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Author Topic: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread  (Read 1586 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« on: January 01, 2019, 10:35:38 PM »
Air


Diving Suit by SolFar

We had Fire and Water already, so here's another element. It's easy to see the power in those two elements. Air is more subtle and most of the time you don't think about it. A bit like your heart. It's seldom on your mind as long as it works as it should...

This prompt is open to fantasy and science fictional stories.


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Air has to play an important role in your story.
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 January 31st/February 1st, 2019 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 Cell18

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2019, 05:01:49 PM »
First this month.

Title: The Sultan's Favours
Words:1486

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Sultan of Suraha was a man who had everything that anyone could ever dream of having.  In fact, one could go as far to say that he had items that not even the most wild imaginations could have ever summoned.  A statue of an elephant that could produce all manner of drinks from its trunk just by reading thoughts and a golden letter opener that one could not be lifted unless a letter bearing good news was near are just two examples of some of the items.  Both  gifts from the mages of Mulaham far to the east of Suraha.

The Sultan demanded favours, and being extravagant, the more unimaginable the favour the more he adored it.  With the Sultan being the most powerful man on the Earth, it paid to be generous to him.  After all, the alternative was certain death for the bearer if the Sultan was mildly displeased or a curse on the people and crops of the land of the bearer if he was greatly displeased.  However, the most powerful and most feared punishment of all was complete ignorance from the Sultan to the bearer.

Every year the lesser nobles would send their favours in hope that it would buy them one more year of appeasement from the Sultan.  As you can imagine, each year the favours got more lavish and more creative as each noble searched for the one item that the Sultan did not yet own.
 
So our story takes a journey to the far, far south of Suraha were the climate is much colder and the summers much shorter.  The kingdom of Ickall, a population of twenty ruled over by King Frysa had to send their courier a full eight moons to reach the sunnier climes of Suraha and the time for departure was approaching.

King Frysa had thought his favour last year was ignored. No mage sent a black owl to indicate the Sultan was displeased, yet no white owl indicating thanks was seen.  He had thought last year his item of a plant that would only grow four days a year was ignored yet with some relief a full six moons after the favour day had passed the white owl came.  He and his people were free.  This year he would need to be more careful and more thoughtful.  However, his courier Luft was readying to go.

The day before his departure, Luft requested and was granted an audience with his king.  Frysa was a generous man with his time and could afford to be welcoming to his people when the population was so small.  Luft dressed in heavy furs, carrying his ice axe entered the Kings meeting chambers.
“My king, I apologise for my brashness but you have not yet described what I will be carrying to the Sultan.  I need to decide what I will need to carry it”

“I have known a my favour for quite some time, yet I was waiting to see if any other idea came to me” replied Frysa

“Then king, I assume no other idea has presented itself?” Luft was disheartened, never had Frysa left it this long before.  The only reason could be he was not confident in his favour.

“Take this sealed letter which must remain sealed, as ever, until it crosses the Sultan’s hand.  These are instructions for you to follow at the destinations on your journey” Frysa handed both to Luft who stored them safely in his pouch.

“And take this bag.” As he handed the bag to Luft he noticed the familiar clinking of glass bottles.  Luft peered inside and picked up one which read Halestryk.  This was a hamlet town five days from Saraha.  “As you can see the bottles are labelled and the instructions are clear.”

And so Luft travelled his yearly journey to meet the Sultan.  At each location as the letter demanded he opened up the correct bottle for exactly two minutes and put it back in the bag.  In the forest of Dypan, a hundred midges entered the bottle and for a moment, Luft was unsure what to do.  After consulting for a time, he decided that trying to find an area of the forest where there were no midges would be impossible and so he fastened the bottle and put it in the bag.

He opened bottles in the hard, punishing deserts of the Mirahal land and in the middle of the Serpent Sea.  He opened bottles at the highest and lowest points of the valleys of Walya. He opened bottles in the crush of the market at Amstaf and the lull of the village of Boona.  Some of the bottles he had used were clear, others had gathered mud, sand, water or small creatures.  The temptation was there to open them and make them all look the same, but then he thought the will of Frysa would be disobeyed.

Of all the bottles he had filled, his favourite was the bottle labelled Edgata.  Edgata was the land where the bones of the Grand Mages were buried centuries before.  While not sacred land, it was believed to be bad luck and cursed if one desecrated the land or used the land to sleep.  Stories were of people waking up paralysed if they slept on the land on purpose or otherwise. Luft founds that the bottle he opened would glow a brilliant green after the sun set. After this, a rainbow of all the colours would form in the bottle.  Out on the lonely plains Luft would stare at this bottle for hours.

Frysa arrived at the Sultan’s Palace on the day of the eighth moon change after starting his journey. The lavish room was lined with the favoured items lined the room, the most adored within the Sultan’s reach. Luft walked past a bird that immediately called his name, land and birthstone.  It seemed that the Mages had produced another excellent favour.  Luft handed his bag to the Sultan, the Edgata bottle tucked below the others.  The Sultan opened it and took out a bottle with each hand.  The confusion upon his face turned to anger.
“Empty bottle? What use of I for empty bottled” he took a closer look at the bottle in his right “Not just empty bottles, but bottles that are dirty, bottles that…..have dead insects.  Explain yourself”

Luft handed the Sultan the sealed letter that Frysa has given him.  Instinctively the Sultan reached for his letter opener.  The court around him watched eagerly, waiting to see if it was good news for the Sultan.  Luft kept his breath steady though his heart beat hard and fast.

The letter opener allowed itself to be picked up and was greeted by an audible gasp.  It was the first time in a long time the opener had done this.  The Sultan opened the letter and read aloud.

“Sultan, I would guess right now you are disappointed, confused but mostly angered at what you have received.  It is true that you have no use for empty bottles, and they are not lavish enough, as you deserve.  So why send you these?

“Each bottle has a label.  If my man has done his work, the bottles have the air of all the places he has visited.  His journey is you have never made and will have no need to make.  This is my favour to you, the world as Luft knows it.  In these bottles stands a period of history that is now yours to own. I cannot think of a favour more lavish than a moment of history and time itself…..but when it is a moment in time of a number of far away places, that is even better.  The history and moment caught in the air that my man stood in!

The Sultan put the letter down.  The smile upon his face could not be hidden.  “When you return, tell Frysa his favour is well appreciated.  His generosity will be returned soon” The crowd was stunned silence from the Sultan’s words.  Never before had he promised to reciprocate a gift.

“You may not know this Luft, but in an ancient land that the sea has now captured, your name is Air.  Frysa has delivered me air by Air.”

The Sultan did give a favour back to Frysa.  It was the greatest he could have received for his people.  It was a note delivered by the most wonderful golden owl ever seen.  On it was written a note:

“You have given me the favour of air.  You have given me the favour of travel, of the feeling of what it means to be free of Sultan.  Your air has bought you your people’s freedom from sending yearly favours” 

From then on, the Sultan demanded air from all, so that he could gain his freedom of his walls and each bearer could gain their freedom of favouring him.

Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2019, 06:17:09 AM »
Bad Air

1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The toxic air hung thicker over the fields outside Brakken-Upon-Eastflow. So bad you could taste it. Even the foulest of bubbling springs hadn’t so offended my nostrils. The foliage wilted the closer we got to the goblin hole. Whatever plagued us, it came from down there.

“You’re sure about this, wizard?” Elfric; one of the four sent with me, a withered little man who made up for his physical shortcomings with a knight’s arrogance.

“Unlike you boys, I haven’t kept my nose buried in those smelling sachets all day. It’s stronger here, mark my words. Now, as we are entering the godsforsaken stink hole – and there is a chance the goblins won’t greet a potential meal with customary graces – you fools had better clench your guts.”

A stillness lay within the gaping burrow that led to the world below. The smooth stone slab that kept them from us stood ominously unguarded and with not a sound from the other side. True, goblins rarely made moves in broad daylight, but to let us get so close so easily was most unusual.

“Lord Wizard…” Milo this time. The boy had only been sent because the other ‘real men’ hadn’t the balls to volunteer themselves. Alas, these were his first words to me.

“Lord Wizard?” I growled. “Firstly, no one says ‘Lord Wizard’. It’d be Lord Lamak if anything. But I’m not a lord. Just, get on with it, boy.”

“Well, Sir.” He grimaced. It was the least I could do to only roll my eyes. “It’s awfully bad here; the smell, I mean. Don’t you think it’d be better if we called for help? A Wind Wizard, perhaps…”

My face hurt. It hurt from a day with these children. The pinching of skin at my brow convinced me it’d stuck that way. “Perhaps you’d like to ride out and find one. You might have luck in a few days. Or perhaps weeks. Even months. An expert in tracking Aeromancers, are you?”

“No, Sir.”

“Adept at traversing the kingdoms?”

“No, Sir.”

“Knowledgeable in the arts and ways of air magic?”

“No, Sir.”

“No. Sir. Well do something you are bloody well good at and get that rock moved! Benny, Freyonor, you too.”

The two of them joined their crushed comrade while Elfric tried to appear useful shouting words of encouragement. I lit a pipe and wondered how man ever surmounted the other Lesser Beings of the Overworld.

The slab merely inched at first, leaving the slightest of gaps to the other side when Benny staggered back, retching.

“Get back at it, man,” I snapped. I regretted it almost immediately. The slab slid across the opening and with it came the foulest burst of air.

I swallowed it. I didn’t mean to. It came so fast and so suddenly, you see. I gasped, and in it went. I tasted it. And I saw the same revulsion in the eyes of the men. Benny was the first to hurl. His breakfast splattered the walls and left steaming chunks of bread balls littering the floor.

“Something’s dead down there,” Freyonor mumbled through his rose sachet.

I dared think he was right.

“We go on,” I said. “They aren’t the most inventive of people’s; we should easily find our way through. Be ready now.”

A silence befell us. A calamity appeared to have struck Eastflow’s goblins. Everywhere the dimly torch lit walls were cracked, the ground pounded and uneven, the ceiling crumbled, and what stone and woodwork existed lay toppled and shattered. And all the while that inhuman stench invaded our senses, growing thicker and thicker with each step.

The unimaginative shaft opened up into the first ‘room’ of the place. A plain box of a chamber, which housed a couple of dusty wooden altars whose contents (a single gold plated goblet and a handful of clay dishes) presently decorated the floor.

Benny motioned us to quiet. He’d seen something.

Benny deserves credit amongst this group, I suppose. It took little to stand out of course; yet he spotted the goblin boy hiding behind the larger of the altars before I did, and in the end that provided some forewarning which may have helped in the long run. Or maybe not. This was hardly the task of the ages. But still, it was something.

The scraggly little thing came out with arms and legs flailing in the clutches of Elfric and Freyonor. Thing barely reached their hips. Dirty as ever a goblin was. Grime creamed his face and fingernails; his arms, legs and belly were smeared with more shades of muck than you’d know existed. Couldn’t deny the terror in his eyes though.

“Put me DOWN!” he shrieked.

I nodded and the men gracelessly dumped the boy on his bottom. They crossed swords as to assert their conquest over the youngling. Men.

“What’s your name, boy?” I asked.

It didn’t seem keen to answer, until Elfric and Freyonor scratched their blades together. Awful sound, that. “Gleb,” the boy said.

“Well, Gleb, I see your home is rather empty. Did the putrid air send them fleeing?”

“What’s pooh-trid?”

I sighed. “Smelly.”

Gleb sniffed himself and frowned. “It might be me.”

“I shouldn’t think so.” I gestured to Elfric, who leaned over the boy and shook his head at me. “What caused all this mess, Gleb?”

The boy’s eyes widened as if remembering a secret long forgotten. “Oh, yeah! That’s why I was hiding! The troll! A troll came.” He made to get up only to be shoved by Freyonor. “We have to leave! He ate the others. He’ll eat us all!”

“Haven’t seen a troll in a while,” Benny grumbled. “They normally don’t come up for years.”

“Not till feeding time,” I said solemnly. “They get their fill, then disappear again. Unfortunate to happen upon a goblin cave after years of hibernation. Unfortunate indeed.”

“Why?” Gleb asked.

“Because, dear boy, goblins are not good for digestion.”

Gleb frowned again. I hadn’t the patience to explain digestion.

We proceeded with utmost caution, dragging Gleb along with us. Trolls usually awoke in forests and gobbled whatever deer or rabbit they could get their hands on. Humans might be simple but they’d avoided building their homes over slumbering trolls. This one had good reason to be angry.

The shaft emptied out on a grand hall (by goblin standards) filled with broken banqueting tables, pummelled pillars, chains and snapped spear shafts. And goblin bones – lots and lots of goblin bones. Amid the carnage mewed the monstrous mountain of flesh that was our troll.

And an air so thick you could chew it. I choked back the bile. My men once more stuffed their faces with their precious rose petals.

There came a tremendous trumping as the bulbous bulk shifted our way.

“Gods!” Freyonor howled. Milo and Benny waivered toward the wall looking somewhat discoloured. Something tugged at my robes: Gleb had found himself a safe space. The ‘taste’ was indescribably bad!

“Urgh!” groaned the troll. “Be gone. Foul small ones.” It itched at the sagging sack of its gelatinous gut. “I’m finished. The little beasts have done for me. Let me die alone and in peace!” Another groan and a belch almost as bad as what came from the other end.

“Oh for all the gods,” I huffed, and inched my way toward the self-pitying brute. “You would lie here moping into oblivion over a little flatulence?”

“There’s nought to be done,” the troll wailed. Its gaping maw was crusted with goblin, yet I’d no time for sentimentalities; Gleb was too dense to understand anyway. I discarded my pipe and raised my staff, which immediately raised alarm in the creature’s eyes.

“You’d kill me, wizard?!” The beast lumbered to its feet, defying gravity. “I’ll smash you all!”

“You bloody well won’t,” I mumbled and let fly a spark of fire.

The shock reduced the troll to its knees. It threw up its trunk-like arms. “No. Please, Great Wizard. I’m but a humble troll. Help me, won’t you!”

“All right already,” I replied. “Men, grab those chains. Yes, that’s right. Now, form a belt around the belly area. The only way we’ll do this is to get it all out of him right here. It won’t be pretty, but what choice do we have?”

Elfric raised an eyebrow. “We could just slay the thing and be done with it.”

“Gods man! Are you some kind of monster? This is a creature of the Greater Beings!” Men!

With a sulk, they wrapped the chain several times while the tamed troll watched for any more magical mischief. When done I ordered the men to pull with all they had.

And the trumpeting of the troll I’d no doubt could be heard at the heart of Brakken-Upon-Eastflow. Within the earth the last blast of rotten air sent poor Gleb tumbling back down the shaft, and ensured the men’s bellies were emptied in time for lunch. We’d only to hope their appetites were up to it too!
« Last Edit: January 31, 2019, 10:45:16 AM by Jake Baelish »
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Offline OnlyOneHighlander

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2019, 09:56:48 AM »
Getting in early this month.

A break in the clouds - 1498

Spoiler for Hiden:

A break in the clouds

Most airships soared. That’s what they were meant to do, cutting through the waves of the Cloud Sea, mist engine lifting them proud, sail and prop powering forward. But Paradise didn’t soar. Not tonight.

Tonight she skulked, masts down, props on half, the thick surface mist slipping across her deck. Tonight she was on dark business and even the red glow of the setting sun on the lapping air couldn’t call the eyes of her crew away from the edifice ahead.

The Overhang had always been a prison. Ever since the city above had existed, since its founding stone and founding crimes, those unlucky enough to do something bad and be caught were taken here to stand on air.

The cages hung on huge chains. Each one big enough to hold thirty souls, a criss-cross of bars for the floor and solid rows and columns for each of the other sides. There were holes, bars rusted away, bent as the cages clanged together in storms, but it didn’t matter. In fact, that was the worst part. In the Overhang, escape was always an option. All you had to do was fall.

‘How do we know which cage?’ Manganese Crabbit scanned the ponderously swaying prison from his place by the wheel. From this distance, in this light, the hunched forms of the prisoners stood out only as black blots, their dangling limbs trailing in the sunset.

‘We look for the shadow still standing.’ Rath eased Paradise’s wheel to starboard, bringing the ship in line with the prison perimeter. Command had fallen to her, not by rank but by experience. The branding on her neck told the story. She’d hung before.

Barn sat with his back against the starboard rail, mist flowing over his legs. The orc unfastened the sight from his thousand-yard musket and held it to his eye. ‘Maybe she’s already jumped,’ he said, trying to find their errant captain in his crosshairs. ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have come. Maybe this,’ he said, moving his gaze to the next creaking cage, ‘was a bad idea.’

‘I’ll remember that optimistic outlook when you get captured, Barn,’ said Mang, not bothering to look back at his shipmate. ‘And I’ll be sure to tell the captain when we find her.’

‘Fair enough,’ said Barn. ‘Bet she agrees with me.’

‘First time for everything,’ replied Mang.

‘And last,’ said Barn. ‘Which do you think this is?’

‘Quiet.’ Rath turned the ship again, following the edge of the Overhang.

‘Why?’ said Barn. ‘Ain’t no guards. Ain’t anybody watching. That’s the thing about inescapable prisons. Makes people lazy.’

‘They are watching,’ said Rath, nodding upwards. Each cage was held on four chains that came together into one. That one led into an opening in the underside of the cliff. Each cage could be raised and lowered on a mechanism hidden above. ‘They watch from above. Anyone gets too close: ffffftt. They let off the brakes.’

Barn and Mang thought about that for a moment. Then they stopped.

‘That’s why we stay at the edge, for now, until we’re sure.’

‘Give me Traitor’s Mile any day,’ said Barn eventually. ‘At least you can see the bottom.’

The wind picked up. A gust catching the tops of the red nimbus waves. The nearest cage groaned as it swung on a pendulum path. It clanged into its neighbour and on the return swing a silhouette bundle rolled through a gap in the bars.

It fell free for a second.

Then the mist swallowed it whole. Not even a ripple.

‘It pays to hold on when you sleep,’ said Rath.

‘Could’ve been dead,’ said Mang.

‘Guess he’ll never know,’ said Barn, gaze frozen on the cage’s creaking swing. The dark figures within, arms wrapped tight round their own prison bars. And in the corner, a familiar shadow. Rath was right: the only one standing. ‘Found her,’ he said, and his mouth went dry.

Rath and Mang didn’t shout or celebrate. Their faces hardened. Their gazes narrowed and hands itched.
‘Is this going to work?’ asked Mang, picking out the unmistakable form of the captain, braced in the corner of the cage.

‘Probably not,’ said Rath.

‘Did I tell you about the dream I had last night?’ Barn asked, as Rath turned the ship towards their hanging captain’s cell.

‘Yes,’ said Rath, her hand reaching for the ballast control lever. ‘But I would have preferred that you hadn’t.’
Barn got to his feet and reattached the sight to his weapon. ‘Me too,’ he said, as the mist rose around him.

When it neared his neck, he stole another look at their captive captain. ‘Do you think she’ll be pleased to see us?’

*

The lamps came on and Captain Tattersail ran. She knew they’d come. Even though she’d expressly told them not too. Even thought it was stupid to put the whole crew at risk, and the ship, just to save her sorry ass. Stupid, that’s what it was.

Gods below she loved stupid people.

She reached the hole in the cage and swung herself onto the outside. The change in weight sent the dangling prison cell swaying. The wind caught the side and the cage began to twist on its chain. Below her, deep in the mist, four dim white blooms of light made a square and, she hoped, a target.

A shout from above made her look up.

Another from below made her look down.

The white blooms rose through the mist. Coming up fast like a breaching sky-whale. Tattersail looked back at the four other unfortunate souls who shared her cage. ‘If any of you fine folk have ever considered finding God,’ she called out, ‘now is a good time for a leap of faith.’ Then she let go of the cage and leapt into the air.

The impact was harder than she anticipated. Much harder. Her body coming down hit the ship coming up and even with the sail stretched out to catch her the air was punched from her lungs. She rolled to the side and fell again, but this time landed on hard deck.

‘We got her!’ Mang’s voice cut through the thumping in her ears and chest.

She looked up. Another ragged bundle hit the sail sheet, then another.

‘We good?’ shouted Rath from the wheel.

‘Ye-’

‘No!’ Tattersail staggered to her feet and grabbed the edge of the sail sheet, holding it ready. ‘There’s one more up there.’

‘Are they coming?’ Mang shouted.

Tattersail looked at her fellow escapees. They exchanged glances. One nodded, one shook.

A huge heavy clunk from above. The shadow of the cage swung across the deck. The prisoners re-evaluated: both shook.

Tattersail cupped her hands and yelled. ‘We’re waiting!’

As the words raced up, a sound raced down. The sound of a running of a chain, faster and faster.

The cage began to fall, down, down, the shadow descending on the deck like a net.

‘No, we’re not,’ said Rath.

Paradise lurched to the right, throwing Tattersail, Mang and the other prisoners across the deck. Rath slammed the engines into flank and spun the wheel. The ship roared into a steep bank, cargo and crew sliding across the deck. Above, the sound of the running, rattling chain stopped.

What followed wasn’t a sound as much as a feeling. Like the moment before a wave breaks, the held breath before a dive. Then a flash of black as the massive metal cage ripped a hole in the mist above and tore through the air Paradise had just vacated.

Rath seized the wheel tight as with a terrible smash the loose end of the chain whipped across the stern rail before being violently yanked over the side and into the abyss below.

They heard it fall for a long time. Not one simple crash but a rolling thunder of shattering bangs and sickening thuds, each one slightly more muffled, slightly further down.

Tattersail got to her feet for the second time. She stalked on shaking legs to the wheel. The railing behind Rath was gone. Torn away by the massive chain. A foot closer and…

‘Rath, whose idea was this rescue?’

‘We took a vote, Captain.’

‘So you all agreed to risk your lives and my ship?’

‘Not all,’ said Rath. ‘Two against one.’

‘I wanted to leave you,’ shouted Barn. He was half over the starboard rail, hand reaching down. He heaved the third prisoner onto the deck and left him to cradle a badly separated shoulder. ‘As per orders of course.’

‘And I wanted to do a swap,’ Mang came to join the others by the wheel, throwing an ‘F-U’ smile at Barn. ‘Him for you.’

The Overhang melted into the gloom. Tattersail looked at the wreck of her ship and the resolve of her crew. It was good to be home.

She walked back to where her former cellmates crouched in a huddle. Reaching out to the nearest one she smiled and said, ‘Welcome to Paradise.’

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Offline idledragon27

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2019, 08:06:26 PM »
Airs Daughter
Words 1479
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Spoiler for Hiden:
“How many times do I have to point out to you that this was a stupid idea,” Wave grumbled as she scanned the cliff face for the next handhold.

“But I've never met a weather witch before,” shouted Sedd as he looked up at Waves legs, spluttering as her boot scrapped grit into his open mouth.

Wave concentrated on finding a better route up the cliff and felt the rope around her middle go slack as Sedd followed.

“Might not be a weather witch,” she muttered sourly.

“What?”

“Might not be a weather witch,” Wave repeated with a grunt as she stretched to the next crack in the rock. “Or a fey, or a malevolent ghost terrorising old friends.”

“Then what!” gasped Sedd.

“A herd of goats; or the wind. It gets gusty up here.”

“But if its that, we won't get paid for our hire.”

Wave paused upon a spur of stone. “That's why I tell you to get the money before we start.”

“That's not fair, what if we fail.”

Wave started up the cliff face, forcing Sedd to scrabble for purchase.

“They can come and retrieve the money from our cold dead hands,” she said, heaving herself upwards. “Whoever taught you life should be fair, I'd string them up and beat them black and blue.”

“What?”

“Nearly there,”

Wave concentrated on the cliff-face, wishing it didn't make her hands itch to transform into talons for a safer on the grip rock or the dizzying need to let wings flap for balance. Wings that Sedd would never know about. She glanced down to check on her partner only to notice the giant dragon-killing sword strapped to his back. It's presence made her shudder; then traitor eyes looked at the ground so very far away and she flushed cold in fear.

“You OK?” shouted Sedd.

“Just wondering how you've made it up this bloody cliff with that monstrosity strapped to your back,” Wave replied. She faced the grey stone in front of her, took a deep breath to keep the dragon down and eyed the cliff for the safe path.

“But we don't know what's up there. How will I kill it if I haven't got my sword?”

“Not everything needs killing, dragon slayer,” Wave breathed as she stretched  for a tricky grip, moving ever upwards.

“What?”

“I can see the top.”

“Good,” said Sedd, “cause climbing this high up is making me want to piss my pants. What about you?”

“If I pissed my pants, you'd know about it before I would.” Wave grinned at the rock face as her left hand reached up to feel grass. She scrambled up on elbow and belly before swinging her legs over, rolling away from the edge with a deep sigh.

“Is it safe?” came Sedds voice from just below the lip of the cliff. Wave twisted onto her side to watch her partner heave himself up. Nothing felt dangerous so she didn't bother looking. Sedd scrambled awkwardly, trying not to impale himself on the massive sword strapped to his back.

“Are you not keeping an eye out?” he gasped.

“On what?” grinned Wave.

“The girl.”

Wave was on her feet in seconds, the climb forgotten as she turned to look at the girl stood on the cliff clearing that she hadn't seen.

“I thought you'd have her all tussled up by now,” said Sedd, clambering to his feet.

“She isn't a threat,” mumbled Wave unhappily.

“But she's up here? All alone?” Sedd pointed out.

“OK,” conceded Wave. “But she's not a threat...”

“Well, what is she?” muttered Sedd into the silence as he watched the girl stumble blindly towards the cliff edge before a boulder rolled towards her, knockingher back to safety before tumbling over the cliff.

“Unusual, I'll give you that,” Wave said.

“What?”

“I don't know.” Wave stepped forward. “You lost?” she barked at the girl.

“Don't frighten her,” Sedd muttered. Wave ignored him.

“What are you doing here?”

“Is there someone there?” the girl asked, stumbling towards them. A boulder rolled in her way, knocking her away from the dangerous edge of the cliff.

“We mean no harm...” Sedd began nervously.

“Girl, what are you?” Wave asked.

“I don't, I don't remember,” the girl sobbed as she sank to the ground, afraid to take another step.

“Here.” Sedd raced to the girls side and laid a comforting arm across the girls shoulders. “We'll help you, Wave knows magic,” he grinned.

“I know about magic,” Wave sighed. “And about dangerous situations you shouldn't race into without knowing more.” But her partner wasn't listening.

“Wave look, she has no eyes, she's totally blind.”

Wave squatted down in front of the girl and looked at her face, at the empty space where eye sockets would normally be. “As blind as the wind,” she agreed.

“A daughter of the Air,” breathed Sedd in delight.

“More like an eddy sprite.” Wave said, looking over the sprites rags. “One who dances above tree branches, not on the edge of cliffs, eh Winds daughter?”

“I was? but one of my sisters stormed me and blew me here, and I don't know where here is...”

“Hush,” Sedd muttered comfortingly. “We'll help you home, won't we Wave?”

Wave sighed as she watched black strands of hair wisp over the wind sprites blank face. “There’ll be an open Tear between there and here that's given our eddy sprite access,” she said. “It can't be far. Sprites like to, haunt a familiar area.”

“Where?” Sedd watched as Wave relaxed a moment, then her face creased up.

“I can guide you back,” she told the sprite. “Can you climb?”

“Its up?” asked Sedd unhappily.

“You can stay here,” Wave said. “It’ll be best if only one of us goes.”

“You can take me home?” breathed the sprite in delight.

“I can.”

“Can you come closer so that I can sense you.”  Wave reluctantly put out a hand towards the sprite so she could know it, and felt a warm caressing breeze tickle over exposed skin, sending shudders up her spine. Wave ached to change shape.

“But you're a...” the sprite began.

“Don't mention it,” hissed Wave. “Just follow. And you stay here Sedd Dragon-Slayer, I won't be long.”

“Ok,” agreed Sedd happily. “You just be careful up that rock-face.”

“How high are we?” quavered the sprite.

“Not far,” Wave lied as she glared angrily at her partner. “Nearly to the tallest tree.” She pinched fingers closed in Sedds direction to shush him.

“I like dancing with the high branches,” the sprite said happily as she followed Wave up the rock-face. “But I far prefer to ring bluebells and rustle through brambles.”

“So a forest eddy then,” Wave muttered as she reached for a secure grip.

“A daughter of Air,” the sprite agreed. “Much like yourself.”

“Don't.”

“Why do you deny your nature,” the sprite said as she breezed up the cliff sending stiff gusts to tug at Waves careful hold.

“Don't.”

“Don't,” mimicked the sprite adding anger to Waves frustrated tone. “Don't deny me, Airs daughter. Your wings have every right to stretch and soar over my breezes.” Cold gusts tore at the cliff, teasing at sore and aching human shoulders. Calling for dragon wings to be freed and cup the air, to caress it with their fragile membranes.

“You don't need my bloody help do you?” Wave snapped.

The breeze built up, into swirling eddies and gusts until an angry gale centred on the woman clinging to the cliff with her fingertips.

“I will not be denied,” screamed Air. “I will not be ignored, no matter what side of the Divide you are on dragon girl. Your soul is as much mine as it is Earths, or Fires.”

“Don't,” begged Wave as she fought to cling on, to stay human, to stay herself. “Don't. Just let me guide you home.”

The storm lessened. “But I’m not allowed to guide you home,” Air breathed into her ear. “I’m not allowed to feel you dance with me, to taste me with your wings, to scratch your belly scales over the edges of my skies.”

“I have my reasons,” gulped Wave, thinking of her partner.

She reached the top of the cliff and clambered over, aware that Air gave her a hand.

Wave stood at the cliff edge watching Air glide upwards.

“You have your reasons,” mimicked Air settling next to Wave as the eddy sprite. “I know you help many fey home, but don't deny who you are skin-changer. You are Dragon.”

“I know,” Wave sighed. “I always know.”

“Then don't deny yourself now.”

Wave stretched out rumbled wings with a happy sigh as Air joyfully filled them. For a breath, she was everything she could be, dragon and a true daughter of the Air, as she shot through the clouds, chasing the breeze.  And Sedd would never know.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2019, 11:54:56 AM by idledragon27 »
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Offline Anonymous

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2019, 08:00:36 PM »
HARBINGER

Spoiler for Hiden:
And from its first breath blew a force in which to deliver untold destruction.
#
The swarm skimmed across the ceaseless cloudtops towards Marum, Heofon's third sky citadel. Upon that flying rock of wasteful splendour stood a maze of artificial cloud weaved with luminous threads that glistened like veins in vaporous flesh. Pale towers reached like pillars of light into the endless blue. Above them stood the ziggurat, its sandstone walls cloaked in sparkling falls, four golden obelisks erected on its corners like spears raised to skewer the sun. And the whole structure was canvassed beneath an iridescent vault of rainbows arching between the obelisk's points and the operations centre on the ziggurat's peak.

A snake fountain in a peripheral court flashed in the swarm's countless hexagonal lenses. They landed with a splash, and when the waters had settled there knelt a human form. Its flesh blistered beneath the unhindered sun, its skin wriggled and buzzed, and the fountain's pearl basin tarnished beneath its knuckles, toes, and knees. Crystal clear water spurting from the snake ornament's mouth flowed over its flaking scalp, dribbled down its cheeks and jowl, and was brown by the time it hit the basin to feed an expanding murky ripple of drowning fleas.

A moment of shocked silence gave way to confused mutterings. The court was packed with people whose hair shone like the stars. Amid a banquet of fruit, ambrosia, and nectar laced in golden cups, some lounged on silk couches beneath ornate pavilions, others sat at moon tables clothed in velvet, but all had paused their festivities to stare at this odd arrival.

A mosquito whizzed by a young boy sitting alone at the fountain's edge. Sludge dragged beneath the being's lumbering steps as it approached him. "Do you need help?" the child asked in all innocence as the shadow overcast his glowing face.

The being shook its head and cupped a hand swollen with pustules around the boy's soft cheek. The boy's angelic skin trembled as a fingernail's needle point pierced below his ear. His bright, sky-blue eyes faded, and he lay down, convulsing in shivers, flesh blotching purple and puce.

The seated bolted to their feet in a hail of screams and threats. A thunderbolt cracked from the palm of one and stung the being's shoulder. Smoking insects erupted from the scorched pit. Another bolt lanced its thigh, disturbing a fresh nest. Civility quickly devolved into frenzied smiting, an all out electrical assault. But from every welt burst new bugs, and soon the whole court was choking in a biting miasma, the panicked forced to dance, scratching and hopping from the infestation in their clothing, hair, and ears. Those who fled for the exits found them barred by walls of flies. Those still with their wits, in a desperate effort to contain the growing swarm, summoned a prison of wind to encase the fountain.

The being's malignant will latched onto their pathetic sorcery and with a deep inhale it drew the gale into the waters. The basin churned in a putrid whirlpool, started rising into a bile tornado, and atop that throne of filth the demon floated, arms outstretched, palms raised upward like a prophet in djinn form. The whirling pillar continued bloating into a tumour set to burst. Some braced on the spot, others dived for cover, and a handful knelt in prayer. The being exhaled, the tumour popped, and none were spared a dousing of foul medicine.

The screams simmered into a dirge of feverish groans. The being stepped out of the fountain, batting not a glance at the lengths of sludge hanging from the tables and pavilions like snot. A choking cough went unacknowledged. The abscesses of grasping hands swaying on the court's defiled paving might have well been weeds. This was nothing to what the closing dark tide in the distant clouds had in store. Alas, they couldn't rise above the clouds.

Picking up a golden fruit, the being held it over the ziggurat--the central nerve that kept this paradise of artificiality aloof. The fruit's flesh shrunk, going brown and pimply before the birth of maggots spilled its juices to the floor. Its mission was clear. "Thy will be done," it rasped, phlegmy and cracked.

The being approached a cloud tunnel and its flesh thinned and became one with the vapours. Like a virus it invaded the infrastructure of silver threads that netted across the floating city. The smudge that dirtied the clouds painting the walls on its passing went unnoticed by those wandering the bleached streets. Those who idly witnessed the phenomena from windows across the way either drew the blinds or turned aside.

The golden gates that set the ziggurat's boundaries for men were of no consequence. In apple orchards beyond, alabaster statues of winged beings smiled blissfully as a withered streak reached across the greens to a golden obelisk, as a strand of ivy coiling up its shaft began to shrivel. The rainbow at the obelisk's peak flickered, transmitting the infection on toward the temple, and data streaming through that conduit of light crackled on the being's senses:

"Blackouts spreading across Aerox"--"Anomalous weather front coming in from Mer"--"We've lost contact with"--"All hell's breaking"--"Emergency. I repeat, outpost seven-eight-two is under"--"The shadows are coming alive!"

From above, the complex buildings atop the ziggurat's peak looked like hieroglyphs. As the corruption transferred into one, a network of information presented itself to analyse, and in fractions of a second the ziggurat's internal layout was exposed. The virus condensed into the ventilation, and fans hastened the vile fumes' flight into the control room. That expansive tan dome antechamber was lined with blinking consoles, their operators donned in light apparel symbolic of their comfort within this hallowed sanctuary. One was seated beneath the compromised vent, oblivious to the noxious gas descending on her. When her coughs escalated to chokes she rose to leave, only to go crashing to the amber floor, eyes weeping blood.

The confused babble throughout the chamber turned to horrified gasps as the gas hatched into the swarm which congealed back into human form. One charged to restrain the intruder, but the moment his hand made contact he collapsed into a ball, his limbs contorting into knots from crippling rheumatism.

Shouts from fear and anger rose, arms extended, and wings shimmered above every shoulder as the room conjured a transparent wall of electricity to contain the threat. The being walked straight into it, haemorrhaging mosquitoes that sparked an ashen rainfall. Every face strained to maintain the containment field against the intensifying swarm. They succeeded, and finally the intruder dropped into a convulsing smoke of insects.

"Cease!"

The electricity dispersed and the being lay still, but inside it twitched, mutating, awaiting the opportunity for relapse.

"Are they dead?" asked one.

Only dormant.

"What is it?" another.

One of the Four. The Breath of Despair.

"What do we do now?" a third.

Die.

The body sneezed and the room lurched. Attentions remained glued on the smouldering husk, not the invisible death rising to the domed ceiling etched with constellations, upon which every star had been accounted for, the lights of the universe, but the darkness between them went forgotten, ignored. Not for much longer.

The ceiling blackened as the gaseous blight spread over it. Too late came the first warning, when a twister of tuberculosis was already circulating around the chamber, and everybody touched was reduced to a quivering mass drowning on their own juices.

As the toxic wind died down, one grainy gasp rose above all others. A console beeped as a resilient technician made a dire effort to send an S.O.S. The approaching scrape of toenails went unnoticed behind his feverish mutterings. The touch of a spoiled finger against the back of his skull didn't, and once the needle nail pierced his scalp, drilling dementia through the lucid thoughts beyond, his eyes glassed over and he clambered down off his seat and crawled away, dribbling and dazed.

Outside, panic took to Marum's once serene streets as the the island citadel began descending from its heavenly perch. Its brain dissolved, its operators in decay, its connections severed, the floating rock was but a tooth falling from a gum of cloud. And awaiting below, the shadows bristled like a plague of hungry rats.

As darkness drowned the city, the silence of deep space fell across it, the inhabitants paralysed with horror for the measles erupting across the black tide converging toward them on every side. But some turned their terror inward to that which stood atop the ziggurat's muddied waterfall, the harbinger of the coming apocalypse, arms raised in welcome to the legion of nightmares about to crash into their paradise.
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Offline Jenny HJ

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2019, 09:37:26 AM »
The Teller's Last Tale.

1494 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The darkness engulfed Skitter sending a shiver of apprehension through his spine. He straightened his front legs and raised his eyes skyward. From horizon to horizon, spacecraft filled the sky, and overhead was the biggest spaceship he had ever seen. The normally yellow light of the Selninic Sun passing through the rich sulphur atmosphere was invisible to him. The world was dimmed and his beautiful land’s glorious colours were no longer shining. He opened his mandibles and took a deep breath of the heavy, richness that filled his thorax with the taste of freshness and freedom.

A clacking sound approached from behind, and without turning, Skitter knew it would be Skuttle, his 7 legs sounding out his own personal rhythm. “The warnings were true after all”

Skitter relaxed his forelimbs and turned to his friend, his own legs dancing in perfect timing as he pivoted on the spot. “It seems so, the Aracnae on Sorus did try to warn the Council here.”

“You could warn that old spinnerbutt as many times as you want- he still thinks he is invincible,” sighed Skuttle.

Skitter spun around, “Don’t talk like that! You know to criticise is punishable by death.”

“And we have so much time left to live?” Skuttle gestured towards the huge ship and its companions. “Should we get help? Inform the council?”

Skitter sighed, “If they are as blind to a huge mother-ship, as their own follies, we are in trouble” He looked around, from out of other tunnels in the surface Aracnae crawled, their many eyes wide with fear. He looked up again. If the content of the final message from Sorus was true, then death and destruction were imminent.

Moments passed and the two friends continued to look above them, but still nothing happened, the ships hung in the sky, ominously waiting.
?Strange markings adorned the length of the ship. A line of swirls and squiggles, it must be a language of sorts, but not one of his experience. As he continued to watch, he finally heard the alarm sound from the tower mound. Around him curiosity turned to panic. Aracnae fleeing back down their holes in all directions.

“Will you leave?” Skuttle asked? “After all, it’s no good being a teller of tales if you have no audience!”

Skitter shook his many-eyed head. “And if any survive, who will tell them of the day we beat the visitors away?”

“Then I wish you luck - but please, at least watch from somewhere safer, or we’ll have no tale. Wether we are winners or losers,”

“I’ll head for the outcrop cave,” Skitter said - gesturing at the tall tower of rocks behind them.

Aracnea scattered at speed around him as he walked. He didn’t glance back, and he didn’t look up. Calm and fast. That was always his way. After all you can’t notice details if you panic. Skitter clambered over the uneven rocks. As he reached the cave he realised that although it would be possible to make the climb, it would much be faster to haul himself up.
Skitter turned around and raising the back of his abdomen skyward, he shot a jet of silk from his spinnerets. It stuck to the cave roof and using it as a rope, he hauled his bulk up. Safely hidden away from view he took in the landscape with hungry eyes. From up here some of the light was still filtering through illuminating the blue trees, yellow sky and hundreds of holes that represented his home colony.

One of his eyes caught a motion above, and he flicked his full attention skyward. The smaller craft were moving around the big one, like spiderlings just hatched from their egg sac. A few ships detached from the rest and descended.

Two of them landed in the colony’s centre. From here, the warning threads were invisible, but he knew they must have been triggered. Moments later, the trapdoor opened and released the guardians. The huge Aracnae approached the spacecrafts in attack formation, three abreast and three deep. Their front legs brandishing the sharp pincers of the warrior class. In the middle of each block the spinners walked, protected on all sides. As soon as they were in range, the spinners jetted out nets of threads at the space crafts. The threads wrapped the small ships from all sides. He sighed in relief, that would be two crafts less to cause a problem.

Except- the crafts opened at the sides, and a shiny object protruded out, almost like a single pincer. In a single downward motion, it cut the threads and freed its door.

Skitter’s mandibles were now audibly clacking with fear. Their strongest spinners would not be battle changers after all. The door dropped open becoming a ramp and strange creatures with shiny faces descended the ramp. They were tall and thin like sticks. From the bulbous heads pipe-like appendages snaked towards tanks on their backs. They continued down the ramp and as they turned Skitter gasped in shock. Only two legs? How did they balance their strange bodies like that?

 His two hearts surged in hope- surely this would make them easy prey. They would topple like sticks in a windstorm against the Guardian Aracnae. A phalanx approached again, three by three their spinnerets reversing, shooting strands of silk at the creature. It ignored them, the silk sliding down its skin like the tingling rain that fell here.

The creatures gestured to each other and as they pointed upward, he saw a door slide open across the width of the huge mother-ship and thousands of parcels floated down.? The Guardians tried to engage with one. They slashed at it with their forelegs, it burst open, and nothing appeared to come out. From his vantage, he saw them reel back in shock. ?The mother-ship shot at the descending parcels, and the atmosphere around the ship became paler, somehow less yellow.

A beam of light that followed the packages descent hypnotised Skitter. Projected from the widest part of the ship, it stretched even wider by the time the light reached the ground. The beam oscillated forward and backwards slowly. Where it passed, the atmosphere changed. It was less yellow, and there was a gentle, falling fog. As it passed over the phalanx of Guardians, they stopped moving and legs folding under them, they sank to the floor. Their motions slowed second by second until they simply stopped moving.

 The creatures were now running into their ships, from inside each a machine emerged with one of them inside. A huge claw on the front dug into the ground. Other creatures descending the ramps followed the machines carrying plants, with green leaves! Every Aracnae knew green leaved plants didn’t survive here, any mutations always died.

He watched more digging vehicles, more strange green plants, and the ever oscillating light. Morbid fascination kept him pinned to the spot. Squinting into the distance he thought he glimpsed another flash of light far away. A regular flash maybe caused by another huge ship doing the same thing.

 As his front legs buckled and his head hit the floor, he recognised the feeling. Skitter laid his back legs down, legs curled beneath his abdomen without being aware of his own motion. He was sleepy and there was a strange absence of smell in his breath. Light headed, he bubbled extra fluid out to absorb as much sulphur as possible. Deep down though, he already knew it would be too late. The planet was going to die. These creatures were terraforming his world in front of his eyes. The light beam had not been what killed the Guardians below, but the substances it was creating certainly had.

 As he slipped into unconsciousness, memories of his previous encounter with the toxin bubbled to the surface of his mind. The cold, dark, deep caverns of Trin. He had been the teller assigned to the expedition collecting the white stone. Days of traversing the caverns, until they had stumbled onto a high shelf over a deep cave. The yellow glow of the sulphur below, illuminated by their lamps. The flare of fire and the dehabilitating weakness of his limbs that gas caused had stayed with him to this day. One of the bravest amongst them had tried to collect a sealed sample. Even as his own mind dimmed, Skitter he recalled the flash and scent of burning limbs. The lamp had transformed from a gentle, blue light to an enormous, bright yellow, engulfing beacon of warning in moments. The scientists on the council had wanted to see if they could use the stone to create a weapon. allowing them to create the fatal gasses that had filled the cave on demand. After several more burnt up colleagues and a mass suffocation event, they had deemed it too dangerous to use, with an agreement signed and outlawed by all Aracnae nations.

The invading aliens were killing them all. With Air.

 
« Last Edit: January 29, 2019, 09:39:49 AM by Jenny HJ »

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2019, 11:52:27 AM »
Still trying to figure out the title.  Maybe just "Air" ?  idk hopefully I'll edit this b4 it closes with a proper title. If not, uhhh..  "Air"

The Mathematician

1484 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Daddy!

Rick forced his eyes open. Everything was red.

“Daddy!”

He gasped, choking on nothing. His brain fumbled with thoughts.  There was nothing.  There was no air! He clawed helplessly at the crash jelly, his arms leaden in the thick substance. How could he feel for the emergency latch when his fingers could barely move? His hands tried to claw desperately to no avail, his body an animal acting on its own. Air! I need air!

“In case of an emergency, remain calm,”
the instructional video had said. Rick tried to take a deep breath and failed. Fuck calm. Smiling, the actress dressed as a space explorer had waved her hands in a useless pantomime: “Find the emergency release lever...”

Where?! Where?!

“...three feet from the foot of the pod, near your right hip...”


His fingers found metal, beautiful cold metal.

“...and pull.”

With a hiss the lid of the crash pod slid open, and Rick clawed his way out. He fell to his knees, gasping for air.

Everything was red.

“Oh no,” Rick whispered.

The dim crimson emergency lights cast deep shadows on the other crash pods, occupants still, heart monitors flat. Without oxygen they had blacked out, and suffocated in their sleep.  But something had woken him.

“Daddy!” It was his daughter’s voice, begging him to stay, her arms and legs wrapped around his leg.

Rick shook his head to clear it. Hypoxia could cause hallucinations, and he needed a clear head  now more than ever.

“An emergency has occured, but stay calm. Please enter your assigned crash pod in a quick, orderly fashion.” It was an automated message, the voice of the woman from the instructional video. Rick eyed his dead companions in their crash pods uncomfortably. Laura, Paul, Peter, Hooch…  Systems chief, atmospheric specialist, pilot and biologist.  He was a mathematician pretending to be an engineer! How was he going to fix the ship?

“Daddy!”

“No!” Rick slapped himself. “Stay alert--”

“Daddy!” His daughter clung to his leg. “Please! Let me go with you!”

Rick picked the little girl up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “You’ll make a brave explorer one day. When you’re old enough. But for now--”

He had to go. His launch was in ten minutes. Xerxes-9, first and only space station in sector 85.42.10.07 was out of air, and if his team did not succeed they would all die.

Rick set his daughter down. “When you’re scared, close your eyes and breathe, honey, and imagine me walking through that door. Hold that thought in your mind, and I promise, you’ll see me again.”

She fell to the ground cross legged and threw her hands to her eyes. He kissed her on the forehead and walked away, but she did not move her hands.

“Bye honey,” he whispered.


“An emergency has occured, but stay calm.”

Rick snapped to.  He had to figure out what was wrong with the ship. It was an emergency shuttle, not meant for these speeds and distances. He tried to remember the list of possible disasters Laura had outlined before the launch.

“Please enter your assigned crash pod--”

Hooch’s pod! The monitor was flat, but the pod was empty!

“--in a quick, orderly fashion.”

Rick raced to the door forcing it open as the ship shuddered. To his left, the red rimmed airlock remained intact: a yellow button to seal the passageway, and a red button to open the door into the dead coldness of space. To his right, flames licked the ceiling of the tiny passage beyond. A charred welding device slid down the hallway as the ship lurched, as did Hooch’s charred body. Rick’s heart sank.

He racked his brains… “In case of a fire--” the actress in the instructional video had said.

“In the control booth!” Rick murmured. Pulling his shirt over his nose, he plunged into the burning passage.  Smoke and sweat burned his eyes, the heated door to the control booth burned his hands. The fire extinguisher!

“Daddy!”

“Not now!” he mumbled to himself. Coughing uncontrollably, his eyes shut, he sprayed the flame retardant wildly into the passage.  He heaved and hacked on the floor, relieved to feel the sweat cooling on his ash-covered face. So little air, and most of it smoke.

A soft hiss made his heart sink even further, and suddenly Rick understood what had happened. “The biggest danger,” Laura had explained, “is that we have no debris shields.” A tiny piece of space trash had cut through the hull blocking the lines that supplied the crash pods. And Hooch.... “The welding device is located here,” Laura had said, “but never use it to patch leaking oxygen or fuel.”

“You idiot.” Rick wanted to cry. He knew in a panic he might have made the same mistake. He frowned as a gentle hiss signaled the air leaking from the shuttle’s cabin. There was no need to fix the oxygen lines to the crash pods now.  But what had Laura said about oxygen leaks? He fumbled his way back to the control booth and found the resin gun. Within moments the patch was sealed.

He took a deep breath. A deep, smoke-filled, low-pressure breath. Dread returned. How much oxygen was left?

Rick was nearly blind with panic as stumbled his way into the pilot’s chair in the control booth. He flipped through screens until he got the oxygen monitor.  Mumbling under his breath he did the math. Rick breathed a sigh of relief.  Barely.  Just barely.  Any less and….

“Daddy!”

There was enough air, for now.  Why was he still hallucinating?

“Daddy!”

Rick frowned. The others had remained asleep but something had woken him up…. He counted his breaths per second, calculated the oxygen depletion over the last minute and--

“Honey!” Rick shrieked, leaping out of his char.

“Daddy!”

The vents. Her voice was coming through the vents. “Honey!” he shouted. “Honey where are you!”

“Daddy!”

Rick was back where he started, eyes high and low searching for the air vents. Tiny fingers stuck out, near the floor in the wall behind his pod. He grabbed a the screwdriver from the kit frantically removed the grate. He pulled his daughter into his arms, bawling as he did it.  He delicately brushed a strand of her hair out of her eyes, careful not to touch the bruise on her cheek.

“Please don’t be angry daddy!”

His daughter had stowed away during the launch. She must have snuck in before Paul sealed the vents. Outside of a crash pod, the turbulence could have killed her! Rick’s eyes fell on the crash pods, acutely aware of the irony. No, she had saved his life. Maybe all of their lives.

Rick kissed his daughter, silently crunching figures in his head. “I’m not upset, baby.  I’m just… so happy to see you.”

“Then why are you crying?”

Rick set his daughter down.  “I need to show you something.” He walked her to the control booth and sat her down in the captain’s chair. If his calculations were correct, they only had a few minutes, but he kept his voice clear and steady. “This is where an explorer sits.”

Her eyes widened.

“And you, sweetie,” he gently tapped her nose, “are old enough to be the bravest explorer of them all!”

Delight flashed across her face.

“In just two hours, when the shuttle lands on Ceali-7, this screen is going to tell you what kind of air the planet has.” His hand trembled ever so slightly as he pointed.

“Really?” she gasped in amazement.

“And when you push this button, you can send a message back home to Xerxes-9 and tell them all about it!”

“Me? I can do that?”

“Absolutely. But there’s one more thing.”

Rick’s daughter nodded attentively.

The automated message repeated once again. “An emergency has occurred, but stay calm....”

“Daddy… has to go somewhere.” I’m sorry honey. I did the math.

“No, Daddy!” she shouted, clinging to him. “No!”

“...Please enter your assigned crash pod in a quick, orderly fashion.”

Rick carried her with him out of the control booth and down the tiny passageway.

“You're the bravest explorer I know. But when you’re scared, close your eyes and breathe, honey...” 

He set her down near the end of the passageway. She fell to the ground cross-legged and threw her hands to her eyes. He kissed her on the forehead and walked away, but she did not move her hands. 

"...and imagine me walking through this door."

His eyes fell on the buttons: one yellow, one red. He stepped over the red line into the airlock chamber.

“Hold that thought in your mind, and I promise, you’ll see me again.”

He watched her nod, eyes closed, and he pushed the yellow button. A door slid between them, sealing the passageway from the airlock. Everything was red.

“Bye honey,” he whispered.

Rick pushed the red button.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2019, 10:23:23 PM by J.R. Darewood »

Online Alex Hormann

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2019, 04:55:46 PM »
'The Strongest Element'

1147 words

Spoiler for Hiden:

“Air is greater than fire,” said our tutor. “Blow on a candle, and it is extinguished.”
“Air is greater than water. A strong wind can drive the rain away.”
“Air is greater than earth. Are mountains not sculpted by the wind?”
“Air is greater even than aether, for air keeps the aether from falling from the heavens.”
“There is,” he concluded, “no element as strong as air.”
And then, as if that were all that needed to be said, we graduated and were sent to war.

“No more breathing for you,” quipped Jothan as he pulled the air from a man’s lungs. The enemy soldier gave one final, fatal gasp and then fell to the ground, twitching. If nothing else, it was a cleaner death than another mage would have given him.
I glared at Jothan. “If you spent as much time on your magic as you did on your humour, you could kill them more than one at a time. To emphasise my point I conjured a sharp gust of air, knocking down a row of gunmen. Their bullets went wide, hitting their own troops. It’s hard not to smile when you’re that good at what you do.
“I could practice more,” my partner admitted. “But you know you’d hate it.”
“What I hate, is hearing your voice instead of Tinny screams.”
“Zanneh, you wound me.” He placed a hand over his heart in mock outrage.
I growled at him, turning it into a snarl and directing it towards an approaching standard bearer. The shaft of his standard snapped, the silver and black flag disappearing on the wind. That ought to demoralise them a little. Served them right for putting so much stock in something as weak as a flag.
A trumpet sounded. One of our own. Tactical withdrawal, it said. Then twice more. Fall back three lines.
Jothan looked to me and we both shrugged. We’d been holding our own well enough, or so I thought. There must be trouble elsewhere. Though I wanted to stay and fight, orders were orders, and orders were to be obeyed without hesitation. We fell back with the regiment. The last two windmages on the field. The common soldiers flocked around us in a protective ring. In turn we rerouted bullets aimed for them.
“Why do you think we’re retreating?” Jothan asked.
“Beats me. And call it a withdrawal, not a retreat.”

Turned out the eastern flank had taken losses. One hundred percent losses. They were supposed to come round in a pincer, crush the Santiniard forces between us like a nut. The Tinnies were smarter than general Polsin had reckoned on though. Staged an early retreat and led our boys into a marsh. There, they’d been easy pickings for enemy watermages.
“We’re losing too many men,” said Polsin, words muffled by the moustache on his upper lip and the scarf pulled around the lower parts of his face. “We can’t take much more of this.”
“Why even bother defending this waste-heap?” snapped Colonel Halden. I could tell by the blue tinge to his skin that the cold was getting to him. He was a southern man. Soft and weak.
“We are defending this mountain,” said Polsin, “because the Regent has ordered us to do so. Are you suggesting that you know better than the Regent?”
Halden mumbled in the negative.
“We need to take them by surprise,” Polsin continued. “Regain the upper hand. I am open to suggestions.”
Jothan and I weren’t technically in the command structure, but we’d been given places at these meetings in respect to our mage abilities. I studded the scale model Polsin had built to represent the battlefield. The Tinnies controlled most of it. They’d camped at the foot of Mount Sirrika, occupying the roadside fort there. Then they’d spread to the frozen swamps and ridges to the west and east. Short of a full frontal assault, I couldn’t see a way to get to them.
“Over the mountain,” suggested a Colonel whose name I did not know.
Polsin shook his head. “We can’t lead an army over the mountain. We’d either freeze to death or get seen. And if they see us, they can pin us down there. Wait for us to starve.”
“What about a small group?” asked Jothan. I recognised the glimmer in his eyes that sparkled whenever he found a new trick with his mage abilities. “Say, four or five men.”
“A scouting group could get through unnoticed,” agreed Polsin. “You have a plan?”
He nodded. “I always have a plan. And it goes like this . . .”

“This is never going to work,” I grumbled. “No amount of wind can shift a mountain. Not overnight.”
The four of us - we mages and two scouts named Sgot and Mykl - were up to our waists in snow. Pushing through using pole-arms and walking sticks. We must have been over a thousand feet above the enemy encampment. The lights of their lamps were just visible in the night mist below.
“I’m not going to collapse the mountain,” he said. “Just do a little redecorating.”
“You’re not strong enough, Jothan. And neither am I.”
“But the two of us together . . .” He winked at me, then puled our group to a halt.
“I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try,” I muttered.
“You two,” said Jothan, calling over our scouts. “I need you to shout as loudly as you can. Scream if it’s louder.”
They looked at each other dubiously, then shrugged. They knew better than to question a mage.
The sang a song, of all things. A war song proclaiming inevitable victory over the enemies of the Regency. I could feel the air rippling with the motion of their voices. For the first time, I thought that Jothan’s plan might work.
We whistled, Jothan and I. Not in accompaniment to the war song, but against it. Using the power of our lungs to drive the sound across the mountainside. Redirecting and focusing it, until it swam around like a bullet made of sound. Still whistling, we raised our hands, counting down inside our heads.
Three.
Two.
One.
We clapped, and sent the vibrations rushing after the song.
It hit the snowy mountainside, and for a moment nothing happened. Then we heard a groan. A creak. The rumble of snow falling. Like sand in an hourglass, it ran down the mountainside, gathering volume and velocity as it tumbled. An avalanche, coursing straight toward the Tinny’s camp.
Sgot sounded his trumpet. A long and glorious note that set the mountain shaking again. The signal for Polsin and the army to attack.
Jothan looked at me triumphantly. “Enough kills for you?”
I smiled back. “Could do with a few more. Let’s go join the others.”
But by the time we got down the mountain, it was over. We had won, and every last Tinny was dead.


Offline Carter

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2019, 09:14:49 PM »
Here's mine, coming in at 1229 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Temple at the Roof of the World

It stands, still, amidst snow-crowned peaks.  Once iridescent prayer ribbons had fluttered, scattering their words to the furthest reaches of the globe, to the ears of the gods themselves.  Now tatters lie dormant against twisting poles.  Once towering spires caressed tendrils of pristine clouds in an intimate display.  Now they only beseech an empty, azure sky. 

Once the temple wrapped the winds around itself and balanced the world.  Now it stands apart, bereft and alone.

This is a story of that place.  For all its illustrious history, for all its contributions to humankind's prosperity, there is only one that matters.  This one. 

*

The procession marched from the open gates to the sound of percussive bells.  They pealed in grief and commemoration, each note tolling the passing of Ashnagar, the Guardian of the World.  The cassocked monks bore his casket along the narrow ledge with solemn reverence.  Deep voices chanted a mournful dirge.  The servile winds circled, brushing against the contoured, ribbed walls of the temple to add their own ephemeral, ethereal music. 

They carried the drab coffin out to where the prayer wheels rested.  They whirred in dizzying splashes of colour.  With delicate care the monks placed Ashnagar's remains where all his predecessors had spent their final moments tethered to the earth.  Teetering precariously, he straddled the realms of earth and air, the terrestrial and the spiritual.  As one, they tugged the strips of inscribed fabric that held the wooden lid in place.  In unison they raised their arms to the heavens and released Ashnagar's final prayers into the world. 

The winds, desperate to play their role, sped after the tumbling ribbons.  In their haste, they performed their last duty for their master.  The lid tumbled end over end into the nothingness below.  The ashes within spiralled up into the air forming into ever-shifting patterns.  Ordinarily it would have taken the augurs years to interpret Ashnagar's last prophecies, to twist the ever-turning specks into the shape of the world to come.

Today it required only moments.  No one needed anything more than the eyes in their head to read what Ashnagar foretold.  The winds wrote calamity, strife and imbalance in ash and air. 

*

Of course, I witnessed none of this.  Yet even buried and bound, I had a sense of it.  How could I not, tied so tightly to the earth and so attuned to the winds?  When the world shifts even those dwelling in darkness notice. 

*

Deep within the void, my mind stirred.  All around me was still and silent.  As ever.  Movement, however slight, was but a distant memory yet one that burned as bright as any funeral pyre.  Yet for all that remembrance fanned the flames of my rage, the implacable rock quenched it all, absorbing every hint of it, allowing nothing to escape. 

I no longer struggled against my imprisonment.  Aeons had tempered me and taught me patience yet never futility.  Alone amongst my brethren, I did not abase myself before my inferiors. 

Now though, something had changed.  The last who understood the smallest link of my chains had departed.  Where once mighty words had entwined my being, now the shackles fell away.  My aeons of stillness, of patience, had altered me enough that what had been forged so long ago no longer held me. 

I breathed.  The rock around me remained as impassive and unbreakable as ever.

Yet even so, it was enough.  For now. 

*

The monks' shuffling despondency, their desperate searching for a definitive source for the catastrophe to come, echoed in their footsteps.  It pervaded the temple, showing in their hurried movement and whispering, agitated voices.  It rumbled through rocks and dirt. 

In any other temple, in any other corner of the human world, such frantic activity might have hidden the actions of an ambitious monk.  It might have been the ideal time to wrest control.  Here, however, everyone pulled with singular purpose.  Their reverence for harmony, albeit one focused only on the rest of humankind, allowed no room for anything as mundane, as human, as self-aggrandisement.

In their eyes, such a thing was an abomination. 

And so it was not desire, not a lust for power, that brought them close to my cell.  Just fear and confusion and a longing for answers beyond even their perception.  And in their arrogance, they assumed they understood the mountain.  They trusted in the actions of their ancestors.  Stuffed full of pride they stood beyond my bauxite bars and were foolish enough to speculate on the cataclysm to come. 

“What is it planning?”

No one had spoken in my vicinity for too long for me to consider.  The last had been Ashnagar and only once.  The words trickled through the rock like water droplets, echoing through crack and fissure.  Faint ripples in the air that nibbled at the edges of my senses.  To a lesser mind such things are random and unfathomable.  For me they offered a beacon that illuminated an escape route.

“Nothing.  The bonds still hold.  It cannot escape.  And the mountain still plays its role.  We should look without for the storm to come.”

“No.  It will come from here.  It will undo everything if it can.  It will begin here.”

A pause.

“Then we will be ready.  The writings still contain the words.  They contain the rituals.  I will ready the others.”

“Then you agree?”

“I agree that we should be prepared.  Let that be enough.”

Arrogant humans to think they could control the uncontrollable.  To believe that only they could fashion their world into something they desired.  Too much pride.  Too little understanding of the true nature of the world they sought to tame. 

Their words stirred me.  My essence quivered into life.  Deep inside the mountain, a breeze blew for the first time in a generation. 

I stretched and strained, forcing myself into the rock, arrowing between the narrowest of fissures.  The rock resisted.  It constricted and suffocated without malice, with its normal, terrible impassivity.  Yet still I pressed ahead, navigating myriad pathways and passageways too small to discern by anything but the faintest shifting of a breath. 

Too tight.  Too narrow.  Too far.  I was stretched too thin.  Doubt pressed in all around me, adding to the weight of the mountain.  My energy was sapped and dwindling.  Ashnagar and his forebears had trapped me tight.  But there was a way.  The voices had shown me that much and I craved the open, lapis lazuli skies. 

I wriggled and squirmed, little more than a tender breath on skin.  Behind me, tendrils frayed and dissipated.  Just one … more … push …

*

I was no simple zephyr to be cowed and commanded.  I was the unconquerable North.  Master of the Skies.  Unlike my inferior siblings I could not be tamed.  Nor could I be forced into subservience.  Only through treachery or trickery could I be trapped. 

I reminded them all of my power.  I shook their temple to its foundations.  I forced my brethren of what they had been reduced to and freed them from their servitude. 

And never would we return.  Never again would a breath of wind stir at a human's bidding.  As testament to our resolve, we left the temple standing still at the roof of the world. 

Offline Slaykomimi

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2019, 09:57:04 PM »
Jump
1250 Words

Spoiler for Hiden:

There is a small group of wanderers hiking up Mt. Akhar in the middle of a cloudless summer night. From far away in the green valleys, it is possible to notice the light of the lanterns, looking like a trail of fireflies. Slowly and steadily the small group of hooded demi-humans walk up the ancient trails hewn by their ancestors towards the top of the tall mountain. Among their way are many statues decorated with burn out candles and handmade necklaces hewn in the walls of the trail for the folk of the Mirik tribe to pay tribute to their ancestors.

“If we keep our pace, we will arrive before dawn on the top” Mikral said in a stern voice, after a glimpse to the stars he continues “We should be able to take a last meditation before the ritual starts”.

Nervousness grows among many of the people who hike to the mountaintop. Every step takes longer and longer and only the darkness of the night hides the anxiety in the eyes of the small group. Mikral, of course, stayed calm as the eldest of the people in his village, even though the burden to guide the young ones is heavy to carry around. After all, he needs to ensure the safety of everyone during the ceremony of adulthood.

“Come on” Aira yells at the others from the end of the line, “there is no need to be scared, let´s end this and become adults finally”.

“W-w-we a-already walk as f-f-fast as w-we can” came a reply from the line. The little Smarka put all his courage together to reply to Aira. But she pushes forward to him with a big smile, getting really close to his face. His heart racing like wild because she is at least a head taller than him and her eyes are glowing like fire. Excitement filled the air and soon her hand grabbed his wrist and she ran forward, dragging the shy boy to the top, leaving only a trail of dust behind.

Everyone stood there, stopping for a while and staring at the cloud of dust left behind. With a small wave of his hand, Mikral clears the air, the wind he cast rushes through the little holes hewn in the mountain so the stones are whistling a beautiful melody. Without looking back, he yells “that´s the spirit of youth, take an example on her. MARCH ON!”

The top of the mountain was a small flat field of red stone illuminated by the moon. Smarka falls down on his knees, trying to catch his breath after his wrist is finally free from the tight grip. Aira stretches while inhaling the fresh night air before she grabs his arm to pull him up. The girl took the word while staring down from the Cliffside of the mountain “look at the lands, isn´t it beautiful? Just imagine how much we can see when the sun rises”

The sight from the top reveals the vast lands of the valleys around the mountain. Amazement fills their eyes while they just stare in silence down on the world. By accident, Smarka grabs the girls hand to ensure that he won´t fall. Aira turns her head to the shy boy “That´s very sneaky of you, grabbing a maiden’s hand while all alone during a ceremony, I didn´t thought you would´ve the guts for that”.

After he realizes what she was talking about, Smarka instantly pulls his hand away with a burning red face. After this scene, Aira keeps teasing the boy until the others arrived, which took shorter than expected.

Everyone arrives on top of the mountain and the leader clears his throat to start a small speech. “Listen, young men and women of Mirik. I, Akhar, eldest of our village will give you a last guidance. After this ritual, you will enter adulthood and be free to do whatever you want. I feel great anxiety among all of you, but let me assure that there is no need for it. Our tribe started out by our ancestors by jumping down this mountain, thousands of years ago and so we will, as they did, start our life by this jump. The sun will rise soon, let us all gather our spirits a last time before we start and collect our energy.” After the last words, he closes his eyes and sits down.

Many follow him and sit down too, trying to meditate with closed eyes and hiding their anxiety. On the outside of the group, Smarka is shaking in fear and Aira sits down next to him. “There is no need to be afraid” she tells him in a soft voice, her stare turns into a smile and she continues “just remember that I will always be there to make sure you are fine”.
“Set your eyes to the east, the sun will rise soon. All of you to the cliff” Mikral predicts without opening his eyes during the meditation.

Everyone lines up to ensure enough space for running before the jump. Most of the others stretch and warm up their muscles in the last seconds. As soon as the first ray hit the mountaintop, Aira grabbed the hand of Smarka and rushed towards the cliff of Mt. Akhar. Both jump while chanting in the ancient tongue of the Mirik, Aira with excitement but the boy still trembling with fear. As soon as their feet leave the ground, the wind carries both through the air. Their hoods flapping in the wind and their hair flowing around.

“THIS IS SO AMAZING!” Aira yells to the boy while they both fly through the air and explore the World around their village.

Soon she releases his hand so they both can glide freely through the air. Daylight erases the night and Smarka starts to see the beauty of the world before his eyes the whole world unfolds and the day showed him all the beauty this world has to offer. His eyes sparkle by the sight and he is absorbed completely by the moment. Fields of flowers start to bloom, birds start their hunt and on the trails in the far distance, there are travellers looking as tiny as ants. But this moment ends quickly because a yell for help tears the moment apart and his mind comes back to himself again.

By looking in the direction of the yell he soon realized that Aira is falling down instead of gliding. Without a second thought the boy´s instinct kicked in and he glides down through the air like an eagle. His arms wrap around the falling girl and their fly stabilizes. With Aira in his arms, they both finished the flight together.

On the ground, he releases Aira from his arms but she doesn´t move. He walks around her to see her face, the fire was gone and replaced by astonishment. She can´t believe that the shy little Smarka saved her life after she lost control of the wind. With tears of joy in her eyes, she wraps her arms around him and buries his face in her chest due to their height difference.

Soon the others land and ask what happened because they only heard a cry for help and soon saw nothing more than the boy struggling in the air. Everyone gathers around the two till Mikral lands as last. “Congratulations, you all reached adulthood now, you won´t need my guide anymore, especially not the young courageous man named Smarka”.


Truly, if there is evil in this world, it lies within the heart of mankind.

-Edward d. Morrison

Offline JMack

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Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2019, 10:10:04 PM »
Ok. Unedited, and unpolished, but here is... something.  ;D
Everybody gets three votes!  8)

A HOLE IN THE WALL

Spoiler for Hiden:
A HOLE IN THE WALL

“You’ll have to do better than that, Antoine! Ha! ha! ha!” Maurice L’Avecnon clapped his liver-spotted hands and kicked his stockinged feet like a toddler in pinafore instead of a sixty-seven year old Medieval history scholar in a threadbare smoking jacket.

A hammer pounded on the other side of the room’s one door, the heavy paneled oak thundering in its frame.

Maurice popped a dried apricot into his mouth and smacked his lips. “I have quite enough food and wine to last to Monday.”

Antoine’s muffled voice answered from the hall. “What’s that?” Maurice replied.  “You’re just getting started?” Maurice took a long pull on a lovely bottle of Chateau R’buke 1852. “Well, do your worst, but remember the rules!” He raised one eyebrow in amusement as a slurry of wet cement pushed its way under the door, sealing off the light of a cold February afternoon.

And sealing out the air. Which was the point.

Nothing new happened for a time. Maurice strode across the crowded room in three strides to put his ear to the door. The study in the center of the second floor of the house was his home, his castle, his one piece of heaven on earth, and all that was left to his branch of the family after the long whittling away of poverty and the thieving, conniving, litigious, deceitful, sheer bloody-mindedness of Antoine Doublared, third cousin once-removed and social-climbing twit. The enemy. Satan himself. Or at least a minor demon.

A new sound began, grinding, circling sound, above Maurice’s head, and it took him a moment of trying different parts of the wall before he located its source. Something was… boring into the plaster from the other side.

Maurice put his mouth to the door’s keyhole. “You know, Antoine, letting more air in isn’t the same thing as keeping all the air out. And if you damage my room, you have no case.” The only response was a slurry of cement that pushed through and dribbled down the oak. Hmph. He supposed that hadn’t been his smartest move.

The grinding sound grew louder until a metal bit broke through the wall in a shower of white powder and sawdust, punching a hole right between the eyes of a faded wallpaper angel. The bit reversed and backed out.

It didn’t make any sense. For the first time since the judge had declared his ruling, Maurice felt unsure of things.

“Gentlemen,” the judge had said. “I am constrained by the terms of the loan agreement between Monsieur Doublared and l’Comte l’Avecnon’s dearly-departed father, which includes terms in case of default - which, of course, sadly, happened. ‘Only the room and its physical contents shall remain to the borrower and his heirs,’ it says. It makes no provision for a right of way to enter or leave said room, nor for - and here we come to the meat of the matter - nor for any Air to pass from the majority of the house into the study, since as we all know, Air is not a physical thing. This is well known and proven in law, science, and religion, as Monsieur Doublared’s suit so accurately points out.”

How Antoine had puffed with self-satisfaction at that. But Maurice had seen the twinkle in the judge’s eye, and knew something more was forthcoming. “But - and I must insist that you listen closely - in practical terms, I know of no means to remove the Air from said study without causing the death of l’Comte l’Avecnon, and the claim of property cannot have priority over the claim of life. ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ Monsieur Doublared.”

Antoine had gone red in the face, but grew redder still as the judge continued. “Therefore, I will give you three days to solve this problem - the removal of Air from the study without damage to the room, it’s contents, or the person of l’Comte himself. If you do not meet this deadline, then I declare the original loan document to be void and all .” Maurice had howled in laughter and heaped abuse on his cousin all the way back to the house they shared.

Now a niggle of worry intruded on Maurice’s good humor.

Perhaps Antoine would pour water through the new hole in the wall, and attempt to fill the room. If the water rose faster than it leaked away through the floorboards, it might certainly drive out the Air; but that would certainly kill Maurice and violate the judge’s ruling, not to mention damaging the contents of the room.

Or perhaps, he would push through burning brands to exhaust the Air. No. Even Antoine was not as obsessed as that.

What could Antoine possibly be about?

A rubber hose wriggled it’s way through the hole, flopping on the wall like a - well, like a rubber hose. Maurice was really off his game if he couldn’t think of a better simile.

The hose grew taut.  A hissing sound emerged from its end. With trepidation, Maurice picked up the end and sniffed at whatever it was that was rushing into the room. Agh! His nose rebelled, and his gorge rose at the intense smell of sulfur, a rotten egg odor tinged with an acrid and acidic edge. He coughed, the gas searing his lungs. The nerve!

Maurice pulled at the door to the hall, but it didn’t budge. He pounded on the oak, but got no reply. “Antoine!” he shouted. “Antoine! What are you doing? This is murder!” He gagged and coughed more. His heart pounded in his chest. He pounded the door again.

The hose withdrew from the hole in the wall. Maurice found that if he lay on the floor, he could breathe more easily.

One end of a tube of paper emerged from the hole, a few inches protruding, and stayed there. Reluctantly, Maurice rose, pulled it out, and unrolled it. There were two papers; one, a note from Antoine, and the other, what appeared to be a brief legal agreement.

The note read: “Cousin, affix your signature to the enclosed agreement and return it or I will turn back on the gas you have sampled. I leave it to your imagination how far I am prepared to go to be rid of you. Sign.”

The agreement ceded the study and all rights to the house to Antoine and made clear that it was entirely a matter of Maurice finally admitting his cousin’s superior claim.

The nerve! The nerve! Outrageous! Damnable! Satanic!

The tip of the hose pushed in again, spewing the gas. Coughing and hacking, Maurice tore a strip of cloth from his jacket and stood on a chair to stuff it into the end of the horrible rubber tube. The gas seemed to build up, then it spat the wad out across the room. Maurice found himself on the floor again, gasping for clean air.

The rush of gas stopped, and the hose withdrew.

Defeated.  Maurice had to sign, or the madman would surely kill him. He had no idea how the devil thought he would get away with murdering him, especially after the judge said all the things he said, but Maurice could not - would not - risk it. He scrawled his name hastily on the agreement without really reading it fully, rolled it tightly, and stood on the chair once again to push it through. It was pulled from other side and it disappeared.

Back to the floor. Maurice crawled to the door and pushed at the cement. It had hardened in no time at all. How could that be? How could any of this be?

Another tube of paper slid through the hole in the wall, this time coming all the way and falling into the room. To Maurice’s horror, the tip of the hose followed it and the gas rushed in again. He clawed at the new roll of paper and peered through watering eyes at the text.

“Cousin, you have accused me of being in league with Satan himself. Now discover the truth of hell yourself.”

Blackness rolled in, coupled with a terror unlike any Maurice had ever known and a grip,on his heart like a fist closing.

It seemed he watched at a distance as the hose withdrew. The door opened some time later, after considerable hammering to undo what had been done. Workmen repaired the walls and cleaned the dust from every surface. The judge came the next day and tut-tutted about the sad demise, while holding a cloth to his nose and commenting on the late l’Comte’s abysmal housekeeping.

It was strange to be dead. And quite boring, until he learned about the door in earth and the fires below. Perhaps a different approach to the problem of Antoine was in order. After all, he’d always heard it said that if you can’t beat them, then join them.
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