Sunday, July 31, 2005

TNT: Ch. 53

Eric rather enjoyed the bike ride out to the city. He had been quite the recreational biker when he was younger, biking easily 10 miles every day. Obviously he wasn't quite as in shape anymore, but he still enjoyed the thrill of the ride, and was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which he made it to the town. He biked around for a while until he finally found a newspaper box. Parking his bike, he put a quarter in the old box, opened it up, snagged a paper - The Willowdale Whisperer - and sat down on a park bench to catch his breath and start looking for clues.
However, midway into his searching he was interrupted by a man in a trench coat and fedora sitting down next to him, his face buried under a paper.
"Are you Eric Smellick?" the stranger asked, not looking at him.
"Who wants to know?" asked Eric.
"I have information about the toaster."
The prophesy said the next clue would be in the news, but maybe that wasn't quite true. Maybe that was just a way to get him here to meet this person.
"I'll bite," he said, "I'm Eric. Whattya got?"
"Your quest isn't worth it - any of it. The toaster can't be made, and Master Lin does not have your best interest at heart. If you continue with the quest, bad things will happen. It's not worth it."
"That's a little unspecific."
"I'm sorry, it's all I can say. Don't go on with it - it's not worth it."
"Why trust a stranger over a proven friend?" Eric asked, but the man was already walking away.
"Don't say I didn't warn you!" he yelled as he walked.
Eric folded up his paper, but it in his back pocket, and hopped back on his bike.

When Eric returned to the house, the whole family was at the breakfast table. Mr. Berljottsen was telling a story about a postal service mix up in his slow gravelly voice. He seemed oddly frail for a man who had produced such robust children.
"...So when we got to the post office," he said, "There were three other -"
"There were four, Ulric - The woman with the dog, the two men with the scarves, and the doctor," Mrs. Berljottsen cut in.
Her husband pondered this.
"Right, so there were four other people there who'd gotten the same letter, and they were all complaining. Well, we didn't think we should butt in-"
"He wanted to push right through the line. I had to hold him back."
"Now that's not right..."
In the midst of this gripping narrative, Eric managed to catch Gina's greatful eye and pull her away from the table.
"Did you get the paper?" she asked, banana in hand, as they entered the parlor.
"Yeah, but something weird happened while I was out. Someone told me not to trust Master Lin; that bad things would happen if we finished the quest."
Gina frowned. "Well, who was it?"
"Didn't see his face. He was being very mysterious. But he knew my name."
"That's weird. Nobody knows we're here, even- Unless we're being followed."
"Could be. We're hardly inconspicuous. Do you think we should call Master Lin?"
"Well, he'd deny it either way, wouldn't he? Let's just look for that clue." He handed her half the paper. "Remember- Springs of life, Golden Handle, Casing of a lost soul."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More and More Mortimer

The library had, then, been a dead end. Stashing the useless old book in Narrin's saddlebag, Mortimer hopped on his beloved steed and took off into the air. He knew that even with know working leads, tracking wasn't impossible. In his years of hunting dangerous criminals in the Queen's service he had learned several tricks and, more importantly, made several friends in high places. He was going to see one such friend now.
Far, far from Merk Heeliott, in the mountians of Dublane, she lived in her little stone house. She ate well, did her work, and no one bothered her without bringing a covered dish proportionate to the size of their question. She was Amarayne, the pot-luck Oracle, and Mortimer knew that if anyone could help him, she could.
He flew across the plains and the foothills, stopping the night in an old abandon shepherd's hut. The next day he journeyed into the mountains. As he approached the path to her hut he flew low and brought Narrin to a halt.
"Stay there, girl," he said, dismounting. As he walked up the path he saw the signs - 'Home of the Dublane Oracle,' 'Questions answered for Potluck items' 'Don't come this way without food, seriously.'
Further down the signs got more complicated:
Simple Questions
(e.g. Will my crops flourish this year?, Does she love me?)
Small side dish, relish tray, or jug of ale/ cider/ lemonade
And another:
Hard Questions
(e.g. What's wrong with my goat?, Could she ever love me?)
Small side dish or casserole, small dessert
Harder Questions
(e.g. How do I cure my goat?, How can I make her love me?)
Large dessert, large side dish or casserole, small main course item
And Finally:
Really Hard Questions
(e.g. How do I find the Sacred Goat of Hapzhorn's fury?, What is love anyway?)
Large meat animal, classy wine, really good fudge
*Please use microwave and refrigerator-safe dishes. The oracle cannot guarantee the return of your tupperware. No quiche, please. Existential questions may remain unanswered without refund.
Behind this last sign was the doorway. Mortimer walked through it to find himself in a dark, smoky room. Against the far wall was a table filled with the food items from earlier in the day.
In front of the door was a bench.
"Sit!" said a mysterious voice from the smoke.
"Nice catch today, Ama," said Mortimer, "Your reputation seems to have spread since the last time I saw you."
The voice changed, becoming less impressive and more incredulous, "Mortimer?... Mortimer Lima Bean?"
"The very same."
Immediately a rotund, middle-aged woman walked around the table to greet Mortimer with a big hug.
"Well, common inside! I'll close shop and we can have some food and catch up. A knight was in here asking about a dragon last week and he brought this exquisite fudge. I've been waiting for someone to share it with!"
"Well, actually I'm here on business..."
"What, the Queen's in trouble?"
"Not exactly. It's about me."
She looked a little surprised but, nonetheless pushed him through the door on the far side of the room.
"Listen," she said, "At least have a glass of wine while you tell me about it."
"You're too kind, Ama."
Inside the comfortably decorated hovel that was the interior of Amarayne's home, Mortimer told her the whole story.
"...So you see," he finished, "I need to know who this Franklin Pierce person is. Can you help me?"
"I'd love to! What did you bring?"
"Bring? We're old friends, I thought you could -"
"Honey, that's a fudge level question. Now I might be able to bump it down to macaroni and cheese for a friend, but I can't give out answers like that for nothing. I'd go out of business."
"I didn't charge when I saved you from those tigers!" Mortimer shouted, incensed.
"You were also saving the Queen, might I remind you, and I have repaid that debt already. Now are you sure you have nothing?"
"I have a few sandwiches I was saving for the trip home," he admitted.
"For a few sandwiches," she said, "And for you, Mortimer, I will give a hint."
"Alright," he replied. A hint was better than nothing after all.
"Ok. You sit tight, have some chips or cookies if you like, and I'll go commune with the Gods and get back to you."
As Mortimer munched his chips, the sounds of chanting, singing, wailing, whaling, fishing, and a weird unidentifiable "SPROING!" noise all drifted into the room. Finally, after 25 minutes, Amarayne emerged. When she spoke it was in the rich, possessed voice Mortimer had heard when he entered.
"The answer you seek is closer than you think. Look to the dead to find it."
"Thanks, Ama," he said.
"No prob, Mort," she replied, her voice normal once more, "And good luck!"
But Mortimer was already atop Narrin, sailing away from the mountians in search of food. He had, after all, just given away his lunch.