An elaborate description of different forms of alien excrement passed the lips of the mercenary annex hired gun. Out of gas. Wonderful.
It had seemed like a nice trip to go to that new shop on the third planet in the Tippecanoe system. It had just opened and advertised on the TriD with large swords, axes and other barbaric weapons. Just the kinds Cronos liked to play with on a lost afternoon. For the real stuff he had his gadgets, of course, but slicing and chopping opponents for a change was a nice passtime.
So he hopped in his latest toy, his Corvette. Named after some famous antique sports car, this was the latest in short-range space travel. Equipped with all sorts of devices to make it go at insane speeds and more features in its on-board computer than a military assault ship, it was the top thing. One problem, though, was that it was more like an engine with a hull around it. There wasn't much space for fuel and other things. In his enthusiasm, he flew around the planet a couple of times before landing to buy the enormous sword and the book. He hadn't brought his killer gadgets; they simply didn't fit in the small cockpit.
After consulting his on-board computer, he sighed. The planet he landed on after scrambling out of the warp was not yet civilised. There was one self-service station some hundred miles from where he had landed. Great. He had to travel a hundred miles on foot through unknown country. The computer stated that there was life, but that most of it wasn't very nice. Several expeditions had failed because too many of the colonists had gotten themselves killed.
Something strange happened. Cronos actually thought. Several neurons in his brain actually sent some coherent signals to each other, forming thoughts. Not really knowing what happened, Cronos was a bit taken aback by this. His first impulse was to eliminate the source of confusion, but he soon thought better of it after he had almost beheaded himself with his infamous killer fingernail.
Then he decided. He had to take the sword and defend himself with that. Only one problem posed itself - Cronos' ability with swords and stuff wasn't particularly great. He knew how to handle a Gargantuan Omni-Deth Meson Blaster, he was skilled with the Giga-Kill Slaught Wrench and nobody mastered the Krikkit Klepto-Krusher as well as he did. But a sword?
Fortunately, he had a book. A book with pictures telling him how to be a fierce warrior. So he put on some nice music on the on-board sound system and started reading.
A few hours later, he emerged from his Corvette. Sword in one hand, book in the other, he started towards the forest beyond which the energy station was supposed to be. The country was kinda nice. He climbed a soft hill, covered in long grass and sweet smelling stuff all around him. Strange. Normally, he didn't notice these things. Anyway, before he had time to dismiss these eerie thoughts, his attention was drawn by a grunting sound. He stopped and listened. A bush parted and a rather nasty-looking creature emerged. It was short, ugly and probably smelly too. You know, the typical orc-like thing that needs slaughtering bad.
Cronos lit up. Yeah, finally some fighting to do. OK, refer to that page marked 'Assaulting an unarmed Victim'. Cronos memorised the instructions.
A) Heave the sword above your head.
B) Yell your favourite war cry.
C) Run toward the Victim with great speed.
C) Swing the sword in the direction of the Victim's neck, and hope for the best.
D) If you can't stand blood, look away.
So Cronos swung the sword in the direction of the creatures neck, ran towards it, yelled at it and heaved the sword.
This was not his lucky day.
The creature didn't die or anything. It wasn't afraid either, and started pounding Cronos' left leg with its claws.
Cronos looked at the book again in puzzlement. Shit. Did it the wrong way around. And he had studied so hard. He also found out that reading books while there is a nasty creature pounding your left leg doesn't work. He hit the thing with the hand that was holding the book. It stopped pounding and slumped onto the ground. Great, now he didn't get to hack at it either. He sighed deeply and started off towards the forest again. He had a long day ahead of him.
Written end summer or begin autumn 1990. Not rehashed too much, actually, for fear of authorial revenge.
The fog was still thick around them, but the two figures at the oars of the small rowing boat realised that they could already smell the dampness of the castle they knew was ahead of them, somewhere ahead on an island hidden in this damned fog.
"What to do once we're there?" one of them asked the other. The voice was probably that of a middle-aged man, but was remarkably low in spite of high pitched hints of fear hidden in its recesses. The other person seemed to sense this.
"Just be quiet," a very low voice said, sounding as if its owner every day smoked rather a few cigarettes too many, "we will see once we're there."
The first muttered a bit, but decided not to ask further. The sound of the oars in the water sounded muffled. The fog was getting increasingly impenetrable. Quite suddenly the boat grinded into something sandy. Land. The island on which they knew the castle lay.
"Karadoc," the very low voice muttered, "get out."
The other obeyed, but his "yeah" betrayed more than a hint of trembling.
A huge shape left the boat last. Even through the fog, it could be seen that this shape was disproportionately bigger than the other, broadly built and even...even...well....quadrangular. Its deep, threatening voice spoke again.
It was now obvious that the leader was not only big, but his follower was very small - a dwarf, actually, with a short and sturdy body as well as a beard. He wore a shiny harness, though the gleam was dulled by the intensity of the weather's conditions.
They stalked as they went ahead, when suddenly a vast silhouette loomed up in front of them. The looming was quite literal; the castle of Dianon the necromancer, evil reincarnated, might just as well have been a living monster of immense size, ready to lazily drop across them, devour them whole.
The dwarf cringed as he saw the black outlines appear.
"Er...er...," he muttered, "I'd really prefer going back, if you don't mind."
The leader turned around. His eyes seemed to flash temporarily.
"Like hell you won't," the low voice said resolutely, "I been paid to train you and I want to get it over. Fast. I don' do this for fun. I do this for dosh. Shut up. Follow."
As you, dear reader, probably already guessed, the leader of this two-man party was none less than mercenary annex hired gun, Cronos J. Warchild, known by various respectful and rather less respectful other names. It had been only weeks ago that he had woken up after some kind of nightmare involving a hole, lots of water and the utter lack of any scubagear.
He had looked around him, and had wondered why there had been three suns shining above him; obviously, his previous adventures had caused him to get stranded on yet another planet that he had never been to before.
Instinctively, he had searched his pockets. All his killer gadgets had disappeared, and his money and American Express Traveller Cheques as well. Somehow it didn't surprise him at all, but out of habit he had nonetheless wondered what could have happened to them. But, as he was paid to fight and not to think (nor wonder), he had decided to conclude that he had lost them in the flood.
Why were those friendly people all running off suddenly, leaving a trail of green pieces of paper and American Express Traveller Cheques behind?
He had stood up and felt his head. It had still been there, but it had surely hurt like hell.
Karadoc stumbled after Cronos as they approached the castle. There was something inexplicably ominous about it - even Warchild could sense it.
Was it the wall, that looked very solid and overgrown with moss?
Was it the gate, that looked equally solid as the wall and slightly mossy, too?
Was it the caped silhouette of a creature with red eyes standing on top of the battlements, laughing satanically?
That must have been it.
"Hey, dipshit," Warchild yelled up towards the creature, "open the gate!"
The laughter ceased instantly. From inside its cape, the creature retrieved what looked like a crystal. It yelled a couple of obscure words in a dialect Cronos nor Karadoc could pretend to understand.
Karadoc dashed for a rock behind which he wanted to hide, but Warchild lifted him up by his harness.
"No. You're not," the mercenary annex hired gun said.
At that very instant, the rock turned into a frog. A large, green one, with slime drooling from its jaws and many repulsive-looking warts on its back. It used its long tongue to lick its teeth, which were blindingly white and looked as sharp as needles.
"Holy potato!" Karadoc cried, "a Gorf!"
It had been nigh the evening as a village announcer had found his way onto the market place of the town where Cronos had discovered himself to be. It had been a town on a planet called Ostrich, and it had been like any terrestrial town, with but one peculiarity: It had been distinctly mediaeval.
He had occasionally wondered about why the planet had been called Ostrich, for he hadn't seen any ostriches around, nor any pictures of them. Indeed, he had felt he had enough proof to state that the entire planet hadn't had one ostrich living on it. Of course, the concept of "linguistical anomaly" had never crossed his mind, especially because there wasn't one large enough to cross.
The announcer had cleared his throat several times, and had started to read what turned out to be some kind of mediaeval equivalent of "The Sun". The first two pages had been very uninteresting, and had mainly been filled with prophecies involving Holy Wars and Environmental Disasters. Page three had had no words on it. Instead, the village announcer had turned the picture that had been on it towards his audience, which had caused several women to look at themselves rather embarrassed. Some men had seemed to readjust something.
On page four, the small advertisements had started.
"Academy of Adventurers seeks Practical Tutor."
Cronos remembered it well, and only wished he had never applied for this particular job. Not without any of his killer gadgets, that is.
He found the feeling of a Gorf gnawing grittingly in a gross gamble at his gonads not a very exciting nor a very pleasing one, no matter how many alliterations the act had included. He just felt immensely lucky that his Mega Absorb Groin Protector was switched on this time.
As the Gorf's gnawing went grudgingly closer to the on/off switch, Cronos felt some kind of alarm and decided it was time for some interactive intervention. He connected his fist to the back of the enormous head of the monster.
For about one or two milliseconds, the Gorf didn't quite know what had happened. Then it found it necessary to discover that its skull had been split wide open and its miserable excuse for a brain was horribly exposed to elements it was not designed to be exposed to.
It decided to die, which was probably a wise thing to do.
In a puff of smoke, it changed itself back into the rock it had been before.
Karadoc hadn't seen any of this, for he had dug his head in the ground, assuming this would keep the monster from seeing him. It appeared to work, for the monster had given only Warchild its undivided attention.
Warchild wondered about this, but not for long (you know why).
The creature on the battlements looked around.
"Where is the dwarf?!" its voice of doom bellowed.
Cronos wondered again. The dwarf was clearly at a very short distance from him, his half-shiny harness plainly visible. The creature didn't seem to see him.
Cronos would not have been Cronos if he wouldn't have been able to count one and one together. The result was seven, and he therefore decided to head back to the Academy to get his fee. The dwarf had arrived safely at the castle, which was the extent of his job exactly. Furthermore, something seemed to indicate that the dwarf was no longer in immediate danger.
As Warchild rowed off again, the creature disappeared off the battlements, laughing in triumph.
As Cronos glanced at the island for a last time, he saw Karadoc's head appearing again.
The nitwit dwarf would be OK, he knew.
Original written mid November 1990. Rehashed slightly January 1995.
A story - or, rather, an exercise in metaphore wielding - loosely based on a song of the same name by Queensryche.
When he topped the hill something like awe struck the poet. It was as if he suddenly heard the soft vibrations of an ode to beauty, a ballad to nature. A cool wind touched his face, bringing with it the soft scent of spring, the fragrance of budding trees and roses, drifting beyond his senses as the sun spread its glorious rays across seemingly endless pastures and meadows. It seemed to be playing tricks with shadows like dark flames probing at his hair.
The poet sighed deeply. This was a sight for sore eyes, a view that could lift the spirits of the dullest hearts. Tastefully positioned hills sloped as far as the eye could reach as though a frozen green sea of land and grass; a light mist hung in the air, as if delicately placed to mimic the dream visions of a true Goddess. Voices seemed to whisper enchantingly amid the trees, beautiful colours of green and gold reached the most inner part of the poet's being. Shimmerings as pure as those of diamonds caught his eye as dew- covered boughs heaved and bowed placidly in the gentle morning breeze.
He had never seen the world portrayed in all its grace and virtue like this. Not before. It seemed like magic, the kind of magic that only a beautiful spring morning with a soft breeze and a light mist can invoke.
When he listened more carefully he could hear a brook flowing, somewhere. He descended from the hill top, almost being absorbed physically into this palpable magnificence, the almost uncanny grandeur of everything around him. He felt the force of life flowing into his lungs with every breath, he felt his nostrils tickling in a teasing, almost exciting way. He stifled a leap of sheer happiness.
There it was. Just behind a copse, a rivulet trailed off into the mist-covered meadows. Its water was clean, inviting him to touch it, almost luring him into drinking it. Fish swam and jumped energetically, the clearness of the water reflecting off their silvery skins. The little river's bottom was covered with rocks and the occasional water plant. It was as pure as liquid diamond.
He knelt down, closing his eyes so he could absorb the sound of rushing water better. If he would lie down he knew he could doze off in the early morning warmth of the sun, listening to the water and the birds. Sleep for hours in an almost majestic kind of peace and harmony.
He kneeled down to drink. The water was bright, catching the light from the sun and casting it back in a thousand different directions. It played tricks with those enchanted by its appearance of simple serenity.
The poet bent over to drink. The liquid tasted pure, cold as ice. He closed his eyes, feeling the water going down every time he swallowed. He savoured the sensation that sent shivers down his spine. He drank to his heart's content. It seemed to refresh his body and spirits.
When he opened his eyes again he noticed the mists had somehow extended themselves. They now floated gently at a short distance above the water as if they were living entities, afraid of touching the water but instead probing, progressing, moving as if by some preternatural force.
He suddenly saw a reflection, barely visible behind the pink and brown blur of his own, in the constantly transforming surface of the water.
When he looked around, startled, he saw nothing but a piece of a black robe vanishing in the mists that had gathered tremendously in the last few seconds. He erected himself, seeing the mist move across his feet gently, enfolding his legs. Probing. Sensing. Conquering. There were no flowers to be seen here, but the air nonetheless smelled of roses even more than it had before.
He looked up to the sky only to see great, threateningly black clouds march across it as if gathering strength for some kind of momentous occasion. They rumbled, turned, whipped, ocassionally formed shapes of huge bulging monsters that dissolved moments later.
The sun had been covered completely by now; it seemed to hide itself reluctantly. The mists intensified, moving quicker around the poet as the breeze increased to a light wind, tugging somewhat at his clothes.
Who was that person, that mysterious reflection of which he had caught a hazy, distorted glimpse in the water? Why did the air suddenly smell of roses even though there were none?
Around him the silence grew. Even the sound of the rivulet seemed to be dampened by the lingering fog, the birds suddenly no longer seemed to want to perform their lovely serenades of spring. Perhaps they were afraid - or perhaps they were merely respectfully silent, awed by something as yet unknown.
A very soft sound could be heard now. It seemed to come towards him like the waves of a sea, sometimes intense, something barely audible. It sounded like music. Whistling, perhaps. It came from the direction where he had guessed the mysterious person had disappeared to.
Careful so as not to walk into anything shrouded in the perpetual mists, the poet started walking in the direction where he guessed the sound came had to come from. He quickly relaised he was walking in the right direction, for the sound became clearer, more beautiful, clearer. Like he had thought previously, it was indeed the sound of someone whistling. The melody seemed, if he had to put his finger on it, contain sadness as well as infinite grace.
The countryside had changed. Where he had earlier walked through seemingly endless pastures and meadows with some occasional trees, there was now a dense forest that was only interrupted by sharp pieces of rock protruding from the torn earth towards the grey sky, reaching out like eager ligaments, twice a man's height. The poet heard the whistled tune ever clearer now. It seemed to be right ahead of him. An irresistable urge took control, an urge to find out who the person was that whistled, what it was that caused this sudden dream, this sudden change of landscape, this sudden wind, the dark sky. The smell of roses.
Then he saw Her.
On a fallen tree not far away sat a Lady clad in black, with Her back turned to him. She senses his presence and pulled back the hood of her robe, revealing long dark hair that fell freely around Her proud shoulders. The expression that radiated from Her body was very much like the tune that arose from Her lips - infinite sadness and grace, as if she were lamenting a tremendous loss greater than any mortal could ever have endured.
She did not see him yet, nor did he see anything but Her back. But Her silhouette on the fallen tree made his breath stick in his chest. A great sadness took hold of him, he knew not why.
He got closer, trying to make no sound that could startle the Lady. She continued her sad tune, as though She was not aware of anyone being around.
There was no mist near Her, as if the thin film of clouds was alive and hesitant to touch Her or even come close to Her. The trees loomed high above Her shape; beyond their tips there was nothing but darkness. The whole world seemed to be in darkness but for the bit around her. The gathering clouds in the sky had made night of day, as if nature no longer mattered.
He noticed the smell of roses intensifying, his nostrils perceiving every tiniest of scents as if in some higher state of awareness.
He came yet closer and found the mists parting at his feet, forming something like a path before him - leading to the tree that the Lady sat on.
Entranced he walked his apparently designated path of life. Before he knew it, he was in the same enclosure as the Lady and her tree. They were now surrounded by a wall of forest on all sides. It had the appearance of a prison - only this prison had been made to keep the world outside from harming that which was inside.
He would have sworn there had not been a tree where he had come from, but now there was. The forest seemed alive, throbbing with some ancient sense of purpose. He looked around him, realising he should feel threatened but, strangely enough, didn't. From somewhere deep inside, a feeling of inner peace gently spread out to the most remote parts of his body like a powerful and totally beautiful drug.
When he suddenly noticed the sound of leaves and branches brushing against each other in the wind he suddenly realised he no longer heard Her whistling.
He looked at Her, to find Her looking at him.
Her face was as if carved by a Great Sculptor's hands, a modern- day Michaelangelo. Her jugular bones protruding enough to be seen, Her eyes were of deep soulful grey, like jewels amid her complexion that was silken and white like purest velvet spun of milk. Around the stunning splendour of Her face hung beautiful hair, curled, long and as raven and as pure as a the blackest of starless nights. The kind of hair, loose like the wind, that make you wish you were a brush. The kind of hair you would want to let flow through your hands lovingly, hair you would want to brush from Her face, clear away from Her eyes. Her mouth had delicately formed lips that glistened in a light he could not discern the source of. He was so absorbed gazing at Her face and incredibly black hair that he began to stutter an apology but ended halfway, not being able to produce anything more but a sigh that sent goosebumps across his back and arms.
He had written poems about beautiful women draped across priceless couches in exquisite clothing. He had composed love songs to the most magnificent Goddesses of the heavens above; he had described their silken skins, the softness of their breasts, the deep serenity of their glorious eyes, the intoxicating taste of their lips, the tantalizing smell of their breath. He had conceived poems that brought colour to the cheeks of Queens Supreme and had lamented woeful partings of loved ones. He thought he had seen everything that was beautiful on the face of the earth.
But one glance at this Lady was more than all he had ever felt, more than he had ever considered any mortal capable of feeling.
Emotions of death and birth, joy and sadness of a thousand lives surged through his being, increasing with every beat of his heart. This was the kind of Woman you'd like to learn French for, the kind of Woman that could have made a peaceful philosopher of Atilla the Hun.
He staggered, not quite knowing how to cope with the overwhelming emotions that took hold of his frail inner self.
Before him sat a Woman more beautiful than anything he had beheld before. Here sat an ancient Acropolis, a magnificent Gothic Cathedral, the most proverbially bewitching of Paradise Birds, the proudest of Lionesses, the sweetest of French Wines, the most delicately tuned of Violins, a brightest of Suns, a most impressive of She-Dragons, a High Queen of High Elves.
She looked at him, smiling a lovely smile of purest sadness.
He sank to his knees, quite incapable of doing anything else. He gazed at Her with an instant and deeply sincere feeling of adoration and devoted love.
There was no escape, which was good because he didn't want to. The earth would crumble if he would ever have to tear his eyes away from Her, the heavens would split and the universe would be reduced to an insignificant piece of emptiness with no reason for any mortal to live. He would dwell in darkness if She would turn him down. He felt with every fibre in his body that if he was ever to part with this Lady again, life would be less than a hollow shell of nothing. The singing of birds would hold no beauty. Mists lingering across green meadows would cause instant depression. Odes to Aphrodite would be meaningless. Music or art of any kind would never again hold any value for him. The biggest mountain would not be high enough to surpass his sorrow, the deepest sea not deep enough to drown his grief. He was so full of love for Her that it made tears leap at his eyes.
She looked away from him, as if remembering something that tore open old wounds that were revealed deep within the centre of Her soul.
His entire being cried out mutely to Her, body language and supernatural signals being the languages of the universe that this Lady in Black understood like no other.
He felt peace and rest flow through him when She looked at him again, quite suddenly. It was immediately followed be a feeling as he was being quartered, made love to, born and withering away - all sensations combined in but a fragment of a second that he spent in intense agony and profound pleasure that he could not help but sense in all aspects with every cell in his body. He felt as if steel lances were driven through every muscle in his body, as if he was being burned in the middle of a supernova, tortured horrendously by Evil lords - but he also experienced the feeling of the accumulated love given by mankind since Eden, the first step on another planet, a thousand orgasms, the intricate scent of thousands of rare and intoxicating flowers.
She arose from her tree like like in a dream. The poet tried to reach out but couldn't. He wanted to walk but found himself grappling for words. She was warning him, something he felt very clearly. Being able to love Her would have its price, the heaviest price for any mortal to pay.
She did not speak a word. The trees parted as She walked off.
The spell had vanished. He found himself capable of walking again. She had set him free, free to chose for himself what to do. Go home and be without this Lady for the rest of his life - or go with Her and pay the price.
His heart leapt, his soul cried out, his cells writhed in agony. Whatever the price was, he was prepared to pay. All his life he had dreamed of this, wished for this to happen. The price mattered not. She did.
He followed her to a small wooden cabin that lay partly hidden by dense undergrowth. A slow drizzle had started falling but he felt none of it. Drifting on clouds of overwhelming love he followed Her shape, spellbound again. He adored Her footsteps, beheld with adoration the odd leaf that was brushed aside by Her feet as She strode by. He worshipped the way in which She moved as if motion itself was but a means designed for Her to be even more inexplicably ravishing than She already was. Some way or another, he felt as if the entire universe revolved around them, as if their movements were swinging the earth and the planets in their perpetual orbits around the sun.
Everything seemed utterly unimportant all at once. Everything, that is, except for the two of them.
It seemed as if he heard bells tolling in the distance.
All his senses succumbed to the overwhelming sensation he felt throughout his body, the feeling of deep desire, admiration, affection and lust. He wanted to be one with this perfect creature mentally and physically, no matter what the cost.
Outside, the gathering power of the rain thundering on the roof of the small wooden cabin remained unnoticed while they made passionate love, crying cries softened by the mists, loving like mankind had never been able to love before. They melted together, merging their minds and bodies together indefinitely, losing themselves in the forever increasing whirlwinds of passion, soaring along the edges of heaven, ornamenting the gold of their love with gems superlative.
They became one with the trees, the forests, the lands, the world, the seasons, night and day, deserts and polar caps, ice and steam, all Gods that had ever arisen, all beauty that had ever existed in the greatest empires past and future. When their tongues met they kissed the gates of heaven. When they held each other they embraced immortality.
This was not something earthly, nor even something heavenly - it was something that could only be of equal status with the stars, with the galaxies. It was something that could not be surpassed until eternity, not even until the very end of all, when time and space themselves would collide.
Their combined desire was as insurmountable as a mountain touching the sun, as intense as the Krakatau making love to Venus, as hot as the centre of a thousand galaxies' supernovas, as vast as all the earth's oceans combined. Something that could make Death come alive, or die.
When the poet woke up, the first thing he smelled was the scent of roses lingering through the small wooden hut. His entire body felt pleased like it had never felt before. His head rested on the pillow like it had never rested before. In a peculiar way he felt tired but wonderfully alive at the same time.
The sun shone brilliantly, its rays almost touchable as they fell through the floating dust above the bed on which it shone through a broken window. Through the cracks came the warm smell of summer, carrying with it the fragrance of thousands of other flowers.
She looked even more incredibly beautiful in the rays of the rising sun that fell on the gentle curves of Her naked body. Her eyes were closed, Her breathing soft and regular. He brushed aside a strand of her raven hair and kissed Her cheek. His lips tingled with the sensation of that skin of purest velvet. He had the feeling of death and birth again, the feeling of a planet crashing down on him and a Woman giving him the kiss of life. Still.
He had to lie down.
They had spent several months together. His first sunset with Her had been the dawn of a new life altogether different from the pale death he had hitherto had the audacity of calling 'his life'. She had never spoken a word, but Her eyes had spoken of worlds unknown, experiences unsurpassable by dreams or reality, love unattainable by mere mortals.
They had seen the sun rise and set many times, they had seen rain fall and dry. They had heard the trees grow buds, the grass become long, the forest animals raise their offspring. They had felt each other's touch, each time celebrating it by harvesting each other's love to its fullest. He realised he had hitherto been as unacquainted with true love as a man born blind would be with colour, a man born deaf would be with midsummer serenades. The sun rose in Her eyes, Her loins sang songs of love mixed with absolute sadness. She was a Lady he would need death for to forget, more beautiful than love itself.
He wanted to know what lay behind Her. Who She was, what the reason was behind the infinite sadness that seemed to have a firm hold on Her. Was She a Goddess? A Fairy Queen? The embodiment of Beauty?
He would try to read the story of Her life from the soulful grey of Her eyes, seeing only tales a mortal would never be able to understand. Every day he would try to find words pertaining beauty and love that were suitable enough to describe Her and what they felt for each other. Every day he would wonder at Her sadness more. He would plea Her to talk, beg on his knees for Her to divulge her secrets, regardless the cost. Each time he would bring it up She would cry. Each time he saw the tears in Her eyes it had felt as if Her love was flowing away, unsalvageably seeping into the cabin's wooden floor.
In the end She couldn't keep it from him any longer. And at that Moment of Moments, they both paid their price.
Original started spring 1992, put on ice for a while, and finished in October 1992. Rehashed June 1994.
Once upon a time there was a world. A world where everybody lived happily and where there was no war; indeed, a world where people just lived, hunted, harvested, ate, slept, and multiplied.
In this world it was that a man called Zantar lived. He was ruler of a tribe several dozen people in size, and a very thriving tribe it was indeed, in spite of its rather small size. Among them were some excellent huntsmen, and they even had some primitive means of using the power of running water to help them with various tasks they would otherwise have to perform solely with their own physical power.
Years ago, the peace and fortitude of the tribe had been confronted once with war: When the Noruasians had conquered the land, only to be beaten and wiped away by intervention of some kind of utterly divine being.
Ever since that day, weird things had happened to the village.
But that morning...
Zantar woke up to sounds he had never heard before. A feeling of dread manifested itself in his stomach and right in the marrow of his old rheumatic bones, and it was as though he knew something was wrong outside when he stepped out of his bed.
The voice of a girl in her late teens could be heard, muffled to such an extend that it barely succeeded in coming out from between the chaos of pillows and blankets.
"Come back to bed, Zantar, honey..."
"Not now, Neja, babe," Zantar said.
Zantar walked to the window and pulled the curtains aside. He beheld what he saw with astounded astonishment in his eyes.
Right before his window, something that looked a bit like a big green rectangle with regularly shaped silver paths on it stretched itself onto the very horizons, ornamented with dark grey shapes with many little shiny feet, ropes with coloured parts and big blue shapes standing on what seemed to be two relatively thin columns.
Zantar noticed that it radiated with malice - and even more particularly, a heat that seemed to arise from one of those grey dark shapes on many feet on which the text 'MOTOROLA' could be read in large, white characters.
"Oh Ynnor the Divine One," he sighed, "not again..."
It was not the first time something this weird has happened to Zantar's tribe; ever since the Noruasian attack, the entire village had been mysteriously though regularly transported to polar regions, hot deserts, and even more strange places. Sometimes to all those places within a matter of days.
Zantar decided to call together the Council of Elders.
Only half an hour later, the entire Council was gathered in Zantar's hut: Sendatsuh the Scientific One, Nafets the Earnest One, Sacul the Extensive One, Seec the Fortuitous One, and Drag the Tiny One. Drag had been a member of the Council ever since the death of Nroejbrot, who was killed by the Noruasians. He was selected because he looked so insanely witty, and usually didn't contribute much to the meeting except by improving its atmosphere.
"Blackened is the End", Nafets proclaimed, "thus soundeth the Prophecy."
"Winter it will send," Zantar added, "yes, Earnest One, hard times are bound to be nigh."
"Throwing all you see," said Sacul, his words added to this apparently arcane brew of words beknown only to the Elders, "into Obscurity!" With the last words, he heaved his hands to the sky.
"Woe! Woe!" Sendatsuh chanted, "the end is nigh!"
Drag just looked insanely witty.
"Quiet, fools!" Zantar cried, "as of yet, Ynnor the Divine One has shown us nothing that would point to such a predicament, and this strange happening will most likely be another one of those weird things that have happened more in recent years..."
"Aye," Sacul agreed.
"Quite rightly so," Seec added.
"Could very well be," Sendatsuh muttered, "but I am not sure if it agrees with my Sublimal Relativity Theory..."
"Ah, keep thy oral cavity shut, Scientific One!" Nafets said.
Drag just his usual - albeit insanely - witty self.
They sat silently for several seconds, each apparently in such deep thought that all their entire speech apparatuses failed to work at all. Suddenly Zantar moved. He shook his head and closed his eyes, pressing his index fingers at either side of his skull.
"What..." Sendatsuh inquired.
"Zantar! My Lord!" Sacul exclaimed.
Seec and Nafets didn't say anything. Drag looked around him in a rather insanely witty fashion.
"Silent," Zantar whispered hoarsely, pressing his eyelids even more tightly shut, as if something important was about to happen within the small universe he called I.
He saw visions of a Great War, but he saw that it was no war of their time. Millions died, but when peace ruled again, a Great Wall was built to keep people apart although they actually were at peace with each other. Only after about forty years, the people found out that the wall was a rather daft thing and broke it down again, selling the little pieces of concrete and stone at ridiculous prices to souvenir seekers.
When Zantar opened his eyes, he was even more confused than he had been before. Surely it had to be impossible that so many people would die in any war? He had had side visions as well but he could not put a finger on their meaning. There were showers...fire...a railway in the jungle...and a gas bill. But the thing with the wall was really mindstaggeringly absurd. He could do nothing but discard his vision as irrelevant.
"We must start a quest," Zantar said after another couple of moments, back to the time and things currently at hand, "and find out where our village has been moved to now. So be it."
"Aye," Sacul agreed.
"Quite rightly so," Seec added.
"Could very well be," Sendatsuh muttered, "but I am not sure if..."
Nafets cast a killing glance at the Scientific One, shutting him up deftly.
Drag, on the other hand, just looked insanely witty.
At that moment, a knock could be heard on the door of Zantar's abode.
"Yes?" the Eldest of the Elders inquired.
A click could be heard, and from behind the thick wooden door came some heavy music that a post 19th-century inhabitant of earth could no doubt have recognised as the fanfare opening bit of Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra". It made Zantar think of a science fiction vision he had once had. It had involved apes and artificial sentience and, like this morning's vision, it had seemed to him too absurd to seriously contemplate the portent of.
The door was thrown open, hinges protesting mutely, to reveal a truly gigantic figure. It was a man on all accounts, but rather squarely built and with a strange device hanging in a leather kind of holster on his right hip. He had long sideburns and his fists looked massive, not the kind you'd like to meet!
On one of his legs, a battered and dusty woman clung as if her entire life depended on her hold on the squarely built man's extrement. Dried blood lined her face, and her legs and arms were bruised and coloured with brown and purple spots. She was scarcely dressed, and it was clear for everybody to see that she had a large belt of leather and metal strapped around her waist. There was a sturdy, rusty lock hanging between her legs, and two others (also quite sturdy and quite rusty) on each side on her hips. The remains of what had probably once been a perfectly functioning hairpin protruded from the keyhole of one of the locks. A wailing sound came from her dried out, burst lips. It disappeared into the stunned silence of the Council, unheeded. It was a wail indicating similarly unheeded sounds had often been uttered earlier.
One of the hands of the large man disappeared in his tunic. Another metallic click could be heard, at which instant the music ceased.
"Woe..." Sacul silently muttered, shaking visibly.
"Good morning," Seec added, equally softly.
"Well I'll be..." Sendatsuh muttered, "I simply have to postulate that all of this is impossible according to my -"
"Hack off, wouldst thou?" Nafets said, more than 'some' irritation obvious in his voice.
"You took the words right out of my mouth, Nafets," the Eldest of the Elders said solemnly.
Drag seemed to feel uncomfortable for a second or so upon seeing the woman. His kind was not too often favoured by all these enticing square inches of female skin. Blood-clotted and dirty or not, it was female skin. His face seemed for a moment to transform to an expression not at all witty, but after a very brief struggle the insanely witty looks settled once more upon his countenance.
The Elders looked at him. They strove hard not to be afraid of this man, nor to wonder too much which magic had been responsible for the music that seemed to have come right from within his jacket. And then, of course, there was the woman. Apart from the fact that she looked dishevelled and threadbare, it was highly unusual for women to be admitted within the Elder's Council Room.
"What are you looking at?" the rather squarely built man said when he noticed all Elders except one staring flummoxedly at the female clutching his leg, evidently beyond desperation.
The Elders started to study the ceiling and the furniture quite zealously, as if they has just discovered some kind of rare shiny metal in them, or unexpected design beauty that had hitherto miraculously slipped their attention.
Drag just kept looking around him in an insanely witty way, unperturbed.
The enormous figure looked down at the shape of what had once probably been not too bad-looking a female.
"Loucynda," he said reprovingly, waggling his finger, "I told you to let go, didn't I, before leaving Sucatraps?"
The female called Loucynda muttered something that could have meant anything between (and including) 'yes' and 'no'. Zantar coughed, regaining the squarely built man's attention.
"Why, hum, do you honour us with this visit?" Zantar asked.
The man looked back at Zantar with a mild expression of obvious stupidity. He spread his legs a bit, as if that might make his purpose evident all at once. Just when Zantar again opened his mouth to speak, the big man did.
"I am told that you are in need of a leader," the gaint man spoke, "a leader for a quest. Isn't that so?"
"Aye," Sacul replied.
"Quite rightly so," Seec added.
"Indeed we are," Sendatsuh muttered and, to Nafets, whispered, "though I am not sure if my theory allows for any outside parameters and -"
"Hack off, Scientific One!" Nafets bellowed in a whisper.
For a moment, it looked as if Drag was about not to look insanely witty. Noone was really surprised when he did so anyway.
Zantar proceeded: "Indeed, we are, noble sir. And, with respect, you indeed look like you're the man to do it."
The man muttered in himself, as if he was calculating or contemplating something. The silence that was the result of this was only broken when he looked up and said: "What's the pay?"
"Pay?" Sacul wondered.
"Pay?" Seec added.
"I hadn't though of a 'payment' parameter..." Sendatsuh muttered below his breath. Nobody reacted.
"P...p..." Zantar stammered.
"Pay?" Nafets asked.
"Pay?!" Drag uttered. He noticed everybody looking at him rather startledly, so he quickly shut up and continued looking insanely witty. His mother would have seen there were vast current aworking under his skin, that it cost the Tiny One more than the usual energy to remain his usual self.
The bedraggled female looked up as if she recognised something; a voice, maybe, or a face. A few seconds later she sagged again, went limp.
"Yeah, sure," the man continued some moments later, "the pay."
"Ah, yes, I see, the pay," Zantar said, "of course! How could we not have brought this up ourselves?"
He grinned nervously, an expression the other Elders were totally unfamiliar with, at least when worn by him.
"We have no practical use for the thing you call 'gold'," Zantar continued eventually, "so you can take whatever we have of that. But for that you will have to get us back in our normal environment again; out of this insane world we have ended up in."
The man thought it over for a while, then said, "Hmm..."
"So it's a deal, then?" Zantar said, hopefully, trying hard to keep desperation from tainting his voice.
"No," the giant man replied, "I want more. I want you to open the locks on my bride-to-be's chastity belt."
Zantar glanced at the remains of the female again, then averted his eyes so as not to insult the warrior.
"That's a deal then," he said.
The man took Zantar's hand and shook it perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. A tape recorder dropped to the floor.
"Erm...Warchild," the warrior said, "Cronos Warchild's the name. The payer's wish is my game. I will not let you down."
He picked up the tape recorder with a vaguely embarrassed look.
The next morning, everybody would loved to have seen the sun rising above the weird land that the quest was about to travel through. Unfortunately there was no sun to be seen anywhere. Instead, the sky was a kind of light grey through which some rays of light protruded half-heartedly where frills in the sky allowed this.
Cronos - now without Loucynda, who was dropped at the blacksmith's, clogging his leg - towered high above the other questers. These were Enur, Oblib and the latter's cousin Odorf. The only Elder that could be omitted from the actual Council of Elders, Drag, was also balancing with some gear stacked high on his back. Even during that, he persistedly looked insanely witty.
When the party left the village and set foot on the preternaturally green ground, shivers ran down their spines. Even Cronos had to suppress a small shiver. The soil didn't feel like soil at all. It felt like a kind of plastic coating; cold and uninviting. When they looked behind them they saw their loved ones standing, crying softly and waving handkerchiefs.
"We will not forget you!" they could hear Zantar crying in the ever increasing distance before the Eldest of Elders was pulled back in his hut by a girl in her late teens, the curtains of the hut hastily drawn shut.
Drag looked even more insanely witty than usual.
They lost sight of the village when they changed direction and disappeared behind a large dark grey object on which INTEL was written in large, white characters.
Who was that old woman, crying zealously while looking at a small painted picture on which someone looking insanely witty was portrayed, who left the parting scene long after the others had?
At the evening of that day - approximately when the questers would have liked to see a sun setting and when they noticed they once again had to be content with the meagre light rays coming from shapes like frills that were mysteriously located in the light grey sky, only partly penetrating the half darkness - a deafening cry could be heard echoing through these Bit Plains.
All the questers looked in turn at each other and then at Warchild.
Warchild, however, appeared not to have heard anything. He was fumbling with a hearing aid.
"Reficul the Evil One is upon us!" Enur cried, sinking to the floor.
"May Ynnor the Divine One aid us!" Oblib yelled, folding his hands together in prayer, starting to mumble.
"May the Powers of Light be merciful on us!" Odorf screamed, prepared to turn around and hurl his poor self back at the village whence they had come.
"Oh shit," Cronos muttered matter-of-factly.
Drag just looked insanely witty.
The deafening cries were upon them once more, these atrocious cries that seemed to want to tear down the heavens.
"It works!" they could hear, roaring, "finally!"
Even Cronos knew these cries could only have been made by a being much larger even than himself. The thought of a race of such beings made him cringe inside, though he kept his composure to the outside world. It would have been a bad move to show outward fright to the other questers. Without his courage - bluntly stupid though it was at times - this whole thing had no change of ever succeeding.
Next, the earth - or whatever they were in or on - started to shake. An enormous shudder drove them all toppling to the ground, mysteriously causing them all to fall on top of Drag, who found it difficult to maintain his usual expression under the gathered weight of his fellow questers and Warchild. The quake ended as soon as it had started, but before they had a chance to get up again it suddenly started to rain through those mysterious frills in the light grey sky.
It felt sticky and somehow warm. Soothing, perhaps? It was brownish and scented particularly. The only thing it actually had in common with rain was the fact that it came from what, for lack of a better word, had to be the sky.
"Reficul's Power Potion!" Enur cried suddenly.
"Evil Rain!" Oblib yelled, Enur's fear catching on.
"The Powers of Darkness are upon us!" Odorf screamed.
"Hmm...sniff...sniff...alcohol?" Cronos wondered.
Drag displayed distinctly uncanny behaviour. After sniffing once or twice, he turned his face towards the heavens and simply opened his mouth. Some people seem to have a particular moment in life for which they have been preparing themselves without knowing. If there was such a moment for Drag, the Tiny One, this was definitely it.
"Well...well I'll be damned!" Cronos cried enthusiastically, starting to grin like he hadn't done for quite a while, "it's Plantiac!"
His eyes quickly scanned the floor for pools and then uncermoniously and rather uncivilisedly dashed down into one and started to drink.
"No!" Enur cried, "Fool! You'll be doomed for eternity!"
"The Evil Rain has taken its toll!" Oblib yelled, "Eternal Damnation will be his price to pay!"
"Woe! Woe!" Odorf woe-ed, "Reficul, damn thee! Why hast thou lead this bunch into tempation!?"
Cronos burped in response.
Drag was lying on the ground, emblissed into unconsciousness, an insanely witty look that would have needed a chisel to get rid of plastered on his face.
Meanwhile...in the village...
Though the deafening 'Reficul' cries had also been heard in the village, a high and frantic screaming coming from the blacksmith's place, virtually tearing the night in two, caused much more of a stir.
A nude woman came running from the blacksmith's. There was a tan line that indicated large part of her had been exposed to the sun over the last couple of months. There was a shape around her loins and hips that seemed to have remained almost unnaturally white, as if not exposed to the light of the sun for anything up to years. On each hip there was the white shape of, damn it, yes, of a large padlock. Tan, lack of tan, tan line, all of it hid itself behind some bushes.
Zantar came out of his hut, looking weary, wondering what was going on. His beard looked ruffled and he was wearing some female underwear (to which, strangely enough, a bit of blue fur was stuck).
"Have you succeeded in removing that belt?" he asked the blacksmith when he noticed this man also having appeared on the street, covering up his genitals with a callused hand, obviously looking for something.
The blacksmith didn't actually reply, but instead blinked a black eye and just looked unfocused at the Eldest of Elders, looking insanely witty.
And in the wide vastness of the Bit Plains...
Cronos stopped relishing the taste of what his fellow questers called "Reficul's Acid" when he felt something. He didn't know what it was, or for what purpose he felt it, nor even where he felt it exactly. All he knew was that he did.
As if struck by lightning, a thought suddenly entered his mind. His beloved Loucynda was in danger. However, he also knew he had wanted to get rid of her for a long time, anyway. She must have betrayed him. The blacksmith seemed to understand his craft and must have...
As if reading Cronos' thoughts, Drag looked at him in a way Warchild would have loved to slap clean off the Tiny One's face.
Drag pointed at a large, dark grey, flat shape that was located behind Cronos. It stood on silver-coloured pillars, or pins. There was relief on the Tiny One's face, as if that large object explained everything in one go.
"Bug inside," he yelled happily, "bug inside! Bug inside!"
Warchild had always hated insects. Bugs, beetles, cockroaches, catarpillars, even ladybirds. And ants, of course, ants most of all. He had once seen one crawl out of someone's ear. He hadn't liked the sight. He wasn't afraid of them, no, not that. He just hated them fervently and preferred to squash them under his booted heel whenever an opportune moment availed itself.
"Bug inside!" Drag yelled again, pointing fervently to whatever was behind Cronos.
Warchild turned around slowly and suddenly understood. He knew why things had been so strange for Zantar and his country, why Loucynda had turned against him, why he had been feeling so strange inside. His entire personal universe, so far a muddled-up jigsaw puzzle, fell meticulously and autonomously in place.
"Bug inside," Drag said, "yes?"
Standing in front of a huge black thing with "PENTIUM" written on it in large white capitals, Cronos nodded.
Original written September 1989. Rehashed January 1995.
This is a story that needs some small introduction. Back in 1988, both authors visited a local computer show after which they decided to get some Greek Food at a restaurant recommended by a friend. Or, as the original introduction would have it, "A tale about two innocent (?) computerfreaks on their quest for some Great Food after the Hobby Computer Club days 1988, on the evening of Saturday, November 26th, 1988. And the story of what they found together with that Food."
Think of it as a self-indulgent exercise in poetic language, for that is what it turned out to be, making that the second story of the kind in this issue of "Twilight World".
The HCC days 1988 were quite interesting but not interesting enough not to be dull. Although they made an attempt to find it interesting quite seriously, they could not succeed in finding it anything else rather than dull. So all they could do was concentrate their attention (and plenty of it) on a certain waitress in a certain Restaurant in the adjacent town centre. This was in fact pretty simple: As fate would have it, She turned out to be quite brainnumbingly brilliant.
For some hours now, but one name lingered simultaneously through their minds; a name that sounded like air brushing through the leaves of silent trees on an autumn afternoon, a name that embodied everything Love stands for, a name that in fact turned out to be based upon an ancient language's translation for "I love you".
This is Her story. A story of Love, Food, Sweaty Hands, Deafening Cries, Very Red Faces, Pounding Hearts and a Red Rose.
It starts here.
After the HCC days, they decided they had to visit a Greek restaurant by the name of "Zorba the Greek". As they entered the restaurant and their thunderstruck eyes fell on the girl that was waiting to lead them to their table, it suddenly happened...
Small droplets of salty water started extracting themselves from the palms of their trembling hands and the muscles of their eyes underwent exercises never before experienced in a desperate attempt to follow each and every movement of each and every particle of Her body and the lucky air atoms encircling it whilst not daring to move their heads in Her direction.
It was as if Venus Herself had chosen to return to this Earth. They froze and Her smile rendered them totally helpless. Slightly drooling from miscellaneous parts of their oral cavities, they followed Her to the table she had assigned to them, after which She disappeared in a cloud of loveliness.
They looked at each other and noticed eyes that gazed blankly ahead, that could no longer accomodate themselves to proper distances and that were altogether quite dumbfounded with the purest astounding amazement imaginable.
Moments later She returned holding two little glasses. As they looked into Her eyes as She put the glasses on the table, it was if they witnessed the Answer to Everything. As She again left, they spent minutes staring at the fingerprints She left behind on the glasses. Slowly, with trembling hands, they took their first careful sips. It was like the first gasp of oxygen a baby takes after having been gently removed from its mothers' womb and put on the mysterious green-and-blue planet we call Earth.
"Gosh...." was all Stefan could utter at the moment.
Richard acted as if stricken by lightning and did not even attempt to move his lips to say anything.
Whenever She would pass by, or even become partly visible for a segment of a second, conversation would stop abruptly and words would hang feebly in the air before they would fall helplessly to the ground. Silence would strike the table, their minds deafened by thoughts of utmost delight and pleasure.
When taking their orders some minutes later, Her eyes once more met theirs. The only thing to strike them was the imperceptible similitude between these deep wells of serenity and a Total Perspective Vortex the likes of which had never earlier been seen ever by them or by anyone in or beyond the infinite reaches of the Multiverse.
"If there's a God, this must be the most perfect specimen of His creation obtainable," they both thought as it struck them that She talked friendly, with no sign of contempt or conceit whatsoever, despite the fact that She was addressing mere mortals like them. Her voice sounded like bells of golden, tingling through the humid meadows of some far and distant country captured in some old and nigh-forgotten dream.
Their heads were so busy processing all their sense's impressions that they forgot to keep their mouths closed, sensed their knees weakening and felt altogether much like a jar of honey with no jar.
Richard had never known he had that many ribs until he felt his heart pounding against each one of them.
Watching Her walk away from their table to fetch the ordered food, they witnessed the Perfect Movement. Her Body moved to and fro as would a tender butterfly in an April morning breeze, parading Her physique as the topotype example of harmony in its utmost perfection. It was as if a sudden void was drawn behind Her; a vacuum in which everything and everybody seemed to fade away into mere oblivion, where nothing would be able to survive next to Her beauty as She melted away in her own pink mists of sensuality that seemed to seep out of reality around her.
It was as though the whole principle of locomotion was just invented for Her to be able to walk like She did. She made every other movement, even the slow unfolding of a daffodil in the fresh morning sun, seem utterly and grotesquely rude and turgid.
All Stefan could do was sigh a profound wish which had something to do with reincarnating as a pair of nylons.
Again, Richard acted as if stricken by lightning, not able to say anything, hear anything, or see anything other than Her, Her, this Girl of Girls.
Both guys' minds were taken up by the thought of the beautiful country of Greece. Was is perhaps worth migrating to that sunny Mediterranean country if that be the Place where girls of such prodigious beauty dwell? Wouldn't it be beyond perfection to walk together with one like Her - or, indeed, Her herself - along a beach, a hot sun sinking in the sea at a distant horizon?
Her Body had a shape as though formed by sculptors of old in their most supremely unsurpassed trial to reproduce whatever they conceived to be Lovely, Lackadaisical, Luscious and Lecherous, the likes of which would even cast a dark and dismal shadow upon Aphrodite, Goddess of Love Herself. Her long fair hair fell around Her shoulders and back as though it was a Golden ornament to emphasise her beauty; Her legs were simply gorgeous and really far too delicately and exquisitely shaped just to function as mere locomotory devices.
The food was eaten with taste, but their thoughts were with this beautiful female specimen of mankind rather than the deliciously prepared meats and sauces the Greek table offered with modest pride. When they finally sat back after a while and started to relax a bit, the wonderfully superb meal just having been devoured, the girl came back.
She once again put to a grinding halt whatever conversation was taking place and filled both their minds with thoughts of utmost delight and pleasure hinted at earlier already.
They felt they had deserved some French Brandy now, which would also help them to ponder over the next step: What would be Her name? They just had to find out! Life without that simple knowledge would not be worth living. They therefore ordered some of the alcoholic fluid, carefully contemplating on strategies as to how to ask Her.
Just when they were about to leave, saddened immeasurably because someone else had brought the drinks and She had remained out of sight, She came into their lines of vision again, pulling them in unwittingly.
She was cleaning a table behind them as She touched Stefan by accident; a tremble sped down his spinal chord and sent him shivering with romance. His eyes crossed and a sigh escaped from his lips that only yearned to speak those four words he wanted to utter. In an outburst of feelings, he managed to talk. It seemed a totally novel experience to him, somehow different and, well, magic.
"What is your name?" he asked with an unstable voice.
"Agapi" She replied, speaking these mere words with almost divine resonance.
It was as though words took fantastic shapes when She spoke them; one could almost smell them, scenting like roses and ripening heather, and feel them like a gentle caress or a lovingly kneading hand on a tensed shoulder. The whole concept of speech was taken to unsuspected heights as this girl added wholly new dimensions to everything connected with this simple means of communication. She could make Her words drip like nectar, spreading a fragrance of the very essential nature of all that is Beauty.
"Er...you know, we make a magazine...", Richard interrupted, hesitant.
And thus it came to pass that they told Her everything She needed to know about their magazine, "ST News", and the fact that they were impressed to such an extend by the food, but more particularly Her service, that they felt obliged to dedicate their magazine to Her. They both blushed heavily, and each word they spoke was struggling to come out.
She seemed enormously flattered by their kind gesture, and a smile of smiles was seen by the two mere mortals that nearly fainted at the sight of it.
Some moments before, when Agapi had merely made herself noted by that prolonged and terrible absence, a local salesman had walked into the Restaurant carrying Red Roses. For a moment, the friends' eyes met, both of them knowing what the other thought. Now, finally, they subjugated all their power of will and courage to offer Her the Red Rose procured at that instance, the Red Rose that was to them the most divinely wrought likeness of Her beauty, Her adorable fragility and Her epic vivacity possibly conceivable. A God's flower in honour of a Goddess' singular beauty - how appropriate. An even more lovely smile, now also laced with modest shy embarrassment, dawned slowly upon Her slightly moist lips. Tiny diamonds could be seen glittering brazenly in Her eyes before She cast them down, blushing, too.
When they left the restaurant, all they could manage to do was simply being overwhelmed by joy, spontaneously crying deafening cries of emotion, jumping in the air with incredible vigour, and generally being highly in love: Love that had suddenly divulged itself from the very depths of their inner selves much in the way like volcanic magma divulged from the Krakatau over a century back.
We indeed dedicated that issue of "ST News" (the "Twilight World" 'mother magazine') to Agapi and even gave her a copy of this rather unusual Ode. We had already returned to Earth by the next day after our pubescent infatuation had worn off, but we decided to go ahead with the dedication anyway. Why not?
Agapi was indeed, as I remember her now, a girl of quite exemplary beauty. Still, I look back at the story of that evening with the slight embarrassment of one who has now really found True Love.
Original written on the night of November 26th/27th 1988. Rehashed somewhat January 1995.
Lord Jason felt vaguely uncomfortable. Everything seemed completely normal in the quiet inn on the waterfront: Some sailors who had returned to shore after months on sea were celebrating their return and the usual drunks were hanging on the bar, trying to forget. He was lurking in a dark corner, drinking some wine, as was his habit. The fact that all was as it should be made the sense of impending danger even more unnerving. Just as he was about to take another sip from his wine, the door opened and a group of soldiers entered. Lord Jason felt the hairs in his neck rise. The leader of the soldiers, a tall, lumbering sergeant with a red moustache, asked some questions of the landlord, who reluctantly answered and pointed in the direction of Lord Jason. As the men made their way across the room, Lord Jason tensed and prepared for violence. The sergeant stopped at his table, coughed, and asked,
"My humble apologies, my Lord, but would you happen to be Lord Jason Souleater?"
"So I am," replied Lord Jason in a sardonic tone.
"Ah. Well," said the sergeant, "I'm afraid I must ask you to accompany us to our superiors. It has to do with a certain document."
"Do as you please," said Lord Jason, and thrust the table forward with all his might, thereby causing a great deal of chaos and incapacitating the sergeant and his men. Quickly, Lord Jason jumped over the crawling soldiers and rushed out the door.
Outside, he mounted his steed, Azatoth, and rode off in the direction of the city gates. Behind him he could hear the loud curses of the sergeant, and soon after that the sound of pursuing horses. As he neared the gates, he looked back. Twelve riders. That wasn't good. He whispered a word in Azatoth's ear and felt the dark grey stallion increase its speed. Now those fools would see why the horses of his homeland, the hills of Morelay, were called demon steeds. Lord Jason smiled grimly. Behind him, the city became ever smaller.
After an hour of frantic riding, Lord Jason had lost the soldiers. He slowed down to a canter on a dark forest road and contemplated on why they had tried to capture him. He had hoped the incident with the document had been forgotten, but obviously this was not the case. Lord Jason gnashed his teeth. They would never get it, as long as he lived. Suddenly he heard riders, approaching fast. They were coming towards him. Friend or foe? He decided not to risk it, and turned around. There had been a crossroads not too far back. He increased his speed and took the left road, which was no more than a narrow path. Recklessly, he gave Azatoth free rein and thundered down the trail, branches lashing his face and snapping off. He heard the riders behind him. They were after him! Azatoth was too tired to run at top speed. He would have to hope they would get lost in the forest.
They didn't. Lord Jason had left the woods behind him a long time ago, but the riders were still after him. Azatoth was getting exhausted, flecks of foam covered his body. When Lord Jason took a quick look over his shoulder, he could make out the blue uniforms of the riders in the pale moonlight. This spelled trouble. He was riding over a long, flowing plain now, covered with rough grass and patches of heather. Only as he saw the yawning chasm coming up and heard the surf far below did he realise he had been heading towards a cliff. There was a canyon stretching out before and far below him. He pulled on the reins, trying to turn and get away in another direction, but it was too late. The riders had caught up with him. He was surrounded.
One rider moved his horse forward. It was a young captain, who was still breathing heavily from the long ride. He managed to catch his breath and began to speak.
"So, Lord Souleater," he said triumphantly, grinning, "will you give us the manuscript? Or will we have to take it by force?"
Lord Jason didn't move. He considered the alternatives, examined his situation. His lightning mind saw the only possible way out.
"Never! You will never get the 'Simulcra' story I promised!" he cried, and steered Azatoth over the edge of the cliff.
Original written January 1992. Not rehashed much at all, actually.
Two eyes peered at the mercenary annex hired barbarian. They were red in a frightening kind of way, and he had no reason whatsoever to like that. Nor, as a matter of fact, did he have any reason at all to like the entire setting he was in.
It was depressingly dark and he was in the middle of an enormous kind of wood. Eerie sounds found ways of echoeing through this wood, and now and again red or green or purple eyes would stare at him conspiciously as if waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The worst thing of all was that he had left all his killer gadgets at home. So he didn't have his trustworthy longsword with him, nor his double bladed battle axe. Hell, he didn't even have a common knife of some sort on him.
All he had was a book. It was called "Novice Sorcery" by Egidius Leonardo Vira, and on its cover it had a picture of a scarsely dressed female that somehow looked disproportionate to him.
"This book", so its previous owner had confided in him before he had shelled out a large amount of gold, "is all one needs to get through any precarious situation relatively unscathed".
He had been totally thrilled. He had been extremely excited. He had also wondered what 'sorcery' actually meant.
While walking through this wood, he had deemed the time fit to leaf through this miraculous new acquisition of his. In the end, he reckoned this might leave him with something to defend himself should any of the ominous owners of those conspiciously staring red or green or purple eyes should decide to strike.
He quickly leafed through to a chapter that sounded interesting to him.
"CHAPTER XVIII," he read aloud to himself, "Enchantment of Forest Beings."
This was the part where, should this have been in a movie, the soundtrack suddenly starts to go weird, trying to indicate the beholder that something is about to happen that may succeed in getting his pants wet.
As the mercenary annex hired barbarian walked on while laboriously studying the book, one of the many pairs of red eyes that had in the mean time appeared got quite awfully much closer, looming up as it were behind him in a positively menacing fashion.
It was not before a deep and meaningful growl was uttered by the owner of this particular pair of conspiciously staring eyes that our hero noticed anything.
He looked around and stood face to face with what can not be described to be anything else rather than a particularly nasty kind of monster, that had probably also been the ugly duck of its family.
A very big duck, that is, for it towered above him to at least twice his height.
"Hmm, interesting," was the first thing to enter the mind of the mercenary annex hired barbarian, thereby taking up all place for itself. It was quickly fighting for cranial dominance, however, with thoughts along the lines of "Oh", "Oh dear", "Ooh crikey" and "Is that my mother calling?"
Eventually, one thought managed to remain locked in the barbarian's miserable excuse for brain cells: "Hmmm. Maybe the book explains how to deal with 'Big, Strikingly Ugly Ducks That Unexpectedly Loom Up Behind You'."
He quickly turned to the next page. He was significantly relieved to notice that it beamed towards him with 'Dealing with Big, Strikingly Ugly Ducks That Unexpectedly Loom Up Behind You' written at its top in big, bold, capital, underlined letters.
This discovery cheered him up for a short while - in fact it cheered him up until the precise instant on which the monstrous duck started to breathe directly in his face, instantly drawing his attention back to the severity of the situation at hand.
A satisfied grin formed itself around the bill of the big duck.
It feels nice to be appreciated, even when you're fourteen foot tall and very, very ugly.
It growled again, just to make its point.
The barbarian quickly scanned through the page. It was conveniently divided in paragraphs, each written with another specific kind of weapon in thought. He skipped the ones headed 'Longsword', 'Double bladed axe', '"Lord of the Rings" Single-Volume Edition' and some others, quickly reading the one headed 'None of any kind whatsoever'.
"In case thou dost not haveth any weapon at thy disposal," that particular paragraph considered proper to mention, "resorteth to Magic."
Swell. That was just great. Just great.
And the monster was getting impatient, too.
It growled again, somewhat louder this time.
Resort to magic? That would pose a serious lack of ability to get out of this situation relatively unscathed, for he had utterly and totally flunked all subjects in school that had the tendency of even being distantly related to magic.
The monster licked its huge, frightfully yellow bill in quite a revolting way. It was going to end the life of this pitiable human. Even according to the Monster & Violence Convention, it had given its victim more than the lawfully required time that was considered to be sufficient for the victim to employ some serious reaction - be it aggressive or defensive.
The barbarian thought hard. Something of all those lessons in magic must still be present somewhere. Scattered bits of memories flung themselves at him, until finally he had been able to retrieve a long forgotten spell from a dusty drawer somewhere in his brain.
"En nu ben je dood!" he yelled with all the power he could manage, nearly finishing off his vocal chords.
A strange kind of light was emitted from the barbarian's being. This gently transformed itself into something like fireworks, but bigger and more powerful, of which the flames mercilessly sped towards the vile creature.
Before it had time to protest against the fact that magic was not allowed in a fair fight according to the Monsters & Violence Convention, it was totally incinerated.
"It's a kind of magic," the barbarian whispered softly in a way that betrayed his Scottish ancestry.
Having completely regained his self-confidence now he had remembered this powerful spell, he briskly walked on through the forest, merrily singing a tune about a poor lonesome barbarian far away from home.
Original written February 13th 1991. Originally a background story for a platform game called "Ghost Battle", but probably never used.
The dullest planet of the universe, any galactic traveller will gladly and unreservedly be happy to tell you, is Klaxos 9. It is a plain round planet filled with dreary people doing their little boring things in a particularly tedious way, every irksome hour of every bothersome day of every...
You get the message.
Nothing ever changes its old, slow, monotonous routine. The people inhabiting it had forgotten to speak with each other as it wasn't worth the trouble. They didn't bother getting into contact with the blessings of music or literature, nor abstract art and other forms of waste disposal, either.
For the sake of visitors from other planets they had gone through the considerable trouble of giving a name to their uneventful little planet, some of the uninspired towns on its plain surface, and even some of the long, exceedingly annoying streets that happened to harbour certain places these aliens at times tended to visit.
The people of Klaxos 9 would probably not even be bothered to breathe, or even eat, had they not been violently opposed against having to go to one of their excessively burdensome hospitals. Not breathing or eating was also know to lead to something even extremely boring by Klaxos 9 standards: A funeral - to be avoided at all cost.
Rumours have it that they don't even take care of their own multiplication. As their scientists don't bother to do something artificial about it either, the fact that the people from Klaxos 9 have still not become extinct is one of the biggest mysteries in the documented universe.
The words whispered through the darkness like autumn leaves unexpectedly being brushed away by a silent breeze through a silent street.
Two dark silhouettes stood crouched in the darkness of an alley in Flodhul, one of the cities the people of Klaxos 9 had bothered to name and that had, coincidentally, also been appointed to be the capital.
"What do you think of that?"
A long object, probably an arm, extended itself from the biggest of the two silhouettes, pointing at a dark figure that was busy entering an inn just down the road.
"Looks impressive, boss," the other silhouette said, "broad and strong as is required."
"For a moment I even thought I recognised it," the largest silhouette said, "but I suppose that can't be."
"What? Who?" the other said.
"Forget it," the leader said, "it's not important. Besides, even he wouldn't be so stupid to get his ass over here on this Godforsaken planet."
"We have," the other retorted.
"Um, yes, we seem to, haven't we?" the leader answered after some thought, "But now be a good boy and shut your face."
"Sure thing boss."
The alien had caused quite a stir when it had entered.
The inn had been completely silent, and everybody had sat around not doing much or nothing at all, or simply staring at a rather plain drink with a look of ultimate boredom in their eyes.
A terrestrial soap opera was on TV, which many of the people in the inn watched with some hint of interest.
Some of them visibly wondered why they sat in this particular inn, as there wasn't much use for them to be here. But, then again, it wasn't much use to be at home with their wives, either.
Life was boring no matter where you were, and at least here you could drink something without the wife starting to complain.
At least in the inn things tended to happen. Once in a while, a little bubble would drift to the surface in someone's drink, accompanied by its owner's silent gasp of suspense.
As the alien walked into the inn towards the bar, all heads turned slowly. It found many eyes gazing at it.
Each and every of those eyes, including the ones on stalks and the odd one hovering over the bar, did not seem to be a device of sight. Instead, they merely seemed devices of expression, radiating what seemed like infinite boredom.
"Beer," the alien said.
Some of the oldest of elders sitting at the bar startled, slowly blinking their eyes in horror. They were amazed to see someone who seemed so young yet was able to actually speak - something that was since long considered a useless nuisance and thus forgotten on Klaxos 9.
Lucky for the alien, the bartender also had some basic knowledge of Ye Olde Tongues, who therefore principally knew what the alien wanted. After some thinking, scratching one of his heads with a furry hand, he slowly drew something that looked vaguely like beer from his rusty old tap, placing the filled mug in front of the alien.
"Thanks," the alien said with a look in its eyes as if it was looking at a pool of horse piss after a three month stroll through the dryer parts of the Mongolian Gobi desert.
However, it drained the entire mug in one go.
This was more than enough for all the people in the bar. They considered action getting too intense here, and unanimously decided to go home to walk their snails.
They slowly rose from their chairs and stools which they slowly shoved aside, then dragged themselves towards the door in a very tiresome way, so that they could slowly spread through the streets of Flodhul.
The alien looked around itself, not quite knowing why everybody left all of a sudden. Its eyes fell on the TV set, and didn't leave it until the soap opera ended.
Signalling the end of this night's broadcast, the Klaxos 9 national hymn was played.
The alien decided it had seen enough of this joint. It tossed a couple of coins on the counter - all the money it had, except for a load of Monopoly money it had accepted after having finished an assignment some weeks ago.
The bartender gasped for breath upon having witnessed so much terrifying events this evening. He was going to take up real-time grass growth photography. He made a mental note to try not to forget to communicate this decision to his wife some day.
"Hey, Jake," a harsh voice spoke, irritated.
"Wake up," the voice of the larger of the two silhouettes we met earlier spoke, "our MUG is leaving that wretched inn."
"'Twas about time."
"Yeah. Close your face. Follow."
The beer had gone down smoothly, but in his innards it had turned out to make quite a nuisance of itself.
Cronos Warchild, mercenary annex hired gun, felt as if something was turning his stomach around, as if someone was trying to make spaghetti of his guts. Curiously, he thought of what they would look like when splattered all over the floor after a gut-cut.
He was just about to vomit when a net was dropped over him, catching him totally off-guard. Before he had time to use one of his killer gadgets he noticed that something heavy had collided with the back of his head. Instinctively, he knew he had to lose consciousness now.
This was, of course, a pity. It had been the first time in months that he hadn't accidentally left any of his killer gadgets at home.
He had even had his hearing aid insertedm, though the "battery low" indicator had been lit for a while now.
The lights were blinding him, his head felt like a pierced orange and he wondered why a basketball found it necessary to continually bounce itself up and down and left and right in the painful void of his brain. His joints felt like rusty iron hinges.
Why was he wearing metal gloves?
"...and, indeed, it seems our new contestant is awake now!"
The words echoed through Cronos' skull mercilessly, making him cringe with pain he couldn't do anything about. Although he had been exquisitely trained to block out any physical pain, he had never been taught how to block out the basketball feeling in his head.
It must have been that damn stuff he drank a couple of hours ago. Or was it weeks? He couldn't tell.
Why was he carrying a metal harness?
"...we are proud to be able to offer you, dear zillions of our viewing audience, what looks like one of the fittest MUG contenders since aeons..."
The presenter smiled at his viewers. Golden teeth glittered in the spotlights.
Warchild tried to shake the throbbing ache out of his head, only effectively increasing it.
He snarled a curse to himself.
As he looked down at the rest of his body, he was startled to see that his entire body was covered by some kind of metal armour. It made him think of a film about some kind of cop that got shot to pieces and had been partly turned into a robot.
He had liked the movie, but he didn't like this. Not even a bit.
Warchild looked around him to take up his surroundings.
He was in a disproportionately large hall, in which was built an intricate and huge complex of platforms on which he stood. A kind of huge elevator was located at the nearest wall, in which a game show host sat together with some camera men.
"...so all left for us to do is wish our contender a nice day!"
The presenter smiled again (or still).
Warchild didn't like the man's face and was about to think about having a go at the man's throat when he saw that the entire elevator, though close enough to cover the distance by a huge leap, was surrounded by a wall of thick glass.
Looking down through the metal raster of the platform on which he stood, he also saw a bubbling liquid under him - slowly rising towards him.
"...and it looks like he's going to meet the Death to Organic Life Liquid soon!"
The smile on the presenter's face almost seemed to change into a look of sadness.
"...looks like our latest MUG doesn't know what DOLL can do to Organic Life...worra pity..."
Just in time, Warchild leapt up to a platform above him. Not a second too soon. The platform on which he had stood was now reached by the liquid that turned out to be an extremely powerful acid. Its metal seemed to deform and bubble, then melted away until nothing of it remained visible.
The acrid smell of corroding metal pierced his nose.
Cronos noticed that the elevator had moved up with him, allowing the game show host - and the cameras - to continue to have a clear view of him.
Fragments of his memory came back. He remembered the beer - or whatever it had been. He remembered leaving the inn. He remembered the net. And the sudden pain when he had been clubbed on the head.
Angry fires flared wildly in his eyes.
His muggers were now probably getting pissed on the money they got when delivering him. He fervently hoped they would get mugged and robbed themselves, the bastards!
But for now all thoughts of his muggers and a possible revenge had to be put on hold. First, he had to conceive a way to get out of this rather precarious situation - and, of course, he had to keep avoiding this liquid, this DOLL.
He ventured a wry smile of self-confidence at the people in the elevator. As if by means of reply, one of them pressed a button on a panel, returning an even broader variety of Cronos' smile. Warchild reckoned there'd be enough gold in that mouth to plate your average Buddhist temple.
Unfortunately, there was scant time for Cronos to contemplate about Buddhism and precious metals, for a hatch opened at the far side of the hall.
Out of it came a creature.
The creature looked fairly harmless except for the malice in its eyes and the laser it casually toted in a way one handles a harmless pocket knife.
It didn't waste time. It started firing rapidly at Cronos.
"It looks like our MUG is going to meet the first of the Game Show Hosts, har har!"
Instinctively, Warchild ducked. He felt the heat of the shots tear through the air, too close to him. He grabbed for his hip, realising an instant later that his gun couldn't possibly be there any more.
His surprise at discovering a powerful blaster there was quite tremendous. Craftfully evading the creature's fire, Cronos drew the blaster and fired once.
The creature's head was completely knocked off its shoulders, sending the body reeling off the platform into the DOLL below. The liquid seemed to come alive as the creature hit the surface, instantly filling the air with acrid clouds filled with the stench of melting metal and burning flesh.
"1-0 for the MUG!"
Warchild looked at the game show host threateningly, yet the man only smiled, unperturbed. One of his fingers pressed another button on the panel.
His warrior's senses made him turn around to the sound of a hatch opening behind him, just in time for him to see more creatures being released onto the platform complex.
They were all toting lasers in that typical, absent-mindedly casual way.
None of them wasted any time. Warchild was like a sitting duck.
A searing pain crashed into his shoulder as a shot hit him that should have completely severed his arm from his torso. It flung his temporarily helpless body against the platform's metal grating. It felt as if a train had hit him against an indestructible concrete wall, with all the pain concentrated on his shoulder. Yet, miraculously, the arm was still there. The armour he was wearing surely worked, but it was heavily damaged now and surely wouldn't survive another direct hit there.
Warchild was slowly getting angry. He bit his teeth and concentrated himself on not feeling the pain. He was trained to block out every physical pain. He could do it.
He concentrated and got up.
The monsters seemed abashed, surprised at the fact that their victim was still quite alive - even quite intact.
Warchild was getting very angry. His eyes lashed insults at the creatures, radiating a hate he had only felt before when having been shit upon by a Mutant Maxi Mega Monster of Multifizzic Omega. That monster, needless to say, hadn't lived to tell.
Quickly, Cronos tried to think. Of course, this was very hard to do as he had been trained to fight rather than to think. Besides, a large part of his active brain was already occupied by the sheer effort of severe concentration on not feeling the tremendous pain that tore through every synapse that had the misfortune to be located in his shoulder.
He glanced at the glass elevator. He considered the sturdiness of the glass as opposed to that of his armour. If he were to jump at the elevator, all the creatures would start shooting at him - partly hitting the elevator glass. Maybe it would budge. Maybe it wouldn't. But Cronos reckoned it would be worth the gamble. With the DOLL rising steadily and the nasty creatures' lasers getting aimed at him again, it seemed all other bets were off.
Flexing every muscle in his body, he crouched like a cat and then leapt towards the elevator structure. Like he had anticipated, the creatures started shooting at him like a bunch of rabid lunatics.
Of course, as he had never ever heard of differential calculus, Cronos completely failed in aiming his body correctly at the elevator. The liquid loomed up below him, threatening and smelly.
"Oh shit," he muttered as Newton started to work its ways.
Then, everything happened very quickly.
The creatures' shots started hitting him. Several of them were direct hits on his chest, hurling him mercilessly through the air like a lifeless lump of meat, metal and bones. Because of the terrific impact of the shots, however, his momentum both increased and changed direction - towards the thick glass wall of the elevator.
With a mindevaporating noise of glass breaking, curses being spat and laser shots being fired, Warchild crashed through the elevator wall. The pain was excruciating, but he succeeded in effectively blocking it out by sheer willpower.
The creatures were still shooting at him, but as he was lying numbly on the ground they shot others instead. The game show host only had half a second to cry out in terror before he was reduced to a pile of ashes and molten gold. Camera equipment burned.
Aiming his laser, Warchild erected himself and started to shoot. Only he didn't get much time. Somewhere along the line of the things that had happened in the last couple of seconds, someone had pressed a lot of buttons on that panel.
Before him he saw about four dozen monsters. Big ones. Small ones. Ugly ones. Even uglier ones. Flying ones. Apart from the fact that they smelled horribly, they were all armed with lasers that they held rather absent-mindedly aimed at his head - the only part of his anatomy that wasn't armoured.
Within the instant that separated him from his execution, he realised no laser would be of help here. Not even his artificial tungsten-carbide killer fingernail would be of avail here. Nothing. He was a dead man.
He decided it might be just as well to faint, and did so.
A black shape with a scythe beckoned.
An endless void loomed threateningly below him. He could not keep from spinning around as he disappeared in it. Deeper and deeper. Faster and faster.
He saw ants and blue furry creatures and honey jars. Vague memories of recollection troubled his mind, but he decided not to heed them.
A dark voice echoed below, deep in the vortex in which he seemed to fall forever. Forever...
It was completely dark around him. His head felt like a pierced orange and he wondered why a basketball found it necessary to continually bounce itself up and down and left and right in the painful void others call a brain.
Who was that, looming above him?
"Watch it Jake, he's coming by. Let's split!"
The words echoed through Cronos' skull mercilessly, making him cringe with pain he couldn't do anything about. Although he had been exquisitely trained to block out any physical pain, he had never been taught how to block out the basketball feeling in his head.
It must have been that damn stuff he drank a couple of hours ago. Or was it weeks? He couldn't tell.
He shook his head as he heard faint footsteps die away in the distance. As he instinctively searched his own pockets, finding them empty, a synonym of animal excrement passed his dried-out lips.
His only - and, he had to agree, poor - consolidation was that someone would soon be finding out how difficult it is to pay with Monopoly money.
Original written April and June 1991.