A Distant Hand
I smile as I watch the rat's legs kick again, its eyes blinking open. I spare only a few more seconds to observe before turning to my tome. The enchanted silver arrowhead outperformed my expectations, reviving the creature within ten seconds of contact.
The crash of shattered air echoes through my tower and slams into my back, nearly blowing my hat off. I turn and watch as a ship floated down, aligned with the clearing outside. I judged it a newer model by the forward-swept wings and sleek design. Blue, gold and green bars on the wingtips were the only color on the chrome body, telltale signs of a Imperial embassy ship.
I take the narrow stone staircase slowly, counting each step, letting me calm down before I made my way across the drawing room and to the old wooden door. Breathe. Be impressive. I reach for the staff next to the door, feel it's weight in the palm of my glove. It helps the image.
I push the door with all my might, swinging open with a thunderous crash, stepping forward, staff raised high.
“WHO DARES DISTURB THE GRAND ALLAMENDO?!”
A woman leaned on one of the landing struts, clad in a greatcoat over her flight suit. Her sharp face stretched and their hazel eyes widened in that way one does when they've seen a ghost. Or a celebrity.
“You're the wizard?” She asked nervously.
“And you are the pilot,” I shot back. “Why are you on my planet?”
She stared as she removed a small touchscreen pad from a pocket.Whoever sent this poor fool hadn’t told them about my gloves. “If this is a jest, then it is not amusing.”
She put the pad away, impressed gaze changing to somewhere between annoyed and apprehensive. “Alright then, um, sir Wizard. Firstly, Her Imperial Majesty would like to thank you for your past and future service to the Empire under her reign.”
So the Emperor died. Assassin, or he took off the ring I sold him years ago for this planet. “I thank you for the message, but why was this not sent with my supply drop?”
“Ah, that's the other thing,” she said. “Her Imperial Majesty has assigned me to be your supply pilot. She believes that a savior of the Empire shouldn't have food dropped on his head from space. In her words.”
Perfect. Another distraction from my work.
“Will that be all?” I said, turning around..
“One last thing,” she said, touching her hand. The bottom of the ship unfolded outward. A platform descended, stacked high with containers. “Where do I put these?”
She was in my tower.
I hadn't had a guest in years. Or, I thought it was years. Time was not my problem. Should I make tea?
“That's all of it,” she said, wiping sweat from her brow as she finished stacking the ration boxes. “If you need anything else, there's a radio with a direct link to my dispatch in the top box. Let them know what you need and I'll fly on by.”
“And what do I call you?” I asked.
She smiled. “Pilot is fine.”
Despite my best efforts, the rat remained dead.
A mere one-inch cube of steel, unadorned, could not hold my power. No matter how many times I tap the creature on the head with it, the rat stayed lifeless.
I wrote in my tome and checked the parameters again. My power was unaffected by the type of material used or the shape. The vessel had to be something of value, or worn constantly on the hand to transmit the effect. Rings of any material worked well. Other jewelry also worked, somehow.
The sky tore open again, pausing my work for the day. I reached down to pet the rat softly on its head, seeing its feet kick before making my way downstairs to help unload.
Despite myself, I had come to enjoy these small visits. The Empire remained mostly unchanged, the passing of power being of small significance in the end. But having someone there to ruminate with made it interesting. And a partner for tea was pleasant.
When I opened the door and saw that she had not yet arrived, I could feel that something was amiss. I stood, an old weight settling in my gut. My left hand clenched.
She finally came down a few minutes later. I could see that she had been crying, then doing her best to hide her tears.
We unloaded in silence. It was not my place to pry, despite my hunger for knowledge. Once we finished, She raised the platform up, disappearing inside. The engine began to whine.
I had dealt with suspicion. I had dealt with fear. But I was never ignored.
“You still have not relayed my news!” I shouted against the engine noise.
The engine slowed, then went quiet as she returned, clinging to the lift with one hand. Our eyes did not meet.
“He's in a coma.”
Pilot sat across from me, cups in our hands, wisps of steam coiling into the air. She'd discussed how she'd connected with a friend from her homeworld while on leave. How they proposed. Their wedding ceremony. The anniversary she missed because the Empress called her in to assign her to be my supply pilot. And, most recently, the crash that had crushed his chest and shattered his spine.
“The doctors are keeping his body going, for now,” she said, staring down into her tea. “But he isn't waking up. They say they don't know if they can help him, and even if they do the damage to his brain is too severe. Years of therapy, at best.”
My words were useless in a situation like this. To tell the truth would be cruel, but to lie would be no better. The feelings of others were something I did not handle, nor did I care to.
So I did the simple thing. I left her alone and returned to my lab.
The small rat scurried about in his glass case, nose poking here and there, as if seeing the world for the first time before settling down in a corner and going to sleep. The same corner it had slept in when I first brought it with me those many years ago.
I'd never named the rat. Never felt the need to. And yet it was more valuable to me than a broken man light years away.
Why was I up here? I asked myself as my eyes strayed from the rat up to the materials wall, where rings hung from the hooks above small, neatly placed boxes of various testing objects. I reached up for one, a silver band with an amethyst. Such a simple thing.
I set the band down on the table and pulled my gloves free. Right one first, then left.
The rat pressed its paws against his container and squeaked.
“I'm old,” I said to it. “Sentimentality is a part of the condition.”
I reached down for the ring and let my power flow.
“Give this to him,” I told her. It was all I had to say.
She didn't ask what it would do. She just nodded, looking at the small gray box I had placed in her hand like a newborn babe. There was a silent understanding between us as she left, her ship tearing the sky apart as she returned to her life to face what her future held.
I was back in my lab once more, the rat on my lap, stroking his head idly. He slept soundly on my thigh as I drifted off to sleep, to dream of my own future.
|# ? Apr 24, 2015 19:56|
|# ? Dec 6, 2022 09:41|
Edit: pulled because I'm thinking of shopping it around after applying crit advice
Pham Nuwen fucked around with this message at 22:05 on May 13, 2015
|# ? Apr 24, 2015 20:25|
Sequelae (1267 words)
"Your grandpa's creepy!" Tommy whined for the umpteenth time.
"Nuh-uh," countered Dominic. "He's just old fashioned."
"Yeah. OLD fashioned. Who does he think he is, Bluebeard the Pirate?"
"He can't see out of that eye!"
"I bet he's faking it. I bet you could steal that crusty old eyepatch from him and he wouldn't even notice. I dare you."
"No." Dominic's mouth remained open in disgust.
"I double-dog dare you."
Dante woke up feeling strangely refreshed. Usually when kids spent the night they'd wake him for breakfast. Maybe they were still playing video games. Dante sat upright, stretched, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
His foot landed on something unexpected.
Dante looked down. A mass of greys and colors lay at his feet. In three dimensions. Reflexively, Dante jerked his head upward and stared at the ceiling.
His eyepatch! Where was his eyepatch?
He groped blindly around his pillows until his fingers brushed across a leather strap. He held the eyepatch at his waistline and inspected it with his fingers. It was stiff but unbroken; it still had some life left in it.
Careful to keep his hands behind his head, Dante slid the eyepatch downward until a comfortable darkness enveloped his left eye. Only then did he lower his head.
Lying at his feet was Dominic, dressed in his helicopter pajamas, completely devoid of moisture. His dessicated eyelids were open and his wrinkled mouth hung agape. His friend Tommy was nowhere to be found.
Dante blacked out.
When he came to his senses, Dante's knuckles were bloodied and bruised. His clothing was torn and every inch of him ached, but his brain functioned again. Slowly, impersonally, he gathered up the corpse of Randall and went to the basement.
"Sezam, otkroysya." The words came out of his mouth without inflection, but the doorway in front of him opened. Musty yellow lights sputtered to life as he approached the granite altar.
He lay Dominic next to his parents and cast a spell of preservation. One day he would figure out how to reverse the casualties. One day Dante would gain the power over life, as well as death.
One day? Christ! What did he have left to wait for? There would be no more one-days until he made restitution. He was going to make things right, and not even Death could stop him.
Dante stormed back up to his room as fast as his arthritic hips would take him and pulled the steamer trunk from beneath his bed. He bit deeply into his thumb, pressed it against the lid, and spoke an incantation.
Dante shuddered as a year of vitality, one of the precious few he had remaining, was sucked from his bleeding digit. It doesn't matter now, whispered the rational part of his brain.
The lock clicked, and Dante pried the chest open. He sifted through tomes and trinkets until he came across the handle. Careful not to drop it, he raised it to his good eye: a perfectly reflective mirror.
His hand trembled with anxiety. Then Dante remembered the tee-ball game on Sunday, and the tendrils of fear turned into fire.
Switching hands, he held the mirror in front of his covered eye, so close that nothing except its unearthly orb would be reflected. He pulled the patch from off the eye and grunted as its powers took effect.
The eye rapidly withered under its own gaze, but decay fueled Dante's particular style of magic, and he viciously channeled every ounce of energy he received right back into the evil eye. The feedback from it doubled, tripled, and soon there was a lifetime's worth of tragedy oscillating millimeters from Dante's forehead.
He felt an incorporeal hand settle lazily on the cancer in his lungs while an icy finger dripped poison along his spine. A voice like coarse sand wormed its way into the back of his brain.
"So, D-D-Dante. I take it you are enjoying my little... gift?"
"Bring them back," Dante said through clenched teeth.
"That's no way to talk to a... friend. Where is the Dante I remember? You were so p-persuasive when last we met. So full of, ah, vitality."
"Bring them back!"
"Tsk, tsk!" The hand in Dante's lung gave a playful squeeze, causing millions of cells to metastasize.
One of Dante's teeth cracked.
Laughter hissed behind him.
Fuming, Dante twisted the eyepatch back into place. The contact broken, Dante felt the presence behind him dissipate into ethereal dust.
He's right, spoke the voice of reason. If Dante wanted to regain dominance over Death, he would need vastly more power than he had.
If he was going to be stuck with it, he might as well make use of it.
Inhaling deeply, Dante gazed out with his good eye from atop Bashnya Tower.
It was a beautiful day. People were dining in the streets, playing in the park, and going about their Saturday business without a care in the world. Without one loving burden.
Dante assembled the telescope and pointed it downstream of the throng of pedestrians. This had to work on the first try. Dante pulled his patch aside and leaned up against the eyepiece.
A young couple came into view. The boy stopped, released his girlfriend's hand, pushed her out of sight, and doubled over. His hair began to slough off, and Dante nudged the telescope onward. A businessman dropped his cellphone, coughed twice, then collapsed in a fit of epilepsy. Dante could feel their energies flowing into him.
He trained the telescope on the park, and the trees shriveled and cracked. Dante's bones hardened, his tendons tightened, and his heart pounded in his chest. Screams from below reached his ears, but they didn't register.
After two more passes Dante was brimming with energy; more than he ever imagined he could handle. He knocked the telescope aside in triumph and held the mirror to his eye. Almost immediately he felt the sinister presence behind him.
"Now, now. No need to thank me. They would have all p-p-paid me a visit eventually, hmm?"
"I am only going to say this once. Bring them back."
"Have not you, heh, learned? That's not how I operate. I--"
Dante whirled around like lightning and fixed his eyes on the ghastly figure behind him. Both eyes.
Death shrieked and tried to dissipate, but Dante threw everything he had at him. Dante channeled fifty years of his obsession into that gaze, and even Death could not resist him. With an anticlimactic fizzle, Death collapsed into a pile of dust.
Drained and lacking, Dante donned his eyepatch and went back inside the tower.
Everyone on the ground floor huddled behind shelter, afraid to exit yet unable to look away from the street. Dante walked past them and went outside.
All around him was death and despair. Save for the crows, the street was silent and motionless. Dante was eager to return to his basement when his ears picked up a groan.
Around the corner he saw a man hemorrhaging from a fatal head wound. Dante felt mildly disgusted as he waited for the man's agony to stop, yet he showed no signs of passing even as the flow of blood dried up. Next to him lay a broken telescope.
Something in Dante's heart wrenched. Then something in his mind clicked.
"No. Oh no," he muttered.
Dante held the writhing body down with one hand and lifted his eyepatch with the other. Soon it became still.
The influx of vitality had little of its usual potency, and none of its succor.
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 03:30|
You are cursed to love plants, but your power makes them creep and crawl and choke living things.
Seeds on the Wind
They keep me in a shack on an small island in the Pacific Northwest. They think they keep me, anyway, if I wanted it I could be gone; wash up somewhere else like so much bullwhip kelp. The truth is that I stay here for my health. Your glass-and-metal towers hold nothing that can nourish me, and my birthplace was burned to blackened earth ages ago. I relish this solitude; here I am a distant god to my creations, spread as they are across all meadows, on a wind of life and death. Which wind brought you here?
You don’t have to answer right away. Let’s get you inside, first. Warm you by my hearth. My name is Foster Greenleaf. I don’t know about any kayaking, if that’s what you called it, and I haven’t any boat, but you can at least stay the night. Weather this dreadful storm. I’ll grow you a nice raft and paddle in the morning. Careful, careful! Watch that patch of trilliums. Can’t blame you, I suppose, it isn’t any more your fault for your clumsy feet than it is a vine’s for how large its pumpkins grow. I grew it, by the way - my home, I mean, where the hearth is. We're nearly there, stop shivering!
Joruliac namarah. Did you like that? How I parted the vines with a wave of my hands? Yes, it is a nice trick! I hardly do it anymore when I'm alone. Which is often! Hardly ever get any visitors out here at all, my situation being what it is. Yours is the first human face I’ve seen aside from Dean’s in… well, I’m not so sure of time, I’d have to check the rings on-- NO!!
Sorry. Sorry. Instinct, you know. I'll pick those up, you sit, er... there. That fern will hold you. Not unlike one of your bagged bean-chairs, no? Do people still have those? Never mind. Whatever the number, it has been ages since I was out amongst the people of the day. Here are your matches. My apologies again, but of course I must ask you not to bring them out again. There will be no fire here. Understand? Don’t just nod, say yes.
Good. Now, I know what you're thinking. 'But, but Mr. Greenleaf! You said there would be a hearth!' Indeed I did, you lucky boy, and I do not deceive you! Turn your eyes upon this great flower-bud. Yes, you can touch! See how its petals are all curled-in like so? Put your hand here. Feel the warmth? Now watch. Amerelin vonducia, porchartine el-mode... Exaxia!
Ahhh… Not bad, eh? This is a very special flower. You can touch the petals now, quickly, before the pollen heats up. Soon it will be hot enough to cook meat! Dean calls it a chemical reaction with the oxygen in the air. I don’t know about any chemicals, I just know plants. I have a way with them. If I can catch a seedling young enough, I can grow it into I want. Yes, it’s a boast, but look at the phoenix flower! And I grew my house - I could even grow a plant that could build me a brick house, if I wanted to. I can grow a plant to defend me. Kill for me if I told it to. I’ve even grown a plant that can know true love, and I mean real, intellectual, spiritual love, and can act on it!
I’m sorry. I should apologize. Again. There are levels of my power… No. Suffice it to say, certain things and beings that were lost in the fire are lost forever, and should not be spoken of in polite company. And certain beings were not legal by the strictures of Wizard Law in the first place, no matter how much mutual love and physical attraction there was. Like none of those bloody conjurers ever whipped up a nymph for a spot of fun! Bloody hypocrites…
I’m starting to think you don’t believe me, for some reason. What is that, your cellular phone? Hah, Dean’s gonna get an earful when he turns up! That braggart said it was rare indeed to have a phone with a screen you touch. But if you have one as well? It can be naught but a trifle. Yes, yes, of course, step outside if you must. Dean’s always on about finding a signal; it makes him quite cross, in fact. So, good luck to you! I’ll be in here where it’s warm...
Welcome back. Any luck out there? No, I thought not. Any stars? No, still clouded over. These storms can be mighty tricky, eh? Mighty tricky indeed. Drown grasses, uproot trees, knock over flowers that might have taken decades to grow. But the plants don’t mind. The water alone will never destroy the plant entirely, the plant is too resilient. The only thing that can destroy the plant for good is the fire. And you know about that, don’t you? Mister matches in my pocket. Mister cigarettes. Too wet to light, were they? Yes, I know, it’s alright. Hand them over and I’ll tell you a story.
My nose was much sharper back then, that first day, when Dean found me. I smelled the tobacco in his sinuses, on his fingers, all over his clothes. He’d come to see if the rumors were true, rumors of a crazy old man running around Yellowstone, trashing campsites and killing boars with a spear of ash. And of course they were. I spent some time with him after that, travelling east in a metal chariot that ran on ancient, ancient plants, long dead. Older than even me. I’m told they now have chariots that run on fresh corn, too. Fantastic waste, if you ask me, shouldn’t waste corn, oh no. Corn is one of my finest-- That’s where we went, see, in those first weeks. Dean showed me of the corn fields, larger than any I’d seen, naturally or by my own hand. He tried to buy me, saying the world would need someone like me if there would be any hope to defeat the Russians.
He didn’t need any Russia to convince me. The promise of a blank canvas was enough. He set me up here, once he got to know my ways, and he brings me a case of seeds every month. He hardly ever mentions Russia nowadays. He’s always on about his profits, and his kids, now. And how much good we’re doing for the world. Pfah! I can smell on the air how much “good” we’re doing. I can see in the yellowing of the leaves what the good, scientific people of Planet Earth are doing with their full tummies. Rats, all. Rats! Rats who sunk the ship and use their only raft for kindling. The winds are changing, and the rats have forfeited their vanes. Winds of--
SIT! Sit. Down. Your kayak is gone. I let the seaweeds take it, may the polyps find a home there. You, I have another use for. The phoenix flower requires a simple food, but one that can be hard for me to find; thus I thank the winds for this providence. And I know exactly which wind brought you here, rat. The same wind that will bring us all.
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 03:53|
SIGNUPS ARE CLOSED
May the best wizard win.
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 07:18 on Apr 25, 2015
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 07:08|
hey judges, gif ronin reporting in
avatar-sized wink wink
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 08:05|
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 14:54|
preview of this week's judging:
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 16:03|
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 18:03|
Old Lady Carbuncle
Every town has a story like the one I'm about to tell you. I'm not talking about some clichéd old yarn like the hook handed dude, or the one where the girl wakes up with AIDS from a midnight needle pricking. Everyone around here knows the story, but my Grandaddy was a part of it and he always told it the best. I'm talking, of course, about Old Lady Carbuncle.
Grandaddy always started by tellin' people she lived at the end of a rough dirt road right on the edge of the Happy Acres Regional Centralized Waste Processing Facility. Believe it or not, this place used to be kinda nice in a nothing-much-happens-here sort of way, and all we had was a cute little landfill next to a ramshackle old shanty with a crazy woman livin' inside. Nowadays, “I'm going to Happy Acres” is what you tell people when you gotta take a real nasty poo poo.
You see, we used to have something of a cash-flow problem here in Happy Acres. After the mill shut down, there wasn't much in the way of work to be had for simple folk like you and me. And that meant there weren't nothin' in the way of tax revenue for fixin' roads and payin' for the Governor's steak dinners and the like. We needed some cash in a hurry, and about all we had to sell was open space. I mean, we could have turned this place into crops all the way to Waynesburg, or maybe some sort of naturalist's retreat. Instead, some pinhead brings up the bright idea of lettin' other towns with more money than us dump their trash in our backyard. Well, as the shithead Mayor himself put it when he was sellin' us all on the idea: “Desperate times call for even more desperate measures if we want to see Happy Acres feeling happy again. And that's really what we all want, isn' it?”
Yeah, I know; the guy was a complete dick and I'm glad he's gone. It's just the way he went that makes me cringe. But enough about him.
At first, it looked like the master plan was nothin' but a flash in the pan and we was gonna stay broke and garbage-free for just a spell longer. But then, as quick as day turns to night, a veritable tidal wave of filth crashed down on our heads. Our homes got turned into beachfront property on the shores of a trash sea. And don't even get me started on how it smelled or we'll be here all day and night. Let's just say that everyone south of Jucunda Street went to live with the in-laws. Everyone except Old Lady Carbuncle, that is.
Honestly, the fact that livin' right next to a volcano of stench didn't bother the old bag came as a surprise to no one. Grandaddy said she used to dodder around town in a grimy house-coat the color of old dishwater, cradling her scabby rat-dog in the crook of one withered arm. She liked to poke around through people's trash cans, stuffing her pockets with whatever she wanted to keep. Sometimes, someone who didn't know any better would ask her if she was alright, and if they caught her on a good day she'd mutter something about “realms beyond realms” and “Items of Power”. On a bad day, however, she'd throw handfuls of whatever corruption she found in her pockets while shrieking gibberish like “I am a loving wizard!” and “Darken my path no longer, lest I summon my MINIONS to me!” In any case, time moved on as it is wont to do, and the landfill swelled up like roadkill in the sun. One day, it finally flowed right up to the edges of Old Lady Carbuncle's house.
“Now she'll leave and move up here,” everyone said. “We'll be getting getting trash thrown at us all the time!” But Old Lady Carbuncle didn't budge. And when it became time for the Mayor to fulfill his contractual ob-lee-gations, there weren't nowhere else to put garbage except Old Lady Carbuncle's front porch.
“Something will have to be done!” fretted the Mayor. “She will have to move, and if she won't move we will make her! Get the Sheriff!” This right here is where Grandaddy came in. I mean, considerin' that he actually was the Sheriff back then, that also made him the town process server.
Now here's where things start to get a little weird. The mountains of trash had already consumed Old Lady Carbuncle's yard, and Grandaddy said he had to walk over or through it if he wanted to serve his papers. As he marched across drifts of used diapers and spent coffee grounds, he got this icy feeling like a thousand tiny little eyes was all pointed at him. Finally, he rapped at the door. After a lengthy and uncomfortable silence, it finally creaked open. Old Lady Carbuncle herself glowered at him from the darkness. “Well?” she suddenly snapped at him, making him jump and sending her neurotic pooch into a seizure of raspy barking.
“gr-gr-Grizelda Carbuncle?” stammered my Grandaddy. We always knew from the way he told that part how scared he felt, standing there in front of that crazy bat and her rank little familiar. “The Mayor sent me to serve you these papers, Ma'am.”
“Screw you. Screw the Mayor. I know what he wants. My MINIONS will end him if he tries to make me move.” Old Lady Carbuncle leaned in close and smiled. “They could certainly do away with you if you don't remove yourself from my property.”
Grandaddy said that at that point he couldn't help but take a step back. It wasn't the loveliness of her breath that did it, although it could have. It was the furtive movement he began to see out of the corners of his eyes, secret rustlings that made the hairs on the back of his neck twitch. “Right, Ma'am.” With that, Grandaddy turned smartly on his heel, marched back to his patrol vehicle, and got the flying gently caress out of there.
Needless to say, the Mayor had a fit. He made Grandaddy get a few of the boys together and go with him back to Old Lady Carbuncle's place. This time, she came right out on the porch and looked Grandaddy square in the eye. “I thought I told you to leave!” she screamed.
“I made that pussy come back!” shouted the Mayer, stepping right into her face. “Now you'd better leave or I'm gonna have you thrown into that dump over there like the garbage you are!”
Old Lady Carbuncle eyed Grandaddy for a minute then spat a stream of tobacco juice all over the Mayor's shoe. “Luckily for him you're telling the truth. He will be spared.”
The Mayor had about enough time for his face to shift from 'angry' to 'confused' to 'terrified' before the things came out of the dump and ate him. Someone else managed to draw steel and get a shot off before being ripped apart, but I don't know who it was. Grandaddy could never quite pin down exactly what the little demons looked like. All he saw were a hundred hungry, biting mouths as they leaped from the surface of the garbage, each taking a ragged bite before plunging back in. All they left were a couple splotches of blood and a gold tooth.
Old Lady Carbuncle left town that very night, taking her house and her trash with her. To this day, Happy Acres has neither a Regional Waste Processing Facility nor a Mayor, and we like it that way just fine.
|# ? Apr 25, 2015 21:11|
You can bring your drawings and painting to life! However, you can't re-paint or re-draw them once you've done so, no matter how badly you want to.
Tulpas for the One Percent
“Twenty million US Dollars, wired to the account of your choice if the product is deemed satisfactory,” the client’s lawyer says. I shake my head.
“No, that not what we agreed on. My rate is ten million Euros, in cash, and before delivery. Otherwise I’ll simply leave.”
The client himself remains silent.
“Then do so already. This is a waste of our loving time.” The lawyer rolls his eyes. “Like anyone can summon little girls from bloody Chinese cartoons just by drawing them. What a farce. I saw what you painted. You know what the punishment is for making kiddie porn here? Death by firing squad.”
“Thanks. You reminded me that I need to try the local dim sum,” I rise, sling the poster tube over my back, and nod politely to the client. “Regards, Mr. Jardine.” This always happens. Some blowhard tries to nickel-and-dime me to death and I do the dance of gathering my things and walking out the door.
“Wait.” The client’s risen from his seat now. This also always happens. “Just get him the cash.”
“You can’t be serious,” the lawyer objects. “You really think this waddling yellow gently caress is going to create some sort of...of Pygmalion?”
“Shut up and do as I say or you can leave and never come back,” the client says. “You know where the brief is.” After the lawyer leaves I’m alone with the client. “Brock recommended you highly, but Brock’s a godrotting philistine. So tell me, will she be perfect?”
“You’ll get an exact physical copy of what I’ve drawn on the page. Her mind, though, will be a malleable blank. Her personality will be entirely dependent on the conditioning and education--or lack thereof--that you and your staff choose to provide.”
The client nods. He knows all of this already. Both of our underlings made sure to lay out the ground rules at every step of the way. The service I provide is illegal, unethical, and really god-damned sick. But for a titan who has everything, it’s one of the best perks of being in the global half-percent. That being said, I don’t think most of them are actually pedophiles or unsuccessful with women. They just want to possess living toys. Another sign that they’re untouchable.
“I need twenty-four hours of total seclusion and my reagents, which are extra. If anyone interrupts, the product will be destroyed and I keep payment.”
The lawyer comes back and resentfully proffers a briefcase full of fresh, unsequenced bills. The client knows better than to try to stiff me or bug me. I take it, and the next day Mr. Jardine has the girl of his dreams and I’ve had lo bak gao in Hong Kong.
There’s a reason there aren’t more wizards in the world: it’s really hard for most people to stay virgins until thirty. But I did my time and earned the gift because I wanted to be rich and not work hard for a living. I started my career doing my part to devalue luxury brand names all over the world. Ferrari wouldn’t paint your car in your nauseating college colors but I would. It paid poorly, especially because I couldn’t make multiples. Then, I found out what the rich and amoral really want. The same thing every basement-dwelling loser wants: perfect women.
There’s the occasional couple who want their dead kid back or aging oligarchs seeking to harvest organs from their younger selves, but the lion’s share of my current business is making impossible women come to life. When first-world governments started to get wind of this practice they all immediately banned it, which only drove up the price. Lucky me.
I’m back stateside now and already packing new canvas for a trip to Moscow. I wonder when Putin’s going to ask me to draw his double.
“How was the dim sum?” Hamyuts asks.
“Greasy. Jardine’s counsel threatened me with the firing squad.”
Hamyuts laughs and mimes blowing my head off with a Kalashnikov. She’s my manager and makes sure the contracts keep flowing and the authorities are paid off. She’s a vulgar, middle-aged slave-driver.
“Well, don’t worry about the Russians executing you. They’re pretty sick, so you’ll fit right in!” She shrugs. “How’s your own little waifu project going these days?”
“It’s not going.”
“Haven’t you been working on one for years?”
“Abandoned. I don’t have the time to make her into anything but feral. Kind of like you.”
“You could always take a break for a while.”
“I take a break, some other designer gains the spotlight and we’re both out of work.”
“I’ll punch you in the throat if that ever happens. Call me when you land. I’ve got to be off.”
I should return to packing, but instead I ask Hamyuts something else. “I’ve got enough saved up by now. Would you stay with me if I returned to doing supercars?”
“Of course not.”
“Now I really have to draw you.”
“That’s creepy as gently caress. You’d better not mess me up.”
“I know. I only have one chance, after all.”
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 01:53|
You can see the hidden geometry. You can pass through the world at odd angles. You see into the crawlspaces and secret passages of reality.
Luke's apartment building on Amberlin Street aged in just a few moments. Cracks appeared. Paint peeled. Numerous light bulbs blew. And all just because he didn't want to take the stairs.
Emerging into the middle of his lounge room, Luke went straight to the bookcase. His fuzzy eyebrows came together as he pulled out first one tome, then another, before throwing both to the ground as he found a third. The bookshelf stood apart from the rest of the modern features in the penthouse. These were ancient things, ridiculous in amongst the designer couches and massive television. But they were the most utilised items.
Luke ran his finger down the page, scanning quickly, leaping over paragraphs, looking for key words. Some of what he read were stories and ancient descriptions from people just like him. A lot of it was maths, shapes and lines with degrees and algebra crammed amongst them. They represented his life. He saw them even when he looked up from the page.
A vibration rippled through Luke's body. He turned just as Isaac appeared, emerging in the middle of the room as if from behind a mirror.
'Could you please take the stairs next time,' Luke shot.
'Oh, shut your mouth, Luke dear, it's just a small hop.'
'Small hops add up,' Luke said, his eyes now back to the book in hand.
'Have any luck recently?'
'Nope,' Luke grunted.' I did manage to cause a quake in Indonesia when I went to visit an Aboriginal elder last week. Total waste of time.'
'Well, can I be of service?'
Luke looked up, shoulders hunched. He'd known Isaac for as long as he could remember, and Isaac had known of his quest for a long time. The other man understood it but had never really accepted it, nor offered to help. Instead he always tried to help Luke enjoy the lighter side of their talents.
So this offer was more than a surprise.
'Well, I think you're being too bookish. I mean, sure, there are plenty of paths to learn about whether reading or asking people. Safer routes, interesting places, which paths not to take. But I've got a gut feeling, and I say it's time you trusted to intuition for a change.'
‘Don’t be coy with me, Isaac. What's your suggestion?'
Luke looked back blankly.
It's a holy mountain in Tibet, revered in multiple religions. I reckon if a path was every formed, it would be there.'
'And no doubt closed there, too.'
Of course Luke had inquired and researched about high places – Everest, K2 – as well as holy sites like cathedrals and Stonehenge (he'd been so sure of Stonehenge). But a combination of the two? It seemed obvious in hindsight.
'Brilliant idea, my friend. The only question now: will you join me?'
Isaac smiled, looking down and shaking his head.
'I'm afraid not, dear. This is your path. I'll let you tell me all about it once you're home.'
And with that, Luke's oldest friend turned and left via the door.
The wind howled as Luke trudged around the peak of Kailash. He'd been walking for about thirty minutes, eyes darting up, down and all around. He was looking for a gap, a nook, a cranny, some break in the world that would reveal a path.
Balls, he thought, I should have worn an extra layer.
As soon as he had arrived he knew this had to be it. There was power here. It was hidden from normal eyes, but definitely there in the background, like the qualia of when someone comes up behind you unannounced. Now all Luke had to do was spy it.
Even if the path were closed there would be a sign. Numbers flowing, the perfect algorithms of reality providing a whisper. And just as he imagined it, he spied it. The numbers were golden, like nothing he'd ever seen before. Gorgeous.
Though only a tiny slit allowed the numbers out, the power emanating was immense. Luke drew his hands together, projecting his will into the gap and tried to force it open.
A shockwave blew out, throwing Luke backwards. His vision clouded with numbers; the sky crackled above him. But when he got back up and had another looked, he knew the gap was larger.
He tried again, and this time he entered.
Before he knew it, Luke was sucked into the path. All around him geometries of light cascaded in perfect flow. He felt himself vibrating as he moved to his destination.
With a sucking noise he appeared in a waiting room.
There were few souls around, especially given how big the room was. In fact, as Luke looked around, he realised he couldn't see any walls. There were chairs stretching in endless rows in every direction forever.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. Luke spun, startled. Before him was a balding man with spectacles, wearing a plain white shirt and black tie. His name badge read 'Peter'.
'Hello, Luke, we weren't expecting you.'
Luke stared back, mouth open. He'd done it. Saint Peter standing before him was all the proof he needed.
He let out a whoop of joy. Peter stepped back, perplexed.
'Well of course you weren't expecting me, Peter, I'm not dead!'
Peter looked confused for a moment. Then his features hardened, his forehead creasing unnaturally.
But before he could say anything, the room went red and a siren blazed. The lights flashed in sync with the noise. The anger left Peter’s face, a look of pure fear replacing it.
'Jesus loving Christ, what have you done?' Peter said. He turned and sprinted to a little booth not far away.
He left Luke in shock. The noise was deafening and the realisation lurking in Luke’s stomach. Then people started to pop into existence around Luke. Everywhere. Just before his vision was obscured by the bodies, Luke saw Peter pointing in his direction. He was talking to two burly looking men. With wings on their backs.
Luke bailed. He turned and he ran like he'd never run in his life. People were still appearing all around him, and in his escape his knocked them over. Most were crying: men, women and children. The sound began to rise above the wailing of the siren.
Without warning a wall appeared in front of him, with a door directly in his path. He slammed into it. He was in a hallway. He'd escaped.
He paused. The noise was behind him now, but he had to escape. The angels were descending. This was Heaven though, and those in Heaven get what they want.
Left, right, left, straight. There, a door. Luke barged through. He closed the door, locked it. Nothing else was in the room. Almost nothing. Luke could see it, exactly what he wanted. Sometimes when you've dug yourself into a hole, the only option is to keep digging.
With a big breath Luke gripped on to the gap he could see, the red equations burning his hands. With the angels bashing at the door behind him, Luke stepped into the pathway to Hell.
thehomemaster fucked around with this message at 08:20 on Apr 26, 2015
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 04:12|
You can draw power from blood. Blood given with the owner's consent is stronger, but blood taken by force is, sadly, more plentiful. Also, you're not a vampire JSYK.
This story is, I'm afraid, pre-emptively disqualified for being 1.5 times the submission length. I apologise. I cut it and cut it and just couldn't kill my darlings efficiently enough to get it done in time, and now I have to go away with my wife and kid until after the deadline. With that out of the way, if anyone can still bear to read it I'd really appreciate feedback because it seemed to work pretty well.
The Ruby Fountain of Ghel-Gamort
The drone of the black blood-flies grew louder as Arashai climbed the stairs, her aging knees complaining and her breath coming fast and short. Every day, the climb was a little harder.
She surveyed the land spread out below. A rolling sea of treetops stretched away to the far, smoky mountains. The great stepped sides of the temple fell into a tangle of greenery studded with blossoms of every colour, though the jungle plants found no purchase on the polished dark stone; the brilliant, terrible Gamort had raised their works with mighty craft, so long ago that even the trees had near forgotten.
A caravan sail approached along the winding riverside path through the trees. It was distant yet; there would be time to perform the morning renewal before the merchant arrived.
Inside the sanctum atop the temple, the nameless boy sat cross-legged before the holy fount. He flashed Arashai a cheeky grin as she circled around him, stopping to genuflect before each of the blood-stained glass images of sacrifice that lined the sanctum. She muttered the ancient Words to strengthen and tighten the strands of power that surrounded her.
First she called the Sacrifice by Proxy, blood taken by theft. Second, the Sacrifice by Conquest, blood taken in victory. Third, the Sacrifice of Oblation, blood offered freely by a believer; and last, the Sacrifice of Self, the most powerful and final offering.
It had been long since the temple saw Conquest, and longer yet since the Sacrifice of Self had been made within its walls. Still, the images captured and reinforced the blood-spells to ensure that the Binding held secure. Arashai felt the web entwining her and accepting her as she walked the holy circle, her lined skin glowing red and pink and brown in the morning light passing through the intricately worked patterns.
The nameless boy had repainted the circles upon the floor, she saw. His hand was true, and he had used fine scrollwork to avoid the needless waste of precious blood. She finished her circuit and came to stand by the boy. He leapt to his feet.
"Your linework needs practice. The corners are sloppy," she told him, and his face fell. "But you are much better than I was at your age."
He grinned again. "My teacher demands it of me."
Arashai pointed at the silver-chased press above the font. "You've watched the Sacrifice by Proxy enough times, and you have the Words to heart. I think it's your turn."
Without hesitation the boy strode to the shelf of blood-fly combs. The buzz of the creatures grew louder, warning him off until he muttered the Words of placation to render them still. He scooped a double handful of their bloated bodies, as round and shiny as grapes, and tipped them into the cage within the press. Three handfuls more, ignoring the occasional stabs from lazy proboscis, and the press was full.
He leant on the lever, and as the insects' bodies popped and crackled he spoke the Words of Sacrifice, staccato and perfect. Blood gushed from the base of the press, down a silver gutter and into the font. Both Arashai and the boy gasped as a wave of new potency washed around the sanctum. The flow of the holy fountain increased rapidly, drawing the blood from the great bowl of the font and gouting it back in a tumbling arc, ever circulating, ever fresh.
"The flies fed well last night," said the boy.
Arashai nodded absently. "Well done," she said. "Now, there's a merchant on his way up. Clean out the press and then come and help me greet him."
The merchant's name was Everin, a older man with only a fringe of hair remaining, but his body still lean and hard. He did not seem to notice the climb up the temple stairs despite his heavy bundle of wares. Arashai spent a pleasant while dickering with him over the price for a ounce of salt, a box of candles and a good new belt.
Once the deal was struck he grew serious. "I'll sacrifice before I go," he said. "And there is another matter."
Arashai took him to the rack of ceremonial blades. They ranged from a great razor-club the length of a tall man's arm to a mere chip made to be pinched between thumb and forefinger, but all were struck from night-black obsidian. She carefully took up one of the smaller blades. The edges were sharper than a gossip's whisper and could sever a careless finger in a blink.
She took the Sacrifice of Oblation from his wrist, careful to limit the amount to half what she thought he could stand to give. The Font flushed bright with power; a willing sacrifice was a potent thing, far greater than the meagre daily gleanings from the flies could provide. "Keep this cloth pressed on the cut for as long as you can," she told him. "If only there were more who still understood like you."
His bright eyes caught hers for a moment. "That leads me to the other thing I have to say. You must be wary. Men in the villages... they get in their cups, and they forget, and they complain, and lead each other on. There might be trouble coming soon."
"If they forget you must remind them," Arashai said. "You know this is all."
He sighed as he departed. "I'll try to."
Arashai and the nameless boy spent the afternoon working on the theory of runes. The boy was as quick a study at that as he was at everything he turned his mind to, and Arashai began to plan for her retirement in the near future. He would be a fine temple warden, both intelligent and innately gifted in sensing and shaping power.
As dusk closed in, Everin returned. He came stumbling through the arch, propelled at speed, and crashed to his face on the stony floor. His hands were tied behind his back.
The nameless boy sprang to his feet as a group of men filed into the sanctum, muttering and carrying clubs and farming tools. Arashai remained seated. Standing was a slow process for her these days; better to retain the semblance of dignity.
"Blood witches," snarled the man in front of the pack. He was plainly dressed and plainly faced, solid, stolid peasant stock by the look of him, but flushed with righteous anger. And something else; Arashai guessed that these men had been drinking most of the day to work up the courage and stupidity to come here.
She gestured for the nameless boy to stand back. "What are you here for?" she asked the leader.
"We're here for you," he said, raising his chin proudly and hefting an axe handle. "To stop your filthy rituals and your filthy flies from blighting our lives and our land."
Everin laughed from the floor. "I did try to explain it to them," he said.
One of the men kicked him viciously in the leg. "Shut it, shitmonger."
"Stop!" Arashai held out her hand for the nameless boy to assist her to her feet. Once up, she groaned and stretched out a kink in her hip. The men watched her warily as she walked toward them.
"We keep all of you safe and alive," she said quietly. The leader gaped at her and then laughed scornfully. The other men joined in.
"Yes, you do a lot for us, squatting up here on this pile of rock," he said. He pointed past her. "You have a fountain of loving blood here and you're doing it for us."
Everin sat up. "They need a history lesson, Arashai-Ghel."
Arashai nodded. "This pile of rock was once a temple of the Gamort Empire," she said. "The Gamortu were the fiercest race of conquerors this world has ever seen, and their bloodlust was such that it drove them to the darkest of ends."
"More than a thousand years ago!" said the leader.
"Yes, so long ago. We of Uxantiam fought them, and we won. Our wizardry was technically superior to their brute power, and we wiped them out to the last creature, and took their lands for our own. But some things, once called up, cannot be put down. They can only be placated."
Arashai gestured around her, to the blood stained glass windows, to the fountain. "Our Sanctum here replaces the endless death that the Gamortu brought to this land. This temple used to flow with waterfalls of innocent blood. We hold down the darkness by refining that to the bare minimum to keep the bindings intact."
The leader slapped his thigh. "You keep speaking and it means nothing." He pointed the axe handle at Arashai's face. "Last night, your filthy flies chewed up my daughter's face. Two years old and she has a ring of terrible bites marking up her forehead. Well, not any more."
He took four steps and put the wood through the closest glass image. It shattered to the ground with a crystalline chiming. "Smash it all, lads!" he yelled.
The men bellowed and started lashing out at the sanctum fittings. Arashai and the nameless boy both screamed as the web of power snapped, strands frantically unravelling, magic spending itself wildly into the air. The Fount began to gurgle.
A red-faced man smashed the fly-combs and the air filled with a cloud of angry insects. Men smashed the rest of the images of sacrifice and bloody shards rang across the floor. Everin rolled to his knees and scrambled out through the Sanctum archway and one of the men went after him, club held high. Arashai and the boy clung together, reeling.
The leader strode to them, his face ugly and triumphant. "And now..." he said, raising the axe handle, and then the Fount exploded in a gout of rage and gore that hit the roof and spread out like a boiling cloud.
A crimson storm, a coppery tornado of razors, barbed tendrils striking out like wet and stinking lightning. The leader was snatched into fragments before his expression had time to change; Arashai saw a smugly sneering mouth whip around the room before it was lost in the carnage.
The protective circle on the floor around the Fount was holding, barely. Arashai and the nameless boy huddled by the empty bowl of the fountain.
"It must be fed!" she cried to him. He looked at her, blankly, and then realisation crept into his face. He had always been clever. He fumbled in the debris on the floor and came up with one of the ceremonial blades, a finger in length, black as a hole into darkness.
"It would have been me," Arashai told him truthfully. "With but another year of training, it would have been me, and gladly, and your name would be Arash." She put her wrinkled hand over his and tightened his fingers around the hilt. "A good tool for the task. Don't think too much."
They stood up together and he leant over the font. She held his head steady with a hand on either side, and as he made the swift, firm stroke she cried out the Words in a cracking voice, and held him as he spasmed.
Power like she had never felt blasted into the Sanctum. The blood-storm calmed immediately, and she soothed it further, sang it down into the Fount. The Sacrifice of Self, given willingly, by innocent hand and of the blood of one talented in the art; she held the very sun in her hands and her mind.
Arashai gestured, and the Images sprang back together with a fusillade of clicks and tinkles. She spoke the Words and the blood-flies settled quiescent back into their new-forged combs. She rewove the bindings and everything was in its place once more, except the small, pale body lying before the Fount.
She strode out of the Sanctum arch, looking at her hands. Her skin had smoothed appreciably and her steps were easy. She had been given back twenty years, maybe more. Time enough to train a new apprentice.
Everin knelt on the platform at the top of the stairs, head hanging in sorrow and relief. The man who had chased him was slumped next to him, mouth gaping. His club lay forgotten on the ground. He stared wildly at Arashai. "I'm sorry. I'm so... so sorry! We didn't know."
"You didn't," she agreed. "But now you do. And you must tell this story so all remember what we do here and why it is needed."
She directed a Word of severing at Everin and the bindings on his arms fell away. He met her gaze and saw the pain there, nodded and said nothing.
"That man said the flies marked his daughter," she told him. "Do you know what that means?"
"Yes," he said. "I know where they live. And the family has no father now so one less mouth may be a blessing. I will bring her within the week."
"And supplies for raising a child," said Arashai, Warden of Ghel-Gamort.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 05:00|
Totally forgot I never finished crits for this week. My bad!
Real Monsters Week Crits, P. 2
Something Else - Close Your Eyes If You Want To Keep Them
First person was a good choice here. You've actually got some solid action going on, but it's muddle a bit by the fact that nobody has names. You give us some nice touches to build atmosphere, but the basic plot is pretty predictable, which deflates some of the tension. Prose is solid throughout, with some minor proofreading errors here and there, which is par for the course this week. You also have a slight tendency to over-describe things, which hampers the flow once in a while. The actual escape was handled well, and you hit on strong details. The ending feels a little rushed, though; I feel like there isn't enough characterization to make it compelling, so it seems to happen just because.
LOU BEGAS MUSTACHE - A Common Enemy
This story had a really cool atmosphere to it. The way you describe the setting and characters gives me sort an Oddworld vibe, and you set up some conflict and characterization early on. The story kind of runs out of steam in the last quarter, though. For one thing, you set up Funghead as this big, larger-than-life threat, but all that really happens is the dude shoots him a few times and he dies. The twist with the imaginary friend is an interesting idea, but I think you need more room to make it feel like like anything but a rug-pull. Finally, the last line feels a bit weak for a snappy one-liner, since Barcleef is really kind of insignificant except as a catalyst for the plot. Your prose works, and there are some nice flourishes throughout, but the rhythm feels a little rough around the edges. Still, the atmosphere and vivid descriptions made it a fun, breezy read.
Jagermonster - The Mind Killer
Strong opening here - right into the action, and an immediate, effective description of the monster / source of conflict. Some of the lines read awkwardly - one that jumps out: "Jimmy gurgled something around the old t-shirt tied around his mouth gagging him." The concept behind this story is neat, and I'm glad you didn't play the monster straight. The structure of this story's narrative is a little odd; Jimmy is our protagonist in the beginning, but after his death it almost seems like we are supposed to be rooting for Roman, which creates a bit of tonal whiplash in such a short piece. Overall, you've got brisk pacing, pretty solid prose, and a nice twist on a common trope, even if it's been done before.
kurona_bright - Lakeshore Lure
Your prose isn't bad, but you overuse exclamation points and en dashes here, which gets a bit distracting. The biggest problem here is that the story takes too long to get its legs, and the conflict ends up being too flimsy to really sustain it afterward. Why are these kids even in a position where running into deadly monsters is a possibility? There isn't enough context to know whether that's just part of life in this setting, or whether the grandfather hosed up. You sow the seeds of a backstory between the grandfather and the kelpie, but it doesn't go anywhere. All of these little things come together to clutter the central plotline, which holds it back in the end. You've still got some nice word choice here, and the relationship between the kids feels pretty authentic.
Screaming Idiot - The Dog in the Sewer
My immediate reaction is that you are overdoing it with the adjectives. Detail is nice, but too much of it ends up obscuring the important information and sapping some of the impact when those details really matter. If the story is a meal, adjectives are salt, and adverbs are ghost peppers. Plotwise, you get to the heart of conflict right away, which is always nice. The characters feel like broad strokes, and sometimes lean a bit too hard on genre tropes, but it kind of works with the tone you've created. The action is fairly well written, but the resolution feels a little rushed; everything just gets tied up in a neat little bow in such a short span that it doesn't really have time to breathe.
Wangless Wonder - Reaping
You're dialogue is missing commas. For instance:
“gently caress that, let’s get out of here” Elle said, rising and starting back up the stairs.
It should be "...here," Elle said, rising and starting back up the stairs.
In a couple places you actually use a period instead of a comma. Despite this odd issue, your prose is actually pretty solid. You tend toward over-description, to the point that the actual action / plot beat gets buried a bit. In the end it makes your story a bit hard to follow - my eyes kept wanting to skim for the next important bit. You give us some conflict and an interesting opening, but it takes a little too long to get going. You've got a solid voice, but you need to focus a bit more on making plot and characterization the center of your story, rather than the details and setting.
docbeard - Til Chicago
Solid opening: you give us a conflict right out of the way and make it clear that things have gone a bit south for our protagonist. The modern setting is neat, and you did a nice job making the witch a three-dimensional character instead of a stock villain. The action flows nicely and the prose is solid, even if it doesn't particularly stand out. This isn't a bad story at all, but it suffers from feeling like the midpoint in a larger story. We have a resolution to the immediate conflict, but there's a larger backdrop with higher stakes and in that regard the ending is a cliffhanger that doesn't quite satisfy. Not a whole lot else to say. Solid upper-middle of the pack.
Broenheim - Don't Want it Anymore
You had quite a few proofreading errors, which in any other week would have been a bigger problem. Luckily for you, pretty much every story this week had multiple glaring errors for some reason. The mood you create here is understated but effective; it has a really nice, sort of fable-ish quality to it that is hard to put my finger on. This was one of the few stories of the week that had a sympathetic monster, and you give us a lot of emotional weight that was missing from other entries. While it wasn't the strongest story in terms of prose, all of the judges agreed that it made up for it in terms of clarity and emotional / thematic impact. Nice work!
Tyrannosaurus - The Circumstances of Love and Danger During Sophomore Year
As usual, you show off your talent at crafting believable voice and dialogue. The pacing is strong and the tone is fun, with some genuinely funny bits that don't call too much attention to themselves. Your prose is some of the strongest of the week, but the story gets a little bogged down - it feels like there are two different stories being crammed together, in a way. Once Misaki gets captured, everything kind of takes a predictable turn, but giving her some agency in the process is appreciated. The resolution feels a little weak - we never see any of the real implications of the whole love magic thing. Overall, it's a fun, well-written story that is ahead of most of the pack, but it just doesn't have enough under the hood to make it a top contender.
SurreptitiousMuffin - Shadow of a doubt
Strongest prose of the week by far, and some really wonderful imagery. The entire concept is interesting, and the thematic depth makes it feel almost like an allegory rather than a straightforward narrative. The narrator could probably use a bit more characterization, simply because so much of the story depends on filtering thoughts about his father through the "monster" that we are seeing. I think I gave it more leeway than the other judges in terms of the story itself being a little shallow, but there is something missing that I can't quite pinpoint. It isn't enough to keep it from being one of my favorite stories this week, though. Not much else I can say about this one - couple minor typos, like everyone else this week, but otherwise I really enjoyed it.
Doctor Idle - The Real Homuncuwives of Atlantis
This is borderline fanfic, and the prose / dialogue are pretty sloppy. I guess you match the tone of these kinds of shows pretty well, but I think you end with a parody that is a bit too close to the spirit of what it is mocking. The story is so odd that it kept me reading, which is more than I can say for some of the stories this week, and that's probably the only reason it avoided a DM. You need to focus on creating a backbone for your story - all of the conflict is on the periphery here. It doesn't really feel like your narrator wants anything, or overcomes anything. He just sort of does his job and then it ends. Amusing in a batshit crazy way, but there's not really enough meat on the story's bones to dig much deeper than that.
Capntastic - Acetone
You had one of the more unique monsters this week, and you actually did a pretty drat good job of establishing them as a threat. There are some nice details throughout the story that bring your setting to life - off the top of my head, the bit about vandals and apartment deposits, as well as the ringtones. It feels natural, which is why it was disappointing that the big conflict centered around a monster being attracted to nail polish remover. I tried to suspend my disbelief, but I dunno. I just don't buy that a place taking all these precautions would still be selling it. I have to imagine people would just stop painting their nails or something. That issue aside, the actual confrontation is well-written, but the tension gets sapped pretty quickly. She just tosses it the bottle and it basically wanders off. Overall, an enjoyable piece with solid prose and pacing, but it let up on the gas about halfway through.
Killer--of-Lawyers - Spear
I can appreciate the direction you took with this, and it's definitely different. The issue I have is that you commit so heavily to the concept that your characterization suffers. The plot is fairly bare-bones, and hits the beats it needs to, but I never really get a reason to care about your protagonist or what is happening to them. I don't even end up with a clear picture of what they are. When I'm not invested in the characters, everything just becomes a list of things that happened, and as a result nothing has any emotional or thematic weight. Your prose isn't bad, though a couple times you reuse words too closely together. For example:
The trunk of the great tree rushed into view before her. The bark of the old tree was worn away, and a hole lead inwards at the top of the trunk.
Using "trunk" and "tree" twice each in two sentences is a little jarring, and interrupts the flow your prose. In these cases, you should either look for ways to say the same thing without repeating yourself, or rework it to combine and streamline those lines. It isn't a major issue, but it's something to watch for in the future.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 05:35|
You fuel your magic by stealing hubris and vanity from heroes and divas, among other things. Anyone who has an overly high estimation of themselves is fodder for the plucking. Careful you don't leave too many empty, broken people in your wake...
Hourly Wages - 919 words
It was a bitterly cold day when a boy burst into Magnus’ shop and slapped his hands on the table. “I need an hour,” he said, gasping. “You have to give me an hour.”
The old man looked up from the table for a moment, then turned his attention back to his work. “I don’t have to do anything,” he said as he picked up his needle. “Besides, I’m very busy. I have all these clothes to make for the festival next week—”
“I need to go back! Please!” He grabbed the old man’s arm. There were tears in his eyes. “Aren’t you the weaver? Can’t you still weave the strands?”
He had heard the tales from the old women about Magnus. He was a weaver of reality, they said, gathering distant strands and combining to produce the desired effects for his customers. They said he could pluck an arrow from the sky just before it struck their true love dead. Turn a rainy day dry so that a mudslide would be smaller and a town could escape. Save a child from a deadly illness.
“And if I am... And if I do... What do you have to offer me in return?”
The boy looked down at his tattered shoes. “I would work for you.”
“Mm. Your parents know about that?”
“But, no, that’s not what I mean. Can you sing?”
“What?” The boy looked up in surprise. “No...”
“Then you’re no good to me. Find me someone who can.”
The boy was about to say something, then stopped. He looked away and took a deep breath. “I need this. I can do whatever you ask of me.”
“Then tell me this, boy. What is your aspiration? What is your desire in life?”
“I’m going to go to the city to join the theater...”
“Ah, acting! You can act.”
“No... not yet.”
“But you will... or, you would. Yes. That will do. I can use that.”
The boy only stared. “Use?”
“You lose this, I do that for you, give you your hour. And you’ll never be an actor. That’s the deal.”
“I don’t...” The boy was shaking.
“That’s the deal.”
He stared down at his feet. “OK. Send me back an hour, then. Or a bit longer.”
“First of all, no, I can’t send you back. I can’t do anything with the requester. Or myself, for that matter.”
“But you said—”
“No. You have to be specific, now. What did you want to do, what changes, what events play out differently?”
“It’s... Emma. My sister. She... she has to be sick, she has to stay in bed all day. That’s what I want. That’s what you have to do.”
“It’s done.” Magnus sat back in his chair.
“But... don’t... you have to weave it!”
“I told you, it’s done.” The boy still wasn’t getting it. “Look at that cloth above the door.”
He turned around and looked up at the white cloth, covered with squares of red, hung over the door.
“What...” the boy said. “Was that up there when I came in?”
“Of course it was. It hadn’t been, but it was. You didn’t change. I didn’t change. But the world did. You perceive no change now, because you’ve been inside here with me this whole time. Go out and see the result for yourself.”
The boy took a deep breath and ran out.
He ran to the river nearby, on the left side of town, the place he and his sister had been playing, and it had been his idea, the place where he had seen his sister fall through the ice, watched her sink below and he was too cold and weak and scared to save her, even to run for help, his legs wouldn’t move, his eyes were locked in place and it was too late, too late.
The ice was solid. There was no hole. There were no footprints leading up to the river.
He ran back home. Into the living room, past the washroom to the bedroom. And his sister was lying there in her bed, sick and miserable, her head bright red and puffy. But alive. Mother dabbed her face with a wet cloth.
When she saw him she yelled, “Where have you been! You were supposed to start chopping firewood an hour ago!” and began chasing him with the great stick from the corner. He didn’t care; she was alive. He ducked out the back door again.
Magnus was surprised to see the boy again. People rarely came back; they usually didn’t have any talent left to offer. Some were more affected than others, drained by the whole process; some disappeared entirely, or seemed to fade away like a dying candle. He tried not to think about them.
But this boy was different. He had no want. No need. And though he had no talent to give, “I can learn,” he said. “I want to learn. I’ll work for you, if you’ll have me.”
Magnus asked about his parents, if they approved, told what the work would entail, how many years the contract would cover. It would be a long, slow process, to teach the art; expensive, to feed and clothe another. But he would survive; he had some small savings, and an extra pair of hands would help, certainly. And more than anything, he was happy to have another person to share his knowledge with. Someone who would understand.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 06:06|
Only you can wield this ancient, powerful staff. However, when you do, the weather changes according to the emotional state you're in.
The Nightly Portents
Deep in the bowels of the world, a wizened figure stood cackling over a thick black iron cauldron, wringing his hands with barely contained excitement as the liquid within came to a boil.
“Yesss,” he hissed, rapt with attention as the concoction swirled and frothed violently. “I command you, deliver unto me that which I seek!”
With one final pulse the liquid threatened to spill over the edge of the cauldron only to settle into mirrorlike smoothness with a single pulse, and slowly turned a sad, red hue.
“Merlin’s sagging tits,” the man scoffed, “Yet another fickle wench who can’t be bothered to send a missive through the ether. She said she had a great time!”
“It might help if you didn’t insist on calling them wenches,” a wench chided him from a significantly better-lit part of the looming cavern. “I should think that after all this time, you might consider directing your considerable insight inwards to divine the cause of such malcontent.”
“Pshaw, nonsense,” the man scoffed, reluctantly padding away from the cauldron to rummage through the rickety wooden dressing table set up nearby. “I’m sure she just couldn’t find enough chickens to cover the roaming fee. She lives in Wessex, you know, she attended the ritual with the rest of her sororitas.”
“Did she also tell you that she was only one hundred and eighty years old? Because I’m fairly certain there were members of her entourage pushing three hundred.”
“Bother and silence,” the wizened man grumbled, pausing as he rooted through his dressing table to pull a fake beard from a drawer and hold it against his face speculatively. “What do you think of this one? I haven’t worn It this week, have I?”
“Go with the one two drawers over,” the woman suggested, “The one with the extra spiders. It’s a good fit for your mood: menacing, but creepy-menacing, not blow down your house menacing.”
“Your feeble attempts at padding my ego will have no effect,” he grumbled as he fussed with the beard, “Cease your irksome crooning and begone from my presence lest I will you to be not.”
“Whatever,” his coworker shrugged, “I have to go produce your segment anyway. Go see the grease crone when you’re done here, that robe needs to be ash and acid-spotted before we go live. I’ll be in the control room, just give me a thumbs-up once you’re ready.”
She hurried from the chamber, apathetic to the grumbling tirade that echoed off the cave walls long after she was gone. Unlike the vast majority of the cavern’s occupants she felt no obligation to limp, or creak, or stop every fifth step to cackle to herself, so she made good time to the control cave, arriving just as the technicians began to file in and situate themselves in front of their crystal balls.
“Has anyone seen my lizard?” she asked nobody in particular, casting fruitlessly around the room for a moment before she caught a familiar, frantic scurrying motion out of the corner of her eye. “Aha!” she growled, snatching into the darkness and triumphantly returning with a squirming lizard gripped tightly in her knobby hands. Oblivious to the poor creature’s struggles she hooked its tail around her ear and twisted it until its head sat just beside her mouth, clearing her throat experimentally.
“Um, right,” she said, smiling in satisfaction as an amplified version of her voice echoed through the cavern. “Testing, testing, ān, twā, þrīo, can you all hear me?”
One by one each apprentice checked in from his crystal, and as the last station checked in she re-keyed her lizard. “Right, we show a green board, I’m going to break into main in about ninety seconds. I’d like magic mirror operators in their usual positions: mirrors one and two get our wide shots, three get a profile close-up, and four letterbox the anchor from dead in. We’ll open from four in… seventy seconds now, can I get a thumbs up from the floor?”
“I’m here, you accursed wench,” came the familiar, grumbling reply from the brightly-lit podium arrayed in the center of the cavern. “Your hideous agents have festooned me with livery like a thrice-cursed jestour, you can be certain that fate will deliver unto you my revenge!”
“Great,” the producer boomed through her lizard, “Just keep the invective up into the intro. We’re coming up on twenty seconds-torches, get me full illumination on the main podium. Silence in the dungeon, stand by mirrors, our broadcast incanter is finishing in three, two, one…”
The producer only mouthed the last two words, counting with her fingers before finally closing her fist and gesturing to the stage.
At the designated signal the wizened man, robes now properly covered in smudges and stains, broke from his diatribe to emit a loud, haunting laugh.
“Grrreeetings, minions,” he boomed, voice strengthened and smoothed from years of dramaturgy, “I am Larry the Magnificent, today is April 26, 907 AD, and you are all doomed, DOOMED!”
He didn’t walk around the stage so much as prowl, occasionally leaning into the podium for emphasis as he conducted his nightly rant. “Brimstone shall fall, sheep shall give birth to cows, and all ships shall eventually sink into the briny deep, sacrifices to the great kraken upon whose back this pitiful world rests! Tremble at his presence, and know his will!”
As the rant continued he worked himself into a fair fit, spitting and stomping around the stage like a man half (or all the way) possessed, actual sparks eventually issuing from between his teeth.
“Alright Larry,” his producer’s voice echoed through the cave, shaking the structure but going unnoticed by the broadcast incantation. “You’re right on your time mark, wrap it up and cue Jolene.”
Right on cue Larry transitioned from barely-understandable threats to completely incomprehensible gibbering, his voice coming to a loud and terrible crescendo before in a single instant he fell silent, bending over himself as if spent. “That’s it from me,” he gasped, chest still heaving from the exertion of his performance, “Next is Jolene the doomsayer to read your portents.”
Thirty minutes later, a flickering of the torches around Larry’s stand signaled the resumption of his segment, and on her gesture he sprung back to life, this time wreathing himself in dark flames that, if gazed upon for too long, threatened to draw onlookers into their embrace.
“Thank you, Fethric, for that fascinating look at pig bladders and the role they have in managing the humors. Now, for your weather forecast.”
He squinted suspiciously at the gnarled, ironbound wizard’s staff he kept propped next to his podium, and as he approached it theatrically he maintained a running commentary.
“A certain wench thinks that she has managed to raise my ire and provoke a reaction, but as today’s clear skies and moderate precipitation are about to prove, she is sorely mistaken if she thinks that a single date is enough to tie a man like me down…”
As his gnarled hand closed around the staff a thunderclap shook through the cave, bringing a grimace to his features. “Well, on second thought, minions, it appears as if your carriage ride home will be afflicted by gale-force winds, rock-splitting lightning, and a very slight chance of boulder-sized hail caving in the heads of any damned fool unlucky enough to be caught outdoors. That’s Larry Magnificent with the weather. We turn now to the archcrone, and several tapestries of kittens.”
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 07:26|
The Eye Thief 1,261 words
There are eyes everywhere in Cregganborne. They’re set in the crumbling white-brick walls, staring from behind overgrown vines. The watchtowers that stab at the always-grey sky have irises - the size of a man, obscene - and rows of lashes adorn their peaks. Stare at one long enough and you’ll see blink. Gives me the creeps. The trees have eyes, too - dozens, winking through foliage, following as you go past. I walked the streets uneasy. My left eye socket itched, the empty shell covered by unruly hair.
This is the domain of the Wizard-Queen Cassandra, who reigns over her subjects from her All-Seeing Tower. Cassandra’s name is spoken only in whispers. I don’t think of her as Cassandra, though - in our past I’d call her Cassie. Cassie-Cakes, if she was being cute.
The wind was cold and stank of sulphur, so I wrapped myself tighter in my cloak - enchanted with a concealment charm, indispensable for a thief. Underneath, Kieron - a three-feet-long worm, and my companion - coiled around my arm. The feel of his slimy body on my skin used to make me queasy, but I’d been getting accustomed to it. He used to be a jolly little man and we were drinking buddies until Cassandra cursed him, so there was that, too.
I crept through winding alleys until I came to a sewer grate. Then, down, and through tunnels that reeked of trash and poo poo. There, beneath rotten Cregganborne, I met with the Eyeless Pupils.
“We’ve long awaited liberation.” said their leader. They were the most wretched rebel force I’d ever seen. They lived in the sewers. They stank to hell. Each was missing an eye - taken by Cassandra and put to her nefarious purposes, her punishment for transgressors.
I wasn’t planning on liberation. I had come to steal my eye back from Cassie, after she ripped it from me so long ago, before she ever came to Cregganborne. Overthrowing wasn’t on the cards, though.
“I bet you have” I said. My eye met his in the torchlight.
We walked along for hours, until we were underneath the city centre, beneath the All-Seeing Tower. An iron grate was set above. Upwards, somewhere in the sky: my stolen eye.
So I went up and into the belly of the tower. It was filthy - mould on the walls, stench of mildew, echoes of dripping water in the darkness. Cassie was the messy one when we used to live together, though, so I wasn’t shocked. Kieron had memorised a crude map the Pupils gave us, and he directed me, one pulse for left - two pulses for right.
I crept silently through, past her Bloodguard patrols, and up to ground level, no less filthy. I smashed a window and climbed out. It was time to ascend. Climbing gear, check. A lifetime of experience scaling walls - covered, too. Cloak billowing, I climbed the crude bricks and went up and up, and wretched Craggonborne sprawled below.
Slow and steady I went up, and soon I reached the top. Cassandra’s domain, where she kept my eye. I broke another window and went in.
I found myself in a large hall, the walls lined with bookshelves and tapestries of abstract patterns that made my head hurt. A stone pool lay in the middle, and a pillar rose from the centre. It was smooth grey and set with eyes, human eyes, all of which where bloodshot and weeping. The tears poured down and formed the pool.
My eye wept at the top of the pillar.
I swallowed, looked down at the tear-water - murky, can’t see the bottom.
“Let’s to touch that” I whispered, and Kieron pulsed in agreement. The pillar was too far out to reach.
Kieron pulsed a few times. Could you? Yes.
I hurled him like a sling. He spun gracelessly but landed on target, on top of the pillar. He picked up my eye in his mouth, coiled, sprung back.
He sailed through the air and a tentacle shot out of the fountain, seized him, pulled him down.
I drew my sword. It burst from the water, and it was hideous! Fleshy, pale-yellow squid-like - one huge eye, rows of sharp teeth, and countless long tentacles, one of which was holding Kieron. He spat out my eye and it landed on the floor, rolled away harmlessly.
“Over here!” I yelled, and it came towards me, splashing. I prepared to leap and cut Kieron loose, but I was too slow.
It swallowed Kieron whole.
I screamed and thrust my sword into its eye. Tentacles seized me but I hacked them off with my sword and then stabbed the creature, again and again, until the tentacles went limp and the thing floated still in tear-water red with blood.
Kieron was gone.
My eye had rolled into a corner. I dusted it off and put in into my pouch.
It was done. I knew I should climb down, flee and never come back. But Kieron was dead and Cassandra, who’d caused all this, who’d turned him from man into worm and who took my eye, was near.
Rage boiled inside me, hot and viscous. I stuck a dagger between in my teeth and climbed back out, circled my way around the tower peering into windows until I spied a bedroom behind an opulent stained-glass window. It took a few kicks to break.
The room was a mess. Clothes everywhere, strewn around the floor, draped over desks and chairs. The walls were plain and the bed was unmade. Amongst the chaos, Cassandra sat on an velvet couch and regarded me with a smirk.
“It’s been years, Desmond” she said. “You look terrible.”
She looked good. Still the same jet-black hair, long eyelashes, tight black robes. Still the same blue eyes, too. Gods, they were beautiful.
“I’ve been watching you” she said, and rose. “Sorry about Kieron. He always was a bad influence.”
I tried to speak but couldn’t. I was transfixed by her gaze. My eyes refused to close.
“And that eye of yours,”, she continued, “was a fair price to pay for all your transgressions. All those women you caroused with while I was at the Wizard Academy, working hard so we could have a good life when… oh, Des.” She shook her head. “I can’t let you leave here alive.”
The dagger was still between my teeth. I put in all my of effort to raise my arm, grasp the hilt. I held it in my hand but I couldn’t throw it. Her magic was too strong.
“And I get your right eye now.” she said.
My other eye. Yes.
I raised the dagger, trembling. I couldn’t throw it at her - the spell was too strong - but I didn’t have to.
I slashed my eye. Hot blood spurted over my hand and I screamed. Through the agony, I felt her spell break, and I drew my hand back and hurled the dagger.
I heard a short gasp and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Then, silence.
Blind, bleeding, still I made it out. The Eyeless Pupils found me. I spent a month recuperating in their tunnels while they sent out for a wizard to put my left eye back - my right one, the one I cut, was beyond repair.
Cassandra’s magic died with her. Cregganborne’s towers fell. It’s a ruin now, populated only by snakes and rats, and the eyes have all closed. In the kingdom, Cassandra’s name still spoken in whispers. I’ve started whispering it too, and my right eye socket itches worse than the left one ever did.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 13:45|
Wizard 1300 words
Thick clouds of ganja smoke hung near the ceiling of his one room basement apartment. Tendrils of Seattle sky clawed their way through the barred windows, settling on a ragged carpet, threadbare couch and a stolen spool of industrial cable. It was the best he could find in America on such short notice.
He tapped his pipe twice on the spool-come-coffee table. This pile of ash marked the fourth point in a pentagram. The clatter roused his friends. A great scratching and scurrying erupted in between the ancient lath and plaster. A few moments passed and a plump young vole scurried across the carpet, up the cable and over to the pipe. It stood on its hind legs, twitched its whiskers and left him a gift – a dry green nug sparkling with THC.
When this too was smoked he emptied the charred remains onto the final point and connected the points with a finger. “Ubi est meum denari” he spoke, softly, and a greasy pile of twenty dollar bills appeared on the table. Enough to cover the rent, anyway.
This place, it was always raining. Incessant drizzle mixed with car exhaust, splashing up out of too-deep puddles and slowing down the constantly clicking wheels of consumer driven capitalism. Maybe it had been a mistake coming to the New World? Maybe he was just getting old. A truck roared past and knocked him out of his reverie, just before the muddy tsunami knocked him off his feet.
A woman reached out and helped him up. They locked eyes, her smile faded. Not again…
“Holy. poo poo. Ten years! Ten years and not so much as a single phone call! Do you know how much child support you owe me? John’s almost eighteen now, you better pay up!”
He broke into a run. She shrieked behind him “Cops! Help! Anyone! He owes me money!”
Casting fortify he didn’t stop running until he was miles away. He swore at himself for smoking that cursed gypsy weed all those ages ago. Turns out the only thing more powerful than that Arab indica was Arab magic.
He spent the remainder of the day testing the power of his curse here. The barista broke down in tears showing him the tattoo of a dead bird she’d got when he’d divorced her. When he bought clothes at the mall hordes of women caused a minor riot when they tried to claw their way to him, each brandishing court summons or love letters or both.
At least in Europe there was a certain kind of politeness about things. Sure there were more heartfelt speeches and long walks along the beach, often at knife point, but it was the kind of thing one could, in retrospect, grow used to and even miss. Not here.
Maybe there was something more powerful then the curse here in America? Something so absolutely degenerate that no woman could ever admit to associating with it? He laid out the things he’d dug out of the dumpster on the way home. He inhaled and blew a lungful of smoke onto them, transmogrifying them into the summation of American Culture: a television with an internet connection.
The next weeks went by in a haze. He caught up on the century or so of pop culture he’d so arrogantly dismissed. Time dilation spells, cheeto spells, poopsock and mountain dew spells all crackled like lightning out of his bony fingertips. An entire culture’s worth of T.V. seeped into his ancient brain. Slowly a picture formed. Neon letters on white wife beaters, tanned skin and rippling muscle; giant trucks, protein shakes, cheap malt liquor. The word came from deep within and his lips spoke as if it was the first word they had ever uttered…
Filled with a new confidence and padded out by buff-as-gently caress spells he ignored the rain that soaked his ALPHA MALE poo poo wifebeater and beaded off his shades. Sure, the megablunt and half liter of cough syrup might have added to his mental state, but he was sure it was mostly confidence.
He floated down the subway steps on a cloud of smoke, a homeless guy taking a dump looked up in awe. A flick of his bony wizard fingers and the poo poo was instantly turned into rainbows, sending the homeless guy flying in a foul smelling arc right onto the tracks. He landed with a thump and a sizzle.
“Watch that third rail, bro.”
Someone started screaming. He furiously cast a terror-to-opera spell but the panic was growing too fast. He was lost in his casting, in step with the bass beats coming from his rap-brand headphones. He didn’t notice the teeming mass of black rats that had picked the homeless guy’s bones clean. Having given up on converting the terror solely to opera he began casting other spells, somehow forgetting any memory erasure spells. Instead he cast spells like embaldment, hand-to-foot, mule’s head, pet rock mania, sweater-to-hoodie and moustache of bees.
Someone grabbed him from behind.
“Yeah that’s him! He owes me like ten grand!” A lady was yelling over a group of bewitched countertenors.
“That’s it bud, you’re coming with us,” one of the policeman said before punching him in the gut. Red cough syrup shot out of his mouth and splattered all over his Air Jordan’s and the world went black.
He woke in a cell with a splitting headache and only the faintest recollection of what happened the night before. He checked his pockets. The magic had worn off and his Bro gear had changed back into his wizard’s robe. Either way, they’d taken his weed. He sighed, not remembering how to cast a spell if he wasn’t high as balls when he did it.
He lay down on the concrete bed and tried to keep from thinking, finally realizing why most people only chug cough syrup once. There was a rattle at the door. He groaned. A guard slid a tray of food through a slot, but it only made him want to dry heave.
Whiskers brushed his cheek. “If you want the food, it’s yours,” he said. Before he’d even finished the sentence a great number of tiny feet scurried across the concrete and carried off everything the tray had to offer, leaving only tiny turds.
It may have been a week or a maybe just a day before they dragged him out of the cell. Without his life-giving vapours he was getting frail. The courtroom was oppressively bright. The prosecutor smiled when he saw him, knowing that he’d make history for being the first ever lawyer to win a divorce and child custody class action case. He was representing no less than seventy five women that day.
The wizard’s public defender stumbled into the court room, spilling the contents of his briefcase. Turns out he’d mostly brought hard candy. The judge was tired of waiting. He raised his gavel and struck it down thrice. The wizard swore he heard a rustling in the walls.
The judge began reading out the charges, having to raise his voice over the growing groans and tremors in the courthouse walls. He glanced nervously at the deputy, who could only shrug. The room began vibrating slightly, a great wall of sound was descending on the court room, or would have been if humans could hear the frequencies. The floor underneath the jury box caved in, the walls began to crumble and a great roiling sea of rodents descended on the court room. There was no time to even scream before thousands of the tiny animals had eaten everyone’s tongues. Before long there was nothing left but gleaming skeletons and piles of mouse poo poo.
The wizard walked out the back doors, bowing as he left. The new world had been a mistake.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 14:49|
Nothing More. Nothing Less.
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 03:20 on Jan 8, 2016
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 14:55|
I'm backing out because I'm a waste of skin so I'm going to myself to actually finish next week.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 16:37|
Hair of the Dog
I woke to a headache pounding its way into my skull like a woodpecker, all ratta-tat-tat with bursts of pain and flashes of light. I had to pry my eyelids open against a thick crust. With the way my day was going, I figured it was probably blood.
Memory trickled back like a reluctant drunk. There’d been a lady, and a job, and neither of these facts surprised me much. How that got me here, cuffed to a pole in an unremarkable basement while blood dribbled down my face, I still couldn’t remember.
I heard shifting from behind my head, then a woman’s voice. “Y’all awake back there, mister Bastiat?” she asked, pain turning her smooth drawl into a quaver. I grunted. “This sure is a fine pickle, don’tcha think?”
“Been in worse,” I said, gruffer than I intended. “You cuffed too?”
“Uh-huh.” I heard movement, felt long hair tickle the backs of my arms. Took me moment to realise she was nodding, cuffed to the same pole as me. “I’m sure a resourceful guy like you can get us free, right. Right?” Fear cracked her voice.
“‘Course,” I said. Soft fingers found my own and gave them a quick squeeze. I swallowed hard. More memories drifted back - Marie, that was her name.
“Hold still,” I said, and tried to focus. A lock of Marie’s hair slipped through my fingers. I swore and plucked a hair from my arm instead, whispered words of power. The hair twisted like steel between my fingers, probed the lock, wrapped itself around the pawl and tightened with a crunch.
It was easy enough to free myself after that, easier still to free Marie. I felt a flush of pride I always got when I used magic for something more subtle than breaking faces, pride the whiskey hadn’t entirely drowned.
“Well, color me impressed,” Marie said, smiling from behind sweat-streaked blonde hair. “How’d you do it?”
“Allow me a a few secrets of the trade, won’t you?” I said, looking away before her smile dug any deeper.
The locked door provided an excellent change of subject. I brushed splinters out of my shirt and led us up out onto the street. Whoever had left us tied up and disarmed was nowhere to be seen; best guess was they’d be back later to finish the job, but I planned on being long gone by then.
It was raining outside, water turning the reflections of streetlights in shop windows into incomprehensible scrawls. The water sluiced the blood from my face and replaced it with recollection.
It had been raining when Marie came to my office. She hid her curves under a shapeless overcoat, but nothing could hide her smile. It lit the room like a spotlight, showing up all the grime.
Her voice cracked when she told me about her brother. It was an old story, one I’d heard too many times before and rarely with a happy ending. Wide-eyed country boys and the big city never did go well together, and Marie’s pursuit of him was as doomed as she was naive. I was all set to turn her out, let her add her sorry tale to the missing persons lists, but the words stuck in my throat.
Her smile when I agreed to take the job was worth a thousand times the handful of dollars she could afford to offer.
We’d been trawling her brother’s known haunts when we got rolled, so I figured I may as well finish the job and see what else I could stir up. She gave me one last name, Martens Imports, before I bundled her into a cab and sent her back to her hotel.
I made my way to the meatpacking district and tried not to think too hard about what I was heading into. Eddie Martens was tied up with the College, a dark side of the wizard’s union that everybody knew but nobody dared mention. I’d tried, once, when I was young and foolish. Spent every day since then paying for it.
The place was closed, quiet as a grave and thick with hexes. Sore and out of practice, it took me an age to sidle through them. I headed for the office; it seemed the best place to start looking when I didn’t know what I expected to find. I was halfway through the third drawer of the desk in a fancy wood-panelled office when it found me instead.
Eddie smirked from the doorway, a looming brute of a man. He’d barely changed since the College days. Weathered a bit, perhaps, like a cliff-face.
“You’ve got guts, snooping around here, “ he said. “This is College business, Samson. You know what that means.” I backed away, but the wall was behind me and I had nowhere to go.
I saw the glint of bronze around Martens’ knuckles, felt the surge of magic in the air and remembered his sphere. His smile broadened as I reached helplessly for the space where my revolver should’ve been.
“Hardly seems fair,” he said, as if he cared much for fair. He gestured to his hair, cropped to stubble. “What’s your magic gonna do to me, Samson, make me itch?”
He laughed uproariously, then snapped a right-hook at my head. I barely ducked in time, lashing bronze turning the panelling behind me into splinters.
I put my dukes up, turned the hairs on my arm into razors and did my best to duck and weave around him, but we both knew I was outclassed. He caught me once on the chin, slammed my head back against the wall and opened every wound I’d already taken that evening with a vengeance. I slide down the wall leaving blood behind me.
“Gonna do what the College should’ve done when they threw you out, boy,” he said, looming over me. “Guess they just didn’t have the balls.”
I glared up at him with as much defiance as I could muster and hunted through the fog in my head for a plan. As he raised a fist, the fog cleared just enough.
“Neither will you,” I said, spitting blood and magic. I felt the magic bite deep, twisted hard. Eddie collapsed with a whimper, hands clutching late, far too late, at his crotch.
I had Eddie disarmed and tied to the chair by the time he came around but he wouldn’t talk. Nothing but denials, claimed he’d never even heard of the boy. I was about to try one more time when a shot rang out and Eddie’s face blossomed red. I spun around to see Marie in the doorway, smoking revolver held steady as a rock.
She smiled, thin and cold. “Let me save you the trouble, Sam,” she said, all trace of her country drawl flown south for the winter. “He couldn’t tell you anything about my brother. I don’t have one.”
“A setup?” I stared, incredulous.
“Who else but a wizard could get through to Eddie?” She smiled again. “And what wizard but you would have so little left to lose to try? With him out of the way, ohhh, the doors you have opened for us Sam. If only you knew.”
“Why the basement?”
“You hid your past well. I had to be sure.”
“And now you’ve proved it, you’re trying to threaten me with just a pistol?” I sent my magic out again. It cost me dear - I’d lost a lot of blood already - but I pushed back the darkness and grabbed. My magic slipped off her like a hot coal on ice.
“Oh Sam, you really are so naive,” she said with a smile, shaking her head. The long, blonde wig fall to the floor as the darkness rose to claim me.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 16:39|
I'm backing out because I'm a waste of skin so I'm going to myself to actually finish next week.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 17:18|
Thinking Dogs for the Stupid
As soon as Seth crossed the threshold of the mansion, everything went dark.
He stopped and sniffed, straining his nose and his ears. The darkness stretched beyond the visual, contaminating the olfactory with streamers of baffling, heady nothingness. He sat down as calmly as he could and barked once. A moment later, a woman's voice snapped "Val!"
The darkness dissipated. He glanced around with interest, taking in the huge baroque hallway - that pile carpet at the foot of the staircase looked marvellously chewable - before focusing on the large lady bustling towards him.
"You must be Seth," said Evendra, a trifle uncertainly. "Val's--" she glanced up at the empty landing, "--hiding in his room now, I suppose." She wittered on, but Seth didn't bother processing it. He waited patiently until she stopped, then brushed past her and headed up the stairs.
The boy's room was obvious. Shadow curled around the doorframe like fog. Seth turned the handle and nudged open the door. He smelt the typical aromas of a human den infrequently cleaned - but muted, as if from a great distance.
"Stinking gently caress dog." The voice was hoarse from the darkness. "Go away, stinky. Don't want you."
After a moment's consideration, Seth lay down in the doorway, head thrust into the roil of inky shadow. His body appeared relaxed, but his ears were thrust forward like furry satellite dishes.
"Go away!" repeated the voice shrilly. He heard feet touch the floor, and the darkness lifted, just a little. So, the boy couldn't see through his own spells. Interesting.
The dim figure stomped over to him in a waft of stale urine, sweat and saliva. Seth held still as two clumsy hands grasped his muzzle and tried to force him out of the room. After a moment of passive resistance, he surged to his feet and gave the boy's face a calculated lick.
"It's such a load off my mind," exclaimed Evendra to her friend over tea and cake. "My powers," she gestured at the cake, which towered formidably and deliciously over her guest, "are no use at all in managing him. But who knew a dog could make such a difference?"
As always, the boy wrapped himself deep in shadow as they stepped out into sunlight. It was the one habit Seth hadn't been able to break him of, and he'd quickly stopped trying. The poor kid just hated the sun.
He guided Valthorn to the car, where the chauffeur awaited. With all the wizards in the world, you'd have thought someone would have mastered teleportation magic, but apparently instantaneous travel ran counter to the laws of the arcane as well as of physics. They were stuck with cars, even if they were magically enhanced for speed and safety.
It was time for Val to go to school.
The mother had tried to explain, but Seth didn't think the boy really comprehended what was ahead. Wizard school was a truly cutthroat place, particularly in the early years as a bunch of hormonal teenagers with poor impulse control struggled to master their newfound powers. Valthorn simply trusted Seth, and cheerfully followed his lead into any unfamiliar situation. It was an enormous responsibility, and Seth frequently wondered, despite his training, if he himself knew what the hell he was doing.
He leaned into the boy, and received a spot of drool and a scratch around the ears in return.
The chauffeur cursed and braked abruptly. Seth slipped off the seat, scrabbling frantically. During the seconds it took to recover, it seemed like the seven Furies of Althedor broke loose outside. He stared out of the window at a howling storm. The ground trembled as the road in front and behind crinkled, asphalt rearing up into jagged peaks.
Val grasped the scruff of Seth's neck, painfully tight, and the boy's panicked wail rose over the noise outside. Seth jammed his head reassuringly into the boy's chest. Miraculously, he calmed down enough to give Seth a chance to think.
The car was unharmed, but it was going nowhere now. They'd been targeted, and by a puissant wizard - or several of them. And they were obviously wanted alive. Why?
As abruptly as it had begun, the storm subsided. The chauffeur jumped out, cursing wildly, and ran off through the shower of stones, twigs and other debris released by the gale. Seth waited, ignoring Val's arms wrapped around him.
The wizard arrived balanced on a sheet of brass atop a miniature tornado. As he descended towards the car, he boomed in an unnaturally amplified voice: "Step forth! I, Gerontius, Archwizard of Air, command it!"
Valthorn cowered. Seth remained motionless as the Archwizard alighted from his transport and approached the car, with his arms folded into his sleeves.
As the man glared at them through the windscreen, Seth barked and nudged Valthorn's right hand with his nose. At once, the whole car and its surroundings were enveloped in choking darkness. The boy was well trained. Seth located the door handle from memory, worked it with a paw, and dragged Valthorn out of the car.
"Halt!" bellowed Gerontius, but the word rang muffled through the enclosing shadow.
"No!" shouted Valthorn. "Leave me al--" Seth nipped his leg and he shut up immediately, but too late. A dreadful wind whipped up in an instant, and Seth was blown into Valthorn. The two of them tumbled to the ground together.
"The dog is mine! Render him unto me and I shall spare your life, Wizard of Shadows!"
Seth staggered to his feet, braced against the wind, and barked twice. After a moment's hesitation, Valthorn, trusting, relinquished his spell. The sudden sunlight left Seth squinting at the Archwizard. He gave Valthorn the command to stay, and approached as calmly as he could.
Valthorn whimpered as the Archwizard grabbed Seth's scruff and led him to the sheet of brass.
Sorry, kid. This way you stay alive. I'm just doing my job, here.
As the transport lifted away from the wreckage, the boy's whimpers turned into full-blown sobs. But he stayed where he was, like he'd been told. Like a good boy.
There was a waiting list for thinking dogs. The number of wizards born stupid was increasing; nobody knew why, but the danger they posed was well established. Caring for a stupid wizard could break a family, and it was no surprise that people used any means at their disposal to try and jump the queue.
Gerontius' daughter, Gemma, was a tantruming banshee. Her voice could shatter eardrums if she chose to speak loudly, and when she lost her temper, glass exploded and stone crumbled within a mile radius. The Archwizard's "tower" lay on a small island, a sad construction of wood, canvas and rubber blanketed by a spell of quieting.
Even with the spell in place, everyone wore earplugs, so nobody spoke. The servants were bad-tempered and the Archwizard visited rarely. Gemma was a dull stone and, although he did his best for her, Seth's heart wasn't really in the training. He wondered continually why the charity hadn't come for him yet. He missed the grinning, eager-to-please Valthorn.
Gemma was in the midst of yet another tantrum when Seth caught the whiff of something familiar. Drool and urine and teenage boy. He lifted his head, trying to catch the scent again. Was that something moving, over in the corner? A tendril of deeper shadow, twisting through the splits in the wood?
The girl had caught it too, and her screams dropped away to a gasp of fright. The shadow deepened until no light penetrated - and then Val stepped through, grinning from ear to ear.
"Found you, Sethy. You come home now?"
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 17:27|
Lethal Ingestion (1269 words)
When the doctor returned to my examination room, I didn't need to wait for him to deliver the terrible news; his clenched grin and quivering grasp said it all. Ten years of Federal service hunting down wizards, atomized by a five-minute blood test. I'd become one of them, and the Platte Amendment forced him to inform the Bureau the moment we finished speaking. By law, I had twelve hours to live.
I terror-puked, a grade-A barfficane, blasting nachos and cheez on his nice white coat. He waited, trembling quietly. When I was done, I licked my lips.
And I swallowed.
Most wizards lose control the first time they awaken to the Truth. We test all at-risk citizens, but some still slip through. The Amendment passed because a fifty-year-old librarian named Mort walked into a Red Lobster in South Central. He ordered shrimp. The Platte Commission's official report claims a power cut had killed the freezer. Good old salmonella.
For a brief, glorious moment, Mort had comprehended every life that restaurant had touched, had his fingers entwined with the gears of reality. They say the crater will be radioactive for a few hundred years.
Even with a decade of training, the Truth hit me like sunlight after staggering out of a dark bar at seven in the morning. Spume slid down my throat, and I knew the doctor's life, from the day he squirted out of a syphilitic flesh-cavern on a free clinic's delivery table to the night he'd drink a bottle of whisky and put a Magnum to his temple as his wife drives away forever.
Except that won't happen. His future-history resonated like a guitar string in my fingers. I twitched and his heart imploded.
I'd spent a decade protecting people like him from people like me.
I grabbed the paperwork, hurried to the lobby, paid. The nurse stared over my shoulder as the credit-card machine ran, watching Senator Platte on television.
"Why should I be President? Because I believe in an America where everyone deserves an equal shot. But wizards threaten that American dream, my friends, and I believe the American dream must survive…"
Most folks who awoke turned themselves in. I handled the renegades, the guys who hid their power, studied it, were corrupted by it. Those were the wizards the politicians bayed about. It had all made sense when I joined the Bureau: we were truth and justice personified, chasing down an existential threat to the People.
Outside, I dove into my squad car. My partner Maks sat behind the wheel, ranch dressing on his face, a take-out salad in his lap. He'd always been a bit of a health nut. As I buckled in, he slammed the gas and tossed a bag in my lap: my dinner. The fetid lump of greasy starch had been a Big Mac, once.
Maks smiled at me. "All good, buddy?"
I nodded and crumpled the incriminating papers into the bag, shoved it under my seat. If I took a single bite, I'd stink of power. We'd always had uncanny noses for wizard blood, sniffing out guys no one else could find. I'd thought it was skill. I should've known better.
Maks raised an eyebrow. "Not hungry? It's gonna be a long night. Special assignment came in from Treasury, terrorist threat on a candidate." He flashed me a grin. "We're running security for Platte."
An hour ago, I would've been thrilled; the Amendment let us do our jobs right. Now I, freshly awoken, had to survive a night with two of the most vehemently anti-wizard men in America.
The Senator had the top floor of a fancy hotel. We waved our Wizard Unit badges at his conventional detail. They frowned, but waved us into a cavernous, velvet-drenched room with too much mahogany furniture. A whole roast pig, untouched, lay on a platter.
The moment I laid eyes on the Senator, I felt something wrong. He was a small man, silver-haired, wearing a custom-cut suit with a Stars-and-Stripes tie. His eyes crinkled paternally as he crossed the room to shake our hands. The air around him felt electric, charged with a million volts of personality. "Pleasure to meet you, son. You're doing America a great service." He nodded to Maks, and my partner pistol-whipped me.
They dragged my stunned rear end to a chair, handcuffed me to it, slapped duct tape over my mouth. Maks left and Platte picked up a champagne flute, stuck it on his dick and pissed, then saluted me and drank. His pupils shrank to pinpricks, and, on the table, the roast pig elongated, sprouted silver hair and a suit: a perfect doppelgänger of the Senator.
Maks returned with the burger bag and pulled out my wadded-up test results. "He's positive, sir."
"Make sure the press finds out. Did you bring the pill?"
My partner pocketed the documents, dropped his pants, plunged his fingers up his rear end and yanked out a waxen plug. A rotten shrimp, green, gooey and sheathed in poo poo-caked gelatin. Maks wrinkled his nose. "This seems excessive."
"We have to ensure he vaporizes the whole district. Will the coating last? Airport's an hour away, and I don't want to be near when he blows."
"It'll hold." Maks tore the duct tape from my face. "Unless he bites down."
I wanted to scream, but I clenched my jaw shut. I wasn't going to be their bomb. Maks stuck a finger up his nose, then into his mouth. His eyes narrowed.
My teeth dissolved into paste and seeped down my throat. I gasped and coughed, and Maks caught my chin, leaned forward to push the pill through my lips.
I planted my feet, thrust my forehead into his nose. Bone crunched, Maks screamed and fell, clutching his face. Platte dove for me, and I swung around, bashed him to the floor with the chair. My boot on his manicured face, stomping it into a swamp of blood and pus. Adrenaline screamed in my veins like a Hell's Angels chorus.
Maks shoved my away from the body, stuck his pistol to my forehead, his shattered nose dripping blood in my hair.
I glanced at Platte. "Your man's dead."
Maks pointed at the two bodies, fake and real. "He's supposed to die. Think of the headlines: 'Wizard terrorist assassinates Senator, blows up DC.' They'll pass something that makes the Amendment look like a parking citation."
"We were doing fine, Maks."
"The hell we were! I can feel more of them out there every day. Imagine if anyone could kill with a thought. Rush hour alone would be a bloodbath. We can't let people run around with their neighbors' lives in their hands."
"No. Only in your hands."
"We're an exception. We know how to control the corruption, and we're the only ones who can fight them and win."
We… How many of them were there? "When did you awaken?"
"Why do you think I founded the Wizard Unit?"
"You should've shot yourself."
"Says the guy who hid his test in a burger bag."
For a decade, I'd just been a pawn, putting down upstart wizards who could discover the truth. I hadn't been serving the public; I'd been serving the wizards. Maks turned away and rummaged beneath chairs and couches, humming to himself as he searched for the pill. I spotted it beneath a fold in the Senator's coat.
I toppled my chair over. Maks turned, dove. My lips closed around the shrimp. The casing broke.
I erased us.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 20:44|
Walter’s jaw moves slowly, too full of tongue, saliva, and of words familiar to every one of the few people left in the RSA. I silently mouth the ones he misses; each time they visit he loses a few more as the story comes less from memory than habit. I’m not sure they’ve noticed, but there’s only bits of my old mate left.
We’d talked about it, discussed what we’d want if we started to go, made our promises. The others in the home talk too, it’s natural, but it’s never been seen through. By the time you realise, you’re too far gone to beg, and no-one, not even an old soldier like me, dares make that decision for someone else.
He fumbles with his medal, gets it off his breast on the third try, and hands it down to Wally, his great-grandson and namesake. The kid clenches his fist around it to keep it safe while he watches Walter’s lips, trying to piece together what he can. He hangs on every word, but Walter’s never told the story right. He never knew what happened in the first place.
More than anything I remember his eyes, wild and unseeing from fear, red from the harsh mediterranean light reflecting off the beach. Crete was ringed with them - beautiful, wide beaches - and we defended them as if they were Takapuna at Christmas. The Stormtroopers were good, better than us, and far better than the Greeks armed with their Grandpa’s rifles. When both the tanks broke down we thought we were for it. Maybe his mind has never been never quite right, but whatever the reason Walter left himself.
He had this penny whistle that came to New Zealand on one of the early ships. His Grandma taught him to play, and it still had as good a tone as you could expect out of a whistle. He had the wherewithal to hand it to me before he charged, and it hummed in my hands like a wireless set. I know a thing can’t have a soul, but pieces of a person can rub off and stay with us long after death. Brass lasts longer than bone and meat.
It took a couple of seconds for the shooting to start. The brim of my tin hat scraped along chalky drystone as I raised my head over the wall to look. The bullets were thick in the air like a cloud of sand flies, and I thought why not? Why couldn’t they be? And so I tightened my fist around the watch and I felt it hum and I felt the colonist that took it across the sea and I felt Wal’s grandma who taught him to play and I felt his girl back home and their unborn child and I took all that memory and did a spell. Bullets slowed and hung there, before flitting away on tiny wings.
He shot the Germans, all six of them, one after the other. Between rounds, as Walter worked the bolt of his rifle, they stood on flat feet and shook their ugly little Berettas. They could have just taken a few steps and slapped him. I gave the whistle back to him, but it no longer hummed. The next day he swapped it for a couple of packs of harsh Greek cigarettes.
That decision was simple. A whistle’s not much good to a corpse, no matter the soul and memory tied up in it. War makes choices easy, makes them black and white. Now in peacetime half my money’s tied up in European bonds, and it’s Germany that saves me from the Greeks’ threats of ruin.
After his family leaves, Walter reaches for the jug in front of him. It’s nearly full, but he lifts it easily, without a tremor. Between my mind and his body there’s one bloody good soldier left in us. He pours his beer just right, trickling it down the inside of the fluted half-pint glass so that just the thinnest lacework of foam floats on top of the amber liquid. It reaches the top,then overflows onto the table. He’s staring at the door with blank eyes and open mouth, feeling his teeth with his tongue. By the time I wheel myself over he’s poured half the jug, and his trousers are sopping.
I wrap my hand around his, as firmly as my brittle tendons allow, and help put the jug down. He’s still moving his tongue in his mouth, and spit pools at the corners of his lips, threatening to overflow like the jug. I put my other hand on his chest and feel his heart beat hard and fast. It feels like panic, like war.
I feel the medal too, the edges still warm from the child’s touch. It hums just like the whistle in Crete, and can I feel so much of Walter in it, and his family, and the Germans he killed, and our friends that died in Malta. He stares past me, like I’m an acquaintance best avoided. I can see the dark patches in his mind, the ones that don’t work, and I think of the promises we’ve made. Then I remember our shiny military boots, and think that a bit of a polish might be enough, might be worth the price. I do a spell, and bring up the dark bits nice and shiny with a thumb slick from saliva.
Life returns to his eyes with a start, and he’s back with me, for now. As we leave for our taxi I hear the clink of the medal falling on pavement.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 20:48|
Kile opened the study’s door and was immediately bowled straight backwards. The incessant knocker resembled a working oil well, red and mad, with clenching and unclenching fists rippling severe currents through his shirtsleeves.
“YA GOTTA CLOSE EM UP,” the man bellowed, kicking the door shut and towering over the recovering Kile. “YOU GOTTA CLOSE EM UP RIGHT NOW.”
Kile regained his feet and adjusted his quilted hat. “I-” he began.
“Do you see this?” The interloper had stuck his arms flat out to both sides, filling the space of the entire doorway. Kile fought back a shiver, but then, attracted by a novel sight, all at once sat up and stilled.
“Oh poo poo,” he said.
The man’s underarms were soaked through, and azure-slick with sweat.
“FIX IT.” The intruder turned and marched out of the still-closed door, producing an arpeggio of falling shards which accompanied the rattle of Kile’s suddenly staccato heartbeat.
“It’s a counterspell,” Kile said into his cellular phone. His fingers traveled down the scrawl of one of many open books that littered the floor. “So who’d want to do that?”
“YOU’RE THE WIZARD,” boomed the reply.
Kile narrowed his eyebrows. “And you’re still sweating,” he said, looking up from the manuscript to adjust the phone. “One explanation for that: counterspell. So again: who wants to do it?”
“YOUR PROBLEM.” The line clicked dead.
Kile dropped the phone from his shoulder and redoubled over the open tome. The client was right, though for the wrong reason.Who the gently caress would counterspell me? The power over holes - gaps, passages, spaces - that was his ken had settled into a very profitable cottage industry in the city. As long as executives kept physical bodies, the temporary elimination of those bodies’ sweat glands was a service for which the wizard had grown a select clientele. Such fuckery was in no danger of angering the Balance, kept components cheap, and Kile’s accounts out of audit territory. Kile worked his craft, enjoyed his rent-controlled abode, drank a bottle of white wine every night after 9 PM, and that was life.
But now some rear end in a top hat was on the scene to screw that all up.
Kile jammed his knuckles into his eyeballs. Not starting poo poo was key to preserving the Balance. Obviously, I am the adult in this situation. But there was nothing to do about it, the Codex was clear: one must retreat from challenge, see it withdrawn, or escalate. Escalation meant wizwar, the revisitation of Walpurgisnacht, and the eventual undoing of the Balance, so that was clearly option number two. Retreat meant forfeiture of ken to one’s adversary, which wouldn’t do either.
Unless that was someone’s goal to begin with.
Kile flipped open another book. Numbers scattered in unhelpful piles, as if they had fallen out of their own pages and now drifted here unglued. Putting his goal firmly in his mind, Kile focused his efforts on the space between the letters, and when the particular number eventually formed, made his second phone call of the evening.
“Hello, my dear,” a female voice answered.
“Hello angel,” Kile said.
His destination was not, as he had been tempted to expect, anywhere extraordinary. One Line transfer and thirty minutes and he was there: a gentrifying nearby suburb. Touching his first two fingers to the gutter in front of a mostly-empty bar facade, Kile shoved momentarily at space using the delicacy of his ken. A moment later he was dusting off porcelain where his exit had shattered the interior bathroom sink, and stepping gingerly away from the spray of the exploded the bathroom faucet.
“What the gently caress,” came from beyond the bathroom door.
Kile pushed inside. The apartment was small but expensively furnished. The big bay-style windows looking out onto the city skyline didn’t even bother with drapes, and the floor plan was mostly open. As Kile walked in further he noted the small kitchen, tucked away in a corner but dirty with frequent use. The smell of hard boiled eggs was faint, but unmistakable. Hrm.
His quarry leapt up from a couch in the center of the room. A guy not much younger than Kile glared, then grinned at him from beneath an ornately-festooned baseball cap. Kile adjusted his own headgear - a bucket of a thing with gaudy tackle and plastic baubles hanging in a rainbow of variation - before he spoke.
“I’ll be quick,” Kile promised. “I weirded him first, that makes him my ward. So, remove whatever you’ve got running on my client and we’ll be square.”
The other man’s stare ran up and down Kile’s dusty outline.
“No,” he said.
“Work is work.” The resident shuffled and set his feet, standing fully straight. “I win ken from you, so much the better.”
Kile frowned. “You really don’t want that trouble,” he said. “Look, I’ll even back that you were ignorant of my claim. Just remove the counterspell.”
The man laughed and touched the bill of his cap with an index finger. “Yeah, I just happened upon a made-to-order counterspell. Believable.”
“Save it for the Statistiquary,” the man replied. He touched a second finger to his cap, and at once, every part of Kile was aflame.
Kile shook a jingle from his own headpiece and the fire immediately vanished; the wizard felt no pain, but the after-scent of the flames lingered. He shifted to one side, feeling the pronounced lightness in the bag of volcanic salt he stowed in his trouser pocket.
“Are you looking to wizwar?” Kile asked. “If you think that -- would you stop.” Another expenditure of salts, another dousing, this time of a blanching hex trying to convince Kile’s blood to reject his skin as a foreign entity. “Just for one minute? This is completely unnecessary.”
Kile’s opponent huffed. “Just die so I can get paid,” he grumbled, and flipped his cap entirely around, smearing each inscription there simultaneously into a single runny runescape.
Kile only abstractly recognized the impending assault on his person. Unlike the kid stuff of fireballs, the very atoms composing Kile’s being jerked, tensing to the tearing point for a single spasmodic moment. An erasure hex, straightforward and perfectly overwhelming.
But it took time, whereas Kile’s magic did not. With his final impulse of conscious thought before being blasted out of existence he emptied every salt shaker, can and paper packet within a half-mile radius. And at the moment where no observer could have known if he was alive or dead, flesh or breath, Kile outlined his attacker, encouraged away all the space between his atoms, and informed them of a new directive: huddle up.
Time ticked, and the duress slowly dissipated. When Kile’s vision quit swimming, he was alone.
“I’m going to be fined out of my loving fillings for this,” he told the empty apartment.
“Wow, straight for the murder spell?”
“Basically. The sulfur was the clincher. Limited application, but absurd on delivery -- not sure that I could have won that in the street, without preparation.”
“Never fight in another wizard’s kitchen.”
“Having three centuries on the other guy means you can buck wisdom. Just a bit.”
“drat economy.” Kile moved the phone away from his mouth as he took a gulp from his wineglass. He swished thoughtfully before swallowing.”Nihil sub sole novum,” he said.
The other side of the line coughed. “But the client is happy.”
“I don’t know if orcs get happy, angel. But at least he’ll pay.”
“Which means, so will you. Goodnight -- give me another ring when you need me.”
Kile waited a beat before lowering the phone. He closed his eyes, and ardently attempted to disappear into that one gap in the world over which he had no control whatsoever.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 21:38|
Helka tightened furs as a wintry mix blew through the narrow fissure she had descended into. Overhead, the night sky shone brilliantly through the veil of an aurora that shifted across several hues of teal, leaving mauve tinted tracers in the afterglow. The lights reflected off of the ice covered crags that towered above the fissure, illuminating Helka’s path.
Eventually, she reached an impasse where jagged rock formations sprung from the fissure. Helka ran her hand over one of the fragments and sighed before turning her gaze above for guidance.
“I’ve done what you’ve asked of me father… I’ve held to the tenets of the Elders and have never once questioned my faith, but I am nearly at my end. I-” she paused, startled as she felt a tug at one of the pouches on her hip.
She opened the pouch removed an opaque gem shard bundled in a papyrus note. The gem was warm in her hands, even through her thick gloves, but not like the warmth of a flame. It pulsed in her hand with a joyous warmth. A warmth that felt welcoming and familiar.
The note was blank but as she examined it in the light of the stone, words began to fill the parchment.
'Helka, the hour of our reunion draws near. Let your faith be unwavering my dear child. In your times of doubt, recite the prayers of the Allfather. and you'll never be far from the truth. With love, now and forever, your Father.'
The words faded from the page as quickly as they had appeared, and she tucked the note back into her pouch.
Holding the gemstone in one outreached hand, she took her father’s advice and began a recitation.
“Master of Runes. Through your gift I glimpse the web of Wyrd. So to do I seek the knowledge your staves reveal”
The crystal moved freely from her hand and spun in front of the shards emitting an all-encompassing light that filled the fissure.
As the light faded, a raised portcullis that provided passage to lush, colorful fields under a twilight sky appeared.
She stepped through the gate onto a passage that winded across the fields towards a crystal spire.
As she did, the portcullis behind her closed before vanishing altogether, but Helka felt no fear. A cool, sweet-scented wind blew across her relieving her of the anxieties that had plagued her mind not long before.
She hurried towards the spire with each step feeling lighter than the last, until finally she reached the bottom of the crystal spire. Her journey nearing its end.
Up close, it appeared as if it could lance open the sky and the air around it vibrated with strange energies that altered Helka’s senses. She could feel her father’s presence, among the presence of many, yet no one appeared before her.
Pushing open a pair of pointed doors that gave entrance to the spire, she stepped inside to an empty hall that went up hundreds of feet to a domed ceiling.
Her gem clasped in her hand she recited another prayer. “Wise one. You teach me the greater worth of the path freely chosen. I welcome you now into my heart, unfettered by reservation.”
The spire lit up as her words echoed throughout its chambers and a spiralling staircase emerged from the walls.
Helka was surprised, but she started her way up the long staircase, stopping when she needed rest. Each time she did so, light would spread across the spire shining where she stopped to reveal more of itself to her. Chairs and tables adorned with dusty tomes and alchemical equipment sat hidden from plain sight, but in her presence there they were.
When she sat to rest windows appeared along the rounded contours of the spire interior, but as she stood they vanished.
Holding up her shard as she had before, the windows reappeared, but when she looked out from one a hellscape awaited her.
She gasped at terrifying hellbeasts ambling about charred fields. Stepping away from the window, she approached another. Warily she lifted up her crystal and peered out to see an inexplicable plane of shapes and colors, where primal essences drifted, blinking from one location to the next shifting to permutation of their previous form.
Astonished, she continued to search the windows,, her sight exposed to a different form of reality each time.
“What is this place?” she asked aloud hoping to hear a response, but none came.
Rested, she continued her way up the spire, desperate for contact with her father or the presences she felt. Her questions grew with each floor she ascended, and wheedling fingers of doubt began to work their way into her mind.
Eventually she reached the top. A circular chamber with an ornate domed ceiling carved in such a way to mimic the night sky. At the rear of the room was a throne, but no sign of her father.
Despairing, she approached the throne and sat when a cadre of ethereal men and women positioned around the room appeared before her.
Centered in front was a wizened wizard with a long wiry beard. Several runes etched into his skin. Her father.
“My sweet child, I am sorry for my distance, your trials in coming here, the confusion. I did not mean to abandon you, but my time as Ingvar, your father has long since come to its end.”
Helka stands from the throne to reach for her father, but her hand moves through his form.
“Helka, you come from a long line of wizards. Wizards whose duty it is, and has been, to oversee the many layers of existence. To ensure peace between the thinly veiled worlds that coexist inside of the same shared space.”
“-But I do not understand. Why is it that you’ve called me here, I hold no magic.”
“You command the very essence, my dear child. You can see what others cannot, you can conceal what is and reveal what could be.”
The ethereal forms began chanting in tongues Helka was unfamiliar with and the top of the spire fades away revealing the cosmos.
“Look child, this is why I’ve called you here.” Ingvar said turning his head upwards.
Travelling through space was a being of pure energy. An unbridled rage was felt just by gazing upon it, and the deepest sense of dread filled Helka’s heart.
“That is the harbinger, that which will bring about the end. For hundreds of years, we’ve searched for answers as to why such a being would exist, but all we’ve been able to do is watch as it destroys worlds, conquering life across the many planes. We do what we can to hide our collective worlds from its sight and in an attempt to buy ourselves more time, me and those you see around you sacrificed our bodies in a ritual to bind our worlds, to hide them in a fold of space where the Harbinger would not find us, but we can remain hidden only so long.”
“It is tragic that this has become your burden, but the web of Wyrd demands it, and you shall never be alone.”
The ceiling closes up once more and a bridgeway appears connecting the upper most level of the spire with many others.
“Others like you, whose tapestries have long since been sewn into the web of Wyrd, will work with you to continue our efforts, and I will stay by your side as long as the magic we’ve enacted enables me to do so, but all that stretches out before you now belongs to you. These tools, this research, this land… may it all benefit you as it benefited me, and remember I will always love you. Your journey has only just begun.”
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 22:20|
New Year, new thread!
Killer-of-Lawyers fucked around with this message at 17:50 on Jan 4, 2016
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 22:24|
Corruption and Power *Less than whatever the word count was* words
The wizard smiled, and Tom saw his wife clearly for the first time in five years. He tasted tear drops and clutched her hand.
Roger Toinby leant closer to the television and squinted to see the football players running through the fog. He swore at his wife and grabbed another beer to make the headache subside.
The wizard smiled, and Mrs Walsh felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her.
“Oh doctor, just seeing you smile already makes me feel better about the future.”
Roger Toinby’s grip on the saw suddenly loosened, and he swore loudly as it sliced into his thumb. Blood splashed across the fresh pine wood.
The wizard smiled, and Jill’s sleeping frown smoothed into a gentle sigh. The machines around her clicked off automatically as her chest rose and fell under her own strength.
Roger Toinby gasped for breath and the roller dropped from his hand. He toppled off the duck egg blue paint splattered chair and hacked up foul bile onto the dust sheets.
The wizard smiled and Roger Toinby’s skin began to peel. The wizard smiled and Roger Toinby’s hands swelled up. The wizard smiled and a giant goitre appeared on Roger Toinby’s neck.
Roger’s knee twisted and he fell down the stairs. Roger twitched and dropped his painkillers. Roger twitched and dropped his son.
The wizard smiled.
The media arrived and the wizard appeared on television to explain that there was no such thing as magic, that modern science was to be thanked for the recovery of so many seemingly terminal patients.
Roger’s cuts stopped scabbing over. Roger’s hair fell out. Roger’s teeth fell out.
Roger Toinby lay in the hospital bed, peering at the television, struggling for breath. The bald head was whiter than the pillow it rested on, the huge goitre crooked his neck. Sores wept across his body and his skin flaked and stuck to the sheets. His joints were swollen, his finger and toe nails were long gone. His eyes were red, his throat raw, his testes painfully swollen. He smelt of hospital steriliser and poo poo.
The wizard stood at the foot of his bed.
“Good morning neighbour! I see you are a little under the weather.”
Roger struggled a nod.
The wizard smiled, and Roger felt a stabbing pain in his back.
“Lumbar puncture,” said the wizard, with a wink.
The wizard walked to the head of the bed. Lips next to Roger’s ear, the wizard whispered.
“I told you that if you let your drat dog poo poo on my lawn again…”
The wizard straightened. And smiled.
Roger braced himself for the pain. He made peace with himself and the world. He made peace with any god that would care to listen. Every muscle, sinew and tendon tensed in horrible anticipation. Then relaxed, as they hadn’t in weeks. He felt strengthened, renewed, able to breath. His follicles fizzed and his gums itched with promise.
A scream from down the hall brought Roger’s wondering inventory of his own body to a halt and he looked at the wizard, who shrugged.
“What do you expect? He cut me off on the freeway this morning.”
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 23:14|
You create one unholy aberration and it just keeps coming back to haunt you.
Out in the deadlands, no-one ever came to visit. Marrow tended to her bone garden, with its figures and animals and shapes in all forms and sizes, when she noticed the two moving dots on the horizon. She ran her fingers over the statues of two dancing lovers, murmuring soft chants to finish the delicate engravings in the bone. Then she went inside and waited.
About one cup of tea later someone knocked on the door. Marrow opened it to the sight of a face she’d hoped to never see again: haggard and sharp-edged and frowning disapprovingly. Bags, the meat-wizard, more governante than woman. A rigid bag of bones.
“We think we found Golgoth,” Bags said. This was not going to be pleasant. Marrow invited her in anyway. She did not apologize for the mess.
Sanguinus caught the closing door and followed Bags inside, the bug-eyed freak. He took a look around the room, not seeming impressed. He studied one of Marrow’s tiny sculptures, picked up a bone-bell without asking, rung it, chortled, put it back down and went off to brood in a dark corner where he looked out the window, stroking his pretentious Fu Manchu moustache.
“You’ve got it nice here,” Bags said.
Marrow noticed she’d frozen when Sanguinus had stepped in. She closed the door. “Golgoth?” she said.
“Ah, yes.” Bags paused for a second, picking her words. “They have found him in Elson’s County. Apparently. Some ‘freakish brute’ raided farms in the area.”
“Well if they called him a ‘freakish brute’ they’re probably the kind of people who started it.”
Bags raised her bony chin, like a rapier raised to a challenge. “I know how you feel about this. He’s dangerous. We agreed to stop him.”
“I know,” Marrow said, “but still… we made him. It was our responsibility to take care of him. It still is.”
In his corner, Sanguinus folded his hands behind his back, turned to face them and said, “Precisely. We shouldn’t have created it in the first place. If the others find out… besides,” he stroked his beard with a dirty smile, “I want to see what happens when it dies.”
“Look, let’s just go and see what we can do,” Bags said. “Maybe it isn’t even Golgoth. But if it is...” She left the sentence unfinished.
The three of them on a giant hunt. Like the beginning to a bad joke.
“I’m coming,” Marrow said.
She hadn’t yet decided whose side she was on.
They’d toured the villages of Elson’s County, fields ripe with golden wheat and the profanities of conversing farmhands. Marrow had lost count of how many new swear words she’d learned. Eventually, through a string of hogwash and hearsay and peasants trying to impress them with their tall tales, they’d gotten a solid lead to a forest near the inconsequential village of Oldale, where a giant had stolen a farmer’s sheep and killed another in such a way that Marrow had felt the fist-shaped dents in the dead animal’s bones before even touching them.
They combed through the forest separately. As twilight broke, Marrow wasn’t so sure about that approach anymore. Even with her magic the woods were not a place to be alone in the dark.
The resonance of a slaughtered sheep’s remains reached out to her - like dirt in the air, foul echoes of a violent death that swelled with each step she took in the right direction. It led her to an indiscriminate spot in the woods where the remains of a sheep rotted happily away.
A snarl turned her around.
The wolf was about half as tall as her, and many times as fast. It was already halfway on her by the time she’d reached out for his skull and thrown it to the left, dragging the rest of its body behind. The wolf slammed into a tree and didn’t move.
Marrow turned back to the sheep’s carcass. The second wolf caught her by surprise. Too fast, the weight of the grown predator plucked her off the ground and pinned her down. Drool dropped into her face. Her arms were locked. She focused on the wolf’s sharp teeth, murmured soft chants. The snout edged closer. It dug through Marrow’s resistance, snapped at her. Closer, ever closer.
There was a heavy grunt, and the wolf disappeared in the air.
Golgoth picked Marrow up effortlessly and put her back on her feet. He was just as they’d left him - a patchwork hulk, flesh of many beasts, dead bones, artificial blood pumping through his makeshift heart. He snorted, smiled like a simple fellow, and didn’t know what to do. He patted her on the head. “Marrow,” he said. It sounded like a question.
“What are you doing, Golgoth…” She got on her toes to stroke his cheek and Golgoth closed his eyes. He was still such a child.
“Here!” Bags called.
“Wait!” Marrow said. She’d put herself between Bags and Golgoth before she’d noticed. “Wait for gently caress’s sake. He saved my life. Just wait.”
The meat-wizard raised her hands to her chest, ready to cast. “We can’t let him disappear again.”
“Look at him. He’s practically a toddler. We ought to take care of him.”
“I don’t… we can’t risk it,” Bags said.
“He saved me. See, he’s peaceful. He just doesn’t understand.”
There was silence for many long moments. Finally, Bags steepled out her robes and studied the giant. Cocked her head. She began to say something when there was a sharp movement.
Golgoth screamed. The veins on his neck crawled, blood spouting from his nose. Off in the distance, Sanguinus pulled at the air, chanting his vile incantations.
“Wait!” Marrow yelled.
Golgoth sprinted at the blood-wizard with a howl. His fist went at Sanguinus, who imploded into a pool of blood and reshaped himself a stone’s throw away. Behind them, Bags cursed and then started to chant her own incantations. They’d made their decision.
Golgoth went for Bags next. He leaped, took one more big step and buried his fist into the meat-wizard. Bags took the hit, probably on hardened flesh, but the brunt of the punch propelled her into a nearby tree. The sound of broken bones. Bags kept chanting through clenched teeth, all fight. Golgoth jittered and convulsed and cried. Sanguinus laughed. Marrow just said, “Wait,” again and nobody listened.
One step further and Golgoth towered over Bags, his fist raised for the knockout punch. Marrow flicked her wrists in perpendicular motions, and he stopped moving.
When Golgoth fell, Bags looked at Marrow and Marrow looked at Golgoth and Sanguinus looked at Golgoth as well, but out of curiosity, and Golgoth looked at nothing in particular because he was dead. His body lumbered to the ground, eyes pointed at the night sky.
“Well, that’s that done,” Sanguinus said.
“I should break every bone in your body, you verminous, little--”
“Dearest Marrow, we could both cause each other serious bodily harm, no?”
Marrow stopped herself from replying. She turned to Bags.
“You okay?” Marrow said.
“I think so.”
“Good. I never want to see either of you again.”
Back in Marrow’s bone garden, there was a new statue: a giant figure, a hulking mass with fists the size of its kindly smiling face. It didn’t do anything in particular - it didn’t wrestle wolves, or pat some naive woman’s head, or smash a bug-eyed freak’s head in. It just looked up at the stars, and smiled.
When Marrow was done, she sat down in the dirt next to Golgoth and looked up into the sky alongside him.
“I’m sorry I failed you,” she said. “But then, excuses are like the stars.”
He didn’t reply.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 23:33|
You can read the signs in seemingly mundane events. For you, small superstitions reveal large truths. Your magics draw on the everyday world, to great effect.
When Alice Miller Fought City Hall
(In the archive.)
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:13 on Dec 28, 2015
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 23:33|
You speak to the trees! And you can shape their wood with the power that flows through your fingers. Keep in mind though, the trees can speak back to you, and they aren't always happy.
The Hum of the Woods. Google Docs. Wordcount: 1,265
Thyrork fucked around with this message at 20:45 on Jan 2, 2016
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 23:35|
A Day in the Forest
Landon was a wizard. The only one he knew of. He relished that fact - it made him feel important. He was, however, also the only human he knew. He still knew that his wizarding nature was special. Despite a lack of human companions, Landon was not lacking in friends. He had the animals of the forest to keep him company. They couldn’t speak to him in words, but in his heart Landon felt that they and he were linked. They were all friends. Landon’s best friend was Rabbit. Rabbit lived with Landon in his cabin, and was always with him. When Landon spoke to Rabbit, Landon felt like he knew what the animal would say back.
One day in spring, when looking for newly-bloomed flowers, they came across something that Landon had never seen in the forest before: a small pristine silver locket, free of engravings or other decoration.
“How did this get here?” Landon asked. “We’ve been here before and we didn’t see it then, did we?”
Rabbit shook his head.
“And it’s completely shiny and clean! Somebody must have left it here recently.”
Rabbit nodded in approval. Then, his eyes looked to the ground towards the locket, suggesting that Landon should pick it up and open it. Landon agreed with this suggestion, and held his hand out in the direction of the locket. It slowly lifted from the ground and moved towards his outstretched fingers, swaying softly like a feather falling in the wrong direction.
Opening the locket revealed a small piece of paper, folded in order to fit inside the locket. Landon, despite having never learned to read, was able to understand what it said.
“Hello. I know of your magical arts, wizard. I will meet you in your home, and you shall face justice.”
Landon looked at Rabbit, failing to hide his worried expression from his friend. “We must go back home now,” Landon said.
From the outside, it was clear that Landon and Rabbit’s cabin had been ransacked. The door was kicked off of its hinges, the windows were smashed and the gentle roar of the fireplace could no longer be heard when close to the entrance. Landon knew that whoever it was that did this was strong and mad. Not someone he could talk to. Not like the animals. Not like Rabbit. So he decided to conjure up fire. He wasn’t worried about damaging the cabin any further - he could fix it in less than a week with his magic - but he wanted to scare his unknown attacker.
The plan worked, and Landon heard terrified yelling from the furthest corner of the house. The yelling grew louder as the attacker ran towards Landon and out of the house, his cloak burning bright with flame. He stopped as soon as he saw Landon. Luckily for the man, Landon doused the fire with a flick of his fingers.
“Hah! The wizard of the forest is a child?” said the attacker, oddly confident in spite of the fact that he had just been on fire. “I am the wizard hunter! I have vanquished hundreds of your kind, and you shall be no different.”
Landon was shaking in fear, but Rabbit seemed to be unaffected by the hunter’s boasts. This strengthened Landon. He knew what he had to do. He closed his eyes, and held his hands out towards the hunter. Before the man could react, even in confusion, Landon’s arms jerked upwards… and so did the hunter. The man flew into the air, and shortly later a crunch of bone could be heard.
Landon let a tear roll down his cheek. He didn’t like hurting people, but he had to. The animals would deal with what was left of the hunter now.
|# ? Apr 26, 2015 23:53|
Niclaus had been sober a whole year. He reclined on his bed, hands behind his head, confident being able to say that Meredith was visiting her mother’s and not because he had a made a scene. That was how a beautiful morning had started. By mid-afternoon Dulahan’s Raiders had breached the forest surrounding the village, and would be upon his tower soon.
He stood on the parapets, in one hand a spellbook, the other performing minute movements, weaving the fabric of reality into a tapestry of horror. Niclaus’s brow was drenched in sweat, and while his hand was mechanical in its precision, the rest of his body shook all over. The familiar upwelling of strength and energy left him staggered as it left his outstretched hand, and forced him several moments to right himself and peer over the parapet.
The meadow surrounding his tower became a field of treacherous, slimy and wriggling worms. They poked their tiny heads from the dirt, creating a slick expanse the marauders continued to charge through, albeit slightly more gingerly. Niclaus hanged his head in defeat. So far he had managed to summon a storm of lice, which he guessed they probably already had, and a mist of what looked and smelled like lemon juice. And now he had managed to wrench from the earth,
“loving worms,” he said.
Descending from the roof, he moved down past the solarium and into his library. Several books lay scattered and strewn about the floor; a stark reversal of activity compared to the dust that had been collecting on some of the other shelves. He scanned the shelves, searching for inspiration amid the taunting repertoire of ancient lore that he barely remembered from his college days, much less wield in his current state.
Behind him another arsenal loomed. He cursed his obstinacy when Meredith had suggested maybe he didn’t keep his liquor in the same place he studied.
“I just want to be able to relax when I’m doing my research, am I not allowed to relax from time to time?” He had shouted at her.
Niclaus liked to believe that being the village wizard was taxing, that he had to be on high alert at all times, but the reality of it was mundane fix-it tasks and vermin fighting. Physically exhausting due to volume, but mentally dulling and ultimately disenfranchising.
Only when he ‘relaxed’ did he have episodes of reverie, jotting furious notes that would never finish, jumping from idea to idea. And only when confronted by Meredith that his studies were barely more than flights of fancy would he then fume and stomp and produce arcane wonder. The invisible ley-lines of protection that encircled the village was one of his favorite to remind Meredith about.
“Without my protection, this village would have crumbled years ago, not something Archfield Jones can say,” Niclaus said.
Archfield had been a college acquaintance and secret rival of Niclaus ever since he learned of Meredith’s prior relationship. Archfield was no adept, but certainly far from bottom of the class. It was only misfortune that he encountered Dulahan’s Raiders so relatively soon after his college graduation. The last Niclaus had heard was he had given up magic and posed as a gardener for fear anyone would take revenge on abandoning his village.
“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to see past your triumphs to see all the flaws,” Meredith said. Niclaus couldn’t exactly recall what he had said back to her, but it caused a week stay at her mother’s and another promise-to-be-broken to coax her back.
Now standing in front of the armoire, he could see the radiant, invisible purple chains that wrapped around the alcohol. Inside was a bottle of oaky, peaty whisky from the distillers up in Dunham, who swore they had used no magic in its creation, but Niclaus refused to believe something that good could come from mere mortals. He had promised the mayor, Dogspot, some long time ago that they would split the bottle the day Dogspot had decided to retire.
But he had it magically alarmed during an argument with Meredith a year ago. He had been drunk at the time.
“Doesn’t look trapped to me,” Dogspot had said to him earlier that afternoon.
“Oh.” Dogspot did not sound convinced. Meredith hadn’t been either. “Why can’t you just congur up some.”
Niclaus stuck out his tongue, revealing a small sigil branded on it.
“Couldn’t drink it anyway,” he said. “I thought if I doubled down on she’d believe me. She didn’t.”
“Can’t just open it with your wizard powers?”
“I don’t even know how I did it, I gave up trying after the first month.”
Dogspot looked disappointed.
“Well what about weed?”
“No Dogspot, damnit. That will just make me want to drink even more.”
Niclaus shook his head and turned back to his disheveled book cases. Panic sweat pooled in his woolen armpits and he was itchy all over. He thought about the villagers in the basement and wondered if being a gardener wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. They had gathered here in this time of danger, in accordance with the decree Niclaus had made near the end of his welcoming banquet.
He still remembered the party, standing with a foot on the table, his arm around a smiling, happy Meredith. He remembered the way the mead smelled, and how Meredith wore lilacs around her hair, how sensual the music was as they danced into the night. It was a new harvest, a plentiful one, and Niclaus had arrived on assignment from the College. This was a village he could see himself getting old in, he remembered.
Dogspot had just become mayor, and they were shaking hands, and they were both talking at the same time that he couldn’t understand the man, the words were muffled over the music, and the clapping and the singing. He couldn’t hear the mayor even when he was a foot in front of his face.
“You have to do something,” Dogspot pleaded. Dogspot had Niclaus by the shoulders and was shaking him violently. The smell of smoke hit Niclaus’s nose and shouts of panic snapped him back into place.
“I am doing something!”
Sparks crackled from Niclaus’s hand and Dogspot fled the library, the door slamming behind him.
He unlatched the liquor cabinet effortlessly. A small alarm went off in his head, and he knew Meredith could hear it too. His hand trembled. He was afraid of everything and excited all the same. The cabinet was open, it was too late. There was no point in going back now. Niclaus knew Meredith would understand today, this instant, at this very moment in time, why he was about to do what he was doing. He was worried about how he was going to explain tomorrow, and the day after.
An image of Dulahans shattering the outer door with a battering ram appeared in his mind. He picked something with a little fire in it and drained the bottle. Then he took the bottle of Dunham whisky and tucked it into his robe. Then he took it back out and took a swig from an expensive one, he was going to need all the courage he could get.
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 00:04|
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 00:58|
Just under six hours remain
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 01:12|
The No-Nothing Thief
"There's still one wizard out there. The entrance to their lair is beneath the spot where the stars are furthest apart. No one knows about this because he's spent the last few centuries doing nothing." they'd told her.
One by one they had rephrased it to put emphasis on the parts they were most certain of. Ridulph had spent months risking blindness over tomes in the Thieves' Library and choking down poison in the public houses for this rumor. It was mysterious enough and challenging enough to verify to be perfect for her uses. Anyone knew that a good enough rumor could be worth as much as a dish of silver. This was plain enough from the work she'd done to attain her whispers about a wizard. But silver wasn't her goal. Her thieves' training had taught her well that the real treasure was in facts. Facts could fill your platters with gold, and gold was the essence of a glorious life.
The method of transmuting a rumor to fact was known only to the wisest of thieves-- the ones who had abandoned the pettiness of misdirection and falsehoods and turned their tongues to the truths of the world. Almost all of the philosophers of the world began their careers as rumormongers, the sort of thief that specialized in the act of verification. Ridulph had memorized their names and the lists of lies which they had sculpted into truths. She longed to walk among them. More than that, she desired to make their histories mere footprints leading up to her own golden glory. History only theorizes of a few thieves who made it from rumormongering to philosophizing, finally to end up as wizards. Verifying the existence of one would be the first step to becoming one.
Verification inevitably began with research. At the Thieves' Library she found herself nervous with the rumor she sought to confirm being so transparent from her choice of literature. Consulting star charts and astronomical guides out in the open was dangerous. She began the practice of turning her books sideways, so that anyone reading over her shoulder or seeking to read upside-down from across the table would be stymied. All thieves had to develop such tricks to keep their rumors safe.
The anti-constellation she sought was only visible from the southern shore of the world. Even by donkey and cart, it would be a months' travel. She planned an alternate route. She gathered her donkey, her cart, and all of the library's astronomy tomes and slipped through the city gates. By nightfall she was standing in the middle of some nameless farmer's newly furrowed field.
The stars above her flowed across the sky. She would make this the largest gap in the stars, thereby making it the entrance to the wizard's sanctum. This was the magic of rumors.
She lowered a torch to the corner of the cart. With a gust of heat the cart began its transmutation from creaking wood to crackling fire. Her eyes adjusted to the light, blotting some of the stars she saw. It would take more tricks to undo years of accumulated astronomical charting.
As the fire ascended the stack of books Ridulph had placed at the center of the cart, she pulled from her cloak a glass bottle of tar. She turned it onto the books, blotting out the ink and drawing the fire onto the words. She held her cloak tightly over her nose as the smoke poured upwards in a solid column. She produced two more jars of tar and continued the work. She created a circle of black in the night for miles around.
By the time the nameless farmer got up the nerve to investigate the incantation taking place in his own field, all that remained was a smoky pile of ash, broken glass, and a lonely donkey.
The stink of molten tar dissipated and Ridulph knew she was somewhere else. Her boots were now on solid stone in some damp hallway. Through some trick of magic there was enough light to see by, though it was dim enough to cast no shadows. There was no door in front of her, just a roughly cut opening into a larger room that she found herself entering already. It was not in her nature to wait, and much less to look behind her.
The eyes that greeted her had a cloudiness in them that made it unclear if they even saw her entrance. The face they were set in conjured up memories of ancient marble statues. This was her wizard. She paused twice; first out of fear of instant magical death, and second to survey the situation before her. The wizard’s beard was coiled onto his desk like infinitely frayed rope. Between his papery hands was a small metal box, though it had no lid or hinge or clear method of opening it. It was through Ridulph's thieving instincts alone that she even recognized it as a container.
She spoke greetings in every language she knew, building up momentum and volume. The wizard did nothing. Her boots cautiously scuffed a path along the stones of the floor towards the desk. He couldn't be dead; it was a well known rumor that wizards didn't die. The rumors regarding how there came to be only one wizard left were varied enough that there had to be some truth enough to one of them.
She was close enough now to recognize that the wizard's eyes had not blinked once. She heard the noises of breathing, twice, as though he inhaled and exhaled simultaneously. She was right up to the edge of the desk now. An hour had passed and the wizard had done nothing.
Her eyes fell to metal box around which the wizard's lair was centered. Her arm reached towards it and tugged it gently away from the weightless hands that rested against it. Her eyes nervously flicked up to his again and again, waiting for the jaws of magic to snap upon her like a beartrap. Nothing prevented her from holding this small tin box in her hand. It was light, even for tin. The eyes of the wizard continued to do nothing.
For minutes she studied the box. She turned it on its sides, shook it, tapped it with her fingernails and then against the dust coated wooden desk. Within an hour she had resorted to more sophisticated methods of inquiry, with her thieving tools arrayed upon the desk.
She whirled a small hand cranked drill into the side of the box, its whining masking the incessant breathelike noises of the wizard. It was tin, and her drill was steel, and the task was so easy she'd punctured the box before looking up at the wizard. She might have noticed his back straightening a little, poised to strike, or tensed up with fear. The lips from which air flowed inwards and out at once might have been seen tightening almost imperceptibly, sharpening the noise they made. She pulled the tip of the drill out. The echoing winds of the wizard's breath grew louder or perhaps closer in that instant. In the final moment that she was able to recognize precisely how empty and cold that metal box was, nothing happened.
Back in the world, outside of wizard's sanctum, rumors spread that were impossible to verify. Though no one knew Ridulph had left, everyone knew that she had not returned. Though her quest was only guessed at, the hundreds of reason for her absence spread rapidly. At the Thieves' Library, as was the traditional memorial for all thieves who died practicing their trade, a small golden inscription was stamped onto one of the bricks.
"Ridulph was Here. The Thief who Made, Stole, Destroyed, and Learned Firsthand about Nothing."
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 01:48|
^^^ "You have power over void and vacuum. You could probably thrive among the stars, but you can also call upon nothingness to aid you in a variety of ways in the earthly sphere. What nature abhors, you can bend to your bidding."
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 01:49|
Of a Feather
Frantic chirps warned Trutlag of the approaching soldiers. Trutlag waved a hand. The birds in the trees around his hut quieted down. He had nothing for the soldiers to take and nowhere to run. The old man leaned back in his chair and waited.
The birds’ cries began anew as a soldier’s boot splintered Trutlag’s flimsy door. Royal thugs poured into the small hut. “Where’s your tithing?” a big one asked, grasping Trutlag’s coarse collar in a large hairy fist.
“Please, I am just an old man,” Trutlag said, placing a small shaky hand on the soldier’s plated forearm. “I have no trade. I forage and barter.”
The soldier threw Trutlag to the ground as if the old man were nothing more than an empty robe. The soldier kicked over the chair. “Find something useful for the King, or we’ll take your head.” He jabbed at the chair and dirt around it with his sword, prodding for hidden treasures.
Trutlag crawled over to a branched wall and wriggled his hand through. A Starling fluttered down from a tree top and dropped a pink jewel on a rusty chain into Trutlag’s open palm. With moist eyes Trutlag held it out to the soldiers. “If you must have something, take this. It was my wife’s.”
A soldier snatched it up. He held it out to the big one who had questioned Trutlag. The big one grunted and headed out the door. The others followed.
Crows heckled the intruders with angry squawks as they marched off. Trutlag crawled to his mangled chair and righted it. He pulled himself up. It cracked and shifted under his weight, but held. Robins and Sparrows tugged at the loosened sticks in his door, straightening and weaving and adding more materials.
A freckled face with tangled red hair peaked around the doorway. “Are you ok, Mr. Trutlag?”
“I still have shelter and friends. That’s all one really needs, so yes, young Roddie.”
“You should do something!” the little boy said, marching into Trutlag’s hut. “They’re bullies!”
Trutlag sighed. “If I were to use my power to hurt them, I’d be just as bad as them.”
Roddie’s face reddened, camouflaging his freckles. He stamped his feet. “It’s not fair. They took half of my dad’s wares! And his good hammer!” Tears slid down his cheeks. “They pushed my mom!” A sparrow landed in the boy’s hair and tugged at the red curls for building materials.
Trutlag waved away the bird before it could do any damage. He grinned. “Maybe I could bring them down a peg, Roddie. I trust you’re attending the King’s declaration tomorrow?”
Roddie sniffled and rubbed his head. He nodded.
The next day the villagers from the surrounding hamlets assembled in the Town Square to hear the King’s address. Soldiers carrying shields formed a rectangular phalanx around the King and his bodyguards. Knights on horseback patrolled the outer perimeter.
Trutlag set himself down upon a bare muddy knoll. All around him birds perched silently in the trees. Boughs sagged under their weight. Trutlag spotted Roddie across the square sitting on his father’s broad shoulders.
The King’s soldiers pounded the ground with spear butts until the crowd’s murmuring died down. The fat regal man at the center of it all took a step forward. His bodyguards mimicked his movement, flanking him. One by one, the birds in the surrounding trees took flight.
“Loyal citizens!” the King shouted. “I thank you for once again contributing your fair share to support the realm.” A fat white and black blob splattered on the ground in front of the King. “With your support—” Another glob splattered to the King’s left. Then another to his right. The King looked up. Bird poo poo splattered on his face.
The crowd began shaking and giggling, trying to hold back at first. They erupted in raucous laughter as more and more bird poo poo rained from the sky over the King. The King’s bodyguards drew their swords and futilely swung at the low flying birds dive-bombing their crowned target.
Roddie looked over to Trutlag in gleeful astonishment. Trutlag caught the boy’s gaze from across the square and smiled back.
The King lurched to and fro, his head bent, as he tried to avoid the onslaught of bird droppings. Now run back to your fortress, [/] iTrutlag thought. [i] Go hide away in your stone burrow from the indignities of life and leave us be.
A guard broke off from the perimeter and ran toward the King, holding his shield high. “My King!” the boy shouted, intending to use the shield as an umbrella. A step away, the shield bearer slipped on a slimy mass of poo poo and fell forward. The rough metal edge of the shield bashed the King’s temple. Royal blood sprayed the King’s bodyguards.
Trutlag’s jaw dropped. He tried to pull the birds back. He couldn’t. It was like trying to stop a wave by diving into the surf. A wave he had summoned.
The bodyguards whirled around on the young shield bearer as he picked himself up from the mud with tears in his eyes. The King lay motionless on the ground, in a puddle of blood expanding into a small pond. “Traitor!” a guard roared, raising his sword.
“It was an accident!” the young shield bearer said. He stumbled back as a bodyguard ran him through. He cried out, but was silenced by a second sword.
“My son!” a knight cried from the outer ring of the crowd. He drove his horse straight through the assembled villagers. He crashed through the King’s perimeter guard, already half disbanded in the confusion. “You’ve killed my son!” the Knight roared at the bodyguards. He snapped shut his helmet’s visor and charged.
Trutlag rose to his feet in a panic. This was not what he wanted, he told himself. The birds were still raining poo poo upon the King’s soldiers as the armored men drew their weapons and joined, seemingly at random, one of the two sides forming in the confusion. The villagers began throwing stones. Some ran back to their huts to fetch weapons. Trutlag caught Roddie’s horrified face briefly before the boy’s father lowered him from his shoulders and took off running.
A soldier shrieked. Trutlag found the source - falcons clawing and slashing at a large man’s face as he tried blindly to shoo them away with big hairy fists. Trutlag recognized the soldier.
Trutlag dropped to his hands and knees. He tried to concentrate, to figure out a way to stop the madness. Angry shouts, squawking birds, and the clang of steel striking steel distracted him. A Starling fluttered down in front of him. It dropped a bloodstained pink jewel on a rusty chain into Trutlag’s open palm.
“Thank you, my friend,” Trutlag said. The Starling flew off. Trutlag rolled over in the dirt onto his back. He was not unhappy things had taken this turn. He watched a cloud float by as the sounds of chaos in the square below continued unabated. A part of him had wanted this. He closed his eyes and called for buzzards to help with the cleanup.
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 01:49|
|# ? Dec 6, 2022 09:41|
Sigil - 1300 words
"Your power depends on how many sigils and symbols you can place in public view. If you can pepper a whole city with your signs, you can do great works. Too bad city officials and property owners don't like graffiti. "
The rattling of the paint can echoed through the dark alleyway as I shook more magic into it.
“I found it in an old book as a child and was drawn to the look of it, drew it on my wrist next to a happy face and a lovely rendition of the Pepsi logo.” I said, spraying black paint onto the wall. I didn’t need to pay much attention, the Sigil knew what it looked like and wasn’t about to let me gently caress it up. “ Washes off walls much easier than flesh.”
I let the can spray itself and held my wrist up for the police officer, the robe’s wide sleeve falling to my elbow.
“I know, doesn’t seem like much. Just a little stylized eagle, bladed wings outspread. Looks like it should be screen-printed on a mass production t-shirt or tatooed on some hipster’s bicep, right?”
He stared at me, face frozen mid shout.
“That’d make my job a lot easier.”
I moved past the gun in his outstretched hand and dug through his pockets.
“It’s a conduit for the old power, you see.” I said, taking the cash from his wallet. “ The stuff that keeps the seas wet and the deserts dry and the loving moon from landing in your back yard every night. It demands to be seen, even gives me a little taste of the old stuff for my troubles.”
I gestured and his belt snaked down his legs, looping itself around his ankles.
“So you have to understand my frustration,” I said, voice straining as I forced the waistband of his underpants as high as the material would allow. “When your people scour my Sigil off the walls and come at me with your little guns.”
“Your frustration is palpable, friend, but this is getting a little weird for me.” The man’s voice was deeper than his boyish looks hinted at. He was tall and wore a white coat that went down to his ankles and a silver band kept his blond locks off his face.
“It’s not what it looks like.” I waved him off. “You’ve been drinking tonight. You lost a bet and had to wear that prom dress and stumbled into this alley to work out a way to piss without getting any on you. It didn’t work.”
The can of spray paint clattered against the floor, my work here was done. They had been cracking down on my more public works as of late, and I had to resort to placing the Sigil on the back streets and alleys of the city. Not the best ad campaign, but there was power anywhere a stray soul might wander.
“That’s no fun.” The man’s voice startled me. “At least he had a, what was it you said, ‘sexually-enlightening run-in with the hunkiest group of hard-bodies this city has ever seen’.”
I waved, more vigorously this time. He raised an eyebrow. I looked from him to my hand to the sigil and shook my hand at him, fingers flailing with the force of it.
“OK. Who are you?”
“I am the Paladin James Alexander,” he said, standing a little straighter, his voice free of the laughter it had shown previously. “or I will be, after this. I am here to kill or capture you.”
“In that order?”
“It’s more of a ‘play-it-by-ear’ type of thing, though it’d be great if you could make this quick and easy so I can move on to the real threats”.
“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘real threats’?” I shook my hand at him with extra vigor.
“Look I don’t mean to insult your wizard honor or whatever but, you’re wearing a bath robe.”
“It’s only a bath robe if you wear it after a bath.”
“Certainly can’t accuse you of that.” he wrinkled his nose. “Look, are you going to come quietly or what?”
“How are you standing there all big-dicked? Do you even know what I can do? What if I can melt skin or rain thunder from the sky?” I glared at the Sigil, gesturing my head towards the man.
He shrugged. “My skin isn’t melted, no thunder raining down.”
“I tailed you for a night, didn’t see anything too concerning. I’ve got some academy records to break here, can’t do that without taking a few risks. Why are you so against coming with me anyway? For all you know it could be great.”
“No, but you don’t know that.”
A storm passed through the city shortly after I had found the Sigil. I watched it pass from a high window, saw it pluck the big oaken sign to St. Mary’s orphanage from the ground like a carrot and fling it miles down the road. I held that memory and ran my hand over the Sigil on the wall. It lit the alleyway in the pale blue fires of the old power.
I held out my hand and blew the Paladin James Alexander on his rear end with a gust of wind. It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for but this was not a facet of the old power I was practiced in, and it was enough for me to have muddied the kid’s coat.
He clicked his teeth and got back on his feet. He pulled what looked like a small marble out from a small pouch at his side and threw at at the Sigil on the wall besides me. It shattered and covered the wall in a white paint that bubbled and hardened.
“I was starting to think those were just a compulsion or hobby,” he said. “Glad I went through the effort of nixing the others you’ve done tonight.”
From a sheath at his side he drew a sword with a rectangular blade that looked too thin and blunt to do much damage, until he cracked it like a whip and covered the blade in a roaring white fire.
I ran, smacking the police officer out of his daze on the way out of the alley. He had a lot to work through, between the implanted memories and the kid with the flaming sword and the mysterious, terrifying pain in his rear end. I heard him empty six rounds by the time I reached the manhole, but if any had gotten the Paladin, he showed no signs of it as he ran at me, sword burning a path through the asphalt at his side.
I dove into the sewers and started running, grazing my hands along the grime of the walls as I made my way through the familiar darkness. It faded quickly as he made his way down after me. I was never good at running. I had never had to run. I stopped, put my back to the wall, and held my knees while I caught my breath.
He didn’t take long to meet me. He was not breathing hard or sweating, but the flames illuminated his features and his anger had an intensity to match them.
“You are making this so unreasonably difficult!” he said. “Do you know what happens if I bring you back all scorched and covered in poo poo? They deduct points for that!”.
He raised his sword high, looked about him and stopped.
The Sigils on the wall were countless, and they lit the tunnels in their pale blue glow as I stood upright.
I held my hand out and the silver band on his head snapped and fell to the ground. His face was frozen, eyes wide, mouth agape.
“You killed your quarry in these tunnels. Not a big enough chunk of him left to bring back,” I said. “What you do have for your people is his symbol of power.”
I marked the back of his white coat with the Sigil.
“Tell them it’d look great on a t-shirt, or tatooed on a bicep”.
|# ? Apr 27, 2015 02:06|