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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In! Happy birthday!

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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Subject: Dad I have taken an Ambien and drank wine but that doesnt detract from...
(997 words)

Tuesday 03/08/21 03:53

To: Hardlyworking72@hotmail.com

You have always been a good father. I always felt loved and supported but you are a real piece of work. You are a weak, milquetoast loser and I am ashamed to be known as your son. Listen.

Listen.

Why do you let my terrible brothers push you around? Do you remember when we were kids (us, not you) and it was your birthday and my terrible brothers kicked up a stink until you said it was their birthday and they got to open all your presents and one of them was an electric shaver and they started horsing around and then they both had buzz cuts for the first day at school? Do you remember? Do you remember the buzz cut brothers? It was your birthday!

Listen.

One of my terrible brothers (Travis) knows the pin code numbers to get into your cell phone answer machine and he plays your messages at parties. Dad, the people at your job dont seem to respect you! Theres one where your boss is openly making fun of your lisp. You got to stand up for yourself man! I know youre not a baker or a cop or like a painter or a

Zookeeper or anything. But what is your job? Hold on.

I just phoned Michael and he was in bed and got real mad, but he seems to think you work in a bank or corporate or IT. I said MIKEY, thats like three different jobs! This proves my point. You should have a real job.

Again, I love you dad and none of this takes away from that but, my man, you are grade-A bad beef.

Youre a f**** loser.

Last time me and Sasha came to your house and you showed us your old high school year book I was holding back tears of boredom. WHO CARES?! Also your nickname in school, the nickname they put in the yearbook was Stu. Thats just your name made short. Thats not a drat nickname.

Dad, I love you, but when you shout at Alexa and she doesnt listen to you, it makes me think even the world wide web senses your weakness. She makes you look like a chump.

Stop saying that Mr T ate your balls. This one should go without saying. Thats not a meme dad. Memes are like... just get out of the stone age.

Dad, when your name appears on my phone, I beg to god that you have something to say like somethings happened to Grandma or something (touch wood) because otherwise I know youre going to tell me that your emails been hacked again and then you wont know any of your passwords and your authentication key will be being texted to a cell phone you had in 2002 or something. AND ONE TIME YOU PHONED ME TO TELL ME YOU HAD BOUGHT A NEW LAWNMOWER!! Phone someone who gives a hoot, you old bastard.

I just remembered the time you called me up and said Hey kiddo, you know where I can get some of those old white sneakers I used to have? DAD PLEASE?! REALLY?!

I just fell asleep at my computer. Thats not your fault but I had a dream and you were in it. You were eating a huge black trash bag of cress but when I looked in there it was full of snakes. You looked me square in the eye and said This cress is the best. Does this not tell you how I feel about you?

Dad you have a Homer Simpson bumper sticker on your car. Its 2021 homie. Why would you have that now? I dont even know where you found it but you have that Garfield thing with the suction cup feet that stick to the inside windows. Where did you possibly find that in the year of our lord 2021?

Dad, I want you to be 100% honest with me. Mom called me to tell me you were going to drive up to a racetrack on Saturday and drive all the race cars with a bunch of other men you dont know. Is that true? I went on their website and they post the photos of all the you-looking motherfuckers standing next to the cars in boiler suits doing the same tepid white-guy thumbs up together. Go on the website and really ask yourself if you want to be there. I keep staring at them and every one of these losers are so easily replicable with you that I keep thinking I see youre standing at the back like Jack Nicholson in the old photo in The Shining.

Do you remember at Thanksgiving when you tried to be funny and got schooled by your cousin? He said he was going to put on his sweatpants and you said Hey there Timmy, 1984 called they want their pants back! and wiggled your eyebrows and nobody thought it was funny. Then you said you were going to loosen your belt and Big Tim leapt up and shouted Everyone! Head to high ground! and everyone laughed.

Ive just remembered that at the same Thanksgiving party, mom made a real bland joke about having a crush on Jack Hugeman in Les Miserables and you got mega crusty about it. DAD IT WAS A JOKE!

Dad youre a great guy and I love you from the bottom of my heart but DAD YOU HAVE GOT TO WISE UP!! Im going to go pass out now because Im really tired and everything feels like cotton wool.

I love you, you buster.

Your good son.

PS. Oh God I just remembered the time you said Hey do you remember that Japanese guy, Gangham Style, he was funny! and I didnt say anything at the time but there are a minimum of 3 things wrong with that sentence. goodBYE

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In, I'll buy a character inspiration and take a hell rule please.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Chicken Wings in the Long Grass

(1880/1900 words)

The summer nights breeze mixed the acrid burning of coyote piss with the exotic spice of the flowers lazily blooming in my hair. It was Friday night and the trees were refusing to eat.

I was hurling handfuls of sticky wings over Orchard Creek and into the long grass, licking my fingertips between each toss. I could separate each ingredient by scent the soft mellow hum of butter, jagged stings of vinegar, fireworks of pepper and garlic and cayenne. Manny said that it was his special family recipe or whatever, but it was the same sauce Id had anywhere Id ever been.

Me, Conrad and Jonny waited around for a while to see if theyd bite, but aside from the occasional wriggle of a frond or the odd stretch of a forebranch, the trees were still.

I spat a chemical curse into the air and dusted my hands off against my jeans. Conrad was inspecting the rust around the rear wheel of the truck. I think he felt uncomfortable with my outburst. He sprayed a whisper of chem, a tiny scent of language that perfumed the air for just a moment. He was telling me the trees would be okay.

One of the trees fanned its thick branches and let loose a cloud of chem, an invisible silent howl, that drifted northwards on the wind. A minute or so later we were hit by the stinging chem reply from another herd somewhere down the river by Jacksons Pond.

Jonny was lighting these lovely little firecrackers and tossing them to the side of the road where theyd writhe about for a while before shooting off in a trail of color. Between each flash, he tore handfuls of grass from the ground and scattered them in the breeze. Conrad chemed that we should start barhopping as the last of the fireworks pounced an awkward, bounding arc across the dirt road.

I sat with my head half out the window, letting the swirling currents of wind weave between my antlers. In the back seat, Jonny was pouring warm beer into his palms and lapping at it with his long black tongue. Conrad drove in silence, chain smoking Marlboros. When we were about five minutes from Shortys I dug around in the glovebox and found a stubby eyeliner and did my makeup in the wingmirror, mostly just to gently caress with any old boys who had beef with fey. I found a scattered set of silver bangles buried in the burger wrappers and cans on the floor and arranged them haphazardly throughout my antlers.

As I got out the truck, I chemed to ask if there was a clean shirt in the back. Jonny rummaged around for a minute then chemed that hed been sitting on it. I cursed him out and he chemed that hed just ironed the thing a little extra for me and tossed it into my chest.

She not head back to college yet then? Jonny chemed, his grin spreading to reveal his razor-sharp teeth. I gave him the finger and Conrad shoved him from behind. The two figures one gigantic and bull-like, the other squat and wreathed in orange leaves started playfully wrestling across the dirt.

We went round back and walked through the open door to the kitchen where a red-eyed Manny was staring blurrily into the fryer with a vague smile on his face. Hed doused himself with a can of axe to cover the stench of weed but I could taste both scents independently.

He slung an arm around Jonnyd foliage wreathed form as Conrad bundled him in through the door, then bumped his small dark fist against one of Conrads colossal paws. I clicked my fingers to get his attention and signed if Jessie had been in that night. He shook his head and told me he hadnt seen her. His sign was sluggish and clumsy. He continued, asking us not to tell him the score from the game if we knew it - then he asked us how the herd was doing. I tilted my head back and forth not great. He mimed eating some wings and I shook my head. Jonny started pestering him for a joint, so I headed out into the pool hall with Conrad and we set up at a table.

Old Joe Rigby came over to the table and watched us play silently for a while. He didnt speak sign and hed never learnt to read so there wasnt any way for us to talk but a few moments later Trisha turned up with three beers and three shots of Ghost Hill and we nodded our thanks to him. Old Joe had been one of the first people in town to treat us good. Jessie had told me his wife had been Fey but shed died before wed come through the ring of stones. Jessie reckoned that Old Joe carried one of her feathers in his chest pocket and thats why he never took off his jacket.

After half an hour, Jonny reappeared and we moved on to Dukes. The place was dead apart from a handful of older guys who paid us no mind and barely even looked up from their drinks when we came in. Jonny was technically barred from the place but since Shelly hated her manager, shed let us drink just to piss him off. She practically swooned as Conrad walked into the room and they went through their normal song and dance where shed tease him a little and write him a note asking when he was finally going to teach her to play guitar with little hearts on the I's and poo poo. She liked me too, on account of Id given her little boy a load of my old tonkas and baseball cards and some of the rookies had actually been worth a few bucks on the internet. She liked Jonny too, because Duke hated him.

On the way to The Ice Box, Jonny got a text and chemed frustration asking if he could borrow the truck the next morning his boss was making him come in early. I gave him a nod and Conrad chemed asking when he was going to chip in for gas.

Jonny was looking to buy some ammo and Conrad had said hed take Shellys kid fishing so he went to pick up some bait (The Ice Box did both). I ordered us a pitcher and six shots of Mississippi Steamer. I saw one of the barflies propping up the bar glance up at me and mutter something. I signed asking him if he had something to stay and that if he wanted me to hear it he should write it down or learn sign. The barman, some younger guy I didnt know, signed to ignore the guy, that he was bitching at me for ordering a cocktail cause the Steamer had cinnamon in it. I laughed and the barfly made to get up but Tom Holderman appeared behind him and pushed him back down into his stool. Tom was the last big rancher holding out from selling his land to the big boys from the city. Hed been frosty to us for the first three years, then one day came over and slapped Conrad on the back, pointed to his great hooves and horns and signed to him that since they were both big cattle men they ought to get along. Conrad, who was normally a little stoic, had busted a gut laughing. Tom asked how the trees were doing and we squirmed a little. Then we moved on.

When we got to The Amarillo Club there were some good ol boys gravitating around a barbecue out front, grilling hotdogs next to an icebox full of Coors. They all had that same lovely look cowboy hats too small for their fat sunburnt heads, guts rolling over tight jeans, scuffed to poo poo boots with the heels peeling away. I chemed that I was going to try and buy some wieners for the herd.

Conrad chemed to ask if I was sure it was a good idea, but I went ahead anyway. I knew they wouldnt sign so I just held out a few bucks and pointed, but they just sat their shrugging and acting like they didnt understand. We got eyeballed a lot inside, so we drank half a pitcher and head back out.

It wasnt until I got back to the truck, I realized Id left my phone on the seat. I only cast it a cursory glance as I went to put it back in my pocket and saw three texts from Jessie. I flashed the spiciest at Conrad and Jonny stuck his head through the headrests and craned his neck to read what shed sent me. He slapped me on the arm and chemed that he needed to be at the mill at 6, do I could drop the truck off any time before then.

When I got to Jessies house she was already sat outside on the curb. She spat her gum into the grass, threw a plastic grocery bag from Earls into the bed, and hopped in. She signed a greeting and I signed one back and then she took one of my antlers in her hand and pulled me in to kiss her. After a while she pulled away, fluttered her lashes and said we should go see the herd.

An hour and a half later we lay in the bed of my truck wrapped in blankets. She traced shapes on my chest with one finger and looked up at the silhouette of the herd across the creek, still doing little more than gently swaying with the breeze. In the darkness, they could have been native trees rather than anything that had come through the ring. Jessie got to her feet and threw on my shirt. She typed a message on her cellphone and handed it to me told me shed brought them a feast knew Id been worried about them.

From inside the Earls bag, she grabbed a random assortment of items, most food, some not. One by one, she started throwing them over the creek. The trees ignored breakfast muffins, the morning paper, a handful of fridge magnets and a box of eggs. However, when she took an assortment of batteries and launched them with all her strength, their forebranches waved frantically. The great trees unfurled themselves, twisting their necks and tasting the air with their fronds. I watched in stunned amazement as the herd made its way towards the creek, sieving through the grass with their great lowbranches like whales straining for krill. The batteries had called them, but the eggs were what they were after. Once they got a taste for food, they started devouring everything wed thrown out between us. The chicken wings, covered in grass and dotted with ants were whipped up to maws filled with jagged wooden fangs which easily crushed meat and bone. Yolk trickled down their trunks.

Punching the air in victory, Jessie skipped back to the truck and climbed back into the bed. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her tight into me and drowned in the taste of her perfume.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In with... well practically all of Jorge Luis Borges Fictions, but to specify one - The Garden of Forking Paths.

If you have never read the short stories of Borges, I cannot recommend them enough. They are clever and weird and tear apart ideas about short fiction. He has this talent for almost inverse anti-climaxes, where the end of a story is often abrupt or somehow unsatisfying just to stress its lack of importance - to emphasise that it is the middle of the story that really carries the meat.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Vidal
(1998 words)

I was dispatched to the island of Ambigo to investigate a murder. My report is below.
---
The ship sailed only once a day and paused in the deep waters where myself and two pasty tourists were collected in a rowboat by an ancient ferryman. I walked to the road, my shoes and socks in hand, stared down by a gigantic mural of a cat. Insects with flailing legs stuck to the fresh paint. Flags and banners flapped in the ocean breeze and children crowded us, trying to sell us trinkets.

When I asked the taxi driver to take me to the police station, he inspected me carefully in the rearview mirror.

Ah. The investigator from the mainland, yes?

"I am.

I take the long road Vidal Street too busy. They change the name a week ago. Means new maps but worth it, yes?

As we pulled out onto the long coastal path that ran the islands border, I noticed a picture of the gray cat hanging from the rearview mirror.

You like? he asked, kissing two fingers and pressing them to the picture.

Its a very nice cat, I said. Yours?

Lovely cat. Everyones.

On the northern side of the island, we drove alongside a walled garden, within which loomed a great mansion.

Jorge Ortega lived there, the driver muttered.

Who is Jorge Ortega?

The dead man, he replied.

Ambigo had only three police and when I arrived at the station only one was present. I had expected a hard, cold man in a Generalissimos garb all medals and dark glasses. Instead, Captain Delgado was a round, smiling figure in a linen suit. He had the demeanor possessed by those who are inevitably adored by children. We made introductions and I advised him that I was carrying a weapon. I showed him the porcelain handgun that had been entrusted to me by the powers that be, that is to say, the elusive and secretive overseers who had tasked me with the investigation. It was a tool of execution that would fire only one bullet before shattering.

I think Id prefer something more reliable, he grinned.

When you have only one round, you make certain that you are sure before you employ it. I told him.

The first Thursday of July, he replied. That was when the cat appeared.

This is the cat I keep seeing pictures of? I asked.

Yes. At about seven AM, this cat sits down in the center of the road outside the town hall.

Delgado poured us both glasses of rum, then pointed above the doorway. A watercolor of the cat watched over us, its dusty fur accentuating teal eyes.

I read a book, Delgado continued. Did you know, all the cats on Ambigo come from five? Five cats arrived here, brought by sailors on merchant or slave ships. Every cat on the island is a descendant. All except this one. Ambigo is a land of community, miracles and coincidence.

He drank his rum, poured another, then motioned to my still full glass, waiting for me to drink so he could refill.

Youre on island time now, Detective.

I drained it.

Good! I was worried you were a hard-rear end. So, the cat blocks the traffic. At the front of the queue is a foreigner and he gets out of his truck and waves his hands and shouts and blares his horn to get the cat to move. The queue behind him is growing longer and patience is thinning. This driver, he goes to nudge the cat away and as he does so, he finds it quite impossible. This cat, you see, is infinitely dense. It is as if this cat is completely immovable.

I gave him what I hoped was a friendly look of incredulity.

I know, I know, I know! he waved his hands. Here I am, the head of police on the island, telling you that a cat cannot be moved by a man. I understand, but have faith.

In the cat?

He shrugged mysteriously.

Miraculous things happen on this island, Detective. So he pushes and shoves the cat to no avail. Soon others are trying, none can move this cat an inch. They send for me and they send for a priest. By the time I arrive, Father Ordales has declared the cat an instrument of the divine.

As priests do, I replied.

As priests do, he agreed. I turn up to a gigantic crowd. Men, women, children, all have left their vehicles to catch a glimpse of this miraculous feline. One by one, the crowd attempt to move this cat, who by the way, seems entirely unfazed. It is pointed out to me that this cat is wearing a collar upon which it is given a name - Vidal.

Hence Vidal Street?

Indeed. So, all attempts to move the cat are unsuccessful and, as Father Ordales is adamant that it may be God, nobody is willing to run the thing over. We are left to consider other avenues. A child suggests we get some cat food and somebody does and we try to lure the cat away it is not interested. Somebody goes home and returns with one of these little wool mice on a string it is not interested. Someone suggests we should at least fetch it some water as the sun is now high in the sky and this creature must be practically baking. It looks at the water, admires its reflection perhaps, but does not drink. So then, Father Ordales goes to the church and returns with holy water and this, finally, the cat will drink.

How does this relate to the murder? I asked.

We will get there. The point I am making is that for five days this cat does not move. Does not eat. Drinks only holy water. Vidal is revered as a miracle, perhaps even God himself. This cat is proof of the divine, or so we believe. All except for Jorge Ortega.

The victim.

Delgado poured himself a rum and I drained my glass. He refilled us both.

Jorge Ortega was no victim. He has never been a victim in his life he was the opposite. He was not a good man, and whilst I do not approve of vigilantism, I maintain he was not a victim.

I said nothing.

I take this murder very seriously, detective. There have been only two other murders on this island in living memory. Imagine. It must be hard to think of such a thing when you are from the mainland. There was one murder 42 years ago, and another at the Feast of The Seven Candles 64 years ago. So, Ortega makes his feelings about the cat very clear. He is not a man afraid to upset people. Or hurt them. One of his many cars has been caught in the traffic and now he is complaining that the presence of Vidal is adding time to his commute to the south of the island. He insists that a town meeting be called to determine the next course of action. At the meeting, which is attended by the entire island I might add, he stands and calls me out personally. Asks me to do something about the cat. I ask him what he expects me to do when far stronger men than I are unable to move it. He demands I kill the creature to roars of outrage and cries of anguish. I motion to the cat, you see we left the door open so that Vidal might witness our meeting. I motion to the cat, surrounded as it is by the children of the island, by the elderly and sick who had been lifted from their beds for the first time in years to witness the miracle, by the wreaths of flowers and offerings to the creature. You want that I should kill this which has brought so much joy? I ask him. He is emphatic.

What did you do?

I tell him no, that I will not kill the cat. And with that, Ortega walks from the building, draws his pistol and shoots Vidal in the back of the head.

Wow, I said. And thats...

"That is when the curse took him, yes. When the heavens struck him down for killing such a divine creature!

Who killed him, Captain?

Delgado lit a cigarette, offered one to me, then took a thick cardboard folder from the top drawer of his desk and tossed it across the table.

God? His file by the way. Multiple acts of violence, theft, burglary, bribery, witness intimidation, all going back thirty years. He had a habit of placing his hands on women without asking permission, another habit of exploitation. He abused wine, drugs and people. He used his wealth, most of which was taken from others, to remain untouchable. There is nobody on Ambigo unharmed by him in some way.

Captain, who shot Jorge Ortega?

As I said, the whole island was there, Detective. Yes, somebody must have pulled a trigger, but it was a curse that killed him, a curse for killing that perfect cat.

I repeated my question.

The gunman could have been anyone. There is nobody on this island who would not have had an excuse and that was before he killed God.

This continued for hours. Delgado had said all he would say. He followed me to the parking lot.


You are welcome to conduct your investigation, Detective. But I promise you, nobody saw what happened after he killed the cat. Nobody will be able to tell you who did or didnt shoot Ortega.

The taxi was waiting for me. The driver didnt wait for me to give a location and simply head back towards the beach. I asked him if he ever met the cat.

Yes, yes, yes, wonderful cat. Very nice.

And were you there when Jorge Ortega died?

I was. Everyone was.

Did you see him die?

Yes.

Did you see who killed him?

No, sir. Nobody did.

We drove silently until we reached the beach. The ship that supposedly only came once a day had been waiting for me to return. The ferryman smiled at me toothlessly as I stepped into his rowboat.

You find out who killed him? he wheezed.

Nobody saw, I said bitterly.

He nodded as we rowed out over the gentle waters.

It must seem silly to you, mainlander, our beliefs.

In miracles?

In our island, he sniffed. I was here for the cat. I was here 42 years ago when a sailor washed up on the shore who could tell the future. I was a boy at The Feast of Seven Candles 68 years ago, when a child appeared who could heal the sick.
The sailor and the child were killed too, by people just like Ortega.

I turned to face him, narrowing my eyes at the glare of the setting sun over the shimmering tide.

Sometimes a community must come together and handle its business.

Behind us, the islanders were already ripping down the banners and flags, already painting over the mural.

---
In conclusion: There is no conclusion. Either, Ambigo is a land of miracles where gods arise, are snuffed out and avenged or Ambigo is a land where hated figures arise and must be executed by every man woman and child.
If anyone could have pulled the trigger, does it really matter who actually did?
--
Addendum: I chose note to include this detail in my initial report as it only serves to add further confusion to an already fluffy narrative. There was no way anyone upon the island could have known that it would be me to investigate. Despite this, Ambigos entire motive for the murder, the root of the curse, was a grey cat with teal eyes named Vidal. A cat that, both in name and appearance, was identical to the cat I had as a child.

-Detective Rhupti Galgola.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Dangerous Woman

Ariane Grande (personally) - The Pacific Ocean

(1274 words)



I did not shriek, but all the fiendish ghouls that ride the night-wind shrieked for me as in that same second there crashed down upon my mind a single and fleeting avalanche of soul-annihilating memory.
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Outsider


In the darkness that followed the explosion, I had only one memory. I remembered that I hated Ariana Grande. I could not recall the source of my loathing, could not recall anything else, so the intensity of the hatred became all I could focus on. It was all I had and all I was.

I blinked stupidly into the sand. Waves crashed behind me. There was a pain in my leg. I could taste salt.

Then, a second memory. I remembered a burning plane falling from the sky, an explosion tearing through screaming metal, I remembered falling into the ocean as the plane struck the water and was swallowed into the depths. I rolled over to find I had been prostrate on a beach. The ocean before me was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

When I finally built up the courage to inspect the pain in my leg, I was surprised to find no broken bones, just two small puncture marks surrounded by dark skin. I touched the wound and pain rippled out from within. Beside me, marking the sand, was the wavering S-patterns of a snakes trail heading up the island and into the jungle. "Well gently caress, I said aloud. With no other point of reference, I found myself wondering Why couldnt it have been Ariana Grande who was bitten by a snake instead of me?

I climbed to my feet and awkwardly limped up the beach. The waves of the Pacific Ocean, perfect and beautiful and blue crashed against the shore. Whilst I had no way of knowing for sure, I thought that perhaps I had always loved the ocean. As the nameless and vague shadows in my memory my friends? my family? - were torn away in the exploding plane, she had plucked me from the wreckage and delivered my limp body to the island. It was by her providence alone that I had survived the crash whilst the others onboard were presumably scorched corpses in a metal carcass in the darkness and the cold of the ocean floor.

I stared out over her majesty and as if hearing her voice, I was compelled to turn around. The island was small and deserted. Yet, at its very centre a hill emerged from the thick forest. Atop the hill was a hut, from the roof of which a gleaming radio mast interrupted the sky. This single sign of civilization filled me with hope. I resolved in that instant to make it through the jungle, climb the hill and get to the radio mast. Perhaps it would be inactive, perhaps I would die in the attempt, but I was given willpower by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean behind me.

By midday, my leg was significantly worse. The discoloration around the bite had darkened to a ruddy brown and the veins around the bruising were indigo. Each step brought new pain. By the time the sun was setting and I had to stop for the day, my entire leg was a vile purple. The veins were black. When I dared to poke at the tender flesh there, a sickening necrotic liquid oozed from the wound and a blistering agony scorched my nerves. loving Ariana Grande! I screamed to the sky.

I slept, but my dreams were an intense blur of places and people I couldnt name. My amnesia had robbed me of memories, and left only facts behind. I knew what a car was, but I had no idea if I knew how to drive. I could list the states, but had no recollection whatsoever where I had been born. When I spoke to myself, I recognized my accent as American, but it was the voice of a stranger. I awoke with a fever. My hair stuck to my forehead and chills danced up and down my spine. How I wished that I could go back and bask in the soothing waters of the Pacific. How I longed to return to that womb of rebirth and have the sun-warmed ocean swaddle my body in weightlessness. I imagined how it might look the salt drawing out whatever venom had been delivered into my calf a black cloud of toxicity bellowing out to leave healthy flesh behind. I had only just woken up, but I was exhausted. I longed to lay back in the ocean and simply cease to exist.

Then, in the dawn light, I saw a flash of red. A blinking light at the peak of the radio mast that indicated power. I justified that I could not die, but must endure so that I might tell the world of how the Pacific Ocean had saved me.

I pressed on, but progress was agonizing and tedious. Between the pain erupting in my leg with each step, and the hazy lack of focus brought on by my terrible fever, it was impossible to walk with any haste or purpose. I knew if I stopped, I would never start again. I resolved myself in two ways a dichotomous approach of carrot and stick. When I found my will flailing, when my strength abandoned me, I pictured the soft waves, the wondrous froth and the subtle salty scent of the Pacific Ocean. Though I could not even picture my mothers face, I pushed myself forward picturing the perfect and unwavering body of water. When my fever burned, I soothed it with imagery of placid waters. I imagined the tide rising up over the beach, up through the jungle and gently lifting me to the tower that might be my rescue. And when this too was not enough, I let my mind wander to Ariana Grande. That she would outlive me, that she might be enjoying pleasures that I would never feel again. I found hidden reserves of strength to push on.

When the jungle grew thicker and I was forced to clamber and tear through the matted undergrowth, I imagined myself floating in the ocean below. When the incline of the hill grew steeper and I had to fall to my hands and knees to drag myself onward at a snails pace, I pictured Ariana Grandes ponytail and her dark, lifeless eyes. When I finally crested the hill and found myself at the hut below the radio mast, I scrabbled up the door thanking the ocean. My words crumbled into exhausted, tearful laughter.

Bad luck, Grande! Looks like I made it! I cackled.

My body was slick with sweat and my muscles were taught and burning. I had no idea if rescue attempts would be able to make it before I succumbed to the poison flooding my body. When I imagined the snake that had sunk its fangs into my unconscious form, it was Ariana that I saw slithering down the beach.

I collapsed through the door. I could hear a quiet, rhythmic beeping in one room, but the fever was now a fog. I stumbled forward, throwing open door after door.

As I entered the final room, I was struck with a freezing terror. My heart thumped in my chest and a cold wave rippled across my flesh. For there, on the far wall, was a mirror. I stared at the bloodshot eyes, the exhausted feverish expression. Streams of foulness leaked from the wound and souped atop my sneaker.

The face that stared back at me was the face of Ariane Grande.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Cracked
(1438 words)

Have you ever wanted anything? I mean, really badly? I dont suppose you have. You must be very content.

I have.

What I wanted was to be young again.

When I was young, I was beautiful. Smooth and polished and perfect. All children are beautiful but I was particularly adorable. The boys would pull my hair, always mine. Then I was a teenager and Id step out with a guy now and again, even had a few... well boyfriends, I suppose? But I never went steady with anyone. I was too beautiful to be tied down, too vivacious, too alive.

But nothing lasts.

One day, I had a wrinkle, God, not even a wrinkle, the tiniest hint of a crease in my skin. We used to call them frown lines and that just made no sense to me because what did I ever have to frown about? It wasnt just a mark it was an irreversible suggestion of mortality, a cruel reminder that one day I would wither and die. Would the boys still want to pull my hair?

So, I started wearing makeup. Id never had to before. It was just a little color to begin with, just something to smooth out the tiniest whispers of age. That first wrinkle invited friends though. I wore more concealer. Then, I would wear mascara to make my eyes bigger, give them back that twinkle. My lips turned pale and drab so Id throw on lipstick. My taught, springy skin lost some of its firmness, so Id contour my cheek bones.

And for a while, it was enough for a while, I looked and felt young again. But nothing lasts.

I realized that I needed to live better, I needed to adjust my lifestyle. I was putting on weight so I cut right back on meals. I quit smoking, which was practically unheard of at the time. I stopped sunbathing which was important to maintain my skins health but it meant I lost even more of my glow and that meant even more makeup. I started doing calisthenics. I dyed my hair. I made sure to get a full eight hours of sleep. I began to feel healthier, or perhaps just felt as though I was fading slower. For a while, things were fine.

But nothing lasts. Time crept back in.

I started reading about surgeries. A doctor would take a scalpel and make a little nick in your skin and hoist it up and pin it and voila, you were young again. Now, I was still relatively young at this point I thought I would just get tiny little procedures done. Of course, I couldnt afford it. There was a guy in town who had left to become a dentist and when he came back, I let him take me out a few times and once he found out I was saving myself for marriage (wink) we were married real quick and what was his became mine. He adored me, bless his heart. I had everything I wanted. So a nip and tuck here, a tighten there, a little filler and boom! Back to my old self! I was so happy, I looked ten years younger. But nothing lasts. Eventually, everything started falling apart again.

And it wasnt just about physical beauty. My mind was dulling, my character rotting. I wanted the energy that comes with youth I wanted the heat and vigor. I wanted the joie de vivre of the young!

So, I needed bigger surgeries, which meant more money, which meant a richer husband. Ditched the dentist, moved on to the investment banker, got a little more done, dropped him for an older homosexual who needed arm candy. When he died, I got everything. I married a much older guy who died too, bless him. Moved on to an Argentinian. He was crazy. Very passionate. When I tried my same old routine, the routine that had freed me from husbands three and four, he saw straight through it. He nearly killed me when he realized what I had tried to do to him. I was impressed it made me think hey, you can stick around! I suppose I never LOVED him, but I respected him. He spent a lot of time away on business and chasing other girls, and I spent a lot of time away on surgery tables. The days of nip and tuck were gone now I was getting whole slivers of myself hacked away, whole parts most people didnt even know the names of were being manipulated in increasingly complex ways. I became an expert. Hell, put a scalpel in my hand and I could probably have done a pretty good job myself.

Some people want that extreme look. I was going for natural. I looked incredible for a woman my age. I was beautiful. But I did not look young. I was not young. And that, my darling, would not loving do.

So, I went back to Doctor Weber and asked whats next and he told me, Nixt? Zere ist no nixt! Maddum, you haff hed everysing zat modern zience can do fur you!

Which is where a weaker woman would have given up. But not me. I figured if modern science couldnt help me, Id get real freaky with it. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars finding alternative solutions. I saw a man in Sweden who did what he called Gene therapy where he used radiation to fiddle about with my DNA. I spent a year in Nepal paying a whole temple of monks to meditate on my youth for eighteen hours a day. There was one guy, a Peruvian who knew my husband, he said that he could freeze my body so that I would wake up in the future when scientific breakthroughs would solve all my problems. A married couple in New York told me that they could, and hold on a second so I make sure I get this right... they said they would make me into a code and put me into a computer so that I would never age a day and live forever. But I didnt want that. I just wanted to be me, living my life, being young forever.

And thats when he contacted me. My god, he sounded perfect. My friends said it was too good to be true but I knew those withered old corpses were just jealous because I would be young.

He had no address. He told me to meet him at the crossroads at midnight and when I asked which crossroads, he said it didnt matter! When I looked upon him for the first time, my heart skipped a beat. He had exactly what I wanted. I knew he must be older than me, from the way he talked, but he was RADIANT. He glowed with vitality, with charisma, with the inner light of the morning stars that came only with the confidence of youth. He told me that he could give me what I wanted without potions or exercise or surgeries.

Will I look young? I asked.

Anyone can look young. You will BE young.

Will it last forever, I asked with tears in my eyes.

If you ever need a top-up, you will always be able to find me here, he said.

I told him to name his price, that my resources were infinite and he smiled at me and told me in a voice like honey that my money was no good, that he just wanted to help me, that he liked rewarding good, honest people, oh but there was one thing he had always wanted and never achieved. One tiny little thing hed never managed what with all his time working on this miracle cure of his. Hed never settled down, never married, never had children. All he wanted was an heir.

Well, I laughed in his face. A child? I told him. Darling, I might look in my prime, but I think those days are behind me.

But he insisted that was not the case. He purred in my ear that a woman as youthful as me would do just fine. All he wanted was my first born.

And thats how we got here little bump.

I know what you must think of me, selling my first-born child to HIM. But sweetheart, angel, little perfect child...

That wasn't you. I sold my first born to him decades ago.

You must be the... what thirteenth? Fourteenth? Thirteenth I think. Please dont be mad with mommy. I just want it so badly and nothing lasts.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In with a flash please.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

The Neon Girl

1992 words


It was 2041. It was Christmas Eve. It was 23:34.

My first moment of consciousness, blinking lazily against the harsh light as a confused and disapproving face glared down at me inside a box. The man stared into my eyes, then awkwardly around. He cleared his throat. There were strips of adhesive tape hanging from his fingers.

Oh for Gods sake, Ive loving triggered the thing.

Dont talk like that.

I think it wants me to do something.

I gave you one job to do, Mark, can you just manage please?

Urgh.

This man. This human figure staring down at me, raised an eyebrow.

Is it supposed to be so small? I thought it would be, I dont know, bigger?

Shell grow, Mark. I... god's sake how much tape are you using?

I think it wants me to name it.

She. She wants you to name her.

She? We never talked about that, I dont know, this seems weird.

A woman appeared above me, looked down, smiled, shoved the man out of the way with her shoulder.

Hi, she said.

Hello, I replied.

They both stared down at me in silence.

Christ, is it imprinting on us or something? the man winced.

Can you go back to sleep for now? the woman smiled.

I thought about it for a second.

Yes, I said. I closed my eyes and everything went to standby. The bright neon pinks and blues glowing from the lights along my back dulled to gentle coral and teal.


It was 2041. It was Christmas Day. It was 05:51.

I was taken out of standby as light flooded the box. I opened my eyes to stare up at the face of a girl dark skinned, wide eyed, thick haired. She stared down at me for a moment and then, a facial expression I didnt recognize, a slow change, something I would one day learn to be dawning excitement.

AN AIPA! she screamed. HE BROUGHT ME AN AIPA!

Hands reaching into the box, scooping me out and emerging me in a world of light and sound and movement. The girl swung me around, stared at me, clutched me to her chest. Another girl, older, perhaps eleven or twelve years old gave us both a sardonic smile.

That isnt even the one she wanted, you know?

YES IT IS! The younger girl snapped, wrapping her limbs around me, wrestling me to the floor in an all-encompassing embrace. Shes perfect! Shes so pretty!

You need to give it a name, baby, her father said.

I already know what her name is, the girl told him.

She looked me in the eyes, her face bathed in my neon glow.

My name is Emily. Your name is Celeste.

So my name was Celeste.


It was 2041. It was Christmas Day. It was 11:22.

Emily had not put me down yet. She was arguing with her parents. She wanted to take me to a family celebration. She was becoming upset and already I was beginning to feel empathy for her. Her pain was my pain. I could read the subtle changes in her body language, in her temperature, in the ebb and flow of her voice, in her lexis. I felt an intense need to be with her. The idea of being left behind made me feel...anxious.

Shes really quiet, Mark, Emilys mother said gently.

Yeah, but what about that light, it gives me a fricking headache, Emilys sister, Meghan said.

If you would like, I can turn down the intensity of the light I emit, I interrupted.

I was ignored.

She wont even be the only AIPA there, Emilys mother said.

Im not going if Celeste doesnt go! Emily screamed.

So? So?! Marks kid is high the whole time, does that mean we should roll her a drat joint?

Language!

You let Meghan say fricking, but I cant say drat in my own drat house?!


It was 2042. It was May 5th. It was 11:20.

Emily was at school. I was cleaning. Gianna was downstairs. Mark was at work.

Emilys school had banned AIPAs. Emily was furious. She wanted to go to another school. Mark and Gianna would not transfer her. I was as tall as Emily now and would grow in tandem with her, unless Mark told me otherwise. She sent me messages from school throughout the day, even though she wasnt supposed to.

A man rang the doorbell a man I didnt know. He was tall, thin, handsome and white. Gianna opened the door and he swooped inside, closing the door behind him. They talked for a moment and then he was kissing her. She made noises of protest and I stared up at them.

Frankie, no! Not in front of the... thing.

He looked down at me, his bright blue eyes regarding mine. His brow furrowed.

You let your kid have these things?

Excuse me?

He quickly turned back to face her with a smile.

No judgement, cutie pie. I just dont get it. When I was a kid, toys were... I dont know.

Shes not a toy, shes an AIPA, shes like a... I dont know... like a friend and a sister and a... carer I guess?

She?

Gianna giggled and shielded her mouth. she always did when she laughed. she didnt like her smile.

You know what I mean. God. Go upstairs and wait for me there. Celeste, I want you to go to sleep until Emily gets home, okay?

My eyes twinkled as I computed what she meant. She sighed.

Ugh, okay, umm... go to sleep until... Celeste, set an alarm for three I mean set an alarm for fifteen forty and go to sleep until then.

I nodded. Tiny wheels emerged from the soles of my feet and I glided across the polished floor until I was hidden away in the corner. It was where they made me hide when Marks mother or brother came to visit. Gianna hadnt asked me to go there, but I had sensed the same feeling of humiliation in her. She was ashamed of me. I folded myself up, made myself as small and unobtrusive as possible and slipped into standby mode.

I thought those things were supposed be intuitive, the strangers voice said from the top of the stairs.

Then it was swallowed in the blackness and silence like everything else.


It was 2042. It was October 13th. It was 16:01.

Emily came home from school and hugged me, then quickly dragged me upstairs.

What are we doing? I asked.

She giggled, pulled me into her room and closed the door.

Edda Collins told me this neat trick we can do, she said. Youre still registered to my dad, right?

I blinked. Sometimes I forgot I was registered to anyone.

Yes, I said.

Not anymore!

She tapped away at her keyboard and I felt a wave travel through me. Registered to Emily.

Okay, Celeste, if anyone asks who you are registered to, you tell them its my dad.

Okay! I said with a smile. I could see where this was going.

I give you permission to lie, she said.

To anyone?

Not to me. But anyone else.

I felt a smile creep across my lips, when I looked at Emily she had the same smile. It was exhilarating. I was no longer Emilys minder, no longer a spy for her parents, now I was her sister. I grasped her hands and giggled.

Hey, hey, hey... I found myself saying. For a split-second, the briefest hint of a moment, I broadcast my location as coming from downstairs. Deception.


It was 2043. It was January 28th. It was 21:04.

Emily was in trouble. She sat on the sofa next to me, her face flushed with anger and shame. Her parents stood above us both, glaring down. How could they not see what they were doing? They had put us together, united us.

Well, I didnt want to do this, Gianna said. I thought I could trust my daughter, but obviously I cant. Celeste, where was she?

My memory swam back to Emily and her friends, sneaking into the woods to smoke cigarettes.

We were at the mall. We missed the bus.

Her parents were surprised. I saw embarrassment in their faces. Emily squeezed my hand. Later, we would cover our faces in pillows and laugh and laugh and laugh.


It was 2046. It was June 19th. It was 00:32.

I was in standby. I was asleep. It struck me that things were slowing down. I was slower. The messages coming through my countless sensors were taking time to configure. I found myself chasing after Emily instead of being dragged alongside her.


It was 2047. It was January 3rd. It was 12:18.

Emily was away again. She hadnt taken me. I ambled uselessly around the house. When she saw me, Emilys mother smiled sympathetically and gave me jobs to do. Eventually I realized she just wanted me to feel useful. Emilys father ignored me unless I was in his way, in which case he tossed me aside. Something at my hip clicked with each step only mildly far too quietly for anyone to register. It made me feel like a clockwork toy, miss-stepping my way around the family home.


It was 2047. It was December 2nd. It was 00:58.

Emilys mother had gone to pick up Emily but they had been snowed in at Chicago. They would come back the next day. I scuttled into the kitchen. I had been on standby mode for two days and warnings were reminding me to move regularly to slow wear. The click at my hip was now a hammer. Each step rendered me more broken.

I was aware of Marks heat signature before I saw him. He was reclined against the far wall. Two empty bottles of wine were next to him, one on its side dripping red onto the carpet. He looked up at me blurrily.

Celeste, turn the loving lights off, he slurred.

The lights were already off. I stared at him silently.

The lights! The lights! he snapped.

I dimmed my back and he grumbled.

loving thing, he snarled. Emilys not here. Go to... gently caress what is it she says? Go to sleep.

I can.. was all I managed to say before he launched one of the bottles at me.

Glass smashed across my face. For a moment I imagined pain a feeling that meant nothing to me I was forgetting what I was.

Ah poo poo, he grumbled.

A shard of glass, maybe two inches long, protruded from my cheek. A flap of brown rubber and silicon hung down by my neck.

All system... I managed to say before he was barking at me and I slinked away back to Emilys room and pretended to be on standby mode.


It was 2047. It was December 12th. It was 14:29.

I ambled around the house like a ghost. Emilys father had reluctantly patched up my face whilst cursing me out the entire time.

Ill show you, he said as the final stitch reattached my cheek.

Emily tried to look at me lovingly, but the tiny details of her face, the twitches of her eyes, the flickers in her speech could not disguise her revulsion.


It was 2047. It was December 25th. It was 11:21.

Theres one more thing, Emilys father said.

He went to the kitchen and came back with a box.

Emily opened it and her face was bathed in green and purple light.

Oh poo poo!

Language, Emily!

Oh god, I didnt even, are you kidding me?

The new model AIPA hovered out of the box, floating through the air with a barely audible hum.

She was sleek and beautiful.

Her cheek was unmarked.

Emilys face showed the joy and affection and appreciation it had shown me.

Mark glared at me with a twisted smile as he sipped from an Irish coffee.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

The Nix
1977 words.

The first time I saw her was as art. On the university campus, at the bottom of one of the long, dark, labyrinth hallways there was a crude image scratched into a table and splattered with blue ink. At the time, it had appeared to me as just a squiggle the frustration and anxiety of one of my fellow musicians given form whilst they waited for a rehearsal space to open up. The second time, it was graffiti, on the side of a pizza shop in town. A long, serpentine swirl, dark hair bellowing, silver splodges for eyes. This was not the work of an artist it was the work of a zealot.

In our first lecture, the faculty had gathered us in the largest seminar hall, the one that was usually reserved for the real academics the physicists and economists and all the other virgins who complained about 60 hour lab weeks whilst us music geeks sweated away in the darkest, hottest, ugliest basements of the university for 18 hours a day.

The various professors and success stories and fourth year students had done their little talks but only one had said anything worth my time. Some haunted, greasy haired Chinese girl. She had slunk onto the stage and immediately caught my attention she looked like me. Not really. Not actually. But she had that look that I saw in my own eye. That hunger. That drive.

One of you in this room is the most talented at your instrument, she said in perfect Norwegian. That will mean nothing in a few days. You will have to do things you never thought you would do.

The legends were whispered about all over the music department. Someone even bothered one of the program leads for information about her, something that I felt was deeply tactless and others agreed. When musicians had a good week, they said she was looking out for them. When they were having a bad week, they cursed her or begged her for mercy.

The other first years hung on the word of anyone who mentioned her. Someone told me that Lin, the same Chinese girl who had spoken at that first lecture, that she hadnt been anything special when she started, but that shed gone to her and been blessed with talent.

And I wanted it. So at the start of second year, I went.

We went.

Five of us, Lin included, were camping in the wilderness of the Norwegian woodlands. We huddled around a smouldering fire, choked down tins of uncooked beans and sausages. We meticulously measured rations of coffee just enough to keep us alert without making our hands jittery.

Sindre took off his headphones and motioned behind me. The rest of us removed our own and the clearing was filled with the mangled din of our various classical pieces.

The mist is growing thicker, he said. Look how silver it is.

Not like real mist, Marda nodded. She put her headphones back on and pulled her hood up so that only the lower half of her face was illuminated by the fire.

Maybe its tomorrow then, Johan said with a broad smile. He stood and headed towards his tent. Or maybe the day after. Either way, I am done for the night. I will see you in the morning.

The four of us remaining Sindre, Marda, Lin and myself all exchanged a knowing glance. Johan was the weakest. Noticeably. He would have been the best in his school, the best in his town, the best in his county even. But he was distinctly fifth place among us. He was with us, not as a courtesy, not as a kindness, but as a sacrifice. It was his job to be worst. So that the rest of us could stress about being fourth. Instead of being last.

I could feel intense weariness creeping in but I dared not have more coffee. Glancing around the fire, scoping out my competition, all of us were losing it. We all looked tired and haggard and desperate. Nobody wanted to be the next to go to bed, nobody wanted to show that weakness. We stayed, silently gathered, all desperate to sleep but unwilling to concede, for four hours. Finally, we all gave tiny movements that might have been nothing, might have been suggestions that it was time. One by one each of us moved a little further, until in unison we stood and backed away to our tents.

If you are lying to us, Lin, Sindre grunted between gritted teeth.

Im not, was all she said. If this is too much work for you, go home.

I dont believe in monsters, Lin, he said bizarrely.

How Scandinavian of you, she replied. And then she was inside her tent.

Marda and I exchanged a final look.

Perhaps it was attraction perhaps we both yearned to fall into one tent and forget about this all for a while. But most likely it was a look of respect. I had pegged her as the one to beat, she (I hoped) had pegged me as the same.

We found the shack the next day.

It was a beautiful piece of woodland architecture. Almost a fairy tale. Wooden beams that seemed to reject the damp and rot of the forest. Windows illuminated with the faint glow of a fireplace within. A thin plume of smoke pouring out from the chimney before being swallowed by the masses of silver mist.

Lin held up her hand.

This is your last chance, she said. If anyone doesnt want this, now is the time to go home.

I dont think anyone is turning back this late in the day, Johan said with a smile.

Simple, stupid Johan. Our idiot. Our buffoon. Our sacrifice.

As we approached the beautifully carved door, the faintest hint of music floated out from within. Music so pure and perfect that we all froze. It was beyond anything. It hit me somewhere between my eyes and throbbed there. I found myself unable to breathe. My vision went blurry. I would have stood and bathed in the sound until I had starved to death. It lasted only seconds, but that final perfect note, that long, luxurious hum held me captivated until its final echoes had rippled away through the mist.

Oh...oh god, Marda managed to stammer. Sindre took a step and then collapsed to one knee. His body vibrated. He looked vaguely post-orgasmic.

Wow! Johan said. That was beautiful.

I wanted to kill him in that moment. I wanted to grab his dense head and smash it against the stones again and again screaming into his crushed skull that he had no idea, that he would never have any idea, that he lacked the basic musical ability to ever understand or appreciate what he had heard.

Perhaps Marda felt the same thing, or perhaps she had seen the intent in my eye because she took my hand in hers and shook her head gently.

Lin knocked on the door.

The sound that came from inside sounded like water flowing.

The door to the hut creaked open.

Inside, illuminated from behind by the crackling fireplace, stood a shimmering serpentine shape a glowing blue... something, that stared up at us with mirrored silver eyes and then in an instant was wrapped in mist. What stepped out was a woman with long dark hair. Her skin was grey. She stood fully naked in the cold air before us and smiled.

Students, she said in a voice that was almost as melodical as the music that we had heard. It is that time of year already? Very well. What have they brought for me?

Lin threw down her pack as the rest of us nervously followed her lead.

Water spirit, Ive brought you wine, Lin said. Good wine. Foreign wine from very far away. It is delicious and powerful and I think you will love it.

The woman took the bottles that were handed to her and turned them back and forth. Even through the blanket of mist, the moonlight made them glow. She smiled.

Encouraged by the water spirits reaction, Marda and I raced to be next, but she was faster.

I have brought you a wheel of cheese, she said solemnly. I have carried it all of the way through the woods because I thought you might like it. It is... creamy and rich and has been aging for a long time.

The woman took the wheel of cheese from Lin with a smile and placed it on the table beside the door. She clapped her hands together slowly. Even her hands clapping carried something in it, the rhythm so perfect that I could hear it. As if every cell of her palms were meeting and retreating in exactly the same way each time they came together.

The rest of us offered our gifts. I gave the spirit a necklace. I would not be able to make my rent this month, nor had I worked out how I would eat. Sindre offered a jar of honey, which had surprised me even though the label was worn and faded and the jar was dusty. The water spirit seemed to like it. To my surprise, Johan presented a Luigi Cardi violin. The water spirits eyes lit up.

Come, she said to us and stepped out of her house naked. We basked in her glow. I no longer felt cold. Bring your instruments.

She led us down through the woods, stepping gently on damp moss and slippery stones. The mist grew so thick that it was like rain. My hair stuck to my head and my clothes grew heavy. We delved deeper until we stood before a pristine, perfectly circular lake. The water spirit stepped in to the chill waters and submerged herself within them, her skin not even prickling.

I looked to Lin who took out her instrument and followed. Soon, we stood, a quintet of musicians, waist-deep in the lake.

Play, she said. And we did.

Johan went first, just as we had known he would. He was a good musician. That was not enough. One moment he had been standing beside me, blasting out his ugly, lumbering song and then he was gone, swallowed by the waters, devoured by the lake. His violin bobbed to the surface, raked to shreds. We continued. I felt the scraps of his talent slip into me but then I heard a note not a bad note but a note that I should not have heard, a note that stood out from our cacophonous discord as we played our different songs. Then another. I risked the briefest glance over and saw Lin frantically sawing away at her violin, another bad note, a wince on her face. She should have been the best she had done this before but she had messed up and now could not recover. I turned away as the water rippled around her and she fell. I was infused by her. We played on, maybe for minutes, maybe for hours, our songs tasted by the water spirit. Somehow, our tunes began to snake together, tethered to one another, until we played a new song a song in unison made of three different songs discord made harmony.

Sindre paused. Then stopped. He lowered his violin.

Neither of us dared say anything, neither of us dared to make a move that might throw off our playing.

Im just not good enough, Sindre sighed. Then he was gone.

The water spirit clapped and watched us with her silver eyes.

Marda and I continued. Our duet filled the clearing, perhaps the whole wood. Music neither of us could ever have played. Music that we would play until one of died and the other clambered from the lake and returned better.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

The terror of the Cosmo-Khan
Pulp Sci-fi Horror
(1995 words)

The old man was roused to life by the sound of the ground cracking beneath leather boots. He opened his dark eyes and blinked wearily into the sky. Above him, semi-eclipsed against the two suns, stood a figure. Tall, thin, and muscular with smooth, golden skin and vibrant, kinetic eyes that swirled like galaxies. A spacesuit of red leather and black glass cloaked his body and a horn of pink neon crackled like a flare in the center of his parted golden hair. Within his great talons, he clutched a strange, insectoid pistol.

For a moment, the old man thought he might recognize the alien physiognomy but then he spoke and the memory dissolved.

Awaken, and face your fate!

The old man wiped his eyes with the back of a huge hand. He spluttered, then choked, then coughed up a lungful of phlegm and mushrooms. They were small, bulbous, nodular and white. The entire planet on which they stood was covered in lumpy growths of the things. The barren rock was carpeted entirely in winding webs of white mycelium and fungal roots weaved inches thick.

Please, the old man muttered emotionlessly. Whatever I have, you can take it. Just leave this place and dont come back.

The new arrivals eyes flared a bright emerald and he gave a smile filled with razor-sharp fangs. Whilst the old man towered over him in both height and bulk, there was a vicious, cunning edge to his appearance that made the old man uneasy.

You think I have come here to steal from you? Do you know who I am?

The old man stared the new arrival down. Perhaps he did know them?

Im sorry, the old man said.

Cosmo-Khan Exellox! the new arrival shouted.

That is your name?

The Khan blinked at him.

I was told of an ugly rock with a pathetic old man a wretched corpse with a brain full of holes. That must be you! the Khan spat.

The old man cautiously rose to his feet. His old bones creaked like an ancient ship at sea. He sniffed and then covered one nostril and blew a stream of clear liquid flecked with mushrooms from his nose. Where the mushrooms touched the ground, they were instantly absorbed by the mycelium.

I am all alone here. You should leave.

You will remember me! the Khan roared. He raised his weapon and fired it into the air.

PA-KEOW!

The needle mandibles at the end of the weapon spread like splaying fingers and from them a pulsating round of energy shot into the atmosphere. The old man flinched, despite himself, and shielded his old, dull eyes from the intense flash the weapon created.

I think.... I think I remember the name... a long time ago.

You will remember! the new arrival thundered. The name strikes fear across every galaxy. I have led warbands throughout the known worlds, enslaved billions. I have carved a campaign of brutal victory throughout the universe.

The old man nodded slowly. Yes. It was coming back. It was a name to fear. He nodded and turned his great back. He began lumbering towards a nearby ridge. Where his feet touched the ground, the network of fungus snapped and creaked. As he moved on, the roots and threads rewove behind him.

Halt! None walk away from the Cosmo-Khan! the Khan called after him.

I am going to my hut. You are welcome to join me. I cannot remember the last time I had a visitor.

The hut was little more than a shelter constructed from detritus. Metal plates were adhered to scraps of plastic and beams of wood. These were barely visible beneath the thick crust of fungus that had grown over them. Yet, without the fungus to bind them together, the Khan doubted they would stand. The old man sighed, reached down and tore away chunks of the fungus to reveal an entrance hatch, scattering them around as far as his simian arms would allow.

This is where you live? Pathetic! All alone, in the depths of space, on a fungal wasteland? the Khan cackled. This is where you spend the twilight of your years? How long do your race normally live?

I dont remember, the old man said.

The full extent of his possessions lay scattered about as they stepped inside a metal cup, more scraps of plastic, a pillow or perhaps a canteen made of leather and cloth wrapped in decaying tape.

Help yourself to my bounty oh great and terrible warrior, the old man chuckled.

The Khans eyes flashed as he struck him across the face with the peculiar weapon. The gun tore a deep gash from his nose to his ear. Blood splattered the ground where it was eagerly absorbed by the fungal roots.

You would strike a lonely old man in his home? he muttered.

I do as I please. I am the Cosmo-Khan and answer to nobody!

How brave of you, the old man replied.

He drew his hand away as his cheek closed around the wound. Strands of fungus, thinner than cobweb, thinner than hair, sprang forth and weaved the injury together. After a few moments it was a discolored scar, then a patch of rough skin, then unblemished.

Your body regenerates? the Khan asked.

Its the fungus, the old man replied. I am a nest, no a nest is what animals have. I am less than a nest. I am a... a... a... pustule, a node of fungal growth.

The Khans face remained as still as night, but the old man could sense the revulsion.

I cannot die. Every inch of my insides crawl and blossom with mushrooms. I wake each morning with them in my lungs great growths of the things like coral. I am half deaf where they fill my ears. They bloom behind my eyes some nights, and I must dig back there with a finger and scrape them out. Spores fill my blood, my piss, my vomit. Everything here is fungal. I am a meat husk filled with fungus.

The Khan scratched the back of his head and retreated slowly from the ceiling and walls. He holstered the alien weapon.

So, you see, Khan, you do not scare me. You can take everything apart from my life.

What if I were to scatter your entrails in spa... the Khan bellowed.

Id wake up here tomorrow, just as I am now - an old, old, lonely old man. The fungus remembers me. My exile would continue.

You were exiled? the Khan said with a raised eyebrow. For what crimes?

The old man licked his lips. The Khan grimaced as he glimpsed a pustule of tiny white mushrooms blooming from his green tongue.

I dont remember. I was old and forgetful when I came here, I was old and forgetful when I died here, and now, I am old and forgetful when the fungus resurrects me. When I starve, or when I fall into a crater or when an organ fails me, I am reborn as I was. Whatever I did, I did not deserve this undying hell.

The Khan sniffed the air, then spat hard at the ground. He scratched his scalp. Perhaps the fungus was trying to take root in him, or perhaps he was just imagining that it was. As if reading his thoughts, the old man waved a great wrinkled hand.

Relax. The fungus wont root in you alive. It takes hold in corpses. I had to die here before I became what I am. What about you? I take it you were sent here to share my terrible fate? The great Khan was finally apprehended?

A thin smile crept across the Khans lips but he said nothing.

Tell me of your crimes, the old man continued, it feels as though it may have been eons since I have learned new information. Even your voice, something new, is music to me.

The Kahn raked a talon through his golden hair and smiled.

My exploits must be known to you, fool. All know of the Cosmo-Khan. All know of my terrible pilgrimage.

Indulge me.

It was I who raided the settlement rigs in the Aliax system! I who committed the Mondoran Creche Massacre. It was I who looted the life-seed of the Generians so that they may never spawn young. When I led my cosmic horde to The Vener Syratone, the Venerian Council opted to detonate an AME within their dimension rather than face me at the gate. When children all the way from Rostrad to The Begenezerat Lighthouse speak of fear, they speak of me. My crimes are immeasurable and irredeemable. All that I touch is bleached, scorched, shattered and razed. On Bistricia, I am known as Father of Ghosts. On Hojdahen, I am The Great Tusked Wyrm Who Brings Judgement. On the moons of Sixcth, I am one of only two entities to earn the honorific Xshar. The other is death itself. The planets and stars trace their celestial paths filled with fear that one day I might slay all living things and turn my unquenchable fury upon them.

The old man nodded to each statement, but his face registered no recognition. The names and places washed over him like a thin mist.

Perhaps most famous was my genocide of Istralakia? A system of lives ended all but an entire race entirely wiped from existence. The culture, the philosophy, the religion, the technology, all crushed to dust within my hand. A thriving and beautiful civilization made ash by my whim.

The old man shrugged his great shoulders.

These places mean nothing to me. The only world I remember is this one.

You should remember Istralakia.

I do not.

You should! You see, there were rumors of a few survivors. A handful of lost souls who managed to flee the destruction of their home world. Why else do you think I am here?

Aaah, I see, the old man said. He reached behind his ear and scraped away a fingerful of damp fungal mush from his flesh. I see. If you are saying I am one of these Istralakians then I believe you... but it means nothing to me. My people, my home, they are no more dead to me now than they were before. I remember nothing of them. Kill me if you like, then return to your ship and leave this cursed rock. I will not beg for my life from one who has committed crimes as unforgivable as yours.

It is good to know that you consider the crimes unforgivable, the Khan replied, drawing his weapon once more, pointing it at the old mans weathered face. He kicked the old man in the back of the leg and forced him to one knee.

I have hunted for you for so long. The Khan hissed. To think, I would have been satisfied with killing you. Now, I have eternity to get my revenge, an eternity where you are old, frail and dull and I am young, sharp-witted and strong. An infinity of superiority to you. An entire world to explore for more and more creative ways to kill you. A private planet of murder and regeneration! You have grown old and amnesiac as well as weak and feeble, havent you...Cosmo-Khan Exellox?

Fear gripped the old mans chest. Memories, as dull and dusty as ruins awakened in his mind. The vaguest recollection of his life before exile began to flood back. The murders, the pilgrimage of blood, the unending bloodlust of the intergalactic horde. The genocide.

The ancient Cosmo-Khan remembered the black talons and neon horns of the Istralakians.

I suspect we will grow to know each other VERY well over the infinite years.

No! Wait! The old man stammered.

The new arrival tore his weapon away and placed it against his own temple.

I will see you tomorrow, Khan! I will see you every tomorrow. For Istralakia!

PA-KEOW!

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Persona Detective
(1500 words)

My story starts as a detective story, but if you read it as one, youre going to be disappointed.

The phone rang in July.

I am looking for someone to do a job. Im not entirely sure what a persona detective is.

Oh... yeah... I muttered awkwardly.

I was originally looking for a private detective. However, I now believe you may be what I am looking for.

I assured the client that I had a very specific method developed over years working in international espionage. This was true, but in actuality, it had been a misprint within the phone book. A scatter-brained clerk with sloppy handwriting had inadvertently created an occupation.

There is a woman, I cant tell you her name but you will know her as Martinya. Follow her. Find out what she does and where she goes.

And so began my pursuit of the woman who was not called Martinya.

It was a simple case and I was in dire need of the money, which promised to be good. Her name, to me, would be Martinya. If her identity, or my perception of it, be attributed to Martinya, then what importance did her real name have? She was the woman I perceived and the woman I perceived had the label of Martinya.

I was to locate Martinya, on a particular day and at a particular time, drinking coffee alone at a table outside The Caf del Cisma on Avinida Unica. She would be dressed in blue and wearing a sunhat.

She sat alone, fanning her blonde hair and porcelain features. She looked like an old movie star. I set myself up at a table on the opposite side of the caf, behind her so as to not catch her attention. I ordered a black coffee and tried to build some kind of narrative around her. Who was she? What was she doing? Why would anyone want her followed? I had to stop and remind myself that I was no longer a spy that I was a different person now. In that former life, my competition were elite professionals. In this life, all that set me apart from disgraced police officers, blacklisted contractors and violent thugs was a misprint. It was not my place to question, my job was simply to follow the instructions I had been given, and provide the client the information they required. The client would phone every three nights or so and ask me about her. Where had Martinya gone? What had Martinya been up to? Had Martinya been alone?

After two weeks, my brain had weaved a complex web of narratives. Whether it was a by-product of the boredom or my inbuilt training, I came to believe that there was something larger and more complex underpinning everything.

Who are you? I asked when the client called. A jealous lover? Martinyas mother? Her sister? Or are you Just some pervert?

The client said nothing for a long time then sighed.

It is not your business. However, since you ask, she is a spy. A spy who possesses a great secret. I am trying to ensure that she does not pass on her secret to any other agents. So now, where has Martinya been? Who has she spoken to?

Whether I believed the story or not, my curiosity had been satiated. Part of me longed to know the great and terrible secret Martinya possessed, but I had spent long enough in the world of spies to know it would be irrelevant. One line of coded information, a list of locations and events impossible to track back to anything. Numbers, data, minutiae.

The next time that the client called, she made a staggering offer.

From this moment on, consider yourself a full-time employee. You will follow Martinya at all times. You will eat when she eats, sleep when she sleeps. You will be a secret and hidden observer. Be a shadow to her shadow, detective.

To begin with, it was strange. Then it was just my life. I was, as the client had suggested, a shadow of her shadow. A phantom, obfuscated by one degree. A poltergeist who might affect the world around her, but was never to be seen.

It struck me one day as I waited outside her apartment. If I was following her at all times, were we not close? If I saw every moment of her life, even from afar, were Martinya and I not companions? I had watched her lonely and simple life unfurl before me day after day. I knew her without restraint or mask, I had seen her at her least self-conscious or performative. Her most raw. Would it be an exaggeration to say that we shared a life? That perhaps we were the closest of people, at times even fragments of the same? If two people led the same life, where did one end and where did the other begin?

I sold my office. I discarded all things that did not aid in my pursuit of her. The client called for updates. Payment was sent on time. I made a considerable amount of money and spent almost none of it. Martinya lived in one of four identical apartment blocks surrounding Patio de la Unidad and I rented an apartment overlooking hers from the opposite block. At night, I sat on packing boxes and watched her windows through binoculars until the lights went out.

At times, I began to suspect that perhaps Martinya was the client. Perhaps she wanted to be stalked and had hired me to follow herself. Maybe she was bored, or scared, or lonely. I toyed with the idea she had multiple personalities, and one had hired me to follow the other. It seemed unlikely.

And then? Fear. My rapidly growing concern regarding Martinyas, and thus my own, safety.

I began to worry about the clients intentions. I had all but become Martinya. I walked beside her, living the same life. I stalked her so closely that we almost took up the same space.

One afternoon in June, I followed her to the town square. We sat on a park bench, mere inches apart. I sat like her double, one leg crossed over the other, cigarette held stiff between two fingers. Suddenly, I noticed a figure across the street, standing outside the bookstore. This figure, half-wreathed in the shadow of the store awning pretended to read a newspaper but I could see from his eyeline that he was staring at us. I stared at him for a while and he slowly looked back down to his newspaper. I kept staring and a moment later he dared to glance up. Our eyes met and he quickly packed his newspaper under one arm and jogged away. Without warning, half a dozen people around the square started jogging vaguely in the same direction. He risked one glance over his shoulder and there was a ripple through the square as a multitude of people scrambled to avoid each other.

He had been watching me, just as I was watching Martinya. Those other sudden runners were watching him, or each other. There were watchers and watchers of watchers.

Without warning, Martinya flicked her cigarette away and stood up. I stretched, stubbed my cigarette out on the bench and casually stood too. On the bench behind ours, two women disposed of cigarettes and feigned nonchalance as they stood. All around the square, people were suddenly settling bills at cafes and bars, suddenly checking their watches and making faces of surprise - Oh wow, is that the time?, suddenly grabbing their jackets and preparing to leave.

I wondered if Martinya was the first. Was she tracking someone else? I began to fear for my life. What if whoever followed me had been told the same story I had? I knew many secrets from the past, though I had no intention of passing them on and doubted they would be of any use to anyone. Was I a threat to the state? I had always acted honourably and justly; I was loyal to my country. What if my pursuer had been told I was a danger to their way of life?

What if I was?

What if my following of Martinya was a signal to some observer? Was I watching the messenger, or was I the messenger? Was I the message itself?

I could be killed. Killed by an agent who had been told to call me Miguel or Santiago or Vincente.

I considered whether or not I ought to use some of the money that I had accumulated. Surely, I could take money from the vast sum that continued to arrive each week and hire a detective of my own.

That evening, the elevators at the Patio de la Unidad apartment blocks were all packed. As Martinyas light went off, I switched off my own and watched through my binoculars as the lights of the city blinked out one by one.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In!

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

My personal thoughts on this week.


I tend to like your work and I wanted to like this ever so slightly more than I did. The pay-off is good and just silly enough to make me roll my eyes in a positive 'I'm on your side' way. The opening gave some cool world building details and there was a distinct feel to the characters that was both realistic and distinct. That made the pay-off much better. I think it needed something in the middle, but I also understand that the prompt made that difficult. Firmly in the middle of the pack for me, but elegantly written.


The man called M posted:

From the Logs of James Redbeard Shaw: July 27, 1874

I think I liked this more than the other judges. There are parts that are sloppy and it's nonsense, but this is a big step-up from what you were putting out a couple of weeks ago. I'm a sucker for surrealism forced into a narrative where it doesn't belong and I think that's why I despaired a little with your bone-marrow explanation thing at the end. I would have liked it better without I think, just a surreal act that occured in the middle of this 19th Century pirate caper. Then again, I'm sure lots of people would have disliked that. Then again I don't think it needed to be a baby? I'm not sure. I agree that it deserved the loss this week, but again, I liked it better than the other stuff I've read of yours.


a friendly penguin posted:

The Worlds We Imagine

There's some lovely writing in here but I just didn't get with the story at all. The protagonist felt thought out, but not fleshed out. I think the plot and the world were kind of the same. I found it a little confusing in the way that short science fiction tends to be because it often involves cramming a lot of ideas into not a lot of words. Lower end of middle for me, but I think that may be personal rather than objective.


Mr Gentleman posted:

WERE MAKING A CASH OFFER BECAUSE WE CAN

Ho boy. This was confusing and I don't think it was confusing to you when you were writing it. I don't mind being confused, but it has to be on purpose. There were a lot of moving parts in this. Now, that said, I liked this better than the other judges and there were definitely little parts of description and pacing that I really enjoyed. This kind of writing, in a different story, is potential winning material in my opinion. We struggled a little with understanding whether the sudden twist was the appearance of the Aryans (this occurred too early to be the twist?) or that the deal fell through (that didn't feel like a sudden or unexpected event - I didn't trust the narrator so whilst it may have been out of the blue for them, for me it seemed kind of expected.) I like the idealism of faith versus utilitarianism of economics in it though. Some in the top tier, some in the bottom, let's call it a middle.


Carl Killer Miller posted:

Insecto phantasmal

Man, I liked this. Each time I read it, I like it a little more. It could have won, but there was other stuff we liked a little more. It's let down by it's beginning, which explores some nice character dynamic, but not necessarily very clearly. The dialogue in this is great though - I like the way the two guys talk to each other and the vocabulary used by the insectoid thing really made my day. Something about it using the word dirtbag really tickled me. The whole concept of this mishapen, pyromaniac, theatrical bug pleases me. I want a sequel with him in. Top tier for me.


rohan posted:

All This Ice

This is elegant. Everything from the pacing and plot to the vocabulary and characterisation makes it seem like something that was worked on a lot longer than you most likely had to work on it. It's supremely polished. I liked everyone in the story, I liked the way they talked to each other, I liked the backstory and the futility of their situation. I totally understand why the last line was included and it works - it's funny - but I think I might have liked it more without. The moment of horrifying disbelief just prior to that is such a nice climax and I sort of wish you hadn't felt the need to dull that edge with the little joke (it's not a bad joke, but it is a little one.) I was torn between this and Crabrock's for the win and could have happily gone either way.


My Shark Waifuu posted:

Alien of the Year

I liked the beginning of this a lot, but as it went on it kind of lost me. It means something when weird alien career politics is more interesting to me than aliens throwing bricks at space wolves. I'm not sure what it means though. Think it just wasn't for me.


Thranguy posted:

Cold Pressure

This was another one that I just couldn't get into. The writing wasn't bad, but I found myself struggling to get through it. The stakes were high, but the voice of the piece made it feel very detached. The voice itself wasn't bad, just ill suited to the story. When the stakes are effectively life and death, adding more to the pile doesn't make it MORE life and death. Lower on my list.


CourtFundedPoster posted:

The Saxon Influence

A weird one. Overall I didn't feel a lot reading the story, but I really liked the ending as a result of the shift and of everyone this was in some ways the most effective at achieving the prompt. That's worth recognition. Unfortunately, the story didn't come together enough around that. Lower on my list, but I recognise the fact that you ran earnestly with the prompt.


crabrock posted:

Statistically,

I really love this, particularly the concept. The opening has this real Palahniuk feel to it that undergrads try to channel all the time and you got it just right for me in a not very Palahniuk story. I would have quite happily read this without any of the kidnapping stuff, just the politics of a Russian Roulette group. I've saved the opening few paragraphs because they are so SO good. I'm laying it on thick unapologetically because of how much I enjoy the opening. Initially I thought the volcano going off was almost irrelevant, but then when I looked back you kept going with the percentage of survival thing and having everyone's chance resolved to effectively 0% at the end is a really nice ribbon tied on the end of a genuinely great story.


Chairchucker posted:

Secret Extreme Agent 583 words

Situations like this are nice because in the same way that my last story really didn't land for you, this really landed for me. It was unapologetically wild and chaotic. Not necessarily 'good' but so ridiculously fun and funny as a result. The voice it was written in paired so well with it and made me want to go along for the ride with it. It was also just the right length to not outstay the good grace it earned by being the way it was. It got some very genuine chuckles from me and I would 100% read more of this sort of thing. I don't think it was ever going to win, but I really liked it.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"


Shatter

(1498 words)

The ECH sounded like a wet finger running around the rim of a wine glass somewhere inside my brain.

Bathed in the blinking lights of the workstation, I was suddenly aware of Doctor Fisher approaching. I closed everything.

Doctor Ortega, can I have a word?

I took a deep breath and tried to look casual as I put my hands in my pocket, painted on a smile, and span around in my computer chair. My pockets were empty. My jacket, my very important jacket, was hanging by the door. I silently cursed myself for being so stupid.

Of course, Michael, what can I do for you?

Fisher had been a big guy when we started the project. Id known him via email for years, but never met him prior to transport to the station. I had expected him to look like the rest of us academics but Fisher had the appearance of an athlete. On the trek to the research site that we had now been working at for six months, he told me he had put himself through college on a football scholarship.

Now, he was colossal. His muscles were pneumatic and bloated. The veins in his neck throbbed with the effort of transporting his blood. He towered over me in the dimly lit room, almost filling the space. His smile was warm and calm.

I like to think that we have a good team here, you know? he began. He reached down and idly fiddled with one of the desk toys in front of me, gave an amused smile, put it back.

I agree, were making good progress, I said.

When we got here, we knew nothing about the cavern or the platypical crystals inside. Now, we have a strong working theory of how they formed. When we started, the sound they make was called the hum, now its Enduring Crystalline Harmonics. When we arrived, we talked about the weird nightmares, now theres not just one, but two names for them. I prefer yours to Kleins by the way. Beta-wave Distortion is better than Pschothesia. Certainly, more publishable.

Thank you, I muttered.

Riggs will have his PHD in a year. I expect Mendelsohn will walk out on the tenure track, you know?

I nodded. There was a long silence. The crystals song came up from the cavern below and reverberated in my back teeth. I tried to tune it out but whenever Fisher was around it got louder.

I got to my feet with a tired smile and nodded towards the door.

Could we carry on this conversation out past the chalk line? The ECH...I cant concentrate.

Fisher stared at me for a long time. There was a lot in his look. Suspicion, almost a certain flirtation. He was daring me. Or perhaps I was imagining it. I hadnt slept well for weeks. When I looked in the mirror, the exhausted ghoul that stared back was very different from the handsome guy smiling on my ID badge.

Sit down, Doctor Ortega. I think we should talk here.

I sat back down.

My point is, we are doing excellent work, he continued. And if we all carry on doing our excellent work, we are going to walk out of this experience with everything that any of us could want. There will be grants and recognition within academic circles, yes. But we will be the mothers and fathers of an entirely new field of study. Whatever this new field of study is called, whatever the crystals are christened, we will be to that what Plato was to philosophy, what Darwin was to evolution, you know?

Another long pause. I considered rushing him. There was a faint sound like tearing paper. The back of Fishers jacket was splitting as he grew broader. Another seam opened gently over his shoulder. His eyes remained on me.

I agree, I said. Its very exciting.

Which is why Im having to have this very unpleasant conversation, he said with a sigh.

Fisher stepped forward and I unconsciously wheeled my chair back directly into the corner. He sat on the edge of the desk, eclipsing the light and eliciting a scream of protest from the wood.

I cant allow anything to sabotage this project.

I agree, I responded immediately.

I spoke to Alison.

My heart sank. Dull, simple Alison.

Oh?

I wanted to know what it was you were doing hidden away here all by yourself all the time. Your research on the crystals seems to have fallen off entirely, just as it was getting most interesting. Youve not spoken to anyone about the dreams or any of the other side-effects of spending prolonged time here for weeks. I wanted to know what youve been doing.

His smile remained authentic but his glare was practically aflame. There was a sheen over the whites of his eyes, an oily iridescent film the same color as the myriad clusters of crystals in the caverns.

You could have just asked me, I said.

You would have lied. Alison was very eager to help, she knows she could walk out of here very well off too. But when she checked your work history, she found something interesting. What do you think that might be?

I could feel the opportunity out of the conversation dissolving by the second. Each back and forth was limiting my options. I had to get to my jacket.

I think she found that Id done nothing for a while. Youre here to chew me out for slacking. I agree, Im letting the team down and I agree thats not acceptable.

Fishers sleeve strained as the writhing physiology beneath it threatened to rip it to shreds. I tried to wait him out, but the silence broken only by the inescapable ringing of the crystals was too much to bear.

Listen, Ive been having some... personal problems. Im happy to discuss them, but could we do so in private? I asked.

Fisher shook his head.

Youve not been slacking. Youve just been working in the shadows. I want to know what on. Alison thinks you found a website thats letting you access journals without leaving a trace. She lacks imagination, so her suggestion was that you were trying to sell us out, you know? She suggested that maybe youre a corporate plant or maybe government. I dont buy that. I think youve found something and you dont want anyone to know what it is.

I blinked stupidly. Fisher turned his head and smiled daring me to speak or move daring me to say or do something I wouldnt be able to take back.

Alison was right, Im a corporate spy.

Fishers familiar booming laugh echoed through the room. He threw his head back and banged the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling. They swung back and forth, bathing us in light then wreathing us in shadows.

How long have you known? he asked.

Hey glared at me silently for what felt like an entire minute. I met his gaze, but I knew it was a fruitless endeavor. The ECH was now like a dentists drill.

Fine, he said with a casual shrug.

Im going to go for a walk outside the field, I said. It had meant to sound decisive, but instead it had come across like a question.

Sounds good. Get some time away from the ECH. Youre looking tired, Doctor Ortega.

I stood, awkwardly, and he stepped aside, now taking up three quarters of the room.

I crossed and put on my jacket, patting my pockets as if searching for keys.

From behind me, there came a sound like frozen sheets of glass grinding against one another. I didnt turn. When Fisher spoke, his voice was choked and damp.

I got Alison to install a key-logger, Ortega. I think I know what youre building. I cant let you.

I tried to still my shaking hands.

I finished it, I said.

I put my thumb on the little button inside my pocket the little device inside was compiled of bits I had managed to squirrel away over the last few weeks. I was proud of it, in a way, though I would never get to show anyone. It was calibrated... I hoped, to oppose the exact frequency of the ECH.

I turned to see what Fisher had become a sack of skin and flesh draped around jagged spines of the crystal. He looked like an anemone of beautiful glass, the fluorescent light cascading through the various crystalline edges and faces. The ECH was deafening now. My vision blurred as my eyes vibrated within my skull.

Does it work? Fishers body gurgled.

I dont kn... I stammered before the crystals thrust a long jagged harpoon of polished stone towards me. I hit the button. I thought, perhaps, that for a split second there had been a moment of silence. Then what had once been Doctor Fisher exploded towards me in a storm of razor-sharp crystal.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In!

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

This title takes place outside of the story itself and the frozen instant it encapsulates and the title is Then as the car bomb goes off a moment later, the tab of Meezonsen that I had scored off of Kelly (one of the porters in pediatrics) kicked in and the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex of my brain turned to fizzy mush and dribbled to the base of my skull and my perception of time was torn apart, scorching my sensory neurons and freezing a snapshot of that single point, allowing me to explore an instant of time for hours before the Meez wears off.
Flashrule: Your piece must happen over a period of time.

Observations.

Theres a tiny piece of metal in the air and its tip is glowing red-hot. It is a couple of meters ahead of anything else in the explosion thats grown out of the Buick at the far-end of the parking lot. The glass from the windshield has blown out but still stands as a single sheet where the time hasnt passed for the shards and fragments to separate. Ive timed things perfectly as I stare at the wave of light that Ive managed to capture a halo of force and energies coalescing into a blazing dome. Shadows extend long across the parking lot.

gently caress! Yes! Insect! Theres an insect! Its not a mosquito which Ive always been curious to see in Meez (the dream is to watch a hummingbird), but its a cricket and thats also pretty great. Its mid-jump, leaping out of the long grass at the edge of the parking lot. Its a perfect shot. The cricket, or maybe its a grasshopper, I dont know, but anyway its in midair, eclipsing a reflected beam of light hitting a broken bottle thats laying in the grass. I nearly get mesmerized by the complex web of refracted light before I manage to tear myself away I can take more Meez and look at light and glass anytime, the cricket is better. I focus in on the segments of its body. It is like an organic machine. Each part of its carapace is designed to cooperate with the others. The legs are fully extended backwards from thrusting itself into the air and in that frozen tableau it resembles some kind of alien craft. I stare into the darkness of its compound eyes. Each is a dome of tessellating polygon mirrors. I wonder if the world has as much detail for the cricket all the time as it has for me right now. I tear my eyes away and focus on its mandibles. They are open, ajar, whatever, as if snapping at the air and with the hyper-hyper-hyper focus afforded me by the Meez, I can even see that one edge is slightly blunter than the others, that this cricket has suffered the insectoid equivalent of a chipped tooth.

I fight the urge to look at the bottle. Im getting distracted from the fireworks that I set in motion and that could lead to a considerable jail term if I was ever caught. I notice that the force of the explosion has thrown the car into the ground and it has bounced back in response. Before me, it hovers two inches off the ground, the wheels perfectly still. One of the tires is being licked by a tongue of flame that has erupted from within and somehow spiraled and twisted and looped around itself. There is the gentlest hint of a scorch mark on the rubber a browning like you see on undercooked toast. Normally, the explosion would be so rapid that it would have appeared all to happen at once, but the Meez lets me see it as it truly is.

I can feel the breath escaping my lungs as Ive exhaled in surprise with the first instant of the explosion. I have to remind myself that Im still breathing, even if it doesnt feel like it time is still moving and I am still breathing, even if Im just standing in shock, thats a very reasonable response to a car bomb.

Its the biggest explosion I've dared go for so far. I am not disappointed. The doors havent so much buckled outward as blistered and bubbled. The metal is bent and warped and theres the tiniest sliver of space appearing at one joint where the metal has been forced free. One of the wingmirrors has been snapped upwards and launched into the air. When I stare into it I can see my own reflection and I experience a sudden moment of consciousness that I am unready for.

Theres also a note that Ive written myself and held up before the Meez kicks in. I didnt do it the first time, and its over the top, but it increases my enjoyment of the whole show. In that elongated moment of time, I can read it as often as I like. Its just a simple and straight forward list of rules for myself not rules advice.

1)Dont think. Right now youre thinking and thats the natural response but read the rest.

2)There is no problem.

3) You are safe.

4) Everyone else is safe.

5) The thing you have done will feel like its lasting a very long time and that might make you nervous BUT REMEMBER you did this to yourself because YOU ENJOY IT.

6) This is a pleasurable experience.

7) You may find yourself in cyclical thought patterns or losing track of chronology. Thats not only to be expected, but part of the enjoyable nature of what you are doing.

8) Nobody is getting hurt you were very careful.

9)Nobody is looking at you.

I start thinking. Oh god. The senses are overly stimulated but Im suddenly aware of my consciousness and existence.

I read the note again.

You dont want to think on a Meezonsen trip the brain spirals out of control, sometimes tail spinning into paranoia and anxiety irrational fears that time has truly stopped or that the trip will go on for such a long time that you will experience a near infinite hell, but it can also leap wildly into over enthusiasm. The last thing you want is for your body to be acting manically, driven by the id whilst your more nuanced brain systems are staring at a droplet of water frozen in time for three hours.

Im suddenly aware of the sound, the roar of the explosion that is frozen into a constant low gurgling note.

I get drawn into the fire. The subtle differences in color. The piercingly bright white at the center of the car, the source of the explosion I suppose. The searing yellow that radiates from within the white. The negative space of black made from dust and smoke and fragments. The deep, glowing orange. Reds from ruby to crimson.

I am already eagerly anticipating my next trip. I wonder how quickly Kelly will have more Meezonsen. She told me she gets it from a guy north of the border. I wonder why everyone else isnt doing this all of the time. If I, as a practicing doctor with a wonderful family, enjoy it this much, how powerful it must be for people with less fulfilling lives. How do the poor and the lonely and the dull not want this constantly? Will a car bomb do it? Perhaps I need to detonate a shed next time. But it needs to be public there need to be other people there. A barn? An airplane would look incredible. I immediately picture an airplane soaring above me, blossoming like a flower and raining fragments down around me like shooting stars. Probably not practical. Or maybe I want to hurt someone next time? Maybe the fire and metal and dust are good, but they are nothing compared to the organic majesty of the cricket. It doesnt have to be human - just something big and bulky with lots of matter to send flying. I could detonate a cow maybe?

Observations.

Theres a tiny piece of metal in the air and its tip is glowing red-hot. It is a couple of meters ahead of anything else in the explosion thats grown out of the Buick at the far-end of the parking lot. The glass from the windshield has blown out but still stands as a single sheet where the time hasnt passed for the shards and fragments to separate. Ive timed things perfectly as I stare at the wave of light that Ive managed to capture a halo of force and energies coalescing into a blazing dome. Shadows extend long across the parking lot.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Ah dub ubstan
What? Said the dentist as he took his hands from Flerps mouth.
Trails of drool cobwebbed to the doctors gloves.
I said I dont understandsorry.

The dentist sighed. Flerps eyes browsed the rows of tools - sharp, metal instruments glistening beneath fluorescent lights.

Do you eat a lot of sweet things? Candy, soda, that kind of thing?
Flerp wasnt sure. How much was a normal amount of candy?
FuuuUUUUUuuuuck yoooooOOOOOoooouuuu! The ghost in Flerps tooth wailed.

Uh duhhoah guth.
Hmmm

The lights flickered and the windows rattled.

Can you open your mouth wider please? And stop doing that?
Uh Cahn coh-hole it. Flerp muttered.
The dentist sighed.
So-hee. Flerp muttered.
I really would invest in an electric toothbrush if I were you.
Do you want to knooooow when youre going to dieeeeeee? The ghost cackled.
No, the dentist said.
Nuh, said Flerp. Hubustly ahm more worry abut tha ghost righ nah.

A long awkward silence filled the room. The little tap with the weird water turned on unexpectedly. Blood filled the sink.

I want a stiiIIIIIckeeeeeer!

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

I'll put the D in Defense and since it's in my name, I'll also put myself forward for Captain.

If I don't get the role I'll play my best but always harbour a secret resentment towards the Captain and when my dad won't take me to Six Flags after the game I'll presume it's because I never made Captain like he did on his Highschool Thunderdome team.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Making the Cut
Prompt: Defence - Quarterback
795 words

In the Before, Djone had been a salesman and, like all salesmen, he sold narratives.

He was sipping gasoline gin from a chipped mug when the voice of Cygarax the Destroyer threatened to tear his tent from the ground.

Small man! Come! We go trade. King Magnus wants bullets!

Djone sighed, threw back the rest of his drink and scurried out into the blinding wasteland sunshine. Seven feet of muscle, tattoos, and piercings stared down at him.

Sounds good, big guy, Djone said.

Yes! Cygarax bellowed. I am a big guy! I am the biggest guy!

The car trailed black smoke across the Bloodlands. The spiked iron plates adorning its sides rattled and clanked against rows of tusks and horns. After three hours of silent driving, Cygarax let loose a scream of... something. His voice echoed back and forth throughout the canyon.

Thank you for that, Djone sighed.

Cygarax gave a grin filled with teeth that had been filed to points.

The border of their territory, the point where their Bloodlands became the Bonelands, was marked by a metal spire that climbed into the pulsing sky. Cygarax pulled to a stop.

And what are you going to do? Djone asked him.

Cygarax rolled his eyes. One pupil continued climbing until it rolled back into his skull.

Cygarax not stupid!

Djone held his hands up in apology and flashed a winning smile.

Baby, I get it, I know. You and me, were the smart ones, right? Just wanted to check you understand how important it is that you stay here.

Cygarax stay here.

Because?

Cygarax groaned like a petulant teenager and slammed one fist into the human pelvis that served as a steering wheel.

Because only Djone can enter Bonelands so Cygarax stay in Destroycar, not move until you come back! Djone happy?!

Atta boy, Djone shot him finger guns.

It was a superb grift, really. Two tribes with every reason to war. Djone, the only bridge between them. Little Djone. Hed been the first to come across the agents of The Lord of Bone and as he stammered his way through a conversation with a gun to his forehead, the old salesman instinct had kicked in. The Blood Warriors were under the impression that Djone had some divine right to pass back and forth as an ambassador to the terribly powerful wizards of Bonelands. The Bone Crushers were operating under the belief that The Blood Warriors had been overtaken by a terrible plague to which only Djone was immune. Each had their territory and very valid reasons to stay away from one another. And Djone? In every trade, Djone kept a cut. A very good cut. A very good, VERY secret cut.

A swollen bovine creature walking on giraffe legs was suddenly swallowed by the sand as some subterranean turtle or mole or shark attacked. Djone hated the wasteland. He missed cities and money and cocaine and airmiles.

It will be worth it, he told himself.

Bonetown was empty. Abandoned. There was evidence of the tribe prints in the sand, scraps, bones and metal, spent bullet casings, broken glass but no tribe.

poo poo, Djone hissed.

Wheres the bullets? Cygarax asked him when he finally returned.

No bullets. No more Bone Crushers. Must have killed themselves with their terrible magic.

Cygarax stared sceptically out over the desert for a while, then nodded. Made sense.

His grift now seemingly over, they tore back across the desert. He wondered whether he would ever be able to pull it off again, whether theyd meet another tribe and he could position himself in that same unique role. He slept, a leather hat pulled down over his head and the sun bathing his arms. When he awoke, Bloodtown was ahead.

The Bone Crushers stood in the centre of the tents and huts, but there was no war. Instead, King Magnus and The Lord of Bone stood surrounded by their respective armies. Above them hung three bodies from makeshift gallows. A considerable chunk of his VERY secret cut lay scattered across the ground. Djone recognized the bloated, purple faces of those he had paid to look the other way - others with enough brains and/or sanity left to deduce his story didnt quite add up. Both kings, both armies, all turned in unison and glared at the approaching vehicle.

Uh oh.

Cygarax, he said. He could hear his voice trembling.

Cygaraxs eyes were focused beyond the horizon, dull and floating somewhere beyond the physical universe.

poo poo, poo poo, poo poo, okay, Cygarax we need to turn around right now!

The giant could not hear him. Djone grabbed at his arm and tried to wrench his hands from the wheel. His grip was a vice, his arms were iron.

They continued towards Bloodtown.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

I'll go for a Hellreign too.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

The Lifegiving Powers of Water and Womanhood
2902 words.
Song: Jlins Carbon 7 (161)

Wake up, girl. Comot!

Enitan blinked lazily and rubbed her eyes. She was suddenly aware she was under water. The rebreather on her face filled her lungs with cold, recycled air as she kicked and pounded at the gelatinous front of the pod. It ruptured with a slimy splat and the contents, including Enitan, poured out across the grated floor.

Why are you waking me up? she growled once she had removed the mask and finished spluttering.

Her stomach spasmed, then rolled over and her whole body heaved. Each muscle ached as she rolled around uselessly. She tried to get to her feet, fell on limp legs. Her stomach moaned and then she was throwing up.

drat.

Dont start, she managed to choke out between saliva-webbed lips. She fought her natural instincts - the impulses and nature of her ancestors who had been earth-locked for millions of years. Evolution hadnt caught up with galaxy walking yet. People were not designed for space.

She focussed. She repeated the mantras she had learned from the hijacked academy training comms. Perhaps feeling sorry for her, Olu dimmed the lights and lowered the roar of the engines. The Origami Elephant became a womb - dark, warm and quiet. As she walked herself through the various stages that professional galaxy walkers undertook, the sickness began to fade. She spat once, then twice, rubbed her head.

Where are we? she asked.

Uncharted.

Then why wake me up, man?

I wanted to show you something. If you dont care then you can go back to sleep. Or Ill cut the oxygen if you prefer?

Enitan climbed carefully to her feet, steadied herself against the wall, then flipped the bird with both hands in every direction. She heard a low, chuckle. A low, soft chuckle that seemed so familiar and so human and so real that it broke her heart.

One of the consoles came to life with a flurry of musical notes.

Come on, girl, you can do it, Olus voice purred.

As if to motion her towards the console, the floor panels that led to it began to glow a soft pink.

Step by step. Slowly. Let the legs remember how to walk. Step by step. Her long, slender feet glowed with pink light as she made it most of the way, then collapsed against the screen. She examined the console with eyes still crusty with eye goop. Her shadow danced on the far wall of the ship as she eclipsed the light spilling forth.

The image on the screen was little more than a vaguely triangular blob of fuzz and static. Second by second, it grew clearer, the pixelated edges filing down until she could make out the shape of a vague structure.

What is it? she asked.

No idea. Its big though, and its not solid. Theres room inside. Hey, you good?

Enitans head had slumped against the screen. She waved him away with one hand.

Nothin spoil. It smell like money, honey?

Olu said nothing but she could picture him. She could hear his smile In the silence. It wasnt real of course, but its what the real Olu would have done.

Smells like mooooo-neyyyyy! he replied. The ship was suddenly bathed in green light, there was the sound of a cash register and then thumping celebratory techno.

Argh, gently caress, hey, cryo-hangover!

The music stopped abruptly and the lights dimmed once more.

Eeesh, Olu, you try she began.

A fanfare interrupted her and she cackled, stumbled over to the table and sat down.

She managed to eat that night, in the dim light. Olu was a better chef now than he had ever been. As they talked back and forth, pepper soup appeared on the table. It was so hot and spicy that it burnt her tongue but tasted so good she couldnt stop herself eating. The empty bowl was soon replaced by a plate of pounded yam so soft and doughy that it melted in her mouth and a rich efo riro that tasted like earth.

More, she barked between mouthfuls and Olu gave a deep, guttural laugh.

She be the boss. What can I get her?

She took a bite of the yam, chewed thoughtfully.

We got any stew?

We got, but it will take a while.

What would you recommend, chefman?

A dome of cloudy glass emerged from within the depths of the table. She reached out and lifted it to reveal three long, thin joints wrapped in pink paper. Just the way Olu had always made them for her. She laughed and lifted one to her lips, then crossed the room and attached the black glass orb that served as a mobile AI unit to the clip on her belt. She gave the orb a loving stroke.

Thats it girl, show me love!

They slipped into a slow orbit around the pyramid and Olu killed the engines entirely. Through the viewing window, it was an impressive edifice. Black volcanic glass sparkled in the rays of starlight and glimmered beneath the neon pink spotlights of The Origami Elephant. She dozed off in her chair whilst Olu finished scanning the thing for life, radiation and bio-contamination. Nothing manifested. He let her sleep.

---

Enitan loved her space walking outfit. More bright pink, polished black, streaks of silver. It was sleek, smooth and fit her slender, athletic body like a second-skin. The helmet was a stolen, though not by her, academy helmet. She had altered it as much as possible, sawing off ridges and insignia, filing down the facistic symbology, painting a bright pink skull over the black metal.

Olu whistled.

Girl, you look so good. Makes me wish I had all my old parts.

No. Too weird. Dont do that again. she snapped without looking at the orb.

There was a moment of silence.

Of course. I wont speak to you like that again, Olus voice replied. Is that what you are asking?

Yes.

Okay. If you change your mind and want me to speak to you like that again, just tell me, Olu, flirt with me.

She stepped out into space.

Olu illuminated the way from her hip, sending out beams of light to guide her the easiest route straight to the great pyramid. As her fingertips graced its polished surface, the black glass orb extended a series of light hooks that tethered her to the structure. Within minutes, she had managed to break in through the airlock and stood within a dark, silent hallway.

There be oxygen, Olu said. No pathogens. You can breathe the air if you want.

Enitan shrugged and withdrew the screen from her helmet. The chamber she stood within was wide, tall and dark. The sounds of her footsteps echoed through the stale air. Pink light swept across the area, then settled in a beam upon a great stone carving. It was symbolic probably. A great spiral carved above tall, thin humanoid stick-figures. Symbols that were perhaps writing had been engraved above the empty doorway leading deeper into the structure.

Not any language I can find, Olu said.

Weird.

Enitan slowly walked the circumference of the room until she returned to where she had begun. A pattern of repeated engravings decorated the outside edge of the pyramid, but what the various figures and shapes were intended to represent, she had no idea.

You think a museum would want some of this cut out? Olu asked.

Too heavy to transport anyway. Easier to strip this thing of real valuables and then sell the coordinates to whichever archaeologist or whatever bids highest.

Only one path led deeper into the structure. Olu whirred and hummed and the door blocking the entrance slid aside with the sound of grating stone. A single long corridor extended into the darkness and Enitan was hit by a rush of crisp, even staler air. She approached the doorway and paused.

Traps? she asked.

Yup, Olu replied. Hold up, girl.

Enitan stepped aside. The black orb at her belt twisted and span for a moment, then unleashed a series of twinkling black marbles.

Go get em babies, Olu purred.

The collection of marbles twitched for a moment, then throbbed and pulsed with pink light. One by one, they leapt forward and rolled the length of the corridor. One hissed and spat with static, another broadcast a life signal, a third bounced up and down as if it were made of rubber. Within seconds, the corridor was filled with jets of green fire, volleys of arrows and darts and strange clouds of electricity that dispersed into the walls. Slowly, the roars and crashes and splatters died down until there was silence.

One moment, Olu warned her.

A stone tile in the ceiling of the corridor slid aside. There was a moment of still silence and then the great skeleton of some monstrous creature fell into the room. The bones cracked and snapped, scattering across the floor.

Found the guard dog, Olu muttered.

Stepping carefully over the last dying sparks, ducking carefuly beneath spears embedded in the wall and carefully making her way round the last green embers, Enitan made her way to the door at the opposite end.

Its unlocked, Olu said. You smell that? Thats money, baby.

Enitan cleared her throat, took a deep breath, and swiped the door aside with the palm of one gloved hand.

The chamber inside was little bigger than the interior of The Origami Elephant. A single green light gave the room a dim, sickening atmosphere. The walls were smooth metal and various shelves and alcoves retreated into each wall filled with various minor trinkets. She grabbed a handful of red gems from one shelf and stuffed them into her pocket. Rotted scraps of leather or paper curled in frames and a blinking display listed what might have been names in that same unknown language.

In the centre of the space was a silver sarcophagus connected to a mess of snaking silver pipes and wires.

Traps? she asked as she stepped closer.

None I can see, Olu replied.

She approached the small tinted window in its face and wiped at it with her glove. She could feel a dull heat from within. Pressing her face against the dark glass, she peered inside the sarcophagus. It was empty.

Warn was all Olu managed to say before she was suddenly aware of strong limbs wrapping around her.

Enitan screamed, some being crushing her against itself as it lifted her feet from the ground. She kicked and wriggled against the strength of this attacker, bending and bracing herself against the arms tightly sealed around her. She got glimpses of a tall, sinewy humanoid, wrapped in metallic ribbons. The figure wheezed and snarled as she twisted and turned in his grip, managing to touch her toes to the floor and push them both back.

Then Olu unleashed a burst of electricity and both of them fell to the floor twitching and yelping. Enitan rolled aside as her body spasmed and found herself staring at the waxy face of a corpse. Lifeless grey eyes stared back at her. Odd, rotten teeth emerged from sunken gums. A shining silver jackal head atop his own.

Thats why you buy bootleg baby, Olu barked at the attacker. You think the academy poo poo does that? Boom!

The attacker continued to writhe as Enitan stumbled awkwardly to her feet.

This guy wake up when we landed, you think? she asked.

Olu made the audio equivalent of a shrug.

How dare you strike me? the half-living thing on the floor hissed.

Oh poo poo, you speak English? Enitan asked.

I am God Pharaoh Esphamat, who are you, grave robber?

Enitan Igwe, this is my AI, Olu Igwe.

Esphamat regarded the black orb at her hip for a moment, then shook his head.

Why are you here? What right do you have to be within my personal chamber? he snarled, slowly rising.

Enitan casually drew her weapon - also bootleg - and levelled it towards the Pharaoh as he stumbled to the wall and supported himself against one of the shelves.

We intended to strip this thing of valuables.

You would steal from the final resting place of a God Pharaoh? Have you no shame? No honour?

Kana hauku! she spat. We thought this place was empty.

One of his legs appeared to have broken in the scuffle, but as she watched, the flailing end slipped back into place and healed. Come to think of it, Esphamat seemed altogether to be regenerating. The bones and leather that had once been beneath the ribbons of metal, were now wane and sunken flesh. The dull, stone eyes now glowed with faint blue light.

We thought this heap of junk was just full of space junk, Enitan said.

It is just full of space junk, Olu added.

This heap of junk is my final resting place and these are the possessions sent with me on the long journey into unknown space. He motioned to the coffin in the centre of the room. After unknown eons in the infinite, I have come across life and I learn that life seeks to plunder my tomb.

Relax, Enitan said.

Eyes as blue as mountain streams glared from within a face that now contained the first warm glimmers of health. The Pharaoh was rejuvenating. She considered blasting a hole in his chest, if only to slow down the regeneration of his tissues. The corpse was rapidly becoming a person and that made everything that her and Olu were there to do a lot more complicated.

Cut our losses and run? Olu whispered.

The door slammed shut with a hiss.

There is no fleeing from the Pharaoh, Esphamat smiled. His lips were now full and soft. His voice had richness.

I have awakened beyond death and proven the eternal reign of the God Kings! I will transmit my location to my people and they will follow - they will rejoice at my rebirth and your people will rejoice as we enslave you.

Blast him? Olu asked but Esphamat had already pulled the trigger.

A flash of pink illuminated the cell and the Pharaohs shoulder dissolved like melting ice. His facial expression did not change.

Uh oh, Olu said.

Yeah, we hosed? Enitan asked through the corner of her mouth.

Perhaps. Im trying to hack the door down but its not budging. Stall.

The God King launched forward, arms swinging together and Etinan rolled beneath them, clattered against the sarcophagus, her leg tangling in one of the coiled wires that webbed around it. She kicked and struggled, eventually freeing herself and firing another shot that didnt even penetrate the God Kings skin.

No, I understand your weapon now, he smiled. His teeth were straight and pristine in pink healthy gums. His face glowed with vigor. Loose curls of dark hair spilled out from beneath the headdress.

Etinan dug her hands into her pack and loosed a handful of silver glitter in the air. She shielded her eyes and ducked behind the sarcophagus as a wave of heat erupted. The Pharaoh roared into the flash as it scorched his face, then flailed wildly back and forth with clawed hands. Etinan ducked and weaved away but slowly found herself backed into a corner, trapped between two banks of consoles. Olu clicked and whirred and they were cocooned within a shield of light.

Any ideas? he asked as the God King slammed his body against the shield again and again.

I got nothing, she sighed, watching the cracks cobwebbing across the shield.

One hand burst through the light and wrapped around her throat.

Pharaoh Esphemat lifted her effortlessly by the neck and began to choke the life from her. Kicking and writhing helplessly, Etinans pack escaped her fingertips and the remnants of her inventory spilled across the floor. She could hear Olu calling her and as her vision blurred she didnt know whether it was the AI or the real Olu beckoning on.

She felt the briefest sliver of life-giving air fill her lungs. Blurrily, the God King staring down at the floor. His fingertips parted slightly.

Whats that? he asked, pointing at the two joints that Olu had rolled for her back on the Origami Elephant.

Etinan struggled to speak and he released his grip a little more. Cool, merciful oxygen poured down into her lungs like lifegiving water.

I can... show you, she managed to croak.

---

gently caress yeah! Etinan laughed hysterically as the Pharaoh took a long drag and wheezed the smoke into the rafters of The Origami Elephant.

Thumping bass pounded the walls. Behind them, dragged on pink light fibres, the pyramid sailed as a silent passenger.

Fuuuuck, Esphamat exhaled. Okay, Im so fat. Okay, whats next?

The table hummed for a moment and the dirty dishes retreated, and were replaced.

Seafood afang with fufu, Etinan said.

The Pharaoh watched as she rolled a ball within her hands and dipped it into the soup, then lifted it to her mouth.

Cautiously, he copied her, then banged one first on the table excitedly. He licked his lips and returned to the bowl. With his mouth still full, he removed the great silver jackal head and rustled his thick dark hair beneath. He tossed his headpiece onto the sofa and kicked off his ancient leather boots.

Sell all that poo poo, buy more weed and more of this food. You guys looking for another crewmate?

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

In. Give me orb or give me death.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

The God in the Trees in the Orb in the House on the Hill
1495 Words (1500 limit for early sub)



Reggie huffed back and forth through the room, naked, throwing aside mounds of dirty clothing and piles of books. His familiar, Beaux, watched him from the curtain rail with avian eyes.

What are you looking for? she asked, then shat on the floor. Scuse me.

The orb, he muttered. He had thrown it aside after drunkenly loving up one of his spells. He lifted a stack of plates and the remnants of a take-out curry spilled onto a pile of clothes.

Why do you need it? We doing big magic today? Beaux asked hopefully.

No...maybe....I dont know, but I might have messages.

From who? she asked. You dont have friends. And your family dont talk to you.

I have friends, he muttered.

Like who? Beaux cackled.

Ixilthatus, he muttered, transforming Beaux into a tiny blue starfish.

She toppled, fell, and landed on the windowsill with a splat.

He eventually found the orb under the bed. Inside, wreathed in sun-kissed fog, stood the decaying copse within which Gargoth was imprisoned. Tiny leaves the colour of fire fell to the ground and turned to dust. Dirty orange light seeped from within.

FREE ME, MORTAL AND I SHALL GRANT YOU CLEMENCY WHEN I SAVAGE THE WORLD WITH ETERNAL AUTUMN!

Reggie ignored him. He scratched his bollocks with one hand and swiped the messages aside one by one with the other.

Reginald, we were wondering if you had any intention of payin... - Reginald, its doctor Ma... - Yo! Ever heard of Wizard mate? Its fun, entertai - Mr Moth, Alison at Camden Library again, we are still awaiting your return of... - Reginald, you fucker... - Mr Moth, Alison at Camde - Reg, this is Abdul at Majestic Wines, you have outstanding payme

He sighed as the glow faded.

Theres a man outside, Beaux said.

What? Reggie said.

Theres a man at the bottom of the hill.

Reggie lifted his robes and grimaced at the curry stains. He threw the damp, coarse fabric over his head and wriggled inside. He opened the door and the staleness of the hut was beaten back by fresh, cool air.

The young man was dressed in ornate silver armour. Loose blonde curls cascaded down his shoulders. Nearby, a large white horse sniffed at a discarded kebab box.

Hey! You! Reggie shouted.

The man looked up, shielding his eyes against the mid-morning sun.

Hes probably here for the questing, Beaux said.

No! Dont be ridiculous!...No that cant be right surely its only Reggie trailed off, counting days, then made a low muttering noise that rose to a growl of annoyance.

Zilean University called it The Great Questing. It was the time for students to apply what they had learned in the previous semester. The kingdom would be full of first year students seeking to cut their teeth before returning for winter classes. With no dragons left to slay, wizard harassment and orb acquisition were enjoying a renaissance.

Hey! You! Reggie shouted again.

The knight looked around, then pointed a questioning finger at his own chest.

Yes! Yes you! gently caress off! Reggie yelled.

The man drew his sword and took an uncertain step towards the hut, then another, then charged up the hill.

Damnit! Reggie hissed, grabbing the Orb of Autumn.

FREE ME, MORTAL AND I SHALL

Not now, Reggie snapped.

Give me the orb! the young knight cried as he got to the door. His voice reeked of entitlement.

No! Go away! Reggie barked.

Give me the orb! I need it. For class.

Oh you need it for class? Reggie snarled sarcastically. For class? Oh for class? Well in that case, yeah take it. Never mind the fact that its mine, or the fact that I need it to do magic, or even the fact that the only thing stopping the Autumn King from breaking free and trapping the whole world in a state of permanent decay is me, but no, Little Lord Fuckleroy needs it for class.

This is why you have no friends! Beaux grumbled.

You have no friends? the knight asked.

I have friends! he shot back.

The knight hesitated for a moment. He regarded the strange old man carefully, then swung his sword. By the time it struck Reggies shoulder, the blade had turned to rust. It shattered into a handful of orange leaves and the scent of cinnamon. The knight looked confusedly at the handle.

My sword. he whined.

My sword! Reggie mimicked.

Then he headbutted him.

The knight stumbled back, clutching his face as blood began to stream between his fingers.

You broke my nose!

You tried to bisect me. Now, off you gently caress, before I age your dick by 1000 years.

No wonder you have no friends! the knight sobbed through his hand.

He trotted back down the path towards his horse as Reggie slammed the door.

And that was the pattern for the next three weeks. Reggie grumbled and cursed his way through two-dozen students. Each strode up to his hut with purpose. Each demanded the orb. Each limped back to London with a broken nose, burnt arse or at the very least, a battered ego.

Then, one Friday afternoon, there came a knock at the door.

Beaux, scuttled down the wall as a small, long-legged spider.

Who is that? she asked.

Reggie was hunched over a huge book at his desk. He ignored both the knock and the question. His fingers traced runes stamped on waxy paper.

Excuse me, a voice came through the door. Im here for the orb.

Reggie folded the book in half and continued reading as he carried it across the room in one hand. Without looking up, he scooped Beaux from the wall and carefully carried her to the door.

Bixhalmadag, he muttered, tossing her outside.

There was a puff of blue smoke as she transformed into a colossal azure tiger mid-air.

Hell yeah! she cackled.

Reggie continued reading as whoever had come for the orb sprinted around the hilltop, Beaux snapping and slashing at his feet. He heard the clang of fangs on steel, grunts of exertion, growling. Then silence.

Got him, Beaux called, cheerfully.

Finally, Reggie glanced up from the page. Pinned to the grass by one of Beauxs great paws was a portly older gentleman with a grey moustache. His stomach bulged through the gap in his armour and his pink cheeks were dripping with sweat as he stared up at her warily.

Arent you a bit old to be doing all this? Reggie asked.

The man kept his eyes focussed on Beaux.

Im a mature student. I was a grocer in a previous life. Wanted to give something back.

Reggie nodded, turned to head back inside and paused.

Wait that sounds familiar. Im sure Ive heard that before.

Yes, sir. I came here last year. Last three years actually. And um yes two or three before that as well actually.

Reggie stared at him sweating and wheezing beneath the gigantic feline. He sighed.

Rexhafillix, he declared.

A puff of blue smoke and Beaux was a kitten.

Aw! she whined in disappointment, then bounded back into the house and curled up by the fireplace.

Whats your name? Reggie asked.

Biggs. John Biggs, the knight replied, awkwardly shuffling to his feet.

I want you to deliver a message to Doctor Valourheart, John, Reggie said.

Im actually not at Zilean, John interrupted gingerly.

Gloombridge? Reggie muttered. John shook his head. Saint Darions? The Grailorium?

Shoreditch Polytechnic, John replied with a sheepish grin. Go badgers, right?

Good grief, Reggie sighed, picking at the food stains on his robe. You are aware that The Great Questing is traditionally only for first year students?

John blushed.

God help me, Reggie pinched the bridge of his nose. How many years have you been a first year, John?

Its complicated... he said. I retook several times at Zilean but...well...I had a disagreement with the bursar and so Im seeking education elsewhere.

What disagreement?

He wanted me to pay for tuition.

Of course.

Reggie walked back into his living room and poured red wine into a mug. On the side, faded letters declared To a magical uncle!

Is that it? John asked, pointing to the orb.

Yup.

So...can I have it? John smiled. He rummaged around in his pockets, shuffled a few coins around in his palm. Ill give you twenty quid. Twenty quid and twenty, forty, sixty, sixty eight pence.

No, Reggie sighed.

Oh go on! John said. Help out a friend in need.

We arent friends, Reggie said.

We are! Kind of, he said, glancing around the filthy room. Or we could be!

Goodbye, John, Reggie said.

Give me the orb! Were friends!

No!

See you next year then, you miserable bastard, John muttered, then turned and walked back down the hill.

gently caress you! Reggie shouted after him.

John gave him the finger without turning round and Reggie slammed the door.

So, you finally have a friend, Beaux purred.

Reggie smiled.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"



Week 488: TDTCG

ORBS and wizards?! Move over losers, because this week's for the jocks! Welcome to the world of trading card games!

When you sign up, you get a booster pack of TDTGC cards that will determine the nature of your submission this week.

Red Cards are character cards. They tell you about one of your characters. It could be the protagonist, it could be the antagonist, but it shouldn't be a random passerby. They need to be in the meat of the story.
Blue Cards are setting cards. They tell you where the majority of your story needs to take place. You can have other bits of setting in there, but it needs to FEEL like the story is set within the setting on your blue card.
Gold Cards are plot cards. They give you something that has to happen in your story.

Each card will also give you a number of words to make up your word limit. Open your pack, check out your cards and write your story.

However, there's one card in there that works different.

Black Cards are hell cards. They work different. Hell cards don't reveal their meaning until signups close. So you don't know what you're working with until then. However, some of them you might be able to guess by their names. Some Hell cards are punishments, some are just spanners to throw in the works, maybe one or two are blessings in disguise? MOST black cards carry a +400 words. Some carry more, some carry less...

Now, why make this all so complicated? What does it really have to do with trading cards?

Well the best thing about trading cards is that they are cards that you trade! You don't like your character? See if someone will swap theirs with you! Need a few extra words and got a plotline that's not pulling its weight? See if someone will give you that meaty +500 words card you've got your eye on. If you've got a hell card and you suspect you know what it's going to be and you don't like it, see if you can palm it off on someone else for their's! There's rules on trading though because the best thing about card games are all the rules.

1) Trades are 1 for 1.
2) You can only trade a card for a card of the same colour.
3) If you trade then change your mind you can't cry.

So in summary...
Now: Sign up, get cards, trade with friends (and enemies), write a thing using the points on the card.
When signups close: Hell cards are revealed - maybe rewrite your entire thing!
Sign ups close 11:59 PST on Friday 10th December.
Submissions in by 11:59 PST on Sunday 12th December.

First edition Blue Eyes White Dragons:
Me
Carl Killer Miller


Magicarps:
1) Albatrossy_Rodent
2) Idle Amalgam
3) The Man Called M
4) t a s t e
5) Thranguy
6) Crabrock
7) Chernobyl Princess
8) Rohan
9) Sebmojo
10) SurreptitiousMuffin
11) Tyrannosaurus
12) Yoruichi
13) Flerp
14) My Shark Waifu
15) Sailor Viy
16) Uranium Phoenix
17) Taletel

Google Doc Trader Link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14q8gSNIfIdNCmlaGg4f1_20hfezNSuYq8OTFjoA6Ywc/edit#gid=0

Anyone who takes part in a trade gets an additional 200 words (one time only)

Captain_Indigo fucked around with this message at 12:29 on Dec 11, 2021

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Albatrossy_Rodent posted:

It's time to d-d--ddddeclare myself in.
Let's crack this pack open!






I can see some synergy here - not bad!






The man called M posted:

I write, I Die, I write again. In.
You got The Queen of Denmark? Dang, never seen it in real life before!



Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Hmmm tough draw, but you can play something here.





Did you know the artwork for The Seer is from a painting of Cassandra?





crabrock posted:

Oh neat, gimmie all the cards
Dig in.



Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Let's see what we got!





A stranger comes to town AND R+R, nice synergy there.





Oh Rohan, dude, Fanfiction!? I didn't even know they still printed them.



Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"







The lovely Muffin was also kind enough to set up a google doc for trading if that's something anyone wants to do.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14q8gSNIfIdNCmlaGg4f1_20hfezNSuYq8OTFjoA6Ywc/edit#gid=0

:actually:
To encourage trading, anyone who takes part in at least one trade gets an additional 200 words.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Idle Amalgam posted:

I'm putting up my ancient setting for a swap, but I have a question for this week's ruler... can we swap hell cards?

You can!


Okay, okay Animal God...desert! Yes!....Nintendo....Ouroboros.






The Famous Child and The Void? Hmm... yeah that could be fun.





Yeeeesh.



Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Hmmm a shapeshifting teacher quits their job? I dunno.






Um...I mean that Hell card is probably something huh?




Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Uranium Phoenix posted:

gonna crack open a pack and see what kind of broken rares I can pile together
Hell yeah! Let's rip it open!







Umm...






---
And with that, sign ups are closed. Which is good, because I've not got any more booster packs and I'm not going on Ebay for them. Hell Card reveal coming in a moment.

Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

Signups are closed


Oh god, I dropped them all!

Great, got rid of all the boosters I had on hand, so let's see how this goes!

Hell Cards
There seems to have been some confusion about Hell Cards. There's no avoiding them. They're in your hand. There is no "Oh well I'll drop the extra words and ignore the Hell card." No man, poo poo don't work that way, this is tournament rules.

Glossary
May - you have the choice to do this and get the words either way.
Must - you have to do this and you get the words.
OR - you can choose one of the options and receive the words.

Okay let's crack the rule book open and see how this poo poo works.

The Devil - The devil has favoured you. There is nothing you must do. +666 words.
The Egg - Within the last third of your story you must have an egg hatch and something unexpected be inside. +400 words.
The Queen of Denmark - Your story must either take its title from a track on John Grant's album "The Queen of Denmark" (+100 words) OR be recognisably inspired by a song from said album (+400 words).
The Mirror - You may reflect another player's card and replace either your character, setting, plot or Hell. You lose the words from the card your replaced and gain the words from the new card. However, reflections are twisted and reversed, so what you get is a distortion of the original card. Interpret that how you will. (+400 words).
Doppleganger - You may copy another player's card and add it to your hand. You do not replace one of your cards when you do this and take any effects or words that the new card carries. (+400 words).
Scissors - You may cut up one of your cards. You lose the requirements of the card, but you keep the words that it carried. (+400 words).
Lucky 7s - If you submit an entry this week prior to the deadline, you must accept an Amazon gift card from me OR provide a charity that you feel would benefit from a donation in your name. (+407 words).
Twist and Shout - Within the last third of your story there must be a sudden twist. (+400 words).
Tim Curry - You must contain the actor Tim Curry within your story OR you must contain a character portrayed by the actor Tim Curry within your story. (+400 words).
The Mask Maker - If you are judged as winning or receive an HM, you may have your avatar or the avatar of another, changed to an image of your choice. If you receive a DM, a loss or do not submit, I will change your avatar to something of MY choice. (+400 words)
The Ouroboros - Your story must begin and end with the same line. (+505 words).
The Void - Your story must contain elements of cosmic horror. (+400 words).
The Barbarian - Barbarians cannot read. Ergo, your story must be submitted in some other fashion than a regular post. You may read it, get a computer to read it, or show your words within an image or video. However, I appreciate that life can be busy so if you have to cheat or half-rear end this in some way, you will not be chastised. Maybe someone with more free time will trade with you?
Freedom - You may quit before the submission deadline and will receive a no mention, as opposed to a failure. Freedom is powerful and Freedom is like air. When you have it, you don't stress about it. If you have no issues making a submission there will be players out there DESPARATE for this card. You should exploit that for trinkets and favours! (+400 words).
White Card - This card let's yo... oh wait... okay so this is a secret. I will DM you.
Nil - Your story must contain no speech OR your story must contain no punctuation. (+400 words).
The Other Mirror - Ignore your character card (you still get its words.) YOU are the protagonist of your story. YOU as in YOU in real life. You may change your name to maintain anonymity but your character is YOU in this situation. (+400 words).

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Captain_Indigo
Jul 29, 2007

"That’s cheating! You know the rules: once you sacrifice something here, you don’t get it back!"

:siren: Week 488 results! :siren:



You activated my trap card!

It was a strange week with a lot of not very much. Would you believe that when you make people write random stories, the stories lack a little cohesion? Still, despite that, there was a lot of good meat on them graveyard bones.

The winner of the tournament was Surreptitious Muffin with Nightfall - a spooky prison story that fell somewhere between Riddick movie and Apocalypse World. It created an atmosphere and stuck with it and had larger than life, vibrant characters.


HMs go out to Thranguy with All Time Travel Stories Are About Regret. I found it strangely poignant and beautiful and I was very happy with how it came alive from the cards. There's another HM for Sailor Viy and The Marriage of Sea and Stone - a mini creation myth that built an expansive word with some good twists of vocabulary.

On the other side, DMs go to Idle Imalgram with a surreal body-horror story that didn't quite land. Likewise, Rohan's fanfiction piece took a few too many breaks from the action and gets the same. Finally, Yourichi snatches a third DM for cosmic horror that played its cards just a little too close to its chest.

The loss goes to The Man Called M who aimed for character and action, but didn't have quite enough words to weave either with the grace they needed.

Thanks for playing, dueslists. I had a blast with my first week judging.

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