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Pyramid Schemes

Peter David

  When I awoke, the sun had just descended into its rest. Darkness stretched across my surroundings and the air was somewhat cooler. A small furred creature was staring at me.

  I had no idea what it was, nor I suspected did it have any idea what I was. We exchanged looks and I kept its gaze fixed upon me as my hand stealthily crept toward the knife I had on my hip. In one smooth motion I yanked the knife out, brought it around and slammed it through the creature’s chest. It let out a startled yelp, kicked several times more in surprise than anything else, and then died.

  I skinned it as quickly and efficiently as I could. Then I made my way back to the bush that had, hours earlier, been aflame. I stared at it for a long moment and then shifted my gaze to the heavens. Stars twinkled down upon me.

  “Would you mind?” I asked. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

  For a brief time there was silence, and then suddenly the bush flared back to life.

  “Thank you,” I said and proceeded to cook the creature. It only took a few minutes because the fire was quite brisk and the creature was small. Once it was sufficiently roasted I devoured the flesh from its bones. It tasted nothing like chicken, which actually surprised me a bit.

  I tossed the bones aside when I was done, wiped my face, and then walked away from the oasis. The bush surrendered its flame and restored itself to a standard, ordinary, not remotely holy piece of vegetation.

  Crazy 8 Press is an imprint of Second Age, Inc. Copyright © 2016 by Peter David

  Cover art by Robin Riggs

  Design by Aaron Rosenberg

  ISBN 978-0-9836877-7-1

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address

  Crazy 8 Press at the official Crazy 8 website:

  First edition


  A tale of Sir Apropos of Nothing




  Chapter 1 Bush League

  I don’t do well with gods. I never have, and I likely never will. I must admit, I’ve never understood gods in the least. Their

  obsession with humanity borders on the pathetic, nor do I comprehend their endless desire to be worshipped. Of what use is worship,

  anyway? Sitting around upon their clouds or mountain peaks or

  perhaps perched on the shell of an endlessly wandering turtle seems

  to me to be a somewhat limiting—bordering on abysmal—means

  of spending the immortal lives that all gods possess. Certainly one

  would think that, given an infinite amount of time upon which to

  ponder their lot, the gods would come up with some engagement

  that is more fulfilling.

  I have had my face-to-face encounters with my share of supernatural and unorthodox beings, but it had been many years since I

  had found myself engaged with an actual god. That streak ended,

  however, one bright and sunny day in the heart of Rogypt. I should

  emphasize that every single day in Rogypt is bright and sunny,

  because the entirety of the country is one large, vast damned desert. You may be wondering what in the world I was doing in such

  an undesirable place. For that matter, you may indeed be wondering who I am in the first place. I will endeavor herewith to give

  you a succinct description so as not to bore the doubtless dozens of

  readers who are already familiar with me and my previous endeavors. It is important to understand, after all, whence someone has come in order to fully grasp where they are going, and so I will avail myself of this space for a few moments in order to accomplish


  My name is Apropos. I am also known as Apropos of Nothing and, for a brief time, Sir Apropos of Nothing. Yes, that is correct. I, a lame of leg (albeit quick of wit) trickster and bastard,

  was temporarily walking beside kings and knights. My life began

  ignominiously enough when my tavern wench mother was brutally

  raped by a group of knights. When I finally emerged from her

  nether regions, those who were present beheld that my right leg was

  twisted and lame and advocated the notion of abandoning me on

  a rock somewhere. My mother fought for my continued existence

  and won, although to be completely factual, I am unsure whether

  that was a fight worth battling, much less winning. In what I laughingly refer to as my career, literally thousands of people have died

  due to my various undertakings. It was rarely due to circumstances

  that I had brought on deliberately. In typical situations, all I was

  trying to do was survive from one day to the next, and yet I incessantly discovered myself in predicaments in which I set off a chain

  of circumstances that resulted in people dying. There are knights

  who dedicate their lives to serving their kings and queens in times

  of war by becoming slaughtering machines who have not in their

  lifetimes come close to killing the number of people I’ve dispatched

  through accidents, cowardice or incompetence.

  Nevertheless, looking back on my life from the advantage of

  the extreme number of years that I currently am, I cannot help but

  feel the most regret over the demise that ultimately resulted in my

  first face to face—or face to whatever—encounter that I ever had

  with a genuine god undisguised in mortal form.

  I had aged, that much was certain. My mop of red hair was still

  thick and curly, but gray hairs were now strewn through it. At least

  my hair was starting to match my gray eyes, so that was an advantage

  of some sort, I imagine. My angular face had become more rounded,

  so that the manner in which my ear stuck out (I’d lost one; don’t ask)

  was not as obvious, although the rest of my body—lanky and with an excess of elbows—had remained more or less consistent over the years. The muscles on my arms had continued to strengthen thanks to my having to depend on them so much, courtesy of the overall

  lameness of the lower half of my body.

  I had spent many years wandering the length and breadth of

  the world, drifting further and further away from the small village

  that had spawned me. I had frankly lost track of how old I was

  because I had not only ceased paying attention to the passage of

  days, but also various places that I traveled to reckoned the passage

  of time in different manners. Many places had their own calendars,

  a different number of days in a week or weeks in a year. Some did

  not believe in the passage of time at all and refused to try and keep

  a track of it, feeling that doing so was somehow presumptuous on

  their part.

  I had to admit that every so often, my mind would wander

  back to the Princess Entipy. She was the young and demented

  woman whom I had become engaged to, bedded in one insane

  night of passion, and then been forced to abandon for reasons I will

  not go into at the moment. Still, one never forgets lovemaking of

  that intensity, and every so often my thoughts would return to her.

  Was she now the queen? Was she ruling the land with the insanity

  that so pervaded her every waking moment, and likely most of her

  sleeping ones? I had no idea, but I suppos
ed there was no harm in

  speculating every now and then.

  My wandering path had taken me to the heart of Rogypt. I

  had naturally had adventures along the way, and perhaps someday

  I shall describe them to you, but that someday is not this one.

  Instead my slow, steady progress had brought me to one of the

  larger cities in Rogypt. It was called Giro. Ostensibly centuries

  old, its primary export was sandwiches, which I considered to be

  a rather strange commodity, but go argue with Rogyptians. It was

  especially annoying because I thought that I had been present at

  the creation of sandwiches, but it had turned out that the food had

  originated in Giro centuries earlier. Imagine that.

  I had grown up in a heavily forested area and had become most conversant in navigating such environs. In most of the places that I visited in my life, the majority of them likewise had copious areas of greenery. That was unquestionably not the case with Rogypt. I have referred to it as a desert, yes, but that does not begin to describe just how wide open and arid it was. There were no trees, no bushes anywhere save for an occasional and far between oasis. There were patches of grass here and there that seemed determined to grow even though there was nothing in the environment to encourage their development. For the most part the grass was brown and burned, thanks to the sun. I wondered how it was possible for people to subsist without any manner of greenery around them. I felt bereft, as if old friends of mine had turned away from

  me and left me on my own.

  The only thing that allowed Giro to survive was the vast river

  along which it was built. The Giro River served multiple functions,

  ranging from providing drinking water to allowing boats to sail

  from other cities with various produce and farm equipment. Small

  tributaries ran off it that the women would make use of to wash

  their clothes or bathe in. As for Giro itself, it was a vast walled city,

  brick and mortar surrounding it to provide it protection against

  whoever they felt might try to attack them. I honestly had no idea

  if there are an abundance of individuals who might want to attack

  Rogypt in general or Giro in particular, but if having a wall erected

  around their city gave them a measure of peace of mind, I truly saw

  no point in arguing over it.

  It was upon that river that I first arrived in Giro, having made

  my way down from the general outlying desert area. Giro seemed to

  have a good deal of potential for someone such as myself, who was

  constantly endeavoring to acquire two coins to rub together so that

  I could purchase food and clothing and on occasion the company

  of a woman with whom I could relieve my urges. A few coins had

  garnered me travel on the ship, which moved slowly down the Giro

  River and delivered us to our collective destination within a day or

  so. The sun had beat down upon us relentlessly during the journey,

  and since it had been a relatively small vessel with a minimum of places for slumber, I had wound up sleeping on the deck, wrapped in my cape while making sure to keep my staff nearby me at all times. This was a degree of reasonable caution considering that, first of all, my staff facilitated my walking around. Secondly, my staff was an occasionally lethal weapon that I had used on any number of occasions in combat, and it had yet to let me down in a fighting situation. We had grown quite close over the years and I had come to think of it not merely as a tool, but as a constant and boon companion. Do not misunderstand: it was not as if I had lengthy conversations with it. But it was always with me whenever I needed it. The entirety of my life, no one else had ever been there so consistently for me. One takes one’s friends where one can find

  them, even if they were carved from lumber.

  Once we made it to Giro, I quickly disembarked. It was not difficult for me to move relatively fast because I had very few belongings. Two day’s worth of clothing, a knife on my hip, and my hand

  and a half, bastard sword dangled on my back. I was hardly formidably armed, but I could handle myself adequately in a fight, and

  indeed had done so on any number of occasions.

  The Rogytians were attired completely differently from me,

  and they could not help but stare at me as I passed by. They were

  very lightly dressed. Some men either wore loin cloths and some

  lightweight shirts, while the women were mostly attired in simple,

  straight dresses with one or two straps supporting them. Most of

  them were wearing tunics of varying lengths, either white or brown,

  and their legs were bare albeit quite tanned. Many sported broad

  brimmed hats to provide them protection from the blistering sun. I walked through the marketplace and noticed immediately

  that my status as stranger tended to keep people clear of me.

  Whereas the vendors eagerly approached various individuals, holding their wares in front of them and proclaiming that their prices

  were the lowest in the landed, they tended to steer clear of me and,

  at the most, cast suspicious glances my way.

  They did not, of course, speak my native tongue. But I had spent

  several months in Rogypt, living with small bands of wanderers who seemed to find me rather intriguing, and they had eagerly taught me their language. It was not a particularly difficult one to master. Curiously enough, there was no written alphabet at all; instead the written tongue consisted of pictograms that were often rendered in hilarious detail. I had done my best to try and grasp the reading of the pictograms, but they seemed insanely arbitrary, as if different writers came up with their very own languages in

  order to convey, well, whatever it was they wished to impart. Nevertheless, I felt the need to attempt to blend in as much

  as I could. Granted, it would not be to any huge extent, because

  my hair was red and my skin color, despite my lengthy stay in the

  Rogyptian sun, was still markedly lighter than any of the natives.

  So I strode over to one vendor who was selling native clothing and

  made some purchases with some of the small amount of money

  I had managed to accrue via some luck at cards. And by luck, of

  course, I mean that I cheated and was lucky enough not to get

  caught at it.

  Within the hour I had changed into a knee length white tunic

  and a short black cloak that draped off my shoulders. My sword

  remained strapped to my back and my staff, of course, was tightly

  clenched in my hand. The rest of my possessions were safely stowed

  in a sack dangling off my shoulder, and so it was that I made my

  way through the city of Giro, seeing what there was to see—which,

  admittedly, was not much.

  By the late afternoon, sweat was pouring from every pore of

  my skin. There were public baths to be used, but they would have

  required payment that I did not readily have, since I had spent

  nearly half my funds on the clothing I was sporting. There was,

  however, the lengthy Giro river some short distance away and it

  was to there I hied myself. They could charge all they wished for

  bathing in the public baths, but I had to assume that splashing

  around in a river was still free for all.

  I walked for about half a mile and found a place that seemed

  relatively deserted. I removed the cloak and the short toga, stripping to my undergarments. Slowly I eased myself into the water. It was, of course, relatively warm, which was hardly a surprise. Indeed, considering the circumstances, I suppose I should have been grateful that the water wasn’
t boiling. I slid in up to my chin and sighed peacefully. Submersing myself was the only time that I had the chance to feel like a normal person since the buoyancy of the water removed the weakness of my leg. If the entire world

  became submerged, I would genuinely have no problem with that. Then female voices carried to my ears from a short distance

  away. They were laughing and splashing about from down around

  the bend of the river. That was no interest to me. I would not

  intrude upon them, nor they upon me, and we would all leave each

  other alone.

  Funny how matters never turn out the way you think they

  will. Because moments later it all went to hell, and it was entirely

  because I was endeavoring to save a child.

  I floated in the water, not even splashing. It was my nature to

  remain stealthy whenever possible. I had managed to survive as long

  as I had by not being noticed rather than drawing undue attention

  to myself. So my instincts and tendency to blend in prompted me

  to be unmoving in the water. Even a trained sentry would not have

  noticed me, especially because my head was partially obscured by

  a towering thatch of some sort of grass that grew straight up from

  the river bed.

  That was when I heard splashing from much nearer by. I froze,

  not knowing who it was that was intruding upon my bath. I said

  nothing, fearful as I typically was that the new arrival was some

  manner of guard who would just as soon kill an unknown individual as look at him.

  I quickly saw, however, that it was no guard. Instead it was a

  young woman. She seemed to be no more than twenty or perhaps

  twenty five years old at most. She had long black hair that was

  tied back in a braid and she sported a toga that was similar to

  mine except in a smaller size. Around her neck she was wearing

  a thin silver necklace and there was a stylized eight pointed star

  dangling from it. She was carrying some manner of basket and she was paying no attention to me at all. Obviously she had not spotted me, which was fine since I had done all I could to secure myself. Instead her focus was entirely upon the curve of the river that was downstream from us, where the young women were laughing and bathing, clearly. I had no clue why in the world she was so inter