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Messages - simonster

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1
[JUL + AUG 2018] Games / Re: [Jul+Aug 2018] - Games - Voting Thread
« on: October 07, 2018, 06:40:55 PM »
Gray, Grim and Gorm say thank you, sir  ;)

Btw, I loved the 'Ready Player One' vibe I got from your story, don't know how much if any inspiration you took from that, but it was cool  8)

Thanks!  I hadn't been thinking of 'Ready Player One' at the time, but now you mention it... ;D

Actually I was worrying that a lot of stories would take 'games' to mean 'videogames'.  Quite surprised to have been the only one.  Guess that's the fun of having a theme - seeing people come at it from completely different angles.

2
[JUL + AUG 2018] Games / Re: [Jul+Aug 2018] - Games - Voting Thread
« on: October 03, 2018, 09:00:44 PM »
Congratulations to Alex!

There were a lot of really good stories this month.  My favourite was 'Family Game Night' (wyvern) which was a lovely little scene.  I also voted for 'That's How it Started' (Jake Baelish) because I liked the goblins, and 'The Final Days of the King's Champion' (J.R. Darewood) because the ending got a chuckle out of me.  If I'd had another vote it would have gone to 'The Cthonic Rigors' (The Gem Cutter) which was an effective little action piece.


3
[JUN 2018] Fire / Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Voting Thread
« on: August 03, 2018, 10:16:01 PM »
Congrats to OnlyOneHighlander and Alex Hormann!

'Fuel' (OnlyOneHighlander) was one I voted for.  It starts out seeming to be just about business between two sleazy characters, but when the reality is revealed half-way through, it bites hard.  And the final line captures the darkness perfectly.

'Empire of Flame' (Jake Baelish) got my other vote.  It's a pure. poetic bit of fantasy.  I did think (as D_Bates says) that the appearance of the Fire Mage at the end was a bit jarring, but at the same time it works nicely as an ending.

And also thanks to @D_Bates for the feedback!

Simon

4
Dark Abyss, Blue Water, Wild Forest

1499 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
"So there's Red Fire on Heart, a second Red Fire on Voice, and Magic Ring on the Ancestry square," said the paladin Deyla.  "What do you think we're up against?"

"Worst case, a dragon," said Flak.  "Could be, a pattern like that.  Two Fire tiles, one on offensive.  We sure don't want to summon something flammable.  So...  Our Water tile goes on defence.  On the Shield square, I'm thinking."

Dethaniel, dark mage of the seeker's guild, cursed silently to himself.  Things just kept getting more difficult.

The party's descent through the tunnels had been arduous.  They'd been lucky to spot the gaunts' nest before they were too deep into it, but their luck had run out when they'd reached the temple's upper chambers and waves of undead had risen to greet them.  Eventually they'd cut through to the heart of the temple, and at last faced Abbahlon's challenge.

The statue of the god faced them from across the shallow pit that dominated the large, circular chamber.  In ages past, Abbahlon had been worshipped as the god of tactics, luck, and cunning.  The blue stone statue portrayed him as an elderly monkey with a serious, inscrutable face.

Opposite the statue, a sigilmancy board was inscribed atop a simple stone pedestal, and as the party had approached it, the tiles for the god's first summoning had magically appeared.  The challenge was clear: to progress further they must beat the monkey god at his game.

The sigilmancy board was identical to those that players crowded around in the gaming rooms of Kal-Uker, but as they'd found in the first two rounds, the creatures summoned by this board were not mere illusions, and the players were not expected to simply watch them battle.  The wight they had summoned first had needed little help to beat Abbahlon's ice wolf, but in the next round their giant scorpion had left them battling a stone golem practically unaided.  And the god looked to have saved his best tiles for last.

"Dethaniel, you agree with that?" asked Deyla.

"Trust me," said Flak.  "Water on Shield.  Forest on Gaze for a touch of wild magic.  And Dark Abyss on Dream for power.  That's our move.  We'll have a sea hag, maybe a kraken."

Dethaniel wouldn't have chosen these companions, but they'd been the only adventurers in town when the rumour had spread that an entrance to the lost Temple of Abbahlon had been found.

Deyla, the paladin, had taken charge of the party before Dethaniel had been able to assert himself in the role, much to his annoyance.  While they were slightly tedious company, the archer Granger and the priestess Briar Rose had both proven themselves reliable in a fight.  But the mercenary Flak had been a problem.  He was self-confident and cynical and, most inconveniently, an experienced sigilmancy player.

In the previous rounds, Flak had dictated their choice of move.  It was all Dethaniel had been able to do to keep the three tiles he needed still in play.  This round he had to be the one who chose where those tiles were placed, or his months of research were wasted.  And that meant facing down Flak somehow.

"I agree that the Blue Water tile has potential," he said carefully, "but it's too unreliable to lead with.  If we are indeed fighting a dragon, then I think we should make the most of Dark Abyss.  Play that tile on Seed, use Water for Gaze, and Forest for Nature, and we'll have a demon fighting with us."

Flak laughed.  "Amateur move.  No one plays Abyss on a dominant square.  Sure, you'll probably get a demon, but a weak one.  You've got to know the exact pattern to summon a proper demon.  Start guessing and we'll go into this fight with just a baby pit fiend."

That was uncomfortably close to the truth.  With three tiles of fifteen possible elements, and fifteen squares on which to play them, the number of possible creatures that the sigilmancy board could summon was beyond what any player could learn.  But Dethaniel knew exactly what his combination of tiles would summon: a blue devil monkey.  A cunning fighter, but not a strong one.  Not even a true demon.  But that same blue monkey was the avatar of Abbahlon himself, and when Dethaniel had discovered the old stories that named Abbahlon as the creator of the game of sigilmancy, he knew that somewhere there must be a board on which those tiles summoned something more than just a monkey.  He was convinced he'd found that board at last.

But the mercenary was an obstacle he hadn't anticipated.

He tried to sound resigned.  "I guess you've won a lot of gold playing sigilmancy."

"Sure," said Flak.  "I've done okay."

"The championship matches pay well?"

Flak hesitated.  "The gambling pays well.  Watching the players.  Spotting who knows what they're doing, who only thinks they know.  That's what brings in the money."

"So it's a thrill then when you see an inexperienced player claiming he's got the perfect move, ready to bet everything on a pattern he thinks he sees in the tiles, an unbeatable summons spelt out in the game's symbols?  Don't you love watching that play out?"

Flak didn't reply for a long moment.  Then he started laughing.  "Yeah, I guess I do.  There's always a chance I'll be surprised."  For the first time he sounded almost friendly.  "The board's all yours, wizard.  Conjure us up a demon if you can."

"So do we have a move?" asked Deyla.

Dethaniel replied, trying to keep the jubilation out of his voice.  "Dark Abyss on Seed.  Blue Water on Gaze.  Wild Forest on Nature."

"Gods help us all," muttered Flak.

"Okay, everyone.  Same as before.  Spread out and let our creature do the fighting for us."  Deyla was taking charge again as everyone prepared for battle.  "Rose, cover Flak and Granger.  Dethaniel, ready with the shielding spells.  I'm putting the tiles down... now!"

Dethaniel cast multiple shields, and, after a moment's thought, magical detection.  The summoning would work.  It had to work!  The rest of the party were in for more trouble than they realized, but it was every mage for himself in this world.

"They're coming!" shouted Granger as the chamber erupted into flame.

And there it was!  A pulsing glow of powerful magic at the statue.  The rod!  Abbahlon's rod had been summoned into the statue's hand!  Dethaniel started to run.

"The demon!  Where the hell's our demon?"  Flak's screams were drowned out by a roar.  And then Granger was shouting, "Healer!  Healer!"

Dethaniel dodged as a leathery red wing swept overhead.  There was another burst of flame, but it was directed across the chamber from him.  The blue statue, and the precious artefact it held, were just a few yards ahead.

But suddenly he wasn't moving.

It was like his body was magically frozen.  He twisted his head around, trying to make sense of what was happening, and saw Deyla run past him.  Then the sickening realization hit him.  Deyla was going for the rod!  She had seen it, or had known about it, and had paralysed him to get to it first!  She was at the statue and there was nothing he could do to stop her.

With a scream of frustration, Dethaniel's thumb found the power button, and pressed.  In front of his eyes, words appeared: "Continue.  Save.  Options."  He kept the button down, and after a second the world vanished leaving him in silent darkness.

He pulled off the headset and threw it down onto the bed beside him.  Sweat covered his face where the goggles had been, and he wiped it off on the covers.

The whole evening wasted!  The Rod of Abbahlon, one of the game's legendary hidden treasures, had almost been his!

He cursed by every deity his imagination could conjure.  Stabbed in the back by his own teammate!  He hoped the dragon killed them all.

Collapsing backwards onto the bed he tried to look calmly at the situation.  His theory about the rod had been right, and he knew now exactly how to get it.  The important thing was that he hadn't lost his chance.  Shutting down the console mid-game meant that he hadn't officially played the Temple of Abbahlon quest yet, so he could still respawn back at town and start it again with a different party.  But the chance wouldn't last.  It wouldn't be long before details of the hidden rod were all over the internet.

He found his phone to check the time and groaned.  Past midnight, and he had lectures first thing.  A wave of exhaustion hit him.

He closed his eyes, and felt like he might cry from the frustration.  Images flickered behind his eyelids, and for a moment he saw the blue face of the monkey god Abbahlon.

No, he wouldn't be beaten that easily.  Dethaniel, dark mage of the seeker's guild, rose to his feet, and went to make coffee.

5
[JUN 2018] Fire / Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« on: July 01, 2018, 10:07:57 AM »
It's been a verrry long time since I entered a monthly contest, but for some reason this month I felt it calling to me. :)

Flames in the Shadow of the Wall

1489 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Three weeks' travel from the seminary, I saw the wall for the first time.

In my imagination it had always been a huge structure, aglow with magical lightning, scarred by the giant claws of howling sin demons that for a thousand years had been trying to tear through it.

The reality was unsettlingly different.

As we crossed the Melthen Hills, the wall was a thin, grey line cutting the landscape below.  For a while I didn't realize what I was seeing.  I'd never expected to be able to see over the wall into the lands beyond, or that it would look so ordinary there.

Staring into that other world, for a moment I thought I saw a demon emerge from a copse of trees, and almost cried out in alarm.  Thankfully I kept quiet.  I didn't need any more of the guards mocking me as a scared little girl.  It was only a deer.

It was strange to think that animals and birds could climb or fly over the wall unhindered, but of course the wall was only a barrier against sin demons themselves, and animals and birds could not be host to sin.  Unlike men.

That night we camped at the base of the wall.  It seemed a sort of tradition among the guards, to show it didn't scare them.

Close up, the wall seemed old, but also oddly untouched by time.  To my disgust, my guards took it in turns to relieve themselves against it.

Despite the day's walking, I slept badly that night.  I dreamt I was in chains, mute and helpless, as flames blackened my skin.  Waking, trembling, in the dark, I wanted to get up and walk around, but I knew it would bring harsh words from the guard on watch.  I'd been told that I travelled with guards for my protection, but they treated me as a prisoner.

I lay awake, wondering if my guards would treat me better as the years passed.  For four months they would escort me along my part of the wall, stopping at every town and village in its shadow.  Some would change duties when we reported back at the citadel, before I was sent back out to the wall once more.  One day I'd be older than the guards who escorted me.  One day I’d be older than their mothers.  Walking the wall road was all I would ever do.

I fell asleep eventually, achingly lonely.

*

When they took me from my home, the master told me I was a Daughter of Shendre.  He told me one of the five Daughters had passed on, and that I would take her place at the wall.

I cried and I pleaded to go home, but he told me that was my duty now.

To carry Shendre's blade.  To guard the wall.  To burn away sin.

*

Treton, on the edge of Trynfell Forest, was the third village we'd come to.

Villagers stopped to watch us approach, and I felt their eyes weighing me up.  Some of them must have seen the previous Daughter arrive here for the first time.  I wondered if she had been as young as me then.  I knew nothing about the woman, not even her name.

In Hilwell and Bleakthorpe I'd sensed that the wall cast a darkness over people's lives, poisoning the air with mistrust.  I sensed it even stronger here.  Yet still, Treton felt familiar.  It reminded me of home.  A girl carrying a washing basket made me think of my friend Yenna, and I chanced a smile at her.

The girl made the sign of the circle, spat on the ground, and turned away.

Jakk did all the talking, as before.  In Shendre's name, he demanded food and lodging, the best the village had.  I thought he enjoyed taking things from people.  Of all my guards, I hated him most.

We would stay in the bailiff's house.  Even though it was only mid-afternoon, I was told to go inside to rest.  I didn't try to talk to anyone.  I knew that wouldn't be allowed.

I was led to an attic room with a bed and a small window.  As the door was locked behind me, I breathed a sigh.  At least for a while nobody would be watching me.

I'd hoped the window would let me see the village, but it faced into the dark forest a few yards away.  I checked whether it would open, but it was too small for me to get through anyway.  And if I could have climbed through, what would I do?  Escape into the forest and live like an outlaw?  Sadly I knew that my own fear trapped me as much as my guards.

The bed was comfortable, and I lay down to wait.  The hearing would take place just before sunset.  I would say the lines I'd been taught at the seminary, how as a Daughter of Shendre I would guard the village from sin, and then I'd be given food and sent back to my room.

At least, that's what had happened in Hilwell and Bleakthorpe.

When Jakk came in, I knew something was different.

I'd never seen a grin on his cruel face before.

"They've got one," he said.  "Come, girl.  Time to do your duty."

*

At the seminary I'd been made to learn the ancient stories by heart.

For forty years Shendre, and later her five daughters, had used their strength and sorcery to drive back the sin demons while the wall was built with the last of the land's magic.  Sin still surrounded us, but the demons could no longer get in to feast on men's flesh.

Of course, the master had once confided, the demons were metaphorical, which I think meant they weren't exactly real.

Shendre's blade was probably metaphorical too.  It was certainly not a real blade.

Perhaps there had been a blade to it once.  The old metal was shaped to be gripped, and it was possible to imagine it had once been the hilt of a sword.  The master had said it was the blade of Shendre herself, later held by her youngest daughter, Lillane.

It felt heavy in my hand as the villagers recounted their evidence against the woodcutter, Brenley.

He had been seen coming back from the wall late at night.  Nobody had seen him cross, but he had become angry when questioned, and had struck the shepherd's son.

Brenley himself was dirty and shaking, held upright between Jakk and another guard.  He had been in chains since winter, waiting for a Daughter of Shendre to come and bring judgement.

A Daughter could look at a man and know if he had crossed the wall and brought back sin within him.  At her command, the sin would be burned away.

Behind Brenley, a wooden pyre had already been constructed.

All the villagers were there to watch.  Sickeningly, some seemed almost eager to light the pyre, although a few were crying.

I felt a desperate panic start to overtake me.

I'd never really believed what the master had said about the Daughters being able to see sin.  Everyone knew that their judgement was always fire.  I'd just been hoping I would never have to make that judgement.

I didn't want to burn a man to death.

Villagers and guards were all looking at me, all eyes filled with hatred.  I knew I had to speak.  I raised Shendre's blade before me, and tried to think of something to say.  But all that would come were the words I'd been taught at the seminary, words that would end in fire.

"I am Lillane, Daughter of Shendre..."

Brenley began to howl.  The sound was shocking, barely human.  He began to convulse, and something seemed to pull away from his body.  Something dark, like congealed dirt in the shape of a man, with glistening fangs where a face should be.  A night leech.

In the same way I knew its name, I knew it was fast, deadly, and predictable.

As its fanged mouth lunged forward, I grabbed its neck with my free hand, and struck at it with Shendre's blade.

Its arms wrapped around my head and shoulders.  It was pulling me closer, and I knew I didn't have the strength to stop it.

Then it weakened, and I pulled free.  Where my blade had struck, the demon was burning.  I stepped away, and as I pulled it free, the blade was a shaft of dancing flame.

Whatever life was in the demon had gone.  Its foul shell floated in the air, burning up like parchment.

Collapsed on the ground, Brenley was still screaming, but it was a pathetic, human sound.

Everyone else was staring at me in shocked silence.  Even my guards had backed away.

For a moment more, Shendre's blade streamed with fire like the sunset.  Then it went out.

I turned towards the forest, and ran.

6
General Discussion / Re: Old members who used to post and now just lurk
« on: September 13, 2015, 09:38:07 AM »
 :)

7
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: April 19, 2015, 01:39:39 PM »
I'm rereading The Wise Man's Fear (Rothfuss) and wondering how many more years it will be till I get to read the sequel. :-\

8
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: March 28, 2015, 08:06:37 PM »
Finished Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.  I liked the world it created, but the story never really amounted to much.

Now reading Merchanter's Luck by C J Cherryh, because she's the best. ;)

9
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: February 01, 2015, 05:57:57 PM »
Just finished The Einstein Intersection by Samuel Delany, which, despite its title, is closer to fantasy than sci-fi.  It's quite short, and quite beautiful.

Just about to start Golden Son by Pierce Brown, the follow-up to Red Rising, which was probably the most fun I had with a book last year.

10
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: January 22, 2015, 08:18:29 PM »
The Time of the Dark (Darwath Book 1) by Barbara Hambly.  It's taken me almost thirty years to get around to reading this book.  I happened across the sequel (The Walls of Air) when I was a teen, and thought that one day I'd like to read the whole trilogy.  Finally getting around to it...

11
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: December 24, 2014, 06:46:15 PM »
Because deceit, death, dismemberment, and great heroism fit the Christmas spirit.   ;D

 ;D  And dragons.  Festive, man-eating dragons.

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Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: December 24, 2014, 04:04:59 PM »
I've had an odd little tradition in recent years of reading one book of ASoIaF each Christmas.  This year it's the turn of A Dance With Dragons (Part 1: Dreams and Dust).

13
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: December 10, 2014, 08:17:52 PM »
I remember reading Pattern Recognition and enjoying it, but boy the details escape me.  Sounds like one for the "TBRA" pile (to be read again).

I'm actually surprised how much I've been gripped by it.  But yeah, a couple of months from now I bet I won't have any recollection of the plot details.

14
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: December 09, 2014, 10:22:22 AM »
Just finished the Abandon trilogy (Meg Cabot).  I'm several decades and the better part of one gender away from the target demographic, but I really enjoyed it.

I'm now reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.  One thread of the story involves British home computers from the early eighties - so no demographic-anxiety for this one. ;)

15
Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What are you currently reading?
« on: November 09, 2014, 06:13:18 PM »
Just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  I liked what it tried to do more than what it actually did, but its last third brings all the parts of the story together so nicely that I'd definitely recommend it.

And just started The Knight and Knave of Swords by Fritz Leiber, the last of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books.

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