Author Topic: Unborn Idols  (Read 2509 times)

Offline Bons

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Unborn Idols
« on: April 16, 2005, 09:18:34 PM »
The Community Fanfic fizzled when posted here, I like to think because 1) we are a bunch of fracturing individualists, and 2) too lazy busy making mods to waste time writing fan fiction. To further prove that case, when I caught a cold around January, I continued working on my personal plan for the story in between Nyquill-induced delirium and naps. Since I don’t want anyone to confuse this for a round robin, I am starting a new thread with my version of the story as it progresses. Every time I have writer’s block on mod content, this gets a page or two farther along the outline. Go to the Studios thread if you really, really want to participate in a round robin (and our Community Fanfic thread is still abandoned here in the forum somewhere).

Thank you, cliffette, for letting me take advantage of Tomtom.

I also hope Icelus respects me in the morning.  ;)

=======================================

Bethal trudged along the path, wiping the rainwater from her eyes, as if that would make the trail clearer. She had been hiking for days, a quiet and uneventful journey regardless of moonfall or sunrise. Her only company had been the rain, a persistent presence that had joined her for the past three hours.

Most travelers would give thanks for a safe trip, but then, most travelers had not saved their coin for months to buy leather armor, a bow, and a hunting knife as they dreamt of peril, knights and legends. Bethal would have appreciated an interruption, any interruption.

Anything, but the rain. The local farmers were surely rejoicing, but Bethal grumbled. She hated being wet. Obviously any monsters along her path agreed and had chosen shelter over mischief in the downpour.

If the stories she’d heard at home were accurate, she should be nearing the outpost of Pebbleford. Within the town, the main lodging had been described as The Gallows Inn, where a bounty of hospitality to wait out a rainstorm should be available for a modicum of coin. Bethal hoped this rumor was true. Her purse was small, and her optimism grew smaller to match with each step. It would be a sign of hope if just this tiny something worked according to plan, since adventure and the weather were not cooperating.

With each mile, the soaking deluge weighted Bethal’s gear further, making her load close to unbearable. Giving a weary grunt, she hiked one shoulder. If she could boost her waterlogged pack a little higher, just a tad more into position, she stood a chance of easing her sore back.

Instead, this simple action dislodged a reservoir of frigid rain that had collected in the crevices of her bag, dumping it down the neckline of her armor. Adding insult to ache, Bethal’s teeth chattered as the water traveled an icy path along her spine, only to puddle below her belt. Now, with each step, her leggings made a squishing sound.

This... the minstrels never mentioned this in the great stories! Bethal thought in frustration. No, they only described the treasure, the glory, the romance... Not a peep about the weather in your pants. Not a syllable about being so tired from the journey that, even if you ran into something exciting, you wouldn’t have the energy left to pull a bowstring.

Bethal kicked rebelliously at the latest in a long line of puddles littering the path, grimacing as the water-softened toe of her boot struck a rock. She limped a few steps before noticing that the ground beneath the layer of mud had grown solid, if a bit uneven.

Cobblestones! Bethal recognized. Suddenly, the weight of her pack seemed to float on her shoulders. The raw place where the rim of her quiver rubbed against her neck ceased to matter. Her imagination raced to places warm and dry: a bowl of stew, a roaring fire, and, best of all, absolutely no rain. She doubled her pace over the rise, her thoughts replacing weariness with anticipation.

Sure enough, the wooden gate of the town came into view. Beyond, a small outcropping of buildings waited, their chimneys winking in smoky welcome. She passed through the entrance of the town’s palisade, curiously noting the lack of guards.

It’s not for the lack of sheltered stations. The watch, at least, would have had a slim chance of staying dry as they kept an eye out for trouble. Not like me, hiking across drowning plains for hours. Hmph. Still, Bethal could admit that if she had a choice between monitoring the rain rolling off the roof slats or waiting out the storm inside a tavern, she’d pick the latter. Chances were good that the local garrison had done the same.

Inside the town proper, Bethal eyed the front of each building. It took a few moments of searching before she identified a placard with a washed-out rendering of a noose that signified the Gallows Inn. Hiking her pack once more, then giving a shivery squint as a second helping of cold water flushed down her back, she trudged determinedly forward.

Set on her destination, the hand on Bethal’s arm caught her by surprise.

“What?!”

The word barely had a chance to bubble from her mouth before Bethal found herself yanked aside, then slammed into a stone wall. A second hand roughly seized her other arm, twisting it behind her back until she whimpered in pain. She wriggled, struggling to kick free, but her efforts only served to topple a stack of barrels blocking the way in front of her. Heart racing, Bethal realized she was staring into the depths of an alley. A dead end.

“What ‘ave we ‘ere?” A bulky figure stepped in front of her, his meaty hands ripping Bethal’s purse away from her belt. “Don’ ye know ain’t fit weather fer righteous folk t’ be wanderin’ the streets?” The behemoth laughed, his chest heaving like a bellows. His partner joined in with a weaselly chuckle, warm breath puffing against her ear, followed by the scent of onions.

Indignation lit a fire in Bethal’s belly. “Give me back my money!” She reared her head back, clashing skulls with the weasel-thief. Bone crashing against bone, it struck Bethal that this move was better reserved for would-be heroes wearing a helmet. Blinking back stars, she found her arms suddenly freed. Bethal took advantage, clumsily slipping her hunting knife from its sheath, and brandished the blade before her. “Give... me... back... my... money!”

The bellows-chest pumped a second round of hilarity. “Looks! It’s got a wee little knife! Thinks she can take us!”

Bethal angled her body so that she had both thieves in her periphery. She jutted her chin in the direction of the weasel, who was clutching his forehead, bloodied rainfall dribbling off the tip of his pointy nose.

“Looks like I’ve already managed to take one of you.” Bethal pushed her voice to sound more confident than her flipping stomach. “Give me back my purse, and I just might consider sparing you!”

Bellows and Weasel exchanged a smirk as she warily shifted her focus from one to the other. Deciding to strike, Bethal lunged, intending to plant her blade in the bulk of the behemoth’s stomach. Her weapon never connected. Bellows knocked her wrist aside as if swatting a fly. Bethal gasped in dismay as her knife hit the ground, splashing uselessly in a puddle. In the next instant, her arms were immobilized again, this time by Weasel jerking her pack, quiver and bow off her back in one swoop. By the time the straps tangled about Bethal’s wrists, Bellows had her throat in a vise, his grip threatening to choke the life out of her.

“Snags a few more coins from this pluck n’ stuck, it will,” Weasel chattered over her gear, the cut on his temple forgotten as he rifled through her possessions. “Knock ‘er, n’ let’s divvy.”

Bethal wanted to shout her fury, to protest, but the best she could manage was a wet gurgle as she slapped helplessly at Bellow’s forearm and struggled for breath. “Now, now,” the behemoth grunted, playing tutor to his partner. “It pays t’ be thorough.” He looked Bethal’s prone form up and down as he clicked his tongue. “Ye’d ‘ave left the clothes on ‘er back. Last rule o’ thieving, ye ken: waste not, want not.”

A shriek lodged in her throat as Bethal felt the laces of her jerkin being cut. Bellows clicked his tongue once more, wagging a finger of reprimand as she struggled anew. Bethal blinked, and that finger closed into a fist. She blinked a second time, and that fist connected with her jaw. Her world burst into a red blur for a moment, then wavered. She heard a splash. Raindrops hit her naked arms. She gagged; her mouth tasted of mud.

She... the minstrels... never... mentioned...

Then, her world faded black.

Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2005, 09:22:19 PM »
Of all the smells she might have expected to wake up to, smoked ham was not one of them. But there was no denying the homey, heartening scent filling her nostrils. She opened her eyes to a slit and registered a bright glow in front of her. A fire, she assumed, although she still felt as if she was lying in an icy puddle. Her eyes focused slowly. Definitely a fire, although its crackling sounded muted and muffled.

Although she didn’t consider herself experienced in wound management, she knew that it would be foolish to move at all. Even lying still, her bones felt as if they were grinding to dust beneath her own weight and her face might as well have swollen to twice its size, considering how tender it felt. She would not have been able to open her eyes further even if she had wanted to.

A warm trickle of water from her still-wet hair ran down over her icy cheek, causing her to shudder, which set off a new round of aches that shrieked their way from her shins up to her jaw, before exploding into red lightning between her ears. The two ruffians had certainly done a number on her. And all for the few coins in her purse. She would have snorted in disgust had she not feared the effect this would have on her body.

Muted footsteps on the floor that vibrated through her protesting body told her that someone was coming toward her. A shadow interposed itself between her and the fire, and a thumb interposed itself between her brow and lash, painfully dragging open an eyelid.

The alarmingly large face before her was distinctly dwarfish. Grizzly gray facial hair abounded and a gold tooth glimmered in his mouth as he spoke, “You’re awake then.”
Seemingly satisfied, the dwarf sat back on his haunches and fixed her with an intense stare. “I’ll make no bones about it, girl. You were attacked, beaten and likely interfered with, by who I don’t know. I found you slumped and half unclothed in an alleyway. Be glad your skin’s so white, else I would not have seen you, and you’d be dying about now. Not that you might not be dying anyhow.”

The sound of water droplets nearby told her he was wringing out a cloth, a fact confirmed as the dwarf proceeded to dab at her face with what passed for gentleness. The first touch of the hot cloth burned against her skin. “You’re badly beaten and bleeding in a dozen places. You’ll have a nasty cold and that’ll probably carry you off. You’ve been sleeping since you got here and that would have been for about the last three hours. And you’re still cold to touch.” To emphasize his point, he lay a hand on her bare shoulder. From the contrast between the temperatures of their flesh, his stumpy hand might as well have been heated in a forge beforehand.

“Not to worry. I’ll cook a broth for you. It’ll burn you up on the inside as it goes down, but that’s what’s needed here. You concentrate on living, girl. You’ve had a bad shock to your system, but you’re safe now. And I don’t feel like digging a grave this evening.” The dwarf paused from wiping her face and twitched a shoulder toward a corner of the room. “If you’re wondering, what’s left of your pack is drying over yonder. Nothing left though. Might as well throw it in the fire for all the good it’ll do for you now. Green adventurers, traveling solo, pah!” He dropped the towel into the water with a loud splash and stood up.

“I’ll be making that broth now. Don’t you fall asleep til it’s in you, girl!” He turned and trudged off a pace before he turned back. A stumpy finger waved inches from her face. “One more thing before I go, girl. If I’m the last person you ever see, the better to know my name. You’re in the house of Tomtom Dorrin.” The crinkly face became genial for a moment before it settled back into a series of stoic creases and folds. “And what’s your name, girl? I need something to write on your gravestone.”

It would hurt to speak, but she’d try anyway. It came out a shade above a whisper, though the throbbing in her jaw increased to a scream.

Tomtom frowned, “What was that again, girl?”

It hurt a little less this time. “Albeth. Albeth Brackwater.”

The dwarf nodded, his fingers rubbing at his jaw as he fixed her with another intense stare. “Then Albeth, it is. I’ll be off to make that broth now, lass.” He stumped away.

The heat from the towel seemed to be slowly leaving her. She kept her eyes open and fixed on the fire. Closing them would just bring back the faces of the thugs, and she didn’t want to think of that now. Instead, she concentrated on her new name and tried to disregard the clammy feeling that was once again spreading across her body.

She hoped Tomtom would be back soon.
Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2005, 09:26:47 PM »
She absently studied the heart of the flames as they stretched and subsided, their pulsing motion pulling her thoughts away from the persistent ache grinding beneath her skin. The blending of gold and rust soothed her at first. It was a simple thing to watch, one color seeping into the other before it burst anew with strength and defiance. Yes, it was simple at first, but as the minutes passed, the gold began to taunt her. Gold was the promise of adventure, the lure of laurels and wealth. Gold glittered in that flame, but it was an inevitable partner, inseparable in its fiery dance from the rust. The heart of the fire burnt blood red, depths that tried to consume it whole. Within the flame, neither blood nor gold could reign over the other for long.

She moved her hand, her breath hissing through her teeth. It felt like the knife was still there, slicing into her flesh. She eyed her bare knuckles, clenching her fist to spite the pain. The day before, a simple gold band had adorned them demurely. Now it was gone, replaced by bruises and raw skin.

She looked to the fire again, still glowing in a syncopated rhythm, its crackle muted and muffled. Her senses had returned enough that the diminished sound now struck her as odd. Every inch of her was sore, her head pounded, but she was certain she could clearly pick out the patter of rain. That noise wasn’t dimmed for all the barrier plank walls and thatched roof provided, so why couldn’t she hear the distinct bustle of the fire before her?

The answer hit her in a splash of water. The sound of raindrops came from the hearth. Beyond the heart of the flames, the blaze offered up no sparks, it was fuelled by no tinder and billowed no smoke. About the burning mass, the rain descended, an incessant downpour bouncing off the tips of each flame. It did not dissipate as steam, nor flood the base of the hearth. Instead, it disappeared into thin air, as if the fire consumed each droplet as fuel.

Tomtom appeared before her with a large earthenware bowl, unconcerned with her gaping. “You’re not dead yet? Hrmmph. I’ve made you broth, as I promised. Drink it all, you will, if you want to see another sunrise.”

The dwarf was almost patient as he tilted the bowl to her mouth, and she drank. The first sip stung her swollen lips. She coughed as the foreign sensation of heat hit her throat, but she tilted her chin to keep any of the broth from spilling. Another swallow, then another, and she could feel the warmth spread through her, replacing the clamminess and thawing her vocal chords enough to allow her to make a tentative observation.

“Your chimney’s leaking.”

Tomtom treated her to a second intense stare. “Meant to get the flue fixed, but it’s been raining more days than not. Folks get less industrious when it’s raining. Shame, that, the lazy muttons.”

“But how...?”

“How do I keep the fire burning? Think on it, Albeth. The fire doesn’t go out, because I don’t want it to go out, now do I? Fat lump of nothing a soggy pile of dead coals would serve anyone, and you’d be lying there cold as a wraith’s buttocks. No good to waste, says I.”

“I’m glad... whatever magic...”

“There’s magic, girl,” the dwarf snorted, “then there’s bone stubbornness. Both can serve a body. Finish your broth. It’ll make you sleep,” Tomtom promised.

She drained the bowl dry. “Will it?” she whispered, her eyelids growing steadily heavier. Her mind floated dreamily, the fire inside her now feeding itself. Her eyes were open; she would live. “But,” she said, her voice filled with wonder, “I just woke up.”
Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2005, 09:41:05 PM »
She dreamed of the guardians, the portrait of a would-be father and would-be mother mulling happily over their evening meal, wondering at the well-being of their would-be child. Was she feeling fair? Had she had plenty to eat? Not a word was uttered of danger or death, but Marta and Thomas were not the sorts to consider violence a threat. They were warm, contented souls, deprived of nothing save imagination. A rainy day was their gravest concern. Truth be told, it had once been their daughter’s.

Their jocular conversation shocked into silence at the sound of a scream. At first, Albeth wondered if this was meant to be her own screaming - the voice rang familiar - but then she remembered that she’d never cried in pure terror. She’d shouted foolish defiance as long as she’d had a voice, yes. She’d beaten her hands and clenched her fists, she’d cried in rage, but she’d never given into fear. No, the screaming came from one of the servant girls. Tura, she named the voice with dream-logic. Yes, it was Tura who screamed, screamed as if her life depended on it, then after an abrupt gasp, she offered only silence.

Other terrified cries followed, prompting Marta and Thomas to rise from the table, wringing hands as they exchanged agitated glances. What did this mean? What unnatural thing was happening? Should they do something? Yes, but what? They eyed the threshold with foreboding, slowly backing away as they clutched each other for comfort.

They huddled and hugged and squeaked as a mercenary loomed briefly in the doorway, his sword dripping blood on their finely woven runner. He looked them over with disdain, nodded as if in silent agreement, helped himself to a pair of silver candlesticks, then left without doing the pair harm. Marta wailed in protest, the candlesticks were her heirlooms -- their loss was all she could comprehend. Marta could only understand the everyday tragedies: burnt pies, ruined carpets, and, yes, stolen candlesticks. Not death, not a weapon marked with violence, and what it meant.

Thomas backed away further, instinct moving his feet in the opposite direction of the sounds of struggle and slaughter. Swiftly, nearly silent, the air behind him shimmered. A flash of light flared, and a woman, the dream woman, appeared in its wake, her arm lashing about Thomas’s throat, a knife glinting in her grip, before he could blink. “Going somewhere?”

Marta shrieked. Albeth faintly wondered, as dream-logic was wont to do, which upset the foster mother more: the threat against her husband, or that their attacker had used forbidden cosmetics. The dream woman’s skin was powdered parchment white, her lips painted as dark as night, and the skin around her eyes was stained in a red mask that brought to mind youthful lectures:

"May I wear rouge? May I? I’m growing up, and the other girls..."
"No, no, trust me, dear. You’d look ever a fright!"


The dream woman whirled Thomas around with a firm push, knocking him into his wife. The couple clumsily tumbled against the dining table in a flurry of grunts and whimpers.

“Oh, never,” the dream drawled. “You cannot leave when company’s just arrived.” She loomed over them, her black smile maliciously confident. “Cattle, cattle...” The woman winked as she noticed Thomas and Marta were trembling. “There, there. The ruffians slaughtering your household are lamentably unparticular in their bloodshed. I could keep them away from your soft, little throats with barely a bat of an eyelash, but why would I want to do that?”

“Please!” Marta cried. “Have you no mercy?”

The woman clasped her sides, chuckling her glee. “Mercy? The untainted are so predictable. They always assume their fate should mean something to everyone. Mercy,” she sneered. “MERCY!” the woman yelled, mocking a voice of terror, yet her eyes held only disdain. Marta and Thomas cringed.

The dream woman abruptly assumed a businesslike air, pulling a chair from the dining table and sitting formally before the fearful couple. “It is a simple proposition. You have two choices: you can die, or you can give me what I want.”

“Wha... wh-what is it th-that you want?” Thomas asked.

“Cattle, cattle... what could you possibly have of worth to me?” The dream asked musingly as she tapped her chin. “Ah!” She snapped her fingers. “A sacrificial calf!”

The woman leapt out of the chair, first slashing Marta across the face with her knife then seizing Thomas’s forearm, twisting it as she cleaved off his index finger. Amidst the echoes of their wailing, the woman paced, her own voice rising in frenzy. “We have to thin the herd, and the girl is not here. All I want is the girl. If you’d just kept to the plan, and had her waiting as I was promised, you would have had little to fear. Why don’t you give her to me? Where is she?” the masked woman bellowed. “WHERE IS YOUR WARD?”

Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2005, 03:06:10 PM »
Albeth woke with a disoriented yelp, swinging her arms in fury. Someone was there, someone who was not Tomtom. A dream come to life? A threat?

It was a man: tall, dark, and studying her curiously. She reached out, her hands connecting with the empty soup tureen on the bedside table. She threw it with violent enthusiasm at her foreign company, despite the lingering protest of her muscles.

Albeth blinked, pausing for the impact. She waited for the crack, the shatter, her thoughts whirling over what to do next, but witnessed only gloved fingers making an effortless catch.

“Hello,” the unwelcome stranger said as he placed the soup bowl safely on Tomtom’s workbench. He sounded bemused. “Nice to meet you, too.”

Something akin to a growl rippled in Albeth’s raw throat. She wasn’t going to be caught off guard, not again. She searched frantically for anything - anything! - that could be used to defend herself. She found the blanket, a spoon...

“Here,” the man said, jerking her attention defensively away from random thoughts of forging a weapon out of her pillow.

Albeth glanced up in time to see the stranger casually toss a dagger hilt-forward in her direction. She stared, dumbfounded, as it landed harmlessly with a thump on her blanketed lap.

“If that makes you feel better.” The man grinned, his smile transforming his scraggly beard into something raffish. “I see Squire Dorrin’s been teaching you manners.”

“Manners are for liars,” Albeth grumbled. She picked up the dagger and flipped it in her grip. Her knuckles clicked, her joints still stiff, but they worked. “Tales of chivalry, prophecies, legends, gallant bards...” She ran a ragged fingernail across the hilt. This weapon wasn’t of the standard mercantile variety. There was an emerald as big as an eyeball embedded in its base, winking a blue-green invitation, and its blade gleamed with a cool light. Albeth lightly tapped the metal, and it emitted a faint spark. She gave her company an extra-suspicious glare. “A pack of creeps spinning stories to fool you into believing things that aren’t true!”

“Mmm. Very cynical for your age.” The stranger shook a lecturing finger at her. “You should save that for when you’re old.”

“Like you?”

“Precisely.”

“You know Tomtom?”

“Indubitably.”

Albeth noticed the man had edged a step closer, and she lifted the knife in a threatening manner. “Don’t move! I’m warning you!”

The man held out his hands to either side and shrugged. “Worried about your virtue? Don’t be. Have you looked in a mirror lately? I like my women less beaten to a pulp.” He gave her a measuring look. “And less armed.” His expression became more dubious. “And more experienced. What are you? Not more than fifteen, I’d wager.” He made a rude gesture with one hand. “Oh, yeah. Definitely need more experience.”

Albeth scowled. “I see Tomtom’s been teaching you manners, too,” she said, assuming her primmest voice.

“Know him that well, do you?”

Albeth nibbled her lip. “Not really. We just met.” She frowned. “Wait a second. You... He’s... he’s the Squire? Of Pebbleford?”

“No.” The man tilted his head as he studied her. “I just call him that.” He gave her a new raffish grin. “It really pisses him off. There can’t be nearly enough insult and injury in this ditchwater town to make old Dorrin half-grouchy before breakfast. Never did a dwarf love his daily servings of crank like our Tom.” The man paused and scratched his head. “Speaking of breakfast, I could use a drink.”

Tomtom’s gravelly tones broke into the man’s reverie from the doorway. “If you’re thirsty, go stick your head in the rain. There’s enough to go around.” The dwarf padded inside, unlacing his oilskin cloak to reveal a brace of hare strung to his back. He laid his bounty upon the chopping block as he groused, “Bah. Neither fit for beast nor fowl out there. And hunting! Misery upon me!”

The stranger caught Albeth’s eye, crossed his heart, pointed to the dwarf, and mouthed the words, “LOVES MISERY.”

Tomtom noticed, but made no comment. Instead, he rounded the man, showing him less favor in his expression than he spared the dead rabbits. “So you came as I bade ye.”

The man bowed deeply. “I could do no less, Squire Dorrin.”

“You’re a fool,” Tomtom snorted sprightly. “’Tis likely too late for any good to be done, and you haven’t been useful in years.”

“True,” the man agreed.

“But you’re the only one that showed up,” Tomtom continued, “and we have need of you.”

The man’s expression fell. He looked with dismay from the dwarf to Albeth, who still clutched his dagger defensively. “We?”

Albeth felt her own consternation rising. “We do?”

“Aye,” Tomtom said. “I’ve an adventure for the two of you, so whatever thoughts you had on fates and direction, scour them out of your gourds. Neither one of you can manage walking down the street safe or sober. Better you follow my plan than puke your guts out in the next alley.”

“But I don’t know you!” Albeth protested. “And you don’t know me! And...” She jabbed an accusing finger at the stranger, ignoring how it stung. “And him! HIM!” she repeated, at a loss for a better description.

“You have to admit,” the man said, “it is rather insulting. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to adventure with us. That’s why I quit, remember?”

“You quit because you wanted to grow old and fat and cozy pretty women. I don’t blame you for the dream, boy, but you’re not cut out to sleep safely in your bed. You liked the sword road.”

“Yeah, and I love the prospect of dying violently with Little Miss Black and Blue spitting on my corpse. Call the poets. Fun times ahead.”

“Hey! If someone spits on your corpse, you’ve probably earned it! And...” This time, she jabbed the dagger in his direction. “Tomtom and I don’t need your help, Mister Whoever You Are!”

The stranger blinked, then looked ruefully at the dwarf. “She’s feisty, if unbalanced. Have you been feeding her your special pepper stew?”

Tomtom tsked gruffly. “You gave her your knife?”

The man shrugged. “Children like toys.”

“Giving it away like it was candy.” The dwarf sighed, offering up a silent prayer. “You’re a fool, you are.” Tomtom shuffled to her bedside and pointed meaningfully at the taller man. “That lad is Odhran Ware, a hero of some skill, if not the greatest hygiene. He took that knife off the remains of the fiendish wizard Durnadoc. Ah, I see from your wide eyes you’ve heard of him. Well, listen up! I watched Odhran choke that abomination to death with his bare hands, when all others were powerless against the foe. That wizard had been terrorizing Faerûn for years, slaughtering hundreds with the power in that blade, hundreds more upon that in pestilence and calamity, but it took a stubborn bastard like the Great Ware to send the sinner to his maker and put the knife to noble use. You’ll not be trimming your nails and eating your supper with that dagger. Nay, lass. Hand it here.”

Albeth ducked her chin after the dwarf finished his speech, meekly holding out the weapon.

“Tom,” Odhran said in a firm tone, the first serious sound to escape his lips. “I gave her the knife. I wanted to let it go.”

Wants to let it go, he says.” The dwarf paced at her bedside, clearly disapproving. “You’ll regret it.”

“I think we’ve already established that I’m a fool. Besides,” Odhran said, humor creeping back into his words, “knowing your cooking, she’ll need some arcane power to carve through that gamy meat.”

Albeth cradled the dagger, looking at it with newly reverent eyes. If this vagabond was truly a great hero, perhaps there was hope for her progress yet. She offered Ware a shy smile of gratitude, though it emphasized her sore jaw. “Thank you.”

Odhran shook his head sharply. “Don’t thank me. Not now. Thank me after you’ve used it.” A heaviness to his gaze suggested that he wasn’t speaking of cutting rabbits. “If you still can.”

The silence hovered a moment before Ware clapped his hands together and settled on the workbench by the table. “So, Squire Dorrin, what say you toil and slave over a hot stove for our entertainment? Maybe in between peeling the carrots and onions, you can drop a few clues as to this adventure you’re promising us.”

“I’ll tell you now what the problem is, clear as mud.” Tomtom bustled to the hearth, making a few waves of his hands that seemed to stoke the fire within its barrier, causing the surrounding downpour to hiss and sizzle in protest. “It won’t stop raining.”
Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2005, 09:47:33 PM »
“Yes,” Odhran said. "While I’m sure that plays havoc with your cabbage garden and the local lawnball tournaments, rain is, in fact, a normal thing. It happens from time to time, then the sun comes out, there are rainbows, and puppies and butterflies can gambol freely in the flower beds once more.”

“He mocks me! The whelp mocks me!” Tomtom shot Ware a furious glare, picking up his cleaver, and began to harmlessly chop carrots. “Study him, lass,” he told Albeth. “He’s your tutor if ever you want to learn how to be an ass.”

Albeth giggled, but she quickly assumed a sober expression, for she was afraid of appearing too girlish for the task ahead. “You shouldn’t be so rude,” she lectured Odhran primly. “Tomtom knows the difference between rain and rain.”

“That I do. Nary has a day passed in two months without the downpour over Pebbleford.” Tomtom punctuated this statement with a final whack of the cleaver, dashed the chopped vegetables into a pot followed by the contents of a jug, and then added a dash of powder sequestered in a pouch on his belt. As he hauled the cauldron over to the hearth, he elaborated. “Rain, and rain again. We’re not three miles from the River Ith. The earth is saturated, but have the banks flooded? Nay! Where’s the water going, then? Where’s it coming from? There’s nothing natural about it!”

“And we are to discover its source and destination?” Odhran asked.

“In our dreams.” The dwarf shook his head with doomed excitement. “I doubt we will succeed. ‘Tis hopeless to expect any progress whatsoever, and we’ll likely as not catch our deaths of cold tromping about in puddles. The lass has been practicing, so she’s ahead of the game.”

“Then why bring me along?” Albeth said quietly.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Tomtom countered. “Have you something better to do on a rainy day?”

Albeth shook her head, a simple movement that made her skull pulse. “But… isn’t this problem urgent? I’m… you said I was half-dead.”

“That depends.” Tomtom took the soup tureen off of the worktable and added a few ladlefuls from the bubbling cauldron. As he padded toward the bed, the dwarf mumbled indistinctly under his breath. Presenting Albeth with the bowl, he said, “There’s bone stubbornness, then there’s magic. Both will serve. Drink up. There’s a good girl.”

This time, Albeth eyed the tureen warily. “It’ll make me sleep.”

“Aye. It’ll make you stronger.”

She frowned at the lounging Odhran. “There won’t be anyone else new here when I wake up, will there?”

“We’ve been overly blessed with the lad, more so than any two sane bodies can stand. Think no more on it. There’ll be too much to do when you wake, and you’ll barely be fit for half of it. Now quit wasting our time, and down the broth, eh?”

Decided, Albeth drained the bowl dry without pause for breath. Smacking her lips, she released a small belch and sighed. Albeth handed Tomtom the empty tureen, then sleepily tweaked the dwarf’s nose. “You’ve fine manners, Squire Dorrin, no matter what Odhran says.” She settled into her blanket, yawned once, rested one hand over the hilt of her new dagger, and allowed her eyes to drift shut.

Tomtom returned to his worktable, humming with satisfaction.

“Aren’t you pleased with yourself? All the gullibles falling in line with your grand schemes, just like in the old days,” Odhran said glibly. After a pause, his expression grew abnormally solemn. “What made you so certain I would come when I got your letter?”

“I wasn’t. Bone stubbornness goes for you, too, whelp.”

Odhran’s mouth quirked. “I’m so pleased you see my charm.”

“It’s a curse my vision’s yet to fail.” Tomtom twitched his nose. “Likewise my sense of smell. Wet dogs have a sweeter scent than you, Ware. You should take a bath. There’s plenty of -“

“Water. Yes, I’ve heard of it. You mentioned the ample supply pouring from the heavens.”

“Trim your whiskers, lad. I’ve got your armor in the shack. Polish it, then your teeth. At least, then, there’d be a slim chance you might look like you know what you’re doing.”

“Yes, sir. Have to set a good example for your new protégé, do I?” Odhran rubbed his chin, squinting with a puzzled frown. “I have to wonder the same as the child. Why bring her along? From the look of her, she obviously got into a scrape she wasn’t prepared to handle. Why should I believe she isn’t just dead weight you’re foisting on me?”

“Fitting you should call her dead weight.” The dwarf lifted one of the rabbits and began to skin it over the waste barrel with grisly focus. “When I pulled the scraps of her out of that puddle, it was a pointless kindness. Dead weight, she was. A good deed, for I’ve never stomached babes in arms rotting face-down in alleys lightly.”

“Yet you’ve had your share,” Odhran said.

“We’ve all had our share,” Tomtom argued.

“So what’s one more? Let’s face it, neither one of us has proven overly able to keep anyone save ourselves alive, your calling notwithstanding.”

“The inevitability of failure shouldn’t dissuade anyone from following their conscience,” the dwarf pronounced, shaking a lecturing fist at the younger man. “You agree in your heart, boy, else your sorry self wouldn’t be dirtying my floors.” Satisfied with these words, Tomtom added the freshly carved slices of rabbit to the cauldron and gave his hands a rinse in the rainwater.

Odhran observed him thoughtfully, watching the dwarf’s practical tasks in fascination before asking, “But I am to be allowed my idiotic notions. I haven’t the sense of a bucket. What’s your excuse, Tom? Why her?”

The dwarf dried his hands on a towel and began to scrub the table clean. “She should have died, my friend. Even with my infusions, Miss Brackwater ought to be as animated as the potatoes in our dinner stew. She’s healing far too quickly without the divine having a word in it. She’s not your typical girl.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Odhran drawled. “I only dabble in women.”

The dwarf made a hushing gesture. “I’ve a ken about these things.” Tomtom laid his index finger aside his nose. “The same sense that kept me from smothering you in your sleep all these years.”

“Then I suppose I must appreciate it.”

“She’s touched, I tell you,” Tomtom said, whipping the bench with his towel for emphasis. “The question remains... what is she good for?”

“Or if she’s good, period.” Odhran turned on the bench to better study the slumbering girl. As if she could sense the attention, Albeth flinched, her knuckles whitening as she instinctively gripped her dagger tightly to comfort her nightmare. “Her dreams disturb her,” he said.

“Only fools like you believe that dreams should make a body happy,” Tomtom gruffed as he rinsed his hands once more. “The rest of us are more pragmatic.”

Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

Offline Bons

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Re: Unborn Idols
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2006, 05:16:14 PM »
I'd completely forgotten about this (Maybe trying to block out the awful title), but I stumbled across several unposted chapters while looking for inspiration for another project. I can't believe it's been over a year!

***************************************************************

“You’ll go to the river,” Tomtom announced just after she awoke. “With Ware.”

“With Ware? Just Ware?” Albeth protested. Ware was too fickle. Tomtom was the one she could rely on for help. He was the one who’d saved her life. Ware was unsettling. “What about you?”

“I’ve preparations to make, and prayers to offer. There’ll be more accomplished without you underboot.”

Albeth turned her eyes to the washing bowl, shirt, and armor that had been left at her bedside. The jerkin wasn’t hers; the thieves had taken that. This leather was of a thicker grade, sculpted to fit a form snugly, allowing freedom of movement as well as protection. It had been recently oiled and carried a faint perfume of lemons.

She scrubbed at her face and arms cautiously with the water. Her jaw no longer felt as if it was on fire; her muscles had ceased complaining at each movement. Albeth considered the cut on her arm. The wound had scabbed over, leaving a rosy and puckered scar. It appeared far less dire than the day before, causing her only mild discomfort.

Albeth wriggled into the new shirt and gingerly tried to stand. Though stiff, her legs cooperated, moving as she willed them. She saw how the memories of bruises marked her bare flesh, speckles of ochre marring the pink. Above her right knee, the hint of purple remained. She wondered if the bone had been crushed during the attack. This was the only joint that remained sore when she flexed it, but her recollection of the ordeal remained too murky in spots to know for certain.

Albeth snuck a glance at the old dwarf while she inched on her breeches. He’d spoken of prayers just now, and magic before that. Whatever Tomtom’s powers, he was very secretive when using them. No brute force and blades for Squire Dorrin. Albeth suspected he was very powerful, indeed. She found that knowledge comforting rather than a threat.

Threats made her think of her dreams. She’d seen the red-masked woman in her sleep again, making threats anew against Thomas and Marta. This time, the scene had progressed further into images of the foster parents suffering, tortured and helpless. Albeth woke up feeling dirtied by the thoughts. Dreams were always strange, at times fantastic. Disturbing things they could be, but what sort of girl was she to conjure such happenings in her slumber? What crime had Thomas and Marta ever done to her that she could ever think of harm against them?

Yes, they were dull and complacent people; the one piece of excitement in their lives had been to adopt a foundling. Albeth supposed they had been as kind and as loving as any real parents could be to a child. How wicked of her to envision their violent deaths!

She caught Tomtom studying her curiously as he began to make griddlecakes. Albeth wondered if he could tell that she was guilty of cruel thoughts against the innocent. He was probably sending her off with Ware as a punishment.

Albeth eased on her new jerkin as she fought the pangs of rejection. The leather was short in the waist, leaving a gap above the band of her breeches at the sides, but it was lovely in detail. The former owner had obviously been a smaller sort of woman, but Albeth wasn’t sure if that meant small folk, or just short. Regardless, the leather was just the sort of thing that marked a true adventurer, and she flushed with pride to wear it.

Albeth noticed a pair of gleaming boots waiting at the foot of the bed, as well. She began to imagine how TomTom must have labored from the crack of dawn to polish the items for her use. Perhaps he does not think so badly of me, after all?

She worked the boots onto her feet, feeling it would be appropriate that she show some manners at this bounty to justify the dwarf’s good graces. She lowered her eyes modestly, cleared her throat, and said in a humble voice, “Thank you for the gear, sir.”

“Hmph. Could hardly expect you to hike to the river in my blanket,” he grumbled. “Besides, the armor isn’t mine.”

It occurred to Albeth that neither Tomtom nor Odhran seemed to have much use for gratitude. If anything, appreciation made them uncomfortable. Was this the way of true adventurers? It felt odd to her, for she had always envisioned that one ultimately performed deeds for the recognition. Legends, songs, renown... weren’t these the rewards for heroes? Surely kindness had no meaning without appreciation!

“Of course not,” she agreed, while confusion continued to dance in her thoughts. “This armor was crafted for a woman. Whose is it? You said there’d be no other company!” Albeth added reproachfully then dropped her eyes again, worried that she might have appeared too demanding.

“And there isn’t,” the dwarf snapped. “That leather hasn’t had an owner for many a summer. It belonged to a former companion of Ware and m’self. After we battled the wyrm scourge of ‘63, Lucilla had no more use for it.”

“You mean... she died?” Albeth tried to not sound morbidly fascinated.

“Looking for a gruesome tale of wretchedness and woe, are you, lass?”

“No, no. Not if you don’t want to tell me, that is,” Albeth said with forced reluctance. “Not if she met a truly gruesome fate...” The grisly details would surely be fascinating, though. Even if she’d sworn off such tales, Albeth had faith that Tomtom would tell her the honest truth without the grandiose embellishments that a bard might spin, filling her head with wonderful nonsense. Even if the nonsense version might be more entertaining...

TomTom could sense what she was thinking. “Humph.”

Odhran had returned as they spoke, and his drawling voice cut into their talk. “What Squire Dorrin loathes to confess is that Lucilla met with a fate worse than death.” Fully armed, with a gleaming helmet in one hand, Ware now seemed to take up more than his fair share of the room.  “She married an elf.” 

Albeth scowled. This was just the sort of embellishment she had no use for. She'd matured through her ordeal and took adventure seriously now. Much too seriously to laugh at jokes about elves! Albeth stifled her unbidden snicker and tried to ignore the man in favor of admiring her boot buckles. Boot buckles were more important to a serious adventurer.

“Don’t hold back your horror on our account,” Odhran continued with annoying cheer. “We’ve had years to come to terms with her gruesome destiny.”

“Quit teasing the lass,” Tomtom said.

“It’s not teasing,” Albeth said, straightening and propping her hands defiantly on her hips. “It’s nonsense." She tossed her head, sniffing, "I’m perfectly capable of ignoring the babble of fools.”

Ware clapped in approval. “Good for you! Not listening to me is the wise choice! More people should try it. It would save them miles of trouble.”

Then his expression sank into a frown as he bothered to look at her. Ware examined her critically from head to toe, making Albeth want to shuffle self-consciously. “You’re tall,” he accused.

Albeth blinked, not sure what to reply, and studied him in return. He’d shaven and clipped his hair, giving his features a clean dignity. With the added armor, Ware now stood with the illusion of authority, at least until he opened his mouth. “So are you.”

“It’s the plate,” Tomtom explained. “Even a devil cannot slouch with that lot on his back.”

Odhran continued frowning as he eyed her. He pulled a scabbard out of the bowl of his helmet, tossing the sheath to Albeth. “That goes with the dagger.” He watched as she secured the weapon at her side, commenting in disgust, “This won’t work at all. The armor's all wrong.”

“What?” Albeth said, bewildered. The new leather was much finer than the armor she’d had before! It was lovely!

“I thought you were shorter.” Odhran patted the air, as if she should have been of a height with a collie. “One spear to the side, and you’ll be dog meat.”

“Quit glowering, lad,” Tomtom told him. “There’s bound to be something to make up for shortcomings in the shack. Until then, the girl will avoid walking into anything sharp.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Odhran said.

Albeth felt strangely insulted. For all his looking, he'd been inspecting her armor. Not that she cared what Ware thought. 

”I’m not listening to you,” Albeth warned.

“Promises, promises…”

“Save your tongues, children,” TomTom chided, thumping a platter of food onto the table. “Eat, the both of you, then get out of my sight. I need peace and quiet.”

Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"

 

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