|Table of Contents|
|Chapter 1 - Palace of Doom|
|Chapter 2 - A Knight to Remember|
Our story begins in the same
way many an ancient tale often does: with a colossal, solid gold
pleasure palace falling through the sky at 400 miles an hour.
Exactly why there was a colossal solid gold pleasure palace falling through the sky at 400 miles an hour is a long story that involves ten flagons of ale, one rectangular wooden plate, no less than three strategically placed bars of soap, and the invention of the Quantum Spoon. It would take many textbooks, flowcharts, and mathematical proofs to adequately explain and rather than dwell on the past, I feel it would be far more beneficial to focus on the much more interesting future. If we stop to explain how things got to this point we'll just end up backtracking a lot more than is remotely necessary. Really, this is just the best and most convenient place for our tale to begin.
The colossal solid gold pleasure palace falling through the sky at 400 miles an hour contained a rogue's gallery of cannibalistic chefs, conniving concierges, bloated aristocrats, malnourished servants, and roaring, bloodthirsty pirate-kings. Through the ornately decorated halls of the palace, people flew down corridors, splattered onto wall-hung paintings, and slid across marble floors before they were impaled on the chandeliers. In the humid and colourful courtyards they hung from beds of exotic flowers and screamed at the world rushing towards them below their feet. Beautiful furniture and fine feasts were flung in every direction. Amidst the chaos, the owner of this grand house, the fabled Doom Pirate Nazir Al-Zahabi, sprinted through the spinning corridors with his infamous red scimitar in hand, in mad pursuit of the only two things that still mattered to him: the Al-Zahabi family treasure, and the man downstairs who was stealing it.
The battered, swinging doors to the foyer were almost blown off their hinges as John Boss shoulder-barged through them, running towards the palace's main entrance carrying a jewel-encrusted treasure chest under his arm. He was a huge, muscular bald man wearing only an eyepatch, a fantastic handlebar moustache, and a purple silk bathrobe with the initials N.Z. embroidered in gold thread. Pots, chairs, and people slid forward in front of Boss as the palace became near-vertical. He sped up and flying-kicked the colossal doors open, the winding path through Al-Zahabi's awe-inspiring gardens falling further away from him as the top of the palace leaned forward in its somersault. He glanced up at the building, now above him, the shining, bulbous domes of the roof crumbling away; thousands of little gold plates scattering across the sky as the ancient towers snapped like twigs under their own weight. On the balcony above the main doors, Nazir gripped to the railings as he watched the burglar and his priceless booty disappearing into the clouds.
Nazir Al-Zahabi knew he would likely die today, but not in this crumbling house. He leapt forward, pointing his red scimitar down at the world as he pierced through the tangle of vines that held flailing uprooted trees to others on the ground; over the emptying lake and through a cloud of flamingos in flight; past an outdoor theatre where once he entertained princes and princesses, now ripped in half as this falling island disintegrated into chunks.
Hurtling towards the ground without any plan as to how he was going to survive the impact, John Boss was finally able to take a breather. He appreciated the scenery below: earthy greens speckled with mud browns made up three of the human kingdoms in the south-east - Lautusshire, Magnusshire, and Valenshire - with the Western Wall cutting down the middle to separate them from the vast desert of the largest human kingdom, Collisterra, that dominated the west below the kingdom of Orcadia, which took up half of a mountainous spread across the north; cleaved apart from its old rival Astor - to the east - by The Abyss, a wide strip of forest that slithered down from the lifeless Tundra and stopped at the Northern Wall, which kept the region's savage tribes and demonic wildlife out of Dryadora, the elvin kingdom and swampy heart of this grand continent, this ancient stage upon which our tale is to unfold, the legendary world of-
John pirouetted around in the air to see Nazir Al-Zahabi hurtling towards him, veins in his head bulging as he seemed to propel himself down through sheer hatred. "You slaughter my men and sink my ships! You destroy my home, you cheat your way through the five trials of my family's haunted treasure vault! And for what!? What's inside that chest is worth enough to build all of that again a hundred times over! And when I prise it from your cold, dead hands-"
John Boss let go of the chest, looking Al-Zahabi in the eyes as it plummeted to the ground.
"So is this what you were really after? The chance to finally die by my blade, here in the arena of the heavens? Very well, choose your weapon!" He grinned and prepared to lunge at his unarmed nemesis.
Boss reached into his skimpy bathrobe and pulled out a metre-long broadsword.
Nazir paused. "What the...you're...where the hell did you get that from?!"
John Boss readied himself into a fighting stance despite lacking solid ground beneath his feet to stand or fight on. "The characters and events depicted here are in no way intended to resemble any persons or events, real or fictional, and any such resemblance is entirely coincidental. Motherfucker!"
Boss glided up towards Nazir and the two sworn enemies crashed together in a frantic sword duel. His heavy blade sparked with friction against the sword of the Doom Pirate, who hadn't earned that title without impaling countless rivals for it. John put his feet to Nazir's chest and kicked off from his opponent, dodging a falling marble statue and a screaming dinner guest. He started swinging his broadsword in circles as Nazir fell towards him. As the Doom Pirate pretended he was about to block the sword's downward (relatively speaking) motion, Boss recoiled and swung for Nazir's right side, but they had duelled too many times for a cheap ruse like that to work on him.
"We have duelled too many times for a cheap ruse like that to work on me! My skill with a sword is unparalleled!"
"Let's see what Mrs. Al-Zahabi has to say about that!"
"Sick burn, Mr. Boss," conceded a falling waiter who was also on fire.
From the second-story window of his room at the Stallion and
Mare Inn, Aerin Liette sat at his desk and stared out at the
sleepy town of Sanusville. Slouched forward in a nest of blank
paper and bottles of ink and wine, he examined the dull
afternoon sky hoping that inspiration would simply fall out of
it. To say the elf was an out-of-work writer was to imply that
he was ever in work. Aerin had tried (but more importantly,
failed) to write short stories, novels, poems, and plays, all of
which ended up as either unfinished masterpieces or finished
He'd spent fifteen minutes sitting here and all he had to show for it was about a stanza and a half of a comedic epic poem about a knight who...
Aerin didn't get much further than that before he scrunched the paper into a ball and automatically tossed it behind him, hitting the paper mountain in the wicker bin through muscle memory alone. His head fell into his hands and he looked down at the village below. The donkey pulling a cart of vegetables, the children jumping rocks across the river, the little old ladies gossiping with the butcher, the pretty young woman sweeping outside a shop. He leaned back in his chair, balancing on its two flimsy legs. "Why them?" He would wonder many a night. "Why do they get to just...live? Mill about their illiterate lives without a care in the world while I sit here, trying to unleash a grand creative spirit that never arrives? Uselessly clawing at demons who paint death and misery on the surface of each the world's empty joys? What wouldn't I give stupidly happy, or happily stupid."
"Well Aerin," said a silent voice. "That's probably because, one, you don't have a creative spirit. Two: you have been secretly, invisibly, but essentially malformed since the womb and your struggle against this inevitable disease is hilarious. And three: That's okay, none of this even really matters, you won't remember it in the end. You are, after all, just a dead thing waiting to happe-"
BANG. Shelves of books clattered to the floor as a tremor shot through the room. Aerin tumbled backwards in his chair, bottles of black ink and red wine shattered and bled together to form a dark murk that dripped through the floorboards. He lay still for a moment, waiting to hear anything from the bar below. Aerin clumsily rolled out of his chair and stood up to look for signs of life.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he first noticed that everyone was still alive and unharmed. He secondly noticed that everyone was...still. People were halfway through standing up from their stools or holding a flagon to their lips as they silently stared at the jewel-encrusted treasure chest at the centre of a small crater in the floor, sitting directly below a jewel-encrusted treasure chest-shaped hole in the roof. Their silence became several decibels quieter when a total stranger, naked except for an eyepatch on his right eye, gently floated down through the hole with a parachute made out of what appeared to be a purple silk bathrobe.
His feet silently landed upon the floor, and he stood there for a few moments with his hands on his hips, giving everyone the chance to take in his magnificence for a few moments. The naked man looked intently at each member of his audience, their eyes were fixed on his eye, but some quickly averted their gaze as his eye, in turn, gazed back into them.
"Oh, there it is." John Boss knelt down at the chest. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Al-Zahabi family treasure chest: forged in hellish flames centuries ago by the mad sorcerer Abdul Al-Zahabi, it is said that the chest can only be opened by a descendant's blood sacrifice, and the whispered utterance of what is only ever referred to as 'the ultimate secret of the material realm'." John Boss inspected the mysterious machinery of the chest's many locks, which seemed to almost hum with dark magical reverence. He placed his foot on the lid and kicked it open with a metallic squeal, twisted cogs and smashed mechanisms in the lid falling out. "A ninety mile drop will also do the trick. Innkeeper, do you accept payment in the form of diamonds bigger than the human fist?"
The innkeeper awoke from his terrified trance and nodded eagerly.
"Good," declared Boss. "Because I'm going to need every drink in this building if any of us are going to survive."
From the side of the room, a man in chainmail sat up and drew a sword, his shield on the table bore the symbol of Magnusshire's royal family. "Sir, I'm placing you under arrest for indecent exposure and destruction of this property. Try anything at all and I will not hesitate to kill you right where you stan-"
The guard was sat back down again by Nazir Al-Zahabi's corpse crashing down through the roof and onto his head, impaling the man on the same sword that had been rammed down Nazir's throat. The Doom Pirate's lifeless face was frozen in horror, his mouth agape as if to say, "This is it, this is how I die: choking on my enemy's gigantic sword."
Boss inspected the fallen death-kebab before turning to the rest of the room. "Everyone! In the interests of health and safety I must ask you all stand behind the bar and shield yourselves from what I'm about to do." Everyone moved behind the bar in a herd as they unanimously agreed that they'd feel safer if they had a large piece of furniture between them and this madman. Only the innkeeper ventured out from behind it to deliver as many armfuls of alcohol as he could carry to Boss, who was setting up something on a table near the middle of the room. As soon as there were drinks on the counter, Boss had started mixing them all together; shaking bottles, carefully measuring out quantities of liquid into glasses, and all the time glancing up to the sky through the hole in the roof.
Aerin watched John Boss from behind the bar. Despite his arguable sanity, he seemed completely at ease - almost slightly bored by this situation. As if falling out of the sky and killing a man on the way down was a slow Thursday afternoon. He couldn't stand the anxious silence any longer. "Excuse me?"
"Mm-hmm?" John Boss didn't look up from his table of bottles, jars, flagons, bowls, and forks, which was starting to resemble the lab of an apothecary or an alchemist more than the setup for an elaborate cocktail.
"Yes, hello, what exactly are you doing?"
John Boss poured the noxious mixture he had created into one bottle, slammed a cork on the top and started shaking it as he walked into the centre of the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, the sprawling, solid gold pleasure palace of Nazir Al-Zahabi is currently falling towards this building and shall flatten us like ants in exactly..." he took a step back to get a better view through the hole in the roof "...forty seconds."
The men and women behind the bar all glanced at each other in silent panic.
"But never fear! For inside this ordinary-looking bottle I have everything I need to create my world famous drink, the John Boss Alcoholic Mystery Brandy Surprise."
Aerin narrowed his eyes in stunned confusion, his arms gently flailing on their way to his temples as if clearing through an invisible rainforest of sheer incomprehension. "And how is a bottle of brandy supposed to stop us all from being crushed by a falling..." his eyes nervously darted up to the hole in the roof "...palace? We could have sleepwalked out of harm's way by now!"
The naked man looked up from his throbbing and highly unstable bottle. "Oh, I never said you weren't free to leave the performance at any time, but it's too late for running now, you boys have just passed the point of no return. Now, hold on to something nailed down." He strode over to Nazir Al-Zahabi's corpse, prised the red scimitar from his cold, dead hand and took his position under the hole. "In answer to your question, elf, this stuff isn't brandy at all." He pressed the scimitar to the bottle's neck, and smiled. "Surprise."
Boss struck the bottle's cork and Aerin only caught a glimpse of the spark from the corner of his eye as he ducked down below the bar and held on tight. He kept his head to the floor, feeling the raging torrent of fire that had instantly torn the building apart with a quick crunching noise. The bar was thick enough to block the flames which curved around it loosely enough that the people behind it were only gently singed.
After about fifteen seconds, the flames stopped. The only sound was the sizzling of the building's black skeleton. Aerin looked up to the fading cloud of smoke where the palace used to be, and the other patrons of what was once the Stallion and Mare Inn slowly rose up to see John Boss, still standing in the middle of the room, blackened by soot and admiring the clear sky above them.
"And that, my good men..." He picked up an empty flagon off the floor "...is how you make one John Boss Alcoholic Mystery Brandy Surprise." He poured what was left of the drink and took a refreshing swig. "So! On a scale of 'one' to 'stunned silence', how amazing have the last two minutes of your life been?" There was a stunned silence.
"You said we were boys 30 seconds ago," noted Aerin.
"And now, I say you are men." Boss smiled and raised the flagon to his compatriots before downing the flagon.
The flimsy remains of the door were kicked down by a guard, who was followed by a veritable conga line of justice, funnelling through the doorframe in an orderly fashion despite the absence of a wall on either side of it anymore.
John Boss turned to face the guards, welcoming them with open arms. "Gentlemen! Glad you could join us. Drinks?"
The guards stood there for quite some time, staring slack-jawed into the sky above them where they should have been seeing a roof. "What in the gods' name happened here?"
The captain stepped forward. "You're the one who caused the explosion, aren't you? Well, let's see if you're so resourceful when you're rotting in the depths of Sanusville Prison!"
Boss paused for a few seconds, his eyes wandering up as he rifled through his memory banks. "Sanusville...Prison...Sanus...nope, never heard of it. Does this establishment house any master criminals of myth and legend?"
The guards looked perplexed at each other. "Um...no?"
"I don't think it's big enough for those."
"Hauntings or paranormal phenomena of any kind?"
"Um...has anyone ever escaped?"
"Just last week we had the town drunk slip out through the back."
"Oh." John Boss' bravado had deflated into awkward disappointment. "Well it was very nice of you to offer, but I'm afraid this is an invitation I'll have to decline. I'm washing my hair tonight."
"But...you don't have hair."
John Boss hurled the bottle of his namesake beverage at the floor, and it exploded in a great cloud. When the fragrant smoke had cleared and everyone had stopped violently coughing, they found themselves alone, Bossless.
"He's gone," uttered the guard captain. "Just like that. He didn't even give us a name, his face was too obscured by the soot to ever identify him again." He looked solemnly into the distance. "He's a ghost. He could be anyone, anywhere, maybe even at any time. We'll tell stories of this day. A man walks into a bar and..."
"What is it, sir?"
He pointed solemnly into the distance. "There's the prick. See? That little black spot."
Another guard squinted his eyes and could just about see a naked man sprinting towards the horizon. "Oh yeah."
"Do you want to...?"
"Might as well."
Some of the guards began to pursue the strange man, but had no chance of catching up with him.
"And just like that, he was off: sprinting butt naked into
the wilderness, never to be seen again."
Aerin Liette and the other residents of the late Stallion and Mare had been taken by the authorities to the safety of Magnus, the kingdom's nearby capital, where they had been set up with accommodation for the night after being questioned on the scene. Aerin had tracked down the biggest Inn he could find, and a nosey barman had roped him into regaling the crowd with his unbelievable tale of how a fortune of jewels fell from the sky just a few hours ago. The dead silence of the enraptured crowd was broken by one person slowly clapping. Others followed suit as applause snowballed from the crowd until Aerin was being given a standing ovation. He bowed awkwardly before jumping off the table he was standing on and disappearing back into the crowd.
A drunken man grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted slurring into his face, "I DON BELEEF A FUCKEN...WORDJIT YOU JUST SAID."
A hand inside a metal gauntlet grabbed the drunk by the head and swiftly shoved him out of the way. The owner of the hand stepped forward and revealed himself as a man with thick black hair who was clad from the neck down in armour with a crest featuring an orange Minotaur. His intense, bulging eyes stared directly at Aerin, and he broke out into a gallant smile of black and broken teeth.
"Fear not! For I am Lockswell, knight of the realm! And I am too familiar with the knave of which you speak."
|Table of Contents|
|Chapter 1 - Palace of Doom|
|Chapter 2 - A Knight to Remember|