Then one night, many years later, the Grand Oyabun had another dream. This dream began as the first and the Oyabun passed effortlessly over the great Red Stone walled garden. But after his seventh pass he noticed that one of the small, colored paving stones of the garden upon which he had affixed his sigil, was tied to the back of a great lion which roamed the savanna outside the walls. The Grand Oyabun’s stomach felt a bit uneasy. How could the paving stone have gotten over the Red Stone wall?
Sigil atop stone: Stone atop lion: Lion atop ground: Ground atop Li serpent.
The Grand Oyabun saw the world of his dream in an epiphany for one moment. In this moment he felt the Chook below tilt away from him. In this moment his conscious mind balked. The lion was beyond his grasp. His mind could not open wide enough to comprehend it. He reached out to grasp it, but the lion bounded away from him.
The Grand Oyabun hastened after the lion but the beast fled. Down the writhing back of the great Li serpent the lion raced, but even as the Oyabun felt he might grasp it’s tail, the lion whipped around plunging into the grinning mouth of the Li serpent, and was gone from his sight.
When the Grand Oyabun awoke the dream troubled him for a long time. The longer he sat in reflection upon the portent of the dream, the more it seemed to him that the lion had not been fleeing him, but only hurrying toward it’s destination blind to the pursuit of the dreamer. It was this that troubled him most. The grin of the Li serpent remained with him for days.
Mr. Worshjeski wasn’t much impressed with the way the world was going these days. Not much impressed at all. Too much crime it seemed, Mr. Worshjeski was a pretty upstanding citizen in his day. He was an electrical repairman for the subways and had been laid off only once in his life, maybe 40 years ago now. But his union, The Third Rail, had seen him through, the industry got reformed some and his family never had to worry about starving.
Mr. Worshjeski’s kids had all graduated college and gotten jobs by this time: one in marketing, one in metal sculpture (car bodies into public monuments, that kind of stuff). The other one, I think he opened up a restaurant somewhere, smokies, kosher sausages, that kinda thing. Mr. Worshjeski’s wife was named Thelma. He’d been married to her for maybe 45 years now, they saw no reason to get divorced like the yuppies all were doing these days. She always called him by his first name, Stanley.
Maybe once a week she’d say, “Could you go to the store and get some milk so we can cook scalloped potatoes for dinner, Stanley?”
“Why don’t you ask the kids to do it? Isn’t that what we had them for?”
“Stanley! You know that Joshuesh moved out twenty one years ago. I don’t know who you think is going to get that milk.”
Mr. Worshjeski liked to put up a little bit of a ruckus just to let Thelma know that he hadn’t passed on, but he didn’t like to upset her, so 3:30 would see him climbing into his thick navy blue trench coat and putting on his working man’s fedora to walk three blocks down the street to the supermarket and buy some milk.
Sports were not exactly what Mr. Worshjeski lived for. Sure, he liked to sit around with the guys for an hour or so on a Saturday and watch the Packers play a couple, maybe even have a highball. He could live without the game, it was nice to see some of the guys outside of work once and a while. Probably his favorite thing to do was sit on the front porch with Thelma and watch the shadow of the Vort 21 work it’s way across the city.
Stanley and Thelma lived in a nice suburban section of New Vort in a neighborhood zoned for little two story red brick houses, small front yards and bigger back yards. A section where all the trees and bushes were trimmed pretty well. A nice residential area, kind of like a housing development, but the streets were all pretty straight, not those messed up cul de sacs you always see now days. Down the street was the school where their kids had went and a playground with big ruts around the climbing things where the kids used them a lot (though a couple of months ago the city recreation commission had filled in the ruts with mulch in an attempt to cut down on muddy sneaker tracks). Mr. and Mrs. Worshjeski mostly just liked to sit there and watch the city change and grow, maybe talk together a little. They liked to say hello to their friends who walked by and just relax some.
Mr. Worshjeski always carried a Tommy-Gun.
The familiar reek of mildewed towels and old sweat which pervaded the locker room was quick to make it’s self known to the olfactory centers of any creatures who passed through it’s doors. On this particular day the first such person to push through the chipped, dented, stained, and patched portal was Squire Chum, proceeded immediately by Beige Dan and Norm Hallaway.
“But, I mean, where did they get that plasma cannon anyway? They can’t go against the rules like that. We should register a complaint or something.” said Squire Chum.
“They probably got it from the weapons depot they took.” said Norm, “besides, Chum, you know that’s none of our business, is it?”
“I know,” said Chum abashedly.
“Here, help me out of this gorget.”
The urchin began the complicated process of unclasping the hasps on his mentor’s armor. This task, normally a minor duty for a squire, became more difficult in Chum’s capable hands, since Chum had no hands, only sort of movable spines which, though relatively dexterous for an echinorderm, were never shaped well for handling human implements. Beige Dan still stood in his full plate armor, looking impassively on.
It had been a long time since Beige Dan had said anything. It had been a long time since anyone had seen Beige Dan. In the 17 years that Norm had worked for Rent-a-Knite he had never actually seen Beige Dan out of his armor. In the 17 years Norm had been in the Rent-a-Knite buisness Beige Dan had only said one word. Shortly after the Vileboarhold ‘skirmish’ they had stood, the two of them, the last survivors of the carnage, looking out over the smoldering ruins of Vileboarhold. Gazing upon the charred bodies of innocent Kitty-kat people, the twitching forms of Helrathi Shock troopers, the hacked apart corpses of war-droids, a cold wind had blown out of the north and as the first snow had begun to drift like wispy little bugs over the exhausted battle field Norm thought he heard the word “Zil!” escape from Beige Dan’s beige visor.
Perhaps it had just been the wind.
Squire Chum was doing an especially bad job of getting the gorget off Norm and actually cutting the knight up pretty bad with his spines. Norm would probably have asked Chum to stop and handled his own armor fastenings but Beige Dan stood nearby just watching.
If there was one thing that everyone knew about the otherwise cryptic Beige Dan it was that he was an intense traditionalist. Intense is the only word that accurately describes the traditionality of Beige Dan. Many a branch of Rent-a-Knite had become liberal, adopting the use of high tech fire arms and mojo workers among their ranks, but not on Beige Dan’s watch. No 6×10^9 watt high density graviton beams or quazi-mecha battle armor for this crew. No dual classed fighter/mages among this lot. Cold steel was the weapon material of choice and maybe, just maybe, if you were lucky and you filled all the correct paper work they might contract a wizard to add a +1 damage bonus added to your glaive-guisarme. And Wook help you if you were caught being unchivalrous to a lady. In such a case: RUN! Because your life wouldn’t be worth living if Beige Dan ever caught up with you.
The thick plywood door banged open and Kathy Johnson walked in. Within two seconds the tension within the room become tenuous as monkey sinew.
“Ay guys, how’s it hangin’.” she said as she dropped her blood stained battle lance by the cinderblock partition for the showers. Squire Chum redoubled his efforts with Norms armor. Norm grunted a response in that way that people always use to try and avoid conversation, a tactic which never works.
“Pretty messy out there today,” Kathy continued, climbing out of her chain mail tunic, “Not as bad as that Mobville brawl though, huh?”
“Uunh.” Norm grunted, and he began wrapping sports tape around his right wrist feigning an attempt to immobilize a sprain.
“Yah, those plasma cannons put a pretty ‘razor’ twist on things.” said Kathy as she began to roughly unlace her under-armor shoulder pads.
No one responded. All of Squire Chum’s eyes near Kathy were suddenly paying particular attention to one of the locking pins on Norm’s greaves. Norm, in turn was concentrating intently on getting his wrist wrapped.
“So, what are you guys doing afterward?” Kathy asked.
“Probably goin’ a sleep.” said Chum in a quick way by which he meant to indicate that he had nothing more to say.
“Uuh-uuh?” grunted Norm, trying to sound disinterested.
The pin popped out of Norm’s armor and all of Squire Chum’s tiny eyes followed it’s flight across the floor where it stopped in front of Kathy. Norm and the Squire could hear Beige Dan’s eyes shutting in embarrassment. Kathy was peeling down to her skivvies in that “conscious that I’m unconscious of the social implications of what I’m doing” way that she always did.
Chum froze. He was looking at her. He knew he was looking right at her. She didn’t notice him looking at her, but if he moved too quickly to look away she would notice.
Chum was almost at the point of quavering. It was an accident! He started to look away very slowly, hoping against hope she wouldn’t catch one of his eyes. Every second he looked at her dug him deeper into the pit of awkwardness and increased the chance that she would notice his glance. Damn that chapter 5 law!
“Chum!” Norm came to his rescue, “Leave those pins alone. Help me with this wrist.”
By taping his right wrist Norm had ensured that he would do a terrible job requiring Chum’s assistance.
Being an urchin Chum was not prone to sighing with relief. In fact, any relaxation in Chum’s water vascular system brought on by emotions akin to relief would actual result in a rapid influx of air (or water when submerged) and would produce a sound similar to that made by a human catching their breath in surprise. However, the mention of a breath being drawn would place into the reader’s mind an incorrect picture of Chum’s emotional state, so let us just say that Chum was hard pressed not to sigh with relief as Norm wrested him from the grip of social unease.
Chum mangled away at the wrist with Norm intermittently intervening to prevent major blood loss until Kathy became a bit less disrobed.
“Probably, headin’ up to the Lunar Interface after I get some dinner. I hear they’re throwing a ‘jam-kickin’ party up there this time of year,” said Kathy as she finished toweling off her dirty blond hair and putting on deodorant, “I bet if I wear my ‘daisy dukes’ I could pick up a couple of them Lunar boys real quick.”
Um. . . silence permeated the room for probably thirty seconds after these few sentences had left Kathy’s lips. About the only sounds to be heard in the sauna-like locker room were the gentle “thwwwrpp” of sports tape ripping and subdued plinking of Beige Dan’s sweat as it dripped against the inside of his armor. Neither Norm nor Chum had EVER felt a compulsion to discuss Kathy’s chances of picking up ANYONE at ANY TIME in their ENTIRE LIVES, nor did the possibility that a pair of ‘daisy dukes’ might be involved in such an endeavor endear either of them to the conversation.
And, of course, Beige Dan wasn’t saying anything.
“Well, you’ll be missing something.” She said, as she briefly considered snapping Norm in the butt with a towel in a friendly guy-to-guy sort of way. But Chum and Dan might feel left out, so she dropped the towel into her bag along with some other stuff.
“It won’t be my fault when I get to hold it over your heads on Monday. See ya guys.”
Norm grunted a response and Chum tried not to let his eagerness come through as he said bye. Both of them had been to the Lunar Rumba festival the previous year and knew that it was not everything the ravers said. After a jet-lag-inducing car ride along the Vort they had spent the weekend getting their rear ends kicked around by police tribes whose colors they happened to be wearing, after which they had been run out of their hotel rooms by utility gremlins.
Not an experience either of them wished to repeat, but of course no one would ever believe it had happened. The Lunar Rumba was that one thing everyone had a story about. It was a truly awesome thing that no one could believe was bad, no matter how vehemently you warned them, until they had experienced it for themselves. Kathy, for certain, would not believe and it can safely be said that no one in the locker room wanted to keep her there to debate the issue.
Not that it would matter if they refrained from telling her. In spite of locker room taboos Kathy was as much a Rent-a-Knite as the next guy. Yah, they’d all fought a few rounds together, she could take care of her self. So maybe she’d come back a little wiser and more jaded about the Lunies. Better that than having to wait another hour to get changed.
Finally she left.
The immediate result of this was that Norm and Chum got to take longer showers than usual and actually had the time to dry off for a change before getting dressed. The ultimate result was that they were both well rested when the weekend was over, unlike Kathy who was a little loopy from the Lunar hooch (and thought she remembered actually having a good time between jaw dislocations, though she wasn’t sure) and severe jet-lag.
A couple of hours passed after everyone left. Eventually the custodian came through, mopped the floor and threw out the sweaty wads of sports tape which had been strewn about. He brought a duster over to where Beige Dan still stood in his armor, dusted him off and gave the armor a good polishing.
In the quiet, dimly lit locker room there was a sound like someone blowing across the top of a straw and a message canister sprung from the pneumatic tube in the office. The custodian picked it up and set in on a bench in the locker room where the knights would be sure to notice it when they came in on Monday. Then he returned to shining up the armor.
The custodian had worked in this Rent-A-Knite headquarters for well on 11 years, but he had always worked the later shifts. Usually when the Knights were home, or at their Knightly functions. No need to be getting under feet while they were in here getting refreshed after a long day. As many years as he had been here the custodian had never actually seen one of the Knights in person, just a squire or two who forgot something in his locker and needed a key. Usually the chancellor of the franchise paid him directly, and he had free reign within his duties.
So it may come as little surprise that the custodian wondered why the one particular suit of armor had stood in the corner for all these years. He thought it was a symbolic uniform maybe of some sort. Could be like their mascot or something, but it always seemed to have the same wear and tear as the other suits or armor after each battle.
I mean, the custodian had been there long enough that he’d seen suit’s of armor come and go, as one knight had either died or retired or simply traded in his heavy bronze plate armor for the lighter more durable steel plate. But this one beige suit had always stood here in the corner. Whoever owned it kept it well maintained. Maybe he was some sort of High Marshal.
Sometimes the custodian would amuse himself by supposing that there was actually someone in the armor and that it wasn’t just a frame of some sort holding it up. Now and then he did feel like someone was watching him, but pretty much everyone felt that way at one time or another. It was a lonely job sometimes, being custodian. The mind is apt to play tricks in the empty rooms.
Besides, the custodian knew he’d watched that Tom Baker episode with the Melkor too many times for it to be true. He wasn’t going to let his petty suspicions drive him to peek inside the armor. He’d spent 11 years respecting other people’s property as he cleaned under and around it. But, well, the custodian’s suspicion’s had always been aroused by the armor. It couldn’t hurt to look just once.
The custodian tiptoed up to the beige armor and tried to lift the visor. Unfortunately his lack of stature prevented him from reaching it easily, so he dragged over the old clumping, floor scraping bench, set down his broom and got eye to eye with the suit. Carefully, so as not to tip the suit over, he lifted the visor.
The custodian almost fell off the bench. A pair of bloodshot eyes stared out of the armor. Bloodshot eyes twitching with anticipation, eyes which stared right through him. The custodian muttered a half a dozen “Beg yer pardon, Sers” and “Terribly, terribly sorrys” as he straightened out the benches and backed out of the locker room. But Beige Dan’s eyes had not been focused upon custodian as the man overstepped his own self appointed bounds. No, the twin beams of x-ray fire which burned forth from his eyes rested steadily upon the message cannister atop yon bench.
Many years had it been since the pneumatics in the locker room had been put to use. Many years indeed. Nearly forty, it was said. Beige Dan had seen the last time it was used. For he knew where the other side led. There was only one person who could have sent that message and well Beige Dan knew that person. It was none other that his Lady Fair, from whom he had had neither word nor commerce in as much time.
The canister sat upon the rump-worn bench. Beige Dan stood looking on all weekend, his longing and anticipation building as he gazed.
While the populace of the Far East sleeps Umika Dyson and Jerico Kalfler creep out of the Ogre Clan village. Stealthy as house cats which have somehow been armed with surreal ninja skills they slip down past the rice paddies and by morning they cover 231 miles reaching the Great Wall of Kyokuto (One of the six lesser wonders of Chook is the Great Wall of Kyokuto which marks the entire perimeter of the officially claimed Far East. In theory the Great Wall keeps out invading hordes but since it is only four men high and has a length of several thousand miles it is almost impossible to adequately defend. The wall does function as an effective symbolic boundary to the Far Eastern territory and most inhabitants of the Far East see it as their traditional and rightful place to subsist within it’s limits.).
After a small disagreement (made more interesting because of the language barrier) over chivalry and women going first, Jerico and Umika give each other a hand over the wall. At this point spy satellites which have been tracking Jerico’s position witness the pair’s heat signatures wink out. Those on the ground see the pair for a moment, then there is only jungle.