Now Accepting Submissions for the “Myths and Melodies” Writing Competition, Year 815

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Wren
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Re: Now Accepting Submissions for the “Myths and Melodies” Writing Competition, Year 815

#11 Post by Wren » Sun Dec 08, 2019 6:51 am

This was written in a fixed-width font for eighty-character lines, around 20 lines per chapter. I apologize if the paging on the forum does not look quite as good as I hope it will in the mud. Honestly, some of the themes here are a little much for me, but I think this is roughly the sort of story a 19-year-old Wren would write. Also, it needs a proofread pass before it hits the mud, because I'm sure I swapped tense like crazy, having written this over a couple of different nights. Hope you enjoy!

Family

"Not all that's written is wise; not all wisdom is written"

This book is dedicated to a friend of mine, a gnomish talespinner, who would
have me remind you that this is a work of fiction. It takes place in a world
not quite like ours, with rules not quite like ours. So, reader beware, if you
seek out secret sages in the Skybreak Ridge, you are likely to be eaten by wild
animals. If you try to defend yourself from a vampire with a jar of rice, you
are probably going to be eaten by a vampire. And if you try to assault a
beautiful illusionist with rosewater and powdered silver, you will almost
certainly be eaten by my spectral dragon. - Wren, 814.

---

After nearly forty years of thieving, Sylvester Staunch thought he had earned
the right to an opinion or two. They tended to crop up as one aged, much like
grey hairs in that they tended to make everyone else look old, but lent him a
distinguished air. And his opinion was this: most traditions simply weren't
worth a damn. After all, it was tradition for most thieves to get caught sooner
or later, and he never felt any need to even give that a try. Those that didn't
get executed or die ignominiously in a gutter almost invariably ended up
joining the Sinshade, who traditionally transformed their members into various
monstrosities. He simply wasn't interested in that, either, despite the growing
aches in his joints and the annoying paunch he simply couldn't seem to lose.
No, according to this happily middle-aged cutpurse, most traditions are bunk.

But one tradition worth holding onto was that almost every thief who picked a
strongbox's lock simply took whatever was inside then scampered. It's strange,
almost inconceivable, that they would then unpick the lock and fasten the safe
as tight as they found it. Nevertheless, here Sylvester was, staring inside a
nearly empty safe, containing only the signature of his unexpected competition.

---

It was a classy calling card, he had to admit that. Minimalist, elegant, and
to the point. An illustration of a purple aster underlined the handwritten
message, "You've been beat," and it was signed with the name Istasia. Whoever
she was, Sylvester begrudgingly admired her work. This lockbox's tumblers were
state of the art; it took him a solid two minutes to crack it. And it would
have taken him another four to lock the entire thing back up, since the design
was not one that would secure itself automatically when closed. No, either this
Istasia was a truly skilled lockpick with time to spare, some sort of con
artist, or most distressingly of all: an arcanist who had it out for him.

As Sylvester was meditating over these possibilities, and over just how unlucky
he felt today, he heard the first hound barking. Then, the clanking of armored
boots, the rustling of steel, and to cap the symphony of this newest disaster,
his own footfalls racing towards the second-story window he wouldn't have time
to open.

---

When someone wants you dead, Sylvester has observed, you typically need three
things in increasing order of importance: a place to lay low, information about
your new foe, and as many healing potions as you can afford. Unfortunately for
him and everyone else in Rhojidan, there was only one option if you needed all
three at once. Fortunately for him, if not anyone else in Rhojidan, he had some
leverage over this particular Sinshade Vampire. That's why, instead of a dark
and musty sewer, they were meeting in a chic hilltop cafe on the nice side of
town, in the middle of a sunny day.

Ginnic the Slick, known to Sylvester by his old, true name through circuitous
circumstances that are not worth retelling, arrived at the cafe in style. He
held a ladies' parasol over a wide-brimmed hat that had been crammed, somewhat
unsuccessfully, over a dark-hooded cloak that did little to conceal his full
face mask, which did even less to conceal the vampire's fanged scowl. And as
every guard, every servant, every customer and every noble steadfastly looked
away to pretend Ginnic wasn't there, Sylvester stepped forward to say hello.

---

"An illusionist, you say?" It wasn't surprising the Sinshade knew who Istasia
was. That's why Sylvester was meeting with Ginnic in the first place. No, what
was surprising was that Ginnic offered this information before he could ask.

"That's right. University trained, from what we hear. That's who is after you."

"Yet, here I am," noted Sylvester, with some concern, "still alive."

The vampire shrugged. "It's possible she wants to make it really hurt. It's
what the Family would do, after all, if you ever stepped on our toes."

Decades of experience had made it an acquired instinct to never do so, of
course, so Sylvester took the threat in stride. "Speaking frankly," he
responded, "I never did understand your Family very well." It was a subtle
touch of flattery: vampires, like all powerful people, love to talk about
themselves and are incapable of refusing the opportunity.

"Traditionally speaking," Ginnic responded, entirely ignorant of Sylvester's
wince, "It's like any other family. I'm never quite sure whether I want to hug
them or strangle them. Either way, I keep them close."

---

"It's a little surprising you ask," Ginnic continued, ignoring the fact that
Sylvester hadn't asked, and didn't need to ask for Ginnic to talk about himself
and the many wonders of the Sinshade. "Surely you've had something like family
in the past, even if it was just a few close friends?"

"Never," said the former orphan, who reached adulthood largely on the
questionable virtues of clever lies and cleverer fingers.

"Tragic," the vampire enunciated in that particular way vampires often do,
reminding you that they are several different types of nobility, all of which
are entirely unattainable to you, their food. "Haven't you ever loved?"

And then he hesitated, just a breath, because, you see, Sylvester had loved.
Once and only once, while laying low on a distant shore in the tropical south,
he met a woman, dark-skinned with raven black hair, and the most unusual eyes
that shined like amber. They spent but three nights together. On the first two,
he had left her a flower and returned the next week. On the last, he hadn't the
time. Tracked down by a bounty hunter, Sylvester fled, never to return.

"No," he answered, because it was a lie closer to his heart than the truth.

---

Halfway through the pleasant back and forth in his lunch date with the vampire,
Sylvester felt goosebumps on the back of his neck. It took him a moment to
realize why: Ginnic was smiling. You see, when a vampire scowls at you, they
are likely to charge at any moment, tear out your heart with their razor sharp
claws, and devour your lifeblood by rending your neck into a gory mess. But
when a vampire smiles at you, that's when you're really in trouble.

"So," he said, putting down his fork. "How does one go about defending himself
from a vengeful illusionist?"

"There are traditionally three options," explained Ginnic. "You could train for
years in the art of magic and master it yourself, you could seek the secret
sages who seclude themselves in the peaks of Skybreak, or you could..."

And everyone within a hundred yards pretended as hard as they could not to hear
as Ginnic shouted, "JOIN THE FAMILY!" in the middle of flipping the table and
lunging for Sylvester's throat. As it wasn't the first time the two had this
argument, Sylvester came prepared. He threw down a jar full of dried rice, and
as it shattered against he stone road, he exclaimed, "Donny Skewers, by your
true name I command you to count my rice!" Then he fled.

---

That a vampire can be commanded to do certain odd tasks with the invocation of
their true name is a weakness that not many know, but it had saved Sylvester's
hide enough times that he found himself seriously considering Ginnic's second
option. You see, it is said that the secret sages of Skybreak look down upon
the world and catalogue the weaknesses of all things. Over the centuries, many
saints and heroes had sought them out, braving dangers and completing trials to
learn the hidden vulnerabilities of monsters and tyrants. And while these
adventurers had faced terrible hardship to win this knowledge, they rarely had
to do any sort of reading or book reports, so Sylvester found himself favoring
the option over enrolling in any sort of University.

Much could be written about the wolves, the terrible giant owls, the cougars
and feral elves, their magnificent draconic companions or the other monsters
and dangers that Sylvester might have fought on his way up the mountains. As it
turns out, however, he proved himself an excellent thief and simply snuck past
them. There's always something to be said for pragmatism, after all, and in
Sylvester's case, there's far more to be said about it than any sort of
bravado. So it was that he made it to the fabled peaks of Skybreak unmolested.

---

There are very few places in the world where a born-and-bred Rhojidani might
find himself shivering, and the peaks of the Skybreak Ridge were most of them.
By the time he had visited the third, Sylvester was seriously considering
giving up and learning how to read. But as fortune would have it, it was at
that very moment that he stumbled upon the monastery. A grand stone edifice
carved into the mountain itself, it laid concealed under great white sheets of
ice that made it all but impossible to discern. And there, at the entrance,
waiting for him, was an old but muscled Rhojidani man with his head shaved bald
and nothing worn save a humble pair of well-kept trousers.

Faced with one of the legendary sages, Sylvester steeled himself. After all,
Ronmar the Hero had to complete twelve tasks to win his secret, and the devil
queen Cassandra took seven entire years to seduce one of the sages. Squaring
his shoulders and stepping forward, Sylvester opened his mouth to ask the
secret weakness of illusionists and was immediately interrupted.

"Powdered Silver in Rosewater," said the secret sage.

And Sylvester Staunch, who had never been given anything for free in his life,
was immediately dumbstruck.

---

"If you splash an illusionist with powdered silver dissolved in rosewater," the
sage clarified, "all of her magic will be dispelled. It's your only chance."

"Um," Sylvester responded with wit and clarity, but the sage got the gist.

"Listen, Sylvester, the sages know the weaknesses of all things, and yours is
definitely hard work. If we were to give you trials or quests, you might manage
to complete one--and that's definitely not certain--before you decided to try
simply stealing all of our scrolls and tablets. My favorite recipes are on
those tablets, Sylvester, and I simply do not have the time for that non-sense.
A hero, now that's someone I can sharpen into a weapon of destiny with quests
and prophecies, but you're just a thief. Frankly, I'm astonished you made it
here in the first place."

"But," came Sylvester's next interjection.

"Get out. No, we don't have anything valuable." With that, the sage returned
inside.

"Huh," said Sylvester, staring at nothing and no one. Then, he went back home.

---

Neither rosewater nor powdered silver was very hard to get, but there was one
rather tricky bit that gave Sylvester some trouble once he made it back to
Rhojidan. That is, he had to find this Istasia character in order to splash her
with it. In the past, she had demonstrated an upsetting capacity for finding
him instead, even to the point of beating him to his mark. That meant his best
chance was to lure her out with another job. On the upside, that meant planning
another job, which he enjoyed very much. On the downside, that meant this job
would be a complicated one, which he hated almost more than anything.

Worst of all was the time pressure! If he took a few days to case his target
and plan the perfect approach, she'd have time to do it before him. In order to
catch her in the act of catching him, he'd have to find someone wealthy enough
to rob and stupid enough to be robbed on short notice. Thus, despite all of his
better judgment screaming at him to keep walking the rest of the way to the
docks and sail off to Kalmyr, Sylvester Staunch found himself standing at the
entrance to the royal palace armed with nothing but a smile and three fancy
jars of perfume.

---

While he preferred picking locks and pockets, there was another type of theft
which Sylvester could, and in times of duress, would employ. He found it
distasteful, but there was a certain sort of robbery one could commit where the
target would lose almost everything and then thank you for it afterward. It was
called salesmanship, and it always left a sour taste in Sylvester's mouth.

"But I can tell you the final component, my lady! You see, once every other
scent and essence has been added and mixed, we take that nearly perfect scent
to the very heights of the Skybreak Ridge. There, the reclusive Sylvaneshi must
be bribed to allow our passage, and we allow their snow drakes the opportunity
to smell it. Their tears, their impossible crystalline tears that drift through
the air like snowflakes, are then caught in the bottle. Then, and only then, is
a Twemaistar perfume complete!" Sylvester told the lady at court, as he offered
only the tiniest sample of discount perfume from the central market onto her
wrist. Enraptured, she strained to smell it and immediately fainted, dead away.

Sylvester steeled his heart against the guilt as the other ladies at court
started shouting over each other for the chance to purchase the worthless
bottle in his hand, but before he could respond to any of them, a voice rang
out over the fracas and drew every eye to its source.

---

"Sylvaneshi snow drake tears?" said the elf in the flowing gowns, somehow
sounding bored even as she projected her voice loud enough to be heard from
across the sitting room. "How droll. They were popular on the Isle a few years
back of course, but we've all moved on since then. He must be selling our...

"Leftovers." And with that lethal parting shot, the elf turned to walk towards
the exit. The panic of desire completely undercut, the women surrounding
Sylvester scattered without even sparing him a backwards glance, giving him a
chance to catch up with the woman who could only possibly be Istasia.

"Pardon me--" he began, but her interruption was already on her lips.

"Very well, you are pardoned. Now go away," she said in the rudest tone
imaginable.

"Ah," he said, recognizing the ploy immediately. "You must be an ambassador."

"Hielomaria Samminthrosa Telerius III," she said, still walking away and not
even bothering to look at him. "Newly appointed ambassador from Kalmyr."

---

"Lady ambassador," Sylvester requested, wasting just enough time with his
aborted bow for her to carry herself another two strides away , "if I may--"

"You may not!" she shouted, already evading the puff of perfume he sent in her
direction. As it so happened, he had grabbed the wrong bottle by mistake
anyway, so he did the reasonable thing and threw it at her head.

Still keeping up the charade, Hielomaria ducked and screamed, "Are you mad?!"

"Maybe I am!" Sylvester shouted back, pulling the correct bottle of rosewater
from his jacket. That he wielded it like a sword was just confusing enough to
give his target pause. "Why don't you call your guards, then, 'ambassador'!"

As she found herself choking on a sudden spray of rosewater infused with
powdered silver, Sylvester found himself surprised by her response. For one
thing, her visage did not melt away into that of some sort of arcane imposter,
and rather than casting any sort of spell, she did in fact shout for guards.
Worst of all were the boots marching in his direction from just outside the
only exits, and the halberds of a half-dozen extremely angry and disturbingly
real elves, one of whom would inform him on the way to the dungeons that Kalmyr
considers bringing guards into a sitting room the height of rudeness.

---

"So," said the Rhojidani soldier keeping watch outside his cell. "Attempted
murder of an ambassador. Have to admit, I wouldn't have guessed. You don't look
like much of an assassin to me."

Despondent, his head in his hands, Sylvester Staunch had to admit he really
didn't. "Murder? That's absurd. I sprayed her with perfume," he muttered.

"Lethal rosewater allergy," the guard informed him, not quite keeping the humor
out of his voice. "She nearly didn't make it. You really didn't know?"

"I thought she was--" Sylvester almost said as he rose to his feet, before he
realized that confessing to a bunch of other crimes in order to explain that he
confused the ambassador for an illusionist would not really help his case. "--I
thought she was a competitor, ruining my sales pitch," in that same sad mutter.

At that, the guard openly laughed, and Sylvester collapsed back onto his bunk.
After a little while, the guard grew silent, and the stillness of Sylvester's
captivity was only broken when the guard spoke again. "You know, when I set out
to ruin you, I thought it would end up this way. I'm just a little disappointed
it was all over so quickly."

---

And then guard stepped forward, away from the bars, turning smoothly to avoid
Sylvester's grasping hands. A desperate man can cross the distance in a cell
within a single heartbeat, after all, and a desperate thief is faster still.

The guard laughed, now in a woman's voice, and his tone turned gloating. "Did
you actually go mad, just from a little competition? Or was that perfume bottle
meant to poison me somehow?" Still keeping up her illusory appearance, Istasia
nonetheless strutted back and forth, staring him down with victorious eyes.

Recognizing that she was firmly out of reach, Sylvester withdrew back behind
the bars of his cell and recomposed himself. With all the dignity and gravitas
of a veteran thief, he responded by sticking out his tongue. His voice a little
clearer now, more challenging, he said, "I'll tell you, if you answer me one
question first. How did you do it? The trick with the chest, I mean, locking it
back up after breaking it open."

Still gloating, she told him. "I used the key." With an arcane syllable and a
flourish, she produced the very same key in her hand. "Illusionists do not pick
locks, we simply lie to the world the world that we have the key, and with a
touch of mana, the world decides to believe us for a little while."

---

"So you don't even know how to pick locks," Sylvester concludes with disgust,
shaking his head at the sheer injustice of it all.

"Nope!" chirped Istasia, still concealed within the appearance of his guard.

"So," Sylvester says, looking away for a moment. "You probably didn't even
notice that I picked its lock five minutes ago," he said, taking a half step in
that direction. Then, several things happened at once. His prison guard shouted
an arcane syllable in a woman's voice, and the prison door crumpled under the
crushing force of a spell that would have killed Sylvester if he had rushed in
that direction. But the thief, standing stock still, instead threw the backup
vial he had concealed in his mouth the moment he realized he was about to be
detained. Its fragile glass shatered against the breastplate Istasia wasn't
wearing, and the silver-infused rosewater splashed against her.

Her spells faltered and died, the invisible attacking force vanishing as
quickly as it had arrived, her defenses vanishing all around her in sputtering
sparks of uncontrolled magic, and her disguise vanishing, first from her hands
and arms, then her body, then finally her face. Sylvester had his hands around
Istasia's throat just in time to look into her hauntingly familiar amber eyes.

---

The brown skin, not as dark as he remembered, the jet black hair and the
unforgettable eyes. It was too much for him, the recognition a blow to his
voice every bit as powerful as the spell that had torn open his cell. The name
"Melina," escaped from his lips as he remembered the woman he had told Ginnic
about weeks ago, the only woman he had ever loved.

His hands loosened just enough for her to say, "M-my mother," Sylvester's
daughter Istasia looking up at him with eyes too furious to be terrified. And
then he collapsed, scrambling away from her, kicking at the floor with none of
the grace or aplomb normally reserved for mortal danger. Perhaps she tried to
cast another spell on him, then, maybe even out of simple curiosity, but it did
not work, for such is the wisdom of the secret sages of Skybreak. Her magic
wouldn't kill Sylvester Staunch today.

Instead, as she regained her feet, Istasia resorted to the truth. "She fell in
love, one and one time only. Pressed and kept those asters you left for her,
and even tried to follow you. When that didn't work, she raised me alone, and
never took a husband. We always thought it was wrong, everyone who really loved
her, but I couldn't bring myself to do anything about it. Not until the day she
died."

---

There's pain, and risk, and tragically there is sometimes loss in childbirth.
That suffering which our mothers bear for us will be revisited time and time
again in the hearts of any good man or woman, for we were not born to live only
a single life. It isn't only suffering that changes a person, but often enough
it is, and it is never so clearly felt as when you learn that you've lost
someone you loved. That torment, that crucible, offers an opportunity of
transformation that might not be taken but must never be ignored. It is the
dirge's only note of grace, that the loss of one person might result in the
rebirth of everyone who ever loved them.

Sylvester blinked, and by the time he opened his eyes, the man you've met and
read about this entire time died alongside his only love. Still a thief, but
reborn a father, he rushed forward and crushed his daughter in a hug.

"You coward!" she shouted, slamming her fists into his back, "You hypocrite!"

He bore it. "You never even visited! You never even visited her grave!"

She might have protested further, but they were interrupted. Shouting alone
might have been enough, but crushing an iron gate is never a quiet thing. Both
thieves turned their heads in unison to the familiar chorus of onrushing boots.

---

For the first time in years, Sylvester sat recovering from a narrow escape in
someone else's safehouse. It had been a hectic three hours, just getting this
far, but the two of them had come to an accord. They would return to the tiny
coastal town where Melina was buried, and he would lay one final aster on her
grave. Whatever happened after, would happen after. He ruminated over this
until Istasia returned from the other room, now dressed to travel.

"Bad news, we won't be able to take a ship. The docks are locked down after
what happened."

"I didn't think they cared that much about Kalmyr's ambassador."

"They probably don't," his daughter answered, before tossing a burgeoning sack
to Sylvester's side. It was positively filled with diamonds, rubies, sapphires,
all surrounding a single iron dagger. "But I robbed their vault this morning."

Sylvester's heart nearly burst, and it was all he could do not to sweep Istasia
up in another hug. In that precious moment, he couldn't imagine ever feeling
the way Ginnic felt, wanting to choke this precious jewel of a woman.

"And you left your calling card?" he asked.

"No, of course not," Istasia answered. "I left yours." The moment ended.

---

Traveling the length of the continent is never a safe prospect, and in the
months that followed, Sylvester Staunch learned a lot about the daughter who
very nearly killed him. He already knew she was powerful, but he learned she
was subtle about it, never employing magic where someone might see and tell,
for that would draw attention they didn't need. He knew she was clever, but he
learned she was also patient, more than willing to suffer someone else taking
the lead, or even taking credit for her good ideas, when it would keep the two
of them quiet and forgotten. He didn't particularly share those qualities, so
it took some convincing once they finally arrived. After a brief argument, he
agreed to visit the florist before going directly to the graveyard, and to keep
his promise to the word. One final aster.

As they entered the humble little shop, painted yellow with clean, clear
windows, he withheld every screaming thief's instinct to allow the brass bell
attached to the door to ring. Then, a voice out of a forgotten dream spoke his
daughter's name, and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen walked out of
the back, her skin dark and her hair jet black, her amber eyes locking onto his
with the sort of surprise only felt once or twice in a lifetime. And as he
learned for the first time that his daughter is a shameless, impossibly daring
liar, Sylvester realized that Ginnic's tradition of wanting to hug them and
choke them all at once would be the only tradition he'd never escape.

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Oiche
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Dec 24, 2019 7:00 pm

Re: Now Accepting Submissions for the “Myths and Melodies” Writing Competition, Year 815

#12 Post by Oiche » Sun Feb 02, 2020 5:25 pm

Friends, Archivist Arcades, in his position of Acting High Sage has asked me to bring this contest to a close.

We will be taking additional entries for another week, at which point I will work through them, publish and award prizes. If you would like to enter, please do so in the next few days.

=====

OOC: Deadline is 7th February!

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Oiche
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Dec 24, 2019 7:00 pm

Re: Now Accepting Submissions for the “Myths and Melodies” Writing Competition, Year 815

#13 Post by Oiche » Sun Feb 09, 2020 4:12 pm

Friends, I bring this contest to a close. On behalf of the University, I would like to offer thanks to all those who have entered. I will be reading through the entries and announcing the winners very soon. The book will be published not long after.

Thank you!

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Oiche
Posts: 16
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Re: Now Accepting Submissions for the “Myths and Melodies” Writing Competition, Year 815

#14 Post by Oiche » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:22 pm

Friends! It is with great pleasure that I announce the results of this round of Myths and Melodies. The entries were strong, and Tarragon (from the library) and I took great pleasure in reading through them.

In third place, with a heartfelt poem about life on the road, we have Rikis.
In second place, recounting a classic tale of Yes and No, we have Eryn.
And the winner - writing a beautiful story about love, loss and redemption - we have Wren!

I hope you will all join me in congratulating our three fantastic winners. The writings will be published in a collection of tomes in the near future.

Archivist Arcades has the prizes for the winners and remember that everyone who entered can claim a participation reward.

===

OOC
Well done Wren, Eryn and Rikis! If you give Arcades a shout he'll give you your prizes.
Everyone who entered should also get in touch for a participation reward.

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