The Riddle Box – 300 Words or Less

A manor. A murder. A mystery. The doors are closed, best keep your eyes open.

Jonas and Rime arrive at the House of the Heart-Broken Lion, interrupting a play and an opulent dinner party. An actor falls dead on the stage, the doors

Gustave Doré Plate XX - “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69
Gustave Doré
Plate XX – “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69

are locked, the authorities summoned. Rime has one night to solve the mystery and escape before too many questions are asked and her wild magic is discovered. Jonas is just excited that there’s really good cheese.

Thirteen guests in the manor. All the doors are locked. One of them is the killer. Can she solve the case before dawn?

A sea-elf shaman, a wood-elf scholar, a bard with an electric guitar. A gentle priest, a vicious trader, a rude dwarf who does not speak. These guests have secrets, could there be a secret guest?

Blood in the shadows, a killer stalks the halls of the Heart-Broken Lion.  How can Our Heroes triumph against a foe that neither spell nor sword can catch?

  • Secrets of Jonas’ past revealed!
  • [Not all of them, but, you know, some!]
  • Rime has a crush!
  • Cryptic clues!
  • Red herrings!
  • Partial nudity!
  • Bedroom hi-jinks!
  • Sweet guitar solos! [Described.]
  • A giant cow!

A truly original mystery shamelessly cribbed from Agatha Christie, Colombo, and N.C.I.S. Fantasy fiction bent into a new, strange shape.

Can you solve The Riddle Box?

[Argggg. I hate writing ad copy. This is my first stab [of many] getting Riddle Box into something easily marketable. Back of book, Amazon description, etc. I am shit at the elevator pitch — comments and reactions very much appreciated!]


Riddle Box – Opening verse [Sketch]

The door shuts

behind you

and you sit down

at the banquet

and sit down

at the show.

Have you come to play a game?

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

All the pieces

are marked

all the


will  appear

one by two,

two by one,

running through the

weightless halls

of the manor.

You have come to play a game,

the killer and the killed.

Blood on white marble,

blood on shadowed wood,

blood on blood,

blood on fire.

The game has come to play.

Follow along, the string in your hands,

the song in your ears.

Eyes sharp, hearts dark.

The two travelers step through the door.

The door shuts behind them.

Open the game and play the blood,

sing tomorrow and hold back the flood.

Welcome to the Riddle Box.

The Plague

The classroom was quiet. Bone-white desks faced a board groaning with chalk and time. The scholar sat on a stool and leaned on her lectern, sorting crisp paper into clean lines. Lecture phrases and lines of ink filled her head and she was caught by surprise when a young man cleared his throat from behind the second row of desks.

“I am sorry,” he said, hands locked around a scroll case. “Please…I am sorry to interrupt you, but…”

“You are not one of my students,” the scholar laid a finger to her temple, letting her mind settle and focus on the young man.

“No, I am not. I am visiting the city. My name is Lucas Grahd.”

Artist:  Charlie Bowater
Artist: Charlie Bowater

“And I am Prose Willow. You know this, of course.”

The scholar did not smile and neither did Lucas. Her face was sharp and severe, brown skin pulled taut. Long, tight braids wound in an ornate riddle.  The young man took a step forward.

“I do.  I came here looking for you.”

The scholar sighed. “Why, Lucas Grahd? Why at the end of the day do you tiptoe into my hall? The sun sets.”

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “I read something you wrote. The gifted man is a plague. To himself, to the city, to the world. What did you mean by that?”

“Most people pass through this world inert. The simple mechanics of society push them through and out, like stones through the belly of a snake.” Prose nodded. “But the gifted, the learned, the wise, those who can see. Actors and painters and sculptors and all the weary litany of those who shape. They affect the system, they touch things. They make, they mar. They change things.”

“Is it wrong to change things?”

“No. Not always. But the more you see, the more you move, the more you change the world, shape it with your choices. You begin to feel the weight, the weight of those choices. Is this why you came? This conversation?” Prose folded her hands and looked over her knuckles at Lucas.

“Not really. Maybe? I don’t know,” Lucas took another step forward.

“The scroll, then?” It was green with black piping, any distinguishing marks hidden by Lucas’ hands.

Lucas looked down at it, as if surprised to find his hands full. “Oh, this? No, I was just carrying this. I came to research a translation in the library, but I walked in here instead. I knew you were here, that you taught here, but I hadn’t planned on approaching you.”

Prose stood up, hands gentle on the lectern. The fading light in the room shot thin gold across the white desks and the young man’s face. “Are you a gifted man, Lucas Grahd?”


“Then forego the illusion. No mystical force guides your steps, you are not perplexed, you are not whimsical. Why did you walk in here?”

“I want a sage,” the young man sat in the closest desk, eyes on the flat white, whispering. “Someone who knows. Someone I can ask.”

“Get out,” Prose Willow said.

The sun set.





I’ve got the itch to post and write, but nothing dominating my brain pan. I’m going to list some thoughts until I hit something I want to expound upon.

Various thoughts:

  • I was in Vegas last week for a work conference. It was my first time. I gambled a dollar, drank daiquiris in a bathtub, ate piles of exotic food next to a 30 foot stone statue of Buddha while dubstep played. I believe that  Vegas is the most American city  I’ve ever been in — not the greatest American city, but the most American.
  • I’m on Twitter now — it’s fun. There’s a surprising feeling of immediacy to the interactions there, and it’s neat to be able to directly annoy people I

    respect. Also to roll my eyes at some writers up the foodchain as they reveal their foibles and strange predilections. Follow me there and allow me to regale you with glib witticisms and reports on my cat’s mood.

  • Why is their a paucity of Southern genre writers – fantasy and sci-fi? I’ve been directed to several interesting ones that I hadn’t heard of before, but there just don’t seem to be any genre legends within a 50 mile radius of a Waffle House. Southern fiction has a strong tradition, are they all just writing other genres? How come anyone that wants to write about swords and dragons seems to gravitate to the North and West?
  • This weird-ass journey of writing and promoting myself is …well...weird-ass. I have to constantly pump myself up and feed myself endless packets of cocksurety just to keep myself going [You are awesome. Genre-CHANGING. Undiscovered genius.] all while walking face first into the most humbling series of experiences I’ve ever encountered.



The Bright Empire through the Thistledown Revolt

I am as you have made me. From the earth and the stone, the blood in my heart is your blood. The quiet in my head is the mountain’s silence. I speak now only to teach what you would have me teach.

Humanity saved the People from centuries of death and battle. All was forgiven. With open arms and eager hearts we welcomed the humans into our lives, eager to see where their wit and ambition would lead us.

It lead us to the lash, it lead us to the steelbolt collar around our necks. It lead us to Empire.

Humans do not breed as fast as the ratfolk or the naga, but they make up for that with ceaseless effort. Their hands never tire of building new things, their eyes never cease looking for the next opportunity, and no other of the People are as quick to abandon their morals or their creed if profit is in the offing. After the Eon of Cinders, a Council was formed, lead by our savior, the wizard Bex. Humans were quick to press this advantage, in only a generation ten human families had grown to hold unprecedented power in the young lands the People were carving for themselves.

Ten families that would grow to become great merchants, then the nobility, then the royal blood of our oppressors.  And one bloodline among them was greater still, the cursed family called Bright.

Even now there are many tales of this family, a family of mighty heroes. All lies, of course, the ill-reflection of the first Emperor’s light shining into the past to aggrandize his forebears. But they were the first to unite the great cities of Cynus, the first to put the crown on their heads, the first to put their boot on the necks of the People.

We served at the beck and call of human masters. Races that they found comely were kept in foul bondage as concubines and bond-slaves, races they found not to their liking were shut out  and hunted, and dubbed ‘monsters’.  We prayed in our pain to the Balance, but the gods act as they will and waited many long years before they sent our deliverance.

He was a simple farmer. A half-orc, like me. His family was killed by Imperial power, a blade buried in his back he fell to the earth to bleed out his final moments, just as many had fallen to the arrogance and cruelty of the humans. 

But he did not die. My Lady of Stone lent her grace and his wounds closed. He pulled the sword from his own chest and stood up amongst the ashes of his lands.

Thistledown. Our savior, the Undying One. The one to lead the People, to pick us up from our bended knees and show us the path to our freedom.

And so it began, the Revolt. Small at first, like tiny sparks in the dry forest — but they spread and grew into a mighty inferno. We shook the pillars of heaven with our wrath, and pulled down the Brights and all the Great Houses of humanity. We sowed the fields of our world with human blood and reaped a harvest of liberty. We did not slaughter every human that we could find, though perhaps we should have. They are a vile race.

And so the Second Empire began, with Thistledown as our new Emperor – guided by a true Council of the People, as it was always meant to be.

And for a time peace was ours.

For a time.

I speak these words as you would wish, Jocasta of the Sand. Let the knowledge pass from me to the next, that these things never shall be forgotten.

Davan Marlowe, Cleric of Jocasta