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Posted on October 24, 2020, 12:36:43 PM by Leafly
Seven More Things to do with Giants by Jubal

Seven More Things to do with Giants
By Jubal

Sinbad Plots Against The Giant by Maxfield Parrish
Used under CC license by, Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

Giants are a core part of many fantasy settings, and there are very good reasons why. Literally larger than life, giants are a core part of mythologies worldwide. They provide over-size mirrors for us to hold up to ourselves, with our passions and our best and, more often, worst sides oversized along with them. Whilst there's a fairly standard fairytale giant that commonly appears in fantasy settings - big, brutish, kicking houses down and getting outwitted by farm-lads - the possibilities of giants are actually much wider across world folklore and literature. In this article I explore a few more options and thoughts on how you can use giants narratively to best effect, whether for an RPG, a story, or anything else you might be working on.

Giants around the world

A few of the other items in this article draw upon folklore from parts of the world outside the Anglosphere and Western Europe more generally. Giants are often assumed to be the creatures of a standard jack and the beanstalk narrative, usually presented, but a huge range of world cultures have some sort of giant myths, and not necessarily ones in keeping with our standard understandings of giants as brutish antagonists.

In Somali folklore for example giants like Biriir ina-Barqo are heroic characters: it's perhaps a peculiarity of western myth that whilst super strength is seen as a good power - a sign of heroism - super size is generally seen as a negative. This need not be the case.

There's also no reason why giants can't travel, and arguably many reasons why they should in a fantasy setting. The prodigious size and appetites of a giant both give them the ability to travel and many reasons for leaving (one too many disappeared sheep) or heading for new places (how many lords would like to hire a literal giant for their army)? As such, it is perfectly explicable to have a giant who is from outside the mainstream culture sphere of your setting. One caution to perhaps give with that would be to avoid the "monstrous races" trap in which giants are solely coded as a foreign "other" to your default setting area: whilst this trope did exist in medieval writing, there's a fair point that uncomplicated use of this sort of portrayal has had a very dark historical pedigree, especially in the colonial era. Nonetheless, there's a lot to be said for portraying giants who come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds, and for upending the idea that it's necessarily the protagonists who travel to the giant rather than vice versa.

Giants as endurance hunters

If we're going with bad giants that eat people, how they hunt is worth considering regarding their threat to other characters around them. This is one place where I disagree with Dael Kingsmill's brilliant video on giants: her view is that giants, being big, should also be fast, able to catch up with horses. There's undoubtedly a good chase scene there, but I think that it somewhat clashes with our view of giants as lumbering, and that we can do scarier things as alternatives. Whilst the giant's long legs of course would give a giant a short speed advantage, big bipedal predators like Tyrannosaurus were probably ambush, not pursuit, predators: and besides, there's a far scarier thing we can do with giants as predators, which is to scale up the predation strategy of arguably the most successful apex-predator meat-eating species in earth's history: us.

Humans don't hunt by outrunning things, and we don't usually hunt by ambushing them: we are neither faster over long or short distances than a quadruped like a deer. What we're really good at, instead, is walking. And keeping walking. And keeping walking. A prey animal can run as fast as it likes - we'll catch up eventually. We don't need huge amounts of food and can keep going for days and eventually most things will get tired before we do. Endurance predation is the hominid strategy: and giants, being hominids scaled up, could very validly become scaled up endurance predators.

Dear reader, apply this to a giant hunting you and it's terrifying. Sure, you can saddle up on your horses and outride the giant: the giant doesn't care. He can still see you (an extra five or ten feet of height gives a good vantage), and possibly smell you too if we're going with giants having the blood-smelling fairytale characteristic. So he'll keep walking after you, quickly but never running - and also never stopping. Your horses can outpace him for hours: he can keep walking for days. You could try and hide, but how well can you mask your smell? You could hope the horses sate him, but do you want to negate the rest of your speed advantage? There are probably at most small settlements anywhere near, and you'll have to decide if you want to risk setting a hungry man-eating giant on innocent villagers for the slim chance offered by safety in numbers.

The endurance hunting giant presents a more tense, longer-term potential threat, and a difficult tactical and moral situation, and I personally tend to find those more narratively interesting than a rapid chase - your mileage may vary, but it's an option to have in mind.

Giants finding humans cute

Humans' inevitable reaction to tiny things is to find them cute. If confronted with an entire village full of waist-high or knee-high people, many people's first instinct would be to see them as children. Especially if you're not going for explicitly evil or man-eating giants, one could plausibly and amusingly have giants with exactly the same reaction to human beings around them. What if a giant just thought you were kind of adorable, and didn't really see you as a serious being?

Now, there are some narrative issues with this, the biggest one is that protagonists often really don't like being talked down to. Nonetheless, especially for a lower level group where they don't pose any threat to the giant, this does make for a narratively interesting problem: it may well be that the giant has something that you need, or can do something that you can't, on account of being a giant, but how do you persuade them to help you? What does a giant want, and how can you get the giant to take your request seriously? Perhaps indeed they never do take you or your request seriously, and you have to find some way to get them to treat it as playing along with your "little game".

Giants as resource denial

I feel that we're sometimes insufficiently imaginative in the threat that bad giants pose. The tendency is that the threat of the giant is direct and physical - the problem is that the giant wants to eat you. Sometimes there's also a power structure issue: the king is, or has, a giant and you need to defeat it, David and Goliath style.

David and Goliath by Carravagio
Used under CC license by, Caravaggio Wikimedia

But societal power and direct murder aren't the only ways that a giant's strength can allow them to be a threat. Think of the various things humans need for life - whether that's water, food, shelter, company - and it quickly becomes obvious that, especially for resources that are already stretched, the power of a giant can simply be in denying resources to other people. This could be either unintentionally, perhaps we can't hunt because the giant is eating all the wild oxen, or entirely intentionally, if say the giant has a hidden cave that only he has the strength to open the giant door of, and he keeps a key resource hidden in there and forces people to do things for some limited access to it.

This particularly struck me in the Somali myth of Xabbed ina-Kammas and Biriir ina-Barqo, where Xabbed, the evil giant, doesn't eat people, and he doesn't - he just uses his prodigal strength to put giant rocks over all the wells in the area and then extorts camels from people to eat, only allowing them access to their wells if they provide him with food. This is a really interesting way of playing the giant, one that recognises and emphasises his incredible strength, but without him being reduced to a symbol of brute force. We're more uncomfortably reminded in Xabbed's story about very human ways of using power and strength to extort, rather than simply as brute force, and that can very effectively set the giant as villain apart from other monsters and make their role more individual.

Giants as role embodiments

We accept the idea that giants are larger than life versions of things we do as humans, but often this is restricted to general traits - like appetite, or boastfulness - or to roles in kingship or war, where the giant's prodigal strength could be seen as a natural qualification. But we can also scale up other traditional roles and embody them in giant form. We could have a mother-giantess that looks after the women of a particular valley, or a smith-giant who teaches the craft to young artisans, or a woodcutter giant who lives out in the wilds and watches out to help those who venture into the woods alone. A particular inspiration for this is the Musgoso, a giant from northern Spain, who is a "shepherd of shepherds" and looks after the herdsmen on the mountain hillsides, being called upon when they are under threat.

We often give these sorts of hyper-embodiment roles to elderly characters - but giants, great in size where the elderly characters are great in age, can also work well for them. Much like an older character's age, a giant's size can set them in a somehow magnified position, and give them an easily visible hook that displays why they in particular have this role. Some roles don't work well for this - especially those that rely on nimbleness or dexterity, so a giantess as the embodiment of roguery and theft probably isn't on the cards. Nonetheless, if our characters are going to go and seek help or take an NPC to the master of their craft, having that character be a giant can be an interesting and less immediately common way of setting them apart and one that, because the scaling up of the giant's size somehow logically fits with the scaling up of their societal role, oddly does work on an intuitive level.

Giants as heroes

As noted above, giants' size is often portrayed negatively: we tend to like stories of the smaller, quicker witted hero defeating the bigger, lumbering villain. The idea of the giant as villain isn't universal though: we've met the giant heroes of Somali myth already in this piece, and the legendary ten foot tall Emperor Keikō of Japan also deserves a mention among other giant heroes worldwide. For these heroes, their giant nature allows them to fight otherwise impossible enemies, achieve tasks no other person could, and may be a sign of particular favour or being marked out for big things in some way (no pun intended!)

There are some interesting twists one could run on moving giants into a more protagonist role - Gullivers' Travels in Liliput, where Gulliver, there in the role of the giant, has a variety of demands made of him by his tiny hosts, and those sorts of situations can provide excellent opportunities for particular sorts of adventure. It's important that where the protagonist and hero is bigger than surrounding people, that we establish clearly the morality of the situation through other means, though: nobody wants a situation where the giant hero just splats tiny enemies with relative ease and there's no sense of threat or challenge. Rather, we have to focus on the giant's size enabling them to take on proportionally bigger challenges that ordinary people could not - and perhaps also we need to establish that size isn't everything, with potential drawbacks to being a giant whether that's the cost of food, the inability to fit into the same sized spaces as everyone else, or the jealousy or hatred of others.

Giants as landscape designers

One thing that giants are especially good for, compared to other kinds of monster, is having roles in shaping the landscape and world around them. This is because they combine the scale and strength needed to feel like potential landscape-shaping creatures with enough rationality and humanity to allow them to do so in a more thought out way than, say, a hydra or most dragons. The real world has plenty of examples of this, from the giants' causeway to the 'cyclopean walls' of Mycenean Greek cities made of stone blocks that seemed otherwise unmoveable.

All too often, the worlds of fantasy settings lack the powerful link between creatures and the land around them which is a massive part of most real-world mythologies, settling into being a generic backdrop of trees and hills. Linking stories and creatures like our giants back into that landscape, even when they're not visible, can be useful in a number of ways. First, it can be a trailer: you set up the sheer enormity of the giant when you see the huge lake that locals say he dug one day just so he could have a bath big enough to sit in, or the mountain ravine that she cleft out with her axe because she was angry that the mountain was bigger than she was. Second, it can show the giant as existing beyond, and potentially having utility beyond, its role as a combat encounter. Could the characters trick or bribe a giant into reshaping the landscape to their benefit in some way? Third, it can create a sense of spectacle and draw characters, players or readers back towards the physicality of the world they're moving through.


As a final point, it's worth me pointing you to a few other sources that sparked this thinking. Most notably, I mentioned Dael Kingsmill's ideas for giants video above, and friend of Exilian James Holloway's Monster Man podcast also has lots of episodes with giants (seriously). I hope you find these useful additions to your thinking.

So there you have it - some more ways and thoughts on how to use giants and why they can be such useful and versatile parts of a setting. Have you had particularly good uses of giants, or have you used one of the tropes discussed in this article? Do let me know in the discussion below!

Posted on August 28, 2020, 10:10:45 AM by Leafly
My Final Fantasy by rbuxton

My Final Fantasy
By rbuxton

The Final Fantasy (FF) series is one of gaming’s best-known franchises. Each game in the main series (there are many spin-offs) is a stand-alone good vs evil story set in its own fantasy world. They are role-playing games (RPGs) in which the player takes on the role of the main protagonist and leads a team of characters. The series is synonymous with Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of the games until about 2003. I’m going to describe my personal relationship with the games but let’s start with some facts, courtesy of Google:

Years active: 1987 to present
Games: 94 (15 in main series)
Units sold: 154.5 million
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: All of them, but traditionally consoles like the NES

Final Fantasy XII. Gameplay image, Bing.

Playing an FF game involves wandering around a fairly open world, meeting interesting characters (some of whom join the party) and gaining experience from random encounters with monsters. Characters have various combat roles – magic, melee weapons and so on – and there’s usually a small amount of customisation possible (picture Pokémon but without the animal cruelty). Certain features reappear time and again in the series: spells, races and big flightless birds you can ride on.

I first encountered the series in about 2001, when I was 9 years old. My older brother came home one day with a list of spells from FF8, which he and a schoolfriend had been pouring over. I noticed the spells were neatly categorised and used the word “party” without mentioning presents or cake. When the schoolfriend brought the game over my imagination was immediately caught by the battles, monsters and bizarre guardian angels. Since I’m being open, I’ll add that the seeds of my sexual awakening may have been planted by the game’s female characters (this was before some FF characters were forced into bikini armour. Or bikinis). My brother and his friend spent years playing and talking about FF games; they once agreed to race to complete one. I was furious – since his opponent was an only child, my brother’s only hope of victory would be to “hog” the PlayStation 2.

During my teenage years my brothers and I played FF10 and FF12, complementing them with enormous guidebooks. FF10 remains the most emotionally affecting game I’ve ever played: its story of love, loss and daddy issues had me close to tears on numerous occasions. FF12, on the other hand, had a fascinating, fluid battle system which rewarded experimentation. Somewhere between the two, perhaps, lay my perfect game. FF12, however, was cursed with a limp, maguffin-led plot; while FF10’s battle system was clunky and repetitive. I clearly remember playing through a very atmospheric FF10 scene (the aftermath of a disastrous war), wincing every time it was interrupted by the thunderous battle theme and the same boring band of monsters. My dad felt the same way: from the next room he was driven to an uncharacteristic rage. “How can you listen to the same music over and over!” he scolded, “You are all musicians!”. Eventually I stopped playing FF10 and, like every other FF game, watched my brothers complete it. I’m still haunted by its final scene.

University opened my eyes to gaming culture through my housemate’s copy of FF7, easily the most iconic of the series. Released in 1997 it represented a milestone in gameplay and 3D graphics (though I was constantly struggling to walk through doors). Its main character, Cloud, is a very popular choice for cosplayers. I enjoyed playing bits of FF7 but for me there were too many tangents to the plot and the party was soon bloated with characters. As a perfectionist I felt I had to invest in all of them, even when they were as unfathomable as a cat riding a giant marshmallow. The nail in the coffin of FF7 came when the internet spoiled its twist for me (and what a twist it is!)

Cosplayer of Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII. Used under CC license by, Rob Boudon Wikimedia.

Though my relationship with the FF games is complex, with their soundtracks it is anything but. The partnership between Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu has been likened to that of George Lucas and John Williams (unfairly, in my opinion, since Williams’ music keeps the audience engaged for a matter of hours, Uematsu’s for days). Uematsu’s musical interpretations of the FF stories cover every known genre and more; he is surely one of the greatest composers no one’s ever heard of. I can study for hours while listening to arrangements of the scores, tactically avoiding those, like FF9, which make me cry. Through YouTube recommendations I eventually discovered the work of another contemporary Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi, which led me down a different rabbit hole altogether.

As a child I learnt to play the piano and for years I viewed this hobby as separate to my other interests. Though it wasn’t Uematsu who changed this (Hans Zimmer did) it was through him that I found my go-to piece, my muse, the first thing I play on a new piano: FF10’s To Zanarkand. My fingers know it so well my brain can no longer keep up. Is it arrogant to consider To Zanarkand my “theme”? Lots of the FF characters have themes - tunes as much a part of them as their thoughts, flaws and emotions - can’t I have one too? Pieces like this bring musicians closer to composers, and to each other.

Please don’t assume that playing FF pieces is a distraction from “proper” study of the piano – they are always challenging and frequently bizarre. I once asked my mum, a music teacher, to help my interpret a musical direction in FF8’s Find Your Way. She bounced over, as I knew she would, with her mental Italian dictionary at the ready, only to find the direction was in Japanese. It remains the best joke I’ve ever made at the expense of one of my family members. Between us we fill the family home with music, though it’s quieter now that my brothers and I have flown. Last Christmas my younger brother, surprised that I had learnt FF8’s Shuffle or Boogie, picked up his base guitar and started a jam. Before long, for the first time ever, all five of us made music together.

Where is the Final Fantasy series now? I don’t know and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to. The old creatives have gone and, it seems, taken the soul of the series with them. This impression was reinforced by the announcement, in 2015, of an FF7 remake. I don’t really play video games any more but I’ll always cherish those moments of “overkill” and “limit break”; of the three of us curled up on the sofa laughing at Yojimbo’s silly sound effects or Zell’s not-so-white teeth. Final Fantasy made me see games as an art form which could immerse its audience in a way no film, book or play ever could. I fantasise about the games a little bit every day, and will continue to do so until I, too, reach Zanarkand.


Since music is such a key part of this story, I recommend the following playlist:

Nobuo Uematsu, To Zanarakand:

Joe Hisaishi, Always With Me:

Nobuo Uematsu, One Winged Angel (FF7):

Hans Zimmer, Davy Jones’ Theme: 

Nobuo Uematsu, Shuffle or Boogie: 

Posted on July 24, 2020, 01:16:47 PM by Leafly
Chain 3 – A Chance of Tentacles Past - An Exilian Chain-Writing Story 2020

Chain 3 – A Chance of Tentacles Past
An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

By justatoady, Waddleflap, SLiV, Muxley, Leo, KingSingh, Nakyo, and Jubal

The centaur sees no stars when she looks up at the night sky. Bright, blue-white lamps illuminate the clean streets and the furtive population, and the sound of her hooves on the concrete is absorbed into the city's melody. The centaur's legs have a memory of their own. She lets herself be swept along by the ponderous mass, her mind preoccupied with waking from its trance. She yawns and stretches and is mildly surprised when she comes to a halt in front of her destination. Before entering, she brushes dust from her hooves and undoes the top button of her blouse. At this time of night, she can take her pick of the tables, but she chooses to stand at the bar. She lays her laptop in its large, black bag on the counter, then takes off her glasses and puts them next to the bag.

'I thought you weren't coming,' the Pudding King tells her. He kisses her on both cheeks. 'How late do you work now?' he asks.

'Not as late as you,' she tells him. 'You have my reward?'

The Pudding King produces a heavy crystal chalice and offers it up to the centaur.

'Sticky Toffee Love,' he names his creation.

It smells like a freshly baked cake. She lifts a silver spoon to her lips and loses herself in the warmth and the sweetness.

The Pudding King grants the centaur this single moment of bliss. 'Vanessa is here,' he admits.

The tiniest hesitation as the centaur takes her next mouthful, which has already lost some of its sweetness out of the door the Pudding King's words have cracked ajar in her mind. Studiously unreactive, she continues eating.

The silence threatens to swell into and overflow the gaps of their conversation as the centaur teeters on the edge of memory, the Pudding King unsure of how he might help. Slowly, almost mechanically, the spoon continues on its circular journey between chalice and mouth. She knows she can't just stay silent; the emptiness of the chalice forces her hand as she looks up to meet the Pudding King's eye, one eyebrow arched sardonically.

'Sticky Toffee Love?'

He blinks, mouth slightly agape.

'I...yes. It just seemed fitting somehow.'

'Because she's here?'

'I suppose.'

She snorts. Ever clichéd, always just that one step wide of the mark, the Pudding King's obliviousness to all but the most obvious of facts would be laughable at any other moment. She knows from long experience that there is no point starting an argument over it.

'Did she say anything?'


'Well, unless she's somehow managed to refrain from speaking, she must have said something. Expecting an answer as to where on earth she's been for the last three years may be a bit much, but you never know.'

The Pudding King tries to make decisions quicker than his mind can actually handle to answer the question. Before he can even open his mouth fully, though, the door behind him opens.
A familiar sense of comfort floods the room. The centaur fights it, determined not to let go of her anger. She looks down and starts playing with the spoon in front of her, hoping to appear too distracted to notice the golden-haired girl stepping through the doorway. Instead she becomes mesmerized by the crystal's cruel reflections, slowly adjusting the angle of the spoon as the inverted figure approaches her.

'I see you still have a sweet tooth,' Vanessa says with a grin.

The centaur glares at her, but says nothing.

It takes a gentle tap on his shoulder to disrupt the Pudding King from hopeful anticipation. 'I'll leave you two to it, then,' he says, before turning around and making his way to the kitchen.
'I know I hurt you,' Vanessa begins when he's gone, more serious this time, but still with an airiness that somehow doesn't feel as inappropriate as it should. 'What we had... I was foolish to think it could work.'

'You knew exactly what you were doing. It's who you are. I don't blame you for that. In your eyes I was just another nymph-head looking for a fix, and you were happy to oblige.'
'That's not true. You were special to me.'

The centaur had felt special, at the time. But then wasn't that the point? Even now, part of her wants to believe Vanessa, to forgive, to forget. She shakes it off.
'That's not what you told the police.'


Vanessa paused, taken aback the bluntness of the centaur’s statement.

‘I was scared.’ She said, averting her eyes and sweeping her fringe out of her face. ‘I didn’t want anyone thinking we had planned it together… it was all your idea, anyway.’

The centaur felt rage surge through her as she stared down her former lover. ‘All my idea? Was it my idea to bribe the munchkin council to get the logging rights for the gumdrop forest? Was it my idea to secretly fund teddy bear insurgents to scare the natives away? WAS IT MY BLOODY IDEA TO...!?’

The centaur stopped, peering around at the audience she had been gathering before returning to look at the quivering mass that was once the woman she loved.

‘Y-you were the o-one who started emb-bezzling from the pension f-fund’ Vanessa stammered, again adjusting the fringe of her blonde wig.

Even with all that had happened, seeing Vanessa so terrified still sent a twinge through the centaur’s hearts. She unclenched her hooves as she looked into Vanessa’s eyes, all six of them spread randomly over her grey, slimy body.

The centaur raised a hand to brush the Shoggoth’s fringe behind one of her many, many tentacles, ‘remember when I said I would love you forever?’

Vanessa lifted her gaze, giving a nervous smile through one of her churning maws of nightmare. ‘You said nothing could ever tear us apart.’
The centaur gave her a smile right back. ‘I lied.’

She couldn’t bear to tell Vanessa what she’s now been reduced to. She couldn’t imagine why an ethereal beauty like her could still have her eyes set on a disgraced centaur. After having done time for five centuries at the Booyardar Penitentiary, the centaur tried to put the failed heist behind her and went on to earn an honest living as a resurrectionist.

For the past three painful years, she had been trying to locate her former lover, but to no avail. With every cadaver she collected, she had wished that she could at least be reunited with the mass of her beloved. If not for the Pudding King, she would still have been kept in the dark. But what was three years compared to five hundred, they both meant an eternity to her.

The centaur tried to hide her bitterness, but her tender affection for the Shoggoth could not mask her true feelings. Nonetheless, she still tried.

‘So you lied? All these while?” Vanessa stammered softly, refusing to believe all her eight ears.

‘You know you asked for it,’ the centaur whispered stoically, with her eyes falling on the shimmering corner of her laptop exposed from her bag at the counter, where the Pudding King was eyeing the duo intently.

Vanessa followed her gaze towards the laptop. ‘You’re still carrying that old thing round?’ she said after a long silence. ‘I thought you would have covered up all the evidence.’

‘You’d think wouldn’t you,’ replied the centaur, still staring at the laptop. ‘But I thought I’d hold onto it just in case you wanted another crack at the job.’

Vanessa’s eyes darted towards the centaur, all twelve of her fang filled mouths twisted in shock, ‘Surely you’re joking?’ she whispered harshly, ‘They’d be expecting us, especially after how badly we biffed it last time, and don’t forget how you murdered the whole crew as soon as we got past the first gate because one of them looked at you funny!’

The centaur snorted.

“Really. You think after 503 years they’re still on high alert waiting for illegal loggers with botched permits?” The centaur said, pointedly ignoring the accusation. Vanessa shifted, her tentacles writhing around her. The centaur could read Vanessa well enough to know that meant her proposal had been rejected.

“I’ll take that as a no then.” The centaur said, starting to shove the laptop into the bag. 503 years she’d been dragging around that laptop, following any lead on Vanessa she could find. She hadn’t realised how much she’d invested in the idea of pulling one last job with Vanessa when she finally found her.

Only to find that the Shoggoth had lost her nerve.
“Shame.” The centaur flicked her mane out of her face. This time she didn’t even try to hide her bitter tone. “Why are you here then?”
Vanessa shifted again, before she finally said,

“I heard you’ve become a resurrectionist.” Three of Vanessa’s eyes were watching the centaur warily, while the other three darted around the room. They rested briefly on the Pudding King, before coming to rest on the centaur again. Confident no one important was listening, she opened just one of her mouths. “I want you to resurrect me.”

The centaur blinked, her tail starting to twitch behind her. So, Vanessa already knew about her embarrassing new profession. Shame burned through her, her tail starting to flick more violently in response.

“Well, I hate to state the obvious, but you’re not dead.”

“Not yet,” said Vanessa. “Soon.”

“What do you mean? You’re nigh invincible...” the centaur looked at the Shoggoth closely. There was something a little different, those eyes still the colour of fresh toffee, the tentacles still delicate, but somehow… oh. Oh, no…

“You think I lost my taste for adventure for nothing?” asked Vanessa. “I cut and ran because I had to, because I knew what was at stake, because…”

“…because you never needed to finish the job,” completed her erstwhile colleague, eyes closed and five hundred years of realisation crashing in. “Because you’d already found what you needed. Because it wasn’t about gumdrops, and it wasn’t about money, it…”

“Yes.” Vanessa’s voice was quiet. “It was about freedom.”

“You didn’t trust me.” The centaur’s voice was flat.

“I am trusting you now. Please.”

“And doing this… will kill you. Is killing you.”

“Yes, I ate the helix. And if I die,” said Vanessa, “what will become of them? Where will they turn?“

“I’m an ex-con with a murder record,” snorted the centaur, suddenly laughing despite herself, “and a former lover who you ditched for half a millennium, and I’m somehow the person you have in mind to help you save your entire species?”

“You wanted one last job,” smiled Vanessa with half of her mouths. “How about the biggest jailbreak in all creation?”

The centaur grinned. “I’m in.”


It is morning, and the Pudding King walks out onto the terrace and plucks a sugar-flower, smelling sweetness and lavender between his fingers. Somewhere below the earth, ten thousand shoggoths are writhing free of aeon-old prisons, called to life again by sacrifice and desperation. Their ends will be their own. He hopes they will forgive the sins of his ancient forefathers against them, he hopes that they will find a peace for themselves in this strange new world. But that will be up to them.

He hopes they will enjoy his chocolate implosion cake. Everyone deserves to enjoy chocolate.

The morning is cold, and wisps of his breath solidify into candyfloss in air that feels, somehow, just a little lighter today.

This is one of three stories written as part of our summer 2020 chain writing project. You can read the other two here and here, and find the project wrap-up announcement here.

Editor's Note: At first you think it is a food story, maybe even a cooking battle of some kind that the centaur has come to rule on. Maybe there are a set of contestants? But you would be wrong. A tale of betrayal, nearly lost love and imprisonment. Vanessa once helped imprison the centaur but now needs the centaurs help to eventually help herself and free her people. Though their time away from one another has been great, the memory and assurances are still fresh as ever. Time the centaur spent captive has not been forgotten, as though it happened only yesterday. A story of lost love and being conflicted with many choices. 

The Editor Is Now Concerned About: What you all thought of the story of course!

Posted on July 24, 2020, 01:14:03 PM by Leafly
Chain 2 - The Sin of the Cross - An Exilian Chain-Writing Story 2020

Chain 2 - The Sin of the Cross
An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

By Tar-Palantir, Eleonora, Pitys, BlackZebra, Caradìlis, Spritelady, Tusky von Tuskington III, and H. E. Strachan

‘Philip, I have a very special mission for you. As my personal physician, I know you will carry it out faithfully’
‘Your Holiness is too kind. How may I be of service to you and the Church?’
‘As you know, the pagan Saracens threaten the Holy Land. I intend to resolve this. You have heard of the great Christian Eastern king, Prester John?’
‘I and all of Christendom. Did he not write recently to the Greek Emperor?’
‘Indeed he did, proving that he exists and is most eager to assist the Church in our efforts to save Jerusalem for the true faith. I intend to reply to secure a great Christian alliance of East and West against the Saracens. And you must deliver it.’
‘I am not worthy to be the instrument of Your Holiness in this great undertaking, but I will do my best.’
‘I know you will, my son.’
‘Before I depart, may I ask one question, Your Holiness?’
‘Of course, Philip.’
‘Whither should I go in the search for Prester John?’
‘I know not rightly where he lives, but seek for the land of the Armenians; we know them to be Christians of a kind and they may have surer knowledge. Godspeed!’
And so I found myself leaving Rome for God knew where. All I had to do was somehow circumvent the Saracen kingdoms of Asia and possibly fight dog-headed men and Blemmyes to reach the Armenian lands. And beyond that, who knew what I would find?
Arranging the departure took me months. The sunset surprised me often as I sat in my library way after Vespers, with the sole company of the feeble light of a dying candle. The cool evening breeze was slowly invading the halls of the palace while I was still sitting at my desk, making my way through old charters. None of those obscure geographers indicated an accessible way to enter the land of the Armenians. The maps were seemingly unclear. Studying them, I came across traces of ancient cities, settlements whose names had been erased and became illegible. And was that an oasis there, possibly an old merchant base in the shade of the Anatolian mountains?
Although my aim was to secure an ally, I knew that I should have been extremely careful in venturing into Byzantium and moving forward to the East, up to the Great Wall that Alexander the Great built to stop the giants Gog and Magog.
One evening, shortly before my departure, my apprentice Mercutius came looking for me. He was not alone: Cardinal de Grimoard was sending an embassy. His layman lieutenant, Jaufrè Malebranche, was there to escort me, as His Highness requested to have a private conversation.
“And you, Doctor of Medicine, might use the help of someone well-versed in tracking down who’s very good at hiding, don’t you?” so sneered at me Malebranche, with a snarling laugh that proved me that he sensed how appalled I was by his presence. Indeed, he was right.
The sky was growing light but it was still before dawn when I first caught sight of our destination on the horizon. The finally calm sea and early morning quiet was soothing to my nerves. There had been little chance for sleep last night and even less inclination. I had long chased tales and rumours of a pious, Christian King of the Indians, was this finally my chance to find him?  My revelry was rudely interrupted, Malebranche had emerged from below deck and was coarsely addressing the captain much to his displeasure.
What had I got myself into by bringing him here? What was in it for him, or for the cardinal? The woman was probably little more than a wild goose chase. A royal princess, even a widowed princess past her breeding years, would surely not have been risked with such a desperate mission. And yet... I thought about the small, dark skinned woman who accompanied us. Her clothes did something to diminish the exoticism of her appearance; plain, and her hair covered not unlike any good sister who might be found in Rome. But she did not hold herself in the same subservient way. And how could I ignore the significance of the token she bore? The three magi, the gifts they bore had been replaced with three small emeralds. My hands had shook when the cardinal had triumphantly revealed it to me that night in his quarters. I could not simply dismiss it.
Finally, our ship arrived in the magnificent city of Constantinople. While sailing through Sea of Marmara my gaze fell upon the magnificent Theodosian Walls protecting the city for centuries. I wondered if these Greeks, despite their declining power, would be a better bet against the Saracens instead of this mythical king in the east. As we anchored at the pier and left the merchant vessel, which brought us over the Mediterranean, to our surprise a group of soldiers and a man in ceremonial clothing awaited us. Beside him a small figure emerged clothed in the simple robes of a monk. He addressed me in pristine Latin:
‘My lord sends you greetings and wishes to inquire about your journey. What brings the personal physician of the Pope to these lands?’
Surprised about the man knowing my identity, thoughts about possible betrayal crossed my mind. Was there an intrigue by the cardinal? Who was this man in ceremonial robes? It seemed as if the monk had read my mind.
‘You seem to be puzzled. May I introduce Katastaseos Arkadios. He is the ceremonial master of his majesty the Basileus. I am his humble servant and translator Konstantinos. Cardinal de Grimoard informed us about your impending arrival. Nevertheless, my lord wishes to hear himself what the purpose of you journey is.’
‘His holiness the Pope sent me on this journey in a secret mission. I cannot tell your lord.’
After translating and receiving an order from Arkadios, Konstantinos replied:
‘You must be tired from the long journey so please enjoy the hospitality of his majesty.’
I nodded and conveyed my thanks. Arkadios waved a hand and a young man appeared by my side almost instantly, beckoning me to follow. And so, I let myself be led away through several corridors and a small courtyard.
We walked quickly and in silence, only stopping, when my guide halted at a small wooden door. He opened it and gestured for me to enter. Behind the door was a small, but comfortable room. Light entered only sparely through small windows near the ceiling. There was a simple bed at the far side, a washbasin and a wooden chest next to it and near the door, a small table with a single chair and a candlestick holder with a nearly burnt down candle stuck within. My guide remained silent, as I looked around the room, but it was made quite obvious even through his silence, that these would be my quarters for the duration of my stay. It would do. Having done his job of leading me here, my guide turned and disappeared.
I sighed, sat down on the chair. This place, I was beginning to get a bad feeling about it. Hopefully, I would be able to complete my mission here soon and return home. I had an inkling that I was not wanted here.
The following day, I was summoned to the private chambers of Katastaseos. I had not informed Malebranch of this invitation; I was keen not to spend any more time with the man than absolutely necessary.
‘My lord would like to ask you to reconsider the secrecy of your mission. He and His Majesty are keen to aid the Pope in whatever way they can, especially if your mission concerns securing the Holy Land.’ As Konstantinos spoke, his hands twitched slightly, in anxiety perhaps?
‘I can only say that my mission is in the best interests of His Holiness and his goal to secure Jerusalem. I am forbidden to speak further and must decline your offer. We are prepared to proceed with our journey. But we thank you for your hospitality.’
Konstantinos appeared to pale at my response, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this was so important. Was he set to receive some punishment if I declined to reveal the information his lord sought? Or perhaps was it something more, an issue concerning Master Arkadios’ own standing with his Majesty? Whatever the answer, Konstantinos delivered my response and the reply came swiftly.
‘We would be grateful if you would stay another night and consider this request. Your ship has not yet been fully resupplied for the continuation of your journey. In fact, it may be some time before this can be completed’. Arkadios’ message was clear to me. He would not permit us to leave until we had revealed the nature of our mission.
The next day I enquired as to the readiness of the vessel, but I was told there was an issue with the ship’s rudder. My suspicions were confirmed. I was furious. My path was guided by God and I would not have it imperilled here.
With this in mind I decided to venture out into the city. Whilst I was free to move around as I pleased, some figure always followed me, probably hired by Arkadios. So, this time I headed out in the company of Malebranche. Whilst I did not like the man, I had thought of a use for him.
As we passed through a bustling market I had him start an argument with a vendor over something trivial. It was a ruse. The ensuing commotion distracted our tail, and I was able to slip away. Seizing the opportunity, I quickly made some enquiries about moving east. As luck would have it, I happened across a merchant from Ani, a city in the Bagratid Armenian kingdom. He told me his caravan would be heading there by land the next day, so in exchange for gold he agreed to escort us.
The merchant had given me a map, detailing the route we would be taking through the western Anatolian mountains, so I spent the afternoon familiarising myself with it.
I was reluctant to move on in this clandestine way. The Basileus himself might get wind of it and brand us fugitives, but what other choice did I have?
The next day I rose at Lauds for prayer, asking forgiveness for my coming deception and the certain missing of my more usual Prime prayers. In the pre-dawn, I, the despicable Malebranche, and our mysterious female companion, escaped our separate lodgings and hurried to the merchant’s caravan. God was with us: the man had not left and, facing the rising sun, we escaped Constantinople.
Or so I thought. Barely a mile from the ancient city’s wall, the camels and donkeys halted, my own included. Malebranche dismounted and approached the caravan’s leader, a wrinkled fellow different to the man I had paid. He turned his head so it was in profile and I almost fell off my mule: it was the face of Byzantine’s coins, the Basileus!
Malebranche, addressed the ruler boldly, “Cardinal de Grimoard sends his greetings.”
The Basileus made no answer. My merchant, a servant or a spy I now realised, acted as a translator to the Basileus and the grey man nodded once in response.
I thought of the map I had been given to study: was it fake or genuine? could I ride without a guide? did I have enough supplies on my mule? My indecision denied any of these questions being answered. The other men in the caravan, openly armed, took my donkey’s reins from me and hope left my breast.
We did not return by the same route. The dark woman who had courted my curiosity so long rode beside the Basileus, silent as ever. Malebranche on the other hand delighted in goading me with the details of his cleverness and double-dealing on behalf of his patron. He made jest of the tortures lined up for me in the eternal imprisonment which was my due.
“Why is it my due? I am innocent! You have betrayed the Holy Pope, the agent of the Almighty God. Hell awaits thee Malebranche!”
“Not if I’m serving the next Pope who will absolve me it won’t,” Malebranche countered. My jaw dropped at the audaciousness of Cardinal de Grimoard. Then my consciousness was taken from me and I knew no more.

This is one of three stories written as part of our summer 2020 chain writing project. You can read the other two here and here, and find the project wrap-up announcement here.

Editor's Note: A rich story with a winding subversion. Philip is sent on a dedicated mission, accompanied by someone who he would have preferred was not there at all, but what could Philip rightfully do? Even so, Philip continued on and complied with the requests of the royals, with a whiff that something just was not right. To get so far in his escape plan from the palace, only to be brought right back to where he was, how really very unornate.

The Editor Is Now Concerned About: Why Philip did not try to flee the moment he suspected his company of plotting and preparing to outmanoeuvre him, it’s a shame.

Posted on July 24, 2020, 01:10:31 PM by Leafly
Chain 1 - The Brigs of Boredom - An Exilian Chain-Writing Story 2020

The Brigs of Boredom
An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

By Spritelady, Andrew Conway, Beebug_Nic, Bigosaur, Arthcymro, Dan Shaw, rbuxton, Irina Rempt, and Phoenixguard

When Lucia had made her deal, this had not been the outcome she expected. 100 years of servitude on Davy Jones’ ship in exchange for her life had sounded like it could be a lot of things–frightening, thrilling, shocking, enlightening–all these had crossed her mind. But, as she’d briefly debated whether or not to accept the offer, the possibility of boredom had been far from her mind. And yet, sitting atop the mast, bored was exactly how she felt.

As she watched the crew scurry about their usual, strenuous activity, she couldn’t help but sigh. It wasn’t as though she was anxious to toil for the sake of a ship and a crew that, for the most part, wanted nothing to do with her, but being left alone day after day was torturous.

When Davy Jones had taken her on, half of the crew had clearly been outraged. There had been more than a few outcries of ‘cursed’ and ‘bad luck’ in response to taking a woman in. These were the crew members that ignored her presence so completely she may as well have been invisible. The other half of the crew had been obviously elated to have a lady among them. So much so, that they insisted she did none of her share of the work and left her to wander the ship, lonely and bored.

She hadn’t seen Davy Jones since she had come aboard the ship ten days ago.

She looked from her perch on the mizzen mast to the main t’gallant top, where the lookout, Blind Jenkins, glared blankly at the horizon. In the distance a kraken waved a friendly tentacle. There was nothing else to see, not even a mermaid frolicking in the wake. Though the mermaids’ chatter was mostly of hair conditioner and scale polish they were at least more talkative than the crew.
Perhaps she could borrow the cook’s Bible. She swung onto the futtock shrouds, and descended to the ratlines. It had been two years before she had ventured into the rigging, but now she was as agile as any jack-before-the-mast.
There were only three books on board: a King James Bible, complete except for Leviticus, which had been burned by the cook who disagreed with its edict on ferrets; The Young Sea Officer’s Sheet Anchor, used as a pillow by Marlowe, the junior midshipman, in the hope that soporific proximity would educate where earnest study had failed; and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which she had cordially hated even before it was set to music.
In the galley, the cook was pounding an amorphous blob of meat with his ceremonial peg leg.
“It’s a mistranslation,” she said for the thousandth time. “Leviticus 11:30. Where it says you can’t eat ferrets. It’s supposed to be lizards.”
“No, young Missy. God changed His mind. It used to be lizards, now it’s ferrets. But He’s wrong, He is. They’re delicious. My dad had the biggest ferret ranch in north Lincolnshire, till he was struck by lightning.”
The ship's rat, a well dressed and grizzled creature spat in disgust at this statement.
“It's disgusting that you eat flesh like that – just because the ferrets can't talk. I remember the Cat Wars when you lot first found out about the black liquid on our islands. Scared the bejesus out of you lot, finding creatures that could talk and fight. You two leggers with your mechanical cats invading us. But we fought you back well enough.”
She sighed – conversations often went this way. Out of all the crew the ship's rat seemed the most intelligent even if a torrent of racism about a war a hundred years ago would spew forth out of his mouth after a glass of cognac.
It was only a matter of time (and another glass) before he would start rambling about how his father had led the counter attack on Cornwall, heroically avoiding gunfire and delivering his load of pestilence filled fleas to an orphanage.
She sighed and got up, leaving the rat to his disjointed and incoherent rant. The ship shook softly as she left the galley. She could feel the ennui building up inside her as she went to her sparsely decorated cabin. Her duties on board were pretty light, so she spent a lot of time here in the dark.  Contemplating what she now thought of as her “past life” and knowing that this was going to be the routine for a horribly long number of years.
She decided it was time to do something about this. Maybe she couldn’t change the way the things are currently, but there were those who could. At least, she thought that Davy Jones could cancel the contract if he wanted. She wasn’t sure of this, but it was her only hope. So she convinced herself that it has to be. But how to make him do that? And more importantly, how to have fun while doing it?
They won’t let her do anything? Well then, idle hands do devil’s work. Her first thought was to become so obnoxious, so irritating, so annoying that all the crew gets upset and complain to the captain. It would go on for weeks if needed, until he gets fed up with it and lets her go. He can’t really kill her, can he? She wasn’t sure of that either, but it didn’t sound possible.
Without any duties, she was free to roam around the ship. In the following days, she watched the crew carefully. Who liked what, where would everyone go during the day. Things that would annoy someone, items that someone was attached to.
Soon she realized that every path leads to the food. Everyone has a favourite meal, everyone dislikes something. If she really wanted to mess with them, she had to get access to kitchen. She needed to be able to mess with the ingredients. And the ferrets. Oh, the ideas were overwhelming.
The time had come to cook the cook.
The Captain continued to stare down at the maps. He’d been studying them for almost four hours and was getting nowhere. Usually, the Gods guided him to his next assignments, meaning his navigational skills were never really put to use. Now, with the Gods ‘occupied’, he was forced to put these waning skills to the test. Frustrated, he tossed the yellowing papers into the air and lent back in his chair, removing his hat to rub his temples. What he wouldn’t give for some ale. And not the vile, slush they had on board. Proper, mortal ale.
Someone knocked. “Cap’n?” He ignored it. “Cap’n Jones, it’s me.” “For Gods’ sake, McCladding, what is it!” The minotaur, entered the study, bowing slightly as he approached. “We’ve found our trickster sir.” “Let me guess. Lucia” asked the captain, rubbing his eyes. “’Ow did yo—yes, sir. We found her put’n somethin’ in the pie” replied McCladding, a little deflated.
“What was she going to use?” McCladding withdrew a weathered, corked bottle from his sash and placed it into the captain’s open hand. Davy, examined the bottle lazily. “How unoriginal” he signed before throwing the bottle on to the table. “What have you done with her?” “She’s in the lazarette. We ‘ad to chain her up ‘cause she was causin’ such a fuss” Davy, groaning, got up from his seat and pulled on his coat. He then snapped his gloved fingers and the maps instantly tidied themselves away. “Take me to her.”
The shackles hurt her wrists, but that wasn’t the worst part, nor was the stench of salt and half rotten food. It was the boredom! Lucia’s recent hijinks had worked in stirring up the crew but she hadn’t figured they would just chain her up in the bowels of the ship and forget about her.
Footsteps, McCladding’s unmistakable hooves and a second softer set behind them, the door creaked and two figures stepped inside. Lucia pulled against the cahin strining her neck to see her visitors, it was McCladding followed by Davy himself. She’d done it! She had his attention. The pair came to stand in front of her with Davy taking no time in starting his tirade, his voice bellowed as he listed off her deeds and insulting her for being a child. 
Finally he said “McCladding, leave us!” The minotaur waited a moment then bowed, leaving them alone. Lucia waited until the door was closed, now was her chance “I suppose you won’t be-”
“I’m sorry” he cut her off “It was for the good of the crew, you understand. I have to been seen to be disciplining you.” What? “But playing up, won’t get you kicked off my ship. Lucia, there has never been a woman on my ship. Do you think I changed this on a whim? Do you think I have risked the possibility of a mutiny for nothing?” It hadn’t occurred to her until now that the pirate may have had ulterior motives. He was looking her up and down, nodding to himself.
“Lucia,” he began, “The newest member of our crew. Nice to have a fresh pair of eyes on board. Tell me, have you any feedback on your experience so far?”
“Well, umm…”
“Your cabin is satisfactory?”
“Your duties, manageable?” She nodded. “So can you explain the mischief?”
Lucia felt herself slumping lower against the wall. “Bored.”
“I’m bored.”
“Yes,” Davy nodded again, “You had to see it for yourself.” Without warning he flung himself against the bars of her cell. “Bored? You? After a few weeks? Try eight hundred years! I don’t understand, the crew, they were all so talented, fun, there’s actors, gamers – take Rat!”
“A celebrated comedian in his own country, renowned. Yet one deal, one soul bartered, and it’s all gone. Honestly, what passes for fun on this ship! If I hear one more rendition of Heave, Ho I’m taking us straight to Hell where we belong! No Lucia, we need you, it had to be you. You’re our new Social Secretary.”
The silence which followed was broken only by Davy’s heavy breathing. He was asking a lot of her, but she could think only of her comfortable perch up on the mizzen mast.
“Lucia,” he said, in response to her blank gaze, “I need your help. What should we do?”
Lucia smiled. Time for some fun after all. “Captain,” she said, “Set course for the Isles!"
"The Rat Islands?" The captain's face radiated incomprehension.
"No, the Hidden Isles of Adventure! Bring me a map! Oh, and while you're at it, please get me out of this dungeon."
"It's not a dungeon, there are no dungeons on a ship. Not even on this ship. It's called the brig."
"Brig, dungeon, lockup, jail, clink, it's all the same to me. I can't think properly in here, let alone do magic on maps."
The captain's face became even more puzzled. "Magic?"
"Of course. How else can I show you the Hidden Isles?"
Davy wielded the heavy key to unlock the barred door, and a smaller key to free her from the chains. He didn't so much bring her a map as bring her to the map: the one hanging on the wall in his own quarters, which showed all the known seas in the world. Clusters of pins adorned it, some shiny new, some old and with a ring of rust around the business end.
"Show me your isles," he said.
Lucia could have done it with much less fuss, but people wouldn't believe magic if it didn't look spectacular. She recited the spells aloud, ponderously, in Latin, and let light stream from her hands to the map and reveal faint outlines that became more definite by the second. Brown and green patches appeared.
Davy Jones stood gaping at the sight. "We sailed there countless times. I never saw any islands!"
"Well, they're hidden," Lucia said smugly.
“Hidden in what way?” Captain Jones asked, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“Have you ever been out at sea, weeks away from the nearest spit of land and seen what looks like a coastline or island where you know there can be nothing? And as you approach it, the land disappears behind some waves or swell, and you do not see it again?”

Davy Jones nodded, his thoughts drifting back to past instances of the phenomenon Lucia had described.

“Look at the map more closely, Cap’n, and tell me what you see.”

The captain leaned in closer to the vast map upon the cabin wall and was amazed to see the small brown and green patches he had taken for islands were actually slowly moving, drifting upon the surface of the map. Lucia’s slender finger reached across in front of his gaze and traced a loose circle around a small group of ‘islands’, drifting slowly across the oceans.

“This is a family of island turtles, the fabled Hidden Islands of Adventure. All up, five turtles, a breeding pair and their three offspring, wandering the southern seas. Who can say what we might find upon their shells?”

And thus did the Flying Dutchman, the dreaded ship of the mighty pirate captain, Davy Jones, set sail for the south, and then for the west a little, following in the wake of the Hidden Isles of Adventure. Within a month of setting course for the islands’ general location, five great rocky outcrops in the distance were espied from the crow’s nest. The festivities which occurred once the ships finally caught up to the island turtles proper is worthy of record, but sadly, the telling of that tale must wait for another time.


This is one of three stories written as part of our summer 2020 chain writing project. You can read the other two here and here, and find the project wrap-up announcement here.

Editor's Note: A tale of mischief and uncertainty! What a great ending though, the ship may have been mundane and the daily schedule monotonous, but Lucia took a big risk. Boredom was her sole driver, with an idea to stir up mischief and get kicked off the ship, all to free her from her life with Davy Jones. Her plan did backfire, but in doing so Lucia had no idea that it would become an adventure. Now they are preparing to visit places previously visited, to make new discoveries that Davy Jones had not seen or known about before. 
Of course, this could have ended in a completely different way. Fortunately, Davy Jones saw past the obvious mischief and wanted to help make Lucia%u2019s time better

The Editor Is Now Concerned About: What sorts of things can get everyone around the world escaping their fleeting brigs of boredom? Any ideas?