Spring Ceramic DMô: WINNER POSTED! - Page 19
  1. #181
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    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    Oh, one quick question. Need the illustrations be used in the order presented, or can they go anywhere? Do I have to have the big hat before the big stone head, or can they be shuffled and such?

  2. #182
    I'm not an official, but I have never used pictures in order, I think you can use them any way you want.

  3. #183
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  4. #184
    Any old order has always worked around here RW.

  5. #185
    Quote Originally Posted by alsih2o
    Any old order has always worked around here RW.
    There you have it from the man himself.
    Good thing to, I had started worrying that I might have really screwed up by not using them in order... not that I've ever used them in order, but still, you had me worried.

  6. #186
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    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    Bah. Any true writer would have done it The Tarantino Way(tm), and just put the scenes in the most achronological order possible. It's artsier that way.
    Last edited by RangerWickett; Saturday, 10th April, 2004 at 12:46 AM.

  7. #187
    Ceramic DM Match-Up 1-3: Drose25 vs. Berandor

    Desert Snakes

    When I saw what remained of FranÁois, it was all I could do not to cry. Martine had led me into the laboratory, where the best scientists the department could afford would examine his body - just as they had done with the previous agents.
    "Are you sure that's him?"
    Martine nodded solemnly, like she used to do when confirming what people already knew.
    "The DNA check was positive."
    FranÁois LeBoef had always been proud of his good physique. As I looked at him now, he resembled an emaciated Atlas, bereft of his burden. Some scientist, probably thinking of himself as funny, had arranged the remains of another agent so that it seemed as if FranÁois told a tale: his hands held over his head, his mouth open in a silent scream, the beard on his chin. I had known him well, but now I needed a DNA check to recognize him. He had been my mentor, my father figure ever since I joined the secret intelligence agency known as Tricolore.
    And now he was dead, having suffered the same fate as three other agents before him. His skin had shriveled and turned metallic green, the flesh beneath had drained away. Muscles had tensed, bones had melded, until he stood still as a statue, a macabre testament to HYDRA's might.
    My thoughts turned to FranÁois' latest assignment - his final assignment. As his liaison, I was familiar with the details of the operation. He had tried to uncover the identity of the White Queen, head of HYDRA's Arabian department. All we knew was her being a woman. The White Queen always wore a mask of porcelain. Tricolore had worked on uncovering her identity for five years now, ever since she had assumed leadership over the terrorist organization's muslim movement. Three - now four - agents had died trying to get a look at her face.
    I reached out my hand until my fingers brushed over FranÁois' brittle skin.
    "Why don't we just kill her?" I knew the answer, but I had to hear it again, had to see whether it still made sense. Martine seemed to sense my inner turmoil.
    "We cannot kill the Queen because we don't know what would happen in the emerging power vacuum. When you cut off a hydra's head, two more grow in its stead. We have to find out how to cauterize the wound first, and knowing the White Queen's identity-"
    "-knowing her identity might allow us to," I finished her lecture.
    "Or so we thought," she continued. "As it stands, we have already lost four of our best agents, and we haven't progressed very far. I am considering whether to concentrate on other matters at the moment, lull the Queen into a false sense of security?"
    As she looked at me, I was amazed once more how well she knew her agents. Martine Lautrec had been promoted to head Tricolore's anti-terrorist branch just two years ago; still, she knew the ins and outs of her subordinates as if she had worked with them for decades. I was no exception.
    "I will finish the assignment."
    Martine had already prepared my cover identity and booked the flight to Tunis.

    The White Queen's headquarter was situated right in the middle of the Tunisian desert. I would be going in as Boris Levchenkov, a Russian ex-general. Levchenkov was interested in selling high-quality biological weapons; HYDRA was interested in buying them.
    The cover had originally been intended for FranÁois. On the one hand, it reminded me of his death; on the other hand, it felt right to finish his job using this identity.
    As I stepped out of the plane into the Tunisian heat, I stifled a sigh. I had always preferred humid climate to the dry heat of desert regions. Here, it only took a few minutes for your throat to become parched no matter how much water you drank.
    The department had provided me with a simple-yet-effective disguise: a grey-haired wig and a false beard. Daphne Dutroux, our resident specialist for disguises, had assured me the props would withstand all but the worst wear and tear.
    Two bearded Arabs had picked me up with a hand-written sign - it said "Lebjenkoff" - at Tunis airport and sat me in the back of an old military jeep. They hadn't even bothered to search me. It showed me how secure they felt; plus, I didn't have to worry about them finding my hidden weapons: a ceramic knife and a small handgun.
    As we left Tunis and headed into the desert, I tried to start a conversation.
    "Say, how long have you two been in the business now?" I spoke with a thick Russian accent. They didn't speak at all.
    "The White Queen - that sounds like chess to me. In Russia, everybody plays chess. Do any of you play chess?" Again, I received no answer, no sign they had even understood me. For a moment, I entertained the notion that I had gone with the wrong Arabs, and that the real Mr. Lebjenkoff - a harmless veterinarian, no doubt - was being transported to the White Queen by a group of six armed terrorists. It was too hot for such silliness, though, so I simply sat back on my seat, trying to enjoy the ride.
    I used the time to sweat profusely, and to go through the details of the operation again. Once we would arrive at the citadel Al'Zahra, I would pretend to be tired, and in need of drinks. Hopefully, the inhabitants of the citadel and its surrounding camp would leave me alone and schedule any negotiations for the next day. I would use the evening to formulate my plan, and the night to sneak into the citadel's central chamber, finally uncovering the White Queen's true visage.
    The fingers of my right hand slid over my watch and the emergency transmitter hidden within. Once activated, a Special Forces unit would hone in on the signal, fly in with a helicopter, and get me out - shriveled or alive. I had decided to also call them once I knew who hid behind the Queen's porcelain mask. I didn't want to stay a moment longer than I needed with FranÁois' killers. Let them know we knew who the Queen was - that's how these games were played, anyway, wasn't it?
    Suddenly having a sour taste in my mouth, I spat over the open side of the jeep. The man sitting next to the driver turned around and said in barely understandable English,
    "It is foolish to waste water, Lebjenkoff. In the desert, your life depends on every drop."
    I simply smiled surly and held up the bottle of Evian I had bought at duty-free.

    The citadel Al'Zahra was a hundred and twenty feet tall. A narrow pathway snaked its way upward like a corkscrew's blades, while the building itself grew ever more narrow the higher you got. At the top, the architects of old had erected a small shrine to whatever gods they paid homage. Now, the White Queen used the shrine as her abode, towering over her loyal subjects like the superior being she felt she was. Around the shrine, protected from falling by a rusty rail, six guards overlooked the surrounding desert, and the small encampment that had grown at the base of the citadel.
    We approached the camp from what seemed to be the only road leading to it. I could see several men walking about, dressed in thawbs, traditional Arab garb. Military vehicle were interspersed between the tents, jeeps and trucks alike. The wind had become stronger, and clouds of sand billowed through the camp like insect swarms.
    The driver - I had secretly dubbed him Ali, and his companion Ahmed - stopped the jeep twenty feet away from the first tent. Two guards, also dressed in thawbs but armed with Kalashnikov rifles, watched me intently as Ali reiterated my cover story to them. I did not let on that I understood Arab, but listening in didn't tell me anything useful, either.
    We were allowed to enter, and Ali drove the car next to the biggest tent in the camp.
    "Canteen," Ahmed said, pointing at it. Indicating another tent, "You sleep there."
    I answered in my best fatigued-Russian accent, "Thank you, my friend. Is there any place I could freshen up a little?"
    "The well is right there."
    I thanked him again and turned towards the well. As I had feared, Ahmed fell in line behind me. They wouldn't let me stroll through the camp alone. At the well, I pulled up a bucket of water and splashed my face. Now my beard was soaked with sweat and water alike, and I was thankful for Daphne's skill with disguises. I had to remember buying her some chocolate when I got home, if only for her desert-proof beard.
    Ahmed regarded me with stern disapproval. To him, I had probably wasted water once again. The man started to annoy me. Perhaps I could get him drunk?
    "Ahh. That's better," I smiled and grabbed his arm, leading him towards the canteen. "Let's have a drink!"
    He shook off my hand, but followed me into the tent. Wooden benches and equally long tables where men sat side-by-side had been erected, eating broth and drinking - tea?
    At the back of the tent, a low table held a big pot of steaming hot broth, dozens of filigreed glasses filled with tealeaves, and a kettle of hot water. Ahmed took one of the glasses and filled it with water from the kettle, then waited for me to do the same.
    "Don't you have something more ... spirited," I asked him, flashing my disarmingly charming smile?
    "We don't drink alcohol. It clouds the mind."
    "Of course it does." It seemed that to get rid of Ahmed, I would have to resort to violence. Remembering FranÁois, I actually looked forward to breaking the Arab's neck. But for now, I filled a glass with hot water for myself. The tealeaves swirled around in a joyous dance, reminding me of a Maltese festivity FranÁois and I had once been to. I remembered him dancing with the Maltese chancellor's wife, and the fistfight with the chancellor's bodyguards when he sent them after us. Those had been good times.
    I was pulled out of my reverie as a woman entered the tent, bowing low to step under the flaps. She was of African descent, her hair cropped short. Her muscular build and military dress identified her as a member of Liberia's Black Widows. A few years ago, I had met one of them on a mission in Liberia. She had nearly killed me before I managed to punch my finger through her left eye. With president Taylor out of office, the deadly cadre of female soldiers had gone underground.
    When the woman straightened up, I noticed the eye patch. Over her left eye. It was Iami Ja'neh, the woman I had fought on the balcony of the embassy! And it seemed losing her eye hadn't worsened her sight, because she recognized me at the same time I did.
    "You? Pierre Vacher?" She almost ran to me, grabbed the beard, and pulled it off. It felt as if she had pulled the skin off with it. Red dots of pain danced before my eyes. Daphne would have to get her chocolate from someone else, I thought as the pain subsided.
    I could see Ja'neh's face twist into a grimace of hatred and surprise, and I could almost hear her lungs filling with air for a piercing cry. Next to me, Ahmed was still struggling to understand what was happening, giving me a moment's time. I splashed my tea into Ja'neh's face. Her scream turned into one of pain, and I followed up with a punch at her chin. She went down like a sack of wet rice. I ran.
    As the tent flaps exploded outward, spilling me out into the desert, I could hear the first cries of alarm. Ahmed had finally caught up with the action. As I turned towards the citadel, my fingers found the emergency button on my watch, and pressed it. In roughly five minutes, the helicopter would arrive to save me. I just hoped I would be still alive when it came.
    Dashing through the camp, I glanced up the citadel. The guards had apparently heard the alarm and were quickly descending the staircase. Still running, I drew my knife with the left hand, and the small pistol with my right. Just as I reached the base of the citadel, shots echoed through the air, and the ground left to me exploded into dirt and sand. I took two stairs at a time, not bothering to watch the camp, but looking up to see one of the guards pointing his machine gun at me. I shot before he did. He toppled forward, a bullet in his chest, and fell onto the ground below. I continued my sprint.
    From the camp, I could hear the hectic symphony of shouts, gunfire, and bullets whirring through the air. Luckily, they only hit the walls of the citadel, tearing through clay and sand instead of flesh and blood. Ahead of me, the first guard turned around the corner. I rushed forward, firing three bullets into him, and reached the second guard before he knew I was on him. My knife punched through his stomach, and he fell onto me like a wet sack. I used his body as a shield as I fired shots at the next guards, killing the third one before he had the chance to fire back. The fourth guard knelt down and pulled his rifle's trigger. Bullets hit the back of the guard I was holding, spraying my face with blood, their impact forcing me a step down. I emptied my magazine at him, and he fell backwards. With the guard lying on the ground below, that left one more to kill. I watched the corner for any sign of him when my instincts kicked in.
    The last guard had gone up again, circling the citadel until he was right above me. Right now, he was aiming at me, taking his time for the killing shot. I could see the surprised look on his face when I suddenly fell on my back, grabbing the dead guard's machine gun in the process. I riddled him with bullets.
    "Six down, the Queen to go."
    I didn't have time to celebrate my victory, so I rolled up and continued my ascent, taking the Kalashnikov with me. A few breaths later, I had reached the top. The stairs ended opposite from the entrance to the shrine, so I circled the building, looking for any sign of trouble. I didn't see trouble coming, but it came nonetheless.
    Massive hands grabbed me and threw me against the iron rail. It groaned under the sudden weight. The hands threw me against the shrine's wall, and it was my turn to groan. The machine gun fell from my hands, and I fell to the floor.
    Looking up, I saw a bald man, build like an ox, standing over me. Instead of wearing a white thawb, he was dressed in black, and he was smiling a toothless smile, his mouth a gaping maw big enough for my head to fit in.
    "You came to kill our Queen," he bellowed, "but the Queen cannot be killed by the likes of you."
    I looked around for my gun, but the Kalashnikov lay behind him on the ground. The man continued his speech.
    "Instead, you are going to die." He began to make retching noises, and for a moment I thought he would puke on me. Then his throat widened, and a viper's head snaked from his mouth, followed by another one! Snakes emerged from his throat, half a dozen or more, scales glistening with spittle and bile. I could feel getting sick, my stomach was turning, and the man laughed. It was a strange laugh, nearly drowned out by the hissing of the snakes and the scratching of scales on scales, and mangled by the snakes firmly connected to his throat.
    The snakes thrust forward, but I flipped backwards, dodging their bite. The man simply motioned for me to come forward again. The snakes pulled back, readying themselves to strike. The machine gun was out of my reach, and the knife wouldn't do me much good against this monster. The man laughed again.
    I threw my knife at him, deliberately missing him by a few inches. As he turned to dodge the throw, I rushed him, pushing my shoulder deep into his stomach. I could feel the snakes biting into my flesh, tearing skin and fabric alike, drawing blood. I could feel him stumbling backwards against the rail. I could feel poison pumping through my veins. I could hear the grating moan and shudder from the impact. I could hear the snakes hissing spitefully, drawing back for another strike. I could hear the rails giving way, bending, breaking. I could feel the man toppling backwards, over the broken railing. I could hear his muffled scream as he fell. And even as he stopped screaming, even as I forced myself up from kneeling, as I took up the Kalashnikov again, I could feel the poison coursing through me, burning away my strength.
    I entered the shrine. The room was about twenty feet in diameter, lit by candles burning in closed-off windowsills. It was lavishly decorated, full of plum cushions and silken tapestries. The smell of expensive perfume and scented candles hung thick in the air like the stench of a dead animal.
    An especially big cushion had covered an escape hatch. The cushion lay to the side now, the hatch invitingly open. At the far end of the room, a modern computer displayed the sigil of HYDRA, a globe held by nine serpentine heads. In front of the computer, with her back to me, stood the White Queen.
    Her skin had the color of cedar wood, with her dress reminding of freshly fallen snow. Her arms and feet were exposed, but her hair was covered by the same white silk her dress was made of.
    "Did you kill him," she asked with a husky voice. She took something from the computer and fastened it somewhere in front of her.
    As the White Queen turned around, she hesitated only for a miniscule moment, her brown eyes narrowing, before she regained her cool. The usual porcelain mask hid her face, enhancing her cool demeanor. Her dress opened up at chest level, and I could see she had bound her breasts with white gauze. An ornate heart brooch made of bronze-like metal dangled from her waist.
    She tilted her head slightly and asked,
    "What did you do to my guard?"
    "He wanted to have his snakes and eat them, too." It was the kind of clichť pun that FranÁois would have been proud of, but still I didn't feel any smarter for saying it.
    For a moment, we simply stared at each other. In the distance, the sound of a helicopter could be heard. I gathered that right now, a dozen or more men were ascending the citadel. At the same time, I had been poisoned. I didn't know who would reach me first, helicopter, guards, or poison, but I knew I didn't have much time. I pointed the machine gun at the Queen.
    "Wait." Her voice cut through me, right into my brain. It was a voice full of promises, promises of lust and love, of sin and virtue at the same time. Her hazel eyes locked with mine. I could not look away.
    "Don't you want to see my face?" Of course I wanted to! That's what I had come for, after all. If I didn't see her face, all would have been for naught. I wanted to tell her, but my mouth was dry, too dry to speak, so I just nodded.
    She lifted her right hand, slowly and deliberately. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I watched her delicate fingers brush against the porcelain, caress the mask as if it was a lover - as if it was me? She hesitated, her eyes probing my mind, searching for permission.
    The noise of the helicopter grew louder, and the White Queen glanced towards the escape hatch, breaking eye contact for a moment, breaking the spell she had woven. It was all the time I needed. I aimed the Kalashnikov at her face and pulled the trigger.
    The porcelain burst into blood, splashes of red spilling over cedar and snow alike. The bullets perforated her face, her skull, her brains, and the computer behind her. Her body tumbled backwards, falling onto the silken cushions, drenching them with blood. The White Queen was dead.
    The helicopter was above the camp now. I could hear the on-board machine gun spitting death. A rope ladder appeared in front of the entrance, followed by the voice of a fellow Frenchman.
    "Monsieur Vacher? Grab the ladder, if you can."
    I took a last look around the room to see whether I had overlooked anything. Acting on instinct, I grabbed the heart brooch from the Queen's body.
    As I tied the rope around my arm, I hoped that the rescue team had brought some antidote. Or, better yet, a lot.

    Fortunately, they brought antidote with them. It took me a long time to get rid of the poison's side effects, but I survived. And my instincts proved correct: the heart-shaped brooch contained a memory chip; our technicians are still trying to decipher its code.
    Since the White Queen died, a war for control has been waged in HYDRA's Arab branch. They are killing their own for a change, proving that sometimes a power vacuum isn't too bad.
    We still don't know what caused FranÁois' and the others' deaths. It seems as if the knowledge of that secret died with the Queen. We also don't know who - or what - she was.
    I guess some secrets are best left alone.

    The End

  8. #188
    Writing TimeWatch!
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    Thanks, Berandor!

    Okay, heads up, everyone: FROM NOW ON, PUT LINE BREAKS INBETWEEN PARAGRAPHS. I know it looks okay in Word without them, but the stories are much more difficult to read here if you don't. Obviously, authors who have posted shouldn't go back and edit them in, but if you haven't post your story yet please take this to heart.

    Thanks - and have a wonderful weekend.

    We'll probably start posting judgments Sunday night or on Monday. Sorry for the holiday-caused delay.

  9. #189
    Quote Originally Posted by Piratecat
    And it's worth noting that every competitor should copy down my email, so (lord forbid) if the boards crash you can email me your story before your time limit.
    Got it. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Zhaneel

  10. #190
    Would it be okay to post submissions as a pdf so we have better control over format?

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