Each week, some of us trade prompts, and some of us grab spares, or submit them with the hopes of seeing what comes from a glimmer of an idea. What say we shake things up a bit? A new perspective doesn’t have to be drastic, but as simple as the combination of unusual things.
So this week, the spares prompts go first – extra seasoning! Chefs say salt makes things taste more like themselves – perhaps spare prompts will enhance the ideas as well.
With no further ado, here are your spares:
|Spare||The wallet lay under a bush|
|Spare||It was a deliberate act of overt humility.|
|Spare||Don’t forget to feed the basilisk!|
|Spare||The glare was more than she could bear.|
|Spare||Everyone thought the Easter Bunny was so innocent…|
And here are your usual traded prompts, one for one.
|Cedar Sanderson||in the intense dark, a scent of chocolate||AC Young|
|AC Young||Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (unless slain by another).||nother Mike|
|Fiona Grey||The salt and pepper trees were the best discovery of the island.||Leigh Kimmel|
|Leigh Kimmel||The coffee table book is open to the scene of….||Fiona Grey|
|nother Mike||Grinding the spice of life fine left a residue of DNA…||Cedar Sanderson|
Will it be the depth of goulash, simmered into a cohesive whole? The unexpected combinations of stone soup? The layers of crispness found within a perfect croissant? The tang of lemon curd, bright and surprising? Whatever masterpieces emerge, it’s sure to be
delicious a delightful read.
Header image by Fiona Grey, Maine.
A prompt triangle for me this week with Cedar Sanderson supplying: in the intense dark, a scent of chocolate
The intense dark suggested a setting deep in a cave system with no natural or artificial light. So I selected Grace, the panther/vixen shifter from weeks 13 and 48 of last year. In either alternative form she should be able to traverse such places safely (if not easily). This tale is set some months after the tale from 2021’s week 13.
Grace padded softly through the caverns. She had chosen to use her panther form tonight – it had better night-sight than her native human form, and was darker to the human eye than her vixen form.
She went slowly, and with great care. This deep into the caverns the light of the outside world didn’t penetrate, so she had only her fur and whiskers to tell her where the nearest walls were. Every step was calm and deliberate, not putting any weight on the paw until she had found the level of the cave floor, if there was one – she had discovered more than one crack in the rock underneath her by discovering that there was nothing under her front paw.
Tonight the hunters had become the hunted. Somewhere in the midst of these caverns was the base of the local band of witchhunters. They had been hunting Grace and her boyfriend for a while now, ever since they had slain her grandmother for the terrible crime of being a cat-shifter – not a witch, but the witchhunters didn’t care about the distinction, for their documentation listed shifting as one of the incontrovertible signs of witchcraft.
The witchhunters themselves used torches to find their way through the caverns, but that wasn’t an option for Grace, as it would alert any guards they had set that someone was coming. She had to hope that the guards weren’t equipped with infra-red vision – while she was black against black to the human eye, in infra-red she would show up as clear as if she was walking in front of a white background in the noon-day sun.
Instead Grace had only her panthine sense of smell to guide her through the dark passages. At any point where the scents branched, she shifted to her vixen form. As a vixen she had a more acute sense of smell and was better able to distinguish which of the scents she trailed had the faint stench of the witchhunters’ rituals. Once she had decided which scent branch to follow she shifted back into her panther form and padded on.
She sniffed. She sniffed again. An unexpected smell had reached her nostrils. It took her a short time to place it. In the intense dark, a scent of chocolate. And yes, it was coming from the direction she was heading in. Perhaps it was just a group of spelunkers camping the night down here having a mug of hot chocolate before they went to bed. But perhaps the witchhunters hadn’t thought to secure the entrance to their lair with a door.
She may or may not find out. But in the meantime she’d follow the stench of the witchhunters not the enticing smell of the chocolate.
A good half an hour later, as best as she could tell given that she couldn’t use a timekeeper of any sort while not in human form, she saw a glow of light around a corner of the passage. She carefully padded up to the corner, then started to ease her way around the corner, keeping to the inside of the bend, as it appeared to be the darker side of the passage.
Around the corner she saw that the light was coming from a side passage on the left-hand side of the tunnel she was traversing. She padded up the left side of the tunnel, moving silently but more swiftly than previously since she could now see enough to see where she was putting her paws.
She slowed as she approached the side-passage. Firstly because she was wary of the witchhunters that she was hunting – if she gave them more notice than she absolutely had to then she might not make it out of these caverns alive. Secondly because the section immediately before the side-passage was the most in shadow and so she needed to take more care to avoid treading on small rocks or making unnecessary noise.
Hidden in the shadows she shifted to a vixen and sniffed the air carefully. The faint stench of the witchhunters came from the side-passage. So did the lovely smell of the chocolate – but that wasn’t important she snapped in her thoughts at her olfactory senses. She shifted back to a panther.
Now was the moment of greatest danger. She didn’t know what was around the corner, and looking, even with great care, could result in any guards noticing her presence before she could even see theirs. Putting her head out to view the passage before making the turn was riskier than entering the side-passage blind.
She wished that Graham could be with her, his presence in wolf form a comfort even if they couldn’t communicate outside of human form – shifters could only communicate with other shifters as humans or if they could shift to the same species or by sign language, and the latter wasn’t always correctly interpreted. But she had insisted that he stay outside the caverns. If they both hunted in the dark they could both be killed. If only she hunted, he would survive the night regardless, and had a chance of living for some time even if she didn’t make it back out alive. He hadn’t taken it too well, and they had had a blazing row before she had had her way. She wanted to apologise to him before continuing, but it was safer for them both for her to continue and hope that she’d have the chance later tonight.
Grace took a deep breath, cleared her thoughts and walked around the corner. Perhaps faster would be better, but making sounds guaranteed that she’d be heard and located, whereas silently padding along on her paws required any guards to see her and if they were being careless she’d take full advantage. She was prepared for discovery, ready to leap and run as soon as it was required.
The light came from a pair of candles, in niches on either side of the passage. From a human perspective they cast a very dim light along the passage, but to Grace’s panthine vision it was more than enough light for her to see clearly. On her right, slightly before the candle niche, was a single guard. He had a mug of something – hot chocolate from the smell – so that was where the smell was coming from! – and was paying more attention to that than to his job of ensuring that no-one or thing could approach unawares.
Grace wasn’t the sort to look a gift horse in the mouth – although in panther form she was more likely to kill it and ask questions of its age later. Back to the subject at hand, she padded softly down the darkest sections of the passage, trying to select those parts that were most shaded by the guard’s shadow. She was constantly on alert, ready to pounce before the alarm could be called.
The guard’s carelessness proved to be fatal. Grace was allowed to approach to within pouncing range. She leapt forwards and took the distracted guard to the ground. Once he was on his back she calmly bit down on his throat, taking out his windpipe and major arteries. The taste of blood in her mouth was only bearable because she was in panther form, and this was normal for that species. She would have preferred to use her front paw to crush the guard’s skull, but that would have taken an extra second, giving him that little bit more time to sound the alarm.
Grace listened carefully. She remained still and silent for a good few seconds after killing the guard. But no sounds from further in could be heard.
She continued down the passageway. It turned in an s-shape before opening up into a cavern. Once she was past the bends she could hear the sounds of chanting – the murderers were engaging in a ritual of some sort.
She silently approached the cavern entrance. The space beyond was lit by candles around the edge, and the floor dipped down towards the centre. The tunnel didn’t face the heart of the cavern, but instead approached it at an angle. To see the heart of the cavern Grace had to stand on the left-hand side of the entrance passage and look around the corner to her right.
A circle of six witchhunters in full ceremonial regalia were standing in a circle chanting away. Their focus appeared to be on each other, with no-one looking up to the sides of the cavern.
Grace thought that she could leave the passage without being spotted, but even so the men were all armed with their ceremonial daggers. Even one of those could do significant damage to her if the wielder was lucky. But she had not taken all the risks of tonight to leave this cluster of murderers alive.
She crept out of the passageway, then aligned herself with care. Then she ignited into action. She ran down the slope and pounced. Before her target knew what was coming she had landed with front paws on his shoulders and he was falling forwards onto his face. No sooner had Grace landed on top of him than she leapt up again and took down the witchhunter opposite him.
Then she needed to turn around. As she was doing so she took the time to crush the skull of her second target. The first she chose to leave on the ground until the other four were dealt with or he became a threat.
The remaining four had backed away from her. They didn’t look to be thinking, but instead panicking. Grace took a perverse joy in causing fear in those whom she had feared for so long. None of them appeared to be thinking of running down the entrance corridor to escape. None of them had even thought about drawing their daggers to defend themselves against her.
Careless. Grace didn’t give them any further time to start to think. She selected the closest man to the entrance, leapt, took him down then killed him. This caused the others to back away from safety.
Three left upright, one still groaning on the ground. And Grace was between them all and the exit. Grace selected the nearest to her. He turned to flee. Fool! As a panther she was faster than he. She leapt. He fell under her, and a second later his skull had a very large dent in it.
Two left upright, the one on the ground was now struggling to get up though not very successfully. The two had come together, and had drawn their daggers. That made them potentially dangerous, but they were on the far side of the cavern, well away from the entrance and the other side of their fellow. Grace made her decision. She leapt to the centre of the cavern once more and put the one struggling to his feet out of his misery.
Two left. Both upright, both armed with daggers. Grace started to approach them. As she did she drifted to one side so as to start circling them. The pair followed her, rotating to keep her in front of them, and staying side-by-side. Grace reversed course. The pair rotated in the other direction.
As they were, taking out one would lead to a dagger in her side, at the very least. The one on her right might be the safer, as the other’s dagger would be on his far – right-hand – side from her. And that was assuming that she could avoid the dagger held by the man she attacked first ending up between her ribs.
Grace reversed course again. She speeded up, not running, but a fast walk. Ah, she was outpacing them. The men were no longer in a straight line, one was slipping behind the other. Unfortunately they were both still facing her, but that was still better than before.
Grace waited, and as she had hoped the men’s formation shifted to one behind the other. Perfect. Now she could act while one of the men was unable to see her because he was looking at his partner’s back.
Grace changed course and sped in towards the pair. At the last second she leapt for the front man’s chest, swinging her right front paw as she did so to knock the blade in his right hand to one side. The force of her impact caused him to stumble backwards. The two men crashed together, and fell over. The three landed one on top of another, and Grace swiftly rolled to her right.
Returning to her feet she surveyed the carnage. The man in the front had fallen on the man in the rear’s dagger, which had stabbed him through the back. He was struggling for breath and had dropped his own dagger in the process. The man in the rear was otherwise unharmed, but pinned down by the man atop him. He had also released his grip on his dagger and was trying to get out from under his fellow.
Grace gave both witchhunters the same grace that they would have given her had the situation been reversed – namely none. She smashed in the rear man’s skull first – he was the only serious danger left, and even then only if he could get himself free. Then she gave the stabbed man the coup de grace by the same means.
She looked around. There were no other entrances or exits from the cavern that a man or panther could pass through. So there were no other witchhunters in their lair tonight.
She double-checked all the bodies. All seven witchhunters she’d encountered were dead.
Time to leave. She retraced her steps, using her own scent to find her way out of the maze. As with the way in, she had to take her time, too much haste and she’d end up with a paw down a pothole or crack in the floor resulting a broken leg or worse.
Too long later she started to see the starlight making its way in through the cave entrance. She sped up and was soon out under the night sky once more.
After a few seconds standing still in relief at managing to get out in one piece, she shifted to a vixen and headed back to where she and Graham had camped.
Graham was waiting for her. His visible relief at seeing the vixen walk up to the open tent flap almost made her transform back into a human early. She managed to wait until she was inside the tent and Graham had zipped up the door. Then she shifted back.
Graham tried to pass her a robe, but she didn’t care. All of the emotions that she’d suppressed that night, and the months previous, came out. She just wanted to hold and be held by the man she loved. They remained in hold for many minutes – Graham somewhat uncomfortable (she could tell from the way he squirmed slightly every few seconds), Grace with tears streaming down her face.
Then the moment had passed. Grace released Graham, and grabbed the robe. Turning around she put it on.
The rest of the night, not that there was much of it left, was spent with Grace and Graham in conversation, with her trying to unravel her mixed feelings: disgust at herself for killing so easily and with so little compassion; but recognition that she had no choice, that it was her or them, and that the alternative was worse.
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I think one of the tricks to shifter stories is dealing with that other part of ourselves, who may be considerably more bloodthirsty or violent than what we consider our normal self. Nice!
And I can see the human form adding a sign to cave entrance: HEREIN LIE THE BODIES OF MURDERERS – THE WORLD IS BETTER OFF WITHOUT THEM
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AC Young prompted…
Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (unless slain by another).
[let’s try this…]
Hagworth looked around. In amazement. He had followed the directions, figured out the answers to the riddles, and managed to get into Merlin’s long-lost storage room. The shelves were full of strange bottles, boxes, and other containers. Each of them was labeled. He lifted his lantern and started going over them, wondering which ones he should try to take with him, and which ones he would have to leave for another day.
Then he found the gold-plated box on the third shelf up. It had a clear label that stated, “Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (unless slain by another).”
He shook his head, and bit his lip. The curse of never-ending life? Now why would that be considered a curse? And what was that caveat about being slain by another all about?
Well, wait a minute. It promised never-ending life, but it didn’t say anything about how healthy you would be. Imagine getting older and older and older… For that matter, it didn’t even say you would still be a human being, now did it? Never-ending life as a plant wouldn’t be much fun.
After a few minutes, he started looking at the other boxes again. Oh, he was still thinking about the box with the curse, but… hey, this one promised the gold touch of Midas. And…
[okay, that’s one way to go…]
Wisteria blinked, and looked around at the shelves. She had finally achieved her goal, the mastery of curses, and with it, she had been gifted a complete library of curses. So, let’s see. Ah, Cassandra’s curse, true prophecies, but no one believes? That’s a classic. And… what was this one?
The label was explicit. “Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (unless slain by another).” Well, it might be best to add another layer of wrapping on that one. The current locks and so forth looked as if they might not be sufficient, and with that label, it was best to be safe.
Alongside it was a similar package. But the label was different. “Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (must be recharged by killing one person each year).” Ouch! So this one meant you would spend your never-ending life killing someone every year? Nasty!
She looked along the shelf, and realized that it was full of curses of never-ending life, each with a slightly different condition. Where would they end? She started walking along the shelf, reading the labels. She never noticed the tiny curse at the start of the shelf, the one that promised never-ending life, but was cursed with curiosity about the curses of never-ending life…
The detective was puzzled. Someone had broken into the museum, and smashed their way into a collection of ancient containers from Egypt. They had taken one out, and opened it, right in the middle of the exhibit floor. Then they left. So now the museum folks were all upset, and this old guy was looking at the open container.
“So, what are you looking at?”
The old guy glanced at him, then back at the container.
“It has writing on it that we had never seen before!”
“What’s it say?”
“Roughly? Do Not Open. Inside is the curse of never-ending life (unless slain by another).”
The detective chuckled. “So someone broke in here to get cursed? That’s odd.”
The old guy looked upset.
“Actually, I think you may be right. But now we have an immortal thief to catch.”
[okay, that’s odd]
[drat, running out of time. Well, let’s go with what we have? Never-ending or not…here we go!]
[…] prompt response for More Odds Than Ends last week was late and on top of it all, I forgot to send in one for this week. So, I picked up one […]
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Excellent! After all, who else would have a basilisk to feed? Thanks!
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[…] You can read all of the prompt responses, or play along yourself in the weekly challenge, over at More Odds Than Ends. […]
This week’s prompt is more alluded to, than explicitly included in the tale. https://www.cedarwrites.com/2022/04/19/odd-prompts-stowaways-part-3/
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But it’s such a nice allusion! Well done!
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[…] Thanks for the prompt trade, Leigh Kimmel! Find more at More Odds Than Ends. […]
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Oh, gramma has a secret… cool!
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And now mine is up on my LiveJournal at https://starshipcat.livejournal.com/1133486.html. It’s yet another installment in The Ballad of Katie Hart, although I think it belongs earlier than last week’s. I’ll know when I finally get back to writing that novel in earnest.
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