Welcome to another Writing Challenge!

In line with previous one, which featured some really interesting answers, this includes a topic, a prompt, and also a challenge!

  • Topic

    Write about a competition of some sorts. It might be a challenge, a sport event, a race or even a game of chess. Any event where a character has to compete against another party to achieve something - even only bragging rights - applies.

  • Prompt

    [He/she] paused for a moment, struck by a sudden, lucid realization. I'm going to regret this tomorrow morning.

    You are free to modify this as long as the general sense is preserved.

  • Challenge

    Use "towering", "distortion" and "frenzy".

All of these options are optional - feel free to write something completely unrelated as well.

So to enter the challenge, you simply write something, and post it below. It can be a work in progress, and continue working on it while receiving feedback, or it can be a finished work - anything goes.

And of course, if you encounter any doubts related to the writing process, don't be shy and open a question on our main site!

You can submit your entries until the end of the three weeks. After three weeks, we'll choose the next prompt and put up a new post.

You can either post the whole thing here, or, if you usually post your writing somewhere else, you can put a link here - although I'd advise putting something in to get people interested.

Remember: this is not a contest. This is merely for fun, and for some practice writing. There will (hopefully) be writers of all different skill levels posting - I'm certainly not super good.

You're welcome to provide feedback, but please make sure that it's constructive. And remember: Be Nice.

Remember that the age limit for the site is 13 - so please avoid excessive graphic content or strong language.

I look forward to reading the submissions!

The original meta post - How would having the writing challenges on Meta work out? - that started all this may be helpful. All of these challenges can be seen under the tag.

  • The last one only got 2 answers... do we know what went wrong? Not enough interest? Not enough attention?
    – user36961
    May 27, 2019 at 14:10
  • I kept meaning to write something for the previous one, and it got away from me. Thank you for not giving up after one. May 27, 2019 at 14:47
  • 2
    @EvilSparrow Uh, to me nothing went wrong in the last one: I enjoyed reading the two answers. I wanted to write something myself, but I've trouble managing my time of late, and I don't judge others in the same situation.
    – Liquid
    May 27, 2019 at 15:11
  • @MonicaCellio You're welcome! Also I should note that any suggestion is welcome too. It's fun coming up with prompts, but I'm afraid that my idea might get stale after a while.
    – Liquid
    May 27, 2019 at 15:12
  • 6
    Anyway I like the idea of having a place here on writing to vent with random ideas and ispiration, receiving even a little tidbit of feedback to other users.
    – Liquid
    May 27, 2019 at 15:13

5 Answers 5


Draft 2

This is my first time trying this; I've put it together in a few hours. Hopefully it reads well; many eyes make better revision. Any suggestions/criticism/feedback is quite welcome!

She paused for a moment, struck by a sudden, lucid realization. I'm going to regret this tomorrow morning. She shifted uncomfortably in her sleek black-and-green gaming chair. For all of her pride in consistency and hard work, here she was; it was the night before her first sponsored tournament, and she was mindlessly browsing Stack Exchange's Hot Network Questions list. She sighed, and reluctantly pulled out her GameCube controller. Never before had something so fun been so much work.

Several years before, Laina was at the annual Christmas party for her mother's side of the family when her cousin, Andrew, pulled all of the kids at the get-together into his room. His shiny new Nintendo Wii game console was conspicuously placed near the door, with the TV near at hand. Andrew was lucky. Her eyes carefully drifted over each object in the room, examining the new features in the room. His parents had obviously mandated a Christmas clean-up - there was far less clutter than usual. Andrew's rambling discussion was finally breaking into Laina's consciousness when she heard music coming from the console. Music that wrapped all around her, pouring indiscriminately into eyes and ears and mouth. She could see the rising, fighting, victorious strains emanating from the bed and wall and closet door. It ended abruptly.

Apparently the music was the introduction of Andrew's latest video game aquisiton - a title named Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Laina took a measured interest in the rest of her cousin's explanation. From what she could gather from his sprawling monologue, the game was a non-traditional (he kept using that word - she wasn't sure that it meant what he thought it meant) fighting game where a large collection of Nintendo company characters would try to knock each other off of the stage with various attacks. The attacks dealt damage to the characters just like in a "normal" fighting game, but the more damage that a character had been dealt, the farther it flew from each attack, and the more likely it was to be knocked completely off of the stage. Each time that happened, the character lost one stock. Once three stocks were gone, the character had lost the game. It was all fairly interesting, and Laina had to admit that it could also be rather amusing. One character looked like an adorable, oversized pink gumball, yet furiously swung his comically large hammer at the more dignified sword-wielding characters towering above him.

Soon one of Laina's aunts came in, telling the group that it was time for the Christmas story to be read. They all scrambled in, carefully avoiding the mistletoe hanging from the hall light, except for the older boys trying to push each other underneath the plant.

Laina was soon preoccupied with other things - ways to keep her classmates from copying her homework was much higher on her list than trying to play something as shallow as a video game, and both were nowhere near her meticulous maintenance of a 4.0 GPA. Even so, the music stayed with her. She would occasionally find herself humming snatches of the stirring tune, but even that faded away as she prepared to attend college. Scholarship offers began appearing in neat piles on her desk, and Laina prided herself in her choice. Computer science was a most logical subject, and attending an Ivy League school made no less sense.

Her first semester went smoothly, of course. A few weeks into her second semester, she carefully seated herself at the lunch table of an acquaintance from her Python 197 class. They were playing a video game of some sort. Three bites into her sandwich, she took a closer look. It looked like the game that she had played years earlier, only clearer. She heard music, too, almost as good as what she had once heard.

Soon Laina found out that the game she had played in middle school was in fact the third installment of a 6 (or 7 - her friend and his buddy could never agree) game series. The final installment was what was being played now. She had to admit that it looked rather breathtaking. She noticed more intricacies - from how certain moves could seamlessly combo into other moves to the delicate detail of the different fighting platform backgrounds. That night, she took a few hours of her carefully scheduled free time to look into the game some more. The game had a wiki site, which was helpful. YouTube was even better. The next day during lunch, she demurely asked to play with the two. They accepted, and she was handily defeated. She expected as much, and continued to play without complaint. By the end of the day, she had gotten the knack of recovering her character back to the stage from far away, and was losing her "stocks" more slowly. With more reading and deliberate practice, she had won her first game by the end of the week. She was completely hooked.

She entered her first tournament one month later. The tournament was run much like a sports season and play-off bracket, with one minor exception. Once a player had reached the bracket portion of the tournament, losing a match was not the end of the tournament - the player would merely be placed into a secondary bracket, known as the losers' bracket. At the end of the tournament, the winner of the primary (winners') bracket would play the winner of the losers' bracket in the grand finals round, which determines the winner of the tournament. In order for the player from the losers' bracket to win, they had to win two matches, while their opponent from winners' only had to win one.

The hard-and-fast rules weren't the only things that she learned about in that first tournament. There were other, unwritten rules in effect. The game that she was playing was primarily dominated by males. That had never bothered her, nor had it bothered her two university friends. However, it apparently bothered some of the tournament players. Subtle sneers and insults were telling her that she wasn't a welcome sight to some players. It irritated her to continually be forced to explain that she primarily used Princess Peach because she was the best fighter in the game, not just because she was a female character. This distortion bothered her, and she was also bothered that she had let something so subjective ruffle her concentration.

She won only two matches that tournament, both against fellow first-time tournament players. She calmly celebrated her two wins and continued to practice. By the end of the semester, she was a serious threat to the top local players. By the end of the summer, she was dominant. Laina felt ready to compete in her first national tournament.

So she did. The only national tournament that occurred before the beginning of the next semester was four states away, but she quickly concluded that it would be worth her time. She was quickly sent into the losers' bracket, but she proceeded to tear through it, defeating nationally-recognized players left and right. The commentators were shocked, but Laina wasn't. She knew that she had put in just as much practice into the game as anyone else, if not more. The crowd picked up on her quiet confidence, and by the time she had made it to Grand Finals, the cheers were for her only. In the first match of Grand Finals, she won the three games to two, forcing a second match. The crowd was in a wild frenzy, looking to the new phenom to overthrow the champion then and there. She did not. After switching characters, he steamrolled over her, winning the match three games to none.

She was satisfied with her placement, but was not content to rest on her laurels and relax. Her second-place finish earned her a share of the prize money and a sponsorship from a soft-drink company, which allowed her to play and attend school without needing to pursue a "normal" job. It had also proved a point - the game wasn't just for boys.

Laina shook herself from her musings and back to her present. Even though the game had become a job, she refused to let her practice become inconsistent. She still needed to earn her sponsorship, of course, as well as her internal goal of dethroning the current champion. That, she knew, would never be accomplished by strolling through the Internet or life. She took up the controller again and began a final practice session before the tournament.

She placed sixth. She was disappointed, but not distraught. With more perseverance, there was no limit on what she could accomplish in the next tournament - except first place.

As she drove home, she reached over and turned up the stereo volume. The Brawl theme song was playing.

Some thoughts:

  • The lack of dialogue is intentional. The story is supposed to be focused exclusively on internal processing. It gives it a bit of a claustrophobic feel, but in a way that I think I like.

  • The exposition feels a bit like an information dump on the Smash Brothers Series and is probably a little weak. I'm not sure how else to manage it in the no-dialogue format.

  • 2
    It's interesting since I've rarely seen anything narrating videogame tournaments or smash bros. Also, I liked how you characterize Laina as logic, hard working and methodic. It really showcases her personality. The lack of dialogue is fine, honestly I didn't even notice it; the text doesn't fail at catching attention. I agree with you that the exposition is a little weak, but probably you could just trim it here and there to make it lighter. E.g., the average reader doesn't need to know that there are 6 series of Smash, after all.
    – Liquid
    Jun 10, 2019 at 13:02
  • @Liquid this is a little late, but thank you so much for the feedback! I've been a little busy over the past week and haven't had time to try editing. Quick question: could it be on-topic to ask what exposition is unnecessary on the main site?
    – Brandon_J
    Jun 18, 2019 at 22:12
  • 1
    No problem, really. It could be on-topic if you manage to make the question general (you can still bring the story here as example). Maybe there's already something related about giving exposition,so check that out ^^
    – Liquid
    Jun 18, 2019 at 22:25
  • @Liquid well, it looks like there's already a question.
    – Brandon_J
    Jun 18, 2019 at 22:33

Work in progress, maybe. There would be some work to place rhymes here and there, and make stanzas of equal length. And... feedback most welcome!

Text freely inspired by wetcircuit's answer to my question



He is a liar who's keen
on singing feelings unsought,
deeds unseen, and not a thought.
Born with skills liar I'd been, 
but born a turnip, uncouth 
as me, I know just raw truth.
So forgive me if the brew
isn't sweet, for the story's true.


Long before a sail held round
The world, many times more than
Ouroboros, quicker than 
Fame, there sat legendary,
towering, solitary, 
a stone palace by the sea.


There dwelt dread-slayer hero,
for fifty years king of lands,
most prosperous, of subjects 
most forgetful, Beowulf.
Now his deeds, once so great, had
Grown old and wrinkled, like the
Old crone, who stood lively in 
Youth, and now withers with age.


Three scores grew each family
Since Hothgar's times when spiteful
Grendel met the hero's steel
And its mother, of the same
dark lakes, gave the final shriek.
And in a thunder he who
had once been but a hero
so became worthy a king


-Bring me that terror- said he,
Beowulf his name, hero 
and king, whom glory and fame
brought but boredom and despair:
Quite a pale flavour for one
who longs death and wields iron 
fuming with freshly cut blood.


Find me a monster- said he
-that my people need be saved.
Find a vile monster for me
that may stir fear in the heart 
of men. Of these men that grew
weak, fat, soft, easy and safe.
While I've now become useless 
And, so much worse, forgotten.


-None such are left, my good sire.-
replieth the loyal slave
-you can now rest, and grow old
with age, and let thy beard, white
stretch to your feet, and conquer 
the ground like a candid stream,
herald of wisdom, and peace.


-Hark instead, you comfort-grown 
scoundrel! Deep in the burrows
lieth a dragon, napping
Atop of a mound of gold...-
said Beowulf to the slave,
but the other replieth
-If 'tis gold you need, my lord,
We are a wealthy folk now, 
we'll deliver it to you.-


'Tis the foul dragon I want!-
Cries Beowulf, and in his
heart a mighty thunder cracks. 
There, Then, He pauses for a 
moment, struck by a sudden, 
lucid realization. 
I'm going to regret this 
tomorrow morning. He thinks.


Tomorrow will see the sky
ablaze and the dragon's wings
spread insofar to cover 
the sun. When lives are lost And 
terror shrieks from the heavens,
When all call for the Hero, 
tomorrow then I shall have
My vengeance, Beowulf says,
tomorrow falls not upon
The dragon, innocent beast,
but upon My fateful greed.


So thinks mighty Beowulf
the vanquisher of terror,
and now harbinger of dread,
bored by wealth, stricken with age.
The scabbard hangs from the waist,
and he prays that no comrade 
returns, not even himself.


Oh Fortune, hear me. He who
so dreams of legend that his
kingdom set ablaze, give him
a worthiest challenge, and
a worthiest end, free from
the desires of age, free from
the boredom of peace, give him
one moment of glory, and
thus of legend, seeds be born.

v1.1 updated the first stanza, with rhymes, priming and some basic meter.

  • 1
    I liked how you managed the whole theme. Your telling of Beowulf came out well; he's toughts are clear. I liked both him and the more sensible slave. The seventh and the tenth stanzas are particulary good at showing characters.
    – Liquid
    Jun 10, 2019 at 12:51
  • 1
    I don't know enough about poetry to give you advice on the style, and while I like how you incorporated the prompt, I can't help but think that it feels a little out of place. Maybe some light editing would make it look more "ancient-ish", as On the morrow, he was going to regret that.
    – Liquid
    Jun 10, 2019 at 12:53
  • 1
    @Liquid thank you for the suggestion, it is a good idea.
    – NofP
    Jun 11, 2019 at 8:56

(Draft 2. Edited per Liquid's suggestion.)

Feedback is welcome.

Grayfeather poked his beak out from under the eaves, testing the weather. A gust of icy wind blasted his face, ruffling his feathers, and he shivered. Instinct warned him to stay hidden up here, out of the deadly cold, but his clenched stomach commanded him to leave and seek food.

On mornings like this the sparrows huddled in their nests, up in the eaves of the yellow brick building, until hunger forced them out. This winter was a miserable, brutal one, and scavenging was pointless. The snow was piled four sparrows high and showed no signs of thawing. Even the most determined of them could not scratch their way through. The best they could do was hope for crumbs.

Grayfeather spread his wings and flew out from under the eaves, gliding across the frozen courtyard and landing on a window ledge.

He peeked in through the tinted window. Just beyond was a stall where two ape-beasts sold a foul-tasting brown liquid and an assortment of pastries. The bagels and muffins sat there in their neat rows, just behind the glass, taunting the starving sparrow.

Grayfeather’s gaze shifted to his reflection in the window, a brown-tinged distortion of himself. He could see the despair in his eyes, and he turned away. Self-pity wouldn’t put food in his beak.

He hopped off the ledge and fluttered over to the sidewalk, near where the window swung open and the ape-beasts exited the building. Most of the flock – those not on guard duty – were already assembled here, hoping one of the departing customers would be careless with its purchase. Careless, or generous.

Like that one, over there. Grayfeather watched as the ape-beast tore off a tiny piece of its bagel. He craned his head upward – was it meant for him? No, the ape-beast was looking in a different direction.

Grayfeather was not the only one watching. Raider and Two Spots looked up at the crumb, then at each other.

Both sparrows lowered their heads, glaring at each other, ready to race.

The crumb flew. Both sparrows rushed forward, talons tearing at the cold concrete. Two Spots had the lead- no, Raider was pulling ahead-

The two sparrows collided. There was a flurry of feathers, a frenzy of cheeping, and one final, frustrated shriek.

Raider sailed off into a nearby hedge to enjoy her prize.

Grayfeather watched, despondent. The flock shouldn’t have to live like this, fighting for scraps, when there was a feast just on the other side of the window. Some, like him, were too old to fight. Others… Grayfeather looked over at Red, half-blind from an eye infection, and Blackbeak, with a broken leg that would never heal. They could not compete for food. They would starve to death if the weather didn’t improve.


One of the ape-beasts dragged out a cardboard box, propping open the door. They must be preparing to move something large. The way was open – but only for a little while.

He would need help. Surely the ape-beasts would fight to defend their treasure, and he could not carry an entire bagel by himself. He would need a sparrow with the courage to face the towering, hulking ape-beasts in their lair, the speed and agility to dodge their deadly blows, and the strength to haul one of the enormous bagels out of its case and out the door.

In other words, he needed Raider.

The thought frightened him almost as much as the prospect of starving. The key to peaceful living in this flock was to never approach Raider – she would attack anyone foolish enough to try. Sparrows, starlings, squirrels, even a nosy dog – the species didn’t matter. She’d fought them all - and won. Impossible to get along with, but she was the bird you wanted on guard duty. Many a marauding starling had learned to fear her wrath.

She was finishing her bagel crumb when Grayfeather found her. He chirped a cautious greeting as he approached.

Her head shot up. Two fierce brown eyes locked onto on Grayfeather’s. Raider lowered her head, preparing to charge.

Grayfeather shrank back and squawked an apology. Raider ruffled her feathers and stood up straight, somewhat mollified. Her eye-stripes remained fixed in a scowl as she demanded to know why he’d come.

Chirping softly, he explained: There’s no food.

She lowered her head again and replied with an angry cheep: Back off. This crumb is MINE.

She must have misunderstood. Grayfeather squawked another apology and continued: There can be food for all of us. We don't have to fight each other.

Raider turned back to her meal. Grayfeather realized this was the wrong approach. Raider liked fighting for her meals. He looked back at the door. The ape-beasts were moving a cart inside. They would close the door when they were done. There wasn’t much time.

You’ve never fought an ape-beast before.

She ruffled her feathers. No, I haven’t.

Grayfeather gestured toward the open door, cheeping softly: Now’s your chance. You can make them fear you, just as the starlings fear you. The cart was through the door. But we have to move now.

Raider let out a contemptuous chirp: Now? I can fight one whenever I want.

Once again, she looked like she might peck him. He shuffled back a few more steps. Maybe appealing to her pride would work. Why fight for crumbs when you can take the whole bagel?

I don’t need you for that. I can take the whole bagel the next time one of those morons leaves the store.

We don’t have to wait. If we attack now, we can take all the bagels. All of them, nice and fresh. Not after some ape-beast has touched it with its grimy hands, slobbered on it and dropped it on the ground.

That got her attention. She stood there, head to one side, thinking. Grayfeather looked back to the door. The ape-beast was coming back to retrieve the box. One last try.

Have you ever wanted to raid an ape-beast’s nest?

If sparrows could smile, Raider would have. Grayfeather could see it in her eyes. Already she was dreaming of the mayhem she would unleash, the ape-beasts screaming and diving out of her way.

All right, Grayfeather. War it is.

Something in her tone made him uneasy.

She gulped down the remains of her bagel crumb and took flight. Grayfeather rushed to follow her, his old wings straining to keep pace. He called to the sparrows still on the ground, telling them there was food, lots of food, where he was headed. There was a rush of wings as several others rose to join them.

A gust of warm, stale air rose beneath their wings as they approached the door. Grayfeather let out a jubilant chirp, thinking of the feast to come. The others joined in. Cheeping and chirping, the raiding party swooped through the open door in a blur of gray and brown.

Three of the ape-beasts were standing in line. Another five lounged in nearby chairs. Most of them were distracted, staring at those funny glowing rectangles that they liked to carry. Not a single one of them appeared prepared to defend their roost – in fact, the one closest to the door ducked and hurried away…

Raider shrieked a war cry and dove at the nearest ape-beast. The sparrows followed. The ape-beast yelped and swatted at the birds with its glowing rectangle. Two-Spots took a direct hit and fell, dazed. The flock circled the ape-beast’s hand, diving and pecking, until the rectangle slipped from its grasp and shattered on the floor. The ape-beast gave up and fled. Two others followed.

Pecking and scolding, Raider flew at the face of one who did not flee. The flock followed in Raider’s wake, revenging themselves upon the slow, clumsy, earthbound vermin who had tormented them for so long. No more, they cheeped. No more scattering before the ape-beasts’ feet like so many dry leaves. No more being chased by the ape-beasts’ shrieking fledglings or yapping dogs. No more cigarette butts dumped in their drinking water. No more squabbling over whatever scraps the ape-beasts deigned to give them.

Grayfeather circled the room, cheeping, trying to the gather the flock. This wasn’t going the way he planned. His goal was to swoop in, grab a bagel and get out. Raider seemed intent on starting a war with the ape-beasts. On some level, Grayfeather itched to join her. After all, it was the ape-beasts who had build this city, hacking down the trees and trampling the grasses, leaving nothing but empty fields of asphalt and concrete where no food could grow.

But even as fierce as she was, Raider would not win that fight.

Most of the flock, remembering their hunger, left off chasing the ape-beasts and flew up to join Grayfeather. They spotted the coffee shop and swooped down, scolding the bagel-keeper.

Grayfeather landed on the bagel-keeper's hand and pecked its knuckles. It yelped and swung its hand, mashing Grayfeather's left wing against the cash register. He fell onto the counter and hopped away, dazed. His wing hurt, but it didn’t feel broken. He staggered away, hoping the ape-beast would not hit him again.

The ape-beast shrieked, and Grayfeather looked up. Raider was perched upon the ape-beast’s head, pecking at its scalp. The ape-beast clutched at its hair, but Raider was too quick. Squawking and scolding, she herded the panicked ape-beast out from behind the counter and down the hallway.

Two of the other sparrows had already landed inside the pastry display. They were taking turns tearing chunks out of a multigrain bagel when Grayfeather hopped up. Wasting no time, he pecked out a beakful for himself.

The rest of the raiding party landed and joined in, stuffing their beaks with the soft bread.

The last to land was Raider. Grayfeather looked at the streak of blood on her beak and said nothing. He had a nasty feeling he would regret this tomorrow.

Once the bagel looked small enough, three of the raiders grabbed hold of what remained-

Raider rushed forward, cheeping OUT OF MY WAY, LOSERS!

The other sparrows scattered. Raider took hold of the half-eaten bagel and dragged it out of the display case.

Grayfeather realized he should have seen that coming.

They waited until she was through the door and out of sight before starting on another bagel. Once it was eaten down enough, three sparrows grabbed it and took flight, winging their way across the now-deserted lobby. Grayfeather gave the coffee shop one last glance. They might not be able to raid it again. Even the ape-beasts might be smart enough to post some guards next time. And then there was the possibility that they might retaliate… the sparrows might even have to find a new home.

But that was tomorrow's problem. For today, the sparrows were fed.

They flew out into the cold January air, half-eaten bagel suspended between them, towards the rest of the hungry flock.

  • 4
    It doesn't seem flat to me. It's a bit neutral, yes, but being a short story I didn't expect to bond with the main character a lot. Reading a non-human POV is always refreshing. My two cents are that, while the character of Rider is interesting, she comes over to help Greybeard really easily. You've set her up as scary and always angry, but after the initial misunderstanding, she becomes a bit like a plot device. But take this with a pinch of salt.
    – Liquid
    Jun 5, 2019 at 9:52
  • @Liquid I made some changes. Hopefully it looks better now.
    – user36961
    Jun 8, 2019 at 13:40

This is just a universe I wanted to explore, and the prompt kind of fit when I started writing it, so...

Pretending to like The Blue Leopard is not as difficult as Alia thought it would be. She reads the papers anyway, so she doesn't give away details that a civilian shouldn't know, and she takes her cues from what they say. Most of the time, she pretends that she's not really interested, that she's too immersed in her books and poetry to pay attention to what's happening in the real world.

"Oh, did they fight again?" she'll say, a little vacantly, when Jesse and Trini undoubtedly ask her about it. "I hope Blue Leopard won."

"I can't believe Red Nightmare was allowed to get away," she has to say to her coworkers discussing the news, as though she hadn't been there, as though she hadn't completely overspent herself trying to get away with enough money or information.

Every victory comes with a scar that'll never fade, or an unavoidable civilian casualty. Every loss comes with a growing anger, a resounding hatred for the way things are.

At least Blue Leopard never goes for civilians.

'The thing is', thinks Alia, every time she sees the media coverage of her alter identity, ' they never would've considered me a hero. Not with my powers.'

It isn’t anything new to her, being demonized for the way she was born.

She had tried being on the right side of the law, when she was younger. She'd given her neighbour's father a little nightmare, just the smallest one, a trickle of fear that people would start asking about the bruises on his wife and daughter, that the cops would get him. But nightmares wear off, and once she'd started she couldn't stop. Things had been great for Mrs. Sanders and Terri until the nightmares pushed Mr. Sanders over the edge and he lit their house on fire from the inside.

Nightmares are unpredictable things. She tries to use the strong ones only on people she doesn’t care about. It's why all her fights with the Blue Leopard go so badly.

With a lunge, the cat is on her, slamming her back and skull into the cold concrete. Her head spins, and she feels the tickle of blood dripping down her neck. The leopard backs away, putting itself between her and the injured man. It snarls, and in the mild sonic wave of its growl, its soft blue fur ripples.

The Red Nightmare struggles to her knees, leans heavily against the suburban iron gate, and tries to figure out her next move, but the world is a distortion of colours and sounds and textures and dreams and fears, up down hot cold soft warm wet bruising gripping tearing burning -

She shakes her head, making it ring all the more. Ever since the Leopard figured out her weakness, she'd been getting hit in the head a lot more.

She wonders what they'd do if she sent them the bills for her scans.

"I'd send them back," growls the Blue Leopard.

Oops, she'd said that out loud. And probably this too.

"I wouldn't need to send you my bills if we all had free healthcare," she says, just to say it.

"Stay down, Nightmare," says the Leopard. "I don't want to have to hurt you."

They turn around to face the man behind them, and Red takes her chance.

Fighting the Leopard is like being on a see-saw. On one hand, animals are immune to her more controllable skills, like fear-mongering and dream-walking, and she really has no physical training. The only reason she's alive is because the Leopard doesn't believe in killing. On the other, huge cats with enormous teeth are easy to spin into a real, terrifying nightmare, probably because most sensible people are already scared of them.

She focuses on his mind, and the man screams in the Leopard's face, his frenzied scrambling away hindered by the bullet in his leg.

"How many times are you going to pull that one?" asks the Leopard, sounding almost annoyed.

Red rolls her eyes. "As many times as it works. Oh, and I'd watch out. That gunshot wound the pig has? It-"

She jumps out of the way of a swiping paw, and the razor sharp claws tear her mask, just missing her face. She needs to end this, and fast.

"It’s from his own gun," she says. "And he said that he has plenty more."

The Leopard whirls around to check on the man, but it's too late. His finger is already on the trigger, trying to dispel the demonic blue beast of his worst nightmare. The Leopard tries to roll out of the way, but he shoots. The shot is deafening, and Red takes the opportunity to leap into the police cruiser. Her mask falls off, tattered as it was, but it's too dark for anyone to see her face anyway.

Invulnerable fur, The Leopard will be fine, she thinks, eventually. Three minutes, ish, to kill this guy and run.

Ironic that she was about to run him down with his own car? Maybe.

Head hurts too much for irony, thinks Red, and yanks the steering wheel sharply. Her head throbs. The cop is still reeling from the nightmare she'd gifted him, the gun held loosely in his hand as the adrenaline seems to wear off.

Good, he's forgotten about me.

The element of surprise is always useful. Red takes a second to check on the Leopard. Just to see if they're out of the way, not anything more. In that second of distraction, the man has run to the doorstep of his house, and is frantically trying to unlock the door. She can still get him… she'll just have to go through the iron fence first.

She reverses a little, for more momentum, and pauses, struck by a sudden, lucid realization.

I'm going to regret this tomorrow morning.

Then she prays that her foot is on the right pedal and slams it down.

Oh good, it was the right pedal, she thinks, and braces herself for the gate.

There's a roar, and then a hundred kilograms of pure muscle crashes through the window of the car and slams Red backwards, breaking her grip on the steering wheel. She should be dead. She would be dead, but the Leopard cares about protecting people. The thing pressed between her and the airbags isn't really a leopard.

Oh god…

Even with the interference, the car would've gotten the man on momentum. What the Leopard needed to do was turn the car, but paws aren't really the best instruments for that. Sometimes, Alia forgets that the Leopard has just as much of a secret identity as she does. Half transforming back to human had given them one arm and a human torso, just enough to turn the wheel and crash into the wall.

Red takes stock of the situation. The man has gotten into the house, and is probably calling the authorities - she's lost her chance. Across her lap is the part human version of the Leopard - someone who foiled her attempts at justice, and someone who'd absorbed most of the impact of the crash. Red has whiplash, a killer headache, pieces of glass embedded in her skin, and the guiltiest conscience ever.

The ambulance will be here anyway, right?

She runs.

Pretending to mourn The Blue Leopard is not as difficult as Alia thought it should be.

  • The comic-book atmosphere, with villains and superheroes, managed to draw me in and really played on the theme of rivalry. It works well as a self-contained story, and the character of Red Nightmare is well sketched out. My only complaint is that the final action sequence, when Blue Leopard is forced to go into human form, is a bit messy. I got a general impression of what happened, but at the first reading I was a bit confused.
    – Liquid
    Jun 17, 2019 at 11:16
  • 1
    Thank you! Yeah, I'm not happy with that part either. I'll probably spread that part out over later parts of the story, instead of trying to fit it in here.
    – tryin
    Jun 17, 2019 at 12:10
  • 1
    Or maybe I'll hop over and ask writing.se for editing suggestions :D
    – tryin
    Jun 17, 2019 at 12:10
  • By all means, do! The tag combat has some useful question, but there are many more to be asked.
    – Liquid
    Jun 17, 2019 at 12:42

Shortly after Camio first earned the name, he found it rotten with old resentments. As he stretched his new wings and practiced walking with his new feet, he found himself beset by decades of slights and snubs, newly remembered. As he relearning to groom and dine with feathers and a beak, spare attention was spent relearning the art of insulting poetry. As he cycled through the forms of Camio, his mind cycled through remembered enemies of Camio. To his surprise, both forms and memories were notably indistinct and incomplete; he expected the previous demon to wear the name to have left a stronger imprint, especially after defending it for centuries.

After a few days in his new form, its peculiarities were no longer on the forefront of his mind. With no competing distractions, spiteful rumination returned to the forefront of his thoughts. He found himself thinking in circles, remembering a crow's face and his own hatred but not anything about the crow or any reason to hate. His few memories showed considerable discrepancies when compared to public and private records; Camio suspected deliberate distortion, but no particular method or motive came to mind. The mystery gnawed at him far more effectively than hate; after another few days, he started searching for a distraction.

Camio decided to attend a music festival. Once there, he gave his desires voices to better choose between them.

A small but insistent part of him, likely one dating back to namelessness, wanted to admire the ensembles. It offered up memories the skillful orchestration that transmuted indistinct mobs of nameless and faceless grubs into precise and peculiar assemblies, each with a degree of character and presence that hardly seemed possible of anything made out of grubs alone.

Other parts demanded seeing the duels. Some bayed for blood, anyone's blood, while others held out for the possibility of watching the humiliation of a hated enemy. The former voices also suggested holding out for one with an open pit, a chance to entangle himself into a frenzy of carnage and cacophonies.

A quiet part noted reminded him that that music was power, so attending any demonstration would be an opportunity to expand his knowledge of both power to wield and the powers others might wield against him. With the same bland certainty, the voice noted that he was currently ill suited to using music personally, and suggested investigating the presentations of new voice instruments.

And so Camio found himself almost agreeing to a very specific course of action that presented itself as as natural as walking. He paused for a moment, and reconsidered his thoughts with suspicion. The influence of his predecessors were quite clear. However, while he felt no obligation to adopt the same interests, the argument seemed convincing and the choice seemed harmless enough.

The instrument demonstration was restricted to recording devices and name rank demons only; while customary for voice research, this was unusual for something displayed as a festival. Camio wondered if this was a matter of showmanship.

The instrument itself was an interesting juxtaposition of instruments. Most of it was taken up by a quotidian vending machine that was hard at work churning out what appeared to be a mix of woodwinds and disposable voice players, spitting them into a rectangular area. A much smaller spherical component was set off to the side, connected by a thin cable. It was carefully polished and had no obvious bumps, suggesting considerable reinforcement. The presenter leaned on the vending machine, making small talk with a few guests in the front row.

The face of the presenter was familiar. The name Malphas came to mind, then came to rest on his tongue. It was bitter and weighty; he spat it out quietly. One demon turned, caught his gaze, and gave what he thought to be an approving nod.

Malphas's device was still preparing. What was ready was stacked high in a formless heap that loomed over Malphas.

He was momentarily buoyed by the prospect of allies. After a brief tangent considering how little he knew about his current political position, he turned his attention back to the machine.

The vending machine seemed to be done dispensing parts. The small sphere sprouted spindly, spider-like legs and crawled up the pile of simpler instruments and voice snippets, occasionally detaching a leg and growing a new one. The detached legs carefully burrowed into the loose aggregate of components, molding the midden into a towering, misshapen spire. Malphas turned to the audience and spoke

"And now, I present and a capella performance of Leonard's Halle-lujah"

Camio and the rest of the audience reflexively tensed as the last word started, then relaxed when it finished and the insinuation of danger passed.

Then the demonstration started, and everyone tensed up again.

The voice was far from perfect; Camio, straining for ears, could hear a frenzy of corrections from the non-voice instruments that attempted to shape or hide the defects in the voice recordings, which were themselves a mishmash of different voices cajoled into something that resembled a whole. But it was good enough; motes of light flickered into existence and danced along. People were visibly nervous as the song neared the end of the first stanza. Most previous instruments failed at the first "Hallelujah"; the earliest ones failing to say anything at all, more recent ones stuttering or mangling it, the public state of the art breaking the melody to enunciate it. Would this one be different?

The first "Hallelujah" was sung well enough, and it sung into existence a flash of light and a thunderclap. Chunks of the component pile broke off, and Camio thought he saw other parts catch fire. The instrument managed to make its way through the chorus before it was too damaged to continue, with swaths of voice players blown away or reduced to ash. The sphere remained intact and appeared to be in good enough condition to continue attempts at singing, but was glowing with heat.

Malphas had managed to publicly demonstrate the ability replicate the power of human-song.

Camio reconsidered his evaluation. Malphas "publicly" demonstrated an ability. Why such a distinction? Few research groups were secure enough in their positions to be willing to hide the discovery of such a weapon; now that it was known to be possible, many other efforts could easily replicate it. So why did his mind offer the distinction?

After the demonstration, the demon who nodded at him approached him with what seemed to be recognition, calling his name. She introduced herself as Gremory, and suggested that they talk as they walked out of the venue.

He asked her if she knew of Malphas. She told him that Malphas's team competed with hers for voice generation contracts. She asked him what he thought of the presentation. He tried to spend a moment in thought, trying to think through the cloud of hatred that surrounded Malphas, but in the end relayed his snap judgement, in the same flat certainty that it came to him.

"I am certain that better methods exist, and I suspect for a considerable amount of time".

The conversation pivoted to focus on the possibility of better methods. He ended up parroting the quiet voice, and found himself drawn into the ad-hoc justifications that Gremory managed to draw out of him. He paused to gather and rearrange his thoughts out loud; Gremory seemed to approve, so he tried to slow down. Even then, most of what he said seemed to elude him until after he said it. The influence of his predecessors was obvious to him, and possibly obvious to Gremory as well. Would his predecessors impose even greater distortions of thought if he pursued this inquiry further?

Gremory suggested that he consider joining her research group. She invited him to spend the night at her office to consider.

Camio paused for a moment, re-evaluating the conversation, and was struck by a sudden, lucid realization. He was going to regret this tomorrow morning. To agree would show that he trusted quickly, a glaring weakness. Yet to disagree would be to turn down what would likely be a solid alliance, and be tantamount to willfully ignoring someone with dangerous knowledge about him. Gremory's sudden silence suggested that she was unwilling to continue the discussion before he accepted, and her sudden agitation suggested the possibility that she would not be so willing to answer his questions so freely at another time.

In the end, curiosity won out, and, carefully hiding his misgivings, he agreed to the invitation.

Gremory made a habit of leaving her office at least once a fortnight. From her most recent memories of being a grub, she recalled questionable but persistent advice that, once one acquires a name, one should regularly and consciously break the routines of the last demon to own it. The other grubs proposed a number of justifications for the habit, but the fact that the named demons themselves also hawked it gave her pause.

Gremory took great joy in her research on high-energy voice dynamics, so there was always a temptation to dismiss the advice and lock herself in. However, her advisers impressed on her the inefficiency of ignoring others' work and the dangers of ignoring politics. She soon came to consider canvassing the concerts, trade shows, and press releases was necessary auxiliary work.

This week seemed like an especially poor time to head out; her work was picking up, and she expected to need an unusual amount of contact with other teams to scrounge up the components her team needed to build their prototype. She longingly eyed the towering stack of letters in her outbox as she left, wondering if enough would have the right effect.

A week ago, Gremory noticed an announcement that Malphas would be demonstrating a new voice instrument at the city's next music festival. Now seemed like as good a time as any to see why his designs were slowly supplanting hers.

Malphas's machine was a hideous, inelegant thing that would not have worked before the recent influx of voice samples, painstakingly sorted and tagged by the human data archives. It deeply offended her sense of aesthetics, and Malphas's boasting, his performative ignorance in declaring the novelty of his approach and its triumph over others, only angered her further.

She met the new Camio at the demonstration. He too seemed to regard Malphas's approach as ugly and inefficient, though perhaps that was simply a snap judgement that sprung from his obvious hate of Malphas. But he insisted on remembering unpublished results of alternate approaches, and she recalled the locked document drawers of the previous Camio (and Gremory). In a moment of weakness, she invited him to join her team, insinuating that they were close to a breakthrough.

As soon as Gremory extended the invitation, she paused for a moment, struck by a sudden, lucid realization. She going to regret this tomorrow morning.

First, she was starting a long-term relationship with obvious deceptions. Yes, her team was about to test a new model, but it was hardly an improvement over Malphas's performance, much less the state of the art. For that matter, her "team" was currently just her and a rotation of grubs; a typically prideful or forgetful demon might have simply called themselves an independent researcher.

Second, the logistics of expanding a team would be a headache in the medium term. Getting approval for another team member would be relatively easy, but tedious and time-consuming.

Third, she was being extraordinarily, publicly, trusting. So trusting that some might dismiss the possibility of an honest offer, and instead suspect a clumsy attempt at a con. Alternately, with the literal meaning being so obviously suspect, the question might instead be taken as a general question of allegiance.

Gremory was just about to start considering the ramifications of forcing Camio to explicitly answer an invitation when he answered. She was so engrossed in second-guessing her action that she almost missed the fact that the answer was "Yes".

Camio spent a week living in the dorms of Gremory's office, and made no move to object to the implicit invitation to join the team on a permanent basis. He expressed no outward surprise that all of his other teammates were nameless and did not immediately demand to see the new model; Gremory discounted some of her initial concerns.

A few weeks after Camio was officially inducted into the team, a packet of new voice samples arrived, accompanied by a letter signed by Naberius. The letter half-warned, half-boasted that a number of known and unknown forgeries of very good quality were mixed with the real samples.

Gremory set Camio to the task of forgery detection. He was initially confused, but came upon the idea of using the existing voice identifiers after a little prodding. Camio had expressed concerns to her about the abruptness, invisibility, and opaqueness of his predecessor's influence; she hoped that the task was unfamiliar enough to allow him time to exercise his own abilities.

In the meantime, Gremory continued her investigation of predictive generation. Apparently, a time-series identifier could be run "in reverse" after training by having it predict the next step in the series; this seemed like a promising avenue for further investigation.

Camio was sure he stumbled across the most brilliant idea in his short career.

He had a working voice forgery detector, and could adapt it into a predictor to bootstrap more forgery samples. Then, he could train better detectors off of the new samples.

The problem was that the original detector seemed to learn little from the new samples (in hindsight natural behavior, as they were generated based on what it already learned), and freshly-trained detectors had problems telling between the new forgeries and real samples.

He held off telling Gremory for a week, hoping to present a detector better than the original that she was last to improve. He appreciated how the race to build the next step invigorated both of them, but could not ignore the joy of triumph or the annoyance of losing.

Eventually, the choice was taken out of his hands. Gremory dropped by one day to observe, and he found himself describing his approach as she inspected one of the new forgeries.

Camio's new approach might not have made a better detector, but it made very good forgeries. Almost good enough to be generated voice. Gremory contrasted the known forgeries with some of the worst real samples she observed with non-negligible activity, and committed to testing some of the forgeries.

As Camio mentioned how the new forgeries were stumping freshly-trained detectors, Gremory thought back to her short tutelage under the former Camio.

He tested her grasp of fundamentals and introduced her to his research by running his proposals past her, and seemed disappointed that it took her days and a careful inventory to identify key points and implicit restrictions. She recalled looking through the unlocked portions of the archive, observing the back-and-forth between the previous Camio and the previous Gremory, in contrast to the vast missives sent to and from Amdusias, which seemed to involve the parties involved talking past each other under the assumption that the other was invested enough to rethink the entire message until it made sense. She recalled how Camio & Gremory published papers at a much faster cadence.

She contrasted her attempts to ease the current Camio into his position by expanding into less familiar territory. She considered and then voiced a potential line of inquiry

"What if we started with a worse forgery generator?"

Camio spent some time silent, before carefully proposing a new approach.

"We can train the forgery generators and detectors against each other."

After a few days of non-stop training, the "forgeries" were good enough to fool the best-so-far detector.

The next step was generating a song and testing it; Camio and Gremory prepared a single deck and a shielded chassis small enough to hold in both hands and reserved a testing range for it.

The Hallelujah deck managed to make it to the second chorus before the generated voice samples charred themselves into uselessness inside the chassis. It left behind a satisfying crater a few demons-lengths wide and deep.

They prepared another deck for Amazing Grace. This one produced a shell of painfully bright and quite hard light.

Camio and Gremory were quite pleased with the progress; the only thing that could improve their mood would be a chance to demonstrate the superiority of their solution over Malphas's trasheaps, that were still managing to maintain their position as public best-in-class.

Author's notes:

This notably late and incomplete submission was envisioned as a relatively short and straightforward joke near the start of the competition and ballooned as I went off on tangents. I also underestimated how much work it takes to pack a lot of exposition into few words, so I spent much more space saying things as planned, paradoxically cutting the action of the story short. The terser and less introspective blocks near the end reflect an abandonment of this effort.

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