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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How To Be A Thief - Chapter 7

"Hustling and bustling" is often used to describe busy streets filled with merchants and travelers and random passers-by. Whoever thought up of this term, however, had not seen the mercantile streets of Kell. Both the words denote some actual movement, but for the most part there was no real movement in the streets from the hours of 9 to 11 and 5 to 7. This was the busiest time of the day for merchants, catching people going to or coming from their various places of business.
Since Kell was also a major port and the capital city of Mayford, everything imaginable could be found within its formidable walls. It is the very gridlock that keeps some purveyors of the less "popular" goods in business. It is, after all, hard to say "no" to someone who has been pushing for you to buy a jar of Uncle Bunk's Acne Creme, Expectorant, and Degreaser for the past hour, knowing that you get to spend another hour in his presence.

Manfred had never seen city streets so full of life and exotic fragrances. At least, he was pretty sure he hadn't. The quartet did their best to blend in with the crowd while keeping to the hustling and bustling alleyways and side streets which allowed passage at a time like this. Manfred was wearing the tight-fitting black pants he had on the night before, but a blue shirt had been purchased for him to help him fit in a little better himself. Nothing stood out like a man dressed entirely in black.

"How long was I out?" he asked conversationally.

Jesz chimed in with a matter-of-fact voice, not bothering to look back fully at him but just turning her hide to the side slightly. "3 years."

"What?!" The color drained out of Manfred's face for a moment.

"Oh yeah, we thought you weren't gonna make it. I was gettin' ready to harvest your organs for magical experiments. It's good pay." There wasn't even a hint of joking in Jesz's voice.

"Oh, do not listen to her," Mel said. "That is nonsense. Everyone knows an intact cadaver is worth far more."

"Ha ha, very funny," Manfred replied. "I don't believe you. If it had been 3 years, I would have grown a beard, wouldn't I? Huh?"

"Oh, I've been shaving you clean and selling the trimmings to witches," Jesz said loudly to be heard over the din. "But don't worry, Manfred, it'll grow back."

"Stop calling me that. That's not my name!"

"Oh, then what is?" Jesz looked back and winked at him. He was silent for a moment.

"Where are we going?" he asked the group in general as they meandered and slithered through the labyrinthine crowd. He would rather change the subject then have to try to out-think her.

"I told you, we are following Aryx," Mel said from the front of the group. Her eyes were trained on the sky most of the time.

"Yeah, you told me, but where is she lea-"

"He," Mel interrupted. "Aryx is a boy."

"Fine. Where is HE leading us?" Manfred rolled his eyes. "I mean, what is this bounty you're all talking about?"

Jesz looked back at him for a moment. "His name is Cameron Merlot, but he likes people to call him 'The Duke,'" she explained. "We were hired by some judge to find him. Apparently he stole something of hers and she wants it back… you know, under the table-like."

"Jesz!" Mel said sternly. "We cannot trust him! And stop flirting! I do have eyes in the back of my head, don't make me separate you two."

Jesz blushed slightly, her tanned face darkening as she turned her head to look forward again. "Sorry…" she said. She was third in line, behind Eaups, who had been silent most of the time they were following Aryx.

The crowd was beginning to thin out as the group worked their way to the outside rim of the city. In the distance, Manfred could see several large buildings standing as sentinels over the city. One was built like a majestic fortress with its own high wall surrounding it - which Manfred believed must be the palace. Another just off to the side of the first was a single massive tower that was crooked and gnarled, seeming to defy all laws of physics and common sense by refusing to fall over. The last, placed in the center of Kell and closer than the other two, stood like a series of sword-spires that dared to strike against the heavens. Each pointed spire was identical to the others and they were arranged in a 12-point circle. The sun reflected off the spires in a sharp rainbow across their surfaces.

"That's the Pantheological Cloister," Eaups chimed in. "Each spire is dedicated to one of the gods." He smiled, looking back at it. "I'm in that one farthest to the right from here." Manfred wished he could pause and get a better look, but Jesz pulled him along. Soon, his view was obstructed by wooden scaffolding and catwalks. It seemed this part of the city was under repair, and by the look of things, under constant repair. Some of the scaffolding was burnt with more replacing it. Buildings had several different styles of architecture all crowded on top of each other. There were even some parts that had permanent "danger" signs posted. "This is the Alchemists' District," Eaups said.

"Yeah, better known as Boom Town." Jesz chuckled to herself. "Some poor sap is always blowing hisself up around here."

"Sshh!" Mel pulled the group to a small alcove. Above them, Aryx was circling before landing on a nearby piece of scaffolding. With a motion to the others to keep out of sight, Mel peered around the corner, scanning the crowd. "That is him," she said as she spied that familiar eye patch. The Duke was sitting at a table talking with another man whose back was to them. "And it looks like that idiot guard of his is not even around."

Manfred backed into Mel. "I wouldn't be so sure of that," he said in a quavering tone. Mel looked back to find the other three with their hands up, a crossbow pointed at them. The brutish bodyguard from the night before approached them.

"Move it. 'Gainst the wall." Mel put her hands up as well, doing as she was told and backing up against the wall. She glanced up for a moment, hoping to call Aryx, but the bodyguard practically shoved the crossbow in her face. "Don't e'en think it, love. I ain't stupid, I know yer a hawker. I've been followin' ya."

"Not… you're not stupid… and I'm an… austringer," Mel said quietly, then bit her lip. Grammar was a pet peeve of hers. It had taken her years to get over Jesz's abuses of the language, and she liked Jesz. Yet now, despite having a cocked crossbow at point-blank range from her nose, she still couldn't help herself when a stranger polluted her mother tongue.

"What?!" the bodyguard demanded.

"I am an austringer, not a hawker. Austringers train hawks, hawkers sell goods." Her voice was steady and without inflection as if she was simply reading out of a text book. Although she knew that technically the bodyguard was correct, the connotation of being a hawker irked her even more than his atrocious grammar.

"Oh, I'm gonna turn you into hawk feed," the guard said with a wicked, mostly toothless grin. He raised the crossbow another inch and pulled the trigger.

Mel winced, but soon realized that she was still… wincing. And breathing. As she opened her eyes, she saw Manfred, holding the arrow and smiling at the well-muscled bodyguard.

"Did know I could do that, huh?" he taunted. "Wanna see what else I can do?" The bodyguard put his hands up slowly, seeing that Jesz was already pulling out a small blade. Yet before she had a chance to use it, he struck with incredible celerity at Manfred. It was simply not fair that such a huge man could move so fast, but, as Manfred was learning, life is hardly fair. He took the blow fully and was knocked back to the wall before grabbing onto the man's arm.

Jesz did not hesitate. She swing at him with a small but sharp dagger, the blade held backwards, away from the thumb. The man cried out as she sliced at his arm, but cross his other arm over his body to grab at her. Just as he was fast, he was also incredibly strong. His grip had her in tears almost instantly.

By this time, Mel was joining the fight, calling to Aryx for aid and pulling out her kukri. Eaups had already set up a spell to keep passers-by away from the fight, a long snake of smoke that surrounded the brawl. In all this commotion, however, no one noticed that The Duke was already running away.

"Oh no you don't," Manfred squeaked as he tried to breath again. He held firmly onto the man's arm and suddenly moved like a man possessed. His motions reminded Jesz a roaring river or winding stream. Manfred deftly ducked under the man's arm, twisting it forward and forcing his assilant to hunch over. This made the man let go of Jesz and try to grab Manfred, but it was already too late. With a pull, the bodyguard felt all the bones in his arm strain against each other and, in an effort to prevent his bones from snapping, he fell forward and landed on his back. His legs hit a large support of scaffolding and dislodged it, causing a catwalk to teeter to and fro precariously for several seconds before it clattered to the ground nearby. Following this, the entire scaffold leaned over, knocking of workers, parts of buildings, buckets of plaster, piles of stone and brick, and loads of lumber. Everything rained to the ground with a thunderous and ongoing clatter, moving quickly down the line of buildings. Just as it seemed to stop, a lone cat would jump off one unstable support and land on the back of an unsuspecting worker who was across the street on another catwalk. The worker thrashed about, knocking over more random construction tools and detritus before he, too, knocked one of the supports loose and sent scaffolding on the other side of the street crashing to the ground. The roar disappeared off into the distance as more and more dominos of industry fell.

By the time the dust settled before for people to see what had happened, The bodyguard had fled and The Duke was half-buried under a pile of wood and rocks.

"How fortuitous," said Mel. She and Manfred approached the entombed man. "Quickly, before the Alchemists' Guild gets here," she said, pulling out a rope from the mess.

"What about the city guard?" Manfred asked as he started pulling up masonry and crossbeams to dig the dazed man out.

"Oh, trust me. They are not the ones to be worried about for this mess."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How To Be A Thief - Chapter 6

The man in black was dreaming.

From the way his limbs twitched, it was either a very pleasant dream or a very unpleasant one. Jesz was squatting and watching him closely. To her he seemed very much like a cat - either chasing a dream-mouse or being chased by a dream-dog (or, in some cases, a giant dream-mouse). She picked up a stick and poked him a few times in the side, eliciting a grunt and some nonsensical mumbling.

"Hey… wake up!" she said and poked him in the face with the stick. The man didn't stir. She then noticed the bump on his forehead from where she hit him and a wicked grin spread over her face. "Wakey wakey!" she said as she poked the bump.

"Ouch! Stop that!" The man sat up, pushing the stick away from him. He was sitting outside on the dirt while three strange people looked at him expectantly. "Uh… hi?"

Jesz smirked and stood up, taking a few steps away from the man as he stumbled to his feet. She was wearing a red silk shirt with long sleeves and an intricate black leather vest. A pair of knives with hilts as red as her hair could be seen at her sides, strapped into her belt.
Beside her stood Mel, tall and statuesque. She was sporting the same brown and green blouse with tight black pants as before, her brunette hair in a neatly braided ponytail which reached the small of her back. Around her torso was a strap that carried a quiver at her side; a long recurved bow was held in one hand. Her other hand was held up and wore a leather glove to support a beautiful, young hawk. Its underside was off-white with dark banding towards the legs, while the rest of the hawk was a mixture of a ruddy brown and black with white tips. Tied to one of its legs was a thin strip of green cloth that flowed in the wind. It tilted its head severely to the side as it examined the man.
On the other side of Jesz, Eaups was sitting on the tree stump, looking a little dazed and confused. On his belt was a small mace, the traditional weapon of priests. He seemed content for the moment to gather his thoughts together.

"Who are you?" Mel asked pointedly. She took a stride forward, holding the hawk closer to the man. He stepped back.

"What? Oh… I told you, I don't remember!" he replied. "Who a-"

The hawk spread its wings and tightened its grip on Mel's hand, the leather creaking under its powerful talons. "Aryx does not like it when people lie," Mel said, holding the bird closer. "And he knows when you are lying." Aryx let out a piercing cry and flapped his wings at the man, the tips brushing against his face. The man couldn't help but look at the size of those dark talons.

"Really.. I don't remember," he said again, swallowing hard. His back was against the hut. After a few moments, Aryx folding his wings against himself and settled back on his perch, looking around with quick, darting movements.

Mel nodded, stepping back from him. "He is telling the truth," she said as she shifted her weight to one side, pondering what to do with him.

Jesz grinned as wide as a cheshire cat. "Oh? Then that means, we can name him!" She was practically jumping for joy at the prospect. "I say we call him Fred!"

"I say we call him Man," Mel the ever-practical said in sync with Jesz. Both girls raised their eyebrows and looked at each other.

"Let's not argue. We'll just call him… Manfred for now, ok?" Eaups said, getting off the stump slowly. He still felt a bit like a puppet.

"Manfred?! Look here, I don't know who you people are or what you want with me, but I need to get going…" Manfred said, holding up his arms in protest.

"Oh really? Going where?" Mel asked. "Yeah, I thought as much. Look, you need to rest. You just had an arrow sticking out of your side." She motioned to the patch on his bare torso.

Eaups smiled, looking a little more confident with his motions. "And besides, we've been told to help you."

"Help me what?" Manfred asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Um… I think he said to achieve your fate…" Eaups said quietly.

"Well, I feel fine right now," Manfred said, flexing one of his arms, "and I don't need a bunch of strangers telling me what I'm supposed to be doing. …You are strangers, right?" Manfred was not entirely certain of anything at this point.

Jesz frowned an angry frown and walked right up to Manfred, a very slight limp apparent from the night before. He was a few inches taller than she was, but that didn't stop her from pushing her nose right into his face. "We just saved your life, buddy. The least you can do is be grateful! And you were watching me changing in there," she pointed to her hut, "so that's gonna cost you. All in all, I'd say you owe me... us... a thousand gold pieces."

"A THOUSAND?" Manfred replied. "Where'd you get that number? I can't pay that!"

Jesz just grinned at him as she leaned back. "You'll just have to help us catch this bounty, then. The witch paying us said he's worth at least five thousand. We can take your share out of it. Of course you'll only earn half the share, as you're new, so you'll still need to earn 500 more."

Manfred screwed his face up, pointing at each of the strangers in turn and counting silently, though his lips still moved. "That… doesn't add up. There's only 4 of us."

Jesz matter-of-factly said, "No, there's 5. There's you… Mel… Eaups… me… and Aryx. The hawk." Before Manfred could complain, she walked up to him and put her hand on his shoulder, leading him into the hut. "Don't worry. I know you're a thief. You might need some retraining, but it'll all come back to, especially with Jesz, Pilferer Extraordinaire, showing you the ropes! Pretty soon you'll be able to make 500 gold pieces in a night!" She grinned at him.

"I.. I am? I will?"

Jesz nodded and led him to his shirt and tools. "Of course! You just get dressed and we'll find this bounty together, as a team. We could use a strong, handsome guy like you," she said with a wink, having apparently completely forgiven him of his peeping. "Now hurry up!"

Friday, June 4, 2010

New Spelling

It turns out that at the National Spelling Bee, protesters are complaining about how we spell words. They think our words are too complicated for most people. Their slogan is "Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much." This group includes ex-principals and teachers. Now, I have my own issues with the National Spelling Bee. I think it is a waste, and I can probably correctly spell 90% of the words they are asked to spell while having none of their "rigorous training." But, the bee is still popular and is promoting the English language, particularly the lesser-known quadrants. To have people protesting against what these young kids are doing right in front of their faces is atrocious. It is even worse that they are promoting ignorance.

I wonder if any of them have read the book 1984. Respelling all the words in the English language has a far-reaching effect that people do not seem to grasp. English is not just our language, but shapes our thoughts and ideologies. It is a direct link to our past as well. Furthermore, there is a beauty in the English language that poets, playwrights, scholars and authors can tap into, creating works of true artistic beauty that go beyond the meaning of the words. No one will want to read "2 b r not 2 b? that iz thuh kwestyun."
In 1984, George Orwell uses the concept of "Newspeak." The government takes words out of the language and replaces them with simple ideas, making sure nothing inflammatory is left. This makes it very difficult for people to plot an uprising if they cannot even put such concepts into words. In fact, they wouldn't be able to think of the uprising itself because the words do not exist. There is scientific evidence which supports this theory. By dumbing down our words, we will dumb down our society and people. We will also open the door to concepts such as Newspeak to be introduced. We've already got enough of 1984 going on in real life, we don't need to add to it.

There is also evidence which supports the theory that the Japanese and Chinese, because of the complexities of their languages, think more quickly than people who speak more straight-forward languages. They have to think more carefully when they speak and write and read.

So by all means, let's rewrite history, throw out the subtle philosophies of our language (ever wonder why "awful" is a bad thing, why the plural of "radius" is "radii," where "-ology" really comes from, or what the word "philosophy" truly means?), rewrite every work of art and literature of the past 500 years or so, stagnate the thought processes of our people, and limit the potential of our children, all because some people are to uneducated, lazy, or "special" to learn how to spell correctly.
Some may say this is a class distinction. I disagree. It takes no money whatsoever to go to your library and pick up a book. There are cheap classes that can teach you how to read and write. The internet is filled with good (as well as poor) resources for someone who is truly interested in using grammar properly. And all the kids who can't write because they text all day long? I think this is a call to parents to force them to put those cell phones down. Your kids do not tell you what to do, you have to be role-models for your kids. Just stop paying the bills. Make them earn money to pay for their texting AND their phone. Soon they will see that it's not all it is cracked up to be. I do not text, and I get along just fine. So have billions of other people.

Now, this rant should end now. I'm sure people disagree with me on some of these statements. They might not see the connections I am making with spelling and newspeak. But let us all agree on one thing: The English language is not broken. It is living, breathing, working. It is the official language of 53 countries. And I love it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How To Be A Thief - Chapter 5

It took Mel several seconds to get to her feet and discover that the man was awake and sitting upright. She stood in the doorway, pulling out a short sword from some hidden sheath. The blade was bent forward in the middle with the single-edge along the inside; a weapon Mel called a Kukri, though everyone else just called it broken.

"Keep back!" she yelled as she entered an offensive stance, her weight leaning forward.

The man in black was standing at the foot of the bed, his hand holding his head. His face was contorted in pain, giving the distinct impression of a man with a hangover. "What?" he asked, ambling forward.

Mel took a few steps back as the man approached. "Who are you?" she asked, keeping her blade in front of her as she backed away from the door. Soon the man was standing in the doorway instead, squinting in the sunlight. Jesz had fallen to the ground, still clutching her shirt to her chest and staring at him in dread. Next to her, sitting on the tree stump, Eaups had fallen asleep, his head hung in front of him.

"Who am I?" he asked, lowering his hand and looking over the three of them through half-closed eyes. "Who are you?"

Mel glanced over at her comrades briefly in confusion before looking back at him. "I- I asked you first!" she said. Jesz scrambled to her feet once more, her face still flushed in embarrassment.

"You did? Oh... well I'm... uh...." He looked up at them, a hint of worry in his expression. "I don't know."

Mel's voice had a sharp tone of suspicion to it. "I do not believe you. How do we know you are not just trying to dupe us into trusting you or letting you go? If the royal guards come looking for you, it would be best if we just…"

What had distracted Mel was the sight of Jesz walking right past her and up to the man in a huff, still holding her shirt up with one arm. Without a word, she pulled her free arm back and clocked him squarely in the face. The man didn't even try to evade it, but instead fell over as if she was a lumberjack and he was a mighty Scott's Pine. After the punch, she stood over him, red with anger. "How dare you oggle me when I'm vulnerable like that! I was saving myself!" Mel had to pull her away to stop the verbal and physical assault.

"QUIT IT" rang a voice from behind them, familiar yet foreign. With one accord, both Jesz and Mel turned around. Standing before them was Eaups, his eyes radiating a divine purple light and his hair suddenly long and wild. He looked over himself, inspecting his clothing and body. "UGH, what a terrible outfit. At least there's some purple in it. And this body, goodness. Ouch, or whatever his name is, should really start working out."

"Eaups?" Mel asked, wondering what was wrong with her friend. He'd never done THIS before.

"Yeah, that's the name." He sauntered closer to them in a suave, confident manner; it was very unlike Eaups. Although he had no pupils, they got the distinct impression that he was looking over the two of them carefully. "So you must be his companions. Interesting choice, but I think it'll work." He grinned and brushed a lock of his hair out of his face in a move that could launch a thousand swoons.

"Y-you are not Eaups," Mel stated. She was blushing but did not even realize it.

"Of course I'm not," not-Eaups said. "Didn't he tell you? He's my Avatar. I'm Murphy." He got blank stares from the two girls and a leg-twitch from the unconscious man. "THE Murhpy. God of fate, destiny, and all that jazz?" Blank stares. Murphy sighed. "Fine, I'll get right to the point." He straightened himself up and spoke in a distinctly divine voice.


Murphy then winked at Jesz. "Nice outfit, by the way," he said, then summarily collapsed on the ground, a rag doll being dropped. Jesz looked down at her outfit only to find that she had dropped her shirt. In a panic, she screamed, collected her shirt, and ran back inside, pushing the man outside with the others as she slammed the door.