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Dead Men Do Tell Tales · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Vardani paused,her teacup hovering before her lips. Across the table, Jereaux, the Duke of Athrienne, sat dressed in spartan steel armor, his sharp features outlined by his angular beard. Next to him, vulture-gaunt and reeking of graveyards and ancient parchment, the Mage Gethric duMarse, twiddled his spidery fingers.

“Yes, your grace” said Vardani, “Margane Malhur of cursed memory was my ancestor. And I know where she lies.” She resisted the urge to spit.

Duke Jereaux nodded. “Excellent.” His teacup remained untouched. “Hundreds of years ago, Margane was... entangled with my own ancestor, Sir Jervain of Osseles. An issue of succession has arisen, and we must question her. Gethric says he has the power to raise her spirit, if only we stand at her grave.”

Vardani only just saved herself from choking on her tea. “She tortured children, drank their blood. Only her low station kept her from harming more...” She thought of asking him to reconsider, but saw no softness in that relentless stare. “I shall lead you to what you seek.”

An hour later, they stood deep within the marshes of Lugue, before a baleful and scraggly tree. “This has been my family burial site for centuries,” said Vardani.

Gethric stood over the grassy damp pit below the tree like a carrion bird. He fired what looked like a small silver arrow into the ground, and pronounced a spell that sounded like a hacking cough. Before them, a mist gathered over the grave, swirled and rose into a humanoid shape.

The Duke remained perfectly calm. “Do I address Margane Malhur?”

The slim sad shade shook its head and sank into a pool of mist on the ground. The Duke raised an eyebrow at Gethric and Vardani.

“The ground here is soft, your grace,” said Vardani. “We are accustomed to burying our recent dead atop the older ones, as the coffins sink into the earth. You just saw my grandmother; Margane will be a number of corpses below her.”

The Duke turned to Gethric. “Can you not just… seek deeper? All at once?”

“It is troublesome, your grace,” murmured Gethric. “There is the mystic principle of filo which constrains the operation of my arrow. We must take the bodies as it encounters them.”

The Duke sighed. “Then please proceed as rapidly as you can.”

Gethric grunted and set to work, and as the sun sank behind the hills and the moon rose, he called up shade after shade. Vardani recognized many of her forebears and longed for the chance to speak with them, but was given no time. She shuddered each time the cloud brushed against her ankles.

There came the point where Gethric shivered and croaked, “I believe this is the last one, your grace.” He looked as if each casting had taken a pound of weight from him. He groaned the incantation one more time, and another shade appeared, with nothing monstrous about her, only a slight female form with hair that flowed like grasses.

The Duke, calm as he was at the start, repeated his question.

“I am not her,” replied the shade. “But you are very, very close. Only one sacrifice is needed now, to gain the strength to draw her forth.”

The meaning hit Vardani like a blow and she had only time to see the realization flash across the eyes of the two men, and she saw death written there. As she started to flee, the Duke’s arm swang up and his swordr flashed. Vardani cried out and fell atop the grave at the feet of the spectral figure.

“There’s the sacrifice,” he said. “Now, call Margane forth!”

The shade chucked. “She is here, fool. I am Margane.”

“I don’t understand, then. Why did you lie? Why did you make me kill her?”

“Lacking hallowed burial, her life force had nowhere to go, save to me. And as to you, my illegitimate descendant, I’d put your body to far better use than you ever will, and now you lack the power to stop me.”

As Gethric struggled to call up a spell of banishment, Margane’s shade flowed like branching lightning and the Duke cried out in a shriek of terror like nothing he had ever screamed in his life, even as a child.

The sword flicked out, cutting Gethric’s spell in half along with his throat.

And then the body of Jereaux, Duke of Athrienne, set out towards home, whistling a tune about infanticide and torture that had been popular hundreds of years ago.
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#1 ·
There's some neat ideas here, but the twist at the end came out of left field. Why should Margane require a sacrifice when none of the others did? And why does the sacrifice have to be her descendant? And why do they wish to speak to her so badly they'd murder a woman in her own house for a short conversation?
#2 ·
Man, and more simple editing errors. I wonder if everyone submitting with only minutes to go.

In all, this was a nice tale, but I feel like the logic was inconsistent. No sacrifice had been required up to the point of Vardani's death, so I don't understand why one was then. For Margane's purposes, yes, but not Gethric's. He had been getting weaker from each casting, but it had never been framed as him giving up some life energy each time, just him getting fatigued from the effort. And one further usage, if he couldn't fuel it himself, should only take an equal bit of strength from Vardani, not her entire life. I don't get why Gethric knew or even suspected that was the case, and why it didn't surprise him. It's as if he knew he would have to kill her, but given the circumstances, why wouldn't he have thought he'd have to for the very first spirit he raised, let alone all the ones since? The "issue of succession" is only ever stated vaguely, so I don't even know why it would be necessary to go to these lengths to resolve it. Had they not had access to her, what would they have done then? It'll take some convincing that it's worth killing someone over.

The atmosphere is nice here, and I like the idea of the story, but it needs some more internal logic for everything to stand.
#3 ·
Honorable Mention:
The meaning hit Vardani like a blow and she had only time to see the realization flash across the eyes of the two men, and she saw death written there.

I'm very torn on this one. For a minific it's quite ambitious in how it illustrates its characters and how much high-fantasy lore it manages to pack inside its little frame. Yet the story being told is kind of an odd one, and not in a compelling way to me. Indeed, if I was Vardani I'd be angry at the fact that the last few minutes of my life didn't make a lick of sense.

We're immediately presented with three characters, and honestly I had a hard time separating Vardani and Gethric at first. Doesn't help that they more or less serve the same purpose in the end. The Duke is more fully realized, and weirdly enough so is Margane, despite being a spooky "Bloody" Mary type and also being dead for most of the story. There are too many characters and too many moving parts in this for me. Much has already been said about the odd nature of Gethric's dwindling strength, but I just wanna also note that the whole "sacrifice" thing seemed to have come out of nowhere. It would make sense that the Duke wouldn't tell Vardani about it, but we should at least get some clue in the narration that this was his intention.

Overall it could be a high-fantasy yarn with a mean horror edge if given a larger word count, to fill in the gaps and such, but I'd say this suffers more from the word count restriction more than any other entry. It does at least serve as an exercise in world-building under tight circumstances.
#4 ·
Getting a real Crusader Kings Three vib from this.