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Re: [Sep 2016] - Pirates! - Submission Thread The Spirit of Conflict
Word Count: 1208

Spoiler for Hiden:
       Jun waited in the bow as Ling guided their small boat through the mangrove forest. She kept her eyes on their target: a flat-bottom trader resting in the shallows of the estuary.

   Ling really was getting quite good at steering the vessel, but Jun still had her doubts that the girl would make it through her apprenticeship. She was too solid, too interested in the humans as individuals.

   Jun inspected the wispy container around her neck again. It could hold four conflicts. Depending on how many people were aboard, that might be enough, or it might not.

   Their boat emerged into the open water of the river and Ling quickly brought it alongside the trader. She anchored it to the trader.

   “What do you sense?” Jun asked.

        The young spirit put a hand on the trader and closed her eyes in concentration. “Anguish…loneliness…confusion.” Jun looked at the container around her neck again. “We might need another box. Grab one from below and meet me on deck.”

   Ling hurried to obey, and Jun turned toward the trader. She looked up, and willed herself to follow her gaze. She floated up and over the ship’s railing before alighting on the deck. Having some contact with solid matter always helped with the collection.

   A man slept at the tiller to Jun’s left. She approached him, and a sense of frustration intensified. Jun knelt beside him, and gently laid a hand on his head. Not a hair moved, but the general sense of frustration clarified and resolved into the emotions of a man working the night shift to cover for the transgressions of his bunkmate. Jun smiled, extracting a portion of the man’s anger and feeding it into the container. It was now more solid, less misty and more rigid.

   Jun left some of the frustration – memories of emotion generally led to better decision making, even when actual experiences of emotion did not.

   She rose smoothly, turning back to the railing. Ling stood on deck with a wispy box around her neck.

   “You take the lower deck while I finish up here,” instructed Jun. “If you run into anything you’re unsure about, come find me.” It was only Ling’s fifth night extracting conflict independently, but she had done well so far. Much better than the last one. Ling nodded, and then sank below decks. Jun sighed. Even if Ling was better than her last apprentice, she did have a tendency to forget protocol.

   Jun headed for the single enclosed structure on the main deck, where the captain’s quarters likely were. People in leadership positions often carried magnified conflicts, and she wanted to make sure she had room for the biggest ones.

   She found the door, and glided through. A large, square wooden table occupied the entire far wall, covered in charts and maps, in addition to those lining the wall. To her left, a chest was built into the wall, and to her right, a bed. With a scruffy, lined man laying in it. Jun ignored the maps, and headed straight for the man. Indecision, pain, and fear filled the room.

   She laid her head on the old man, and pain shot up her arm. Chafing and splinters on the knee from the joint of a wooden leg. No need for the man to continue experiencing that. Jun left a mild ache, just so he would remember to do something about the leg.

   Next, to deal with the fear. Ah, another easy one. Fear of making the wrong decision, and of his crew’s response. She left just enough worry to keep the man cautious.

   The indecision would be harder. She could easily influence his decision by altering his emotions, and that was why the Guild of Conflict did not allow indecision to be traded. Jun had enough wealth now that she preferred to avoid the black market when possible.

   But what was the indecision about? Could Jun lessen the intensity of the man’s negative feelings? She probed deeper…hmmm…a larger ship and a smaller ship emerged in her mind. The larger one was better defended, but likely had greater wealth. Ah. This was a pirate vessel. Jun smiled. She had a special affinity for those like herself. She would leave the man’s indecision alone. Making that kind of decision alone was good for a soul.

   She left the room, and headed below decks. The galley was to port, and bunks to starboard. There were two rooms of bunks. Jun didn’t feel anything from the first room – Ling must have finished there - so she moved to the second, gliding through the door.

   Ling was bent over a young man – a boy, really – with her hand on his head. She stared down at him, but didn’t appear to be seeing. Standard procedure for harvesting conflicts.

   Jun watched her young pupil. The box around Ling’s neck was as solid as the one around Jun’s. She wouldn’t be able to fit much more in it, but Jun watched it carefully. Exceeding the limits of the container could be dangerous.

   Then Jun heard a whimper, and the box started to shake, but did not solidify. Jun glanced at the apprentice, shaking with her hand on the boy.

   “What was it?” asked Jun. Apprentices could be strongly affected by the emotions of humans. Jun had seen enough pain and suffering that every harvest was more like visiting an old enemy than suffering a fresh wound, but Ling did not have that perspective yet.

   “He’s….he’s so alone,” whispered Ling.

   “That often happens to humans at sea,” said Jun gently. “Never physically alone, but always distant from their shore bound network.”

        Jun continued, encouraging Ling. “Your container is nearly full, but you can take some of his loneliness.”

   Ling continued to stare at the young man’s face. She had pulled her hand away, and Jun waited for her to put it back on the boy’s head.

   “I can help him,” said Ling. She put her hand back on the head, but instead of pressing firmly, she caressed it.

   “Ling,” warned Jun. “Just relieve his loneliness, and we can go back to the boat.”

   Ling turned her face to Jun, and Jun knew she had lost. “You will regret this,” she told the young spirit as Ling removed the box from around her neck and set it on the ground by Jun’s feet.

   “I must do what I can,” said Ling. “Lessening an emotion does not fix the problem.”

   Ling lay on the ground, closed her eyes, and began to dim. Particles swirled around her, covering and integrating with the young spirit.

   When the dust disappeared, a young human form lay where Ling had been. Jun watched the young woman sit up, dazed. The woman looked over to where Jun waited. A puzzled expression crept over her face, and she shook her head, as if to clear it. Jun collected the box of conflict from the floor, while the human that had been Ling turned away from her.

   Her pupils never understood. The problems that caused basic human emotions were not things that could be solved, or fixed, or eliminated by adding another human to the world. Stealing their pain to clear their minds was the best that could be done.

September 29, 2016, 08:11:35 PM
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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Discussion Thread
I'm having trouble coming up with an idea that is "short story sized". Most of the concepts I come up with are too big in scope between being transported to 1750, being unable to go back to today, and deciding how to move forward. Even if you choose just one of those three segments to focus on, it seems hard to reach closure by the end.

Though...now that I've written this out...maybe there's an idea there...

Thats the thing with short stories, you can't describe everything, so it is generally recommended to start right in the middle of the action. Fill us in on what we need to know.

Your first line can be :

"There is no going back for us!" He shook sobbing Marta by the shoulders as he yelled the terrible, ugly truth, "the machine is broken, this is us, this is our now! 1750. Isn't what you wanted?"

Boom. You're already there, established stuff, installed conflict...

Thanks - I'm definitely still learning a lot about the short story. I haven't spent nearly as much time reading short fiction as I have reading novels and they are very different. Action is also difficult for me - I tend to come up with  internal conflicts much more easily than situational ones and so with this prompt I could easily think of characters wanting to solve grand challenges (introduce new technologies, campaign for social rights, etc), but the plots associated with those kinds of problems are too big in scope for something this short.

Sometimes when you get an idea in your head it's hard to come up with something related, yet completely different. That's where I was getting stuck, but I'm working my way through it.

November 14, 2016, 04:43:49 AM
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Re: Say Hi, I'm new thread So...after participating in the last two writing contests and being in the middle of a November submission, I thought I should finally introduce myself.

I'm a long-time reader of fantasy, and my writing has been intermittent but over the last year or two I've started to focus on it more.

I hope to keep participating in the writing contests, and I'd love to work with the other writers here to improve our craft!

November 19, 2016, 09:16:42 PM
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Re: Say Hi, I'm new thread
So...after participating in the last two writing contests and being in the middle of a November submission, I thought I should finally introduce myself.

I'm a long-time reader of fantasy, and my writing has been intermittent but over the last year or two I've started to focus on it more.

I hope to keep participating in the writing contests, and I'd love to work with the other writers here to improve our craft!

Welcome!

Are you in the Corpses contest?

I am! Just another variable in the guessing :)

November 19, 2016, 10:11:04 PM
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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Submission Thread There had to be a reason

1395 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
   

       Sam still wasn’t sure why she had been sent from 2016 to 1750, but there had to be a reason.

       Her latest theory was that she needed to use her knowledge of twenty-first century science to influence the industrial revolution and educate people about climate change. At thirty-two years old, Sam was in her prime – educated, not yet completely cynical, and full of energy. Unfortunately, she was also confined to bed, hacking up blood.

   She lay in a windowless room under a pile of scratchy wool blankets and on top of a colony of bed bugs. The pain of their bites was nothing compared to her despair at her suspicion that she had tuberculosis, it would kill her, and she had no way to get an antibiotic. Not for the first time, she wished that she hadn’t avoided the medical field like the plague.

   So Sam shut herself in this room in the alchemist’s attic, refusing to allow anyone entry. She’d even shoved her desk in front of the door before she got too weak to move. Sam had tried to explain the concepts of bacteria and contagion, but nobody had understood. Still, she had included it in her papers, hoping that someone would find them and understand. Maybe those papers were all she needed to fulfill her purpose.

   “Is that what you think?” Without thinking, Sam rolled over painfully to look at the door. Nobody was there.

   Great. She was starting to hear things. She didn’t think that was a symptom of tuberculosis, but maybe it was. Or maybe she had something else. A virus? Could she still pull out of this? Should she be drinking more fluids? She still had a few glass bottles of boiled water.

   “Even if you recover, you can’t make a difference.”

   That voice really did not sound like it was in her head. And she didn’t like its attitude. Of course she could make a difference! Sam was from the twenty-first century and even her patchwork knowledge was better than what they had in 1750. She just had to find the right people to put the right pieces together to make everyone else’s lives better.

   “Do you even know how history works?”

   “What is going on?” She paid the price for speaking, body wracked by an extended coughing fit.

   “Don’t talk. I can obviously read your mind. There’s not much going on in there when you’re coughing, and it’s not nearly as interesting as your thoughts are.”

   Sam’s eyes shifted around the room. This was weird.

   “So is that fact that you’re even here. An event like the one that brought you here has such a low probability, even I’m tempted to call it zero.”

   Sam agreed.

   “Name’s Plank. I’m a constant presence.”

   Plank? Did that mean it was in the floor? The walls were poorly insulated brick, so that didn’t really make sense. Not that it made sense for it to be in the floor either. She was going mad.

   “You don’t get my joke.” The voice was clearly disappointed. It sighed exaggeratedly. “Plank. Constant. Planck’s constant.”

   Six point six two six times ten to the minus thirty-four kilogram meters squared per second. Her physicist’s mind recited the value instinctively, like a photon radiating from a black body.

   “Yes, yes. I know what Planck’s constant is.” The voice sounded exasperated.

   Sam had taken up reciting physical constants lately as a mantra so that she wouldn’t forget her scientific knowledge. She would need every scrap she could remember to influence the industrial revolution. So far, remembering had proved to be the easy part. The bigger problem was getting people to listen to her and to help her fill in the gaps between 1750 technology and particle accelerators.

   “No, that’s not the problem. You’ll never be able to change the course of history.”

   Yes, I can. Great. Now she was talking back to the voice.

   “Of course you’re talking back to me. We’re having a conversation.”

   Sam sighed, and subjected herself to another coughing fit. Her blood-splattered handkerchief was soaked.

   “I told you not to do that.”

   Sam glared at the disembodied voice. She hoped it could see.

   “I can’t see, but I perceive the sentiment.”

   Good enough.

   “Did you know that your age matches the average life expectancy of a person in this time period? Dying at thirty-two was not an unusual occurrence.”

   Was that supposed to make her feel better? No, don’t get angry. There’s a reason you’re here, and you’ll pull through.

   “There you go again, believing that there’s a reason you’re here. Why do you think that?”

   Because everything happens for a reason. God does not play dice with the universe. Sam loved quoting Einstein.

   “He does not, that is true. If low probability events could occur frequently, then the concepts of Newtonian mechanics wouldn’t hold true. Only rarely do macro-scale events occur that violate Newtonian mechanics – so rarely that humans have never witnessed one.”

   But they do occur? Sam was so enraptured by this concept that she forgot to think of the voice as crazy. Sam was already trying to think of experiments where she could test this idea.

   “Yes, they do. And it is my job to make sure they never change anything on the macro-scale.”

   Huh?

   “Like you said, God does not play dice with the universe.”

   So there is a reason I’m here? Hope welled in Sam’s chest. I’m going to get better? Or if I don’t, someone will read my papers?

   “No. Remember, it’s my job to make sure that low probability events don’t change anything on the macro-scale.”

   Confusion overwhelmed any attempt for Sam to create a coherent response.

   “You humans are so limited in your thinking. You probably thought we were talking about physics.”

   Sam stared.

   “You seem confused. Let me explain. We were talking about history. You tunneled from your time to another point in the historical timeline. It was a very low probability event, and it is my job to make sure that your presence here does not change the overall timeline of history.”

   Sam’s nerdiness prevailed in her thinking. Did time really work that way? Could you really tunnel to different points in the space-time continuum? For her to have done that, so many individual particles would have had to tunnel at the exact same moment in time. That was so improbable as to be impossible.

   “Yes, that’s what I said.”

   But it had happened! There had to be a reason for all of those statistical anomalies to occur at the exact same time! There had to be!

   In Sam’s excitement, her breathing grew heavier and triggered another coughing fit. When she recovered, the voice was speaking again.

   “There does not have to be a reason. Just because a number approaches zero does not mean that it is zero. But I have to ensure that these kinds of events don’t impact the macro-scale.”

   Why? Concepts like those expressed through Newtonian mechanics are just a model; they can be adapted, just like we adapted our notions of physics once quantum mechanics was discovered. They don’t necessarily accurately represent reality; they just represent the current state of human thinking regarding reality.

   Sam’s brain was firing on all neurons now. She kept thinking. Hey, you, the voice, you don’t even fit into any of the models of human thinking of my time. Though, she added as a wry aside, you might fit the models of human thinking of this time.

   “This has gone too far.”

   Sam started coughing again, expelling globules of liquid from her body. It started gently, rose to wracking violence, wheezing and trembling, and then tapered again. She had drowned in her own fluids.

*

   Plank hated having to manipulate events that directly, but it was a highly probable outcome anyway. All Plank had to do was accelerate the timeline of Sam’s death.

   It had one last task to accomplish before leaving. Having a lit kerosene lamp fall onto the stack of Sam’s papers was another highly probable event in 1750. Plank stayed long enough to make sure the papers were consumed.

   It didn’t know why it had been given the task of ensuring that extremely low probability occurrences didn’t impact events on the scale of human civilization, but it didn’t question God either.

   Everything happened for a reason.


November 23, 2016, 03:53:17 AM
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Re: [NOV 2016] - 1750 - Discussion Thread Got mine in!

November 23, 2016, 04:00:32 AM
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Re: [OCT 2016] - Corpses - Critique Thread @Lanko Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad the story wasn't too confusing - there's a fine line between info-dumping and under explaining. I think I tend to land on the info-dumping side of that, but I'm working on it.

@TOMunro I don't have too much feedback on this. It was well written, and I loved the last line.

I'm trying to remember what I thought on my first read, and I think I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of characters. Maybe that was the intention, with the sisters and the wife and the brother, but it was a little bit of a detractor for me.

Looking at it closely, I have one minor question that doesn't really impact the story, but might or might not be worth thinking about:

How long has Tomas been dead for? If he's been dead for a while and she still wanted to bequeath more to him than to the others, then why didn't she change the language in the will regarding him predeceasing her? The way it is written, Tomas is aware of the predeceased clause; if he weren't, I would think he would ask to see the language in the will.

Again, doesn't really impact the story, but I think the answer to the question reveals a little more about the characters.

December 09, 2016, 04:12:49 AM
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Re: [OCT 2016] - Corpses - Critique Thread Thank you for the kind and helpful critiques!

@TOMunro I am not a physiologist, so I could definitely have been using the wrong body part. With science (as broad as term as that is, I know) I often know just enough to be dangerous, but not quite enough to always get it right. I also like the suggestion of starting just a bit earlier - maybe with a sentence or two of mad scramble to keep all systems going and then wading into the silence once She has left.

@Lady_Ty  Congratulations on guessing that I was the author with only one or two writing samples! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

December 13, 2016, 02:11:10 AM
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Re: What magic can and can't do I'm sure this has come up elsewhere on the forum, but have you read Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic?

Here's a link to the first law (and you can find the rest from there): http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/

I think he does a great job explaining what magic should be able to do and what it should not be able to do within the context of a particular story. He also explains how that depends on how much knowledge the reader has of how the magic works.

Personally, I generally like to understand how the magic works and what its limitations are, especially if humans or sentient creatures are using it. I am less frustrated with magic that is supposed to be beyond human comprehension remaining unexplained.

December 13, 2016, 02:28:46 AM
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Re: [DEC 2016] - Dragons! - Submission Thread She Would Not Run Away Again

1497 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
   
    Hannah knew the signs of an impending eviction, but she would not run away again.

   She dipped her hand in the jar. It was nearly empty, but the inside still had a silvery blue-green coat. Hannah closed her eyes and smeared the paste on her eyelids. She did not want to leave a single patch of skin exposed.

   “Ow!” She jumped, poking her eye painfully, and swatted at the creature nibbling her toes. If it weren’t for the wings and the lack of scales, she would have called it a lizard. She reached down, and the little dragon reared up, placing its forepaws on her finger and stretching its wings. It had a long neck, and little nubs running along its back. It turned a bright black eye on her, and then scampered away to the corner of the room, running into one of its brothers. Sparks flew from their mouths as they wrestled, rolling in the dirt.

   Hannah smiled and finished rubbing the paste into her eyelids. If today went well, she would have to reward her little dragon friends.

   She double-checked the coating, re-applying everywhere it seemed thin, until she heard movement outside. Hannah threw on a dress and socks, covered the jar, and by the time she was done, the dragons had left. Good.

   Three bangs sounded on her door. “Hannah! We know you’re in there! Don’t try any fool tricks! The priest is here.” That was Peter, the village mayor.

   She opened the door. “How can I help you? Some tea for your wife?” At first, Peter had welcomed Hannah and her remedies, even defended her after she alleviated his wife’s allergies. But she failed to cure his son’s scarlet fever, and soon after he became her most vehement accuser.

   “You are a witch.” He stood eight inches taller than her, but she did not flinch.

   “I am?”

   “Yes.” The villagers, holding torches and axes, crept closer. The priest hovered at the edge, cowering in his white robes. He touched his forehead with two fingers crossed, the sign for warding off evil. “Do you deny the accusation?”

   It did not matter what she said. That was the beauty, and horror, of a trial for witchcraft. “No.”

   As soon as the word left her lips, Peter seized one arm, and Noah, the village’s blacksmith, grabbed her other. She thanked the Magic she had chosen a long-sleeved dress. The men dragged her out and through the crowd. The priest shouted, “A witch!” and others took up the cry. She tried to keep up and save some dignity, but both men were tall, and took one stride for every two of hers.

    By the time they reached the village square, Hannah’s shoulders ached. The wooden platform for crying announcements and hanging criminals stood in the center of the square. A rope threaded through the scaffolding. Hanging? Didn’t everyone know witches couldn’t die by hanging? That was one rumor the witching community had been adamant about spreading, and it had served them well.

   They dragged her toward the scaffolding, and Hannah’s mind frantically searched for a new plan. Panic overwhelmed her thoughts, despair lurked, but Peter yanked her to the left and they skirted around the platform.

   “Thought we would hang you, didja? Everybody knows witches can’t be hanged.” He laughed. “It’s burning for you. You’ll catch quick with all that grease in your hair.” Noah chuckled at Peter’s joke. The only reason Hannah’s legs didn’t collapse with relief was that she wasn’t completely confident her plan would work. But she would not flee again.

   They brought her to the river on the other side of the village. Forest enveloped the village, but a thirty-foot square had been cleared along the river. A massive pile of wood sat in the center. It was much bigger than she had anticipated. How hot would that get?

   A felled trunk had been placed upright in the center of the pile. A few young men pulled some logs aside, and Peter shoved her through the opening. Noah grabbed a thick rope and tied her hands behind her, around the pole. She did not struggle, though he wrenched her limbs. He tied her waist, then lashed her ankles to the pole.

   The blacksmith stepped back, and the boys replaced the logs. Hannah watched through gaps in the structure.

   “The woman tied to this stake was accused a witch, and did not deny the charge.” Peter was using his mayoral voice. “That alone makes her guilty, even without the evidence duly considered by the Village Council. We will proceed with sentencing. This woman, known to us as Hannah, is sentenced to burning at the stake!”

   The crowd roared. Hannah had imagined this kind of a scene repeatedly since she had first reduced a fever. She feared it and had always left town the moment she heard a whisper of a witch-hunt, wherever she was. Nothing in her imaginings prepared her for the reality of having her neighbors, the people she had healed and comforted, fed and advised, clamor for her death.

   A flicker in the corner of her eye jerked her away from her musings. A yellow flame. It started small, guttering, but it grew. It advanced along the log, and hopped to the next one, climbing, aiming for her.

   She stared, and took deep breaths. She thought of the little dragons playing in her house. Peter would probably burn that too. At least the dragons would be OK.

   The heat grew. Her feet started to sweat, and she could feel the moisture clinging. Good. It had been a long walk from her house, and she had worried the paste would rub off. Hannah couldn’t bend to see the socks, but she smelled burning wool.

   The heat continued to rise, and her toes started to vibrate, gently, as if they were humming. The vibrations spread, up her calves and over her knees. She pulled at her ankles, testing the rope binding.

   Then a scream erupted from outside her pyre. There was a pause, filled only with crackling flames, and then more screams rent her ears. Peter was shouting directions, but she couldn’t understand them. What was happening? Was someone advocating for her?

   Her speculation ended when an overwhelming image of a dragon exploded in her mind. It looked like the little ones, except instead of nubs it had spines, and it completely dwarfed them. She could see the scene outside in her mind, with a majestic dragon three times the size of the pyre hovering over it, and the rest of the area deserted.

   She could sense anger, and the image in her mind shifted. Little dragons, like the ones that visited her, but they didn’t look right. Their skin didn’t have its normal sheen, and it looked cracked, like dry leather. What would cause that? As Hannah considered the image, horror rose in her throat.

   “No! I didn’t do that!” Before she finished, she started coughing. Enough wood had burned to form a thick smoke. When she recovered, she tried to picture her cabin, with the little dragons. Hannah fought through the overwhelming anger and imagined herself feeding the little ones and carefully scraping their fallen saliva off plates and into the jar. When her mind drifted, and she thought of someone forcefully harvesting the saliva, drying out the baby dragons, killing them, revulsion turned her stomach.

   The anger receded, and Hannah slumped against the pole. She slipped, her dress burned and her bare skin slick with warm dragon saliva. The rope around her waist snapped. She jerked her feet apart to catch her fall, and pulled at her hands. They were freed. Coughing, she closed her eyes and ran at the edges of the pyre. It fell outward easily, and she stumbled, tripping on smoldering planks.

   She could see people edging around buildings, staring at the pyre.

   Hannah ran. Straight to her house.

   She knew it was a bad idea, but she had to know. Smoke rose above the trees. Of course the villagers had torched her house. Did they find the dragons?

   When she got there, nobody was in sight. Just the big dragon, sitting next to her torched house and watching the little ones as they darted underneath it and over its large paws.

   Hannah smiled. Then she heard a voice.

   “She truly is a witch! She called a dragon and escaped burning! She should be dead!” Peter. And behind him, Noah. Her plan depended on the villagers’ awe and acceptance of her talents. Escaping burning could be explained with herbs, just like her medicines. Summoning a dragon could not.

   An image formed in her mind. She saw herself next to a lake, feeding little dragons and watching them stumble into flight. Hannah looked at the large dragon, and it met her gaze. A question formed in her mind. Will you come care for the little ones?

   Hannah would not run away, but this was running to, wasn’t it?

December 29, 2016, 01:31:17 AM
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