Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Agents - Epilogue

     I awoke lying on the road. Mentus, Tytus and Jedstaff were leaning over me, each one's face lined with concern. My whole body was on fire, my right arm most of all. I was also aware of the brilliant sunlight in my face and the gnawing cold in my nose and lips.

     "Welcome back," Tytus said when he saw that I was awake.

     I sat up and rubbed the back of my head. "What happened? Last I remember, the Beast was leaping at me, his jaws open wide."

     "Yes, well, that lines up with where we found you," said Tytus, helping me stand.

     "Where?" I asked, gingerly rubbing my swimming head.

     "Halfway down the Beast's throat," Jedstaff said, with an odd chuckle.

     "What?!" I nearly fell over. Tytus caught and steadied me. "Th-that can't be... you're kidding..."

     "I'm afraid not," said Mentus. "Fortunately, the creature was dead." He looked at me and an impressed smile spread over his face. "You killed it, you know."

     I stared at him in disbelief, then looked to the others to see if it was a joke. But Jedstaff and Tytus also wore grins and were nodding their heads. "I can't believe it," I said finally. "How?"

     "We're not exactly sure," Tytus replied. "After our battle with the mistress we found it dead and you missing. Jedstaff said he saw it coming at you, and we could only conclude that it had consumed you."

     "And we were almost right," Mentus said wryly. "After examining the body, we found your legs sticking out of the creature's mouth. So we extracted you, fearing the worst."

     "But here you are," said Jedstaff, smiling in his odd manner. "And the Beast is being picked apart by the vultures."

     "Great," I said, still trying to clear my head. After a moment, I asked, "So what happened to that mistress woman?"

     "She... escaped," Tytus said. "She saw the Beast die and had no reason to stay, so a little blast powder on our fire wall for a distraction, and she disappeared."

     By now I was well enough to stand on my own. "What do we do now?"

     "For now our mission is over," said Mentus. "Your uncle asked us to deal with the Beast, and we've done that. He really didn't need to ask us, it seems."

     "Well if that's over," I said, "I suppose I should return to my village."

     "You could do that," Tytus said. "But come back soon. We'll need you for our next mission."


     Mentus grinned. "You're an honorary agent now, kid. Come on, let's get you cleaned up."

     "I'll come with you," said Jedstaff. "I've got a house to rebuild."

     We all laughed on our way back into town.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Agents, pt. 5

     Four miles out of town, I crouched in a thicket next to Tytus. I held a spear and Tytus had an arrow on the string of his longbow.

     We were both watching the road ahead of us. It was semi-wide pathway that spiraled around the mountain and dropped off suddenly to a forest of pines far below. A few trees grew on the edge, where Mentus and Jedstaff were lying concealed. Looking back to the road I couldn't believe that it had only been two nights ago when I'd come up that road carrying a letter for the Agents of the Night. Now I was waiting anxiously for the Beast to round the bend and spring our trap.

     "How much longer?" I asked Tytus impatiently.

     "Hush!" he replied sharply. "It could be any moment now. Or we could be waiting until nightfall. The Beast moves sporadically. It trots for a day, sprints for two hours, trots again for several minutes, then sprints again. Its uh, mistress likes to keep it that way so it's unpredictable. We'll see."

     "Yeah, um, about that," I started. "Who is this 'mistress' person? She controls the Beast?"

     "No one controls the Beast," he answered roughly. "But she... handles it, keeps it going in the direction she wants."

     "How do you know so much about her? Do the Agents--"


     Despite my impatience, our trap continued to wait for hours until dusk evaporated into the darkness of night. Then the waiting became torturous as we stared blankly out into the pale light of a crescent moon.

     After what seemed ages, a sharp snort rent the air, followed by the sound of hooves shuffling across the snowy path. I caught my breath, while Tytus slowly and quietly extricated himself from the thicket. I followed, still trying to watch the road to see when the Beast came in sight. Once out, I laid down my spear and Tytus handed me a piece of flint and steel. He picked up his bow and drew it, watching the road. I knelt by the thicket, ready to strike the steel.

    As we listened, we could hear the hoof steps getting closer, and the harsh breathing of the wretched creature get louder. My hands shook. Though I couldn't see or hear them, I knew that Mentus and Jedstaff were getting into position too. Suddenly, the steps stopped.

     "Now!" Tytus hissed. I struck the steel, sending a shower of sparks forward into the thicket. Flames shot up. I moved over, closer to the middle of the road, and struck the steel again, lighting a pile of timber that we'd placed earlier to look like debris in the road. On the other side of the path, Jedstaff was doing the same thing.

     In a few seconds, we had a wall of fire across the path. I jumped back into the shadows where the others were concealed. As I looked up, I got my first look at the Beast.

     It was a huge, hairy creature, with a great arching back and sharp cloven hooves. Its head was like that of a giant pig--whether boar or sow I couldn't tell. Its eyes were wild and flashed with hatred, and its teeth and jaws bore flecks of red. Upon its back sat a wiry young woman holding a javelin. She wore a mail coat and her wild eyes and blond hair rivaled that of the Beast. As I watched, she looked past the flames and spoke.

     "Who goes there to welcome me and my beast to this town?" she said, in a cold, but clear voice.

     Mentus and Tytus replied in unison. "You may not pass. You and your beast are a threat to the lives and well being of innocent people. We are here to extinguish that threat."

     The woman inclined her head for a moment, thinking, then said, "Is that Tytus' voice I hear? Surely you wouldn't kill an old friend of yours."

     I looked at Tytus in disbelief. By the light of the fire I could barely see him standing with his bow drawn. But I did hear what he said: "I am not your friend."

     That's when our plan unraveled. At that moment, Jedstaff fired a crossbow bolt at the Beast. The giant creature bellowed and reared in pain. Tytus released his arrow, which was no doubt aimed at the mistress, but instead struck the Beast in the leathery flesh of its throat. Mentus fired with his precision accuracy and split Tytus' arrow. As the Beast reared again, the evil woman leapt from the saddle and landed on the other side of our flaming wall. She swung her hand as if throwing something and I saw metal flash in the firelight. Tytus grunted in pain. Mentus dropped his bow and drew his sword, jumping to engage the woman.

     Meanwhile, Jedstaff jumped over the fire and hurled his javelin at the Beast. It roared again as the weapon stabbed into its neck. The Beast swung its head back and forth, looking for its attacker. Jedstaff jumped out of its field of view. Seeing its mistress fighting with Mentus and Tytus, who had also drawn his sword, the Beast hurled itself over the fire and landed directly in front of me.

     Filled with fear, I lowered my spear and brandished it, but the point wavered like a tree branch in the wind. The Beast advanced on me slowly, steam billowing from its nostrils. I tried to hold my ground, keeping the spear's tip in the general area of the Beast's head.

     Tytus and Mentus were both fighting the mistress, who was keeping them occupied with a dagger in her right hand and a hand axe in her left. They were both focused on the battle before them, and neither could help me. Jedstaff was back where his crossbow lay, trying to reload the weapon. There wouldn't be time for him to load it and fire before the Beast made mincemeat of me.

     The wretched creature continued advancing, knocking my spear aside with its head when it got close. I let the weapon drop from my shaking hands. The Beast fixed me in its burning eyes, and prepared to leap on top of me. Without thinking, my hand went to the back of my belt where my knife was. It came out as the Beast jumped forward. My hand went out. The Beast's jaws filled my vision. Then everything became a blur that dissolved into darkness.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Agents, pt. 4

     We arrived upstairs simultaneously. The living room and front hall were in flames. Standing in the doorway was a tall, rough man in a brown habit and hood. He was holding a torch.

     "You have been charged with crimes against our Order," he said in a deep, gravelly voice. "Your punishment is death by flame."

     At that moment several things happened at once. Tytus and Mentus both had bows drawn, and Mentus loosed an arrow. The man in the doorway dropped the torch, and a split second later Mentus' arrow struck him in the shoulder. The man cried out and stepped out of the house. Two sharp twangs came from outside the house, followed by explosions on either side. Flames leapt up in the room.

     Tytus turned back. "We've got to get out of here," he said.

     Jedstaff nodded. "Follow me. There's a tunnel in the basement."

     We hurried after him, more explosions sounding, accompanied by fires breaking out throughout the house.

     "Blast powder!" cried Jedstaff. "My own favorite weapon!"

     We got to the basement as most of the house collapsed at our backs. Jedstaff ran to the far end of the room and opened to door to the tunnel. I followed Tytus and Mentus to it, but the odd man held back.

     "One minute," he said. "I've got to get something."

     "There's not time!" Mentus shouted. He was right; barrels of blast powder in the basement had caught fire and were about to blow.

     "Hold on!" Jedstaff hastily surveyed his weapon racks. Glancing back at the burning barrels, he sighed and grabbed a sword and spear from the rack and charged toward the tunnel door. We turned and ran, throwing ourselves to the ground as we reached the end of the tunnel.

     The barrels of powder exploded, sending a great fireball in all directions. I felt the heat on my back and back of my head. When the blaze subsided, Jedstaff stood, the tips of his wild hair smoldering.

     The tunnel led out into the snowy forest. We climbed out and looked around cautiously. Tytus spotted the men who'd burned the house walking away. The leader in the habit was still alive, leaning on one of the others for support.

     Jedstaff was thoroughly upset. "Flaming arrows and blast power!" he exclaimed. "That's all it took to bring me down! I can't believe it. I'm not even sure I salvaged the right spear!"

     "What was that?" I asked of anyone listening.

     "I'm afraid," Mentus said, "one of the low level monks or a 'conscientous' villager saw us going to Jedstaff's house. Either way, they sent these... assassins to take care of a possible conspiracy against the Order."

     "What now?" I asked Tytus.

     "We're still on the same mission," he replied. "And with the proper weapons, now we can set up our offensive."

     "Right," Mentus agreed. "So we'd better find an informant to tell us where the Beast is."

     "I'm coming with you," Jedstaff announced. "I've got little else to do now."

     Mentus made no argument, but shrugged and said, "Well, let's go."

     The three of us started off, Jedstaff following close behind, muttering to himself. After a moment, he looked up and said, "But I reserve the right to trade spears with anyone if I see the need."

     I caught one of Tytus' rare, brief smiles.

     Four hours later, our trap was set.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Agents, pt. 3

     Jedstaff was a short, pudgy man, with wide brown eyes and a well tanned face. His impossibly thin neck stuck out from his shirt collar and overalls like a single thread holding up his well rounded head. I wondered immediately how this odd person could help us. He welcomed us into his house. We stepped inside gratefully, since the weather was still cold and snowy.

     Though Jedstaff looked old enough to be my grandfathers' grandfather, when he spoke, he had the voice of a young man. An impediment in his speech caused him to say all his S's as TH's. "So, Tytus," he said as we entered, "what brings you here? It's been a long time since the Agents needed me for anything."

     "It's not that we haven't needed you," Tytus said. "We just haven't been able to contact you."

     "Don't I know it!" Jedstaff exclaimed as he set a tea kettle over the fire. "Those blasted monks have had me in and out of their prisons so much, the rats and I are on a first name basis!"

     "Regardless," said Mentus, sitting down at Jedstaff's table, "we need you now. I assume you know of the Beast?"

     "Don't assume," Jedstaff said touchily, "I was the one who warned you about it all those years ago. Remember? When Tytus was off flirting with that young lady, I told you. I said, 'Anyone who comes into town with the evil monks of Angyular has got to be trouble.' And I was right, see?"

     I was confused. "What do you mean? What does that have to with the Beast?"

     Jedstaff noticed me for the first time. "Who's this young fellow?" he asked Tytus.

     "A new recruit, of sorts," Tytus replied. "He gave us the warning about the Beast."

     "All I did was carry the letter," I said.

     "May we please return to the important matter at hand?" Mentus asked, sounding a little annoyed at Jedstaff's manner. "The Beast has been summoned by the chief monk Pardsticle and is as we speak ravaging our contryside."

     "Of course, of course, Mentus." said the odd little man. "Now, what exactly do you need? Traps? Snares? I've got plenty of both. Weapons? Heh, heh, let me tell you, no one but the blacksmith has a better selection than the one I have here."

     "We need spears and javelins," Mentus said. "Two longbows and a crossbow. Here--" he produced a small sack of coins and dropped it on the table. "That should be sufficient."

     "You're in luck," said the odd little man. "Follow me."

     He led us into the basement of his house, a dark room filled with weapons, traps and torture devices of all kinds.

     "There are your bows," Jedstaff said, motioning to a weapon rack that held several. "I assume you'll want arrows too?"

     Mentus nodded and began to select them. Tytus chose three javelins from another rack. Jedstaff picked up an old crossbow, examined it, then carelessly tossed it aside. He selected another and nodded to himself. He handed it to me with a grin.

     "Welcome to the team, sonny," he said. "Any enemy of the monks is a friend of mine. I'd like to take care of that chief monk myself, humph! But I've tried several times and each time it gets more difficult. They say that the spirit they worship granted that fellow immortality a long time ago."

     "Do you believe that?" I asked. My uncle had said the same thing, but he took everything with a liberal amount of salt.

     "Absolutely not! It stands to reason that if you can stick a spear through something and it dies, you can stick one through another and it'll die too, sure as shooting shamrocks. All I need to do is get a good spear, and one good thrust."

     Tytus called to me from the doorway to the basement. They were ready to leave. I started toward them when I halted and sniffed. "Do you smell something?" I asked Jedstaff.

     He took a deep breath. "Oh, no," he said, "something's burning."

The Agents, pt. 2

     Tytus put the letter on the table. He looked across the table to me. I still couldn't see his face under his ever-present hood, but he seemed concerned. "Did  you read this?" he gestured to the letter.

     I shook my head. "I was told to give it to the Agents unopened. Was the seal on the envelope broken?"

     Mentus, one of the leaders of the Agents of the Night, was sitting across the table from me. He chuckled softly. "It's easy to reseal an opened letter, my friend," he said. "But your innocence is refreshing. Who told you to deliver it?"

     "My uncle," I replied. "He's a friend of one of the Agents in our village. He said I needed to take it to their leader and tell them it's urgent."

     Tytus sighed. "Maybe you'd better hear what it is in that letter." He looked to Mentus for permission. The middle-aged leader nodded.

     "Well," Tytus started, "It seems our 'Angularian brethren' are about their evil deeds again. The chief monk Pardsticle has summoned the Beast."

     "The Beast?" I asked. "It exists?"

     Mentus looked at me sharply. "Of course it exists," he said. "Why should you think otherwise?"

     "I thought it was only a legend," I replied.

     "Trust me, it's real," Tytus said. "We fought it many times back in the old days. Now it would seem the monks have use of it."

     "And its master, or mistress, really," said Mentus, giving Tytus a queer look across the table. Tytus said nothing.

     "What are they going to do with the Beast?" I asked, unsure of what had just happened.

     "The letter doesn't say," Tytus replied. "But two villages have already been ravaged by the wretched creature. We need to take care of this threat right away."

     "The only way to do that is to meet it head-on in battle." Mentus said.

     "Exactly," said Tytus. "We'll draw it away from the villages and townspeople. And perhaps we can finally make this the last encounter."

     "I wouldn't count on it," Mentus said grimly. "But to meet it in battle we'll need some weapons more fit for the job. Spears and javelins, longbows and maybe even a crossbow."

     "Well, then," Tytus said, the faintest of smiles gracing his features for a moment. "I think we know just who we need to go to."

     Mentus looked back, also smiling slightly, engaged in the same joke. "I suppose we do."

     "Who?" I asked, feeling completely in the dark.

     They both looked at me and said, "A prophet without honor."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Agents, pt. 1

     I arrived in the village shortly after nightfall. The air was chilled, with each breath I took steaming from my mouth. Snow crunched underfoot as I made my way through the town looking for a place to rest for the night. There were few places in the world that would offer lodging to a strange outsider like myself, but so far on my journey there had been plenty of kindly innkeepers' wives who allowed me to stay in their establishments. Now that I had reached my destination, though, I couldn't risk being seen in an inn.

     A cold wind picked up, moaning as it reached my ears. I pulled my dark grey cloak tighter around my shoulders and the hood farther over my brow. The night was getting later, and I had been walking for a full two days before arriving here. I needed a rest.

     I sat on a bench outside the shop of a villager who had long since gone to bed. Reclining against the wall of the building, I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment.

     "Hello, friend." My eyes snapped open. A tall stranger in a deep black cloak and hood had silently slipped up and was now sitting next to me on the bench.

     "Ah, hello," I managed to say in response, inwardly cursing myself for letting my guard down.

     "I've never seen you around here before," the man said, his features mostly hidden under his hood. I could only see his mouth and lips moving as he spoke in a deep, throaty voice.

     "I've come here on an errand," I replied, staying as close to the truth as I could. While talking, I slowly reached down to my belt, where a long knife was concealed. Should this person be an enemy, I would not be caught defenseless.

     "May I inquire as to who--or what--you are?"

     The question caught me off guard. I tried to buy myself some time to think about the question.

     "You may," I replied quietly. "But I don't feel obliged to answer until I've asked you the same question."

     The stranger said nothing for a moment. Then he asked, "Why are you here?"

     "Business," was the automatic reply.

     There was silence. I tried to think, taking advantage of this moment. I knew that the man's first question meant something, but I couldn't think what.

     "What is your rank?"

     Rank. That word reminded me of something, something that I'd heard a long time ago in my own village. What was it? I remembered.

     "I have none," I answered. "But in answer to your first question, I am one who looks for the unlooked for. I am the one who bears a nameless something. I am one who hides from darkness in darkness. What are you?"

     The man said nothing, but his lips turned upward in the smallest smile. "You are no agent, but you should be," he said. "You can answer a question truthfully without revealing any secrets."

     "Then you are an Agent of the Night?" I asked.

     "Hush! Such things are spoken of behind locked doors and vigilant guards. This is neither the time nor place. Do you have lodging for the night?"

     I shook my head. "Then you'd best come with me," he said. "I'll give you shelter for the night and lead you to what you seek." He smiled briefly again and said, "And in answer to your question, I am Tytus. Now come. The unlooked for awaits."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


     The device shimmered and glistened in the sunlight. It lay on its smooth, rounded, copper colored side on a cliff top overlooking a wide open plain. I looked at it incredulously. This thing was supposed to fly?

     The inventor looked from it to me and back again, grinning like an idiot. He couldn't stand it any longer. "Well, what d'you think?"

     I opened my mouth and closed it again. "It doesn't look much like a flying machine," I said.

     "Ah, but that's the beauty of it!" the inventor said, his brilliant white teeth hurting my eyes. He tapped the hull of the contraption. "She may not look it, but this little device will revolutionize travel. Imagine what it will be like to be able to fly from one village to another, instead of having to go days riding on horseback!"

     "It sounds lovely," I said, "but there are only three things I know of that fly: birds, gryphons and those ancient airships that were destroyed long ago. This thing resembles none of those."

     The inventor sighed. "I suppose you'll just have to trust me. I've tried it out myself several times."

     "So why do you need me?" I asked, hoping I hadn't wasted an afternoon.

     "I needed a professional to test pilot it," he replied. "You're the only one I could find."

     "I'm not a professional," I protested. "I know nothing about flying!"

     "Ah, but you are," the inventor said, still grinning brilliantly. "You're a Grayson, right?"

     "What does that have to do with anything?"

     "You, my friend, are a direct descendant of the fellows who built those ancient airships you were talking about. Flying is in your blood."

     I still felt skeptical. "Look, don't worry," the inventor said, putting his arm around my shoulders. "As soon as I explain the procedure, you'll just have to climb in and let 'er go. It's easy!"

     I sighed and climbed into the small cockpit. There was no point in arguing with this man. I just hoped he was right about its working.

     The inventor stepped closer and looked over my shoulder into the small, dimly lit space. "Now, first you've got to find the control switch." He pointed to a small black lever with nonsensical writing etched above it. "Press that to take off." He pointed to another lever. "That controls your height, that one adjusts your speed. That button over there is for your thrust, and those pedals on the ground control stopping and landing gear. And, uhm, I think I put a music player in there somewhere... ah, well. That's all. You got it?"

     I hadn't understood anything that he'd said, but he seemed to take my silence as confirmation. "Great!" he said cheerily. "Now just hit that button to close the door, and you'll be off!"

     I pressed the button in question, happy to be blocked out from the inventor's chatter. I could barely see the controls by the dim glowing crystal that was attached to the ceiling. Which lever did he say would lift off?

     I reached down and pushed one of the switches. There was a grumbling noise from the innards of the device, and it began to vibrate quietly. I tried another lever. There was another noise and without warning, the odd machine shot forward into the air.

     What on earth just happened? I realized suddenly that there was no way to see out of the device. How could I steer when I couldn't see anything? In panic I pushed a random button. Two panels directly ahead opened up and I could see the clear blue sky in front of me. OK, that's good, I thought.

     At that moment, another sound came from the back of the machine, and the picture of the sky before me was replaced by a view of a couple wisps of cloud and the ground below, which was approaching the machine very rapidly. Oh, no.

     I looked around the cockpit desperately, at all the buttons and switches thrown onto the control panel with haphazard disorder. Which button fixed falling problems? I pressed one hopefully. An upbeat tune began to bounce from the rear of the machine, behind my head. That was the music player.

     I felt fear beginning to overtake my being. The ground was getting so close I could begin to make out small villages dotting the countryside and a couple horsemen riding to and from them. I tried pressing another button with no effect. Come on, I thought. I had to get a hold of myself and figure this out.

     Flying's in my blood. The thought came suddenly, and offered some comfort in my desperate position. Just calm down. I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths. Then I opened them and went to work.

     Without thinking, I grabbed the lever on the right and yanked it upward. The machine responded by jerking itself upright. I was now hovering in the air. Well, that was good. But how do I actually fly now? I surveyed the control panel, grabbing hold of a lever that looked right. I inched it forward slowly, watching as the machine began to move forward.

     OK, now, let's see what this thing can do. I shoved the lever forward, feeling the exhilaration of speed as the device shot forward. I pressed buttons and switches instinctively, almost recklessly.

     I flew. The machine dipped and dove and swooped just like any other flying thing. I was soaring with the gryphons. There was nothing holding me down. Yes! Flying was in my blood, and I was doing it, right here and right now. I felt the freedom, the excitement, the joy of this experience, rushing through my body. Yes!

     When I got back, I'd have to give that inventor a hug.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I'll show you my thoughts, visions, dreams,
Modest tales and various schemes,
I'll let you see this part of myself,
From the pen to the bookshelf.
I'll show you workings of my mind, all,
All this from the castle wall.