Monday, August 31, 2009

Short Break

Moving again. Taking a short break while I deal with it all and settle in. Can't say I'm going to be enjoying where I'm to be living, but it's only for about 3 months.

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 5, 392 words

The god snapped his hand up and grabbed the tip of the sword in his bare hand. The razor edge cut deep into the god's flesh, but he held on tight, and managed to shift the blow into the ground. The smith lost his grip in surprise, and the god used the sword for support as he pulled himself out from under the rubble. Blood streamed freely but, as the god turned to glare up at the smith, that was the least of his hurts.

Horrible burns marred the god's no-longer-handsome features. He'd had his face all but thrust directly into the heart of a fire when he was pinned, and even a god could burn. Fat had charred and flesh had melted, deforming the god into a waxy parody of himself. His left eye was completely destroyed by the flames, and the right one looked half-blinded as well.

The god reached up and gripped the hilt of the sword, pulling himself out of the rubble pile. He grabbed the longsword in one hand and snatched up his falchion in the other. Most of his clothing was destroyed, charred and burning away, and burns crawled all over his body. Still, the god came onwards inexorably, and as the smith stumbled back he tripped on a fallen beam. The smith fell to the ground, and the god came to stand over him.

Before anything could be said, before anything could be done, the god drove the tip of the longsword through the smith's chest, sliding the blade between ribs and pinning him to the ground. It was the smith's own blade, it wouldn't have killed him – couldn't have killed him – but it did hold him in place long enough, as the god raised his falchion high and then brought it low, cleaving clean through the smith's neck.

Dark.

Nothing.

A sudden welter of confusing images and sounds. More dreams. More visions. Random scenes with no rhyme nor reason.

(A beautiful woman kissing his cheek, the point of contact which suddenly blooms with an irritating itch, which spreads swiftly all over his body.)

(Beating iron impossibly thin, in foil-like sheets, cutting out and assembling delicate flowers out of the foil, each petal's edge sharper than the finest knife.)

(Embracing the god, laughing, the faces flushed with excitement and spattered with drying blood.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 4, 396 words

He lay on the ground, surrounded by a deadly obstacle course of fallen debris. The god leaped down from the a gap burned in the ceiling and the floor above, his blade descending inexorably toward the smith. In desperation, the smith kicked and rolled away, the falchion crashing down mere inches away from his head. His back stopped up against a burning timber, and he reflexively rolled back aside and scrambled to his feet.

The smith's knee screamed in pain as he rose, but he gritted his teeth and forced a stumbling, hurried trot to put more of the fallen debris between himself and the god. Slowly, slowly the pain abated as the smith moved, until he could almost hobble at his normal pace.

Rising to his feet, the god came at the smith once more. His blade swept out and high, drawn back for a decapitating blow, and the smith held his place just long enough to commit the god to his attack. At the last moment, the smith dove back and to the side, and the falchion clove into a support beam. Driven by the god's might and will, the blade passed through the wood as if it were mist.

The smith smiledlaughedmockedhahaHAgotyounow and smacked the cloven timber aside with the flat of his blade. A normal sword should have broken before it could have moved the thick support beam, even sliced through as it was, but the beam slipped aside anyway. The god recovered from his wild blow just in time to glance up as the ceiling above, deprived of support, gave way. Fire and rubble descended, pinning the god to the ground. If only briefly.

In a fit of spite and malicious joy, the smith clambered atop the flaming rubble, trusting his boots and the thick leather of his clothing to protect him from burns, and stomped hard. The god below screamed in fury and pain, fighting to get up and out from beneath the burning wood and hot stone.

The smith looked down at his trapped foe, quelling the urge to gloat. The god's head, neck and right arm and shoulder were still exposed, not completely pinned but still immobile. The smith sheathed his short sword and took the longsword in two hands, point angled down. He raised it incrementally, then plunged it downwards, to jab clean through the god's neck.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 3, 428 words

A building cracked loudly and crumbled directly behind him, as the flames consumed the wooden skeleton that held it in place. Without thinking, the smith threwswamflewmoved himself aside as a flaming support beam from the roof crashed through the wall and hammered to the ground where he had stood. The beam's other end still leaned against the wall, an invitation into the burning hellinfernoabyssbuilding dietherewillDIEtheredieDIEdieDIE.

The smith threw a profane gesture at the god, and leapt upon the fallen beam. Flames licked around his ankles, but couldn't burn through his boots. He ran up the beam, still mostly intact, with inhuman balance. The god followed, blade flashing in the firelight eyesflashinginshadow.

The floor had burned out in several places, pieces of old planking dropping to the ground below. The smith leaped across one of the gaps, his back exposed, daring the god to follow. Another plank went out from under his foot as he landed, and he barely avoided crashing through the floor. Part of the board levered up as the plank tilted to descend, and he kicked it up and across at the onrushing god's face. The god wasted a split second in thrashing the flaming board aside, and the smith was upon him.

Even in the hands of a sword-god, the falchion was not made for defense, especially in an even fight. In an uneven fight, distracted and in a hostile environment... In the hands of a sword-god, a heavy, chopping blade like a falchion was an expression of the wielder's aggression. To be thrown on the defensive left one at a disadvantage. And the versatility of a longsword, and the calm and balanced will that it expressed, became an advantage.

The falchion came up in awkward deflection, parrying the longsword by spare inches. That left the god wide open as the smith slipped his shorter blade in. A single sharp jab and the god was stumbling back, tripping over the burning remnants of the fallen roof.

The blow would have gone clean through a mortal man's liver and left him gasping on the floor, but a god would not shamepityrelief be felled so easily. The god hooked his free hand on a support and used it to swing his momentum about and out of the smith's path. When the smith came around to engage him, both blades up and ready, the god struck. A kick to the knee, identical to the one that the smith had delivered outside, audibly cracked the bone and sent the smith back, back and down a hole in the floor.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 2, 367 words

He needed (needed?) to kill the man in front of him.

No, not a man, he realized. The figure in his dreams (dreams? figments-fantasies-memories?) towered impossibly tall, moved faster and more gracefully than any man. He wielded the blade, meant for hacking and chopping, with the same grace with which a master fencer might bear a rapier. A god of the sword, implacable and mighty. The blade did not move as an extension of his hand so much as it was part of his hand, while still something separate. It was, he understood in that perfect clarity of dreams (knowledgerecollection), a sword forged by the god who wielded it, as perfect an expression of that god's skill and will as the god's own word.

But the smith flowed with every blow, parrying and blocking that deadly whirling edge. With every opening, he slid the tip of his longsword – selfhandsoul – through the other's guard and scored a red line.

Every cut tallied a sum owed the god, earnedhow? howwhenwhyearned?and soon to be paid in full. Crossing his blades once more to catch another sweeping slash of the falchion, he kicked the god hard in the knee and propelled himself back with the force of the blow. He took that precious second to glance around his surroundings, looking for anything that would give him the advantage. The smith fought too defensively to have a hope of slaying his foe.

The environment swam into focus, now that he acknowledged it. A city burned around them, in the dark of midnight. People were nowhere to be seen, but the flames from a burning shop garishly illuminated a spray of blood on the nearby cobblestones. More blood had been slopped against the sides of some of the burning buildings, as if someone had heaved it there from a bucket. The complete lack of any other human remains only made the spectacle even more surreal.

Where were the dead bodies? The men with their guts laid open? Those pierced and brought low by a dozen lesser wounds? Severed digits, bodiless limbs, decapitated corpses? Did they fight in an empty city, built and set ablaze for the climax of their violent performance?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Sword Gods," Awakening, pt. 1, 409 words

The god and knight departed in short order, leaving the smith alone to bleed out. Eventually, darkness closed over him, and he wasn't sure whether it was from the fading of the room's lights or death's approach. One was as good as the other, he supposed.

Somewhere on the edge he floated, a place he'd known only in those precious moments after a night's sleep but just before waking fully to the dawn. Dreams still haunted him, then, but took on a surreal note as the real world and his own thoughts began to intrude. Those dreams no longer moved to their own logic, but instead played out by rules borne of the waking world and dreaming world's haphazard commingling. They came more vividly and lingered longer in his memory, but in broad strokes at the expense of meaning and detail.

One of those dreams came to him as he sank into the darkness. A broken, disjointed narrative that flowed from scene to scene with little sense of how he had moved from one to the next.

Visions of casting and forging, of a multitude of beautiful swords of all varieties finished in his smithy. Only it wasn't his smithy, and the blades appeared as if by magic, the secrets and details of their creation never revealed to his dreaming eye. Some, he could deduce what he might do to produce such a thing; others, he had little idea about. And he had tried, but all were crude things compared to the works of art of his dreams.

And not merely the creation of such swords, but their use as well. Practice against imaginary foes, against wooden posts and dummies rigged out of sackcloth and stuffed with straw. One dream jumped erratically back and forth, as the straw-filled dummies turned into men stuffed into uniforms, or the motley of peasants pressed into infantry. Blood spilled freely before turning back into straw and cloth, and a dummy screamed piteously and stank of urine and shit as he plunged a blade into its breast. More dreams of violence assailed him now than he'd ever before remembered upon awakening.

One dream shook him more than any other. A desperate need clutched at his heart with icy fingers, and he shook with exhaustion. He fought with two blades, a long one held tight in his right hand and a shorter blade in his left, crossed to block the blow of a razor-edged falchion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 6, 539 words

“No, my lord,” the knight answered. A small, curious smile crossed his face. “But it is time for blood to flow.” Involuntarily, he flicked his eyes upwards to the ceiling, presumably at the throne room or the king of Calland's chambers.

“Excellent,” the god purred, and jammed the blade point-first into the smith's right breast. The hot steel slid in as casually as it might have passed through lard, slipping between ribs to come out his back. With the same ease with which he had thrust the blade through the smith's body, the god slid it out and twitched the blade aside, flicking blood off in a light spray.

The ceiling forced its way to the forefront of the smith's vision, clouded by a black fog that ate away at the edges of everything. A cracking, breaking pain billowed out from the back of his head, and his breath suddenly came with difficulty. His whole body grew chill except for a bright, searing slice of pain that cut straight through him. Something hot and wet spread over his chest and under his back, and if he recognized what it was, that recognition came only distantly. His thoughts were paralyzed with shock and surprise, consumed with pain.

The cowled figure of the Blood God knelt over him. Proximity did nothing to counter the shadows that obscured the god's face, but his eyes took on more definition than a blurred glow. From so close, the smith thought he could see a slightly darker slit down the middle of the eye, like the pupil of a cat. The god's eyes narrowed in malicious amusement as it stared down at him.

“If you are who you seem to be,” the god whispered to the smith, “this will be the second time I'll have killed you. And by a blade of your own manufacture, no less. I don't suppose you can appreciate the irony of that, but we're... well, we're not supposed to be able to be slain by our own blades. So either you're not who we think you are, or you just haven't awakened to your true nature yet.

“Either way... it works for me.”

The smith managed a shallow breath, just enough to wheeze out, “True... nature?” Was the Blood God really saying what he thought he was?

The god laughed. “She never told you. She really never told you. I'm almost surprised. She forced the compact on the rest of us for you, you know.”

“Why...?”

“The compact? Because the others wouldn't let her get away with killing me. She decided the next best thing would be to fetter me – and all of us, really, given who we are.”

The smith summoned all his strength, barely enough, and managed to shake his head just a little. “No,” he breathed, “why... kill me?”

The god straightened up, looking down upon the smith. He couldn't tell if the god was amused at the question or not. But finally, the god said, “You won't believe me. None of the others ever did. But I'll tell you anyway: it was self-defense. So, I suppose, was this as well. Proactive self-defense.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 5, 391 words

Light flashed on suddenly, brighter and more glaring than the noon sun. The smith recoiled, trying to shield his eyes with his free hand. He heard a sinister, hissing laugh before he could see anything, and his blood chilled at the sound.

A gray blur resolved into the source of that laughter: a towering, nightmarish figure shrouded in dirty ashen robes, its face hidden in the shadows of its hood but for two glowing eyes, while the open bony beak of some unearthly huge carrion eater framed the opening. The effect was profoundly disturbing, and the smith felt something deep in his gut curdle and twist at the sight. He knew, in an absent and distant way, that the figure should not have been quite so frightening, but something about it felt distressingly familiar, as if something seen in a dream – and coupled with that sense of familiarity came hair-raising terror, as a rabbit must regard a wolf.

“The Blood God,” he whispered. He couldn't help it, the words slipped out before he could think.

The Blood God, or so he was called by the old veterans back home – and there weren't many old veterans. Wielded by Calland against Ordal and other nations in battle after battle, the sword-god wrought devastating losses amongst the common soldiery. Held back, occasionally, by Ordal's own goddess of the sword, when she wasn't engaged elsewhere. He laughed as he slaughtered, and only stopped the butchery when his blade finally broke. Sometimes it worked against against Calland, when the opposing forces had all fallen and the Blood God turned on their own men. And sometimes he fought so savagely the sword broke in spare minutes, but that meant little to the men hacked apart on the field.

The god laughed. “Are they still calling me that?”

“My lord,” the knight said, and nodded to the sword. With an ungentle shove, he sent the smith staggering forward to present the sword. Repulsed and terrified, the smith did his best to make himself small even as he held the sword up to the god. The god didn't even pause to inspect it.

In one swift motion, the Blood God snatched the sword out of the smith's hands and swung it about the room. “It is time for battle, then?” the god inquired.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 4, 388 words

“Very well,” the knight said, and turned to the open doorway. That, and an open window high on the wall, were the only concessions to ventilation in the place. “Bring it.”

Carefully, the smith took up the sword with his gloved hands, looking around for some kind of sheath or scabbard. None presented itself, and he certainly hadn't had time to get one made. With a tired sigh he carried it carefully at his side, trying to keep the tip from striking stone while not touching the hot blade.

The knight led them down several floors and through a series of ill-lit halls. After a few turns, the smith felt very thoroughly lost. No guards presented themselves this deep in the castle, and he began to wonder if this wasn't some sick joke being played at a peasant's expense. Was he being stuck down here to rot, with nothing but the sword as an escape? Wagers made as to how long it would take him to commit suicide with the product of his labors?

They stopped at a door much like any of the others down there. A single torch on the wall opposite lit the hallway, poorly. The door had, the smith noticed, a simple latch, no bar nor lock to keep an occupant prisoner. The knight put his shoulder to the door, then turned the latch as he shoved against the heavy oak. After a few grunts and forceful heaves, the door rattled open.

The smith's stomach turned at the almost palpable stench that billowed out of the room. He turned his head to his shoulder and coughed hard as his throat tried to close up against the reek.

“Go in,” the knight said.

With a look into the stinking dark and a quick, doubtful glance at the knight, the smith stepped in. He tried to breathe as shallowly as possible, but the horrid stench clawed at him from every direction. It sunk into his clothes and hair and flesh with vile insistence, refusing to be ignored. The smith wanted to retch and, as he stepped in, the squelching of slime under his boots only made it worse. Between his nervousness and nausea, he nearly vomited right then and there when the knight closed the door after them, plunging the room into darkness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 3, 362 words

The hilt had to be finished next. It was a cast iron grip and cross guard with a hole down the length, so he could slide it up the tang to the base of the blade and hold it in place. The end of the hilt was circular and the tang stuck out almost an inch, and after casting he had spent hours cutting suitable threads into it. Its mate sat nearby, a heavy blunted spheroid that would serve as the pommel. It fit comfortably into the smith's palm, and had been threaded on the inside as well for mounting on the hilt. More importantly, the bottom half of the sphere was nearly hollow, as if it had been cast around a mushroom. After heating the protruding end of the tang and screwing the pommel on to the hilt, he hammered it down to secure the pommel and hilt, and to allow the soft, hot end of the tang to mushroom inside the pommel, so the end would be too large to withdraw from the opening.

He spent more than an hour after that on the grindstone, giving it a dull but serviceable edge, feeling ill-inclined to put so much care into the work as he normally would have, yet balking at leaving it too unfinished. He salved his wounded pride by pretending the blade was to be only a ceremonial tool.

By the time all this was completed, the blade's temperature had cooled from searingly hot to merely scorching. The hot air of the forge did little to encourage its cooling, and he found himself guzzling any provided clean water and pouring it over his head to keep from passing out. The smith was shortly soaked to the skin in sweat and water, and spattered droplets about with every motion. Twilight had set firmly in, if he could guess at all from the light through the window.

The smith took a deep breath and said, “It's as done as it's going to get.” Which wasn't to say that the sword was finished, not nearly to his satisfaction, but it was as finished as the knight's impatience was likely to allow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 2, 372 words

The smith bit back the retort waiting on his tongue, instead taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “Very well,” he said after a moment. “Then can you at least bring me some extra layers so I might handle the blade safely while it's still hot?”

The knight shook his head a little. Damn him, he wasn't even sweating. How was that even possible in this closed-up room barely suitable for smithing? “That is also your problem. If the same tools as you keep in your own forge are insufficient to the task... Or is it your insufficiency, perhaps?”

Gaping at the complete leap of non-logic, the smith realized the knight had to be goading him intentionally. Nobody in his position in life could be that – no, no, check that. They could be that stupid. He'd met more than enough who believed the vagaries of steel and fire could be bent to their private schedules. One could tell them that It doesn't work that way until your voice was gone, but they'd just respond every time with Can't you make it work that way?

The smith turned his back on the knight and closed his eyes. A headache already blossomed right along the line of his brow. After a moment, he opened his eyes once more and looked around the room, doing a silent inventory. His life was at stake here – he couldn't forget that – and he had to do what was demanded of him if he hoped to live.

If his captors could be even remotely trusted to let him live.

The room he was in had been used for storage, at one point, and not all of its materials had been cleaned out when the forge was installed. Included in those leftovers were some sheets of leather, cut and bound for easy storage. He took up a small knife and went over to the leather, cutting a piece loose from its bindings. Under the knight's wary eye, he cut the leather into strips and wrapped them awkwardly over his gloves. He sliced a hole into another sheet to make a thicker work apron, and so encumbered, took up the still-hot sword blade.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Sword Gods," A Test, pt. 1, 384 words

The smith pulled the blade from the blazing heat of the forge. Sweat ran down his face in sheets, and he awkwardly wiped it away on his arm to little effect before setting the hot blade down to cool. He set the heavy iron tongs aside as well and began to slowly clean and sort his tools. He sighed quietly as he fumbled with the unfamiliar set-up, and wished once more for his own smithy.

“Is it completed?” the knight – his ever-present guardian and captor – asked. The smith refrained from flinching or glancing over his shoulder at the black-armored figure, instead focusing upon the tools.

“It's tempering,” the smith said. “It needs time to cool, and then I can grind an edge on and affix a proper guard and hilt.” He glanced out the high window, considering the dimming daylight that came through the panes. “And considering you haven't answered any of my requests for proper materials to temper it in, it might be ready sometime late tomorrow. The day after is a bit more likely. Air tempering is always a bit loose, especially if I leave it racked here in a warm forge.”

The smith could almost hear the disapproving frown in his voice as the knight said, “Finish it now.”

“While it's still hot?” The smith turned in place, wondering whether the knight was an idiot or intentionally pushing him. “Do you really understand what you're demanding? It needs to cool on its own to prevent irregularities and weaknesses, and it's not like I can hold it very safely for the grinding while it's this hot!”

The knight crossed his arms with a muffled clanking and scrape of armor plates. “That's not my problem,” he said. “This is your test, and if you fail...” He looked meaningfully at the cooling blade.

Hesitant, considering, the smith said, “Maybe if you brought me an extra pair or two of leather gloves, big ones, I could be able to hold it well enough for grinding. And another apron. But are you trying to sabotage the blade? What would your god think of that?”

“What my god thinks isn't for you to worry about, peasant,” the knight said, disdain dripping from his voice.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Sword Gods," Master and Servant, pt. 4, 512 words

The room looked the cage for a wild animal. Countless marks marred the bare stone walls, long scratches that ran from ceiling to floor as if something had scrabbled to get out. Ancient hay and straw lay strewn across the floor, matted down by the constant passage of feet over it. What didn't crackle and crunch drily underfoot was thick with some mold-like slime, the only source of which could have been the barren room's sole occupant.

The bearer of that amiable, absorbing voice seemed a creature of its surroundings. Or, rather, the surroundings seemed a thing of their occupant. Tall and broad of shoulder, half a head taller than even the knight, he won attention by his very presence. He made himself large, with a wide and open stance, shoulders back and head held high – royalty could have learned from him simply how to stand.

But the mien of a king was shrouded in ashen gray robes, voluminous things which swept along the floor and hid all but the broad outlines of the being's body. A capelet hung over his shoulders, edged with yellowing fangs each more than three inches long, taken from some massive specimen of wolf, which clacked and clattered together gently as he moved. The figure's face was shrouded completely in shadow by the hood of its robes, leaving an inky void out of which issued the glow of two burning eyes. The bony ridges of some titanic scavenger-bird's hooked beak protruded from that void, wide open as if the eyes stared out from within the darkness of the bird's gullet.

The sword-god loomed over the knight, staring him down. “Tell me what you know,” he hissed, his voice no longer pleasant.

The knight swallowed against a lump in his throat, and reminded himself that the god was harmless without a blade. No sword-god fought without a sword. “My lord,” he began, “the mounted lady commissioned a blade from a village smith. The smith was said to make exceptional blades, and she had broken her old one in combat, so I was sent to ascertain the truth of his reputation and arrange for him to forge her a sword.

“The smith was a young man, barely taken to his craft, but he made a sword that impressed even her. And it was ready within a spare few days – my lord, this was no simple soldier's blade to be hammered out in a handful of hours, but one suitable for a swordsman of your caliber.” The knight chose his next words carefully. “I believe, my lord... that he is the one you and yours have been awaiting. And so does she.”

The god stood still as a statue for several long seconds, but the light of his eyes grew brighter, betraying the excitement that overtook him. Finally, the god turned his back abruptly to the knight and declared, “Bring him to me.”

“As you will, my lord,” the knight said, kneeling once more in the filthy straw below.

“Always.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Sword Gods," Master and Servant, pt. 3, 404 words

Were he not clad in armor, the knight would have clasped his hands at the small of his back as he responded. Instead, he settled for keeping them at his side, but inclined his head towards the two points of light in the dark. “Never, my lord, for the day I tire of the duties of my station is the day I tire of life.”

The voice chuckled in amusement once more. “So you always say. I wonder, though...” It trailed off, as if in thought. The voice wondered quite a lot. “So what brings you to me this fine morning,” the voice asked. Somehow, it always seemed to know the time of day or night above, no matter how long it had been secluded down in its dark chamber.

“To the point as always, my lord,” the knight observed. Another part of the ritual. For one that spent months at a time alone in shadow, the voice belonged to one who loathed dithering and small talk. “I come bearing news.”

“News,” the voice said dismissively. The points of light grew more angular, eyes narrowing. “Quaint tales of the mayfly lives of mortals. The same things happening over and over again, unto the end of time. There is nothing new to the news, and there is only one kind that interests me. Do you bring it?”

“No, my lord,” the knight said. “I have no news of war to bring you–”

“Then be off with you,” the voice declared, its glowing eyes swinging away in the dark.

The knight simply said, “'Until the fallen rise again.'”

The eyes stopped, turned back to regard the knight. “What did you say?”

“That is the news I bring before you, my lord.” The knight held his hands out, palms upward, as if offering up a physical thing that he carried.

A low growl carried through the darkness, followed shortly thereafter by the voice barking out an insistent, “Light!”

Well, that happened rarely enough. The knight knew not by what mechanism it happened, but light rose gradually within the room. A pair of small crystal orbs glowed brightly, mounted on opposite walls, clean and white like fresh sunlight. As with the rare few times this had happened before, the knight concluded once more that he should have liked the lights to remain quiescent.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Sword Gods," Master and Servant, pt. 2, 380 words

He pulled the door to, once again plunging the room into darkness. In a smooth motion practiced by long repetition, the knight knelt down in the muck and mire below, bowing his head. While he wore his hair long, he'd learned to keep it trimmed enough so it would not touch the filth below when he went down on one knee like this. Already in his mind he gnawed over having to clean his armor when he got out of here; it would not do for a knight to look as if he had been on his knees in a barn, after all.

After a count of ten heartbeats, drumming slow and steady but heavily in his breast, he dared to raise his eyes from the piece of shadow that hid the floor. Two points of light, like burning embers, floated in the darkness. A soft hissing chuckle came to his ears.

“Arise,” the chuckling voice whispered. The voice was entirely incongruous with its surroundings. It was smooth and soft, and the knight almost found himself leaning closer to hear it more clearly, as he always did. It was the kind of voice that belonged to a preacher before his congregation, not in this pit of shadow and offal. The knight came to his feet, not knowing entirely whether he did so of his own volition or if driven by the subtle undertones of command in that one word.

“My lord,” he began, but the voice went on, amused.

“Always so careful. Always as precisely deferential as possible. Do you ever tire of it, I wonder?”

The voice had asked that question, or one much like it, nearly every time the knight came here for the past several years. At first it had seemed an insult, and the knight had nearly lashed out at the voice for it. It continued to rankle for quite some time, but at last he had seen it for what it was: a tiny amusement for a being awash in tedium and ennui. A simplistic attempt to get under the knight's skin, one that had yet to be abandoned even though it was no longer effective and now rendered, by time and repetition, into another part of the normal ritual of greeting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Sword Gods," Master and Servant, pt. 1, 381 words

The knight leant his weight upon the door, momentarily grateful that he hadn't yet taken the time to divest himself of his armor. He set his shoulder to the iron-banded oak and heaved. The door gave way on the third shove. Grumbling under his breath at the resistance, the knight straightened up and drew his hair back out of his face.

He had traveled two days with the goddess back to her quarters in the capital, then mounted back up immediately and headed east. On “family business,” he had claimed. Not entirely a lie. His family's holdings were near the eastern border of the kingdom, nearly two weeks' travel away, and this was technically family business. A fact he'd killed to keep secret, but there it was. It had been a simple matter to get over the border from there, and the best part of another month of travel to reach his destination.

The knight had no fondness for the lengthy journey, and wished he could have made it faster. He bore news that could not wait even an instant. Only his horse's needs kept him from pressing on through the night. Finally, just before the noon sun had reached its peak, he had arrived at his destination. The stablemaster's boy, familiar with his comings and goings, had taken the knight's horse for grooming and feeding, while the knight had marched into the bowels of the keep and the business awaiting him.

The room beyond the door was as dark and stifling as the spring day above was bright. A thick, cloying scent billowed out the doorway and filled the air, smoky like incense but thick with odors of rot and decay. The knight schooled his face to stillness, repressing the urge to cover his mouth and pinch his nose shut. No matter how often he came here, the stench never grew any less horrible. Then again, other than for his visits, the door was opened maybe once a year.

Something skittered and scratched in the dark, crossing the room. The sound was suddenly cut short with a muffled squeal, barely audible. A new note entered the foul odors clouding the air. The knight trod into the room, feeling ancient hay squelch under his feet, thick with some festering slime.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

majest1k_w0n, the future, pt. 4, 342 words

Let me express it simply, clearly. No code words, no euphemism, no fauxlosophic rambling: no future.

I'm not calling for an end to humanity. I'm not a complete misanthrope, despite what some of my readers may think. I mean just what I say.

Imagine to the end of all the plans for how the future develops. Imagine an end to the agendas and politicking and wars and other bullshit. Imagine an end to all the symptoms of a sick system based on everyone trying to make sure their future comes to pass. Imagine an end to the elder generation forcing its visions of the future onto the younger generation.

I don't mean an end to individual life planning. I don't mean people should stop worrying about the fact that they have to eat and sleep somewhere eventually. I mean that the attempts to build or chart a future should be abandoned. No future means no social engineering. No demographic engineering. The worst human excesses come from fear of the future, because fear of the future leads to attempts to direct it.

Aryan militia groups that fear the demographic changes coming to the Western world as Caucasian birth rates decline faster than those of other ethnicities. Neophobic neoconservatives that fear the end of the US superpower and formed the Project for the New American Century that led directly into the ruinous policies of the so-called War on Terror. Muslim and Jewish and Christian and other theocrats who fear that new ideas might challenge power structures and ideological pyramid schemes centuries or millennia old. Multinational megacorporations that fear losing their profit margins and try to dictate, package, and stifle the next cultural or technological change.

Everything controlled, everything planned. Until those plans intersect, and everything goes to hell. And the next generations are the collateral damage in the wars for the future. So what's the solution? What will go a long way to ending the wars? Take away the prize that everyone is squabbling over.

Imagine no future.

Until next time.

majest1k_w0n, signing off.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

majest1k_w0n, the future, pt. 3, 346 words

And that's just the internet. If you have a job, if you have a credit or debit card, all your physical transactions are traceable. We don't need a shadowy government agency prying into our electronic and physical mail, trying to puzzle out the secrets of our private lives. We each leave such huge footprints that someone would have to be blind not to be able to follow each of us if he wants.

Niche marketing and customer profiles create an illusion of individuality. Screen names and passwords create illusions of anonymity. And every time we click a link rating some media we've experienced, every time we fill a section on a social networking site's user profile page, we're participating in those illusions. You rate a movie, and your ratings are compared with the ratings of thousands or millions of other consumers, and you have been tracked, profiled, and rated in turn. You type in a short phrase describing an interest, and it's a hyperlink to every single other person who's put that same interest in, and the number on a meter somewhere ticks up by one.

And every one of these sites has the rights to sell this profiling information to others. For “marketing purposes.”

It will only take one agency, be it private or governmental, to start actually doing the data-crunching, buying the rights to your information for “marketing purposes” and feeding it into their algorithms, before everything about each of us is known, recorded, and filed away. There is no anonymity in this system. There is no individuality in this system. Even if we don't wear it, carry it, or ever see it, each of us now has a number. Each of us now is a number.

That's the future we're creating. And each of us is a willing participant in it.

So, some of you will say, what do I think the solution is? Everyone has a system they want to tear down, but they never have any suggestion as to what will replace it. But, I say, why replace it?

Friday, August 14, 2009

majest1k_w0n, the future, pt. 2, 421 words

Over a billion different personal enlightenments making their unique experiences into mundanity. The private worlds of nearly a quarter of the planet compressed and summarized in blog posts, profile pages, snippets of 140 characters at a time. A shared media experience so pervasive that a good half of the people reading this are waiting for the Fight Club quote, code words for the manufactured disaffection of Generations X, Y, and Z.

Here, I'll get it out of the way now. Just for you– actually, no, I won't. Screw the code words. I'm not Tyler Durden, and I'm not going to steal the words of a movie to make my point.

So that covers the futures that we were offered and that we have. What of the one we're making? Frankly, it's just as bad as the one we've got, if not worse.

You know that stuff about everyone indulging in the same shared media experiences and summarizing themselves? Let me tell you, this is only the beginning. This is a nail in the coffin for individuality and privacy, and we're putting it there ourselves.

See, for most of this first decade of the 21st Century, lots of people were worried about all kinds of problems relating to surveillance and civil rights. The government's trying to watch us, it wants to track us, it wants into our mail and political speech and everything so it can mark the dissidents and disenfranchise opponents. Big, big concerns.

At the same time, a lot of these people have joined up with websites like MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking stuff. They got accounts on Amazon.com and iTunes, eBay and Paypal. They fill out profiles on the social networking sites describing their educations, work histories, interests, desires, sexualities, political affiliations, religions, buying histories... What we haven't tagged out in one or two words gets put into blogs and Twitter feeds, every thought compressed into a snippet for ease of digestion. Every idea and trait simplified and boiled down into bland, easily comprehensible little bits of text.

We don't want the government to know what we're doing, but we then go on to tell everyone, especially large companies, just that. We tell Amazon and Netflix what we've read and watched and played and own so they can provide recommendations to us. So they can build consumer profiles on us. And then we use the same screen names, the same e-mail addresses, the same passwords everywhere we go. And our IP addresses stamped on every site we visit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

majest1k_w0n, the future, pt. 1, 381 words

Good evening, young people. I told you that you'd hear from me again.

I'm here to talk to you once more about something near and dear to my heart: the future.

I'm sure you believe you've already heard everything I have to say, a rage-fueled rant laced heavily with profanity and foul imagery. Why, yes, I did rather enjoy making that rant. It was rather cathartic. But now we get down to the real meat of the situation. Let me tell you something about the future. Or, rather, the futures: the one we were offered, the one we have now, and the one we're making.

See, the future we were offered... Well, we weren't really offered that, now were we? “Where's my jetpack,” goes the litany. “I want my flying car.” That bright, shiny, zeerust future promised by scientists of the 1940s and 1950s, once they were done contributing to titanic wars that showed how ugly humanity really is. But it's not our future. That future belongs to our parents, and their parents. It was sold to them, and like an old sofa, we're the ones inheriting it. Because they couldn't make it happen, they've been trying to offload it on us, living vicariously through their children.

I reject this future categorically. Like the old sofa, I'm hauling it off to the dump and leaving it there. It's not my future, and it's not your future. Eject it from our culture. It's dead and past time to take it off life support.

So what's left to us? And I'll tell you: the future we live in now, and the future that we're making of it. And I reject those, too, as vehemently as I do the dead one. It's time to murder the future, because it's going to murder us.

The future we live in now is poison. It's a construct born of the worst that humanity has to offer: new and exciting toxins, weapons of mass destruction, political superpowers, organized genocide, capitalism rampant on a field of blood, and the rhetoric that made and makes all that possible. Unprecedented interconnectedness and an incredible flow of information across the globe, but with a signal-to-noise ratio so low that everything being said is drowning in a babble of vainglorious self-revelation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Sword Gods," The Mounted Lady, pt. 5, 413 words

“My lady,” the knight asked, his voice low and hesitant with caution.

“Yes,” the goddess said distractedly. She had been silent since coming down the hill, her eyes locked on some far-off sight that only she could see. They passed through the village as though it was little more than fog, and she sat silent while the knight recovered his own horse from the inn's stables. He'd checked it over carefully and mounted up before daring to interrupt her reverie.

“Does something trouble you, my lady?”

“No,” she began, then stopped. After a moment's thought, she went on, “Perhaps... You are certain the smith made the sword himself?”

He glanced at the blade, still lying across her lap. “I'm certain. One of my men made sure. Is something wrong with the blade, my lady? Shall I have the smith executed?”

“No, the sword is well made. Perhaps too well made, at that,” she said. The distant, distracted look came over her face again. “How old would you guess the smith is? I've no eye for age with you humans.”

The knight shrugged a little. “A little shy of his thirtieth year, I would wager.”

“So less than twenty years before the forge and anvil,” the goddess said. “Do you remember how old the last suitable smith we found was?”

“Well into his fifties, my – ah, I see what you mean,” the knight murmured, half to himself. “And he rarely makes swords, living in a peasant village like this.”

She favored the knight with a short nod. “Do you recall what I told you, when I first brought you into my confidence, while we were searching for that last suitable smith?”

“That you sword-gods can make your own swords, but do not. That it is forbidden.”

“Forbidden by compact amongst us all.”

“'Until the fallen rise again,'” he quoted. “So you said, but you never explained what that meant.”

“It means that our swords are too great. Too powerful. We put everything at risk when we use what we craft for ourselves. We agreed to refrain from forging our own blades, until...” The goddess paused and shook her head. She looked back through the village – no, the knight realized, back towards the hill upon which they had met the smith. “I believe,” she murmured, “that the compact may be soon broken.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Sword Gods," The Mounted Lady, pt. 4, 425 words

The offer froze the smith in place. Price? From a sword-goddess? He wouldn't even know what to ask a common man for such a blade – the few swords he'd made before had been for petty nobles who'd quoted acceptable prices to him. Given their station, they could have just as easily spitted him on the spot with the swords made for them, and gotten away with it. Nobody cared about a dead commoner, after all.

He'd almost expected the knight to dispatch him here and now on the goddess's orders. The knight certainly had a look upon his face that suggested he wouldn't mind carrying out such a command. The smith dredged through his memory for the sums offered by previous patrons, wondering whether to go high or low in that range – and stopped.

A price didn't have to be money, after all. And when would he get the opportunity again?

“My lady,” he began hesitantly, paused to clear his throat. “If you would... could you answer a question for me? Something you've said has sparked my curiosity.”

The goddess smiled softly. “To satisfy curiosity rather than your purse. That is your price?”

“If you would grant it,” he said, lowering his gaze to the ground.

“Ask your question,” she said.

“You mentioned... You said something about other sword-gods forging blades. Why do you not go to one of– I mean, is the swordsmith's art common amongst your... kind? Is it practiced?”

A sober look crossed her features, dimming her beauty in a moment of mourning. “Once,” she said quietly, barely above a whisper. “But not anymore.”

The smith frowned, confused. “My lady?”

She shook her head and, with a sad smile, nudged her horse to turn away. “You have your answer,” she said. “And I my blade. We are done with one another, smith.”

“Ah, yes, my lady. Of course.” The smith swiftly knelt before her and the knight as they turned away. They ambled slowly down the hill the goddess had chosen for their meeting place, passing a massive white stone block around which the path bent, and turning towards the village just to the south. When they reached the bottom of the hill, the smith rose to his feet and went over to the stone block to sit and watch. He had little desire to cross their path again, and would only return to the village once they had departed. He'd nothing else to do that afternoon, anyway.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Sword Gods," The Mounted Lady, pt. 3, 389 words

As surreptitiously as possible – which is to say, not much at all – the smith swept the blood from his face and spat out some more. The blow had cut the inside of his mouth against his teeth, and his cheek against the knight's gauntlet. He held his hand over the cut on his cheek in hopes of stanching the flow and babbled out a quick, “A thousand apologies, goddess–” before she cut him off with a raised hand.

“Your craftsmanship is superior, smith,” the goddess said, her voice turning lyrical in his ears with the praise. “A fine blade. Almost as excellent as one of my own might forge – a rare thing, indeed.” She turned the naked blade back and forth in her hand, catching the golden sunlight across its length. The light rippled and snaked across the lightly-oiled blade, moving along the folds of the steel.

With a casual swipe, she sliced through the leaves of the tree overhead. Shreds of green rained down upon the smith and knight, and the sword-goddess smiled beneficently upon them. “A good edge, as well. Do you forge so many swords, smith?”

“I...” The smith glanced aside at the glowering knight, but pressed on. She had asked him a direct question, after all. “No, not so many, my lady. There's not much call for them, in my village. But I've made many blades – knives and cleavers and the like. Enough that I know how to work steel into an edge.”

“Really,” she muttered, half to herself. She twisted the sword about with a complicated little gesture of her wrist, considering. “What of the balance?”

“Um... What of it, my lady?” He swallowed against a rising knot of panic in his throat.

“Nothing,” she said, watching his reaction with an appraising eye. After a moment, when he had had time to calm down, “It is a suitable blade.” She held her free hand out to him.

The smith almost reached for her hand, but quelled the instinct. He realized she wanted the sheath, and passed the plain leather work over to her. She slid the blade back into its sheath without even looking, and laid it across her lap in the saddle.

“Name your price,” she said.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Sword Gods," The Mounted Lady, pt. 2, 409 words

She tested the blade's balance and heft, gave it a few practice swings. It was a mortuary sword, so called for the basket guard that resembled some miniature man's ribcage, with a long straight blade. In the hands of a mounted warrior such as the sword-goddess, it would be a deadly effective weapon, slashing across the exposed flesh of her foes and piercing through weaknesses in their armor. The obvious facility with which she bore it made the name and guard design seem more than suitable. It seemed an extension of her arm.

Sword-gods, whether foul or fair of appearance, were creatures of death. No human could hope to match them. But they appointed themselves warlords and champions of human kingdoms, never challenging their chosen king or queen unless they went too long unused in war.

The sword-goddess before him was, or so the smith had heard, one of the “good” ones. One that killed out of her nature, not out of sadism. One that preferred to seek out other sword-gods in battle immediately, turning the tide of battle as soon as possible instead of expending her given time on slaughtering as many mere mortals as possible.

Or so the smith had heard. Every king claimed their sword-god was a killing saint on the field. Every king claimed the sword-god of the enemy was a demon of slaughter.

Unable to hold silent any longer, the smith looked up at the beautiful goddess and asked, “My lady? What do you think?” He had no time to react, barely saw the blow before it came.

When his eyes had refocused, he realized he was staring at the sky above. His face throbbed in great pain, and felt a warm trickle spill down his left cheek. A coppery taste flooded his mouth, and he turned his head aside to spit blood on the ground. Above him, the knight stood glaring murder down. A few specks of blood caught the light on the back of the knight's gauntlet as he went for his blade.

“Hold,” the goddess said. Her voice sighed over them like the breath of new spring, soothing the cold fear in the smith's belly. The icy murder in the knight's eyes remained, but he let his sword rest at his side and stepped back from the supine smith. “Rise,” she said next, and as if pulled up by strings the smith found himself on his feet.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Sword Gods," The Mounted Lady, pt. 1, 395 words

The smith knelt on the grassy knoll. The afternoon sun filtered through the leaves of the tree above, dappling him with shadow and light. In his hands he held a sheathed blade, long and light and well-balanced, holding the basket-guarded hilt up to the figure before him, a tall woman mounted on a horse.

The woman was fair and as lightly-built as the blade, but held her war-trained horse with a firm hand. The animal cropped the grass with the same placidity of a farmer's plough-horse, yet occasionally rolled an angry eye at the smith if he edged too close, or even looked crosswise at the horse's rider. A heavy coat of leather armor and a sleeveless mail hauberk hugged her frame, impossibly, like a fine silk dress.

The woman had long, curly black hair that fell down her back in thick waves and served well to set off her skin, pale like alabaster. Rosy lips curved up in an ironical smile as she gazed down upon the smith, and her eyes twinkled with the light of stars. Literally, as the irises were a solid black specked with glittering points of light. They caught the golden sun and reflected nothing.

The smith went to his knees before a sword-goddess, and awaited her judgment.

Another man stood amongst them, off to the side. Like the woman, he was tall. Unlike the woman, he had broad shoulders and a veteran's build, shrouded in heavy plates of blackened steel. His long black hair, straight and fine, framed a long face that was handsome in a cold, brooding way. A knight, he looked as if he never smiled. He took his duties seriously, for there was no honor higher than attending to a god of the sword. He held his helm in the crook of one arm, and his other arm hung freely at his side. Ready to snatch his sword free in an instant if the smith proved too impertinent. Like asking for payment.

The sword-goddess leaned down in her saddle and pulled the proffered sword free in one smooth motion; the leather sheath went slack in the smith's hands, and he rocked back on his heels. Fear and expectation warred over his features, as he knew not whether he should run or prostrate himself before the goddess in case she desired a clean blow to his neck.