Chapter Six: The Incredible Edible Cheese (Or giving a whole new meaning to the word constipation.)
In the smoke filled room four players gazed at each other warily over the tops of their cards, judging the other’s hands by their facial expressions. Narrowed eyes swung back and forth, glaring at each of the other players in turn. Sudden one play succumbed to the pressure and threw down his hand, a second did likewise, much to the amusement of the other two players.
“I am out.” The blue squirrel mage (who’s fur had actually faded to a near normal grey) groused. “This game is too rich for my blood.” He muttered as the remaining two players anteed up the betting yet again.
“Whahee sah.” Absin echoed, though no one could really understand him.
“I guess that means that it is up to me,” Cin said grimly, turning all of his attention back to the one sitting in front of him.
“What are you going to do, boy?” The man asked, grinning over his cards at Cin, knowing that he would win with the next move.
“Do you have…” Cin paused, considering his options. Really there was only one move he could make, but, was it the right move? It was certain that it would either assure him the game or cost him everything he had worked so hard to gain. Not that he was worried much about the money, it was his pride, his fierce fighting spirit, and his pants that he was really worried about. “Do you have,” he started again, slowly, “Any eights.”
The man threw down his cards. “You cheat! I do not care how much you deny it, you have to! No one gets that lucky at Go Fish!” He fumed.
Much to the other mans consternation, Cin chuckled. “Nah, I never cheat. That would take all the fun out of beating the pants off people. Quite literally in this case,” He chuckled again, “Anyways, like I said, I do not cheat, I count cards. And no, that is not cheating. If you cannot remember all of the cards, then that is your fault.” The man growled and lunged across the table at Cin, only to be caught mid-air by Abisn. “Now, now,” Cin said, shaking his head, “Even though you lost, that really is no way to act.” He frowned. “You had better carry through with your end of the bargain, we really do need to get to the Temple of Rare Magical Objects.”
“But I cannot lose!” The man insisted, “I cannot lose to a group of adventurers, or I have to go on the stupid adventure with them.” He groaned, “You cannot be serious. I have to go on some stupid quest that probably does not even have a real purpose to it other than to get the stupid heroes to move out of one town and on to the next.” Resting his elbows on his knees he held his head in his hands.
The mage squirrel snorted. “Boy, do you really think that I, the Mage of the Forrest Imanut, would go on some frivolous mission? For that matter, do you think that I would go on anything other than a quest of the utmost importance to the security of the world?” He paused for a moment, preening his whiskers. “I am far too important for such things, so trust me when I say THIS QUEST IS IMPORTANT!” The last little bit was emphasized by the angry squirrel turning blue again (but only in the face this time) and jumping up and down, flailing his little squirrely arms wildly.
Groaning again, the man sat up straight, “And exactly what is your mission?” He asked in a slightly bored tone, as if he expected the answer to be something pathetically stupid.
“To save the saviors of the world and perhaps defeat the daughter of the new evil warlord while we are at it,” The squirrel mage answered promptly.
The man stared. “Blimey,” He said at last, “I finally have someone come along with a real quest, and I do not even recognize it. No wonder I lost Go Fish to you.” He shook his head, “I guess then I would be honored to accompany you and assist you in any way that I can.” He bowed, “I am Cratiano, world famous archer, and current keeper of gate of the Temple of Rare Magical Objects.”
“I am Feiskar, and my companions are Cinderlad and Absin MacDonald,” the squirrel replied, pointing to each of the men in turn. He then hopped up onto Cratiano’s shoulder, “Now, if you please, we are in a bit of a hurry. We do not know when the lady member of our party is getting back, and I would really prefer to be finished with the business before we see her again.”
“Lady member?” Cratiano asked with a raising an eyebrow, “We do not get many of those coming through here.”
“Really?” The squirrel mage asked in a surprised tone, “I thought that female quest members were starting to become sort of a standard thing.” He shrugged.
“Well, not here at the Temple of Rare Magical Objects,” Cratiano replied, “Usually all male quests come through here, convinced that they are the saviors of the world and that they of course need some sort of a rare and magical object (generally a sword) to help them complete said quest.” He shrugged, “I guess when women are on the team they are able to talk some sense into the guys.”
“Women always were far too practical for their own good,” Cin muttered under his breath. Allowed he said, “Yes, well both Absin and I were charged by the…” He paused and looked at Feiskar, “Hey, what was the old guy’s title anyway?” He asked, scratching his head as he tried hard to remember.
“Olle is the Wise Man of Mount Linernon, though the actual wiseness of his being is in question.” The squirrel replied without turning around.
“Yeah,” Cin continued, “So anyways, as I was saying both Absin and I were charged by the Wise Guy of Mount Linernon-“
“Wise Man!” The squirrel interjected furiously.
“Wise guy, wise man, same difference,” Cin shrugged, “Anyways, we are supposed to get some swords because the old guy told us to.”
Feiskar had one furry little palm over his face and was shaking his head. Abisn just rolled his eyes, pretending that he either did not know Cin, or did not know what the boy was saying. A large sweat drop rolled down Cratiano’s face as he glanced back at Cin, raising an eyebrow, his face twitching a little. “Yes, um, well, I guess that means that Feiskar and I shall be staying out here while the two of you go in and get your swords,” Secretly he wondered why all of the people who went on quests were either incredibly stupid, or just socially inept. “Make sure that you only get the swords that are meant for you, though!” He cautioned almost as an after thought, “Cin that means you must get the sword destined for the savior of saviors, and Absin, you must get the Babble Fish Sword. Make sure it is these swords you get, though, for you will only be allowed in once per quest, and the sword meant for you is the only one that you will be able to wield. All of the others will seem too heavy to lift.” He nodded, satisfied that his warning would be sufficient to keep them from harm. And it might have been too if Cin and Absin had stayed with the group. Suddenly, though, went Cratiano looked up, they were no where to be found. “What? Who, where, when?” He sputtered.
“Oh, those two went on ahead while you were talking,” Feiskar said, looking up briefly from where he was shelling nuts on the guy’s shoulder.
“But I did not even unlock the gate!” Cratiano protested.
Feiskar snorted, “You might be a world famous archer, but Absin is a world famous pickpocket.” He then stuffed a nut into his mouth, removing the possibility for any further conversation.
(inside the Temple of Rare Magical Objects)
“So do you have any idea where we are supposed to be looking for these swords?” Cin asked as he picked his way through the debris of magical objects that were just lying around the temple floor gathering dust. It seemed like people just chucked the things in there at random, not caring where they fell. Either that or more plot worms had gotten loose in the story and were screwing around with the orderliness of the temple.
Absin shrugged, knowing that it would be useless to speak since Cin still did not appear to understand when he did bother to do so. The two of them wandered around the innards of the temple for quite some time, inspecting everything from broaches to boots that happened to be laying around in odd places. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they came to a separate room that lay off to the side. In that room a beam of artificial light burst down from the ceiling in pulses (someone needed to change the bulb). In the flashing circle of light, however, was what really caught Cin and Absin’s attention: A row of highly important looking swords.
A closer inspection of the swords revealed that not only was this the only place in the entire temple that looked relatively clean, it was also the only place with any kind of an order to it. And boy what an order it was. Not only were the swords listed alphabetically, they were also listed according to size, shape, weight, and importance. It only took Absin a few moments to look through the selection and come up with the Babble Fish Sword, a fencing blade who’s guard curved down and around elaborately in the design of a fish. Cin looked down and located his own sword. He almost fell over as he looked at it. Without hesitation he reached out and grabbed..the sword next to it. Strapping his new found treasure onto his belt, he turned to Absin. “Alright, we have got what we came for, lets get out of here.”
The other man nodded mutely, and the two of them hurried back out into the regular temple area. After another long trek through the temple, they finally reached the outside world, only to find that their group had somehow come under attack! Absin drew his lithe sword, and easily knocked away the missiles that had been heading towards them. Cin drew forth his own sword, and was promptly pulled down to his knees by the great weight of the thing.
“What?” He grunted, trying to stand with the huge sword that had suddenly appeared, but to no avail. “I cannot even lift the thing!” He exclaimed indignantly.
“Of course you cannot life that sword, boy! It is not yours!” Cratiano yelled from where he was firing arrows, “That one was meant for Cotten! Remember, I said get the sword meant for the savior of saviors!”
“You mean the one that looked like a bumble bee with a sword coming out of its butt?” Cin asked, twitching a little.
“Yes, Stinger!” Cratiano replied, nodding, “That was your sword! It should have been clearly marked, why did you not take that one? You will never be able to pick up the one you carry unless the spell on it is dispersed!”
“All the same,” Cin returned in a lowered voice, as if here were slightly embarrassed, “I think I would rather stick with this one...”
“But you cannot even lift it!” Cratiano said, annoyed.
“It is better than a bumble bee's butt!” Cin yelled back. “And I do not need to be able to lift it to use it.” With that he charged forward, dragging the giant sword on the ground behind him. He dodged projectiles and reached the trees behind which the enemy was hiding. With the grace of a shot putter, he swung round fast and hard, chopping down the trees without even getting the sword off of the ground. An alarmed squeak told him that he had missed his enemies. Trying again, he swung around fast, sure that he would be dead on this time. There was a clang as he stopped short. Cin looked up to see his sword had been stopped by the biggest darn knitting needle he had ever seen. The figure holding it was obscured in shadows, but Cin recognized the wolf standing beside them. “Parry? Is that you?”
Jumping from the shadows Parry grinned and hugged him hard. “Of course it is, who else would it be? I mean really, does anyone else you know use knitting needles?”
Chuckling a little, Cin hugged her back, “I guess not.” After several moments and several throat clears from the peanut gallery, they let go of one another. “Hey, it is starting to get late; we had better head back into town and compare stories.”
“Yeah, I really need to introduce you to my two new companions,” Parry replied, grinning nervously.
“As long as I can introduce you to mine,” Cin said with a smile.
Parry blinked. Had he found himself another girl in the time that she had been away? She knew it had been a long time (longer for her since she had been training for the equivalent of two years), but really, could he not have waited for her? Was true love and solidarity too much to ask from a man? Wait..that was not the word she wanted, was it? Suddenly Parry was very confused. Her confusion only grew as Cratiano stepped forward and stuck out his hand, a blush spreading rather conspicuously across the bridge of his nose.
“I am Cratiano, it is a pleasure to make your-“
“Cratiano? What kind of a name is Cratiano?” Came a voice from behind Parry, “I am going to call you Cratty.” She said with a certain air of satisfaction about her.
“Tsidu! You cannot just do that to people!” Exclaimed another voice, “It is rude!”
“Sorry, Dirwe,” Tsudi mumbled.
Introductions were made all around then as someone realized that unless they all wanted to call one another “Hey You” for the rest of their time together, then they had better straighten things out post haste. Once the introductions had been made the group stood there, shuffling their feet for a few minutes before Cin suggested that they go get something to eat. A chorus of agreement was heard and everyone found a mount of some sort (there were extra mounts at the temple because of Cratiano’s [now christened Cratty] habit of playing cards with the people who wanted to get into the temple. And because he could not lose to anyone but people who really belonged inside the temple, he had acquired a vast source of wealth, and or odds and ends that the adventures happened to have on them at the time of their challenging him. There were in fact cases that the adventurers lost magical items to the temple instead of gaining them because they were used as bets in the high stakes games of Go Fish. There was actually quite a large collection of different kinds of mounts at the Temple, ranging from a stallion to the unlikely giant pink bunny that Parry instantly took a likeing too.
Actually that giant pink bunny had not started out life as an oversized rodent. Aitys was able to translate a rather sad story from the pink rabbit about how long ago it had been a war horse, strong and brave. It had been the traveling companion of a noble knight who had gone a questing [with a small questing group of course] and had had the misfortune of crossing paths with a young, but particularly powerful sorceress who turned the entire company into fluffy pink bunnies. If that were not an indignity enough, the little witch’s father had enlarged all of them so that he could see them to capture them. The warhorse bunny had managed to elude capture, and in doing so, destroy the evil layer they had become trapped in. Afterwards the questing party had made its way to a roadside mage’s hovel where they begged assistance. The good news was that the mage knew how to reverse the spell that had changed all of them into rabbits. The bad news was that he could only change the people back. And so it was that all of the animals in the group were stuck being giant pink rabbits. Some had gone on to be circus animals, and others the house pets of giants, but this poor horse had stayed with its master until the end, when his master had bet him in a card game to try and win some sort of a magical sword so that he could go off and defeat the evil warlord who had wronged him in the first place.
Parry was so moved by the story that she [and all of the other females] actually cried. She wrapped her arms around the beast’s neck and promised it that she would never ever do anything so despicably evil to it for as long as she lived. Or at least for as long as she was able to keep her promise. Reassured that his new master would be better to it than its previous [which included the fact that this new master could actually understand it, unlike the earlier dolt] the war rabbit promised its services to Parry and told her that if she ever had need, it would carry her into the heart of battle itself. The two of them shared another sappy hug why all of the guys made gagging noises.) So, after everyone was mounted on the ‘steed’ of his or her choice, much to the relief of the male members of the party, and they turned to go down the steep slope that led away from the Temple and towards the nearby town (which incidentally did a thriving trade in the tourist industry/lodging for knights and adventurers going to and from the temple.)
“Wait a minute!” Came a voice from behind the two of them, “There has yet to be a SINGLE mention of cheese in this chapter aside from the title!” Tsidu exclaimed. “Really, the author cannot end the chapter without at least MENTIONING the cheese somewhere, right?”
“Spell afah susha lung detribou nuttin!” Absin added, shaking his fist and totally forgetting that no one besides the squirrel could understand him.
“As much as I hate to admit it,” Dirwe mumbled, “She really does have a point there. I mean, what kind of an author titles a chapter one thing and then does nothing with that chapter title at all? Really, that is just bad writing.” She nodded to herself.
“I have a bone to pick with the author anyways,” Parry added, frowning, “I mean, what is up with making me the captain of a pirate ship, but not giving a second of previous experience on the open ocean, and THEN skipping over all of the hard work I did and even the cool new things that I learned! I mean, that is totally not fair, right?”
“And what kind of an author lets her novel become infested with plot worms?” Feiskar asked shaking his head and rolling a nut around between his paws, “It is shameful, shameful! Such a person does not even deserve to be the author of such a wonderful novel as this.”
“You know, you are right!” Cin said with sudden conviction, we have lived with the unfair tirany of this estranged author for far too long. Why stand we here idle? What is it that adventurers wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!!!”
There was a round of thunderous applause from the rest of the group (as well as another group that had climbed up the slope to the mountaintop temple, but were going to be sorely disappointed when they found out that the gatekeeper was leaving with the current group). “All right, let us just ask the magic eight ball, just to be sure,” Feiskar added, much to everyone else’s chagrin (they had forgotten about it entirely).
Everyone dismounted, and Absin took the ball from his side pouch and handed it to Cin, who handed it to Parry, explaining, “You seem to have the best luck with it.”
Nodding, Parry took the ball and thought hard before asking, “Magic Eight Ball: Should we attack our author?” Then she shook the little thing for all it was worth. Slowly an answer floated up. “Yes!” Came the excited cry. A whoop of joy went through the gathered crowd.
“And I know just how to get to her too!” Cin shouted, “To the temple!”
The crowd charged, breaking so many rules at once that it would be useless to try to document them all here. They did manage to enter, however, without too many injuries, and immediately Cin set about looking for the worm hole he knew had to be somewhere nearby. Seeing what he was doing, Absin and Feiskar joined in the search. It was Parry, however, who found it, by kicking over a roman helmet. The swirling vortex beckoned.
Without hesitation Absin, Feiskar, and Cin jumped in. After a slight hesitation Cratiano, Parry (and Aitys), Saeti, Tsidu, and Dirwe followed. The rest of the crowd, who were made up of totally expendable extras decided that they valued their own existence a little more than that and set to work trying to make heads or tails of the temple (in short, they would have plundered it if they could have found what they wanted, but since everything was in such a disarray, they decided to clean everything up instead.)
(In a college dorm room not too far away)
A bright flash of light momentarily blinded the two girls, and the plot worm they had been prodding at with sticks took the opportunity to try and slink away into another book. Absin picked it up by the tail and shoved it back into the microwave before it could get away.
“You!” Feiskar exclaimed, pointing one furry paw in the general direction of the two girls, “We, the characters of your novel have a message for you, oh Lady who writes our story. We have decided that you are not worthy of continuing as our author, and therefore, we are making her,” He moved his paw slightly to indicate a change in the personage to whom he was speaking, “We are making her our new author!” He really did not know which one was which, but he was sure that they would know what he was talking about.
“And, to make sure that you do not try anything funny,” Cin added, “We are taking her with us back into the novel.” With that he grabbed the roommate and the laptop (which was sitting on the author’s bed, and jumped back into the worm hole. With devious smirks the rest of the characters followed.
Left alone, the author, now ex-author, could only stutter to no one, “But..but I need that to do homework!”
(Back in their own universe)
Cin and the others entered the newly re-ordered temple and looked around in some slight surprise.
“If this was all it took to reorganize things,” Cratiano said in annoyance, “Then I would have overthrown the author long ago!” The rest of the group murmured their agreement, including Saeti, who was in human form because the apparent time laps caused by the between worlds traffic caused the advance of the full moon.
“Alright, let us set the new author up in a room here in the temple,” Feiskar suggested, “That way she can start writing immediately.” Everyone agreed and soon a suitable room was found. Necessary precautionary traps were set, and everyone left with high hopes and much confidence that things would be better from then on.