I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

 

listen to my words

Posts Tagged ‘Vrash’

S.N.E.A.K.S. — The Man of Cards

Frost grinned. “Trust me,” he said. He pushed open the door.

The air, even before entering was warm and sticky. The room was well lit with candles and torches and a large fire in the hearth on one wall. Yet even so it was difficult to see. Smoke and haze also filled the air. It was difficult to distinguish features on anyone they saw.

It was easy, however, to distinguish the mood. The entrance of a Struct and a furleen, even with two humans, was clearly neither common nor particularly welcome. Nearly everyone near the door turned to look and glared. Not a single one was friendly. But neither did anyone move to threaten or stop them

Frost was the only one of the group that could conceivably fit in. Vrash was human, true, but he bore himself erect. His shoulders were perpetually broad, like a soldier. Dink noted the irony of a slave being so proud, but he also marked the similarities between thralls and uniformed militia. With great effort he filed the combination of ideas for future consideration. He sensed that he might be needed to fight.

The people in the alehouse, however, were unilaterally shabby. Slumped. Closed postured. Possibly dirty, certainly not meticulous. There was an air of weariness. Dink was uncomfortable – almost everything about the team was contrary to the regulars.

Frost, apparently, wasn’t bothered by the ill-fit of his companions. He interlinked his fingers and popped his knuckles. He weaved his way through the common area to a particularly shady corner at the back. There at a small table sat a grizzled man. Stubble covered his craggy, weather-beaten face. One eye was half open. His hair was largely gone, and the sparse, dark hair that remained was unkept, but flat against his head. His body was shapeless, somewhat drooped. He was more of a mound of humanity poured onto a chair than he was an actual person. His spindly but dexterous fingers shuffled a deck of playing cards over and over as he sat there.

The man didn’t look up at them or seem to respond as the team arrived at his table.

“Gentlemen and lady,” Frost said, almost reverently. “This is the Man of Cards.”

There was a short pause. It was another moment in his life when Dink wondered if he would have blinked if he had eyelids. This man did not seem like the sage he had expected. He was neither a dignified prophet nor the crone-like gypsy. He was just a broken man. He looked to the others for a reaction. Vrash, as expected, betrayed no expectations or surprise. Linella, on the other hand, was apparently of the same mindset.

“They’re not Tarot,” she said. It sounded like a complaint.

The Man of Cards coughed loudly. Dink wasn’t sure if it was an expression of contempt or a symptom of illness. When the cough finally calmed he spoke with palpable scorn, “The Tarot is just slight of hand. It’s utilized by cons and fools. It’s simple lies about an interested god. A clever fiction clothed in mysticism to make it seem like it has meaning.”

He coughed again. “Cards of chance. The holy mathematic. Only through the random can the pattern of a random universe come forth. We play a game to learn the answers that we want.”

His hands suddenly tapped the cards into a solid stack and he started dealing five hands.

“I wasn’t…” Dink hadn’t planned on playing. He knew the rules, but he didn’t play.

“We will all play. All involved folk.” The Man of Cards used a tone that broached no argument. The others sat, and Dink, resigned to his fate, lowered himself to the floor by the table as the Man of Cards finished dealing and distributed five equal piles of dull wooden tokens.

S.N.E.A.K.S. iii

Master stared at Vrash for several long moments before speaking. “I made a bet today,” he said as he began pacing before the gladiator. This was no surprise to Vrash. That was how owners made money off gladiator matches. “I’m not sure whether I’m pleased or not.” He paced some more before saying anything else. “Well, I suppose that’s it then. You’re a free man now.”

Vrash blinked. For the first time in his life, he was truly surprised. “Free?”

Master frowned and grunted. “You win too much. The other owners were forcing me out. They set up what they thought would be an impossible match. Their four best, armed, against you, unarmed. If you lost, the were to pay me what they thought was several times your worth. If you won they would force me out of the arena. No one would ever agree to a match with any of my fighters. Unless You no longer competed.”

He resumed pacing. “I confess I considered simply retiring you. You’ve been a great asset. But I can’t use you among my guards and you can’t tutor my children. The expected thing was to kill you. But I’d sooner put down a prize horse. You have provided me with a great deal of wealth. I can give you a small amount of coins, but you’re not allowed at the arena, on pain of death.” He stopped pacing, his back to Vrash. “Good luck in your new life, wherever it may be.”

Vrash was still standing in position to be inspected as he watched his former master walk away for the last time.

CHAPTER 2

Dink tromped into the small, semicircle auditorium through doorway, which he noted was double wide. Exactly for persons of his description. His gigantic metal body took special considerations in architecture. And since Structs — living beings made from metal or wood or what-have-you by magic wielding engineers — had only been recognized as “alive” in the traditional sense for a decade, there wasn’t a lot they could expect out of society. This organization, however, seemed not just willing, but interested in accomodating his special needs.

Dink himself was made of iron and steel. And copper, and a few alloys. His creator hadn’t had a lot of one material, apparently. Dink didn’t mind his unusual composition, however, and often spent time simply contemplating the appearance fo the mash of materials.

His creator also hadn’t been exceptionally creative when designing him. He was, essentially, a giant metal ball with two huge legs and two arms that ended in hands with opposable thumbs and three other digits, and a domed head he could swivel. There was a human approximation of a face thereon, but other than that, he didn’t look much like a person.

Dink tried to be careful as he stepped into the room, but it was nigh impossible to do it without making a loud sound. And as his first step into the room revealed, he had startled someone.

Perched on the large desk at the front of the room was a girl. She had thick hair, pink, that covered her head and tumbled off her shoulders. She also had a long, pink, cat tail that twitched nervously in the air. And sticking out of the mass of unbridled hair were two cat ears — also pink. Dink lastly noted that in place of feet and hands she had pink cat paws. There was no hair on the rest of her. Or at least Dink assumed so. She was wearing a loose shirt and shorts. Her legs and arms were bare skin. Her large round eyes were a deep green.

She hissed.

Dink paused. He supposed if he were capable of it, he would have blinked. Instead his impassive looking oval eyes remained still. He spoke carefully. “You are a Furleen?” he asked. “I have not met one of your kind before. I am Dink.”

The catgirl came forward, but crouched defensively as she approached with a slow and careful gait up the incline. She walked all around Dink and finally stopped at his side. She jumped up on a chair next to him and crouched on her hands and feet as she looked at him. “You’re a dink? What does that mean?” she asked suspiciously. Dink noted that she had more canine teeth than other humans.

“I’m not a dink,” he corrected. “I am a Struct. My name is Dink.”

The catgirl nodded slowly. “I see. Are you here to tell me to leave?”

“Why would I tell you to leave?”

“People don’t like… my kind.” She said, squinting. The suspicion in her voice was still heavy.

That sentiment was something Dink could appreciate. He turned and lifted a chair slightly, stacking it on another. There was no way it would support him. He sat down on the floor and looked at her. He wanted to appear less threatening. “I’m only here because the elf-woman at the front directed me here. I am to wait for a representative. I would guess that’s not you.” He hoped that would come across as a joke.

The Furleen’s muscles relaxed, and a small grin appeared briefly. “Nope.” She sat down on the floor and looked at him. “My name is Linella.”

S.N.E.A.K.S. ii

The man with the triangle tattoo was inching closer, hoping to get into striking range without having to rush. Vrash flexed his fists and waited for him. He would have to be fast, and it was a gamble — Triangle’s sword gave him a longer, and more deadly, reach than Vrash had. He watched Triangle’s center, his chest, waiting for the muscle flex that would show he was making his move.

The twitch appeared, and instantly Vrash threw himself forward to the ground, as the sword cut through the air where he’d just been. The gamble proved to be not without cost though, as the punching-dagger split open the flesh on his arm. But it also paid off, he rolled into Triangle’s legs and Triangle fell forward into the sand. Vrash was on his feet before his opponent even hit the ground. He jumped and landed, knees first, onto Triangle’s back. He heard a crunch, but his opponent kept struggling to push himself up. Vrash pushed Triangle’s face into the sand a pummeled him brutally on the neck and head till the struggling stopped.

Satisfied, he gave the head one more shove as he pushed himself to his feet. He rubbed sweat and strands of black hair from his face and looked about. The fight had been a private one. There were only a dozen or so men, clustered together. There was only one man clapping, and him half-heartedly. That didn’t matter to Vrash. He had won. That was all he cared about.

A gate in the wall slowly rose and two handlers removed. Vrash stepped forward toward the gate as the men, eunuchs, approached him. One began bandaging the wound on his arm as the other put a wine skin in Vrash’s hand. Vrash took several gulps. He’d been worried briefly that he might not win. And that meant it was the end of his life — even if he surrendered, Master would have him killed for a loss. Life was good to him today. He would meet his end another time. Though it would probably be in the same arena.

Still, something felt unusual. Master wasn’t clapping. He knew he was Master’s pride, but Master didn’t seem pleased with the conclusion of the fight. He shrugged it off. He was a slave, and a slave could not know such things. He submitted to the oil rubdown the eunuchs provided and returned to his cell to await Master’s servants to collect him.

He didn’t need to wait long. Master approached a few moments later, his quick footsteps echoing in the empty hall. He wore a frown and his brow was furrowed. Master had once-dark hair that was graying, but not very much of it. The top of his head was bald and the back was clean shaven in the current style. He ward only a robe draped on one shoulder and his fat could be seen jiggling in the bare area. He wore simple leather sandals this day.

Vrash stood and waited for him. He continued to wait as Master stood and glared at him. Vrash was a tall man, and Master was short, and it was obvious that Vrash could kill him easily, yet there was still something in Master’s eyes that made Vrash feel small.

S.N.E.A.K.S. i

Vrash punched the other man in the chest. He didn’t know his opponent’s name. He never did. They were both unarmored, but Vrash was the only one unarmed as well. They both were well muscled, and they both wore nothing but a piece of cloth wrapped about their waists. So were the other three men in the arena. Two of those men were also dead. Or at least dying, their helpless bodies lying in the sand. The third was closing in tight behind him. He would need to take care of his current antagonist first.

He lifted a leg and kicked the other man, pushing him back. He would be expecting a respite in the attack — since it was used to give one some breathing room, but Vrash wouldn’t give it to him. There wouldn’t be time for that with the other fighter in the arena. The tactic was only to give him a sense of ease. Vrash leapt after him as the man stumbled, focusing entirely on regaining his balance. He spun as he re-closed the distance and his elbow brought a furious blow to the fighter’s face. Vrash couldn’t suppress a grin as he felt a satisfying crack and a tiny spatter of blood on his arm.

He continued his spin and grabbed the man’s hair and pulled back his head. He finished the fight with a viscious punch to the fighter’s neck. He let go as the dying body collapsed, struggling soundlessly for breath that would never come.

Vrash faced the direction of his last opponent, whose run slowed as he saw Vrash was no longer distracted. Vrash could tell he was cocky, and knew he had reason to be. Vrash was breathing heavy, he’d fought and killed three men already, and the sweat was running down into his eyes. The other man held a sword and a punching dagger. Vrash hadn’t even had time to lower himself and pick up someone’s weapon. He’d been given strict orders not to touch them anyway.

His owner — Vrash didn’t know his name and was only allowed to refer to him as Master — had never put him in a fight he couldn’t win. Vrash tursted him completely. He was well taken care of and treated to honors no other gladiatorial slave ever got. He didn’t care about freedom. He’d never known it, and didn’t see what appeal it would have. He was good at fighting, and he didn’t know how to do anything else. Life was good.

But it was hard too. He’d fought four men at once before, but he’d been armed. He’d fought three men unarmed. He’d fought beasts. But these men were good, and Vrash just wondered if maybe Master had given him a fight that was too hard as the two men circled each other.

The other man had a tattoo on his upper arm, three red circles in a triangle. He lunged at Vrash with his sword, but he didn’t have enough power in his legs — it was clearly a feint. Vrash didn’t even react. He didn’t know if Triangle intended to draw him out or test his defenses, but Vrash wasn’t going to give him anything. Triangle had a confused look in his eyes, and he paused. He clearly hadn’t expected no reaction at all.

It was all the chance Vrash needed. He grabbed Triangle’s wrist and pulled him forward. He couldn’t hold his opponent in place, else he’d take the punching-dagger in his side. But pulling the man and letting go was good enough. It forced Triangle completely off balance and he stumbled forward. Vrash stepped behind him and pounded him in the kidney. Triangle only grunted. Vrash grinned. This one, at least, was a man. He reached out, hoping to grab the man’s arms, both of them, but there was too much momentum, too much distance. Triangle whirled and they returned to circling.

There would be no false moves, no fakes any more. Each move would be with the intention to kill.