Monday, May 20, 2013

The Grand Vizier: Part VI


Carlisle closed one eye and squinted down at the silver tray with the eye of a practiced butler.  (The other eye had belonged to a surgeon and tended to exhibit a rather more than healthy obsession with straight lines and clamps.)  The Vizier very rarely held the sumptuous banquets of his predecessor and the lumpy grey homunculus occasionally found it necessary to add a little something to his master’s lunch tray.  Black bread sandwiches were all well and good, but pickles and mustard and corned beef did little to invoke the desired flights of decadence one expected from an evil ruler.  Carlisle tended to attribute this to a lack of dancing girls and fat men in turbans.

There was a creak as he hopped down from the wooden stool that allowed him access to the human sized counter tops.  Pulling down the flickering black candle after him, he ambled along the shadowy kitchen wall.  Pausing at a low cabinet, he pulled it open.   Somewhere in the darkened recesses near the back, was just the thing.   A dusty moment of grunting, stretching, and coughing later he was back at the table, carefully spiking the sandwich with a silver toothpick topped with a skull and covering the whole with a black silk napkin.  Rubbing his hands with pleasure he lifted the tray and padded out of the kitchen across the black marble.

Carlisle found the Vizier brooding in an enormous wing chair next to a colossal stone hearth. Smokeless and without visible fuel, dark blue flames were licking at the iron grate.The effect was like the sun through deep water as the light flickered across the analytic wreckage of the adequately named Dark Arcanum.

“I have brought you shome lunch, my lord.” Carlisle shifted an enormous tome deftly with one hand and placed the tray at his master’s elbow.  The homunculus took a step back and clasped his misshapen hands behind his back. He glanced at the fire.  “If the Thinking Fire ish any tell, my lord would like to be left alone?”

The Vizier looked up and the fired seemed to blink into a livid sea green.  “You know there isn’t a single book in here about princesses?”

“Ish that sho, my lord?”

“It is.” The Vizier shook his head. “You’d think someone would have bothered to write down what you are supposed to feed them or something.”

“I believe they eat chocolate, my lord.”

 “Hmm.”  The Vizier rubbed his goatee. “I spent all morning in the secret passage next to her room staring through that hideous portrait of the Evil Stepmother. Did you know the Spire rats can line dance? The can sing a quite tolerable aria as well.  And they made a dress out of the curtains. It was terrifying.”

Carlisle nodded sagely. “That ish prinschess magnetishm, my lord. Shmall minded creaturesh no matter how hideoush are hopelesh againsht it. “

“I see. That explains the big hearted farm boys who now want me dead, I suppose.”

“Yesh, my lord.”

The Vizier pressed his hands together in front of him and slid deeper into the chair as the fire resumed its azure tones.  There was a long silence. Finally the Vizier spoke, his voice coming as if from the bottom of a deep well.  “Do you suppose she wants to be a princess, Carlisle?”

“Every little girl wantsh to be a prinschess, my lord.”

“And what do little boys want to do when they grow up?”

“Moshtly shavage your landsh and kill your orksh, my lord. Hero thingsh.”

“Oh.”

“Shometimesh alsho ashtronautsh.”

The dark haired man raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“I don’t know, my lord, it jusht sheemed appropriate.”

There was another long silence and the fire went from a thoughtful indigo to a morose plum.  Carlisle shuffled his feet. “If I may preshume, my lord, what did you want to become when you were a young boy?”

 “I can’t remember.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Grand Vizier: Part V


Bladesinger crossed his huge, battered arms and propped them on the stone parapet. The view from the top of the Darkspire was appropriately excellent.  On a good day, the ashy, toxic smoke from the volcano would blow away to the east and from here you could see all the way to the Greenlands.

In a move somewhat typical of the Storyteller and his often generic, wide audience work, the Greenlands were called Greenlands because they were in fact green.  If you walked thirty miles to the west of here you would reach an utterly unnatural line of demarcation.  While some kingdoms had rivers or coastlines or walls for their border, The Darklands were clearly marked by the spot where the grass was literally greener on the other side.  As soon as you crossed that line, formerly murky, rushing rivers full of jagged rocks instantly sparkled, prancing and laughing over smooth, happy looking boulders.   The fields, which were desolate and thorny, became sun kissed meadows, dusted with wildflowers and teeming with butterflies.  Even the sunshine was brighter and more golden in the Greenlands.

 The Vizier’s realm itself was a collection of dark and vile locales seemingly designed with the distinct purpose of making your skin crawl. Ruins and tombs and inexplicable weirdness were aesthetic standbys.  Occasionally the Storyteller would bother to pencil in a back story when the need for tales of ancient doom were called for to add weight and history, but the vast majority of the times things were just an ordinary creepy.    Bladesinger frowned as he remembered an epic duel with Goodman Thief in a skeletal forest some miles to the South.  They had battled back and forth through the leafless trees for half a day, and when the sun had set, the naked giants had glowed a burning white.

Elsewhere you could find hideous temples to hideous gods which the Vizier had told him had never been hideously worshipped.  The grim sanctuaries were staffed by over muscled, heavily oiled and hairless priests who carried staffs topped by ominously glowing knobs.   In general they were inept as they were bloodthirsty.  Evil priests who intended to gruesomely sacrifice under clad maidens were a standby in some of the more lurid tales.  Usually there were a few giant snakes on the premises as well and background characters were advised to avoid passing that way.

Bladesinger himself had never really worried about getting eaten during his many adventures.  As the hideous lieutenant, he was also an archetype and technically immortal. He was only technically immortal because his job required him to die rather spectacularly on a fairly regular basis only to awake a few days later in preparation of his next narrative outing. By now, Bladesinger had done bottomless pits, vicious chopping machines, collapsing archways, and even a few immolations.  Once in awhile he would get “trapped forever” in an ancient tomb or endless cave complex.  He’d learned to carry a pack of cards and a stub of candle on his person at all times for just such occasions.  Sometimes it was days before he would be popped back to the Dark Spire or find himself in a dark forest preparing to menace a caravan.

He didn’t always die though; at least not the first time. Bladesinger was a personal fan of the apparent death and vengeful return.  While it nearly always ended in his extraordinarily certain death (impaling was currently in vogue) it gave him some serious face time in the third act and occasionally let him upstage the hero.

He sighed and turned away from the parapet.  Actually putting one over on the hero was the life dream of every villain ever born. At least the more clear eyed rogues who ended up being archetypes. The majority of them spent the better part of their time leafing through ancient archives and digging through arcane tomes in search of the edge which would allow them to finally pull one over on the heroes.    Someday, perhaps someone would do it and maybe the villain would become the hero and someone would write stories and they would be famous and beloved across the land.  In the meantime, they were doomed and the wicked world had fallen under a malaise of unoriginality.  The Vizier always “died” and the good guy got the girl.  It was the rules.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Grand Vizier: Part IV

Guest post by Ben Feehan! Check out Part III here if you missed it last time.

~~~

“What have we here?”  The Vizier clasped his hands behind his back and paced around the figure dangling by one arm from the troll’s enormous grey-green fist.  The troll was staring out across the room from under veiled lids, its moss colored lower lip sagging to reveal jutting canines the length of a man’s forearm.  Despite ambulating on a pair of legs the thickness of tree trunks and with knuckles that left ruts behind, it managed to look depressingly bovine.

The troll’s enormous brown eyes swiveled to look at the Vizier.  “This…this…ah…”

From behind one leg a furry, skittering creature appeared, hopping anxiously from one foot to the next.  Its notched bat like ears bobbed as it bent low.  The noise that came from its jagged little mouth was practically a whistle.  “Klonk is brunged you a princess, my effervescent prince.”

The Vizier looked down at the nervous gremlin as it adjusted its loincloth.  His brow furrowed. “Again?  I don’t need any princesses.”

The gremlin’s beady green eyes flicked sideways.  Its nostrils flared.  “Really?  Can we eat it?  Oh, please my pungent master? ”

The trolls eyes flicked open, and a large drop of something wet and slobbery made a splatting noise on the marble. “That…that…that…”

“Would you please?”  A crimson figure stepped out of the shadows, its face swathed in red silk.  This was Bladesinger.  Sometime before serving as the obligatory mid-tier practice dummy for The White Knight, Prince Charming, Goodman Thief, Wandering Jack, and half a dozen other standard heroes, they said Bladesinger had been a dashing mercenary cum bard.  At this point however, his general lack of lips and nose, along with more scars than a cocker spaniels favorite rawhide, had resulted in a less than pleasing appearance.  Still, he wore his mauled arms bare, his three and four fingered hands often resting on the hilts of the matching swords which curved away at both sides.   If Carlisle was the Viziers standard ugly sidekick, then Bladesinger was the mandatory sneering lieutenant. “I lost my ear with the last time.  I liked that one too.  Only one I had left.  You ever try to wear a respectable mercenary ear-ring with no ears?  Downright embarrassing.”

The Vizier looked at the dangling girl.  Like most princesses that passed through his Hall of Midnight she was fantastically beautiful.  Long golden hair framed a heart shape face with cornflower blue eyes, full lips, and a celestial nose.  Also like most princesses, she had unbelievably managed to survive being dragged up the side of a volcano by an eight foot monster without so much as fraying the hem of her sweeping pink gown.  She was glaring at him indignantly.  “Aren’t you supposed to be stroking my hair and making creepy comments about my undying beauty?”

The Vizier looked at Bladesinger, who shrugged. “I dunno.  Seems normal enough to me.  Law of averages.  Last one had red hair. One before that was a brunette.  You had that one fairy princess awhile back with the blue hair.  I guess you were gonna get a blond eventually.”

Carlisle cleared his throat and took a slow shuffle forward. “Shatishtically shpeaking, mosht prinsheshes are in fact fair haired.  I believe thish one is fairly average, my lord. Pink ish alsho a poor color choish. Washes out the shkin dreadfully.”

Bladesinger sniggered as the Vizier stroked his goatee. He looked down at the gremlin again. “Where did you find it?”

“It was wandering in the woods, my aromatic lord.  Near the evil cannibal hermit’s house.  The one across from the Evil Temple of Grahalaloo.”

“What were you doing in my evil forest?” The vizier glared at the princess. He flexed his fingers for effect. “Where are your friends?”

“I won the contest!” The princess looked confused.

“Is that the one where everyone else gets eaten by the giant spiders?  One of those process of elimination sort of things?” Bladesinger crossed his gruesome arms.  Beneath the scar tissue they bulged.  “I never did like those.  So subjective.  I mean really, anyone could win.

The girl glanced sideways. “You have giant spiders?”

Bladesinger continued. “A spider has at least four eyes. You’d think what with being able to see twice as well, he’d have left us with something useful.  Like a cow.  You can eat a cow. ”

The gremlin threw up a furry hand and hopped on one foot. “Maybe it was a variety act sort of thing.  A little singing, a little dancing, a little bit of pie eating. The ones with the biscuit crusts? Yes? Yes?”

“That…that…that…”

Carlisle shuffled his feet. “If I am not mishtaken my lord, I believe thish unfortunate creature may have won the Bi-Annual Many Lands Prinshess Pageant. Fairesht in all the land ish to be reshcued by Prinsh Charming.  It ish an ancient tradishon, my lord.”

 The Vizier sighed. “Of this I am aware.  I thought they were going for more of the abused second sister thing these days though. We always let Evil Stepmother handle this.  When did princesses come back?”

“Yeah.”  Bladesinger managed to look indignant behind his mask.  “Last year it was the sheltered female alchemist and librarians.  There was a whole category on letting your hair down from a bun.”

The homunculus folded his mismatched hands. “Maidensh and Dragonsh predicted it would be prinsheshes thish year, my lord.  It wash in the winter edition.”

Bladesinger snorted.  “It also said warg fur boots would be in, and that was a total bust.  Last time I let that poof tell me how to dress, let me tell you.”

The vizier looked at them both blankly.

The girl sighed. “Look, do you have a turret room? “