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Matt
09-15-2012, 04:54 PM
Low industrial fantasy and cross-genre short stories.

Siren Song, Chapter 1

Chapter 1: In which Illyana does something stupid and regrets it

Illyana wanted to scream at the figures passing out of the city gates. She’d hidden from them the night before, hoping at least the girl she thought of as a sister would turn back or at least look for her. She’d suspected they weren’t too fond of her, but needed to see if that was true. She’d doubted it, and she’d been wrong. The girl she loved did nothing. Neither did the young man she looked up to as not a father or a brother, but as a friend. He wasn’t even that to her. She’d loved them, and they didn’t hate her. She’d thought that was a good thing–a step in the right direction. But they were indifferent. To Illyana, that was worse than any form of hate.

She slammed her fists against the wall on either side of the window, clenching her teeth and wondering why in the world she was holding in her scream. She pounded the wall again and again, harder and harder, hoping it would shatter, hoping the destruction would satisfy her. Her scream wouldn’t come out, but her tears did. In her rage, she didn’t tire until her energy was completely spent and she collapsed. She rested her head against the windowsill and cried.

Was it something she did? She’d eaten their food, sure. She’d taken up one of their horses and the man previously occupying it had apparently been glad to give it to her. Was it because of her race? Dryads were thieves, stereotypically. They could slip in and out of any wood structure like a sticky-fingered ghost, taking anything they pleased with them in or out. They were assassins, thieves, perverts, rapists–though Illyana would have loved to dispute this point, arguing that all dryads were female and therefore, rape wasn’t truly an option. She could admit that her race was generally made up of shady people, though they were at least better than nymphs and blood angels among the fay, and they were especially better than any subrace of fiend.

“Who’s up there?” somebody called from the floor below. Illyana looked behind her at the inn bedroom she’d hidden in. She heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, then the knob shaking on the door she’d locked. She heard the innkeeper fumble for his keys and didn’t stay to hear more. She let herself sink through the wood floor and wall, her head emerging on the outside first. She pulled herself out, flipping around in midair and landing on her feet a few meters below her exit point. It was early morning and very few people walked the cobblestone streets of Sigmora. Nobody had seen her leave in the way dryads usually did. She figured if she didn’t use any of her dryad abilities, she may be perceived as a nymph with her dark hair, olive skin, and amber eyes. None of these traits were exclusive to either race, but nymph and dryad ears were similar in length and point. Dryad ears were vertically thinner, but her hair could cover enough that her ears would only betray her age and not her race.

But she had no wish to be seen as a nymph. She walked through the streets, between buildings, squeezing herself through wood fences and houses if she felt like taking a shortcut somewhere. She walked toward whatever drew her interest, free until a guard or militia member decided to stop her. Even then, she walked directly in front of a few guards just to see how they’d react. None of them spared her more than a scornful glance. She was too young to be a threat to anyone’s safety, they probably thought. Her own perception of their thoughts insulted her, but she decided that it was best not to antagonize anyone. She’d be here for a while. She may as well make a decent impression.

She wasn’t interested in making an impression right away, and even if she was, she wouldn’t know how. She walked straight through the closed wooden door beside the gate, turning around to see the guard stationed outside rolling his eyes and smiling at her. She liked being smiled at, she decided. She’d always loved seeing people smile, especially if she was the cause.

There was a forest just east of Sigmora. It was so close that many of its trees’ branches were cut off to make room for guards to walk on top of the white wall surrounding the city. From outside, Sigmora looked smaller than it was inside. Inside, houses were spaced further apart, doors were larger, and streets were wider to make room for angels to walk. Some dwellings were built without doors on the ground, completely inaccessible to humans. But there were no angels in Sigmora. Just one blood angel, responsible for killing them all.

Illyana met the blood angel as she entered the forest. She was a girl, no older than Illyana. Her wings, rather than the pure white of an angel’s, were dull red, the last three feathers on each wing shining and pointed like blades. Her hair was dark red, like her wings, and her clothes were all variations of red or gray. She sat on a thick branch high above Illyana’s head, turned away from her. Illyana decided to close that gap. She entered the tree and shot up, poking her head out when she reached the blood angel’s branch.

“Hi,” she said. The girl whipped her head around, red eyes staring Illyana back into the tree. She set the paper and pencil she’d been using before on the branch beside her and lunged at Illyana. The dryad ducked back into the tree and came out the bottom before the blood angel even took flight. She waited beside a tree until her new pursuer was within a meter of her, then sank back into the tree. She pulled out the other side and laughed as the other girl sat against the trunk, clutching her head in both hands.

“I just wanted to say hi,” she said, walking around to the girl, but keeping one hand pressed against the tree. “Or are blood angels too stupid to answer even that?”

The girl glared at her and got to her feet, teeth clenched and lips parted, revealing the fangs of a fiend. She thrust her wings out, the last three feathers on each wing screeching like metal on metal as they slid against each other. So they actually were blades.

“What would you do if you caught me?” Illyana asked. “They call you fay, but you’re just a fiend without horns. Do you eat fay like the rest of them?”

Illyana retreated into the tree as her new foe twisted and slashed at her with the blades on her wing. She came out on a branch about ten meters above. She continued her insults, glad for someone to take her anger out on. “You probably killed your own family to become what you are, didn’t you! Fiends are born bad, but you chose it on your own!”

The blood angel shot up. Illyana didn’t have time to fully dive into the tree. Burning pain cut through the back of her bare ankle and interrupted the concentration it took for her to stay in the tree. She fell out of it and smashed against the soft dirt. Instantly, the pain in her ankle flared up again, disabling her only method of escape. She slapped a hand against the tree she’d fallen from and tried to pull herself into it, but her hand didn’t breach the surface. Her racial ability wouldn’t help her at all.

The blood angel stood over her, one of the bladed feathers clutched tightly in her small, pale hand. She pressed the bladed feather against Illyana’s neck.

“I can cut your throat, snap your neck, or cut off your head. Which do you prefer?”

“Don’t kill me,” Illyana said, her eyes squeezed shut and her teeth clenched below her lips. “Please. Please don’t.” She was breathing hard, her chest heaving and her heart pounding inside it. She’d gone from the childish glee of releasing her anger to being terrified for her life in just a moment.

“Don’t provoke me if you don’t want to die. I’ll just cut your throat and be done with it, all right?”

Illyana rolled away, screaming something that she thought was a word, but came out as just a scream, not a word in any language she knew. She clutched a tree and tried to get to her feet, but the blood angel had cut something major in her ankle. Maybe a tendon? If she even lived, the injury would be permanent.

“Do you fay find it so fun to seek me out just to insult me?”

Illyana turned her head. The girl was walking toward her, blade still drawn. She screamed again and crawled away, fresh tears flowing from her eyes. She was absolutely pathetic. She’d called out one of the most dangerous creatures on the continent without thinking, eager for somebody to take her pain out on, and now the pain was greater.

“Just say sorry and I won’t kill you.”

“I’m sorry!” Illyana cried before she had a chance to think. How pathetic. If she was going to insult this thing, she should have been able to get away with it.

“You are so pathetic,” the girl said, kneeling beside her. Illyana tried to back away, but the girl caught her hair. “Hold on,” she said, her voice way too calm for the situation. She pulled Illyana toward her and looked into her face. “Dryad, of course,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Illyana.” She answered fast, terrified of making the blood angel wait.

“Where are you from?”

“Dakonia. In the south.”

“Where are your parents?”

This was the last thing Illyana expected to be asked, but she answered anyway. “Still there.”

“Why aren’t you with them?”

“I ran away over something stupid about a year ago. I don’t know how to get back.”

The blood angel released her hair, and Illyana scrambled for the safety of a tree. Only there was no safety in it as long as she was in pain.

“I can’t believe how pathetic you are. You’re still a little girl and yet you act half your age.”

Illyana nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, shut up. I hate killing people in the forest, so I’m letting you live. Now go back home or something. I’m trying to teach myself how to write.”

Illyana wanted to, but she stayed in place. She pressed her hand against her ankle, but the blood didn’t stop flowing. She’d left a trail of it from the tree she’d fallen from. As the blood angel took flight again, Illyana pushed a leaf against her wound. She couldn’t leave this forest, much less get home in her condition. The blood angel wouldn’t kill her–not because of some moral standard she still held, as blood angels had no moral standards. She hated killing in the forest. Maybe she didn’t want to have a corpse rotting and stinking in her domain, where the guards wouldn’t come to clear it out.

Whatever the reason, Illyana was alive. She needed to escape the forest and find a place to eat and rest. But that would come tomorrow. She was starting to get woozy and tired, and only after she closed her eyes did she realize she’d just woken up. Terrified, she forced her eyes open and looked down at her ankle. The injury wasn’t deep and it didn’t look horrific or even very painful. But it was both. And she was losing too much blood. She pressed a fresh leaf against it and tied it in place with a long blade of grass, then set off toward Sigmora at a crawl.
I tried to avoid the stuff I usually hate seeing in fantasy. So no prophecies or chosen ones.

EDIT: Siren Song is better now. Check the latest page.

Matt
09-16-2012, 02:44 PM
Forum won't let me post all at once, so: a hundred fantasy writing prompts, part one.
1. A fantasy in which no animal is the same as on Earth, but nor are they simply replacements with different names and designs.

2. A theology-focused fantasy in which the characters do logical debate about God and gods. By logical, I mean make all sides logical, not just the one you think is right.

3. A healing system where healing is possible, but the injury or sickness healed would be imposed on the healer forever. Bonus points: don’t make this one dark and depressing.

4. A fantasy world without humans. Bonus points if they’re not all furries.

5. A fantasy in which there are tens of contradicting and intertwining prophecies and no one knows which ones to believe.


6. A world where every aspect of the environment is different. For example, two blue suns rather than one yellow one, sentient plants, currency-growing trees, trees that grow downward.

7. A technologically-advanced society living literally on top of a medieval one, and a valid justification for why the medieval one doesn’t shape up and get techy.

8. The protagonist being a researcher or engineer whose conflict comes from which side of a war or political spectrum to give his creations first.

9. The protagonist being the world’s god. Making him or her interesting goes without saying.

10. A guard protagonist. Bonus points if this guard doesn’t end up joining some sort of rebellion and traveling the world in search of a McGuffin to destroy the Evil Overlord.

11. The Evil Overlord as a protagonist. Bonus points if his actions are justified enough to make him just as “good” as the rebels.

12. A story in which the protagonist’s parents, siblings, and love interest are all alive and not evil traitors in the end.

13. A protagonist who is not interested in romance to begin with and is still uninterested in the end.

14. A magic system subtle and discreet enough that 99% of the world doesn’t believe it exists. Bonus points if it’s not stupidly obvious.

15. A world made of water, water-faring races, and nothing else.

16. A musical protagonist whose music is not magical and whose music doesn’t stun everyone into silence or make everyone cry, but is still regarded as talented.

17. A world with gravity, breathable air, floating debris, races to inhabit it, and nothing else.

18. A fantasy in the gunpowder age.

19. The protagonist is a goblin. Bonus points if s/he’s not either the exact stereotype or the exact inversion of the stereotype.

20. A world in which a disease rendered 90% of the population mentally ill in some way or another.

21. The protagonist is the only mentally healthy person in the world.

22. A third-person limited fantasy that never strays from the protagonist’s viewpoint.

23. The protagonist develops the world’s first bladed weapons. Bonus points if you can figure out a justification for this not to be in the stone age.

24. A fantasy in which mind-control magic is so prevalent that at any given second, any given person is probably being controlled by someone else.

25. No magic at all.

26. A world in which magic was so powerful that it created an apocalypse, and now your protagonist is living in a non sci-fi post apocalypse.

27. A seafaring fantasy where your protagonist is not a pirate. Bonus points if s/he’s not in the navy, either.

28. An underwater fantasy where the primary race is an underwater race and not humans in air bubbles. Bonus points if they’re not mermaids or renamed mermaids.

29. A fantasy where research has advanced differently and computers exist, but not guns or much of anything else.

30. An astrology-based fantasy where astrology does not just mean star-based magic. Maybe your people have just discovered that their world is round.

31. Develop an entire new language and writing system, then base at least one society or way of life on the language itself.

32. A fantasy world that has developed electricity.

33. A gray versus gray war. No evil overlord. No chosen hero.

34. Write a story where a chosen hero is supposed to defeat an evil overlord. Then make the hero fail.

35. Write a scene where the hero holds a formal debate with the evil overlord. Bonus points if the overlord wins without cheating and without relying on the audience being corrupt.

36. Write a short fantasy that takes place within a single building.

37. A sky-faring fantasy where there is no such thing as ground.

38. A magic system where anything written in red ink becomes true. Bonus points if this magic is commonplace and the world isn’t destroyed.

39. Due to some kind of magic, the hero and evil overlord switch bodies and take each other’s place. Bonus points if you successfully use gray v. gray rather than good v. evil.

40. In a gray v. gray setup, the protagonist is darker gray than the antagonist.

41. Write a fantasy comedy that doesn’t rely on English wordplays and puns. Bonus points if it’s actually funny.

42. Write a scene or scenes where the hero defeats the evil overlord, but the people don’t accept him as the rightful king because he was an absolute jerk during his hero’s journey.

43. The evil overlord does the intelligent thing and kills the hero as a baby. Now what?

44. The evil overlord takes the baby hero and his family and brainwashes them all. What happens?

45. The protagonist is a troll. Bonus points if he’s not the stereotype or the inversion of the stereotype.

46. A group of races that have certain advantages and disadvantages over each other. Bonus points if the majority of them are not combat-related.

47. The hero overthrows the evil overlord without talking him into submission or beating him into submission.

48. Create a world where grass grows over a hundred feet tall within an hour of being planted. Plan societies and races around it.

49. A magic system that acts like computer programming. Mages write reusable programs and people buy them. Hint: learn at least one programming language in real life for research.

50. A magic system that works by hooking everyone in the world together like the Internet. Speeds vary by location.

- - - Updated - - -

For some reason, I get a 404 error when I try to post the next 50. So here's a link (http://matthewdellar.com/2012/09/16/100-fantasy-writing-prompts/) to all of them.

EDIT: Ooh, that update thing's pretty cool. Didn't know the forum did that.

Regantor
09-16-2012, 03:18 PM
Been meaning to comment here. Sorry, but not much to say on the story in the first post yet. It seems okay, but I haven't really had the time to analyze it in-depth.

The list, on the other hand, are basically all things that I look for in fantasy. Perticularly non-humans reprosented as alien but balanced individuals, and pure grey moralities. I can only think of a couple of books and graphic novels which use even just one of these notions... The only one that I find a bit trite is 21, perhaps, just because being stuck in a world of crazy people probally would make you yourself insane...

49 is probally my favorate, just because the idea of having to pre-prepare your magic, having to hack-job a new spell sporadically on the spot, and risking a "world crash" every time you use a magic program seem like really cool underused ideas...

Also, this is probally completely nerding out, but 6 is technically impossible if you were going scifi, sorry. Blue stars are blue because they lack the heavy metals that form planets... Planets orbiting red dwarfs, on the other hand, will have really cool habitable rings around the middle, because being close enough to retain heat means that one side will be stuck perminantly facing the sun (Just like how you can only ever see one side of our own moon). Hope that gives you a cool new idea or two. :3

Matt
09-16-2012, 03:58 PM
Eh, don't worry about the story. As long as there's something useful in here, that's fine with me.

49 was my absolute favorite of the list. My first draft challenged the readers to get a fantasy with a programming magic system published before I did, but meh. I'll probably do it if no one else does, or maybe a whole new subgenre of techy magic fantasy could arise from it in the best case scenario (well, there's steampunk, which I already like).

And about the blue star thing, I had no idea. Thanks for that. (Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson, has a red dwarf sun, by the way--and it's not even sci-fi.)

Oh, and before I forget, here's the follow-up to the story in the first post:

Siren Song, Chapter 2
Chapter 2: In which Siren reflects on stuff and tries to make a friend

Siren Miia was named after one of the few fiend races to never develop a bad reputation, and Siren herself, twelve years old and guilty of genocide, acknowledged the dark humor her name would suggest to anyone who knew it. Every human in Sigmora knew her name: Siren the blood angel; Siren the serial killer; Siren the face of evil; Siren the fay who hated fay.

Sigmora was made up of idiots. Two years ago, she had slain the entire angel population of the city and enjoyed it, therefore “losing her purity” as the citizens would later call it. She acknowledged that such an action was wrong, especially considering she’d only meant to kill one. Shifting her wings into view and seeing that they had turned dark red, as well as developing fiend-like fangs over the course of several agonizing weeks, had made her fear for her life, her sanity, and even what would happen to her after death.

She didn’t worry about it much anymore. Killing the angels was an action she greatly regretted, but of the many things she’d absorbed from her parents before turning her back on them, learning from the past and living in the present was one of the strongest. At trial by the now-retired king and his court after her murders, she had suggested her own sentence, as just over half the judges agreed that she shouldn’t die for her crimes–not at her age. She had sentenced herself–and the court had agreed to–a life of serving as a scout and a soldier for the safety of Sigmora. Now, in the wake of the democratic revolution that Siren didn’t even try to understand, the court’s decision held.

The little dryad girl, who Siren now realized wasn’t as young as she thought, had done two things for her. First, she had taught Siren not to fly straight at whatever she wanted to kill, and second, she’d made her think of her parents again. She and the dryad were the same in that respect–almost. Illyana had left, she said, over something stupid. Siren had been disgusted with her parents for leaving her on her own for five years, then being surprised when they came back to find that their little girl had turned into the very creature they told her would torture her after death if she was bad in life. A blood angel, a dark angel, or a fallen angel. Could she help it, though? Could she tell her mind not to take high, almost sexual pleasure in the pain and death of others?

In the end, Siren’s parents were the ones who left their daughter after three months of trying to reform her. They were there one day, promising to work with her the next, and were gone in the morning. With them went Siren’s last chance of living in a family like the rest of the children in the world. Illyana still had that chance, and for that reason alone, though she told the dryad otherwise, she let her live. She had no intention of killing the girl anymore, though she had certainly intended to until she mentioned her parents. She often heard the people of Sigmora chatting about how heartless she was, and was glad to know that she wasn’t.

As she thought of these things, she wrote them down in extremely rough Angelic. Her command of the fay language, verbally, was flawless, but even she could see that her reading and writing of it were abysmal. She was a psychotic murderer to the people, and she had no wish to be perceived that way. Therefore, she took it upon herself to educate herself to be perceived as a more intelligent being and to explain the actions they only saw as the work of a murderer. She killed bad people, but nobody within Sigmora’s walls, regardless of how bad they were. She only killed people she knew to be a threat to the city’s safety. Her kills within the past two years had been mostly fiends, excluding giants and most goblins. Dramen were killed on the spot, as they were merciless predators most fay and humans could only hope to kill from a distance.

Dryads, like the one crawling below her now, weren’t generally a problem. There weren’t many of them, Siren realized. Illyana was the first she’d seen in a long time. Generally, non-angel fay mostly occupied the western region of the continent because, Siren assumed, the sounds were more pleasant. She’d been bothered to no end by small rodents and dogs and cats in the streets while humans casually walked by as if they couldn’t hear a thing. Likewise, she wasn’t bothered by the broken, off-key bell in the town hall that the humans hated so much. She only realized how annoying it was when she flew over it as it rang. Why had Illyana made her way here, she wondered, when fay so often talked about “the pull of the west.” If there truly was a force playing to the senses of the fay that drew them west, Siren didn’t feel it. Apparently, neither did the little urchin ten meters below.

“Dryad!” she called. Illyana looked up briefly and crawled faster. Siren sighed and dropped to the ground, buffeting the dryad with wind from her wings as she touched down. “Illyana,” she said. “Let me heal your ankle.”

Illyana stopped crawling and looked over her shoulder. “Only angels can heal,” she said.

“I know,” said Siren. “I’ve never tried healing before, though.”

These were the last words she imagined Illyana wanted to hear, confirmed when the dryad resumed her frantic crawl.

“Oh, just relax,” said Siren, easily catching up and blocking Illyana’s progress with her wings in front and beside her, her body behind. “You’ll probably die if I don’t heal you. You don’t want that. Do you?”

She’d exaggerated, but Illyana was trapped and stayed quietly in place. She didn’t even look behind her as Siren unwrapped her injury and pointed her fingers at it. And then what? Siren had no idea how to heal. Her parents had done it so easily, many years ago, but they at least looked like they’d been concentrating on the act. She slowly poured inergy into the wound, hoping it would produce some result on the dryad’s dark skin. It didn’t. Illyana cried out and Siren jerked her hands away.

“Did I do it wrong?” she asked.

“As far as I can tell, you’re just dumping inergy on me.” Illyana turned around and sat on her bottom, elevating her ankle with her other shin. “Do you have any idea how to heal?”

Siren blinked and said nothing. Illyana sighed. “Why am I not scared of you right now?”

“Because I don’t want to kill you?” Siren guessed, wondering where she was going with the topic.

“The way you ‘heal,’ I’d never know,” Illyana said. “Even if blood angels can heal, you’re doing it wrong.”

“Can you heal?” Siren asked her.

“Actually, yes,” said Illyana. “I just need to concentrate, and I can’t concentrate in pain. You know how it is with inergy. Unless you can’t handle that either?”

Siren aimed her fingers and Illyana’s chest and shoved her to her back. “Liar,” she said. “Only angels can heal. Now let me try again.”

Siren failed again, this time twisting Illyana’s foot far enough that she screamed in pain. Siren let it go immediately, and Illyana started backing away, still whimpering in pain and fear.

“Sorry,” said Siren. “I can fly you to a clinic if you want.”

Illyana looked up toward Sigmora, still a great distance away, even further considering her only method of travel was a crawl with a severed tendon in her ankle.

“All right.”

Siren grabbed Illyana under the arms and rose to her feet. Without a word, she bent her knees and raised her wings. She launched herself and the injured dryad into the air with the joint effort of her limbs. Once airborne, she pumped her wings hard, trying to stay aloft with the added deadweight. It wasn’t too hard. She aimed for the clinic near Sigmora’s southern gates and flew toward it. She flew slowly. This would be a long trip over a short distance.

Rio
09-17-2012, 10:53 AM
Posting #51-61:

51. A religion that worships technology.

52. Write at least ten physically distinct sentient races.

53. Your protagonist invents ice cream.

54. A world where gravity flips every night. Bonus points if you can explain it. Extra bonus points if you can explain it without infodumping.

55. A world in which there are two sentient races, one evolved from a single cell (where that cell came from is up to you), on created by God or gods.

56. A world where the sentient race(s) petition their god(s) to create certain things. And the gods listen. Catch: the god(s) will only create things. Not destroy them. Not change them.

57. A world consisting of islands floating in the sky. Bonus points if the people there don't have wings, but have other methods with which to travel from island to island.

58. A world in which the magnetic poles shift frequently. Bonus points if the world's magic system is based off magnetism.

59. A magic system that only works half the time and starts and stops in unpredictable patterns.

60. Technically a sci-fi, but future sentient races have created a world where fantasy conditions exist. Dragons, magic, evil overlords, and everything. Pick and choose, though.

61. A protagonist without arms or legs. Bonus points if magic doesn't allow him or her to get nifty replacements.

Matt
09-17-2012, 12:43 PM
Trying #62-100:
63. A fantasy where wars are settled by Olympic-style competitions rather than battle.

64. A world where people respawn after they die from anything but old age or a disease of your choice. Imagine how much more reckless people would be.

65. A fantasy world advanced enough to parallel Earth in 2012.

66. A magic system that could actually work in real life if one thing was changed. You'll really have to study this one.

67. A magic system that only allows mages to change their appearance and nothing else.

69. A sentient race without mouths. Bonus points if said race is not telepathic.

70. A religion or race that considers speaking profane and thinks mouths are only there for eating. Hint: study sign language.

71. A math-based magic system.

72. A chemistry-based magic system. That makes it just chemistry, doesn't it? I know. Run with it.

73. Your protagonist doesn't get stronger with every battle, but weaker as his or her injuries pile up.

74. A magic system based on emotions, where an angry mob could set fire to a stick by looking at it or something like that. Catch: no one person could change much of anything.

75. A world shattered by earthquakes and a sentient race adapted to it. People would be really good at jumping, I think.

76. A fantasy where the world actually is flat, or at least a cube instead of a sphere. Bonus points if you can come up with a feasible reason for it.

77. A world where the primary race is mini-sized and insects are an actual difficult battle. Cats, dogs, horses, and elephants would be monstrous.

78. A world without magic suddenly gets magic.

79. A world with magic suddenly loses its magic.

80. The protagonist is an engineer. Yes, I'm still giving fantasy prompts. And yes, engineers should still exist in fantasy. They're just people who use science to solve problems.

81. Death makes people into zombies of sorts who age backward, and once they're infants again, they become human again and start aging normally.

82. Every fifty years, the magic system changes.

83. Every fifty years, a new sentient race is created.

84. A fantasy in which there's a fantasy equivalent of K-12 education. And college, of course.

85. A fantasy where falcons or birds can't be used for long-distance communications.

86. A fantasy where an underground (literally) communication network exists. If you don't know where to start, try Minecraft.

87. Invent a new non-sentient race. Make it do something completely off the wall as its primary function (i.e. Minecraft's creepers exploding), and then justify it.

88. A world where structures are built out of a material not found on Earth.

89. Structures on land are built using water.

90. A world of all men or all women, with no apparent means of reproduction. Bonus points if they can save themselves without blending into sci-fi or using deus ex machina.

91. A society where people don't have names. Bonus points if you don't take the obvious route of making it a pseudo-communist individualism-hating thing.

92. A world where raw ideas are actually worth something--where the people generally act on their ideas, and where ideas can literally be stolen from people's heads.

93. A world where the god or gods made a mistake in their creation. What that mistake is and what it does, I'll leave up to you.

94. Write about the very beginning of your fantasy world. Bonus points if you don't infodump. Extra bonus points if you don't just re-write Genesis.

95. Fish can swim through land. Sharks can, too.

96. Trees don't fall down. They uproot and disappear into the sky.

97. Your protagonist has some sort of mental disorder that fantasy people have no idea how to cope with.

98. People are walking bombs, and when their hearts stop, they explode.

99. Everyone in the world operates with a different magic system.

100. Go ahead and write 100 of your own ideas/prompts. This will help you get your creative gears going, as you'll inevitably think in some depth about each item.

Siren Song, Chapter 3
Chapter 3: In which Illyana visits the doctor

Illyana's ankle had stopped bleeding by the time her carrier dropped her off in front of Sigmora's medical clinic. The blood angel's wings were too big to even fit through the door, so Illyana hopped in on her own, grasping the wall for support. She jerked her hand away from the wall when she felt a sliver stab into the skin under her fingernail. She let out a small yelp and fell to the ground.

"Who's there?" someone asked. A young man--no, a boy by fay standards--emerged from a part of the clinic Illyana couldn't see from her spot on the floor. He was about ten years older than her, black-haired, light-skinned, and human.

"Down here," said Illyana. The boy knelt beside her. He looked over his shoulder, then back at Illyana.

"If I pick you up, I won't be hurting anything vital, will I?"

"I think my ankle is dead."

The young doctor lifted Illyana's leg by the calf and looked at the back of her ankle. His lips pressed tightly together as he looked closer.

"What kind of maniac would do this to a little girl?" he said under his breath. Illyana knew the question wasn't directed at her, nor was she probably intended to hear it, but she answered anyway.

"A blood angel."

The doctor raised an eyebrow. "Siren, of course." With a forced smile, he added, "If people ask why you're on crutches, you can tell them a feather cut your calcaneal tendon."

"I'd rather tell them I survived a fight with a blood angel. Crutches?"

The doctor shrugged. "That would be my diagnosis. I'm an apprentice here, though. I'll have the real doctor look at this."

He placed his arms under her knees and shoulders and picked her up. He rested her on a wood table covered in a few cheap blankets. He took a roll of what looked like toilet paper and tore off a few sheets. He lifted his patient's foot and placed the sheets under her injury. Then he walked through a door in the back of the room and disappeared.

"Siren?" Illyana said to herself. She'd never heard of anyone being named after a race, much less a fiend race, regardless of the sirens' good reputation. Maybe it was a northern thing. Or maybe just a northern angel thing. Illyana didn't know Siren's past, but she knew all blood angels were angels at one point, and all angels but the very first few had parents. Had Siren abandoned her parents over something stupid like Illyana had? Based on her race, anything Siren did wrong was no small deal. Blood angels, by definition, enjoyed killing. It was more likely that her parents abandoned her. Or maybe she killed them.

The young doctor returned with an older doctor, this one in his fifties with almost no hair. "A dryad?" he said, glancing at his apprentice. "I thought Siren killed all of them."

"She tried," said the apprentice. "Look at her ankle."

The doctor lifted Illyana's foot by the calf, as his apprentice had. "How old are you, Dryad?"

"Twelve."

"We'll wrap it and give you some morphine. If you're lucky, this will be healed when you're twenty-five."

"Twenty-five?" Illyana repeated. "That's way too long!"

"You cut a major tendon, Dryad. You live three hundred years, so no doubt it'll heal before you're dead, but it'll never be the same again."

That stupid blood angel. Illyana would go the rest of her life crippled because of Siren's temper. Or was it Illyana's fault? Yes. It was. Illyana shook her head. Of course it wasn't. She wanted to hate Siren for the injury, not herself. As she thought that, she realized just how right the blood angel was. She was a little girl who acted half her age.

"No?" the doctor said.

"Nothing," said Illyana. Then she thought of something. "Actually, I'm a healer. I can speed up the healing."

"Right," the doctor said. "A dryad and a healer."

"I'm not lying!" Illyana protested. "I just can't heal in pain."

"Honestly," said the apprentice. "It does sound like you just made that up."

Why did nobody believe her? Was she just saying it at the wrong time? Yes, only angels could heal--usually. But every fay, fiend, and human on the continent was born with one unique gift, and Illyana's was healing. She wasn't the only non-angelic healer on the continent.

"I'll prove it," she said. "Give me the morphine."

The doctor left the room and returned with the painkiller. "If you're telling the truth," he said, "you may be one of the most valuable people on the continent. What with all the angels leaving."

Illyana took the drug. "Angels are leaving?" she asked. "Why?"

"If the Seekers are right," said the apprentice. "There's a hidden city that was built for the angels if they ever needed refuge. And now they need refuge because people hate them because two of them suggested democracy."

"The whole war is ridiculous," the doctor said. "The only thing that really matters is whether we get democracy or monarchy, and the governor--or king--pays us either way."

As the morphine began to take effect, Illyana's senses dulled, and with them, her pain. Finally. She pulled her legs in and looked at her ankle. The blood had dried by now and the tendon was sliced almost all the way through. It hung on by no more than a centimeter of whatever tendons were made of. The cut parts were stretched out, threatening to snap what remained.

"If that snaps, you'll never walk again," said the doctor. "Be careful with it."

Illyana remembered Siren's attempted healing and wondered how it hadn't broken then. She pointed her fingers at the injury and let her inergy flow. She needed to speed up the healing process of the tendon and the skin around it. She'd lost a lot of blood, but there was nothing she could do to replace that. She focused on the tendon first, and even through the morphine, her ankle began to throb in pain. It was dull enough that she could still heal, but it would get worse. The doctor and his apprentice watched in silence as the tendon slowly mended itself. With it, her pain increased. After about a minute, her inergy stopped flowing. The pain was nowhere near as bad as it had been before she took the morphine, but it was just bad enough that she couldn't hold her concentration. Her tendon wasn't even half healed.

"So you can heal," said the doctor. "Why don't you stick around Sigmora? I'll give you some crutches and if you want, you can work here when your ankle heals."

"Sure," said Illyana. A few seconds later, she went dizzy from a combination of the pain and morphine. She was asleep within the minute.

Rio
09-17-2012, 05:28 PM
Btw, that's quite an interest list you made! I didn't get a chance to read them all but it sure does get the mind going. :>

Matt
09-26-2012, 07:56 PM
Siren Song, Chapter 4:
Chapter 4: In which Siren talks to Illyana and fights monsters

Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. Some people, she would have preferred not to learn more than their first impression suggested. Even a serial killer had standards. But the interactions had saved her life.

Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. As she'd expected, a dryad was no different from any other race.

She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the  wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? She was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and missed her parents. Was that alone enough? Illyana probably didn't think of her as a friend. She didn't know the extent of the damage she'd done to the dryad's ankle, but it was a terrible first impression. Then again, the very first impression was probably one of Siren sitting in a tree and writing very sloppily, if she'd seen the text at all.

She'd been gone for a long time, acting as a messenger--one of the many jobs laid on her in the absence of angels or falcons. Was Illyana still here? Probably. With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't be going anywhere for a few weeks, if not more. Siren knew very little about healing injuries, but she knew what a tendon was, and she knew she'd cut halfway through one. Thinking about it, her own ankle hurt. She reached down and felt the thick tube-like thing on the back of her ankle. Then she imagined it being cut. She had a lot of apologizing to do.

The door opened a moment later, and Illyana's face stuck out. Their eyes met. Illyana looked away first. They both started to speak at once.

"Go ahead," said Siren.

"I'm sorry," said Illyana, edging out of the doorway. Her ankle was wrapped in cloth and held straight by a shaft of wood that stuck out the top of the wrappings. She was on crutches, her clothes had been replaced by the clinic's typical garment that looked like a pillowcase with sleeves, and her hair was neatly combed. Like many citizens, she wore a sunhat.

"Sorry?"

Illyana nodded, avoiding Siren's eyes. "I knew what you were, and that was why I provoked you. I was mad at someone else and took it out on you."

"I owe you an apology, too," said Siren. "I tried to kill you."

"Well, you're a blood angel."

"That's no excuse. You're a dryad and you didn't steal anything--did you? From the clinic?"

"No. I got a job, though. It pays."

"Jobs pay. So you really can heal?"

"I already told you I could. By the way, where did you go? I can hear your wing beats from a kilometer away, and you haven't been around for a week."

"So you assume I fly everywhere?"

"Those things are massive," said Illyana, pointing at Siren's wings. "Walking doesn't look all that convenient for you. I stick to trees myself. So I imagine you stick to the air."

Siren motioned toward the southwest. "I was delivering a letter."

"Oh."

Silence followed. Siren quickly resumed the conversation.

"So you've been around during the night? What did you think of the wind?"

"About that," said Illyana. "I have questions. And I can't stand around like this. Can we sit down or something?"

Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass. Illyana rolled her eyes.

"You're so informal."

Illyana sat against the wall as well, close enough for comfortable conversation, far enough away to indicate that it wasn't a casual, friendly conversation. As soon as she opened her mouth to speak, a horn sounded, long and low-pitched. Siren's entire body tensed. The horn rose an octave, and Siren jumped forward, running a few steps before rising into the air. Twice a month, on a fairly regular schedule, she heard that horn, and she was usually closer than this to the gates where the rippers would converge.

Even Siren was slightly afraid of the rippers, despite the skill that came with her race. She arrived at the south gate as guards propped planks and beams against it. She dove quickly. A quick thrust of her wings kept her from breaking her legs on impact as she stood and faced the rippers. The creatures' backs were turned toward her, and there were five of them. They slashed at the gate with huge, heavy claws. Calming her nerves, Siren reached out to the sides and pulled her bladed feathers free from each wing, six in total. She held them in front of her and carefully angled them at the creatures. Two for the one in the middle. One for each of the others.

She pushed the blades forward. All six hit their marks, and all six rippers died.

All six turned around and charged.

Siren waited a few seconds, then jumped and beat wind against the creatures as she rose into the air. She flew away from Sigmora and the rippers chased her, red blades sticking out of their backs, blue blood slowly dripping from fatal wounds. She flew slowly, letting them follow her. Once they were dead, they could follow her for about ten minutes before finally realizing they were dead. In those ten minutes, she was in as much danger of being caught and dismantled as when they were alive.

She flew for ten minutes, and then the rippers fell all at once and didn't move again.

She landed and quickly collected her blades. She'd dump them in the forest later, with the rest of them. Why she kept them, she wasn't quite sure, but it felt right. For now, she backed away from the rippers. They were dead, of course, but though she was credited with being the most dangerous creature on the continent, she knew differently. She was horrified of death. It barely seemed like an inconvenience to rippers, and there always seemed to be more of them.

On the flight back to Sigmora, Siren realized that she'd been trembling. She'd only been injured by the creatures once, two years ago, and had fought hundreds since. Why was she so scared of them? It was probably a variety of things, but greatest of all, she thought, was their lack of concern for their own lives. All they did was kill and eat. Kill and eat. Kill and eat. If she cut their heads off, their bodies would chase her and tear her apart without realizing they had no way to eat her. And then they'd die and collapse and crush whatever life was left out of her.

She may be a monster, but even monsters feared bigger monsters.


I don't like this chapter much. I guess that's why I'm posting here. I need help.

EDIT: After sleeping on it for a day and coming back without tunnel vision, here's what I notice:
1. The sudden shift from talking to fighting just doesn't work.
2. The violence feels forced and shouldn't be there.
3. Siren's viewpoint is boring for this chapter and Illyana should have it instead unless Siren does something interesting.
4. Siren and Illyana are too nice to each other.

SmartrykFoster
10-02-2012, 09:37 PM
You know, I'm going to read the story and probably give critiques here.

Regantor
10-03-2012, 03:16 PM
Right. Finally getting around to this like I said in the PM. Sorry it took so long.

Also, excuse me if some of the things I put forward are a little speculative, but I think that simply telling you what to write wouldn't be perticularly helpful in the long run. I also think that a reader's impressions of the story are very important, so there may be shades of that, too.

-Chapter 1-


Illyana wanted to scream at the figures passing out of the city gates. She’d hidden from them the night before, hoping at least the girl she thought of as a sister would turn back or at least look for her. She’d suspected they weren’t too fond of her, but needed to see if that was true. She’d doubted it, and she’d been wrong. The girl she loved did nothing. Neither did the young man she looked up to as not a father or a brother, but as a friend. He wasn’t even that to her. She’d loved them, and they didn’t hate her. She’d thought that was a good thing–a step in the right direction. But they were indifferent. To Illyana, that was worse than any form of hate.

I like the first sentence, it certainly brings an air of tension to the proceedings; But I think the double negatives like "She'd doubted it, and she'd been wrong." come across as perhaps a little sluggish and confusing to read in comparision.

Actually giving people names, even if they are never heard again, could also add depth.


All dryads were female and therefore, rape wasn’t truly an option.

Erm... Male rape is actually a real-world thing, so, yeah. This might come across as more than a little insensitive...

I'm also not so sure that using the name blood angels is such a good idea since it's used in quite a popular lore series (http://warhammer40k.wikia.com/wiki/Blood_Angels), but it's up to you if you really want to change it or not.


“Who’s up there?” somebody called from the floor below. Illyana looked behind her at the inn bedroom she’d hidden in. She heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, then the knob shaking on the door she’d locked. She heard the innkeeper fumble for his keys and didn’t stay to hear more. She let herself sink through the wood floor and wall, her head emerging on the outside first. She pulled herself out, flipping around in midair and landing on her feet a few meters below her exit point. It was early morning and very few people walked the cobblestone streets of Sigmora. Nobody had seen her leave in the way dryads usually did. She figured if she didn’t use any of her dryad abilities, she may be perceived as a nymph with her dark hair, olive skin, and amber eyes. None of these traits were exclusive to either race, but nymph and dryad ears were similar in length and point. Dryad ears were vertically thinner, but her hair could cover enough that her ears would only betray her age and not her race.

Quite a good descriptive paragraph; The only thing I found a little lacking and confusing was exactly how she moved through the wood. Earlier on you entailed that it was similar to how a ghost moves, but does that mean she simply "flies" or "floats" through wooden objects? Or is it more similar to liquid, and she has to "swim" through it? I'm mostly confused because gravity can apparently pull her downwards into it, yet she retains enough control to apparently move diagonally. More description, please... Later on it's described more like she is instantly warping from place to place, which makes it extra confusing. More in-depth visualisations needed!


She’d be here for a while. She may as well make a decent impression.

She wasn’t interested in making an impression right away, and even if she was, she wouldn’t know how.

I can appreciate a naturally stealthy race at odds with a boisterous personality, but this bit kinda just makes her motives a bit too confusing... Why exactly does she want people to notice her? Just out of spite? Humour? Ego?


Illyana met the blood angel as she entered the forest. She was a girl, no older than Illyana. Her wings, rather than the pure white of an angel’s, were dull red, the last three feathers on each wing shining and pointed like blades. Her hair was dark red, like her wings, and her clothes were all variations of red or gray.

Another quite nice description here, but I feel like a better description of her clothes here would have gone a long way to telling us quite how civilized the blood angels acted (Even if just around one another.) The insuing fight is also where the 'warping' I was talking about earlier takes place.


She pressed a fresh leaf against it and tied it in place with a long blade of grass, then set off toward Sigmora at a crawl.

This part just kinda comes across as weird because... Well, how come she didn't just use her clothes? How can she even see that so well if she has shoes on? Does she have any clothes on?

:Chapter 1 Overall:

I think the pacing and characterisations in this chapter are pretty decent, but it perhaps lacks a little depth in the visualisation department. We know what the various races look like, but you don't really describe exactly what Illyana's face or personal features are like. It would have also helped a great deal in letting us know how important Siren was ahead of time. Even the buildings and trees could do with more visualisation. Don't be afraid to be uber specific. The setting and the interactions do come across as rather original, too, that said, so please don't take this entire reveiw as one big downer.
-Chapter 2-


She had sentenced herself–and the court had agreed to–a life of serving as a scout and a soldier for the safety of Sigmora.

Erm, isn't this kind of rediculously, incredibly lienient? If this was a human king, and the human mistrust of angels and feykind is a officially state-sponsored thing, that should really, really be brought up here. Because even then, I figure they would not be inclined to listen to a confirmed murderer's pleas, esspecially not if they were also a fey themselves. A young age doesn't even begin to cover why she is apparently walking around, free, no strings attached. I certainly don't think she would ever shake that stigma off around the local populace. >_>

The only ways I can really think of rectifying this would be if either; A) The King was completely corrupt and morally absent himself, and was intent on weaponising her in future for his own use. B) The angel killings were part of the revolution itself, and she only murdered a few amoungst the chaos, alongside other racist individuals. I kinda prefer this version since it is much less mary sue-ish...


“Dryad!” she called. Illyana looked up briefly and crawled faster. Siren sighed and dropped to the ground, buffeting the dryad with wind from her wings as she touched down. “Illyana,” she said. “Let me heal your ankle.”

Kind of weird that the characterization paragraph before this is really quite good and entails her differances from human psycholigy well, but then this sentience makes for a sizeable whip-lash. If blood angels have no morals at all, why is she suddenly helping Illyana? She basically behaved like a complete spiteful monster up to this point (which is actually fine, as character choices go), but then shows sympathy for apparently no reason. Did her recollections make her relate or sympathise with the girl? If so, this should be directly mentioned, even if Siren herself is not sure why she is picking up such emmotions.

People do alot of things without understanding why they do them, but that does not change the fact that there is an underlying reason they may not realise or be willing to admit to themselves.


Siren blinked and said nothing. Illyana sighed. “Why am I not scared of you right now?”

This sentence makes me think that there may have been an underlying magical or subconcious connection between the two of them, but in either case, it could probally be made more obvious that neither of them is acting quite as they normally would.

If there isn't a added reason why they are suddenly being so nice, on the other hand... Well, Illyana should really be trying much, much harder to get away. Or, at the very least, refusing to talk to Siren until the woman has eared her trust. Paranoia and mistrust should really, really be a thing when you are around somebody who just tried to kill you for simply saying hello...

:Chapter 2 Overall:

The pacing and characterisation are pretty good in the first half, but I really think that the second half needs a re-write to be respectable, to be honest. You spend alot of time making Siren out to be a conflicted and fearsome character, but then go back on it quite quickly in a way that requires major explination to remain explicable IMO...
-Chapter 3-


It hung on by no more than a centimeter of whatever tendons were made of.

The fact that real world medical knowlage is being applied in such a way is a breath of fresh air, but that does make this sentence in perticular a little jarring. Like I said, I don't think you should be afraid to be specific.

Tendons are made of collagen, also, just in case you didn't know...

:Chapter 3 Overall:

I think this chapter is easily the strongest. It also puts concrete descriptions of how the healing powers work, which helps. The doctors quite likeable if a little simple, and lacking visual descriptions in a similar note to how I mentioned before. I know they aren't supposed to be perticularly important characters, but it would be nice to know how seedy or trustworthy they appeared. Again, describing their clothes would go a long way to alieviating this, at the very least.

Chapter 4 I'll leave off for now, mostly because I'm pretty tired and Smartry already had a pretty in-depth look at it. If you still feel like it needs a proper picking apart, I can perform one later at your request, through.

Hope this was helpful.

Matt
10-03-2012, 05:48 PM
It's times like this when I really appreciate good critiques. You and Smartry have given me the first big, in-depth critiques I've had in a very long time. My parents aren't too fond of fantasy, nor are they writers, and the only writing group in my area is dead.


The setting and the interactions do come across as rather original, too, that said, so please don't take this entire review as one big downer.Don't worry about making me feel down. I get so few fiction critiques that I don't have the luxury to feel anything but absolute joy when I actually get one, no matter how harsh it is. So no, none of the three critiques was a downer. I felt nothing but absolute joy. Seriously.


Erm, isn't this kind of rediculously, incredibly lienient? If this was a human king, and the human mistrust of angels and feykind is a officially state-sponsored thing, that should really, really be brought up here. Because even then, I figure they would not be inclined to listen to a confirmed murderer's pleas, esspecially not if they were also a fey themselves. A young age doesn't even begin to cover why she is apparently walking around, free, no strings attached. I certainly don't think she would ever shake that stigma off around the local populace. >_>

The only ways I can really think of rectifying this would be if either; A) The King was completely corrupt and morally absent himself, and was intent on weaponising her in future for his own use. B) The angel killings were part of the revolution itself, and she only murdered a few amoungst the chaos, alongside other racist individuals. I kinda prefer this version since it is much less mary sue-ish...
Yeah, Siren should probably be dead. She killed an angel, and killed nine more in pseudo-self-defense when they attacked her in retaliation.

Siren's back story is kinda vague, even to me--though a bunch of racist killings in addition to the king/governor using the kid as a tool of war is a good idea. Even so, she shouldn't be running free unless I have some super-good explanation cooked up, and I have a bit of one:
Siren's sentence is actually the topic of a game I'm developing for a final project in Intro to Game Programming. The main mechanic of the game is interpersonal communication: Siren does her killings and the court postpones her execution for a month while they gather evidence. During that time, Siren has to make sure more than half of Sigmora wants her to stay alive. She could do this by making the city dependent on her (pseudo-canonically, she led the rippers to Sigmora in the first place), and/or she could either manipulate or persuade the people--and therefore, the jury--to think highly of her.

The big problem, as you already brought up, is why in the world she's allowed free reign that whole time. I'm thinking she'll be suspected, but not actually caught committing her crimes, and in a month when the court re-convenes, she knows they'll have the evidence to sentence her. If I go that way, that brings up another gameplay option: tampering with evidence.


Tendons are made of collagen, also, just in case you didn't know...
Hm. The narration is Illyana's, and I assumed Illyana would know almost nothing about anatomy. Is there a way I could pull off the same thing and be less jarring about it?

Anyway, thanks for the critiques. I really appreciate them. I'll rewrite everything accordingly and give you a much better story. You can give chapter 4 a thrashing if you want (it needs it), and I'll definitely implement any necessary changes, but if you'd like to wait for me to rewrite it based on Smartry's critiques and have a story that isn't painful to read as a result, you can do that too.

(I should also stick to non-fiction on my blog if my story's canon is going to change this much.)

Regantor
10-03-2012, 06:38 PM
No problem man. I will get onto chapter four soon enough, but I might wait for you to implement the last critiques.

Also, I just thought; A third option for why Siren is not in prison is if she has a friend in a high place. Or perhaps is related to someone who is a national hero of some kind, which would both make the leadership unwilling to sully said hero's name and highly interested in the girl's potential. Especially if they are corrupt and are dependent on a good public image, which a newly formed democracy might well be.

As for Illyana's medical knowledge... It's unclear how educated she actually is, but if she hasn't been to school or anything, and it's basically a medieval society, would she even know what a tendon is? I was also pretty uncertain exactly how fiercly you were sticking to her viewpoint, so I guess I thought it might have just been a weird pun on your part...

Anyhow, I wouldn't say it's that much of a blunder if you just want to ignore it... But if you really wanted to stick to a single viewpoint more concretely, the character should probably have their own names for things, even if it sounds ridiculous, simply because they don't know the real words. "Working meats", "muscle string" or "ankle muscle" would probably all be adequate things to call a tendon... Writing for a character who is not supposed to be particularly intelligent is alot harder than it sounds.

As for the changes, I wouldn't worry that much. Revising and revising your work like nuts just comes with the territory. *_*

SmartrykFoster
10-04-2012, 05:06 AM
I haven't read the chapters yet, but reading the comments...

From what I read in chapter 4, Siren is the most powerful person around, and she doesn't fear much, except for the rippers. But if the rippers attack regularly, and she's the one who primarily fights them, would the king allow her to be sentenced to death or imprisioned? Or would the king keep her alive to fight the rippers?

What if the king declares, in the interest of national security, Siren should stay alive to fight the rippers? Keeping Siren on a chain while the fights rippers doesn't sound effective, especially if she could cut the chain with her wing blades, but what if someone working for the king (or the court) finds out that Siren cares about Illyana, and declares that if Siren doesn't 'work off her sentence' and instead tries to escape that Illyana will have to carry out Siren's sentence.

That sounds very corrupt, yes. But then again, it also depends on how the rules of the kingdom work. In the U.S., minors are not usually judged as adults (even if they kill someone) and generally get a much lighter sentence.

So if Siren is about 15, what is the age of majority (adulthood) in your story world? Does the court judge children less harshly than it judges adults? Are there some crimes that people are judged on equally, regardless of age? Are there laws that discriminate between species?

Are there lawyers? How do trials work? Can a plea be made to give Siren a sentence that is an alternative to the death sentence?

In Rome, prisoners (slaves?) could become gladiators with a chance to fight for their lives. After a certain number of victories, if Ceasar approved, the gladiator could be set free.

What government system is in place in the story world?

Matt
10-04-2012, 01:23 PM
[W]hat if someone working for the king (or the court) finds out that Siren cares about Illyana, and declares that if Siren doesn't 'work off her sentence' and instead tries to escape that Illyana will have to carry out Siren's sentence.
That's one of the most evil things I've ever heard.

I try to work with gray morality, where everyone basically wants to do the right thing. However, in this case, I think this is actually feasible. Regardless of whether Illyana's actually in any danger, if Siren is enough of a douche to the government, I can see them resorting to such a threat.


So if Siren is about 15, what is the age of majority (adulthood) in your story world? Does the court judge children less harshly than it judges adults? Are there some crimes that people are judged on equally, regardless of age? Are there laws that discriminate between species?
Twenty-five is the official age of maturity (the brain fully matures at 26, and the fay live long enough to justify a higher age of maturity). However, younger kids aren't restricted as to what they can do so long as they're competent (I have a 16-year-old working as a governor's adviser in my main story). Therefore, kids can be executed for murder, though their sentences do tend to be more lenient. Laws do discriminate between species--dryads, by law, are not discriminated against, but are heavily disadvantaged in practice. Blood angels aren't protected under the law, though.


Are there lawyers? How do trials work? Can a plea be made to give Siren a sentence that is an alternative to the death sentence?
This, I have yet to fully decide. Tentatively, how about a standard trial by jury where a 2/3 majority is needed for non-death sentences, and the vote must be unanimous for the death penalty? I don't think there would be official lawyers yet--probably informal representatives, or the accuser and accused themselves? It also seems like there'd be alternative sentences, especially if Sigmora needs Siren to defend it from rippers and such.


What government system is in place in the story world?
Officially, democracy. It's not working out too well--only a few cities around the continent actually use it successfully. Sigmora isn't one of them, and they're slowly going back to monarchy.

Regantor
10-04-2012, 02:09 PM
Just because I forgot to mention, remember that the age of adulthood in ancient times was alot lower than it is now. Right up to Victorian England, it was pretty acceptable for a twelve year old to work in a factory, join the army in a diminished capacity (as a musician, cook, loader, or standard bearer of some sort), or hold a noble position (including being the actual king, alrough that's generally a bad sign for the dynasty). In some places it's still legal for twelve year olds to get married now...

So yeah. Obviously this is a fantasy world and all so that stuff doesn't neccisarily apply, but it could explain why the goverment would openly use such a young person as a soldier. The flip side is that they probally wouldn't be treated any better than 'modern' adults by the law, in that case, through.

Matt
10-08-2012, 12:12 PM
I did a lot of studies on age and maturity, and how the correlation actually depends heavily on upbringing (kids these days are many times less mature than they were a hundred or even fifty years ago). I don't know everything about it, but I assume, in a time where survival is still the focus of life (rather than comfort), kids would be more mature than they are now.

About the use of blood angels when Warhammer 40k has them--"fallen angels" doesn't ring right to me, "dark angels" just sounds bad, and "blood angels" really doesn't sound amazing either, but it makes sense in the setting. If the Blood Angels in Warhammer aren't actually any breed of angel, I don't think using the name for angels who actually drink blood in a fantasy setting is a breach of copyright or trademark or anything. Regardless, if it turns out to be a bigger issue than I'm making it out to be, I'll change it.

Re-wrote chapter 1:
Chapter 1: In Which Illyana Begs for Food and Meets a Blood Angel

Illyana wanted to scream at the figures passing out of Sigmora's city gates. She'd hidden from them the night before, hoping at least the girl she thought of as a sister, Kiri, would turn back or at least look for her. She'd suspected they weren't too fond of her, but needed to see if that was true. She'd trusted them, and she'd been wrong. The girl she loved did nothing. Neither did the young man she looked up to as not a father or a brother, but a friend--Boriol. He didn't feel the same about her. She'd loved them, and they didn't hate her. She'd thought that was a good thing--a step in the right direction. But they were indifferent. To Illyana, that was worse than any form of hate.

She slammed her fists against the wall on either side of the window, clenching her teeth and wondering why in the world she was holding in her scream. She pounded the wall again and again, harder and harder, hoping it would shatter, hoping the destruction would satisfy her. Her scream wouldn't come out, but her tears did. In her rage, she didn't tire until her energy was completely spent and she collapsed. She rested her head against the windowsill and cried.

Was it something she did? She'd eaten their food, sure. She'd taken up one of their horses and the man previously occupying it had apparently been glad to give it to her. Was it because of her race? Dryads were thieves, stereotypically. They could slip in and out of any wood structure like a sticky-fingered ghost, taking anything they pleased with them in or out. They were assassins, thieves, perverts. She could admit that her race was generally made up of shady people, though they were at least better than nymphs and blood angels among the fay, and they were especially better than any subrace of fiend.

"Who's up there?" somebody called from the floor below. Illyana looked behind her at the inn bedroom she'd hidden in. She heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, then the knob shaking on the door she'd locked. She heard the innkeeper fumble for his keys and didn't stay to hear more. She sank into the crack between the wall and floor, the wood reaching out to pull her in like a thousand tiny, greedy hands. Once in the wall, her form was no longer her own. She was the building, but the building wasn't her. She felt her being wrap around every room, every beam, every board. She no longer needed to breathe, to see, or to smell. All she did was think and feel, though not through her human form's sense of touch. She felt the innkeeper throw the door open and check the room Illyana had just been in. She didn't hear him call for the intruder to show himself. She felt the words, the tone of voice. The innkeeper was simultaneously apprehensive and annoyed. Illyana didn't see the gestures that betrayed the man's false anger--she felt them as well. It wasn't through vibrations, but just through the space her being occupied and surrounded.

She slipped out of the building, reforming her body as she went. Familiar human senses rushed back into her as her eyes melted out of the wood and connected to her brain as it, too, flowed from the entirity of the building into her body. Her nerves, not entirely formed, tingled as they appended themselves to what was already inside her. Dryads were formless when they entered a tree or other wooden structure with greater mass than their natural body, but they couldn't change their natural body. Illyana was twelve and looked twelve. Her eyes were light brown, her dirty skin a shade darker than her eyes, and her long, uncombed hair a shade darker than her skin. Her skin was pulled tight around her bones and small muscles. Even through her baggy, long-sleeved white shirt, her ribs were visible. It would take a lot more clothes than she wore to cover her malnourishment, and she had no desire to. If she appeared sickly thin, people were more likely to give her food. She'd also be hungry all the time. It wasn't worth it, but she didn't have much of a choice.

She'd been traveling for a year, and it was time to stop. If she stayed in one place, the chances of a merciful family bringing her in and feeding her increased. She'd seen it happen before to another urchin. Once.

She'd gone far enough north that the heat would have been unbearable if it weren't for the massive canopy of leaves the surrounding forest provided. As it was, people wore significantly less than they did back where she lived. Men and women both wore simple things like short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts and standard trousers or shorts and skirts, plus sunhats. Back home in the south, she'd found it strange that people would cover their hair in the north, but now that she was there, she could see why--or rather, feel why. She'd have to get a hat of her own if she was going to stay here.

She was hungry. Very hungry. Though staying in a tree provided her with the nutrients a tree needed to survive, she was, ultimately, not a tree. She needed food, and she'd rather beg than steal. She wandered and surveyed the city of Sigmora, searching for a populated spot to sit and look pitiful and cute. Intersections were populated, but people at intersections were usually hurried. So Illyana turned at an intersection, following a train track running down the middle of the cobblestone roads. Trains stopped at important, busy places. Important, busy places had a lot of people. Again, these people were usually hurried, but only when they were getting on or off a train.

The train station was marked by diagonal yellow lines painted on the road in front of a building with a pure glass front, its sign on a pole outside. Illyana strolled past it, glancing inside. Tens of people sat in a waiting room larger than most houses. Illyana smiled and plopped down under the "Train Station" sign.

In an hour, she collected a few pieces of bread, twenty lunes--which would buy her all of nothing when a loaf of bread was worth five hundred lunes--and one pat on the head from a woman who looked entirely too pleased with herself. It was something new, though. People generally didn't touch urchins.

In two hours, her income was much better. A man in a suit knelt, talked with her for a minute, and left her a thousand lune note. She got no more bread--she'd eaten the first as soon as it had fallen into her hands--but she did get some chocolate. Though it was tempting, she waited to eat it until someone gave her water. With her age and gender, she was at an advantage as a beggar. A young girl gained much more sympathy than a middle-aged man. All the same, she had to look vulnerable and dirty, yet pretty. Rotting teeth were not pretty, and two of her molars already hurt when she bit down with them.

In the third hour, the train came, collected about a hundred people, and the street was suddenly empty. Illyana got up to leave and found her path blocked by an angel--no, not an angel. This one's wings were dull red, and the last three feathers on either side shined and pointed almost like blades. Her hair, nearly as long as Illyana's, matched her wings.

"Where did you come from?" the blood angel asked, stepping forward. Illyana stepped back. She looked around for something made of wood to sink into. Unfortunately, none of the buildings had enough wood on them to let her fit inside, much less escape. She took another step back. The blood angel took two steps forward, thrust her wings backward, and soared toward Illyana, landing close enough that Illyana could see the color of her eyes. They were red, like everything else. A common color for angels, but unnerving on a blood angel.

"Answer me."

"South," Illyana said. "I'm from Dakonia." The blood angel was a girl, not much older than her. She wore baggy gray trousers and a tight, sleeveless, faded red shirt.

"That's a thousand kilometers away. Why are you here?"

"I ran away and got lost on my way back and I needed food," Illyana said, backing up another step. The blood angel glared at her for a moment, then smiled. Illyana blinked. Blood angels could do that?

"A dryad who isn't a thief," she said, sounding skeptical. "Now all I need to see is a virgin nymph and a civilized draman and I'll have seen it all. What's your name?"

"Illyana Fhin." Illyana was also surprised. Weren't blood angels the creatures that were supposed to torture criminals after their deaths? Moreover, weren't all blood angels killed the moment they turned from angels into blood angels? What was one doing in a heavily-populated metropolis?

The blood angel cocked her head and looked at Illyana expectantly.

"Healer," she said, remembering northern manners: state your name and your birth ability when introducing yourself. "I'm a healer."

The girl looked skeptical, but nodded slowly. "Show me."

Illyana opened her mouth, but didn't get a word out before the girl bit down on her own wrist with two fiend-like fangs, drawing blood. She held her arm out toward Illyana. Illyana raised a hand to the puncture marks and felt around the wounds. They were shallow--the blood angel's fangs had hit her ulna and even a blood angel wasn't stupid enough to keep biting after that. It was only a flesh wound--the first thing the doctors back home had taught her to heal. She let her inergy flow from her fingers and into the bite mark. She couldn't truly heal--nobody could. She, and anybody else born with healing, was only able to speed up the body's natural healing process in a single area. Healing a bite was a simple task, as smaller injuries could be healed at many times the speed of larger injuries.

Illyana let her arms fall to her sides. The blood angel, true to her name, licked the blood away from her wrist and looked at the pale skin where the bite mark had once been. She nodded, then looked back at Illyana.

"If you're planning on staying here, fine." She stepped forward, leaning in close. "But if you steal so much as a single lune from anyone--no matter how despicable--in this city, I'll make sure you're punished."

"I'm not a thief," Illyana said, looking the girl straight in the eyes. The return stare unnerved her enough that she had to look down. The other girl's face betrayed emotions that Illyana couldn't quite place. A slight, tight-lipped smile combined with a narrow-eyed stare could mean many things.

"I won't take your word for it," said the girl. "You seem honest, but I have yet to trust a dryad."

The blood angel spread her wings--the blade-like feathers on her wingtips screeched like steel as they slid against each other--and took flight, blowing up dust all around Illyana. She rose, then disappeared over the top of the train station. Illyana heard her wing beats for a minute after that, and wondered how she hadn't heard the blood angel arrive in the first place.

The blood angel had apparently been watching her for long enough to know that she hadn't stolen anything. Was she distinctive enough to watch? Her skin was a similar shade to the rest of the people in Sigmora, maybe a few shades darker. Was she the only beggar? No, she'd seen two or three on her way to the train station. Was it her race? She hadn't seen any other dryads, and though her hair covered most of them, her ears, pointed outward like most fay, yet shorter than elves or angels, might give her away.

That was of small concern, though. Illyana wasn't sure she wanted to stay in Sigmora anymore. She didn't want to be a thief, but she'd made that resolve a few times over the year she'd been away from home, and she'd broken it every time. The thought of being punished by a blood angel didn't appeal to her.

Maybe this was what she needed. She didn't want to steal anymore, and with the threat of a blood angel's punishment, maybe she could stop. She'd try it, she decided. If she managed to go a week without stealing anything, she'd stay.

She sighed. Just wait until you're starving and there's a nice bakery made of wood, she told herself. That's how you failed the last three times.
The first three paragraphs are the same (minus Illyana denying the possibility of male rape, for it had nothing to do with the story and didn't add anything useful to her personality). The fourth and on are completely different.
-Dryad wood-warping is explained a lot more.
-Sigmora is fleshed out a little more.
-Siren doesn't attack Illyana.
-Illyana's urchin-ness is elaborated on.
-"Healing" is explained as much as a first chapter would allow without (much) infodumping.
-In contrast, I'm worried that this new first chapter is too infodumpy, though this could be a normal level of description and I'm just taking too much influence from minimalists.

SmartrykFoster
10-17-2012, 07:13 AM
Sorry I haven't around much. I've been busy.

I'll try to read chapter 1 sometime soon.

Matt
11-12-2012, 01:13 PM
I've been busy too. I couldn't even keep up with NaNoWriMo because of schoolwork, sadly. I really wanna finish it one of these years.

I completely rewrote chapter 1 again, and it's the best it's been so far. It's about half done, but I figured I should post for feedback before I go too much further.

+The entire situation is changed and is more interesting.
+The beginning is changed to incorporate some of the more unique bits of the setting.
+Fashion is fleshed out a lot more.
+More description, less infodump.
+Removed magic altogether. Wood-warping is possible by natural law, healing is removed.

Siren Song

-

Chapter 1: In Which Illyana Steals from a High Lord and a Blood Angel

Dryads were the best hitchhikers. Illyana Fhin, thirteen years old, starved near to death, and a thousand kilometers from home, did it now. She didn't feel her hunger--she wasn't in her natural body. She existed within a single log in a pile of them on a train heading north. Her being filled the log like steam would fill a tank. Within the log, she was omnipotent. She was the god of the log, and as lowly as it made her feel, it also made her feel in control of something for once. She couldn't move the log from inside it, just as she couldn't push a carriage from inside either. She didn't see outside the log in any way, and she didn't exactly hear either. She felt. Not with her nerves--no, those weren't even material right now--but as hard as she tried, she couldn't accurately describe the feeling to herself. Variations in pressure? No, she felt that with nerves. It was more like any movement or sound would penetrate her mind directly. She couldn't identify every sound. She couldn't decipher speech, even if she knew people were speaking. Several people were speaking now. Hitchhikers, like her. Only not dryads--the poor saps outside couldn't melt into logs and disappear. Some of them would probably be caught and arrested. Illyana wouldn't.

Someone knocked on the log. Illyana left through the side, the wood reaching out and pushing her body out as it materialized. She felt her own weight again, her own skin, brown as the log she'd just come from. She formed black hair, long and dirty, her hands, caked in so many things she didn't care anymore. The simple shirt and trousers she'd stolen last week were already torn, burned, and covered in just as many things as her hands. Just about the only clean part of her was her eyes, light brown, the whites bloodshot, yet not horribly so. She blinked a few times, rubbing her eyes with a relatively clean part of her arm.

"Dryad," a woman's quiet voice said. "Sigmora is a kilometer away."

Illyana nodded, but her hunger assaulted her in full before she could reply. She clutched at her stomach, thin enough that she could almost feel her organs. She felt like a corpse in her human body. Of course she preferred the log.

"Thank you," Illyana said, voice hoarse and weak. The woman smiled. She was a cona, a round-eared, pale-skinned type, able to jump twice her height if she was like any other cona. Like Illyana, her skin was pulled tight around her bones and muscles, cheeks gaunt, small muscles clearly defined. She might have been thirty-something, but her malnourishment made her look older. Her hair was brown, but some had fallen out. At least Illyana's stayed, even if bits were gray here and there.

The woman smiled, placing a hand on Illyana's head. "What I'd give to slip in a log like that," she said. Illyana wasn't sure who the comment was meant to comfort. Her, as the hand on the head suggested, or the woman, as the words suggested. Illyana smiled in return, assuming both.

The single lantern lighting the entire boxcar swung around the side of the pile of logs. A cona man of about forty held it, glaring down his nose at Illyana. Most of his body was covered in a long-sleeved, mud-covered suit, but his cheeks were as sunken as the rest of the hitchhikers. He wore a small dagger at his belt, curved in a southern fashion, sheathed, but intimidating all the same. Beggars couldn't afford to wear such things. This man was likely a full-time thief--not a hybrid beggar-thief like Illyana.

He turned his eyes on the woman. "You've had your minute," he said. "Get away from the dryad. When she gets caught, we don't want to join her."

Illyana leaned back against the log as the woman gave her a parting smile, stood, and walked to the edge of the boxcar with the man. They quietly discussed their plans for getting out when the doors opened, quiet enough that another cona wouldn't hear. Illyana could pick out every word. They planned to throw the doors open from the inside and run before the lumberjacks came to pick up their supplies, wielding the axes from the boxcar to defend themselves if necessary. Illyana nearly groaned upon hearing it. She didn't know about the others, but she barely had enough energy to lift her own weight, much less an ax.

Sigmora was a plentiful city, though. Illyana had heard all about it in her travels. Sigmora had this! Sigmora had that! Everything would be great if we lived in Sigmora! Did you know there's not a single angel living in Sigmora? That a blood angel slaughtered them all and still lives there to this day?

The last bit, of course, was from a horror story, told to her by a boy about her age, who claimed to be Sigmoran himself, yet spoke with just as much wonder as any other southern or center-born urchin. Blood angels were a thousand years extinct, and for good reason. Still, Illyana wasn't about to discredit the idea. She'd been lucky enough to enter the dryad superhighway herself, without a license, and she'd even escaped arrest. She hadn't managed it a second time, but all the stories she'd heard about it being impossible were false. Fortunately, no one spread rumors about it. No one knew, and no one ever would.

The train slowed, metal on metal screeching like a siren's death cry, muffled through the boxcar's dark walls. Illyana climbed into a log on the top of the pile. This one had less mass than the first one, but Illyana still fit easily. She stuck half her head out the top, just enough that her ears and eyes worked.

The man and woman from earlier grabbed axes and dashed for the door. The man flung his lantern at the pile of logs Illyana occupied, shattering it against the dry wood. The fire in the lantern spread to one of the logs. Illyana would have screamed if she had a mouth. As it was, she pulled herself out and jumped away, landing unbalanced and falling to her hands and knees. The boxcar was all metal, and wouldn't burn, but its occupants would if they stayed. The man and woman had already fled, and the other three passengers were already jumping out the door. Illyana hadn't so much as seen their faces for two days of riding in the same boxcar. She found herself following them. She jumped from the train to the ground half a meter below and hurt her weakened legs. She stumbled a bit, then crashed into a fence. She blinked through the sunlight, blind, noise of all kinds assaulting her underused senses. The train horn blasted about a hundred meters left. People shouted incoherently in front of her. Hard gravel dug into her bare feet. The air smelled of maple wood, coal, bread, steel, and dust. Startling heat beat down on her from above, and she remembered just how far north she was. Sigmora was the highest you went before either turning back due to heat or being blown back by the winds.

"Would you look at that little thing? Is that a nymph or dryad?"

Illyana blinked away tears and light, wiped her eyes again, and stared through the fence and into the eyes of a girl maybe three or four years her senior. Two boys and another girl stood beside her. All four of them wore suits, one maroon, one blue, and two white, all with matching hats.

"Dryad," Illyana said, and looked left. Someone was running toward her. So she let go of the fence and ran right, toward the back of the train. Sigmora flashed by to her left, the train blocking the right of the city. Buildings rose high as trees, and though Sigmora was supposedly a forest city, Illyana didn't see a single tree. She saw roads of asphalt and brick, mansions of brick and wood, angel homes ten times the size of standard mansions, factories of solid cement. She could have sworn she saw a horseless carriage or two, and, like the blood angel, decided not to discard the possibility.

She saw the blood angel next. She stopped short just behind the other five hitchhikers as two of them turned around and shoved past her, only to be beaten down by several guards with wood clubs. A fence to the left, train to the right, guards behind, and a pseudo-mythological creature in front. The blood angel's dark red wings raised toward the sky, spanning the width of a train car total, the last three feathers on each wing shining and pointed like swords. The angel herself was a red-haired child, maybe two years older than Illyana and much healthier. Though her skin was pale, it had a red tinge to it. She wore gray trousers and an untucked white button shirt with a black suit coat, probably with slits in the back for her wings. She wore no expression, though her red eyes scanned the hitchhikers like meat. Illyana recalled that blood angels were said to be carnivores, as bloodthirsty as dramen and as lusty as nymphs. This girl displayed neither trait immediately, but Illyana took a step back all the same.

"More hitchhikers," a man said, stepping out from the crowd, standing next to the blood angel. He was maybe in his late thirties, clean-shaven, wearing a black felt hat to match a white shirt, unbuttoned black coat, and black trousers. He wore a rapier at his belt, but didn't touch it as he stepped forward, examining the hitchhikers.

"The last bunch got three weeks of low-wage labor," he said, meeting everyone's eyes in turn. Illyana looked away when he turned her way. "I presume you accept that punishment over the beating and jailing you'd get from the sheriff?"

Illyana's heart lifted. Wherever she traveled, she feared capital punishment for petty crimes. Though she very rarely landed in a city that allowed execution for anything less than murder, it was a rational fear and one she found no shame in keeping. It alone was responsible for keeping her vastly more a beggar than a thief.

Celestial-Fox
11-12-2012, 02:55 PM
I will read before bedtime~

Edit: I'm on my phone (because my laptop is dead), so I can't say a whole lot. It was such a wild improvement from your older works, and I like the inclusion of wood magic. The part where she stuck her head out of a log gave me a laugh-out-loud image in my head. It was cute.

I also like the world building. The outfits weren't something I probably would have expected! But they work, and it adds uniqueness to the story.

The only thing that needs a bit of work is perhaps describing what's actually going on. I can't say I understood the transitions between their modes of travel or why they are traveling. I'm sure it's included in the text, but I think it could be a little less subtle? This is a big improvement from your Guardians style of tell-not-show, though, and is an easy fix. You have some great descriptions in there, so adding minor "tell" details (without info dump, of course) is easy.

Matt
11-16-2012, 06:23 PM
Yay, critique! I'll make the necessary changes and upload the whole chapter when it's finished.

Also, 50 more writing prompts:
1. Water is replaced with lava. Water is only found underground while lava is the most abundant land resource.

2. A love triangle with two people and an object.

3. Gravity is now halved. What happens? (Think sports, transportation, building structure, and anything else.)

4. A war story without a single battle scene.

5. A romance with no physical contact.

6. Any kind of system where megabytes can be currency.

7. Anyone in the world can connect to the Internet with 1 gigabit down and up, 0 latency. What happens?

8. Someone manages to invent a VR ideal girlfriend/boyfriend simulator. What happens?

9. Computers have smell input and output accessories. Go.

10. 3D modeling goes real-time, real-life. What you model on the computer instantly appears in real life.

11. The human mind can be programmed just like any other computer application.

12. Wind blows upward.

13. Rain is replaced with fire.

14. Write a story about two parents on a school board, trying to do what's best for their kids.

15. North America and Europe are suddenly connected geographically.

16. Money goes completely digital.

17. A large-scale EMP renders all electronics in the protagonist's state useless.

18. Your protagonist and several friends corner a young mother and baby in an alleyway with hostile intentions. Explain. Bonus points for using gray versus gray.

19. A new technology lets anything a user thinks of become reality, within reason. Define said reasons and write from there.

20. A governor wants to be reelected, but the public opinion of him is extremely low. How does he go about getting it back up? Bonus points if you don't identify with his political party (or make a new one).

21. Protagonist discovers a material harder than diamond.

22. Your protagonist dies of old age, is reincarnated, and retains all knowledge from his previous life.

23. A 50-year-old who's lived on welfare since age 20 decides to turn his/her life around and start a business or something.

24. A well-known CEO decides to leave his business and most of his money to someone else, get plastic surgery and a fake ID, and quietly watch his company from the bottom as a janitor.

25. Everyone's best talent suddenly becomes many times better, elevating into superpower status.

26. When people die, they become zombies. No exceptions.

27. Code of conduct for real life and the Internet is completely reversed.

28. Someone makes a type of glass that is edible.

29. Smartphones are replaced by watches with all the functionality of a computer.

30. Islam, rather than Christianity, is the world's most common religion.

31. When angels die, they're born on your primary planet as normal people. When gods die, they're born as prodigies in whatever they were the god of.

32. A writer gives away hundreds of ideas and concepts for free, regrets it, then realizes that every idea he gives away forces him to be that much more creative.

33. A sci-fi where people can plug SD cards or flash drives into their brains and access their computers from there. Monitors can be glasses or contact lenses. I'm positive this has been done, but oh well.

34. Write about an indie game developer who gets a huge inheritance from a grandparent and puts it all toward his/her dream game.

35. Write about a gardener who discovers a sentient plant.

36. Write a fantasy with just one single element changed from Earth that makes it fantasy (not alternate history). Bonus points if that one element isn't magic.

37. Earth's axis flips.

38. Every celebrity dies of some bizarre illness that only affects celebrities.

39. Everbody except celebrities die of some bizarre illness that only affects people who aren't famous. Or something.

40. In lieu of climate change, people start riding horses and carriages again. Also because gunpowder is bad for the environment, we go back to swords and crossbows.

41. Owning guns is now illegal in every country in the world, and everyone with guns has to turn them in. Try to be more original than any random political columnist on this one.

42. God starts talking to everyone.

43. A world where the only light source is from people's heads like those creepy-looking fish things. Also, there's a gigantic light source at the bottom of the deepest ocean for some reason, but you only see it if you go under.

44. Imperfect pitch is not a thing. People are only capable of talking and singing in perfect pitch.

45. Every person gets to add a word to the dictionary. I think this is potentially the most chaotic idea here.

46. Develop a language for a fantasy race/culture/place where making farting noises with your tongue is a word.

47. A fantasy or sci-fi society that has to use wooden weapons and an explanation as to why.

48. A fantasy where people discover the secret to travel at the speed of light before they discover how to forge iron.

49. A guy invents a religion, gets some followers, gets money, thinks he's all that, and then his religion turns out to be real.

50. Cloaking technology is leaked to the general public and becomes affordable.

brain132
12-06-2012, 10:28 PM
I loved the new beginning and the way you only "glanced at Siren" (displayed her appearance but left possible movements to nothing, making her a bit of a mysterious, and actually, a more menacing character with what little info you give the reader). But as far as crits go, Celestial-Fox covers the only things that I noticed.

Matt
04-25-2013, 02:38 AM
With how much I write, you'd think I'd post more.

Anyway, here's 100 more fantasy writing prompts:
Section 1: Character

101. Your protagonist is a sentient tree.

102. Your protagonist is the wise old mentor.

103. Your protagonist has already lost his confrontation with the antagonist.

104. Your protagonist is morally obligated to protect children, but doesn’t care about grown men or women.

105. Your protagonist makes up his adventure as he goes along.

106. Your protagonist draws his/her companions on paper and they come to life/he hallucinates them coming to life.

107. Your protagonist narrates his/her adventure out loud.

108. Your protagonist is the exact opposite of you in every imaginable way.

109. Your protagonist is driven mad because his/her mind automatically counts the number of steps s/he takes.

110. Your protagonist is one of the Evil Overlord’s henchmen.

111. Your protagonist discovers s/he can choose to be suddenly amazing at one thing at the cost of two other things.

112. Your protagonist takes over the world.

113. Your protagonist goes to space (in a fantasy setting, not sci-fi).

114. Your protagonist can revive like a phoenix, but only after being killed by fire.

115. Your protagonist is a sentient creature dissimilar to elves, dwarves, or humans, of your own design.

116. Your protagonist is cursed and must kill at least one person per day to stay alive.

117. Your protagonist can look into the future, but every time s/he does, s/he loses a memory.

118. Your protagonist is eighty-five; s/he looks, acts, and talks his/her age–s/he is not a long-lived elf who looks twenty at eighty.

119. Your protagonist is immortal, but his/her body continues to age at a normal rate. S/he cannot die of old age.

120. Your protagonist never wears clothes.

121. Your protagonist gets a cool power, knows about it, and never uses it. Ever.

122. Your protagonist is the leader of a band of mercenaries. Twist: the mercs are all rabbits.

123. Your protagonist commits a crime you personally deem unforgivable–in the beginning of the story. Make him/her likable.

124. Your protagonist is the first sentient being on his/her planet.

125. Your protagonist is hunted for bounty and turns his/her pursuers away without either magic or combat.

126. Your protagonist discovers ruins of a modern city and tells no one.

127. Your protagonist has a falling-out with his/her love interest and doesn’t get back with him/her in the end. The love interest cannot turn evil or die.

128.Your protagonist can see ten minutes into the future, then passes out for an hour.

129. Your protagonist predicts a disaster in the future and takes measures to prevent it. Make these measures perfectly reasonable, but let them lead up to your protagonist being an “evil” overlord in the end. Bonus points if he’s never actually evil, but neither are his enemies.

130. Your protagonist develops the medieval/industrial/stone age equivalent of a tank.

131. Your protagonist wears a disguise throughout the entire story and reveals him/herself at the end.

132. Your protagonist is a blacksmith, but never actually fights with any weapon he makes.

133. Your protagonist is a prophet. Bonus points if he’s a false prophet, knows it, and is still a good guy.

Section 2: Setting

134. A magic system only lets people throw shoes or other small objects at high speeds.

135. The world has seen four apocalypses already. Some old people have lived through every one.

136. There are no bodies of water; water is extracted from trees and underground pools.

137. Music can affect the weather based on pitch, rhythm, melody, timber, dynamics, and texture.

138. The primary race breathes fire and eats ash like we breathe air and drink water.

139. Trees grow minerals instead of leaves.

140. Instead of mineral veins in mountains, there is wood.

141. The edges of the world turn up instead of down; the world exists on the inside of a sphere.

142. A culture where eating is done in solitude and pooping is done in groups.

143. A religion where you’re not righteous until you’ve saved someone’s life.

144. A culture/religion where adults are sacred and children must protect them.

145. A religion that considers albinos holy symbols and/or prophets and/or angels.

146. A world that has no concept of good or evil.

147. A race that lives inside the sun.

148. Sound impregnates women; babies are born when the father composes a song, and that song determines the baby’s appearance, personality, lifespan, etc.

149. A culture that holds music as a rite of passage. In order to become a man or a woman, a boy or girl must charm a powerful figure with singing or playing.

150. The sixth/seventh/eighth/whatever sense allows people to feel others’ emotions in–so yes, finally an excuse for a scary stare to make someone stagger or back off.

151. People are evaluated each year after they become adults. If they haven’t accomplished something worthwhile, they are killed.

152. A religion where deformities and/or disabilities are regarded as holy.

153. People have to put bags on their heads with eye holes unless a) they’re completely alone, b) they’re married to the person who sees their face, or c) they’re the king/queen/high priest/whatever.

154. A religion that believes its followers were created by a god and that heretics are a step above apes in evolution.

155. There is a worldwide language, but each family has its own.

156. Primary education teaches acting, music, art, poetry, and game design (not video games). Secondary education goes on to teach the core subjects.

157. Only the upper class and/or religious elite may listen to or compose music.

158. Armies have a musical battle before proceeding to kill each other.

159. In an urban setting, poets and writers are valued like sports players are now.

160. In a seafaring setting, sea creatures are used rather than horses and boats replace cars.

161. “Monkey spheres” are limited to five people.

162. Chairs are never invented.

163. At random intervals, the entire world hears a song from everywhere, like everything is contained inside a massive omnipresent orchestra.

164. Think of a random animal. That animal is the only non-human animal in the world, or at least in the area where the story takes place.

165. Rabbits are sentient.

166. Humans, as they appear today, are not sentient.

Section 3: Plot

167. In a setting where monkey spheres are limited to five people, your protagonist only cares about either four or six people.

168. A human accidentally switches places with the world’s god.

169. Tell the typical hero’s journey in reverse.

170. Your protagonist befriends a sentient cow.

171. A sentient cow is the primary antagonist.

172. The antagonist is a 5-year-old.

173. The antagonist and protagonist spend the entire story in the same room.

174. The last man and woman on the world live on opposite sides of the planet.

175. The first two humans, a man and a woman, hate each other.

176. The protagonist, forced to build weapons for the antagonist, designs every fifth weapon to malfunction.

177. Your protagonist is executed. S/he survives.

178. Your hero is the first to explore the depths of the ocean.

179. Retell “Lord of the Rings” (or any magical fantasy) without magic of any kind.

180. Retell the American Revolution (or any real war), but add magic.

181. Politicians discover magic and keep it to themselves, but use it.

182. Tell a horror story from the perspective of the “creepy little girl.”

183. Take a slasher/gore porn film and rewrite it with only one violent scene.

184. Your protagonist becomes a high-ranking religious figure and talks to the world’s god just as the world undergoes its industrial revolution and secularism begins to spread.

185. Your protagonist turns to secularism just as the person from the previous prompt becomes a high-ranking religious figure.

186. Your protagonist literally can’t count to five, but is put in a position where s/he must lead a group of people to survival.

187. Your protagonist’s emotions affect the thousand people closest in proximity to him or her. The girl/guy s/he likes rejects him.

188. The protagonist is the stereotypical evil overlord’s adviser and is not secretly helping the heroes–s/he is, in fact, supporting the overlord’s plans with all his or her power.

189. The protagonist is among the thousands of faceless minions in the overlord’s army, and wants to prove him/herself by killing the hero/ine.

190. In a culture where only two children are allowed to live at a time in a single village, there is an underground network of kids. Bonus points if this doesn’t end in an uprising or an uprising being quelled.

191. Write a fantasy so stereotypical it makes your eyes bleed. Then make it a musical and make the protagonist tone-deaf. When you’re done, read it out loud. (This exercise is meant to boost your confidence.)

192. Write a fantasy so stereotypical it makes your eyes bleed. Write it 100% seriously. (This exercise is also meant to boost your confidence.)

193. Let your most disgusting, uncensored, depraved, most insane fantasy dribble from your brain onto the page. Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Don’t self-censor. Don’t show anyone. Write like you’ll never have to show it to anyone else ever–not even your internal editor.

194. Your world approaches its new millennium, and several prophecies say the world will end. Several things are set to happen on the night of the new millennium, but despite all these things happening together, every prophecy only predicts one and predicts only it will cause the end of the world.

195. Your protagonist is a blacksmith for the evil overlord. His rival blacksmith on the good guys’ side suddenly invents and mass-manufactures guns.

196. Your protagonist has super-powered hindsight. Instead of seeing only what happened in hindsight, he sees every single possibility in full detail, and can see the future of each possible path.

197. Your protagonist is a video game hero/ine. The story follows video game mechanics: the hero/ine is suddenly controlled by someone else for long periods of time, respawning happens, the hero/ine is ridiculously overpowered compared to anyone else and communicates via saying absolutely nothing, but the people he’s talking to know what he said anyway, etc.

198. Your protagonist is an economist and knows the importance of keeping the value of cash steady. Then he finds out he can spawn money at will.

199. In a world where there are four distinctive sexes, your protagonist’s society debates their equivalent of gay rights.

Section 4: Setting because I can’t be bothered to come up with one more plot

200. In a world where extreme emotions cause death, battles are fought by warriors playing songs, telling stories, debating politics, etc.

All 200 are here (http://matthewdellar.com/200-fantasy-writing-prompts/).

My creative writing teacher, who is absolutely sick of student fantasy, has challenged me to write a fantasy he doesn't immediately hate. So I'll take him up on that challenge and post the results here.

Matt
06-23-2013, 09:06 PM
I wrote a thing.

This short story is called Summer Sketches. It's about a pacifist who fights a gang using graffiti.
Summer Sketches

Sierra Summer flung the door open to see Heidi unconscious on the hospital bed with her knees black and blue and bleeding. The door hit the stopper on the wall with a loud thud. Sierra stared, soaking in the scene, then stepped into the room and sat on a chair against the wall. Her mom, across the room and dressed in scrubs, only nodded her way before returning her attention to Sierra's older sister on the bed.

Sierra's dad arrived next, still in uniform. Sweat dribbled down his face and neck like he'd run the full five miles from the police station to the hospital. She suspected he actually had, though he caught his breath within the minute he stood still in the doorway, staring dumbly as Sierra had. He proceeded to the edge of Heidi's bed and blocked Sierra's view of her sister's mangled knees.

Sierra turned her attention to Heidi's face, calm like she was merely asleep, yet bruised on both cheeks with one black eye and a cut on her neck close to her throat. Blond hair touched her shoulders and spread around the pillow. In silence broken only by the beeps of the heart monitor, Sierra could almost hear each of her sister's breaths.

Her dad sighed and spoke with his wife. Sierra's own thoughts filled her head and bounced any spoken words back out. This was no accident, so who had done it? And why? Why did Heidi let it happen? She could fight well, and if not that, she was stupidly good at running away. Sierra doubted one person had done this. At the very least, Sierra's few serious fights with her sister suggested she could throw a good kick or two.

Sierra brushed her hair over so it covered her eyes. She saw straight white strands now rather than her sister's beaten face. Her thoughts did her no good. She'd leave everything to her parents. Her mom could heal her and her dad could catch whoever did it. She could do nothing. Somehow, that both comforted her and made her feel sick.

Sierra felt a hand on her head brush hair from her eyes and looked up to see her dad. “C'mon,” he said with a weak smile. “Up with you.”

Sierra stood, felt dizzy, and followed her dad out of the room and out to the parking lot, where Officer Summer unlocked his wife's silver van. Sierra hopped in the passenger seat.

“All the working cars were out,” he said as he groped around the left of the seat before eventually finding the adjustment controls. “Bad scheduling, bad planning, bad coordination—we are better than this.”

Everyone makes mistakes, Sierra thought, but said nothing. Could her dad have prevented Heidi's injury had the police been prepared? Could she have prevented it? Maybe if she stuck to her sister like a sticky white shield. Would that have been enough?

“You're quiet today.”

“You ever feel powerless, Dad?”

“Yes.”

“With a gun on your belt?”

He nodded. “Maybe less than you with your philosophy, but still some.”

“Pacifism has nothing to do with it,” Sierra said.

“Sure,” said her dad, sounding unconvinced.

Sierra looked out her window. She focused on the blurs of people and buildings near the sidewalk. Black and blue graffiti flew past like the wind was bruising the buildings in succession. They passed that quickly. The police at least kept graffiti to a minimum.

On the few occasions her dad drove her home, he would usually ask how Sierra's art lessons went. She'd reply positively regardless of how the lessons had gone and her dad would nod and proceed to specifics. Sierra would elaborate. Her dad would ask a few more obligatory questions and forget the answers to them—and Sierra wouldn't fault him for that. He wasn't an artist.

A few streets later, they turned left, then right into their driveway. Sierra stepped out of the van. She looked at the three steps up to the front door and realized Heidi couldn't jump up and down those like she used to. She ascended them herself and stepped over the half-foot rise from the porch to the door frame. Heidi wouldn't be able to cross this on her own for a long time. Sierra sighed and walked straight up the carpeted stairs just inside the door, down a short hall, and into her room. She flopped onto her bed and drew out her phone. Twelve messages, it said. She tossed it somewhere. She didn't feel like texting anyone today.

She flipped over and moaned into her pillow, then looked across the room at Heidi's bed. It would be empty for awhile. On the bright side, Sierra could use the extra privacy to her advantage and draw things Heidi would never let her hear the end of. That in mind, she shuffled through a layer of discarded clothing and dishes and sat the wrong way on the chair in front of her computer desk. She picked up her tablet pen, turned her screen on, then stood up and flopped back down into bed.

Today was just a bad day. Temporary depression. Sierra just needed to sleep it off.

-

She woke at night and remembered that she usually wasn't capable of sleeping sixteen hours on a whim. Moonlight peeked through the window at the head of her bed. She rolled over and looked outside. Beyond the wraparound roof, a trampoline, and a ten-foot fence, three figures on bikes pedaled past. Sierra watched them go till they rounded a corner. Then her phone beeped and vibrated. She unlocked the screen.

One new message from Heidi Summer.

Just those words brightened Sierra a bit. Less than a day in the hospital and Heidi was already breaking its “no cell phones” rule. At the very least, her personality hadn't changed a bit.

Girl, late teens, black scarf, blue sleeveless, Russian long face, super-pale, red hair.

Guy, our age, black hat, blue hoodie, black, short beard, black hair.

Guy, early twenties, black pants, blue T-shirt, mustache, blond hair.

“Since when do you punctuate a text, Heidi?” Sierra said to the screen. What was she talking about, anyway? Descriptions of people, but of who, and why? Were they descriptions of the people who'd smashed her knees? That was all Sierra could come up with. She read it over a few times and the notion solidified in her mind. All three wearing black and blue suggested a gang of some sort, which would explain how Heidi lost the fight, if there was one. Reading over the descriptions, she started to hate the people they depicted. How dare they gang up and attack a single girl. How dare they ruin her dream of playing varsity volleyball in the fall for whatever petty reason they had to hurt her? How dare they do such a thing and not immediately turn themselves in? How dare they hurt a police officer's daughter? How dare they hurt her sister?

Sierra pocketed her phone—she was still wearing her day clothes: a blue tank top, black basketball shorts, and sandals. They still smelled like sweat from playing volleyball on the beach, then running to the hospital. She didn't care. She rolled out of bed and left her room, jogged down the stairs, stopped just long enough to grab a baseball hat and a spring jacket on a whim, and stepped out into the driveway.

Kay, she thought. Now what?

Go after the bikers, maybe? There were three of them, but that hardly meant they were the people she was looking for. She had another idea and headed downtown at a jog, threading her ponytail through the back of her hat and under her coat. She pulled the hat's bill down to cast a shadow over her eyes. It was past curfew and she was three years underage, and, being the only albino in a two hundred mile radius, she was unfairly distinctive. Because of her dad, every cop in Golden Hills knew what she looked like, so it wasn't like anyone would forget if they saw her out late.

This was just one night. She'd pursue her idea for just this one night, then she'd stop breaking the law.

She arrived in downtown Golden Hills and walked quietly as she could over to the train yard, checking corners and listening for any sign of life. As far as she could tell, she was alone. On the side of a boxcar that she couldn't remember moving in years was black and blue graffiti declaring the authority of a gang called “Crossroads” illuminated by dim moonlight.

So was this the product of Heidi's attackers? She liked the painting—she'd always respected the way graffiti artists could make simple text into compelling artwork—but she was certainly capable of liking art while hating the artist. So what should she do? She remembered seeing the graffiti here after passing it earlier today, but it was on several other buildings. It didn't look like much when she passed it in a moving van, but it occurred to her now that three people shouldn't be able to control such a large turf. Sierra barely controlled half of her own bedroom when Heidi was healthy.

She could report it to the police and have it erased, but the artist in her slapped the cop's daughter in her for even thinking of that. She'd always wanted to try graffiti herself, and this was a good opportunity to do so. For now, she knelt and searched around until she found a piece of broken glass. She scooped it up, gripped it tight, and mashed it into the side of the train beside the existing graffiti. Slowly, painfully, she carved her first message into the boxcar:

Watch your backs!

She tossed the bloody glass aside and clenched her fist. It hurt, but it made her feel better for some reason. The more it hurt, the more she hated the gangsters. She clung to that hate. It motivated her and conjured images in her mind that she'd have to get down on paper, then possibly onto a wall. She stood back and admired both her work and the gangsters' for a moment before heading home at a jog.

The streets were empty and the dark was dotted by inconsistent blips of light from bedrooms or bathrooms or the few businesses still open this late: gas stations, fast food, and a flower shop owned by a husband and wife who slept in shifts and kept the shop open all day, every day. Sierra had only broken curfew twice before, both times on Heidi’s dare. They’d eaten at McDonalds first and bought flowers for an elderly friend with cancer the second time.

On her third time, she passed the flower shop. She started to ask Heidi if they should get something for their parents. Heidi wasn't there.

-

When she got home, she went straight to the bathroom and showered fully clothed, minus her jacket, hat, and phone. The hot water stung her hand, which was torn up worse than she'd thought. When the blood washed off, though, the cuts looked significantly better. Still, in retrospect, she'd been stupid to use broken glass as a pen. The pain gave her an idea, though. She turned off the shower, realized she'd rather not sleep in wet clothes, stripped, and went to her room in a towel. She opened her pajama drawer, yawned, closed it, and flopped down into bed. Sleep came surprisingly easy considering she'd only been awake for two hours or so. She dreamed of a giant made of paint cans crying under a bleeding boxcar. Still somewhat lucid, she scolded her mind for making no sense and turned her dream into happy one, then into a dirty one, and then she stopped dreaming.

-

Sierra woke up to the front door slamming. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs, going down the hall, and then a knock came at her door.

“Are you up yet, Sierra?” her dad asked. He sounded irritated, much more than usual.

“Yeah-hm,” Sierra said.

“Come downstairs. I have a strong urge to own someone in Mortal Kombat.”

“Challenge accepted,” Sierra said, and slipped out of bed. “Wait, why? Didn't you confiscate that last year?”

“I'll tell you later. Go take a shower and stuff. I'll make coffee if you want it.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Sierra showered and checked the temperature on her phone before pulling on a hoodie that was too big for her and another pair of basketball shorts. It occurred to her that she'd worn the same general type of thing all summer regardless of the weather, but she didn't care. She only ever paid attention to fashion when Heidi told her to.

She arrived in the living room and plopped down on the wide white leather couch in front of a TV that still looked huge to her even after owning it for five years. Her dad set a steamy mug on the table beside her, then picked up two of their four controllers from the stand under the TV.

“So why do you suddenly want to play violent, corrupting games with your innocent, impressionable daughter?” Sierra asked. She glanced over at her dad. He still wore his uniform.

“Last year you asked me to let you keep this game because you needed an outlet for your underlying violent tendencies.”

“I was an idiot last year, Dad. I have no violent tendencies.”

“I've only ever seen you fight with Heidi, and I certainly don't think you're impressionable enough to go ripping people's heads off because you saw pixels doing it.”

“Aren't you using the same arguments Heidi did last year?”

“I don't care. Speaking of Heidi, they told me at the station I couldn't investigate that.”

Sierra selected a character. “Heidi's attackers?”

“Yeah. I know the rules and I know officers are usually taken off cases where their families are involved, but I still don't like it. Your mom gets to tend to our daughter and I can't jail the ones who hurt her to begin with.”

“That's not fair.”

“It prevents bias. But I still don't like it and hey, you know what else is unfair?”

“Yep?”

“How bad you are at this.”

Sierra's character stood dazed in the middle of the screen. She'd picked Sonya, the pseudo-cop, just so her dad could beat on his colleagues without actually beating on them. His character jerked around on the screen a bit as he tried to pull off a fatality, but a few button presses from executing it, he let the combo break, walked over, and finished his daughter's avatar with a simple punch.

“Flawless victory,” Sierra said. She narrowed her eyes. “Have you been practicing this game? Even after you said it was a bad influence?”

“Yes."

“Cheater.”

“It's just for today,” said her dad. “I really don't want you playing a game where you casually break every bone in your sister's body and proceed to rip her in half.”

“Oh, come on. This violence is so cartoonish you'd have to be under five or over forty to be offended by it.”

“You're killing me, Sierra,” said her forty-eight-year-old dad.

“Dad, I got some stuffs to do today. I'll be out for a bit.”

“All right. Drop by and see Heidi if you can.”

“Kay.”

Sierra slipped on her shoes and headed out. She grabbed her bike this time and pedaled downtown. It was a twenty-minute walk, a ten-minute run, and a five-minute bike ride. It took her ten minutes, as she occasionally stopped to talk with people who had read about Heidi's condition in the newspaper, or friends who were headed to the beach. She was the only one headed for the store.

Sierra spent that morning shopping. Her art made very little money when she posted it online, but it had added up over the years. With a couple hundred dollars, she picked up several cans of red and white spray paint as her own “gang colors,” dark clothes and gloves to keep her hidden in the night, a black respirator to keep the fumes out of her nose and mouth, safety glasses, and a new pair of running shoes.

“I've seen your art online,” said the clerk when she checked out. “You're Sierra Summer?”

“Yep.”

“I'll commission you next paycheck. I love how you do backgrounds.”

“Not characters?”

“Well, you're getting better, but it's your backgrounds most people commission you for, right?”

“Right.”

And it's time to add a new skill to my repertoire, she thought as she left the building. She hooked several bags over her handlebars and pedaled out toward the train yard. She stopped. Several people stood side-by-side in front of the boxcar she'd carved on—more than three. She wanted to know how they were reacting, but she assumed that for all they knew, it was just a new rival gang challenging them. There were several more gangs than Crossroads in Golden Hills, anyway.

That gave her an idea.

-

Sierra arrived at home in way too good a mood. She went straight to her room, turned on her tablet, picked up her pen, and drew. Graffiti was new to her, so she opened several references on her second monitor. She practiced for hours and hours, stopping only to make herself a fruit smoothie around lunchtime before returning to her work. Painting graffiti on real cement or steel would be different from painting it in Photoshop or Illustrator—precision would be more challenging and she wouldn't have an erase tool, and she'd also have to watch for police or the gangsters. Now that she knew there were more than three, she somehow felt more motivated to beat them down. She liked the idea of fighting in her own way against a large, evil group of people. Like a lone rebel. But what did rebelling against rebels make her? A vigilante? It seemed fitting for the daughter of a cop.

She let her ideas flow from her pen onto her screen until dark. By then, she was drawing without references. She'd formed several styles of her own, and every last one would contribute to her plan. At ten, she donned a black hat, black clothes, her glasses and respirator, and her running shoes. She squeezed two spray paint cans between her belt and her hips, realized that wouldn't work, and carried them in her hands. She stuffed spare cans in a bag and slung it over her shoulder.

Sierra left through the window. She closed it behind her and jumped off the roof, landing awkwardly on the trampoline, twisting her ankle, and rolling off in silent agony. She lay in place for a minute while she let her ankle recover, then set off on foot. In hindsight, she probably could have gone out through the front door without waking her parents. Her hindsight didn't make her ankle feel any better.

She jogged downtown and made it in about fifteen minutes. She went to the train yard, but made about five patrols around it before entering. At the boxcar, her message was covered in fresh paint:

Die.

Nice and simple. Sierra circled to the other side of the boxcar. It was big, but it had enough handholds in various places that she could climb around it and paint the whole thing. She flicked the lids off her paint and went to work, breathing hard through a stiff respirator. Each breath fogged up her goggles, so she eventually just removed them and stuck them in a pocket. She painted for a good hour, making her work as clean as possible while using as little paint as possible. She still ran out of paint in the first two cans before she finished. No matter. She had plenty.

When she finished, she dropped a few feet to the ground and stood back. The word PATH in all stylized red caps stood out against a background of white. She'd painted around the natural red of the boxcar to form silhouettes: three human figures walking down a path in simple one-point perspective. She'd drawn red and white fire burning out of the letter A, where the path ended. Ten silhouettes, white against the red letter, walked out of the flames.

Satisfied with this piece, Sierra jogged out of the train yard, pulling her respirator down as she went to breathe easier.

She located more black and blue graffiti on the side of a convenience store closed for the night. She ducked behind a dumpster as a police car passed, then raised her paint and sprayed:

Peter of PATH.

Next, she found black and blue graffiti on the wall of a back alley. She peeked around every corner and in every window before painting:

Antonio of PATH.

She went on like this. Every time she found black and blue graffiti, she painted near it.

Tara of PATH.

Hector of PATH.

That completed the names of the founding four members in her head, so she just randomized the next six.

Aria of PATH.

Dan of PATH.

Nick of PATH.

Jordan of PATH.

Rick of PATH.

Kidd of PATH.

She took more time on each one than she should have, but she painted faster with each successive work. She personalized each one with a different style, switching between using her left hand, her right hand, and both at once. She made some text sharp and some soft, some with fancy fonts and some painfully simple—Jordan's, especially so. She even punctuated his properly and made it easy to read. He could be the gang's English guy. Peter, Antonio, Tara, and Hector respectively painted right-tilted, left-tilted, small, and large.

When she finished everything, she could see the sun on the horizon. There were more cars out now, but still not enough that she couldn't stay hidden. She was tired, but she couldn't sleep yet. She had two things left to do.

First, she went home, stripping off her paint-covered clothes and pushing them into her bag as she went. She still wore shorts and a T-shirt underneath. Her dad was up, making coffee. He turned around as she walked in the door.

“Hi,” she said. “Before you ask, I was just grabbing my paint stuff from the garage. Remember, we put it there two years ago?”

Sierra made a mental note to actually get her paint stuff from the garage within the hour. She'd actually forgotten about that till it was time to make up an excuse.

“To our credit,” said her dad, “you really haven't used many traditional methods since you got a Cintiq.”

“It was more than three thousand dollars,” said Sierra. “If it didn't pretty much replace all my old stuff, it wouldn't be worth it.”

“I doubt that.”

“Me too. Can I have some coffee?”

“Coming right up, Princess.”

Sierra headed up the stairs. Over her shoulder, she said, “I'm not that entitled. I'm gonna take a shower and stuff first.”

-

Two hours later, Sierra left the house again, this time with her phone, dressed in day clothes, and filled with caffeine. She rode her bike down to the hospital. Heidi was awake now, and her mom was there with her like she'd been the first day.

“Yo. Sierra.” Heidi grinned when Sierra entered. “Good news and bad news.”

“Bad first,” said Sierra, taking a seat. Heidi looked healthy from the waist up, but her knees were still a swollen, broken mess.

“No volleyball for me till senior year.”

“Jeez. What's the good news?”

“I'm gonna make a full recovery. It'll just take a while.” She changed the subject abruptly. “You look really frickin' tired.”

“Quiet, you,” Sierra said. She smiled. “I can't sleep when I'm worried.”

“Aw. You cutie, you.”

“Shut up.”

Across the bed, their mom just smiled as she went about her work. The moment she left the room and closed the door behind her, Heidi's tone changed.

“Did you get my message?”

Sierra nodded. “I pretended to be an entire rival gang and painted on their turf all last night.”

“Dude, nice. Don't get caught, though. I was lucky to get out with just this.” She nodded down at her legs.

“Yeah, about that,” said Sierra. “What happened?”

“I tried to erase their graffiti and they saw me.”

“Why? Their graffiti is actually good.”

“It's illegal, too.”

“And you've cared about the law... since when?”

Heidi shrugged. “I dunno. But erasing graffiti and cleaning up and stuff—isn't that what good citizens do?”

“Good citizens, maybe. But good artisans wouldn't dare. So that's really it? You just erased graffiti and whack?”

Heidi nodded. “Yeah, but I'm totally okay with you doing it. You're doing it for a good cause.”

“Revenge?”

“Well, good enough. You're like 'chaotic good' or something.”

“Have you told Dad who attacked you?”

“Nope.”

Sierra raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“I’ll tell him later. I’ll wait and see how your thing works first.”

“Fair enough. And hey, the department actually won’t let Dad on your case. It ‘prevents bias’ or something.”

“Well,” said Heidi, “then that works out for all of us.”

Their mom came back and all talk of graffiti and gangs ceased. Sierra left after five more minutes, hopped on her bike, and rode back to the train yard. This time, she dismounted and walked straight in. There were five people dressed in black and blue there. Four turned to look at her as she approached. Three of them fit Heidi's descriptions. She hated them. But she kept her face calm.

“Hi,” she said. She motioned toward the side of the boxcar with the black and blue Crossroads on it. “Mind if I take pictures? Not of you—just of the art.”

To her surprise, the gangsters either shrugged or nodded. “Knock yerself out,” said the one who hadn't turned away. He was a taller guy with hair as long as hers. He painted as he spoke.

“Wait a minute,” said one, a girl who looked about Heidi's age. Russian long face. This was one of the three who'd hurt Heidi. “What for?”

“Inspiration. I draw stuff sometimes and thought your stuff was pretty cool.”

The girl nodded. “Ah, fine. Go ahead.”

Sierra went ahead. She also took her time and listened as the gangsters chatted. They talked about their lives, what they'd been arrested or ticketed for, what songs they liked, and most importantly to Sierra, this new PATH gang.

“Ten people in it,” said one. “Got twice what we do.”

“Even with ten, doing as much as they did in one night without us seeing them is just weird. Let's catch 'em tonight.”

They proceeded to detail their plans in plain earshot. Sierra giggled quietly from the other side of the boxcar as she took a commemorative photo of her first piece—which Crossroads hadn't touched. As she hadn't painted over their work, they hadn't painted over hers. They did, however paint more, some with direct threats toward PATH. Predictably, threats of rape were leveled at Aria and Tara while the guys only received death threats.

“It pisses me off,” said a gangster. “It's like they're looking for a gang war. Golden Hills is plenty big and they're challenging us. They could have the whole other side of town for all I care. I bet they're just a bunch of cunts from Detroit who can't compete with the bigger gangs up there.”

“They have ten, but we have guns.”

Thanks for the warning, Sierra thought, and walked toward the exit. “Thanks, guys,” she said. On a whim, she turned around, but before she spoke, one of them said:

“Wait. Albino kid. Which of our works are better, between us and PATH?”

“Well, obviously I'm under pressure to say yours are.”

“Just be honest.”

“PATH,” said Sierra. “Your stuff is more detailed, but PATH has more raw skill, I think. How long have you been painting?”

“From one to ten years,” said a guy, motioning around to the others. “Anyway, that's all I wanted to ask. Get yer ass moving.”

Sierra had planned to sleep after this, but she couldn't pass up an opportunity. She stopped at a gas station and downed another coffee, then sat against a tree where she could see the train yard and started doodling on her phone. Before too long, she got bored and edged closer. It was easier than she thought. There were train cars everywhere. It was extremely easy to stay hidden while hearing everything the gangsters said. They didn't say anything interesting until about twenty-five minutes into her eavesdropping session.

“So speaking of kids, I'm thinking that albino might have been part of PATH.”

“Really? She's pretty young.”

“Can't be much younger than Lin.”

“Nah, I don't think so. You sure you're just not mad she thought PATH painted better than us?”

“Fuck you, man. I just thought she could be Aria or Tara.”

“Who names their kid Aria in this country?”

“It’s better than Bertha.”

From then on, they got onto the topic of names, and Sierra wasn't brought up a second time. They might still suspect her, though, so showing her face again would definitely be a bad idea. She listened to them talk for two whole hours before they finally all left.

She followed them.

They walked up and down various streets. One at a time, they peeled off from the main group and entered their own houses—middle class, for the most part. Sierra remembered every house and every address. When the final gangster entered his house, Sierra headed home. Now she could get some sleep.

-

When she got home, she changed into pajamas and sat on her bed, then got an idea. She went to her computer and started drawing. Preemptively, she set her alarm to go off at eleven.

She finished one picture, then moved on to another. Getting into the heads of ten characters in such a short time was hard. To improve her made-up gang, she had to know everything about each of its members. Conveying their personalities and problems and goals through their art wasn't easy, but she managed it.

Three gang members were still not fleshed out too well by the time her alarm went off. She shut it off before the first note ended and realized she'd been drawing for close to ten hours. With a yawn, she donned her paint gear and jumped out the window again. She turned and landed on her back in the center of the trampoline this time. Her ankle still hurt more than it should for such a simple injury, and she noticed that the cuts on her hand were starting to scar. They looked horrible—like they'd been caused by something much more serious than simply using broken glass as a pen.

The jog into town flew by and she completely avoided the train yard this time. The gangsters had told her pretty much everything they'd be doing tonight. She went straight for their houses, hopping fences and sneaking past sleeping dogs. On the first house, she painted:

PATH knows where you live.

On the second house, she peered in the window. An old black woman was reading a newspaper by the fire. Sierra wrote:

PATH knows who you love.

Painting this hurt her heart. The old woman had done nothing wrong, and though she wasn't in any danger, she felt horrible for threatening an old lady.

In the third house, a woman of maybe twenty or so, naked under a thin nightgown, repeatedly went and looked out the window by the front door. Sierra painted:

PATH knows with whom you lie.

She didn't see anything too extraordinary about the fourth house, so she painted a generic:

PATH is always watching.

The fifth house was fully lit. Sierra crept up to the window and peeked in. She saw a man and a woman, both around forty, standing close and shouting something at each other. Even through the wall, Sierra caught a few words that the couple emphasized. “Payments,” “child care,” “abortion,” and “God” were among them, though she couldn't hear the context. With that much noise in the house, no wonder their child preferred a gang. Regardless of circumstances, said child had hurt Heidi.

On the side of that house, Sierra painted:

PATH is

She heard gravel crunch, but didn't have time to turn. Something thick, cold, and hard slammed into her back. She heard a crack and felt something tear in her body. She screamed, dropping both paint cans. Her arm fell to her side and the very motion burned literally like hell. Lights flashed in her eyes and her entire body stiffened. Somehow, though, whether out of fear, adrenaline, willpower, or all three, she stayed on her feet. She didn't turn. She took one painful step, then heard another whoosh as whatever had just destroyed her shoulder swung again.

Sierra ran. Her ankle didn't hurt anymore, nor did her hand. Her lack of sleep didn't bother her. All she felt was agony in her shoulder as she ran. With each step, she expected the pain to overwhelm her and send her toppling to her attacker's mercy. She couldn't breathe. She tore off her respirator and squeezed it tightly in her good hand as her other flopped uselessly.

Footsteps matched hers behind her. Someone was shouting and someone was screaming. It wasn't her. She could hear her voice leaking out here and there, but she wasn't screaming or shouting.

She turned corners. She shot through alleys. She hopped fences. The shouting and screaming had stopped, but she couldn't stop running. She knew they were still behind her. She couldn't turn around to check—they'd see her face—but she heard footsteps still. Running.

When she realized she was running straight toward her home, she turned another corner, then another shortly after. She saw an open dumpster and dove in, slamming the lid down behind her.

Absolute silence.

Then a footfall on pavement. Then another. No voices. Only footsteps. Louder. Quieter. Silence.

She felt around below her with her good hand. The dumpster smelled like rotting food and barf, but all she felt was cardboard. Piles and piles of cardboard. Quietly as she could manage, she got under them. It was slow. Every movement hurt her, and she had to stop and reset her position several times to keep from screaming in pain. She eventually got under several layers, though.

She laid there, curled in a feeble ball for maybe five minutes. The dumpster's lid opened and someone sifted through the boxes on top of her. She didn't move. Maybe thirty seconds passed. Maybe a minute. Regardless, the lid shut again and Sierra was still alive. She wanted to wait longer, but her adrenaline was wearing out and her shoulder hurt even more now. She waited a minute and left the dumpster, cringing as the movement stung her. She stumbled out of the alleyway, her adrenaline and energy gone. She didn't look to either side. She just headed home.

No one stopped her.

In her house, no one came down to meet her at the door. She didn't make much noise, but she thought for sure someone would have at least heard her shuffling in.

It was over. This injury would probably cripple her for life if she didn't get help. She made her way over to the freezer and removed a bag of frozen peas. She gently placed it over her shoulder, twitched, and opened her mouth to scream. She didn't. She let it catch in her throat. She clenched her teeth and held the peas there. She went up to the bathroom, tripping over three steps on the way. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she couldn't see anything wrong with her shoulder on the outside. She started to pull her shirt off, but her shoulder wouldn't let her. So she took scissors from below the sink and cut her shirt off. Her shoulder looked like Heidi's knees. It was black and blue and red, starkly contrasted against pale skin. Seeing it made it hurt more. It had started to swell, and she couldn't even move it slowly anymore.

She had to tell her mom. It had been fun, but it wasn't a game. Her health wouldn't regenerate if she waited behind cover for blood to fall off her face. She couldn't pick up a health pack or simply bandage something like this. Eating food wouldn't instantly restore her health. She'd done everything in her power to get revenge for Heidi's injury, and now she was down and out, too.

No. Not yet. She hadn't been caught—not even by the police. She could still walk and run and paint. She just needed one more day. If her arm felt better tomorrow, she'd be fine, and she wouldn't have to tell anyone. If it didn't, she could go directly to the hospital and make up a story.

She laid in bed, but couldn't sleep despite staying up three nights in a row. She was starting to see things floating around in front of her. There was a boxcar in front of her door one moment and it was gone the next. Her Cintiq was made of glowing red and white plastic for a moment, and then she couldn't see it in the dark. Her shoulder felt good on the peas now, as they were squished into the pillow. When the swelling went down, she'd put a heat pad on it.

The sun came up and Sierra had only drifted off a couple times. She had never felt so drained in her life. Her shoulder didn't hurt much anymore unless she moved it, but it was stiff and swollen and she couldn't move it to begin with.

She smelled bacon and coffee downstairs and fell out of bed. She changed into a new pair of shorts pretty easily, but she struggled with tops till she finally managed to get a hoodie on by pulling it over her bad arm from below. She turned on the shower and dunked her head in long enough to soak her hair, then dried it one-handed and went downstairs with the towel draped over her shoulders.

“Sierra, you've got bags under your eyes.”

“Couldn't sleep,” said Sierra. “Too much coffee. Can I have more?”

She stood there, swaying a bit at the bottom of the stairs. Her dad approached her and put the back of his hand to her forehead.

“You're warm.”

“I'm a mammal.”

“Fever warm.”

“Darn. I got, like, one thing to do in town today and I'll come back and sleep for, like, ever. That okay?”

“Go for it. You know your body better than I do. Just don't overdo it. Get a good, long rest and drink water. A lot.”

“Kay.”

-

Sierra rode her bike one-handed. She had three things to do today: check on the gangsters, buy peas to replace the ones she'd ruined, and go to the hospital.

Somehow, she ended up at the hospital first. Her mind had just taken her there. She walked in the doors and went straight to Heidi's room. It was still early, so Mrs. Summer wasn't working yet, and Heidi was alone in her room. She looked up at Sierra and her smile disappeared.

“What's wrong? You look like you haven't slept in forever.”

Sierra plopped down on the chair beside her sister. “Heidi,” she said. “I messed up. I can't paint anymore.”

“Did you get caught? Why haven't you slept?”

“No. And I haven't got around to it. They got me, though. Didn't catch me. Got me. Hit me with a thing. I'm gonna watch them for today, then I'll be back here.”

Heidi said nothing for a minute. “Forget about my message,” she said. “Forget about the gangsters. You haven't slept since that first day, have you?”

Sierra shook her head. “It's all right. I drank a ton of coffee, so I can stay up.”

“You're going to kill yourself, Sierra. Stop. Just close your eyes and sleep here for awhile.”

“Sorry,” Sierra said. “Just one more thing. I'll be back really quick.”

-

The train yard was empty. Sierra sat on her bike by the entrance and and stared in at the untouched graffiti on the boxcar. She sighed. Maybe it was best to go back to the hospital first, after all. Every second she didn't get treatment could reduce her odds of a full recovery.

“Hey,” someone said from behind her. Sierra turned to see one of the three people Heidi had described: a young black boy, Sierra's age. He had a short beard, but today, he wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Sierra's heart jumped and her mind told her to run, but she couldn't. She had no energy left.

“You're the albino from yesterday?”

“I'm the only albino in Golden Hills.”

“You mind if I talk to you a bit?”

“No. Go ahead.”

The boy walked into the train yard and Sierra followed. He pushed the boxcar door open and sat down. Sierra stayed on her bike.

“You look tired as hell,” the boy said with a grin.

“Everyone I've talked to today said that. What did you want?”

“Just someone to talk to, and I've at least seen you before. I think Crossroads is done.”

Sierra should have felt good about this, but she felt sick instead. “Why?” she asked.

“They left Golden Hills. I'm the only one left. You know PATH?”

“Yeah.”

“They painted threats on our houses. Stuff like, 'PATH knows where you live, who you love—like that. Kinda scary, but I never thought they'd leave over something like that. Well, I don’t even know. Like, if they left. They’re just not there anymore. They weren’t where we usually meet, and they’re always there.”

“Ah. What's your name?”

“Ethan.”

“I'm Sierra.”

Ethan looked up at her. “I think it’s divine punishment. Some girl erased our graffiti and we broke her knees. We spent a long time on it, but it’s still illegal, y’know? We’re just defending our work, but aren’t we the bad guys?”

“For hurting someone, yeah,” said Sierra. “But graffiti is awesome and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Ethan smiled, but it faded quickly. “They threatened my grandma,” he said. “'We know who you love,' they said. I don't want to face that kind of thing alone. That's way too serious for me.”

“I wouldn't worry,” said Sierra. “I'll tell my dad what's up. Would police protection help at all?”

“Yeah. Definitely. You can do that?”

“I dunno. I think so.”

“Thanks. You're a lifesaver—probably.”

Sierra left the train yard without a word. She rode back to the hospital and took a seat in the emergency room. Then she blacked out.

-

When she woke up, her family was there. Heidi was in a wheelchair and her parents stood. She looked down at her shoulder. It was wrapped and it ached, but it didn't hurt.

Her mom clicked something on her watch. “Fifteen hours. Believe it or not, you're actually the first person to collapse in the Golden Hills emergency room. Ever.”

“Yay, first!” Sierra said. “Am I okay?”

In response to herself, she blacked out again.

-

She remembered walking to the van, then nothing, and woke up in her own bed. Everything ached, but she felt awake. She looked across the room. Heidi sat on her bed on the other side of the room, pushing a wheelchair back and forth with her toes. Sierra looked at the door then.

“We're grounded,” said Heidi. “For forever. Sorry.”

“Forever?”

“Till the end of summer. Dad says we get an exception for my birthday in July and nothing else.”

Sierra shrugged and found that her injured shoulder actually moved. “That's not forever,” she said. “Considering what I did, I'm surprised it's that short.”

“Wanna know why it's short?”

“Yeah.”

“Try raising your hand.”

Sierra raised her hand.

“The other one.”

Sierra tried to raise her bad arm. It wouldn't go past her shoulder.

“It'll be like that forever.”

“Nope,” Sierra said. She tried to raise it again to no avail. “I bet you it'll heal before summer's over.”

“Maybe,” said Heidi. “I hope so. Also, I think I owe you a lot now. Like, a whole ton of a lot.”

“No you don't,” said Sierra. “Just tell me why you really went around erasing gangsters' graffiti and I'll be happy.”

“Don't laugh.”

“Kay.”

Heidi bit her lip, then spoke. “I want to get along with Dad like you do.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“No.”

“Let's make a deal, then,” said Sierra. “You straight-up tell Dad you wanna be a daddy's girl and I won't make you buy me a one-twenty hertz monitor.”

“Dude, you don't even play games. Why do you need a gaming monitor?”

“I don't. I'm blackmailing you.”

“But I want a gaming monitor.”

“I suck at blackmailing.”

“You're just the best sister I could ever ask for, Sierra, and I love you. Don't make me say that again.”

Sierra smiled. “Never again.”


I'd like feedback on this one. I want to publish it in a short story collection.

brain132
07-11-2013, 07:44 PM
I really liked it. I would love to see it with more detail. Especially in between conversations. Some of them were fine, but it just bugged me how you didn't explain any sort of movement or anything during some of your conversations. I was going to give you some examples, but I lost track of the ones that I was going to point out. So unless you would like to request it, I'm not going to bother at the moment.
I loved the idea of the spray painting, but the conversation that she had with one of the gangs at the end, to show how it had effected them, was a bit unsatisfying for me. This was one of the conversations that I expected more detail out of. And really, I expected it to be longer. The guy wanted to talk to Sierra, but he didn't really get too much out. Only what she wanted to hear. I think you could show some character in the guy, and heck, maybe even make the reader feel sorry for him or something. Sierra went there to see the whole outcome of her work. But when that guy started to talk to her, I expected more that just what she wanted to know.

There was also this comma that was supposed to be a semi-colon that I was going to point out, but I lost that also. I'll probably reread it again in a day or 2 or 3, and let you know.

As for the detail thing, I remembered one of the conversations that I think would have flowed better if with more detail. When Sierra and her dad are playing a video game, and they stop. And have their little conversation before Sierra heads out. I think just mentioning Sierra placing down her controller as they finished the game would help out. Small details make the whole scene more imaginable for the reader.

Oh! I found that one comma! Quote: He sounded irritated, much more than usual. (before they play the video game) Tell me if I'm wrong, but isn't that supposed to be a semi-colon?

But over all, loved the story. It was a great idea on its own, and was inspirational.

Matt
07-24-2013, 12:52 AM
Revised based on four main sources of feedback: you, Brain; Seefy; my dad; my literature professor. The biggest change is the climax: the scene has been completely reworked to be much more intense and more like a climax. Of course, a complete rework with no feedback yet is bound to have some flaws. Therefore, I'm posting it.


He sounded irritated, much more than usual. (before they play the video game) Tell me if I'm wrong, but isn't that supposed to be a semi-colon?
A semicolon is halfway between a period and a comma; it separates two independent clauses that could stand on their own, but don't need to. "Much more than usual" doesn't technically stand on its own. Based on the style I've written the rest of the story in, it may work, but I'll confirm it with a few others first.

Here's just the climax, for those who don't want to read the whole thing again:
The train yard was empty. Sierra sat on her bike by the entrance and and stared in at the untouched graffiti on the boxcar. She sighed. Maybe it was best to go back to the hospital first, after all. Every second she didn't get treatment could reduce her odds of a full recovery, and every second she stayed here increased her odds of getting shot.

“Hey,” someone said from behind her. Sierra turned to see one of the three people Heidi had described: a young black boy, Sierra's age. He had a short beard, but today, he wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Sierra's heart jumped and her mind told her to run, but she couldn't. She had no energy left.

“You're the albino from yesterday?”

Sierra nodded dumbly. Maybe, by some miracle, this guy didn’t know what had happened last night.

Instead of shooting her in the face, he smiled. “You look tired as hell.”

Sierra nodded again, smiling a bit in return. She thought words, but didn’t say them. Not enough energy.

“What would you say if I told you Crossroads was done?”

Sierra did her best approximation of a swivel on her bike seat. It didn’t work. Her foot caught the wheel and she fell off. To her surprise, the boy helped her up. His hands didn’t go anywhere near her bad shoulder.

“C’mon,” he said. “Walk with me.”

He half-dragged her into the train yard, not forcefully, but with just enough pressure that she started to tremble.

“We know who you are and what you did, Aria. Or is it Sierra? Sierra Summer?”

“Codename Aria,” said Sierra with a weak smile.

“This was all revenge for your sister, then. You really are Sierra. Did you join the gang after or were you always in PATH?”

“Funny, that,” said Sierra. “I’m kinda the leader.”

She felt something cold press to her head. Contrary to her expectations, she didn't hear the distinctive chk-chk. Instead, she heard a girl’s voice.

“So if I painted your final piece with your brains, PATH would die?”

“Maybe,” said Sierra. “They’d be a bit mad, I think. Hornet’s nest and all.”

She was just babbling now, but it seemed to work. At the very least, the gun didn't fire and she was still alive. She’d heard somewhere that humans had a higher chance of survival being shot in the head than they did being shot in the chest. That was pretty hard to believe, what with one pressed to her head and all.

“Put the gun away,” said a young man’s voice. Sierra felt the gun move away.

“Why? Can’t we just cap her and make it look like someone else did it?”

“No.”

Sierra looked over her shoulder. The long-haired man was speaking and everyone else was looking at him. The Russian-faced girl had a gun, but no one else did.

“Do any of you really want to get involved in a murder? Against a kid, no less? One who’s never hurt any of us?”

“She painted on our houses,” the black boy offered.

“Did she? PATH knows with whom you lie seems a bit... not like something someone her age would write. Fourteen?”

“Fifteen,” said Sierra.

The girl swung the gun up again. “Who else —” she began. The gun barrel clipped Sierra’s head. She stumbled, then fell. “Whoops.”

The long-haired man sighed. “When I say ‘put the gun away,’ I wish you’d do it.”

Sierra rubbed her head with her good hand. The girl pocketed the gun and kicked Sierra onto her back, then set a foot on her chest. “So who was with you last night?”

“No one was with her last night,” said the long-haired man. “After you hit her, Lin, you chased her. I saw a few people run out and try to catch up, but none of them had paint and they all came from houses. Last night, Sierra worked alone.”

Lin whirled on the man, releasing Sierra. “So you just sat there and let me chase her alone?”

“What would you do if you caught her?”

“Snapped her neck and tossed her in a dumpster.”

“Huh. Maybe I should have chased you after all.”

“Chased me?”

“Pardon me if I side with the person who doesn't want to murder a child.”

The girl clenched her fists, but sighed and started walking. “Fine,” she said. She kicked Sierra’s ribs on her way by. “Just let her go, then. After we finally have PATH’s leader, just let her go. You know what, actually? I’m not letting her go.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I’ll do the same thing to her we did to her sister.”

“No,” said the man. “If you have to hurt her, don’t leave anything permanent.”

Sierra could see the girl’s agitation rising in her face. She turned around suddenly. Sierra felt hard rubber crack against her cheek, then her head slammed into the dirt. The girl kicked the side of her stomach, then stomped on her ribs. She stepped back for a moment as Sierra curled into a quivering ball.

“Anyone who wants no part in this, follow me,” said the long-haired man. “Lin, we’ll be at my house. If you kill that girl...”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

Sierra groaned and looked up. Her vision was spinning already. She tasted blood in her mouth and it hurt to breathe in. She saw the long-haired man walk away, followed only by one person: the third person on Heidi’s list. The other three gathered around Sierra.

“I do kinda want to kill her,” said the girl. “If I did, would anyone ever know?”

“Probably,” said the brown-haired guy beside her. It was him, her, and the black boy.

The guy kicked Sierra’s bad shoulder then. She screamed and rolled, trying to get to her feet and run. Something hit her face as she got to her knees and sent her back to the ground.

“Lin, c’mon, don’t kill her.”

Sierra opened one eye. Lin had her gun out again.

“Watch this.”

She grabbed Sierra’s hair and yanked her head back.

“We’re not gonna have long after this,” said Lin. “So be ready to run. Also, cover your ears.”

Sierra screamed and jerked around on the ground. Maybe she could have slipped away any other day, but she was too weak now.

“Wait a minute,” said the black boy. “Wait, just wait.”

Crack.

Sierra’s ears rang and she screamed, but she heard nothing. She couldn't see. Her vision was brown and black. She felt the ground vibrate under her head, and then she was choking. She breathed in dirt and sand whenever she tried to breathe. What was left of her vision started to fade as she ran out of oxygen.

She felt something hard drop lightly onto her head, then onto the ground. She grabbed it with her good hand.

She rolled onto her back, opened her eyes. Everything was blurry and her eye stung. The black boy wasn't there anymore, Lin was doubled over, shaking her hand, and the high school guy was standing, frozen. Sierra raised the gun, pointed it at the air. She pulled the trigger. Presumably, it fired, but she only felt the kickback. There was no sound except the screaming filling her ears. She fired again. Again. Again. Again. Then there was no kickback. She threw the gun as far as she could — five feet if she was lucky.

She closed her eyes again to stop the stinging. It stopped. So did everything else.


And here's the whole thing. Several small changes have been made, mostly in dialogue. Sierra's dad has changed a bit, Heidi talks a bit more, and the gangsters collectively talk less until the climax. Also, slightly more art description. It's bordering on 10,000 words now, compared to the previous 7,500, so if you wanna read it, grab a snack and a drink.
Summer Sketches (1st revision)


Sierra Summer flung the door open to see Heidi unconscious on the hospital bed with her knees bleeding and bruised. The door hit the stopper on the wall with a loud thud. Sierra stared, soaking in the scene, then stepped into the room and sat on a chair against the wall. Her mom, across the room and dressed in scrubs, only nodded her way before returning her attention to Sierra's older sister on the bed.

Sierra's dad arrived next, still in uniform. Sweat dribbled down his face and neck like he'd run the full five miles from the police station to the hospital. She suspected he actually had, though he caught his breath within the minute he stood still in the doorway, staring dumbly as Sierra had. He proceeded to the edge of Heidi's bed and blocked Sierra's view of her sister's mangled knees.

Sierra turned her attention to Heidi's face, calm, yet bruised on both cheeks with one black eye and a cut on her neck close to her throat. Blond hair touched her shoulders and spread around the pillow. In silence broken only by the beeps of the heart monitor, Sierra could almost hear each of her sister's breaths.

Her dad sighed and spoke with his wife. Sierra's own thoughts filled her head and bounced any spoken words back out. This was no accident, so who had done it? And why? Why did Heidi let it happen? She could fight well, and if not that, she was stupidly good at running away. Sierra doubted one person had done this. At the very least, Sierra's few serious fights with her sister suggested she could throw a good kick or two.

Sierra brushed her own hair over her eyes. She saw straight white strands now rather than her sister's beaten face. Her thoughts did her no good. She'd leave everything to her parents. Her mom could heal her and her dad could catch whoever did it. She could do nothing. Somehow, that both comforted her and made her feel sick.

Sierra felt a hand on her head brush hair from her eyes and looked up to see her dad. “C'mon,” he said with a weak smile. “Up with you.”

Sierra stood, felt dizzy, and followed her dad out of the room and out to the parking lot, where Officer Summer unlocked his wife's silver van. Sierra hopped in the passenger seat.

“All the working cars were out,” he said as he groped around the left of the seat before eventually finding the adjustment controls. “Bad scheduling, bad planning, bad coordination — we are better than this.”

Everyone makes mistakes, Sierra thought, but said nothing. Could her dad have prevented Heidi's injury had the police been prepared? Could she have prevented it? Maybe if she stuck to her sister like an annoying human shield. Would that have been enough?

“You're quiet today.”

“You ever feel powerless, Dad?”

“Yes.”

“With a gun on your belt?”

He nodded. “Maybe less than you with your philosophy, but still some.”

“Pacifism has nothing to do with it,” Sierra said.

“Sure,” said her dad, sounding unconvinced.

Sierra looked out her window. She focused on the blurs of people and buildings near the sidewalk. Black and blue graffiti flew past like the wind was bruising the buildings in succession. They passed that quickly. The police at least kept graffiti to a minimum.

On the few occasions her dad drove her home, he would usually ask how Sierra's art lessons went. She'd reply positively regardless of how the lessons had gone and her dad would nod and proceed to specifics. Sierra would elaborate. Her dad would ask a few more obligatory questions and forget the answers to them — and Sierra wouldn't fault him for that. She didn’t remember much he told her about his job either.

A few streets later, they turned into their driveway. Sierra stepped out of the van. She looked at the three steps up to the front door and realized Heidi wouldn't be able to jump up and down those like she used to. She ascended them herself and stepped over the half-foot rise from the porch to the door frame. Heidi wouldn't be able to cross this on her own for a long time. Sierra sighed and walked straight up the carpeted stairs just inside the door, down a short hall, and into her room. She flopped onto her bed and drew out her phone. Twelve messages, it said. She tossed it somewhere. She didn't feel like texting anyone today.

She flipped over and moaned into her pillow, then looked across the room at Heidi's bed. It would be empty for awhile. On the bright side, Sierra could use the extra privacy to her advantage and draw things Heidi would never let her hear the end of. That in mind, she shuffled through a layer of discarded junk and sat the wrong way on the chair in front of her computer desk. She picked up her tablet pen, turned her screen on, then stood up and flopped back down into bed.

Today was just a bad day. Sierra just needed to sleep it off and she’d be better tomorrow morning.

-

She woke at night and remembered that she usually wasn't capable of sleeping 16 hours on a whim. Moonlight peeked through the window at the head of her bed. She looked out it. Beyond the wraparound roof, a trampoline, and a 10-foot fence, three figures on bikes pedaled past. Sierra watched them go till they rounded a corner. Then her phone beeped and vibrated. She found it at the foot of Heidi’s bed and unlocked the screen.

One new message from Heidi Summer.

Just those words brightened Sierra a bit. Less than a day in the hospital and Heidi was already breaking its “no cell phones” rule.

Girl, late teens, black scarf, blue sleeveless, Russian long face, super-pale, red hair.

Guy, our age, black hat, blue hoodie, black, short beard, black hair.

Guy, early twenties, black pants, blue T-shirt, mustache, blond hair.

“Since when do you punctuate a text, Heidi?” Sierra said to the screen. What was she talking about, anyway? Descriptions of people, but of who, and why? Were they descriptions of the people who'd smashed her knees? That was all Sierra could come up with. She read it over a few times and the notion solidified in her mind. All three wearing black and blue suggested a gang of some sort, which would explain how Heidi lost the fight, if there was one. Reading over the descriptions, she started to hate the people they depicted. How dare they gang up and attack a single girl. How dare they ruin her dream of playing varsity volleyball in the fall for whatever petty reason they had to hurt her? How dare they do such a thing and not immediately turn themselves in? How dare they hurt a police officer's daughter? How dare they hurt her sister?

Sierra pocketed her phone. She was still wearing her day clothes: a blue tank top, black basketball shorts, and sandals. They still smelled like sweat from playing volleyball on the beach, then running to the hospital. She didn't care. She rolled out of bed and left her room, jogged down the stairs, stopped just long enough to grab a baseball hat and a spring jacket on a whim, and stepped out into the driveway.

Kay, she thought. Now what?

Go after the bikers, maybe? There were three of them, but that hardly meant they were the people she was looking for. She had another idea and headed downtown at a jog, threading her ponytail through the back of her hat and under her coat. She pulled the hat's bill down to cast a shadow over her eyes. It was past curfew and she was three years underage, and, being the only albino in the city, she was unfairly distinctive. Because of her dad, every cop in Golden Hills knew what she looked like, so it wasn't like anyone would forget if they saw her out late.

This was just one night. She'd pursue her idea for just this one night, then she'd stop breaking the law.

She arrived in downtown Golden Hills and walked quietly as she could over to the train yard, checking corners and listening for any sign of life. As far as she could tell, she was alone. On the side of a boxcar that she couldn't remember moving in years was black and blue graffiti declaring the authority of a gang called “Crossroads” illuminated by dim moonlight.

So was this the product of Heidi's attackers? She liked the painting — she'd always respected the way graffiti artists could make simple text into compelling artwork — but she was certainly capable of liking art while hating the artist. So what should she do? She remembered seeing the graffiti here after passing it earlier today, but it was on several other buildings. It didn't look like much when she passed it in a moving van, but it occurred to her now that three people shouldn't be able to control such a large turf. Sierra barely controlled half of her own bedroom when Heidi was healthy.

She could report it to the police and have it erased, but the artist in her slapped the cop's daughter in her for even thinking of that. She'd always wanted to try graffiti herself, and this was a good opportunity to do so. For now, she knelt and searched around until she found a piece of broken glass. She scooped it up, gripped it tight, and mashed it into the side of the train beside the existing graffiti. Slowly, painfully, she carved her first message into the boxcar:

Watch your backs!

She tossed the bloody glass aside and clenched her fist. It hurt, but it made her feel better for some reason. The more it hurt, the more she hated the “Crossroads” gang. She clung to that hate. It motivated her and conjured images in her mind that she'd have to get down on paper, then possibly onto a wall. She stood back and admired both her work and the gangsters' for a moment before heading home at a jog.

The streets were empty and the dark was dotted by inconsistent blips of light from bedrooms or bathrooms or the few businesses still open this late: gas stations, fast food, and a flower shop owned by a husband and wife who slept in shifts and kept the shop open all day, every day. Sierra had only broken curfew twice before, both times on Heidi’s dare. They’d eaten at McDonalds first and bought flowers for an elderly friend with cancer the second time.

On her third time, she found herself missing Heidi.

-

When she arrived, she went straight to the bathroom and showered fully clothed, minus her jacket, hat, and phone. The hot water stung her hand, which was torn up worse than she'd thought. When the blood washed off, though, the cuts looked significantly better. Still, in retrospect, she'd been stupid to use broken glass as a pen. The pain gave her an idea, though. She turned off the shower, realized she'd rather not sleep in wet clothes, stripped, and went to her room in a towel. She opened her pajama drawer, yawned, closed it, and flopped down into bed. Sleep came surprisingly easy considering she'd only been awake for two hours or so. She dreamed of a giant made of paint cans crying under a bleeding boxcar. Still somewhat lucid, she scolded her mind for making no sense and turned her dream into happy one, then into a dirty one, and then she stopped dreaming.

-

Sierra woke up to the front door slamming. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs, going down the hall, and then a knock came at her door.

“Are you up yet, Sierra?” her dad asked. He sounded irritated, much more than usual.

“Yeah-hm,” Sierra said.

“Come downstairs. I have a strong urge to own someone in Mortal Kombat.”

“Challenge accepted,” Sierra said, and slipped out of bed. “Wait, why? Didn't you confiscate that last year?”

“I'll tell you later. Go take a shower and stuff. I'll make coffee if you want it.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Sierra showered and checked the temperature on her phone before pulling on a hoodie that was too big for her and another pair of basketball shorts. It occurred to her that she'd worn the same general type of thing all summer regardless of the weather, but she didn't care. She only ever paid attention to fashion when Heidi told her to.

She arrived in the living room and plopped down on the wide white leather couch in front of a TV that still looked huge to her even after owning it for five years. Her dad set a steamy mug on the table beside her, then picked up two of their four controllers from the stand under the TV.

“How’s Heidi?” Sierra asked as the game console’s logo appeared on the screen. She glanced over at her dad. He still wore his uniform.

“Awake now, won’t talk to me much.”

“Like you talk to her much anyhow?”

Her dad shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t know. Maybe we just don’t have anything in common to talk about?”

“Huh,” said Sierra. “But neither do we. Except this, I guess. Why do you suddenly want to play violent, corrupting games with your innocent, impressionable daughter?”

“Last year you said this game was an outlet for your ‘underlying violent tendencies.’ Or so you called them.”

“I was an idiot last year, Dad. I have no violent tendencies.”

“I know. I don't think you're impressionable enough to pull people’s heads off because Johnny Cage did it. Or strong enough, for that matter. That and you have to follow the laws of physics and he doesn’t.”

“Aren't you using the same arguments Heidi did last year?”

“I don't care. Also, the chief said I couldn't investigate that.”

Sierra selected a character: Sonya Blade, the police officer. “Heidi's attackers?”

“Yeah. I know the rules and I know officers are usually taken off cases where their families are involved, but I still don't like it. My wife gets to help Heidi and I can't jail the ones who hurt her to begin with.”

They paused and both concentrated on fighting till they settled into a rhythm.

“That's not fair,” Sierra said.

“It prevents bias. But I still don't like it and hey, you know what else is unfair?”

“Yep?”

Sierra's character stood dazed in the middle of the screen. She'd picked Sonya so her dad could beat on his colleagues without actually beating on them, but she thought she’d have to sandbag and let her dad win. She hadn’t. His character jerked around on the screen a bit as he tried to pull off a fatality, but a few button presses from executing it, he let the combo break, walked over, and finished his daughter's avatar with a simple punch.

“Flawless victory,” Sierra said at the same time as the in-game announcer and her dad. She narrowed her eyes. “Have you been practicing this game? Even after you said it was a bad influence?”

“Yes."

“Cheater.”

“It's just for today,” said her dad. “I really don't want you playing a game where you can casually break every bone in your sister's body and proceed to rip her in half.”

“Oh, come on. This violence is so cartoonish you'd have to be under five or over forty to be offended by it.”

“You're killing me, Sierra,” said her 48-year-old dad.

“No, Dad. You’re killing me.” She nodded toward the screen. “So messed up. Since when do parents beat their kids at video games? Has that ever happened in the history of anything?”

“I played Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in arcades, Sierra. I’m not as old as you think.”

“Yeah, still not supposed to happen.”

She looked up at her dad. He looked pretty smug. They played twice more and she lost both times, but didn’t let him get any more flawless victories in. She even managed to win a round after discovering a combo he couldn’t counter till halfway through the next round.

“When did they remove the ‘friendship’ finishers?” her dad asked as they sat on the character selection screen. “Are half these characters not friends in the campaign mode? Why do I have to kill you?”

“Saving that for DLC?” Sierra guessed. “I dunno. Ask Heidi.”

“Just walk up to her in the hospital and ask her why Mortal Kombat characters kill each other?”

“Hey, I’ll do it if you’re afraid to talk to your own daughter.”

“I’m not afraid. I just don’t think she’d answer me.”

“Not even if it was about something she’s interested in?”

“I tried volleyball and the ice cream shop.”

Sierra tried to imagine that. It was awkward at best. Regardless, she downed her cooled coffee and stood up.

“Dad, I’ll go see Heidi and stuff. I'll be out for a bit.”

“All right.”

Sierra slipped on her shoes and headed out. She grabbed her bike this time and pedaled downtown. It was a five-minute bike ride. It took her ten minutes, as she occasionally stopped to talk with people who had read about Heidi's condition in the newspaper, or friends who were headed to the beach. She was the only one headed for the store.

Sierra spent that morning shopping. Her art only made a little money when she posted it online, but it had added up over the years. With a couple hundred dollars, she picked up several cans of red and white spray paint as her own “gang colors,” dark clothes and gloves to keep her hidden in the night, a black respirator to keep the fumes out of her nose and mouth, safety glasses, and a new pair of running shoes.

“I've seen your art online,” said the clerk when she checked out. “You're Sierra Summer?”

“Yep.”

“You should draw something for me next paycheck. I love how you do backgrounds.”

“Not characters?”

“Well, you're getting better, but it's your backgrounds most people commission you for, right?”

“Right.”

And it's time to add a new skill to my repertoire, she thought as she left the building. She hooked several bags over her handlebars and pedaled out toward the train yard. She stopped. Several people stood side-by-side in front of the boxcar she'd carved on — more than three. She wanted to know how they were reacting, but she assumed that for all they knew, it was just a new rival gang challenging them. There were several more gangs than Crossroads in Golden Hills, anyway.

That gave her an idea.

-

Sierra arrived at home in way too good a mood. She went straight to her room, turned on her tablet, picked up her pen, and drew. Graffiti was new to her, so she opened several references on her second monitor. She practiced for hours and hours, stopping only to make herself a fruit smoothie around lunchtime before returning to her work. Painting graffiti on real cement or steel would be different from painting it in Photoshop or Illustrator — precision would be more challenging and she wouldn't have an erase tool, and she'd also have to watch for police or the gangsters.
She let her ideas flow from her pen onto her screen until dark. By then, she was drawing without references. She'd formed several styles of her own, and every last one would contribute to her plan. At 10, she donned a black hat, black clothes, her glasses and respirator, and her running shoes. She squeezed two spray paint cans between her belt and her hips, realized that wouldn't work, and carried them in her hands. She stuffed spare cans in a bag and slung it over her shoulder.

Sierra left through the window. She closed it behind her and jumped off the roof, landing awkwardly on the trampoline, twisting her ankle, and rolling off in silent agony. She lay in place for a minute while she let her ankle recover, then set off on foot. In hindsight, she probably could have gone out through the front door without waking her parents. Her hindsight didn't make her ankle feel any better.

She jogged downtown and made it in about fifteen minutes. She went to the train yard, but made about five patrols around it before entering. At the boxcar, the gangsters had painted a single word over her message in fresh blue paint:

Die.

Nice and simple; they hadn’t even put any artistic effort into it. It was just a dripping word. She circled to the other side of the boxcar. It was big, but it had enough handholds in various places that she could climb around it and paint the whole thing. She flicked the lids off her paint and went to work, breathing hard through a stiff respirator that she regretted not trying before buying. Each breath fogged up her goggles, so she eventually just removed them and stuck them in a pocket. She painted for a good hour, making her work as clean as possible while using as little paint as possible. She still ran out of paint in the first two cans before she finished. No matter. She had plenty.

When she finished, she dropped a few feet to the ground and stood back. The word PATH in all stylized red caps stood out against a background of white. She'd painted around the natural red of the boxcar to form silhouettes: three human figures walking down a path in simple one-point perspective. She'd drawn red and white fire burning out of the letter A, where the path ended. Ten silhouettes, white against the red letter, walked out of the flames to meet the first three.

Satisfied with this piece, Sierra jogged out of the train yard, pulling her respirator down as she went to breathe easier.

She located more black and blue graffiti on the side of a convenience store closed for the night: a solid black X dotted in the middle with the natural light gray of the convenience store. At least Crossroads understood how to use the canvas to their advantage. She ducked behind a dumpster as a police car passed, then raised her paint and sprayed:

Peter of PATH.

She emphasized the P in both Peter and PATH, drawing it like the fancy first letter of a chapter in a novel.
Next, she found black and blue graffiti on the wall of a back alley. She peeked around every corner and in every window before painting:

Antonio of PATH.

This time she emphasized the A, simpler than the P, more like bold font in Photoshop. She made it sketchy with several small “brush strokes” of her paint

She went on like this. Every time she found black and blue graffiti, she painted near it.

Tara of PATH. She emphasized the T, made it more like a crucifix.

Hector of PATH. She emphasized the H and painted fire on it.

That completed the names of the founding four members in her head, so she just randomized the next six.

Aria of PATH.

Dan of PATH.

Nick of PATH.

Jordan of PATH.

Rick of PATH.

Kidd of PATH.

She took more time on each one than she should have, but she painted faster with each successive work. She personalized each one with a different style, switching between using her left hand, her right hand, and both at once. She made some text sharp and some soft, some with fancy fonts and some painfully simple — Jordan's, especially so. She even punctuated his properly and made it easy to read. He could be the gang's English guy. Peter, Antonio, Tara, and Hector respectively painted right-tilted, left-tilted, small, and large.

When she finished everything, she could see the sun on the horizon. She backed up and leaned against a paint-free wall, letting out a long breath. There were less police patrols than she’d expected, but then she remembered they were apparently disorganized at the moment. There were more cars out now, but still not enough that she couldn't stay hidden. She was tired, but she couldn't sleep yet. She had two things left to do.

First, she went home, stripping off her paint-covered clothes and pushing them into her bag as she went. She still wore shorts and a T-shirt underneath. Her dad was up, making coffee, again in his uniform. Did he work night shifts, or did he leave right after breakfast? She couldn’t remember. He turned around as she walked in the door.

“Hi,” she said. “Before you ask, I was just grabbing my paint stuff from the garage. Remember, we put it there two years ago?”

Sierra made a mental note to actually get her paint stuff from the garage within the hour. She'd actually forgotten about that till it was time to make up an excuse.

“About that,” said her dad, “you should really use your paint more. It’s like hundreds of dollars down the drain and replaced by some touchy monitor.”

“Called a Cintiq,” said Sierra. “Three grand of pure awesome. If it didn't pretty much replace all my old stuff, it wouldn't be worth it.”

“I doubt that.”

“Me too. Can I have some coffee?”

“Coming right up, Princess.”

Sierra headed up the stairs. Over her shoulder, she said, “I'm not that entitled.”

When she thought about it later as she was getting her paint from the garage, she realized that in some ways, she probably was that entitled.

-

Two hours later, Sierra left the house again, this time with her phone, dressed in day clothes, and filled with caffeine. She rode her bike down to the hospital. Heidi was awake now, and her mom was there with her like she'd been the first day.

“Yo. Sierra.” Heidi grinned when Sierra entered. “Good news and bad news.”

“Bad first,” said Sierra, taking a seat. Heidi looked comparatively healthy from the waist up, but her knees were still a swollen, broken mess.

“No volleyball for me till senior year.”

“Jeez. What's the good news?”

“I'm gonna make a full recovery. It'll just take a while.” She changed the subject abruptly. “You look really frickin' tired.”

“Quiet, you,” Sierra said. She smiled. “I can't sleep when I'm worried.”

“Aw. You cutie, you.”

“Shut up.”

Across the bed, their mom just smiled as she went about her work. The moment she left the room and closed the door behind her, Heidi's tone changed.

“Did you get my message?”

Sierra nodded. “I pretended to be an entire rival gang and painted on their turf all last night.”

“Dude, nice. Don't get caught, though. I was lucky to get out with just this.” She nodded down at her legs.

“Yeah, about that,” said Sierra. “What happened?”

“I tried to erase their graffiti and they saw me.”

“Why? Their graffiti is actually good.”

“It's illegal, too.”

“And you've cared about the law... since when?”

Heidi shrugged. “I dunno. But erasing graffiti and cleaning up and stuff — isn't that what good citizens do?”

Sierra started to reply, stopped, thought about it, and eventually said, “Actually, you’re the first person I’ve heard of actually erasing graffiti. But good artisans wouldn't dare. So that's really it? You just erased graffiti and whack?”

Heidi nodded. “Yeah, but I'm totally okay with you doing it. You're doing it for a good cause.”

“Revenge?”

“Well, good enough. You're like 'chaotic good' or something. Like Johnny in Mortal Kombat, or the Office terrorists in Counter-Strike.”

“Have you told Dad who attacked you?”

“Nope.”

Sierra raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“I’ll tell him later. I’ll wait and see how your thing works first. If I told him, he’d just nab the baddies and you’d have nothing to do.”

“Fair enough. And hey, the department actually won’t let Dad on your case. It ‘prevents bias’ or something.”

“Well,” said Heidi, “then that works out for all of us.”

Their mom came back and all talk of graffiti and gangs ceased. Sierra left after five more minutes, hopped on her bike, and rode back to the train yard. This time, she dismounted and walked straight in. There were five people dressed in black and blue there. Four turned to look at her as she approached. Three of them fit Heidi's descriptions. She hated them. But she kept her face calm.

“Hi,” she said. She motioned toward the side of the boxcar with the black and blue Crossroads on it. “Mind if I take pictures? Not of you — just of the art.”

“Knock yourself out,” said the one who hadn't turned away. He was a taller guy with black hair as long as hers. He painted as he spoke.

“Wait a minute,” said one, a girl who looked about Heidi's age. Russian long face. This was one of the three who'd hurt Heidi. “What for?”

“Inspiration. I draw stuff sometimes and thought your stuff was pretty cool.”

It was the truth. The girl nodded, but didn’t look very agreeable. “Fine. Go ahead.”

Sierra went ahead. She also took her time and listened as the gangsters chatted. They talked about their lives, their families, what songs they liked, and most importantly to Sierra, this new PATH gang.

“Ten people in it,” said one. “Going by the paint, anyway.”

“Even with ten, doing as much as they did in one night without us seeing them is just weird. Let's catch 'em tonight.”

They hushed their tones from there on, glancing up at Sierra. She took a commemorative photo of her first piece — which Crossroads hadn't touched. As she hadn't painted over their work, they hadn't painted over hers. They did, however paint more, some with direct threats toward PATH.

Shove yourself back up Detroit’s polluted ass, was her favorite, painted in solid black against a blue city in the background. She took a picture of that. The others were either not as fun, not as skilled, or were just unreadable.

“It pisses me off,” said a gangster. “It's like they're looking for a gang war. I bet they're just a bunch of cunts from Detroit who can't compete with the real gangs up there. Y’know, the Al Capone type with fedoras and classy suits and Tommy guns.”

“I don’t think they have those anymore, dude.”

“Maybe not. But, like, Mafia and stuff. Cement shoes and bank robbery real. Not like rap groups. Or us even.”

Wear black and blue, paint graffiti in the most hideout-ish place in town, and you’re not a real gang? Sierra thought, and walked toward the exit. “Thanks, guys,” she said. On a whim, she turned around, but before she spoke, one of them said:

“Wait. You. Albino. Which art is better, between us and PATH?”

“Well, obviously I'm under pressure to say yours are.”

The speaker, a brown-haired high school-age guy, said, “Be honest. I wanna know.”

“PATH,” said Sierra. “Your stuff is more detailed, but PATH has more raw skill, I think. How long have you been painting?”

“From one to ten years,” said the guy, motioning around to the others. “Anyway, that's all I wanted to ask. Get your ass moving.”

Sierra had planned to sleep after this, but she couldn't pass up an opportunity. She stopped at a gas station and downed another coffee, then sat against a tree where she could see the train yard and started doodling on her phone. Before too long, she got bored and edged closer till she was barely within earshot. She climbed halfway up a car’s ladder so her feet wouldn’t show, then listened. The gangsters didn't say anything interesting until about twenty-five minutes into her eavesdropping session, and by that time, her fingers were starting to hurt from hanging on to the ladder.

“So speaking of kids, I'm thinking that albino might have been part of PATH.”

“Really? She's pretty young.”

“Can't be much younger than Lin.”

“Shut up. She’s at least five years under me.”

“Twelve?”

“Nah, I don't think so. You sure you're just not mad she thought PATH painted better than us?”

“Fuck you, man. I just thought she could be Aria or Tara.”

“Who names their kid Aria in this country?”

“It’s better than Bertha.”

From then on, they got onto the topic of names, and Sierra wasn't brought up a second time. They might still suspect her, though, so showing her face again would definitely be a bad idea. She listened to them talk for two whole hours before they finally all left.

She followed them.

They walked up and down various streets. They stuck together, one peeling off occasionally to enter a house. They did this, and yet when there was only one left — the long-haired man — he turned around and walked all the way back about three blocks. Apparently he was just being a good friend and walking his friends home — something Heidi and Sierra did with their own friends. She remembered, though, that this man had been the one to give her permission to take pictures. Maybe he was just nicer than the rest. He hadn’t been on Heidi’s list, anyway.
Regardless, Sierra remembered his house’s location. Now she could get some sleep.

-

When she got home, she changed into pajamas and sat on her bed, then got an idea. She went to her computer and started drawing. Preemptively, she set her alarm to go off at eleven.

She finished one picture, then moved on to another. Getting into the heads of ten characters in such a short time was hard. To improve her made-up gang, she had to know everything about each of its members. Conveying their personalities and problems and goals through their art wasn't easy, but she managed to get at least some distinction between half her gangsters. Peter was a “freedom fighter,” a rebellious man with some sense of justice; Antonio was a straight gangster, into rap and cars and women; Tara was just looking for love in a hateful world; Hector was “the mysterious quiet one” who spoke through his art.

Sierra realized there was something wrong with these characters, but couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t like she went around creating fictional characters all the time. Regardless, it was better than having them all be exactly the same person. This, at the very least, would make her ten personas feel like different people beyond their handwriting as long as she kept their personalities in mind when she painted as them.

Three gang members were still not fleshed out too well by the time her alarm went off. She shut it off before the first note ended and realized she'd been drawing for close to ten hours. With a yawn, she donned her paint gear and jumped out the window again. She turned and landed on her back in the center of the trampoline this time. Her ankle still hurt more than it should for such a simple injury, and she noticed that the cuts on her hand were starting to scar. They looked horrible — like they'd been caused by something much more serious than simply using broken glass as a pen.

The jog into town flew by and she completely avoided the train yard this time. She went straight for the houses, avoiding all the streetlights. Just when she thought her stealth was working, someone’s dog woke up and started yapping at her. She ran past it and around the block. A few seconds later, she heard a door open, and the close. The yapping faded, but was still faintly audible. Sierra reached the first house a minute later. On its side wall, she painted:

PATH knows where you live.

On the second house, she peered in the window. An old black woman was reading a newspaper by the fire. Sierra wrote:

PATH knows who you love.

Painting this hurt her heart. The old woman had done nothing wrong, and though she wasn't in any danger, she felt horrible for threatening an old lady.

In the third house, a woman of maybe twenty or so, naked under a thin nightgown, repeatedly went and looked out the window by the front door. Sierra painted:

PATH knows with whom you lie.

She didn't see anything too extraordinary about the fourth house, so she painted a generic:

PATH is always watching.

The fifth house was fully lit. Sierra crept up to the window and peeked in. She saw a man and a woman, both around forty, standing close and shouting something at each other. Even through the wall, Sierra caught a few words that the couple emphasized. “Payments,” “child care,” “abortion,” and “God” were among them, though she couldn't hear the context. With that much noise in the house, no wonder their child preferred a gang. Regardless of circumstances, though, said child had hurt Heidi.

On the side of that house, Sierra painted:

PATH is

She heard gravel crunch, but didn't have time to turn. Something thick, cold, and hard clipped off her head and slammed into her shoulder. She heard a crack and felt something tear in her body. She screamed. Dropped both paint cans. Her arm fell to her side and the very motion burned. Lights flashed in her eyes. Her entire body stiffened. She fell on her hands and knees first, then collapsed when her right arm wouldn’t support her weight. She couldn’t afford to lay still. She kicked at the ground, clawed with her good hand. She heard another whoosh from the bat and rolled forward in an awkward somersault. The bat bounced off the heel of her shoe. She barely felt it. She struggled to her feet.

Sierra ran. Her ankle didn't hurt anymore, nor did her hand. Her lack of sleep didn't bother her. All she felt was agony in her shoulder as she ran. With each step, she expected the pain to overwhelm her and send her toppling to her attacker's mercy. She couldn't breathe. She tore off her respirator and squeezed it tightly in her good hand as her other flopped uselessly.

Footsteps matched hers behind her. Someone was shouting and someone was screaming. It wasn't her. She could hear her voice leaking out here and there, but she wasn't screaming or shouting.

A light flashed on in a house to her left and a window slid open. Two houses down, another light went on. A woman stepped onto her porch with a shotgun, but Sierra only saw her for three seconds, then never again. Maybe just as well, maybe not.

More lights popped on, but died out as she ran more and more. Her hair fell out of her shirt at one point. It billowed out behind her, white and long and distinctive, practically glowing in the moonlight as it bounced off her back and stuck to her skin. Surely her pursuer recognized her by now.

She turned corners. She shot through alleys. The shouting and screaming had stopped, but she couldn't stop running. She knew they were still behind her. She couldn't turn around to check — they'd see her face — but she heard footsteps still.

When she realized she was running straight toward her home, she turned another corner, then another shortly after. She saw an open dumpster and dove in, slamming the lid down behind her.

Absolute silence.

Then a footfall on pavement. Then another. No voices. Only footsteps. Louder. Quieter. Silence.

She felt around below her with her good hand. The dumpster smelled like rotting food and barf, but all she felt was cardboard. Piles and piles of cardboard. Quietly as she could manage, she got under them. It was slow. Every movement hurt her, and she had to stop and reset her position several times to keep from screaming in pain. She eventually got under several layers, though.

She lay there, curled in a feeble ball for maybe five minutes. The dumpster's lid opened and someone sifted through the boxes on top of her, breathing hard, wheezing here and there, muttering under his breath, cursing occasionally. She heard “albino” a few times. She heard “Aria” and she heard “Tara” and “PATH.” She didn't move. Maybe thirty seconds passed. Maybe a minute. Too long. Regardless, the lid shut again and Sierra was still alive.
She wanted to wait longer, but her adrenaline was wearing out and her shoulder hurt even more now. She waited a minute and left the dumpster, cringing as the movement stung her. She stumbled out of the alleyway, her adrenaline and energy gone. She didn't look to either side. She just headed home.

She saw a light flick on in a house somewhere off to her right and someone called to her, asking if she was all right. She said she was and kept walking.

No one else stopped her.

In her house, no one came down to meet her at the door. She didn't make much noise, but she thought for sure someone would have at least heard her shuffling in. Were both her parents sleeping? At work? In hindsight, memorizing their schedules would have been prudent.

It was over. This injury would probably cripple her for life if she didn't get help. She made her way over to the freezer and removed a bag of frozen peas. She gently placed it over her shoulder, twitched, and opened her mouth to scream. She didn't. She let it catch in her throat. She clenched her teeth and held the peas there. She went up to the bathroom, tripping over three steps on the way. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she couldn't see anything wrong with her shoulder on the outside. She started to pull her shirt off, but her shoulder wouldn't let her. So she took scissors from below the sink and cut her shirt off. Her shoulder looked like Heidi's knees. It was black and blue and red, starkly contrasted against pale skin. Seeing it made it hurt more. It had started to swell, and she couldn't even move it slowly anymore.

She had to tell her mom. It had been fun, but it wasn't a game. Her health wouldn't regenerate if she waited behind cover for blood to fall off her face. She couldn't pick up a health pack or simply bandage something like this. Eating food wouldn't instantly restore her health. She'd done everything in her power to get revenge for Heidi's injury, and now she was down and out, too.

No. Not yet. She hadn't been caught — not even by the police. She could still walk and run and paint. She just needed one more day. If her arm felt better tomorrow, she'd be fine, and she wouldn't have to tell anyone. If it didn't, she could go directly to the hospital and make up a story.

She lay in bed, but couldn't sleep despite staying up three nights in a row. She was starting to see things floating around in front of her. There was a boxcar in front of her door one moment and it was gone the next. Her tablet was made of glowing red and white plastic for a moment, Heidi’s bed flashed on and off like a light and then she couldn't see it in the dark. Her shoulder felt good on the peas now, as they were squished into the pillow. When the swelling went down, she'd put a heat pad on it.

The sun came up and Sierra had only drifted off a couple times. She had never felt so drained in her life. Her shoulder didn't hurt much anymore unless she moved it, but it was stiff and swollen and she couldn't move it independently to begin with.

She smelled bacon and coffee downstairs and fell out of bed. She changed into a new pair of shorts pretty easily, but she struggled with tops till she finally managed to get a hoodie on by pulling it over her bad arm from below. She turned on the shower and dunked her head in long enough to soak her hair, then dried it one-handed and went downstairs with the towel draped over her shoulders.

“Sierra, you've got bags under your eyes.”

“Couldn't sleep,” said Sierra. “Too much coffee. Can I have more?”

She stood there, swaying a bit at the bottom of the stairs. Her dad approached her and put the back of his hand to her forehead.

“You're warm.”

“I'm a mammal.”

“Fever warm.”

“Darn. I got, like, one thing to do in town today and I'll come back and sleep for, like, ever. That okay?”

“I’d like to say ‘go for it.’ But first, what’s so important you have to abuse yourself for it?”

“Heidi,” Sierra half-lied.

-

Sierra rode her bike one-handed. She had three things to do today: check on the gangsters, buy peas to replace the ones she'd ruined, and go to the hospital. She wouldn’t paint today unless she absolutely had to.

Somehow, she ended up at the hospital first. Her mind had just taken her there. She walked in the doors and went straight to Heidi's room. It was still early, so Mrs. Summer wasn't working yet, and Heidi was alone in her room. She looked up at Sierra and her smile disappeared.

“What's wrong? You look like you haven't slept in forever.”

Sierra plopped down on the chair beside her sister. “Heidi,” she said. “I messed up. I can't paint anymore.”

“Did you get caught? Why haven't you slept?”

“No. And I haven't got around to it. They got me, though. Didn't catch me. Got me. Hit me with a thing. I'm gonna watch them for today, then I'll be back here.”

Heidi said nothing for a minute. “Forget about my message,” she said. “Forget about the gangsters. You haven't slept since that first day, have you?”

Sierra shook her head. “It's all right. I drank a ton of coffee, so I can stay up.”

“You're gonna kill yourself, Sierra. Stop. Just close your eyes and sleep here for a while. Please.”

“Sorry,” Sierra said. Her sister’s features knitted themselves together.. “Just one more thing. I'll be back really quick.”

“Really quick,” Heidi repeated. “Really quick.”

-

The train yard was empty. Sierra sat on her bike by the entrance and and stared in at the untouched graffiti on the boxcar. She sighed. Maybe it was best to go back to the hospital first, after all. Every second she didn't get treatment could reduce her odds of a full recovery, and every second she stayed here increased her odds of getting shot.

“Hey,” someone said from behind her. Sierra turned to see one of the three people Heidi had described: a young black boy, Sierra's age. He had a short beard, but today, he wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Sierra's heart jumped and her mind told her to run, but she couldn't. She had no energy left.

“You're the albino from yesterday?”

Sierra nodded dumbly. Maybe, by some miracle, this guy didn’t know what had happened last night.

Instead of shooting her in the face, he smiled. “You look tired as hell.”

Sierra nodded again, smiling a bit in return. She thought words, but didn’t say them. Not enough energy.

“What would you say if I told you Crossroads was done?”

Sierra did her best approximation of a swivel on her bike seat. It didn’t work. Her foot caught the wheel and she fell off. To her surprise, the boy helped her up. His hands didn’t go anywhere near her bad shoulder.

“C’mon,” he said. “Walk with me.”

He half-dragged her into the train yard, not forcefully, but with just enough pressure that she started to tremble.

“We know who you are and what you did, Aria. Or is it Sierra? Sierra Summer?”

“Codename Aria,” said Sierra with a weak smile.

“This was all revenge for your sister, then. You really are Sierra. Did you join the gang after or were you always in PATH?”

“Funny, that,” said Sierra. “I’m kinda the leader.”

She felt something cold press to her head. Contrary to her expectations, she didn’t hear the distinctive chk-chk. Instead, she heard a girl’s voice.

“So if I painted your final piece with your brains, PATH would die?”

“Maybe,” said Sierra. “They’d be a bit mad, I think. Hornet’s nest and all.”

She was just babbling now, but it seemed to work. At the very least, the gun didn’t fire and she was still alive. She’d heard somewhere that humans had a higher chance of survival being shot in the head than they did being shot in the chest. That was pretty hard to believe, what with one pressed to her head and all.

“Put the gun away,” said a young man’s voice. Sierra felt the gun move away.

“Why? Can’t we just cap her and make it look like someone else did it?”

“No.”

Sierra looked over her shoulder. The long-haired man was speaking and everyone else was looking at him. The Russian-faced girl had a gun, but no one else did.

“Do any of you really want to get involved in a murder? Against a kid, no less? One who’s never hurt any of us?”

“She painted on our houses,” the black boy offered.

“Did she? PATH knows with whom you lie seems a bit... not like something someone her age would write. Fourteen?”

“Fifteen,” said Sierra.

The girl swung the gun up again. “Who else —” she began. The gun barrel clipped Sierra’s head. She stumbled, then fell. “Whoops.”

The long-haired man sighed. “When I say ‘put the gun away,’ I wish you’d do it.”

Sierra rubbed her head with her good hand. The girl pocketed the gun and kicked Sierra onto her back, then set a foot on her chest. “So who was with you last night?”

“No one was with her last night,” said the long-haired man. “After you hit her, Lin, you chased her. I saw a few people run out and try to catch up, but none of them had paint and they all came from houses. Last night, Sierra worked alone.”

Lin whirled on the man, releasing Sierra. “So you just sat there and let me chase her alone?”

“What would you do if you caught her?”

“Snapped her neck and tossed her in a dumpster.”

“Huh. Maybe I should have chased you after all.”

“Chased me?”

“Pardon me if I side with the person who doesn’t want to murder a child.”

The girl clenched her fists, but sighed and started walking. “Fine,” she said. She kicked Sierra’s ribs on her way by. “Just let her go, then. After we finally have PATH’s leader, just let her go. You know what, actually? I’m not letting her go.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I’ll do the same thing to her we did to her sister.”

“No,” said the man. “If you have to hurt her, don’t leave anything permanent.”

Sierra could see the girl’s agitation rising in her face. She turned around suddenly. Sierra felt hard rubber crack against her cheek, then her head slammed into the dirt. The girl kicked the side of her stomach, then stomped on her ribs. She stepped back for a moment as Sierra curled into a quivering ball.

“Anyone who wants no part in this, follow me,” said the long-haired man. “Lin, we’ll be at my house. If you kill that girl...”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

Sierra groaned and looked up. Her vision was spinning already. She tasted blood in her mouth and it hurt to breathe in. She saw the long-haired man walk away, followed only by one person: the third person on Heidi’s list. The other three gathered around Sierra.

“I do kinda want to kill her,” said the girl. “If I did, would anyone ever know?”

“Probably,” said the brown-haired guy beside her. It was him, her, and the black boy.

The guy kicked Sierra’s bad shoulder then. She screamed and rolled, trying to get to her feet and run. Something hit her face as she got to her knees and sent her back to the ground.

“Lin, c’mon, don’t kill her.”

Sierra opened one eye. Lin had her gun out again.

“Watch this.”

She grabbed Sierra’s hair and yanked her head back.

“We’re not gonna have long after this,” said Lin. “So be ready to run. Also, cover your ears.”

Sierra screamed and jerked around on the ground. Maybe she could have slipped away any other day, but she was too weak now.

“Wait a minute,” said the black boy. “Wait, just wait.”

Crack.

Sierra’s ears rang and she screamed, but she heard nothing. She couldn’t see. Her vision was brown and black. She felt the ground vibrate under her head, and then she was choking. She breathed in dirt and sand whenever she tried to breathe. What was left of her vision started to fade as she ran out of oxygen.

She felt something hard drop lightly onto her head, then onto the ground. She grabbed it with her good hand.

She rolled onto her back, opened her eyes. Everything was blurry and her eye stung. The black boy wasn’t there anymore, Lin was doubled over, shaking her hand, and the high school guy was standing, frozen. Sierra raised the gun, pointed it at the air. She pulled the trigger. Presumably, it fired, but she only felt the kickback. There was no sound except the screaming filling her ears. She fired again. Again. Again. Again. Then there was no kickback. She threw the gun as far as she could — five feet if she was lucky.

She closed her eyes again to stop the stinging. It stopped. So did everything else.

-

When she woke up, her family was there. Heidi was in a wheelchair and her parents stood. She looked down at her shoulder. It was wrapped and it ached, but it didn't hurt.

Her mom clicked something on her watch and sighed. Heidi looked like she was crying, but Sierra couldn’t tell. Her vision was still too blurry. Her ears still rang a bit, but she could hear things now.

“Can you hear me?” her dad asked.

Sierra nodded. “Yeah.”

“Do you feel all right?”

“My everything hurts. Am I dead?”

In response to herself, she blacked out again.

-

She remembered walking to the van, then nothing, and woke up in her own bed. Everything ached, but she felt awake. She looked across the room. Heidi sat on her bed on the other side of the room, pushing a wheelchair back and forth with her toes. Sierra looked at the door then.

“We're grounded,” said Heidi. “For forever. Sorry.”

Sierra could hear her perfectly and the ringing was gone. That was a good sign.

“Forever?”

“Till the end of summer. Dad says we get an exception for my birthday in July and nothing else.”

Sierra shrugged and found that her injured shoulder actually moved. “That's not forever,” she said. “Considering what I did, I'm surprised it's that short.”

“Wanna know why it's short?”

“Yeah.”

“Try raising your hand.”

Sierra raised her hand.

“The other one.”

Sierra tried to raise her bad arm. It wouldn't go past her shoulder.

“It'll be like that forever.”

“Nope,” Sierra said. She tried to raise it again to no avail. “I bet you it'll heal before summer's over.”

“Maybe,” said Heidi. “I hope so. There’s another thing, though.”

“Yeah-hm?”

“Do you feel, like, different?”

“How?”

“In your mind or something. Dad says you might have some sort of trauma.”

Sierra ran a mental inventory check. She didn’t feel too different, probably partially because she had no idea what had happened in the train yard.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Good.”

“What happened, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Dad won’t tell me. He says you almost died, though.”

“Wow,” said Sierra.

“Yeah. I think I owe you a lot now. Like, a whole ton of a lot.”

“No you don't,” said Sierra. “Just tell me why you really went around erasing gangsters' graffiti and I'll be happy.”

“Don't laugh.”

“Kay.”

Heidi bit her lip, then spoke. “I just want to get along with Dad like you do. Like, I thought he’d appreciate me doing ‘good citizen’ stuff.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“No.”

“Let's make a deal, then,” said Sierra. “You straight-up tell Dad you wanna be a daddy's girl and I won't make you buy me a one-twenty hertz monitor.”

“Dude, you don't even play games. Why do you need a gaming monitor?”

“I don't. I'm blackmailing you.”

“But I want a gaming monitor.”

“I suck at blackmailing.”

“You're just the best sister I could ever ask for, Sierra, and I love you. Don't make me say that again.”

Sierra smiled. “Never again.”

AlmanacnamedTime
08-07-2013, 02:51 PM
I like it.