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Monday, August 28, 2006

Snog a snippet

Okay, well, for no particular reason, I've decided to put up a chunk of writing that I haven't touched in a while, simply for my readers' enjoyment. So kick back and snog a snippet (the first 1956 words, actually) of Army of Four....

Oh yeah, and feel free to let me know what you think.

There were four of us gathered on the ridge above the village. We stood, a line of black menace, looking down at our target: the large hall centred in a cluster of one-story dwellings and shacks. The sun had just given up the day, falling, wounded, behind the edge of the Great Western Forest, having bled the last of its reddish light across the horizon. A cool twilight breeze blew through my mud-brown hair as I stole glances at the others standing beside me.

To my left was a monstrous beast with coal-black fur covering its feline body, and a dull red fire glowing from the deep-set eyes on either side of its lizard-like head. It swished its long alligator tail, covered in matte black scales, and flexed its furry toes, extending long, glistening claws from all four paws. It's chest heaved slowly in anticipation, and it purred dangerously, squatting beside me, shoulder level with mine.

To my immediate right was the giant, fully twice my height, and more than twice my girth. He was draped in dark skins and furs crusted with old, black blood from previous battles and meals. Pushing out through his bald crown was a short, wide horn -- it was misshapen and nubbly, looking more like a wart, except for the sharp point, which curved slightly downward, so that it aimed along the same line as the end of the giant's bulbous nose. The giant was nibbling absently on bits of flesh stuck to the spikes on his huge club. Each spike was as long as a dagger, and the club itself was fully my height when stood on end, and just as heavy.

Beyond the giant, at the end of the line stood the necromancer. He was shorter than I, but with a bloated body covered in a rich, sleeveless robe. His bare arms were pasty, and equally bloated, but did not hang limply at his sides. Instead, the death mage carried himself with a strength and assurance born from the arrogance of his unearthly power. His face was unknowable, because his entire head was obscured by a sheath of heavy smoke, which streamed off into the darkened sky on the same winds that tugged at my hair. He was unarmed, but for an obsidian dagger worn on the belt of woven human hair that cinched his robe around his corpulent girth.

As for me, I was just a guy with a sword. No armour girdled me to slow my stride. No shield protected me, nor did one get in the way of my swinging blade, nor block my opponents from view. Simple leather sandles were all I needed on my feet, and a rough cotton shirt and pants, dyed with squid ink to the colour of shadows, were all that adorned me. I am strong, though not as strong as the giant, and I am fast, but not as fast as the sinister beast. I know my way around magic, but have not given up my soul for the measure of power the dark mage enjoyed. The balance of my abilities made me more than a match for any one of them.

We waited for our signal, no words spoken between us. The beast, while intelligent, had not the tongue for speech, more for licking the marrow from the cracked bones of its prey. The giant was not given to words either, more of a manner of guttural noises that passed for a giant's language. It took a patient soul indeed to carry on a conversation of any measure with one of those brutes. The necromancer might have spoken with me, and in fact had not ceased his bragging on the first portion of our travel here, but gave up when he realized I was articulate, but not inclined to talk in more than grunts myself to one so full of himself.

One of the locals had been paid a trifling in coin to lure our quarry and the rest of his family to the hall that evening. We had only to wait for a spray of sparks from the chimney, from the traitor throwing a handful of the necromancer's special dust onto the flames in the hearth. The giant started to lick one of the spikes on his club. The beast hissed gently, impatient for action, but infinitely patient in the manner of the stealthy predator on the hunt. I could not see the necromancer for the giant's girth, but I could hear his occasional sigh as he dreamed of more power through the harvesting of others' souls.

The wait dragged on. The beast settled down onto its belly, all four paws underneath, still ready to spring when action was needed. The giant, despite the urgings of the mage beside him, sat down with a huff. The ground gave a good hand's depth beneath him. Then the mage drew a cloth bag from a pocket in his robe, and started stuffing handfuls of sweetmeats into his veil of smoke. The smoke did nothing to hide the smacking sounds as he chewed. For a while after, I continued to stare through the darkness towards the village, looking for traces of light slipping around the shuttered edges of the great hall's windows, and keeping watch for the sign of sparks. After a while, I hissed at the necromancer to stop stuffing his corpulent girth and resume his vigil of the hall. Taking a few steps back from the others, I drew my sword, swinging it in familiar exercise as I considered the situation.

A glance at the stars, when the clouds deigned reveal them, told me that far too much time had passed. There were only two reasonable causes. The first was that our man in the village could have been delayed in his betrayal of our victim, or his treachery detected and prevented. The other involved another betrayal, of our group instead of his. He had either warned our victim and his family, or he had simply fled the village with his small bag of blood coins, our victim none the wiser.

Either way, action was now required. I considered our options, and then spoke with the necromancer. "We can cancel our attack. This would be cancelling our contract with the Dark Master. We would also have to deal with the beast."

"The beast I can deal with. The Dark Master is a different challenge, one I would be loathe to attempt." The ghostly form of a grimace was visible through the smoke.

"And I as well. We can hunt down the toady we paid good gold to; he has likely run off. Between you and the beast, there should be little problem with tracking the wretch."

Now the smoke wavered as the mage's bulk trembled from his chuckling. "Wretched he will be, indeed, once we catch him. But such endeavours can be accomplished with almost as much pleasure further on. If we are not abandoning our contract, then we must go into the village."

It was my turn to grimace. "Indeed, I am of the same opinion. Yet we have not enough information to choose a final course. Some reconaissance is order, I believe."

"Knowledge is power, swordsman."

"True words, mage. I and the beast may go amongst the dwellings with little worry for alarm. You must have magic that can glean other information than our earthly senses detect. As for him..." I indicated the giant, now snoring gently, slumped with his horn between his knees, with a dismissive wave. "He is best left as is, for the time being. Subtlety is not his strength."

"And his strength is not subtle. I shall stand with him, in case he should wake. I can do my magic from here on the hill as well as anywhere else. I shall use the giant's bulk as a screen for any light or sound my spells may cast."

The beast had been crouched, listening, throughout our conversation. It knew the options, and knew its master wanted only one thing: success or death. I drew my sword, and held it away from the beast. Then I approached, and whispered in its reptilian ear, "Let us see what we can." The beast hissed, tongue flicking out to taste the air, and rose.

Long strides bore me down the hill, as the beast loped ahead to skirt the village and enter from near the road. On the outskirts, I crouched behind a hedge, and listened. I heard nothing, and the windows of the nearest houses were all shuttered, so I advanced, sniffing. My sense of smell was nothing like the beast's, or even the giant's, but all the same, I hoped to detect the spoor of any mongrel cur or watchdog that might alert the villagers to my presence. The beast could be facing a similar problem, but more likely it would find and eat any such animal before it could betray its presence.

Dwellings on the edge of the village were little more than shacks, and I slipped quietly through the shadows from one to the next. At each window, shuttered against the night, I listened for a moment, but detected nothing more than the sounds of slumber. Most of the villagers would work hard to meet the needs of their families, and an early sleep, early rise rhythm meant they would be in the deepest depths of their hard-earned rest at this time of the night.

Unfortunately, a dog's sleep is much lighter than its master's. I had just stepped away from the wall of one dwelling, and found myself in a pool of moonlight. The dwelling's mongrel chose that moment to awaken with a sound that was half yelp, half bark, and it was but a moment's pause before I heard its paws clatter against the shutters. Fortunately for me, the shutters were firmly latched, giving me time to hie into the shadows behind a woodpile under cover of the dog's strident alarm.

My sword still drawn, I adjusted my chrouch in the shadows to better prepare myself for a fight. I heard the animal's master stumble through the darkness inside his home, hissing at the dog to stifle itself.

"Rivva, Rivva, hush! Shush! What's out there, girl?"

From my haven behind the woodpile, I no longer had a view of the dwelling's window. The dog barked another few times, then settled with a whimper. I heard the latch unhooked, and the clatter as the shutters slapped open against the walls. I cringed. If there was any more noise, I was bound to bring the entire village out into the streets. Not that I was concerned for my escape -- I felt more than confident pitting my skills against even a mob of farmers -- but my hopes for the stealthy acquisition of information would be lost.

I considered slipping under the window and surprising the man with a sword in his throat, but the chances of a clean kill over a final cry of anguish were not great enough for my liking. Instead, I waited, knowing that if more villagers awoke and came to investigate, I could still hope to escape undetected, and at the same time give the Dark Master's beast a distraction away from its presence.

Luck favoured me. A few hearbeats later, I heard the shutters clatter shut. The dog gave a final whine, and I strained to detect her master's footsteps away from the window. Hearing nothing more, I counted three dozens in my head before giving up my concealment behind the woodpile.

Note: The above (and all other writing on this blog) is copyright 2006 Hydargentium, all rights reserved.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Girl Trouble

So, I just read a story by an e-friend of mine, who goes by the e-name of RaZrEsHaT. (I kid you not.) He has a real name, but I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find out what it is. Anyway, I read this story, and I genuinely am glad I got to read it, so I've decided to share it with all of the patrons of this little blog. (And, as we all know, there are so many of you out there....)

So, without further ado, I present Girl Trouble. If you like it, if you hate it, if you're somewhere in between, I've started a thread on RaZrEsHaT's accompanying forum for feedback on the story, which, at the time of this writing, contains only one post -- my own thoughts on Girl Trouble.

Enjoy. I did.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Welcome to Hydrargentium's: We Blog!

Welcome to my new blog. Waifsplace is in limbo for the foreseeable future, so I've decided to go with blogspot. To inaugurate this new blog, I have presented above an Alien Loves Predator-inspired bit of artwork. The image itself came from fan art in the forum, and the captions were inspired by a suggestion that it reminded forum members of Brokeback Mountain. Get it now? Good.

Anyway, welcome aboard the new ride.