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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 6: Slade 2
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 5, Hastings 2
The bright daylight dazzled his eyes. As he emerged from weeks in the dark cave, Robert Elvis Slade thought he could see a green rolling valley, a castle on the far slope, and a clear blue sky. But his view was blocked by three men, one of them drawing a sword.
The one with the sword very nearly shouted at him. "Stand your ground!"
Instinctively, Slade put up his hands; in doing so, he dropped the torch and the toolbox. "Hey, I don't want any trouble," he began, the matchstick falling from his mouth, but the crash of the toolbox hitting the ground interrupted him.
The other two were startled, but the one with the sword retained his composure and spoke again. "Hands at your side, wizard, or I'll cut them off at the wrists!"
"Wizard?" Slade said. "Is that what you think? No, I'm no wizard---I'm an auto mechanic."
"Auto-mechanic?" replied the one in robes; the concept seemed to puzzle him. "A machine that builds itself?"
"A what? No." Slade took a breath. "I'm a mechanic. I fix cars--er, machines."
"Ah," said the one with the sword, "an artillerist. He works with siege engines."
"Yeah, something like that."
The one dressed in leather spoke for the first time. "I say we kill'im. He's after the bottle, and he knows something."
"Quiet, thief," replied the robed one. "I'll not kill someone for what you think he knows."
For a moment everyone was silent, uncertain. Slade decided to change the subject.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude, but have you guys got anything to drink? I could really use a beer." The strangers stared at him blankly for a moment, and then burst out laughing.
"Come," said the robed one. "There's a tavern in the valley. Whoever you are, you can explain yourself more comfortably over a pint."
The tavern might be charitably described as rustic: simple wooden plank and beam interior, rough bar with stools, and a few simple tables and chairs. The four sat down at one of the tables, and in a moment each had a large mug of a dark frothy beverage which would have been bitter even without fermentation. Slade wasn't yet certain whether to think of his companions as his captors or his hosts, but they got him a bowl of stew, and he didn't ask what kind of meat it contained.
They introduced themselves. The one in robes was Omigger, and although he was eldest he had been immersed for many years in studying magic, so was only now returning to his homeland. Torelle was the fighter. He had trained as a guard for a nobleman not too many miles away, where he had proved his skill but never tested his valor. The thief was named Filp. He wore a long vest, sleeves, and leggings all of heavy leather as protection, and although it squeaked when he walked it was nothing to the jingle and chink of the rings and plates that covered Torelle, and he could move without noise if he was slow and careful.
Once they were settled, Omigger began the questioning in a polite manner. "So, Slade, what were you doing in the Dungeons of Corlander?"
"Aw, Omigger, you wouldn't believe it. I'm not sure I believe it myself. I was worlds away, and suddenly I was attacked. Then I was sitting in the dark in your dungeons. Took me, I don't know, days? Maybe weeks? To find my way out."
"Tell us about it," Torelle encouraged him.
"Well, I woke up in the dark, and by the time I got a light going I was attacked by this three-headed dog. Once I got rid of him, I figured I had to find my way out. And so I started looking for paths that went up. There were lots of rooms, lots of tunnels, lots of stairs; at one point I was climbing up a chimney, or something like it."
"What's a chimney?" asked Filp.
"Hush!" replied the wizard.
"And I was attacked by several strange creatures. Fortunately, I had that torch. Found it in a room full of old junk, bottles and stuff."
The three adventurers nearly leapt from their seats as together they almost shouted, "Bottles!?!"
"Where were these bottles?" asked Torelle.
"Do you think you can take us there?" added Omigger.
"How much do you want?" said the thief.
"Slow down! Slow down!" Slade bobbed his hands in the air like he was signaling for quiet in front of a crowd, or asking an orchestra to decrescendo. "I found the bottles almost immediately, and I've been lost down there for--well, forever, and I wasn't making a map. I wasn't even a Boy Scout, so it wouldn't be worth much if I was. Now, I suppose I might be able to find my way back. I would at least recognize some of the places I've been. But why in Odin's name would I want to? I just got out of that place--and in case you haven't guessed, I wasn't having fun."
Omigger sat back. "I think he must be told." Torelle nodded. Filp started to object, but a look from his companions silenced him.
"Many years ago, our great great great great great grandfather..."
Filp interjected, "We're cousins, sort of," and Omigger continued.
"...Baron Rolgar of Corlander was at war with Count Tork, lord of the castle across the valley."
"Who started it?" Slade asked.
"You ask the strangest questions," Torelle replied.
The wizard went on. "Count Tork, eager to win, forged an alliance with the Caliph of the West Wind."
"He's a djinn lord--an elemental spirit of the air. Once the djinn were in the war, all seemed lost for the Baron. He couldn't defeat the djinn with mortal forces, and dared not forge an alliance with the efriit. In desperation, he struck on a bold plan: he trapped the Caliph in a bottle."
Torelle took up the tale. "It was a good idea, but it went bad. The djinn were enraged. They destroyed the castle and killed the Baron, and swore it would never be rebuilt as long as their caliph was imprisoned. And with the castle destroyed and the baron dead, no one knew where he was."
"At this point," Omigger resumed, "the King intervened, and severely punished the Count for unleashing the powers of the elements on so great a scale, and against another noble at that. So the war was ended, and no one won anything."
"But the djinn have kept their word," Torelle added.
Filp, perhaps impatient with the familiar tale, summed up. "The point is, we can't rebuild our ancestral home until we find the bottle and free the djinni."
Slade thought for a moment. "Look, I don't know a lot about this stuff. But don't you get wishes when you free a djinni from a bottle?"
Torelle said, "Well, Yes, there is that."
And Filp said to the wizard, "And you thought he didn't know anything."
Once again everyone was silent. Slade was thinking; the others waited.
"O.K., maybe I can do this," he said. "First, you have to understand that I'm not a non-stop express to the bottle; I'm just a guy who's been there, and should recognize some of the landmarks along the way. Second, you've got to give me a weapon, and teach me how to use it--and maybe teach me some other stuff, so I'm not helpless down there. Oh, and I'll need some other equipment. Not a lot, but some. Third, we're partners. Whatever we get, it's a four-way split. Agreed?"
It was agreed, and over the next couple of weeks Slade was prepared to return into the place from which he had so long wanted to leave. He proved less than an apt pupil with the sword. Torelle complained several times that Slade used a sword as if it were a mace, and then finally decided it would make more sense to teach him to use a mace. Omigger spent many hours talking about the controlled release of supernatural energy, and how important it was to begin with the simpler things, as the magical energies themselves could destroy you.
He quickly realized that he would need some kind of backpack to carry his things. It had been difficult to carry the tool chest all that distance, and he had dropped it more than once when attacked. Although metal pipe was not easy to get and not of very good quality, once he had some it was a simple matter to bend and fuse it into a rack he could wear on his back. The tool chest would sit on a lower shelf, and a leather backpack would strap above it. Straps and padding secured to the rack itself made him almost comfortable with the weight on his back.
He thought of fashioning some protective plates; but there was a leatherworker in town who could provide something very similar to what the thief wore, and the wizard was concerned that heavy or metal armor might interfere with any magic he attempted to use. Although he thought he understood what Omigger was saying, he had no success with the magical exercises the wizard suggested and didn't expect magic to make a difference on this venture. But they agreed that leather would afford him enough protection. And it was cheap.
And so it was that Slade and his companions returned to the place they had met. Omigger had recovered the magical torch and stood ready to continue. The darkness of the Dungeons of Corlander lay before them.
"O.K., boys," Slade said, clenching a fresh match in his teeth, "let's rock and roll!"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #18: A Novel Comic Milestone. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: