Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Monthly Writing Contest => [JUL 2019] Employment => Topic started by: xiagan on July 02, 2019, 08:54:39 PM

Title: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: xiagan on July 02, 2019, 08:54:39 PM


Apprentice Collar by boscopenciller (

This month we have a solid, honest theme. Employment. This isn't about heroes doing hero stuff. This is about people doing what they have to do, or probably even love doing, to get by. This is about the people ignored, used or exploited by the MCs of their world. Those who have to clean up after the tavern brawl or desperately try to salvage the harvest after a passing mage killed a dragon with a hail storm. They're insignificant in the grand scheme of things but not to their families and neighbors. They exist and they deserve a story of their own.


1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Employment 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 July 31st/August 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 (
Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: Brand J Alexander on July 04, 2019, 06:30:20 PM
Sewer Slayer
By Brand J. Alexander Twitter handle @BrandJAlexander
1303 words

Sewer Slayer
By Brand J Alexander

“Not one of them could suffer this fetid rot,” Hulda grumbled. He sank his shovel into the crusted ooze blocking the sewer channel. It quivered as something deep inside took hold. The burly old man wrestled the now twisting handle but continued to talk. “Yet they get to be the heroes. They come to Travindal seeking quests and glory at the behest of the king. Slay the dragons of the moors. Banish the shade of Galoffis. They poke one creature dead and come back to a bounty. I fight things every day, and all I get is two silver marks a week.”

“I only make a half mark,” the young man behind Hulda complained.

“You gotta kill something to earn more.”

“Then let me kill that thing,” the young man argued.

“This one’s well above your pay grade, apprentice. That barbarian who slew the minotaur had his celebration dinner the other day. What he dropped in the sewers, I don’t even want to face.”

“Is it that bad?” As he spoke the words, the shovel handle snapped. Both men jumped back just as the mound of twitching sewage rose up with a roar.

“Two Strength Elixirs and a Stoneskin Potion. It isn’t good. Those heroes never seem to realize all those magic potions they drink have to go somewhere.” Hulda continued instructing even as he hefted an old rusted hammer and battered the sentient sludge. “The Sludges aren’t that bad if it’s just one potion, but two or three and they start getting ornery.”

The older man taunted the brown Sludge until it sent out feelers to grab him. Then he smashed them with his hammer, splattering the debris and reducing the creature’s size with each strike. It took nearly ten minutes to batter it down enough to find its core and destroy it for good. By the time it was done, both men were thoroughly covered in what remained.

“Two marks for this. I bet dragon blood don’t smell like that. What do you think? Pevil is it? Never can member your names. No one’s lasted three days.”

“Percivel,” the apprentice corrected then spit as a little bit of sludge got in his mouth. “So when do I get to kill something? I mean if I have to stink I at least want to have a story to tell at the bar.”

“There you go, Pervel. That’s the spirit. “I’ll tell you what. I hear that priest Andriel did a mass resurrection yesterday. How about we go hunt down some of the carcasses from last night’s feast, and I’ll let you banish em with a little holy water.”

“Are they mean?” the young man asked.

“Not since the queen got on her poultry obsession. But I tell you that month the king demanded roast boar I could barely keep these sewers clear.”

“Someone should tell them you know,” Percivel replied as they turned down another corridor. Everything you do for them. Because of them. I mean if you weren’t down here killing these things, what would they do?”

“Look twice fore sitting their heroic butts on a latrine I bet,” Hulda answered, but he was distracted. “Did you see that?”

“What?” the apprentice asked.

“I thought I saw something moving. Bubbling. Never mind.” Hulda continued on but was clearly unnerved.

“Someone should tell them. Tonight.” Percivel suggested. “While they’re all here.”

“All here?”

“Yeah, haven’t you heard? The king declared war on his brother. He summoned his thousand champions and the wizards’ council. Everybody’s talking about it. I can’t believe you didn’t hear.”

“I’ve been down here since late last night burning out a den of Scrubbins thanks to that elven diplomat and his entourage. Their vegetarian diet may be all nice for them, but they don’t have to fight the sewer treants and fungors.”

“So, the king caught his wife with his brother. She’s in the dungeon, and he’s declared war. He bought out the entire alchemy shop for the royal toast. Plans to enchant everyone all at once and then attack before his brother even knows what’s coming.”

“This is terrible.” Hulda declared with growing concern. “Someone has to stop them.”

“You can’t. It’s been going for a while now. Can’t you hear the music?” Percivel replied.

“I’m hearing something much scarier than music, boy. Idiots! I told that bogbitten bureaucrat the sewers couldn’t handle more than ten enchanted heroes at a time.”

“Why? What happens?”

“You don’t want to know,” Hulda answered. A savage shriek split the dense quiet of the underground and echoed down the numerous passageways almost in answer.

“What happens when there’s a thousand?” Percivel asked. There was terror in his eyes.

“Not even I want to know that, Pelvil,” Hulda replied as he urged the apprentice down a different corridor. “Now move. Those heroes are bad enough. But a wizard might as well have a bladder full of lightning, enchanted or not. There’s nothing we can do for them now.”

As they fled, the slime choked channels began to glow an eerie green. The magical emissions from the revelers upstairs wasted little time spreading through the turbid waters. And as the magic spread, the sewers came to life. Beetles and rats flooded out of their nooks into the passages, maddened by the hellish concoction. Hulda set about smashing a trail through them with his hammer. Percivel held a broken shovel handle close as he followed but was too scared to use it.

“Where are we going?” Percivel screamed above the unnatural hum of batwings above. Hulda struck the creatures from the sky, but the bodies that fell looked nothing like bats.

“I think I finally decided to take up my brother’s offer of killing swamp rats in Felgrin Bog. You might want to consider doing the same,” Hulda answered.

“What about my job? I just moved to Travindal from the farm.”

“Boy, there isn’t gonna be a Travindal after tonight. Run!”

They waded through the horde of heroic excretion, killing everything they could and fleeing anything that wouldn’t die. But at last, they arrived at an exit gate. Hulda urged the apprentice through, then locked the gate behind them and fled into the countryside.

From a hill overlooking the city, Hulda and his apprentice watched as Travindal was devoured from beneath. The king’s army never marched upon his brother. They died with the king and queen as the great city of heroes vanished into a smoldering crater of reeking ooze. And it all could have been avoided if they had just listened to the rantings of the old sewer man.

“So, these rats,” Percivel asked as they set out on the southern road the next morning. “Are they supercharged too?”

“Big for sure. But nothing you can’t handle,” Hulda replied. “It’s the Bogwomps you need to worry about. But you’ll just have to see one to believe it.”

“I don’t know if I’m up for this, Hulda. This seems harder than what heroes do. And you don’t even get the credit.”

“You’ll do fine, Percivel.” Hulda gave a wink. “Did better than my first night. Besides, the world needs us. The heroes are only ever in it for the loot. They don’t think about all the damage they do. Someone has to look out for the people.”

“You would think they would at least pay us more,” Percivel grumbled.

“That’s the biggest lesson to take from this, boy. The ones who do the hardest work and the most good are usually the ones stuck mucking everyone else’s filth. You won’t get any credit and will likely get a bunch of blame. But, in the end, the world would follow Travindal if we didn’t.

“You really are a hero, Hulda.”

“Too broke to be a hero, Percivel. I’m a Sewer Slayer.”

Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: Matthew on July 08, 2019, 02:16:41 AM
A Day in the Life

1485 words.
Some strong language.

A Day in the Life…

Another night, another wave.

I pulled myself up the ladder as I do each morning, clinging to hope that the world outside my basement still breathes. As is becoming more common by the month, the sulphurous bouquet I associate with the charred corpses of the enemy dead assailed me the moment I pushed against the hatch. That means they breached the stockade again.

At least we won, I thought grimly.

Looking around my workshop I see everything in order but I could sense something wrong, just not what. Then it hit me, the light coming through the narrow barred window was clouded and grim. I unlocked the door and unbolted the latches, first the top then the six below, before finally removing the heavy timber beam spanning the frame.

I slowly pulled back the door inch by inch, the hinges oiled so thickly the wood around each had darkened to black. It didn't pay to make noise this early - there could still be lurkers.

As I stepped onto the street outside all was made clear. Black ichor had spattered across every surface, long rivulets of blood drying in the space between cobbles. Heaps of deformed bodies piled high and torched by the Sancti, consigning the dead to oblivion. They'd come back for the bones when the embers had died, so for now the mounds were a macabre reminder of the monsters we faced.

Others were already going about their days, women dragging children through the carnage with muted severity, men moving off to whatever work was left to be had. I ducked back inside and emerged a few minutes later with the tools of my trade and a thick leather apron covering me from neck to knee. I locked the door and strode off to report in.

"Lived through the night I see," bellowed Howel, his girth denying the current famine.

"I surely did," I replied. "Wasn't on shift, was I? We lose anyone?"

"Heard Reece got cut up something fierce, he's alive but we know how the Sancti feels about contamination..." he said, leaving Reece's purification implied.

I sighed. "Shit luck."

"Shitter for you, lad. You'll be taking his place tonight."

"What?" I demanded. "I only got off nights last week, I'm owed another month of daylight!"

"No use pouting about it, you're the only one knows that stretch. It'll need your hammer."

"Fuck this," I swore. "I'd rather go hungry than go up top again."

"Not a choice either, you took the Crown's coin when this all started, so you're in it till the end. Now stop whining and go see Delwin, you're working with him today."

I huffed knowing he had the right of it. Non of us likely to survive this anyway.

"You can get off at lunch though," Howel added reluctantly, as if his assigning me to nights had somehow inconvenienced him. "You'll need a little sleep."

Delwin sat in the next room, balancing on the back two legs, hands gripping the table for balance. He rocked forward and stood when I entered, thumping the tabletop hard.

"About time you got here, don't get paid for sitting around lazing."

"Sorry, there was a bit of a pileup along Cutter Street."

"I heard summat about that. A lotta Scabbies?"

"More than I've seen in a while. They got close to the barracks this time. Like they're getting smarter."

"Int good," muttered Delwin.

I shook my head. "No. Could have been worse though. Where we off to anyway?"

"Funny enough, Cutter Street. Boss says there's a lotta damage down that way."

Delwin grabbed his bag off the floor and half shoved me back into the main office. Howel grunted a goodbye and we set off to meet the labourers.

The closer we got to the barracks, the more the crowds massed. Some would be queueing early for the daily ration, especially those with children. It seemed too many for that though and asking a random bystander answered my question, but not to my liking. A fucking parade.

The King's Road ran from the palace to the East Gate, with the Queen's taking the route to the west. The side streets were packed with even more people than I had passed barely an hour before. Eventually we made it through the milling crowds, and I took an odd delight in seeing Delwin's face fall when he saw the work ahead.

Howel's labourers had prepared the ground already, clearing away a lot of the debris present when I came through earlier. I pondered whether buildings with no fronts could still be called buildings at all, their guts exposed during the fighting as monsters and men clashed back and forth along the street.

We were met by the foreman, a man of diminutive proportions who nonetheless commanded the respect of his workforce. Delwin gave him a meaty handshake that might have crushed a weak man, but was instead nearly pulled off his feet for the attempt.

The foreman beamed at him. "Morning, Delwin. Working out I see…"

"Summat like that. Been keeping busy," he grumbled.

"I've got the men sawing over by the baker's, the toffs want that rebuilt first. Seem to think us peasants can't think of nothing but food."

"We'll go lend a hand," I said. "Damage looks bad this time."

"Worst I've seen in a while for sure... but could have been worse. I'll leave the survey to you fellas but looks like the structures holding fast, likely just need the frontage redone."

The labourers were well underway when we made it to the baker's, felled trees being industriously hewn by a dozen hands. I noticed with some small worry that the size of the tree itself was smaller than those of old, the nearby forests being forever depleted as the night war dragged on. It wouldn't be long now before we were patching the palisade with saplings and thatch.

I opened my bag and withdrew a notebook, one of the few items not in short supply these days, what with all the sawdust lying around. Delwin took a neatly bundled length of string from his own. About the only thing neat about the man. He unravelled it easily and set to work measuring the wreckage, shouting out numbers I meticulously recorded. As he clambered about he reached for the overhanging first floor and hefted himself up, dropping several times to test to load bearing beams. Satisfied, he continued on his round, shouting out more numbers and marking the points we would have to repair before the facade could be affixed.

Taking the measurements for the baker's and the properties to either side took the better part of an hour. By the time we handed off to the workers they had a mountain of rough cut waiting to be sized.

Just prior to noon we stood back and admired the result; it wouldn't win any prizes for beauty but nearly a quarter of the street was good enough to handle the elements. The foreman's whistle blew out for our lunch, which signalled my end of shift as well.

Knowing I wouldn't be able to eat in the evening I stayed with the crew. We gathered together to eat stew and bread, a hearty meal for a physical job and a damn sight better than most would see. Perhaps the only thing keeping the hungry eyes at bay was the understanding that stealing off men built from hard graft was rarely wise.

I took the long path to my workshop after eating, a small chunk of the bread tucked into my pocket.

Climbing down into the hole that had been my home since the attacks started, I extracted the bread from my pocket down to the crumbs. I set the half loaf on the small table next to my cot and carefully filled the feed trough with the scraps in my palm. The cooing began and the bobbing head pecked hungrily.

"Hello, Maygan," I whispered. "It's been one of those days."


I shook my head and sighed. "I'm 'fraid so. They want me back out tonight."


I placed my finger inside the cage and stroked the feathered head before undressing and laying on my sheets, a thousand thoughts clamouring for attention.

I must have drifted off as I awoke with a start. Glancing at the horizontal slit nestled in the top of the cellar wall I saw the darkening sky and knew I had no more time. Dragging my clothes back on, I ate the last of the bread and pulled the window open, pinning it ajar with a stick. I unlatched the cage where Maygen sat head cocked, and smiled sadly. "You know what to do if I don't come back," I said while refilling the trough with the crumbs I had left over.

Standing upstairs, I closed the hatch, gathered my bag, and set off into the night.

Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: AelizWarlok on July 11, 2019, 02:41:48 AM
Some cursed words.
1,211 words.
''Be gone, will ya already! The lot is looking at ya like ya're some nasty little blotch!'' The old lady shouted at him and kick him in his leg. The boy looked down, mumbled something indistinctly and started limping down the stairs.
When he stepped on the muddy street, he recalled how he got here. Since he could remember, everyone has made fun of him because of his disfigured face and crooked walking. Sometimes, he would cry in a back alley, sobbing tears into dirty rags that he gathered from the streets and used as cover.
The city was quiet at night, and it was the only time he could walk through the streets without being ridiculed. He limped towards the back alley of the tavern, and opened the hatch on the ground.
The smell of feces and urin got into his nose instantly, but he shook his head and lowered the bucket. This is where he belongs.
He will never be a shiny handsome knight that rescued the kingdom of an unknown tyrant. He will never be a strong warrior adventuring across the land, completing quests and drinking ale. Heck, he will never even ride a horse, nor hold a sword. Nobody would even take him as an apprentice. Not even thieves.
''Did ya finish already! Horus Pickerson said it was full and stank like you!'' Shouted the old lady through the tavern window. The boy sighed and lowered the bucket again. ''Well? Ain't ya done?''
''Almost.'' He said in a broken voice, limping towards the centre of the street and pouring the bucket in the main canal. He looked in the water, seeing his disfigured face.
His whole face looked like some child spilled water on a portreit. Some of the people he knew in the past said that it's natural order, how God's intentions work. But he couldn't live a day by asking: Does God really hate him that much?
''Here's your wage.'' The old lady tossed a bronze coin on the wet street and laughed while closing the window. The boy limped and dug up the coin from the mud. This will be enough for dinner.
He limped through the silent main street with his bucket, holding three coins firmly in his hand as he approached the bakery.
''Oi, Muck! Fancy some nice ol' white bread?'' the owner asked him. It wasn't even his name, but everyone called him like that. He nodded.
''Two, please.''
''Cleaned lots of shit today if ya're taking two of these. Pretty shame all of ma bread goes to muck like you. I reckon noble lords would like some lovely bread, as sure they would! But they're scared when they see little shit like you lurking around, buying the same bread! I should give ya the burned ones so you know where your place is at.'' The fat owner started cursing and threw the two breads in the mud. ''Begone! And try not to come soon!''
''Thank you.'' The boy said quietly and bowed so he could lift the bread. He wiped them and put them in his rags, turning his back to the bakery and returning to the alley where he slept.
He limped through the main street, eating bits of bread and spitting crumbs. He sat on the edge of the canal, and looked to the sky. The stairs were there, but couldn't been seen due to the thick smoke that blocked his view. Since he culd recall, he never saw them. He heard stories, but never saw any stars.
Trying to remember his parents, but he couldn't. He was always alone. People said they abandoned him when they saw his face. Some of them scared their children saying they will end up like him if they don't pray. People knew he cleaned excrements, and called upon his services, but never dug deeper in their pockets. They figured he deserved much. After years of cleaning feces, he thought the same.
Suddenly, a incoming noise of a horse running brought him back from dreaming and he stood up and turned. The horse had a knight riding it, who was in full armour and was staring at the boy through his helmet.
The knight dismounted and came close to him. The boy stopped breathing, waiting in intence what will happen.
''You! Boy, or whatever kind of creature you are, lurking here! Tell me the way to the palace!'' he shouted in a proud noble voice, holding his hand on his side.
''Beg your pardon, sir?''
''What's your name, filthy creature?''
''Well, people do call me Muck.''
''Muck?'' the rider came closer. ''Pretty darn awful name. Well, judging by your looks, can't imagine why they wouldn't call you like that. Is that your real name?''
''No, kind sir. I think my name is Perc...Percival.'' he repeated, stuttering. ''The palace is that way, sir.''
''You look like you could need a bath.'' The knight said, mounting his horse. ''have you ever had one?''
The boy stayed silent.
''Oh well, if you want a bath in the next week, ask for sir Dunreagan at the gate.''
''Really, sir? Are you sure?'' the boy glanced at the knight.
''Yes.'' Sir Dunreagan replied. ''The stars are watching over us, Percival.''
''Even on me, sir?'' The boy watched as the rider disappeared between the buildings.
Soon, everyone will look up to me, and say ''Percival, here have these breads for free'', he thought while he was sliding into his rags on the floor of a alleyway.
The next day, early in the morning he limped towards the main gate. The guards were sitting by a table, playing chess.
''No, no sir Dunreagan here.'' Said one of the guards, looking at the boy. ''Just one messenger arrived late tonight. Ain't ya Muck, the boy who cleans the pits?''
The other guard laughed.
''Serves him well, should be glad he has a job! If you ask me he should be at the bottom of the canal, that's where all the shit is at the end, right Muck?'' he kicked him in his bad knee and the boy fell on the floor.
''Get lost, ya little sniff.'' The first guard snarled at him. ''Ya make us look bad to the ladies.''
''Yes, sirs.'' He sighed and got up on his feet.
''Way! I remembered what ya're talking 'bout! Yesterday evening came this loony here to the gates shouting to let him in so he can see the king.''
''Sir Dunreagan?'' The boy asked in hope.
''Ya, he said that be his name. But he ain't no sir. He escaped from the nuthouse and stole poor sir Corten's horse and cuirass. They put 'im in this morning.''
The boy lowered his sight and slowly turned away from the guards. He slowly returned to the streets and stopped infront of the bakery.
''Ey, Muck! Ya'r wanted down the alley! These lots have their tanks full!'' the fat owner shouted in laughter.''It's what ya do best! Could've said you 'ere born to be a shitcleaner!''
''I am Muck.'' He whispered and grabbed his bucket.
Later that evening they found him lying on the edge of the canal with his wrists cut. His body was thrown in the same canal and never found again.
Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: itsmevichet on July 14, 2019, 08:30:38 PM
Bron - Part-time Henchman
A Cruxverse Gaiden by Vichet Ou, author of the Cruxverse:

1,427 words

In the dungeon, down the main gallery, a right, another right, a left, and before the chamber with the spike pit that led to the cells, was the lunchroom.

Bron and Gorbo sat waiting for Rafe. They fidgeted in their chairs, which had been designed for humans, whose legs were longer and cabooses were smaller.

“This is what I’m talking about,” Gorbo said, shifting in his seat. “Of course they ignore our suggestion for mid-height stools, but because it’s better than nothing, we can’t complain to management.”

Bron sighed. Gorbo wasn’t wrong, but by Boor Above’s Gold-Plated Gold, the ornery dwarf could spend hours going on about poorly selected furniture, among other things.

It was the same conversation they’d had every week. For the fifteen minutes before the staff meeting was supposed to start, all the way through the fifteen minutes after the staff meeting was supposed to start (Rafe was always late) Gorbo made his case.

Again, he wasn’t wrong. But Bron was just trying to get through the days and the weeks of their part-time dungeon-guarding gig. All that for one gold kazoo per week – when rent was three kazoos per month. He wasn’t being paid to listen to Gorbo’s complaints – but at mandatory staff meetings, he couldn’t escape them.

“And don’t get me started on how we have to bring our own lunches now,” Gorbo said, taking a bite of his leftovers sandwich, which that day included salt offal, some kind of pepper jelly, and what smelled like old cheese – though in the sulfuric dungeon, it was hard to tell. “They can’t keep treating us like this. That’s essentially a five harmonica dock in pay per week."

Bron nodded, chewing the potato dumplings he’d brought with him. “I’ve been trying to find a cheaper place to live to make do,” he said.

“Are you looking for a roommate?” Gorbo asked.

“No, there’s already three of us in the place.” It was a lie – Bron was looking for roommates, but living with Gorbo would just turn their thirty-minute therapy sessions into take-home work.

“Damnit to Gus,” Gorbo said, brushing crumbs out of his beard.

Rafe entered the room toting his oversized valise. “Sorry I’m late, you know how it is.”

They didn’t specifically “know how it was” beyond the middle-manager Rafe always being late and never actually explaining it. The lanky human always wore a smile that suggested he had some great, exciting news to share, as if his two dwarven supervisees couldn’t wait to hear about the assignments they were about to get. He was the room-temperature coffee of supervisors: not awful, but not by much.

“Middle-manager” described him perfectly.

“Okay, we’ve got three new prisoners in the secret dungeon-below-the-dungeon. I need one of you on meal service and the other on dragon duty.”

This was a clever middle-management tactic. Ask the workers to assign themselves so that the resentment remained between them, leaving any grumblings to be sorted out at the level of the expendable pay grades: in this case, two part-time dwarven guards.

Bron sighed. “I’ll take dragon duty.”

“Great, that means Gorbo is on meal service,” Rafe said.

Gorbo nodded. “Thanks, Bron.”

It was the least Bron could do for Gorbo. He really did feel sorry for his co-worker, even if he could barely stand co-working with him. Plus, Bron had learned after the last time Gorbo took dragon duty that he preferred Hefnir’s terrifying presence to Gorbo’s lengthy, in-depth complaints about Hefnir’s terrifying presence.

It was the price of steady employment in the shadow of the Goat Hair Crisis, wherein goat hair-backed commodities tanked after the Heroes’ Guild banished all the weregoats from the Norland Peninsula.

To be fair, weregoats, like all werecreatures, did cause were-syndrome. And worse, like all goats, they were clever and nimble, and loved to bite folks who could contract were-syndrome and become goat-like were-people, climbing trees and chewing on garbage without regard. And shedding everywhere, whilst smelling like goats.

But, the cost of losing the cheapest supply of goat hair fiber was steep indeed, and left the regional economy reeling, with money and employment in as short supply as locally sourced goat hair.

“What did these prisoners do?” Gorbo asked.

Rafe cleared his throat. “You know company policy, Gorbo: at HenchCo, we take utmost care not to reveal the confidential information regarding prisoners privileged to us by our clients.”

“But we’re part of HenchCo,” Bron said.

Rafe let out a long awkward sigh as he mulled over whatever bureaucratic nonsense he was about to declare. “Actually, as part-timers, you’re both contractors for HenchCo proper, so… I can’t reveal the information you want at this time…”

Gorbo shook his head. “Okay, well, do any of them have food allergies?”

“Oh, good reminder,” Rafe said. He fished out three identical parchments from his briefcase and handed them to Gorbo. “Make sure you fill out these intake forms for each of them.”

“What?” Gorbo asked. “Didn’t the intake center already get this information?”

“Upper management has re-allocated the Intake Department’s resources after analyzing the synergies between their functions and that of our field agents such as you two. It’s way more efficient to have the guards filling out these forms.”

That meant the luminaries running HenchCo had downsized their field offices and shoved all the now-unmanned duties onto the various entry-level employees that the field offices had once supported.

Another effective dock in pay, as it were.

“Alright, I’m off to my next meeting. If anything comes up, just run a message to our secret field office in the sewers below Lohrbhnof,” Rafe said. “Don’t worry about it being mostly empty, it’s still taking messages.”

Rafe exited the room as quickly as he’d entered, before Gorbo could protest.

Or at least, before Gorbo could protest to Rafe.

“That mealy-mouthed middle-manager,” Gorbo spat. “More duties? I’ve got to go down to the secret dungeon-below-the-dungeon, speak to a bunch of unpleasant and likely smelly prisoners, and get their vitals on top of serving them meals twice a day?”

Bron calculated the likelihood that Gorbo’s newfound complaints about meal service would outweigh any he’d have about dragon duty. Likely not. “Seems like it.”

“Well, to Gus with this,” Gorbo said, throwing the parchments on the floor. “I won’t do it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, HenchCo has been putting the wood-fasteners to honest workers like you and me, and I’ve had enough.”

Gorbo hopped off his chair and began to head to the door. Part of Bron was happy and excited for him – Gorbo’s feet were finally catching up with his mouth.

And the other part of Bron, the part that realized that if Gorbo left, he’d be on dragon duty and meal service, knew better.

“Gorbo, wait,” Bron said. “Come on, I’ll help you with meal service.”

Gorbo sighed. “That’s unfair to you, Bron,” he said.

“Well, if you leave I’d have to do it all anyway, right?” Bron asked. “And it’s not like they’d give me your pay in addition.”

Gorbo gave his co-worker a sarcastic, singular “ha,” and shook his head. “If you did both jobs at the same time halfway competently, they’d probably fire half of every two-man team from here to Treetown.”

Bron picked up the parchments and looked at what information they needed to gather. At least the names had been filled out.

“Okay, so we’ve got Dagger Thomas, Orrin Applebee, and Silga Dragonslayer,” Bron listed off.

“Silga Dragonslayer?” Gorbo asked. “Let’s not mention that name around Hefnir, eh?”

Bron laughed. “I guess we shouldn’t, no.”

Dragonslayer. What a made-up name. There weren’t any dragons around to slay anymore, aside from Hefnir. And Hefnir, by his own terrifying testimony having lived since the Inception of Rhythm, when the Composers Boor Above and Gus Below struck the Opening Chords, was not the type of dragon that anyone human sized were able to slay. You don’t live to unknowable-millennia-years-old by being slayable.

“I swear to Gus, they better not be allergic to gruel,” Gorbo added. “I’m not cooking any side meals.”

“Come on, Gorbo,” Bron said. “Let’s just get it done, and maybe we can leave early for the day.”

They left the lunchroom to head over to the dungeon, so that they could open the hidden door in the back, go down the stone-wrought spiral stairs, past Hefnir’s chambers (where hopefully he was napping, as old dragons tended to do) and into the secret dungeon-below-the-dungeon to gather their prisoners’ food allergies.

Just another day in the life of a part-time dungeon guard.
Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: Alex Hormann on July 30, 2019, 08:08:29 PM
Y Ddraig

1471 words

You never think it will happen to you. Broken limbs, cancer, debt, homelessness. Bad things happen to other people, and you’re unlucky if you know them. But you yourself are in the clear. Even when three other farms in the parish were hit by arsonists, Hywel Clarke clung to that belief. Right up until he woke at four-thirty in the morning, an hour ahead of his alarm, and realised he could smell smoke.
The cattle shed was ablaze. Plastic roofing sheets dripped down rusted stanchions, smoke billowed through holes in the decades old cinder-block walls. Only the brown moat of the slurry pit stopped the fire spreading to the fields. The wind, in a small act of mercy, was guiding the flames away from the other buildings, away from the bales of straw and hay.
There was a procedure for this, of course. Biannual inspections had drilled the importance of such things into him. Even at seventy-eight, Hywel was willing to admit he could learn a few new things. The first thing he did was dial nine-nine-nine. The second was to get himself of the property.
The fire service were their usual good selves. The flames were out before the could destroy more than the cattle shed itself, though none of it was salvageable and it was only a few months before he planned to gather the herd in for the winter. An ambulance followed the two engines up the narrow country roads, but thankfully was not needed. Hywel made everyone involved a cup of tea, more to occupy his hands and minds than because they looked thirsty. They were grateful nonetheless.
It was, oddly, the police who had the least to say. They asked what television had taught him were the usual questions. Had he seen anyone acting suspiciously? Had he any enemies? Was there any reason for him to be targeted? It was a no to all three, but they seemed uninterested in his answers. Jotting them down in little black notebooks and getting back in their car.
“We’ll be in touch,” they told him. In the end, it was not them he had to deal with.
Two days later, at eight in the morning, there was a knock at the door, insistent but polite. Outside were stood two people. One a white man with dark hair and the beginning of a moustache. The other a woman a few years younger. Indian or Pakistani or whatever you were supposed to call them these days, Hywel reasoned from the complexion of her skin.
The man waved a badge in front of Hywel’s eyes, too quick for him to see. “May we come in?” he asked. His voice carried the inflection of a good Welsh accent, albeit one eroded by proximity to the English. A city boy.
“Are you police?” asked Hywel.
“Yes,” said the man.
“No,” said the woman.
“She’s a consultant,” the man clarified. He stuck out his hand. “Will Thomas, Dyfed-Powys Police.”
Hywel shook the man’s hand. It was a firm grip, and enough to convince hi the man was honest. He invited them in for a drink. By the time they were seated in his living room, he’d convinced them to have a slice of cake and several biscuits too. Officer Thomas had been less enthusiastic than his partner.
Thomas wiped away crumbs of lemon drizzle with the back of his hand. “We won’t bother you with re-runs,” he said. “I read the reports on the way over.”
“Do you know who’s responsible for this?” asked Hywel. Much as he was trying to keep his temper, the previous night’s call to the NFU had left him in a sour mood. Delaying insurance reviews until after the single farm payment came through, indeed. Typical bureaucratic nonsense.
“Not yet. But that’s why we’re here. Miss Anderson and I are specialists with crimes involving- Crimes of this nature,” he said, as though correcting himself. “We’d like to ask a few questions, if that’s all right.”
“It is,” said Hywel. Though if the man had read the reports, surely the answers would be in there.
“Excellent. Let’s get started. What time did the fire start?”
“Around four. The fire crew said it had been going an hour or so by the time they arrived.”
“And you saw nobody around either before or just after the fire?”
“What about during?”
The consultant spoke next. “Have you been digging lately?”
“Making holes in the ground. By hand or machine.”
Hywel thought for a moment. “We cleared out some ditches in the forestry last month.”
“Did you happen to find any bottles?”
“You mean litter? There was a bit. It’s a footpath, public right of way. Has been for generations.”
“What about older bottles? About so long.” She measured out five inches with her fingers. “Stone or clay. Maybe metal.”
Hywel frowned. “Nothing like that.” He turned his gaze to the actual policeman. “What is this about?”
“Please just bear with us,” he said. “Have you seen any unusual birds in the area. The size of a hawk, perhaps. But red. Very red.”
“There’s red kite nests all along the top fields.”
“No, no. Not red kites. Actually - Nevermind. You’d know them if you’d seen them.” Thomas consulted his notes. He squinted, looked up, then back to his notes, and then back to Hywel. “Any large, red lizards in the area? Possibly with a crested ridge - or two - on their back. Perhaps even doing this?” he asked, striking a pose with one hand raised in a claw by his face.
Hywel stared as if the man had lost his mind.
“It’s a very distinctive pose,” said Anderson.
“Let me see that badge again,” Hywel demanded. “What sort of policeman are you?”
“One on loan from Swansea,” said Thomas, flipping the notebook shut. “Apologies, we do things rather differently in the city.”
“I’ll say,” Hywel agreed, settling back down.
“So you have seen absolutely nothing out of the ordinary?”
Thomas sighed, and Anderson pulled a disappointed face. She said, “Do you mind if we take a look around the fields?”
“Make sure you shut the gates,” Hywel said, ushering them out of the house. Once they were gone, he made a quick phone call to the local station who, much to his surprise, confirmed the pair as genuine. Specialists on loan from Swansea. What sort of arson attack needed those? Hywel wondered.
Hywel spent the rest of that morning cleaning up what he could of the ruined shed. It would need a proper construction crew to demolish the rubble piles remaining, but with his bobcat he was able to at least clear a path through. He checked on the water pipes, fixing stop-taps onto the ends of melted alkathene pipes. He could only wince as he imagined the tens of thousands of pounds it would cost to properly repair the shed. Even the gridded concrete floor would have to be replaced. The intensity of the heat had cracked it beyond repair. At twelve, he finally gave up on salvaging useful tools from twisted piles of metal, and went inside for a sandwich.
The pair were back just after dinner. The knock on the door was as polite as before, but they themselves were rather less presentable. Thomas was caked head to toe in mud and muck, as if he’d been dagging lambs in a thunderstorm. There was a cut across his forehead that looked to severe to have come from barbed wire. In his hands he held a metal box that was shaking violently, like the engine of a tractor too long without a service. Though engines tended not to have air holes in them.
Miss Anderson was in a marginally cleaner state. Her jeans were more muck than denim, and she carried a soiled jacket over her shoulder, revealing a black shirt with the word SABATON emblazoned on it, and a list of numbers that looked like dates. Unlike Officer Thomas, she was smiling.
Hywel looked on in silence, unsure of what to ask them first.
Anderson spoke. “We caught your arsonist. You’re welcome.”
“You did? He was still here.”
“It - he was, yes.”
Thomas wrapped an arm around his vibrating box. “All under control. We’ll take him down to the station now. Thank you for your time, Mister Clarke.”
Hywel watched as, between them, the pair took the box away to their car. Specialists from Swansea. Unusual questions. And now unexplained boxes. Was it a bomb? Could they be counter-terrorism? It was the only explanation he could think of. But why would terrorists have targeted farms?
And what sort of bomb looked like it had eyes, peering out from the darkness. Raising a red hand as if in a wave.
Title: Re: [Jul 2019] - Employment - Submission Thread
Post by: JMack on July 31, 2019, 08:15:43 PM
Just under 1,500 words and just under the wire.


Fig slipped through the crowd of boys like sand gliding under a door. She’d arrived late after trying to scrounge a bit of last night’s garbage from the back of a tavern. A gang of homeless men beat her to it and almost beat her bloody for grabbing half a wrinkled apple. So she was back at the Leak to earn a copper if she could, delivering water wherever Gilgam told her to go.

At this time of year, Lankhoor, city of oranges and breezes, became Lankhoor the oven of the south, as much a part of the desert as the rolling dunes beyond the Waste. The temple monkeys retreated to who knew what shaded nooks. The flat plains of the middle sea in doldrums sat on its shores like a mockery of plenty. Salt crusted everything and plants and people went thirsty for any drinkable water at all. In just a few weeks, the rains would come. In the meantime, the residents of Lankhoor drew on the silver waters saved up against the dry season in great cisterns beneath the city. Everyone except the poor, that is, who lived where pipes never reached or were never repaired. For them, there were the waterboys and Gilgam the Hook.

“Alright! Alright! Stop pushing!” Gilgam swatted the nearest boys away from the Leak, his metal hand gleaming under the blazing sun. Lads who didn’t move fast enough regretted it.

“Pigface, you’re next.” The boy so-named by Gilgam thrust a misshapen crock forward. The old man dipped it into a barrel and handed it carefully back.  He screwed up his face, going through lists of customers who’d paid up and those who hadn’t. “Take this to Wint ap Nogar’s place, boy. Spill a drop, and you’ll not get another dip this week.” Pigface took the precious delivery and paced away, one foot directly in front of the other, staring cross-eyed at the miniature wave moving back and forth across its surface.


“He ain’t made it!” called a voice from the back of the group.

“And why’s that, Gaptooth?” Gilgam focused his good eye on the speaker.

“He had an accident. Or so I heard it.” A low laugh went through the boys. Gaptooth smiled meanly.

Gilgam smiled back. “Step up here, my boy.” Gaptooth pushed through the crowd. The laughter turned to jealous grumbles.

Gilgam’s hand flashed out, slicing a shallow line across Gaptooth’s cheek. He grabbed the boy and pulled him up to his furious face. “Get this straight, boy. You work for me.” He lifted a vicious stare to all of them. “All you little parasites work for me. You’re my employees, right? Like any business. Someone owns it, and everyone else works for him. That’s me, and that’s you.” He shook Gaptooth hard enough to rattle his brain. “Anyone does any accidents around here, it’s me.” He pushed the boy away. “Get out, and don’t come back!” Gaptooth scrambled off, dodging kicks from his fellows.

Turning back to business, the old man called the next name and the next. Slowly, the day’s deliveries spread out across the city. At the end, Fig was the only one left. She’d found a tiny piece of shade in the corner where two walls of the Underbridge cistern building met and nearly fallen asleep.

“Fig!” Gilgam looked around, making sure none of the water boys were hanging about. He scraped a cup across the bottom of the nearly empty barrel and handed it to her.

“I ain’t got any more deliveries today, girl.” Fig stared up over the rim of the cup. “No more water. And no money for you.” Gilgam folded the stool he carried around with him. “It’s a hard life, girl,” he said. “I got people to report to, money I got to give over whether I’ve got it or not. Everybody works for somebody, right?”

“Now, you take today,” he continued. “They didn’t give me enough for all the deliveries I had to make. But people paid me honest, and here I am with no more water until tomorrow.” He snapped his fingers like he’d just thought of something.

“Say! A smart girl like you could help me out.” Fig looked at him with wary interest. “If a smart girl like you knew where you could find a little water no one was watching, well then, that water could get to someplace it could do me good. Like, say, Patwat’s shop over by the Old Gate.” Gilgam took the empty cup, and held out a large clay pot. “There’s a copper in it.” Fig met the water seller’s black eyes, sealing the deal.

Just one street later, the blazing noon had Fig hunting shade. The packed dirt of the road was a frying pan. She wanted just to go back to sleep until night came, but a job was a job. If she didn’t do it, Gilgam would never give her another.

But she knew where she was going, the thought of Gilgam’s coin overcoming her fear. Fear had ruled her life since she woke in their single, dirty room to find her mother’s body cold even in the morning heat. Her cries summoned the block warden; the warden summoned the death wagon. She took and hid the gold pin her mother had saved from an earlier life whose stories Fig only recalled in blurred snatches of her mother’s voice. She sold the pin for food, and after that she learned the streets.

One thing Fig learned was watching. Most people just saw, but she watched. And one thing people saw but didn’t watch were the temple monkeys and all their comings and goings throughout Lankhoor. Where did they sleep? Where did they meet? Most of all, how did they survive the long, hot month before the rains came?

Fig watched and knew.

The first difficulty was entering the temple district. A street orphan in ragged clothes and bare feet would stick out like a coal smudge on linen. Fig sidled up to the broad bronze-clad gates that pierced the great wall, but a soldier dozed at the picket, waiting to take the toll.  She turned into a passage - barely an alley - left between the wall and the backs of green gardens glimpsed through iron bars and smelling of moisture. Fig knew she could be up and over their fences in moments, but there would be guards there, too, at this time of year.

The gap narrowed so that even small-shouldered Fig had to squeeze through, holding the empty pot over head at an awkward, heavy angle. Where the passage finally stopped, she climbed.

Fig didn’t know the name of the temple; she only knew that monkeys used its walls and roof as a kind of staircase to the heights. The unexpected challenge was holding onto the pot with one hand and pulling herself up with the other. Stupid, she thought. She should have risked the gardens below. The guards were probably hiding from the sun themselves.

Still, she climbed. At last, breathing hard and unable even to sweat anymore for lack of water, she reached the broad roof of the ancient limestone building and found a sight that made her dizzy with desire. Like an oasis from her mother’s stories, a tree-lined pool of glistening water reflected the sun. Around it lay the lazy forms of monkeys basking in the cool shade.

The monkeys didn’t seem to have noticed her, so Fig moved as quietly as she possibly could until she reached the edge of the water. It was mesmerizing. It undulated - a gentle, hypotonic dance of light. Forgetting caution, Fig plunged her head under the surface and held it there for one glorious minute before stretching lungs forced her to remember breath.

“You’re not a monkey.”

The voice startled Fig so badly, she sucked in the water streaming from her hair and coughed it out again in spluttering gasps. Her first thought then was to run.

“Don’t be afraid.” Sitting in the crook of a tree, a girl about Fig’s age looked down at her. “I won’t hurt you.” There was an emphasis on the word ‘I’. Fig looked around and saw that the monkeys were awake and staring at her. The strange girl tilted her head, and now Fig realized she had a cloth bound around her eyes, like the blind beggars in the market.

“Who are you?” Fig managed.

“I’m a sort of god. I think. It’s a long story. Who are you?”

“Fig.” The girl - god - waited, so Fig added, “I’m a waterboy.”

The girl’s blind gaze lingered on Fig for some time, seeming to read her whole life. “You have a choice, Fig the waterboy. You can join my story. There’s a place for you. Or you can fill your pot and go.”

Fig thought about her mother’s stories and her mother’s death. The stories hadn’t helped, had they? Doing work, earning a copper - they kept you alive.

She filled Gilgam’s pot, and left.