There was something big out there in the dark. Lathan shivered and tried to blink the sleep from his eyes, as he searched for the shortsword he'd thought he'd never have to use. Light flared; one of the guards was poking up the campfire. Suddenly his sleeping tunic seemed painfully thin, and Lathan clutched frantically at the hilt revealed in the firelight.
It was big and moving fast, whatever it wasand it was anything but silent. Going over the brush, not through it, thought Lathen, and then, twenty meters away? Maybe less. No time for armor. He glanced at the cheap leather hauberd that lay neatly over a nearby stump. It would be nearly useless against the fangs and claws of almost any creature. He backed towards the wagon, feeling as if his eyes were twice normal size.
Sudden silence fell on the forest like a thunderbolt. The leaves above gently rustled in the hush. Lathan looked upwards to see the pale moon shining down between the branches. The stars around it were feeble sparks.
Less than one second later his heart nearly split his chest as
The wind was howling like the shrieks of the damned. It made me a little homesick. I urged the donkey to a slightly faster pace up the desolate hill; not a glamorous mount, but extremely stable and dependable. Stable. Donkey. Will my curse ever end?
As we got to the top of the blasted heath (cliche, anyone?), I saw him waiting for me. Eight feet tall. Snorting smoke and sulphur. A black Demon-mount™, horns six feet wide. He wore the latest in DeathLord fashion, a full UltraPlate DemonSpike™ outfit. A redblack RuneSword on his back, moaning in the usual eerie way. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
Reining in the donkey, I straightened up in the saddle and looked him over. He was frozen, a titan in black metal, and I could only imagine what he saw when he looked at me: the worn and faded robe with stars and moons just the wrong color for the fabric, the wilted-looking pointed hat with moth-eaten brim, the slightly bent corundum wand, the dusty and sagging saddlebags. And me, of course, with the traditional long grey beard and wire-framed spectacles.
Me, I saw the finest acoutrements I'd seen in quite a while. And he himself was a prime specimen: jaw of a Hero, brow of a God, nose of something regal and hawk-likemaybe a King? Hard to say. Piercing ice-blue eyes stabbed contempt from beneath his mighty horned helm of (of course) black Admantium. Then he spoke, and his voice was a shifting mist of power and fear. I leaned back and savored the overtones. It was all exactly as they'd said.
"We had thought to do battle with a Mage," he sneered. "Are you his servant, or a messenger? Neither? Your soul will feed Our mount, then. And your heart will have the honor of joining these others." A massive thumb jerked scornfully towards the shrivelled brown lumps that were impaled on his various spikes and spines.
As soon as he'd spoken, I'd slid off the donkey and started untying the strings on my saddlebag; fortunately the blade was easy to find, since it was the only thing I'd brought. Bringing the battered Sword into guard position, I took a step forward.
He stared in amazement, and then an overwhelming avalanche of laughter roared out of him. "A Wizard with a Sword?! And...by Our Arm, is that a Sword 3.0? Foolish little Wizard, that Sword was outdated a full seven Cycles ago!". He howled uncontrollably, but my attention was focused on his sword-arm. It was sagging down with each titanic guffaw.
Quickly (but then, I am quick) I leaned forward and touched the tip of the Sword to his mount's left front hoof. The blade disintegrated in a shower of sparks. The Lord bellowed with surprise, but was drowned out by the cry from his steed. It was no doubt uncomfortable to have your core code disrupted in a concatenation failure, but then, I wasn't in a particularly sympathetic mood. I hadn't put the bug in the damn thing, after all. Though I'd been happy to discover it, and the corresponding flawed object to start the concatenation failure rolling.
The Lord dropped his RuneSword, then, as his Demon-mount fell to its kneesor rather, as its knees disappeared. The process really began to get in and hump itself at that point, and I watched with interest as the de-resolution spread from the mount to its rider. He fell to the ground, the steed mostly gone, his legs along with it.
"You...u r no wizzarrdd!," he cried out, his native tongue coming out as his speech module failed. "U r a..."
"Hacker", I finished for him, as he vanished completely.
Copyright 2001 by Peter Maranci. Revised: September 07, 2001. v. 1.1