Cibus Potentia

This was an entry for Writing Battle, which is a concept that I still find amazing and fascinating. You write something under 1000 words that follows a few prompts, then it goes to “battle” against another story and a group of folks vote on who wins. Meanwhile, you do the same for another group, reading two stories at a time and deciding the winner.

I had a great time, though once again had only that to take away as I didn’t even win my first battle with this piece.

This isn’t just inspired by the Spec-fic I write under my pen name, it’s literally the first meeting of two of my main characters, Dukan and Ranton (though Dukan’s name is never used). I felt like it hit the prompts and the feedback all seemed to centre on how they, the readers, all wanted to know more about the MC and how he got there.

Perhaps I’m guilty of being too in-love with my characters and risk masturbating their interactions all over a short story when they’re best left throwing their weight around in my books. Dunno. A part of me thinks that it’s a slam-dunk to Spec-fic with a world I’ve already built, but I frequently fail to Consider The Source when I’m submitting a short story.

Which sucks, because if I had the headspace and energy to do my research, get inside the heads of the judges et al, then write something specific to them, I’d probably have a much bigger chance of getting something noticed.

It all remains a Learning Experience, I suppose. And those are never easy. Opportunities missed still hurt, but that’s how we learn, no?


His legs dangled out the bars of the cramped cage as the smell of cooking meat wafted in through the tent’s open flap and set his mouth to watering while nearly sending him into a ravenous rage. This would be the fifteenth day he’d refused to eat, and he wondered how many more he had left.

The two initiates were a welcome surprise as they carried their meals into the tent. Tattered robes and smiles, they jabbered excitedly at their overflowing plates before they saw the captive and remembered their orders.

“Does Prelate Ranton really believe he can be saved?” the taller one squinted, “By us? They say his days here in the compound are nearing an end.”

He looked barely older than a boy at first but his thick arm held out a plate to the captive. Despite the hunger, despite the steam rising from the cooked meat, the captive turned his face away from it.

The shorter initiate snorted. She looked too young as well but had a worldliness about her that the captive recognised. She’d had it hard out there, either life in the Territories or slogging through the forests. Harder than the male had, that was for sure.

He figured it was likely why she was here, though both would have been drawn into the Hoytist’s for their promises of peace, order and, of course, bounty. Scrapping and clawing for 60 years after The Pulse wiped most of humanity out and here was a ready-made paradise in the forests. All you had to do was shave your head and worship some asshole named Hoyt.

“More to it than that,” the captive thought as he inhaled the aroma of the meat, “A lot more.”

He looked down between his legs at the old padlock on his cage and smiled. He’d practiced picking this style lock and would have been long gone had the Hoytists not stripped him.

“By the Hoyt,” the taller one chewed, “He refuses this! Cooked meat the likes of which I’ve never tasted, yet still he smiles!”

The other one approached. “Hoyt be praised, this meat’s amazing. A nuttiness I’ve never tasted in meat! May he someday be saved.”

The taller one turned to her. “So… who did you save? When you came in?”

She regarded him with haunted eyes, clutching at a small doll hidden inside her sleeve. “My sister. You?”

The captive recognised the hemp twine used for the doll’s hair. He’d once brought the local doll-maker thin strips of bendy metal for the doll’s innards.

“Mum,” he took another bite, “She couldn’t do for herself out there.”

“And,” she regarded her fellow recruit, “Who did you send?”

He chewed thoughtfully. “My brother. He was always so good at foraging he’ll be fine in the forests. He always had an acorn in his mouth, finding so many of them he was even a bit fat. Can you imagine?”

She lowered her eyes as a sadness took hold. “I sent mum. I didn’t want to, but those are the rules when you enter, the Prelate said. Besides, she’ll be fine too. Probably.”

The tent was suddenly filled by a wide form in sweeping robes. “By the Hoyt she will!” boomed Prelate Ranton, “The Hoyt provides for all! Even this wretched recluse here, resisting all resplendence with reproachful reprises.”

The captive gave Ranton a dark look. Ranton glared back before turning his softened eyes to the female initiate. “And? Has he? All may partake of our bounty, saved or no.”

“Bounty? You sick fuck,” The captive cast his eyes between the initiates, “Didn’t either of you ever wonder how the Hoytists forbid trade with the only territory to have pigs or goats, yet there’s all this cooked meat? You see any livestock around here?”

The initiates looked to each other, then almost in unison said back, “The Hoyt provides.”

“No…” the captive’s mouth twisted, “Turns out you provided. You there, think about how your fat brother ate heaps of acorns and consider why that nutty-tasting meat’s dripping with juices.”

The taller initiate’s eyes squinted in consideration as the other’s eyes boggled in horror. She quietly spat her mouthful back onto her plate and his chewing stopped.

The initiate turned to the Prelate. “By the Hoyt, Prelate Ranton, I know the apostate blasphemes but where does the compound source such bounty?,” he caught himself, “I… I mean, am I able to visit the Preparatory to witness the Hoyt’s benevolence?”

Prelate Ranton’s large eyes turned downward, saddened. He pursed his lips and shook his bald head at the captive. “You would waste their welcoming with your words, wouldn’t you wastrel?”

The captive bared his teeth back. “Scientia potentia est.”

Ranton looped his arms around both initiate’s shoulders. “Of course you may visit the Preparatory, my itchingly-inquisitive initiate,” a blade was suddenly in his hand, “You have my word.”

It was less than a full-second for the Prelate’s blade to slice the jugular vein of the shorter initiate before flashing across and neatly severing the same in the taller one’s neck. The captive gripped the bars and growled angrily as they fell, even as Ranton’s eyes never left his.

Ranton breathed out. “You’re almost right, that knowledge is power. But you and all your Latin and vaunted book-learning still aren’t powerful enough to oppose the will of the Hoyt.”

“Someday,” the captive whispered, “You’ll burn for this.”

The Prelate smiled grimly as he gripped the dead male by his ankles and started dragging. “Maybe. But all your vaunted volumes will never make you as venerable as you view, my valuable vulnerable. Now I need to keep my word and take him to the Preparatory to finish bleeding out before he’s carved.”

The captive watched him go before slipping his hand up the dead girl’s sleeve, retrieving the doll, and quickly dismantling it. Venerable or not, he knew the doll’s skeleton would make fine lockpicks, and that his days in this place were indeed nearing an end.