Author Topic: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting  (Read 480 times)

Airan

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March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« on: March 19, 2018, 08:32:12 PM »
Why'd you guys have to go and make this decision so hard for me. Every single one of these stories was enjoyable to me, and choosing which ones would make it to the next round and which ones would be cut was a challenge, but alas, I received six submissions, and so at least two needed to be thinned out.

Anyways, once you read through the lucky four nominees, send me a PM with the vote for your favorite before March 23rd at 11:59 PM EST. The story with the most amount of votes will be the winner of this month.

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 nominees, 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.

•   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 March 2018:
Four characters are caught within a natural disaster as it sweeps through Mossflower or some nearby land.

The First Nominee
Spoiler: show
The Hermit and the Monk

The flood struck during the night when most beasts in Sunnybrook valley were fast asleep. The little canals that usually brought life to their humble fields channeled death instead that evening, sweeping away babes and strongbeasts alike, swallowing them in their bedsheets and sucking them into a muddy, churning, grave.

Few escaped the rapidly rising waters, which crumbled houses and toppled great oaks, save Hespa the Hermit, who lived by herself up high on a hill.

Because of her distrust of other beasts, the squirrel made it a regular habit to sleep in the tree that grew beside her house, where she could silently observe any intruders from a safe distance. It was there that she woke in the early morning hours to find a swirling lake beneath her instead of the usual wide stretch of fields. Dark masses of debris and drowned creatures floated by, bumping and spinning against the walls of her cottage. The squirrel’s eyes grew wide where she sat, frozen in her perch.

Hours passed and soon the sun outrose the water, illuminating the full extent of the flood’s terrible destruction. The valley was completely submerged. Hespa kept an eye on the passing clumps of wreckage and ruin, searching desperately for anything that might provide safe passage to dry land.

At last, in the distance, a fishing currach came into view. A small beast stood at its helm, plunging a long pole-like paddle into the water right and left. He moved quickly, pushing his small craft away from posts and protrusions jutting out of the water while shoving larger chunks of debris away from the bow.

 Hespa was not the type of creature to call for help, no matter how dire her situation, but it just so happened at that moment that her tree gave a lurch, tilting perilously and knocking her off balance. The squirrel dangled from her branch, clawing for purchase when her struggles caught the eye of the vessel’s owner – a field mouse dressed in the dark green vestments of an Abbeybeast. Immediately he paddled toward her, bracing himself with some effort against the current until the currach was beneath her.

“Let go!” He called.

Hespa hesitated only a moment before dropping, scrambling immediately to the far end of the boat and eyeing her rescuer with suspicion.

“I’m Mory,” he announced in a friendly manner, smile turning to a grimace as he fought to control the currach in the rushing current. The vessel’s speed eased when Mory steered them into a more placid eddy. “I was aiming for a lazy fishing holiday,” he continued, “but the brook swelled and took me for a surprise ride!” He chuckled, pushing away another obstacle, then sobered. “Unfortunately, it seems I wasn’t the only one swept away.” He gazed grimly across the flooded valley before turning back to the squirrel. “Have you a name?”

Hespa opened her mouth to speak when the boat struck some unseen element, throwing her abruptly to the floor of the boat and knocking the field mouse overboard with a splash. Hespa righted herself quickly, scanning the littered surface until she spotted the mouse sputtering several yards away, head dipping and rising again and again. She seized hold of a mooring rope and threw it, practically landing the line on the mouse’s head. He grabbed the rope and was reeled in like a lethargic trout, albeit with more gratitude.

“Name’s Hespa.” The squirrel extended a paw and helped him back into the boat.

Mory nodded, still gasping and dripping with muck. “Nice to meet you.”

The two beasts worked together after that, Hespa with a long, probing stick and Mory with the remaining paddle, working their way towards the shore until they heard a cry echoing across the murky floodwaters. Mory’s round ears perked and swiveled, searching for the source while Hespa’s long, tufted versions pinned tightly to her head, her shoulders hunching.

“Over there! I see him! A bank vole – he’s holding onto that wooden plank – do you see?”

“Mmmm,” Hespa glowered.

“We have to help him!” Mory started to paddle back out into the current, away from the shore.

“No, actually, we don’t.” Hespa drug her stick in the water.

“What’s the matter with you? We can’t just leave him!” Mory paddled more quickly.

“Do you know him?” Hespa answered dryly.

“No – but it doesn’t matter – he could die if we leave him adrift like that!”

“Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.” The squirrel shrugged. “Maybe he deserves it.”

“How can you say that? What if I’d left you to die?”

She shrugged again.

“It would have been wrong,” the mouse provided. 

“Look, I appreciate that you helped me. And I’m glad I was able to help you in return. Now we’re even. But I don’t owe this beast anything. In the best of times beasts are only looking for ways they can use you, and if you haven’t noticed, this is not the best of times.”

Mory ignored her, continuing to paddle toward the vole. Hespa gestured at the receding mountain top island. “Just take me to the shore.”

“We help him first.” Mory insisted. Hespa sat down with her stick across her knees, glaring daggers into the mouse’s back. They reached the floundering bank vole and Mory helped him into the boat.

“Thank you, thank you,” the vole repeated, groveling and clutching at the Abbeymouse’s habit. “You saved my life.”

“You’re welcome, friend.” Mory patted him on the back. “If we don’t help each other, then who will help any of us?” He gave Hespa a meaningful look.

“Indeed, and who is this lovely lady?” The vole turned to the squirrel, but she only snarled.

“That’s Hespa. I found her earlier.”

“I suppose there’s all kinds afloat out here,” the vole observed with a smirk. “Call me Emmett.” He extended a paw to shake the mouse’s heartily. “Anything I can do to help?”

Mory lit up at the offer, and soon the vole was the one probing the waters for unseen dangers, as Hespa kept her stick poised like a shield. Mory and Emmett chattered like old friends, carelessly divulging personal information while Hespa remained stubbornly silent.

At last, they reached the safety of land. Emmett leaped ashore and began securing the mooring lines to trees while Hespa hopped cautiously out onto solid ground, still holding her stick. Mory joined her, bending to tie the last line.

“I suppose you’re free to go your own way now – “ He turned to find himself speaking to no one.

High up in her treetop perch, Hespa took account of her surroundings. From what she could tell, the water was no longer rising, but the land was still cut off from the rest of the surrounding country, imprisoning them together for the time being. Shouts rose from below and the squirrel squinted down through the afternoon light at the mouse and vole.

Mory had sighted yet another beast in need. This time, it was a half-drowned mousemaid, tangled in a drifting mass of branches. Emmett held one end of a rope as Mory swam out to rescue the maiden, towing her back to the edge of the island. He tended to her wounds while Emmett started building a fire, hanging wet garments to dry. Hespa watched the way Mory tenderly cleaned and bandaged the other mouse, making sure she was comfortable before returning to the boat for more supplies.

Afternoon melted quickly into evening, and soon all three beasts bedded down for the night, safe at last from the deadly flood. Mory was pleased to point out that the water had already gone down several feet.

“Perhaps by morning we can all trek back to the Abbey together,” he commented hopefully.

Up in the trees, Hespa had created her own makeshift nest of pine boughs and grasses, clinging stubbornly to her isolation. The campfire below crackled and popped merrily, and the three ground beasts lay near to each other for warmth. With a shiver, Hespa sunk into her arboreal bed. Clouds dispersed, revealing a bright full moon, and crickets chirruped, as though nothing had changed.

Later, Hespa woke with a start. The crickets paused to listen too, but soon returned to their usual din. Then she heard it again: A cry, a whimper. Cautiously she sat up and peered down at the campfire below. Where three beasts had previously lain she could make out only two. Then a log shifted in the fading campfire, highlighting with a burst of sparks the struggle taking place as the vole preyed upon the weakened mousemaid. She choked out another cry, causing the Abbeybeast two leafbeds over to sit upright.

“Emmett? What are you doing?” Mory’s voice was groggy at first, but soon the field mouse was on his feet, shouting. “Emmett! Stop this at once! You can’t – this isn’t -  No!” He grappled with the vole.

Emmett, shoved the mouse away with a curse. “Lay off, mouse monk. You can have a turn after me, alright?”

“No – this is not all right. This is wrong!”

“Mory, look at it this way: We saved her life. She owes us.”

Mory pushed the vole violently, causing him to fall backwards, landing a paw in hot coals. He yelped and cursed the mouse, then snatched up a stone from the fire pit ring. With a bellow, he smashed the rock against the side of Mory’s head, an audible crack echoing through the stand of trees.

The mouse crumpled.

Emmett stood over the fallen Abbeymouse, panting, until he was sure he wasn’t getting up again, then turned his attention back to the fearful mousemaid.

“No – no! Please!” She begged, but the prone form of the field mouse lay as proof of the vole’s violent determination.

“I won’t hurt you… as long as you play along.”

Blood pooled around Mory’s head as the mousemaid wept, cries echoing unanswered through the night air…

…until a sharpened stick skewered Emmett from shoulder to belly.

…………

The next morning Mory woke to a cool compress dampening the fur about his face. He winced as it neared the gash in his head, which was sticky with some sort of tree gum. It took several blinks before his vision cleared and he saw a familiar squirrel hovering over him.

“H-Hespa?”

“Oh good. You know who I am. Means your brain is working.”

“Emmett – he – where?”

“Yeah, he’s dead.” She dabbed more dried blood from the mouse’s neck. 

 “and the maid? Is she…?”

“She’s a survivor. Stole your boat and the rest of the supplies while I was off gathering resin for your head.”

Mory sighed heavily. “Well I guess I can’t blame her after all that happened.”

“Oh and she took your shoes too. Sorry.”

“What?” The Abbeymouse squinted down at his bare-pawed feet.

“Some gratitude, eh? Like I said. Beasts are all out for themselves. It’s why I live alone. Can’t trust anyone.”

Mory swallowed dryly, shaking his head. “Not all beasts are bad, Hespa.”

“No, just most of them…” the squirrel paused, “Including me.”

Mory managed a pained smile. “But you stopped Emmett, didn’t you?”

Hespa ground her teeth. “I killed Emmett because he was a threat. You should have left him in the water.”

Mory shrugged. “It’s the way of my order. Heal the sick, care for the injured, and give aid to the wretched and impoverished.”

“And that is why you have a cracked skull and no boat.”

Mory smiled again and Hespa frowned in annoyance. “Look, once you’re able to stand up without falling over, I’m going to leave. The water’s lower now. Won’t be long ‘til we can reach the mainland.”

“You know, you’re very kind for a bad beast who only cares about herself.”

Hespa scowled.

“Help! Hellllp!” A voice called from nearby.

Mory struggled to stand. “We’ve got to do what we can.”

“Idiot.” Hespa hissed, shaking her head, yet helped him to his bare feet.


The Second Nominee
Spoiler: show
Where the Wind Blows


Aunt Cassandra was a little odd. Sam expected her to come to the island with her paws full of gifts, like all his other visiting relatives. She brought nothing, not even silver for the market. Her fur was brown like wood instead of gray, and she spoke with an uppity accent with lots of fancy words, so that you might have thought she was a rich mouse. But she only brought the clothes on her back, and she took so much food from grandma’s table that there were never leftovers or second helpings for anyone else.

She was nicer to him than any of the other relatives he’d known. She listened to him. She played soldiers with him. She could even read, and she read both of his mom’s books all of the way through. Mom had never even known what they were about. And best of all, she worried about him. He knew this, because he could make her scream. When Sam hung upside down from the rafters of the cottage, Aunt Cassandra gasped and screamed. When Sam made it look like his eyeballs fell into his porridge, she screamed and nearly fainted. And when Sam jumped off the roof into his pit of leaves, Aunt Cassandra screamed for help louder than anybody had ever screamed over him before, until he popped out from the leaves uninjured.

Grandpa spent the first week reminding Sam that Cassandra wasn’t literally his Aunt. She was Mom’s cousin, not Mom’s sister. Sam didn’t know why, but Grandpa liked to point out that no one on his side of the family had wood-brown fur.

“Hortencia, what was that sound?” his Aunt dashed into the room, panicked.

“Wind, Cassandra,” Sam’s grandmother chided. “I don’t know what you townsfolk call it, but around here we call it wind.”

Sam liked the windy isle, and he liked the cool breeze always blowing over him, and flying kites, and tasting the sea with every breath. Still, sometimes he imagined leaving Obsidian for a place that had trees to climb, or having so much wood that you could just burn it for heat and never need blankets.

His grandmother had an imported oak table that his mom always threatened to burn when it got cold in the winter. His grandfather would send Sam up the mountain to fetch hot stones to keep them warm.

*~~~~*~~~~*

Naturally, Aunt Cassie was always afraid that Sam was going to fall into the rock juice. The night after she first arrived, Sam had gone off to sleep on the beach. Suddenly, he woke to the sound of Aunt Cassie shouting for him across the barley fields.

“Sam! Sam! Sam! Sam, where are you?” Her voice reached him over the sand and under the moon, full of terror. “Sam! Sam!” she screamed.

“I’m here, I’m here!” he yelled, running back all the way, wrapped in blankets to keep out the chilly air, wondering if grandma was in a fight with the Lord Mayor again.

“What is it?” he coughed out, out of breath from running back. “What’s the matter!”

“Sam! You’re okay!” She let out a gasp of relief when he appeared over the horizon. “Where in the world were you? The volcano is erupting! There is molten lava everywhere! You might have been burned alive!”

“I was sleeping on the beach,” he said. “The rock juice would’ve hit you before it ever hit me.”

By this time, the commotion had awoken the whole settlement, hedgehogs and shrews and mice, everyone but the badgers. His mom, in the middle of her sixty-hour shift at the Swartsbevel mine, had to run home in fear that something was wrong.

“Why didn’t you at least tell anyone where you were?“ his Aunt asked, as though he’d planned to set sail.

The crowd murmured and grumbled, voices popping out from the mix.

“She woke us all up because her nephew was sleeping outside?”

“Surely a lad of ten seasons has a right to sleep where he please.”

“What, in your lass’s quarters then, Barty?”

“Watch your mouth, Swartnose!”

“Miss wood-fur is afraid of the mountain’s lifeblood? Hah!”

“What, do they not have fire where she’s from either?”

“Nah, Spikefoot, her folk must warm themselves by shaking with fear!”

“It’s not as though he’s a wee dibbun anymore.”

“Why, even my dibbuns sleep on the beach. Safer, I think. Keeps ‘em away from the ale at night.”

“Y’ mean away from your ale-drinking pals, Barty!”

“Have a rest, Swartnose!”

“What is wrong with her anyway?”

“Enough! Enough!” His grandfather shouted at the crowd, waving his silver-plated walking stick at them. “No more. We’re sorry for our fine-furred bookish guest, she’ll be gone soon. Now, get back to your beds or ale…”

The crowd dispersed. Aunt Cassie cried, bewildered. Worried that she might leave Obsidian when she’d only just arrived, Sam gave her a hug, and spent the night indoors.

*~~~~*~~~~*

On the fifth day of the third fortnight, grandma and Aunt Cass had a fight. Summer was nearing, and the peat moss had thawed enough to dry and burn. Sam overheard them while he was hiding in the attic, trying to study letters out of his grandfather’s sight.

“You want a fresh start, Cassandra? Well then, try the mines, or the fields, or run a shop even. Obsidian has more jobs than beasts.”

“You don’t understand, I can’t do that. I came here because I need space, I need time to write.”

“We built this place on hard work, not calligraphy, lass.”

“No, see, that’s what I’m writing about. You didn’t build this place on hard work.”

“Excuse me?”

“You didn’t build this cottage. You beasts didn’t build this town. This isn’t Woodlander architecture at all.”

“You watch yourself, now. We built this place on self-reliance. We built it to get away from that rotten land where we were always servants to beasts like your mother, so we can live on our own terms.”

“No, Vermin build this place. I can tell, because your doorway is just tall enough for a Weasel.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Be honest with me, Hortencia. How did it happen? Was it slavery? Did you steal it?”

“How dare you insult the only roof you have left to sleep under!” Sam’s grandmother yelled.

“You stole this, didn’t you.” Aunt Cass whispered accusingly.

“I invited you here because I thought my brother was unfair to you. Now I understand why he sent you away.”

“Bones, everywhere. Why were there bones in the cellar, Hortencia? Why are the walls of the barn patched up with mud and bones? Why are the potholes patched with bones?”

“We are not too good to be resourceful, dear.”

“Did you kill them?”

“No. No, I can tell you’d like to think that about us, but we never took a life. What you don’t understand, Cassandra, is that this place came to us as a gift. It is a gift. It was empty when we got here.”

“Empty?”

“We found it deserted when we landed. Cottages, barns, taverns, roads. All for us. All free for the taking.”

Sam could hear his Aunt pacing, as her tone of voice changed from accusatory to concerned.

“You just… found this house, this farm, these mines?”

“Yes. It took a great deal of cleaning up, of course. The floor was caked with dirt and bones. Some of the roof and the walls had been destroyed, but the foundation was there. We rebuilt it with hard work. The town, the crops, the orchards, the gems… were a gift.”

“Who left it here?”

“Why in the world does that matter? They were vermin anyway, and they’re dead, and they can hardly claim it now.”

“And you never thought to ask why they disappeared?”

“Well, why should we ask that? That’s none of our business. The point is that it was given to us, and who are we to turn down a gift? Obsidian is the first time we were free and had a land of our own. This is more than any of your kind ever gave us back home, when we were serving at their oaken tables.

“What happened to them?”

“Really, you’re just like your mother. Always questioning whether we deserve happiness.”

Sam had heard enough, and he scurried away.

*~~~~*~~~~*

On the eighth day of the eleventh fortnight, Aunt Cass and Sam were walking on the beach, as they were now in the habit of doing while he mother worked. There had been a mild earth-shake earlier, but she had learned to ignore them. They were collecting shells, and she was telling him about her book, “The Wealth of Species.“

Then, the tide began to recede quickly, exposing not only a vast space of sand but even some of the corals offshore.

Sam ran out in excitement. “Look at all the shells! It’s beautiful!”

Aunt Cass gave him an inquiring look. “Is that… normal?”

“Of course not, it’s amazing!” he shouted in glee.

Seconds later, he felt her two paws lift him up off his feet and toss him over her shoulder, and she sprint towards shore.

“Hey! What are you doing? Are you crazy? Let me go.”

She said nothing, her grip tight on him as she ran up the sand dunes, across the barley fields, and into the village center.

“Run!” she tried to shout, but she was too out of breath to be heard. “Up the mountain!” she wheezed.

Sam didn’t know why they were running, or why for the first time she was willing to go up the mountain, but he felt compelled to play along. So, he shouted, loud enough to be heard through the mud and straw walls: “Run! Up the mountain! Run, everyone!”

Sam’s grandparents came out of their house, as did the other mice and the shrews and the hedgehogs and even the badgers.

“It’s coming. You must hurry! The tide… look at the tide… only the mountain is safe! Hurry!”

The crowd grumbled.

“Oh no, is it her again?”

“Didn’t they say she was leaving soon?”

“Oh, she’s left all right, Barty, left reality, that is.”

“What does she think is going to get her now? A sea monster?”

“Apparently, she’s never seen a low tide.”

They laughed, as Sam’s grandparents looked at their feet.

Finally, his mother spoke poke. “Cassie, you put down our poor young Sam right now. You can be as crazy as you like, but don’t get him mixed up in it!”

Aunt Cass stared blankly at Sam’s mother. She held onto him tightly, refusing to let go even as he tried to get away. “Come and catch us!” she shouted.

Seconds later, she picked him up and began running up the mountain, over the jagged black rocks, towards the fire, not looking back. From his vantage point on her shoulders, Sam could see his mother scurrying up the mountain behind them frantically, while his grandparents retreated into their home in shame.

“Kidnapper!” His mother yelled as she can. “You give me back my son, you wood-furred lunatic!”

“Come and get us!”

Then, the largest wave he had ever seen dashed over the island: over the sand dunes, over the barley fields, over the rooftops of the village. In an instant, the whole island below the mountaintop was underwater.

Sam’s Aunt put him down. He walked solemnly down the mountain towards his mother, who was sitting down, looking at the ocean below her, at their home. He knew his grandparents were gone. He started to cry, and his mother pulled him tighter. Aunt Cass sat down beside them. They watched for what seemed like an hour, until the wave receded, and the island returned, caked with mud and bodies.

None of them could speak. Sam’s nose was dripping and his throat was swollen shut. So he took a rock, and he scratched out into the dirt a few words he knew:

“It is a gift.”


The Third Nominee
Spoiler: show
And Behold, Seven Ears, Blighted and Thin


The sun beat down with relentless zeal as Brungle stepped out of the Guard barracks and surveyed the city before him. The chaotic mass of buildings that constituted Abbeyton sprawled to the edge of Mossflower Wood. His sweeping gaze fell on the Grunge, at the utmost edge of the trees, and his eyes wandered through the dingy, worn-down buildings until they came to rest on the burnt-out shell of a large building. He sighed at the carnage. They had been lucky. In the cramped spaces of the Grunge, an uncontrolled fire should have spread like a bothered beehive, and few beasts would have been able to escape the flames. But better flames, perhaps, than starvation. He wiped a paw across his forehead. A swim would be a good way to escape the heat, but he had places to be.

Behind him a bell rang, echoing like a thunderstroke. Brungle turned toward the sound. The massive gates of the famed Redwall Abbey loomed into the air. With a grunt, he glared at the structure. In this heat, all he wanted was to go for a nice swim. Sighing, he set off for the Abbey at a hurried pace, knowing his work wouldn’t let that happen today.

“Ho there, gatekeeper,” he called as he approached the ancient gates, reaching out a paw and banging on the door. A wizened face peered through the gatehouse window over spectacles and faded whiskers.

“Ho there, Captain Rudderfletch.” The voice that called back wavered, yet remained full of youthful mirth. “Come back for second lunch already? It’s still noon.”

Brungle eyed his paunch with a frown as the gates swung open. “I ain’t that bad, Mimmo,” he said. A mouse trundled out of the gatehouse with the help of a walking stick that was almost as gnarled as the beast wielding it. The gatekeeper chuckled, leaning on the staff and looking curiously up at the taller beast. "Besides," continued the otter, giving the old mouse a reproachful look. "Now ain't the time fer such things."

“I suppose not," sighed Mimmo. "I suppose I forget sometimes. I do not eat very much at all these days anyway." He paused. "Still, it is an odd time for you to be here, my friend,” he said, pushing up his glasses. “Is there any particular reason for such an early visit?”

Brungle’s frown deepened as he crossed his arms. “Ain’t here fer lunch, Mimmo. Got business wi’ the abbot.”

“Ah, right.” The mouse nodded. “The mission fire. Of course— nasty business, indeed.”

“Aye,” said the otter.

“Poor Midgeon,” murmured Mimmo.

“Poor Midge,” said Brungle, echoing in agreement.

“Well, then,” said the mouse after a moment of silence. “You’d best come with me.” He gave the otter a sober glance. He ushered Brungle through the gate. Brungle’s eyes meandered around the grounds as they walked. The flowers were not blooming as they usually would this time of year, and the trees stood leafless under the scorching sun. Still, the peacefulness here was a stark contrast to the bustle of the city below. There were no busy workbeasts with rude glares and low growls as they rushed about their business, and there were no merchants beckoning and caterwauling from their stalls. The most welcome absence, though, was the smell of death and fear that lingered under the heat of summer, hanging in the streets and alleyways of the city. Here, the only movement was the gentle stirring of the dead grass, the only sound a distant buzz from the beehives. The faint scent of the kitchens wafted towards them, but that was all. Brungle always marveled at the quaint picturesqueness of the Abbey, which seemed so far removed from his own world. The circumstances that brought him here, though, somewhat lessened his appetite for the scene. As they entered the Great Hall, a fox decked in finery strode back and forth, muttering to himself. His head whipped up at the sound of the creaking doors.

“Captain.” He greeted Brungle with an air of stiff formality.

“Mayor,” the otter replied, without even so much as a glance. Striding brusquely, he brushed past the fox. The mayor fell into step behind him, while Mimmo lagged a small distance behind.

"Slow down,” wheezed the mouse. “Some of us need three legs to walk.” Brungle looked back over his shoulder.

“Sorry, Mim,” he said. “I ain’t got time to waste. I know the way an’ the abbot knows I’m comin’. I’ll see ye on the way out.”

Mimmo shrugged, waving his cane in acquiescence as the other two reached the doorway at the end of the hall. Brungle led the fox through the doorway and up a flight of stairs, before continuing down a smaller hallway for a few moments. When they reached the door of the abbot’s study, the mayor was panting slightly. Directing a disparaging glare toward the fox, Brungle rapped his knuckles on the door. It opened to reveal the greying face of a squirrel enveloped in an abbeybeast’s habit.

“Captain Rudderfletch. Mayor Lowtail. Please do come in.” The beasts followed him inside and waited in polite silence as he shuffled to his desk and sat down.

“Father Sylsley,” began Brungle. “I apologize fer not bein’ able ta meet with ye earlier, but I had some business down at the station.”

“Of course,” replied the squirrel, nodding absently. “Understandable, given the circumstances. I—”

 “Look,” interrupted the mayor, pacing with exaggerated exasperation. His eyes were terse and narrowed, and his tail flicked back and forth. “We don't have time for this. Let’s get down to business. I realize that this is an awful event. My condolences to you, Sylsley, and all here, of course. A terrible tragedy.” He stopped pacing for a moment to look at the abbot, and Brungle was almost impressed with the sincerity in the air of sadness the fox attempted to adopt. “However, this does put me in somewhat of an … awkward position, you see.”

“Of course,” drawled Brungle. “We couldn’ bear fer a beast’s death t' make ye uncomfertable.”

With an icy glare at the otter, Lowtail continued. “We've had a fallow spring, as I’m sure you are both aware. With food scarce, a certain climate breeds. Captain, I am sure you feel it. How do you think beasts will handle the news that a beast, and brother of this very abbey, no less, was murdered?” He paused. “We can’t let this go public. Who knows how they’ll react to our good captain’s methods?”

“What exactly are ye sayin’, fox?” Brungle growled.

“I’m saying that I’m not sure you understand the complexities of the situation, Captain,” Lowtail said, wrinkling his nose in derision.

“An’ I’m not sure ye understand the complexities of what it takes t' solve a murder,” retorted the otter.

The mayor raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware there was any complexity to beating vermin senseless.”

“Oh, I’ll show ye the complexities of beatin’ a vermin senseless, brushtail,” snarled Brungle, taking a step forward.

Lowtail faced contorted into a sneer. “Why you—“

“Gentlebeasts,” the abbot interjected sharply. His paws steepled in front of him, and he looked back and forth between the two with a deep frown. “Enough. I understand your distaste for each other’s methods. But we face a rather unique situation here, as I’m sure you would both agree. Now is not the time for useless bickering.”

“Look, Father,” said the mayor. “I bear no ill will towards the woodlanders, but I can’t say that this feeling runs both ways. Beasts find out that an abbeybeast was murdered in the lower quarters, and we’ll have a riot on our hands.”

“An’ how am I supposed ter catch a murderer if I can’t investigate?” asked Brungle.

“Well,” responded Lowtail, “I can’t help you with that. The livelihood of this city depends on my vigilance, and I think one monk’s life— no offense, Father— isn’t worth sacrificing the well-being of the entire population.”

The abbot held up a paw. “Captain, you will continue to investigate this matter,” he said. “However, you will only do so at the utmost discretion. I’m afraid our good mayor is correct. It may be difficult to maintain order if we go public. I have trust, though, that you are most capable of the task.” Brungle opened his mouth to protest, but the stern look on the abbot’s face quelled his objection. The squirrel continued. “And I expect, of course, that you will have our mayor’s full cooperation and support in this endeavor.”

“Support?” Lowtail said. “We don’t have the resources. They've been stretched thin trying to feed the populace.”

“Of course,” said Father Sylsley. “But this is serious business. Somebeast is out in that city murdering goodbeasts. I don’t think it needs to be said what we have to do." Frowning, the abbot pushed up his glasses. “The divide between vermin and woodlanders is still considerable, unfortunately. Bridging that gap was just one of the missions Brother Midgeon had. A quick trial would, while doubtless being successful considering Captain Rudderfletch's particular adeptness, in all probability yield a vermin perpetrator, given the location and nature of the crime. Of this, I am sure you are aware.” Fox and otter nodded in unison. “Now, I think it safe to say we can assume that the woodlander's response when they find out a vermin killed a brother of this order will be poor. And the vermin, when they find that yet another one of them has been made the victim of our so-called justice, will behave no better.”

"So why waste the effort," demanded Lowtail. "If the end of all this is the abject deterioration of public order?"

"Justice, Mayor Lowtail. There must be justice, or order will be lost either way."

"But if we can't hang the bastard," said Brungle, "What are we supposed ter do?"

"Simple enough, Captain," said the abbot. The squirrel pulled off his glasses and began polishing them on the hem of his sleeve. "Find the beast, and deal with him quickly and quietly."

"Father," said Brungle. "I'm not sure what ye mean."

"Oh, I am sure you do, Captain." The abbot put his glasses back on.

"Sylsley," began Lowtail uncertainly. "I am not sure that such a course would be prudent. Every beast, even one such as the one the captain now hunts, deserves a fair and public trial. You yourself wrote the law and—"

"I am aware of what I wrote, Mayor," interrupted the abbot. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "As you kindly pointed out earlier, we must take the well-being of every beast into account. This is a delicate situation. Already, the citizen's anger threatens to spill out into violence. The weight of hunger and fear presses down us all. A trial will only be the spark that lights the flames. This is a thing we cannot risk. At times like this, there are certain notions we must sacrifice for the good of the beasts whom we serve. It is not with a light heart that I have come to this conclusion, believe me. Now, you should be going. We have little time to waste."

"Of course, Father Abbot," said Brungle. He motioned to the fox, and they walked out of the room.

"Martin go with you," the abbot called after them as he stood up to close the door.

"Do you buy it?" asked the mayor when the door shut behind them. All traces of his usual hostility were gone.

"I'm not sure, ta be honest," replied Brungle. "But I trust ol' Sylsley more'n meself, an' much more'n you."

"Fair enough," said Lowtail. "Only time will tell if it is the right decision. At the end of the day, whatever the outcome, only history can be our judge."

"Aye," said Brungle. "Ain't much ta do about it but hope fer the best." Lowtail nodded, and both creatures lapsed into silence as they made their way toward the old Abbey Gates.


The Fourth Nominee
Spoiler: show
The Coming of the Night Monster to Mossflower Woods


Quickbeak could not remember a time when the trees of Mossflower Woods had groaned so loudly. She clung tightly to the tangled inner branches of the nest that she and her mate, Duskwing, had recently built together, and fervently wished for the structure to hold. She also hoped that Duskwing was okay. He had gone off earlier in the day to collect insects for their supper. The sun was beginning to set in the sky, which had developed an odd greenish cast as the day wore on, and Duskwing had not yet returned.

Quickbeak hoped that it was an interesting piece of debris that had kept her mate away so long and not something more sinister; Duskwing had a penchant for collecting odd bits of detritus to weave into the nest, claiming that their unborn chicks deserved a beautiful space to grow up in. Quickbeak smiled as she settled more firmly onto the two eggs beneath the downy feathers of her belly. They represented her first brood and she could not fault her mate for wanting everything to be perfect. Nevertheless, she hoped that her mate's rusty pate would appear through the branches of their chosen nesting tree soon.

Time dragged on. The harsh wind continued to grow in intensity as darkness settled into the forest, howling through the branches and sending leaves flying to intermingle in verdant, careless piles upon the ground. Quickbeak felt her panic rising with the ferocity of the storm. This did not bode well for her mate. She began to call his name, not caring if any of the ground-based vermin should hear. Several anxious minutes later, she heard a large crack in reply and a grey body hurtled through the trees, alighting on the edge of the nest before tumbling slightly over its side. It was Duskwing!

Quickbeak hurtled herself toward her mate's descending body, leaving their two precious eggs unprotected for a moment. She could see Duskwing's foot caught in the side of the nest, muffled sounds coming from him, as if he were trying to talk around something in his beak.

"Darling, are you okay?" Quickbeak shouted over the edge of the nest. Duskwing mumbled incomprehensibly in reply. Quickbeak continued, "Do you need help?" Additional muffled sounds from beneath the nest. Reflexively, Quickbeak hopped up onto the side of the nest and leapt over its side. So bent was she on helping Duskwing it did not register that the tumultuous wind had suddenly stopped.

Quickbeak's body fell for a moment before her wings caught enough air for her to rise up and become level with Duskwing. Her mate's feathers were ruffled but he looked overall unharmed. A moment later she understood the reason for Duskwing's mumbled responses - in his beak he carried a tiny mousebabe, newly born, still pink and not yet with fur. With the precision of an insectivore plucking an insect from the air, Quickbeak swooped in and relieved her mate of his tiny package. The small creature weighed more than she expected and it bore her down until she could equilibrate for the extra bulk.

Concomitantly, Duskwing released his grip from the edge of the nest. After several seconds of awkward aerial acrobatics, he was able to right himself. Quickbeak was relieved to see that his plummet through the trees had not affected his ability to fly. He rose up to meet her and together the two headed for the rim of their nest. As they reached its apex, a second shape plummeted through the night and crashed into the center of the structure. The falling shape emitted a shrill cry, landing with an audible "thump" followed by a crunching sound.

Quickbeak's heart fell. In her frantic efforts to help her mate, she had left the two eggs unprotected and the descending creature - for she could now see it appeared to be alive and covered in fur - had fallen directly on top of them. So startled was she that she almost dropped the precious cargo she carried in her beak; its minute wails returned her to the present moment.

Quickbeak watched Duskbeak land and frantically begin to push the furry lump off of their broken brood. She alighted next to him, and, setting the mousebabe in what she hoped was a secure alcove, rushed to his side to aid in his efforts. It did not take long for the pair to discover that the eggs were indeed obliterated, with fluid spilling out over the inner branches of the nest and matting the intruder's fur.

Sparrows are taught from a young age to accept that not all eggs will be viable, that there are vermin out there who will attempt to steal and consume these precious orbs. However, as a first-time, hopeful mother, the sight of the broken eggshells was almost too much for Quickbeak to bear. She berated herself, wishing that she had been the one to break the creature's fall. While she and Duskbeak would be able to try again this season, these two chicks would never come to be.

Lost in her internal reverie, Quickbeak did not notice that the furry creature had moved until a pair of luminous golden eyes were staring directly into hers. "Where's m' mum? I kin't find her!" The creature's breath was warm on her face as it spoke and the open mouth revealed two rows of tiny teeth with four particularly long ones poking up at each corner. Quickbeak peered closer at the face through the darkness - it belonged to a wildcat dibbun!

Quickbeak felt a brush of air as Duskwing hopped to her side, wings held up in a menacing gesture. "Don't move, beast!" he cried, "or I shall be forced to attack you!" The wildcat began to bawl, its mewling cries loud against the silence of the night. Behind her, Quickbeak heard the mousebabe also begin to cry. The sounds, while not the peeping of chicks, nevertheless managed to penetrate Quickbeak's hurting heart.

 A crackling, crashing sound broke through the darkness, accompanied by a roar that was unlike that of any beast Quickbeak had ever heard. Four pairs of eyes turned toward the source of the noise; both dibbun and mousebabe's cries were silenced. The forest, which had been still only a moment ago, was now alive with both sound and fury. Branches quaked, and some were broken, hurtling through the air in a procession of debris that edged ever closer to the nest. Large cracks sounded in the distance as trees snapped in half. The hollow sound of rocks being shuffled across the ground also punctuated the night, an occasional "clack" heard as they met each other forcefully.

The four creatures in the nest huddled together, desperately clinging to one another as the dark assailant approached. Quickbeak scooped the mousebabe up under a wing, shielding its tiny body. The wildcat dibbun threw its paws around Duskwing in desperation; the surprised sparrow wrapped his outstretched wings around the forlorn creature in return, his aggression from the previous moment forgotten with the advent of the storm.

Time passed in slow motion as the nightmare made its way forward, consuming the forest. As it reached Quickbeak's tree, a cascade of debris rained down upon the crouched group, bouncing off the edge of the nest and catching in nearby branches. Quickbeak was grateful the she and Duskwing had chosen such a sturdy tree in which to build a nest, with the placement of the structure close to the trunk amid a mess of branches that was meant to deter larger winged hunters. Apparently, it was effective protection against strange, giant forces of darkness as well.

The wildcat had closed its eyes tightly and was emitting a continuous, desperate mewl nearly drowned out by the sound of the roaring tempest. Quickbeak could hear Duskwing speaking in a low voice to the poor, bedraggled creature, likely offering their uninvited guest words of comfort. While he tried to act tough when needed, Quickbeak knew that Duskwing was sentimental at heart and not one to stand by and let others suffer, even under the unfortunate circumstances by which this dibbun-beast had arrived in their lives.

Quickbeak looked down at her own charge. "Hush little Pip," she said quietly, bestowing a name upon the helpless, squalling creature. Given the manner in which Duskwing had brought it to her, Quickbeak surmised that the mousebabe was likely an orphan, its mother consumed by the unnamed force that was nearly upon them. With her own brood gone and not knowing if she, Duskwing, or the two dibbuns would survive the night, Quickbeak made a decision. If the four of them survived the chaos ripping its way through the darkness, she would adopt both creatures and raise them as her own. She knew Duskwing would agree.

The roar in the night increased as the full breadth of the storm reached them. "Hold on!" Duskwing shouted. The gale force was so strong that Quickbeak had to shut her eyes, feet gripping the twigs that lined the inner surface of the nest, body shielding the delicate mousebabe beneath her. The branch on which the nest rested was suddenly tugged violently back and forth, portions of it being chewed progressively off towards the trunk of the large tree. While she could not see the force that was assaulting them, the monstrous roar of the thing encompassed her world, deafening her to all other sound.

Just as Quickbeak thought all was lost, the sound began to decrease as the night-monster moved past the tree, its progression steady in spite of the density of the woods. Quickbeak looked over to her mate and was relieved to see that he, too, had survived. The wildcat dibbun, though its fur was on end and matted in places, also appeared to be okay, if severely shaken by its ordeal.

As the night wore on, the roar of the night-monster died down leaving an eerily silent Mossflower Woods. Exhausted, but apparently out of danger for the moment, the quartet of creatures slept.

When Quickbeak next opened her eyes, bright light was streaming into the nest at an intensity much greater than she was used to. Blinking away the remainder of sleep, Quickbeak could feel an odd sensation beneath her belly. The eggs! They were hatching! At last! Standing up, Quickbeak peered down at the floor of the nest. Amid a pile of grey down that she and Duskwing had carefully laid out for their new arrivals, Pip the mousebabe fussed. Reality hit her then, and all of the events of the previous night flashed across her mind, paralyzing her.

Beside her, Duskwing began to stir. Quickbeak pushed the terrible memories aside and turned her attention to her mate. "Good morning, love," he said sleepily, also seeming to have momentarily forgotten the perils of the previous night. That is, until the furry ball crouched next to him began to rise and stretch. Duskwing hopped backwards to allow the wildcat to awaken in its own space. The creature turned sad eyes towards the pair of them and again asked, "Where's m' mum?"

Duskwing put a consoling wing around the wildcat and said, "Dibbun, your mum is gone. The storm has eaten her. Don't worry though, for we are here and will care for you in her place."

Curiosity finally got the best of Quickbeak and she peered over the edge of the nest. The devastation of their forest was almost too much to believe. The path of the night beast had carved a clean line through the woods, having claimed entire trees in its wake, shaking loose leaves to leave skeletal limbs, broken and bare, behind. On the forest floor, Quickbeak could see several small, twisted shapes that had once been her neighbors. The tragedy of the previous night had been terrible and Mossflower Woods would not be the same for generations to come. However, Quickbeak would mourn the death and loss later. For now, she had a new family to raise.


These are your four nominees for this month's contest and congratulations to all of them! I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I did. And to those of you who unfortunately didn't make it, trust me when I say it was a very hard decision and a lot of my choices here were ultimately decided upon by smaller things. Anyways, I look forward to seeing everyone's thoughts on the nominees. And if you're curious about my own thoughts, I'll be coming in here in a day or two with some quick reviews- as well as posting the final two entries that didn't make the cut. Until then, happy reading and voting :)

Vizon

Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2018, 09:40:52 PM »
All very enjoyable reads. This will be a tough one.

Gordon Hagglethrump

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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2018, 08:06:37 PM »
So, let me take a stab at some short reviews. These are going to be really condensed, since it's a 'mini' contest, but I want to give a few thoughts about each.

1. The Hermit and the Monk

This story is almost like a parable, a reflection on trust. In normal times the hermit seems irrational for not trusting others and for being selfish, and the monk seems especially noble for the willingness to self-sacrifice. This is because in normal times there's a kind of guarantee of reciprocity: the good I do for others, either they're going to do for me, or they're going to enhance my reputation so that others do good for me; the bad I do to others, either they're going to punish me for, or they're going to ruin my reputation so that others do bad to me or at the very least don't trust me. Natural disasters ruin all of that. The credit bureaus are underwater. So as everyone defaults to immediate self interest (and survival), suddenly the hermit seems rational for being distrustful, and the monk looks like an idiot.

What I like about this story is the way the natural disaster 'prompt' is used as a way to bring out of these two characters, Mory and Hespa, their underlying motivations. Hespa is in the paradoxical situation of owing Mory her life and at the same time having to think that his saving her life is idiocy. Mory's idiocy is of course exactly the kind of thing they'll need to rebuild after a disaster, if they want to rebuild, but in the midst of the disaster it costs him a cracked skull and a boat. I like how this little parable is spun through dialog and the natural passage of events -- it never feels forced.

My main point of improvement for the story would be the voice of the 3rd person narrator. The 3rd person narrator feels a little more present than I'd like and here and there it takes me out of the story. For instance, the sequences of elipses:

Blood pooled around Mory’s head as the mousemaid wept, cries echoing unanswered through the night air…

…until a sharpened stick skewered Emmett from shoulder to belly.


This feels a little unnatural to me -- it feels like the narrator waving at me! There are some other awkward phrasings, like:

He gave Hespa a meaningful look.


Where I'm getting the narrator's point of view too strongly rather than being able to make this judgment for myself.

Anyway, on the whole I enjoyed reading the parable and I wonder what will become of Mory and Hespa!

Gordon Hagglethrump

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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2018, 08:19:01 PM »
2. Where the Wind Blows

I like a number of things about this piece. First, I like that there are some tensions in the background that stay in the background but clearly impact the story, like the grandparents attitudes towards literacy, or the social class of the people on the island compared to those in the land they emigrated from (presumably Mossflower), or the fact that we don't hear a word about Sam's father. Second, I like that the island is not destroyed by a volcano after all. Third, I like the pacing in the story so that it covers a lot of time without feeling too rushed for the most part (except a little rushed at the very end... more on that in a second).

That said, I have a few suggestions. First, while the twist at the end is neat, it goes by so quickly that I can't quite quite experience that moment the way the characters must have experienced it. I'd like more pauses, more scenic description, more to ground that moment. Second, the piece is rife with awkward typos ("spoke poke"?) which could have been caught. Third, I guess I'm not sure who the four characters are. Clearly Sam and his Aunt, but then vying for two slots are three characters: Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa. At first I assumed it was grandma and grandpa, because Mom didn't really appear, but then at the end of the story mom is a character. So then I thought it was grandma and mom, since grandma is clearly a major player, but we don't actually see grandpa much directly. Maybe grandma and gramps are to be treated as one? Maybe this is forgivable, but it's not technically four characters. Lastly, there are a few stretches of the suspension of disbelief for me -- lava as central heating? -- but that's mitigated a little by remembering I'm seeing the world through a child's perspective.

Still, it's a fun story and I enjoy it.
« Last Edit: March 22, 2018, 08:23:30 PM by Gordon Hagglethrump »

Gordon Hagglethrump

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Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2018, 08:44:43 PM »
3. And Behold, Seven Ears, Blighted and Thin

This feels the most 'Redwall' of the entries to me, and I like both the polished style and tone of the author and the care which has been taken to make the dialogue feel very natural, with enough 'accent' to give it color while not so much accent as to make it hard to read. I like the description of the Mayor's bodily posture and body language especially; for instance in this paragraph:

“Look,” interrupted the mayor, pacing with exaggerated exasperation. His eyes were terse and narrowed, and his tail flicked back and forth. “We don't have time for this. Let’s get down to business. I realize that this is an awful event. My condolences to you, Sylsley, and all here, of course. A terrible tragedy.” He stopped pacing for a moment to look at the abbot, and Brungle was almost impressed with the sincerity in the air of sadness the fox attempted to adopt. “However, this does put me in somewhat of an … awkward position, you see.”

Now, there are costs to giving this kind of description in the midst of dialogue. First, it costs words, and to stay under 2,000 words with this level of fine description means that this vignette is only a slice of a larger story, we lack the feeling of a full story arc.  Second, this level of description can be taxing on a reader who is still trying to figure out what is going on and dealing with the various new situations, trying to guess the political intrigue behind the scenes, and so on. Those turn out to me to be the main downsides of the piece. But while that's a cost, there's also a benefit from that cost, which is compelling writing that keeps the reader's attention and interest in the midst of dialogue about a fairly complex situation -- weighing the risk of a public trial with the demands of justice, and so on.

By the end, I'm interested in how this detective story is going to turn out and who is going to turn up as the killer; I'm also interested in understanding what sorts of darker forces might be at work inside the Abbey's walls...

Lastly, I like how the natural disaster -- which I understand to be a heat wave, leading to fire, drought, and famine -- forms the backdrop of the story rather than the centerpiece of it. It avoids the sensationalism towards which the prompt otherwise might lead us. The story is sort of a post-apocalyptic vision of how order maintains when everything else is slowly breaking down and falling apart. One underappreciated thing about 'slow' natural disasters as opposed to the rapid destruction of, say, an earthquake is that people begin to adapt to them as though they were normal.
 
So, I think think this is a well-polished and nicely-written story.

Gordon Hagglethrump

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« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2018, 09:19:06 PM »
The Coming of the Night Monster to Mossflower Woods

We find ourselves thrown into the world tossed by the wind into a series of responsibilities that we never asked for but nonetheless are obliged to accept. In this story, our two Sparrows find that the wheel of fortune has taken from them the two eggs which promised to be their first young and in their stead provided a most unlikely pair of progeny -- a cat and a mouse. The sparrows do not balk at this newfound responsibility, nor do they waste time at the moment mourning the destruction wrought by the storm, but instead accept their duty with a stiff upper lip, embracing the unusual young as their own, since the duty has fallen (literally) to them and there is no one else to take it.

Of course, we realize that hidden behind all of this there is real grief -- the grief of the lost natural parents of these two children at the very least, but also the destruction of the other life in the woodland, and the sparrows' expected chicks. But these sparrows react just as often people in the real world react to the grief of a natural disaster not by being broken down by it and sobbing, but by pouring that energy into the immediate demands of the moment -- the hurricane survivors who ought to be out of energy but instead find themselves struggling to rescue everybody else who is even worse of than they are.

So, I like the psychology of the piece, the mix of cuteness (sorry, but there is something cute here), with tragedy and irony and fatalism at the same time. Of the four pieces, this is probably the one to which I can most relate with the characters.

The downside of the piece, however, is that there is a good deal less drama felt while reading than the situation they're in would really require. I really like having characters who aren't self-obsessed and melodramatic, but that's because as a reader I should be filling in within myself the various emotions which aren't happening in the scene. There's a potential here for the same story to be told with a little more drama -- not drama from the characters themselves or their reactions, but written in a way that produces that drama with the readers of the story. I guess that's what's most missing to me. But perhaps that's intentional with this piece, so I won't lean on that criticism too heavily -- maybe that's supposed to be how it is.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading all four stories, and was glad to have this one finish the lot of them. Best of luck to everybody and glad there were so many excellent efforts!

Vizon

Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2018, 12:06:35 AM »
Been meaning to write reviews. I know I'm pretty much too late here, but I thought people might still appreciate the feedback, even if it doesn't influence votes. Gonna try to focus on the positives over the negatives here, as I appreciated each of these stories and thought they were all great fun to read and well-written. Like I was saying - a very tough call. To me, it's almost a contest of what type of story the audience likes best as opposed to which is "better" than the others, 'cause they're all good!


The Hermit and the Monk

I enjoyed reading this one, in spite of the bit of "adult content"- uncharacteristic of Redwall, yet not explicit in its details. Overall the story in its entirety is a glimpse of both the goodness and ugliness of humanity, and how we each might face the ugly reality of “people” in all their rawness. In the end it’s as though the hermit has proven her point that the monk should not be saving other beasts, after 2 out of the three beasts he rescued turn on him, yet Mory continues to help others in spite of that proof. Perhaps Hespa herself is his proof that some beasts are worth saving? Hespa admits she is not a good person, but her actions are very different from the others in spite of her curmudgeony worldview.

I like this submission for the philosophical ruminations it highlights.

Where the Wind Blows

This one was really a great read. The story is remarkably full and complete in spite of the 2,000 word limit, and feels much longer (in a good way). Somehow the author built up characters, set them up just right (particularly Aunt Cass not being taken seriously in the end when she tries to raise the alarm), and crammed in an incredible amount of detail and description without it feeling forced. I really liked the way the author played with the fact that the reader would know a natural disaster was at hand, but blindsided us with the tidal wave when we were expecting the volcano as the culprit the entire time. I like the tidbits about Sam wanting to learn to read and go places, so that even when the tragedy happens, you know he will be okay. I love the little bits about Sam’s personality – how he liked to make the adults scream (reminds me a little of Harold from “Harold and Maude”) and valued his aunt’s company in spite of the way others thought of her. Even the dialog from the random townsfolk was entertaining and a fun touch.

I like this submission for the complete, full-circle story-telling it employed.

And Behold, Seven Ears, Blighted and Thin

This too was a fun one to read. Very dark and dreary possible future for Redwall/Mossflower. I really enjoyed the character development, and even moreso on my second read-through as I realized that Brungle is actually maybe not my favorite character even though the whole thing is from his perspective. I am suspicious of the Abbot’s quick decision to carry out a sort of quiet assassination, and I am very curious about the world that has been established, and Lowtail’s role as mayor as well. The politics seem very interesting, as well as the set-up of potential conflict between woodlanders and vermin. For not liking Brungle’s “methods” (beating up vermin to get answers from the sound of it), Lowtail is surprisingly cooperative regarding the Abbot’s decision. I suppose he has to be diplomatic to be mayor though. Most of this story makes me just want to know more – and what the rest of the story is/will be. It’s very much a “slice of life” type of story – a tiny piece of a much bigger world, which is both compelling and frustrating!

I like this submission for the great world-building it accomplished.

The Coming of the Night Monster to Mossflower Woods

The excitement of the series of events that plays out in this story is easy to get caught up in. I like the details about these new parents taking such pride in their first clutch, and was curious to see whether they would survive something as serious as a tornado in a twiggy sparrow nest. It was surprising that they did, and yet not at the same time, as fate seemed to play a large role in this story. In fact, all their expectations are shattered almost right away, and fate gives them a new life and new family, practically handing them babes to replace their own. One does wonder how the wildcat will cope with such a small living space, and what he will learn to eat, but generally, as fate has preserved them through this extreme disaster, there’s not much else to fear for their future.

This submission does an excellent job of playing with the whims of fate to twist the future of what might have otherwise been two (now four) very ordinary lives.
 

Airan

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Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2018, 08:19:02 AM »
The votes are in and a winner has been decided. But before we get to that, I'm sure some of you would like to know some of my own thoughts on your stories and why they were selected as the nominations-

The Hermit and the Monk- by Vizon

I enjoyed this one a lot for the fact that it was self contained and had a clear message. It had distinct characters who are well developed and believable, while still being unique from one another. It was a rather character driven piece as well, with the disaster being mostly a backdrop to the actual story, which is something I appreciated. My only real complaint was that the mousemaid was a bit more of a plot device than an actual character herself, but the other three characters were still well done and interesting.

Where the Wind Blows- by Gordon Hagglethrump

Enjoyed this one quite a lot for the same reasons Vizon said above. There's a lot packed in here in a really short amount of words, and you get a good picture of all of the different characters and their opinions on Aunt Cas. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the writing style, which reminded me of some older classic novels. The subversion of expectations was well done.

And Behold, Seven Ears, Blighted and Thin- by Vin

I enjoyed this one for the opposite reasons than the previous two. While Vizon and Gordon's entries were both more self contained, I found myself gravitating towards this one because of the interesting world and my own want to see what happened next. I found this entry to have the most interesting characters as well, with the more diplomatic fox mayor, the rough guard, and the, honestly, kind of shady abbot. Like with Vizon's entry, I feel the fourth character could have been more important, and I feel the opening was a bit redundant with it saying 'he wanted to go swimming' twice, as well as the exchange between him and the wall guard, but I enjoyed this one a lot and wanted to see more.

The Coming of the Night Monster to Mossflower Woods- by Saryss

Saryss is a newcomer to Redwall and the forum, but I think they did a really good job for their first outing in the world. I personally enjoyed this one for how simple its premise was, the excellent focus on its characters, and thought its writing style was engaging. Not much else to say but that I hope to be able to continue reading your writing :)

Now for the winner! The votes have been counted and the winner of this month's Mini Contest is-
The Coming of the Night Monster to Mossflower Woods

Yay, congratulations Saryss on your well deserved victory. Clearly I wasn't the only one who enjoyed your writing :) As a reward, you'll be getting a little badge on your profile here soon, so keep an eye out for it.

Thanks everyone for participating, reading, and voting in this Mini Contest. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed all of your entries. But the reading isn't done yet! Here are the two entries that unfortunately didn't make the cut.

Spoiler: show
Dark Wind Rising - By Vera Silvertooth

Roe shifted the pack on her back, the sweltering heat of the day weighing heavier than the pack she carried. She trudged along the road, flicking a pesky fly away with one weary paw.

In front of her, her companions, two mice and a mole, toiled similarly under their own packs. Ironbend, the stout mole of the group, had spent the last two seasons at Salamandastron, learning smithing from the badger lord, while Cate and Everton, the mice, had gone visiting some of Cate’s family along the coast, near where Roe herself had grown up among her father’s holt.

Now they were all on the way to Redwall, Cate and Everton to live there, Ironbend to pass on his new knowledge to the Foremole in residence, and Roe to pass on her father’s well-wishes to a relative who’d moved to Redwall seasons before.

Hazy lines rose from the road before them, dust rising in small puffs from the tred of their paws. All around, the faint smell of grasses drying in the late summer heat, similar to that of baking bread.

“How far to Redwall?” Roe asked, her tongue parched in her mouth.

“Oi reckon we’m be thurr boi noightfall,” Ironbend said. “Iffen we’m keep oop our pace.”

Under her breath, Roe grumbled, “Keep up the pace, in this heat…”

Cate smiled back at Roe over her pack. “Just think, Roe. Once we’re in Redwall, you’ll be able to sample all the October Ale, Dandelion Cordial, and Strawberry Fizz you could hold.”

Roe’s mouth moistened again just at the thought. The food and drink of Redwall, infamous as it was, provided her all the motivation she needed to plod on a little more eagerly.

Cate looked back at Roe again, her brow furrowing over her dark eyes.

Roe glanced back as well, then hesitated.

Behind the party, rising from the south-west, a tall bank of dark clouds rolled.

“Looks like we’ll get some relief before Redwall,” she said.

Everton and Ironbend glanced back. They both halted in their march.

“Oi doan’t loike the lukks o’ they cloids,” Ironbend muttered.

“Why?” Roe asked. “They’re just storm clouds, aren’t they? We’re going to be drenched for sure, but what’s the worry with a little water.”

“Spoken like a true otter,” Everton said. “Maybe you see clouds like that on the coast, Roe, but this far into Mossflower, we don’t. There’s something wicked in them.”

Cate laughed, but it sounded forced and weaker than her usual gay sounds. “A cloud is a cloud, my dear. It isn’t good or evil.”

Roe looked back at the building mass of black and gray. She thought of throwing her agreement in with Cate, but even as she looked at the storm, she couldn’t help but wonder if Everton was right. The clouds seemed to take on almost a greenish hue as Roe watched.

Everton turned to Ironbend. “Do you think we should search for shelter before that gets to us?”

Ironbend’s velvety face crinkled in thought. “Moight be we’m could outroin ‘m. Oi’d loike walls ‘twixt oi an’ thurr cloids.”

Cate pushed past her husband, “Then let’s stop the chatter and let the paws patter!”

They started out again with a will, spurred on now by the building storm behind them. Not a breath of wind stirred around them, but still that wall of greeny black seemed to billow up like the rising smoke from a huge fire. The land around them grew darker as the clouds blocked the sun.

The first gust of wind hit their backs with an icy blow. Dust rose from the road in choking towers, filling their faces with blinding, choking grit. Roe sneezed four times in quick succession.

“Foller oi,” Ironbend said, picking up the pace.

Roe checked the storms progress, gaping at the dark mass almost directly overhead now.

The rain began to drum around them, fat, heavy drops that would have been a welcome relief if the terror of their origin hadn’t been so great. Then Everton yelped and clapped a paw to his shoulder. Something white whizzed past Roe’s head, then, as if that were only a warning shot, large hailstones like walnuts began to pelt around them.

They covered their heads with their paws, yelping and shrieking when a hard hailstone hit fur and flesh. Ironbend stopped when the left side of the road fell steeply away into the ditch. He waved with a heavy digging claw for them to go down.

Roe, Everton, and Cate scrambled down to the dry, rocky ditch bed and pressed themselves against the side, barely sheltered by the road’s overhang.

Ironbend slid down beside them, tossed his pack at their feet, then began applying his strong claws to the ground to Roe’s right. Rocks flew as thickly as the hail as he dug out a bit more shelter.

The storm came over them, filling the air with leaves and light debris. As she watched, a flash of lightning streaked from end to end. The air around her tingled from the crack and all of them flinched and covered their ears as the world boomed around them.

Cate’s eyes went wide and she pointed, mouth agape, but no sound was heard. Roe and the others raised their eyes.

From the dark mass over them, a sinuous twisting tendril came creeping down towards the earth. Formed from the swirl of dark clouds itself, it grew, then retracted, then darted back down like a tentacle of a sea creature her father had once shown her. As they watched, things began to rise up around the tendril, flung up high in the air and carried around and around the column of darkness. Trees, Roe realized, shattered and splintered from the wind that rose from that twisting cloud.

The roar that came from it was unlike anything Roe had ever heard. Not just a rush of wind or water, but a constant building roar.

And it crawled closer.

Ironbend stopped digging and shoved them all into the shallow hole he’d excavated. The wind seemed to rise and they huddled there together, clutching one another as the twister came on, closer and closer, it’s narrow end swaying and writhing near the ground like a worm on a hook.

Roe wanted to run from the storm, and might have, if Cate had not been hugging herself against Roe’s strong side, her husband shielding her with his own body. Ironbend clung to Roe’s other side, his dark face gazing grimly at the storm that filled their vision.

Leaves, twigs, and branches pelted them, carried aloft by the winds. Roaring filled their ears. Roe thought Cate was screaming, or maybe it was herself.

In one horrifying moment, Roe felt the air of that thing twining around her. Her back and rudder scraped on the ground. The twister sucked the air from her and her vision swam before her.

After an eternity, the tugging on Roe eased. Debris flung by the storm settled at last. The sounds died down and the stillness that followed seemed more deafening than the roar that had come with the twisting cloud.

The four beasts began to shift. Shattered tree limbs and forest debris lay about them and Roe hisses softly through her teeth at the throbbing ache in her limbs where she’d been pelted.

With tears leaking from her eyes, Cate pulled a handkerchief from her pack and dabbed at a bloody gash on her husband’s face, where he’d been struck by something.

“I’m all right. Just a scratch,” he kept muttering, but let her dab at him anyway.

Ironbend moved stiffly, shaking mud and leaves from his fur before walking out into the small accumulation of water that filled up the bottom of the ditch, amid the big hailstones that lay with the rocks.

Roe followed him out and looked towards where the cloud had gone. The dark mass moved on, lit now from behind by the sun, looking blacker than before. The twisting finger had vanished, though some of the clouds still swirled about as if in memory of what had happened.

The path that the twister had taken left a trail of shattered trees and stripped limbs. Shakily, they helped each other out of the ditch and back into the road, staring in the path the storm had taken.

Ironbend rubbed the back of a digging claw across his snout. “Oi’m thinken et mizzed Redwall. We’m goit most o’ et.”

Battered, bloody, weary, and filthy, the four beasts returned to their slow progress, each one glancing at the diminishing cloud as it worked its way further north.


Spoiler: show
The Fever - by Rascal

“Martin!” The mouse’s eyes were wide with fright as she shook Martin. “Wake up! We have to leave.”

The female mouse’s voice only grew more urgent, desperately trying to wake Martin out of the alcohol induced sleep he was in.

Why was she being such a bother? Martin thought, they just got to sleep.

“Martin!” She continued to plead, right up until the door to the inn room burst open, her blood coating the walls shortly there after.

________

Martin opened his eyes to find a squirrel staring back at him.

“Martin? Are you ok?”

The mouse proved that he was by flailing his arms and shouting with alarm, causing him to tumble out of his stool.

Poppy didn’t seem even bat an eye. “So… yes?”

The mouse sighed, “Fine. Fine! Everything is fine! Just broke my bloody neck is all…” Martin groaned, kicking the stool out of the way to sit up. He hesitated though, at the sight of Poppy’s outstretched paw.

Starting a moment too long at her offer to help him to his feet, Poppy rolled her eyes. “I bathe after every shift in the infirm, Martin. If you are going to catch the Fever, it won’t be for me.”

Martin was not comforted by this, but the mental image did make his cheeks redden. Accepting her help up he asked, “What did the abbot say, a-about the mission?” He said quickly, desperate to get the image of a bathing squirrel out of his mind.

Though… if her fur flattened in just the right way, Poppy could pass for a mouse…

But she was still a squirrel, thought Martin. Admittedly, an attractive, slender one with bright red fur. And Martin was, and always would be, a very plain, ordinary brown mouse. It was the only trait he shared with the legendary hero other than a name, just like the other thirty mice in abbey named Martin.

Glancing about the Great Hall first, Poppy motioned for Martin to follow. It made sense not to discuss such sensitive matters with him here. Too many ears to listen in after refugees began spilling into the abbey.

So Martin followed Poppy elsewhere, side stepping the belongings of refugees encamped along the walls, and giving the vermin a wide berth. Especially those that would cough or sneeze. There was no telling what was just harmless, and what was the beginning of a long, painful descent into hacking coughs, body aches, and eventually… death.

“I managed to talk some sense into the older beasts of the abbey,” said Poppy flatly. “We leave at the first chance we get.”

“Woo.” Martin’s voice mirrored Poppy’s own enthusiasm. “That might still take a while, all things considered.” The two spoke in hushed tones as they walked.

“This is worth the risk, right?” The mouse asked, “You know what waits for us out there...”

Poppy was the first to find the side exit to the abbey. She stepped out into the sunlight and let its warmth embrace her before saying, “Even with five hundred new souls in the abbey, we have enough food to keep them fat through winter, enough wine to keep them drunk until summer, and a never ending supply of water. But if we don’t get ahead of this Fever, we will lose half our beasts before months end.”

“Some would argue that it would still be safer than going outside.”

“They would, and they have,” Poppy said tiredly, “I managed to convince the elder beasts of the abbey that trading one disease for another, admittedly deadlier, disease was not a good idea.”

“Admittedly deadlier?” Martin laughed, “That’s one way to describe the nightmare going on outside.”

“I know, but as a healer, watching good beasts die to a disease we can’t cure is just as distressing as watching them succumb to a disease we can cure. We just need the supplies to do so…”

Martin shook his head and spat, “One of the refugees probably brought the Fever with them. We are lucky none of them brought the Madness with them too.”

“I would watch your tone, Martin. You will be working very closely with vermin before we are through, especially one in particular if we are to pull this mission off.”

Martin blinked in confusion, then groaned, “You don’t really mean to bring her along, do you?” He looked up to see that Poppy had already moved on, across the open ground, towards the ramparts. “Poppy, you can’t be serious. Charley is a thief and a vagabond. If not for the abbot’s mercy, she would have been kicked outside the walls a long time ago.”

The beasts paused as something crashed against the gate. The chains around them rattled, but the heavy wood held firm.

For now…

The squirrel pointed to the gate, “Like it or not, out of all the beasts in the abbey, Charley survived out there the longest. Longer than YOU.”

The mouse ground his teeth together as the squirrel ascended the stairs. He couldn’t argue with Poppy there. The trip… no, the retreat from the festival in the City took less than a day, with armed guards, and hardly any of them survived.

Charley spent an entire month out there.

Alone.

“Yeah, well, she might not be so keen on being thrown back into the wilderness…” Martin could only hope.

They found the fabled Charley at the top of the ramparts. Two months of Redwall food had done the marten good, and then some. To be honest, Charley was never a picture of pine marten health even before she reached the abbey, thought the mouse, but she didn’t seem overly burdened by her excess either.

“Oh! Well hello thar!” Charley greeted the beasts first, struggling to string her bow as she did. “Fancy a spot of fresh air, did’ja? I imagine you don’t get much in that dreary hospital, do you?” Her tone instantly changed, her ears falling flat, “I’m not going to get sick bein’ around ya, am I?”

“I pity the poor disease that would get into you, Charley. Probably make the poor thing ill…” the otter behind the marten grinned widely. Martin could wish for only half of Talook’s quick wit, and height.

In truth though, even if he towered over the mouse and squirrel, Talook was roughly the same height as the marten. However, where Charley leaned towards being shaped like a pear, Talook had no lack of muscle to his arms.

He too was stringing a bow. “What brings you up here, mates?” the otter said in a friendly tone.

“Business,” Poppy said with the air of someone who didn’t like to beat around the bush. “The abbot has agreed to send a group outside the walls. We need volunteers.”

Martin cringed slightly at the squirrel’s bluntness, making a mental note to be the one to ask for volunteers from now on.

“Then I accept.” The otter seemed to stand taller, sticking out his chest and becoming serious. “I won’t let you down.”

Both rodents exchanged glances. Martin spoke first. “Actually,” he said with great hesitation, “we need Charley.”

The pause that followed was broken by Charley’s laughter, the otter’s bravado deflating behind her. “Need, is it now? I didn’t know you cared!”

The marten winked at the mouse in a way that made his fur stand up on end. “Don’t let it go to your head.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that, luv.” The chubby marteness leaned her back to the wall and giggled. “Ohhh!” She mimicked the mouse, “Charley! CHARLEY! Save us Charley! You are our only hope!”

Charley wiped a tear from her eye, “Wow, that was a good natural high, that was.”

“So are you going to help us, or not?” Martin crossed his arms.

“No.” The marten said flatly, returning to stringing her bow. “I don’t volunteer for suicide missions.”

Martin’s ears stood on end, his cheeks growing red with anger. Tulook stepped in before he could act on it.

“You will have to forgive our vermin friend here, she woke up on the cowardly side of the bed this morning.” He chuckled as Charley stuck her tongue out at him.

“Hey, I’ll take the title of coward if it means I get to keep my skin intact. You lot only <i>think</i> you know what’s going on out there.” With her bow properly strung, Charley’s voice became serious. “My home village used to call it ‘The Madness’. I saw a beast afflicted with it once, when I was young. After driving him from the village, we had to burn his hut. We were not even allowed to follow where he had walked...”

Charley breathed deeply, glancing over her shoulder to the world beyond the ramparts. “This disease though… it doesn’t kill you like it should, and you can spread it everywhere you go. I had to be careful what I touched, where I got my water and all it takes is one good bite...” The marten shook her head, stepping away from the wall.

“I want my ration restrictions lifted.”

The mouse raised an eyebrow, “So… you will help us?”

Charley gestured to the abbey behind them, “Fever or Madness, I’m not going to let beasts die from either if I can help it. But I’m not going to help you out because of heroics either. This is going to <i>cost</i> you, and since you lousy rodents don’t believe in money… I want unlimited rations.”

Martin opened his muzzle to protest but Charley interrupted to say, “And wine. I want no limit on wine either. Oh! And a fancy title of ‘Lady Baroness Fluffbottom, savior of all Redwall!’ printed in gold letters over my own room.”

“You have got to be-”

“The first two are doable, the last… no. Because, just. No.” Poppy shook her head, “Just try not to party yourself to death before the mission starts. We leave the first chance we get.” She turned for the stairs, “Martin, time is of the essence and there is much to prepare.”

The mouse slouched. He glanced at Charley as if he had one more thing to add, but chose to be silent. They were going to entrust their lives in the paws of a thief.

As if reading his mind, Poppy placed a comforting paw on Martin’s shoulder as they walked down the stairs. “It will be ok, Martin. We will be ok. The abbey will never fall to vermin.”

The mouse smiled and nodded in agreement, hoping that she didn’t see how fake it was.
‘But these are not vermin they are against,’ Martin thought.

‘They are monsters.’

__________

“How about we make this a little more interesting, Rudder-butt? First to hit ten under a minute wins the others rations!”

“Seriously?” Talook raised an eyebrow, “You just weaseled yourself into unlimited food and you are still betting for more rations?” The otter shook his head in laughter, “You’re diet is going to get you killed… Fluff-butt.”

“Not a bad way to die, given the alternative.” Good cheer disappeared from Charlie's voice. She and the otter both frowned as they peered over the walls of the abbey.

“Do you... think they feel pain?” The otter asked.

“No,” Charlie pulled back on her bow and let her arrow fly, “Not if we put them out of their misery.”

Her arrow struck true, skewering the fox through the side. It’s body fell and dissapeared into the screeching mass of vermin clawing at the abbey walls. Weasels, foxes, cats, stoats, even a mighty badger or two. Some still had shreds of dirty clothing wrapped about their bodies to prove that they were once civilized.

Before the Madness took over.

Before they tossed themselves at the walls like wild animals, their eyes red as blood and spitting foam from their muzzles...

...And their numbers were endless

Vizon

Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2018, 01:17:25 PM »
Congratulations, Saryss! What a way to start your first writing contest!  ^-^

Saryss

Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2018, 06:05:45 PM »
Thank you! I really enjoyed working with the prompt and the the challenge of keeping the story at 2,000 words or less. After writing the story, I feel that I may have to develop the characters of the two dibbuns further, as I see their futures holding some interesting (and potentially awkward) adventures.

I enjoyed reading the other entries as well. Each story was wonderful in its own unique way.

Thank you for welcoming me to your group. I will look forward to the next mini contest!

Vera Silvertooth

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Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2018, 08:48:44 AM »
It's always great to see a new face. Especially one that joins us in such a spectacular fashion. Congrats on the win, Saryss!

What brought you to our little corner of the ROC?

Saryss

Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2018, 12:01:10 PM »
Thank you!

Vizon is an old friend. A while back I had expressed an interest in getting back into creative writing, so Vizon invited me to join when the mini-contest came up. I had read some of the Redwall novels a long time ago and have always had an appreciation for the world (though Vizon and the forum’s Redwall guides were very helpful in reintroducing me to some of the world’s minutiae).

I love your icon, by the way.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2018, 12:03:18 PM by Saryss »

Vin

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Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #12 on: March 29, 2018, 11:33:40 PM »
Congrats on the win, Saryss— hella well deserved— and welcome to the forum.


Frost

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Re: March 2018 Contest Results and Voting
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2018, 12:53:15 PM »
Agreed, well done Saryss, and all the other entrants! This was a great contest, and I'm sorry that I'm late to the festivities, but I'll try to be around for the next one. Cheers to all!
Hello again.