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About Literature / Hobbyist Ian Chisholm27/Male/United States Group :icongrammarnazicritiques: GrammarNaziCritiques
Truth can be harsher in a Crit
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The sky is clear, the air warm. A road runs alongside a hedgerow of pink rose bushes. The Knight of roads paces along the path, muttering.

“Give her a gift.” He shakes his head and turns to walk the other way. “Invite her to watch the sunset.” He sighs, turns, and walks back. “Tell her she's … ”

The Knight stops and sighs. He peers over the hedgerow.

In a grassy meadow awash with wildflowers of every color, a pack of humanoid creatures sing and talk. Their lower half looks like a trailing skirt. Their arms are thin and flat, and they all have turquoise hair, the fringe draped over large eyes.

One of the creatures wears a pink rose, the stem woven through her hair. The Knight behind the hedgerow sighs.

“Knight of roads!” The voice comes from every blade of grass, from every leaf of the hedge, and every rose. “What are you doing now?”

The Knight winces and nods. “Resting, Voice of the world.”

“No!” The voice is stern. “Come to me! I would show you my recent achievement.”

The Knight, astride his tawny horse, rides up to the Voice of the world. The creature bobs its head in greeting. Two thick rings of gold, one larger than the other, encircle the creature's midsection. The rings are connected to each other and to the creature by a delicate lattice of thinner gold struts.

“Behold! The trees of Knowledge and Life!”

Two trees stand on the hill before them. One bears apples, a vibrant yellow-green crop. The other cherries with a blood-red shine.

“I will bring back your humans soon, and this will become the dividing line between my children and your kind. Each fruit of knowledge holds within the essence of humans, your desires and flaws, all that caused your fall. The fruit of life hold the opposite, those qualities which might have saved you, and which my children have already.”

The man frowns. “Good and evil within fruit?” He shrugs. “And what happens to someone who eats one?”

The creature nods and canters around the trees. “If one of my children wishes to become debased, they need only eat a fruit of knowledge.” The creature stops and stares at the man. “Similarly, if a human should wish to become like my children, you may eat a fruit of life.”

“Is that all? Everyone will switch back and forth whenever they feel like it.”

“There will be trials, of course. First you must cleanse yourself of sin by meditation. Second you must find the trees. And third you must bypass the guardian.”

The man looks around. “Where?”

“Here.” The voice emerges from the cherry tree. A blue snake-like creature, coiled among the branches, slides down to the ground and stares at the man. “I am the guardian of the trees. You may call me Alpha, human.” Its mouth does not move when it speaks.

The man nods. “Hello, Guardian of the trees. I am the Knight of roads, Caleb.”

The snake-like creature whips its tail through the dirt. “Do not speak as if having titles makes us equal, human. I am the first dragon, wisest and most powerful.”

“Oh?” The man smiles below his beard. “In stories, knights kill dragons.”

Alpha twists around and slithers away without comment, climbing the apple tree and disappearing among the branches.

The Voice of the world shakes out its mane and turns away from the trees, the Knight joining it to amble away. The creature nods to the man. “Be wary of him, Knight of roads. I allowed him to taste a fruit of knowledge, so that he might be a better guardian of the trees.”

The man nods, his eyes on the brown road ahead. “Voice of the world, I have a request. Or, a question perhaps. If I were to give one of your children a fruit of knowledge, would that anger you?”

They ride in silence for some time. “No. But I am planning to bring back the humans, soon. Wait and you will have your pick of them.”

The man sighs. “Okay.” He glances at the creature. “I will wait.”

Darkness covers the land, below a pale yellow moon. The night is silent, and the Knight of roads stares up at the two fruit trees. His armor is gone, with only the padded under-tunic and leggings remaining. His horse wears thick woolen socks. The man leans forward, rubs the horse under its chin, and whispers, “Silently, Woodglue.” They plod up the slight incline.

“Who dares disturb Alpha?”

The man crouches down low on the horse and brings the animal to a stop. He says nothing, waiting.

“I am Alpha, the first dragon!” The head of the snake-like creature lolls out from the cherry tree, where it is coiled through the branches. “Is it you, human knight? Taste my claws!” The snake-like creature writhes, its head tossing about in the air. “You see? No one can defeat the first dragon!”

The man lets out a breath and presses his knees against the horse's sides. They plod up the hill in near silence.

“The fruits of knowledge and life are mine to guard.” The snake-like creature continues tossing about, its eyes closed. “No one will steal them from Alpha, the first dragon.”

The man smiles. Guiding his horse below the apple tree, he plucks a hanging fruit and turns his horse away. They steal off into the night.

Sunlight, faint on the horizon, signals the new day. In the middle of an open field, a garden of flowers has been planted, the beds arranged in a circle and separated by color. Within the garden sleeps the pack of creatures with turquoise-hair.

The Knight of roads enters the circle on foot, his road following him inside. In the dawn light, the path looks almost pink. He steps with care over the sleeping creatures, his gaze searching their faces. He stops above the creature with the rose in her hair.

“Lady?” He leans down and whispers near her. “Wake up, Lady Rose.”

The creature's large eyes open, and she smiles up at him. “Hello.” Her mouth does not move when she speaks. “Good morning. You are the one who gave me rose.” She stands, her movements slow and fluid. “Thank you. You are very kind.”

The man smiles and glances down at the ground. “Thank you.” He stares at her, and reaches out to take her hand. “Lady Rose, would you be willing to become a human for me? I wish, I ... I like you, very much, and ... would you? You can turn back if it doesn't suit you.”

She shrugs. “I do not know how, but yes, I will.”

The man pulls her out of the circle. He shows her the apple in his other hand. “Eat this.”

The creature blinks her large eyes at the green fruit. “Does it taste good?”

The man smiles. “I will try it first. I am already human after all.” He takes a large bite of the apple, and smiles at the creature. “It is more delicious than anything.”

Then he frowns. His breathing comes faster, and he drops the apple. Gasping and choking, the man falls to his knees.

His face expands, his eyes going to the sides of his face. A thick mop of turquoise hair grows from his head and down his chest. Thin blades pop out from his elbows, and his arms become thin as well.

The new creature stands, and stares at the female creature. She stares back at him, her eyes wide. The former man tilts his head to the side. “Oh. Well, this is fine. Lady Rose, may I stay by your side?”

She blinks, and nods at the former man. “That is fine. I welcome you. Please do not change like that again though.”

He nods and follows her back to the garden circle, walking on the pink road.

In its forest grove, the horse-like creature stands and shakes out its wispy mane. “It is done. The last human is no more.” The creature stomps its foot and raises its head to the sky.

“Hear me, my creation! Today marks the dawn of a new human kind. Arise, my humans!”

Across the world, the ground rumbles and shivers. The dust of the earth rises up, forming into human beings. They are naked, with gentler faces and larger eyes. They stand and look about at a world of wilderness and roads.

In the forest grove, the creature watches as two humans, one male and one female, sit up and stare at each other. The man smiles, and the woman grins back.

“Hello, my name is Adam.”

“My name is Beth. It's nice to,” the woman stops and laughs. “Oh, we've met before.”

The creature watching them nods and vanishes. “Hurry and reach space, humans.”
Sunlight dapples a forest clearing thick with berry bushes and thorns, filtering down through the green boughs of close-grown trees. A brown road starts before two ash-gray trees with white branches and silver leaves. The twin trees twine together above to form an archway, through which the forest becomes shrouded in heavy shadow, the way shut tight by dense foliage.

A man, clad in armor of a many-hued metal, rides from the bright road into the clearing on a tawny horse. He pats the horse's neck and whispers, “Goodnight, Woodglue.”

The horse neighs and vanishes, popping like a soap bubble and a flash of gold sparks. The man lands on his feet, knees bent. He steadies himself, straightens up, and reaches to pull off his helm.

Bareheaded, he stares at the twin ashen trees. His hair is shaggy and black, growing down the sides of his face to become a bushy beard. With sunken eyes and sallow cheeks, he appears gaunt and haggard. But he stands tall, unbowed.

A great voice bellows from the forest all around, “Knight of roads! Why have you come to the place where all roads begin?”

The man nods, helm under his arm. “And greetings to you as well, Voice of the trees.” He smiles, eyes steady and hard. “I return to seek an audience with you.”

The voice does not speak for several breaths. “Speak. I will listen.”

The man shakes his head. “I would finally see the face of that which I serve.”

Branches all around the clearing rustle and shake, growing violent and tossing about in a wild cacophony of green. Leaves fall around the man, spinning and whirling against his armor. He stands in silence, his shaggy hair unmoved. The trees grow slower and quiet and still.

“You know not what you ask,” the voice grumbles. “To see my true face is not possible. I am vast and mighty. I am too great for your mind to comprehend.”

“Try me,” the man grunts.

The voice chuckles. “Yes, allow me to.” Starting in a hissing whisper that grows with every word, “The ground you walk upon is my body. The animals you see are my children. You eat my flesh and drink my blood. I am the world. I am all the world. You would speak to my face? Speak! I am everywhere.”

The man frowns. A moment passes. He sighs and walks forward. “I will enter your grove. Give me a face to look upon.”

Pushing against the branches of the ashen trees, the armored man meets stiff resistance entering the archway. Tree limbs fold in to press him back, bending but never breaking. The man persists, inching further through the thick brush with every step he takes.

The brown road follows beneath him, forming itself in his wake. The dense shrubs and mosses of the forest floor turn yellow, then brown, then fall and scatter as dry dirt. The sides of this new road are straight and tidy, even as the man struggles from side to side. The road is won, slow and steady, passing between the twin ashen trees.

A great sigh passes through the forest. “Fine. We will meet.” The many branches pull back to clear the way, parting before him one after the other. A green tunnel opens before the man. “To think you would bring your roads to me.”

The man walks forward, the brown path appearing behind him. “And why not? You seclude yourself at your peril, Voice of the trees.”

The voice snorts and laughs. “Oh? You should be the last to say such a thing, Knight of roads.”

Tree roots lay across the ground. They are thicker as the man walks, stretching out from ancient and gnarled trees. Small new saplings grow from the largest and oldest roots, along with green vines that produce tiny red berries. The road forms over the roots in a bumpy and treacherous path.

The armored man passes a tree of which the roots are wider than he could reach around. A larger clearing comes into sight around the tree. The forest floor is covered by roots so thick that no dirt can be seen. Mushrooms grow along the tree line, glowing with a golden light.

To one side, a river spills away into the forest across jutting rocks, birthed from a murky pond. The water is gray and still, reflecting the forest all around. In the middle of the clearing is a tree stump which fills the rest of the clearing. The top is a foot or less off the forest floor, and flat as a level floor.

Atop the stump stands a creature. The body has four spindle-thin legs like a horse, with a fat midsection, short white hair, and an arched neck. Two ash-gray horns jut from behind the ears, jagged like a crown. A thick mane trails back from the head, floating in the air. Another extends at the tail, longer and with wispy ends.

The face is almost human. A brow juts out over large, pensive eyes. Despite the bulky middle, the creature has no nose or mouth. The chin ends in a white beard, coiling down the thin chest.

“Satisfied?” The voice comes not from the creature, but from the forest all around and the air itself. The creature tilts its head to the side and the blank lower face flexes up, as if in a smile. “Now, why have you sought me out?”

The man enters the clearing. The brown road following him stops at the edge. The man bows down on one knee, one fist clenched against his chest.

“My concern is this. I am sick. Why? You say you are the world. Are you poisonous to me?”

The creature's eyes glow golden for a blink. “You are malnourished. I am terribly sorry. I too know how difficult it is to run out of food.”

“How can I? I eat the game and plants you permit me, and I feel full afterward.”

“Your flesh is not the same as my flesh. You alone are not of me. You, and the armor you wear. You were born before me, before my apotheosis. Do you not remember, Caleb?”

“Those memories feel like another lifetime.” The man raises his head, his eyes gone distant. “Sometimes I feel I have died and come to this place. Other times I hope I am dreaming.” He blinks, and his eyes focus on the creature. “How real is this world?”

The creature nods. “Real. You have not left your world. Rather, I was born, and your world became mine.”

The man frowns, but then shrugs. “Back to my concern. Will I die from eating your flesh?”

“That I do not know.” The creature shrugs, its head drooping. “I did not understand your diet at first, but I am getting better. Either you will starve, or your body will learn to fully digest my flesh.” The creature's head raises, staring at the man. “If the latter happens, you will become a true vassal of my kingdom. You will retain your mind, and be immortal as I am.”

Man and creature stare at one another, neither speaking. The creature's feet tap upon the tree stump, as it paces around in a small circle. The man sighs, and with a grunt gets to his feet.

“You have answered my concern, Voice of the world. Thank you. I will go back to my duties and meet my fate without fear.” He turns to leave.

The creature nods, and settles down to rest atop the stump. “I have a question for you now, Knight of roads. Is there anything missing in the world I have created? Any lack that you perceive?”

The man turns back with a smirk. “Princesses, I suppose. I have found no other humans, only your gentle beasts.”

“Yes, I had thought to make this world one without your kind.” The creature's neck bends down and its head rests upon the stump. “My children are enough. I do not need rivals for my power.” The creature blinks, and stares at the man. “One human is fine, but with many humans you will form societies and make war and cause pollution and who knows what else.” A great sigh comes from the creature.

The man crosses his arms. “True. However, you could make humans the stewards of your beasts. You can tell them to live in peace, treat one another well, and protect the environment. Someday they may even spread across the stars.”

The creature's ears perk up. “You make a point. But how shall I make it so that my children are treated fairly by humans? Describe this world you imagine, rather than telling me your promises.”

The man nods. “I remember much of it. I often dream of that ideal world, where men and beasts live in harmony. I will tell you everything.”
A dusty strip of sky hangs above. Crosswise to the sky runs a brown and lonesome road, laid through an orange-gold desert. A car careens along the road, the top down. The rims hover just above the surface.

A man, smiling and handsome, drives. A woman, serene and beautiful, sits in the passenger seat. Neither wears a seat belt. He has one hand on the wheel and the other clasped with hers. She leans out past the window, long hair flying behind her.

“Where are we going, dear?” she shouts to the wind.

He pulls her back in, the smile fixed to his face. “Somewhere safe, dear.”

Her eyes betray nothing. “Where is safe, dear?”

“There, dear.” He points.

Ahead on the road, a cluster of buildings squats on the horizon. They are pale concrete, with drab white paint and tinted black windows. A chain link fence surrounds the campus, tall and topped with barbed wire.

Behind the buildings looms a far more imposing wall. Gray and featureless, unmoving, stretching left and right to the horizons. The wavy top has swallowed the whole sky.

She stands, hands gripping the windshield. “You're driving toward it,” she screams against the wind.

He says nothing. She sits back down and shivers in the passenger seat. The car slips inside the fence perimeter; the gate lies on the ground outside, twisted and broken.

Far behind them, a second gray wall identical to the first follows the car, eating up the road at a slow but steady rate. That wall passes ahead of the sun; night falls over the car. The strip of sunlit sky above them grows ever narrower, and the road ever shorter.

The car's rims grind against pavement as the man drives up on the sidewalk to the front door. A sign over the building's entrance reads, 'Radicals Containment.'

Even before the car shudders to a stop, the man throws open his door. He stumbles out, leans against a concrete wall, and limps for the building's entrance. The woman joins him, putting her shoulder under his. Their shoes crunch on glass. They walk in through the broken pane, with a deeper darkness descending behind them.

The interior is lit a vibrant red. The reception desk is empty. The security station beyond unattended. Distant sounds can be heard, howls and moaning, the cries of beasts that man becomes.

“Where are we, dear?” she pleads.

“A research and development facility, dear.” He leads her deeper into the complex of white-painted, red-tinged halls. “There's a room here that it can't enter. If we wait inside,” but he doesn't finish the sentence.

Another man jogs into an intersection of halls ahead, his labcoat splashed with crimson. He is short, balding, and breathing hard. His glasses hang askew. A pair of ruby-washed scissors are clenched in his hand.

The couple stop, and the bloody man stares at them. He straightens his glasses. “Oh … Hello. Have you seen George? This is his fault too, you see. Underfunding.”

The handsome man shakes his head, and the beautiful woman sobs. The bloody man sighs, waves at them, and jogs away down the hall.

The woman turns to the man. “It started here. You!” She points a finger at the man. “You did this.”

“I didn't!” He pulls her onward. “It wasn't me. I don't know who caused this.” Tears fall from his eyes. “It's not my fault. No one can blame me.” He turns to her, the red light reflecting from his cheeks. “You have to believe me!”

The man sags against a wall and covers his eyes. The woman blinks, staring at him, their hands still connected.

“Explain it to me again, dear. What is that – stuff?”

He nods and continues walking. “We can't stop, dear. I'll tell you when we're safe.”

Again the two go on, her shoulder under his. A chorus of screams comes from behind them, the wails of the lost, and then all is silent. The two walk under a sign that reads, 'High Security Testing Wing.' Another security station stands empty. The two go past rows of yellow hazmat suits and white backpacks with green hoses. On each are four black letters, 'R C US.'

The man turns and slides back a steel door on silent rails. The room within is rectangular and cramped, with tables covered in loose papers and a few plastic chairs. At the back of the room is a large metal chamber, with a heavy door and one porthole window. The metal is many blended, rainbow hues, like a fish's scales. Upon the door is stamped the letters again in large block print, 'R C US.'

The woman stops and stares at the chamber, but the man limps across the room with a smile. He grasps a metal wheel on the door of the chamber. The wheel does not budge. He pulls at the wheel, straining against the cold metal until his hands slip away. He stands on his tiptoes and stares through the porthole.

“No!” He pounds on the door with his fist and screams, “Caleb! Open the door! Open the door, Caleb! Open the door!”

The woman walks up behind him. “What's going on?”

The man glances at her, eyes wide, his pupils small and shaking. He pounds on the door again. “Open the door! Just open the door! I have a woman here, you can have her too if you just open the door and let us in!”

The entire wall on one side of the room turns gray. It moves closer, inch by slow inch. Up close the surface appears soft like gelatin, convulsing and throbbing along its entire width. Things can be seen inside: floating bits of plastic, fragments of metal, glass, and stone dissolving.

The woman screams. She joins the man in pounding on the door. “Let me in! Please let me in! I'll do anything if you'd only let me in!”

The two throw themselves at the door, screaming and wailing, pulling in vain at the metal wheel. The gray wall reaches the metal chamber and slides along its edges, coming around toward the two. The man stops hitting the door and pulls the woman away before the gray goo reaches the door. The couple perch atop a table, backs against the wall, breathing hard and shaking. The gray wall closes in.

The woman rests her head on the man's shoulder. She sniffs. “So what's your name, dear?”

The man looks at her, and then leans his head back and closes his eyes. “Adam. It's sort of why I had this idea, dear.”

She smiles. “That's funny, dear! But my name's Beth.”

He sighs and grins. “It was nice meeting you, dear. I mean, Beth.”

“And you too, Adam.”

They laugh together until the moving wall consumes them. They scream until all is gray.

Within the chamber, another man sits slouched in a plastic chair. He has two blue earbuds in his ears, and a tablet in his hands. Staring at the screen, he whispers, “Come on, Slippers. Don't faint. Hit it – Yes!” He pumps a fist in the air.

The man stands, slips the tablet into his jacket pocket, and reaches to spin the inner metal wheel. The door does not open. He puts his shoulder against the metal and pushes, but the door remains closed. The man grunts, returns to the plastic chair, and pulls the tablet back out.

The metal door groans, and then creaks open. The sitting man turns his head, hiding the tablet in his pocket. The handsome man stands in the doorway, smiling. Outside, everything appears the same.

The man inside the chamber grins. “Adam, hey. I was taking my lunch break, and the door got locked. Thanks for freeing me, sir.”

“Perfectly understandable, Caleb.” Adam looks around at the inside of the chamber and nods. “Nice place for a break. Very quiet.”

Caleb stands, hands in his pockets. “Yeah, I think so.” He waits, but the other man is silent. “Do you need me for anything, sir?”

Adam shakes his head. “Actually, I'm here to tell you this facility is being closed. Sorry to spring it on you like this.”

“Oh.” Caleb's chin drops to his chest and he sighs. “You're firing me.”

“Unfortunately.” Adam smiles. “But the dismissal package is very generous. You are now very important to R-C-Us. Seems like they'll pay for anything you need, from now on. Any thing. And call me, or anyone from the company, if you want something money can't buy.  Not a bad deal, huh?”

Caleb looks up. “What? But, sir, I've only worked here a week.”

Adam shrugs. “I guess you got lucky.”
A Brief Interruption of Life
This is a contest entry for and I hope you enjoy it!

So that stuff is called Gray Goo; it's a type of science fiction apocalypse. Basically you create a substance that can "eat" anything and turn it into energy, which can be used to eat more stuff and create more energy. The unused energy is stored as "fat" and that's what the physical goo is. It quickly covers the world and then everyone and everything is gray goo. The end. And it really could happen in the real world! Consider any time there's a big oil spill in the ocean and people talk about a substance that can eat the oil and make it harmless. Oil is carbon. People are largely carbon. The world is largely carbon. If the substance made doesn't discern between oil and everything else, we could have a gray goo incident on our hands. Of course, in my story the gray goo becomes sentient after absorbing the world's population minus one, which is where we get the science fiction. And so now Caleb, being the last human left, will be protected by the sentient gray goo. But that's not the end of that story ... we shall see if I do the rest!
The large hall has wooden slats and soft cloth covering the gray-stone walls at the front of the room, where a large stage stands before a sea of chairs. The corners of a blue curtain hang by ropes from a wooden frame above. On the stage is a single empty chair, outlined by the directed glow of five lamps.

The audience seating is half-full and growing. Men and women, rich and poor, alone and in groups; people of all kinds arrive and sit and wait. Some wield signs, with everything from, 'Go back home!' to 'We support the survivors' to 'The Phoenix Rises!' written on them.

Teal walks into the hall, followed by Rolf and Sorrow. The three walk down the side, with Teal glaring at the chair on the stage.

“Teal, honey!”

At the shout from the audience, Teal stops, the glare gone from her face. She turns, stares, and almost takes a step back. Her eyes go wide as other people in the audience yelp and cry out.

A wave of mud crashes against Teal, toppling her. Rolf jumps back, and Sorrow stops and blinks.

The earthen mixture had spread out, covering Teal like a sand dune, but now reverses and compresses into a statuesque woman with soil-brown skin. Her hair is ever-flowing silt, and she wears a red-clay dress with an intricate looping design. She remains atop Teal, crying muddy tears and hugging her.

“Teal, honey! Why do you have to worry me so? I heard the news and rushed here! Are you okay? Say something! Have you been eating enough? Take off that disgusting armor and let me look at you!”

The mud woman's hands melt into Teal's armor and separate all the clasps and buckles. She starts pulling the armor apart, while Teal tries to push her away.

“I'm fine! Stop! Get off! Let me stand!”

Several helms away, Rolf and Sorrow stare down at the two. A grizzled orc walks up beside them, wearing a flower pattern polo shirt and khaki pants. He crosses his arms with a snort.

“Olly, you're embarrassing the girl. Come on now, I told you she'd be fine.”

The mud woman melts away and forms up in a standing position, smoothing out her red-clay dress. Her eyes are smooth and metallic, two lumps of gleaming silver in her head.

Teal scrambles to her feet, her armor loose and off-kilter. She salutes the orc. “Sir!”

He nods. “At ease, soldier.” Then the orc smiles. “I'll never get used to it. At ease, paladin.”

Teal nods and releases a breath. She straightens her armor and starts fixing the straps and buckles. Rolf stares from her to the two newcomers, and Sorrow only blinks.

The mud woman sighs and stomps her foot. “Teal, honey! Why don't you write me anymore? The only reason I hear anything at all about you is that lovely lady who occasionally sends me lovely little handwritten notes. From now on, you are going to send me one spell message every week! Do you need geld for the spell?”

The grizzled orc snorts. “Olly, you're doing it again.”

She turns on him. “So what if I am? It's more important that I say this now while I'm only this much upset! Do you want me to explode?” Her mud fingers lace together, and then blast apart. “Boom! Do you think I won't? I need to hear from her, every once in a while!”

Teal, her armor back in place, takes a deep breath. “Rolf, Sorrow, please say hello to Olivia Neasta and Julius Cartwright. Mom, dad, this is Rolf and Sorrow.” She turns and glares at Olivia with gritted teeth. “Now what are you doing here?”

Sorrow nods and walks over to shake the orc's hand. “Hello, Mister Julius.” And to the mud woman, he nods his head. “Hello, Miss Olivia.”

Olivia presses a hand to her forehead and throws her head back. “Teal, honey! We heard about the trouble in Goldenburg! As a humanitarian I was very concerned! And then we heard about the Goldenburg survivors giving their accounts and I wished to hear one for myself!”

Julius nods, hands stuffed in the pockets of his khakis. “But they'd never be allowed in Brie-Cram. And with the capitol locked down, Riverside became the best choice to go hear the story. Like Kraggen said, 'Always wield a weapon in the first hand. The second is always a shield.'”

Sorrow shakes his head. “It is appropriate to wield a weapon in one's non-dominant hand, if one is properly trained. Father says a shield would slow me down.” He tilts his head to the side. “Though he has also spoken of a spiked shield as the perfect weapon.”

The orc grins. “I was speaking in metaphor.”

The gray-skinned teen blinks. “Ah. Thank you. I do not always catch those.”

“Teal, honey!” Olivia smiles, her teeth round like pebbles. “Your friends are amusing!” She glances at the silent Rolf, and then her silver eyes gleam at Sorrow. “What an adorable Shade! Do you need any armor or clothing made, dear? Something colorful for those drab skin tones.”

She advances on Sorrow, but he backs away. “Thank you, but no thank you. I have recently received a new piece of armor.” His hand drops down to hover over his black warpick. “And it would be improper for me to receive anything from an immortal. The Damned God has decreed all living things shall die.”

Olivia's teeth stretch out to the sides of her face. She looms over him, her silt hair flowing faster. “Yes, very amusing.” Her hand stretches down towards him, her fingers like claws.

Teal grabs Olivia by the shoulder and pulls her away from Sorrow. “Mom, stop it.” She pushes the mud woman back to her aisle of seats. “We'll talk, but you need to stop the scary act.”

“Teal, honey!” Olivia's head twists around, and her mud body flows to match. “I was only having a little fun with him.” She pushes against Teal's gauntlet-covered hands, but Teal stands firm against her. Olivia's thin black eyebrows raise. “You've gotten better, honey.”

“Mom … Sit. Please.” Teal gives her a nudge.

Olivia sighs. “If you insist, honey.” She turns around again and returns to her seat.

Julius smirks, nudges Rolf, and whispers, “I know what you're thinking. And you're right. Olivia wears the pants in our relationship.”

Teal turns around to face the orc. “Dad, I need to talk to you, too.”

He glances at the empty stage, and back to her. “We have a moment.” Julius grunts and crosses his arms. “What's the problem?”

She nods and reaches for her hip. The maul handle comes free of its holster and she holds the wooden weapon up for him. He inspects the handle, reaches out to take hold of the grip, and holds it up in the air.

“A soldier must take care of his tools.” Julius grins. “That said, it seems you've had some work done to it. Can't say I recognize the enchantments. You should ask your mother what she thinks of them.”

Teal nods, her gaze on the floor. “I'm sorry it wasn't reforged with steel.” She looks up at him. “Though with your permission, I'd like to keep it like that.”

“Granted.” Julius drops the handle back in her gauntlets. “My generation lived and died by our steel. I can only hope your generation uses less of the stuff.” He grins at her. “So, you thought of a name for it yet?”

She shakes her head, staring down at the weapon handle. “I cannot. It is your maul after all.”

The orc snorts. “Not anymore.” He pats her on the shoulder. “A soldier must take full responsibility for what a weapon does in his hands. The good, and the evil. Giving it a name will help you think of the weapon, and its actions, as yours.”

At the front of the room, the two outermost lights above the stage go out. A hush falls over the crowd, and anyone standing moves toward their seat. Julius glances at the stage, and then shrugs at Teal.

“We'll talk later.” He sidles into his row of seats, nodding and mumbling to the people he walks in front of.

Sorrow steps in front of Teal. “With your permission, Miss Teal, I will sit next to your father. He appears to know various things about weapons, and my second father says it is important I learn from any experts I meet.”

She nods, and the gray-skinned teen slips away, following Julius. They sit next to Olivia in the middle of the row. Teal sighs and stares after them. There are quite a few empty seats around Olivia, with the nearest people having moved away.

“Ye were adopted.” Rolf's voice is low. He stands at her shoulder, his hands through the straps of his backpack.

Teal nods. “Didn't I say I grew up at the Orphanarium?” She eyes an aisle seat a few rows back from the front, with another two empty seats beside it. “Olivia says I looked cute, ordering the other kids into line for lunch. And I was the only one she and Julius could agree on. He wanted a boy.”

“Ye were adopted by Olivia Neasta.” Rolf looks up at the ceiling. “This is ridiculous. My mother is obsessed with her fashion lines. I've heard stories of what she did in the Flame Wars, both as an Earth Guardian and an enchanter. She's the reason my mother became an enchanter.”

Walking for the open seats, Teal sighs. “I don't tell people.” Rolf follows her, and goes into the row first to sit beside Teal when she takes the aisle seat. “Whenever someone finds out, they tell me I must have lived like a princess.”

Rolf glances at her, one eyebrow raised. “Ye did not?” He pulls his backpack off and sets it down between his knees.

“I was raised in an underfunded orphanage.” Teal scowls, her arms crossed. “I know hunger. I have cleaned floors. I have slept in rough beds. Even if that changed after going to live with Olivia and Julius, I remember them well.” She growls, “I was not raised like a princess.”

Beside her, Rolf shrugs. “Olivia Neasta is well-known to be a resident of Brie-Cramm. Your life there must have been comfortable.”

Teal shakes her head. “Everyone is coddled there, from the children to the adults. Combat lessons with dad were the only time I was allowed to make mistakes and get hurt, so of course we had to keep them secret.” She sits up straighter in her seat, her gauntlets clenching the armrests of her seat. “I left as soon as the Army would take me and never went back.”

The next two lights above the stage go out, leaving only a single spotlight. The room is silent, save for a few whispers. With the only light pointed at the stage and the rest of the room dark, that spot becomes the whole world.

An old woman with gray hair walks onto the stage from behind the curtains. She gazes out over the crowd, bows her head to them, and sits in the lone chair.

“Hello.” Her gaze drops to the stage floor. “I am not used to speaking before crowds. I hope you all will forgive me.”

The crowd murmurs, some giving the old woman quiet affirmations and soft questions. She nods and smiles, still looking at the floor.

Teal stares at the old woman, her mouth half-open. Rolf notices her stare and whispers, “Not what you expected?”

Eyed wide and focused on the old woman, Teal shakes her head. “I know her. From somewhere. She is familiar to me. I do not know how.”

The old woman sighs, and begins. “You will know that the Phoenix Army made their challenge to the Count of Goldenburg at his meeting of Court. This news was spread far and wide by the Count calling for a mercenary army.”

The crowd mutters dark words at the mention of the Count. The old woman nods.

“Two days later, the Phoenix Army attacked. Their castle descended from above the clouds, floating in the sky, and their soldiers flew down on feathered capes. The Count's army had become pillagers and thugs, and with no order among them they were defeated by a force half their size. Goldenburg was destroyed in the battle, by the very mercenaries hired to protect it.”

The old woman's head rises, and she stares out over the silent crowd. “The Phoenix soldiers spared any citizen who did not fight to protect the Count. They gave us food and water for our journey here. But more than that, they gave us the truth. The Phoenix met with the Count before making their challenge. He tried to betray his kingdom. They attacked him for his arrogance.”

The whispers from the crowd grow to a sizable majority. The old woman sighs and stares down at the floor again.

“They met with him because they have a claim to this land.” The crowd becomes silent, and the old woman nods. “I did not believe it at first. But they have proof. They showed me the ancient compact between them and the people who built their flying castle.”

She stands, hands clenched at her sides. Her voice becomes a wispy shout. “This land belongs to the Phoenix! The Phoenix have returned to make true their claim! I support the Phoenix!”

Raucous laughter and jeers burst from the crowds. They shout at the old woman, “Fool!” and “You were taken in!” She blinks back tears and stares down at the floor. A few in the crowd cheer and shout, waving their signs of support for the Phoenix, but they are the clear minority.

“That is enough!” Teal's bellow cuts across the noise. When she stands, many in the crowd go silent. “Why do you laugh at this woman? Why do you call her names? Look at her! Have we reached an era where it is permissible to treat another person this way?”

Those with the signs supporting the Phoenix cheer. The rest of the crowd mumble and shake their heads. The old woman on the stage sniffs and wipes away her tears.

“Thank you, child.” She puts a hand to her heart and smiles at Teal. “But I know to expect this. I know my words are hard to believe.”

Teal turns on the old woman. “Your words are lies. I was at the battle for Goldenburg.”

She steps out of her row, marches down the aisle to the stage, and takes the five steps up with one heavy stomp on each. “The soldiers you speak of do not exist. The Phoenix Army used poisonous war vine, transformed beasts, and worse. No one was spared. Those who survived, escaped. I arrived with the survivors, and they have not entered this city.”

On the stage now, Teal points to the old woman. “Which begs the question. Who are you?”

The old woman smiles and clasps her hands in front of herself. “We found horses and rode most of the way here. Everyone must know as soon as possible. The Phoenix rises, child. Do you stand with them, or against them?”

Teal scowls. “They destroyed Burroughs.” She turns to the crowd and shouts, “The Phoenix Army destroyed Burroughs! Ask yourselves why!” Turning back to the old woman, Teal draws in a ragged breath. “Tell me who you are. Tell me!”

“I am only one thing, child. I am a mother. I have lived my life to support my child. And now I bring my account of the war to these people.” The old woman sighs and turns to face the crowd again. “The truth will be revealed when the Phoenix re-claim this land. Wait and you will see. The Phoenix will not harm anyone who stands aside in this war.”

The room is silent. The crowds stare down at Teal and the old woman, looking from one to the other and back again. The section with signs in support of the Phoenix mutter among themselves, and glare down at Teal. She stares at the old woman, her gauntlets clenched into fists.

“Who are you?”
High War - Chapter 20.2
Teal's parents! Not biological, of course ... did I say she was adopted yet? Olivia is from the first campaign and Julius is from the second campaign, but they had such similar roles within their respective parties so I combined them to form Teal. Olivia was a human Warden with stone magic and the ability to transform in battle; she was also the local hero of Burroughs, almost the law. Julius was a human Paladin with the standard abilities of a Paladin, but he had retired from service to run the Orphanarium. My Olivia is an Earth Elemental fashion designer of some renown, and my Julius is an orc retired army commander living with his sugar mama. They adopted Teal when she was 10 or so, taking her from the squalor of an underfunded orphanage to the riches of Brie-Cram, to live like a princess and be trained by Julius in the arts of war. :) Teal is a rainbow of racial and social diversity!

This is a part of my High War project, a story set in a fantasy-ish world. I think my preview image comes from a free image site; if you know otherwise then please tell me so I can take it down, although I would be happier to use it with the permission of its creator. This will be a story for somewhat mature audiences; there will be occasional violence, language, and adult themes. Thanks for reading, and I'm always happy to discuss the chapter if you have a comment for it.


Next: soon ...
Cube-shaped buildings loom near the banks of a wide river. The buildings are all of a grayish stone, coarse and pock-marked, but without large cracks or holes. Their roofs are of wood, all painted a different color. Together they form a large half circle against the river's edge, with many red-clay huts and driftwood shacks roughing up the edges.

Another half-circle of square buildings can be seen on the other side of the river, almost an exact mirror image of the first. Docks and boat launches on both sides reach out for the other like fingers.

Also mirrored on both sides of the river are two giant arches at the water's edge. Both are a third as wide as the city limits. The other bank of the river can be seen within the nearest arch, as if magnifying the view through the two arches, but the image is faint and insubstantial.

The horde of Goldenburg citizens gather along a hilltop overlooking the town and stare down at the city. One tall man stands at their front, his gold cloak billowing in the mid evening breeze. To their left, the sun sits well above the horizon and a land of rolling hills.

“At last.” The Count turns to Teal and Sudo behind him. “Sudo, have everyone rest. No one should leave the train. We will not enter the city until invited.”

Sudo nods. He whispers to a butler behind him, and glances back to the Count. “Sir, I will do my best, but the citizens are hungry.” The older man slips into the crowds.

Facing forward again, the Count sighs. “The problem is that we look like an invading army if we enter all together.” After a breath he chuckles. “Though we are an invading army, in some ways. And I am the army's general.” The Count glances back at Teal. “How does a general maintain order?”

She blinks. “You would ask me?”

He smiles. “I trust you, Paladin Teal.”

Teal frowns and looks away. She nods. “Give them a task. They could form up a rear-guard, or do an inventory, or clean their boots and cloaks. Keep everyone so busy preparing to enter the city that none of them thinks to do so.”

The Count nods. After a moment he grins. He waves over the nearest butler. “Relay my words. All adult men shall form up in a wall facing behind us and to our sides, in case we have been followed. All city and palace guards will spread themselves among them. All adult women shall count their belongings and the belonging of their family, with a mind toward the value of those goods and what can be bartered. All children shall clean their own cloaks and the cloaks of those they traveled with. Everyone is responsible for giving their boots a good shining. We are citizens of Goldenburg, and we will not enter Riverside while defenseless, copperless, and dirty!”

The butler salutes and slips into the crowds. Another butler emerges to take their place.

Teal shrugs and stares at Riverside. “I will take my leave now, Count. I must go to the Queen.”

The Count spins around. “No!” He gulps and runs a hand back through his hair. “Teal, I – if you go, how will I keep order? When they see you walking away, the people may start to follow you.” She turns, as if to reply, but he doesn't stop there. “And when I must discuss the fate of Goldenburg's citizens with the Twin Lords, who else but you could speak of what happened in the city and why we had to flee?”

Teal frowns and looks down at the ground. She sighs as the Count continues speaking.

“And I promise, Teal. After we have settled that matter, I will do everything in my power to help you find your other children. We will defeat this Phoenix Army, rescue your children from them, build another orphanage, and.” He takes a breath and squares his shoulders. “And I will stay at your side throughout. I am finished as a ruler. I wish to stay forever at your side. That is, I – I love you, Teal.”

She nods. “I realize.” Teal looks up at his face. “Stay as their ruler. They need you now more than ever.” She stares down at her feet again. “I do not need you. I have used your emotions many times. I was able to take advantage of you because I do not feel the same as you. Nor did I learn to feel that way, though I had thought it possible. So I think I just need to say this.” Her gaze travels up to his chest, but stops there. “I don't love you. Please find someone else to love.”

Teal bows her head a little, stands straight, and turns on her heel to walk away. Sorrow steps out of the crowds, shakes the Count's hand, and follows Teal.

The citizens of Goldenburg stop milling about; they all start moving in different directions. After a look down at Riverside, the men turn to walk back the way they came. The women find open spaces of grass; they unpack bags, sorting through clothing and household items and family memorabilia. Children run among them all, shouting names and grasping at cloaks.

Sudo wanders back through the organized chaos and stops at the Count's side. The older man harrumphs. “Your new orders are working well, sir. The citizens no longer look like hawks, but more like ants.”

The Count nods. “Sudo, if I told you to stop someone, how would you do it?”

The older man blinks. He rubs his wooden leg against the ground for a moment. “Kill them. Maim them. Poison them. Each of those three has a set of options, but circumstances change the options.”

The younger man shakes his head. “If it was someone I – someone you loved, how would you stop them?”

Sudo's eyes go wide. He stares down at Riverside, and then to the Count. The old butler grins, the lines on his face deepening to a web of wrinkles. His mouth opens and he laughs, loud and shrill. Eyes in the crowd turn, but he doesn't stop.

The Count turns and frowns. “Why are you laughing?”

The old butler nods and grows quiet. He stands straight again, wiping tears from his eyes, still grinning. “Sir, there is nothing you can do in such a situation.” His eyes are cold and distant. “Perhaps you should consider that I couldn't stop the mother of my child from leaving.”

The Count winces. “Sudo, I.” He shakes his head and sighs. “My mind is not – Sudo, please forget I said anything.”

“Agreed, sir.” Sudo reaches up and pats the Count on the shoulder. “Take your own orders. Rest for a while. Set all other thoughts aside. I will send a runner to the Twin Lords; you must be ready for the negotiations to come. Remember that you are the Count, a ruler of men. Not a man ruled by emotions.”

“Yes, Sudo.” The Count turns, crosses his arms over his chest, and stares down at Riverside. “Thank you.”

“Of course, sir.”

Teal marches into Riverside, her bark helm under her arm. Every gray stone building is separated from the other by twenty helms or more. There is no visible difference between streets and alleys, though the corners of buildings have signs with names like 'Paddy E' and 'Cod N.' Each building has one large entrance along the road, a gap in the gray stone fitted with a wooden barn door.

Carts and wagons pulled by thin ebony horses slip between the dark buildings, squeezing past each other when they meet. The grim drivers at the reins make rapid hand signals to each other, only calling out commands to their horses or a grunting warning before they come to a corner. Sometimes they stop outside a building's entrance and the large doors swing inward to allow them inside.

An old human woman with a full basket of brown and yellow potatoes stands on the street corner. Teal approaches and speaks to her. “Excuse me, ma'am.” The old woman turns and Teal gives her a stern nod. “May I know where your city's Rift Circle is?”

The woman's fingers come alive, making a dozen signs in one long gesture. Then she sighs and shakes her head. “You seek Rift? Walk toward Arch. Find near there.”

Teal bows her head. “Thank you.” The paladin eyes the basket of potatoes. “And if you wish to sell those, there is a large group of Goldenburg's survivors outside the city who would buy them all.”

The woman frowns. “More of them?” Teal nods and the old woman clucks and walks away. Frowning now too, Teal turns toward the center of the city.

None of the gray stone buildings stand near the giant arch. A few of brick and wood are scattered along the edges, clinging to their larger stone forefathers. A wide and open avenue runs alongside the arch, with the river on the other side, or what can be seen of the river through the flat, semi-translucent curtain hanging in the air.

Through the arch appears a hazy city. Sometimes the image is clearer, sometimes the river is, but neither ever vanishes. The same gray stone buildings are over there, a similar scattering of smaller structures, and another wide avenue, but the two sides are not identical. People stand waiting on this side or the other; where two of them stand before each other, their fingers fly in rapid hand-signs. If not for the river and the calls of birds above, the long plaza full of people would be silent.

Rona watches the street and the people, while leaning against a thin brick structure, which itself leans against a gray stone building behind it. The shape-shifter's large pack rests against the wall beside her. A plaque on the wall to her left reads, 'Riverside Rift Mages South.'

Teal walks by, her gaze alternating between the arch's image and the gray stone buildings. Rona smiles, shoulders her pack, and steps forward to greet her. “Miss Teal. We meet again.”

The paladin's eyebrow raises. “What are you doing here?”

The shape-shifter shrugs. “Waiting for ye.” She points a thumb back at the brick face behind her. “I knew this was yer destination. So I arrived first.”

They stare at each other, Teal frowning and Rona smiling. Behind Teal, Sorrow walks up and blinks at Rona. He glances at Teal, who crosses her arms and shakes her head.

“Do you think you have earned some special privilege with me?”

Rona smirks. “Ye said something about a Paladin's friendship, if I remember.”

Teal nods. “I will call you friend, and defend your life in times of trouble. But I do not wish you to follow me everywhere.”

Sorrow blinks again. “Miss Teal. Explain if your statements apply to me as well.”

Teal winces. She side-steps away from the gray-skinned young man. “Sorrow. Please don't sneak up on me like that.”

“Apologies, Miss Teal. I will be louder next time.” He nods once, and blinks at her. “And I will follow you until either Father or you request otherwise. Tell me if that is not advisable, please and thank you.”

Teal stares from Rona to Sorrow and back again. She grunts. “You people act as if we are tied together.” Teal marches past Rona and knocks at the front door of the rift mage guild hall. A bell inside tolls and the door opens.

Rona pulls on the straps of her backpack. “But we are. We are tied together by the many adversities we have shared.” Sorrow nods. He and Rona follow Teal through the door of the brick building.

Within is a small waiting room, with another door opposite entering the gray stone building. That entrance is closed, with a sign hanging in the middle that reads, 'Please wait.' Beside the door is a desk, and around the room are a few chairs.

Teal turns around to face Rona. “Adversity is always a destroyer of unity. People bind themselves together for practical reasons, nothing so fanciful or romantic.” She turns back to the closed door, arms crossed again. “I would be at home with Reina and the children if not for these current troubles. Don't try to tell me what adversity has wrought.”

Rona frowns and looks down at her feet. Sorrow blinks at Rona, then turns to Teal.

“Father often says it is best to fight fairly against one's friends, and unfairly against one's enemies. You have called this woman a friend, Miss Teal, but now you treat her like an enemy. Please tell me which is the case, thank you, so that I may know how to act toward her.” His hand hovers over the black warpick hanging at his side.

A rift opens behind the desk, sparking and sizzling around the edges. A thin orc in a gray vest steps out and stares at the three, as the rift closes behind him. “Where do you wish to go, sirs and ladies?”

Teal nods at the orc. “I will go to Antopia Prime. A circle near the summit, please.”

The orc frowns. “Very sorry, but that is impossible at the moment. Queen Talon has decreed none shall travel to the capital without her seal, given the current confusion.” Teal's eyes go wide.

Rona steps up beside her. “What news do ye have? We have been on the road for several days, so we are behind on current events. Has war been declared?”

The orc shrugs. “Not technically, but I hear they have a legitimate claim to the land, so now the Queen must decide whether to surrender to their conditions or meet them on the battlefield.” He sighs and shakes his head. “I hope none of this trouble visits us. The small people of the world should be left out of such messy politics.”

He glances up at Teal and Rona, who are motionless. “Oh. You haven't even read the paper? Some group calling themselves the Phoenix Army has promised to give an ultimatum to the Dragon lineage. They say this land is owed to them, and they will go to war to have it.”

Teal shakes her head, staring at the pale blue man. “But. They attacked Goldenburg. And Burroughs! So many were killed by them!”

He raises an eyebrow at her. “I have not heard of Burroughs. But the word on Goldenburg is that their Count tried to betray the Queen and ally himself with the Phoenix, so they declared war on him. The city was destroyed by the Count's mercenary army, and the Phoenix Army allowed anyone wishing to leave to do so. The Count may or may not be alive.”

Rona tilts her head to the side, her hair showing strands of white. “There are other survivors who told this story?”

The orc nods. “There were escapees in the days leading up to the battle, though they did not know the full story. Then the rift circle there became inaccessible. And only a day ago several hundred more arrived, weak and tired but with provisions given to them by the Phoenix Army.” He nods, as Teal shakes her head. “Their story is quite compelling. I suggest going to one of their recountings to hear the whole thing.”

Teal's eyes narrow. She growls, “When and where?”
High War - Chapter 20.1

Chapter 20 begins! Riverside is an interesting little city. The tone of it tends to vary based on whether the two sides are connected. If that big archway were working, people would be able to cross between the two sides of the river instantly just by walking through, and the city takes on a happier tone because of it. As it is, people can only see the other side, not instantly travel there. But this has led to the creation and rapid adoption of a sign language among the citizens, which allows them to at least communicate with the other side of the river very quickly. Oh, and those gray-stone buildings? Those are rebar-reinforced concrete walls; the Riverside citizens did not build them, they wouldn't know how, but they now make use of them.

This is a part of my High War project, a story set in a fantasy-ish world. I think my preview image comes from a free image site; if you know otherwise then please tell me so I can take it down, although I would be happier to use it with the permission of its creator. This will be a story for somewhat mature audiences; there will be occasional violence, language, and adult themes. Thanks for reading, and I'm always happy to discuss the chapter if you have a comment for it.





Ian Chisholm
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Favorite Quote: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

I'm here to tell my stories; I love Anime and I'm aiming at a career writing animation scripts, but for now I'm a writer-in-training creating worlds and characters and telling stories with them for my amusement. I'm also searching for a visual artist to collaborate with; if you read something here that inspires you and you can make dem perdy picture things, I would be interested in enlisting you for a creative partnership with the goal of collaborating on something awesome. And I'm here to learn; I want advice on how I can improve, I gladly work with, co-author or even take on requests to sharpen my writing skills, and if you'd like a critique or some proofreading you only have to ask.

I upload something new every week, either part of an ongoing story I am writing, or something more random like a character piece or personal opinion paper. I also try to do prose critiques every week, and I write webcomic reviews semi-regularly for my Journal section and collect them in archived compilations of ten. Occasionally I look back at something I have uploaded to DA (at minimum a year old) in the hopes that I can glean something useful from it, and when I'm bored I hang out in the Philosophy forum. Of course the busier my life gets, the less of all that I do.

My 2015 avatar is me, writing down by the lake! Of course you can't see much of me, especially not the sweet hat I'm wearing, and this image is from forever ago, like high school or something, and I'm writing data findings on the water for science, some project my Grandpa gave me to help his fishing club ... but it's me!

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