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Writing Challenges

This week's Odd Prompts writing challenge at More Odds than Ends was from Fiona Grey: The “basilisk crossing” sign was in fact less concerning than the “disintegrating mountain” alert twenty yards beyond it.

This pretty clearly was a good fit for the Big Messy Project, and specifically the part where the protagonist's fleeing through the Lands That Are Not of Men. In fact, it might well be her first warning that she's gotten into very dangerous ground.

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A Flight Through Perilous Lands

There was something mesmerizing about those swirling lights, to the point that it took an act of will to pull my gaze away, to look at the three ancient figures brooding over it. Even as I tried to read the expressions of their wizened faces and determine whether I should engage them or flee, that mysterious portal kept pulling my attention back, to draw me closer and closer.

It was just alarming enough that I took several steps backward, hoping that increasing the distance would give me a bit more safety. Except the soggy ground could not be relied upon to provide me with sound footing.

Like tiny hands reaching up to snare my feet, the mud grabbed at my shoes. Terrified, I wrenched myself free and fled through the muck and mire, no longer caring whether I was muddying the clothes I'd found at the house on the boundaries.

After what felt like an eternity but may well have been no more than twenty or thirty minutes, the ground grew more solid beneath my feat as fens gave way to meadow. Except there was an odd quality to the light, to the texture of the grasses and the lay of the land, which told me that no, I was not back to familiar lands.

I paused to look around, hoping that perhaps I could find my way back to familiar territory. To my astonishment, the grasslands extended as far as the eye could see, with no sign of wetlands, or forest, or the stunning vistas of floating islands and flying ships that had been my first introduction to the Lands That Are Not of Men.

My sense of alarm grew even more intense. With no landmarks to focus on, I was in as much danger of walking in circles as I would be in a forest without a path. And that was in the mundane world, where one could presuppose that the land would stay put. Stories about faerie were full of landscapes that shifted as the characters walked through them, leading one astray if it amused one or another of the inhabitants of the Perilous Realm.

In the mundane world, the usual advice was to stay put, as long as there was a reasonable expectation that one would be missed and a search would be launched. But here, in a place where space and time could not be relied upon, there was no reason to expect that this place would even stay here, and not mysteriously migrate off to even more dangerous regions when I desperately needed to return to the safety of those liminal lands where I'd been resting while I waited for the Straight Road to reopen.

At length I could descry a dark shape on the horizon, suggesting a structure, and thus something resembling civilization. At least it was a landmark towards which I could navigate, and at least reduce the likelihood of walking in circles.

After some time, I began to see hints of prior occupation, stones that seemed to have been shaped, fragments of glass and pottery peeking up from the soil. Yet there was a certain peculiarity about them, as if to remind me that these were not the work of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, and I would do well to be careful.

The further I walked, the more remnants I saw, until they became clear and obvious ruins, albeit of a culture that was alien to humanity. I couldn't put my finger on any one feature that told me this is not the work of human hands, but there was a cumulative impression of alienation, of unease that convinced me that I needed to keep moving, if nothing else, to show my good-faith effort to cease trespassing on places where I did not belong.

It would be easier if I had some way of knowing that I was actually moving back out of these lands, back toward the realms where my kind could dwell, rather than being at best tolerated sojourners.

Not long afterward, I saw a sign poking out of the ruins. As I drew closer, I realized it said "Basilisk crossing."

I paused and looked around, then realized that could be foolish, if this were not someone's idea of a joke. Were basilisks something that could turn you to stone only if you looked at them, like Medusa, or were they just as dangerous from any angle?

And that assumed that whatever was called a basilisk in this world would work the same way as the basilisk of folklore, and not the basilisk in one or another role-playing game. Already I'd seen evidence that this region was influenced by a large number of modern literary works, most obviously Tolkien and Lewis, but at least some Baum and even Shakespeare, so D&D or Pathfinder could've exerted an influence.

All the same, I was definitely on my guard as I continued through what was clearly the ruins of a long-abandoned faerie city, hoping that I would eventually come across something which would guide me back onto the path that would get me back out of these lands, back to where things made sense to the human mind.

And then I stopped, staring at the words scraped into the wall by some unknown graffiti artist: disintegrating mountain.

Was this supposed to be a warning, and if so, of what? A mountain that was falling apart? A living mountain that had a disintegration attack?

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I also managed to get a story written for this week's Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. It's a mundane one, albeit with a hint of magic, or at least longing for magic.

As always, if you'd like to participate in Odd Prompts, just send your prompt in to oddprompts@gmail.com to be assigned a prompt of your own. Or if you're not up to the commitment of trading prompts, you can always check out the spare prompts and see if any of them tickle your creativity.

There will be a new word and picture prompt up at Indies Unlimited on Saturday. Until then, the polls will open tomorrow for voting on the Readers' Choice Award, and will close at 5PM on Thursday.

In the meantime, keep writing
Tags: fantasy, writing challenge
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