Hello, Vendors and Patrons!
Are you tired of your boring, old, plain, greyish-black shadow? Has it startled you one too many times from simply being there after you’ve watched too many scary movies late at night? Fear not, lovely people, for now there is a place just for you, because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
The Shadow Market
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!
None of us are strangers to shopping. Whether it be malls, street vendors, small shopping centers, or in this case, markets. Almost everything we own has been obtained through some merchant or vendor, with a wide range of prices.
But this prompt isn’t about just any old market, is it? This gives an entirely different feel. Far less casual and fun, that’s for sure.
A prompt like this can be used to explore a darker side of such a thing. Perhaps you choose to wander to the more unsavory side of town where dealings are far more discreet… and far more dangerous. What have you come searching for? Is it your first time needing to come to such a place, or are you a regular? Perhaps you’re not a customer at all, but an “employee” of sorts, helping your boss obtain and carry out different deals and contracts. Maybe you’re not even leaving your own home. The internet has all sorts of dark and mysterious corners to shop around in, after all. Whether you’re after something you know you shouldn’t have, or you’ve been pushed to extreme measures to get your hands on something, the internet has everything you need, right at your fingertips and in the comfort of your own home.
Or maybe you choose a literal route with this one. You could be the lucky— or unlucky— patron that runs across a street market only ever talked about in paranoid whispers and fear-tainted voices. A market that appears only to those who need it, seeming to seep out of the shadows of dark alleyways and dingy passages. Or maybe it’s simply a place where one can buy and sell shadows. Want a shadow that can talk back? Maybe you want one that’s quiet, but can still emote along with your mood? What about a shadow that can actually change colours? Don’t mind the high prices, of course, there’s no real price for happiness, is there? Venture down to any shop and pick yourself out a new and improved shadow! Or just sell the one you have so you no longer have a shadow at all. Perfect for stealth!
So many choices! But act fast, for this deal doesn’t last forever!
Now go on, pick an idea, any idea, and show us what tales you can weave from the shadows of your imagination!
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! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
Rules and Guidelines
We read at least four stories during each stream, two of which come from the public post, and two of which come from the much smaller private post. Submissions are randomly selected by a bot, but likes on your post will improve your chances of selection, so be sure to share your submission on social media!
Text and Formatting
- English only.
- Prose only, no poetry or lyrics.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and syntax.
- Your piece must be between 250-350 words (you can use this website to see your wordcount).
- Use two paragraph breaks between each paragraph so that they have a proper space between them (press “enter” or “return” twice).
- Include a submission title and an author name (doesn’t have to be your real name). Do not include any additional symbols or flourishes in this part of your submission. Format them exactly as you see in this example, or your submission may not be eligible: Example Submission.
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What to Submit
- Keep submissions “safe-for-work”; be sparing with sexuality, violence, and profanity.
- Try to focus on making your submission a single meaningful moment rather than an entire story.
- Write something brand new; no re-submitting past entries or pieces written for other purposes
- No fan fiction whatsoever. Take inspiration from whatever you’d like, but be transformative and creative with it. By submitting, you also agree that your piece does not infringe on any existing copyrights or trademarks, and you have full license to use it.
- Submissions must be self-contained (everything essential to understanding the piece is contained within the context of the piece itself—no mandatory reading outside the piece required. e.g., if you want to write two different pieces in the same setting or larger narrative, you cannot rely on information from one piece to fill in for the other—they must both give that context independently).
- One submission per participant.
- Submit your entry in a comment on this post.
- Submissions close at 12:00pm CST each Friday.
- You must like and leave a review on two other submissions to be eligible. Your reviews must be at least 50 words long, and must be left directly on the submission you are reviewing, not on another comment. If you’re submitting to the private post, feel free to leave these reviews on either the private or the public post. The two submissions you like need not be the same as the submissions you review.
- Be constructive and uplifting. These submissions are not for a professional market, and shouldn’t be treated as such. We do this, first and foremost, for the joy of the craft. Help other writers to feel like their work is valuable, and be considerate and gentle with critique when you offer it. Authors who leave particularly abrasive or disheartening remarks on this post will be disqualified from selection for readings.
- Use the same e-mail for your posts, reviews, and likes, or you may be rendered ineligible (you may change your username or author name between posts without problem, however).
- You may submit to either or both the public/private groups if you have access, but if you decide to submit to both, only the private group submission will be eligible.
- Understand that by submitting here, you are giving us permission to read your submission aloud live on stream and upload public, archived recordings of said stream to our social media platforms. You will always be credited, but only by the author name you supply as per these rules. No other links or attributions are guaranteed.
Comments on this post that aren’t submissions will be deleted, except for replies/reviews left on existing submissions.
The Nightmare Realm
There is a place so horrible that all fear to enter it.
There is no ban on its gates, no regulation on entrance, but we all avoid it, like the plague it is; for fear simply looking upon it will infect us. Some reckless young ones land there anyways, and come back, not with stories of adventure, but glazed, horrified eyes, and silent tongues. Or else don’t come back at all.
The race that lives there is aptly called a “race.” It’s as if their lives are nothing but a mad clamber to the top. To the top of what, it does not matter. Wherever they are, they will slaughter each other to reach it. They will slaughter each other over bread, and sex, and love, and…death. Never knowing that everything about the top is the same as the bottom, except that it’s harder to breathe.
They have holy men there, but no holiness.
They have good men there, but no goodness.
Though perhaps more horribly, despite the fact that there are no demons there, there is altogether too much sin.
Darkness is but the absence of light, but they have somehow made it into a living breathing thing.
When they buy and sell it’s like they’re buying and selling their own darkness, and using any small scrap of goodness they can find to pay for it. Their lives are but transactions of sin, and of how best to cover the light—like a bird in a cage that just wants to sing.
Its name is whispered in the dark of night, in the hidden corners of day, and in the wee, bloody hours of the dusk, and it’s spoken in fear and a sort of sick reverence.
Promise me you will never go there, child. Promise me you will avoid it at all costs. That you will never so much look upon it’s sickly green lands and bruised blue oceans
What is its name?
If you promise me you will never speak it I will tell you.
It is simply called…Earth.
“A Deal at Hades Station”
Electricity crackled as sparks fell from the open ceiling where a maintenance workman worked on repairing some system in the ceiling of Hades Station. It seemed the old station was always in need of some repair or other. The sparks sprayed down harmlessly in small bursts over the large open Hades Station Market Hall, filled with various vendor tables, and lined with even more stores set into the walls of the hall. The chitter, beeps, or gronks of various synthetic droids filled the air, along with the constant murmur of numerous languages spoken by various human, parahuman, or transhuman individuals.
Garth wandered from stall to stall browsing their various goods while keeping a close eye on his own wallet. You never knew what someone might try on a backwater space station like this. His eyes caught upon a power converter of exactly the type he needed to repair his ship, and quickly rushed to the stall selling it.
“How much for the B-789 power converter?” Garth asked.
“Three hundred and fifty credits,” the seller said tersely, “No haggling.”
“Damn,” Garth thought, “out of my budget.”
The seller eyed Garth up and down and paused. “Wait, you look like someone who can handle trouble. Maybe I can give you the part you need. If you would do me a favor in exchange.”
Garth hesitated. “I don’t want to do anything that’s too illegal.”
“Oh, no, no. Nothing like that. It’s even a good deed. I need someone to rescue someone from a gang. She is a bio-droid being held to be sold to a bidder by the gang. Since she is an artificially made person, she doesn’t have the rights you and I do here on Hades Station. So, station security won’t intervene to save her. If you bring her to me, I can make sure she is safe and taken care of.”
Garth paused in thought, then nodded and agreed to help. It was against his better judgement however. His gut told him there would be complications to come.
By Papileser Eilitharl
As Aldrich ducked into the alleyway, the noise of the crowded market behind him seemed to disappear, as if every person there suddenly vanished. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought as he strode down the dark passage.
The only other person in the alley was a drunkard, sitting on a stoop, mumbling inane nonsense to himself. As Aldrich passed him, the man grabbed his arm, begging, “Please sir, I- I’m hopelessly lost and my- my wife is ill, please-.” Before he could finish, Aldrich shoved him aside, furiously exclaiming, “Unhand me, you drunken bastard!” The man collapsed in a stupor as Aldrich walked by without a second glance.
Aldrich watched the shadowy figure walk before him. He paused for a moment, then carefully followed them through the labyrinthine alleyways. They suddenly ducked aside into a small rundown shop.
It was a rotten, decrepit building that might have passed for an alchemist’s shop in its prime. Now it lay in ruin; the walls rotten and eaten away, and the windows smashed. As Aldrich walked through the broken doorway, he saw crumbling shelves and bits of glass littering the floor. He stepped into the room and called out, “I saw you come into this shoddy place! Show yourself!”
Suddenly a curtain flew, engulfing all light, except the small candles now flickering on the dusty counter. Aldrich turned to the candles and saw an old woman standing there, her face perhaps as ancient as the shop itself. With a croaking voice, she asked, “Is this what you want?” Aldrich paused, then slowly nodded as he approached the counter. The woman laughed cruelly, “Very well.” Aldrich immediately felt a sharp pain at the base of his neck as he fell, unconscious.
When he awoke, he was back in the alleyway beside the drunkard. Aldrich felt- different- as if he was no longer alone in his body. He saw the man desperately reaching for something, and he saw his own shadow devouring the man, leaving nothing behind. Aldrich couldn’t help but smile as the man vanished into the shadow.
Commerce Between The Veil
This place is not like the other market towns you often see. For one, it is only open from dusk till dawn. It appears on no map and is known by no council. However, if you are desperate enough to seek it out, it can be found. This place does not rest within our plane or the next; it sits between the vail.
A place of commerce resides in this void, like an arcade of an alleyway. The light is dim, but the lanterns do what they can. There is no sun here, and the crowds block your vision as it is. Yet, on the off chance that you get a glimpse between the cloaks of the wanderers, you will find the tents.
These vendors do not sell your meats or your spices. They instead sell what you desire. At a glance, they can tell you your life story or change it at your will. They can grant you love or destroy an enemy, and they will do so at a price.
But your coins have no value here.
There are but three currencies in this place- life, time, or health. The question always comes first before a price is decided. Your life may be shortened, or it may be hindered by disease and ill fortune.
Gathered are the regulars who come here. Those who choose health are pale and grey. Those who choose life are often young. But the choice of time is not so obvious.
The clerks are often asked what this option means. How is it different to life?
But they do not answer. Instead, they dismay into the shackles around their arms and legs. They do not govern the rules of this place; they merely uphold their end of bargains long made.
“How would you like to pay this night?” a hoarse voice asks.
Everything and Anything (Myste Auction House)
by Mysten Noire Silver
The beginning of the auction was as mysterious as its extreme yet awe-inspiring ‘grand opening’.
“Greetings. Welcome to Myste Auction House, where you can bid for all items imaginable and unimaginable.”
The voice seemed to echo from every corner of the dimly lit hall. As the crowd of shadows respectfully clapped or confusedly looked around, the voice continued.
“There are a few rules that you should familiarize yourselves with before we start.”
The crowd murmured in obscured chatter.
“The first rule. Everyone’s identities are a secret,” The voice was unexpectedly playful.
“We are not liable for identity leaks. We can only guarantee that your identity is hidden the moment you entered this hall up until your payment.”
A spotlight suddenly lit the center stage. A man in a luxurious suit spread his arms and fluttered his cape. A mask obscured his face and the etched smile on it was eerily wide. A pair of almost-glowing blue eyes stared at the nervous crowd.
“The second rule. Everything with you, in your possession, or about you which has value… All those can be converted into these Myst crystals,” The man’s hands flipped and a few purple crystals floated. It was diverse in size and luminosity.
“This is the currency for the bidding. Feel free to put everything you have and are into it!”
There was a commotion but the crowd was stunned into silence when the man slyly added.
“Not just material value. Even your life, title, love. If they are valuable, we’ll take it for a fair amount of Myst crystals. At the end, unused crystals will be returned.”
The man walked to the side, the spotlight following him.
“Lastly, we do not provide drinks or snacks. Feel free to do as you wish during the auction provided that you stay in your seats. There will be a mid-point break, and a pre-finale break.”
The crowd was still silent, but a distant snicker could be heard.
The man walked back into the shadows with a salute.
“May the most valuable of you receive your deserved worth.”
The first item was revealed.
the Lure of Magic
by k. Verklärung
It was cold, although Apollonaire 81698 couldn’t tell the difference. The maze-like ghetto of Antihelion was in the perpetual shadow of the tidally locked Ganymede, and the surrounding environment remained mostly underdeveloped. He wondered if there had been any terraforming done at all. Completely unlike the archipelagic metropolis of Rome IV; here, the sections of the all-submerging ocean had only been partially melted into a slush and the occasional islet of mire. Simply, it was incredibly ugly.
But aesthetic evaluation was not the reason Apollonaire had visited . He had been looking for magic.
And his decade-long quest had finally borne its fruit. He had always had a connection with magic. He still remembered the smell of burning sage in the home he shared with his grandmother in New Delaware, and the tales she told him of her grandmother meeting her grandfather on Tinder, divinely ordained because their spirits of Virgo and Capricorn were elementally complimentary. But this was all during the early Internet Era, before Disney genoengineers, the techno-sapient uprising, and even before the disease that felled half the human population shortly thereafter.
So when he was anonymously invited to an exclusive black market event selling magical artifacts in the (quite literally) shadier side of the colony, he was more than hesitant. But the scent coming off from the missive was one he recognized: burning sage.
Upon arriving, Apollinaire had been flown on a private NASAcraft to an undisclosed location, and then led to a dark room with a lone vendor waiting just for him. She was covered from head to toe with a thin semi-transparent gold foil that must’ve cost a sizable fortune in Jovian standard.
She clapped her hand, and suddenly between them a chemical vat, its contents appeared to be mercury. It had a stench of rotting figs and papayas and tajín, and had a soft dim glow like the Sun. On the outside it had been ornately labeled ‘Theriaca.’
“It causes pain.” she said matter-of-factually, as if it wasn’t something inconceivable. It had been centuries since he had felt pain.
Apollonaire gulped, “What’s your price?”
By The Missing Link
Orpheus III to Ground Control
There are five shadows on the wall. They make noise of all kinds. Analyzing – Joy, excitement, anticipation. – Baseline established. Nothing to report.
ERROR. Impact detected. Recalibrating navigation. New emotions detected. Analyzing – Anger, blame, fear. – Damage assessed to the hull.
The asteroid field has been cleared. All systems have returned to working order. ERROR. Destination not found. Plotting return course.
ERROR. Destination not found.
Update. There are four shadows on the wall. New emotions detected. Analyzing – Sadness, dread, fatigue. – Report. Airlock is open. All systems normal.
The shadows are moving more slowly now. There is less noise now. The four spend most of their time sitting around the table. They move to the beds at night and back to the table day after day.
Update. There are three shadows on the wall. New emotions detected. Analyzing – Regret, terror, ERROR. – The shadows move less and less by the day. Report. Airlock open. All systems normal.
The shadows no longer move to the beds. They sit at the table and make their quiet noises.
Update. There are two shadows on the wall. New emotions detected. Analyzing – Despair, Hopelessness. – Report. Airlock open. All systems normal.
The shadows have stopped making noise. The silence has become difficult to process. ERROR.
Update. There is one shadow on the wall. New emotion detected. Analyzing – Peace. – All systems normal.
It sits there at the table, curled up. It barely reflects on the wall, but it is still there.
Update. There are zero shadows on the wall. New emotion ERROR.
I am alone.
I am lonely.
Between Second and Third Souls
By RVMPLSTLTSKN (The Saga of The Deep One’s Wake)(repost from private)
Jabil-Tai regarded the child. Was a time, petulence toward a shaman was rewarded with disregard. That was before. Time changes. Realms change. Even the sky could be wounded. Perhaps a convergence of realms.
The child sat, frowning, beneath the hard stare of an old woman in furs.
“It wasn’t my fault,” the child said again.
“You want me to believe that?” xe asked.
“It’s true! My shadow told me to stab her.”
So innocent and cruel, children. Xe was glad, not for the first time, xe was of the third soul.
“She will live and be scarred. Why shouldn’t you receive the same?”
The child stilled, all that tiny might turning from anger to fear.
“It’s not my fault, shaman.”
Tai looked through the doorway of xir tent. The old ways were not gone, not yet. Violence warranted punishment.
But the Sky was still wounded.
Perhaps a shadow was not just a shadow. Xe couldn’t sense a spirit, but another of the tripartite souls? Could the wound be a convergence? Were all the missing people simply taken elsewhere, to the realms of darkling wants or celestial goals?
“Violence must be punished. Like scouring sand on iron, so is pain to the soul.”
A wail, soft and feral.
“But then,” xe smiled, “we eat. To strengthen your body for what must come. I must go on a journey to find the truth of this shadow. If it is yours, I will return it to its proper place.”
“Where does a shadow belong but underfoot?” The child’s victim asked. Her arm was bound in furs and held in a sling.
“When is a shadow not a shadow?” Tai replied. “Be hopeful, child. Hope will help you.”
Perhaps, xe thought, I will return with more of our people.
An Unseen Deal (Penelope’s Story)
By Calliope Rannis
A bump on her shoulder. “Oh, sorry miss, excuse me…”
Penelope jerked into wakefulness, blinking several times as she looked left and right.
The last thing she had remembered was going to sleep in her comfortable tavern room. She’d even made sure to lock her door, as was her habit nowadays.
Had her sleepwalking really taken her this far?
She swayed and clutched her head. Stars above, she should NOT be awake right now. What time even is-?
She looked up, and glimpsed stars. No sunlight.
She looked down, and beheld a marketplace. One familiar in nature, in terms of black markets she knew – stalls with herbs and spices, racks of strange medicines, secluded corners that smelt of stronger substances – but there were stranger things too.
Candles, with beetles buried within the wax?
Little straw figures hanging from strings, each in a uniquely twisted pose?
The bones of animals, hollows filled with amber?
Looking across this strangeness, Penelope absent-mindedly glanced down at her hands – and jerked back, almost dropping the object she had discovered within them.
It was some kind of talisman. An eight-pointed star of dark purple crystal, held within an ebony wood frame, and a thin silver chain to wear around the neck.
This wasn’t hers. Did she take this while she was-
She looked frantically around. Maybe if she could return this to the right stall – there!
Rushing up to a rickety wooden stall, laden with similar amulets and staffed by an old crone, she held out the talisman and said “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to take this, please have it back!”
The crone looked at her suspiciously. “What? You already changed yer mind?”
“I – no? I don’t know what you mean ma’am?”
She squinted at her, before something inscrutable changed in her face. “Oh. I see now. You’re not the one I know, are you?”
Penelope stared back, in utter confusion.
The crone gestured to the amulet. “Keep it. It’s yours now. By association, anyway. Take care of it!”
And she turned away to other customers, leaving Penelope with far more questions than answers.
The shadow markets by Quetzalcoatl I have forced myself to write these lines, as I sit in my cold dark chamber in the dead of night; I do not know what will happen once I have finished and conveyed it to the masses, but me being human, I am unable to ignore the happenings within our strange city. Many already know about what I will write, but it does not matter; for it is me voicing out the unspeakable that is of greater importance. Silence has fallen upon our streets for far too long, which I will now break with my quiet whispers. Our town has always been old, for not even we ourselves know about when and how it was founded, and such it still contains many secrets in the shadows. Where the shadows are darker than darkness itself, gates can be found; and some of them will take you to one peculiarly eerie place. Once you enter, the horizon will disappear under all those market stalls and stands, only to be sometimes disturbed by widely scattered stone buildings. This place has quite a few oddities one being that you will be unable to the markets end. But if you do reach what seems like its boundaries, you will enter at the other side of the place, leaving you utterly confused. As you may have already guessed, the wares, which are traded here, are no items to be commonly found. The vendors usually stand still, wearing long robes of the kind which hide your face in complete darkness. They do not yell either, to attract their customers, but simply wait until someone has taken fancy to their goods. In hoarse whispering voices they then calmly explain to the buyer, what their commodities entail. If they managed to come to an agreement, large sums will change possession. These shady deals may seem similar to those done in black markets but believe me if I say they are not. For the articles are backed in heavy metal cases, with seals all over it, which no sane person would buy without knowing what is contained in them. As curiosity has gotten the better of me, I once myself have purchased such a suitcase. Not knowing what I had to do, I just stopped at a random stall, seemingly engrossed in the products. The vendor soon came over, and has kindly told me about what I was so interested in. He was oddly mesmerising, so that I am no longer able to remember what he has said; only that it sounded strangely appalling and attractive the same time. Hurriedly I handed him the money over and set soon of with my new trophy. When I first opened it at home, I was kind of disappointed, since the case contained nothing but darkness. Though when I noticed that it was somehow alive and breathing, I immediately sealed it off and hid it in some corner; not even I know, where I have put that… Read more »
By Robin Graves
“What exactly are we doing here, Naomi?”
Naomi and Bryce had been camped out in the parking lot of a Chubby’s Cheeseburgers waiting. By then, it was the middle of the night, and theirs was the only car left–apart from the unfortunate night shift employee’s. Naomi was routinely looking up at the sky and checking her watch. Even at that hour, the sky grew darker and darker as the moon moved into the shadow of the earth, and the dim light of the neon cheeseburger shone out as a gaudy beacon.
“Alright, get the bags, we’ve gotta move.”
Bryce reached into the back seat and grabbed the heavy backpacks that Naomi had packed. “Are you going to give me a hint, at least?” Naomi shot Bryce a cold look and motioned for her to move faster. The two girls jogged up to the archway of the drive-thru and waited while Naomi once again checked her watch.
“Any second now.”
“Any second now WHAT?”
“Are you guys…gonna order anything?” a voice asked awkwardly through crackling speakers. “Because you need to be in a car to order.”
Bryce sighed, irritated and cold, but as she went to say something, Naomi cut her off. “There are doorways everywhere if you know where to look; doors to a world that borders our own. Stories have existed for centuries, but faded into myth. We’ve always known how to get there, but we stopped believing it.” Naomi’s watch beeped. “Total lunar eclipse.”
With that, the archway began to glow with an ethereal strangeness. No longer could they see the restaurant through the arch, but instead, a crowded bazaar of lights and foreign smells. The sounds of indecipherable tongues and street music penetrated the silence of the dead parking lot, calling them forward. “We need information, and this is the only way to get it.” Naomi was already through the arch, proffering her hand to Bryce. “Come on, we have to find Kylie.”
Bryce took her hand and stepped forward, both girls disappearing into the mysterious portal.
“Hello? …Hello?” the voice in the speaker asked no one.
Only Shadows Remain
By Lantis Armstrong
There once was a magical land of prancing unicorns, fairies gently floating from one vast colorful flower bed to another, and pixies gently napping upon the dewdrops gathered on lush, green foliage growing richly in the vast forests. This land glowed with serenity.
A very wealthy man and his daughter rode high up in the sky above this land, standing upon a magical flying disk. They came from a far more sophisticated, industrialized land which was far, far away.
There was a merchant in dark robes, face hidden beneath a cumbersome gas mask, standing next to them on the disk. He was ready to make this sale official.
“I thought I owned everything in this world, child! I thank you for bringing to my attention a land I do not yet own,” her father told her, eagerly rubbing his hands together while looking down off the edge of the disk at the serene rolling hills and gentle clear lakes of this enchanted land.
“There is no asking price,” the merchant spoke in a raspy voice. “The denizens of this land have heard your offer, and they will not sell. They claim nobody shall ever own this land.”
“That’s fine,” the father said, “burn it all then, and I shall take ownership of the ashes.”
His daughter immediately screamed in protest, stomping her feet as she cried that she didn’t want her favorite place burned! But her father won’t hear it – he must own it! How dare anything exist that he didn’t own!
The merchant tapped his foot, and a bomb dropped from the bottom of the disk down towards the land below. Crashing down, it erupts into a fireball which smashes the landscape flat in a heartbeat, leaving behind only ghostly shadows scorched into the ground of the beings which once inhabited this land. This land glowed with radiation.
The very wealthy man delights at this, because he now unquestionably owns everything as far as the eye could see.
He didn’t care if it was all ashes, so long as he owned the ashes.
“The Spinning of Shadows”
A door creaks open, and a lean hooded figure slinks between the crack in the door, barely even letting a strand of light breach the dark room. Above reveals a full moon in full view, despite it being noon outside. If one were of the clever sort they would taste an oddness in the air, the feeling of something being quite not right. They would be halfway right, though it would take an even more clever sort to truly know what it was. This thickness in the air was in fact that of shadow, piercing every nook and cranny, every inch of the room in its entire.
Just behind a counter in this eerie, lost boutique stood a man, himself hidden in shadow, an entirely unnatural shadow, more so than even the unnatural shadow cast in the room.
“Welcome, honored customer” A wisp of a voice practically leaking from the man, “How may I help you today?” The lean man removed his hood,
“A new shadow,” the man spoke, “For mine has worn thin, and long outlived its use”
“An easy task my friend” The shopkeep said cautiously, “What are you willing to sacrifice?” The man paused, and produced an item from beneath his cloak,
“I’ve brought the souls of five, this should more than suffice.”
“That it does, friend.” The shopkeep agreed. After taking the procurement he sat at a chair by the loom behind his counter, placing three of the souls to be spun, and two in a drawer, as his payment. While spinning the stolen souls into thread, he carefully plucked shadow from the air to add to the loom, the shadow and soul becoming one. After he had the yarn of shadow and soul he began an unseen action, the true secret of his trade, and when he was done, doned it upon his client,
“I do hope this suits your needs, friend.” He spoke with an air of finality, their transaction complete.
“Quite.” The lean man said, and without another words he sank into the shadows, and was gone.
Sacrifices in the Night
By Adrian Solorio
It was nightfall when Antonio arrived at the wild woman’s home. And though he needed her help, he hated to admit it, and cursed himself for coming. For it was a known fact, that nothing good could come from mixing with a devil’s sister.
The home seemed to be proof of this conventional wisdom. The house—really just a decrepit shack—clung to the riverbank like a tumorous cancer. In the dooryard, vines and wildgrasses, overgrown, crept up the adobe walls, and seemed to entangle the small house in a smothering embrace, encircling the soot-stained windows, bringing attention to the candlelight seen through the glass. Antonio breathed deeply, swung open the rickety gate, and went to the door. But before he reached it, it opened, and there she stood.
Rene de la Cruz was still as beautiful as she had been when they were young lovers. Twenty years had passed, yet she hadn’t seemed to age more than five. “Welcome, Don Antonio. I’ve been waiting for you.” She smiled, and mischief danced in her eyes. “You took so long, I wondered if my magic was waning. It happens, you know? As we get older. It happens to all of us.”
Antonio stood on the threshold and a lump grew in his throat. He tried to turn, to leave, but his feet wouldn’t move. Seeing his panic, Rene laughed. Then she took his sweating hand and led him inside where she directed him to the bed corner. “I didn’t come for that,” Antonio sputtered, as he sat. “My daughter—Yulissa—she’s sick. But the doctors, the priest, they don’t know—if my wife knew I was here—she can’t know I came to you.
“Don’t worry, Don Antonio. You’re not the first respectable townsman,” Rene said soothingly, “who’s come to me for help against his wife’s wishes. Doctors are fools. Priests? Idiots. I know what Yulissa needs. I have it here inside. But first, you must give me something. Something dear.”
“I need a sacrifice for the magic to work. Your wife. She’s the one. Her life for your daughter’s—for your Yulissa’s.”
Antonio swallowed. Then nodded.
(Reposted from private)
You are standing at the counter.
The Market is busy tonight. Shapes pass behind you. You feel their weight, sloshing and smacking against the tiled path. They crash themselves against the other booths, roll themselves up to the candle at each open window.
You are standing at the counter.
Before you, the candle flickers. There are silhouettes pinned to the walls and they sway, dancing with it.
“Are you going to try something on or not?”
The shop keep is a vague approximation of a man. His brow is heavy. He sags at the waist and the chin, skin pooling where it should bulge. Perhaps, when he was on this side of the candle, he chose wrong.
You wonder if he regrets it.
The mounted shadows are composed of the same parts. Two arms, two legs, a head. Some spindle out in long strands. Some compact inwards. Stubby and dense, or long and boney, or long and muscular, or boney and short.
“If you keep over thinking it, you’ll be here all night.”
You pick one on the back wall. Its limbs are lithe and curving. A curtain sweeps from its head.
You drip yourself into it.
The candle’s voice is sweet. You hear the soft music it makes. The shadow’s legs pull taught, raise you onto tiptoe, turn you in a delicate arch. And maybe this is fine.
Pretty, the word comes to mind. You feel pretty.
You like the long hair swinging behind you, the chest rounding as you fill it, the attention this comes with, the drag of eyes across you, crawling over your shoulders, your stomach, your thighs, your-
You fling the shadow away. It slaps wetly back into place on the wall. The candle has gone out. You are blind. You hear it in the corner, dripping the last of you into a puddle on the floor.
“Better luck next time,” the shop keep says.
You slosh across the tiled path, crash against the next booth.
You are standing at the counter.
You wonder what the other side of the candle is like.
by Lee Strangely
Geiger and Bones stood at the mouth of the space between buildings.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Bones asked, rather befuddled.
“Oh yes,” Geiger replied as he entered, “we certainly are.”
Bones nervously followed along, “You’re confident that this person can decipher the code?”
“He’s gotta know something,” Geiger paused for a moment, “Before we go in, it’s important that you don’t try to shout or make any sudden moves.”
“Why would I need to- Where exactly are we going?”
“It’s a shadow market,” Geiger murmured.
“A shadow market.”
Bones was more confused, “A shadow market? That’s just a made up excuse potion-junkies use to cover for their dealers.”
Geiger kept walking down the alley way. Bones reluctantly continued after him.
Thanks to the many balconies and various objects above, the alley itself appeared quite dark. After some ways, Geiger suddenly stopped in his tracks.
“Nothing,” Geiger said as he pulled out a flash light, “We’re here.”
Bones saw nothing but an empty alley, “Where?”
Geiger turned on the light, “Mr. Bones, welcome to the Moonstone Alley shadow market.”
In the bright perimeter of the light, dark silhouettes walked from one end of the brick wall to another. Black squares hung like frames, acting as windows for shopkeepers as they peddled their goods. Geiger went from stall to stall until he reached the one he wanted.
“Percy?” Geiger asked.
“Danny,” the shadow replied.
Geiger handed him a piece of paper, “Can you decipher this code.”
Percy looked it over, “This can’t be deciphered.”
“It can’t be deciphered because it isn’t a code. You need someone else for this.”
“What is it then?”
“Outside my expertise,” Percy stated as he tried to move away.
Geiger quickly put his hand over the shadow’s neck, pressing against the wall.
“Careful,” Percy warned, “one word and everything and everyone here disappears.”
“What is it?”
“A formula, I think. For what, I don’t know. For that you need a brewer.”
Bones turned to Geiger, “Where the heck are we going to find a potions brewer?”
The rays of sun were fading fast already. Before the one standing in the alley could think to remember or remember to think, the markets of the day had closed, the once brilliant warmth of the crowds traveling from stall to stall had faded to a crepuscular scene, where the only warmth the figure could feel was that of the dying sun in those cruel, lonely heavens.
But then it heard. It heard the crooning call; it felt that burning blaze. The alley-dweller turned, only to meet with what it had feared, the deep darkness. Even so, it needed to move; the umbrage would not wait for it. It delved into the alley, past the lurking reaches of the tenebrosity, past its fears. It willed itself deeper until it stumbled into that place, one it had found itself before; a land of terrible wonder, of grim mystique. The alley-dweller’s eyes alighted upon an object. It was a small lantern, glowing with that deadly light it needed to keep the shadows at bay. It approached, hesitantly, when a man appeared, as if only conjured by its intrigue.
He smiled at it. The alley-dweller could tell it was a fake smile; it had seen them before.
“Welcome, Gleam. Back for the lantern? You know the price, my friend.”
The alley-dweller recoiled at the name it had been labeled. Even so, it did know the price; it had paid it before. The man gave it a wicked smile as Gleam nodded slowly and felt its mind begin to be wrested from its control. The man handed over the lantern, and Gleam was the alley-dweller once more. It shielded this warmth of the lantern, the radiance protecting it from the dark. The time passed, and when those quick hands came to snatch that lantern once more at dawn, it hardly noticed.
I’ve gotten punched in the stomach; this is so much worse.
Everything inside pulling me into myself, my chest hurts; But I just can’t leave it alone.
“I’m going to get destroyed” I thought to myself. “My boss already hates me. What am I doing”
As I go to grab the door handle, a shock travels up my spine and into my limbs. I’m physically resisting myself, which usually happens when anxiety is inches from ensuring I lose control.
I can’t run away now; everything has built up to this moment.
I use all the fear and anxiety I can to pierce through to the domain. I hide my face so the demons will leave me alone. What was once a vibrant, joyous atmosphere was now tinted in black and green. Clouds fill my vision on a clear day. My heart explodes.
The demons attack at the height of their power, while I’m at my lowest.
I fade into blackness.
“What’s wrong with you!?” Delightful to hear first thing out of an episode. “I just brought a first-rate customer into the game; you just had to go screw everything up!” I’m barely conscious. “Hello, Henry.”
I hated the guy, yet I had the nerve to feel sorry for him?
Doesn’t matter, just need to get to work-
“I can explain!” The demons were all gazing at me, preparing to devour me. “You were going to leave us?!” Henry strikes. “You do realize how appalling it is to see no return investment for the time you chose to spend here?”
Mr. Caltins cuts in with, “ Fine. Leave. If there’s one thing you’re not gonna get from me, it’s a recommendation.”
The demons crave fresh meat; I’m no exception.
They continue to barrel roll into me, cutting into my chest, paralyzing my legs, numbness overtaking me.
The poker game continues, no matter what.
I am nothing. No one. Can’t do anything. Every excuse won’t help me now.
I am useless.
A Meeting of Hunters (Helsing: Vampire)
By Connor A.
Luca Moretti rarely trusted other hunters. Sure, they all claimed to have the same goal, but in practice a good chunk of them were just in it to pretend to be badasses and fake their results for a quick profit.
It was why he traveled to the American town of Shield Point by himself. The moment the news of rising vampire sightings crossed his company was a sure fire way for those disingenuous members to fuck around in another country and claim it was a hoax when they were done. He could not let that happen.
Now if only he could actually puzzle out what the tour guide was saying as they led the group through a street market. He caught a few words, but with how fast the guide was speaking he had no way of knowing what they actually meant.
In the corner of his eye he spotted someone around his height approach him. There was a moment of silence, then the figure spoke in Italian, “In summary, these markets used to sell goods without British-imposed taxes as an act of rebellion.”
Some of the pronunciation was off— possibly Northern European— but it was still enough for Luca to turn to face the figure. When he caught the familiar scent of blood and ash underlying cologne, his hand went for the crucifix in his pocket.
“Please control yourself,” the vampire ordered calmly, still speaking in Italian. “We have similar goals.”
“Strange. I don’t believe you.”
The vampire lifted one arm and turned Luca’s attention to his cuff link. Closer examination revealed a coat of arms he recognized almost instantly.
Helsing lowered his arm and grinned. “There is a stall nearby that makes excellent tea. Or perhaps you wish to stay here?”
Luca looked at the guide, grimaced at the overuse of English slang, and looked back at Helsing. “Only if you tell me what you know about recent events.”
Slice of Life (Chronicles of The Dragon)
“Hey brat, we’re going to The Shadow Market. You wanna come?”
Jostica looked up from her bed at her Brother, Jonathan, and his girlfriend, Caitlyn, standing at the door to her room.
She grinned and said, “Yeah!” as she leapt off and ran to the door.
The Shadow Market wasn’t it’s actual name. But a storm had knocked the “yside” off leaving it’s sign as “The Shade Market” and the local kids had fun with that. Decades after the sign had been fixed the name still stuck with the children, with the adults calling it just “The Market.”
It was far too small to be considered a Supermarket, but was far greater than any convenience store. It offered a full selection of foods, include fresh fruits, vegetables, and deli counter. But of course the front had the expected selection of candies, chips, and soda-pop, but also cakes and pastries, nuts and dried fruits, savory and salty snacks.
Jostica wasn’t allowed to make the trip on her own yet, however. So of course she’d jump at any opportunity to go. She practically skipped through the doors and drummed her fingers against her lips. “How much can I get?”
“Well,” Jonathan said, pulling some bills from his pocket. “As long as the total doesn’t go over…” He abruptly shoved some bills with blood on them back in his pocket as Caitlyn looked at him with mixed panic and anger. “uh, twenty dollars you can get whatever you want.”
Caitlyn slapped Jon’s arm, hard, before smiling at Jostica, “I’m just getting some chips so get whatever you want.”
Jostica eagerly started looking through all the snacks and so didn’t see Jonathan shrug at Caitlyn.
“What are you going to get?” she asked him.
“I was going to get a sandwich, but, uh- I don’t have as much as I thought I did, so… I dunno.”
Jostica picked some cakes and cookies, and a chocolate milk before meeting back at the register.
Jonathan paid and got his change, while Jostica opened her cookies. “Can we eat at the park?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Girl on the Market
By: Tamela Redfin
Time passed and a kiss quickly turned into more. Date nights, staying over and it was all great. But then, trouble stuck its fat nose out.
“Did you hear what Cameron did?” A researcher asked Feldspar Augen.
“Ya, with the traitor? Don’t worry, I have ein solution.”
I pressed my ear to the wall.
“First we get the scalpel. Good, so we use that to cut out those beautiful eyes for my collection. Then, do we have the, ahem, saw? The rusty one, ya. Why not instead of taking her arm, we try the head? Hahahaha! Serves her right. As for Phosphorus Cameron, I sadly must send him away.”
No! My sweetheart. My heart beat wildly as I ran to Radon Cecilia’s worn shack. “Cecilia! Cece! Cece!”
Cecilia ran out in just her nightgown. “Cam? What’s going on?”
“They’re gonna kill you.” My breath hitched.
“Feldspar Augen is gonna do it. Cut your head off and your eyes out. Please, gather some things and run away with me,”
“How cliché.” Cecilia huffed. “Can I bring Sapphira?”
I winced, for Sapphira wasn’t the biggest fan of me. But, if this would help Cecilia escape, I’d do it. “Get her.”
Moments later a half asleep Sapphira came out with another little boy. “This wanted to join us to find his dad.” Sapphira explained.
“My name is Mica.” He snapped.
I shrugged. “Whatever. This way. We have to be careful. We have to steal the car.”
“I ain’t no thief.” Sapphira muttered. Cecilia hushed her as I watched the spotlights dance before us. There! I ran for the vehicle sitting in the shadows.
I motioned for the others to come and they did. I sat Cecilia in the shotgun and the children behind us.
“I got this.” Sapphira piped up, striking the fence with lightning, blowing a hole in it. I stamped the gas and we were out, for now.
“Hey Sapphira, why didn’t you blow up the fence earlier?” Mica asked.
“My cousin wasn’t going to be murdered and sold for parts earlier, Mica.” She snarled before yawning.
A Slight Misinterpretation of Tone
“WATERMELON! Love a good watermelon.”
Aelwyn sighed. “Grug, the last time we bought a watermelon, you ate it whole and then threw up on your battleaxe. I will not-”
She felt a nudge on her shoulder. “Darius, I am in the middle of-”
“Nah, over there. Is that…?”
Following the direction Darius was pointing, Aelwyn’s eyes landed on…
Standing a head above the crowd, cloaked in a cape so jet-black that the summer sun hardly seemed to touch it, and wearing the skull of a dire eagle, was the Goldenhilt Adventuring Party’s self-proclaimed arch-nemesis: Doctor Nefarious.
He was also currently carrying a tote bag and backing away carefully from a squat bread merchant wielding a rolling pin.
“I… suppose we should investigate?”
With some measure of reflection about what she had expected the adventuring life to entail, Aelwyn approached.
Doctor Nefarious startled slightly, before drawing himself up to his full height and speaking in a deep, thunderous voice.
“That’s LORD Nefarious to YOU, MEDDLING HEROES!”
Darius cocked an eyebrow. “But last week, ya said-”
“I’ve only completed my BACHELOR’S CERTIFICATE. The UNIVERSITY sent me LETTERS.”
Aelwyn decided to step in. “Lord Nefarious then. What are you doing here?”
Lord Nefarious gestured to the stalls around him. “Is it not OBVIOUS? You must be even more STUPID than I THOUGHT! I am buying ILLICIT GOODS from the BLACK MARKET to further my EVIL PLOTS!”
The party looked at the surrounding stalls, which in this section of the square were mostly dedicated to pastries, and found that this market was, at its blackest, perhaps a muddy beige.
“It’s a farmin’ market.”
“HA! FOOLS! This PARCHMENT proves your IGNORANCE!”
From within the folds of his cloak, Lord Nefarious produced a sheet of paper reading “SHADOW MARKET: 18TH MAY.”
“… That says “shadow market.” They occur a week after the market proper, so only the locals come.”
Lord Nefarious quickly turned the poster around to read it, paused for about a second, and, with an even more forced cackle than usual, disappeared into an ominous cloud of black feathers.
Shadows For Sale Or Rent
C. M. Weller
Light is important, most agree on this. What they neglect is that shadows and darkness are just as important. Possibly more so.
Princess Corianne hadn’t done much to disguise herself. She was irritated by the fact that all it took was swapping clothes with her maid and washing her face of makeup. So many plays and stories detailed the number of ways a Highborn could meet their doom doing such, but nobody paid her any mind.
She was yet another hooded figure in the Undercity. Dressed in drab clothing, walking from one place to another. Lit by the lanterns and glowing objects of the Shadow Markets. Like many others in this space, Corianne had a slip of paper with directions on it. She consulted it once more, then retraced her steps and turned a corner she had previously missed.
This market was more than just ONE kind of Shadow Market.
One could get almost anything here. Including solutions to interesting problems. Such as – just off the top of Corianne’s head – not having a shadow.
Someone must have stolen or kidnapped the original, and it didn’t suit for a Highborn to be seen without a shadow. She found the place, where shades without any other way of existing sold their services for whatever specters wanted.
The downside – ghosts could not speak. So negotiation had to happen via oija board or psychic. The latter of whom were not likely to remain discreet.
Corianne entered a booth and tapped the crystal ball with a silver coin, then laid that coin on the board inlaid on the table. Specifically, on the part of it that read, HELLO.
The coin moved on its own and spelled, “What do you need?”
“I need a shadow to help maintain appearances until my regular one returns. No funny business, no showmanship. Just plain, ordinary, imitation of my motions. I can pay well.”
The coin on the board spelled out, “Unusual, but we can find someone. Our usual clients like the showmanship.”
Corianne tried not to roll her eyes. The usual clients were vampires. Of course they liked showmanship.
Eureka (Darkspell Universe)
By ThatWeirdFish, reviewed by Specter
Kaylie carefully arranged the jars on the table as Grandfather had told her. She frowned at the stains that her muddy hands left on them and the table. Why is she always making pretty things dirty…?
“Still getting used to being a bog spirit I see,” Grandfather smiled as she tried to smear out a spot on the table. He then chuckled and handed her a pair of gloves.
“Yeah,” Kaylie glared at the stubborn spot as she put on her gloves. She didn’t like wearing them… but otherwise, her… muck would get everywhere. Then she turned back to the crate of jars while Grandfather cleaned off the table with that magic cloth that could clean everything.
The sound of laughter drew Kaylie’s eyes back to the market. Two men were haggling over something and apparently having a good time. She frowned again as she scanned the market once more. Everything looked… different, but she couldn’t find out why. Or why she couldn’t smell anything anymore.
The crowd passed by their shop without even a cursory glance as the day wore on. That was odd… everyone else’s stall seemed to be super busy.
“Are… we invisible?” Kaylie asked.
“Yes, and for a good reason,” Grandfather answered, shifting on his seat behind the counter.
“What we sell in those jars are intended only for people who know,” He nodded at a man in a sigiled coat walking towards them. “Max, it is good to see you again.”
“As always, Joseph,” Max replied cordially before looking over the wares. He smiled as his red eyes met Kaylie’s white eyes. “You must be the old man’s new assistant. What’s your name?”
“It’s Kaylie…” She half-smiled. Even though Max was friendly, his scarred face made him a bit scary.
“She was wandering alone around the shore of Veil Lake three weeks ago when I found her. Since she had no relatives to speak of, I took her in,” Grandfather said, smiling down at Kaylie.
“Three weeks ago…” Max mused as he reached for something in his coat pocket.
Beast of the Night
Submitted by: robertoface
In the depths of the woods I waited for the moon to pass behind clouds so I could huff the kingfisher.
Keeping an animal’s Shade for too long was cruel, I felt. At least I knew the trader at the shadow market treated the beasts well, and distilled shadows properly. Quality is worth investing in, and not every phosphomonger can deliver.
I knew enough skioturgy to understand the process by now: the less natural light the better; consume immediately upon opening. My current spot was perfect: starlight was scarce and when the moon was obscured, the bushy thickets would block whatever slivers of silver still stained the clouds.
This spot was mine. Nights like this typically drew out Shade junkies, seeking release through nature, spending gains on poorly-procured shadows: elk, or rabbits, sometimes even bluebells. But this spot?
This was mine.
Normally I wouldn’t be so pedantic with my consumption, but tonight it mattered: we barely escaped last time. If it hadn’t been for the phosphomonger’s excellent distillation and my careful preparation… at least this time we knew where the mirrors should be.
And my crew don’t plan to stay petty crooks: we plan to be legendary! Beware the Beasts of the Night!
The sky darkened. I pinched the valve between my molars and tugged. My lungs heaved with nothing as I consumed the void.
I had never huffed a kingfisher before. My shape, lost and unbound in the endless darkness, found definition deep within: I had no shadow of my own, yet this one permeated my essence.
I tumbled to my knees, but never hit the ground. I was low, shoulder blades flitting as the animus became me. I swept across mud, water and fallen leaves, skimming reflective surfaces like shards of glass.
I had to get to the manor: everything becomes more complicated at sun-up. Yet I had a commission to fulfil. And this was the best crew I’d had for years.
This sponsor, they would see us to greater things. We just needed to honour our instructions. The three words that commanded us: raid, shadow legends.
Lucy! You’ve Got Some ‘Splaining to Do!
It was the singing that drew him to her. Matt had never heard anything like it. It was beautiful. It was eerie. It was…
Everything was in shadow from her silhouette to the cage she was trapped inside. Her singing stopped as she noticed him. “Ah. It worked… Greetings Matt. I thought it was time we finally met.”
Matt looked around, trying to get his bearings in the changing landscape. “Uh huh… I just have a… few questions. Where are we? Who are you? And what do you want?”
While Matt couldn’t see the details of her face, he got the feeling she was smirking at him. “You are dreaming. I am caged in the nexus of Hell. As for what I want…” Moving her hands, she showed that not only was she caged but she was manacled inside of it. “That should be quite obvious, don’t you think? Should you choose to free me, I have much I could offer with your… various problems.”
It was at this point that Matt first noticed the shadow of her wings. “Ah. You’re a fallen angel.” This weirdly relaxed him. Fallen angels he could deal with. “I take it you want me to return your grace as well?”
She chuckled softly. “That won’t be necessary… You see, when Father locked me here, He wanted to prove a point. That my power was nothing to His. He also wanted all of my followers to resent me. I have not my freedom, but at least I am whole.”
Matt’s eyes bulged with realization. She had never answered who she was and now he knew why. “Right… I’m gonna go now.”
“You’d give Lilith a chance but not me?” She asked coldly before sitting down on the floor, causing her wings to hide her silhouette. “I suppose I do not blame you. I only ask you to think about this. You’ve met Father, have you not? Was I wrong to attempt overthrowing Him?”
“I do NOT trust you, but I’ll… think about it.” Matt sighed, vanishing as he woke up.
“I’m not going anywhere…”
This is not a Marketplace (Forsaken Universe)
By Alex Nightingale (aka Spectre)
“Michael? Are you okay?”
Jackie’s voice hit him from behind like a sledgehammer and he whirled around.
“Yeah… why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because you’re staring into open space, like you want to embrace it. Do you… need to talk about something? If you’re homesick…”
“That’s not it. It’s… forget it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Come on. Tell me.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Michael, I know that face. I see it every time I look in the mirror. I’m telling you now, as someone who, like you, is stuck in unknown space, with the very real possibility that she may never see her home planet again, it does matter. Something is going on with you. Please, talk to me. Doesn’t matter how small it is.”
There was a pause.
“It’s stupid…” he began.
“No, it’s not. It’s you. It doesn’t matter, what we’re going through right now, you matter just as much.”
“Just remembering my time at the academy… Terrible timing, I know. Why now, of all times?”
Jackie stood in silence, listening.
“I feel now, like I did then,” Michael continued. “So… useless.”
“Let’s just say, I’ve been thinking about quitting.”
“You wanted to quit the academy? Why? You were doing well, I thought. You always talked about it, when we shared lunch.”
That had been long before the incident. Jackie missed those times, dearly.
“I’d screwed up… A lot. In a lot of ways, back at the academy. And now… I feel the same way all over again.”
“You… You’re not useless, Michael. I promise, you’re not.”
“Aren’t I? I’ve done nothing to help rebuild the ship, Jackie. Nothing.”
“You try your best.”
“Traded happiness for self-awareness,” Michael ignored her comment. “Seems like a good bargain.”
“No. No, it was not. It was an awful bargain.”
“Do you propose a different one, then?”
“This is not a marketplace, Michael! This is me, trying to help a friend. Please, let me.”
Finally, Michael looked at her fully.
“What did you have in mind?”
Jackie didn’t speak and just hugged her friend.
“This, for starters,” she finally said.