Before I post mine, huge kudos to Matra's. Really enjoyed it, and some lovely word-pictures and narrative details there. Also, that in just 30 minutes? Dang! Very impressed. Reads like a solid app for a contest--I'd vote for Darius.
I followed a similar set-up with the timer, though definitely not as fast as Matra, and I did go back and spend a few hours overhauling the whole thing. The timing definitely works well for just slapping stuff down on the page, so definitely recommend that for any future takers.
Result isn't fantastic, but these writing games are meant to be messier, methinks. Something to just have fun on!
-- Evergreen --
The dead, autumn leaves scattered up and out as the pine cone skittered through, coming to a halt near the trunk of the great walnut tree.
“You missed. Raise your arm up more.”
Eli frowned, readying himself for the next—
A blur of motion to his right. He slashed out an intercepting paw and caught a pawful of air. He staggered forward, tail flicking sharply to regain his balance. For a moment, it seemed to work, then he saw the ground fast approaching. He had time to squeeze his eyes shut and yelp before the telltale…
“You missed. You’re looking at your own paw too much.”
Eli shoved himself up on tired arms, hissing air out his clenched teeth. He shook dried leaves from his fur, then spat until his saliva was spent. Even then, it felt like dirt and grit caked the inside of his teeth.
He thought once more to his small study, where a rose-colored, velvet chair awaited him. A small fire was the only thing crackling there, and the outdoors was just a mythic setpiece found in tall tales where heroes were in search of conquest.
“Well, you’ve proved your point, Beatrice,” Eli said, attempting to fix the travesty that had become his shirt’s collar. Not even outdoor
wear should get this filthy. “Shall we retreat to the dinner hall for supper? I fear it’s getting dark.”
Across from him, perched atop a small mound of dirt like some proud queen of the rubbish, Beatrice craned her neck up. She stared for a moment, then looked back to him. Birds were always hard to read – those beaks and beady eyes and all – but Eli was certain that the glint in her eye had some relation to scorn, or its distant cousin, mockery. Two Houses and a wandering woman away from the family of treason.
“What?” he ordered.
“Elliot,” Beatrice said with a click of her beak, “that’s a cloud.”
Eli sputtered for words until he settled on, “It’s still dark.”
Beatrice did her bird-version of a sigh. “Really, at your age, I would expect some
show of competency.”
Eli’s hackles rose, and he jabbed a finger towards her. “Now listen here, you blithering, flighty harridan! I only agreed to this because I had no choice in the matter!”
It didn’t matter that he was the youngest to ever inherit Gersaille’s throne. Fine, strapping cats like him should be basking in the joys that took place inside banquet halls and ballrooms, not gallivanting in dirt and leaves and nature
“And you’ll do more than catch a pine cone if you hope to retain any of your family’s good name. The troops need to know they have a capable leader looking after their wives and little ones.”
Eli groaned, pinching at the bridge of his snout. “Why is Father’s war any of my business? He’s dead now.”
“A substantial victory for the enemy,” Beatrice muttered. “It’s your
business because it’s your
people that Czar Vikenti happens to hate.” When he continued to stare at her, she added, “That includes you.” She reached over with a talon to the pile of pine cones next to her, tall enough to reach halfway up her wing. “Now, shall I continue?”
Eli huffed, puffed, and kicked a twig that deserved it. It was a wonder he hadn’t had her banished already. An extreme reaction, to be sure, but her attitude to him had only been extreme since his induction. It would never work, though—the guards loved her, the priests loved her, the maids and chefs and that boy who brought him his tea loved her. For them, he supposed, he could take the affront to his pride.
He stopped pacing. Then he smiled. A bold, delightful, inspired idea popped into his mind, the sort of headstrong thing that now came with being regent. He turned to face her, swept his tail up to the side, the plopped down. Legs crossed and his palms resting easy in his lap, Eli looked the picture of serene defiance.
Beatrice clicked her beak, and Eli produced a jaunty smile for his efforts.
“I need a break,” he said, “and I’ll be taking one now, so if you’d be so kind as to cease your efforts and fetch me a pitcher of—”
A splintering crack against his head, and the smile was gone. He fell backwards, the world all sorts of blurred and dazed and throbbing right on his forehead. He blinked once, then twice, then slowly realized that he was sprawled out against the ground. A shattered pine cone lay beside him.
Eli leapt up, one paw rubbing at his smarting forehead, the other weaving itself up around his neck to pat the dirt from his back.
“Y-y-you did that on purpose!
” he growled, fur hackling up around his scruff. Dirt sifted further down from the motion, castrating his growl into gurgling as he scratched at the back of his neck.
Beatrice remained still, that glint in her eye again. It had meandered from the ballroom of mockery straight to the slum pit of mirth
“I haven’t the faintest what you’re going on about,” Beatrice said, examining her talons with sudden, intense interest. “Perhaps something fell from the tree. You really must be on your toes, Elliot. Anything can happen to anyone out here.”
“Don’t treat me like a fool.” With a measure of effort, Eli ignored the dirty mess that had become his back and snatched the shattered pine cone from the ground before trudging up to Beatrice. “Do you expect me to believe this
fell from a… a…” He gestured back to the tree behind him, laden with nuts. “A that
“Walnut,” Beatrice corrected, “and no, I don’t. But if you can’t prove anything, I suggest we return to our session.”
If his many days and nights socializing in grand halls and shaded studies had granted him any expertise, it was in spotting a hoax. Not even a bird’s natural affinity for neutral expression could mask Beatrice’s tone—that poorly hidden chirp of humor.
“You catch one, and we’ll go inside,” Beatrice said.
Eli’s ears perked up, then flicked at the feel of dirt sieved through his fur. He considered remaining on the subject of the shattered pine cone – and the welt now festering upon his forehead – but the thought of a hot, freshly-drawn bath gave him pause. He pictured the steam rising, smelled the minted soaps, felt his fur sleek and clean. Afterwards, he would sit in his study, in his velvet chair, and a servant would appear—a piping-hot cup of Darjeeling for his reading, and a bumper with Chaveaux’s finest brew for his troubles.
Eli breathed in deeply, then hardened his gaze upon Beatrice. All it took to make that vision come true was a single pine cone in-paw.
Dropping the shattered pine cone that had affronted his face, Eli retreated back to his spot and readied himself for Beatrice’s move. He even did his best imitation of the stance she had tried to teach him.
She nodded towards him, then raised a leg towards the pile. Her talons just brushing the topmost pine cone, she waited.
Eli stared hard at her, fingers flexing back and forth. A cloud above shifted out from under the sun. He winced at the light, then at the sweat dripping down. Then she moved.
In a smear of movement that belied the bird’s ungainly stance, Beatrice’s leg outstretched and brown blur shot forward. Eli tensed, then felt the pine cone strike him square in the chest. He coughed in surprise, then watched as the pine cone bounced backwards. He scrambled for it, one paw lashing out and striking it, sending it off to his left. He leapt and swung with his other paw, hitting it but not quite grasping it. He watched in horror as the pine cone flipped several times in the air, then began its descent towards the ground. It was simply too far for him to reach.
He apologized to his future self, and to the clean water in that wonderful bath, then leapt forward, springing powerfully off his heels. He sailed past the pine cone, gripping it with both paws just before it touched the ground. He had time to smile ecstatically before he crashed into the ground.
Eli rolled several feet before coming to a stop, a pine cone clutched firmly in his paws, and a mouth full of dirt. Something built in the back of his throat, some crepitating mix between a scream of horror and a cry of delight.
“I got one!” he shouted, pulling himself upright and holding the pine cone aloft. Then he gagged, spitting furiously to his side.
Beatrice chirped happily and stepped up to him, offering a talon. “Well done, Elliot. You showed fair balance and response time.”
Eli accepted the talon, feeling slightly woozy as he was pulled back up onto his feet. He clutched the pine cone to himself like a trophy, then he paused, frowned at the dirty thing, and dropped it to the ground where it belonged.
“Well then,” he said, straightening the cuffs of his hopelessly stained shirt, “this has been a wonderful learning experience and all, but I really should be getting to other, more important things.”
With what dignity he could muster, given his appearance, Eli tromped past Beatrice. He was nearly to the door when he heard her speak.
“We begin working on your swordplay tomorrow.”
His paw froze just above the knob. Then, with a shrug, he opened the door and proceeded through. He’d simply tell her tomorrow that he was desperately ill. Caught something from those pine cones, no doubt. What decent beast would ever need to engage in swordplay, after all?
Such deception and brilliant cunning could wait, however. For now, all that mattered was that he find a servant and order a bath to be drawn. Not just any bath, though. Today was a special day. A bubble