Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #25


THE EIGHTH CHAPTER
Part Three

Captain Ovati, however, did not look impressed. If anything his unexpected escape from death only enraged her further.

She thrust the point of her sword at his heart. Arakis was there to deflect the blow. She swung down in a chopping motion, meaning to slice him in two. Dominick stepped back and Arakis glided swiftly into place, knocking her blade aside.

Yet still she continued, pushing him back with the cold viciousness of her attack. Regardless, for every trust of her sword, his was there to block. He moved without thought, as if on some instinctual level he knew exactly what he was doing, like he’d been training for this moment all his life.

It was like a dance, each one moving in concert with the other, flowing through forms meant to kill or defend. Dominick couldn’t explain it. He seemed to know, to anticipate, where the Captain’s blade was going to be and was therefore able to have his own in place to slap aside every thrust, swing, and slice.

And yet, despite his miraculous defensive techniques, Dominick continued to retreat.

“We don’t have to do this, Captain,” he said, knocking aside another thrust. “People where I come like to sit down and talk through their problems.” He wasn’t even breathing heavily. “That, or shoot at each other.”

The Captain didn’t respond, she only pressed harder, her face a mask of determination.

Then it happened. As Dominick stepped backwards away from her onslaught of violent hatred, he tripped. Suddenly he was falling. As if in slow motion he could see the toothy smile that split the Captain’s face and before he landed with a thud on his bottom, she was on him.

She took her sword in both hands and swung it down with such force that Dominick could almost hear the whistle it made as it split the air. And so, as he tumbled from his bottom to his back, he flung Arakis up before him and prepared himself for death.

Yet, as Captain Ovati’s steel blade met the stone blade of Arakis, there came an explosion and the steel gave way and shattered around the stone, throwing the Captain back to land in a heap a few feet away. The sound of thunder roared through the hall and a bolt of lightning, coming as if from nowhere, struck the tip of Arakis, causing the blade to glow white hot before the room fell into silence.

No one moved as the dust settled around them. Dominick sat up and looked from the sword to the Captain, his eyes wide with shock.

“Holy sh—” but he was cut off as the sound of a blaring horn echoed through the hall.

“Oh no,” Vivian said as Ovati pulled herself to her feet.

“What?” Dominick said.

“It’s the alarm,” Ovati said.

“The alarm? For what?” Dominick said.

Ovati brushed herself off. “It means that Lord Hob and his armies have arrived to kill us all.”

Here ends the Eighth Chapter.



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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #24


THE EIGHTH CHAPTER
Part Two

“Okay, I’m done,” Dominick said to everyone, his voice reaching even those on the other side of the hall. “This was fun and all, what with the monsters that tried to kill me and stuff. Oh, and the impending threat of single-handedly standing against a person that each of you fear down to your toes. But I have come to the official end of my rope.”

The members of the Triumvirate frowned and Queen Genivene sat down.

“I want to thank everyone for the lovely bath, the sword, the two rings, and the wonderful new clothes, but I think it’s time for me to take my ball and go home. I’m done. I’ve had enough. I’m ending this farce here and now. You’ve all been great company, but I’m going to go.”

He began to back out of the hall.

“If you need me for anything further, you can of course give me a call. I’ll leave my number with the secretary out front. But keep in mind that I like to screen my calls.”

He bowed, then turned and waved to the crowd.

“Hanrahan out, people,” Dominick said, then turned to leave.

“See,” Captain Ovati’s voice sounded from behind him. “He is not The One. He’s just another scared little man.”

Dominick spun to face her, heat rising in his face.

“Darn tootin’ I’m scared,” he said. “I’m a fry cook from Kansas. I’m no soldier.” He moved toward her. “I’ve never even been in a fist fight, much less one involving swords and magic and junk. I prefer to avoid confrontation. And you want me to what, cross swords with you? It’s pretty obvious that you’ve been in a few scrapes yourself. Does that sound fair? Oh, and if that’s not enough, I have to fight the Boogie Man as well? No thanks, Lady. Not this guy.”

“Dominick,” Vivian said, gliding toward him. “We are depending on you.”

“I’m sorry, Vivian,” he said. “I’m not your guy. I’m just not.” He kept his eyes locked on Captain Ovati.

“You’re a fool for putting your hope in this sorry excuse for a man, fae,” Ovati said, spitting the words out like spoiled meat.

“Yeah,” Dominick said. “I am at that. I make no excuse for it. I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”

“Dominick,” Vivian said.

“I’m going to go now,” he cut her off.

“Coward!” Ovati yelled. Then in one smooth motion, before Dominick could react, she drew her sword and swung it at his head.

He flinched, closed his eyes, and waited for the inevitable. There came a clanging sound near his head, which made him jump, but there was no accompanying pain.

This is what death must feel like, he thought. Painless.

The idea of a painless death, of just ending things here and now in such an easy way made him smile. That was when he heard a collective gasp all around him.

He opened an eye and found something so surprising that he had no choice but to open his other eye and stare in slack jawed amazement.

First, he wasn’t dead. That was astounding enough. But what was even more amazing was the reason behind his miraculous survival:

There, in his hand, was Arakis, the blade drawn up before him, and blocking the Captain’s sword, preventing it from taking off the top half of his head. He was rather fond of his head, most especially the top half, so the relief he felt — regardless of how it was able to come to pass — was quite profound.

To be continued . . .



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Friday, May 20, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #23


THE EIGHTH CHAPTER
Part One

A stir of emotions rippled through the assembled crowd. It started as a whispered buzz, moved to a nervous chatter, climbed a level to a steady babble, and then finally rose in crescendo to the bombastic roar of contrary howling.

The dark woman with the sword ignored it all. She only had eyes for Dominick, and not in the way that romantics spend most of their waking moment dreaming about. The eyes that took him in held anger, suspicion, mistrust, a bit more anger, contempt, and another dash of anger.

Dominick took an involuntary step back.

Queen Genivene stood and the howling of the crowd died down to an annoyed murmur.

“Captain Ovati,” the Queen addressed the angry woman. “You doubt this man’s claim?”

“I do, My Queen,” the woman, Captain Ovati, said.

“He bears the Mark,” the Queen said. “He wields the sword. Yet still, you doubt?”

“I do, My Queen.” The Captain never took her eyes off of Dominick.

“What’s happening?” Dominick said.

“That’s Captain Ovati,” Vivian said quietly into his ear, her voice that of one filled with deep disgust. “She’s in charge of Queen Genivene’s Royal Guard.”

“I have spoken for this man,” the Queen said. “Do you doubt my word?”

“No, My Queen,” the Captain said. “I do not doubt your word. But it is my job to ensure your safety, and in turn, the safety of Haven.”

“Only The One can wield Arakis,” Vivian glided toward Captain Ovati. The look on the little fairy’s face like that of someone forced to smell something unpleasant. “To any other it is just a sword. But in the hands of The One, well . . . Such power is indescribable.” Vivian smiled.

“You may speak true, fae,” the Captain said, finally turning from Dominick to face Vivian. “But there is little doubt to me, and to those present, that this man has proven nothing more then that he can lift Arakis above his head. I see no proof that he can harness the power of the black sword. I have the right to challenge. If this Dominick Hanrahan is truly The One, then he will be more than up to it.”

“What’s happening?” Dominick repeated.

“The Captain has challenged your claim,” Vivian said. “She demands more proof that you are, in fact, The One.”

“Proof? Okay, what do I need to do?”

Captain Ovati had gone back to staring at Dominick with a critical eye. She had an old scar that drew a white line from above her right eye, down to the middle of her cheek.

“You must fight her,” Vivian said.

“What?” Dominick looked from the Captain to the fairy, then back to the Captain.

He tried not to focus on her battle scarred armor or the way the grip of her sword looked to be worn with continuous use. He tried not to notice the way she continued to study him, like a bug she was about to step on. He even tried to screw up his courage in anticipation of the inevitable fight between the two. But after all that he’d been through today, he decided just to give himself over to instinct and fall apart.

To be continued . . .



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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #22


THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
Part Three

As the Crier began speaking, Dominick stole another glance at Roberta Green Tree. She threw him another thumbs up, still smiling.

“Kendrick of the Triumvirate, Troll Lord, son of Glamdir the Giant Slayer, brother of Falbur the Bright, nephew of Jontrin the Not So Bright, and cousin of Nilton the Hider of Other People’s Things,” said the Crier. “I present to you Dominick Hanrahan. The One.”

Kendrick, even sitting, towered over the rest of the Triumvirate. A course brown fur covered every inch of the troll’s body but the area around his eyes and nose. The fur at his chin, his beard, was done together in two long, thick braids, and when he spoke, his voice rumbled like an avalanche in a thunder storm. “We welcome you, Dominick Hanrahan, and embrace you as a brother.”

“I am honored to be seen under the eyes of the Troll Lord,” Dominick said. “I pledge to you my hand and heart.”

“Lord Uto of the Triumvirate,” the Crier called, reaching the last of the rulers on the dais. “Elf Lord. I present to you Dominick Hanrahan. The One.”

Lord Uto had a savage look about him that made the Troll Lord seem like a big stuffed bear. He dressed in tanned animal hides and wore pale white beads around his neck. He was bald and his pointed ears reached almost a full two inches above his hairless pate. His almond eyes were blue like the clear sky, and his smile . . . Dominick thought for a moment that the elf was going to go for his throat when he showed his teeth.

“We welcome you, Dominick Hanrahan,” Lord Uto said in a quiet voice that took hold of Dominick’s heart with an icy grip. “And embrace you as a brother.”

Dominick tried to repress a shudder, but found himself failing under Lord Uto’s gaze. “I am honored to be seen under the eyes of the Elf Lord,” Dominick said. “I pledge to you my hand and heart.”

“Rejoice, People of Gund,” the Crier called out to the assembled. “The One has been so named and accepted into our embrace.”

The crowd roared and for a moment, Dominick felt better than he’d had at any point in his life. He felt accepted, needed.

Then she stepped from the crowd.

She was beautiful with dark skin and even darker hair. She wore leather armor covered in the scars of battle and her hand rested on the hilt of a sword that rode at her waist like was a part of her. She walked with the grace of a stalking panther and eyed Dominick like so much meat to be hunted and devoured.

The assembled celebration died as she stepped to Dominick.

Though he was taller by at least two inches, she made him feel small under her gaze.

“Um,” Dominick said as everyone around him went quiet.

She only looked him in the eyes and spoke.

“I challenge this man’s claim.”

Here ends the Seventh Chapter.



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Monday, May 16, 2016

Let Me Clear My Throat - One Hot Mess


I'm over the term 'hot mess'.

I've been over it for a great while now.

To be honest, I've never used the term myself. To me, it conjures up images of an excremental nature.

In other words, when I hear: 'hot mess', I see: 'steaming pile'.

Maybe, going forward, everyone should just stop saying 'hot mess' and instead say 'steaming pile'.

"I'm dealing with an issue here that's a real steaming pile."

I would like to discuss the problems we've been having with your son at school. To be honest, he's one steaming pile."

"Work today was just one steaming pile after another."

"I don't know who to vote for this term. Each candidate is a giant steaming pile."

See, it just fits rather seamlessly.

So what do you say, Earth? Can we do this. Can we take 'hot mess' and replace it with 'steaming pile'?

I think we can.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #21


THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
Part Two

Dominick looked up to see a bald man with a long, white beard, wearing official-looking blue robes that hung to the floor. He clutched a thick, wooden staff, topped with a five pointed star, which he was tapping forcefully on the floor. Five times he pounded the staff.

“Head down,” Vivian hissed.

Dominick dropped his eyes. “Who is that?”

“He is the Crier, the voice of the Triumvirate. Now hush,” Vivian said as the old man began to speak:

“The Prophecy speaks of The One who will come from a world that has taken its first steps. He will bear the Mark of the Three and harness the might of the storm. The One will have the power to hold dominion over us all, but the heart and wisdom to serve.”

The Crier paused and Dominick could feel the people around him being sucked into the old man’s words. What was once a hall filled with the idle conversations of those waiting for the show to begin was now so quiet that his own breathes rang in his ears like the sound of thunder.

“The Prophecy tells us that The One will come to us in a time of our most dire need,” the Crier continued. “And that he will bring light into the White with a black stone. He will be the first, but not the last, and he will bear the standard of peace.”

Dominick felt an itch forming at the base of his nose and he fought the urge to scratch.

“And though the Prophecy tells us that the coming of The One will signal a time of war and despair, he will be the instrument that brings the Three together to battle those that come from lands unseen to despoil and devour.”

The itch grew more fierce and Dominick crinkled his nose back and forth in rapid succession.

“Know that the day spoken of in the Prophecy has arrived,” the Crier said. “Know that The One has come at last.”

“Stand,” Vivian whispered in his ear.

Dominick rose to a collective gasp from the crowd.

“Tremble before his might,” the Crier called, his arms held high, the staff in one hand. “Feel the power of our salvation!”

This last echoed out around Dominick and silenced the mutterings and cries of the crowd.

“Speak thy name so that we may know thee,” the Crier said.

“I am Dominick Hanrahan,” Dominick said following Vivian’s prompting.

“Dominick Hanrahan, I present you to the Triumvirate.” The Crier turned and swept a hand toward the throne at the end of the dais to Dominick’s right. There sat a woman in a gown of deepest blue, a simple crown of beaten gold perched atop red curls.

“Lady Genivene of the Triumvirate, Queen of Haven, I present to you Dominick Hanrahan. The One,” the Crier said.

Queen Genivene gave a slight bow of her head. “We welcome you, Dominick Hanrahan, and embrace you as a brother.”

“I am honored to be seen under the eyes of the Queen of Men,” Dominick repeated as Vivian spoke into his ear. “I pledge to you my hand and heart.” He touched his right hand to his heart and bowed.

“Lord Honrig Stonechurch of the Triumvirate,” the Crier called, his hand sweeping to the next throne to the left where sat a small and stocky man with a wild beard of black. “King of the Dwarven kingdom of Throndil the Under Realm, I present to you Dominick Hanrahan. The One.”

The King of the dwarves nodded. “We welcome you, Dominick Hanrahan, and embrace you as a brother.”

“I am honored to be seen under the eyes of the King of the Under Realm,” Dominick said, again repeating what Vivian spoke for only him to hear. “I pledge to you my hand and heart.” As with the Queen, he touched his right hand to his heart and bowed.

Next was a tall slender woman in the third chair. Her hair was long and the same shade of green as her skin, like that of a field of grass. “Roberta Green Tree, First Lady and Queen of the Fae,” said the Crier. “I present to you Dominick Hanrahan. The One.”

The Fairy Queen smiled broad and wide, showing her yellow teeth, and gave Dominick a thumbs up. “We welcome you, Dominick Hanrahan, and embrace you as a brother.”

“I am, uh,” he floundered for a moment. The thumbs up had thrown him off. “I am honored to be seen under the eyes of the Queen of the Fae,” Dominick said. “I pledge to you my hand and heart.” He touched his right hand to his heart and bowed.

Dominick then turned to the next one along.

The troll.

To be continued . . .



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Monday, May 2, 2016

Then a Penguin Walked In #20


THE SEVENTH CHAPTER
Part One

A full over body tremble settled into Dominick as he stepped through the doorway. The room beyond was like an amphitheater, but not the type of place you’d catch Bon Jovi playing. This was more like the kind of room where he imagined Shakespeare was performed back in William’s day.

He estimated that the theater seats, benches that wound about the perimeter of the room like a horseshoe, seated about five hundred or so, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

Dominick had entered the theater from under the curve of the horseshoe and now stood in an open area with wood floors in which the horseshoe surrounded. Like a Bon Jovi concert, it was standing room only on the floor, elbow to elbow, except for a path through the center of the crowd that had been held back by two rows of soldiers. Fortunately the crowd was somewhat docile, unlike a Bon Jovi concert, and the soldiers needed only to stand to form the barrier between the crowd and Dominick.

The path they had cleared was wide enough to allow four of Dominick to walk along side by side without worry of anyone crowding anyone else’s personal space. But he stood in the path alone, a fact that only made him feel like bug under a microscope as all eyes turned to him.

The open end of the horseshoe — the area in which the path ended — sat not a stage as one would see if we were to continue with the Bon Jovi analogy, but a dais. Though what is a dais really but a stage? On the dais sat five large chairs, thrones to be exact, and each one of them was occupied.

The Triumvirate.

Dominick swallowed and moved slowly forward, taking in the faces around him, smiling politely each time he caught a pair of eyes in his own. It appeared that all five of the races of Gund were in attendance today, and they all watched him closely, but with varied expressions.

Some of the faces showed excitement and joy, some beamed with hope and resolve. Others were the more clinical examinations of the undecided, and few even radiated disbelief and anger. Those he flinched away from as he continued his way across the hall.

Dominick had reached the midway point between the doors and the dais when a shudder ran through him as something buzzed loudly in his ear.

“Dominick Hanrahan,” said a high pitched voice in his ear, cutting through the sound of buzzing wings.

Dominick jumped and spun, his hand going instinctively to the hilt of his sword — a fact he found more surprising than the sudden voice — and there, hovering just inches away, her form almost lost among the crowd behind her, floated a fairy in a green ball gown.

“Vivian,” he exclaimed in a choked whisper. “What are you doing? You nearly scared the life out of me.”

“I have come to guide you through the ceremony,” she said.

Dominick let out a relieved breath.

“Thank God,” he said. “I was about to have a heart attack or something I’m so nervous.”

“Worry not, Dominick Hanrahan. I will be with you every step of the way.”

“You have to stop with this ‘Dominick Hanrahan’ nonsense already,” he said. “It’s Dominick, please.”

“Okay,” she said. “Dominick it is. Now, why don’t we get moving. The crowd is getting restless."

He continued on down the path through the crowd, trying his best to ignore the looks thrown at him.

“Do you see that mark there on the floor ahead?” Vivian, hovering just above his right shoulder and speaking softly in his ear, gestured casually with one hand.

There, on the floor, about three feet from where the Triumvirate sat, a glowing white circle appeared, about the size of a basket ball.

“Yeah,” he said as the mark disappeared.

“You will walk to that spot and go down on your right knee, your head bowed.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Rest your left arm across your left knee, and your right hand on the hilt of Arakis.”

“Ariakis?”

“Your sword. Did I not tell you that the Sword of Power had a name?”

“No,” Dominick said. “You did not.”

“Well, it does,” her tone reminded him of one of his old teachers. “Can you do what I have described?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I think so.”

“Repeat the instructions back to me.”

“We’re almost there,” he said.

“Repeat them back.”

“Okay, fine,” he said. “I go down on one knee—”

“You’re right knee,” she interrupted.

“My right knee,” he said, letting a bit of irritation into his voice. “And I bow my head, my left arm on my left knee, my right hand on Arkonus.”

“Arakis,” she hissed.

“Arakis,” he said. “Right.”

“Good,” she said, sounding satisfied. “It is important that you not stray from ceremony.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said.

So, as he reached the spot on the floor where the circle had appeared, he knelt, his arm and hand going to their prescribed places. He waited.

Nothing happened.

He could hear murmurs from the crowd behind him.

“What do I do now?” He whispered between clenched teeth.

“You wait,” Vivian said.

“Wait for what?”

Suddenly there was a pounding that reverberated through the wood floor beneath him.

“That,” Vivian said.

To be continued . . .



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