I wrote this for for the first round of what is called a Ceramic DM’ contest via ENWorld from August of 2007. A Ceramic DM contest is where the judges give all contestants the same 3 or so pictures with which they have to write a story around, and then are judged on writing content and style as well as our use the pictures in the story. There is 72 hours from the time the pictures are posted in a round until the stories are due. Pertinent Links: Original Story Posted; links to pictures are included in the text. I left the judges comments at the bottom and I agree with pretty much everything they said. I wrote a lot for 72 hours.
The time has far past when pixies, dwarves, elves, and dragons dwelt upon the lands. Everything magical has passed from the world for long last leaving but humans, and the animals, and the plants. Magical things that were a part of the very fabric of life are no longer, and relegated to parts of bedtime stories read to children before they go to sleep. Magic was a spell that brought flames, or allowed one to travel great distances in a mere thought, to cause the one person to fall in love with another, or bring a kingdom to its knees. Now magic is but silly slight of hand. True Magic has left the world.
The gods had come to pass as well in these times. There were but a few that remember the influence and worship of the gods, and even they do not speak of them for fear of being labeled a witch or demon speaker. These are godless and fearful times, yet innocence and purity can still be found. There is still the spark of good to be found in humanity, yet one must still be careful.
The power and strength of the sword is what rules humanity now. Kingdoms and fiefdoms are conquered and controlled by the trickery or those with a hefty sword arm. We will now set our story outside of the small agrarian village of Dunmare.
She slept there in a small clearing in the middle of a haunted wood – alone and serene. The grass was soft and full. There was a break in the canopy of the forest’s trees here where the twinkling stars far above could be seen in the clear night sky. The air was cool, but not too much so as to be uncomfortable or to chill the skin. The fresh scent of roses and a fresh dew was in the air and is a idyllic setting for a summer night.
The young lady, barely of 16 winters, slept. Her long, golden hair was splayed out above her, and her pink courtly dress seemed rather out of place with the dirt on her face and leaves in her hair. To those who knew not better might think that by the way the roses and the plants have come to embrace her that she has been sleeping there for many years. A crown of roses grows carefully about her head. A few roses and vines have grown about her as if they wish to caress her or watch over her. The soft pink of the delicate rose petals accents her dress and the slight blush of her cheeks.
This little clearing was surrounded by large rough stone pillars 5 men high by 2 wide – and there were 6 of these pillars arranged in a perfect circle. The stones were old – far older than any living creature may remember, and far older that any historian may have written about. Know one remembers for what they would have been placed here for even if they could find it. This was a holy place to some, and a place of evil and fear to others.
She begins to rouse from a deep sleep as the plants, crown and all, move slowly away from her and back to where they belong, as if they were never there about her. The roses went back to climbing the stone pillars and the vines as well. The young lady’s head moved to the other side and then her arms moved closer together to rest on her stomach. She slowly opened her bright green eyes to look into the stars above. She smiles happily and contentedly while breathing in fresh air.
The young lady looks about the stone pillars and her eyes search about as if she is looking for something. She carefully stands up so as to not stain her dress and then she brushes the what grass and dirt remained. “So, why is it that only my Uncle Sarris can find me here and no one else?” she questions seemingly to no one in particular as a darkly clothed man walks from behind one of the stone pillars.
His cloak and clothes were black as the night and the silvery hilt of a sword poked out like a single star against the dark night of his clothes. He had short dark brown hair and piercing icy blue eyes. His strong jaw and muscular frame gave him and air of authority and presence that few would question. He had the strength and prowess of warrior and the wisdom of a priest.
He smiles affectionately to her as he walks forward to her and says “Perhaps a better question is ‘Why can you and I find this place at all and no one else can?’.”
“Now I know that you are not my real uncle and those people that I call family are not my real family, so why do they insist on calling me their daughter?” she continued.
“Why do you insist on remembering that they are not your blood-kin?” he stated as he smiles wryly enjoying this game.
She was rather use to this process, but has always hoped that he would relent and actually answer a question with something of meaning and substance instead of his fancy question-answers. “Why do people not like us and treat us differently, Uncle?”
He smiled remembering the path that she will walk in a few hours. “People fear us because they do not understand us. We are different. We see the world differently than they. We know things that they do not know.”
“Why are we different and what is there to not understand? Do we not bleed and breathe as they do? Do we not need food and water? Do we not think and feel as they also do?” she countered knowing full well that she may as well have been speaking to herself.
“Why can we find the this place as no others can?” was the circular answer that told her that there were to be no more questions and that he was definitely not going to entertain the idea of pseudo-answers anymore. Sarris was more like a father to her. He helped her to understand and put into words that which her ‘family’ could not.
Sarris sighed. “We are the same, Delia, You and I. We are but one in a couple of generations. We see and understand things that others do not and that is our place in life – to be misunderstood and to know that which they cannot. To act in moments that none can see the right action. We are here to work the gods’ will amongst the mortals even though they are no longer”
“The gods have long since past but there are places where their energies linger and hold on to very fabric of existence. We are their children and this is their place. Do you not feel at home here?”
Delia frowned in frustration as she does not really understand. “I know that is what you keep telling me but it does not make sense. No one worships the gods anymore. They do not exist. No one even remembers them. They do not matter to people.”
“The gods of auld may not matter to them, but you matter to them.” He walked over and embraced her. Delia hugged him back but she was still no closer to understanding her place in all of this.
“My dear Delia, you need to go back to town now. Your village needs you.”
“Uh-huh” she says sarcastically. He smiled enjoying her attitude.
Dunmare was a fell miles away from the henge and Delia walked quietly and nonchalantly through the forest towards home with her thoughts lost into her uncle’s ‘answers’ to her questions. The path to the henge was not worn or even bore a hint of passage no matter how many times in her life that she has traveled it. Uncle Sarris has been here countless times and no one at the village can remember a time without him. He was always been there in one form or another. Since he showed her how to find the path to it she has been traveling there herself as she desired. She would go there when she needed time to think or a place to win at hide-and-go seek.
Dunmare was a small agrarian village of about 60 people. Most farmed and few hunted, but everyone had there place in the village’s survival. Everyone, that is, except for Sarris and her. Sarris was only about when he chose to be and no one questioned him and pretty much no one even talked to him unless he spoke to them first. The people seemed somewhat flighty and frightened around him.
She came and went as she pleased. She helped with farming or hunting as she pleased and no one said anything to her about earning her keep. She had two ‘brothers’ and a ‘sister’ who were always busy doing something around their little farm and the parents were quite insistent about them doing their chores and schooling and such. The raising of Delia was left to Sarris and the rest of the time filled in by them. He was definitely more gone then around but he handed out lessons as needed to keep her on the straight path, so they hoped that is what their infrequent time together was. She was a well behaved young girl, but odd – very odd and blessed, but they knew not by who or what.
As she approached the village center she found the village meeting building (which no one remembers was a former temple dedicated to the gods) with lights ablaze on the inside and she heard plenty of murmuring and shouting coming from inside. Many a saddled horse is tethered outside which was a rare occurrence as most horses are draft horses and used for wagons or plowing and not so much for riding. It appears that the town has gathered to discuss something and there are visitors involved.
The temple is a tall stone building with murals on all the walls above where any man’s extended arm could touch. The walls were probably 3 men in height and the murals were of natural scenes and of divine beings lost to time. Deep blue skies, crisp green trees and bright white sheep as well as others were found in this mural. As she has been taught the creatures and beings depicted represent the natural cycle and the ascendance of the divine and her guardians. The history and story of this mural is complex and long and they have not gotten far into it yet.
She approached the temple door and allowed her eyes adjust to the light and the sound of the people talking. There was a throng of people here many of which she knew and many that she did not on the far side raised podium and a small raised dais that were the only dominate item typically present here. On the near side there were many of the young ladies of the village all dressed up in their finest dresses sitting down and preening themselves.
Delia listened a little bit and it appears as though they village is attempting to marry off their daughters to wealthy noblemen that is passing through. A Neereman noble – dark skinned and of a painted face of blue, purple, white and black markings. The higher status a Neereman the more painted his face was and this man’s face was full and bore feline qualities. Neereman were very uncommon about these parts and she has never see one herself.
They were a tribal and cast people. They had nobles who ruled there tribes and the tribes swore fealty to a a king who ruled them all. They had peoples that were serfs and destined to not be more than that, and the those that were destined for all of the finest things in life. Breaking through the cast system was not impossible, but very rare. Neereman nobles lived well and usually had a lot of land and serfs. They were a kind but stern people. Neereman Criminals, no matter what there previous status, were generally reduced to serfs and left to a serfs life. In rare cases the offender was made a slave to the offended party. Non-Neereman were sometimes made serfs or many times they were exiled without anything to survive on. Most died within a day or two of exile.
The villagers were all about as the women went up there one by one and there family members went up with them to tell and display of the virtues of their daughters. This was a moment for these families that meant that their daughter might be given a life of splendor and riches the likes of which that they, themselves, will never see. The Neereman brought gold, furs and other sundry items to pay for the daughters hand. They were a generous people when they had it. Generous with their dowries and generous to their serfs.
The noble man was surrounded by 6 other Neereman warriors who kept the villagers at bay as they hawked their daughters on the dais. The warriors were strong and significantly less painted. The sides of their faces were covered bore paint and that is it. They wielded spears and had longs swords by their sides, and chaimail for armor.
Delia entered the room and the villagers after a few moments quieted down a little and they looked at her. She looked at everyone else not sure what she was doing exactly. She walked into the room, passing daughters that were waiting there turn, and right up onto the dais with a father who was previously testifying to the virtuous qualities that his daughter had.
She looked hard at the noble man for a few long moments and he looked back to her – never moving or responding in any way. She reached down deep into herself and brought out ancient words “Erigthiena Thslisthan”. The power of the elder words filled the room and everything was dead silent. Now, before her, in place of the dark skinned Neeremen were bipedal Yak men. Dark furred, broad horned, dark eyed, strong men whose furred faces are painted. She saw this and no one else did for the ancient words worked only for those who utter it.
She smiled at the Neereman noble knowing that he knew that she knew the truth, and for the first time, the Neereman smiled. He then said matter-of-factly “I will take her.” The whole crowd of villagers gasped and started to murmur. None of them were quite sure what to do.
“If that is what you and your family will, they so let it be done.” were the words that were emitted from him even though his yak lips could not actually mouth the words. His ensorcelled disguise could not fool the power that she could channel, yet it was very competently woven about him and his minions.
You jump continually between past and present tense, sometimes even in the same sentence. You miss some words, and misuse some phrases (as … as, etc). You also use the wrong words in places (their turn, not there turn).
The story had an interesting premise – I liked some of the central ideas. I was left with some questions, though. More info about the young lady and uncle Sarris would have been nice. The community was established pretty well. The ending confused me a bit. The visitors were…actually yaks? Sent by whom? And who made them look like people and able to talk? And why?
Young lady(8/10): Central character and opening scene. Well done – good description and led into the story. Could have used the crown of flowers or dress more, but good job.
Temple(9/10): Central location and scene. Good description, lead-in and use. Great job!
Painted Face(7/10): Supporting character. Nice description, though a bit more about the face-paint and design would have helped I think.
Total: 1/2(4) + 6 + 8 = 2 + 6 + 8 = 16/25
Comments – Combined:
freeXenon’s story had interesting ideas, but was a bit difficult to read due to grammatical errors, and left a lot of questions and holes. Great picture use! I don’t think the story was too long, but some parts were drawn out (the discussion between the girl and uncle) without much point, and some parts needed more flshing out. Round goes to freeXenon by default.