Despite what I said in my last blog post, I’m switching gears. I had planned to finish editing and revising The Beginner GM and then return to work on Hero Games, which I had practically abandoned last summer. However, Fantasy Faction has thrown a metaphorical wrench into my plans.
The wrench they threw into my machine is their new Anthology and the contest for the valued slots for unpublished authors.
Their submission requirements are pretty strict: anything fantasy. I can do that. Targeting about 8,000 words.
So, over the holidays, I had an idea for a story based on the Mayan calendar’s end of time. I theorized that maybe the 2012 deadline wasn’t predicting the end of the world, but a major change in the world as we know it. (A little quick research lent substantial credibility to such a theory.) So I figure, if the world is going to completely change, why not play with physics? The story I have planned will take the world from science to magic, much like it did ages ago when the pendulum swung the other way. One will slowly fade, and the other will grow in power and awareness.
So, for those who care, that’s my new agenda and why. Sometimes, a wrench in the gears just means your machine does something new.
I’m sure Santa’s moving my name from one list to the other this month, for I’ve not posted at all in December. Actually, I think I posted one that I had drafted and saved a while back, but screwed up and dated it sometime in October. A shame, it was a good post, and probably went unnoticed because of that. Ah, well, it’s the thought that counts. Or maybe only the thoughts you write down.
Today is the Day of Hate, declared so by Tessa’s current blogfest: I Hate You Blogfest. Below is my own offering to the maelstrom of hate that she is building on the web today. Be warned: it’s longer than many of the others, at 2600 words, but I hope you find it worth the read.
The stipulations of the HateFest are as follows:
1. Sign up by the end of August 12th. The time is 4:22 PM Central Standard Time. I have hours until the cutoff!
2. On August 12th, post a story, an excerpt of your work or a poem you’ve written that shows HATE of some form or another – your character hates someone, someone hates your character, or maybe you hate someone/something? Total check. Hate doesn’t get much hotter than this. (There’s a pun in there.)
4. Don’t forget to link back to [Tessa's] blog when you post so people can find the other entries. I’ve now linked back twice.
Thanks, Tessa, for this really fun blogfest!
Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is a story placed in the world of On Common Ground that isn’t in the actual novel. Also, it happens afterward, so try to forget you read this if you get your hands on the actual novel!
* * *
He tightened the Palm Colors around his palms. Originally, they were the red rags dipped in the blood of his first kill that symbolized his acceptance and rank in the gang. The fact that his first kill hadn’t actually died was a separate issue. He looked up as a demon walked by and nodded hello before going back to his thoughts. He’d moved up to a completely different type of gang now, but he had kept his palm colors. They reminded him of the grudge he held for the one that got away, and the angel that had helped her.
He clenched his fist suddenly, thinking of that trio, and flames engulfed his hand. He flicked his wrist and opened his fist and the emotional fireball shot into the already scorched wall opposite him. He flicked his middle finger at the wall, sending a small jet for each of them. The cop. Hiss. The angel. Scorch. And that goody two-shoes demon. Blast. Though if it weren’t for that pansy demon kid going to the other side, his dad Nezbit wouldn’t have taken Rayne in, so that one was good luck for him.
Now, instead of being an average kid in a street gang, he was the adopted son of the hottest demon around and learning to use his new powers. That thought brought him back to reality. He had a trial to get ready for. Nezbit had said he would have three to choose from, but he wouldn’t know what they were until he walked into the trial chamber. He had to be ready for anything. Behind his shaggy bangs, his chocolate brown eyes glittered with demonic firelight as he tried to imagine what would be waiting for him.
The door to his right opened and an ugly demon stuck his horned face into the room.
“Rayne,” Belgard grunted, “they’re ready for you.”
Rayne nodded his head and stood up. He kicked a dusty rock with his leather boots and held his jaw firm. Must show strength. He walked through the door beside Belgard and took in the trial chamber.
The room was a giant triangle. The ceiling rose high above them, coming to a point at the top, from which hung what was probably a giant bowl full of fire. At this distance, it was hard to tell. Each of the room’s three corners was a cage. Against the left wall were six stone chairs, in which sat the various demons and supernaturals that would judge his trial.
Three of them were regular demons. Two, a male and a female, had the standard red skin, horns, and tail that mortals see in pictures. The female flicked her forked tongue at him. The other was mostly normal, except for the 6 inches bone spikes rising out of his shoulders and the fact that his left arm ended in a big crab pincher. The other three were mixed supernaturals. One was a werewolf with shaggy fur, long nose, ears, and teeth. Another appeared to be a witch, technically mortal, but probably a high enough ranking witch that she’d been around a couple hundred years or so. The last one matched the description of an earth elemental. He hadn’t seen an elemental in person before. The creature was living rock, dirt, and lava. His features were better described as aspects of landscape than as parts of a body. A fissure in its face opened and it belched noxious gas. The werewolf growled and tried to cover its nose, annoyed. This was not a good start to the trial, Rayne thought.
He glanced at the right hand wall as he walked slowly forward to the center of the triangular room, where he was expected to stand. Seated among a few of his new demon friends and his trainers, was his adoptive father Nezbit. He made no sign that he even recognized Rayne. It was his way. The demon way. You had to be strong enough to stand on your own. Nezbit had black hair with a red tinge to it, and looked handsomely mortal. Handsome enough to charm mortals to their doom. Nezbit may not show it here, at the trial, but he knew he would be pleased by a decisive victory, and much displeased by a defeat. Rayne didn’t want to think about a defeat. He’d narrowly passed the last test, and he knew what three failures would mean.
Rayne reached the small, raised dais in the center of the room and stood facing the six judges, waiting to be addressed. One of his friends had advised him to not even look in the cages until they were brought to his attention. It would signal that he was worried about the test. He wasn’t sure if he agreed with Garthos about that, but better safe than sorry. Better to appear strong, confident.
“Rayne, adoptive demon, today you face the Trial of Decision.” The male horned demon spoke. He must be the Head Judge.
“In this room are three cages.” The female red demon addressed him. “You will choose to enter one of them, and will not emerge until that challenge has been met to our satisfaction. Which
cage you enter is up to you. Choose well.”
“In the cage to our left,” snarled the werewolf, “is a pair of mortals. If you choose this challenge, you must turn them against each other until one is dead.”
Rayne looked at the cage for the first time. Under a blanket at the far corner of the cage were two people, clutched close together. He could see blonde hair spilling out from under the blanket. They appeared to be asleep, but were almost certainly a couple. Rayne sneered at the sleeping duo. Such an event would not even be a test, but a pleasure. His expression shifted through various states of amusement as he pondered the various ways of screwing with their minds and turning them against each other. Convincing the man to kill the girl would be almost too easy. Managing to get her to kill the man would be more of a challenge. He liked challenges.
“In the cage to our right,” cackled the high witch, “is a hellhound. Your challenge there is to master it. Subdue the beast and make it docile to you. If you succeed in this particular challenge, the beast will be allowed to remain with you.”
Rayne’s eyes lit up for that fraction of a moment before he reined his face under control. To have a pet hellhound would be quite a bonus for passing this test! He looked to his left at the hellhound’s cage. The beast was staring back at him. It was a dog in only a very general sense. Its short fur was a deep, blood red on black skin. The glowing red eyes didn’t blink and the center of them gave him a slight shiver. Its teeth curled out around its lower lip and the sliver smoked as it dripped from one tooth onto the floor. On its forehead were two horns that curved inward like deadly scimitars. It’s onyx colored claws were out, and the tips of them were stained with blood. The barbed tail whipped back and forth behind it. It barked once at him, as though showing off, and a spout of flame spat forth. Truly this was a creature to respect- and to own. With that beast by his side, and the powers he was learning, no one would stand in his way. They needn’t go on with the third cage, he’d made his decision.
The earth elemental brought his attention back. Its voice was like rocks being ground into dust, punctuated by boulders being split by dynamite.
“Your third option is not mastery or deception, but pure battle. In the cage behind you is an angel.” Rayne whirled, the hellhound all but forgotten. It was true. Standing in the center of the last cage was a glowing angel. Her wings, white with a fluorescent hint of silver, were curled around her, hiding her body. Above the wings, he could see straight, dark blond hair flowing from under a silver crested helmet. Her bright, gold eyes glared out at him. He glared back.
One of the demons spoke up. Rayne kept his eyes on the angel. “Which challenge will you accept for your trial, Rayne?”
“The winged doll is mine.” Without waiting for confirmation, he started walking toward the cage. His eyes never left the angel, who returned the confident stare motionlessly. Somewhere on the edge of his consciousness, he could hear the trial instructions from the panel of judges.
“You must defeat the angel in battle. She must either surrender or be unable to do so. You may use whatever abilities are at your command, but no outside help will be permitted.”
“I don’t need help to pluck her feathers,” He snarled under his breath. He flicked the fingers of his right hand and flames licked across his knuckles. He reached the locked gates of the cage and snapped his head around at the guard. “Unlock it,” he snapped. The outer gate had the lock built into it. The inner gate, closer to the angel, was chained shut, with the padlock that secured the chain hanging on the outside of the cage.
The lock of the outer gate had barely clicked free before Rayne kicked the metal door open and stepped inside. The guard closed the door behind him and he heard the lock click shut. His eyes were still on the angel, cowering behind her own wings.
“Say your prayers, corpse.”
The angel slowly took a step back, withdrawing into the cage. Just as slowly, she spread her wings and revealed the rest of her body, as well as the long, glowing sword she wielded expertly in one hand. She was clothed in a silver breast plate and a tapered loincloth of white leather straps that hung nearly to her knees in the middle, but was cut almost to her hips at the sides. It was an armor that afforded maximum freedom of movement with a minimum of protection. It also showed a significant amount of her very well-formed body, but all he saw was enemy. She switched the deadly glowing sword from one hand to the other, her knees flexed; her body poised for action.
Rayne smiled, standing between the inner and outer gates. He pushed back the left hand sleeve of his leather jacket. Three large, black spikes rose from the top of forearm and three matching spikes slid down toward the ground from underneath. The sets of spikes grew and curved, meeting at the apex of their arches. A red membrane grew between the spikes, creating a shield on his left arm. He juggled two fireballs in his right.
The guard turned the key in the padlock and Rayne threw one of the fireballs forward as he kicked the door. The chain rattled through the bars as he rushed forward. The fireball flew through the opening as the gate swung wide, straight for the angel. Rayne was right behind it.
The angel was a seasoned fighter. Long before the fireball reached her, she had taken to the air. It passed harmlessly beneath her and scorched a black mark on the back wall. The cage wasn’t big enough to allow her to fly completely freely, but it did give her enough space to make vertical moves an option.
Rayne had been expecting that. The second fireball went up, and was only a split second behind the first one. The angel dodged to the right and the fireball narrowly missed her wing. Rayne veered to match her and leaped for her legs, intending to ground her. He grabbed one ankle and flared the fingers against her skin. Fire smoked where their flesh touched and the angel howled in rage and pain.
She swung the holy sword in a powerful strike for his arm, but he raised his left arm in defense, and the angelic sword met the demonic shield. He poured on more heat, determined to hobble her. She angled her sword straight down at him and dropped out of the air. They hit the ground hard, with her standing on top of him. Her feet hit his chest and shook his grip loose. He flung his shield into her way just in time to catch the point of the sword driving toward his face. The tip penetrated, which forced him to give up his own howl of pain and anger.
He punched her knee and jerked the shield, with the sword still jammed in to it, to the left. The combination pulled her off balance and she fell to the side. The sword whipped free and clattered across the floor of the cage. Dimly, from far away, he heard cheering. He didn’t care. He rolled to his feet and jumped for the winged angel. She was on her back, wings spread wide. He flung a fireball into the feathers of the wing on the right and landed with one knee on her chest. He grabbed her throat in one hand and found her fingers wrapped around his own throat. She was strong. Stronger than he was.
He tried to force his weight down on her throat, to use the advantage of being on top. She used one wing to knock him sideways and rolled them as a pair, putting herself on top. Now she was the one with the advantage of gravity. He turned on the fire as he tried to tighten his grip on her throat. She shrieked as he burned her skin, but her grip didn’t loosen. He began to struggle for air. The fire between his fingers, without oxygen to support it, began to flicker. He tried to scream at her, but he couldn’t get any sound past her own throttling grip. His vision began to grow dark, and the bars of the cage above them started to glimmer with demon magic. The cage, and the rock walls beyond it, faded from view. There was only the warrior angel at the end of a dark tunnel, his hands around her throat.
Suddenly, Rayne ‘s hand was burning. He jerked it away and opened his eyes, ready to attack the angel with renewed vigor. Instead, he saw the hellhound returning his leg to the ground and walking away from the cage bars. His hand was dripping in burning hot liquid.
“Serves you right.” Standing over him, shaking his head pitifully, was Belgard. “You fought well, but you chose stupid. Never expect to win a fight when you’re fighting yourself.”
Rayne slowly got to his feet. His head felt like a road under heavy construction. “I wasn’t fighting myself. Did you not see that angel chick?”
“You were fighting yourself. You didn’t pick the angel. You picked your own emotions to fight. That’s a losing battle. You should have picked the hellhound. I think he likes you.”
Rayne glanced into the cage and the hellhound growled back at him. Yeah, right. Over Belgard’s shoulder, he could see Nezbit walking out of the Trial Chamber. Rayne didn’t need a demon nanny to tell him he was disappointed.
Rayne glanced at the other cage, the angel’s cage. She was sitting at the back, tending to her injuries. There were black burn marks around her throat. One wing was scorched, maybe useless, but certainly not as effective as it was. One of her legs, exposed from under the wounded wing, was burned badly, too.
“Next time, she dies.”
It was late afternoon, and the tavern held only the usual crowd. There were only three logs in the fire, enough to keep it going, but not the roaring blaze they would keep in the evenings. The curtains were open, letting in the gentle spring breeze. The barmaid, Corinna, was clearing the dishes from the adventurers’ table. They were in each week, rejoicing and nursing wounds from their weekend excursions into the old goblin runs and such. They were a pleasant group, if a bit loud.
The batling, Shadowflight, was the quiet leader of the group. Then there was Desdra, a pixie that occasionally wasn’t. Romba, the loud-mouthed, boastful human had his feet on the table, as usual. Liveria, the lizard-centaur crossbreed, was leaning in through the window.
The door opened to a welcome visitor. The broad-brimmed, high-peaked hat and dark leather cloak of the traveler were barely hung on the pegs at the door before he was sitting at the table by the fire with a mug of ale in his hand.
“News you wouldn’t receive, stories you’ll barely believe! Ten silvers a tale, a song for some ale, I promise I’ll never deceive!” His trademark limerick wasn’t really necessary, as everyone knew his business, and everyone wanted his trade. The normally quiet afternoon hours were suddenly busy and crowded. The entire town was eager for news and entertainment. The old minstrel was only too happy to provide, one mug at a time.
“I ought to charge double for this tasty bit,” he laughed and took another long swig of his ale. The crowd pushed forward, silvers clattering at his feet. He laughed and set his mug on the table beside him. “Last time I was here, I told you about some unrest in Tontves. There was a dark elf mage taking more than his fair share…”
The dark elf called himself Magewind and no creature in their right mind said no to him. Those that did say no, it was usually followed with ‘please, don’t hurt me.’ He took anything he wanted, and he wanted anything worth having. If an archivist in a library discovered an old spellbook, Magewind would be there to check it out, permanently. If an armorer crafted a special weapon or shield, it would quickly find its way into Magewind’s hands. The most beautiful castle in the realm was renamed Windgate and added to his holdings. Enchanted artifacts, unusual potions, gold, jewels, beasts, women, all were his if he desired them. Yes, there were those that tried to stand in his way. But he had his way, and they stand no more.
Finally, a group of men met quietly in the middle of the night, hoping to escape his notice. One of them had the ability of Vision, and he shrouded the room from sight. Another knew the acts of Creation, and he weaved Shadow throughout the chamber, such that not even the men who met could say who had spoken which ideas. Some had special affinity with the creatures of nature, and set a guard around them on land and in air. Some with a knack for Locks and some with a skill for Creating walls together secured even the entrances by which they came. One with an aptitude for Stealth crept around and watched for suspicious signs. Finally, a tall man with a long, frosty white beard waved his arms in the air and around the house wailed an Ice Storm that would slow any who approached, as well as cover any sound that escaped the other enchantments. Working together, they secured their meeting from detection and dubbed themselves the Wizard Defenders.
All the long night, that ice storm raged around the shadowed house while they debated methods by which they might defeat the dark elf mage. Before the dawn woke, the ice storm calmed, the shadow faded, and the house stood empty. Its occupants had left by way of Teleportation, Beacons, Stealth, Speed, Insubstantiality, and Flight.
Over the next week, the Wizard Defenders searched out various reputed heroes. Some found that the reputation was the hero’s strongest ability. Some found little more than broken skeletons where heroes used to be. The brilliant plan that had so secretively been conceived looked as though it would come to naught.
Then, one of the talented men found him: A warrior who wielded an electrified broadsword with a green jewel set in the hilt. The hero, going by the name Shandar, was spirited to the shadow house. The following night, the Wizard Defenders brought Shandar to Windgate.
Illusion was useless against Magewind; he knew the true form of anyone in his sight. A moving ball of shadow would only gather his attention instead of avoid it. Regardless of the objections, Shandar, a man of honor, declared he would not enter the man’s home (stolen though it may have been) in a deceptive manner. Shandar, to the Defenders’ dismay, pounded the gate and demanded audience with the mage.
The golem guards, confused by this unusual request, allowed him through. Magewind, intrigued by the hero’s evident foolishness or bravery, met him openly in his center court to find out which it was. Never one to underestimate his opponent, Magewind had done his research.
“You are Shandar, an adventurer who earns his meals with your excellent broadsword. You are honorable, because your parents were not. You are foolish, because you demand entrance to my home for an audience with me. You are a valiant and worthy adventurer, but you are no match for me. Why do you come here?”
“I came here to stop your evil works, and break the stranglehold you have on this kingdom. You may know my history, and even of some of my weapons, but you do not know everything about me, nor can you see the future that exists without you.”
This angered the mage, and he threw a fireball at the hero. Shandar didn’t even flinch. The fireball engulfed him and burned fiercely before flickering out, leaving Shandar standing unharmed. He had an Amulet of protection. Magewind snarled and a held up one hand. Three balls of ice, each bigger than his fist formed in midair, circling his hand. He figured if Shandar’s world wouldn’t end in fire, it would end in ice. The iceballs flew at Shandar. One struck his shield; one struck his armor; the last hit him in the head. As they struck, however, instead of iceballs, they became snowballs, and Shandar shook off the attack easily. With snowflakes in his hair, he stepped forward and drew his sword.
Magewind realized this hero would not be as easy to dispatch as he had thought. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and seemed to blur, making it hard to tell exactly where he was standing. Magewind made a blurred motion and suddenly a dragon stood behind Shandar.
Shandar spun and attacked the dragon. Dragons, though formidable, hold fewer tricks for such an experienced adventurer. The dragon did not stand against Shandar long. Magewind, however, had not stood idle while they fought. Shandar turned, sword at the ready, and a glass bottle soared from one corner of the room and shattered against his chest. The acrid liquid inside spread out on his armor and began to smoke and sizzle. His armor wouldn’t stand up against the acid too long. He pulled a dirk from his belt and threw it, targeting the section of wall that was less clearly defined than the rest. His aim was true, and he heard Magewind cry out in pain and fury. He charged the sound, blood welling out from midair, sword raised high.
The dirk, though painful, had not actually done that much damage. Magewind brought his palm to his lips and blew a gray dust into the air. The dust swept toward Shandar and caught him in the face. He stumbled, and stopped. His head bowed, shoulders slumped, and, with acid eating away his armor, Shandar lightly began to snore.
Magewind threw back the hood of his Cloak, and boldly walked up to the hero. He snatched the jeweled sword from his slack hand with a haughty laugh, and pulled a dagger from Shandar’s belt. He dipped it into a vial of deadly poison and took fine, slow pleasure in slitting the warrior’s unprotected throat.
As Magewind’s laughter and Shandar’s dying gurgles filled the air, the Wizard Defenders stepped into view. They had snuck in while Magewind was distracted with the hero, and now he was distracted completely, absorbed in the murder of an honorable man.
They raised their arms, readied their Rods, turned their Rings, whispered their incantations, and as one launched their attack on Magewind. Light, darkness, fire, ice, and a myriad of other forces lanced across the room toward Magewind as he let the hero fall to the stone floor. Despite the force of their attack, he did not so easily fall. Some missives rebounded back on their caster, often plastering their bodies to the wall. Other attacks he deflected, or took minor damage from. Even so, it was powerful enough to bring him to his knees, from which he launched a counter attack, just as powerful as the rest. Several minutes of heated attacks and returns followed, ending in a deafening explosion of power that could be heard from far outside the walls of Windgate.
The roof of the castle was merely embers, floating on the winds. The walls were scorched, iced, broken, and crumbling. The stone floors were cracked and discolored. Of the dozen or more member of the Wizard Defenders, three remain.
One is now blind, with his tongue in a permanent knot, making serious spellcasting impossibly dangerous, if possible at all. He stumbled his way back to the village, and reported the garbled tale.
Another is a tree, rooted in the center of the cavity of destruction that is left of the dark elf’s fortress. Through the veins and pulp of this tree runs neither blood nor sap, but a lethal poison. His family and friends attempt to guard the tree from those who would steal his bloodsap to use on weapons, one of the deadliest poisons known.
The last of the Wizard Defenders is little more than legend. Supposedly, a misty, vaporous cloud floats seemingly randomly along the river that flows near the site of the battle. Legend says that if you can find the vapor, it will communicate with you, and can heal grave injuries or grant wishes. Few can say that they have stood within the Magician’s Mist, but many claim to know those who have.
“But what of Magewind?” whispered the little, wide-eyed girl in front of the fire in the tavern. The story was long in telling, and darkness has fallen, yet no one had moved.
“Ah, Magewind. The place where he made his stand, where the body of the hero had fallen, was little more than scorched earth when all was said and done. The hero’s corroded armor remained, but nothing else. The kingdom has celebrated his downfall, but there are those that say he is not dead, but only gone, and will one day return for his vengeance.”
The old storyteller sat back and picked up his mug of ale.
Corinna wrapped her shawl around her. Despite the crowd that night, most of the tips had gone to the news-bringer. Not that he’d helped clear the tables or bring the food, she’d noticed. With all of the extra work from the crowd, she’d hardly heard the story at all. She locked the door and headed for home.
In a clearing near the edge of town, an elf lay unconscious in the grass, a broadsword in his hand. A scream brought life to his eyes. He opened them slowly, looking confused. A second scream brought him quickly to his feet. He moved quickly toward the sound as a cry for help echoed through the woods. Breaking through some shrubbery onto a dark road, he found a barmaid being roughly handled by a couple of goblins. He threw himself on the first, driving the blade of the heavy broadsword into its chest. He jumped up to confront the second goblin, and the act of pulling the sword from the first one parried the second goblin’s strike. They circled, and the goblin leaped forward, weapon swinging. The elf’s shoulder stung as it took a glancing blow, but the broadsword scored true in a return thrust, killing the second goblin.
“Oh, thank you! I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t showed up!” The girl threw herself on him in a fit of gratitude. “My name is Corinna. Who are you?”
“I am-“ he stopped, startled, for no name rose to his lips. He had no idea what his name was, or where he’d come from, or how he’d gotten here. He looked down at the broadsword in his hand. A crackle of energy whispered up the blade and across the green jewel in the hilt. Strange, bright blue letters etched across the stone. “Cache,” he read in a whisper.
“Well, it is very nice to meet you, Cache. Let me show you into town. I’m a barmaid in the tavern there, if you need a room for the night.”
He followed her, and accepted her kindness in silence, for he had not a penny on him. She promised to introduce him to other heroes in the morning, who could help him find work.
This week’s is a short post, but a very happy one: Derek Daniels is BACK!! There is a new Nanite Chaser story posted on the website! This is the first one in months, due to various life obstacles. It’s called Susan’s Book Club, and yes it was one of the ones I was working on during NaNoWriMo.