WE HAVE THE RESULTS!!! I won't blather on and on, you've waited long enough. Thanks for showing up and writing awesome stuff. If you missed any of it, go check 'em all out here (You're gonna want to after you read the effusive comments by Rebekah, so just go do it now...). Otherwise, ON TO THE JUDGES COMMENTS!!!
Huge thanks to all of you, especially Alissa, for your patience as personal obligations prevented my getting the results back as fast as you deserve. Your stories are, without exception, fabulous, and I had a grand time reading them. Thank you for seizing those vials and running in such diverse directions! And thank you for your gracious indulgence in allowing me to blather on about them. You are far, far too nice a batch of writers.
KDJulicher. What vivid worldbuilding! This story of intrigue moved effortlessly from its ominous beginning (“No mistakes, Hana”) through really wonderful plot escalation and a perfect conclusion. This story is the perfect example of the right sized story for the space—there’s a lot going on and yes, enough to make the reader crave more; but not so much you feel you’re trying to swallow a waterfall. Really well done.
Emily Karn, “Poison Princess.” What a dark tale of suffering and revenge! I really loved the line, “Which duty was greater, the one I owed my subjects or the one I owed myself?” This sentence perfectly captures this story’s tension, and the vials so beautifully reflected the greater decision Melisande needed to make. The prompt of the vials were incorporated seamlessly in the larger tale. What a great job.
Jamie Hershberger. Love, love, love the creative use of the vials, testing for “bluebloods” in the literal sense. This story presents a brilliant execution of the prompt, and a hilariously tragic ending twist. Ohhhh that duplicitous Royal Blood Tester. This story is another example of a beautifully sized tale for the space. It’s also a great example of voice—the Tester’s arrogance, sarcasm, and rabid efforts to hide his mistake were a delight to read.
DrMagoo. Like I said on Twitter, any story kicking off with a clever line like “the fate of dinner in my hands” can only be good. I loved the very funny pairing of the innocuous (dinner prep) with murder; the MC’s greater concern over how best to complement the poisons culinarily was (pardon me) delicious and made me laugh out loud. Building in facets of Mark and Callie’s relationship throughout added perfectly textured depth. An overall funny, well-executed, thoroughly enjoyable tale.
Rasha Tayaket. Like Jamie’s tale, “Game” flies the mandatory prompt right out of the box and keeps going. Each vial transforming a contender into a type of dragon offered us a marvelously fresh take. And WHOA NELLIE, did you ever do a spectacular job with this intense action scene. I’m taking serious notes. You timed your pacing so well, pushing the external match forward in tandem with the combatants’ mental strategizing. And your twist is so good, flipping the scene on its head and adding a Roman-style layer of depth.
Mark King. You know you’re in trouble if the fate of Ireland is at stake!! This trip back to Y2K and its reinterpretation of those events/fears as well as the priest’s psychosis brought a cleverly dark turn to the vials. Your “Lady or the Tiger” ending is really well done. It’s a risky move finishing with a cliffhanger, but what I really love about your final line is it completes the story’s true tension/question, the priest’s spiritual journey. That takes an extraordinary level of sophistication, and you’ve pulled it off with panache.
LurchMunster. Not just a black dragon, but a ROBOT black dragon. Love at first sight! That’s my personal bias speaking, of course, though since I’ve long been a fan of LurchMunster’s writing, perhaps I’ll be forgiven. And man, what a heartbreaker. The embedded scene with the MC’s great-granddaughter was so beautifully, so tragically done. Like Mark’s story, the real tension here isn’t the superficial plot and which vial the MC will drink (though of course we want to know this!), but rather whether he will choose rest or revenge. What a great story. And what a great revenge it’s going to be.
Michael Simko. I think I may have snorted my entire way through this tale. Such fantastically colorful names—Burgomaster, Junkerin Liesolette, Fürstentum… This world absolutely bursts with life and flavor all its own. It’s like Iron Chef meets Gladiator. And seriously, a priest that trips right as he’s about to marry them and save Walther’s life? I just about died myself. Hysterical. Such a clever tale, and ohh my goodness, an ending line that made my heart sing with its gorgeous understatement.
Charles Short. Seriously, I know few writers (Alissa is another one) who can take the smallest of prompts and build the biggest of worlds. Your scifi/dystopian/allegorical take on the vials made for unique and compelling reading. I have to say, the darkly serious tone of the story left me totally unprepared for the puppy-centric last line, which left me reeling. Now THAT was a twist! And I really loved the genre mashup. Your execution of this prompt blew the lid off my expectation. Great job.
Special Challenge Champion: Michael Simko, because the priest’s death totally killed me.
Grand Champion: Jamie Hershberger. Originality, cleverness, satire, voice, plotting, pacing—this story’s got it all. I’d love to read more of the Royal Blood Tester’s (mis)adventures and politickings. Congratulations on a job really well done.