23 February, 2009

Gren post 6

Finghus Bent was now standing in the stationery alcove. He didn't need any more parchment. Quite the opposite, he wished he could get rid of a large portion of the parchment in his hands. He dumped it on the stone counter, and began leafing through it, occasionally looking up at the dozens of slots and mouseholes full of various different types of stationery. He appeared to be comparing what he found as he leafed through his pile to the stationery above, as though he needed to find something that matched in some way.
Of course, all he actually studied when he looked up were the patterns of cobwebs and the wormholes in the wood. He was sorting his papers into those he could actually take into the Under-Manager's office, and those he would have to hide somewhere. The idea of simply waiting a bit and then going back to his desk was out of the question. Now that he had said he was going there, he would have to do it. He looked at the cobwebs again. One was actually a spider web. He suddenly imagined a spider large enough to fill one of the mouseholes.
What he had found today, the shipping record from Tobin and Sons, Limited, was a valid reason for seeing the Under-Manager. Of course, it wasn't the Grand Test shipment he thought was in error, but the other record. The most the over-clerk would hear would probably be that he had indeed went to the office of Admonast Fenn, and had indeed talked with him about some record having to do with a Grand Test entry. All well and good then.
All his parchments were sorted now. The random handful of files and the bean harvest record were separated out, and he had put them into the back of another file. He wouldn't have to show Fenn all of them, and it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable for him to be carrying around another file.
He couldn't believe how calm he was now. Was he really that calm? Sometime while he was standing here at the stationery counter, his sense of reality had returned to normal. He couldn't pinpoint the moment now, but it was almost as though he had awoken from a dream, and slowly come around to find himself standing here. No, it certainly hadn't been a dream. There were the files here in his hands. He was ready to walk to Mr. Fenn's office.
He looked at the windows in the door and walls of the elevated office at the back of the room through which he was walking. He walked with purpose, and lacking the common pauses and stops of a typical transit of a room. The office was three, or perhaps four steps above the rest of the room, and the windows were so dusty as to be almost completely opaque. The desks with their clerks, busy with their work as he walked through them, became merely the background of what he saw. As he came closer, he saw that the window in the door bore only the words "Under-Manager," but no name.
He counted four steps to himself quickly, before he stepped on the first. His hand reached out toward the engraved bronze knob and turned it, the door swinging almost fully open as he mounted the last step.
What had he done?! He hadn't knocked! Good Gods! He froze, dumbfounded.
Mr. Admonast Fenn was a thin older man, his hair a rim of white fringe around the perimeter of his head. He sat at his desk behind a dusty bit of wood and brass bearing his name. He was looking down at a parchment. Without raising his eyes, he said "Yes?"
Finghus Bent looked at the mottled, chalky white skin on the top of Mr. Fenn's skull, and on his hands. It suddenly occurred to him he hadn't practised what he would say. It hadn't even crossed his mind.
"Mr. Fenn." It sounded a bit like a question.
"Yes?," he said again in precisely the same way. His quill made thin, high scratching noises in the silence.
"I was researching the different places, the different files, where I'd need to put referencing notes for this file I was working on." He paused for a fraction, but Mr. Fenn neither stopped writing nor looked up. He quickly continued. "And in one of them I was looking in, I found another record which I thought surely must have something to do with the one I was researching." No, he wasn't being clear at all. He wasn't conveying what he meant.
"The file I found, the related one, to the one I'd been working on, seemed to have something wrong with it. Then I thought it must be the file I'd been working on that was the problem." Still no response. "So... I thought I'd better... show it to you, and..." He smiled lamely, and raised his eyebrows in a sort of 'there it is, don't you know' expression.
Without looking up, and while continuing to scratch his quill across the parchment before him, Mr. Fenn said "Having a bit of trouble with your grammar then, Mr. ...?"
"Bent."
In one smooth motion, Mr. Admonast Fenn deftly placed another parchment over the one on which he'd been writing, put his quill in its holder, and raised his face to Mr. Bent, a wide smile upon it. It was the sort of large, overly gentle, closed mouthed, condescending smile one might give to a child who isn't quite grasping something.
"Don't fret Mr. Bent, I'm certain it isn't your fault. It's the abysmal education system. Now let me see this file of yours, won't you?" He held out one hand.
Finghus handed him the file he had found regarding the Grand Test shipment from Tobin and Sons, Limited. He realised after Mr. Fenn took it that he had probably meant the file having the supposed error. Well, just go with it.
After a few moments looking the parchment over, Fenn said "Mr. Bent, this is a record for a shipment to the Grand Test. The receiving address is within the Akurratu Morvalicus itself." He tilted his head forward a bit, raising his eyebrows. "That's the Imperial Palace in Helios, Mr. Bent."
He thinks I've brought this here because I'm a complete idiot. He thinks I've made a terribly stupid error. He thinks I don't even know what it is.
Fenn continued, saying "You don't think they might have made an error on this, do you?"
"Well, I was concerned about that at first too, but this is the file I think is in error." He held up the piece of parchment he'd originally drawn from his sea of files, and made to set it on the desk. Mr. Fenn took it in hand before it reached the surface. Laying the other file reverently aside, he began carefully studying the parchment.
"You've had this for over a month, Bent. Isn't that so?"
"Uhm... well, that's the date the illuminator had it approved." What?! He hadn't thought about that. What could he say? What could he come up with to excuse this?
"I'm well aware, Mr. Bent, of what the date indicates. But do you know what else it indicates to me Mr. Bent? Indolence. Someone probably wished to see this by now, and they should have been able to. We're relied upon, Mr. Bent, to do our job not only thoroughly, but in a timely manner. We are the only firm in this part of the Old Marches to bear the seal of the Scriptorium Morvalicum, and we bear it proudly, Mr. Bent. People in this area, and many outside it I might add, have, over the years, come to see the firm of Ipsum, Lorem, and Finibus as a watchword in the field of reliability.
"Tobin and Sons, Limited is an important account as well, Mr. Bent. They've been relying on this firm, relying Mr. Bent, since the time of Mr. Finibus himself. You do realise how many centuries that is, don't you?"
"Yes... Yes." Damn it! What do I say?!
Admonast Fenn sighed deeply, pregnant with annoyance. "Well..." He looked over the parchment again quickly. "Whatever led you to believe these files were related in the first place?"
"Well..." A feeble half smile. "They're both with Tobin and Sons, and both the shipments weight the same amount."
"Weigh, Mr. Bent, weigh."
"Uh... Yes" Another feeble smile.
"But they don't weigh the same amount, Mr. Bent."
"Well, actually, you see there on the Grand Test shipment..." He pointed to the spot, despite Fenn's glare. "The same weight's been lined out. It was the same, but then it was lined out, as though... perhaps part of it was removed."
"Or as though it were a coincidental error, Mr. Bent. Even had it remained the same, I feel you've given it too much significance. I would venture to assume, Mr. Bent, that you and I weigh roughly the same amount. Should that lead someone to assume we are the same person?"
"No."
"No. Now, I think it would be best for everyone concerned if you would get back to work. How many more files of this age do you have on your desk, Mr. Bent?"
"Uh... none, I don't think. It's very unusual for a file to be on my desk as long as this one. I always keep up as best I can. The only thing I can think of is that it must have gotten stuck to another parchment, or maybe gotten covered up by someone leaving something else, while I was tracking something down in the files." Fatuous! Fatuous and bootless!
There are a dozen things on my desk a month old, or older. I'll bet he knows it too! And there he sits, gloating on it. Despicable toad! Mr. Who? indeed! He knows who I am, only too well! I'd like to take that quill and jam it into your eye. Scratch, scratch, scratch! How would that be, you obsequious smiling hangdog! Oh, yes, tell me all about how files aren't to linger more than four days, or five at most, on a clerk's desk. I had no idea, you rotting pile of dung! Smile and nod. Nod and smile. Shake shake, oh no, certainly shocking. And you must be exhausted, having to pore over that one leaf of parchment all week, you certainly do know how it is, don't you. Anus! Damn you! Damn you! Damn you! Your eyes pop wide and you clutch your chest. You fall over onto your desk and twitch and spit. Then you don't move at all. Dead! And what would I do? Laugh! I'd laugh and laugh! I would! Damn you!
"That will be all Mr. Bent." Condescending smile.
"Thank you." He reached toward Fenn's desk, his hand anticipating the file with the Grand Test shipment.
Fenn waved his hand away with a tired, perfunctory motion. "I'll take care of this. And this as well, Mr. Bent," when Finghus' hand had diverted toward the possibly mis-illuminated parchment which had started all this.
"You clearly don't have enough time to close this out, and I'll need to contact Tobin and Sons myself anyway, to determine if they have already tried to consult this record, and were unable to do so."
After another uncomfortable pause, in which Fenn continued to watch him, and held the files to himself with an expectant air, Finghus said "Thank you" with a slight smile and stepped out of the office.

Finghus Bent was walking toward his small flat of rooms, the chain of the firm's sign feeling particularly heavy this evening. The sun had just disappeared below the rim of the mountains as he came to the road which ran up into the foothills. He crossed it every morning and every night.
He paused for several moments before crossing, looking westward up the street, watching the crowded, hunching buildings winding up and away into dim blue twilight. That tower in the parchment, the receiving address, was on a small road which branched from this one only a little more than a mile up. He looked forward again, and stepped into the street, his shoes giving off a damp grating noise from the pebbles and old rainwater on the cobblestones.
At nearly halfway across the intersection, he turned his head leftward again, up the road, and saw a dim yellow light come up in one of the high windows, far up the street. He stopped.
It really would be good to be able to put all the referencing notes in the right files. What was the name of the tower? Who lived there? The receiving party would very likely have their own file, if only he knew who it was. Perhaps such diligence would be rewarded. He would certainly get through the files on his desk more quickly, but extra work done on one's own initiative, that might be just the salve for today's wound.
He started up the street, without really deciding to do it. After a few steps he realised he was still out in the middle of the cobbles, and stepped off to the right side, up onto the paving stones. A walk would do him good anyway. It would clear his mind. He hadn't eaten. Perhaps go home first, poke about for something to eat. No, if he went home, he wouldn't leave again tonight. What would happen if he chanced to see Fenn tomorrow, but had no new addendum to their conversation. Conversation! It had hardly been a conversation. No, this would be the only opportunity. It had even stopped raining before he'd left the firm.
He pulled his heavy wool coat tighter around himself, doing it in what he thought would be a dramatically pitiful, yet adventurously endearing way if someone happened to be watching him. How preposterous. He straightened up and let go of his lapels. This was important though. He sighed to himself. Of course it wasn't really important.
He put his hands into the pockets of his coat, and continued climbing upward along the street. It wasn't terribly steep, but after walking up it for a block he turned back to the intersection and could see down onto the slate rooftops of the buildings across the street. He turned back, and looked up to the lighted window again.
He had noticed several other windows fill with glowing light as well, but he concentrated on the one he'd seen from the intersection. It had come up all at once, rather than gradually, so it must be an oil lamp rather than candles.
His mother had had a beautiful oil lamp when he was a boy. It always sat on a high buffet table in their front room, not far from the window. The base was red, not clear like the glass around the flame. He remembered the beautiful swirling red shadows on the buffet, the oil making it shimmer out across the cloths and the dark wood. Patterns of red light. He could watch it for hours. If he nudged the table only very slightly, the patterns of light would swish and swirl. How long had it been since he had just simply watched something for an hour? Years.
He breathed in deeply as he got nearer to the window. No smell of food, though. He could smell it in his mind. The warm, intelligent smell from the kitchen, reaching him and embracing him out in the dark front room as he watched the swirling red light. The darkness and distant roof tiles outside the window drew his thoughts out into the night, and drew his eyes to one of the glowing lighted windows in a building across the street. It looked so warm and inviting. He imagined coming home to that glowing room and smiling at a glowing life, then looked back into the swirling red light.
He was under the window now, and looked up, imagining coming home to the glowing window, with swirling red light, and dark wood, and historic smells inside. He quickly saw his own flat of rooms in his mind, barren and grey, cold. He drove it from his mind vehemently, and continued walking. Yes, their window must have looked like that from outside.
Finghus Bent continued to walk up the road. It was really quite dark now. It could have been anytime in the middle of the night. He watched the reflections of more lighted windows on the wet cobblestones as he walked, the street winding only slightly left or right as it made its way up toward the foothills.
He came to the old Hill Gate, which had now passed its name on to this whole section of the city. Buildings crowded on either side, and it now exerted its presence only as a wide archway, narrowing the road a bit. As he passed under the ancient gatehouse, through the high crumbling tunnel of some forty feet, he stared into the black shadows over him. He kept looking behind and above, and each time he looked ahead again he walked a bit faster. He was sure the ceiling above him was groined and vaulted up above the shadows. Surely nothing could be up there though. Sheer foolishness. By the time he came out the other side, he was nearly running, his deep quick breaths now just visible in the cold air.
He stared back through the tunnel. He glanced up quickly at the ancient windows and ledges of the gatehouse, then back down at the tunnel. Nothing. Ridiculous behaviour. Foolishness. Were vampires totally silent? Stop it! He turned and continued up the street, angling directly back toward the paving stones on the right side. He looked back again. He hurried on. If he didn't hurry, it would be terribly late by the time he got to his flat.
As he neared the edge of the city, the buildings thinned out and became smaller. Tall grass and weeds died slowly in deserted patches between the buildings, grey in the dim light. The massive black shadow of the mountains loomed high ahead. He was sure a mist would rise in the cold tonight, but it hadn't begun yet. He had to use the bathroom desperately now, but was having difficulty finding an appropriate spot. At first, he had wanted to find a shop or inn open, but he hadn't seen anything like that.
A shack up on the right looked completely deserted, and had several high bushes near it, still thick with their leaves crisp and withered. He left the cobblestones and headed off through the dry brittle grass. It came up almost to his knee in places, and made far more noise than he wanted to. He tried to step in the bare patches, but they grasped at his shoes with squishing mud from the earlier rain. The tall bushes scraped their dead leaves on him as he passed.
He looked back to the street. Still too open. He went farther back, crunching now not only in the brittle grass, but in the few dead leaves which had actually fallen into it. Looking back again, it was still too easy to see the street. Perhaps no one could see back into here though. Had he been able to see back this far? A little farther, and he could actually go around the corner of the little building.
How odd that some leaves never fall. The leaves on these bushes were quite dead, but had stayed on when most of the other trees around the city had shed their clothes over a week ago. He tried to pick one off, but it didn't come easily. It moved the little branch too much. Too much noise. He went through, around the back corner.
He began facing the wall of the little decaying house, but then for fear of getting his shoes wet he stopped and faced away from it. The ground sloped slightly away from the old crumbling foundation stones. Looking up, above the bushes which came around the back, he saw the shine of glass. It was a window in another building, some distance away. It was dark though. Dirty. As deserted as this one. Movement in the window? Perhaps it had just been the motion of his eyes. Keeping his concentration on the window, he looked around slightly. No, that wasn't it. He turned his head a bit. He swayed back and forth slightly. No, no movement from that. Colourless cloth hung behind the dirty glass, the folds resolving themselves in thick vertical shadows. They hadn't moved. He was certain. That only left one thing. A reflection. From the street, out in front? Even from the side of the house, maybe?
In his mind, hordes of black shapes descended on him from around the corners of the little building. He quickly closed his pants and backed up to the wall, stepping into some kind of dampness. He disgustedly realised what it was, and stepped sideways toward the corner. He listened. He was at the corner now, and realised his hands were shaking. He heard nothing. He looked across at the window again, then peeked quickly around the corner. Nothing. He jerked his head around, over his left shoulder, to look at the other back corner of the building. Rushing shadows! No. Nothing.
He turned about and backed away from the corner, watching along both walls. The dead dry leaves and twigs sent a shock through his back, and he started forward, rushing more and more quickly through the dry sparse grass, toward the street. He jumped onto the cobblestones.
What noise he had made! What terrible noise! He started back up the street, looking about himself frantically with each step.
There were no houses or buildings at all now, and the road wound back and forth much more. He was truly up into the foothills now, and the strain of going up the steeper incline here had drawn the last of the adrenalin rush from him. Still chastising himself for his stupid behaviour at the little abandoned house, he kept his eyes mostly on the cobblestones. Why hadn't they terraced the road here, or at least put in steps every so often? They could have done that, put steps to the side. That wouldn't interfere with carts. Perhaps there had been, but they were overgrown.
The side road was dirt and overgrown when he finally arrived there. The cobbles of the main road broke and faded off to the right side, where it angled off, up into the northern hills. The main road continued on, ignoring this ill-used offshoot, with it's overhanging branches. Some of the bushes and trees held on to their dead leaves, like the bushes back at that little house. He was sure it was the right one, from the broken old sign. It had been much further than his memory had implied, however. It must be three hours since he'd left the firm. How long since he'd seen lights when he'd looked downhill? They were hidden by the hills now.
If he turned around now, he would have wasted perhaps three hours. No, six! Good Gods but it would be late when he finally got to his flat. Well, it can't be for nothing.
He looked up the side road. It's left side was an overgrown hill, steep and difficult to judge, going up into the darkness. The right side rambled off into the night, and seemed to rise a bit before disappearing. Perhaps more hills off that way, then down toward the city on the other side of them? The moon was very thin, and the light from it seemed to ebb and flow as clouds passed before it. Was the mist just beginning to rise, just at the edge of his vision?
Six hours wasted! An absolutely intolerable waste of time! He walked quickly off the cobblestones and up the side road.
It wasn't long before the road consisted of two muddy wheel ruts amid tufts of dead dry grass. He tried to walk down the middle for awhile, but it was too uneven. He thought the dead leaves would be suitable to walk on, but he received a muddy shoe in response. He eventually resorted to walking on the left side, under the overhanging branches. The dead leaves and dry twigs bothered him, but the darkness on the other side of the road made him too anxious to walk there.
After a mile or more, the sides had changed dramatically. On his right was a steep high hill, a mountainside really, with dry haggard clumps of tall grass and weeds. The bare trees and bushes were less frequent now, and hungrily pawed at his back and shoulders with only dry twigs. He should have been able to avoid them easily. The road was dry hard earth, dusty and cold, with rocks and smooth stones breaking out from beneath, and with the few dead leaves which hadn't been blown away by the highland winds finding their way under his shoes. The left side dropped into a black chasm.
The towering black shadows of the mountains were all around now it seemed, but the shard of moon still fought out from behind the clouds. It lit the mist which was rising now. He had dared to walk within a few feet of the left side of the road for several steps, trying to get an apprehensive look. All he could see was blackness and a few wispy strands of mist, all the way up to the black outline of the mountaintops on that side. He was hugging the right side again now, continuing upward, bearing the occasional grasping branch to stay as far from the edge as possible.
Gradually, something began to resolve out of the mist. It was like a wall, barring the path of the road, but it was still too far to make out clearly. He couldn't see the base because of the mist, but it seemed to go from the mountainside to the edge of the chasm, or perhaps even just past it. As he came closer, the moon broke through again, and stone crenellations appeared high up. Down the face, he could see several narrow windows, shuttered tight with old weather-beaten wood.
He was suddenly possessed of the notion that he was being watched. Watched through the narrow shuttered windows. Watched through the cracks by anxious unseen eyes.
He clumsily shifted his next step up and to the right, and with much slipping of shoes on loose dirt and rocks he began scrambling up the mountainside. His hands went down reflexively, one of them scraping on a rock. As he grabbed for a jutting root from one of the sparse trees, he looked back to the edifice again. The mist near the base had parted somewhat, and he could see a great gate at the base, filled with a massive double door of heavy wooden planks. Monstrous black metal knockers leered down onto the road from each side, indistinct and glinting in the moonlight.
A short thicket of dry bushes promised concealment. He clung to their lower branches as though he might slide back down, though he might have stood here had it not been for the loose rock. He looked through the black net of dry branches and twigs. It must be the tower. He realised suddenly his breathing was fast and loud, and he tried to force it down.
What was he doing here?! Why had he come up here? He looked up at the fraction of moon being swept away by clouds again. What could he possibly hope to find out? He couldn't just walk up there and inquire about the shipment. What did he expect to see, a sign with a name on it?!
He felt a pain in his hand where he had scraped it on the rocks, thin and sharp in his palm, like the whistling bite of a paper cut. He looked down, annoyed, expecting to see a trickle of blood from the scrape.
He saw eyes, black and beady. Claws and teeth, biting, rasping. A dry husk which shouldn't be moving.
A short, loud scream, and he jumped to his feet. He flew backward as he turned, trying to keep his feet beneath him as he went downhill, rocks and dirt flying. He shot onto the road and looked up. A man stood inches in front of him. He screamed again, louder, and flung his arms out, still plummeting.
The man was trying to stop him, or grab him. Get in his way. Get out of his way? Get past! Get away! The man tumbled back, reaching and clawing as he plummeted into blackness. They had been that close to the edge! He had just seen the man's shoes scrabbling on the the edge as he tipped back farther and farther. His run down the hill had carried him that far before he looked up?!
Still running, but down the road now. He saw it in his mind, the mist swirling as the man fell through it into the black yawning chasm. Good Gods! Back from the edge! No, not to the trees, not to the branches!
He ran down the middle of the road, stumbling but managing to keep his legs under himself. It felt like he was falling, plummeting face first down into the mist, his legs merely trying to keep up instead of driving him forward. As he turned left around the first corner, it felt like he would simply continue out into the blackness. He even had the sensation of falling, the curious lack of weight, but he slid around and continued down the road.
He fell when he reached the first of the wheel ruts and dry grass. He lay there panting, watching his breath fog out in great clouds, blowing the grass and dead leaves. He saw the man falling again. Not a tall man. Thin. Wiry. He should have been able to get out of the way. He was trying to grab me though, wasn't he?
Was something standing above him? Behind him? About to rend his back to bits? His head jerked back over his shoulder. Nothing. He leaned up on one arm. The breaths were deeper now, and a bit slower.
The man had a thin mustache over his yelling mouth as he fell backward. No sound came from it. His black brows were crushing down over his small dark eyes. Small, and dark, and set close together.
Finghus Bent stood up between the muddy leaf-filled ruts of the road, staring down into the dead grass. The man's long, thin nose wrinkled up as he clawed for the coatsleeve, barely missing it. The man was very angry at Finghus Bent for killing him.
He shuddered. Had he really shuddered? Was he just being self-consciously dramatic? No, it had been genuine. He had pulled his arm back so the man couldn't grab it. Had he known the man was already falling when he did that? Killed him.
"Killed him."
He looked quickly behind again, and seeing only uncomfortably close mist he hurried again toward the main road. He could see the cobblestones in his mind. Yes, see the cobblestones, only the stones.
When he finally came over the last concealing hill, there were few lights to be seen down in the city. Those few were a great comfort. He smiled, then quickly lost it. What right did he have to smile?
The sparsely populated edge of the city, clinging to the foothills, looked different coming from this direction. Perhaps it was merely the ease of walking downhill, but he didn't feel the expected need to hurry through the area where he had stopped earlier. Someone was walking on the side of the street, but they struck him as completely ordinary. He kept glancing over at them as he passed.
Several other ordinary people walked through his view as he made his way down to the intersection where he would turn. Their shoes made normal noises on the wet cobblestones. Had he seen four? Five? Just coats and hats, cloaks and boots, moving in the dim city. Nothing unusual. It had been supper time when he had been walking up toward the foothills, and that surely explained why he had seen no one then. No one except for the reflection in the window when he had stopped.
Stop. Just walk, don't think. He didn't even know if that had been 'someone.'
He came to his intersection, and with great relief walked casually around the corner, heading left toward his rooms. He was off the road to the foothills now, and much more comfortable. What would he have for his late supper? Bread, yes there was bread. Soup. Yes, soup, or even stew perhaps. A nice warm fire in the hearth, the things falling into the hot water, smell of hot cider, and it would all be much better very shortly.

14 February, 2009

Gren post 5

The illumination he had finally found couldn't be right though. Or rather, it was the one he'd been working on which couldn't be right. This one he'd found in the files was the shipping record for some local wizard's Grand Test entry. Someone named Ephezius. Tobin and Sons had shipped it directly from him to the Imperial Court in Helios. These things were always done with the highest security, and the Court required that the papers must go through an office with the Imperial Seal. Surely the fool illuminating this record couldn't have made a mistake, it was far too important.
Yet there it was, right on the record. The 813 had been lined out. How odd. Could records of a Grand Test shipment have been mishandled? Misfiled? Even mis-illuminated? Unthinkable. It must be the parchment he'd been working on, the shipment from this Hengist fellow, that was somehow in error.
He had written down the various files for which he would have to prepare cross referencing notes, and now he gathered up this latest file he'd just found. He would look through it at his desk and determine how many other places he might have to put his notes. Who should he inform or ask about these possible errors? A creeping feeling of cold dread began to overtake him as he began to ruminate on this question. How long had he been away from his desk?
He turned hurriedly and tipped over a large pile of papers and books. It went to the floor with a sharp dry splash, and a clatter of leather covers, filling the aisle with shuffling noise. He stared at the mess in horror, his eyes wide. Moron. Idiot! He held his breath and listened. Silence. No one about. He carefully stepped around the mess and thanked the Gods he hadn't dropped anything he was carrying. He pinched his eyes and searched around furtively in the gloom, but could see no movement. He imagined the other stacks and piles rising in shambling fury and pointing at him with stabbing parchment fingers.
"Concentrate, don't drop them. Concentrate, don't drop them."
He made his way to a stairwell. His eyes were no longer wide with fright, he realised, so he widened them dramatically, picturing in his mind what his face would look like. He chastised himself for being foolish, and pinched them back into a squint. He could barely see, so he widened them to popping again.
"Stop it. Stop it. Stop it! Stop it! You'll fall down the stairs and drop everything."
He hadn't said that out loud, had he? No, surely not.
Peering under and around the jumble of parchments and files in his hands, he made his way down to the ground level. At one point, when he was forced to find another stairwell to continue down, he passed by a doorway in a remote aisle of another level. The floors in the stacks were laid differently than the rest of the building, and as a result this door was at the top of several stairs, but was itself barely more than half his height. He imagined tiny robed and hooded figures emerging from it, busying themselves in some strange and sinister industry. He pictured himself attacked from behind and dragged away to some soul-chilling doom.
Continually glancing behind his back, he finally found himself at the door with the ancient iron handle on the other side. He stopped before he put his hand on this side of the handle. What would he see on the other side? He turned it, hauled the door open, and went through.
Terror. Cold, bone-chilling horror. An over-clerk stood at his desk, going through his parchments and files. It was as though it wasn't real.
He began walking toward his desk, but not really of any conscious volition of his own. It was as if he was privy to someone else's dream. No, the room about him, the jumble of files in his hands, it all had something too close to the slow progression of reality about it. Perhaps time was moving at a different speed.
Suddenly he was no longer walking, and was at his desk. The over-clerk was looking at him. He was standing there, opposite the chair, holding parchments in his hands. What was this man's name?! Can't remember.
"What's this?" the over-clerk muttered blithely, barely looking up.
He was holding something up vaguely. Parchment. No, he couldn't just say 'parchment.' What was it?! Were his eyes popping wide? No. Good, make sure they don't.
"Here, let me see..."
Excellent, the over-clerk was handing it to him! He had reacted perfectly! Now take it. Don't shake! Now what? Yes, look at it. Quickly, quickly!
It was a record. Of course it was a record, idiot! Calm down, calm down. It was an accounting of how many beans some nearby farmer had harvested. It told how much seed he had planted and how much he had spent. There was a little drawing. It was a sprouting bean sitting on a window sill. More information about the harvest trailed about the page, with another drawing of a scythe sweeping through crops. Idiot. Didn't everyone know you don't use a scythe to harvest beans? There was the date the illumination had been finished and approved. That must be what he was talking about. It was more than three weeks ago.
"This illumination is wrong," Finghus said without taking his eyes off the parchment. "It has to be re-done."
"Why haven't you taken it back to illumination?"
Damn. Yes, why not? Quick, quick.
"I was finding all the files for which I'd need to make reference notes, and there were some loose ends. I've been tracking them down. I found indications of a small land dispute, for one thing, so I need to track down all of those possibilities. It's quite involved really."
Ew! Said 'track down' too many times!
"So... why didn't you take it back to illumination so they could re-work it while you tracked these down?"
Don't look surprised. Smile.
"Well, in the process of tracking them down, I found several others which had been illuminated incorrectly." Yes! Yes! Said like I'm playing my trump card! Take that, you squabbling snit!
His expression remained almost totally immobile. Only his left eyebrow raised ever so slightly.
"You know how it is in illumination. I wanted to make sure I had all the corrections necessary before I took them over there."
Said that with confidence! Too much confidence? He wasn't speaking yet. A pause. Damn, something else! Quickly!
"In fact, one of them seems to be a Grand Test entry. I've only just found it right here," he said, holding the papers a fraction higher.
"Oh really?!" the over-clerk said incredulously.
Oh Gods. You've gone too far. Too far! Stay calm, idiot.
"Yes, quite. I was quite surprised myself. It wasn't easy to find either, I can tell you." He scraped his upper lip with his lower teeth. Damn! Did he see that? "Amazing what can grow from just a little bean, eh?" Small chuckle, wry smile.
All the over-clerk did was squint his eyes, almost as if he was trying to see through Mr. Bent's head as though it were the gloom in the filing stacks.
That still didn't finish it. Waiting. One second. Two. Get away from him!
"In fact, I was just taking it to the Under-Manager. Thank you," he said, raising up the bean harvest file and adding it to the shifting pile in his arms. He gathered up a random handful of other parchments from his desk as he began to step away. A quick smile and nod and he was away.
The over-clerk stared after him for a moment, still squinting, then turned and moved off amongst the other desks. Finghus chanced a quick glance back, and saw him walking in the general direction of the door to the filing stacks. He snapped his attention back before him and walked on, focusing on his goal. He had a quick image of the over-clerk being attacked from behind by small cloaked and hooded figures.

10 February, 2009

Gren post 4

Chapter Two

Mr. Finghus Bent did not particularly like his job. He was a filing clerk, and had been a clerk of various sorts for almost fifteen years, all in this one office. It was a rather large office, and there were several dozen clerks of various sorts and several ranks. The office did not save money by having a small number of people do the jobs of three or four people each. The office saved money by hiring many people and paying each of them very little. In fact, they spent a great deal more on precision quills, quick-drying liquid-resistant ink, and archive-grade-fine parchment than they did on all the clerks' pay combined, although not even the Under-Manager himself knew this.
His fingers were indeed quite bent from his constant writing, filing, sorting, and stamping. He didn't appreciate this rather unfortunate irony however, because the words for fingers and bent sounded nothing like that in High Morvalian, which was the language he spoke. It was not the only language he knew, or had known, but facility with languages was merely one of the many skills he regretted letting slip from his bent fingers over the course of nearly fifteen years of writing, filing, sorting, and stamping.
A large wooden sign hung outside the office, suspended out over the street, with a very skilfully carved and painted image of a quill writing on parchment. This brought two notions to Mr. Bent's rather imaginative, though somewhat singular, mind. One was an image of himself wearing the large wooden sign, its chain around his neck, as he plodded toward the office each morning. The other was the idea that the picture was quite telling, as the hand holding the quill was non-existent.
The office itself was home to the firm of Ipsum, Lorem, and Finibus. It was a very old firm, and among their services was something called The Illumination and Execution of Records. The great seal of the Scriptorium Morvalicum hung proudly, albeit dustily, high on the wall of the large room which held the dozen or so over-clerks. This meant the firm had been approved and endorsed by the imperial government, centuries ago actually, as an official record-keeping, illumination, and transfer office. Certain official documents, and any documents pertaining to the Imperial Morvalian Government itself, had to be processed through an office which had earned this seal. It had also become something of a tradition for some to process anything they felt was important, historical, or momentous through such firms as well, and many a poor couple in this region, desirous of a new family heirloom, saved their money to come to Ipsum, Lorem, and Finibus for their certificate of marriage.
Finghus Bent was, after nearly fifteen years, still retained in the record-keeping section. He had been moved up through various departments over the years, but the dream of breaking into illumination, then perhaps fieldwork, and possibly even management, had completely eluded him. He practised illumination at home in his tiny rooms. Nearly every night he brought out the second-grade parchment and ink he had saved and saved for, and spent hours on serifs, flourishes, vitiforms, and lacework. Morvalian script was intensely complex and somewhat spiky in appearance, but he felt he did a really excellent job. He knew his real weakness was the plethora of tiny, intricate pictures. He just couldn't get faces right for some reason.
Mr. Bent looked at the tiny expressive face worked into the pattern of the illuminated record he had just picked up from his desk. He wasn't entirely certain how long it had rested here amongst the chaos of his papers. It looked like Bland's work, almost definitely. Yes, there was his mark worked into a thorn bush near the bottom. The face belonged, apparently, to an official at Tobin and Sons Cartage, Limited. Probably one of the sons. Yes, there was the signature of Barnabus Tobin, attesting to the accuracy of the finished record.
The Tobin family had been in business for many generations, and were highly regarded. They were the only company in the entire area who would ship or receive from anywhere beyond the main contiguous borders of the Morvalian Empire. In fact, this parchment recorded such a transfer. Some item, or perhaps items, had been received from somewhere beyond one of the Great Gates, in some part of what was officially known as Supernia. This was collectively all the many lands which couldn't be reached by any normal or mundane means.
Specifically, it had come from a place listed on the parchment as Rabenstange. The Tobins had gotten back one of their distant request forms, and it had asked for cartage able to carry 800 pounds. The final weight had been 813 though, and some item had been added at the last minute, much to the annoyance of the arriving workers.
Finghus jerked his head up and snapped his eyes open. How long had he been asleep? He had no memory of a daydream. Cautiously shifting his eyes about in a pretense of glancing about the room, no one seemed to have noticed. Perhaps some tea. Some of the strong stuff from Vermorn.
As he sat back down again he tried to find an inconspicuous place for his cup. How many of the other clerks in the room were thinking him a wastrel for spending time getting tea? He prayed one of the over-clerks hadn't come through while he was up from his desk. Wasn't that the only time one came through though? And the Under-Manager had seen him contending with an over-long hair in his nose just last week. He still wished he could think of some proper way to explain that it was only a hair, nothing more, and he had only spent a scant few seconds on it. His quill was full and wet, after all. Best not to think of it. Saying something might only make more of it. Yes, best to pretend it was nothing, and then it would be nothing. Stop it! Drink some tea and get back to the parchment!
Well, it would clearly need to be filed with Tobin and Sons, Limited. He would need to make several cross referencing notes for other files though. Who had sent the request? Someone with a great deal of money, no doubt, to afford one of the Tobins' Obscuratum Requisitums.
The name shown was Hengist, but that was undoubtedly some retainer. There was the place where they were supposed to deliver it, after getting it back to their warehouse. All the proper notes had been made and illuminated about the proper weight of it, how long it had been at Tobin and Sons, and there when it had gone out for delivery, and where. Records for anything coming in from outside Morvalia Proper had to be very detailed, and of course Tobins always sent such things through the firm. It had been delivered to some unspecified tower he wasn't familiar with, far up in the foothills above the city.
He would just have to do some research back in the filing stacks. Perhaps this was just another excuse to get up from his desk. No, it was indeed necessary to find all the proper places for the little cross referencing notes. If he didn't, and it was found out, there could be serious consequences.
He quickly looked about amid the chaos of his desk to make sure there were no other papers pertaining to this record, then took the parchment with him back into the stacks. He realised, offhandedly, that the parchment could have virtually anything on it, and no one would be the wiser if he disappeared off into the archives for an hour. He was sure others did it. Again, best not to think of it. All he needed was for some over-achieving over-clerk to take an interest, and find something peculiar about his movements here and there about the office.
The ancient iron door handle intrigued him as it always did upon entering the filing stacks. He had never felt comfortable in stopping to look at it, so he had always tried to see more and more of it each time he had to use it. He knew it was a female form, but still wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a mermaid or a naga. A pang of anguish hit him as he had no choice but to put his hand over the handle to open the heavy door.
The filing stacks occupied several levels of one side of the building, reaching from deep down in a fourth or fifth basement (Finghus wasn't entirely sure how deep it went) to a few floors above. At virtually any point within it looked like dark chasms heading off among towering shelves on either side, filled to overflowing with parchments and papers, old wooden boxes, and long file drawers extending back into the shelves. Great chaotic piles of papers and files and dusty ancient books crouched and leaned in the aisles, as though the burgeoning shelves had tried to hold too much, and disgorged part of their contents.
The aisles themselves seemed to follow no grand architectural plan, and although generally straight and meeting at right angles, they often gave one the illusion that they might well wind away into infinity. The stacks were honeycombed with stairwells and ladder openings in odd places, and Finghus found one now to take him down to the first place he had thought to look for more information about the record in his hand. He quickly stopped and went back to the previous one. He had gotten distracted and gone on too long.
Descending down, he thought back over the times when some ancient clerk had gone unnoticed for several days, only to be found mouldering away somewhere in here.
It seemed hours later when he finally found something. After boring into a few widely disparate piles of mouldering parchment and dusty old volumes, he had found a cross-filing reference note that seemed promising. He had followed its circuitous trail around through the stacks, and was now in what he believed was the second level.
What he had finally found, apparently misfiled, was a shipping record through Tobin and Sons, Limited, for an item weighing 806 pounds. They had originally been prepared to ship something weighing 813 pounds, but part of the shipment had been going separately, and this had caused a great uproar apparently. There it was though, 813 pounds. It must be the same thing, but this time being shipped out. The date was only three days after the date on the parchment he'd been carrying around with him.
He was lucky, he thought, to have found and followed this trail in the first place. It was in one of the Tobins' files, while looking for some other references to who might have been receiving the shipment at the tower, that he had happened to see another reference for something weighing 813 pounds. He was certain this couldn't be a coincidence.

07 February, 2009

Gren post 3

Gren awoke to the dry bitter taste of blue astrid. It was quite dark, but she heard nothing. No, not nothing. Silence. Creaking branches, high overhead. Leaves settling.
Had she stopped some of the bleeding before she passed out? The flesh of her thigh had been very pale. She had been sure she must be bleeding inside. She risked a small movement and regretted it, as massive grating pain wracked her body.
She looked down to the hole punched in her armour by one of the great thorny black spikes of the creature's shoulder. There was blood caked all round and below it, some of it still wet. The wound had been fairly deep, a puncture in the abdomen. Someone could survive a wound like that for a long time before they died, but then it had put that gigantic hoof into her. She pulled off her gauntlet and put a finger into the hole gingerly, but only felt clotted blood and solid flesh. Of course, the puncture might be off to the side of the armour breach now.
She began the process of removing her upper armour, made difficult by the seven or eight broken ribs she could feel. The padding inside her back plate was sodden with blood, but for now she would have to continue to lay in it. Letting the heavy pieces rustle down into a cushion of leaves, she conjured up a spark of blue-white light to work by.
After splitting open her heavy tunic, already badly slashed, she could see she had indeed closed the puncture before she lost consciousness. Her colour was much improved, so she must have sealed up the internal bleeding as well, though she had no memory of working either of these magics.
Her first task was to sink her awareness down into her own body, so she might see her wounds as they were from within. The pain in moving was coming not only from her broken ribs. The last blow from the thing's sword had broken her pelvis and her right shoulder blade. Not to wonder her legs hadn't responded well. Still concentrating within herself, she wove her left hand in and out of the air and upon her shoulder in an all-too-familiar pattern, carefully incanting the words. The flesh of her shoulder glowed from within for a moment, like a bright light seen through one's hand.
The rest became easier. After her pelvis was rejoined, she could finally move her legs properly. The ribs eased away the last of the grating pain, and within half an hour the last of the cuts and slashes were closed, though still tender.
She rose up and began to stride out through the leaves, beckoning the light spark to follow beside her. It cast its dim, blue-white light all about upon the leaves below and gnarling limbs above, the shadows shifting eeriely as she walked to the site of the last blows she traded with the thing.
Bringing the spark down with her, she kneeled and studied the prints and leavings. After several moments of searching, she lifted up a brown-red mass smaller than her hand, a few glints of viscous damp reflecting in the light. Two vertebrae. Neck bones from the creature's latest trophy, and the goal of her next-to-last attack.
She stood, hoping the two vertebrae and the connective tissue in her hand belonged to a filing clerk named Finghus Bent. Gren had been tracking this thin man with short grey hair for eight days. His cleaning lady had said Finghus Bent was lean not only of form, but of face as well. Large green-grey eyes. Thin nose. The freshest looking severed head on the creature's belt had shared these features, though its large eyes had been closed and sunken.
Her first desire had been to dispel the dried blood, dirt, and sweat, and then to repair the rents in her armour, but divining the path to the rest of Finghus's body would have to take precedence. She sat down amidst the leaves, her boots meeting sole to sole in front of her, and quickly made a small bed of leaves in the cradle of her arches. She laid the bones upon it and raised her hands palm upward to the gnarling branches overhead which had cradled her earlier. Soft and quiet, almost seeming to come to her ears from within the dark narrow chasms in the thicket-columns, behind the sound of settling leaves, she began intoning the words.
After several minutes of the tiny spark slowly orbiting her, it began to fade. The bones at her feet began to glow faintly from within, a golden-red luminance which slowly gained intensity. Very gradually rising from the bed of brown leaves, the vertebrae rotated slightly. Suddenly, the intensity of the glow flashed, a bright blue-white light igniting from one end of the bones, as though the remaining section of spinal cord had burst into light. After a moment, as the chanting stopped, the light gradually faded to a manageable brilliance. A barely perceptible spider-thread of light continued from it, off into the dark labyrinth of thickets.
Gren rose again and gazed off in the direction of the light thread for a moment. Plucking the bones from the air at her waist, she put them in a pocket of her torn tunic. It was utter blackness around her.
She let the darkness sink into her, relaxing, stretching outward, extending herself into the wood. No branches creaking overhead. Eventually there was dim pale light far above, beyond the tangle of branch and twig, in tiny spaces. The moon, not quite at half yet, was free of clouds away up there.
To find her way back to the little rift of leaves, where she had lain in the thicket, would be perhaps the wisest course of action. She was tired, and though her wounds were sealed and her bones knitted together, they ached terribly and the fatigue from them, the drain on her system, was still there. She needed sleep. Food. Water. It was certainly the course of action she would prefer.
How far was the body though? The longer it proceeded on its path of decay, the more difficult it would be to garner any information from it. There was also the matter of the other one who had been following the lean clerk. There had been two, she was almost certain, though they had been quite skilled at concealing themselves. The one who had just defeated her was one of them. Defeated.
She quickly conjured up another spark of light by which to work, and then dispelled the blood from the sodden lining of her backplate. That was all the strength she dared to spare for comfort, but when she had her armour back on it gave her a familiar comfort of its own. Having transferred the vertebrae to a pouch on her armour, she removed it now and hung it in the air. It spun slightly and burst forth into light, then calmed to a faint blue-white thread. She plucked it from the air, and Gren and her spark trailed off through the thigh deep leaves.

02 February, 2009

Gren post 2

Leaves crunched and rustled under the hooves of Gren's horse. It was mid-winter, but no snow lay on the ground in the midst of the forest. Broken and fallen branches surfaced infrequently here and there amidst the sea of brown leaves and needles, almost as driftwood, as her massive horse waded nearly knee deep. On foot she would be in to the middle of her thigh. The only sound was the crisp and wine-smelling leaves. She had made certain her horse's tack gave not even a creak of leather.

This part of the forest was like a series of great twisting caverns or labyrinthine halls, with wide spaces between dense grey thickets of ancient trees, but roofed over well above by close and ancient branches. The thickets almost seemed to be impossibly wide but short columns, the massive trees pressing together into a single gargantuan form. Glancing upward, the tangled gnarls of the roof extended far above, letting in only a grey and shifting twilight. It was as a great cathedral, impossibly large and intricately carved. As she looked up, a single light brown leaf, brittle and delicate, wafted downward. It chanced to pass one of the rare and tiny shafts of light, and was illumined, seemingly almost from within, by a golden light. As she watched it, still aware of the forest around her, it seemed to hang in the air for a moment, glowing like floating amber. She felt her horse breathe beneath her. The leaf passed out of the light, instantly metamorphosing to the delicate wisp it was before, but somehow now possessed of an internal power.
Another brittle leaf crunched up ahead. The tiny sound, which even her horse hadn't heard, came from around the corner of one of the gigantic thicket-columns in front of her. Leftward, about fifty yards away. With several quick motions in the air before her, almost as though she were manipulating some unseen weaving, she quickly laid an enchantment over herself. White-golden light, almost invisible, traced the patterns of her fingers and seemed to briefly move of its own before fading wholly from the air. The leaf falling from above her slowed its descent instantly, nearly stopping in its twisting flight.
A massive creature stepped from behind the trees, nearly twice her height and almost as wide, wading through the leaves. She knew it was moving impossibly fast for its great bulk, although it now seemed slow to her. It made the immediate impression of a walking museum of arms and armour, as though some great force had gathered up the displays and formed them into a massive juggernaut, shot through with hulking power.
She quickly cast again as, in the background of her vision, she watched its twin-hoofed leg rising out of the leaves for another step, coal-black horns sprouting like thorns from diverse places in its rough ochre flesh. As the enchantment took hold, her heavy armour suddenly felt light. Preternatural might coursed through her muscles.
She leapt from her horse, bringing her leg over the saddle and pushing off with her foot. She bounded once across the leaves as though they were solid, launching herself at the creature and drawing her sword in mid-air.
Flying over its head, she blasted a staggering cascade of sword blows against its plate-strapped arm and at the massive weapon it had brought up against her. It was a long complex polearm, a mass of blades and axe heads all along its length. He wielded it with stunning speed, piercing her heavy armour and slicing deep into her chest and thigh.
She flung blood into the air in an arc of glowing droplets, caught by a beam of sunlight, as she continued her spin over his head. She twisted laterally in mid-spin, firing a thundering kick into the back of his massive horned helmet. His head was driven forward into his own weapon, which, weakened and scored by her sword blows, snapped in two.
Grabbing for one of the massive black spikes, emerging thorn-like from his knobbed and stinking hide, she tried to swing around to bring her sword to bear on his back. He shouldered another great spike into her abdomen, flipping her in the opposite direction. She spun with the momentum, bringing herself down and around to land behind him, facing him, blood pouring down her dark armoured kilt.
She immediately sent her sword, a narrow sweeping recurved blade, slashing through his mighty horned tail, as thick as her horse's neck. It bit not nearly as deep as she had hoped, but sent a gout of blackish green ichor into the air. As she did this, with amazing speed he sent one of his great double-hoofed feet, as large as Gren's head, slamming back into her abdomen. The blow sent her flying across the shrouded glade into a tree, the details of her armoured back pressing deeply into the bark before she slid down into the leaves.
She laid there, her back against the tree, and tried to breathe. She knew at least four ribs were broken. Her long curling dark hair was plastered down with blood onto one of her huge pauldrons, the large, ornate armour that flared out over her wide shoulders.
He turned toward her, now holding an eight foot spear. She rose to her feet, pushing off the tree. The spear flew toward her with terrific force. In one fluid motion she ducked and sidestepped, tipped the spear as it flew past, and catching the butt of the shaft, sent it flying back at him. This shocked him, and it caught him full in the shoulder, sinking deep with a sliding thud.
Gren cast as the spear left her hand, faintly glowing traceries dancing in the air before her. She fought the distracting thought that she might now be getting closer to death than she had ever been. A violet-white light lit her face as though she had opened a door onto a night sky filled with cold mysterious stars. The complex lacework of linear patterns and runic designs reflected, glowing, from the dark metal of her heavily chased breastplate, masterfully rendered to emulate her own massive breasts. The swirling patterns plunged down into her gauntleted hand, the shadows and reflections shifting upward and transforming into an internal glow. She charged forward like a white-hot violet-tinged flame.
He was still pulling at the haft of the embedded spear as he drew back and opened his mouth impossibly wide. Inside the great rings of his curving fangs, more teeth seemed to quickly emerge. Beginning just inside his rows of teeth and working further and further down his cavernous throat, row upon row of knife-like fangs sprouted forth from his flesh. With a sudden great cough, these hundreds of fangs leaped out at Gren like a cloud of ivory hornets.
She motioned passionately with her hands as she charged, calling upon the forest to protect her. The knee-deep leaves rose in a great curving wave in front of her, filling the close air with their wine-sweet scent. Hundreds of fangs flew into the leaves with a force that would have shredded her, but the thickness of leaves let only a handful of them pass.
Gren burst through the other side of the leaves as they began to fall back to earth. He had just let go the haft of the spear as she flew into him again. Just before she reached him, swords flew out of their scabbards and into each of his hands. In his right was a massive curved blade that would have been difficult for a human to wield even with two hands, and into the other came a smaller narrow blade with wicked saw teeth along the back.
She grabbed the still-embedded spear and levered herself upward with it, bringing her left leg up and over the shaft to blast repeatedly into his helmet. He swung back over his head and down toward her with his great blade, while stabbing from below with the thin saw-tooth. She slowed the upper blade with a kick to his arm as she parried the stab from below with her sword. The thrust went wide, but sawed through her armour and into her side as it slid past.
She wrenched on the embedded spear, working the nerve nexus she hoped was there, as she twisted her sword and brought it up with as much force as she could muster. The blade bit into the saw teeth, and dragged the weapon out of his weakened grip, shooting it upward with a sudden snap. Her sword continued upward into the great curved blade whistling down toward her, barely stopping it.
Concentrating both feet on his helmet now, it finally went backward, tearing his flesh with it. Now roaring with an unearthly bellow as he drew back the massive sword for another blow, he latched onto her back with his free hand.
Again, he directed his gaping maw at her. She had known better than to expect him to try to pull her off with his claws, but as he crushed her toward his mouth, her powerful legs pressing back against the top of his breastplate, the fangs she expected to appear in his throat never emerged.
He began to inhale deeply, his eyes bulging with effort. A moaning whine began to grow in the air, and she felt an immense pull on her body. Not just the surface, as in a strong wind, but throughout every depth and fibre of her form. It seemed as if her vision itself was being drawn down into his jaws. She began to feel something ripping from within her, as though the filaments of her very being were being stretched to tautness, like roots about to snap.
Gren could feel and see part of herself flowing toward him. Between her body and his mouth she could see the violet-white corona of her enchantment. It reached him first, and a massive shock ripped into him, brilliant light erupting in his face and piercing into his throat.
The root-tearing sensation stopped abruptly. She was deeply shaken, but quickly planted one foot next to the spear wound as heavily as she could and jumped off the creature's collarbone. Gren still held the spear, and she hauled it out of the wound as she flew away from him. She spun about in mid-air and launched it back at him, presaging his quick side-step to send it sinking into his right femoral artery. She hoped the blood vessels were where they should be.
She had sacrificed her landing to the spear cast, and piled into the deep leaves halfway across the wide bower from the demon. Leaves flew into the air all about the crater she made, ploughing to a halt on her back in a thigh-deep trench of fallen umbrage. Through a veil of falling leaves she watched the creature quickly recover itself from the unexpected shock, the saw blade sword smoothly snapping through the air back into his hand, and his now bare face fixing her with a glare of concentration.
She realised, with genuine surprise, that she had done nothing as the leaves had settled back around her. A vision flashed in her mind of pulling the leaves over her body in a thick mass, like a great blanket.
Her face burned in a line across her cheek, almost like a cat had scratched her. Yes, blood trickled there, she realised. She could taste a dry metallic tang on her tongue. The poison, it must be. There were three fangs from the thing's blasted cough embedded in the armour of her abdomen and thigh, pinning it to her flesh there.
She coalesced the pain and cold shock into a feeling of energised density in her legs, and sprang into a crouch, whipping her feet under her before she could fall back to the earth. She brought her sword to ready, not with a stylish flourish or fancy brandish, but as quickly and forcefully as possible, just as she always did.
The corona of violet-white light about her was gone now, dispelled as it had apparently protected her from whatever the beast had intended to do. She hoped it had also done what she intended, allowing her kicks to crack the bridge of his nose and open the bone sutures that she hoped ran back along the inside of his eye sockets. The success of what she planned now would depend on it.
He was pulling on the spear in his thigh as she charged. He immediately gave up on getting it out and snapped the shaft. Brackish blood poured down it, smoking on the splintered wood. Without changing her focus, she cemented in her mind the position of one of the severed heads secured to his armour at the waist. It was clearly the most recently taken.
Gren leapt up at him, snapping her torso sideways before her second foot left the ground to send her into a helical spin. She found the thaumaturgic reserves within her to hang aloft for a fraction longer than should have been possible, and his mighty curving blade whistled under her, just below her head. She was inverted now, and still spiralling. Her blade whipped in at him, but not as he had expected. Her strike seemed an error to him as the tip of the thin sword sliced inches away from his midsection.
Her spiral completed as she slammed into him, landing heavily with her left boot on the shank of spear protruding from his thigh like a ladder rung. She sprung up from it, vaulting forward over his other flashing blade, and flipped her sword to a reverse grip to pull his evasion the wrong way. Twisting her waist to pour power into the sweeping strike, she drove her blade at the bridge of his nose.
Her blade bit through the rough flesh and sank into the crack, but instead of cleanly slicing a horizontal section through his skull and halving his brain, it came to an abrupt stop. Her momentum carried her over his shoulder and twisted his head toward her, dragging the blade out along the fracture and slicing into both the wet round orbs of his eyes.
An explosion of guttural alien words ripped from his throat as he spun to catch her still in mid-air with his curving man-tall blade. His stroke came from below and blasted into the heavy armour of her back plate, sending her smashing up through the lower branches above.