The Writer's Challenge

Oh yes, but I haven't forgotten. Zanallen, I challenge you to a duel! Y'know, with words and paper, that kinda stuff. Yes, that old sillyness in the random thread, which we shut down to unanimous dissaproval (Sniff) has been remembered and I feel the need to finish that which we started.

Basically, we'll be writing and the rest of the forum will be judging. Of course, I could have put a poll to this, but I was hoping a third party would enter the challenge. One on one is hardly interesting you know, although it's not really a duel then, is it? Nonetheless, if another would join us in our duel of words, that'd be most excellent.

As for the rules itself, here's how I was thinking it would be done. Each week we would write on a different subject until three weeks had passed. The topics would go something like either this...

Week 1: Tom's Topic of Choice
Week 2: Zanallen's Topic of Choice
Week 3: Audience's Choice


Weeks 1-3: Audience's Choice

If a third party joined the race, the event would be lengthened to 4 weeks. I prefer option 2 simply because there's a sort of randomness that allows for the perfect playing field, but I will allow choice 1 if you believe it to be more appropriate.

I believe we should allow the second post to go to Zanallen before anyone else speaks, as he is the challenged after all. Beyond that, it'll go something like first come, first served. The first to join the competition takes up the position as that third party and no other applications will be accepted... Unless Zan, I, and the third party agree to a 4th party. But none beyond that.

Now, there would be no limit to the amount typed, but it should be long enough to create an engrossing storyline but short enough to engross the audience. Just how long or short it should be is up to the author of course. As for grading, that'd be left to the audience of course, although we should be more than welcome to comment on each other's work, a cudos here and there goes a long way.

What it all boils down to, there's a little work to be done, some things to agree to, but this looks to be fairly interesting. Well, to me at least anyway. But enough, we can't rightly start a duel, even if it might have up to four people, unless the challenged accepts.


P.S. - Reading your story in the Fanfic area now. No worries there.
I accept. I too would like a third party, as it will make things more interesting. What if we were both to lose? Oh the shame. Anyway, I don't have time for a discussion now as I have work. Tonight then?
I have the same problem as well, unfortunately. I work 9-5 tonight, nasty schedule that. Might as well start now, slow as it might be. Really, the first issue is the format. Should it be format A, where we each choose a topic save for the last, or format B, where the other forum goers choose all of the topics? As I said before, I am in favor of B.

Again, first come, first served. The first topic is accepted, unless all parties object of course, and the first to volunteer as this third party is accepted as well.
I also prefer B, though I am concerned about the possible lack of enthusiasm that the members sometime show. I propose, that if there is no response in 3 days time, we set up the duel between ourselves while using format A. Agreed?
I'd be willing to act as a third party.
Oh good. I am glad that you have stepped up to the challenge Zal. Your style should provide an interesting contrast to Tom's and my own. So, what do you think of the rules and regulations that Tom has suggested?
They're absolutely dandy.
Hmm, I can definitely see where a lack of enthusiasm could effect us here. Seems like the rest of the forum is sticking with their net battles. Well, I give it another day before we fall back to the default, that being...

Week 1 - Zanallen's Choice
Week 2 - Tom's Choice
Week 3 - Zal's Choice

And by the way, good to have you with us Zal. Thanks for participating.
Well, there's our answer to that. Alright Zanallen, it's all yours. Give us a topic. One week after the topic has been presented, we will likewise present our works on that particular subject. The floor is yours.
Well, what are the rules regarding the topic? I had an idea in mind, though I don't know if it shall be accepted. Basically, we each have to write a story in third person perspective with ourself as the main character. The only other rule is that it must contain the following line: "One night a spilled drink, one night a fight, one night you wouldn't be surprised to see a dead dog saunter in."

Classic writing prompt from my old creative writing class in college. Does that sound fair?
Sounds keen to me.
Is there a consensus on length or whether or not the piece has to be finished?
Hmmm... Well, a week's time is a good bit, at least for some little short story fun. The major thing I'm really hoping to acomplish with this is to inspire new ideas through competition, so I'll say incomplete articles are fine. Length isn't an issue either, as long or short as you like.

Since the topic has been posted, I'm going to assume that the clock is ticking. The deadline for the first week's turn-ins are 3/3/07, midnight. Granted, we've probably all got our own midnight due to different time zones, but so long as you don't try to turn something in past noon the next day it should be fine.

Which means I've got to get to work. 6 days left to write this thing. Thanks for the topic Zan, good luck to both of you.
I have been really busy, so I haven't had the time to perfect my submission, but I have too much to do tomorrow to finish it...So, I'll just post what I have now, unfinished and unpolished, and hope for the best. Why does work always have to interfere?!?!

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The music could be heard from outside, a jaunty tune that would have been more at home coming from a sixteenth century palace than the upscale New York home from which it originated. Two men in tuxedos, burly men obviously stationed there to keep out the unwanted, stood on either side of the entrance. A young man approached the duo, nodding to them with an amused smile. They returned the nod and the man stepped passed them to enter the magnificent home.

The young man found himself in a large room, the foyer, with several other guests all caught up in the moment. Whistling in tune with the band, he slipped past a group of revelers who were blocking the path to the main room of the house and took a look around. He scanned the mass of dancers, each decorative costume catching his eye, though he seemed to be searching for one person in particular.

The young man, Sean to his friends, adjusted the brilliantly colored mask that obscured his face. It was shaped to resemble a fox, a design that he felt was perfectly accurate, in stunning reds and oranges. The mask set off the rather drab, black suit that he was wearing. The costume, as a whole, gave him an aura of mystery, exactly the effect that he was hoping for.

Much like the oddity of the bright mask and drab clothes, Sean considered himself to be formed of contrasts. His dark, curly brown hair waged war with his bright blue eyes. His callused fingers didn't belong with his pale skin. His rotund middle was at odds with his toned muscles. His quick wit and way with words seemed odd coming from his lumbering frame. However, such thoughts were not meant for a night such as this one. Sean was determined to find what he sought.

A beautiful form caught his eye. The few minutes, practically a lifetime, that he was spent searching were over. The fox had found his vixen.

"There she is," he whispered excitedly.

His heart pounded within his chest and his pulse raced as his eyes roamed the paradise that was her body. Her perfect curves were accentuated by the the silken sapphire gown. His hair, like strands of spun gold, fell in soft ringlets to bunch around her shoulders. Her eyes, pools of liquid emeralds, sparkled in the light from the chandelier that hung above the room. She wore an expertly crafted mask in the form of a butterfly, the purple and black wings framing her hair and just covering the top of her face. Below the mask was a pair of moist, ruby red lips that stoked the fires within Sean's soul.

"Gren, old pal," Sean whispered to himself. "I owe you big time for the invitation. Maya, my delicate flower, tonight we shall finally meet."

Sean sauntered through the crowd, pushing through the crowds of merrymakers with a determined gait. Finally he stood before her, a soft smile playing across his lips. He stared into her eyes, deep pools that he seemed to almost drown in. He summoned the courage to speak to her.

"Hello Sir Fox," her melodious voice drifted from between her lips before he could even open his mouth. "I do so hope that your are enjoying the festivities."

"I am enjoying them a thousand times more now that you at by my side, Beauteous Lady Butterfly."

"Beautiful words from such a sly animal."

"Beautiful words for a beautiful lady."

They stared into each other's eyes, Sean with look of passion and yearning while Maya's eyes conveyed a curious desire to know more about the young man dressed as a fox. Her lips turned up in a small smile while, behind his mask, Sean licked his own lips in nervous anticipation.

"Do I know you, Sly Fox?" She asked after what seemed an eternity.

"Alas, we have never truly met. I have only known you from afar and you have only seen my from behind a mask."

"Yo Fox!" A loud, obnoxious voice with a deep New York accent spoiled the moment. "What took ya so long? I was startin' ta think you;d never show up!"

Sean recognized the voice and turned to see a large man with a frightening, grizzly bear visage approach him. It was Gregorio, Gren to his friends, wearing the mask that the two friends had discussed earlier that day. Gren raised a hand in a mock salute to Sean and a friendly wave to Maya.

"Sir Bear," Maya's voice became stern as she addressed Gren. "This is a themed engagement and I would appreciate it if you would abide by that theme."

"Sure Maya, Sure."

"Sir Bear!"

"Fine," Gren sighed. "Lady Butterfly."

Sean laughed behind his mask, an amused chuckle that meant no disrespect. Maya and Gren had grown up together and, from what Gren had told him, the two were always at odds. The Fox was truly enjoying himself. Maya's parties were always well planned and well received. At least, that is what the newspapers always said. This was the first time that he had been able to attend, having begged Gren for an invitation after having seen Maya hanging out with Gren's sister. From what he could see, this party was going to be another hit. The music was traditional, performed by a live band dressed as royal bards. The food and drinks, arranged on a table set against the wall, was making his mouth water by smell alone.

The newspapers had said something more about Maya's parties. They were the kinds of places were anything could happen. From the mundane to the extraordinary - If anything was going to happen, it was going to happen at one of her parties. One night a spilled drink, one night a fight, one night you wouldn't be surprised to see a dead dog saunter in. And this night, it did. The dead dog, right there at the entryway. Sean turned to Maya, an amused expression on his lips.

"Do your parties always cater to the supernatural?"

Maya turned to him, an incredulous look in her eyes.

"Did you have something to do with this, Sir Fox?"

"Not I, Lady Butterfly. Not I."

The dead dog looked ral enough. Down to the last detail, including the large hole in its head that was oozing blood, the creature resembled a real live, though obviously dead, dog. Its tongue drooped from its mouth as it panted in the heat. Its tail wagged. It barked at the revelers and some spooked, jumping back from the odd apparition. However, there was something about the appearance of the creature that Sean found familiar, and Gren's laughter confirmed his suspicions.

"Lady Butterfly, I would suggest that you look toward the more boisterous of your guests to find the answers you seek." Sean stated in an effort to assuage Maya's confusion.

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The Cold Goodbye

It was a chill February night, the kind cold enough to freeze passions and break hearts into frost-bitten slurpees; the kind of slurpees that went flavourless and dry 5/6ths of the way through because the filler hadn't had the damned foresight to put in extra coke. The sky was a molasses, coagulated like sickly congealed oil accumulating on top of the peanut butter. Lady Luck's whiskey stained breath was in every forsaken inhale, bleak like the sorry threatre showing Star Wars Episode III four weeks after its premiere.

The lights were dim; they were deader than Elvis. Deader than Pauly Shore's career. Deader than the god damned cast at a bad showing of the musical RENT, and overall not on.

Not on this streetcorner. The only shred of buttered gloss highlighting this liquor painting was coming from the tattered excuse of a building that held a presence about as great as Adam Sandler's performance in Big Daddy.

They called the establishment The Rusty Bucket but the clientele knew it as a shithole. Cans rustier than store's namesake lined the shelves, to the tune of Paul Anka's staticky clamour overhead.

One night a spilled drink, one night a fight, one night you wouldn't be surprised to see a dead dog saunter in.

Matt stood near the counter like that dead dog, a package of the devil's finest in tow; if that hell lurker ever had a name it was Mr. Christie, and Matt wasn't one to resist this temptation.

They were Oreos alright. Shielded in two coins blacker in lies than a crooked politician, hiding the truth that lay underneath like a dormant pair of boxers. Nobody looked at the nutritional information. Nobody and his son.

The musky person behind him in line gave him snake eyes, daring him to make a wrong move with all 300something pounds of his fatty intent. Matt ushered himself to the counter quickly, before the Hulk decided to tango.

"Gonna have some fun with this bunch?" the clerk spat through British teeth, nodding towards the package.

"Oh yeah... Hell of a night, Ed." Matt flung a wad of cash hard on the counter, which Ed swiped faster than a gull that hadn't eaten in days.

Matt hadn't taken another twenty paces before he ripped that box of oreos clean open like a whore's shirt.
They were all there, and he made the first kill. The cookie crunched in his mouth like the bones of the unfortunate mob snitch after they found 'im.
They were good, but it left the kind of stale bite in the back of his neck no liquor would cure.

He ran into his house as quickly as a pantsless gigolo; the thirst was putting him into a stranglehold, a clutch as tight as a bittered garrote.

Matt needed a litre, real cold like, real smooth. Homogenized. The fridge was ten pulses away, and Matt resolved to make good on the favor he owed himself. He opened the fridge door with little suspense.

The carton. It was gone. Disappeared, like a defective david copperfield prop that refused to come back. Gone with the wind, like the memory of that straight to DVD sequel to Atlantis. Hell, for all Matt knew, the carton had been gone in 60 seconds.

Someone was responsible, Matt knew that. He went through his list like the Devil collecting on due loans; the first name was Jerry, and the suspicion flared like a senior's ring of fire. Jerry had snatched the occasional slice of cake and last piece of fried chicken. It was a start.

He rebuttoned his coat; there'd be no sleep until that carton was back in his clutch, and the bastard who took it be damned. He exited out into that desolate shade again, heavy footed like the unfortunate ping-pong player who had no semblance of hand-eye coordination.
The rain was starting to come down, like when the boiler blew and the shower suddenly went cold on you. It was plenty wet, but not wet enough to quell the flame of suspicion.

Jerry was where he'd been seen last; leaning against a brown brick wall like a midnight preacher.

"...shitty night, Jerry." Matt crooned, approaching like a fresh-awakened panther.

"What the hell do you want at this hour, Matt? I'm not inclined to head out back for a little preach. Piss off." The words came harder than the broadside of a Webster dictionary at full velocity.

Matt snickered with the kind of nonchalence that a snake-oil salesman usually pitched. "It's the kind of night that might make a man thirsty, Jerry, and I wouldn't put it past you." The tone was lead heavy, laced in accusation and bleeding intentions.

"You're making about as much sense as a Norwegian fishmonger speaking through buckteeth."

"I want my litre, Jerry. Moo-juice, the cold stuff." He paused like an actor on a medical drama, grunting through the grit of his teeth.

"Go home, or buy yourself another shitting litre." Jerry barked, in a kind of brilliant conclusion as only he could come to.

"Alright then Jerry, you know these parts well enough," Matt smoked. "You wouldn't happen to know the mug who took't?"

"Pigs'll grow ears on their ass before I tell you, Matt." His tone had an edge about as sharp as a spoon.

"...I seem to recall that one saturday involving the toilet paper. I think s-"

"Shut up!" Jerry interjected, infuriated at the debt he had incurred.

"So who took my litre, J?"

An awkward pause fell over the dialogue, silent as the audience in that one awkward scene in Titanic where Leonardo Di Caprio unforgivably exclaimed his king of the world line. They weren't in the right... and neither was Leonardo Di Caprio.

"...Todd." Jerry uttered at the approximate speed of a pregnant cow on snuff.

He had a name now. Matt walked into the shower again, drops pelting him harder than the tomatoes at the movie screen that time he'd seen Titanic.

So Jerry hadn't been the blood-stained bastard this time. There was another son-of-a-bitch out there who had his homogenized, and there'd be hell to pay when he found the chap. He had a bone to pick with Todd, the kind that required some really deep toothpick digging.

Ten minutes later took Matt to Todd's apartment door. He smashed the doorbell.

"...the hell is it?" barked a voice more inconsistent then a pre-pubescent squeeler.

"It's me."

The sounds of locks being undone came through the door, and in half a heartbeat, it was open. Matt didn't wait to be invited in; he strolled in brusquely, brushing past the dazed form that had opened the gates. At a moment's notice, Matt had made for Todd's toaster, freshly popped with a golden coated beauty in view.

Matt wasn't playing games; he swiped the waffle swift, not giving the opportunity for a heated outcry from Todd until the deed had been done.

"L'eggo of my Eggo, Matt."

"There are two ways this can go down, my friend. The easy way, and the slightly brutal method that involves the moderate desecration of your carb snack here."

The tension was thick enough to float a piano. Thick enough to slice a steak out of. Thicker than Paris Hilton's god damned cranium.

"You're making a mistake, Matt."

"I know what I'm doing, Todd. I don't want to hear no commentary."

"What do you want, whý're you here?" Todd demanded in quick succession.

"I think you know why, you son of a bitch. I want my litre, Todd."

"Alright, search me. I don't have it, you'll see." The smug grinned bastard pointed towards his fridge like a fool who fancied himself the tourguide to hell.

Relentless, Matt homed in on the unit, bursting the door open to the charm of that same hum.

He didn't see his litre... but he didn't care. The thirst demanded satisfaction. Matt snatched the closest carton labelled 'milk' in the vicinity, and brought it to his lips.

It went down smooth and cold, chug after chug, like a finely tuned semi-automatic.

And then it hit him.

Milk wasn't like a fine wine; it didn't taste better as time went on. The moo juice was like a kick in the gut, panging him in the liver and other organs he'd never been aware of until that moment. He was at the mercy of loaded gun.

Lady Luck had thrown him a curveball, and it had hit square where it counted.

"I told you you were making a mistake, Matt."

Matt had fallen to the ground, writhing in pain, clutching his stomach like a repentant restaurant critic.

With a smirk, Todd dropped the carton onto the ground like the truth, making a sound louder than the pieces coming together. The truth was hard, alright, harder than a unfriendly introduction to a steam locomotive at 100 miles an hour.

A month past expiry date. Todd had never been one to change the groceries plenty often.

It was just another night.
Oh man, I should have started this sooner. I didn't get anywhere near as close to finished as I wanted. Still, this is supposed to be a sort of short story deal, so maybe I typed too much? I never have been good at the whole short story thing, heh. I didn't get to use two of my planned scenes either.

Still, for all my work, it still pales by comparison to the competition. I mean, holy crap. Zal, this is the first time I've seen your work and I must say that I am highly impressed. That is just freakin' awesome.

And I think I've achieved what I wanted out of this for this round. I've learned some things about my own writing style, things I can improve on. That, and I've learned to never write about myself. Ever. I've got too much of an inflated ego for it, heh.

Righto, here's my entry.

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One Night

He got into his car, shut the door behind him quickly and then went into the ritual required to get the vehicle going. It was an old car, an '88 Honda Accord, as old as the young man trying to start it, with a maroon paint job that had been worn away on the roof. It had a few dents and scratches on it's exterior, the results of the young man's attempts at learning to drive, and the interior was cluttered with books and trash and a collection of mismatched junk. "Okay, let's see if I can get this on the first try," the young man said to himself. "The car's in park, pump the gas pedal once, foot on the brakes and then..." He turned the key in the ignition and after a few seconds of sputtering the engine roared to life. "Yeah! Thank you Sheila, there's a good car!" The car continued to race and the young man pumped the gas pedal again. The engine slowly grew quieter, but it still worked too hard for the simply task. "Ah well." The young man looked at the car's clock, which was nothing but black. "Come on..." he said as he tapped at it five times. The clock blinked four green numbers before going black again. "Eight o' clock, huh? Well, I'm not too late." The young man turned a knob and the shutters of the car flipped up, shooting twin rays of light into the dark.

He shifted the car into reverse, backed up into the street and took off. He rounded the corner ahead ten miles faster than he should have and he could feel the pull on his car as he shifted directions. The hundred or so pennies on his dashboard slid from right to left, making a cascade of noise and making a smile spread on the young man's face. Four minutes later, he was at his destination. The trailer was nothing special; it had all the looks of your standard white trash paradise, which it might as well be. There were three cars and two trucks jammed into the driveway and six other vehicles parked nearby. The '88 Accord slid into its standard spot next to a neighboring trailer, a place that used to be a nice patch of grass and weeds that had now been reduced to little more that mud. The young man parked and turned the car off. The vehicle's headlights, looking so much like eyes, shut down into the car itself, causing the proud owner to smile again. He looked back to the trailer and took in a deep breath. "Looks like a busy night tonight. Poor Mark." He chuckled and made his way up the walkway, a row of wooden planks sitting side by side. The young man marched up a few steps and stood outside the door a moment as he heard a shout from inside. He smiled hopelessly again and made his way inside.


"Dude, Grant's here? What's up?"

"You're late!"

"Just in time. We need a ruling on something so c'mon, get set-up and let's go!"

The young man shook his head and put a hand to his forehead as a smile too big for his face tried to form. "Maybe I should leave while it's still safe?" he mumbled to himself. After a moment, he banished the thought. "And miss out on all the fun?" He quickly took in the crowd of people in the house. Nathan, Josh, John, Jessie, Sarah and Tom, not a bad turnout. There was even someone there that Grant didn't know. "I thought Ricky was gonna be here?"

"Yeah," said Josh, one of the four people seated at the dining room table. "He went to Sheetz to grab some caffeine, said he'd be back soon."

"A shame," Grant whispered to himself. He cringed and cursed himself, but the thought remained. He really wished Ricky wasn't there. The guy used to be fun, but he really had no other standout qualities. He'd just gone a little crazy recently and he stopped being fun. Why hang out with him?

Grant banished the thought and moved over to the table. It was just then that he realized how bad off the house was. It was a mess, a pigsty, like a tornado had blown through and a band of hooligans had moved in. Well, the last one was true at any rate, he thought. The table had a collection of dirty dishes piled up on it with newspaper clippings and coupons garnishing the sides. A clear space had been cleaned off where various cards lie strewn about, Josh on one side and Nathan on the other. Grant made a look of disgust as he saw a half liter bottle of coke half-filled with a murky brown substance. "Man, don't leave your spitters on the table, what if someone drank it?" Nathan laughed and brought the bottle to his lips as he let more of the brown liquid dribble from his lips.

Two others sat at the table, Tom and his girlfriend Sarah. They were making a fuss over each other and Grant saw no reason to interrupt their make-out session. Besides, Grant didn't like looking at Sarah, much less talking to her. Tom was all right though. He just didn't see how Tom could do much of anything with the repulsive woman. Not that he would say anything about it, not with Tom's promise of engagement to her. And Tom's criminal background scared Grant a little bit. He knew he shouldn't be, but he was just the least bit intimidated by the street-smart man with a dead daughter and ghosts reminding him of what he'd done before.

Grant shivered a moment before turning to Nathan and Josh. Josh had lit up a cigarette by then and Grant did his best not to make a big deal out of it. "Oh shit," Josh said as he stood up and moved into the kitchen, waving his hand in the air to dispel the smoke as he did so. "Sorry man, I forgot, you're allergic."

He waved it off. "It's cool. I'll live."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, it's fine." Grant took a shallow breath and looked at the wide and jolly young man in front of him. "So what's this problem you're having?"

"Oh yeah, that's right!" Josh took a quick puff of his cigarette before going back to the table and pointing at the collection of cards. "Okay, I attacked with my guy here and Nathan blocked, right? So I threw a volcanic hammer at his guy and killed it. Would my guy hit him since there's no blocker there anymore?"

Grant shook his head. "No. The blocker was assigned. Okay, imagine this. You're a soldier and you're sent to kill this wizard. But another soldier gets in your way. You get ready to fight him when all of a sudden a big fireball drops out of the sky and kills the other soldier. Do you really think you'd be able to keep going and kill the wizard, or would you be distracted and confused? It's the same concept here."

"Which means you don't kill me and I get to take you out next turn. Oooo-right." Nathan adopted a smug smile and leaned back against his chair.

"Man..." Josh sat back. "Whatever, there's always next game. You wanna get in on this next one?"

"Yeah, sure, just let me see what else is going on. I see John's over there, how long's he been playing the 360?" Josh shrugged and Nathan played his finishing blow.

Grant moved off and towards the living area, where John, Jessie and the new guy were situated. John and the new guy were both intently watching the big screen T.V. as they each clutched a controller in their hands. "Still playing Samurai Warriors John? I figured you'd be done with it by now."

"Hey Grant. Nah, we've still got a few guys to beat the game with. Oh yeah, this is Steve."

"Yo," the new guy said, sparing only a slight look back and a wave of his hand. "Man, these pussies keep running away!" He scowled and tapped at the wireless controller furiously.

Grant smiled. "Good, you guys keep playing then. Get my gamerscore nice and high!" Again, as he looked around, he noticed the complete disarray that the house was in. A lamp was tipped over on its side; there was trash and more dirty dishes on the floor, not to mention more bottles and cans, Grant could hardly imagine what these guys could've done to make such a mess. Hadn't he just been there yesterday? It hadn't look anywhere near this bad then! Then again, it could have been the shear amount of people clustering up the place. That might be what was altering his perception.

He shrugged it off and walked back towards the table, nodding at Jessie as he passed. She made a slight nod of her head as well and that was that. Sometimes they talked but never for any great length of time and always in the presence of others. Jessie was John's fiancée. Grant was a friend to Mark and John was his friend, which really meant that they were friends by default. But Grant had trouble with making friends with females. It was no different with Jessie. Still, she was more fun to deal with than Sarah.

It was then that Grant noticed that both Tom and Sarah were gone. He briefly considered asking about it when Tom burst out of the bedroom of Mark's parents, clothed only in his boxers, ran back to his room and then rushed back to where he had come from originally, an item clutched in his teeth which Grant presumed was a condom. Or maybe not, the girl was pregnant already. Tom disappeared and the door slammed behind him, making Grant shudder as he briefly imagined what was going on back there. And in the bedroom of Mark's parents! That was gutsy, or insane! But as for the former gangster running half naked through the house, well, that was something that Grant and everyone else had gotten used to by now. One night a spilled drink, one night a fight, one night you wouldn't be surprised to watch a dead dog walk in. That's just how things were at Mark's place. With about twenty people coming and going at any given point in the day, you came to expect the unexpected, especially when John made the decision to bring home alcohol. Chances were though, that dead dog was going to get dragged in. Shadow was still out hunting after all.

Again Grant's brain managed to pick up on a forgotten factoid. The man of the house, Mark himself, was missing. All of these people were in his house, all of this chaos was going on, and Mark himself wasn't present to appreciate it. Well, that's got to change, Grant thought. "Mark's at Addie's I take it?"

"Yeah," Nathan said as he looked over his hand. "Sorry, we started without you." Grant feigned a glare and Nathan pretended innocence. "What? You were taking too long!" Grant laughed and started for the door. "Hold on," Nathan called after him. "He said he'd be back at about nine, so don't worry about it."

"Aw, c'mon, are you saying I can't have a little fun coming between him and his fiancée?" Grant almost chuckled as a thought came and went. There were too many people getting married in this house.

He turned and headed towards the door, but stopped when he heard a curious sound. There was a long and held sound something between a yell and laughter sounding something like, "Aaaaaaahahahahahaaah!" Grant knew that sound.

A tall guy Grant's age burst through the door, his mouth positioned in a wide grin like a slice of watermelon, his eyes wild and his too long hair just as bad, and he stopped directly in front of Grant. His strange yell laugh slowly tapered off as he patted Grant's shoulder and he smiled. Ricky looked like he was supposed to. A little crazy, but happy. "Dude! Grant, what's up!"

"Nothin' much, how're you doing Ricky?"

"Awww, dude," He exclaimed in an exaggerated voice, "I'm doing great! Just got back, I got a couple of Jolts with me, I'm set for the night!" He moved past Grant and to the table next to Nathan and Josh. "Hey, do we got any rum?" Grant hoped not. Ricky was an asshole when he drank. Then again, he was also an asshole when he was with his girlfriend Britt, and now that they were an item again Ricky tended to vacillate between depression and anger. Not a lot of fun to be around.

Grant was briefly reminded of his promise to himself, of his Three Great Truths as he was calling it. And yet he couldn't go through with his promise. He needed to tell Ricky what needed to be told, but he couldn't do it. Not alone. And as much as he wanted Mark's assistance, Mark was fully intent on taking care of the problem himself. But it still hurt to see Ricky hurt by that woman. It was easy to say that he only used his friends for entertainment but when the shit hit the fan he did something. Or at least he tried. That was something he was pretty proud of too. But not this time. The first Great Truth would have to wait just a bit longer.

"Nah," John said from the living room. "We ran out of just about everything last night." Grant breathed a sigh of relief.

"Damn. Ah well. Oh, and Grant?" He turned and looked at him questioningly. "I brought some friends."

Grant felt a presence behind him just as a pair of hands came under his arms and grabbed his chest. He lunged forward, out of the grasp, and turned back, shouting indignantly, "Woah, what the hell! Yeah, my personal space bubble? Invaded!"

"Silly Grant, you don't get 'personal space' when we're here." Grant groaned and stepped closer to the table, away from the two newcomers.

Ricky laughed. "I brought the Knockers."

"Yeah, that's great," Grant mumbled, "but dude, why? Seriously, what's so interesting about my moobs? C'mon! It's just... creepy." He promised himself then and there that he wouldn't laugh the next time a girl got groped from behind in an anime. But he had a bad habit of lying to himself. Besides, since when did guys grope other guys?

Josh, first of the brothers and the guilty party, pushed his way through to the table as he laughed casually and ignored his question. Always exuberant Josh, or Sheepy when around the other Josh, so as to prevent confusion, quickly squeezed his way into the Magic game. The second brother was slower into the door. Grant had always thought that Daniel seemed to be behind everyone most of the time, staying in the back and away from things. He was a dark haired, cynical and depressed youth, but he integrated himself in as well, if a bit slower.

Seeing Daniel was bad for Grant. Or at least, that was how he interpreted the feelings he was receiving, negative thoughts and emotions, because Daniel reminded him of Belinda, due to the strange and intimate relationship the two had once shared. Grant shivered a moment as he considered that mess that was his only close female relationship beyond kinship. She was his first real female friend and he'd let things go in a way they shouldn't have, especially considered all of her problems. He hated to think of it, any of it, it just disgusted and horrified him to the core of his being, not only what had happened to her, but what he had wanted to happen. And there lie the second of the Three Great Truths. He knew, he needed to tell her what he'd been holding back. Grant knew he had to sever the bonds for him to be happy. But could he do that to her? Again he cursed his guilt and his emotions from preventing him from making the healthy choice. The second truth would have to wait as well.

As Daniel moved to close the door behind him, a black cat sauntered in through the opening. He slowly and purposefully moved towards the living room. Daniel shut the door behind him just as an excited voice cried, "Shadow!" Grant moved to see what the fuss was about to find that Jessie was holding the black cat in her arms. "Look at you, what did you get in a fight with now?"

"A bear," Grant joked.

"He probably won too," laughed John. Jessie placed the cat down as she moved to the bathroom.

Shadow sat there, with one cheek cut open and a pair of gashes on his leg, calm and waiting. Grant shook his head, amazed. "That's the freakin' Lu Bu of Cats." Shadow yawned as Jessie returned, bearing a bottle of peroxide and a box of q-tips, and began patting at one of the cat's new wounds. The animal waited through it stoically, further urging Grant to shake his head in disbelief.

Shortly after his return to the living room, Grant noticed something entirely out of place. "What the hell is that doing here?" He pointed at a bottle of Pepsi by Steve's chair. Next to it was a bottle of Coke, half filled with the murky brown liquid produced by the tobacco chewers in the house.

Steve looked up, questioningly. "What's his problem?"

John shook his head. "He's a, uh, Coke fan. He doesn't like Pepsi."

Steve seemed about to say something as Grant held up a hand and sighed, a look of resignation on his face. "No, it's nothing. I should be used to it by now." He shrugged and opened an eye to look at the new guy. "I guess there's just no accounting for some people's taste."

Steve laughed. "Shit, man, don't go screwin' around like that!" He turned away and back towards the TV, smiling and shaking his head, muttering curses. Grant nodded in satisfaction, Steve was all right.

He stepped back and melded in with the crowd at the table, keeping an eye on the players as two warriors fought their way through an endless swarm of soldiers on the screen. "Oh, by the way," John called over his shoulder, now deeply immersed into the game, "are we playing DnD tonight?"

"Maybe," Grant replied indifferently.

"Cool, you should set Steven up with a character then." John looked over to his partner and nodded. "You're cool with that, right?"

"Hell yeah," was Steve's response. "Set me up with that shit."

Grant chuckled and shrugged again, feigning apathy. "Yeah, I guess. Nothing to it then. Gimme a sec though." It was a good night. He was feeling pretty well off, and looking at John, he couldn't help but remember that third and most exciting of promises to himself, of reminding him of John's stepsister Cassie and what she represented. Not just the relationship with her, but with the honesty he was prepared to embrace in any relationship. Grant felt more calm and content than he had for a long time these past few days. But still, none of the truths would come, not even this most pleasant of the three. What was holding him back? Still he argued with himself as he tried to discover the answer, yet it just wouldn't come. There was always that apprehension that gnawed at his very being.

He sighed and cast another look at the two playing the 360 and watched as Steve brought a .5 liter bottle of Coke to his face. He took a swig before lurching forward suddenly, capping the bottle, and rushing to the bathroom. As John and Jessie snickered and giggled, Grant took note of the bottle left on Steve's chair, the bottle now only a quarter full of murky brown sludge. "I said something like this would happen."

There was a clamor from outside again and Grant rushed to the table to get a look at the front door. In through the door burst Mark, his eyes light and his smile wide, saying in exaggerated tones, "What's going on everybody!" The house burst in laughter and greeting and Grant found himself swept along in the tide of it all. The night was young, just 8:20, and there was so much fun to be had. These were the kind of nights made for people like them, just a night of fun with no worries about the consequences or of what might happen tomorrow. It was the kind of night where you threw caution away and almost anything could happen. It was another seven or so hours till dawn as Mark shut the door and Shadow slipped through at the last second. Who knew? There might still be time for that dog to show up.

I'll try to remember that these are supposed to be short stories in the future. My apologies!

Seeing as we've all made our first week's entry, let's move on to the next subject. I believe I had the next topic choice? I'm not really good at this sort of thing but I'll give it a shot.

Construct a writing that develops a character and leads the audience in a certain direction. Then, bring about an unexpected result. Plot twist practice, in other words.

The deadline is 3/11. I added a day since I'm kind of getting a head start with the topic. Let's get some feedback on these last few posts going if we can as well, if we can squeeze it in between writing of course! As for me, well, feeling kind of beat. I'll double check both of your works tomorrow and hopefully offer a better critique.
You know, I believe that we have made a grave mistake. You see, this topic contains no useless, mind-numbing spam. As such, we shall receive few actual comments with close to nil being constructive in any way. Woe unto us.
Heh, no kidding. It is strange that there's such a lack of spammage. I mean, this is the spam can. Nonetheless, I'll do what I can for critiqueing.

Zan, awesome description as usual. That's the kind of stuff I've got to struggle with to get even near that level of detail. It ended a bit too abruptly for my tastes, but that was a fault of time rather than anything else. An interesting little read.

Zal... just wow. That is some incredibly impressive work. Incredibly funny and witty, I'd say you've got the both of us beat for round one. I imagine it's very difficult to keep writing like that for any extended period of time, though. On the other hand, it's perfect for the short story approach, and as that is what we're supposed to be doing it works and it works well. The sentence we needed to incorporate in came as a little awkward in your passage, but that's really the only fault I can find. Fantastic.

And my own work... Sigh, not enough focus. There was no theme to it, no goal I was heading towards. Also, it tried introducing so many characters that you really only got a good feel for a couple of them. Of course, it was a short story so that's generally expected but I still feel that I could have slimmed it down a bit and given it better focus.

That's all I've got for now.
Done. I have lots of time to spare, I know, but I doubt I'll have much time over the next couple of days due to work. So...Here it is. I hope the twist is enough. Tom, you may recognize some of this as it is an except from a story that I have been tinkering with for some time. This is the newest version of the beginning that I finished last night. This story is one set in the world of that other RP I frequent. Basic sword versus sorcery with a slight twist...Like Berserk meets Wheel of Time meets Something about magic swords...Yeah. Enjoy.

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A lone hawk circled the vast wasteland of the Arunta Desert. Arunta, the largest desert in all of Schat located in the heart of Austral, was a place of searing heat and blazing sands. Frequent storms raged through the dunes and only the most capable of beings could survive the harsh climate. Desert scrub and cacti serve as the only plant life and the fierce Komas Dragons, giant carnivorous lizards, are the top of the food chain. The only signs of civilization are small tribal villages that have sprung up around the few oasis that dot the desert and the city of Depansir. Arunta: A terrible region where only the strong survive.

The hawk flew on in search of prey as a lone rider crested a dune to gaze across the huge expanse of desert. The rider wore a gray outfit that served to protect his body from the fierce rays of the sun and to camouflage him from prying eyes. His shirt was sleeveless, though he wore bandages to cover his arms and hands. His pants were loose and flowing in the legs, but cinched tightly at the waste with a leather belt. A long, flowing grey cloak covered him and its hood protected his head from the sun. A mask of cloth saved his face the stinging sand and a unique set of goggles protected his piercing blue eyes. A lock of grey/brown hair fell in front of his eyes, but he brushed it aside.

He rode atop a Kumai, a large wolf creature of unusual intelligence. Kumais can adapt to most climates and they served as mounts in places unsuitable for horses. This Kumai was ten feet long and its rider sat a good five feet off the ground. It was heavily muscled and those muscles rippled under its blue and black fur. It's tongue rolled from its mouth in a lazy smile as it sniffed the air. Immediately the smile changed into a scowl and a low growl escaped from between razor teeth. It's piercing blue eyes, so similar to its master's, turned to the north.

The rider felt his mount go stiff and patted it reassuringly. He smelled the smoke as well, could see it rising from the desert sands a few miles to the north. He grimaced as he weighed his options. He would have to investigate. Despite the dangers, he had no choice.

"Easy now, Ahtreide. I know...But we have no choice." He echoed his thoughts to his mount and urged the Kumai forward.

The raging sun glared down upon him, evaporating sweat as quickly as it formed. Its light reflected off the white sands, a blinding radiance that forced him to shield his eyes despite his goggles. He dropped the reins and guided Ahtreide with his legs, his free hand dropping to the water skin tied to the saddle. He tested the weight of the skin. There was about two days left of water in the skin and he had at least three days worth of travel to reach Depansir. Life was going to get rough, but maybe the smoke on the horizon offered a solution.

"Hmm..." He spoke aloud as much to himself as to Ahtreide. It was a habit that he had picked up from wandering for so long. "If we travel faster we'll tire and use up more water, but if we slow our pace to conserve our energy, we won't be able to get there before the caravans leave." He laughed to himself and patted Ahtreide once more. "Damned if we do and damned if we don't. The story of our lives, eh friend?" The Kumai barked in seeming agreement and continued toward the smoke.

It took them over an hour to reach their destination, the loose sand and murderous heat preventing a faster pace. Before them was the half buried remains of a caravan wagon. The top half of the wagon was charred and blackened and several arrows were embedded in the wood. A forgotten spear pinned the driver of the wagon to his seat and spilled his guts onto the bloody sand. He had died a slow, painful death and the corpse was only a few hours old.

"Huh..." The wanderer dismounted and examined the body. "This couldn't have happened to long ago. The body isn't stiff and it lacks the marks of scavengers. But," He stared at the sunken state of the wagon, half covered in sand. "How could the winds have buried it in such a short time. I've seen no storms." Something about the driver's pallid face caught his eye. "He looks familiar..."

He circled the wagon, searching for clues and examining the remains of the wagon that were still intact. A logo painted on the side of the wagon caught his eye and brought up a memory from the week before that confirmed his suspicions.

"The merchant that I met heading into the desert. So this was their fate? Dead and rotting in this cursed desert with not even a friend to bury them. Poor bastards." He looked around some more, but didn't see anything of interest. "Damn, I should have bought that water when I had the chance."

The wanderer's hand moved unconsciously to the sapphire pendant he wore around his neck. It was the only thing he had left from his mother, a memento that he would never sell no matter how much he needed the money. The merchant was a fool to even ask for the necklace in exchange for the water.

"Well, there is little of value here, but maybe the bandits who slaughtered these merchants are not far off."

Seeming to understand his words, Ahtreide lifted his nose to the air to try and catch the bandit's scent. The wanderer followed suit by casting about the scene of the battle. He searched about and soon found a set of five footprints leading away from the wagon. They were deep and smeared. The bandits were obviously heavily laden and having a hard time trudging through the sand. They couldn't be far off and they made little attempt to hide their trail. They either felt that no one would find the wagon or that no one would care enough to follow.

"Wrong on both accounts." The wanderer stated grimly.

He mounted and rode swiftly, Ahtreide moving in a sloping run that ate up the distance between the hunter and his prey. An hour passed and the wanderer urged Ahtreide to stop. They were close and he didn't want to alert the bandits to his approach. The Kumai was eager to catch their prey, but he understood his master's wishes. He panted softly and followed slowly up a large dune. The sun was setting before them, casting their shadows back the way they came, but the wanderer fell to his belly just in case. Before him, two hundred feet away, were the bandits.

There were five in all, sitting in a circle around a small fire. Three seemed to be busy preparing a meal while the other two were sifting through a large sack. Two other sacks lay near the edge of the small camp. The wanderer smiled at how easy this would be.

"Those sacks must be the goods they stole from the merchant...I hope there is some water." He whispered to Ahtreide. He was about to rise when a low moan sounded from one of the two sacks near the edge of camp. "What the hell? Are some of the merchants still alive?" The next moan was decidedly feminine. "A woman?"

"Shut up ye whores!" Snarled one of the bandits. "Or we might just forget what that mage said about Endiro and have a bit a fun right now!"

"Endiro?" The wanderer had heard the name. It was a thieves den located at the edge of the desert. It also served as a compound for slavers. "So...These bandits have a second profession? That makes this all the sweeter."

"I say we do 'em no matter what the damn mage says." Another bandit shouted. "Them be real sweet and right pretty,"

A chorus of agreement told the wanderer that his time was now. It would be better to stop this before it could really start. He didn't want any needless bloodshed after all. He stood up and removed his goggles and mask. Placing them in his pack, he removed the saddle from Ahtriede's back, the Kumai fought better unhampered, and removed a long, cloth wrapped sword from the side of the saddle. Strapping the sword across his back, he stalked purposely toward the slavers while Ahtreide shifted through the growing shadows to flank the camp.

The slavers saw the wanderer long before he arrived, as intended, and had swords drawn. They moved into a semi-circle around him while he simply smiled. Off his mount and around other people, the wanderer's sheer size became very obvious. He stood at a good seven feet tall and he had to weight close to three hundred pounds. Years of training and surviving in the harsh desert had caused him to become incredibly muscular with a impressive, toned physique. He stared down at the bandits, piercing blue eyes promising death, and let a cocky smirk play across his face.

If the bandits were unnerved, they didn't show it. They had numbers on their side after all. The man directly infront of the wanderer spoke up.

"Who the hell are ye? What's a giant lout like yerslef doin' here? State yer business or pray to yer gods cause you'll be meetin' 'em soon."

"Heh..." The wanderer smiled at the man's show of bravado. "The name is Gawayn and I believe that you have something that I want."

"Eh?" A second bandit spoke up. "Ye mean them whores? Ye weren't with the wagon..."

"Hush!" Yelled the first thief.

"Two women?" Gawayn's mind raced. "The merchant must be dead as well, but then who is the other girl?"

"What?" sneered a thief during Gawayn's silence. "Cat got yer tongue? Scared of our numbers?"

"Nah," countered another. "The big oaf's brain prolly just shut down."

Gawayn merely chuckled as he drew the sword from the sheath across his back. The cloth wrappings fell away to reveal a blade six feet long and five inches wide. It was a single-edged straight blade that tapered to a point at the end. The length of the blade was covered in strange runes that were filled with powdered rubies. The hilt was long enough to be held with two hands  and wrapped with black leather. A large ruby sat in the pommel of the hilt to serve as a counter-balance, even though the blade was enchanted to make it easier to wield.

"What the hell is that?" one thief said incredulously.

"Ha, the fool prolly can't even swing that monster."

Gawayn silenced the thief with a devestating spinning backhand that cleaved the fool in twain. Blood sprayed like a geyser as the body fell, first one half and then the other. The remaining four bandits stared in shock and Gawayn used the opportunity to dispatch another foe with a quick thrust to the neck.

They recovered soon enough after that and attacked the wanderer all at once. Gawayn dived forward to avoid their strikes and rolled to his feet, whipping around to catch a blade against his sword, the parry strong enough to rip the thief's sword from his hand. Gawayn kicked the thief in the throat and delivered a downward slash that removed another thief's sword arm. The last standing bandit rushed the wanderer, but Gawayn thrust his sword forward and impaled the bandit. Gawayn turned to face the remaining bandit who was struggling to breathe. The bandit feebly tried to raise his sword in defense, but Gawayn's strike smashed through the bandit's guard and sheared through his neck. The one-armed bandit was already dead in the sand, blood pumping from his stump.

Gawayn wiped the blood from his sword and sheathed it. Drawing a small dagger from his belt, he turned toward the bound women and began slicing their bonds. A small rock smashed into his shoulder, jarring the knife, and he turned to see a robed figure walking toward him, leaving no prints in the sand.

"You made a mistake in coming here stranger..." The robed man's voice was deep and sinister. "You compounded upon that by slaying my men and now you are freeing my slaves? You shall pay for these slights with your life. Know that I am Zarlyle, master of the very earth around you, and I shall be your executioner."

Gawayn now knew how the wagon had sunk so far into the sand. This man in robes the color of the sands was a sorcerer of some sort. Gawayn cocked his arm back and muttered through clinched teeth, "Been a while since I've killed a mage."

"Hahaha!" Zarlyle spat contemptuously. "Do you honestly believe that you stand a chance against me? Fool!"

"I don't just stand a chance...I'll kill you!" Gawayn punctuated his words by launching his dagger at Zarlyle, but the mage merely laughed. A stone rose from the sand and smashed against the flying dagger, knocking the blade out of the air. Zarlyle smirked as Gawayn drew his sword once more.

"You know not who you are dealing with..." Zarlyle raised his arm and a quick chant caused the earth to erupt around Gawayn.

The wanderer was tossed into the air as the ground beneath him heaved upward and he landed hard on his back. He struggled to stand, but the shifting sands offered no purchase.

"Prepare to drown in the endless sea of sand," Zarlyle shouted fervently. "The vengeful earth shall swallow you whole!"

"Damn! I've got to move..." Gathering his strength, Gawayn forced his legs under him and leaped forward just as a sink hole opened behind him.

His jump carried him away from the cavernous maw of sinking sand and he rolled to his feet out of range of the centralized quake. He lifted his sword and rushed Zarlyle before the mage could cast again. The nimble mage ducked under Gawayn's first strike and hurled a ball of sand at Gawayn's chest. The ball exploded on impact and the force sent the wanderer flying back ten feet. Zarlyle focused on the gigantic sword, the huge sword laying close to where the wanderer fell. The mage shook the earth once more and the eart rose up to swallow the sword until only the hilt was apon the sand.

Gawayn pushed himself to his feet and saw his sword trapped in the earth. He grimace and drew his second dagger. He rushed at the mage again, but he was confronted with ten glowing boulders of sand that levitated in the air. One flew toward him and Gawayn ducked under it, but the stone projectile exploded as it passed him. Rock shrapnel ripped into his shoulders and back, the force knocking him face first into the sand.

"Mines..." He muttered as he spit sand from his mouth. He had to lunge quickly to dodge another boulder.

The mines had Gawayn on the defense, but Ahtreide was still lurking around somewhere. He whistled to the hidden Kumai, signaling it to attack the mage and buy the wanderer some time. The Kumai growled menacingly and leaped over a sand dune to face the stunned mage. Ahtreide snapped at Zarlyle's legs, but the mage was the quicker and a pillar of sand blasted the Kumai into the air. The mage barked another quick chant and the pillar turned into a first that grasped the Kumai, slowly crushing it.

Gawayn, lunging away from another mine, heard Ahtreide whelp in protest and he turned to see the trapped Kumai.He growled and leapt to his feet, winding a path through the floating mines toward the mage. Shrapnel cut the air, slicing Gawayn's body so that blood poured from too many wounds to count. He feared that he would fall soon if the punishment continued. A tremor knocked him from his feet and sand covered his wounds. Pain flared and he didn't want to get back up, but Zarlyle's scornful laughter and Ahtreide's pained whelps cut deeper than any wound. He forced himself to stagger to his feet, tighten his grip on his dagger and run on.

"Give up fool...You'll never defeat me." the mage raised his arms once more and two more stones rose from the earth to hurl themselves at Gawayn.

'He must be weakening..." Gawayn's mind raced to come up with some sort of strategy. "He's cast twenty spells in less than ten minutes. There is no way he could have that much strength left...I have to strike now." Gawayn dashed forward, summoning all of his strength, and leaped over the speeding stones to stab his dagger into Zarlyle's chest.

The levitating mines crumbled to sand and Ahtreide was free from the fist that held him. The injured Kumai limped away to lick Gawayn's hand. The wanderer petted his friend's side and turned to watch the Zarlyle's demise.

The mage stumbled and fell back. Blood trickled from his mouth as he glared at Gawayn. The blood spewed forth in a mist as he started laughing. Gawayn struggled back to his feet and stared, dumbfounded, as Zarlyle stood up and pulled the dagger, its blade stained crimson with blood, from his chest and tossed it to the ground.

"How? You can't possibly still be..." Gawayn was too stunned to speak.

"I told you that you couldn't possibly defeat me. My master has fortified me with powers beyond those of mere mortals. Now die for your impudence for I am the master of the earth and all who challenge me shall die!" As the words left his mouth, Zarlyle's body began to change.

Gawayn could believe his eyes as the mage's skin began to harden and turn gray. The mage grew until he stood ten feet tall and five feet wide, with massive muscles and hammer-like fists. The mage's skin became stone and his eyes changed to ruby slits.

"Ha ha ha ha..." Rumbled a voice like an avalanche. "I may have wasted all of my mana in toying with you, but I don't need my spells when I have the gifts of my master." A huge stone hand swung down and smashed Gawayn in the chest, sending him flying backwards.

The wanderer struggled to rise, a broken rib grating in his chest. He pushed himself to his feet and went for his sword. He tried in vain to free the blade, but he was exhausted and to weak to draw it forth from the sand. He looked up to see the golem that was once Zarlyle lumbering toward him. He pulled harder, but the sword was stuck fast. He saw Zarlyle swing another massive arm toward him and grabbed the hilt with all his strength. The stone fist slammed him into the air, his sword pulling free with the strength of the blow.

Gawayn flew back another ten feet and landed hard on the sand. Pain flared all over and it was a supreme effort to rise and lift his sword. He slashed down with the last of his strength, the blade connecting with Zarlyle's stone arm and not even leaving a scratch.

"Fool! You don't know when to lie down and die. Don't worry though...I'll beat some sense into you and when I'm done...Those girls will still be slaves. You'll be dead and none of this will matter. Your whole life won't matter. I'll take that sword of your and use it to impale that damned dog and then I'll melt it down to scrap metal."

A low growl erupted from Ahtreide and the Kumai launched itself at Zarlyle, latching onto the mage's stone arm. Zarlyle laughed and shook Ahtreide free with a quick jerk. The Kumai flew away and crashed into the sand.

Anger sparked in Gawayn and that anger grew from an ember to an inferno as he listened to Zarlyle's ridicule. He would not be beaten! Zarlyle would not win! Those girls wouldn't be enslaved! He would save Ahtreide! This bastard mage would not see the light of another day! Gawayn took all of the flames of his anger and made them into one all consuming inferno. He stared into the fire and became one with it. The pain was burned away, the fatigue was consumed, and all emotion was ash. There was only the flame and Gawayn, Gawayn and the flame, two sides of the same coin. A void encased him, protected him from what was outside. He could sense that the pain was still there, outside the void and so were the fatigue and the rest of the world. In the void, however, were strength and power. In the void was Gawayn...

"What? Did the fool die standing?"

Zarlyle's voice rang sharply in Gawayn's ears. He could hear it clearly, clearer than ever before. All of his senses were sharper and he could feel the increased strength surging through his body.

"Don't worry mortal...Death will come swiftly."

Gawayn could sense the huge fist swinging toward his head and instinct took over. He ducked under the granite hand and lunged upward, one hand held out to flip over the ten foot golem. He landed on his feet and spun around, swinging his sword. The blade flashed, slicing a clean line across Zarlyle's back and blood like magma flowed freely from the wound.

Zarlyle turned, pure hate marring his face, and growled. "I don't know how you did that, but I'm through playing. You die now!" He swung a backhand slap at Gawayn, but the wanderer countered with a quick parry that sliced off the fingers of Zarlyle's hand.

Gawayn heard the anguished bellow from within the void and allowed himself a grim smile. He stared deep into Zarlyle's eyes and growled as he leaped forward. The wanderer swung his massive sword with all his might, cleaving the stone giant from neck to crotch. The upper half of Zarlyle's body fell to the sand, somehow still able to speak.

"No...Damn you. I will not die! My master will save me...My mast..." A surge of thick blood gushed from his mouth. "No, I have been forsaken. Though I may die, I will take you with me!"

A thin flow of mana erupted from Zarlyle's mouth and entered Gawayn. The wanderer felt a fist constrict his heart and his body convulsed. The poison flared through his body and the void shattered. The pain and fatigue returned along with the burning of the poison as it slowly shut down his body. He was dying and he knew it. He dropped to his knees and coughed up a spray of blood. Darkness clouded his vision and he fell with his face in the sand. The last thing he saw was Zarlyle's stone form crumbling into nothing more than a pile of sand.
Just announcing that I won't be able to make the deadline for this round; I've hit a snag as far as computer accessibility goes, and will be stuck in this rut for little under a week. So nyagh I suppose. o.<