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Re: [May 2016] - Well known fairy tales from a different POV - Submission Thread Anonymous submission

(loosely) based on a Norwegian fairy tale - The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Troll Luck.

The bridge is mine,
They shall not pass!
The bridge is mine,
They do not ask -
Just -

Trip trip, trip trip,
Above my head.
Trip trip, trip trip,
It never ends!
But....

I will stop this -
Scare them away!
I will stop this,
I will. Today.
Look -

Here they come,
The smallest first.
Here they come -
Act fierce! (No nerves)
"Back!"

"You cannot pass.
No trip trip trip!
You cannot pass -
This is my bridge!"
But....

He is so small,
I let him talk.
He is so small,
I let him walk.
Sigh

I can't do this.
(Goat two gets past)
I can't do this.
(Goat three looks fast)
"Arrrrgh!

He charged at me -
(Caught me off guard).
He charged at me -
Butted me hard!
So....

Now I'm floating,
Downstream awhile,
Now I'm floating,
Dreaming. I smile...

........Shhhh

May 30, 2016, 08:09:17 PM
4
Re: [Jun 2016] - Random Wikipedia Article - Submission Thread Wikipedia chose Nedderton, a village in Northumberland.

The Colliery
Word count: 1494.

Spoiler for Hiden:

The Colliery

August pushed through the stalks of wheat and shielded his eyes from the sun, searching for a better view of the colliery. Just a little further and they'd be close enough. He stopped when he could see the headframe, standing proud over the huddled buildings and the empty courtyard.

John squeezed past him, dark eyes intent on their goal. "Are they gone yet?"

August shook his head. "What if they catch us?"

"It won't take long. I know where I need to go."

August shivered, despite the oppressive heat. "Can't we just ask?"

"They wouldn't listen."

"But my da—"

"No. I have to do this." John glared at him. "I didn't ask you to come."

August looked away, silent. He didn't have a choice. He couldn't let his friend do this alone.

John snorted, then leaned forwards and craned his neck. "They're leaving."

"All of them?" August squinted and tried to count the adults as they left the mine.

"Would any of them miss the ceremony?"

"I don't get it. It's just a school."

John shrugged. "At least they're distracted."

The moment the adults were gone the boys broke cover, racing to the colliery entrance. Inside, the heat wasn't so unbearable, and the darkness was a balm to August's strained eyes. At least, it was until he saw it.

The shaft was a black hole in the middle of the room—an empty maw that oozed malevolence. His stomach twisted at the sight, and he took an instinctive step backwards.

John didn't seem to notice his distress. The older boy cast wary glances towards the shadowed corners of the room as he approached the pit.

August gritted his teeth. He had been down there once before, and he had lived. He shouldn't be scared—it hadn't been that bad. Not until he started seeing things at least, and that would not happen again. He wasn't crazy. Besides, up until a few years ago, all kids went down the mines to help—John had worked the traps for years.

Unable to tear his eyes from the yawning pit of darkness, he forced himself to move. The pit grew; the darkness deepened. Almost at its edge, swaying slightly, he steadied himself against a table. He had to do something about that evil darkness. He reached a trembling hand towards one of the davy lamps the miners had left on the table.

John reached it first, calmly picked it up, and lit the wick. "Look. You should stay here."

August nearly collapsed with relief. "You sure?"

John nodded and strolled over to the chains suspended over the shaft. "I won't be long." He strapped himself into the harness, then hesitated. He glanced at August, then looked away. "If anything happens… Thanks." Without looking up, he descended into the pit.

The lamplight faded into the depths. The rhythmic clatter of the chains was a lifeline in the dark, a thread that told him he was not alone.

August couldn't keep his gaze away from the pit. He lit another lamp and hung it in the opening—anything to fight back the shadows.

He waited, nervously glancing around the room. His gaze never strayed for long.

The chains stopped. Silence.

Seconds stretched to minutes. The only sound was August's breathing, fast and getting faster. His pulse started pounding in his ears. The world seemed to contract, swallowed whole by the vast and endless shadows that lurked in the abyss, until the last things left were the boy, his laboured breath, and the weak light that stood between him and the darkness.

The lantern wavered, flickered, then went out.

August's heart thundered, and he shakily edged away from the pit. He was halfway to the door before he could breathe and think again. The miners must not have filled their lamps before they went, and he must have used up the last of what was left in the one he chose. No reason to be afraid. Still, he took a fresh lamp from the cupboard by the door and made sure it was filled. When the lamp was merrily burning he ventured back to his pit-side vigil.

Shadows safely chained once more, he paced and fidgeted. Surely John should be back by now? The mines weren't that deep. But the chains remained silent. A thought struck him, and he froze in horror.

What if John's lantern had run out as well?

He would be deep within the earth, alone, with no light to guide his way. Lost. Begging for help. And there was only one person here to answer his call.

The rest of the village would be no help; the new school's opening ceremony would go on for hours. August could run and get someone, but then they'd be in real trouble. Besides, he didn't know for sure that John was in danger! No. He only had one option. And if it scared him shitless then it was his own damn fault.

He rolled his sleeves up and faced his nemesis. The lamp lit just the first few feet; the dark beneath was an endless chasm, willing him to fall. Dizzied, he swayed a little, but with a burst of anger he steeled himself, leaned out, and grabbed the chain. He pressed the cool metal against his forehead for a minute to let the world stop spinning.

Panic calmed, pulse still racing, he hauled the chain until the harness reappeared. Before he had a chance to listen to his doubts, he grabbed the lamp, strapped himself in, and started to descend. Within moments the mouth of the pit faded into shadows.

The clatter of the chains sounded different here, and no longer gave him comfort. The sphere of light felt far too small. The weight of earth above seemed to press down on him; his chest began to hurt.

It took all his focus just to move one hand over the other, to keep the harness moving. The world blurred, faded; something within him came apart and suddenly he could feel the earth around him. Just like last time.

A smoky darkness flowed through the rocks and earth, filled with a brooding power which hungered for the spark of life. Tiny cracks and fissures ran deep into its heart, each filled with a slick and oily fire. August could feel it. It echoed the rapid throb of blood through his veins, called to him like nothing else. He tried to fight his rising terror, but the world began to crack and groan as it responded to his fear.

It was happening again. But this time, he knew more. The veins of darkness in the earth were coal, the lifeblood of the world. The thing that lurked within its cracks was a gas: firedamp, a hazard feared by every miner. Exposed to flames, it could explode at any moment.

Understanding calmed his fear, and his heartbeat slowed once more. The firedamp settled down as well. August hesitated. Maybe he was crazy. Gases do not respond to emotion.

He crushed his wish to be as far away as possible, and carried on into the dark. With his newfound senses he could feel the jagged shape of the mine, a gnawing wound that would not close. He cast his thoughts out through the shafts and passageways, searching for anything that would hint at where John would be.

A short distance into a half-collapsed drift, not too far below him, a slight vibration seemed to be just what he hoped for. He worked his way down to the opening and hooked the harness to a bracket in the wall. He paused, reluctant, wishing he could leave. He took a deep breath. He had made it this far; he could finish this.

Half a dozen paces into the tunnel, he found a discarded lamp—still a little warm. He called out. The echoes lingered, almost masking the faint reply that came from further in. Careful not to trip over the tracks, he hurried deeper into the drift. Finally, he found his friend.

John crouched by a spill of rubble which completely blocked the tunnel. His sweaty hair was plastered over his forehead, his clothes and face were black with dust. His voice wavered, uncharacteristically high. "August? Is that you?"

"Yeah. You okay?"

John sighed, relief flooding his face. "Twisted my ankle. Tripped when my lamp went out."

"Yeah, mine went out too."

"I wondered how you knew."

"Shall we…" August frowned. "Why did you come over here?"

John tensed, staring at the floor.

"Oh." August's stomach dropped. John hadn't been an orphan for long, and of course an empty grave was not the same. This was where it had happened. A patch of dirt at John's feet caught his eye—a tiny grave, freshly broken.

A fluffy ear stuck out from the earth.

John bent down and tenderly reshaped the mound, until the bear was buried. He wiped away his tears, and set off towards the shaft without a word.

July 01, 2016, 07:12:08 PM
3
Re: [Jul 2016] - Story Generator - Submission Thread The Cake Won't Kill You.
Word count: 1041.


Spoiler for Hiden:


The Cake Won't Kill You
Comic • Wizard • Castle • Talking Sword • Vain • Ex-Girlfriend • Cake


The famed wizard Icewind, Archmage of the North, Conjurer of the Arctic Lights, Guardian of the Soul of the Snow, refused to look at the magnificent pink cake which had appeared—as if by magic—on the table. Even though it had his name on it.

He puttered about a draughty guest-room high up in the castle's southern tower, sweeping the floor without using a lick of sorcery. Hiding who—and what—he was. Even though she had clearly found out he was here.

A voice disturbed the quiet, its timbre like a ringing chime. "The cake won't kill you."

Icewind rolled his eyes and continued sweeping.

"There's nothing wrong with it. Even I can tell."

"Since when are you the expert?"

"Cakes need to be cut."

The wizard glared at his sword. "Cakes are cut by knives."

Brightedge sent him a sharp look. "Don't be prejudiced. Swords are meant to cut too."

"Swords are meant to cut people."

"You know how I feel about violence. It never solves anything."

Icewind groaned. "And I paid extra to get a bloody sword that could turn my enemies into mincemeat."

"You never complain about that at dinnertime."

"That's different. You can't always moonlight as a piece of cutlery."

"You're one to talk! A wizard who works as a maid!"

The wizard turned bright red. "The correct term is manservant." He put down the broom and fiddled with some knick-knacks on a shelf.

"Ah. I suppose that makes all the difference."

"I had to get away from her. "

"Well now you've been found out."

Icewind grimaced.

"Maybe she wants you back? She did send cake."

"We didn't part on the best of terms."

"I thought she was nice. That's all I'm saying."

The wizard laughed. "For a sword, you're remarkably trusting."

"We can't all have hearts as hard as steel."

Icewind sighed. Loudly.

"I may not be the sharpest, but I know there's more to it."

The wizard held his tongue. He opened a window to let the room air out and started dusting the sills. A servant's life of simple tasks and sedate routine did wonders for one's temper—and all the work was great for one's physique.

"At least let's cut one piece."

He shot a dirty look at the cursed cake. "I don't want it."

"It's a nice gesture!"

"It's a taunt. She knows I can't eat desserts."

"What's the worst that could happen?"

"You don't get a figure like mine if you eat cake."

"You never used to care."

"I never used to look like this."

"Indeed. You used to wear a wizard's robe."

Icewind gritted his teeth. "Cut it out. Or I'll throw you out the window. And that damn cake with you."

Brightedge glistened menacingly.

"That doesn't work on me. I know you."

The sword grumbled to itself.

The wizard finished off the windowsills and started folding the clothes which had been left strewn across the furniture.

"I bet that icing's nice and smooth."

"No."

"Just one piece!"

"Every last crumb is filled with spells. I can't even tell what half of them are meant to do."

"I don't understand."

"She's a witch. It's what she does." Icewind pointed at the cake. "That thing probably causes an incurable addiction to sugar."

"Surely cooking is magical enough without adding sorcery into the mix."

"Only if all you want is food."

"And she wants something else?"

"Of course! She wants me to be like her. Fat and ugly."

"That's hardly fair."

"So now you're the judge of human beauty?"

"I have a keen sense of aesthetics. I am a work of art myself, you know."

Icewind closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He tried to picture the frost glittering beneath the stars, to feel the biting chill of the wind. To remember the clean simplicity of a solitary life.

"The cake is pretty too, you know."

He could almost feel the wilderness, the only place he felt at home. He'd lead that life again someday. If he could get away from her.

"I think it looks nice, at least."

He couldn't tune out Brightedge's voice. Visions of his long-lost life melted away. Reality alone remained—solid, heavy, inescapable. A dusty castle. A stupid sword. Chores. He gritted his teeth, opened a chest, and began to place the clothes inside.

"I wonder what the layers look like."

"I said no."

"It's just a cake."

The wizard took a deep breath.  "Stop it."

"No need to get your knickers in a twist."

"I already told you no."

"I'd like to lodge a formal complaint."

"Shut up."

"You never let me be myself."

Icewind slammed the chest lid shut.

"You just want me to cut people. You barely let me help you with your food."

"You're a sword."

"You never think about what I want."

"Don't be absurd."

"If this is going to work, you need to think about me too. Let me live a fulfilling life."

The wizard gripped his hair with shaking hands.

"We have to be a team. Not a master and an object."

"You're insane."

"So, I'll tell you one last time."

"Don't."

"I want to cut the cake."

Icewind roared and threw his hands up in the air; the very light seemed to tremble in fear. He yelled out words which sparked and fizzled as they came into the world, shaped them with flicking fingers and rolling wrists, directed them with an imperious sweep of his arm.

The cake flew out the window.

"Well that was very mature."

The wizard turned his furious gaze towards his sword. He raised his hands once more.

A deafening boom rent the air before he could utter one more word; the tower trembled, sending objects crashing from the shelves, then settled into a very disconcerting sway.

Dust filled the room. Icewind coughed. "What the hell was that?"

"That wasn't you?"

"Of course it bloody wasn't!" He hurried over to the window and stuck his head out.

A column of smoke rose from the ground at the base of the tower a hundred feet below. Soldiers rushed towards the scene, but nobody was nearby. Debris lay scattered across the lawns—rocks, churned earth, bits of wood.

Icewind was certain he could see some bright pink chunks of cake.

August 01, 2016, 01:14:27 PM
5
Re: [Aug 2016] - Potions and Elixirs - Submission Thread Potion, Potion, Potion
Word count: 1497.

Spoiler for Hiden:

Potion, Potion, Potion



Certain he had not been followed, Icewind ducked into the shadowed alcove which led to the apothecary—the only one in town which might yet hold hope for him. The wizard checked his sword belt; it was still secure. He almost felt regret that it was so. With a silent prayer, he opened the door.

A bell rang softly in the depths of the store as the door swung shut behind him. Shelves stood in front of windows, housing hundreds of bottles of every size and shape and hue. Rainbow shafts of light pulsed unnaturally, warped by the eternal swirling of the bottles' contents. The shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen; the counter was clear, except for a pile of unopened parcels.

A voice spoke from the depths of the shop. "I'll just be a minute."

Icewind inhaled deeply—the place was filled with the aroma of enticing spices, undercut by the distinctive scent of smoke. He drifted along the shelves, perusing the bottles' yellowed labels. Tinctures for the mind. Cures for common ailments. Potions for love, or luck, or joy. Every petty thing on which small-minded commoners would waste their money; nothing even close to what he needed.

But hidden powers lurked within this place. He felt it in his bones.

The shopkeeper hurried over, groaning as he set down a crate of potions. A short, fat alchemist with patchy hair, he didn't look like much. He hesitated. "Would you mind if I shelve these first?"

Icewind waved him on.

"I'm Elric by the way." The shopkeeper shoved the bottles onto the shelves. He didn't seem to pay much attention to what went where, and instead crammed each one into any vacant crevice. Once the crate was empty, he bowed to Icewind. "How may I help?"

"This is a little embarrassing. I'm looking for a potion—"

"Potion, potion, potion..."

The alchemist raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry about that." Icewind cleared his throat. "I'm looking for an elixir. It has to prevent—"

"Prevent, prevent, prevent..."

The shopkeeper frowned and looked Icewind up and down.

The wizard shifted awkwardly. Better to ignore it—now was not the time. "It has to hide me from someone."

"Woman troubles?" The alchemist nodded sagely. "Well... first you'll need something to get rid of that enchant—"

"That's not necessary. I just don't want her to see me."

"But what about those echoes?"

"I can deal with them. What I can't do is get away from her. I'd make the elixir myself, but I'm between places—"

"Places, places, places..."

Icewind's hand twitched toward the hilt of his sword.

"You can hardly finish a sentence. You're sure you don't want—"

"I'm sure. It's best to just ignore it."

"It's likely a simple spell. It would be no problem—"

"Problem, problem, problem..."

The alchemist was speechless for a moment. "That's... not normal. You need to get that seen to."

"I just need the elixir."

"Are you sure I can't persua—"

"Persuade, persuade, persuade..."

"Just leave it alone. Please."

"Please, please, please..."

"Is it just words beginning with a 'p'?"

"Pee, pee, pee..."

"Apparently."

"Fascinating. I'd really like to—"

"I'm sorry, but I just want the elixir. I know what's causing the echoes."

"I'm sure you do, but—"

"It's not important. Do you have the elixir or not?"

"Of course, but its effects might be interfered with by the spell. If I could just—"

"It's not a spell. Perhaps—"

"Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps..."

"What else could it be?"

Icewind gritted his teeth. "If you don't have something prepared—"

"Prepared, prepared, prepared..."

"I've heard of a spell like that before. It drove the man insane. It would take me little time to—"

"It's not a spell."

"This man thought so too, but—"

"Please—"

"Please, please, please..."

"He was cured, and—"

"Just hold on a minute—"

"I love studying this kind—"

"I'm the customer here, so—"

"I'll make your elixir for free if you let me—"

"You won't be able to help! Like I said—"

"Decoding spells is my passion—"

"Passion, passion, passion..."

"—and this one looks extremely interesting—"

"I'm sorry, but it's—"

"—such spells are not—"

"It's not a—"

"I'd consider myself in your debt—"

"IT'S MY SWORD!"

The shopkeeper paused mid-word.

Icewind massaged his temples.

"Uh... Excuse me?"

The wizard sighed. "I have a talking sword. It's annoyed with me. It's been doing this for days."

The alchemist looked incredulous.

The wizard shrugged. "Its sense of humour is... awful."

"Awesome, awesome, awesome..."

The two men stared at the sword.

"That's... How does one upset a sword?"

"It's a long story."

"Okay..." The alchemist shook himself. "I'd like to apologise. Decoding spells is my hobby, and I thought..."

Icewind dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "It's fine—Elric, was it? I understand."

"Thank you. So, you're looking for a concealment elixir?"

"Do you have something ready-made?"

"It's not an everyday request." Elric scratched his head. "A few deliveries arrived today, I think what you're looking for might be in one of them. I've been waiting for a variety set to arrive."

"I'd be happy to help look through the par—"

"Parcels, parcels, parcels..."

"Thanks, but you probably wouldn't know what you're looking for."

"I'm familiar with alchemy."

Elric looked skeptical. "Many are, but few have—"

"I'm a mage."

The alchemist straightened. "I see. And the woman?"

"She's a witch."

Elric stared at Icewind for a moment, biting his lip. He took a deep breath. "I guess it can't hurt."

Icewind rolled his eyes and reached for the closest box—which was much lighter than expected. He opened it, and paused in confusion. It had a cake inside. "Elric?"

The alchemist leaned over to take a look. "Aha! That's from across the road. The baker trades me cakes for tonics." He licked his lips.

Brightedge spoke up at last, his tone reproachful. "Cake? You'd better let me cut it this time."

"For the love of—"

Elric blinked. "Your sword wants to cut the cake?"

"It's what we fell out over."

"He wouldn't let me do it. Heartless bastard."

Icewind rolled his eyes. "And look how that turned out."

The sword sighed. "That's beside the point."

Elric frowned. "What is?"

"I threw the cake out the window. It exploded."

"It what?"

"Yeah. She had sent it."

"Ah..."

"She's been just one step behind me ever since. That's why I need this potion."

"Potionpotionpotion. You two are getting sidetracked. There's nothing wrong with this cake. Let's cut it now."

Icewind glared at the sword. "We're busy."

"Actually, it's not a bad idea. There's a lot of boxes."

"I'm not sure—"

Brightedge cut in. "It'll be more than just words beginning with 'p' if you say no."

Wizard and sword glared at each other for a moment.

Elric looked from one to the other, then stood up. "Cake it is. I'll go get some drinks—you can cut it if you like!" He disappeared into the back of the shop.

Brightedge glittered with glee.

"Okay. Swear you'll stop with the echoes after this?"

"That's fair."

Icewind tried to look stern. "Just make sure you savour it." He moved a couple of boxes out of the way, drew the sword, and slowly, carefully, cut the cake.

Brightedge chattered to itself, its voice ringing with delight. Each cut brought forth squeals of joy as the blade sliced through the icing and into the layers beneath. Once the last cut was made, the sword sighed contentedly. "Whoever invented cake deserves to be showered with gold."

The wizard rolled his eyes, wiped the sword clean, and slid it back into its scabbard. "You'd better keep your promise."

"Promise, promise, promise..."

"Don't you dare—"

Brightedge giggled. "Sorry. Couldn't resist."

The shopkeeper returned a minute later with a wine bottle and two glasses. "I hope this one's good." He poured the wine, his hands shaking slightly. The cobalt liquid flashed and shimmered with every movement, filled with sparks of light which moved in neverending whirls.

Icewind picked up the glass, mesmerised, and tilted it from side to side. "What is it?"

"Something I created." Elric smiled nervously. "It's like a sparkling wine, but it packs a greater punch. You'll be the first to try it!" He poured himself a glass as well.

The wizard raised his drink—"Cheers!"—and took a generous mouthful. It was glorious—silky smooth, a taste like the most exotic fruits, and it left a tingling on his tongue. He savoured it for a moment, then swallowed. "That's incredible!"

Elric put his glass down and took a deep breath.

Icewind frowned. "What..." The taste of the wine was fading, but the tingling feeling wasn't. It intensified, began to spread—from his stomach now as well.

The glass fell from his hand, shattered on the flagstones; he struggled to stay upright.

"I'm sorry. She knew you would come here. I almost didn't realise you were the one."

The store began to spin, and then dissolved into shadows.

September 01, 2016, 09:23:36 AM
9
Re: [Sep 2016] - Pirates! - Submission Thread A Seasick Sword
Word count: 1465.

Spoiler for Hiden:

A Seasick Sword



"Do you even know how to sail?"

Icewind stared straight ahead, hand on the tiller, eyes locked on the horizon. The temptation to conjure a wind was almost overpowering. Six months of magic-abstinence, and the build-up was really starting to make him twitchy.

"I don't think we should go this way."

The wizard rolled his eyes. "We don't have a choice."

"We could go back?"

"I thought you were 'seasick'."

"To talk, not fight."

"You don't just talk to pirates."

"You didn't try."

"I'm not suicidal."

"You're sailing a dinghy into the open ocean."

He gritted his teeth. "I'm not confronting a shipful of pirates with a sword which refuses to come out of its scabbard."

"You wouldn't want to swing around when you're feeling sick."

"You don't have a stomach."

Brightedge seemed to consider that for a moment. "I don't see your point."

"Without a stomach, you can't get sick."

The sword sighed theatrically. "Again with the prejudice."

"It's called logic."

"It's called a fallacy."

The wizard's grip tightened on the tiller. "Enlighten me."

"It's the 'swords aren't human therefore they're lumps of inanimate metal' fallacy. It's pretty common. Surprised you haven't heard of it."

Icewind shot a venomous look at his sword, then looked back at the scene they had left in their wake.

Smoke meandered in the azure sky, the only blemish on the fathomless sky. Two ships floated side-by-side, twin spectres shrouded by the haze, shrinking slowly as the minutes drifted by. The pirates had chased them for days, with the relentless confidence of a merciless predator. That confidence had been well placed.

The merchantman's crew were honour bound to fight to the last. Icewind could have helped. He would have. He might even have made a difference. But he couldn't risk using magic, and his sword had serious issues.

He sighed and turned away.

Brightedge seemed to sense his mood. "I did nothing wrong."

"You didn't do anything at all."

"I was seasick!"

"There's always an excuse."

"It's not my fault!"

"It sure as hell isn't anyone else's!"

The sword sighed.

"This is the fourth time, too."

"It is not. I've never been to sea before."

"You know what I'm talking about."

"Never met pirates either."

Icewind slammed his fist on the rail. "But we've been in fights before. Or, rather, I've been in fights. You've been as unhelpful as you could possibly be."

"You don't think I'm menacing enough?"

"You're supposed to do more than look menacing."

"But I was seasick!"

"And when we were jumped at the port? And you wouldn't let go of that barrel?"

"You swung me too hard. I got stuck."

"And the bandits in the mountains, when you wouldn't come out of your damn scabbard?"

Brightedge sniffed. "I told you. I had a cold."

"And those raiders by the desert?"

"I was brand new. It was dusty. You can't expect me to just risk losing my lustre like that."

The wizard shook his head in disgust and turned his attention back to his task. With the heat of the sun and the cool of the breeze, sailing would have been quite pleasant without a cutthroat crew of corsairs to worry about.

"Are those sails getting bigger?"

Icewind looked back, and a chill ran down his spine. One ship had left the other behind. It was definitely getting bigger. "Looks like we won't be alone for long."

"They're not going to catch up, surely?" An edge of panic sharpened the sword's voice.

"They have bigger sails."

"We have to do something!"

"We have to fight."

"I'm seasick!"

"Tough. It's about time you proved just how magical a sword you really are."

The wizard adjusted the sails, trying to capture more of the wind, but it was hopeless. He barely knew port from starboard; the pirates would doubtless be a little less incompetent. His swordplay was merely adequate too—hence the need for a magical sword.

Of course, he could solve their problem in a heartbeat with magic. Was it worth the risk, or was that just his need for release talking?

If Brightedge would just let him use its power, magic wouldn't be necessary.

"If you stick in your scabbard again I'll throw you overboard."

"That's not fair! I hate water."

"Maybe you could complain them to death."

"I could try?" The sword sounded hopeful.

Icewind chuckled despite himself.

"By the way, I have a question."

"Is this really the time?"

"What kind of a name is 'Icewind'?"

The wizard frowned at his sword. "What?"

"I mean, none of the other people we've met have names like that. They're all called 'John' or 'James'."

"I thought you didn't want to be fish food."

"I've been thinking about it lately."

"You can't be senile. I had you forged six months ago."

"You've never told anyone but me your real name."

"And you were like this from the start."

"Who would have a name like yours—and hide it?"

"You haven't left my side since then."

"Even kings use normal names."

Icewind clenched his fist. "Maybe that's it."

"I've heard of people more pretentious than kings."

"She must have realised I planned to leave."

"But I've never seen you do it."

"She bribed that bastard to make me a faulty sword."

Brightedge's voice sharpened. "I'm not faulty. You are!"

"A sword that won't fight is pointless."

"As is a mage who won't use magic."

The wizard's tone softened. "I never hid what I am from you."

"You never told me either."

"I'm trying to escape from all that."

"And you always tell me off for not fighting."

"You're a sword! You're supposed to fight!"

"There's more than one way to cut a cake."

Icewind sighed. "It's not the same."

"You have your reasons. I have mine."

"What reason could you possibly have?"

"You'll laugh at me."

"Maybe you shouldn't be so bloody ridiculous."

"It's not ridiculous to hate hurting people."

"That's your problem?"

"Valuing life is not a 'problem'."

"It is if you're a sword."

Brightedge laughed. "So says the mage who doesn't do magic."

"I have a valid reason."

"You're not the only person in the world."

"Fine. What would it take to get you to work with me on this?"

"Two things. First: I don't want to kill anyone unless it's really unavoidable."

Icewind nodded. "That I can agree to."

"Second: I want to try cooking."

"I don't..."

"I've always dreamed of being cutlery."

"But you're a sword."

"Are people always happy with their life?"

"That's beside the—"

"Actually, I have a third condition."

The wizard rolled his eyes. "You want to be a princess too?"

"You have to pull your weight as well."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Use magic. If I have to do something distasteful, you should too."

"It's not distasteful, it's—"

"It doesn't matter that you're running from someone."

"But if I use magic she'll—"

"You're asking me to risk taking lives."

"You can't just—"

"Besides, there are things I can't do."

Icewind gritted his teeth. "You're a magic sword. You can—"

"One of those is kill an entire crew of pirates."

"What's that got—"

"Like the one behind us."

The wizard paused.

"They'll catch up eventually."

"I know that. But you can't—"

"You agreed not to take life unless it's unavoidable."

"Yes, but—"

"I won't kill a whole crew."

"If we kill the captain and disarm a few—"

"If you want my help, you have to do this."

"But she'll find me."

"If she does, I'll help."

Icewind took a deep breath, and looked out over the rolling waves. With an enchanted sword he could defeat her. Especially if she knew nothing of it. But could he really kill her? She was evil incarnate, of course, but the girl she used to be was still somewhere inside... Far better to disappear, and never have to face her.

But what good was disappearing if it meant he always had to hide who he was?

It had been mere months, and he was already longing for the touch of magic. Could he really hold back for centuries more? Would a sharp, quick end be better?

Brightedge interrupted his thoughts. "We've been travelling for six months, half of that by ship. Could we be far enough away by now?"

The wizard shrugged. "There's no way to know."

"I can think of a way."

"I might not be able to do it."

"So don't turn back. Live your life as yourself, and hope she lets go too."

"And if she doesn't?"

"Then we'll deal with it."

Icewind nodded. It wasn't perfect, but it was better to live in hope. He turned towards the dinghy's stern, set the raging fire of magic flowing through his heart, and prepared to show those pirates just who they were hunting.

October 01, 2016, 01:57:35 PM
2
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread "The Raid"

Spoiler for Hiden:
She held Marais hand as she pulled her sister up the steep slope, the wetness dripped from the trees. “You have to help me, Marai. I can’t do this all by myself” Samina wheezed as she continued to pull her sister up the slope.
 
“I’m sorry Sam, I’m sorry”. The sisters finally reached the top of the ridge. Samina sat down in the wet moss, breathing hard.

 “Sam, do you think anyone else made it out of the village?”

 “I really don’t know Mar, I just hope someone did.” The two girls just sat there resting in the grey pre-dawn light. The forest around them had just started to come alive with birdsong and some of the smaller animals could be seen starting their day. As far as they could see, there were Pines and Firs. Suddenly they heard a sound, a barking sound, a guttural shout that was answered within moments from other directions.

 “They found us!” Marai gasped and rose, staring wildly about her. Samina rose as well but she stared fixedly in the direction where the first bark came from.

 “No, not yet but they are looking though. But if they knew where we were, there’d be some coming for us, but I can’t hear anything yet.” She pointed in the direction they just came from.

 “What do we do? Where do we go?” Marais tone was pleading with her sister.

 Samina stood there, staring, fiddling with the rent in her nightshift that been slit opened by the goblin that near caught them just as they were leaving the cottage. She felt the pain from the long scratch from her knee to her hip.

 What do we do now? She felt the frustration building.

Where do we go now? Where do two girls go to seek shelter in the Darker Woods? Turn back south wasn’t an option and Amberton was too far west. East of them there had been other calls, hunting calls, during their flight.

 The last option was further north, but Sam knew that goblins came from the north, so they were likely returning there to avoid the Duke’s men in the morning. Decision crystallised.

 “We’re going this way” Sam took Marais hand again and started to trot northeast along the curving low ridge.

  By the time the sun was up, they hadn’t heard a hunting call for at least a candle and they slowed to a walking pace. Their nightshifts had been soaked during their flight the dense brushwood and along some small streams, but had dried in the morning sun.

 “Sam, I’m hungry” Marai whined and her tone got immediately on Sams nerve. “I know, so am I, but there isn’t much I can do about it, is there?” Sam’s glare silenced Marai.

  As they walked on the soft moss along the low ridge, Samina did not say much and Marai seemed to have lapsed into a tired silence. Something brought Sam out of her reverie.  On the northern facing slope of the ridge, she saw at least three lichen covered ancient building stones.

“Mar, look! What’s that?” Marai stopped

“What’s what?” “Down there.” Samina started down the slope. “Let’s take a look.”

 Marai did not move. ”I’ll wait here Sam. You can have a look see.” Sam pursed her lips, she realised that Marai was tired. Sam let go of her feeling of annoyance and turned back down the slope.

 She reached the stones in moments and saw how the whole area was covered with square stones, they were about two times larger than normal bricks.  Almost in the middle them was a flat round stone, about the size of a cottage table. She walked over to it and as she took a step onto it, it gave way.

 She fell and slid across it’s surface into an opening. As she fell down into the pitchblack hole, she thought… this is going to hurt.

But it did not, but it did knock the wind out of her.

Marai sat rubbing her legs, when she heard the strange crashing sound. She instantly stood again and stared about her; she saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary. “Sam!” she called…no response.

Where is she? Marai thought. She started down the slope, and run when she saw the dark opening among the old stones.

 “Sam….Sam! Can you hear me?” Marai felt the fear from earlier coming back. As she threw herself down by the gap, she saw in her mind how Sam’s broken body lay down there in the dark. “Sam!” Marai’s shout rung in the small chamber and then she saw her.

 Samina’s pale legs and grey nightshift showed quite clearly as she laid there on the floor of the cave. She moved and Marai felt relief.

“Ahh…bloody ruin, damn near killed me” Sam’s voice was quite clear and angry.

Sam sat up looking up at her sister and realised that the fall was not more than six or seven feet. “Calm down, Mar. I feel fine. But I can’t see much, can you see something?”

  “What happened?” “Nothing, Mar. I just fell down a hole.” She stretched her legs and ankles carefully, as to prove to her sister that she in fact was uninjured. She did not felt any pain and stood up. Her head was not far from, what she perceived as the ceiling of the cave. She stood still to let her eyes acclimatise to the dark space around her. She saw or felt as the space she was in was low but wide and it extend well beyond her senses.

 “Mar, come down here.” “Why can’t come up to me? We have to keep going you know.” Marai sat up and looked around her. “Please come up now. I want to go.”

Sam only half listened to her. She continued to stare and finally she started to be able to make out her surroundings. She could make out, what it seemed to be a pillar just ten feet from her and beyond that a weak beam of light trickled in through the roof.

 “I think I see something, get down here.” She still did not listen to her sisters protests. She moved carefully towards the pillar, when Marai whimpered. “They’re coming….Sam I hear them.”
 Samina stepped into the light again and gestured, “Get down here, now. “ She whispered forcefully. She reached with her arms towards her sister, and Marai finally, in her incipient panic, listened and started to crawl into the opening. While Samina helped her down she started to hear the sounds of armed men walking and running.

They backed further in, all the way up to the pillar. They held on to each other and listened to the growing sounds of closing raiders.

 They are here, she thought. They are where I was, when I saw the ancient stones. The moving sounds lessened but they seemed to have a discussion. Samina tried to hear what they said, but it was all grunts, yips and growls.

 It sounds like dogs trying to talk, she thought. She looked around, now that her eyes adjusted, for a hideout or somewhere to run. The cave was large but she couldn’t see anything that might help them.

 What are we going to do? Samina felt how despair threatened to engulf her; Marai’s quiet sobbing did not help either. What do we do… what do we do? The thought continued to grate on her mind.
 
She leaned on the pillar and felt it… a handle of some sort, embedded in the pillar. She desperately started to tug at it, Marai stopped sobbing realising that Samina might have found something. She started to tug as well.

 The two women pulled, jerked and pushed. Anything and everything to loosen whatever it was. The goblins heard the noise and acted.

 At the same time as Longrunner and Headcleaver landed in the cave, the sisters had prised the handle free, it was a short ancient stabbing spear.

Samina whirled in near-panic to face the goblins only to find them kneeling in front of the pillar, and without any thought to why. She stabbed down into Longrunner’s neck and killed him. Samina stabbed again and again, until she saw Headcleaver’s charcoal black eyes looking at her in apparent fear. In an instant she turned the spear on him. He died as well without defending himself. She turned towards opening again but no more goblins were in sight.

  Instead she heard a hunting horn and the baying of hounds….the Duke, the dukes men were close by. The young women sank down, in relief, to the floor drenched in dark green goblin blood, hugging each other.

 Two armed men with torches found the cave a candle later. They climbed down and raised the torches to see the whole cave. What they saw was the two hugging, sobbing girls, the bloody and gored goblin corpses and encased in a pillar of ember, the mummified corpse of the last goblin king….

October 07, 2016, 08:58:55 AM
5
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Discussion Thread *steps ominously out of a dark corner*

Please make sure that you add a title to your story. An anonymous story without a title... I think you get the problem. ;)

*steps back into the corner, stumbles over his too long cloak and falls facedown into the shadow, disappearing*

October 07, 2016, 09:04:25 AM
7
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread The Bridge Battle

Spoiler for Hiden:
Though I held him pinned against the low, stone wall that ran along the edge of the great bridge, my attacker’s hands gripped my throat, choking me. My eyes bulged. I could not breathe.

Far below, the river had turned the color of headstones in the failing light. Without sunlight, without energy, I was doomed. I had been a fool and would die like one at the hands of a layman.

He could not draw his knife to finish me, but he wouldn’t need to. He was a wizard-killer, and he knew his trade. And he was the stronger by far.

But the valley wind that swept around us was strong, too, so high up. It buffeted our hair and billowed my cloak around me. I lifted my hands, fingers spread out, into the wind.

Intent on murdering me, he did not react when the wind died down or notice the dimming of the light. He smiled grimly, and I knew his thoughts: without speech, wizards are powerless.

Brilliant purple flashes clouded my vision, but I returned his smile.

I don’t work that way.

His smile slid to shock when I blasted him through the stone railing with only a pressing gesture. In a cloud of shattered masonry, he arced out into empty air and pitched down toward the river valley far below. I sucked air and coughed, clutching my throat. He was still falling, I think, when I realized that I could not flee without warning my friends.

There was no time, and for all I knew, they had betrayed me, too. But better to be betrayed than to betray. By far. If they tried to kill me, so be it.

I ran to the tower door, wrenched the iron door from its hinges with a wave, and darted inside the bridge’s great buttress. Without wind, I had no power, but I didn’t care. I sped down the tightly twisting stair, my hand hooking the central pillar as I spiraled around and around. At the bottom I stumbled through the broken doorway. My boots crunched across shattered glass. My shout of warning died in my throat.

The laboratory we had painstakingly built was now a shipwreck of broken furniture in a sea of loose papers and torn books. Their corpses lay hacked and torn amongst the wreckage, swimmers in a sea of blood and gore.

Cantria and Boren lay facing one another, curled like children dressed in bloody rags, limp arms of ragged flesh still raised in vain against hateful blows. Cantria’s head was a beaten, ghastly ruin. Boren stared at her in the sleepy, disinterested way of the dead.

In a corner Glaccius sat bent viciously forward, like a child’s discarded doll, her legs splayed out beneath her. Her head lolled at an unnatural angle, forehead pressed onto the floor in the space between her knees. Her long, golden hair, the curls that had so often distracted me, all stained red at the roots. She stared at the floor, as if noticing it for the first time.

Merron sprawled face-down across the broken back of a table, his golden robes hacked to bloody ribbons. I made out an ear tilted unnaturally and recoiled as I realized he lay on his back. The face no man or woman ever resisted was now just a tattered crimson mass, a wet heap of red laundry. I fell to my knees, and my stomach emptied across the floor.

They didn’t betray me, I thought. The small relief only broke my heart. I kneeled in the ruins of my life and my friends and wept.

I resolved to finish alone what we had begun. I wiped my tears on my sleeve and rose in anger. But the room had been ransacked. Our great invention was gone. So too were all our records and notes. Our enemies had been thorough.

“All for nothing,” I whispered.

Looking over their silent remains, I recalled their banter that morning. They deserved better, but I could not bury them without burying myself. My fingertips pressed against the stone walls, sensed the vast, crushing weight of the bridge bearing down around us, my dead friends and I. In the palm of my mind I molded that energy, shaped it. I raised a fist and shook it at the corpses of my friends. I opened my fingers and loosed cleansing fire.

They deserved better.

On wings of choking black smoke, I strode back up the staircase. I did not hurry. It reeked of burned flesh and death, but its heat was pure and righteous. I coiled its energy, weighing it in my mind like a warrior hefting an ax. Let them come.

I emerged from the tower, and there, on the causeway before me stood Jerden, flanked by two men and two women. Five wizards to one.

“You are overmatched!” Jerden yelled. His face shined with contempt and betrayal, like a hidden joke at my expense finally made clear.

“Am I?” Through the bridge itself, I pitched the energy I had gathered at them. In a rush of thunder, my wave sluiced through the stonework toward them. Shattering stone splashed and crackled across their wards. Their defenses were strong.

“Am I?!” I yelled again, snatching at the wind and sky with my hands.

They knew I had no defenses. They laughed at me, waving my hands like a carnival charlatan. But when the wind died, so did their laughter. All became deathly dark and quiet until I struck them again, stronger this time.

The bridge shuddered. But their wards held.

“Two strikes,” my teacher had said, “show foes that their defenses are sound. To hold your foe, strike hard twice.” He was right. Of the five arrayed against me, only two struck back. The rest huddled behind their wards.

Jerden and one other heaved fire at me, but I snuffed it from the air like an old woman stifling a candle, tossed it back at Jerden’s companion, and taught her a lesson about courage. She ignited, became a shrieking firework.

“AM I?!” I bellowed once more.

They grimaced in fear now, even Jerden.

I seized the heat from the woman’s burning. The flames died down, and she slumped, a silent, blackened thing. I rolled the energy into a ball that bounced from one foe to another, to another.

One by one, they screamed and burned. Too slowly they realized their wards meant nothing to me. They were as naked as I. Only Jerden had the higher power. The fire faded harmlessly off his wards, but he could not both defend and attack.

Jerden stood alone. He chose to hold his ground, wait for reinforcements. He knew I could not break his defenses. He had only to wait me out, keep me in place.

The wind tugged at us. Above and behind Jerden, the great citadel loomed. Soon, they would come, my thousand bitter brothers and sisters. And I would die.

“You were my friend,” I said as I prepared. The wind slowed. The light dimmed.

“We don’t have friends,” he said. The mockery was gone from his voice. “We’re wizards. The strong take. Now I take your life.”

“Come,” I said, opening my arms. “Take it.”

He suspected a trap, I think. It was, but not as he imagined. I wanted him to sit behind his wards. I needed time to gather all the energy around me. I stilled the rushing wind, seized the last light of the day, harnessed the crushing weight of the bridge itself, all that leverage, hanging so high and so far, for so long.

“You cannot pierce my wards!” Jerden called. “The Planes of Gyrnis have no edges!”

“I know, Jerden.”

I clapped my hands vertically, unleashed the power I had melded together, but the greater force came from beneath, lifting the causeway just behind Jerden, pitching up all the stone beams and blocks up in a haphazard jumble, undoing all the joints and mortar, lifting Jerden high into the air. He screamed.

“I know.”

The ancient bridge crashed back down, but its structures and strengths had been unmade and could no longer bear their own weight. The Bridge of Val collapsed. Jerden was engulfed in dust and darkness and was gone.

Only a trembling tongue of stone remained, jutting from the colossal buttress, extending a few dozen paces past me out into empty air. I looked down as ruin rained down on the city Val a thousand feet below. Thunderous impacts filled the river-cleft with dust.

I looked up at the citadel on its perch over Val, dark and silent but inside, teaming with my brothers and sisters, now my enemies. Surely the ground had shaken with the fall of their great bridge, filled their hearts with a dread as great as mine. They would pursue me, and they would catch me. Nothing would stop that now. But their fear of me would be the greater.

Nonetheless, I fled.

October 10, 2016, 09:51:05 AM
9
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread
Where there's a will

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was good to be home.  I drew in a pointless breath, dragging the soft perfume of mother’s flower garden through a nose that had lost its sense of smell long ago. I pulled the coat more tightly around my shoulders. I used to feel the cold more, but now the welcome embrace of fleece lined leather was more a comfort to the soul than to the body.

The thick gravel of the drive crunched and slipped beneath my feet, as treacherous to the balance as the softest sands of Biazi. Ah those happy childhood summers, mother, my siblings and me. I had been her favourite, always and now the prodigal son returned.

I found my way guided more by memory than sight. My distance vision was not what it used to be, turning the finely carved frontage of my parents’ mansion into a white blur. Only slowly did its features resolve into windows and doors and a shape standing sentinel duty beneath the portico.

To his credit Sejev didn’t bat an eyelid at my return, the consummate butler he stood ready to welcome even the most unwelcome of guests.

“It is good to have you home at last, Master Tomas.”

“Are the others here?”

“You are the last to arrive, sir.”  If there was an intended rebuke it didn’t show in his tone. He hurried on, “A sad day, sir, may I extend my own condolences.”

“I want to see her first, before I meet them.”

“Your mother is in the green room, sir.” Of course, her own private receiving room.  Even father would never have had the temerity to enter it without knocking.

I could hear a bubble of chatter from the drawing room, a tinkling laugh so inappropriate for the occasion. One of my sisters no doubt, or perhaps Ernest’s latest wife – whatever her name was.  They would all be there and I wasn’t ready to face them.

A footman emerged from the side passage bearing a tray of fizzing champagne flutes one handed. He stumbled when he saw me, the tray tipping sideways in his shock and then, as he attempted to arrest the toppling slide of the glasses with his other hand, he succeeded only in volleying the entire assembly up into the air. I ducked into the green room, pulling the door closed even as the shower of wine and glass crashed into the floor followed by the dissonant cymbal of the tray hitting the tiles.

There was silence for a moment, the kind that settles after every disaster be it great or small, and I took my chance to greet my mother once more.

They had laid her in an open coffin. Mahogany. She would have liked that. Ernest at least was not skimping on the expense. The undertaker had done a good job, though it helped that mother had always been a beautiful woman. She fell a decade short of the three score and ten that was her due, but she had always looked younger than her years. It was vanity in the end that killed her. The riding hat might have constrained her flowing mane of suspiciously blond hair, but the hat would also have saved her skull when Milady’s stumble threw her mistress from the saddle.

Life is cruel like that, death too. It separated us now just as much as it had ever joined us.

I could say that she looked like she was sleeping, but there was a waxy sheen to her skin that could not be stroked away by my soft grey fingers. Who knew what damage the undertaker’s art might have done.

“What are you doing here, freak?” Hanerila’s shrill shriek shattered my reverie.

Despite the intemperate urgency of my sister’s question I turned slowly, not wanting to try my rickety knee. It had a habit of popping out and popping it back in was – if not especially painful – something of an awkward contortion.  They stood in the doorway, doubtless told of my arrival by the glass juggling footman. Hanerila led, the others followed, Ernest hovering at the back.

As she narrowed the distance between us I saw that fifteen years apart had barely treated my eldest sister any better than it had treated me. The beauty of her youth had softened into lumpen middle-age, a pudding of a face in which two black eyes shone with hatred.

“Who said you could come?”

“She was my mother too.”

“You stopped being her son when you dealt with that devil.  Mother said you were dead to her.”

I smiled cautiously - never a truer word as they say – before launching into a defence of my employer. “Kirren has been a loyal friend to me, I owe him everything.”

“Still owe him, according to what I’ve heard,” the woman by Ernest’s side spoke. Even my faltering eyes could see well enough to tell she was a stranger to me.  The latest Mrs Ernest, I presumed.

“Petsin, how nice to finally meet you.” I plucked the name from my memory, a court announcement in some rag that Kirren had once passed on to me.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding.” None of us mentioned the fact that I hadn’t been invited.

“How much did the bastard charge you for his services?” Petsin brushed aside my pleasantries, evidently not a currency she dealt in. Poor Ernest, doomed always to seek out wives more strident than his sisters. “I hear Kirren’s wizardry does not come cheap.”

“He has been kind enough to let me work off my debt through indentured service. Another ten years should set me free.”

Hanerila snorted, hands on hips. “That’s what brought you crawling out of the dark isn’t it. Mother’s will. You want a share in the estate, to pay for freedom from your dark mage.”

They misjudged me, but then they always had, and that tragedy with the runaway cart had only hardened their prejudice. I tried an air of wounded innocence but I suspect it resembled more of a leer. I had not done much looking in mirrors lately so I was out of practice at facial expressions.

“My needs now are few and simple, sister dear. I want no more than what is my due.”  I knew mother had left me more than my fair share. She had never really liked my sisters, nobody did. And she thought Ernest’s staggeringly poor matrimonial choices proved him unfit to be trusted with a legacy of any significance. Half the estate was to be mine. “She told me about the will,” I said. “I know she never changed it.”

Hanerila’s lips spread in an ugly smile, like a duellist who knows that only their pistol is loaded. “I’ve read it too, you get half of everything.” The smile broadened as she pulled the trigger. “Unless, that is, you predeceased her!”

Ah, she had me there, I had to admit.

Ernest’s friends all had an absurd fondness for life insurance which I had never understood – why worry about looking after those left behind once you were dead? Kirren by contrast did a remarkable line in death insurance, the business of helping people look after themselves after they were dead. His policies were expensive, too much for me to pay for all upfront. But I had not regretted it.  Knocked down by a runaway cart I should have been dead, in fact I was. But the joy of necromancy is that death really isn’t the end.  Thanks to Kirren I could walk and talk and function pretty much as well as I used to, though to be honest a dead body wasn’t so good at the mundane business of repairing all the knocks that life so irritatingly threw in one’s path.

“So, my zombified brother,” Hanerila crowed. “You can just shuffle out of here. We only want the one corpse in this house today. And try not to drop any fingers on your way.”

Ernest had the grace to look a little shame faced. “She is right, Tomas,” he said. “Petsin checked with the lawyers.” A helpless shrug, an apologetic grin and then an offer in compromise. “Maybe you could take a keepsake to remember mother by?”

I smiled. “Well there are a couple of things I had in mind.”

***

Kirren was bent over the counter when I got back to the shop, getting ready to re-animate a mouse that the cat had caught that morning. He looked up at the jangle of the bell; I stood in the doorway savouring the moment. Motes of dust danced in shafts of sunlight, beads of sweat gleamed on the necromancer’s bald head. “Ah, you’re back,” he said.  “Did it go well?”

I shrugged, careful not to test my suspect collarbone. “Well enough.” I waited. It didn’t take him long to notice. Kirren was always an observant fellow.

“Ah,” he said. “I see you have your mother’s eyes.”


October 10, 2016, 09:52:20 AM
8
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread
The Soulspeaker

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was pouring rain when Merrick Lockwyd arrived at the nondescript house on the edge of town.

He pounded on the door, brushing a veil of water out of his eyes. The aged greywood was slick and wet with rain.  The boards had warped with time; Merrick imagined the house must leak every time it rained.  Peasants.

He pulled his wet hood back, doing his best to take in his surroundings despite the rain. The chill rainwater filled his hair, leaking onto his face in a continuous stream.  Merrick cursed. It was cold in Whitehold even when the snows melted, and rain had a way of freezing a man more effectively than ice ever could.

Dead grass surrounded the house, it's eaves steep and dark in the style of the Southern Reaches.  To keep off the snow.  Merrick hated when the Queen sent him assignments in the Reaches.  Not just because of the cold.  Merrick hated killing his own people.

He banged on the door once more.  "Hello!" he shouted, hoping to be heard over the rumbling skies.

To his surprise, the door creaked open.  An old woman narrowed her eyes at him through the door.  Haphazard strands of her coarse unkempt hair, a medley of greys and whites, escaped her poorly-tied bun.

Merrick began, "I'm here to--"

"Shush, you fool! We know why you're here."

"I'm sorry, I--"

"Do you have it?"

Merrick fished the black feather out of his shirtpocket, broken and wet.  The Nightravens sang for the dead, it was said. It had taken him months to discover the price of admission.  His fellow Southlanders kept their secrets carefully.

The woman's eyes looked sad, as if she still wished to turn him away.  She did not move, hesitating in the door.

“Please— I came a long way… and it was no small task to bring… to bring it with me. In these elements.” Merrick motioned behind him.

The woman frowned. “It's in the cart?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Bring it around back, to the barn. You will need to leave your sword outside.”

“Does that mean you’ll see me?” It was his earnest eyes that made him good at his job.  No one ever suspected a man with earnest eyes.

The woman said nothing.  She only closed the door.

Merrick pulled the wet bundle of rugs and cloth from the back of his cart and heaved it over his shoulder. Gods, it was heavy! He had hoped to find a lighter corpse, a child maybe, but this was the freshest dead man he could find on short notice.

The old woman greeted him at the entrance to the barn, an rusty oil lamp in one hand, guiding a six-year-old boy in the other.  Merrick frowned.  Of course she would have children.  Grandchildren.

"Set it there."

The barn was empty save for a small cookfire in the corner, and a long table in the middle. With a loud thump, he dropped the corpse down with a loud thump.  The woman raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know the deceased.” Merrick said apologetically.  “I’m here on behalf of another.”

Both statements were true, if misleading.   It was said the Soulspeaker could see into living men’s souls and tell a lie. He would have to choose is words carefully if he did not want to be found out.

Soulspeakers had been born in Whitehold for as long as anyone could remember: when the city was a village, when it’s people were a tribe.  They had advised Clan Bearwynd, each generation a new chief, each chief a new Soulspeaker.  But today Whitehold was a city. Nearly a hundred and a half greywood houses dotted the chilly southland prairie. The only civilization for miles.  Clans and Soulspeakers were an oddity, something for folkstories and whispers. All that remained of Clan Bearwynd had died six years ago, and House Syleste had little patience for superstition in the Queen's Court.

The old woman kneeled and touched the boy's face gently. "Are you sure you want to be here?"

The boy nodded.

"Fetch us some tea then."

The boy scurried to the cookfire.

"He's your grandson?" Merrick asked.

The woman didn't answer.  She folded her arms. "Why are you here?"

"I--I have questions for the dead. Questions for the Soulspeaker."

"Sit down."

"I'd rather--"

"If you want your questions answered, sit."

Slices of an oak trunk surrounded the table. They were too poor to afford proper chairs.  Merrick took a seat as ordered.

"Two questions for Leck Meggragor."

She knew the corpse's name! He hadn't even unwrapped the corpse!  Still, she more than likely heard of his demise.  It wasn't proof.  Merrick cleared his throat.  "Did Leck… can he tell me where his niece is?"  The Merrick's colleague Fregg had taken the girl to another village two years ago. Her safety in exchange for Leck's continued service to the Queen.  And his silence.

Merrick waited.  Would the corpse speak on its own? Would she chant?  Would she call to the spirits?

She only stared at him flatly.

"Are you…"

"You have one more question."

"Leck's wedding ring-- where is it?"  Fregg told him the fool had lost it in a bet a few months ago.  Merrick watched her carefully. Still the woman did nothing.  Merrick breathed a sigh of relief.  Maybe she wouldn't answer his questions.  Maybe she was a charlatan.

The boy returned, handing Merrick a cup of hot tea.

"Drink," the woman said.

"I'm really not thirsty. Are you--"

"If you want your questions answered, drink."

Merrick took a sip. "Listen, if you're not the Soulspeaker--"

"Drink it all, and the dead shall speak."  Merrick frowned, then chugged the hot liquid with a wince.

"Leck thinks his niece is in Iceharbor, but he's not sure if she's still alive.  He lost his wedding ring to Nerrind Feywether just a few months ago, but he thinks Nerrind pawned it already.  He wants me to tell his wife that if she's going to get so upset about a ring, she can kill herself and have words with him herself."

Merrick paled.  It had been the boy, not the woman who answered.

"Dowen!" the woman gripped him tightly, wrapping her arms around him.  "You were supposed to remain silent!"

"Not this time, grandmamma," the boy seemed sad.

Merrick gripped the table in shock. “He’s… six!”

“Of course.  It was six years ago that Aaris Torthorne was cut to pieces in his sleep. The night the last Soulspeaker was murdered, was the night my daughter went into labor.”

Merrick frowned.

“Aaris was eighteen when he died.  They say Aaris was born the day Hervyn Softspeare was strangled and dumped into the river.”

Merrick’s eyes widened.  “When one Soulspeaker dies…”

“…the next is born.” The old woman finished his sentence for him.  Her eyes looked tired with worry.

Merrick frowned. It had been six years since he last killed a child. A little girl burned alive with her family.  He fingered the knife stowed away in his sleeve.  This would be more far more intimate.  A frail woman and a child-- he wouldn't even need the knife. Some days he hated his job.

"Grandmama, please…it's time."
The old woman nodded, her sad eyes locked on the boy.  And she retired to the cookfire in the corner of the room.

Merrick gripped the knife hidden in his sleeve.  He had the proof he needed.  The boy’s power was real. He turned to the child. "You… heard him.  You heard Leck?"

"Not just Leck.  I heard them all."

Merrick stopped.  "Them all?"

“The dead buzz around you like flies, if flies could scream,” Dowen added the last bit matter-of-factly.

Merrick's eyes narrowed.

"Aaris needed the bodies, but I don't."  The boy puffed his chest proudly. "He says I’m the strongest Soulspeaker in many generations. I answered your questions and now Aaris has questions for you.”

This had gone too far.  Merrick tried to lift his knife, but his arms were heavy. So heavy.

"What-- what have you--"

“He told me the Queen ordered you to bar the doors of the Bearwynd House and burn it to the ground.  The dead cried out to him, and the next night you sliced him apart in his sleep.  He just wants to know--"

"Enough questions," Merrick had wanted to shout but his voice was weak and raspy.

“He wanted me to ask you before you died. Did the Queen order his death as well?”

Merrick tried to stand, but his legs refused.

“Valerian nightshade hits the legs first.”

“The Queen will send another man if I fail. And another if he fails.  You won’t live.”

“Eventually she’ll run out of assassins,” the boy said matter-of-factly.

Merrick collapsed on the ground, saliva leaking from his mouth.

“You’re the first man I’ve killed,” Dowen said softly.  Merrick was dead, but the Soulspeaker knew he could still hear him. “You won’t be the last.”

October 10, 2016, 09:54:14 AM
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