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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by infiniteflame in portal Publishing

Chapter One: When Dusk turns Dark

With no shoes on, she was small. She had quite a willowy, delicate frame that only added to her elegance despite the fact she was perceived as weak and frail. Her skin was as pale and as smooth as porcelain, making the girl almost look like a china doll, with her short, blonde hair framing her face delicately, not a strand out of place. Her eyes seemed to resemble polished sapphires, glistening in the moonlight, and her lips were ruby red. Her dress draped around her body, fitting perfectly just like a glove to a hand.The skirt was fashioned out of smooth, milky white, frothy organza that reached her knees. A satin sash pulled in her waist, making it looking smaller than it already was. The bodice of her simple yet glamorous dress was encrusted with tiny little gems and beads that caught the soft moonlight and glowed. The girl walked with the grace of a nimble gazelle and was as bewitching as a peacock showing off her beautiful feathers.

The girl, known as Pearl, had never felt more terrified and insecure. All her life, she had spoken every word strongly and surely, each command strong. Now, for the first time in her life she found herself faced with uncertainty.

The moment she’d volunteered for the elemental games, everyone had been so certain that she would return victorious, and had completely disregarded the rest of the competition. And despite all their words of encouragement, she knew that she was incapable of winning. Which was the main reason for her sneaking out in the middle of the night for a calm walk in the woods.

She let out a sigh and leaned against a tree, the scent of petrichor infiltrating her nostrils. Terrified, she thought of the upcoming morning. There would be tears and goodbyes as she departed for the games, no doubt about it, but she couldn’t help but feel that she might never see any of her family or friends ever again.

Suddenly, an arrow nicked her ear as it flew past, thudding into a nearby tree. Pearl was immediately alert. No one from her tribe went hunting this late at night, and there could only be one possible explanation. It was an invasion.

But then, Pearl thought in a moment of confusion, Why aren't there any horses? Where is the army? The soldiers adorned in shining silver armor should have been visible under the light of the moon.

She trembled as she attempted to come up with an explanation. But before she could form a single thought, a tall figure leapt over the brush in front of her, landing with a light thud, so soft she barely heard it. She automatically reached for her knife, but realized that she was unarmed, wearing only a thin nightgown. There was only one option, she realized as the figure nocked an arrow. She turned and fled into the darkness.

She heard the whizzing sound, and she rolled on the forest floor as five arrows sailed overhead. Her thoughts raced as she ran. No archer she knew could shoot that many arrows in one shot, and there was no possible explanation nor reason some other tribe would send a single man to kill her. That's when it dawned upon her that it was none other than an assassination attempt. This one thought compelled her to move faster.

The assassin wasted no time in following after her. They took to the trees, leaping from branch to branch covering ground ten times quicker than their target. In the faint moonlight that shone through the trees, it was clear to see the girl as she fled towards her village, her nightgown a white beacon in the dark night.

Breathing hard, Pearl came to a halt. She spun around, trying to catch a glimpse of her attacker, but there was no one to be seen around. Relieved, she turned towards her village gates, which was just beyond the edge of the wilderness, no more than a few feet away.

And that's when the arrow pierced her leg. She let out a guttural cry as she collapsed on the forest floor, a pool of blood already forming around her. A hooded figure stepped out of the shadows, and Pearl scrambled up, struggling to see her attacker through the tears that formed in her eyes.

“What do you want?” She cried, as the figure advanced. “Help! Help!”

She threw a desperate look to the edge of the woods. Why was no one coming? Could no guard hear her cries?

The figure laughed, advancing, and Pearl choked back a sob.

“Who are you?” She whispered, staring up into the cold merciless eyes of her killer. She would never get her answer. She gasped as something pierced her lower abdomen. Looking down she saw a knife buried deep inside her stomach. Tears pooled in her eyes, and then she felt something deep inside her give up and turn off. She became limp and motionless, dead in a pool of her own blood.

The hooded figure smirked, before withdrawing a small pendant. She placed it atop the pool of blood and the necklace went from blue to a bright shade of scarlet. She placed it around her neck and a bright flash light illuminated the woods. In the place where the assassin stood a girl that looked exactly like Pearl, blonde hair, green eyes, everything accounted for except for clothing.

She smiled down at the dead body at her feet.

“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked. “I’m Pearl Evelyn Wavecrest of the Water tribe.”

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by infiniteflame in portal Publishing
Chapter One: When Dusk turns Dark
With no shoes on, she was small. She had quite a willowy, delicate frame that only added to her elegance despite the fact she was perceived as weak and frail. Her skin was as pale and as smooth as porcelain, making the girl almost look like a china doll, with her short, blonde hair framing her face delicately, not a strand out of place. Her eyes seemed to resemble polished sapphires, glistening in the moonlight, and her lips were ruby red. Her dress draped around her body, fitting perfectly just like a glove to a hand.The skirt was fashioned out of smooth, milky white, frothy organza that reached her knees. A satin sash pulled in her waist, making it looking smaller than it already was. The bodice of her simple yet glamorous dress was encrusted with tiny little gems and beads that caught the soft moonlight and glowed. The girl walked with the grace of a nimble gazelle and was as bewitching as a peacock showing off her beautiful feathers.

The girl, known as Pearl, had never felt more terrified and insecure. All her life, she had spoken every word strongly and surely, each command strong. Now, for the first time in her life she found herself faced with uncertainty.

The moment she’d volunteered for the elemental games, everyone had been so certain that she would return victorious, and had completely disregarded the rest of the competition. And despite all their words of encouragement, she knew that she was incapable of winning. Which was the main reason for her sneaking out in the middle of the night for a calm walk in the woods.

She let out a sigh and leaned against a tree, the scent of petrichor infiltrating her nostrils. Terrified, she thought of the upcoming morning. There would be tears and goodbyes as she departed for the games, no doubt about it, but she couldn’t help but feel that she might never see any of her family or friends ever again.

Suddenly, an arrow nicked her ear as it flew past, thudding into a nearby tree. Pearl was immediately alert. No one from her tribe went hunting this late at night, and there could only be one possible explanation. It was an invasion.

But then, Pearl thought in a moment of confusion, Why aren't there any horses? Where is the army? The soldiers adorned in shining silver armor should have been visible under the light of the moon.

She trembled as she attempted to come up with an explanation. But before she could form a single thought, a tall figure leapt over the brush in front of her, landing with a light thud, so soft she barely heard it. She automatically reached for her knife, but realized that she was unarmed, wearing only a thin nightgown. There was only one option, she realized as the figure nocked an arrow. She turned and fled into the darkness.

She heard the whizzing sound, and she rolled on the forest floor as five arrows sailed overhead. Her thoughts raced as she ran. No archer she knew could shoot that many arrows in one shot, and there was no possible explanation nor reason some other tribe would send a single man to kill her. That's when it dawned upon her that it was none other than an assassination attempt. This one thought compelled her to move faster.

The assassin wasted no time in following after her. They took to the trees, leaping from branch to branch covering ground ten times quicker than their target. In the faint moonlight that shone through the trees, it was clear to see the girl as she fled towards her village, her nightgown a white beacon in the dark night.

Breathing hard, Pearl came to a halt. She spun around, trying to catch a glimpse of her attacker, but there was no one to be seen around. Relieved, she turned towards her village gates, which was just beyond the edge of the wilderness, no more than a few feet away.

And that's when the arrow pierced her leg. She let out a guttural cry as she collapsed on the forest floor, a pool of blood already forming around her. A hooded figure stepped out of the shadows, and Pearl scrambled up, struggling to see her attacker through the tears that formed in her eyes.

“What do you want?” She cried, as the figure advanced. “Help! Help!”

She threw a desperate look to the edge of the woods. Why was no one coming? Could no guard hear her cries?

The figure laughed, advancing, and Pearl choked back a sob.

“Who are you?” She whispered, staring up into the cold merciless eyes of her killer. She would never get her answer. She gasped as something pierced her lower abdomen. Looking down she saw a knife buried deep inside her stomach. Tears pooled in her eyes, and then she felt something deep inside her give up and turn off. She became limp and motionless, dead in a pool of her own blood.

The hooded figure smirked, before withdrawing a small pendant. She placed it atop the pool of blood and the necklace went from blue to a bright shade of scarlet. She placed it around her neck and a bright flash light illuminated the woods. In the place where the assassin stood a girl that looked exactly like Pearl, blonde hair, green eyes, everything accounted for except for clothing.

She smiled down at the dead body at her feet.

“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked. “I’m Pearl Evelyn Wavecrest of the Water tribe.”
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Challenge of the Week #58: You are a victim of injustice, write a story about it. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $150. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by StuartJWarren

The Jewel of Chauncey Street

In the American city, somewhere between the Rockies and the Appalachians there lives a woman named Jewel. Jewel started out like many other young girls. She was born, swaddled in a hospital bed by an attendant mother. Then she went home, and from that point forward she was unlike many other girls.

Jewel lived in the part of town filled with older buildings, decades old, with peeling paint and chipped neon signs, flickering in the damp evening air. The mainstreet, Chauncey Street, was filled with ruts and dips, exhausted after the new interstate opened up in the seventies when trucks carrying shipping containers would take it to the onramp and pummel the asphalt to paste. As Mary, a friend of Jewel’s mother, drove them to Harbor Estates, they would bump up and down on the road. Jewel was exhausted and did not wake up. Jewel’s mother didn’t notice them. She only thought about the comfort of the hospital bed, the clean sheets, the regular meals, the attendant nurses, and, most especially, the quiet.

Harbor Estates lay in waiting for them at the end of the road, Chauncey Street. The section eight housing was built in the mid-nineties, replete with a pool and onsite washer and drier. As the car pulled up next to the dim, jaundiced lights, Mary looked into the abyss of the pool’s blackness. A discarded bike was in the center of the wading section, a monument to her despair. As Jewel’s mother exited the car, she could hear the shouting, the yelling, the siren call of languishing women at the peak of orgasm, and the deafening lull of thumping music in the early morning. Mary got out of the car and gave Jewel’s mother a hug. “I’m always here,” she said. And then she left.

The rest of Jewel’s life continued, again, unlike most young girls. Even though she attended a youth club in the day, whilst her mother worked at a variety of fast food restaurants, and at a local hotel under-the-table, and even though Jewel learned how to read and write, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and finger paint along with the other children, Jewel attentively observed the lurid ecosystem of the Harbor Estates. First floor, at the end of the row, along the ground that once was lush with grass but now was a barren parapet of dirt and scattered patches of broken glass, lived Juicy. Juicy was an itinerant businessman, dealing in a rainbow selection of narcotics supplied by the Diablos. Jewel would walk by the apartment as a little girl and hear him talking with his guests. “Shit man, mutha-fuckas think I slinging cheap! You wanna live righteous like Biggie and Tupac, nigga you gats ta pay for it.” Afterwards, Mr. Steven—Jewel didn’t know his last name—walked out distraught and disappointed, shivering, clutching his arms like a stranded climber in a blizzard. “Fuu... fuck you, Juicy. Aww shit… shit! I’m soo fucked up… soo...” Mr. Steven shouted at the door meekly.

Jewel lost her virginity when she was 10, to a boy that lived upstairs, three units over. She couldn’t feel anything. She was numb, feeling the black tar move through her veins like a tingling snake. When she woke up in the hospital, Jewel’s mother was there sobbing. What a burden her mother was, Jewel thought. She was such a piece of shit. Such a helpless piece of shit.

When Jewel was younger, still at the youth club, she remembered the world map carpet. It was large, as big as the room. It was threadbare and stained with sticky, sweet-smelling residue. She liked reading all the names of all the countries. Portugal, Italy, United Kingdom, Egypt, China, Peru, U.S.S.R. She liked all their colors and shapes and sizes. Now, as she held her own baby in her weak arms, she quietly rocked Max to sleep in the early hours of the morning, humming her birthday song, celebrating her 14th year in Harbor Estates alone. Her mother, having sex in the next room with a stranger, finishes quietly. The stranger pays her and walks out of the bedroom. Jewel looked up at the man, frightened, holding Max close. The man wears a nice watch, a wrinkled button down shirt, emblazoned with designer labels. The dark glasses, gold rimmed Aviators, protected him. They covered the portals to his soul so Jewel couldn’t touch him.

When Jewel’s son turned three, her mother was murdered in her bed. Jewel saw nothing because she was out picking up groceries at the local food bank. As the police questioned her with textbook empathy, Jewel was distracted, staring at the gold-rimmed Aviators on the counter. In the best interest of Max, the child-services agent assigned to the case suggested that Jewel put him up for adoption, now that she was unable to take care of him. Looking at Max’s wide innocent eyes, tightly gripping her leg in fear, afraid of the strange men in his house, Jewel agreed. Max was given up, and with him a part of herself.

A few months later, with no money, or job, Jewel walked down the street in the middle of the day. The sun was hot on her back, covered up by a dirty jacket she found in the trash. A kind man earlier that day suggested as she was begging to go to the local half-way home. Jewel nodded absently and reflected. Some had the finesse to be homeless. She had met all of them: Sally, who sang and played a whining electric keyboard for tips. Bill, who bought some camouflage pants at a military surplus store so he could pretend to be a veteran. (But he was a barber for three months in San Diego, during Vietnam, cutting hair for the recruits on base.) Sparkles, who mumbled and shook extra hard when people walked by. Short-Shorts, who just wore shorts and masturbated in public. Jewel didn’t have the finesse. She knew there were better things than this.

The half-way home, it was not much of a home, but an old church, hollowed out. The pews were gone, with bookshelves stocked with donated volumes, discordantly organized, and covering a diverse array of topics, lining the perimeter of the building. Portable cubicles separated the cots laid out in the center of the room, constituting a meager grid of ten by four. When Jewel arrived, a portly, bespectacled woman greeted her. She had a nametag emblazoned on her t-shirt, decorated with glitter and hot glued balls of polka-dot fuzz. Her name was “Pam!” “We offer temporary boarding for three months,” said Pam in a rehearsed voice, as she handed Jewel a clipboard with some string and a pen taped to the end of it. Jewel took the clipboard and scrawled whatever she could and handed it back. Pam gave a cursory glance over the paperwork. “Looks good! Bunk fifteen is open. Enjoy your stay!”

Jewel, haggard and exhausted, trudged to her bunk. She set down her pack of things in the corner of her cubicle and lay down to sleep. She dreamt of Max, and a house to play with him in. When she awoke, it was ten o’clock in the morning the following day.

The half-way home was called, Broken Hearts, Mending Minds. It was ran by a local confederation of churches in the area, as well as some humanitarian organizations at the local university. Two weeks into her stay, Jewel was assigned a social worker volunteer named Jared. Jewel spent most of her time reading in her cubicle. She read a book a day off the shelves, passing the time with dull romance novels and paranoid conspiracy thrillers. So when Jared walked by her cubicle and saw Jewel, he asked her about what she was reading. She held up a pile, smirking, embarrassed. Jared was pretty cute, and clean cut. They were about the same age, Jared probably being a little older. “I read those,” she said, pointing to a stack of paperbacks. “I’m reading this one now.” She handed a volume to Jared. The front cover was missing, but the tattered copyright page read, “Silas Marner.” “George Eliot is a good author. I’m reading one of her other books, Middlemarch, for class,” Jared replied. Jewel shook her head and wondered why a woman would have a name like “George.” It was only later in the day that Jared clarified that George Eliot’s real name was Mary Anne Evans.

At Broken Hearts Mending Minds, Jewel’s time there quickly passed like the wind, but one of Jared’s friends offered to give Jewel a place to stay while she went to night school to get her G.E.D. Jennie, Jewel’s new roommate, was bubbly and confident. She was very religious, and did very religious things all the time, like praying and going to church. That was her thing, and Jennie didn’t talk about it unless Jewel asked a question, which was fairly often. The days at the Harbor Estates seemed now like a distant memory and Jewel gained a few new friends over the weeks. To her surprise, many of Jennie’s friends also have had hard lives. One of them, Saul, lived in his car for a few months because he lost his job taking care of his mother in Bakersfield. Another, Corrine, was date raped freshman year at the university. She saw a therapist now and took Prozac when she got anxiety attacks.

Jewel was afraid she would never see Max again, but she knew that if she went back to school she might be able to one day. With the assistance of grants, now able to get her bachelor’s degree, Jewel worked on getting her degree and helped with Jared at Broken Hearts Mending Minds. Jared graduated last year and was now working on getting his teaching credential. He knew about Max, and had met his foster parents Sami and Josh, Jewel later found out. He was happy and doing well, Jared told her. Jewel nodded absently, sat down on her bed, and cried for an hour, Jennie sitting next to her, hugging her, telling her that everything was okay.

Jewel’s life is not unlike the life of others. She knows this, and feels compelled to do something about it. Jewel knows the cost she has endured, the fortune she has inherited by chance. There is a possibility she might get “religious” too, but she is still figuring that out. For now, Jewel is okay. She feels better. Jared asked her to marry him. And as she sits in the hotel room on her wedding day, surrounded by Jennie and Corrine doing her hair, she can see out the third story window across town, where a rugged road stretches down Chauncey Street and an excavator digs up the earth where the Harbor Estates once stood. They are building a golf course there, she hears. And Jewel thinks of her mother, of Juicy, of Mr. Steven, of the man with the gold rimmed Aviators, of the shouting, the yelling, of the siren call of languishing women, of the yellow jaundiced lights in the cold morning air, of Max… She thinks of her life, stolen from her, and given back, and the opportunity to live again.

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Challenge of the Week #58: You are a victim of injustice, write a story about it. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $150. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by StuartJWarren
The Jewel of Chauncey Street
In the American city, somewhere between the Rockies and the Appalachians there lives a woman named Jewel. Jewel started out like many other young girls. She was born, swaddled in a hospital bed by an attendant mother. Then she went home, and from that point forward she was unlike many other girls.

Jewel lived in the part of town filled with older buildings, decades old, with peeling paint and chipped neon signs, flickering in the damp evening air. The mainstreet, Chauncey Street, was filled with ruts and dips, exhausted after the new interstate opened up in the seventies when trucks carrying shipping containers would take it to the onramp and pummel the asphalt to paste. As Mary, a friend of Jewel’s mother, drove them to Harbor Estates, they would bump up and down on the road. Jewel was exhausted and did not wake up. Jewel’s mother didn’t notice them. She only thought about the comfort of the hospital bed, the clean sheets, the regular meals, the attendant nurses, and, most especially, the quiet.

Harbor Estates lay in waiting for them at the end of the road, Chauncey Street. The section eight housing was built in the mid-nineties, replete with a pool and onsite washer and drier. As the car pulled up next to the dim, jaundiced lights, Mary looked into the abyss of the pool’s blackness. A discarded bike was in the center of the wading section, a monument to her despair. As Jewel’s mother exited the car, she could hear the shouting, the yelling, the siren call of languishing women at the peak of orgasm, and the deafening lull of thumping music in the early morning. Mary got out of the car and gave Jewel’s mother a hug. “I’m always here,” she said. And then she left.

The rest of Jewel’s life continued, again, unlike most young girls. Even though she attended a youth club in the day, whilst her mother worked at a variety of fast food restaurants, and at a local hotel under-the-table, and even though Jewel learned how to read and write, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and finger paint along with the other children, Jewel attentively observed the lurid ecosystem of the Harbor Estates. First floor, at the end of the row, along the ground that once was lush with grass but now was a barren parapet of dirt and scattered patches of broken glass, lived Juicy. Juicy was an itinerant businessman, dealing in a rainbow selection of narcotics supplied by the Diablos. Jewel would walk by the apartment as a little girl and hear him talking with his guests. “Shit man, mutha-fuckas think I slinging cheap! You wanna live righteous like Biggie and Tupac, nigga you gats ta pay for it.” Afterwards, Mr. Steven—Jewel didn’t know his last name—walked out distraught and disappointed, shivering, clutching his arms like a stranded climber in a blizzard. “Fuu... fuck you, Juicy. Aww shit… shit! I’m soo fucked up… soo...” Mr. Steven shouted at the door meekly.

Jewel lost her virginity when she was 10, to a boy that lived upstairs, three units over. She couldn’t feel anything. She was numb, feeling the black tar move through her veins like a tingling snake. When she woke up in the hospital, Jewel’s mother was there sobbing. What a burden her mother was, Jewel thought. She was such a piece of shit. Such a helpless piece of shit.

When Jewel was younger, still at the youth club, she remembered the world map carpet. It was large, as big as the room. It was threadbare and stained with sticky, sweet-smelling residue. She liked reading all the names of all the countries. Portugal, Italy, United Kingdom, Egypt, China, Peru, U.S.S.R. She liked all their colors and shapes and sizes. Now, as she held her own baby in her weak arms, she quietly rocked Max to sleep in the early hours of the morning, humming her birthday song, celebrating her 14th year in Harbor Estates alone. Her mother, having sex in the next room with a stranger, finishes quietly. The stranger pays her and walks out of the bedroom. Jewel looked up at the man, frightened, holding Max close. The man wears a nice watch, a wrinkled button down shirt, emblazoned with designer labels. The dark glasses, gold rimmed Aviators, protected him. They covered the portals to his soul so Jewel couldn’t touch him.

When Jewel’s son turned three, her mother was murdered in her bed. Jewel saw nothing because she was out picking up groceries at the local food bank. As the police questioned her with textbook empathy, Jewel was distracted, staring at the gold-rimmed Aviators on the counter. In the best interest of Max, the child-services agent assigned to the case suggested that Jewel put him up for adoption, now that she was unable to take care of him. Looking at Max’s wide innocent eyes, tightly gripping her leg in fear, afraid of the strange men in his house, Jewel agreed. Max was given up, and with him a part of herself.

A few months later, with no money, or job, Jewel walked down the street in the middle of the day. The sun was hot on her back, covered up by a dirty jacket she found in the trash. A kind man earlier that day suggested as she was begging to go to the local half-way home. Jewel nodded absently and reflected. Some had the finesse to be homeless. She had met all of them: Sally, who sang and played a whining electric keyboard for tips. Bill, who bought some camouflage pants at a military surplus store so he could pretend to be a veteran. (But he was a barber for three months in San Diego, during Vietnam, cutting hair for the recruits on base.) Sparkles, who mumbled and shook extra hard when people walked by. Short-Shorts, who just wore shorts and masturbated in public. Jewel didn’t have the finesse. She knew there were better things than this.

The half-way home, it was not much of a home, but an old church, hollowed out. The pews were gone, with bookshelves stocked with donated volumes, discordantly organized, and covering a diverse array of topics, lining the perimeter of the building. Portable cubicles separated the cots laid out in the center of the room, constituting a meager grid of ten by four. When Jewel arrived, a portly, bespectacled woman greeted her. She had a nametag emblazoned on her t-shirt, decorated with glitter and hot glued balls of polka-dot fuzz. Her name was “Pam!” “We offer temporary boarding for three months,” said Pam in a rehearsed voice, as she handed Jewel a clipboard with some string and a pen taped to the end of it. Jewel took the clipboard and scrawled whatever she could and handed it back. Pam gave a cursory glance over the paperwork. “Looks good! Bunk fifteen is open. Enjoy your stay!”

Jewel, haggard and exhausted, trudged to her bunk. She set down her pack of things in the corner of her cubicle and lay down to sleep. She dreamt of Max, and a house to play with him in. When she awoke, it was ten o’clock in the morning the following day.

The half-way home was called, Broken Hearts, Mending Minds. It was ran by a local confederation of churches in the area, as well as some humanitarian organizations at the local university. Two weeks into her stay, Jewel was assigned a social worker volunteer named Jared. Jewel spent most of her time reading in her cubicle. She read a book a day off the shelves, passing the time with dull romance novels and paranoid conspiracy thrillers. So when Jared walked by her cubicle and saw Jewel, he asked her about what she was reading. She held up a pile, smirking, embarrassed. Jared was pretty cute, and clean cut. They were about the same age, Jared probably being a little older. “I read those,” she said, pointing to a stack of paperbacks. “I’m reading this one now.” She handed a volume to Jared. The front cover was missing, but the tattered copyright page read, “Silas Marner.” “George Eliot is a good author. I’m reading one of her other books, Middlemarch, for class,” Jared replied. Jewel shook her head and wondered why a woman would have a name like “George.” It was only later in the day that Jared clarified that George Eliot’s real name was Mary Anne Evans.

At Broken Hearts Mending Minds, Jewel’s time there quickly passed like the wind, but one of Jared’s friends offered to give Jewel a place to stay while she went to night school to get her G.E.D. Jennie, Jewel’s new roommate, was bubbly and confident. She was very religious, and did very religious things all the time, like praying and going to church. That was her thing, and Jennie didn’t talk about it unless Jewel asked a question, which was fairly often. The days at the Harbor Estates seemed now like a distant memory and Jewel gained a few new friends over the weeks. To her surprise, many of Jennie’s friends also have had hard lives. One of them, Saul, lived in his car for a few months because he lost his job taking care of his mother in Bakersfield. Another, Corrine, was date raped freshman year at the university. She saw a therapist now and took Prozac when she got anxiety attacks.

Jewel was afraid she would never see Max again, but she knew that if she went back to school she might be able to one day. With the assistance of grants, now able to get her bachelor’s degree, Jewel worked on getting her degree and helped with Jared at Broken Hearts Mending Minds. Jared graduated last year and was now working on getting his teaching credential. He knew about Max, and had met his foster parents Sami and Josh, Jewel later found out. He was happy and doing well, Jared told her. Jewel nodded absently, sat down on her bed, and cried for an hour, Jennie sitting next to her, hugging her, telling her that everything was okay.

Jewel’s life is not unlike the life of others. She knows this, and feels compelled to do something about it. Jewel knows the cost she has endured, the fortune she has inherited by chance. There is a possibility she might get “religious” too, but she is still figuring that out. For now, Jewel is okay. She feels better. Jared asked her to marry him. And as she sits in the hotel room on her wedding day, surrounded by Jennie and Corrine doing her hair, she can see out the third story window across town, where a rugged road stretches down Chauncey Street and an excavator digs up the earth where the Harbor Estates once stood. They are building a golf course there, she hears. And Jewel thinks of her mother, of Juicy, of Mr. Steven, of the man with the gold rimmed Aviators, of the shouting, the yelling, of the siren call of languishing women, of the yellow jaundiced lights in the cold morning air, of Max… She thinks of her life, stolen from her, and given back, and the opportunity to live again.



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It's record-breaking time. Together, we are going to break the world record for longest book. 100 word minimum. When this challenge gets 15,000 entries, it will expire, and we will turn it into a book. Each entry will be its own chapter. The plot? It’s the first day of a zombie apocalypse, write a diary entry. Each contributor should share this challenge prompt with as many people as possible. If we break the world record, this will be read by people for generations to come.
Written by desmondwrite

Ren Rats

Today, we crossed a field of grass bordered by the black-and-yellow bark of Ponderosa pine, and we stopped and took it in. The sun-through-the-clouds coated us in a bluefire, and when I looked at my friends, at Jo and his plate-mail, at Lobard and his mad beard, and they at me, in my deep cloak with a celtic braid, holding a longbow, we had to laugh. It seemed exactly like we were a fellowship for some quest, maybe to steal from a gluttonous dragon, or to stop a cult from resurrecting their dead god, not a couple of Ren Rats surveying the clump of trees behind the parking lot.

"I don't see any signs," said Lobard, plucking some fern. "Don't smell them, either."

I remember taking a sweet breath, feeling the wetness in the air and the aged-wood and butterscotch of pine. Relishing in the thought: the dead aren't here yet.

Luckily, they avoid the mountains, or maybe the crevices and roots tear off their feet, slow their advance. In any case, we barely encounter them, only hear the reports on the radio (neither WIFI or TV work anymore) or from the dirty, scared families that claw at our gates, screaming, "let us in, let us in," despite the fields behind them devoid of monsters. We do, too, after a few jests. It's the cruelest thing we do. I often participate.

I know I'm supposed to be depressed, or scrounging for survival, or finding life's little moments denied by overwhelming misery and chaos. But the plague has been a blessing in disguise for the Renaissance Faire. Without the glazed donuts of American capitalism, without weekends selling ourselves to abused parents and abusive children high on kennel popcorn and soda, without weeks spent in workshops painting wooden shields and hammering metal roses, without eye-rolls and mean laughs at monks pushing cheesecake carts and knights reciting poetry, without the most common, most stupid questions, like "Do people really buy this shit?" and "Why is this shit so expensive?"

Without the normal, we are free to be weird. And it is free to be weird. All our concerns have taken on the technical difficulties once held by a fifteenth-century European village. Food production, justice, border security, tradition. The exact concerns most of my people dreamed about in the first place, and had put aside to sell dragon-egg earrings to Game of Thrones fans.

Naturally, we don't toss our poop in the streets. But we don't use the restrooms, either. Things have become economical in a tightened, smart kind of way, and beyond economy, we are an extended version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's lovely.

We came back through the gates, and after Roderick (not his birth name) checked us for bites and wrote down our report, Jo gave Lombard a kiss on the cheek, they're cute like that, and we went our separate ways. Would it be bad if I told you that as I headed for the shop I started to have depressing thoughts? I know how unoriginal this sounds but: Winter is Coming. In what, less than half a year? What will we do then? Jo seems to think the dead will follow the fur-scent of coyotes and deer, and find it easier to climb the deep, compact snow. And I keep having this pitiful image of a bear who was sleeping peacefully in her cave waking up to a rotten human feeding on her leg. Maybe happening a few times, until the bear rolls her eyes and dies.

Until then, we will salt our meat and play pretend and laugh at the small-mindedness of the dead. We won't let them in until they come crawling over the walls.

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It's record-breaking time. Together, we are going to break the world record for longest book. 100 word minimum. When this challenge gets 15,000 entries, it will expire, and we will turn it into a book. Each entry will be its own chapter. The plot? It’s the first day of a zombie apocalypse, write a diary entry. Each contributor should share this challenge prompt with as many people as possible. If we break the world record, this will be read by people for generations to come.
Written by desmondwrite
Ren Rats
Today, we crossed a field of grass bordered by the black-and-yellow bark of Ponderosa pine, and we stopped and took it in. The sun-through-the-clouds coated us in a bluefire, and when I looked at my friends, at Jo and his plate-mail, at Lobard and his mad beard, and they at me, in my deep cloak with a celtic braid, holding a longbow, we had to laugh. It seemed exactly like we were a fellowship for some quest, maybe to steal from a gluttonous dragon, or to stop a cult from resurrecting their dead god, not a couple of Ren Rats surveying the clump of trees behind the parking lot.

"I don't see any signs," said Lobard, plucking some fern. "Don't smell them, either."

I remember taking a sweet breath, feeling the wetness in the air and the aged-wood and butterscotch of pine. Relishing in the thought: the dead aren't here yet.

Luckily, they avoid the mountains, or maybe the crevices and roots tear off their feet, slow their advance. In any case, we barely encounter them, only hear the reports on the radio (neither WIFI or TV work anymore) or from the dirty, scared families that claw at our gates, screaming, "let us in, let us in," despite the fields behind them devoid of monsters. We do, too, after a few jests. It's the cruelest thing we do. I often participate.

I know I'm supposed to be depressed, or scrounging for survival, or finding life's little moments denied by overwhelming misery and chaos. But the plague has been a blessing in disguise for the Renaissance Faire. Without the glazed donuts of American capitalism, without weekends selling ourselves to abused parents and abusive children high on kennel popcorn and soda, without weeks spent in workshops painting wooden shields and hammering metal roses, without eye-rolls and mean laughs at monks pushing cheesecake carts and knights reciting poetry, without the most common, most stupid questions, like "Do people really buy this shit?" and "Why is this shit so expensive?"

Without the normal, we are free to be weird. And it is free to be weird. All our concerns have taken on the technical difficulties once held by a fifteenth-century European village. Food production, justice, border security, tradition. The exact concerns most of my people dreamed about in the first place, and had put aside to sell dragon-egg earrings to Game of Thrones fans.

Naturally, we don't toss our poop in the streets. But we don't use the restrooms, either. Things have become economical in a tightened, smart kind of way, and beyond economy, we are an extended version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's lovely.

We came back through the gates, and after Roderick (not his birth name) checked us for bites and wrote down our report, Jo gave Lombard a kiss on the cheek, they're cute like that, and we went our separate ways. Would it be bad if I told you that as I headed for the shop I started to have depressing thoughts? I know how unoriginal this sounds but: Winter is Coming. In what, less than half a year? What will we do then? Jo seems to think the dead will follow the fur-scent of coyotes and deer, and find it easier to climb the deep, compact snow. And I keep having this pitiful image of a bear who was sleeping peacefully in her cave waking up to a rotten human feeding on her leg. Maybe happening a few times, until the bear rolls her eyes and dies.

Until then, we will salt our meat and play pretend and laugh at the small-mindedness of the dead. We won't let them in until they come crawling over the walls.
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In celebration of the March 28 release of my latest book, FROM ICE TO ASHES (about the birth of a rebellion on Saturn's moon Titan), I'm putting this challenge forth. Tell a story of a rebellion against Earth by an offworld colony. The person whose story moves me most gets digital copies of every scifi book I've ever published. I'll also do a thorough critique of a short story for the winner. Two runners-up get digital copies of FROM ICE TO ASHES. Visit www.rhettbruno.com for more info.
Written by Broken-Toe in portal Sci-Fi

The Golden City

"...and each with his

weapon for smashing."

                                                Ezekiel 9:...

Chapter Eight

Abandonment

 Key·ol·te·ton and his men overlooked the desolate plateau below with caution. Deep in the territory of the Nephraceetan, high on a rocky crag, the Mammoth-men studied the pulsating glow in the middle of the third terrace. Mesmerized by the scene, the mystic dance of radiance twirled and weaved in its colorful, pattern-less array. Seductively it called out to the men’s senses of wonder and yet at the same time they feared the unknown of its magic. This was the most sacred of places. Only the gods were welcomed here. The Sanctuary, — The Light emanating from the very heart of the Forbidden Terraces, guarded by the monstrous ghouls, The Nephraceetan.

Brother, we have traveled too far north since we left the soft-skins,” whispered Zee·ya. The panic in the medicine man’s voice was unusual. “We should of turned south weeks ago. Surely no one would have been foolish enough to bring the Beloved this deep into the dark world of the cannibals?”

Our own spies confirmed the tavern owner’s story that the kidnappers were bringing her to the devils as an offering.”

No one strikes a bargain with the devils. They are beyond reason.”

“Shhh!” Key·ol·te·ton answered as he cautiously lessened his exposure behind the large outcropping of granite while keeping his full focus on the changing scene below.

Zee·ya froze in horror.

*      *      *

The small contingent of transparent forms moved as phantoms in the twilight hours through the primeval woodland. Only a rare sign marked their passing. A few prints with razor sharp talons pushed into the rotting debris of the forest floor. Here-and-there, a singular dewclaw scarred the earth as it gripped the unstable terrain like an opposable thumb.

The occasional roar of a big cat and the squeal of prey, or the thunderous trumpeting of an angry pachyderm hinted of the dangers of this foreboding world; but the ghostly forms seemed indifferent to the unnerving sounds of the fierce denizens.

Apparitions on a quest, the aliens stalked through the matted vegetation. They were Marshals,— Guardians on a mission. Soldiers of the Empire sent to reclaim a critical outpost on the fringes of the realm.

Ahead, somewhere in the heavy growth, their destination lay hidden,— abandoned long ago on this forgotten world after the galactic upheaval that lost this sector of space to insurgents. Hopefully, after the onslaught of some of the heaviest fighting of the insurrection; the treasure-trove of scientific research was still intact, — and with it, an antidote.

The alien Prince stepped into the clearing and solidified as silent as a disembodied spirit taking form. The cloak, — a mere tool in his arsenal against a resourceful enemy, had served its purpose. The locator signal on the giant’s visual array marked arrival at the coordinates as he inspected the passage of dancing light far ahead on the mountain plateau.  Numerous trees broke up the features of the flat landscape ahead; a haphazard smattering of dead and barren shapes that prevented a clear view of the energy source.

Subordinates materialized in defensive positions around their commander.—— Ignoring the science, it was a haunting display of magic as the mystic warriors stood; the stone hewn features of the Guardians' imprinting images of ancient centaurs in the soft hue of the single moon’s glow.

The contoured horns of each war-helmet gracefully shadowed the large bulging eyes of the masks that were as black as the surrounding night. Deep within the dark glossy orbs, radiated small pupils locked on their destination; the burning embers peeking out through the doors of hell. Gnarled cords of hair, a tangled mass of disjointed, twitching, spider-like legs, veiled the back of the neck and draped over the heavily sinewed shoulders. Light chain-mail, girded at the waist by a thick belt served the duel purpose of protection in battle and field generation for the cloak.

For hand-to-hand combat, heavy gauntlets shielded forearms and each warrior carried a unique weapon of choice besides knives of varying lengths: single and double edged swords; saber, trident, spear, battle-ax, and war-hammer.

The Prince alone, standing a full head taller then his subordinates, carried a quarter-staff. Fingers with daggered talons held the stout metallic shaft as corded sinews rippled under the giant’s adjusting grip. Strength was a characteristic bequeathed to all the warriors; but the long tusks protruding from under each mask appeared the most formidable of their natural weapons.

A fearsome contingent of soldiers, these were the pride of the royal house and sworn sentinels to their leader;— the giant, Cal·mic·kay, — “The Destroyer,” foremost prince of the Guardian Empire.

The giant triggered his targeting sensors, and scanned the doorway ahead. The waves of light emanating from the entrance seemed to twirl and spin like rays from a sun reflecting off the rippling surface of a stream. Go from this place, they warned hypnotically. The rhythmic power source from within hummed and vibrated,— cautioning — Leave or Die, to any life-form.

Pulling a small black box from his belt, the Prince transmitted the appropriate frequencies to unlock the safeguards, and motioned his sentinels forward.

They walked into the sparse, almost barren grove. A haunting mystique of evil shrouded the ancient courtyard, —most of the scattered trees, dead and withered. Repugnant, shriveled fruit clung to a few gnarled branches, hanging abandoned, — the mummified remains of lost prosperity.

They neared the gateway and static filled the air. The presence of ozone readings scrolled down on the officers’ visual arrays doubling as mask visors.

Why is the shield still on?” Cal·mic·kay raised a hand stopping the advance. 

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In celebration of the March 28 release of my latest book, FROM ICE TO ASHES (about the birth of a rebellion on Saturn's moon Titan), I'm putting this challenge forth. Tell a story of a rebellion against Earth by an offworld colony. The person whose story moves me most gets digital copies of every scifi book I've ever published. I'll also do a thorough critique of a short story for the winner. Two runners-up get digital copies of FROM ICE TO ASHES. Visit www.rhettbruno.com for more info.
Written by Broken-Toe in portal Sci-Fi
The Golden City
"...and each with his
weapon for smashing."
                                                Ezekiel 9:...
Chapter Eight
Abandonment

 Key·ol·te·ton and his men overlooked the desolate plateau below with caution. Deep in the territory of the Nephraceetan, high on a rocky crag, the Mammoth-men studied the pulsating glow in the middle of the third terrace. Mesmerized by the scene, the mystic dance of radiance twirled and weaved in its colorful, pattern-less array. Seductively it called out to the men’s senses of wonder and yet at the same time they feared the unknown of its magic. This was the most sacred of places. Only the gods were welcomed here. The Sanctuary, — The Light emanating from the very heart of the Forbidden Terraces, guarded by the monstrous ghouls, The Nephraceetan.

Brother, we have traveled too far north since we left the soft-skins,” whispered Zee·ya. The panic in the medicine man’s voice was unusual. “We should of turned south weeks ago. Surely no one would have been foolish enough to bring the Beloved this deep into the dark world of the cannibals?”

Our own spies confirmed the tavern owner’s story that the kidnappers were bringing her to the devils as an offering.”

No one strikes a bargain with the devils. They are beyond reason.”

“Shhh!” Key·ol·te·ton answered as he cautiously lessened his exposure behind the large outcropping of granite while keeping his full focus on the changing scene below.

Zee·ya froze in horror.


*      *      *

The small contingent of transparent forms moved as phantoms in the twilight hours through the primeval woodland. Only a rare sign marked their passing. A few prints with razor sharp talons pushed into the rotting debris of the forest floor. Here-and-there, a singular dewclaw scarred the earth as it gripped the unstable terrain like an opposable thumb.

The occasional roar of a big cat and the squeal of prey, or the thunderous trumpeting of an angry pachyderm hinted of the dangers of this foreboding world; but the ghostly forms seemed indifferent to the unnerving sounds of the fierce denizens.

Apparitions on a quest, the aliens stalked through the matted vegetation. They were Marshals,— Guardians on a mission. Soldiers of the Empire sent to reclaim a critical outpost on the fringes of the realm.

Ahead, somewhere in the heavy growth, their destination lay hidden,— abandoned long ago on this forgotten world after the galactic upheaval that lost this sector of space to insurgents. Hopefully, after the onslaught of some of the heaviest fighting of the insurrection; the treasure-trove of scientific research was still intact, — and with it, an antidote.

The alien Prince stepped into the clearing and solidified as silent as a disembodied spirit taking form. The cloak, — a mere tool in his arsenal against a resourceful enemy, had served its purpose. The locator signal on the giant’s visual array marked arrival at the coordinates as he inspected the passage of dancing light far ahead on the mountain plateau.  Numerous trees broke up the features of the flat landscape ahead; a haphazard smattering of dead and barren shapes that prevented a clear view of the energy source.

Subordinates materialized in defensive positions around their commander.—— Ignoring the science, it was a haunting display of magic as the mystic warriors stood; the stone hewn features of the Guardians' imprinting images of ancient centaurs in the soft hue of the single moon’s glow.

The contoured horns of each war-helmet gracefully shadowed the large bulging eyes of the masks that were as black as the surrounding night. Deep within the dark glossy orbs, radiated small pupils locked on their destination; the burning embers peeking out through the doors of hell. Gnarled cords of hair, a tangled mass of disjointed, twitching, spider-like legs, veiled the back of the neck and draped over the heavily sinewed shoulders. Light chain-mail, girded at the waist by a thick belt served the duel purpose of protection in battle and field generation for the cloak.

For hand-to-hand combat, heavy gauntlets shielded forearms and each warrior carried a unique weapon of choice besides knives of varying lengths: single and double edged swords; saber, trident, spear, battle-ax, and war-hammer.

The Prince alone, standing a full head taller then his subordinates, carried a quarter-staff. Fingers with daggered talons held the stout metallic shaft as corded sinews rippled under the giant’s adjusting grip. Strength was a characteristic bequeathed to all the warriors; but the long tusks protruding from under each mask appeared the most formidable of their natural weapons.

A fearsome contingent of soldiers, these were the pride of the royal house and sworn sentinels to their leader;— the giant, Cal·mic·kay, — “The Destroyer,” foremost prince of the Guardian Empire.

The giant triggered his targeting sensors, and scanned the doorway ahead. The waves of light emanating from the entrance seemed to twirl and spin like rays from a sun reflecting off the rippling surface of a stream. Go from this place, they warned hypnotically. The rhythmic power source from within hummed and vibrated,— cautioning — Leave or Die, to any life-form.

Pulling a small black box from his belt, the Prince transmitted the appropriate frequencies to unlock the safeguards, and motioned his sentinels forward.

They walked into the sparse, almost barren grove. A haunting mystique of evil shrouded the ancient courtyard, —most of the scattered trees, dead and withered. Repugnant, shriveled fruit clung to a few gnarled branches, hanging abandoned, — the mummified remains of lost prosperity.

They neared the gateway and static filled the air. The presence of ozone readings scrolled down on the officers’ visual arrays doubling as mask visors.

Why is the shield still on?” Cal·mic·kay raised a hand stopping the advance. 


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Prose Challenge of the Month #2: Write a story where you wake up as the most intelligent person on Earth. Fifteen entries will be featured in a 500-coin Prose Original Book, whereby each winner will take 5% lifetime royalties. You must purchase the book to discover its authors, who will be determined by objective data (reads, likes, reposts, comments) and by team vote to ensure reader satisfaction. When sharing to social media, please use the hashtags “itslit,” “getlit,” and “ProseChallenge.”
Written by LukeNathan in portal Fiction

The Hope of Humanity

A horrendous beeping sound went from zero to sixty on the decibel scale in my ear drums and sent me reeling from a presumably peaceful sleep. The flesh around my eyes pounded and constricted as the popcorn-textured ceiling of my bedroom came into focus, and I swung my arm to where I knew the alarm clock sat on my bedside table. My hand slammed against the table, a near miss; so I slid it frantically about in search of the source of that repulsive noise that wouldn’t quit harping. With a stroke of poor luck, I felt the clock against the side of my hand as it tipped over the edge of the table and hit the hard floor below; unfortunately, the beeping didn’t stop.

“Fine, I’m up!” I shouted as I threw off the covers and reached down to shut off that contraption of torture. I let the cold, wooden floor shock me with each step while I made my way to the bathroom a few paces away. The tiles in there weren’t any warmer, but I resolved to keep my composure as I stood over the toilet and let the previous night’s libations empty into the bowl with a roar.

“Agenda for today . . .” I thought aloud, and vocally went through my schedule while staring into the mirror at my graying morning shadow and my receding hairline. The shine off of my larger-than-yesterday forehead was enough to make my eyes squint, so I turned away in disgust, resigned to the fact that I would never have a full head of hair again.

After dressing and brushing my teeth, I pulled on my sneakers and grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter as I walked out the door of my apartment. Dave, the strange, Chihuahua-loving neighbor across the hall had left his small, malnourished dog tied up outside of his door. It looked up at me with sad, dark eyes that screamed at me to cut that leash and save it from a pet’s life of ridicule; but I just gave a weird nod in return and headed down the stairs, unsatisfied with my ability to act on my virtuous convictions.

The sun seemed brighter than normal when I exited my cave-like apartment complex. I walked to my car and dug around in every crevice and compartment for a pair of sunglasses, but none were found.

“Blind it is,” I grumbled, turning the ignition and wincing at the screech that preceded the roar. My car had seen better days. In fact, it was so old it had seen more better days than I’d been alive. But it was paid off and it still ran like a champ (a stubborn, aging champ who should have retired years ago but can’t let go of the glory-day montage that constantly plays in its head) so I tried not to be too hard on it. I flipped on the radio and sputtered down the road toward my favorite breakfast spot, a cheap little diner that my friend Ronnie owned. It had that down-home feel: greasy enough to make you vomit as soon as you walked in and then again after you finished your meal, but delicious enough to make you want to come back and do it all again.

As I made my way through town, a left, a right, another left, I began to notice something strangely eerie: there were no cars anywhere. There were no people either. None of the shops or restaurants or businesses were lit up or bustling. It felt like I was the only thing on earth that was moving; not even the air moved.

I pulled into a parking spot in front of Ronnie’s; I was the only car in the lot. I rolled down my window and listened for anything: distant car noise, honking, birds chirping, wind blowing. Nothing.

Now I was really starting to freak out. I knew deep down that it was probably just an overreaction spawned by all of the sci-fi and dystopian movies I watched, but it was just unreal. I got out of the car, slower than I meant to, and walked up to the front door of the diner. But as my fingers felt the cold metal of the handle, I noticed something. The sign on the door said, “CLOSED SUNDAYS.”

My heart lifted. My breath returned. I felt a chuckle roll up into my throat and out of my mouth. I checked my watch. It was 5:30 AM on a Sunday.

I felt just short of brain dead, and turned around to get in my car, a smile glued on my flushed face. And that’s when it hit.

A flash of light.

A jolt.

I wake up with my face in a puddle of my own drool, plastered to a concrete floor. My hands find their place and I slowly lift myself up. Immediately my head is cracking down the center like dried-up earth, and I reach for it with one hand as I flip into a sitting position. Was I dreaming? Or am I dreaming now?

There is only one light in this room but it’s glaring at me with an unrelenting burn. I peer through my spread fingers toward the source of the light, and see that it’s just a small light bulb screwed into a fixture on the ceiling, a long chain dangling beneath it, still swaying like it was just pulled.

It takes all of my strength to stumble to my feet, and I reach out for something, anything, to support me. And there it is, a wall, just to my right. I scowl and scan the space that I’m in. It’s a smaller room than I first thought; maybe six feet by eight feet. The chain from the light fixture tickles my forehead as I stand to full height.

“Where am I?”

The sound of my own voice frightens me. It doesn’t sound like me, certainly not the confident, articulate, speech-giving me. It’s a more reserved, uneasy, prepubescent me. And the acoustics are in a vacuum, like one of those hearing-test booths. I reach out around the box, feeling the soft, cushioned walls. They begin to close in on me, slowly, and the light flickers, as if to confirm my deepest fear, that I’m going to die in here, that I should have been dead already. And then my hand finds it, and the box goes back to normal. A door handle sits low on one side, and I squeeze it with what little strength that I have, the hope pouring back into me.

When I open the door, the daylight blinds me. My arms cover my face but it does no good, and I stand there spinning for a good three minutes. When my eyes finally adjust, they move deliberately, inhumanly, taking in the sight around me. And then the stench, that stench of soured milk and rotting flesh, that sweet, sacred scent of death, fills my nose and I try not to breath, try not to be. Bodies lie all around me, but they’re not bodies like mine; they are decomposed and dismembered, with bits and pieces torn away like tufts of hair on a mangy dog so that their skulls and ribs and femurs show. Their faces are frozen in shock and horror, pleading with me to save them from their hellish ends. I look beyond the bodies and see piles of rubble and twisted iron and door frames missing walls and cars missing tires. There is no pattern to anything, only remnants of structure and order. The sky is sagging with dark clouds that swirl and rumble, and the air is stagnant and heavy, and the horizon blurs into a black mass that grows larger each second that I stare.

My knees suddenly give, and I find myself back on the ground, clawing the dirt, gasping for breath, fighting away sobs and shouts that come anyway.

“What the hell is happening!” I scream until my throat cracks and my voice sputters out. I fall against the hard, dry ground and cover my face, hoping for it to end, waiting for myself to wake up in my bed to that horrible, merciful beeping.

But I don’t wake up, and I don’t fall asleep. I find a metallic band in front of my face, wrapped tightly around my wrist. Its presence doesn’t shock me, as if I knew it was there all along. I focus on the lettering: “PUSH.”

The wristband snaps open, revealing a crisp, white, lined piece of notebook paper folded up inside. My hands shake uncontrollably as I pry it open and hold it into my face.

'Dr. Stole,

If you are reading this, you have successfully made it to an unspecified date in the distant future. Back in the time you came from, humanity is on the brink of something indescribable, something more threatening than ever before. You must collect all data that you can in hopes of discovering a solution. You must return via the time capsule that you awoke in. The instructions for operation are on the other side of this letter. Good luck, people are counting on you. See you soon.

-Dr. Stole.'

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Prose Challenge of the Month #2: Write a story where you wake up as the most intelligent person on Earth. Fifteen entries will be featured in a 500-coin Prose Original Book, whereby each winner will take 5% lifetime royalties. You must purchase the book to discover its authors, who will be determined by objective data (reads, likes, reposts, comments) and by team vote to ensure reader satisfaction. When sharing to social media, please use the hashtags “itslit,” “getlit,” and “ProseChallenge.”
Written by LukeNathan in portal Fiction
The Hope of Humanity
A horrendous beeping sound went from zero to sixty on the decibel scale in my ear drums and sent me reeling from a presumably peaceful sleep. The flesh around my eyes pounded and constricted as the popcorn-textured ceiling of my bedroom came into focus, and I swung my arm to where I knew the alarm clock sat on my bedside table. My hand slammed against the table, a near miss; so I slid it frantically about in search of the source of that repulsive noise that wouldn’t quit harping. With a stroke of poor luck, I felt the clock against the side of my hand as it tipped over the edge of the table and hit the hard floor below; unfortunately, the beeping didn’t stop.

“Fine, I’m up!” I shouted as I threw off the covers and reached down to shut off that contraption of torture. I let the cold, wooden floor shock me with each step while I made my way to the bathroom a few paces away. The tiles in there weren’t any warmer, but I resolved to keep my composure as I stood over the toilet and let the previous night’s libations empty into the bowl with a roar.

“Agenda for today . . .” I thought aloud, and vocally went through my schedule while staring into the mirror at my graying morning shadow and my receding hairline. The shine off of my larger-than-yesterday forehead was enough to make my eyes squint, so I turned away in disgust, resigned to the fact that I would never have a full head of hair again.

After dressing and brushing my teeth, I pulled on my sneakers and grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter as I walked out the door of my apartment. Dave, the strange, Chihuahua-loving neighbor across the hall had left his small, malnourished dog tied up outside of his door. It looked up at me with sad, dark eyes that screamed at me to cut that leash and save it from a pet’s life of ridicule; but I just gave a weird nod in return and headed down the stairs, unsatisfied with my ability to act on my virtuous convictions.

The sun seemed brighter than normal when I exited my cave-like apartment complex. I walked to my car and dug around in every crevice and compartment for a pair of sunglasses, but none were found.

“Blind it is,” I grumbled, turning the ignition and wincing at the screech that preceded the roar. My car had seen better days. In fact, it was so old it had seen more better days than I’d been alive. But it was paid off and it still ran like a champ (a stubborn, aging champ who should have retired years ago but can’t let go of the glory-day montage that constantly plays in its head) so I tried not to be too hard on it. I flipped on the radio and sputtered down the road toward my favorite breakfast spot, a cheap little diner that my friend Ronnie owned. It had that down-home feel: greasy enough to make you vomit as soon as you walked in and then again after you finished your meal, but delicious enough to make you want to come back and do it all again.

As I made my way through town, a left, a right, another left, I began to notice something strangely eerie: there were no cars anywhere. There were no people either. None of the shops or restaurants or businesses were lit up or bustling. It felt like I was the only thing on earth that was moving; not even the air moved.

I pulled into a parking spot in front of Ronnie’s; I was the only car in the lot. I rolled down my window and listened for anything: distant car noise, honking, birds chirping, wind blowing. Nothing.

Now I was really starting to freak out. I knew deep down that it was probably just an overreaction spawned by all of the sci-fi and dystopian movies I watched, but it was just unreal. I got out of the car, slower than I meant to, and walked up to the front door of the diner. But as my fingers felt the cold metal of the handle, I noticed something. The sign on the door said, “CLOSED SUNDAYS.”

My heart lifted. My breath returned. I felt a chuckle roll up into my throat and out of my mouth. I checked my watch. It was 5:30 AM on a Sunday.

I felt just short of brain dead, and turned around to get in my car, a smile glued on my flushed face. And that’s when it hit.

A flash of light.

A jolt.

I wake up with my face in a puddle of my own drool, plastered to a concrete floor. My hands find their place and I slowly lift myself up. Immediately my head is cracking down the center like dried-up earth, and I reach for it with one hand as I flip into a sitting position. Was I dreaming? Or am I dreaming now?

There is only one light in this room but it’s glaring at me with an unrelenting burn. I peer through my spread fingers toward the source of the light, and see that it’s just a small light bulb screwed into a fixture on the ceiling, a long chain dangling beneath it, still swaying like it was just pulled.

It takes all of my strength to stumble to my feet, and I reach out for something, anything, to support me. And there it is, a wall, just to my right. I scowl and scan the space that I’m in. It’s a smaller room than I first thought; maybe six feet by eight feet. The chain from the light fixture tickles my forehead as I stand to full height.

“Where am I?”

The sound of my own voice frightens me. It doesn’t sound like me, certainly not the confident, articulate, speech-giving me. It’s a more reserved, uneasy, prepubescent me. And the acoustics are in a vacuum, like one of those hearing-test booths. I reach out around the box, feeling the soft, cushioned walls. They begin to close in on me, slowly, and the light flickers, as if to confirm my deepest fear, that I’m going to die in here, that I should have been dead already. And then my hand finds it, and the box goes back to normal. A door handle sits low on one side, and I squeeze it with what little strength that I have, the hope pouring back into me.

When I open the door, the daylight blinds me. My arms cover my face but it does no good, and I stand there spinning for a good three minutes. When my eyes finally adjust, they move deliberately, inhumanly, taking in the sight around me. And then the stench, that stench of soured milk and rotting flesh, that sweet, sacred scent of death, fills my nose and I try not to breath, try not to be. Bodies lie all around me, but they’re not bodies like mine; they are decomposed and dismembered, with bits and pieces torn away like tufts of hair on a mangy dog so that their skulls and ribs and femurs show. Their faces are frozen in shock and horror, pleading with me to save them from their hellish ends. I look beyond the bodies and see piles of rubble and twisted iron and door frames missing walls and cars missing tires. There is no pattern to anything, only remnants of structure and order. The sky is sagging with dark clouds that swirl and rumble, and the air is stagnant and heavy, and the horizon blurs into a black mass that grows larger each second that I stare.

My knees suddenly give, and I find myself back on the ground, clawing the dirt, gasping for breath, fighting away sobs and shouts that come anyway.

“What the hell is happening!” I scream until my throat cracks and my voice sputters out. I fall against the hard, dry ground and cover my face, hoping for it to end, waiting for myself to wake up in my bed to that horrible, merciful beeping.

But I don’t wake up, and I don’t fall asleep. I find a metallic band in front of my face, wrapped tightly around my wrist. Its presence doesn’t shock me, as if I knew it was there all along. I focus on the lettering: “PUSH.”

The wristband snaps open, revealing a crisp, white, lined piece of notebook paper folded up inside. My hands shake uncontrollably as I pry it open and hold it into my face.

'Dr. Stole,

If you are reading this, you have successfully made it to an unspecified date in the distant future. Back in the time you came from, humanity is on the brink of something indescribable, something more threatening than ever before. You must collect all data that you can in hopes of discovering a solution. You must return via the time capsule that you awoke in. The instructions for operation are on the other side of this letter. Good luck, people are counting on you. See you soon.

-Dr. Stole.'

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Written by Prose in portal Prose

Friday Feature: @starryEyes

So, we’ve been briefed about it and have read some articles on it and can now say it is Friday. It's not fake news, people. It’s Friday. And we’d be doing Prose a very, very big disservice if we didn’t bring you the very, very good thing that is Friday Feature. People love it. Everybody says so. They like to read about the very, very nice people of Prose...

OK, enough of that crazy talk, let’s dive in to meet the entirely lovely @starryEyes

P: What is your given name and your Proser username?

S: My name is Kim, but you can find me as starryEyes on Prose.

P: Where do you live?

S: I live in the northeast United States, out in the country on top of a hill with a fantastic view. My grandfather built the house in the 1970s and I absolutely love living here with my husband. Watching the birds, animals, wild weather, and changing seasons makes me happy.

We get our Internet by antenna from a local provider who beams it over from a tower that’s 4 miles away (no cable service out here). It’s better than satellite, except when wind, rain, and foliage conspire to eat data packets!

P: What is your occupation?

S: Hmmm… I’m probably most occupied with taking care of myself. So maybe my occupation is being alive? Or surviving. But I’d prefer “thriving.” That can be my occupation: thriving.

I went to school for electrical engineering and worked for five years designing and testing radar electronics. I absolutely loved it. But chronic Lyme disease made that impossible. I’m principally afflicted by profound fatigue and brain fog, but generally have a few good hours a day.

Right now I am content. There is so much more I’d like to do in life, but I’m pleased that I’m not getting any worse right now and have a sort of rhythm of productivity, fulfillment, and rest.

P: What is your relationship with writing and how has it evolved?

S: Growing up, I wrote for school. I enjoyed all my writing assignments but rarely wrote of my own initiative. Late in high school and college, I kept a “prayer” journal that helped me untangle my thoughts and feelings while writing to God.

As I progressed in my engineering studies and career, I wrote a lot of technical documents. It turns out I really enjoy writing lab reports, test procedures, and documenting my designs. And who doesn’t love a good table or expressive graph? *happy sigh*

The first poem I ever wrote of my own free will flowed from my illness. My choppy, foggy, scattered, and desperate thoughts needed adequate expression. I now write poetry like it’s a puzzle to be solved - conveying meaning and depth by sound & structure & few words – an artistic efficiency. It must be the engineer in me.

I started writing short stories a year ago for fun. I really haven’t written many because I’m a slow writer and I don’t often feel well. But it makes me feel human and “normal” to compose something that I’m proud of. I attend a writing group at the library and find it immensely helpful and encouraging.

P: What value does reading add to both your personal and professional life?

S: I’ve always been a voracious reader of fiction. It makes me happy, stirs my imagination, fills me with stories, and teaches me about life. I love gleaning bits of wisdom from book characters and pondering their thoughts and actions. It’s an easy, gentle way to learn.

P: Can you describe your current literary ventures and what can we look forward to in future posts?

I don’t have specific posting plans, but I often respond to writing challenges. Apparently I like to write from the perspective of non-humans such as an animal, plant, or park bench, so you may see more of that. I might sometimes write about my illness or my faith in Jesus, because both deeply define who I am. My loftiest dream is to write a historical choose-your-own-adventure book for kids.

P: What do you love about Prose?

S: Challenges, challenges, challenges! I’m way more motivated when someone challenges me than when I make up my own goals. That’s probably a character flaw. But I’m getting lots of practice and inspiration from the Prose community challenges and having fun! I also like the opportunity to share what I write and interact with other writers.

P: Is there one book that you would recommend everybody should read before they die?

S: There are oodles of good books, so how could I choose? But limited to one, I’d have to say the Bible. I believe that how we respond to Jesus is the single most important decision in this life. To make an informed choice, we have to read his words.

P: Do you have an unsung hero who got you into reading and/or writing?

S: If so, they are extremely unsung because I can’t think of who they might be! My parents and teachers were obvious influences, but no one person or event stands out in my mind.

P: Describe yourself in three words!

S: Contemplative. Sincere. Empathetic.

P: Is there one quote, from a writer or otherwise, that sums you up?

S: “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song… And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me! For I am His, and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ.”

And the entire rest of the lyrics to “In Christ Alone” written by Stuart Townsend & Keith Getty

P: What is your favourite music, and do you write or read to it?

S: I like pop / rock / metal. My favorite artists are Britt Nicole, Fireflight (similar to Evanescence), and Tourniquet (similar to Metallica). I also really like a cappella and folk music. I can do anything to music except read and write. For those, silence is more conducive to concentration.

P: You climb out of a time machine into a dystopian future with no books. What do you tell them?

S: “You know, books. B-O-O-K-S. Like writing. On paper. That you read. There must be some. This isn’t possible. Where did you go to school? Where’s the library?” After asking the same questions twenty times but getting the same answer, I think I’d become unresponsive and curl up, rocking back and forth.

P: Do you have a favourite place to read and write?

S: Curled up in a recliner with a blanket and a cat. Preferably my own recliner and my own cat. Any blanket will do.

P: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you/your work/social media accounts?

S: Nothing left to tell!

Thanks so much to Kim, it was marvellous to meet her, I'm sure you'll all agree. You know what to do now. Read her! Interact with her! Follow her! 

And again, we want more Prosers for this feature, so if you like it, then suggest people, even volunteer yourselves. Prose wants you to feature in future Friday Features. Get busy.

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Written by Prose in portal Prose
Friday Feature: @starryEyes
So, we’ve been briefed about it and have read some articles on it and can now say it is Friday. It's not fake news, people. It’s Friday. And we’d be doing Prose a very, very big disservice if we didn’t bring you the very, very good thing that is Friday Feature. People love it. Everybody says so. They like to read about the very, very nice people of Prose...

OK, enough of that crazy talk, let’s dive in to meet the entirely lovely @starryEyes

P: What is your given name and your Proser username?
S: My name is Kim, but you can find me as starryEyes on Prose.

P: Where do you live?
S: I live in the northeast United States, out in the country on top of a hill with a fantastic view. My grandfather built the house in the 1970s and I absolutely love living here with my husband. Watching the birds, animals, wild weather, and changing seasons makes me happy.

We get our Internet by antenna from a local provider who beams it over from a tower that’s 4 miles away (no cable service out here). It’s better than satellite, except when wind, rain, and foliage conspire to eat data packets!

P: What is your occupation?
S: Hmmm… I’m probably most occupied with taking care of myself. So maybe my occupation is being alive? Or surviving. But I’d prefer “thriving.” That can be my occupation: thriving.

I went to school for electrical engineering and worked for five years designing and testing radar electronics. I absolutely loved it. But chronic Lyme disease made that impossible. I’m principally afflicted by profound fatigue and brain fog, but generally have a few good hours a day.

Right now I am content. There is so much more I’d like to do in life, but I’m pleased that I’m not getting any worse right now and have a sort of rhythm of productivity, fulfillment, and rest.

P: What is your relationship with writing and how has it evolved?
S: Growing up, I wrote for school. I enjoyed all my writing assignments but rarely wrote of my own initiative. Late in high school and college, I kept a “prayer” journal that helped me untangle my thoughts and feelings while writing to God.

As I progressed in my engineering studies and career, I wrote a lot of technical documents. It turns out I really enjoy writing lab reports, test procedures, and documenting my designs. And who doesn’t love a good table or expressive graph? *happy sigh*

The first poem I ever wrote of my own free will flowed from my illness. My choppy, foggy, scattered, and desperate thoughts needed adequate expression. I now write poetry like it’s a puzzle to be solved - conveying meaning and depth by sound & structure & few words – an artistic efficiency. It must be the engineer in me.

I started writing short stories a year ago for fun. I really haven’t written many because I’m a slow writer and I don’t often feel well. But it makes me feel human and “normal” to compose something that I’m proud of. I attend a writing group at the library and find it immensely helpful and encouraging.

P: What value does reading add to both your personal and professional life?
S: I’ve always been a voracious reader of fiction. It makes me happy, stirs my imagination, fills me with stories, and teaches me about life. I love gleaning bits of wisdom from book characters and pondering their thoughts and actions. It’s an easy, gentle way to learn.

P: Can you describe your current literary ventures and what can we look forward to in future posts?

I don’t have specific posting plans, but I often respond to writing challenges. Apparently I like to write from the perspective of non-humans such as an animal, plant, or park bench, so you may see more of that. I might sometimes write about my illness or my faith in Jesus, because both deeply define who I am. My loftiest dream is to write a historical choose-your-own-adventure book for kids.

P: What do you love about Prose?
S: Challenges, challenges, challenges! I’m way more motivated when someone challenges me than when I make up my own goals. That’s probably a character flaw. But I’m getting lots of practice and inspiration from the Prose community challenges and having fun! I also like the opportunity to share what I write and interact with other writers.

P: Is there one book that you would recommend everybody should read before they die?
S: There are oodles of good books, so how could I choose? But limited to one, I’d have to say the Bible. I believe that how we respond to Jesus is the single most important decision in this life. To make an informed choice, we have to read his words.

P: Do you have an unsung hero who got you into reading and/or writing?
S: If so, they are extremely unsung because I can’t think of who they might be! My parents and teachers were obvious influences, but no one person or event stands out in my mind.

P: Describe yourself in three words!
S: Contemplative. Sincere. Empathetic.

P: Is there one quote, from a writer or otherwise, that sums you up?
S: “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song… And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me! For I am His, and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ.”

And the entire rest of the lyrics to “In Christ Alone” written by Stuart Townsend & Keith Getty

P: What is your favourite music, and do you write or read to it?
S: I like pop / rock / metal. My favorite artists are Britt Nicole, Fireflight (similar to Evanescence), and Tourniquet (similar to Metallica). I also really like a cappella and folk music. I can do anything to music except read and write. For those, silence is more conducive to concentration.

P: You climb out of a time machine into a dystopian future with no books. What do you tell them?
S: “You know, books. B-O-O-K-S. Like writing. On paper. That you read. There must be some. This isn’t possible. Where did you go to school? Where’s the library?” After asking the same questions twenty times but getting the same answer, I think I’d become unresponsive and curl up, rocking back and forth.

P: Do you have a favourite place to read and write?
S: Curled up in a recliner with a blanket and a cat. Preferably my own recliner and my own cat. Any blanket will do.

P: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you/your work/social media accounts?
S: Nothing left to tell!

Thanks so much to Kim, it was marvellous to meet her, I'm sure you'll all agree. You know what to do now. Read her! Interact with her! Follow her! 

And again, we want more Prosers for this feature, so if you like it, then suggest people, even volunteer yourselves. Prose wants you to feature in future Friday Features. Get busy.
#nonfiction  #news  #opinion  #FF  #FridayFeature 
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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by madbeyond

Out of the Blue

Floating in the void was the wretched Fair Isle sweater, its lumpy blue nimbus circling vanilla wool. It emitted the stench of sweatsoaked humiliation and had a certain Je ne sais quoi (literally, She did not know what). The mirror, when She’d stood before it in the distant future, reflected her hot face, rosacea taking the place of acne, menopausal memory loss reducing Her to once again muttering Je ne suis pas. To laughter. (Class, Emily is not. Poor Mademoiselle Emily, she does not exist!) The sweater balled and pilled, pilled and balled. She painted the sky yellow, the birds octagonal, Her long nails aubergine. She blew the wind to the seventeen corners. She stood for a minute in a whiteout of green. The sweater unfurled, yarn by yarn by yarn. She dove into the ring of mirrors the handmirror drilled, down and out, down and out. Je ne suis pas, Je ne suis pas.

Ms. Emily, to you.

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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by madbeyond
Out of the Blue
Floating in the void was the wretched Fair Isle sweater, its lumpy blue nimbus circling vanilla wool. It emitted the stench of sweatsoaked humiliation and had a certain Je ne sais quoi (literally, She did not know what). The mirror, when She’d stood before it in the distant future, reflected her hot face, rosacea taking the place of acne, menopausal memory loss reducing Her to once again muttering Je ne suis pas. To laughter. (Class, Emily is not. Poor Mademoiselle Emily, she does not exist!) The sweater balled and pilled, pilled and balled. She painted the sky yellow, the birds octagonal, Her long nails aubergine. She blew the wind to the seventeen corners. She stood for a minute in a whiteout of green. The sweater unfurled, yarn by yarn by yarn. She dove into the ring of mirrors the handmirror drilled, down and out, down and out. Je ne suis pas, Je ne suis pas.

Ms. Emily, to you.

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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by JamesMByers

Propagation

The Origin

1- 1 When it began, the Goddess sang-

Existence made its way.

Explosions carved the universe

As She unfolded clay.

2 The earth held nothing in its form

Aside from empty dark.

The Goddess crafted sod and sea;

Her spirit made its mark.

3 The angels She created next-

Of wing and feral might.

Emblazoned with a fiery core,

An army willed to fight.

4 And then She said, “Come forth, the light!”

She saw that this was good.

Amazed, the ushered breath and beast;

She crafted earth and wood.

5 A separation of the void,

She called them night and day.

A sphere of fire to keep the morn,

A moon where dark would stay.

6 Upon the realm of Midgard’s turf

In waters rushing flow,

The Goddess spoke and ushered fish

Beneath the undertow.

7 Upon the lands, the angels flew

Ensuring life evolved.

The smallest to the greatest spread,

A manifest resolved.

8 The Goddess called her angels back,

Decreeing, “Be it so-

That all I make shall reproduce-

Increasing ebb and flow.”

9 And Midgard teemed with floral growth;

The fauna filled the land.

The angels blessed the beast and bird

As was their first command.

10 Although the world begotten brimmed

In life of every thing,

The Goddess felt an emptiness

Compelling her to sing.

11 A garden formed of lush delight

Encapsulating all

Invoked as She unleashed a song

And wrought mankind in thrall.

12 The major chords she ushered forth

Ensnared the dirt and mud,

And in her image came the first-

A human, flesh and blood.

Lilith and Adam

2- 1 And so it was, creation bloomed-

The Goddess placed her spark

Embedding every living thing

Between the light and dark.

2 Around the garden walked abroad

A woman of the earth.

The Goddess smiled at what she saw,

Creating in her mirth.

3 She called her Lilith, wrath of storm,

The Goddess lullaby.

She raised her up above the beasts;

The angels in the sky.

4 And though all pleasures she partook,

A sorrow swallowed whole.

The Goddess made the woman sleep

To form another soul.

5 The moment She began her song,

A rib from Lilith spurned

Another- man- as Adam came-

And passion in him burned.

6 Now, Lilith did not like the man-

He tried to rule her form.

But she refused his thirsty lust;

No, she would not conform.

The Descent

3- 1 Rejected, he walked through the wood

Until he heard a voice-

“Dear Adam, you have much to learn-

My son, you have a choice.”

2 The dragon, once called Lucifer,

Had fallen from a star.

Enticing Adam with his lies,

He whispered, “There you are!”

3 As Adam stood before the beast,

A newfound feeling swelled.

“What can I do to make her mine?

To make her heart compelled?”

4 “Oh, Adam, you have every right-

Absolve your flesh in her.”

The great deceiver coaxed his prey

And Adam would concur.

5 Unknown to either of the two,

The Goddess crafted more-

She called them dwarves and others elves,

The myths of ancient lore.

6 As it would be, a dwarf about

The garden heard the plan.

He raced to Lilith, full of fear,

And thus betrayed the man.

7 The garden, Eden it was called,

Invited Adam home.

And Lilith waited, open arms;

Beside her stood a gnome.

8 “So, Mother has created more-

And here you wait for me.

I have a tale to share with you-

An act to set you free."

9 Upon these words, the dwarf appeared

And angels flew below

Arresting Adam ere he stood,

For what, he did not know.

10 “What meaning do you have for this!

I am of Goddess craft!”

Ignoring him, they tied him up

And placed him on a raft.

11 As Lilith watched him float away,

She noticed in his grasp

A piece of fruit from off a tree

Secured within a clasp.

12 The crafty dragon then appeared

And freed the man to dine.

“The Tree of Good and Evil- yes!

Behold- it is now mine!”

13 Of all they were allowed to eat,

The fruit from off one tree

The Goddess had forbidden them-

It birthed eternity.

14 As Adam fled atop the beast,

An an angel came to guard

The entrance into Eden’s realm-

A blazing, shining shard.

15 The dwarves and elves rejoiced to see

The man depart their land.

As Lilith utilized her skills,

The Goddess found it grand.

16 A blessing over Eden’s girth,

Reviving all inside

And laugher flourished plant to plane-

A gift she would provide.

Fallen Angels and Adam’s Daughters

4- 1 Outside of Eden, Adam’s lust

Increased as he would find

A race of creatures, humanoid,

In which his loins would grind.

2 The offspring grew in wonderment

And angels fell from grace

The same as Lucifer had been,

Succumbing in that place.

3 As Adam had him many wives,

So, too, the angels took

To bed his daughters, full of sin,

Depicted in this book.

4 Abominations they produced,

The giants and monsters spawned

Devoured the outer world around

As evil newly dawned.

5 And still they could not enter in

The gates of Eden’s port.

The Goddess kept her promises

And Lilith ruled her court.

6 The angels, each a different brand-

A lion, and eagle, and

A bull defended Lilith’s woods-

And kept filth from her land.

7 For Adam daily tried his best

To take back all denied.

And yet the Goddess blocked attempts

No matter how he tried.

8 The dwarves and elves and other kind

Among the woodland’s hold

Arose to worship Lilith’s Queen

And forged the Goddess gold.

9 Too closely to the outside world

A few dwarves ventured near.

The monsters sensed the wealth and vowed

To offer hateful fear.

10 Again, day out and in, they tried

But Eden’s troupe prevailed.

It seemed a futile quest, indeed

For every time, they failed.

11 The dragon formed a vengeful plan,

And Adam fell in line.

No matter how they changed the course,

The Goddess proved divine.

12 And I would know, for She is me-

We are one in the same.

The garden holds a hidden myth,

And Lilith is her name …

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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by JamesMByers
Propagation
The Origin

1- 1 When it began, the Goddess sang-
Existence made its way.
Explosions carved the universe
As She unfolded clay.
2 The earth held nothing in its form
Aside from empty dark.
The Goddess crafted sod and sea;
Her spirit made its mark.
3 The angels She created next-
Of wing and feral might.
Emblazoned with a fiery core,
An army willed to fight.
4 And then She said, “Come forth, the light!”
She saw that this was good.
Amazed, the ushered breath and beast;
She crafted earth and wood.
5 A separation of the void,
She called them night and day.
A sphere of fire to keep the morn,
A moon where dark would stay.
6 Upon the realm of Midgard’s turf
In waters rushing flow,
The Goddess spoke and ushered fish
Beneath the undertow.
7 Upon the lands, the angels flew
Ensuring life evolved.
The smallest to the greatest spread,
A manifest resolved.
8 The Goddess called her angels back,
Decreeing, “Be it so-
That all I make shall reproduce-
Increasing ebb and flow.”
9 And Midgard teemed with floral growth;
The fauna filled the land.
The angels blessed the beast and bird
As was their first command.
10 Although the world begotten brimmed
In life of every thing,
The Goddess felt an emptiness
Compelling her to sing.
11 A garden formed of lush delight
Encapsulating all
Invoked as She unleashed a song
And wrought mankind in thrall.
12 The major chords she ushered forth
Ensnared the dirt and mud,
And in her image came the first-
A human, flesh and blood.

Lilith and Adam

2- 1 And so it was, creation bloomed-
The Goddess placed her spark
Embedding every living thing
Between the light and dark.
2 Around the garden walked abroad
A woman of the earth.
The Goddess smiled at what she saw,
Creating in her mirth.
3 She called her Lilith, wrath of storm,
The Goddess lullaby.
She raised her up above the beasts;
The angels in the sky.
4 And though all pleasures she partook,
A sorrow swallowed whole.
The Goddess made the woman sleep
To form another soul.
5 The moment She began her song,
A rib from Lilith spurned
Another- man- as Adam came-
And passion in him burned.
6 Now, Lilith did not like the man-
He tried to rule her form.
But she refused his thirsty lust;
No, she would not conform.

The Descent

3- 1 Rejected, he walked through the wood
Until he heard a voice-
“Dear Adam, you have much to learn-
My son, you have a choice.”
2 The dragon, once called Lucifer,
Had fallen from a star.
Enticing Adam with his lies,
He whispered, “There you are!”
3 As Adam stood before the beast,
A newfound feeling swelled.
“What can I do to make her mine?
To make her heart compelled?”
4 “Oh, Adam, you have every right-
Absolve your flesh in her.”
The great deceiver coaxed his prey
And Adam would concur.
5 Unknown to either of the two,
The Goddess crafted more-
She called them dwarves and others elves,
The myths of ancient lore.
6 As it would be, a dwarf about
The garden heard the plan.
He raced to Lilith, full of fear,
And thus betrayed the man.
7 The garden, Eden it was called,
Invited Adam home.
And Lilith waited, open arms;
Beside her stood a gnome.
8 “So, Mother has created more-
And here you wait for me.
I have a tale to share with you-
An act to set you free."
9 Upon these words, the dwarf appeared
And angels flew below
Arresting Adam ere he stood,
For what, he did not know.
10 “What meaning do you have for this!
I am of Goddess craft!”
Ignoring him, they tied him up
And placed him on a raft.
11 As Lilith watched him float away,
She noticed in his grasp
A piece of fruit from off a tree
Secured within a clasp.
12 The crafty dragon then appeared
And freed the man to dine.
“The Tree of Good and Evil- yes!
Behold- it is now mine!”
13 Of all they were allowed to eat,
The fruit from off one tree
The Goddess had forbidden them-
It birthed eternity.
14 As Adam fled atop the beast,
An an angel came to guard
The entrance into Eden’s realm-
A blazing, shining shard.
15 The dwarves and elves rejoiced to see
The man depart their land.
As Lilith utilized her skills,
The Goddess found it grand.
16 A blessing over Eden’s girth,
Reviving all inside
And laugher flourished plant to plane-
A gift she would provide.

Fallen Angels and Adam’s Daughters

4- 1 Outside of Eden, Adam’s lust
Increased as he would find
A race of creatures, humanoid,
In which his loins would grind.
2 The offspring grew in wonderment
And angels fell from grace
The same as Lucifer had been,
Succumbing in that place.
3 As Adam had him many wives,
So, too, the angels took
To bed his daughters, full of sin,
Depicted in this book.
4 Abominations they produced,
The giants and monsters spawned
Devoured the outer world around
As evil newly dawned.
5 And still they could not enter in
The gates of Eden’s port.
The Goddess kept her promises
And Lilith ruled her court.
6 The angels, each a different brand-
A lion, and eagle, and
A bull defended Lilith’s woods-
And kept filth from her land.
7 For Adam daily tried his best
To take back all denied.
And yet the Goddess blocked attempts
No matter how he tried.
8 The dwarves and elves and other kind
Among the woodland’s hold
Arose to worship Lilith’s Queen
And forged the Goddess gold.
9 Too closely to the outside world
A few dwarves ventured near.
The monsters sensed the wealth and vowed
To offer hateful fear.
10 Again, day out and in, they tried
But Eden’s troupe prevailed.
It seemed a futile quest, indeed
For every time, they failed.
11 The dragon formed a vengeful plan,
And Adam fell in line.
No matter how they changed the course,
The Goddess proved divine.
12 And I would know, for She is me-
We are one in the same.
The garden holds a hidden myth,
And Lilith is her name …
#fantasy  #poetry  #prosechallenge  #Itslit  #getlit 
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Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy

October Diaries: The Ebb

October 8,

   There is an old saying in our circle: “Nothing goes right for thieves besides thieving.” A bond that might’ve seemed strong becomes unpredictably shattered; an innocent walk for fresh air ends in being ambushed by highwaymen; passing off a merchant’s calls with a casual decline ends in him going for your throat. Of course, this saying isn’t infallible, but these are just some personal examples.

   Once you devote yourself to stealing from the corrupt, everything else seems to doomed to end tragically. It’s as if all the luck we accumulate throughout our lives goes towards one specific action. But even luck can only patch up wounds that haven’t been dealt. It can divert someone’s glance away from the corner you’re hiding in, not because it was any doing of your own, just the chance of their thoughts wandering with their eyes. It can help you sidestep death, when it’s the difference between one half of a moment and another.

   This is how thieves of the Shadow Syndicate exist, moving with strength, skill, finesse, deliberation, and in moments when those things are not enough, knowing when to rely on the tumble-turn of dice. We catch the rhythm of chance in the silences that dictate whose blood is split, and who gets to slink away from the scene.

   The shadows know we are already dead, and so long as we admit that to ourselves, they let us use them. The moment we fool ourselves into thinking we’re any different from anyone else, we embrace our demise.

   I stood with my back against the wet brick of an alleyway, and tightened the laces on the back of my mask until the leather was pushing against my lips. The four vertical slits for breathing were enough for me to taste the autumn air sweeping through the streets, touched by the scent of moss, rotted wood, and fresh rain.

   Moonlight tore through a gap in the clouds, bright in its full radiance. 

   Shadowsteps travel in pairs or triplets, but seldom alone. So why was I here, trying to predict my fate as the night's clouds rolled across my eyes?

   A disease was spreading throughout the Northern Sanctum of the Shadow Syndicate, effectively putting all of my companions in feverish, cough-ridden, sick-spewing states, each of them taking turns in the washroom to rid themselves of the pestilence swarming their insides.

   “Shade,” the headmistress had called me that night through the door of her chamber, “don’t go alone like Aren did. I’m ordering you as the head of this sanctum, and telling you as your friend.”

   “There are no orders,” I said to the door, “not when all of the seasoned members are clinging to the sheets of their bed. The initiates who just came two weeks past are shivering with both fear and fevers, afraid that they signed up for a death sentence. Do you want a fresh set of promising souls lost to this?”

   I listened to her fit of coughing, already walking away. She knows I am right, doesn't she? I thought.

   “Shade, wait!”

   “The Blackmore house is known for its prestigious grasp of healing tinctures. If there’s a cure, they’ll have it. You can’t dissuade me.”

   “I know I can’t. That’s why I’m telling you: if you die, no one’s hands are stained besides yours.”

   “As if I care. It’s better that way, anyways. No guilt, no fault, no shame, no strength but my own. Have we ever blamed one another for dying? But whose hands are stained when I let all of you die a beggar’s death? Ramus is already dead. And Aren, who left on his orders, hasn’t returned in weeks. The morning he left, he had a bloody cough. A deadman following another deadman’s orders to find a plant for a potion that will never be created. So who’s left to help?”

   There was at least silence before she blurted out the rest of her pleas. “… Don’t think that way. We’ll find something. We’ll get well enough, eventually, to figure something else out. Just stay here. Help care for us. Change the sheets, fetch fresh clothes, cook for us.”

   “You expect me to be a house servant while you all die? Nithe and Nocturos are gods for mischief, headmistress, much as we’d like to think so, they won’t heed prayers for this. They don’t dabble with remedies and healing. I don’t need to explain to you where their reach stops extending. They aren’t helping us with this one.”

   “Shade …”

   “I’m leaving. If I don’t …” I shook my head, and bit back what was itching in my throat. “Farewell, Yamora.”

   I thought I heard her say my name again as I was walking down the halls. I even stopped and tilted my head, when I thought muffled crying followed.

                                                                         ~

   I stared at the glittering mansion in the distance as I let myself hear her whispers through the door one last time before shutting the memory out. I stuck some nitskel into rolling paper and lit up the end of the cigarette.

   From the small loops in my satchel I took out the caw pipe and blew harshly into it, sending off the harsh grating of a raven’s calls in a specific beat that Wisp would recognize. With gratitude at the calm before the storm, I savored the quiet, the heat of smoke in my lungs, until I heard his talons tapping on the roof above.

   I took a final drag before stamping out the sizzling end. 
I raised my hand up and motioned for him.

   When Wisp landed on my shoulder, I fed him a piece of dead rat I had found on my walk there. A bit of intestine or heart, I guess. He seemed to enjoy it.

   “Take this back to the Sanctuary,” I said as I slipped a small scroll into the pouch attached to his leg, “just to let them know I’m here. They’ll be grateful to hear from me at all.”

   Wisp nuzzled my neck before pecking out some grime from my earlobe. I could never get used to that. I scratched his neck in return. “Come back to these rooftops afterward. Don’t stray far, I may need you.”

   Staring at me with strangely cognizant, black beads of eyes with a tinge of mud in the center, he cocked his head, pecked me again, then flapped off before shitting dangerously close to my boot.

   “There’s a good raven,” I muttered before clenching warmth back into my fingers.

The lettering Blackmore on the iron entrance gates shone with dew from the evening’s rain. I waited for the guard that patrolled the street in front of the home to pass out of peripheral view, and strolled out onto the street.

   “Fine evening, gentlemen,” I greeted two more guards on either side of the gate, as my finger caressed the trigger of a rune-powered crossbow behind my back.

   “Have an invitation, stranger?” the one on the right asked me.

   “For the celebration?” I asked as I spotted the boiling life of a party bubbling behind the windows.

   “That’s right.”

   “Sure, sure, I certainly do. I think I have it somewhere in here …” I flipped the crossbow out and fired two darts tipped with a soporific tincture, each one landing in their necks.

   I rushed to their bodies and glanced at the patrol nearing the end of the street. I snatched a set of keys from the warm body and slipped it into the lock, opening the gate proficient at rusted screams before dragging the bodies behind the stone wall under the iron grating.

   Just before the guard turned, I cracked a knuckle over the lock of the gate and said, “Caveas,” triggering a burst of green light and the melting of the tumblers inside, fusing them together to create a seal.

   Past the stretching of the front yard, I crouched through a long path bordered by lush gardens with the moonlight on my shoulder. A drunken couple with masks dangling from their necks were swaying arm in arm. I ducked behind a rose bush while they passed in laughter and sloppy kisses, taking a little too long for comfort.

   One of their masks slithered off their neck, the silk lacings too smooth to stay pinched from a single knot. I picked it up, dawning the visage of scarlet and black demon. My mask still concealed the bottom half of my face while I tied the lacings tight. I should’ve known that royals are the type of people to make light of demons, especially the ones that enter homes uninvited.

   Upright, in the open amongst scattered revelers in the garden, I passed through the steam cast by strangers’ breath and went into the first chamber, where a pianist clad in black had a room enthralled with the pounding of his hands on the keys. Nobody batted an eye as I strode into the other corridors, nodding at anyone who bothered to make eye contact.

   My costume was by far the most elaborate, and perhaps inappropriate for even this occasion. It was authentic, after all. A shadowstep's raiment complete with the tools of the trade.

   The chandeliers, the lights, the uproar of applause as a piece finished and another began, the tinkling of glasses, the stench of vomit mingling with steaming trays of delicacies fresh from the kitchen. Thieves are good at managing themselves in chaos, but playing the role of someone apart of it all was more dizzying than I anticipated.

   As I got a feeling for the expanse of the mansion, I began to notice that some of the revelers wore similar costumes. Matching grey cloth and leather, each of their masks the frozen expression of a scowling gargoyle. Guardsmen.

   I touched one of the gargoyles lightly on the arm. “Can you direct me to Apothecary Blackmore?”

   His eyes flinched before meeting mine, a little bloodshot from sneaking drinks, as if his breath wasn't enough indication. “Who’s asking?”

   “Count Pissbane,” I said, blurting the first thing that came to mind.

   “Oh, Count, my apologies for not recognizing you,” he inclined his head. “You mean the Apothecary Blackmore?”

   “Naturally. The family’s legacy precedes him. I wish to speak with him, it’s urgent.”

   “Well, Count Blackmore is preoccupied, as he’s the one playing the keys in the main hall.”

   I twitched. “You mean to say that Count Blackmore is the same man who crafted his famous tinctures? Not another man working under his name?”

   “ ‘Course, who else would it be?”

   It was the first time hearing of royalty as anything more than a vessel for inherited wealth and prosperity. I was in the home of a man who had built his wealth up from the innovation of cures meant to heal others. I almost felt guilty for sneaking in. But that was besides the point, and it was far too late for guilt. This wasn’t a normal assignment. In fact, it wasn't an assignment at all. The Shadow Syndicate didn't order it; it was of my own volition.

   “In any case, when will the … performance be over?”

   “Just started playing few hands ‘for you greeted me, sir. Could be some time.”

   “Very well. My thanks.”

   “What did you say your name was? I’ll tell one of the servants you requested him.”

   “How dare you disgrace my family name by forgetting it," I spat. "Forget it.”

   “Apologies …” he slurred. “Is that on the registration?”

   His hand was pointing to the hilt of my crossbow hanging from my belt. “Yes, it’s … registered.”

   I walked away before he could get another word out, looking for the nearest staircase. Royals always have their study on the highest floor. With a view overlooking a city like Westrun, why wouldn’t you?

   Someone made a gesture of pointing and laughing at me, I turned to catch a look, and bumped into someone by mistake. A glass shattered, and the bottom of my boot crunched shards to splinters.

   The woman I bumped into was nearly in tears of frustration, a red mouth hanging open only to issue blank utterances of rage.

   “My apologies, miss. Can’t imagine it’s terribly difficult to find one precisely like it in short time.” I tipped my mask and slipped up a nearby set of carpeted stairs, leaving some of the confusion behind me. I stopped at the top, getting my bearings in order.

   Interacting with other people is far more difficult than sneaking, stealing, or killing them. All these years of stealing from others and never speaking to them, I had almost forgot the subtle nuances of picking which words to speak and which to swallow.

   I shook off my nervousness and continued up the stairs, passing by a couple whose jaws seemed positively locked together. I couldn't resist arcing an eyebrow as I awkwardly squeezed by.

   In a hallway brightly lit by torches on either side, I checked both of the corridors before murmuring, “Fade.” The spell snapped at my feet, and I slipped into the air. Or, at least I thought I did. When I looked down at my hands, I saw their outlines wreathed in shadow; every contour of my body shifting with the subtle sifting of darkness over darkness, like layers of silk being passed over itself. Painfully obvious, and useless in the bright light of the torches.

   “So that’s what happens when you cast that spell in well-lit rooms,” I sighed. “Embody,” I murmured, returning to my usual form and continuing down the hall. I considered snuffing the torches somehow, but it would only look more suspicious to anyone who knew they were supposed to be lit.

   Not being able to rely on the most basic spell for slipping through rooms without drawing attention was enough to pull my hand over the hilt of my dagger protectively. I shook the notion of killing over talking out of my head, for now, and searched for the next flight, trying not to goggle at the unique architecture arching all around me. Instead of curved or straight hallways, the walls came up to sharp, wooden points that met up with the beams of the ceiling, surrounding you with the impression of impossible intricacy through symmetry. 

                                                                   ~

   "This disease …” Aren had told me between coughing and dabbing blood away from the edges of his mouth, “it’s not incurable. The plant that combats it is found in high, mountainous regions, or so Ramus told me.” He wrapped himself tighter in his cloak while the winds hit us outside one of the sanctuary’s doors.

   “To the worms with the plant, we asked every last tradesmen in Westrun, and they didn’t have a leaf of it. We need magick, or an elixir already concocted.”

   “There are no healers in the city who can cure this by will alone, and none of our connections could end in procuring an elixir. That’s why I’m leaving. Ramus said even one vial of the concentrate could heal half of us, if not all of us, such is the potency of the plant.”

   My hand had been gripping his arm so tight, the prints of my fingers on his leather remained after I let go. “Then go, if you think it’s best. Don’t say I didn’t tell you you’re mad when you’re crawling on your belly up there in the snow.”

   “I’ve always been a little mad,” Aren smirked. “But it’s not madness. I’d do anything for the people that gave me a family.”

   What he said was enough for my eyes to drop from his, almost ashamed to see the hopeful glint in them, the one that I didn’t have. “Before you go,” I had said, “tell me what Ramus told you. The name of the disease, the plant, what it would take to craft the elixir.”

   Aren outlined it, expressing frustration at how simple it really was, and similarly, at how quickly the disease seized its victims. “Ghoul’s bane is the plant’s name,” he’d said. “And the disease, Ramus called it ‘the ebb’.”

   “Ghoul’s bane, the ebb,” I repeated.

   “Shade?”

   “Yes?”

   Aren discarded a handkerchief that had once been white and was now a single, overlapping stain of muddied red. He took out another and coughed into it. “What do you plan to do with this information?”

   I laughed. “The same thing that we always do.”

                                                                    ~

   The next hallway was guarded by a patrol. I was crouched on the last of the three steps, peering out from the wall. I considered simply walking up to the guard and talking my way to the next floor. But if there were men standing outside Blackmore’s chamber, it’d end in blood anyways.

   I tugged the crossbow from its holster, took aim when his back was turned, and fired.

The tip lodged in his back. A vein in my heart pinched itself. He stopped and reached for it.

   I waited for the drug to sweep through his blood, for him to fall and crash to the ground in unconsciousness.

   Instead, he turned around and spotted me.

   By the time he’d pulled the bolt from his armor, I was sprinting down the hall towards him.

   “Help!” he screamed while he unsheathed a sword.

   I drew my dagger and parried his blade. An armored fist slammed into my face in response, staggering me into a lapse of darkness and sparks. He swung his sword after punching a second time, tearing through the tapestry hanging on the wall while the sound of more men from the upper floors came. Shouts rang out like alarm bells being sounded throughout a city, each one triggering another. His sword stuck in the thick wool of the tapestry, I saw my opportunity, and slashed at his neck.

   Red colored the vision of my left eye, while his blood splattered my right. I pushed myself against the wall while he bled out on the floor.

   Footsteps came tumbling down the stairway.

   The first glimmer of armor I saw, I grabbed at it, hauling the man to floor and burying my dagger into the one that followed after, slamming him into the wall and repeating the motion where his padding wasn’t thick enough to stop my blade.

   They screamed and wailed in a way that would impress a rowdy group of children. I turned to the man scrambling to his feet, snapping the trigger on my hand-crossbow until half a dozen needles found their way through his mask, two of them sticking out from one of the eyeholes of his mask. 

   It's not unnecessary if it helps calm your nerves.

   This time, I couldn’t tell if the footsteps were coming from the staircase above or below. I took that as a good indication that it was both. My mind raced, and the spells in my head flipped like pages in the wind.

   I tore the demon’s mask off my face and sprinted up the stairs, encumbered by the weight of a particularly large mechanism dangling from my belt, each of its components attached to a different ring to distribute the weight evenly.

   A guard came running down. I grabbed his ankle through the banister, causing him to roll the rest of the way down, crashing into a glass stand encasing a family heirloom. The glass showered him, and my dagger followed in similar fashion.

   More gargoyles came rushing from behind. I fired blindly with my crossbow at the large mass of them bottlenecking at the bottom steps. The mechanism spat and whirred with charged runes, smoke puffing out as heat spread to the handle and scalded my hand until I smelt burnt leather.

   A few of them took the hint and found cover behind the wall. One of them stupid enough to leap over the bodies at his feet charged at me with a sword and a scream.

   I slammed the trigger back.

   A burst of shadow and smoke, but no bolt. The canister was empty. I squeezed it again in disbelief. He slashed at my hand, disarming my crossbow and slicing my fingers in the process. Still crouched over the body beneath me, I kicked at his legs. His head slammed into the steps. Either the wood or his skull cracked. I prayed for the latter and scrambled up the flight of stairs.

   Blood trailed me as I took three steps at a time. My thoughts seemed to have left me somewhere during the first struggle. Instinct alone was guiding me through the initial storm that it caused. Optimism shrank.

   Every sconce had a burning torch; no corner was left darkened. I cursed, pulling torches out at random and tossing them behind me as I ran. I needed my element. I needed opportunity to slip in and out of their reality. But the gargoyles started coming again, eager to stomp out the flames before they could take hold of the walls.

   I finished the final flight of stairs and pulled out a spell scroll, tearing off the wax binding and speaking the trigger word, “Moerium,” as I directed it at the empty space at the top of the staircase.

   A summoned doorway stretched from the ground, growing from a slit of gushing shadow. It stretched and filled up the empty space, creating the illusion of a locked door. The spell would only hold until someone assumed it didn’t exist.

   Throughout the skirmish, the screams hadn’t stopped. It was while I stared at the door that this realization sunk in. It used to be just the guardsmen calling for one another, but now I could hear the revelers alerting the rest of the sleeping city. For all I knew, I had drawn all of the Westrun to Blackmore’s gates.

   I ran my hands through the sweaty locks of auburn hair dangling in front of my eyes, walking just slow enough to look at each door on the final floor.

   One of them had the same family lettering as the gates. I didn’t bother trying to slam through a solid slab of iron and drew out my lockpicks.

   Fists began pounding against the illusionary door. That was something, at least. The more they convinced themselves it was impossible to get through, the longer the spell would last.

   The tumblers caught into their familiar places after a few seconds of picking. I turned the keyhole to the left and felt the latch give, easing myself into, at last, a darkened chamber. I didn’t have time to pick the lock to latch it again, since the tumblers reset when you try to turn it a full rotation with picks.

   Hiding in the chamber wouldn’t buy me time, either, as my blood trailed directly to me. If that wasn’t enough, the outlines of bloody fingers were smeared across the handle.

   But that didn't matter so much anymore.

   I stood in the middle of a gigantic laboratory. Herbs that I had never seen before hung by the dozens from the tall ceilings. A ladder of staggering height was pushed up against a wall, with ropes attached to the ceiling to allow for a climber to attach freshly picked plants to hundreds of hooks scattered about.

   A genius surrounding himself with his craft. There were even sheets of music spread across the floor, gusted from a table from the open balcony at the far end of the chamber, where sage curtains billowed in the breeze.

   There were numerous desks where various stages of an elixir’s development could be observed. A staton for cutting, chopping, grinding, mixing, another for boiling, reducing, combining, and another with elaborate symbols etched into strong, dark wood. Enchantment runes.

   Blackmore wasn’t just an apothecary. He was an alchemist.

   I spotted a case of elixirs. The labels of which were, unlike everything else in the room, clean and readable. Only the finished products were treated with an eye of cleanliness. I went to the glass case and started scanning.

   “I see you’ve let yourself in,” someone said.

   I whipped around to see the pianist, still dressed in his concert garb. He drew out from one of the pillars in front of the balcony. He, too, was wearing a mask. The upper half of a skull covered his eyes, forehead and cheeks, while black and white makeup depicted the rest of the skull on the lower portion of his face.

   “I will admit I am flattered,” he continued. The tails of his coat blew in the breeze, while the steady tapping of his feet echoed, louder in my ears than the incessant pounding of the guardsmen on the illusionary door. He slipped his mask off and retied his thick, black ponytail. “I must ask, however, why you went through all this trouble, killing a good portion of my guard in the process. We could have scheduled a meeting. Enjoyed some quality nitskel and discussed your prospects with my products. Instead … this. Digging a rather deep and, what I imagine is now an inescapable grave,” he added with an almost sorrowful chuckle.

   “H-h—”

   “You don’t seriously think someone of my caliber doesn’t have passageways in his own home, the same way a spider might dig an impressive hole for catching his prey? Not that I ever constructed it to … ‘catch prey,’ ” he sighed, and set the mask on a desk, “rather to simply escape the monotony of the same drawl I must endure. Councilmen rambling, appointments that drag on too long. You understand.”

   I could only stare as I thought my options through.

   “But you needn’t worry. I don't have any men follow me. I assure you we’re alone. I was rather thrilled, actually, to have this night interrupted by something so exciting. This kind of life becomes awfully repetitive.” His cheeks were gaunt as his lips were thin, speaking smoothly as he paced around the chamber.

   “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Thieves are only taught to steal, not to speak, hm? I can imagine as much. I was quite the same, working my way up in small shops when I was just an apprentice. It seemed the bubbling of tinctures was the only smalltalk I could master.”

   “I don’t want to kill you, Blackmore. I just need your help. You have to understand this was none of my intention.” Every inch of me was crawling. I was practically begging. I never beg. I take what I want. I leave, and no one suspects a thing. Now I was just buying time to find a way to escape this mess I created.

   Blackmore laughed until the skeleton grin stretched across his face. “Intention! Now that’s a queer word for you. Ah, and why should I help you? Have a fair share of coin on you, a bargain to offer? You’re from the Syndicate, I assume. Or else you wouldn’t be able to pull off that rubbish of keeping twenty men slamming against something that wasn’t constructed by my orders. I don't recall having a doorway built at the top of my stairs.”

   “Assume what you will,” I said as I started unhooking the contraption on my belt, snapping the wooden pieces together and latching the hinges shut. He wasn’t the type to flinch at movement. “This is not an act of malice, I assure you.” I kept working my hands until the grappling hook was primed, the gears were set, and the trigger was ready.

   “A fascinating contraption,” he commented, getting a little closer.

   I drew my blade and pointed at him. “Stay there, Blackmore. As I said, I’m not going to hurt you. Keep your distance and this nightmare will be over.”

   He put up his hands and chuckled, taking a few steps back. “Jittery?”

   I set the spring-loaded crossbow down and started searching the glass case.

   “Ahh …” he hummed. “You found some of my finished products. Beautiful, aren’t they?”

   “Indeed. You’ve a staggering collection. I don’t take a liking to wealthy folk, the ones who were born with gold for teeth,” I said as I nudged a few vials aside. I came to a line of thin and long bottles. “But I respect you for this. I would never steal from someone like you.”

   “And yet here you are.”

   I laughed. “I considered myself a man of morales until I entered your house tonight. Devotion and love will twist someone of virtue into doing things he’d never imagine himself doing. I may as well be the scoundrel you think I am.”

   “You speak of virtue, yet you're a thief by trade. I fail to see ... any virtue. So why do it? Why take the labor of someone as … honest as you might see yourself?”

   "I won't attempt to explain the intricacies of the Syndicate's purpose." I spotted a slender vial with parchment glued to it. The inky scrawl read: Ghoul’s Bane. I wrapped my fingers around it.

   When I turned with it in my hand, Blackmore had a dagger in my side, and a smile on his face. When he flexed his grip to twist it, I managed to wrap the entirety of his neck in my hand.

   The surprise of his face was something I’d normally relish, especially as the pain in my side got my jaw gnawing on itself. But he didn’t deserve this. It wasn't fair. But my family didn’t deserve to die from a disease, either. A family that took a peasant with a knack for pickpocketing, and turned him into a man who learned to balance out the wealth from those who used their power for dictating the actions of the impoverished.

   “What, first time you stabbed someone?” I asked as I shoved him to the ground and ripped the dirk out of my side, the blade barely the length of my finger. “You can’t just stick someone in their ribs and expect things to go well. There’s things to … consider,” I winced. “Leather, padding, flesh, organs, arteries. You might’ve missed the important ones. I already told you I wouldn’t kill you, on principle. Take my wound as the price I paid for this,” I said, waving the tincture. “On second thought …” I went and grabbed a few more with the same label.

   “The morales of a thief are as straight as—” he started to growl. 

   “Shh!” I listened. The banging had stopped. So did my heart. I slipped the vials into my satchel and snatched up the crossbow with the grappling hook, sprinting for the balcony.

   I jumped over Blackmore, who made an attempt to grab my leg. I stumbled, and got the damn drapes out of my way

   As I did, the door of his chamber opened.

   “Get down, Count!” someone screamed.

   I breathed in the brisk air of midnight from the balcony and aimed the hook at the roof above.

   Bolts were fired. Mine … and theirs.

   The arrows thudded into me as the hook found grooves in the concrete. I didn’t bother counting how many had stuck into my chest, just jammed the lever down beside the trigger and let the spring loose, setting off the gears that pulled me up.

   Blood flowed, dripped, and whipped into the open air beneath me. The roof came rushing to me me, and pushed the arrows deeper when I slammed into it. I gritted my teeth and hauled myself over in a pain strong enough to cast the world into a glimpse of sheer darkness.

   Four. There were four of them in my chest.

   When I breathed in, I heard a whistling. When I breathed out, spurts of flame spread inside. I found it ironic that when I coughed, blood spurted from my lips the same way it came from Aren.

   “Rima-ri-rima-morra,” I gasped. Wisps of light seeped from my fingertip and were gusted away by the wind. More blood gushed from my chest as I tried to direct the healing spell I could not finish speaking. “R-r-ima,” I wheezed. I didn’t have anything left. No breath to cast, no energy to draw from. I was a serpent trying to devour its own tail already in ashes.

   I fumbled for the caw pipe and concentrated into blowing into it. I could hear blood spurting from my lips inside of it. I managed a caw before I began coughing and retching, each convulsion a new set of blades digging into me.

   Nothing goes right for thieves besides thieving. The same principle applies to saving the lives of those that mean the most to him, even when he's using the same tricks he'd used to join them. 

   When I looked up from the pain, my soaked hands were already clutching the three elixirs, the glass clinking together as the shaking took over my movements. I could feel my death rattle trying to wheeze out from me, eager to be the last. I shoved it back down and coughed more.

   I could see through the crimson sheen that had taken over every detail of the world, the silhouette of my raven waiting patiently at the roof's edge.

   “W-wisp,” I managed. I pried open the pouch on his legs and stuffed the elixirs inside. One of them dropped and crashed at the ground below. “S-sanctum.”

   Wisp didn’t start off right away. He was waiting for a snack, a scratch. For me to whisper something to him before I told him to leave, as I always did.

   I managed to lean against the wall of the roof. Wisp hopped onto one of the arrows on my chest, and bent his head next to mine while the breaths came slower and slower, deeper and deeper. He rubbed his beak against my cheek, and nibbled at my ear. I wanted to sigh in relief, but there simply wasn't any air to take in. A faint warmth from his breathing against my face caused me to look up at him.

   I stared at one of his black and brown eyes as he looked back into mine. I raised a trembling hand to clumsily stroke his feathers, smearing blood over the perfect fletching of his wings. 

   “Go.”

   The moon, swarmed in greying tendrils, beamed down at me. I closed my eyes as I listened to the flapping of his wings, until I could hear them no more. I imagined how Wisp would beat the same rhythm upon the next week’s dawn, with the sanctuary bustling in activity, discussing assignments, and the tasks to be completed for the next day. The next tomorrow.

    A tomorrow that would arrive for them, without me.

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Written by Harlequin in portal Fantasy
October Diaries: The Ebb
October 8,
   There is an old saying in our circle: “Nothing goes right for thieves besides thieving.” A bond that might’ve seemed strong becomes unpredictably shattered; an innocent walk for fresh air ends in being ambushed by highwaymen; passing off a merchant’s calls with a casual decline ends in him going for your throat. Of course, this saying isn’t infallible, but these are just some personal examples.
   Once you devote yourself to stealing from the corrupt, everything else seems to doomed to end tragically. It’s as if all the luck we accumulate throughout our lives goes towards one specific action. But even luck can only patch up wounds that haven’t been dealt. It can divert someone’s glance away from the corner you’re hiding in, not because it was any doing of your own, just the chance of their thoughts wandering with their eyes. It can help you sidestep death, when it’s the difference between one half of a moment and another.
   This is how thieves of the Shadow Syndicate exist, moving with strength, skill, finesse, deliberation, and in moments when those things are not enough, knowing when to rely on the tumble-turn of dice. We catch the rhythm of chance in the silences that dictate whose blood is split, and who gets to slink away from the scene.
   The shadows know we are already dead, and so long as we admit that to ourselves, they let us use them. The moment we fool ourselves into thinking we’re any different from anyone else, we embrace our demise.
   I stood with my back against the wet brick of an alleyway, and tightened the laces on the back of my mask until the leather was pushing against my lips. The four vertical slits for breathing were enough for me to taste the autumn air sweeping through the streets, touched by the scent of moss, rotted wood, and fresh rain.
   Moonlight tore through a gap in the clouds, bright in its full radiance. 
   Shadowsteps travel in pairs or triplets, but seldom alone. So why was I here, trying to predict my fate as the night's clouds rolled across my eyes?
   A disease was spreading throughout the Northern Sanctum of the Shadow Syndicate, effectively putting all of my companions in feverish, cough-ridden, sick-spewing states, each of them taking turns in the washroom to rid themselves of the pestilence swarming their insides.
   “Shade,” the headmistress had called me that night through the door of her chamber, “don’t go alone like Aren did. I’m ordering you as the head of this sanctum, and telling you as your friend.”
   “There are no orders,” I said to the door, “not when all of the seasoned members are clinging to the sheets of their bed. The initiates who just came two weeks past are shivering with both fear and fevers, afraid that they signed up for a death sentence. Do you want a fresh set of promising souls lost to this?”
   I listened to her fit of coughing, already walking away. She knows I am right, doesn't she? I thought.
   “Shade, wait!”
   “The Blackmore house is known for its prestigious grasp of healing tinctures. If there’s a cure, they’ll have it. You can’t dissuade me.”
   “I know I can’t. That’s why I’m telling you: if you die, no one’s hands are stained besides yours.”
   “As if I care. It’s better that way, anyways. No guilt, no fault, no shame, no strength but my own. Have we ever blamed one another for dying? But whose hands are stained when I let all of you die a beggar’s death? Ramus is already dead. And Aren, who left on his orders, hasn’t returned in weeks. The morning he left, he had a bloody cough. A deadman following another deadman’s orders to find a plant for a potion that will never be created. So who’s left to help?”
   There was at least silence before she blurted out the rest of her pleas. “… Don’t think that way. We’ll find something. We’ll get well enough, eventually, to figure something else out. Just stay here. Help care for us. Change the sheets, fetch fresh clothes, cook for us.”
   “You expect me to be a house servant while you all die? Nithe and Nocturos are gods for mischief, headmistress, much as we’d like to think so, they won’t heed prayers for this. They don’t dabble with remedies and healing. I don’t need to explain to you where their reach stops extending. They aren’t helping us with this one.”
   “Shade …”
   “I’m leaving. If I don’t …” I shook my head, and bit back what was itching in my throat. “Farewell, Yamora.”
   I thought I heard her say my name again as I was walking down the halls. I even stopped and tilted my head, when I thought muffled crying followed.
                                                                         ~
   I stared at the glittering mansion in the distance as I let myself hear her whispers through the door one last time before shutting the memory out. I stuck some nitskel into rolling paper and lit up the end of the cigarette.
   From the small loops in my satchel I took out the caw pipe and blew harshly into it, sending off the harsh grating of a raven’s calls in a specific beat that Wisp would recognize. With gratitude at the calm before the storm, I savored the quiet, the heat of smoke in my lungs, until I heard his talons tapping on the roof above.
   I took a final drag before stamping out the sizzling end. 
I raised my hand up and motioned for him.
   When Wisp landed on my shoulder, I fed him a piece of dead rat I had found on my walk there. A bit of intestine or heart, I guess. He seemed to enjoy it.
   “Take this back to the Sanctuary,” I said as I slipped a small scroll into the pouch attached to his leg, “just to let them know I’m here. They’ll be grateful to hear from me at all.”
   Wisp nuzzled my neck before pecking out some grime from my earlobe. I could never get used to that. I scratched his neck in return. “Come back to these rooftops afterward. Don’t stray far, I may need you.”
   Staring at me with strangely cognizant, black beads of eyes with a tinge of mud in the center, he cocked his head, pecked me again, then flapped off before shitting dangerously close to my boot.
   “There’s a good raven,” I muttered before clenching warmth back into my fingers.
The lettering Blackmore on the iron entrance gates shone with dew from the evening’s rain. I waited for the guard that patrolled the street in front of the home to pass out of peripheral view, and strolled out onto the street.
   “Fine evening, gentlemen,” I greeted two more guards on either side of the gate, as my finger caressed the trigger of a rune-powered crossbow behind my back.
   “Have an invitation, stranger?” the one on the right asked me.
   “For the celebration?” I asked as I spotted the boiling life of a party bubbling behind the windows.
   “That’s right.”
   “Sure, sure, I certainly do. I think I have it somewhere in here …” I flipped the crossbow out and fired two darts tipped with a soporific tincture, each one landing in their necks.
   I rushed to their bodies and glanced at the patrol nearing the end of the street. I snatched a set of keys from the warm body and slipped it into the lock, opening the gate proficient at rusted screams before dragging the bodies behind the stone wall under the iron grating.
   Just before the guard turned, I cracked a knuckle over the lock of the gate and said, “Caveas,” triggering a burst of green light and the melting of the tumblers inside, fusing them together to create a seal.
   Past the stretching of the front yard, I crouched through a long path bordered by lush gardens with the moonlight on my shoulder. A drunken couple with masks dangling from their necks were swaying arm in arm. I ducked behind a rose bush while they passed in laughter and sloppy kisses, taking a little too long for comfort.
   One of their masks slithered off their neck, the silk lacings too smooth to stay pinched from a single knot. I picked it up, dawning the visage of scarlet and black demon. My mask still concealed the bottom half of my face while I tied the lacings tight. I should’ve known that royals are the type of people to make light of demons, especially the ones that enter homes uninvited.
   Upright, in the open amongst scattered revelers in the garden, I passed through the steam cast by strangers’ breath and went into the first chamber, where a pianist clad in black had a room enthralled with the pounding of his hands on the keys. Nobody batted an eye as I strode into the other corridors, nodding at anyone who bothered to make eye contact.
   My costume was by far the most elaborate, and perhaps inappropriate for even this occasion. It was authentic, after all. A shadowstep's raiment complete with the tools of the trade.
   The chandeliers, the lights, the uproar of applause as a piece finished and another began, the tinkling of glasses, the stench of vomit mingling with steaming trays of delicacies fresh from the kitchen. Thieves are good at managing themselves in chaos, but playing the role of someone apart of it all was more dizzying than I anticipated.
   As I got a feeling for the expanse of the mansion, I began to notice that some of the revelers wore similar costumes. Matching grey cloth and leather, each of their masks the frozen expression of a scowling gargoyle. Guardsmen.
   I touched one of the gargoyles lightly on the arm. “Can you direct me to Apothecary Blackmore?”
   His eyes flinched before meeting mine, a little bloodshot from sneaking drinks, as if his breath wasn't enough indication. “Who’s asking?”
   “Count Pissbane,” I said, blurting the first thing that came to mind.
   “Oh, Count, my apologies for not recognizing you,” he inclined his head. “You mean the Apothecary Blackmore?”
   “Naturally. The family’s legacy precedes him. I wish to speak with him, it’s urgent.”
   “Well, Count Blackmore is preoccupied, as he’s the one playing the keys in the main hall.”
   I twitched. “You mean to say that Count Blackmore is the same man who crafted his famous tinctures? Not another man working under his name?”
   “ ‘Course, who else would it be?”
   It was the first time hearing of royalty as anything more than a vessel for inherited wealth and prosperity. I was in the home of a man who had built his wealth up from the innovation of cures meant to heal others. I almost felt guilty for sneaking in. But that was besides the point, and it was far too late for guilt. This wasn’t a normal assignment. In fact, it wasn't an assignment at all. The Shadow Syndicate didn't order it; it was of my own volition.
   “In any case, when will the … performance be over?”
   “Just started playing few hands ‘for you greeted me, sir. Could be some time.”
   “Very well. My thanks.”
   “What did you say your name was? I’ll tell one of the servants you requested him.”
   “How dare you disgrace my family name by forgetting it," I spat. "Forget it.”
   “Apologies …” he slurred. “Is that on the registration?”
   His hand was pointing to the hilt of my crossbow hanging from my belt. “Yes, it’s … registered.”
   I walked away before he could get another word out, looking for the nearest staircase. Royals always have their study on the highest floor. With a view overlooking a city like Westrun, why wouldn’t you?
   Someone made a gesture of pointing and laughing at me, I turned to catch a look, and bumped into someone by mistake. A glass shattered, and the bottom of my boot crunched shards to splinters.
   The woman I bumped into was nearly in tears of frustration, a red mouth hanging open only to issue blank utterances of rage.
   “My apologies, miss. Can’t imagine it’s terribly difficult to find one precisely like it in short time.” I tipped my mask and slipped up a nearby set of carpeted stairs, leaving some of the confusion behind me. I stopped at the top, getting my bearings in order.
   Interacting with other people is far more difficult than sneaking, stealing, or killing them. All these years of stealing from others and never speaking to them, I had almost forgot the subtle nuances of picking which words to speak and which to swallow.
   I shook off my nervousness and continued up the stairs, passing by a couple whose jaws seemed positively locked together. I couldn't resist arcing an eyebrow as I awkwardly squeezed by.
   In a hallway brightly lit by torches on either side, I checked both of the corridors before murmuring, “Fade.” The spell snapped at my feet, and I slipped into the air. Or, at least I thought I did. When I looked down at my hands, I saw their outlines wreathed in shadow; every contour of my body shifting with the subtle sifting of darkness over darkness, like layers of silk being passed over itself. Painfully obvious, and useless in the bright light of the torches.
   “So that’s what happens when you cast that spell in well-lit rooms,” I sighed. “Embody,” I murmured, returning to my usual form and continuing down the hall. I considered snuffing the torches somehow, but it would only look more suspicious to anyone who knew they were supposed to be lit.
   Not being able to rely on the most basic spell for slipping through rooms without drawing attention was enough to pull my hand over the hilt of my dagger protectively. I shook the notion of killing over talking out of my head, for now, and searched for the next flight, trying not to goggle at the unique architecture arching all around me. Instead of curved or straight hallways, the walls came up to sharp, wooden points that met up with the beams of the ceiling, surrounding you with the impression of impossible intricacy through symmetry. 
                                                                   ~
   "This disease …” Aren had told me between coughing and dabbing blood away from the edges of his mouth, “it’s not incurable. The plant that combats it is found in high, mountainous regions, or so Ramus told me.” He wrapped himself tighter in his cloak while the winds hit us outside one of the sanctuary’s doors.
   “To the worms with the plant, we asked every last tradesmen in Westrun, and they didn’t have a leaf of it. We need magick, or an elixir already concocted.”
   “There are no healers in the city who can cure this by will alone, and none of our connections could end in procuring an elixir. That’s why I’m leaving. Ramus said even one vial of the concentrate could heal half of us, if not all of us, such is the potency of the plant.”
   My hand had been gripping his arm so tight, the prints of my fingers on his leather remained after I let go. “Then go, if you think it’s best. Don’t say I didn’t tell you you’re mad when you’re crawling on your belly up there in the snow.”
   “I’ve always been a little mad,” Aren smirked. “But it’s not madness. I’d do anything for the people that gave me a family.”
   What he said was enough for my eyes to drop from his, almost ashamed to see the hopeful glint in them, the one that I didn’t have. “Before you go,” I had said, “tell me what Ramus told you. The name of the disease, the plant, what it would take to craft the elixir.”
   Aren outlined it, expressing frustration at how simple it really was, and similarly, at how quickly the disease seized its victims. “Ghoul’s bane is the plant’s name,” he’d said. “And the disease, Ramus called it ‘the ebb’.”
   “Ghoul’s bane, the ebb,” I repeated.
   “Shade?”
   “Yes?”
   Aren discarded a handkerchief that had once been white and was now a single, overlapping stain of muddied red. He took out another and coughed into it. “What do you plan to do with this information?”
   I laughed. “The same thing that we always do.”
                                                                    ~
   The next hallway was guarded by a patrol. I was crouched on the last of the three steps, peering out from the wall. I considered simply walking up to the guard and talking my way to the next floor. But if there were men standing outside Blackmore’s chamber, it’d end in blood anyways.
   I tugged the crossbow from its holster, took aim when his back was turned, and fired.
The tip lodged in his back. A vein in my heart pinched itself. He stopped and reached for it.
   I waited for the drug to sweep through his blood, for him to fall and crash to the ground in unconsciousness.
   Instead, he turned around and spotted me.
   By the time he’d pulled the bolt from his armor, I was sprinting down the hall towards him.
   “Help!” he screamed while he unsheathed a sword.
   I drew my dagger and parried his blade. An armored fist slammed into my face in response, staggering me into a lapse of darkness and sparks. He swung his sword after punching a second time, tearing through the tapestry hanging on the wall while the sound of more men from the upper floors came. Shouts rang out like alarm bells being sounded throughout a city, each one triggering another. His sword stuck in the thick wool of the tapestry, I saw my opportunity, and slashed at his neck.
   Red colored the vision of my left eye, while his blood splattered my right. I pushed myself against the wall while he bled out on the floor.
   Footsteps came tumbling down the stairway.
   The first glimmer of armor I saw, I grabbed at it, hauling the man to floor and burying my dagger into the one that followed after, slamming him into the wall and repeating the motion where his padding wasn’t thick enough to stop my blade.
   They screamed and wailed in a way that would impress a rowdy group of children. I turned to the man scrambling to his feet, snapping the trigger on my hand-crossbow until half a dozen needles found their way through his mask, two of them sticking out from one of the eyeholes of his mask. 
   It's not unnecessary if it helps calm your nerves.
   This time, I couldn’t tell if the footsteps were coming from the staircase above or below. I took that as a good indication that it was both. My mind raced, and the spells in my head flipped like pages in the wind.
   I tore the demon’s mask off my face and sprinted up the stairs, encumbered by the weight of a particularly large mechanism dangling from my belt, each of its components attached to a different ring to distribute the weight evenly.
   A guard came running down. I grabbed his ankle through the banister, causing him to roll the rest of the way down, crashing into a glass stand encasing a family heirloom. The glass showered him, and my dagger followed in similar fashion.
   More gargoyles came rushing from behind. I fired blindly with my crossbow at the large mass of them bottlenecking at the bottom steps. The mechanism spat and whirred with charged runes, smoke puffing out as heat spread to the handle and scalded my hand until I smelt burnt leather.
   A few of them took the hint and found cover behind the wall. One of them stupid enough to leap over the bodies at his feet charged at me with a sword and a scream.
   I slammed the trigger back.
   A burst of shadow and smoke, but no bolt. The canister was empty. I squeezed it again in disbelief. He slashed at my hand, disarming my crossbow and slicing my fingers in the process. Still crouched over the body beneath me, I kicked at his legs. His head slammed into the steps. Either the wood or his skull cracked. I prayed for the latter and scrambled up the flight of stairs.
   Blood trailed me as I took three steps at a time. My thoughts seemed to have left me somewhere during the first struggle. Instinct alone was guiding me through the initial storm that it caused. Optimism shrank.
   Every sconce had a burning torch; no corner was left darkened. I cursed, pulling torches out at random and tossing them behind me as I ran. I needed my element. I needed opportunity to slip in and out of their reality. But the gargoyles started coming again, eager to stomp out the flames before they could take hold of the walls.
   I finished the final flight of stairs and pulled out a spell scroll, tearing off the wax binding and speaking the trigger word, “Moerium,” as I directed it at the empty space at the top of the staircase.
   A summoned doorway stretched from the ground, growing from a slit of gushing shadow. It stretched and filled up the empty space, creating the illusion of a locked door. The spell would only hold until someone assumed it didn’t exist.
   Throughout the skirmish, the screams hadn’t stopped. It was while I stared at the door that this realization sunk in. It used to be just the guardsmen calling for one another, but now I could hear the revelers alerting the rest of the sleeping city. For all I knew, I had drawn all of the Westrun to Blackmore’s gates.
   I ran my hands through the sweaty locks of auburn hair dangling in front of my eyes, walking just slow enough to look at each door on the final floor.
   One of them had the same family lettering as the gates. I didn’t bother trying to slam through a solid slab of iron and drew out my lockpicks.
   Fists began pounding against the illusionary door. That was something, at least. The more they convinced themselves it was impossible to get through, the longer the spell would last.
   The tumblers caught into their familiar places after a few seconds of picking. I turned the keyhole to the left and felt the latch give, easing myself into, at last, a darkened chamber. I didn’t have time to pick the lock to latch it again, since the tumblers reset when you try to turn it a full rotation with picks.
   Hiding in the chamber wouldn’t buy me time, either, as my blood trailed directly to me. If that wasn’t enough, the outlines of bloody fingers were smeared across the handle.
   But that didn't matter so much anymore.
   I stood in the middle of a gigantic laboratory. Herbs that I had never seen before hung by the dozens from the tall ceilings. A ladder of staggering height was pushed up against a wall, with ropes attached to the ceiling to allow for a climber to attach freshly picked plants to hundreds of hooks scattered about.
   A genius surrounding himself with his craft. There were even sheets of music spread across the floor, gusted from a table from the open balcony at the far end of the chamber, where sage curtains billowed in the breeze.
   There were numerous desks where various stages of an elixir’s development could be observed. A staton for cutting, chopping, grinding, mixing, another for boiling, reducing, combining, and another with elaborate symbols etched into strong, dark wood. Enchantment runes.
   Blackmore wasn’t just an apothecary. He was an alchemist.
   I spotted a case of elixirs. The labels of which were, unlike everything else in the room, clean and readable. Only the finished products were treated with an eye of cleanliness. I went to the glass case and started scanning.
   “I see you’ve let yourself in,” someone said.
   I whipped around to see the pianist, still dressed in his concert garb. He drew out from one of the pillars in front of the balcony. He, too, was wearing a mask. The upper half of a skull covered his eyes, forehead and cheeks, while black and white makeup depicted the rest of the skull on the lower portion of his face.
   “I will admit I am flattered,” he continued. The tails of his coat blew in the breeze, while the steady tapping of his feet echoed, louder in my ears than the incessant pounding of the guardsmen on the illusionary door. He slipped his mask off and retied his thick, black ponytail. “I must ask, however, why you went through all this trouble, killing a good portion of my guard in the process. We could have scheduled a meeting. Enjoyed some quality nitskel and discussed your prospects with my products. Instead … this. Digging a rather deep and, what I imagine is now an inescapable grave,” he added with an almost sorrowful chuckle.
   “H-h—”
   “You don’t seriously think someone of my caliber doesn’t have passageways in his own home, the same way a spider might dig an impressive hole for catching his prey? Not that I ever constructed it to … ‘catch prey,’ ” he sighed, and set the mask on a desk, “rather to simply escape the monotony of the same drawl I must endure. Councilmen rambling, appointments that drag on too long. You understand.”
   I could only stare as I thought my options through.
   “But you needn’t worry. I don't have any men follow me. I assure you we’re alone. I was rather thrilled, actually, to have this night interrupted by something so exciting. This kind of life becomes awfully repetitive.” His cheeks were gaunt as his lips were thin, speaking smoothly as he paced around the chamber.
   “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Thieves are only taught to steal, not to speak, hm? I can imagine as much. I was quite the same, working my way up in small shops when I was just an apprentice. It seemed the bubbling of tinctures was the only smalltalk I could master.”
   “I don’t want to kill you, Blackmore. I just need your help. You have to understand this was none of my intention.” Every inch of me was crawling. I was practically begging. I never beg. I take what I want. I leave, and no one suspects a thing. Now I was just buying time to find a way to escape this mess I created.
   Blackmore laughed until the skeleton grin stretched across his face. “Intention! Now that’s a queer word for you. Ah, and why should I help you? Have a fair share of coin on you, a bargain to offer? You’re from the Syndicate, I assume. Or else you wouldn’t be able to pull off that rubbish of keeping twenty men slamming against something that wasn’t constructed by my orders. I don't recall having a doorway built at the top of my stairs.”
   “Assume what you will,” I said as I started unhooking the contraption on my belt, snapping the wooden pieces together and latching the hinges shut. He wasn’t the type to flinch at movement. “This is not an act of malice, I assure you.” I kept working my hands until the grappling hook was primed, the gears were set, and the trigger was ready.
   “A fascinating contraption,” he commented, getting a little closer.
   I drew my blade and pointed at him. “Stay there, Blackmore. As I said, I’m not going to hurt you. Keep your distance and this nightmare will be over.”
   He put up his hands and chuckled, taking a few steps back. “Jittery?”
   I set the spring-loaded crossbow down and started searching the glass case.
   “Ahh …” he hummed. “You found some of my finished products. Beautiful, aren’t they?”
   “Indeed. You’ve a staggering collection. I don’t take a liking to wealthy folk, the ones who were born with gold for teeth,” I said as I nudged a few vials aside. I came to a line of thin and long bottles. “But I respect you for this. I would never steal from someone like you.”
   “And yet here you are.”
   I laughed. “I considered myself a man of morales until I entered your house tonight. Devotion and love will twist someone of virtue into doing things he’d never imagine himself doing. I may as well be the scoundrel you think I am.”
   “You speak of virtue, yet you're a thief by trade. I fail to see ... any virtue. So why do it? Why take the labor of someone as … honest as you might see yourself?”
   "I won't attempt to explain the intricacies of the Syndicate's purpose." I spotted a slender vial with parchment glued to it. The inky scrawl read: Ghoul’s Bane. I wrapped my fingers around it.
   When I turned with it in my hand, Blackmore had a dagger in my side, and a smile on his face. When he flexed his grip to twist it, I managed to wrap the entirety of his neck in my hand.
   The surprise of his face was something I’d normally relish, especially as the pain in my side got my jaw gnawing on itself. But he didn’t deserve this. It wasn't fair. But my family didn’t deserve to die from a disease, either. A family that took a peasant with a knack for pickpocketing, and turned him into a man who learned to balance out the wealth from those who used their power for dictating the actions of the impoverished.
   “What, first time you stabbed someone?” I asked as I shoved him to the ground and ripped the dirk out of my side, the blade barely the length of my finger. “You can’t just stick someone in their ribs and expect things to go well. There’s things to … consider,” I winced. “Leather, padding, flesh, organs, arteries. You might’ve missed the important ones. I already told you I wouldn’t kill you, on principle. Take my wound as the price I paid for this,” I said, waving the tincture. “On second thought …” I went and grabbed a few more with the same label.
   “The morales of a thief are as straight as—” he started to growl. 
   “Shh!” I listened. The banging had stopped. So did my heart. I slipped the vials into my satchel and snatched up the crossbow with the grappling hook, sprinting for the balcony.
   I jumped over Blackmore, who made an attempt to grab my leg. I stumbled, and got the damn drapes out of my way
   As I did, the door of his chamber opened.
   “Get down, Count!” someone screamed.
   I breathed in the brisk air of midnight from the balcony and aimed the hook at the roof above.
   Bolts were fired. Mine … and theirs.
   The arrows thudded into me as the hook found grooves in the concrete. I didn’t bother counting how many had stuck into my chest, just jammed the lever down beside the trigger and let the spring loose, setting off the gears that pulled me up.
   Blood flowed, dripped, and whipped into the open air beneath me. The roof came rushing to me me, and pushed the arrows deeper when I slammed into it. I gritted my teeth and hauled myself over in a pain strong enough to cast the world into a glimpse of sheer darkness.
   Four. There were four of them in my chest.
   When I breathed in, I heard a whistling. When I breathed out, spurts of flame spread inside. I found it ironic that when I coughed, blood spurted from my lips the same way it came from Aren.
   “Rima-ri-rima-morra,” I gasped. Wisps of light seeped from my fingertip and were gusted away by the wind. More blood gushed from my chest as I tried to direct the healing spell I could not finish speaking. “R-r-ima,” I wheezed. I didn’t have anything left. No breath to cast, no energy to draw from. I was a serpent trying to devour its own tail already in ashes.
   I fumbled for the caw pipe and concentrated into blowing into it. I could hear blood spurting from my lips inside of it. I managed a caw before I began coughing and retching, each convulsion a new set of blades digging into me.
   Nothing goes right for thieves besides thieving. The same principle applies to saving the lives of those that mean the most to him, even when he's using the same tricks he'd used to join them. 
   When I looked up from the pain, my soaked hands were already clutching the three elixirs, the glass clinking together as the shaking took over my movements. I could feel my death rattle trying to wheeze out from me, eager to be the last. I shoved it back down and coughed more.
   I could see through the crimson sheen that had taken over every detail of the world, the silhouette of my raven waiting patiently at the roof's edge.
   “W-wisp,” I managed. I pried open the pouch on his legs and stuffed the elixirs inside. One of them dropped and crashed at the ground below. “S-sanctum.”
   Wisp didn’t start off right away. He was waiting for a snack, a scratch. For me to whisper something to him before I told him to leave, as I always did.
   I managed to lean against the wall of the roof. Wisp hopped onto one of the arrows on my chest, and bent his head next to mine while the breaths came slower and slower, deeper and deeper. He rubbed his beak against my cheek, and nibbled at my ear. I wanted to sigh in relief, but there simply wasn't any air to take in. A faint warmth from his breathing against my face caused me to look up at him.
   I stared at one of his black and brown eyes as he looked back into mine. I raised a trembling hand to clumsily stroke his feathers, smearing blood over the perfect fletching of his wings. 
   “Go.”
   The moon, swarmed in greying tendrils, beamed down at me. I closed my eyes as I listened to the flapping of his wings, until I could hear them no more. I imagined how Wisp would beat the same rhythm upon the next week’s dawn, with the sanctuary bustling in activity, discussing assignments, and the tasks to be completed for the next day. The next tomorrow.
    A tomorrow that would arrive for them, without me.
#fantasy  #fiction  #horror  #adventure 
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Prose Challenge of the Month #2: Write a story where you wake up as the most intelligent person on Earth. Fifteen entries will be featured in a 500-coin Prose Original Book, whereby each winner will take 5% lifetime royalties. You must purchase the book to discover its authors, who will be determined by objective data (reads, likes, reposts, comments) and by team vote to ensure reader satisfaction. When sharing to social media, please use the hashtags “itslit,” “getlit,” and “ProseChallenge.”
Written by Elisabeth in portal Fiction

REMEMBER, FORGET MY FATE

And I open my eyes. I must have seen this grey ceiling many times, and the white curtains that are being tossed in the wind blowing through the open window.

It is a minute to seven and I disable the alarm clock before it starts ringing; I won’t be needing that anymore. There’s the window with the view I walk towards; a view that must be very well known to me. And yet I do not know it, and I do not know this room with its contents. I do not know the sounds the creaky floor makes as I walk across it, or the pointy edges of the bed sides I bump my knee into as I am maneuvering to inspect all corners of this apartment that must be my own. And my hands – I do not know my hands; I have never seen these wrinkles before, or the pigmentations on my wrists, or the lines across my nails. There is a mirror in the corner of the room, and this face, I have also not seen before. But watching it, many things are becoming apparent: this hollow face, the eyes sunken, its pallor, the blue tinge of the lips – I must be ill. Of course there is also that feeling of increased gravity pulling down on me, and the weakness of the limbs I stand on trying to defy that gravity. And there is the bottle of pills on my nightstand, with the yellow label reading capecitabine, so it must be cancer and I must be losing, because on the same nightstand there is a leaflet that reads Palliative care.

I move through these things as a stranger trying to learn who I am, and yet with everything I see there are connections coming up in my mind. They must be memories of things I learned, but they are most curious. Watching the poster of the solar system on the wall opposite from my bed, I can see the orbits of the planets in my head as they move around the sun, and there are intricate formulas to join this image, with which to calculate the distance between Earth and each of these planets across the seasons. And I can see these numbers changing, most gradually, at the 4th decimal place in real time, without any effort. I do not know who I was before, but I am sure that my mind was not this sharp then, or I would have lived in a castle full of riches, not in this Spartan apartment. It is as if my mind has reached full culmination, remembering everything I forgot before, and those connections have filled up all the potential of the neurons in my brain, re-writing what they stored before. This must be why I don’t remember me, or this place, or anything I ever did, but why I know everything else by just looking at it. I have all the knowledge distilled from experience but without the context, without the personal side of history – I have lost myself to gain what must be ultimate insight, an ultimate clarity of mind, and a repository of knowledge that is blooming, even though transient. Because this body I inhabit is near death, so the mind might have found culmination, but the body has too, in that its lifespan is nearly achieved. This life is nearly completed. But before then, why not use this clarity for one final gift to all those people I must have once loved, but who are now forgotten? And for all others unbeknownst to me, struggling with the same problems I must have struggled with, so that they too may find more time to give their gifts and to do their things.

I carefully step over the blown-out candles near the window and sit down on a cushion that’s been placed there on the floor. There’s a large volume that’s been shoved aside, as if angrily, that reads: Oncology, on the arise of tumors. Was I trying to cure myself? Curiously, I open it, and the text comes alive as my eyes speed over the words. I turn page after page as I see malignant change arising in a derailed cell, genes mutating through ultraviolet radiation, ever so slowly taking years to get a significant change where this cell is allowed to start dividing crazily. And even then it is only a small thing, kept in check by surrounding tissues that protect the body from being harmed truly. And then, it breaches the barriers and starts compressing the tissues around it, perhaps leading to pain as it presses itself into nerves, or spreading unnoticed as it gains access to the bloodstream, flowing with rivers of blood to lodge itself in a new, non-colonized space. And those colonies there will cause additional problems, secreting small chemicals to egotistically promote its own growth, irrespective of the damage induced on the body as a whole. By that time, weight loss will have set in, and anemia will follow. That dead tiredness that has taken possession of me derives from that growth inside of me. It has grown into my bones, which are continuously at risk of cracking as they are hollowed out by this malignancy. And there is the heroic attempt of doctors to kill these derailed cells without killing the organism – without killing me – with all these toxic compounds; the stuff that has made my hair fall out. And there’s the radiotherapy, where you use what causes tumors to kill tumors, because cancer cells can often be killed by what kills normal cells.

Then why was I not cured? The answer lies in that, to cure me, you would need to kill all of the tumor cells. If only one of them were to remain, invisible on an X-ray or an MRI, it would regrow relentlessly, rendering me sick again with cells resistant to treatment, and death would follow. But how can you kill the sick cells only, leaving the healthy cells alive? As I read and read and time goes by, the sky changing color, the answer starts to form in the images playing through my mind – something not in the books, something marvelous. And I know, in this brilliant moment where the doubts subside, that I have the cure. So, in the empty pages at the end of the book, I start writing down what is needed for this final battle, to reverse the cancer and to save its host. But doing so drains me of my power, and having completed these instructions, I lay myself down to sleep, placing the book next to me, an eulogy of hope. And watching the revolution of the planets on the inside of my eyes, I find myself slip away, gradually, into a darkness beyond darkness, into a state beyond life, neither waking nor sleeping nor being, and all is quiet, and all is complete.

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Prose Challenge of the Month #2: Write a story where you wake up as the most intelligent person on Earth. Fifteen entries will be featured in a 500-coin Prose Original Book, whereby each winner will take 5% lifetime royalties. You must purchase the book to discover its authors, who will be determined by objective data (reads, likes, reposts, comments) and by team vote to ensure reader satisfaction. When sharing to social media, please use the hashtags “itslit,” “getlit,” and “ProseChallenge.”
Written by Elisabeth in portal Fiction
REMEMBER, FORGET MY FATE
And I open my eyes. I must have seen this grey ceiling many times, and the white curtains that are being tossed in the wind blowing through the open window.
It is a minute to seven and I disable the alarm clock before it starts ringing; I won’t be needing that anymore. There’s the window with the view I walk towards; a view that must be very well known to me. And yet I do not know it, and I do not know this room with its contents. I do not know the sounds the creaky floor makes as I walk across it, or the pointy edges of the bed sides I bump my knee into as I am maneuvering to inspect all corners of this apartment that must be my own. And my hands – I do not know my hands; I have never seen these wrinkles before, or the pigmentations on my wrists, or the lines across my nails. There is a mirror in the corner of the room, and this face, I have also not seen before. But watching it, many things are becoming apparent: this hollow face, the eyes sunken, its pallor, the blue tinge of the lips – I must be ill. Of course there is also that feeling of increased gravity pulling down on me, and the weakness of the limbs I stand on trying to defy that gravity. And there is the bottle of pills on my nightstand, with the yellow label reading capecitabine, so it must be cancer and I must be losing, because on the same nightstand there is a leaflet that reads Palliative care.
I move through these things as a stranger trying to learn who I am, and yet with everything I see there are connections coming up in my mind. They must be memories of things I learned, but they are most curious. Watching the poster of the solar system on the wall opposite from my bed, I can see the orbits of the planets in my head as they move around the sun, and there are intricate formulas to join this image, with which to calculate the distance between Earth and each of these planets across the seasons. And I can see these numbers changing, most gradually, at the 4th decimal place in real time, without any effort. I do not know who I was before, but I am sure that my mind was not this sharp then, or I would have lived in a castle full of riches, not in this Spartan apartment. It is as if my mind has reached full culmination, remembering everything I forgot before, and those connections have filled up all the potential of the neurons in my brain, re-writing what they stored before. This must be why I don’t remember me, or this place, or anything I ever did, but why I know everything else by just looking at it. I have all the knowledge distilled from experience but without the context, without the personal side of history – I have lost myself to gain what must be ultimate insight, an ultimate clarity of mind, and a repository of knowledge that is blooming, even though transient. Because this body I inhabit is near death, so the mind might have found culmination, but the body has too, in that its lifespan is nearly achieved. This life is nearly completed. But before then, why not use this clarity for one final gift to all those people I must have once loved, but who are now forgotten? And for all others unbeknownst to me, struggling with the same problems I must have struggled with, so that they too may find more time to give their gifts and to do their things.
I carefully step over the blown-out candles near the window and sit down on a cushion that’s been placed there on the floor. There’s a large volume that’s been shoved aside, as if angrily, that reads: Oncology, on the arise of tumors. Was I trying to cure myself? Curiously, I open it, and the text comes alive as my eyes speed over the words. I turn page after page as I see malignant change arising in a derailed cell, genes mutating through ultraviolet radiation, ever so slowly taking years to get a significant change where this cell is allowed to start dividing crazily. And even then it is only a small thing, kept in check by surrounding tissues that protect the body from being harmed truly. And then, it breaches the barriers and starts compressing the tissues around it, perhaps leading to pain as it presses itself into nerves, or spreading unnoticed as it gains access to the bloodstream, flowing with rivers of blood to lodge itself in a new, non-colonized space. And those colonies there will cause additional problems, secreting small chemicals to egotistically promote its own growth, irrespective of the damage induced on the body as a whole. By that time, weight loss will have set in, and anemia will follow. That dead tiredness that has taken possession of me derives from that growth inside of me. It has grown into my bones, which are continuously at risk of cracking as they are hollowed out by this malignancy. And there is the heroic attempt of doctors to kill these derailed cells without killing the organism – without killing me – with all these toxic compounds; the stuff that has made my hair fall out. And there’s the radiotherapy, where you use what causes tumors to kill tumors, because cancer cells can often be killed by what kills normal cells.
Then why was I not cured? The answer lies in that, to cure me, you would need to kill all of the tumor cells. If only one of them were to remain, invisible on an X-ray or an MRI, it would regrow relentlessly, rendering me sick again with cells resistant to treatment, and death would follow. But how can you kill the sick cells only, leaving the healthy cells alive? As I read and read and time goes by, the sky changing color, the answer starts to form in the images playing through my mind – something not in the books, something marvelous. And I know, in this brilliant moment where the doubts subside, that I have the cure. So, in the empty pages at the end of the book, I start writing down what is needed for this final battle, to reverse the cancer and to save its host. But doing so drains me of my power, and having completed these instructions, I lay myself down to sleep, placing the book next to me, an eulogy of hope. And watching the revolution of the planets on the inside of my eyes, I find myself slip away, gradually, into a darkness beyond darkness, into a state beyond life, neither waking nor sleeping nor being, and all is quiet, and all is complete.
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Juice
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