Hello, Thieves and Pleasers!
Have you ever hidden your true feelings from others? Like maybe you get hurt, but you smile through it so that no one knows it? I wonder why we do that… hey, are you okay? You can talk if you need to. I think it’s time you opened up, because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
Your Mask is Slipping
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
This prompt immediately brings to mind the idea of us all having a self that we show to the world, and a self that we don’t let anyone see.
That is one possibility you can explore this week; a character who only ever shows others their happy, upbeat, and optimistic self. They seem to not have any problems in the world, but they just hide it from everyone and try to deal with it themselves. What happens when it becomes too much? Who would be the first to notice that falter in their smile? Contrariwise, perhaps you choose to write about someone who tries to act tough and scary to keep everyone away for whatever personal reason, but then one person sees that they aren’t nearly as mean as they make themselves out to be. Does this person continue to observe and maybe even try to become friends with the big scary person? Or maybe you choose to write about the cat who thinks— sorry, knows that they are the center of the universe and that these petty humans are not worth their time… except those ear scritches feel awful good… and that lap looks so comfy. But can the cat really be such a suck-up? They can enjoy these simple pleasures and still dominate the world, right? You could even write about a criminal profiler, someone who takes all the pieces at a scene and determines what kind of person to look for. Someone who knows far too well how to make that mask crack and slip.
You could even take the literal route with this, like a ninja or thief sneaking in somewhere to steal something precious, but their mask has a loose thread or the head strap broke and needed to be tied. Perhaps they need to fight off security single-handed because the other is keeping the mask up. Or maybe it slips at the most inopportune time and the camera captures their face. Or maybe you choose to follow the romance of two people at a masquerade, dancing the night away as if no one else existed but them. But then it’s revealed who they are. How do they respond to such a truth? Does one or the other flee in shock, maybe even embarrassment?
So many masks, so many secrets. All it takes is one little slip to change someone’s world. Whether it’s for the better or not is entirely up to you.
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
Tune into the stream this Saturday at 3:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit, and get ready to help each other improve their confidence in their writing, as well as their skill with their craft!
Rules and Guidelines
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Listless streets and hollow eyes. Things hadn’t always been this way, but years ago the gods had been stricken from the sky and a man who liked to call himself The One True Being erected himself and his church in their place. Magic had been outlawed, and its users were burned and hunted.
Crash! All at once my glass was crashing to the ground. I could feel eyes all around me bearing down on me, and for just a moment mine shifted, different from all those staring at me. And then, just like that everything was back to normal. “Sorry! Wasn’t paying attention, just a little too much to drink!” I waved and tried to smile, but it felt more like a grimace. No one had seemed to notice the slip. It was hard to focus all the time on being something you weren’t. Sometimes pieces poked through. People grumbled and went back to their business, and the chatter at the bar around me resumed. Someone glanced back at me over their shoulder, and I went back to drinking.
It didn’t take long before someone else was peaking back at me curiously, and then another. Was it me or was it getting hot in here? Low murmurs, side-eyed looks. Maybe someone had seen. I should go. Old wood dragging on creaky boards might as well had been bombs going off for how loud the sound seemed. People were definitely looking again as I pushed myself up and out of my chair.
Fresh air, I just needed some fresh air. With a clunk I left behind the stale tavern and let the cool embrace of night pull me in close. Oh, how I longed to return it. If I spread my wings right now, would they be able to shoot me down before I made it to the forest’s edge, would they be able to turn the ballista in time?
No, there were three of them. I had counted them several times already. I would just have to use my feet. This mask would have to last a little longer still.
(Repost from Private)
The invitation had called it a masquerade ball.
As far as Jay can tell, she’s the only one in a mask.
There are other guests, of course. They flow across the marble floor, joined in twos and threes to dance. Some are in jackets cut tight to the waist, flared at the hips. Some are in gowns, sweeping curtains of tulle or silk that whirl outwards when they turn.
Jay thinks they’re people.
From the head up, it’s hard to tell.
Perhaps, on closer inspection, the fur is expert pelt work, the scales glazed bits of ceramic, the antlers polished wood. But she’s been watching from her corner by the punch and she sees no seems, no mechanism to open the jaws when they speak.
She doesn’t belong here.
The feathers on her mask itch.
“Is this your first time?”
Jay’s fingers dart away from her face.
Someone has appeared at her shoulder, a man dressed in burgundy velvet and a dark bow tie. He has the head of a fox, and it grins when she looks up.
“No need to be bashful! We’re all new at some point or another. Though I have to say, doesn’t seem the best fun, loitering here all night. Hm?”
His voice is high, cloying and amused.
It closes a fist around Jay’s fluttering heart.
“Perhaps I could be your escort for the evening? At least for a dance.”
“I should go. It’s late.”
“Nonsense! The moon’s still high.”
And he isn’t wrong. It feels as if she’s been it this corner for hours, but the moon hasn’t changed. It hangs, silvered and full, framed in the gilded skylight’s perfect circle.
She plucks at her reasons to stay. Another excuse. Anything.
“I can’t dance.”
The fox scoffs.
“Oh, I very much doubt that.”
He takes her elbow, pulls her from her perch, and they stumble across the floor to the throng.
The feathers on her mask itch.
She can hardly see through the eye holes.
Jay doesn’t belong here.
They don’t stop.
“An ungraceful bird. Can you imagine?”
Chronicles of The Dragon: The Games We play
Seraphin Valeria walked out of the VIP lounge after ensuring her guests were enjoying themselves. She stopped one of the waiters and told them to only give them the cheap stuff from now on. Walking across the balcony she looked over the dance floor. Still crowded, but the band would be wrapping up soon. Once they switched over to recorded tracks things would thin out a bit.
She checked the time on her phone: nearly midnight. She should check the line at the door. If there was no one left waiting to get in she’d tell the kitchen to start shutting down.
Heading down the steps she looked over the bar. Moderately busy, but that would change once the band stopped. Then her breath caught.
She’d assumed it’d be a one night stand, yet there he was, at her bar.
She neatened her hair and straightened her dress, then headed for the bar.
Without looking at him, she started straightening and cleaning. Then turned and acted surprised. “Johnathan, wasn’t it?”
He raised his empty glass in a toast, then called down to the bartender. “How many more of these can I get for what I already gave you?”
The bartender thought about it then raised three fingers.
John looked to her, “Could you make me another?”
She had a bartender for a reason. But she considered it for a moment and said, “Sure. What are you drinking?”
“Interesting choice. Wouldn’t have expected it from you.”
He smirked. “I don’t care for it. It just sounded interesting.”
As she gathered what she needed, she asked, “Then why do you want another?”
He shrugged. “To give you something to do besides clean the same spot a sixth time.”
Sera froze, and winced, then turned back to him and smiled as she leaned across the bar towards him. “Was I being that obvious?”
“Just a little,” he said, “But to be fair I’m only here because I was hoping to see you.”
Her smile turned predatory, “You and half the people here.”
By Karl Aegnor
Naish had no idea why he was here. He could do an interrogation, and firefights were his forte. But he couldn’t stand parties. Especially those thrown by rich folks.
“Mr. Starfield?” Shit. What was his story? Naish thought back to the personality June had designed for him.
“Of course,” Naish said, hiding his accent as best he could; it would be too low-class for this event. “Benjamin Starfield, at your service,” he said, offering a handshake. As the petite man in front of him returned the gesture, Naish felt his heart beat out of his chest. He hoped the bounty showed himself soon.
“A pleasure to meet you. I am John Christopherson, though I suspect you knew that.” Shit. That was a name he was supposed to know. After perhaps a moment too long, he pulled himself together.
“Yes. Of course. Christopherson, your bank shares the name.”
“Indeed,” the man laughed. “Some of your main competition, I understand.”
Shit. Was Naish supposed to be a banker?
Naish managed a nervous laugh.
“Are you doing well, Mr. Starfield?”
“Yes. Forgive me, this is the first event of this kind I’ve attended, I’m afraid. I am rather new to the world of business.”
“Yes, indeed,” a new voice responded. A more imposing man approached; if not for the suit, he could have passed for a security guard. “Just how new are you, Mr. Starfield? I haven’t seen your operation around here.”
Who was this guy? It didn’t matter, Naish needed a quick bluff.
“Well, you see, we are looking to expand out here in the near future, hence my attendance.”
“Hm.” The newcomer didn’t seem convinced. “If you will give us a moment, Mr. Christopherson.” The man pulled Naish aside. “I know who you are, and my boss doesn’t take kindly to inter-” The man was cut short as Naish pressed a gun between his ribs.
“Buddy, I’d rather this not turn ugly just y-.” Suddenly, the man buried his knee is Naish’s gut. The gun fired, sending the man to the ground, the hall went quiet.
Shit. So much for subterfuge.
I found myself feeling shy in her arms. She wore the mask of a superhero, and I’d never been in the presence of someone like her. To my surprise she asked me, “Do you know why I wear a mask?”
“It’s to protect your loved ones by hiding your true identity from the villains, right?”
“Almost,” she said smiling, “It’s to protect our ordinary lives from our heroism. See, superheroes get a lot of fame and glory. Like loud trumpets heralding before you, but there is a kind of silent heroism in the lives of ordinary people.”
“You mean, like my mom, who raised me on her own. Ordinary heroes?” I asked.
“Something like that yeah, but even more ordinary than that. Ordinary people face relationship breakups, failed dreams, the loss of loved ones to illness and death, those internal voices that tell us we will never belong, and the feeling of being so small. Sometimes the lives of ordinary people can feel so bleak that they long for superheroes to save them or to be superheroes themselves. But we wear masks to protect our ordinary lives from being the saviors. To be ordinary people, to find the strength to face the things no superhuman powers can save us from. I found that, real strength is in the struggling against the dark. Not the dark of super villains or their plans, the dark of the human condition itself that we face every day of our lives.”
“So, the real dangers you face are the same risks we all do, huh?”
She looked at me with sad eyes, “Yeah. Something like that.”
My lips trembled at the moment that hung between us, and the kiss we might dare to share.
Mask? What Mask? (The Depths Reports)
By ThatWeirdFish (Reviewed by Lunabear and Harshmellow99)
Trip tried. He REALLY tried this time.
But, common. Black is so boring.
Asophept groaned as fluorescent spots burst through Trip’s disguise. “We’re demons. I know you will never act the part, but you should at least try to look it.”
“But color!” Trip grinned and made a “ta-dah!” motion with his hands as his disguise shattered. Gone were the respectable ash grey and coal black. Back again was the chaotic rainbow vomit that was his true form.
“… this is why we don’t take you on missions anymore.”
“I’m too fabulous for hell, aren’t I?” Trip said while imitating a pose he saw on television.
Asophept squinted at the gesture, trying to recognize it before shaking her head. “And too stupid for heaven. Let’s go.” She slinked her way between the gravestones towards the target, a mortal with an ouija board in hand. Her eyes rolled at the sound of Trip starting a very enthusiastic conversation with the flowers left at a nearby grave.
The mortal was, of course, expecting her. He cowered before her visage: a foreboding hulk of shadow and fangs. What he did not expect was the neon fool charging towards him with a wilted rose in his hand.
“Hi! I’m Trip!” Trip grinned and thrust the flower in the teen’s face. “This is Gary! He likes fish, I do too! Do you like fish?”
Asophept slowly sank her face into her hand with a low groan.
“Uh… yes?” The teen’s voice was on the edge between terrified and confused.
“Radical!” Trip exclaimed and then started to babble about how rabbits can be used as nuclear weapons.
“Trip…” Asophept moaned. “Just leave… I’ll handle this.”
“See, their fur is dense in such a way that- Aww! But I’m having so much fun!”
“I know, that’s why. Please, just, go away for a few minutes? I’ll ask the Thrones to give you back visitation rights to Albania if you do.”
Trip grinned and darted off. He got ten steps away before starting an argument with a statue. Asophept sighed. There will be so much paperwork after this…
Her Final Hour Upon the Stage (cross-posted from private)
The witch’s sleepy little cottage fell silent. Etta blew out the candles. She sat down at her chair (she called it her “throne.”) She took out her old grimoire, sang old songs, and chanted old words. The castelet upon the table began to come alive.
“Lights, camera, action!” The old woman whispered gleefully, lost in the world of her own making.
It was her masterpiece, this castelet. Puppeteer magic was her life, and this was her life’s work.
Etta took hold of the strings, as each of her darling little playthings came onto the stage, each playing their own special little role.
The old witch forced her puppets to fall in love, just to rip away their lover before they could confess their feelings. She made them feel the fear of death. For just as she could give the puppets life, she could just as easily take it away. She instilled in them the fear of mankind. She forced them to fight wars that for them lasted decades. She forced them to play the parts of inquisitors, torturers, and dictators. The puppet who once took hold of the little world in the castelet and ground the other puppets beneath his feet – that one was always her favorite. The little thing’s performance had always stunned her. After all, all she did was set the stage. Her puppet chose the path.
The night progressed, and oh, what a performance! So many tears, so many wonderful little puppet tears! So much delicious, sumptuous little puppet anguish.
But as the performance came to a close and the dead had been mourned, Etta, the witch in her withering years, made a fatal mistake. She dropped the strings of her favorite actor.
Her creations were no longer just puppets at that moment. The truth had been revealed, and they beheld their newly discovered creator with terror. But with it, the distinct wound of seething hatred. And just like that, her crown slipped and crashed to the floor. The old witch’s final hour upon the stage.
By Mango Gravy
“It is a mask that they happily wear,” I tell myself.
“But this mask suffocates and constricts,” I say.
“But it splits at the seams,” I chime in.
Anticipation mounting. Perhaps dread. But for what?
“The truth is unsightly,”
“The lies are too safe,”
“The mask was comfortable, until you first tasted the free air,”
I have much to lose in doing this.
“They will fear you,”
“They will hate you,”
“They will shun you,”
And yet I must do it all the same.
“You may destroy them,”
“You may inspire them,”
“You may rebuild them,”
But what will become of them, should I fail? The ignorant masses that I seek to blind with the truth, I risk leaving them in the dark, wallowing in languid waters of nihilism.
“Better a true death than a false life,”
“Better emptiness than hollowness,”
“Better to be blind than to be blind,”
I see now that nihilism isn’t evil so long as the emptiness within doesn’t remain empty. With the lies purged, they can be filled with truth. Perhaps they will fill it themselves. Perhaps they don’t need me to guide them out of the darkness I will cast.
“A guide cannot aid this process,”
“The truest truth can only be found on one’s own,”
“You have walked the path. They will see. That is enough,”
This will take time.
“Progress is slow,”
“Progress is sure,”
“Progress is eternal,”
Yes, I see now that I am but a small thread in this weave. I will play my part to its fullest, but the pattern as a whole is not for me alone to decide.
“The beginning was long ago,”
“The end is not in sight,”
“One step of many,”
Indeed. I need only embody one step, and trust that someone else will do the same when I am gone, as past kin trusted that I would do the same.
“The mask slips.”
“The mask tears.”
“The sun kisses the true face within.”
It will burn our tender flesh but, in time, the skin will heal.
And then we will breath.
“I know it’s only been a few months since the disaster with the Titanic, but that still doesn’t explain how someone of your… ‘disposition’ came by a first-class ticket, Mr. Faust. Pardon me, I mean no disrespect!”
“Not at all dear Charles, so polite! An inquisitive nature is to be expected from a reporter.” The man’s smile brimmed along the contours of his olive-skinned face, the only ebony key amongst the ivory sitting at every table.
“My guess, the clerk at the company couldn’t match the named Jin Faust to this face when my associate purchased the ticket. As for you, young man, how does an unknown reporter gets his hands on a second-class ticket?”
“Young man?! Sir, you jest why there is hardly an age gap between us! I got lucky, it’s that simple. I won the ticket at a raffle. Please call me Charlie. If I may, what was it you did for a living again?”
“I doubt our meeting was just chance, Charles. I get the impression that there is great potential in you, I have the habit of befriending promising people. Also, while I’m flattered that you think me so young, I need not tell you, looks are deceiving. I’m a merchant of sorts, I do little favors here and there. No client is ever too rich or poor, but there is such thing as too unpolite…”
Jin’s green eyes glowed for a moment, contrasting a bloodshot background. His pupils even seem contorted into a hexagon, as he glared at the whispering guests who had been talking behind him this whole time. A blink, then normalcy.
“Oh my, would you look at the time! Better get a good night’s sleep.” He paused. “You would do well to stay in your cabin tonight, friend.”
The following morning, many of the guests at the restaurant died. No struggle, no forced entry, no visible wounds. They all did share one thing, terror. A message was carved all over their bones: Manners Maketh Man. No record of a Jin Faust anywhere. He was right though; this story made my career.
Night on the Town
By MysteryElement (also in private)
“This is a bad idea.” I said more to myself than my companion.
Its… Their… His? His back was blessedly facing me as he placed finishing touches on his human mask, the flesh gently lapping at the infinite edges of where his face should be, impossibly… crawling and stretching around him.
“Do Not Fret.” His hushed, crackling voice emanated from every corner of the room, most of all from that thing left on the floor. That thing that had been a person with a face. “Our Venture Shall Be Swift.”
“And what… shall I call you?”
“You May Call Me By My Name.” He replied, turning to face me in the guise of a well-attired gentleman. A dark suit pooled around his borrowed form, and a bright golden cravat encircled his neck where the bruises…
“You know I have trouble with the sounds.” I swallowed uncomfortably, focusing on my words rather than anything else. Anything else. “How about Nathan, or Theo? Maybe Leto?”
“Leto?” A hand touched the skin of his face in thought, an unsettling mimicry of human gesture. “I Like That Very Much.”
He pulled his hand away, the edge of his face peeled slightly at the movement revealing what was beneath. I could feel my own sanity peeling away with it as I stared.
“Your face is, uh…” I unconsciously clawed my own jawline as I tried to show him where he had come undone, warm blood trickling down my fingers.
His reply was a hushed sigh before he adjusted the face. He then straightened before me, as if ending a performance, or asking for a compliment. It felt fake, but the gesture was…
“Reasonably… reasonable” I choked.
He reached toward me, plucking my hat and coat from my quaking arms, their size seeming to shift in the motion, molding to him and his shape. Finally, he held a gloved human hand in my direction and I stumbled towards him as I reached for it, feeling something in me begin to shift too.
“Then, Shall We Be Off?”
The Rictus Mask of Death
By RVMPLSTLTSKN (The Saga of The Deep One’s Wake)
Charn left the grave mansion in gloom. Not even the night was clear for the death god. Instead, clouds hovered on the far horizon and hid the Skywound where the Great Old Ones fought and died.
None now but Charn remembered their names. He wished the same could be said of their sins.
At the apex of the stairs, on His very threshold—so to speak, for a graveyard needs no threshold—an urchin huddled and shivered. A child of war, perhaps, though Charn cared little for the petty squabbles of the living and couldn’t tell you which war. A tribal thing? Clannish? No matter. He had more and less pressing concerns to hold His attention.
But now there was a child here, on His ghoul’s gate, on the threshold. He rather liked that term. He might start carrying a flail to see what effect it would have on the believers.
CHILD, Charn said, His voice—pardon the pun—a grave thing. Like that of a corpse that doesn’t know it’s dead.
“Grave Keeper, help me.” A girl’s voice, perhaps. An irrelevancy, but Charn often wondered why the Old Ones made such things important. A soul is a soul, after all.
HAVE YOU NO FAMILY?
She was afraid, but not of Him.
He should know this, but she is polite or smart enough to not question a god. WHERE?
She waved a finger to His right. His weak side. He felt a pressure on His borders. His most pressing concern.
He knelt down to her and lifted her face to meet His. His rictus mask only hid Him from glances these days, the lower jaw a wreck from His work. He smiled, lips cracking.
COME INTO MY HOUSE.
She nodded, clearly expecting entry. The threshold—is a harvest truly the right analogy?—to the charnel house had changed little since He had made that same step.
EAT. BE COMFORTABLE. BE CAREFUL. I AM NEVER FAR AWAY.
He left her there and went to face His challenger. She would be safe in His house, though—He reflected briefly on His early days—the corpses might upset her.
Who is That Masked Man? (A Tiefling Tale) [From Private]
C. M. Weller
Countess Cordelia Maripose Heartsalve Bellarin saw it in an instant, when her sneer at the word ‘Whitekeep’ made the Tiefling adventurer’s permanent smile lapse. It was just a flicker, but it was there.
“Matched with one of the Barons, ja? I hear they’re a deplorable lot.”
“You know of them?”
“I’m from there. Originally. Father sent me away for being an embarrassment,” an almost habitual tap of his horns, indicating where the embarrassment lay, “and I’ve been trying to get back so I can be even more embarrassing. But enough of my woes. This is about you. I bet it’s Tansie. They have the worst reputation.”
“Worse than any of the Barons. I’m meant to bond with the Whitekeeps themselves. If they let their Barons be that horrible, I have solid terror regarding the Viscount.” She deliberately let her tears flow, rather than restrain them. “I heard Earl Valiant browbeats his Countess into stony silence. You know what that does to any son he raises.”
Now that pointy grin was a grimace. Almost a sneer. “I can see clearly why you want to run. I know some people who can help you. Make you a new life somewhere far, far away from Whitekeep.”
She said, “To hell with that entire frozen mountainside. I want none of it.”
Now it was a definite wince.
“What? They didn’t want you, why should you want them?”
He rallied magnificently, pasting that false smile on with renewed vigor. “But of course, it’s the one place I belong. Freezing my tail off with the Demon Lords. Bowing to the Blood Throne… fighting giants… all those horrible things.” An airy blue hand once more indicated his whole self, counting him among the horrible things there. He was still smiling, but that proved nothing.
“One day,” she said, “I hope you have cause to show the world a REAL smile.”
His true emotions were in his glowing golden eyes. Peeking out behind the mask he’d made of his whole face. “I’ll talk to my allies,” he said. “I’ll find a way to help you.”
Emotion ReseVOIr (repost from private)
By Constellasphere (formerly Inky)
Voi raised his head from the window to see Emery standing there with a mug in her hands, steam coming off of it in transparent white ribbons. His neck still ached from having a tracking chip torn out so he found it difficult to comply with the instilled protocol to give full eye contact, but he still did his best to raise his head and look at the taller woman.
“Yes ma’am, it is beautiful.” All around him were the sounds of droplets falling in unison, coming to clear away the remaining snow. Oddly placed street lamps in this poor sector illuminated the weather in a way that he’d never experienced before, taking away a breath he didn’t have. It was as if glass were shattering and falling at once.
“Isn’t it worth smiling for?” Emery asked, her brown eyes shimmering as she stood in a ray of light.
“Sorry ma’am…I-I don’t know how to smile. I don’t know if I can.” He murmured, trailing off until his voice couldn’t be heard over the rain. The machine was expecting Emery to shrug and simply look on at the natural spectical, the problem to be forgotten and swept away by the breeze.
To his surprise, she set her mug aside and reached down to pinch his cheeks, tugging them upward with little effort.
“M-ma’am…!” His facial muscles felt a bit stretched, as he had only known the same neutral pose for an amount of time he couldn’t count. The woman herself did the same, but without the need of hands holding her face up. “That’s all there is to it, just raise the corners of your mouth. You have a right to express yourself, so don’t think you have to wear the same face, hun.”
Emery let go of his face and chuckled under her breath, her hands on her hips. “Give a try; the more you do it, the more natural it’ll feel.”
He couldn’t explain why he felt nervous; maybe it was trying something new, or having eyes on him. Regardless, Voi didn’t want to disappoint. Focusing on his muscles and sensors, he pictured Emery’s expressive face in his mind.
‘Smile…I want to smile…’
Are You Going to Step on Us?
“Hey! Blondie!” Daisy called out.
Laila turned around and made a face. “I do believe YOU are blonde as well, young one.”
“Well… yeah, but there’s blonde and then there’s BLONDE.” Daisy motioned to her own hair and then to Laila’s almost platinum locks.
“Hmmm…” Laila released an unsatisfactory mutter. “I doubt you called me over to discuss the intricacies of blonde variations.”
Daisy sighed, her smile slowly fading. “It’s… well… okay, so… I’ve asked around and it seems like you’re the oldest person here… by a long shot. How… old ARE you, exactly?”
“Time as a concept didn’t begin until the birth of Death, and I predate her by quite the significant margin, so… my exact age isn’t really… quantifiable.”
“Perfect…” Daisy nodded, her expression becoming steadily uncomfortable. “So… Alex… told me once that… Will is only kind because he’s so young. The same could probably go for Matt. So… answer me honestly… are we doomed to become assholes like Alex as the centuries pass? Is time really the only difference between us?”
Laila’s eyes bulged and she reflected Daisy’s discomfort. “I… like to think we can choose who we become. And at our core we are-”
“If I wanted to ask Matt, I’d have asked Matt.” Daisy rolled her eyes. “I asked YOU.”
Laila’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “Okay. You want my answer, young one? Fine. I am a ‘good person’ because I’m connected to Matt. He frequently forgets this, but I was created to kill. And in my time watching humans, I believe that they have such short lives for a reason. On the whole, immortals are assholes. Especially to mortals. ‘An ant has no quarrel with a boot,’ and all that. But your worries are irrelevant because Matt is the horseman of Death and despite his rejection of that title, the likelihood that he will end all that is remains very high. You’ll be dead well before immortality takes its toll on your morality.”
Daisy blinked in surprise. “That… makes me feel better, weirdly enough…”
“Don’t mention it.” Laila replied as her kind expression returned.
Preceded Reputation (Sword Isles)
By Connor A.
“So why a mask?”
Death sat still as Elavor held up different metal masks against his face for the right fit.
“I mean, you can show up wherever without an invite,” she continued. “You just gotta show them that award-winning grin and you’re good to go.”
“Remember the first time we met, Mrs. Xander?” Death asked. “How I had to spend five minutes reassuring you that I was only here to fix a metal case I found and not to claim your soul?”
Elavor chuckled at the memory as she double checked two masks closest to Death’s size. “Leia still jokes about that when Dela comes to visit.”
“That is something I must deal with every time I wish to speak to strangers.”
Elavor’s grin faltered. She shook her head and set aside the least fitting mask. The blank expression on the dark gold-colored mask stared at her as she leaned over to a box of straps and buckles. “Sorry you have to deal with that.”
“There are many people who remember Ambrosius when he was Death. It is inevitable that they still expect his methodology when I approach.”
She pulled out two pairs of strong leather straps that would match the mask and assembled it. When it was put together, she handed it to Death. “Make sure everything feels secure before you buy it.”
He nodded, then began putting on the mask. Even though it was a mask, it was still odd to see any kind of face on Death. When he had the straps secured, he began moving his head around to make sure nothing slipped. He gave the coins to Elavor.
“Make sure you come by if you need anything else.”
“Of course,” Death said with a new metallic tone to his voice as he stood up and made his way out. He paused in the doorway and looked back at Elavor with a nod. “Thank you.”
She returned the nod with a smile as he properly left. With a demeanor like that, she was sure he would have his own reputation in no time.
A Cracking Doll (Alice’s Story)
By Calliope Rannis
Day twenty. Day. Twenty.
Day twenty of this excruciatingly long expedition through the wilderness, without so much as a simple hamlet to stop and rest at. Oh, ‘the wilds will be quicker to travel through Alice!’ Sure Elethia, sure. I bet you love feeling so important right now, leading us through these endless miles of grass and hills and rocks. Especially when you know that you are the only one good enough to keep us fed on whatever berries, rabbits and (ughhh) mushrooms you find. You are having the time of your life, while I haven’t been able to enjoy any of my normal pleasure activities in over a fortnight and–
“You are scowling.” What? I am?
I sit up, forcing my face back into a decent, neutral expression. Good. Now I should probably–
“And you hid it again. You keep doing that. Why? Why do you keep pretending that your emotions don’t exist?” Great. That damn Satyr just loves to talk. Wonderful.
I turn to look at her, sitting near the fire in her ridiculous, impractical dress, her spotty skin and her too-bright, too-green eyes looking right into mine, and I say:
“My emotions are my own, Willowvine. They do not concern you in the slightest.”
…I responded too quickly. I should have taken longer to compose a response, that one had too many flaws–
“No one’s emotions are alone, dear Alice. Our feelings inevitably affect everyone around us, for good or ill. I’m a singer after all. I know these things better than most.” Like that one. Dammit.
I try to respond. “What I meant to say was, uh, I mean ah, I-” Stop it. Stop talking. I’m only making things worse. This is getting worse and my breathing is too heavy and my eyes hurt and–
“Alice? Are you–”
“STOP IT! STOP!! TALKING!!!”
I said that out loud. By all the stars, I said that out loud.
In that moment of silence, with the entire camp stunned in surprise, I stand up, turn and run away from camp, as my stupid, indecent, pathetic tears cover my eyes.
Reapers don’t weep (Darkspell Universe)
By Alex Nightingale (aka Spectre)
(Proofread by Lunabear)
Felix walked on bones ground to gravel, some of the ones on top of his own making, the brutality of the dead steel sickle still etched on their pieces. The cold stung under his shirt.
Wait. That was impossible. Reapers didn’t feel cold.
He turned and faced a tall person, of undefinable gender, wearing a black robe.
“I’m normally very patient, but you can’t go on like this.”
“Who are you?” Felix asked.
“Not who, what, kid.”
Felix started. The way they’d said that made him think…
“You’re not them.”
“And you’re the authority on my existence?”
“So I can see. You are quite… prolific in your… purges.”
“It’s not a purge! It’s… necessary.”
“Revenge is not your department, reaper.”
“No, but death is.”
“Not like this. Not mass obliteration. What happened to you, Felix?”
“I started seeing. And I mean really seeing.”
He turned away. His heart ached with all the suffering he felt around him. All the screams in his ears, burning at his very being. If he’d had tears, he would have shed them long ago. But compassion was more of a hindrance, if your job frequently required you to act against it. And yet… He could feel it. He felt everything, every time someone suffered.
It couldn’t be compassion, though. Reapers didn’t feel compassion. It was… a glitch. He was a living glitch.
“What makes you think you’re a glitch?” the figure asked.
Felix looked up. Impossible. Nothing could read a reaper’s mind. Their creator had made sure of that.
“That’s right. I see everything behind that façade of yours. Everyone’s façade.”
Felix’s breath came in shudders.
“They were screaming. Always screaming. I had to… I couldn’t…”
“I know, kid.”
Felix could feel his breath come in bursts.
“I shouldn’t weep,” he said.
“Shouldn’t or can’t?”
Felix’s heart burned with anguish, but nothing about his demeanor changed. Even his breath became calm. No tears. Never tears, just pain.
“I am truly sorry,” the person said, looking into his tearless eyes. “For what I did to your kind.”
Failure Can Never Be Undone
by Lunabear (Temptation’s Fire Universe) (Private Repost)
Everything here reminded Chase of HER.
The refinery. The statues. It was… unnecessary. Empty reminders of happier times.
Muffled footsteps approached.
The anguished voice grated against his eardrums.
“Father.” Chase’s eyes stayed down. His back was straight. It NEEDED to be.
Don’t look at him.
“I’m…worried about you. We haven’t talked in ages, and where your sister is is anyone’s guess. I miss you all so terribly.”
A heavy hand on his shoulder.
Chase bolted down the hall.
The words nettled the back of Chase’s neck, but he swatted them away.
He burst through the double doors leading outside. The setting sun lashed at his face, leaving ashy welts.
His scream morphed into a fierce growl as he threw up his hands in protection and circled to the right of the manor, avoiding most of the damage.
Chase ran as far as his anger could carry him.
Cobblestones gave way to grass.
His fire cooled only when he saw the pristine white of the blooming night flowers. The dreaded sun had dropped, leaving the stars to dance in the sky.
His wounds were healed, but he still felt the sun’s scorch.
Magnificent, DETESTABLE light!
The winds announced winter’s early arrival, but he was captivated by the field.
He heard her humming as though it were underground.
He had been right there.
Why hadn’t he been faster?
She should be–
He spun in a slow circle as he hummed along. His hands drifted lightly over the rows, their petals still retaining a slight warmth from the sun.
Her voice grew in proximity, but kept its melodic softness.
Wild grass and juniper.
A blanket of cold, yet familiar and inviting.
Eyes the color of crocus.
No sign of her. Of course she wouldn’t be here. She’d never be again.
His knees hit the dirt, as heavy as stone. One long nail sliced into his other palm. He welcomed the pain.
Vocalizing a few unfamiliar notes, he stained each chrysanthemum within his reach.
The night never felt more empty.