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WRITING CHALLENGE #18, 11 june - 25 june
Posted: Jun 12 2017, 01:38 AM
Writing Challenge #18
Welcome to another writing challenge here on Unbound. I hope everyone's summer is getting off to a good start out there. As always, direct any questions about these challenges to my staff account.
What is your character's ideal home setting, both the building and the general atmosphere around them? Do they have a huge castle on an island, where strangers are kept at bay by a moat full of wailing ghosts? Is it a nice cottage in a good climate with a small family? Give us a window into their dream home.
Posts should be at least 400 words to claim credit. Write from any format or POV of your choosing! This challenge will end June 25th at 11:59pm and will have an award of 200 sovereigns.
Reply below with your challenge submission to earn credit for this challenge!
Posted: Jun 14 2017, 08:20 AM
There is a cottage in the woods, beyond the tall oak tree that marks the path to the village, sheltered in a secluded clearing you wouldn't know to find unless your destination was pre-ordained. A smith's forge rests half-shielded in an open-walled outbuilding; stone extends from the woodwork of the cottage, framed with wooden pillars. The stub of a tree long since felled stands alone apart from the buildings, its axe laid dormant as the sun rises too high and burns too hot for chopping.
And still, in the fireplace, the logs forever burn; a gentle plume of gray smoke rises from the red brick chimney that extends from the mossy roof. It is still, serene, its silence only broken by the chirps of birds or curious calls of dodging fennecs between the trees, or the hoots of owls in the dark of night.
He dreams of stillness, because he doesn't dare to dream of sound. Of heavy boots drawn across the doormat and kicked against the wall by the door to dislodge the dirt from the soles before entering. He doesn't dare to dream of the deep voice that calls his name, or further, greater still, of a lighter voice, a younger voice; the voice that follows a quick, unsteady pitter-patter he doesn't dare to identify.
There are dreams, and then there are the thoughts that become torture to a sleeping mind.
It is warm in the cottage, but never blistering, sheltered from the woodland breeze that offers such brief, blessed comfort in the highest heat of day. Light spills through the windows, casting patterns on wooden floors and across the old, worn armchairs by the fireplace.
He dreams of two, because he can never dream of less. It's not a dream if there are less. But the chairs are both empty, and the loft room vacant, and the shielded bedroom in the back untouched. Frozen in time and draped in winter's stillness, because it has never been, and will never be, in anything but dreams.
Yet, each brick he has placed with his own two hands, each nail hammered, each plank sawn. He has mapped out the rooms and constructed them a million times over, when his eyes close, or his mind drifts, or the images before him threaten never to leave him. Then he travels to the home that never was, nor ever will be, and sits within the winter stillness, a figure captured in ice.
Even this he doesn't dare to fill with life or warm sensations, because dreams are like hopes; easily shattered. He has walked across too many shards to bear another onslaught.
Posted: Jun 24 2017, 10:33 PM
The floor banked steep underfoot. Paj stumbled and smacked her hands on the gloss finished, dark oak table to keep upright. The ship’s roll had interrupted her conversation with Katarina. Shooting a heavy-browed glance at the other woman, Paj shoved away and stormed through her heavy door, with mild worry her feet would slip from under her.
“Hey hey hey!” she cried, catching a banister outside the captain’s door. Half a dozen pairs of eyes looked up at her. Paj’s gaze rested on the ocean. The water itself was like smooth blue glass, no chop churning the surface, but the swells were huge. They were caught on the center of an enormous swell, tilted at a dangerous angle to the horizon. “Why are you trying to sink her?”
Words of protest followed her as she whipped around the banister. “Why are you trying to sink our home?” The wind tussled the short, soft strands of hair loose from her braid, tickling her cheeks. Her stone gaze locked on a broad-faced helmsman with a salt and pepper beard. His mouth opened, but her order bellowed first: “Angle her!”
She climbed the stairs with a single stumble. The helmsman had snapped to, and she came face to face with a sweating, breathless elven man. The ship pitched forward to ride the swell downward. The roll was still steep but at least they weren’t in danger of drinking sea water. Her critical eyes studied the elven man, who went by Ren. “Why are you out of breath over?”
“I… Captain, I couldn’t… hold the steering. I’m so-”
“I thought I told you to hold steering?” Paj interrupted Ren’s apology, staring up at the broad-faced helmsmen.
“Aye, ma’am. Ya did.”
“So you ignored me and got a petite man to hold against these swells?”
There was a smile tickling the man’s cheeks, beneath that monstrosity of a beard. “I suppose the petite captain thinks she’s going to deliver a punishment to a lad like me.”
Green magic swathed her fingertips before she’d completed a breath. “I am.” Viridescent glyphs sprouted beneath the helmsman’s feet. He shouted in surprise, jerking, but found his feet attached to the boards. Paj smiled, gay and white teeth catching the sunshine rays. Venom serrated her words. “She sinks, you sunk her, and you’ll be the first to drown.”
“You can’t-“ he sputtered, even as Ren shushed him.
Thunder in her eyes, Paj snapped back. “I can! And for as long as I want! Because I’m the only mage on ship. And the captain. Not that Ren, or any of the others would defy me.” Glancing at Ren, the elven man was shaking his head. Paj delivered her final hiss, “Don’t sink her!”
Ignoring the helmsman’s protests, Paj’s booted feet thudded back down the steps. She rested a hand on the railing, watching as the next swell rose next to them. The boat shuddered, but cut through the water at the proper angle to the swell. Smiling, she stroked the railing with her thumb. They wouldn’t sink, and she could already see where the waves were shrinking.
The rigging jumped and trembled beside her. A crew member was scrambling down, swinging on the rope, and she touched down on the deck lightly. There were crew checking ropes, peeling vegetables, scaling fish, or restocking the pilot boat. The ship shivered over yet another swell, assisting a few stumbles on deck, and Paj was at ease. Her crew. Her ship full of cargo. The whole ocean ahead of her.
Kat standing near her cabin entrance. Paj smiled at the other woman as she stepped over the rise back into her quarters. A map spilled across the table. A ship’s log almost up to date and a couple of names of people to harass at the next port. Paj twisted one of Papa’s old rings, the one she kept on her thumb for luck, as she searched her short memory for where they’d left off. She shut the door again and the captain’s weight fell from her shoulders.
“About Fontegue… I’m thinking… maybe you should speak with him?” And it was okay to be uncertain, because it was Katarina. Of everyone, she was the most special. A safe haven.
Meeting Kat’s gaze, Paj smiled, even and bright.
Feeling right at home even as she caught the lantern sliding off the table.
Posted: Jun 25 2017, 04:16 PM
One, two, three, four. She counts out the brushstrokes carefully, each one as precise and deliberate as the last. It's an unforgiving task, but it suits the unforgiving surroundings of the Nevarran court. There are colorful silks imported from Rivain, but it's only dressing over the truth, Anyone who believes otherwise is dangerously naive.
They're visiting the necropolis tonight, that's why it's especially important to look her best. Golden ribbon woven into her updo, yes, that's good. It will catch the torchlight as they pass corners but it won't demand focus improperly the rest of the time. And a good lip stain. She's leading the ceremony tonight, she needs a darker color to project solemn authority.
There's no excuse to look slovenly no matter where she's going, people are always watching and ready to gossip, but the necropolis is a sacred place that demands its own attention. Anyone wandering down there in some garish spring festival attire is disrespectful.
There's a musty smell that seeps into one's clothes long after departing, but it's not so different from the above-ground Anaxas gatherings. Especially if someone dredges up Calixes, who has probably been alive since the Storm Age and definitely hasn't bathed recently enough. Iona smiles primly and nods as others in the household complain, but she doesn't mind it nearly as much as they seem to. Perhaps, in fairness, they also mind the elements of going down into the shadows of their ancestors that she enjoys the most.
Up here, they build elaborate halls for nobility and armor themselves in polite expressions and burnished bronze. It's an elaborate farce and none of the people in it are as real as they suppose, but she's the only one that seems aware of it from a comfortable distance. It's why she's so good at what she does. Everyone else is desperately...invested.
The illusions down there are different, as the living drape flowers and shawls with gold filigree over the dead. The spirit powers they're seeking are real enough, just as the power her uncle wields in his authority is real despite the people posturing all around. The difference, the real reason her heart races so much when they go down below the surface to gather beside the veilfire torch, is that down there the authority is truly hers for a brief time.
She can't ever become the Duke, no matter how many distant relatives she convinces to take up dragon hunting in a futile competition with the other houses. The city would riot if they thought they might be a ruled by a mage, chanting dire warnings of Tevinter as they assailed the walls. She wouldn't try something so overt and foolish as that. En masse, people are skittish and easily upset by any form of change they perceive. Better to work where they can't see when it comes to above-ground politics.
Below, however, she doesn't have to tiptoe around the delicate sensibilities of peasants. Down in the catacombs she's the master of ceremony.
Everyone involved has to wait on her word, because she's the only one that can truly commune with the spirits. When she steps down into the place where their ancestors are buried, she can feel the power they imbue and the strength that it passes on. She can feel all of it, and everyone else desperately wants to. The thing that complicates her life everywhere else is suddenly an asset no one else can hope to match or copy no matter how much they might want to take the spotlight from her. For just a little while, the world is hers and must behave accordingly. It's still not absolute power, but she supposes she might get bored if there was no challenge to it. This, though? The reflection meeting her gaze with dark stained lips and kohl-rimmed eyes, this is as good as it's ever been, this is belonging.
Posted: Jun 25 2017, 07:32 PM
She’d been here before. Some dreams she wished she never stepped foot in that cabin, letting herself have one moment where she could pretend they had the minutes to spare. The dream hadn’t spruced up the place; there was still dust on the counters, a dog bowl right outside the door filled with still water, and half full drawers haphazardly pulled open. Moonlight slipping through the trees, leaving shadows that frightened her as a child. A ghost of the life they left behind still breathed down her neck even in the Fade, filling in the gaps of what she wanted to imagine their life was like. It was an eerie sense of happiness, so distant yet so familiar with what was left behind.
That was dangerous thinking. That’s how dreams turned upside down.
The oh-so-familiar swishing of her mother’s skirt echoed in the room though no one was there. Paige could’ve swore that there was the distant singing of that tune her mother would carol in the morning as bread was burning in the oven. Her voice and her face were lost to the sands of time, chipped away by years at Kinloch Hold, but she never forgot the words.
You could have this again.
It was supposed to be her family, she assumed, saying it to her. It was hard to concentrate on their faces, as if they were out of focus. She’d forgotten so much about them other than some bits and pieces: the same brown hair, the horrible tan lines on their arms, her brothers being so much taller than their mother, that Makerforsaken song. She could never forget that song.
For fleeting moments in her dreams she could forget she was a mage; people like them would never be given lives like this.
It was the same empty promise. Sweet things to whisper into her ear on her weakest nights when they knew she would chance thinking about it. The Circle didn’t care for mages and their families, whether it be the ones that were beyond their walls or the children they took away from them. Being branded a maleficar and apostate gave little in the ways of options. It wasn’t even about her family, not really, but about that lure of safety that she had only ever felt as a girl. Not the faux security of the Circle where a death sentence hung over them – real safety. Real freedom.
The promises were alluring. They were supposed to be.
She woke with a start, squinting her eyes against that familiar pattern of light that danced through the trees. Another night, another nightmare.
Paige learned a long time ago that a home had little do to with the roof, or lack thereof, above your head. A home was what you made out of it. So every morning she’d try her hand at a smile, bite her tongue if she felt like saying something particularly snarky. She’d hum the same tune that her mother did, the same tune that haunted her dreams, as she nudged the others awake. She’d close her eyes, letting the sun warm her cold bones and would try to immortalize that taste of freedom. Thedas was her home and no one would chase her back into a cage.
Posted: Jun 26 2017, 04:35 PM
Challenge 18 is now closed! Thank you to Birthe, Squee, and Alayna for participating, you're all lovely people. (Paj and the sad mage crew, coming soon to a Thedas near you.)
Don't forget the moderation thread to claim your points.
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