Author Topic: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting  (Read 356 times)

Airan

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April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« on: April 24, 2017, 04:22:03 PM »
I apologize for how hasty this is going to be. I've gotten very busy with school working on my midterms and am in a position where I'm having trouble finding breathing room for myself, so I decided to just simply include all the submissions I received as part of the final voting- as I didn't have time to read the ones I received at the very last minute more than once, and didn't think it fair to judge based solely on a first impression. Not to mention, I only received four, so if I only had to cut one it would have likely felt bad for the person who went.

Anyways, voting will work the same as last time. Just PM me the title of which story is your favorite before April 30th at 11:59 PM EST. The story with the most amount of votes will be the winner.

Here are some quick rules.

•   If you are one of the nominees, you cannot vote for yourself. You can still choose between one of the other two, however.

•   All reviews and discussion should remain in this thread. Please don't create your own threads, just so in the future the board doesn't contain one hundred review threads for each new prompt. I'm still overall experimenting with this rule just to see if it's actually necessary or not, but we'll see how it goes for this first contest before perhaps trying other alternatives.

•   All discussion will follow the typical review guidelines- that is to say: keep criticism constructive and don't be pointlessly rude. The purpose of these contests is to help improve our writing and storytelling craft, so reviews should be focused around this.

•   Remember the anonymity rule. Even if your submission didn't make the nominees, it would be better to not reveal that information until after voting ends. Don't worry, after voting is over, you'll be free to reveal yourselves, talk about your stories and why you wrote what you did and other such fun stuff.

Right, so with all that out of the way, let's get to the nominees, in no particular order:

Mini Contest Prompt April 2017:
A Vermin tells their children a bedtime story/A vermin warlord visits their grandparents

The First Nominee
Spoiler: show
The Boogie Mouse

The door closed and Slickpaw stood staring at it for a moment, readying himself to face the most unruly hoard he had ever been tasked to oversee. The ruckus resonated ominously behind him – shouts and screams, howls and curses as vicious fights broke out amidst the rowdy lot.

“Calm and confident. Be calm and confident,” He repeated mentally. After surviving seven seasons of war, a near-mortal injury, and captaining an entire vessel of vermin raiders, surely he could handle a dozen babes. The ferret took a deep breath, turned, and was immediately beaned across the snout by a chunk of wood.

“Which one of you miscreants threw that?” he snapped. “I swear I will tie your tail to a fire iron and roast it bare!” All his hair stood on end and spittle dripped from his bottom lip.

So much for calm.

“But ‘e already don’t have any fur on his tail!” a single voice piped. A score of giggles rippled through the small mob. Slickpaw jerked his burning glare toward a group of three rats. Two shrunk back slightly, exposing the culprit. The ratling smirked fearlessly up at the towering adult.

“Then I’ll roast it red with blisters, you little pipsqueak!” He started toward the ratling, which bared its long front teeth.

“Nyeh nyeh! You can’t hurt us! Mama Trench’ll shred your hide if you do! We heard it!”

Slickpaw’s reaching paws hesitated, then curled back as he checked himself with a growl. They were right.

So much for confident.

He cursed the wench for stripping him of any power before leaving him in charge of the nursery. Without the threat of death or dismemberment, there was little to inspire respect – let alone obedience. He would have to resort to the least tested weapon in his arsenal: His wits.

“Very well,” he spoke loudly, capturing their attention. “But it’s not me you have to worry about, you know. It’s Martin.”

“Martin? Who’s Martin?” whined a weasling.

“Aint’ that some sorta bird?” quipped a kitten.

“Sounds like a dumb grass-eater to me,” a ferretlet fantasized.

Slickpaw scrutinized the faces before him with narrowed eyes. “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the ghost of Martin? Martin the Warrior? Ring any bells?” He mimicked a tiny hand bell, cocking his head to one side.

“Wasn’t he some mouse?” A fox kit scoffed.

“Yes, that’s right,” Slickpaw answered lightly, then darkened his tone. “The most hated, blood-thirsty mouse to ever live!” The ferret swelled at the attention gained, continuing in earnest. “In his lifetime they say he slayed more beasts than Cluny, Gabool and Slagar combined, and he had it out especially for verminfolk.”

The fox kit shrugged his shoulders. “Ha! Who’s afraid of a li’l tiny mouse? I’ll jus’ stomp on ‘im if he comes too close!”

“You think you can stomp a ghost out of existence?” Slickpaw scolded with a tut. “It’s true, a mouse is small. Which means he’s small enough to hide in just about any space or shadow.” Slickpaw looked past them at a certain dark recess as though he saw something. Several of the children followed his gaze, staring open-mouthed at the imaginary threat.

“They say he had a magic sword,” Slickpaw elaborated, “Which – to this day – still appears out of thin air to slaughter unsuspecting creatures when they least expect it! And most of all he likes to hunt…” Slickpaw paused for effect, “…vermin children!

A noticeable change came over the previously rowdy group as several individuals began to exhibit signs of nervousness – chewing claws, moving closer to the group, and twitching.

“You see, there’s a reason we tell you to go to bed before nightfall. Martin hates all verminfolk, it’s true, but it’s the young ones who are the easy targets. It’s the youngsters who sneak out of bed in the middle of the haunted night that are most often discovered stricken by an invisible force – wide-eyed corpses sprawled in the passageways between rooms, clutching at their chests, hearts stilled by the icy touch of the ghost blade.” Slickpaw kept his face a mask of pleading concern. “So when I tell you to go to bed, my dear little ones, it is for your own safety.”

“W-won’t he still get us? In our b-beds?” a small stoat stuttered.

“Ah! That’s the trick!” Slickpaw lifted a claw with a knowing grin. “As long as you’re in bed he can’t tell what manner of beast you might be. Not when you’re just another quiet lump under the covers.” The ferret moved toward a window then. “But hark!” He lifted the corner of one flap. “Darkness approaches, my poppets!” He spun around, feigning fear. “To bed! Quick! All of you!” He waved his paws desperately as the children broke and ran for the dormitory with shrieks and wails.

“Under the covers! Don’t let your tails show!” Slickpaw dashed madly from cot to cot. “Quiet now – don’t let your chatter give you away!” He counted and recounted until he was sure every babe was trembling silently in bed, then stood in the entryway, putting a paw stoically to his breast. “Stay safe, pups and kits. I fear a blood moon rises tonight. Let’s pray dark forest calls no familiar names tonight!”

He shut the door, letting out a long breath on the other side, then grinned, dancing through the quiet, empty hallways until he reached the dining room where he slid to a startled halt. Pots sat waiting, brimming with soup, while whole loaves of bread lay in baskets, wrapped over with cloths to stay fresh until the time the children were to take their supper.

“Oh. Right! Dinner. Whoops!” The ferret snapped his fingers and tapped his chin with a grimace. He peeked out the window at the road. The sun had not yet set, despite what he had told the children. Mama Trench would not be back for some time. “Well, t’would be a shame to let all this good food go to waste!” Slickpaw cleared his throat and seized a loaf of bread in one paw. Then, with a quick lick of his nose and a spoon in his other paw, he nodded at a small shadow in the corner. “Cheers, Martin!”

Many hours later, the ferret lay sprawled comatose across a soft cushioned chair when the front door creaked slowly open. The nursery matron stood agape at the tidy room and sleeping ferret. She gasped again when she noticed the clear table and clean dishes in the dining room, and shook her head in amazement when she peeped in on the children and found them all quiet as clams.

With a gentle shake, the wildcat stirred the gut-stuffed ferret from his slumber.

“I don’t know how you did it, Slickpaw, but I swear, you’re the best stand-in I’ve ever had. I’m going to give you a gold piece in place of the promised silver.” She cupped a velveted paw to his shoulder and smiled. “You deserve it!”

The Second Nominee
Spoiler: show
Lost Riches

“This is Redwall Abbey?” said Castarr. “Your letters lied, Inaam. What treasure in this ruin will save The Firesands?”

A fox’s muzzle parted the palanquin’s curtain and scrunched against the dry Mossflower winter. No carvings adorned the abbey’s sandstone walls and dense woods framed each approach. Even Castarr’s contingent of fennec conscripts and sand rat servants went ungreeted as they shivered before the gate.

Castarr retreated into the palaquin’s warmth of spiced candles and overstuffed pillows. Inaam, her muzzle as stark white as the moonlight without, curled on her side with a mug of tea.

“And what is treasure to you?” said Inaam. “Is it coin? Conquest?”

Castarr flashed fangs studded with emeralds, and adjusted the sequence of rubies and beaded amber curling along his flame-patterned robe.

“Family and your cherished insight, as well,” said Castarr. “So answer my question: how will this hovel save The Firesands?”

“You cannot see the treasure for the vault.” Inaam parted the curtains and the influx of chilled air blew out the candles. “Trust me; you will see soon enough. You can share my cabin once you decide to stay.”

“Or you can return home and know true beauty. We will climb the Pillars of the Second Sky, and watch the sun set and the moon rise on the same horizon. Fear not, Inaam. I will keep your weeping a secret.”

“We will see who weeps, grandson.”

The crack of an opening gate cut in, and servants helped the noble foxes from their vehicle. A motley crowd bumbled from Redwall, and not a one bowed though Castarr’s party kissed the dirt at his passing. The sultan noticed the woodlanders wore hempen robes frayed from sunlight, and their soft faces remained calm though they wore no weaponry.

“I present Castarr El-Hashim, Twenty-Third Sultanate of The Firesands, Seer of the Second Sky.” Inaam’s voice shook with the tassels of her many scarves, but all paid heed. “We seek your hospitality.”

“Tour and tuck anytime you wish!” A hare maid bobbed from the crowd and took Inaam by the paws. “Spent too long away, you did. Kitchen ain’t the same without your spice and sass.”

“You’re all the slimmer for my absence, dear.” A few in the Redwall crowd chuckled, and the hare blushed beneath her tawny fur. “Castarr, this is Jillicent McAllister of Salamandastron. She’s on leave to study recordkeeping-”

“Inaam, is their leader present?” said Castarr. “I will not speak with a scribe.”

“Gall and thunder, seer o’ the ninnysands!” Jillicent clipped along at the edge of laughter. “Fresh as a spring daisy with thrice the color. He’s one of yours for sure, milady.”

“I apologize, my grandson is tired from the long journey,” said Inaam. “Will you be our guide tonight?”

“A great toss of babes and brothers are zonked out for that Snow Badger fellow. You’re stuck with ol’ Jilly til The Lord o’ Wintertide makes his bloomin’ debut. Though, if his twenty-thirdship holds issue…”

“‘The Lord of Wintertide,’ you say?” said Inaam. “Sounds like a beast well worth your time, misultan. What say you?”

The Redwall rabble tittered at the elder vixen’s inflection, but not a fennec or sand rat dare move without their lord’s word.

“Commander Hijal, bring this ‘Snow Badger’ to me as soon as he arrives.” The largest fennec of the guard lowered his ears in deference. “Come, Inaam. I will see your vault in the meantime.”

Wind-licked bark flaked from the bare orchard trees. Frost nipped at the stained glass windows of the great hall, where the tapestry of an armored mouse jostled about by a draft. Ever continuous, ever energetic, Jillicent laid out the history of mice and masters who fought for peace. The few beasts they passed kept their heads high and their greetings earnest, but not one bowed before the riches woven into Castarr’s robe and muzzle.

Another wooden door, another unadorned sandstone hallway, another pack of berobed mice. With each stop Castarr silently implored his grandmother, who only smiled back and goaded the rabbit onward.

As they entered the dormitories one portly dormouse pat Castarr on the shoulder and promised a true Redwall feast that’d “put meat on his bones.”

“Enough.” Castarr’s voice echoed down the barracks-like dorm, waking nearby woodlanders. “You. Hare. What remains?”

“No ‘youhare’ here, your worshipfulness.” Jillicent’s joke received only a courtesy chuckle from Inaam. “Lessee, there’s the cellar, the bell tower, the library, and, of course, the kitchens. We’ll pinch a spot of tuck that’ll tuck your spots!”

“You speak in nothings,” said Castarr.

“I think I speak a good deal, eh wot!”

“Inaam, I am not impressed. You wrote of a solution within these walls, of a treasure worth my travel.”

By now a great deal of locals sat up in their beds and watched the adorned fox at command.

“We spoke of this,” said Inaam. “You see only the walls and a way not your own.What of the tales of Martin? Have you not seen their kindness and warmth?”

“I’ve seen a tattered carpet hung in a barren hall. I’ve seen imputence worthy of a cull. Neither will help me stop a revolt. You waste my time as The Firesands burn.”

Jillicent’s mouth hung open but not a word slipped free. Inaam readjusted her scarves a few dozen times. Castarr jumped a foot into the air as something sharp brushed against his leg. He found a mole babe in a sleeping gown poking at his leg, a book scooped in her off claw.

"Pardon oi, zurr. You'm oopsettin da 'now budger.”

"The...the what?” Castarr recalled Jillicent’s ramblings. “The Snow Badger?"

"Ho aye."

"My guards are prepared. They will deal with this upset badger, child."

"Burr no! 'Ee 'now budger only cooms 'n makes 'now iffen you'm sleepin 'n soilent. Yurr, yurr!"

Despite Castarr’s affronted sputters, the molebabe ushered the sultan to a bed by a steeple-style window. Outside the moonlight filtered through the dense clouds above and cast white on the otherwise snow-free lawn. The mole climbed onto her bunk and held up her book to an open page.

“Roight yurr, zurr.”

Castarr deigned a glance at the pages of her book and discovered a monarch descending from the stars. The Snow Badger rode the very clouds as his throne, and every gust of winter wind flowed from his mane and whiskers. His crown of starlight guided a vanguard of cloudform hares as they danced across the trees, and dusted the land with fine powder. The sultan fixated on the frosted cabins, at the illustration’s bottom, with woodlanders asleep at the windows. They rested in peace under The Lord of Wintertide’s watch.

A chuckle from Jillicent across the dorm snapped Castarr awake.

"Nonsense,” said Castarr. “No beast controls the weather. This badger does not exist."

"Ee duzz! Lookit wut ‘ee gave oi."

Hoards deep within the temples of The Firesands, the spoils of twenty-two generations, held stones of all shades and size. Castarr knew them well, yet not a one compared with the crystal about the mole’s neck. She bore the teardrop in a leather pouch, and held the limpid gem towards the window.

The prism’s facets caught the moonlight and beamed over Castarr. Luminescent flames reflected from his robe and churned along the beams and beds. All at once the half-awake woodlanders danced in the firelight, the hall full of laughter and cheer as dozy beasts spun one another into fits of giggles. Jillicent cut through the crowd, picked up the molebabe, and carried her through a whirling two-step jig. Castarr’s footpaws, hidden beneath his brilliant robe, twitched in time with the hare’s dervish dance.

When the clouds redoubled outside, and dancing faded with the light, Castarr dragged a sleeve across his eyes and spoke at a whisper.

"Inaam."

The elder vixen shuffled over but remained silent.

"I will rest here tonight and see this Snow Badger’s work." Inaam’s ears perked, but she remained quiet save the jingle of her tassels. “Have Commander Hijal bring my things. Also, a tin of honeyed ginger for...”

“Moira, zurr foxer.”

“A beautiful name, child. Bring the honeyed ginger for Moira.” A flock of dibbuns gathered about the sultan at the mention of sweets. “Enough for everybeast.”

Inaam chanced a knowing smile, preemptively silenced Jillicent with her paw, and made for the exit with a bow. She looked back from the door and found her grandson reading Moira’s book, through Redwall’s tale of winter, for the dibbuns gathered about the flame of his robe.


The Third Nominee
Spoiler: show
Poisonous Love

The young warlord’s horde lay camped about a mile north of where the blue-eyed weasel was headed. Every year he made his way back to the den where he had been raised by his grandparents. Every year he resolved to kill them, yet every year he let them live. Why did he want to kill them? The answer was simple; because they loved him. Love was a weakness. Ferahgo had let himself love once, but his mate had died after only a year. Their son was now a reminder to never love again. That was the only reason Ferahgo hadn’t killed him.

Ferahgo rounded the last bend in the trail he had been following and stopped to take in the scene of his old home. It was the same every year. Wildflowers crowned the meadow in front of the cozy den. A stack of firewood rested just outside the wooden front door. A few sheets hanging on a line to dry blew in the wind like lonely ghosts. Even the smell was the same every year. It was a smell of sweet things baking in the oven. His granny was always baking. That’s all she did for as long as he could remember. He used to love her baking. This place reeked with the weakness of love. Love had destroyed him, and now he meant to destroy it back.

Ferahgo had slowly made his way to the entrance to the den. Before he knew it, he was being smothered in hugs and kisses from his granny, Autumn. A cloud of flour surrounded the sweet creature at all times and Ferahgo found himself coughing a bit as he pulled away.

“Hello, Granny,” Ferahgo started to say.

“Oh Ferry,” Autumn interrupted, “It’s been so long since we’ve seen you! We’ve missed you so much, haven’t we Logan?”

“‘Course we have! Come ‘ere ya great, smelly lump!” Ferahgo’s Papa was as wide as he was tall. He wrapped Ferahgo in a hug squishing him against his warm belly.

“Go straight to the table Ferry,” Autumn called over her shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen,” I’ll have a plate of food out for you right away!”

As hard as he tried to resist, Ferahgo felt himself being pulled back to his childhood as he ran to the table and sat in the seat he had grown up sitting in.

In the warm kitchen Autumn prepared the food quickly. She knew that she only had a few minutes to get it ready. Her little Ferry had become a very dangerous beast. She could read the murder in his blue eyes when he visited every year, but she had discovered a defense that kept her and Logan alive. Love. She showered Ferahgo with love and brought back every childhood memory she could dig up. He seemed to revert to his childhood and lose contact with his dark side as long as she kept him distracted. It was a dangerous game and she knew someday they would lose, but it was worth every minute. She loved Ferahgo deeply and she cherished every stolen moment of love with him.

Autumn glanced down at the plate she had prepared and knew it was time for the final touch. She went to a cupboard in the corner of her cozy kitchen and reached all the way to the back. When she pulled her hand out she was holding a small amber bottle with a label on it. The bottle contained a tincture made from herbs. This tincture was not for healing though; rather it made the beast that consumed it very weak and sick. The effects only lasted about a day, but it was usually enough for what she needed. She tipped the bottle over the plate and several drops scattered over the warm scones and candied nuts. She quickly placed the bottle back in its cupboard then carried the plate out to Ferahgo.

As Ferahgo slipped into his childhood seat his Papa plopped into his at the head of the table.

“My goodness Ferry! You look like you’ve been through a famine! Don’t worry, Granny’s scones will put a proper roll in your gut soon enough!”

His Papa continued to drone on about Granny’s scones, but Ferahgo wasn’t listening. Every time he came here it seemed like his body was caught in some kind of childhood daze while he watched from a distance filled with hatred and pain. He begged himself to pull out his knife and end it, but his body remained unresponsive. He saw his Granny come in with a plate of warm scones, and saw himself scoff every last bite. He saw his grandparents bring out his old toys and show him his old room. Everything they showed him was agonizing to his broken heart. Everything in him wanted to destroy this place and never come back, and yet his body, like a child, was drinking in the love from his grandparents with gusto. Ferahgo could not get his body to raise a paw against them, no matter how he tried. The only relief he got was when he finally laid down in his old bed for an afternoon nap. Sleep was a balm to the poor weasel’s tortured soul.
 
It was late afternoon when Ferahgo awoke and he knew it had happened. The same thing happened every year. He was sick. His muscles felt so weak he couldn’t even sit up, and his stomach was burning.

“Granny?” He called weakly.

His Granny was there in an instant.

“Oh Ferry, what’s wrong? You look white as a sheet and you’re burning up!”

“I’m sick!” Ferahgo groaned. “My stomach feels like it’s on fire!”

“I’m so sorry! Don’t worry; I’ll be right back with some cool mint tea. You just rest and I’ll take good care of you!”

 Ferahgo drifted in and out of sleep the rest of the day, and Autumn was always close by to make sure he had everything he needed.

It was still dark the next morning when Ferahgo woke up feeling much better and with a roaring appetite. He quietly walked out of his room to find his grandparents asleep on chairs in the living area. He decided not to wake them and snuck into the kitchen to find some food. He poked around in his Granny’s cupboards and found some fresh biscuits that were probably for breakfast. He was sure his Granny would have some honey somewhere so he kept looking through her cupboards. He finally reached the corner cupboard and saw the amber bottle his Granny had hastily put away and forgotten to push to the back. Ferahgo pulled it out thinking it was honey. He turned the bottle around so he could read the old, faded label on the front. It read “Ferry’s Poison” in black letters.

Ferahgo stumbled back as if he’d been struck. His mind suddenly cleared and he understood. He now knew why his grandparents never changed anything. He knew why he got sick every year. It seemed so obvious now that he knew. Love had poisoned his grandparents as it did everything. It had led them to deceit and abuse. Ferahgo suddenly felt free. The weakness of love fell away from him. He knew the truth about love and it could hold him captive no longer! He felt darkness spreading through him and he welcomed it. He felt more power than he ever had before. The darkness coursed through his veins like a flood and turned his already dark heart blacker than tar. Ferahgo moved quickly now, eager to destroy the place so full of weakness that he had been unable to overcome it for many years.

Ferahgo ran outside and grabbed some wood from the woodpile and quietly stacked it beneath the dining room table. Then he grabbed the ghostly sheets from their lines and draped them over his sleeping grandparents. Next, he went into the kitchen and found some of his Granny’s cooking oil. He poured it from the stack of wood to the sheets covering his grandparents then he dumped the rest of the oil around the den. Finally, Ferahgo went outside and struck a match. The flame burst to life with a fury. He threw it into the den and watched as the fire blazed and smoked. It was the most beautiful thing Ferahgo had ever seen with his cold blue eyes.

Ferahgo smiled. He smiled at the destruction from the fire, and the darkness that consumed him. He smiled at the name he had finally earned. Then he turned his back on the brilliant flames and left love to die in ashes. He walked away never to return.

Ferahgo the Assassin was born!

The Fourth Nominee
Spoiler: show
All Who Wander

Perched atop a spear of rock jutting out from the coastline cliffs, Zanza inhaled deeply. Salt. Seafoam. Blood. The pine marten smiled, his chocolate-brown tail flicking as he relished the smell of victory.

Beneath him stretched a white shore—a canvas painted with bodies and scarlet. He watched the few remaining stragglers scramble for escape. Some climbed the cliffs, only to have an arrow pierce through their spine. Some ran across the shore, tripping over the dead before the curved blades of Zanza’s hordebeasts stilled their struggling. Of them all, Zanza enjoyed those who attempted to flee into the sea.

Zanza couldn’t help but be inspired by it all. They fought like the mightiest of warriors plucked straight from the mind of a pining maiden. And yet, not even the bravest beast could outlast Sampetra’s ruthless waves. He made it a game, watching to see how far each managed to swim before their strokes and the waves pulled them down to Hellgates.

A weasel held the current title for furthest distance, reaching just past the steep stacks jutting out from the ocean. An impressive feat, considering how they sobbed all the way over. With their wails finally silenced, Zanza turned his attention to a water rat whose frenzied strokes showed promise.

“Lord Zanza!” a voice called behind him, followed by the patter of feet.

Zanza held up a claw. “Hush, Gribbolt. I’m watching.”

A particularly large wave crashed into the water rat, sending them head-over-tail before disappearing under the water. Zanza counted to ten, frowned, then turned to face his fox captain. “You have news?”

Gribbolt nodded. “Wicktail found ‘em.”

Zanza’s tail swished. “Where?”

“Cave at the edge o’ the shoreline.” Gribbolt jabbed a claw towards the horizon. “Holed up in there like a buncha moles.”

Zanza picked up the cudgel lying beside him, a claw tracing the nubs of iron embedded into the weapon’s head. “That must be where they’re hiding it.”

“I’ll tell the lads to off the rest o’ the prisoners and then we’ll head for this cave,” said Gribbolt.

“No,” said Zanza, standing up from his perch. “I’m going alone. Inform the others, and have a meal prepared for me when I return.”

Gribbolt’s brows twitched. Not deep enough to be outright dissent, but enough to darken the features on the fox’s face. “Could be a trap, Lord.”

Zanza answered his captain with a stare, wide and reaching like a paw around a beast’s throat. The fox’s expression twitched, shivered, and his gaze fell.

A scream from the shoreline drew both of their attentions. Zanza watched one of his hordebeast’s drag a survivor across the bloodstained sand, their misery to be prolonged under the probing claws of Wicktail.

“Leave the rest of the prisoners alive,” said Zanza, smiling. “Wicktail does so enjoy these interrogations of hers.”

He hefted his cudgel up to rest on his shoulder, passed by Gribbolt, and made for the direction of the cave.

*****

Zanza hugged the wall of the cave, inching his way along the narrow ridge. Water lapped at his heels, and past the edge he could see spears stabbing up from the edge of water. Anold trick, given the rust coating the spearheads.

Soon, the waves stilled, their roar replaced by the hollow trickle of droplets striking water. The ridge widened out so that Zanza no longer pressed his back to the wall, and then he heard something.

Cries of babes. Frantic, calming whispers. Shouts tinged with fever.

Zanza rounded a corner and saw them. In the far back of the cave, on a wide shelf, maidens lifted cups of fresh water to the sick and elderly, and mothers attempted to comfort restless children. The stench of fear lay thick in the air.

A cry erupted from the group as Zanza approached them. A young pine marten – barely into adulthood – rose up and drew a dagger.

“Get back!” roared the marten.

Zanza cocked his head to the side and regarded the thin bones, the unsteady stance, the too-tight grip. Drunken swamp toads wielding a stick offered a greater challenge. He waited for the waif of a warrior to strike first.

It did not take long. The marten launched forward with a roar and sliced down with the knife. Zanza side-stepped it, ducked under the following swing, then snatched a pawful of the marten’s ragged shirt and spun sharply on his heel. With a powerful flick of his wrist, he flung his opponent against the cave wall. A thud echoed in the cave as the marten struck the rock. Before his opponent could recover, Zanza smashed the end of his cudgel into the side of the marten’s skull.

Screams attempted to mask the sound of bone snapping. Zanza watched the marten stagger sharply, then fall limply against the warlord’s chest. Zanza pushed the would-be warrior aside with a snort then stepped over the body. He didn’t bother to confirm the kill--dead or alive, the marten’s life was over.

“You know who I am. That’s why you’re hiding.” His deep voice resonated through the cave and blended with the drip of water like the cave itself spoke. “Show me your leaders.”

None moved. Zanza gripped his cudgel tighter and counted to ten. He reached seven when one stepped forward.

“Why have you come?” demanded an elderly pine marten, the tremors in her voice broken further by the echo of the cave, and by her glances to the beast left on the floor.

“Gilla, no!” shouted another, an equally-old pine marten male. She shook off his attempt to pull her back.

Zanza smiled at them both. “Hello, Grandmother. Grandfather. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

Both gaped at him, though a new horror crossed Gilla’s silver-furred features.

“I’ve come for the Eye of Ublaz.” He held out a paw. “Give it to me.”

Neither reacted immediately. Their blank stares threatened to wipe the smile from Zanza’s face.

“The… what?” asked the male.         

The smile vanished. “The Eye of Ublaz. My birthright. What you denied my father many seasons ago.” He let out a growl that shuddered through the cave. “Don’t even try to deny it. I know the stories.

“Little one, heed what I say,
From the day until the dawn,
When you are lost, gone astray,
And the way is overdrawn,
Seek that which no other has,
And find the Eye of Ublaz.”


Zanza finished and searched their faces. His smile returned when he saw recognition in their eyes. “I know you have it,” said Zanza. “It's all Father ever talked about--Ublaz' magical artifact of power."

Gilla mumbled something, and Zanza’s ear flicked.

“Speak.”

“It… it doesn’t exist,” said Gilla.

Zanza blinked several times. And then he laughed. Loud, barking laughs that crashed through the cave. “Do you think I will fall for that? I’ve dreamed of the Eye every night for the past seven seasons. The seers have promised me that I will find it.” He moved closer. “Now, where is it?”

“It’s a children’s rhyme,” said Gilla. “My father taught it to me, and his mother to him.” Her expression changed. A strange mixture of disgust and pity. “Child… there is no magical artifact. We are the Eye of Ublaz—his descendants. The rhyme only reminds us of our heritage.”

Zanza searched her face for the lie he knew she told, but he found nothing. She believed this.

“Please,” said Gilla, “take your beasts and leave us. There is nothing for you here.”

Zanza’s grip tightened and loosened around the handle of his cudgel twice, thrice, five times over. The excitement prickling at his fur drowned underneath the unflinching, old face before him. And in that moment, he knew the truth.

*****

Gribbolt sat upon a rock at the edge of camp, sharpening his blade with one ear listening for which hordesbeasts grumbled loudest about waiting for food. Some already found their way onto his list of “front-line troops for the next skirmish.” Still, even his own gut rumbled with hunger, which doubled his relief when he spotted Zanza approaching the camp.

“Lord Zanza!” he called out, running out to meet the warlord. He paused when he noticed the blood smeared across the pine marten’s tunic. “Everything all right, Lord?”

Zanza did not reply, walking past him and into the camp. The hordesbeasts cheered, but Zanza showed no reaction. Gribbolt frowned and followed.

A rat cook hurried a steaming bowl of soup to Zanza, and then the camp exploded in activity as the hordesbeasts funneled into the cook’s tent.

Gribbolt remained by Zanza’s side. “Did… did they not have it?”

Zanza said nothing. He cradled the bowl. Eventually, the steam stopped rising from the bowl.

“What d’ we do, Lord Zanza?” asked Gribbolt.

The warlord’s expression twitched, and with it returned a sharpness to his eyes. The kind of reckless determination that brought the horde this far.

“We keep searching until we find it.” Zanza looked at Gribbolt. “Find me a map.”


Happy reading, discussing, and voting, everyone, and I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. :) I'll see you in about a week with my own reviews and thoughts once my schedule clears up a little bit.

Vizon

Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2017, 10:44:01 PM »
I'm going to begin by reviewing the last two darker entries, just because they seem similar and I was thinking most about them when I finished (freshest in my memory). I'll try to finish reviews of the first two tomorrow if I can.

Okay so both of these are obviously the "Warlord visiting his grandparents" prompt. Both kill them. Both are very evil. Both are basically character studies of villains.


“Poisonous Love”

I think this one was very well written, though there are a few ways I think it could have been enhanced. For instance:
Quote
Their son was now a reminder to never love again. That was the only reason Ferahgo hadn’t killed him.
I was sure there was going to be more regarding this. I thought his son must have turned against him, proving that the fruit of love only brings disaster. I do think that would have been a nice touch and an even better motive for his darkness and rejection of love/close relationships. They will only undo you.
So without this extra motivation, we are left with “broken heartedness” as the only reason for Ferahgo’s darkness and desire to snuff out his grandparents. Bitterness, I suppose. But he really did love her, from the sound of it – she hadn’t betrayed him or (as far as we know) been used as a weapon against him. Now that would have been good to add in there too – if his mate had been used as bait or used to force him to give up wealth/land/power in an attempt to save her – that would have definitely been more of a motive for the idea “love makes you weak.” Such darkness arising simply from sadness and loss is harder to swallow for me.

I see why the tincture was necessary – Ferahgo was too dangerous to leave clear-headed. But then it makes this somewhat untrue:
Quote
she had discovered a defense that kept her and Logan alive. Love. She showered Ferahgo with love and brought back every childhood memory she could dig up.
It was more than love that kept Ferahgo from killing them. But then again, its purpose couldn’t simply be to subdue him, else a day  would not be “long enough.” It would be long enough for him to feel helpless and cared for, as if he owes them for loving and helping him even when he is weak. Its purpose is to plant a small guilt in him for wanting to harm them when they only ever want to help him. But it was (obviously) a risky way to go about things. I would think he should have caught on by now if every year he gets sick. And it does end up being their undoing. If they had relied only on love and not on this tincture, might they have lasted longer? Maybe. Ferahgo is rendered helpless by the familiarity and affection before he even eats the “poisoned” scones. So really it’s Granny’s fear of him that ends up dooming them. Feeling like she had to force him into accepting her care. One could read a lot more into that!

It’s an interesting and compelling little bit of story, though horrible. It IS a horrible story.
(Not the way it’s written, but in what happens).


“All Who Wander”

I love this description:
Quote
They fought like the mightiest of warriors plucked straight from the mind of a pining maiden.
Yet it also makes me laugh a little since Zanza is a pine marten, and a pining pine marten is amusing to me.

The build-up of Zanza as a villain is really nicely done as he watches the killing below him like a game. The smashing of the young pine marten is also incredibly harsh and awful, and leads the reader to assume that no one made it out of that cave, even though it doesn’t say what happened and the blood on Zanza could be accounted for by the single act of violence. I am still wondering a little what “the truth” was since Zanza chooses to continue his search. Would he still search even if he knows it’s a lie? I guess he might, but with less enthusiasm. Maybe in his mind the search becomes more of an excuse to raid and pillage places and find other treasures. A lot is left unsaid though, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing, at least, to overexplain things, I know. Something which I tend to do too often. I wonder why Zanza’s father believed the eye was real if his parents did not. I wonder if Zanza could have possibly left anyone alive in that cave (really don’t think so, but it would be a surprising twist if he had left anyone alive…).

Overall, there are some repetitions of words that bug me in this, but the story itself is really well done, if dark. Zanza is evil. Zanza is discouraged inwardly but not outwardly. He goes on for the sake of going on, having come too far to turn back or give up now. That’s not what a warlord does, after all – just give up or turn back. It’s also a parallel of his own depravity. Family is the eye? Well too late for that to be of any value to me…

This is also a horrible story. Or at least a story about a horrible person.

Vizon

Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2017, 09:53:41 PM »
On to the two “Light” entries!


“The Boogie Mouse”

This was a fun one. A bit unorthodox perhaps in regards to Redwall terminology. I’m not sure “pipsqueak,” “ratling,” “weasling,” and “ferretlet,” are kosher, but they do add to the humor.

Quote
He would have to resort to the least tested weapon in his arsenal: His wits.
I am still wondering if this implies he’s stupid or just more apt to use brute force than intelligence. Leaning towards the latter though, since he obviously outwits the dibbuns. Actually, do vermin call their young “dibbuns?” Probably not.

Quote
“Oh. Right! Dinner. Whoops!” The ferret snapped his fingers and tapped his chin with a grimace.
This was an amusing twist that made me laugh. As a parent I can imagine all too well the too-late realization that something important was forgotten, but no one wants to pull a kid out of bed after all the work it takes to get them there. And certainly “scaring them back into bed” all over again would probably not work.

I like the way this one ended also, with the worst kind of baby-sitter being perceived as the best. We know why the children are “silent as clams” and why the table is so clear!

All in all, an amusing read. I do think there could have been a little more description of the main character. The bit about his having survived injuries and captained a vessel implies he’s been around a while – maybe even worked his way up in the ranks. He might actually be very old, and yet he dances through the hallway. I guess an old ferret can dance too, but it might have helped ground the character more to have more of a peppering of descriptors here and there. “Silvered muzzle” or “balding ears” could have been used to help imply age. Still, maybe sparse is alright. One should not slow down the brisk pace too much, after all – especially in a piece that is meant to be comedic.



“Lost Riches”

Speaking of riches, this piece is very rich in its descriptions. I love the depth of culture implied by the following lines:

Quote
-Castarr’s contingent of fennec conscripts and sand rat servants
-Castarr flashed fangs studded with emeralds, and adjusted the sequence of rubies and beaded amber curling along his flame-patterned robe.
-you can return home and know true beauty. We will climb the Pillars of the Second Sky, and watch the sun set and the moon rise on the same horizon.
-Castarr’s party kissed the dirt at his passing


Also this bit makes me grin: “ A motley crowd bumbled from Redwall” They're not just motley. They can't even move with grace! The constant contrast between the fox's world and the world of Redwall is fun to witness.


Quote
As they entered the dormitories one portly dormouse pat Castarr on the shoulder and promised a true Redwall feast that’d “put meat on his bones.”
After all the beautiful description, however, there is no feast described, in spite of this dormouse’s promise! Where are the nut herb and apple-studded cheeses? The honeyed cream? The cornstooks, teabread, nutbread, spicebread and soft flowerbread? October ale? Blackcurrant wine? I was all ready for Castarr to be blown away by a proper Redwallian feast, overwhelmed with the warm fuzzies of family, friendship, and good tuck. I wanted his snotty nose to turn at the scent of Carp Capitale, marinated in a mixture of cider and dandelion extract! I wanted his cold heart to melt at being given a young dibbun’s last buttercream and redcurrant tart just because he said he liked them (awwww!).

Oh well.

Now what really happens is a little strange and difficult to unravel. It sounds like a molemaid makes Castarr lie on a bed and shows him a very detailed illustration of a Santa-like character. Then she shows him an amazing gem that lights up the room (disco ball?) and everyone jumps out of bed and starts dancing. The sultan who was just talking about the need for a mass culling of Redwallians for their impudence is suddenly moved to tears, and becomes everyone’s favorite uncle.

It’s a very positive story compared to the latter two horror tales, and it’s nice to have at least a couple entries that don’t leave me feeling bummed about the undeniable presence of evil in the hearts of men (and fictional vermin). I’m glad that Castarr did not burn the place to the ground or slaughter his grandmother, but I do think the change in him was a little abrupt and difficult to understand. Buuuuut perhaps I missed something?

And that’s it for my backwards reviews. Hope to see more from others as well!

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2017, 05:46:51 AM »
I'll start with the good stuff before we all get dirty. Congratulations rained upon those who entered, well wishes for those who vote, and all the wildest dreams for those who review. Speaking of reviews; no reviews from me. At least not craft-centric studies. I'm really tired of picking over devices and offering tech. If you want specific tips, or think of any questions, then ask after the reveal.

For now what you get is me reading the story for the third time, setting my timer, and letting my fingers and mind fly.

Come tonight I will read through each one and offer my thoughts. If I don't see your entry then check back in a day or so. I'll edit this post and add more as I finish.

Look at me go.


The Boogie Mouse

Makes sense looking into what sets vermin on the Redwall hate train. Think about the books and all the fics we write. Why is Redwall so despised? Because it stands against the natural order of kill or be killed? Because vermin need an enemy? Whatever the case, showing how the tradition of fear and hatred is passed down is a clever bit of storytelling. However, the execution leaves me wanting. Taken on face the pitch is only "a vermin babysitter scares kids into slumber with Martin." A lot of potential in this wonderful prompt is lost. As off the dome ideas: References from the book the war veteran babysitter might know concerning warlords who failed, a playful scene of the babysitter jumping out with a red cape, or, better yet, the ploy seems to work but they're tough as nails vermin children who instead scare the babysitter after he drifts off. See? So many opportunities. Play. Have fun. Think of the overall scene and go "what if...?"

I think the whole thing should've ended with "Cheers, Martin!" The last paragraphs didn't add much of anything beyond reaffirming what we already see in Slickpaw and setting up for a commercial break. "We'll be right back with more That's My Slickpaw!" This isn't a complaint. Well, the last extra bits are unnecessary, but together with the charming tone and the snappy pace they create a funtime family vibe. A tough bit of business making vermin likable, and these characters are certainly cute and entertaining. The cheek alone from the rats and fox earns the snicker of approval.

Now there's a question. What about this is particularly vermin? The obvious is they don't worship Martin, and they're rats and ferrets and cats - oh my. What changes if they were mice, and moles, and squirrels - oh my - who told tales of Vulpuz? You can jump into two camps on this. 1- That's the point of the tale: all beasts have a softer, fun side and should not be defined by their birth species #redwallsafespace. 2- focus on the language choices, how the kids out each other, and how everybeast carries on in a downtown NYC manner instead of ye olde redwallish. Either or both works. I bring all of this up as food for thought than anything else.

And that's where I end up with this piece. The Boogie Mouse is inspiring and fortifying like the original Redwall texts. Remember your first read of Redwall? I do. Hearing the tales of Martin, seeing the puzzles in action, growing alongside would-be heroes against a very clear evil. Thrilling stuff. Now, after reading this, I wanna see the exact opposite. One of those tiny rats should rise up from their bed and beat some woodlander face in. They become the next fabled vermin warrior who isn't fighting for territory...they're fighting for freedom from the tyranny of Martin's Ghost. See, again? Fortifying and inspiring. Well worth the read overall.

I don't have a formal grading system. Tend to avoid those since they breed unhealthy competition and stretch a writer's confidence paper thin. Hmm. Let's say I enjoyed this piece the same way I enjoyed cold brew coffee for the first time. It's satisfying, comforting, but (for better or worse) I'm not left with the high-tension jitters of a strong, black pot.


Lost Riches

Have any of you seen the new Mystery Science Theater 3000? Not a fan of Felicia Day, and the riffing is ill paced, but I do love the old movies and nostalgia. Just finished the episode where they watch The Loves of Hercules. The short version is Hercules' wife gets stabbed in some political intrigue and Herc waffles about between monsters and statecraft (with no shirt on, of course) until he finds another woman. The End. Herc learns nothing and we watch a ton of half-naked extras die in horrible ways.

I bring the movie up because so much of what I like about this entry, and so much of what I dislike, falls in line with my like/dislikes in cheesy movies. The dialog is what bothers me the most. You read the lines out loud and the entire intro exchange can shift in meaning based on inflection alone. Part of the problem is the dated, heavy language. Another part is the alliteration and constant vowel repetition. If I read the fox lines like I would dialog for a cheesy MST3K then the whole piece sinks. A reader shouldn't have to guess at tone, so a few attributions might've kept things out of Hercules' town.

The action too seems wooden and staged - again, much like the cheesy movies of old with their painted backdrops and "should I look at the camera?" actors. This isn't a hit against the descriptions. No, we know what everything smells and tastes like within all of Mossflower Woods and beyond. What grabs me more is there's such little dawdling. This works in keeping most every line tight for a word limit. This doesn't work pacing wide: "Now we're outside, now we're inside; now Castarr is complaining, now Castarr is kind." The emotional transition requires more nuance, and letting the characters wander, poke, and prod would've made things read less like a slide show. Like the dialog with the hare/mole. Love watching the laurel and hardy nonsense between a stiff noble and a loose and/or innocent beast. Finished the read wanting more.

Appreciated the Redwall reference in the Snow Badger. The whole Wintertide thing seemed too specific, and it turns out the Snow Badger - indeed, The Lord of Wintertide as the story says - is a character from A Redwall Winter's Tale. Haven't read the thing myself, so I don't know how accurate anything is, but it's a wonderful bit of contrast. The uptight lord of sand against the loving bringer of snow. Does Castarr develop in a clear and meaningful way? Can an illustration and an insistent child actually sooth a savage ruler? Doubtful on my pessimistic days. Possible on the days where I see a little sunlight and my work pile can be measured in inches instead of feet. I've read the thing four times and I'm at 1.5 out of 2.5 yes to no.

Since I'm on a beverage kick, I rate this piece as the $6 hot chocolate you're afraid to buy at the hipster coffee shop. Like, you eventually buy one, take a sip, and go "that's no chili powder in there...is it?" Then you take another sip. Then you take another. Then the thing is gone and you're back where you started - curious and wary - but with six bucks less.


Poisonous Love

I like imagining the vile of poison isn't poison at all, but a sugar syrup some lowlife sold Autumn on the black market. Changes the whole view of the story quite a bit. What's this? The grand assassin is sick from grief/regret/guilt over imagining the death of his loving grandparents and NOT actual poison? Whatever the case, I find the dynamic of a vermin grandparent caught between fear and love fascinating. One read I said out loud "Just stab him while he sleeps and end it!" Another I thought "tell each other how you feel! talking might fix everything." But talking doesn't happen. On the contrary, the grand majority of this piece is a narrator telling us what happened and how these beasts feel. Let's talk about the narration a bit. A lot.

You can find "show don't tell" a few million times in my review compendiums, but for this piece there's a tricky line in how the narrator relates information. This, tonally, reads like a campfire story, or a grandparent telling you a tale. Now, wait a second...a grandfather telling kids a story...anybeast remember this quote?

"Cluny the Scourge was coming!
He was big, and tough; an evil rat with ragged fur and curved jagged teeth. He wore a black eye patch; his eye had been torn out in battle with a pike.
Cluny had lost an eye.
The pike had lost its life!"

Yes, yes. This is from the very first Redwall book. Am I holding this up as justification for block paragraphs of history about Ferahgo and his relationship with his grandparents? No. I offer the quote as a "here's how an established author handled explaining details we can't quite see." It'd make no sense showing a flashback chapter with Cluny fighting a fish all to explain his missing eye, so an aside is fine - though I'd love seeing a rat fight a fish. In Poisonous Love? Well, some times the hard background inserts work (details about Ferry's yearly visit, dead wife, and how he's feeling when confronted) and sometimes it doesn't (Mention of Ferry's son, feeling the darkness when setting his grandparents on fire clearly illustrates his change.) What helps me when there's a lot of info to add in a little time is going line by line and asking "Why is this here?" and "Is there a better way to show this?"

What do vermin toys look like? Are they wooden weapons? Dolls of warlords on the move? What do a vermin warlord's toys look like, and what about Ferry's make him so hesitant/nostalgic? Feeds back into what I just said - would've loved some specifics over just "He saw his grandparents bring out his old toys and show him his old room." - but it's also the measure of a thorough author. You can almost tell where they said "and now I need to talk about this in order to make this work." This is a good thing! Though a lot of the information is vague, we're given an encompassing look at the lives and minds of a weasel family in crisis BECAUSE of the care applied. I'd advise easing back a little. Let the characters show us what they can through their actions and dialog, and add the bits you can't possibly work into the scene after.

Craving candy tonight over a beverage. Poisonous Love receives the rank of ribbon candy around Christmas Time. Approaching ribbon candy is difficult, because it's too awkward to eat whole and too dangerous when broken into shards. But when you take the time, and savor the blend with care, then you're treated to a nostalgic, warming confection worthy of any contest/holiday.


All Who Wander

This author should win for including a poem. I don't think the poem is very convincing or inspiring (as it is for Zanza) but the effort alone deserves applause. My running joke in reviews is complaining about a lack of food descriptions, poem puzzles, and other Redwall tropes when I've nothing else worth saying. Done so recently and will do so again. So when I see one in action that's crucial in a story and crafted with an efefgg (that's the closing six lines of an English sonnet, friends - ababcdcdefefgg) rhyme scheme? Well done. An author with breeding and care in their heart, truly. You've earned an A- worth of extra credit.

Let's talk about story titles for a little. The Boogie Mouse - a literal title. Lost Riches - touches on some of the themes, but doesn't round anything. Poisonous Love - like the first one, a literal "this is what the story is about." None of them are bad and all of them work. All Who Wander (are not lost) is a cliche, but the way it ties directly into the climax/overall theme is marvelous. On face it's "Well, nobeast is wandering in this story. What's the deal?" A layer or so down: Zanza, a beast who is wandering with his horde to find the Eye of Ublaz, finds purpose in learning his quest is fruitless. He's not lost anymore; "The warlord’s expression twitched, and with it returned a sharpness to his eyes. The kind of reckless determination that brought the horde this far." Too few authors really take time with their titles, because the title shouldn't label the story...it should pitch the story.

The narration is pretty stilted between the beginning and end. Starts like a chain smoking detective introducing a new case over black and white film footage. Over time the narration morphs into a grim, tongue-in-cheek retelling of a warlord on a rampage. In the technical this is the author going from stylized punctuation and construction choices (one word sentences, alliteration, and comma splices) to full sentences delivering the information as is (like the quote from the first paragraph of this "review.") Can't decide if this is a good or bad thing or nothing at all. Somewhat syncs up with the theme since the intro section is a very long "we found them" and "cruel Zanza is cruel" and the end section is "revelation." On the other paw it kinda reads like the writer gave up halfway through.

Zanza sees the Eye of Ublaz in his dreams, and says his father calls the Eye a "magical artifact of power." The swing of the story is "well, the eye is family and not a thing, me bucko." But what does Zanza think the artifact is if he sees it every night? More importantly, what will Zanza do with a magical artifact of power? Seems to me this is one successful warlord who doesn't need help. The answer/counter is obsession - that he's corrupted by a legend he interpreted in his own way - and how dangerous fixation turns out even for the "best" of us. I'd still like more information about our warlord, his family, and the state of the world. Even a villain needs points of connection, and the only one I can find on Zanza is an appreciation for tradition.

This story is the box of chocolates you share with your friend. They lost the guide, so you pick through each of the chocolate spheres and think real hard about what you just put in your mouth. Some people bite them in half, or use a knife, to discover the contents. I think those people are wrong, but others think I'm wrong for blind eating the chocolate and discovering the contents as I go. Guess that's left to perspective, ay?
« Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 01:12:13 AM by Matra Hammer »
When kings upon the main have clung to pride
And held themselves as masters of the sea
I've held them down beneath the crushing tide
Till they have learned that no one masters me

Tooley Bostay

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2017, 11:14:31 PM »
Contests! Writing! Colorful entries full of wild imagination! Yaaaay!

Hearty round of applause to the authors for stepping into the ring and delivering some really interesting stories. I'm not sure if this crop is better than last month, but it certainly is different. Fitting, given we've got a buncha vermin as our focus this time.

Same deal as before, I'll mostly be just charting down my thoughts as to the good and bad present in each entry. And with that, let's start!

The Boogie Mouse

Vermin is saddled with the unwanted job of babysitting, and devises a clever story to get them to behave.

Despite the main character and vermin focus, this is a very down-to-earth entry. The conflict here is incredibly tame ("get the children to behave"), but that's not a bad thing. As Vizon notes, there is a lot in the story that appeals to the reader's experiences - difficulty of getting children to cooperate, the bit at the end of him forgetting an important step but not wanting to undo all the progress he's made, etc. Slickpaw's story itself about Martin is a little on-the-nose, and I think I would have liked to seen it be a bit more wild and outlandish, but I really liked the viewpoint of seeing Martin from the eyes of vermin. It's a great contrast to see someone we know as being honorable, just, and good being presented as something utterly horrifying. Because of course Martin would be a nightmare to all verminkind.

Big kudos to the author for the sneaky alliteration and rhyming with the childrens' species and their dialogue tags. Check 'em out:
Quote
whined a weasling.
quipped a kitten.
a ferretlet fantasized.
a small stoat stuttered.
Through little tricks like this, the scene gains an extra layer of lovely whimsy. It has an almost Dr. Suess-esque quality to it. Love it--well done, Slickpaw's author. Likewise, little dialect ticks like "dumb grass-eater" are wonderful. They establish the kind of language of vermin children, and it's the type of insult that just feels right.
Also, the "so much for calm/confident" callback earned a chuckle from me.

I do wish there was more known about the situation at hand. For example, while I know that Slickpaw is a captain, and a hard-boiled survivor, I have no idea why he's here babysitting for someone. Did he volunteer, or was he forced into it? If the former, why? Is this just one of those MMORPG quests that you can't abandon after accidentally accepting it? If the latter, then why would a rough-'n-tumble war vet allow himself to be forced into anything? I thought maybe he was doing it to impress whoever this "Mama Trench" is, but she's a wildcat in the end, so it's not for selfish gain on his part. And for that matter, who is Mama Trench, and why does she have all these various-species of vermin children? I have a lot of questions about the structure of the scene that keeps me from being fully invested in the stakes (even simple ones, like getting kids to bed).

Overall, a really cute story, and definitely the brightest of the four. It's a good balance between showing some of verminkind's innate roughness (Slickpaw's anger, the initial violence of the children, the aforementioned dialect choices) and the charm and whimsy of a lazy, relatable, everyday occurrence. I do think that it's hampered by the lack of understanding the "why" and "how" of the scene, though. Just needs some throwaway lines/dialogue explaining why Slickpaw is there, who Trench is, and why the vermin kids aren't with their parents (orphans?).

Lost Riches

A horde leader from a far-off, broken land comes to Redwall seeking that which can save his people, and finds hope in an unexpected way.

For all the visual trappings and spiritual stage-winks that Jacques leveled in the canon books, it's always bothered me that we never really see anything spiritual in Redwall, apart from a vague belief/reverence for Martin. What I appreciated most about this entry is that it found a spiritual heart to Redwall--a bold, and admirable task to attempt, let alone succeed in (even if marginally). While I think she was speaking tongue-in-cheek, I disagree with Vizon that something like a feast should have occurred. Redwall needs something more than "we're nice people who like to eat" to really mean anything. What is chowing down on food going to offer a troubled leader who has journeyed so far desperately seeking salvation for his people?

The balance struck by the author is this entry honestly impacted me. It's not just that Castarr has an encounter - I presume - with something supernatural (the Snow Badger is clearly a Godlike figure) and suddenly he "has the answers." Likewise, it's not just that Redwallers spout some pick-me-up philosophy at him. It's this wonderful mix of him seeing a true beauty that is transcendent and beyond himself - something spiritually "other" - but also seeing how that impacts and is reflected in the lives of the beasts around him. And that makes Redwall come alive. Suddenly, it has a beating heart with actual merit. There is something different about these Redwall beasts, and it's not just that they are nice and draw lots every day to see if they can work up an excuse for a feast. Castarr finds a genuine joy in these "motley beasts," something not based on pure emotion, but connected to a beauty and wonder that extends beyond themselves, and beyond the mere physical world as well. Swords and blood won't save the Firelands, nor will empty words or passions. I don't think Castarr quite understands what he experienced - and I also don't think he's fully found or understood the answer yet - but he's determined to learn more (reads the book) and finally has hope for his people.
I honestly may be wayyy off in my understanding of the story, but I found this entry to be something truly beautiful and inspiring.

Briefly touching on the craft work, love the rich descriptions present. Vizon is dead-on in her examples--such short, simple sentences create such a vivid picture. It makes me want to go to the Firelands, because it just seems like such a cool place. Also, great use of contrast with the fire/snow thing. Only serves to add greater depth to the themes already in play. On the flip side, some wobbliness and oddity is present here as well. On both my first and second reads, the intro bit with Inaam really confused me. Castarr will keep her weeping a secret? Wasn't until my third read I realized he was saying "the sights you see will bring you down to something as shameful as weeping, but don't worry, I gotchu, Grams," but I initially thought he was holding some sort of blackmail over her head. Likewise, her comment about "You can share my cabin once you decide to stay.” I read as her saying "git da heck outta my palanquin, yew sorry wart," - a very negative, demeaning tone - but then I later saw that she was referencing her unseen living space, somewhere away from Redwall.

And that's an overarching problem scattered throughout the story. While the author has great strength in making things come to life in very few words, in other cases it simply leaves the situation vague and confusing. Inaam as a whole just sort of confuses me. She's from the Firelands, but hasn't been there in so long so as to forget the sights. She also hasn't been to Redwall in forever. While I can buy that she made a name for herself, why are armed (I presume, given Castarr's contingent of guards) vermin allowed in Redwall?
Also, while I love that final scene (the description of the Snow Badger is all kinds of inspiring and wonderful. You really get a sense of the other-worldly majesty of this figure), I've got a problem with the teardrop. There is the fact that it comes out of nowhere with zero explanation, but I can excuse that as being simply a tool to facilitate Castarr's change. My problem is: who's holding the teardrop when the mole gets picked up by Jillicent to dance? It breaks the moment, because the teardrop's interaction with the moonlight is what sets everything off, and while I'm sure it's not just some weird, magic "dance = on" button, the wonder of the scene is really hampered. Probably could have just had the mole give him the teardrop, which he holds up. That way, the dance can be inspired, Castarr can behold - more up-close and personally - both the beauty reflected by the gem, but also the beauty of the Redwallers behind him - him being placed literally in-between the meeting-place of the physical and spiritual.

I think it's clear that I love this story. There's no unspoken rule about reviewers maintaining a neutral tone in their reviews, and when I read something I really like, I will say that I really like it. But there's one thing that may just be enough to keep my vote from being cast for this story: I'm not sure this fits the prompt. Castarr doesn't really visit his grandparent. It's more a vermin's visit to Redwall. Inaam is very much a background character, and she ultimately doesn't contribute anything to the story in a tangible sense. While a fantastic story, I'm not sure I can give it a vote if it didn't hit the prompt in the same way the other entries did. Will be thinking about this in the final days before my vote is cast.
End point, though? Wonderful work, Castarr's author. I truly enjoyed this, and it was a delight to read on a personal level that I've not experienced often in writing.

Poisonous Love

A (canon) warlord visits his grandparents, and chooses to finally embrace the dark path.

Immediately, I felt something "off" about this entry. It took me a while to realize what it was, but I think I found it: this feels like a horror movie. And I mean far before the fire and murder came into play. Ferahgo, after explicitly telling us just what he's doing there and how much he hates love/his grandparents, suddenly ditches that and rushes right to the table and back into his childhood. By his own words, he feels like he loses control over his own body. As a reader, there's something honestly disturbing about watching a fully-grown beast reverting to this lost, infantile state. I felt like I was being smothered with how saccharine his grandparents were, which is fitting, since the exact same thing is happening to Ferahgo. Like, check out this bit:
Quote
She loved Ferahgo deeply and she cherished every stolen moment of love with him.
I agree with Vizon in that, while I don't think her intentions are malicious, it's little details like this that make it clear that Autumn isn't showing Ferahgo true love at all. Caught in so much fear, the best she can manage is to "steal" love from Ferahgo. Like poisoning him only to fake "care" for him. That's really disturbing. One of the more interesting questions of the story, as well, since one must wonder if a more genuine, honest, and true love had been shown, would Ferahgo's life turned out any differently? Or is that sort of love even possible for a beast of his caliber? Regardless of the answer, this sort of tonal quality is wonderful for the story. Well played, Ferry's author.

I really like some of the word pictures in play here. Take, for example, Autumn's first description: "A cloud of flour surrounded the sweet creature at all times." It's a really nice, short descriptive touch that helps to establish the feel and look of the character. In fact, with lines like that, Ferry's author could probably have removed the bits of the story where the narrator just says "she was always in the kitchen cooking." Ferahgo smelling his granny's cooking and then having her described with this perpetual "cloud" of flour hanging about her tells us all of that information (her being a constant cook) in a far more engaging, visual way. Props as well for bringing the "ghostly sheets" description back at the end to usher in the death of the grandparents and add in some poetic flavor. A clear example of wise word choices by the author.
Props, by the way, for killing them. On my first read, I thought it would go with a "love conquers all" shtick, but nope. Fire fun times for granny and grandpa. A nicely bold - albeit dark - choice.

I have a lot of questions, though. So many things in this story come out at a mile a minute. Ferahgo hates his grandparents, and he also hates love, and it's because his wife died, and his son is only alive because he's a reminder, but then he suddenly can't kill them, etc. etc. There's so much information communicated so quickly, I don't really have time to absorb it all. I'd suggest spacing it all out a little more. I understand that's hard to do with a sharp word limit, but that's where Matra's comments are really helpful--finding ways of expressing this information through the actions and events of the story, rather than relying on block paragraphs to simply tell all the details to the reader.
Also, I wasn't a fan of the extremely jarring point-of-view switch to Autumn. It only really exists to explain what's going on in her mind, and I don't think that's information that the reader really needs to know. Most importantly, it hampers the tone and intrigue of the entry by robbing away the mystery of what's going on exactly. Probably could have been cut out entirely, as I don't see a need to explain to the reader what Autumn is thinking/planning.

Overall, a very creative entry. I enjoyed seeing the extra look at a canon character (and Ferahgo has always been one of my favorites, at that!), and while not particularly enjoyable (which is appropriate for the story. We're not supposed to "enjoy" it), the tone of the piece of fascinatingly disturbing. I definitely want to see Ferry's author try their hand at more showing vs. telling in the future, though, to better get us into the moment and emotion of the characters. Now, this is a very difficult thing to learn to do, and is most certainly an advanced step in the craft of writing, but I think Ferry's author shows a lot of promise already with their vivid word pictures, grasp on tone, and boldness with character arc and direction.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2017, 07:30:08 PM by Tooley Bostay »

Airan

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2017, 02:50:47 PM »
Apologies for the delay on my thoughts. I've been pretty busy this week as I said and only now have really had time to put these all down to paper. I'm not one to do grand analyses like Matra and Tooley, so I'll stick to my quicker cliff note-ish reviews where I just summarize my basic thoughts.

Boogie Mouse-
Enjoyed the character interactions and general writing. I felt that the conflict resolution may have been a little bit too predictable though- at least in regards to using Martin himself just because I've personally seen Martin be used as a scary figure to vermin in other fanfictions. Nothing too big of a deal though and nothing that really hampered my opinion of the piece. Also, I wondered where this was all taking place. Honestly my first thought was a darker one where this was taking place at a Redwall that had been taken over by vermin- which would explain the dormitories and the knowledge of Martin- but who knows?

Lost Riches-
Mostly liked this one for the characters and the world building. The Firesands sounds like an interesting place and I'd love to see it developed further. Also if you have no plans for it, I might take -the land of two skies from you, because that was pretty neat. Got a bit confused towards the ending where it started to feel a little rushed to solve the conflict, but overall I enjoyed my reading of it.

Poisonous Love-
Couple of writing errors, but I found it an interesting character to focus on. Most people don't rank Ferahgo very highly among villains of the Redwall series, but he's one of my personal favorites. In terms of storytelling though, only thing I'd have preferred is for it to stay in one character's point of view. The shifting point of view helped us as a reader to understand everything that was happening, but leaving the poison as the surprise to the reader as well as Ferahgo would have made it all the more stronger. Even still, enjoyed my reading of it and some of the further explorations into Ferahgo's character.

All Who Wander-
Enjoyed this one a lot- mostly for how the ending was handled. Leads to some interesting insights into Zanza's character and leaves the reader wondering where he goes from here, which works well with the theme and title. I was a little confused at the very beginning though, just because I didn't know who Zanza was really fighting, and why some were hiding in the caves and others fighting- probably the elders and kiddos were in the caves hiding though, so I figured it out. But was just a first impression before my second read. Overall it read like a pretty successful Survivor App- solid premise, solid character, good ending to tie it together. All around pretty solid
« Last Edit: April 30, 2017, 05:37:18 PM by Airan »

Airan

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2017, 01:30:14 PM »
Apologies for the delay everyone. After the voting ended, two of the entries actually tied, so in order to remain unbiased I had to find myself a neutral party to read the two entries and and break the tie. So with all that said, the tie has been broken and the winner decided. I've already said my thoughts on each entry, so I'll just skip past that and launch into the results and identities.

Identities!

The Boogie Mouse- Vizon
Lost Riches- Matra Hammer
Poisonous Love- Rose
and All Who Wander- Tooley Bostay

and Results---

The tie was between the Boogie Mouse and All Who Wander and the winner wasssss-
The Boogie Mouse by Vizon. Congratulations to you Vizon on your first win. You've earned yourself a nice medal and the title of Mini Contest champ- at least for now  :evil: To everyone else, thanks for submitting your entries. I enjoyed reading each of them and I certainly hope you all continue to apply. Until next time.

Matra Hammer

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2017, 01:14:54 AM »
Joy and Tradition win the day. Congratulations for Vizon and victory smooches for everyone who applied and/or voted.

A full-sized contest is on the horizon, but I hope many more of you cinch up your drawers and give the next round a try. It's only as scary and worthwhile as you make it, like any endeavor.
When kings upon the main have clung to pride
And held themselves as masters of the sea
I've held them down beneath the crushing tide
Till they have learned that no one masters me

Tooley Bostay

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Re: April 2017 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2017, 07:29:51 PM »
Congratulations on the win, Vizon! Pulled out a victory from the clutches of a tie, but beware, for the weasel shall strike once more!

And thank you to everyone who read, voted, submitted--anything. It warms my heart to know people are reading our writing. =)

As is probably clear now, I purposefully left off reviewing my own app in my review thread. Soon here, I'll add in some observations about my crafting of the story, what I was intending, fun facts, etc. Check back for an edit some time tomorrow.