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Jul 25, 2016

Boaz-Jachim posted:

In, :toxx: for last week.





Jul 25, 2016


The Curse of Want
1,046 words

It was not uncommon for assassins themselves to be contract targets if they got too public with their work. What was strange was seeing a contract out for someone who was already dead. Yet, there Amon stood in shock, staring at a contract for his partner Kleio, who he knew died a week before.

After Kleio’s death, the constant boisterousness in the assassin's den reached Amon’s ears as infuriating jeers. It was, after all, his fault. Amon knew the court sorcerer that was their mark would be dangerous and prepared, and he and Kleio were among the best assassins in the kingdom, but on that one contract Kleio trusted him and he let himself be distracted.

He wanted to be finished so that the small, delicate ring he had twisted together out of rigid vines blooming with pearl flowers would stop weighing down his pocket. He wanted Kleio to hear not just how much he hated their work, but how he wanted to bring her along when he took their earnings and went far, far away. He wanted to find a place where they would not have to rely on a gutter of a kingdom to tell them what metaphorical and literal monsters they would have to kill next if they wanted food for another day. He wanted her to be there, and she wasn’t, and would never be.

The bounty received for the sorcerer's death was a big one - treason and sacrilege were severe crimes, even here - but Amon no longer felt any desire to travel to some place far away. The money went to another use, wasted on alcohol and food to maintain Amon’s smoldering regret. The only soul he would speak to was his own mind, who diligently analyzed every possibility and determined over and over again that he had discovered the worst possible path.

He could have checked the library where the sorcerer hid more thoroughly, so a latent magical trap wouldn’t have detonated when Kleio passed by. He could have gone out to interrupt the sorcerer’s summoning rituals, instead of letting shock overwhelm his instincts. He could have picked up Kleio's broken body as an enormous gnarled tendril snapped through reality and the library, taking the whole thing down with the sorcerer inside, but Amon instead fled like the coward he knew he was.

Those thoughts suddenly stopped when Amon was confronted by the contract unmistakably with Kleio Argyris as the mark, wanted for mass murder and witchcraft. Through the droning of hopeful, frightened apprehension in his skull, his body piloted itself to pull the contract off the board, register it to himself, and carry it out of the sunken den, deaf to the murmurings of everyone he passed.

He fingered the brittle ring in his pocket all the while.


He found Kleio surrounded by a tempest of destruction. What was once a village seemed frozen in a single moment where every house and person had been caught in a whirling firestorm. Nothing had turned to ash, but instead people and houses and the ground itself melted and then solidified into blackness, forming almost elegant streaks and spirals surrounding the epicenter of the storm that from afar seemed as delicate as a glassblower’s masterpiece.

Amon felt as though he walked through a glass of water that had suddenly been swirled by the lazy finger of an unseen god, and he soon felt no more significant than a single droplet.

He found Kleio in the very center, dangling from a thick, twisted branch that undulated like a dying insect’s limb. It extended from an azure thunderstorm high in the air, and as he approached, he could see its tip fused into the base of her neck. She was blind, but Amon could still recognize the remnants of her glimmering emerald eyes beneath the milky sheen. Those eyes always comforted him with the memory of the verdant hills and meadows that he always longed to return to, and now, they made his heart swell against his fear. “Kleio!”

“Amon?” Kleio could not see him, but she clearly knew he was there. She swiveled on the bizarre appendage she was attached to and smiled at him. He had never seen her so happy. “Oh, Amon, you came!”

A whip of cyan lightning coiled free from the storm above, releasing a thunderclap that carried with it a mourner’s howl. Deaf and blind from the sight of Kleio’s return, Amon charged across the charnel sculptures, desperate to feel her again. His hands, determined to do something yet devoid of guidance, moved over her clammy, warm, naked body. “Kleio, don’t worry,” he stammered against his own voice. “I’ll get you out of here, we’ll --”

“Get me out?” Kleio’s brow furrowed, but her hands clasped Amon’s face -- her fingers so much like a sickening bog, but it was her -- as she stared straight ahead. “Amon, I am out. And I wanted you to come with me.”

His hands stopped very suddenly on her waist. Through the war drum that was his heart, he listened to her sooth his desperation.

“I’ve never felt so free, Amon. I’m free from all the squalor we had to live through. I’m free from risking my life every day for people we’ll never see. I’m free from wondering what second is going to be our last one. And I want you to come with me. I want to show you how beautiful this place is. I know how much you want to escape, and I want to share this happiness with you, Amon.”

Kleio cradled his head in her hands, smiling off into the distance. He was so weary. He wanted to run away so badly, to never look back…

“...take me with you, Kleio.”

A split-second of stabbing pain shot into the base of Amon’s neck, but it was immediately replaced by a cool breeze that carried the scent of grass and flowers. Amon saw the clear blue sky, rolling green hills, and Kleio’s bright emerald eyes, and knew they were finally free.

He never saw the tendrils pulling them back into the azure storm that spread further and further across the world, nor the vine ring that fell out of his pocket and fell to the blackened ground to rot away.

Jul 25, 2016

I'm in!

Crit of Double Take by Paladinus:

Right off, you really should avoid starting a work with dialogue. Your reader has no idea who's talking or what they're talking about, and there's very little clarity for that in the next few lines either. If you at least followed the quotes with directions on who was talking (‘What on earth is going on here?’ said the man in a lab coat, brandishing a bat like a cornered animal) this would be a much stronger start.

Branching off of this, the characters don't really have any distinguishing actions or characteristics. The majority of this piece is dialogue, but it's equivalent to talking heads. We're not given any information on how anyone says what they say, or what their body language might be, or really anything besides their word choice. Would the naked guy who apparently just escaped be breathing a sigh of relief when labcoatman doesn't beat him over the head with a bat? Would the labcoatman snort sarcastically when he asks ‘Do you really think I would kill you to cover it all up'? The reader doesn't have anything to go on here to care about these people as characters and believe that they're anything more than robots reading a script.

Unfortunately the reader also doesn't have any information to go off of to understand what they're talking about regarding experiments. We get vague statements like "input tray," "the machine," "analogue indicator", and "pod," but nothing to piece together what any of this means, and therefore nothing to hold on to so that we get invested in these people who (revealed by the ending twist) have both escaped violently from unwilling experimentation. This feels like you could replace the setting with a drug cartel or a medieval jail or an underwater ghost base and it would change absolutely nothing about the story. You can't spend too much time building up a setting's history and features in such a brief medium, but at the same time you also need to give the reader something to contextualize about where the story takes place and why the characters matter in that setting.

You have a decent idea here, but it really needs some flesh on the bones.

Jul 25, 2016

The Tortoise and the Tiger

825 Words

The black tortoise destroyed the white tiger’s home for the last time.

Bai Hu, the white tiger, darted through the dense trees of her autumn forest with a furious scowl. The intricate black tattoos across her fair skin blended with the flickering shadows where sunlight struggled to reach the forest floor. The flash of her carefully-crafted iron claws was brief before they pierced bark to steady Bai Hu for her next bound. It was not a true tiger that snarled and leaped and charged, but the name still befit her ferocity and appearance.

The forest quaked every now and then, the force and volume of each tremor growing by the minute. Bai Hu looked up to see the snow-capped peak of a black mountain looming over the trees, and as another quake rolled through the earth and sent leaves of red, yellow, and orange fluttering to the ground, she clambered to the absolute top of the treeline. The dark peak stretched high, high above her, the cap of pristine snow turning to rivers and streams that rolled placidly down to its hidden base.

Bai Hu’s steely roar rolled through the clear air with enough force to rival the earlier tremors. “Xuan Wu, you bastard!”

The black mountain very slowly raised its heads.

Split halves of entire trees tumbled from one beaked muzzle, flanked by jagged tusks like rocks that sailors feared to approach. A sea serpent served as the mountain’s tail, as wide and long as a river and lined with the layered crags of an ocean reef. Not a true tortoise, but the name more than befit Xuan Wu’s lumbering frame.

The bright blue eyes of both of Xuan Wu’s heads fixated on Bai Hu’s furious snarl -- barely visible to one of his massive size. The tortoise’s beak only moved to chew the forest in its mouth with all the urgency of tectonic shifts, so the serpent spoke with the rumble of rolling waves. “Bai Hu. You seem upset, as usual. What is the matter now?”

Bai Hu’s yellow glare flashed as if she intended it to be a mighty lance. “What’s the matter? You know what’s the matter! I told you over and over to stay out of my forest, and today there’s a clearing where my house was! This is the third time, Xuan Wu!”

Xuan Wu’s serpent head tilted inquisitively. “Oh. You mean that pile of logs and leaves was a house? I apologize.” The snake seemed to bow before it slithered back beneath the trees. “These woods are difficult to resist.”

Neither sarcasm nor malice rode Xuan Wu’s voice, but his absentminded dismissal shattered the last of Bai Hu’s patience. The white tiger tensed her muscles, then pounced from her perch with a mighty roar. She flew down to the serpent’s barnacle-ridden head, and momentum drove her claws into a powerful slash -- one that only sent sparks flying harmlessly, rather than blood.

“Stop that,” Xuan Wu chided, flicking his head aside and sending Bai Hu tumbling across the forest floor.

Bai Hu found herself indignantly scurrying out of scattered leaves and onto her feet. Before she could move again, stripped halves of a dozen tree trunks smashed down in a clearing right in front of her and blasted a torrent of debris into the air. The white tiger only briefly wondered if she might be in over her head, but caution flew from her mind at the sight of Xuan Wu’s serpent head lurching at her from the trees.

Bai Hu fought for her life. She flew from limb to limb, taking advantage of Xuan Wu’s slowness and her size. She pounced at his softer points and slipped between his fingers; she danced across the trees he plucked free and leaped aside from those he threw down. Her claws raked and flashed, fury powering her muscles and heightening her senses--

Until the great serpent tail opened his maw, snapping closed around her in midair as if she were a fly.

What surprised Bai Hu was when he spat her out on the ground again, right in front of a crude -- though sturdy -- structure of logs and branches. A roof, walls, an entryway...more like a wooden cave than a mansion, but much larger than herself, and something she would have struggled to assemble in a week, much less a few minutes.

“You seem agitated, so I will let you finish,” Xuan Wu remarked, snapping Bai Hu out of her confusion. “Bouncing around like that made it difficult to work on. I do not usually build houses.”

The white tiger’s bladed ire grew dull under the black tortoise’s serenity. She tried to think of something to say, but confusion, gratitude, and lingering annoyance only stumbled together into impotent stammering.

Xuan Wu’s voice held a smile as he very slowly turned toward the distant ocean and lumbered away, leaving the tigress to contemplate her new lodgings. “It is always a pleasure, Bai Hu.”

Squidtentacle fucked around with this message at 00:27 on Aug 15, 2016

Jul 25, 2016

I'll jump in on this one, sounds right up my alley.

Jul 25, 2016

s7indicate3 posted:

poo poo. Now I've lost all 3 times I've entered. Gotta say I'm feeling pretty low right now. Any veterans got any advice on how not to suck as much?

Kaishai posted:

Maybe read some style guides like Strunk and White's Elements of Style to improve your use of punctuation. Aim to get the hang of writing a basic, straightforward story, and move on to more complex stuff when you have a grip on the nitty gritty.

On a diction and writing style subject, Francine Prose's Reading like a Writer is a great resource for so many things, because it just shows you lots of examples of effective writing and just explains why it works rather than trying to teach like a schoolbook.

And I'd definitely second IRC. I flubbed this submission due to a rough week, but chatting with people there has been a really good help for inspiration and guidance, even if just for another set of opinions to keep in mind.

Jul 25, 2016

In with No. 64, Bon Voyage.


Jul 25, 2016

Capricho No. 64: Buen viaje (Bon voyage)

607 words

A small duke on a small throne fancied himself a king.

Not a king crowned by the meaningless titles and finery of man, but a true ruler who could usher his people beyond their potential. Duke Urien ordered the assassinations of other rulers, but not so their kingdoms would weaken. He needed the methods long nights of study revealed to him, and he needed the remains of those greater than he brought to his table.

Apprehension infected Urien’s subjects when the gates were shut and barred, but while commerce dried up and crops grew rotten, he plucked the eyes and broke the bones and sucked the marrow of distant kings, and his mind grew with every morsel. He saw charters and war maps; tactics and diplomacies; secret quarrels and fleeting trysts; everything the minds of his meals held, but all of it too human, too base. His people deserved better.

A bloated king on a cracked throne fancied himself a lord.

Days contorted into weeks. None were permitted to leave or enter the duchy, and none were permitted to know why their ruler went unseen. A few fought with outraged fists, but not enough for Urien’s trained soldiers to break. The unfortunate foolishness of the few fed his growth, while the many who lived would eventually witness their metamorphosis.

Knowledge shared with the dead meant nothing to Urien. Knowledge shared with the living was invaluable. Scholars and priests piled dead onto his table, but his subjects would have to be fully aware when he grabbed them in talons growing desiccated and tossed them in a maw that now split wider than a serpent’s. Urien saw untold wisdom and piety, yet was blind to secret rumblings of fear and dissent that festered in the people of the duchy and threatened to burst.

A twisted and greedy lord could not be satisfied by a throne; he must become a god.

While Urien gulped down the corpses of angels and demons summoned and slaughtered like cattle, the spark of sedition grew into a blazing inferno. Cries of rage no longer bound by fear reached his shuttered window. Shouts of his soldiers sputtered free, then were abruptly silenced. The people drove through the streets with a singular thought; if they were to wither and die from their ruler’s negligence, then they would not go quietly.

A brick shattered the glass of Urien’s chamber, and a torch followed quickly behind. Fine rugs soaked with aged blood and viscera embraced and spread the flame. A thousand voices shrieked in unison from a single mouth, and the mob fell into silent apprehension.

Their duke tumbled from the window of his high chamber. Feathered and membraneous wings flapped pitifully, laced with flame. Arms upon fingers scrambled for the palace’s wall, tearing masonry to pieces. Milky eyes darted to see nothing and no one. Segmented legs kicked and spasmed. A degenerate larva crashed to the cobbled streets, torn too early from its burning cocoon.

Robed in putrid smoke and flickering embers, Urien welcomed his subjects despite their terror. Many hands swept up many bodies and piled them into his maw. He ground them between his teeth, heedless of the blood and scraps splattering to the earth, heedless of limbs choked upon and vomited free. All he needed to do to save them from their ignorance was to swallow.

Boils rose along his back, bursting to reveal the faces of each townsman Urien devoured. Everything one knew, they all knew. Everything one felt, they all felt. Every insignificant moment was knowledge given unrestrained, and as their lord took them to the sky in wild euphoria, they screamed.

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