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Day Two Hundred and Fifty-seven: Safe Ground

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

A man of inhuman proportions stepped around the corner into the frozen food aisle of the supermarket, stopped at the vegetables, and sat cross-legged on the floor. Waiting.

Even sitting down, he was tall, taller than most of the men and women who had come to do their shopping. His leather greatcoat fanned out behind him on the floor, and he creaked and jingled when he moved, as though there were still more layers of metal and leather underneath. His face looked like it had been carved from volcanic rock, with a single livid scar that slashed across his nose from one cheek to the other. He had long, silver hair that was bound with a red leather cord, and looked like someone who had stepped off the cover of a fantasy novel.

The other Sunday shoppers didn’t seem to notice him at all. One middle-aged woman with two kids in a shopping cart stopped next to him, reached past his face, and took out a package of peas. Her littlest started at the man, and made to say something, but the child was soon distracted by its older brother, who smacked it with a package of snack cakes.

The man sat there, cross-legged, eyes closed, for hours as the shoppers went by. They guided their carts around him, never really noticing that he was there. Perhaps some of them wondered why it was they should suddenly want to veer left and look at the frozen pizzas. Some of the more sensitive of them may have noticed the faintest smell of woodsmoke curl up into the deep recesses of their brain, but they would have dismissed it as soon as they walked by. Only a few very young children seemed to see him, and none of their parents were interested in following up on the strange fantasies of their toddlers.

The day wore on. More people came in to shop for dinner or to get their groceries for the week. As the night came in, the tide of shoppers slowed, and by midnight the store was populated mostly by the skeleton crew of employees and college students looking to meet their immediate snack and soda needs. The supermarket was quiet, except for the constant hum of compressors and the quiet melodies of the overhead music.

At about one in the morning, the man opened his eyes. They were a deep, terra-cotta red set in black, and they seemed to be following the movements of something outside his own vision. A moment later, a girl walked around the corner. She looked like she had pulled her outfit together from the first items she’d laid hands on in a thrift shop, with oversized combat boots on her feet and a fez on her head. She stopped in front of the man on the floor and flashed a grin that was brilliant under the fluorescents. “Been here long?” she said. She planted her feet and crossed her arms, and somehow managed to look more solid than the giant in front of her.

The man leveled his gaze at her. “All day,” he said. “Where have you been?”

She shrugged and twirled a finger. “You know. Out. About. Doing things and stuff and things.”

He unfolded himself from where he’d been sitting and sighed as he stood. “I should have set the bargain for a dusk limit instead of dawn.” He looked down at her. “I was told that you were more reliable.”

That grin again. “You were told wrong, big man.”

The man sighed, and it was a rumble in his chest. “Shall we begin?” he asked.

“Yup. Let’s get this over with.”

The man reached into a pocket of the greatcoat and pulled out a small cloth bag. He held it up to his lips and whispered to it, words too quick and too soft for anyone to hear. Then he gestured to the girl, for her to move closer. She did. “In this place,” the man said, “this sanctuary, we have come here to make a bargain. In honesty and good faith.” He poured red sand out of the bag, making a half-circle around them. “Siorad of the Western Hills does so swear.” He took the bag in both hands and presented it to the girl with all the solemnity of ancient ritual.

She swiped it from his hands, rolling her eyes. “We’re here to make a deal,” she said. “Nobody tries anything, nobody gets hurt.” She poured the rest of the sand from the bag, but now it was blue. When she completed the circle, she stood up straight. “I’m Liryl of the Underground, and I approve this message.” She tossed the bag to Siorad, who caught it with a look of disapproval. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again they glowed the dull orange of old coals. He spoke a word, and the supermarket around him seemed to ripple and change. For a moment, it wasn’t a supermarket at all. It was a great meeting-hall, ancient and dangerous. A place where even blood enemies could meet and parley without fear of betrayal. It was the place it had always been, even when it had changed beyond all recognition.

The strange waves subsided, and Siorad looked a little more relaxed. Liryl, on the other hand, was shuffling her feet and never letting her gaze settle. She kept away from the sand circle.

“Very well,” Siorad rumbled. “Let’s begin.”

To Be Continued… at some point.

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Day Two Hundred and Thirty-seven: The Path of Least Resistance

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Feyn lifted a coal from the brazier with a pair of tongs and lit his pipe with it. When he had a good head of smoke going, he dropped the coal back into its bed of sand, put the cover back on and buried his arms in his heavy, bear-fur coat. “Damn, but it’s cold.” he growled.

“Just as cold as the last time you said so,” Tanang muttered from his gameboard, one hand on his chin and the other scratching the head of the great mastiff he’d raised. Tanang was just as fur-decked as the hound, which sat in hypnotized ecstasy under his fingertips, but he much less likely to complain about the cold, which baffled Feyn. The two of them had been posted along the Laclund mountain range, overlooking the pass of the same name for more than a month now, and the one thing that Feyn found he could truly count on was that every day would be terribly, breathtakingly, ball-shinkingly cold. The weather would change. Sometimes he would beat Tanang at four-stone, and sometimes Tanang would beat him. Occasionally they’d see a silver-tailed eagle or one of the strange species of mountain goats that lived at five thousand feet. But no matter what else changed, it would always be cold.

The guardhouse was said to be vital to the defense of the republic of Lymdyn-ald. The mountain pass that it sat atop was the straightest, clearest way into the sprawling city-state, carved by a river through the mountains into a half-mile wide floodplain. It was said that one could approach Lymdyn-ald from the far end and never lose sight of it as you walked. This was all well and good for the royal processions of old or the grand festivals of the modern age, but when there was an army threatening to overtake your homeland, the Laclund Pass was something you wanted to keep your eye on.

In fact, the pass was so clear and so easy that guard duty there was considered to be a punishment of sorts. No general in his right mind would take his army through a place that was so perfectly set up for an ambush. It would take a leader of colossal stupidity to take bait as tempting and as deadly as the Laclund Pass.

For his sins, Feyn had been sent on guard duty. His sins just happened to include sleeping with his superior officer’s wife, which, in retrospect, was a bad idea. It took several other officers to keep Feyn’s head on his body, and he only managed to get out of the city a few minutes before the lieutenant arrived with his grandfather’s saber to do justice as he saw fit. With luck, he would calm down by the time Feyn was allowed back, which was supposed to be in a year. The more he thought about it, though, the less Feyn was sure that going back was a good idea.

Tanang had been up there much longer – ten years, by his count. He said that he liked it, though Feyn couldn’t see why. The cold, for one. The loneliness, for another. But Tanang claimed to not mind the cold, and felt much happier with only his thoughts and the local wildlife for company. Given his druthers, he’d rather the city stopped sending its reprobate soldiers to serve with him, but since he had been a reprobate soldier himself a long time ago, he was willing to bear the burden. Try as he might, though, Feyn was never able to get Tanang to tell him what he had done.

He took a chunk of jerky and tossed it to the dog, who roused himself instantly and caught it in mid-air. “Good, Tevyk,” he said, reaching over to scratch the beast’s ear. It had taken a while for Tevyk to warm up to him, but the dog was remarkably friendly once he got to know you. Before that, Feyn had tended to be extra sensitive about exposing his throat for any reason. He sat back down at the gameboard and looked at his pieces. Four-stone was a game with annoyingly simple rules – get four stones in a row – that he always managed to lose. “See anything today?” he asked, placing one of his blue stones.

Tanang shook his head, and swept some errant hair out of his eyes. “A fox, I think. And there was that eagle from yesterday.” He put down a white stone, and Feyn was pretty sure he could see where a line was growing. “Nothing important, though.”

“Right,” Feyn said. He picked up a stone and turned it over with his chilled fingers. “You never know, though,” he said. He put the stone down, blocking Tanang’s progress. “We could have an army or something today.”

The other man chuckled, which was a win in itself. He picked up a white stone and put it down, starting a new line that Feyn hadn’t seen coming. He cursed under his breath. “The odds that the Deynarch will be dumb enough to lead an army through here are about the same as you being able to go out and get a nice golden suntan.” He sat back, his fingers laced across his belly. He was a thin man, but the furs bulked him up, and he had a kind of serene, almost monastic face. Probably came from living up high for so long.

Feyn took another puff on his pipe. “Well, you never know,” he said. “Things have a way of working out.” He looked at the board, and was fairly certain that Tanang was going to win again. He sighed and set a stone down.

That’s when Tevyk stood up, growling.

It was a noise that Feyn had heard before, but not quite like this. This was a more wary growl, a growl that seemed to go right through him and into the floor. The hair on the dog’s back was standing up, and he was staring resolutely towards the east – the far end of the Laclund Pass. Feyn and Tanang exchanged glances. “No,” Feyn said, standing up. He accidentally nudged the fourstones board as he did, but the other man didn’t seem to notice, which spoiled it a little.

They took the winding stairs up to the lookout tower and uncovered the scopes. The brass seemed to freeze against Feyn’s skin as he looked through, squinting to try and make out what it was that had somehow gotten the dog’s attention. “Either that dog is a lot more clever than we are,” he said.

“He is.” Tanang was doing a slow sweep with his scope.

“Or he just didn’t want you beating me at stones again,” Feyn finished. He caught a glint of light and focused his scope. “There,” he said. “Just about at the Frog-stone.” He pushed forward against the scope, willing it to bring him closer, but to no avail. Next to him, he heard Tanang whistle quietly.

“Well. I’ll be damned,” he said.

“Too late,” Feyn muttered. “Where worse could they send you?”

The Frog-stone was so named because it looked like a frog. It was a testament to the imagination of the men who first built this lookout point, or perhaps to the lack of it. Either way, it was one of about a hundred landmarks that Feyn had been forced to memorize, and he was glad to finally get some use out if it. In this case, being glad meant being able to spot the vanguard of an advancing column of soldiers, led by the colors of the Deynarch himself. His blue-black banner was easy to pick out, bordered with silver tassels. The banner-bearer was ahead of a full company of armored soldiers on horseback, making their way calmly along the long, flat floor of the Laclund Pass.

Feyn looked over at Tanang, who was looking over at him. “You have got to be kidding me,” Feyn said. They looked again, but the scene hadn’t changed. The army was advancing at a walk, heading right for the city.

“Prep the Block,” Tanang said, dashing for the stairs. “Wait until they’re right underneath!”

Feyn had read about the Block. Much like memorizing the stones, it was required, even if no one had ever actually used it. “You sure it’ll work?” he asked.

“Hope so!” Tanang called back from inside the guard station.

That would have to do. Feyn climbed over the railing and slid down the short ladder that led down to the face of the mountain below. Despite the cold, there wasn’t much snow. Just bare rock with a thin covering of frost that would melt once the sun got to it. Feyn dashed down a dozen feet, careful not to fall and get himself killed, until he came to the boulder known as the Block. It was a little bigger than man-sized, and if you were riding through the pass you probably wouldn’t even notice it. From the other side, though, it was clear that the Block was not like other rocks.

For one thing, a framework was attached to the back of the boulder, and the framework was connected to a series of rails, chains, and a single lever.

Tanang came running down the slope, trying to stay behind the larger stones. He was carrying a large iron key in one hand, and a book in the other. He handed the book to Feyn as soon as he arrived and took Feyn’s stamp out of his pocket right after, along with an inkstone. “You have to stamp the page,” he said.

It was a bureaucratic necessity, which was not uncommon serving in any army, much less the army of Lymdyn-ald. The way it was explained to him was that the Block was a tool of last resort, and if it was used then it had better damn well be for a good reason. He rubbed the inkstone on his stamp and pressed it to the page. His sigil gleamed a wet blue, right next to Tanang’s.

“Okay,” Tanang said. “I’ll keep a lookout. Thrown the switch when I tell you.” He went further along the slope, keeping low and behind the rocks as he went.

The wait wasn’t as long as Feyn thought it would be. The Deynarch’s troops marched at a brisk pace through the pass, and soon Feyn could see the long trail of camp-followers and support wagons. He glanced over at Tanang, who was holding up one of his hands. Feyn counted to a hundred and then a hundred again before Tanang let his hand drop and Feyn pulled the lever.

The lever lifted the Block out of its cradle and set it rolling. It knocked against another large stone, which set off on rails that Feyn hadn’t noticed before. The two stones each bounced off more stones, which in turn bounced off more. In moments, the mountainside below them was a churning, rolling, thundering landslide, channeled by the shape of the slope, all heading right for the Deynarch and his army. Tanang joined him to watch the carnage.

They couldn’t see individual soldiers at this remove, at least not unless they went back up and looked through the scopes. But they could hear them. Men were yelling in a panic, and horses were screaming along with them. The horrible cracking and knocking of stone on stone almost overpowered to cries of moral terror, but not quite. As the landslide reached the army and flowed over it, Feyn felt a moment of pity for them. They may have been the enemy, but he was pretty sure the Deynarch had just led himself and thousands of his men to a pointless, painful death.

They stood and watched as the slide continued, and waited until the last rocks bounced and went still.

“Damn,” Feyn said. Tanang just nodded.

“You’ll have to go tell the city,” Tanang said. Feyn just nodded. There were risks to going back, that much was sure. Maybe if he could get down there and unearth the Deynarch’s banner. Or perhaps his head…

They were halfway back to the guard tower when they heard the rocks shifting and knocking together again. They turned around just in time to see the vast pile of stone and rubble begin to shift and bulge. It seemed to lift upwards from the center, where small stones and large boulders began to roll away towards the edges. Through the gaps in the rocks, a bitter green light leaked out, and it was like nothing either of them had seen before. They ran for the tower.

Through the scopes, they could see it more clearly. The rocks were moving off the army and away. Where the stones had been, an army still stood, all of them safe and unharmed. In the middle of the army, Feyn could barely make out a figure, sitting high on horseback with hands in the air. The green light seemed to come from this figure, and as it waved hands around, the stones moved and shifted. Soon, the army was uncovered, and the figure turned its attention to clearing the way through the pass.

Feyn stood up from the scope and exchanged glances with Tanang again. “This,” Tanang said, “is not good.”

Day Two Hundred and Nineteen: Last Chance to Escape

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

One of the great realizations I had when I started doing this project was that while I certainly wanted to write something new every day, there was no reason why I couldn’t recycle ideas from time to time – especially ideas that I may not have been able to fully exploit when I first tried them out. That’s not to say that I’ve got a complete handle on them now, but I’m pretty sure I’m better than I was.

In any case, one idea that I had was pretty simple, all told. With all the stories of people who travel from one world to another, one of the things that doesn’t often get dealt with is the aftermath of their trip. How do you deal with living in a fantasy world and having the adventures that go with it, and then come back to the mundane world of bills and work and television? The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant probably handled it best of the books I know of – but poor Thomas didn’t handle it very well.

That seems to be the way of things, though. I mean, what other way could a person react to that kind of transition. that kind of experience? Really, the only way you could possibly handle it would be to either go utterly mad or to convince yourself that you had already done so. And that’s pretty much where I started this story – with Adam walking into his home for the first time since his adventure in Another Place. So let’s see what we know about him from day 76, A New World.

  • He has a sister, who was good enough to take care of his home when he vanished to wherever he’d gone to.
  • Prior to coming home, he had been in a psychiatric hospital for a few months.
  • Certain stimuli can trigger flashbacks of his time in the other world.
  • His doctor, Thomas Greer, was against letting him go, but Adam convinced him that he was healthy and ready to leave.
  • Adam believes that he had a nervous breakdown, brought on by stress from work, the failure of his marriage, and the death of his mother.
  • He was found in the middle of a field, laughing and crying, and was brought to the hospital.
  • He left the hospital believing that he was fine, but is now really not so sure about that.

Again, this is kind of treading Thomas Covenant’s ground here, but Adam’s not exactly a leper. When he left the hospital, he was on board with the idea that he had “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.” But now that he’s home alone, that conviction is very quickly becoming more and more tenuous as his memories/delusion intrudes. Here’s what he remembers (or thinks he remembers):

  • A snowmelt stream and high, impassable mountains.
  • A woman with him by the stream.
  • A great voice, possibly that of a dragon, saying, “Very well, then. We are agreed.”
  • His arm being burned.
  • A great mansion, gilded and perched atop a high mountain.
  • A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed.
  • Red skies and rain that burned and great insects that flew and carried people off only to drop them from the sky.
  • A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.
  • There was a stone, and that stone was a key.
  • There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.
  • “There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep. To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.”

Okay, then. How about them apples?

I could ride the idea for a while that maybe Adam really had this experience and maybe he really is nuts, but that would bore me pretty quickly. It’s the kind of story that has to be done with great skill and care, and honestly I’m not sure that I could pull it off without making mincemeat of the whole thing. And besides, I’m already convinced in my head: his experience was real. Very real. And it’s far, far from over.

There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered here, and part of that is because I’ve started him off at the nadir of his adventures.

You see, in really good hero stories, the hero has to be brought low. Really low. And he has to ask himself if all that he’s going through is really worth it, or if he should just give up. And at this point, the author stands there in front of a nice, shiny door and holds it open for him, and says, “Look – we can end this now. You go your way, I go mine. Sure, there are plot points that need to be resolved, but if you’re not ready to take this all the way, I understand. Here’s the door.”

The hero needs to look long and hard at that way out, that simple means of getting off this insane ride. And if the story is going to work at all, then the hero has to want to see it through more than he wants that nice, easy way out. So he turns his back on the door, and the author smiles and shakes his head knowingly and you hear the soft, irreversible click of the door closing forever.

That’s where Adam is as we start this story. He could go back to the hospital and have treatment after treatment until he’s well and truly sure that everything he’d gone through was a delusion. That would be the easy way out. Or he could find his way back and finish what he started.

Seeing as how this nadir usually comes in right in front of the big climax of the story, that means I have a whole lot of back-story to deal with. Including, but not limited to:

  • What is this world that he went to?
  • How did he get there in the first place?
  • Who was that woman?
  • What bargain did he strike with the dragon?
  • What role did he play in this other world?
  • Why and how did he come back to his own world?
  • What does he still need to do to complete his quest?
  • How will he get back to that other world?
  • Will he ever return to his world again?

Exploring those questions is going to be a hell of a ride. I look forward to it, though.

Day Two Hundred and Six: One, Two Princes Here Before You

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

You know you loved the Spin Doctors too. Just admit it and get it over with.

Anyway, tonight I thought I’d do a character sketch on the brothers who were featured in Prince of the Air, part one and part two.

As you may have noticed from previous character sketches, making a good character is a lot of work, and it takes time and some trial and error. You have to go to work on them and make decisions about who they are, decisions that will affect how your story plays out. If you make the wrong choices, the character might not be right for the story you want, so you have to start again. It’s like carving a statue out of marble, really. You hack away at all the bits that aren’t your character and hope you don’t manage to knock off an arm or a nose in the process. In the end, if you’ve done it right, you’ll have a good character – and only you’ll know how much goddamn effort went into making it.

Every now and then, though, a writer gets a gift. It comes from somewhere deep in your subconscious, in a hidden place you couldn’t get to if you tried. Once in a while a character walks out of this strange, secret room in your head, and it’s fully-formed and ready to go. It has a voice, it has a personality, likes and dislikes, a history all its own and it will very happily walk straight into the story you’ve written for it. All you can do, as the writer, is hope to keep up with what your character does.

Such is the case with Calaris and Rissandir den Raud, princes of the realm of Ardenspire. These two boys walked out of my head and they were already bickering. They may well be two of my favorite characters that I’ve done so far.

Here’s what the story says about them:

CALARIS DEN RAUD:

  • He’s the older brother
  • He’s the crown prince of Ardenspire
  • He starts shouting when he is afraid or upset
  • He cares a lot about his brother’s well-being
  • He admires Royal Wizard, Canucog
  • His name shortens to “Cal”
  • He’s risk-averse

RISSANDIR DEN RAUD:

  • He’s a tinkerer
  • He’s the younger brother
  • His name shortens to “Sand”
  • He really wants to fly, so he’s building a flying machine
  • He tested his machines on models first
  • He’s not comfortable with being a Royal
  • He believes in the ethic of work
  • He would rather get by without magic

To understate it, the brothers have an affectionate rivalry. Rissandir is very aware that he is the second son during a time of peace, that Calaris is very much his father’s son and will probably be a fine king. Rissandir was born to test things and try things, he has a very scientific mind, unusual in a magic-heavy kingdom, and is more than willing to risk his own health and safety to accomplish something without magical influence.

On top of that, he seems to be aware of and uncomfortable with his privilege as a Royal. In his speech before he takes off, he says:

“Flying is not a new thing for our family,” he said. “King Alden den Fevre led his twelve bravest through the air against the tyrant king Vysoli. With the flying rings they wore, they were able to soar through the air and defeat their gravest enemy.” He looked down at the wizard. “And if I asked, you’d give me one just like it, wouldn’t you, Royal Wizard?”

Canucog chuckled. “I don’t know about ‘give,’ young prince.” Everyone laughed gently at that, even Rissandir.

“But that’s just it,” Rissandir went on. “Isn’t it? If we want to fly, then flight is given to us. If we want…” He searched for what he wanted to say. “If we want clean clothes, there’s a simple talisman for that. If we need to sleep well, we are given an amulet.” He gestured to the faraway castle. “Half that castle was raised by magic! Given to us.”

He paused to take a breath. “Given to us,” he said again. “Not earned.” He took a moment, and Calaris looked to his father. The king’s face was hard enough to read, and the wizard’s gave away nothing at all.

“Maybe because we’ve been at peace for so long,” Rissandir said, “but we’ve forgotten what it’s like to work for things. To make things. To earn things.” He glanced out towards the villages beyond the castle. “The people of Ardenspire – the common people – they work and make and earn. We in the castle ask for things and they are given to us.”

He took off a glove and gently caressed the machine he’d built. “If this succeeds,” he said, “it’s due to my own skills and talents. If this fails…” He made sure to look right at Calaris, who looked away. “If this fails, then it’s due to my own mistakes and impatience.” He patted the machine and put his glove on again. “Either way, this is mine. I worked for it. I made it. I earned it.”

He knows that he’s bucking the trend, that he should appreciate what he has and just get about the business of being a prince, but he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to be known for being lucky in birth – he wants to be known for what he actually does. Thus, the flying machine. And that look to the King is important – King Raud has learned to let Rissandir have his own head, to let him try things. Maybe because the boy succeeds more often than he fails, and maybe because he knows what a pointless life a second-born prince can lead. Either way, Rissandir generally has his father’s blessing to try his wacky schemes.

One day, however, I’m sure he’ll push his father too far. I can easily see Rissandir leading some kind of republican movement in Ardenspire, insisting on some kind of democratic reforms against either his father or his brother. That would be a fun one to write…

Calaris, on the other hand, lacks his brother’s confidence. He generally avoids risk, even as he knows that risk is inevitable. What’s more, he knows just how much he doesn’t know about being a king. Like his brother, Calaris is highly self-aware, and he’s known since he was a child that he would one day be the king. Despite generations of peace, however, he’s been raised on the tales of kingly heroism, of kings that stood against the forces of darkness and won. Even without those tales of heroism, running a kingdom smoothly takes immense skill, patience, and tact. He believes wholly and fully in the responsibilities that come with being a king – protecting his family and protecting the people of Ardenspire to the last breath in his body.

His greatest fear is that his father will die – and he knows that he will, some day. When that day comes, Calaris will have to take over, and he is utterly certain that he will ruin everything his father worked for. Calaris has Impostor’s Syndrome written all over him: no matter how good he really is, he will always see himself as a fraud. And that’s why he doesn’t want to be king, why he doesn’t take risks or stick his neck out.

In fact, I might go so far as to say that the real reason he’s so concerned for Rissandir’s well-being is because secretly – so secretly that even Calaris isn’t aware of it – he wants to abdicate to his brother. In his heart of hearts, Calaris believes that his brother would be a far better king than he would, and so must do everything he can to keep him alive.

So you see, these boys showed up on my mental doorstep, baggage in hand and walked right into their story. There is nothing so cool as that.

Of course, there’s always a caveat to this kind of character: they don’t like to do as they’re told. Instead of shaping the character for the story, you end up shaping the story for the character. These are the ones who refuse to follow the plots you lay down, the ones who go left when you really want them to go right, or the ones who sit down right in the middle of the story and say, “Nope. I’m not going anywhere.”

What has to go from there, of course, is a delicate re-adjustment both of story and character. You may have to re-tool the story in order to get the character to do what you want. This means not telling the story you thought you were going to tell when you embarked on this project. If you do it right, though, and find a story that both you and your character are happy with, you will have something wonderful indeed.

Story Ideas:

  • Calaris has taken the throne. Rissandir gets pulled into a reform movement. Chaos ensues.
  • Calaris becomes king. Tries to abdicate to Rissandir, who refuses.
  • Pretty much any story where Rissandir drags his older brother into chaos.

Day One Hundred and Eighty-four: Prince of the Air 1

November 21, 2011 4 comments

“You’re gonna get killed, you know that.”

Crown Prince Calaris, heir to the throne of Ardenspire, watched his younger brother in exhausted disbelief. The field was full of canvas and wood and hardware, stacked, spilled, and rolled out every which way. At the far end of the field was the Drop, a cliff that led a hundred feet down to rocks and thundering water. In the middle of everything was this… thing. It looked like a bird, if the bird had been designed by someone who’d never actually seen one before. And under the thing was Rissandir.

“I’m not going to get killed,” he said, gently hammering at something. “The model worked, didn’t it?”

“The fifth model worked,” Calaris said. “The other four dropped like stones and smashed to pieces in the courtyard. Much like you’re going to do.”

“Am not. Hand me that brace?” Rissandir gestured vaguely to a piece of metal laying nearby. His brother dropped it into his hand.

“Sand, if you want to fly so badly, why not just ask Canucog? I’m sure he can get you a spell or a potion or a ring or something.” He poked the canvas-covered frame. “Something that works. He’s not busy these days, so come on. We’ll ask Father and you’ll be up in the air in no time.”

Rissandir shook his head. “No magic,” he said. “I want to do this by myself.”

“But why?” He threw up his hands. “Sand, we’ve figured out flying! Hell, Grandfather did it – remember that story? The siege of Thysnamos? He and his twelve guardsmen came right in on top of King Vysoli. The guy never knew what hit him, and it’s been fifty years of peace since then!” He held out a hand to help his brother up. “So come on, Sand. Take this thing apart, and if you want to fly, fly right.”

Rissandir looked at his big brother and wiped his hand on a rag. “Cal, I get it. You’re scared.”

“Yeah – that you’re going to break every bone in your body and then I’m going to have to explain it to father and then he’ll break every bone in mine!” He was starting to shout, and the was usually the sign that things were about to get bad. His brother had been the one to point that out to him, years ago.

The truth was, Rissandir was smart. Smarter than Calaris, definitely smarter than their father, and probably smarter even than Canucog. If anything scared Calaris, it was that. That, and the knowledge that being smart didn’t mean you couldn’t make mistakes.

Rissandir didn’t often make mistakes, though. That was his particular gift – the ability to see the way things should go and to learn from his mistakes. Their father liked to joke that he’d been bespelled to be bright, but Canucog always swore that nothing of the sort had happened. The boy was just a natural.

He also seemed to be without fear. Or common sense. His wood-and-canvas bird thing looked like it would fall apart long before it even found the air. But he’d been working on it for months, putting together models to try and figure out how wings should work and what it would take for it to carry a person. Deep down, Calaris suspected that it just might work, but he also suspected that it would only work briefly.

He looked out at the cliff’s edge. “Please tell me you’re not planning to fly this thing off the cliff,” he said.

“That is, in fact, exactly what I’m planning to do.” Rissandir tightened the knots on his canvas winds and smiled that brilliant, boyish smile of his. “Nearly done,” he said. “Just one more thing I need.”

“A good thump on the head.”

“That, and a way to get this thing moving.” Rissandir walked over to a large black trunk, bound with iron. He grabbed one of the handles and jerked his head towards Calaris. His older brother sighed, trudged over, and got the other handle. The trunk was surprisingly heavy for its size. They carried it over to the flying machine and set it down under one of its wings. “Y’see, I figured something out with those models,” Rissandir said as he unlatched the box.

“Yeah,” Calaris muttered. “I think we all did.”

“This thing will have to be going pretty fast if it’s going to be able to catch the air and lift itself up.”

Calaris clutched his head. “See? This is what I mean! I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

His brother grinned. “It’s okay, Cal. You don’t need to. It works whether you understand it or not.” He reached into the case and pulled out a large silver cylinder. It was open at both ends and about as big around as his thigh. “In order to make this go fast enough, I need a kind of motive power. And that, I’m afraid, is where I have to bend my ‘no magic’ rule a little.”

That caught Calaris’ attention. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Rissandir took what looked like a bracket from the case and started attaching the cylinder to the wing. “I thought about having horses pull it,” he said. “But they can’t go fast enough. And I thought about just dropping it off the cliff, but no matter what you think, Cal, I’m not an idiot.” Calaris’ face reddened, but Rissandir didn’t seem to notice. “So finally I asked Canucog for help.”

That was a shock. The wizard wasn’t the most forthcoming of men, which was normal for wizards. And Calaris had been almost certain that he would have had nothing to do with whatever it was Rissandir was making. “He said it sounded like an interesting project,” Rissandir said, stepping away from the wing and examining his work. “So he agreed.”

Calaris was impressed. He still didn’t think it would work, but if the Royal Wizard was involved, then maybe there was a small chance that it wouldn’t be a complete catastrophe. At his brother’s insistence, he helped carry the case over to the other wing. Surprisingly, it was no lighter for having lost such large cargo. Rissandir lifted an identical cylinder out and started to bolt it to the wing. “I told him what I needed, and he made these.”

After a moment, Calaris couldn’t wait any longer. “And they are…?”

“I call them my portable dragons,” Rissandir said. He took one more item out of the case – a small wand with a bright blue gem on the end of it. “All I need to do is speak a Command Word into this and they’ll go off.” He closed the trunk and dragged it away. Then he jumped up into the machine and pulled a couple of levers in the place where he would probably sit when he finally decided to try it out. “C’mon,” he said, jumping down. “Let’s go off a bit.”

The brothers walked about ten paces from the flying thing, and then Rissandir held up the wand. “I had Canucog set a few different commands for these. Test, go, stop, things like that. I’ll just test for now.” He held up the wand and said, “Coscade.”

The portable dragons roared to life, fire shooting out from their backs. The whole machine seemed to want to leap forward, but it didn’t. It shook and it rattled, and the roar of the dragons was getting louder and louder. Everything behind the dragons blew away down the field, tumbling and flying. “What’s supposed to happen?” Calaris yelled at his brother.

“When they’re at full power,” his brother yelled back, “they should be able to – WOAH!”

The dragons had ripped loose from their wings, tearing the wings half-off in the process. They were dragging wood and canvas behind them, but they were moving at a good speed.

Right towards the edge of the cliff.

The brothers ran after them, and Rissandir had the wand up to his mouth. He was shouting, “Wannek! Wannek!”

The dragons stopped spitting their flame and rolled to a stop within a few feet of the cliff’s edge. Rissandir fell to his knees, breathing heavily. “Oh, thank the gods,” he said.

Calaris walked over to one of the dragons, trying not to look down at the crashing waves and jagged rocks below. “I know,” he said. He touched one of the fire-breathing things and was surprised to find that it was cool. “Canucog probably would have used your skull as a raven’s nest if you lost them.” Rissandir just nodded and picked them up.

They carried the dragons back to the flying machine, which was missing most of its wings. Calaris ran a hand over the front of it. “Sorry your… thing got destroyed, Sand,” he said. “Who knows? It might have worked.” He shrugged and started picking up scraps of wood and canvas. “Oh well. May as well take this thing apart and get home.”

Rissandir started to laugh, and he was actually shaking his head as though Calaris had said something stupid. “I will take it apart, Cal,” he said. “But only to build it better.” He patted the machine with far more affection than Calaris had, and looked at it with the gleam of anticipation in his eyes. “Now I know what the big problem is, I can make it stronger. And when I do, big brother…” He looked over at Calaris, and there was an earnestness, a belief in his eyes that almost – almost – made Calaris want to believe that he could do it.

“When I do,” Rissandir said again, “I will fly.”

TO BE CONTINUED….

*****

Calaris den Raud’s page on 30characters.com

Day One Hundred and Seventy-nine: Golemime, part 3

November 16, 2011 1 comment

Read Part One here…
Read Part Two here…

———————

I was surrounded by mimes.

The Estervale Civic Center was packed to the walls with mimes from all over the world. There were booths set up to display the latest in mime costuming, props, and makeup; mimes of international renown selling autographed head shots for twenty bucks a pop, and hundreds of people – mimes and mime wanna-bes alike – wandering through the convention center, toting giant bags full of stuff that they’d probably throw away the moment they got home. People came dressed as their favorite mimes and posed for pictures to put up on the Internet, and a couple of guys were done up to look like birthday clowns, just for the shock value.

I didn’t care about any of that. I was there to catch a killer.

People were filing in to the Great Hall for the convention’s keynote panel entitled “The Sad Clown: Emotional Perspectives on Post-Modern Mimery,” whatever all that meant. Three of the world’s greatest mimes were going to lead a discussion on the main stage.

Yes, mimes can, in fact, talk. They just choose not to.

Raul Jiminez-Péron from Spain was slated to lead the discussion, along with his colleagues Michel LeMarch from France and Hiroyuki Hasugawa from Japan. The talk was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes, and there were hundreds of suspects filing in as I watched. Any one of them could have been the Mime Killer, a man who harbored such a hatred of mimes that he had embarked on a killing spree. Ten performers had died in the last year, and the city was getting tired of taking the blame.

The police presence at the conference was strong. There were uniformed officers patrolling the building, outside and in, and plenty of plainclothes guys like me. If anyone made a move, we’d know about it. This place was going to be our honeypot. No one with a need to kill mimes would be able to pass this up.

But what really gave us the advantage was my golem. I gave it a fresh coat of face paint and a change of costume and put it backstage to watch the crowd. So far, the golem had been useful. True, the police department had already received dozens of complaints from all kinds of official magical organizations, who were affronted and appalled that I would “create life,” as they saw it. Fortunately, the mayor’s office had promised to shield us from the worst of it if the golem worked out, and I honestly didn’t care what they thought anymore. I watched people walk in, and then I ducked in through the backstage door to join the golem and the chief.

For once, he didn’t have his mouth full of gum. I took a sniff to see if he’d been smoking again. “This had better work,” he said. “We’re taking a big chance with this many people.”

I nodded. “He’ll be here, chief. We just have to wait for him to make his move.”

The chief tapped the golem’s chest, and it made a dull thumping sound. “Can’t your flowerpot here find him?”

I shook my head. The golem had brought me to the killer’s house, which brought us here. But no matter how I commanded it, the golem didn’t seem to be able to bring me to the killer himself. Honestly, after all the time I’d spent with it so far, I don’t think I understand how it works any better than I did when I made it. And if I had known what it would be when I made it, I might have agreed with those people who thought it was an abomination.

The golem just kept getting more… real. Maybe it was just obeying the Words I’d put in its head as far as it could, maybe there was something else going on. I really had no idea, but I was already starting to worry about what we’d do with the thing when this case was over.

The lights in the hall dimmed, and the audience quieted down right away. The emcee, a well-known TV mime named Lucas Allbridge, took the stage to eager and polite applause. He thanked the audience for coming, made a few jokes about how he really shouldn’t run off at the mouth, and then introduced the panelists. I watched the golem, and it watched the crowd.

I didn’t really follow the discussion. The bits I did hear didn’t make much sense to me – the meta-re-imagining of the role of the negative in anthro-centric performance modes and all that. The peace and quiet were beginning to bother me, though. Everything said that the killer should be there. Everything pointed right to this place, this time.

That sinking feeling hit me again. Was this guy really this clever? That he’d send us on some crazy chase while he runs around free as a bird? I imagined him coming home to find the door smashed, a dent in his desk and the convention flyer missing. He probably put two and two together and figured out that we knew what he was up to, so he stayed away. Stayed at home to plan his next hit while we twiddled our thumbs and watched mimes discuss mimery.

But could he really do it? That bedroom wasn’t the den of someone interested in killing mimes – it was the den of someone obsessed with killing mimes. And here was the mother lode, the greatest concentration of mimes for hundreds of miles around. Would the man who owned that room really be able to stay away?

A tiny red light answered my question.

I saw it about a second before he golem did. The darkness underneath the Spanish mime’s chair turned a dim, pulsing red. I bent down to get a better view, but the golem was already on its way. The audience murmured as it walked on stage and then started shouting as it lifted Raul Jiminez-Péron bodily from his chair and pushed him away. The other two mimes stood – Hasugawa moved to help his colleague while LeMarch started shouting at the golem in rapid French.

He stopped, however, when the golem turned the chair over and ripped the tape off a small radio receiver that was stuck into what looked like half a pound of modeling clay. A small red light was blinking on the receiver.

“All right,” I shouted, holding my badge as high in the air as I could. The men on the stage were already starting to scramble off, and the people in the first few rows were just beginning to guess what it was the golem held. “I need everyone to move away from the stage in an orderly -”

The explosion was deafening.

I was thrown twenty feet, skidding on my back. My ears hurt like hell, and everything sounded like I had my head wrapped in layers and layers of wet wool. I could hear shouting, and something that sounded like drumbeats, like strong hits on a snare drum. I opened my eyes and staggered to my feet, gun drawn. My vision was bleary, but what I saw was impossible to mistake. A man in a mime outfit was standing over the fallen golem, shooting it and screaming.

I pointed my gun at him and fired. I missed, but got his attention. “Police!” I wondered absently where the other officers were.

He responded by lifting his gun and taking a shot at me, yelling something as he did so. He would have had me dead if the golem hadn’t saved my life.

Its hand – cracked and broken and missing two fingers – darted out and grabbed the gunman’s leg, pulling him off-balance. The gunman fell to the ground and emptied his weapon into he golem’s face, sending little chips flying and tiny clouds of white dust into the air. Still, the golem wasn’t stopped. It stood up, still holding the killer by the ankle, and I got my first good look at the damage that had been done.

The golem had used its body as a shield and absorbed as much of the blast as it could. From its collar to its groin, half its torso was just… gone. The only thing holding it up was the clay of its back, and yet it stood as tall as it ever had. It lifted the gunman high in the air and squeezed its hand. The gunman screamed, and I knew my hearing was coming back because I heard that just fine. With its other hand, the golem took the gun. Casually, without even looking at it, the golem crushed the gun one-handed and threw it over its shoulder. It looked at the screaming gunman, and then it turned its ruined face towards me.

The paint was gone. A jagged crack ran across its face, from jaw to ear, and the remaining eye was shattered and crumbling. But still, it looked at me. It looked at me as if to ask what I wanted to do with this man. This thing. This living being that had less regard for life and law than a creature made from dust and clay only a week ago. The golem looked at me. And waited.

The other officers were pouring into the auditorium, shouting orders and all-clears, but the golem heard me anyway. “Golem,” I said. “Put him down. Gently.”

The golem didn’t have eyebrows – not unless I painted them back on – but I’m pretty sure it cocked one at me before it let the gunman down to the splintered stage floor. The guy was crying and holding his ankle, and begging for mercy in between promises to destroy the abomination. And I wasn’t sure if he meant the golem or me.

Mercy. I was too tired to banter with a crazy man. I let one of the other officers do the litany this time and I watched them take him away, struggling and screaming. “Golem,” I said. “You did good work.”

I was answered by a great, shattering thud behind me and I spun around.

The golem’s body had finally given in to the damage done, and I cursed myself for not seeing it coming. I had used cheap clay, and that much C4 is not something you can shrug off, golem or no. I ran to its side, and a groan escaped me when I saw it.

The head had cracked open and lay shattered on the boards, leaving only a small piece that would be recognizable as its face. There, in the dust and pottery shards, were the Words that I had put into its head. The paper I had written them on was fragile and brittle, the sigils were faded and gray. Great power had come through those words somehow, and they crumbled to dust in my fingers.

I knelt in the shattered remnants of my golem until the chief came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s over, Zoltaire,” he said quietly. “Your golem worked. No one died.” He patted me and I shrugged has hand off with a wordless grunt. “Whatever,” he said. “Back to the station. There’s paperwork to do.” I smelled spearmint and I wanted to stand up and punch him.

Before I left the convention center, I made sure that every last speck of dust, every tiny piece of clay was collected from that stage. I brought it all back to the station and shut myself in my workshop for days. I reconstituted the clay, dug into my my bank account to pay for some of the good stuff to mix it in with, and didn’t sleep until I had built it a new body. Then I went back to the library and cursed out those harpy librarians again to re-build the sigils. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t want to admit what I wanted. It felt stupid, getting this upset about a golem, a made thing, for crying out loud! It was no more alive than a car or a cell phone or a chair. I knew that.

But I didn’t care. I just wanted it – him – back.

The chief came down and offered to let me go on leave for a while, but I didn’t listen. I shut him and all the other officers out of my workshop while I kept at it.

Finally, after days, I was done. I was exhausted, I was starving, and I stank, but I was done. I had the body. I had the Words. I knew what I wanted.

I was ready.

The ritual was the same as before. I had to cleanse. I took a quick shower with that herbal soap, then came back to the office and dropped onto the sofa to meditate. I tried every visualization technique I could think of to calm my mind – ocean waves, a flower bud opening, a mountain stream gurgling past me – but nothing worked. So I got up, went to the golem, and started the ritual. I threw the Words into its head, rubbed my hands together and started walking around it. I chanted, quickly, quietly, through teeth clenched in frustration at how long this was taking. I chanted the Words and tried to pour everything I had into them. I lost track of time and who I was and what I was doing.

And then I passed out.

When I woke up and got off the floor, I looked at the table.

The golem lay there, inert. Not moving, not wanting to move. There was nothing there but clay.

I slumped down in the corner and wept. Part of me was astounded, amazed that I would be crying over a golem. A golem, of all things. The rest of me just wheeled around and punched that part of me in the mouth until it shut up. I stayed there for a while, at least until the pain broke and I could stand up again. I didn’t look at it as I left.

The chief gave me two weeks. He told me that the International Mime Union would be willing to take the failed replacement off our hands. They wanted to display it as a sign of their gratitude for saving so many of their members’ lives. They said that they didn’t know how to repay me or the department for all that we had done, and that they would honor the memory of the golem forever.

I didn’t care.

I took the two weeks and spent most of them indoors, in bed, with the lights off.

After a while, though, I couldn’t stand to be cooped up inside anymore. I put on a jacket and headed out, squinting into the sunlight. The air smelled fresh, but that was probably just because I’d been indoors for days on end. The people looked happy, but that was probably just because I was a miserable sad sack.

The park nearby was quiet, as always. I bought some bread at the corner store, found a bench by the tiny duck pond, and went to feed some ducks.

While I sat there, I noticed motion out of the corner of my eye. A white flash. I glanced over, and my breath caught for a moment. It was a mime. A little guy, walking smoothly through the park, soon followed by another, who was pretending to be tied to the first by an invisible rope. I heard something from my other side and turned around – three more mimes, making their way towards me and the pond. Soon, there were ten. And then twenty, all coming towards me, and my heart was beating to break through my chest. The only thing I could think of was how I had given up my gun at the police station, and that after all this time, this was how it would end.

Mimes.

They stopped some ways from me, and lined up around the pond. There were enough of them that they went all the way around it and off to the sides. All of them, staring at me with white, unreadable faces and graceful, unpredictable poses.

Then, in a wave as fluid and as perfect as any on water, they bowed. The one closest to my left started it, and the bow traveled through the crowd, passing from one mime to another, all the way around the duck pond until it reached the mime to my right. They had their floppy hats and berets off, heads hanging low to the ground. And then, left to right, they stood again, one after the other.

Without a word, the mimes left. Each by his or her own way, as though there had never been a group there, but that they had all come there by random, unknowable coincidence. In moments, they were gone, and I was once again alone with the ducks.

The sadness was gone, though. Something in the mimes had taken it from me and replaced it with warmth. With… gratitude.

I sat back on the bench and turned my face towards the sun, breathing easy for the first time in days. There would be work to do tomorrow.

———–

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Seriously, I had no idea this would go on as long as it did. I meant it to be a nice, tight 1,500 word piece for Worth1000.com, and it just… didn’t want to stop. So thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Day One Hundred and Seventy-eight: Golemime, part 2

November 15, 2011 3 comments

Read Part One here…

———————-

There was a crowd by the fountain in the middle of Blue River Park, watching a mime. Every now and then they would applaud or laugh, and there was the occasional tinkle of coins as people showed their appreciation in a more tangible way. The mime would walk against the wind or pretend to climb a rope or stumble and fall and roll around, and the people just ate it up.

I stood at the edge of the crowd, glaring at each and every one of them.

The plug in my ear vibrated and I tapped it with a finger. “Yeah?”

“Anything, Zoltaire?”

I could hear him chewing gum as he spoke, and my stomach turned. “Nothing yet, chief. I think we’re making enough money that we can buy some better coffee for the station, though.”

“Dammit, Zoltaire, it’s been a week! I thought your golem-mime-thing was supposed to lure the killer out of the woodwork!”

I looked over at it. The mime was pretending to pull flowers from a little girl’s hair, and the child was shrieking with laughter. I don’t know how it knew how to do that, to be honest. I just wanted to make something that looked like a mime to solve some murders. A little clay, some Words, and a week later, it was entertaining small children left and right. Whatever I had made, it was starting to creep me out, and I hoped that the Mime Killer would strike so that we could put all this behind us.

“I’m sure it’ll happen, Chief. Just make sure the boys are ready when it does.” I tapped the plug again and disconnected. I sat and watched my mime perform for a crowd that was slowly growing bigger. They clapped at all of his – its – antics and moves, and I even found myself chuckling once or twice. Then I reminded myself: that thing wasn’t human and never would be. It would keep walking against the wind until I told it to stop, and if I wanted it to perform until the end of time then it would.

The sun was dropping towards the trees and I sighed. I tapped the plug in the other ear and said, “Golem. Finish your act and return to base.”

It pulled one more rose out of the little girl’s hair and mocked bone-deep sorrow at their tragic yet inevitable parting, then turned to the rest of the crowd and took a bow. Everyone applauded heartily, throwing more coins into its hat. With luck I’d be able to treat the guys in my department to donuts in the morning.

Suddenly, the golem stood straight upright, it’s expression hard and cold, and quickly started scanning the crowd. The people who had been applauding stopped instantly and started to back away. This wasn’t the friendly mime that they had come to see – this was clearly something else, and whatever it was it scared the hell out of them.

I made my way through the crowd to the golem and tried to look where it was looking. As I did, I noticed a hole that had been made in its head, near the temple. Flakes of clay still fell out when it moved. The killer had finally taken his shot.

My eyes hit on a man who was walking swiftly away from the scene, trying his best to look inconspicuous. “Golem!” I yelled. “Get him!”

The golem burst into a run, its heavy clay feet pounding on the pavement. It ran like a freight train – unstoppable and deceptively fast. The man he was chasing heard the thunder of its footsteps and took off in a run of his own, but there was no contest. Within seconds, the golem had him on the ground, hands clamped together in an unbreakable grip.

I caught up a few moments later, breathing heavy and holding my side.

Hey, I’m a thaumaturge. We’re not famous for our physical fitness.

“You have the right,” I wheezed, “to remain silent.” My heart was pounding in my ears, and it took a few breaths before I was able to say the litany all the way through. “You say anything, you better damn well believe we’ll use it, so if you have a lawyer, get one,” I swallowed hard. “Got it?”

The man’s eyes were pinned to the golem’s cold, unchanging face. “I didn’t do anything,” he said. “Get this… this thing off me!”

“Sure you didn’t,” I said. “Golem. Let him up.” The golem stood, hauling the man to his feet. I started to pat the guy down, and right away I had a sinking feeling. There was no weapon. “Where’d you throw it?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as I could.

“Throw what? What are you talking about?”

I wanted to smack him. “The gun! Where did you throw the gun?”

“I don’t have a gun,” he babbled. “I hate guns, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

That sinking feeling was getting deeper. Just looking at the golem’s damage, I knew a couple of things. The shooter had to be using a heavy caliber weapon, probably from close range – there weren’t a lot of good spots for a sniper to sit. And secondly, if they did, then they’d be using a silencer, so as to blend in with the applause of the crowd. That meant I was looking for a pretty sizable weapon, and I didn’t see anything like that on the run over.

And there sure as hell wasn’t anything like that on his person.

“Why did you run?” I asked him. The man didn’t answer, but just looked at the golem. It lifted the guy off his feet, and a large wet stain spread across the front of his pants. I sighed. “Golem. Put him down.”

The golem hesitated. Just for a moment, and no one else would have noticed. But I did.

Slowly, it set the man on his feet. He promptly fell to the pavement. I handed him a business card. “Here,” I said. “For the cleaning. My apologies, sir.” I reached out to help him up, but he shrank back. “Fine,” I said. “Golem. Come with me.” I walked away without looking back, and a moment later I heard its heavy footsteps behind me.

I brought it back to the station, pulled out the bullet and patched up the damage. Then the chief spent a good half hour hauling my ass over the coals for the screw-up in the park. His main concern was that we’d blown our cover, which I thought was nonsense. The thing was a mime, for gods’ sake – a quick paint job, new clothes, and no one would ever know.

But I did agree that what we were doing wasn’t working out. If the golem had been a real mime, it would have been dead and the killer would have escaped scot free. We needed a new plan.

It was right there that I had my idea. I almost didn’t want to think about it at first, it was that weird. If I thought about it at all, there was a chance that I’d actually think it could work, and if I really thought it could work, then there would probably be nothing but disappointment when it didn’t. But it felt like inspiration, a bolt from the blue.

So what did I have to lose?

I went back to my office and got the bullet that I’d pulled from the golem’s head. “Golem,” I said. It sat up from the table where I had left it. “Hand.” It reached its hand out and I dropped the bullet into it. The golem looked down at the bullet and then back at me. “Find the person who shot this,” I said.

There was no real reason it should have worked. Golems aren’t bloodhounds. They don’t work by sympathetic magic the way a voodoo doll does. They operate on a whole different plane of thaumaturgy, one of life forces and animation and intention. Nevertheless, the golem got to its feet and immediately started walking, bullet in hand. I grabbed my jacket and followed it. I wanted to yell as I passed the chief’s office – tell him I had a lead and I was going to finish the job once and for all. But if the golem decided to walk me straight into the middle of the Blue River Pond, well… I can only stand so much humiliation in one day.

The golem took a relentless course due east from the station. It navigated streets without a pause, stopping at crosswalks and only crossing on the green. “Who told you to do that?” I wheezed as I followed it. I wanted to tell it to slow the hell down, but for all I knew that might have ruined the whole thing. Anybody in its way moved to the side right quick – a tall, slender mime, with footsteps that thundered and a concentrated stare that made it look like it could walk through a brick wall. Which it may very well have.

I followed it for nearly an hour as we made our way to one of the more residential neighborhoods. Oak Hollow had been the preferred borough for grandparents and young yuppie couples from time immemorial, and the neat lawns and well-trimmed shrubbery made the whole place look more like the set for a TV show than a place where people actually lived. The golem strode through the neighborhood, setting more than a few curtains a-twitching, and then finally, blessedly, stopped.

The house it was staring at was a small blue one-story, with some dead flower beds and peeling paint. It was the worst-maintained house on its street, and it looked like the owner had just given up. I looked over at the golem. “This is it?” I asked. It didn’t reply. “You sure?”

This time the golem did reply – by walking right up to the front door and smacking it with the flat of its hand. The door flew off its hinges, spinning back into the dim recesses of the living room, and landed halfway in the kitchen. “Oh, that’s not good,” I said as the golem walked straight into the house, the bullet still gripped in its hand. “We’re supposed to get a warrant, you stupid pile of -” I finished my sentence with an inarticulate growl and followed it into the house, drawing my gun as I did so. I felt goosebumps when I entered the house and hollered “POLICE!” There wasn’t anything magical involved – just years and years of police procedure. The thought of investigating a place without a warrant was just… wrong.

I suppose I could say I was following lost property. Yeah, that would have to do.

There was no answer to my shout, so I called it again. Still, silence. The golem went upstairs, and I followed with my gun at the ready. It stopped a few steps into a small bedroom, and I felt the blood drain from my face when I went in.

The walls were covered with photographs, paintings, drawings, sketches – of mimes. Hundreds of black and white faces stared out at me from all directions, and it was all I could do not to run from the room screaming in terror. There were newspaper articles stuck to the wall, in classic serial-killer fashion, and they were all meticulously highlighted and underlined. Each one, as near as I could tell, was a story about a mime. New mimes debuting on the circuit. Veteran mimes retiring. Avant-garde mimes trying out new and controversial material.

Walking with the wind or something. Damned if I know.

In one special section of this Wall of Mimery, there was a corkboard with several glossy photographs pinned to it. The photos had clearly been taken from a stealth location, but they all showed the faces of the mimes clearly and distinctly. Except for the large red X that covered them. Upon closer inspection, I was pretty sure that these were the mimes that he had killed. The rest of them surrounded me, covering the walls nearly completely. I scanned the faces, and sure enough – there was the golem. It was a photo from a few days ago, when it had been performing in front of city hall. The golem almost looked like it was smiling in this picture, as it reached out a hand to a young woman.

A loud THUD behind me shook me back to attention, and I spun around. The golem had slammed its hand down on the desk, leaving the bullet sitting there on top of some scattered papers. It stood there, staring down at the desk, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was excited. There had been no change in the way it moved or stood – it was stock-still, without any of those countless unconscious movements that humans make. But the way it was staring, it seemed to be ready to dash off again.

I looked at the papers on the desk. Most of them were handwritten notes, varying from simple reminders to buy bread and ammunition, all the way to tightly-scrawled screeds about mimes and the horrors they inflicted on society. I picked one up and started to read it:

By their very actions, the mimes are simulacra of reality, fakers and frauds who deny the reality of our reality, a world in which we must all live. They paint their faces a dead white, for they are the dead, the haunted, the living ghosts of our subconscious desire for simplicity and for a way to face the world in a way that makes sense to our simple, sheeplike minds. Those of us who protest, who fight, who see the world for what it is, we are the ones they mock. They mock us with their invisible boxes and their walking against the wind and vanishing down stairs that aren’t there – YOU’RE JUST CROUCHING DOWN YOU FRAUDS WE KNOW HOW IT’S DONE! They see us and they know how we struggle. But they are the agents of the Absurd, the carriers of the cosmic joke of which we are all the punchlines, and until they are gone, until the mimes are wiped from the earth, I cannot have peace, fight the fight against the forces that truly control our world and enslave us all.

I looked up at the golem, which was still staring down at the desk. “This guy’s nuts,” I said.

The golem stabbed a finger down onto the desktop, nearly punching a hole through the wood. It had pinned down a printed flyer, one that was done up on nice glossy paper. When I saw the title, I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or throw up. Instead, I clapped the golem on its rock-hard arm. “Good police work,” I said. The golem didn’t reply, of course, but it did seem to stand a little straighter.

I took out my phone and dialed the station. The chief answered, and I started talking before he could take a breath. “There’s a convention,” I said. “All mimes, all the time.” I looked down at the glossy flyer, which was advertising the first ever Estervale International Mime Conference. Mimes from all over the world, all in one place to talk about the craft. “I guarantee he’ll be there.”

I closed the phone and looked up at the golem. “Think you can find him?” I asked.

The golem turned its head with deliberate slowness and looked at me. Its white, ceramic expression and its glassy, dead eyes never changed. But I was pretty sure it smiled.

TO BE CONCLUDED! (I hope)

*****

The Golemime’s page on 30characters.com