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Dec 31, 2006

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crabrock posted:

I'm sorry Roguelike. I'm sorry you wrote a good story and then made a good prompt and now have to judge a shitload of stories. I hope you drink, because you might wanna stock up on your beverage of choice.

Record is 32 entries, and you're at 32 signups right now. Some horrible people will flake out because they aren't worthy of the air they breathe, but maybe you'll get another 10 tomorrow!

I'm in. Let's kick this new year off right!


Dec 31, 2006

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Roguelike posted:

Thunderdome LXXIV: Y Tu Thunderdome!?
Submission Deadline: 11:59 pm, Sunday the 5th, EST.
Word Count: 1250 epic words (or less)

The Promise - 1250 Words

Bill stared at the young man on the other side of the booth, unable to understand what he was just told. How could someone be so drat selfish? Bill took a sip of his quickly cooling cup of coffee and waited for his brother to say that this was all just a bad joke, just another stupid idea of his. Clay avoided looking at him, studying the dinged up white and black checkered tile floor of the tired little diner. One of Clay’s hands was busy worrying one of the many chipped and pitted spots on the table, the other cupped around his own untouched cup of coffee, the liquid threatening to spill over the brim as he pushed it around the table.

“What do you think?” said Clay, glancing up at his older brother with the same pleading look in his eyes that Bill remembered from their childhood when Clay knew he had made some mistake. Back then Bill had been there to cover for him most of the time, but Clay always gave away when he felt guilty about something. Bill usually just ended up getting his own hide tanned for his trouble, but he never stopped trying. That’s just what older brothers are supposed to do. But not this time.

Bill took another sip of his cold coffee. It was awful. “I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Bill. Clay immediately brightened up and a smile blossomed on his face. “Except for your promise.”

Clay grimaced and broke eye contact, ducking his head low, another childhood guilty tell. “I’ll hold up my end of the deal, but I was hoping I could do it in a few years.” Clay paused and looked up at Bill’s face, searching for a sign of acceptance and finding nothing. “I could earn enough there to --”

“Four years,” said Bill, his voice cold and hard. Clay opened his mouth to say something but one sharp look from his brother put a quick end to that. Some things never stopped working.

“Four was the original deal. I gave you another when you switched majors, and yet another when you failed out. Six long years, I’ve waited. You got your education, you had a life, now it’s my turn,” said Bill.

“Michelle thinks it’s a good deal though, and together we could make enough to move the folks out to California with us, put them up in a real nice home. You know, in a few years. Michelle’s really the one pushing for it,” said Clay.

“Don’t hide behind your girlfriend,” said Bill.

“Fiance, actually,” said Clay.

Bill raised an eyebrow. “Since when?”

Clay paused and said, “Six months or so.” He at least had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Congratulations,” said Bill, out of obligation.

“Thanks,” said Clay, mumbling down at the table.

The waitress stopped by with a pot of coffee. She waited briefly for acknowledgement from the silent men at the table before pouring a refill for Bill: the lukewarm pot coffee mixed with the cup’s cold coffee to make a barely tepid brew.

“You want a fresh cup, sugar?” said the waitress, putting one hand on her hip and waving her pot in Clay’s general direction.

“No thanks, I’m leaving soon,’ said Clay, throwing a quick look over towards Bill.

“Why’d you order coffee if you don’t want none?” said the waitress.

“Instagram,” said Clay, laughing lamely at himself.

The waitress looked askance at Clay, then glanced back to Bill. “Your boy alright?”

“He used to be,” said Bill.

“City folk,” she said with a shake of her head as she walked away.

“God drat this town,” said Clay. “I hate it. I can’t stay here Bill, don’t you see? Not in this hillbilly chucklefuck backwater Georgia town.”

“You think I like it here?” said Bill. “You think I like working at the loving Hardee’s? I was in college too, remember? I had dreams just like you, and none of them involved this place. But I gave it all up to come back here to take care of Mom and Dad. Four years, you said. Let me finish college, you said. Then I’ll come back and take care of them and you can go, you said. Now it’s your turn, and you won’t man up.” Bill forced his hands to grip the table to stop them from shaking. “You’re going to run off with your girlfriend and your education to California and earn good money and live happily ever after, and leave me to clean up after Mom and Dad and live in this shithole.”

“Fiance,” said Clay.

“Really?” said Bill. “That’s what you took from that?”

“Well, she is, and besides, that’s not what I’m saying,” said Clay.

“Then you’ll stay here, and do what you promised?” said Bill.

“Look, I know it’s not good for you here,” said Clay. “But if you give me a couple years, I can put them in a nice home. I promise, Bill.”

“You fucker,” said Bill, shaking his head in disbelief. “You know who is the real rear end in a top hat here? Me, for actually thinking you’d actually come here and take care of the folks.” Bill ran his hands through his hair and blew out a long breath. “I believed you, man, I really did. I thought you’d come through for me, for Mom and Dad. You were my best friend, my brother. I’m such a sucker.”

“I’m still your brother,” said Clay. He reached a hand out across the table towards Bill. Bill ignored it.

“Then free me so I can live my life,” said Bill, staring Clay down. “Like you promised. Like I would for you.”

“I just can’t deal with it, with them,” said Clay. He sank his face into his hands, and words tumbled out thick and heavy. “They are so sick, so needy, so broken. I’m sorry Bill. I can’t watch them die.”

“So you’ll let me watch them die, by myself?” said Bill. “Thanks, man.”

“I’m not as strong as you are,” said Clay. “I know you’ll get through it better than I can.”

“Bullshit, you’re hiding. You may have a degree and a girl but you’re still just a kid,” said Bill. “Were you even planning on seeing them?”

“Well, it’s late, you know,” said Clay.

“Slinking out of town in the night to avoid seeing your sick folks. That’s low, Clay.”

“It’s better for all of us if I don’t see them,” said Clay.

Bill laughed at that, a grim chuckle with no humor in it. “Better for you.”

Clay pulled out his wallet, a nice leather one, and tossed a bill down on the table. “You’ll see I’m serious. I promise I’ll come through for you, and for Mom and Dad.” He stood up and looked down at Bill. “I’ll make things better, like you always tried to do for me,” he said, and put his hand on Bill’s shoulder. “I’m sorry it’s going to keep you here a while longer, but I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

Bill didn’t bother to look up at him. “If you leave, if you walk out on us, we’re done.”

Clay paused, then his hand brushed past Bill’s shoulder as he left.

Bill didn’t turn to watch him leave, but he heard the soft jingle of the bells on the door as Clay fled the diner. He took a drink of the cold, bitter sludge in front of him. “Coward,” he said softly, shaking his head.

Dec 31, 2006

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In with - who doesn't like roller coasters?

Dec 31, 2006

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God Over Djinn posted:

Thunderdome LXXVII: Well gee, that's certainly something

My pick:

Death Coaster Live! - 900 Words


Katie was left blinking sunspots out of her eyes as the giant light shut off.

“Wait, that’s it?” said Katie.

“Yup, we got everything we need,” said Max Steele.

Katie had only been talking with the legendary host for five minutes, at most. The pretty blonde before her had taken at least fifteen.

“Well, if you need anything more--” said Katie.

“We’ll know where to find you,” said Max with his trademark grin that was plastered to his face during the entire interview.

“Just don’t wait too long,” said Katie with a lame little smile. Max and some of the production crew laughed politely. Max waved over someone standing by one of the doors.

“Hi Katie, I’m Melanie,” she said as she extended her hand to Katie.

Katie grasped it and was pulled along in Melanie’s wake as she headed for the door. “You’ve seen the show, of course?” she said.

“Who hasn’t?” said Katie.

“Yes, well, then you know what’s next. You can smile and wave at them, but no touching. Some people are superstitious or find it unsettling,” said Melanie, pausing before the door. “Ready? Just go straight down to the platform.”

“Ready,” said Katie and Melanie opened the door into an explosion of sound. The screaming throng of people lined the path down to the coaster, just a few hundred feet away. She could see the others already strapped into their seats and the masked assistants waiting for her on the platform.

The sound felt like it was vibrating through her body and adrenaline surged through her. She waved at the crowd and they cheered in response. It was intoxicating and she played up the crowd as she walked to the track. No way was she going to be one of those scared little volunteers with no screen time.

As the pathway turned, it forced her to fully look at the roller coaster. The sleek, almost delicate, design twisted over and around itself, dipped into the ground several times and finished with its famous final hill and corkscrew. They told Katie that most riders were dead by the time the ride reached the hill, but the gravitational forces exerted by the speed of the coaster at the end guaranteed a gentle death for anyone who might still be alive. The walls surrounding it proudly proclaimed “Death Coaster Live!” along with its advertising sponsors. Katie remembered when they didn’t used to have the walls there, but too many spectators were getting injured in the rush to collect bits and pieces of the riders that fell down as keepsakes.

Katie gave one final wave to the crowd before stepping onto the platform. An assistant wearing the traditional skull head mask grabbed her arm tightly as they made their way to the last open seat. Katie tried to get a glimpse of the other seven riders, but it was hard to see their faces, blocked by the locks that kept their face and body as still as possible. She had been warned to not try to wriggle around too much, as the death traps were perfectly calibrated to minimize suffering, as long as she was in the proper position. One of the riders ahead of her was screaming to let him go, that he had changed his mind, for someone to save him. Several others were rattling around violently in their restraints, their words incoherent.

“All scripted, don’t worry,” said Skull Head as he helped Katie down into her seat. Another assistant came over in a stylized gas mask, one of the newer designs brought in by this season’s new producer to spice things up. Katie didn’t approve, much preferring the traditional style. Gas Mask and Skull Head worked to lock her into place and Katie forced herself to sit still, reminding herself that she was on TV. Her pulse was racing and her blood thundered in her ears as she felt more and more restraints lock in around her. The fear that she thought she had already conquered was right there below the surface, but she thought of the contract she signed, all of the ways she could ruin this for her father and her sister. She would make sure that they would get the full payment.

“You’re lucky, you know,” said Gas Mask as he finished his work.

“Why’s that?” said Katie.

“You guys will be famous,” said Gas Mask.

“Do you have to do this to every rider?” said Skull Head to Gas Mask as he slotted in her last head lock, fully immobilizing every part of her.

“I know,” said Katie.

Gas Mask laughed. “No, you don’t. They’re doing something new, something for the ratings.”

Fear rose in Katie’s throat, but she swallowed it back down.

“A slow death episode. Death by fire, poison, exsanguination.” Gas Mask seemed to savor the last word, drawing out the syllables for several seconds. “All sorts of goodies cooked up for you.”

“No,” said Katie. “That’s not the deal!” She tried to force her body to move, but it would only slide a fraction of an inch in any direction. She threw her body forward again and again as the two assistants backed off and gave a signal to someone unseen.

The cars shot forward out of the boarding platform, and Katie’s screams mixed with the others as they hurtled forward on a very special episode of Death Coaster Live!

Walamor fucked around with this message at 02:37 on Jan 27, 2014

Dec 31, 2006

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God Over Djinn posted:

Thunderdome LXXX: "Why don't you ask your huge cock?"

Tell me a story about your life. It can be poignant, it can be hilarious, it can be sad, whatever you like. What it can't be is self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing (unless you want to lose).

I'm in!

Dec 31, 2006

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God Over Djinn posted:

Thunderdome LXXX:

Fighting the Beast - 1294 Words

When the beast came for me, it was wearing the skin of my friends. I barely noticed it circling me, for its approach was but a stealthy creep, taking its time to sink in its addictive claws. As dangerous as its subtle and seductive weapons were, the best tool in its arsenal was my denial of its danger. I thought myself armored, impenetrable to this monster, but foolish decisions easily rusted this defense away. I was walking proof that smoking can hook a stupid twenty four year old as easily as it hooks a stupid teenager.

I was the shepherd of purses and half-empty drinks, sitting alone in the bar. I mindlessly peeled the label from my beer bottle as I minded my flock and waited for my friends to return. They would return from their pilgrimage, reeking of smoke but looking satisfied. They filled the spaces around me, laughing at some joke that was made outside. They asked me--and I asked myself--why shouldn’t I go out with them, just to hang out? I wouldn’t join them in their hourly ceremony of fire and ash, but I could venture out with them. Just to talk.

I don’t often get incredibly drunk, but one night, infused with alcohol’s wonderful capacity to make bad decisions seem good, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I was sure that trying one wouldn’t do anything. After all, I knew the dangers, bashed into my head over the years by the never-ending propaganda of parents, schools and tv commercials. But I wouldn’t get hooked off just one cigarette, right? When I took my first drag, I never expected the sensation that followed. It caused a nice, heady rush and a pleasant tingling spread through my body. Maybe I’d just borrow one more.

After that, I never let my friends go outside alone. We always trooped outside together, and inevitably someone would flip open the top of their pack and offer me one. Who was I to turn them down? After all, everyone else was smoking. I reassured myself that I was only smoking with friends, only when I drank too much. It wasn’t often, I totally wasn’t addicted, I could have stopped anytime. I mean, it’s not like I was buying my own packs.

But, drat, did I really want to be that guy who is always bumming one? I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends, sucking up their generosity. I bought one pack, so I didn’t have to keep borrowing. I told myself that I would keep it in my car and only grab it when I was headed out to drink with everyone.

That lasted until I had a particularly lovely day. My boss yelled at me about my sales figures, I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, and on top of everything, it was only Monday. I sat in my car at home, staring at the pack in the seat next to me. Would it be that bad, just to have one or two at home tonight, to relax from the craziness of the day? I opened the lid and stared at the orderly white rows for a while before I took two upstairs. Before the night was over, I came back down and got the rest of the pack.

I was well aware by then that I was addicted, and I was ashamed of my habit. I only bought packs late at night; I hated when someone else was in line with me. I could feel their judgment, labeling me as just another stupid smoker ruining my lungs. I hated that they were right. I would order my two packs of Camel Lights as quickly as I could, pay in cash and then flee to the safety of my car. I always lit up on my balcony and kept the cigarette out of sight below the railing. I hid in the corner of my balcony, hoping my neighbors could not see the light or smell the odor.

When I started smoking at work, I was going through three packs a week. I cared less about hiding my habit, though I still hated when people saw me. I thoroughly febreezed myself every time my parents visited. They never found out about it, though there was one heart-stopping moment when my dad found half a pack I had forgotten to hide. I blamed it on a friend and crushed it in my hand to prove I wasn’t smoking. After they were gone, I picked the pack out of the trash and smoked the rest of it that night. They never invited my friend up to their house again.

It was a child that sparked my desire to fight against my habit. It was five minutes before closing time and I thought no more customers were coming in, so I popped out to have a quick one. A man and his child pulled up after I lit up. The man pulled his son to his side as they tried to walk around my cloud of smoke. I saw his face looking at me in frustration as his son scrunched up his face and coughed. I felt like poo poo, but then they passed indoors and I finished my smoke before heading in.

My coworkers were all busy, so the man and his son had to wait for me, and the man grimaced when I walked up to them. I put on a smile, but I knew I was about to coat them in the noxious stale smell of cigarettes that every smoker carries as if it were a jacket. Every moment of the transaction I could smell my own stink like I had never before and I felt awful that I let this boy smell my shame.

When I got home, I threw out my remaining two packs, took a shower and scrubbed the smell out of me. Afterwards, I took a deep breath and rejoiced in the clean, fresh scent, something I hadn’t smelled in months. I dug the packs out of the trash that night, but it was an important first fight, the first time I fought against the control that the addiction had over me.

It was hard to fight the beast alone. It would only take one moment of weakness and I was back in its clutches as strongly as if I had never left. It was a welcoming embrace, like a lover whispering ‘Where you have been? Come back to bed.’ I tried to quit a couple times over the following months, but every small success was followed by a setback. I hated every time I regressed, because every night I could smell my failure on my clothes. I was the king of self-rationalization. I’ve had a tough week, I’ll stop next week. I’ll stop after finals, it’s too stressful to stop now.

In the end, it took a force of friends, the same friends who bought this monster into my life, to push it back. We all quit at the same time, sick of the cost, sick of the stench, sick of smoking away days of our life. Nobody was immune from stumbles, but we would pick up the wounded warrior and force them back into the fight. The beast retreated to a dark corner of our minds and we set a vigilant guard around it, knowing it was looking for any opportunity to pounce. It is impossible to truly defeat this beast, for it is wily and is happy to wait years in between attacks. But by now I know how to beat it, and even though the monster escapes from time to time, I am always able to throw it back into its cage. Eventually.

Dec 31, 2006

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gently caress Open Caskets
25 Words

It's a cruel charade, forcing a look of unnatural sleep. It hurts more, seeing the undeceiving imitation of life, an unjust final memory. Incinerate me.

Dec 31, 2006

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sebmojo posted:

:siren:Interprompt: :siren:100 words on the beautiful end of the world.

Totally Not 'That' Snake - 100 Words

The Dame tossed her golden locks over her shoulder with a flick of her head. The neon lights of NeoDetroit played its hues of red, blue and green over her hair, making it a brilliant kaleidoscope of color as it shimmered in the exhaust of the industrial air conditioners. Even at 3 AM in this dank little alley, it was impossible to get away from the lights.

“Do it, Snake” said the Dame, delight dancing in her cybernetic eyes. “Turn the world off,” she said, laughing as she took in the sights for one last time.

I pushed the button.

Dec 31, 2006

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Nethilia posted:

Thunderdome LXXXIX: We Don’t Need No Water, Let The drat Roof Burn :toot:

I'm in!

Dec 31, 2006

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Nethilia posted:

:toot: Thunderdome LXXXIX: We Don’t Need No Water, Let The drat Roof Burn :toot:

Party Goers:

The Arboretum - 1200 Words

Felix looked around cautiously one more time before he wiped a circle in the foggy glass pane and peered inside. The green field far below was brightly lit and full of flower beds and tall trees, but they were little more than specks of color from this height. Felix leaned back and sighed. After so many nights looking in, he wanted more.

A loud pop drew his attention to the next row of greenhouse glass as a pane exploded and a figure swung out just as klaxons began to wail. The ubiquitous neon lights of NeoDetroit played out over the person, highlighting their black outfit in a series of oranges, greens and blues, but Felix couldn’t make out any details at this distance. Even at 3 AM on one of the highest buildings in the city, it was impossible to get away from the lights. Felix scrambled back on his knees, scraping them on the rough, unfinished roof. The figure looked over at him and hesitated, then broke into a run as a door clanged open and security poured out onto the rooftop.

They wouldn’t care he was just a trespasser, not their true quarry. Felix scrambled to his feet and stumbled into a run. He could see his auto-zipline hooked to the rim of the rusted fire exit and desperately lunged for it, only to realize it had already been triggered, the hookup already somewhere one hundred stories or so below. He cursed and looked around in a panic. What a fool he was, coming up here all of these nights. He’d be sent to neuro rehab and…


Felix looked around, confused.

“You just giving up or what?” said a patch of darkness.

Felix darted towards the voice and got into the shadows just as security rounded the corner of a massive air conditioner. A hand clapped firmly over his mouth. It smelled like wonderful mulch.

“poo poo!” said one of the men as they saw his zipline. “He’s already blown his line!” The man drew a vibroknife and thumbed it on, the sound of the rapid vibrations carrying clearly in the night air. The man slashed at the line and cleanly severed the tightly bundled wires. Felix gulped, imaging the long fall he would have been in for if the hookup had actually been there.

“Vox downstairs, make sure he didn’t make it down in one piece,” said the man to another guard as he switched off the knife.

Felix shuddered as the men laughed grimly and walked away. After a minute or two of silence, the voice said “If I take my hand off your mouth, will you be a good boy and stay quiet?”

Felix nodded and the hand withdrew, taking its wonderful earthy smells with it. This close, he could tell that the person was female, covered head to toe in a tight black matte bodysuit. She unhinged her mask and grinned at him. “They always think I’m a dude. Works for me! And you’re welcome.”

Felix stammered his thanks as she walked over to the edge of the roof and fired off her own zipline over to the next building. She turned, and beckoned to him with one eyebrow raised. “Well, you coming or not?”

Felix walked over to her. “They’re going to catch us. We’re all over this roof,” he said. Why did he ever start to come here?

She laughed and tossed a little ball high into the air. It burst apart and tiny filaments rained down like a cloud descending on the roof. “Now the DNA of a few hundred thousand other people are up here also.” She winked at him. “Hold on tight to me. Or will that be a problem?” she said. Felix flushed, grabbed her around her waist and they shot off into the multi-colored night.


“I’m Samantha,” she said, as she tossed her hood into the back seat of her car with a flick of her wrist. The passing neon lights played its hues over her hair, blonde and bouncy, making it a brilliant kaleidoscope of color. “But everyone calls me Sam anyways.” She sighed dramatically.

“Felix,” he said automatically. “Look, just let me off anywhere, and I’ll go hide for the next month.”

“Such a downer, Felix. Maybe this will cheer you up,” she said as she reached into a massive pocket in her pants and pulled out a small bush, barely half a foot tall. A goofy grin appeared on Felix’s face.

“Wow, that’s incredible!” said Felix. She pushed it towards him but he shied away from it as if it was a newborn being shoved onto his lap.

“It won’t bite,” Sam said, then frowned playfully. “At least, I don’t think this one does!”

Felix reverently accepted the plant. His eyes sparkled as he devoured every little detail. Reality set in and he looked back up to Sam. “You stole a plant,” he said.

“Yup!” she said, grinning at him.

“No, I mean you stole a loving plant!” he said.

“It’s not worth it, holding it now?” she said.

Felix looked back down at the plant and chewed on his lip. “If we’re caught, it’s not just rehab, we’ll be scrambled.”

“That’s not an answer,” said Sam.

Felix looked back up at her, one hand gently stroking the surface of a leaf, and smiled. “It’s worth it.”

She turned into a side alley, then took a quick turn into a rapidly opening door. “Knew you’d say that!” she said, as fire exploded around them.

Felix jerked back in his chair. Sam broke into laughter. “Sorry, should have warned you, but it’s too much fun! Scourging the car of any unwelcome nanites.”

Sam nudged the car forward until a torrent of water crashed down on them. Felix jerked slightly less violently this time. “Short-circuiting anything left,” she said, and continued forward through a narrow tunnel.

“I didn’t just randomly save you, you know,” Sam said as she took the plant back from Felix.

“No?” Felix said.

“I was casing the area for a couple weeks and saw you every night, like clockwork. How long had you been coming there?” said Sam.

“A few months,” admitted Felix. “It’s what kept me going, you know? Everything around here is either grey or gaudy. And those bastards keep the Arboreum just for themselves!” said Felix.

“I knew it was right to save you,” said Sam, as the car exited the tunnel into a large warehouse. A small verdant field spread out before him, a grassy area with just a few scattered trees and bushes. It was nothing compared to the Arboreum. It was perfect. People were grouped in the middle, gathered around several tables heaped with food and lit by soft lights. Sam popped the car doors and gentle music floated out from the gathering to reach Sam and Felix.

“So what do you think, Felix? Isn’t it just grand?” said Sam as she looked over the interior of the warehouse.

“Thank you, Samantha,” said Felix, tears in his eyes as he looked from the field to her. She smiled back, true warmth radiating from her, grabbed his hand, and they both ran to join the others.

Dec 31, 2006

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I'm in, Crabrock flash rule me.

Dec 31, 2006

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The Law of Contagion
1200 Words

“If you keep tugging at that thing, it’s like to fall off,” called a voice from Dylan’s right. Startled, Dylan dropped the end of his rope belt he had been toying with and looked over at the street vendor. The old man sitting behind the table laughed and Dylan flushed. Thankfully nobody was paying any attention to them, the vendor’s laugh merely a small part of the cacophony of calls from the other merchants who lined the street and the hubbub of the nearby market.

“You'll need a charm if you’re going to take Belini's test!” said the old man to Dylan.

“I don’t need your cheap silver,” said Dylan, even as he took a few steps towards the old man’s table. Spread out in front of the old man was a glittering assortment of charms, jewelry and other tokens. Make-believe protections for those who had more money than sense.

The old man held a hand to his chest as though wounded. “Young sir! I promise you, you need this!” he said as he scooped up a pendant. “As long as you wear it, the laws of contagion will not apply to you! A wizard could burn your hair and you would feel no more than a touch of heat! They could destroy a scraping of your skin and no drop of blood would spill from you! What better protection when dealing with wizards?”

Dylan snorted and moved away. No more delays. He had to just suck it up and get it over with.

“Maybe a talisman of luck?” the old man shouted at Dylan’s back. “You’ll need it, he hasn't taken an apprentice in a decade!”

Dylan ignored him and rapped twice on the thick oak door in front of him, a giant stylized “B” the sole decoration. A hole opened in the door and Dylan dug into his pocket, scraping up the last few coins he had. He hesitated, then dropped them into the hole. The door creaked open and revealed an empty hallway, lined with dark stones and lit by flickering torches. Dylan took a deep breath and stepped into the dark.

Fifty paces later, Dylan entered the lower floor of a brightly lit two story room, large crystals glowing with ambient green light positioned along the walls. Across from him on the second floor was a balcony with a single empty chair, a rather simple wooden thing. The drapes behind it fluttered and Belini walked in and took a seat. Belini sighed and waved a hand lazily at Dylan. “Welcome to your test, et cetera, et cetera. Move the book from the table in front of you to the table on the other side of the room.”

Dylan was taken aback. Belini was the most powerful wizard in Magikos, and every other wizard covered themselves head to toe in fine silks and jingled and jangled whenever they took a step. Belini was wearing a simple robe, held together by a single strip of leather.

“Well, get on with it,” said Belini, raising an eyebrow at Dylan.

“Yes, sir,” said Dylan, and walked to the table in front of him. An ancient text sat on the table, along with a pair of fine scissors. He examined the cover of the book, trying to make out the title, written in what looked to be Atienian, a long dead language. The books he had spent years devouring in his small country town were sadly lacking in Atienian, and he had no time to study the language upon his arrival in Magikos just a few weeks ago. He reverently opened the cover and flipped through some pages. Drawings of various types of plants seemed to dominate the book, with scribbled notes covering the borders of each page.

Dylan jerked his hands back from the book and looked sharply up at Belini. “Is this an Alvaro’s Documentation and Study of Flora?” Belini simply regarded him, saying nothing. Dylan looked down at the book, then back up at Belini. “A first edition?” he said, in wonderment. Was that a hint of a smile on Belini's face?

Dylan stared down at the table and picked up the scissors. He knew he was supposed to cut off a piece of a page and use his skills in contagion to move the book across the room. But this was a first edition of one of the most important medical books ever written. It was priceless, both in money and in historical value. How could he even consider cutting it? Maybe the test was to see how small of a sliver he could cut and use to bind himself to the book. Would the merest shaving allow him to make the necessary connection?

He shook his head and put the scissors down. He gently lifted the book up and carried it as a mother would carry a newborn over to the other table and set it down. He looked up at Belini. “I’m sorry. I know I failed.” Dylan knew he had a long road home, begging for food on the way back to his father’s farm. How they would mock him in town, the boy that thought himself better than them who failed at his dream.

“Why didn't you cut the book?” said Belini, his voice quiet but commanding.

“I had no right to destroy even part of that book. I could not cut it,” said Dylan.

“Well, you’re right about that, it’s impossible to cut,” said Belini.

“What?” said Dylan, stupidly staring up at the balcony.

“Come now, really? I’d let a bunch of idiotic applicants cut up an Alvaro? I don’t think so,” said Belini.

“So, how…” Dylan started to ask, his voice trailing off.

Belini frowned. “These new wizards, they think contagion is the answer to everything. It’s easy, and it’s powerful, to be sure, but it’s dangerous and wizards get trapped into thinking it’s the only way to do things. What happens if someone were to give you a shaving of stone and told you it was from your rival’s castle? And then when you worked your spell on it, it turned out it was from your own? You’d blow yourself to kingdom come.”

Dylan laughed at the absurdity but Belini did not. “It’s happened, more often than you think,” said Belini. Belini stood from his chair and gazed down at Dylan.

“To how many of the other wizards have you applied for apprenticeship?” said Belini.

Dylan grimaced. “All of them.”

“And why did all twelve reject you?”

“I was not as strong in contagion as they wanted.”

“Let me guess, some stupid tug-of-war over an object, whoever ended up with it moved on?” said Belini, shaking his head.

“Something like that,” said Dylan. “I haven’t had any formal training, but I know I can be just as strong as anyone, given time.”

Belini waved away Dylan’s excuses. “Power can be taught, strength can be trained. You were the first to not try to use contagion in any way. You saw there was another answer. A little thinking outside the box, a little bit of manual labor, is quite the under-appreciated thing, yet incredibly important.”

Dylan held his breath.

Belini smiled.

Dec 31, 2006

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sebmojo posted:

good idea

e: also i will crit three stories, first to ask

I'll take one please. - Also the judges seemed confused as to what I was doing with the prompt, which was

In return I'll crit someone else, first to ask.

Dec 31, 2006

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Tired of being a little bitch and hiding from writing. In with Mystic River

Dec 31, 2006

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Crit for Djeser

Roadside Trash Heap -

I absolutely love apocalyptic survival stories, so this was right up my alley. Obviously this got a HM so you already know this is pretty good, but you didn't get a crit for it, and I liked it, so you're getting a crit now!

Overall I think you had good intentions and ideas but the execution and details left a little to be desired for me.

A couple things stood out to me as someone who likes this kinda stuff.

The community: Essentially the other 10 people in the bunker could have been cut from the story and nothing would have been taken away. Survivor infighting could have added to the food/escape drama, especially since the plan for escape didn't make all that much sense. How were they supposed to reunite or what was the next step?

The people: We have no idea how old these people are and not much idea of who they were before. We also have to accept that these people trust Esther but we don't have a hint as to why. All we see her is being sort of withdrawn, being a non-salt licker, and huddling with Tanya.

The threat: Props for this not being zombies, and it's a unique idea, it's difficult to get a sense of the true threat of the enemy. What are its physical dimensions? You say it's a solid grey pillar, but is it the height of a building? A person? A dog? How long has it been since the apocalypse started?

I think maybe you went a little too big on what you were trying to accomplish and could have cut out some of the extraneous stuff in exchange for filling in some of the details that the reader would want to know. Of course, again, overall I liked it and you did a good job at doing a unique take on a well-trod genre. Well deserved HM.

Dec 31, 2006

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sebmojo posted:

:siren: thunderdome one ten: cleaning up the streets

Walamor: Mystic River

Welcome Back - 1198 Words

The door creaked open and she whispered his name as she eased herself into the dark room. “Conrad?”

Conrad slipped his knife back into its leather sheath in his belt and grabbed her shoulders, eliciting a quick gasp from the woman. He pushed her against the wooden wall, pressing his mouth to hers. It lasted but a few seconds before she gently pushed him back.

“I thought you said two nights in a row was dangerous, Amanda,” said Conrad.

“I’m not here for that,” she said, though the way she stared at him betrayed her thoughts. “Otto’s shop was broken into last night, under Markus’ protection. Markus is looking for answers.”

“And you think he suspects me?” Conrad laughed away the suggestion. “Markus knows that I remember the old rules.”

“Not everyone in town feels the same way,” said Amanda. “They just remember that you went to prison.”

“Look --” started Conrad, interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Amanda went rigid until Conrad grabbed her arm and shook her slightly. Another knock on the door masked the sound of the back door opening as Amanda snuck out. She pulled him back for one quick kiss as she quickly departed, disappearing into the shadows of the alley.

A third knock sounded, now more of a strong banging, and someone called out his name. Conrad let one of his hands slip to the hilt of his knife as he went to his front door and opened it a crack.

“There you are, old friend!” said Markus. “I thought you were avoiding me!”

Conrad managed a weak smile and opened the door. “An abundance of caution. Not many people come and pound down the doors of my house late at night.”

Markus laughed. “I have been a poor friend, Conrad. You have been out almost a whole month and we have yet to celebrate properly! Come, the boys and I were on the way down to Reinhold’s old place!”

Conrad scanned the ancient cobblestone streets and saw figures posted in a semi-circle around his home. The few old lamp posts within sight were tended to with great infrequency, and almost everyone moved in darkness once the sun set. Very few moved about after then, mostly up to no good. The same as it had always been.

“Haven’t been to Reinhold’s since I got back,” said Conrad. “Sounds great!”

Markus and Conrad made their way down the emptying streets, Markus pointing out the changes that had been made in Conrad’s absence.

“You have done well since taking over after Soren,” said Conrad.

“He was a good man. But ambition waned in him in his older years. I run everything down to the market now!” said Markus. He stopped and extended his arms as if to encompass his shadow kingdom.

“Just as we always talked about,” said Conrad. Markus turned to him and the two shared a smile of their youth together.

“I have yet to truly thank you, for what you did. It should have been me locked up for ten years,” said Markus, putting his hand on Conrad’s shoulder.

“I knew you had bigger things to do than rot in prison and you were my best friend,” said Conrad. “We sure picked the wrong place that night!”

Markus smiled and let his hand drop. “One mistake out of many successes. And now you’re back! Tonight we shall toast to no more mistakes and many more successes!” Markus paused. “Just… you do remember our rules? You have been gone a long time.”

Conrad laughed. “As if I could forget? Soren’s rules were literally whipped into us. If this is about Otto’s, you don’t need to worry about me.”

“I’m glad you remember. Some people wonder after ten years. I had to ask,” said Markus.

“I don’t care about those people,” said Conrad. “You know I wouldn’t hit a place protected by you. That would be crazy. I was sound asleep, enjoying not sleeping on a prison cot.”

“Yes, it would be crazy,” said Markus. “Yet, you did not sleep last night.”

“What?” said Conrad, the hair tingling at the back of his neck.

Markus moved slightly and a glimmer of light pierced the darkness to show that he bore a grimace. “You say you remember the rules, yet you lie to my face. You were not home sleeping last night. One of my men checked. I defended you, but too many people had too many concerns to not check.”

Conrad unconsciously stepped back. Movement caught his eye and he could see Markus’ protection moving in closer.

“Where were you, Conrad, my friend?” said Markus, almost spitting out the last two words.

Conrad flashed back to his night with Amanda, hidden away in an inn on the far side of town, the way she smelled, the way she tasted, and could not come up with a response.

“If you admit to it, I will let you live, contrary to the rules, contrary to everything we had been taught, because of what you did for me. But I want you out of the city by tomorrow. Unless you have another explanation?” said Markus. A flash of steel revealed Markus’ dagger.

Conrad swallowed the dryness in his throat. “I’m sorry… I was just out for a walk.” He was panicking, and forced himself to try to calm down.

Markus laughed, a nasty thing that held no trace of friendship. “That’s the best you can do? I will find out what you were doing last night. One way or the other. Best to admit it now, and leave in the morning, with your life.”

Conrad rubbed his head. This was too dangerous for Amanda. He couldn’t let her get hurt, and if Markus ever found out they had picked back up where they had left off before Conrad was thrown into prison, it would not end well for her. He hung his head and tried to sound contrite.

“You’re right. I did it. I’m sorry, Markus. I just needed… it doesn’t matter. I’ll be gone by morning.”

A man behind Conrad grabbed his arms and held him fast. Markus advanced quickly on Conrad and thrust the dagger into Conrad before he could react. Conrad gasped and clutched at his wound, looking up at Marcus.

“But… but…” said Conrad, his final words.

Markus wiped his blade off and nodded to his men who carted the corpse off somewhere. A few men accompanied him to his home and he dismissed them with a curt nod at his door. He opened the door to see his wife standing against the far wall, waiting for him.

“I was betrayed by an old friend last night,” Markus said simply.

Amanda struggled to contain her emotions and had to bite down on her lip, hard. “You killed him, didn’t you?” said Amanda. “Our friend, the friend who took your place in jail for ten years!” She shouted the last, running across the room towards Markus. She raised her hand to slap him and Markus caught it in an iron grip with one hand, the other reaching for the dagger at his belt.

“Where were you last night, darling?” said Markus.

Dec 31, 2006

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Mercedes posted:

:siren::siren::siren::siren:THE MERCEDES NOOB BRAWL II: NOOB HARDER:siren::siren::siren::siren:

I'm in to steal an easy vidya game from these chumps

Dec 31, 2006

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Mercedes posted:

Alright you dick smugglers! You have 12 hours to turn in your Merc-Brawls! Get to polishing!

Motherfucker I got busy with classwork and didn't get a chance to finish. Sorry for taking up an undeserved spot. :(

Dec 31, 2006

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Schneider Heim posted:

Thank you Mercedes for letting me write about boys and robots!

Thank you Benny for the worthy challenge!

Walamor... :( :( :(

I actually feel super lovely about it, because I legit did work on it but ended up screwing someone else of out competing. It was one of those weekends where I thought I had enough time and by the time I finished what I had to do, it was 11:30 pm on Sunday and I just looked at the clock with a sinking feeling of failure.

I can't make up for that, so I'm in for this TD week with a :toxx: to try to atone for how badly I hosed up. Also as a penance, give me a difficult virtue.

Congrats though for winning Schneider!

Dec 31, 2006

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SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Walamor: howling from street corners, He is as the fisher king as He too grows strong so does His dominion

Elements of Life - 999 Words

They surrounded him, tugging at the hems of his robes, beseeching him for help, cursing him for their pain, begging for their children’s lives. He winced in sympathy, but there were too many for him to stop; he was already in danger of being swallowed up by the crowd. His turquoise robes were a beacon to them, a possible salvation. A water priest walking alone in a town dying of thirst, and he could do nothing to slake their need until he got answers himself.

He broke away from them and climbed down into the dry canal, picking his way around the skeletons of broken boats. The cracked dirt at the bottom of the canal only reminded him of the lips of the people in the town, and he crossed it quickly.

It was empty now that he was near his destination, the white temple of his order. He wondered why until he saw the guard on the temple steps, the archers on the walls, and the spent arrows protruding out of the ground nearby. He approached the main entrance, the gates barred for the first time in his memory.

“Halt!” said one of the guards.

“I am Adept Mattious and I seek entrance.”

The guard chewed on his lip while he examined Mattious with narrowed eyes. He took another look at Mattious’ robes and nodded for the gate to be opened.

Mattious passed though and walked up the white marble steps to the doorway. The ornate doors opened ahead of him and several initiates met him there, along with one of his old friends.

“Initiate Gregory! It has been too long!” said Mattious with a smile.

“Adept now, actually. It is good to see you, my friend, after you’ve been away for so long,” said Gregory.

The initiates surrounded him, smelling fresh and clean in their perfect turquoise robes, and Mattious felt a little self-conscious, patting out the road dust of his own tattered robes. The initiates knelt before him and poured water from their jugs on his feet, the customary ritual for a member of the temple returning home.

Mattious looked down in confusion, then back up at Gregory. “Water? When people are dying and the canals are gone? What is going on?”

Gregory maintained his smile, though his eyes winced. “You have been gone a long time. Everyone who is returning must see the Master.”

“Of course, just tell me --” started Mattious.

“Now, I’m afraid. He insists,” interrupted Gregory.

Mattious nodded, the pit of worry that had been gnawing at him since he entered town now doubling in size.

Gregory lead him through the familiar halls and Mattious could only marvel at how ordinary everything seemed, as if the surrounding mobs of people howling for water did not exist. They reached the Master’s chambers and Gregory raised his hand to knock, but paused and looked at Mattious.

“You will understand soon, but you must keep an open mind. You must understand,” said Gregory.

Mattious studied his friend and did not respond. Gregory sighed and knocked hard on the door.

“Come in,” called a voice from the other side, and Mattious entered alone.

“Master Tain,” said Mattious, bowing low to the old man seated in the middle of the room.

“Adept Mattious, welcome back,” said Tain. “Come here. I’m sure you have many questions.”

“I do, Master,” said Mattious as he walked across the shallow pool that surrounded the Master’s chair. “I could not help but see the suffering of the town and its people.” Mattious could not help but blurt out his worry. “Has our god turned a deaf ear to us?”

Tain laughed. “I understand your concern, but no, our god is wise, and all is going according to plan.”

Mattious was stunned. “How?” was all he could manage.

Tain smiled his fatherly teacher’s smile, the one he used when he was about to explain something to someone who might not quite understand.

“Our god and our order have always been taken for granted. The people work hard for fire, they nurture it, they feed it. They desire the earth, to own it, to build with it. But water has always there for them, they have never had to worry about it. The wells have always been deep and the sea has brought prosperity. Meanwhile the other gods have grown strong from their worship. Fire can boil us away, and earth can block our path,” said Tain. He got up and walked around the pond, peering at various sculptures positioned nearby. Mattious looked at the one on his right, an old carving of a city being swallowed by a wall of water.

“We have taken the water away, and now they understand their need. They howl for it in the streets, their leaders beg for it in in front of the temple, and all now are showing the proper respect. Soon, our god will regain his rightful place in the pantheon. He will be able to douse any flame, blast away any earthen barrier,” said Tain, his eyes now alive with desire.

“You’re breaking the back of this town, letting its people die, just for power?” said Mattious.

Tain whirled to face him. “Everything can be fixed. The water will come back, the town will revive, and we shall be worshiped. Do you not see? Sacrifices sometimes has to be made. I hope you will join me, Adept. You are so close to becoming a Master yourself.”

Mattious shook his head and backed away. “Not like this, Tain. Never like this.”

“A pity,” said Tain. A surge of water tripped up Mattious’ feet as he took another step and he fell face first into the pool. Although it was barely a few inches deep, Mattious could not pull himself out. Panicked, he thrashed and tried to call up the spirit of the water, but failed. His vision darkened, then went out altogether.

“Gregory!” called out Tain. “Come and collect your friend. You were right.”

Walamor fucked around with this message at 04:24 on Oct 6, 2014

Dec 31, 2006

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Week 114 Crits

Tier One

1. Kaishai - Ice and Desire - Fantastic job. Only real comment I have is that I’m still not entirely clear if she also died at the end (even though it says she was reborn), or if they became one or if they both lived (him as a fire elemental) or what.

Tier Two

2. Sitting Here - Craig's Tryst - You sold the creepiness and desperation in the story well, and I thought it was pretty good all-around. I don’t think you nailed the gif, which marks it down a little for me. I felt the nerd angle was a little sloppy from you, a little too easy, and didn’t add much to the story itself, which conflicts with the other more interesting details you added about the creepy dude.

3. Grizzled Patriarch - Little Lazarus - I actually really enjoyed this, though I did take a little off because it wasn't really on-prompt. It’s creepy and mostly drew me into the story. Slightly over the top towards the end, which hurts the piece as a whole.

4. Chairchucker - Seriously, It was Huge - I liked basically everything about this, and in my discussions with crabrock later, I bumped this up to #3 on my list. You could have made this kinda rapey and creepy, but you kept it light enough that it was just amusing.

5. Tyrannosaurus - The Power and the Glory - Points for the creative take on the prompt, which bumps an okay story up a tier. If it was a little faster paced or had some additional element I think it would be much improved.

6. Some Guy TT - A Needed Reprieve - I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole deductions part of the story, it seemed a little forced, and it wasn’t entirely on-prompt. However, the scenes with her warming up to the cat were done well and the story was pleasant.

Tier Three

7. Your Sledgehammer - The Art of Jailhouse Seduction - Looking back I don’t know why I rated this so high, aside from that you used the prompt well and I love that gif. It was mechanically fine, but it was super creepy and rapey and we have almost no real information about anybody in the story. Could you have tried to make the character conflicted or something at all?

8. Phobia - Wiggles the Bear in: The Day The Wiggles Died - The story is absurd but likeable in a strange way. Was a little one-note in it’s absurdity, being the same joke the entire time, and the tone seemed off at times for what you were trying to do.

9. Lou Begas Mustache - Sweet Glorida - How do you pay bills by stealing socks? Because that was the implication your writing gave to me. It seems like you had a good idea in your head, but then it got all jumbled when you tried to get it on paper. Nothing really resonated with me here, and the reunion scene felt really off, but I didn’t hate it and I’m a sucker judge for liking concepts, so at least you have that.

Tier Four

10. Fuschia tude - Dark Purpose - I don’t think either prompt had much to do with the story, which dinged it quite a bit for me. I thought it had promise as a story, but you didn’t nail the parable feel you were going for, so it just felt off. It was too busy for a simple parable and the ending didn’t really teach anything in a meaningful way.

11. Entenzahn - Sightseers - I like what you did with the prompts, but it was a little disjointed and confused to begin with. Could have cut down on some early stuff to flesh out the middle or just cut some away to make it a little tighter and less confusing. I enjoyed the ending though.

12. Quidnose - Goodnight, L.A. - Your fingers are brown with spots of olive? Liver spots or what the hell? It wasn't bad, but it wasn't clear what is going on. Also don't think it worked well with the chosen prompt as in the connection they already knew the details the characters were trying to find out. It was formulaic and nothing super special.

13. Mercedes - King of the Weights - I don't even. I can’t even. No soul-glo, many points deducted. Why would you try to get a DM? I threw this arbitrarily in the middle like the other judges did so you wouldn’t get a DM, so any writers below this should not think I ranked this above them.

14. Broenheim - Untitled - I thought you had a decent concept but mediocre execution followed by a weird ending. You tried to do too much here, and it just fell in on itself around the middle. Keep it simple, especially when you’re doing trying to work with a complex concept.

15. Anomalous Blowout - True Facts About the Kea - A little repetitious and feel like the beginning could be cut down for more stuff towards the end. Or just cut altogether, the prompt feels pretty stretched thin for this piece.

16. Jitzu the Monk - Your Hero at Johnson Lake - Props on the creative use of the prompt, but it was kind of a meandering story that wasn't great, mainly because It’s about a white knight who is mad at another white knight. Also, the humor fell flat for me. Humor is tough to do though, so again props at least on trying it.

Tier Five

17. N. Senada - Secure Facilities - I’m glad you joined TD, and I’m sorry we have to give you a Loss to begin with. I hope you stick around and learn, many of us were terrible to begin with and now are slightly less terrible! The problem with this story is not the mechanical writing, but the story just drags on with needless details and descriptions. Cut the slack and you’ll have a much tighter story you can do more things with!

18. thehomemaster - Same Time, Same Place - Again, like above, I’m glad you joined TD and I hope to see you keep entering and work on improving! First, I don’t think you nailed the prompt - the gif you chose doesn’t seem relevant at all to the story. Second, I like the internal dialogue but there was no change or development of her thoughts as she met the guy. Her entire character just seemed a little over the top with the stuttering and one-track mind. Would have liked it more if she got a little mad or realized he wasn’t the picture she had crafted in her head, but then ignored it and kept plunging forward, or something . Slightly disappointed you didn’t have him reacting to getting a damp book, because that would be something a normal person would note and react to. Although, books don't smell damp from sweat unless you have a serious problem.

19. Cache Cab - Cassius - You were trying way too hard and it ended up being disjointed and confused. At least when the other stories weren’t great, I usually understood most of what was going on, but I can’t say that for this one. The one gem in this is that you have some pretty decent descriptions you’ve written, but they aren’t part of an understandable or cohesive piece.

Walamor fucked around with this message at 03:54 on Oct 18, 2014

Dec 31, 2006

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I'm in!


Dec 31, 2006

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The Ancient Fire - 1199 Words

The silence was so complete that every snow-crunching step they took was almost deafening. It felt sacrilegious, making so much sound in this town turned tomb. The interiors of the homes were exposed, the wooden walls torn down in one last futile bid to stay warm. The inhabitants were curled around each other or lay prostrate before small altars, frozen in their final moments. Even though they had been dead for days, the cold kept them looking as if they were about to come to life any moment. Ezio shivered and tugged his jacket closer around himself.

His companion snorted and shook his head. “I can’t believe it. An entire town gone heretic. Well, they got what they deserved.” The man sounded almost smug.

“We don’t know that yet, Adept Thompson,” said Ezio, turning a stern glare on the younger man.

“Of course,” said the adept. “But what else could extinguish the goddess’ love?”

Ezio shook his head. “If you persist in making assumptions, you will miss out on much.” He trudged back towards the group of tents and people on the outskirts of town. He stepped inside the main tent and nodded to the woman sitting behind a small desk, papers scattering from the wind he let in.

“Vicar Longino,” said the woman, failing to hold back a slight edge in her voice as she tried to slam a paperweight down on the stack of papers. “What did you find out?”

“It looks like the reports were right, captain. The fires have gone out completely. The people tore down their homes to keep warm, but that isn’t enough to handle a cold snap. They froze,” said Ezio.

“What, all of them?” said the woman. “Do you think it was heresy?”

“Yes, all of them,” said Ezio. “And I don’t think so; even I couldn’t relight any of them. Something else is wrong here. We need to figure out what that is.”

“Of course, vicar,” said the captain, her voice tight. “And how long do you think it will be? These tents are fine for now, but our heaters are limited. If we get caught in a couple cold snaps...”

Ezio smiled and waved away her concerns. “Just for the night. Adept Thompson and myself have to go back, but your people will be fine here.”

The captain nodded her thanks and the two men stepped back out into the cold.

“She didn’t even offer to send anyone with us,” said Thompson as they walked out of the camp.

“Would you have, if you were her?” said Ezio.

“Of course. Protecting the Order is of paramount importance,” said Thompson.

“Keeping her people alive is what is important to her,” said Ezio. “And she has no idea where we’re going, without a tent, without a heater.”

Thompson fell silent for a few minutes. “Vicar, where are we going?” he finally asked.

“You’ll see soon enough. It’s a bit early to show you, but I might need help,” said Ezio.

An hour later, the two came to the bottom of a small cliff and Ezio stopped at the rock face, brushing his hand over the surface. His hand found the right crevice and he pulled gently. A section of rock wall easily swung out and Ezio turned to Thompson to enjoy his adept’s dumbfounded expression.

“What the…?” said Thompson, curiosity warring with fear as he peered down into the darkness.

Ezio entered the opening, grabbed a long cylinder hanging from the wall, and flicked it on with his thumb. A long beam of light came from one side and Ezio played it over the sleek, smooth walls of the tunnel. He grabbed another and tossed it to Thompson, who figured out how to use it after a second.

“Come on, adept. Keep your eyes open, you need to learn how to do this yourself,” said Ezio as he started down the tunnel. Thompson entered more timidly, looking nervously around at the featureless grey walls. Ezio often stopped and pointed out markings on the walls, telling Thompson that they were signs. Thompson dutifully wrote them down, but they meant nothing to him, just some scribble of a dead language.

Ezio had to take a couple detours due to damage caused by untold years of neglect, but was able to find his way to his destination. He stopped short and turned to Thompson.

“I have brought you here, as my master brought me, as his did, and so on as far back as our order goes,” said Ezio. “All the way back to Victoria.”

The excitement in Thompson’s eyes turned to confusion. “Victoria appeared to the first vicar, here?” said Thompson.

“No, adept. Victoria brought him here, showed him how this place works. This is the source of the fire that powers every heater and lights every home in the entire nation,” said Ezio. He held out a hand to stall Thompson’s questions which were starting to spilling out of the man’s mouth. “She saw our people’s plight and knew she could help us. No, she’s not a goddess, but she is a saint.”

“This can’t be right! The fire is her love!” said Thompson.

“It is her love, but just in a way people can understand. I don’t have time to answer all of your questions right now, but I’ll answer them all on the way back, I promise,” said Ezio.

He opened the door that led to a small chamber filled with tall boxes, each of them full of dials and meters. He walked over to them and cursed. Every single one of them had their arrows pointing all the way to the left, well into a red zone painted on the indicator.

“What’s wrong?” said Thompson, eyeing the boxes.

“She said it was going to happen eventually… but it’s too soon. We had another 100 years to prepare, at least!” said Ezio, staring at the dials.

“What?” said Thompson.

“I was here not 40 years ago, and it wasn’t even close to this! What happened?” Ezio slammed his fist on the closest box.

“Vicar!” said Thompson, alarmed. “What is it?”

“We’re out!” said Ezio, spinning to turn to the adept. “We’re completely out!”

The adept’s expression changed to horror.

“No heat, no power, anywhere,” said Ezio.

“But, there’s another two years in this winter cycle. The cold snaps--” said Thompson.

“Will kill everyone, yes,” said Ezio.

“Maybe it’s just here? The capitol had power and heat when we left.” said Thompson.

“The bigger cities had reserves built under them, to handle the demand. By now, it’s gone,” said Ezio.

“But what do we do,” said Thompson. “We have to be able to do something!”

Ezio thought for a moment before shaking his head. “Go back up and tell them to pray for the goddess’ love. Maybe that will bring them some final comfort.”

Thompson stared hard at the back of Ezio’s head before tears clouded his vision and he had to angrily wipe them away. The adept turned and headed back to the dead and soon to be dead on the surface, while Ezio stayed below, slumped under a sign he couldn't read labeled “National Natural Gas Reserves Control Room”.

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