Friday, January 31, 2014

The Storm

I used to be safe – normal, even.  But, who is normal anymore?  Nobody I know.  I remember a time before this, though.  My life was ordinary; most of the time I’d just be sitting around with my neighbors.  Occasionally, some stranger would take me out and flip through my pages.  Sometimes, even, they’d take me home and I’d be on a grand adventure; though this happened much more often when I was younger.  Back then I foolishly thought that I’d be going on adventures all the time.  But then, as I began to age, they eventually moved me to a new home with new neighbors.  I couldn’t see outside any more, but at least I was safe.  People would still occasionally pick me up and take me on adventures.  They’d read through my pages, and I’d feel like I was fulfilling my purpose.  It was wonderful. 

Then the storm hit.

I had never seen outside before, without being guided by a human.  I guess that’s not completely true – when I was very young I was next to a window.  And, even once or twice on the adventures of my youth, I found myself sitting alone wherever my current human friend had placed me.  But, even then I felt safe – I knew that they would come back and find me.  So, the day the storm hit, I was completely unprepared.  I didn’t know what to do; and really, there wasn’t much I could do.  Suddenly, the roof tore off of my home, and all of my friends and neighbors started panicking. 

In an instant, we were all outside – and this wet stuff was falling all around us!  Now, you humans might not think that this is a big deal.  If you get wet, you’ll just dry back off, right?  But not so for us books – when we get wet our pages get all wrinkly.  This happens to you, too, if you stay wet too long.  But, though your skin flattens back out, we are never the same.  And, even worse, if we stay wet too long, we might have some of our pages stick together; and the scariest thing of all, we might get the black plague! 

But, this storm wasn’t just the wet stuff.  Something strange was happening, and suddenly I was in the air like someone had picked me up.  But, there were no humans around.  I was simply flying!  I got dizzy very fast as I couldn’t control myself.  My pages flapped around like they were being pulled by some unknown force, and I lost track of how long this continued.   I may have even blacked out once or twice – but maybe I just try not to remember all of the terrifying details.  Eventually, I crashed to the ground, tearing up my face pretty badly when I did.

There was no arrogance left in me – simply fear.  I had been on so many adventures, but I wanted no part of this one.  I already had scars on my face, and my pages were wrinkled – some of them even sticking together.  I hadn’t succumbed to the black plague yet, but I felt that it was just a matter of time.  As I lay there, I didn’t know what to expect.  My greatest hope was that someone would come by and recognize me, tattered and bruised, and they would rescue me.  But, really, what were the chances of that?
Eventually, the storm passed, and the wet stuff stopped.  After hours that seemed like days, I even started seeing humans walking around.  (I didn’t see any of them during the storm – maybe it scared them, too.)  As they walked, most of them saw me and just kept going.  I could see them look at me, but I was simply not wanted.  But then, she came along.

“What’s this?” She said, bending to scoop me up.  I had never seen a lovelier young lady in all of my life.  I’m no judge of what people ought to look like, but this girl didn’t dress like any of the people that I had met on my past adventures.  Instead, she seemed a bit dirty and scarred like me.  “I’ve always wanted this one!” she exclaimed as she turned me over – no doubt assessing my injuries.  Then, she gently tucked me away among various cans and bottles and began to push us along in her small vehicle. 

I was still concerned about getting the black plague, but now that I had been picked up, I had a glimmer of hope.  But, my pages were still stuck and wrinkled, and so I knew that she still might get rid of me – and what were the chances that I would be able to try again?  But, as it grew darker, I felt her warm hand gently pulling me out from among the bottles, and she very gently opened my cover.  I blinked some, as I hadn’t been able to see in quite some time, and I saw that there was a fire going nearby, which let me warm up – and then dry off.  As she turned the pages, she would find my stuck pages.  Instead of forcing them apart (which would have left me scarred and useless), she very gently separated them; making sure that each page was completely in tact.  She was like a doctor healing all of my wounds, while still enjoying my story bit by bit.  Eventually, she came to the end.  All of my pages were separated and dry.  “Oh!  I love it,” she said to herself.  I wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I once was, but I had found a new home.  I might not have as many adventures as I had before, but I had the thing that mattered – a true friend that loved me in spite of my appearance.  I wouldn’t trade her to have new pages, glorious adventures, or anything else.

Monday, January 27, 2014

3 Swords, pt 1

"When the horn sounds, begin combat. Draw your swords."
An athletic woman drew her broadsword and flexed her left hand within its mailed gauntlet. On the sword fighting circuit, she was called Dahlia or Mailfist or names more opprobrious.
Her opponent, a thin, pale-skinned man clapped his hands before him and spoke in a forgotten tongue: "By the nine arms of Ilderleth, Belen-Tul-qoth, revek anderlath." In his right hand appeared an eldritch blue energy, shaped like a rapier. No one knew his name. He'd arrived with a caravan last night and smelled of foreign spices.
A small crowd ringed the fighters, facing off in the cobbled town square. Money changed hands when the man conjured his sword. Magic was still little known in these parts, feared or revered. Dahlia felt neither. She spat on the cobblestone grit. The horn bayed.
She sprang forward, testing her foe with a quick step and a lunge. He parried; the blue rapier redirected her sword down and across her body. She followed through with a spinning backfist that caught him on his left arm. She was stronger than she looked, and he staggered under the punch.
Traveling with her momentum, Dahlia spun again and brought the sword down on his gaunt frame.
But this time, the thin stranger had moved. The flat of her blade skittered on the square's cobblestones and she looked up to see him maneuvering around her left, keeping a closer eye on the gauntlet now.
She returned to a ready stance as he circled behind her. "Don't expect magic tricks to save you, scarecrow," she taunted.
"I won't need them for this instance." he said.
This time he came at her, a flurry of jabs and stabs that her larger blade only barely fended. He was quick, and always stayed just a handsbreadth outside her reach to counterattack. The metal sword clanged and the eldritch blade sizzled faintly. The crowd cheered! A magic sword! A stranger! A local favorite!
The fighters circled and clashed for over two minutes--as good as an hour on the circuits. Someone was usually too slow or drunk to last this long.
After seven minutes, the cheers had died down. General sentiment seemed to be that Dahlia should have finished it by now. A magic sword wielded by a stranger was intriguing, but the thin man had no panache. He fought with precision, exceptional stamina, and zero showmanship. Dahlia was an exciting figure to watch, but the thin man seemed to suck excitement out of sword fighting. Outside the circle, interested flagged.
Inside the circle however, both participants were tightly involved, sweating, breathing heavily from the exertion. The man was wise to Dahlia's gauntlet, but still took an occasional rough poke from it. Every time she tried it though, he stabbed at the opening she created. She recovered, but after the third time, it was clear that he was intentionally taking the tradeoff. He wasn't doing real damage, but repeated pinpricks wear on a fighter. She needed to end this soon.
She summoned a sudden burst of energy and flew at him with a scream. For perhaps the first time since the fight began, he stood instead of maneuvering. At the last possible moment, he took one great step back and to his left, and stuck out his rapier. Her neck stumbled into the tip of of it, and she wheeled her arms to stop from going any further.
"Winner!" cried the horn blower. "Dahlia do you yield?"
The thin man opened his hand and the magic rapier vanished in a blue flare. "She does," he said. "I need her sword."
The thin man collected his winnings--he had bet substantially on himself--and beckoned her to follow him to the inn.

Inside the main room of the dark-timbered inn, he had the one-thumbed innkeeper beat some drunkards away from a table and bring two mugs of mead. He nursed his as he spoke. Dahlia drained hers and shouted for another. "You've got my attention, Stick Arms. What do you want?"
"My name, since you asked, is Azurdanak. I will take a short trip in the very near future. I need a bodyguard and you are clearly the second-best sword fighter in the area."
"Second? I could take you on a different day, Stick Arm."
"Not under controlled conditions," he said mildly.
"Why you think that?" She was nearly done with her second drink.
"You're sloppy and unprincipled. I assumed at first that I'd exploit your obvious Benvenuti Opening and win quickly. However, you're talented, and quickly adapted, so I had to drop back to the Kazanskov Concourse which ultimately bested you.
"In short, since your countenance informs that you are not following the discourse, you're competent--and unorthodox--so I underestimated you. But I was in no danger of losing to you."
Dahlia rose. "I have other business than looking up your nose."
He grabbed her sleeve. "I will pay forty crowns."
She grinned down at him. "Why didn't you say you were desperate? Show me some glint and insult me more, Stick Arm."
"I wasn't insulting -- I didn't mean to insult you. I'm sorry for whatever I said."
"It's all right," she said relaxing back into her drink. I've been fighting all afternoon. You just show up, study my style, and step fancy until I make a mistake? That's not a real fight. No way you're better than me." She finished her mug.
Azurdanak pursed his lips. "No, I'm definitely superior. But let's not get bogged in irrelevanc--."
"Oh, this is relevant," she said. "This is godsall pertinent is what this is."
"Well we won't settle this by raising voices in an inn. We'll fight again when you're rested and we'll see."
"You'll see my boot on your throat. Now show me some money and buy me another drink."
Azurdanak pulled a gold crown from his purse and bounced it on the table. "I won 40 crowns betting against you. You may have it all if you'll look out for my interests for the next three to four weeks."
Dahlia caught the coin on the bounce. "Tell me the job."
"A yearly conglomeraton of Urugan barbarians meets near the western border of Crosia. They gather and drink and fight. The fighting is my primary interest. I intend to duel as many as I can."
"What do you need a hired sword for then?"
"Two reasons. First, West Crosia is dangerous territory, and I need someone competent--and unorthodox--watching out while I travel. Second, I intend to win all of my fights by killing my opponents. The savages will not object to my slaying scattered rabble, but after a number of victories, I expect them to become testy. They are superstitious and will naturally suspect my mageblade the reason, not superior skill. When it is time to depart, I'll likely need help taking my leave."
"I know about Urugans," Dahlia said. "They value a good fight and hate losing. As good as I am, you'll need another sword."
"That can be arranged. But this tournament is a sorry mob. I haven't seen anyone else I'd put against an angry Urugan."
"You haven't seen Rone."