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The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

8 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/23/2023 7:42:33 PM
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. Quantity matters insofar as if I conclude you're phoning it in for points, you will get no points. If it's just for the lulz: suit yourself.

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 four starts now!

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

8 days ago
1/23/23

Dark

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

7 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/23/2023 7:42:38 PM

I'm scared of the dark.

No, not in the childish way. I'm not afraid of monsters hiding in the shadows or claws that reach out from where you can't see.

I'm scared of the places where there is no light.

My people, the clan of Lux, need light to survive. Without light, our skin turns pale and flaky, and we become walking corpses. Lisha Bela is what we call those unfortunate beings: destroyed by darkness.

They have no souls. They wander around without intent, and leave wakes of death and darkness everywhere they step.

I've never met one, but I've heard stories.

Now I'm faced with the very real danger of becoming one. I can feel the light seeping away, draining my life force. Cursing, I desperately try to loosen my foot from the ensnarement keeping me from using it to run away, back into the light.

I was led into this cursed alleyway by people who claimed to be in dire need of help. They lured me here and cast chains around my ankles. I managed to free one ankle, but the other simply will not come loose. Horrified, I lay helpless as the darkness consumes me.

I wait for my soul to fade, for my life to be ripped from me. It does not come.

Instead, I find myself feeling rejuvenated, filled with new strength and vitality. I jerk my foot and the chain that seemed impossibly stiff only moments ago cracks as though it's made of mere glass.

They didn't tell me that becoming undead would feel this amazing.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

7 days ago
We call the darkness Mother, for she existed before all things. She birthed the Ten Thousand Stars, and the Sun, and the Earth. All things come from the Dark, and all things return to Her. Close your eyes, and She is there.

At least, that's how things are in the Beneath. Up here, the sun is so bright you can close your eyes and see it glowing through them. Darkness can only be found at night, and even then they make great roaring fires, as if to keep it away.

"Why do you fear the Mother?" I ask one of my human companions.

"What?" I think this one is named Lina. They are still difficult for me to distinguish from each other. but perhaps they would feel the same about me and my kind, if I were not the only "goblin" to have joined their caravan.

"The Mother. The Dark. When the Sun is not there to banish her, you use fire. But she will always return. Is that part of your fear? Knowing she will see your bones freed from your flesh, in the end?"

"'She'-- you think that the dark is a person?"

"Of course not," I say, affronted. "People are mortal. She is the very opposite."

"So a god, then?"

"I do not know, I have never seen one of your gods. I see the Mother every night, once the fire burns low."

"Huh. Well, to answer your original question, I don't think we fear the dark so much as what might be IN the dark. Animals. Enemies. Traps. That's why we travel during the day and make fires at night."

"I see," I say. "The Mother offers her darkness to all, it is true. I suppose I will have to become accustomed to her frequent absence."

There is a small silence. Then Lina says, "Do you miss your home?"

I recognize, in this question and in her particular tone, a human pattern of indirectness. Lina misses her home, and wishes to speak of it, but cannot without reciprocating in advance by asking about mine.

"Of course," I say. "And not only for the Mother's presence. The food is far more palatable. There is never any rain, and the ceilings are just high enough that you can reach out and touch them, not like your blue dome up here."

I glance sidelong at her. "What do you miss?"

"Oh... you'll think I'm silly, I guess. All of the up-above places would seem the same to you, I'm sure. But I miss the mountains in the distance, all purple and misty. And there's always a harvest festival this time of year, and I'm missing it."

"Good food?" I ask. A festival is a festival, wherever it's held.

"The best," she confirms, with a sigh.

"May you taste it again before you go to the Mother," I say.

"...right. Thanks."

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

7 days ago
1/24/23

Warning

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

6 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/26/2023 10:58:02 PM

Our world is broken, and no one is left to pick up the pieces.

The war to end all wars turned rivers to dust and forests to ash. The grand cities we built are now filled only with the echoes of our forgotten dreams. Each planet we had tread, now left as a memorial of bone and glass.

Steel skeletons loom ever silent as eternal monuments to our sins. The avarice, the apathy, and the ignorance all but guaranteed our oblivion. We gnawed and tore away at our only mother with reckless abandon; she gave us all she had, and we took all we could.

The fate of humanity was condemned to toil, bleed, and weep, all while burning as brightly into the night as we could. However, in the end, destiny would have us snuff ourselves out as if we were a candle at the end of our wick. We yearned to reach into the galaxy, to colonize, discover, and multiply. Alas, we were but only a child that had grown tired of our favorite toy.

No different than a malignant cancer, we spread and consumed all in our path, leaving only barren husks in our wake. For all the so-called good we achieved, it was only ever for our gain. So blinded by our immense arrogance, by our own majesty, did we forsake the mantle of responsibility as intelligent creatures to keep in harmony with the cosmos.

Our gravest failure was the legions upon legions of those under our care, forced straight into damnation with us. For every step we took, countless souls were crushed beneath our heels, and we were deaf to their cries. The weight of innumerable evils sat upon our shoulders, yet we were numb to the burden.

We, humanity, remain bare before any and all who deign to gaze upon us. We seek no forgiveness, for we can no longer receive retribution. Our story is one of good intentions and one of timeless scars.

So, here on this cracked tomb that was once called our home, we built this enduring monolith in our final days; so that any who come to visit our grave can see what we wrought. Know that this was our fate, that we attained heights beyond comprehension, unraveling the secrets of the stars. Until finally, we fell from the heavens and into the abyss.

The universe called to us, and we answered. It promised us power and freedom tied to a greater hunger than we could ever hope to satisfy; indeed, it delivered. If only we had realized that what we needed was actually salvation.

This is our testament.

This is not an invitation.

This is a warning.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

6 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/26/2023 10:58:08 PM
"So what does it say?"

"Death," Words-Like-Flowers tried to keep its tone as neutral as possible. It wouldn't do to appear spooked -- even if it was spooked. Maybe especially if it was spooked.

"A curse upon any who dare enter," said Synchronicity-of-Many-Feet. "That sounds promising. There's something here they wanted to protect."

"They seem to have expected that interpretation, and specifically emphasize that anyone who enters will take nothing away, only... death."

Synchronicity scoffed. "Exactly what I'd expect. Any species sophisticated enough to build structures like this is sophisticated enough to lie about their contents."

"I just..."

Synchronicity waved its upper cilia in an expression of arch skepticism. "Just what?"

"They seem... very earnest," it said finally. Thinking of the skulls. The decomposition sequence that established what the skull actually was. Like an internal carapace, it supposed. A pity it would never get the chance to see one alive... but Sychronicity's expression was evolving into displeasure "I think, at minimum, that they believed that entering this site was certain death."

"And you agree? Even with our superior technology?"

"Superior in some respects, certainly. But we don't know what we don't know. And there's lower-hanging fruit. We could be sequencing DNA. Drilling for petrochemicals -- well, the ones they didn't already use up. This planet has more to offer than a few mysterious sites with ominous glyphs that are trying to warn us off."

"So you admit that's what they're doing. Trying to scare us off."

"Warn us off. I think they're trying to warn everyone off, because there's actually something deadly here!"

"Fireballs-Blooming, plant your explosives."

Words-Like-Flowers bite back further protests. Synchronicity was their leader. Right or wrong, this was its call.

Instead, it subvocalized a prayer it had learned on a distant planet:

May the gods protect those too foolish to protect themselves.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

6 days ago

I dunno if it was intentional, but I think this works kinda well with mine.

It also makes me think of an event I'd get playing Stellaris about some gelatinous/molluscoid aliens; pretty neat.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

6 days ago
Not intentional, but possibly subconscious. Yours is much more epic in tone, though!

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

5 days ago

"BZZ. WARNING. FIRE. WARNING. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY."

"Shit." Captain Allen slammed his palm against the machine in front of him. "Work, dammit. The fire's spreading."

His fingers frantically tried to finish the code. If he could get it done in time, the new anti-fire measures would start up, and the ship would be saved. They'd been faulty as of late, but it'd never been considered a high priority before. Captain Allen regretted that now.

If only an engineer or technician was up here; they might have better chances of figuring this damn thing out. Not a captain. He wasn't trained for this.

"BZZ. FIRE. WARNING. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY."

"To where? Fucking space?" There was no escape. They would either all die here in this burning ship, or he'd manage to save it. The escape pods were already too damaged to consider using. If only he could have some help... but everyone was cowered in the Deck Two living quarters, trapped. He was all alone. 

All alone. That's how I'll die if I don't get out of this. Focus.

"BZZ. WARNING. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY."

Captain Allen sighed. Focus.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

6 days ago
1/25/23

Salt

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

5 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 1/26/2023 10:58:21 PM
Finding the Wandering Market can be a challenge, even for those of us who walk between worlds. Today it only took me half an hour. Ended up being on a desert planet orbiting some impossibly distant star. Three moons hung low in the sky. There were spaceships parked around its perimeter.

I've never understood how a place that is literal magic can interact so casually with futuristic technology. But I had a shopping list and a few hours before I had to find my way back, so I set off into the sea of tents.

First, the salt. It was perhaps the simplest thing on my list, but also the most important. My three protective circles would be made of salt, and Morton's wasn't going to cut it. Fortunately I knew a little stall where the proprietor sold salts by the pound. Admittedly, the prices were borderline robbery, but I trusted the product.

It doesn't do to skimp when you're summoning a demon.

I perused the various salts, all in barrels of various sizes, closed, of course. There was a sample of each in a bowl on top of its respective barrel, for those intent on touching or tasting or molecular scanning before committing to a purchase.

Molecular scanning wasn't my style. It wouldn't detect blessings anyway. I took a pinch of what the handwritten sign proclaimed to be Blessed by St. Agnes, Sea Salt, Sun Evaporated. It prickled at my fingertips. Not quite as much as it had last time... was the blessing fading?

I cleared my throat. The proprietor looked my way, or so I inferred. They wore a hooded robe that obscured their features. A slightly odd choice for a merchant, but the Wandering Market was a more than slightly odd place. "This is weaker than last time," I said.

"Discount. 25% off. Or try that one. Blessed by St. Peter. Very fresh, very strong. Careful it doesn't burn you, demonblood."

Their rough voice was devoid of judgment when it hit that last word, but still I flinched a little. And took a pinch of the other salt, and pretended not to care as dozens of tiny points of pain bloomed between my fingers.

"I'll take a pound of this," I said, letting go. Brushing the pain away.

It doesn't do to skimp when you're summoning your father.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

5 days ago
1/26/23

Silence

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

4 days ago
It's quiet when I wake up.

No, not quiet. Silent. No gentle inhales and exhales of breath beside me. No rushing water from the bathroom. No cheerful burbling of the coffee-maker in the kitchen. No footsteps.

She's gone.

I know that. I know she's gone. It just takes me a minute sometimes. When I wake to silence.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

4 days ago
1/27/23

Fire

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

yesterday
I've always felt that fire was like a wild thing, tamed and contained but still always ready to escape and run rampant. I admired that about it.

Even after I quit smoking, I kept a lighter on me. I couldn't have told you why, except that I took comfort in having fire -- or at least the possibility of fire -- in my back pocket.

Then a woman I was smitten with invited me to a bonfire with some of her friends. It was on the bank of a river. I took off my sandals to walk on the cool sand. Almost I reached for her hand, but I didn't.

There was drumming and dancing and substances to imbibe. So, maybe what happened next wasn't real. But the fire danced with us, and I don't just mean it flickered in time with the drums. It stepped out from the logs on graceful limbs, and it danced.

It tried to take my hand. For an instant, it was as if everything in my life had led to this moment. The fire was alive, magic was real, and it wanted me. And then the heat caught up with me, and behind it the strangeness of it all, and I pulled away. Went and got some water.

When I looked back, the fire was just a fire... and my friend was gone. And I knew she hadn't just gone to find a bush, or found someone else to invite herself home with. The fire had taken her. But what that meant, I had no idea. Except that it had almost been me.

Did it burn her?

Did it make her into fire?

Does she dance, now, free of human concerns?

What would it have been like, if I hadn't let go?

I'm nearly seventy, now. I'm in no hurry, but when I do die, I've told my children I want to be cremated.

Maybe I'll find her again, after that final fire.

Maybe we'll dance.

The Owl's Challenge - Week Four

yesterday
Week four complete!

fresh_out_the_oven: 2
Zweihanderr: 1


No winners this week.