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Author Topic: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread  (Read 4545 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« on: October 01, 2017, 12:47:35 PM »
Find the Story in the Picture

This month you get three pictures to choose from. Every picture is a frozen moment from an unknown story. It conveys an atmosphere and (part of) a setting. The rest is up to you.


Swamp Village by khang le


Dwarf Docks by Pavel Mikhailenko


Sevensky by Simon Weaner

Right click pictures and choose 'view image' to view the enlarged version without the forum's boundaries


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The story/poem must be inspired by one of the pictures.
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.

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

Entry will close October 31th/November 1st, 2017 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.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2017, 04:25:14 PM by Autumn2May »
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Offline RobertS

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2017, 02:15:26 AM »
I am the first to submit and the first to lose! Yay me!

As an update, since my original was much too long and I am still in shock over deleting 10000 words from a book I am writing, I decided not to try and trim the original. Instead I wrote a new story. It has a bit of a different feel. 661 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

Everyone Loves a Circus

“Let’s not spend the money. Let’s get what Gargargar and Mimaw asked for.”
   “We got good money and were bought out early. We have time. Let’s see the Circus!”
   A man walking by spits and says, “That was last month. The Circus has sailed.”
   
***

   We get the wire and go by the pottery place for the powders Gargargar wants.
   “Kids, you know to wear dust protection when you work with this stuff?”
   We nod. We didn’t know, but we just throw the powders, bag and all into the bins Gargargar tells us to.
   We walk out to the street and Elja asks me, “How do you protect yourself from dust?”
   I laugh at the question. “Long pants, silly.”

***

   The Lord of the Dark Towers turns a shard over and reads the ancient runes on the back. He looks at the man who brought the bits and pieces and motions him to come forward.
   “You have done well, Grishnak. Where did you find these?”
   Grishnak replies, “A trader obtained them from three children, Your Darkness.”
   “Can we find these children?”
   “Your Greatness, we have enough bones for the Krafling. The populace is already enraged over the Bounding incident.”
   “No, I don’t want anything to happen to these wonderful, wonderful children. I just want to know where they found this little scrap of metal.” He holds up a small bent plate inscribed with runes and mutters, “A Peacemaker Mark forty-six. I wonder if it could still be intact?” He peers down at Grishnak, “I want to know everything you can find out about these delightful children.”
   
***

   His Emminent Lord of the Dark Towers
   Dark Towers
   1001 Murky Way
   City of Despair

   Dearest Lord of the Dark Towers,

   It was a joy an pleasure to bow and scrape before your Imminent Majesty. I thank you for ushering us into your presence.
   We have discovered that the children purchased a large supply of copper wire, cobalt carbonate, lithium carbonate, strontium carbonate, and barium carbonate. In the past they seem to have been after quite a few types of silica. Apparently, the children make pottery glazes.

   As per your command, we are trying to locate the children’s home. Since they had a hand cart, we suspect that it cannot be more than a day or two away.

   We are fondly looking forward to the moment when we can next cringe before you.

Your obedient servant,

Grishnak. 
   
***

   Marza climbs up beside me and borrows the field glasses from me. “They came with an olliphant. It’s like the circus came to us.”
   “I just hope nothing happens to Treehome. Remember what happened at Bounding.”
   “Bounding didn’t have Gargargar.”
   “Gargargar says that running away is the first best strategy in a long war. Despite the vines growing up Gargargar’s legs, I suspect that Gargargar can get away pretty fast.”
   “Why doesn’t Gargargar make us weapons? He made us these field glasses.”
   “Good scouts learn, good soldiers die. That’s what Gargargar says.”

***

   “Once again Grishnak, you have done well,” The Lord of the Dark Towers says turning over a bit of metal. “This machine thinks it can toy with me.”
   “Toy with you? Surely not, your Dreadfullness.”
   “This plate only looks old. It is quite fresh. The machine wants to meet me. It thinks I am a fool, ready to rush in. I have survived these long years by care, Grishnak. Not by foolish behavior. We must learn about our enemies and potential servants before we try to seize them. Those boys will become men some day. Some of them will discover wine and women. We will be able to learn without confrontation. For now, Grishnak make sure that those children are wonderfully entertained when they come to town. Arrange for them to have free tickets to the circus when it comes back into town. Tell Sevensky that I wish to have a meeting with him. I do love the circus.”
« Last Edit: October 30, 2017, 06:52:41 PM by RobertS »
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Offline bdcharles

Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 06:23:08 PM »
Okay ... hopefully I am doing this right!

Spoiler for Hiden:

Image: "Sevensky" by Simon Weaner









The Greatest Theater Under The Skies
995 words excl. title
Twitter: @jd_books


But in the end, no-one could pinpoint just when Sevensky’s Travelling Circus had arrived in Cyanoga. Tattered posters appeared where none could remember seeing one before, and slowly, like a tuberculotic outbreak, from one person to the next, all the talk turned from pressure valves or configurations of hulls to feats of acrobatic mastery, and illusion, and rabbits yanked from hats. The city plied the jetstreams that blew them among the skies.

But Neeton could remember precisely the moment he became involved. For him, it coalesced one workday, a tiny particle from a primordial sea evolving into new life, trembling and uncertain. He shouldered his cart-handle and regarded the flyer.

“That’s where it’s at, boys,” he said. “Showbusiness!”

“You gonna join the circus, old man?” Tarker, their vicious young foreman sneered. “You ain’t no tightrope-walker – hell, you ain’t even a clown!”

Neeton ignored him, but Tarker seemed at first to be right. For while the dog-eared hoardings assured passers-by that the circus was very much in town, no-one he knew or spoke to was able to find it. No instructions or address were given – he checked and rechecked the tiny playbill font at the very bottom before rain and grime swallowed up the lettering – but found nothing.

“Hmm,” he muttered.

“Hah!” came Tarker’s reply as the foreman shouldered a steel beam. “Told you. Didn’t I tell you? Now step-to, circus-clown, step-to, step-to!”

Clangs of metal rolled round the dock, pulling the old cartwright out of his reverie. Still, the notion, the promise of glamour, must have infected his working mood. The ladies shuttling baskets of food here and there – why, they could be ballerinas, dancing and twirling against a backdrop of smelting sparks. And those weren’t boys, kicking a ball about in the muck. No, they were dwarves, midgets – bred to entertain. Even Neeton himself felt the call of the ringmaster, so much so that he took to thrusting an arm up and out every time he spoke, an old-time thesp delivering streetside philosophy to bedarked masses. Frequently he sang.

“Woe is me!” he wavered, “for I am bound to work this old shipyard, mmm, till ohh, my dying day!”

Tarker, that villain, noticed. “We all gots to work, gran-pappy. Now get on with it, ’fore I crack-a-whip!”

Rustbucket hulls drifted by with magisterial slowness. Black pipework issued fumes of lifting-vapour; for Cyanoga’s port was a manner of aeronautical shipyard, and these behemoths would climb the clouds, hauling their ores and grains and goodness knew what else to nameless continents.

But Neeton didn’t get on with it. Rolling his wood-rotted barouche down slick cobbles, he instead took to adopting curious stances at random moments; the sudden pause of the mechanical man, the neverending gape of the mime. At first it just amused him. Streetcars ding-ding-dinged along their iron roadways, and as they did, the bustle of the markets where he traded scrap metal for occasional sweetmeats had looked for a moment as if all who stood in them were about to swing into a sort of synchronised rhythmic step. He almost expected a chipper tradesman to strut out with a maple cane and start singing about a girl he could never have. And when he would snap from these reveries, well, blow him down if there wasn’t a little pile of coin right there in his upturned skullcap.

Overhead, the giant vessels shunted on, bow-to-stern, nose-to-aft. Fly away, little birds, though Neeton; safe travels, au revoir, et bon voyage to all.

He never told Tarker about the skullcap. He told a ballerina though. She hmmphed and walked away, basket on head. But dammit – even her movements were musical. Neeton felt positively glad to be alive. His fellows on the other hand continued to mire themselves in the wet grey slop of the workman’s misery. Could they not see the beauty around them?

Tarker’s whip snapped. And the posters proliferated. Somewhere, somewhere, the circus was in town. And it was all tied into the timeless movements of the enormous steamships and the travels of the trams amid Cyanoga’s ancient, crumbling stonework. Even the spinning seamstresses hinted of its locale in their labour-songs. Their chatter and the hieroglyphic threading of their needlework all spoke of it. Neeton’s skullcap filled, and it filled. Where was Sevensky? Who was he?

Until one day, beneath clouds of black smoke in a copper sky, the leviathans stopped their steady skyward march. The sudden silence boomed louder than a metal thud on any hull.

A shower of sparks, and another. Then a third, until a whole row of flame poured onto the dockside. And – was that a trumpeting, from that massive-bore pipe? It may have been; it may just have been. It heralded – something. Neeton didn’t know what.

A fire-orange line materialised in the hull of the largest skysteamer. Horizontal at first, it curled both of its ends around a pair of bevelled edges until there could be no mistake.

A hatchway.

It was opening, separating from the hull with a scalding pneumatic hiss.

“Behold!” echoed a voice from the pipe’s mouth. “Behold! Your Ringmaster Is Here!”

Every last piece of work in the shipyard ceased. Each set of eyes turned towards the figure in the hatch. Top-hat squared against the fiery glow, cane held smartly in hand. On either side of this apparition was a leashed griffin, ready to pounce.  The only one remaining resolutely not impressed was Tarker.

“Get back at it!” he barked ineffectually. “Get on! Time’s a wastin’! You ain’t paid to loaf!”

Oh, but Neeton knew, and he knew, as the shadowy ringmaster held the foreman in his dark gaze. A flaming lash curled in the blackness. For the world was his circus, his city, his floating Cyanoga, the city that plied the lofty jetstreams that crossed the seven skies. And the crowds that bore witness that night would proclaim, would swear, would know for sure, that Neeton was the finest performer ever to grace their air-ways.




« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 06:45:58 PM by bdcharles »
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Offline RobertS

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2017, 06:43:46 PM »
As I am reading the rules, it appears that only one story can be submitted, but multiple poems are allowed. This is patently obvious to anyone obnoxious enough to twist the rules and ignore intent.

So in my second attempt to disqualify myself, here is a poem.  196 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
A hundred years is enough and more to forget the wounds of old.
Where man does not persist, his things soon turn to mold.
Life weary dies, Life persistent thrives, the enthusiastic spread.
And poisons foul are soon ignored by those who are not dead.

Oceans team with newfound things after old things fade from sight.
New monsters rise and it seems as if they were always in the night.
Two hundred years and all those fears are legends on their own.
What loves were held so long ago are remembered just by stone.

A tradition of nearly a hundred years seems eternal and oh so long.
but ships come in and ships go out and die when men do wrong.
Labor, craft and simple joys will make work and strife anew.
But in a few short hundred years memories memories left are few.

The circus that came and never failed seems sad when it is gone.
But sadder still is the chemical spill where once was tent and lawn.
Old things select and may seem the same unless sulfur cycles change,
Then man will have finally gone to far, no more deck chairs left to arrange.

Consider this entry unsubmitted.  Now it must go and join it's brethren in the land of the lost poetry.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2017, 09:57:38 PM by RobertS »
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Offline JMack

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2017, 12:42:45 AM »
Here’s my epic poem, Three for Helkas
500 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:



Three for Helkas

Three came late to Dragons Deep
And passage took by darkened sea.
Night behind and Night ahead,
Desperate, and by faint hope led.

Magon, mighty, prince of power;
Arnom, antlered, wand’ring woodwight;
Dalelbrick, delve-born, journey’s jester.
Fortune’s foolish hope for Helkas.

Ground their boat on blackened sand,
Scaled the ebon cliffs of fire,
Fear above and fear ahead,
Mourning for world’s morning fled.

Helkas Hold held fast but failing,
‘Neath the Nightqueen’s mage-work making
Hellish orc hordes ruin-razing.
Slimmest chance took, trio sending.

Knocked they now on gates of stone
Beggars for that Strength alone that
Could Night blast and could Night blaze
For Helkas, at the end of days.

Three then held their watchful waiting,
Hours wasting; til from tower
Rode out reeling dragons deadly,
Wingtips wheeling, heroes hailing.

Mighty Magon parley called.
“Great kings,” he sang, “in Helkas
All is hunger, all is thirst,
Dying, and by evil cursed.”

Dragon rider, fearsome flyer,
Challenged champion Magon mighty.
Duel for destiny of Helkas,
Winner wills what prize they promise.

Magon drew his blade of sunlight,
Sparking in that deepling cavern,
Never broken, ever doom-spike.
“Helkas! And for Helkas strike!”

Moved then Magon leopard-lightning
Sweeping sword arm dragon-driving.
Clash and clamor rose as raging
War-men wrestled, stone Keep shaking.

Magon dropped his blade of sunlight
Dimm’ed in the blooming darkness,
Steel-shattered, and blood-smattered,
Fell he, in the oath-fight shattered.

Antlered Arnom arrow-wielder,
Fitted feathered shaft of starshine.
“Mark thee there that leap-light lantern?
Cleaving closest pledges promise.”

Arnom drew his bow of silver,
Ear-bent shaft to loose in challenge.
Flying straight and striking true,
Triumph made of wood-born virtue.

Crafty creature, sly-mind serpent,
rider-ridden, languid laughing,
Blew with bellows hot and heaving,
leaving only ash of arrow.

Stepped then Dalebrick to the vanguard,
Half the height of prince and archer,
Delve-born and dwarf-lorn,
Helkas final hope for morn.

Chance’s child of digging dwarf-folk,
Landslide laid him orphaned early.
Helkas home-bound family found him,
Saved for silver bounty bound him.

Bought by Helkas king then, Dalebrick
Grew to love his foster father,
Fool for life and fool for lord,
Loyal, for the smallest word.

Open handed, smiling stepped he
Forward, facing dragons ringing.
“Wisest Wormlords! Demons deepest!
Can thy cunning joust with jesting?

“Harken to my riddle, listen.
If thee cannot delve my meaning
Wishes grant and wishes follow:
Succor, to the Nightqueen’s sorrow.

“‘Greatest God-gift mete to men, I.
From birth bonded, time untold, I.
Need-fill’s name, I. Desire’s end nigh.
Who am I?’”


Twenty dragons and their riders
Hotly pondered dwelve-born’s riddle
Argued long and argued deep
Fear-struck that their oath must keep.

Lord of lizards forth winged wheeling,
Bowed before the jousting jester.
“Wisest word-man, riddle’s reaper,
Name it now your secret’s keeper.”

“Death,” quoth Dalebrick, “Friend of mortals.
Journey’s end at time’s own choosing.
Death now bring and death now rain.
Dragon fire! the Nightqueen’s bane.”

Dragons deadly, hope of Helkas,
Conquered Nightqueen. Heroes home-bound.
Day before and day ahead,
Sunlit, and in triumph led.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2017, 10:43:12 AM by Jmack »
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2017, 05:02:18 AM »
Marin, Lady of the Lake
1,459 words prose

Spoiler for Hiden:


A faint noise disturbed Marin’s slumber. Hanging weightless in utter darkness, she turned her head toward the ruckus. The people had respected her quietude for many years, but people are clumsy, and in the Great Grotto even small sounds echo greatly. So Marin stayed her wrath and gently shook her shadowy hair that waved around her head. Patience and forbearance were but a few of her virtues.

But the noise droned on. Fully awake now, Marin clenched her fists against her scale-mail skirt. They knew better than to rouse her from her rest. Or they had known. Perhaps they needed a reminder, she wondered as she made her way toward the unmistakable thud and splash of oars.

Criminal light invaded the border between her realm and theirs - far beyond candles and the few torches she permitted. Betrayal! They had broken the covenant and polluted her world with both light and shameful noise. She would remind them of the virtues of darkness, silence, and obedience, most of all.

Marin paused at the edge of the dark lake, shielding her eyes against the light of many fires and torches. It was a battle. The grotto-town’s bridges had been cut. A dozen small boats ferried more men across, their thrashing oars churning her pure waters. All around the docks and gates, fires burned. Shouting men ran up and down the docks bearing torches and weapons. She grimaced at the thud of their boots and the stench of oily smoke. Even the air was made worse by their presence.

Within their stone towers, the people hid in obedient silence, their torches dimmed. Marin smiled grimly. At some point, those fools had learned the virtue of loyalty and were trusting that she would reward them in kind.

Merfolk do not choose battle lightly, but the lake-people’s trust was well-placed. Loyalty was a virtue Marin understood well. As was courage. She reached over her shoulder and grasped her trident. She slid beneath the black water, and her powerful, striped tail thrust her forward without the faintest ripple.

She hefted her weapon in sea-green hands, and just beneath the surface, she watched. Its points were deadly sharp, but there was a host of enemies before her, and most clambered at the gates, well out of reach. And her weapon was only that: a weapon and not a shield. There were scores of them, and many carried long spears and bows that gave her pause. Water slows axes and swords, but spears and arrows were deadly to her.

She would have to try something else.

In the gloom beneath, she inspected their boats, which would not flip easily. They were flat-bottomed and broad and traveled close together. Wrestling with one put her at risk from the others. That wouldn’t work, either.

Marin frowned and sighed a fine mist of bubbles from her gills as she considered what she would normally never contemplate. Her voice was as silvery sweet as any whorish siren’s, but enchantment carried a stigma among the merfolk as steep as any the land-walkers held, tasteless and bizarre as they were. They hid their breasts and bodies beneath clothes, afraid of nature’s nakedness, and plagued with nonsensical shame – but somehow they could prattle and shout and sing completely unabashed at their base and demeaning loudness. A river nymph might not have paused, but she was Marin, a merwoman of bearing, born of a noble house. And though the last of a once great people of the Wide and Shoreless Sea, Marin’s dignity and virtue remained intact. For the voices of merfolk were reserved for tender moments in the privacy of the depths. Only the lowest of their kind would deign to let a mortal hear them, and such folk were well beneath her.

Marin scowled at the indignity of what she was contemplating - and the risks. There were limits to what her beauty and her Song could do, and her foes were aroused and alert. She needed a distraction. And though it pained her to impoverish herself, she would have to part with her treasure to save her people. She was, after all, too virtuous to be overcome by miserliness.

She sped down into the depths, around the wave-worn crags to her home, a cairn of stones piled high into a majestic throne. There, in the center of a spiraling ring of shells and colored stones stood a tall urn of white porcelain, filled to its brim with pearls. She grasped the urn in one hand and strained upward against its weight. The sweep of her tail scattered her shrine, but she only smiled, a grim daughter of the fell sea people on her way to war.

Marin hovered beneath them as the last boats passed over her and thudded into the docks or grated up onto the rocky lakeshore. She tensed and made ready as the men piled out and ran toward the gate, shouting.

She sped to the end of the longest dock, sounding deep to where the pilings sank into the mud, then twisted with a grace no seal could match and shot straight up. She sailed into the air and landed on the dock on her tail, which flexed beneath and behind her, giving her the appearance of a beautiful, green-tinted woman kneeling in a skirt of silver scales. She set the urn before her and scooped out two priceless handfuls of pearls – a king’s ransom and more.

Marin cast the pearls high and far, and her treasure rained down among the soldiers. Again and again, she threw fistfuls of pearls as the men shouted and gasped at their good fortune. All around the gates, men dropped to their knees, spears and shields and swords forgotten as they scrambled after the treasure rolling between their feet.

Suddenly there was a shout, and a hundred faces were raised to her in wide-eyed amazement.

Marin abandoned her reserve and laughed out loud, feeling a guilty thrill at the sound of her own voice., which she had not heard for a long, long time. She raised her trident and loosed her power. Across its points a halo shone, bathing her in light. She didn’t need to be a siren-whore to know how to act like one.

Caught unawares, the men stared dumbfounded at the shapely form that swayed with sinuous grace in enchanting light at the end of the dock. Pearls clattered to the ground forgotten as they rose as one and faced her.

Marin’s smile flashed in the light of her weapon, the knowing grin of a lover whose wisdom surpassed their deepest dreams. She shook the water from her hair and loosed the melody her modesty had never let her share. There were no words in her echoing song, only a heart-rending longing that ignited the hearts of all who heard it in a hundred shifting shades: wrenching desire, a mournful longing for beauty, and a trembling need for tender touch.

They stared at her lips and wet their own, imagining that enchanting kiss. Her pearls rolled and scattered beneath their shambling feet as they stumbled down the dock toward her.

Marin slipped into the lake, dancing on the end of her tail with her arms held wide, beckoning. And they came. Her voice rose to the roof of the Great Grotto and rained down on them in echoing waves of bliss that none could resist, even if they had wanted to.

They plodded forward as she swayed and twirled and sang. And in a column four men across, the invaders marched into the lake, born swiftly down into the dark by their armor. There were no cries or wails of pain. They sank into the mirk with eyes and mouths open, inhaling dark waters in the hopes of catching a breath of her perfume.  They hugged themselves, imagining they held her as the light of Marin’s trident faded into memory, then dream, and finally death.

Marin’s song faded to silence. She vaulted onto the dock, balancing on her tail. Above her, the grotto people stared down from their windows. A child waved, and Marin nodded. She bent forward and grasped a single pearl, raised the tiny gem for all to see, then let it fall into the urn. She waved a finger at where her treasure lay scattered all along the beach. Looking from face to face, she saw they knew her mind.

Marin smiled at them, which she had never done before, and curtsied before she slipped from the dock and into the lake. They would gather her pearls and return them, she was sure. And she would gift them some for the courtesy. For generosity was but one of Marin's many virtues.

« Last Edit: October 31, 2017, 05:06:43 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2017, 01:46:44 PM »
Tiger, Tiger

829 Words
Spoiler for Hiden:
The trees are old, and the forest older still. Unnumbered trunks, stretching coast to coast, covering all in a cool green blanket. It has always been this way, and always will be.
   Or so the Woses tell us.
   Night is rising by the time I arrive at Cogwyn’s home. Unlike every other man I know, Cogwyn dwells not in the trees, but in the earth below. His home is a cave, painstakingly scratched into the forest floor by generations past. The matted roots of a tree form an arch over the entrance. I knock to announce my presence.
   “Come in, come in,” he shouts without coming to greet me in person. His voice trembles with unfamiliar excitement.
   I enter, remove my fur cloak and drape it over a large boulder at the entryway. It is even colder inside, the air dimly lit by glowbugs pressed into the walls. The only light source in the forest, and Cogwyn seems to have a monopoly on them. “Where are you?”
   “In here,” Cogwyn calls, his voice emanating from deeper in the cave. From the room he calls his study. I follow the voice and find my friend sitting on the earth floor. Surrounded by branches, twigs, and pieces of sharp stone.
   He looks up at me as I enter. “I’ve done it.”
   I blink. “What? What have you done?”
   “I’ve found a way to kill them. The Woses.”
   Instinctively I glance over my shoulder. It is bad luck to speak ill of our caretakers. Let alone to speak of killing them. Of course, this is not the first time Cogwyn has made such a claim. When I first met him, he believed they would die if they were separated from their trees. His attempts to prove that theory led to the only time when I have seen genuine anger on the wooden face of a Wose. He has not been allowed to the higher branches since that day. Most men will not even speak to him.
   But there are a few, myself included, who support him. Who also wish to see an end to the Woses. If we were free of them, perhaps mankind could make its own path through the woods. Perhaps, but the Woses would never willingly surrender their flock to its own devices.
   “I see,” I say. “What have you come up with this time?” I know it won’t come to anything. The Woses are just too strong.
   Smiling, he hands me a branch. It’s black and powdery. Brittle too, I realise as it snaps under the least of pressure. “What type of wood is this? I don’t recognise it.”
   “Ash,” he says with another smile.
   I frown. “This isn’t ash. It can’t be. I’ve seen ash, this is . . . It’s something else.”
   “It was ah. But I made it like this.” He hands me a piece of ash as a comparison. “I can do it to any wood. Any tree.” His smile darkens. “Any Wose.”
   Could it be that he is right? Th evidence is right in front of me. But it seems so incredible. How could he do this? “Show me.”
   Cogwyn nods. He bundles together some of the loose branches around him. He stacks them between us, making a little house out of them. He fills the house with dried moss and crisp leaves. Then he picks up two stones.
   “I found these,” he says, “when I was hunting. I was going to use them as clubs, or arrowheads. But then I struck two together.” He hits the stones against each other. There is a clang and then, to my amazement, something like a glowbug emerges from the stone. A tiny speck of light. Not a glowbug at all, but more like a tiny sun.
   “Watch,” Cogwyn bids me, but I am already entranced. Holding his hands close to the wood and the foliage he has gathered, he strikes the stones against one another. Once, twice, three times. Each time a tiny sun forms and drifts down, landing on the dry moss.
   And then something amazing happens. Where the moss is touched, it changes. It curls and blackens, giving way to flickering shapes of orange and yellow. I recoil instantly. Can this be safe? If it can destroy the Woses as Cogwyn claims, what hope do I have? The wood starts to blacken, becoming like the ash he has already shown me.
   Cogwyn blows on his creation, causing the shapes to dance and writhe like leaves on the summer breeze. “With my creation,” he says. “we can sweep the trees away. The Woses too. This will set us free.”
   He’s right, I realise. All my doubts are gone. Cogwyn can do this. We can do this. We can be free. But what is this magic? I wonder. I ask him, “What do you call this?”
   He looks me in the eye, but my gaze is drawn to the spreading glare.
   “I call it fire.”
   
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Offline NightWrite

Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2017, 08:58:13 PM »
Time For a Festival - 835 Words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Chanto wandered along the pier, taking in the sights and smells of the festival of Abrea. Behind him, lights snaked their way through carved pathways in the massive twin stone pillars of the Abrean monastery as it rose up from the lake to reach the cavern ceiling. Many of the lower levels open to pilgrims now housed traders partaking in the festival.

He tried to ignore the contrast between this year's festival and the last time he'd come years ago. The crowds were thinner, smiles and laughter less common. People held close to their groups, wary of strangers. Fewer traders and artisans had set up themselves up to sell their wares. Leaving many of the stalls set up for the festival empty, left to lay like wooden bones.

Despite the monastery's neutrality, tucked away in its own cavern, war still filled many of the surrounding holds.

Chanto reached the end of the pier where he and his friends had set up their stall for the festival. In the distance, if he focused, he could hear the faint rush of the three waterfalls which fed the lake. His friend Malo greeted him, taking the stuffed rolls Chanto offer him.

Malo sighed as he looked further down the pier. “Maybe we should just cut our losses and leave. Perhaps go to Hold Thoth and loop around back home?”

“It's only the start of the second of five cycles, give it a chance.”

“I know you want to make this work, I do too. But there's more shame in sticking with a failing deal than accepting defeat. This is our first venture without my parents, we'll have more chances in the future.”

“We should at least wait until the feast of sacrifice tonight. We wouldn't want to risk disrespecting the goddess if we came only to leave so soon. And Thani really wanted to see it this year.”

He couldn't leave, couldn't give in. Malo and Thani grew up in a family of traders, but Chanto's mother found the profession beneath their notice. Instead they wanted him to focus on architectural pursuits as the family had for generations. But Chanto had fought hard for this opportunity to leave, to become a trader. He wanted to see the world beyond his hold.

Malo sighed once more then bit into one of the rolls. Malo turned to look over the lake towards the pier connected to the second pillar where the twin's parents were set up to sell their own wares. Or perhaps they had already packed up and left, Chanto hadn't seen them this morning despite having neighboring rooms in the first pillar.

Wanting to avoid further argument, Chanto turned to the pier's edge. With a twist of his aura the air spun to catch him as he jumped over the railing. Power swirled down his legs to his feet as he landed on the water, but he didn't fall beneath the surface.

Ripples spread out around him as he walked under the pier to a nearby cross beam. Hopping up with a bit of aircraft, Chanto took a seat on the beam to meditate. He was more for using repetitive motions and battle meditation to center himself. But he didn't have the space down beneath the pier and he needed this. He needed to untangle his emotions.

We should accept the festival as a failure,” Ibith, Chanto's sole daemon, said within Chanto's mind.

And get locked into a position neither of us want when we get home?

Mother said we had to sell our wares. Not that they had to be sold here. We could go to an ally hold like Malo suggested.

Why does she even want this so much, my parents have my siblings to follow the traditions.

In the end you both love each other, you just have differing opinions of how you want to live our life. Construction and architecture are all she knows in terms of a stable career. You just have to do you best to prove she need not worry.

I hate when you're right.

We're two parts of the same whole, both who see the world in different terms. Let's just go back up and speak more with Malo. Besides, lurking down here won't go well in arguing our continuation as traders.

Chanto chuckled despite himself and hopped down to the water. He made his way out from under the pier and used the water to rise up.

They'd already sold a trinket or two at the festival, so perhaps that was enough before moving on. Perhaps his mother wouldn't understand, but Chanto did remember the lessons instill by the twin's family. His emotions had clouded his mind and despite the uncertainty, Malo was right.

Joining his friends, Chanto tried to stay positive of his future as a group of potential customers arrived at his stall. He'd speak with Malo and Thani about leaving tonight once the group left.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2017, 05:02:55 PM by NightWrite »

Offline Carter

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2017, 10:30:55 PM »
Coming in at 1,461 words, here's my entry for this month. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Darkness Hides a Multitude of Sins

Voices echoed around the corridors, enlivening the habitually silent passageways.  Already, after a scant handful of turns of the glass, he hated it.  For three years tranquillity had reined.  Now the great and the good, the destitute and the undeserving, all descended on the darkened grandeur of the Temple of Acestes. 

Within an alcove, a solitary flickering torch for company, he was at the disposal of anyone with a suitable votive offering.  Not among those chosen to attend the welcoming ceremony.  Not among those guiding the myriad arrivals.  Not even among the porters or the lamplighters.  No.  For a minor, perceived indiscretion, he stood ready to whisper messages and prayers between the levels.  Just a mouthpiece.  Nothing more.  And all he had to show for it was a handful of tarnished silver. 

At least he had a view across Acestes' Sea, the vast underground lake that ordinarily kept all but the most dedicated of pilgrims away.  Now it was studded with light, boats stretching into the darkness; the fathomless depths studded with golden, artificial stars.  Everyone headed for the pontoons thronging with crowds.  All come to shatter the quietude with noise and demands, their inconstant piety. 

The rattle of metal on ceramic jolted him from his meagre enjoyment.  A stern-faced man, well-dressed in a gilt-edged tunic and tight-fitting, embroidered trews, puffed with self-importance, stood before him.  Coresus stared ahead, unblinking and doing his best to appear uncaring. 

“Ask if the Count of Avalar has arrived.”

Simple courtesy was too much to expect.  No matter that Coresus descended from an older family.  No matter how must esteem the Priests of Acestes were held in.  All that matter to this strutting popinjay was his own desires.   

“Imran, Count of Avalar.”

His voice a monotone, head turned to the mouthpiece, his nose flooded with the sickly-sweet scent of the azure, bioluminescent fungi.  His whispers roused it into activity, lights flaring and dancing with every syllable.  They carried his message up the chimney, carrying them to the ears of all of his fellow messengers.  This close to the aperture, his voice became a cacophony, his words mingling with the plethora of other voices cascading through the iridescence within the chimneys. 

From across the sprawling network, he filtered the responses. 

“No.”

The man clenched his fists, his mouth a thin, flat line. 

“Tell me when he arrives.”

Coresus just stared forward.  The nobleman had to know the rules, however infuriating.  A question or a prayer, for the appropriate tribute.  No messages held in reserve.  Priests were not lackeys, performing an individual pilgrim's bidding. 

A silent staring match made the outcome inevitable.  Even so, the nobleman did not leave immediately.  He turned to one of his entourage.  A non-descript, forgettable man, he listened patiently to whispered instructions.  Although Coresus could not hear the words, the nobleman’s stance, his violent gestures, told him more than enough.

Stay.  Wait.  Do what must be done.

A single curt nod and the man faded backwards into the shadows.  As the nobleman and the others moved away, he alone remained, an indistinct shape wrapping itself in darkness. 

Turn after turn of the glass passed in comparative quiet.  Pilgrims continued to trail past him, handfuls of burnished metal rattling through his bowl.  He cast hushed whispers into the chimneys.  With unsurprising regularity, an occasional message came back requiring an answer. 

Imran, Count of Avalar.

It was a simple thing to imagine the nobleman's growing anger.  It seeped into the very stones, the fungi thrumming with the pent up emotion as time and again the answer was the same. 

The flow of pilgrims became a trickle. The sea of stars was a void punctured only by pinpricks of light; lonely torches in an abandoned keep.  Once the festival commenced in an orgy of piety, it would lie flat and still until the time came for all the pilgrims to depart. 

All those not chosen by Acestes to remain and serve anyway. 

A whisper of change fractured his burgeoning peace.

Yes.

A quiet, earth-shaking sound, it reverberated with portent.  Did the shadows somehow shift?  Did he imagine the subtle movements of a man in the darkness?  It was impossible for him to have heard.  None but the priests could commune so easily with the fungi.  Even so, a shard of excitement lodged itself in his chest. 

Can you ask him where my daughter is?

The question hummed with anticipation.  Gone was the anger and frustration, replaced with an incongruous politeness.  Too polite.  Pointedly polite.

If Imran replied, it did not come via the chimneys.  Disappointment lingered.  He expected an escalating argument, a war of words to ripple between the two nobleman, rattling like duellists' sabres.  Instead he was left to imagine what he might witness.  An assassin.  A struggle in the dark.  A fight.  An unsanctioned, impious revenge. 

The glass turned again and again. Whispers died, the silence left in their wake ominous and oppressive.  Outside of a Festival they might hum with speculation but currently such frivolities were strictly forbidden.  None dared risk asking the question yet the silence was pregnant with anticipation. 

When the Count arrived, it was impossible to mistake him for anyone else.  For some time now, all those who had passed by were poor, shuffling along with drudgery in their eyes and bronze in their pockets.  Where they faded amidst the gloom, the Count shone.  Bedecked in golden finery, accompanied by similarly clad attendants, he strode as if he owned the passageways.  As he approached, he smiled broadly, unhurried and unconcerned.  Coresus felt a warning rise unbidden in his throat.  He swallowed it down.  It was not his place.  What would happen was not his concern.  He could only watch.  For now. 

The shadows shifted at the Count's approach.  A figure detached itself from the wall, smooth and soundless.  None seemed to notice as the vanguard chatted jovially, drawing abreast and then beyond.  The Count lingered, allowing others to stream past. 

Tribute slid into his bowl, the soft sound tearing his eyes away from the unfolding scene.  An elegant necklace studded with gemstones, slithered amongst the other offerings. Coresus longed to shirk his duty and observe the events unfolding.  Yet he could not, dared not, refuse.  If he did, then his tasks for years to come would be paltry and demeaning. 

“A prayer.  For the health and happiness of Tariq, heir to the Count of Avalar and his wife, Matilde the Comtess de l'Ambourg and their unborn child.”

The young man's face shone with the glow of the newly-wed.  His resemblance to the man beyond was striking.  Coresus gleaned only a final, fleeting glimpse of moving shadow before Tariq stepped across his vision, spoiling it with his smiling, unworried face. 

“I want the world and all the gods to know of our joy.  I want it long and loud so all may hear.”

The necklace was worth more than enough for such a simple, heartfelt prayer.  He could not deny the request merely to satisfy his itching curiosity.  He turned his face to the task.  His lips moved across the fungi, his breath cajoling it once more into brilliance.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tariq stood rapt, oblivious to what he blocked. 

“Acestes, First and Foremost of the Gods, Deep-Dweller and Soul-Eater, Light-in-Darkness and Life-Giver, hear my words.”

The ritual consumed him, the recitation perfected after years of study, each name intoned perfectly and crisply.  They rippled throughout the network, distant voices adding to his, amplifying the prayer, each repetition adding to the crescendo.  Quickly the whole Temple vibrated in honour of a single, earnest young man.  Within the rock-carved walls, none could remain ignorant. 

His mouth dried as his litany drew to a close.  The final words almost died unspoken.  Nothing gleamed.  No light speckled the lake.  The corridor was empty but for shadows and Tariq's smiling face.  He forced them through parched lips. 

“We are thankful for the gifts you have bestowed upon Tariq, heir to the Count of Avalar and his wife, Matilde the Comtess de l'Ambourg.  Fro their unbridled joy and the soul you have entrusted into their care.”

Almost Coresus could picture a noble face twisted in hatred and disgust, of rage unbound.  Or twisted in macabre glee at what he had ordered. 

As Tariq moved away, Coresus extinguished his torch, plunging his world into blackness until the exodus.  Now his next task began, his eyes tracking the slow creep of the fungus as it moved to feed.  Almost he felt his heart thud impossibly in empathy.  He still remembered the cold comfort the passageways offered to those chosen by Acestes. 

After all, not all offerings came in coin. 

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2017, 08:27:07 AM »
If anybody asks, this was posted yesterday.  :-X

Coming in at 1500 words, The Amazing (and entirely Unwanted) Voyages of the Boutella.

Spoiler for Hiden:
I had to admit. To most people it really would’ve been an incredible sight.

Imagine the Mother of all Forests, enormous, green and packed with nature’s bounty. Now imagine the Master of all Swamps, lakes of fetid green water, intertwined with muddy rivers. Now imagine said forest inside said swamp. Then perhaps you might have begun to understood the sight that awaited the crew of our little boat. Swarthes of a great green trees towering over the marshy waters below, with enormous roots entangled in the depths below. Even the small human settlements build into the trees were dwarfed by the sheer overwhelming scale of the nature that surrounded.

Yes, it was a magnificent sight that most people would forever treasure. A sight to inspire any true artist. An adventurer’s dream discovery. Something to remember for the rest of your natural born life.

However, for us, the view was somewhat diminished by one small problem.

“Where the fuck are we?”

We were rather badly lost.

I tried to keep my voice level as I turned to the diminuitive (and irritated) noblewoman sitting beside me. “You have my apologies, Lady Fernwood, but it is possible we have been blown off course somewhat.”

The young Lady Ariella Fernwood, Noble of Perchester and our passenger for this voyage, turned and gave me a quite incredulous look.

“Really, Captain?” She said sweetly. She was doing that remarkable thing where her voice sounded kindly, yet somehow came out as ‘fuck you, you worthless cur’. “Whatever would give you such an idea? I certainly had not noticed.”

I tried to hide my wince with minimal success. I wasn’t particularly fond of Lady Fernwood, but she may have had a point.

See, my ship, the Boutella, was not exactly built for exploration. Indeed, it was supposed to be a merchant ship, delivering goods, supplies and the occasional irritable passenger across the narrow seas. Unfortunately, we had run into a very minor little snag during our most recent voyage that made our journey a tiny bit complicated.

Specifically a goddamn hurricane.

To cut a long story short, we were blown hilariously badly off course and had somehow ended up in a swamp. And god knows our little passenger was not happy with it.

“You do realise I was supposed to be in Dafone nearly three days ago?” Lady Fernwood continued, clutching her parasol like a sword. “I should be having tea with the duke, not trapsing around nature’s unwiped asshole. I am distinctly not impressed.”

I couldn’t help my scoff. “You have my apologies, madam, that I was not able to magically control the weather to provide you with a smoother voyage.”

“Oh, I have no intention of blaming you for the storm, captain.” Fernwood counting, mimicking my sarcastic politeness. “Not packing any maps, on the other hand? That’s a different story.”

I gave an awkward cough. “…I don’t believe in maps.”

“Well, I don’t believe in idiot captains either.” Fernwood rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t mean I can just leave you behind.” She gestured to one of the larger tree settlements. “I mean, do you have any clue where we are? Without a map, how are we supposed to get home?”

I rolled my eyes. The woman was so overdramatic. Had she never heard of asking for directions?

(Although I didn’t voice this sentiment out loud because I’m not an idiot.)

Indeed, it didn’t take us long to find a friendly fisherman willing to come aboard our ship and help us, even giving us a bit of background knowledge on the strange land we had drifted to. He explained that we were in the tree city of Volentia, where man and nature lived in a symbiotic relationship. The tree provided materials for the people to live with and, in return, the people looked after the tree and kept it thriving and healthy. It was all quite fascinating stuff.

As for directions to get home however…

“Not a clue.” The man said bluntly. “Don’t usually get much in the way of visitors.”

“Really?” I said, sighing in frustration. “Sure you must get some kind of port trade or something?”

“Not really.” The man shrugged. “We try to restrict the number of visitors we get.”

“Hm. That makes sense.” Fernwood said, jotting something down in a notebook. As a woman of science, she had been somewhat interested in the man’s explanation. “Because you have such an important symbiotic relationship with the trees, you have to take steps to avoid admitted too much of a foreign presence, in case said presence disrupts the natural balance and causes disaster.”

“Thass true.” The man admitted. “But mainly it’s just because of the giant ship-eating crocodiles.”

“…The what now?”



I won’t bore you with the details of how we escaped that land, nor how we fought off certain enormous lizards. Needless to say it involved great courage, bravery and several pairs of spoiled breeches. And Lady Fernwood got a new crocodile-tooth dagger as a trophy.

But anyway, after escaping the swamps, we drifted across the open seas searching for land, safe in the knowledge that we were unlikely to end up anywhere stranger than that marsh.

Well, at least not for a few days.

"Captain?" Lady Fernwood said calmly. "Not to call into question your sailing abilities, but how exactly did we end up underground?"

“A excellent question, milady.”

Lady Fernwood looked at me as if expecting elaboration. I, however, kept silent because I’d be damned if I knew how we’d gotten here. Seriously, you take a nap for maybe 5 minutes and next thing you know you’re approaching a vast underground city. This shit does not happen on normal voyages.

Regardless, since it worked so well before, we decided to take a page from our plan last time and ask a nearby inhabitant where the hell we were.

The results were mixed.

“Okay, I’ve got good news and bad news.” I told Lady Fernwood later that night. “The good news is we’re not actually underground.”

“Oh?” Lady Fernwood raised an eyebrow. “And the bad news?”

“We’ve been eaten by a giant whale.”

That got an appropriately frustrated reaction from her.

“See,” I continued, “it turns out that there’s this species called the Mountain Whale, with a habit for swallowing ships and sailors whole. But it never actually really swallows them and there’s a ton of useful nutrients and materials on its tongue and throat, so they decided to settle down and start a city here.”

“Fascinating.” Fernwood said through gritted teeth. “How do we get out?”

“It’s fairly simple actually.” I explained. “There’s a passage that’ll let us escape through its nostril completely unharmed."

Fernwood sighed. “Well, that sounds disgusting, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be too difficul-“

“Also the nostril is infested with giant ship-eating bats.”

“…Of course.”



I won’t bore you with the details of how we escaped that particular deathtrap, but needless to say it involved a lot of panicking, screaming and significantly more swearing and violence than I would expect from a highborn Lady. Although I suppose she got a new batwing leather coat out of the whole encounter.

Anyway, we once more drifted along aimlessly through the ocean until we spotted land. And, unsurprisingly considering what we’d been through, a few certain members of the crew were a little hesitant about what we might find there.

“For the last time…” I said with significant patience. “It’s just a shipyard. A completely normal shipyard. There is nothing weird or dangerous about it all.”

Fernwood looked up from the little blanket fort she had constructed around herself. “Are you certain?”

“Completely.” I assured her.

“There’s not going to be any secret… cannibals turtles or something?”

“Those don’t exist.”

Fernwood looked unimpressed. “Neither did giant ship-eating bats, crocodiles and whales a few weeks ago.”

“…Point.” I conceded. “But I’ve already talked to people here. And I can assure you there’s nothing out of the ordinary here at all. They even have a comfortable inn to rest weary travellers. Does that sound like something a dangerous place would have?”

“I suppose not.” Fernwood said, grudgingly dislodging herself from her handmade fort. I noticed she still didn’t release her crocodile-tooth dagger though. “And I guess it would be nice to sleep in a proper bed again.”

“Now that’s the spirit.” I said with a beaming smile. “Trust me, you’ll be as good as new in the morning.”



Later that night…

I swallowed and turned away from Fernwood’s gaze. She continued to glare at me, blood dripping from her dagger.

“Alright…” I said slowly. “So maybe it wasn’t quite as safe as I let out.”

Fernwood didn’t say anything. She merely continued her glare.

“But, in my defence,” I continued, “how was I supposed to know the entire town were secretly werewolves?”

No answer. More glaring.

“…At least you got some wolf pelts out of the deal?”

The glare tightened.

“...I'll try and remember a map next time.”
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline Lanko

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Re: [Oct 2017] - Find the Story in the Picture - Submission Thread
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2017, 09:19:30 AM »
The Adventures of Barley Redwood in Elfland - 1.499 words. (Picture 1)

Spoiler for Hiden:
    This is the story of Barley Redwood, a man who hated his job.
   Well, most people hated their jobs, but Barley’s case was special. He didn’t have a tyrant supervisor, wasn’t underpaid and overworked, neither did he have to watch his and everyone else’s every word and move because the knives were clearly out.
   Quite the contrary: his boss was a generous old wizard who looked like a mix of Gandalf with Dumbledore, Barley was well paid and his colleagues were voracious Fantasy readers avid to discuss books at night around a bonfire. His job was the dream of millions. Many (himself included) would kill for it.
   He was a member of the Fantastical Analysis, Interpretation and Research of Yale, i.e. he was a F.A.I.R.Y. of a world-class university, having received the job proposal from an owl.
   It started as love. But a broken heart changed everything. In Barley’s case, it was quite similar as a five year old discovering Santa doesn’t exist right on December, 25th.
   The culprit was his first assignment as a F.A.I.R.Y., when Barley went to Elfland for a month…

   *

   Barley gazed open mouthed at the giant trees looming on the horizon, trunks taller and wider than skyscrapers and leaves as big as trucks falling. He wondered how the elves lived there. The treehouses they had built. Did they have “treemanors” and “treecastles”?
   His assigned guide was called Alyana Dawnstar. Barley loved that name and repeated it over and over. Then he spotted her coming. Long pointed ears, blond (Barley’s heart soared!), wearing a blue cloak, riding a white horse. How fitting his dream maiden came to him in a white horse!
   He couldn’t help but stare and smile dumbly. Then he composed himself. Elves were pure creatures and he didn’t want to scare her. He was thinking of a proper greeting when she grunted.
   “The hell? You’re Farley Redwood? Thought you were a damn fairy,” she said and turned to spit.
   Barley’s jaw dropped in shock. “It’s Ba-Barley… and fairy is just…”
   She waved him away. “Doesn’t matter. Ba-Barley, right? It’s about to rain, so get your ass moving and let’s go, fairy-man.”
   
   *

   The elven village was a disappointment. The treehouses were all poorly made shacks at best. It was dark, really dark. The giant trees blocked almost all sunlight. This wasn’t a problem for the elves’ vision, but for Barley it looked always like midnight. Most natural light came from insects and other animals. He tripped often. The elves didn’t wear magnificent robes and even more sadly, the women didn’t wear silk dresses either. Everything looked ragged and dirty and practical, though Barley was amazed at what the “leaf industry” there made (curtains, carpets, blankets, cups, etc).
   His first night was a nightmare, mostly waging war on bugs and mosquitoes that only attacked him (elves had magical protection).
   At morning Alyana introduced him to everyone (as Ba-Barley Redwood) but everyone just called him “fairy-man” for fun (destroying Barley’s chance to impress elven girls).
   He spent the first week in the forest with Alyana. He saw giant ants as big as horses, the elves’ mortal enemies, competing for the best types of leaves. He also glimpsed elven culinary and hunting: Alyana simply walked around rolling logs and rocks over looking for insects, mushrooms and plants underneath. Barley almost fainted when Alyana simply slurped a grub and offered him beetles and other bugs. He survived that first week on Cheetos.
   On the second week, after much begging and weeping, Alyana took pity on him and went to great pains to bring fish. Cooked fish and water was Barley’s diet for the rest of the month. Elves were also supposed to be immune to disease but he saw Alyana sneeze and wipe her nose on her cloak. Barley almost screamed in horror at the sacrilege.
   On the third week the elves arrested a red-haired male. “That one is a murderer,” explained Alyana. “We had someone killing only black-haired elven women with blue eyes for some time. It was him.”
   “Even here this happens, huh? In my land we call them serial killers.”
   “Cereal killers? I don’t understand.”
   “No! Serial killers! They kill only certain people or in specific ways!”
   “Wait. The cereals are the killers? And they do it consciously only to certain people? How? Fatal indigestion?”
   Barley wanted to cry. “I can’t take this anymore. Please, someone shoot me…”
   Alyana readied an arrow on her bow, pulled the string back, and before Barley could say anything, she loosed it on his knee.
   “A healer… a priestess… a shaman! Help!” Barley was definitely crying now. An arrow in the knee! What were the chances?
    “Oh,” said Alyana. “You didn’t mean that literally…”
   Barley passed out.

   *

   Barley’s dream was to escape his mad world and live in a civilized place. Elfland was supposed to be the pinnacle of that. But it had nothing of the things he watched and read. Elves ate with their hands (even live insects), they lived in darkness, the mosquitoes and bugs were hell. He didn’t even really care about magic or treasures, he really just had wanted to meet and marry a pretty elf girl, get his elf-card and permanently move away to a fair, clean and friendly land. Instead, he only got the cruel crushing of his childhood (and teenage) fantasies.
   “Sorry for the arrow, fairy-man,” Alyana said, eyes down. “But here, I brought something for you.” To Barley’s immense surprise and amazement, she brought a stack of books. Elven books!
   He quickly grabbed a big tome. The cover was made entirely of wood, mostly painted in dark green, carefully crafted with no rough edges or small splinters that could stick in your skin. The image of the cover - an elf fighting a giant ant - was not a drawing, but an extremely detailed carving and given color with natural oils and pigments. Barley opened the cover and touched the leaf-made pages, soft and smooth, somehow kept fresh and with a pleasurable scent of nature, as if intended that no matter how many generations passed when someone picked this volume, it would always have that smell and feel of a newly acquired book. Whether this was done through magic or technique, Barley couldn’t tell. The beautiful elven calligraphy was written in pure gold with page numbers and footnotes in silver. How the elves made this? He felt a knot in his stomach. His month was almost up. If only he hadn’t passed most of the month fantasizing about elven maidens and visas…
   No matter. He would stay in bed reading voraciously! Everything had been worth it for this moment! Nothing could go wrong now!
   Alyana smiled. “It’s from our only author, Dranbon Sandersiel. He writes epics, though mostly he uses them as background to explain in full detail how our magic works and…”
   Barley threw the book away like it had burned his hands. “No… not this! Please, God, no!” He darted outside, shouting and running wildly in circles (arrow in the knee and everything), scaring the elves and finally losing himself in the forest.
   Calming down, he realized everything happening to him was pretty strange. The references, the coincidences, the conversations… it really looked like someone was manipulating the events just to have fun with him. He wouldn’t accept this, he didn’t give anyone permission to do that! He stood defiantly and faced the skies. “Do your worst! Come get me if you can!”
   A rustle in a brush made Barley fall on his ass. He feared a giant ant, but it was just some big turtle. It looked like it was smirking at him. “Funny that you scared me, huh?” He could swear the turtle winked in response. He was about to throw a tantrum at it when Alyana appeared, and saying things that would make truck drivers blush, carried Barley back to the village by the ear.

*

   Barley had strange dreams that night. He was in Hogwarts playing Quidditch against the seven dwarfs (he lost) and later in the Red Square among hundreds of goats, all doing that Russian squat dance.

*

   Barley’s first stop would be at a McDonalds, diet vows be damned! Alyana Dawnstar almost seemed sad he left (in his mind).
   The trip destroyed his fantasies but at least he gained inspiration. A human knight named Barney Bluesteel (strong, handsome and manly) meets an innocent elf maiden (a healing priestess), who desperately needs a hero to save her homeland from sentient giant ants. He kept this part to make plenty of Communist allusions (believing it would score him points with his intended American audience). Now he only needed a major villain…
   His owl arrived, carrying a scroll for his next assignment: Dragonland.
   Ah, the perfect inspiration for a villain! But he shivered thinking what truths about dragons he would see that would shatter his innocence and wonder of them…
   Barley Redwood decided he hated his job.   

Slow and steady wins the race.

Lanko's Year in Books 2019