Saturday, March 31, 2007

MDS Ch. 7: A battle for life and freedom

I waited for a long time. I figured that my captor was by now very suspicious. However, when she came in I knew I’d have the advantage – my eyes were by now very well adjusted to the darkness, enough that I felt I could reliably shoot an arrow. I was worried that Jarrod had left me only five, but it was no good dwelling on that now. I started making little plans for every possible contingency.

For instance, I made a plan for if she hit one of the two traps, if she managed to avoid them both, or if they didn’t work. And I waited. Finally, after an hour or two I heard the gruff voice of my captor yelling, and a few minutes later I saw her approach. I saw her notice the pressure pad and gingerly step over it. She had entered the main part of the room, the one that was in my full view but she was still looking around to see me.

“I know you’re in here you little rat, and when I find you, I’ll eat you! Forget the ransom, you’re not worth it. Now it’s personal!” She let out a roar, but no flame. She must have been worried about setting off the trap.

Meanwhile, I silently knocked an arrow and drew back, aiming not for the dragon, but for the second pressure plate, the one that would send spikes flying through her. I closed my eyes and prayed then opened them, checked my aim, and let fly.

The arrow flew true, whizzing right past the dragon and hitting the plate with enough force to set the trap in motion. The dragon immediately took in what had happened and panicked. When she saw the spikes poke out, she jumped backwards out of the room, avoiding the second trap, but, in her hurry, setting off the first. Unfortunately the spikes blocked some of the shards, but some still got in her eyes, because I heard her screaming. Then I began to hear monstrous thumps from behind me.

“I’ll collapse this whole cave on you!” she yelled, “What do you think of that? So clever now, your highness?”

Rocks had begun to fall. I dropped down from my hiding place to see the dragon, luckily facing away from me, thumping her tail against the cave wall. I readied another arrow to fire at the “sweet spot” in the back of her neck and fired. I missed her entirely, but she turned around and saw me. Or sort of saw me. I could tell she was partially blinded by the shards of metal, some of which were still sticking out of her monstrous eyes. She lunged at me, but I rolled out of the way into the tiny crawlspace I had found before. I escaped, but she’d nicked me with her claws. I was bleeding. As I tied a torn piece of my dress around my waist, I instantly realized this hiding place was a mistake. She could toast me alive in here and I’d have no escape.

So, as the confused dragon swept the outside tunnel with fire, I ran back into the main room to look for a way to deflect the flame. I noticed that the wooden ladder had fallen down and splintered into pieces. I grabbed one of the long planks, and brought the end (which was a good ten feet away from me) into the dragon’s flame. The minute she stopped flaming I rammed the torch on a stick into her face. It didn’t damage her much, but, coming out of nowhere in her blindness, it did confuse her for a while. Long enough for me to drag the ejected spikes crosswise across the side opening of the crawl space. If I sat near the whole where the spike had originally been, I had enough space to pull back and I could shoot my last three arrows with immunity. I knocked one and drew.

The dragon had recovered from her distraction and was now actively seeking me out. She was walking right toward me. She was walking down the wall, carefully peering at the crawl space, until she reached my hiding place. I saw her eyes clearly now, and saw that one was nearly filled with shards, but the other was working fine.

Before she could do anything, I let an arrow fly into her good eye. She screamed in pain. She blindly reached toward me, found the spikes with her hand and tossed them aside, almost hitting me with their points on the way out. To evade them I had to back into the alcove the pikes had come from. Then it was just me with nowhere to run and she knew it.

“Do I get my one chance to surrender?” I asked hopefully, putting down my bow and readying my knife.

“Like hell,” she replied.

“Then let me give you yours!” I screamed. Somehow, I scrambled over her head and made it to her neck. I drove the knife down into the spot between the scales. She screamed again, an agonizing scream.

“Do you surrender?” I asked, but she didn’t, or couldn’t respond. Thinking only of survival, I drove the knife upward, into her brain. Her scream ended and she twitched, dead. I looked down at the wound in my side that I hadn’t much noticed up until then and realized there was an awful lot of blood. Then everything went black.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lucky Number Seven (II)

'Well damn.' I thought. Now I was in the middle of nowhere, and I'd lost the game. In fact, I couldn't imagine doing worse at the game, except possibly by accidentally boarding number 8. I sat down on the bench and sighed. Nothing to do but wait for another train I supposed. Or...
I glanced over to the old woman, who had just now made it to the door to the station. Finally I acknowledged what had been lurking in the back of my mind. I could still follow her. And the game could go on. It would be tricky in a ghost town like this one, but it certainly could be done. There were a couple of different doors from the platform to the station, so I walked through another one and saw a phone booth inside. There wasn't a whole lot inside besides a ticket desk - an oddity in and of itself, as automatic vending machines were the fad - and the phone booth, but I figured I could pretend to make a phone call while I waited for her to make the long (at her pace) trek across the station.
Or I could actually make a phone call. To work. To tell them I was sick or something. That was probably a good idea, I realized.
I put in a quarter, dialed work and put in my boss's extension. The woman was about a quarter of the way there. My boss picked up. I told him I wasn't feeling at all well and that I'd decided not to come into work. The woman was halfway through the station. He thanked me for calling in and hoped I felt better, than asked if I might look over the Prollit proposition while I was home. She had reached the ticket desk. I said it was no problem (after all, I had my briefcase with me - I'd been planning to go to work that morning) and that I'd see him tomorrow. She had stopped to exchange pleasantries with the ticket salesman. He said good bye and we hung up our phones. She was still chatting with the man at the counter. I decided to run across the station and make like I was late for something, than watch the door from outside. I played my part well, but I felt like I was out of place with the suit and the briefcase. Still, if the two noticed me at all it was with a passing glance. When I got outside I sat down at a bench, got out my newspaper, and waited for her to emerge from the door. It appeared that the only thing one could do after getting off the train here was wait for a bus to get to town, so a bench was handy.
I waited and waited. Ten minutes later she apparently had not concluded her conversation.
Perhaps she bought another ticket and went to wait for another train. Or perhaps she and the ticket seller were close personal friends. Or lovers. I recoiled from the grotesque mental image.
I reached for the door and then stepped back. My first scenario was by far the most likely, and were it true I would need to go back in and catch that train. But I couldn't shake the last scenario from my mind, and the thought of walking in on the two of them was enough to keep me from going in. Paralyzed with indecision, I finally walked back through the door, to find... no one. The desk was empty, with a "Gone to lunch" sign on it, and the woman was nowhere in sight. What now? And how could I even go home if no one was selling tickets? I looked around and saw no one in the station.
My wonderings were interrupted by the sound of a car starting up. As I rushed back outside, I saw a small old Honda accord driving off. I recognized the driver as the ticket salesman from his old-style fedora hat, and the form next to him could only be my elderly target.
As I broke into a run after the rickety old car, my mind raced with the implications of the scene. Why would the ticket seller leave work, with no one covering for him, to give this woman a ride somewhere? And where were they going?
Luckily, wherever it was, they were traveling their at AARP* speed, and I was actually able to keep up with the car on the dusty country road. Calling a cab was out of the question though, given the remoteness of wherever the hell we were, and I knew I wouldn't be able to keep pace forever. Also, they would almost certainly notice me in the rear view mirror if they hadn't already. Basically, if they didn't stop soon I was in trouble.
But things looked good! They had turned into a town, if it could be called that. I stopped to catch my breath and found it difficult to start again. I had winded my self more than I realized at the time. I looked down and saw that the bottom of my suit was coated with dust. I looked up again and didn't see the car. As I started walking down the street I was surprised to find that I wasn't panicked about losing them. In fact, I really didn't care that much. The game wasn't turning out to be so much fun. I noticed I was walking by a cafe and decided to go in. I ordered a cup of coffee, then sat down by the window and got out the Prollit proposal. As far as I was concerned, Lucky Number Seven had been a failure. I can't say I was surprised.

*American Association of Retired People

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mortimer at Mindor II

"Defense I need but not from arms,
Tis words that seek to do me harm.
Come now he that passed the bar,
Let not my wife have kids and car.
Let not my inheritance be lost,
Let those who wronged me pay the cost.
Let not my contract be in breach,
Help me, lawyer, I beseech."

As Mortimer read these last words off the scroll, the ground shook. A appeared, glowing white-hot. Soon it became larger, the size of a doorway, and a young man in a gray suit walked out. He wore a gray tie with a III on it.
"Hello," he said, "Steven Shelly, Offices of Penütt, Budder, & Shelly."
Mortimer gave him an incredulous look.
"You were expecting Penütt, weren't you? I'm sorry, I'm the junior partner and the only Lawyer III at the firm - you did summon a level three lawyer, right?"
"I did." He turned to the hellish receptionist. "May I have a moment alone with the contract and my legal consul?"
She rolled her eyes and slapped her desk, causing a wall of fire to spring up between her and Mortimer.
"I need you to find a loophole in this," he yelled over the roaring flames, handling Shelley the contract.
"A loophole?"
"I want to be able to sign it, but not be condemned to hell."
"I'll take a look. This might take a while."
"I don't have a while!"
The lawyer looked up frustratedly.
"Look, sir, I'm trying, but you realize this contract came from HELL. They've got a lot of lawyers there. Really good ones. This is likely to be airtight."
"Damn!" he said, flinging his hands up in the air. "I'll just sign the damn thing!"
The fire wall went down.
"Very good, dear," said the receptionist as Mortimer signed his soul away, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
"You can go!" Mortimer said to the lawyer as he handed the paper over. Steven wordlessly disappeared.
As soon as the receptionist took the paper, the ground shook severely. As Mortimer staggered to keep his footing, the air shimmered in the center of the shrine. Soon the demon and her desk began to distort like a rippled pool, and were finally sucked into the disturbance. And when the fiery desk went in, it ripped open the gateway. It was as if a deep molten chasm had opened up, but in the air rather than the ground. As the eerie corridor shimmered before him, a deep voice spoke from within:
Welcome To Hell.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

MDS Ch. 6 - The plan revitalized

Before I had figured out much of anything, I was confronted by an ugly dilemma. A few nights had passed, and I had finally learned to sleep here successfully and relatively peacefully, when I was awakened by a thrash from the dragon’s tail. A light one, and nothing harmful, but startling enough to wake me up.

“Hey Princess,” she said, “Looks like your first lover boy’s here to rescue you.”

I was disoriented by lack of sleep, and it took me a second to realize what she was getting at. Lover boy? Was Jarrod here? I wasn’t expecting him for a few more days, though I wasn’t exactly sure where here was. Then I realized she was talking about a knight. I walked over to the mouth of the cave where she was waiting. I had never before worn the same clothes for so long and I felt gross. I realized it was a good thing I was not one of those prissy princesses. At least I’d had dried meat before; it wasn’t a shock to my system.

Anyway, I saw the knight riding over the hill toward the cave. There was no mistaking a knight’s silhouette – the standard, the armor, the feather on the head, the noble steed. It could be Jarrod, I realized. He did say he would borrow armor if he went with plan B, but as he approached I realized it was not. He was a big man, tough and self-assured looking. I rejoiced seeing his size and apparent prowess, thinking he might rescue me, but then I realized that would mean marrying him and that prospect did not excite me. He looked like a big brute; the prospect of being with him was terrifying to me.

This was the ugly dilemma. When a fight began, I didn’t know whom to root for. I mean, I had to pretend to root for the knight, but inside I just didn’t know. I certainly didn’t want him to die – he was just doing what he thought was right. He fancied himself my hero probably, and thought I would be grateful and throw myself into his arms.

“Alright, well I’m going to go kill him, but don’t fret honey, I promise I’ll give him a chance to give up with his life. At least, if it’s not too much trouble to me.”

She laughed humorlessly and took off, to face the knight on the ground. I noticed that the space in front of the cave made for a nice little arena. I also realized at that point how hopeless the prospect of Jarrod “sneaking in” seemed. In front of the cave, we were so high up that we could easily see a visitor from any direction and from far enough away that the cover of darkness wouldn’t last long enough for him to get in and out. From the back, sharp rocks and treacherous slopes prevented any approach. I sighed.

Below me, the battle was beginning. The knight yelled out something that I couldn’t hear from up here. The dragon responded with what I assumed was a smart remark and proceeded to breath a huge flower of flame, which the knight mostly deflected with his shield. He laughed confidently, then proceeded to ride with surprising swiftness in a wide arc around the beast. As he rode he sheathed his sword and pulled out what looked like a crossbow. No- a repeating crossbow. He fired off about ten shots in fifteen seconds all around the dragon’s body, a seemingly odd move since her armor would certainly deflect them, however his motive became obvious. While she dodged the bolts, he cut a hard right and switched from his arc movement to riding straight at the dragon, whilst re-equipping his sword.

Unfortunately, she incinerated the arrows with a burst of flame that came right up to where he was riding. The knight, unfazed, jumped over the flame with his horse – it was an impressive bit of riding. I thought the horse was going to land on the dragon’s head, and found myself rooting for him in spite of myself. However, at the last minute the dragon sidestepped and he landed instead alongside her. But his ploy had worked, he was close enough to get in with his sword. Dismounting, he rolled under the dragon and moved to stab up directly into her soft underbelly.

It didn’t work. I couldn’t see exactly, but it looked like his leg got caught in the stirrup on his dismount and he didn’t have the momentum to roll enough and ended up face down instead of face up. Before he could rectify this, he was pinned under the dragon’s massive foot while she devoured his horse. I was horrified, but I wanted to see more clearly what happened next. I started to climb down the slope. Finally, after spitting out the saddle, she let him up, still gripping him, and held him up to her face.

“Drop the sword and bow and run home, and you can live,” I could just barely here her say.

He nodded pathetically and she dropped him, but he did not drop his weapons. Instead, he yelled defiantly, “The day I surrender to a dragon will be the day I –” but he didn’t get to finish his sentence because he was engulfed in flame, cooked in his own armor. Shortly thereafter, he was eaten, pried out of his armor like a lobster from its shell. I looked away in disgust, and soon I heard the dragon’s voice.

“Coming down for a closer look?” she asked.

I had nothing to say in response.

“I gave him the chance,” she said, “But things are tough all over. I don’t relish doing that.”

My captor and I didn’t speak at all for the next several days. I was numb with the shock of what I’d experienced, and she was perhaps a little ashamed. I realized I was in this to save lives like his, too. Bold and noble and filled with chivalry and dreams of honor, they didn’t deserve to die like that. And I was even in it to save the dragons, though it disgusted me to think it, from a life they were ashamed to live but had to. If I escaped this system and beat it, I felt like I would begin to bring about its demise. Perhaps other princesses would follow my lead, and a revolution would follow. Of course, only if I succeeded.

I decided to give plan A one more go. One day, I acted even sadder than usual. I didn’t eat or drink or move, and, when the dragon didn’t even notice, I tore the bottom of my dress and tied it into a noose. Finally the dragon took notice.

“Oh for the love of – Why would you go and kill yourself.”

In response, I merely began to sob.

“Oh for pity’s sake – what’s wrong? Talk to me!” She seemed panicked, and why not? After all, if I died, her jig was up and she was in some trouble.

Finally I spoke.

“This is the anniversary of my uncle’s death,” I lied. “Every year since I was a child I’ve gone to visit his grave on this day and brought him flowers. Every year but this one. His spirit will think I’ve forsaken him!” I cried even more. I didn’t expect her to buy this, but I thought the guilt she already felt might be enough to get her help.

She just rolled her massive reptilian eyes and walked back to her nest. I kept crying, and finally she spoke.

“How far is it?” she asked flatly.

“I… I don’t really know how far. I don’t know where we are.”

“How far from your castle then?”

“About a day’s ride East,” I said.

“Alright, here’s the deal,” said the dragon, “I take you to pay respects to your uncle’s bones, if you promise that after that you will not cry again, at all, while you’re with me.”

“Okay,” I said, drying my tears, “I can do that I think.”

“Or mope.”

“Or mope,” I agreed.

So we set out, flying through the sky. I thought perhaps it was too late, that Jarrod had already left for the other cave, but there was simply no way to know. I focused on trying to give adequate directions. I had spent some time with Jarrod studying a map so I could find the place from the air, but the world looked quite different from the map. However, my frustration didn’t hurt my story – I would have been just as frustrated trying to find my uncle’s grave from the air. By and by, after nearly 6 hours flight, we set down outside what I desperately hoped was the right cave. I looked around for Jarrod or the bow, but I saw nothing. I also saw no machinery inside the cave.

“Your uncle is interred in a cave?” asked the dragon disbelievingly.

“This is where he passed away. He was a bit of a hermit later in life.”

“Well, go on in,” she said, “I’ll wait out here.”

Damn! I thought to myself. I needed to stay out and she needed to go in. But it was too late to make that happen now. Maybe, I thought, If I went in and stayed in she’d come in after me, thinking there was a back entrance to the cave or something. Maybe there even was. Anyway, I reasoned, in order to get in and out to build and arm the trap, Jarrod and his friends must have built in a way for humans to get in and out without triggering anything. If this was the right cave.

I entered the cave. It was dark. The first archway was just under dragon height. I knew the trap would be triggered by a pressure plate. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually I was able to make out the crude machinery. There was a large sheet of metal across the bottom of the cave. I sighed in relief. I also saw a ledge along the side, just big enough for me to crawl through, that would let me bypass the plate. I climbed over it and emerged on the other side. I realized I’d be right in the way of the blinding shrapnel if I waited here. There was nowhere else to go, and there was no sign of Jarrod or a hidden bow. This would have to be me, the trap, and my knife. I went back to crawl space and noticed the giant spike lurking in it. I couldn’t hide here safely, either. Finally, I looked up and saw a ledge above the whole thing. The perfect place to hide safely, if I could get there.

Climbing the machinery was risky, since I could be thoroughly dead if I set it off. Climbing up the rock wall, however, was beyond my skill. Then I noticed a rickety wooden ladder and sighed in relief, silently thanking Jarrod. I climbed up to the small space, which offered a perfect view of the trap, and found, hiding away up there, a bow and five arrows. I picked it up and waited.