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Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

I have been following the fiction writing thread and this one for a few years but have been too scared to give this a try, but I think now is the time. So I'm in.

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Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

Prompt: “Ships Passing in the Night”

Soul Sisters
1144 words

A crash in the bushes startled Anna. She defensively grabbed the first thing in her grasp, the long stick she’d been using to stir the fire. Anna stayed sitting, clutching the stick, muscles tensed as she squinted into the darkness outside her meager camp. She ignored the deep ache in her ribs. Silence.

The crashing resumed purposefully, headed in her direction. Something knew she was there.

Don’t let it be a bear. Please, please.

A shape emerged from the bushes, revealing a younger woman with a straggly blond ponytail and some semblance of adequate hiking gear. She smiled at Anna and held up a hand in greeting with a heavy sigh of relief. Her face was half obscured by the shadow of the fire. “Hi! I’m so sorry to barge in on you like this, but I’m afraid I’m a little lost. Do you mind if I sit with you for a little bit?”

Anna relaxed. “Of course.”

The woman’s smile widened further. She plopped herself on the ground in front of the fire with a happy groan. “I’m Tanya.”

“Anna.”

They sat in silence with the sounds of the crackling fire and the hum of crickets. Anna stirred the dying embers, vainly hoping something she did would encourage it to pick up.

“Here,” Tanya said. “I can get it going if you want.”

Anna nodded and handed over the stick. Tanya moved the logs with a few pokes and quick hands. In moments the fire was roaring.

“If you don’t mind me asking, you don’t seem like the uh, outdoorsy type,” Tanya said after a few silent minutes. “Camping off the trail like this can be dangerous. You can get lost really easily out here.”

“Like you?”

Tanya barked a laugh. “Hah! Yes! But I, uh—I just needed a moment to cool off and then got turned around. I’ve got a GPS thingy that’ll get me back easy. I’m backpacking with my boyfriend. We’ve been out here for a few days now.”

Anna nodded, satisfied. Her gaze remained focused on the fire. Tanya would be gone soon and then she could get back to what she’d come out here for.

“The trail head is pretty close from here,” Anna said. “At least I think it is.”

“Yeah, that’s where we were working towar—Is that a gun?”

Tanya pointed at the exposed handgun under the jacket Anna had thrown over it when she had first arrived.

Anna startled. “No! I mean, yes. But it’s my husband’s. I took it.”

Tanya’s eyes widened as she turned towards Anna. In the stoked firelight Ana saw Tanya’s face fully for the first time. A giant bruise crawled over one cheekbone and around her eye, punctuated by a small angry laceration. It looked fresh. Their eyes met and Tanya looked down and away, her hand automatically rising to cover her face.

Neither of the women spoke. The silence between them thickened.

Anna looked up, past the dark trees and into the sky. “The trail head is pretty close,” she repeated. “I think maybe you should consider a different way of getting there.”

Tanya looked over at her, the easy smile gone and replaced with…something else. Fear? Curiosity? Anna wasn’t sure.

“What were you doing in this forest alone, Anna?”

Anna rubbed her fingers over her knuckles and glanced at the gun. “I don’t know. Thinking. About things.” She paused to lick her lips, considering how much she should say. “I think your boyfriend has a lot in common with my husband. I don’t have any options. I need to get out.”

Tanya protectively drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The smile was gone, replaced by a hard grimace. “I think I’m coming to understand.”

“What’s that?”

“I need to stop running and pretending this is all I’ve got. Maybe it’s time to make a big change in my life.”

Anna remained silent. Tanya unfurled and stood. She looked directly at Anna and smiled. This time it reached her eyes. “Thanks for the help. I think I know where I need to go now. Once I get back I think this is the last trip with my boyfriend. Maybe I’ll go with some friends next time.”

Anna nodded. “You still have time.”

“You do too,” Tanya said. “Thanks Anna.”

Tanya went back the way she came. Anna sat listening to the crunch of her footfalls and the rattle of the bushes until all that remained was the crackle of her own fire. Even the crickets had stopped their chirrups. Anna watched the fire die. When it had receded to bare embers, she stood.

Anna remained motionless, staring at the barely concealed weapon under her jacket. She wasn’t sure how much time passed, but eventually she stirred from her position. She crouched and began digging with her hands. The dirt felt good under her fingers, cool and damp. Pleased with the size of her hole, Anna grabbed the gun and gently placed it in the hole. She covered it with dirt and then tamped the soil down and scattered leaves on top. She wouldn’t be needing that anymore.

Satisfied, Anna turned her attention to putting out the last remnants of fire. When that was done, she left without looking back. Tanya was right, she still had time. It was time for her to find a new way forward as well.

Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

Woohoo, thanks for the crits! That gives me a lot to chew on about my writing.

Edit: I'm in for the next round as well. Are we allowed to ask for flash rules each week or is that something the judges decide on beforehand if they're going to do or not?

Chicory fucked around with this message at 12:35 on Aug 21, 2018

Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

Staggy posted:

I read this as an implied request for a flash rule but let me know if that's not the case. Otherwise, your flash rule is Your story must take place during a torrential thunderstorm.

I wasn't asking specifically for this prompt but I'll take it anyway! Thanks.

Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

Prompt: Measure Twice, Cut Once

Rushed Rites
1189 words

“The high priest and the other acolytes are dead. Word has already been sent to the city to send another high priest, but until he arrives in four days you will have to lead the rites. You know what needs to be done, correct?” The major’s voice was impassive as he delivered the unfortunate news.

Aleius Laron choked on his morning tea. Lead the rites? Him? No, but surely there was someone else who could…No. He was the last acolyte in the warcamp, if the major’s words were true. Aleius’s tea cup trembled and he hastily set it down.
“What—what happened? Dead? How?”

The major grimaced. “They were assisting at the healer’s tent last night after those bastards surprised us from the west. I guess we got lucky that you were indisposed last night.”
Aleius scowled. “It was my night off. I wasn’t going to spend it doing more work. Yes, I know what needs to be done. I will deal with this.”

Aleius watched the officer’s receding back and tried not to curse. Of course those idiots got themselves killed. All he wanted to do was enjoy a bottle of lovely brandy and the company of some of the local whores. He tried to soothe his disgust with another sip of tea and made a face. lovely, like everything else in this godforsaken camp. He wished he was back in his hometown of Cerren, surrounded by the luxuries the large city could provide the son of a minor nobleman. It had been three years since his family had sent him as an offering to the temple.

Aleius scowled and slouched back in his chair. He knew preparations would need to be started soon, but that could wait for now.

**

Aleius examined the holy scepter. A quartz crystal that glowed with an inner light was held secure and suspended at the end of the brass instrument. It was his duty to ensure every dead body was exorcised so that they would not rise.

It was common knowledge the Terresians were accomplished necromancers who used their dark knowledge to raise armies of the undead. Aleius remained skeptical. He had never seen one of these undead soldiers with his own eyes, just a bunch of corpses rotting motionless in the sun. He suspected it was all a sham for the benefit of the uncultured commoners.

The temple tent was simple but spacious and contained all the tools needed for the rites. The initiates were busy preparing the incense burners. Aleius heard a distant rumble in the distance and frowned. The mild morning weather had slowly grown more ominous through out the day as clouds moved in and the air grew thick and muggy. It smelled like rain, even in the tent. Aleius was sure it would storm before he finished the rites.

That meant an unpleasant evening in the cold and wet while the rest of the camp remained safe and dry in their tents. Aleius could almost hear the laughs of soldiers as they gambled and drank their brandy rations. He clenched his fists and breathed heavily through his nose. There was no reason to prolong the preparations. They might as well get this over with as quickly as possible.

The scepter was ready, at any rate. The quartz was glowing, which meant it was still charged. The high priest would have said to take the extra time to put a fresh crystal in, but it would be fine.

“Alright, let’s go!” Aleius barked. The initiates scrambled faster, getting the incense burners together and their robes on over their heads. Aleius shrugged into the high priest’s ceremonial robe and grabbed the scepter. He paused for a moment to admire himself in the lone mirror. He looked striking and important in the expensive robes. It was a far cry from his expensive velvets before he was forced to join the priesthood, but it would do.

**

The storms came sooner than Aleius expected. He struggled through the mud to the next body laid out in the line, wiping wet hair from his face. The ceremonial robes were soaked and heavy with water and mud. Lightning struck somewhere close by and he flinched at the sudden roar of thunder. Two initiates miserably trailed behind him, futilely attempting to keep their swinging incense lit.

Aleius said the ritual words and waved the scepter above the body of a soldier and then proceeded to the next one. There were dozens. He carried on, miserably aware of the cold seeping into his bones. Halfway through the line, the light from the scepter’s quartz flickered and died out. Aleius stared at it in disbelief. He would have to go all the way back to the priest’s tent to recharge the scepter and then trudge all the way back out to resume the rites. He grit his teeth and resisted throwing the scepter into the mud. Useless! Of course something like this would happen to him.

Aleius stared at the bodies who hadn’t received the rites. There were perhaps a hundred or so all together. Would it really be such a crime if they were missed?

“Go back to your tents,” Aleius told the initiates. “I’ll finish up here alone.”

The initiates scurried away, grateful to be out of the mud. Aleius watched them go and then headed towards his own tent. Everything would be fine in the morning.

**

Aleius woke to the sound of screaming. He blinked his eyes blearily and rolled over on the hard cot. Rain pattered steadily against the tent. Another scream tore through the night. He cursed and pulled on his pants and boots, stepping over the ruined priest robes he discarded on the floor. Peeping out of the tent flap, Aleius saw people running in the dark. Tents were on fire despite the rain. It was complete chaos

A man wearing only a nightshirt ran by, chased by a group of people who staggered after him at a lurching run. The man stumbled and fell into the mud. He screamed as the group descended on him. Aleius covered his mouth and turned away gagging as the man was ripped open and they began to devour him. Aleius let the tent flap fall and backed away, horrified. Monsters, terrible creatures. The dead were walking tonight. Was this his doing? No, it couldn’t be. He wouldn’t let himself think of that. He needed to get away, that was a priority.
He let out a terrified yelp as his tent shivered. A horrible slobbering noise came from the entrance. He backed up, looking around wildly for a way out. He grabbed his belt knife and began working at the thick tent fabric.

A man burst into the tent and Aleius screamed. The man looked at him with clouded eyes. His head was oddly shaped, but Aleius was struck with an immediate familiarity. It was the dead high priest. The dead man groped for him with bloated fingers.

“No—no, please!” Aleius fell to the ground, sobbing, but it was too late. The undead lunged and there was only pain then nothing at all.

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Chicory
Nov 11, 2004

Behold the cuteness.

Thanks for the crits!

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