versenwald3 t1_jbxwpmf wrote

"I believe we have gotten off on the wrong foot. Hello, my name is Burt. I'm the first human you've ever met, correct?" He refrained from sticking his hand out and instead opted for the customary Dudraali greeting of snorting three times.

The Dudraali eyed him warily. "And I'm Blaya. I would say it's a pleasure to meet you, but you have yet to explain yourself. Please refrain from changing the subject."

"Apologies," Burt replied. "I wanted to make the point that our two species have never met before. I know very little about Dudraali biology, and, it appears that you are unaware of human digestive systems."

Blaya nodded her eyestalk, acknowledging his point. "This is true. We were given a primer on human biology when we were notified of your arrival, but we simply haven't had time to go over the manual. There is never a slow moment in Border Control."

"Well, then, if you would like me to, I would love to explain," Burt continued.

"By all means."

"In order for us to obtain energy, we need to break to consume substances that are then broken down into smaller parts," Burt explained. "Once they have been broken down, we can then reassemble them into usable functional units."

This was a vast oversimplification of some quite complicated processes, but it would do. Watching Blaya closely, Burt could see that she was following along.

"Our stomachs, located in our midriffs, are responsible for breaking down whatever we consume. As such, they need to be highly corrosive to degrade all sorts of organic matter. This would explain the presence of the acidic pouch that is showing up on the scanner. The acid never leaves that pouch, else it would be damaging to us as well." Burt decided that heartburn could be a topic for another day. He didn't want to complicate things further.

"That sounds...dangerous," Blaya replied. "But this snafu is also partly on us. I will cross-check with the manual we were given, and if this all lines up, you will be free to go."

Burt nodded graciously. For all his calm demeanor, his nerves screamed at him to hurry up. He surreptitiously glanced at his watch as Blaya ambled back to one of the cubes in the Border Control office. It was 13:56 Universal Time...

After a minor eternity, Blaya came back out. "You're all clear," she said. Turning to the other Dudraali, she nodded her eyestalk in affirmation. "You can let the other human go. And make sure the rest of the officers are briefed on this!"

13:58 Universal Time. Burt wasn't sure how long it would take for him to sprint from Border Control to Scrog Boghimmer's office, but he hoped his lungs were up to the challenge.


versenwald3 t1_jbxt43l wrote

Wriggling out of his suit, Burt's ears burned with embarrassment. There he stood, bare-chested in the middle of the Border Control central.

"Kay!" Another Dudraali ran over. "We apprehended another one of the human 'diplomats'. They've got a large pouch of highly corrosive substance, and they say that it can't be removed. I suggest we close our borders to the Human population for the time being. I do not know if their whole planet is in on it, but it appears that we have foiled an assassination plot."

Burt sighed again, the fifth time in as many minutes. His diaphragm was really getting quite the workout. The two Dudraali must be talking about Reynolds.

Unfortunately, as part of the security measures, all cell service was disabled in the Cadus X9O Border Control facility. Burt and Reynolds had split up into different lines, so that if one of them finished early, they could nip off to Scrog and let him know that they were going to be late.

The first Dudraali straightened, its single eye trained on Burt. It was hard to stare down a Dudraali, Burt reflected. You had to go cross-eyed a little bit for it to work.

"So? What do you have to say for yourself?"

Although this was his first diplomatic mission that had taken place outside of planet Earth, Burt had been selected for this mission for a reason. He considered his next few words very carefully.


versenwald3 t1_jbxs3du wrote

Burt Divento sighed. Peering over at the Border Control agents, he wondered how much longer this was going to take. This was supposed to have been one of the most important diplomatic missions of his life, and he was going to be late.

"Look," he said, tapping his watch impatiently. "It's 13:43 Universal Time, and I'm supposed to meet with Scrog Boghimmer in less than twenty minutes. Shouldn't I have diplomatic immunity from all this?"

"I'm sorry, sir," one of the Dudraali replied, though Burt privately thought that she didn't sound sorry at all, not one whit. "It's routine protocol. We need to make sure you aren't bringing dangerous substances into Serenity 2.0. Normally, this wouldn't take more than five minutes, but something showed up on the body-scan."

Burt patted his pockets absentmindedly. Had he forgotten to take his keys out? Or perhaps, it was one of the screws that had been installed during his latest knee replacement? Damn security measures.

"All right," the Dudraali walked back around the scanner to where Burt was standing. Burt sensed a slight shift in her tone. Before, she'd sounded bored. Now, she sounded much more alert, and there was an edge of wariness in her tone. That couldn't be good.

"What's in your midriff area?"

"What do you mean, my midriff area?" Burt patted his gut. "The beginnings of a beer belly, I guess?" He laughed weakly at his own joke. "I'm not sure what you mean. I can take off my jacket and shirt, if you'd like, but I'm sure nobody would want to see that."

The Dudraali did not laugh. "Please do."




versenwald3 t1_j29f5zq wrote

Lucielle's a sweet girl, but she's got no sense when it comes to choosing good life partners. Which is why her mother ordered me to watch over her when she moved to Boston. Life as a pet ain't bad - you get free room and board, and all the head scratches you could ask for.

For the most part, the people she brought back weren't disastrously terrible. There was Mitchell the non-committal, Elaine with the emotional baggage, Terrence the two-timer, and so on.

Not disastrously terrible, like I said. Just your typical run-of-the-mill, 20th century dating-app terrible. And generally, a good bout of hissing and scratching was enough to drive them away.

But when she brought Darren home, I knew I would be in for a challenge. He seemed like a perfectly nice, well-adjusted, individual. Still, something seemed....wrong.

Of course, I communicated my objections in the most polite manner.

That is, by knocking his glasses out of her 10th-floor apartment unit, doing my business in his shoes, and throwing up all over his laptop.

He was no normal adversary, though. Instead, he calmly wiped my puke off his laptop, retrieved his (unbroken!) glasses, and went shopping.

"Those old shoes were getting pretty worn out after all," he said as he sent a mocking smile in my direction. "I've got to thank Mittens for giving me an excuse to buy a new pair."

"Thanks for understanding," Lucielle gushed. "Mittens always gets jealous when I bring someone new home. Most people get scared off, but I'm glad you're sticking around."

Clearly, mere annoyances were not enough to chase off Darren. I escalated my strategies. Hissing, clawing, biting - however, he always seemed to be able to evade my attacks with supernatural speed.

But one day, I got him - and I pinpointed what was setting my fur on edge.

Darren bled silver.




versenwald3 t1_iuk8ge7 wrote

thank you! thanks for your amazing prompt, it hit me hard. there's a program called no one dies alone at a hospital that i used to work at, really makes you think about humanity and mortality


versenwald3 t1_iuk46e1 wrote

For a moment, the battlefield was silent. It was too early for the carrion birds to come, the blood freshly spilled, the ringing echoes of steel on steel still fading away through the canyons.

"I'm afraid you've wasted your wish, human," I said. "Djinn don't have the power to compel mortals. All I can grant you is strength or riches, but those won't save you from succumbing to your wounds."

The young man smiled weakly, and I had to lean in close to hear his next words, softer than the wild winds that howled through the steppes.

"Well, you're someone, aren't you?"

His words took my breath away. It had been many years since someone had treated me as more than a slave bound to their bidding, and many more since the day I had sold my soul for power. But the man was right. I was someone, even if I was beyond redemption, even if the gods no longer listened to my pleas.

"I could end it now, if you like," I offered. "The pain. The suffering. You would pass quickly, and leave this mortal realm."

His eyes fluttered open. "No," he gasped. "No, I want to stay. Every moment on this earth is a gift, and I will hold on to it for as long as I can. Can't you see the sky? It's beautiful."

Even surrounded by the horrors of war, he still found beauty in the world. No doubt an artist, drafted to fight another man's battles.

I hadn't cared much for beauty, when I'd lived. I'd only cared about power. The world had been wasted on me.

As I listened to the spaces between each breath grow longer and longer, I told him stories. I spoke to him of the foolish young man that I had been, wandering the Ashari desert while seeking glory, seeking fame, seeking power. I told him of the bargain, of the debt, of the chains that now bound me to servitude. I told him secrets that no mortal man had never known, stories that no mortal man had ever cared to ask me. And when the last rays of the dying sun illuminated the battlefield, the young man took his last breath.

With my task complete, the chains that bound me to the mortal plane vanished. There was nothing left holding me here, and I closed my eyes as the Nameless Realms swallowed me once more.




versenwald3 t1_iuhsp6p wrote

"Two gold," the merchant said. "She's a special chicken, this one. Spits fire and is able to speak."

"That's a fire hazard," Annie countered. "She could burn down my barn. And who wants a fowl that can complain and argue? Two silvers, and you should count yourself lucky to get rid of her at that price."

"Excuse me, I'm right here. I can hear you!" Daisy the hen squawked. "And I think I'm damned well worth at least five gold, you cretins."

Annie and the merchant exchanged a look. "Case in point," Annie added, folding her arms squarely over her chest.

"Fine. Four silver, and I'll be happy to see the last of her."


The merchant threw up his arms in exasperation. "All right, all right. Three. Take her and begone, you merciless farmgirl."

Annie slipped out three silver pieces from her coinpurse, depositing them in the merchant's outstretched hand.

"All yours," he grumbled, and she scooped up the cage that Daisy was in. As Annie turned to head back home, out of the corner of her eye, she caught the beginning of a sly smile on the merchant's face. Damn. She could have probably gotten him down to one silver.

Once they were back at the barn, Annie let Daisy out of the cage and into the chicken coop. Instead of joining the other chickens, Daisy turned and looked straight into Annie's eyes.

"Now, this is how things are going to be," Daisy said. "I need to hunt every day. You'll let me out of the coop every morning and every night so I can procure my meals."

"You're a chicken," Annie replied. "You can't hunt. More likely, a wolf will have you for dinner and my three silvers will have gone to waste. No, you're staying in the coop."

Daisy squawked with laughter. "A wolf? I'd like to see him try. Don't you know who you're talking to, missy? I'm the descendant of Sezzira, Lady of Fire, Destroyer of Cities. No mere wolf could match me."

"Any old chicken could claim that," Annie replied. "And besides, I haven't even seen you breathe fire yet. Your whole story is probably nothing but a pile of balderdash."

In one fluid movement, Daisy spun away from the barn, opened her mouth, and let loose a 20-foot plume of blazing flame into the sky.

Annie shut up.

"Right, now that we've got that over with, back to my demands," Daisy continued on. Behind her, the other chickens were running away, falling over one another in a blind panic.

"I need to hunt, and I'll need a hoard. Preferably full of gold, but I'll make do with coppers in a pinch."




versenwald3 t1_iuf7pa9 wrote

"Stand back, milady," Sir Alagard dismounted and drew his sword as he approached the wooden bridge, placing himself protectively between Tania and the troll.

"In the name of King Leobold, I'll cut down this filthy troll. No longer will it prey on hapless travelers."

"Now, wait just one moment!" Vrisk the Stout planted his hands on his hips.

Alagard stopped in his tracks, confused by the ringing tone of command in the troll's voice.

"First of all," Vrisk began, "calling me a 'filthy troll' is very hurtful. Didn't your parents ever teach you any manners?"

"Well, yes," Sir Alagard said. "'re a troll."

"So manners don't apply to me because I'm a troll? That's species-ism, that is. I know we trolls are uglier than a donkey's backside, but that's no reason to treat us with such disrespect." Vrisk spat at Sir Alagard's feet and looked over at Tania. "I don't know if I'd stick around with this lot, lady!" he yelled. "He's like to ditch you the moment you get a white hair."

Tania covered her mouth, masking her unladylike giggle.

"And," Vrisk continued his tirade, "Second of all, I built this bridge. Spent days hauling logs, chopping them into just the right size, lashing them together, getting my poor unmentionables wet each time I forded the river. I think it's quite reasonable for me to charge a toll, don't you?"

"But..." Alagard seemed at a loss for words. "You're a troll."

"Yes, we established that two minutes ago. Do try to keep up with the conversation, please. Anyhow, you know what's not reasonable?"

"What?" Tania asked, merriment dancing in her eyes.

"Pulling out a sword and threatening bloody murder instead of paying a toll. That's unreasonable."

"He has a point, Sir Alagard," Tania smiled. "We should pay him and be on our way."

"W-well, he could be lying!" Sir Alagard stuttered. "Say he just happened upon this bridge, claimed it as his own, and is reaping profits despite never having lifted a finger for it."

"Also unreasonable: accusing strangers of lying with absolutely no evidence to back it up."

"Fine, fine," Sir Alagard grumbled as he fumbled around in his coin-purse. "Hope it's worth eating tasteless gruel and sleeping in bug-ridden beds when we're out of coppers."




versenwald3 t1_iu99sc9 wrote

General Mustafa whipped his head towards the heavens. The sky was cloudless, an empty canvas of an artist who had run out of ideas. Not a single balloon-of-war was in sight, no birds arced through the air.

He combed the skies carefully, squinting his eyes. He was not a young man anymore, and his eyesight was not what it used to be. Rubbing his spectacles against his shirt, he perched them back on his nose and resumed his search once more.

Perhaps a false alarm? Dragons didn't exist anymore. Everyone knew that the last dragon had been slain by Sir Galahad in the 1980s with a Remington Model 4, atop Mount Vesk.

Suddenly, a respite from the sun's heat. Mustafa shivered, not at the sudden cold, but at the black shadow that fell across the freighter.

The lizard circled the train, once, twice, and settled comfortably on the tracks ahead. They were still moving at full speed, and she did not seem the least bit concerned.

There was a shriek of claw-on-steel. The locomotive crashed into the dragon's outstretched claw, 200 tons of engine and metal and coal screeching to a halt. Mustafa was thrown back against the hard linoleum floor, and he bit back a shout of pain as his head crashed against the tiles.

He was lucky he hadn't lost consciousness, he thought. Painfully, he pulled himself back to his feet. Shattered glass littered the floor. The bolted doors were warped from the impact, but not so much that they were inoperable.

Mustafa opened the door and stepped into the daylight.

There she sat, steam hissing lazily out of her pointed snout, forked tongue licking her scaly lips.

"So," she said. "Would you like to do this the hard way or the easy way?"