Spring Ceramic DM™: WINNER POSTED! - Page 23
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    Random Acts of Kindness

    “And that’s why horses are illegal in this county.”

    The taser struck the horse in the thigh, and it fell, shaking.

    Hamid smiled as the peasant’s expression fell to dismay. Six county police picked up the body of the unconscious horse and dragged it to the border. Hamid wrapped his arm around the peasant’s shoulder and guided him back past the gate arm that marked the end of his territory.

    “Next time,” Hamid laughed, “come in a car.”

    The police officers dumped the horse body at the peasant’s feet, then lowered the gate arm, blocking the roadway. The peasant knelt to help his horse back to its feet, and Hamid walked away, amused. The American reporter intercepted him before he could get to the car, and her expression was disapproving.

    “Governor Ma’ruf, I’d heard stories, but they sounded far too ridiculous. Do you do this with every horse that comes here?”

    “Please, call me ‘Lord.’” Lord Hamid Ma’ruf’s English was perfect, his demeanor casual. He liked having reporters around to brag to. “And yes, I know you think I’m some kind of horrible person because, oh no, I taser horses. I have a lot to protect here, and I can’t do that if I go around just letting horses into my county, don’t you think?”

    Unflustered, the reporter pressed, “Lord Ma’ruf, we’ve all heard the rumors of how you carved out this land to be your own personal . . . county, but no one knows why. The Greek government seems afraid to come here, and we in America want someone to explain-”

    Back on the other side of the border, the horse rose to its feet and let out a soft whinny of confusion. Hamid dropped to the ground, and suddenly was unloading a pistol in the direction of the horse. The gate guards took cover from their governor’s hail of gunfire, and the peasant and the horse fled in panic, down the road and out of sight.

    Slowly, as the sounds of gunshots faded, the guards came back out. Hamid pushed himself to his feet, grinning without concern. “Okay, you’re going to want me to explain that, right?”

    The reporter nodded, pulling out a hand tape recorder. Hamid smiled. She’d never believe him, but he’d enjoy telling the tale anyway.

    “Alright then. I joined the Bureau because the job sounded like it’d be fun. You get to carry a gun and a sword to work. Plus, they provided the tailored suits.”

    “What in the world are you talking about?”

    Hamid gestured for the reporter to get into his chauffeured car. “See, the Bureau’s big into the whole, you know, save the world from evil-doers thing, and they’re one of those classic secret organizations that you see about in tabloids. You got your MIBs, your FBIs, your BFMs. Well, the Bureau’s deal is magic.”

    * * *

    The little girl looked innocent enough at first glance. Cute, harmless. Three feet of brown hair, pink bows, and flower dress. But she didn’t walk like a normal girl. And she didn’t shop like one.

    Swedish malls are strange by anyone’s standards, but even there, children don’t normally wander into occult bookstores.

    “Do you have any books on anti-magic, or counter curses?” The little girl spoke English, and the shopkeeper spoke back gibberish. The girl sighed. “Alright then. Do you have a translation spell?”

    The shopkeeper, an old man with curly nosehairs, grinned grandfatherly at her. He plucked something from a high shelf nearby and handed it to her. It was a stack of playing cards. On the back of each card was a picture of a Froud-esque faerie, something pretty that a little girl would like.

    The girl stared up at him incredulously. “I should curse you just for that, y’old bastard.”

    A woman’s scream from outside jolted the old man and young girl, and unintelligible shouts in Swedish filled the mall with the sound of mass hysteria. The girl glanced about nervously, but curiosity got the better of her. As the old shopkeeper fled into the back of the store, the girl stepped out into the main thoroughfare of the mall, and looked in the direction of the screams.

    The crowd was running in her direction, feet hammering, shouts stirring the uneasy parts of her mind. She staggered toward a potted plant in the middle of walkway, hoping to take cover. Crouching low, she covered her ears, trying to control her breathing and her heart, but she could feel bits of the world around her twisting as her thoughts crept into the world.

    The crowd surged past her, their screams of terror punctuated by occasional cries of pain for reasons the girl refused to see. She cowered for a long minute, until the surge passed, and the mall was empty.

    Two pairs of footsteps approached, clicking lightly on the deserted mall’s floor. A low hum pulsed, the familiar sound of a light blade being activated.

    “Open your eyes, little girl,” said a voice, monotone and sweet. “Open your eyes, and come to find order.”

    Fighting her fear, the girl looked up. Two men towered over her, their faces bland and expressionless, their eyes burning with conquest. One held a crimson sword near the girl’s face, the other waited ready with a wand. They were all but identical, same height, same posture, same face, same wristwatches, same eerily polite tuxedos. These were no normal people, the girl knew.

    “You’re Creepers.”

    The two men let the same emotionless smile crack their faces, and the girl looked down, nauseous. Beyond the two men, dead shoppers lay in pools of blood for the length of the thoroughfare. Mechanically, the sword-wielder reached down with his free hand to grab her, but the girl pulled back. Her heart began to pulse, and her vision blurred.

    On the floor around her, the tile began to twist, patterns wending their way across the ground chaotically. The air crackled with potential, pressing the girl’s face upward to glare at the Creepers. Their careful masks of orthodoxy contorted with fear, and suddenly the world rippled. Nightmare and metaphor made real, the two men had only an instant to cry out before their mouths vanished. Their heads melted into white bile and reshaped each into a single giant eyeball, flesh reshaping into a mockery of eyelids, their weapons changed by madness and whim. The pain of the transformation killed them instantly, but the shock left their bodies standing.

    Staggering from the sudden release in power, the girl pressed her way between them and headed for the exit. Whimpering slightly, she pushed open the mall doors and headed away. The doors swung shut with a heavy thud. In the silent mall, the two twisted Creepers slipped to the ground.

    * * *

    “Good, you’re dressed casually.” The Swedish general, bedecked in an array of silver medals and commendations, waved Hamid into the office. The Swedish office of the Bureau was the only one where the local military had any say, and Hamid’s boss – General Bjornholm, which Hamid decided sounded funnier as ‘General Bonehead’ – took his position far too seriously. Hamid was officially here just to deal with a group of troll smugglers, but he kept finding himself recruited to deal with local concerns.

    Hamid took a seat in front of the general. “What’s going on?”

    “A magical disturbance at the Grand Fjords Mall. Reports are still coming in, but we’re going to get going now.”

    The general started toward the door, but Hamid remained sitting, smiling at the vibrant blue and gold of the general’s uniform. “You’re going to the mall in that?”

    The general nodded, all his medals clinking prestigiously. “Ma’ruf, someone reported men in tuxedos. Creepers. I can’t spare time to change.”

    Hamid gulped, then ran to follow. “Yeah, because I hadn’t had enough cultists yet this week. At least you’ll draw their fire.”

    * * *

    With a dramatic skid, General Bonehead stopped their car at the edge of the fleeing crowd. They were rushing out of the Grand Fjords Mall in a panic, and Hamid couldn’t see what the source of the commotion was. He nervously checked his gun and other weapons as the general rolled down his window and shouted in heavy Swedish for someone to explain what was going on. By the time he was done, the crowd had cleared enough for them to press the car through, and they sped toward the mall entrance.

    As they neared the grand glass doors, one of the doors opened, and a young girl staggered out, clutching her head. Again, General Bonehead jack-knifed the car into a skid that stopped them just in front of the girl. He leaned out the window and shouted at her in Swedish.

    “Get away,” the girl said, in English, to the surprise of Hamid. Before he could say anything, he spotted movement overhead.

    “Up there,” Hamid said, drawing his gun and jumping out of the car. Along the roof of the mall, two identical men in tuxedos clambered on hands and feet. As Hamid took aim at one of the Creepers, they bent over the roof and started to climb down the glass doors, their fingerclaws cracking glass to create handholds.

    “Get behind the car!” the general shouted to the girl.

    Hamid fired a shot at one of the Creepers, catching it in the small of its back where the tuxedo was dangling loose and upside down. The shot wouldn’t slow the Creeper much, but the bullet pressed through its body and shattered the glass door. The Creeper fell to the ground, and was soon followed by sheets of sheer glass, slicing it to pieces.

    Suddenly, the car bucked, throwing off Hamid’s aim at the second Creeper. From below the car, a pair of hands reached out and clawed at Hamid’s legs, reeking with the stench of the sewer.

    “Bonehead, some help!” Hamid scrambled away from the car, seeing the general jumping out of the car and trying to carry the girl to safety. Before he could get far, the second Creeper from the roof leapt upon him, crushing general and girl into the pavement.

    The girl cried out, and suddenly the pavement was a patchwork of grass, glass, pebbles, and dozens of other substances. General Bonehead rolled away, clutching his head in pain. Hamid couldn’t see anymore, since a pair of Creepers from the sewer were bearing down upon him, expressionless yet angry.

    Hamid tried to fire at the Creeper armed with the wand, but the one armed with a light blade lashed forward and deflected his aim, slamming the flat of the blade into the side of the barrel. Hamid fired an ineffectual shot anyway, reaching for his own sword with his free hand, but his hand was still in his coat when the second Creeper dragged the tip of its wand across his forehead. Hamid’s limbs stiffened, his lungs seized up, and he toppled to the pavement. Expecting to die any moment, instead he heard only a girl’s screams, and the sounds of a manhole cover being slid back in place.

    After a few moments, he shook himself free of the paralysis charm, and he forced himself to his feet. After a few blinks to make sure he was really seeing it, Hamid whistled. The car was toppled to its side, and its top half had been transformed into a large Adirondack chair. The ground for a dozen feet in any direction was twisted into dozens of new forms – the manhole cover was a turtle shell.

    And his commanding officer was a giant stone head, lying amid his abandoned general’s finery.

    * * *

    “I’ll get you fixed up,” Hamid said reassuringly to the inert stone head he held under his arm. “These mystics fix this stuff all the time, I hope.”

    The Götjung Trollbridge stretched out before him, carved deep into the glaciers in northern Sweden. Some of his informants about the smuggling ring lived here, and he knew at least one of them was a skilled mage. Hamid’s breath steamed in the frozen air, and with a gentle pat on the stone head, he walked down the dark tunnel of ice and bridge.

    A cackling voice stopped him halfway to the end of the bridge. “Foreigner, human, and hopefully well-paying customer, state your business. You stand on the border of Terra and Gaia, and with another step we will own your firstborn.”

    “Take ‘im,” Hamid laughed. “Afternoon to you too, trolls. Listen, I got some business you need to help with. See my buddy here? Yeah, he’s been turned into a big stone head, and I kinda need his help to track down the badguys.”

    A second troll’s voice echoed from the darkness at the end of the bridge. “He’s straightforward. He has no place here. Send him away.”

    A third voice. “Yes, he’s like a dwarf. We don’t want him.”

    The original troll let loose a high laugh. “What villains do you seek?”

    “Creepers,” Hamid said. “They ain’t from around here. They’re just an Italian cult devoted to Arilogos, the titan of pure law. You know, one of those ‘raise the demon from the dead’ sort of groups. I know one of their private planes left Sweden a few hours ago, probably back to Italy, but there’s not enough agents to deal with it. So, make with the magic, and let my commanding officer, you know, talk and move again.”

    “Ah,” the second troll said, “they took a girl. The scion of Pandora. Yes, not our area. Too Mediterranean.”

    The trolls all laughed.

    The second continued, “It won’t help you for us to turn you back. You were lucky to survive as you are. Her power is to change the forms of the world chaotically.”

    The third troll drawled, “They will use her to remove the unbreakable seal that binds the titan of law.”

    “We can help you,” the first troll chuckled, “but only that which has been transformed is safe from her power. We can transform you, make you safe.”

    Hamid rubbed his forehead. “This is reversible, right? And it costs me nothing? No firstborns or curses on my family or anything you fey like to do like that?”

    “Bargained well and done,” the troll said. “You and your stoneheaded friend, transformed for safety now, then back to normal in three days, in exchange for ‘nothing.’ You leave us alone.”

    Hamid put down Bonehead’s stone head and nodded. “Sure. When has a bargain with fey ever gone wrong?”

    * * *

    The little girl held the deck of faerie playing cards menacingly. Whenever the guards tried to come in and tie her down, she shuffled it erratically and unevenly. Every time, the faceless minions of orthodoxy who were her captors jumped away in pain, and she smiled.

    They had been in the air for several hours when the door to her cabin opened. She shuffled the cards, and though the man who entered winced, he was not repulsed. His face was square, well-defined, with precisely combed curls in his white hair. His clothes were all white, crisply folded and well-tailored. He might have been an albino. The only blemish on him was a mole on his left eyebrow, and she concentrated on it, trying to burrow into his essence through that one bit of imperfection.

    “Hello, little girl.”

    She bent the tips of the playing cards. “I’m not a little girl. At least, not normally.”

    “You’re a little girl now. We will fix that, as payment.”

    “What do you want from me? Right now your head should be a salad dish.”

    He patted a cross that hung around his neck, solid white, glinting. “It’s salt, from the Dead Sea. Not carved at all. Natural perfection, enough to keep you from harming me.”

    “Who the hell are you?”

    The man spoke as if stating the obvious. “I am Grallion, Lord of the Infernal Creepers. We will take to you the temple of Arilogos, the titan of pure law, and you will use your power to change the seal that binds him. In the moment of his release, all will be at order in the world. You’ll be returned to your true form, and I,” he tapped the mole on his eyebrow, “will be made perfect.”

    The little girl tossed the whole deck of cards at his face. He batted them away and grabbed her hands to keep her from running. With a growl, he leaned in close to her face and glared at her.

    With a weak laugh, the girl looked down at the cards. “Um. . . . Fifty-two pick-up?”

    Inexorably, the plane flew onward to the Mediterranean.

    * * *

    Stepping off the boat onto Theosia, a small island between Italy and Greece, Hamid shook fearfully under the amused gazes of hundreds of tourists. He was easily the most conspicuous person in the seaport, and he coughed nervously into his new beard to try to calm himself.

    “Stop moving so much,” said his hat, with a Swedish accent. “Be on the lookout for Creepers.”

    “Be quiet,” Hamid whispered. “You’re crushing my head, so I don’t want lip from you.”

    All eyes were on Hamid for good reason. Balanced atop his head was a huge blue and gold turban, made from the remains of the general’s uniform, and adorned with his medals. Hidden inside the turban was a large stone head, which could now talk, thanks to the humor of the trolls.

    Hamid himself had a ‘very special disguise,’ courtesy of the third troll. The turban was all the more ridiculous and conspicuous because now Hamid stood only four feet tall, with the turban practically doubling his height. With his charming gray beard, he was the perfect image of a Norse dwarf, with a bit of Arabian blood.

    “Dwarves are very tricky,” the turban whispered, as if to cheer him up. “The Creepers won’t know you’re coming.”

    A crowd of tourists stopped and stared at Hamid, then to his turban. Hamid smiled casually and nodded slightly. “Yes folks, my hat talks to me all the time. For a few Euros, you can watch me kick its stony ass. You’re lucky none of you speak English, or else I would be in trouble, and none of us want that. Anyone here know where I can find some ancient ruins, with an old, unstoppable titan buried forever? Anyone?”

    The turban said, “Find a computer. We’ll check the Creepers’ website.”

    Hamid groaned, then smiled to an old lady who walked up and started poking at the hat.

    “Bambino?” she asked.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Hamid said, “I’ve got a baby in my hat.”

    * * *

    The hurled turban knocked one of the Creeper guards to the ground, and Hamid’s silenced gunshot through the wristwatch of the other left the second guard flailing around purposelessly. The Creeper eventually collapsed, kicking up dust in the old Greek ruins. Tourists never came here, a huge flat of clay and ash in what might be the remains of a volcano. But it had been listed online on the Creeper cult calendar of events, along with a nice roadmap.

    Hamid ran on squat Dwarvish legs to recover the still-rolling, turban-wrapped stone head of his superior officer. As he scooped up the head, it said proudly, “Nice shot, Ma’ruf. Any Creepers left?”

    “No, none up here.” Hamid unwrapped the head, and it blinked, seeing the sun for the first time in days. Hamid placed it on a short pedestal.

    “I’ll stand watch, then. You go down, rescue the girl, and stop them from freeing the titan.”

    Hamid shook his head. “No way. I can’t go down there by myself. I need you, man. You’re my partner.”

    The general would have shaken his head if he could. “No. You have to go on without me. I’d just slow you down. You’ve only got a little while left before the transformation ends, and then you’ll be vulnerable. You’re the only one who can stop them.”

    Hamid stared his superior officer in the eyes and nodded resolutely. “For you. But I want a big reward after this.”

    His head now free of the turban, Hamid felt a weight lifted from him, and he eagerly hurried down the stairs to the temple.

    * * *

    The pistol gleamed dully in the volcanic glow of magma. A thick, heavy weapon, a six-shot revolver, fit for a Dwarf like Hamid, it was magically silenced to attract the least attention. He had all the stealth he needed, but he lacked speed.

    The ancient temple to Arilogos stretched a half mile beneath the surface of Theosia island, a ramrod straight flow of lava bisecting its middle. On stumpy Dwarvish legs, Hamid pumped forward, firing shots at Creeper guards that lurked around every corner. They were all too fixated on the ritual in the center of the temple to see him coming, and he picked off a three that stood between him and saving the world.

    Taking cover behind a cracked column, Hamid watched thirty or more Creepers encircle a giant glyph, carved into the ground in the center of the temple. The glyph consisted of just a giant ring circumscribing rectangles of ever smaller dimensions, all arranged in a perfect harmony of proportions. At the very center, however, was anarchy, a small patch of dozens of curly lines scratched into the glyph and filled with wax, disrupting the order. Right beside this chaos stood a white man, holding a small girl in chains.

    The Creepers were not chanting, but their presence somehow straightened the random echoes of the vault-like temple, forced them into a droning chant of monosyllabic words. The temple itself was praying to release the titan, and all that was stopping it was the seal, which writhed now in resistance to the order being imposed upon it.

    The voice of the tall white man boomed out from the center of the glyph, echoing precisely and clearly.

    “What are the odds that chaos leads to order? What is the chance that randomness produces a repeatable pattern? These paradoxes cannot exist in a world of order. Chaos’s revolt is straightened to the will of order. You, child, shall through pandemonium, make law.”

    The girl cried out, but her voice was not allowed to echo. The tall man struck her on the face, and she fell to the ground, trying to grab her head, some deep pain overwhelming her.

    “Great Titan of Law, Arilogos, make pure your loyal subject Grallion. Free me from this blemish, and cleanse the world.”

    Hamid took a perfunctory shot at the man. It caught him in the shoulder, but as Hamid expected, did not faze him. Instead, he kicked the girl on the ground, repeatedly, and with each kick, the air began to distort with greater intensity. Light bent, angles curved upon themselves, space overlapped itself, hammered rhythmically into place by the cruel kicks from the white man. The seal began to vanish, forced into the pattern of order of the glyph.

    Hamid tried to fire at one Creeper to open a path for him to reach the girl, but his bullet vanished, and a dozen acorns appeared in the air where it had been. Hamid groaned, “Well, great. Now I can’t even shoot the girl to stop the ritual. What stops order? Think! How do I stop this thing? What’s the most random thing I can do?”

    One shot left in his pistol, pulled open the chamber, spun it, and slammed it shut. Pressing the barrel to his own temple, Hamid sighed, “Well, here’s an offering to whatever chaotic folks might happen to be listening.”

    Just as he was about to pull the trigger, the white man cried out in surprise. In the center of the glyph, General Bonehead’s stone head was latched firmly onto the cult leader’s arm, biting deep with stone teeth. No longer being kicked, the young girl managed to roll to the side, spying Hamid standing behind the column. Somehow, paradoxically, her shout reached his ears over the clamor.

    “Get rid of his cross!”

    From fifty feet away, Hamid took aim for the cross and fired. The bullet, aimed off-target by several degrees, swerved in mid-air over the glyph and seal, changed directions, and cracked toward the cult leader. With a nearly silent zip, the bullet cut loose the necklace, and the cross fell to the floor.

    In an instant, the ordered ritual devolved to madness, and all the air was bubbling with Swedish curses. The temple began to shake with great pyroclastic bursts, the glyph twisted and knotted itself, and the ring of Creepers one by own were reshaped into sagging, boneless masses of skin and organ. Hamid sprinted toward the center of the temple, managing to catch the general’s head as Grallion, the cultist, flung it free from his arm. The bonds pinning the young girl scattered like leaves in the wind, and the white, nearly-perfect leader of the cult spasmed and became a gray horse, so perfect in its coloration that it seemed nearly impossible for chance to have caused it.

    Struggling to carry the general’s head and make his way across the cracking floor of the temple, Hamid shouted for the girl to come to him. Free of all restraints, she rushed to him, pausing only to pick the fallen cross from the ground in the center of the seal.

    “Who the hell are you?” the cute little girl demanded, as lava began to seeping through the ground. Not far away, a twenty-foot high gold statue fell to the ground and scurried away as a thousand golden coins.

    Hamid smiled, taking a moment to relax during the chaos. “I’m the guy who’s going to loot for a little while before this place collapses. Here, take the big giant head. I’ll catch up.”

    The little girl glared at Hamid, then shrugged and tossed the head over her shoulder. As she ran for the exit, Hamid ran for the money that would let him buy this island.

    * * *

    Remarkably little damage was visible on the surface, though, true to form, lava filled the passage just behind Hamid as he emerged back into the sun. The ground ceased its disturbed quaking, and once again the world lay somewhere between order and chaos. It was about the time Hamid dumped his pocketfuls of treasure onto the ground that he realized he was back to being human. Wandering the ground not far from him was a small chicken, wearing a white cross around its neck.

    “Saved the world, and the chick.” Hamid groaned at his own pun, then, smiling, looked around for General Bonehead. The man was nowhere to be found, but nearby, he still saw . . . it.

    Back on the same pedestal where he’d been left, the great stone head sat lifeless. Hamid stood and walked toward it, not believing.

    “No,” he said, shaking his head and holding out his arms in an anguished desire to hug his lost friend. “Why did it end like this?”

    In the distance, at the edge of the crater, a stallion looked on and snorted, planning its revenge.

  2. #222
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    On The Scales

    RangerWickett vs Speaker

    ‘I see the difficulty you have in judging me. You look at each other, then at me as if I was a monster, some caricature of evil from the depths that has done some great wrong. Yes, my crime is great. But to judge me, you must consider all views. Or so you tell yourselves, hoping that perhaps you are mistaken, the humanity is not so bad after all – not so bad it could spit out one such as I. Perhaps. Here then, is what I know.

    ‘My contact was waiting for me in the Stone Garden. He talked too much. His words echoed off the carved granite lips around us, danced among the empty ruins as we compared our notes and finalized our plans. At one point, he turned to a particular bust and gesticulated wildly towards it.

    ‘“We are defined by that which we leave behind,” he began – I can’t remember the exact wording he used, but it went something like this – “Once all we had was stone, and that has crumbled as easily as the culture that left it behind. Our monuments are carved of steel and concrete. Once they were thought to have a permanence that even nature herself could not best, not with wind, fire or ice. Now we know that even our greatest of achievements are fleeting. One day, all we have created will disappear. If we are to triumph over the nature of inevitable time, then we must act as required of us. We have no other choice if we are to count ourselves as members of our own species. We are not to be denied our right to life and continued presence as a race. If we can fight, then we must, no matter what price we are forced to pay.”

    ‘I told you - such were his words, a torrent. But somewhere in that maze of words and the repetition of concepts he caught me. That must have been the case – I could not have continued otherwise. Or maybe I already knew what was coming. Whatever – I was falling toward my fate with both arms outstretched. Whether to cushion my fall or slam the ground harder, I could not rightly say.

    ‘We moved quickly after that. He knew he had me in his grip, no turning back now. We moved quickly through the city, inbound on some destination only he knew about. Down side streets and over bridges, through the crowded markets and under quiet houses. It seemed like hours but it could have been minutes when we arrived at the house. Festivities were in full swing.

    ‘My contact pulled me aside into and ally and we quickly changed into our costumes. It was simple – almost too simple. The custom of the area is to hold costumed balls on the eve of a success. Our target was about to make a wealthy deal, and was in no position to refuse our entry into his dwelling.

    ‘We must have looked strange. The contact had chosen our gear from a kids show, the “eye detectives” or something on that note. But whatever we looked like, it worked – within minutes we were inside and mingling among the guests, the guards not having bothered to even search my duffel bag.

    ‘We began to work the crowd. Worming our way to the prize. My contact had done his research – she soon saw us and ran our way, launching into us with a squeal of glee and a glow of bright laughter. My contact’s actions were superb in their subtlety, as he quickly cut her off from the crowd and launched a pantomime right out of the show, looking glass and all. She was enthralled.

    ‘Our actions after that followed easily. She did not resist when we led her off first to the corner, then into the privacy of her father’s study. Once there, my contact ably brought the chloroform over her nose, tied and gagged her. I slipped into my second costume of the night, getting rid of the eye and exchanging it for an equally ridiculous hat. Fortunately my contact had calculated correctly, and she fit quite easily inside the spangled cloth and ornaments. She was quite light – within moments, I stood, and no one, not that guards or any party guest, could have known that she was on top of my head.

    ‘We slipped out as easily as our came, before the uproar as she was found missing had even began. Quietly, flushed with success we moved through the streets and down to the ocean’s edge. There, my contact revealed his safe house, a sizable room accessed by a long underwater passage.

    ‘You know most of the rest well enough. Our ransom notes were explicit. Our target was to discontinue his destructive transactions. The longer we held her the more convinced I became that we were in the right. Our target would not stop. We held his daughter, but he kept up his illicit trades.

    ‘“My contact grew edgy. His rants became tinged with something that had not been there before – perhaps a shade of madness had crept in. He spoke of “creatures too vile to live” and how “the sins of the father become that of the child.” Slowly he was convincing himself, trying to bring himself to the point where he could act once again. Even for him, it must have been hard.

    ‘We left the shelter on the sixteenth day. We left he behind. Walking out, I looked back toward her, down the dark watery tunnel. At the end, where she lay tied up and immobile, lay a black hole. The water-tinged shadows danced like demons. We left.

    ‘My contact paused at the end of the tunnel, but only briefly, to set the charges. Then we were out. That first breath of fresh air could have brought me peace, if the police had not been waiting for us. I knew then that I would never breath free again.

    ‘I was frozen as the helicopter descended. I could not bring myself to move as my companion, looking up with resolute eyes, pressed the button. The explosion behind us seemed a world away. There was a clap, and a heaving as the tunnel collapsed on itself. My eardrums burst on themselves, and I could not even hear the call for surrender. But surrender I did, nonetheless. My contact did too, which means that you must have already heard his ravings yourself.

    ‘As the detectives swooped toward us, I looked behind. The tunnel was gone, of course. The ocean roared in of its own accord, covered the refuse and debris with stinging salt and scourging surf.

    ‘Perhaps she lives. I am sure you have your divers searching even now, finding that safe house which may or may not have survived the blast. I doubt her father cares. He deals on in his apocalyptic trade. In the end, I guess we did nothing to stop anything.

    ‘I hope she lives.’

  3. #223
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    Well, that's done... right on top of RangerWickett, I see.

    And it's an amazing sunrise. The weather here has been amazing...

  4. #224
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    That's a fine tale you've spun, Wickett, a fine tale indeed. I look forward to crossing pens with you.

    Just hope Liquide never reads it.

  5. #225
    Wow... Orchid Blossom & Mythago really outdid themselves. I'm with most of the others, read like a final round not a first.

    I haven't read the newer stories, but I say good round to my opponent as well.

    Zhaneel

  6. #226
    Writing TimeWatch!
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    I apologize for the delay in posting the final set of round 1 illustrations; the boards crashed as I went to do so, and I've been tied up since.

    On a judging update, one of the judges has been away from computers (at a con) all weekend up to and including today; he had told me this ahead of time, but I had forgotten in the excitement. He'll have some stories to read when he gets back today.

    I've got to say, I've been really impressed with a number of the stories so far. I'll get into specifics in my judging comments, but I've wanted to advance *both* contestants more than once. That's really rare for me.

    So, Match 1-8 - NiTessine vs Francisca! Normal rules, 72 hours, and some hard thought; I especially like this photo set. After this we go on to round 2, and the photos get more challenging.
    Attached Files Attached Files     

  7. #227
    Fine, fine stories these.

    Many thanks to all of you!

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    WotBSZEITGEIST

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    Oddly, I don't even remember writing the end of my story. It was like I was in some kind of zen-like trance.

    Oh, wait. That was sleep.

    ZZzzzzzzZzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzZ

  9. #229
    Quote Originally Posted by Piratecat
    I apologize for the delay in posting the final set of round 1 illustrations; the boards crashed as I went to do so, and I've been tied up since.

    On a judging update, one of the judges has been away from computers (at a con) all weekend up to and including today; he had told me this ahead of time, but I had forgotten in the excitement. He'll have some stories to read when he gets back today.

    I've got to say, I've been really impressed with a number of the stories so far. I'll get into specifics in my judging comments, but I've wanted to advance *both* contestants more than once. That's really rare for me.

    So, Match 1-8 - NiTessine vs Francisca! Normal rules, 72 hours, and some hard thought; I especially like this photo set. After this we go on to round 2, and the photos get more challenging.

    No worries on the delay. I was looking for them when it crashed. This is a good set of pics. Hope I do them justice.

  10. #230
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    The delay in judgements is fault entirely (although I'll admit that I did *try* to get onto the boards and write up stuff last night when I got home, but they weren't loading).

    The good news is that I've now hand-cuffed myself to the computer desk, managed to erradicate the last traces of the bad english accent that was coming out of my mouth for most of the con, and put my mind to write stuff about the various stories.

    They should be sent through to Piratecat today, albeit at intermitent intervals.

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