Monday, August 24, 2009

The Tale of The Exile--The Third Night: Le Cirque d'Aberrations (Part 8)

Part 8: Gallows Pole

"So, who are you, then?" I say, turning to look at the speaker. He's about my height, thin, wiry, shaggy hair, not shaved recently. Looks like he's had a time of it himself. He's got bandages and bruises all over, like me. it's almost like looking in a mirror.

"What were you praying for? Safety?" he shoots at me. "Then run now. Questions later, when we've shaken the Watch. Deal?"

We move through the Bastion. He leads me to a grate. From the smell, this one leads to the waste sewers, not the nice clean water supply.

"Oh, not this again." I mutter, but between the guards and the sewers I'll take getting filthy. We slip down into the darkness, then wait. The guards apparently don't think to check the grate. I hear them stomp by. We wait a few minutes more. The smell is incredible. Don't gag.

“Alright," my companion mutters after a few more minutes, "time to go."

"No. Time for questions, I think. Who are you and why help me?"

He sighs. "Right. Should have known. OK, here's the deal. I'm here because of your prayer to the Saints, because they can't help you now."

That's alarming. "Why not?"

"Because you're an Exile. Exiles are marked by the Shadows, and even the Saints can't aid them directly."

"So my coin last night was wasted then?"

"Not entirely. They can guide your path away from danger, or keep you from catching ill. Or have you there when someone they ARE able to help needs it."

I feel used. "So the Saints used me to protect Eric? Only to utterly fail him?"

My guide looks my way. I get the impression he's glaring at me. "What you said last night was right, you know. About death and redemption. If I had thought that way...never mind. What matters is, you were right, and you tried your best. What happened after? Not your fault."

Doesn't feel that way. "Right. I notice you still haven't answered either question yet."

There's that glare again. "I'm getting to that. I'm here because you sacrificed your light to them. They cannot ignore such a prayer, Shadows or not. And they owed you for last night. So they found a loophole. You've been marked for The Shadows, so they sent one who has your survival in their best interests."

“Oh fuck.” I back away from him, slipping a little. "Oh fuck no. You-you keep away from me! Keep away!" Panicking...not good...must calm down... I can't. The memory of those silent figures with no candles gathered like vultures on the balcony of the cirque is too fresh...too vivid...

"You know, I just said that your survival is in my best interests." He sighs. "Look. I'm not your enemy here. I'm on your side."

I'm not listening. I'm running. The Shadows are the hangmen of the gallows of my Exile, and I'm not trusting one to slack his rope for me. I run for a bit, trying not to slip in the sludge covering the walkways or fall into the sewage running beside me. It's hard with no light. My hand is burning, so I start unwrapping it.

Ah. There. That's better. Now the flames licking my fingers can light my way. Now if only the walls weren't bleeding. Slow sores of sludge ooze like leprosy along the tunnel. The rotting bowels of Miir glisten.

"There you are." the shadow-man says from ahead of me. He got here quick. He walks into my light. He has no eyes, only holes leaking blood.

"I know who you are." I giggle. "You're the ghost of the last Exile, come to lead me to my doom. Well, I won't share your fate! Back, demon!” I wave my burning hand at him, but he doesn't seem impressed.

"Wow. That dreamlily has gotten its hooks deep in you, hasn't it? “ the shadow man sighs. “So you've heard the story of the Exile who was found dead after using his peepers for inkwells. Not surprised. It's a legend, after all. Here's the thing, though. It's older than people think, gone through a dozen tellers over the centuries, twisted into a morality tale. And after all this time, I'm rather sick of it. I want to help you, Gaven. I want to see you survive, because then the story will change. If you manage to survive this week, then people will tell the story of the Exile who survived. I want to be that story. So I'm here to help you. And I'll knock you out and stash you somewhere unpleasant but secure if I have to. Do you understand me?"

"You're crying blood. You might want to look into that." I say, holding my burning hand between us like a shield of pain. I start giggling.

"Look, Gaven. We need to get moving. I can lead you somewhere where you'll be safe, but we must be there before midnight. Understand?"

I lower my hand. "Fine. But if you kill me, I'll be very annoyed." I can see the walls changing color, from stone gray to powder blue. "Ok, so you don't want to be the story of the eyeless Exile, right? Does that mean The Shadows are living stories?"

"Something like that." My guide says as we move. "It's more like the forms we can take are determined by the tales told about us."

"Then what are you, really?"

"I was a man once. Just like you. I was offered a deal, though--become a legend and live forever." He sighs. "There are different types of legends. Most are not pleasant tales of heroism. Many are cautionary tales. I'm a victim for eternity."

Now I don't feel so bad about spitting in Naros's face, if this is the sort of thing he was actually offering me that first night.

We lapse into silence for the rest of our trek. Until my guide stops us. "We're here. Just up that grate is a place you can spend the night. You'll be safe from direct actions of the Shadows, so long as you stay within the grounds. They can still send things after you, though.”

I pull the grate open, and step out into the night air. It's a courtyard, with a nice garden. Some night guards notice me. They shout. Oh, fuck! I turn back to the grate...but he's already closed it.

"You bastard!" I scream. "You lied to me!"

"I said you'd be safe, not that you'd enjoy the stay!" Comes the reply. The guards grab me. I try to struggle out of their grip. Fuck. FUCK! A figure dressed in white approaches. He grins widely.

"Well! What a pleasant surprise! I'm so glad you found your way back to us, Gaven."

It's Jereth. I'm back in Lair Dythanus.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Elisdee Lily

The Lilium Elisdee, also known colloquially as dreamlily, is a bright orange and purple flower often cultivated by the elves of Elisar, though its use has spread throughout Demurra, particularly in Heath and Arden. Dreamlily bulbs are edible, but contain a hallucinogenic chemical that causes delirium in humans and mild euphoria in elves. This has lead to its cultivation as a narcotic. L. elisdee extract is also useful as an antiseptic, fighting off bacterial infection and putrefaction, which means that it remains marginally legal, but it is a controversial herb no matter where it crops up.

Use of Elisdee has given rise to a stereotype in Horeti of Dream Doctors, physicians who lure the sick into addiction via unscrupulous use of dreamlily as part of their treatments, promising them the visions that dreamlily produces on a regular basis in return for ever-increasing payments. About a century ago, in an effort to crack down on these unsavory characters, the government of Horeti outlawed the practice and cracked down on a powerful family of Dream Doctors, who fled Elisar for Demurra and eventually settled in Miir, forming House Dythanus.

Not every human exposed to dreamlily delirium enjoys the experience. Sometimes the hallucinations produced take the form of horrific and unsettling images, especially if the person is under stress during their intoxication. Dreamlily visions have the sort of random qualities that are typical of dreams, especially in higher doses, and these qualities may prove confusing and alarming to those who aren't used to the experience. Regular users try to minimize these effects, usually through taking the drug only in pleasant surroundings and not exerting themselves. A user not in thse srots of controlled conditions become dangerous to themselves and others, as they may attempt to act on the visions they experience.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tale of The Exile--The Third Night: Le Cirque d'Aberrations (Part 7)

Part 7: Blue Jay Way

It takes about ten minutes for me to calm down. Mostly because it suddenly occurs to me that I have no idea where I am. Sobering thought. It's night, I'm high on hallucinogens, and I have no lights or weapons. I have a four-armed mutant and a decadent elf looking for me. I need to pull myself together if I'm going to escape them, because I have no wish to be around either. Jereth can shove his "job."

This is The Bastion, the rich part of the city. I can see very nice houses and buildings, wide courtyards, and fireglass lamps on corners. First things first. I reach one of the lamps, break it with a rock. Glowing shards fly everywhere. Add vandalism to my crimes; I have light.

I take a few moments to breathe. I hurt all over. My stitches, my hand, my ribs...all aching again. Painkillers must be wearing off.

I'm in danger. Rich areas usually mean the best, most attentive, and most vicious city guards. And the gentry will be returning soon. Where do I go, though? I've already traveled from Pen to Bastion, but I have no intention of returning to Lair Dythanus ever again. I need a place to ride out the night. It's not midnight yet...not even curfew. Inns might be open. Hopefully, they won't shoot at me again.

I look about. Hmm. There's something that will serve: a large building with bright lights around a sign proclaiming "The Greycloud Salon." The building is made from the gaudy purple stone, and something in the words on the sign glitters in the light. It's all rather tasteless.

I sneak to the back door, near the kitchens. No way they'll let me in the front. Door's locked. Of course. No tools to work with, naturally. But they have an actual tree growing in a courtyard not far away. Wealthy gardens always provide nice twigs for lock-jamming. They don't work well enough for quality locks, but I'm not working a good lock here. It's amazing how often the worst locks are on the pantry.

The kitchen is busy. This salon must be getting the gentry returning from Le Cirque. I dip my hands in a wash basin and pretend to work. This was how we got into Lair Von Hastur; pretended to be wait staff, served the Lord for a bit, made a break for the goods when we could. If my idiot partner hadn't carried that candle upstairs, we might have gotten away clean. But I know why he was carrying it now. His screaming face comes to mind. Ah. Guilt.

I work for an hour in the kitchen, faking my way through several meals. Some of the other cooks look at me, but none ask who I am. I might make it to curfew here. I might even be able to beg for a bed for the night. The prospect of wiggling out of Exile is sweet.

Then the head waiter bursts through the doors. "Who made Lord Mordok's meal!?" he bellows. The others point my way. Fuck. I'm the scapegoat. He barrels through the cooks, waving his arms wildly as he screams. "Do you KNOW what you've DONE, you PESTILENTIAL little CRETIN!?"

"No. But I have the feeling you're going to tell me, fatso." I shoot back. I'm not in the mood to be yelled at by another self-important pig.

Must be some muscle beneath the girth, because he's just lifted me off my feet. "YOU WILL HOLD YOUR TONGUE, MAGGOT!" he shakes me around. He starts yelling about all the things wrong with whatever dish got served to Lord High-And-Mighty. I don't even understand half the terms.

"Are you done yet? So Lord So-And-So didn't like his gazpacho or whatever. I really don't give a steaming pile of dragondung." I spit.

"You HYDRANT little TICK! Your PENDARIC MORONITY will be your END! Do you HEAR me!?"

"I think they heard you in Heath, Piggy. Look, you want to lick the boots of Lord What's-his-face? Fine. Screaming at me won't get him a new meal. " His face grows purple in anger. "And what in the Dragon's Boiling Belly is a 'pendaric moronity,' anyway? Are those even words, or are you making them up as you go along?"

He gapes for a moment. "I'll have you know they are perfectly CROMULENT words! MAYBE you should EMBIGGEN your VOCABULARY!" he shrieks, slamming me against the wall.

I've had enough of this. I brace my feet against the wall and kick hard. He goes wheeling back and I spill out of his grasp. My shirt rips.

"I will FEED you your own ENTRAILS for your INSOLENCE!" He hollers, and lifts me up by my torn shirt. He grabs one of my stitches and yanks. OWWWWWWWWWWWW! The stitches rip open as he pulls. Then he hauls me to my feet, shoves his hand in the wound, starts pulling out my guts. Before I can react to this, he grabs me round the throat and starts shoving them into my mouth. It's like being force-fed a hollow sausage.

I resist the urge to gag or bite down. I flail about wildly...I feel a handle and grab it. It's a long fork. I start stabbing Piggy with it. Piggy squeals, backs off. He looks at me in terror.

"That's right, Piggy.” I snarl at him. “I'm going to spit you. Maybe roast you after I put my guts back in."

Everyone else is staring at me in horror, too. I grab for my entrails, but slap skin. OW! My stitches are intact. What? I look again. Yup. I look at Piggy again. The only blood on him is his, from the wounds where I stabbed him with the fork. I drop the fork, and stumble back towards the kitchen exit. No one stops fact, several make an effort to get out of my way. Ow. Ow.

Oh. Oh, fuck. I hurt. I hurt because the painkillers wore off. Jereth said he sent down a painkiller, and it would help dull the delirium. Help dull the delirium. Not stop it entirely. I've still been having visions, so I thought he hadn't given me anything. Oh fuck. oh, fuck! Cold sweat rolls down my face as it dawns on me. The guts were a vision. The visions are getting worse. I seem to be acting on them now.

I'm a danger to myself and everyone around me.

I stumble away from the Greycloud Salon. I can hear the hue and cry already. If the guards catch me, I'm screwed. I'm supposed to be in a cell right now, not running around stabbing people. The strings Jereth pulled to keep me out of jail won't tug here. They gave me Exile for blowing out a candle. I don't want to find out what they'll do to me for actually trying to kill someone.

It's hard for me to run. My wounds protest with every step. It's a lot like my first night of Exile, really. I pass a statue. Wait. Go back. Is that...? Yes! It's a Saint, staring serenely out at me. What did Eric say? "Pay them a coin and they'll be your patron?"

I could pass it by. But if ever I was in need of help from a higher power, it's now, with drugs in my system and the watch on my tail. In Calisapas, the Dragon sees all. Outside of Calisapas, the Dragon's not there. Screw it. I'll not piss off the local gods with rudeness.

What will I use for coin, though? I have no money on me, nothing valuable at all...except my light. My little fireglass shard. Oh, please let this be worth it. I place the shard at the saint's feet, drop to my knees, and begin to pray. Someone. Anyone. Please help me.

"Hey! Moron!" Someone whispers in my ear. "Stop jerking that statue off and get up. We need to get out of here."

Hail God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

w00t! I'm an Editor's Pick!

Wow. Aparently, putting my story up on TextNovel was a good move, because it's been picked as an Editor's Pick. Sweet!

Check out the Tale of The Exile on TextNovel. And vote for it, too, if you like!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Tale of The Exile--The Third Night: Le Cirque d'Aberrations (Part 6)

Part 6: How To Make A Monster

I'm not very surprised at this point, just horrified and disgusted. Naros was right. I did him no favors by saving his life.

"Now, Gaven, I want you to pay very close attention." Jereth says. "Watch, and learn what happens to those who cross my house."

"Ah, here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a tragedy." The Jester begins, while Eric watches stoically from the slab. He cues a mournful violin. The Caliban return to the stage. The acting is more somber and melodramatic, less farce. "This gentle soul here only wanted the best. He needed a few coins here for furniture, there for a pair of nice daggers, and everywhere to help his young daughter live in comfort." The Caliban pantomimes Eric visiting shops, looking worriedly at his purse after every purchase. "Alas! His coins don't stretch far enough! Solution! The Magic Elves of Miir would have the coin to solve all his problems! So our hero bravely goes to see them, and buy away his dilemma!"

Jereth scoffs. The Caliban Eric goes to see other players made up in silks and makeup that glitters in the lights. He beseeches the "elves".

"And will the Magical Elves help him? Of course they will! For a price. Everything for a price. To make his money he must play their games!" They bring out a huge wooden wheel, sectioned off into wedges and various bizarre symbols. The "elves" encourage him to spin it. He does. The wheel turns, and turns, and stops. I have no idea what the symbols mean, but apparently the wheel lands on a good one. "Success! Our hero has won his game, and is rewarded with gold. And so he goes and buys more shiny things. But all good things end. Our hero returns to the Magical Elves again. And again he spins their wheel. But look! It has landed...poorly. And now he must owe them. But he had no coins before! What will he give them? Oh! See here, he's asking for a second spin! Perhaps he feels he can balance his debt?"

"Don't do it, hero...I beg you, just pay them off...” The Jester reaches for the Caliban playing Eric, to stop him, but... “Too late. He has spun again. And look! Again his luck fails him, and he owes them twice! He's looking desperate now, because twice he's failed, and he couldn't cover them once before. What's this? A third spin? No! I beg you! The wheel goes round and round and round. Perhaps he will land on the space that will pay for all? Perhaps win more besides? It slows!"

"Tragedy! Again the wheel lands poorly! Perhaps this game is not quite fair? There's more poor choices than good, and--You! Get away! Shoo!" The Jester stomps dramatically, and one of the Little People drops from behind the wheel, giggles incessantly, and scampers away. The crowd roars with laughter at this. Jereth, though, hisses like a wet cat, startling me half out of my seat. This is the first I've seen his mood dip all night. "What was the wee man doing there, behind the wheel? We may never know. I don't plan to find out." The Jester nods sagely.

"How dare he imply we run crooked games." Jereth pouts. "And after we paid him so well for this act. We shall have words, he and I."

"But, whatever the case, the damage is done, and our hero is thrice in trouble! What will the Magic Elves demand in payment? Oh no! They want his daughter, to take away to their magical elf land! Oh, our hero doesn't like that!! He runs! He returns home...what will he do? I know! Hide your daughter! Claim she ran away when you told her the awful news! Here come the elves!" The girl playing Eric's daughter scampers away, tumbling flamboyantly beneath the table, while the man playing Eric tries to redirect the elves. The real Eric just frowns, but says nothing. "Did it work? Well, the elves didn't get the girl. But now they have taken our hero instead. Poor, poor man. Never play games with elves!"

The Caliban leave and the Jester turns to Eric. "And here you are to render payment." He turns to the audience. "How shall we make him pay?"

Predictably, most of the audience suggestions are grim and gory, from "Shove red hot nails through his eyes" to "Boil him in molten gold!” One voice, strong, female, shouts "Let him go!" It comes from Damien's box, oddly enough. Maybe it was that lady I saw before. The Jester listens to the suggestions impassively.

"Well. That's certainly an interesting assortment of options. But how shall we choose?" He pretends to ponder for a while, then have an epiphany. "I know! We will leave his fate up to chance! BRING BACK THE WHEEL!" The Caliban bring that wheel back to center stage, placing it near Eric's slab.

The Jester loosens the restraints to free one of his arms. "Thrice you borrowed.” He says. “Thrice you lost. Thrice you owe. So now, Eric, thrice you will spin, and thrice you will be punished."

"And if I don't play your little game, harlequin?" Eric snarls back. "What will you do then?"

The Jester shrugs. "The wheel must be spun. And it doesn't matter much to them," he points to the crowd, "who does the spinning. If you don't, I will do so in your place. But before you force me to do this, consider that this may be the last time you hold your fate in your own hands. Would you pass that up?"

That really doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but it seems to calm Eric, who sighs and lays his hand on the wheel. It beings to whirl. CLICKITYCLACKITYCLICKITYCLACKITY! The wheel is a blur. The painted symbols form a long, tangled string of randomness. I must do something. It's partly my fault that he's up there in the first place, after all. I fouled up his offering to The Shadows.

The wheel is slowing. The Jester waits expectantly. it's slowing...slowing...stopped. The Jester examines the sigil the pointer singled out.

"Well! You're in luck today, my friend! The wheel has spared you this first spin!" The Jester calls. This announcement is met with boos. "Well! Let us see if your luck holds, shall we? Spin again!" The Jester urges. Eric sighs, and grips the wheel again. And again it turns.

This is a sham. The symbols are probably meaningless. The Jester is the one deciding Eric's fate, not the stupid wheel. The wheel slows again.

"Alas. Your luck has run out." The Jester shakes his head in sorrow. He nods backstage. "Bring forth the crucible!" A pair of well-protected Caliban bring out a bubbling cauldron. Something inside it glitters and bubbles. Is that molten gold?

"There is an old Miirian proverb." The Jester says to the crowd. "With fire we test the gold, and with gold we test the servant! You failed one such test," he says, addressing Eric again. "So we shall test you anew. Gold you wanted? Gold you shall have, forever!"

The Jester puts a wooden game chit between Eric's teeth, then grabs a ladle from his bench. He dips it into the molten gold, flings it at Eric. Drops of liquid metal splash Eric across his face, chest, and arms. He grunts in pain. Smoke sizzles from his skin. The smell is horrendous. Again, the Jester dips and flicks. And again. And again. Eric is screaming through teeth clenched so hard it's cracking the wood in his jaws. Welts boil up around the gold, which hardens. He's being gilded, slowly, painfully, and artistically, by the Jester. Finally, the torture stops as the Jester runs out of gold. Eric weeps. The tears don't help him, they just make the gold on his face harden.

"Ah, me." The Jester says, in a whisper that's still loud enough for everyone to hear. "Whenever you wish to see gold, all you need is a mirror, and there it will be. But you have one spin left. Perhaps you can avoid a worse torment. Perhaps you may be set free. Perhaps you may get the mercy of Death."

Eric continues to weep. The sobs mix with the sizzle of the still-hot metal searing itself to his skin. But he reaches for the wheel. The wheel is spinning again. I don't think I can watch this any more. This horror has to stop. I have to do something.

In an instant, I'm up and out of my seat, bolting over chairs. I reach the edge of the balcony, lay my good hand on the railing, and leap. My heart flutters in my chest as I soar through the air. A heartbeat passes...

...and then I hit the ground, rolling with the impact. Ow. Did my stitches no favors. I ignore the commotion in the balcony. To the stage! I run up and hop over the partition. One of the Caliban grabs at me with webbed, sticky fingers, but I evade him. I haul myself up. And here I am, facing down the Jester, with Eric still writhing on the slab, the wheel beginning to slow. He looks at me. He seems amused.

"Let him go." I snarl, grabbing a saw from his table. "Or I'll give you a second wide smile in your throat and pull your tongue out it."

The Jester's face opens in that horrible flayed grin. It's like his jaw is trying to escape the rest of his face.

"Welcome to the stage, Gaven Morren!"

"I mean it!" I snarl. "Turn him loose, or you''l be wearing your tongue as a necktie!"

"Ah! Such a violent accoutrement would ill fit my outfit. But, as much as I would like to oblige you, I have other obligations to fulfill." His expression is jolly, but it's forced. He almost looks pained this close. "Believe me. Were the choice my own, I would gladly comply. But we all have our parts to play in this drama. You, me, him...all of us. Tonight, I must be the monster, and you must be the fool."

I dash forward, to grab him, to tear at him with the saw. But everything seems to be moving so slowly...I feel like I'm underwater. I reach out to him, grab his coat, stick the sawblade at his neck. "End this. Now."

His eyes are an amber color. They hold an infinite pain. "As much as you're enjoying this fantasy, Gaven, there's nothing you can do to me from up there." He says.


He points at the balcony. I shouldn't look. This is just a trick, this is...

"Tell me, Gaven. Why doesn't your side hurt? Where is the pain that should be in your hand from your previous adventures?" Jester asks politely. Calmly, he points back up towards the balcony. No. Nonono...

I can't help myself. I look back at my seat. There I am, sandwiched between the captivated elf and the shadowy wizard. Naros waves.

"NO!" I shout, and leap out of my seat. Everyone around me starts. The wheel has stopped, The Jester's on the stage, talking again...and I'm still up here.

I can't take this. I run for the exit, down the stairs, out of the building, howling my fool head off. I don't watch where I'm going, I just go. A few minutes later, I stop, gasping, and lean against a wall. I pound my burned fist into my aching side, wincing at the pain, just to be sure I'm not hallucinating. Then I sink to my knees and begin to cry.