300 WORD WRITING CHALLENGE #15 -- VICTORY TO JULIANA!

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A. Fare Wells

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Aug 28, 2013
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I've been writing since the third grade.
Worlds Apart

There are better worlds than this one, and Ally knew just where to go to see them. She sat anxiously in the car on the ride home from school.

"Do you have much homework today, Ally?" her mother asked.

The child shook her head. "No. I can usually get it done in class before we get out. Can you go a little faster?"

Her mother laughed. "We will be home soon. I don't want to get pulled over by the police. Why are you in such a rush today?"

"Sir William is supposed to be riding through on his way to the tourney," Ally said, rummaging through her backpack once again for that lost Tootsie Roll from several days ago.

"You know your father and I don't like you going into those woods alone."

Ally rolled her eyes and zipped her backpack back up, her search once again ending in futile. Her parents didn't understand. They could never see what she saw in the forest. She always wished she could enter it, but there was no portal. No way into the magical realm. Maybe today would be different. Maybe today she would have a true adventure.

Her mom parked the car, and Ally bolted into the woods. She was just in time as the knight rode through.

"Ally!" shouter her mother. Quickly following behind, she saw her daughter but not the knight. Ally climbed over the log and disappeared as she fell over it.

"Ally?" her mother questioned.

"Well, what have we here?" asked Sir William, looking down at the little girl. Ally smiled largely up at him.

"I'm adventurer Ally," she said.

"Well then," said Sir William. "Let's have us an adventure."

And so they did.
 
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johnnyjet

Western PA High Tech Country Boy
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Nov 11, 2011
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Pennsylvania
Ageless

Einin grew up on a farm in the Central Kingdom, working the fields with four older brothers. Though she didn't fear hard work, her brothers looked after her. They teased her; she fought with them. Sometimes she seemed more mature than her age, sometimes a mere child.

Her brothers became warriors in the King's Army. Einin became a strong, attractive young woman, taking on many of the household responsibilities.

Then a darkness came over the land, a darkness like death, seeping into the cracks of the fragile peace that bonded the Twenty Kingdoms. An evil empire conquered one kingdom after another. News of their heartless massacres spread rapidly.

The warriors were called to join forces with neighboring kingdoms to battle this terrible evil. It had to be stopped!

Einin watched from the forest as the warriors rode past on their majestic war horses. Trumpeters blew their rallying horns.

Einin wished she were older so she could join in their noble battle.

The next moment she was an old lady, feeble, falling flat on her face among the forest underbrush.

Wishing herself younger, she scrambled to her feet, a child giggling at her clumsiness.

What strange magic was this?

More carefully, Einin wished herself to be 24 years.

She stood tall, gazing at the trooping warriors. She stepped out of the woods and beckoned a young male warrior. Curious he rode over to her. She caught him as he dropped from the horse, a squirming baby. She mounted his horse, then turned and wished him older as she rode off.

As she joined the other warriors, she wondered how she could use this magic to fight the enemy. She stared at the forest, watching the trees grow taller.

How much evil can be unleashed from a regiment of babies?
 

Rafellin

Independent Author & Publisher
Joined
Oct 29, 2013
Messages
543
Location
West Sussex, UK
Down by the Trail at Morning

There’s a funny-looking warrior
Carrying a staff of light
I’d like to say that’s a horse he rides
But something’s just not right

The way they high-step down the path
And how neither will look at me
Oh, there’s strange within this stranger
I’m not sure what I want it to be

That’s the fun of this bit of the trail
Where the woods fringe the town
It’s close enough to be safe-ish
But feels scary like the downs

My log is only a perch today
But tomorrow it could be a fort
Or a log, or a ship; anything really
That lets me play with a thought

Now back to my oddity warrior
His back is rigid and straight
That poise just cannot be human
No back could handle that gait

I crouch down as he reins up
And lifts his helm with a laugh
It all seems so very normal
Except for his floating staff

It hangs there like the air is a wall
And not a thing to fall through
I knew odd knight was oddly
But this is deliciously new

He looks at me like a cat looks back
And his eyes are silver dishes
I realise my knight is not oddly
He’s a fey riding for wishes

A wish-quested knight upon the trail
Will bring all manner of ills
Unless I blink to free him from now
To vanish back into the hills

“Moon-grim, moon-grim, free your kin.”
I know my releasing charms
He jerks in surprise as fire in his eyes
Shoot sparks onto his arms

With a flash my knight has gone
But his staff has tumbled by me
“A gift for a light, that is the right
And forever a blessing upon thee”.
 

David Evil Overlord

Censored Member
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Jan 25, 2012
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2,648
Location
Prime Evil Soup
For One Knight Only

Gyanthra knew she shouldn’t be doing this.

She was just an apprentice sorceress. Every day, she would kneel at the feet of her Mistress, heed wise words, and never overstep the boundaries set for her safety.

Then the Golden Knight rode by, smiled at her, and she was lost.

She could think of nothing but the ache in her heart and the fluttering in her stomach and the forbidden fire in her nethers.

She overstepped her bounds out of love.

She stole into the library, and picked the lock that chained the spell book down. An apprentice sorceress these past seven years, she still recalled her earlier life on the streets.

She ground mandrake and salamander, and cast it into a cauldron with an artistically-challenged drawing she had made of the Golden Knight. Once it reached boiling point, she added three drops of her own blood.

According to the spell book, the room should fill with a golden light, as the Love spell stole the Golden Knight’s heart as he had stolen hers. Instead, the candles all snuffed as if a powerful wind had blown through the windowless room.

Gyanthra did not notice the sudden darkness, for her eyes had shifted to a darksight that would make a cat envious. At the same moment, her feet had become cloven hooves, horns had pushed their way up through her hair, and great batlike wings had emerged from her shoulders.

Her last thought before the changes overwhelmed her was the memory of her Mistress telling her that spell books were chained down for good reason. Magic lied.

She had cast a Lust spell.

Gyanthra the succubus stretched her altered body in a lewd and licentious manner, and smiled. She was looking forward to her first one Knight stand.
 

Mr Orange

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb...
Joined
Jun 17, 2013
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1,510
Location
Noo Zillund
Futility of the Innocent, Claudio della Inganno (c.1645)


Fifty three ornate paintings hung in the dusty gallery, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the lively, dappled light of one intricate scene. A tall warrior sat on his white charger, lance held proudly over the small girl in front of him. Her unseen face gazed up at the gallant knight. I stood in the reflected glow, captivated.

I was there for hours before I noticed it. For some reason I decided to count brush strokes between the knight’s lance and the girl’s head, and I lost my place. When I started again I realised there wasn’t a full brush stroke below the lance anymore. It was some kind of half stroke, as if the lance had dropped towards the girl. Then, the slightest whisper, like unseen leaves swirling.

Help.

~

The dark, empty gallery rang with the squeal of copper against plastic as I unscrewed the screen. It dropped to the ground with a cacophonic clatter.

The uncovered painting shimmered and danced, and the lance jerked towards the girl. I heard a faint, plaintive cry and instinctively reached for the lance. As my fingertips touched the rough surface of the painting the girl’s small hand shot out and gripped mine. Her fingers were cold and clammy, like a fish, and her grip was strong. She turned, her face a black space beneath soft curls. Red, malevolent eyes glared and a cackle like a drowning raven rang out from the painting.

~

I woke on the floor of the gallery, rushing whispers in my ears and an empty, dark painting on the wall in front of me. The girl and the knight had gone. The gallery was empty, but I did not feel alone.

We rose and walked unsteadily from the room.

 

JoanDrake

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 24, 2008
Messages
1,445
Nobility

The knight and new Lord of the Manor rode down and saw Gwneth and Ladisala in the stream together, playing as they bathed. The water glistened on the girl’s slender bodies and drops surrounded them in the air, the dappled sunlight making all sparkle like precious jewels. Their giggled shouts reminded the knight of the songs of nightingales he had heard in far Outremer.

When they saw him, Ladisala screamed and ran, but Gwneth just ducked down in the water. The knight found himself entranced by the peasant milkmaid’s lovely face, framed by her long blonde hair floating around it.

“I am sorry, I did not mean to spy,”said the knight.

“I don’t know if I find that excuse believable, “ Gwyneth spoke, then hesitated and smiled, dimpling prettily, “nor even flattering if it is”.

“Oh, I might have been the master of stealth, had I known such comely maidens were here”, said the Knight.

They talked. Soon the pair of young people retired to inspect an interesting bed of moss the girl had seen and wished the knight’s opinion on.

Just a week later the Knight was dancing at Gwyneth's wedding in the village. As he waltzed the bride he whispered that his nuptial gift would be allowing her first son to his castle as squire upon his seventh birthday.

This son, born scarce nine months after the wedding, became a knight himself and went on to found a mighty family, full of doughty warriors and wise advisors to kings. Their crest shows a woman in the pool of a forest glade and has the motto, “non fugiunt prodest” (never flee advantage).
 
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Culhwch

Lost Boy
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
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7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
The Girl, the Knight, and the Dragon

Rudolf reined in his horse. The cry came again from the woods beyond the road, and his hand found his sword’s hilt. A young girl in peasant garb burst from the bushes, breath ragged, face smeared with ... soot?

'Please, sir ... my brother ... the dragon!'

Sword momentarily forgotten, Rudolf scooped the girl up onto his saddle. 'Which way, child?'

The girl pointed, and Rudolf spurred his horse forward. They rode through thick, shadowed woods, until finally they came upon a clearing. On the opposite side was a cave mouth, dark and uninviting.

'There?' he asked. The girl nodded. He lowered her to the ground, then swung down himself. Drawing his sword, he called, 'Beast, show yourself! Give up the boy!' A low, rumbling growl was the only response.

'I'm sorry, knight,' the girl said, voice quiet. Rudolf turned, and she smiled at him. 'I'm afraid you've misunderstood. The dragon is my brother.'

Faster than he could imagine, the beast roared from the cave. Rudolf’s sword went flying, and the creature was upon him, pinning him to the ground.

Each breath hurt, and his vision swam. The dragon's head hovered above his own, and the girl walked over to stroke the creature's brow.

'He’s mostly mindless now. That was the witch's curse. But he still knows me. I'm glad of that.'

'What--' Rudolf stammered, but could manage no more.

'I was luckier, I suppose. Eternal childhood.' She sighed. ‘The witch had too much time, you see, after we pushed her into the oven. She didn't die straight away. Her own curse was passed along, as well. Her hunger, for the flesh of men.'

The last thing Rudolf saw, and felt, and heard, was the dragonfire as it washed over him, along with the girl's last words. 'But it was wonderful gingerbread...'
 

holland

caught in a trap, can't walk out
Joined
Mar 4, 2014
Messages
193
Laura's Escape

He entered the windowless room. Dim light was falling onto the girl and the canvas in front of her.

“You’re back”, she said.

“I am.” He pointed at the canvas. “You’re painting? Can I see it?”

“Sure. It’s pretty much done”.

He approached, stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders.

Silence.

His mind was racing. The moment he saw it, he know something was wrong, but he didn’t know what to say.

She spoke before him: “You like it?”

“It’s... amazing, Em.”, he managed to utter, his voice shaky.

“I’ve been having this dream for a while”, she said, “about a girl named Laura, running from something through the woods.”

Silence again. He was dripping with sweat now.

“A man on a horse always catches her and that’s where the dream ends. Except, last night she managed to escape him. I know who I am.”

He grabbed her by the neck, but she produced a painting brush with a sharpened end from her pocket and stabbed him in the abdomen, once, twice, and kept stabbing him and until he released his grip and fell into the pool of blood on the floor.

~
She was in the car, parked outside the wood cabin, engine running. The news was on.

We are now in the day twenty-one of the search for fourteen-year-old Laura Emma Michaelson who disappeared on the evening of 3 May on her way home from friend’s house. The police urges anyone who may have information about the missing teenager to immediately…

She turned it off and drove away.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Jun 13, 2006
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6,366
Seasons of Joy, Seasons of Wither

Every spring we would hide in the woods and watch the knights ride to war.

We had been told not to, that just made it more enticing. Jack would bring apples from his father’s orchard, Jane would swipe a wheel of cheese. Even though we were too young, Tommy would nab a wine-skin from the store.

We would sit with our feast, enhanced by what others brought: bread, pickled eggs, dried fruit and cake. Light would filter through green leaves, pooling on the ground and in the distance we would hear the sound of hooves.

We would scurry together, crouching behind foliage as they rode through on their Shires and Clydesdales, armour shining, so bright it seemed golden. There was nothing like it, nothing like it at all. Pennants, coats of arms, lances and weapons the knights riding off to war.

It was Tommy though who suggested we should do what we had never done before, to creep out in the early days of Fall and see those knights on their way home. Rain dripped from crisp golden leaves. The same spot was no longer a place to picnic with friends.The ground had turned to mud, the falling water made everything grey, the romance had leaked out of the occasion as they rode the other way.

No longer a thing of pride. Fewer knights came back from the Summer Wars. The horses limped and hobbled, wounds smothered them as much as mud. The men that rode them looked like broken marionettes, the armour tarnished, battered and lost.

Heads bowed, weapons missing, they passed us by as oblivious to us as they had been in the spring. Only this time they broke our young hearts and drowned our dreams.

We never went to see the knights again.
 

chrispenycate

resident pedantissimo
Staff member
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
7,396
Location
West Sussex

They also serve.
'You shouldn't be riding that horse through an untended forest,' didn't say Faloma, autumn-elf, mushroom sprite. 'She belongs on wide plains, cleared roads.'
The "crack" of a dead branch had alerted her to the uninvited presence in her domain, disturbing her world image.
And this one was warrior equipped. No beast hunted required shield, nor sabre. No hunter rigged bells to tell his prey he was arriving. The sabre could kill beasts, but generally two-legged ones.
Her peasants - the ones who had traded the woad-dyed cloth she was wearing for baskets of fungi, the villagers she protected from the nastier forest denizens: holzpferden and maubella mainly, spiteful, but wary of me and no real risk to an adult human, anyway.
But a noble, warrior panoplied? She could think of nothing to attract that kind of attention. She could defeat him - her realm, established power - leave him wandering in the mists for a century and a century, but questors rarely come alone. Should she release the glamour of 'notice not'…
And then a movement of the armoured head reveals features, stern and determined but before all, feminine. Not old, not young, fair in seeming; a sorceress from the great hall, as far beyond Faloma in power as she overmatched her villagers. What should one of those be doing here, where she would never arrive without intent? Bearing arms none of that order had been trained with? whatever need drove, it was clear it was dire, and involved powers that could crush a small spite without ever noticing her presence.
Fear had no control over her. Shrugging it off with the illusion of protection, she stood forth, tiny, trembling but ready.

"What is your need milady? What do you believe we can do for you?"

 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
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Nov 1, 2004
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14,722
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California
(collected 1762, S. P. Gumley, Folk Tales of Nordmark and the Polar Isles)


No one knows when they'll spot him, the Golden Rider, glittering so fierce across the night sky. No one knows what he was before: a prince, or a soldier, or a traitor, doomed never again to place a foot on this earth.

Some say he grants the wishes of young girls. Others, that he kidnaps them and holds them in a cold prison back of the moon.

A week of nights Janet waited for him in the wan moonlight. But when he came for her at last, dawn was staining the sky opal and amethyst.

"My lover left me to fight in the wars." She clutched her old grey shawl more closely around her. "He would come if he knew that I carry his child. But how could a letter reach him in time? How could he return before our baby is born?"

Golder than gold was the Rider against that pale purple sky, sharper than diamonds his glance. She shivered under his gaze.

"Come then," he said, offering his hand. "For the sake of the babe."

She hesitated: a throb of the heart and a gasping breath. Then her hand was in his and her toe on his boot, a jump, and a leg over the horse's back, and she was in the saddle behind him — then off with the dawn wind.

The old women say that he never took Janet to her lover at all, that she still rides with him, doomed as he is doomed, weeping for the father of her child.


But maybe that's what she wanted all along: the blazing splendor of the ride ... and her babe born up there among the stars.
 

Starbeast

Benevolent Galaxy Being
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
5,243
Location
Illinois
House of Frankenstein

Lightning thunders loudly outside a huge old mansion, situated near a cliff, somewhere in Transylvania. Two unfortunate travelers are facing terror within the cobwebbed, gothic home of mad Dr. Frankenstein. Igor, the limping, hunchback butler, locked the men in a creepy library. The two trapped poor souls stare at a gigantic, odd painting of a little girl observing a medieval horseman. Written next to it on the wall, in blood red letters, is the phrase, The children will witness the coming of Evil.

"Look at this picture. The knight on the horse. His face looks like the butler."

The smiling, non speaking, curly, golden haired friend, toots his horn. (honk honk)

"You're right, the butler is always up to no good. He's much uglier in person too. Well, never mind that, cause we in big trouble. We got the wolf man, Dracula, and Frankenstein's monster chasing us. What are we gonna do partner?"

The silent companion grabs an item from inside his long coat.

"A chainsaw? We don't need to choppa the woods. We need something to help us against the monsters."

The quiet man grabs a gun from his coat and shoots up the room. (BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG!!!)

"Stop that! You're gonna hurt somebody. Think partner, think! We need something to fight the monsters with."

(honk honk honk HONK!!!)

"What are you trying to say?"

(points)

"Oh no! The monsters are here!!!"

***************************************************


"That's it partner. You beat them. You so good with cards."

(honk honk)

"Dracula. You deal the next hand."

***************************************************


"Curses! I loose again." The king of the vampires changes into a black bat, then fly's away. Next, wolf man whimpers, runs toward an open window, and jumps out.

"Hey Frankie. You win this time. Nice going."

"Mmmm. Cards, good."

(honk honk)
 
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mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
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Feb 13, 2006
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7,657
Location
Shropshire, U.K.
Moving Picture…

“Hullo? Hullo? Barney’s Gift Shop? Doreen Gray please.”

“Speaking.”

“Hi. This is Frank – from Rita’s Bar. We met a few weeks back when you left the picture – the one that Rita bought for over the fireplace.”

“Ah yes, Frank. How are you?”

“Fine thanks. One of our regulars has asked me to call you. He wants to know where you got the picture. It’s the one of the girl in the woods.”

“Yes, I remember. I’m not quite sure where it came from. We’d had it in the basement for some time.”

“You don’t know who painted it?”

“No idea.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Sorry I can’t be more help. Bye.”

***​

“Doreen? It’s me again – Frank.”

“Hi, Frank.”

“I know this sounds strange, but the picture’s not the same. It’s changed.”

“Changed how?”

“Well, the woods seem somehow familiar now. And there’s another figure in the background. A bit indistinct, but we’re sure it wasn’t there before.”

“It must just be your imagination.”

***​

“Doreen, this is getting weird. The girl’s head has turned a little and we can see her face. Another of our regulars swears it’s the spitting image of a kid who went missing around these parts a few years back. And the other figure has come closer too. Seems familiar as well.”

“I’m sorry Frank, I can’t help you on this.”

***​

“Miss Gray? This is the sheriff’s office here. We’ve got a suicide on our hands here and the coroner’s people are down in the woods digging up some remains. I wonder if you could drop by and tell me a bit about the picture you sold to Rita’s Bar?”

“I’m sorry we have no one here of that name and we don’t sell pictures. Are you sure you’ve got the right number?”
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
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Nov 10, 2008
Messages
12,955
Location
nearly the New Forest
Knightmare


Hank heard the alarm but didn’t hurry. When you’d bribed and blackmailed your way up to Associate Vice President (Creative Solutions) of the biggest f*cking dream entertainment company in the world, you didn’t hurry anywhere.

Some dipsh*t ran towards him. Hank sighed. Loudly. The big dis as a new AVP. Having to work the shop floor for a night.

“Sir, we have a problem.”

“Hey, we don’t get problems at DreamImagineers™. We get opportunities.”

“This ‘opportunity’ is a unit malfunctioning. We can’t bring the dreamer out.”

“And?”

“We need someone to go in.”

“Then make it so, amigo.”

“Several workers have come down with food poisoning. You’re the only non-puking qualified DreamGuider in the facility.”

Hank vaguely remembered taking some courses. Was that the one where he’d slept with the instructor? Or where he’d had the bitch canned for not sleeping with him?

“No problemo. Which dream?”

“The Knight and the Virgin.”

Hey. Not so bad. That porno-dream was his favourite.

“I get to be the Knight?”

“Yes.”

Even better. He’d do her before pulling her out, then blame it on the malfunction.



They put him under, and he emerged in the forest clearing, the horse tied up yards away. The armour felt heavier than usual.

He looked around. No girl.

He poked around. Still no girl.

The armour got even heavier. He thought of taking it off, but didn’t know how. The girl always did that.

Then something hit him, pushing him forward, tumbling him over a log. He rolled to his back but couldn’t move further – the armour pinned him there.

The girl appeared. She looked familiar.

“Recognise me, Hank? The instructor you had fired?”

She hefted the knight’s large axe.

“I’m giving this dream a new title. The Headless Horseman.”

.
 
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Darkchrome

Caffeine-powered Golem
Joined
Aug 30, 2014
Messages
56
Align Between Good and Evil

“Lilith, I want a word with you”.

Lily’s belly chilled. She lowered her spoon, appetite gone. Mama materialised in the kitchen doorway, brandishing the white book that was no longer hidden under the mattress.

“What is the meaning of this?” The volume slammed onto the table. The wooden breakfast bowl bounced in sympathy.

“It’s...” The girl looked at the book, then at her Mother.

“I know full well what it is, young lady. It’s written right here in this fancy gold script, Teachings of the Triadic Knights. What I want to know is what it’s doing in your room.”

“I… it’s not mine.”

Mama sank into the chair opposite. Lily bowed her head.

“I’m disappointed.” The woman tapped the pale tome with a blackened, broken fingernail, “You know full well this is dangerous. The Summoner says you have natural talent, maybe become the first female Master Necromancer. You shouldn’t be risking that by dabbling in this nonsense.”

Lily spoke to her lap. “I’m sorry, Mama, I didn’t mean to. I was in the woods, watching the grey horses, but one of the riders saw me and stopped. He spoke of great crusades that follow astral light and fight against unnatural evil. He said, if I helped them I would be rewarded in death and honoured amongst angels, and he gave me this book.”

Her Mother’s voice softened. “You’re still innocent, little maggot. These Paladins, they entice you with easy promises of goodness and martyrdom. Power, malevolence and proper corruption take hard work and dedication. This,” without a touch, the book flew into the cooking fire, “shall never be spoken of again. Now go and get ready for classes. What is it today?”

“Shrew reanimation, Mama.”

“Wonderful! You’ll never forget your first resurrection, I kept mine in my pocket for weeks.”
 

StilLearning

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Mar 20, 2012
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541
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Edinburgh Uk
Savagery.

‘Michael’ smelled of sweat and leather. The golden light enveloping horse and rider couldn’t change that. Quietly following I knew that the other villagers were wrong: This was no angel, and he had no right to the money he’d taken.
And then he called over to the bush concealing me: “What do you want, little one?”

I jumped up, face red, blurting: “You said you’re an angel and you’re not!!”

He gestured, and the ground floated away from me. Somehow I knew he was smirking even though I couldn’t see his face through the glow.

“What if I’m a fallen angel, eh little girl?”

Ok, enough, I decided; I pulled the blastech 500 maser pistol out of my knapsack, and shot him through the left kneecap. The ‘fallen angel’ collapsed in a screaming heap, the glow vanished, the horse too, and I was dropped to the ground. As I stalked my child-like form towards him my bio-implants picked up a growing energy field - some sort of defence mechanism, or spell, or whatever. So I shot him through the right kneecap as well, and snarled:

“Buddy, I’ve travelled light years, redesigned my body, implanted memories, and generally put a lot of effort into this mission. Your display has got those villagers in a right old ‘hunt the sinners and abnormals’ fervour, and put me at risk.”

His injuries were already starting to heal, but the Blastech still had plenty of charge: “What… what bloody mission?” He gasped.

An idea struck me, and now I smirked. ”We’re setting up a game reserve. The game was to be humans, but now I’ve found you….” And I sent out the call, via my comms implant, for the xenobiology assessment team.

And that’s why you see fewer 'angels' today.
 
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TheDustyZebra

Zebra. With dust.
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Nov 26, 2009
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9,131
Location
Colorado
With God on Our Side


The silence of the forest shattered as a beast crashed through the brush.

Shara ducked under a berry bush and tried to be invisible. It was just a villager returning from a hunt; just a neighboring farmer coming to trade; anything but the Headless One, stuff of fairy stories, stuff of nightmares. Her heart pounded in her ears, drowning out the hoof beats.

Everyone knew the tale of how the warrior (nameless now) had lost his head in battle, how he roamed the earth seeking revenge for his death. Where he appeared, band of warriors at his back, his opponents would be slaughtered. Some said he drank the dead men's blood; some said he had made a pact with the devil to kill ten thousand men for the return of his head.

Shara flinched as the beast crashed into view, but she dared a peek through her fingers as it passed. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, squeaking in fear. The rider had no head!

The sounds faded, and Shara uncurled and stood up. She had to warn the village! Dropping her basket, she dashed for a shortcut.

***

When the raiders arrived, they found the village warriors already assembled for battle. The opposing bands faced each other.

Out of the forest came a horse and rider. The stalwart combatants paled.

The Headless One rode out toward the village warriors. The village chief moved forward, and his defenders moved with him. The Headless One stopped in front of the chief. When his hand moved toward his sword, there was a rustle of readiness in the ranks.

Then he extended his hand, palm up.

The Headless One turned and, together with the village warriors at his back, rode out to slay the raiders who had taken his head.
 

Ursa major

Bearly Believable
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England
Journey by Night


The Magickant in Lenauheim had tricked him. He couldn’t complain too much, not when he’d broken his vows to the Magickers. And yet, he’d never lied, resorting to silence when necessary.

An owl’s hoot returned him to the present. Unable to direct his borrowed steed’s path – or even dismount – he was travelling deeper into the Crepuscular Forest. The area was well named. Twilight had enveloped him as soon as he’d entered; now, hours later and long after the sun must have set, the forest was no darker than before. Nothing had changed. Even the horse’s gait had remained eerily constant.

Ahead, light filtered through identical tree trunks. A bell tolled, a familiar sound. He cursed the Magickant’s name under his breath.

His mind filled with an image of their exchange, his pleading for help to reach a place of safety.

“I’ll provide what you need,” the Magickant had said. What you need. Need, not wanted.

A procession of Magickers, robes bright under their lamps, bell still tolling, was passing in front of him. They wouldn’t even have to look his way: the infernal creature kept going; it would carry him into their midst.

When the horse stopped, he lurched forward into the pommel. He stifled a cry of pain.

No one noticed, or glanced his way. The lanterns’ full glow fell short of him; the procession’s aura of peace and certainty shunned him.

He held his breath, until twilight and silence returned. His soul yearned for all he’d abandoned, but he knew he’d had to leave.

“I had to know that you were sure of your path.” The voice of the Magickant— No, the voice of the Chief Magicker.

The forest vanished. Nikolaus found himself sitting in a sunlit field, weeping for what he’d had to sacrifice.


 
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