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Messages - Liselle

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Apprenticeship, nice. This should suit you Alfy, with your YA interest? I think I'll find this less tricky than taboos but it'll take a lot of thinking to come up with a good profession to write about!

Also anybody who'd like critique on their portals entry feel free to shout, I'm all ready to start using that critique thread. I would post a request but I didn't have an entry that month, boo. :)

Monthly Writing Contest / Re: Titles for regulars
« on: July 03, 2014, 07:47:37 PM »
Woohoo! Thanks Xiagan, that's a great idea.  ;D

[Jun 2014] - Taboos / Re: [June 2014] - Taboos! - Discussion Thread
« on: June 30, 2014, 08:22:30 AM »
Yay! That's brilliant, thank you :) Looking forward to reading all the helpful stuff that I'm sure will come out of it.

[Jun 2014] - Taboos / Re: [June 2014] - Taboos! - Discussion Thread
« on: June 29, 2014, 06:36:01 PM »
Mine's up! Do you think the critiquing thread would be an option for Portals xiagan now that competition results are almost out? :)

[Jun 2014] - Taboos / Re: [June 2014] - Taboos! - Submission Thread
« on: June 29, 2014, 06:18:07 PM »
1500 words apart from this note and the title. Hope you enjoy it :)

Meyara's Fire

"I won't do it."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not my fight, Haedrin. It's the never-ending conflict between dragons and humans that concerns me, not your father's conquest of his neighbour's lands."

Haedrin frowned as he listened to the woman who rested against him. He stayed quiet, watching their campfire lick at the air, a blaze she'd conjured to warm them as sunlight faded. He passed his fingers through it, enjoying the novel gift of a dragon's love. Meyara's fire was the only kind that he could touch without fear of burning himself.

"But don't you see how this could help us?" He persisted. "If you fought for us it would mean certain victory for Yarenduir's king. You know my father has great influence – this is our chance to prove that you're his ally. He can help foster peace between humans and dragons. I know it's not ideal Mey but we can make this work for us."

Meyara lifted her head to look at Haedrin. Her eyes, rich with the iridescence of her dragon heritage, glittered like malachite in the gathering dusk. "King Garrad might favour me after I fight for him but how would it look to dragonkind if I was to get caught up in the battles between men?"

"I'm sure you wouldn't be the first."

"No... But it's rare, and when it happens our aim is to make things worse for humans, not to make friends with them. My kindred enjoy your peoples' unrest. They hope you'll destroy yourselves one day and save them the trouble."

"Maybe we will."

"Don't say that, that includes you too!"

Haedrin smirked. "I'm too stubborn to be destroyed."

Meyara grinned and shook her head. She laid a hand on his arm. "Please just try talking to him again. We could arrange a meeting for the three of us, apart from this battle."

Haedrin massaged his neck in recollection of this fruitless tactic. "I've tried that several times love. He won't listen. He doesn't agree with our kind mixing in the same room, never mind what we're doing. It's unspeakable to him. The whole court knows about us but the merest whisper of my love for a dragon is taboo. It's hard to tell who our supporters are." His eyes returned to Meyara's and he lifted a hand to stroke her cheek. "You'd win my father's respect if you fought for us. He can't keep dismissing how we feel about each other when he sees how you can help him."
Meyara sighed, taking the prince's hand and resting it down. She rose, her boots scuffing the sand as she circled the clearing with folded arms. "Many lives will pay the price of your father's favor.” She glanced reproachfully at him. “Who are these neighbours? I take it you've never been close to them."

Haedrin folded his arms across his knees, gazing at Meyara over her fire's flames. "No. The king of the Andarites threatens my father's throne. Our king has ambitions to take Andar, it's true, but they've always marched on us first. It's time we ended this. The tribesmen of Darkling Pass are the Andarite's new allies so we'll need all the help we can get. My uncle promised support but it's likely he'll fail us.”

Meyara came to a gap in the clearing's trees. She gazed west, admiring the gilded vista of the setting sun. In the distance the towers of Castle Yarenduir rose above the tree line to bathe in the dwindling light. Haedrin came to stand beside her. "That castle will be yours one day as much as mine." He smiled as he wrapped an arm around her waist. "Those towers will stand as a monument for great change. We will rule there over a land where humans and dragons will be united."
Meyara smiled. "And because you've promised it will be mine, you're cajoling me into helping you protect it."

Haedrin winked to her. "Is it working?"

The dragon gazed at the towers. She imagined perching on those lofty heights as her kindred coasted through the skies, loved and admired by every human beneath. "I'm coming around to it."

"Where the hell are they?"

"They're not coming father," Haedrin said as they patrolled the front line of Yarenduir's army. "You knew that Coban wouldn't be here. He fails you every time."

"Coban's my brother! He won't abandon me to this horde of barbarians." The Andar lines were a mile off across open ground, awaiting the imminent light of dawn before they attacked.

"Another ally will join us today, one that we can depend on. With Meyara on our side the Andarite's don't stand a chance."

The king's brows drew together like thunderclouds in a storm. "Meyara who?"

"Meyara Dragonkin. The future queen of Yarenduir."

King Garrad barked a humourless laugh. "That creature will never rule Yarenduir. Call her off, damn you! I'll have no dragons on my battlefield."

Haedrin glanced east as sunlight breached the horizon. "It's too late for that now. You'll thank me later." He turned to face the army behind him. "A dragon for Yarenduir!" The prince brandished his sword and the men hollered approval, oblivious to his meaning. The men of Andar answered with their own battle cry. A behemoth rose into the sky as they cheered, commanding silence with its unexpected presence. Wing beats like the thumping of a war drum carried the dragon Meyara into battle.

Screams of horror signaled the collapse of the enemy ranks as the dragon swooped towards them. The Andar lines heaved in their struggle to escape while vast tides of fire washed over them. Shrieks of agony rent the air as the soldiers burned. When all was chaos on the other side, the dragon alighted in the middle of the field and turned to be received by Yarenduir's army.

Fury ruddied King Garrad's cheeks. He raised his sword and roared to his troops, "Bring me it's head!"

Haedrin spun to face the ranks of men charging forward at their king's command. "No!" He raged, but the soldiers flowed around him, loosing arrows on the dragon from all sides. Meyara backed away, baring her fangs to ward them off. Surviving tribesmen rallied on the Andar side and also advanced, casting their grappling hooks to bind her to the earth. Haedrin battled through the rush of troops to reach his father. He grasped the king's leather vest and dragged him backwards. Garrad jerked free, rounding on his son with his sword drawn. "Kill the dragon!" The king persisted with his wrathful mantra. Haedrin smashed his sword into his father's again and again, driving him backwards. A gout of flame exploded from Meyara's jaws and everything was dazzling whiteness and searing heat.

Haedrin awoke to the the reek of burnt flesh and a steel-grey sky of raucous crows. He sat up to the glint of a familiar helm. His fingers, blackened by soot, reached for it with dreamy lethargy. The crest of Yarenduir's king adorned the crown. He lifted it from the ground and nothing but ash and blackened bone fell from inside it. The prince dropped it in horror. His eyes ranged over the battlefield. For a mile on every side the husks of fallen men littered the earth. Nothing moved but the birds that came to devour what remained. Haedrin staggered upright and picked his way through the dead, the skulls of his men crushed to ash under his boots. "Meyara!" He called raggedly. "Meyara!" The name burst from him like something painful caught in his throat, only now torn loose. A figure rose and turned to him. She was grim with sorrow, her battle garb stained with soot and blood. She jogged towards him and they clung to each other, mute with grief.

"They're dead," Haedrin finally said. "They're all burned."

Meyara pulled away to study his face. She frowned. "They attacked me Haedrin. Your father wanted me slain."

"You could have flown," Haedrin forced out. "The Andarites were broken. We'd already won."

Meyara winced and shook her head. "So you would just have me dismissed when I'd killed hundreds for you? Driven from your sight by your own soldiers like I was some mad beast instead of their friend?”

"No! They didn't understand. They weren't to blame! Do you have no control when you're shaped as a dragon? Do you have no sense in that monstrous head? Just look around. You've destroyed everyone!"

Meyara stepped back from Haedrin, stung by his words. They stared at each other as if they were strangers.

"Your father would never have loved me," she hissed. "You didn't know him as you thought you did. Run back to your loyal subjects, your majesty."

Meyara turned to stalk away from Haedrin. He let her leave, dropping his eyes to the ground where some embers still glowed. The prince knelt, raking his fingers through them. He clutched his fist around Meyara's fire, even as it burned him for the first time.

Elfy, I second Justan, I just left you some feedback on your super cool Realmspace story. Don't give up because you have talent, we all get tested at times so you're not alone there.

Thanks Xiagan, glad you're liking the idea! Would it be possible to set up a critique thread do you think? I know there's already a critique section in the forums but I thought it might be better to keep all the monthly competition stuff together since it would be easier for us all to keep track of. So maybe once the voting results come out each month, a critique thread then opens up. People could submit their interest in having their work critiqued at the same time that they vote, so when the voting results come out, so does a list of people who'd like some feedback on their work and that list is what begins the critique thread. Then everyone could give a little feedback on each person's work. Just a possible structure that's been bouncing around in my head, I'm sure the other members would have more. :)

So guys, once the results come out for the Portals theme, would anyone be interested in arranging some critiques for their portal work in the discussion thread? I thought it might helpful for anyone who entered if they wanted to get a bit more feedback on their work. I figure anyone could just shout out if they'd like a critique and then anyone else who wants to could write back to them with some pointers. I didn't get a chance to enter this time but I'd be happy to contribute and we could make it a monthly thing if it works out well. Would love to know your thoughts. :)

Congrats pornokitsch! Was the boy that the couple raised destined to become the heir as soon as they'd messed him up enough? It was a nice idea. I'd also like to say I enjoyed Phil The Drill's creepy pig, I thought it was different, and I really liked Carter's theme of heroism coming in many forms. The idea that the first mate was trying to keep everything from falling apart appealed to me, like everyone needs something to fight for right up until the end, even if it counts for nothing. It was a lose lose situation and that's what says grimdark to me.

Also, if there's anyone else that would like to use these competitions to improve their writing, we could always start posting our entries in the critiques section of the forum after the votes have come in. I did that with one of mine already. I'd be happy to help out with critique if anyone mentions that they've posted their entry there. I think getting more in depth feedback from each other on our pieces would be just as important for learning as a little healthy competition. :)

Phew, done for this month! Now I can enjoy having a read over the other entries, it was a tricky theme, looking forward to seeing how everyone else tackled it on my morning bus journey. :)

The Seer of Sanzeem 1337 words :)

“Hello there my little friends. It's been too long. You're looking very well this evening, I must say.”

Jake giggled at the handful of coins in his palm as he wandered back to his tent. He'd spent the night celebrating his new job in the camp's pavilion with Mazzie The Blaze and The Human Mantis. Every member of the stage troupe known as Bresham's Menagerie was required to have a title and Jake was its newest member: The Seer of Sanzeem.

Jake had been performing at the Markeshian bazaar answering the unspoken questions of his audience for a couple of weeks. His act was an instant success and today it was finally pay day. He'd lived so long without a copper to his name that the promise of wealth filled him with unspeakable glee. Becoming the star act of a freak show hadn't been on his list of dream jobs growing up but it sure had its merits. Jake finally had a real use for his troublesome talent, one that would earn him more wealth than he could shake his begging cap at.

“Hello Seer.” A young woman in a flowing skirt stepped out between two tents and stopped on the camp trail ahead of him. The moonlight flashed off her white teeth as she grinned in delight. Jake remembered her face in the crowd at more than one of his performances. “I'm Estra, a trader from the Markeshian bazaaar. I'm sure you've seen me there. Your next performance is tomorrow, yes? I'm really looking forward to it.”

Jake dropped his coins back into his pocket and flashed his fan a charming smile, affecting a pompous air, as he did when he was on stage. He wasn't in costume – he had no beard, or crown, or serpent scepter with its cut glass ruby on top – but the Seer of Sanzeem was always ready to entertain. “Why yes! I thank you for your kind words my dear but I really must insist that you return to the city. Our camp is off limits to visitors at the time of night. Perhaps in the morning I will see you at the baz--”

“Yes!” Estra clapped her hands in front of her, as if she'd been praying he'd suggest it. “Of course I'll be at the bazaar in the morning. You're so sweet to invite me. I've been to every one of your shows since your opening night. You have such a special talent, Seer. By the gods, what a unique gift! Every question that I've held in my mind you've answered without flaw. How can it be that you don't know my questions but you can still give me a truthful answer every time? How is that possible?”

Jake swept out his arm and bowed to Estra. “As you say, it's a talent of mine. I'm so glad you enjoy it. Now if you'll please excuse m--”

“Wait.” Estra grabbed Jake's arm. “I need your help.”

Jake's eyes flew wide open. Estra's were fixed on his, burning with a passion that was both alarming and strangely compelling. “You owe me,” she stressed. “I want an explanation. Do you remember the answer you gave me at your performance today? I held my question in my mind and you said the ravine. You looked right at me and that's what you told me.”

“Yeeees.” Jake narrowed an eye at her. “But I don't know what you asked. What was your question?”

“I asked you where you thought we should meet tonight when I came to see you. Were you planning a trip to the ravine? We should go now, together, and find out what you meant.”

Jake stared at Estra. He frowned and shook his head, reaching for her hand to lift it from his arm. “Listen, lady. It's been a long day and I'd rather just get some sleep if you don't m--”

“You weren't planning to go there?” Estra said, releasing Jake and throwing up her hands. “Then how can you dismiss this so easily? It must be fate. You wanted me to come and find you, don't you see? There's something important waiting for you at the ravine and you're going to miss it if you don't come with me right now.” Estra held out her hand to him. “Please Seer. We have to go. The hour is late and it won't be tonight for much longer.”

Jake looked at Estra askance and then heaved a sigh. “Alright. I'm giving it ten minutes. If this something important doesn't show up after ten minutes, I'm coming back here to get some rest.”

Estra grinned and linked her arm around Jake's, leading him towards the boundary of the camp so they could pass into the desert.

They stood beside the ravine, listening to a distant chorus of wild dogs as they sang to the moon. Estra looked up at the stars. “What a beautiful night to meet your destiny Seer. The reason that you're here must lie in a question that I have to ask you, don't you think?”

Jake frowned at Estra. “I wouldn't know. Maybe you should try it and find out.”



Estra blinked. “No what?”

“You had a question just now, didn't you? Whatever it was, the answer's no.”

Estra smiled. “Think carefully Seer. Are you sure that's what you want tell me?”

Jake rubbed his eye with the back of his hand. “Look, it's been great and all, but I've really got to--”

Oh. Oh well. What a pity.”

Estra lunged at Jake, shoving him backwards off the edge of the ravine. Jake cried out and slipped over the brink, his hands grasping for anything that might stop his fall. He caught a fistful of dead roots at the last moment and hung, twisting in the air, from the lip of the cliff. “Whaaat the fuuu--”

“Yours isn't the only freak show in town Seer! I'm from a rival troupe.” Estra grinned and turned her hand with a flourish. A glistening sphere sparked into view, crackling with threads of pink energy. “I just asked you if you'd leave your troupe for ours and you gave me an honest answer. It's nothing personal really. If we can't have you then we can't let you live. You're all that the city talks about these days and it's bad for business. You want to know what my real question was earlier today? I asked you where I should dump a body so it would never be found.”

Jake twisted back to face Estra and stared up at her, his jaw slack with disbelief. “Wait, wait! Hold on now... Maybe... If you just... Made me an offer...”

“Goodbye Seer.”

Estra blew the crackling sphere at Jake. It exploded as it hit the roots and they crumbled in his hands, dropping him into darkness.

Jake awoke with the sun beating mercilessly on his face. He had fallen into a thorny bush half way down the cliff – he could feel the bites of the needles through his clothes. Jake groaned and lifted his head, testing his arms and legs. Nothing felt broken so he glanced up the cliff to judge the climb that awaited him. He knew enough by now to trust his own answers. If he continued to lie in that bush and wait to be rescued, he'd never be found.

Jake pushed himself to sit up and the gold coins jingled in his pocket. He recalled his delight from the night before and giggled again, this time for the sheer joy of being alive. “Bad mistake lady,” he muttered to himself as he reached for his first handhold. “Here I come. Next time make sure the body is dead first – I know I will.”

I agree, comedy could be a nice way to go for this. Lynn reminds me of the movie Liar Liar with Jim Carey, Jake looks a bit more complicated, I might just have to jump at the challenge! Need to get started on ideas earlier in the month this time, the days just sneak away from me. Great theme though, it's a clever one :)

[Feb 2014] Fanfic / Re: [Feb 2014] Fanfic - Submission Thread
« on: February 28, 2014, 11:50:47 PM »
Note: I based this on a mention of murder squads in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station when he's talking about the slum Spatters. I tried to dream up something of what they might be like and kept to his delightfully gross descriptions of the world, so if that sorta thing disturbs you, turn away now ;D  I usually find fan fiction tough to do so this was a fun exercise! Looking forward to checking out the next monthly theme.

The Murder Squad

I shuffle my wings while I wait, scratch at a flea bite hidden under my leg feathers, then fall still again. I'm crouching on a corrugated roof, hidden in the shadow cast by a taller shack. The line of misshapen hovels where I'm lurking pokes through the skyline like broken teeth, the wind whistling through the cavities in their rotting walls. The moon is smothered by bloated clouds. The rain falls often in Spatters, keeping the dirt tracks of the New Crobuzon slum clotted with garbage and mud and human waste. I feel the first raindrop splash against my beak and wipe it away with the back of my hand, waiting for the stranger to pass into my line of sight.

The murder squads are coming every week now. We're haunted at night by the sounds of shouting and laughter and pistol shots, ricocheting among the motley shacks. The people of Spatters, known to themselves as the Spatterkin, would scream at first. Then they learned to keep their mouths shut, no matter who or what was dying at their feet. If you didn't stay hidden, you were meat. That was the only rule of the murder game. Shoot anything that moves and isn't dressed in a scary costume because that will be your team mate. Oh, and sharing is caring. There are plenty of victims to go around.

We all want to know why they come. The garuda, or the bird boys as we're locally called, talk about it often in the relative safety of our bird boxes, the top floors of our tower blocks being far more defensible than the hovels on the streets below us. We all have our theories about who they are and why they come to kill here but one is more popular than most. The hoi polloi of the big smoke sees Spatters as a scab on the face New Crobuzon, so why not just pick it off? There might be a little blood but the satisfaction was worth it. The city would be prettier without it.

They come on the city train that terminates at Fell Stop station, and every night that they kill here, they cover more ground. One night soon they will come to the yard at the base of the garuda tower blocks and then they will look for a way to get inside. If they get inside, they will climb the seven flights of stairs to our nesting rooms, and they will butcher us without mercy. I will bring an end to this before that happens.

The rain is falling hard as I scan the street below me with my bird-sharp eyes, touching the dagger hilt at my hip. A man prowls along the barricaded line of homes where I am perched, his boots leaving deep impressions in the sludge. His mask is a twisted parody of a garuda's face, making my skin creep in the cold rain that eddies down my back. The murder squads are dressed differently every time. Different teams, maybe, or just different outfits. Tonight I will take one of them alive for questioning. But not this one. This one will be my first blood.

I slide my dagger soundlessly from its sheath, taking aim from where I crouch on the rooftop. With a sharp flick of my wrist, I give flight to the blade, sending it winging towards the man in the street. The tip of the dagger cuts the air like a flash of lightening. Coated with mafadet poison, it bites deeply into the stranger's neck. The strike drops him instantly. He squirms like a worm in the mud as the poison courses through him. I watch him as he dies, one hand clawing uselessly at the weapon in his throat. “Tosser,” I caw softly. Although he's only lying in the street beneath me, he's still too far away to hear my words. “Fair an' proper end for the likes of you.”

When the man is still, blood foaming from the paper beak of his mask, I straighten up and walk quietly along the rooftops, following the sound of gruff voices to the north.

There is a gang of three strangers on the street around the corner from the dead man, shouting to each other through their paper faces and searching the trash at the sides of the street for signs of life. I approach quietly from overhead, keeping to the shadows.

“He went that way. I saw him run in there.”

“No he didn't. He ran off down the street while you were killin' that other rat!”

One of the men walks to a dark shape on the ground, nudging it with his boot. “He had it coming. Little bastard tried to stab me.” He lifts the halberd he is holding and rests it back against his shoulder. “Come on. He'll be around here somewhere.”

The men move off down a side street, turning deeper into the slum. I study the shape in the dirt. There's no question that the boy is dead; the murderer's halberd had cracked his ribs open like a clamshell. Shards of bloody bone are showing through his ripped shirt. He isn't the only youth that will die tonight. Most of them are too small to defend themselves. They live in ramshackle hideouts, easily collapsed with a couple of kicks. They were the weakest of the slum dwellers, easy pickings for the murder squads. But the squads would soon run out of easy prey and the garuda couldn't afford that.

I continue along the skyline, keeping low to the rooftops as I follow the men below. I take my time deciding who to kill and who to capture, tilting my head to the snatches of words exchanged between them. Then a shout goes up from one of them. He points ahead and breaks into a run, passing the others, who are quick to follow. I flex my wings and leap into the air, beating them to climb higher into the sky and gain a better perspective. I see a small, quick figure running ahead of the squad, straight for the clotted moat of mud and shit and rotting garbage that borders the slum before the sprawling mass of the Rudewood beyond it. This kid would probably die too when it ran out of street. At least the night was too wet to use a flintlock. The men would have to run faster if they wanted to catch their kill.

I glide over the rooftops, following the squad. The buildings are clustered together here like tight knots of mushrooms. The streets between them are dark and stinking and claustrophobic. The slumping shacks elbow each other for room on the last few inches of solid earth before the foul stew of the moat takes over. I watch as the street kid nears the brink of the morass and then leaps out onto a dark plank of wood, perfectly blended with the ooze that laps around it. He hops across the moat on his hidden path, knowing just where to step in the blackness, and races off into the trees on the other side. The first of the squad, oblivious to the deception, runs straight into the moat, yelling as he drops to his waist in the slime. The other two pull up short of the moat's edge and shout to the sinking man. He's stuck, spluttering in the muck as he starts to drown, and they are reluctant to get too close. I glide lower, weaving through the tarps and shadows and jutting beams to land on the framework of an abandoned build. There is movement on the street below me. I glance down. A couple of armed street kids are creeping towards the moat and the men who haven't yet seen them. One of them hollers a war cry. They charge, barreling into the men to drive them over the edge of the moat. The remaining members of the squad sink into the muck beneath a rain of blows, their weapons lost in the chaos of the ambush.

The street kids move off more quickly than I'd expected, like a swarm of locusts after a feed, disappearing like ghosts down a side street. I scan the moat for any signs of life. Several minutes of deathly silence passes before a soft, gargling sound causes me to focus on some movement. The lone survivor drags himself towards the bank, his muscles quivering as he retches, heaving himself out of the moat. I wasn't opposed to sloppy seconds.

[Jan 2014] - Betrayal / Re: [Jan 2014] Betrayal - Submission Thread
« on: January 30, 2014, 09:03:22 PM »
The Crystal Hunter

Marianna wrenched the trap door open and jumped down into darkness. There was a rushing in her ears and walls of cold pressed in on her from all sides. I'm under water. The crystal hunter lifted her arm in the gloom and squinted at the glowing face of her detector. The hands on its dial were spinning like a pinwheel, confirming that she'd just fallen into another plane. Good. That's one more door and another giant step closer to my prize.

Marianna looked up. The trap door that she'd jumped through on her last plane -- as much to escape from the soldiers that were chasing her as to continue her hunt -- was on the floor of a barracks. On this plane, the hole that she'd passed through was in a stone ruin that stretched away into darkness. The light of the world was shining at her feet. It took her a disorienting moment to understand that she was floating upside down. Marianna twisted around and kicked for the surface. The hunter gasped for breath when she burst through the water and swiped wet hair from her eyes. Sunlight bathed her skin in warmth and the sky above her was streaked with cloud. The water stretched on for miles around, twinkling with diamonds of light. Hmm. Not a bad day for a swim. She checked her detector for the direction of her next door. The dials had reset themselves to this plane, the main arrow pointing her north-west, so her next door lay to the north-west within a mile's radius. She turned her head to the left, to where the arrow pointed. There was no land in sight.

"Great." She murmured. "Just great. Stupid dog."

A soldier's dog had ripped her crystal pouch from her belt before she'd reached the trap door. This would have been a perfect time to slot a white crystal into her detector and restore her energy for the swim ahead. White were the most common and she'd had a nice collection. Now she had to start building it again, not to mention persisting in her hunt for the rare green at a real disadvantage.

Marianna thought of Yarrick as she started to swim. How many times have you pulled me out of trouble? You're a good friend and I know you need the green to survive this. I won't let you down. I promised you. In all the years that she'd known him, she'd never seen the stalwart Yarrick looking so haunted. He knew that such a rare colour would be difficult for her to find, but he no choice, so neither did she. The militia were closing in on him even now. It was a race to the finish line and she refused to think of what might happen if she came in second best. The hunter gritted her teeth and pushed herself to swim faster.

Marianna was half a mile into her journey before she heard something in the water behind her. She glanced around. It was a man rowing a boat and a thin girl wrapped in blankets was sitting across from him. "Strange place for a swim," the man said as they drew up beside her. "Need a ride?"

"That depends. Who are you?"

"Eshrad. This is my daughter Janelle." The man reached out with a kind smile. "Climb aboard."

Marianna decided to trust him. He could row faster than she could swim. “I'm Mari.” She grasped his hand to pull herself up, soaking the floor as she climbed in. Janelle moved over beside her father to make room. It didn't take Eshrad long to notice the detector on Marianna's arm. She glanced at his wrist and saw that he was wearing one too. "Hunter," she smiled wryly.

Eshrad nodded and resumed his rowing. "Guess that makes two of us."

Marianna was disturbed by how gaunt these strangers were. Eshrad's back was bowed, his mouth pulled into a grim line with the labour of his rowing. She wondered where he found the strength to keep going. Is he hunting the green as well?

"Nice day for it at least," Eshrad smiled and glanced at his daughter. "It's the first hunt that Janelle's come with me for. Important one too, eh love?" The girl nodded shyly. She couldn't have been more than six years old. Why has he brought his child? These hunts are dangerous enough as it is.

"Oh?" Marianna asked. "Why's it important?"

"How's about we lay our cards on the table here? You know the green is close as well as I do."

She grinned and said nothing.

"Huh." Eshrad grunted. "So the question remains, who's going to take it? I've come too far to give up now."

"So have I."

"I'll give you five reds right now if you turn back. That'll get you a pretty penny on the open market if your client won't accept them."

"Sorry. My client's in trouble and he needs the green. I can't go back on my word. Even if I could, I don't know where the door is and we're almost out of range. I'll need crystals to help me find it and I've lost all of my own." 

"It must be under the water." Eshrad lifted his oars into the boat and searched his pocket. He pulled out a black crystal and offered it to Marianna. "Here. Take this." Judging from its size, it would protect her under water for half an hour, feeding her body enough oxygen to search for the door. 

"No, I can't. You'll need it."

Eshrad's face crinkled in a wince. "I'm not strong enough to use it. It's about all I can do to row this boat. Janelle and I..." He wrapped an arm around his daughter. "We're sick. I can tell you've noticed. If I go down there...” He shook his head with a meaningful look. “I can't take that risk. I'm not too proud to beg you. Please, take this black from me and bring the green back to us. I'll pay you well, Mari. I'm a man of my word. You can name your price in crystals if you like. I can get you anything but the green. What is your client paying you? I can beat it.”

Marianna frowned. "Look, Eshrad. I'm sorry for your trouble but... Why is this green so important to you?"

"Janelle and I have been looking for a cure for our illness. We've found a healer. He can use the green crystal in a spell that can save one of us." He moved his hand closer to her, offering the black once again. "For my daughter's sake. Please." Janelle looked up at her father's desperate face. Marianna wondered how much of this conversation she understood. Did the child even know that she was dying? That her father was fighting with the last of his life to save hers? They were running out of time. All three of them.

"I'll do it," Marianna said. She took the crystal from Eshrad's hand, flipping back the glass case of her detector to slot it inside.

Eshrad watched her, uncertainly. "How do I know you'll come back?"

"I'll come back," she said and reached for his wrist. "Here. I'll take your code so I can get back to you when I have the green."

Marianna took the number of Eshrad's detector and turned the dials of her own mechanism to establish a link. A tracking light began to blink on the faces of both instruments. Eshrad glanced down at his tiny beacon of hope. "Thank you." He whispered and wrapped his arm around Janelle. "Please hurry. We'll wait for you here."
Marianna stood up in the boat. Her detector whirred as it drew on the power inside the crystal. The hunter was enveloped by a protective aura as she dove into the sea. She swam, down and down, breathing the crystal's air as she needed it. This time the cold didn't touch her. Ten minutes into her dive she found her door. Her detector had taken her to a porthole in a sunken galley. It acted like a window onto her next plane where a field of wheat was swaying in the wind. Marianna stepped through, the water flowing off her to saturate the dirt track beneath her feet. There was nothing but the shell of a cottage behind her when she turned around. She was standing in its doorway. Marianna glanced at her detector. The hands were a blur and she waited for them to settle before reading her next direction. North. She was going north. Hold on Yarrick. Please hold on. Her finger hovered over the button that would sever the connection with Eshrad's detector. She frowned at the blinking light and pictured the skeletal faces that it represented. May the gods forgive me. The hunter closed her eyes and pressed the button. The tracking light went out.

[Dec 2013] - Underdog / Re: [Dec 2013] Underdog - Discussion Thread
« on: January 08, 2014, 09:56:35 PM »
Brilliant, thank you! :)

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