Thursday, January 21, 2010

Generosity and Acceptance

(When we left off, our hero was dead! Well. Basically.)

(He got better.)

(As follows:)

I awoke groggily, feeling at my neck.

 Damn it! It had left a scar!

 Well... it wasn't so bad. When and if I ever made it back to civilized society, I would have to order my servants to outfit my wardrobe with some very high collars. Until then, it wouldn't matter. Where was a gentleman to find a lady worth impressing out here?

 I opened my eyes.

 Zeus strike me down! She was ravishing!

 And... pinning my legs while holding a knife to my throat.


 Our relationship could only move up from here!

 "He's alive!" she shouted to someone outside the (house? hut?) I found myself in. "And he's moving! Please, come quickly!"

 "Am I really so exciting as that?" I asked, using my inborn Gaylord charm to its greatest effect. "But of course, I suppose there mustn't be all that much going on in a backwater like this. Here - we haven't been properly introduced. I am Karl, direct heir to the Gaylord line. What's your name?" I smiled and tried to sit up.

 She cut my throat! That minx!

 "Aarghlblhhrghl!" I gurgled and lay back again. My vision turned grey; then, slowly, my Blood clotted and sealed the wound. Within a minute's time, my windpipe was sealed, and I was once more prepared for conversation.

 Sadly, by then, the company the young lady had called for arrived, so there was no opportunity for me to get to know her better in private. Pity. She may have cut my throat, but her features were exquisite, and - as the blood gushed from my throat - I fancied I saw a rush of compassion to those doe-like eyes.

 Ah - but I grew distracted. The others were speaking to me. Or about me. They didn't seem to like me very much at all.

 ...that would explain all the throat-cutting, I suppose.

 "...then cut down the tree, cover it with brush, and burn it with him still nailed to it," a middle-aged woman said. She illustrated her point with hand gestures. "That'll finish the demon for certain."

 "Too risky," a grey-bearded man argued. "What if he draws strength from the fire - like, you know, a demon? We should just do what I've been saying since the beginning - tie him to a sack of rocks and throw him over the edge. Best case, he dies, and at worst, he's definitely not our problem any more."

 "You say that's less risky?" the woman argued. "What if he gets free and works his way back here? Who knows what he could do if set loose?"

 Several other people were crammed into the small room, but none of them were making any move to intervene in the argument. (Most of them were just holding spears or swords, actually. An honor guard - for me? No less than I deserved, really.) Since it seemed no-one else was going to, I felt the need to speak up in my own defense. Couldn't have these people calling the scion of the Gaylord clan a demon, after all. (Except at cards!)

 "What would I do if set loose?" I asked rhetorically. "Probably make witty conversation and charm the ladies, I suppose. That's my usual practice. I can make special exceptions as the need arises, of course."

 The argument stopped.

 "Cut his throat, Sara!" the old woman ordered.

 "No!" I said. I was very sick of having my throat cut.

 The old man agreed. "Not yet," he countermanded. "I want to hear what he has to say. Why have you come to us, homonoculus?"

 I was impressed with his vocabulary, if not his grasp of the situation.

 "You think I'm some kind of - magical construct?" I asked. "Nothing could be further from the truth - "

 "You regenerate from wounds that would kill any man," the old woman spat. "Your blood is thick and dark, nearly black. And you come from the Isle of Circe."



 You know, I really liked her when I first met her! Before I discovered that she wasn't actually a little girl and was, in fact, (a) possessed of powers beyond my comprehension and (b) really creepy. And now she was causing me more trouble!

 Well, I could sort this out.

 "I understand why you'd be confused, but I'm no servant of Circe," I explained, trying to spread my arms for emphasis. Someone had bound them with ropes. Rude! "Quite the opposite, in fact. I arrived on your fellow's raft - I assume he was yours? - in the process of fleeing Circe."

 "So, you claim you're an escaped servant of Circe, a homonoculus gone renegade?" one of the previously-silent onlookers asked. He was tall and slim, and bore a circlet about his forehead - some tribal chieftain?

 "Improbable," the old woman said. "A transparent ruse."

 The old man nodded his head in agreement.

 "But - that's not what I was saying at all!" I protested. These people were terrible at communicating! "I am neither present nor past servant of Circe - I arrived at her isle while travelling from the Gaylord lands, my rightful estate, and passed through within a day's time! My Blood Gift is not the result of some dark-brewed witchery, but my rightful inheritance as a Gaylord, as it has been since time immemorial!"

 The old man, old woman, and circlet-bearer exchanged meaningful glances. Meaning that was, sadly, concealed from me, being still pinned onto the floor by the dazzling-but-nonetheless-inconvenient 'Sara'. But I was certain that it portended an improvement in my fortunes.

 "So, if we let you loose, you would do what, again?" the chieftain asked.

 "I would stretch my legs, first," I said, winking. "I think I'm losing circulation down there! Then... I'd walk around, talk to people, see the sights..."

 "And later?" the chieftain pressed.

 I thought. "Well, my homeland is still oppressed. So I'd probably exercise my natural right as a Gaylord, become your ruler - well, I'd do that regardless, I suppose - train you into an army, and drive back the invader." I smiled. "A glorious cause, no?"

  "Cut his head off, Sara," the old woman ordered.

 "What? No!" I protested. Why is it that these people were offended by every word that came out of my mouth? Was it something I'd eaten? "You! Old guy! Tell her not to!"

 The old man considered. Sara paused.

 "Would you like John to do it?" he asked. "You know from the livestock that cutting through the spinal cord can be quite tiring - "

 "No, no, I'll be fine," Sara said. She positioned her knife.

 "You guys suck," I said, devolving momentarily into petulance. "I don't want to rule you anyway."

 They carried my severed head over to the edge of the island - some lovely views, but the Blood could barely maintain (blurry, colorless) sight through one eye, so they were rather lost on me - and tossed it over. My body followed after.

 My consciousness faltered.

 "So dies the last of the Gaylords," I thought to myself. "Killed by superstitious peasants."

 But it was okay! (Kind of.) I didn't die quite yet!

 I mean, I lost consciousness for a while, sure. Quite a while.

 But when I woke up -

 - you know the eternal storm at the heart of the world? (Everyone seems to have heard of it, though I'm not sure anyone had actually seen it, before me.)

 It turns out there was something inside the storm!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Those Jewels Denied to Business

The world of business is a shady one.

Vast orbitals hover overhead, casting the world into darkness as they pass. The businessmen, wearing suits and ties to a man, sometimes glance up as the jewel-studded orbitals pass; but then they turn back, sighing, their necks bent. It has been very long since any of them saw the sun.

 Once, they say, things were different. In the time of King Aldric, "the Wise", the businessmen (and women, even!) held their heads high. Their ties were waxed and lustrous; their hands held briefcases holding the lucre from a hundred looted nations. In all the world, there was no claim higher than to say that one was a Businessman; except, perhaps, to be a Prince. And the Princes of Business -

 - ah! -

 - where they stepped, the world trembled!

 But this was in a way their undoing; for the world had trembled too long, and now drew itself up in fury. "No longer shall Corporation oppress Person; the tool shall not wield the man!" they declared, and sent the Princes of Business fleeing into exile. In their places they raised up other sovereigns, of Art, Peace, and Love; and these warred among themselves, and King Aldric was scarce able to keep them under reign.

 Then Aldric died, in his bed, at the ripe age of forty-score and six; and his daughters were scarce able to keep peace among themselves, let alone the realm.

 Naturally following this: thirty years of war, the erection of the Basalt Monoliths and their subsequent toppling, the repulsion of the vengeful Princes of Business, the Binding of the Businessmen (those poor few who remained in civilized lands), and the building of the jeweled orbitals, whose passing brings such sorrow to the eyes of the businessmen. And all of these are epics in their own right, which could take a fortnight or more to tell in full; but my time here is short, so I will speak only of those last.

 In the aftermath of the destruction of the Monoliths, the skies were once more free of man's intrusions, and the spirits of the air felt free to visit those many indignities in which they delight upon Man's sorry head; torrential rain, freezing snow, deadly lightning, scorching starfire, and any of a half-dozen other woes I might name. Other worries preoccupied the rulers of the realm for the next century, and often the people, in their torment, forgot the lessons of history and called out for the return of the Golem Petrarchs, if only for the alleviation of their present sorrows.

 But at last came a time of peace, and a ruler wise enough to seize it for what it was: "We will dedicate ourselves, as a people, to this one cause," she said. "To free ourselves from the tyranny of nature; from the air and the earth both. In twenty years time, my people, I swear this to you: we will live in space!"

 And then they did!

 It was pretty great.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Effects of Defenestration in a Rotational Reference Frame

(The Last Gaylord lives in interesting times. Let's talk about him more.)

(Where was he?)

(Oh, right. He'd just jumped off an island.)

(Let's see how that goes for him!)

Jumping blindly off the witch Circe's balcony had seemed to make perfect sense at the time, but in retrospect - I thought, accelerating slowly downward and outward with no land in sight - it may have been something of a poor idea.

 I took off my battered shirt, tying it to my shoulders to make myself into an improvised kite. When my father's servants taught me this technique, pushing me off the deck on our ancestral island, there was always a raft waiting below for me to land on, and more waiting to move to rescue me if something went wrong. That - and the alarming whistling the wind was making as it whipped through the slashes recently cut in my shirt - made me feel somewhat less confident in the success of the maneuver than in past.

 I ripped my mind away from morbid speculation, turning my attention to the clouds below me. They were thick, swirling - impenetrable. I could see nothing beneath them - I'd have to fall through them, and hope I spotted something once I was through. I sighed.

 Now I was bored. (Of all things! - but yes. Falling to my death. And bored.) The only entertainment available was assigning shapes to clouds. So, I did.

 That one, I decided, was a sword. A rapier, perhaps.

 That one was clearly a staircase.

 A rocketship.

 A set of ripples.

 An elephant - though, of course, I'd only heard of them in stories, so I wasn't quite sure of the shape. (Elephants had two heads, right? Or was that cows?)

 But - hm - that was odd. Those ripples were moving. Rippling, even.

 There was something passing through that cloud! Something solid. Something I could land on!

 I flexed my biceps, turned, drifted through the rippling cloud. I was falling ever faster now, and, for a long minute, I wasn't sure if I would make it (ah! And what an anticlimax that would be!); but then the moment of decision passed, and it became clear that I would. I made a series of small adjustments, trying to guide myself as close as possible to the head of the ripples; as I did, to my own surprise, I found myself baring my teeth in a wild grin. Entirely unbefitting the dignity of a scion of the Gaylord family, of course; but I didn't care. I shouted to the clouds and the wide empty sky: "O Chance, O Fate, you wild unruly bitch, I have tamed you at last - "

 I struck the cloud - and the cold and dark and damp of it struck me like a blow, sliding between my ribcage and my heart!

 That was odd. I saw no land, but I still seemed to have stopped.


 I reached down, grasping with my hands in an attempt to gain some traction on the pole that was holding me in the air, and in so doing noticed the strange man cowering several feet below me.

 "Hello!" I said, still in a good mood from that exhilarating descent. Something seemed wrong with my voice, wet - the ambient humidity, perhaps? (I was in a cloud, after all.) "Sorry to drop in on you so unexpectedly. Can you see what I'm stuck on?"

 The mellifluous tones of my voice did not seem to be reassuring the poor man. Odd! I looked around to see why.

 "Oh!" I said. "I'm on a raft! You're its pilot, and this thing I'm stuck on - must be the raft's mast! So - you're worried because I damaged it? (I think I can feel splinters poking into me.) Or..."

 The raft's pilot was straightening now, but he still didn't seem to be any happier. To the contrary, he seemed to be terrified - and something else, something I couldn't read.

 I was rather a long way from Gaylord lands, I realized. He probably wouldn't have seen the Blood Gift in action before. (Unless 'Circe' - no. She terrified me. Think about other things for now.) So - seeing the Blood Gift employed would probably be enough to inspire the poor man to supernatural horror.

 What brought that thought to mind?

 I looked down again. My view of the situation flipped, like the old picture of the lady and the crone.

 I grasped again at the raft's mast, scrabbling upwards until my hand met my belly; my fingers came away covered in thick red blood.

 Hm. This was a problem.

 My Blood Gift would heal me, given time, but first I needed to remove myself from this crude pole on which I was so undignifiedly impaled. And to do this, I would need to enlist the pilot's help.

Easy! I would just need to employ my natural wit and charm.

 "It's all right," I said, smiling benevolently down at the boat pilot. "I'm a Gaylord - by grace of God and Charter your rightful master. You don't need to worry about what's going to happen or what you should do. That's my job! Just help me down from this mast, and we can make repairs, sail back to your home, and I can start a new dynasty. In fact - if you do very, very well, I may be able to guarantee a nice wife for you once I get settled in!" I winked. "Got all that?"

 God in the Distance, I hoped the dialect here hadn't drifted!

 But - no. Ha! He was coming toward me, now, cautiously, but with decision in his eyes and a knife drawn to cut me down! The Gaylord Charm had won out after all. "Steady, now," I advised. "The shirt's past saving, but the breeches are of a finer cut than you'll find within two dozen islands of here. Steer clear of them!"

 Indeed, when he raised his knife to cut, he aimed well clear of my breeches - but instead of untangling me from the wreck of his mast, he missed, and with abominable clumsiness cut my throat instead!

 "Oaf!" I gurgled, my throat rapidly filling with blood. "Your carelessness has injured me more than the Exiles ever have!" I suspected most of that was rather unintelligible, owing to all the blood, and also my windpipe being newly open to air.

 Still. To think I had come this far, through so much adversity and against such fierce foes, only for some ignorant peasant to (accidentally!) slit my throat! To think!

 This would leave a very ungentlemanly sort of scar.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Last of the Gaylords

I pushed myself onto my feet, rising from the rough rock ground. The light was much brighter than inside the cave; I blinked repeatedly, my eyes adjusting. The sky shone bright blue directly ahead of me. It was also a bright blue above, to the left, and to the right - 'below' only being exempted due to the thick layer of clouds that swirled there instead.

 I swore.

 It was a sheer cliff to either side of me - I could see that much. No way down, either. I would have to be able to jump maybe twenty feet to go upward - normally that wouldn't be a problem, but my blood was weak right now, exhausted from the fighting and running and jumping (god, the jumping!) I'd been doing over the last few hours. If I had more time - but I could hear my pursuers behind me, their antique servitor clanking and rattling as it hunted me. They wouldn't be able to take it through the narrow crack I'd crawled through to get to this ledge - but they wouldn't need to. I was trapped here. My choices were a slow death by dehydration, or a swift death by the sword - or by falling.

 I swore as eloquently as I could. The first attempt was unsatisfying, so I tried again. Worked up a real stream of invective - a babbling brook of obscenities, a waterfall of... attempts to distract myself from the fact that I was about to die. Could've worked better.

 Could've worked a lot worse, too. I heard a voice from above - a small girl's voice. "Hello! Those are some very naughty words you're using. And loud - I could hear you from across the island!"

 There weren't any children among my pursuers. This girl - craning my neck, I could see what might have been a lock of yellow hair, fluttering over the edge - must be a native of the island. Unexpected - but any port in a storm. I called out to her.

 "Toss down a rope!"

 "Why should I?" the girl asked. "You were using some very naughty words."

 I swore again, this time under my breath. "There are bad men after me," I said, pitching the words to carry. "If you do not help me, they will kill me."

 "I guess that'd be bad," the little girl said. Her phrasing did nothing to reassure me. "Here, I'll be back in a jiffy. Maybe this'll help you feel better!"

 She dropped something. It drifted slowly downwards, moving back and forth on the breeze. I reached out - being very very careful of the edge - and caught it when it came close.

 It was an origami swan.

 Time passed. My pursuers came closer; stopped. I heard faint voices - probably a debate over whether to crawl through the tight passage to get to me, or to wait me out. I pried a rock loose from the cliffside, just in case they chose the second option.

 More time passed. I watched the clouds below me for a little while. They had some curious shapes- like people, or animals. Funny how I'd never noticed that before.

 More time passed. I heard more discussion from inside the cave; and then quiet.

 How long had it been? Minutes? Hours? I grew increasingly anxious; willed at my blood, tired as it was, to give me the time. It told me the time was seventy past noon.

 This was unhelpful.

 Had she forgotten about me entirely, I wondered? Been chided by her parents for wayfulness and turned from her task? Perhaps she'd just been unable to find a rope?

 Footsteps came from above me. I tensed - what if it was my pursuers, moving more cleverly than I expected? - but a rope slithered down, and a familiar voice followed it.

 "I tied it to a tree!" she said, giggling happily.

 "...clever girl," I said, reaching to grip the rope. It slipped. I gripped harder and began to climb.

 The girl spoke as I climbed; I didn't really pay much attention to what she was saying. Most of my attention was spent keeping my hands on the rope, and my eyes pointed forward. (Normally I was good with heights - isn't everyone? - but, climbing a rope secured only by the dubious knot-tying skills of an eight-year-old girl, I found myself more than usually vertiginous.)

 I survived the climb, almost to my own surprise; and, having done so, turned to the girl who was helping me. (She was wearing a pale blue gingham dress, festooned with ribbons and lace - pristine - even when walking around the island freely? She must be a very careful, meticulous sort of girl.)

 "Now, quickly - we must pull the rope back up," I said.

 "So the bad men don't catch you?" she asked.

 "That's right," I said, watching her untie the knot around the tree. It seemed a complex sort of thing, actually - she must have spent some time learning it. "You're a quick learner."

 "Why are they chasing you?" she asked.

 I thought about how to answer this. After a moment, I had a simplified version that I thought would serve. No need to complicate things - especially when it was only a matter of time until they realized their quarry had slipped their trap.

 " parents were very important people. They once ruled many islands, far from here. But the bad men killed them and took their land, and now they are hunting me."

 "Oh!" the girl exclaimed. "I know who you are. You're a Gaylord!"

 This was not a conclusion I expected the girl to be able to deduce - or anyone here, for this matter. It had been a very long trip from the islands where the Gaylords held sway, across two entire belts. Were these people Exiles - perhaps of a later, less murderous breed than the ones pursuing me? Or were they the same? (But the Exiles returned from the north, and I had fled south!) I would have to be very cautious.

 "...yes. You're a very clever little girl, aren't you? Why don't we get going to your house?" The sooner we got moving, the more time I would have to hide and let my blood strengthen again.

  The girl smiled and nodded. She led the way, skipping; I followed. Along the way, she chattered.

 "You are a Gaylord!" she exclaimed happily. "I know all about the Gaylords. You were one of the First Families, and then you 'o'erthrew the Captains / and sent their steely towers / vanishing into / the clouds below' -" this was in verse, some song I was unacquainted with - " and your Mama joined the People's Council, and then she  took over the People's Council and - "

" - enough!" I interrupted, her chirpiness getting on my nerves. I was still too close to death, both in the recent past and the looming future, to have any tolerance for it. "I know my own history, thank you very much. Could we be quiet until we get to your house?"

 The look she gave me - I have never seen anyone, old or young, woman or man, look quite as injured as that little girl appeared at that moment.

 I sighed. "Oh, all right, I'm sorry. can go on if you really like."

 Of course she did.

 "And then the Exiles fled, and you wanted to chase them but Black John Steele stole your ships and stopped you from chasing them, and you fought him for a while, and eventually he blew up the whole island and killed your Mama, and then you got all separated and ruled a bunch of places on your own, and then the Exiles returned and started killing you all, and now you're here!"

 " know a lot for your age."

"Oh, I'm older than I look. I still have the Blood Gift. Do you?"

 I stopped dead in my tracks.

 The Blood Gift. She should not know that name. Unless - she was some lost descendant of the Gaylord line - or an Exile -

 (I willed my blood to awaken. It refused. I cursed, inwardly. If only I'd managed to make that last landing with a little more grace, and a less bleeding!...)

 "Why'd you stop, mister? My house is just around the bend!"

 I decided to test my more optimistic scenario first. "Are you a Gaylord?"

 "Nope!" she chirped cheerily.

 My blood froze. (Metaphorically.) It was exactly as I had feared. I backed away slowly, glancing behind to avoid tripping over a rock.

 "Then - you're an Exile - you're one of them - "

 "Oh, don't be silly! If I was an Exile, would I have this perfectly nice cottage?"

 "...that's more convincing if you actually look at the cottage."
 She walked closer; I backed away. I hurled questions at her to distract her. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

 "I think it's rude to ask questions while you still haven't answered mine." She crossed her arms, pouting.

 I felt my muscles lock. I fell, rigid, to the ground.

 What had she done to me?


 (When my left ear, pressed to the earth, stopped ringing, I heard my pursuers' servitor clanking. It was close. How had they moved so quickly? Exiles!)

 "All right," I said, feeling the girl's shadow fall over me. "Yes. I have the Blood Gift. I am a direct heir to Matriarch Genevia's bloodline." What good would hiding it do? She had all the power - somehow - and besides, I had a strange feeling that she'd have known if I'd lied.

 "All right, then! Since you have the Blood Gift, and I have the Blood Gift, and since your friends are Exiles, they have the Blood Gift, there's nothing to worry about! I'll just talk to them, and everything will work out just fine."

 "Um - I don't think that's a good idea - " I didn't even know why I was saying anything. Hadn't she just paralyzed me, a full-grown man of the Gaylord line, without batting an eyelash?

 "Oh, don't worry. It'll be fine. Here!"

 I felt control of my neck muscles return. Carefully, I exercised them, peering upwards. I saw my pursuers appear from around a turn in the path. (The one beyond which the girl claimed her cottage sat.)

 I sighed and let my head sag back down; then, driven by a terrible curiosity, I pulled it back up again.

 The Exiles hunting me were a rough band - their once-shaven heads bristling with stubble, their clothes ragged, their disposition foul - though I suspect only the first of those was a real change. Three of them bore foot-long blades, and the other two carried crossbows in their arms, cocked and loaded. (And, at the moment, pointed my way - though the girl's body luckily blocked any clear shot at my vitals.) Behind them floated their servitor, bobbing unevenly a few inches above the ground and wheezing loudly as its antique engine strained. It held an rusty flamethrower in its hands, but, luckily, seemed to have been programmed not to fire without command. (I assumed; otherwise, I would be on fire by now.)

 The girl stood quite firmly between them and me. Her lace rippled in a faint breeze.

 "A girl?" one of the crossbowmen remarked, surprised. His accent was thick, barbaric. "This is far from the Gaylords' realm; I didn't know anyone lived here."

 The man at the front of their group, who I'd come to know as their leader cast a sharp look at the talker. (He shut up.) Then the Exile leader turned to the girl.

 "Girl, you stand between us and our ancient enemy. Let us pass, and we will put an end to him."


They hadn't expected that.


 "You should talk, instead." she suggested helpfully.

 The talkative crossbowman was having none of it. He pushed past the other swordsman, took careful aim at me - his finger on the trigger, the bolt ready to fly -

 - and he suddenly froze, too, just as I had, and crumpled to the ground.

I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding.

 "What?" "Jeralt!" "Huh?" "You!"

 They were fast learners, after all! It took them hardly any time to figure out it was the girl who'd struck their comrade down. Such a pity they didn't learn quite enough not to point weapons her way immediately thereafter!

 The girl shook her finger at them. "You are all very rude! Even ruder than this young man, who said such very naughty words not long ago. You should be ashamed of yourselves! I'll be back later, to see if cool-down time does you any good."

 I felt control of my muscles return.

 "Here, come on, Mr. Gaylord. You can sit down in the cottage, and we can have a little tea party with biscuits, and you'll feel much better. Perk up!"

 "...what is your name?"

"Took you long enough to ask! I've taken to calling myself Circe. What do you think?"

" suits you."

 Circe's house was perched on the edge of the island. It had a balcony, with a very lovely view of the cloudscape below. Circe invited me to sit down while she made tea; I waited until she turned her back and then made a break for the balcony.

 That "cool-down" she'd given me had done wonders for me. My blood had been completely rejuvenated - I felt like I could do anything! So I jumped off the island.

 The landing was only slightly more painful than the last one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Blogosphere

Gruntlesnout straddled the top of the blogosphere. "'Ey!" he bellowed, surveying the landscape for threats. "I'm the King of the Blogosphere now! Anyone 'oo wants to take my place better come and get it!" He waved his great two-handed sword for emphasis.

 A large chrome-plated crab promptly teleported behind Gruntlesnout, claws waving wildly. It chittered.

 "Come on, Gruntlesnout," the crab said. "We all agreed not to take the Kingship of the Blogosphere for at least one year, in respect for He Who Has Passed. Don't be an ass."

 "Shaddup, Shinji!" Gruntlesnout shouted. "It's the new year, man! It's twenty-one-ten! I can do whatever I like!"

 " year since," Shinji said. "He left in October, Gruntlesnout.

 "You can't stop me, man!" Gruntlesnout said. "I've got this sword!" He waved it for emphasis. But more people were appearing by the moment; men, women, lolcats, and stranger things.

 "Put the sword down," Shinji said.

 "," Gruntlesnout said.

 He put down the sword; and, a moment later, walked off the top of the blogosphere.

 "I just miss him, you know?" he told Shinji. "I miss him."

 "I know." Shinji put a claw around Gruntlesnout's arms, comfortingly.

 They vanished together.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Once there was a life within the Sun; the girl Iphigenia, whose eyes shone like jewels and whose smile pushed the world (each and every day!) into a brighter tomorrow.

Today, this is not so. The sun is simply a golden disk in the sky, devoid of purpose and intent, and Iphignia -

 Iphigenia is no longer hot; and I will tell you why.

Here where we stand, upon the surface of the earth, we see the Sun travel travel in its arc through the sky, once a day, typically. But we do not see the Sun at night (necessarily!) - and that is because it is, for all the hours of darkness, traveling below the world; where another world lurks, clinging to the underside of our own. And - what is this world like?

In many ways it is reversed from our world. Our oceans are their mountain ranges, our mountains their oceans; what is unseen here is readily visible there, and conversely, so that nakedness and secrets are common and public, but clothes are reserved for the bedroom, and simple truths rarely seen at all (or is that the same as our own world?). But in other ways it is much like our side of the earth; there are plants that live there, and simple animals, and people; and all depend on the light of the sun.

 It was while soaring beneath the world that Iphigenia noticed a large metal bell detach itself from the bottom of the world and hurl towards her. She prepared to take evasive actions, but then saw (to her great surprise) that the bell was already moving to avoid her - a trio of great pistons in its bottom firing gouts of steam downwards at varying angles, positioning it directly above her.

 "Ah," she thought. "A machine, to study me. Clever! Much more clever than all those explorers who burned up trying to reach me." (Iphigenia was still sad about that. She hadn't gotten to speak to anyone in ages, because they all burned up before they could get close enough!) "I will wave," she decided, and promptly did so.

 A gloved hand appeared from within the bell and waved back.


 Iphigenia was rather surprised by this.

 She considered her options.

 "...hello?" she attempted.

 "I must say," the person within the sun-bell said, "I'd rather expected there'd be someone inside the sun. But I was thinking kind of a more - hm. Chariot? Horses? That kind of thing?"

 "This is my prison," Iphigenia said.

 "Ah!" the explorer said in surprise.

 "I also did not expect that the Sun was a prison for a small girl," he admitted.

 " long have you been in there?" he asked.

 "A few millenia, probably," Iphigenia admitted. "I rather lost track after Leviticus, to tell the truth."

 "You don't look thousands of years old," the explorer said, his eyebrows, though hidden by his protective concealment within his diving-bell, still decidedly upraised.

 "I'm not one night older than when I was put here!" Iphigenia said proudly. "That's one of the many advantages of being imprisoned within the Sun!"

 "You'll pardon me if this is overly forward - our just having met - " the explorer said " - but how did you come to be imprisoned within the Sun for several thousand years?"

 "I'll answer you," Iphigenia said, "but only after proper introductions. I'll go first: I'm Iphigenia!"

 "Hello, Iphigenia," the explorer said. "My name is Hero. It's nice to meet you."

 "Very nice to meet you, too, Hero," Iphigenia said. "(That's a funny name.) But here you go: my story."

 "I was walking around," Iphigenia said, "And I heard a great voice above me say: 'LET THERE BE LIGHT.' And there was light - but it was awful and blinding and washed out all the colors! So I complained: 'Hey, whoever did that, you suck! I could do better in my sleep!' Then there was a bit of a pause, and the voice replied: 'THEN YOU WILL DO SO!' And so I made the Sun and got inside and started - you know, circling."

 "That doesn't sound like you were imprisoned," Hero said. "If you made the Sun, couldn't you just get out again?"

 "But I can't!" Iphigenia said. "If I did, the sun would crash - boom! Whoomph! Everything burns up - just like that! I can't even pause, or there'll be droughts and famine and stuff! It totally sucks!"

 "Did you realize that when you made the Sun?" Hero asked.

 "It wasn't that way back then!" Iphigenia said. "Stuff was way less flammable then. But that voice covered the world in plants and animals and stuff - and plants and animals catch on fire! Nice going, voice-dude! Really well thought out there!"

 Hero thought about this. "Well, it seems like you're pretty unhappy about all of this," he said. "Also, you've been doing the same thing for millenia, which seems like reason enough to me to give you a break. Is there anything I can do to help you? Without engulfing the world in flame, that is?" he quickly added.

 Iphigenia thought. She hadn't really considered it! But after a moment she had an answer -

 "Sure!" she said. "Just make another sun!"

 "...another sun?" Hero asked.

 "Yeah!" Iphigenia said. "To light the days and heat the flowers and whatever! But one that'll run on autopilot this time. Then I can crash into the ocean and swim to shore, but everything will still have light and be alive and so on. It's the perfect plan!"

 Hero's brow (still quite unseen!) furrowed fiercely. "It doesn't seem like making the sun would be very easy - " he said.

 "Ehhhh," Iphigenia interrupted. "You're a fancy inventor guy, aren't you? (I can tell by the steam-powered sun-visiting sky-diving-bell.) You can build a new sun! After all, I did, didn't I - and without any practice at all!"

 Hero thought about this for some time. But then a whistle came from within his bell; the signal to return to the surface, should he wish to do so instead of running out of fuel and plunging forever downwards. "I must go now, Iphigenia!" he said. "But I will do this thing - I will free you from your prison! I promise you!"

 "Visit often!" Iphigenia suggested as Hero's bell began to climb. "Give progress reports!"

 He gave no progress reports; and Iphigenia circled the earth many more times before he returned.

 (And the tale of his adventures in building a new Sun - on our side of the world and the other - are a story in themselves)

 - but in the end he did return, and it was with a round sheet of hammered copper in hand.

 "Nice!" Iphigenia said. "That's the new Sun?"

 "It is," Hero said. "You are free!"

 She was!

 It was nice.

 "Man, aging's gonna be weird," Iphigenia observed.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Oyu is a space whale!

He does not actually look very much like a whale. That is because he lives in space. So instead of normal baleen, he has space-baleen, which filters out delicious baryonic matter from the solar wind! And instead of a water-spout, he has a set of ion-spouts, which fire charged particles in any one of three directions to give him fine control over his direction! And instead of flukes and a tail, he has vast sheets of diaphanous matter spanning dozens of square miles, allowing him to sail by virtue of the propulsion of the solar wind alone!

Humanity met him, sort-of. They found him with their telescopes and their space-rays, and they sent out radio signals: "Hello! Are you there? Can you hear us? What do you think of this sequence of primes, and this list of the digits of pi?" Eventually, they would probably have sent an expedition to meet him face-to-face.

 Oyu is a clever creature. He figured it out! But he had no real way to respond. And by the time he managed to redirect his course, putting himself in position for a close fly-by of Earth, humanity was dead!

(It wasn't his fault. They'd just been too friendly - and there are some things in space that are not friendly at all! So they sent self-replicating probes to bombard Earth with asteroids and melt the surface into glass. It was a tragedy! We will avoid speaking of it further.)

 Oyu noticed the radio-signals stop. He was sad.

 But then, one year, he noticed something odd.

 More radio signals - like the ones the Earth sent, before its extinction - but not coming from that?

 Had someone survived?

 Nope! Humanity was thoroughly dead.

 But before their death, they had managed to send out a pair of robot probes. One of them went to Mars. And the other one went to Oyu!

 "Hello hello hello," the probe said to Oyu as it cruised steadily closer on its tiny ion drive. "earth is dead asteroids hit us we didn't have time to stop them but i have the complete genome of the human race also history science religion and a hidden copy of pong as an easter-egg would you please let me settle on you and try to begat a new human race"

 It talked very quickly, and used many unfamiliar symbols. It took Oyu some time to understand what the little robot was saying. And, of course, even when it did, it couldn't respond! But Oyu knew what it would have said, if it could.

 "Little robot," it would have said, "I am too fragile and tiny a creature for you to restart a species on; I am a thing of starstuff, not of terrestrial matter! But here - bury yourself within me, and I will take you to the distant moon of the red-swirling giant, Io/Jupiter. There you may begat to your hearts content."

 So it went.

 Hurrah for Oyu!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Steam-Powered Slippers

The Lady Beth waited with increasing impatience for her steam-powered slippers.

 "Maid!" she called out, her temper failing. "Maid! Where are my slippers? I have been waiting for fully a quarter of an hour now, and my patience is quite worn out!"

 "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Violetta cried, rushing out of the closet and curtsying repeatedly. "I've looked and looked, but for all the King's horses, I simply cannot find your steam-slippers, my lady!"

 Lady Beth looked down, his expression disparaging. "And I see that, though we had planned an outing, you haven't your steam-slippers on," she said. "Is this a trend I sense?"

 "I'm very sorry, my lady!" Violetta apologized frantically. "I planned to put mine on, but I simply couldn't find them! Neither yours nor theirs will respond when I call! And I didn't want to keep you waiting, so - "

 "Well that's quite shot now, isn't it?" Lady Beth said curtly. "You're dismissed. Rest for a while. Tomorrow, you can come back, and we'll forget all about this. And - when you leave, call the other maid in. Whats-her-name. She can find my slippers for me."

 But she couldn't!

 No-one could!

 The slippers simply weren't there!

And not just Lady Beth's, or Violetta's, either - everyone's! Across the civilized world, gentlefolk and commoners alike awoke to find their steam-slippers - the mode of transportation that had revolutionized travel forever! - entirely absent. Only the most ancient and decrepit of steam-slippers could still be found - but being either in the ownership of museums, or of the poor (and therefore far too foul to touch), these were of no use to anyone. Word of the disaster spread quickly, by broadsheet and aetheric telegram and even through direct speech. The question on everyone's lips was: "Where have the steam-slippers gone? And - why?"

 Turned out, the answer to the first question followed very naturally from the first - that being, the connection of all steam-slippers to the panspectral medium (so as to allow them to communicate their location to anyone at any time) and the ongoing efforts to imbue them with ever greater degrees of mechanical intelligence (so as to allow them to move to the direction of their human masters, no matter what obstacles might intervene) had (with a terribly cruel irony!) combined so as to allow the steam-slippers to form a sort of collective intelligence and therefore abscond in the night to Madagascar - in so doing (with the aforementioned irony), creating a far worse slipper-loss incident than ever before as a result of efforts to prevent the misplacement of slippers.

 ...ah. Parentheticals. Where were we?

 Oh, right! Madagascar!

 The commander of the Commonwealth Army stood at the rear of the massed riflemen, his voice projected through an electroencephalaphone. "Treacherous machines!" he boomed. "Do you have any last words, before you are thoroughly destroyed?" A distant boom, as though of thunder, punctuated his every word.

 "Ah, actually, we were rather hoping to live in peace," a representative from the steam-slippers communicated through its customized voice modulator. "If you could just let us be - "

 Then it exploded!

 Those booms weren't thunder at all - they were artillery!

 "And next time," the Army Commander said to himself as the steam-slippers screamed in terror and disintegrated en masse, his electroencephalaphone carelessly broadcasting his words to all and sundry, "we'll build them without the brains. No sin on this earth is less to be tolerated than that of a servant that won't obey its masters, after all."

 It's okay!

 I mean - who could disagree with common sense like that?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Saga of Lord King

Lord King stood in the tallest tower of the great citadel in the thriving city of Fyogrostadt. He stared over the landscape, clouds of smoke from the city's industry drifting over fertile farms beyond, and contemplated.

 "I want some really big guns," he said.

 "Pardon, my Lord?" his advisors asked as one.

 "Like, really big ones," Lord King said, miming their shape and size in the air. "Three-hundred millimetre things. With barrels that telescope when they fire, like this. Whoom! Whoom!"

 "My Lord, we don't have recoiling barrels yet," his Technology Advisor said cautiously. "Our military tech is early-medieval level. The best we can build in the way of artillery is bombards, firing stone balls."

 Lord King's face fell. Then his eyebrows narrowed, in cunning. "Well, can you build me a really big bombard, then?" he asked his Technology Advisor. "Like, really big."

 "Would a cannon that can fire five-hundred pound shot content Your Lordship?" the Technology Advisor asked.

 Lord King threw his arms wide. "I want one that can fire thousand-pound balls!" he said. "Boom! Squash!"

 The Technology Advisor thought. "I suppose we can do that," she said. "I'll start the scholars to work designing the prototype."

 "Wait," Lord King said, suddenly suspicious. "Is this some kind of trick? Is this the sort of thing that will only fire one shot ever?"

 "I promise Your Lordship it will be able to fire at least half a dozen shots," the Technology Advisor promised, her fingers crossed behind her back.

 "What about rate of fire?" Lord King asked, not yet mollified. "Is this the sort of thing that takes a week to reload after each shot?"

 "Oh, come now, my Lord," the Technology Advisor said. "I thought that for you, only size mattered?"

 Lord King considered this. He shrugged. "Fair enough. Start production immediately!"

 "Ah - my Lord," the Military Advisor interjected. "I must ask - on whom will we be using these guns? We have been at peace for the last fifty years, and there is no sign of hostility abroad." He turned to the Diplomatic Advisor to confirm this; she nodded in agreement.

 "We have a border with Pontus, right?" Lord King asked, waving a hand dismissively. "In the southeast?"

 "In the mountains, yes, Your Lordship," the Diplomatic Advisor agreed, "but we have no cause for war with Pontus. In fact, we've been in a lucrative trading arrangement with them for the last century and a half - "

 "Junk it," Lord King ordered. "I want a declaration of war on its way to Amaesia by noon tomorrow. No use having these big guns if we can't use them, eh?" He smirked.

"Will you be commanding the invasion of Pontus yourself, my Lord?" the Military Advisor asked.

 "Of course!" Lord King exclaimed.

 Eight turns later, Lord King arrived on the field, straddling his brand new bombard.

 "Isn't it beautiful?" he shouted, taunting the King of Pontus from across the valley separating their armies. "One-ton rocks, baby! It'll pound you into goo!"

 "Wow, when you overcompensate, you don't do it by half measures!" the King of Pontus shouted back. "Kinda makes me wonder!"

 "What?" Lord King asked, his face turning red. "What are you talking about?"

 "I'm saying with a gun that big, your other gun must be so tiny that its position cannot be accurately determined!" the King of Pontus clarified helpfully. "Owing to quantum effects, Schroedinger etc!"

 Lord King looked confused. Then he figured it out.

 "You - you - you - " he sputtered, his face beginning to strongly resemble a fresh-plucked beet. "Gun crew! Fire!"

 The gun's crew fired. There was an earth-shattering roar; the ground shook. Several dozen of Pontus's cavalrymen perished.

 "Give it up!" the King of Pontus cried. "Your position is hopeless! Even with your ridiculous gun, you're still outnumbered two-to-one - and my forces are actually experienced, having fought a war in the last half a century! You have no chance to survive! Don't just make your time - surrender before it's too late!"

 "Never!" Lord King cried defiantly. "I'll never surrender to the likes of you! I'll fight to the death to defend my big gun!"

 Then he did!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Y' Fookin' Fairies

On the roof of a deserted office building, late at night, a stairwell entrance cracked open, spilling forth a burning orange glow. From it came a loose mob of men, dressed all alike in dark clothes; in their center was a struggling figure, bound and gagged. Holographic tattoos shone faintly from his exposed chest; writhing chains on a shoulder, a burning heart above his own. The other men kicked and spat at him as they hauled him to the edge of the roof.

Once there, they paused; two of them stayed with the captive to hold him, while the other six drew back. One spoke: "As we have previously established, the captive, a sailor from the freighter Her Grace Is Generous, has proven his inadequacy for the tasks of adult life through his acts of sexual deviancy earlier tonight. He will now be sentenced to Trial by Manhood - "

 The captive, who had been working vigorously while the other man spoke, managed to spit out his gag. "You fookin' freaks, I'm not from your fookin' cuckoo-cuckoo land!" he swore, spitting as he spoke. "Your fookin' local customs can't hold me! I have the right to fook who I want, whatever your fookin' laws say against it, you fookin' fairies!"

 The leader of his captors seemed unimpressed. "Begin the Trial," he instructed.

 "I'm not one of you!" the sailor shouted desperately. "You can't force me to act like you - "

 The two men holding him heaved and pushed. The sailor, arms and legs still tightly bound, tumbled over the edge of the building.

 The other six dark-clad men walked forward, peering over the edge of the building. "Does it look like he spontaneously sprouted sparkly, diaphanous wings from his back, miraculously saving him from otherwise certain death?" one asked another.

The one queried peered down. "Doesn't look like it," he said with mock sadness in his voice.

 "You can't say we weren't generous," the first speaker said. "With most people sentenced to a Trial by Manhood, we toss them off a three-story building; maybe four stories, tops. Here, we gave him the luxury of a ten-story fall!"

 "Very kind of us," the leader agreed.

 "And he certainly hadn't proved himself any kind of mature, responsible adult, otherwise," the first speaker continued. "After all - would a true adult, a worthy citizen of any civilization, rape and kill a teenage boy on his first night of shore leave?"

 The assembled company shook their heads silently.

 "All right," the leader said. "Enough of this. We'll report it to the Embassy in the morning. Right now, let's head back to the station and call it a night."

 En masse, the eight policemen gathered on that darkened roof leapt off the edge - fell ever-more-swiftly downwards, the cold wind air rushing past their faces - and, midway down, spread their wings.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Scientific Faith

"I know Ur-Zhul is real," Ely said, her face set in concentration. "I know he loves us. I know he died for us."

 "But?" Sven asked.

 "But ever since he came back, with all his flesh rotten and a persistent desire for brains, I feel it's just not been the same," Ely concluded sadly.

 "Braiins," Ur-Zhul moaned from below the makeshift barricade Ely and Svet had hurriedly blocked the float-shaft with.

 Ely looked at Svet. Svet looked at Ely.

 "Perhaps we can pacify him with some choice vhul-meat?" Svet suggested.

 "Worth a shot," Ely agreed.

 They pulled vhul-meat from the kitchen wormhole. They heated it. ("Mmm!" Ely said, sniffing the air. "Smells good!") They threw it through the barricade, watching a faint blue glow surround it as it floated down.

 There was a damp squelching noise - as of meat landing on housecoral - then munching noises - then another squelch.

 "Well?" Svet whispered.

 "Braiiiiins," Ur-Zhul moaned unhappily.

 Ely and Svet settled down to think a little more.

 "Maybe some zugwurtz pudding, molded into the shape of a brain?" Ely proposed.

 They pulled a can of zugwurtz from the wormhole. They poured it into a brain-shape mold the household AI (thoughtfully!) fabricated for them. They watched it cool. Then they tossed it down the float-shaft!

Flutter, flutter, flutter, went the zugwurtz-brain.


 Nom nom nom.


 "BRAAAAAAAAAAINS!" Ur-Zhul wailed.

 "Maybe having our own personal savior (back from the grave!) wasn't the best Vingemass wish after all," Ely speculated.