Author Topic: Creative Writing and EFU Short Stories  (Read 2180 times)

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Ryan

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on: September 13, 2015, 03:20:34 AM
We've had a few short story contests in the past, and as far as I'm aware these have mainly been for the eyes of DMs, relegated to the confines of our personal character notes. All well and good - but after my character's dead I'd still like to share that work with everyone else. I've also been thinking for a while that since many of us are writers, or might like to dabble in writing, it'd be nice to have a place where we can exercise this sort of creativity in EFU's world.

So here it is. A place where you can write what's effectively EFU fanfiction, or where you can find a home for past submissions from short story contests.

I would generally ask that these stories either feature past events from your character's lives (so that there's nothing to contradict what's currently happening on the server side of things - this might also be a good way to flesh out your current character) or depict entirely different characters if you'd like your story to happen within the current setting. A good rule of thumb is that if there's anything in your narrative that spoils current plots, lore, or shadier aspects of your character that are best revealed in-game, you probably shouldn't write a story about it here. Aside from that, write whatever you'd like and please feel free to post your story submissions from past contests here, as long as the above rules are kept in mind. For ease of navigation on this thread, please use the
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It should also go without saying that if there are any future short story contests, avoid putting your submissions in this thread until the contest has ended! Keep them in your PCN.
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Ryan

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on: September 13, 2015, 03:23:05 AM
I submitted this for a short story contest back in 2013, featuring my dwarven engineer, Toigan Strongstrata. It's called "The Lute." Enjoy.


"The Lute"
A sound of lute strings. A song played through the halls.

It was strange, Toigan thought, how such little things could trigger such powerful memories. He was sitting at an unused desk in the Engineer quarters at the Auxiliary HQ, writing a stupefyingly dry report when the noise in the outer hall jarred him to another place. The words on the paper, the desk, the ethereal hum of the Machine within the walls, these all fell away in his mind's eye, replaced with the calming sight of dim halls and stone walls.

It was two months ago. He was home, at Ironspike Hall, deep in the forested Silver Marches, far from Sanctuary.

He should have felt comforted by this, but he felt an anxiety like a bird fluttering endlessly in his stout chest - for this was one of the last days of Ironspike Hall's centuries long existence, an entire history carved in stone, about to be snuffed out in an avalanche of screams and blood.

Toigan sweated and toiled in the entrance hall, constructing a trap, surrounded by dwarves engaged in similar efforts - barricade building, adjusting ballista sights, sharpening war axes, grunting out exasperated commands to those too inexperienced or too old to work competently.

The apocalypse - no one referred to it as such in the Hall, for it was naively considered an apocalypse for the surface only; the dwarves would persevere below ground, as they always had - had come a month past, snuffing out the sun and robbing the minds of millions across the realm in a flood of aberrant hordes and their alien masters. And Ironspike Hall held fast, weathering an army of thralls at their gates.

First they collapsed the entrance hall - and the thralls tunneled through. Then they fought the thralls for two days - and lost too many stout warriors, far too many, despite killing hundreds of mindless slaves. Finally, the dwarves went on the defensive, constructing barricades and traps in the front hall to frustrate and stave off the advance.

But they kept coming. Every day, whittling the dwarves down. A few stouts here, some broken barricades there. And always springing Toigan's traps. He felt a smidgen of pride at finally being indispensable. As his father had, he built the traps most of his life, tinkering with wires and springs, pressure plates, false floors, wooden spikes, all meant to dissuade the odd, goblin raid. And the goblins never raided like they used to, leaving Toigan to tinker in his little hovel, unneeded.

The end of the world was almost worth the looks of gratitude, the accolades he got every time a few more thralls were crushed in his traps. He never felt more vital than now, so sharp and aware, so confident!

But it had to end, of course. Toigan became hideously aware of his newly returned worthlessness very quietly, with little fuss. It came, as he sat crouched in front of the last trap he would ever make for Ironspike Hall, as a simple realization.

He had no more wire. False floor? That worked fine - it was made of sheet rock and would collapse into a pit easy as you please once the mechanism was triggered. Hells, that part hadn't been easy, it had involved a day of backbreaking labor actually, but he hadn't needed any stupid special materials for it.

He had needed nothing special except, of course, the bloody wire for the tripping mechanism. No more pressure plates - those had been used up, crushed long ago. And they had no more wire - he had to keep borrowing spools of the stuff from other stouts during the past month, which they gave gladly, until they had no more to give.

He sat there, paralyzed with the enormity of it all, meekly wondering about alternatives until he heard footsteps behind him.

"Toigan? You deaf?" It was Vorlok - a friendly stonecutter until the End came. He wasn't so friendly anymore - a lot of stouts didn't really have a reason to be.

"Yeah," he muttered. "I mean, no, no, sorry. Just, uh, dealing with a problem here."

"Moradin's beard, what're you doing this close to the entrance?" Vorlok stepped up and sniffed the air, scowling. Toigan couldn't really see his expression all that well in the darkness, but Vorlok usually scowled these days, so he figured that was a safe assumption.

"I'm trapping it," he said tightly. "Thralls haven't attacked in a while, so I'm getting ready."

"More like tempting fate. Take a break with me. Dolasa's about to strum on her lute."

"I'd rather get this done first." He shifted back to stare at the mostly done trap. All it needed was wire - and a thrall to trip it, upending him and whoever else was around into a spiked pit. The sound they'd make… the looks of adoration from the warriors…

"Looks done to me," Vorlok declared. "All's it needs is a bit of wire, looks like."

"I'm sorry, who's the bloody professional here?" Toigan snapped.

"Ho, ho, ho, listen to this, he's a professional." Vorlok sighed. "And snapping on a bit of wire takes, what, a minute or two? C'mon back and listen to some bloody music. Get over yourself, eh?"

He rubbed his hands together as if washing them of the conversation, turning and walking back down the torch laden corridor, leaving Toigan to contemplate the useless trap for another moment before he rose to his feet.

Vorlok was right, in a way. A bit of relaxing music, maybe a shot or ten (unlikely - it was being rationed rather draconianly) of ale, and he'd figure this out. Maybe someone there would have spare wire.

Maybe.

---

Dolasa Brewsong was a venerable old bardess before the End - she'd traveled the realms, gone from Cormyr to Amn and back twice with little but a knife in her boot and a tune on her lute ready to get her out of the worst of situations. She used to sing before her voice gave out some years ago.

Toigan would have loved to hear that voice of hers - a few of the older stouts said it could charm the breeches right off of most menfolk. But it hardly mattered - the strumming was the best part of her songs, her fingers unaffected by age, willing as ever to dance about the strings and produce the most moving of sounds.

He sat down in the Hall antechamber with a horde of other dwarves who were given five minutes of recess every few hours to mingle and listen to Dolasa's music - she sat in the middle of her audience, completely at ease with the attention. Like Toigan, the End seemed to give her a lease on life, a new vitality - she was more needed than ever. Sure, the crow's feet etched tighter around her haunted eyes, but her smile was ready and true as they cheered her on. So was her song, a ditty with bawdy lyrics back when her voice was better for it.

It was hard to be drawn in by it, though. Toigan sat there and brooded, worried over his little trap back in the entrance hall. The plucking of strings lifted his spirits only barely, did little to grant him the burst of insight he needed to fix things. Rope? Too clumsy - wouldn't fit in the mechanism, probably wouldn't fool any thralls, either. They weren't completely stupid, and a full length of rope stretched out wouldn't be hard to jump over.

If he could make the floor a bit more brittle, maybe, he wouldn't even need rope, but that'd endanger the dwarves as well as attacking thralls. He sighed and put his head in his hands, scratching at his bushy, unkempt beard as everyone howled and hooted around him, as Dolasa's fingers played over…

… the strings.

Toigan glanced up, a spark in his eye. His father said it was like Brightmantle's own gleam, and his father had been right.

---

He waited an hour in the residence hall, clinging to the shadows outside Dolasa's apartment.

Toigan was a sneak as well as an engineer. He followed the rules of the Hall, sure. He was better at following those rules than most, actually - he couldn't help that his footfalls were more quiet than most, though, that the shadows claimed him as their own when he clung them. He didn't steal, didn't stalk people. It was just a talent people noticed about him, one that came in handy from time to time.

Like now, for what he was about to do.

Dolasa had smiled to a standing ovation when her song was finished - and gave an encore, as she always did, her creaking voice wavering with gratitude in the audience's love. And Toigan had waited, and he had planned.

She went back to her apartment - most stouts lived communally, like Toigan did. Venerable dwarves got their own residences, though. Like Dolasa. He hated that - that some could have their privacy, not have to deal with anyone else's little problems or antics. Toigan was a dreamer, a thinker - he deserved his own place, where his thoughts wouldn't be engulfed in the noise of others.

When this was over, he'd remind them all of what his traps did, of how many lives they saved. Then they'd give him his own residence. And like Dolasa, he'd be nodded to as he went about his business. He'd be adored by all.

He waited for an hour, clinging to the shadows and letting them envelope him. A pair of dwarves went by at one point, on some business or another. They were older, invalid, so they didn't have to work on the front lines. They passed without even glancing in Toigan's direction. He breathed regularly, occasionally tweaking the unruly hairs in his beard.

After a while, Dolasa appeared outside her apartment, shutting, but not locking, the door behind her. She walked down the corridor with the long strides of one who has traveled the realms. Toigan thought he could hear a small hum from her lips as she vanished from view.

He materialized from the darkness of the hall and quietly pushed her door open, slipping through and leaving it slightly ajar as he went in. She'd snuffed out the candles in here, but he could still make out the details of Dolasa's sculptured walls, her large bed, the shuttered closet, little knick-knacks here and there, keepsakes after a lifetime of adventure. Yellowed song sheets were displayed here and there, of sentimental value from her traveling days.

As he quietly walked through the room, he could tell that some of those sheets had been torn down lately from the scraps of paper still hanging nailed to the wall. Did she need older material now? She played her music daily now, a different song each time.

Time was she could get by with the same stuff playing every week. But with the End bearing down on them…

Everyone had to pull out the stops. Dolasa did, and so was Toigan by doing what he came here to do.

The lute wasn't even hidden, resting comfortably on her bed. He picked it up with almost reverential care - heavier than he expected - and quietly considered what to do now.

He couldn't just pluck the strings out - it'd be quick and easy, but that'd also run the risk of breaking the wire. If he could just break off the bridge of the lute and then thread the string out like that… why, he'd have more than enough for the false floor trap. Probably enough for two traps, even.

Dolasa's songs were nice, but they didn't save lives. Not like his traps did. What he did here wasn't theft, it was more like… reappropriation.

He turned to leave when footsteps outside made him freeze with a tiny jolt of terror. He'd left the fucking door open. He pleaded for whoever it was to keep going, to not stop, to not question this, but that wasn't to be.

He leaped to the side of the room, by the shuttered closet, as the door creaked open. He recognized Dolasa's stout silhouette instantly. She stood in the door frame cautiously, squinting, a harsh frown on her face. How many times had she dealt with thieves in her time? How many had she killed?

Toigan shuddered. Don't be an idiot. She won't kill you. She has to find you first, for one thing.

"Who's in here?" came Dolasa's voice, wavering, but certain.

Toigan flattened himself deeper against the wall, praying for the dark to keep him hidden. Silence overtook the room for a while until he suddenly heard her sure steps treading inside. He heard a low grunt of confusion - she knew the lute was gone.

He waited a moment before peeking - he could make out her heavyset frame, crouched and checking under the bed. Holding his breath, stepping on the heels of his feet, Toigan slinked out of the room, pulling the door an extra crack to let him out… and then he was gone, flying down the corridor, Dolasa's lute clutched like a baby in his arms.

---

When he got back to his trap, he ripped the bridge of the lute off in one fluid motion, threading the wire out with an equally certain gesture. The string twanged forlornly as it came out, the last beautiful sound the instrument would make.

It was a perfect fit for triggering mechanism. He flicked his finger against the taut wire, watched it wobble. A stronger force would snap it easily, sending whoever had to an end as grim and certain as the one that had overtaken the world.

Toigan smiled to himself, but it was a hollow one. His thoughts went back to that room, his overactive imagination coming back to assail him as it usually did. Was Dolasa still in there, looking desperately for her lute? Would she already assume it was stolen, or would she cling to the optimistic hope that it was simply misplaced?

He wondered if what he did balanced things out. Add a few dead thralls, subtract an old woman's passion. Did those scales balance?

He wasn't sure, and he went to bed that night still wondering.

---

The next day, two things happened that Toigan Strongstrata, Spellguard Engineer, could remember with utter clarity. The rest of that day swirled together like a foul smelling concoction.

The first thing was that Dolasa never emerged from her apartment. Everyone sat up and took notice when she failed to appear for her usual music playing. A few dwarves angrily went up to the residence, leaving Toigan to shuffle back into the entrance hall to watch over his precious traps.

The second thing to happen that day was Ironspike Hall's last and futile defense. The thralls never came back through the entrance hall. Instead, their mind flayer masters directed them elsewhere, sent them digging through the earth, through derelict human mines, through natural caves, until they penetrated the thin wall of the Hall itself, completely bypassing the defenses.

Toigan could remember screaming, the meaty noise of weapons striking naked flesh, the smell of unwashed bodies pressing against armor-plated dwarves in a mindless, intractable wave. He could remember blood. He saw, in his mind's eye, the sight of jerking, spastic figures of all shapes, genders, and races, their eyes devoid of intellect and mercy, their forms bewitched with the cruel animation of puppet strings, coming at him through the dim corridors.

He remembered running, skipping over the wire of his precious trap and the sound of the floor collapsing behind him, cutting the thralls off from pursuit, dooming whatever dwarves were still alive in his home.

He remembered, more than anything else, the singular thought racing endlessly through his mind, the thought of Dolasa wracked with agony at not finding her most precious possession, her prized lute, the instrument of all her songs, and that agony being the last thing she ever experienced before the thralls erupted into her room.

---

And he heard music in the outside hall.

Toigan sighed, entered the code to the Engineer quarters door, and stuck his head out. Another man in Auxiliary colors stood there, strumming gently on a lute as a pair of engineers listened. They all looked somewhat harried and furtive, indulging in the kind of revelry that was utterly frowned upon by the Spellguard.

Fighting the surge of memories assaulting him, Toigan raised his voice. "Can you cut that out? Some of us are trying to work here!"

The song cut off - the Auxiliaries glanced at him in terror and scattered before he could identify them - they wore helmets, anyway, so he couldn't. He couldn't care less about ratting on them, though - he just wanted the music to stop.

It'd been pleasant, but he couldn't stand to listen to it.
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----

This story was called "Difference-Similarity," written for a short story contest in 2014 featuring my Ordinant, Blake Kendon. The story prompt called for an image to act as the theme of the story, so that's included, too.

"Difference-Similarity"
It is very hard to sleep in a Society of Ordered Minds filled with anything but. Oh, during the 'dark' we put on a very good show. All swaggering confidence and knowledge, smug in our holy mission to rid the world of the alien creatures marauding about the surface. We hide our doubts admirably from the world, and doubly so from ourselves.

I therefore find sleeping in the same barracks as my brethren to be very revealing, to watch as dreams infect the unconscious body with murmurs of fear and desire.

I don't deny that's a disturbing thing to do; watching people as they sleep. Like everyone else, though, I rationalize. I am a scholar. I study aberration. Sometimes the study of aberration requires me to study those who fight it. I ignore pleasant dreams. I train myself to see nightmares, for this Society is one built on fear and pain, not joy.

And from what I am able to pick up, ignoring the usual private fears that only their heart of hearts can interpret, the prevailing fear in this Society is loss of the self. Enthrallment. It is a normal, healthy fear in this line of work. We Ordinants fear this state quite acutely, which makes us fear those that would inflict it on us. Illithids and beholders are subjects of much loathing and whispering in our meetings.

I have noticed the former engender far stronger feelings than the latter… for good reason, I suppose. The thought of those tentacled faces peering down upon your naked flesh, scalpel in hand, your scalp split open and your brain waiting to be molded according to their ineffable whims… it chills the blood.

Not me, though. In a rather ghastly way I can almost empathize with the insatiable drive of the illithid to dissect and analyze, to change and improve. No, my fear goes firmly to the eye tyrant.

You see, I can empathize with them too. Far more personally than my pure, intellectual attraction to what goes through the mind of an illithid, always striving to know things. A beholder's mind is not like that at all. It is unordered. It is wild and paranoid, often working against itself.

I empathize with that state of mind very, very much. Like every beholder, I have an intruder in my brain who occasionally takes over. My dead twin, my darling soul mate, Ren, taken from me from the surface, himself probably enthralled, witless and drooling in the pit of some illithid spire, manifests himself to live on in my body when I allow it… or when I do not allow it.

It is sometimes a comfort to have him back. More often it terrifies me, because Ren is not like me, and sometimes he comes around when I least want him to. When I sleep, I fear my brethren do the same as I do, and watch me. I wonder what they see; I wonder if my unconscious murmuring exposes the chaos of my mind, the contradiction I am to this Ordered Society.

I wonder if beholders suffer similarly, never knowing when one side of themselves will manifest to undo the works of the other.

---

I have a recurring nightmare. It combines the two things every Ordinant fears; enthrallment, and beholders. Perhaps my brethren dream of a different combination, and they see illithids instead.

I do not. It is always a beholder. A floating, misshapen orb of manifold eyes and teeth, acidic drool pooling from its heaving maw, an unblinking gaze fixed solely upon my naked, crouching body. It bobs with loathsome weightlessness, eying me greedily. I am miserable and cold, cowed and dominated mentally to serve this thing.

I have never heard a beholder speak.

The beholder in my nightmare always speaks to me. I have read quotes from them in occult texts, and these gestate in the back of my mind to assail me as I sleep. Everything a beholder says is a riddle in syntax, a phrase spoken by two minds, a constant contradiction in terms.

The beholder's voice is both aural and an achingly physical sensation; "Pleasure-disgust I-I take from your beauty-ugliness. Rise-fall. Supplicate yourselves before me-me."

It is the paralyzing uncertainty of what my Master wants that forms my great fear. Do I rise, or do I fall?

And that is not the worst part. The beholder has addressed me as two people. It knows what I am. This chills me into further indecision; I sit there, unable to figure out what my Master wishes.

An eye stalk glows hot, and I feel spellfire pierce into my body, a terribly cold burn. I shriek in pain. The Master -both of them- is displeasured by my disobedience.

"You both are unwise to defy me-me. Disappointment-elation do I feel. I-I must change you. I-I will improve-diminish you."

I feel the Master insinuate itself into my mind, easily bypassing my long trained Ordinant's willpower. It knows my defenses as well as it knows I am not one person. Ren, my twin, briefly takes over. He is trying to save us.

Ren is impulsive. I am cautious. I am meek. He is confident.

He rises. I feel my legs lift up my body. The beholder pauses as I rise - and then fall. I feel the ice cold floor of the lair on my back. I feel Ren make my lips curl in a hopeful smile.

Our shrill cries of pain echo throughout the beholder's lair as the Master sends knives of pain through my skull.

"Impetuous," growls the Master, for once in utter agreement with itself. Ren and I agree as well - we are both in the worst pain of our lives, our screams a resounding accord.

"I-I see all in your expansive-puny mind. All is revealed to me-me. Where there is two there should be one. Your beauty-ugliness is sullied - your secrets are shared by this guest-intruder. It is imperfect-perfect. You must be perfect-imperfect. It shall be removed."

I try to open my mouth. I feel Ren try to do the same. We fight for control, each assured that we will prove more persuasive than the other. I try to make the Master see the abuse in logic that this is, that it is no better than us, that we share difference-similarity.

All Ren wants to do is beg. He is not proud. I have always been proud.

Pride is sometimes not a good thing.

We are both too exhausted to do either in this weak, cowed, miserable body. Our struggle remains where it has always been - in the mind.

The beholder croons as it looms large over us; "I-I love-hate you. This will last only a moment-eternity."

We feel the beholder slouch its way into our mind again, seeping into every pore of our being. My mind becomes a crescendo of contradictory screaming, defiance and supplication, reaching such a fevered pitch that I can no longer tell which voice belongs to who anymore.

The beholder promised it would remove one of us. But I am human, and it is something else, something that does not understand how we work, a child trying to make sense what drives a pet. It cannot tell what aspects belong solely to me, and what belongs to my twin.

Aggrieved by its confusion-frustration, and unsure of what it actually wants, the beholder removes us both. Instead of the silence from Ren that I had wanted, I only receive oblivion.

---

I do two things when I wake up from these nightmares.

The first thing; I start awake. I whisper "Ren?"

The second thing; I settle back down. I stare up at the ceiling, at the slowly swaying chandelier in our spartan barracks, casting uncertain shadows and unfamiliar shapes about the room.

I think. Beholders terrify me. I find them mesmerizing in the same way a narcissist is unwilling to tear himself away from a mirror. How can such an abomination be so much like me? Do they struggle like this? Do these xenophobes rue the interventions of their mind intruders as much as I do?

And in their most furtive moments, after suffering whatever nightmares exist that plague a beholder, do they respond to themselves, as Ren responds to me now; "Yes?"

And at that moment of affirmation, do they feel the same sweet relief at not actually being alone?

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Pandip

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on: September 13, 2015, 06:26:48 PM
Submission to AMB's competition about reflection. It deals with Ksenia's encounters with Ezekiel and the raid she led on Lower.

Reflection!
There was a time where a strong drink and a warm embrace was a good end to a proper celebration. But now? In the Underdark? It was just a sore way to soothe away the aches and pains of having to live in a dusty and dank cave while your home lay razed by alien creatures. Besides, the ale wasn’t really all too good. You could only drink apple wine so many times before you lost sight of the orchards it reminded you of and it all dissolved into forgotten memories. And, well, the worst of it was that the closest thing to a warm embrace that Ksenia had down here was her pillow. And her pillow wasn’t really warm.

She sat in her sergeant’s office lazily lounging in her chair. Her hands were clasped together, fingers interlocked in hopes that she could stop their incessant shaking. She’d just finished fighting for her life against a mess of Lowerfolk, some she recognized, others she’d never seen before, and this was the closest thing to silence she could find in Sanctuary. Away from the chatter; away from the eyes. Away from anyone who could see the way her hands shook despite her best efforts to keep them still.

It was a haze in her mind. Short images, brief paintings splattered onto a canvas in a hurry. Black tentacles broke through the cobblestone floor. She saw Ezekiel, and in him a threat. Her shield met his back. They tumbled to the floor. The pommel of her rapier took to his skull. He bled and stopped moving. From there, the other opponents fell quickly. Half-orc to human to friend to foe to Ascensionists. Eventually, the troglodyte. After all of them fell, there was Ashela and there was instinct. Beautiful excitement, a flurry of arms and feet. It was a dance – a cacophonous motion of blades, no less an art than the slow, deliberate concerto of a long hunt across the countryside for a murderous lycanthrope.

The duel was over as soon as it had started. A brief love affair of wordless adrenaline between strangers. Ksenia was on her back, stared to the ceiling, blade to her neck to remind her of defeat. In this moment, she was still. She saw stars; Selûne’s silvery gaze beckoning her forward into the afterlife with an approving smile.

In this moment, Ksenia did not shake.

You see, she found a certain comfort in death. She was terrified of dying, as any sane person should be, but when one lives in an underground hellscape in a world in ruin, death is a distant mystery of hope and wonderment. A starlit path of potential. In death, there was stillness.

But this was not her death; her story was long from over, it seemed.

This was not her first defeat, though. It was another tacked onto a long line of dilapidation and loss, dotted with a few speckles of victory. But the start of that line was beginning to get hard to see. Blurred and faded by the maturity forced upon Ksenia by recent events. That girl who had abandoned her companions on the surface for concern of her father when the Dread came felt foreign. Ksenia was not a nonsense girl who would go running to her father in such a dangerous time. She would not abandon her longtime friends for a distant hope. She knew that her father would’ve been dead. She knew there was safety in numbers. She knew that with these Selûnite hunters, these companions and friends for the past several years, she would have her best chance for survival. And yet she left. This girl left, and in the place of a father to protect, she found her home ransacked and a priestess of Selûne nailed to a stake in the crops like some gruesome scarecrow.

“People are stupid young,” Ksenia mused aloud in the present. William Gladman turned her a glare, his prayers interrupted, and she felt obligated to offer him an apologetic shrug.

Ksenia looked to her glass. Empty. At this point, she was lulling through a pleasant buzz, but the tremors still plagued her hands. She reached for the bottle of apple wine and shakily poured a glass, spilling some of Smeeds’ ridiculously expensive brew onto the wood desk. She ignored the splatter, and took to another swallow before resting back against her chair.

Even the person that met the wonderment of Sanctuary for the first time seemed like a young girl to Ksenia now. Bright-eyed and excited, eager to meet anyone she could shake hands with. She’d thought she was somehow safe back then—that she could take up an idyllic life in the Watch, keeping an eye on folks and helping keep them safe from whatever minor troubles they might’ve been plagued with in such a safe haven. Jormund told her she was naïve when he recruited her, but she was too thrilled by the allure of safety to realize how right he was. Then there were necromancers and Pissrats and Hounds and Targans and wereboars and more. Sanctuary had turned out to be as much an illusion as the spell that kept it safe from peering eyes. There was actual work to do. She wouldn’t be able to lackadaisically drift through life down here on hopes and ideals alone.

Another swallow. The apple was taking to the forefront of her taste buds, tickling her tongue with its sour. This was the best part of her drunken stupors nowadays; when the taste of alcohol disappeared, Ksenia could close her eyes and barely—just barely—imagine taking a jaunt through an orchard under the night sky. Gods, when did she start drinking like this?

Her mind wandered to the ghostly maiden, who was probably the worst of all the trials she’d faced. If anything forced her to grow up quickly, it must’ve been that guardian. Her staunch expectations. Her rigid demands. Her lust for the destruction of evil folk, demanding it from Ksenia as if she were some paladinic devout whose blood spilling of anything impure might make the world a better place. That Selûnite guardian made Ksenia hungry. It drove her towards a deadly thirst for a victory over folks like Lupin and the Targans. It forced her into a battle with a wereboar that resulted in the loss of her Grace—the one sign from Selûne that Ksenia might have been doing something right, something proper and true and goodly that the Moonmaiden’s silvery gaze couldn’t help but spot so deep underground.

She hated that ghost. Perhaps her expectations were reasonable in a different age—a much simpler age. But Ksenia was not the woman whose remains that maiden protected. She didn’t have time for petty headbutting with folks that could help Ksenia achieve what needed to be done. Ksenia fancied that she had turned into a rebel of sorts in this manner, an outspoken woman hellbent on doing what was necessary and right.

That maiden who demanded so much from her; Ksenia’s superiors who looked at her bluster so scornfully—Jormund and Thrar and Flint and everyone else that glared at her as if she were a child. Why should she care what they think? Why should their opinions matter? That was it, perhaps—that was what must’ve made Ksenia so bitter and cynical and godsbedamned hardened over these past months. She’d realized that it didn’t matter what these folks thought of her. Their judgment was irrelevant. Ksenia knew what she had to do, she had begun to find her purpose as time went on. From meek follower to uncompromising leader. And damn anyone who thought she was wrong.

Abala supported Ksenia. Rufus had supported her, too. They both knew what she was capable of. They both saw her potential. They knew she just needed to prove herself. They knew she just needed the right opportunity, the right chance; a proper perspective on things. And prove herself she did.

Ksenia slammed a reaffirming fist on the desk in agreement with her silent thoughts. She couldn’t find the inhibition to hold back her grin when Gladman gave her another dirty look.

But then there was Ezekiel. Smooth, confident, mysterious. She’d been captured twice now, and twice had the Sojourner stepped in to relieve her of a miserable death in return for a conversation and a favor. His demand was so simple, so easy. Come and live with us for a tenday. See what we see. View the world from our perspective. Open your mind. Was it deception? A clever ruse to make Sanctuary lose trust in Ksenia? She couldn’t tell. It didn’t seem like it. She felt like she’d gained a sight for these things; the liars and the deceivers. She wasn’t so keen to believe his words, but the more she heard, the more they made sense. Why the Great Games? Was the Spellguard’s grip too powerful, too demanding, too firm? What did they really desire? Did they truly have any intention of returning to the surface?

Ezekiel, he made Ksenia realize something in those brief hours of humility while captured. Ksenia was not going back to Daggerford. This dream of conquering the surface and taking up her father’s farm and bringing light back to the world was so farfetched, so idyllic, so disgustingly like that little helpless girl Ksenia remembered first entering Sanctuary.

Terror is an incredible teacher. More than anything in her captivity under Ezekiel, Ksenia remembered Abala announcing the gas. That if Ksenia wasn’t returned, Lower would be struck by another bout of the stuff. And Ksenia panicked. Ksenia and her captors were out in the open at that moment. Would they find safety in time? Why were they dawdling? Godsbedamned, she didn’t want to get caught in the stuff. She’d heard stories about what happened last time. About men and women and children tearing each other apart like wild animals, driven into a frenzy. She’d thought little of it when she'd first heard the rumors, but gods did the thought of that horror terrify her when it was such a soon to be realized threat.

Surely, a fate like that was worse than death?

The gas. It was what made Ksenia shake so often now. She’d never had such vivid nightmares as these ones in recent nights, where she is stuck in Lower and the gas pours out onto her and her companions. Where she turns Abala’s face into a bloody mass of ruined flesh while under the influence of the stuff. Where she becomes no better than a Pissrat, killing an innocent girl, mauling the poor, precious thing to death. Every night, she prayed to be spared from these nightmares. Begged it from anyone who could listen to her words.

And as Ksenia laid her head on her desk, she couldn’t help but think whether or not Lower harbored the monsters that plagued mortalkind’s survival, or if the genuine threat lay closer than she originally imagined.
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Lannister

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on: October 09, 2015, 01:37:37 AM
A submission of mine and a background bit of information for Lord Larrak, for an AMB competition complete with image, enjoy!

So Weak, So Feeble
In the desolate realm of Cormyr, beneath a starry sky there is a long winding column of fireflies moving through what was once known as the Kingswood - now only referred to as the Dying, or the Dead Wood. These fireflies which are the pinpricks of light emanating from torch bearing soldiers in motley steel, their once pristine tabbards soiled by mud and alien liquids. These dirtied crusaders usher forward hundreds of desperate looking people. Women holding their children close beneath shawl as they pass hurriedly - families pushing carts filled with their lives are pushed aside and urged forward. Forget what you have, just go. This scene reeks of desperation but not as much as the man in command of these worn people. At present he is at the head of this large column, looking back at his people being forced to move out of their natural homelands. It sickens and enrages him but with the coming darkness and the reports he held in his hand, his other emotions pale in size compared to his fear, that this is the end of his beloved Cormyr.

A ragged crusader approaches. Her armour is in places torn, bandages soaked with blood adorn her - through thick grime a purple drake is barely visible on her chest. "Lionar, our hunters have not yet returned and we cannot keep pushing the people like this, they're starving and broken. We have to stop - at least to let the rest catch up to us. Suzail is a days march away, we can make it upon the morrow."

The grim form of Lord Malcolm Larrak, Lionar of the Purple Dragons clenches his fist around the reports in his hand and mutters an inaudible curse.

"Lionar sir?" She hesitates.

He turns to the crusader, lines of worry etch his face and he looks so tired that he could collapse were it not for the fire of war that kept his eyes open. Having shed his formal battle-plates in a previous engagement he is now standing in tarnished chains, many of the buckles and rings are filled with filth from the decrepit dying trees they march through. Raising his heavy gauntlet he crushes a bloated fly out of the air. His words are heavy and laboured as he looks her in the eye.

"Captain, we have no birds to tell us of the enemies movements. They could be upon us any moment - we have not the time to rest. The great enemy is blockading Suzail and soon our relief force wont make it through to help the capital regiment.

We continue to move. Our torchlight can be seen from many miles away, we are giving away our position to any creatures on the prowl in these dark days. Speed is our only cause, we cannot hide from these creatures the same as we cannot shirk from our duty to the crown.

Spread the word, Suzail has won a major victory today and it is safe there now, for a time. Tell them the enemy has been pushed back to Hilp, Gladehap and The Stormhorn Mountains. We move quickly through this opening."


The crusader salutes the Lionar in a sharp rigid unquestioning way before dashing off with the news, intent on spreading it to every man, woman and child she meets. Malcolm murmured a prayer for his soul, for he had sinned. None were privy to the extent at which the Dread Empire had spread, these people needed some hope. He would put his mind to rest finally with the knowledge he had given them a small measure of it, even if he had lied. That it was by the grace of Tymora herself that they had not yet run into the main body of the invasion force. He offered to himself a pained and tearful laugh. Hilp, he thought. If only the enemy could be stopped so easily, knowing full well the reports in his hands told him Suzail was blockaded and that Arabel was upon the verge of falling if it had not already - these reports were after all two weeks old according to the dates issued. They were found upon the body of a dead message runner on the road, his head cracked open like a nut, brain gone.

Something touched his hand. Looking down as he opened his fist, the burst body of the bloated fly had revealed a horrific secret - tentacles. Writhing blue tentacles squirmed out of the abnormally sized flies corpse. Malcolm cried out in surprise and disgust as he threw his gloves to the floor stamping vigorously on it. Ever since Dendar awoke, these strange things began occurring with more frequency. The fields of crops died, in their place strange mushrooms with the scent of carrion meat were growing. Where once there had been grass, now there was sand or strange slimy green tentacles, much like grass but writhing and hungry for exposed flesh, which they would pull apart.

Someway off in the distance a horn is blown. As Malcolm looks up to the way it sounded from it is cut short - presently screams are heard and the din of steel upon steel. All around him is the snapping of rotten wood and the shuffle of footsteps. With a great cry, a large Minotaur leaps from the woods, a strange rubbery skin extended over it's form. Madly flaying tentacles instead of horns adorn its head. A second below and it swings at Malcolm - it would have cleaved him in half if the blow had not been taken by a selfless dive of the returning Captain. He had no time to honour her sacrifice now, she had given her life for his and he must make the most of it. Drawing his blade he fled the creature to seek aid from his soldiers in fighting such a monster. Yet as he made his way from the beast, he saw fighting had broken along the column. These creatures had ambushed them, it wasn't a battle. It was a slaughter.
 
Crunch. Pain. Coldness. Black.


He was on the floor, the back of his head felt wet. Reaching up to touch it he saw he was bleeding. Something must have struck him low in the chaos. Looking up in a daze, everything was serene- it didn't matter what was going on, he was in the moment. He felt cold and gnawing ache in his bones but it all subsudied when his eyes fell on the creature. Malcolm Larrak came face to face with his enemy at last.

Before the Lionar was a vaguely human form, save for the horrible robes it held and the four long dangling tentacles that protruded from it's rubbery squid face. The tentacles unravelled and opened wide to reveal a discoloured beak. It turns sharply to the nearest peasant, unlucky bastard caught in the battle. With a deft flick of it's hand and a writhe of it's tentacle the man's head is ripped from his body and it floats over to it's beak. With that it's tentacles latch onto the head and a disgusting sizzling noise overpowers the din of battle all around. The Dread Master's cruel eyes stare into Malcolms as it feeds, those eyes tell of a sophisticated genius associated only with those of the deranged madmen found in the deepest of Suzail's Asylums.
 
--Did you know this one?--

--Was he your friend?--

--Did he have family?--

--Are you scared little monkey?--


Sudden bursts of thoughts, a rude intrusion of another's voice in his mind. The only way to describe the way these words sounded were if they came from the throat of some horrifically scarred professor, the "I" sound being drawn out to an uncomfortable length. The coldness of this creature in his voice was enough to leave a mark that to this day forces Malcolm awake from sleep. The feeling of this creature's intrusion was a long unworldly shiver along all edges of his being, because it wasn't a violation of his body but of Malcolm himself, everything he was and all that made his concious was touched by this insidious creatures prying telepathy.

Grasping for where his sword should be, Malcolm curses. He had dropped it when knocked unconcious. This was his chance, he knew he was to die here this night. Even if his body survived the ordeal he would be a changed man - that he must take this battle or be forever shamed. He must /try/ to kill it. With a struggle he brings himself up on one knee.
 
--How quaint of you knight to genuflect before me. Yes. You will make a suitable servant, or a delicious treat. Yes. Mm. I will savour your emotions as a wine.--


The creatures second entrance into his mind, yet this time it served not to shake him but only stoke the coals of his growing rage. In his very core his hate of this creature had been fueling his weak limbs, his rage providing the iron will needed to act. It was in that moment Lionar Malcolm Larrak unleashed such an emotional cry of defiance that infilled all Purple Dragons around him with the vigour needed to keep fighting. In that moment of courage, he drew forth his knife from the back of his boot and unleashed it with a forward throw, there was no doubt in his mind. No second thoughts, save for that he must kill this creature.

The knife spun through the air, it's blade was sharp and well maintained, in contrast to the man who held it. It's pommel was a mythical White Stag's horn neatly trimmed, acquired in ages past by his forefathers. As it sailed across the distance - which was short it neared the Dread Master.. ..and struck.. ..something two feet short of the creature. The air rippled around the Dread Master like water and an iridescent bubble of flesh flickered in and then back out of sight. The knife was broken and all Malcolm could think was the inhuman laughter of his enemy as he tried his utmost and failed.
 
--Hahahahaha AH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA HA HAHA HA HAHAHAHAHAAAA--
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