Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Bickering Blogfest

This is my short story Briantrap Dungeon for the bickering blogfest, and since people seemed to like my character interview with Brian Northington, it's the next installment of the Brianiad (or the Receipt for a Dragon series, if you don't like pretentious names for these things). The bickering is fairly low level, but they do manage to keep it up even while running away, so they should probably have points for that. Apologies in advance for the length.

‘Cynthia…’ Brian paused from lashing the spiked swivel arm into place and looked over at his companion. Even in a semi-dark tunnel, wearing a boiler suit, with her burgundy hair tied back, Cynthia Williams-Frothes managed to radiate elegant beauty. Of course, at the sound of her first name, she also managed to radiate the sense that she would have really preferred it if the Universe didn’t contain Brian Northington.

‘Spider, Brian, not Cynthia. Only my mother calls me Cynthia.’

‘Sorry, sorry.’ He raised his hands in apology and only narrowly avoided impaling them on the spikes. ‘Why do they call you Spider, anyway?’

‘I climb things.’ Her attention was firmly on the pressure plate in front of her.

‘What sort of things?’ Brian asked, intrigued. Spider sighed.

‘Cliffs, walls, sacred statues with inviting diamonds set in the eyes. That sort of thing.’

‘Why would you do that?’

‘To steal what’s at the top, of course.’ She turned away from her work, giving Brian a long look. ‘What? Not going to say something about me being a thief?’

Brian hadn’t known her for more than a couple of days, but already he knew better than to answer. Sadly, it seemed that even silence wasn’t always safe where Cynthia was concerned.

‘There’s no need for the silent treatment. I was bored, ok? Traipsing around the Multiverse stealing from evil warlords and mad demon princes seemed a lot more fun than sitting at home, waiting for my mother to set me up with some suitable man. Now, give me a moment while I set this pressure switch.’

Brian watched her work by the light of what appeared to be a small, glowing, winged figure trapped within a glass jar. The word that came to mind was pixie. He might have said something about the cruelty of it, except that the tiny person seemed perfectly happy sitting there and reading what appeared to be a very small edition of the Racing Post.

Brian watched Spider link up the pressure switch to a sort of hourglass and cogwheel arrangement, which in turn seemed to be linked to an exceptionally large crossbow. Of the things he’d seen so far that day, it was one of the less dangerous. He’d spent half an hour helping a team of very short, muscular men with greenish skin and too many teeth manoeuvre a large boulder to the top of a chute.

‘Where did the little men go?’ He asked. ‘I haven’t seen them in a while.’
Cynthia shook her head wearily.

‘They’re not “little men”, Brian. They’re goblins. Ugly, mean, and utterly untrustworthy.’

‘You’re just upset because they wolf whistled at you. Besides, they seemed nice enough. They could help us with this last bit.’

Cynthia rolled her eyes.

‘You wouldn’t be saying that if you saw some of the things they do to prisoners. As for helping, they can’t, they’re on their break. According to the Goblinoid Organisation of Builders, I have to give them an hour off every four hours. I told Peter we should have gone with gnomes.’

Peter Edgeborough was their employer. It had been him who suggested that Brian should tag along with Spider to learn the ropes of the dungeon designing business. Besides, there had been a nest of snakes to encourage to the bottom of a pit, and Brian had seemed the natural choice for it. He didn’t know why reptiles liked him so much, but they’d followed him as meekly as mice, slithering into the pit one by one.

He took another look at the giant crossbow as Spider finished connecting up the pressure plate.

‘Isn’t all this a bit… dangerous?’ He asked. Spider raised an elegantly curved eyebrow.

‘It’s meant to be dangerous, Brian. That’s kind of the point of dungeon traps.’

‘But it doesn’t seem right, somehow, rigging all this up when we know what it will do to people.’

‘Nobody makes your average barbarian thief come into places like this.’ Spider retorted. ‘They come in because they know it’s going to be filled with this stuff. For them, it’s like bungee jumping or something. No danger, no thrill. Besides, between you and me, there’s nothing in here that even the most incompetent hack and slash merchant couldn’t avoid. If Graznar the Mad wants a deadly pit of doom, he shouldn’t be paying us peanuts for it.’

She straightened up, stretching casually.

‘Come on, that’s the last of it for now. Let’s head back outside.’

Brian wasn’t entirely convinced by her argument, but he followed in her wake anyway. That was, he followed until something small and brightly coloured caught his eye. Another look told Brian it was some sort of lizard, similar to a chameleon, though no chameleon he’d heard of could achieve an effect of blue, orange and green polka dots. It was perched on a statue where the eyes had been replaced by hollow tubes to fire poison darts, apparently investigating the tubes. Somewhere between his natural concern for all things scaly and his fascination with the strangeness of the creature’s patterns, he forgot all about where they were.

‘Come off that,’ Brian said, edging forward and reaching for it. He lifted the lizard, which made a noise uncannily similar to a kitten purring. It came at about the same moment as a loud click.

‘Brian! Don’t move!’

Brian fought off the natural urge that comes with all instructions of that type, which was to turn towards the sound of the speaker's voice. Given the note of urgency in Spider's tone, it didn’t seem like a very good idea. Instead, he did his best impersonation of a statue. The chameleon didn’t feel the same need, running up onto the top of his head. Spider moved into his line of vision and crouched down, tentatively examining the ground at Brian’s feet.

‘Why can’t you watch where you’re stepping?’ she demanded, and then swore. ‘It’s no good. I can’t disarm this pressure plate with you standing on it. What did you think you were doing?’

By way of answer, Brian held up the lizard, which had changed colour. This time it had achieved what looked very much like a Royal Stuart tartan effect. Spider rolled her eyes.

‘I should have known. Listen, Brian, this whole dungeon is rigged together. Once you step off that pad, the whole place is going to start going off.’

Brian thought about it for a moment. He’d seen this sort of thing on TV, before one of his pet pythons had eaten the remote control. He knew that there was really only one thing to do in situations like this. He pushed the lizard at Spider.

‘You should go,’ he said, in what he hoped was a suitably brave tone. ‘Take him with you, would you?’

It seemed the lizard wasn’t waiting for an answer. It jumped onto Spider’s shoulder and lay there like some strange, tartan parrot. Spider gave it a disgusted look.

‘That’s all I need. Taxi service for some chameleon with artistic pretensions. If you think I’m going to just leave you, you’re stupider than you look. Can you even remember where we put everything?’

Brian shrugged. ‘I can remember where the snake pit was, and that thing with the scythe blades, and… well, I’ll be all right. Really, just go.’

Spider gave a long sigh. ‘Oh, save me from chauvinist, wannabe chivalry.’ She moved closer to Brian, her hands sliding up to his shoulders. For a moment, just for a moment, Brian found himself wondering if she might kiss him. Well, not so much wondering as hoping, he admitted to himself. Spider leaned in still closer, until he could breathe in the scent of her perfume and almost, almost taste her lips on his.

She yanked Brian off the pressure plate.

There was the hiss of escaping air, followed by the thud of darts hitting the wall opposite where Brian had been standing.

‘Don’t just stand there, run!’

Spider all but dragged Brian along with her. There was a twang, and something passed between them. The giant crossbow bolt embedded itself two feet into the wall and quivered like a ruler that had just been flicked by the world’s largest schoolboy. They rounded a corner at full tilt, narrowly avoiding the edge of the snake pit, and kept going.

Brian flinched at the sound of things happening just behind them as they ran. There were more twangs, a couple of thumps, and the swish of a pair of descending scythe blades.

‘Why aren’t they hitting us?’ he demanded, not slowing down.

‘You’re asking now?’ Spider pulled him down as a sharpened discus blade shot overhead. ‘They’re designed to go off as people walk into them coming in, so they’re behind us coming out. Now, shut up and keep running.’

Brian did so, but couldn’t help asking one more question.

‘What’s that rumbling sound?’

They looked back over their shoulders almost simultaneously, and so saw the giant boulder rolling towards them at the same time. This time, Brian didn’t need to be told to run. They made it round the final bend just before the boulder, and set off at a flat sprint with it behind them. They threw themselves through the entrance, coming to rest in a panting, mud spattered mess just outside. The boulder shot by them and continued, crashing through a tent marked G.O.B.- Tea Breaks.

Spider looked up, and Brian braced himself for the explosion that would probably follow.

‘I know,’ he said, ‘I’m an idiot.’

Spider just laughed.

‘Are you kidding? I haven’t had that much fun in years.’

‘Fun?’ Brian asked.

‘Well, obviously. I told you I used to steal from places like this. You think I did it for the money? There’s nothing, nothing, quite like running away from a ton of boulder to make you feel alive.’ Her face sobered. ‘Mind you, I dread to think what Graznar the Mad’s going to say.’

Somewhere through the fog of confusion at not being shouted at, an idea came to Brian.

‘Could we… maybe say we were testing the system?’

‘Testing the system?’ Spider repeated thoughtfully.

‘You know, like an additional, no extra cost service to check that it’s 100% adventurer-proof.’

A slow smile spread over Spider’s face.

‘You know, it might work. And the best part is I… that is we… could offer this to all our clients.’ She said it in the happy voice of someone who was never likely to be short of an adrenaline rush ever again. She turned to Brian with a gleam in her eye that made him hopeful again. ‘You know, right now, I could just… yuck! Get it off!’

The lizard had chosen that moment to lick her face. Hurriedly, Brian lifted it from her. It started purring again.

‘Please tell me you’re not planning on keeping it.’ Spider said. ‘You are, aren’t you? You’re going to keep it.’

Brian nodded and looked back at the devastation. A group of goblin workers were crawling out of the ruins of their tent, brushing themselves off and muttering darkly about Health and Safety.

‘I think I’ll call him Trouble.’


Andrew Rosenberg said...

Funny and likable.
Would love to read more about these characters!
BTW I hate when giant boulders start rolling toward you...
Nice job!

Ted Cross said...

Hi Stu. I love stories with goblins in them. I put them in my own, but without the comedy (I'm no good with funny). I left an award for you on my blog.

Michelle Gregory said...

i need to come back to this when i have more time to thoroughly read instead of skimming. you have me intrigued.

and your "about me" - pen and sword. someone who fences and writes. great combination. guess that makes your sword fighting scenes good ones. i just steal mine from movies, since i don't know what the heck i'm really doing when it comes to sword fights.

Valerie said...

Loved this. Behind the scenes on the making of the Temple of Doom, a bit. Good banter and I'm ready to read more about the characters and the world.

L'Aussie said...

Hi Stu. Low-level bickering but I like the description even though a couple of sentences at the beginning could be shortened: from 'Even in the semi-dark...Northington.'

Talei said...

Fantastic bickering and I love the humour. Great storytelling. And I got my goblin fix for the week. Thank you for sharing another great story!

elizabeth mueller said...

Again, Stu, I'm way impressed! I love their spark when they are together. I think it's cute that Trouble purrs... ;)

When he stepped off the pressure plate, for some odd reason, I expected bombs and fires. LOL

Also--I thought of Indiana running away when you mentioned the huge boulder rolling after them! ;)

Thanks for your comments on my post! :)

Donna Hole said...

This has elements of plot and character building, back story, and scene conflict. I really enjoyed this excerpt. You're very good at moving both character and story plots along, and keeping the surroundings from dropping into a dark hole.

I really like your sense of humor, and how well you weave that quirkiness into the writing. I haven't read a good fantasy in a long time - and when I do manage to visit your blog, I miss it more and more.

Very engaging characters and plot. Excellent character building through the bickering.


Olivia Herrell said...

btw, I started to skim because it was long, but it sucked in and I couldn't. For me, THAT'S saying a lot! :)

Olivia Herrell said...

This was delightful! I'd definitely read this book from start to finish, probably in one sitting. I love the characters and the chemistry between them. They're quirks are endearing and fun. I'll be back here for more. Bet on it!

Thanks for sharing! Olivia
Oh, and thanks so much for commenting on my entry and for following.

Olivia Herrell said...

Pssst, There's an award for you over at my blog, stop by. :)

Talei said...

Hello Stu - Happy Friday! I have a butterfly award for your goblins on my blog. ;)

AshleyTenille said...

Awesome! This scene had such fantastic flow, I wanted to keep reading past the end of it. I really like this Spider character, very intriguing. The characters are very well written. Great scene!