Archive | March 2013

The Toll

To @RealBrigang’s Prompt
There was only one road through the Black Forest, and the Forest, standing between a cliff an a desolation, was the only route between Rondval and Alathaca, the two biggest cities in the West.

Of course, someone had gotten the clever idea to set up a toll booth across the road in the middle of the Forest.

And of course Lute and the Riders needed to get to Alathaca.

“All right. You know the drill.”

“Let you do the talking. If we have something to provide, step forward and wait to be acknowledged.” Mariam’s tone was bored irritated. Lute didn’t mind. She would do what was needed.

“That. Everyone else?”

“Got it.” Tom and Robin chorused. Torvan, of course, said nothing.

The toll booth was a stone house, arching over the road into the forest on both sides, leaving a narrow tunnel just wide enough for a wagon; the tunnel, in turn, was blocked with three heavy gates. There was no rushing this toll bar.

Lute rode to the gate and pulled the bell-cord. Travelers from Alathaca had told them this was how it worked: You rang the bell, you paid your toll, you went through and didn’t look back.

But nobody had told them what the toll was. Nobody was willing to answer that simple question.

“How many in your party?” The voice was bored-sounding and disembodied.

“Five sentient beings and five horses. What is the toll?”

“All will pass through the tunnel.”

“What is the toll?”

“All will pass through the tunnel.”


The voice laughed. “Or all will stay.”

They really had to get to Alathaca.

“We’ll go through.”

“Yes, you will.” The body laughed again. “And I will take my fee.”

The gate opened and Lute rode in, followed quickly by the Riders. They really had to get to Alathaca. Preferably before the constable of Rondval noticed they were gone

“So what’s the fee?” The gate ahead of them hadn’t opened yet and the gate behind them was swinging closed. There wasn’t enough room to turn their horses, barely enough room to move.

“Ten years.”

“Ten, what?” For a moment, Lute thought they’d ridden into a constable’s trap. And then everything began vanishing from around them.

“Ten years. There are five of you. You will serve two years each”

“Serve!” There was no way out. Lute looked around him, but even the nothingness vanished.

“Have no fear. You will return to the same time as you left. But you will serve.”

Mocking laughter chased the into unconsciousness.

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In Theory, a story of Science! For the Giraffe Call

For [personal profile] kelkyag‘s prompt

“In theory, it should work.”

If they had a dollar every time they’d heard that, Alex mused… they would be far poorer than they were. Because for every 100 times a phrase like that ended in failure, there was once where it succeeded wildly. And Cara and Alex had shares in the company.

“Which theory?” Alex bit, because this new one was interesting. Also cute, but that was probably beside the point.

“Clarke’s Third Law.”

“Clarke’s…” Alex glanced at Cara. Cara would know.

“Arthur C. Clarke. Sci-fi author? Jeanne down in PR is doing some research on his theories.”

“Oh, that Clarke. What are you trying to make, Juris?”

Their newest scientist lifted the blade from the vat of bubbling blue liquid. It shone brightly, even against the fluorescent light of the lab. “In theory, it should talk to the wielder, make small corrections for better aim, and glow in a nice pretty way, especially in the presence of ill-intent.”

Cara and Alex shared a look. “You’re making a magic sword.”

“Well.” Juris beamed. “It seems the best way to test the theory.”

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The Tower Needs, a story for the Giraffe call

To [personal profile] thnidu‘s prompt

“Kishiara, the Tower needs men right now.” The Elder was reduced to pleading. Then again, Kishiara was his last option. “You know that.”

“I don’t see why.” The Elder had chosen to talk to Kishiara during combat training; she didn’t take her eyes off her students as she fended off lightning bolts. “The sorceresses are doing fine.”

“Simple biology dictates that we need men as well.”

“Ugh. Can’t someone else do it?”

“Nobody else was… available.” Willing, he meant. Kishiara hissed.

“So it’s me by process of elimination.”

“Or the temple will only last another ten or fifteen years.”

“But I like – stop that, Jegan – like being me.”

“I know. And I apologize. But we all have to sacrifice something for the Temple.”

Kishiara couldn’t argue with that. They all knew what the Elder had sacrificed, decades ago when the need had been different. “Fine. Let me finish this class first.”

The Elder had not expected fast acquiescence. “So soon?”

“If not now, Elder, you will find my mind changed. Now… let me finish this?”

The Elder left, to prepare the ritual. They all had sacrifices to make. He reminded himself of that again and again. The tower would not live without men, and Kishiara was the only one who could provide them with men.

She went into the ritual pool naked, willing, her head held high although her hair had been shaven off as part of the preparation. In order to succeed, the ritual’s notes said, leave as much self as possible outside the pool.

Kishiara’s head went under the water. In due time – an hour that seemed an eternity – seven male heads emerged. The Tower had its sorcerers.

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Precedent, a continuation of the Aunt Family (Moreplease)

After Intimately Involved.

“Surely this is a question someone in the family has faced before.”

It was a cornerstone of their family: they had been around so long, almost every problem they faced had been faced before. Too many sisters? They had faced that over and over again. Too many brothers? They knew how that had been dealt with. Problem with police, zoning, neighbors? They could look up how their predecessors had handled a similar situation. Demons, ghosts, possessions – somewhere in the diaries, there was a note about a prior incident.

But not about a pregnant Aunt. Either it never happened, or no-one ever wrote about it.

Linda and Deborah had spent every moment of free time for the last week – Linda and Deborah, and then their sister Danielle and their cousin Hessa – digging through the old Aunt diaries. They had learned more about the family’s personal business than they ever really wanted to know, but they had yet to find a pregnant Aunt.

“Someone has to have dealt with this.” Hessa poked Deborah in the stomach. “Seriously. We’re human, even the Aunts.”

“Maybe it didn’t make it into the diaries. There’s a few places where there’s these funny gaps, like the Aunt decided not to write things down for a month or two.”

“Some days that’s just because nothing happens. I have months like that.” Deborah had not shared her own diaries. Those were for posterity.

“I’m not sure.” Linda frowned. “The grannies and great-grannies would know.”

“We can’t ask them.” Danielle pursed her lips. “We can’t get them involved.”

“Oh.” Hessa was staring at the diary in front of her, an old one, the leather cracking. “…oh…”


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Fashion in Addergoole After the Apocalypse, a series of Vignettes

Just before Year 18

The stores hadn’t gotten any new stock in months, but they were struggling, trying to pretend like nothing was wrong, hoping – like everyone was – that this would blow over soon, that things would go back to normal.

They’d pulled all of last year’s stock, anything they had in their warehouses and back rooms, in a sad attempt to keep things normal.

“Mom, I can’t go to school in last year’s clothes. Everyone’s going to laugh at me.”

“No, they’re not.” Laurelia’s mother was amazingly unsympathetic. “Because the world is ending everywhere, Laurelia, not just here.”

“But these clothes are so… ugh.” She plucked at the tunic-shirt distastefully. The end of the world was being very irritating.

“Then I suggest you learn to sew.”

Just before Year 27
Every piece of clothing Garden owned had been patched at least once. Every piece of clothing everyone she knew owned had been patched at least once. After a while, they’d given up on making clothes look new and had settled for being warm.

Except holiday clothes. Garden still had a skirt where you couldn’t see how they’d altered it and a nice soft sweater where they’d made the darns decorative.

The week before she was supposed to go to Addergoole, her mother pulled out a box Garden had never seen before. “I saved these.” The clothing was soft, clean – new – and smelled of cedar chips and lavender. “It’s not enough for the whole year, but it will get you started. And it looks like I got the size about right.”

Just before Year 37
Moretta’s mother was the seamstress for their town, which gave her a bit of an advantage. Her mother had tried out most of her ideas – how to take three pairs of ruined pants and make one nice pair, how to turn an old, ripped blanket into a jacket, how to make a dress from whatever you had leftover from other projects – using Moretta as a mobile dummy and advertising placard.

In return, Moretta had clothes to pack for Addergoole that looked like clothes. Her mother had dug into an old stash of fabric and spent some time looking at old fashion magazines, and then spent three months sewing. “They’re going to be coming from all over the country. Except Ediana, who you know, and Gerald. But most of them will be strangers. Their people will have different fashions. Remember that. There is no ‘voice of fashion’ anymore. And in Addergoole… well, there will be bigger problems.”

Moretta, who had been born four years after the world ended, didn’t know what her mother was talking about. But she knew that she had clothing that looked good on her, and felt nice, and kept her warm.

Just before Year 47
“All right. Two nice dresses, five pairs of pants, and three skirts. Nobody at school will be as well-dressed as you are.”

Naia’s mother wasn’t by any means an accomplished seamstress, but she was a very good cobbler and leather-worker, and her sister, Naia’s Aunt Prima, owned the burgeoning textile mill that employed most of the town. Naia knew she was lucky to be as well-dressed – and certainly well-shod – as she was.

She stroked the skirt carefully. “It’s all very nice.”

“But you’re thinking about the girls from New Detroit, aren’t you? With the fancy trim and the strange cuts on everything?”

“And the ones from the South.” Since her mother had said it, she could admit it. “With those pants.”

“You won’t be out of fashion in Addergoole. But, just in case…” Her mother folded a dress in the New Detroit style into the trunk.

Thanks to @inventrix for the names and for brainstorming with me on the fashion.

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Wysteria’s Prompt Call

Prompting is free; tipping will buy longer stories.

Go prompt!

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Blade, an outtake of Rin & Girey for the Giraffe Call (@cluudle)

For cluudle‘s prompt.

They were sleeping when the attack came.

They were halfway up the mountain, the tent pitched half into a cave and the goats tethered just outside. It was a clear night and cold; Rin had fallen asleep just a hands-breath apart from Girey to take advantage of his body heat.

That saved their lives.

She didn’t snore. Girey would have loved to blame it on that. The truth was, she was closer to him than she had been ever before for longer, and he found that it made his sleep uneasy.

So he was asleep, but lightly, uncomfortably, when they were attacked.

The first man in tripped over him. He’d placed himself there, much to her amusement. He was chained, anyway, so she let him do the little things to protect her. He knew she was doing it to humour him – and didn’t argue the point.

Today, an assassin tripped over Girey and woke him up before they got to Rin. He woke with a grunt and lashed out, kicking, flailing against his chains. “Blast it, flaming whirlpools!”

The noise woke Rin, who grabbed a knife and dove into the assassin, blade out. She shoved the gut-cut man down to Girey’s feet, dropped her blade by his hand, and tumbled over both of them and out the tent flap.

Girey kicked the assassin, bunny-kicks, tangled in the blankets. What good did she think the knife would do? He only had a couple feet of play.

But she’d given him a knife. He kicked the attacker in the neck, and then in the jaw, hearing bone crunch.

“‘Ware!” She shouted it out in Bitrani seconds before another assassin came flying through the tent flap. It was just long enough for him to get the knife and his feet pointed in the right direction.

It was enough for him to figure out how to use a knife while chained, too.

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Lazy Bidding

For Rix_Scaedu‘s commissioned continuation of Laziness as an Art Form and Laziness X4.

“So, my Master wants to know, if you are concerned about the number of Kept he’s taken in, what you would bid to take one of them off of his hands.” By the third upperclassman Roanna talked to, she had the words down pat.

She was also getting used to the look of disbelief, although every person had a different reason for the disbelief.

“Concerned? No, I’m just impressed. I never managed more than three, and I had to set someone on fire for that one.” The draconic-Change Yisachar smirked down at Roanna. “You can tell your Master, if I want one of his Kept, he’ll know when his pants are on fire.”

Roanna gulped. “I’ll tell him, sir…”

“Just Zak is fine.”

“Zak. Sorry to bother you.”

“Oh, I’m not bothered. You are pretty, you know.”

“No, that’s Zuleyma.”

He just smiled. “Good luck with your auction.”

He was the only one to outright threaten. Cillian, short and Irish-looking and ratty, just leered at her. “I’ll take you for whatever he wants to sell you for. I’m real good at making happy pills.”

Something about his breath made Roanna’s skin crawl. “Not Zuleyma? She’s the pretty one.”

“I don’t want a princess, I want a good woman.” He made as if to squeeze her bum, but stopped short of actually touching her. “A good girl, a clever girl.”

“Flattered. I’ll let him know.”

If these were her options, she’d take sharing a spare bunk with Tamberlain or Zuleyma for the rest of the year.

Adder just looked amused by the whole thing. “I’m not a Keeper sort, really. I mean, I tried it, but it’s not my thing. I was just wondering what it had to be like, sharing a Keeper with three other Kept.”

“Oh.” Roanna gave that one some thought. “It’s weird. I don’t really like Segenam, you know? But I’m still competing for his attention.”

“That’s a lot of being Kept for you. Even when you’re the only one. Good luck with your auction.”

“Thanks.” She really had to find someone who either wanted her more than Cillian did, or wanted someone else more than Cillian did.

“Which of you are good at housework?”

Oh, a girl. This could be interesting. Roanna turned around to behold the elfiest Elf Change she had ever seen. “Well, ma’am, that would be me or Merton.”

“Merton. Hrrm. Is he the short black-haired one? With the teddy-bear Change?”

“He got a little taller with the Change, but that’s him, yes.”

“Tell your Keeper I’ll offer three mid-level favors, standard conditions, for your Merton. And I think I know who you can get to buy the princess.” Her smile was somewhat sympathetic. “You’re a cute one, but I’m not into girls, sorry. And you’re too…”

“I know.” Roanna sighed. “Unless someone wants a housewife, they’re going to want Zuleyma first.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you know. Even if it does mean you get stuck with Segenam. I know him. He’s going to be too lazy to be too much of a bad Keeper, and you can probably find a way around him enough to get your own way.”

“But I’m still Kept.”

“That’s generally how it goes. Look, I’m Kianna. Talk to Thahn and Vianna about taking the Princess off your hands.”

Roanna thanked Kianna, and went searching for Thahn and Vianna. Thahn and Vianna turned out to be a semi-terrifying pair of twins, who seemed plenty interested in trading for Zuleyma and offered a series of complicated terms.

She took her notes back to Segenam, who, on looking at her ten pages of notes, insisted on the short version.

“You have potential buyers for all four of us. I think most of them are okay, but I think Cilian is really creepy and I’m not sure Adder is a good idea. How many of us to you want to get rid of?”

The words filled her with an unhappy lump in her throat. Get rid of. Why would that bother her? Why should she care that he didn’t want her?

Much to her chagrin, she found she was crying. And, of course, the only one who wanted her was the creep, Cillian.

“Hey.” Segenam frowned at her, which just made Roanna’s stomach do more unpleasant things. “Hey. What… oh.” He sighed, much-put-upon sounding, and patted her shoulder. “Cillian’s the one that offered for you?”

Roanna sniffled and nodded.

“I’d rather piss in his mouth than give him anything, even if he paid me. Someone better offer for the others?”

She sniffled and nodded again. “Though I mean… Adder?”

Segenam scoffed. “Adder can’t even Keep himself. Okay. So who’s that leave me, if we don’t deal with Adder and Silly Cillian?”

“Tamerlain and I.” She pulled a hanky out of her pocket and wiped her nose.

“Perfect. Good job.”

The surge of pleasure at the praise couldn’t quite cover over a dull lump of bitterness. “So you can fuck Tamerlain and I can cook and clean.”

Segenam made a funny face. Roanna had no idea what that one meant. “Or the other way around. I’m sure you can teach him how to cook and clean.”

Ro had no idea at all what to say to that.

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