March 23, 2019, 01:01:29 PM

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I didn't think I would be able to pull something together in time, but here it is.  It comes in at 1466 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
At the Edge of the Underworld

After the storm-ravaged, wine dark sea, after surviving the worst of Poseidon's wrath, she ought to be jubilant.  As dawn stretched rosy fingers across the sky, she ought to join the others' rousing chorus.  Instead, Odyssia slumped across her oar, too weary, too heartsick, too concerned.  Because no reason rested behind the Earthshaker's sudden calm.  No blessed sign had led their black hulled ship to this inlet. 

She trusted her wits too much to be fooled.  Poseidon would never give up so easily.  He would pursue her to the ends of the oceans and beyond.  All because she kept her son blind to the Earthshaker's role in his conception. 

Telemachus is mine.  Mine and Penelope's.  Never yours.

The thought was visceral and stirred her anger when she longed for calm.  She squeezed her eyes shut, allowing it to roil its course through her stomach, taking deep, soothing breaths until it passed. 

When Odyssia opened her eyes again, she was once more the Saker of Cities.  The woman who had brought down the golden walls of Ilium.  The woman who would solve the puzzle of this secluded beach and save what remained of her crew.  The wife and mother who would return to her family whatever the cost. 

She looked again around the bay, taking everything in.  Cliffs climbed shear into the sky, barren but for scraggly, scrawny foliage clinging grimly to life.  A solitary trickle of water cascaded down from above to feed the pool where even now some of her crew splashed and cavorted like naiads, the others impatiently awaiting a space to join.  Stunted cypress trees grew around the edges of the pool, blackened and twisted. 

There should be second pool.

The thought rocked her.  Her back straightened and she stared again at her men.  Were their actions a little slower than before?  Were they more lethargic, less ecstatic?  As she watched, one man, Polites she thought, hauled another aside, desperate for a taste of the sweet water.  The other man tumbled to the sand, any fight gone from his limbs.  Instead he lay and stared at the sky. 

“Look!  Our captain dares not join us.  She would rather cower on her vessel than join her brave men!”

Eurylochus' voice rang out.  Pitched to carry and to ferment the growing discord.  Her banished anger returned, broiling her stomach and surging her to her feet.  Before she could stop herself, she swung herself over the railing and onto the sands.  Her body craved action, to launch itself at Eurylochus and finally settle his brewing mutiny once and for all. Yet she swayed, light-headed and dizzy. 

Stop.  Breathe.  Think.

It was Penelope's voice this time; her oft-repeated mantra that never failed to override her baser emotions.  Before all else she needed water.  She was too weak, too exhausted to tackle him now.  She rooted herself to the beach, clenching her toes into shifting pebbles. 


It was a wild, mad idea but it might just work. 

As she knelt among the stones, her hands sifted through them.  Eurylochus barked a contemptuous laugh.

“Look.  Now she's truly gone crazy.  What do you think to find?  Some secret treasure?  Some fine jewels?  There is only one treasure on this beach and you are too much the fool to spot it.”

She pretended to ignore the harsh laughter that followed.  She ground her teeth until they hurt rather than face the fact that unless she acted she would lose the crew and with it all hope of returning to Ithaca.  Instead she sifted and rejected stone after stone until finally. 

It glittered obsidian in the palm of her hand, barely the size of a fingernail.  Sparkles of mica dotted the sea-smoothed surface.  And beneath, deep within its heart, she could feel what she needed.

“How long have you spent tossed about in the seas?  How long had Poseidon held you close to his chest before you found your way here?  Long enough, I hope.”

She brought to her mouth and swallowed.  It tasted of salt and sea.  Of bitter anger.  Of sea foam lapping around a tangle of limbs along the shore.  Of two bodies entwined and ignorant of the Earthshaker's presence.  Her throat constricted around it.  She fought the urge to gag, to send it flying back into the sea.  Her body longed to reject it, yet spasm by peristaltic spasm,she forced it down.  Down until it sank into her stomach, to add Poseidon's rage to her own. 

“You really have lost your mind, haven't you?”

His almost pitying tone startled her.  She had not heard him approach as intent as she was on her task.  She wanted to scramble back and away, to slither out of his reach until she regained some strength.  But instead she forced herself to stand.  To meet his gaze and give a grim smile. 

“Look to the crew, Euylochus.  If you spent more time watching, and less time looking for new ways to undermine me, you might stand a chance.”

He scowled and spun.  At the pool's edge, the crew lay sprawled.  Few moved and those that did swayed and sagged, unable to focus on their surroundings until they slumped to the ground. 

“What have you done to them?  What cruel hell have you brought us to this time?”

Lethe.  She did not say it but she felt it in her bones.  In the core of her being.  In the roiling anger of her stomach.

“How about this?  You want to captain the vessel, don't you?  But you dare not challenge me while I can still stand.”

He stared at her.  She refused to look away, fixing a smile in place until he finally admitted the truth. 

“Then perhaps it is time we do things a little differently.  We both need water.  We both need the crew.  Whoever can do both, here and now, they get to sail away with it all.  Back to Ithaca.  Back to Sparta.  Back to whatever part of the Great Green they want.  Agreed?”

She drew a knife from her belt and sliced a thin cut across her palm.  A thin, viscous trickle of blood flowed.  He snatched the knife from her and repeated the gesture.  Drops of blood mingled on the sand. 

Odyssia watched as Eurylochus wrestled with indecision.  How much did he trust in himself?  How much of a lingering kernel of trust in his captain remained?  Enough for doubt to creep in and to send him scrabbling for a stone of his stone. 

She left him behind, striding with a purpose and strength that belied a weakness that trembled through her legs.  If he had known how near collapse she truly was, he would never have taken the offer. 

She stepped around the prone bodies of her crew, doing her best not to look at them and see the blank, staring eyes of the mindless.  She dared not doubt as she waded slowly into the crisp, freezing water.  With deliberate care she cupped her hands and brought fresh, sweet nectar to her mouth. 

“Penelope,” she whispered as the first drops passed her lips. 


Drops became a trickle. 


Pain ripped through her.  Searing, blistering heat radiated from her gut.  She cried out in furious, curdling screams.  But she stood.  Knee deep in the waters of the Lethe, she stood.  And she drank. 

Images of Ithaca tumbled flicker-fast through her mind.  Of Penelope teaching her how to string her mighty Scythian bow.  Of carving their marriage bed.  Of Telemachus squalling in her arms.  Of sailing away from all she loved at the behest of Agamemmon.  Of all her promises to return. 

Each memory was bitter on her tongue yet she lapped them one after the other in a never-ending stream.  She clutched them tight as the water fought with the Earthshaker's stone.

And she on she drank until finally she heard a distant splash.  Beside her Eurylochus floundered in the water, his limbs splayed and struggling, his eyes already vacant. 

Against her better judgement, she hauled him from the water.  For all the troubles he caused, he remained a member of her crew.  And after the loss of so many, she wanted as many as possible to survive.  Only once he was clear, did she turn her attention to her next task. 

She scoured the cliffs and plotted her route.  The Lethe's descent was irregular and unpredictable, twisting and turning in impossible directions.  Yet she thought she spied a path.  Somewhere, high above or in a different inlet, there would be a second pool.  There had to be. 

Squaring her shoulders, she approached the daunting rock-face. 

“I'll come home.  I promise.”

Odyssia's winged words took flight. 

[JAN 2019] Air / Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Voting Thread
« on: February 17, 2019, 11:03:43 AM »
Voted.  thanks again for all the good stories everyone.  Interesting to see how this month pans out with the variety on offer. 

Oh no! I thought it would be a reversion of gender roles or even body swapping, but it's low key fanfic again xD
Not sure I'll participate, I really can't get my mojo on to write in someone else's world, sorry.

For those of us in this position - myself included - I was wondering about stretching the rules a little bit.  I don't much like writing in someone else world but from a fantasy perspective what about drawing on mythologies?  Fairy tales?  Epic poems?  After all, there are plenty of books and stories based around these. 

Robyn Hood?  Queen "Arthur"?  Cinderalan?  The mighty goddess Thora?

[DEC 2018] Unwanted Gifts / Re: [Dec 2018] - Unwanted Gifts - Voting Thread
« on: February 01, 2019, 08:33:02 PM »
Congratulations @JMack.  Really enjoyed your story again this month and well deserved. 

My votes went to @Slaykomimi - as JMack says it showed lot of improvement and I agree about the ending - and @Alex Hormann - it managed to hit some of the thoughts I had at the beginning of the month.  Really enjoyed every story again as well this month. 

Thanks to all who voted for me too.  With the amount I wanted to play around with tense, it's good to know some of it must have paid off!

[JAN 2019] Air / Re: [Jan 2019] - AIR - Submission Thread
« on: January 31, 2019, 09:14:49 PM »
Here's mine, coming in at 1229 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Temple at the Roof of the World

It stands, still, amidst snow-crowned peaks.  Once iridescent prayer ribbons had fluttered, scattering their words to the furthest reaches of the globe, to the ears of the gods themselves.  Now tatters lie dormant against twisting poles.  Once towering spires caressed tendrils of pristine clouds in an intimate display.  Now they only beseech an empty, azure sky. 

Once the temple wrapped the winds around itself and balanced the world.  Now it stands apart, bereft and alone.

This is a story of that place.  For all its illustrious history, for all its contributions to humankind's prosperity, there is only one that matters.  This one. 


The procession marched from the open gates to the sound of percussive bells.  They pealed in grief and commemoration, each note tolling the passing of Ashnagar, the Guardian of the World.  The cassocked monks bore his casket along the narrow ledge with solemn reverence.  Deep voices chanted a mournful dirge.  The servile winds circled, brushing against the contoured, ribbed walls of the temple to add their own ephemeral, ethereal music. 

They carried the drab coffin out to where the prayer wheels rested.  They whirred in dizzying splashes of colour.  With delicate care the monks placed Ashnagar's remains where all his predecessors had spent their final moments tethered to the earth.  Teetering precariously, he straddled the realms of earth and air, the terrestrial and the spiritual.  As one, they tugged the strips of inscribed fabric that held the wooden lid in place.  In unison they raised their arms to the heavens and released Ashnagar's final prayers into the world. 

The winds, desperate to play their role, sped after the tumbling ribbons.  In their haste, they performed their last duty for their master.  The lid tumbled end over end into the nothingness below.  The ashes within spiralled up into the air forming into ever-shifting patterns.  Ordinarily it would have taken the augurs years to interpret Ashnagar's last prophecies, to twist the ever-turning specks into the shape of the world to come.

Today it required only moments.  No one needed anything more than the eyes in their head to read what Ashnagar foretold.  The winds wrote calamity, strife and imbalance in ash and air. 


Of course, I witnessed none of this.  Yet even buried and bound, I had a sense of it.  How could I not, tied so tightly to the earth and so attuned to the winds?  When the world shifts even those dwelling in darkness notice. 


Deep within the void, my mind stirred.  All around me was still and silent.  As ever.  Movement, however slight, was but a distant memory yet one that burned as bright as any funeral pyre.  Yet for all that remembrance fanned the flames of my rage, the implacable rock quenched it all, absorbing every hint of it, allowing nothing to escape. 

I no longer struggled against my imprisonment.  Aeons had tempered me and taught me patience yet never futility.  Alone amongst my brethren, I did not abase myself before my inferiors. 

Now though, something had changed.  The last who understood the smallest link of my chains had departed.  Where once mighty words had entwined my being, now the shackles fell away.  My aeons of stillness, of patience, had altered me enough that what had been forged so long ago no longer held me. 

I breathed.  The rock around me remained as impassive and unbreakable as ever.

Yet even so, it was enough.  For now. 


The monks' shuffling despondency, their desperate searching for a definitive source for the catastrophe to come, echoed in their footsteps.  It pervaded the temple, showing in their hurried movement and whispering, agitated voices.  It rumbled through rocks and dirt. 

In any other temple, in any other corner of the human world, such frantic activity might have hidden the actions of an ambitious monk.  It might have been the ideal time to wrest control.  Here, however, everyone pulled with singular purpose.  Their reverence for harmony, albeit one focused only on the rest of humankind, allowed no room for anything as mundane, as human, as self-aggrandisement.

In their eyes, such a thing was an abomination. 

And so it was not desire, not a lust for power, that brought them close to my cell.  Just fear and confusion and a longing for answers beyond even their perception.  And in their arrogance, they assumed they understood the mountain.  They trusted in the actions of their ancestors.  Stuffed full of pride they stood beyond my bauxite bars and were foolish enough to speculate on the cataclysm to come. 

“What is it planning?”

No one had spoken in my vicinity for too long for me to consider.  The last had been Ashnagar and only once.  The words trickled through the rock like water droplets, echoing through crack and fissure.  Faint ripples in the air that nibbled at the edges of my senses.  To a lesser mind such things are random and unfathomable.  For me they offered a beacon that illuminated an escape route.

“Nothing.  The bonds still hold.  It cannot escape.  And the mountain still plays its role.  We should look without for the storm to come.”

“No.  It will come from here.  It will undo everything if it can.  It will begin here.”

A pause.

“Then we will be ready.  The writings still contain the words.  They contain the rituals.  I will ready the others.”

“Then you agree?”

“I agree that we should be prepared.  Let that be enough.”

Arrogant humans to think they could control the uncontrollable.  To believe that only they could fashion their world into something they desired.  Too much pride.  Too little understanding of the true nature of the world they sought to tame. 

Their words stirred me.  My essence quivered into life.  Deep inside the mountain, a breeze blew for the first time in a generation. 

I stretched and strained, forcing myself into the rock, arrowing between the narrowest of fissures.  The rock resisted.  It constricted and suffocated without malice, with its normal, terrible impassivity.  Yet still I pressed ahead, navigating myriad pathways and passageways too small to discern by anything but the faintest shifting of a breath. 

Too tight.  Too narrow.  Too far.  I was stretched too thin.  Doubt pressed in all around me, adding to the weight of the mountain.  My energy was sapped and dwindling.  Ashnagar and his forebears had trapped me tight.  But there was a way.  The voices had shown me that much and I craved the open, lapis lazuli skies. 

I wriggled and squirmed, little more than a tender breath on skin.  Behind me, tendrils frayed and dissipated.  Just one … more … push …


I was no simple zephyr to be cowed and commanded.  I was the unconquerable North.  Master of the Skies.  Unlike my inferior siblings I could not be tamed.  Nor could I be forced into subservience.  Only through treachery or trickery could I be trapped. 

I reminded them all of my power.  I shook their temple to its foundations.  I forced my brethren of what they had been reduced to and freed them from their servitude. 

And never would we return.  Never again would a breath of wind stir at a human's bidding.  As testament to our resolve, we left the temple standing still at the roof of the world. 

Voted.  As ever, really good contributions from everyone and a broad spectrum of approaches. 

[NOV 2018] Image Prompt: Ships / Re: [Nov 2018] - Ships - Voting Thread
« on: January 01, 2019, 09:17:11 PM »
Wow.  Thank you to everyone who voted for my story.  And congratulations to @Jenny HJ.  You got one of my votes - the other went to @Nora.  As I said below though, I enjoyed the lot this month (although that's hardly unusual). 

I can't help but wonder if @Slaykomimi hasn't just broken the tie though...

Here's mine for the month, coming in at 1253 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It rests beneath his porch as he stumbles home.  The whisky makes the world spin but as he focuses on the parcel enshrouded in brown paper, everything settles.  After an evening reliving past glories, a whirlwind of reminiscences, he finds a place where he can stand still. 

The evening's light drizzle has forged a hole in the wrapping.  A gilt-edged frame glints in the glow of his shuttered lantern.  The sight of it brings a smile to his lips.  Finally, on such an appropriate night, it has arrived. 

His hands shake as he unlocks the front door and bends down to pick it up.  It is heavier than he expects, heavier even than the kit bags he lugged around on missions.  Still, he can hardly have expected something ordinary from the famous and reclusive Artentus, can he?  And certainly not after all the expense and near-humiliating pleading. 

The urge to see it is almost painful.  The second he is inside, before he stirs the fire back into life, before he lights the lamps, he tears the paper away.  The sudden noise rends the air like a gunshot.  He shines the lantern on sections at a time, illuminating flickering fragments piece by piece.  His whole career, his whole life, has been building towards this moment.  After all his accomplishments, this masterpiece is his legacy to the world; a portrait for the ages by the world's finest artist. 

In the darting light, images emerge.  A vast collage of pictures create one magnificent whole.  He has anticipated one single picture to represent everything he has achieved.  This far surpasses his hopes. 

He stands back from it, opening the shutters to spray light across the canvas.  Smears of paint and miniature images collate into a rubble-strewn vista.  A lone cavalryman sits astride a calm horse amidst the chaos of a battlefield. 

His first commission.

He remembers the battle.  He can almost smell the gunpowder and the sand, hear the shouts of friend and foe alike.  It was not his horse.  Lieutenant Marshall had fallen, his let shot to pieces by a remarkably patient Qareshi.  Someone had had to take control. 

The world moves again.  He sways against it.  He needs another drink to steady himself, to gird himself against the nostalgia.  The icebox yields chilled vodka and a splash of sharp orange juice.  A sip, a shiver and he is ready. 

He moves the lantern in close, peering at tiny segments.  His hand shakes, adding to the illusion of movement.  Smears of black suggest bullets, dots and speckles hint at enemies and rocks.   

He earned his nickname that day.  The Artist. Crimson brushstrokes on sandy backgrounds were to become his speciality.  As his lantern wobbles, his first opus emerges, trickling from behind rocks and walls.  Corpses of his enemies lie strewn across the vista painting a tale of victory and blood. 

A gulp of vodka slips down.  Citrus and alcohol sears a path down his throat like the graze of a bullet.

A horse flows over the desert, warriors rallying around him, looking to him for direction and he gave it.  He was the pivot on which the world turned.  This one battle was where his legend began.  All stems from this one moment.

He takes another swing, his smile growing.

He thinks that the portrait will track his life's progress.  That it will chart his rise from the Qarashi desert to the streets of Narjin.  The campaign against the Ravennish and his exploits on the Ashtar plains.  Depict his every victory on behalf of the Empire. 

Instead it remains fixed on the one battle.  His heart hammers as he takes swallow after swallow of burning fire.  He has had enough of this desert.  He craves another, any other. 

He sweeps the lantern across the canvas, searching for some sign of something else.  The microscopic stills whir past as fast as memory.  Implacable, they move on.  His mouth goes dry.  His hand shakes, sending his empty glass tumbling to the carpet.  Instead of landing gently, instead of being cushioned by the fabric, it shatters the silence.  Slivers of glass spray outwards, like shrapnel from a mortar. 

His lantern rests on an echo.  A spattering of paint spews sand, earth and rubble into the air.  A distant fortification destroyed by his artillery at his instruction.  Tides of war turn on such moments.  On that day, the Qareshi paused, uncertain for the first time.  It turned an attritional fight into a rout.

Pain clenches a fist around his heart.  He does not want to see any more, to remember any more.  But he cannot look away.  Almost on its own accord, his hand moves on. 

Inch by slow inch, memories are splayed on the canvas.  Bodies scattered like chaff.  The exhilaration of being sat atop his horse and bearing witness to such a triumph.  The dust scratching down his throat with every breath.  The slow realisation as they picked through the wreckage and scoured what remained of the settlement for any final pockets of resistance. 

He sent the other soldiers away to follow a sequence of pointless orders.  Anything to put some distance between them and what he expected to discover. 

When he reached it, he was alone on canvas as he had been in life.  There were no barricades.  No war rooms.  No weapon stores.  Just a cluster of houses.  Market stalls.  A school blown to smithereens. 

Pieces of body lay scattered around.  Now, staring at the graphic representation, it stirs his stomach and his gorge rises.  He wants to vomit out his guilt.  To purge his fear that somehow someone has discovered the truth hidden only inside his brain.   

At the time, however, he exulted in it.  This was his doing.  He controlled the battlefield.  He dictated who died.  Only he could possibly understand what it took to ensure the prosperity of hit homeland.  Empathy was only for the weak-willed.   

His hand itches to reach for the gun at his hip, his palm brushing against the cold butt.  His mind screams at him to track down Artentus and put a bullet through his skull.  Yet he delves only deeper. 

In his stride through the portrait, he can almost feel the rising anticipation.  His whole body tingles with what is to come.  Then, he existed on the edge.  He had taken on a mighty enemy and emerged victorious.  Heightened perhaps by fear, his awareness stretched beyond him, seeming to encompass the whole world.  Not a breath of wind escaped his attention.  Not a shifting grain of sand. 

Nor the faint scrabble of a hand against the wreckage. 

Finally, he is shown standing over the prone figure; a teenager attempting to drag himself out from under the debris.  Even now, especially now, he can remember a hand searching for purchase, every flailing movement increasing desperate.  He can see the boy's other hand reaching towards his waist. 

“No.  You cannot know this.  No one knows this.”

His hand finally finds his gun.  He draws.  Anger drums through his veins.  This is impossible.  This cannot be allowed. 

The boy's eyes stare out at him from the canvas.  The pain he remembers is gone.  It its place is a hard, cold rage.  His vision blurs and the figures appears to move, his arm ever reaching for an invisible, imagined weapon. 


There is a dash of grey.  A minute detail within the final image.  A gun rising, rising. 

A single shot rings out. 

[NOV 2018] Image Prompt: Ships / Re: [Nov 2018] - Ships - Voting Thread
« on: December 23, 2018, 09:32:01 AM »
Just voted.  Read them all through a couple of times and enjoyed them all both times.  A shame to have to narrow it down.

[OCT 2018] Small Magics / Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Voting Thread
« on: December 03, 2018, 09:52:16 PM »
Congratulations Jake.  A deserved win and you got my vote.  My other went to Jenny HJ.  We had a take an the WI not too long ago, now HMRC.  Which particular British institution is someone going to address next, that's what I want to know!

[NOV 2018] Image Prompt: Ships / Re: [Nov 2018] - Ships - Discussion Thread
« on: December 01, 2018, 11:03:34 PM »
Finally got something up for the month.  Bit surprised to have managed even that much as I really seemed to struggle this time around.  I might see if I can do a little tweaking here and there still mind but mostly just glad to have it up. 

[NOV 2018] Image Prompt: Ships / Re: [Nov 2018] - Ships - Submission Thread
« on: December 01, 2018, 11:01:30 PM »
Here's mine for the month based on image 6.  It comes in at 1357 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

The fickle wind turned at last.  For weeks, the ships had idled at harbour, their hulls creaking and groaning in frustration.  The swells were too high, the winds too strong and biting.  Few had dared to whisper against the Regent's decision to delay the latest exodus. 

But now Aliona joined the throng lining the harbour.  At her back the wind brought the heady aroma of the besieging woodland; all pine and redwood, loam and mulch.  All told, an auspicious omen. 

The latest round of lottery winners and irreplaceables crowded on the decks.  They pushed and struggled against each other, competing for the best final view of a loved one, of their homes, of all they left behind.  Just like all the fleets that had gone before, so few looked forward. 

Her eyes scanned the decks, searching.  All around her others did the same.  A forest of arms rose and fell in silent salute, bidding swift sailing.  Only Aliona's remained still by her side. 

“You could have had a place.”

Varek's voice was as brusque as ever.  He had been there when the Regent had brought the offer in person, an honour afforded to so few, especially one comparatively new to the city.  But despite herself, she had laid down roots here, tying herself inextricably to the stones and the cobbles. 

“He will offer it to you next,” she said.

He grunted, disbelief evident in his sneer.  She did not attempt to argue further.  She understood his reasoning all too well.  He was too old for the lottery, his skill at woodwork rudimentary next to hers.  Yet for all that, he was the second-best shipwright left.  It was his yard she had requisitioned.  His tools that graced her hands.  His apprentices that bowed to her wishes. 

And when the Regent came again, it would be his hands that would be deemed irreplaceable.

Canvas cracked as sails unfurled.  The Regent's rising sun billowed out, straining westwards.  Once, when the hope had been strong, when the forest had still been leagues distant, voices might have erupted into song; a traditional farewell to questing heroes. 

Now, after so many fleets, after so many departures, few had the resilience for such things.  Where once there had been joy and hope, now there was only stoic acceptance.  Some faces betrayed a desperate dream of distant reunion but most now understood the slim chance that governed their fates. 

After all, everyone knew the next fleet would be the last.  The Regent had announced as much a month before.  Their safe wood stocks had dwindled and all trade cut off.  And with the tendrils of the forest creeping at the base of the city's walls, there had been no surprise, no panic, only grim fortitude. 

“Come.  Let us return to work.  They are safely away.  As yours always are.”

Varek plucked at her sleeve, his staring out not at the scene before him but at one from years before.  Her roots tugged at her.

“Even now, it haunts you still?”

His eyes hardened. 

“Of course.”

He would say no more.  He never did but she knew the tales.  Of how tainted wood had contaminated the stocks.  Of how a mere handful of planks had made their way into the prow of a vessel.  And of how, amidst the salty sea spumes, those planks had contorted, twisted and breached the hull, dragging all aboard to their deaths. 

His hands had wrought the wood.  His word had sent the ship to sea.  His shoulders bore a blame none but he ascribed. 

It was why he had ceded the yard to her.  Why he doubted still.  And why she took extra care with every ship. 

Around her, the crowd thinned.  A handful would linger until the ships disappeared beyond the horizon; well-wishers, masochists or those too disheartened to do anything else.  She licked the salt from her lips, shuddering at the taste, at the thrum that passed all the way through her like a crackle of lightning or the quickening of life. 

“The wall first.”

It had become a ritual.  Every day she walked between the two walls of wood and water.  At one time others had joined her; a show of defiance against their increasing isolation, a stirring of action to pierce despondency.  Now, only her and Varek trod the lonely path. 

The walked in strained silence.  As ever, Aliona could see the question budding within him.  Would this be the day it finally blossomed?

She ascended the stone stairs ahead of him, the steel tips of her boots ringing out.  Almost she felt an answering echo ripple through her feet. 

“Why do you come here?”


Apprehension flooded her.  Part of her exulted while the rest shrank from it.  She felt her roots snarl and twist within her, knotted and confused.  She felt a stiffening in her shoulder,a twinge of discontent. 

“It is what I always do,” she said as she crested the wall.

Below and before her, trees spread in all directions.  This close, she could smell the sap and the boughs.  Almost the earthy taste of the rich soil danced across her tongue.  It was intoxicating.  Yet beside her, Varek stood stiff and unbending.  A man of flesh and stone, and steel.


She swayed with his tone.  So harsh, so unyielding, it demanded answers.  For a heartbeat as long as the turning of the world, she pondered the truth.  She imagined his reaction and the consequence and such thoughts dried to a husk. 

She could never understand and she could never explain.  Instead, she allowed the wind to respond on her behalf.  It shook branch and twig and leaf.  It brought all the quiet, all the life of the woodland to their ears.  It was the only answer she could ever give.

There was no sudden epiphany.  He did not suddenly understand.  He merely stood, stared and shivered in the cold.  His eyes told her that this would be the only time he would ask.  That this would be last time he accompanied here.

She sighed.

“Come.  Let us finish the final fleet.”


She was stiff and sore but at last her task was done.  The winter wind whipped and howled around her.  Flurries of snow speckled the cloaks of all around her.  The ships danced a mad, dangerous jig on the waves as they sailed away. 

If not for the roots breaching the walls, if not for the vibrant shoots of new life between the cobbles, the Regent might have waited longer before the final departure.  But time had run out. 

She searched the decks for Varek and found him stood on a bow, his eyes fixed on an unseen, unknown shore.  If she had still had the use of her muscles, she might have been able to smile.  She half-expected him to turn, to cast a last, lingering glance at the city,at his yard.  At her.  But he did none of those things.  He alone stayed still and silent. 

She wondered if he found her gift yet.  If his hand had delved into the deepest corners of his jacket and discovered the truth she had finally granted.  She doubted it.  She doubted too that he would realise its significance until it was too late. 

Unlike all the others she had not taken great pains to hide it.  Most she had secreted between timbers, in hollowed crevices carefully plugged with resin and tar.  Only one kernel had she dared to leave unguarded in all those she had sent forth.  And only then because he deserved that much of her. 

She tried to move her leg but it remained stuck against the stone.  Her roots were too engrained in the essence of this place.  Time it seemed, had elapsed for all of them.  The xylofication was too far gone now.  She could no longer move, no longer hide what she was. 

She tilted her head back to stare at the low, life-giving sun.  She raised her arms to the world and unfurled her fingers. 

Pine kernels cascaded down to the cobbles.

[OCT 2018] Small Magics / Re: [Oct 2018] - Small Magics - Voting Thread
« on: December 01, 2018, 07:48:54 AM »
Left it late but voted.

I honestly thought I would end up having to abandon mine for the month but finally figured a couple of things out so got something done on time (I don't like having to use extra days - definite deadlines seem to help me at times).

This is mine for the month.  It comes in at 1465 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Into the Spider's Web

“Are you here about the kittens?”

The two men on the front step stare at me momentarily confused.  One's mouth even hangs slack before the other recovers.  I glance over their heads at the dark sedan sat idling on the kerb.  Another man waits inside, bored and looking everywhere but at the house. 

“Ah, no.  We're here to see Mr Anderson.  He is in, I assume?”

He fixes a fake smile to his face, betraying his own lack of experience at this line of work.

“So, you are here about the kittens then?  I must admit I'm impressed you took the time to learn their names.  Most people don't bother.”

I shuffle aside and open the door wider.  They hesitate, unsure and surprised at how welcoming I am.  Always best to keep them on their toes, I find.  It certainly helps to spin my webs regardless. 

The hallway is straight from the seventies, all avocado and ochre with stereotypical touches like the trio of flying ducks hanging from the walls.  It creates just the right impression, throws my guests off their stride and has their eyes flickering from place to place, seeking any sign of their quarry. 

Of course I know that all they'll find are strands of cat hair and claw marks along the varnished pine skirting boards. 

I move behind them, carefully herding them towards the yawning door into the front room.  Other doors care carefully ajar, allowing glimpses into prosaic domesticity; a kitsch kitchen, a dining room complete with retro serving hatch, an off-beige downstairs toilet. 

“You'll have to excuse me.  I was not expecting anyone to come today,” I say, gesturing for them to find a seat amidst the clutter of needlework and magazines dotted across the floral, three-piece suite.  “Usually people phone first.”

A hint of a frown creases my wrinkled forehead.  Almost as if I mean it as a subtle chastisement.  Almost as if I'm only just starting to doubt inviting them in. 

“Take a seat and I'll go and fetch Mr Anderson.”

“Thank you,” says the first man. 

I leave him carefully moving aside and stacking the magazines.  When I first took this job, I would glance at the door beneath the stairs, a little unsure about what I was doing, a little concerned that somehow my employer might reveal himself.  Experience and a close call with a particularly perceptive visitor had broken that habit. 

Slowly, like the sixty-seven year old I am, I move through the kitchen and out into the verandah.  Sweet, high-pitched mewling greets me and lifts my heart.  My babies, my family, totter around their pen, some rushing in from their run outside. 

“Hello, my darlings,” I say, easing my way through the gate and in amongst them. 

A dozen in all, the kittens mill around my feet, brushing against my woollen tights or reaching up to seek my stroking hands.  I give them the fuss and attention they crave, promising them more to come once I have taken care of my guests. 

Bending down, my knees protesting, I pick up the calico.  He wriggles in my hands, desperate to turn himself upside down and play with the strands of my hair that dangle in front of his face.  I carry him through, letting him tug and bite as much as he wishes. 

“Here he is,” I say as I come back in.  “Isn't he adorable?”

I tickle Mr Anderson's belly while pretending not to notice that the second man has just closed the sideboard.  It contains nothing more interesting than old videos and half-finished knitting projects of course. 

Setting Mr Anderson on the Axminster rug, the kitten darts off towards the second man, eager to meet a new friend.  I smile as I watch MrAnderson cavort, bravely stalking and attacking the man's shoelaces.  As I hope, he takes a tentative step backwards and then kneels down, palm outstretched in welcome.  How quickly he has succumbed. 

I turn my attention to the first man.  He was always going to be more of a problem. 

“I'm sorry, I think you must have misunderstood me.  I was looking for the master of the house?  Thomas Anderson?  I rang a couple of days ago.  He should be expecting us?”

Crinkling my brow, I make a slow, deliberate show of remembering.

“We're from the electricity company.  With the amount he's been using recently we thought it best to pay him a visit.”

“Tuesday?  About half-three was it?  While Countdown was on?”

He shakes his head. 

“Wednesday morning, I rang.  And I spoke to Mr Anderson directly.”

A edge of frustration has crept into his voice.  His gaze is darting to his colleague who is paying more and more attention to Mr Anderson's charms and increasingly less to our conversation. 

“Oh no.  You can't have rung then.  Wednesday mornings are when I go shopping.”

“Exactly.  That's why I spoke to Mr Anderson himself.  You weren't here and - ”

I clasp my hands to my chest, a look of horror plastered to my face.  Shakes ripple my upper body, travelling down into my legs so I have to steady myself against the arm of sofa. 

“You're spying on me?”

My voice breaks on the final word.  The second man's head jerks up, astonished as the change in my tone.  In retaliation Mr Anderson reaches out a paw and swipes it across his hand.  He's a good boy. 

“Of course not,” the first man says hurriedly, realising his mistake.  “Thomas only said that - ”

I burst into tears; the final strand to the web I've woven just for them.

“I don't know who you mean.  I've lived her all my life.  Just me and my cats.  I don't know any Thomas and now you come in here and...”

I struggle onto the sofa, my head in my hands. 

“Come on Gary.  It's the wrong place, clearly.  Head office must have given us the wrong address.  Again.”

The first man glares at his colleague.  My magic is finally reaching out to him, disrupting everything he believes about why he is here, about why he has been sent.  Finally he sighs. 

“I'm sorry, miss.”

I peer through my fingers as he reaches out an arm, almost as if he wants to console me.  He doesn't.  They never do.

They leave, inching out of the room and back into the hallway.  They close the front door with a quiet click while Mr Anderson mews his distress at being abandoned by his newfound friend.  I drop a hand to the floor and, predictable as always, he trots over to rub against my skin.  I smile as the car drives away. 

After spending some time consoling Mr Anderson and allowing my guests to get a fair distance away, I make my way to the door beneath the stairs.  A couple of rhythmic knocks and I ease it open.  Amidst the coats and shoe-racks, among the smell of mothballs, a hole gapes, a ladder descending into the darkness.

I climb down, taking great care of my old bones.  A steel door bars further progress but there are only two keys.  I keep one close and the other lies on the other side and it's been a long time since that one has seen any use. 

“Hello Thomas,” I say, shielding my eyes against the blinding fluorescence. 

It looks like he has not shaved in a couple of weeks, his beard grey and straggly.  Half-eaten plates of food from the past couple of days are scattered across his workbenches. 

“Ah.  Mrs Higgins.  I'm close now.  I know I am.”

He fiddles with the open chest cavity on the slab in front of him, attaching more wires connected to the generator behind him.  He hardly looks at me.

“I think the electricity company reported us again,” I say.  “You need to be more careful with how much you use.”

I try to be stern but it never works.  And besides his enthusiasm for his work is too infectious.  It is what attracted me to him after all. 

“You'll take care of it.  You always do.  You and your obfuscation.”

He waves a hand my way; part dismissal, part thanks. 

“I'm close though.  A week?  Maybe two?  Then it will be alive.  I know it will.”

As quietly as possible, I make my way back up the ladder.  He always gives the same answer.  He is always close.  Maybe this time he is even right. 

In the meantime, I rejoin my kittens and wait for the next government agents to arrive, considering what tale to weave for them this time. 

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