Monday, August 25, 2008

27. Hard to Swallow

Sara, Edith, and Felipe stood in the shade of the great oak. Felipe was unusually upset.
"But you have to come with me," Felipe wailed agitatedly. "I saved you!"
"That was very kind of you, good sir, but I am afraid it is my duty to remain here," Edith responded.
"But I saved you!"
"Sir, you heard my-- this woman yourself. I must wait at this place for a man whose quest is of much greater importance than yours. I cannot go."
"But I saved you!" he sobbed again.
"Felipe, you may not take the princess back to the city," Sara put in. "I spoke with one of the spirit kind last night and he informed me that she must not leave yet.
"But I saved her!" he cried for the fourth time.
"I am sorry. You will have to return alone." Sara finalized.
"But...but...LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!!" he suddenly shouted. "GET DOWN, NOW!!!"
Sara and Edith threw themselves to the ground. Rolling backwards, Sara grabbed her daughter and with surprising strength, dragged her behind the tree trunk. Dust billowed all around them, then settled. Edith rubbed her eyes, trying to clear the sand from her vision. When she could finally see, she peered around the corner. On the opposite side of the tree, Felipe lay in the sand, writhing feverishly and clutching his stomach.
"Mother, quickly!" Edith screamed. "He's been wounded."
Scrambling from behind the tree, the two women dashed to Felipe's side. He was shaking with spasmodic motion. Tears streamed from his eyes.
"Tell me where you're hurt!" Sara commanded. The color had drained from her face and she looked old.
"Look me in the eye, boy. Where is it?!"
She lifted his face in her hands, then let it drop. She took a step backward.
"He's not hurt, Edith." Sara said, "He's laughing."
"I...I...haha....I fooled you!" Felipe managed to stutter, before giving in to another convulsion of laughter.

Sir Edward of Stranfordam, looked around. His eyes hurt.
"Curse this heat," he muttered to himself. "Curse this desert. Curse this quest. Curse Kelthisaid!"
He sighed through his teeth. Behind him he heard a disturbed murmur among the men. Turning, he was just in time to see a man topple from his horse to the brush below. The man managed to stand up and began to stagger toward Edward. Something was wrong. The man's eyes were rolled back in his head. Stumbling on, the man came up before his leader and drew his sword. Edward stepped back in fear. Remaining where he was, the man turned his sword over in his hands and firmly grasped in upside down in his hand. Blood ran down his arm and trickled to the ground as the blade sliced into his hand, but he gripped it tighter. Paralyzed in confused horror, Edward was unable to react as the man lurched forward. Swinging deftly, the man smashed Edward over the head with the hilt of the sword, sending him crashing to the ground, unconscious. Kelthisaid entered his dreams.
"What are you doing, Edward?!" shouted Kethisaid.
"I have been following your orders, Master! I was doing what you told me!" Edward shouted back.
"You are on the complete wrong track, you idiot! Can you not see! This boy, Jard, your rival, is striving for the same goal you are! Yet you still oppose him!"
"I do not know what you are talking about!"
"Jard also seeks to free my kind! For a different reason, but nonetheless it is the same immediate goal!"
"Master, I did not know this!"
"Ignorance is no excuse. You have been wasting time."
"Then, Master, may I return home!?"
"You may not! You must follow this boy! Let him do all the hard work, but if he fails you must pick up the quest where he leaves it! The portal must be broken if it costs you your life! Do this. Follow this boy. Do this or you will curse the woman who brought you into the world! I will instruct you further when the time comes. As you now know, I can find ways to reach you even when you are not asleep." At these words, Kelthisaid vanished into blackness.

A blanket of what appeared to be snow lay thick over the City of Tears as Felipe's two men approached. Except for the castle itself, nearly every dwelling in the city was swathed in whiteness. As the men passed through the gate and trudged toward the castle to make their report, they realized that what they were seeing was not snow, it was toilet paper. Passing down the street, they marveled at the disaster, for not only was each house covered in toilet paper, an expensive luxury used only by the rich, but each yard was pincushioned with metal forks. How many centpieces had been squandered on this pandemic prank, neither of them could imagine. Upon reaching the king's chamber, they stood at attention, anxiously awaiting their turn to enter. Muffled sounds of King Horatio's obnoxious laughter could be heard through the door. "Hahahaha--oh oh--hahaha it was beautifully done Sheriff, beautifully done--oh hahahaha." "Thank you Thire, for you complimenth, but may I go to bed now? I am very thleepy after latht nighth exthpedition."
"Haha...what! You cannot go to sleep, you have work to do! This bit of fun took a great toll on the treasury, so the taxes must be raised! Twenty-six percent should do it! And also, Sheriff, you must make sure that each household returns those forks! We cannot afford to lose my royal silverware, now can we!"
"Thire! I am tired!"
"Be off! Go! Get out of my sight! NEXT!"
The door burst open and Sheriff Bob waddled out, grumbling to himself. Felipe's two men entered.
"We bear a report of your servant, Sir Felipe Adajo, oh King Horatio the Not-Very-Nice, ruler of the City of Tears, Lord of the Desert of Dreams, Master of the Million Pranks, etc. etc," one man announced rapidly. "We are much disturbed to inform you that said Sir Felipe has had the misfortune to be swallowed by a tree. We are sure this news is a great disappointment to you, Sire. That is our report. Good day, Sire."
With that they rushed from the room, fleeing the wrath they knew would follow.
"Swallowed by a tree! Get in here and explain this right now! Come back POO-POO HEADS!!!!"
The king's words echoed down the empty hallway, but the only response from the men were receding footsteps. The two were never seen again.

--Thomas H

Monday, August 18, 2008

26. Alliance

The Cock kneeled down to take a small sip from the stream they were following and promptly spit it out in disgust. With only several days of fresh water and drinkable liquids left, they would need to find Jard and Edith soon. While he did not know for sure that the bitter tasting water was poisonous or foul, he did not want to take any chances. Indeed, taking chances was a concept that The Cock absolutely abhorred. He liked to be in control of his own destiny, and always went to great lengths during operations to ensure that almost all variables were eliminated. Many men would call this paranoia, but The Cock preferred to think of it as wisdom or precision. More than once, these seemingly unnecessary measures had saved his life, and he prided himself in the few failures and casualties sustained by his little band of criminals thus far.
One of these safety measures was always leaving behind a rear guard. Even in this barren wasteland called the Desert of Dreams, with few, if any, human beings for miles in any direction save in front of him, he had made it a point to maintain at least one rear scout. This precaution paid off today, as a deep, rough, voice shouted behind him. "Ze Cock, Ze Cock! Ver is Ze Cock? I must speak vis him!" The Cock turned to see the owner of the voice; it was his rear scout, Enzo. At first glance, Enzo was an odd choice for a scout. He was a big man, standing nearly six and a half feet tall with arms almost as large around as Maximiliano's legs. A shaggy mop of black hair topped his head, and several days' growth of facial hair had begun to obscure most of his face. Despite his imposing stature and heavyset appearance, though, Enzo had some of the softest feet and fasted hands in The Cock's entire band. He could walk through miles of autumn woods without crunching a leaf, it was said, and The Cock knew firsthand that the man possessed more bo-staff skills than anyone he had ever seen. There was no question that Enzo was the best man for the position, for he would be virtually invisible to anyone attempting to trail The Cock, and he could also incapacitate any single, unwanted, tracker with several quick blows from his staff. If push came to shove, the big man could hold off pursuers longer than most, giving the rest of the men the best chance to escape.
"I'm here," The Cock called, "Vat news from ze rear, Enzo?"
"Zree men," the large man replied, "vis horses."
"Zree meen?" The Cock raised an eyebrow, either an odd coincidence, or something very strange was going on, "Take me to zem, immediately!"

"Sir Bruce, come in, I understand you have a request for me?" Gottfriend gestured affably for the knight to enter his cabin and leaned back in his chair, "What can I do for ye?"
"I need a swordfish." Bruce said, "have one fetched for me as soon as possible."
"A swordfish?" Gottfried said, slightly amused, "such fish are very hard to come by. May I be so bold as to ask why you need such a creature."
"It is not the creature itself I seek, but the nose bone. I am going to make a flute with which to trick the Leviathan."
The captain raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, "A flute, eh? Where did you hear this tale of flute charming?"
Bruce told Gottfried of the mysterious volume he had found below deck. "Much of it I couldn't read, but the part with Sir Chint. The knight had a brilliant and foolproof plan that I intend to use myself."
"Brilliant? Foulproof?" Gottfriend chuckled, "I hardly think so. The man was lucky to survive. Closer to a lunatic than a brave knight I'd say. However," Gottfried's eyes narrowed, "I'm inclined to believe the tale. Now let me tell you a story, Bruce. This ancient book you speak of, I found it, several years ago, washed ashore many leagues north of Fissabent. It was shortly after my frightening encounter with the sea spirits," he raised a hand to stop Bruce from saying something, "Believe what you like, knight, just hear me out. Anyways, we headed for the cost to take on fresh water. When we got there, I found it. Wedged between two rocks and covered with seaweed and sand. It was soaked through completely, and I feared ruined, but when this book dried out, it was in great shape. The pages were smooth, the ink not smudged, the binding worn but intact. I could barely believe me eyes. Now I'm not great when it comes to reading, but I devoured every page in there, save for those with strange markings and symbols. When I returned to Fissabent I found no one who could read it, and was laughed off and called crazy, but I'm telling you mate, there's something special about that book."
"Special indeed," Bruce replied, "It is a grand book! Priceless beyond gold or jewels, the last great volume of the old kings, the key to the future, the chronicles of another age. A masterpiece I say!"
"Easy now," Gottfried smiled, "important or not, it won't be killing the Leviathan for us. As for Chint's story, it is not my intention to needlessly risk the lives of my sailors, even a brave knight one who would jump into the sea after the most powerful creature in the seas. I may just be a ship's captain, but I am no fool. There is more than one way to kill a sea serpent."
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked, "I assure you, sir, my broadsword has struck down many a foe, and will be more than enough to destroy the beast."
"Enough or not, I believe these is a better way. If you recall, Bruce, our voyage was delayed back in Fissabent and cost a few extra crowns. That's because I had a special project for the local blacksmith. Do you wish to see it?"
"I not only wish it, but it is my right to see the weapon with which I shall kill this foe. Bring it forward!"
Gottfried stood up and walked over to the side wall of his cabin, he put his finger in knot of one of the wooden planks. Without warning, several planks in the floor opened to reveal a secret compartment. Bruce looked at its contents.

Peter was just about to take a well-earned drink from the river when, without warning, an arrow splashed into the shallows several feet away. "Aaaagh, what was that?" he saw the fletching protruding from the river and gasped, "attack! Jard, James, attack, they're shooting at us, we're all gonna die!" Instantly Jard grabbed his battle axe. He was about to say something when a voice cut him off.
"Drop your veapons, you are surrounded."
Peter whispered to Jard, "I think we should do what he says,"
"Agreed," Jard whispered back, he set his ax down carefully.
"Vat brings three men into ze desert of dreams? Who are you, ver do you come from, ver are you going?"
Jard would not give in to his disadvantage so easily, "I could tell you those things, and much more, but I prefer to give away my information face to face. Kill us if you dare, but it may cost you."
"Jard!" Peter clutched his arm. "What are you doing?"
"Fair enough," came the accented voice, and seconds later a thin man with groomed black hair emerged from behind a bush across the river. He was holding a bow and had an arrow nocked in place. "I like your style," the man said, "to whom do I have ze pleasure of negotiating vis?"
"Jard of Nuvanderim, squire of the blue trout. These are my companions, Peter my esquire, and new friend James."
The man paused for a moment, then put his arrow in his quiver and smiled, "Vell, Jard, perhaps zer are no negotiations after all. I have been searching for you."
Jard was confused, "For me? Are you one of Sir Edward's men?"
"Sir Edvard? No! I despise ze man!" He extended his hand to Jard, "I am Ze Cock."

--Andrew C

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

25: New Journeys

With all of the preparations done for the trip, Sir Edward and a small troop of men were finally leaving Stranfordam. Fifteen men in all, they were leaving to go find Edith, who had the invaluable book and the dagger. His shoulder still pained him, but Edward wouldn't let that bother him. He had a young maiden to "save" and he would have to move quickly, or else Jard might arrive first. Such a situation could prove deadly because he would have to fight Jard again, and with a wounded shoulder, it wouldn't be easy. He had almost killed Jard in their last fight, but that was simply because the boy's sword had broken. It irritated him that the young knight-in-training had almost beaten him. Indeed, he would like to get revenge on Jard, but he would much more like to acquire a kingdom. Edward's men moved quickly, heading across the river and around The City of Tears, and out into the vast open Desert of Dreams. Kelthisad had said that he needed to find some sort of stream, so Edward figured that in a desert, he would be looking for a river bed. Therefore, every ditch would have to be investigated. After finding this stream, he would have to find a tree, the only tree in the desert of dreams Kelthisad had said, so Edward figured that it would be pretty easy to find. As one might have expected, trees weren't easy to find in the Desert of Dreams. Edward was beyond the point of frustrated when he went to bed that night. One, he had not found either a stream or a tree, two, it was hot, and three, he was sure a visit from Kelthisad would come along with the inevitable scolding. Even through all of these frustrations, however, he was able to fall asleep, and as he predicted, Kelthisad visited him. In a chaotic swirling of dark lights, Edward slipped into a dream.
"You fool" was the first thing Kelthisad said to Edward. "It is not some dry river bed that you are looking for, it is an actual stream, with water in it. You have been wasting both your and my time, thoroughly searching up and down every little impression in the ground."
"I-I-I'm sorry," stammered Edward nervously, "I had no idea that there was an actual stream."
"If I wanted you to search for a stream bed, I would have told to look for a stream bed, but I want you to look for the Hidden Stream. First thing in the morning you will start looking for a stream, not an empty ditch leading nowhere. Now get out of my sight you despicable piece of slime." At this, there was a sudden burst of smoke, which faded into a dreamless sleep.

Maximiliano shaded his eyes, he thought he saw something, but he figured it was just another mirage. They had been in the desert for two days, and looking for Jard had not been easy. With so few men available to search, they could only cover a small strip of the desert. As he kept riding, he decided that the water he saw was more than just a mirage. He hailed The Cock, who was riding far to the right so as to cover more ground, and pointed it out to the criminal leader.
"Zat is strange indeed," mused The Cock. "Vy is zer vater in ze middle of ze dessert?" He stood there a short while, thinking about it, then pulled out a strange horn out of a pouch and blew it. At first casual listen, the device sounded like some terrible, unintelligible noise, but upon a more thoughtful listen, almost everyone agreed that the horn sounded much like a rooster crowing. At the sound of The Cock's trademark instrument, the spread out men promptly turned their steeds towards the sound. He gave Maximiliano some brief instructions, then headed toward the stream while his men gathered around Maximiliano.
"Ze Cock vants us to meet him at ze stream, and zere ve vill look for signs of ozer people," Maximillano explained to the men, then he took off in the direction of the stream, the small band of men following him. When he arrived at the stream, he saw The Cock dismounted and holding something that he couldn't exactly see because The Cock's back was turned toward him. Maximiliano dismounted, and took a step toward his leader so he could see what he was looking at. When he got a good look at what The Cock had, he was caught totally off guard. The man was holding a petty coat. Of all the unlikely things this was what Maximiliano did not expect. The Cock turned toward him and said, "Princess Edith came zis vay, and I believe zat ze boy, Jard, is following her."
Maximiliano looked at the marks on the ground and saw that there were indeed four sets of tracks, three of which appeared to be those of men who were armored, and one set of tracks that were made, presumably by Edith, that were smaller than the others. Maximiliano also noticed that the tracks headed west. He pointed this out to The Cock, and instantly The Cock headed in that direction. Maximiliano, suprised by this sudden depature, quickly gathered the men toghether, and followed their leader, who was setting a brisk pace. He had only seen The Cock like this a handful of times in their years together, and knew what it meant: they were getting close.