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Friday, April 17, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 4/17/09

As of the deadline we have four entries in the 4/10/09 Friday Challenge. In no particular order, the entries are:

Tom, "The Prophet, Issue 1"

Snowdog, "Electrohick"

Al, "Chld of the Storm: Redemption"

   [Ed. note: yes, that's "chld." I don't name 'em, folks, I only post the links.]

KTown, "Floating to Milwaukee"

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorites, with the winner to be announced Sunday evening.

Now, as for this week's Friday Challenge...
Icehawk the Barbarian would never admit to feeling fear, but his mood as he traced the ancient, rock-strewn path through the barren wilderness was...unsettled. Once again, his wanderings had brought him back to this place: to the domain of the Seer, the Prophetess, the Mad Spinner of Fate. And once again he would rather be walking this path as a warrior, with a sword in one hand and an ax in the other, than like a peddler, with a large black box under one arm and a small white sack thrown over the other shoulder.

Dusk had fallen by the time he crested the last ridge. The rock-strewn valley below was already in deep shadow, but a weird, flickering light emanated from within the ruins of the Temple of Otogu. The unearthly light was as nothing, though, compared to the stench that assailed his nostrils as his footsteps drew him closer. It was a complex, many-layered, ever-shifting reek composed of a great many foul and unspeakable things: of rot, and corruption; of scorched flesh, and burnt offerings; of bitter potions, and vile philters; and of many, many, cats, badly housebroken.

Icehawk paused a moment, at the foot of the great ruined stone staircase—

But it was already too late. She stood there, at the top of the stairs, in tattered rags and long, greasy, tangled gray hair, smiling at him with blackened stubs of teeth. "Welcome, Icehawk, great warrior of the north!"

"You—you knew I was coming?"

"Of course. I'm a Seer. And you have brought my price?"

"I thought you were a Seer."

"It's more fun this way. Have you brought my price?"

Icehawk juggled the black box and the white sack awkwardly, then held forth the black box. "Oh Great Priestess of Otogu!" he cried. "Behold, I bring you a flawless black kitten, without a single white hair, sealed for seven days within a black box without a single hole!"

The Seer nodded, smiling. "I see. And is the kitten alive or dead?"

Icehawk considered the box nervously. "I, er—"

"Is the kitten alive or dead?"

Icehawk grimmaced. "Well, it stopped yowling about four days ago, but without air holes—"

The Seer grinned that ghastly, gummy, black-stubbed grin again. "The point is, you don't know for certain, do you?"

"Well, not as such..."

"Perfect!" She pointed to the sack. "And in the sack?"

Icehawk juggled the black box and white sack again, and then held forth the white sack. "Oh Great Priestess of Otogu!" he cried again. "Behold, I bring you a flawless white dove, without a single dark feather, whose feet have never touched the ground!"

"Perfect!" She darted down the stairs, snatched the sack from Icehawk's hand, and started back up. "Come along!" Halfway up the stairs she paused, to turn and look back at Icehawk, who still stood at the foot of the stairs with the black box in his hands and a puzzled expression on his face. "Oh, just dump it over there with the other ones." She pointed to the stack of reeking black boxes that Icehawk hadn't noticed before off to the side of the stairs. He tossed the box on the heap and followed her.

The interior of the ruined temple was thick with smoke and stink, lit by many guttering candles and a small fireplace, and crawling with cats. The Seer set the white sack on the altar, thrust her hand inside, and pulled out the white dove. "Ooh, how beautiful!" she exclaimed, as she examined the struggling, blinking bird. "Not a flaw, not a mark on it!" She held the bird high before the fire, as if reenacting some ancient and forgotten ritual.

"Look, my pretties! Mommy's got dinner!" And in one swift motion she twisted the dove's head off, slapped the carcass down on the altar, and disemboweled it with a small stone knife. With no further regard for the bird she cast the small feathered corpse aside, where it was immediately seized upon and fought over by a gathering crowd of cats.

Icehawk was dumbfounded. "I went through all that just to feed your cats? What about my destiny?"

"Oh, that's clear enough," said the Seer, as she prodded the entrails on the altar with a grimy finger. "You must slay the princess, rescue the dragon, and—"

Icehawk found an expression beyond dumbfounded. "Excuse me?"

The Seer looked up. "What?"

"Don't you mean, 'slay the dragon, rescue the princess?'"

"If I'd meant that, I'd have said it. No, it's all right here." She turned back to the entrails. "Slay the princess, rescue the dragon, and—"

"Are you sure you're reading that right?"

"Read it yourself. Plain as day." The seer tapped the pancreas. "Slay the princess." She batted a cat away from the liver. "Rescue the dragon." She stirred the intestines with her finger. "And—"

And what?

That's this week's challenge: where does the story go from here?

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline is midnight Central time, Thursday, April 23.

Now it's time to get clever, my mighty wordy warriors, so seek ye out the Charmed Helm of Cunning Cleverness!
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