more here, though. Granted you only had a thousand words to play with but the bond seems to have been formed a bit too quickly and that may be due to the fact that we don’t really know where the derision or disdain from John is coming from apart from ‘lol old’. I’d maybe consider dialing back his attitude? On the continuum of respect it feels like these kids are starting off at a 1 or a 2 out of 10 and they end up at a 9 or 10. That’s a tall order for a thousand words, so maybe shrink the jump a bit and consider taking this relationship to something a bit longer to more fully realize it in a believable way.


Djeser’s Isabel Of Eastmuir Crag

I liked most everything about this. It was a really cool take on the prompt, and though it did kinda have The Thing I Am Worried About, The Thing was a curse spreading dragon so it’s a little hard to complain. I like that Isabel felt self-determined and content but also was very clearly distant, removed, and had no concept of time or the world around her. The isolation was something she found peace in but the cost is well represented in the story. Isabel is characterized deftly and the naivety of youth is also displayed in good effect. The passages book ending the piece are a clever way to set the tone you’re after. One thing I did kind of want: I wish the story were told more from Isabale’s point of view. We’d miss out on some of the solid world building and descriptions you have here but I think this story more from Isabel’s direct thoughts as opposed to you describing them. Something to consider, but as it is, this works well.


Rhymes With Clue’s Yes! And?

So let’s talk about this in an improv way. I didn't know what the game of this scene was until it was far too late. I was hoping, and I think I’m right, that this was all just done in like a blackbox theater with people playing pretend, but it got super confusing. The ambition here was bold but I’m not sure if playing both sides of an improv scene, incorporating both the characters and the players behind those characters is a great choice for this form. As it was, it was quite difficult for me to make heads or tails of anything. Telling this story straight and getting out of the way of the player’s thoughts may have served you better. A twist ending that this is all just improv practice is… well maybe not great, but I don’t know how this style of telling your story helps the reader feel much of anything or understand the flow of events. A little too much going on here to my eye.


Black Griffon’s Big Crunch

This was a tough one for me to properly access. So much flowery pontificating from the protag that it was nearly impossible to actually get a sense of how they felt about the environment and the characters around them. They certainly seemed quite taken with themselves though. And it’s really hard to tell what it is they were even trying to do? I get that they are there for this ‘human element’ which is supposed to be some nod to the old school way of doing things that the young whipper snappers just can’t understand (oh hi there, The Thing I Am Worried About), but it’s impossible for me to get a sense of what that actual function is. I don’t know what the story is, who these characters are, or what they’re trying to do. I do know that Lenny isn’t a person that I care to understand much better or relate to.

Dome Racer Sigma’s I Just Like To Drive Fast

I don’t know what the gently caress you’re up to or who you are but I said I’m reading these stories randomly, so let’s hope this makes sense on its own... Upon reading it, it does make sense, but that’s about all I have to say for this. I can’t tell how much of this is supposed to be what it is, or some kind of bizarre ironic wink at a formula. If it’s the former the calling out of the tropes seems odd and pointless, if it’s the latter I don’t really know what you’re trying to accomplish or say here. It seems as though just pointing out familiar beats here is supposed to be taken as funny or interesting and it’s just not really. The story progresses along the lines one would expect and by the end I’m not really entertained or intrigued.


ZearothK’s Farewellm, Diana

I respect this story’s moxie. Epistolary story telling is a tough thing to get right and I’m seeing some ways for improvements to be made. First, pretty much everything leading up to The Big Letter, at the end, kind of seems unnecessary. I see that you’re trying to show the passage of time and also show how both characters are growing but I think much of that is handled and implied well enough in the final letter that you really don’t need as much coverage early on. Beyond that? I don’t much care for the author of these letters, and perhaps that’s the intention. They seem like kind of an rear end in a top hat who thinks they know best. There’s good reverence and respect for who Diana seems to have become to play off that temperament. I suppose beyond that, the last entry does serve as a good contrast to the quick, relatively meaningless letters that come before it. So maybe there is some value there, now that I think about it. The imagery and metaphors feel a little overwritten towards the end but that also seems to fit the somewhat pretentious, know-better-nature of the author, so yeah that actually kind of works too. A pretty good entry, as I see it.

Yoruichi’s My Body

A quite literal handling of the prompt, and deftly done. The soliloquy style here works and it resembles a lot of truth of what happens in a mind in these small moments. The turns that occur in the reflection of what the protag’s body has endured are striking and feel honesty. There’s no pity here, just appropriate frustration at what it means to get older and the determination to defy those consequences. The prompt is to address the feeling of getting old without being a downer and this serves that interest pretty much perfectly. I think one issue that I might have is this sort of recurring promise of tending to the body’s needs later. There’s certainly a danger to that mindset and consequences that could go along with it. Said consequences are glanced at in the very ending but not dealt with directly and perhaps I’d like to see the body get a bit more punished, maybe throughout the story, as a consequence to the protag’s attitude of ‘bugger that’ mentality that seems to have perpetuated her life.


Staggy’s Missed Message

Hard for me to find something worth caring about in this. The prose is functional and effective enough but overall, I’m not left with much beyond dialogue that, again, is workable and decent but doesn’t really resonate with me. I’m not sure what you want me to feel in reading this. Do you know what you want me to feel?

Dome Racer Alpha’s I just like to drive fast

The other wild and crazy gimmick account left me wild and crazy underwhelmed, let’s see how you do. Oh, good. Much worse. First this story probably most directly had The Thing I’m Worried About in a crotchety old character who even bothers to ‘back in my day’ somebody else. And reall? PP weiner? If you’re gonna go to the trouble of making a gimmick account can you swing for the fences? Why is this a thing? Why did you do this?


Barnaby Profane’s if you want a beautiful vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on Adam Levine’s face — forever

This feels uncrittable. I can’t even believe I read this. And it doens’t even gently caress with the prompt, like even a little? I have no idea who Adam Levine is and I don’t imagine me knowing would improve any of this. It feels like it’s supposed to be some twilight zone twisty thing that ends with a horrific concept that is intended to fill the reader with dread. I was just happy it was over.


Sailor Viy’s The Old Man and the Tree

This is nice enough and Gus isn’t quite The Thing That I Am Worried About for the week in that he’s decently characterized and isn’t just a grumpy old shitbird. Beyond that though, I’m not sure what this story is supposed to be beyond like… I don’t know, the opening of Up? He succeeds in the end through rules lawyering so ti’s not exactly cathartic or interesting. There’s no real thing he needs to overcome or manage and I’m wondering too if the story is more interesting if he’s actually made to lose something and has to then deal with it after.


Thranguy’s Pull The Mask Off

This feels like it ignores the prompt more than almost anything I’ve read so far. Maybe I’m missing something. If I’m not, there’s trouble because if a story isn’t gonna address the prompt, it better be good and I’m not seeing anything that I like in here. I’m unsure of what the APEs are up to or why it matters and I can’t quite understand anyone’s motivation here. I don’t have much of a sense who Pauline, Kevin, or the narrator are and what their relationship is to each other or to the world around them. I’m just not getting this.


QuoProQuid’s Our Time


Uh, OK. I get this and the conceit is simple and straightforward enough but like, really? This person gets visited by their future self and the suggested action is revenge on a high school boyfriend? It seems sadly uninspired and clearly the protag never grew or had anything resembling an understanding of herself. I wouldn’t mind that but I get the sense that this story is supposed to make the reader go “hell yeah” at the end of it and that’s just not even close to how I feel. This girl needs therapy, not to blow some oblivious dude up with a future cannon.


MockingQuantum’s Warp-runner

It feels like there should be more inherent volatility on this warp thing. As it is, it just seems to be presented as this drug like addictive thing with the old guard warning the new kid to be wary. Which I guess is fine. The premise of the warp is handled relatively well and the language is colorful without descending into purple prose territory. I’m not hating this but I’m also not super excited.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


:toxx: to have week 462 crits done by 2359 PST Monday June 21st

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



Thunderdome Week 463: Write About Kissing Dragons (The Kemp Owyne Power Hour)

You are going to write a story about an inter-species personal relationship. The relationship does not have to be romantic, but it can be. It must be between sentient beings. There are no other restrictions.

1100 words
Enter by 11 PM Pacific Friday night
Submit by 11 PM Pacific Sunday night

You can ask for a flash rule, which will be a track title from a dungeon synth album. I can give DARK, EPIC, COZY and DINOSAUR flash rules. If you don't ask for a particular type, it's dealer's choice. Here are some examples:
"Lost in the Wooded Labyrinth"
"The Naming of a New Constellation"
"No Adventures Today, Please and Thank You"
"Desolated Fields of the Flying Predators"

Flash rules reduce word count to 1000.

Judges
Djeser

Entrants
Azza Bamboo :toxx: - With Axe And Sword And Ravenous Might
MockingQuantum - Descent to the chamber of the exhumed star
Ironic Twist
Staggy - To Picnic Beneath Toadstools
Thranguy
Idle Amalgam - Gallops Of Triumphant Hooves
QuoProQuid - Faint Burning Glimmer in the Mesozoic Sky
curlingiron
ZearothK - I Wish You a Successful Hunt
tuyop
flerp - Ride Swiftly, Dear Friends, and Meet Death with a Smile
Dome Racer Alpha
Dome Racer Sigma
sparksbloom
Black Griffon - He Who Rides The Gust
Antivehicular - The Hundred League Stair/'Neath Fungal Fronds
My Shark Waifu - Return of the Thunder Lizard
Sailor Vy - Fogcloaked Summits
Sitting Here
Chairchucker - If music be the food of love, play on
Barnaby Profane - Allnighty Allosaurus
t a s t e

Djeser fucked around with this message at 17:03 on Jun 19, 2021

Azza Bamboo
Apr 7, 2018


In, hit with the dark flash, and I believe my last entry was a fail so :toxx:

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



Azza Bamboo posted:

In, hit with the dark flash, and I believe my last entry was a fail so :toxx:

With Axe And Sword And Ravenous Might

MockingQuantum
Jan 20, 2012





in with a dark flash plz

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


yeah, in

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



In, flash me. Dealer's choice of genre.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



MockingQuantum posted:

in with a dark flash plz

Descent to the chamber of the exhumed star

Staggy posted:

In, flash me. Dealer's choice of genre.

To Picnic Beneath Toadstools

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!




In

Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In with a flash please

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



In and give me a flash.

curlingiron
Dec 15, 2006

Come fight terrifying creatures in the THUNDERDOME!


hello, i am here to make you regret everything :smaug:

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



Idle Amalgam posted:

In with a flash please

Gallops Of Triumphant Hooves

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



QuoProQuid posted:

In and give me a flash.

Faint Burning Glimmer in the Mesozoic Sky

ZearothK
Aug 25, 2008

I've lost twice, I've failed twice and I've gotten two dishonorable mentions within 7 weeks. But I keep coming back. I am The Trooper!

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In, give me the flash.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



ZearothK posted:

In, give me the flash.

I Wish You a Successful Hunt

tuyop
Sep 14, 2006

Every second that we're not growing BASIL is a second wasted


Fun Shoe

I’m back and in!

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!







in flash

flerp fucked around with this message at 19:02 on Jun 15, 2021

Dome Racer Alpha
Jun 9, 2021

"The self-assured leader whose swagger and aloofness makes them a very successful racer."

Revving up my in-in-ingine!

Dome Racer Sigma
Jun 9, 2021

"The Lone Wolf racer. Defies expectations."

my in-in-ingine is RevvINg up

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005


in flash me baby

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



flerp posted:

in flash

Ride Swiftly, Dear Friends, and Meet Death with a Smile

Black Griffon posted:

in flash me baby

He Who Rides The Gust

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



In, flash

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again




The Hundred League Stair/'Neath Fungal Fronds

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In, flash please!

Dome Racer Alpha
Jun 9, 2021

"The self-assured leader whose swagger and aloofness makes them a very successful racer."

A story about a crash
1002 words

Tiffany lived with her dad in a mobile home next to the race track. The home had never actually been mobile, though, as far as she could tell. It was up on cinder blocks and it was hot in the summer and it was cold in the winter and it shook terribly whenever racers were driving, which was often. She was shy and a little weird and only had one friend but she was happy because her one friend was a magic kiwi bird that granted wishes. The bird’s name was also Tiffany. This was coincidental.

Unfortunately, Tiffany wanted to show Tiffany her cartwheeling skills because she’d been practicing very hard at school during recess when all of the other kids were playing with each other and ignoring her. And, in order to give Tiffany a good vantage point, Tiffany put her on the mobile home’s condenser unit. And Tiffany fell in.

“No!” she cried. “Please no! I wish- I wish that you were safe!”

Unfortunately, Tiffany was all out of wishes. She’d spent one of them on this very same air conditioning unit. This was ironic.

She ran up and desperately pulled on the metal grating. She hit it with a rock. A rusty screwdriver was conveniently laying in the brown grass nearby but she wasn’t strong enough to bend anything. A grown man would have struggled with such a feat. It was, after all, from the Prian company, a world leader in mobile home temperature control and thus very sturdy. And, deep inside, trapped in the blades, was her one and only friend. Tiffany’s poor eyes were bulging as her body was slowly squished. She opened and closed her beak but her words were barely a whisper.

“It’s okay. It was an accident. I love you. And your cartwheels looked cool and good. I’m glad... I could see them... before… before I...”

“You’re not gonna die!” Tiffany said.

She ran inside the shaking mobile home (there was a race going on) to beg her dad (her mom wasn’t in her life) for help. But his eyes were glued to the television. He mumbled responses until she mentioned where Tiffany was trapped.

“No,” her dad growled. “Don’t be messing with my Prian fan. I’ve always been unlucky but then I won that sweepstakes right after you made that wish for our home to be more comfortable in the hot summers. If we break it, I’ll never be able to afford another.”

“But my best friend is-!”

“A bird,” he said. “There’s a million of them outside.”

“But Tiffany is a magic kiwi that grants wishes and can talk!”

“Lotts birds out there,” he said, his eyes back on the television. “Man, racing is cool as hell.”

“Help me, Dad, I’m begging you,” she begged. “Help me, please!”

But her dad wasn’t going to budge.

“Keep your hands off the fan,” he said. “Or there’ll be trouble. Man, I wish I could meet a race car driver.”

Tiffany was tugging on her dad’s hand, trying to pull him outside, when there was a terrible crash! Two cars collided on the screen but they could hear it with their own ears through the thin walls. They stared as one car hit the barrier wall and the second… the second burst right through it! And now it was headed towards their home! It went out of the camera frame. A moment later, the relative stillness around them was over. Everything exploded.

Tiffany coughed and waved dust from her eyes. The air was thick with smoke. Shattered glass crunched underneath her feet. There was a racecar in her living room! The driver crawled out of his broken windshield and popped up his viser.

Tiffany and Tiffany’s dad gasped the same words at the same time. “P.P. Weiner!”

“That’s right, it’s me,” P.P. said. “But I can sign autographs later. Is anyone hurt?”

“Yes!” Tiffany said. “My best friend!”

“Oh no!”

“Her best friend is a so-called magical kiwi that grants wishes,” her dad explained. “She’s trapped in a condenser unit. But I don’t care. There’s a million birds outside. And that unit is from the Prian company, a world leader in mobile home temperature control and thus very expensive. I won it in a sweepstakes. But, right now, I’m worried about how I’m going to pay for all this damage. I’m very poor, you see.”

“Not anymore, bucko,” P.P. said, shooting a finger gun. “There’s no way the safety regulations on that track are up to date or up to code. You could have been seriously hurt or killed. You’ll be getting a huge settlement. You’ll be able to buy a Prian for every room in your new house.”

Nice,” Tiffany’s dad said.

“Now, what’s that about a best friend being trapped? Let’s get her outta there!”

Tiffany cheered and exited the living room with her dad and the driver through the gaping hole in the wall. She pointed at the metal unit.

Unfortunately, she was too late.

Tiffany was dead. Crushed by the machinery.

“No!” Tiffany sobbed.

She fell to her knees and cried. Her dad removed his hat and held it over his heart, touched by her emotions. He wished he’d been a better father. Maybe, after today, he could be. He could pay more attention to her. He could watch her do cartwheels or something. P.P. peered through the metal grating. He took a quick step back.

“Wait,” he said. “This isn’t just any old magical bird. This is a phoenix!”

“What’s that mean?” Tiffany asked.

“It means we can bring her back to life if we can burn her body. I’ll use my car to bust open the metal that’s trapping her. Get some wood, little girl, quick! You, too, man who I am assuming is her father!”

“I am her father,” Tiffany’s dad said proudly.

“I don’t understand what’s going on!” Tiffany said.

“It’s basic mythology,” P.P. replied. “We can save your best friend. All we gotta do is get her body out of a Prian fan and into a pyre!”

Tiffany cheered and then she did an excellent cartwheel.

Dome Racer Sigma
Jun 9, 2021

"The Lone Wolf racer. Defies expectations."

Accounting for Dragons
1,095 words

Benjamin looked down at the job description, then back up at the woman behind the desk at the unemployment agency. Then he did it a few more times, just to be sure.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asked.

“If you meet over 80% of the qualifications, you have to apply, or you forfeit your checks.” She did not look sympathetic.

“But one of the requirements is that I have to be a dragon.”

“That’s only one out of twelve requirements. You meet the rest. That’s over 80%, right?” She asked. “You were an accountant, do you want to pull out your calculator and check my math?”

“But it says, ‘Non-Dragon Applicants Will be Fired Immediately (and Literally),’” he protested.

She just shrugged.

***

The dragon costume was hot, but less hot, Benjamin reminded himself, than getting torched by a fire-breathing dragon. Plus, he only had to wear it long enough to not get hired, which shouldn’t take that long. He hoped. He’d already been waiting at the mouth of the cave for twenty minutes.

Then the ground shook, and the sound of falling rocks and ambiguous grumbling echoed deep in the cave, and then less deep, and then the dragon appeared. It was roughly the size of a school-bus, and yellow, too. Gold, Benjamin thought, dragons are gold, not yellow. It was very wrinkly, and creaked when it moved. It sniffed the air, and then turned towards Benjamin. He saw its eyes were a milky blue. This dragon was old he realized. And not powerful-old, but decrepit-old.

He hoped that would make it easier to get away with posing as a dragon for the next half-hour or so.

“I’m Idin the Hungry, Lord of the Skies,” the dragon said, revealing dull teeth almost as yellow as its scales. Benjamin was rapidly becoming less frightened.

“I’m Benjamin, the, uh…Former Accountant?” he said, then grimaced. Not the most dragon-like name.

“Specialization. I like that,” said Idin.

Idin described the job as a relatively small standard treasure inventory, that shouldn’t take much time. Once they got talking, it was hard for Benjamin to hide his enthusiasm for accounting, especially on a job that sounded so unusual. He did not, of course, admit that he had never performed a “standard treasure inventory.” Idin mostly asked him normal interview questions, like where have you worked, what did you do, what are your biggest strengths and weakness. Benjamin had relaxed so much by that point that he almost said “not being a dragon.”

At the end of the interview, Idin put a friendly, but giant claw on Benjamin’s shoulder, causing his knees to buckle. Benjamin froze, sure that he had been found out. Idin quickly remove the claw so Benjamin could stand back up. There was a moment of dreadful silence.

“Well, you’re a little small for a dragon,” Idin said, finally, “but I suppose it comes from thinking of all those numbers. You’re hired.”

Benjamin had one soaring moment of elation before Idin suggested they literally soar into the skies to seal the deal in the clouds. Right, the goal had been to NOT get hired. Benjamin muttered something about a broken wing, then stumbled back down the mountain to town, sweating in his dragon costume the entire way.

***

When Benjamin first set foot in the treasure cavern, his jaw dropped in shock. Shortly thereafter, his stomach joined it in dismay. Of course he had never seen such wealth, but he had been expecting that. He hadn’t been expecting a five-mile long hallway, hundreds of side-passages, and thousands of rooms, each overflowing with a jumble of treasure. Nothing was even sorted!

“I thought you said this wouldn’t take long,” he stammered.

“Shouldn’t,” agreed Idin cheerfully. “Forty-five, maybe fifty years at the most.”

That is a very long time to wear a dragon costume, Benjamin thought.

***

The costume, and the constant threat of death if Idin discovered he was a human, were really the only bad parts about the job.

At first, Idin had wanted to keep everything where it was. It was arranged by date of acquisition, he said, which made sense to him. Benjamin prepared a three-page report detailing why sorting by type and value would be more efficient in the long run. Idin didn’t read the report, naturally, but he listened to the first page and then agreed.

“Why hire an accountant if you’re not going to let them account,” he said, and followed Benjamin back into the treasure caverns.

While Benjamin sorted through pile after pile of assorted gemstones, gold, and jewelry made of gemstones and gold, Idin told him the story of how he acquired them, which thankfully rarely involved breathing fire, and how to tell which ones were cursed, which thankfully happened before Benjamin found anything cursed.

Idin tried to give him other advice, too. Wing exercises to get back into flying condition as soon as possible. Where the best updrafts were for doing loop-tee-loos. How to listen to the airport control tower to avoid flying into airplanes. Most of it was very flight-oriented, but not always.

“Now when you’re ready to get a virgin—“ Idin started one morning.

Benjamin broke into an unnaturally prolonged, if not obviously false, coughing fit.

“Sorry, I forgot virgins aren’t popular with the young set these days,” Idin apologized, and went back to flying advice.

Similar scenes played out when it came to advice about slaying knights, pillaging villages, and various other old fashioned dragon things. After about ten years, Benjamin hardly ever had to cough at all.

***

It was inevitable, really. A hot summer day, a zipper open to let in the breeze, an unluckily positioned box of amethysts. Benjamin yelped in pain as he sprawled across the floor, then watched in horror as his head—his dragon head, not his literal head—bounced across the room.

“What’s wrong—“ Idin spun towards Benjamin, then just as quickly spun away. There was a moment of frozen silence.

“Ahem,” Idin said. Behind his back, he waved a claw encouragingly towards Benjamin’s dragon head. Benjamin scrambled to put it back on. Idin squinted over his shoulder without moving his head. Apparently satisfied he turned all the way around again.

“Now then, Benjamin the Current Accountant,” he said, “physical grace is an important quality in a dragon, especially when it comes to aerial maneuvering.”

And so for the next several hours, Benjamin sat in his sweltering dragon costume, resorting the amethysts, and listening to a lecture on pitch and yaw. And the next day, he came back and did it again.

Sailor Viy
Aug 4, 2013

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.



in, give me an EPIC flashrule

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



My Shark Waifuu posted:

In, flash please!
Return of the Thunder Lizard

Sailor Viy posted:

in, give me an EPIC flashrule
Fogcloaked Summits

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







I'm in

Chairchucker
Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.



Give me a cosy song please.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



Chairchucker posted:

Give me a cosy song please.

If music be the food of love, play on

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


In. Dinosaur-themed dungeon synth sounds dumb as hell, I'll take one of those.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



Barnaby Profane posted:

In. Dinosaur-themed dungeon synth sounds dumb as hell, I'll take one of those.

Almighty Allosaurus

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Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







woops

Gorgeous Attaction Warrior Rumina: Calamity Witch Redux
an amount of words

The calamity witch seized Rumina by the wrist and flung her into the roiling portal of cold black fire. Her powers of Gorgeous Attraction drained and her summoning rod broken, all she could do was tumble blindly through interstitial non-space. The last thing Rumina saw was the cold white nothing of the witch’s eyes. The last thing she heard was the heartbroken screams of her friends.

For a while everything was numb and fuzzy and black, as though she were floating through a particularly thick, unctuous cloud of sleep. Rumina decided, with what faculties she had left, that this wasn’t the worst fate she might’ve met. Some of her fellow Gorgeous Attraction Warriors were presently enjoying an eternity of being slowly digested in a trap dimension that consisted entirely of stomach acid, while others had simply been stripped of their souls, leaving their minds and bodies to persist without purpose.

Wafting numbly through nothingness was, as far as Rumina was concerned, an unexpected vacation.

Then the universe clenched around her like a sphincter and, with a muscular heave, extruded her into a penis dimension.

.

‘Penis dimension’ wasn’t entirely fair, Rumina told herself as she cowered beside a relatively non-phallic stalagmite of meat. Certainly, the cave was bristling with meaty shafts that jutted from the walls at insistent angles, but there was also a healthy assortment of flesh orbs and flesh humps, and even transparent flesh domes containing little clusters of flesh flowers.

What light there was came from the flesh orbs, which glowed a dull bioluminescent red. Everything was the color of exposed muscle and the whole place smelled like a sinus infection.

Rumina felt an absurd burst of nostalgia; the last time she’d had a sinus infection was a few months before her transformation into Gorgeous Attraction Warrior Rumina. Her mother had insisted she leave the university dorms and spend a few days at home recovering. They’d watched terrible old sitcoms, laughed at awkward memories from Rumina’s high school days, and generally bonded like a mother and daughter acknowledging their mutual adulthood for the first time.

Now she didn’t get sick, and her mom was a blank-eyed puppet under the control of the calamity witch.

The lacy cupcake of Rumina’s battle skirts was sodden and heavy with alien mucus. Her knee-length pink hair hung in dark, sodden clumps. At least nothing was actively digesting her, she thought bravely.

One of the transparent flesh domes burst with a sound like a ripping sausage casing. From the meaty flowers within came a stream of rust-colored spore, which drifted away on some subtle current of air. Rumina clapped her hands over her mouth and nose, though she knew it was little use; the air was likely full of the stuff already, which meant her lungs were, too.

The cave had the feel of an ecosystem, rather than one of the calamity witch’s trap dimensions, Rumina decided. Her thesis on ecological interdependencies was still fresh in her head; the protective dome around the flowers was clearly an adaptation, and there was something faintly comforting in that.

She wasn’t the only thing here that felt like it had to fight to survive.

Then a huge glistening tumbleweed made of long, phallic tentacles and way, way too many eyes slurped into view, and Rumina stifled a scream.

.

It was the stuff of pornographic nightmares, the sort of creature that particularly cynical magical girls liked to describe to gullible new magical girls to drive home the grim nature of their role. As if anyone needed reminding.

The mass of knotted appendages heaved itself toward Rumina. All that lay between them was the burst flesh dome and the meaty stalagmite behind which Rumina was cowering. She stepped fully out from behind the stalagmite, hands curled into fists. Her powers of Gorgeous Attraction were gone, but she still knew how to throw a punch, and fully intended to go down swinging.

The creature froze, its dozens of eyes fixed on her, bulging in an alien parody of surprise. It raised several of those dick-ended tentacles in the air.

Rumina braced herself for whatever was about to happen. Her entire body trembled with adrenaline.

With exaggerated slowness, the creature moved its raised tentacles over the burst flesh dome, and ejaculated all over the flowers inside. On contact with the dull-colored liquid, the flowers dissolved into a pink and white slurry, conveniently contained within the shell of the burst dome. Then, with a secondary set of tentacles, it sucked up the viscous mixture it had created.

It did this with the deliberate motions of someone explaining something to a very stupid person. Rumina gagged.

When she was finished gagging, she found the creature watching her, motionless. The way she might watch someone from whom she was awaiting a response.

There was one power the calamity witch couldn’t take, one power that didn’t require a summoning rod or transformation sequence.

Rumina clasped her hands in front of her heart and called on the power of friendship.

.

...and so what your people think of as ‘dark matter’ is syphoned through the cosmic substrate, and its byproducts accumulate here, in the fibrous tissues of these...plants? Organs? Your language doesn’t have a word for a thing that is both a plant and an organ. Regardless, that byproduct is what my kind eats.

“So you’re sort of like the sapient gut flora of the cosmos,” Rumina said, then hurriedly added, “and I mean that in the most awestruck way. I’m legit fascinated.”

Presently she was being held aloft by one muscular tentacle as the creature carried her through the squelching warren of caves. Rumina had to admit that, as revolting as they were, the tentacles were well-adapted to navigating the bulbous protrusions on the cave floor and walls. Aside from the tentacle around her waist, the pair were connected by a prismatic aura of pure friendship, which translated the tentacle monster’s slurping and burbling into words.

It is a noble comparison, if a bit facile, said the monster diplomatically.

“And the calamity witch just dumps idiots like me down here thinking you’ll dispose of us for her?”

There were a few unfortunate incidents where we misunderstood your kind to be food, the tentacle monster said, then quickly amended, A very few. You’re not actually edible to us. Carbon! Blech.

There was a break in the conversation, but it didn’t last long because the sound of the creature’s tentacles moving over the slick, meaty cave floor made Rumina feel nauseated.

“So the calamity witch, she sees you do your dark matter-digesting spooge thing on a couple magical girls, completely misunderstands, and thinks to herself, ‘yep, this here is a sex assault dimension, better make sure I have this one on speed dial’?”

It is refreshing that you are getting all this so quickly, said the tentacle monster. Some of the other survivors still seem to think we’re going to try and impregnate them with 1,000 arthropod eggs, or something. Impregnate them! With one of these? It waggled one of the tentacles it had used to vomit digestive goop on the meat flowers. How are we going to impregnate anyone with our mouths? Why would we even try?

“How many other survivors are there, anyway?” Rumina asked, trying to contain the small upwelling of hope she was beginning to feel.

See for yourself, said the monster as they rounded a fleshy bend and the cave opened up before them.

.

The refugee settlement was horrible, though someone had clearly tried to make it less so. There were buildings, of a sort. Long, sinuous cables of meat stretched from one side of the cavern to the other. These overhead cables supported squat, tear-drop shaped structures that hung low to the ground, just brushing the fleshy floor of the cavern. Each of the hanging buildings had what looked to Rumina like a gaping, slack-jawed mouth.

From those mouths, humanoids emerged. They came in tattered school uniforms and mucus-crusted battle gowns. They came covered in arcane jewels, armored in runic plating. They came in every shape and color, from across all of space and all of time: magical girls.

No one cheered as Rumina’s monster carried her into town and set her down with a wet squelching sound. They received her with silent resignation. A few tentacle monsters of varying sizes and shades of meaty red hovered at a respectful distance, slurping and slapping conversationally amongst themselves.

A leaderly sort of girl with short black hair and a very short green skirt stepped forward with unmistakable I’m in charge here swagger. Across her back was strapped an improbably large sword with half of a shattered emerald set in the pommel.

“When and where are you from?” she demanded of Rumina.

“I’m from the year 2030. Earth,” Rumina said curtly. “Also, my name is Rumina.”

The leaderly girl rolled her eyes and said, “Which Earth, genius?”

Rumina fixed her mouth in a beatific little smile and said, “The original.”

The gathered magical girls gasped and looked to their leader. A few wailed and clutched each other tearfully.

“Don’t look so smug,” the girl in the green skirt told Rumina. “Since you apparently don’t have the first idea how much trouble we’re in, I’ll tell you. All the other Earths—the parallel dimensions, alternate universes, and evil bizarro worlds—have fallen. You were the last line of defense against the calamity witch.”

Rumina’s expression hadn’t quite caught up with the conversation. She processed this terrible news while grinning like a girl who’d just done her first transformation sequence.

“But that’s stupid,” she heard herself say.

Your worlds were nested like layers of...what’s the rude, stratified flesh thing that’s not an organ? Ah. An onion, Rumina’s monster said helpfully. Apparently, your world was at the center of that onion, which means—

“No more onion,” Rumina said, closing her large golden eyes. This couldn’t be happening.

When she opened them again, the other magical girls were staring at her in horror and revulsion.

“Who are you talking to?” the green skirted girl said in a quiet, careful voice.

Rumina looked back at the tentacle monster who’d carried her to the settlement. “Um, I don’t know their name, but they’ve been very kind and helpful.”

“You talk to these things?”

“Just this one so far,” Rumina said, reaching out to give her monster an awkward pat on one of its long, tubular mouths. The tentacled creature made a movement like it wanted to shift away, then thought better of it and consented to be patted.

The girl in the green skirt looked like she was going to be sick. “How?”

“The power of friendship,” Rumina said.

.

“You legitimately didn’t think of trying the power of friendship on those guys?” Rumina asked the girl in the green skirt, whose name was Chiaki. Chiaki of the Ultra Gem Rangers, defenders of Earth number twelve—the first Earth to fall to the calamity witch.

They were seated together on a bulbous promontory of flesh that overlooked the refugee settlement. Down below, two of the tentacle creatures were working together to suspend a teardrop-shaped pod of flesh from one of the support tendons—a home for Rumina.

“No one else has the power of friendship,” Chiaki said irritably. “We have one girl who can talk to animals, but it didn’t work on the tentacle beasts. We figured it was because they were demons, or something. Prison guards for the flesh prison.”

“They eat dark matter byproducts syphoned through a cosmic substrate,” Rumina said helpfully. “They’re sort of like big phallic algae-eaters.” She was still working on an apt simile.

Chiaki was shaking her head. “I still can’t believe that the destined hero of the original Earth was granted...the power of friendship. What are we supposed to do with the power of friendship? Join hands with the monsters and sing campfire songs until the calamity witch has a change of heart and sends us all home?”

“The power of friendship comes in handy when I’m summoning demigods. And anyway, my friends are still fighting out there, I can feel it.” Rumina said with more confidence than she actually felt. “They don’t need me to win.”

“Not how it works. Everyone the calamity witch trapped here in meat hell? We’re all big time heroes. We all failed, and all of our worlds were destroyed. Magical girl squads don’t work without their big time heroes, this is basic stuff.”

“I don’t like this ‘big time hero’ business,” Rumina said. “I’ve already thought that everyone was the big time hero of their own life.”

“And yet you’re here and all your friends are dead,” Chiaki said, offering no quarter.

“They’re not dead,” Rumina insisted, though her voice lost a little bit of conviction every time she repeated those words.

.

More and more, Rumina found herself seeking the company of Yvonne. Yvonne wasn’t the tentacle monster’s real name—as far as Rumina could tell, they didn’t have a name—but Rumina had known a very nice lady named Yvonne once, and it was a lot nicer than calling them ‘tentacle monster.’

“It’s called learned helplessness,” Rumina explained as Yvonne carried her over the lumpen cave floor. “The other girls gave it everything they had, and they still failed to save their worlds from the calamity witch. Now they don’t believe anything they do matters.”

And you? What do you believe?

“Everything I do matters,” Rumina said resolutely. “Everything you do matters. Even if it’s just having a conversation like this one.”

I do not know if this conversation has matter, Yvonne said diplomatically, but I am enjoying it regardless.

“Not ‘matter’ in the sense of the physical stuff,” Rumina said. “I meant—”

There was a nearby pop sound; somewhere close by, one of the flower-filled nodes of umbral byproduct had burst. Yvonne hastened toward the sound, Rumina held aloft in one tentacle. While most of the cave growths contained some measure of byproduct, Yvonne had explained that the bulbous domes and their flowery occupants were particularly concentrated and flavorful.

And Rumina had an idea.

“How does dark matter byproduct get from our universe to here, anyway?” she asked.

Yvonne finished sucking up the meat slurry and made a squishy contemplative noise that sounded like a sweaty fart.

What you call ‘dark matter’ is a reaction between time, space, and...what’s a word for something that’s both blood plasma and an anecdote? Ah. Meaning. Dark matter is a reaction between time, space, and meaning. When a universe produces a meaningful event, which is quite often, all of the inert, meaningless events that might have occurred are syphoned off, absorbed into the cosmic substrate, where—

“Slow down,” Rumina said. “You’re saying that the stuff that gets filtered down here—the stuff you eat out of those exploding penis flowers—is everything that never happened?”

Meaningless events, Yvonne repeated. Meaninglessness is dense and heavy, so it sinks through the cosmic substrate. Meaning is dynamic and light, so it rises. Ergo, all universes are comprised of mostly meaningful events.

“Let’s pretend that my mind wasn’t just debilitatingly blown by the revelation that most events in the universe are probably inherently meaningful,” Rumina said. “Have you ever tried to refine the meaninglessness into something, well, meaningful?”

.

“It won’t work,” Chiaki told her. “If the monster is right, and meaningful events rise like cream while meaningless ones sink like stones, then by definition everything we do down here is meaningless. Deal with it, Rumina. We don’t mean anything.

“I still have to try,” Rumina said.

.

By now Rumina was adept at making her own way through the meaty chthonic realm, and no longer required Yvonne to carry her. The two had grown inseparable in other ways, in any case; both as colleagues and something more. Rumina had abandoned her hanging house-sack, opting to sleep in the protective nest of Yvonne’s limbs.

Presently, they were looking for one of the fleshy domes—what Rumina had nicknamed ‘burst flowers’. She suspected that the secret to the refinement of meaninglessness into meaning lay somewhere in the flowers’ production of spore. The burst flowers were the only thing that propagated themselves; all the other fleshy bulbs, shafts, and nubbins were outgrowths of meaninglessness.

“There’s an old adage in Earth Prime biology,” Rumina told Yvonne as they searched. "Evolution is cleverer than you are.”

Studying the spore was nearly impossible; to collect it any amount, she had to be standing directly over the burst flower when it popped, ready with a specialized collection sack made for her by Yvonne. The inside of the sack was lined with material from Rumina’s pink battle skirts, since the spore absorbed into indigenous meat on contact.

There was another obstacle: Rumina, who had been a consummate lab nerd in her pre-magical girl life, was at a complete loss without her electron microscope, petri dishes, pH testing swabs—things she could have found in any high school chemistry classroom on Earth Prime. Even if she had wanted to spend a millennia figuring out how to build her own microscope, there was no source of silica for glass.

She had amassed a palm-full of powdery spores like rust-colored flour in her sack, which she kept on her person at all times. She didn’t trust Yvonne’s siblings, well-meaning as they were, not to eat it. She didn’t trust Chiaki, ill-meaning as she was, to not destroy it.

Rumina had no earthly idea what she was going to do with the spores, but she was trying to do something, and she had Yvonne at her side, and that made her less afraid.

It is a revelation that evolution occurs in this place at all, Yvonne said.

“You had to come from somewhere,” Rumina said, hauling herself over a particularly mucus-laden hump of cave.

I have been considering some of your ideas regarding the origins of my people, said Yvonne. It is...a lot. Before you arrived, I ate. I wandered. Sometimes I found a lost girl and brought her to the settlement. When one has lived simply, it is tempting to assume all things are simple.

They didn’t find a burst flower on that outing, or the next, or the next.

The further their research took them from the magical girl refugee settlement, the more they discovered dark, dead caverns whose walls were smooth and nubbinless. At first Yvonne dismissed it—irregularities occasionally occur in the cosmic substrate—but after dozens of outings, it was clear that a cold, clammy death was circling in on magical girls and tentacle monsters alike.

.

Rumina took one precious strip of skirt and laid it out across her bare knees. Yvonne slept beside her, trilling softly in their strange cephalopodan sleep.

Onto the strip of fabric, Rumina spread a careful line of rust-colored spore.

This wasn’t good science. It wasn’t even good non-science. It was the behavior of someone who had lost the thread entirely and felt they had no recourse.

Rumina raised the line of spore to her face with a slowness bordering on reverence, and snorted the whole thing in one go.

Her world turned the color of rotting blood.

.

She thrashed. She punched. She bit down on the tentacles holding her firmly in place.

“It’s loving over,” she wailed. “It’s all the poo poo-filled corner in the darkest, deadest part of a dark dead universe. It’s over and no one cares and no one cares that no one cares because there’s no one to care that no one cares that…”

Yvonne murmured every comforting phrase they could think of, but Rumina only heard the gurgling of a monster.

.

A meaningless amount of time later, the smog of rotten blood lifted, was replaced by a soft, rainbow haze.

Rumina looked up at Yvonne. Dozens of alien eyes looked back down at her, watery with concern.

“Yvonne,” Rumina said, “I understand.”

And Yvonne said I’m sorry.

.

“Of course everything is dying,” Chiaki said at the emergency meeting. “The calamity witch destroyed all of our universes. The whole goddamn onion. There’s nothing meaningful out there anymore. Even meaninglessness has dried up.” She laughed ruefully. “Even the dick monsters die in the end.”

The other girls muttered and whimpered among themselves. The tentacle monsters slurped pensively.

Rumina, Yvonne, Chiaki, and all the magical girls and monsters were huddled together at the center of the refugee settlement. The only light in the whole chthonic dimension came from a single cluster of redly glowing flesh orbs protruding from the ground near Chiaki’s house sack; all else was dark and smooth and deceased.

Rumina, who’d been chewing her thumbnail, stopped. “What do we know about the calamity witch?” she asked.

“Looks human but isn’t. Skin like frosted glass. Empty-rear end eyes,” Chiaki said. “Kills heroes, destroys universes. Am I missing anything?”

“She didn’t kill us, though,” Rumina said. “She killed our friends, our fellow warriors, and our families. But not us...big time heroes. Why?”

Chiaki shrugged violently. “Because she’s a sadistic monster? Because she’s saving us for last to maximize dramatic tension? She’s evil, Rumina. She does evil things.”

“Most lifeforms do things that make sense for their survival,” Rumina said. “The calamity witch doesn’t, unless there’s something we don’t understand about the way she survives.”

“Why are you still acting like this is a problem we can solve? Just lie down and accept it. We lost,” Chiaki said.

Rumina planted both feet firmly on the dead meat of the cavern floor. She reached up and took her long pink hair out of its sensible bun, let it cascade over her shoulders like a blush-colored cape. Yvonne took their place behind her, tentacles splayed like a rearing spider.

“Magical girls come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and colors,” Rumina said. “No two of us have the same power. No two of us have the same story.” Her voice resonated in the dark, cavernous space. “But all of us, every single one of us, stand for one thing: Hope. Hope for all the people of all Earths.”

“Oh, lord,” Chiaki said.

The other magical girls had ceased whimpering and clutching each other and were watching Rumina. The tentacle monsters were still and quiet.

“Nothing about this place makes sense,” Rumina continued. “Things evolve and adapt, except when they don’t. By Chiaki’s logic, nothing meaningful should be able to happen down here, except it did.” She glanced over her shoulder at Yvonne, who was suffused in the soft prismatic light of friendship. “And if this place really is a sponge for meaninglessness, then it should be thriving, not dying, right? If the calamity witch won, then everyone in the onion would be dead, which means there are no external observers to qualify events as containing meaning, which means all events would be inherently meaningless, ergo they should all sink down to this place to feed the various meat knobs.”

She paused to take a deep gulp of fetid air.

Chiaki had crossed her arms across her chest. In the waning red light, she looked pitted and ominous. “Okay,” she said, “I’ll bite. Wouldn’t the calamity witch herself count as an observer?”

“Yes,” Rumina said briskly. “But that actually makes it more strange that this place is dying. If things work the way they’re purported to work here, then the presence of the calamity witch should still be enough to produce a steady runoff of meaningless reality byproduct.”

“Maybe the frosty bitch destroyed the multiverse and killed herself,” Chiaki said. “Now that everything is dead and gone, there’s no reason to live, and so on.”

“Or maybe,” Rumina said, feeling some of the old vigor, “maybe this whole reality is a farce designed to produce despair. Big, heroic amounts of despair.”

“We agree this place is a despair pit, at least,” Chiaki said. She ran her hand through her short black coif a few times.

Rumina put one hand on her hip and with the other pointed at Chiaki. “Give it up, witch,” she said. “You’re not smart enough to fake a whole reality. Your monsters don’t gently caress. Your despair spore has got nothing on purestrain magical girl hope. Didn’t even account for the power of friendship.”

Shameful, said Yvonne.

“This place isn’t just a despair ‘pit’,” Rumina said. “It’s a despair farm. You eat despair. And you’re a terrible farmer.”

Chiaki looked around at the assembled magical girls and tentacle monsters. She lifted her palms in a beseeching gesture, opened her mouth as if to say something. And then she exploded outward around a swollen ball of white light.

When the light had dimmed slightly and Rumina could lower her hands from her eyes, she found herself face to face once more with the calamity witch.

.

“I wanted it all to make sense,” Rumina had said a little while before the emergency meeting. “I wanted your explanation of this dimension to be real, because that would mean you’re real.”

I am real, Yvonne said. The thing you call the calamity witch forced me to be real. She thought if she made us look like monsters, we’d act like monsters. Except that didn’t make sense for us. Most creatures, given the choice, do not want to act like monsters.

“Is there still a world out there? Is there a place for you and I in it?”

I do not know, and I do not know, Yvonne said, but all any of us gets is the chance to see what happens next. I would like to do so, with you.

.

The calamity witch was as terrible and ethereal as ever: skin that shone like ice and was frosted like glass. Eyes the hueless blank of death. Her face and body a cruel, rigid mockery of a human’s.

And Rumina was back on Earth Prime, broken summoning rod in dusty pieces at her feet.

One of her fellow Gorgeous Attraction Warriors had been in the middle of screaming something like, ”Rumina, watch out!”

The calamity witch was smugly teeing up whatever dark magic she was about to use to banish Rumina to the farcical penis dimension.

It was all precisely as it had been, with several new additions.

All around the calamity witch were magical girls. Tired, mucus-sodden magical girls with some serious trauma to work out, but magical girls nonetheless. They were helping each other to their feet, taking up ragged battle stances.

Rumina couldn’t bring herself to turn around. She couldn’t bring herself to check whether that familiar, tentacled mass was behind her. Better to lunge forward, to attack, to fight the calamity witch like love depended on it, then see what remained after the battle, when the dust settled. If she looked now and saw Yvonna wasn’t there, she would be undone, and the despair-hungry witch would win after all.

And the calamity witch turned her chilly features toward something above and behind Rumina. No, the witch rasped in her true, terrible voice. You’re not real. I created you. You're a monster. You’re not real!

A tentacle settled gently on Rumina’s shoulder, a touch so light it might have been an errant strand of wind. Several more tentacles wrapped themselves around her waist, under her armpits, and around her knees, pulling her in toward the central mass until she was ensconced within Yvonne like a pilot in their mech suit. The fierce rainbow power of love thrummed at every point of contact between magical girl and tentacle monster.

As they readied themselves to lunge at the calamity witch, Rumina said, “Change of keikaku, bitch.”

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