This challenge was the first one run by someone other than me! We have new mods due to server growth, and these were the prompts put forth by our dear Snips, themed for pride month:
Challengers could veto two prompts to meet the goal of five and get their prize. Or, if they were feeling extra ambitious, they could complete all seven and get the prize of a role of their name and color of choosing.
Here’s what I came up with. Spoiler alert: It’s two stories with Aunor Mahal, because I love Aunor Mahal.
“Yeah, I’ve done some flyovers up there before. Never stopped to take it in. Is it nice?”
But the Hunter isn’t paying attention to her. Feeling a little sorry for herself, she drains the rest of her drink, then sets it back on the table with a clatter.
“Sorry!” An apologetic look crosses those violet features she’d been drawn to as soon as he’d sat down. “What was the question?”
“I asked if you hit it off with the guy you were sitting with before you got to me.” He starts to stammer an apology, but she puts up a hand, softening. “Don’t worry about it. I know that glazed-over look when I see it.”
He laughs, scratching behind his head. “Do a lot of Guardian Speed-Dating, do you?”
“Yeah.” A luminous flush swirls up her cheeks. She fiddles with a lock of hair, twisting it between her fingers. “Always manage to leave them with plenty of new friends .” She smiles, but it’s shot through with loneliness.
“Warlocks often play aloof in the streets, but straightforward in the sheets,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “You’re a bit more reserved. Maybe it gives people the idea you’re not interested.”
“Really?” She blinks her big, yellow eyes. “Huh.”
“I mean, what’s holding you back?” He leans forward, scrutinizing her. “Unless you frequent these things hoping to run into someone in particular.”
“Maybe some Titan whose faceplate is too thick to tell when some cute Warlock is flirting with them?”
She folds her arms, indignant but laughing. “No!”
“Fine, fine. Well, look–in three minutes, when they tell us to switch again, try getting right to it.”
“Next month , you mean.”
“It’s the final round. Night’s over.”
Defeated, he bumps his fist to the table. “Shit.” He looks down at the namecard in front of him and perks up again. “Hey look, er… Purse–”
“It’s pronounced Percy .”
“Perse. You like Hunters?”
She shrugs. “No preference.”
“Got this friend. Single. Hunter, like me. Has a thing for Warlocks. May not stick around, but she’d show you a good time. Maybe I could pass your contact info on to her? To make it up to you? ”
Perse rolls her eyes with a grin. “I don’t need you to do me any favors…”
“Believe me, you’d be doing me a favor. You’re a lot nicer than the ones she usually goes for.”
She picks up her drink again, forgetting it’s empty, and swirls the ice around the bottom. He flicks his wrist, summoning an orange-eyed Ghost who looks at her with a go-for-it twist of his shell.
“Oh, what the hell. Why not.”
She summons her Ghost, and the two pass a white flash of information between them before winking out of sight.
“And look, Perse… if you’re still in the market for new friends, I know I could use a few myself.”
“Jin, right?” She looks down at his namecard. “Yeah. Let’s stay in touch.”
“There better be a damn good reason,” Aunor Mahal snarls, turning from the one-way mirror, “why you called me in from hunting down credible threats of Darkness-corrupted Guardians to deal with a barfly at best and a smuggler at worst.”
The Titan shrinks back from her Praxic fury. The other Warlock holds up his datapad like a shield. On the other side of the mirror sits the self-styled “Lady Olu” Alderdice, an almost cartoonish picture of innocence, cheeks puffed as she whistles some muted tune.
“Boss, look,” he stammers, “we’ve really got something on her this time. Something serious.”
“Orbiting patrols caught her trying to make a jump from Martian orbit.” The Titan pauses for effect. “But there’s no–”
“I know there’s no Mars. What was she doing?”
“Says she was trying to visit some stash on Deimos.”
“Vanguard’s had a record of that for years. What was in it?”
“Didn’t get the chance to check. When detained, she started whistling this… tune . And with all we’ve heard about things going around, well–“
“We decided it’d be safer to take her in,” the Titan finishes.
Aunor reaches for the soundboard.
Lady Olu’s whistling fills the tinny speakers–a repetitive but not unpleasant string of notes, rising and falling.
“It’s been stuck in my head for hours ,” the Warlock hisses.
Aunor presses the intercom. “What’s that you’re whistling, Olu?”
” Lady Olu,” she corrects her. “That you, Mahal?”
“Answer the question.”
Olu whistles the tune again, rotates her shoulders, wiggles her eyebrows. “You like bossa nova, Mahal? Bet we’d samba real nice together, you and me.”
Aunor mutes. “What the hell is she talking about?”
The Warlock hands over the datapad. “All we’ve compiled so far. Multiple hits over the past thousand years. Those lyrics, translated from Brazilian: It’s a sliver of glass, It’s life, it’s the sun, It is night, it is death, It’s a knife, it’s a gun–”
“I can READ.” Aunor frowns. “These lyrics are nonsense.” She presses the intercom again. ” Águas de Março. Is that right?”
“You know it? Maybe you know the translation: Waters of March .” Olu dances and mumbles along to the lyrics. “Been stuck in my head ever since I got that record for Spider and gave it a listen. Popular pre-Golden Age tune.” She stops. “That’s why I was arrested, right? You finally found my stash?”
The intercom shorts out as Arc energy crackles down Aunor’s arm. Her colleagues stammer:
“But it’s repeated all across the Golden Age–”
“Because it’s FROM THE GOLDEN AGE!” She throws the tablet at the Warlock, then strides to the door, flinging it open. “Alderdice?”
“You’re free to go.”
“Great!” Lady Olu stands, cracking her knuckles. “You free? I miss getting arrested by you. Ever been to the Seven Stars?”
“Last I heard, you’re banned from there.”
She takes Aunor’s arm, linking it through her own, knowing it might be the last thing she ever does. “Maybe they’ll change their tune with a Praxic on my arm.”
Kirii the new-molt has always been good at staying unseen. In the Endless Night, it’s all too easy. She skirts the populated streets, keeping to the natural foliage and rubble lining those strange, circular lakes these humans seem to like so much.
She follows the shrill call of screams and comes upon a strange sight: small humans, laughing and chasing one another. They wear cloth smocks with little reflectors and seem to be engaged in some sort of battle-play, opposing sides kept apart by a glowing line drawn across the grassy field.
Hatchling lightbearers! she thinks in alarm, as they hurl glowing orbs at one another–until one glances off another’s face and clears the fence, bouncing to a rubbery halt near her. She picks it up, turning it over in her hands, and some of the glow imparts onto her fingers. Only paint! A deception!
Kirii looks up. A small silhouette is pressed against the fence, looking at her. She drops the ball, frozen in fear. Any second, the little one will scream, and the Saint will come running, and all that will be left of tiny Kirii is her parents’ sad memories.
But the child does not scream. He stares for a long time, then slowly raises his hand and waves.
Curious others join him. They coo to her, reaching little arms through the fence, pointing at the ball by her feet. Kirii picks it up and hurls it in a high arc that draws a surprised reaction from the crowd.
Their voices lose their caution. They call to her, excited, gesturing–a clear invitation to play. She could easily climb the fence, but…
She puts a hand to her chest. No passage.
Kirii creeps forward, still wary, desperately wanting to trust them. She tries to recall the words Eido has been teaching her of the humans’ language.
“I. Return?” she croaks. “Yes?”
Kirii skitters through the dark back to the Eliksni quarter. She asks her mother where she might find one of those flimsy little… amulets that allow safe passage in the city.
With a grim look, her mother points her to him.
Kirii sulks. She transitions back to her hopeless boredom in the Endless Night, tending to the hatchlings with her parents, waiting for something, anything to happen.
Days pass. And one day, the Saint finds her .
Kirii trembles at his approach. The Saint is silent, and he is not alone. He is flanked by a horned and towering beast, somehow even larger than him. His voice carries to all corners of the Eliksni quarter as he booms words she can’t understand.
In one hand, he holds out one of the amulets– lanyards, she has learned they are called.
In his other hand, he holds out a glowing rubber ball.
Maren wakes. She smells rot, the sweet and sick dampness of death. Someone, perhaps Esben, has had the sense to remove her helmet, and she resolves to thank whoever it was for letting her not be sick inside of it.
It takes her a moment to realize she can hear the roar of water. It looms over her: the broken dam, now a raging waterfall. A signal of her failure.
Her Ghost. She realizes they’re not alone. A village elder, Esben’s wrinkled great-grandfather, and a young boy, holding a fishing pole. One of Esben’s many, many brothers. Too many names to remember, though she wants to try. They stare at her.
“Did it work?” Maren asks. Her voice sounds strange, like she hasn’t heard it in ages. She supposes it’s some after-effect of the last thing she remembers hearing: the detonation of Fallen mines, the deafening crack of splitting concrete, the roar of rushing water. She’d tumbled a long way down the canyon before she died, pulling the cloak of some Captain down with her before she was buried under rock and water. “Did I buy enough time for the village to escape?”
Her Ghost hesitates. “Er… yes.”
“And the Pilgrim Guard–” Maren tries to stand, but the servos in her armor joints don’t seem to want to cooperate. The Titan looks down, not registering the algae that’s coated her armor in a damp fuzz. “We have to tell them about the Devils…”
“And the village is headed to the City?”
“Many already made it. Some… decided they couldn’t leave.” At the fear and puzzlement on Maren’s face, he rushes to add, “I’m so sorry, Maren. I couldn’t find you. I got them to evacuate, like you said. We heard the mines detonate. When I came back, there was too much water, and the rocks, and I… I couldn’t find you.” He turns to the boy. “He found you. Just this morning. Washed up on the banks here.”
The boy looks to his great-grandfather. Maren’s heart spikes with panic. There is something they aren’t telling her, and there is really, truly, only one thing left that she cares about.
“Esben,” Maren breathes. “Did Esben make it?”
The sorrow on the old man’s face grips her heart.
“Did he come after me?” she cries. “After all the times I warned him not to–did he?!”
Maren stares hard, fighting back tears, waiting for an answer. But she knows the answer. She looks out at the gushing river, imagining her dear Esben’s body crushed in a watery grave, and wishes this once that her Ghost hadn’t brought her back.
“Maren,” the old man says.
Maren freezes. She’s heard the tenderness in his voice a thousand times. She looks up into his eyes, suddenly finding them warm and horribly familiar.
“That once, I did exactly as you said.”
“We don’t have SRL,” said Ariadane, dropping the datapad on the table, “for this ?”
“Well I like it!”
Everyone looks at Pixie, Ariadne’s ghost.
“You would,” Ariadne mutters. “Traitor.”
“Can I audition to be in it, too?”
“Of course you can,” says Marcus. “Didi decided they’re open for everybody.” He notes Ariadne’s unimpressed scowl and amends: “Everybody except Ariadne.”
She snorts. “Good! Didn’t want to be in it anyway.”
“Who’d you like to read for, Pixie?”
“Oh gosh.” Pixie bashfully spins her shell. “Well. Hah. I don’t suppose the role of the Hero has been cast yet, has it…?”
Ariadne snorts. “The Hero? And what, I’d play your Ghost?”
“You wouldn’t play anybody,” Bast reminds her. “Marcus said you can’t audition.”
“Yeah, cuz I’d want to spend three-and-a-half hours onstage sweating under some campy, papier-mache monstrosity. Moron.”
Didi blinks. “Paper… what now?”
Marcus points at Ariadne. “Like that mask you made for Festival of the Lost?”
“Oh, I loved that!” says Didi. “How’d you do that, Ari?”
Marcus lights up. “Could you make one shaped like a Ghost?”
“You’re not roping me into this stupid play!”
Marcus’ tight expression splits into a grin. “Ah, I knew it.”
“Nah, forget it. It’s nothing.”
“Look, I’m not getting goaded into your Ghost’s weirdo passion project. If it were an SRL thing, I might be talked into it. What happened to you, man?”
Bast gives her a dark look, but Marcus puts a hand on his arm.
“Hey, it’s cool,” he says. “I get it, Ari. Being creative is scary. Not everybody has the guts to show artistic vulnerabilities.”
“ Artistic vulnerabilities?” Ariadne repeats, enunciating each syllable.
“You know, sharing your work.”
“I’ve shared my work.”
Marcus pretends to think about it. “Oh, yeah! Like when you painted that… worm? On your sparrow?”
“Dragon,” she corrects him. “And the official Consensus stance was that it was cool, Marcus.”
“See? You don’t need the validation. If anyone thinks your dragon sparrow isn’t cool , you can just request that Consensus transcript from Vanguard archives. Super impressive, by the way.” He clears his throat and turns back to Pixie. “Pixie, I’d like you to read for–”
But Ariadne isn’t done. “Oh, because you know so much about being an artist now, right? Your set’s gonna be all ‘less is more’ because ‘that’s how you do it in black box.’ Bast gonna write the playbill in crayon, too? Gimme this.” Ariadne snatches up a datapad.
Bast smirks. “But Marcus said–”
“Yeah, Marcus said . Shut up. Pixie, highlight all characters, set dressings, scene changes, and costume descriptions for me. Any mention of props, too.” She glares at Marcus. “God, you probably didn’t think about props at all, did you? Unbelievable.”
Marcus grins. “So you’re in?”
Ariadne just rolls her eyes. “ Somebody has to make sure you amateurs don’t completely embarrass yourselves.”
Silver makes a list of the things he wishes he could say to Rhiannon.
“Why can’t what you say ever match what I know you’re feeling?”
“I wish you’d didn’t burn every bridge we cross once it stops being useful to you.”
“I’m worried that this is exactly why the Traveler chose you.”
“You can’t expect everyone you love to set themselves on fire just to warm you.”
“You know you aren’t alone in this, right?”
“Sometimes… that’s what scares me the most. That there are others just out there just like you.”
“I’m worried what you’ll do to those others if you happen to meet them.”
Every day, the list grows longer.
“I’d leave you if I could.”
“A lesser Ghost would have fled long ago. Despite everything, I’m proud you’re mine.”
“If I lose you, I’d have nothing left. But maybe that’d be for the best.”
“I love you, but only in the ways that matter most to you.”
“I don’t think that love will ever fix you.”
Aunor lets Trestin’s body drop to the bright, blazing snow. She leaves the sword in her back, freeing her hands. She gives Trestin’s Ghost the same chance she gave all the others, that she’d still give even despite her arguing against Ikora’s insistence. But it’s no use. This one has to be subdued, too.
This work had never been easy–but then again, it had never been this hard, either.
The obelisk stays, as if taunting her. Aunor ignores its presence. Bahaghari calls the ship down from orbit. They wait for it to come into range and watch an ice storm sweep in from the eastern plains, helpless at its glittering approach.
“Almost pretty from this distance,” Bahagari observes. “With the light on it like that. Like a rainbow.”
Aunor shakes her head. “You need spherical drops of water to make a proper rainbow. It’s too cold here for that. The only rainbow on Europa is you, Bahaghari .” She looks down at Trestin’s body. “And the ones the Vanguard has me chasing, making us offer these corrupted ones a breath of redemption.”
“As if you’d ever plan on doing anything different. You’re not Malphur.”
“No; I’ve never had the luxury of being a renegade. Deciding when and where to care about things.” She jerks the sword from Trestin, but her blood is frozen to the blade. “Where is he now, I wonder?”
Bahaghari looks sideways at her. “Chasing rainbows…?”
Aunor scoffs. “Not the type.”
“No–what’s it mean?”
“Oh. Expression. Pre-collapse. Means it’s a worthless endeavor. Unattainable goal.” She shifts her weight. “We humans used to think there was some sort of treasure waiting at the end of the rainbow.”
“But rainbows–we mostly only see part of them.”
“They’re actually in the shape of a circle.”
“Ikora taught me that. When I told her what you’d named me. That was before I’d read her chapter on rainbows in On Circles , of course.”
“What’s your point, Bighari?”
“No end means no treasure. Right?”
Aunor sighs, weary. “We’re not talking about rainbows anymore, are we?”
Bahaghari floats in front of her face. “Just because a rainbow doesn’t have gold at the end of it, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless.”
“The gold, or the rainbow?”
Bahaghari boops softly against Aunor’s cold nose. “Both.”