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Author Topic: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread  (Read 5170 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« on: November 01, 2014, 09:45:31 PM »


November is (because of NaNoWriMo) a special month for writers. To honor this, I'm going to do something special. :)

This month you can choose between all the themes we already did this year.
So you started a story but didn't finish it in time...
Or you planned on write one but real life got in the way...
Or you discovered this forum and the writing contests too late...

Now you have the chance (again). :)

Here's a recap of what we did this year:

[January 2014 - Betrayal]

[February 2014 - Fanfic]

[March 2014 - Grimdark]

[April 2014 - Write about Jake/Lynn!]

[May 2014 - Portal Fantasy]

[June 2014 - Taboos!]

[July 2014 - Apprenticeship]

[August 2014 - The Seven Deadly Sins]

[September 2014 - Cliché and Tropes]

[October 2014 - Abandoned Places]

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. The story must follow the rules and briefing from one of the monthly writing contests 2014
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
5. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
6. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
7. 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. ;)
8. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
9. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys next to the 'youtube' symbol:

Entry will close December 1st 2014 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.*

Please post your entry below. 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 in early 2015.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.

*I seem to never be home around the end of month, so please excuse me if I'm not always on time (which is hard in an international contest with all the time zones anyways. ;))
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline Wizardly-K9

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Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2014, 04:19:36 PM »
First to submit, it seems. This story is working off the "Apprenticeship" theme, though it's not the type of master-student tale you might expect. [1,469 words]

Spoiler for Hiden:
Chasing a Fox's Tail

The sadistic old fox always left his back wide open. He was mocking me. It was his way of saying “Go ahead. Take your best shot. You'll never land a blow, anyway.” Too bad for him I had already planned ahead. Gaius had made the foolish choice of letting me play chef for him that evening. I made sure to give the broth he ate a little kick to get his aging bones moving. Unfortunately for him, the kick would be short-lived.

It was noon now and whatever revitalization old Gaius felt was dying quicker than he was. He sat before the fireplace, finishing his broth. Then I heard a cough, and the corners of my mouth curved. Gaius told me that when I smiled I resembled one of those demons from the old fables who used to carry children off into the night. It was the only time I thanked him for something. I heard the fox cough a second time, and deftly tip-toed my way toward him. I  drew my dagger from my sash. It was beautiful by the way, and polished to a sheen. It might have been pointless to polish a soon-to-be-dyed-red blade, but a proud moment was about to take place. Today was the day I finally stick a knife in Gaius the Fox's traitorous back.

I reversed my grip on the dagger. Then I put one foot forward, thrust and twisted – just like Gaius taught me. I was already premeditating my success when Gaius' back disappeared from my sight. The old fox, despite just arriving at fifty years, still had the reflexes to dodge a dagger at that range. He swept my feet with my foot (the real one, not the prosthetic.) Then he stood and kicked the dagger out of my hand. With the back of head against the floor, I glared at him.

He slurped up what was left in the bowl, then exhaled. “Whew... That broth was delicious, Abby. Little tip, though – if you're going to poison someone, make sure it's stronger than something they've been bit with before.”

He tapped his spoon against the bowl while he sauntered to the kitchen. “Oh, and get dressed. We've got work to do tonight.”

I laid there for a couple more minutes. I prayed to the gods to show some pity on me for once and drop the roof on my head. Those bastards never listen when you needed them to.



Gaius always told me “Don't get fussy unless you want things to get messy.” Basically, never cause a scene while I'm out on the town. That included whether I was doing work or just going on a stroll. You never know when somebody you stole from is going to suddenly recognize your face. Coincidence never works in a thief’s favor.
 
I stayed low while casing the Ameryte Reserve. It had the same problem most of the government buildings in Thesla had: too many windows, too many backdoors, not enough security. You see, Ameryte was the powder that allowed mages to poof out spells and all that, so you would expect the governor to put higher priority on making sure the reserve stayed safe from thieves. In other words – people like me and the Fox.

After adopting a proper route, I pulled a glow stick from my cloak and capped its top. Its light was only as bright as a firefly's bum, but Gaius' sharp eyes could see it. He joined me in the alley.

“Found where the gold is, Little Bird?” he asked.

“I found a knife for your throat, Fox. Y'know there's no gold, so stop yappin and follow me.”

We inched toward the backdoor. I pulled out some Ameryte, sprayed it on the knob and chanted some sweet words. It melted and we could get in. Once we were, we ducked past the few guards I had noticed from outside, and stalked our way to the basement. Reserves always kept the goods in the basement – the most obvious place to hide something. You think they would have learned by now.

Once we arrived, we found a steel door that was about the height of the basement. Gaius licked his lips and brought out a few pins.

“Stay back, little bird. Let the Fox take it from here,” he said while going to work.

I watched his back silently. It wide open again. I had a perfect shot right in the cervical vertebrae. “The crown shot,” as Gaius called it. I kept my knife-hand still, though. He already knew what I was thinking. I had been thinking it for over five years, after all.

I was barely eight, but I already knew all of the swindler slang: casing, heists, crown shots and all that. I was home alone waiting for my parents to return from what would have been their biggest job yet. They never made it back. The Fox did, though. He and my folks had history together, but he came alone. He had limped back to my house on the one leg that had survived the job, as well as with all the loot my folks had swiped.

“Sorry, little bird... but your folks and I had the misfortune of sharing shifts tonight. It never ends well when thieves meet each other on the job, y'know. We had a bit of a past, but competition is competition.”

The bastard had killed my folks, taken the loot for himself, then decided to squat in their place now that they were corpses. He kept me around too as his 'apprentice.' Said it made him look less shady to the neighbors if he kept a kid around, but he warned me to never rat him out or else. He told me I was free to seek vengeance on my own if I had the guts. I had them alright, and I planned to make sure he didn't have his at the end of the day.

“Viola!” Gaius exclaimed softly.

The huge lock on the door had been taken care off, and the steel door blocking us from the Ameryte could know be slid open. I spat and stuck out my tongue. He just grinned my malice away and strolled into the vault. Dumb fox was too busy flaunting his fur to see that blade coming for his chest. Gaius wore the same look on his face that I did. He looked down at the sword, painted in his blood. Then he smiled, coughed his last and dropped to the ground like an orange leaf.

“Knew I'd find this fool eventually,” a man sporting leather armor said while striding out of the vault. “Five years ago my band was pulling guard duty for some noble. Who would have thought that we'd cross paths with the city's famous infamous duo as well as Gaius the Fox on the same day? Figures that the fox be the only one to get away, though. Sly bastard got lucky and only lost a leg.”

The man put a foot on Gaius' corpse and prepared to yank out his sword like was stuck in stone. Unfortunately, the bastard was going to get a chance to become king. He hadn't been paying attention, and didn't notice me creep behind his back. He probably assumed Gaius was still working alone. Well, he had made one hell of a mistake. I gave him a crown shot – right in the cervical vertebrae. He didn't grunt or jolt. He just dropped like a door nail right on top of Gaius. I didn't want to leave Gaius like that, but I had no choice when I heard footsteps from upstairs.

Quickly, I sprinted into the vault, grabbed what I could. Then darted out of the basement, sparing Gaius' smirking face one more look before bolting upstairs and escaping through an unguarded window I had noticed earlier. Tears were running down my eyes while I made a rushed back home. Once I made it back, I littered the Ameryte all over the floor like it was dead weight. It was worth hundreds of imperials, but I really didn't give a damn at the moment. I sat with my legs curled up in front of the unlit fireplace and wept like a babe.



It was all over the paper next morning:

"Gaius the Fox and Ratslayer Leonard Both Killed in a Bloody Draw!"

Fools. The Ratslayer only got Gaius because of some chicken shit ambush, and I polished him off myself afterward. They never got their stories straight. I threw the paper away and started flipping my dagger. My thoughts were preoccupied with lots of things like “What in the Eight Hells am I gonna do with all these imperials?”

I kept arriving at one thought the most – Coincidence never works in a thief's favor.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2014, 07:31:21 PM by Wizardly-K9 »
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Offline Themeaningnotthename

Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2014, 07:33:27 PM »
This is a story that fits into "Grimdark", with an emphasis more on the grim than the dark. 995 words, and some mild language.

Spoiler for Hiden:

Maro stood at the top of the gallows as the third man that day, a murderer if Maro remembered correctly, walked with that dejected sulk common to men about to die earlier then they had hoped. Though now that he was thinking about it, whoever dies later than they hoped?
   The back of his neck itched, he thought about scratching it, but then realized how disgustingly cliché that would look. Why did it matter? It didn't. but Maro wasn't some dumb idiot who became an executioner because he liked making people spit out their life as they dangled from a hempen scarf or some sub-human monster that laughed as he pulled the lever to swing the trapdoor out and the poor fool dying started his last dance. He was merely a man who had a job. And, sure, that job involved killing three people in a day - on a slow day - but he needed money and someone was going to do it, and in that case he might as well take the pay. So he wasn't going to scratch himself in front of the crowd of laughing morons - oh look their killing somebody else and it's so Gods dammed hilarious! Disgusting - and prove he was as much an inbred pig as them. Animals scratched, and spat, and pissed, and screwed not caring who saw. Maro wasn't an animal. He was just a man with a shitty job.
    The criminal reached the steps of the platform through the heavy downpour of feces and rotting food. Whether the man had ever committed a crime or not didn't matter, the law had named the man "criminal" and so he was. Maro said a silent prayer to the Jealous One asking that the law would never turn on him like that. Law was a protection - right? - but sometimes it bit you in the face, and now it was biting this man.
   As footsteps clanked up the thirteen stairs Maro looked the man in the face, and swallowed hard the man was his age. He looked nothing like the condemned, but for some unknown reason that struck a chord with Maro. The man had a scared look to him, which was no surprise, but he looked more sad then anything. That was the only difference really, some died angry, some sad. This man was a sad one. Tears and everything. Not cries and sobs, just the silent shaking of a man who's not ready to die but is about to because in the end nobody really has a say about that sort of thing anyway. Nothing else to it.
   Damn, but that itch was starting to bother him. He wished this was all over and he could oblige his body and not worry about how much of a pig he looked, but then remembered that would mean the poor fellow walking up the stairs would be dead, so he cursed himself for the thought.
   He slipped the noose over the man's head and as he came closer he realized the man was whispering a prayer. About as surprising as the tears, Maro probably heard more prayers in his daily grind then a Cleric. He shut out the condemned's voice, as he shut out the Crier's. Whatever sins the man had committed weren't for Maro's ears. The Crier prattled on, and Maro set his hand on the lever. The prattling ended with, "and so, in the name of Justice and by the power given to me by the law and by His Most Regal Eminence King..." - Honestly, the man was scared shitless and crying, why did the Crier need to spout out dumb nonsense to drag everything out? - "I sentence this man to death for his crimes. May the God judge him justly for his crimes."
   Apparently God was merciful, least-ways that’s what Maro's mother had taught him, but the law seemed to prefer him to be just. Made sense, law and mercy really didn't agree on much, so like everything else Maro had ever run into that disagreed they just played like the other didn't actually exist.
   Drums started up, a steady rat-a-tat to polish the ugliness off of the screams - the crowd wanted to watch someone die, sure, but they didn't want to feel too conflicted about enjoying it - and Maro pulled the lever. Clockwork whizzed and tocked as the floor spun out. The rope made a sharp snap and Maro got to experience the full force of the man's gurgling yelps as he kicked out for some sort of purchase for his feet.
   The happy onlookers seemed to realize that the fun was drawing close and so began frantically throwing rancid dry crap in the poor man's direction so as not to have any leftovers of the stuff. One hit him in the purpling folds of his fleshy neck and got stuck. The condemned locked eyes with Maro begging for something - probably trying to figure out how to say 'please I don't want to die with a turd stuck in my neck' when you were being strangled - but Maro was unwilling to meet his gaze for long.
The itch was becoming unbearable. When was this ending? But then...gurgle...gurgle...silence. No more kicking. it was over, again. How many had he killed? In the beginning he had counted, not trying to just out of habit you see, but the list had become too long. Nobody could count that many faces. As the crowds dispersed and the body was dragged out by Clerics, Maro gave up, and scratched his itch. Who gave a bleeding shit if he scratched it anyway?  Weren't they all animals anyways? Not just animals, animals at least had the soul not laugh and throw things at a man being asphyxiated.
The worst part? Scratching didn't help. What a perfect summation of his life, waiting to scratch an itch, though he knew it wouldn't help.



Offline Alex Dutson

Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2014, 10:42:08 PM »
This is based on "Apprenticeship". The title is Idle Thoughts and it is 1,020 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was a good night. The moon was barely a slither in the sky, the air was crisp but not freezing and the wind only blew enough to tickle the leaves in the trees.  Sometimes it was best to have the wind rattling the shutters.  You might have to cling to the rooftops with your fingernails but there was no danger of being overheard.  Tonight they would have to walk softly, silent shadows flittering through the city.  Leeka fastened her hair up and banished her musings from her mind. Idle thoughts are for the fire, outside your mind has to be as sharp as the knives you carry.  Her teachers words, words she had passed on to her own apprentices.  They waited in the dark next to her, Megi, Saree and little Fon, all still and silent. Good. Leeka moved gracefully forward, avoiding the lamp light, and headed into the Steps.

The city had many districts from the wide expanse of the Parade, to the dirty scrawl of the Docks and the towering spires of the Libraries.  Leeka’s work took her to all of them.  People died as easily in a feather bed as in a tavern or a busy square on market day.  Tonight, however, her business was in the Steps.

The Steps were a warren of stairways and archways.  Some led to homes, taverns and shops but you were just as likely to find a sudden drop into nothingness.  You paid attention in the Steps unless you had a sudden urge to try your hand at flying.  It had once been the worst neighbourhood in the city but the poorest had long since been pushed out leaving those who were poor but not truly desolate.  Including the man they were here to kill.

Their route took them up a twisting set of steps. They were worn down with use and cracked with age.  Houses rose up high on both sides but no one looked out.  Even if they had the lamp light was too easily swallowed by the twisting of the pathway and Leeka was too used to walking in the darkness.  Make day and night your friends because death does not sleep.  The stairs ended abruptly but Leeka was already turning up a smaller passageway.  More stairs leading them higher, deeper into the Steps.  They were close.

Finally they reached a half broken archway beside a tavern. The battered sign proclaimed it The Silver Hare.  Laughter and shouting floated out of a half open window.  Leeka turned away from the sound   and used old hidden hand holds to effortlessly climb the wall and slide onto the roof beside the tavern.  Her apprentices followed.  Leeka heard a gentle thump. Saree.  She always missed the first foot hold. Perhaps another lashing would help her remember.

Leeka crept over the roof, slowing her pace to accommodate her three shadows.  Soon she would present Megi to the Guild and there would only be two.  Leeka almost laughed at the sorrow that thought produced in her.  How she had raged against taking an apprentice. Her joy came in the feel of the knife sliding into soft flesh, seeing the poison dart hit its mark, hearing the crunch of bones under her boot, not in teaching scrawny infants an art few could master.  And now Megi had mastered it and she almost longer for the day when the girl hadn’t known how which side of an axe to hold. Leeka shook her head.  Tonight her mind seemed inclined to wander.  Her musings would have to wait, a man who should have been cold still breathed the night’s air.

They had reached his home.  A rented room at the top of a dilapidated house with holes in the ceiling and rats in the walls.  As good a place to die as any other.  She should have sent one of the children in, it was an easy kill, a learning opportunity. But Leeka was in the mood for death.  She wanted to see the life drain from his eyes and hear his final breath.  Quickly she slipped through one of the roof holes and dropped into the room. She landed silently, crouched in case of attack. He slept on.  In a few swift smooth motions she took out of her knife, shook the man awake and slit his throat before he could even register waking.  He gave one silent choke and then his eyes were empty, the life draining away faster than water down a drain.  Leeka smiled.

That was when the half sword slid between her shoulder blades.  She had never been stabbed before but she knew what it was as surely as she knew the names of the muscles it cut through and the blood vessels it opened.   She turned, reaching down for her own sword.  That was when the axe hacked off half her arm.  She reeled backwards but somehow remained on her feet.  Megi stood in front of her, bloody sword pointed at the floor. Saree held the axe, her face impassive as she looked at Leeka.

“Why?”
The word burst out of her even as she struggled to stay upright.
“You have enemies in the Guild, enemies with money.  Anyone can die for the right price.”
Her words parroted back at her.  The pain, hurt and betrayal began to recede as anger raged like a fire through her.  She had taught these children. She had shown them how to carry death on their fingertips, how to slip like shadows through the city, how to strike faster than a man could blink.  And they had betrayed her.

Megi must have seen the fury in her eyes and known Leeka would rather kill them all and die than try to escape and live. 
“Finish her Fon.”
The knife slashed against the side of her throat.  Leeka hadn’t even noticed him in the shadows.  Pride bubbled up inside her as she slid down onto the floor, gagging on her own blood.  The last thing she saw was the three of them staring down at her as the world turned black and faded away.

Offline JMack

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Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2014, 12:13:31 PM »
My first submission here.  In fact, my first completed story in, oh, 30+ years.
Some language.  1,485 words.
The joker topic is Portal Magic, and the story is called "Old Hundred".
Actually, I hate that title.  So here's a mini contest: anyone have a better idea for the title after reading this?

Spoiler for Hiden:
HUNDRED AND EIGHT

He said, “And the angel told me that this window from our world to his only opens once every hundred years, and he comes each time and waits for another hero to come through.”

His daughter snorted and rolled her eyes.  “But he got you instead?”

“He got me.  I was eight years old.  I asked him how long I could stay.  Because it was wonderful, you see.  He was wonderful.  He said, ‘You can stay in this world for as long as your heart is true.’  As long as my heart was true.”

“I guess that left you out.”

“Ah, well.  I stayed, and became one of them, one of the great clan.  Oh, I could tell you many things about that year, Fran.  So many.  But it ended so quickly, because I grew homesick.  And frightened.  They needed hero.  And when I realized that wasn’t me, I just… fell.  And landed back out there, in the sand, in front of the stone, with the tide in and the surf around my knees.  It was still summer, still 1955, even though a whole year had passed on the other side.  And I was late for dinner.”  He laughed at that, which got him coughing again.  She had to hold a tissue to his mouth so he could spit, then pull him up straight again in his float-chair.  Even with the leaps science had taken in the last few years, one hundred-and-eight years old was not pretty.

They looked at each other, each one scanning the other’s face for some clue where to take this strange discussion.  Fran found she was pissed.  That didn’t surprise her; it was standard with her father.

“You are so full of shit,” she complained.  “You call me down here from D.C., and give me this fantastic crap.  It’s 2055.  And I’m sixty-five years old.  Do you think I’m an idiot?  ” 

She winced, expecting him to jump on such an easy line.  Ten years ago he would have, but now he just looked at her.  There were tears in his eyes, and his face was strained, his shoulders and neck rigid.  She glanced down at his hands, bony white and gripping the arms of his float-chair fiercely.  Her scalp prickled suddenly, and a shiver ran from her head all the way to her toes in a sudden rush.

“You’re serious.  You really believe this.”

The relief in him was almost heartbreaking.  “Yes!” he said.  “Yes!  Look outside.  Look at what I’ve done.  Would I do all that as a some joke?  Just to pull your leg?”  She turned her head and did indeed look out through the great picture window, down the lawn to the dunes, to the cranes, trucks, men and machinery, and beyond them to the dike that now held back the water and reclaimed a stretch of beach lost to climate change twenty years before.  A stretch of beach leading up to a great, black, jagged rock.  And on top of that, a tall, grey, granite stone, glittering in the late afternoon sun.

The dike was new.  It stretched the length of two soccer fields from one arm of the small bay to the other: an enormous, ugly ribbon of concrete, like an old-style roadway stood on its side.  How much had all that cost?  How much had all that cost!  Shit!

He saw her face close down in disbelief, anger and worry.  “I’m not senile, Fran,“ he said.  “And I’m not crazy.”

She wanted to scream.  She did scream.  “What do you mean, you’re not crazy, Dad?  Look at what you’ve done!  Look at what you’ve spent!  Is there anything left?  Who the hell let you do this?  What lunatic contractor hired on to change the goddamn coastline!”  She couldn’t stand sitting there any longer, and started pacing back and forth as stunned questions just vomited forth.  Oh yes, vomited.  She knew that was the right word even as she kept on yelling and pacing and pointing and panting for breath.  Sixty-plus years of this man, and his crap.  How had her mother ever stood it?  How had any of them ever stood it?

But he just sat there looking at her, like she was his last chance on earth.  No arguing, no arrogance, nothing.  She found she was weeping, and that she was sitting across from him again.

“I need you, Frannie.”

God, and she needed deodorant.  Amazing how menopause could survive the implacable march of medicine.  She stank.

“You need me,” she said, her voice shaky, her whole body almost limp now.  “That is the definition on irony.

“You need me,” she repeated, when he didn’t rise to the bait.  “What happened to your nurse, what’s her name?”

“She quit yesterday.  Couldn’t stand me anymore.  Packed her things.  Left.  I called you.”

“Well someone had to change your diaper, I guess.  Wasn’t that a treat.  Hey, Fran, it’s an emergency down here at the beach house.  I’ve shit my pants and no one’s here to clean me up.”  She closed her eyes on him and tried to let her mind go dead.  But she felt the anger starting up again, and had to swallow hard against the taste of bile.  She took a deep breath.  Let it out.  Took another.  “How much money?” she said.

“There’s still money left, if that’s what you mean.  Building the dike took a lot.  But I have a lot.”

“Not what I meant, Daddy,” she almost sneered at him, knowing that the anger was turning her mean.  “I mean, how much is it worth to you?”

Their eyes met, and she looked away first, blushing from her neck to her ears.

“It’s good to see still you have some capacity for shame,” he said.  Hah! she thought.  Look who’s calling the kettle black.

He used his chin to point to his desk.  “Over there, you’ll see I’ve gotten it all written out properly.  Amazing what virtual lawyers can do these days.” The old bastard knew her, didn’t he.  Knew what she’d want to go along with his delusion.  And what did she care anyway?  Let him have his pathetic fantasy, if she got something out of it.  She felt every wall there’d ever been between them go up, enormous, black slabs of history and bitterness, as she walked over to the deck and picked up his last will and testament and a power of attorney over all his earthly affairs.

The sun was falling to the horizon when they reached the black rocky outcrop and the standing stone on its crest.  He’d had a ramp built from the base of the dune, across the sand and up the side of the rock.  But there was no way he’d have been able to navigate to it without help.  He hadn’t had a chance to get one of the new lift-chairs that could be controlled through a brain-link.  She couldn’t believe it.  All this effort, all this money, and it hadn’t even occurred to him.  He’d needed her.  Well, someone.

Gulls wheeled overhead as the sky blushed rose and orange.  She was glad she was standing behind him, and unable to see the weird patterns he’d insisted she draw across his face with lipstick.  “Next best thing,” he had said.  Though in comparison to what, she didn’t think she wanted to know.

“Hold my hand, Frannie,” her father said.  She let him grab on to her. 

“I’m going to sell the damn house,” she said. 

“I won’t need it.”

“Hey!” came a voice from the sand below, startling Fran and almost causing her father to jump out of the chair.  She twisted around and saw a small boy looking up at them.  He started climbing up the side of the ramp, calling out, “What are you doing?  What’s up there?”

“Who is it,” her father asked, in a sudden panic.  “Who is it?”

“It’s just the boy from next door,” Fran answered, remembering seeing him playing around among the litter of the construction when she’d arrived that morning.

“He can’t be here,” the old man said. “You can’t come up here!” he shouted, waving his arms wildly as the boy stepped up next to them. “Go away!  It’s not for you!”

The boy squeezed around the chair and stepped toward the standing stone as the blazing sun kissed its very top.  A shimmering started all around them, as though waves of heat were suddenly baking off from every surface.  And something opened in the sky.

“Take me!” screamed the old man.  “Take me!  I’m ready now!  I won’t fail you!”

The boy said, “It’s beautiful!”

The old man screamed again, and again, weeping and begging and cursing.

Fran laughed on the edge of madness and said, “I guess the house will sell for more than I thought.”
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
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Offline Elfy

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Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2014, 06:51:55 AM »
Managed to get this in just in time this month. I used the theme of Betrayal as that was one I didn't enter. It's called May You Never Know Happiness and weighs in at 1407 words including the title.
Elfy (@ChrisElfy on Twitter if anyone is interested).

Spoiler for Hiden:
May You Never Know Happiness

Talabi was her real name, that was what her father, an obeah man, had called her and it was the name she had come into the world with. Her master and mistress called her Mary, as that was a good Christian name, and she was beaten if she ever referred to herself as Talabi.

The entire town had come to see Talabi on this bleak autumn day. Orange, brown and red leaves swirled around Talabi’s bare feet as she was lead to the gallows that had been erected in the town square for her execution. The thought that the leaves were dead went through the slave’s head, dead like she soon would be.

The townsfolk were silent as Talabi shuffled past them. They had put hot irons to the soles her feet during the questioning, so she couldn’t walk properly anymore, only hobble slowly.

After the first two days of the questioning she stopped giving her tormentors separate identities. She didn’t even know which of them had torn out her eye. She turned her one remaining eye to the crowd and saw Priscilla Arden. The sun broke through a gap in the clouds that revolved slowly through the sky, and that sliver caught the girl’s midnight black hair and made it shine for a second.

Priscilla’s lips quirked up briefly in the cruel smile that she wore so often. Talabi knew why the girl grinned. It could have been her making the final walk to the forbodeing gallows, it should have been her, but if Talabi had betrayed Priscilla in the way she herself had been betrayed then that would have meant condemning Miranda, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, even little Lizzie, and that Talabi would not do.

                                                                 ****

It had been fun when Talabi had first shared the forbidden information with her young mistress Sarah. Sarah was the oldest child of the Dyer family and not that much younger than the kitchen slave. That was why Talabi had told her about the magic. Well, the white folk called it magic. Her parents had many words for the craft, but her white masters and mistresses would never have understood that.

In very short order an excited Sarah had told her friends that Talabi knew magic and she formed what Sarah’s best friend Miranda referred to as a ‘coven’. Miranda read a lot, too much was her parent’s opinion. To them the only book anyone needed to read was the Christian Bible. There was magic in that too if what Talabi had been told about it was true.

The full coven had only met a few times. Most of the girls were more wedded to the idea of magic than its practical application. The first time they had cast an actual spell, something simple using an egg and a mirror to divine their future husbands (this was am exercise in futility as most of the village girls would marry who their parents told them to, and these were contracts made for financial and commercial purposes) they had seen different things to what were expected. Some of the girls took fright and wanted out of the coven then and there.

This was the first time Priscilla’s true colours came to the fore. The girl knew no more than her friends, and certainly less than Talabi, but she managed to convince the scared ones that she did and threatened to cleave their tongues to the roofs of their mouths if they ever dared speak a word of what had been done.

                                                              ****

As the remaining girls studied their craft, they became adept and the burgeoning skills of the knowledge hungry Miranda and the sly Priscilla soon outstripped that of their teacher. The difference was that the girls could read, and that was a skill Talabi had never been taught. She was a slave, why would she need to know how to read or add up?

The witchfinders were always a problem, but as long as they were kept busy in other parts of the colonies they never came to this sleepy little hamlet. That was until an outbreak of ‘witchcraft’ in a nearby village. Three ladies became victims of the hangman and one of their husbands was pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea when accusations were also leveled against him.

Miranda and Sarah had cried when they heard the news. Talabi had taken a moment of quiet reflection. Priscilla had laughed. Fools, she had called them. There was no Talabi there, what the simpletons thought was real magic was not real at all. They were the only witches in this area, maybe in all the colonies.

Talabi was reminded of an old saying she had heard her master use when teaching his son to ride, and the boy had become boastful of his abilities. “Pride goeth before a fall,” the older man had said. Talabi had thought it was a warning for the younger Dyer to not fall from his mount, but when Priscilla had laughed at those poor people killed for no good reason, she realized the true meaning of the words.

Their business done in the nearby village, the eye of the witchfinders was cast further afield, and it fell on Talabi’s home town. The men who accused those of practicing witchcraft didn’t need much evidence to ruin someone’s life, and if they couldn’t find a good citizen prepared to accuse a neighbor, then they weren’t above manufacturing something.

Priscilla never gave them that choice. The girl was malicious by nature, and the closest thing to true evil that Talabi had ever encountered, but she was also easily panicked.

                                                           ****

Talabi was as shocked as anyone at Sunday service when Rachel suddenly fell from her seat and began to writhe and twitch uncontrollably at her family’s feet. That was when Priscilla jumped to her feet, pointed at Talabi and screamed, “Witch!”

The witchfinder arrived that week. Grudgingly Talabi had to admit that Priscilla did her work well. She had planted evidence, and then the witchfinder himself suggested the idea of the witchcake to pinpoint the witch’s identity.

Witchcake was a form of old English white magic that involved feeding a cake make of rye, meal and the urine of the afflicted person to an unsuspecting dog. The idea was that as the dog consumed the cake the witch herself would be hurt due to the invisible particles remaining in the urine that the cake had been laced with. It was of course both false and ridiculous, but Priscilla had sent shooting pains to Talabi as the dog ate the cake.

Talabi knew what was happening as soon as she felt the first fierce ache, one that doubled her over in pain and caused her to cry out loudly. Priscilla had stuck quickly and before Talabi could counter it, the witchfinder and his lieutenants were on her, and marching her to the courthouse to be put to the question.

                                                          ****

The brave girl had endured the beatings, the torture, the mutilation and given up nothing. She dearly wanted to co accuse Priscilla, but to do that would mean that the others would also find themselves implicated. Priscilla was strong in magic, but weak in spirit and would break quickly.

Talabi’s damaged feet didn’t allow her to mount the steps of the gallows and the men on either side of her almost carried her up to the noose. She stood silently, surveying the crowd through her one eye, trembling from the cold wind that blew through the thin dirty shift that she had been given to wear. She didn’t resist as her wrists were bound or as her ankles were similarly tied. She closed her eye as the rough rope of the noose was draped over her neck and tightened a little.

“Any last words?” the priest asked.

Talabi opened her eye, coughed and fixed the still grinning Priscilla with a clear gaze. Only the remaining three teenage members of the coven understood the words that the slave girl muttered through cracked and swollen lips. It translated in English to “May you never know happiness”. The smile slipped from Priscilla’s lips and she took a step back as if she had been slapped.

The hood was placed over Talabi’s head and the last sound she heard was a muffled bang as the trapdoor fell from beneath her feet and the world turned to darkness.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline Ancalagon

Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2014, 02:40:39 AM »
I chose the Betrayal topic for my story this month. It is called 'The Mist in Their Veins' and is 1496 words long.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Mist in Their Veins

I am still unsure whether I should report the event of October 18th, 1899 in the Bloodworth crypt, for I have not been sure of my sanity since that night. Though I feel I should record the event else I will lose whatever sanity remains, if indeed I still hold some.

The event in the Bloodworth crypt would not have happened were I to have kept to the values important to my faith. Through my greed I had become friends with one Thomas Jones who brought me into a world of treasure hunting. We kept our ears open for talk of all sorts of items which, when sold on the right market would yield great pay.

By what I had thought to be chance, Thomas and I came into contact with a man named John Dallas. He was tall and slick, describing himself to us only as a ‘business man’ in the business of rare jewels. He said he yearned for one jewel in particular which he would pay heavily for our assistance retrieving it. The jewel was located in an underground crypt - the Bloodworth crypt I mentioned in the opening of this document.

I took a distrust to the man immediately, unsettled by his snake-like demeanor. I waited until I was alone with my friend before voicing my concerns and was met with a wave of laughter. Thomas told me he had seen none of the behaviors in John of which I had attributed to him and I was being overly cautious with whom I work with. He proposed that we bring the man along with us on a job prior to accepting his request in an effort to build trust.

So it came to be that on October 11th, one week prior to the events in the Bloodworth crypt, I found myself alongside Thomas Jones and John Dallas arriving to a party at the Davenport estate covertly undertaking out latest job. We had been hired by a man claiming to be the rightful recipient of an immensely valuable painting left to him in the will of his late mother but which had landed in the hands of his sister by manipulation of the executor. The job was to attend a party at his sister’s estate, where the painting would be displayed, and retrieve it for him. We attempted no background checks to confirm his heritage and though I think a part of me did not believe the man, the large reward at the end of it all gave me reason to overlook any doubts.

We took turns at the party to either mingle or scout the estate to gain intel for how best to approach the retrieval of the painting. We decided before hand that attending the party would be no more than reconnaissance, though to my surprise it was announced midway through the party that the painting would be moved to a museum before the conclusion of the night. It then fell upon us to improvise a means of obtaining the painting before this move. We decided to make our move as everyone was called out to the balcony.

It seemed oddly suspicious to me that the painting was left unattended at this time and I urged my friend to consider some last minute recon before we took the painting, but my friend decided it was the perfect opportunity and he was hellbent on seizing it. John and I waited outside the guest room on lookout while my friend went to retrieve the painting. He emerged from the room shortly after, carrying the painting within a bed sheet. It was then that the lady of the house came into the room with two guards by her side. It was John who made the quick decision to head for the wine cellar. After Thomas and I hurried into the cellar behind him, John quickly barricaded the door.

It was in that darkness, illuminated only by the moonlight filtering through the window, that I saw in John another face overlaid with his own. Flesh on his cheeks and forehead had rotted away in places, revealing teeth and skull. He took on a wraith-like appearance, but as I continued to look at him, his face returned to its human state and I resolved in my mind that it was simply a trick of the sparse light. It was then that John found a tunnel leading to the outside. At the time, while on the adrenaline high after escaping with the painting, I didn’t think it suspicious for a tunnel to be so conveniently placed. It is only now, thinking back on the event with what I now know of John Dallas, that I find the events of that night rather too coincidental. While I still had my concerns about John, I admitted it was through his efforts at the estate that we had successfully retrieved the painting and collected a large sum for our troubles. I reluctantly agreed to go with my friend and John into the Bloodworth crypt.

A week later I descended into the dark crypt of the Bloodworth family. I carried with me a lantern and - unbeknown to the others - a hunting knife. As we walked through the crypt I was amazed at the immensity of the place and number of bodies stored inside. It seemed to me to be more like a catacomb than a family crypt and there were far too many bodies. I found it curious also that no names were displayed for the deceased.

At last we came to the deepest part of the crypt, the only part with sarcophagi displaying the names of deceased members of the Bloodworth clan. It was the final two sarcophagi at the end of the crypt which planted the first seedlings of madness in my mind. The names given on the sarcophagi revealed the deceased to be Thomas Jones Bloodworth and John Dallas Bloodworth, having died nearly two hundred years ago. I turned to face my companions and saw in both of them what I had seen in John in the wine cellar of the Davenport estate. Their wraith-like bodies were pale and weary in the dim light of my lantern and even though the muscles in their faces appeared to have rotted away long ago, I am still certain that I saw a grin spread across their faces.

It was while I was standing there frozen in horror at what my friend had become, or always was, that I felt it slide past my ankles. I didn’t see it at this time for my only thought was on running. I ran towards the two wraiths and gripped my knife, slashing at them as I approached. I managed to cut deep into their sides, which seemed to stun them enough for me to get passed them. To my horror they did not bleed, but I did not stay to marvel at such wonder.

I ran through the crypt, stumbling as I went. The once silent burial chamber was now filled with a loud hissing. I do not think I ran for long before I realized I was lost. I crawled into a small fissure in the wall and waited, trying to think of a plan for escape. I remember the wraiths calling for me and I detected a hint of panic. ‘You must die so that we can live,’ I heard them say.

It felt to me an eternity hiding in that fissure and I realized I could not hide there forever. I waited for one of the wraiths to pass by the fissure before lunging out with my knife and decapitating it. The blade cut through with astounding ease. Mist spilled out of the wraiths wounds and it was this mist that I am sure attracted the terrifying thing. The mist seemed to carry light with it and I could see the thing as it approached. It was a large snake of immense proportions dripping with a colourless slime and carrying large bat-like wings on its back. To my surprise it did not attack me, choosing instead to latch onto the wraith’s body and began sucking out vast amounts of mist from it. The wraith thrashed about before finally it was gone, disappeared.

I do not know what then happened to the snake or the other wraith, but from the distant cries in the crypt I can only assume the wraith suffered the same fate as its kin. I do not know how long I remained in that crypt until I finally emerged into daylight.

Upon writing this letter it is now almost a year passed, on October 9th, 1900 and I still hear the hissing of that hideous snake. It grows louder with each day, but that may just be madness slowly taking me. Though I have found since the night in that crypt that I no longer bleed, my wounds only emit a thin, cool mist.

Offline OnlyOneHighlander

Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2014, 05:54:16 PM »
I've used the 'Apprenticeship' theme for my story. It is called 'A Crisis of Faith' and is 1,475 words. My twitter is @David_Mac13, not that I really tweet much.

Spoiler for Hiden:

‘You have to believe in yourself.’

‘Why?’ Ossian’s gaze remained fixed on his sandaled feet.

‘Because you’re a god!’ Solar’s voiced boomed through the green valleys of the floating Isle of Celesti, echoing in thunderous crashes amongst the surrounding clouds. ‘If you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to?’

‘I’ll mess it up again,’ said Ossian. ‘I always mess it up.’

The Lord of the Heavens glared from beneath storm force eyebrows at his pathetic pupil. What had he done to deserve this? When The One True Reality materialised in the Hall of Sacred Contemplation last St Ragadon’s Day and told him about the new apprenticeship programme Solar had signed up right away. Fresh ichor was just what the Isle of Celesti needed to shake the older gods out of their complacency. The mortals were growing too bold. Something had to be done. He wasn’t to know that he would end up with the wettest whelp since his brother Tidus spawned with that mermaid. Oh for the gift of foresight, thought the omniscient master of the sky.

‘You won’t mess it up,’ said Solar, trying to hold the iron from his voice lest the little wimp start crying again. He put an arm around his protégée and ushered him to the edge of the Pool of Passage. Under the surface of the mirror-smooth water a city danced in moonlight and celebration.  ‘All you have to do is appear at the feast and say in a loud booming voice “I am Ossian and I claim dominion of this land. Worship me mortals or suffer my wrath.” Then give them a quick plague of snakes, make all the candles burn twelve feet high, turn the wine into blood and disappear in a bright flash of celestial light. It’s easy.’

‘Maybe for you it’s easy. Not for me,’ Ossian said, kicking a pebble into the pool with his stubby toes. The pebble broke the surface of the water and began to grow. Its descent increased in speed from a tumbling trundle to a sky-splitting shriek as it hurtled into the mortal realm. Breaking through the clouds above the city it burst into flames, cutting a ragged scar across the night before smashing through the roof of the Temple of Vale. The temple exploded in a shower of columns, marble nudes and fig leafs.

The hand on Ossian’s shoulder tightened as Solar watched his wife’s high priestess emerge from the wreckage, scorched, seething and swearing at the sky.

‘See. I can’t do anything right.’

‘Well you’re going to have to learn. Rule One is . . .’

‘Gods don’t make mistakes,’ Ossian repeated for about the fiftieth time.

‘And why?’ said Solar.

‘Infallibility.’

‘Exactly,’ said Solar. ‘Infallibility. Without that we’re just randy wizards with better clothes and a sick sense of humour.’

The Lord of the Heavens was a big believer in the importance of infallibility. It was what kept him from chaining his young apprentice to a passing comet and sending him hurtling back to The One True Reality at three hundred thousand miles an hour. Solar had said he could make a supreme being out of the snivelling runt and come Hell or high-water he would do it. ‘The meteor doesn’t matter. Use it. You’ll have their attention now for sure. Tell them it was a warning not to disobey you.’

‘But won’t they be angry at me?’

Not as angry as Vale is going to be with me, thought Solar. A reflective discussion with his wife – they did not have arguments as “argument” implied he had a chance of winning – was the one instance his immortal infallibility had to bow in the face of superior female reasoning. It was also why his temple didn’t allow women to become priests.

‘Perhaps at first,’ he said to Ossian. ‘But mortals tend to calm down if you threaten to fill their lungs with sea water. I must get Tidus to teach you that. It’s far easier than keeping a kraken. Not as much fun, but there is less cleaning up to do afterwards.’

‘But what if –’

‘No time for “what ifs”. Off you go.’ Solar shoved Ossian into the pool. Watching the god-in-training plunge towards the mortal plane with all the holy dignity of a turnip, part of Solar prayed the cult of fanatical atheists he smote last summer had re-established their local committee.

*

A sudden chill gripped the great hall, spreading frost across the feasting tables. The blazing torches set along the walls dimmed to flickering green flame. Then, from the altar, under the city’s great seal, a column of blinding starlight condensed into an awesome and terrible visage.

‘I am Ossian,’ said the twilight silver face. Its long beard of galactic streams and pleated stars curled under its chin, sparkling and swirling. ‘And I claim dominion of this land. Worship me mortals or suffer my –’

‘Here, Beardy! Lay off. They’ve gone outside.’

‘What?’ The silver face wobbled then collapsed, leaving Ossian standing on the altar peering into the dark, silent and – he realised – empty feasting hall.

‘I said,’ a slave emerged from the green tinted gloom, his arms piled high with dirty plates, ‘they’ve all gone outside. Didn’t you hear the meteor? Huge rocks falling from space tend to draw a crowd.’

‘Oh,’ said Ossian.

‘You want to get that door for me chief, since you’re there and all.’ The slave nodded at the door in question from behind his mountain of crockery.

‘Ehh, sure. I can do that.’ Ossian flicked a thunder bolt at the door, blasting it from its hinges and sending it crashing into the kitchen beyond. ‘Where did you say they went?’ he asked the slave.

‘Through there,’ the slave pointed at the ornately decorated golden doors behind the clumsy god. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said letting the tower of plates crash to the floor and rushing for the huge handle. ‘I’ll get this one.’

*

Lothian’s ruling council crowded the palace balcony while, in keeping with the collective, democratic spirit of their station, the individual councillors took the opportunity to dig sharp elbows into the most hated of their esteemed colleagues. On the hill opposite, the Temple of Vale blazed. Concerned citizens passed buckets of water up Wharf Lane while less concerned citizens held marshmallows and sausages towards the flames and self-concerned citizens took the opportunity to pickpocket their way through both crowds.

‘Terrible,’ cried wise Councillor Bute.

‘Awful,’ exclaimed pious Councillor Tate.

‘A tragedy,’ said grim Councillor Winch.

‘Ow! Who just kicked me?’ said stingy Councillor Polt, who put even his sugar cubes on expenses and never bought a round at the monthly Full Moon Banquet.

Ossian stood at the rear of the bickering crowd. He cleared his throat, expanded his body to a full seven feet tall and resumed his star-flecked visage.

‘I am Ossian,’ his voice echoed across the night, dampening the sounds of flame and destruction from the city beyond. ‘I claim dominion of this land. Worship me mortals or suffer my wrath.’

The city council turned as one to face him. They trembled before him. One even fell to his knees. Perhaps, Ossian thought, I can do this.   

‘My god,’ said Councillor Tate.

‘Correct.’ A crash of thunder punctuated Ossian’s reply.

Councillor Polt stepped forward from the huddled mass, hushing his counterparts with a beckoning hand. ‘But why, Great Ossian, have you brought down destruction on our city?’

‘It was a warning,’ Ossian said.

‘Then you claim responsibility for this calamity. It was by your hand?’

‘Yes,’ said Ossian, sternly eyeing each councillor. He hoped the dramatic pause would give him time to think what it was a warning against. Truth be told, he had spent so long worrying about getting his entrance right and casting all the impressive miracles he hadn’t given much thought to what he was going to say after Solar’s suggested pronouncement. ‘And that is only a small taste of my wrath. If you defy me . . . well, you’ll see just how wrathy I can get. Which is very wrathy indeed, I’ll have you know.’

‘And are you rich, Exulted Lord of the Stars?’ Polt asked, taking a roll of parchment from his toga and scribbling some quick numbers down the margin.

‘Rich?’ Ossian laughed. ‘What use have I for money.’

‘Well I suggest you find some,’ said Polt, smiling. He approached Ossian and handed over the scrap of parchment.

‘What is this?’

‘An estimate of the damages: 60,000 florins. This is only a preliminary projection of course,’ said Polt. ‘It is likely to grow quite significantly after proper assessment. You have after-all admitted fully responsibility’

‘But, but, I can’t pay that. I’m not even a proper god yet. I’m only an apprentice.’

‘Don’t worry, Great Ossian,’ said Polt. ‘You’ll find a way. I believe in you.’

*
“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” Neil Gaiman

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Offline Saraband

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Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2014, 09:21:31 PM »
I came up with something that fits under the 'Grimdark' theme. It's called 'The Eagle and the Golden Archon', and is 1490 words long. There is some strong language near the end. Hope you enjoy it  :)


Spoiler for Hiden:
The vulture is neither joyful nor pretty. Why should he be? He is condemned by the very virtue of his existence to live his life feeding on the remnants of others.

Society would have me be a vulture, contempt to live on its waste, to be neither predator nor prey. But I am not a vulture. No. I am an optimist, a lover of all things deemed immoral by the Werde preachers. And, if I may say so myself, I don’t look bad at all.

So, how does a vulture go about proving the world that he is, in fact, an eagle?

***

It was winter’s eve. Most of Rilmaaqah’s natives ignored the occasion, as the kingdom had had no seasons ever since the sands came and covered it entirely, some three centuries ago. But to the Werde, foreign occupiers of Rilmaaqah and several other kingdoms and territories, there was no greater occasion. Winter was when their god was born, when their emperors were crowned, and when the revenue of the taxes collected from all over the empire reached their capital.

Archon Anadrimaros, appointed by the Werde emperor as governor of Rilmaaqah, held a great feast at his palace. Every Werde who was somebody had to be present, while the Rilmaaqish slaved away, starving and drying, working for their rulers as they revelled.

Or so the Werde thought.

“Medin, where are you going?” Anbar asked.

“Shush,” I said, whispering. “Just follow me, I know what I’m doing.”

According to the plan, Anbar and me had now reached southern wall protecting the Archon’s palace. Our task was simply to survey the area, ensuring no Werde patrols came that way.

But that was a much too trivial and inglorious task for Medin Gurab. It was my time to shine.

“Medin,” Anbar insisted. “The chief was very clear. Someone must watch this side of the wall, in case something happens, while he and the others get into the palace and kill the Archon.”

“Fine, stay here if you like,” I said, climbing the wall. The moonless night barely allowed seeing the little holes in the structure, but I had spent the previous days watching every inch of it. My hands and feet rapidly found a way up. “I plan on driving my knife through his throat, while informing him his latest wife was no virgin when they married.”

Anbar expected me to tell him that last part was a joke, but when he saw I was not joking at all, he sighed, and began climbing the wall. But I had already lost too much time, and I had to get to the palace before the main group. So I left Anbar to find his way up in the dark and jumped into the gardens.

***

Making my way through the gardens was harder than I hoped. Guards crawled all over the place, and time was running short. So I ran short sprints and then waited, making sure there was no one around. This went on for a while, of course. Although there was barely enough water available to sustain Rilmaaqah’s own population, the Archon had insisted on having lush gardens surrounding his palace, so that his daughter’s gaze was not hurt by the desert. But these gardens also provided plenty of cover, and with the night’s aid, I made progress alone, as Anbar had probably decided to stay behind after all.

I finally reached the palace itself, where music, laughter and tyranny erupted. I only had to sprint one last time, jump through one of the windows, and I would be in.

So I grabbed my dark shawl tightly, and took a deep breath. And then I went, running as fast and as silently as I could.

“You there, stop!” a guard shouted, and my legs froze.

I was halfway to the window, every sound coming from the palace even more discernable now. I looked behind me, and saw a fully armoured soldier pointing a crossbow at me.

“Who are you? Remove your shawl immediately,” the guard ordered.

There was little time for me to do what I had to do, much less to deal with this situation in a rational way. So I improvised.

“I am Medin, messenger to Count Jorgos Kemenos, and I bring an urgent message,” I said, without moving.

“I have never heard of a Count Jorgos Kemenos,” the soldier said. His fingers closed in on the crossbow’s trigger.

Unable to come up with an answer for that, I realized I was about to draw my last breath before a bolt pierced my body. I closed my eyes.

First I heard the crossbow dropping on the ground, and then the asphyxiated gasp of the soldier, before his legs gave in and he followed the crossbow’s fate.

I opened my eyes, and Anbar stood there, his face splattered with blood. A knife was sticking out of the soldier’s neck.

“Go,” Anbar said.

I nodded, thanking him only with my eyes, and turned to the window. This one was far easier to climb than the wall, and so I made it into a storeroom full of old things.

I removed my shawl, and noticed a looking glass on one of the shelves, which I used to see if my hair was presentable.

Dressed in the richest clothes I had ever stolen, and with my hair arranged in the bizarre fashion of the Werde aristocracy, who used oils and unguents to make it shine like camel’s spit, I was certain no one would doubt they were in the presence of some newly arrived Werde noble.

When I regained my breath and composure, I opened the storeroom’s door, and stepped into the hall. A slave saw me and appeared to be confused.

“I fear I am lost,” I said, feigning a Werde accent. “Where can I find the Archon?”

Without hesitating, the slave rapidly showed me the way to the great hall. I wondered if she would see me as a hero when I was done with the Archon. I would later regret that I never got to know her name.

***

When I served in the army, a very brief experience which was regrettably unfulfilling, I had to spend too much time around Werde officers. All of them were noblemen, and insisted on making sure no one else forgot it. They acted like proud peacocks, and I studied them carefully, so that at night I could make my companions laugh in the barracks as I imitated these noblemen to the best of my abilities.

In the great hall, I relived those moments in the barracks. I held my chin up high, put on a face of permanent disgust, and frowned upon everyone and everything, while gracefully holding a glass of wine.

It was impossible not to find the Archon almost immediately. It was as if he was wearing the sun itself, all clad in gold, dancing with his wife in the centre of the hall. There were other nobles dancing, but no pair dared to invade the Archon’s space.

I finished the wine, handing the empty glass to a slave, and made sure the dagger was well hidden in my waist. And then I walked towards the Archon.

Time felt like it was slowing down. The music, the sound of people talking, the smell of food and drink, and the blinding brilliance of the Archon’s clothes. It all seemed to spin, as my eyes focused on the man who had ordered my father’s public flaying. The man who laughed as a chariot pulled my father’s body, still breathing even though he had been skinned alive, through the streets of Rilmaaqah, for all to see what would become of those who dreamed of a free kingdom.

I smiled with the pleasure of knowing that this cunt would soon get what he deserved.

And then it all happened at the same time.

From behind me, people started to scream. The main group of rebels had made it into the palace, and was now slaughtering the Werde like animals. But I did not turn. I saw how the Archon looked at me, and from all the people in there, he was the first who immediately noticed I was no Werde. His wife also looked at me, and I saw she recognized my face from somewhere, but was too confused by what was happening.

“Guards!” the archon shouted.

Without hesitation, I sprang upon the Archon, and found that the skin of a Werde noble was as easy to cut through as that of any slave. Only his wife was able to fully appreciate the artistry of my movements, the way in which I painted the marbled floor with the blood of the sun that would never rise again.

***

And that was how I came to be leading this whole rebellion. I am an eagle now, and I will see Rilmaaqah liberated from these Werde vultures.
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"Poor gauzy souls trying to express ourselves in something tangible." - F. S. Fitzgerald

"Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love." - Robert Burns

Offline LisaElle

Re: [Nov 2014] - joker month - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2014, 09:43:52 PM »
Here we go! I went with the Abandoned Places theme from October, the Cavern City image.

This one's called The Ghost King's Choice and it's 1499 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Lestara inched through the doorway of the dim throne room and lifted her torch. Patches of light glowed on the stone floor, cast by the setting sun, taking on the shape of holes in the partially collapsed ceiling. Dripping water echoed all around her and the cries of exotic birds reminded her of life in the world outside.

"Hello?" She called. "Xanaden, are you here?"

Lestara stopped in a patch of light and waited. Despite the barrage of spirit waves that had assaulted her, she could sense where he was as soon as she'd arrived. The throne room had been her goal from that moment on. No other ghost would suffice.

A strong, cold force encircled her throat from behind and pulled her out of the light. A gasp lodged in her windpipe. She dropped her torch and it rolled into a puddle of rain water. Its light died with an irritable hiss.

"So you've finally come for us, ghost killer," he growled. "It offends me to see the crest of a purger. And yet, I knew you would come one day. What took you so long?"

Lestara dug her fingers into the ice-cold arm pressed to her neck. They met with little resistance and sank to the knuckles into something that wasn't flesh. She battled a sudden urge to vomit. What a great first impression that would make. "What can I say?" She answered with a reedy laugh. "I like to think I'm worth the wait." She tried turning her head to see who held her. The darkness revealed nothing. "The jungle is entombing you. There's a thick layer of moss over everything. Carasha Dae could have been hidden anywhere along the foothills of Zatun's Peak. I'm lucky to have found it at all."

The pressure left her throat and the the ghost king stood before her, the tip of a machete at her throat. The sight of him was disorienting; light from the ceiling shone through him, revealing a form that was semi-opaque. She could just about see the rest of the room through him, as if she was squinting through a pane of smoked glass. "Cavern City has always been difficult to find," he said. "Less so when it was thriving but even when I lived I valued our isolation. I thought it would protect from invasion. Then came the rumours of hidden gold in our caverns. That's when the Xenion filth marched out to destroy us."

The ghost king sneered, a proud curl of his lip that suited his station. He was younger than she'd imagined. Xanaden was a man just shy of his prime when he was murdered by the Xenions. His hair was clipped close to his scalp, in the fashion of the sunlands, his embroidered tunic a modest choice for his role. "And now you are here with your fire and spells to banish what's left of us. But you know what happened, don't you? That's why you've come."

Lestara ignored the blade, her green eyes fixed on his. "Yes. I've read all about the sad fate of Carasha Dae but that's nothing compared to being here. It's beautiful, even as it's falling apart. I can only imagine how stunning it was before."

The ghost king frowned. "So this is finally the end, is it? You've taken a liking to my city or someone else has paid you to. You'll cleanse Carasha Dae of its spirits then collect a fat purse while another foreign king marches his soliders through my gates. Well let me remind you of something first. There is no gold in the caverns of Zatun's Peak. That was proven by the Xenions fifty years ago when they abandoned this place empty handed. But not before they tore my city apart and slaughtered all of my people trying to find it."

Lestara's eyes darted to the ghost's machete. Did it have enough substance to harm her? She'd rather not find out. "I am sorry for you and what happened here," she said. "But that's not why I've come. I don't care about the gold and no one has sent me. I have a proposition, if you'll hear it."

Xanaden wrestled with indecision then finally lowered his blade. "Walk with me, purger. There's something I want to show you first."


Mist had crept over the walls of Carasha Dae, reducing the light of sunset to a golden haze. Xanaden led Lestara down stone steps to the lower tiers of the city, aiming for the main thoroughfare that zig-zagged down the mountain slope. They crossed a rope bridge beside an aqueduct whose mighty flow had burst its walls, a cascade of water spilling through the breach. It flooded the lower streets with rivers that crashed over each other, rushing on to the city gates at the base of the mountain. Xanaden avoided the treacherous routes, keeping to streets more comfortable for a human to pass. Lestara was thankful for it.

A turn around a corner brought them onto the main street, a wide route pockmarked from horse's hooves. Here another river flowed, one that stole Lestara's breath. The dead of Carasha Dae were all around her. Traders shouted in ghostly echoes, laughing, gossiping and hawking their wares. Groups of citizens bustled down the street, jostling for room as if personal space was still a requirement. Dog spirits even wrestled in the gutter, fighting over scraps thrown by laughing children. Despite the smiling faces, the air was oppressive with the weight of their loss.

"Tell me this, purger," Xanaden whispered, sounding haunted by the sight. "Why don't my people know me?" The question pained him; she could hear that too. "Why can't they see and speak to me like you do?"

"Because they're not like you," she murmured back. "You're a special ghost. A very rare one." Lestara looked at him, speaking with hushed excitement. "I mean, just think of it. You remember everything. You can talk to purgers. You even have enough substance to touch us if you need to." She gestured to the crowd. "Most ghosts are like this, useless imprints invisible to all but the purgers, disrupting their surrounding energy. You think I'm here to sweep them all away but that doesn't matter to me as much as you think. I came here because I heard that you were something more. I thought if I could just find you..."

Xanaden shot Lestara a dark look. "What do you want?"

"I want you to come to Dharamez with me," Lestara shot back. "It's another city two week's journey from here. I'll be holding council with the other purgers. They're eager to meet you. They want to talk about an experiment that could bring you back to life."

"No," the ghost king snapped. "My place is here with my people."

"With ghosts that don't even know you exist? They're not people, Xanaden. They're only echoes of something that was once here. They'll never be here again, no matter how much you want it."

"They may not see me but I'm still their king. I have a duty to protect them. What if another purger finds the city and destroys them while I'm gone?"

Lestara reached into her travel pouch. "I thought that might be a sticking point so I'm going to do you a favour." The purger lifted her hand and showed him what was inside. "Purger fire is made with these sparks. If I ignite your city's torches with these, it will seem like a purger is at work. None of my kind will enter while they're shining. They can remain lit as long as you like." Lestara blew the sparks from her hand. They flared and rushed forward, splitting like atoms and racing to ignite every torch with their white radiance.

"What are you doing?" The ghost king drew his blade. "I won't let you purge them!"

Lestara held up her hands. "I'm not! I only want it to appear that way to other purgers. I promise you, this will protect them." She eyed the machete pointedly. "So long as I'm alive that is."

Xanaden frowned at Lestara as she lowered her hands. The ghost king clearly struggled with the notion of trusting her.

"Shall we go?"

Xanaden didn't answer. Lestara turned for the city gates.

"Purger!"

"Yes?"

Xanaden slid the machete back into its sheath, stalling as he considered his words. "I will make a trade with you," he finally said. "A promise for a promise. When all of this is done, whether I am left as man or ghost, if I find that you've lied to me about what happened here, I promise you I'll destroy you for it."

Lestara stared at Xanaden's face, the steely resolve in his eyes. His words felt like a cold finger running down her spine.

“Fair enough,” she answered with a daring smile she didn't feel.

The purger turned for the city gates, knowing that the ghost king would follow her.
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov