Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Story in the Stones

The nightmare legion assembles outside the desert temple.
To my dismay, the pyramid temple was surrounded by fell beasties, milling about as though expecting an event to erupt and coalesce them into an organized platoon—or even a company, so numerous were they. I ground my molars as my eyes adjusted to take them all in, to differentiate the Explodicons from the cacti, to pick out the tall and slender humanoids as black as the night itself, for there were a few of these about as well.

All of my senses were on high alert. Agasado, to his extensive credit, held perfectly still while I took the lay of the land. Now, I have very little skill with the base function of chivalry, that is, fighting from horseback (Old French chevaler, "knight"; Latin caballarius, "pack-horse"). I certainly had no desire to abuse Agasado's patience with grazing cuts with a sword or nasty cracks about the skull with my bow, during my preliminary learning phase, so I rode him out a certain distance to a clearing, then crept around the largest group of these predatory nasties.

The oddest thing about this assemblage was its population: most notably, the dearth of A.C.M.s. Usually these are among the first to arrive, for they sense my living energy at great distance and announce their approach with imbecilic moaning at every step. Yet there were none here at this moment. Once I realized one monster was missing, I looked for the others and discovered the paucity of oversized spiders, as well.

Now I was baffled, and when I am baffled I try to step back from my preconceived notions and take stock of the situation as it appears. I did this by counting the monsters that were present, and I noted that there were few of the elongated ebony horrors with blazing purple eyes. For every one of them, there were about three archer-skeletons in attendance; for every archer-skeleton there were more or less five Explodicons waiting patiently for some unknowable catalyst. And as I counted the Explodicons nearly thronging the temple, I had to recall their faces carved into the sandstone, and I had to wonder how they factored into the pyramid's construction.

Before an adequate theory could gel, two Explodicons noticed me and I was compelled to pepper them with arrows. I do not leave any camp or shelter without a full quiver, so I am always able to defend myself at a distance. By the looks of this mob, however, I would only just be able to eradicate the horrors through a deliberate and calculated ambush. Were they all to turn on me, I would miss enough shots through panic and haste that I would be overwhelmed too soon.

Lethal teams are posted at every doorway.
As I scouted the perimeter of the grounds, I noticed that the archer-skeletons and the tall ebony creatures seemed to linger around the doorways, especially, of which there were three. I was glad I took a moment to repair the front door (which I did not note here), and as the interior is sufficiently illuminated by torches, no creatures should emerge within the building.

I debated simply clearing a path to one door and barricading myself until morning, but I would have been unsatisfied with taking the easy route. It was a momentary lack of confidence, I think, that made me consider such a move. I had to actively remind myself of my past conquests—when I discovered the villagers' hovel that stormy night, for example, or any time I have tested myself by leaping into the fray—in an attempt to convince myself of my own competence. Does anyone else have this problem? It has plagued me my entire life, I believe.

Crawling up a dune, I shot out the archer-skeleton perched above a door, then rushed in to hack and slash two of the very tall and dark humanoids, for they only teleport away when hit with arrows, and teleport at you to attack, should you look at their torso or heads; but if you focus only on their legs, I've explained before, you can take them down and slay them. If I must come up with a name for them, for the sake of future brevity (though may the Lord save me from encountering them again), let them be called the Ebonmen, for their exceptional tint. I laid low two Ebonmen, then from my vantage position on the pyramid I hailed arrows upon those Explodicons too far to detect me. Between the strength of my bow and the augment of my altitude, only one or two arrows were required to dispatch each monster, and of this I was quite glad.

In fact, the entire ordeal was over within a quarter of an hour, even as I took time to suss out the next strategic perch, even as I calmed my breathing and drew a careful bead upon each unwitting skull. A third of my quiver yet remained, in fact, and my relief at surviving turned to a slight thrill at doing so very well, both in conserving my shots and evading most conflict. The rush of experience filled me, as well, as I ran around to collect the materials these horrors dropped and my fighting spirit increased.

Thus ends poor Agasado.
So full of myself was I, in fact, that I nearly missed the obvious, and that was that Agasado was missing. He was not where I had left him, and in fact that area was being closed in upon by more Explodicons and some fresh A.C.M.s. I ran these through as my panic mounted: it was reasonable to assume this horse was intelligent enough to flee to defend itself, yet something seemed very wrong once more, and though I may be forgetting my classical authors and Latin quotations, my intuition seems to be waxing. As useful as this could be, I hoped against hope I was mistaken.

Sure enough, I found the remains of that noble beast only a few meters from where I'd abandoned him. Floating sadly in the night air, as discarded objects do in this harsh realm, were a strip of horse leather and a saddle, and these so humble to be nearly pathetic.

I felt sick. My heart nearly stopped beating. I had known Agasado only a short time, to be sure, but in time I felt a bond beginning to form. Perhaps this was all in my head, for I truly desired the beast to like me, and certainly I was glad for the companionship of such a winning animal. But placebo or not, I was sickened with my carelessness, my incapacity to protect my new friend, to say nothing of the renewed loathing I felt for these mindless horrors.

I secured the horsehide and saddle, set my bow aside, drew Biter from its sheath and slew monsters for the entire night, relenting only when the sun rose to set them ablaze.

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