Barsoom Tales I - COMPLETE

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Easy Check-Out

It occured to Nevid, as he sprinted towards the screaming, that the only times he ever evinced anything like courage were when it was completely suicidal to do so.

Before he could speculate on the implications of that, he skidded around the corner of a large building and cried out in shock and horror.

The huge white creature had torn the wall off what seemed to be some sort of barracks and was gathering up people in its claws. As he watched it stuffed two or three struggling bodies into its mouth and bit down. The screaming got suddenly louder, which confused him until he realised that he had begun screaming as well.

Recovering his wits fractionally, Nevid ran forward, waving his arms at the thing.

Hoping he could distract it from its meal. Hoping the water in the flask on his belt would have the same effect it had had underground. Hoping he wouldn't slip in the mud and fall flat on his face. He didn't want to die wet and covered in mud.

Or at all, now that he thought about it.

Such distractions kept him occupied as he pressed on, young men and women dressed in their nightclothes streaming past him on either side. He looked up and realised he was well within range of the huge monster's claws. So he stopped.

*****

Vlad stood up as voices grew louder outside. He and Trazik, who hadn't said a word to each other since's Vlad's angry outburst, exchanged a look and went to the door.

Just in time to get knocked backwards as three apprentices charged in, shrieking about some huge monster. Ilonka and Aubrey jumped up and tried to calm the boys down but more and more came pouring in and soon the coffee shop was awash in pandemonium as stories about a huge white monster filled the air.

Everyone turned as Nevid dragged himself up the steps and into the shop. He looked across the crowded room at Aubrey.

"It's gone."

Total silence.

"What?"

*****

Arrafin shook herself and tried to recall the Calegrian she'd been frantically studying.

She babbled complete gibberish at the little girl. The round red face pursed in a frown. Everyone stood very very still.

The little girl babbled back. Elena grunted and tightened her grip on her longsword.

Arrafin thought furiously.

"Do you have power?" was the little girl's question. She thought. She hoped. Okay. She strung together what few words she knew and hoped the grammar didn't change the sense too much.

"I might have power. Why do you want to know?"

The little girl considered. She took a step towards Arrafin. The Naridic girl stood firm, but all the others drew back. Boyce noticed a couple of gold coins on a sidetable and shovelled them into his purse as he retreated.

"Weak one. Give me power. I don't eat you."

Philip spoke up.

"Arrafin? What is she saying?"

"Hang on a sec."

Arrafin took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and thought of her father, the lecture halls and the dry winds of summer in Al-Tizim. Her big dark eyes snapped open and she drew herself up, took and step forward and pointed down at the little girl. She ho
ped her Calegrian was up to the task.

"My power is greater than yours, spawn of Ky'in! Back now, before I decide to show it to you."

She held the little girl's gaze, trying not to shake.

Everyone's eyes widened as the Kishak girl scowled and she and Arrafin stared at each other. It took a second before Philip realised Arrafin was hissing at him over her shoulder.

"That water stuff! Toss me your waterskin!"

Arrafin, of course, didn't carry water. She could barely manage all her notes and reference books. Philip searched hurriedly through his possessions and tossed the full waterskin forward.

The little girl hissed and drew back. She snarled at Arrafin.

"Soon you will show me your power. Soon."

She ran from the room.

Boyce spoke for everyone.

"Okay, that was the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Arrafin?"

Arrafin turned, her eyes wider than they'd ever been. She swallowed.

"Yeah, that was pretty weird. Let's get out of here."

*****

"You know, after all we've been through, I don't think asking for a little sunshine is too much."

Aubrey tromped through the mud and the unflagging downpour, passing dozens of terrified residents of the town. The story of the monster's attack on the apprentices' dormitory had spread, and nobody needed much convincing to follow the suggestion that getting out now, while this Dark Water stuff worked, was a good idea. A refugee train of three hundred people filed away from the squat tiled roofs of Chimney.

The road ran down from the townsite and turned sharply to the left, running along the side of a deep canyon that cut further up into the mountains. On the left the cliff climbed sharply up overhead, while on the right rain plunged into a grey abyss. Aubrey made his way past exhausted parents and their children, dragging their belongings behind them on hand carts or just a couple of lashed poles. Yshakans, Gap and Saijadani alike trudged together through the rain.

At the front of the column Aubrey found Philip, Elena, Nevid and several of the miners contemplating five small barrels under a tarpaulin. He raised an eyebrow.

"Powder."

Philip's explanation took a few seconds to register. Aubrey smiled, a smile of actual pleasure, the first such smile he'd had since coming to Chimney. He turned to watch the refugees filing past. The path here was narrow, only a ledge on the cliff face. There was nothing but sheer rock above and below.

"Seal them in?"

Philip nodded. Elena scowled.

"We don't know if it'll actually stop them, but it couldn't hurt."

*****

"Can you ask your grandfather a question?"

Arrafin yelped as her foot twisted over a rock hidden beneath the mud, but kept her eyes up on Mallinalli. The handsome Yshakan nodded. With a quick grab at her shoulder bag before it slipped off, Arrafin carried on.

"How do we... kill chipactli? I mean, are there any special tricks in your stories? Silver, or anything? Like the Dark Water, only to kill them with?"

Mallinalli shook his head. His Imperial Kishak was broken but clear.

"We cannot kill the chipactli. Only the Queen can do that."

"The Queen?"

"The Queen of Serpents."

"Who's she?"

"The Goddess. The creator of all Barsoom."

"Hm."
 
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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Sometimes, you ask AND you receive.

Game note: Arrafin's player rolled a natural 20 on her Bluff check. The DM (me) rolled a natural 1 on Mara's Sense Motive.

Next episode: How a perfect Bluff can sometimes get you into worse trouble than a failed Bluff.
 

Altin

First Post
Dude, that was cool, and by cool I mean totally sweet ...

In all seriousness, nice to see Arrafin getting a chance to shine. And the thing with Nevid and Big White And Hungry was just precious.

Also,

"We cannot kill the chipactli. Only the Queen can do that."

"The Queen?"

"The Queen of Serpents."

"Who's she?"

"The Goddess. The creator of all Barsoom."

"Hm."

You are a bad, bad man ...

Yours,
Altin
 


xrpsuzi

First Post
I think the best line (as far as the most human) is

"You know, after all we've been through, I don't think asking for a little sunshine is too much."

you're an adventurer, and you're not dead, but you can always have reasons to complain. :)

suzi
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
suzi yee said:
you're an adventurer, and you're not dead, but you can always have reasons to complain. :)
I would never accuse my PCs of not having reason to complain. It's kind of my mission in life, actually, giving them reason to complain.

Good reasons, too.

Edit: too much punctuation
 
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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
You'll Never Want To Leave

The explosion was anti-climactic.

Aubrey, Elena and Nevid watched as a small cloud of debris flew into the air, barely visible through the constant downpour. A flat cracking sound cut through the rain a second later.

"Well, I guess that does it."

None of them spoke. The idea that a gap in the roadway would seriously impede the two creatures hopefully still lurking up in the now-desolated town of Chimney was a faint hope at best. But given the ten-day walk to the nearest habitation, the ragged condition of the refugees and the dubious protection offered by a bunch of water bottles filled deep underground, faint hope was better than none at all.

Eventually Philip and couple of Chimney mining engineers emerged through the wet brush. The burly Saijadani shrugged.

"If that'll stop them, I guess it'll stop them."

Elena rolled her eyes.

"You used to be a merchant? How did you sell things? 'If you need it, I guess you need it.'"

Philip grumbled an angry retort, and, squabbling like usual, the four Saijadani made their way downhill to where the rest of the refugee train continued on its way.

*****

Reading while walking was a skill Arrafin had mastered as a child, when she figured out that if she read on the way to Karidish lessons, she could get through two more books each week. That, however, was on the dry, straight and level streets of Al-Tizim. On the wet, slippery, uneven and covered with boulders forest floor of northern Lasseux, she wasn't quite as practiced.

Yet another exposed root and she stumbled, nearly falling flat on her face but a strong hand nearby steadied her. She tucked the book ("Grammatic Inconsistencies on Tilescripts, 405 - 791, (Property of the Emir's Library -- NOT TO BE REMOVED)") under her raincloak and peered up around the rim of her hood. Boyce smiled down at her.

"Careful, kiddo. Wouldn't want to drop your book, now would you?"

Arrafin grinned, a little hysterical with exhaustion and fear.

"You know, if I could just spend some more time talking with her, I bet I could put together a complete grammar of Calegrian. Imagine! Think what this could mean for archaeology -- all those friezes at the University could be translated!"

Visions of academic glory sent Arrafin's eyes into a far-off stare. Another tree root brought her back to her situation.

"Right."

Boyce was unimpressed, but too charming not to provide some encouragement.

"That'd be great."

*****

Ilonka, Vlad, Trazik and Karel tromped along behind the vanguard of Yshakans, blazing a path for the rest of the townspeople to follow. Behind them, the sheer wall of the Northern Mountains rose in an indistinct grey blur, fading into the dark clouds overhead. The muddy ground shifted under their feet with each step, and by noon Ilonka was sure she was dying.

"You're not dying. You've just never had to walk further than the nearest bar stool, that's all."

"Very funny. I could be dying."

"You're not dying."

"But I could be. Wouldn't you feel awful if I just dropped dead?"

"Depends. Could I have your share of the loot?"

"Loot? There's loot? Who said anything about loot?"

Trazik smiled.

"There's gotta be loot. Big adventure like this, there's always loot. Honestly. Have you never read a book in your life?"

Ilonka reached out to smack her chuckling friend, but didn't have the energy to reach him.

"Nice. First my physical condition, now my intellectual accomplishments? What's next?"

Vlad came up the hill behind her, leering.

"Don't ask."

The crack of the explosion reached them just then, and as a group they stopped and turned, peering back up the canyon they'd just emerged from. Nothing could be seen.

"Big adventure."

"I'm dying."

"You're not dying."

"I'm going to smack you."

"I thought you were dying."

"I am. I just want to die with a smile on my face. Come here."

*****

"Doesn't it EVER stop raining here?"

Aubrey shook his head, sending droplets out horizontally off the brim of his hat. Unhappily he watched Philip and Elena swear at each other as they tried to get a fire going. Nevid was nowhere to be seen and Arrafin sat hunkered under a cloak that fit her like tarpaulin, squinting in the darkness as she kept reading.

Boyce got into the fire-making act, and the level of profanity rose sharply. Aubrey stood up and walked off.

What passed for forest here in the foothills of the Northern Mountains would not be considered even thicket material elsewhere. Straggly pine trees rose up in twisted gnarls, their roots sprawling across bare rock and digging into mud-filled crevices. Threadbare juniper bushes clung to steep outcroppings and small flowers, pounded flat by the rain, drowned in the muck.

Aubrey clambered up and over a stony hillock and descended to a sloping field where most of the refugee train were encamped. People sat huddled around what possessions they had, taking shelter under blankets and oilcloths. No fires were burning. Darkness shadowed the outskirts of the camp, where the trees grew a little thicker and the rocks rose steeper.

As he passed, people looked up. The exhaustion and terror in their eyes did not frighten him. He felt just the same way. It was the hope. The hope that somehow, he and his friends would get these poor people out of this.

Memories of horror in the Wadi Shir, another group of frightened people trusting them. He shut his eyes to the screams.

"Aubrey?"

Somehow he'd wandered halfway across the camp. He looked down to see the pretty girl from the coffee-house, Ilonka, smiling up at him. Her friends sat in a rough semi-circle around her. Aubrey squatted down.

"You folks holding up okay? Long way from the big city, isn't it?"

They all groaned, but good-naturedly. The thin fellow muttered under his breath.

"I am never leaving Pavairelle again. Hell, I'm spending the rest of my life on Duelists' Street."

Inspiration struck Aubrey.

"Say, any of you know the Keel and Rudder? It's on Duelists' Street."

Ilonka's dark eyes lit up.

"Across from Staznoyan's? Sure, my folks run the shop next door."

Aubrey grinned and settled down on a wet, slick log. A story to tell and a pretty girl to listen took away most of his troubles.

"I fought a Kishak, what do they call them, like a lieutenant. Anjeddak, or something like that. Whatever. Anyway, I'm sitting at one of the downstairs tables with a couple of friends, we're having a pretty good night..."

*****

Chipucuaro knew his time was coming. He kept walking, long ago inured to such hardships. Memories crowded around him along with his extended family. The great market towns of the highlands, now abandoned to the cold, nothing able to grow or breath up there anymore. He remembered sunshine and endless vistas of dry, grassy hills, herds of hadrosaurs or trikes lumbering up and over the ridges.

He had been young once, and fought, and never thought of growing old. Now here he was, old and wet and cold, in a strange land surrounded by barbarians who knew nothing of the way of things. Dependent on savages.

No bitterness for him, though. The old man smiled to himself. The Queen of Serpents was not capricious or careless with the destinies of the People. If he was meant to die here it would be at her will, and all his life Chipucuaro had accepted the will of the Goddess.

He grinned impishly at the thought that perhaps her will could include some dry weather.

*****

The little red-skinned girl stared down into the canyon. The road ended. She knew the weak ones had fled down this road, she could smell their passage. But a strange odour filled the ground here. She didn't like it. Harsh and metallic. The road was gone.

She regarded the cliffside but knew with her little arms and legs she could never climb across. And her huge, white-furred companion, standing just behind her, would have even less chance.

The canyon continued on, south, out of the mountains. If she was to find that girl who claimed to have power, she could follow the river. The canyon.

Decision made, the little girl stepped off the cliff and plunged into the canyon. After a second the giant white monster did the same.

*****

"At least we won't die of thirst. I hear that sucks."

Trazik's relentless cheerfulness had gone beyond grating, past annoying and much Ilonka's chagrin, was actually proving kind of inspirational. She was inspired to survive just so she could recover enough strength to beat him to death with a big fish or something.

She was exhausted. They all were. Three days of stumbling up and down rocky hills, stumbling over tree roots and twisting ankles in cracks, all the while slowly descending into the deeper forests of Lasseux.

They'd seen no beasts, heard no birds. Nothing but rain upon rain upon rain. They slipped and fell trying to walk in the smoother, low-lying vales, which were filling up with fast-moving streams. They slipped and fell trying to walk on the high ground, where the soil had been washed away and just slick bare rock was left for their feet.

Downhill. Keep walking downhill. The road runs east-to-west and the hills slope down to the south, so keep walking downhill and you'll hit the road. Lots of inns and villages along the road. Civilization. Food. Dry clothing. Shelter.

The refugee train spread out over nearly half a mile, everybody too tired and wet and hungry and cold to even think about maintaining any sort of order. Some people were missing, maybe wandered off on the wrong path, maybe forgotten one morning. Nobody knew.

*****

"Has anyone seen Nevid?"

Elena woke up with a start, blinking away raindrops splashing onto her face. She glowered at Philip.

"No, us sleeping people haven't seen anyone. We WERE sleeping, you oaf."

Philip had grown used to Elena's constant crankiness and grinned. He chomped at an unlit cigar and fiddled with his eyepatch.

"Time for waking up, dearie. We miss your sunny personality."

Elena provided Philip with explicit, if hard to visualize, instructions as she got to her feet and stretched away a fraction of the stiffness that had built up in her muscles over the night. Boyce, sharpening a hooked knife, ogled discreetly.

"Couple of Yshakan lads found the river, just off to the right there. At least we know we're heading the right way."

Elena had appointed herself carrier of the great big sword they'd found down in the mine and slung the massive weapon over her back. She swore as the cross-guard banged against the back of her head.

"Let's get everyone moving. Another glorious day."

"Has anyone seen Nevid?"

*****

Nevid explored. He'd waited at the canyon mouth, where the path emerged into the hills, for an extra day, to see if the little girl or the huge white thingie would emerge after everyone had left, but there was no sign of them and so he made extra time trying to catch up with the column. Hurrying through the stunted trees all alone, he noticed the lack of animal life more readily than the others.

At first he told himself it was the rain. What did a kid like him know about forest life, anyway? This was the closest he'd ever been to the wilderness. Growing up on a farm taught you lots about the outdoors, but mostly he knew just to stay out of it. Stick with what's fenced and civilized and controllable. Not these stupid-looking trees and irregular boulder-strewn hills. Why anyone would want to live in land like this he couldn't imagine.

Certainly not for the weather.

He hurried on.

A night spent alone, shivering under a sparse branch. Another day, following the unmistakable trail of the refugees. He covered ground much more quickly than they but still, even a day later, he found himself spending the night all alone in the dark forest. Too many shadows, too many faint noises that might have been a variation in the rain or might have been something else. He didn't sleep much and as soon as it was light enough to see he struggled up and carried on.

He almost missed it. Through the rain, at that distance, it could have been a pale boulder. On his right, far off, barely visible through the rain. At first he though it must be no more than a hundred feet away, but a couple of trees between came into focus and he realised it was more like a hundred yards. Which meant it was three times as big as he'd thought. Which meant...

Nevid froze. Without moving his feet he sank down to the ground. Carefully shuffled behind a pine tree, watching the white blob.

The huge white thingie. Just sitting right there. In the rain.

How could it have gotten past him? He'd waited up there for a day and it never came through. Now, down here in the foothills, here it was. Had it left before them?

A splash of red against the white. Moving. Nevid's heart sealed up, turned to lead. Without thinking he turned and ran. Fled through dripping tree branches and muddy tracks until he ran right into the trailing members of the refugee train, a few hours later. Just as dusk was falling.

*****

Cold water washed over her. Mara let herself be carried along in the wild current, ignoring the pain as her slight body smacked into stones, driven along by the weight of the water. The impact after her long fall into the canyon had broken both her legs and her neck, and she spun down through the torrent helplessly. Her skull cracked against solid rock again and again, and she considered the slow decimation of her body without concern.

At last she fetched up on a rock and with her one working hand (the other arm, she noted, had been torn off after wedging into a crevice underwater) she clung there. Her legs wouldn't work so she pulled herself to the bank with her hand and lay there.

She would heal. It would take some time and she would be hungry after, but she knew she would heal. Nothing in the world could kill her.

Her companion was too massive for the water to move, and with his greater weight he'd been much more severely damaged. She waited.

*****

"What's that? What's happening?"

"Somebody's screaming. That's bad."

Aubrey and Philip peered into the darkness, trying to orient on the sudden eruption of screams coming from the other end of the column. The rear.

"Do we still have our Dark Water?"

"I sure have mine. But who knows if it's still... fresh."

Another thunderous impact and more screams. Children screaming, this time. Aubrey and Philip eyed each other. Elena sprang to her feet and immediately started cranking her crossbow. The two men charged into the darkness.

*****

"Boulders. The damned thing is throwing boulders at us."

The scene, in the darkness, was mercifully hidden from view. Two young Yshakan women had been struck by a massive boulder and plowed into the earth, their bodies flattened by the impact. Another boulder had crushed an old man. People streamed past Aubrey and Philip, screaming all the way. Nevid suddenly appeared.

"Hey, there you are."

"They're out there. They're just out there."

"Yeah, we know. Try to keep everyone together, I guess."

Philip started bellowing and waving his arms and directing people to travel along the riverbank, where the ground was easier.

Another dull thud from nearby and more shrieks. Nevid ran off to see.

"This is bad."

Aubrey nodded.

"I'm starting to wish we hadn't made it out of the Wadi Shir."

*****

Nevid found a girl no more than ten, bleeding to death from a horrifying impact wound to both her legs. He tried to help but she wouldn't stop screaming for her mother. Screaming and screaming and screaming.

Nevid heard another thump, and another, and now the beast behind them roared out and panic stabbed deep within him and he left the screaming screaming screaming girl behind.

*****

Elena grabbed Arrafin's arm and starting dragging the slim girl along with her.

"You stay right here, Arrafin. We're not getting separated."

The column rushed past them in a disorganized mob, frenzied faces appearing out of the gloom and racing by. Elena heard the impacts and starting moving them along with the others, keeping an eye out behind (and a loaded crossbow) for any little red-skinned girls who might show up.

Instead she ran headlong into a burly Gap rogue.

"Boyce!"

He, Michel and Nervaine had drawn their pistols. They surrounded Elena and Arrafin and kept moving with them, everyone watching behind. The darkness pressed in on all sides, though Boyce swore daybreak was not far off.

A round of cursing and stomping announced the arrival of Philip and Aubrey, both wild-eyed and on the edge of panic.

"It's not far back. Hasn't thrown any rocks for a while, at least."

Aubrey caught his breath.

"I think it's stopping to... to... eat the ones it got."

"I think we're going to keep running."

*****

Morning found exhausted refugees stumbling along blindly, falling over each other. The entire column was strung out along an unknown distance of riverbank, some collapsed, sleeping where they fell, others still trying to move along, stumbling and weeping.

Ilonka and her friends had been at the front of the column when the panic started and never got a clear picture of what had happened. It seemed like nobody did, but whatever had happened had scared everybody plenty.

She watched as the del Maraviez folks came along the line, encouraging people to get up, stick together, keep moving. The frowning woman, Elena, stopped to comfort three kids who'd been separated from their parents. Aubrey grinned and traded jokes with Boyce like they were on a stage in front of a crowd. The one with the eyepatch, Philip, got the able-bodied among them up and helping the others. He got Vlad and Karel and Trazik up and handed them each a few articles of baggage from some other refugees.

"Let's get moving, folks."

Vlad shifted his new bundle and took her hand. Grateful for the warm contact, Ilonka kissed him. What started as a quick thank you took on all their pent-up fear and it was only once Trazik's complaints got too loud to ignore that they separated.

Ilonka couldn't stop staring at Vlad. She'd had the terrible thought that she might never kiss him again.

*****

The hills gave way to meadow later that morning, a broad expanse of feeble grasses and flowers, the ground soft from the rain. A few streams criss-crossed the landscape, digging gullies as they carried the soil away. At last they could see the land stretching out before them, slowly dropping away in one row of low hills after another, rain cascading across them in undulating sheets. Far, far off -- the dark expanse of the Lasseux forest. Somewhere between that and where they stood lay the Highpass-Burnoll Road, civilization, dry beds and food.

Nevid knew food was becoming a problem. Boyce and his guys could hunt, but they couldn't provide for the several hundred people in the column. Already supplies were practically non-existent, and they still had the better part of a week before they could expect to reach the road. And Boyce couldn't hunt if that thing was still running around out there.

He studied the column as they emerged onto the meadow. They'd lost more people than he thought. Nearly a hundred people were missing. He hurried through the crowd to find the others. The screaming screaming girl barely bothered him at all, anymore.

*****

Crossing the meadow was almost pleasant, compared to their experience coming down through the hills. The squishy ground made walking a bit of a chore, but the rain didn't seem so fierce here and at least there were no tree roots to trip over. The refugees bunched more closely together now that they could see each other, and by mid-afternoon the group was talking and even laughing a little more normally.

Nobody spoke about the missing third of their company. Nobody expressed their growing hunger.

Arrafin kept studying, sure she was on the point of grasping something. The manner in which the girl had strung together sentences nagged at her, but she couldn't pin down what it was. For the thousandth time she wished she was back at the University Library in Al-Tizim. She'd exhausted her limited resources and had been reduced to studying her own notes, trying to make out scribbled comments while keeping the sheets out of the rain.

She stopped so suddenly that Philip walked right into her, sending her sprawling in the mud. The Saijadani yelped with surprise and dashed to help her up. Fortunately Arrafin's skinniness was so extreme he only needed one hand to lift her bodily and set her back on her feet.

Arrafin spluttered. She was mud-covered, her face a dark grey mask with two huge brown eyes blinking. Bits of mud flew from her lips as she tried to explain.

"Karidish grammar! It's not Kishak at all! The words are, but the grammar, it's Karidish! I can figure this out! I can speak this language! This is incredible! I can't wait to get back and publish something about this. This could be a whole thesis! This changes everything, it means there definitely WAS pre-Empire contact across the Shastra Mountains. This might change the whole notion of Imperial rise!"

Philip wiped the larger masses of guck off her front and smiled wanly.

"Uh-huh."

He shook his head as the tall, slender girl walked away, still talking to herself. Nice girl, clever enough, but a bit of a liability.

*****

Mallinalli the Incredibly Handsome had returned to talk to them. Elena appointed herself spokeswoman.

"There can be no fight. No fight against the chipactli."

"What? We should just let them kill us?"

His perfectly-chiseled jaw swung from side to side.

"No. We run. Do not stand to fight. The Dark Water is no longer useful. Understand?"

"Is this why you guys are always up at the front?"

"Yes. We run."

"Got it. Run."

"Yes. Run."

"Would you carry me?"

"What?"

"Never mind."

*****

Reading and walking was one thing. Writing and walking was much more difficult, but Arrafin managed. She scribbled down her thoughts on a blank section of one of her notes as she walked, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, balancing an ink bottle on the back of her left hand which also clutched the notepaper while her right elbow held it in place and her right hand moved the pen. It was doable. She was starting to cramp up, though, and lifted her head to look around for some more suitable method.

Right next to her, matching her pace for pace, walked the little red Kishak girl. Her face turned and empty eyes burned at her.

"Will you show me your power now?"
 

xrpsuzi

First Post
Yeah!

Creepy kid getting creepier.... I can't wait to see what she's going to do next.

As for Arrafin, not natural 20 on a bluff is not always a good thing, eh? :)

Thanks for writing, it's made my night!

suzi
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Re: Yeah!

suzi yee said:
Thanks for writing, it's made my night!
I'm glad you're enjoying it. There's nothing more gratifying than appreciative comments.

We are fast approaching the close of the Chimney adventure. Next up, dancing girls, trade agreements and the dark secret of Philip's past...
 

Avarice

First Post
Re: Re: Yeah!

barsoomcore said:
I'm glad you're enjoying it. There's nothing more gratifying than appreciative comments.

We are fast approaching the close of the Chimney adventure. Next up, dancing girls, trade agreements and the dark secret of Philip's past...

She's not the only one, Barsoomcore. You've really got quite a knack for writing compelling, believable NPCs. I am completely convinced that they are all about to die grizzly, horrible deaths, and yet I can't help growing attached to them, damnit! Well done. :)
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Re: Re: Re: Yeah!

Avarice said:
I am completely convinced that they are all about to die grizzly, horrible deaths, and yet I can't help growing attached to them, damnit!
I myself have always been attached to grisly, horrible death. I know how you feel.

(aw shucks)
 

Avarice

First Post
barsoomcore said:
I myself have always been attached to grisly, horrible death. I know how you feel.

(aw shucks)

A fact which becomes more and more evident with each passing update. :D Speaking of which, got any new installments in the works?
 


xrpsuzi

First Post
barsoomcore said:
Coming up, coming up...

(bump, sir? me, sir? no, sir!)

No one even mentioned the word bump.... I swear.

As for the next story--dancing girls, eh? It would be hard to beat creepy unkillable little girls who like to feast on flesh.... But hey, I'll give it a shot :)

-suzi
 

dave_o

Explorer
If you ever, EVER run an online game, you will consult me immediately.

And you know I've been badgering you about this forever. :D

Other than that, DAMN FINE STORY HOUR!

*salivates*
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Memories to treasure forever

Ilonka stared in horror at the diminutive figure before her. Her attempt at speech turned into a confused gabble as Vlad grabbed her and shoved back away from the child. The others rose up from where they'd been resting, eyes wide.

She was giggling. This was trouble, and they all knew it.

The little girl raised a stick over her head and shouted, "Fight!"

Atranztipac charged Vlad, whirling the stick and still giggling. Trazik jumped in to try and grab her from the side and took the stick in the side of his head, roaring out in anger. She turned to deliver another rousing blow to him, but Vlad yanked the stick from her hands and held it up too high for her to reach. She promptly kicked him in the shin and lunged at him with her teeth. Trazik got a hand on her ankle and she fell in the mud, giggles turning into shrieks of outrage.

Ilonka sat on her.

"Atranztipac! Stop it!"

"No!"

The little girl writhed and hollered, trying to dislodge the woman atop her. Thoroughly frustrated, Ilonka smacked the back of the girl's head.

"Just stop it! We're tired and we don't want to play."

"No! Fight!"

Ilonka growled and looked up at Vlad.

Who suddenly disappeared. Ilonka frowned. A hiss of raindrops blew across her face. Vlad was gone. She blinked and looked around.

At first she though somebody had dug a trench and wondered if they'd stumbled into someone's farm without knowing. At the end of the trench she saw a big boulder, and lying nearby she recognized Vlad. With a cry, without any thought at all, she leapt up and stumbled across the mud to the body. Heard a thump, ignored it. People began screaming. Heavy footsteps as the entire mob began running.

Vlad lay face-up. His body seemed strangely deformed and his tunic leaked red all over. Ilonka fell to her knees and shook him, her voice distant and hollow in her ears. Another thump and she saw a spray of mud and water as another boulder slammed into the crowd, drilling a long path out of the meadow. Bodies cartwheeled through the rain. Somebody grabbed her and began dragging her away from Vlad, who wouldn't get up.

She knew she was screaming, flailing, struggling, but it all seemed so quiet as Vlad got smaller and smaller.

*****

Elena stretched up to look over the crowd, trying to find Arrafin. The absent-minded girl had wandered off while reading, and Elena was worried. Some day that girl was going to step wrong and twist her ankle or something and then they'd have to carry her back to civilization.

Not that Arrafin weighed enough to be a serious impediment, but it was the principle of the thing. Elena hated to see people not taking their situation seriously. Arrafin had to wake up and realise how serious things really were.

Elena told herself all this in a stern internal voice, but sighed and gave up. She just couldn't be stern with Arrafin, who'd become like her little sister in the past few weeks. She'd become like everybody's little sister. Everybody's absent-minded, charming, brilliant little sister who got more excited about conjugating ancient verbs than anything Elena might consider... conjugal.

She sighed again.

She missed the ranch. The cottonwood trees along the river, the guitar from the barrio coming up to the casa at night. The roar of the rexes in their paddock, disputing some patch of territory. Her brothers.

Elena smiled to herself at the memory of sibling battles, screaming and hollering and Mama threatening them all.

She looked up, confused, at new screams.

*****

For the thousandth time Aubrey promised himself that never again would he ever go anywhere without paved roads. Heck, getting him to go anywhere beyond the walls of Pavairelle was going to take quite an effort. Or even outside his apartment, from now on.

The great outdoors could stay right where it was, thank you very much. His boots were ruined, his cloak hung in tatters and he hadn't been dry in weeks. Nor had he had a decent meal, a comfortable bed, pleasant conversation or even a good drink.

And horrible monsters were trying to kill him. Aubrey looked up into the rain and pondered the whimsical nature of fate. And why it hated him so much.

He saw Arrafin flying backwards through the air and frowned.

*****

Philip worked on his cigar. He only had two more so he was trying to make this one last, but whenever he wasn't paying attention he found himself gnawing at it with great energy, and it was getting shorter much too quickly. Bits of tobacco in his mouth kept him awake, anyway, as he moved along the edge of the crowd, trying to keep an eye out for trouble.

For the most part, the citizens of Chimney were dealing pretty well with everything. They didn't complain much, just kept on moving. Sheer terror had a lot going for it as a motivating force, he considered.

Automatically he scanned the packed mass of frightened humanity for his friends. Elena, tall and broad-shouldered, helping a struggling mother over a muddy patch. Nevid, deep in conversation with two Yshakan men, their bright woolen ponchos stained grey and dark with muck. Aubrey, still with a cheerful grin on his face, winking at a little girl to make her smile. And Arrafin, head bowed under her hood, walking with careful steps, and next to her, a little girl...

Red face. Black hair.

Philip yelled and started running, drawing a pistol, already too late.

*****

The Yshakan language spoke volumes about the way these people saw the world. Things Nevid took for granted like past tense, subject/predicate and the distinction between statements of fact and opinion didn't seem to exist. It fascinated the young Saijadani and he kept drawing other phrases out of the Yshakans walking with him, finding translations for objects or phrases, trying the words out in his own mouth, looking for connections and clues to the grammar.

It kept him from crying with fear. Nevid, with nothing but time to think about what was following them, with no action to be taken in front of him, felt his mind filling up with nameless terrors and shuddering cowardice.

"Okay, tell me again. How do you... If I don't KNOW something, but I THINK something, how do I say? You understand? THINK, not KNOW..."

Screaming. At first Nevid wanted to drop to the ground and hide but he realised he was running straight towards the screams. Arrafin's screams.

*****

Boyce frowned at the sight of Elena. Strange. Such a big, farm-healthy girl. Carrying that great big sword over her shoulders. Scowling all the time like that.

But when she smiled, well...

Never mind. He had better things to think about. More serious things, anyway. He and his lads were laden down with more gold and jewels than they really ought to be carrying, but he was glad to be able to make SOME profit out of this trip.

Assuming they survived. Boyce had an optimistic nature, always had, and yet even he was having a hard time picking a scenario in which they got out of this. So far, it seemed, they were alive only because those monsters hadn't tried to eliminate them. If they should happen to try he couldn't realistically give himself and the others much of a chance.

He shrugged. Deal with it when it came. He manuvered for a better view of Elena, grinning again.

*****

Arrafin gaped, her legs still moving her forward. The little Kishak girl walked alongside her, close enough to touch, staring at her curiously. Arrafin tried to speak, failed, noted idly that since she was already soaked to the bone, she wouldn't be able to tell if she wet herself. She carefully put her book back into her bag. Didn't want to lose that.

"Show me your power."

"I, uh, um, oh."

"You lie. You are without power. You die. Now."

Her neck broke. That was Arrafin's initial diagnosis. Even before she felt the impact, before she crashed to the muddy ground, arms pinwheeling and legs stiff, she figured she'd broke her neck. She wished she'd written to her father before she left Fort Burnoll.

Rain plunged from straight above onto her face. Dazed, Arrafin smiled at the sensation. Distantly she realised she could hear screaming. Feet and legs trampled past her, splashing mud across her limbs. She shook her head and pushed herself up. Neck not broken.

The little Kishak girl stood only a few paces away, staring at her. Her dark eyes burned.

"You are food."

Child legs stepped toward Arrafin. A chubby child hand extended forward.

Arrafin clutched at her book bag. The realisation that she was really and truly about to die brought perfect clarity to her mind. She hoped it would be quick as she fell to her knees.

*****

Elena was running before she knew what was happening. The ground shook and off to her right it appeared through the rain, towering and pale and roaring like a thousand wild hungry beasts. She watched rocks detach from its hand, boulders an arm span across arc through the air towards the screaming crowd, pushing this way and that.

She broke free and ran along the edge of the mob, shouting at them to get moving, trying to organize the group. Panic erupted everywhere but enough heard her and saw her and slowly, so slowly, the crowd began to move as a unit, away from the giant.

While she was running she couldn't draw her sword so Elena stopped herself and took out her weapon, keenly aware of how useless it would be. For now the huge creature seemed content to stay at a distance, watching the tiny humans shriek and claw at each other. Elena shook and turned , gestured with her sword over her head like famous heroes in stories were supposed to do.

She didn't feel like a hero in a story. She felt helpless and frightened and doomed. She yelled to keep people moving in the right direction, started jogging over the meadow alongside terrified townsfolk who were sobbing and trying to stay upright. Over her shoulder she kept an eye on that immense creature. It just stood there watching them.

"Elena! Please help us!"

Turning, she caught sight of one of the coffee house guys, the tall skinny one, dragging the girl, Ilonka with him. Thankfully she sheathed her sword and ran over. He was babbling.

"Vlad's dead! One of those rocks, it, oh god..."

The girl seemed unconscious but unhurt. Elena slung her over one shoulder and kept going. She didn't listen to the sobs. There were going to be plenty more of those.

*****

People ran in all directions, at first. Nevid clawed past terrified faces, surging towards where he heard the Naridic girl crying out. He burst into a clear area and barely had time to take in the two figures staring at each other before he bowled right into the little red-skinned one.

He thought she'd be cold, but she felt alive, not like the horrible undead monster he knew she was. For a second he was afraid he'd hurt her. Then she roared and smacked him.

Nevid flew up in a graceful arc and slammed into the mud with his shoulders. Arrafin watched, impressed. A sudden rush of townsfolk came through then and the screams got louder, nearer. She blinked as something smacked her across the mouth and looked down at a leg. A man's leg. It was hairy. The sudden stink of hot blood made her head spin. She saw Nevid struggling to his feet, more people screaming, horrible tearing sounds and that roaring sound the little girl made.

Arrafin started to cry.

*****

Philip just leaped right over Arrafin, both guns out now. He extended his arms and planted the barrels of both pistols right in the little girl's face.

Her head blew apart in fragments of bone and blood and flesh and her body flew backwards, arms pinwheeling. People going in all directions, crashing into each other and knocking each other down. Philip dropped his pistols and drew the big old-fashioned sword that was all he had left of his father's estate.

Sure, he'd just blown her head right off. He had no illusions about how badly he might have hurt her.

Aubrey arrived at the same time and weapons out, they advanced on the girl's body.

"Ew."

Her skull knit itself back together even as they watched. Philip wasted no time. With a panic-tinged yell, he wound up two-handed and delivered a terrific wood-cutting chop to the girl's torso. Aubrey's rapier was unsuited for such manuvers so he just stuck her where he figured her heart would be.

They were both yelling loudly, and surrounded by screaming people, so it took them a moment to realise that yet more noise was being added to the pandemonium.

The beast, the towering four-armed white-furred monstrosity, had roared. It was looking right at them.

Aubrey turned to Philip.

"Grab Nevid."

He sprinted to where Arrafin still sat in the mud, hauled the girl up and dragged her along behind him. Philip did the same with Nevid and the four of them took off.

*****

High ground. There wasn't much in the meadow, but Boyce, Nervaine and Michel found a low rise and dropped their gear. Yanked out the muskets and knelt, sighting on the big beastie plowing into the crowd.

Boyce had seen battle. He'd fought with the King against the rebels in Lasseux, and he'd seen men turning each other inside out, weeping with rage and screaming with terror. Or possibly the other way around. Watching this thing push its way into a frenzied mass of men, women and children, sending bodies flying in all directions, stuffing shrieking, struggling figures into its maw, filled him with a cold fury he'd never known before. Boyce squinted down the barrel of his musket through the rain.

"Go for the head."

A set of sharp cracks and they set down the weapons. Nervaine and Boyce grabbed the other pair of long-barreled guns while Michel set about reloading, and methodically the rogues began pumping lead shot into the monster's skull from a hundred feet away.

*****

After Elena took Ilonka, Trazik looked around dazed for a few seconds. He saw Iseut with Karel and ran to them, and the three of them kept moving.

"Don't look back. Just keep running."

Something roared. The ground shook with monstrous footsteps. Iseut looked back.

Trazik came to an immediate halt at her scream, holding himself steady against the onrushing crowd of terrified villagers. He pushed through the crowd to her, and only reluctantly looked up.

The massive clawed hand reached down and grabbed them both. Trazik felt his a sudden pain in his side, something scraping along his rib, and then his chest began to collapse in on itself as the beast squeezed.

He kissed Iseut. He thought of Ilonka.

*****

Chipucuaro let the younger men drag him along for a ways, but proudly he shook their hands off. The old man stood as tall as his stooped frame would allow and nodded.

"Go. The Queen of Serpents claims me now. Go."

He turned away, back to where the huge monster stood. It bit into something and gore spilled down its front. Chipucuaro raised his hands. Behind him he heard his people reluctantly leaving.

Between him and the beast now there were only a few people standing. Some were running straight for him. He recognized these. He smiled.

*****

Philip, still with Arrafin over his shoulder, came to a halt in front of the old Yshakan guy. Aubrey and Nevid (who'd gotten himself on his feet) did likewise.

"Hey, oldtimer. You coming with us?"

Philip remembered the old guy didn't speak Yshakan. Nevid tried.

"Why do you stay?"

Chipucuaro kept smiling. He nodded at the barbarians. Behind him he heard muffled explosions and red spots appeared on the monster's face. It staggered backwards, swatting at nothing.

Aubrey shrugged.

"I'm not staying here with him. Let's keep going."

The four (Arrafin muttering to herself, facedown over Philip's shoulder) headed past the old guy and on across the meadow, stumbling in the thick mud.

Chipucuaro saw the girl approaching. He knelt and asked the Queen of Serpents to grant him strength.

Her fist punching into his chest hurt more than he had thought it would. But he felt no pain as he watched her withdraw his heart and stuff it into her mouth. Only sadness that somebody had done this to a little girl.

*****

To Boyce's surprise, the bullet hits seemed to be having an effect on the creature. It stumbled backwards, roaring and bellowing, as one impact after another struck its face. He yelled in triumph and laughed as Elena and a couple of townsfolk ran up.

"Look at that! We're pissing him off real good!"

"Yeah, great. Good for you."

Elena's face was streaked with mud and tears and she dropped to the ground, panting, to catch her breath. She looked up as Nevid, Aubrey, Philip and Arrafin came up the hill. They stood for just a few seconds and then turned to see the girl, the little red-skinned girl, marching determinedly towards their position.

Struck by sudden inspiration, Elena drew the huge sword over her shoulder. With both hands she could barely hold it upright.

"Alright. I'm spanking that bitch."
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Sorry for huge break there, folks. Next episode up much sooner, I promise. And I think next episode will be the end of the tale of Chimney, otherwise known as Dead In A Box. On to:

Bayonne Opera Blues, which will supply the previously promised dancing girls. Along with wacky hijinks involving Elena's secret powers, Philip's mysterious past, Arrafin's potential for hottieness, Nevid's negotiational expertise and introducing a whole new cast member. It's all so exciting.

Well, excuse me. I have to get back to the next episode...
 

Avarice

First Post
Page 2? Page 2?! Oh, don't think so. Up you go, little fella...

As always, great update Barsoomcore. I'm very much looking forward to the bloody finale.
 

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