#AtoZChallenge: Peacekeepers

Pavel tapped his staff against the ground. He had already been waiting for fifteen minutes and old age hadn’t build up his patience much. He scanned the sky again, but it was still clear. He was on the outskirts of the city, standing outside a makeshift hut in the ruins that existed at the edge of the desert. It was a good place to think and to discuss matters of importance, away from the prying eyes and ears of the faction leaders.

It also gave him a good view of the city skyline and the low surrounding buildings made it easy to spot anyone, or anything, coming by air. So far, he hadn’t seen anything other than a few scout drones. Then a dot appeared on the horizon. Pavel drove his staff into the ground and stood up on shaky knees. Pallas had arrived.

She swooped low over the half-demolished buildings, circling one before landing a few feet away from the old man. She was tall, towering over his hunched form easily. Her golden armor had a dull sheen to it, and the gilded wings on her back were wide enough to shade him completely. As she strode toward him, the wings retracted into a small pack on her back. The visor of her flight helmet pulled back to reveal an angular face with skin the color of burnished bronze, a few strands of silvery hair peeking out from under the helmet’s rim.

“Pallas,” he said, standing as tall as he could but still having to look up at her. “What tidings do you bring? Has a decision been reached?”

“They’ve agreed to a truce.”

Pallas had been sent to negotiate peace between the Monduti and the Revain, two of the most powerful clans in the city. They each controlled several territories and had alliances with many of the other factions, but it was never enough. They were ready to rip the entire place apart if neither of them could control it. Pavel and his Peacekeepers had to step in to prevent that from happening. They were the official arbitrators of the city, tasked with keeping it in harmony by masters who had long been forgotten.

It hadn’t been easy getting the Monduti and the Revain into the same room without causing a bloodbath, but Pallas had a knack for persuasion. She wasn’t the Captain of the Peace for nothing. She had managed to broker an agreement between them.

“But there are conditions,” she said,  “And if even one is not met, the whole thing collapses into chaos again.”

“I see.” Pavel turned away from her, his shoulders drooping. “It can never be easy, can it?” He ran a hand through his matted gray beard. “But it’s a start, at least.”

“Yes. It is.”

Maintaining the peace between warring factions was an uphill task, and as more factions splintered, forming their own groups and coming into conflict with each other, it was only going to become more of a challenge. Pavel couldn’t afford to lose control of any of them.

“What are the conditions of the truce?”

Pallas pressed a plate on one of her gauntlets, causing it to project a small holographic screen. “The Monduti had a spy in the ranks of the Revain. The Revain want the spy executed in public to discourage any such betrayals in the future.”

“And what do the Monduti want?”

“Control of one of the Revain’s smaller territories.”

“Sounds simple enough.”

“The Revain are willing to hand over control, but the territory chief isn’t being cooperative. He’s prepared to fight. That could upend everything we’ve done so far.”

Pavel considered that for a moment. “And if he surrenders, will that satisfy them? Will it put an end to this war?”

Pallas inclined her head. “For now.”

“It will have to do. Very well. Convince the chief to surrender. If he’s still feeling stubborn, kill him swiftly.” He locked eyes with Pallas. “Do not give him any opportunity to fight.”

“Understood. And the execution?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Just ask them not to turn it into a celebration. We’re satisfying basic conditions, nothing more.”

Pallas nodded. Her wings extended themselves again and flapped once, sending up a cloud of dust. She took off, headed back to the city.

Pavel shuffled over to his hut and sat down on a wooden crate, feeling it creak under his weight. The factions enjoyed testing the limits of his tolerance. But if it helped him maintain the peace, he could live with it. The occasional bloodshed was a small price to pay for the larger goal.

#AtoZChallenge: Week 2 Roundup

Woohoo! We’re halfway through the April A to Z Challenge and it’s been a roller coaster of a week, filled with Gothic tales of intrigue, bite-sized delights and villainy.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reading, but I still managed to discover a few great blogs this week! Please do give them a visit.

Into Another World It’s an A to Z of villainy over here! A daily rundown of some of the meanest baddies to grace the silver screen, along with some choice quotes and a little glimpse at antagonists in the every day.

Atherton’s Magic Vapour: You sir! You seem like a connoisseur of fine tales! Perhaps, madam, I can interest you in a Gothic mystery filled with suspense and intrigue? No? That not enough for you? My, you are a tough customer indeed! How about I throw in some lovely black and white illustrations and a vial full of Atherton’s Hilarious Humor, guaranteed to make you laugh until your sorrows evaporate? Excellent! You won’t live to regret it!

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose: Tales of wicked people and wicked deeds, at just 55 words apiece!

The Armchair Explorer: Discover brave new worlds from the comfort of your armchair! A quick book review for every letter of the alphabet!

 

That’s it for this week. It’s a short list, but that just gives you more time to explore each blog!

My roundup from Week 1 can be found here, and those blogs are still absolutely awesome, so you should definitely be checking them out!

#AtoZChallenge: Week 1 Roundup

Well, my second year participating in the April A to Z Challenge is off to a great start. I believe last year,  was already lagging behind in my daily posts but I’ve been ahead of schedule this time! Fingers crossed I can keep that up.

There’s a break every Sunday (except the last one of this month) to give your fingers a rest – or give you a headstart for the next month! I figured I would take this opportunity to do a little roundup of some amazing blogs that I came across this past week.

So, for your weekend reading pleasure, I submit to you: The A to Z Roundup, Part 1.

Madly In Verse: Nilanjana Bose, who I’ve come to know through our participation in the WEP challenge (and who is both a brilliant writer and all-round awesome person) provides a handy guide to Arabian culture and clears up some common misconceptions.

Iain Kelly Writing: Do you like a good mystery? A thrilling whodunit? Then check out Iain Kelly’s serial murder mystery about a crafty killer and the cop hot on his(?) trail.

True North Bricks: Who doesn’t love LEGOs? This fun little blog by a Finnish-Canadian LEGO fan is a visual treat for adult collectors and a trip down memory lane for those that grew up with the colorful bricks.

Sorchia’s Universe: Another serial story, this time in the realms of Gothic fantasy and magic. Warring families, uneasy alliances and dark visions abound.

Wolf of Words: A blog about a lover of film and pop culture that really resonates with me.

Space, Time & Raspberries: Follow the saga of a poor chap named Elliot, who’s just trying to find his way through the world in search of adventure. As a bonus, you get to read the previous year’s A to Z entries as a companion piece to each chapter!

 

 

Of course, this is a very narrow list. There are hundreds of people participating and I’ve only been able to visit so few of them. As the weeks go by, this list will be updated and expanded.

Once you’re done checking out the above blogs, I’d recommend heading over to the A To Z Challenge site, where you’ll find plenty more to choose from!

Write On!

Well, it looks like 2016 is off to a pretty great start in terms of writing!

My entry for Last Week’s Three Line Tales went on to become my most popular post yet, which is pretty awesome! If you haven’t already, you can check it out here.

And just yesterday, I got an email thanking all the writers that participated in the WEP Valentine’s Challenge and announcing the winners. As it turns out, I had the winning story!

When Yolanda and Renee at WEP announced that their first challenge of the year would be related to Valentine’s Day, I was stumped. Romance is not my genre at all, and I didn’t want to attempt to write something sappy. Part of me considered skipping it altogether, but then what’s the point of a challenge if you’re not going to challenge yourself?

So I decided to give it a shot. After a lot of thinking and several abandoned ideas, I finally came up with something that seemed like it would be a worthy entry. I was pretty happy with it overall, considering how reluctant I’d initially been about writing it. And it seemed to garner quite a bit of praise when it was submitted. But to win? That was completely unexpected!

And now, I’m more eager than ever to dive into more challenges and see where they take me!

My WEP entry is posted here.

Here are the runners-up, both of whom had wonderful takes on the theme:

Olga Godim – Hannah’s Rugelach

Writerly Sam – The Bridge Between Lost and Found

The full list of entries can be found on the WEP Challenge page. I’d recommend reading them all.

Literary Lion: Lady of the Lake

As part of my ‘MORE WRITING’ resolution for this year, I’m trying to get in some more flash fiction prompts. There were a few I participated in last year that ended up fading away. I think now’s as good a time as any to get back to those.

One that I really enjoyed was the Literary Lion challenge put out by Laura Feasey. In fact, I’ve written one of my personal favorite stories during one of those prompts. Alas, the Lion went on a small break as life got in the way and then I went on an involuntary hiatus as life got in the way and it all went downhill from there.

The Lion has started roaring again recently, and while it’s taken me a while to get there, I’ve finally answered the call. This fortnight’s prompt is to write a tale in 25 words or less on the phrase ‘Drink Me’. Here’s my contribution:

Drink me. Go ahead. You’ve heard all the stories. I can heal you. Grant everlasting life. A soul is such a small price to pay.

WEP Valentine’s Challenge: Forever

Yolanda and Renee of Write, Edit, Publish have put forth their first writing challenge for this year, based around Valentine’s Day. The challenge is to write a fiction or non-fiction piece in 1000 words or less. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.


 

John couldn’t believe it was Valentine’s Day already. How time flew.

It was one of the most important days of his life. The day when he and Marnie had decided to take the next step in their relationship.

John adjusted his hat and walked along the same street where he had taken so many moonlit strolls over the years, hand in hand with Marnie. He smiled. The city had changed so much over the years, but it was still beautiful at night, pulsing with life and vitality. The both of them had had many wild nights together, painting the town red.

They were inseparable, always with their arms around each other. Her sing song laughter echoed in the evening air, replaced by ecstatic moans as the night went on. His thick, stubby fingers would comb through her dark tresses, caress her pearlescent skin, trace the contours of her sanguine lips. She in turn would let her spidery fingers roam over his rough form, from his scruffy brown hair to the slight bulge of his gut. The passion they shared could scorch the world, but that wasn’t all that they had.

Marnie was one of the few people, perhaps the only one, that truly understood John. The both of them could spend hours engaged in the most idle conversation, or simply watching the world go by in complete silence. They were content to simply exist together, two bodies and minds joined as one.

John’s footsteps grew a little heavier as he walked away from the city, towards the small hill that lay on its outskirts. He paused before the iron gates at the foot of the hill and took out a small package from his coat’s inner pocket. He opened the package carefully, removing the wrappings to reveal a single, blood-red rose. With a sigh, John walked through the gates.

He hadn’t expected his romance with Marnie to end as abruptly as it had. Though perhaps he should have. They had become too reckless, drawn too much attention to themselves. With the number of people that had gone missing in the wake of their nightly escapades, it was only a matter of time before a hunter showed up in town. John and Marnie hadn’t been concerned. They thought they could handle things. But they were wrong. The hunter was cleverer than they had anticipated. He laid the perfect trap, and they fell for it.

John knelt down and placed the rose on top of an unmarked gravestone. Marnie had made the ultimate sacrifice so that John could escape. This was where she rested now, though he wondered if she’d found any peace. He patted the stone and started to walk away. All good things came to an end, he thought.

His jaw clenched.

But this wasn’t supposed to.

John walked out of the cemetery and back to the city, running a finger along the bite marks on his neck, still as fresh as they were 150 years ago. Eternity was too long a time to be spent alone.

Word Count: 509

WEP December Challenge – Holiday Celebrations That Are Out of This World

The month of December brought with it a brand new writing challenge from the good folks over at WEP, and I eagerly added my name to the list of participants. Then my blogging schedule went sideways and I completely forgot to submit an entry. Gahh! Sorry Yolanda and Denise!

It’s doubly frustrating because Christmas is probably my favorite occasion of the year, and I was looking forward to writing a festive tale. Ah well. I can still do that, I suppose.

In the spirit of giving, I’m going to share the stories of everyone else that participated. You should definitely give them a read, preferably with a nice up of hot cocoa in hand!

Check them out here!

WEP Entry: Spectacular Settings – Otherworldly

My, how the time flies. I was excited to see the WEP challenge had begun on Wednesday, and I was preparing to have a post up within the first two days of the challenge. And now, here we are, inching towards the end and I haven’t gotten anywhere yet!

If you’re looking to dabble in procrastination, I wouldn’t recommend it. But enough digression. Let’s get to the heart of the matter. First of all, a big thank you to Denise and Yolanda for hosting this event, and a special shout out to Damyanti, whose blog post introduced me to the event. She’s definitely one to check out and follow.

Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, and I could pick any of his amazing and imaginative settings, from the fairy tale kingdom in The Sleeper and The Spindle to the ‘underground’ London of Neverwhere. But perhaps one of his most memorable settings is the ‘Other’ world in the novella Coraline (later adapted into an animated film).

A young girl, the titular Coraline, looks for a way out of her boring existence and stumbles into another world, accessed by a secret doorway in her new house. The new world is similar to her own, but not quite the same. Her ‘other’ parents are more loving and her ‘other’ neighbors fascinating. But there’s a darker side to this world that becomes visible soon enough…

This is one of many moments where Coraline discovers that world’s true face:

Up through the hole came the smell of damp clay, and something else, an acrid tang like sour vinegar.

Coraline let herself down into the hole, looking nervously at the trapdoor. It was so heavy that if it fell she was sure she would be trapped down in the darkness forever. She put up a hand and touched it, but it stayed in position. And then she turned toward the darkness below, and she walked down the steps. Set into the wall at the bottom of the steps was another light switch, metal and rusting. She pushed it until it clicked down, and a naked bulb hanging from a wire from the low ceiling came on. It did not give up enough light even for Coraline to make out things that had been painted onto the flaking cellar walls. The paintings seemed crude. There were eyes, she could see that, and things that might have been grapes. And other things, below them. Coraline could not be sure that they were paintings of people.

There was a pile of rubbish in one corner of the room: cardboard boxes filled with mildewed papers and decaying curtains in a heap beside them.

Coraline’s slippers crunched across the cement floor. The bad smell was worse, now. She was ready to turn and leave, when she saw the foot sticking out from beneath the pile of curtains.

She took a deep breath (the smells of sour wine and moldy bread filled her head) and she pulled away the damp cloth, to revel something more or less the size and shape of a person.

For what’s supposed to be a children’s story, the story creates a very disturbing and unsettling atmosphere. This chapter, where Coraline confronts one of the story’s antagonists, is probably one of my favorite moments from the book, because it’s something that seems to belong in a horror film. The acrid smell, the faded inhuman imagery on the walls, and the lump of clay that had once imitated a human form. All of that comes together in grotesque harmony. That this scene was altered so significantly is one of my biggest disappointments with the movie adaptation.

For the second part of the challenge, I’m trotting out an old story of mine. I had written it for a fiction challenge over a year ago. The original story was mostly about the character interaction, but I’ve changed and expanded it to highlight the setting and build up the atmosphere some more. Hopefully, it sets the right tone.

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He does not sleep.

He does not eat. Or speak. Or even breathe. He just sits in his old chair, hollow gaze fixed on the door.  Almost as if he’s waiting for someone. Or something.

His daughter is his only companion in that frigid waste. She had come here many months ago, leaving her own life behind, to care for him. Far from city streets that were teeming with life and clamoring with noise, she found herself surrounded by eternal winter. The sky in these parts was always the color of stone, the land always covered in snow. Ashen trees dotted the landscape, their twisted, jagged branches raised in a grotesque salute.

She could not tell where the cabin was. Whether it was the east or the west, north or south. She just knew it was there, amidst the ice and the rocks. Its warm mahogany walls almost glowed like dull embers against the stark landscape. Where the wood from the cabin had come from was a mystery. There were no trees like it in the area, and no trace of living beings that could have brought the wood there. But it did not matter. It was her father’s home, the place he had called home for the past fifteen years, ever since her mother’s passing. His rare excursions to the city soon stopped entirely, and her visits were infrequent. But she knew she would be needed there soon.

He was getting old, but refused to admit it. He was a man of rituals and routine, and he would not allow her to disrupt them. Every morning, he would rise and go hunting to bring back food. She was a more than capable hunter herself, but he was an exceptionally stubborn man, and so she stayed home, carrying on with her daily chores and cooking for the both of them. She would ask him about the hunt when he came home, and he would tell her, adding his own embellishments where necessary.

That morning, she had felt something wrong. It was colder than usual, with strong, icy winds slicing through the air. Even the fire would not warm their little cabin. She had told him not to go out; they had provisions to last them another week. But he was stubborn as always. The hunt was an almost sacred ritual for him. So he had left in the dim gray light of the day, and when darkness came, it did not bring him back with it.

She was anxious. What had happened? Had he gotten lost? Fallen somewhere? The weather would not have been kind to his old bones. She gathered up some supplies and decided to go in search of him. She had to find him, whatever the risk. As she was preparing to leave, she felt a wave of uneasiness pass through her, followed by a horrific, rotting stench. The door of the cabin opened and he entered. She would have rushed to help him, to inquire about where he was, to see if he was alright. Instead she stood in place, petrified by the sight in front of her.

He had come home, but he was not the same man, if he was still a man at all. His skin was dried out and leathery, stretched tightly over his bones, as if he had been mummified for centuries. His face was gaunt and skeletal, mouth contorted into a ghoulish rictus. And his eyes, his brilliant blue eyes that seemed to twinkle when he told one of his hunting tales, were gone. Empty sockets stared at her listlessly, and yet, she felt they saw more than she could imagine. She wanted to scream, but her voice was buried deep inside her. As she fought the nausea that was threatening to overtake her, he latched the door, walked over to his old wooden chair and sat down, eyeless gaze fixed on the entrance of the cabin.

That is how it has been for the past three days. She tries to search for some sense of normalcy, carrying out her daily chores and cooking meals for both of them. She leaves a plate for him at the table. But he does not eat. She tries talking to him, trying to understand what has happened. But he does not speak.

He just sits in his chair, hollow gaze fixed on the door. Almost as if waiting for someone. Or something.

He does not sleep.

She dares not sleep.

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