SUDDEN DEATH ROUND
September 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Blame the ROM for only being open until 5:30 today and therefore requiring me to go there earlier and therefore cutting into my writing time. No, it’s not for an interview or anything (*SIGH*), just the time that I wanted to go. But on the other hand, I’m well aware that I’ve had plenty of time to write, and have been, but it hasn’t been work on my weekly story for you guys.
And Ghadzilla? Oh I’ll get there. You assume I’ve been researching instead of job hunting and feeling might discouraged. You would be wrong, of course.
However, I still feel bad that I’m in this position, especially since it would have been damn easy to avoid. So to make it up to you people, I’m going to post something for you to read today, and then you’ll get an update for tomorrow. With one hand I giveth, and with the other I giveth more.
Oh, and it’s really because you guys are awesome. Remember how I said I can stalk you with my site stats? My first post was made on April 14. Here we are, five months and 1,547 views later, and I can’t say I’m displeased with that one bit. We’re off to a good start, and I WILL KEEP THIS BALL ROLLING.
I’m going to give you more from that chapter I did two weeks ago. Just for those who don’t remember/didn’t see it, this is the first chapter from my major project, a manuscript that I hope to finish up this year (academic year, not calendar, but that would be awesome. I’m out of school, but I still think in terms of September -> April as the year). It’s going quite well, but I’m still working on my discipline. It’s not work for me yet, not in the sense that it’s a chore to write it, but that I don’t treat it like a job yet. In any case, here’s some more. Any words that have been bolded are likely names that have yet to be finalized or are going to be changed. Any spelling mistakes are my own.
Enjoy, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
“Of course, sir, but think nothing of it. A trifle, overlooked in a moment.”
“Good then. But listen! I think it is not so small a concern of mine, friend, this missing element. For an honest Agrimmir looking for a bit of excitement that a skirt can’t provide, he may grow weary of the sport of bloody dogs and mindless rats. For once, he may thirst for something greater, something more true!”
He spoke now with feverish intensity. Mical grew softly terrified, for he knew violence was coming but it would not touch him. Mical abhorred the sight of blood, and feared that the rat-baiting would set off his weakened nerves. Cutter continued.
“You see, Micey, that the element that all men share is suffering. It doesn’t matter if you were born a wretched Haleath, noble Agrimmir, a dirty, pardon the expression, Hume like you, shimshanna or what have you, all us bastards sweat and bleed under the same sun. That’s why, friend, that’s why I’ve made this simple ratting den a temple to the suffering of all people. Here, we who have beaten back suffering and horror can step back, even but for a blessed moment, and celebrate! For don’t we, we who hate suffering when it is we who pay that bedevilled price, adore that same suffering when it is turned on another? Or even better, when we may turn it on another? Isn’t that the real truth Micey?”
Mical nodded dully, not quite listening while his eyes darting about at the mean faces in the room. He desperately wanted another brandy, or three or four, if only to draw his attention from Cutter’s proselytizing. The old man loved to hear the sound of his own voice, and especially loved to drone on when he had a captive audience. Don’t dare turn away though, or he’ll think I don’t care about his damnable ideas. Blood and terror! I wish I was away this dreadful place!
After sitting in an awkward silence for a moment, Mical realized Cutter awaited an answer from him. Stuttering, Mical said,
“I, don’t know, I suppose so. But not in all cases, rather, I mean that, well, it wouldn’t be right if…”
With a wave of his hand Cutter sliced through Mical’s muttering,
“Ah, again, why am I expecting an agent of the Law to understand the workings of the hearts of our people? After all, you still believe in justice!”
Cutter began sniggering, a high laugh that drained his breath away and left him squeaking in his chair. Mical knew better than to relax, even as Cutter’s fevered focus left him, fading away in his merriment. Trusting a cornered badger not to bite is safer than ever trusting Cutter, so best laugh with him and say “Just so”. Gods know Cutter wants a trained bird more than my actual opinion.
“Just so, sir, one must uphold decency and the common good.”
Cutter reached over to slap Mical on the shoulder. The blow fell much harder than Mical would have thought from Cutter’s thin arms.
“Of course, of course! And trust me, loathe am I to undo your great work, lest all my profit disappear!”
He laughed and coughed again, spewing phlegm and spittle across the floor. Mical felt his stomach turn, but quickly grabbed at the next glass of brandy put before him. He felt the sour swill go down, burning stronger than pure fire. Must be Wellington’s and Dakarak, probably cut with lime as well. Damn these abominable Agrimmir and their horrendous constitutions! But Mical did not dare ask for a liquor more suited to his palate. He was too afraid of Cutter to do anything but nod and smile. He prayed his bladder would stay quiet until he left.
Cutter recovered, and beckoned Mical closer.
“But now, we’ve business about. It shan’t all be merry-making and practical philosophy tonight, my boy. You see those doughty burraks there? Over by the corner?”
Mical looked towards the Agrimmir, some of who stared with open disgust at the two of them. Cutter waved at them.
“Aye sir, and what of them?”
“They owe me a great debt, and it’s finally time for that be repaid in full. You see, the two in dress decided they would move a Clan over at once across the Plain. Bloody fools! Taking a whole Clan at once. Horses, oxen, carriages, and enough smashers to make it through the cracking Devil Weed, not to mention the actual people they need with ’em! The burraks barely made it across alive, and showed up in the city with no more than the damn shirts on their backs! They asked me for help to find them work, so I found jobs for all of them. Each and everyone had a good, decent job, but you know how the Agrimmir who new-come to the city are, don’t you?”
Mical nodded. I have seen it many times before. Chaps come to the city without a coin to their name and fall to making money any way they can. Most of them have never seen money before, so its hardly surprising when they don’t know how to handle it. It’s happened before and until the city is fixed, it will happen again.
“They still needed some coin, and hearing my name spoken of by so many people in so many places, they came to me. ‘Sure,’ they said, ‘We can trust another Agrimmir now that we’ve come to the City!’ So ‘Sure,’ I says, and lend it to them. And sure as silver they couldn’t pay me back, no matter that I had found all of them good work and decent homes. They borrowed from another lender to pay me back, but a nasty sort of business that lender was. Halfway through the loan, he started charging them twice what I did in interest.”
Mical sipped what little brandy was left in his glass. Likely because you told him to or else you’d charge him twice his interest, and because the jobs you fixed for them probably paid for little more than bread and the rent you charged them as well. Cutter, you’re nothing but a bastard. Clever, but a bastard all the same.
“Long and short, they need to pay me back without a dime to their name and well buried in shit. So, being the sporting man I am and well aware of their suffering, I made them a bet. I told them to focus their suffering. Shift it all on one person, who lives or dies by it, and let the winds make the future. Aren’t I generous Mikey? I gave them the choice, didn’t I? Now, what man out so much money by his own people would give them the choice? Honest broker, that’s me.” He winked at Mical and elbowed him with a conspiratorial grin.
Mical replaced his empty glass, the liquor and horror within his stomach wreaking havoc with his guts. The poor bastards never had a choice, Cutter, you saw to that right you did. They should have stabbed you in the back and left you for the Crows the first time they heard you speak, like me, but no, and neither did I. Now here they stand and here I sit. I ought to raise my glass to them, but for that they would likely strike my head from my shoulders, and I can’t have that.
He cleared his throat, hoping to put the horror down within him.
“Not to offend you, sir, but what was the business for which you called me here? It truly is quite late and I ought to be about my way soon.”
Cutter patted him on the arm. “Just to do what you do best Micey. I need you to make it official, to make it look good to everyone here. No shut up and let me thing for a minute.”
He lapsed into silence and refused to speak, allowing the noise from the crowd to fill the awkward silence between them. Mical fidgeted. He rubbed his hands together and smoothed his pant legs repeatedly, but did not dare to look at Cutter. After a few moments that felt like hours, the door banged open again and more Agrimmir stepped through. Cutter shot up in his seat and cried out in his gravelly voice,
“Tagulakak, na bodharun? Ja cin ta kinle hoola!”
A deathly silence struck the room. The Hume present fell quiet, confused or bothered by the foreign tongue used. The Agrimmir stared as one at Cutter, their eyes filled with hate, shame, or anticipation. The only people who seemed aware were a few workers who caught the dog and began clearing the pit. Mical wanted to sink further into his seat but was still morbidly curious. Three more Agrimmir had arrived, led by Gerad. Two wore thick crimson robes with woven symbols stitched into them. They glowed with a soft light which shed red shadows on their bodies and orbited them like stars. Their heads were bare and gleaming, and thick books hung from chains attached to their belts. A strange smell followed them and filled the room with the scent of brimstone and charcoal. The room exploded out around them as the Hume recoiled from them, spitting on the ground and warding themselves against magick. An angry buzz filled the room, and shirtsleeves were rolled up and knife-handles caressed. Mical saw the point in the demonstration. We love not the magick, and they know it. We don’t like this all of a sudden, and that’s to make Cutter a little nervous.
One of the robed ones turned to Cutter and spoke haltingly in Common. His voice was harsh and clipped, with the emphasis put on incorrect syllables. It sounded to Mical like crashing stones and carried an authority that transcended the dingy basement hovel that stank of sweat and blood. This was a voice that had spoken through the ages and with many tongues. It reminded him of when he sat on his Judge’s seat and delivered justice. Mical knew this voice, though not the man using it. It would not be denied.
“The Champion is come. Khatin of Clan Frenhold, son of Dharcin of Titanberg, Kofflar of Roaring Falls and Boomlan of Clan Frenhold. Fruitful are both his hall and his loins, and many are the works of his hands. Who would challenge he who held the Spear of Rain the Messenger, he who stood upon the Holy Mountain, he who brought back fire? Who would stand before him to take up axe and shield against an Anointed of He Who Makes Widows, the God of Orphans and War?”
The runes flared as the Agrimmir spoke, spitting sparks and crackling with flame. A halo of flames burst into being around the speaker. Clean light, purifying in it’s painful brightness filled the room with a keening howl that swept the basement. One of the three stepped forward and threw his cloak to the floor, allowing Mical a good look at him. He stood much shorter than Mical and his legs were short enough to seem disproportionate, but he far broader of chest and shoulder than any Hume. His face was round and hard, and his features were large. His eyes shone like jewels in the light beneath a sloping brow and thick brown eyebrows. A broad nose that had been broken sat on his face, but did not mar his rough beauty. He was bare-chested, wearing only green-and-white striped pantaloons, his skin a dusky brown and his body corded with thick muscle. Khatin flexed and grinned, showing broad teeth. Gods, he looks half mad, and as though he could tear the head off an ox! I pity the walking corpse that will get in the pit with him!
Khatin stomped about the room, a crazed look on his face as he shook his head about, the long braid of his hair flying about. He was easily stronger than any of the men in the room. He had the hard appearance of one bred in the wild and who carved a living from unforgiving nature. Hume shuffled uncomfortably, their mutterings turning sour and frail. None of them could match such a one, neither in strength nor spirit, and they knew it. Cutter tittered softly, a girlish laugh made foul coming from him. Mical leaned in and asked, his curiosity overcoming his fear.
“Who do you have who can defeat him?”
Cutter smiled, his ruined teeth mocking humour with their smile.
“Naturally, Mikey, it’s not a question of “whom” can beat the sense into him, but what old Cutters got that’ll do it. But don’t fret, boy-o, I’ve not forgotten’ ye, “ He snapped his fingers and from the umbra behind Cutter’s seat, an enormous man in a black suit passed him a letter. Mical started and quickly cursed his skittishness. Cutter said nothing but tittered again, “All I want of you is to read that message there, and watch the fun. Now go on, get and crack it!”
Mical slowly stood, his fingers thick and clumsy as he tried to open the letter. He felt every eye in the room upon him, from Khatin’s mad glare to the nervous eyes of the Hume in the crowd. Don’t look to me you bloody fools! Would that I were a league away! Curled up in my bed and only dreaming of ratting dens and bloody sport. But Mical knew that Cutter’s missives would not soon stop. He could always find need for a Judge.
Mical looked at the words on the paper and nearly dropped it in in surprise. He turned to Cutter, who only urged him on with a smile. His stomach dropping out of his belly, Mical glumly read the words aloud.
“This one has heard the challenge of worms and dust, and graces them with his reply. Heden, Boomlan of Clan Searfas, Cutter of Men and ravager of their women will answer! He spits on the honour of the Frenhold as he spits upon their ancestor’s graves! The men are not worthy to speak words to Agrimmir of honour, and are fit only to grovel, eating the dust of their boots! Their women are weak and not worth the embrace of strong warriors! Their children are crow’s food, not even the lions of the mount would take them! His right of Champion he takes, and the price of his worthy time is the Boomlan of Clan Frenhold.”
The Agrimmir in the crowd stamped their feet and hooted, waving their hands and shaking their heads. Fire exploded in a dozen places around them, driving a few Hume back from the flames. Khatin pulled his teeth back in a snarl, but did not utter a sound. The Agrimmir shouted in their language and pointed at Mical, rage and hate in their eyes. Mical’s bowels quivered, but he held his tongue. There was space on his page, broken only by the words, clacked on by a typewriter, “Wait for response”. The few seconds felt a monstrous age, and Mical keenly felt the heat coming from the fires of the Agrimmir.
The first herald again stepped forward, silencing the others, and spoke in the same strange tone.
“Khatin vomits up the hospitality of the Searfas, and will drag their banners through the muck of his children. His patience, nobly granted at their unworthy request, is spent. He thirsts for the blood of the Searfas, and returns insult in kind. Your children are sons of the river, spawned from the seed of trout! Your women bear knives and your men lay down their axes! That Clan, may it not soil the tongues of the Frenhold again, is not worth speaking about!”
The Agrimmir began to pace about, the exchange firing their blood while the Hume looked on in a stupor, stunned by the barbarism of the exchange. This is filth and dishonour! And yet they seem to enjoy the mockery! Barbarians, all of them! Mical cleared his throat, a strange bureaucratic gesture in the room. He continued.
“The words of the Frenhold are wasted wind that comes down the mountain, but the Searfas will answer your challenge. Into the pit with you, son of a goat, and let it be your grave!”
Khatin barely waited for Mical to finish speaking before he leapt into the ratting pit, his feet crunching on small bones and sending clouds of dust flying. It was empty but for a layer of sand and was formed into a wood-lined pit six feet deep and twenty feet across. The lip of the pit was much higher than the crown of Khatin’s head, but he happily stomped about to the cheers and howls of his companions. The Hume, ruffians and gentry both, still unsettled by the Agrimmir, nevertheless crowded around the box, and some regained enough courage to shout at Khatin.
“Bloody barbarians! We’ll see the colour of your blood yet!”
“Saw a few of you die at Maiden’s Road! I’ll see another tonight, I’ll wager!”
Mical sat down heavily, his body clammy with sweat. He tried to draw a kerchief to wipe his brow, and swore again at the lack of one. He shuddered at the memory of the furious Agrimmir eyes on him. Cutter chuckled and coughed, wet and thick. He clapped Mical on the shoulder.
“Good one, Mikey. Now just you watch yet. These Frenhold bastard sons will be wetting themselves yet! Old Timbo will set the young one right.”
He stood and raised his voice, waving his stick for attention.
“Bring out Timbo!”
A door, hidden by the crowd, burst open and two figures, sharply dressed in black evening wear, walked out. One was a short man, portly and round and sporting a monocle, but the other was massive, an oak among saplings. His head almost brushed the ceiling and his overlong arms nearly dragged on the floor. He was as thick as three men, and his arms looked as broad across as ceiling beams. His bare head had a thick fringe of white hair and his face was hidden beneath a wooden mask of a smiling man. Two tusks protruded from the mouth of the mask, and although the sight of such a beast would have chilled Mical’s blood any other day, the events of the night inured him to more terror. How droll, an Ogre. Perhaps Cutter will unleash a dragon next?
Cutter laughed again as Timbo undressed, handing his clothing to the manservant. The butler carefully folded each enormous article of clothing and draped it across his arm like a thick robe. The beast moved with calm, careful movements, looking almost dignified. The Hume in the crowd, at first daunted by the beast, began to laugh and jest. The Agrimmir, however, were struck deeply by the Ogre, and the robed ones huddled together and spoke in hushed tones. Cutter waved his stick again, his glee evident as he shouted.
“Bidding begins at fifty dollars for Timbo!”
The room erupted into an orgy of noise. Bookmakers stepped out of thin air and began hawking at the crowd. Hume happily placed their bets while Agrimmir shouted furiously and Khatin beat the walls like a drum. Mical could not understand the words but their meaning was clear enough. Cheat, cheat! They had already lost their money and their pride, but now Cutter played with their future. The injustice was lost on the Hume, who were busy betting all their could, their lust for blood devouring their reason.
Having dressed down to a loincloth, Timbo stepped gracefully into the pit. Seeing the half-naked Ogre, Mical could understand the anger of the Agrimmir. Where Khatin looked as strong as a bull, Timbo looked as strong as a whole herd. His hands were the size of a man’s torso. His shoulders were as wide as two Micals placed side by side, and his long arms looked as though they had the strength to crush stone. Though the Ogre’s legs were short and relatively thin, he still stood four feet taller than the Agrimmir and at least a foot and a half above Mical. Thick grey skin the pallor of granite covered Timbo like an elephant. He cracked his massive knuckles, each the size of a teacup, a brittle snap that echoed in the noisy hall.
Mical sat down heavily, unable to take his eyes from the masked monster. Glory, they’re going to tear each other apart. His knee began thumping his foot against the ground, but it was lost in the shouts of bookmakers and of men eager for blood. Well-dressed men in waistcoats glittered with gold rings and watches stood aside men in coal-streaked overalls with faces hidden behind masks of black dust, and both laughed at the blood to come. Hume flanked the pit, eyes hungrily sizing up the monster and barbarian. They are all monsters. All of them, men and fighters alike. Khatin appeared shorter and shorter, until to Mical’s eyes the Ogre loomed thousands of feet above him.
The Agrimmir stood in a circle, looking ill at ease. Poor sods, Cutter’s played them for fools one last time. It was easy enough to see what Cutter had done. There was probably some rule in this barbaric trial for who could be chosen as champion, and an Ogre was likely in poor taste but still legal. Can’t blame ‘em either. Those vile things…half mad and all bad is what Pa used to say, and he’s not far off. There wasn’t a mother’s child in the Commonwealth who wasn’t scared to bed as a youth with tales of Ogres. Scary tales of monsters coming into their rooms at night and making off badly behaved children, and some of the good ones as well. Despite their fierce reputation they were still regarded as decent citizens of the Commonwealth, but Mical shuddered at the sight of Timbo. Decent?Nonsense! They are a pack of barbarians, apes who learned how to dress themselves! I don’t envy Khatin’s chances, not one bit.
Khatin did not share the trepidation of his companions. He began to stalk around the pit, throwing up his hands and beating his chest until it shone red. He kicked sand up at the spectators, returning their curses with his own and smiling like a fool. Fear didn’t touch him at all. But Timbo sat in his corner as solid and still as stone. Khatin bounced around him on the balls of his feet, screaming at the spectators, but Timbo sat and waited. Mical couldn’t make out the features of the Ogre behind his mask, a simple face carved out of brown wood, but he felt his eyes drawn to it. His knee bounced so hard his leg ached and his breath caught in his throat. He felt himself drawn into the black holes that were the eyes, sinking deeply and feeling hands reach out to clasp to grab to take to take to take and take and take.
Mical blinked and gasped for breath. Cold sweat beaded all over his body like a cold sweater and his hands shook badly. What in Cin’s sweet sky was that? He shivered, chilled to the core, and kept his eyes from that mask. Although most of the crowd still screeched at Khatin, Mical could see several who had turned silent and watched Timbo. Some wore expressions of fear, but many, too many, had open hunger on their face. They silently begged him for blood, for release. Mical shivered again.