Gandalf and Lisa: Part 4 of 4

Links to previous parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 

We descended into the undercity.

I used to live down in this place. In the last few years though the guards have raided the undercity with some frequency. The sorcerers claim they are purging the city of putrefaction when rather they are obliterating only the weakest members of society. The truly invisible.

Down we go. We pass by false windows blasting words, demanding we purchase some ornament to pass without judgement amongst the surface folk. I close my ears to the lies as i have trained myself to do. It’s slow going with my limp but Lisa’s grip gives me strength. Eventually we make it to the steel goblins. I manipulate the knobs and dials. I make an offering of coins and receive permission to enter. In the lair of the steel dragon we move cautiously, sticking close to pillars and shadows. Despite the raids a few poor souls still rest in bundles, in corners, their meager possessions clasped to their chests, whilst false windows above them demand all purchase trinkets or be denied salvation.

Then we hear violent conversation echoing off the vaulted walls. Wearily I halt, pushing Lisa behind me. I spot a trio of youths awaiting the arrival of the steel dragon. They are marked with piercings and tattoos, sigils of the angry. Rage pulses within them. They must be heading for King’s road. I watch them from a distance behind an old brick pillar. Even one of them seems more than a match for me in my weakened state. They have my pity. The casual atrocities the wealthy commit birth these broken children. I hope Lisa never falls too.

I consider waiting for them to leave. As I do I consider the ancient clock on the worn wall. Above the convoy of ragged sleepers the time ticks on. Another risk, another choice. I close my eyes and pass my hand under the layers of worn clothing to grip the old medallion that hangs around my sagging neck. I take it off and crouch low. To Lisa i say, “Child, i want you to listen to me very carefully.” I hang the old charm around her neck.

I say to her, “Whatever happens, you must wait till the dragon stops at Temple Street. There feed the goblins your paper permission, and find your way back home.” I smooth back her hair as i say this. Such a beautiful little flame.

She speaks up “But what about you? What’s this?” She fiddles with the medallion, running her fingers over the star’s edges.

I tell her “A long time ago many knights of my order fell in battle. That medallion symbolizes their sacrifice. My comrades will protect you, their spirits are imbued in that. I want you to keep it.” I stand up then, straight. “Come. Let’s take you home.”

We board as far as we can from the ruffians. Lisa tugs on my sleeve as the door slides shut. I bend so i can hear her whisper “They are very angry.” she says. I pat her hand. Yes. Yes they are.

We sit in silence for many stops.

Occasionally we hear raucous laughter echoing down the snaking entrails of the steel dragon. I keep my arm around Lisa, and bundle her up in my cloak, so that only the tip of her nose is visible. Our own carriage is empty. When we are three stops from King’s road I hear loud goodbyes. As the dragon resumes it’s flight I glance outside and see one of the youths has disembarked. Perhaps they all did. Ixat be praised!

As we pass the youth, at rapid speeds, he turns, and for a moment we lock eyes. I recognise the face, the needle pits. It is Midas’s squire. As he fades backwards I notice him draw a small box. Soon he is lost behind us. Then an eerie tune echoes from down the carriage, only to be suddenly cut short with a loud “Yo, Sup?”.

I say to Lisa, “Did you hear…” before seeing she is fast asleep. It can be difficult to tell sometimes, for me, the difference between the shadows and the truth. Perhaps i did not see or hear anything. We near the third last stop. My own eye lids droop heavily. It has been a long day. Just before closing them i catch reflection of a reflection towards the dragon’s mouth. Movement. I shake Lisa awake. I command her “Lisa, hide behind those seats in the corner. Go. Go now.” She is a good girl, and obeys. The distant shadows approach closer, reflected in the steel gizzard of the dragon. The pair uses the hand holds above to swing forward, step by step, like apes. I limp down towards them, farther away from Lisa.

Then the two reach our carriage.

One wears a mohawk, black face paint, and many studs of iron that criss-cross his nose. The other’s head is bare, a ring through his lips. I place my sword across my legs, and concentrate on being invisible.

Alas my skills are not what they once were.

The mohawk speaks. “Lookey lookey lookey lou! Check out this old geezer.” The other one moves closer. His eyes burn with rage. That one is dangerous. The mohawk brings his mouth to my head, invades my space. “Caww you look like you’re on your last legs old man. You must a hundred. Bet i’d give you a heart attack if i shouted. GIVE YOU A HEART ATTACK YEAH?” he yells into my ear, reminding me of a teacher from a lifetime ago, who killed the boy inside, making us into soldiers ready to serve sorcerers. In response to his yelling I blink, but that is all.

He continues. “Im talking here old man. Look at me while i’m talking to you.” I do. I look into his soul. This one is young. His story yet unwritten. I see the anger in his eyes, i see the raging demons he must contend with every day. And i see hope, underneathe it all. The candle inside him still flickers. So I speak.

I say “You don’t want to do this son.”

For a moment i see him falter. He looks like he is about to turn away. He does. Then he whips forward, back handing me with a steel ringed fist. I collapse across the seat, head reeling. He is yelling something, something about his father, something about him not being my son. The words are indistinct, but the iron taste of his ring is clear. I lick around my broken teeth. Ah, not the ring. Blood. Then the quieter one finally speaks to me. He moves in closer, tensing up. He says “His dad is dead you old cunt. Fucking join him.”

I am old, but i am not so slow. I draw my sword. My hilt catches the Mohawk in his testicles. I bring up the blade and its tip enters one of his nose rings. I pull and blood bursts from his young  face. I lurch out of my seat, and push the other away. The Mohawk is down, but his friend has come to his senses. He swings, i parry the blow with my blade. “CRAZY OLD MAN!” he yells. He grabs my blade, wrenches it from my hands and throws it over my head. “Noo!” I yell. My sword. I have lost my sword.

He punches me in the face. Hard. And again. And again. And again. And again. He is on top of me. Face to face I can look into his eyes now. Somewhere in there is my reflection. “FOR THE LIGHT.” I headbutt him with all the force i can muster. He reels back. I turn over on the cold floor. My left hand is broken. There is blood in my eyes. Get up old man. One. Last. Time.

Somehow i do. Only to see the knife in his hands. He charges me. “GET AWAY FROM HIM.” Cries the brave, brave girl. She is holding my sword. The knife is near. With a loud bang the two collide, girl and giant. Light and dark. My sword has exploded, has transformed into a shield. The girl has pressed the button, causing the blade to fan out and catch the quiet ones knife. I gurgle “L-Lisa Run.”

The bare headed one yells “Little bitch!” He gets up. Then almost falls over again as a pink discus careens off his nose. Blood all over his face. Lisa shouts “I SAID GET AWAY!” The bare headed one howls in pain as he holds his nose. Lisa has used up the last of her weapons. The sword is useless now. All she has is a tiny star in her free hand. The medallion. She is holding it out to the thugs, brandishing it like a flame. From my vantage point on the floor she is tall. The steel dragon is slowing. We are nearing the station. When the door opens I may be able to bull rush them, force them out of the carriage. Maybe. I need to be strong.

“Get away from HIM! GO BACK!” yells Lisa, with all the convction of a child behind her. The quiet one snarls, and prepares to charge her. The dragon stops. I must be quick.

The doors begin to open. I must be strong.

“Wait!” says the bloodied boy with the Mohawk. “Wait Kevin.” He says again. The doors are open. We all wait. In front of me towers Lisa, armed only with the spirits of my dead comrades. The Mohawk says “Kevin that’s…that’s a medal of honor.” Kevin stops completely. He stares at the medallion. The Mohawk says “He was like Dad Kev…he’s a…a…”

Lisa finishes for him “He’s a knight.” Lisa says, in tears. “And you’re just bullies.” And her spell finishes them.

The two leave. I collapse. Only minutes pass but it seems an enternity. Lisa helps wake me before Temple Street. Lisa helps me up. Lisa escorts me to the barrier, and patiently up the stairs. We find ourselves on a deserted main street.

Temple street.

Finally. I brought her home.

Rows of simple houses, all with lights out, excepting one. Slowly we make our way to it, hand in hand. Finally we are opposite her house. Through windows i can make out sillhouettes of concern. We watch for a moment. I feel some words are in order, but i’m not so adept at farewells.

So i crouch down and hug little Lisa. I hug her tight. I say “You are the bravest flame i have ever met.” Gently I dab away her tears for the last time. I take the medallion from around her neck, pressing it into her palm. “I want you to take this Lisa.” As i try to close her hands over it she resists. She says to me “No please. It’s yours Earl.” Then as i kneel in front of her she hangs it around my drooping neck. With my good hand i grip it, and remember friends long departed. Lisa says “B-but i would like um…can i have…” I watch where her eyes go. Aye. I reckon she’s earned it.

I raise myself off the ground. I draw my sword. “Close your eyes Lisa.” She does. I touch her left shoulder with the blade. I say the words. I touch her right shoulder with the blade. I say the words. Finally i touch her forehead. I say “Guard the light Lisa.” Then i take her chin. “Rise again phoenix knight.” And she does. I present her the sword, hilt first.

“Woah.” She whispers.

“Goodbye dear Lisa.” I say. She begins to cry. “Hush now child. Knights must be brave.” And she is. I watch her approach her door, sword in hand. The birds have yet to wake, and no steel carriages roar here. Thus i hear the door open and her father greet her. His relief is satisfying to behold, and gives wind to these labored lungs. I turn to go, invisible in the shadows. I catch the last few words.

Her father tearfully says: “Thank God Lisa. We were so scared.”

Her mother says “Sweetie, where did you get that umbrella?”

LIsa says “It is not an umbrella mummy.”

Good girl.

It is late. I am very tired. And Lisa is home. I walk towards the palace ground. I know which bench i shall lay upon there. To rest whilst escorted by the sounds of children.

Gandalf and Lisa: Part 3 of 4

Previous parts:

Part 1
Part 2


Lisa is tied to me, hand in hand, and i try to think of something to say, to while away the hours.

We walk in silence for awhile, till we hear a directionless wail bouncing between the giants.

She says “What was that noise?” her voice high pitched, quivering.

I say “‘Tis a baby safe at home Lisa. Probably asking for food. Or perhaps in need of a change.”

She says “Oh. I thought it might be a monster. But it’s just a baby.”

“Yes my dear. Just a baby.”

We walk till the ghost of the fountain is far behind us, all the while chatting. She tells me about her parents, and school, and something about pocket monsters. Rather than ferocious creatures, they are more are like pets, or companions that fight to protect their master.

Animatedly she says “There are five hundred and it’s really hard to catch ’em all!” 500! I know barely a few dozen varieties of sinister apparitions, and have fought less than half of those. It is comforting to know the beneficent outnumber the evil, at least in terms of variety. I think to myself it is good that the future is in such hands as Lisa’s, tiny though they might be.

Whilst Lisa describes in some detail her favorite monster, Squirtle, i hear a noise coming from the canyon up ahead. “Quiet Lisa, stay behind me.” She obeys dutifully. We creep up to the entrance of the canyon. With my hand on my hilt I slowly move around the corner till i can make out movement in the shadow of a sleeping dracan. “A cat.” I explain to Lisa.

“Kitty!” She says, but i caution her with a finger on my lips.

I explain “Most likely yes, a harmless kitty. However one must always be wary of poisonous werecats.” I have Lisa’s full attention now. I continue to educate her, “The werecat froths at the mouth and desires the taste of human flesh. If one is bitten by a werecat there is a chance he or she may too become as a werecat and seek the tender meat of other humans.” Suddenly i come to. Oh! I am talking to a child! I wonder if i have terrified her, so i look into her eyes, already berating myself for the slip. Lisa gazes up at me with wide, wide eyes. She says “Cooooooool.”

I exhale and say “Yes, well, we should continue.” We walk past the canyon and trundle down the road. Once past Lisa asks me “So how do you fight a werecat?”

I stop and flourish my blade. “Do not worry Lisa. My blade is yours, and i shall protect you with it.”

Lisa asks “Can i try holding it?”

I do not see why not. I offer it to her. It is far taller than her, and she has difficulty wielding it. She exclaims “So heavy!” I nod and take it back. Afterwards i cannot help but demonstrate a few choice blows on a billowing paper bag. Lisa hoots in approval. “See Lisa, no harm will befall you tonight.”

The hours pass by easily, with Lisa and I speaking, describing our own worlds, the things we like and dislike. She comes across as a remarkably brave child, and one with an adventurous spirit. Excellent traits, I sincerely hope they do not fade. We pass by the unamed titan, the peasants no longer manning the bamboo membrane. Within an hour afterwards we pass under the bridge of incantations.

“What does that mean?” Lisa asks, pointing at tRuNT, splayed in red across one wall, next to images of town guards, and various obscenities. “That my dear, is a spell. A magic word.” She stops, and stares at the word. “Really? What does it do. TRUNT!” She says. The wind shuttles through the undperpass in answer. I chuckle. “Lisa, whatever city you end up in, wherever you may be, keep your eyes peeled for magic words. tRuNT is all over the city, on the walls, on the ground, next to the canals, behind fences and under bridges. You will see it in hard to reach places, a signature of the magician, who showed the way to reaching such a difficult place. I do not know the meaning behind all the incantations, but i assure you, each one is a story unto itself, and with the inner eye, one may even perceive the tale.”

Lisa seems quite confused by all this, and i do not hold this against her. I crouch down and look at her, leaning on my sword for support. I tap her on the forehead. “This is your inner eye. Behind your skin. Close your other eyes.” She does. “Now, i want you to hold in your mind the word, tRuNT. Picture the letters, no peeking, as you saw them here. Now walk up and trace your finger, in your mind, across the letters. What do you feel?”

“Scared.” She says. “I feel scared and, that there is something coming. Red and blue coming.”

“Open your eyes Lisa, do not worry, i’m here with you.” She does. “Magic is not to be taken lightly, especially urban magic. One must remember the guardians, and ward oneself against the demons.”

She says “Warding demons? What do you mean?”

“Sometimes you will catch a passing reflection in a puddle, of Ixat, he is one of the more powerful guardians. There is also the serpent that encircles the sword- he is red and blue, like what you saw. Yuuneesef protects children.” I tell her all this, and she nods diligently.

She says “Mummy told me there is no such thing as magic.”

I laugh. “Perhaps for her, and if so, that is a great pity.” Then i hear a sound approaching. It is the wailing siren of the guard.

I take Lisa’s hand. “Come, we dally too long.” We continue past the underpass, leaving behind the broken bottles and glowing letters. The call of the guard rises, coming closer. An instinct seizes me. “Lisa, i want you to go to that shadow over there, and hide.” I point towards the backside of a lit up board, screaming the name of one of the titans. “You will see clearly from there, but i promise you yourself shall be invisible, when i call out to you come out, but not till then. Now go child, go and whatever happens, stay silent.”

She looks terrified. I try to comfort her. “I’m sure it is nothing child. Here, take my cloak- within this you are undetectable.”

“B-b-but, what about you?”

I smile at her young face. “Do not worry. Now go, go now!” Wrapped in oversized sleeves, she dashes behind the board.

I wait, my sword by my side, and after a minute perceive the figures walking down the slope, from the main road, with sickly yellow light beams spouting from their hands. They are a pair armed with club and pistol. I stand my ground, and do my best to seem unoffensive. There is a cruel glint in their eyes. They reek of power and alcohol. If i run they may very well kill me.

“OY! YOU!” Says the taller one, his pallid light beam glaring in my eyes. I look away, and shield my face. Another one, his voice pitched like a weasel says “HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM YOU FILTHY BUM!” Yet I keep my hand on my hilt, and hide my face with the other. The light seems to highlight my blue veins, my bony knuckles. When did i become so old?

“OY FUCK HEAD, MY PARTNER GAVE YOU AN ORDER. HANDS ON YOUR HEAD.”

I do not let go of my sword.

The other one changes his stance, and places his on his pistol. “GET DOWN OR I’ll PUT YOU DOWN.” I do not comply. These two are disgraces, and i will not bow to such as them. They move in closer.

“Can i help you…” I start to say

“SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

They converse in front of me, as i were not even present.

“He doesn’t look like no fucking immigrant does he? Just some bum. Fuck man, we haven’t arrested anyone in a month.”

“Calm down, calm down, i know. Look, maybe this prick has some stash on him eh? Maybe we can find us an illegal bottle right? Confiscate us some narcotta”

Good thinking sarge.”

“Take notes, i’m schooling here.”

The more experienced member of the pair approaches me. “Alright gramps, i’m going to search you, but no funny bussiness or I’ll snap your goddamn arm.” I hold onto my sword, and let them have at it. It’s humiliating but not dangerous. I glance at his time piece as he pats me down, and i notice how late it is, and getting later. Little Lisa is running out of time. The two guardsman are quite drunk. I decide to gamble, thinking it unlikely they will take me to a cell in the state they are in. Ixat grant me wisdom.

I inhale deeply. Then I start coughing, heaving, sputum and spittle all over the floor. I stumble forward, grabbing onto the guardsmen in the process.

“GET THE FUCK OFF ME YOU FILTHY BASTARD.” He says. He punches me in the face. I fall on the ground, and curl into a ball. His partner comes, and starts kicking. Do not yell out Lisa, do not yell out. I cover my head, and after a few kicks they relent. “Stupid fucking hobo.” says one of them, i know not which. I lay still as a corpse, and wait till their foot steps fade. Then i scramble around for my sword, and find the hilt pressed into my hand, by tiny fingers. “Little Lisa, thank you my d-dear.” I say. I help myself up, and i see her face. She is weeping. “There there, it’s ok.”

“YOU’RE HURT!” she says.

A sharp pain in my ankle. I will be limping for some time now. “it’s ok my dear, come here.” I embrace her with one hand, the other using my sword to keep my balance. Presently she stops crying. I look at her.

She says “WHY ARE YOU SMILING? I never smile after i get hurt. I cry when i get hurt.”

 

“I traded a wound for this.” I say, and reveal the contents of the hand i used to hug her with. Inside i hold a small piece of leather. The guard’s wallet. I smile through broken teeth, and hope my face is not so terrifying. “With this we can get you home much quicker. We will take the steel dragon, underneathe the city.”

 

“BUT YOU’RE HURT!” She says again. Lisa has a compassionate heart.

 

“It was worth the pain my dear. A knight uses what weapons he has available. Those two thought they had won, but in fact it is us who have succeeded.” I help dab her face clean. “The stairs that lead to the dragon are nearby. We shall have you home soon enough now.”

Thus we descended into the undercity.

Finished tomorrow.

Gandalf and Lisa: part 2 of 4

Previously: Part 1

I wake to the sound of panic. A high pitched voice, crying out forlornly.

Mummy! Mummmmmy!”

I raise my head and look around. The dark has descended, and the moon is full. It may be well past midnight. Tonight is one for creatures, one for foul beasts. The palace grounds are mostly deserted, excepting a little girl with deep brown eyes and pink clothes. She is weeping, most heart-breakingly, near a tree. I glance around for her caretakers, but their are none. I watch and wait for help to come, my wrinkled hand on the hilt of my blade. I have already steeled myself to keep all predators away from the little flame. I mutter a quick protective appeal: “Yuneeseff protect her.”

Unfortunately, the moon is large and pallid, and the darkness is drawn to snuff out all flames. I spot the foul visage of Leto, skulking in towards her. Leto the wolf, consumer of children. He wears the costume of the palace guard, but he is one in name only. Last year a young boy disappeared with him to his cell only to return in tears, with ripped clothing and fresh bruises. I failed that day. I vowed not to fail again. Knights of the pheonix are practiced at stealth, and i am not devoid of that training. Thus I make a friend of the shadows, and close in on the scum. As i get closer, keeping to tree trunk and bush, i hear his sickly voice:

Hello there pretty girl. Pretty, pretty girl.” He is stroking her hair. I am so close i can see her back. She is holding a pink discus in both hands. She is armed! Ah i hope she does not intend to do battle with Leto. After all, for her he is a giant. I am old, and Leto is strong and carries a baton. Perhaps i can buy the girl some time though. I grip my hilt, and prepare myself.

GO AWAY! YOU’RE NOT NICE!” She wails, suddenly. Good instincts girl! Her inner eye is open! She now repeats, over and over, “BACK GO BACK!” And Leto begins to tremble. She uses magic! Her spell of repulsion seems effective, nearly so, and i can tell Leto is going to falter till he doesn’t, till he cuts off her magic-voice, clamping a profane hand down on the little one’s mouth.

Not on my watch.

I step into the light, holding in one hand the sacred fire, and the other my blade. “BACK DEMON SPAWN! The sacred light compels you! BACK LEST I SMITE YOU!” Leto let’s go of the little one, and steps back.

Quick child! Run! I shall keep this one busy.” And with that i charge. In my long life i have made many mistakes. I have been cursed by the shadows, that live in my heart. But those shadows trained me, to fight, to hope. I have always been a pauper amongst princes. But my hardship bought me strength. And though i am old, i am not yet done.

FOR THE LIGHT!” I drive my blade towards Leto. The coward turns and flees. I cannot pursue with these old legs, and i am ashamed to say that Leto will yet prowl these moon filled nights. I stop and catch my breath, which wheezes forth from my labored lungs. That is all i can hear for awhile, and i lean on my sword in order to not collapse. Then i feel a tug on my sleeve, and i turn to see the little flame.

Want some water?” She says, offering me a sip-bottle, embossed with tiny mermaids.

I always feel better after drinking from my water bottle.” She says. She smiles broadly.

Thank you little one, you are kind to share your beverage.” I carefully take the bottle. As i do i feel some strength surge into me. This bottle is magical! I can feel it! I take but a sip and already feel my strength returning! A potion that restores stamina- this girl is well equipped. The years peel away for a moment, and i feel some of my young vigor return. This little one requires aid, and i shall do my best to offer it. I hand her back her bottle with some reverence. “Good right?” She asks.

Delicious, and most appreciated child.” I say.

You look like Santa Claus! Your beard is so white. Are you Santa Claus?”

No little one, i’m afraid i am not. I am known as Earl.” I sweep a bow as low as my rigid back will allow.

Hallo Earl, i’m Lisa.”

It’s a pleasure to meet you my dear. May i ask where your parents are? It is quite late, and there is much danger after sundown.”

She glances left and right, and i can see she now realises the mess she may be in. So i say “Do not fear Lisa, i shall protect you.” Her spirits seem to lift at that, and a tiny smile returns to her face. Still, she looks like she is going to cry. “Hush now little one, there is nothing to be afraid of. We shall find your parents.”

B-b-but I r-r-an AWAY!” Then she begins to bawl her brown eyes out, and the sight makes my heart ache. I comfort her as best i can, and then i remember. Reaching deep into one of my many pockets, i find the treat. “Here little one, in return for a sip of your restorative potion, i offer you this. It is a bar of solid courage. Consuming it shall put some vim in your veins. And if i may say so, it is quite delicious.”

SNICKERS IS MY FAVORITE!” And suddenly she is happy again, her little flame dancing in the wind. We sit on my sleeping bench and between mouthfuls she tells me her story. It seems little Lisa decided to go on some sort of adventure. Brave child. Too young for such wandering, but still, a respectable trait. She wandered far and bought passage on some steel carriages till she was nearly lost. Then she recognised the fountain’s spray at some distance, and made her way to the palace grounds. “It looked just like the one in Daddy’s pictures.” She said. She has never actually been here before.

I explain to Lisa. “Ah, yes, many years ago these grounds used to be safe, quite safe. This entire district has fallen into disrepute in the last few decades. It is rotten now, and no place for children, though some still arrive to play in the park, but only when the sun is out.”

I made a big mistake.” said Lisa, sagaciously.

A brave mistake child. Now tell me, from where do you come from? Upon what street do you dwell?”

Umm. Let me see. Mummy made me remember once. Just in case. She tol’ me just in case to remember that i live in…..umm….TEMPLE! Temple street!”

Very good Lisa.” My brow furrows and i turn away, hoping she cannot see. Temple street is quite far from here, on the other side of the city.

It’s cold.” Says Lisa, and i can see she is hugging herself.

I take off one of my jackets and wrap Lisa in it. “This is my cloak of stealth, whilst you wear it the eyes of many will slip off you.”

In a hushed whisper Lisa says “Wooow.” Then she fiddles with one of the sleeves.

Take my hand Lisa, i shall escort you to the inn of the star-crowned lady, there we shall make plans.”

Ok, but we should hurry before Mummy and Daddy leave the city”

They won’t leave you child, do not worry.” She nods at this but seems uncertain. We walk towards the main road. It is almost midnight. The inn is closing but I have arrived many times at this hour, and Eleena has been generous, sometimes allowing me a mug of ale free of charge. I do my best to make up for it with pleasant conversation and inquiries about her day. I knock tentatively on the glass door with my free hand, the other one encasing little Lisa’s tiny palm. Eleena comes to the door and answers.

She seems flustered.

Hey Earl! I was hoping you’d come by. I gotta go somewhere soon and it’s been a rough day…”

Has some vagabond accosted you my dear? I hope the customers have been keeping their hands to themselves.”

She laughs, “No, no Earl, no uh…vagabonds. I’ve just had a rough day and OH!” She seems to have spotted Lisa.

This is Lisa.” I introduce her to Eleena.

Hi Eleeeeena.” Says Lisa.

Earl! What the hell?? I mean uh…sorry. What the heck. Where did you find her! Oh my God Earl!”

Settle down my dear. Lisa requires our assistance, and though it bemoans me to trespass on your free time I humbly request you aid us, if only temporarily by allowing us to make plans inside. It is quite cold out you see. ‘Tis an evil night.”

Absolutely Earl, come in, come in. Hey can i get ya something Lisa? How about a hot chocolate?”

YEAH! Thank you Eleeeena.”

Aww, aren’t you polite.” responds Eleena.

I say “She has a good heart, Lisa does.” And they both nod.

Earl, could you lend me a hand with the chocolate? Lisa, why don’t you sit over there. You can look out the window.”

Ok.” says Lisa.

I follow Eleena behind the counter. There she gets rather agitated. After a flurry of accusations and sinister implications i make sure to set her right. I do not blame her for thinking it strange I show up with Lisa. It comes from a place of concern, and any reasonable person would think it odd for Lisa to be my companion at this late hour.

I explain the situation in as few words as i can manage.

Eleena finally relents. “What about taking her to the cops? I can call them from here.”

Cops- slang for the guardsmen. “I have considered relinquishing Lisa to the city guard, however, I fear they may not treat her well. They have…diminished lately. Lisa lives on Temple street, and she is not white; i doubt the guard will assist her.”

Eleena says “I…I…know what you mean. Last week, the riots…they…i didn’t tell you but Miles is dead. He was killed. I don’t even know more than that, but i think he was hit by something, a gas canister or something.”

I take Eleena’s hand and pat it. Miles. Her lover, i remember. She told me about him, months ago, eagerly.

This city…these new laws…i’m leaving Earl. I’m getting the hell out of here before it gets any worse. My flight leaves in a few hours. I was going to find you…or leave you a note. Sorry.”

I understand m’dear. I understand.”

It is gotten so much…so much…”

Darker.” I say.

Yeah. Darker here. These fucking asshole politicians, all they care about is the rich. Where their fucking money comes from. It’s not like Mum and Dad told me it would be, not like before.”

The sorcerers, yes. Greedy seekers of wealth. I am powerless against their magics and their armies. The only tool a knight has against them is invisibility. At least I have some skill in that domain.

Eleena says “I was going to tell you today, sorry Earl. I’ll miss you. No more free coffee for you i guess.” 

I summon a smile. “A pity, but i shall miss your company more than the drink.”

The three of us sit around the table. Lisa playing with the over-sized sleeves of my cloak, her hands lost within. Eleena tapping on the table, legs crossed, deep in thought, and myself, trying to remember the way to Temple street.

Correct me if i’m not mistaken, but i believe one must pass through the Old King’s Road to reach Temple Street? It has been a long time since i have wandered that way.”

Eleena perks up, “Yes, yeah that’s it. King’s Road, follow that and it shall take you to Temple Street. I mean should- should take you.” She bursts out laughing.

It is warms me to see Eleena in better spirits. When she stops she says “Except…i don’t know, i heard Old King’s Road is dangerous- wasn’t there some gang violence or something there?” Ahh. She speaks of the bandits, some petty group once more rising to prominence. They come and go all over the city, though in the last few years it seems that there have been more, not less, and this despite the supposed efforts of the guards and the edicts of the sorcerers.

Do not worry Eleena. I know these streets, we shall be careful.”

Why not just wait till morning? I have a friend you can stay with.” Says Eleena. “Or how about a phone number. Hey, Lisa. Do you know your home’s phone number? Is there anyone we can call?”

Umm I don’t know it.” responds Lisa.

Eleena sighs, and one of her hands twists in the air as she says “Still, having her stay at my friends is probably the best move.”

Eleena has once more exceeded my expectations. This is a far better idea, far, far better. We begin to make plans till Lisa, perhaps upon realising what we were implying, finally spoke up. “WAIT!” She startled both us with her sudden outburst. She fishes inside her pink pockets, her hands scurrying beneathe my large cloak. Presently she withdraws a slip of paper. Eleena examines it, and her face darkens.

SHIT! I mean uh…shoot. It’s a plane ticket. Her family is leaving the city, and tomorrow morning at that. I mean…woah…this morning. The whole family is leaving.”

I DIDN’T WANNA GO!” Says Lisa.

I finally put the pieces together. “How long do we have Eleena?”

Well, working backwards, i’d say you got only a couple of hours to make it before they either leave or cancel the tickets. “That settles it then.” I lurch up from the chair, which creaks. I wonder for a moment if the sound comes from my bones. “Come Lisa, we must be leaving.”

Eleena still seems quite disturbed. I do my best to set her mind at ease. “Eleena dear, Temple Street is not so far. I can take Lisa there, and thus reunite her with her undoubtedly terrified parents. Neither you, nor her, shall miss your chance to escape this deteriorating place.”

Eleena speaks up. “It’s just…Earl, you’re…well…elderly. I should be doing this.”

Nonsense my dear, i have many years ahead of me, and this young miss has fallen under my charge. I intend to do my duty.” I grip the handle of my sword, and will some energy back into my limbs. Eleena seems distraught though, and i am at a loss as to why. Before i can think of somethign to say, she comes up and hugs me.

Take care of yourself Earl. I really will miss you.” I return her embrace, awkwardly. She steps away with glistening eyes, and says “Hey, you don’t smell so bad today, umm…no offense.”

None taken. Yes, the kind members of that Christopheran Church recently allowed me to bathe myself yesterday. We may not see eye to eye, but i must admit they do good works.”

Eleena laughs. “It’s not Christopher, it’s….ah…never mind. Good bye Earl.”

Good Luck Eleena. Walk in the light.” I salute her.

….always Earl.”

I take Lisa’s hand in mine, and we exit the Inn, returning to the dark streets. The night is cold. The full moon frowning down on us, mingling with the orange light of street lamps. Gone is the violent roar of the waking city. Now whispers creep down canyons. Distant wails pierce our ears. Lisa is tied to me, hand in hand, and i try to think of something to say, to while away the hours.

…Continued tomorrow

A hiatus from The Sixth- A short story instead: Gandalf and Lisa (Part 1 of 4)

I had this short story which did not fit easily within The Sixth, who here it is. It’s already finished but i’ve split it into several parts, and i’ll post one each day till it’s done:

Gandalf and Lisa (Part 1 of 4)

Oy, give us the smack man. Cook that shit later, i jus’ wanna hold it.”

Carm down aright. Remember i lost me needle. So your place later eh? There now, have a taste kid.”

Sweet as. Eh, Midas, ‘oose that crazy lookin’ hobo man? Jus’ starin’ and starin. Crazy fucken’ bum. Man i hope i don’t become like that.”

Keep your voice down kid. That’s Gandalf. He’s nuts as can be. Jus’ stick with me and you won’t go over.” said that rascal Midas to his would-be squire. Nothing he touched turned to gold. With his alchemies Midas reduces his victims to pock-marked zombies. I stood at the entrance of their canyon and thought back to all the dessicated corpses i have stepped over, left behind by Midas and his needles. His undead have never attacked me. My light kept them at bay.

With that thought, i check my sword, my constant companion. When i embraced my destiny I gained the honor of wielding this blade composed of spirit fire. Luckily, i have rarely had to draw it.

I continue to stare at the two rapscallions, measuring them.  I consider intervening on behalf of Midas’s nearly doomed squire. The palace grounds can wait. I lock eyes with Midas. He is dressed in rags, ever changing. Always being added to with the corpse clothes of his victims.Then the boy scratches his needle-marked arms and i realise, yet again, that it is too late for this one.

Fuck off wizard-piss!” Calls the squire, at me.

SHHHH! The guy’s mad. Could do us in for no reason. Let’s go get high eh?” says Midas. He has tasted my steel before. I stand my ground and gaze into his soul. After a moment he looks away, dragging his protesting victim further into the canyon shadows. To know the strength of a man’s soul, one need only look into his eyes. I continue on my way, to the palatial gardens. I keep to the evening shadows cast by the slow-moving giants, Epson, Mitsubishi, Aia. They occlude the waning sun. In the main by-ways the steel carriages careen towards their various destinies. Civilians mainly, though occasionally i catch the sigils of demon-taint; three pointed stars and the three letters of Beelzmeewub.

I walk past a growing glass giant, still unamed and in it’s embryonic stage, bamboo membranes climbing upwards and around. Another titan that will one day obscure the sky. Long after i pass the light may one day no longer reach the surface. It’s caretakers beat the titan into life under yellow helmets. Honest peasants, there liege lord is Hammersmith. I have no quarrel with them. I serve only the light.

Closer to the gardens now, I pass the inn of the star-crowned lady, where the good girl Eleena smiles and nods at me through the window. I gaze back at her, so young, so beautiful and return her smile with my eyes and a salute; two fingers pressed upon my forhead, the position of my inner eye. She acknolwedges me and then turns back to serve her rejuvenating ale. Later she may be kind enough to allow me to partake of some, free of charge. She has a generous soul.

I’m nearing the palace grounds now, and i can make out the magnificant spout of the central fountain, built to honor an ancient knight of my order. It was he who had the grounds open to all the citizens of this great city irregardless of their external appearence, of race or creed or wealth. A knight of the phoenix recognises only the inner fire. Yet as I approach my mood begins to descend, unfortunately, as i contemplate the fall of our order. Where once the knights stood high in the esteem of the city, now we are lordless and mostly lost. I am one of the few left, and i must keep to the canyons between giants, a secret guardian of the fire. 

Then I spot a beast!

A dracan, smoke emanating from it’s exposed skull. The carrion feeding dracan’s mouth is stuffed with waste and detritus, feeding on the refuse of the peasents. I turn my blade so the hilt beats atop the dracan, silencing it’s smoke. A few peasents scatter, afraid of the creature and our energetic melee. The slow moving dracan is easily dispatched however, and my mood quite lifted by the fight. Onwards, to the palace grounds.

I enter via one of the tall iron gates, that seem to shimmer with the fading orange sunlight. No mere trick of the light, but evidence to one who has the inner eye, of the protective ward that encircles these grassy fields. Inside i find my usual spot, a worn bench inscribed with the soul of two bound in immortal love- Harold and Jesse, who died ten years ago. It is a good bench, and the old magic warms me. I gather my cloak around my fraying body, as the wind sends a cruel breeze to cut through to my chest. I am old, and well travelled, worn down like a branch carressed by cold winds. My bough shakes, but my oaken heart still is strong. I think i have yet some few tasks left before i pass. Such is the way of a guardian of the light. It is not yet time to lie upon this bench yet, for death has yet to come. Still, i can feel the shadows gathering, inside me, perhaps they will assault me here? Never here. I find the shadows incapable of penetrating the wards of the grounds- this is my sanctuary.

I draw strength from gazing at the little flames, the beautiful candles- children at play. The shadows fade in their presence. There a young boy chases his soul-companion, a noble mutt, in pursuit of some discus. Good training for the boy, perhaps this one shall one day be a knight. I nod in approval. Behind some distant tree lovers canoodle, and their bright eyes mingle with the autumn leaves that fall upon them, an approving baptismal if i ever saw one. In the next half hour many tiny clumps of play ebb and wane. There two brothers play fight each other- more training! In the distance a young woman chases two little ones, their laughter skipping all the way over the tiny lake, and under the meditative gazebo, and into my sipping ears. Then in the shadow of a tree, a particularly bright light catches me eye.

It is a little girl, dressed in a pink shirt and pink trousers and pink shoes. Her hair is hazel, her eyes deep pools of boundless brown curiosity. She gazes up at the branches, patiently. Presently, she outstretches her hand, and inside it must be some kind of sustenance, some kind of offering. A squirrel skitters down the tree, and she yelps delightfully, enclosing her hand as the food drifts to the ground, where the squirrel feasts. I can tell it is grateful. The girl steps forward again, bends down and tentatively strokes the head of the little creature. She has a good heart. I can tell. The shadows have completely retreated now, in so much that i find myself drifting off, to doze.

I move from the creaking embrace of Harold and Jesse, for i know if i sleep here it will be my last, and i make my way one bench down, not imbued by any souls, and thus safe for dreaming in. I curl up, grasping my blade between both hands, and with the moon highlighted in an azure sky, deepening to cobalt, i sleep, safely ensconced in the little flames of all the playing children.

I wake to the sound of panic. A high pitched voice, crying out forlornly.

Mummy! Mummmmmy!”

<Continued tomorrow>