Lots of people already on vacation or in frantic-vacation-prep mode. I bet Tony Noland, @TonyNoland didn’t mind that. Judging from among the entries is plenty hard with ten entries, much less twenty five.

And he pulled through for us, handing me, in a nice thick envelope with lovely calligraphy writing on it, the names five finalists. (OK, so there was no calligraphy.)

Paul Freeman, @PolFreeman

Aisling Weaver, @AislingWeaver

R.C. Murphy, @RCMurphy

Sessha Battos, @SesshaBatto

Raziel Moore, @_Monocle_

Agree? Well, whether you do or not, that’s them. 🙂 Here are their fantastic entries. Read, vote below, and then come back at 9:30 for the results. Easy, simple, and fun.

Paul Freeman, @PaulFreeman12

Bjarni Olafson stood with his back to the burning building, wind and snow lashed his face as the blizzard grew in strength. He watched the expression on the man’s face in front of him, as it changed from shock to horror and then outrage. Dark smoke from the flaming thatch hung in the air. With a grunt, Bjarni hauled his sword out with both hands gripping the leather covered hilt, the blade rasped free of its sheath.

He watched the other mans eyes dart about the scene, taking in the three youths lying face down in the thick carpet of snow. Two boys and one girl, their throats slit, then to the woman, lying with her skirts hitched up over her hips, exposing white legs and fleshy buttocks. His eyes widened when he saw the tiny form of a babe lying at the foot of a tree, a bloody trail of pulp and bone leading from the trunk.

“Your woman squealed your name when I humped her, Lars,” Bjarni taunted. With a roar the man charged, even though he was weaponless. It was easy work for Bjarni, he swept the sword up in a wide arc, and with a spray of blood and hair flying the other man’s head flew through the air. Bjarni spat once on the decapitated husk.

He was not proud of the evil work he had done this day, nor was he ashamed. Ten years previously Lars Henrikson had led a band of hard men into Bjarni’s village. Under cover of darkness they crept into the settlement and locked the doors of the feasting hall before setting it alight. Anybody who tried to escape by breaking down the walls or cutting through the thatch were shot at with arrows or hacked with great Dane axes. Everybody inside had died. Bjarni had not been there that night, he had returned the following day to find his home a blackened, charred mess and all his family dead.

It had taken him ten years to hunt them all down. Now the ghosts of the dead could rest in peace.

Aisling Weaver, @AislingWeaver

The mountain road snaked back and forth, moving through the trees and in and out of vision as the wind tore at the Wagoneer and swirled the snow around. Nikisha whined worriedly from behind my seat and I twisted, reaching to soothe her.
“This isn’t good,” Lex murmured, slowing still further, the lack of forward momentum allowing the storm to gain purchase on the bulk of the vehicle and rock it with rough insistence. “We should have hit the turnout by now.” I looked behind, then forward, seeing nothing but a wall of white.
“Have you seen anything noticeable?”
She brought us to a stop and slid the transmission into park. “No, and the storm’s worsening. I think we’re going to have to ride it out.” Our eyes met and my stomach flipped.
“At least we’ve food, blankets, and so forth, right?” I said. I looked out the windows again as the wind shook us, seeming to grow angrier that it couldn’t reach us inside our metal shelter.
“Yep. Guess we’ve plenty of time to talk now, too, hmm?” The tone in Lex’s voice twisted my stomach into knots and I met her eyes, taking a deep breath.
“I’d say so,” I whispered, and she reached out to touch my cheek.
“We’ll find our way out of this,” she said, and I wondered if she meant out of our quandry or out of the mess our relationship had become.

R.C. Murphy, @RCMurphy

“There’s white crap everywhere.”

Alex rubbed her forehead, wishing the persistent headache she’d come to call Titivillus would stop throbbing long enough for her to form a coherent thought. “You’re so observant.”

“Then allow me to make another observation: we aren’t going anywhere.” He leaned into the window, hot breath fogging the glass as he exhaled.

Her teeth came together and ground, a habit she’d formed since his arrival. By the time he vanished back to Hell, or wherever demons called home, she would need dentures. And one hell of a psychologist.

“The wheels are stuck.” Alex slammed her hand against the steering wheel and stared out the windshield.

All around them there was nothing but white, like someone upended a huge bucket of paint on the landscape before their arrival. The storm she’d seen on the news came a day early, carried on the back of the wind shaking the small rental car. Why did she think showing the demon the snow was a good idea? They could have easily stayed home and watched Christmas movies. At least at home she wasn’t in danger of frostbite making one of her nipples fall off.

“How are we-”

“I don’t fucking know, Titivillus!” She turned and glared at the menace. “Can’t you just poof us out of here?”

Titivillus gave her a strange look and shook his head. “I can’t transport you unless absolutely necessary. When you start to freeze to death, then I can move us.”

Alex rubbed her forehead again. By the time a tow truck crawled up the mountain pass, that may very well happen. “Shit. Hand me the phone.”

What was the point of having a demon around if he was forbidden from doing something to actually help her?

Sessha Battos, @SesshaBatto

Kenshin dragged his unconscious apprentice through the rapidly deepening snow. He knew he’d spotted a hut nearby. If they were still anywhere near the path it should be visible an minute, even in the white out of the blizzard.

When the dark shape of the shelter loomed in front of him the samurai breathed a sigh of relief. Heavy snow was nearly unheard of in this part of the country. They lacked the provisions to survive out in the open.

Kenshin kicked open the door and dragged Hiroshi over the threshold, dumping him on the rough pallet against the far wall. ‘First things first,’ he decided. ‘We need to get warm and dry or we won’t last long.’

He quickly stripped the still unconscious form of his clothes and wrapped him in the ragged blanket he’d found. ‘Too bad there’s only one blanket. I don’t think we have anything dry left to wrap myself in.’

He briefly considered joining Hiroshi, eyes shutting briefly as he imagined how warm the younger man would surely be, and how soft he suspected his skin was. Kenshin’s hand reached out to touch . . . but jerked back at the last moment as he, once again, pushed down the feelings the sight of his apprentice aroused.

He finally squatted uncomfortably on the far side of the room, suffering the bitter cold in silence while his mind avidly explored all the possibilities he refused to succumb to.

Raziel Moore, @_Monocle_

“Daciana!” My voice barely rose above the howling wind, and I could barely see Daci’s fur-clad form three paces ahead of me in the gloom.

I was freezing, despite my own many layers.

As well I should be. I was born near the equator, and hadn’t seen snow until I left home, many decades later. It didn’t matter that in the intervening centuries, I’d traveled the world and seen all kinds of climates. No matter who’s blood I drank, mine would always be on the thin side.

Daci stopped and turned toward me.

“It’s not much farther, Alak, I promise!” She called back.

“It had better be! I can’t tell up from down here!”

I staggered up to her and she took my gloved hand in hers.

“Don’t worry. Nearly there, and then we can rest safe – all winter.”

Even in the blizzard her voice soothed.

“I’m sorry we had to run. I’m sorry I slipped. Again. Chuluun…”

“It’s Ok, Alak. We both knew it would take a long time to escape his demons.”

His demons, she said. Not mine. She never called them mine.

“Once we reach the village, we rest there for the long night. And we’ll go somewhere new come spring. I’m thinking the Dutch colonies in South Africa.”

Chasing winter again. Always chasing the darkness and running from the light. This is not what I had imagined those centuries ago.

At least I had Daci with me now. She was almost as good as the sun to guide me.

Ahead in the distance, faint flickers of lanterns – the Kvenlander village of our destination.

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