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Author Topic: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread  (Read 8063 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« on: January 01, 2018, 05:39:51 PM »

by Gavin Mackey

What better time to write about renewal and rebirth at the threshold of the new year? Where spring is still far away but the days are slowly getting longer already. Where many people formulate their hopes and wishes for the new year, plan to renew themselves with resolutions and try to leave the faults of their old selves behind.

This is a broad theme and it doesn't have to deal with people or the new year. After all, what can't be renewed? What doesn't have the right to rebirth themselves time and again?


1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The overarching theme must be renewal or rebirth of something or someone.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close Jan 31th/Feb 1st, 2018 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2018, 10:56:25 AM »
The Keeper of the Queen Key
1484 words

Spoiler for Hiden:

At noon, I reached the top of the Turret of a Thousand Steps. My halberd, restored to its former glory, glittered in the sun as I strode across the grand causeway to the great domed Tower of the Clockwork Queen. Ancelagon the bronze dragon sat perched upon a battlement beside the great doors.

I spun my weapon. “Good as new. The Queen will love it.”

“For a little while,” the dragon rasped, staring as I passed. A staring dragon is unnerving, for they possess the scowl of an eagle, the eyes of a cat, and claws worse than both.

I frowned. “What—”

“Enter,” called the Queen in her musical voice. Over my shoulder I saw Ancelagon watch me unblinking as I stepped through the door.

Inside, the Clockwork Queen stood bathed in golden sunlight shining down through the oculus high above. She raised a gloved hand, scattering bronze sparkles across the shadowy pillars that formed a ring around the periphery. “Close the door, knight.”

I did then knelt before her.


I presented my weapon. “It is remade.”

She looked down at my halberd, then her sapphire eyes glanced up at me over the line of her filigree veil. “As are you.”

I smiled. “Indeed.”

“It is the way of the world. All things are made and marred, by mishap or violence or the slow decay of years. We preserve what we can, restore what we can. But all castles are sandcastles and soon humbled by the tide.”

“Not you, my Queen.”

She canted her head at me, and the gemstones in her crown dazzled my eyes. “You think not?”

“My Queen?”

“I am neither perfect, nor outside the cycle of the world.” She undid her veil, beneath which I had never seen. The bronze and gold of her face continued as I had imagined: a modest nose, lips, and chin - the face of a calm young woman, though she was as old as the Clockwork Keep itself, I supposed.

“Knight, do you see why I wear a veil?”

“No, my Queen.”

“If I had a mouth, a real mouth, I would smile at that. But I am not perfect, like you.” She narrowed her eyes, which I had always taken as a sign of a broader smile beneath. But I realized that was all there was. A minor element of artifice, a trifling limitation. But a limitation of artifice nonetheless.

I lowered my eyes to her shining bronze feet. “Why do you show me this?”

She stepped closer and grasped my shoulders, looking up at me with her perfect golden face. “Because I need you to understand what I am, and what I am not, so that you can help me in a great task. So great, in fact, that I would not command you. It is too much to ask, even of a knight. Will you help me of your own accord?”

My breath caught in my throat. “You know I will.”

“I knew.” She stared up at me for a moment longer. The twirled copper and gold wire of her hair shone in the warm sunlight. “The weightiest questions are always asked with the answer already known.” She released me and walked to the door. “Come. I haven’t much time.”

Dumbfounded, I followed her out and across the great causeway, down the Turret’s thousand steps, and then further down into the deeps of the Clockwork Keep, far below my deepest errands. There, the great gears and cams of the keep turned and clanked and thudded. At the bottom, we came to a stout door, marked with the Queen’s seal.

She nodded and I pushed open the door, unleashing the slow but thunderous racket, like an immense bag of silverware falling slowly down an endless stair.

Inside, huge shafts anchored in gears the size of wagon wheels passed through the room horizontally and vertically through holes in the walls, ceiling, and floor. Countless gears clacked through innumberable cycles. What the shafts turned, I did not know, but I imagined they opened and closed the gates and raised the four enormous drawbridges that led to the Thousand Thousand Roads.

It was too loud to speak and be heard, so she pointed at a row of great bronze vats covered with oak lids. Each held an enormous amount of clear, scentless oil. Large ladles hung from each. She walked to the shafts and gears, gesturing here and there. I noticed the shine and realized the oil was for the shafts.

She led me out and closed the door behind us. My ears rang from the noise.

“Yes, it is a noisy place. You must apply oil where I showed you every month, or the Keep will die.”

“Die?” I laughed. I had never thought it a living thing.

She led me all the way back up to her tower.

Ancelagon sat beside the tower door and bowed low. “Farewell, my Queen.”

“Farewell, Ancelagon!” the Queen said, while I just gaped. She embraced the dragon, then went inside.

Ancelagon blinked then nodded toward the door.

Inside, the Queen drew open a curtain and revealed a broad table, on which lay a being like herself. But while the Clockwork Queen was gold and bronze with hints of platinum and copper here and there, this clockwork lady was wrought entirely of shining silver and mirror-chrome.

“What do you think of her?”

“She is beautiful,” I said. “But not as fair as you. And she has no veil.”

The Queen opened her hand. Her platinum filigree veil lay in her gloved palm. “This is my gift to her. Give it to her when she wakes.” To my amazement, she opened a panel in her breast. Within, I saw the end of a small key set within a complex mechanism: the heart of the Clockwork Queen. It turned slowly while I stared.

“Give it to her yourself, my Queen.”

The Queen only shook her head slowly. Had she a mouth, I was sure she would have smirked at me. “I cannot, for there is only one Queen Key, and I have been its keeper for the time allotted to me. You shall be its keeper and use it to wind my great task – my heir.”

“But,” I stammered, “you are immortal! You’re timeless. Without you, the Clockwork Keep stops, and everything...”

“Everything ends, yes. I know. And though you are not wholly wrong, Sir Knight, you are only half right. I am immortal because I cannot die – but that is only because I am not alive, or at least, not alive like you. But as long-lived as I am, I am not timeless. Nothing is.”

“But,” I went on, unable to accept what she was saying. “The Keep needs you.”

She laughed then and set her hand on my shoulder. “The Keep needs only oil. The errands and tasks of the Queen are all artifice.”

I frowned. “Then why have a Queen at all, then?”

“Because the Keep serves people, and people need to believe that there is someone guiding things.”

“But if that’s not true, it’s just a lie.”

“Not a lie – artifice. Lies deceive to serve the liar’s purposes; artifice deceives to serve the deceived. It is not real, but that does not stop it from fulfilling its purpose. The Clockwork Queen does guide things – just not the way people think. My rule is not real, but my purpose is. I do guide the people who come here – but it is they who rule, though they know it not.”

“Why not tell them?”

“Because believing that I am the incomprehensible, incorruptible wheel that turns things convinces them that they are not. They leave their squabbles and greed and pettiness at the gates because they believe ... what they believe. What they believe is not important - that they behave as their best selves when they come here - that is very important. Without a Queen, this is just a place. With a Queen, the Clockwork Keep is where the sun rises first and sets last – and in such a place, the realms of men share ideas and exchange that which is most crucial of all.”

The prospect of losing my Queen clenched my jaw so tight my teeth were grinding. “And what is that?”

“Hope,” she said. “You must teach her this. That is the mission I call upon you, the Keeper of the Clockwork Queen, to accomplish.”

I wanted to refuse, in the vain hope my wishes would change the way of the world. But I had given my word.

“Farewell, Knight. All things end, even I. There can be no beginnings without ends, and a world without beginnings would be sadder still. You remain the finest of your kind, and I am very fond of you. I made her to match your weapon. Serve her well.”

“I will,” I said. And I did.

« Last Edit: January 14, 2018, 11:16:52 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline D_Bates

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2018, 12:57:57 PM »
The Curious Case of the Lacertus Estate
1450-1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
‘Predators come in all forms, and one’s guaranteed t’be lingering when large sums of money’s involved.’ Me father spoke those words some three and a half decades back, on the day Simon Fonner arrived in Swallow’s Glen. He moved here shortly after it was made public that Lady Lacertus, owner of the fabled Lacertus Estate, was terminally ill with lung cancer.

Brash, suave, and bubbling with confidence, young Fonner strutted the streets in his flared trousers and knock-off silk-scarfs like he owned them. His less than subtle queries over the Lady’s circumstances fuelled immediate suspicion, and once he finally wormed his way into her confidence as a ‘carer’ he’d flutter around her like the very cigar smoke that festered her doom. Within months he was living in her former castle turned mansion on the hill, preparing meals and washing garments at first, but his duties quickly elevated to writing cheques on her behalf. His regular trips to the bars on her expense rubbed everybody up the wrong way, no less than his lauding over his close ‘relationship’ with her. Then the solicitors went in.

“That settles it,” my father exclaimed at dinner. “We’ll be out of work within a month of her passing.” And his fears held merit. The Lacertus Estate was the lifeblood of our unremarkable farming community lost among the lazing slopes and grazing pastures of the Scottish highlands. The Lacertus dynasty had kept the place afloat for nearly four centuries. Lady Lacertus, made a tragic widow in her early twenties, was worth in excess of ten million pounds, so it was claimed, and she was an only child who’d never remarried nor born any children of her own. I recall in her final days peering through the estate’s polished bronze gates bolted to pillars capped with lizard reliefs, and marvelling at the diamond windows of the tower over the mansion entrance, only to seeing her peering out from between the bars in the alcove protruding from the third floor. Oh, how sad and despairing she looked.

Fonner had become more reclusive by that time... more cautious, contemplative... switching out the playboy attire for an antique suit far older than he. On the fleeting times he did wander into town his braggart personae was also more refrained, bordering dignified, as he engaged with us mere locals as if he’d known us his whole life.

Alas, change his skin he might, but the act did little to quell the unrest that Lady Lacertus’s inevitable death dealt to the neighbourhood. Before the funeral could even take place there were whisperings regarding the fate of our livelihoods. Folk were already sharpening pitchforks when the news landed that the entire estate would be left in the care of Mr--now Lord--Simon Fonner. And while the usurper tried to calm the outrage with promises of business as usual, even his legally changing his surname to Lacertus did little to dissuade folk of the sell-up sure to occur.

Yet, despite all doubts, the man was true to his word. Apparently some people genuinely are just looking for an opportunity in life to prove themselves.

In the years that passed, Simon Lacertus never shied away from running the operation as though it were built off his own sweat and blood. The elders in those days came to call him a blessing. He even made me the estate’s caretaker when I reached working age--a job I still do to this day. All my life I’ve looked after that mysterious mansion that awed me as a kid, from its fragrant courtyard gardens to the yawning main hall, the cosy lines of bedrooms off elegant stone hallways, the expansive kitchen, and even the chandelier hung parlours and games-rooms. The only place I ain’t ever been allowed to see’s the cellar. But each of us is entitled to our own private places, right?

Truth be told, I became good friends with dear Si over the decades. We drank many a night away together. Sure, like most, he had some eccentric quirks. His particular passion--other than smoking those accursed cigars that claimed his benefactor--was crocodiles. References to the scaly things cover the mansion: skins splayed on walls, skulls on podiums, organs preserved in jars, and even the cutlery handles are engraved like scales. My personal favourite’s the croc-foot back-scratcher. But yes, Si is... was fascinated with the things. “Oldest living creature on land, you know?” he’d often tell me, finger raised profoundly, a reptilian glint in his eye. “Their success comes from settling in the right territory, a place obscure enough to go ignored, but important enough that a plentiful supply of prey will wade through with expectations of a better life on the other side. It’s similar to how the dragons of myth live on their piles of gold despite having no need for wealth.”

“Fascinating,” I used to tell him... to humour him, of course, ‘cause I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was blabbering on about.

So that was our life... simple, quiet, unassuming... till the day tragedy struck and poor old Lord Lacertus was diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer. Less than two years to live the doctors said. Oh, how indignant he was, sat in his scaly leather arm-chair, cigar smoldering betwixt his fingers. “Four centuries,” he’d grumble. “And still they've failed to devise a cure for this dastardly disease.”

Before the news had been in the public eye for twenty-four hours a Yorkshire strumpet by the name of Penelope Pinch had arrived. Barely in her twenties, she skipped right into Simon’s life, flinging her thighs and bouncing her bosom, and he was smitten as a teenager having seen his favourite actress in the buff for that one scene she regretted ever having filmed.

“Girl’s only after one thing,” I told my wife.

“You old cynic,” she replied. “Perhaps she genuinely loves him?”

“Perhaps,” I huffed back. But when was the last time any young lass chose to fondle, let alone buy, the wrinkled, seeping old plums on the fruit stand when they weren’t planning to sue the supermarket afterwards?

My suspicions over Penny’s motives were furthered on seeing her flirting with the local lads around town. I tried to tell Simon, to awaken his infatuated eyes, but he’d have none of it. Banned me from the mansion, he did! Strange box after strange box was soon arriving from the far reaches of Australia, Africa, and South America, and all I could do was watch despairingly as my old friend’s wealth was being leeched away on Penny’s exotic tastes.

Penny’s playful excursions into town ceased around the time of their sudden and entirely private marriage, feeding rumours on the imminent demise of our reclusive town. Then I saw dear Si staring despairingly, full of youthful naive innocence, from the barred window on the protruding alcove of the tower’s third floor. “That cinches it!” I exclaimed to the air, storming off to bang on the door and demand answers. The woman who answered... Oh, it were Penny’s all right--her figure were undeniable. But she was wearing old Lady Lacertus’s clothes, gloves and all, a long-sleeved, frilly-necked sixteenth century garb that showed not a smidgen of skin beneath the chin. The nerve of it left me gobsmacked, and before I came round to air my protest she dismissed me and slammed the door in my face.

Poor Simon died before the end of the year. After the funeral, Penelope Lacertus invited me back into the mansion to discuss my continued service. It eased my my dread some that, on the surface, she appeared to want to continue the Lacertus legacy. Still, I had to ask whether she were worried about the townsfolk revolting.
“Not at all,” she said, thin lips stretched into a wide smile. “They’ll come around eventually. They always do.”
“And Simon?” I asked. “How are you taking his loss.”

“In my stride,” she said with a long breath. “It’s painful, but I console myself in the knowledge that dear Fonner only wanted my life, which is exactly what I gave her.”

“Him,” I corrected.

She stared blankly at me a moment before tittering. “Of course. My bad. The stress of all this change... it plays havoc with the old mind.” She took out a cigar, lit it up, and reclined in the scaly leather chair. “So... Is there anything you’d like to get off your mind to solidify this fresh start?”

“Well...” said I. “I’ve always wondered about the cellar. It’s the only place I’ve never seen.”

She took a serious puff, rose to approach me, rest a cold hand on my shoulder, and oily eyes glistening with a strikingly familiar reptilian glint, said, “Some things, my old friend, are best left to the imagination.”
« Last Edit: January 18, 2018, 12:45:38 PM by D_Bates »
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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2018, 11:13:17 PM »
A poem of 263 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Squirming, squeezing, squamous creatures with bumps and lumps and other features
Doubtless desire something greater; a better life than their own
Those loathsome, sloth-some, reeking fiends, hated by humble human beings
Pluck pus from prey in secret scenes that they alone call home
In bogs and brooks and hidden nooks and flooded fields and barrow-domes
Is there beauty in those bones?

With scar-stained paws and matted maws, with howling hiss and scratching squawk
And shrieking shout and cutting caw, these things make themselves known
To all fool enough to wander ‘cross shrouded vale and valley sundered
Each bristling beast becomes the hunter of humans far from home
They hide and slide ‘til prey is tired then pounce over mud and loam
   Can there be beauty in those bones?

Necessary though, this is, the predator lets off triumphant hisses
And on the body places toothy kisses that bite right through to the bone
The spiked and spined beast gorges, mantling down on muscled haunches
It transmutes to something gorgeous, a change the world has not before known
As from manuscript to lavishly illuminated tome
   Could there be beauty in those bones?

Cartilage soon wastes away and delicateness takes its place
While mangled maw shifts to pretty face, tender skin revealed as muted muscles are torn
Diaphanous wings seize their form, shucking off the shattered shell of before
Renewed the creature takes a yawn, in transformation its energy sworn
But no more feast on bloody meats for this here beast as an oath of peace is sworn
   And thus those bones in beauty are reborn

Twitter: @HormannAlex

Offline idledragon27

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2018, 01:25:54 PM »

Word count 1499
Twitter: @idledragon27

Spoiler for Hiden:
The creamy, grey-veined marble hallway of the Universal Coffee Emporium headquarters was meant to soothe her, but a bubble of resentment simmered under her breastbone. Here she was again, waiting for the renewal of her Coffee Emporium Decade Licence when others could pick up a half century licence without such pointless examination.

A being sat contently on the other end of the grey, cream-veined marble bench, resting long hands on knees. She watched them out of the corner of her eye for a moment then with a sigh, folded her legs underneath her for comfort.

The being coughed.

“These benches are not built with short legs in mind, no matter the species,” she explained.

“Sitting all hunched up is not very, professional,” the being replied.

“Neither is sitting with legs swinging like some infant, so I’d rather be comfortable. How I sit doesn’t reflect on my professionalism.” The being hummed under their breath as silence flooded the hallway.

“You here for your licence renewal?” she asked before it became uncomfortable.

“My second half century,” the being said proudly. “You?”

“Another decade for me.”

“Only a decade?” the being queried. “I’m sure I’ve seen you before.”

“Probably.” She tugged at her long, gold-embroidered waistcoat and rubbed her knees with her palms. “I’ve been in this trade a long time.”

“And you’re still on a Coffee Emporium Decade Licence?”

“The universe is like that sometimes,” she sighed.

The being tugged their own simple brown waistcoat and straightened the long pocketed brown apron in thought.

“I know you, you’re that human who keeps screwing stuff up. I don’t know why they let humans join. Wouldn’t know a decent cup of Joe if it hit them in the nadgers.”

She fumed inside but put her coffee selling face on to reply.

“Lots of species struggle with caffeine, but that’s our job, to find a level that works so the Universe can stay connected and continue to learn about itself.”

“You spout doctrine like an Assessor.”

“Did the exams,” she admitted with a shrug.


“I discovered I enjoyed the day to day interaction of actually selling coffee and other caffeine based derivatives, rather than checking the overall balance in the Universe.”


“Some of us aren’t cut out for that level of wider knowledge.” The being looked at her, blinking three of their eyes in question.

“It did my head in,” she explained. “The whole of what we do, of what the universe is all about, is fine in the abstract. But to know, to really know...” She shook her head.

“So your still on a CEDL.”

“Doing the Assessor training gave me a different skill set, which means I’m often sent on reconnaissance to new planets.”


She waved a hand. “Its not as fun as it sounds.”

“And you keep screwing it up,” the being replied with the sound of laughter in their voice.

She let her hand fall to her knee and swallowed. She couldn’t get angry with ignorant Coffee Emporium pod owners right outside the renewal office door.

“I don’t bollix it up,” she said.

“But, didn’t you destroy a planets socio-economic civilisation just recently?”

She turned her head to look at the being, all smart in their standard Universal Coffee Emporium uniform, and blinked back tears. “I only set it back a century or two,” she admitted. “Its all in my report.”

The being gulped.  “Sorry, but you are something of a legend. The human Coffee Emporium Master; and yet you make all these silly little entry level mistakes. I’m, curious.”

She stared at them.

“And anyway, reports are such dry affairs, even with the best brew. I sell coffee. I know what it can be like, so, tell me.”

She looked up at the high creamy, grey-veined walls and let them soothe her.

“I went down, looked around, decided they weren’t ready. Knocking their progress back by a couple of centuries was a fluke. I didn’t intend to, but on reflection it was a good idea.”

“And that tells me nothing the report wouldn’t,” barked the being.

She scooted round on her bottom and faced them. “We sell coffee,” she said quietly. “We know all sentient beings in this universe have caffeine or similar in their make-up and we balance this to their particular needs. Every species looks up at the stars, and wonders. And so the Universe learns.”

The being nodded.

“This species didn’t. They never looked up and wondered. And, they had no caffeine.”

The beings mouth fell open.

“But they had known it,” she continued. “They knew caffeine and they hated it. And if anything on that planet had once contained it, it had been eradicated.” She smoothed down her long waistcoat with shaking hands.

“I followed protocol, pretending to be from one of the smaller lands in a big population centre, my pod well disguised but they knew. They could smell it on me. It was like they could see it coming off my skin in waves. They were not happy. Caffeine was their devil, and I was its embodiment.”

“You got sent into that?” The being was shocked.

She shrugged. “They interrogated me. They attempted to condition me to the evils of caffeine. But their main method was purging. Draining me of every drop of caffeine they could.”

She raised hands to clutch at her head. “Headaches. Whole body headaches that wouldn’t end. Creasing me up into an animal ball of stabbing agony. I was blind, deaf, incoherent, I only wanted to stop the pain.”


“When you get sent on reconnaissance, you are on your own. Utterly, unless you get back to your pod.”

The being nodded slowly. “Had they genetic sciences?”

“If they had, I would have been really screwed. I don’t recall much, but something clicked when they talked about a mutated crop they were destroying.”


“Returned to what ever sense I had left. The crop had been infected by caffeine. I was the source. I hallucinated I could be the means, the return of caffeine to that planet, but first, escape.”

“How did you?”

She swallowed, trying to slow down a suddenly racing heart. “I helped them purge me of every particle of caffeine they could find with their crude methods. I puked my insides out.”

“No caffeine, that could’ve killed you.”

“We humans are resilient creatures,” she smiled. “And their containment procedures were non-existent. I polluted their water supply, their soil, their every breath with my own caffeine laced essence. They quickly descended into a destructive frenzy against any one they could blame. They didn’t consider me as the source.”


“I honestly don’t remember how I got back to my pod. I woke up, sucking a mouthful of Betelgeuse Robusta Roasted I had for those really awful days when you need a caffeine hit like an ore container.”

“Bit of an overkill as a pick-me-up.”

“I needed to get out of there. Their weapon sciences were extremely advanced, and they were bombing the hell out of any place they thought the caffeine devil might exist. Including where I’d hidden my pod.”

“Each individual Emporium Device can stand a fairly big explosion.”

“They blasted themselves back two centuries,” she explained. “I wasn’t taking any chances.”


“I sent the emergency retrieval beacon, UCE brought me back, patched me up and debriefed me. Its all in the report. Now I’m having to wait for my renewal. You know, its funny. I’ve never seen another being waiting for a licence at the same time..”

The wide metal doors in the wall opposite opened, stalling her words as an Assessor walked out.

“Nayr Kim Durand?”

“Yes?” she breathed.

“Here is your CEDL. Sign here, and here, and your hand please.”

She stood quietly as the sub-dermal chip in her wrist was read, updated, wrote her name and accepted the computer paper with her licence on it in silence.

“On behalf of the Universal Coffee Emporium, we thank you for your frank retelling of the Thine 137 incident. And your, personal sacrifice. Reports can be so dry, can’t they.” With a bow, the Assessor left, leaving her staring at nothing.

She rounded on the being on the bench. “You in your regulation uniform with your regulation words and your...”

“Sorry,” the being replied with an attempt at a grin. “They needed to check. And you are very good at giving regulation answers at debriefings.”

“You want to know?” she muttered looking down at the page in her trembling hands. “You want to know the truth?” She breathed in and stood upright, looking the being in the eyes.

“The truth is, coffee has always been my life, before I even suspected the Universal Coffee Emporium existed. Keeping the caffeine balance of the sentient Universe is natural for me. But after this, I can do nothing but sell. My own caffeine balance is screwed.”

The being gasped in horror.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I can never drink another cup of coffee again.”
A wanderer of words, and I like to ramble.

Offline JMack

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2018, 01:44:28 AM »
Here we are at 1,499 words, excluding the tile.
Which is:

Scholar and Cat

Spoiler for Hiden:

The ancient monastery of St. Withins looks down on the Arvon some distance from Westerton. It is a picturesque old pile with an evil reputation. I attempted a night outside it's walls, thinking the adventure might be just be the restorative my confidence needed, but the incessant howling of cats kept me in a state of nervous anxiety, and I departed that place in dread and relief as soon as the dawning sun broke over the hills again.

- A Tramp in the Lea, William Bartlett Porter, 1868


The monks of St. Withins were known less for their piety and scholarship than for their love of beer.  They were generally a merry group, with a  relaxed and worldly Rule.  And as thirty-four men living together will do, they forged friendships out of necessity and built a hierarchy based more on personality than talent.  Which left Brother Martin always on the outside and at the bottom.

Brother Martin was pious.  Brother Martin was serious, studious, hard-working, the finest scribe and calligrapher, and altogether a pain in the pew.  He had no sense of humor, no capacity for fun, and always went to bed alone.  So it was a great surprise when Martin grew a heart and adopted a kitten.

It was a timid thing, the runt of a litter from the kitchen cat.  Martin rescued her from the predations of her brothers, and carried her to his barren cell, where he fed her, named her, and kept her by him at all times.  The other monks teased him about it, but Martin didn't care.  Pangur rode his shoulder, frantically at just a month old, then grandly at a year. She ate the best food Martin could cadge from the cook pot or save from his  bowl.  When the monks labored in the scriptorium, the cat cleaned herself on the narrow window by Martin’s desk, under the suspicious gaze of the monastery’s librarian and scriving master - Brother Harold.

A book was sent to St. Withins to be copied. Brother Harold took one look at the ancient text and assigned the work to Martin. “You have one month, Brother. The owner has offered double the price for speed. The abbot is releasing you from all other duties until its completion.”

This declaration brought rumbles of complaint, especially from a bully named Tauntalus. “Surely the flea-ridden mouser must go if our fine Brother Martin is to concentrate on this oh-so important task.” The others clamored their agreement, but Harold took one look at the stricken face of the little monk and said, “The beast can stay.” He lifted his cane against the protests of the room. “For now. But if it brings about any distraction or disruption, it must be shut away in your cell, Martin. Where it belongs.”

Martin turned in relief to the crumbling grimoire. “It’s not Latin,” he said. “And it’s not Greek.” He looked up at the librarian. “Is it Hebrew? Or Arabic? I’ve never seen Hebrew or Arabic.”

Brother Harold turned a leaf gingerly, peering at the strange characters. “It is some form of pictographic code. See the shapes. Here is the moon. Here, the sun. And here - a cat’s head. On a woman’s body” He looked up and found himself staring into the deep green eyes of the cat Pangur. A chill shivered down his spine. “I think,” he began, and bit his lip. “Perhaps we…”

“And it’s so faded,” said Martin. “This isn’t copying, Brother. This is restoring.” He closed the book. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Vellum is vellum, and ink is ink. I will begin.”

Brother Harold shrugged off his worry. “Yes. Make a good beginning, Martin. A good beginning.”

“By God’s mercy,” said Martin.

“Yes, yes,” replied the librarian as he left for the midday meal.

Martin took three days delicately studying the text, and another four lining the crisp new pages he would fill with the arcane and clearly un-Christian runes. He worked from early morning to midnight, pausing only at each office of the day to listen to the monastery at its desultory prayer.

He began the transcription on a bitter morning. His breath misted the air and suddenly he thought about the storied land of Egypt, where the pharaohs ruled and the Israelites suffered. He supposed it was hot there. “Would you like the desert, Pangur?”

Martin set his pen to the vellum, but Brother Tauntalus brushed by and bumped his elbow, sending the quill in a long black scratch across the pristine page. It was the first volley in a campaign of petty interference that spread from monk to monk.

Over the next week, one monk dripped hot wax onto Martin’s sleeve. He paid it no attention. Another kicked his stool. A third dropped a glass bottle, surprising the entire room, but leaving Martin unfazed.

Here you are again, thought Martin. The woman with the head of a great cat. She seemed to be on every page. My lady, thought Martin. The figure had begun to haunt his dreams. Mother Mary. But no, that wasn’t right.

Sekhmet, he thought. And wondered how the name came to him.

“Do you know?” Martin asked his cat. Pangur licked a paw and yawned.

“He’s talking to the beast now,” laughed Brother Tauntalus. He threw an apple at Martin, jarring his hand and ruining the figure of the goddess.

Martin spun on his stool and brandished his quill pen. “Our Lady sees you, Brother! Master Harold may not, but She does!”

Tauntalus blushed in anger and threw a second apple, this time at Pangur. It grazed the cat’s fur and cracked a pane of the expensive, leaded glass. Pangur sprang from the sill onto a table, scattering brushes and ink pots.

“Get it!” yelled Tauntalus. The monks scrambled to catch the cat, who leapt from stool to desk to shelf in a madness to avoid grasping arms and swinging broom sticks. Martin stood shocked, protecting the precious book and his two weeks of work with his very body.

“Stop it!” he screamed.

“Got it!” bellowed Tauntalus, netting the fighting, hissing cat in a spare cloak.

“What is going on in there!” yelled Brother Harold from his chamber.

Tauntalus hurled the caterwauling bundle smashing through the broken window. Brother Harold stomped into the scriptorium, swinging his cane wildly in every direction.

“It was the cat,” cried Tauntalus, before anyone else could speak. “It went mad. We tried to stop it, but it leapt at the window and escaped.”

Martin finally woke from his shock and raced from the scriptorium in horror. He stormed back minutes later, cradling Pangur’s limp body.

“Her neck,” he sobbed. “You broke her neck.”

“I didn’t!” Tauntalus laughed. “But who'd have thought the beast didn’t have nine lives.”

“Enough!” Brother Harold swung his cane and cracked it across Tauntalus’s cheek. He tuned to Martin, half in anger and half in pity. “Take the creature away, Martin, and deal with it as you see fit.” He spun back to the monks. “As for the rest of you - clean this wreckage and report to the chapel. No. Beer. For. Any of you.”

Martin wept all the way to his cell, shaking and moaning over his beloved friend. He rocked back and forth on the edge of his cot, mumbling Pangur, Pangur. And then Sekhmet, Sekhmet. He fell asleep to the music of the goddess’s name.

Martin, said the goddess. My little Martin.

My lady, answered the monk. My Lady.

Do not grieve for your friend. Pangur guards my throne room even now.

Bring her back to me, cried Martin. Please.

I cannot, little monk. I died to your world long ago, abandoned by my followers.

I will follow You, said Martin. Somewhere deep in his soul he wondered how his life had changed direction without him knowing it.

Ahhhh. Will you? Will you see me born again? What will you give me, Martin? What body will you give me, priest?

“Martin?” Someone knocked on the cell door. “Martin? It’s Brother Harold. I’ve come… I've come to see…” Martin opened the door wide.

His eyes slowly adjusting to the gloom of the unlit space, Harold made out a pictograph scrawled in dripping lines on the opposite wall: a great cat’s head on a woman’s broad and magical body. He saw blood dripping from Martin’s fingers and the broken body of a cat perched on the little monk’s shoulder, blinking jealously at the librarian’s candle. His skin crawled.

“You’re so very welcome here, Brother,” smiled Martin. “Very welcome.”


Later I was told that one of the monks was possessed by a demon and murdered his brothers in their sleep. Thirty-three hearts ripped from thirty-three chests in the space of a single night. The monastery was abandoned by its order and became a source of local terror. Westerton men burned the ruin to the ground, twice. But it remains haunted to this day - not by phantom monks, but by the glowing eyes and eerie howls of uncountable cats.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2018, 02:27:25 AM by Jmack »
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
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Offline Norman Gray

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2018, 10:19:11 PM »

I'm in:

A Clockwork Conspiracy
1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
"I have a task for you."

He was an off duty Night Guard, still dressed in his patrol uniform, his sword sheathed at his hip. He opened his palm, revealing three antique coins. Geralt whistled; they were the Old Currency, highly sought-after but seldom seen. "Must be a pretty big job, for that kinda pay."

"Not exactly." He placed them upon Geralt's anvil. "I was hoping you could tell me what kind of alloy this is."

Geralt shook his head. "That's a fine question. At a glance, I couldn't say."

"If you forged something from them, would that give you a better idea?"

"It likely would,” Gerald laughed. “If I were foolish enough to destroy such valuable coins."

"You would be compensated for your efforts," he told the blacksmith.

Geralt was baffled. "The destruction of currency is a criminal offense."

The officer suddenly lifted one of the coins, and threw it into the fires of the forge.

"Are you mad!?” Geralt quickly grabbed a pair of tongs, attempting to retrieve the coin.

"Leave it be," the officer told him. "I suspect it will still be there when the fire dies. The metal does not seem to retain heat. It does not even tarnish under flame."

The blacksmith put down his tongs.

"The banks have been relentlessly trying to acquire every last one of these.” The officer pushed the two remaining coins together. “Have you ever set two of them side by side?"

Geralt had never even seen two of the Old Currency in the same place before; he wondered how many people had. . . The blacksmith watched as the officer interconnected the two coins, their serrated edges interlocking; he rotated one while the other turned in response.  "It's like clockwork," said the blacksmith.


He looked to the coin in the fire, to see if it had melted. It hadn't. "You're saying it is clockwork?"

The officer sighed. "I believe so."

Geralt shook his head. "No engineer would ever design gears with such small teeth, unless they wanted the metal to wear out quickly."

"The metal doesn't wear. I was hoping you could tell me why."

Geralt scratched his jaw. "Damned if I know. Whoever designed them must have done so with a lot of foresight, knowing that they would be in circulation for ages to come."

The officer argued otherwise. “These were repurposed as currency. I don't believe it was the intent of their design." He lifted a coin, peering through the square hole in its center. "They couldn't be destroyed, so they were scattered far and wide. Eventually their origins were forgotten, and they became a bartering item." He sighed. "And now the banks want them. All of them.”

It sounded entirely mad to Geralt's ears. “So let's say they were once some kind of ancient clockwork component.” The blacksmith shrugged. “What of it?”

"Think of all the clockwork mechanisms you know. Massive machinery, powered by enormous gears.  But even clock towers are operated by no more than a few dozen cogs." He connected the coins once more. “There are perhaps hundreds of thousands of these scattered throughout the world. What could they have come from?”

"Hundreds of thousands of cogs." Geralt chewed on the idea for a moment. "The more cogs, the more complex the machine. . ." Before the blacksmith could finish that thought, the door opened; a tall man walked in, wearing an immaculate long coat and carrying a lock-box in his gloved right hand. "May I assist you?" Geralt said automatically, composing himself.

The stranger smiled. "Good day gentlemen. I come representing the bank of Gladwell and Strom. Do you have a moment?” He froze, noticing the coins atop the anvil. "I sincerely hope, that you two aren't making forgeries.”

The officer narrowed his eyes. "I am a Night Guard. My oath is to uphold the law.”

The banker laughed. "Forgive me, Officer. . .”


“Officer Stannick. I did not mean to offend.” The stranger stepped closer. "As you know, we've put forth an effort to retire old currency. With adequate compensation for each coin, of course."

"I wasn't aware you were going door-to-door in your collection efforts," said the officer. "What a peculiar use of the bank's time and resources."

The banker sighed. "Yes, well. . . It seems some folks are hesitant to relinquish their coins. We wanted to further encourage people to part ways with the old currencies, while our offer still stands.”

"I still have need of them," Stannick replied.

"You will be reimbursed," the banker said, dismissing his answer. "To the sum of ten thousand marks, per coin."

Geralt was taken aback by that amount. But the officer of the Night Guard was unfazed. "These coins have been with my family for generations. Such an offer is an insult to my heritage." Geralt stared wide-eyed at the officer, who remained stern and unyielding.

"You could live a life of prestige with such money," the collection's agent argued.

"Do you mean to imply, that my father's honour has a price?"

"Everything under the sun has a price," the banker sneered. "However, if you think that sum to be unfair, I am permitted to entertain a counter offer."

"Fifty thousand marks," Stannick replied.

"Fifty thousand. . ."

"Per coin," he then added. "My father was a reasonable man, and that is a reasonable offer."

The banker scowled. "I disagree wholeheartedly."

"Well then, best of luck with your acquisitions, Mr. . ."

But the banker gave no name. "Very well. Fifty thousand, each." He raised his lock-box.

The officer paused. "You’re carrying one hundred and fifty thousand marks, currently?"

The banker nodded. "We collections agents have many coins to acquire, and thus many funds to dispense."

Geralt eyed the lock-box; it looked to be made from oak, banded together with wide iron reinforcements. The case alone could not have weighed less than forty pounds, and with its contents, perhaps another ten. . . It never left the banker's hand. At no point did he even seem to notice the weight of it.

"Quite odd, that you would choose to wander from town to town with such a wealth of money and not take the necessary precautions," Stannick said to the banker.

These are peaceful times,” he argued. “Blatant daylight robberies are unheard of in these parts. Certainly a man of the law such as yourself, knows this.”

Stannick nodded. “I also know that you’re carrying no less than one hundred and fifty thousand marks.” He stared the banker in the eye. “Even as a man of the law, I’d be tempted to run you through and take the money for myself.”

“Gentlemen!” The blacksmith yelled. “Let's keep this civil." Try as Geralt did to quell their argument, it merely escalated.

"You make strange threats, Officer." The banker towered over Stannick. "Relinquish the coins, and I'll waste no more of your time."

"I cannot do that," Stannick confessed. "Even if I wanted."

The banker's eyes narrowed."And why is that?"

“I threw one of them into the forge. But, do feel free to go in after it.”

The banker was livid. It was the type of anger Geralt had only ever seen in the worst kind of men, with the worst possible intentions. “Destroying currency. . . A most severe crime. You admit to such actions?”

"If indeed it has been destroyed,” Stannick began, “then you can accuse me of breaking the law.”

The banker faced the forge. “I grow tired of this. Douse the flames.”

Stannick rested a hand on the pommel of his sword. ”I’m afraid I cannot allow that.”

The banker put down the lock-box, and pulled the glove from his hand. He then shed his jacket and reached into the forge; Geralt and Stannick both stared on, frozen in horror. When the banker pulled his hand from the fire, his flesh had melted away, revealing what lay beneath. . .

Stannick drew his sword, and dealt a powerful blow to the banker’s head. But the blade merely bounced off as if striking armour, leaving only a shallow wound.

The banker's hand darted out, grabbing hold of the officer's throat, crushing it with a vice-like grip. He threw Stannick aside effortlessly, sending him crashing into Geralt's anvil.

Before Geralt could react, the banker was on him. Despite the blacksmith's strength, he was helpless; the banker brought Geralt's head down against the anvil with impossible strength. . . Once. Twice. Immense pain gripped Geralt, immobilizing him.  He tried screaming for help, but the words never reached his lips; he found himself struggling just to speak.

The banker met Geralt's eye, as he picked up the remaining coins with his burnt hand; a hand that was more metal than flesh. "Your trade is a mockery, blacksmith. As our time nears, your kind will come to understand." He pressed Geralt's head to the anvil, slowly squeezing the life out of him. "The Forgeborn returns, and your flesh will falter against hardened ore.”

Offline tebakutis

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2018, 09:45:49 PM »
Ha! New Years resolution maintained! (for now)

Despite having a 10,000 word serial to finish, final edits on my book to complete, and a short story due for the Farpoint writing contest, I had time to today to knock out a story and hope to continue the trend.

Twitter @TEricBakutis

The Butcher of Salt Town (1,500 words)

Spoiler for Hiden:
Vale raised his mug in greeting as the young man with hard eyes sat on the bench across the table, one hand tucked in the pocket of his brown jacket. The clamor inside the Emperor’s Horn was a murmur that soothed Vale’s nerves, like the sea had done before he led his last massacre. Now that sound of waves haunted him, a reminder of the screams of those executed and the sobbing of their children.

Vale could die in this tavern, comfortably, or as comfortably as one could die from a gunshot, but that would mean this young man died too. He’d prefer to avoid that, if possible. He could at least try.

“Don’t move,” the young man said, shifting. He now had a flintlock pointed beneath the table, or Vale assumed he did. For his part, Vale had entered the tavern unarmed. Living wasn’t his choice any longer.

“I’ve no intention of moving,” Vale said, setting down his mug and keeping his hands on the table. “I would, however, ask you not shoot me here.”

“Don’t you dare beg,” the young man said, as the clink of filled mugs and the laughter of old friends continued beyond his murderous intentions. “You slaughtered my mother, my father.” The muscles of his thick neck knotted. “Your soldiers executed everyone, and now you beg for the mercy you denied?”

“I’ve no intention of begging, young man. I assume you’re referring to the massacre at Salt Town?”

“Why, have you razed so many towns you can’t keep track?”

Vale allowed himself a sad smile. “Yours was my last. I thank the Gods for that, though I know they look upon me with no favor.”

“We were fighting to protect our people, you old prick.”

“You were fighting to start a war,” Vale corrected, leaning back in his seat. “Had you succeeded, you would have ignited a conflagration that would have consumed dozens of towns like yours. Thousands more mothers, fathers, and children would have died in any rebellion the Emperor let take root.”

“Your Emperor’s dead.”

“Long live the Emperor,” Vale agreed, raising his mug. “Emperor Gustavo is a marked improvement on his father, wouldn’t you say?”

The young man snorted. “Well, he doesn’t burn people alive as often.”

“Emperor Olandar’s eccentricities required a ... delicate solution,” Vale said. “It was being planned even as Salt Town and the others rose in rebellion. Do you truly believe Emperor Olandar choked on a date?”

The young man’s eyes widened at what Vale suggested, at the audacity of it. “You’re lying.”

“I’ve no reason to lie, with my death approaching,” Vale said, “but I took no pleasure in the razing of Salt Town. The memory haunts me and shall ever do so, as with all tasks that are necessary but unjust. I owe you a debt of blood. I honor my debts.”

“You just begged me not to shoot you.”

“I begged you not to shoot me here.” Vale took a circumspect look around the tavern to ensure none of the dozens of Imperial soldiers carousing nearby had noticed this young man or his flintlock. “Should you shoot a retired officer of the Imperial Guard in a tavern full of Imperial loyalists, you yourself will be beaten, shot, and, should you survive, hanged before the week is out.”

“You think I care if I die?”

“I care,” Vale said, sighing as he leaned forward on the bench. “The lives I took six years ago, on the sands of Salt Town, weigh upon me as chains I can never remove. I don’t wish your weight among them.”

The young man trembled with rage and fear, possibly, but a new uncertainty was growing in his eyes. “I was there. I saw you give the orders. Your soldiers lined my parents up and shot them in the head!”

“A strong example was needed,” Vale agreed, “to prevent more towns from rising as yours did. To smother the fires of rebellion long enough for the mad Emperor to expire in bed, without war.”

“I don’t believe a word of that.”

“That is certainly your prerogative. Judging from your age, you were too old to be taken as a ward of the Empire, and too young to be executed with your family. Where did we conscript you? The navy?”

The twitch of surprise in the young man’s features confirmed Vale’s suspicions.

“Where did you serve?” Vale asked. “Oarsman?” That would explain the young man’s muscular physique, more suited to constant, repetitive labor than rougher industrial work, like mining. “You were indentured, I assume, paid a fair wage and fed. Earning your freedom in six years is a bit faster than most, so you volunteered for extra shifts. What drove you? Vengeance? Or wanderlust?”

“You don’t know a thing about me!” the young man said, loud enough that the Imperial soldier sitting at the next table glanced over, eyebrow raised. The soldier’s hand settled on the hilt of his saber.

Vale waved him off, smiling and offering a shrug. After a moment, the soldier nodded. He released his saber hilt and went back to his cups, chuckling as a friend cracked some bawdy joke.

The young man stared at Vale, still trembling and more confused than ever. “Why did you do that?”

“I honor my debts.”

“He couldn’t move fast enough to save you.”

“And I’ve no intention to be saved, as I’ve stated several times.” Vale set aside his mug. “Come. There’s an alley two blocks away, near the docks, where no witnesses of any standing will record your actions. If you wish, we can go there now. Keep your flintlock on me, but hidden in your jacket.”

“You’re insane,” the young man said, and his eyes were wider than ever now. “What are you planning?”

“I stopped planning years ago.”

“You’re just going to walk to your death? You’ll let me shoot you?”

“If you feel shooting me will allow you to live your life, then yes. I can never return your family or the countless others I ordered executed. I can only tell you their lives purchased those of thousands more, in hopes knowledge of their sacrifice will ease your pain. Emperor Gustavo is a good man. You will see.”

“Gods,” the young man said. “You really believe that, don’t you?” His fury had faded in the intervening moments, replaced with the exhaustion and shakes that followed impending death.

Vale shrugged. “I’ve no right to it, but may I ask your name?”

The young man stared at him, twitching with uncertainty. Finally, he spoke. “Leoni.”

“Captain Augustus Vale,” Vale said, inclining his head. “I am the Butcher of Salt Town. I gave the order to murder your family and dozens of others. Kill me, conclude the quest for vengeance you’ve lived these past six years, and start a new life free of the rage that drives you.” Vale tilted his head toward the door of the tavern. “Shall we go now, or do you need a drink to steady your nerves?”

Leoni, Imperial oarsman, survivor of the Salt Town massacre, and the man who’d come here to murder Captain Vale in cold blood, shuddered in his seat. “Not yet. I’ll have an ale first, if you please.”

Vale snapped his fingers loud enough that the barmaid chatting with the nearby soldiers glanced at him with a smirk on her face. “Pelena, an ale for my young friend. At your leisure.”

The barmaid winked at him and strode off, slapping the greedy hand of a particular raucous Imperial soldier away as it he tried to get friendly. Vale stared at the man, eyes narrowed, and the soldier blanched and hunched his shoulders, suddenly very interested in his mug. Vale looked back at Leoni to find the young oarsman watching him like he was a some wild animal, unpredictable and untamed.

“How could you do it?” Leoni asked. “How could you kill them all without being a monster?”

“The Imperial Guard are tools, not monsters.” Vale pushed back a wave of melancholy as the memories surged inside him, screams and tears that lasted hours. “Tools serve their purpose as best they can. My purpose was to stop rebellion from consuming the Empire. I succeeded, but I daresay it broke me.”

Leoni stared at the table. “What do I do now?” He looked up. “What do I do, if I’m not hunting you?”

Vale sipped his mug and considered. “Start your life over, if you can.” It seemed he was not to be relieved of his duty tonight. “Not all of us have that luxury.”

“And you’ve done that?” Leoni asked. “You’ve left your massacres behind?”

“I can’t,” Vale said, as an old weariness and familiar ache filled his body. “It’s too late for me, Leoni. Others will come, survivors like you, and one will kill me. Until they do, I drink.”

“And suffer,” Leoni said. “You deserve to suffer.”

“I do,” Vale agreed. “But you certainly don’t.”

« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 06:14:09 AM by tebakutis »

Offline Carter

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2018, 10:16:14 PM »
Here's mine for the month.  Not the direction I originally thought I'd go (and I've rushed it a bit as well as I have no more time to work on it this month, so apologies of errors).  It comes in at 1,422 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Last Rites

“She's inside.  I've made her ready for you.”

As always, Alexander kept his voice uneven .  After all the years she had worked with him, he remained imperturbable.  A tilt of the head to acknowledge his words and she handed over the heavy pouch.  Heavier than normal of course.  He had put his prices up again and she trusted no one more. 

“This is the last time,” she said. 

He just looked at her, saying nothing.  He had heard it all before but this time, deep down, she knew it to be true.  It had to be.  One last job.  One last payment and she could retire into seclusion.  The profits margins were slimming and the dangers increasing.  Unlike Alexander, she did not have the luxury of increasing her fees.  If she tried, anyone could threaten to reveal her secret.  One word to the wrong person and he would merely be imprisoned.  One word to the right person, and she faced a slow, painful death. 

So this was the final time.  No more risks.  After this, a new life somewhere else, somewhere new, when none knew of her reputation and could use it to drag her back down to this level. 

Within, the mortuary was cold, the air heavy with the stench of the three dead bodies currently awaiting the careful ministrations of the morticians.  She felt the tingle of the residual wards that would normally have kept her out.  They tickled across her skin like a colony of ants, a minor irritating itch rather than the roaring flame had Alexander not done his work. 

Only once, the only time she had ever decided against hiring Alexander, had she experienced such a thing.  It had left her bed-ridden for almost three weeks.  Never again had she taken such a chance, regardless of how inflated his prices had become. 

Surprisingly for the time of year, there were only three corpses laid out.  And it was obvious which of them now required her attentions. 

Too young.  I should never have agreed to this.

She had heard the rumours of course.  Everyone with even half an ear on the shadier streets had heard of missing children.  Nothing new there, but some of the more extravagant theories had persisted long past the point of being ignorable. 

It turned out they were true. 

Looking past the whorls and carefully placed runes that Alexander had left, the body was a mess of ritualistic cutting.  Deep incisions, patterned bruises, lacerations that had only recently healed; they all told a horrific tale.  In places she could even detect the signs of healed fractures.  Someone somewhere had been delving into the wrong aspects of mysticism. 

Yet even that did nothing to diminish her disgust.  At whoever had done this and at herself.  She could not cast herself in the role of saviour here.  There was nothing heroic about what she intended.

This is the last time.  It has to be. 

Most of the tools she needed were already laid out; a combination of bottles and instruments collected from the mortuary's own stores and those provided by her current employer.  Razor-sharp scalpels, clamps, long-handled, fine pliers, tweezers, coptic jars filled with miscellaneous preservative liquids; it was as fine a selection as she could have hoped for.

She opened the heavy satchel at her hip and drew out her own supplies.  Bottles of day-old, viscous blood, foul bile and mucus.  Tubs of straw, sawdust, dirt and sand.  If the wrong people discovered she had been blithely carrying them around the city, she would never again have seen daylight. 

Only once everything was arrayed to her satisfaction, did she take a deep, rancid breath.  Her mouth flooded with the familiar, sickeningly sweet flavour of rot.  Her hands shook as she took up the first knife.  Calmness eluded her.  For a moment she considered lying to herself that this was fear, caution, or some innate sense of morality.  But she knew the truth. 

She slipped easily into Mortic, the forbidden language of the dead.

“Tell me.”

The very air around her seemed to freeze.  The blood in her veins slowly started to turn to ice.  A presence pressed against her brain.  The hatred was almost enough to drive her to her knees.  Stiffening every muscle, she resisted.  She knew she had fought off worse but it never got any easier. 

Malevolence flooded her mouth with familiar bile.  Pain and rage ricocheted across her tongue in a clash of salty tears and bitter charcoal.  Steeling herself against the inevitable onslaught, she opened herself to the spirit.

She screams, the sound tearing out of her like a hurricane.  Cuts across her body burn as if she has been sliced open and rolled in salt.  A face looks down at her.  Covered in a silken, skin-tight death mask, it is impossible to discern any real features.  It has been the same every day for the last three weeks? Months?  She has forgotten how long she has been in his clutches.  Time has lost all meaning.  Only the cycles of pain and recovery are left to her and she dare not count those lest she succumb to the madness that stalks her mind. 

In spite of her resistance, she knows she is breaking under the strain.  She used to imagine escape, freedom, blessed, fresh air.  Now such luxuries are lost to her.  Soon, she knows that all that will be left to her is her hate, her desire for vengeance. 

Above her the man deflates.  It is as if he has realised that something essential has gone from her.  As if he can peer into her soul and plumb its depths. 

He lifts his dagger for the final time.

She exhaled her breath in a long, even stream.  It forced the spirit out.  She could feel it hanging in the air, bereft and raging against the loss of even that tantalising hint of life.  As always nausea threatened only to be consumed by the surge of euphoria.  She had touched death and held herself apart.  For a time she had been immune to its creeping, insidious touch.

“You will have your revenge.”

That much she could promise. 

She set to work.  Quick, accurate incisions opened the abdomen and torso.  Careful placement of every particular instrument allowed for the easy extraction of liver, pancreas and intestines.  Soon the air became pungent with metallic blood and sharp vinegar as she transferred every piece, every scrap into a waiting jar.  She sacrificed perfection for speed, eschewing precise ritual for its visceral counterpart.  For a mortician it would take longer.  Much longer.  They cared for the spirit, bringing it peace throughout the embalming process, enabling it to move on. 

Her talents, however, led her in a different direction.  She had to ready the body to accept the spirit once more, find some way to marry the spirit to the decaying, dead flesh.  The only similarity between her work and theirs, was that each required the careful preservation of every piece of tissue.  The slightest misstep could mean a spirit without form, chained to the mortal world without hope of release. 

As always, the brain came last.  Pliers, a sharp point and the finest tweezers crated an opening through a nostril, finding a way through or around cartilage and bone.  Slowly, she teased it out and straight into a waiting jar, all the while muttering the incantations that would sever the last tethers to its usual abode and allow her to tie to anew. 

She sped up, every moment now crucial.  Handful after handful of absorbent material filled every crevice, stuffing the voids left behind by the bodily organs, leaving only the skull vacant.  Into each incision she emptied her jars of bile, the reek of acid and ammonia permeating everything.  With every addition, she felt the malevolence grow, with every half-uttered word, she felt the spirit tying itself to the stomach and the bowels, to the hatred and the rage.  Every drop created a dark, evil harmony between body and soul that echoed through her, the effect addictive.  Her breaths came faster as her hands trembled once more. 

All too soon, almost before she had finished she felt the surge of life, of a death banished, flooding her with hated jubilation.  The corpse heaved under her fingers; the lurching, shuddering breath of a child revenant, the depths of the necromantic arts. 

“This is the last time,” she said.

Perhaps this time she might even believe it. 

Offline ryanmcgowan

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2018, 09:36:43 AM »
Rebirth Centre

So this is my first try at getting back into writing for the last few years, hoping to make it a regular thing.

Hopefully nothing offends, there is a swear in here somewhere though.

Spoiler for Hiden:
I woke up dead. 
I know I’m dead because the strange little man with feathered wings is telling me so.
“You are dead, Damian.” A cherubim grin is affixed to his small pinched face.  “My name is Alan, I am an Angel of the fifth circle of heaven” He pauses to ruffle his feathers dramatically, there’s a smile on my face now and not because I’m impressed, it belies a disdainful laugh at such a comic display of self importance.  He continues on without any outward display of chagrin, perhaps he thinks I really am impressed.  Maybe I should be. “and I will be processing your rebirth today.” From his tone I’m assuming I’m not his first death, not by a long shot and probably not even today.  “Do not worry about the memory loss it is quite normal at this stage, things should start coming back to you shortly.  Now, let me have a quick look at your stats…” The gold leaf scroll he began mumbling over flickered to life with information.  “First life.  Male, died mid-thirties” he paused, turning over the scroll and checking the back as his eyebrows climbed theatrically.  “Well it looks like you’ve been on hold in the system a very long time indeed.  Apologies for that.” his cherubim grin strained at the edges “But it’s not like you’re the son of God or anything, right?” The silence that answered ran on too long to be anything but uncomfortable. He shot a glance down at the scroll again, swiping quickly through its information.  The concern eased on his face as he found what he was looking for.  “Looks like you’ve been dead a week or so longer than him ahaha.  But lets try and get you a quick turn around whilst you’re here.” He continued.  “Ok off we go, please try to keep up and don’t wander off it’s difficult enough- Don’t touch that!” I pulled back sharply, shocked by the Angels strangled yell.
“Sorry, it’s just that. Well.  It’s floating?” An intricately patterned bronze orb hovered beside me, mirroring even my smallest movement.
“Yes well, they do tend to.” And without further explanation the little man was off again, leaving me to scramble in his wake with the strange orb following.
“Where are we going?” I managed to blurt out once I’d caught up.
“First is judgment, you need to have your soul weighed and its worth decanted into your orb.” We’d been walking at speed through empty white washed corridors but suddenly turned into a small room with ‘Rebirth Chamber 66’ stencilled above the doorway in flowing script.  “If you’d just step here” He indicated a stylised seven pointed star thats red paint stood out in stark contrast of the polished white marble floor, an arcane script running within each of its lines.  I tentatively obliged, muscles tensing.  “Excellent,” He plucked the orb from the air and handed me it “All done.” He said an instant later, peering at the orb.  “Not a saint but not the devil, ahaha” he said, laughing at his own joke “Plenty to play with here, lets get you setup for rebirth.  I believe bay six was most recently cleansed.”  He indicated a small bay against the wall, this one too had markings on the floor but these were far more intricate.

“So what will it be this time around, boy? Girl? Other?”
“Erm, Girl? I think.”
“Excellent choice.  You have a total of thirty-four orb value units, minus the humanity fee of ten, that leaves twenty-four to spend.  Please choose carefully it will have a major effect on your next life.” he handed me the small gold leaf scroll he had been carrying.  Illuminated Across its surface were twenty aspect names, each with a bar denoting a value between one and ninety-nine below it and below each bar was the number zero.  I pondered the options.
“Humanity fee?” I asked
“Er yes, you must have at least ten units to qualify for human rebirth.  Those for whom life was devoid of goodness and innocence may not make the minimum tally required for a next life here and must return as a lower life-form such as a dog or cat.” Gabriel leaned in, eyes dancing around the room conspiratorially “They say King Leopold returned as a worm.  Of course those with a high enough tally may return as a higher life-form if they so wish.” He continued nonchalantly.
“Higher life-forms?”
“Of course! This is not the only planet to be seeded with life, and obviously there are Dolphins and Pandas.”
I stared unseeing at the scroll, possibilities dancing across my imagination.
“If it helps quantify at all, Einstein spent all his points on intelligence.”
“How many points did he have to spend?”
In the end I spent ten on intelligence, five on physicality and scattered the rest amongst beauty, cunning, persona and health.  I may have spent more than a couple on luck.  I wasn’t going to waste precious numbers on things like empathy, artistry or humour.
“Ok and if we are all set I will begin the rebirth ritual, please under no circumstances step off the pattern.”
“What happens if I step off the pattern?”
“We do not actually know, you are just… gone.”  I mentally pinned my feet in place.  Then the sirens started.
“Shit.” Said the Angel

“What’s that siren for?”
“Probably nothing to worry about, the angelic hoard will soon mop up any incursion by the Fallen.”
“The Fallen?”
“Yes fallen angels, you know, that old story about lucifer and his… associates”
“This sounds serious, maybe we should take a look-“
“You cannot leave the pattern!”
“Right, yes…”
“Hello Alan.”  Her tone was lascivious bordering even more on the scandalous for having been directed at the Angel.  Alan froze, face draining of colour as a beautiful woman walked somehow snake like into the room, she was alluring but I sensed terribly dangerous too.  The feathers on her back were slicked and black and were unruffled by the breeze. 
“Anathema” Alan whispered.
She smiled at the sound of her name “Oh Alan, I’ve missed you too.”
I realised she was an angel too, but there was something wrong, she was clearly one of the Fallen.
She turned to me “Hello beautiful one.  I have a gift from your father.”  From beneath midnight wings she presented me with another orb of power.  This one differed from my own, it was a polished Silver and where my own was covered with beautifully intricate carvings, this was smooth, though its shine was tarnished.  Not having been expecting to be receiving gifts from fallen angels I instinctively reached out and took the orb in my hand.  As I did the gold leaf scroll in the other began flashing.  Raising the scroll to my face I nearly dropped the orb in shock as I saw what was happening.  Every aspect bar was quickly filling to maximum.
It was at this moment that my memory finally made good on its promised reappearance.  “Oh! I’m that Damian.”  Then there was a pop and everything disappeared as the rebirth ritual completed.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2018, 09:42:51 AM by ryanmcgowan »
It's the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears.

Offline dinogenetics

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2018, 09:53:43 PM »
My first entry!

The Brass Machine

1499 words

Twitter: @isaacgrisham

Spoiler for Hiden:
I am not the only traveler. The most prolific, certainly. At least in my universe.

Being a traveler is lonely. Two, maybe three individuals are sent out on any given mission. Usually, it is just one weathered explorer like myself. The energy it takes to propel someone into another existence is incredible, and to send more than necessary would be to tap into the precious resources our world cannot afford to lose.

Not that it matters anymore.

“You ready, Richard?” comes a weary voice from my earpiece.

I step onto the catapulting platform. It’s not called that. There’s an official name, but it’s boring and forgetful. I’m not a technical man. Just a traveler. “Aye, I’m ready.”

“Your team?”

The platform has been modified to accommodate the group and their equipment. Nearly a hundred people, by far the most to utilize the brass machine to enter another universe. This would not be a lonely mission for me, though the world we were leaving soon would be.

Earth was dying, and with the energy required to send us, it would soon be a barren wasteland.

“Aye,” I say, though I haven’t given the team another glance. Donned in black armor and with weapons close at hand, they better be ready. There could be a battle at the other end of this journey.

“We are initiating the startup sequence for the silver machine.”

I chuckle to myself, but it is humorless. Looking up, I can see the inner bowels of the silver machine: great metallic piping running into and out of each wall. Some run into mechanical boxes, others into larger pipes. It looks a convoluted mess, something only an engineer could understand. It exists only to assist in the movement between worlds when travelers reach for the brass machine. Only the hubris of man would name their own shallow imitation after a precious metal.

As if anything could be more valuable. Everything was the brass machine.

Even before the world was recognized to be dying, devastated by our own disrespect and ignorance, people realized the existence of the brass machine. Religious types were the first, claiming they had encountered their god and—for the briefest moment—had been endowed with an understanding of everything. Drug users, especially those taking LSD, reported an ability to brush aside the curtain of reality to see what lay underneath. They drew incredible insights, but those perceptions often led them into fits of despair.

Religious experiences were explained by brain chemicals and drug users were, well, drug users. Being such, they were considered a less credible source than the spiritual. It wasn’t until others—stable, atheistic, clean people—began to report similar experiences that anyone took serious interest.

Sounds of turning gears and rushing, heated air reaches my ears, and I know the silver machine is almost ready. It is quieter than its counterpart. To be fair, it doesn’t have nearly as much to do. I begin to ready myself, tapping into my emotions.

Once the brass machine was acknowledged, scientists and governments hurriedly recruited those who could tap into it. Much like the space race or the pursuit of nuclear supremacy, it was thought that whoever uncovered the secrets of our universe would be in a position of power. I submitted my own application after my initial experience, which occurred one day while I was driving home from work. I was upset—my boyfriend had left me quite two weeks beforehand—and my mind was in turmoil. Speeding along as I held back sobs, the area in front of my vehicle suddenly rippled and shimmered. I thought at first my eyes were filled with tears, but after wiping them dry, I saw it… the brass machine.

It looks like the silver machine. It has winding pipes, gauges, and levers. No walls contain them, though, but mountains of steam obscure just how immense the apparatus is. It’s noisy, too, clanking and banging in such a fashion that you would think it broken. It’s not, though. It’s in perfect condition. Anyone who lays eyes on it knows this because as soon as they do, they understand absolutely everything there is to know. At least until the connection is broken and the machine disappears from view. Once it’s gone, all that knowledge begins to seep away like a hazy dream.

Those precious moments before all is forgotten has given way to some of humankind’s most magnificent discoveries. Two of these were the existence of other universes and the means to travel to them. At first, there was little practical application to traveling, but then it was determined that no amount of knowledge was going to divert Earth’s doomed destiny.

A plan was hatched to save our species. We would send a small group to a world in another universe. The idea had its caveats: a larger group of people required more energy, and the number of places I would be able to reach was limited. Trying to fit so many through the cracks of the universe was like trying to fit a large square block through a small circular hole. The cracks that were large enough, or the pipes of the brass machine that could accommodate us, only led to worlds already inhabited. The natives might not be welcoming.

Hence the armor and weaponry.

“Richard!” comes the voice in my earpiece. She sounds exasperated. I would be too if I were about to die. “Do you copy?”

“Aye, I copy,” I respond, letting an apologetic tone creep into my voice. It’s the least I can do.

“The silver machine is operational. You are cleared to jump.”

Staring down at the grating of the catapulting platform, I let down the mental walls that hold back overbearing emotions and memories. Like a river overrunning a dam, I am immediately crushed under the weight. My world was dying. Everything and everyone I ever cared about would soon be burning. Proof of humankind’s history and achievements will disappear. It was now my responsibility to save the species, and that should have been enough to make anyone cry out in distress.

The air ripples in front of me like a curtain in an open window, and I reach out and push it aside. The brass machine is revealed amid mounds of mist, clanking away at a furious pace. Upon seeing it, I understand everything.

“Earth has been dead a long time,” I say. There’s a response in my earpiece, but I’m no longer listening. My mind expands, looking for our destination. I see it just steps away, an orange world full of violent creatures, and I slip away from my universe. With the aid of the silver machine, I drag another hundred souls with me. We are in the space between everything, surrounded by the giant mechanism that birthed us. This close, I feel its thrumming course violently through my body. Its noises thrash against my ears.

I gently guide us through, reaching out again to brush aside another curtain. We’ll be able to step foot on our new home in a—

With a sudden earsplitting screech and eruption of hot steam, the brass machine rotates and bends, turning toward me. The sight is disorienting, like watching something precariously bulky move with deft and grace.

The urge to vomit overwhelms me, and my heart feels as though it has torn free of my arteries and dropped straight into my stomach. My mouth drops open and I scream. The shrieks meld with all of the others’ as we collectively realize that the brass machine is alive. The whole multiverse was a living entity. It was a god—the god—and we were in its alien, spiderlike sight.

No one should ever desire to be the sole focus of a god.

One of its metallic tendrils breaks free from its fastenings and careens towards us. What had appeared to be an insignificant pipe turns out to be hundreds of feet in diameter. The interior looks impossibly black, and there’s a sucking sound as it draws in air.

We fall to our knees in terror as it hovers above us like a UFO, unsure what its intentions are. They can’t be good, because it begins to lower itself upon us, enveloping us within its dark interior. We are soon blind, and its suction of air makes it hard to breath and hear. I know I am on the verge of passing out from either fright or a lack of oxygen when—

—we find ourselves standing in a hilly green meadow. There’s no sign of the machine. Just stretches of untouched forests and grasslands under a sunny sky. I hear the unmistakable chirping of insects, and I see several foxlike creatures leap away from us.

As my heartrate returns to normal, I know this virgin land will become our new home. It will give humankind a second chance. This was it, for I was never going to travel again. It was what the brass machine wanted.

Offline MattWillis

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2018, 12:19:22 AM »

Spoiler for Hiden:

Pilot Officer Emrah Yilmaz banked his F-16 gently and began to circle. The jet hung silent, cold sun glittering off the wings as the angle shifted. At 10,000 metres the sky was a deep blue pool and the earth below beginning to fade into white. It would be a beautiful day down there. For some.

“Bazuk three,” the controller fizzed through his headphones, “you are cleared for ingress to the target area for CAS, route package six, vector one-seven-five, angels ten.”

“Roger,” Emrah acknowledged and pointed the jet’s nose South, sparing a glance over his shoulder to check his wingman was in station, and advanced the throttle to high cruise.

The rucks of the Jabal al-Akrud highland loomed out of the haze ahead. Visibility wasn’t perfect, Emrah noted, but easily good enough not to interfere with targeting of the laser-guided bomb hanging, menacingly snub, on his starboard wing pylon. He wrinkled his nose under his oxygen mask. Terrorist scum. Two years ago one of them had shot down his old instructor with an American-supplied missile. So much for NATO allies.

Well he’d get them back today.

The two jets swimming below the ink-dark sky crossed the Syrian border with nothing to acknowledge it save a thicker line on the moving map display. Borders up here seemed ridiculous. Whatever, they were now over Afrin. Kurdish territory. For now.

The target was a Kurdish stronghold nestling in a fold of the crinkle of mountain. From the air it looked like any village might, just a cluster of buildings, but it had kept the advance pinned down for days. The Olive Branch taskforce had apparently taken it twice, only to be pushed out again hours later. But it commanded the pass, there was no other obvious way through. So now it was a job for the Air Force. All the terrorists had to do was move away from the border, but if they insisted on fighting over every square metre, Emrah was happy to oblige them with five hundred pounds of laser-guided high explosive.

He acquired the target - just a tiny dark stain on the endless creased brown rock from this altitude, surrounded by craters, overflew it to double check, then set up the attack profile downwind. Rolling inverted, the whole of Afrin spread above him like a relief map, Emrah pulled the nose down and rolled wings-level again, now pointing at the target and barrelling downhill. One eye on Mach number, another on ground speed, then engage the Litening pod. An invisible laser flicked out and painted the target, measuring the range as it spun down. A ping in Emrah’s ear told him the bomb’s seeker head had picked up the marker. He hit the trigger, and his heart swooped in his chest as the thunk of release, the sudden lightening of the aircraft rippled through his hands and feet. “Bomb gone,” he said, and pulled the F-16 onto the escape profile, knowing that the bomb was scything down, uncanny, irresistible. The people down there probably didn’t even know it was coming. Shame.

A crane of the neck, the final few seconds ticking down and...there! A puff of smoke, then a secondary puff overwhelming the first.

“Direct hit Bazuk three,” his wingman reported.

“Roger. Tell the tanks they’re free to move in,” he told the controller and steered for home.


“That’s impossible,” Emrah breathed, as the Intelligence Officer flicked through the reconnaissance photos again. The stronghold was still there. Seemingly untouched. Surrounded by craters, but the jumble of buildings was exactly as it had been. “We hit it. We saw it go up.” He looked at Mehmud, Bazuk four on this morning’s mission, who just shrugged.

“The footage from your Litening pod seemed to bear that out,” the IO said. “However, I can confirm the site is still intact and defensible, and so can the tank crews that got the crap kicked out of them this afternoon.”

Emrah grimaced. “How bad?”

“Only one tank lost. One of those YPJ harpies threw herself under the track and detonated a grenade. But it blocked the others and they were pinned down by rocket-propelled grenades until they retreated.”

Emrah cursed extravagantly. “We’ll have to try again.”

The next day conditions were still good, and the squadron received approval for a second strike. Emrah had racked his brains with Mehmud over what might have gone wrong, but neither of them could fathom it. The bomb had not missed. It had not failed to detonate. Maybe what looked like houses were actually hardened shelters.

Another direct hit. This time Emrah stayed on station until the dust cleared away, even coming down to six thousand metres where a lucky shot from a handheld missile might put him at risk. But no. As the black-brown bloom roiled away, he saw shattered walls, roofs blown off, a large crater in the middle of it all. Job done.

Until the reconnaissance photos came back again. “They must have got the wrong pictures! Mixed them up with yesterday’s!” Emrah protested, at the sight of the pristine settlement.

“These were taken an hour-and-a-half ago,” the IO sighed. “The infantry company that went in to take the site was mown down. A single machine gun position kept them held there, they destroyed it, but came under mortar fire and had to pull back.”

Emrah wasn’t even on duty the next day but pulled strings and changed the rotas. He threw his weight about with the mission planners and got them to authorise a bigger bomb. He’d blow that damn site to atoms this time.

“Wind shear too high for operating limits at this altitude,” Bazuk four reported when they were over the target.

Damn! That normally meant an abort. “We go lower,” Emrah ordered. “Five-thousand metre release.”

“That’s in Blowpipe range.”

“I’m going in anyway.”

“It’s your funeral.”

Emrah rolled level as before, the mountains noticeably closer, the individual buildings distinguishable. Just as he pressed the release, a warning shrilled in his ear.

“Missile lock, break, break!” Mehmud yelled but Emrah held on. Can’t break the laser designation, not now! The bomb hit at the same time as the missile detonated under his wing. He yanked the eject handle and felt a violent shove, a desperate gyration, a roar of wind, and then a blow as if his whole body had been punched and then nothing.


“That was an expensive plane you just broke for our little village.” Accented Arabic. No.

Emrah opened his eyes and then closed them tight shut at the riptide of pain.

“What did you hit us with this time? Two thousand pounder?”

“Fifteen hundred,” Emrah croaked, venturing to open his eyes again.

The speaker was a woman. Typical YPJ harpy with her dark hair, dark eyes, dark green military fatigues. “It took three of us to put it back this time,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“You blow up our village. We put it back. But not all of us get to enjoy it. Three died today.”

Emrah opened his eyes fully. It was true. It was just a village. He was lying in the shade of a house - just a simple house - his parachute bundled neatly beside him.

“This isn’t the place I bombed.” He shook his head, then almost vomited with the pain flaring in his skull. “Where did you take me?”

“It’s the place you bombed. A little over two hours ago,” the woman said. “We call it Öcalan, not that I suppose you care.”

Emrah propped himself up. The topography certainly looked right. He checked the neighbouring peaks, which he knew like the back of his hand by now. Even the layout of the buildings. It couldn’t be!


She shrugged. “Destruction. Sacrifice. Rebirth. Since the first time this village was destroyed...oh, back in the Ottoman days... Every time since. Someone chooses to give their life. Maybe more than one. And everything else. Everyone else. Is restored.

“That’s not possible.” This was some Kurdish trick. Or maybe he was hallucinating. Yes, the shock of the ejection. Maybe he wasn’t even conscious and this was a nightmare.
A sound of laughter, shouts. A gaggle of figures rushed by in a blur of colour.
“There are children here?” Emrah rasped. Oh god, they’d had him bombing children? This was supposed to be a military target!
“It’s their home too,” the woman shrugged.

Just then, intruding on his private horror, a whistling sound that descended into a shriek and then the earth seemed to jump beneath him, the air roared in his ears. He clambered to his feet.

The Kurdish woman grabbed him by the elbow. “They’ve brought the artillery up. Come on. You’ll get to see how it works. Maybe you’ll feel what it’s like to be killed and brought back.” She levelled her black eyes at him. “I wonder if it works with Turks?”

Another shell pounded into the village as Emrah staggered towards the front line.

1497 words including title

« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 04:06:25 PM by MattWillis »

Offline Nora

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Re: [Jan 2018] - Rebirth/Renewal - Submission Thread
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2018, 06:01:31 PM »
Back to the last minute train, first class ticket please!

Here comes The Witch's Son, around 1500 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

The Witch's Son

In the small but cosmopolitan city of Avon, there is an apartment building whose top floor flat is so filled with greenery, its balconies and roof so lush with plant-life, it would have made a Babylonian king feel at home. In the middle of this potted jungle stands a young man, broad of shoulders but with the slender build of a scholar. He leans on the railing, watching the sky bleed through the hues of evening. His dark hair catches in the breeze and dances with the ferns, making him quite the brooding picture.

His name is Lionel Delavine, the only son of the famous French witch Ayla Delavine, and in his hands rests a little corpse. To untrained eyes it would look like the nightmare child of a dragonfly and a praying mantis. To knowing ones, it is an ephemeral construct, created by an elemental or a witch. This one was made by Lionel's younger sister, when last she passed through Avon, but powered by his own magic.
It has come home to die, and tell its maker tales of this day: heroics and close calls with death, and the more mundane minutes of travels on the winds and the sights of the city. It was its entire life story: born in the morning, it returned animated by the last bursts of its fugacious life.

Lionel puts the little creature down in its usual pot, and seals it for the night. His phone buzzes in his pocket, but he lets it go to voicemail, his thoughts too deeply entrenched in the maze of theoretical magic to escape quite yet. The ephemeral reported something unexpected this evening: it had expressed a sense of loneliness during some hours of its day, and a feeling of familiarity with that emotion, like it was nothing new.
Of course it wasn't. Lionel's magic ensured the Ephemeral was reborn each morning at dawn, and it had gone about its business unknowing it had been doing so for the past fortnight. That vague awareness breaking the boundaries of its natural death is not completely unexpected. The whole thing is, after all, an experiment. It has simply gone somewhere Lionel could probably not puzzle out on his own.

He is but a witch's son, gifted at birth with a single Talent, and unable to learn and acquire more, unlike his sisters. Learning the theory behind a magic one cannot practice is a lot like learning mountaineering whilst living on an atoll. Not entirely impossible, but close.
Lionel's pocket buzzes again, and he whips it out to find a missed call and a text, from Sandra, saying 'They're here, meet me at the Corner'.

He sighs, pleased at the prospect of a simple night's work.


The Corner is the supernatural community's watering hole in Avon, and inn for those passing through. It is also where the humans in the know come to rub elbows and search for deals and contracts. It is always a busy place and tonight is no exception.
When Lionel pushes the door and people turn to take the newcomer in, the din of conversation dies, breath is held, heads nodded, and signs of respect waved. Some tense, others relax.
The one thing humans of our age get wrong in their stories is that the apex predators are not the mythical vampires or werewolves, but witches. Lionel may only be a witch's son, but the second rung on the ladder of power isn't a meagre birthright.

He makes his way through the room, scanning for strangers through the crowd. There is a biker in rotting denims at the bar, a large finger buried so far up his nose there must be a gold nugget in there. Three men are huddled over their beers on a table by the jukebox. A red-haired woman is wolfing down a super-sized fish and chips in a booth.

"Here!" A woman with green hair waves from the adjoining booth.

"Evening, Sandra."

"Glad you could make it," she says, looking all business.

Sandra is an elemental, owner of a shop where she applies her single power–to make living things grow faster–to great commercial success. Most of Lionel's plants come from her nurseries. She also grows people's hair and nails, and employs two rather sanguine humans, Chen and Charlie, to work their art on those customers.

"I always have time for policing. So, where are they?"

Sandra tips her head, her full, richly coloured mane cascading over her shoulders, but her golden eyes never leave his.

"The blokes at that table."

"I guessed as much."

"They came back into the shop today," she murmurs, "gave Chen a scare. Ranted about taking over, me owing them protection now."

"Don't they always?" Lionel sighs, leaning over the table, reaching for his friend's shoulder. "Thanks. I'm sorry they targeted you first. I'll take care of it."

"Tonight? 'Cause now that they've seen us together..."

"Oh yes," he says, getting up, "I'll deal with them right now."

Sandra makes to speak, but Lionel has already turned away. For a moment he faces the men glowering at him over empty glasses, then he leaves.
Outside the air is crisp now that the evening has succumbed to the night. The Corner is out of the way, close to the canal that winds its lazy way through the town towards the factories. Lionel picks up the pace. There is laughter behind him, shouts and heckles. They're following alright.
He veers back into the town, through an empty business district, between large towers whose minimalist entrance halls are left lit and vacant, forlorn like some corporate purgatory.

"Hey, you in a hurry?"

"Yeah man, come over here!"

The men are all bluster now that they've caught up with Lionel in a deserted area. They fan out around him, and he takes a closer look at them.

"What can I do for you chaps?"

"For us?" the tallest asks, rolling his biceps under his shirt.

"You can leave the city without a fight," the calmest of them says.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible. Avon's my home and under my protection."

The last, a lanky blond youth, explodes in a hysterical laugher.

"Your protection mate?" he barks, "what's that worth? You're just a stupid magus. We're gonna eat ya up."

"Chill. We can probably talk this out," the calm one says.

The leader, then. Lionel watches them pace around him. There is an order, a harmony to their work of intimidation.

"What kind of shifters are you?" He asks.

Blondie flinches at his guess but the leader answers obligingly.


Lionel smiles in disbelief. Do they really think that three dingoes could face him and win?

"You know, you'd be more than welcome in the community. We don't have to do this."

"But we do!" The leader says. "Why shouldn't we, when this city is ripe for the taking? We couldn't believe that no one's tried, even though it's only got you for protection."

"Don't you think that's what deters wannabe overtakers?"

"What? You may be the son of that Ayla witch, but word is you're always locked up in that tower of your, trimming your bushes. I reckon we'll take a shot at it, ay?"

"After all we've got good arguments," the tall one adds, pulling out a gun. The others follow suit.

That, Lionel decides, explains their reckless optimism.

"Alright then," he says, "let's do this." And he steps towards the twitchy blond youth.

The shot makes a bright flash with a ridiculously tiny noise.
Silencing seals? Expensive guns, Lionel thinks as his body crashes to the floor.

"Wow, that easy?" Tall one asks, surprised.

"Not really," Lionel answers, lifting his head.

The man yelps, startled, and shoots him twice more. Blood pools around him, but Lionel laughs.
The men's panicked eyes roll, flashing white like the muzzles of their guns. Bullets rip through him and splash in the ever widening flow of his blood, a garish red under the electric lights.

When it has sipped far under their feet, Lionel dies, and takes them all with him.


"You okay mate?"

Lionel accepts the dingoes' leader's proffered hand.

"What a headache," blondie moans.

"Sure is."

"What the hell happened?"

Lionel looks at the bewildered men nursing throbbing temples.

"Don't you remember?" He asks them. "You came to me to ask me for straight work and protection in Avon. I'm taking you to Vendict's construction site. He'll have bed and board for you there too."

"Really?" Blondie beams. The tall man laughs.

"Well, you paid with those guns after all, it'll help settle you down. As I said, he's a fox shifter, you'll get right along."

The leader's feature soften, anxiety lifting its heavy grip.

"After so long on the road, and nowhere to call home... Thank you."

"It's alright," Lionel says, smiling back at them. "Welcome to Avon. Now let's hurry, I've got to get home before dawn breaks."

« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 07:46:50 PM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty