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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility · She-Ra Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
(Don't) Let Go
The last thing she hears before the enemy pounces is the creak of a bough.

She turns, her sword morphing at a thought into a shield as she brings it around – barely in time to catch the impact of the wild girl flinging herself down from the canopy. The force almost knocks her from her feet. She digs her heels in, dirt parting around them, dewy grass brushing up against her ankles. Her opponent rights herself, and even in the dark shadows of the Whispering Woods her eyes shine, calculating, hungry.

She sees the next blow coming and ducks, claws snatching at the space where her cheek was as she kicks out. The wild girl jumps over her leg like a skipping rope, tail brushing across her thigh. She keeps spinning, pulling herself up, raising her shield again to catch the next strike, and she’s on the defensive again, scrambling back from the furious onslaught.

She dodges right as the enemy lunges forward, and reaches out to grab at her back in the brief moment that she’s recovering. She pulls, her opponent stumbling and falling to the ground. She can barely conceal a smirk as she strides confidently over, shield transforming back into sword, blade held tauntingly before the fallen girl’s neck.

She doesn’t expect the flurry of limbs that knocks the Sword of Protection from her grasp and pulls her to the forest floor. Her eyes widen as claws pin her shoulders down, wrestling her to the ground. Then they’re panting, rolling, swiping, clambering, a mass of limbs writhing in the shadows.

Only one comes out on top, as their hearts race and breaths heave. The wild girl bares her teeth, smirking…

“Hey Mara.”

Two words, half-whispered, and the rush of adrenaline that had kept her mind so focused on the moment fades.

“Keira!” It was meant to be a warning, that patronising tone one uses with children when they misbehave as a shorthand for disappointment, but her breath catches in her throat as claws trace circles on her wrists. “Really? Here?”

“Awww, are you mad you lost?” Keira leans down to nuzzle at her cheek, brushing her lips along her jaw. Mara snorts, lying back on the grass as Keira relaxes on top of her.

“No,” she lies. “I’m mad you’re trying to turn my training session into a make-out-with-Keira session again. This is supposed to be important!”

“You know,” Keira begins, trailing a claw lazily up Mara’s forearm, “you said the same thing on Monday, but I also remember someone begging me not to stop—”

Mara crashes her lips to Keira’s, feeling the low vibrations of a stifled chuckle. Training could wait, after all. It always did.



“And where, exactly, were you this morning?”

Queen Angella’s voice is tired and heavy, and Mara can’t blame her. Kneeling on the floor of the royal court, her head tilted low – in reverence, and to hang her fringe between them as a veil – she swallows. It’s the third time this week that she’s snuck out of Bright Moon, and the third time this week she was caught sneaking back in.

“Training, your majesty.” She keeps her eyes fixed firmly to the floor.

“In the Whispering Woods?”

“The terrain there is difficult. It’s more varied than just running around Bright Moon.”

“And you were alone?”

It always came back to Keira. Mara had asked – pleaded – more times than she could count for her partner to join her in Bright Moon for training. The response was always the same: “One ex-bandit is quite enough, thank you.”

Mara grits her teeth. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Walk with me.”

The guards dissipate almost immediately – the command for privacy not so much implicit as practiced – and Mara looks up to see Angella step down from her throne with an airy grace, and stride toward the balcony. Mara scrambles to her feet, almost jogging to keep pace.

The balcony was a large, open walkway that wound around the towers of Bright Moon like a snake. Walking it, it was said, was an act of meditation, blocking out the sights and sounds of the busy castle to focus on the slow, deliberate act of placing one foot in front of another. In times gone by, pilgrims would come from around Etheria to spend a day pacing it.

It felt almost wrong to be power-walking along it, even following Queen Angella. Not that Mara would ever say it out loud, though some part of her wonders if that even mattered. Angella always had seen right through her.

When Angella stops, it comes as a relief. Beneath them, the Whispering Woods sprawl out into the distance.

“I have always tried to trust She-Ra, whoever she may be.” Angella’s voice is quiet, now, barely a whisper. Mara almost has to strain to hear her. “I’ve trusted all of you to know what you needed, to do whatever you needed, to protect Etheria’s balance. It hasn’t always been easy, and I haven’t always got it right.

“But you, Mara? Sometimes I worry about you. I’ve never met a She-Ra before who couldn’t put their own needs aside for Etheria’s sake, but I always worry that you’re going to abandon us all for this Keira girl.”

Mara swallows again, biting back her response.

“I know it’s peacetime. I know that the role of She-Ra feels so irrelevant now, but you have a duty to be prepared. You have a duty to learn. I will help you in any way that I can, Mara, but you have to be willing to ask.”

“I didn’t ask for any this.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”



That night, Mara dreams in crystal.



“I don’t know how you expect to find this place.” Keira, ever the optimist, grumbles behind her. “We literally grew up in these woods and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“I know it’s here.” Ducking beneath a branch, Mara pushes forward through the underbrush. “It wasn’t just a dream, it was a message. Just like when I found the sword, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Keira says. “I still think we should have ignored that one, too.”

Mara smirks, stopping to turn around. “But I thought you liked She-Ra. What was it you said about my biceps?”

There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing Keira turn bright red, and Mara loves every moment of it.

“Shut up and keep walking,” Keira growls, refusing to make eye contact. Mara grins, but obeys. They walk in comfortable silence, until Mara feels a gentle tug on the back of her tunic.

“What is it?”

“Left,” comes the whispered reply. Mara tilts her head, but sees nothing.

“You sure?”

Keira nods, and Mara pulls the sword from her back. A few muttered words and a slice start to clear a path through the heavy bushes, and her now-heightened senses can see the gentle, pulsing light on the other side. With one last reassuring look back at Keira, she ploughs forward, trying to make sure she clears a path wide enough for Keira to fit comfortably through behind her.

When they come out into a clearing, Mara stops. It’s all she can do. In front of them, a gleaming crystal ruin stands tall, glowing with pale blue light, and it’s like some force beyond herself is beckoning her towards it – she reaches her hand back, and Keira holds on, anchoring her.

“Huh.”

She’s not sure which of them spoke. She licks at her lips, her mouth dry.

“So how do we get in?”



running faster, tripping, scrambling, moving, away, get away

Mara is panting. Thorns scratch through her tunic, mud and blood mixing on torn fabric. She has to find Keira. Where is Keira? Let go. She can’t get that damn voice out of her head, it’s everywhere.

You have to let go, Mara. Etheria is at stake.

Where is Keira?

She pushes past another low-hanging branch, revealing a cliff-edge that she barely has time to stop herself falling down. Instead, she trips, landing on her belly, her arm wrapping instinctively around a thick root, her feet dangling over nothingness.

Let go.

Mara smiles, despite herself, and despite the voice in her head that won’t go away. Perhaps not the best advice right now, Light.

One calming breath. Another. Mara pulls herself up, rising to her feet, and brushes down her tunic. Another breath. Another.

There is one rule to finding your way through the Whispering Woods: pick a direction, and walk. The direction didn’t matter, and the more you thought about it the more likely you were to get lost – she’d spoken with some soldiers from Bright Moon who had spent weeks lost in the woods after an arrogant captain assured Queen Angella that he could explore further and return safely with the aid of a compass. The woods have a magic all of their own, and they always take you to where you need to be.

Another breath, and Mara strides back into the trees, ignoring the repeated pleas in her head to let go. The woods would take her to Keira. They always did.



The woods take her to a cottage, which was decidedly not Keira.

“You know, dearie, you remind me a lot of my Flora.” The old woman – Razz, she thinks, although she’s not quite sure if that’s a name or mad mutterings – smiles as she pours a mug of what looks like tea, though Mara has to force a smile as the stench wafted towards her. “And I don’t just mean the sword.”

It takes a moment for that to settle in.

“You… you knew the last She-Ra?”

“Yes, Flora. Come on now, drink up.”

“What was she like?” Mara leans forward, forgetting the smell for a moment in her excitement. For all the talk around Bright Moon of her predecessors, of how they’d saved and protected Etheria for centuries, she’d never once heard any of their names. She sips at the tea – sweet, bitter, nothing like its scent – and gazes at Razz with wide eyes.

“Flora was a smart young woman. Kind, gentle. She cared for those around her who were suffering. Great fondness for the word ‘umm’. She had energy and strength, but not direction. I always tried to tell her to find that.”

Razz coughs, and takes a gulp of tea. “When I first met her, she was very young. Just about came up to my hips! She was a bit of a romantic, bless her soul – always talking about growing up and falling in love and getting married. She had this little fire in her eyes when she’d talk about it.”

“Did she?” Mara breathes.

“No.” Razz frowns. “The fire dimmed, and then the fire died, and whenever I asked her about it she said she’d had to let go of childish dreams.”

They sit in silence for a while, sipping at their tea, thinking.

“Your friend—”

“Partner.”

“Your partner,” Razz continues. “She’s out there in the woods somewhere, right?”

Mara nods, defeated. “But it’s fine, really, I’m sure. We grew up here, I’m sure she’s safe. And besides, maybe it’s for the best. Light Hope said I have to—”

“Phooey,” Razz says, her voice creaking and spluttering but defiant. “You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to! You’re your own woman, Mara. Don’t let a magical sword of destiny get between you and being you.”

Mara opens her mouth to reply – to say that she has a duty to Etheria, to say that Angella needs to be able to trust her, to say that she needs to be able to trust herself – and then shuts it. Why couldn’t she trust herself? Why was she suddenly so uncertain?

Let go, Mara.

Why? Why should she let go? She only wanted to protect Etheria because she wanted to protect Keira! How could letting go help her?

Her breath hitched.

“Come,” Razz says, putting down her mug of tea and drawing herself up to her full height. She rested a hand on Mara’s shoulder, and gently pinched at her cheek with the other, a warm, sad smile on her face. “We’re going to pick berries, and if we’re very lucky maybe the woods will bring us to your friend, hmm?”
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#1 · 1
· · >>Cold in Gardez
Alternate Title: Lesbianism is Not the Answer

It's that time again, folks. It's time for another season of No Raisin's WriteOff Round Reviews, yaaaaaaaaay...

This time I'm going from bottom to top, shortest to longest. There are a couple reasons for me doing this: it's a nice change of pace for me, and also I don't feel like dealing with "Her Way" and its chunky-ass 7,000-word length right now.

I do have the time and energy for "(Don't) Let Go," though, the first to be put on the chopping block.

Since this is my first time doing reviews for short story-length entries, I'll try to go into more depth than usual. I can't guarantee a scene-by-scene breakdown, but I'll try getting there.

Now, onto the story.

The very first sentence gives me that iffy feeling, because I'm not too keen on its choice of words:

The last thing she hears before the enemy pounces is the creak of a bough.


I had to look up what "bough" meant, because I never see it used as a synonym for a branch or a twig. Maybe I'm just a big dumb-dumb, and I probably am, but making me look up what something means in the opening sentence is not the best of signs. I have an idea, in fact, as to how this could sound better:

The last thing she hears before the enemy pounces is the snapping of a tree branch.


It might not sound as poetic, but it conveys the final punch of the sentence with more clarity.

Okay, enough of that, moving on. Much of the first scene is spent with the identities of the two characters in battle being kept a secret. This is a bold move, because in a short story you ideally want to lay out all your players and their names as soon as possible, but this story takes its time. The mystery adds to the suspense before pulling a bait-and-switch, and to give credit where credit's due it's not as obviously telegraphed a twist as it could've been.

The secretive characters turn out to be Mara and Keira. I had to look up who Mara was, because while her name sounded familiar I couldn't connect it with a character from the show. She's actually the She-Ra who came before Adora, although the story takes a while to make this explicit. Keira, on the other hand, is an original character, made from whole cloth, which for some reason doesn't strike me as conspicuous as it should.

Mara is, after all, a character who's only mentioned a couple times in the show, and the circumstances of her fall from grace are kept really vague. Not necessarily a bad thing, I'm just saying. It makes sense, then, that someone in her life like Keira, someone who she has a close relationship with, would be a character made up for this story.

Also, a bit of an aside, but I like how Mara and Keira's relationship is explicitly romantic/sexual. The show, for all its praise and condemnation for having a cast of characters who are largely signaled as queer, is very coy about its homoerotic subtext, so it's amusing to read a story that just comes out and says it.

Mara and Keira being so attached to each other also emphasizes the central theme of "(Don't) Let Go)," that being Mara's heartache at having to balance her role as She-Ra with her love for Keira.

That basically covers the first scene, before we move into borderline talking heads territory, and now is the time for me to mention something about the way this story was written. You've probably noticed that despite taking place in the distant past (try a thousand years), the narration is told in the present tense. Again, not necessarily a bad thing; in fact I find it weirdly interesting that the author decided to go this route for a story that happens waaaaaay before the events of the show.

That is not to say, though, that the tense is always consistent.

Unfortunately there are several instances where the tense changes up in a way that's questionable at best, and at other points clearly an oversight on the author's part. I'll pick out a few here:

The balcony was a large, open walkway that wound around the towers of Bright Moon like a snake.


It felt almost wrong to be power-walking along it, even following Queen Angella.


Why was she suddenly so uncertain?


Her breath hitched.


You get the point. It's not that the present-tense option is bad per se; it's the fact that it needs to be more consistent, which is something you run into no matter which tense you decide to go with.

Moving on, there seem to be five scenes in this story. It's hard to discern them at first, since this story doesn't use horizontal line breaks to separate its scenes. While it's true that it's not technically wrong to do this, since pressing Enter twice to separate scenes is the norm in printed fiction, I don't think it translates well to something being read online.

There is also one scene that really caught my eye, and it's only a sentence long:

That night, Mara dreams in crystal.


I honestly don't know what to make of this. It seems like it's meant to be foreboding, but it never comes to fruition in the story itself, so it almost sounds more like a non-sequitur. It could be something that happens in the show that I missed, but if that's the case then the story is relying too heavily on audience foreknowledge of the source material to make sense.

Granted, this entire story relies on already knowing what happens to Mara after the fact, but, as especially implied in the final two scenes, the reader can gather that something bad will happen to her, even if it's not on the page.

Certain passages are seriously lacking in context, though, and I don't think that helps anyone.

We gather, albeit late, that Mara is the current She-Ra, that Bright Moon is currently not at war with anyone, that Mara is a rogue-ish figure who works well with Keira and is standoffish with Angella because one is a fellow rogue and the other is an immortal queen. Also, this story reminds us that Angella and Razz are old as fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. We come to understand that Mara doesn't get along too well with authority figures, despite being extremely talented and quick-witted.

Despite the brevity of this story, we actually come to understand Mara quite well, and even though she's the only character who gets more than a raindrop of development, focusing on her so much was a wise choice. Keira is only in two scenes and is not nearly as fleshed out, but she exists as more an object of desire than a person within the story's context anyway, and in her two scenes we're given enough time and chemistry between her and Mara to know how much they mean to each other, so I'm more okay with her lack of character than not.

A few other little things I liked that deserve mention: I like how the voice in Mara's head has a unique font, and how we can easily distinguish it from Mara's italicized thoughts just by how it looks. I also like how, despite the abundance of dialogue, there's never really an instance where the story goes full talking heads, except maybe in the final scene with Razz.

There are also hints at the avant garde here that I can get behind. Not enough to be like, "This is clearly being experimental all over the place," because that would be unnecessary here, but enough where I gotta give the author points for style. That's on top of more style points for the prose, which manages to be stripped back but not plain, thank god; that's minus a few questionable phrases, like the opener, but those are inevitable.

I guess what disappoints me about "(Don't) Let Go" is that the most interesting stuff that happens to Mara occurs off-page, and it leans so heavily on so little material from the show that I can't honestly say it stands well on its own.

As a brief but efficient character exploration, though, it's perfectly fine.
#2 · 1
·
OKAY SO I THOUGHT THERE WAS LIKE ANOTHER DAY LEFT IN THIS CONTEST BUT NO IT CLOSES IN THREE HOURS AND I STILL HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING I NEED TO DO TODAY SO HERE GOES YES REVIEW THE SHORT ONE!

Ahem.

I liked it.

Lemme start by saying that of the four entries, (Don't) Let Go is easily the most... fluid. Yeah, let's go with that. It's fluid in the sense that it jumps around a lot, transitions are abrupt, some 'scenes' are so short that they lack anything approaching context, and in general it feels avant garde, to use >>No_Raisin's term. It's not experimental, but it's definitely got style.

Straight from the opening this story has energy. Momentum. Things start fast and it's not until the first scene break that they calm down. And for the record, I knew what 'bough' was without having to look it up (flex).

There's not much space in 2,000 words to fit a full story, action scenes and character development, so it's understandable that we don't learn much about Catra Kiera in the course of this fic. Mara, however, we learn a great deal about, and even though she's a canon character, the show never reveals much about her. So I appreciate the thought that went into developing her here, and I have to say I like the idea. We know, from the show, that she undergoes an Anakin-like failure at some point, but we're not given much indication of what drove her to that point. And this fic wisely doesn't try to show us, thereby avoiding Lucas's prequel-pitfall. Instead it shows us something that Mara cares about, the inner conflict her desire for Kiera produces, and invites us to decide how that may or may not have led to her ultimate fate.

Okay, that's characters. Let's talk about the narrative arc and plot.

We have a conflict concisely presented: Mara's love for Kiera is interfering with her duties to Etheria. Apparently. Aside from an interrupted training session or two, though, it's not clear how. Perhaps She-Ra is expected to be an ascetic monk, and forswear all physical comforts? Queen Angella notes that she's never met a She-Ra who couldn't put Etheria's needs ahead of her own. Perhaps the world is asking too much of poor Mara.

But... let's tug on that thread a bit. What is the world asking, exactly? Be a warrior, defend the planet... practice with the sword sometimes. Don't make-out with Kiera until you've done your homework. These seem like reasonable expectations. The guards in Angella's castle certainly aren't allowed to go kissy-kissy with each other whenever they want -- why does Mara feel like it's such an imposition that she can't? Unless I'm misreading something, no one in this story is telling Mara that she must not have any relations, just that she needs to do her duties first. That's something a lot of people have to live with.

In other words, being She-Ra doesn't seem like a terrible burden. In fact, it seems pretty awesome. You get an awesome sword, free hair, and big ole' muscles. And a sense of purpose! That's worth more than the rest put together. So why does Mara feel so... confined?

The story hints at her reasons. It never quite spells them out. It tosses out little suggestions and leaves it to the reader to decide. And that's all awesome. But we reach the end rather shortly and we're left with... not much? A scene with Razz, going out to pick berries with Mara?

The scene with Razz is pivotal, and gives us an allegorical tale to compare with Mara's current troubles, but it doesn't seem to end Mara's conflict. It suggests that she should not let go of herself to become She-Ra, but that doesn't resolve Mara's conflict -- if anything, it perpetuates it. She is still She-Ra and she still feels the tug of these warring desires. She ends the story in the same place she started.

And that's fine! You have a character struggling with a conflict, and in the end they fail to resolve it. Failure is an option. But we never see the consequences of that failure, or any consequences whatsoever. There's no epiphany at the end. The story just takes us in a big lap around the block, and for that matter the first scene could pretty easily follow the last scene and take place the very next day. That's how little has changed.

All this may make it sound like I didn't like this fic -- but I did. I thought it was one of the strongest in the round, that the story it tells is interesting and engaging even as it comes across as a bit jumbled. But I'm willing to accept a bit of confusion if it's fun to read, and this was.