#AtoZChallenge: Village of Villainy

The village of Bösedorf lies nestled somewhere near the Vogelsberg mountains, hidden away from most folk. It is often referred to as the Village of Villainy.

You might wonder why, and that would be a perfectly valid question to ask. Though really, if you think about it, the answer lies right in the name.

The Village of Villainy is a village full of villains. Hence the name Village of Villainy.

Thieves, highway robbers, cut-throats, swindlers and misers inhabit this sorry hovel of a village. They spend their days plotting their next heinous acts, and their nights in drunken revelry and debauchery. Oh, so much debauchery. I could spin a tale just out of that, but it would be inappropriate for most readers except those of a particularly saucy disposition.

But enough about the debauchery.

Many rumors and legends abound about the founding of Bosedorf. Some claim that the notorious robber baron Heinrich Heinrich had fled his homeland and created the village as a haven for vile fiends and rogues. Other believed that an ancient order of monks had founded Bosedorf to aid mankind but that their plans had gone horrendously awry when one of their own made a pact with dark forces and cast a shadow over the whole village. A more mundane theory suggested that escaped prisoners had settled there to hide out from the law and ended up forming a community over time. It’s the more likely explanation, but people usually go with the monk story.

Now in fairness I must admit that Bosedorf is not a bad place to pass through, provided you don’t have too many valuables on your person. The roguish sort do know how to have a good time, after all, and they know their way around an alehouse. But try not to stay there too long, or you may find yourself missing a few items, such as clothes or money or limbs. But if you can ignore the potential for destitution and doom, Bosedorf is not too bad a place at all.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Untitled

Uther The Bold.

Unther The Dashing.

Ungular The Narcoleptic.

Urden looked at the plaques under her ancestors’ portraits and sighed. They all held great titles and were known throughout the kingdom for their mighty feats. At the end of the hall was a space for her portrait and an empty plaque. One day, it would read ‘Urden’. But what would follow her name? What would be her title and legacy? She had not achieved anything worthy of a title so far in her life, and she had no idea where to even begin.

Her father, Ulasfur The Firestarter, was legendary for his bomb making skills, which he used to defeat invaders and, well, anyone that upset him.

Her mother, Undilien The Hammerer, inspired awe and fear with her feats of strength, most of which involved using her fists like hammers and the heads of her enemies like nails.

Her brother, Urdar The Knife Eater, built his reputation on a most bizarre appetite.

And then there was Urden. Just Urden. She was not extraordinarily strong or skilled with weapons. She certainly didn’t like the taste of knives.

All she had was her imagination, dreaming up impressive acts that she might one day perform, such as defeating the Five-Mouthed Narglebeast or conquering distant kingdoms.

As she pondered her future and the name that would one day be inscribed on her plaque, she put her imagined feats to parchment, penning fantastical chronicles of a mighty warrior. She didn’t want anyone to know she was writing about herself, so she made up a name for the heroine of her story: Ularda Toothsmasher. That sounded good.

She would sometimes read aloud from her stories, giving voice to Ularda’s many exploits. One day, her father’s cup bearer overheard part of the story, where Ularda was fighting the Narglebeast with her bare hands, and mistook it for truth. He then told the story to her mother’s armor polisher, who told some of her friends. Thus did the tales of Ularda spread, causing quite a stir throughout the kingdom as everyone pondered over this fearsome warrior they had only just heard of.

Urdar would talk about her at length, of how he would one day like to meet her and impress by devouring an entire battleaxe. Ulasfur wondered if she would be interested in adding some bombs to her arsenal, and Undilien vowed to fight alongside her to the death. Urden remained silent during these discussions. She neither praised nor condemned this mysterious new warrior.

Cults were built around Ularda, fanatics praising her name and trying to divine every minute aspect of her life. Where she was born, where she grew up, who her family was, if she had any suitors. Urden’s little tale had gotten out of control.

She could keep it a secret no longer. Urden confessed to creating Ularda and her stories. Her parent didn’t believe her at first, but she showed them the parchments and the little portraits she had made. Once the truth was out, she expected the worst.

Much to her astonishment, there was no punishment. Rather, people were amazed at her storytelling skill and asked that she tell them more tales about Ularda Toothsmasher. Urden was more than happy to oblige.

She wrote many more stories about the fearsome warrior and, over time, wrote about many others as well. Wizards and mages, proud orc chiefs and conniving goblin shamans. The kingdom was enraptured by her fanciful tales.

At last the time came to add Urden’s portrait to that of her ancestral line. There was only one title that seemed fitting:

Urden The Author.

#AtoZChallenge: Time Lapse

It was another quiet summer day. Tina Davis was in the kitchen, washing the dishes after lunch. she was trying not to cry too audibly, lest her seven year daughter Sandy hear her.

Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia only a month ago, but things were already looking grim. It wouldn’t be too long before she had to be put into hospice care. Tina didn’t want to dwell on what would happen after that. How could things possibly have gone so wrong? She put the last plate on the rack to dry and walked out the back door into her yard.

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her apron and put one between her lips. She’d given up smoking almost a year ago, but it was the only solace she could find from everything that was happening.

As Tina fumbled in the pockets of her apron for a lighter, she saw a strange flash of light in the small wooded area behind the house, right near the neighbors’ yard. A glowing door had appeared there. Through squinted eyes, Tina could just make out a shape emerging from the door, which closed immediately after.

The figure that emerged from the door was dressed like an astronaut, or rather, a child’s idea of what an astronaut looked like. It wore a bulky rust-colored suit with a large chestplate that had a timer on it. Black tubes ran from the plate to the helmet of the suit, which was opaque. Yet somehow, Tina had the sense that the thing was looking right at her. It flipped open the visor of its helmet to reveal darkness. It had no face or head. Just a swirling void. Tina felt her mouth go dry and an odd tingling sensation all over her body, as if she had just touched a doorknob after shuffling her feet on the carpet.

The sensation stopped.

Tina couldn’t remember why she had come into the yard. She looked around at the cloudless sky, the lush trees, the empty space by the neighbor’s yard. What was she doing out here?

“Mum!”

Sandy’s voice jerked Tina back to the present. She turned to see her smiling face on the other side of the kitchen door. Tina smiled back. She still couldn’t believe the miracle that was standing in front of her. It was close to two years ago that Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia, doomed to never recover from it. But then, she got better. Tina didn’t remember how. In fact, she couldn’t remember the past year at all. All she knew was that Sandy was alive, and one of the happiest nine year olds she had ever seen.


 

Dr. Adam Wilfrey walked up the steps to the Bureau of Time Management, fumbling in his coat pocket for his ID card. Doris at the security desk buzzed him through.

“Ah, thanks, Doris,” he said, still trying to find the card as he walked to the elevator. “Oh, and good morning!”

Doris smiled and shook her head.

The Bureau of Time Management was a nondescript office building in London’s West End. It had been established a few years ago, when time travel had started to become commonplace, and temporal anomalies started popping up from misuse of the technology. The Bureau was formed to track and contain the anomalies and to make sure that there were no lasting disruptions in the time stream.

Adam Wilfrey was in charge of the Bureau and liked to get in early to make sure everything was running smoothly. He made himself a cup of tea in the break room and walked into the main laboratory to check on the chronometers. They were running as expected. Dr. Wilfrey took a satisfied sip of his tea, but didn’t get to savor it for long. He was staring at one of the chronometers, which was showing something rather odd.

The previous year was missing. All of it. But there were no alarms, no notifications. Nothing at all to indicate that something was wrong.

Dr. Wilfrey put down his tea and picked up the phone on the desk. It was going to be a very long morning.

#AtoZChallenge: Sweetest Sound

Sonmore High School was quiet at midday, quieter than it had ever been.

Most of the students were in class.

A small group was hiding under the bleachers out by the football field. One of them had a packet of cigarettes, stolen from his mother.

A couple of young lovebirds had snuck into one of the supply closets to fool around.

Ms. Tanner was writing out an equation on the board. Her chalk slid along the slate surface without making a sound. Her students looked at each other in confusion.

Mr. Patrick’s class had been giggling about his odd haircut mere moments ago. Their grins turned to shocked stares as their voices died in their throats.

Stacy Hicks had been reading aloud from MacBeth in English class. She continued sounding out the words, looking around the room for any signs that the others heard her, growing more frantic as she saw the fear on their faces.

The boy by the football field dropped his cigarettes when he could no longer hear his friends joking amongst each other.

The couple in the supply closet screamed when their loving moans died away, but nobody heard them.

Not a sound was heard anywhere in the school. No talking. No yelling. No laughter. No droning lectures. No footsteps. No heartbeats.

Ms. Sybil walked into the library with a smile on her face. Silence at last. Just the way she liked it.

#AtoZChallenge: Rained Out

“Another ‘impossible drowning’ case. Victim found dead in a suite at the Chesterton Hotel. This one’s even weirder than the others.”

“How’s that?”

“The suite’s on the 50th floor.”

“Damn. How the hell does that even happen?”

“Ya got me, partner.”

Detective Roger Bakshi was stumped, and he wasn’t the sort of man who was stumped easily. Three murder victims in the same week. All three drowned. None of them were near a body of water. A waterlogged car sitting in a garage, a greenhouse that got turned into an aquarium, and now this. It didn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Two men and a woman. Different ages. Not all the same race. No professional connection. No common interests. No thread that ran through them. But they had obviously been killed by the same guy. Or gal. How, though? How does someone flood a sealed room unnoticed? Even clogging the toilet and tub wouldn’t cause that to happen.

Bakshi arrived at the Chesterton and was escorted up by the manager.

His partner, Chandni Harrison, was already at the crime scene. His scuffed shoes squelched on the wet carpet as he walked over to her.

“So, what have we got?”

Chandni gestured to the bloated gray body lying on the giant double bed at one end of the suite. “Meet Prabhat Wallace. CEO of HighPoint, an online rag focused on celebrity gossip and ridiculous rumors. He was found by the housekeeping staff in the morning when they went to clean his room and noticed a large puddle of water under the door. Little did they know that was just a teaser.”

She tapped her foot on the floor, which reeked of mildew. “The victim was probably killed last night, though there wasn’t any record of him having visitors.

His body fell onto the bed when the water was drained. That’s about all we can determine for now. Course, it doesn’t look like he was getting ready to turn in for the night.”

The victim was dressed in a loud buttoned shirt and slacks, probably on his way out to enjoy the nightlife or have a few drinks at the hotel bar. A look of shock was frozen onto his bloated face. No kidding. Who wouldn’t be shocked about drowning in their hotel room? Aside from every surface being wet or water damaged, there wasn’t a trace of outside interference.

“He wasn’t planning to go for a swim either. Did the killer use a fireman’s hose or something?”

“Thing is, there’s no record of abnormally high water usage in this area. It didn’t come from the faucets or the fire hydrant at the end of the street.”

Bakshi rubbed his stubbled chin in frustration. This case was making less sense by the minute.

One of the uniformed officers approached them. “Detectives. This might be of interest.”

He held up a book that was found hidden in the victim’s briefcase. On the front cover, bold, snaking letters read: ‘Indraloka: Cult of the Rain God’. The two detectives exchanged a look.

“So our guy was in a cult?” Chandni asked.

“Looks like it. And, hey, hold on a second.” Bakshi’s brow crinkled. “I’ve seen that book somewhere before – Professor Mitra!”

“The history professor who drowned in his car?”

“Yes! I saw a copy of the book in his house!”

Chandni’s eyes narrowed. “You’re right. I remember seeing it too. Second row on his bookshelf. Wanna bet the third victim had a copy as well?”

The faintest trace of a grin crossed Bakshi’s face. “That’s just easy money.”

The both of them thanked the officer, then headed back to the station. Cult of the Rain God? That might explain why the victims were drowned. But it still didn’t provide a damn clue about how.


 

“Need anything else?”

The waitress had a pretty smile. He had noticed that the moment he walked into the place. She could easily have been half apsara. He smiled back at her with a radiance that belied his drab gray clothes.

“No, thank you. Just the check please.”

He looked out the window after she had gone. Fat drops of rain splattered against the glass; it sounded like the tapping of giant fingers. He could have stopped it with a mere thought, caused the clouds to retreat and brought the sun out again. But he liked the rain. There was beauty in the chaos of the storm, in the symphony of thunder and lightning. If it were up to him, he would spend the rest of the day sitting by that window, humming to the rhythm of the rain.

Idly, he ran a finger along the water glass in front of him, causing its contents to bubble and froth like the ocean on a stormy night. He put a stop to it before the waitress returned.

The man in the gray overcoat paid his bill, left a generous tip and walked out the door. The whole world was dripping wet, but not a single drop of rain touched him. They merely bounced off, as if they were little rubber balls.

He took a small notebook out of his pocket and consulted the list of names written on the first page. Three had already been crossed out. He traced a finger along the fourth, then put the notebook back.

It was time to go to work.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Quantum Dislocation, or The Assassin Who Brought No Spare Pants

Quentin was stuck and couldn’t see any way out. When he had woken up that morning to the chiming melody of his holo-alarm, he couldn’t possibly have guessed that mere hours later, he’d be sinking in quicksand. Yet there he was. Life could be funny sometimes. Not funny like a good joke, but you get the point.

He was sinking fast and had not time for a flashback, but Quentin would be damned if he didn’t get some exposition in before dying.

Quentin Fiddleswitch was what they called a ‘ghost’. Not in the sense that he was dead, but more in the sense that he could phase between dimensions at will. He could, for example, exit the dimension of this story and enter the world where you’re sitting at your computer reading this. Or at least, he could if he still had his phase disruptor with him. Alas, he did not. All he had was a very sinking feeling and an aversion to bad puns.

I should also probably mention that he was an assassin. That’s important for the next part of the story.

Quentin had been hired by The Organization (a secret society so secretive that they didn’t even have a real name) to eliminate a high-ranking government official, because who would bother paying him for one of the low-ranking officials? Or an intern? Could you imagine a man such as Quentin Fiddleswitch being hired to kill an intern? Hardly.

The official was a member of the Council for Inter-Dimensional Regulation and Safety Against Interlopers From Other Dimensions, which, aside from being a terribly impractical name, also meant bad news for Quentin and his ilk. So he set out on his task, gathering intel on his target and working out the best way to kill him and make it look like an accident. When you’re a shadowy and ominous group like The Organization, it seems you would just kill people and not worry about your PR, but they were very finicky about hiding their involvement in these things. It didn’t really matter to Quentin as long as he got paid.

At last he had the perfect plan. The official was going on a jungle expedition in a parallel universe. Some sort of inter-dimensional political maneuver, but basically a paid vacation and photo-op. Quentin knew exactly what he had to do. It involved an irate crocodile (though on further examination, he was certain it was an alligator), a poison dart, two cans of whipped cream and a pit of quicksand. It was inspired. A true work of art. A plan so ingenious that it would be pointless to explain it as you lot wouldn’t comprehend its sublime intricacies anyway.

No offense to you.

But it was a good plan.

However, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the introductory paragraph, things did not go to plan. Of course you did. I never doubted your intelligence for a second.

Through a series of rather improbable and frankly ludicrous events, Quentin ended up accidentally phasing into his own trap. The alligator ran off with his disruptor belt, the official escaped unharmed (and with several lovely pictures of his expedition to have as keepsakes or to share with strangers on the webbosphere) and all Quentin had left was a half empty can of whipped cream. It was of no use to him at all, so he threw it away.

He was struggling to escape and regretting the little detour into the past. Instead of narrating previous events, I could have been talking about how he got out of his perilous situation. But then how would you have caught up on what’s happened? It’s not like there’s a pamphlet accompanying this story or anything.

As he sank another inch, Quentin realized there was only one way out of this. He needed a deus ex machina. An author-devised solution that would save him from the most impossible odds. Fortunately, he had one. An improbable series of events that led to Quentin being pulled out of the quicksand by the very same alligator that had put him there. Call it irony, providence or contrived drivel, it did the trick. Quentin was out. Unfortunately, he was also naked and watched the collar of his shirt disappeared into the pit with a sorry gloop.

After a grueling gator-wrestling session, Quentin retrieved his phase disruptor belt. Since he had failed in his mission, he needed to get away and lay low for a while. The governments of several dimensions would be displeased about the attempted assassination and The Organization didn’t forgive failure. Though honestly, it wouldn’t be much of an evil society if it did.

So Quentin strapped on his belt and piloted a course for the one dimension where he could be safe for a while. I can’t really tell you where he went,of course, but it’s a place where The Organization’s influence doesn’t extend. Not yet, anyway, but that would be a story for another time.

So that’s it then, the tale of Quentin Fiddleswitch and his failed assassination attempt. You can move along and get back to your daily lives. Writing biographies or shopping for new hats or whatever it is people do in their spare time. And if you happen to see a naked little man wearing a strange belt run past, don’t be alarmed.

Just find him some pants.

#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.