Bayo, Sixth of the Pack

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24th of Entekra, 922AP

A chill night’s wind carried bits of sand from the black place. A place Bayo would not go. The dark sand was hot under paw by day, and by night it was like a reflection of the stars above. The glowing insects dug themselves out of their sandy holes, the ones that got into fur, the ones that bit and itched. No, the black place wasn’t a place for Bayo. It wasn’t a place for the pack.

Bayo shook the sand from his fur, and continued among the grass, which grew in patches here, so near to the black place. The rabbit’s scent was lost in the wind. Romu, fifth of the pack, strode by Bayo’s side, sniffing the dirt before his paws. He whimpered his annoyance. They were hungry. And Alpa, first of the pack, would not be pleased at their returning without kill.

The two padded along, conscious of the lights above. They moved slowly, watching the sky shift. Big White came into focus, the first moon, this night. It lit the plains, making their journey easier. Romu preferred to lead, being fifth of the pack, so he did, back to the pack.

There was a rustling in the bushes, just paces ahead of them. Bayo and Romu crouched low, feeling the grass brush their fur lined bellies. They waited. It moved again, ever so slightly. The bush was large and thorny, so they did not wish to pounce on it. They waited more.

The second moon, Small Red, crested over the horizon and into the night sky. A howl in the distance resounded. Alpa praised the night. And so howled others in the pack. Seven in total sent their cries to Small Red. Bayo wished to join his voice to the night, but feared scaring off his prey. Romu had no such reservations, and he raised his head to the sky, howling for his pack to hear him. So lost in revelry was he that Romu did not notice Bayo’s hesitation; did not notice the lurch of the bushes. Several rabbits bounded off.

Bayo would not lose them again. He growled as he joined the hunt once more, invigorated by the baying of his brothers and sisters. He closed the distance between the rabbits until they broke into three different directions. The largest, fattest rabbit went left. He chased it down, jerking to and fro as it bounced left and right between trees and bushes. It led him into a clearing without bushes or trees, and Bayo leapt for the kill. But a blinding blue glow disarmed him at the very last moment.

Romu, noticing too late his brothers hunt, chased after him. He didn’t see when the rabbits broke off. He followed the deep gashes in the dirt where Bayo had kicked off in pursuit of the rabbit. When he came into a clearing, he came to a quick halt, kicking up grass under his paws as he slid. There was Bayo, walking head low, with his tail between his legs. He crept over to a large ball of light that rested upon the dirt. A great sphere of blue, churning itself inside out. Romu didn’t like it. It hurt to behold.

He growled at Bayo, telling him to follow. Bayo looked at Romu, over his shoulder, but merely turned around again to stare at the blue thing. Bayo sat on his haunches, head still bowed low, but his tail no longer sat between his legs. Romu whimpered, stepping over to him, placing his head upon Bayo’s. Sixth of the pack paid him no heed. Romu barked at the blue thing, fearful of its power, but it too paid him no mind. It didn’t stir any more or less than its already wave-like form had.

Romu paced back and forth around the circular clearing, waiting for Bayo to respond. He didn’t. After a time, Romu fell into a restless sleep.

Morning’s light shined before long. Romu awoke and found Bayo still in the same position. The great blue orb still worked its power over him. Romu walked toward Bayo, cautiously. He gave a bark. Bayo turned to face him, eyes red. He howled into the sky, and fire leapt from the earth at his paws, licking up his arms. Bayo did not fear it though, nor did it burn, or even hurt him. Romu took a submissive stance at Bayo’s fiery approach. Their roles reversed, Romu realized he was now sixth of the pack, and that Bayo was five.

“Brother,” Romu heard within his mind. “Come, we have much to discuss with the pack.”

And So the Great Rot Spread

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28th of Fourteembra, 87AP

Old Farmer Giles beat his hoe into the dirt, but the dirt did not have enough life in it for the hoe to stick. “Damn,” he said. The soil, once so moist and brown, had become black with rot. Dryer than should be possible.

“It’s just rained!” exclaimed he, quite agitated. “How can this be possible?”

With his eyes he traced where the roots of the rot made their way into the brown moist dirt. Like a sickness it spread. A great large spot upon the face of Atelinor’s green face, with writhing tendrils eating away at the ground around it.

“Soon this will eat away at my fields whole,” Farmer groaned. He turned to see the rest of his crops, glistening in the light of Sol’Enasé, which bounced off their wet leaves. It was a sight he’d never grow tired of beholding.

The tilled earth at his feet was useless, however. He was wasting his time and he knew it. This soil would not grow. It was high time he reaped all he could from his crops, and left.

After all, there was untended and unowned land for hundreds of kiloters north and east of here, nearer the world’s coasts. Soon the rot would be upon his beloved harvest and he’d need to find new land to till.

He had come out this far, past rivers and mountains and thick forests, to escape the terrible wars of men. And a peaceful sanctuary it was. He and his family had built a fine home for themselves. His wife bore him seven beautiful children in quick succession. And then last year, over the tors and through the fields, the rot became visible. It crept by night, shrinking back only slightly in the sunlight, but made more headway than not. It took it longer than a year before it had overtaken them.

But here it was now. An evil malice of unknown origin, staring in the face of all he’d made of the land. Old Farmer Giles had tried cultivating the black soil numerous times, but seeds only shriveled into dust themselves beneath its dark layers.

“Yes. It’s ’bout that time then.” He had known this day would come. He’d warned his missus, and told the children fanciful tales of the land beyond. Of green, free, and peaceful fields as far as the eye could see.

But it was clear there was a price to be paid for peace. Whether that be an allegorical excuse he’d told himself, or the truth, he did not know. But that seemed the only answer he could conjure.

Old Farmer Giles began the process he so dreaded. He harvested what could be reaped, more than enough to feed their family of nine, and then some to be dried out for seeds. He began his preparations for his journey northward.

But how long until the rot overtakes their new home?


Prompt taken from the Daily Fantasy Writing Prompt, Mar. 7, 2016.

Rage of the Rattlehulk

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19th of Triabra, 1212AP

The events happened so quickly that May barely had enough time to process the information, let alone assess what her next move would be. She had run out of the level clearing and jumped back down the mountainside, into the trees, jerking her weight in midair to twist fully around and let loose the arrow in her grip. She watched it fly, wobbling from the various forces pushing and pulling against its minuscule, aerodynamic form. The bow string whipped the palm of her hand, breaking skin, but she payed it no mind. She watched the arrow arc in its flight, curving from the strange manner in which she released it. Finally it steadied towards its target’s thick brown coat.

May Aresha didn’t know if she hit her mark or not. Upon her aimless descent back into the forest’s thick brush, her back met bark. Hard. It pushed the wind out of her, twisting her fall around the trunk and throwing her into the leaves below, face first. Her momentum kept her plowing down the mountainside, the leaves beneath her making her slide ever more frictionless. She grabbed hold of her senses, and dug her boots and hands into the soil.

Finally she halted, kicking a tree and a boulder, and she let her momentum bring herself back to a standing position. A great rattling roar leapt from where she had been just moments before, like bones scraping and clattering against one another, fighting for freedom from the confines of such a terrible beast. The Rattlehulk had been hit.

May had no time to celebrate the incredible shot. She couldn’t breathe. The impact of the trunk had knocked her breathless. She struggled for air, groaning as pain shot through her torso. She leaned forward to grab her bow, but abandoned the idea as a new set of pangs began to surface. The strange pang of bones poking about where they weren’t supposed to. My ribs! The shock allowed her a brief relapse of air, and she choked in all she could manage.

The Rattlehulk only allowed her enough time for a few precious, painful gulps of air, before it blundered after her. As it hit the tree line, the great mass of fur and bone stopped its insane rattling roar, and began a purr-like hiss. It pushed itself furiously between the trees with its two mighty limbs, it’s long, girthy tail, wrapping and wriggling around the forest floor, kicking up leaves and dirt in its wake.

Oh hyll no.

May reached to grab another arrow, but the tumble had cost her nearly all of her quiver’s contents. Only one remained. The others must have been scattered about the mountainside. No time. Fire! FIRE! She dropped to her knees to pick up the bow, and pulling the string back fast (despite the searing pain in her back and chest) let the arrow free. The monster stumbled right into it.

The arrow glanced off the Rattlehulk’s face, which was without fur or skin. Black secretions oozed from the hulk’s fleshless eye-sockets and maw. It barreled forward, squeezing its way through the ranks of most of the trees, shattering the rest with its taloned fingers. The dual horns on its head removed branches and pockets of canopy that dared stand in its way. It needed May.

Just as May had needed to find her father, Burelik, just moments earlier. Her father, a trained hidehunter, had been gone for far too long from their hometown in Furmount. May had followed Burelik’s trail, only to find that they led straight to the Rattlehulk. The same Rattlehulk which was now dangerously close to trampling her, like the trees it chose not to maneuver around.

May slammed back to the present. She leapt and ran to her right, then up, and about, climbed up a tree, and swung off a branch. Instead of evading it, like the Rattlehulk had assumed she would try, May jumped onto the creatures back, cracking the wooden bow onto the flat of the monster’s neck (which thankfully wasn’t just bone). The wood splintered on contact, leaving behind two halves connected by rawhide string. May quickly stabbed one of the sharp splinters into the Rattlehulk’s shoulder, but before she could drive in the next stake she was thrown up by the tail, and swatted into a tree. The Rattlehulk wriggled and writhed in pain, pushing its back against tree branches to dislodge the object. All the while it gargled with bones and hatred.

May’s body throbbed all over. The tail had swatted her hip, and her leg hit the tree. Not to mention the bones she already suspected were broken. She rolled away from an incoming swipe from the Rattlehulk’s talons, which ripped a sleeve from her shirt.

She got to her feet and started moving down the mountainside, favoring her left. Am I sweating or am I crying? She thought about this only briefly, realizing there were more pressing questions to face, such as: how the hyll am I getting out of this alive? She hopped down a rock ridge, and found a small hole covered by rock she could easily hide in, before the monster could see her do so. And she waited.

May could hear the Rattlehulk’s labored breathing, even though it was still a ways off. She could feel the ground shake with every tree it snapped and step it stomped. And that horrible rattling. It drove her to tears, if nothing else, and she covered her mouth. She closed her eyes too, hoping to never see such a thing again. She also hoped the small, hidden shelter would be enough. Can it smell me? Unlikely, as the black goop also fell from its slitted nostrils. The creature slowed, clicked about a bit, and searched around other trees. And then it went silent.

“May?” A voice broke out from the woods. A strangely familiar voice. “May, is that you?” Now she was truly crying – a hushed sob, which hurt more than all her broken body did combined.

“May. Don’t be afraid.” It was the voice of her father… but it was muffled. Distorted. The voice crept closer. “May, come back out. The Rattlehulk. It won’t hurt you. I promise.” The last two words came out dark and satirical. A rattling chuckle permeated the forest then, seeming to echo about from all areas at once.

May stepped out of hiding, staring the thing in its face. It happened to be standing just outside her shelter, waiting. It’s thick brown pelt smelled like death and fecal matter. On the underside of its immensity, was a large patch of beige skin. May was terrified of the thing. But she forgot her fears entirely when it spoke with her father’s voice. Now she was just angry.

“How dare you use my father’s voice, foul beast!”

“I could use another, if it please you,” this time speaking with a little girl’s childlike innocence, which in some ways was more disconcerting. It just wagged its tail, left and right, rustling the leaves on grass.

“And what? You want my voice to add to the collection?” May pulled the knife slowly out of a hidden sheath on her thigh, without the Rattlehulk knowing.

“No dear. I only want your bones.” She recognized this voice as one of the other missing hidehunters from town, but her chance to put a name to the voice was cut to an abrupt halt as it opened its jaws wide and dove into her.

Before the Rattlehulk could sink any of its terrible teeth into May, she stabbed the hidden knife directly into its left eye-socket, producing a fresh spray of the black substance. Some got onto May’s wrist and immediately began to burn. The Rattlehulk forgot it’s human voices and whimpered like a wounded carabrin dog, recoiling and staggering back. It wailed anew a terrible cry.

May tried to wipe off the black ooze from her wrist as she ran, but she couldn’t remove it entirely. She limped up until she reached the red-tinged grass. Walking the last few steps, she turned around, stopping just before the large pit below. The trees here were different – tall and young, and old and small. The bark had warped into an unnatural curve. The air itself was thick and felt unsafe to breathe, but May didn’t see how she had any other choice. She waited, wiping the remainder of the black substance on her leggings.

The Rattlehulk charged forward, not parting for any tree in its path. It shoved through them, tackling them head on. It was going to rip May apart. The ooze in its eye bounced up and out, splattering across the entire left side of the bone-faced monster. It wasn’t slowing its speed; it would plow right into her, perhaps goring her with the horns on its head.

She dropped down the hole, catching herself on the ledge. The Rattlehulk fell for the trap, jumping forward, directly into the pit. Directly into the paradox.

It screamed with a sound she didn’t think it previously capable of. A sound of purest agony. Pulling herself back up, she turned to take in what was transpiring. The gyrating, shapeless, orb of pulsing red, spewing streams of light and darkness in equal measure, was pulling the Rattlehulk into its grasp. The beast used its limbs and talons to attempt to crawl to safety, while simultaneously swatting its large tail to disentangle, or to swim, or to fight the anomaly.

“May!” It screamed with her father’s voice. “May, come with me! Please! I’m so hungry. May. May. MAY!”

The paradox was folding in on itself, a shape enveloping another shape, while simultaneously also being both shapes. And the Rattlehulk continued to writhe and wail and… rattle. Until both the paradox and the hulk were gone in a puff of static and electricity, which too was soon gone. Forgotten.

May sat there for a bit, slack-jawed.

She had won.

But it certainly didn’t feel that way.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

A Blueprint and a Storm

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

“The latest insight in modern intellectual understanding is being referred to by members of the Akarian Scholaria as the Lifespan Conundrum. Although it is currently only proposed as a theory, the past half century has seen a widespread increase in naturally occurring deaths under the expected lifespan of 150 years. Scholars and record keepers alike are claiming we may be seeing a sudden drop of nearly 30 years off the average human life cycle, and they have as yet reached no conclusions as to why this would be occurring. On average it appears women live roughly 3-4 years longer than men. One Akar (who has asked to remain anonymous) states that the diminishing lifespan may not be an entirely new concept. Some, including our source, believe it likely that those who experienced the Purge could have lived as long as 200 years or more.”

Ashayr Cannifury Brite shook his head and chuckled as he finally understood. He dropped the satirical tabloid onto his nightstand. The Strand is finally taking potshots at those paradox addled fools of the Scholaria. For such self proclamation of collegiate prowess, Ashayr couldn’t fathom how the Akarianites could still profess their belief in a Purge ever actually happening. Absolutely no proof!

He looked about him, rising. The previous night was an unbelievable success, both as parties go and as a fundraising event. It was dishevelment in the extreme. Ashayr was extremely proud of himself. As only a minor lord, this project would forever stamp his name on the annals of history, (and it would bring water more readily to the people). Lord Sarnichor and his wife had promised a generous loan, and old Lady Marley Crondy is officially recognizing a portion of her will towards the financing of the, tentatively titled, Brite Aqueduct.

He left the room, silently bidding the two youthful beauties unbothered rest under the sheets. The hallways seemed intact, ferns unruffled and paintings leveled. He ascended the stairway, several goblets and a bottle of 20-year aged Marnvalley Red empty and abandoned on the bottom step. They found their way into my cellar, he thought with exasperation.

Ashayr stopped when he hit the next floor, staring at the open door in front of him. Exasperation drained from him, anxiety filling the gaps. No, no no… No, the room was locked. Locked? Surely, I locked it. He moved forward, entering his workspace. It was remarkably clean opposed to the rest of the manor’s appearance. No party entered through here. The papers on his table sat untouched. Precious heirlooms, weapons, and other valuables remained where they had been positioned. Maps of Atelinor draped magnificently on the wall, each town marked, and landmark pinned.

And then he realized, looking back to his work table. “Where is it,” he asked in a low fury. “Where is the blueprint!?” He had shown nobody the most updated layout. If this gets into the wrong hands… He collapsed into the chair, hands shaking. The document contained more than a few confidential details he hoped would remain a secret, including how much he would personally pocket from the project’s proceeds. If this gets into the wrong hands, I’m finished.

– – –

Aelin kept the rolled up blueprint hidden beneath the folds of her cloak, anger and determination warming her from the inside out. From Brite’s boastful speech last night she had realized the location of the water duct system to be dubious. It was worse than that though. Oh, how papa needs to see this.

It had begun snowing on her way back home. It was so sudden. No snow all season long and now it falls in buckets! She furiously blew the snowy hair out of her eyes, unwilling to tuck it back inside her hood for fear of numbing her fingertips. Her walk was endless and lonely. All had shuffled their way indoors at the onset of the snowfall, and she walked the streets by herself. The sky was ominously dark; relentless.

The overwhelming silence would have been considered soothing. The white flakes falling slow and deliberate could have been inspiration for song. The soft crunch under her boots should have reminded Aelin of her youth. But she was upset and her mind was elsewhere. The sketched plans under her cloak foretold the doom of her father’s house.

Wind picked up, buffeting more snow against her course. The layers of snow under her feet piled higher, each inch making it harder and harder to budge forward. What I’d give for a horse right now, she thought grudgingly. She hugged to the walls at her left, where the snow fell less feverishly. It was becoming increasingly dangerous. I’ll have to stop at Duree’s Harper, until I warm.

She turned under a wooden archway, accented by a hanging plank with an embossed harp, and pulled open the heavy door. It was a breath of fresh air, entering the building. Not quite the breath she hoped for though. Duree’s Harper Tavern was an old establishment, and Aelin had been coming here for some time. Her father’s line of work wasn’t something she could follow in the footsteps of exactly; that’s what her brother was for. She had been training under a minstrel, coming here twice a week generally. Her tutor, a reclusive master, would be absent today, she was aware.

Since she set out to earn her minstrel certificates Aelin found that only one thing truly peeved her – being mistaken for a bard or a mere singer. Master Davad’s first lesson stuck with her after all these long months. “The road to becoming a celebrated minstrel is elusive. If you ever find it, let me know. And make no mistake, being celebrated and being successful are two very different things. There are many celebrated bards with more poems to their name than coin. There are many successful singers or musicians with more coin to their name than talent. As a minstrel, you must blend deft fingers, a trained voice, and a honed wit if you ever plan on attaining success. Once you attain that, celebrate.”

The warmth of the room was jolting. Fire licked up from the large rectangular pit in the center of the room. Aelin allowed her hands to heat up, feeling the ache in her bones slowly return as she thawed. The room smelled of roasted pork and ale, and it’s scattered attendants joined the crackling fire with idle chatter and mirth.

She needed to look at it again. She sat at the nearest empty table, fumbling the flattened roll out of her cloak. A key dropped out of the cloak with it. Despite it all, it rolled out easily. The parchment was likely a fine goatskin, not coiling back up as most scrolls would.

She traced where the water system led, a gigantic snake across the page. She did not question that the people would need the water, or doubt that this would make it easier for them. It was a brilliant plan. But there. Just there. Her finger traced where her home would be. Several piers and walls would need to come down directly on the people of her neighborhood. If Lord Brite gets the funding to go through with this… Her home. Her father’s shop. Neighbors she had known all her life. All would need be uprooted for this… Brite Aqueduct. The words were stained across the top of the magnificent parchment.

At the time she stole the plans from Brite she knew she had to stop him any way she could, but just now she had no idea how to go about such a daunting task. What would her father think, being sacrificed to the wellbeing of the future? What was she thinking, even attempting to interfere in the games of lords?

A harpist and a lutist began to play on the raised platform closest to the window. Aelin recognized it as a private class, the harpist being the less experienced of the two.

– – –

“What the hyll is that?” Stann stood over a young woman’s shoulder looking down upon the parchment on the table.

“Oh,” the girl exclaimed, clearly flustered. She was very pretty. Olive skin. Brown hair. But the parchment was… “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you standing there.” She noticed Stann’s eyes scanning the map of sorts. “It’s nothing. None of your business.”

She attempted to half-heartedly cover up the page before her, outstretching her palms across it. “Doesn’ look like noffin’, love. Wha’s that say then? Briiite Aqueeeduct…” Stann knew his letters. Not well. But he knew them. He took the seat beside her and she recoiled. Whether she drew back because of the intimacy or the smell of alcohol wasn’t certain. He studied the parchment. The map in front of him detailed plans to build a monumental structure. A blueprint. To the right people this would be worth it’s weight. And it didn’t belong to the beauty that sat beside him.

Recognition hit the girl’s face and she quirked her features. “I know you,” she said. “You’re A Journey of Storms, aren’t you?” He hated himself at that moment for not skinmasking before confronting her. Course she knows who I am.

“The name’s Stann. An’ yeah, part of the company.” He pointed over his shoulder at the table near the alley exit. “There’s the rest of em.” Several members raised their mugs at the gesture. “Now. This wouldn’ be little Lordling Brite’s would it?” The color drained from her face. “I thought it might be. He had that big party of his last night. Suppose’ to unveil some big project of his.” She said nothing, but guilt and fear weighed heavy on her features. “Why don’ you hand that over, I slide a little coin your way, and our lord never finds out who took it?”

She stammered her words out. “N-no. It was given to me by Lord Brite himself. A message of sorts to-to the people of my locality.” Her lies were as large as her eyes. “I do not think he would much appreciate a band of thieving troubadours intercepting it for their own gain.” She found her courage and rolled up the blueprint, tucking it under her cloak. She got up and stood by the fire.

“Eh, we’ll see,” Stann mumbled, returning to his table. He recounted what he’d seen to the others present. They were 8 in total.

One of them, a woman named Jaspona piped in. “We need that Parchment, Stann. You know the pale one will pay.”

He shot her a glance. He knew whom they would sell it to. He did not need reminding. “I’ll skinmask and exit out the side door,” he stated, pointing at the alley.

“Well, get on with it then! That one looks ready to leave.” Jaspona pointed at the girl, tapping her boots rhythmically by the fire. “Jus’ be quiet this time!”

Stann glanced about the tavern making sure no eyes were watching, took a deep swig from the mug in front of him, and let all the air in his lungs fall out. The man sitting next to him scooted out of elbow range. Stann opened his mind to impossible things.

– – –

A harp string broke and Jorl swore under his breath. The B string swatted his finger. He shouldn’t have been plucking as hard as he was, but it wasn’t nearly the same as playing the lute. It took his tutor some time to realize that he had stopped playing. Carin frowned and placed her palm over the strings of the lute. “You’re plucking too hard.” Carin was his betrothed, as well as his tutor. Even her rebukes were soft-edged. Even so, it shamed him that she so outstripped him in age and skill.

“I know. I know.” Jorl proffered the harp out to her, letting his disappointment hide the jealousy. “The lute is my instrument, dear. Can not I work with that tonight?”

Carin sighed. “Of course, but you’ll have to learn the harp eventually.” They traded instruments. “Same tune?”

Jorl nodded, and as he settled back into his seat he noticed a women with brown hair exit out the way she had come. But then he noticed a young girl, no older than eleven years of age leave out the alley exit. Odd. I don’t remember seeing any children enter. He shrugged the thought away as his betrothed began to strum on her harp. He too fell back into the rhythm.

– – – – –

Writing prompt/exercise taken from Writing Excuses episode 10.2.

Using last week’s five story ideas (or five new ones):

Take two of them and combine them into one story.
Take one and change the genre underneath it.
Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

The Dry Season

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

It had been an impressively mild winter. Two months in and only now had the season released its first snowfall. The flakes fell thick outside the window, the pane frosting around the edges. Jary Miggon watched in fascinated distaste. He pulled the blanket closed around his torso, tight around the neck, and eased back from the window. Closed as it was, the chill seeped in slowly. He threw another log in the fire and watched it catch.

Jary truly hated the cold. He’d never been able to stomach it since his family had moved up from Brambletang when he was very young. He had hoped this winter would be different. And it had. But now it seemed to need to compensate for its absence.

The flames licked around the log and Jary sat back satisfied. He pulled in his writing station and dipped the pen in ink. He had nothing. The paper would go out three days hence and he had nothing to show for it. The paper heading had been calligraphed in earlier that week. VELUNDANE PERIODICAL stretched out atop the top left portion of the paper. It would be folded four ways after it had been written and sent to the press.

Perhaps I could attempt to allocate a section of the piece to my interview with lordling Brite…‘ The prospect was a drudgery. Jary contacted the minor lord at his estate in Eastings during a pretentious fundraising event only yesterday. ‘While it was still warm out,‘ he noted. Brite opined that Eastings was an advantageous location for real estate in the city, situated snug against the carved out cliff face, because water flowed straight from River Atlúm to their doorstep. He proposed they build a duct system that carried the water directly from Atlúm to the center of Velundane.

Naturally this brought a huge round of applause from the sycophants and fawners in attendance, but Jary was a far more practical man. This project wouldn’t happen any time soon. The money needed just couldn’t be obtained. And as selfless an idea as it was, Jary hardly suspected Brite’s motives wholly altruistic.

Jary’s father Bart Miggon passed away nearly 5 years prior, leaving him the reins to the fortnightly periodical. And on occasion, now particularly, Jary felt it more of a burden than a blessing. But most days he relished the idea of writing articles for the VP. It was in his blood, and since the paper became his, its readership too seemed to escalate. He took pride in that. This was, after all, the very first periodical in existence, dating back over 50 years.

But now, just after its half-century anniversary, the creativity well began to dry up, along with any worthy news.

A knock at the door preceded the door’s slow opening. A woman shuffled in. Beautiful. Short blonde curly hair. Very pregnant. She carried with her a tray with kettle and tea. Brambletang black. ‘She knows me too well.‘ “Perfect timing. I’m freezing.”

Her face soured at the empty page, but she poured out two cups regardless. “You’ve still not come up with anything?” Her tone was equal parts annoyance and pity. She took a generous helping of milk and sugar. Jary took it straight.

“I’m sorry Lyla. Give me a bit more time. I’ll be sure to have it out by deadline. Thank you for the tea, though. You’re my favorite.”

“Yeah, yeah. I better be.” She gave him a devilish grin and shuffled off to the window. The phrase “you’re my favorite” was a small nothing they’d repeated to each other since they were young and had begun courting. Jary knew it would continue to bring a smile to her face for many years to come.

He went back to his notes. ‘There’s always the lifespan conundrum.‘ This was a new theory being thrown around by supposed intellectuals based on data they’d been collecting over hundreds of years. ‘Akarianites,‘ he thought with more than a tinge of prejudice. The theory explains that the average lifespan of humans on Atelinor had drastically decreased in the past century, from about 150 years to as low as 120.

This was published as a factual piece in The Strand, known best in the community for their questionable sources, or lack thereof. The theory is believed by some however. It goes on to propose that there might be some basis to believe that those who passed through the Purge could have had a lifespan closer to 200 years. However nobody, including the propagators of the theories, have any definitive proof, or an answer as to why the lifespan would be diminishing…

Jary rubbed his eyes, jotted down both the idea of including a section for lordling Brite’s water duct system, and addressing the validity of the lifespan conundrum. Both were alarmingly hypothetical topics. One might never happen and the other might be simply unprovable for years to come. And hypothetical topics like these were something he and the Velundane Periodical stayed far away from, if only to distinguish itself and its quality from its competitors. Perhaps the day had arrived when he’d need to rely more heavily on articles of a hypothetical nature.

He pushed his writing station aside and stood to stretch. Getting the blood flowing was an integral part of his work. He paced in front of the fireplace, still quite chilled to his bones. His wife ignored his movements, sitting on the stool by the window. “Where do you think she’s off to?”

Jary braced himself for the cold as he left the warmth of his hearth behind. In the street, bundled tight in cloak and shawl was a young woman, wading slowly but confidently through the snow. “Who do you think it is?” asked Jary.

“I can’t tell just yet.” The figure got closer, her footprints small but heavy in the powder beneath her. The wind blew in her hood, the flakes attaching themselves to her hair. Brown hair. Her nose was pointy and her features long and pale. “I think it’s… Aelin. Where could she possibly be going in this weather, you think?”

“Aelin,” Jary pondered. “Aelin the butcher’s daughter?”

“Well she can’t stay ‘the butcher’s daughter’ forever. She’s training for bardship, see.” Lyla pointed to the brick building Aelin was entering. A stylized harp carved into a plank hung above the door.

“Terrible weather for practice,” Jary said incredulously. He went back to the warm spot on his chair, by the fire. There had to be a story in there. ‘Bardship. I had no idea.

An entertainment column might not be a bad idea, come to think on it.‘ Jary scribbled down the name of the traveling group he had seen pass through Velundane a week past. ‘A Journey of Storms‘ they called themselves. Odd name, but they put on a marvelous show. The man and woman who led the troupe were likely surnamed Storm or other. The troupe themselves weren’t particularly pleasant on the eyes, and Jary wouldn’t have been surprised had they also been unpleasant to the nose, but he hadn’t gotten that close.

A Journey of Storms boasted their ability to play by memory a hundred shows, and three times as many songs. They played a game of song naming, where they had the audience take turns telling them to play certain songs, and if they weren’t familiar with one, they’d buy the individual a drink. They knew their art well. Afterwards they put on a show of Carus and Carrion, a dark comedy.

Music began to play then. It took Jary out of his concentration. The sound came from outside – no. From across the street. It must be from the music tavern Aelin had entered. He closed his eyes and let himself relax. Harp? It sounded like a harp. But it also sounded more or less like a lute. ‘Ah I see. Two instruments in tandem.‘ It was a slow melody. Just gentle plucking of strings in truth, but in the right order… The harp faltered. A short pause followed and then it started up once more. ‘I guess she is getting a lesson.

Lyla hummed along, as she tidied up the study. Books were lain out on the table in stacks, and she placed these back on the shelf. Jary took a sip of his tea. He’d nearly forgotten it was there. ‘Still warm enough to drink,‘ he thought happily. The dulcet melody was oddly fitting for an afternoon as bitter chill as this.

Lyla made a startled exclamation, breaking the mystique of the song. “Jary! Jary, come look!” She stood by the window looking upon the snowy street below. Her voice was urgent. And frightened.

A body lay in the snow, facing the oncoming blizzard. A young woman, Aelin. The butcher’s daughter. Red stained the white around her. Lyla screamed as Jary threw his cloak on. The music continued unabated.

———

Writing prompt/exercise taken from the Writing Excuses podcast episode 10.1.

Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

From an interview or conversation you’ve had
From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
From observation (go for a walk!)
From a piece of media (watch a movie)
From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

I’d like feedback if you have any, critical or other.