Monday, November 8, 2010

Herr Doctor

Thirty days into the project, Dr. Heinrich Brandt decided to give up on finding gold.

Thirty days without one strike. Hot South African sun beating on their backs. Dust storms destroying equipment. Laborers starting to revolt; an indestructible boulder blocking the dig; and to top it off Dr. Heinrich Brandt had just met a dead person. She stood in the cavern which yawned open behind the almost indestructible boulder--a stubborn black thing that ate all his TNT before collapsing--and stared at him, eyes wide under a heavy, sequined hood. Her skin was grey, completely grey, and it wasn't because she was dirty. The only color on her face belonged to gold piercings, dotting her nose and eyebrows.

"Hello," he offered.

She responded in no language that Brandt understood, but pointed at the shattered remains of the boulder, waving away dust raised by six separate explosions. Her words were agitated, fast; every few syllables, they rose into questions.

"Guten tag," Brandt attempted.

She screamed, turned, ran.

Thirty days into the project, Heinrich Brandt decided gold was no longer quite so interesting.

Ricket in Aislesland

Magic affects soil a bit like radioactivity: that is to say, you don't want to eat anything raised in magic-infused soil. Things grow wrong, or not at all; you plant a field of turnips, you get a field of cucumbers; you eat a potato, you turn into a potato. Most places didn't have this problem, unless more than a few casters decided to spell each other out of existence there, and the usual fix involved a fence, a sign, and a grave for whoever ignored the first two things. Any infused area was small.

But then there was the Center.

The Center was lush, green country: forests grew thick, and gentle hills covered in grass resided wherever forests didn't. It was of course in the very middle of Aislesland, because in a world of magic, locals had little use for imaginative names. It was also, as the legends went, where magic came into being. It was not a good place for growing crops.

Except, for some reason, beans. If you could put up with the occasional magical weather, the sometimes-marauding fair folk, and the odd patch of dirt that screamed when you plowed it, it was a positively lovely place to grow beans.

Ricket Barr hated beans more than anything save magic. As the sole owner and operator of the Barr family bean farm, situated on the edge of the most magical place in the world, this meant he started every day angry and ended every day drunk. His father, the late Antham Barr, lived much the same way and died at 45, leaving all he owned to his 15-year-old son. Since this included the farm and all its obligations, the only thing Ricket hated nearly as much as magic or beans was Antham Barr.

A decade passed after Antham's death, a decade full of alcohol and monotony and, mostly, a decade's worth of beans. Ricket celebrated this ten-year anniversary the same way he'd done so anniversaries one through nine: a trip through the woods to the neighboring town and as many pints as he could get from the Leathern Bottle before old Broader kicked him out.

It was halfway home, Broader's curses still ringing in his ears, that Ricket found himself at knifepoint and remembered there was something he hated more than Antham, magic, or even damned beans: Folk. Rare as dragons and twice as likely to kill you. Also known as The Good People when they were listening, and Those Bastards when they weren't. Sometimes they sported wings, or skin like tree bark; this one had eyes like a barn cat's and fangs to match. Ricket knew about the latter because under her hood she was smiling at him.

She stood a head shorter than Ricket, a fact that did nothing to draw his attention away from the thick, chipped blade she pointed at his heart. Her cloak was mottled brown, something like a beetle's shell, and her dagger was mottled gray, something like a blade which had been used many a time and cleaned almost never. He took a long, deep sigh, and, remembering the tales of Folk negotiation, pointed out the most important thing he could think of.

"Broader has my money," he said. He wished he could sound masculine while saying it, but it came out, as many of his drunker words did, in something like gravel meeting squeak. "And source knows I don't have much else."

She responded in singsong, discordant notes no one standing on two legs should've been able to make and gestured with the dagger.