Wednesday, 28 January 2015

January Pictonaut: Beneath a Square Sun

This one kind of got away from me. I had no real idea what the ending would be until I got there, and it surprised me. It's a little stream of consciousness, but I hope you enjoy it.

Beneath a Square Sun

The painting had always haunted her. Ever since she had first seen it in a gallery as a little girl, she hadn't been able to get it out of her mind. It was an abstract, pop-culture piece that made absolutely no sense outside the world of art

And yet...

The world the astronaut stood on seemed familiar somehow. But that was impossible. The idea that a human astronaut could one day step foot on a another planet; that was not so far fetched. Even the notion of the blue grass and a pink sky were scientifically plausible, given enough tweaking of the chemical and physical variables at play. But the square sun; now that made no sense at all. And yet that was what was most familiar to her: she had seen that sun before. She wasn't able to shake the feeling that she had once stood on that world, under the warm rays of that strange, familiar sun.

There had always been something a little different about her, something that didn't quite belong. Maybe the resonance of the painting was a result of that: the human astronaut certainly didn't belong on that strange, impossible planet. Maybe it was her feelings of isolation and not belonging that made the idea stick. The notion that she truly was an outsider was so tantalising she could almost taste it. Maybe...

The fact of the matter was this: that the painting existed, and it evoked some sort of familiarity in her. For a long time she didn't even think about itshe simply put it out of her mind and got on with her life. And then one day, when she was quite grown up, she stumbled upon the painting again.

She hadn't meant toshe'd been out for a walk on her lunch break and, on a whim, decided to visit an art gallery. No real reason, no prior planning and no real thought behind it. It was just a whim. And yet there the painting was, in all its glory. Her childhood memories flooded back and just for an instant it felt like destiny. She and this painting, whatever it depicted, were somehow bound together.

That the painting still called to her she could not deny. She'd never really shaken off the feeling of being outside, of not quite belonging to this world. And now, all these years later, confronted once again with this painting, she began to wonder anew.

What if she really were alien?

It was a delightfully bizarre thought, but one she couldn't dismiss entirely. She had been adopted, and there were no record of either of her birth parents. Her origins were a complete mystery. But even if she succumbed to the rather far-fetched notion that she was a being from another planet, there was still the prospect of that pesky square sun.

But even so... if she closed her eyes and thought hard enough. When she dreamed she felt the pleasant warmth of its rays on her skin, and smelled the gentle peppermint scent of the blue grass. It was a fictionnothing morebut a pleasant fiction nonetheless.

There were no more answers forthcoming: no more half forgotten memories or fragments of dreams. Nothing else about the strange blue planet with the impossible square sun. Not until the night of the accident.

It had been raining hard all day, and visibility was terrible. She could see barely more than a hundred yards in front of her, despite the headlights. It was no wonder she didn't see the lorry until it was too late to stop. All she could do was watch the enormous hunk of metal collide with her tiny car as if it were in slow motion. There was a horrific squealing and crunching of metal, and then silence.

Everything was a little fuzzy after that, a blur of white lights and peoples' faces and shouted medical sounding words. And then everything went dark. From the darkness floated a strange vision. It looked much like her memories of the hospital, but everything was somehow wrong. She had been quite sure the doctors shouldn't have blue skin...

Whatever language these beings were speakingand it almost certainly wasn't Englishshe found she could understand them. It seemed she'd been in some sort of accident and was badly injured: they were trying desperately to save her life. She blinked and the vision shifted and she was back at the hospital. The real hospital, with human doctors and the sense of things not being quite right.

She woke up in ICU, battered and broken but thankfully not dead. The people around her kept using words like "surgery" and "extensive damage" and "lucky to be alive". She mostly ignored them, strangely fascinated by the world she had glimpsed while in her coma. Was it possible that she'd been right all along? She really didn't belong here?

The doctors kept telling her that she had some kind of head trauma, and hallucinations were a potential side effect of her injuries. But in her heart she knew what she saw was no hallucination. As she floated in and out of sleep she seemed to drift from world to world, one moment here on Earth and the next on the strange planet. Each transition seemed like a TV screen glitching, and it lent to the sense of unreality that she now felt constantly.

One world was the real world, and one was false. And she couldn't tell the difference any more.

They kept talking about the fact she'd need further surgery once the swelling in her brain down, but she wasn't listening to the details. She was mostly looking forward to an extensive period of unconsciousness, when hopefully she might find her answers. The needle went in, she felt that clearly, and then she was wide awake and everything suddenly felt real. She looked down, unsurprised at the blue tone of her skin.

"What happened?" she asked one of the techs who stood off to the side.

"There were a few problems with events in the simulation manifesting physically," said the tech, his voice metallic and almost mechanical. "We seem to have corrected it now."

"So the simulation works?" she asked.

"You tell us. Did it feel real?"

"Too real. I almost felt like I was one of them."

"Excellent. The director will be pleased with our progress."

"Can I go then?" she asked and the tech nodded.

She swung her legs off the bed and wandered down the hall to her quarters. The window was open and she could smell the reassuring scent of peppermint. She rested her arms on the windowsill and looked out at the pale pink sun in all its angular glory.

It was good to be home.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Song of the Wind

In a shocking departure from tradition, I have managed to participate in a flash fiction challenge that isn't The Rogue Verbumancer's Pictonaut Challenge. Bearded writer extraordinaire Chuck Wendig levelled the challenge over at terribleminds, and while I didn't finish in the allotted time, I did finish.So here it is.

The challenge was to head on over to this D&D character generator and write 1000 words based on whatever dropped out of the generator. I probably cheated and pressed the button multiple times, but the prompt I ran with was


which ended up as the piece below. I think I hit all the prompts. I'm actually pretty fond of this and terhe is a good chance I might write some more of this character and this adventure. If i don't get eaten by my thesis.

The Song of the Wind

Bazrad Ka-Duri downed the mug of mead in one go, belched loudly and then promptly fell off her chair. Once she had managed to clamber back on to the barstool—which was far too tall and clearly not meant for the little folk to use—she immediately called for another. The barman looked skeptical, but seemed to know better than to tangle with a dwarf on a serious bender. He poured her another tankard of mead.

Not that he seemed to know she was a she.

"There you go sir," said the barman, unaware of several things including the mortal peril he now found himself in.

"Sir?!" spluttered Bazrad through a mead soaked moustache. "Can't youse tell that I am a dwarf woman?" She grabbed a fist full of her luxurious facial hair. "I have an even number of braids in my beard; men wear an odd number of braids." She straightened her spine and drew herself up to her full, not terribly impressive height. "Besides, my name is Bazrad Ka-Duri. Even if you know nothing else about dwarven names you should know that 'Ka' signifies 'daughter of'. If I were male my conjunctive would be 'Ker'."

"My apologies madam," said the barman, "but regardless of gender, I think you've had too much to drink; that was your last one."

Bazrad took the tankard—grumbling—but she held her tongue. Long experience had taught her that it was not wise to upset the person in charge of the drinks.

She should have never left her conclave in the great underground city of Varfaldur. At least the monks back home knew better than to cut her off mid session. Mind you, her ability and tendency to drink copious amounts of mead was one of the reasons she'd never been a good cleric herself. That and the unfortunate incident with the kobold.

Still, she'd carried on wearing the robes of her order even after she'd come to the Surface. Bazrad had found that if people thought you were a priest, regardless of order, they'd cut you a little more slack. Made life that little bit easier. The damn barman at this pisshole of a tavern didn't seem to be one of those folks though. And a great pity it was too. Well there was no point in staying if she'd been cut off. Bazrad regretfully downed the tankard, settled the bill and headed off into the night.

Bazrad stumbled down the street, cursing angrily under her breath. She'd been hoping to avoid leaving the tavern until she was too drunk to stand, but that plan had been thwarted. Concentrating hard on where she was putting her feet she headed back to the temple where she kept a room. With every step she took the whispering grew louder and louder.

The damned whispering that had turned her to drink in the first place.

"And youse can fuck right off!" she yelled suddenly, pointing an accusing finger at the nearest bush.  The tramp in a nearby doorway eyed her suspiciously. "What? You can't hear that? Of course you can't, I'm the only bastard lucky enough get to hear this incessant chattering."

Bazrad stomped off grumpily, swearing at each piece of vegetation she passed on her way back to the temple. Once safely behind the thick temple doors she heaved a sigh of relief. She really did regret leaving Varfaldur some days. It was nice in the city, and there were no trees in the Underdark.

No trees meant none of the annoying bloody voices that had followed Bazrad ever since she'd gotten to the Surface. Nobody had bothered to warn her that the plants on the Surface could talk. But then she seemed to be the only one with the ability to hear the trees speaking. The gods had been ever so generous in giving her that particular 'gift'.

Returning to her room she immediately realised that something was wrong: she wasn't alone. Bazrad grasped the utility knife she kept on her belt and swung around, ending up nose to navel with an intruder. Before she could visit death and destruction upon her assailant a set of strong, slender fingers wrapped around her wrist.

"Please don't," said a light and almost musical voice. "We don't mean you any harm."

Elves, she thought. Why did it have to be elves?

Fair folk or not, she was outnumbered and inebriated. She grunted her assent and sheathed her weapon. The fingers withdrew.

"Bazrad Ka-Duri?" asked the voice that had grabbed her wrist. Obviously this one was the leader.

"Who wants to know?" she replied suspiciously.

"I am Elarnaud Hawkfriend and this is my companion Arcaena Swiftbrook," said the elf with the strong grip. "We have heard tell that you can hear the song of the wind."

"The what now?"

"The song of the wind. The whisper of the leaves? You have not heard of this?" asked Elarnaud with a slightly perplexed look on their face.

Something clicked in Bazrad's alcohol-befuddled brain and she understood what the damn elf was talking about.  "Wait a minute, you're on about the fact I can hear the bastard trees are talking to me, aint you? You mean that's not just me going mad? There have been others?"

"It is a well known phenomenon in our homeland," said Arcaena. "Though it is unheard of that a dwarf should possess the gift."

"Some gift," said Bazrad angrily, "I can hear the bloody trees chattering wherever I go. Only time I get any peace is when I'm asleep or pissed out of me skull."

"As is often the case with such gifts, they are not without their drawbacks,"  said Elarnaud. "Those who can hear he song of the wind often have a great destiny ahead of them and that is why we have come to you, Bazrad Ka-Duri. Our woodland realm is in danger, and we need your help. Someone or something is killing the trees, and you may be the only one who can find out who or what. You are our only hope."

Bazrad reeled slightly with the news. "You mean to say, that not only can I actually hear the blasted trees talk, but that I'm probably the only one who can and you need me to save the world?"

"That is correct."

"Well shit."

Friday, 2 January 2015

December Pictonaut: Ascension

It's been a while since I managed a Pictonaut, and while technically I'm two days late for the December one I really don't care. I managed to do a writing, which feels good in the midst of my dreaded thesis. You know the drill; every month Glempy gives us a pictures to write a thousand-ish words about. I have called this months' effort Ascension because fuck the rules.


The desert was cold at night, but it made a pleasant change from the oppressive heat during the day. It was also quiet, and the skies were usually clear. Tonight was no different. The stars were winking in the inky blackness and a cool breeze was helping to dissipate the residual heat from the sun. It was the perfect night for what was to come. The board had been set eons ago, and now it was finally time for the pieces to begin moving.

As the moon had risen steadily in the sky so too the chill had crept up. Zan had been forced to carefully and painstakingly build themself a fire, which took the bite out of the air somewhat. They only shivered a little as they patiently waited for the appointed hour to arrive.

The duty of waiting and watching for this day, this night, had been passed down from ancient times. All of Zan's ancestors had taken their turn at the watch, and Zan was honoured to be the one who would fulfil the oath that had been transacted so long ago. The night lengthened and Zan gathered the materials they would need for the ritual to come.

There was the robe that they had created for themself as a mere child. Their forebears had all made their own robes too; it was the first task undertaken to prepare for initiation. The headdress however had been crafted long ago, passed down for generations. So too the ceremonial dagger, the athame, with its beautiful jewelled hilt. The goblet, on the other hand, had been crafted in the last few centuries, the original having been lost when the temple was purged.

They took a sharp stick and used it to draw a circle in the dirt, such that it completely surrounded the fire they had built. Around the inside circumference of the circle Zan drew the signs and sigils they had known since childhood. When this was done they took a pot of salt and scattered it liberally about the circle.

As the moon reached its zenith Zan at last donned the robes and the headdress. The ritual could now begin. They stepped into the circle they had drawn earlier and took a deep, preparatory breath.

It began with chanting.

First came the salutation to the Master, chanting all of their names and accolades and achievements. Then Zan recited the oath, rededicating themself to the Master's cause and renewing the promise that would be fulfilled that night. After that came all the names of their ancestors from that first servant who had transacted the oath with the Master right up to the one who had given Zan life. As the moon began its descent down the sky Zan began the ritual that would set the Master free and allow them to return to the world.

The ritual was long and took most of the night. The moon was well and truly setting by the time Zan reached its feverish climax. Their hair was tousled and their headdress askew as they lifted their arms aloft for the final part. They took the athame they had laid out earlier and carefully drew it across their palm. Blood flowed from Zan into the ceremonial goblet as they shouted the Master's name three times into the night and the ritual was done.

Everything stood still for a moment, and the first sliver of doubt crept into Zan's mind. What if the ritual hadn't worked? What if Zan had been shown to be unworthy? But then a loud rumbling noise filled the air and the sky seemed to crack open. A jagged rift cut across the stars and opened, wider and wider as the dreadful rumbling got louder and louder. Zan gave a whoop of victory; they had done it! The Master would return.

The rift in the sky glowed red, and from its depths came unearthly noises. A fell wind rushed from it and Zan caught the scent of ozone and rotting bodies. It was glorious! From the rift came the Master themself, clawing their way back into the world from the oblivion in which they had been imprisoned. All their life Zan had been trained for this moment, yet they were not prepared for moment they finally beheld the Master.

Zan almost didn't have the words to describe the mater they had served their entire life. Out of the rift came a void, out of which protruded a writhing mass of tentacles. There was a body, somewhere, but it looked like nothing Zan had ever seen before. There were multiple limbs and wings and so, so many tentacles. And then the eyes; red and glowing and far too numerous, that could see straight through to Zan's very soul.

A great and terrible voice seemed to sound inside Zan's head. You have done well my servant, it said. You, and all your kin shall be rewarded for your service. Then the terrible voice was gone, and the Master, now wholly freed from their otherworldly prison, set off to begin devouring the souls of the unworthy.

The mighty rumbling sound eased and Zan sank to their knees, exhausted. It was done. They had kept the promise that had been made long ago; their watch had ended, their task finally complete. They had set the Master free from their long imprisonment and now the world would end. But they and their ancestors who had kept the faith would be spared, their souls would not be devoured and they would not know the agony of the Master's wrath.

Tears of joy ran down Zan's face. A great happiness bubbled up in their chest as they felt it beginning, the Ascension. Zan raised their arms to the sky, crying out in the Master's name, praising them. As the first light of dawn kissed the horizon, and the first screams of the Devoured reached Zan's ears, they Ascended. They left their lifeless body behind to perish with the world. Their spirit rose up, beginning the long journey to the glory of the Master's realm, where they would meet with all their ancestors all the way back to the first of the Faithful.

It was done and they had been rewarded. All was as it should be.