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The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

15 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/16/2023 2:09:18 PM
The Owl's Challenge This is a daily writing exercise. Each weekday I'll post a prompt consisting of a single word, for you to interpret as you will. Write as much or as little as you want, and then post the result if you'd like. Quality doesn't matter (as you'll see from what I post), the idea is just to stretch your creative muscles.

I hope people will want to participate in the challenge on its own merits, but as an added incentive, I'll award 5 points to anyone who completes all five prompts in a given week. (Must duel me to receive points). You can go back and do prompts that you missed until I tally them shortly after midnight on Sunday night.

To keep the clutter to a minimum I'll be posting new threads weekly, with each day's post made to the current thread. Week three starts now!

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

15 days ago
1/16/223

Eyes

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

14 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/16/2023 2:09:24 PM

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reaching for the cold metallic handle of the sword at my side. I called it Letalis, named for its lethal capabilities. I had trained with it since the days of my youth, and it had always served me well.

Just one more fight, old friend. My eyes opened and I unsheathed Letalis, bursting forward with my comrades.

I knew before I even swung my sword that this would be my last battle. These would be my last parries, blocks, and slashes.

None of us were going to make it out alive.

I'd known the people fighting at my side before I'd known what war was, before I was exposed to death and gore. They were my schoolmates, my friends. We played as though we were knights and kings, saving beautiful damsels and slaying dragons.

Never did we imagine that being a knight meant killing people who are only protecting their homes or livelihoods. We didn't know it meant laying waste to innocent villages to send a warning to the rulers who barely knew those places were under their control.

We hadn't been aware that it meant laying down our lives for a cause we no longer believed in, but we did it anyway.

I watched as my closest friends' blood added to the red splatters staining the stone tiles under our feet. I watched as they dropped, one by one. There was nothing I could do.

A blade plunged into my chest, stopping my breath in my throat. My knees buckled and I toppled onto the ground, splashing into my own blood.

Now here I lie, wishing that I could have one more carefree day, one more chance to smile and laugh and play without wondering if I would survive the next day. I wish I could go back to the hope of childhood, when my whole life was ahead of me.

There is no going back. And now, there is no more going forward. This is the end.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:50:36 PM
The jar was full of eyes, none of them larger that a penny. None of them real, I told myself. Glass mimicries, for the elegantly dressed dolls that sat on shelves throughout the shop. They were behind me now, back past the curtained doorway that separated shop and workshop.

My restless gaze roamed over workbenches and tools, and dolls in various states of disassembly. And the jar of eyes, and a row of wigs on stands, and a bouquet of tiny hands reaching up from something like a pincushion, and-- someone was coming down the stairs. Finally.

She was a serious-looking woman of perhaps forty, primly attired, dark hair pulled back in a bun. The only testament to her profession was that the bun was held in place by a pair of paintbrushes, and yet somehow this small detail seemed a calculated whimsy, rather than a spontaneous one.

"Ms. Sawyer?"

"Yes," she said easily. She sat down across from me. "I don't recall having an appointment at this hour, Mr...?"

"Norton," I said, trying to let the assumed name slip easily off my tongue, as if I had given it more than twice, and the first time just minutes ago, to the girl who had directed me to the back. The dollmaker did not immediately accuse me, at least, only nodded and waited in silence.

"I've heard that you make... custom requests," I said. "Including mechanical components. Dolls that walk, dolls that speak, and so on?"

"Of course," she said. "You have such a doll in mind?"

"I need a doll that can see," I said, and let my eyes fall on the jar of eyes once more. They would not suffice, for my needs.

"Interesting," said Ms. Sawyer. "There are... challenges... to be overcome, in such a project. It would require both generous funding and a flexible deadline."

I pulled a small velvet bag from my pocket, and set it down with a clink. "A down-payment," I said. "And you have until the birth of the queen's first child."

Her eyebrows quirked. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me how far along her majesty is?"

The velvet bag of gold lay untouched between us.

"No," I said, "I'm not."

"I see," said the dollmaker. She picked up the bag with long, narrow fingers, and hefted it subtly. "Can't be more than four months," she mused. "She'd be showing, and the rumor mills would be churning. Which gives me five, at least... I do believe I'll take the job, Mr. 'Norton.'"

"Good," I said, ignoring the audible skepticism concerning my identity. "I'll be back in a month to check on your progress."

"And if I need to contact you?"

"You won't need to contact me," I said, a little sharper than I intended.

"I may have questions," she said coolly. "Concerning your preferences for the doll, or the... mechanism."

I grimaced. My gaze fell once more on the sightless eyes in the jar. "Leave one of those on the oldest grave in the public graveyard. I'll come to you."

A ghost of a smile graced her lips, and then vanished. "You have a deal," she said, "and soon enough a doll."

I nearly smiled myself, but stood up and bowed instead. "A pleasure, Ms. Sawyer."

And with that I left the workshop, and then the shop, and hoped to see no more doll's eyes, at least not in the next month.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:50:29 PM

This was inspired by an anime I watched as a kid called Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu.

 

A thousand years have come and gone, and yet here I stand; at the edge of all that was and ever will be. I have crossed vast seas and deserts in search of the one who will complete the cycle. So many have tried to take my mantle, and all have failed; now, countless dead lie in my wake.

 

I have nowhere else to go, and I grow ever weary. Looking down into the abyss below me, I recall the name of this place. The Maelstrom of Zahd. A wicked expanse, created by a twisted mage over two millennia ago, it is said to have split the world in twain with its ferocity. Strangely I find it captivating, a force so absolute and uncaring, here to wreak havoc for all time.

 

I gaze into the unending pandemonium below, watching as floating boulders the size of mountains swirl and crash into each other. Abruptly, I am pulled from my wonderment by the sound of approaching footsteps. Turning around, I see three hooded figures clad in black coming my way from the dark tree line. I recognize the situation, for I have seen it hundreds of times now; it marked the approach of challengers.

 

"So you've come to test your mettle then?" I ask the figures with indifference, my voice carrying over the wind.

 

The leftmost of them unhoods themself. It is a young woman, no older than twenty-five winters. Her black hair is tied into a ponytail, and she stares at me with emerald eyes filled with animosity. 

 

She shouts her response. "Take off that blindfold, so you can see those who will best you! If you truly are Red-Eyes!"

 

I force a somber smile. "I can see well enough, but I will grant your request."

 

I place both hands behind my head and begin to untie the crimson blindfold I have worn since I was cursed so long ago. Suddenly the girl leaps into action, sprinting across the short distance between us, unsheathing her eastern blade. The central figure is unmoving, but the rightmost one follows her lead, their faces still obscured.

 

She is incredibly quick on her feet, but not quick enough. As the blindfold falls from my face, I return her glare with my own. In an instant, she stops in her tracks; her blade slips from her hand into the dirt below. An expression of abject horror creeps onto her face, and tears begin welling up in her eyes.

 

I never knew what it was like to look into the eyes of a Bearer. From what I could gather over the years, it is different for every person, some see their greatest unimaginable fear, and others are compelled to actions against their very nature. From time to time, it is something completely new, being one of the few things that have kept me interested over the ages.

 

The girl drops to her knees, whimpering; the cloaked figure on the right also stops their advance. She keeps trying to tear her eyes away from mine to no avail. 

 

Her voice is choked with terror, and she croaks out. "S-Stop... please."

 

"Do you wish to look away?" I ask in a melancholic tone.

 

Her eyes are wide open as she sobs an answer. "Y-Yes."

 

I sigh. "Then, look away."

 

The young woman on her knees begins to let out a low guttural moan from the depths of her being. Slowly, her eyes start to roll back into her head as her moan morphs into a scream. She jerks and shakes as she tries to pull herself away from me, with no success. Finally, with a howling screech, she reaches up to her head with both arms and twists her neck, resulting in an ultimate crack followed by a thud as she lies on the ground. 

 

The air now carries an eerie silence; both remaining figures remain motionless. I look at the cloaked one to the right and notice the white-knuckled grip of their longsword still in its scabbard. 

 

"Reveal yourself! Look me in the eyes you came here for." I yell, commanding the rightmost one; my patience is wearing thin.

 

Both hands grasping the longsword begin shaking, and they yell back, "I-I won't! You demon!" it is a male voice, and one that cracks with panic.

 

Most who know of Bearers think that they have to lock eyes with one to become ensnared in their curse. However, that is not entirely true. 

 

My blood begins to boil at this man who came here to end my life and steal my eyes. Now at the precipice of what he desires, the craven refuses to look at me. Furious, I raise up my hands overlapping each other, then place them over my eyes, leaving a small gap for my right eye.

 

With disgust, I shout back. "Then you shall scatter in the wind, for you are nothing."

 

I feel a twinge of pain in the unobstructed eye as my vision flashes searing red. I watch as the fearful would-be killer's upper half bursts into a cloud of blood and gore. His sword goes careening through the air like a silver shooting star. Soon after, followed by the patter of the remaining shredded entrails raining upon the ground around him. Like the girl before him, the last act of his downfall is the thud of his lower half into the blood-soaked dirt.

 

Lowering my arms, I take in a deep breath and glance over at my final opponent.

 

"What say you?" I ask of the lone hooded figure. "Will you weep and beg for mercy, or will you cower and refuse my gaze?"

 

They take some steps forward before unhooding themself. It is a woman, likely just shy of thirty winters. Her hair is elegant ivory, and she looks upon me with sorrowful lavender eyes; a subtle scar traces over the bridge of her dainty nose.

 

"Neither." The now-revealed woman says with conviction. "I am here to take your place, Declan."

 

I feel as if my breath has been stolen from my lungs. 'Declan' she says. I have not heard that name in over five hundred years.

 

Now filling with anxiety, I asked guardedly. "How? How do you know that name? That name and the one who carried it have been dead to the world for eons."

 

Still walking towards me, she responds kindly. "He came to me in a dream; He showed me all that you have done, all that you have endured." 

 

Once close enough, she places her hands on my shoulders and looks right into my eyes. "My name is Vale, and He gave me the gift to take away your burden, the gift to complete the cycle." She gives me a slight smile. "You know who I speak of."

 

"I do." Again, I sigh. "I had lost hope this day would ever come."

 

Realizing what must now be done, I ask. "Are you prepared?"

 

She nods. I place my hands on her shoulders peering directly into her gaze and relax. Moments pass before I feel the heat rise behind my eyes. Suddenly, a torrid agony radiates within my skull as I pass on the mantle to Vale. Every second feels like a year has passed as I scream in torment. Finally, it is done as the light leaves my vision for the last time.

 

"Thank you," I whisper breathlessly to her. "the cycle is complete, and I am free."

 

I feel her hands leave my shoulders, and the wind picks up again. Here at the edge of the world, my punishment is over.

 

"Would you like me to end it quickly?" She asks solemnly.

 

I ponder for a moment. "No, I believe I will take care of it myself." I look up at where her voice is coming from. "Good luck on the path; may you finally atone as I have."

 

"Thank you." She whispers, kissing me on the forehead before slowly walking back the way she came.

 

Alone with my thoughts and a strengthening gale, I set my metaphorical sights on my final act. Slowly, I shuffle behind where I stood, not used to my newfound affliction of unsight. Finally, I feel my feet rest upon the cliff edge again.

 

A thousand years have come and gone, and yet here I stand; at the edge of all that was and ever will be. I have crossed vast seas and deserts in search of the one who will complete the cycle, and at last, they have found me. I take one step and plunge into the great unknown, content, now and forever.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago

The eyes are the worst part. I’m numb to the muffled screams by now, but the eyes always haunt me. The ghostly reflection of my shadow and a wild, raw fear that seems to possess them. I can look away from the twisted mouths and the haunted expressions, but I can never look away from the eyes. 

Supposedly they’re the windows to your soul. Maybe that’s why they scare me. I’m terrified of seeing the “light go out” as they say, but maybe a morbid part of me wants to see what it would look like for the soul to die. 

Soul, spirit, same thing. Isn’t it your spirit that survives to the afterlife? I don’t go to church, but I think it would make sense, in a way. When you die your consciousness can move to a better place. It’s a comforting thought, but I would go to church if I believed that. I wish I could believe that.

If only I wasn’t so tired I could go to church. Maybe I could become like them, the people who say they aren't scared but then beg for mercy. They have so much hope. Don’t they know that I won’t stop? I laugh, laugh to cover the fear. Why am I scared?

It’s because of those stupid eyes. They follow me around at night when I sleep. They bounce around my head until the pills kick in. If I had dreams at night, I'm sure they would fill the silence. My thoughts sure are. 

I can see them now. There’s a pair of icy blue ones with a bit of greenish specks over there. Tears are spilling out the corners, but that’s not the worst part. Tears aren’t bad. Tears are just leaky eyes. What’s bad is the animalistic fear and the haunted, twisted agony in their last second when they realize that they really don’t want to go. People say they aren’t sacred, but their eyes betray them. Their eyes always betray them.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
1/17/23

Dice

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:56:53 PM

My fate lies in the hands of a stranger. Those hands are cold and calloused, worn from age and use. In them lie two dice that vastly differ in appearance.

The first of these dice is ten-sided and made from solid oak. Dots are carved into it with intricate designs showing inside each.
The other die has been crafted from the bones of a coyote. The numbers six and three are painted on alternating sides. The paint is blood from the very hand in which the die rests.

The outcome of this dice roll decides my future. This I know.

I know not the meanings behind the die and their sides, though I wish I could say I did. The only information I have comes from carefully regarding the expressions of this powerful stranger.

He rolls, and I hold my breath within myself, weak with anticipation.

The stranger's eyes do not leave the dice as they fall onto the table where we sit. Mine flick from his face back to the horrid contraptions, then back to his sunken eyes once more, to catch his reaction when he reads them. It may be my only clue as to the nature of this outcome.

This hope is proven unfounded, because his expression remains the same.

The bone die shows a six. Directly beside it, the die made from wood has nine dots carved into its surface.

The stranger nods. "Nice."

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:56:46 PM
The dice are two soft-edged cubes in my hand, worn smooth from years of wear. I remember when they were fresh-cut, sharp and polished mirror-bright. I roll them around each other now, ignoring the subtle aches in the joints of my fingers. We are none of us what we were.

I cast. Black three, white six.

Fair enough. I pocket the dice, and get up from the low table near the fire. The innkeeper raises an eyebrow at my approach. "I'll need a room for three days," I say.

He slides a key to me. "You're a Chancer?"

"Temple raised," I say. The key is black iron, with a numeral '2' cut through the top. I don't take it. "How much for the room?"

"Thought you might want to roll for it," he says with a slight smile. "Three day stay, one die's worth of silver."

I smile back. It's rare to find a merchant who wants to leave things to Chance. And I can afford the six, if it comes to it.

I take a single die from my pocket -- white -- and roll on the bar between us. Two. The innkeeper shrugs a shoulder as I exchange two silver coins for the key. "Second room on the right," he says, with a gesture toward a doorway. "Breakfast included, anytime from dawn til noon."

I begin to wish I'd rolled higher on black. But Chance had spoken. Now to consult my maps, and see where six day's travel will take me.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:50:46 PM

 I walked into the Den of Corruption, a catchy name for a casino for sure. It only took a little bit to realize that the place certainly lived up to its name. The air inside was heavy with cigar smoke and what I was sure was other smoke of the less legal kind. The sounds of shuffling cards, rolling dice, clinking glass, the screeching of old slot machines, and the murmuring of men and women losing their savings mixed together into an unpleasant sound cocktail in my ears. The felt on the card and dice tables were a strange and ugly olive color, showing that they've likely been in use for many years to be so offset from the classic vibrant green every gambler is attracted to like flies to are to manure. Women walked around in big fluffy fur coats that likely hid the more skimpy clothing that would be taken off later...for the right price of course. The men all wore fedoras, as it was the peak of men's fashion back then. The night was cold and damp so they also wore trench coats or had them draped over the back of the chairs they were sitting in. The clientele were not the sort to be messed with, so I pulled my hat low and looked for the contact I was supposed to be meeting.

 I scanned the room, taking in the various faces of the patrons. Some were clearly seasoned gamblers, their faces etched with the telltale signs of a lifetime spent chasing the thrill of a big win. Others were newcomers, their eyes wide with excitement and fear as they took in the sights and sounds of the casino. I couldn't help but notice the illegal activities happening around me, the air thick with the smell of drugs and the hushed whispers of shady deals being made in the corners of the room. I knew that I had to be careful, as the last thing I needed was to attract the attention of the wrong crowd. So, I did my best to blend in, keeping my head down and making my way towards the back of the room where my contact was supposed to be waiting. As I walked, I couldn't help but feel a sense of unease, knowing that I was surrounded by people who were all too willing to risk everything in pursuit of illegal pleasures. But I had a job to do, and I couldn't let my nerves get the best of me.

 I made my way through the crowded casino, dodging the various patrons as they made their way to and from the various gambling tables. The air was thick with the smell of smoke, and I could feel the tension in the room rising as the night went on. Finally, I spotted my contact sitting at a small table in the corner of the room. I walked over and took a seat opposite him.

"You made it," he said, looking up at me. "I wasn't sure you would."

"I said I would be here," I replied. "What have you got for me?"

"Information," he said, leaning in closer. "But it's not going to come cheap. Are you prepared to pay the price?"

I nodded, knowing that this was a dangerous game I was playing. But I needed the information he had, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

"Good," he said, a sly grin spreading across his face. "Because I've got a lead on a big score. A shipment of high-grade cocaine is coming in tonight, and I know where it's going to be delivered. If you're willing to pay, I can give you the location and the details. But the thing is, I have a different proposal for you."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pair of dice.

"I propose a small game of chance, a roll of these dice, if you win I'll give you the information, but if you lose, you'll have to pay a high cost. I hear you have a pretty little daughter at home. How old is she again? eighteen I believe? How about if you lose you hand her over to me."

I knew this was a risky move, and the stakes were high, but I couldn't resist the thrill of the gamble. I never could.

"I'm in," I said, my heart racing with adrenaline.

"Excellent," he said, sliding the dice across the table to me. "Roll them when you're ready."

I picked up the dice, feeling their weight in my hand as I weighed my odds. I knew that this roll could make or break me, but I couldn't back down now. I took a deep breath and let the dice fly.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

13 days ago
1/18/23

Key

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

12 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:50:55 PM

With the growl of a tired old man with a habit for the pipe, Cyrus hoisted himself from his seat in the carriage. Even with his arm held by a footman or two, he landed hard on his boots and cane, causing the medals on his chest to rattle against each other like chimes. Though his age was well into threescore by now, he was more encumbered by drink than any sort of infirmity. The black rum in his waistcoat made more appealing company than the old Baron, who was surely stepping out behind him by now- if the carriage doors fit the fat bastard at all.

"I really am so glad you could come, Admiral!" The Baron's voice seemed almost muffled through the horse-tail of a mustache brandished across his mouth and jowls, "I know you must be busy, but your presence here, at my son's wedding-"

"Was earned. He was one of my most capable lieutenants, stayed with the fleet long after most would have taken their honors and sailed back to go spinning war tales at Londynum. Your son chose to save lives, did His Majesty proud. I'm glad he's making more of the rest of his life." Cyrus said. His great white sideburns seemed to bristle in vague annoyance with the wind, like a rascible frilled lizard.

In bygone days, he would've used far less words and betrayed far less sentiment- Especially once he noticed Baron Werschel's uncomfortable expression. But Cyrus decided long ago that he was too old to go cutting himself off for the manners of the homeland aristocracy- Particularly not when the ride here had been one long uninterrupted pontification about his trip to the Guillapian Isles, and some painting or mural he had commissioned about the Dragon-Riders of the Old Empire besieging the northern Swamp Pillars of Ankea. Frankly, Cyrus could not be less interested in the Baron's opinion on the "fascinating" frog beasts or their "primitive" thundering god of steel- This babbling walrus had never been outside of Bitonian territory long enough to see one.

With satisfying quiet, Cyrus briskly hobbled along on his cane, up the stairs of the chapel, and through its long doors. It was a relatively humble building on the Baron's property- Only in the sense that it was the smallest building on the Baron's property. A baroque stone remnant of the days when Werschel was a castle and was once in the same walls as the hunting lodge. Now the fortress had been taken down to become other stone structures down in the farmlands years ago, and the hunting lodge was the size of a manor. But the church stayed much the same- Even though it was Protestant now. The symbol of the savior's shackle hung high in the chamber like a great Omega- Notably absent was the absence of The Prophet's disembodied hand. A symbol of resurrection for some, but Cyrus still preferred the Manifex of the more traditional churches, and he would hrm wordlessly at this as he pulled off his hat and lowered his eyes to the rest of the chapel.

His grumbling was drowned out, as the stone chamber rang with the heavy breaths of a well-kept organ. His gripes aside, it made something resembling pride stir the admiral's stubborn heart to see his young lieutenant, all shined boots and brass buttons over his blue jacket, holding his hat to his chest and awaiting his rosy-cheeked bride. There was the briefest glimpse exchanged between the two of them from across the chamber, as Cyrus stepped three-legged along the aisle. The young Thomas Werschel was already smiling, but his mouth opened in joy to see his officer and mentor on the happiest day of his life. Against Cyrus's better judgement, his own face did... Something, anyway. Tightened and tilted into whatever most felt like his last memory of smiling. Too much time on the water, perhaps, had turned his mouth to solid salt. But the Admiral could tell Lieutenant Werschel at least appreciated the effort, more than he could know.

The old fellow scrutinized the pews to the right and left of him, looking for a good spot to sit. Preferably on the far end, so that only one random guest could sit beside him, but it seemed most of those were taken up. Far be it from the Admiral to impose himself on the company of any of the weepy-eyed duchesses, blustering counts, or powder-wigged young squires here assembled. Anything but their company! Surely there had to be better drinking and dining partners than this invited to the congregation of his very Lieutenant. But perhaps, unfortunately, the less... Courtly guests would be arriving for the larger reception at the lodge. Some part of Cyrus feared he was approaching the limit of superciliousness he was willing to tolerate for a good pheasant and some wedding gingerbread, but he would press on for his .

But, to his relief, at the near end of the back pew, Cyrus saw a uniform he recognized- Hunched conspicuously over a watch. He didn't particularly mind not to harangue anyone's feet with the end of his cane as he swiftly moved to sit next to his second Lieutenant, the young Sir Wyatt Flandings. Wyatt seemed to startle at Cyrus's abrupt arrival, but quickly changed to warm regard as he recognized the old man.

"Oh, Admiral!" Wyatt said with surprise, "A beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Don't care much for the weather, but that can't be helped."

"A little rain is supposed to be good luck for a wedding, so I hear."

"Scarcely an unlucky day to get married in this bloody country."

"I suppose that's a good thing, in a way..." Wyatt's optimism seemed to trail off.

"Something's troubling you, Lieutenant?"

"Oh, it's not anything, sir. I'm just so happy for Liam and Eleanor."

"You scarcely sound it."

"But I do mean it! I've known the both of them all my life, they're as close as kin to me. I just feel rather put off weddings."

"Nervous about your own, eh?"

"I... Won't be having one, as of now. My betrothed was taken by fever while I was away on duty."

"Ah..." Cyrus's lips pressed together tightly. He glanced down at his old, tarnished ring, though his stone expression hardly changed, "That's a terrible loss, you have my prayers."

"I hardly met her but twice. She was very kind, well-read. I'm just... Full of conflicted feelings today. It'll pass after the ceremony, I'm sure."

"Well- Whether it passes soon or not, God be with you."

Conversation began to die down as the Vicar arrived, and provided Cyrus with the great relief of no longer bearing the expectations of being the oldest and wisest man in the room. A relief he much needed after that horrendously handled conversation. It felt like a short while before Eleanor also arrived at the aisle, in marvelous splendor as brides often do, with smile veiled and her shoes on dainty heels that made each step seem as though the river of silk behind her was the only thing keeping her tethered to the ground. It was a contagious joy to all in the room, even the Admiral, though of course he rarely showed these things.

The hymns were sung, the prayers were made, and the vows were taken all in standard order. The Vicar was as boring and long-winded as most vicars were at these sorts of things, though from past experience Cyrus had come to suspect this was some kind of contractual obligation, and that perhaps he would be far more stimulating once punch was served at the banquet. Cyrus was holding his elbow in one hand and exasperatedly holding his head up with a gloved fist at this man's tired speech and unnecessary pauses, as if to make sure each individual verse were fully contemplated and understood by the crowd.

"And should anyone present," The Vicar said, somehow exhausted yet also chewing the scenery, "Know of any reason, that this couple should not be joined in Holy Matrimony,"

Would this ever end?

"Speak now,"  bloviated the Vicar, "Or else forever hold your-"

"I cannot withstand this ceremony!" came a shout from... Wyatt?

The chapel was awash with gasps and tumultuous chatter, but Wyatt raised his voice to shout even over them, "Eleanor alone holds the key to my heart!"

There was outcry as the young man drew his sabre, and pointed it to the groom down the aisle, "The greatest blessing of my life now wracks me utterly, that I love the both of you so dearly. Thomas, you were a brother to me, and I owe you my life many times over. And yet... The only woman I have ever truly loved was Eleanor!"

Thomas stammered for a moment in shock, "What of Olivia!? You used to write to her in the Navy!"

"It was a formality to our parents- We were strangers to each other, and she died while we were strange!"

"Wyatt, this is strange!"

"This is the honorable way to finish things, Thomas. I had never meant to come to blows over this, but I don't think both of us can live happily."

Eleanor frowned, and stepped between the two men immediately, damning all duelling decorum, "Wyatt, you had better not! I know our relation can't be what you wanted, but it would destroy me to live without either one of you!"

"You will have to in either case," Wyatt declared, his throat tightened with passion, "In a month's time, I'll be re-stationed to the Guillapian Sea to protect His Majesty's interests for some years. I would rather be killed here and now, by Thomas's hand, than some tropical disease, or my own bleeding heart!"

"Duelling is a sin!" Came an indignant, elderly retort from the Vicar.

"Draw, Thomas! The life to come will be Hell enough for m-AAGH!" Wyatt was interrupted by a sharp pain as someone's cane had been swung into the back of his knee, forcing him to sink to the floor.

"You stupid bastard!" Cyrus said through clenched teeth.

Though his knees were already taxed enough by the process of an Anglican wedding, the admiral lowered himself down to grab Wyatt by the collar, "Has the war taught you a single damned thing!? Haven't you seen enough young men throw their lives away, or have you let it all deprive you of your value for it?"

Of the many things that had currently shocked the crowd, there was even more shock as Cyrus swore in church. And there was even more swearing from Sent as he spent all 2000 words of what was supposed to be a swashbuckling sword-duel scene writing bullshit about grumpily attending a wedding and then the guy interrupting the sword duel before it started. Fuck you Cyrus why did you grab the wheel like this!

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

12 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:51:23 PM

Bored at work so, key:

 

Late as usual.  But today is anything but usual.  Today is the day. 

Rushing towards the door, you reach to grab your keys off the hook where you always keep them.  And they’re not there.

Next, you check the table by the door where you set your mail, but still no keys. Perhaps they fell.  But no, nothing on the floor. Every moment feels like minutes of your life just draining away.  Today is not a day to be running late.

So alright, they just must be in the bedroom. Quickly, you go to your room and check your dresser.  Loose change, no. Gift card, no.  Knife, um… no.  You scatter the random receipts that have piled up, but no keys.  Your nightstand only holds the book you were reading before bed and your phone charger. No keys.

You have got to be kidding me. Where could they go?!

Grabbing the jeans you wore last night off of the floor; you check your pockets.  Empty.  You lay on the floor to look under your bed.  Dang, it’s a mess of dust, one random sock, but nothing else.

You don’t have time for this.  Where now? Ah, the kitchen. You move at a frantic pace into the kitchen where you check the table for your keys. No, the table is clear.  Hurriedly, you examine the countertops, and they also reveal no keys. 

Panic. Panic. Panic. You decide to look in the refrigerator.  I know, crazy.  Not much chance they are in there, but hey, never hurts to look.  Of course, you did not leave them in the fridge, and you close the door still without your keys.

You know you brought them home because it is the only way you could have gotten in the door.

Living room.  Couch perhaps.  Running into the living room you begin tearing the place apart looking for your keys.  Pulling the cushions off the couch reveals nothing.  Well, at least no keys, but you did find that missing remote.  Unfortunately, right now that is no help.

Like a whirlwind you go back through your entire house and recheck everywhere.  No keys.  I mean, you found the spare key to your old car that you no longer own, the key to the last apartment you lived in, the key to your mailbox, some random keys that you no longer even remember what they go to, but not the keys you need.

Time is ticking away and now it is nearly futile to attempt to be able to get where you need to be.  But you must try, it’s that important. Grabbing your phone, you summon an uber.  Seven minutes seems like forever. Uber is here. Running out the door, you suddenly halt as you hear keys jingling together, and find your keys in the deadbolt on the outside of your door.

 

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

12 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:51:12 PM
Your alarm clock shatters a dream of-- what was it now? The shards remaining cannot be pieces together -- even if you had time to try, which you don't.

As you gather the day's necessities from the odds and ends on your bedside table, something catches your eye.

A key.

On your keychain.

Which is, of course, where keys belong. But this particular key is not one you put there. Not one you've seen before, ever. Are these really your keys?

You pick them up and fan them out in your hand, matching keys to their purpose in your mind. An ordinary silver-toothed key for your apartment door. A smaller cylindrical one for your bike lock. Heavy tarnished brass for the store. A duller brass, and smaller, for your P.O. box. And... ornate wrought-iron curliques atop an archaic-looking set of teeth. For what? And how on earth did it get there?

Even the jump ring is strange, being a solid black circle with no obvious opening. Whoever is pulling this prank is paying attention to the details.

Warily, you pocket the keys and head for the door. Nothing unusual happens on your walk to the store, at least, aside from a drizzly mid-March rain that probably would have been snow a decade ago. When you pull out your keys to unlock the front door, the window proudly proclaiming it to be Night Owl Books, you half expect the key to be gone. Some kind of hypnagogic hallucination--

It's still there.

You swear, quietly. It's a habit you've tried to break in the past year, as your fledgling store does cater to both adults and children. But you feel justified, this time. How the fuck did this fucking magical-looking key get on your fucking keychain?

You're the only one with a key to your apartment, except of course the landlord.. and she is a dour and humorless woman, surely disinclined to pranks and highly unlikely to brook any excuse for letting anyone else in. But other than when you're home and asleep, your keys stay in your pockets. Could someone have pickpocketed you and then... reverse pickpocketed you?

It just doesn't seem very likely. You frown, and select the key to open your bookstore. You glance at the clock as you step inside. Just a few minutes to noon. One of these days you'll stop cutting it so close. It's just hard when you work until midnight. You feed Little Void, your fat black cat who really only merits half of his name, and clean the litter box tucked behind the door in the small bathroom. The familiar routine settles you.

Then there are customers, and a seller, and you're lost in the world of books you've built for yourself.

Then you go downstairs.

Later, trying to reconstruct the sequence of events, you find yourself unable to remember why you went downstairs. Maybe you just wanted to empty the dehumidifier, although you usually put that off until closing. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that in the shelf-lined basement of your shop, on the back wall, there is a doorway. And set into that doorway is a wrought-iron gate, the same subtly-shiney black as your mysterious key.

And beyond that gate is a garden path, sunny and breezy and utterly impossible.

"Fuck," you whisper.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago

I've realized that all of my stories (excluding the dice story) this week have ended in death, so this'll be more lighthearted.

My phone chimes, awakening me from my micro nap. I try to sit up a little in my seat. As I do so, my back reminds me once again that metro seats shouldn't be used as beds. I'll have to go to the chiropractor again- a whole week of sleeping on the train surely messed me up somehow.

I look at my phone and smile when I see that it's a text from my younger brother. He left his apartment key in his room again and needs my spare.

Fate really was smiling on him when he got accepted into Juilliard- not only because it's a very prestigious college for musical arts, but also because it means his apartment is within a couple hours' drive of Bronxville, where I live. He's locked himself out nearly 17 times now, and every time I've arrived with my spare to let him back in.

I text him back and say I'll be there as soon as possible. I was looking forward to falling asleep on my bed, but I can use his guest room for another night. Family comes first.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

12 days ago
1/19/23

Thread

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:52:40 PM
Nico held the ax close against his chest. The head glowed with some kind of eerie green light. To say he was afraid wasn’t quite accurate, but then, he certainly wasn’t unafraid. A feeling much like being caught eating honey when one was supposed to be working had settled down deep in his guts.

Arriving at the two massive stone doors, Nico was at least happy at the prospect of getting out of the cave system. He had expected a fight. He certainly hadn’t expected the atrocious labyrinth that he was subjected to by whatever micromanaging pinhead of a so-called deity had greenlit the plans on that.

He pushed the doors with all his might and they opened slowly on hinges stiff with centuries of disuse.

Three women sat in three separate spots along various corded threads. One spun new threads as needed, another measured the threads, and a third cut the threads.

Nico was well aware at the significance of what the fates we’re doing. A man’s death was determined. Nothing could shake it. Well, no longer. Nico was bound and determined to change this, especially after spending so much time wandering the caves of Hades to find this place.

Nico sprinted toward the women who quickly reacted to his heavy footsteps. The oldest of the three, the one who handled the cutting, shrieked, “Sisters, quick! Find me his thread!”

It was much to late, though. Nico sprinted toward her and split her head to chin with the axe. Weird golden ichor spattered his face instead of blood. Whirling to face the other two, he kicked the basket full of materials.

The one who measured the line cried out, “Why? What do you want from us?”

“Simple,” Nico said. “With you out of the way, all will be random. There will be none of this nonsense about higher beings directing our fate. Men will be masters of our own destinies.”

At that, he whirled the axe around and caught her in the neck, launching her head across the room.

He looked around for the youngest one, the one who was spinning the threads. As he looked, he finally saw her with the scissors, cutting away at thread after thread.

“No!” Nico screamed, running toward her, but as soon as she cut the thread in her hand, Nico lost his balance, careened forward and landed face-first on the head of his axe.

He didn’t get to see what all happened, but as his sight began to fade, he was certain that the one cruel fate had not slackened her pace. Thread after thread fell dead to the floor.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/19/2023 6:56:25 PM

 

“Hey, look at that thread sticking out.”

“Yep, what about it?”

“Perhaps you should pull on it.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

“Well, it might cause the whole thing to unravel.”

“Perhaps. But it might not.”

“But again, it might.  And if it does, it would make a mess.”

“Well, you won’t know if you don’t try it.”

“I don’t want to try it.”

“C’mon.  Just pull a little bit and see if something happens.”

“I told you I don’t want to.”

“Just do it. You know pulling that one random thread will be so satisfying.”

“Maybe. But again, it could completely unravel everything.”

“So, what if it does.  Look at it.  That thread is the only little thing out of place.  It is your duty to pull it.”

“My duty; Nice try.  I think I can let it be.”

“You think so.  But you can’t stop thinking about pulling on it either.”

“True.”

“That one thread is messing up everything.  Just look at it randomly sticking out.”

“I see it. But I still don’t want to pull on it.”

“So, how about you don’t pull on it.  But you just test how much force you would need to pull it.”

“And how would I do that?”

“Well, just get hold of it and give it a small, slight, easy tug.”

“Ok.  Again, that’s the same thing as pulling on it.”

“Yes, but don’t jerk on it.  Just gently finesse it.”

“Still the same. And I still don’t want to pull on that thread.”

“But it is begging to be pulled. It is just sticking up all by itself!”

“Is there any way I can shut you up?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.  Yes, there is.”

“Don’t say it.  I’m not going to pull on that thread.”

“Ok, I hear you.  So, how about you just brush your hand over it.  That’s not pulling on it.”

“Promise you will shut up?”

“Well, just brush your hand over it.  Perhaps it will force that thread to lay down and it won’t bother you anymore.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I know. So, you gonna do it?”

“Ugh. Alright. There.  See I brushed my hand over it.”

“It’s still sticking up.  You should do that again.”

“I’ve tried that several times now.  It’s not helping.”

“You know what would help?”

“Ok.  I’m just going to see how tied in this thread is. I’m not pulling it. Just testing it.”

“Hey, no judgment here.  That’s what I’ve been saying the whole time.  Do your thing.”

“Oops.  I think I pulled too hard.  Now that thread is really sticking out.”

“Yeah.  You did it this time.  Can you get it back in?”

“No. Doesn’t work like that. Perhaps it will come loose and not unravel everything if I'm careful.”

“Perhaps.”

“I’m going to try this gently.  Let’s hope it does not all come apart.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Oh Crap.”

“You really messed that up.  Everything unraveled.”

“Shut up!”

“Ok.”

 

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago

When I saw this word prompt, I immediately thought of the threads in the forums, which shows how much of an influence CYS has considering I didn't know that second meaning of the word before joining the site.

Is this considered an entry to this challenge? Well, I guess since we can write as much or as little as we want, a sentence about 'thread' qualifies. Even if it's a different kind of thread with an implied reference to the correct thread. That being said, I wonder if writing 1 sentence (or maybe even word) per prompt would be a dishonorable way to steal 5 points each week. 

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago

Maybe if you wrote a sentence or two that had some sort of story to it. For example, "The single loose thread had been bugging Lewis all day, but right as he was about to decimate it, his mother called him down for dinner." We have the setting,(kinda) the rising action, the climax, and the resolution. A full blown story right there. 

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
In cases of ambiguity, you can use any interpretation of the word, not just the most obvious one.

If length becomes an issue, well, I never said the rules were immutable. Use your best judgement.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/20/2023 3:31:51 PM
If my Weaver mother had lived, she would have taught me what I needed to know. If my human mother had not been too proud, another Weaver could have helped me. Instead I was left to muddle through on my own.

I figured out early that I could see things with my second eyes that weren't actually there to be see. I could see the threads that connected everything and everyone, and if I focused just right, they became more real than ordinary reality.

I could touch them. Pull on them. Change things.

It is a Weaver's nature to weave, and so, lacking guidance, I taught myself.

I twined two threads together, and two people fell in love. I combed away the slowly-accreting darkness from my mother's thread, and she began to hum to herself again, and to smile at me when she saw me. It was not her nature to be sad, only her situation.

Our village was small, but rumor casts a long shadow. One day an armored man arrived, and found his way to our cottage. I had been practicing weaving fear into a sort of cage, so our aging cat could more readily catch mice.

He knocked, and the cat fled. I let the mice do the same as my mother let him in.

"Weaver," he addressed me. I had not yet chosen a name, but I wished for one then. His approach seemed a touch too informal. "I seek the love of the Duke's eldest daughter. Will you weave for me?"

"She will not weave you the love of someone who wishes to love otherwise," said my mother.

I thought of the smith's son and the flaxen-haired schoolteacher whose lives I'd woven together, without anyone knowing it. Had either of them wished to love another? Had my childish weaving, born of curiosity, been wrong?

Well, it was surely too late now, when the schoolteacher's belly waxed large with their child-to-be. But I could at least not repeat my mistake. I inclined my head, in agreement with my mother.

"Then make me invulnerable, and I shall win her with my prowess!"

It was an interesting notion. What could I weave around his thread to protect it from harm? I thought of the cage of fear I'd shaped for the mice. His fear was less nebulous, but larger in scope. I could work with that. But... if he was invulnerable, would he still be afraid?

"I can make you invulnerable for a span," I said at last. "But it will not last, and not even I will know when it will fail. You must win your love quickly."

He nodded, and in my second eyes he shimmered with hope. And, yes, still some fear. A little more, when I came closer. I wove it, turning it outwards, strengthening it, shaping it into armor to match the steel he wore. It gleamed bright when it was finished.

"It is done," I said, withdrawing. He untied a bag of coins from his hip, and held it out to me. I took it, but I did not know what to say. Would my weaving hold? Would he truly be able to win his love? Had I earned the weight of coins in my lower left hand?

"Thank you, Weaver," he said, and bowed. I bowed slightly as well, and let him go.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago

Atropos regarded the shining thread with a morbid fascination. It looked exactly the same as every other thread, but it was linked to a very different person, a very different life. A life that was soon to end.

She paused, picturing the owner of that life gasping for breath, desperately clinging to life. She tried to imagine what this person felt, before taking a hold of the string and seeing for herself.

The scene before her was not as she thought it would be. The owner of the thread was a boy, a small boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, and he wasn't clinging to his life. He was destroying it.

He was the one who made his string quiver, and his own hand drew Atropos towards it, wielding her scissors.

Shakily, Atropos released the string. These lives were her least favorite; there was no value in a death of this kind. But she would do as she was commanded.

Without another moment's hesitation, she brought her scissors up to the string and closed them swiftly.

Snip.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

11 days ago
1/20/23

Chalk

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago
young malk

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/23/2023 7:42:47 PM

Chalk drawings on the driveway.

It had been a weekend of fun. Lia and her sister had just recieved colorful chalk for Christmas, and they were trying it out on their driveway. They drew rainbows and suns and flowers, rocket ships and falling stars; they drew whatever their hearts desired.

Towards the end of Sunday, Lia went inside to get a glass of water. All that coloring had made her so thirsty! She had just started to walk back outside when there was this awful noise. A car driving by, and then what sounded to her little ears like fireworks. She hurried outside, bare, tiny feet hardly hitting the pavement as she excitedly rushed towards the scene.

She barely had time to register her sister's body on the ground, littered in bullet holes, before she joined it in lying motionless on the ground.

When their parents got home, they couldn't believe their eyes. A drive-by? But why? The police were called, and the scene was roped off with tape. After a day of examining and marking off parts of the scene, investigators carefully drew an outline of where the two girls lay.

Chalk drawings on the driveway.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago
10 out of 10!

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

10 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/20/2023 3:31:20 PM

Eating sidewalk chalk, a curious thing,

A taste so bitter, on the tongue it brings.

A childhood pastime, now long forgot,

But the taste remains, like a lingering thought.

Chalky dust, on the lips and tongue,

A reminder of days when life was young.

A forbidden fruit, yet still so alluring,

To taste the pavement, our taste buds assuring.

But be warned, dear child, of the dangers unseen,

For chalk is not meant for consumption, it's not a cuisine

So put down the piece, and find a new treat,

For the safety of your body, is something to keep.

Eating sidewalk chalk, a forbidden pleasure,

A taste that's gritty, and without any treasure.

A whimsical desire, to taste the ground,

But the risks outweigh, what can be found.

The chalk may seem harmless, but it's not pure,

It's filled with toxins, that can make you impure.

Ingesting it, can cause harm inside,

So let's keep the chalk, where it should reside.

So let us remember, as we walk the streets,

That sidewalk chalk, is not a tasty treat.

Let's keep our bodies, safe and sound,

And leave the chalk, on the ground.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

8 days ago
Wands are for chumps.

Sure, you can cast a spell using a wand, if you've got the mana to pour into one or the money to buy one. But really, all you need to cast is something you can write with. Crow quill pens are popular among the pretentious. Bics, among the practical. But I've always loved my first medium: chalk.

Sure, it's fragile, and yes, it gets all over your fingers. But you can cast on more than just a piece of paper. You can write a spell on an entire cul-de-sac, traffic and weather permitting.

That kind of large-scale spellcasting costs, though. I'm still paying down the mana debt. But it was worth it.

To do what, you ask? Ahhh, that would be telling. That's the other thing about chalk: Couple hours of rain, and it's as if it was never there.

And sure, you can burn paper. There's even ways to get rid of the mana trail a wand leaves. But there's just something satisfying about casting a spell, writ large in front of your enemy's house, and then just... walking away.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Three

8 days ago
WEEK THREE COMPLETE!

Scores:

fresh_out_the_oven: 5
Zweihanderr: 1
stargirl: 2
Yummyfood: 2
ISentinelPenguinI: 1
DBNB: 2
Petros: 1
Mystic_Warrior: 1
Ford: 2

One winner emerges: fresh_out_the_oven! Duel me for 5 points with paper to receive your points!

Also I will be amending the wording of my intro post slightly, because Ford.