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Tong Lashing

Peter David

  Table of Contents


  Sick Transit Chapter 1 Ship Rex

  Chapter 2 The World According to Larp

  Chapter 3 Bored on Board

  Chapter 4 Leading with the Chin

  Chapter 5 Through Chinpan Ali

  Chapter 6 Zennihilation and the Art of Water Cycle Maintenance

  Chapter 7 The Shadow Worriers

  Chapter 8 Dragon My Tail


  Caveat Imperior Chapter 1 Bright Lies, Big City

  Chapter 2 Royal Pain

  Chapter 3 Tub Thumping

  Chapter 4 Pillow Talk

  Chapter 5 Scaling the Heights

  Chapter 6 Love at First Wang

  Chapter 7 The Taking of Mitsu 1 2 3

  Chapter 8 Divine Revelations

  Chapter 9 Chin Music

  Chapter 10 The Breaking Loose of Aulhel


  Peons of Mass Destruction Chapter 1 Playing the Palace

  Chapter 2 Crouching Tigress

  Chapter 3 Hidden Draggin’

  Chapter 4 The Trinity Test


  Sick Transit

  Chapter 1

  Ship Rex

  Totally soaked and certain I would die as I desperately clung to a piece of driftwood, alone in a raging sea while the vessel I’d booked passage on slid to a watery grave, I couldn’t help but consider that there was very little upside in playing games of chance with creatures of pure, unremitting evil.

  I am not certain if that particular bit of advice will be of much general utility. It certainly lacks the universal appeal of cautions against going out of one’s way to annoy magic users, or the hazards of involving oneself in the affairs of such beings. In point of fact, I had no idea when I sat down at a gaming table in the bowels of the good ship Larp that I would find myself, barely an hour later, the sole survivor of the poor vessel’s explosive and disastrous end. On the other hand, if one had sat me down and told me that such events were about to transpire, I can’t say as I would have been all that surprised.

  I have that talent. The talent—or insufferably bad luck, if you will—to find myself in the midst of unexpected adventures, or disasters, or cursed happenstance, despite all my best efforts to stay out of harm’s way. As any who have read my earlier autobiographical scribblings know all too well, I make it a full-time occupation to mind my own business, keep my head down, and stay well clear of danger whenever it presents itself. I can only say that danger has become devilishly clever in inflicting itself upon me. I would almost admire the ingenuity ill fortune displays in finding me and inflicting itself upon me if it weren’t for the deuced inconvenience. It almost makes me wonder what there is about me that seems worth the trouble. I’m damned if I can figure it out. Then again, for the things I’ve done in my life, I’m likely damned anyway, so I suppose it all evens out.

  I bear the unlikely name of “Apropos,” a moniker given me by my long-dead tavern wench of a mother. I was spawned as the result of her gang rape by a group of knights. As a consequence, I have an understandably jaded view of the world. Knights, after all, are supposed to represent all that is good and true, pure and decent in mankind. When a host of these avatars of wonderfulness spend their off-hours brutally raping a helpless floozy, with the end result being me, it should be easy to comprehend why I take the nobility of chivalry far less seriously than the common man. And that’s speaking as someone who is as common as they come.

  Curiously, this did not prevent my brief tenure as “Sir Apropos of Nothing” in the court of good King Runcible, and my even briefer status as future royal son-in-law. That business came to a fairly disastrous end, and after further misadventures I wound up fleeing the state of Isteria altogether, in the company of a magic user named Sharee.


  Odd. I thought we’d wind up together.

  As I write about my life with the comfortable distance of years between my foolish youth and my positively imbecilic old age, I have come to realize that not only did I expect our union would be the case, but I’m disappointed it didn’t turn out that way. I think my life would have been much better had it happened.

  I thought Sharee and I would become a couple. I’ve no idea whether that meant we would have grown old together, indulged each other’s foibles and growing infirmities together. Become progressively sick of each other and yet remained together out of a sense of mindless devotion, stale affection, or perhaps simply inertia.

  Yes, well… even my nostalgia tends to find itself devolving toward unpleasantries. When presented with the question of whether a glass is half full or half empty, I instead dwell on why there wasn’t enough liquid available to fill it up in the first place.

  Still, Sharee was… quite something. A weatherweaver she was, capable of manipulating weather threads in a most expert and occasionally lethal fashion. With black hair and flashing gray eyes, Sharee floated in and out of my life like a butterfly with razor-sharp wings. Our longest separation—up until the time when she left me prior to this narrative—occurred when I was a victim of a sort of temporary memory loss and had become a ruthless warlord (or “peacelord” as I called myself) in an unforgiving land called Wuin. Sharee was one of a group of insurrectionists who sought to put an end to my career through the expedient means of putting an end to me. This plan ran aground when my invincibility was revealed to all and sundry, and from that point on, nothing and no one was capable of stopping me.

  Except someone did.

  I won’t go into detail about it at this point, for the tale was already told once, and I see no reason to cover the gruesome details a second time. Suffice to say that—as is not uncommon in my varied and sordid adventures—a goodly number of people died, and there was much collateral carnage and mayhem.

  The grisly business concluded, it was a rather odd trio who set across the land of Wuin, hoping to leave the destruction behind us… along with a devastating talisman of extraordinary chaos. But I wanted nothing to do with it, despite the fact that it gave me almost limitless power.

  I think, in an odd way, that my decision made me more attractive to Sharee. Certainly after the incident with the gem—the Eye of the Beholder, as it was called—she treated me in a marginally more kindly fashion. She kept her ready tongue and sharp sense of humor, but when she turned her swordlike wit upon me, it was to poke gently rather than to stab. Likewise the barbs that I had once hurled at her were no longer coated with the venom that had used to adorn them.

  Plus our new spirit of cooperation might have been aided by the third member of our most unusual trio.

  That third member was a drabit, a small, feathered, dragonlike creature that had taken to me during my incarnation as a peacelord. The name I’d given him, or perhaps he’d always possessed, was “Mordant.” He didn’t speak, naturally, since he was simply a dumb animal, although I would oftentimes find it disconcerting when he looked at me with a sort of cold, calculating intelligence. At such times, he had an almost human look to him… except I suspected he was considerably smarter than most humans I’d encountered in my lifetime. In my dreams he would speak to me, making lacerating observations about me or the various choices I made in my existence. In real life, however, he remained mute.

  All preconceptions for Mordant, however, were eradicated when, at one point in our sojourn through Wuin, he had opened his mouth and spoken with pure, clear diction. It had come in the midst of a conversation I’d been having with Sharee—one in which I was actually claiming that I had come to believe Mordant was a reincarnation of my departed mother—and I had just accused Sharee of sending me the dreams with Mordant as a way of trying to warn me of… well, I didn’t know of what.

  Sharee, of course, had compl
etely denied it. She pointed out that there was nothing in her history to indicate she had any sort of powers of the mind. A stray squall or passing tornado, yes, those might be laid at her door. But games being played by the sleeping mind were outside her normal realm.

  We stood there on a desolate piece of land that really wasn’t all that different from the rest of the desolation. Flat, unyielding terrain, tufts of small bits of green giving their all to survive, and most likely losing that all. High, high above us, carrion eaters circled lazily. I endeavored to ignore them. I figured that looking at them would only encourage them.

  “Bloody well right I’ll deny it,” she said. “You’ve got to start thinking for yourself, and stop ascribing everything in your life to me.”

  Feeling in a slightly tongue-in-cheek mood, I turned to the drabit as if seeking an ally in the discussion. “Do I have to do that, Mordant?” I inquired.

  And without hesitation, Mordant replied, “Absolutely.”

  As you can well imagine, we stared at him, thunderstruck. For long moments, it seemed as if the world had stopped turning. Sharee’s horse even backed up, looking concerned over the fact that the animal nearby had suddenly begun speaking. I wondered wildly if the horse was going to start conversing as well. Perhaps say something such as, “Shut up, you fool! They’re not supposed to know we can speak! You’ll ruin it for all of us!”

  I had never encountered an animal capable of speech before. The closest I’d ever run into were animal/human hybrids, such as the repellent Harpers Bizarre, or the feral but ultimately tragic Bicce. But Mordant was… well, a pet, basically. Although he seemed like a curious combination of reptilian and avian features, nevertheless he was fundamentally identifiable as a sort of dragon offshoot. An animal, pure and simple. So for him to begin chatting with us left us both flabbergasted. Sharee and I exchanged looks, trying to figure out if we were delusional.

  “Did… you just speak?” I asked.

  Mordant looked at me with vague contempt. “What do you think?”

  “That I’m dreaming? Owwwww!” I suddenly shouted, looking daggers at Sharee as I grabbed my upper arm. “You pinched me! What did you do that for?”

  “To prove to you you’re not dreaming,” she said with an expression she no doubt thought was mischievous, but I simply found irritating.

  “I was willing to figure that out for myself.”

  “I could bite you, in case there’s any doubt,” offered Mordant.

  “Not necessary.” I glanced once more at Sharee, who seemed irritatingly amused. “Are you doing this somehow? Some sort of weaver’s trick? Projecting your voice in some manner?”

  “Would you be satisfied if I drank a mug of water while he spoke?” asked Sharee condescendingly before turning her attention back to Mordant. “Most intriguing. Your voice is strangely accented.”

  “So is yours,” retorted Mordant.

  “Who cares about his accent? He’s a blasted talking animal!”

  “So are you,” Mordant said.

  I had no immediate response to that, which was annoying in and of itself. Bad enough to find oneself lagging behind in an oral battle of wits with an accomplished human opponent. Being bested by a creature who, for all I knew, hadn’t truly began vocalizing until a minute or so earlier was a new low in personal esteem.

  Mordant’s voice was thin and reedy, and without the sibilance that one would have expected from such a creature, presuming one was fanciful enough to imagine him speaking at all. He also did indeed have an unidentifiable accent, as Sharee had noted. She seemed to be adjusting to this revelation far faster than was I, considering that the expression of astonishment she’d shared with me had melted into simple amusement. I was annoyed by that. If I was going to be dumbfounded, it would have been nice to have a companion in bewilderment.

  “Why haven’t you spoken before this? Openly, I mean?” I asked.

  He didn’t smile. I don’t think he had the muscular ability to do so. His tongue flicked out quickly several times, which I decided was what he did when giving an answer some thought. “Because you’re interesting,” he said at last.

  “I am?”

  “He is?”

  “Yes. You are. And you know he is,” he said to Sharee with faint disapproval. “So don’t pretend otherwise.” His triangular head shifted back to me. “You’re a lost soul, Apropos of Nothing, and I think you’re only just now starting to realize it. But you’re not sure yet what to do about it. It was entertaining to hear you go on and on about whatever deep emotional conflicts were shredding you. But the only reason you would vent your spleen in my presence was because you didn’t really think I could understand you. You might have suspected it at some level, but you did not truly believe it. So on and on you would talk, and it was all rather riveting. You should think about writing it all down.”

  It was the very first time anyone (or anything, for that matter) had ever suggested that I chronicle my adventures. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the concept out of hand. I thought, Who in hell would be so foolish as to want to spend time involving themselves in the tortured, horrific joke that is my life? And now, having set down my escapades in two volumes so far, with this being the third, I find that I’ve come no closer to being able to answer that question than I ever had.

  “I’ve often told Apropos he had potential,” Sharee admitted. “That he had a destiny. He never seemed to believe it, though,” and she looked at me sharply as if daring me to disagree.

  I couldn’t. Despite the fact that my late mother had said much the same thing, it was a notion I had traditionally rejected, and then later fought against with every fiber of my being. I firmly believed that “destiny” was the excuse given after the fact by people who were losers seeking a way of rationalizing all the disappointments that were their life.

  Lately, though, I had begun to wonder. The concept of free will versus what the gods have in store for us had received a good deal of play in my life.

  Furthermore, I found myself considering the fact that most men live their lives in quiet Desperation… Desperation being the single largest city in all the world, and reputedly the most staggeringly boring. Hence the “quiet” appellation. Situated west of the state of Isteria, quiet Desperation was the capital of the state of Grace, named for the founder’s wife (whose name was, curiously, Margaret). People flocked there because of the easy living and usually balmy weather. And those who didn’t live in quiet Desperation often aspired to live long enough to earn enough money to move there.

  I found myself comparing myself to those who lived in quiet Desperation, and considered that they truly were destiny-free, because their lives were so damned dull. My life, by contrast, had been anything but dull. Even when it had been dull, it was more along the lines of my life catching its breath before hurling me headlong into the next series of insane events. It led me to wonder, then, whether the very nature of perpetual warped activity that constituted my life more or less indicated that perhaps I did, indeed, have a special fate that was above and beyond what other “mere mortals” faced.

  The questions before me then, were twofold: What exactly was the kind of destiny I was faced with, and how much of it was truly in my control? I had the answers to neither, and I think it was the lack of knowing that simply added to my bitterness, rather than exciting me about the possibilities.

  I discussed none of this with Mordant or Sharee, of course. Part of me was certain they wouldn’t understand, while part of me was certain they would. For the life of me, I’m not sure which prospect bothered me more.

  Instead I tried to focus purely on Mordant’s background, with the reasoning that people usually like talking about themselves. This notion was thwarted by the fact that Mordant wasn’t people. He was disinclined to talk about himself at all. Despite prodding from Sharee and myself, he would not go into detail as to whether others of his species could converse, or how long he’d been speaking, or how he’d come to learn the language.

bsp; “Why now?” I asked him. “Why did you suddenly start making it obvious to me now that you could speak?”

  “Because she’s here,” said Mordant, “which means it’s unlikely that you’ll be forthcoming about yourself anymore. So I felt I might as well join future conversations. Although, frankly, I doubt you’ll enjoy hearing anyone converse as much as you enjoy hearing yourself.”

  “That’s reasonably accurate,” Sharee said.

  My famed glare had little effect on her and, unfortunately, did not reduce her to the puddle of goo I was hoping it would.

  We made our way then across the land of Wuin. When we happened to come upon other travelers, Mordant would fall silent so as not to garner further questions from startled passersby. We encountered one or two threats, but it was nothing that a healthy running away from couldn’t handle.

  The greatest challenge we encountered was trying to steer clear of cities or towns that had known the ravages of my army during my time as a “peacelord.” During those excursions, certain magicks had given me an unusual strength and vitality that would have not seemed readily apparent in my more natural form. My red hair and by then thick beard were very easy to spot, but the pronounced limp resulting from my lame and deformed right leg might have put anyone off the scent if they thought to associate me with the more robust Apropos the Peacelord. Nevertheless, we had to exercise great caution, and when supplies were dwindling and water was becoming problematic, we found ourselves depending more and more heavily upon Mordant and his resourcefulness. He always seemed able to find a village or a nomad encampment that he could slip into and out of without attracting attention, with a fresh round of minimal supplies clutched in his claws or mouth.

  In this way we managed to survive quite handily our trek across a land that, once, might well have been the death of us. Even the horse survived, although it did still tend to toss what appeared to be suspicious glances in Mordant’s direction every now and again.