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Hiding in Plain Sight · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 500–900
Show rules for this event
It's Always the Mirrors
The desert wind blew hot against the trio of riders that approached the outpost gate of Mircine. The gate was opened with a flurry of activity from posted guardsmen, allowing them passage to the main street. While two of the individuals stopped just past the guards, the third kept at pace barreling past a parted crowd until horse and rider slowed in response to several shouts.

“Commander!” called a breathless bespectacled man as he came running after them. “Commander Callisto ple-please wait!”

The horse in a large cloud of dust with a huff and snort. The woman undid the fabric that covered her mouth and pulled her goggles down to rest around her neck as she glanced down to make eye contact with the man that wanted her attention so badly.

“You act as if I wasn’t on my way to see you, Tarmic. I hope your rushing means you have good news.”

“N-Not exac- We don’t. I wanted to tell you before you…got your hopes up.”

“Hm.” She dismounted, flicking her great robes aside. “My hopes were never that high to begin with, you say you wish to dash them further?”

Tarmic hesitated with his answer but resigned to a hurried low bow and murmured apology.

“Tell me what information you have gathered, if nothing else.”

“Of course-” he had straightened but ducked into a bow once more as the Commander’s traveling companions, Markkus and Auberon, approached.

“Stop bowing.” She said harshly.

“You are being very rude, Asteria.” Said Auberon. “Our friend here is only doing what he was taught. You always say respect is important.”

Her gaze did not break from Tarmic and instead she dropped the reins of her horse and began to walk away.

“You better follow her.” Auberon spoke up once more, taking the leads to keep the steed from following its owner. ‘she’s not in the best of moods.”

“We hadn’t noticed.” Markkus muttered.

Tarmic caught up with Asteria once more.

“The disease is still spreading in the southlands, it’s only affecting the baseborn at this point, but we don’t know how long it’s going to stay that way. We haven’t found any further evidence of the Lyramire nor even any real idea what to look for aside from the mark of the star but all the forms that could take-”

“We found a set of scrolls in the fallen city we were scouting.”

“You- you what?”

She brought forth a relatively small leather pouch. ‘they disintegrated the second we tried to pick them up of course, but perhaps one of your crafters would like to use the dust as an additive in their search for a cure.”

Tarmic could not detect the skepticism nor the teasing in Asteria’s voice and took the bag with a befuddled grin.

“At least your trip wasn’t for nothing! I’m sure the council-”

“Hm. Make sure my horse got taken care of properly, I need some time to think before I speak to anyone else about our ventures.”

“Did something happen, Commander?”

“I don’t know.” She said quietly.

Asteria entered the compound she called home on this expedition and took the dark maroon robes from her shoulders. The fabric was ill-suited to the sand and had become practically lined with it. It joined her goggles and thick riding gloves on a chair by the door. She knew she should be sweltering in this heat, but she felt a deep chill in her bones where there should have been the uncomfortable stickiness of sweat after a full days” worth of riding.

There hadn’t been much in the fallen city but rubble and decay, war had torn that area apart so long ago nothing was recognizable. The scrolls had been nothing so why was it she was so unsettled by them. The image of their seemingly intact forms just resting in the middle of a ruined building waiting to be picked up and read troubled her.

She crossed the room and touched her fingers to the wick of a candle by the washbasin mirror, a spark of magic lit a flame just strong enough for Asteria to assess her dusty face with a scowl. She was still herself, despite everything. The flickering light reflected the universe in her eyes and, just for a second, she thought maybe there was more to what she had jokingly passed off on Tarmic.

The search for the Lyramire would need to be reassessed in the coming days, if this mythical savior existed surely they would be found eventually. The fate of much of the population of their island depended on it should the disease continue to spread at its current rate.

Asteria gave a sigh and snuffed out the light after washing her face, plunging the room back into darkness. She was still herself, despite everything. That much was true.
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#1 · 2
Good Stuff: At times, this reminded me of Nausicaa (a Studio Ghibli film set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland) and that's a good tone to go for. The mystery, the artifact-hunting, this sense that characters don't fully trust each other and that there's more going on than meets the eye. For some reason, I like the name of the disease savior - the Lyramire - and how the scroll is implied to be something eldritch and otherworldly.

Bad Stuff: The mystery is too cryptic for me to fully enjoy that aspect. I felt lost at sea half the time, and after the fact, I still have no idea what's really going on. What we see is two people who know each other having a cryptic conversation about cool stuff that we the reader never actually see. I want to see the disease in action, I want to feel the urgency olf the hunt for the Lyramire (also how is the Lyramire supposed to cure them?), and I want to know what these terms mean that they're talking about, but it never really comes together and I finish feeling dissatisfied. Its like eavesdropping on two people who know what they're talking about but you don't. I can't connect to that.

Verdict: Needs Work. There's some fantastic ideas here and a sense of mystery and distrust. The problem is that this is all we get. We get no resolution to the mysteries, and the dialogue is hard to follow at times so comes across as a bit flat. Maybe if we'd seen the urgency of the situation or at least had some explanations for what's going on in full, I'd bump it up a higher tier, but as it is, I feel that this one needs fleshing out too.
#2 · 1
This one suffers from the same shortcoming than 70% of the other stories I read this round: it is *not* a story, it is a scene from a bigger story. There’s no world building, we’re confronted with characters who disappear as soon as they’ve appeared (travel mates of the captain), and we’re thrown in at the deep end by a beginning in media res. I understand this type of hook saves you from the burden of world building, but the net result is that you leave the reader slogging through the text to find pieces that at the end they can assemble to form a coherent background. I’m not sure what disease they fight against, where it did appear, what exactly they’re looking for or what a Lyramire is. You tried to pack too much info into a very short space, and a lot of what you put in the recipe is left dangling and unexplained.
#3 ·
I'm seeing some really neat ideas in here, author; I'm a recent newcomer to the epic fantasy genre, but for what little ground I've covered, these ideas seem new to me. The tribe searching for a mythical saviour as their only hope from a disease, while the clues seem intent on not allowing this to happen (e.g., scrolls disintegrating). The only thing that felt somewhat reminiscent was the changes happening to Asteria, because it reminded me of Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation (book or movie, both are great), which uses this concept in an incredibly thrilling way. You have the basis for something like that here, but it's just a few hundred words so it's hard to sink my teeth into the coolness.

Which, as you've seen in the other comments, is sort of the problem. Epic fantasy novels are several hundred thousand words long, and an individual chapter in one of these novels is several thousand on its own. In such a short contest, stripping out all those other chapters and cramming a single chapter into 900 words is, well, it might be good practice, but it won't satisfy a lot of us readers. I recommend starting a lot smaller if you choose to do another minific round. It'll give you more room to write an ending and take us out of the in media res.

By the way, one mistake I've seen in the mirror past is trying to shove a bunch of tones into a short span and creating a mess. Comedy, mystery, horror, blah, blah, so forth... So kudos to you for keeping a consistent tone.

I can't rank this highly in the contest, but that doesn't mean this couldn't be turned into a page-turner someday. It would just have to be about 50 times longer!
#4 · 2
At the risk of sounding redundant, I'll join the others of saying that this indeed reads like the first two-three pages of a fantasy novel. But in my opinion, length was not the issue. There's no reason why one cannot write short one-shots about imaginary worlds, trying to compress as much information into a few words as possible, and then leaving the reader to wonder what else might be going on in that universe.

However, in this particular entry, we barely got a few hints at a plot, as well as its relation to the prompt. To your credit, it was exchanged for proper prose and exposition (there's a few grammar mistakes, but I don't get worked up about those), which is vital to immersing the reader, so it's not a lack of skill we are seeing, merely incorrect focus. The exposition is great, but it pushes the story closer to what the others pointed out above, namely "this is the start of a whole novel".