The Assayer

Every year the rickety old cart trundled into town around the time of the longest day. The horse always differed, but plodded along at the same pace as the prior year. No one quite knew who The Assayer was. They just came by, whispered into the ear of the mayor and came to wait in the town square. The children of the village were then paraded past for inspection.

They didn’t know what the visitor was looking for. Under the tangle of grey hair and thick brown robes spotted with the stains of travel they didn’t know if it was a man or a woman. They never spoke out loud. Just a shake of their head and motioning for the next child to step forwards.

Old Garton was seventy-nine. This made him the oldest man in the county, and even he could recall summer days as a child when The Assayer would ride into town and peer at each child, searching for something in a single look. Over the years it had become a festival day, with stalls gathered around the town square and something of a distraction from the usual chores of tending the surrounding farms.

It was a little different this time. Towards the end of the line of children The Assayer was about to move one on before they stopped. Reaching out, they pulled themselves closer to the child, a single blue eye visible in the mass of hair as they stared at the youngest son of the town butcher.

With a nod, they waved the others in line off.

The party that night was like none that had been seen before or since. Singing, dancing, drinking and feasting kept them up till dawn.

When the sun rose, The Assayer and their cart was no where to be seen. Neither was the butcher’s youngest. They sent out search parties, they posted notices, they eventually waited for the next longest day of sun.

Neither were seen again in the land.

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Hirsute

The small band of warriors kept their distance from the beast’s fallen form. Taking the moment to catch their breath gave them the chance to watch the creature take its last movements, arrows riddling its sides with the wounds oozing yellow blood.

“Shall I recover the arrows?” The youngest of their troop asked while wiping the sweat from his forehead.

The captain placed a hand on his shoulder. “Not this time. Do not be fooled by its hirsute form, the bristles are loaded with venom.” He nodded over to one of the older warriors. A scarred woman slipped a cylindrical container off her back and pulled a pair of thick leather gloves from it. Rolling the sleeves up to her forearms, she made a slow approach flanked by two spear-carriers.

The youngest member watched as the spear-carriers slipped to the sides to jab with the tips of their blades. No signs of life from the beast gave her the confidence to approach and remove their arrows. With the missiles clear she was free to begin harvesting the choice dark bristles, taking care not to squeeze the venom out as she removed them.

“Captain, why do we gather the bristles if they’re so dangerous?” He asked after several minutes spent watching. The look his captain gave him was one he knew well. It was the ‘use your brain’ look. Musing, he eyed the beast. “To use on creatures our weapons are ineffective against?”

“That is correct. There are other uses for it too, and killing a number of them now stops us from getting overwhelmed in the future.” His captain explained. “A fine balance must be maintained.”

The young man continued to watch as his fellows plundered the caterpillar for its toxic hair. Every so often the fairy’s eyes darted towards the round fake eyes of the beast, a shudder running through him at the almost alien-face marked with warning colours. That face would probably haunt his dreams that night.

Knowing Fire

“To use fire, you must know fire.”

The crackle of the flame. The flickering tendrils of fire licking hungrily at the air. The warmth radiating from the mass of energy. The burn of its bright light on the eyes.

These were all points he considered, laboured over in his mind as he built up the mental recreation. Fires he had bore witness to across his lifespan came together in an amalgamation of the element, reinforcing the image with the feel, sound and smell of combustion. Sweat tricked down his forehead, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he held the image firmly in his head.

Past scents of smoke came to his nose, smelling as fresh as when the memory was first created. His skin prickled with warmth. Deeper inside, his body tingled with the build up of will. To Spellsay was a complicated affair, given over to many years of practice. What the skilled passed off with ease took years of work to conjure. You had to picture clearly in your mind what it was you wanted to do. And to picture it required experience to fuel the imagination. What you imagined was made manifest by your will. The will required for even the simplest of tasks was monumental. Like a muscle, it grew with training and was hindered by strain.

His body bristled with the charge of willpower, radiating from deep within to infuse his entire being. The last step to releasing it was to say the word. Building an association between word, image and action was the key to quick spellsaying. So he chose his word carefully.

Ignite.”

The pieces of wood in the fireplace popped as fire overtook them, soon filling the space with a roaring fire to banish the winter chill.

“You know, I could have just used a match and fire-lighter.” A woman said from behind.

“Practice makes perfect.” A man replied, before a hand was placed on his shoulder. “You did good, Son. That’s a respectable fire. Keep up your studies, and you’ll join me in the force one day.”

An Extra Cupcake

It was when he was clearing up from dinner that he noticed it. The smart new dustbin they got earlier that day from some Swedish store in the city came packed with enough features that it needed to be plugged in. From odour neutralisers and leak detection to ‘change me’ notifications and recycle tips. The messages were delivered on an LED screen built into the top of the chrome cylinder that occupied a corner of the kitchen.

The bin displayed a message as he scraped the scraggly remains of the Chinese leaf salad off the plate, too little to warrant taking it out to the compost bin.

[Thank You!] The message went. It was actually thanking him for using it. Shaking his head in amusement, he mentioned it to his partner and moved on with the washing up. Still, over the days and weeks following the purchase, it nagged at him. Every time, no matter what it was, it would always thank him for the rubbish.

It all came to a head one Sunday afternoon when he was doing some baking, his choco-fudge-frosted choccy chip cupcakes. A rare, but delicious, treat. He’d always make six. One for him, one for his partner, and one each for their parents.

Except this time, he made a seventh.

“Is there someone I don’t know about?” His boyfriend joked, strong arms wrapped around his waist as he finished the frosting on top.

“Nah, it’s just… you’ll think I’m crazy for what I’m about to do.” He replied, looking rather sheepish as he picked up the extra cupcake. His partner regarded him with a curious look, an eyebrow arched as he watched him put the rubbish in the bin.

To the boyfriend’s horror, he put the seventh cupcake in afterwards. “You are crazy, wasting a perfectly good cupcake!”

“Look at the display.” He smiled.

[Thank You!]

Looking between the bin and his lover, he just shook his head. “You are a weird, strange man.” He sighed, before just having to chuckle. “You’re also very sweet, though.”

 

Author’s Note – Inspired by Jae Rose’s 3WW entry, Trash

Vertex

The vertex of the Rossabel Corporation building provided the perfect loitering spot for her from the torrent of rain lashing across the city. Tucked into an alcove near the helicopter pad, she peered out across the cityscape. Lights from windows and advertising pierced the smoky veil that had settled across the city, her keen eyes able to make out landmarks further than most could through the smog.

There was little to do up there other than watch the city. Her MP3 player was out of charge, her phone for official business only, and her e-book reader left in her other bag at home. Dressed in loose-fitting trousers and a tight black top that showed off plenty of arm, it was more the rain she was sheltering from than the murky humidity that had come with it.

Idly, her tongue probed against one of her long fangs, tip flicking around the tiny indentations hiding the venom canals that delivered a potent anti-coagulant and analgesic to her prey. The iron-tang from her last meal nary an hour ago was still present, causing her to pop a stick of gum in her mouth.

Her sharp ears picked up the helicopter in the distance, well attuned to the distinctive sound of her employers mode of transport. She idled away from the rain for a few minutes more before the wind started to buffet against the area. With impressive acrobatics she flipped and twisted herself up onto the pad to meet Mister Rossabel.

As the doors slid back, she took the umbrella offered to shelter him from the rain. He stood besides her, tall and muscular with a sharp taste in suits and cologne. He offered her his usual friendly smile, taking one of her hands to lay a kiss on.

“Maddy, you look as alive as ever.” He quipped, musing for a moment before adjusting the short crop of blonde hair she had. “We’ll be heading down to the car, I have a business meeting to attend to at a restaurant. Have you eaten, yet?”

“Before I started, Mister Rossabel.” Maddy smiled to him. “I’d not make the mistake of the one who slipped away to bite someone in the bathroom, leaving you unguarded.”

“Of course you wouldn’t. You have a good head on your shoulders.” He replied, starting his walk to the elevator lobby, her at his side with the umbrella held aloft.

“Are you expecting any trouble tonight, Mister Rossabel?” She asked as a matter of interest as they reached the doors, letting him step inside before closing the umbrella and joining him. Her boss was a man of superstition, and to bring his umbrella, open, into a building? That was unthinkable.

“After that excellent bit of work you did at the docks, Maddy? I think the Clan may be looking for some payback. But, that’s what happens when you’re at the top.”

The Dragon

The dragon screeched in pain, its head lashing from side to side on its long neck as a streak of pain ran through its body. The green-scaled beast scratched at the sides of its lair with its wing-mounted talons, belches of fire and bursts of steam coming from nostrils and mouth alike.

The Barbarian hung up his axes on his belt, looking a little shocked. “Didn’t think this would be the job.”

Turning to the Barbarian, the Wizard spoke with an ashen face. “I’ve got a rudimentary understanding of Dragontongue and she’s saying-”

“That’s a she?” The Rogue quipped. “Would not like a blind date with her.”

The Priest, The Druid and the Paladin shot the Rogue a look as the Wizard continued.

“She’s saying she’s in labour. And swearing. Lots of swearing.” The Wizard spoke, taking a deep breath before she continued. “She says we can take what both hands can carry from her treasure if we swear a sacred oath to leave her be while she births her young.”

“I thought dragons gave birth to eggs?” The Paladin asked, confused.

“Her species does live births… which explains why so many cattle went missing recently. She was stocking up on food, for herself and the whelp.” The Druid mused, fingers running through his carefully-plated beard.

The Dragon belched flames, and the Wizard flinched. “She’s impatient to know the answer.”

The Rogue, the Barbarian, and the Priest eyed the vast wealth of gold and gems nearby.

“I could do with the capital to invest in a little business. Entirely legitimate, of course.” The Rogue coughed.

“Could send the funds back home to the Clan.” The Barbarian mused.

“The donation would care for the sick and injured at my home temple.” The Priest intoned. The Paladin stared at him, and the Priest stared back. “Think of the good you could do with that money, properly distributed.”

The Paladin thought on that, and the situation at hand. To attack a mother in pregnancy, even if that mother was a dragon… and the gold could buy new livestock for the townsfolk. With a heavy sigh, he nodded. “Fine.”

The Wizard looked at the Druid. “I will… you?”

“No.” The Druid spoke, earning shocked expressions and a glare from the dragon. Approaching her, he rolled up his sleeves. “I will however, take the gold as payment for my services in midwifery. I have not birthed a dragon whelpling before, but I have assisted in the birth of livestock and centaurs. If you will have my assistance, that is?”

The Dragon eyed him warily, before looking to the Wizard, giving a snort a few moments later.

“She says yes.” The Wizard replied, before rolling her sleeves up too. “You’ll need me to translate, and it would be a fascinating study.”

“I’ll help.” The Priest added. “After all, it is a duty to help those in need, right my friend?” He said, looking to the Paladin.

The Paladin sent a long-suffering look towards his friend, before nodding. “You’re right.”

Rogue and Barbarian looked at each other. “We’ve not got much choice now, have we?” The Rogue asked.

The Barbarian flashed a big grin to his team-mate. “Honestly? I don’t think there was a choice to make.”

Scavengers

They approached with caution. Caution was their modus operandi these days. One, a young man nearing his twenties, was clad in motorcycle riding gear, helmet on and a crowbar held tightly in one padded glove. The other, a teenage girl, was dressed in army surplus gear and carried with her a modern, sleek bow.

Their target was a small farmhouse set amongst the trees, set off a quiet byway. Archie, as she said to call her, hated doing this. It set her stomach aflutter when they had to search a house. She always hoped for nothing, then for zombies, and only then after all that for the living. Misunderstandings could be lethal.

Danny, on the other hand, was the more confident of the pair. Archie would say he was driven by his desire to find his girlfriend, insistent that she and her family would still be alive. But to get up to Scotland, where he said they’d be, would require supplies. Each house became a stepping stone, carrying at least a few things that would get them further.

Archie didn’t particularly care. She just didn’t want to be alone. So she stuck with him for now.

“Arch, stay there.” He called back, before pushing his visor up. “HELLO!” He called, banging his crowbar against a worse-for-wear looking tractor. The sound rang out across the yard.

Notching an arrow, Archie kept her string loose as she swept her gaze across the area, senses focused for any sign of life or undeath.

Danny repeated his actions again, then one more time. Each bang from his crowbar brought flakes of paint off from the tractor. After a few more moments, he waved her closer. “Alright. Stick close, we’ll go for the kitchen, then move out from there. Don’t wander off.”

“I’m not stupid, Danny.” She sighed, giving him a look. Just visible with his visor up, he flashed her a knowing grin.

“I know you’re not, but it freaks you out. So try not to bolt.”

She hated it when he was right.

They moved to the front door, Danny putting his hand through the glass to reach for the lock with practised ease. He called out again. “Hello? Sorry about the door, but if there’s anyone in here, let us know and we’ll back off. We don’t want to get shot.”

Archie tensed up as she waited. The guttural moan that came was rather relaxing. Good old predictable zombies. It shuffled out of a room, limping towards them. Archie turned away just in time to hear the sickening crunch sound of a crowbar being driven through bone.

“Let’s get moving, Arch. But stay focused,” He paused as he pulled his weapon clear, “room to room sweep so we know it’s vacant.”

Note from the Author: Today’s 3 Word Wednesday words are: Focused, Pair, Vacant.

Super-able

I watch them perform, running on the track and jumping in the field, and I cannot help but think ‘I can do better.’

But I cannot.

When I asked the coach if I could perform, he blinked at my proposal and then barked a short laugh. His face was incredulous until he saw I was serious. He coughed uncomfortably, humming and haring as he tried to explain himself.
“The Olympics is about human performance at its peak.” He said weakly, eyes darting left and right.

“So I’m not human, is that it?” I hissed, drawing myself up with arms crossed over my chest. I could feel the bunches of synthetic muscle fibres in my arms and legs tightening up, anger in my mind flooding the microprocessors that controlled my limbs with rapidly cancelled commands to lash out.

His face fell, cheeks losing colour as the blood retreated away from the possibility of being spilt. “I- I didn’t mean that, I mean that… well, you couldn’t compete in the paralympics you know. That’s for the disabled. And the Olympics are for the able-bodied. And you? Well…”

I stared with hard eyes at him, watching sweat bead on his forehead, a nervous trickle fleeing down the side of his face. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat as he gulped air in to fuel the next sentence.

“You’re super-able. I mean, the cybernetic legs you have would easily smash the world record, but that puts you at a huge advantage over the other, non-enhanced athletes.” The coach said apologetically, words accompanied by a weak shrug of his shoulders.

He was right, of course. I’d done the events in practice at the lab where my new limbs were developed. One hundred meters in five seconds. My legs carried me at forty-five miles per hour, my reinforced spine holding my pose perfect and my computer-linked brain sending corrections to the co-processors that regulated my gait and stride. I didn’t even break a sweat.

“I know you want to do your country proud, but… maybe in a few years, when there are more like you able to compete, and you can have your own games.” The coach smiled, perhaps even a little sincerely. “Until then, all I can say is watch and practice hard.”

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to compete. The nations of the world will see me perform at levels above and beyond that of non-cyborgs. Until then, my audience is the technicians and scientists that rebuilt me to be something more than human, watching with proud eyes as I run faster, leap higher and throw further than ever seen.

– 0 –

“Polo?” SDI Carl North offered the pack to his partner, DS Linda Roberts. The pair were sat in her Ford Mondeo, the engine having just stopped.

“Maybe later.” Linda replied, drawing her keys out of the ignition.

Carl popped the circular mint in his mouth and tucked the pack back into his jacket. “Best take a look at this. Wouldn’t want our victim to go anywhere.”

“If he went over that cliff, I don’t think he’ll be walking anywhere.” Linda replied, slipping out of the car. The local police had already set up a cordon and were speaking to witnesses at the small beauty spot on the coast near Hastings. She watched her grim-faced partner wander over near the edge of the cliff to where a small white dog was sat on its haunches, peering across the ocean. He sat down besides the dog and petted its head. With a sigh, she went to find the officer in charge.

She found her nursing a cup of tea by a police van. “DS Linda Roberts,” she introduced herself, “My Partner, SDI Carl North’s over by the scene of the crime.”

“SIS are here?” The policewoman blinked. “I’m not sure why.”

“You know what SIS are like, they’ll jump on any case that interests them. What’s going on? Much of what I heard was rather sketchy.”

“I’m betting suicide or stupidity.” The woman in charge replied. “We’re collecting witness statements at the moment, but we’re getting a lot of consistent information. Male, mid-thirties. Rucksack over one shoulder, bouquet of flowers in his hand, some people are saying he had an MP3 player going. Just walked straight towards the edge and off it, not a single reaction from him, even as he fell.”

“What’s with the dog my partner’s… doing I don’t know what with.” Linda said with a sidelong look, Carl busy petting and fussing over the furry mutt.

“We’ve got animal control coming over soon to collect it, belonged to the man apparently. Was biting at his trousers and barking as the man walked over. It’s got a collar on, no leash though. If it’s been chipped, we might be able to get some more information on the man.”

“Alright, I’ll go relay that to SDI North. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem, take care by the edge. It’s a long drop.”

“Fool.” Carl said as she approached.

“Excuse me?”

“Not you. This one.” He said with a gesture over the cliff.

“Well, they suspect suicide or an accident, so either way it’s a fair word in some people’s opinions.”

“Not what I meant. Polo?” He offered the pack again, as well as something else.

Linda looked down at the item pressed into her hands, then the dog, then off the cliff. “Carl, what the hell is this?”

“I said already, Linda.” Carl said, sucking air through the hole in his mint. “Fool.”

Author’s Note – Just a snippet today, but it came about after finding and sorting through my Rider-Waite tarot deck. I do love the artwork, from the Minor to the Major Arcana. Don’t ask for a reading though, I’m useless at it.