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2013 Winter Writing Challenge Round 1 Voting Redo

I’m re-posting the entries below in the order in which they were originally posted (alternating font color to make it easier to identify the beginning of each entry). As before, you may like (vote for) as many as you wish
| Dec 16, 2013 | No comments |

2013 Spec Faith Winter Writing ChallengeApparently Spec Faith has experienced some sort of mysterious attack on our thumbs because they disappeared, leaving me with no way to identify the top three Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge entries. I see no recourse but to redo the initial voting, this time using a poll.

I’m re-posting the entries below in the order in which they were originally posted (alternating font color to make it easier to identify the beginning of each entry).

As before, you may like (vote for) as many as you wish (entries identified by the user name of the author), but you’ll only be allowed to vote once, so you’ll want to look over the entries before you click on the vote button. Round 1 voting will end midnight (Pacific time) December 22.

Feel free to add additional comments if you’d like. Thanks for your patience!

– – – – –

notleia
December 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. Almost no point in leveling up, especially with the reassignment, but the pay raise was nice. Higher quality vintages for the large wine slushie she planned on making for herself once this was over.
“So what’s this about?” she said unceremoniously as she was escorted into the command tent, with rows upon rows of monitors and sensors and communications.
The commandant looked her down and up from the ferrule of her cane to the “TOO OLD FOR THIS SCHEISS” on her T-shirt.
“I’m in research,” Gem said, sounding defensive even to herself. “Take it up with the Council that they use this rock as a retirement pasture.”
“You’re qualified for portals?” the commandant asked.
“Thoroughly. Is it smuggling?”
The commandant pushed her glasses up her nose. “Are you qualified for portals beyond the Pale?”
Gem’s grip on her cane tightened. “How much damage was done? Did they use standing rings or focus diagrams?”
“Unknown. Readings indicate that the source is also beyond the Pale.”
Gem took a breath. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were lying.”

– – – – –

Literaturelady
December 3, 2013 at 10:39 am

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. And for the unveiling of a statue, especially one of Lady Crystolite, a sage must be present. This custom merely flaunted the sages in the Lady’s service, for one who could afford these elite guardians for ceremonies was wealthy indeed.

Gem shook back her cavernous sleeves and beckoned a messenger. He sprang to her side. “Learn what delays Lady Crystolite. Do it quickly.”

The messenger ignored this last command. Gem surveyed the field of glowering faces, tapped her foot, and watched from the corner of her eye the path to the marble-pillared mansion.

“We won’t wait!” a man burst out. “This has lasted long enough!” The dam broke. Shouts swept the crowd like a windstorm. Gem flung out an arm. No one heeded. Probably, she thought as she seized her quartz staff, because the sleeve swallowing her fingers ruined the signal. She smashed the staff onto the platform, and the hollow boom overpowered the noise and settled it.

“Waiting for her is the least you can do,” Gem snapped. “You owe your lawmaker honor.”

“If you believe that,” a woman called, “thank her Ladyship publicly for her precious leadership!”

Gem flinched. That was a sacrifice indeed.

– – – – –

Bethany J.
December 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

Blasted superstitions! She thumped her lexicon onto the table and skimmed the pages, pushing a frizz of hair behind her horns. Surely the book had a description of a storm-appeasing ritual she could muddle through – anything to prevent discovery now, right before her long-awaited opportunity.

“A quiet night at home? With a storm coming?” Farro chuckled from his armchair at the other side of the cave, his furred hooves crossed before the fire.

Gem glared. “You’re no help. If they realize I’m a fake, do you think they’ll let you go unscathed? Clearly we’re working together.”

Her fuzzy ears pricked to a distant sound – the clash of cymbals and wails of temple-satyrs audible over the howling wind. “Farro, they’re coming up the trail.”

He peeped through the curtains and looked impressed. “Fancy that.”

“I can’t do this,” Gem breathed. “What’ll happen now?”

“They’ll string you up. Food for the phoenixes.”

Despite his hyperbole, Gem’s heart jumped. She shook the lexicon at his suave figure. “They might! Even if we both escape with our heads…” Her mind rang with panic. “This will destroy any chance of infiltrating the academy and finding Mia. Please! Are you going to help me or not?”

– – – – –

Leanna
December 3, 2013 at 11:16 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured to her six month old son, “mama has to leave again.” Bouncing him gently, she carried him to the main room where Leif was building a fire.

He took one look at the flashing tattoo on her arm and resigned disappointment appeared in his eyes. He wiped soot from his hands onto to his tunic. “Hand him here,” he said.

Gem bent over to do so and took advantage of the closeness to kiss her husband. “I’ll be home by dawn.”

“That’s what you said last time.” He hadn’t turned away but he hadn’t kissed her back either. “You should send a message to your sister in case whatever crisis the Council is in takes longer. The bridge has to be finished before snow sets in, I can’t stay home tomorrow.”

“Very well.” She pulled free the black quartz marking her rank from within her robe. It swirled with red fire like her tattoo of summoning. She tossed the stone into the fire pit and the fire sparked blue-black. “Farewell.”

Icy cold enveloped her and then she stepped out of the Sacred Flames in the Council Hall into a puddle of blood.

– – – – –

Thomas C Booher
December 3, 2013 at 11:23 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. The snow had begun to fall. The street lamp caught the flakes falling topsy-turvy, much like the way she felt right now. Mr. Sohnberg would be there, for sure, eyeing each of them through that absurd monocle. Jason, too. At least there would be something to look forward to. They would need him to access the box behind one-eye’s desk to get to the real box that was causing this stink. She had seen it only once, three months ago, when she was first called up. Horrid looking thing, she remembered, black and oily and smelly too, like an outhouse in a fish market. They said it was the world’s hope. That was three months ago.

– – – – –

Kessie Carroll
December 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

So when someone pounded on her front door at 2 AM, she rolled out of bed without even swearing. She grabbed her official black robe and pulled it over her pajamas, ran a hand through her bristly black hair, and rushed into the living room. “This had better be important.”

She peered through the door’s peephole. After all, this was Phoenix, Arizona, and there was no point in getting mugged.

A dragon stood on her apartment’s doorstep.

She heaved a sigh and closed her eyes, composing herself. At least it wasn’t a mugger. She pulled the door open.

A young man stood there, clad in a tattered t-shirt and denim shorts, despite the chilly desert wind. Heat rolled off his body, and his eyes glowed yellow. “Are you the Arch-Sage?”

Gem forced a polite smile. “Yes. How may I help you?”

The dragon-man grimaced. “My sister’s been kidnapped.”

– – – – –

Kristen Stieffel
December 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. So she let her mother in.

“Upper-level sage!” Mama moaned as if Gem were doomed. “You’ll have to move to the capital.” She threw her cloak over the chamber’s lone chair. “We’ll never see you again.” She dabbed a handkerchief at nonexistent tears.

Gem hung the cloak on a peg near the door.

“Hundreds of miles, across the mountains…Your father’s poor health will prevent his ever making that trip.”

“True.”

“You won’t be permitted to leave, either.”

She nodded. Papa was fading fast. It pained Gem to think she wouldn’t be there at his end. But she’d worked fifteen years toward this advancement—half her life—knowing what it entailed. The arduous journey to the capital, the rest of her life in the king’s employ.

A suite in the palace instead of a tiny room at the abbey. Days on end of pure study. No more kitchen chores, no more…

“How can the king take away my child?” Mama wailed like a mourner.

Gem patted her shoulder. Gem’s superiors required that she spend her last night in the abbey with Mama. For the chance of escaping to the capital, Gem gladly made that sacrifice.

– – – – –

Shannon McDermott
December 5, 2013 at 6:09 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

She counted steps as she ascended the staircase that looped the tower walls in slow, great spirals. Chill, empty air filled up the tower, from its roof to the floor far below. No rail guarded the staircase. The Echelon was not for those who stumbled, nor for those who feared.

At the hundredth step, she stopped and glanced behind her at Metal. The gray of his robe would have melted him into the gloom, but for the glints of gold, like captive rays of sun.

Above Gem stood Water, her resplendent blue robe flowing into a train behind her. Beyond Water, Earth gripped his wooden stave.

Across the tower, Air perched on the wending stairs. The white hem of her robe spilled over the staircase to sway in the currents of cold air.

If Gem were to crane her neck, she would catch a glimpse of Fire—on the highest stair, draped in his red and gold.

But she did not look.

Gem held still, adding her silence to that of the others. The days of privilege under the bright sun, of power in the city, where no door dared close to her—she paid for those days, in nights like this.

– – – – –

Zac Totah
December 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

The door to her cottage banged open, admitting a gust of snow and a tall man wearing a fur cloak. “You have been summoned.”

Gem swallowed. So soon? What did they want? Biting her lip, she donned her coat and followed her escort into the night. Not surprisingly, he took her to Leron’s quarters in the Hall of Reckoning. He nodded at the door and stood aside as if to prevent her from escaping once she entered. After reciting her favorite verse of poetry to calm herself, she strode in.

A roaring fire warmed the room, but she shivered. Leron heaved his balding frame from his chair and cackled. “I’m glad to see you haven’t gone against custom.”

“I live to obey.” But did she?

“Good. Obedience is your only chance.”

His words stung her ears, and she suddenly became aware of the shadows lurking in the corners. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t respond.

Leron circled her, gaunt eyes gleaming. “Two kinds of people reach the rank you attained yesterday. The ones who die because they can’t keep secrets, and the ones who sell their souls to stay alive.”

He stroked her hair. “Which one are you?”

– – – – –

heididrukortman
December 6, 2013 at 2:42 am

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. Too bad the sacrifice included the sole of her left boot. Its condition was a measure of the major’s disdain for sages since the scientist from Racor had come to town. He’d cut sage wages twice, to pour funds into an improbable sounding super weapon. She pulled the split boot over her heel and let it fall to the rushes.

The coin pouch she hid in the wall flapped like the wattle on a turker, and the two bellen pips inside slid against one another. Not enough to mend the boot. Gem triggered her torch to inspect the damage. This time, glue wouldn’t do.

She threw the boot into the corner. “Up the flank of the volcano,” she said, as she shook her head. “Any three-year-old has more sense,” any three-year-old, but not the major’s niece. Nine hours she’d scrambled across fractured obsidian searching for the undisciplined chit.

The witless girl had protested her rescue during the entire descent. “I ought to have let her slide down face first.” Gem let the other boot drop. “Fool’s errand. Kajeeri fern hasn’t grown there in a dragon’s age—it’s overrunning my garden.”

– – – – –

Krysti Kercher
December 6, 2013 at 2:47 am

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. In the small hours of the night, her new medallion vibrated with a priority summons from the Lord Steward of Jirin.

Closing the Book of Lives, she stood and pushed the small button pinned to her tunic collar.

A window opened in the air before her, revealing the lord of Jirin standing in his workroom before an enhanced view of the desert night.

“My lord?”

He indicated two clumps of glowing specks moved across the viewer, drawing toward him. “A group of Plainsmen seek the chasm gate pursued by dragon warriors.”

“How soon will they–”

“Before dawn. Master Giles is with them.”

Giles! She’d missed his ugly face for the past five years, but the city had been barred to the Plainsmen for over five hundred. He wouldn’t enter without them. Without refuge, their pursuers would have him–and them!

“My lord, what do you intend?”

“I’ll stop the dragon warriors. You’ll give the Plainsmen sanctuary.”

Her stomach did a flip. Break the cardinal law of Jirin! “Does the prince consent?”

He gave her a look. “No.”

She swallowed. “Very well, my lord.” For Giles, she would risk the prince’s wrath.

– – – – –

Teddi Deppner
December 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. Nobody mentioned that the sage’s bond-vessel would be required to make them, too.

Gem sighed as she hurried to her master’s chamber door. Was this really better than living on the streets? Warm fireplace, thick blankets, stew in her belly, yes. Yes, it was. And it was definitely better than being burned at the stake.

She cleared the frown from her face and the irritation from her mind and knocked at the door, sending her thoughts past the door and into the mind of her master, Revick. Master, wake up. A messenger from the Council. Will you see him?

The Council! A sharp burst of fear, and then eagerness, poured into her from Revick. Already! Prepare yourself, girl. You must receive all that you feel from me without giving it away on your face. Do it right this time!

Yes, master. Gem sighed again.

A minute later, Revick swept from his room, smoothing the long folds of his robe and looking her over with narrowed eyes. He scowled. “I told you to cut your hair.”

“I was going to do it in the morning.”

“That does us no good if the Council sees you tonight!”

– – – – –

Audrey Sauble
December 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, maybe even some tea and that new book on light heraldry, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. She had made it as far as her front stoop, though, before she felt the buzz from her chain calling her.

With a sigh, Gem flicked back the latch—anyone with basic telekinetic training could break a regular lock—and pushed through into the warm hallway.

The buzz repeated, and Gem turned to her cabinet. As the door swung back for her, the mirror inside flashed static, and Gem touched one finger to the lower corner. Her supervisor’s face appeared.

“Sir—” Gem started to say.

“You didn’t have permission to leave, Inspector. Something’s come up—a crisis with the mines. They want to talk to you.”

Gem frowned, but her supervisor was already reaching to deactivate the mirror. “Be quick, will you? I can’t leave until you come.”

As the glimmer faded, Gem closed the cabinet.

Then she stood a moment, before crossing the hall to the bathroom. The mirror on the back of the door was dark, but when she touched it, the rim began to gleam. No one, Gem thought, had ever bothered to check a bathroom mirror for transmission signals. It was too obvious.

– – – – –

Suz
December 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

Collapsing back into her ivory chair to await judgment, she was grateful her chair was made comfortable by the fur lining of her first hunt. This was a luxury afforded few in her newly acquired position, and she pushed off with one green foot, swiveling around and around, letting her signature, silver and white streaked hair fly around her until with a jolt, it came to rest on one shoulder as she slammed her feet down on the cold, glass floor, her long, thin tail coming to rest alongside her agile body.

Who were these sages anyway?, she thought, gazing down through the transparent floor beneath her to the brown, stained, downtrodden masses below, so unlike herself yet, of whom she had been an integral part of since being found as a newborn along the river Korinder.

No one ever saw these creatures of power. She, like every other serf, spent her life in blind obedience out of fear and habit, knowing only they did not wish to disappear as seemed to happen when anyone had an independent thought, however small.

The crystal had saved her and she knew not why or how, only she was grateful for a new life, another chance beyond the first one granted by her rescue. A sudden high pitched whistle left her grabbing her hair over her ears in an attempt to lessen the volume, as she was summoned to the arena.

– – – – –

Henrietta Frankensee
December 6, 2013 at 10:36 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.
Her molecules regathered and reacquainted themselves with electromagnetic force – distinguished themselves from the seat cushions of her favourite chair. Assembled air hissed from her lungs. A brief foray into the 10 053 savage minds sharing her world on this portentous night revealed mass hysteria.
The eclipse of their beloved sister planet by two moons threatened supernatural evil that must, of savage course, be countered by bloody sacrifice. Gem had given up explaining about gravity and tides and the resilience of their world’s atmosphere. Let them run amok! She had more important things to do.
“Dossep.” She touched the navigation wand to her feet. Mistakes with molecular transport had cost dearly at the beginning…For eons measured only by the Creator she traveled the celestial zephyrs with the Host, surfing the wake of Dark Matter and extrapolating the myriad dimensions with sister and brother ‘high-levelers’.
After her conversion…her arrival in alien form she struggled with coalescing molecules and the segregation of her thoughts. Whoever arrived tonight would gain from her experience.
Searing agony…
Catastrophy…
Low trembling through her consciousness…moaning.
Fundamental Emotion bombarded her thrashing particles.
Dispersion!
Eternal….
Bliss.
“A quiet night.” she dreamed.
“At Home.” smiled the Beloved.

– – – – –

Mirtika (first entry)
December 7, 2013 at 4:04 am

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices.

She’d given up hometown, first love, and fertility for rank. Now, her treasured privacy awaited death at the hands of this boy filthy as the gobgoats feasting on the trash heaps of Sagekeep. Standing outside her doorway, he disturbed her peace with defiant eyes.

“My new apprentice, you say?”

The Proctor of Wisehall nodded and shifted away from the youth rank with sweat and ill-repute, homeless since his master—a mid-level—went mad.

Gem initiated sagethought. Ponder: nature of event. Assessment: punishment, warning. Options: none but obedience.

She’d sworn to Mastermage that, in return for her unprecedented promotion, her upstart powers would sleep for six moons—a small sacrifice for a large reward.

Miscalculation.

Corrective: turn the tables. Method: misfit magic. Tool: the brat.

She’d use well the six months to shape him into her sharpest dagger. Gem prayed for the rumors to be true. Be ruinous, bedraggled boy.

“Apprentice Geeter, you enter only after I accept your vow to obey all I command, by mouth and by pen.”

The boy, crossing his bony arms in an unseemly fashion, smirked. “I vow nothin’. You got no choice but to be lettin’ me in, High One. Stuck with me, ain’t ya?”

– – – – –

smaelquil
December 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. Not that she wasn’t used to making sacrifices but too much was really too much.

Why had Celeste been called in the middle of the night without Gem? Sages never left their familiars behind.

Gem padded back and forth in front of the door, anxiously listening for her mistress’ foot steps. Gem’s nose itched. She reached with her paw to lick and swipe at the insistent irritation. Her nose warned of something amiss but, with the door closed, she couldn’t venture out to investigate.

Glancing around the room, Gem noticed the cloth on the table by the corner move where it reached the floor.

Creeping to the movement, Gem sniffed. Cool air and the sent of wood burning from the fireplace in the main room.

Edging closer and peering around the end, she spotted a broken board in the wall. Yes! Gem dashed through and burst into the hallway, crossing in front of a guard standing by the door.

“Hey! Stop! Come back here!”

Gem meowed and dashed down the hall, following Celeste’s scent. Nope, not stopping.

– – – – –

Mirtika (second entry)
December 8, 2013 at 12:04 am

“All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. Nightly sacrifices, without fail, during this period of the sister moons, lest the powers of the twin shadows rush out of control.”

The two inquisitors, Valden and Elda, loomed over Gem’s corpse, silent and attentive, as Goffrid testified to the night’s events. The Sacristy of Sages had recorded no homicides since the depraved era of the Heretic Regent. They would prefer to keep the record pure.

Goffrid continued, his voice as lifeless as Gem’s body. “She delegated the evening sacrifice to me, entrusted the implements and the map to the wandering stones. I warned her. I had only watched, never performed the mysteries. It was her duty, not mine. But she insisted.” Goffrid ‘s tears fell on the carpet and on the corpse of his superior. “She was weary of the blood rites. Then…”

“Then?” Elda asked.

“I made a mistake.”

Valden spoke. “How does a sword mistakenly strike off the head of a sage?” He instantly regretted the note of sarcasm that violated his training. But Gem had been his nursery mate. Self-control—the prime requirement of the inquisitor, moreso than perfect recall—came hardest with tears forbidden, yet begging to flow. “Respond, suspect.”

“I called the wrong god.”

– – – – –

Emerald Resonance
December 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices. So she bundled herself in her heaviest cloak and made her way to the small stone listening hut on the hill above the village. Perhaps spending the night listening for the buzz of strange minds beyond the village wall was better, after all, than only barely sleeping, thinking about tomorrow and what she wanted to say to Marianne as she sent her off.

Gem opened the door of the hut to find a small fire already lit in the center, with Marianne kneeling on the other side. The young woman smiled up at her as she entered.

Gem raised an eyebrow. “You ought to be in bed, young lady – tonight of all nights.”

Marianne chuckled. “The prefect sounded jumpy in his message. If something is afoot, I don’t want you up here alone tonight.”

Gem knelt next to Marianne.

“And,” Marianne continued, her tone softening, “if this really is my last night as your apprentice, I’d rather spend it with you than alone in my bed, not sleeping.”

Gem blinked back tears, reached for Marianne’s hand, squeezed it tight. “Is it selfish of me to say that I’d rather send my right arm to Renvale than send you?”

– – – – –

Paul Charvet
December 9, 2013 at 11:31 pm

All Gem wanted was a quiet night at home, but she’d been warned that upper-level sages would have to make sacrifices… and her brother would become a master sage that night, the note jammed under her windowsill had further reminded. She needed no master’s wisdom to grasp the anonymous warning: what better sacrifice for Jerek to prove his commitment…?
Gem pulled a black cloak from the closet and wrapped it over her shoulders. A careful check in the mirror confirmed that it hid the two lines, crimson and blue, that traced intricately from shoulder to wrist down her left arm. She vaguely remembered Jerek coming home with those marks, his first visit after he had become a novice…
Her mistress’s permission to visit home must have been planned, a way to take her quietly away from the tower’s other novices. And as long as her parents didn’t know of the warning, of her escape, surely they wouldn’t be harmed.
She snuffed out her bedroom lamp and clambered out the window. Pack bouncing between her shoulder blades, she slipped into the darkened alleyway behind the row of cramped houses.
With each step, her fear grew. It was too simple.
A hand descended roughly on her shoulder. She bit back a startled gasp, and looked up into Jerek’s dark, cold eyes. “Running, sister?”

– – – – –

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E. Stephen Burnett
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Also our entire comments system has gone wibbly-wobbly. WordPress is in a terrible mood lately, ever since a software upgrade. Time permitting, I’ll have it looking shiny again.

smaelquil
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voting is a little wobbly too. I can’t tell if i voted once or twice but the first didn’t seem to take.