In January, we announced [THE COMPETITION], our open scriptwriting tryout, exclusively for our 3W/3M paid subscribers. After receiving hundreds of entries, we whittled those down to eleven first round winners.
Each writer was given a month to take their pitch and expand it into a one-page outline. Today we’ve got those completed outlines all here for you to read. I’ll be back with commentary for each of them, then we’ll let you know who’s advancing to the next round.
If you’re not a paid subscriber and want to participate in future events like [THE COMPETITION], plus get some fantastic print rewards, you should:
Okay. here we go:
by Reed Beebe
A blood-covered Nur Moto screams defiantly as the King’s Pugno charges forward; the royal audience packing the Arena Grandioza cheers – the muralist Aleela paints this image on her studio’s wall, the artwork foreshadowing the narrative’s forthcoming philosophical conflict. [p.1]
Aleela’s work is interrupted by a visit from Sanan Yago, the Fayrii King’s art curator. Pleasantries are exchanged; Aleela flatters Yago by remembering his brief vogue as a portraitist before accepting the office of Curator. The discourse reveals that Aleela’s murals are acclaimed throughout the Solsistemo (even the artistically disinterested elites of The Institute acknowledge her craft); Yago is visiting Heir to assess Aleela’s plans regarding her commissioned mural for the Arena Grandioza. [approx. p. 1-3]
Yago confesses that in preparation for this assessment, his thorough review of Aleela’s work has identified some troubling imagery that he wants to discuss. Aleela invites him to an adjoining gallery; the room showcases reproductions of Aleela’s various art pieces, allowing Yago to point out his concerns. [approx. p. 4-5]
In one piece, a dignified Fayrii nobleman stands in his well-stocked library; Yago observes that the first Semka logographs of the various book titles on a particular shelf together spell out the name of an assassinated Heir artist whose political graffiti offended many Syndicate leaders. A nearby abstract art piece depicts an Akvan priest administering the fengro de dioj to a young adherent; Yago discerns the obscured musical notes of a reviled Sekvincii religious hymn hidden in the artwork. Other works are discussed. [approx. p. 6-10]
Aleela admits that all her pieces contain secret, subversive codes or images that rebuke the status quo. Standing before her Cubist-style painting of the Akvan coral murals, Aleela recalls how the murals inspired her as a child. She points to a piece featuring a teenage girl painting graffiti while kids play in the street; Aleela shares that making art provided emotional and financial comfort after she spent the last of her murdered father’s pirate hoard buying passage to Heir. She feels that her art should stealthily comment on society’s unjust ugliness while celebrating the beautiful and the strong. [approx. p. 11-15]
Yago expresses admiration, but declares that he must share his findings with the Fayrii court. Aleela makes a practical argument: the truth would undermine the status quo more than her hidden subversive art ever could. She reminds Yago that her pieces are prized and expensive possessions; many corporations and Syndicate clans use the artwork’s stable monetary value as both collateral and a hedge. They walk past an image of two fighting mercenaries who are surreally evaporating into blue bubbles; Aleela explains that Yago’s report would result in her art’s prohibition or destruction by the embarrassed and scandalized, causing financial losses that would make many dangerous investors unhappy with him. [approx. p. 16-18]
Returning to the studio, Aleela remarks that even in victory the Nur Moto loses – to prove a King wrong is a great insult. Looking at Aleela’s mural, Yago perceives that Aleela has painted the Nur Moto to resemble him; he acknowledges the wisdom of Aleela’s argument, and excuses himself. Aleela returns to her work, painting herself – a talented commoner – into the mural as an observer in the exclusively royal crowd; she puts a smile on her face. [p. 19-20]
ACQUISTIONS (previously ‘GRAVERUNNER’)
by Steven Douglas
We open with KRYOS, a specialist in acquiring so-called "magical artifacts," breaking into a compound on Fayrii. As they continue their break-in, narration asks if they've come to Fayrii for "business or pleasure?" Kryos grins as the vent they’re crawling through fills with gas. "Both."
We then flashback to an underground magic show on Heir. Kryos meets with ARIELLA, a minor noble from Fayrii. Ariella explains her family recently lost a secret auction for an Academy relic to their business rival, HALIFAX TOMAR. Kryos asks if Ariella really believes in magic, and she’s surprised given both Kryos' “profession” and the show they’re watching. Kryos dismisses the show as “cheap illusion” and states they don’t care if magic is real or not; the only thing they believe in “is khoin.” On cue, Ariella presents Kryos with a number and the two shake hands.
We return to the heist. Kryos activates a helmet on their suit to continue navigating the vents. They make their way through several more traps (laser tripwires, biometric locks, etc.) before reaching their final challenge: the Nightingale Room, a hallway covered in “alarm plates” on its walls, floor, and ceiling. Kryos very carefully removes one of the plates to hack a sensor underneath it, but doing so risks triggering a back-up alarm. Kryos disables the room just before the secondary alarm can go off, and they enter the next area: Halifax Tomar’s bedchamber.
Kryos spots Tomar asleep in bed and the relic (an all-gold, glowing flower) on a podium next to him. Kryos sneaks across the room and retrieves the flower … but accidentally hits the podium and wakes Tomar. We get a silent panel of the two staring at each other before Kryos whacks Tomar on the head and escapes.
Later, while eating aboard a passenger shuttle returning to Heir, Kryos meets with Ariella again to deliver the flower. Ariella thanks Kryos by pulling a gun on them. Ariella reveals she was never a noble from Fayrii; she’s a member of the Institute. The real purpose of the job was to provide evidence of Tomar breaking sanctions … and to confirm Kryos' reputation—
—Kryos throws a bowl of soup in Ariella’s face and books it.
Kryos tries to find a place to hide but Ariella catches them. The two struggle and Kryos gets shunted out an airlock, their helmet cracked but the flower still in their possession. Kryos panics, believing this is the end … when their oxygen levels start rising.
Kryos looks down and sees the flower has bloomed, releasing a field of glowing pollen that repairs their helmet and surrounds their body like a bubble of stars. Narration repeats Kryos’ earlier remarks on the existence of magic, and we end with them drifting through space, watching the pollen with eyes full of wonder.
by Ramsey Ess
An Opening Montage. Institute Highmaster Phillippi Rouen looks bored as he lives the high life. He gets into a vehicle in fancy clothes with a similarly fancy woman. He drinks wine. In the morning, he enters an ornate office where he says important things like “Athena, let’s execute that security project” and sits back with a wry smile.
Gadshill, a skilled escape artist, performs for an audience of well dressed muckety-mucks, emerging from an elaborate, submerged death trap. In the crowd, Phillipi whispers to Athena, his assistant, who moves backstage and presents Gadshill with an invitation to a private meeting.
Gadshill arrives at the office, handcuffed, escaping them to shake Phillipi’s hand. Rouen proposes the challenge: Gadshill takes over every aspect of his life and then escapes it all. When he does, he’ll receive a retirement-level of Khoin-- the faster he leaves, the more he gets. Gadshill accepts.
Day 1: Gadshill, now in a wig and minor prosthetics, observes the lay of the land. The Institute work seems easy, and when it’s not, Athena knows what comes next. At home, any fears he had about Phillipi’s wife of 35 years discovering him disappear when he sees how rarely they interact. What little contact there is happens from opposite ends of an imposing dining table where neither eats.
Day 6: Phillippi, using the codename “PR,” speaks with Gadshill on a secure line. Gadshill recounts his initial, thwarted escape attempts. PR laughs and gloats. He is dressed casually and has gotten some color as he drinks an exotic cocktail in a gorgeous hotel.
Day 9: A massive gala. The room is silenced by a pair of loud ZAKKKs! Everyone cowers as Gadshill is flanked, pulled up to his feet and moved out of the room (he immediately acquiesces). They navigate the labyrinth of halls with ease, for Gadshill is guiding them out, using their names. They are fellow Eskapi. Outside, the “kidnappers” load him into a transport. They’re almost out of there when they each take a shot to the head and Gadshill is “rescued” by an Institute security team.
Day 25: A conference table of Institute employees are hard at work. Gadshill enters, nude, yelling nonsense phrases. This is viewed as “refreshing” and inspires talk of adopting an annual “amnesty day” to the calendar. On a secure line, PR finds this vaguely amusing, but is impatient-- “finish this.”
Day 49: Gadshill is stuck. Athena runs down his packed schedule before leaving his office. He jots off a note, slides open a window, stands on the ledge and jumps. Across panels, he falls. Cut to black. Then-- the hospital ceiling. His wife sleeps at his bedside clutching his note. He reaches out and takes her hand. He is nursed back to health, receiving the unparalleled treatment reserved for Highmasters. His reconstructed body is in better shape than ever before.
Day 73: At home, Gadshill ties a cravat and is informed he has a call. It’s a desperate Rouen. He’s tried everything. He’s downstairs and proposes they just switch back and explain the whole situation. Gadshill apologizes-- he and his wife are just about to step out but he will be in touch tomorrow.
The Montage. We return to the opening montage, but with more of the picture. That’s not a bored Rouen-- it’s a pensive Gadshill. As Gadshill enters the vehicle, his security restrains a screaming Rouen. Inside, his wife looks on lovingly and at the party, she’s laughing. And when Gadshill gives the command, “Athena, let’s execute that security project” and smiles, it’s clear he’s taking care of business of another kind.
by Jarod Rhys Pratt
We establish quickly that Damoja and her partner, Orzio, are polar opposites. She’s new, eager about the Kuratori and the sacred vow, while he’s 3rd generation Majestic, and just about over the whole thing. And he’s definitely not happy to have a partner. We play him up as a crooked cop, evidenced by the way he is shaking down some drunk and rowdy migrationists – people who treat the Vojogonto as a cruise ship. Drunk migrationists are normally the extent of crime on a Vojogonto, the threat of being added to a no-fly list” for the only interstellar transit around enough to make most people act right…
Until now. A man falls from the sky and lands in front of them, clutching a distinctive looking case with dead hands. Damoja and Orzio look up and lock eyes with an assassin staring down from a hotel balcony. Orzio rushes after him, while Damoja pulls out her comm device to call it in. A second assassin shoots it our her hand with an arrow. Damoja, being a bad ass, is able to turn the table on her would-be killer and force answers out of him. Whatever is in that case is something of immense value that was stolen from The Institute and is being sought after by just about every major player in the system, all of whom have sent their own assassins and spies to retrieve it. Like the one creeping up behind an unaware Damoja…
…an assassin who is promptly squashed by another falling body, this one the assassin Orzio chased after inside the hotel. Damoja looks up and sees her partner, a few knives stuck in him, bleeding. Tough old bastard. He points into the distance and we see a gaggle of assassins fighting amongst themselves as they all try to get to her and the case.
The assassin free for all. Focus in on one in particular. The Institute Man. Quick Tarantino-esque flashback. Institute Men are assigned their roles as killers at birth as killers and honed by the Institute to be their perfect, unstoppable assassins. Orzio yells for her to follow procedure. She darts down a dark alley and hides in a sewer while the assassins run down the alley above her.
In the sewer. Damoja creeps along as the whole of the Kuratori Majestic descend on the assassins up top. Clearly, this was never going to end well for them. Whatever is in that case must be extremely valuable for them to even risk going against the Kuratori. Then…
Music, drifting down the sewer tunnel. Another assassin, Arcyla, playing a hypnotic song on a strange instrument. Damoja shakes it off. A fight ensues. Damoja emerges victorious, barely. She trudges off back down the sewer until she runs into Orzio at their designated meeting spot, per procedure…
…and he stabs her deep. The expected heel turn. Orzio is an inside man for one of the Syndicates. They hadn’t been outside the hotel by accident when everything occurred. He got distracted harassing the migrationists and missed it when the first assassin slipped in and killed the original owner of the case via accidental balcony drop. Orzio’s motivation is simple…he is sick of life on the whale, but the Kuratori vow isn’t easily broken. The gifts and trinkets from the worlds and moons the yndicate showers him with helps him feel a little less trapped. Orzio makes his move to off Damoja and take the case when The Institute Man emerges from the shadows.
The Institute Man quickly incapacitates Orzio, then turns to Damoja.
She gladly hands him the case. Orzio isn’t the only turncoat, it seems. Damoja was hopeful she would have time to enjoy what she thought would be a quiet life as Kuratori Majestic before being called in as a sleeper agent for The Institute, but alas…when something like a fragment made of an unknown metal rumored to be from the Outer Worlds beyond the asteroid field is stolen from The Lab, you do what you have to do.
Right before the The Institute Man kills them both to tie up all the loose ends, Damoja and Orzio, in their turncoat-ery, share a brief moment.
Maybe they weren’t so different, after all.
(Note: this story will be narrated by passages from the Kuratori Majestic holy book)
by Jeff Telofski
On Ordo, STELLAN stands before an Institute Advisory Tribunal, describing the history of the SWORD that pierces the surface of the nomad asteroid orbiting between the moon and Therra. The hilt etchings read in an ancient language, “In the Garden, You Will Grow”. He believes the Institute is wrong to portray it as an archaic memorial and that there is something more to it. The Judges of the Tribunal remind Stellan of his past attempts to seek resources, failure to gain approval, and of his worrisome mindset regarding Religion and Science. A final warning is made, but on his way out the Tribunal asks Stellan to give their regards to his Papo.
A pot of dying flowers floats between Stellan and his PAPO, a man as joyless near death as he was in life. His Papo once was a great contributor to the Institute, and Stellan knows he can be the same and make his Papo proud. He lies to his Papo about his successful research. Papo does not react.
Later that evening on his way home, Stellan is instead diverted to the Inter-moon Cargo Yards. Stellan arrives, and out of the shadows stands JUDGE BENTARA, one of the Tribunal that Stellan met with earlier. She delivers Stellan an opportunity to prove himself correct, holding out a SPACESUIT. Stellan accepts.
Stellan looks uncomfortable aboard the ship. He’s never been in space. To distract him, Bentara asks about Stellan’s thoughts on the relationship between Religion and Science. He talks of the differences, Evidence vs. Belief, but how they are two sides of the same coin. He looks out and sees the planets from space and talks of the majesty of both. The grandness that makes you feel small and humble. The cycles and dangers in both. Bentara and Stellan discuss that the Institute is afraid of the Sword. Imagine any of the religious sects believing in such a symbol and how it would affect the economy of Khor and the Solsistemo as a whole.
The ship arrives at the asteroid. Bentara looks comfortable walking on the surface in her space suit, Stellan looks awkward and clumsy. Together they crest the lip of a crater and see…the SWORD. All awkwardness and discomfort sheds off Stellan. He takes in the Sword, alien in feel but also crafted by sentient hands. He thinks out loud as he registers readings and soil samples from around the Sword. Stellan presses a button on a metal band around his forearm. He then pulls out his own BLADE and tells Bentara what he did not share with the Institute and his real theories on what the Sword is and can do. It’s a CATALYST, and like Religion and Science, both require SACRIFICE.
Stellan cuts off his hand, the band on his arm sealing the remainder of his suit from vacuum exposure. Stellan’s theory is that living organic material in contact with the Sword is the catalyst. Stellan grabs the hand and shoves it against the Sword, frozen drops of blood and skin crushing into the metal.
Stellan waits for the catalyst to activate…and waits…and waits…
Nothing happens. Stellan pleads that he was right. Bentara turns around, disappointed, and heads to the ship. Before she departs, she tells Stellan that his Papo arranged this opportunity to see his child fail, the last request of a dying man who thought his son an idiot. Bentara takes off and leaves Stellan alone on the asteroid to die.
Stellan returns to the sword, defeated. He talks of the etchings. Death nurtures soil, and things grow again. The Sword glows. From the hand and blood, dark vegetation and strange stone grows. Stellan sees it and smiles. He reflects that Religion and Science both put you on a journey. Questions answered. Beliefs satiated. HE WAS RIGHT. You hear that, Papo?
The growth wraps around Stellan and pulls him down. As he and the sword descend into the ground, he speaks to his father. It is never hard to believe when a miracle stands right in front of you. We see his Papo’s hospital chamber, the bed now empty and a Nurse replacing the old flowers with new ones. “Don’t worry, Papo,” Stellan promises, “In the Garden, WE will grow.”
STARS, LIKE WATCHFUL EYES
by Y. Lu
We begin with Halbeth, royal of Heir, high on life. He’s on the balcony of his hotel suite, built into a Therran cliff face, next to a dazzling waterfall where exotic fish swim up the cascade. Expensive drink in hand, he reflects on how life is blessed, life is grand. “In a life such as this, anything is possible.” He’s catching up with his childhood friend Swiftt over encrypted communication tech. From the conversation, we get a sense of the closeness and longevity of their bond. At chat’s end, Swiftt says that you-know-who has a found a lead and will be at Halbeth’s location in three days. He’d better skedaddle. Three days later, an assassin barges into Halbeth’s now empty suite.
Rewind to six months earlier: Halbeth and Swiftt enact their grand plan. At separate locations, they each engage the services of an assassin against the other. Halbeth hires someone named Myr and Swiftt selects one White Wendra. Swiftt hams up his hatred for Halbeth; he wants to savor all the details of his rival’s slowly encroaching end, and so he asks Wendra to keep him up to date on her progress. (And Halbeth has a similar conversation on his end with Myr.) The two royals then meet in secret and review the plan (thereby explaining it to the reader): As long as they keep each other aware of the assassins’ progress, they can always stay one step ahead of them, stay alive. And as long as this duel doesn’t conclude, nobody can engage them in a new one. They’ve escaped the great game that would otherwise have been their birthright.
We get a brief montage-ish sequence of the assassins’ decided lack of success over months: Charging into an empty, vacated apartment; showing up at a spaceport too late, etc. As it progresses, we see visual cues that they’re getting ever more desperate: Myr has some exotic hunting beast with him now, Wendra barges into a room while packing some Wile E. Coyote-on-acid contraption, etc.
In alternating sequences, we see Halbeth and Swiftt in locations throughout the Solsistemo, living their itinerant lives. They start becoming ever more suspicious of one another, as it sinks in that the other could choose to not uphold his end of the bargain at any point. They don’t think that will happen given their friendship, but there’s that inescapable, nagging doubt. On Akva, Halbeth overanalyzes a stray comment from Swiftt in their encrypted conversation for signs of resentment. On Therra, Swiftt reads too much into a delay from Halbeth’s latest message. And so on. As paranoia grows, they give up on certain pleasures. After thinking he caught a glimpse of Wendra between the stacks of an Ordo Biblioteka, Halbeth decides he doesn’t need to read so many Akvan religious epics. Swiftt decides to forgo homes with expensive views when he realizes how easily a sniper could get him. Both men’s lives shrink. These scenes carry us across three years into…
A scene paralleling the story’s first scene. Three years into the scheme, Halbeth is in a considerably less glamorous hotel room. He tells himself once more of how life is blessed, how life is grand. But to the reader the words now read hollow and desperate, as we see the paranoid existence he is eking out, too worried to go outside, to do much of anything. Always wondering if this will be the day Swiftt reneges, and the assassin shows up at the door. Because for the rest of his days, the possibility will dangle. “In a life such as this, anything is possible.”
Epilogue: Myr breaks down a door to find… White Wendra and a stranger. She explains they both chased the same lead but it was actually this completely unrelated Heir royal on the run here. The young man stands in the corner awkwardly as the assassins commiserate over how goddamned hard this assignment has turned out to be. Myr shares the latest rumor: That he and Wendra are working together, delaying their kills so that they don’t have to take on a new assignment. Wendra, after a beat: “Gods, can you believe the crap people will believe?”
by Randall Avilez
We open in one of the many brightly lit concourses in the Library City. A new exhibition is being shown based on the new archeological findings of VIKE, the Library’s Head Archivist and pulp adventurer (in the vein of Doc Savage or Indiana Jones). VIKE and the Head Librarian H’DAMA walk together and discuss the further curation of the new finds. The tone is one of a friendly exchange between colleagues until H’DAMA mentions something called, “The Apostate’s Reliquary”, an ancient artifact rumored to be the last piece of a lost civilization. VIKE rebuffs at first but when H’DAMA is a bit too eager to examine it, VIKE shuts him down sternly and leaves the meeting suspicious.
Then we meet H’DAMA’s assistant, LULA, and reveal that the Lab has tasked H’DAMA with finding this artifact by any means necessary. They go to an abandoned section of the library to access an old archive server. They sneak through a book graveyard where books and other forgotten analog media are piled high into maze-like stacks. They find a catalog of the most recently used vaults but are chased away by a mysterious figure before they can get any more. It’s a noir-ish chase through the stacks and back alleys. Eventually they lose the tale and make a plan to search each of the listed vaults, physically.
Next we get a little montage of them exploring the City to find each hidden vault, all while evading the notice of VIKE and other Archivists. I wanna get wild with it, exploring towers that touch the clouds, and down into the sewers and catacombs; The design of the City should evoke both Borges’ Library of Babel and Piranesi’s “Imaginary Prisons”. I want bookcases made into mazes and gardens, filled with tent cities of wanderers, and Pages riding on those wheeled staircase thingies around stacks of books like Venetian gondolas. Just push the concept of “Library City” as far as we can.
Then it comes to the last vault. “It’s got to be this one”, thinks H’DAMA as he sets out, this time without LULA in tow. With VIKE expected to arrive back soon, H’DAMA can’t wait. He sets out and finds a hidden Vault in the graffitied wall of a lofty tower. It opens and he sees, not a book or scroll or anything like that… but a huge metal box, the size of what we'd call a shed or garage. It is bronze or copper and engraved with elaborate designs of old gods and holy warriors. A greenish glow emits through small grates placed around the bottom and top of the walls.
H’DAMA is about to approach it when VIKE reveals himself! At first, H’DAMA tries to reason or bargain with VIKE, but when that fails he lunges for a weapon, a stone figure, to defend himself with. VIKE, however, easily overpowers him. He drags him towards the bronze cage and points to some hieroglyphics. “This is a warning”, he tells H’DAMA, to open it would let loose some vast, incomprehensible evil. H’DAMA counters that neither of them could know for sure. VIKE admits as much but decidedly tells him it is his job to decide what these “little scholars get to play with”. He strangles H’DAMA in the vault and leaves his body there. After this I’d like to end with an epilogue page of the assistant LULA, maybe going to check the vault after and finding the body and approaching the glowing cage.
THE RISE & FALL OF THE MOTO MAJESTIC
by Thom Dunn
The Moto Majestic -- lead singer Phox, mbassko player Ceilid, melodian Xinoq, and robo-drummer Jehru -- are playing at a bar on Heir, having a blast together despite the uninterested audience.An assassin duel bursts through the room, knocking Phox to the floor and damaging Jehru. Ceilid steps up to the microphone with her eyes closed and briefly flashes backs to her childhood on Akva. She subconsciously recalls a melody from her youth and begins to sing. Xinoq does his best to follow along. The music, like magic, captivates the crowd, enough to bring the duel to a swift end as the audience cheers on.
After the show, the band is shocked to learn that the Harmonio algorithm that determines the value of their performance has paid out more khoin than they ever imagined they would make. This gives Phox an idea ...
The crowd at the next Moto Majestic gig is much larger and more attentive. Phox acts more like a conductor this time, guiding the band to serve the Higher Path by underscoring the evening with an ambient improvisational jam.A bored Xinoq plays along. Phox cues Ceilid to sing, but she hesitates, scared to share the power of the songs. She ultimately relents -- and once again, it pays off in Harmonio.
A month later, there's an even bigger crowd assembled to see the band, but tensions are growing between the musicians. That night, Ceilid notices a familiar face in the crowd. She confronts the woman after the show, who reveals herself to be one of the Sankta Soldato, an agent of the Filth Priests. The woman compliments Ceilid's singing, then brushes Ceilid's hair aside to reveal the fengro de dioj scar on her head. Across the bar, Phox goes to settle up with the bartender, only to learn that Harmonio has determined that the band deserves more money than the bar can afford to pay. A Syndicate member named Domo overhears the dispute, and offers to help ... for a price.
Back at the band's rehearsal space, Ceilid is furious that Phox has gotten them involved in Syndicate business; she despises crime, and prefers to put her faith in the Higher Path. Xinoq tries to mediate, invoking the Vetludi code. "Whatever is held must always be wagered; he says.And what they hold is music. Which is why he thinks they should go back to playing their old songs again. Jehru agrees.
But this strategy backfires when Domo offers to finance a recording session in a bio-mechanical studio inside of an echo chamber that funnels the amplified frequencies into the mouth of a strange space creature, which uses its chemical-coated claws to scratch the sonic vibrations into a special media disk (Obviously}. Ceilid tries to change her melodies during the session, but a desperate Phox calls her on it. Domo takes a brief break from entertaining his Syndicate guests to say it doesn't matter, as long as they keep making him money.
The band moves on to a larger venue, where Domo sells posts and other merchandise, then pockets the cash (without giving the band a a cut, of course) During the show, Ceilid sees an Akvan pirate warlord standing in the back with Domo, which triggers more memories
of her childhood, causing her to mess up while singing her melodies. With the spell of the song broken, several assassin duels converge
on the crowd, resulting in a riot. The band is rushed to safety by Domo's lackey and introduced to the pirate warlord,Argaed, who wants them to perform for him on his next vojogonto trip back to Akva.As they talk over the details, Domo's lackey interrupts to announce that the Harmonio algorithm somehow cost them tens of thousands in khoin that night.A furious Domo blames this on Phox, and beats them to a pulp in retaliation. Ceilid fears that this is all karmic retribution for her blasphemy, and when the band regroups in a hotel room after the show, she confesses the truth about her background: she was raised by the Filth Priests, and the melodies she sang came from the hymns she learned as a child. Phox confesses something, too: they're an Exiled Royal, and Domo has also been making money off
the duel wagers on their life. Both Ceilid and Phox are terrified to take the vojogonto gig, but the band agrees they don't have a choice.
From Argaed's suite on the vojogonto, the band looks down at the frantic crowd full of Therrans and Ordons who have gathered to watch the Moto Majestic in their first off-Heir performance. Xinoq reminds the band once again that what's held must be wagered, but the moment is interrupted when Domo throws his arm around Phox like an old buddy and tells them that it's showtime. The band takes the stage -- in a glass dome, backlit by stunning views of crystalline plaque and crackling Mallumia Matero fields -- and without a word, they launch back into their old material, playing the same song we saw at the beginning instead of the boring algorithmic muzak that brought them so much fortune. The audience is furious, but not as much as Domo, who flips out and attacks the band after the show when he realizes how much money he's just lost because of them. But the fight comes to an abrupt end when Argaed the Akvan pirate puts a bullet right between Domo's eyes. In private, he reveals his own fengro de dioj to Ceilid. He tells her that he was hoping to hear her sing the hymns again, but now it's time for her to come home. Ceilid realizes that this is actually how the band had been serving the Higher Path and earning Harmonio --by reconnecting her with the church, where she belongs. The band shares a heartfelt farewell as the vojogonto lands on Akva, and Ceilid disembarks with Argaed to embrace her destiny as a Crusader against Yoda-in-Damnation.
by Paris Gh
PREAMBLE: I pitched a grand adventure spanning the entire 3W3M landscape. This one-shot will be the tail-end of one arc of that story, revolving around a fragment to the larger mystery. All names are temporary place-holders. I was either not thinking about them at all or having a little too much fun.
SET-UP: The journey of our protagonist trio (AKVA/ORDO/FAYRII) has led them to THE VOJO-ROTUNDO CRUISE SHIP & THEME-PARK to find an important piece of the puzzle. After spending four months on the ship, conducting rag-tag reconnaissance, they finally know the where and the when and the how. But before they are ready to execute their plans, the other players in this elaborate game are forcing them to act now.
OPENING SEQUENCE: While the ship is in port and security is stretched to its limits for an
8-hour period, GASTON SCRÖÖPERBOTTOM IV, a cocky master thief, performs an elaborate heist with a menagerie of highly-skilled experts, to steal the same unnamed object the trio is after. They break into the top-floor vault of THE SOCKDOLAGER CASINO on the ship, only to find nothing there. (ORDO gave them false information earlier in the story with a terrible disguise.) The team is discovered, arrested and then questioned by the ship’s head honcho, MacDADDY SoSWEET, who then deploys the ship’s ultimate non-violent security force, THE AVANT GARDE, as well as his personal guards, POUND CAKE & HONEY BOOBOO, to protect the object that everyone seeks.
As this takes place in the 7th hour, AKVA already stands in front of the real vault. Underneath the casino is a secret inverted mechanical pyramid that is not on any schematic. It consists of descending levels of regressing technology through the centuries, which requires a complicated series of codes and maneuvers to pass through each one. Any misstep could result in deadly consequences. From a remote location, ORDO and FAYRII feed the final code through a static-ridden comm link, which AKVA cautiously enters.
Inside lies a single piece of paper on which is the last hand-written couplet by a former Sublime Poet of Therra. The couplet is actually a riddle obfuscated by the structure of a “garden path sentence.” Once solved, the answer will reveal the key needed to translate a cipher journal and hopefully lead them towards their destination. But they do not know this and there’s no time to figure it out. AKVA needs to find the others and get the hell out of there.
When AKVA exits the vault, the Avant Garde has already infested the tech-pyramid. However, the darkness and cramped corridors make it difficult for them to move in their normal “horde” formation, making them grope around in clusters. Using the patchwork tech-suit made by FAYRII, AKVA is able to get by them, only to come face to face with Pound Cake and Honey Booboo. AKVA gets their (singular) ass handed to them in a comical-fashion, but lasts longer than anyone expected. ORDO and FAYRII finally rescue him from certain death with a vehicle FAYRI constructed out of garbage and are able to escape as the ship leaves the port.
by Alison Humphrey
Bridjo’s hopes to pass unnoticed through yet another new school – the tenth in her thirteen years – are about to be dashed. Her mother has been transferred again, this time from Ordo to her home region of Sumtuar, as its new Veristo and delegate to The Fates. Outdoors at lunch, classmates pat her on the back and welcome her “home”, cheering her up until a boy pulls off her jacket. He turns it around to show her a mass of strange, contorted handprints. A water balloon filled with dye explodes between them, and the boy trades insults with the dye-bombers on the school roof before inviting her to his workplace to clean up.
Denas is a prentice to the Majstro of one of Sumtuar’s renowned Clothyards, modo domoj to the royal houses of Fayrii and Heir. He explains that the handprints are ancient root forms of the semka that decorate Sumtuar textiles. These nine malbeno hexes are mirror images of the nine beno charms – Weakness/Strength, Poverty/Wealth, Rejection/Love... but luckily, waterdye washes out easy. A tea-stirring, Heir-appearing client quips that her mother won’t find the semka so easy to ban. Denas recommends a new outfit to help Bridjo blend in – as his first client, she’ll get a discount! A second stirrer drawls she’d be better off in oilcloth.
Back home, Leywi refuses categorically. Rumor control before the upcoming Runway is hard enough without the optics of a Veristo’s daughter in semka. There is no “ban”. There’s an old law against magic symbols, but for generations, Sumtuar has been tying The Institute’s own logic into loopholes: How can the motifs be magic if there’s no proof of efficacy? Bridjo finally cuts a deal to be her mother’s mole in the Yard.
Denas, overjoyed at his first commission, discovers hugs are un-Ordo, but Bridjo is secretly thrilled. She gathers intel, watching the (Syndicate?) Stirrers twist disinformation onto an already volatile grapevine. But when the Majstro comes to inspect the progress on Bridjo’s outfit, he is all kindness, introducing himself as “Your mother’s father’s daughter.”
Bridjo arrives home to learn The Fates have voted to impose a full ban, overriding Leywi’s plea not to play into the Stirrers’ narrative. She hands her mother a package and asks her to decipher the Majstro’s riddle. Decades ago, teenage Leywi begged her father to seek Institute medical care for a hand wound. He listened instead to the previous Majstro, who wrapped first his wrist, then his elbow, then his shoulder in bandages inscribed with Healing symbols. The infection marched past all three to his heart. His only child boycotted the funeral presided over by his killer, so a fellow prentice (now the new Majstro) received his shroud as her proxy until she could unweave it. The sight of the shroud hardens Leywi. Maybe a ban is the only cure.
The next day, Bridjo is aghast to discover the prentices adding more semka to their Runway outfits. The Stirrers egg them on. Maybe a riot is the only cure. Denas assures her he’ll be safe, showing the pattern of tiny Protection symbols inked onto his tunic like chainmail. Bridjo spends the night in despair. But dawn finds her pounding on the Majstro’s door with a new design proposal.
Runway Day. The town square. Majstroj and clients, traders and dignitaries, including Leywi and Bridjo, are seated on a stage behind a transparent shield. Relay teams sporting the new looks of twelve Yards parade to the centre of the square, where cords held by the crowd span the space like warp threads on a vast loom. The race begins. Runners weave through the obstacle course, batons tied to a weft thread in their team’s color. As they hurdle and duck, dye-bombers stationed on roofs all around the square try to tag their outfits with an opposing team’s color, to jeers, cheers and laughter from the crowd.
At the final baton pass, Denas drops his robe to reveal an all-white outfit. To Sumtuar eyes, he might as well be naked. The shock distracts the competition, and he pulls into the lead. Then a dye-bomb finds its target and blossoms into a huge Protection semka on his chest – the cloth was invisibly painted with oil to resist the dye in negative space around the symbol. A roar of approval follows Denas as he sails across the finish line. Leywi orders the guards to intercept him. But his teammates get there first, dousing him with water. Clean again, he mounts the stage. Bridjo is jubilant – her plan worked! Denas gets his symbolic gesture and her mother gets a loophole not to arrest him. But then, in full view of all Sumtuar, Denas pulls out a dye-bomb and smashes it on his own chest. He and Leywi both know her next move will spark the riot.
Horrified, with seconds to act, Bridjo flings herself at Denas, hugging him tight. The guards pull her off and she turns to embrace her mother, appearing to implore mercy… until she peels away to reveal the Protection charm transferred to Leywi’s chest. Its reverse, an Unprotection hex, is printed on her own, the dye still wet. The crowd erupts in exultation, flooding the stage to carry Denas and Bridjo away on their shoulders, and ostentatiously respecting Leywi’s Protection semka by leaving her untouched, alone.
The next morning, Bridjo comes home, slightly hung over. Leywi is waiting, her resignation already submitted to The Fates. Her report concludes that semka should be treated as sociology, not sorcery. Bridjo teases, “But they protected you.” “Maybe, but yours didn’t unprotect you. What makes a hypothesis testable is falsifiability, not verifiability.” “Where do we go now?” Leywi stares at her hands, at a loss. Bridjo hugs her.
by Isaac Platizky
We open on a young girl, Kylie, being trained in the art of death. In a voice over she mentions there’s an unspoken rule in the world of assassins: “Don’t fall in love with Royals, because you never know when you’ll be hired to kill them.”
Trandor III walks into the house he shares with his cousin to see a female assassin standing over his cousin’s dead body.
Trandor tries to ﬁnd out who hired the assassin to kill his cousin, and if he’s in danger. Kylie refuses to tell him who hired her but assures Trandor she was just here for his cousin and that she hopes they weren’t close. Trandor assures her they weren’t and asks her if she’d like to go to dinner.
Against her better judgement she agrees. Montage of them going to dinner together, going to his cousin’s funeral together, and then going to bed together.
Kylie wakes up next to Trandor and realizes she might be falling in love with him. Whoopsie.
Kylie leaves Trandor and returns to her home to ﬁnd her go between waiting with a new assignment. The assignment is for Trandor. She accepts. What else can she do?
Kylie returns to Trandor’s. He thought he’d never see her again. He embraces her. She doesn’t return the embrace. He can tell something is wrong. Kylie pushes Trandor away.
Trandor falls to the ﬂoor. Kylie points a gun at him. Kylie tells him to ﬁght back. Trandor won’t ﬁght back. He loves her. He tells her he loves her.
Kylie screams at him to ﬁght back. She ﬁres the gun, grazing him. He keeps saying, “I love you.” She screams at him to stop saying that.
She throws the gun away and attacks him. He doesn’t ﬁght back.
He’s bleeding badly. She raises her ﬁst for the killing blow. She tells him if she doesn’t complete the assignment she’ll lose everything. He understands. He tells her to do it.
She drops her ﬁst and slides down to the ﬂoor next to him. They are both exhausted physically and mentally. “So what now?” Trandor asks. “I can’t stay here.” Kylie says.
“Who hired you to kill me?” She doesn’t want to tell him. She’s been trained all her life not to. But she’s already broken so many rules. Fuck it.
“It was your father.” Trandor considers this, not completely surprised but disappointed. He turns to Kylie and asks, “Want to go help me kill my dad?”
“Why not? Let’s go make you a king.”
VO: Never fall in love with a Royal, but if you do make sure they fucking win.
Okay, notes on these in two chunks and then on Friday we’ll announce who goes on.
Best of luck!
good lord, were some of these in 3-point font?
Any chance we could see all of them produced?