Ceramic Dm (final judgement posted, New Champion announced!) - Page 38
  1. #371
    Pulled for editting ...
    Last edited by RPGgirl; Friday, 20th August, 2004 at 01:01 AM.

  2. #372

    Round 2 - Rodrigo Istalindir

    “Caveat Emptor” by Rodrigo Istalindir

    The tropical heat had moved beyond oppressive into debilitating. The birds sat motionless in the canopy, their fiery plumage giving the illusion that the treetops were bursting into flame. An indolent slot hung from a branch dozens of feet from the ground, its once-mocked lassitude now mimicked by the other denizens of the jungle. The catcalls of the monkeys had fallen silent, and the leaves were unstirred by breath of wind or beast.

    Into this painted tableaux wandered a solitary figure. The diminutive creature walked upright, unlike its distant relatives that scampered along on all fours when not swinging from the branches. The little girl wandered aimlessly, here and there stopping to add a blossom to the rainbow bouquet she carried.

    Pirmet knew she wasn’t supposed to go into the jungle alone, but the unrelenting heat had driven most of the adults indoors. The children from the small town seemed unaffected by the temperature, and often used the adults’ siesta as an opportunity to explore unhampered by grown-up supervision.

    She stopped and sniffed the air. A strange scent slithered among the permanent and pervasive smell of rotting vegetation. It was a musky smell, and it reminded Pirmet of how the family dog smelled when it was cooped up inside the house during the rainy season. Unafraid, she headed towards where the odor seemed strongest.

    As she moved towards the source of the pungent aroma, Pirmet noticed a low rumbling noise whose volume slowly rose and fell. A few yards away, the foliage shook in time to the sound. The child crept forward and slowly pulled back a leafy branch.

    “Eeek!” she shrieked, startled by the sight of an immense tusked beast slumbering in the underbrush.

    A large blue eye snapped open at the sound of her cry. The beast staggered to its feet and snorted. The gust of wind, redolent of earth and flowers, knocked Pirmet to the ground. The gentle repose of the jungle shattered as the local residents flew, scurried and slithered for safety.

    Pirmet sat motionless, afraid to even blink. The giant boar swung its head left and right, seeking a threat more dangerous than a little girl. Deciding that there was nothing else nearby, the creature leaned forward, its cavernous snout just inches from the child. It inhaled deeply, breathing in the aroma of the bouquet still clutched in Pirmet’s hand.

    Gathering her courage, Pirmet stood and stared at the boar. Trembling, she slowly raised the bunch of flowers. With gentleness surprising for its size, the animal took the blooms in its teeth. Pirmet let go, and the boar’s mouth chewed once and then swallowed the fragrant offering. (Picture #1)

    Suddenly, the boar raised its head, testing the wind. It snorted again, then turned and lumbered off through the jungle, tearing a wide path through the brush. Moments later, Pirmet heard her mother calling her name. With a last glance at the receding beast, she turned and headed towards the approaching townsfolk, making her own small path through the vegetation.

    Kylo Krumboldt was starting to worry. He wasn’t sure which would run out first, his money or his luck, and he wasn’t in any hurry to answer that particular question. If this next town didn’t provide sufficient opportunity for a man of his many talents, he might be forced to take up honest work, or, God forbid, engage in manual labor.

    “Tick-tick” he called out, and shook the reins of the two nags pulling his carriage. The tired beasts of burden ignored him, and continued plodding forward at a pace only a snail would have envied.

    Kylo’s spirits sank as the carriage rounded the bend and the town came into view. He hadn’t hoped for much; this far from civilization he didn’t expect shiny modern buildings or gold-paved streets. Even still, the run-down shacks and muddy streets were a disappointment. It was doubtful that there was enough coin in this backwater burg to revive his flagging fortune.

    With a sigh, Kylo pulled a lever at his side, activating a spring-powered calliope. The tune that sprang forth from the mechanical musician was loud and tinny, but immediately recognizable to any child or adult. Every traveling caravan had its own signature sound, but nearly all had adopted a traditional children’s song. The children soon learned to associate the songs with the excitement that accompanied the wandering merchants, and even when adults their hearts would quicken when they heard the calliope.

    Although he kept his eyes looking straight ahead, Kylo spotted curtains moving aside as townsfolk began peering out from the clapboard houses that lined the main road into town. Word of his arrival would travel faster than he did, and he knew that by the time he reached the town square that a large crowd would be waiting. He could tell without looking that he was also attracting a following, the children prancing behind forming an impromptu parade.

    Minutes later, the carriage came to a stop at the center of the town. Kylo, a smile stretching from ear to ear, leapt atop the roof of the carriage.

    “Greetings and salutations! Hail and well-met! Fair skies and following seas!” Kylo bellowed, the expressions on the faces in the crowd turning from joy to confusion at the last, the traditional nautical greeting well out of place in this inland community.

    “Allow me to present myself. I am your humble servant, Kylo Krumboldt, impresario extraordinaire, merchant of medicines and memories, salesman of spices and stories, courier of collectibles and candies!”

    The children cheered at the mention of candy, and Kylo was grateful he was out of reach of their grasping paws.

    “I bring to you tales to share, goods to trade, and coin to spend” he continued. “No matter what you crave, no matter what affliction ails you, old Kylo’s got the cure.”

    Kylo tugged on a rope, and with a clatter, the sides of the carriage sprung open, nearly braining several of the more aggressive children. The crowd gasped at the dazzling array of goods crammed within, and Kylo began to hope that maybe this town wouldn’t be a washout after all.

    Hours later, as the sun began to set, Kylo finally began closing up his wagon. It hadn’t been the best day he’d ever had, but it had been far better than he’d hoped. He gathered from talking with the townsfolk that it had been some time since any of the traveling merchants had come to this town, and he was more than happy to satisfy any pent-up demand for commercial activity.

    Kylo figured he’d spend another few days here. Although he suspected that he’d already acquired most of the disposable cash possessed by the locals, there were always the stragglers who’d take some time to convince themselves they couldn’t live without some particular trinket, or the ones who thought themselves more crafty than Kylo, who would wait until the last possible moment in the hopes of obtaining a better bargain. Then, too, there were those who had no coin, but would barter precious stones or carvings of rare wood. Often the yokels were unaware of the true value of what they had, and once Kylo had traded a metal pail for a large unfinished diamond.

    “Excuse me, Master Krumboldt. May we have a few minutes of your time?”

    Kylo jumped, startled out his dreams of impending wealth. Without turning, he said, “At your service as always, gentle sirs, but perhaps it could wait a bit. I’ve not eaten all day, and I’m about to expire from hunger.”

    “Come and hear us out. We’ll see to it that your stomach is full when we’re done, and perhaps your purse as well.”

    The mention of a full purse banished all thoughts of food from Kylo’s head. Smiling once more, he turned to face his inquisitors and was intrigued to see several distinguished gentlemen, their bearing and clothing setting them apart from the ill-kempt rabble that he’d been dealing with all day.

    With a nod and a gesture that they should lead the way, Kylo fell in behind the group as they headed across the town square and into a two-story stone building. Kylo assumed that this must be the center of whatever passed for a government in the town, as it was the only structure he had seen not made of wood. He guess was soon borne out.

    “Thank you for granting us a few moments of your time, sir. I am Eldon Haranic, mayor of this town, and I have a business proposition for you.”

    “Music to my ears, good sir. How can this humble merchant be of service?”

    “We are being bedeviled, Master Krumboldt, by a beast. An enormous creature, spawned by who-knows-what, and come from the depths of the jungle to destroy our crops and devour our children. Please, tell me true, does that wondrous wagon of your possess the means of dealing with such a monster?”

    Kylo’s heart soared. The mayor’s unease was plain, and few things boosted the bottom line like desperation.

    “Perhaps, sir, perhaps. But the monsters of the jungle aren’t to be trifled with, and a charm that might send a brumble-beast stampeding in fear would only attact a giant slithersnake. What do you know of this creature?” Krumboldt stalled as the wheels in his head churned to life.

    “It is immense, as I said, as tall as two men at least. It has tusks the size of trees, sharp and pointy, that leave great furrows in the ground. Wherever it goes it leaves a trail of uprooted plants, and in a single night it can devour the produce of an entire farm. “ the mayor said.

    “And worse, it is a man-eater. It nearly devoured a little girl, and would have had her parents not startled it. It has become bolder since, coming closer to town. It is only a matter of time before it exhausts the fruit of our labor and turns its attention to us,” Haranic finished.

    “Hmmm. That sounds suspiciously like a vile-boar, as foul a creature as walks the land. Why, just this year past, I heard of an entire village destroyed by such a beast, and not a single survivor to be found.” Krumboldt said.

    “I may have such things as to discourage the beast, mayhap even kill it, but they are hard-won by me, and not to be parted with lightly.”

    “We are not a rich community,” the mayor began, “but we must be rid of this affliction. Please, I beg you, take mercy upon us.”

    “I can see you are indeed in dire straits, good sir, and I am not unmoved by your predicament. I will offer you my services at cost, as I am fond of this town and its folk. And, too, a trader must have customers to earn his living. I’d not be well-served should this creature prevail.” Krumboldt replied.

    “Thank you, thank you. You have our utmost gratitude. Please, take your refreshment at the inn, and worry not about the cost. Let me know on the morrow what you will require, and how you plan to proceed,” the mayor said. “Please excuse us, as we must start collecting your fee.”

    With a bow, the mayor turned and left the building, followed by the other men. Krumboldt stared after them, mentally calculating how much he could extract from the town. With a newfound spring in his step, he headed towards the inn, where he planned on eating and drinking until he passed out. Time enough tomorrow, he figured, to come up with a plan.

    The following morning, the mayor and his entourage found Kylo at his wagon.

    “Good day to you” the merchant called out. “We are most fortunate.”

    “Please, tell me you’ve found something to ward this creature,” Eldon Haranic said.

    “I have just the thing, right here. It is a potent mix of rare herbs and spices, gathered from the far corners of the world. It has powers most puissant against beasts natural and not. Combined in the proper proportions, it will prevent any four-legged being from approaching. Simply scatter a small amount in each of your fields and the monster will be forced to seek out greener pastures.”

    The mayor reached for the sack, but Krumboldt quickly moved it out of his reach.

    “There is the small matter of payment, of course. “ Krumboldt said. “I promised you my services at cost, and I will honor that oath. For this bag of magical powder, I ask the absurdly low sum of 1000 pieces of gold.”

    The mayor cringed. One thousand gold would drain the town, and take nearly every piece of currency in the treasury.

    “A deal was struck and it will be honored,” he sighed. “You will have your gold.”

    An hour later, they mayor and his men returned bearing several large sacks that clinked and clattered as they were dropped at Kylo’s feat.

    “Thank you, kind sirs. And as promised, here is the concoction.” Krumboldt gestured to the sack sitting on the tailgate of his wagon. “Spread a bucket-full around the perimeter of each field.”

    The mayor gestured to a large, muscle-bound man, who stepped forward and shouldered the heavy sack. The group immediately headed towards the edge of town.

    An hour later, and the fields closest to town had been protected by the spicy mixture. The next farm was near the edge of the jungle, and the men apprehensively eyed the undergrowth.

    With a grunt, the man carrying the sack dropped it upon the ground. Two others stepped forward, and began filling small buckets from the half-full sack. A loud crack emanating from the jungle froze them all in their tracks. Although there wasn’t a bit of wind, the tops of the trees shook

    With a roar, the giant beast burst out from the trees. The mayor stood stock-still, too terrified to move. The other men from the town screamed in fear, and ran away in all directions save towards the giant boar.

    The animal lumbered towards the mayor, snout snuffling. The enticing aroma of the spices caught its attention, and it pawed at the sack, spilling the expensive mixture on the ground. The creature buried its nose in the pungent powder, and it inhaled deeply.

    For a moment it stood motionless, eyes bulging. Then, with a tremendous bellow, it reared back, shaking its head. It inhaled deeply, and then let forth with an earth-shaking sneeze, covering the hapless mayor in slimy mucous. The sudden dousing shook the mayor from his paralysis, and he sprinted towards town.

    Behind him, the boar pranced about, shaking its head trying to relieve the burning sensation that tormented it. Mad with pain, and nearly blinded with tears running from its eyes, it charged along the same path taken by the terrified mayor. Heedless of the destruction it caused, the massive beast tore a swath of destruction, rampaging through the center of town. Buildings splintered into toothpicks, carts were overturned, and the townsfolk scattered for safety.

    When the sound of the rampaging animal finally receded into the distance, the frightened populace timidly crept back into the open. There was no sign of the boar, but the path it had taken couldn’t have been more obvious. A bloodstained smear near the edge of town was the only sign of the Eldon Haranic. (Picture #2)

    The next morning, as the townsfolk began picking up the pieces, the town council (less one) approached Krumboldt’s wagon.

    “Wake up, merchant,” Jero Constaro, the mayor-elect, shouted, pounding on the wooden door with a large stick.

    Kylo cautiously poked his head out of a trapdoor built into the top of the wagon.

    “Gentle sirs, how may I be of service this morning?” he enquired.

    “Get down here, Krumboldt. Your so-called solution caused the beast to destroy half the town.”

    “I assure you it was no fault of the mixture. If mixed with the wine and applied properly, it is guaranteed effective,” the salesman stated.

    “What do you mean, ‘mixed with wine’? You said no such thing. You told us to spread the spices around the field.”

    “But, it must be mixed with wine to properly blend the mix. I’m sure I mentioned that….” Krumboldt stammered.

    The trio of remaining council members glared at him.

    “My most profound apologies. I am so very, very sorry. My mind is so full of legends and lore that sometimes the little details elude my recall.”

    “Then you will make us another batch of the powder, and this time we will mix it with wine before spreading it on the fields. Or are there any other ‘little details’ that have suddenly recalled?” Constaro enquired.

    “Of course, of course, I would be more than happy to make another batch. But I’m afraid I’ve no more. I used all I had in making the first sack-full.”

    “Then return our money.”

    “If you wish, I will do so. But I burned a candle deep into the night, seeking a more potent ward against this creature. Truth be told, it is much larger than any other I’ve heard of, and the powders may not have worked in any case. And I believe I have succeeded. I will of course count the thousand gold you have already given me against the cost of this powerful magic.”

    The council retreated a few yards to discuss this new turn of events. Their exchange was heated, but Kylo couldn’t make out what they were saying. Minutes later, Constaro returned alone.

    “Agreed. You may keep the money, but we will pay you nothing more until after you have rid us of this beast.”

    Kylo sensed it would be pointless to press the issue. The destruction wrought by the beast, plus the death of the mayor, had nearly turned the town against him. Only the mystique that typically surrounded the traveling salesmen had kept him safe.

    “Agreed, that is most fair. But I will need your assistance. Have you heard of a golem?”

    Kylo sat atop his wagon, watching as the townsfolk assembled a huge humanoid figure of wood and vines. Constaro sat on the roof as well, and had not left Krumboldt’s side all day. (Picture #5)

    “Tell me again of this ‘golem’ you are having us construct,” he said.

    “It is a magic from the deserts far to the east. Legends say the folk of the region used to construct mighty war machines in the form of a man. These golems were made of stone, and were impervious to sword or fire. The only way they could be defeated was to topple them and then break them apart with hammer and chisel.”

    “With stone scarce around here, we’ll have to make do with wood. But this is no fire-breathing beast, so that should be sufficient. Did you acquire the materials I require?”

    Constaro removed a pouch from his belt, and offered it to Krumboldt. Inside were two rough emeralds the size of a fist.

    “Excellent. These will do perfectly. They will serve as the eyes of the golem, so that it may hunt the boar on its own. Without them, someone would have to ride astride the golem and direct it.” Krumboldt said.

    “Let us go and place the gems in the eye-sockets,” Krumboldt said, opening the trap door and motioning Constaro inside. “After you.”

    Constaro dropped down and exited the wagon. A few moments later, Krumboldt followed. The two men made their way to where the golem was being assembled. Kylo borrowed a ladder from one of the workers, and placed it against the front of the wood golem. He climbed to the top, and inserted the two chunks of greenish glass he’d pocketed when Constaro’s back was turned. He also secreted a pouch of the spice mixture in the golem’s head.

    “What a bunch of rubes,” he whispered under his breath. The two emeralds were almost priceless, and combined with the thousand gold, would allow him to retire in style.

    Kylo climbed down the ladder and returned to where Constaro watched.

    “That should do it. We’ll perform the ceremony tonight. We don’t have the rare metals necessary to power the golem at full strength, so we’ll set it to guard mode. It will awaken as soon as the beast approaches and kill it.”

    “Gather as many fruits and vegetables as you can, and scatter then around the golem. It will attract the creature. The sooner it is defeated, the better.”

    At sunset, Kylo performed an impromptu golem-activation ceremony, spouting gibberish in a half-dozen tounges and dancing around the base of the fake man. The townsfolk retreated to their homes, and Kylo was heading towards his wagon when a steel grip seized his arm.

    “We will watch from the bushes, merchant.” Constaro said.

    The pair waited. Constaro seemed unaffected by the bugs and lingering heat, but Kylo was miserable. He hoped the creature would come tonight. The thought of repeating this surveillance every night was unbearable.

    As if the gods had answered his prayers, the sound of heavy footsteps echoed through the night. The two men huddled in silence.

    Out of the darkness the boar appeared, snout twitching as it sought the source of the enticing food. It approached the golem, and then roared as it smelled the same noxious mixture that had tormented it the day before. It reared back, tusks swinging back and forth.

    “Why is the golem not waking?” Constaro hissed.

    “Patience. Patience. The creature knows it for an enemy. When it gets close, the golem will strike.”

    Infuriated that the golem did not flee, the boar charged, running its tusks straight through the construct. The giant spear that had been bound to the golem’s hand fell forward when the wicker man was struck, and it pierced the beast’s side.

    Bellowing in pain, the boar went berserk, tossing its massive tusks and trampling the ground. In minutes, all that remained of the wooden golem was tangled vines and splinters. Thinking its foe defeated, the creature quickly devoured the bait that had lured it from the jungle. Hunger temporarily satiated, the boar stopped and again sniffed the air.

    With a rumbling growl, it began pacing towards the center of town, where Kylo’s wagon, and the remainder of the spice mix, waited.

    Sensing the threat to his every worldly possession, Krumboldt broke from cover and ran as fast as he could. He reached the wagon ahead of the boar, and began frantically trying to harness the horses. The nags caught the scent of the approaching monster and panicked. They broke free from Kylo’s grasp and bolted away.

    Krumboldt began chasing the errant horses, but quickly realized that they would run until they were exhausted. If he was lucky, they’d come wandering back in the morning. He turned around, and froze as he saw the giant boar, yards away from his wagon, pawing the ground as if it were a bull facing a toreador.

    For a moment, the boar seemed to stare directly into Kylo’s eyes, and he could tell a split-second before the boar charged there was no way to save his precious cargo. Kylo turned and ran. The boar lowered its head and shoved its tusks beneath the wagon. With one toss of its mighty head, it flung the carriage into the air. It seemed to hover briefly in the air, and then plummeted to earth, almost crushing Kylo under it’s mass. Moments later, the wagon burst into flame, incinerating Krumboldt’s vast accumulation of overpriced goods and fake rarities. (Picture #4)

    Kylo stopped, and stared in horror as the fire consumed everything. At least I still have the emeralds, he thought, absently patting the pouch concealed in his coat. He sat down nearby, and hoped that when the fire subsided there would be something worth salvaging from the wreckage. Of the boar there was no sign.

    Constaro watched with grim amusement as the boar sent Krumboldt’s wagon airborne. He left his hiding place and approached the remnants of the golem. A strong spicy scent hovered in the air, and Constaro instantly recognized it as the same concoction he’d spent the previous day spreading around the farms.

    Constaro rooted through the vines and shattered logs that littered the area until he found the emeralds that were supposed to have provided the golem with sight. Up close, he could tell that the green orbs were nothing more than chunks of cheap glass. He pocketed them and went in search of the rest of the council.

    Kylo groaned. He squinted, the morning light burning his eyes. He remembered little after the destruction of his wagon the night before. Judging by the headache that pounded in his temple and the tinkling glass that accompanied his every move, he’d gotten thoroughly drunk.

    He groaned again, and sat up. He rubbed his eyes to clear his blurry vision, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Arrayed around him were a number of angry townsfolk sporting an impressive variety of pointy objects. (Picture #3)

    “The emeralds if you please, Mister Krumboldt.” Constaro said.

    Kylo calculated the odds of successfully bluffing his way out of this situation, and realized that this was one of those times when keeping his mouth shut was the best of all possible actions. He shrugged, then reached slowly inside his tunic and removed the gem pouch that Constaro had given him the day before. He tossed it at the man’s feet, and waited to see if restitution was sufficient, or if they would only be satisfied with blood.

    Constaro reached down and picked up the pouch. He opened it and glanced inside. Satisfied that the pouch contained two large emeralds and not more worthless glass, he closed it and gestured for Kylo to stand.

    “Get up, get out, and never, ever come back. If we even hear that you are headed in our direction, we’ll tie you waist-deep in the water and cut you. Just a little bit, just enough for the piranha to notice.”

    Kylo blanched. “Of course, of course. A thousand pardons, gentle sirs. You are most merciful.”

    The merchant continued his constant stream of groveling apologies as he backed away. When he was sure that the townsfolk wouldn’t stab him in the back, he turned and ran on a straight path out of town.

    The people of the town began repairing the damage done by both of their unwelcome visitors. Pirmet’s parents took their little girl out to their field, the same one where the mayor had gotten trampled. They admonished the girl to stay nearby, and began restoring some semblance of order to the ruined furrows where their crops had been planted.

    Pirmet began gathering flowers near the edge of the jungle, quickly forgetting her parents’ warnings. She’d collected a large bunch when she smelled a familiar scent. Giggling happily, she ran towards the large form hulking in the woods.

    Pirmet’s mother looked up, and froze as she saw her tiny daughter standing in the shadow of the massive beast. Her gasp alerted her husband, and the two of them watched helplessly as the boar opened its cavernous mouth and reached towards the helpless girl. Their terror turned to astonishment as the creature gently engulfed the bundle of flowers offered by Pirmet.

    The two adults cautiously approached their daughter. Having eaten all the flowers the girl had to offer, the giant boar lowered its head and closed its eyes as the child scratched under its bristly chin. Smiling at each other, the family petted their new friend for several minutes. Reluctantly, the parents returned to work, and Pirmet curled up next to the gentle creature.

    The next day, Pirmet’s father plowed a new field near the treeline. This field would not produce food for the family, or herbs and spices to trade. This field would grow flowers.

    Miles away, on the outskirts of another farming community, Kylo stopped and considered his options. Most men would have been ruined by the events of the past few days, he figured, but not a man of his intelligence and sophistication. He would soon be back in the game, and the two small chunks of emerald he’d had the foresight to chisel from the massive stones would pave the way.

  3. #373
    Round 2: Greywolf-ELM vs. orchid blossom

    Birth Pangs

    By: orchid blossom

    Carowyn held the delicate fish in her hand. "It's not even struggling to breathe," she marveled.

    "That's not all, watch this," Erica said as she flipped off the lights. The already golden fish began to glow from deep within with a warm, orange light.

    "It's beautiful. This doesn't seem so bad. Not like what happened to Sheeva." Carowyn sniffled. The villagers had been too afraid to let the sweet brown bear stay after she mutated.

    The old herbalist clicked her tongue. "I thought I chose my apprentices better. You're not thinking. A fish that glows like that is going to have a hard time avoiding predators. And what's the good of being able to breathe out of water if you can't move? This mutation is fairly benign, but others aren't. It has to be stopped. Yet the humans still want to wait. Fools, the lot of them."

    Carowyn carefully lowered her hand and slipped the goldfish back into its bowl. "Can you really blame them? The farther apart our worlds grow, the more magic they lose."

    "I understand it, but it doesn't make it any less stupid. For whatever reason the parts of this world that are touched with magic can no longer coexist with those that aren't. They're pushing against each other. It's amazing the world isn't just ripping itself apart. The magic in us is creating us a new world, but the birth pangs are doing terrible damage. We must sever ourselves or both worlds will be changed beyond recognition," Erica said, snapping the light back on.

    Carowyn picked up her mortar and pestle and put them neatly away. "You think we shouldn't wait for the humans?" she finally asked.

    "We can't," Erica sighed, her old bones slumping as she settled herself in a chair. "They are tenacious. They'll hold on as long as they can, and longer than they should. Bring me some tea, child."

    Carowyn fetched the whistling teapot and dropped in a tea ball. "You have an idea?" she asked once it was finished steeping and they were both at their ease in Erica's soft chairs.

    "Not an especially good one. Our mages are ready to work the spell that will close the last ways between the worlds. But there are still humans here guarding them. The spell will be long, and unfortunately flashy. We need them distracted, or better yet out of the way. There's only the one way nearby, so it shouldn't be too difficult. I've recruited Jacob to help us."

    Carowyn laughed. "Jacob, the human mage? Never mind his mutation, but staying here is driving him insane. Can we trust him?"

    "He has first hand knowledge of what's happening; more so than most humans. He understands why it has to be, and when it has to be. He can get the guards out of the way without hurting them, but I want you to go with him."

    "Is that really necessary? I mean, if we can trust him, why send me?"

    Erica flicked her fingernail against the rim of her teacup. "I trust his intentions. But he's on the edge of madness. He may not be able to deal with the unexpected. Someone should be with him, and I trust you. Once the spell is complete his mutation should disappear, and the mages think they'll be able to keep one human sane." The older woman reached over and patted the apprentice's shoulder. "Maybe Sheeva will even come back."

    * * *

    The watches had gotten increasingly dull. Steven paced back and forth in front of the broken down bit of wall to the side of the waypoint. He'd rather have had guard duty on the human side. These gnomes were far too quiet. At least on his world there was the occasional mage willing to risk mutation and madness to keep his magic. Here they were just waiting to close the gates.

    The gnomes were so eager to be rid of the human world. Of course, they weren't losing anything. Everything in the original world was duplicated in this new one, but in his world everything touched with magic would disappear. He spat on the ground. Everyone said the drift was a mystery. No reason for it. But these small ones had magic. They could have started it. And there were rumors they wanted to finish it.

    Steven knelt down next to one of the many garden gnomes the soldiers had placed around the camp, painted like a soldier. As if a gnome would pick up a weapon and fight. He ran his hand along the weapon in the gnome's hand, searching for the switch. There. He flipped it on and attuned his ears to the crackling reception. Those gnomes wouldn't get the jump on them. Humans just needed long enough to figure out how the they were doing it, and then it could be stopped.

    The receiver crackled louder. The tired voice of an elder came over the airwaves. There were a couple of minutes of silence after the old biddy asked for tea. Steven was about to turn it back off when he heard a young voice say, "You have an idea?" What followed hardly surprised him. They would turn the tables on the gnomes, yes they would.

    * * *

    "So little girl, what are you wanting from me?" Jacob asked merrily.

    Carowyn watched as the human wizard sipped at the glass that held his own eye. "Would you mind putting that in while we talk?" she asked. As the worlds had drifted farther apart the human wizard's eyes had mutated until they were bloodshot and far too large for his eyelids to close over them. Even stranger, he could pop them out, which he did frequently. He said keeping them in his drink kept them from getting dry.

    Jacob fished his eye out of the liquid and popped it into his mouth for a moment as if it were an ice cube. "Shame to waste good liquor," he grinned as he popped it back in.


    "I suppose you're here for the old lady?"

    Carowyn shifted her weight uncomfortably on the bench. "Yes. Are you ready?"

    "Course I am. Them soldiers are smug little bastards, I enjoy the thought of sticking it to 'em."

    She grinned. Those human soldiers had been getting rather arrogant lately. The gnome statues were just one example; they knew how offensive her people found them. "I like humans generally, but it does seem they're all going a little mad, doesn't it?"

    Jacob nodded. "That they are, missy. Now, we should get moving. We got about an hour, yes? I'll take you out to see my car. You'll love the modifications. I'll have those soldiers sleeping before they can say 'I love my gun.'"

    They stepped outside and Carowyn listened to the sounds of the gnomish village. It was quieter than it used to be. Many technologies, like cars, had never been of much use to the gnomes, so when the humans left much of the noise went with them.

    A scream ripped through the quiet.

    'What the hell was that?" Carowyn asked sharply, her head swiveling to find the source. Jacob's eyes bulged for a moment as her muttered under his breath and made a flicking gesture with his fingers. If possible, his eyes got even wider. "They're bringing soldiers in through the ways. The must have figured it out. Get in the car!"

    Carowyn ducked under the end of the strange wings he'd attached to the front doors and clambered into the too large vehicle. Jacob slammed his foot down on the gas. They peeled off toward the waypoint, the black spheres he'd attached to the wings bouncing and swaying madly with each bump.

    "Climb into the backseat," Jacob grunted. "There's more of those spheres back there. When you see the soldiers, start throwing them out, fast as you can."

    "What do they do?" she shouted over the noise of the engine.

    "They'll break when they hit the ground. There's a gas in there that'll knock 'em out. And even if the gas doesn't hit 'em, the shards'll make moving around hard. Hand me one of those masks, and put one on yourself. It's likely to get bad out there."

    Carowyn barely had time to get the mask on before the waypoint came into view. She crouched down in the backseat and held on hard. The car filled with wind as Jacob rolled down the windows. "Now girl!" he shouted as he headed straight for the waypoint.

    She stared for a minute when her head got high enough to see out the window. There were humans everywhere, swarming out of the waypoint. . "Throw 'em girl!" Jacob screamed again. She shook her head and started grabbing the black spheres and throwing them out to shatter against the ground. A green mist rose out of each one, causing the soldiers to choke and sputter.

    "Down!" Jacob commanded as the soldiers raised their weapons to fire. A hail of bullets shattered the windshield and the gas spheres. Jacob kept plowing forward through them until he got to the waypoints entrance. The broken spheres were still oozing gas, and they both began throwing more out the windows. In a few moments the pile of passed out soldiers was so large that it blocked the way gate.

    Jacob jumped out of the car and threw a few more of his gas bombs over the pile of men. "In case there are any behind there," he explained. "You go find a radio. Call Erica and tell her to start her spell. These guys should be out for a couple hours, but I can't be sure. Best to get started quick. I’ll make sure there’s no more."

    Carowyn nodded and scanned the camp surrounding the waypoint. Those damn garden gnomes were all over. The path of destruction made by their crazed ride through the camp had left ceramic gnome shrapnel everywhere. She laughed at that. Garden gnomes were one thing about humans that she would not miss.

    The waypoint had been set up at a ruined farmstead. Only one building was still intact. Most likely the radio would be in there. Carowyn set off over the sleeping bodies of the humans. It was a shame they would be trapped here. The intent had been to send the few soldiers back through the ways to their home before severing the worlds. That couldn't happen now. She reached the front door of the old farmhouse and turned the knob.

    There was a click behind her.

    "Just what do you think you're doing, Gnome?" a muted, scratching voice said behind her. She lifted her hands, palms open, and turned around. This man had managed to react and put on a gas mask during Jacob's mad rush through the camp. His weapon was trained square on her.

    “I wanted to call for help,” she said carefully. “He finally snapped. An insane mage is a dangerous thing.”

    The man narrowed his eyes. “You lie. I recognize your voice. You were with him. You want to take it from us.” He snapped the rifle to his shoulder. “I don’t think I really want you making a call.”

    Carowyn kept very still. There was a movement just out of her vision. Another soldier? She took a slow, careful step forward. “Listen, I don’t know…”

    The sound of the discharge echoed through camp. There was fire in her shoulder and she fell back, clutching her arm. She saw the movement again in her peripheral vision. The soldier was advancing, weapon still held at the ready. Carowyn’s head was spinning. “Enough talking,” the soldier said. “I think I’ll do this world a favor. One less gnome.”

    This time Carowyn felt a rumbling through the ground just before she saw it. An enormous brown bear leapt from behind the building onto the soldier, tearing at him with claws. Carowyn shook her head. Enormous fangs protruded from its mouth, dripping venom as it ripped the man apart. Her stomach churned. Sheeva dragged the man into the brush behind the camp and pushed his remains into her large web. Quicker than Carowyn would have thought possible, Sheeva spun silky threads and wrapped the remains into a cocoon.

    . “Thank you, Sheeva,” Carowyn said weakly as the bear creature lumbered back toward the farmhouse. It stood looking at Carowyn for a moment before it moved back to its web. A few moments later she heard shouting.

    “Girl, where are you?”

    The air must have cleared of the gas. Jacob’s voice was ringing clear. She pulled the gas mask off over her head. “Over by the farmhouse,” she shouted back. Her lungs spasmed and she coughed.

    Jacob came around the corner. “Lord, girl, what happened to you?”

    “Soldier had managed to get his mask on. Didn’t want me to go in there. You find a radio?”

    “Yeah, I did. We should be seeing a show any minute.”

    Carowyn nodded. “Good. Now, go in my bag and get some herbs and bandages. I’ll tell you how to dress this wound.”

    Jacob was surprisingly quick and gentle as he applied the paste she instructed him to make and wrapped her shoulder up. Just as he finished, a swirling column of grays and blues crept into the sky from the village. It swirled like a tornado reaching up toward the clouds. One by one tendrils formed and snaked their way across the sky. They watched as one headed toward them. It reached the waypoint and split into even more tendrils. They began a complex weave into and out of the gate. Carowyn had through the spell would cut them off, but instead it was like tying off an umbilical cord. The tendrils were squeezing the way closed so the worlds would separate on their own.

    Carowyn looked over toward Sheeva. The animal was shaking, as if something were trying to crawl out of her skin. Leg after leg a spider climbed out, shrinking with each step it took until it was no longer visible and only the bear remained. She turned to see Jacob’s eyes shrinking. His relief was almost palpable as for the first time in weeks he closed his eyes.

    “Never realized what a blessing that was,” he muttered.

    “We’re alone,” Carowyn said softly.

    Jacob grunted, his eyes still closed. “Except for about twenty-five humans that’ll be stark raving loonies in a few days, yup, we are.”

    “Maybe the mages can help them.”

    He finally opened his eyes and looked at her. “Me first. I’ll give them a few more shots of the gas. It’ll keep them out long enough to get them disarmed and moved.”

    Carowyn smiled. “Sheeva, come here,” she called. The large brown bear came over and nuzzled at her hand. “She’ll carry me. Let’s go home.”

    * post roll count doesn't match database

  4. #374
    What a flurry, it is snowing short fiction!

  5. #375
    Any chance a flurry of judging is in the works?

  6. #376
    Quote Originally Posted by carpedavid
    Any chance a flurry of judging is in the works?
    My email and I are waitng with baited breath.

    This was the HARD round, and harder to judge as well. The writing quality may have dipped as I got irrationally hard to deal with on the pics.

    I assume the next 2 rounds will see some better writing as I get a little fairer with the pics.

  7. #377
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Well, I am sure half of us will feel better about that.

  8. #378
    Quote Originally Posted by alsih2o
    The writing quality may have dipped as I got irrationally hard to deal with on the pics.

    Really? Orchid Blossom wanted to pull hair out. I would have, but don't have enough to grab ahold of to pull. From these last images, I almost hope that I lose this round, so as not to have to face torture like that again. The competitor in me quashed that feeling quickly however.


  9. #379
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    Greywolf-ELM, take down my email address and email me sometime. I am thinking it would be cool to try to meet you and MerakSpielman (and Emerald) at some point. I'm wondering if we could coordinate a small EN World Game day. BardStephenFox = davidmoore@zianet.com

    /end Hijack

  10. #380
    Quote Originally Posted by BardStephenFox

    Greywolf-ELM, take down my email address and email me sometime.
    /end Hijack
    Got it. I'll send you a message here shortly, so you'll have mine as well.

    There has definately been some fast thinking to get these stories out with what was available. This is more fun than I expected, other than the mild stress of trying to come up with something that won't be totally panned.


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