So, wildfillysama suggested that I take some short writing challenges to polish my much-neglected prose writing skills. One of the Alpha Nerds offers a phrase to use, or a theme to write on, and I give myself two weeks to vomit sentences onto a blank page and hope beyond hope that it’s coherent and not a steaming pile of wordy refuse.
…I should really be writing my PhD thesis.
First up is windfyre’s challenge.
Writing Challenge 1: Use the phrase “People die if they are killed” at the start and/or the end of a story.
EbolaBooze humbly presents:
Rusted Glass Dreams
“People die if they are killed, fool boy.” Her voice brought me out of semi-unconsciousness into lucidity, lying face up on the blood-stained pavement, rust-red staining my blurred vision.
“Thanks to you, Magissa, I’ve become the type of guy that wouldn’t die even if I was killed.”
“Oh? Such misplaced confidence in my abilities. The flattery is appreciated, but even my power as your Patron has limits, fool boy.” A haughty sniff followed her favourite epithet for me, rolling my paralysed body over.
I responded with a lopsided grin. “If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy.”
“If I am not mistaken your spine has been severed, and this is mostly your blood.” A scathing retort was delivered with the added insult of two gauntlet-clad fingers driving into the wound in question.
Pain-painpainpainpain Pain! Weren’t dreams meant to be painless, lucid or not?
“Idiot, don’t you remember that you signed away your nights to me? Your dreams are mine to toy with. It’s only natural that you feel pain when I wish you to.”
The fingers twisted, and the initial spike of pain was replaced with a blissful numbness radiating up and down my spine, spreading across my torso and arms to the rest of the wounds I had taken.
“Would it kill you to be gentler?” I ground out between teeth still gritted in reflex. The numbness faded into dull aches, and spread down to my legs as damage was slowly repaired.
“Would you rather I left you for dead?” A gentle hand traced the worst of the wounds on my back, flayed flesh knitting shut in its wake. I heard an exasperated sigh, and then whispered words too quiet for me to make out. She removed the fingers from my wound with another spike of pain, healing seemingly finished.
I shifted my arms to lever myself upwards and in response a hand fisted in my hair with an iron grip.
“Down boy, I haven’t finished with you yet.”
“Is this where the dream gets lewd, Magissa? You should pick your words more-” The next word caught in my throat as the nerves in my spine finally reconnected, and pain like acid being poured down my nerves hit me.
“Listen when I speak, fool boy. I’ll not spare you the pain this time.” There was no heat in her tone, only exasperation. Well, if she was going to be like that, I’d just have to do my best to take that line of teasing to its limits, and damn the consequences!
“Oh, you’re into that kind of extreme play? Why, how succubus-like of you, in contrast with your fi-” I was interrupted by Magissa flipping me over without any of the gentleness she had exhibited previously, pain spiking as she flipped the glassy chains hanging over her skirt to the side and straddled me.
“I’m a nightmare-eater, not a succubus, fool boy.” Strands of silver hair fell to hang from her face, framing eyes of a matching colour. Heated breath caressed my skin, the chains across her modest chest clinking together as she slid a hand up my torso, wounds sealing with a pleasurable warmth in its wake. “I’ve been around long enough that I could give the best of those sluts a run for their souls.”
I snapped awake, forced out of the dream, with a faint whisper and a lingering caress.
‘Tonight, boy, we visit the Lorekeeper.’
Aches from the sympathetic resonance of the dream world hit me as soon as I registered the message, light from the rising sun blinding me and exacerbating my headache all at once.
It shouldn’t be hitting my eyes at all! I’m late! I’m super late for work! That damn nightmare-eater didn’t even have the decency to wake me up in time!
A quick check of the clock told me that I was already an hour late and in the end, I was forced to work unpaid overtime. Well, I can’t say that it wasn’t worth it.
That night, I slipped into the dream world as soon as my head hit my pillow. Magissa seemed impatient, already standing at the door instead of her customary spot, seated at the foot of my bed.
“Hurry up fool boy; we shouldn’t be caught out with you still injured.”
That was some unexpected concern from her, given that she hadn’t healed my injuries from the night before completely. The majority of the damage was gone, but some lingering stiffness remained. The sympathetic resonance from the dream world had given me a few new scars, I had found out earlier in the day.
Magissa led me through the twisted mirror-land that was the dream world, avoiding contact with its most aggressive denizens as much as possible. It was a different path every time, but somehow Magissa always unerringly found him.
The Lorekeeper. An unassuming old man in a generic suit and tie, seated at a desk made of impossible fractals at the finish of a dead-end alley. We’d only ever encountered him three times, but every one of those encounters extracted a heavy price for the knowledge we’d gained.
“Oh? What business would Razorweaver and The White Chained Death have to do with a lowly knowledge demon?”
A raspy voice greeted us by the titles bestowed upon us in the dream world.
“Stow the grandstanding, Lorekeeper.” Magissa responded. “You asked for our presence, for once.”
“Indeed I did. One task remains for you, Chained Death.”
“I’m not the only one here, old fool.”
“You are the only one here that matters, Chained Death. Razorweaver is inconsequential to the Records.”
I didn’t even see Magissa move and she had the old demon by the throat, a furious whisper in his ear drawing hacking laughter from him before she was thrown away by a wave of force. She skidded back to my side, bleeding off the force of the push, her chains conspicuously still.
“You already know the terms, the price and the payment, Magissa.” Her name was drawn out mockingly. “This is the last. Kill Marchosias and his Contractor, kill their retainers, kill their allies and then return to me if you still wish to claim your payment.”
“That’s a lot of killing, old demon.” I said, the liquid metal at my command thrumming in my soul. “Any particular reason why we have to kill one of the seventy-two pillars?”
“He is no longer one of the seventy-two. That is all the reason you need, Razorweaver.”
My next question was halted by Magissa’s hand on my shoulder.
“That’s more than enough, Lorekeeper.” She let go and started to leave, her chains not making a sound as she moved. “Come on, boy. We have hunting to do.”
I followed her, of course.
“So we’re just going to waltz off and go slaughter who knows how many people and spirits?”
“I’m going to need more than that, Magissa. Just- Please. At least tell me it won’t be kids and the ignorant we’re killing.”
A harsh bark of laughter, out of place and unwelcome, coming from her. “Far from it, boy. These will the hardest fights of our time together.”
Cold comfort, that.
The chains around her were almost entirely dark now; glass stained brown-red, flaking away as if rusting, and leaving stains on her once pristine robes. She was reaching the limits of her power. She had overextended her abilities and strength, all for one idiot who tried to grasp beyond his reach.
“You’ve been far too soft with me, Magissa.” A clench of my fist brought the thinnest tendril of liquid metal from the surface of my skin, still as strong and supernaturally sharp as the day I contracted with her. “You could have taken so much more, and I would have willingly given it to you, you stupid dream demon.”
Her lips quirked into a mirthless grin. “Maybe I’ve finally grown fond of a Contractor, fool boy. Then again, maybe I’ve just gotten tired of burning out pure souls just to cut down my kith and kin.”
“You know my soul better than I do, Magissa, and I’m far from pure.”
“You don’t have a corrupt soul, just a rusty one.” Her smirk softened into a smile, but a teasing glint was still left in her eyes. “Years ago, I remember a younger, more delusional boy saying that he’d ‘stain me in his colours’. Though, I wasn’t expecting something so… literal.” A slight shift gently set the chains that gave her name rattling, their once pure tones now dulled. “Ah, Rusty Chained Death just doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
“Please don’t remind me of those days, Magissa.” Indeed, they were the shameful delusions of a teenager that for a while lived and breathed a certain four-leaved image board.
She covered her mouth as she giggled, the ineffectual manoeuvre only drawing attention to her mocking of me. It faded away though, not enough to dispel the gravity of the situation.
“I’m tired of being just a cleaner for the dream world. I’m tired of watching my Contractors kill themselves keeping me alive.” Her fists clenched at her side, chains rattling in response.
‘And this will be the first time I’m not by their side.’
‘And this time she won’t be at my side.’
I was sure her thoughts reflected mine. This would be the first time I walked into battle without Magissa at my side.
“I’ll only say this once. Be careful, Saul.” I looked at her, surprised. It was the first time that she’d actually said my name.
In response, I gave her my best roguish grin.
“Don’t worry Magissa. I’ll come back even if I die.”
“That’s what I’m worried about, fool boy.”