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Topics - justatoady

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Poetry and Artistic Writing / Toady's Poem(s)
« on: April 11, 2019, 04:49:06 PM »
Hey Exilian : )
I made an other thing I think kind of fits here, which is a poem about a famously weird animal.

What are you?

Axolotl. Water dog.
The slippery monster. The fish that walks.
Your face is pink, your gills are stalks.
You smile, you smile for all the world to see,
and yet your smiling baffles me.

You live in puddles, mud, canals,
you're a delicacy in exotic locales.
On land, you waddle.
Your fin is caudal,
I suppose you can swim,
but is that why you grin?
Your young are preyed on by birds and fish.
To leave this home must be your most desperate wish.

You are hardy, you are tough,
losing a limb, it's not nearly enough,
to put you down,
they are simply regrown.
Is this the key to your sunny disposition?
What looks like neverending cellular division?
You don't grow up,
never a dog, always a water pup.
No need for metamorphosis to reach sexual maturation.
Perhaps your secret is natural neotenic procreation?

But, in truth, what hides behind your smile?
A devious trick? Unfathomable guile?
Look at those chubby cheeks,
you're not one of nature's freaks.
You're cute to a fault,
I cannot help but halt,
and admire,
can only aspire,
to have you grace my house.
You beat any hamster, kitten, or kangaroo mouse.

You've got a stomach powered by vacuum,
and I can watch you eat in my bedroom.
You're not here as my pet, as the one I chose to bring,
you're here by your orders, as my master, my king.
I am weak, I took you from your puddle,
I adore you and we cannot even cuddle.
Whence comes this power over me,
you're a armadilloty lizard, who can't really see.

Oh my god! You're a little dancer!
Jesus Christ! You're immune to cancer!
I will worship you at a shrine!
I am yours as you are mine!
I proclaim myself Axolophile,
and I will lay down my life for your precious smile!

Stories and AARs / The Love of Proteus - a story about a candle
« on: January 21, 2019, 07:59:49 PM »
hey : )

here is a fantasy story, which is also my candle story, which never got posted because, i failed to register in time^^

very happy for feedback (i went back to a hopefully more readable format for dialogue)

The Love of Proteus

Beneath the surface, there is a world much like our own. Swarms of fish soar across the skies, the jungles are algae and seaweed, and the people have glistening, silver hair and gleaming, bronze tails. They have caverns and mountain ranges underwater as well, though snowy peaks are a lot less common and hikers seem to prefer swimming to (What's the word?) walking.

One mountain stood higher than all the others, and at the very top, an impossible candle was lit. Two of the merfolk were sat in deep concentration, the current pulling at their hair, long tails coiled around their waists. They opened their eyes to see a circle of runes etched into the stone underneath illuminated by the faint, flickering glow in their midst. The younger was a man named Proteus, his gaze fixed upon the flame, his eyes pale embers in the night sea. Fleeting whispers washed over the pair.
'I can hear them,' Proteus said.
'You think us victorious?' asked the elder, a wrinkled magister by the name of Nerea, and her voice cut through the disembodied chorus.
'The surface is broken,' Proteus told her. 'And the dead may swim beside us.' He closed his eyes again. 'Listen to their cries.'
'Broken? Ha!' Nerea scoffed. 'We have extended but a tendril.'
'All the more reason to seize this opportunity. We must reach out and grasp and pull now before it is too late.'
The old woman sighed.
'I will be doing the reaching and the pulling, young one, and you will listen to me. What I am about to attempt goes far beyond your feeble spells and clever tricks, and you must be wary of the fickle temperament of spirits and specters, lest they lead you astray.'
Proteus studied Nerea's wizened countenance.
'This is your last chance, young one,' she told him. 'Journey onward into dark, unknown waters or turn tail and head for safety.'
The candlelight made her sunken eyes and gaunt cheeks look even more like a skull than usual. 'Magister,' Proteus began, his long hair trailing in the rapidly changing currents. 'My mind is made up, my spirit does not waver, and I shall not be deterred by these affected warnings.'
The smokeless flame flickered.
'Very well.'
Nerea raised her arms. The currents picked up.

'Hear me, Arion, Steed of the Oceans, hear me and reward your faithful servant!' Bubbles rose from the candle and the light grew brighter. The merfolk felt warmth emanating from the flame, then heat, then saw each other's pale flesh redden as the bubbles enveloped the mountaintop, a vortex of foam reflecting back the intense glow. 'Hear me!' Nerea had to shout over water boiling, lightning crackle, and thunder roar. 'Guide us through the darkness!' she shouted. 'Deliver us from our loss!' The flame had turned into a towering inferno. Disembodied voices screamed at them form all sides. Proteus dove into his palms. For a moment, the blaze formed a gigantic, long-faced head. 'Hear me! Arion, Dragon-Horse!' the magister commanded. The fiery apparition let loose a deafening whinny and imploded.

Proteus listened to the suddenly silent sea for a good while, before he dared lower his arms. The waters were calm and cool, and the candle had fallen, its flame extinguished, its wick white and unburnt. Nerea lay still on the naked rock. Proteus moved to her side with a single powerful tail stroke.
'Magister!' He lifted her up by her bony shoulders, felt the leathery skin beneath his fingers, shook her with gentle urgency. She opened her eyes and smiled brightly.
'Proteus!' she exclaimed and embraced the speechless young man.
'M-Magister?' Proteus froze, but the old woman giggled hoarsely.
'No, silly,' she told him and hit him quite lightly on the shoulder. 'Don't you recognise me?'
She stroked his cheek with a wrinkled thumb.
'Asia?' Proteus grabbed her by the waist, spun her around, and planted a kiss on thin, cracked lips. Asia cackled.
'I liked that. How was it for you?'
'S-sorry, I just...' Proteus wiped his mouth.
Asia patted him on the back.
'I missed you too, cuddlefish, but we're not finished here. I'm merely borrowing this body, and to be frank, it's been through enough.'
Proteus saw that both his and Nerea's arms were red, the skin peeling off.
'I don't care about that.'
He took Asia's wrinkly old hand into his own.
'I thought I'd lost you forever.' Asia squeezed his hand. 'I'm here, cuddlefish. I'm really here.'
Tears were difficult to see underwater. Proteus pressed his forehead against Asia's, felt her warmth and her breath and shivered under her touch.
'Oh, Proteus, you old softy.' She brushed silvery strands from his face. 'The Magister's powers are great to return me to you, but we must act quickly or all will be for naught. Will you follow me, Proteus?' She picked up the candle and turned her gaze to ocean floor beneath. 'Follow me to my grave?'
'I'll follow you everywhere.' And they set off into the black sea, two shining comets in the darkness.

The graveyard was deserted. Rows of golden corals marked a thousand watery resting places. Proteus and Asia hovered over one of many.
'It's so small.' Proteus said quietly. Their descent was slow and measured.
'You've never even seen it?' Asia's voice cracked.
'Sorry,' he told her. 'What are we doing here?'
He looked around for signs of the arcane at work but saw none.
'I've told you,' she said. 'We're here to finish the Magister's spell.'
The hand gripping the candle trembled. 'I'm so sorry, my love, but I cannot tell you what to expect. Be strong, Proteus, be strong.'
She took a deep breath and exhaled onto the unburnt wick. The flame returned. 'I must rest now, cuddlefish. Place this on my grave, and pray.'
She sank to the ground, her breathing shallow, her eyes already closing.
Proteus took the candle from limp fingers and half-buried it in the sand atop his beloved Asia. 'Come back to me, my love.' He knew no better prayer. All true gods would listen. 'I beg of you, come back to me.'
The sand stirred, the flame flickered, and Proteus screamed. Asia sat up in a cloud of sand, her skin pale and smooth, her hair white and silky, and her full lips curled into a huge smile. Tears were difficult to see underwater, but Proteus had never looked closer at anything in his life.
'What is it, my love?' She flung the candle carelessly over her shoulder.
Proteus drew her into a tight hug. Her flesh was cold beneath his fingers. He kissed her, the soft lips, the playful tongue, but there was no breath and no smell, only hot tears that burned in the eyes of Proteus. He drew back.
'Thank you, my love.' Asia's voice was a song of the past. 'Thank you for everything and goodbye.' 'No!' Proteus held onto her with all his strength.
'Let go, cuddlefish. Let go.'
He was panting through gritted teeth now, felt his muscles spasm, his guts writhe, his heart shrivel. Proteus released her.
'Goodbye, Proteus. I love you.'
'I love you too.'
One last time, they kissed. Asia turned hard and unyielding under his lips. Proteus returned the skull to the sand and wept.

He felt a wrinkly hand on his shoulder.
'She was never here,' he said.
'Only a shadow,' the old woman told him.
'She never got to say god bye!'
'There are no fires beneath the surface. I'm sorry, Proteus.' He thought of Asia's smile and her tear-filled eyes.
'I'm not.'
A current washed dust over the unlit candle.

Stories and AARs / Darkest Dawn - a random story about the mongols
« on: January 14, 2019, 10:18:21 PM »
this is an older story  i went back to again, and i feel like it fits here quite well : )

(it also kinda sounds like the twilight sequel that never made it, so there's that)

very happy for any sort of feedback, especially about the language and the calrity of the dialogue, though i probably won't do much more with this, because the message just feels terribly confused...

@jubal: i really tried with the formatting^^

Darkest Dawn

The Merkit camp slept beneath a silvery crescent, and the prisoners no longer fought their restraints. Yazad hated the noises. She could hear the dwindling flame crackle and the tent flap in the wind and, worst of all, the mumbled prayers of her fellow captive. Yazad glared at the other woman, whose own eyes were fixed rigidly upon the low ceiling. Though the shackles weighed heavily on Yazad's wrists, she lifted her arms and rattled her chains against those of the pious nuisance. The woman flinched as though woken from a trance, lowered her head, and grew still. 'Imbecile, you do not behold Tengri, who is of the heavens. Your prayers go out to fur and leather and wool!' Yazad scoffed. 'I will be heard,' the woman said. Her voice was small, while she herself was plain and plump, her face round and simple, and her belly grown large with child. Her name was Borte, though Yazad did not know her as anyone of consequence.

'And what is it that fills you with such hope?' Yazad spat. 'The great fortune that led you here?' There was no reply and Yazad heaved a well-practised sigh. 'Perhaps, you have the right of it,' she went on. 'What can we do, but pray? It is our place to wait and hope and pray to our wardens, our men, and our gods.' Borte looked at her for a long time. 'Surely, your husband would crush a hundred lesser men to see you returned safely to his arms?' she asked. Her rosy lips had curled into a faint smile. 'The Khan would offer a dozen wives for a single night with a stranger and a hundred if he thought her comely,' Yazad said and laughed. 'He loves me no longer, child, not in his heart nor in his loins.'

'Yet you have no fear?' Borte asked, and her smile did not fade. 'Ha!' made Yazad. 'The fear of death is reserved for those who value their lives, but please, return to your prayers. Perhaps, the heavens care for our lives. Perhaps, my husband shall consider the theft an insult and slay our captors in retribution. He is nothing if not in love with his precious honor,' Yazad's fists were trembling as she spoke. Borte absorbed the words silently and her gloved fingers were calm as she ran them over her belly. Staring at the other across the flame, she had glowing orange embers for eyes. 'How sad,' Borte said. 'Well, what of your man?' Yazad demanded, twitching under Borte's gaze. 'Is he no warrior? Why look to the Khan for your rescue?' 'You are right,' Borte replied. 'I do not know. I do not know that Heavenly Tengri still cares for our lives. In truth, I doubt it, nor do I believe he would hear my prayers.' 'You have wasted your breath, then,' Yazad told her. 'I would have, yes, had I prayed to Tengri,' said Borte, and Yazad shook her head. 'Oh?' Yazad sounded intrigued now. 'You believe that Jesus Christ loves you, that you are safe with the Tao's guidance, that Allah watches over your spawn? Be mindful of your prayers then. You should know that the Khan frowns on beliefs other than his own, and yet they all sound rather alike to me.' 'You misunderstand,' answered Borte. 'My gods are the Khan's, but it is not Tengri who brought us here. Tengri is great. He has bestowed life upon us, sent his children, the Sun and the Moon to watch over us. His is the love for all things, but we have not been loved. We have been stolen, hurt and had our lives endangered. It is the work of no loving parent, but of a beast, a formless spectre shrouded in death and blackness, one who carries rot and decay and the underworld in his wake.'

'Erlik,' Yazad only whispered the name and flinched as the shadows danced across the tent walls, stretched and distorted by the flickering blaze. Borte nodded with sudden excitement. 'You say that we can do nothing but pray. Well, that can be the greatest power of all in the hands of the bold. Our path has led us into darkness and no god of light shall set us free.' Yazad shivered despite her heavy furs, and she felt her body move away from Borte as far as the chains would allow. 'It is a silly conflict between tribes,' Yazad insisted. 'We shall be free soon enough and need not strike bargains with demons or monsters.' 'And yet, you will not be free,' Borte told her. 'You will return to your Khan, reduced to praying, to Tengri and to him.' 'I am sworn to my husband, my Khan, your Khan. You owe him your obedience too!' Yazad was shouting now, but Borte remained calm. 'He is a small man and an utter fool,' she said.

'What?' 'They all are, a thousand tribes, a thousand Khans, each with a hundred wives. Pathetic splashes that break at the walls of the empire. They look up at Tengri, who loves them no matter what and think their little lives please him, but a god who loves all, loves no one and a man's love is worth nothing if you share it with his broodmares. Under Erlik, we would be a tidal wave and drown the empire and swallow up their cities of gold and stone and grain. He would give us the world, if only we were worthy.' 'Your words are treason,' Yazad said. 'If my husband heard of this, if even yours did...' Borte's laughter filled little world in the little tent. 'I keep no secrets from him. I have chosen my path. I know where my loyalties lie, Yazad.' With startling swiftness, she moved and grasped the older woman's hands. 'The time for change has come,' she went on. 'Do not stand against the tide, lest you be swept away and dragged down into the depths.' 'What are you-'

Outside the tent. A heavy thump. Shouting. 'Intruders! Intruders in the camp!' Wood burst, metal clanged, bodies fell. More screams followed. The flame squirmed under a chill gust, as a single hand pulled back the curtain. Two men barged in. A third held the entrance open and his blade raised. Yazad's heart sank when she realised. They were Merkits, their abductors' men. All three looked strong and burly, armed and armored. One took her roughly by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet. Yazad was ready to fight and struggle, but cold metal bit softly into her throat, the sharp edge a turn away from spilling her heated blood. 'Keep quiet,' the man said uncaringly. His eyes did not move from the entrance. With a cautious glance aside, Yazad saw Borte in much the same position as herself, though with none of her panic. 'Fools!' Yazad's haughty facade cracked and crumbled, her voice was shrill, trembling. 'The Khan will not forgive my death, he will not forget, you throw your lives away!' No one paid attention, not until Borte's laughter returned, bright and youthful and innocent. 'But, Yazad,' she said. 'They are dead already. They have left the shore behind and ventured out into the open sea and now, they tremble before a storm.' The man at the entrance shot her a venomous glare, but he turned and called out into the night. 'Young warrior! We have blades to your women's throats. Lay down your weapons if you value their lives.' With one last flicker, the flame yielded to the wind, and the five were plunged into darkness. A spear pierced the heart of the man who held Borte. Yazad screamed, her own heart pounded, and she cowered down, feebly raising her arms trying to shield herself from the gushing red fountain. The man guarding the entrance stumbled over his feet as he fled into the tent, fled from a shadow.

A figure approached, neither tall nor broad of shoulder and who no longer carried a weapon. Young Temüjin's eyes were dark and narrow, his features crude. An impassive face turned to Borte and the unborn child. 'You are alive,' he said. 'He is safe.' 'Yes!' Borte said and tore at her chain. Realising that their remaining hostage was worthless, both men lunged at Temüjin and swung their scimitars. Their deaths were quick and simple. The Merkits slashed at nothing, Temüjin appeared where they did not see, and one corpse fell upon another. Temüjin crossed the tent, without so much as a glance for his Khan's wife. He embraced Borte and kissed her brow before laying coarse hands on her stomach. Borte was still pulling at her chains, but Temüjin's presence had calmed her. 'They stole us for their Khan,' she said. 'They are small and stupid, but...' 'I know,' Temüjin said. 'Their friends can serve us.' 'Yes!' Borte let go of the restraints. 'We will show them a new way. We will bring them change.'

The tent flapped open once more, and Yazad hadn't been so happy to see her husband in many, many years. 'My love,' she said without affection. The Khan nodded at her, then turned to Temüjin, who had acquired the blade of a slain foe. 'You fight well, young warrior,' the Khan said. 'You have saved your woman? Good. Come now. This insult can only be paid in blood. We have the numbers, we have Tengri, they shall not have the morrow.' Temüjin and Borte shared a glance. She laughed, and he smiled and lopped off the Khan's head.

The servant draped a fine silken cloak across the empress' pale shoulders and fastened a jade broach in the shape of a Chinese guardian lion over her breast, before presenting her with an ebony box. On a bed of satin lay treasures from all corners of the empire, heavy rings set with Indian diamonds, long strings of Iranian pearls and even a Russian carcanet of bright silver and black onyx. The empress lazily indicated a simple golden diadem, and her attendant began to weave it into shiny, dark curls. 'Thank you, Yazad. You are excused,' Borte said graciously and Yazad bowed her head. 'Your Highness.' Borte could only take small steps in her full regalia, but then again, she was rarely  in a hurry these days. The people had quickly learned patience. She stepped out onto the palace's balcony and, with a broad smile, faced her subjects. The Khans and their tribes were no longer. There was only the empire, there were only Borte and Temüjin, Borte, who stayed and ruled and Temüjin, whose conquest would not end while he lived. This was the fate she had chosen, Borte knew, and it would be the fate of her children and her children's children, a fate of war and greatness, of power and duty and sacrifice, the fate of the Empress of Genghis Khan.

Stories and AARs / We Are The Desert (fantasy story)
« on: January 12, 2019, 03:07:41 PM »
Hey people,

I'm writing a fantasy thing and would like to now and again share a couple of extracts and maybe get some feedback. I've pretty much only done short stories so far, so this kind of longer project is a bit daunting, but also quite fun^^

The story is set in a somewhat futuristic world much like our own but with loads of fantastical creatures and also magic.

I probably won't post everything (especially since I keep changing and rewriting things), but I'll conventionally start with the current beginning:

We Are The Desert


'Thank you,' the little blue demon said, as he took a coin from the dead man's limp, unresisting fingers. It was dull and grey and dripping wet. 'Who are you? Where am I? What happened?' asked the deceased. Behind him, a crimson river raged, silent in the dark. He was stumbling to his feet, his legs shaking, his formal attire drenched, his leather soles sliding across black glass. 'My name is Letor, you are below now, and it doesn't matter,' the little demon told him. 'You are here, and I'll be your guide.'

'Below?' There were no sounds apart from their voices, and they appeared to emanate from all sides at once, bouncing off walls too far away to see. As many had before him, the man looked up at a rocky ceiling and down, back down at the vast obsidian sea and its liquid, crimson scars. Tangled strands of hair clung to the side of his face as he struggled to remain upright. 'Below,' he said. Wide and restless, his eyes darted from left to right, but there was only endless void around them.

'Come,' said Letor. 'Your passage is paid.' The man spat. He tasted copper, Letor knew, and iron and nothing else. The coin disappeared beneath the demon's robes, and he picked up his lantern with no candle, no wick, and no flame. Its cold, white light illuminated the pair's path as they walked over smooth darkness, side by side, a little servant and a passing shadow. There were always more questions and never enough answers. 'What was that? What did you take from me,' asked the dead man. 'A toll, for my troubles. You won't miss it.' The demon tried to smile reassuringly. The dead man narrowed his eyes. 'I've never seen it in my life.' 'No,' Letor told him. 'But it is what you once had.' The man looked at his hand. 'I...' he began. 'I don't know my name. I... I have a family. What happens now? Where are you taking me?' Their steps were silent. Letor thought for a moment, but nothing helpful came to his little mind. 'Across,' he said. 'I'm sorry. This is all I know. You'll be at peace, I promise. You will rest.' The words echoed long after they were said, and Letor could see the man looking, searching, and finding nothing. His stare returned to the rock above. It was almost familiar, rough and brown and streaked with slow, molten rivers, their orange glow faint and distant. 'Rest. Yes, yes, I want to rest. My wife, will I see her there? My children?' 'I should think so, but not all their shadows have passed. Not yet.' The man laughed. 'Yes, I suppose that is something to be grateful for- hey!' he stopped. 'Hey! Hey, Letor! I... I can't move!' 'No,' said Letor. 'It's time. Stay calm.' The man flailed his arms, but his legs had stopped dead in their tracks. 'What? What is happening!' 'It'll all be over soon.' Letor's pale, yellow eyes rested on the man's reflection below. He followed the demon's gaze. His upside down form hung above endless shadow. Dead twigs, white and dry and brittle, had grasped his ankles, and ever more branches were sprouting and snaked their way up, twisting around hips and torso, arms and shoulders, coiled tightly around the dead man's throat. His muffled screams turned to wheezing and coughing, grew quieter and quieter, his struggles slower and sluggish, until he stopped. As he sank, tiny ripples were cast on the black glass surface until nothing remained and the dark sea was calm once more. Letor felt the lantern's pull and followed, his robe heavy with a man's life spent.

He never knew how far his journeys would take him, how long he must remain at sea. The lantern's white glow was a dying spark amidst the coals and kept at bay the shadows beneath. Ahead, a building came into view ponderously, the lantern's light rising as a full moon upon the wooden dome. 'What are you doing?'  He tapped the lantern with little blue knuckles. 'We're still missing someone. Why are you showing me to the vault?' he asked. Letor's grip tightened as the lantern trembled in his hand. 'Fine,' he said. 'Have it your way.'

The vault towered over him, steadfast and serene. The gate was too heavy and massive even for a taller man and next to it, Letor looked more like a child than ever. He produced the coin from a pocket. 'It's Letor,' he said. 'I've got another offering.' He had to move out of the way as the doors swung outward, so long was their reach and so sudden their compliance. Within the colossal walls lay mountains of metallic discs, bronze and copper and iron and brass, rusted and gleaming, shiny and blackened, their sizes and shapes as varied as those who once owned them. In the far corners of this landscape, the demons had seen coins made of stone and porcelain, wood, and even cloth and bone. The dull, grey coin flew from Letor's hand, up and behind a shimmering peak, and soon out of sight. 'Happy now? I guess I'll be right back.' He shook his luminous guide. There was a reply. Letor jumped.

'That's it?' The lantern pulled and Letor turned and recognised the speaker's face. A winged man slouched on a coppery hill. He was tall and golden and radiant, his silken, violet suit was as dry and pristine as the wavy curls that fell onto his broad back. Letor stared. Below, familiar faces were rare. 'I'm really not supposed to let anyone in here,' Letor said. 'I am not anyone,' the golden man proclaimed. He opened his palm and a fistful of coins fell noiselessly. 'Sorry, um, I guess you aren't, Phoenix King, but I'm still going to have to ask you to step outside now.' Even in the underworld's universally bad lighting, King Gruidos was beautiful, even here, his eyes were brilliant sapphires, and even here, they filled with disdain at the drop of a hat. 'Where is the woman?' he asked. 'Don't tell me you're running things down here now.' 'Oh no. The Amorous Aardvarks are playing, so I'm filling in.' 'What?' Letor thought for a moment, and in his thoughts, silver eyes glared at him, gleaming and unblinking. 'Actually, could you not tell her I said that. I think she's a little embarrassed about it.' 'What?' The Phoenix King blinked. 'Baseball,' explained the little demon.

'I...' Gruidos hesitated. Letor's apologetic smile did not waver. 'Don't worry. It'll be our secret.' The king rose, and with a single noiseless flap of his great golden wings, he appeared beside Letor. 'You are here for this, I understand,' Gruidos said. His own coin was big and golden. He handed it over. 'Yeah,  thanks.' Letor took it and stepped outside. Gruidos hurried after him. The demon sniffed the little disc, then bit down hard on the metal. Gruidos winced. It was warm and tasted of grass and dew, of wood and spring and sunlight. 'Looks to be in order.' Gruidos snatched it back immediately. 'Why are you back so soon anyway?' Letor asked. The king stared off into the distance. 'I... I don't know if I recall.' The doors to the vault remained open. Gruidos held his breast with both hands. 'That's normal,' Letor said. 'But I guess don't need to tell you that.' Gruidos shook his head. 'No... I drowned, I think. The ocean drowned me. I made it angry, so angry. I... I don't wish to linger here!' Letor nodded. 'No, few people do.'

'Are we done here?' 'You tell me.' Gruidos rose into the air, his wings motionless. In the black sea, his reflection had come to stand on a growing, white tree that hadn't a single leaf upon its branches. Letor saw at the gate ajar. He snapped his little blue fingers and made no sound. The tree grew no longer, and the phoenix king stood, suspended in mid-air. Letor caught up quickly as a branch picked up his reflection. 'Your coin is yours to keep,' he said. 'I needn't let it join its brothers.' 'I'm aware,' said Gruidos through perfect gritted teeth. 'So why won't the vault close?' Something stirred beneath Gruidos' jacket. Copper gleamed as it tore silk, and dead wood pierced the heart of the golden, inverse man below. A plume of red blossomed on the violet. Letor took a dripping coin from limp, unresisting fingers.

Chapter 1

The inspectors both looked up from the notice on their desk and smiled. 'What do you think?' the spirit asked. 'Do I really have to leave?' She appeared as a tall woman, her pointy fox ears covered in soft, orange fur and her bushy tail hanging awkwardly out to the side of the ministry chair. 'Depends,' Nate replied first. 'What is this breach of terms?' His fingers made to grip the big cup in front of him, but Steph knew it was empty. She'd warned him not to descale the coffee maker till after closing time, and the instructions had told him otherwise, so now he put a great deal of effort into pretending he didn't, in fact, suffer from a persistent caffeine withdrawal headache. 'Well.' The fox hesitated. 'Technically, it is a one bedroom apartment...' 'Makes sense.' Nate nodded. 'There is four of you, isn't there?' 'That's right, inspector,' she said. 'Three cubs and myself.' 'Four?' Steph asked. 'In a Block C apartment? How do you even fit?' 'We make do. I don't like to complain.' 'Of course.' Steph tried not to look into those golden eyes. Instead, her wandering gaze found the ears, flat against the woman's skull. Steph remembered the cramped rooms, the hard beds, the faucet dripping, dripping, and stopping, and the prayers. 'How're you for water?' Steph asked. The spirit smiled as her tail twitched. 'Your landlord makes a valid complaint, Mrs Arbory,' Nate was studying the notice once more. 'Still, I believe he made a slight error.' 'What error?' Steph quickly scanned the document. 'Were your children born after you took residence in Block C?' Nate asked. 'Yes,' the spirit took a deep breath. 'My late husband and I lived there together for many years, and so have the five of us until recently.' 'I see. Your husband was human, I take it?' 'Yes, inspector.' 'And your children are registered?' 'Yes, my husband took care of that.' 'Very well then,' Nate rubbed his hands together. 'The appropriate number of occupants is indeed critical when assigning accommodations. It is not, however, a reason to revoke residency, especially if these occupants have you as their legal guardian. An error, as I said.' 'Does this mean...?' the spirit looked from one inspector to the other.

'Mrs Arbory, it looks like you and your family won't be headed to the camp anytime soon.'

'Oh, thank you, inspector, thank you.' 'We're just doing our jobs.' He smiled. 'Now all that's left is the paperwork. You'll need to fill this out and I'll help you with your statement and that will be it, I believe. I must stress, however, that it wouldn't be in your best interest to do anything else that could arouse your landlord's suspicion. You could do without further errors.' 'Errors?' Steph looked at her partner, but his face was a model of sincerity. The sword Bhael leaned against the opposite wall out of reach, the red blade clean and shining in the office's cold light. 'Can you finish up here?' Nate rose. 'Sure thing. You heading home early?' she asked Nate. It was barely a question. 'No. There's a lead I'd like to follow up on.' 'The Barker thing?' 'Need to know, I'm afraid.' He excused himself to Mrs Arbory. Nate was tall for a human, athletic, with white hair and high cheekbones and a uniform that made his shoulders even more pronounced. The spirit looked up at him through heavy lids as they shook hands. 'Here.' Steph handed her a pen. It was one of Nate's, heavy and metal and engraved. Steph leaned back and watched patiently, while Mrs Arbory filled out the form all by herself.

Steph yawned. The lounge with its sofas and its padded armchairs and all three of its vending machines was empty except for a raven-haired young woman with a glossy mag in one hand and a sugary drink in the other. 'What a happy fox,' Ava said, looking up from her reading material. 'She practically skipped out of your office. A job well done I suppose?' 'Except she'll skip straight back to Block C,' Steph said and stretched her arms. 'Can you believe people actually fight to stay there?' 'And good thing too.' Ava shrugged. 'I would have hated to see the happy, little fox burn. Nate had that look in his eyes when strode past.' 'Nothing to do with the fox. He's out chasing super secret leads or something. You been here all day?' 'Well, you have no need of my talents, when all your cases leave with a smile on their face.' 'Should have gone with Nate then. Maybe, he's got something interesting to do on his special little mission.' 'I'd still be working then. I'd much rather go with you. They've got a happy hour at the Floating Essence, you know, though you may want to change out of your little uniform first.' Steph had sat down in a cushiony recliner, the sword Bhael across her lap. Her reflection stared up at her, small and distorted and crimson. 'Sorry, hon, I'm headed somewhere. I got a bit of catching up to do.' She drummed her fingers against the Bhael's obsidian hilt. 'Again?' Ava shook her head. 'It's fine. I want to.' 'Tell your face.' Ava jumped to her feet, and the magazine slid to the ground. 'Well, nevermind. I'm off too, I suppose. No point in hovering round here all by myself.' She drained the last of her soda before crushing the can.

'Sorry, I'll make it up to you.' 'Don't sweat it.' Ava flung the can at the trash bin and missed. 'Say hi to the dead girl for me.' Steph picked up the can. A bright pink cartoon berry smiled at her obnoxiously with its ecstatic face crumpled. Somewhere out in the desert, there probably were berry spirits of some kind. Steph had never met any. Maybe they were better off staying out of her city, away from all the noise and the lights and the colours.

The blackness outside the new rapid transit railway was streaked with neon. Steph flicked through Ava's magazine, but she had no real need for an all-new wardrobe consisting entirely of latex and leather. Two fellow inspectors were sat opposite, both as white-haired as Nate and neither familiar. She met the gaze of the younger of the two. 'Still on duty?' she asked. He flinched, just a boy in a big uniform. 'Yeah,' said the elder. 'More complaints from the camp. Seen it lately?' 'No. Hear it's pretty bad, though.' 'Sure is. You ask me, it doesn't matter if these guys are criminals when we stick em in, cause a few weeks in there'd make me do some pretty messed up armadillo too.' 'You may have a point there, Sir.' Steph studied the calm, wrinkly face next to smooth, sweaty one. 'You heading home then?' wrinkly asked. 'No,' Steph said. 'But not as far out as you either. I'm paying a visit.'

Her hands rested on Bhael's hilt. Sweaty stole a sideways glance at the sword, his brow furrowed. Wrinkly followed his gaze. 'Is that...?' the old man began, then he recognised it. 'Oh. I'm sorry for your loss, dear.' He shoved his junior. 'Yeah, sorry for your loss.' The boy's grip tightened around his own weapon. It was silver and shone as bright as the Bhael, not like the old man's. His sword was scarred and dull and grey. Steph thanked them both. 'It's a good thing you're doing.' Wrinkly smiled. 'We need more blades on the streets.' 'To be honest, the Bhael's mostly hanging round the ministry these days,' she said. 'That's something to be thankful for as well, I suppose. Tobias here would kill for that, figuratively speaking.' Sweaty looked down in reply. 'Don't worry.' Wrinkly patted the boy's shoulder. 'All I need you to do is wave it about a bit and look all menacing like.' Steph couldn't feel the train move, but a constant, steady humming noise told her it was live and well. 'If things kick off, that is,' she said. 'Course,' agreed the old man with a shrug. 'Next Stop, Newhall Crypt,' was announced over the tannoy by a female voice, pleasant but dull and monotone. Steph told her fellow peacekeepers to keep up the good work. 'We're all in this together,' Wrinkly said, and Sweaty sighed.

The reception was white. Steph had to squint before she could adjust to the brightness, and make out the person in front of her. White walls gleamed beneath white artificial daylight, their curves and slopes gentle, smooth, and edgeless. The receptionist approached. A construct of rose light, she had a woman's silhouette, taller and slimmer than Steph and flickering almost imperceptibly. 'Good evening, Inspector. Welcome to the Newhall Crypt. How may I be of assistance?' Her voice emanated from all around Steph, a familiar voice. Steph knew it from the Rapid Transit and from work and from home. 'Cancel shape,' Steph told her. The woman shrunk until all that remained of her form was a sphere of light. 'I'm here to visit Dinah Pierce.' 'Profession?' asked the sphere.
'She was an inspector as well and a student before that.' 'Former zone of residence?' '34.' 'Follow me, please.' The urns were stored below. In their millions, they stood upon rows of glass shelves that lined miles long corridors and reached higher than Steph could see. The urns ranged from small as a fist to larger than the deceased themselves, they were ceramic or metal or plastic, plain and unassuming or intricately decorated, some were busts or statues, and some were held in the furry stone arms of the God of Life. Steph had never understood that. The sphere floated just ahead of Steph's transport pad, and the dead zoomed past. She saw some of the living as well and several rose women made of light. As soon as they had reached their goal on the horizontal plane, they shot straight up and came to a halt a hair's breadth away from another, identical pad.

A woman knelt there before a tiny, bronze urn. When she could hear Steph coming, she looked up at the new arrival. She had sunken eyes and long, coarse hair with more grey in it than black. Steph waved at her guide. 'You can go now.' 'Very well.' The rose ball flickered and was gone. 'Hey Leah.' Steph stepped onto the other's pad. 'Steph!' Leah drew her into a hug. 'Thank you for coming.'

She smelled of cigarettes and cheap perfume. Her coat was clean but tattered. 'Join me.' The pad wasn't comfortable to kneel on, but Steph imitated the woman anyway. 'How is she doing? What were you talking about?' Leah smiled. 'Oh, you know, same as always. I was telling her about the park. Did you know, we have a tree now. It's this high.' Judging by her hand, it just about came up to Leah's knee. 'It's only small, but it's green and growing thanks to the new well. Oh, it's so very green.' 'That's cool,' Steph told her. 'Oh, my wife and I like to sit there in the evenings and just look at it, don't we, Dinah? That must sound silly.' 'Not really.' 'Well, we don't get many opportunities anyway.' She turned away from Steph and back to the little urn. 'Norma's working such long hours, you know. Oh, but you don't want to hear me complain, do you? Look, it's Steph, she's brought your sword, look. How's the Bhael doing, Steph, are you carrying on what my baby started?' 'Trying to.' Steph noticed her hand resting on the hilt again. 'Go ahead, tell us, dear.' 'Oh, um, I'm keeping law and order. We helped a spirit today. Helped her keep her family under a roof.' 'Isn't that nice. You and that young Inspector? I hear you are working together now. It was in the news feed. Oh, my Dinah was obsessed with him, you know. And he's so young.' 'Nate sure is great, um, Inspector Lance, I mean.' 'And what a great opportunity for you, oh, my Dinah would have loved to learn from that man.' 'Yeah, we're all really looking up to him.' 'Oh, look at me hogging you all to myself. Is there anything you wanted to say to Dinah? Please go ahead, dear.' The little urn always looked like it had only just been polished. It probably had been.

'Um, sure. Hey Dinah. Thanks again. I owe you everything. I'm taking good care of the Bhael. It's not seeing a lot of action, but, man, people still remember you. You should see them try and run when I get it out, um, but I guess you did. I like working with Nate. He talks about you sometimes. Well, he mentioned your stance during practise, and trust me, that's basically a eulogy from him. I really hope you like what I'm doing now. I want you to know that.' 'Oh, of course, she does, sweetheart. My Dinah couldn't have hoped for a better successor.' 'Thanks, Leah.' What had Dinah hoped for? Steph's head always felt a lot bigger on her Rapid Transit rides home from the crypt than on her way there. No successor, not for a long time. That's what Steph would have hoped for.

'Stephanie, your meal has materialised.' She swiped across a little screen, and the FoodMatters3000 slid open to reveal steam rising off a plate of fish and chips, with mushy peas and a glass of pale ale. Steph couldn't hear the city through her apartment's windows, only look down at the colours and the blinking lights and the shadows that sometimes moved in the dark. 'Any messages?' she asked the empty room. 'You have two unread messages from Inspector Lance and Ava Ashport.' 'What's Nate want?' 'Playing message. Stephanie, I need you to come in early tomorrow and sign off on Mrs. Arbory's report.' 'Ugh, tell him fine.' 'Playing reply. Fine, face of woman frowning.' 'Nice job.' Steph licked grease and vinegar from her lips. She liked greasy chips. She had eaten this exact meal dozens of times. Steph knew for a certainty because she hadn't changed the FoodMatter's fish and chips settings since she'd been issued the thing. 'What about Ava?' 'Ava Ashport has invited you to an event. Department Chicks Night Out. How do you wish to reply?' 'Sure, I'll go.' 'Stephanie, there appears to be a conflict of dates. Inspector Lance has created the following appointment. Camp Rounds – Supervised.' 'Ugh. Guess I'm not going.' 'Cancelling event.'

Steph had the FoodMatters top up her ale. She took too big a gulp and let out a resounding burp. 'Play the song where they're in the desert, and they paint the rhino's nails in the music video,' she told the room. 'Stephanie, are you referring to Pretty As I Am by the Beat Sisters, in which the singers dress up a dromedary like a pageant girl?' 'Oh yeah, that was it.' 'Playing Pretty As I Am by the Beat Sisters.' Pretty As I Am was followed by the one where they're building skyscrapers shirtless in the rain in a really brave way, the one where there's a fairy and fireworks come out of her, and the one where she was an alien all along but also hot and really in love with the guy from Supercop 4, not the blonde one, the other one. Dinah had liked all the guys from Supercop 4, except the baddies. Steph hadn't really been able to tell them apart.

The Welcome Hall - Start Here! / good day all
« on: January 05, 2019, 10:13:44 PM »
hello exilian people,
my name is andreas and I'm a hopefully budding writer and student of history and english from vienna,
I optimistically tried to join on the 31. for the candle thing, but I think the system didn't like my email until I changed it^^
happy to share more writing and join more writing projects (I was part of the Last of a Kind chain).
I found this place through Jubal and the Uni-Verse writing group : )

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