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Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread Here's mine for the month, coming in at 1498 words including title.  There is some mild and brief language. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
A Quiet Night at the Empty Barrels

Palos propped up the bar in the same place he had occupied for the past two weeks.  Sprawled on his stool, languishing in the depths of his seventh tankard of the day, the habitual drivel spewed from his lips.

“It should be me getting married.”

Outwardly, Matthau did not care how much the lout drank, how loud he got, how obnoxiously repetitive he was becoming.  Despite his destitute, decrepit appearance, the man’s sovereigns still glinted even in the gloom of the Empty Barrels.  With lank, greasy hair, heavy circles under his dull green eyes and a pervading reek of vomit and alcohol, he had never seemed the type to have any money to spend.  Yet Palos had paid upfront for Matthau’s best room for the whole month along with the promise of copious patronage and more to follow so he kept his opinions quiet. 

Today Palos’ audience was a solitary, foolish young pickpocket flush with the success of stealing a handful of clinks from some poor sod.  Already Matthau’s remaining regulars had shuffled away before Palos could begin in earnest.  He just wished he had the same luxury. 

“Why?”

Matthau bit bark a retort and braced himself.  At first he had not cared if Palos talked all evening.  To begin with his mad rants had even proven amusing and almost lucrative.  But as the nights went on, the tale had grown stale and had started to drive away business.  A few more days like this and he would have to change the name of the place to just the Empty Barrel and lose his reputation of being able to read a crowd and sell out by the end of the day. 

“We were adventurers.  Lord Aralus and I.  Before all this.”

Arms waving effusively, Palos sloshed ale onto the perpetually sodden straw carpeting the floor around him.  Too full and cheap wine and cheaper beer, the boy looked rapt. 

“Twins too.  Two sides of the same . . . the same coin!”

The groan escaped before Matthau could stop it.  The only resemblance between this pathetic drunk and the confident, cultured Lord Aralus, soon to be the Count of Five Rivers, lay in the genitalia.  Palos just glared at him, tankard thrust forward.

And perhaps the eyes, he thought as he refilled the mug from the half-empty barrel.  And still the first one at that. 

“What happened?”

“It was the last Count who hired us.  No!  The Countess’ uncle.  Her uncle, yes.  The Count had just died, hadn’t he?  She’d gone missing.  Kidnapped.  Kidnapped and forced into marrying some wizened duke or other.  We were promised riches!  Glory!  But the bastard betrayed me.  Now all I got is rags and piss-poor ale.”

At the rear of the tavern another customer slunk away.  True, the man was new, had only ordered a couple of quarts over a couple of consecutive nights, but Matthau could hardly be particular any more.  If it weren’t for the coin, the temptation to kick Palos into the street would have been unbearable.  Instead he just had the fantasy to sustain him.
 
“But if you’re brothers, why not go see him?  Even if he betrayed you once, surely Lord Aralus will help you now?”

“Because if they’re related, I’m the bloody Queen!”

Palos ignored the shout from the back of the tavern.

“I did.  The moment I heard about the wedding, I came straight here.  But he won’t see me.  He’s too busy for his brother.  Thinks I’ll go away if he ignores me.  But he owes me.  You see it, don’t you?  He owes me.”

*

By the end of the night only Palos remained and the day’s second barrel was barely finished.  A poor day’s business and Matthau still had the customary task of shifting Palos up the stairs to enjoy.  At least the nonsense had ceased, the man’s eyes wide and staring, his mouth hanging agape and blessedly silent.  Even the young cutpurse had finally grown tired of the ludicrous stories of hidden vaults and haunted forests and been driven out into the darkness. 

“Do I have to drag you off again?” he said, putting as much venom into the question as he dared. 

“Count to fifty, follow me up to my room and listen.  You might learn something.”

Matthau started.  Gone was the drunkard.  Each word was carefully enunciated with none of the weary slurs that had coloured Palos’ every syllable.  As he straightened, Matthau saw a gleam deep within his eyes.  It altered the whole complexion of his face, drawing away some of the haggard lines and he started to wonder. 

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, Palos glided to his feet and walked away.  No staggering, no stumbling, he merely left. 

His mind worked frantically, searching for some sign, anything he might have missed.  Normally he boasted he could spot a drunk at a hundred paces, or hear a liar in the midst of a screaming mob.  He prided himself of seeing inside someone in an instant.  He relied on it.  Yet somehow he had been duped.  Curiosity and annoyance scratched at him with questioning claws.
 
How long had it been?  He hadn’t been counting.  Cursing under his breath, he all but ran for the stairs, taking them three at a time until he reached Palos’ door.  He pressed his ear against the rough wood.

“ . . . spotted your spy.  I’d never have thought you’d resort to hiring an amateur.”

Even muffled he recognised Palos’ new voice.  But who was in there with him?  No other guests were staying tonight, all the other customers were long gone and this was the securest room in the damned place.  No windows, one door and one key.  And a barkeep whose reputation spoke for itself.  No disreputables ever escaped his discerning eyes. 

“What do you want?”

The voice was smooth and educated.  Matthau’s mind leapt to a conclusion inconceivable mere minutes before.
 
“You owe me, brother.”

Lord Aralus gave a hard bark of laughter.

“Jealous?  You had the choice, Palos.  You made it so live with it.  If you’ve spent all your wealth, that’s your problem and none of mine.”

“You tricked me.  She should be mine.  You stole my choice and stole her.  You know she – ”

“She saw the truth of you when you chose gold over her.  Anything you think she might have felt disappeared after that.  And besides, this should all be mine by right.  I am the eldest after all.”

“Only by the width of a womb.”

“Even so.”

“And I know you tricked her too.  You must have done.  Agnesa deserves her own choice, not your twisting truths.”

Lord Aralus sighed. 

“I came here as you wanted.  I talked as you wanted but I see you can’t be spoken to.  As usual.  Now, are you going to leave quietly or am I going to have to teach you another lesson?”

For a moment there was nothing.  Matthau’s knees ached and his ear itched.  His sluggish brain was still trying to extract sense from the conversation when the unmistakeable sounds of a struggle erupted.  Wood scraped.  The wet thud of flesh on flesh.  A few ragged gasps.  And the sudden pounding of his heartbeat in his ears as silence fell.

Something was dragged along the floor, the vibrations shuddering up his legs and then quiet.  Someone shuffled inside, careful and unhurried.  He strained to hear as time dragged by.  The door was wrenched open and he pitched forward, unable to do anything to disguise his eavesdropping.  He blinked at the leather shoes before his eyes and stared up at the silken, white hose and shimmering doublet hemmed in gold thread.  Each finger of the man’s hands was adorned with a silver ring that flickered in the corridor’s faint candlelight.  Stern eyes glowered down at him. 

“You might want to clean up the mess.”

“Of course, my lord,” he said, moving to survey the grim scene.
 
Palos lay spread-eagled on the bed.  A smear along the floorboards marked his passage.  Blood was rapidly soaking the sheets and the air hung thick with the stench of it.  It made him want to gag. 

Without another word, Lord Aralus left. 

Matthau got straight to his task.  If word ever spread about what had happened in this room, he would be ruined.  He would never be able to rent it out again.  Not to any of his regulars anyway. 

And if he noticed that Palos’ body lacked some of its ordinary grime and had gained a few marks around the fingers where rings might once have rested, who was he to argue?  And if there happened to be a bag or two of sovereigns secreted around the room, who was he to say to whom they belonged?  Certainly the dead had no further use of them and Lord Aralus had laid no claim.

Like a lord, a barkeep understood the value of silence. 

March 30, 2015, 09:54:19 PM
4
Re: [Apr 2015] - Plot Twist! Werewolf, Vampire, Goat - Submission Thread Here's mine for the month, coming in at 1500 words all told.  Enjoy. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
A Masquerade in Three Acts

Act One

He smiled within his vulpine mask as he surveyed the ball.  The colours of House Cultator hung from the rafters of the Guildhall, every decoration drawing on its azure and eagle for inspiration.  From flower arrangements to frosted windows, all was resplendent in the cerulean-tinted alchemical lighting.  A string quartet played mellow, lilting refrains for the gathering of the great, the good and the corrupt of the Bruanic League.  The eddying, swirling current of humanity swept him through the throng as he exchanged pleasantries with each wealthy, influential, bestialised individual.  Porcine tusks and ursine claws ushered him towards the waiting podium.
 
Four years ago they had shunned his advances.  Three months ago each family had clamoured for his attention.  And two hours ago he, Captain Oric, owner of a ship and a new spice route, had married into their illustrious company.  All his hopes and bribes, all his scheming and his luck, had brought him to the cusp of his dreams.  Arms spread wide in welcome, the giant, lupine figure of Merchant Cultator drew him into an embrace.  His new father’s grey muzzle matched the bristles beneath and his dark eyes glittered with devious intelligence and burning ambition. 

“Oric, my boy,” Cultator said.  “Isn’t this the finest celebration you ever saw?”

The jovial tone hid the knife thrust but he felt it all the same. 

On my journeys I dined with chiefs and kings, you oaf.  I witnessed marvels and miracles your land-bound mind cannot imagine.

“You have outdone even your own standards, father,” he said. 

The honorific was as deliberate as wearing a canine mask to highlight their new familial bonds. He imagined the riposte striking home.  It reminded Merchant Cultator that, however much his House gained in exclusive trading rights, it was humble Captain Oric who had climbed furthest and emerged victorious.  The grin stretching his lips strained his cheeks. 

The musicians fell silent and a hush spread across the room.  Lucretia’s entrance spared him further conversational sparring as all eyes turned to get a glimpse of the bride.  Atop the stairs, she had abandoned the traditional, virginal tabard she had worn to the ceremony in favour of a sumptuous lapis lazuli gown.  Graceful, elegant hemming created the illusion of feathered wings as she held the flowing split skirt apart to ease a fluid descent.  An aquiline beak was studded with sparkling, frosted glass beads, her necklace dazzling with sapphires.  Her mask and headdress were constructed of real, dyed down, stitched so tightly together and so close to the skin, it looked melded to her skull. 

Suddenly she stumbled.  A caprine-masked man dashed from the crowd as she toppled.  The crowd gasped in unison as he swept Lucretia into his arms.  A high, piercing scream tore the air.  Oric’s heart stopped.  He could only watch as his future dripped scarlet down the stairs. 

Act Two

Friedrich’s heart ached as he waited for the sight of his beloved.  The waiting grated at his nerves.  The need to remain constantly civil and courteous was becoming increasingly unbearable as others celebrated Lucretia’s marriage to seaborn scum.  Thinking about the captain enraged him beyond belief.  All he had done was sail around until he stumbled upon an island or two and it had somehow been enough to snatch Lucretia from his arms. 

Only one thought warmed him.  By the end of the night Oric would know just what it felt like to have his world cruelly ripped away. 

Someone bumped into him, jostling him out of position at the foot of the grand, sweeping staircase.  He spun around, hand clenching involuntarily into a fist.  A splotched, skewbald, equine woman stumbled backwards, reaching out a steadying arm.  A hand covered in a stretched, hoof-like cuff covered her mouth. 

“I’m sorry, my lord,” she said, granting him the deference he deserved. 

“It is forgotten,” he said through gritted teeth, banishing the woman from his mind as she retreated into the crowd. 

He turned back just in time.  Full of harsh, aquiline magnificence, Lucretia glided down the stairs.  Beautiful and perfect, her stitched wings spread wide; she descended with the innate grace of the landborn.  Something the base Captain with his rolling swagger and coarse breeding could never hope to emulate.  The very fact that he tried to ape Merchant Cultator’s outfit made him squirm. 

Almost he missed his moment.  He cursed Oric for the distracting thoughts as, partway down the stairs, a poised foot slipped across polished oak.  His muscles, aching with suppressed nerves, reacted.  Within a heartbeat he caught her, the small knife drawn from within his costume and gripped carefully in nervous fingers.  As Lucretia fell into his arms, he punched the blade through the folds of her dress and into her stomach, a smile creeping across his face for the first time that day. 

Her scream was shrill and pained, musical and perfect.  Blood flowed between his fingers; slick, pungent.  Warm. 
Panic flared.  His heart stopped, paralysed in his chest.  This wasn’t part of the plan.  A bladder she had a told him, a nick from the trick blade and pig’s blood would flow.  A tragic accident, a quick, straightforward charade and they could be together far from the machinations of their families. 

Lucretia’s life fluttered beneath his fingertips and she slipped away from him.  The crowd screamed and cursed.  Hands hauled him away. 

“No!  Lucretia!  Lucretia!”

Act Three

Like most daughters from the merchant houses, she had spent much of her youth planning her wedding day.  Every aspect had been carefully plotted in meticulous detail.  The guest list, her outfit, the music, the decoration, everything within her control she arranged so that the moment her father announced the date and the groom, she would be prepared.  And now, with the ball underway excitement threatened to spill out of every pore.  Only deep, roiling anger held it in check. 

A seaborn captain.

The thought still made her skin crawl.  Despite always knowing her life was nothing but a pawn in her family’s games, trying to marry her off to some pathetic explorer infuriated her more than she could express.  Seeing him move through the crowd as if he could possibly belong among the Houses made her want to scream.  If not for her preparations, she might have railed against the decision like so many merchant women before her. 

The first act of the evening had been simple.  Sneaking into the party with a cheap, forgettable equine mask was laughably effortless.  Careful placement of servants and heralds and her unannounced entrance caused barely a ripple, everyone keen to ignore a seemingly poverty-stricken young woman.  Now, she slid through the packed room, twisting her way unrecognised between her father’s contacts, family members and merchants towards where Friedrich waited in eager readiness.  Long hours practising in front of a mirror, coaxing her fingers into dextrous precision ensured the second act went unnoticed.  A bump with her shoulder and she swiftly removed the trick dagger at his hip and concealed it within the folds of her cuff.  A carefully placed, steadying hand and she replaced it with one of her blades. 

“I’m sorry, my lord,” she said, the mask muffling her distinctive, throaty voice. 

“It is forgotten,” he said, every muscular line of him tense. 

A meek, hasty retreat as befitted someone of low station and she blended once more with the faceless crowd.  Her heart fluttered with exhilaration, any residual guilt at Friedrich’s inevitable fate quashed beneath pragmatism.  For everything to work, to sever her ties to her family and gain the freedom she craved and deserved, sacrifices were essential.  What was one lovesick fool in comparison?  After all, the kisses and trysts had only been a means to an end. 

Silence fell but she moved on.  She did not need to watch Anabella’s glorious moment.  The memories were enough; the clandestine rehearsals preparing her maid for the ruse, Anabella’s flushed cheeks as she mastered each step, the surprising ache as Lucretia realised she would never wear the magnificent gown.  The hush, the gasp, the sudden scream that sent shivers down her spine assured her of success.  Hot, sweaty bodies surged against her as she threaded her way to the exit, Friedrich’s desperate cries ringing in her ears. 

The night’s chill crept along her arms as she breathed in heady, damp scent of freedom.  Lysander waited for her, unconcerned and bathed in the soft magenta glow of a lamppost, the alchemical liquid within splaying distorted shadows across the cobbles. 

“Done?”

His voice was bland but she saw his slight smile, the smuggler’s stony façade cracking.  Because of his knowledge of the city’s secret routes, she had carefully cultivated his friendship, winning him with promises, bribes and the frisson of forbidden romance. 

“Once we get out of the city.”

As she followed him into darkness, her fingers caressed the filigree handle of the stiletto at her hip, the familiar tracery emboldening her for the final act to come. 

April 28, 2015, 10:01:02 PM
5
Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Critique Thread
And I'd love any critique of "1 Rogue, 4 Women". What worked? What didn't? I had such a good time writing it, that I don't have much perspective  ;D

I'll try and rise to the challenge @Jmack

The pacing of the main body of the story was spot on.  It had the feel of a story being told with how it jumped scenes and the way the snippets of dialogue were integrated.  This helped to give a sense of the characters involved without the need for too many descriptive elements that might otherwise have felt necessary.  The whole process really helped to give an idea of the society your characters were operating within and the impact a solitary rogue can have on the members of such a society.  Using this as a framework to show Jack getting his (potential) comeuppance works nicely.   

There are a few things that might have been explored in greater detail that could have added more to the story (although, with the constraints of the word limit, it might not have been possible).  For example, we never hear the 'real' tale that your narrator tells the crowd and the brief line we do have does not quite give enough depth to show what it might have been.  Perhaps line or two extra, or just the hint of a story finishing at this point with a detail or two more, would have helped. 

In terms of the setting, it is a little difficult to get a feel of just where we are and Jack's place within it.  From his actions, I got the impression of a somewhat downmarket establishment, yet some of the descriptors hint at something a lot more refined.  For me, the tale might have benefited from a greater sense of place to help frame the story. 

It must be said, however, that your enthusiasm for the story comes across.  Throughout the story, I could tell you were having great fun writing it, which helped to capture some of the comedic and action-filled elements and imbue them with a real passion and voice. 

I hope this helps. 

And if anyone feels like giving mine a critique, I'd appreciate it.  After trying to play around with the perspective of the story a bit, I am curious to see what people think worked - and what didn't. 

May 03, 2015, 11:43:38 AM
1
Re: Grimdark Magazine I've submitted there quite recently.  They were fairly quick in getting back to me and gave a little feedback on their rejection, which I think is standard for them and was certainly welcome.  So I'd say go for it.  Certainly what you've got feels like it will fit their general theme.

I'd hardly worry about how many re-reads you go through however.  Just get it as good as you can and listen to what they tell you when they reply and I'm sure you'll do fine either there or somewhere else.

May 10, 2015, 08:44:32 PM
1
Re: May Reads - Come share your list and thoughts A good month this time around for me (although I know I don't often put up what I've read in a month - I really should do it more often).

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern - not the first time I've read it and won't be the last either.  As wonderful, magical and evocative as I always find it. 

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales - a diverse, female-focused collection of stories from around the world.  This month's writing contest gave me the urge to read some more and brush up on my fairy tales and this was an interesting route to take. 

The Falconer by Elizabeth May - read effectively like 'Buffy the Fairy-Slayer' in a Victorian, steampunk Edinburgh.  I found the pacing a little off but an enjoyable enough ride nonetheless. 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab - the plot felt a little straight but I'm intrigued to see where she might take it.  I can sense some interesting possibilities further down the line even if this book fell a little below my expectations. 

The Relic Guild by Edward Cox - a good idea for the world but I felt it lacked a little depth within the setting for the first book in a projected series.  Maybe it was just me not getting along with it, however. 

Limits of Power by Elizabeth Moon - I'm sticking with the series but I find it a struggle to get reacquainted with it at times and can be a touch heavy going.  However, I always get to grips with it the more I persist and thoroughly enjoy Moon's books by the end. 

Pantomime by Laura Lam - a good book if a touch predictable and, with some aspects of it, not as fully explored as I would have liked them to have been.  Couldn't help but feel the setting and issues have been better handled elsewhere  but I'll definitely carry on with the series and will be interested to see where it heads from here. 

June 01, 2015, 08:41:49 PM
1
Re: My voting Pattern Dating back to September 2013 - those strange times when there was one vote per person and you could watch the results as they came in:

Contests voted in: 20
Stories voted for: 47
Authors voted for: 31
Multiple votes: one 5, four 3s, four 2s

The way it fell out took me a little by surprise and it was interesting looking back to see how my votes spread out (and, in egotistical style, what happened to my own relative position over the last couple of years). 

September 20, 2015, 10:38:01 PM
1
Re: [Jul/Aug 2017] - Story Generator - Submission Thread I think I was a bit too ambitious (and lax in writing) on this one so this is going up a distinctly unedited. 

Rolls are:

4 - Grimdark
5 - Thief
1 - Castle
2 - Magic Dagger
1 - Superstitious
2 - Cake

Including title and numbers, it comes in at 1485 words.  Hope someone enjoys it. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Trust to Luck

1
Spoiler for Hiden:
You look around the room.  Something about it is frustratingly familiar.  Calaban, the magician who dwells in the castle, is known for his ability to confuse and confound.  Setting aside any concerns you focus instead on getting to Calaban’s rumoured knife. 

A door leads off to right.  A bed dominates the centre of the room, the sheets crumpled and dishevelled, edges frayed.  Your hand strays to your luck around your neck, fingers caressing the velveteen foot. 

You frown as it twitches towards the bed. 

•   Try the door – expand 7

•   Investigate the bed – expand 15
2
Spoiler for Hiden:
You push on.  With every step, the corridor contracts.  The walls press ever inwards.  You are forced to stoop.  Every breath is an effort, the space barely enough to allow your lungs to expand.  If it gets any tighter, you doubt you will be able to move at all.  Around your neck, your luck is cold and dead.

•   Use the dagger – expand 3

•   Go on – expand 16
3
Spoiler for Hiden:
It is too much.  The claustrophobic surroundings, the constant, brittle cold around your neck, you have to get out.  Twisting slowly, you manage to bring the dagger to bear.  The darkness around you is absolute, allowing you to focus.  Striving for calm, you imagine being outside, in the forest of Aberlon, anywhere and slash at the air. 

Nothing happens.  Still the rock presses against you.

Again and again you slash, panic overwhelming every rational thought. 

•   Expand 11
4
Spoiler for Hiden:
4
With deep breaths you continue on.  After an age, the passageway suddenly opens out into a cavernous room.  Ornate candelabra cast misshapen shadows against bare stone walls.  In the centre of the room is what you have been searching for.  Atop a plinth and nestled on a plush cushion, is the dagger.  Mirrored candlelight dances along the wickedly sharp blade.

Your breath catches in your throat.  The rumours were true. 

Here is Calaban’s Blade.  Sharp enough to cut doorways from one place to another.  The perfect weapon for any ambitious thief. 

•   Use the dagger – expand 8

•   Take the dagger – expand 9
5
Spoiler for Hiden:
The chair is no different to the others.  The only distinguishing feature as far is the slice of dense fruitcake topped with marchpane that sits, discarded mid-bite, in front of it.   

This close to sustenance, your stomach growls again and you find yourself settling into place, fork partway to your lips before you realise what you are doing.  Around your neck, the chain bites cold and deep. You freeze. 

Across from you is a shadowy form.  It sits, watches you for a while then departs, ghosting through a narrow crevice within the walls that look barely wide enough to admit a person.  The sudden movement startles you.  The fork clatters to the plate, mouldy, sickly sweet ash scattering across the porcelain. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
•   Follow the shadow – expand 12

•   Try the door – expand 14
6
Spoiler for Hiden:
You have come too far to turn back now.  Even crawling forward is better than giving in to temptation now, better than trusting that everything will be straightforward in the magician’s castle. 

Underneath your hands, stonework gives way to softer earth.  Above you, the ceiling closes down, ever down, flattening you against the floor.  Every miniscule movement is agony, scraping skin and flesh. 

The pain drives you on.  You wriggle and squirm for every inch.  A waft of fresh air drifts across your nostrils.  Grass.  Rain.  Ahead you can see a pinprick of sunlight. 

Smiling, you crawl towards freedom. 
7
Spoiler for Hiden:
The door is stuck.  You try to force it open, rattling the handle, ramming against it with your shoulder, jerking it towards you with all your strength.  Nothing works. 

•   Expand 11
8
Spoiler for Hiden:
Your mouth is dry with anticipation.  The dagger feels made for your hand.  Closing your eyes, you think of your hideout, bringing to mind each corner, each item of your hoard.  Your luck tingles in expectation.  With deft, delicate movements, you draw the blade through the air, cutting your escape. 

You open your eyes.

Nothing has changed.  You frown and try again, slashing this time. 

Still nothing. 

•   Expand 11
9
Spoiler for Hiden:
9
Now is not the time to experiment.  Your luck thrums with disapproval as you take the dagger.  The hilt itches in the palm of your hand.  You ignore it and retrace your footsteps, refusing to be daunted by the narrow squeeze. 

It feels tighter than the way in, as if the very walls resist your attempts to pass through.  Rough patches of rock scrape your skin rather than the expected brickwork.  On the way in there was only a single route yet now it seems completely different. 

•   Use the dagger – expand 3

•   Go on – expand 2
10
Spoiler for Hiden:
You follow the shadow, searching for the mechanism with careful fingers.  After a few moments, you release a catch.  A door swings open revealing a magnificent dining hall.  A sumptuous feast dominates the grand table at the centre.  Wafts of delicious aromas fill your nostrils; roasted meats, poached vegetables and sweet confections. 

Immediately you freeze, wary of the sudden bounty.  In spite of the quantity of food on display there are no signs of people.  Whoever arranged the feast is long absent judging by the thick layers of dust coating the chairs. 

You scan the room for other exits.  A dreary door on the opposite wall is the only one you see.  Lined with grime, its hinges speckled with rust, it does not look promising.

Your stomach growls at the enticing meal before you and you think you detect an echoing thrum from the luck around your neck, tugging you insistently towards a chair. 

A hint or merely wishful thinking?

•   Try the door – expand 14

•   Investigate the chair – expand 5
11
Spoiler for Hiden:
Laughter echoes around you. 

“Did you really think it would be that easy?”

You try to search for the voice but you see nothing.  A breeze wafts through, sudden and shocking.  A glowing mist wreathes before your eyes.  You try and move backwards, away from it, but you are frozen in place. 

A hand, an eye, a torso, slowly materialise amidst the thickening miasma.  Around your neck your luck blazes sudden, sharp and unbearably hot. 

“I’ll take that,” the voice says, a hand reaching out and plucking your luck from around your neck.  “I bet you don’t even realise what this is.  And now you’ll never find out.”

The hand reaches out again, plunging into your chest.  You feel icy fingers caress your heart.  And clench tight.  Twist.

You feel no more.
12
Spoiler for Hiden:
The way between the walls is as narrow as you expect, so narrow in fact and so well painted to mirror the walls, that you might never have spotted it without your luck’s intervention.  Turning sideways, you squeeze your way between cold, damp stone. 

The walkway winds and twists and all too soon you are plunged into absolute darkness.  The air is still.  You struggle to keep your breathing calm and even against the thudding of your heart.  One hand remains gripped on your luck.  It pulses a comforting warmth that does little to assuage your rising panic.

•   Continue – expand 4

•   Go back – expand 13
13
Spoiler for Hiden:
The pressure is too much.  Regardless of your luck’s soothing, you cannot go on.  You shuffle back, feeling the way with careful fingers.  The further you go the narrower the way becomes. 

You close your eyes against the spreading panic, trying to remain calm.  You move quicker, jerking and twisting your body to squeeze through the gaps. 

All of a sudden you sprawl forwards, landing on a hard, uneven surface.  You open your eyes.

•   Expand 1
14
Spoiler for Hiden:
Up close, the door is even less promising than you first thought.  The handle hangs from the wood, anything holding it in place long since rotten.  Oaken panelling has splintered and decayed, devoured by parasitic woodworm. 

You put your shoulder to the wood and push.  Gentle pressure yields a solitary, groaning inch.  You put more effort in and painstakingly slowly, the door gives way.  At first it moves on its hinges then suddenly the wood buckles and splinters.  You pitch onto the floor in a tangle of limbs and debris. 

•   Expand 11
15
Spoiler for Hiden:
You continue to caress your luck as you approach the bed.  Attuned as you are to its nuanced changes, you dare not ignore its suggestion. 

A pulse like the kick of a jackrabbit, jerks your head up.  A hairline fracture within the wall catches your attention.  The magic from the luck shimmers the air.  A shadowy image of a figure distorts the air, his hands manipulating a hidden switch.  You smile. 

•   Follow the shadow – expand 10

•   Try the door – expand 7
16
Spoiler for Hiden:
Putting aside your panic, you press forward.  The ceiling dips even further, forcing you onto your knees.  Your luck turns to ice, forcing you to gasp painfully.  The chill spreads throughout your body, the warning stark. 

•   Use the dagger – expand 3
•   Go on – expand 6

August 31, 2017, 10:02:52 PM
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Re: [Jul/Aug 2017] - Story Generator - Discussion Thread
I never look at the stories before the thread is locked, so I've only just realised we've got a "choose your own path" story!
Yay @Carter  ;D

Well, the theme was "Story Generator" so I thought it would be an appropriate style to attempt this time.

September 05, 2017, 11:00:30 PM
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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread Here's my attempt this month, coming in at 1,453 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Seeking Justice

[/b][/u]It had been a long day.  Finally the plaintiff came to the end of his accusations. 

Cheeks puffed out and reddened by passion, his fervour was eclipsed only by the triviality of his case.  Simple landlord extortion, it paled in comparison to even the simplest of case Niamh was accustomed to in the Empress’ Courts.  Unfortunately for her, every Justice had to undertake a progress to the provinces every five years.

She turned her attention to her duty.  The way forward looked clear.  A simple sentence for the landlord.  A straightforward upholding of the rental dues.  Except for two things. 

One.  The landlord, a young owner compared to those she usually saw, had a cocksure grin smeared across his face.  It spoke of an assurance of success, or at least a confidence that nothing would change in his life whatever she chose to do. 

Two.  Her audience consisted of too many locals whose faces mirrored the plaintiff’s in different shades of fervent anger. 

The village lay on a frequent route used by travelling Justices on their way back to the capital.  No doubt numerous of her fellows had passed through this place.  It is was not difficult to imagine just what fates they had distributed here.  It was almost remarkable that they still clung to the hope of a different verdict after so many disappointments.

Where before her gut had been calm, now it roiled.  The blackness within her struggling to be loosed into the world. 

“Effan ap Gwydion,” she said, the magic broiling uncomfortably at his name.  “Through your actions, you have engendered poverty and destitution in those you should protect.”

Effan nodded along to her words, his self-assurance undimmed, seemingly uncaring of the hex forming within her. 

“For these crimes, you are hereby sentenced to a minimum of three years as a mendicant.  Hospitality and care shall first upon those of your tenants who fell into arrears until such time as their indebtedness to you is discharged.”

His smile flickered, her words finding chinks in his certainty.  It returned as a man to his left stepped forward, hesitant and a tremor to his lips. 

The curse reacted quickly before the second man could speak.  Black ichor erupted from Niamh’s skin.  It writhed in the air, twisting into thick tendrils, filling the air with the stench of bile and brimstone.  With an agonising wrench, they whipped away from her, seeking their victims.  The largest, thickest strand lashed at Effan, striking again and again across his shoulders and bearing him to his knees.  The rest twined their way amidst the crowd.  Discomfort replaced eager glee as all of Effan’s former tenants were bound together.  Vomit rose in her throat and she spat a obsidian gobbet onto the floor, sealing the verdict to the earth. 

As the hexes took hold, her stomach calmed, the darkness within her settling into its customary rest.  Did she imagine the lightening of her burden?  Did her decision today count in her favour?  Even after all her long years of service to the Empress’ judiciary, it was impossible to tell. 

When the darkness had vanished, Effan lay curled on the floor, his pathetic whimpering drawing grim smiles from onlookers.  The other man’s eyes flickered between her and the prone man, his mouth working silently.  Another strode forward, anger writ large across his face, features so similar to Effan’s as to leave no doubt. 

“You cannot do this!  This kind man was about to volunteer to take on Effan ap Gwydion’s burden.  You have denied justice.”

The crowd’s harsh eyes turned to Gwydion.  None supported his words, not even the apparent volunteer.  No doubt he was merely some paid lackey to be richly rewarded for taking on Effan’s sentence.  It would be far from the first time.  For all the technical truth of Gwydion’s accusation, she could not find an iota of regret. 

“If you have a complaint, you can take it to the Empress’ Courts,” Niamh said, her voice lacking any inflection as she fought to control the onset of nausea. 

For a moment it looked like Gywdion might continue to argue.  She longed for him to do just that, the first stirrings of her gut anticipating the need for another hex.  She swallowed it down as instead Gywidion helped his son from her presence.  The crowd leached away after him, the justice so many had sought finally administered.  Around her the scribes began to pack away their equipment, expecting the day to be over. 

But a single man remained. 

Her heart sank.  After a curse affecting such a significant number of people, she needed to rest and purge herself of any lingering residue.  Instead she had to sit through one more case.  And looking at the bedraggled, haggard man beggar before her, she foresaw only a tedious litany of petty grievances.  Minor assaults, perceived debts owed, perhaps even a fantasy that he was heir to some estate; such were the usual complaints. 

She beckoned him forward.  He strode with a purpose she had not expected, head back and meeting her gaze squarely.  Determination shone in his hazel eyes. 

“State your accusations.”

A brief shudder ran through his body as he prepared himself to speak.  It was only for an instant but she had long learned to identify even the smallest signs from accuser and defendant alike. 

“I accuse Bil ap Rhodric of treason.  Of murder.  Of theft and unlawful confiscation.  Of rape and torture.”

The scribbling of her scribes sought to record his words, quills hastily retrieved and vellum scarred.  She quickly held up hand for silence, her previous apathy replaced by a deepening unease.  Instantly, like one well accustomed to the vagaries of a travelling court and nothing like she would have expected from a simple beggar, he quietened, waiting patiently for her words.  A chill suspicion that spread through the depths of her being.

“State your name.”

She knew it even before his confirmation.  Knew it but had to ask for the sake of her scribes.

“Bil ap Rhodric.  Father of – ”

“I know who your son is,” she said, cutting him off before her scribes could indelibly record it for posterity.  Before someone else could make the connection and act without thought or compunction. 

Her gut twisted and clenched.  She longed to loose it all, to flay him with the worst of curses, to force him into unimaginable torment, to make him endure the worst of his son’s myriad crimes time and again.  For him to receive the justice his son had escaped by virtue of a simple death. 

Bil braced himself, expecting it.  Waiting for it.  Wanting it. 

Her gorge rose unbidden, black speckles dotting her skin as the magic forced its way to the surface.  She took deep breath after deep breath, striving to hold it all in. With every heartbeat she watched Bil wilt.  Her blood seemed to boil as she contained her hexes.  Acid ate at her throat as it tried to force its way upwards. 

With an effort of will she swallowed. 

Bil’s knees buckled but he stood firm.  Tears streaked his face but he dashed them away with a defiant hand.  He met her gaze once more, staring at her. 

“I deserve it and more for what I failed to prevent,” he said, his voice steady and assured.  “I will see justice served.”

His words echoed within her, ringing with truth.  An errant thought snagged on something buried deep.  It had been so long since she had truly contemplated her position.  Justices lived such long lives, their bodies preserved by the roiling mass of hateful magic in their souls, that it was so easy to forget their origins.  Of how the Empress had unlocked the guilt and channelled it into something new. 

Her heart hammered in her breast as she contemplated the options before her.  She could not curse him anymore than she could curse herself.  Nor could she let him go to force himself on another Justice. 

But would the Empress consider his case?  For the father of the Butcher of Llanach, she might.  For the man who had raised such a demon such as the Empire had not seen for two generations, she might.  It would not be an easy path for any of them it was the only one available.  If she could assist in his ascension to the ranks of the judiciary then it might, just might, expunge some of the guilt she bore.

And perhaps even she, Niamh ap Arra, mother of Allain ap Madog, the once consort to the Empress herself, the man responsible for shattering the Empress’ heart and almost cleaving the Empire in two, might one day achieve redemption. 

September 30, 2017, 10:51:30 PM
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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Discussion Thread
Or, you know, you could dump everything, sell what you don't need, store the rest away, fly with a bag to Scotland, and come live in my backpacker. You can pick up an easier job in town, relax, meet lots of new people and live without pressure.



Dropping everything has to remain an option, if only to ease some tension.
Running the risk of turning this into a weird plug for Edinburgh, is it a little too odd for me to say that, aside from living at Nora's backpacker this is almost exactly what I did four years ago?  To the building in this picture?  (The one on the left not the castle, obviously).  And that this move coincides almost perfectly with my first story entry here on the forum?

If it's not too odd, then I support the suggestion whole-heartedly!

October 01, 2017, 10:30:37 AM
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