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|Um... well, this is actually the prologue fragment to a book I've been toying with. It's still in the rough, the beginning here's confusing, choppy, and poorly written, but hey... it's intended for laughs. Have fun.||
Kel was in a bad mood.
This in and of it was not very impressive. People were in bad moods all the time, as it goes, and their differences usually lay only in the causes and what was done to alleviate them. Couple a bad mood with a bad day, however, and what you get tends to be worse, although still far from unique. In fact, to most people, bad days were perfectly good reasons to settle comfortably into a bad mood and bitch about everything in life. Or just get depressed, or drunk, or both, and bitch at the same time. Some people thrive on being in a perpetual bad mood, and can only be truly happy if they are absolutely miserable and harp on the world in general.
Kel was much beyond all this. He had many bad days rather than one simple, shining twelve hours of ill luck. In fact, he had nearly a month running of bad days, and for the most part had given up being angry, depressed and drunk. The latter due to dwindling funds more so than any aesthetic reasons.
He had arrived here nearly a month ago, at the start of his misfortunes, though where exactly "Here" was on any map was something that still managed to elude him. To further his annoyance, he also had no idea of how he had come to be "Here". He simply found himself in a field one morning, outfitted in all his old adventuring gear, clothed or stowed in his pack. This was an event that not only confused but disturbed him. He was sure all the old gear was stowed safely out of the way under some old blankets in the closet back home.
From that moment, Kel's life was one long, ceaseless string of unfortunate events. The farmer who owned the field very nearly slaughtered him with a pitchfork within five minutes of waking; Kel barely managed to gather enough wits and run like hell before he came to an end at an already less-than-promising beginning.
Since then, he'd been robbed, stabbed, taken hostage by a fish cult, dragged three miles by a maddened horse, attacked by gremlins, shot at by mice and accidentally partaken of a bad mushroom. It may not seem like much to some people, but top it off with the facts that running away from rodents is nearly as humiliating as it gets, and not having a decent bath or shave (or toiletries; try wiping with leaves for a few weeks and see how worthwhile it really is to get back to basics) in a month, then imagine yourself undergoing it all. If it still seems lacking, either you have no imagination, or you need seek psychiatric help.
Now, he was in some snotty town called Eastlake, which reared itself up on the Eastern Shore of what was in a not very original fashion called "The Lake." Indeed, it was a lake. The ducks swear by it, but nobody ever asks them about anything anyway.
Kel would have been interested to hear what the ducks had to say, though. He was that kind of man - young enough to be interested and old enough to do something about it. Besides, talking ducks are not such a usual occurrence, and tend to merit at the very least a suspicious glance.
Kel would also have been interested to hear what else the ducks had to say aside from 'Quack'. He could have listened for hours in rapt attentiveness to their honking discourse, as they described with loathing and horror the town he was now preparing to enter; its alien customs and tyrannical community standards, the incredibly high property value, crystal magic, and why he should, more than anything, turn around and run faster now than he did from the farmer.
But Kel didn't hear what the ducks had to say. Perhaps this was because he, like most people who aren't particularly hungry or trying to sleep, didn't pay them much attention. Perhaps he did notice them, but with memories of rogue militant mice fresh in his mind, he sidled quickly away from their inquisitive stares. While these are both perfectly understandable arguments, it was most likely that he didn't hear what the ducks had to say because, like most animals, ducks cannot speak.
So, completely unheeding of the ducks' warnings and possible dangers of Eastlake, Kel sauntered right in. Maybe sauntered is too jolly a word for it - staggered might be more apt to the case. Right down several streets in a near daze, in fact, bumping into several people who turned to give him a good seeing-to, but hastily turned away again. Everyone knows that people with long hair are evil, and Eastlake had passed a city ordinance outlawing long hair. Kel's hair was not only a golden, straight length of hair draping past his shoulders in such a way as to remind people of youthful sun gods or leather jackets, but it had a braid, too. Only really violent longhairs had braids.
Kel had broken about fifteen laws by the simple act of walking from the city limits to the establishment he now occupied. Failure to register, failure to register vehicle inspection, failure to register not possessing a vehicle, trafficking illegal goods, wearing armor, illegal possession of lethal weaponry, failure to register arms matching his armor, failure to register illegal goods, failure to possess the legal length of hair, wearing leather in public, wearing black in public, wearing black leather in public, failure to pay a 75% tithe to the local holy outlet, having a braid and jaywalking.
Of course, he was completely unaware of all this, but no doubt he'd discover it soon enough. Just in time to ruin his breakfast, probably.
It is most likely a good time to elaborate a bit on the town of Eastlake, so as to make the reader more fully appreciative of the dangers therein.
Eastlake is home to a special breed of fundamentalists known as 'Progressive-Fundamentalists'. This term may seem an oxymoron to some, but contrary to popular belief the word 'Fundamentalist' is not synonymous with the term 'Obstinate Stagnation'. Fundy's just consider themselves open-minded, considerate people who are absolutely right about everything, and anyone who disagrees is evil and must be ostracized. Other people tend to find them harmlessly amusing, provided said people don't receive eighty pamphlets in the mail and recurring midnight calls about donations, the evils of role-playing, and why they should paint their houses in accord with community standards.
Proggies (as they have been dubbed), have slightly different views. They consider themselves so absolutely correct about everything they don't need to bother with the pretense of being open-minded, and anyone who disagrees is a heretic to be hunted, given fair trial and then horribly mutilated, tortured, burned at the stake, or all three plus a few extras on the side (sermons, forced retreats, et cetera). Proggies do not believe in laws of state, but voluntary community standards, which, if not adhered to, become extremely dangerous in the sense that the offending party returns home to find his house gone, family sold to passing gypsies, livestock redistributed among the townsfolk and a large bill to cover expenses of justice.
Proggies also find the term Proggie to be an insult, and reduce offending parties to instant rapture if uttered.
It would also be interesting to note at this point that Kel is a warrior-cleric, rather young but somewhat old fashioned. Don't confuse 'Priest' with 'Cleric'; Kel had gone through all the priestly stuff and decided it wasn't worth the effort. He did believe in gods, and the Creator, and the constant struggle between good & evil, simply because he’d met several of them in the past, worked for a bunch of them, and been on both sides of the road. He also believed in soft beds, good cholesterol-laden breakfasts and the right to bash someone over the head with a heavy object when the need arose. The difference is, while you can worship gods, you can really believe in the solidity of a good, iron mace.
On the other hand, Kel also believed in the power of the written word. He could speak twenty-seven different languages fluently without magical aid and write like a poet in half of them (a few of said languages were physically impossible to produce sounds poetic). He knew advanced mathematics, various forms of architectural design, abstract physics, and most of the magical theorems. He also had rather quick and clean handwriting, as well as excellent organizational qualities.
At this point the term 'Renaissance Man' may come to mind, so it is important to know that Kel was oft a stubborn, impatient and vengeful bastard. He was a born cynic, had a certain cheerful glumness and was excessively disillusioned about the world. All the worlds.
People like Kelmarkin and Progressive-Fundamentalists just don't mix well. It tends to produce a reaction not unlike combining bleach and ammonia.
At the moment, Kel was also analogizing. It was in concern with his breakfast, and how grits, like sheep stomachs, insects, monkey brains and dog crap are an acquired taste.
There is a time during a meal common to the vast majority of lone diners everywhere, in which the diner leans back in his chair to poke or stare reflectively at the remaining food. It is this time in which many great ideas are spawned, like haiku's, cures for rare diseases, wise phrases, new sales techniques and the like. It is a time of philosophical reverie, where one asks oneself such questions as "What does it all mean?" "Where do we all come from?" "What time is it really, and how am I getting home?" and the universal "What the hell did I just eat?" This is the time of, if not enlightenment, then solemn meditation.
In short, time for a good smoke.
There have been hundreds of attempts to re-create this state in an artificial fashion. These methods tend towards yogurt and mountaintops, road trips, severe physical exertion, grievous self-mutilation, illegal substances, alcohol, religion and coffeehouses. Of course, there are many more, but these are the most noteworthy and reliably common on every world. Most of them are for the non-smokers.
Coffeehouses were the great stoke of genius, however. They were the perfect ambience of artificial fog, black sludge and miserable psychic field. Food was outrageously expensive in coffeehouses, but that was fine; anyone who actually ate the stuff was quarantined to the bright corners by the windows. The coffee wasn't 'good' so much as the pure, black nectar that is the elixir of life (I.e., it gets the job done). The air was always so thick with nicotine that all one needed was to but look in through an open window to make the eyes turn yellow and not need a smoke for a week. It was a paradise.
Then someone had a brilliant idea to make the place non-smoking, import ten thousand different brands of exotic flavored bean, put frilly black lace everywhere, clean the vomit from the floors and brighten the whole place up. Warm, comfortable misery was banished by the vengeful light of modern progression, hellish cheeriness and Enya tunes.
Most of the beatniks hung themselves when they realized what had crept up. Not as if anyone else actually noticed them do so.
So it came to the last bastion of smokers, the little-known cafe's. Not the sunny kind, with half the tables out on a fenced-in portion of the sidewalk, with the useless umbrellas that they bring in out of the rain. Nor the kind with the expensive pastries that were exotically unidentifiable until the local physician or magistrate had settled the matter accordingly. No, these were the kind of cafe's with the signs that were always new but instantly faded; the color of the ceiling become a neutral grease tone, the original paint long since rotted away; the kind of cafe's that were definitively clean, but perpetually looked like a dirt merchants stall.
You could always recognize them; they've ashtrays on every table, and spread at a maximum of two feet apart at the counter. There are always the odd assortment of regulars who tend to be strange in their own right, speaking to one another loudly and switching to a foreign language whenever a stranger makes the mistake of intruding upon the premises. The food's the kind that, while not exactly good, has a certain addictive quality to it. And there's always that quiet guy behind the cash box who helps the cook out, knows how to do most everything, but generally just stands around with a lukewarm cup of coffee while leaning on his mop. On occasion he'll sweep up or refill the sugar silos in an attempt to look busy.
The establishment which Kel was now present in was such a place at one time. Grease-colored ceiling had been scrubbed down and repainted, and was washed daily. The quiet boy behind the cash box was fired and replaced with another quiet boy who never drank anything but mineral water and loved to work. Sunshine streamed in through the windows. The regulars mysteriously disappeared and migrated to another roosting site. The cook had broken down and wept before selling the place and moving back to New Jasy.
All that now remained was a Proggie watering hole. On the front door was a large white sign with a garish red line drawn through a picture of a smoking pipe. Kel hadn't noticed it. He usually doesn't notice things when he feels they don't apply to him.
Now, as contemplation time drew nigh, out came his pipe. There was something disturbing about the meal he had just eaten. The eggs were dry and springy, not a sloppy yellow puddle, and the hash browns were actually browned potatos. The sausage was real meat. The utensils were even clean. While Kel felt this should have been pleasant, it was in fact uncomfortable; it went against all his experience in diner and cafe cuisine.
As he leaned back in the wood & wicker chair, the Bad Mood its own throbbing entity flicking idly through the contents of the past month in his mind, Kel put taper to pipe and lit up. Sucking thoughtfully at the stem, blue smoke curling a noxious, noiseless cadence in the air, he stared thoughtfully at the grey and gritty mush peering pathetically back at him from the plate, almost whispering "Please. Please, eat me. ". He wondered how anything could be oozing and crunchy at the same time (This was a miracle of metaphysics, actually; a seventh state of matter, existing only as an artificially created substance. The other six are Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma, Light and Metaphor, the last of which is also known in some circles of academia as 'Zurg'. Unfortunately, the word Zurg loses something in translation).
After a time, Kel was aware of a heavy silence (In the sixth state of matter, this is perfectly feasible; metaphor, under certain circumstances, reaches a mass greater than any Singularity could ever hope to achieve). While heavy silences are in and of themselves not generally foreboding, there is something quite unnerving about them when suddenly made aware of, snapping out from one's private world of misery. When accompanied by the sight of ancient and majestic oaks, for instance, a heavy silence is indicative of quiet awe; in a cemetery, of respect for the dead. A good, heavy silence is a balancing force of nature, causing the beholder to pause and really consider his niche in the world.
The six burly men glaring down at Kel gave him very good reason to believe that not only had he very probably invaded someone else's niche, but that the heavy silence was carried in by those burly men to replace the lighter silence which was bustled out by the other patrons sensing something nasty about to occur.
All six men looked nearly identical - large, noticeably muscular with a clean-cut, Sunday school thuggish appearance. None of them seemed very happy, either. Not even the man smiling at Kel, showing off perfect white teeth; the kind you get only by brushing three times a day in addition to after every meal and in the mornings, noon and evenings of every day.
Kel shifted uncomfortably and glowered back at them. It was his experience that thugs were large, stupid and dirty. These thugs were large, yes, but extremely well groomed. He had a nagging suspicion that they could probably even read words with more than one syllable.
"Well?" Kel asked the smiling, well-groomed thug after a few minutes' glowering was exchanged. "Are you going to stand there and smile all morning, or can you rob or arrest me now so as to get this over with as swiftly as possible?"
Smiles seemed taken aback at this, though his face remained locked in position. He fingered his cudgel in a self-reassuring manner before he responded.
"Well, sir, this establishment is non-smoking. You will extinguish that pipe, now, and come with us. Please," The last was inserted not so much as to make the order any less insulting, but rather that Smiles could later report under the Truthear that he was polite and courteous. Even magic has its loopholes, probably more than anything.
Kel's retort was swift, sharp, and unmistakably to the point.
"Roight," he growled. "One of those, eh? Resisting arrest, right? Right? Right. We got cudgels. Right."
"No," Kel sipped at his coffee as he spoke, "I'm not."
Smiles blinked again. "You're not?"
"Oh. Right." Smiles felt that he was swiftly losing control of the situation, and rallied with: "Right then, well, off we go." He managed to sound a bit more menacing, for good measure.
"In just a moment then," Kel sucked contemplatively at his pipe again, the smoke flattening out about two feet above his head in a strata haze to reach the ideal height for enclouding the face of anyone who yet remained standing. One of the thugs coughed and immediately turned his head, embarrassed.
"You'll come when you're told, sir, and you're told now!" Smiles was beginning to lose his composure.
"I'm under arrest then, am I?" Kel inquired, a bit of cheeriness edging his voice.
"Yes. Er, no. Right, no. You're to be voluntarily detained against your will." Smiles felt better; he was back on track.
Kel glanced down to his pipe; it was nearly finished anyway. He sighed, tamped it out and stood. "Alright," he muttered, "Shouldn't be a very large fine, at the least."
Predictably, Smiles' smile broadened. Behind him, the other thugs snickered.
The magistrate's gavel slammed home, sending a resounding boom to reverberate through the courthouse.
"You are hereby sentenced to twenty years, four months and eighteen days of hard labor, no weekends, no parole, to commence in two days time."
Kel's jaw hung low as the words, like the booming of the gavel, seemed to resound through the courthouse as well as rattle around inside his skull. He had no difficulty understanding, nor any difficulty even believing what had just been proclaimed. He was well and fully aware that sentences as the one prescribed were passed daily, everywhere. He was simply having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it now applied to him.
"For smoking!?" Kel's voice was an infuriated, irrational scream. "I'll goddam murder you, you bastard son of a mud-guzzling gutterfu-" His ravings were cut short as he was dragged bodily from attempting to scale the magistrate's stand with a mace in hand. The weapon was removed and several hands clamped over his mouth, arms, legs and waist as he was forcibly hauled from the courtroom kicking and biting.
After the shouts, screams and curses had faded in the distance, the magistrate chanced a peek over the rim of his stand. Seeing that all was clear, he snapped at the nearest bailiff.
As an afterthought, he added: "Bring me another gown as well."
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