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Mar 22, 2013

cptn_dr posted:

And also I have nothing but shame planned for the long weekend, so I'd better be IN with a flash and a


The Señor de las Limas is a 55 cm greenstone figure of a youth holding or presenting a "were-jaguar" baby. Profiles of four other supernaturals are incised on the adolescent's shoulders and knees. This motif occurs frequently in Olmec art, from the smallest of figurines to the huge table-top thrones such as La Venta Altar 5.What these sculptures symbolised to the Olmecs is not clear. Some researchers, focusing on the symbolic cave surrounding the figure on Altar 5 believe that these sculptures relate to myths of spiritual journeys or human origins.


Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

I'm in

Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome


Jun 28, 2011

I had that weird dream again.

My first time. I'm in. And flash, please.

Mar 22, 2013

Chuf posted:

My first time. I'm in. And flash, please.


The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient Greek analogue computer and orrery used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. It is a complex clockwork mechanism composed of at least 30 meshing bronze gears. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests that it had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, to predict eclipses and even to model the irregular orbit of the moon, where the moon’s velocity is higher in its perigee than in its apogee. It could also track the four-year cycle of athletic games such as the ancient Olympic games.

Mar 22, 2013

Sign-ups are over, which means I can dump these last few artifacts I was saving. Feel free to draw inspiration from any of them, or use them instead of your flash rule. I don't care. I want something enjoyable to read (it doesn't even have to be a story, idgaf) more than I want to specifically hear about the thing I gave you.

Also this is your only warning that entries close at 11 PM Pacific on Sunday night, which means 2 AM Eastern and 6 PM Monday NZST for you antipodeans out there.

Anyway, the remaining artifacts:


The Guennol Lioness is a 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian statue found near Baghdad, Iraq. This lioness-woman sculpture, an Elamite figure believed to have been created circa 3000–2800 B.C., would have been created at approximately the same time as the first known use of the wheel, the development of cuneiform writing, and the emergence of the first cities. Hybrid images evoked the Mesopotamian belief in attaining power over the physical world by combining the superior physical attributes of various species.


The Nazca Lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes, such as trees and flowers. The designs are shallow lines made in the ground by removing naturally occurring reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Contrary to the popular belief that the lines and figures can only be seen from an aircraft, they are visible from the surrounding foothills and other high places.


The Makapansgat pebble, or the pebble of many faces, (ca. 3,000,000 BP) is a 260-gram reddish-brown jasperite cobble with natural chipping and wear patterns that make it look like a crude rendition of a human face. The pebble is interesting in that it was found some distance from any possible natural source, associated with the bones of Australopithecus africanus in a cave in Makapansgat, South Africa. It remains unclear if the early hominid had seen this object really as a face, or had magical speculations towards this object, or just enjoyed the pebble.


Ennigaldi-Nanna's museum is thought to be the first museum by some historians, although this is speculative. It dates to circa 530 BCE. The curator was Princess Ennigaldi, the daughter of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. When archaeologists excavated certain parts of the palace and temple complex at Ur, they found dozens of artifacts, neatly arranged side by side, whose ages varied by centuries. They determined that these were actually museum pieces - since they came with what was finally determined to be "museum labels", clay cylinder drums with labels in three different languages.

Jay W. Friks
Oct 4, 2016

Six of one, half dozen of another.

Grimey Drawer

Return (#: 1158)


In her dreams, the bulls, lions, and dragons ran through the streets of the Holy City devouring the innocent and guilty. Bricks of clay shattered into powder from charging hooves, tapestries burst into flame from scorching breath. Men and women in robes, children in sandals and tunics, slammed into the bloody ground by plate-sized paws and feasted upon.

She could see it from up high, her bony fingers wrapped around bars. She caught the eye of a lone dragon scouring the buildings for hidden bodies.

“Come to me!” She yelled at the stray.

It turned to her. It wore a scaly human face, something she wouldn’t have imagined on real dragons. It's visage a permanent grin of derision.

It hooked the bars with half-moon talons and tore them from the wall. Its teeth, heated by fire coursing inside veins, burned like hot iron as it clamped down on her body. Her pain was absolute. Strangely, she was laughing.

Coi awoke, sweat crawled down every inch of her, she couldn’t tell the droplets from the fleas that nested in every patch of hair on her body.

The cell was dim. It was still early morning. She gripped the cell door and panned the room for the guard.

He was standing, hand on his scimitar, chewing on a blade of grass.

“Knight.” She implored, “Has the prince send my message to the king? Have you any news on why I was arrested?”

The knight turned and hushed her. “Quiet soothsayer.”

“I’m sorry I barged into the palace but I needed to speak to the king immediately-”

“I said quiet!”

He pulled his weapon and slashed through the bars. Coi jumped back just in time to evade the blade.

Coi screamed, “What is wrong with you? What is wrong with this city? I’ve returned to madness! Why do you all hate me?”

The knight spat at the floor. “The prince has brought reason to people. He does not like your kind and the gods you serve. Those who claim to hear the voices of demons like Ishtar or Marduk are a danger to everyone and everything.”

He stared her down.

Coi cried. It’d been 20 years since she left the holy city. She’d come back to tell the king a dire portent. It was her duty as his friend but so much had changed. The statues that lined the courtyard of the palace were gone. The arches built by the king's father were covered in blankets to obscure them from sight. The king was ill, or so she had heard. Her dream became more and more defined every night she spent in the cell.

They were angry, the beings who gave man the right to build. They demanded of Coi to inform the king. To make him pay homage once again.

A week passed. Coi starved. Her mind went funny experiencing the vision every time she slept. Until the king heard her or the vision came to be, it would be the same nightmare every night. She heard the city bustling up above. The clap of hooves against stone. Shouts of fresh fish and seeds. Silken robes, too long for the wearer, dragging along pebbles in their wake, the overbearing smell of perfume and crumbled spices. She smelled meat cooking. It was ox flank. It smelled too thick and hearty to be anything else.

It was too much. She thought about what god would help her in this circumstance. What god would aid a seer who failed to bring her prophecy to the king?

There was one.

The guards changed shift, as he came in, he saw the limp form of Coi leaning against the wall. Still as a ragdoll.

“Is she dead?” The day guard asked the night guard.

“I don’t know. My time is over. I’m not going in there, she gives me the creeps.”

The day guard scoffed and opened the cell. He grabbed her shoulder and she grabbed his hand. She channeled Nergal, the god of disaster, a god no sane seer would take power from. Her eyes rotted into sockets, a foul wind whipped up inside the prison and her voice tripled in volume.

A distant voice said, “Bring me to the prison tower or I shall lay a curse on your offspring.”

He jerked free and ran, she fell backward. Coi fainted from the exhaustion of calling up Nergal.

Her dreams were as clear as ever. This time, however, she saw the event that directly preceded it.

The prince found a new god in his time abroad. He stood outside a cell hidden in the kingdom. The king was chained there, an all-seeing eye burned into his head by branding iron.

The prince said, “Repent and I shall restore you to your kingdom. I don’t want to inherit a land populated by false gods.”

He clutched his father's face through the bars. The king swayed on the chains and said, “Son. There are many gods. Why are yours real and ours false?”

The son replied as always, “There is one God. I saw him in the west. Yours are demons who lead us astray. Listen to reason.”

The father shook his head, “What happened to you?”

The son left his father. The dawn was rising as he emerged. The arch of Ishtar was the first thing he saw when he left the secret stairwell. The tapestry wrapped around it was oddly still. Not a wind blew to stir it. The prince noticed that the sound of guards on stone, and voices calling for coin outside had gone mute.

Something cracked far above the peak of the sky.

Coi woke up in a new cell. She didn’t sweat, she didn’t thirst, her hunger was gone. There were two new guards.

One of the guards sheepishly pushed a bowl of soup and a cup of wine into the cell.

He bowed,

“Seer Coi. We do not believe as the prince does. Please tell us what you have seen so that we may prepare for it.”

Coi stuck her fingers in the soup and pulled out rice and beans. She threw it on the ground in front of the pleading knight. It rotted into dirt before his eyes. He raised his head. The Seer was face-first against the bars, her eyes feral and leering, her face a horribly stretched spittle dripping grin of fangs.

A distant voice called from the gaping maw of the former Seer. “Coi is sleeping. There is only Nergal and soon you will all be mine.”

The crone turned and stared out into the city. The knights heard a crack of thunder above. The crone yelled,

“Come to me!”

Something hooked its talons over the bars and tore them from the bricks.

A dragon with a face mockingly like the Seer bit down on her shoulder and carried her away from the tower and the traitorous prince. The two knights watched her departure in grim realization.

A lone dragon flew high above the city. A wild laughter echoed off every wall and tower that was destined to be laid to waste.

Sep 12, 2015



723 Words

Flash Rule: Leaping Bull Fresco

I walked forward, but my footfalls on the straw pathway were lost amid the steady pounding of the drums. The far clans had gathered, and the midnight air vibrated with the chanting of a dozen shamans wailing in prayer and lamentation. Here and there within the clearing, small fires burned different colors as sacrificial offerings of herbs reached the spirits in billows of sweet or acrid clouds. To the side of the open space, however, burned a far greater pyre, one which I refused to look upon as I approached the mewling young bull that stood restrained in the center of the cacophony.

I ached inside, yet I'd always been told no one could ever see the tears of the chief's son. It rent my heart, the injustice of it all. Who were all these people? These outsiders didn't know him, some of them I'd never even heard of before. Why were they allowed to wallow loudly in false and temporary grief while I was told to keep silent? Why was I forced into this mockery of a rite when my father was not yet in ashes? Still, I held to my duties and stood mere feet away from the bound beast.

I breathed deeply, while the pungent smoke and the dense pine of the surrounding sacred forest flooded my lungs. The herbal mists from the flames had begun to twist my senses, and my body began to feel as numb as my soul. I watched as the world around me slowed, the auras of the mourners beginning to glow deeply as they moved through molasses. My confusion lingered as I began the ritual I'd had to practice since childhood, my body going through the macabre motions independent of my detached mind.

I jumped ahead, though my spirit stayed grounded clinging to memories of the past. The air rushing by was like when he'd lift and swing me through the air, my laughter filling our worn hut. The smoke whirling about was like when he taught me to build a fire after my first hunt, his healthy face full of pride and love. Finishing my leap, my hands wrapped around the polished horns of the sacrificial animal. Their texture was the same as his pipe I'd once stolen off the wall, then I cried as he'd yelled at me in disappointment. He was gone, he was gone.

I grasped them, then nearly lost my grip as I met eyes with the chained creature. It's eyes were no longer a bull's eyes. They were his. My father's. They were no longer frightened and twisted by years of pain. They were no longer glossy with disease and confusion. They were calm and clear as they'd once been. The eyes of the man who'd raised me through every facet of my being. I was no longer holding horns, but his calloused and firm hands, lifting me high into the air one last time.

I let go, and the world spun until the heavens spread out below me, swirling like a lake of glittering fish. I was weightless, and in that moment I was wading forward through the sky holding hands with him. The lake became a sea, became an ocean, became a waterfall of light, and I was very scared. I gripped him hard, refusing to leave without him. But as the current shifted me back toward the edge of the lake, I realized what this funeral was truly for. Who this journey was for. I loosened his hands. He took me into a great hug and softly kissed my head before gently pushing away. Then he turned toward the waterfall and swam toward it, his body changing into a glinting salmon before plunging over the bright falls into the the dark water, joining the myriad stars within its depths.

I landed quietly, despite the height of the vault. I was suddenly more calm, more at peace. My face shone with tears, flowing freely despite the spectacle and the attention. No one admonished me. I stayed there, crying for hours in that clearing full of memories and people, until I waited alone. Then with a deep breath I turned to look upon the funeral pyre. In the early light I could see that the smoke was drifting out toward the river, starting on it's journey toward the ocean and the edge of my world.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


1163 words
Rule: The Book of Silk

The arrival of the comet heralded disaster. The People of the Valley saw their village flood, though there was no rain. The People of the Hill with Bright Rocks had a hut burn down. The shaman of the Valley of Grain, Listens To Birds invited the shaman of the two rival peoples to discuss the unprecedented crisis. They met on Copper Hill, which of course had long ceased to have any copper on it.

“This star-with-a-tail clearly brings disaster. Just last night, the first wife of my chief died in childbirth. We either must appease it, or banish it,” Listens To Birds told them.

Burns Copper From Rock nodded. “We have not had a fire that killed in our memory before this ominous sign. My people are scared.”

They talked through the night. When it was clear there was no way to exile a star, they agreed to appease it. At dawn, they sacrificed a goat, set a fire around five bright stones, and held a grand feast in honor of the star-with-a-tail.

It took three days of feasting and nine more sacrifices, but at last clouds veiled the heavens, and when they cleared, the star was gone. Together, they composed a song so that their descendants might remember what to do, should the star return.


Lisbird and the other sky-watchers squinted at the scroll under candlelight, carefully to keep the flame far from the faded ink and crumbling parchment. “A tailstar. It must be. Passing through the heavenly drinking vessel, so it must be the godly vessel of Nonnoctus. The brightest of the tailstars.”

Copperburn, one of the scholars from Brighthill, voiced his agreement.

They brought the news to the priests, who the next night also gazed at the bright tailstar. The high priest was shaken. “It is a majestic thing, but clearly there is disorder in heaven. If we do not appease Nonnoctus, we will lose much.” He shook his head. “And this, on the eve of the Three Feasts. We must prepare our rituals immediately.”

Four days later, the river valley flooded, despite clear skies. The grain harvest ruined meant no tribute to the nomads. They attacked within a mooncycle. Plague followed, ravishing Brighthill, Grainvale, and Pevolley. It was with a heavy heart that Lisbird recorded the events on his parchment. Decades later, people still sacrificed goats to Nonnoctus so that he would not appear again and unleash his wrath.


Li Bir trembled, and clutched the hand of her mother. She could sense the fear of the court, though she didn’t understand any of it. “What will happen?” she whispered.

Her mother wiped the tears from her eyes. “Be brave, my birdsong. Be brave.” She could not disguise the tremor in her own voice.

King Soerbur stood with them on the balcony of the Britil Palace, frowning at the dusk. The last orange light glimmered off his red silk and the gold-embroidered dragons. Even his regal posture hinted at worry. “The alchemical pyres are prepared?” he asked the priests standing around him.

Priest “Yes, your eminence.”

He continued to stare out, eyes fixed past the ziggurat temples, past the markets where the crowds were gathered, past the stone walls, past even the mountains. “I had not thought I would ever hope to be made a fool, and the astronomers liars.”

Li Bir looked at her mother, but she wouldn’t meet her eye. Even King Soerbur worried. But of course he did. The gods watched them from the night sky, but how often did one descend to torment them?

“The heavenly scriptures are clear, your eminence. It shall return, as surely as the moon cycles.”

“But why,” he whispered, almost to himself, “must it be the daughter of a king?”

The priests by his side studied the floor. One finally spoke. “The mysteries of heaven are unfathomable. We only glimpse fragments of the divine. It is through their grace and the blessings of our ancestors that we even know how our doom can be avoided.”

The last pieces of the sun’s disk sunk behind the mountains. King Soerbur watched as the sky’s gradient darkened from pale cyan to deep cerulean. “Strange to think Lu Opevol gazed upon this comet. In Geometry and Parallax Motion, he estimated Nonnoctus must be several times the size of a mountain. It is hard to conceive how small we are, to the Gods.”

“You are wise, your eminence.”

As the stars appeared, so did the comet, bright tail a searing rift in heaven, pointing straight at the sunken sun. As he saw it, King Soerbur’s breath caught. The old manuscripts had done nothing to prepare him for its horror, its beauty.

Li Bir gaped up at the star, and marveled at its tail of light. Her mother dropped her hand and wept.

The priests turned to their king.

Soerbur turned to look at Li Bir. His teeth grit, and his fist clenched so hard his fingernails drew blood in his palm. Then he closed his eyes and opened his hand. “They will remember this. This benevolence. This wisdom. They will remember that I intercede for them.” His face contorted one last time, and then he nodded at the priests, and slouched where he stood. In that moment, even with his scarlet and gold garb, he did not look like a king.

Li Bir’s mother dropped to her knees and covered her eyes, her sacred bronze circlet clattering to the stone floor. Li Bir’s eyes stayed fixed on the comet, right until the priests grabbed her.

King Soerbur turned, and walked to the edge of the balcony. “The Divine Vessel comes again, demanding tribute. In his wisdom, Nonnoctus clads his body in light, and so must we clad our offerings. We pray for forgiveness for our wrongs, and pray that our rivers stay steady, our bodies stay healthy, and the Divine grant us their wisdom. We sacrifice to the lights of heaven!”

Atop every ziggurat and wall tower, bright pyres flared with alchemical flame: one hundred tiny suns. Across the city, people’s torches joined them, reflected in dishes of bronze so that they shone even brighter.

Still, they could see the comet.

The alchemical fire that engulfed Li Bir burned hotter and brighter than any in the city. They threw her from the balcony, in the same direction as the dusk. For a brief moment, both she and the comet traveled towards the sun, bright trails marvelous to look at. Then, she plummeted into the pyre below, and it burned with such intensity that the comet faded from sight.

The fires illuminated King Soerbur’s tears, but the shouting in the city below drowned the wracking sobs of his first wife. Amid the dancing fires and panicked bleating of goats as their necks were opened, people cried prayers to the sky, begging for a good harvest, imploring the gods to keep the plague from them, and that they would be spared all the many evils of the world.

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice

Flash: Lyres of Ur

Ocean Music
~925 words

I am a god.

I spread myself like a blanket across the waves, drinking the brine, stretching out towards dueling horizons. The fish below beat a rhythmic pulse with each flip of their fins. The crabs and lobsters creak and crunch across the cloudy benthos while the slimy worms wend their watery way through the underslime beneath. I swallow it all, this deep watery orchestra, imbibe and imbue myself with its heavy melodies. I am a god, and the ocean, earth, and sky are my body, my home, my soul.

My music.

But we gods have needs, too. I can't resist her pull.

She sings to me from the temple on the shore. I shrink, swirling and contracting, drawing up from the deep and down from the sky. My expanse becomes a single point above the waves. I am pulled, drawn to her, dancing across the wave crests to the beach where she sits before the altar.

She is a Sumer beauty, midnight black hair framing coal eyes and coffee skin. I appear before her as a dolphin cresting the waves, playful, spinning and splashing in the foam. She laughs and claps her hands. This our game, her and I, and so I dive and twist the dolphin's form, pulling and plucking its tissues into new shapes and configurations until I step from the water in the form of a young, powerful man, with a robe made of ever-swimming fishes and hair and long beard of bright green kelp. Scales cover my body, sunlight shimmering across them in a hypnotic cacophony.

For the first time I notice my lover is not alone.

"This is Anhu, my brother," she says. "He asked me to call for you."

This pleases me. Like his sister, Anhu is beautiful. Lithe and muscular, a rash of black hair over smooth clay skin, he is clad modestly.

Not for long,

"He has brought you a gift. Something he made."

Anhu bows and opens a cloth-wrapped bundle to reveal a device of carved wood and string. It's a creation unlike anything I have seen before. I reach for it, then hesitate.

"What is it? What does it do?" I ask. I look closer. It's both crude and curious, wrapped with carvings and inlaid with jade and gemstones.

"I call it a lyre," Anhu says. "It has strings bound between sections of wood, stretched to different tensions. You pluck the strings and it makes music." He drags his hands across the strings, and it makes a jangling, discordant noise that pains my ears.

I laugh. "I'm sorry, but It's absurd," I turn back to my lover. "That noise is no more music than the clamoring voice you use to call me."

Her eyes lower. "That's why we have come to you. The lyre should produce beautiful melodies, like the pulse of the ocean and the songs of the birds, but it doesn't. We don't know why. We thought perhaps you could help?"

I sigh. "Music can never come from mortal contraptions of wood and string. Music is for the gods, not for you."

Her eyes flash with anger. "Why do you keep it from us?"

"You couldn't understand it. Beauty, art, music — these are for the gods. Mortal minds can't possibly begin to feel what we feel. I wish you could, but I'm afraid it's just impossible."

Her eyes flash. "You told me once that we were made in your image."

"You are, my lover. But—"

"You lied."

I step back. No mortal has ever deigned to address me with such indeference. But though I am a patient and forgiving god, I still have my needs. "My lover, you called and I came. Let us be done with this distraction and retire to the temple bed. And it would please me if your dear brother joined us." With a smooth and muscular motion I reach down, grab the lyre, and turn to cast it into the ocean.

Then I hear the singing.

From all around me, powerful mortal voices call, pulling to towards them. I spin, lyre in hand, confused.

Ten Sumer women advance from the temple, chanting, singing, calling. I am pulled to them, to their atonal cries, chanting my name in their dusty language, their sand-dry vocal cords rasping rough syllables and ugly melodies, calling me. I feel myself being pulled from my body, my god-essence shifting from the flesh I occupy, pulled out. Never before have I felt the power of so many voices at once, all summoning. Beckoning.

Then Anhur grasps the lyre that I still hold, and he begins to chant as well, and I feel myself being pulled down, down, down, into the lyre, into the carvings and etchings and into the strings of animal gut and into the black mahogany wood, and though I fight I cannot pull away. The flesh I'd inhabited falls back into the beach, empty, discarded.

We created mankind in our image, and yet we created them to serve us: these ideal can't coexist, and that was our folly.


The sun sets over the western horizon. Anhur watches the waves roll gently towards him. The priest-women of the temple are gone, and his sister retired to her bed long ago. The full moon casts white reflections across the dark ocean waters.

All is still.

Absently, he plucks the strings of the lyre. Sweet melodies pour forth, melding with the rhythm of the waves and cry of the birds above.

He smiles, closes his eyes, and dreams of new creations.

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

Sacred Vessels
1101 words
Flash rule: the Baghdad Battery

Gather the blankets, child, and make sure the tent flaps are tied tightly. Ashta's Star is rising, and it'll be a hard rain tonight. The sky always opens up to remember Ashta.

You don't know about Ashta's Star, do you? I forget your parents were valley-dwellers. Ashta was born before the drought, when our people lived in the lands of the Mountain-Carvers. She was a temple slave in the Mountain-Carvers' city, and like all of their priests and temple slaves, she was made to swallow a copper jar containing a scrap of their sacred parchment, bound by their magic never to leave her body. Only one who contained the holy words could enter the Temple. She labored for them all her life until the droughts came and our herds fled; when we knew we would have to follow them, we stormed the city and took back our people to join our migration. They say Ashta never saw green grass before that day.

To the Mountain-Carvers, Ashta was less than nothing, but to our people, she was a great wise woman. She could feel the shift of the wind and clouds in those awful days when most of our weather-wisdom began to fail, and she knew how to guide the herds as if she'd grown up in the fields. The sages said she must be guided by the Lord of Rain and Grass, and the people loved her like she'd never been loved before. She took a husband -- she wasn't a young woman, even then, but the Mountain-Carvers hadn't allowed her the company of men -- and had three children, one after the other, all healthy and strong. Ashta was blessed.

Something was changing inside Ashta. Nobody knows even now how it happened, but when I think of it, I picture Ashta in the fires of the forge, the metals of her spirit alloying into something powerful and strange. The pain and resentment she must have felt all her life, then the happiness of freedom, the fear that came with every migration season -- I can imagine how they might mix together into something new, something nobody could name. Perhaps the early migrants had a name for it, and perhaps they all carried it with them, but only Ashta carried the Mountain-Carvers' sacred words as well. The gods of their temple weren't our gods, but something in that pot and in Ashta's heart called to the Lord of Rain and Grass just the same. A power was building within her.

After thirty years of migration, in the hottest autumn we'd known since the drought began, we had to pass through the pale desert of the White Sand Vetch-Eaters. They say the Vetch-Eaters, gone mad from bitter leaves and starvation, gave themselves over to the spirits of the drought; there would be no peaceful passage and no trading with them, and of course little water and no grazing for the herds. We looked to the sages for a safe path, but Ashta had fallen ill that summer and seemed in a last decline. She'd never been very strong -- imagine a copper jar in your stomach, and you'll see why she could never eat much -- but she'd grown bloated even as her appetite failed, and she had to ride in a chariot, without the strength to stay on a horse. The other sages said it was worm-sickness from bad water. Even Ashta knew she would pass soon; they say the people only hoped they could bury her on safe green lands.

The people were a week into the desert, with a week to go, when a village of Vetch-Eaters saw us. Their shamans began their terrible cries, and soon the stars were blotted out in the sky by a cloud of dark spots: the Vetch-Eaters' Swarm, locusts and biting flies that could carve away the hide from an ox or strip a man of his flesh before he could run. To flee the Swarm was to be lost in the desert to starve, and to stand before the Swarm was to be devoured. There was no escape.

As the people stared into the sky at their death on its way, Ashta pulled herself to her feet. She began to whisper an old prayer to the Lord of Rain and Grass, growing louder and louder until her voice died. For a moment, the people say, she glowed like the hidden moon, and the Swarm descended around her. Lightning burst forth from her mouth, with the fury of a great summer storm, and the Swarm burned. When the sky cleared and the light died down, the people found Ashta dead, collapsed onto her knees but smiling.

Ashta's body was borne across the rest of the Pale Desert. When the sages prepared her for burial, they saw strange shapes below her skin; when they cut open her body, they found the copper jar in her stomach shattered and the scrap of parchment grown into a long scroll, snaking into chest and wrapping around her heart. It was written in the letters of the Mountain-Carvers, but the words spoke of green sprouts and spring winds, freedom and struggle, the sacred teachings of the Lord of Rain and Grass. It was our people's first holy song, transmuted by Ashta's wisdom and grace from the pain of her captivity.

When Ashta was buried and her song was sung for the first time, her son stepped forward and asked to bear a scrap of his mother's words within him, in hopes of repeating her miracle. He was the first of our Song-bearers, who carry the Lord's blessing and give their lives when our people stand at the brink of destruction. We've been lucky not to need them since your parents joined our migration, and perhaps we'll be lucky enough never to need one again -- to see what a holy song is like grown in the chest of one who has lived a full life.

The holy songs are the story of our migration, but they say nothing of the ones who live and die for them and for us. This is why we remember the stars of the night that Ashta died for us -- remember the bright blue light of Ashta's Star at its height -- and tell her story, carrying it with us like the Song-bearers carry their parchment. Of course, hers is not our only story... but I've talked a long time, child, and you've listened well. I hear the rain coming. Tomorrow, we'll see if it's dry enough to work the forges, or if it'll just be a day for song.

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!

Fox, Quick and Clever
1195 words
Flash: Señor de las Limas

On a cold, clear day some time in his twelfth autumn, Vratsa left his village at the crook of the river and made his way into the forest. He carried only some strips of dried meat, a skin of water, and the spear that a grandfather had helped him make only days before. He knew that every single member of the People had made this journey before him, or would make it after him, but this fact didn’t comfort him much as he stopped feeling the sun on his shoulders as the forest’s canopy closed in above him. The path into the forest didn’t stretch very far, and soon enough he found himself at its end. Lying just beyond it was the corpse of a rabbit. Scavengers had eaten its eyes. He stepped over it, and into the wilds beyond.

For a child to become an adult, they had to venture into the forest, and bring something back. Everyone knew that it didn’t really matter what you brought back, as long as you found something meaningful to you, but everyone [/i]also[/i] knew that it really did matter what you returned with, and that if you found something special out there in the dark of the woods, everyone would know you’d been marked by Fox.

He knew there were other villages. He’d met traders from them. But the People were wisest, best at hunting, finest makers of tools. The People had writing, had secret knowledge of the skies, and of the great oceans beneath the earth. The People were never lost. Their ancestors had the blessing of Fox, and the People guarded their blessing fiercely. While his grandmother had prayed over him before he set out, Vratsa had promised himself that he would bring something back that would mark him as special.

Fox is not Wolf. Fox is not a great hunter. Fox always likes it best when food comes to her. Fox is wise because Fox is curious, Fox is cunning, Fox is clever.

Days passed, and he didn’t find what he was seeking. He still didn’t even know what it was he was looking for. On the third day, as his food was running low, he set a snare and caught a rabbit. He supposed he had better find a place to settle in and prepare it. He was contemplating whether he should try and bring down a larger animal using his spear, when he put a foot wrong, and found himself tumbling down a slope that he had not seen.

He rolled to a halt. He lay at the bottom of the gulley, and began slowly checking himself for injuries. When he had assured himself that he was fine, he brushed himself off, picked himself up, and found his bearings. His spear hadn’t been as lucky as he’d been, and had splintered into a dozen pieces as he tumbled down the steep incline. Looking further ahead, he saw what appeared to be cave at the far end of the gulley, the mouth covered in creeping vines and broken branches.

He gently made his way towards it, and cleared the entrance as quickly and quietly as he could. In the hush of the late afternoon, he could hear the wind whistling deeper inside. He shivered, and didn’t want to go in without something to protect himself, now his spear was useless. Lying near his feet was a sharp rock. He bent down and gripped it tightly. It wasn’t much comfort. But he stepped across the threshold and into the cave anyway.

He walked for what felt like miles. The cave kept on going, twisting and turning, the tunnel seeming to double back on itself as Vratsa descended . He was beginning to doubt himself, and wanted to turn back, until he saw a faint glow in the distance ahead. Though his instincts screamed to turn back, he pressed forwards.

He rounded a bend, and there, far beneath the earth, he found Fox.

Fox was huge. Fox was crimson, in tooth and fur and claw. Fox was sleeping. He’d seen foxes before, scavenging on the outskirts of the village, and he’d always thought that Fox was like them: small, sleek and hungry. But here She was, nothing like he had expected. She was the shadow of a fox, cast long on the ground by a fire, flowing in the dimness of a cave. She was a painting of a fox, daubed on wall. She was a nightmare’s fox, stalking the mind of a sleeper. Vratsa knew that She was sleeping, and started to utter a quick prayer that She would not wake, before realising that perhaps praying to Fox right now was not going to make him safer. His heart caught in his throat, and he turned to leave. He had wanted to return with something precious, but more than that, he wanted to return alive. The longer he stayed here, deep underground in the presence of a sleeping god, the less likely that was to happen. He started backing away.

He wasn’t expecting Her eyes to open. He froze. Her gaze locked with his, as a fire spread through his body and he felt his world braid itself around the god, a grin on Her face, as long limbs unfurled and many eyes opened. Little glowing fires appeared around Her, on the floor of the cave, and on its walls, bathing it in an eerie green glow.

Vratsa didn’t scream, but it was a close thing.

“I’ve… I’ve come for a blessing...” he managed to stammer.

She grinned again, and plucked out one of Her many eyes. He could see it growing back beneath the lid as she blinked lazily. She held it out to him and licked Her lips. Vratsa reached out to take it, thinking - hoping, praying - it was a gift, but She pulled her paw back, and held out another, this one empty.

No gifts, child.” The words echoed in his mind. He realised what She wanted from him, in that instant, but didn’t dare offer it up. Instead, he held out the rabbit he’d caught. She laughed, and took it with Her paw. A long tongue snaked out languidly, taking the rabbits eyes, then its tongue, then tearing into its belly and lapping up the viscera.

Another empty paw extended. The paw holding Her eye was just beyond Vratsa’s reach. He knew what She wanted. Trembling, he raised his hand towards his face, the stone still held tightly. He winced, drew a deep breath, and jammed the pointed end into his left eye.

The world went red, and Fox’s laughter echoed around him, as Her tongue swept across his face. He felt something drop into his hand.

Thank you, child. It’s always better this way. Now, run on.”

He didn’t have to be told twice.

Vratsa staggered out of the cave, the light blinding him in his good eye for a moment. It was the next morning. He started making his way back home, a burning stone cupped in his hands, new knowledge in his mind, and Fox’s blessing burning in his heart.

Jun 28, 2011

I had that weird dream again.

Snow On The Shore
1198 words
Flash rule: The Antikythera Mechanism

The boy climbed out onto the deck of the ship, scanning the overcast horizon before making his way to the prow, ducking under the low sails. Here he found the old man, as he had on many days before on their voyage across the sea, sat hunched over his box - absorbed in his work. So absorbed that he never seemed to notice the weather. The boy shrugged the cloak from his shoulders, wrapping it around the old man as he approached.

“Grandfather, do you truly not feel the chill? Or are you testing my vigilance?”

“Vigilance, my boy?” The old man cracked a smile. “Let’s say it’s that. Or both.”

The old man looked up at his grandson and shook his head.

“I know what you’re going to say - but no! It really can’t wait until we dock. I’ll only be staying a week and it’s not enough time - especially with this cloud.” The old man gave a vague gesture towards the sky.

“Can you try to explain your machine to me again? Why do you need the sun out?” The boy asked.

The old man bowed his head, turning over a tiny copper cog in his hand. Eventually he nodded and patted his lap - the boy dutifully sat. The old man began his explanation but to the boy his words quickly spiralled into an arcane gibberish as it had time and time before. Perhaps when he was older the boy would finally grasp how the tiny copper gears all fit together in the guts of the machine in the box. The old man still humoured the boy - his understanding didn’t really matter. For now they both knew that some company was better than none.

They were both so enagaged in the talk and work that neither of them noticed the dark smudge on the horizon coming into clearer and clearer focus. It wasn’t until several of the old man’s slaves stood around them, gesturing and gawping, that they both finally craned their necks up to see that they were arriving. The island of both their birth’s loomed out ahead - a pure white mass against the grey sea and sky.

“Wait, white?” The boy gawped at the island in unison with the slaves.

The old man shook his head and smiled - he had forgotten how young the boy still was.

“Snow, my boy. A tad unusual for the time of year, but we do get it on occasion on the islands. It’s not something to look so dumbly at. You’ll see; in a day or two it will melt away and it will be like it was never there.”

The boy heard the words but wasn’t really listening. To him, to see the hills and cliffs and rooftops of his home blanketed in white was a marvel. Even the beach was pure white. The only dark smudge where the snow had not settled was the old fort on the far end of the island. Most of the year the weather was mild or warm, they had rain and sleet and hail and there was an almighty chill in the winter, but he had never seen it snow like this.

Soon, the boat moored, and a little procession formed on the docks - the old man clutching his large wooden box - hung from a thick leather strap over his shoulder, the boy at his side, helping his grandfather and behind them, several slaves all carrying luggage. They shuffled out of the docks and up the winding path to the village - the route still familiar to the boy even with the fresh blanket of snow. The old man seemed to clutch at the boys arm almost as hard as he did his box - the pair trudging only as fast as the old man could go.

Halfway up the hill to their family’s villa, the old man stopped, dismissing the boy’s concerned look with a raised palm. He sat down on a crumbling low stone wall next to the path and sighed.

“I’m fine, just need a minute to rest.” The old man waved at the halted throng of slaves.

“You lot, go on! Up the hill, you know the way. Me and the boy will follow shortly.”

The slaves all nodded silently and resumed their trudge up the hill, snow crunching underfoot. The boy took a perch next to the old man.

“Grandfather? I know you haven’t seen mother and father in a long while but-” the old man cut across him:

“No, no, it’s not that.” He smiled wearily, “I’m just old my boy. These old legs, and this great lump,” he tapped the side of the box, “they weigh you down. Eventually. Nothing you can do about that.”

They sat there a while in silence before the old man turned to the boy.

“Thank you for coming with me. I know you don’t think so, but you’ve been a great help to me. I’m only sorry that I have to leave again so soon.”

They smiled at each other and the old man drew the boy into a sidelong one armed hug.

“Do you have to? You could delay a week and say there was a storm?” The boy pleaded. The old man shook his head in response.

“You know I can’t. This thing is not the work of one man. It needs to get to where it’s going.”

They hugged again before the old man stood, reaching for the boy’s arm. The boy quickly supported him and they made their way up the hill.


A week later, the boy wept on the dock as he watched his grandfather’s ship return to open water - fearful that the storm would claim it. Knowing it would. Despite the reassurances of his parents who held him, of the sailors who flitted to and fro - he still grieved for his grandfather. The clouds were too dark, the wind rising too high. They said the storm was going one way and the ship sailing the other. But looking out on the ship growing small in the distance, only the black of the roiling clouds seemed to surround it. The boy stood there long into the afternoon, long since his parents retired. As dusk settled he finally turned and followed them up the hill. He stopped at the low crumbling wall where he had sat before with his grandfather and thumbed a patch of snow along the stones that had not yet melted. The rest, the blanket of white, had all melted away as the old man had said it would - as if it were never there.

Feb 25, 2014

1082 words

flash rule: Nimrud lens

The Legend of Fire


flerp fucked around with this message at Sep 13, 2018 around 23:06

Apr 21, 2010

'Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' -Samuel Johnson

A Hole in the Sky

821 words

Flash: Bi (Jade Disks)

Genlau pointed at the man leaning against the wooden wall. “Him?” he said. “Surely he’s too young.”

“His eyes are older than his face,” said the villager. “That is Mafai.”

Genlau considered. Some people were ageless, it was true. His own father, as his uncles told it, had been born an old man, his hair turning grey before his balls dropped. He tossed a coin, filed and pitted, to the man and gestured him away.

“Is it true?” he asked. “You are Mafai? The survivor?”

He lifted his head and Genlau saw his eyes. Old. Cold. “I am. You wish to see Quonqua?”

“How do you-” said Genlau.

“Men seek me for one of two reasons only,” said Mafai. “And you look the sort of man who could afford a better night companion. What do you want of Quonqua?”

“Jade,” said Genlau. Mafai's eyes grew narrower, and even colder. “Not to steal, that is.” Genlau stepped backward. “I am a carver by trade. I would see the old tools, glean their methods.”

“A worthy ambition,” said Mafai. “The journey is three hard days. Are you provisioned for such a trip?” Genlau nodded.

* * *

“What happened here?” asked Genlau. Quonqua lay before them, a jumble of rocks in the shape of a city wall, except that the wall would have run right into a lake.

“There is a hole in the sky,” said Mafai.

Genlau waited for Mafai to continue. He didn't. “ A hole in the sky?”

“The sky is the home of the gods, but it is also a shield. It stands between us and the chaos beyond. But there is a hole in the sky. Here. Above us. One day a piece of chaos fell through and...” Mafai waved his hand. “A warning. There will be many skeletons, once we cross the walls.”

“Still?” said Genlau. “I thought that you-”

“I could have spent my life burying the dead and still not be finished. Not doing it properly, and doing it badly would be worse than doing nothing. I chose another path.”

“As a prostitute,” said Genlau.

“ A trade like any other. Like carving Jade. It feeds no mouths, wins no battles, but it gives enough joy that some are willing to pay for it. It is said that to see a skeleton is to be haunted by that man’s spirit for all your years.”

“You seem okay, and how many have you seen?”

“I have grown accustomed to their company.”

* * *

The workshop, underground, had survived the fall of Quonqua. Genlau and Mafai shifted a heavy stone to reveal a staircase. Genlau had felt strange building a camp-fire in full light of day, but they needed torchlight below.

The air was thick in the old workshop before they added fresh smoke, with glittering dust and the musty funk of slowly rotting wood. Mafai pointed out the tools, the grinding drills that cut a hole in a slab of jade, the axle and surface to grind them round and smooth, the delicate brass tools for detail work. Genlau feigned interest.

We are under the hole in the sky he thought. Not even the gods are witness here. Genlau drew a bronze dagger and punched it between Mafai’s ribs in a single motion, the last survivor of Quonqua falling to the gem-dust covered ground, his torch falling to the ground ahead. Genlau surveyed the room. More jade than he could carry.

He set to gathering the most valuable pieces, then searched for other treasures. There were other polished stones, quartzes and amber and turquoise. He picked up a large smooth quartz to examine more closely. A sudden wind swept from behind him, blowing sparkling dust up through the workshop chimney, blowing out his torch. The other, on the floor, still burned. He turned toward it and caught glimpse of Mafai. In the reflected light, through the clear gem he thought he could see straight through the dead man's flesh, straight to the bones. He shook his head and leaned down for the other torch.

He felt bony hands around his throat. He struggled. The hands holding him jerked backward, and he felt nothing at all.

There is a hole in the sky. Once, Mafai consulted an oracle, to learn more about his condition. The gods, he learned, did not watch Quonqua's end. They marked all within dead. But Mafai did not die, and could not, as no new orders to move his soul along would ever be forthcoming.

Someday, he might grow tired of life, tired of love contracted and, rarely, freely given. Someday Quonqua would be forgotten, the skeletons ground by time’s axles and rough surface to dust. Someday he might even guide a man here who will not be overcome by greed. Until then, he would sell what he could of Genlau's possessions, spend the money on wasteful indulgence, and return to his familiar wall.

Feb 18, 2014

Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
1,194 words
Flash: Nebra sky disc

"What matter brings you here, boy?" Tethis asked her son as he approached her in the woods. She glanced at him with her head tilted down, still facing the half-formed fetish in her hands. Sinew hung from bone, limp and slick, waiting to be tied into the knot her grandfather taught her. The blood she spilled to obtain those materials still covered her hands and forearms. A horrid smell, rotten meat infused with inevitability, hung in the air around her. If she were a wolf with teeth bared, she could not look less inviting to her son.

Uthred approached her regardless, with a sack in hand and an ashen pallor. "Father died two nights ago. He wanted you to have these."

So that was it. Torlis left her, took Uthred, and spent the rest of his life in a human hive without so much as a word back. Now he lived in her memory, along with countless others. Her mind felt like a wall where endless people took turns painting. Each departed soul she took a piece of overlapped, merged, became indistinguishable. Sometimes she woke up and forgot who she was. Would she be Torlis for a moment tomorrow? How could Uthred ever live with so many people in one place, so many dead who he could not forget?

Tethis finished tying the knot, scowling, ready to feel her husband's spirit creeping in. As she got up to wash her hands, Uther approached her, sack open, and withdrew a loaf of bread. "Are you hungry?"

It looked round and soft, kissed by an oven's flame in the heart of whatever town they absconded off to. Her eyes caught the fissures on top, cracking its carapace. Smooth texture. One couldn't tell it had once been grain. "Hmph. I just had deer, idiot. You can have it."

With a sigh, Uthred sat on the ground and fished in the sack. He replaced the bread with a piece of meat, spiced and salted, and took a bite from it. "Father thought if you tasted our cooking, you might come to town."

"Extravagant. You shouldn't eat anything you don't find and make yourself."

Uthred dug deeper. He clutched a disc that glinted in the light of the fire. Tethis approached, bent to look, saw celestial bodies rendered in gleaming metal.

"He thought you must not see the night sky often, with the trees in your way."

Tethis warded herself, spitting between interlaced fingers. "They watch us from up there. I won't be party to it. Besides, someone has to keep the wards up."

Before she could move past Uthred and start cutting her deerskin, he reached for the sack's bottom and pulled out a slab of clay, pockmarked on both sides. No, Tethis thought, it had been gouged deliberately. The carver had arranged the marks in lines, without an obvious pattern. She could only tell that most marks repeated themselves on each side. They were such simple marks, too, nothing like the intricate glyphs she painted on her fetishes. Yet the pattern of them, ugly and asymmetrical, repelled itself from her mind.

Seeing her curdled face, Uthred smiled and held the tablet in both hands. "I'll teach you to read it, if you want. It's a message from father. 'Tethis, I regret that I could not hold you one last time before sickness claimed me. The town grows yearly, and someone there always needs my help. Though there are too many faces there for me to remember, I am confident that they can remember each other just as well, though they may need your help to learn the best way. I give you my knowledge of herbs, worts and spices in exchange.' It's on the back, mother. 'Though I may be gone—'"


He looked up and saw Tethis with her back to the tree, face pale, wide eyes glued to the tablet as she made another sign with her fingers. He had never seen those fingers tremble before. "You come to my camp and you bring me the words of the dead?," she shrieked. "How dare you! Can't you feel his soul rotting in stone, where anyone can befoul it with their eyes?"

Uthred tucked the tablet under one arm and raised his palm to placate her. "Mother, we meant no harm! Father intended—" He jumped back to avoid a swipe from a sturdy branch Tethis wielded. "Mother!"

"Out, necromancer, out! Go back to your endless gathering, your unnatural web of souls! Subsume yourself and be rid of me forever! Begone!"

Her only son fled into the woods, losing himself in the brush after only seconds. The first time he had gone, because of Torlis's whim, she felt her heart rend asunder, the presence of countless ancestors past flooding it with comfort. She knew she should feel the same now, would never part painlessly from him. So why wouldn't she?


In a house of wood, one among many, Uthred wove his daily cloth when a knock interrupted him. He opened it and beheld Tethis, who looked shabby in his communal environment. "Mother?"

"The souls overwhelm me, Uthred," she said as she stumbled inside. "Glyphs atop glyphs atop glyphs atop stiff, rotting skin. I cannot die with such a racket in me." Tethis sobbed, paralyzed with the shame that she could not fulfill her duty as intended. "Perhaps your necromancy can end my pain. Perhaps it will allow me to be a mother again."

For a time they embraced, and Uthred dried Tethis's tears on the shoulder of his tunic. Introductions would come later, mostly for the townspeople's benefit. Tethis had enough people in her head already, at least for now. Most importantly was the stonecarver, who showed her a menhir on the outskirts that towered over their heads. When Tethis could stand to look straight at it, she smiled and said, "This will do."

A fortnight passed, and Tethis never left the menhir's side. She retreated inward, working to untangle the threads of her ancestor's best ideas and the emotions they left on them. From her great-grandfather came the best way to slaughter deer and cook their meat, and the satisfaction he saw on his father's face after his first kill. From her grandmother came a litany of new glyphs and the tension she felt testing them against the dark heart of the wood. From her father came the first impression of those little symbols and the revulsion she used to lash out at Uthred.

One by one, those threads left her at night, as she spoke them to Uthred, as he painted the menhir in her bloody words, as she forced diminished spirits into it and the blood glowed and the rock underneath evaporated while the ghost etched themselves deep inside. In a month, writing covered every square inch, and Tethis felt light enough to float into the sky, between the stars on Torlis's disc.

"Soon I'll have a place on the menhir," she told Uthred one day. "It anchors our family as you anchor me."

"Hopefully not too soon," Uthred replied. "You still need to learn how to cook."

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

1200 words


On the forty seventh day of the expedition, Preceptor Malfi, along with everyone else in the camp, saw the devil. It came to them all in a dream and spoke a single word in the ancient speech: Elehu. Turn back.

As is often the case in dreams, Malfi was unable to speak: but he raised his hands in mute query. The devil, its skin black and glossy like obsidian, opened its mouth wider than a citadel gateway, breath stinking of rotten melon, and swallowed him whole.

He awoke, gasping, and lay motionless for a moment until his heart calmed. The fought his arms free of the silk mosquito netting to touch the taut canvas over his head. He ran his fingernails across the fabric, listening to the skritching. Then he clambered out of the tent into the hot moist pre-dawn air of the jungle clearing that their expedition had claimed. To the bleary face of Arol the surgeon as it emerged from her own tent, he proclaimed: “The forces of evil marshal themselves to drive us away: we have found it!”

Arol looked at him with a sour expression. “You saw it too? Devils lie in dreams, it is known. Perhaps it told you that to make you stay here?” She shuddered. “I can still smell its breath.”

Malfi frowned. Then he waved a hand. “Your skepticism is noted, colleague. Nonetheless, we will focus our search in this place.”

In fact, they did not find anything for another five days, but then a bearer did not return from a fruit-gathering expedition, a search party was assembled, and his broken body was spied at the bottom of a narrow chasm. Malfi was supervising the rope work to retrieve him when he noticed sharp-edged fragment in the mulch. He picked it up and handed it to Arol. “Lapis work, Arol!”

Arol had been drinking kzat with the bearers the night before and her narrow eyes were shadowed. She turned the potsherd over in her fingers. “Cerulean. Favoured colour of the worshippers of Krl of the Deeps.”

Malfi guffawed. “Perhaps our devil was not so deceptive, eh? Come Arol, you aren’t so fat you can’t shimmy down a rope!” Leaning out he grabbed the palm flax rope, for which until now had little use except tying up supplies, and clambered down it hand over hand.

A little show-offy, he conceded to himself as his feet touched the rock next to the bearer’s contorted body, but drama has its place. Overhead he heard puffing as Arol climbed down to join him with the aid of a clamp winch.

“Broken neck,” she said of the bearer. “Poor fellow. Manjer was his name.”

Malfi grunted. “Yes, of course. But look here. Arol, look here.” He breathed in the cool air wafting out of the long, narrow crack in the wall of the chasm. Through it he could dimly see tiles, laid on the walls of a corridor. He reached through the gap and wiped one clean. Beneath the grime it was rich, cerulean blue.


Two days later they made their new camp, inside the ruins. The bearers had complained about a lack of time to mourn their fallen comrade but Malfi explained to them, through Arol, that time was of the essence - they were running low on supplies after their long search, and it was vital that such a rich discovery was properly recorded for the Preceptorium.

And it was rich indeed - Malfi’s tentative map spanned a page of his notebook already and there still three uncharted vaults. It seemed the temple had been abandoned, many hundred years before, but no animals had taken up residence in its echoing halls. Malfi mused upon the puzzle to Arol as they walked down a long staircase, sputtering torch held high. “All of the other temples to Krl were desecrated in the Unfurling. Perhaps they missed this one after the great earthquake? Can you imagine their faces, Arol, when we come back bearing artifacts like conquering heroes?”

Arol had grown gloomier as Malfi’s spirits had mounted. She shook her head, two firm motions. “I think on our night-time visitor, Malfi. There might be a reason why this treasure house is empty and unplundered, and I fear we have yet to discover it.”

Malfi nodded, absently, then held up a hand. “Wait. You smell that? Does that seem familiar to you?”

Arol sniffed. Her expression curdled, slowly.

“Yes,” she said. “Like a watermelon, left to rot in the sun.”


A week later the mood in the camp was souring. A growing pile of ritual goods, artifacts of the worship of the cthonic god Krl, attested to the work that Malfi and Arol were doing, but the stink of the pit was omnipresent now and Malfi was noticing the bearers were tardy in heeding his commands.

“Arol, you must speak to them,” he muttered in her ear through the wet cloth he had wrapped around his face against the stink. They were four levels down, pulling rocks away from where they had fallen, obstructing a passage that was adorned with a flaking stucco mural. Fragments of deep blue and crimson still remained.

Arol shrugged, jammed her pick under a rock and levered it free. “They had the same dream as we did. They’re simple folk and are disinclined to parse the devil’s meaning for bluff or counterbluff. I think they may be right, I fear this air is not good for any humans; even people of such eminent wisdom as you and I.”

The sarcasm was not lost on Malfi. He pondered in silence for a moment, as Arol strained at another rock, then he nodded. “Your concerns have merit. We will clear this tunnel, then make preparations for departure. I confess I am eager to see Preceptor Harun’s face when I present him with--”

At that moment Arol gave a final heave, whooped as she got the rock to move then yelled in shock as it kept going, followed by an avalanche of masonry. The lantern was engulfed in rubble and went out. With the cloud of dust came a cloying miasma, a smell so thick it clogged Malfi’s nose with the stench of rotten watermelon. He sprawled flat on his back, arms stretched wide, and coughed out stinking dust.

“Arol?” he spluttered. “Arol, are you--” Malfi groped for Arol in the fetid blackness and found her boot. He felt up it to the rocks that covered it, and her. He scrabbled at the rock on her head, but it was too heavy to shift, and he whimpered.

There was a skritching, like the sound of fingernails on canvas, coming from the opened tunnel. He knew with a heavy, sudden certainty that the sound was death, death for him, death for all the bearers, death and oblivion. He had opened a tomb for all of them and prepared the earth for their burial shroud.

Arol, I should have listened sooner... I just wanted knowledge for all.

But, as the thought went through his head, it evoked a picture, of him pleading to a jury, hands outstretched in entreaty. There was no mercy in their stony faces.

Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

The Power of Raglatan
1050 words

People were screaming and Ram couldn’t find Cynta. It had been many years since another tribe had been bold enough to raid their mountain home, and the villagers had become complacent. The ever-watchful Guardians had been decorated with garlands of flowers and other items of worship, as if they were nothing more than statues. Huge and thick-limbed, their bodies grotesque with misshapen muscles and hardened skin like bark, it was easy to forget the Guardians were, or had once been, people. The magic that wrought their unnatural strength also rendered them silent, with no need of food or rest, and robbed them of any recognition of their families and loved ones.

Black-robed men cut their way through the villagers, armed and unarmed alike. The raiders were seeking the source of the Guardians’ power, a secret kept deep within the mountain and guarded by the village for longer than their oldest tales could recall. They called it Raglatan, the cursed mountain. Ram understood why; he was old enough to have seen many such foolhardy raids, old enough to have seen dear friends sacrificed to maintain the ranks of the Guardians. It was the only thing he and Cynta had ever disagreed about. She said the power was a blessing, a gift from Raglatan that kept their tribe safe from the endless conflicts that ravaged those on the plains below. She believed the sacrifice was a necessary price.

Ram stumbled into the village’s market square. Three Guardians stood, red with blood. Around them dead raiders lay scattered and broken. At their feet, a fourth Guardian lay dead. Across the square Ram saw Cynta crouched, unharmed, behind an overturned wagon. One of the Guardians grabbed her, lifted her easily. Ram’s heart froze in his chest. No, he thought. Not her. Cynta’s long grey hair trailed over the Guardian’s blood-slick arms as it turned and strode, smooth and fast despite its bulk, into the mountain.

Ram’s arthritic knees burned as he ran through the tunnels that generations of villagers had carved into Raglatan’s side. Others were hiding in their cave-homes, or tending the injured. Ram ignored them. The path steepened as he descended into the heart of the mountain. Ahead, a group of men stood with bloodied swords, their faces covered with black fabric.

The closest raised his scimitar, ready to cut Ram down, when the floor bucked under their feet. Ram was knocked to the ground. Gasping for breath he watched as the flagstones began to writhe like scales on a snake’s back. The air filled with dust as the walls shook. The mountain pulled itself apart and the floor opened, swallowing the raiders. Ram dug his fingers desperately into the gaps between the flagstones but as the chasm widened the floor tilted and he found himself sliding, tumbling down over the rocks into the dark.

Ram coughed and gasped at the pain of broken ribs. He was lying on a narrow flagstone ledge in the remains of another tunnel. Beside him was nothing but black empty space. Ahead, a dim blue light shimmered on the rough stone walls. Ram crawled painfully towards it. The tunnel opened into a huge cavern. In the center was a natural stone pool, fed by drips from the stalactites above. The water glowed with soft light and the droplets hitting the surface rang like bells.

A dark shape floated in the water. Her body was misshapen, her aims and legs elongated and coiled with thick ropes of muscle. Yet her face, framed by the soft fan of her long grey hair, was unmistakably Cynta’s.

Ram limped forward. The sides of the pool were steep, and he moaned with pain as he lowered himself into the water. Chest-deep water, it was warm against his skin as he put his arms behind Cynta’s neck and lifted her face to his.

“Ram?” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“Yes, my love,” Ram said. Tears rolled down his cheeks and his broken ribs were like hot knives as he pulled Cynta towards the edge of the pool. But as he tried to lift her from the water she screamed with pain. Long black tendrils, like roots reaching up from the bottom of the pool, were fused with her fingers and toes. Letting her float again on the pool’s surface Ram pulled his knife from his belt.

“Ram, stop, it’s better this way,” she said. Ram shook his head, lips pressed tightly together to stop them trembling.

“I can’t lose you,” he said. “This power is a curse, we should let them have have it. Then we could leave this place, live our lives in peace.”

“My sweet Ram,” said Cynta. “For the weak, there is no such thing as peace.”

“But, I love you,” Ram said, his voice breaking into sobs.

“Better that it is us who are chosen, old as we are, than our children.” Cynta’s voice faded and her eyes closed.

From the darkness at the cavern’s edge a Guardian stepped forward. Ram heard its steps and turned. His knife glinted in the light from the water.

“I won’t let you have her,” Ram shouted. He grasped one of the roots that bound her hand and hacked at it. Cynta’s body heaved and she screamed again. “I won’t let you,” Ram said, his voice quiet this time. He pointed the knife at Cynta’s throat, outstretched arm trembling, but it was too late.

The Guardian pushed Ram down, holding him under the water until the last of his breath escaped in a cloud of bubbles and he inhaled water into his lungs. Raglatan’s laughter echoed in his head as warm fingers spread throughout his body. The pain from his ribs was gone. His fingers and toes cracked and stretched as the mountain reached up with its roots, weaving itself into him. His memories faded as new strength pulsed into his body. Ram was as old as time, as strong as rock and stone, and he would defend this place against any who meant it harm.

The sky glowed red as the villagers began the grim task of clearing the dead from their violated home. Two new Guardians took up posts at the village edge. Silent and watchful, they stood close together, side by side in the last light of the setting sun.

Mar 22, 2013

Entries closed, oracle consulted.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

interprompt: start a story with The space captain fired the ray gun. 200 words max.

Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

The Interprompt Adventures of Mosebjo: 10

The space captain fired the ray gun. That wasn’t what he’d meant to do.

“Oh gently caress,” he said, as the bolt of energy seared a hole into the surface of the yellow-green plain that he was plummeting towards.

“C’mon baby,” he said to his shuddering ship, yanking desperately on the manual controls to get the ship’s nose up. Alone in a single person fighter, he’d known he was hosed as soon as he’d been separated from the fleet. The ship hit the steppe with a bone crunching thud and slid, leaving a trail of destruction through the tall grass, finally rocking to a halt in a dry creek bed.

He pulled himself painfully from the wreckage and lay gasping for breath. A thick-bearded face appeared above his, eyes narrowed.

“You scared my horse,” the man said.

“Do you have any water?” the space captain replied. His supplies had run out days ago.

“On my horse.” The man pointed to a black dot on a distant hillside.

“Oh. I’m James,” said James, holding out his hand. It was a terribly old-fashioned name. The kids on Station 87 used to tease him about it but James had secretly always been proud of being named for his grandfather.

The man took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “Mosebjo,” said Mosebjo. “Come.”

As Mosebjo strode away he began to sing; a deep, sonorous sound that echoed across the steppe in time with his footsteps.

Is he singing about a caterpillar? James thought, as he limped after him.

Mar 22, 2013

Thunderdome CCCIV Results: Cavemen with Magic Wands

This week was the most middle-of-the-road week I've judged. It was so middle of the road, you guys made a smaller road in the middle of the first road and stayed in the middle of that road too. I had to invent new tiers of middle-ness to categorize your stories into, because words like "top" and "bottom" were a little too intense and exciting for these stories.

By merit of being vaguely more memorable than the surrounding stories, Solitair gets an honorable mention for Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished. Also, the Jon Joe Memorial "Had A Plot" HM goes to cptn_dr's Fox, Quick and Clever.

The most middling of the middle stories this week were Jay W. Friks' Return, Chuf's Snow On The Shore, and Thranguy's A Hole in the Sky. But because everyone else this week barely wrote any better than they did, it wouldn't be fair to give someone the losertar unless I gave it to like eight people. So no loser this week, only DMs.

The win goes to Antivehicular's Sacred Vessels, for having such avant-garde ideas as "magic" and "wonder" in a fantasy week.

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

Week CCCV: "They sell tacos... and Potato Olés!"

It's a song week! But first, you guys are getting storytime.

A few years ago, my partner and I went to see the Mountain Goats, one of our favorite bands. Midway through the set, frontman John Darnielle was telling a story about their early touring and commented that they were making less money as a touring act in those days than they would have working at a Taco John's. Cue an extremely drunk man near us yelling "WHAT'S TACO JOHN'S?!", and John Darnielle answering with the title of this week. A laugh was had, the moment passed, they played some songs, and all was well.

On the way home, I had to explain to my partner that the whole thing wasn't a weird joke: that Taco John's is a real Midwestern fast-food chain, and that they do, in fact, sell tater tots branded "Potato Olés." Benighted mid-Atlantic soul that he was, he had no goddamn idea that, in Middle America, tacos come with tater tots. This is a thing. I had to convince him that this was a thing.

For this week, I'm calling back to that night, both the musical portion and the "having to explain that Taco John's is real" portion. For the first part, this is a song week; your prompts will all be songs by the Mountain Goats. Pick one when you sign up, or I'll pick one for you, your choice. For the second part, I want stories about characters having to deal with different paradigms and common knowledge about the world. This can be as simple and silly as ignorance of local fast-food chains, or as complicated and serious as people confronting inborn prejudices or facing survival situations. The important thing is that some level of the conflict comes from people being unable to readily understand each other's "normal." Explore that for me. Finally, I'm setting a third ground rule here: magical realism is okay, but no dedicated SF/fantasy/horror this week. We've had a lot of genre weeks recently, and I'd like to see people flex their realistic writing muscles a bit.

Flash rules are available upon request, but they will probably be regional fast-food restaurants because it took all my willpower not to just make this Mountain Goats 'n' Regional Fast Food Week. Caveat emptor.

My standard song-week ground rules apply; please don't write fanfic of the song/the events described in the song, and please don't just write someone listening to the song. Standard TD rules also apply: no fanfiction, erotica, political screeds, quote tags, Google Docs, or other unarchivable crap.

Word Count: 1500
Signups Close: Friday, June 8, 11:59 PM Pacific
Submissions Close: Sunday, June 10, 11:59 PM Pacific


1. flerp, "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace"
2. steeltoedsneakers, "Your Belgian Things"
3. Thranguy, "Onions"
4. Spark That Bled, "Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece"
5. Captain_Person, "Spent Gladiator 2"
6. Sitting Here, "Estate Sale Sign"
7. sebmojo, "Sep 19 Triple X Love! Love!"
8. cptn_dr, "Going to Hungary"
9. tessdaterrible, "Harlem Roulette"
10. ibntumart, "Sax Rohmer #1"
11. Ironic Twist, "Maize Stalk Drinking Blood"
12. Djeser, "This Year"
13. QuoProQuid, "Fault Lines"

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Jun 10, 2018 around 08:40

Mar 22, 2013

Week 304 Crits: So average I can't think of a sarcastic title, this is what this week has brought me to

Jay W. Friks - Return
I was into this until about three quarters of the way through. It felt kind of like you might have been too--maybe you ran out of space to write the ending you wanted, or you didn't have a conclusion to the story when you started writing. (I know I've written TD stories that way.) I like the theme of a kingdom caught between old gods and new gods, but the way the ending comes up it just kind of...makes it not matter. At least that's how it read to me--now she's a vessel for this evil god, and she's going to go wreck the whole city. Or maybe she isn't and she's just loving off to wherever to let the city get wrecked? Either way, it kind of leaves the religious conflict behind when a dragon carries her off as she cackles.

sandnavyguy - Release
This was pretty decent. I'm going to end up saying that about a lot of stories, because a lot of them were pretty decent. I think having an internal narrative for this was a good choice (as opposed to a third-person narrative external to the character) and the part with the vision where he essentially says goodbye to his father is good, because it's both surreal yet concrete. (It's easy to make visions like that abstract to the point that it's difficult to understand.) This was close to the top of my list.

Uranium Phoenix - Harbinger
This was all right, but I think I ended up getting more distracted by the connections between the three stories (the evolving names and the names of the towns) than it helped. I don't know how I would have done that in a less...obvious way? Anyway, the idea of things getting more and more dire as this gets entrenched in culture is interesting, but it does feel much more heavily weighted toward the last scene, and it snaps a bit quickly to human sacrifice. I dunno, I liked the idea more than the execution here. There's a good story somewhere here, if it could be a bit more focused and more evocative.

Hawklad - Ocean Music
This is another "good but not quite the top" sort of deal. Maybe it had to do with the pacing? Again, this isn't a bad idea, humans lacking some essential gift and so taking it from the gods by force. I guess part of it is probably that the humans themselves don't have a lot of character by default--they're mostly defined by the fact that they want music but can't have it. It's hard to say what could be improved here, because like a lot of stories this week, it's not bad, it's just a bit flat. (But still, among the better ones this week.)

Antivehicular - Sacred Vessels
This story had two main things going for it that brought it ahead of the others. The first was its narrative voice. It's not anything particularly flashy, but in a week that was pretty heavy on omniscient mythic exposition, having something that's explicitly a story being told immediately set it apart. (And you get to characterize the person telling the story and their culture through the way they tell it, which is like, hey, that's Writing, you did Writing.) The second is the fantastic element to it. A lot of stories didn't really deliver that this week, but a sacred scroll stored in someone's body and growing into a hymn is just the sort of thing I was hoping for this week. (The third thing going for this story is the way that you get across the sense of a subjugated people with their own identity, and the strange way Ashta's holiness somehow carries over from the Mountain-Carvers to her own people's religion.)

cptn_dr - Fox, Quick and Clever
As I alluded to in my post, Jon Joe was the one who liked your story, so you'll have to see his crits for what it was that caught his eye. For me, this was a pretty decently told story about a spirit quest. It felt pretty standard for the entries this week--I think maybe it seemed less compelling to me because I've read similar stories about encountering spirit animals, so I kind of had an 'oh, it's this' reaction to it. Aside from that, I think one thing that might have ramped things up a bit is, like, okay, the fox doesn't give gifts, they only make trades. So he should have heard of people coming back missing something, right? Then there could be some tension between whether he wants to prove he's been marked by Fox or whether he wants to chicken out and just come back with a weird rock, or something.

Chuf - Snow On The Shore
This really isn't a bad first Thunderdome entry. Its biggest sin is that it's a little light on stuff happening--I write summaries of each story when I judge to help me remember which was which, and I think this one was like "grandson sails home with grandfather, grandfather then has to leave, but there's a storm coming." I never really got a sense of why the thing the grandfather was building was so important, or why it was so important that he not wait for the storm to pass. I feel like there's plenty of space up near the beginning/middle to cut down on things, and room to create more of an emotional arc about the grandfather's need to go and why the grandson likes him so much--as it is, I mostly know he likes him because they talk while they're on the boat, and he possibly doesn't get to see him super often. That sort of stuff (trying to find the important moments to focus on, trying to figure out how to fit everything in a small space) is stuff that's pretty normal to struggle with, so don't get discouraged by the DM.

flerp - The Legend of Fire
Oh cool, Prometheus. For real though, this is a decent telling of a variant of the gift of fire myth, and I do appreciate the fact that it's portrayed not as a good thing for humanity--it kills people and ruins the earth when they use it, and it ends up driving off the gods who watch over Earth. The mythological voice is executed fine here, but I think it kind of distances the reader from the actions, makes them seem more archetypical. This was pretty firmly in the middle of the week--there's nothing that wrong with it, but it doesn't do a whole lot to set itself apart.

Thranguy - A Hole in the Sky
I was willing to chalk this one up to the soggy middle, but Jon Joe had a particular distaste for the moral aspect of the story. As a story itself, it is pretty bare--a character gets killed for trying to steal from the ruins, turns out no one has resisted the greed. There's hints of something interesting here--the 'hole in the sky' I kind of wish took a bigger role or was explored more, because I think, from what I get out of the story, that I like this sense of a space that's entirely without divine oversight, where people can get stuck unable to die, or where it's fine to murder someone because the gods have stopped watching.

Solitair - Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
The fact that this is written about specific characters, who hesitate and second-guess themselves and change their minds, lifted it above other stories this week, and I wound up liking the idea of someone stuck in this transition period as people are moving into villages and starting to write things down. I thought that the idea of someone having a head full of all these spirits that then get poured into a menhir is an interesting fantastic take on transmission from oral history to written history.

sebmojo - Elehu
I kept waiting as I was reading this for some turn--I wasn't sure what it would be, whether it'd be some description of beautiful ruins or a chase scene as they're pursued by those 'devils' or what, but by the time I got to the end, I was still waiting for it to do something different. The archaeologists get an omen in their dreams, do some archaeologying, and then in the end, their omen comes true and they're trapped and going to be eaten, or something. The prose is fine, but it kind of moves along at a constant steady pace and then flops down and says "right, that's it," and ends the story.

Yoruichi - Power of Raglatan
Another pretty middle-of-the-road story in a middle-of-the-road week. I think the structure kind of flops over its own exposition in the beginning there--you start off with a very urgent sentence, then switch over to explaining backstory for the rest of the paragraph. You probably would have been better served trying to weave it together with the action more. Like say that the Guardians are fighting off these black-robed men while garlands of flowers and embroidered robes slough off their shoulders like dust, or something. After three paragraphs of exposition, then your story starts, and it's decent, though there's bits that should absolutely have been seeded earlier. Like Ram's dislike of the guardians and his thought that they should leave the mountain. That would have been good near the top, when Ram's still running through the village, and has a moment to reflect that like, this wouldn't have to happen if they left the mountain alone, et cetera. (That way, he's not just upset about Cynta being taken because he doesn't want it happening to someone he knows, he's upset because he hates the entire idea of them. By the end I get the sense that it's the latter case, but I don't find out he hates the guardians until after he's lying with her in the pool.)

Feb 25, 2014

in give me a song

Jul 26, 2016

In. I'd like a song too please.

Apr 21, 2010

'Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' -Samuel Johnson

In, song me.

Spark That Bled
Jan 29, 2010

Made obsolete by microtransactions

I'm in, gimme a song.

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

flerp posted:

in give me a song

Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace

steeltoedsneakers posted:

In. I'd like a song too please.

Your Belgian Things

Thranguy posted:

In, song me.


Spark That Bled posted:

I'm in, gimme a song.

Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece

Apr 7, 2013

That was a BAD business decision!

In and for failing the last two times. I'll toxx next time too.

Gimme a song please.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores

Clapping Larry

In and give me the best song u got

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

Captain_Person posted:

In and for failing the last two times. I'll toxx next time too.

Gimme a song please.

Spent Gladiator 2

Sitting Here posted:

In and give me the best song u got

Estate Sale Sign

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Yep, gizza song

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


I'm travelling this weekend, but since John Darnielle still hasn't written "Going to Auckland", I'll get you to pick a song for me.

Apr 10, 2013

you guys made me ink!


I'm not in but can we all just appreciate for a moment that this video is blocked in Belgium

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

sebmojo posted:

Yep, gizza song

Sept 19 Triple X Love! Love!

cptn_dr posted:


I'm travelling this weekend, but since John Darnielle still hasn't written "Going to Auckland", I'll get you to pick a song for me.

Enjoy Auckland! Next time, maybe try going to Hungary?

Nov 4, 2015

Some Weird Sloth

I'm in. First time. Please pick me a song.

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

tessdaterrible posted:

I'm in. First time. Please pick me a song.

Welcome! Enjoy Harlem Roulette.

Mar 18, 2007

Good, bad. I'm the one with the power of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.

College Slice

I've put off doing this for too loving long. I'm in and could use a song.


Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

ibntumart posted:

I've put off doing this for too loving long. I'm in and could use a song.

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