MARCH OF THE MONSTERS: THE PROPHECY
Many leagues the slayer had walked in silence, alone. League after dusty league under the dark sun, with only his sword to accompany him. The sword was terrible company. All it ever wanted to talk about was blood and souls and games that had not been played since the Day of Fire. The slayer found this sort of conversation more tedious than silence. Three months ago, he had told the sword to shut up or be dropped down a well, and it had not spoken a word since. His familiar, a brindle dog he had named Victory, had expired of the heat two weeks ago, and since paying it the proper respects and eating its dessicated flesh, he had been all alone.
Alone. Well, such was the life of a slayer. He was used to it. It was a lonely life he had chosen, but it suited him. He had never been one for society, for the empty-headed chatter of nobles in the court at Usaf and the constant court intrigues. That was why he had left the court to wander the wilderness. Sword at the ready, neat black jacket, always on the move, no goals except the next creature of the night to slay, the next village to rescue when and if he found it. The wandering knight, the Slayer of Usaf. Roscoe the Rescuer, they called him sometimes. He liked the ring of it. Made it easy for the mariachis.
A little company would have been nice sometimes, though. He knew some of the slayers had companions, sidekicks if you wanted to call them that, usually young boys who helped carry weaponry and equipment. He found there was something unsavory about that, though. A man and a young boy, alone in the desert for months at a time, it led to speculation. You didn't want people to be speculating about that sort of thing. It sort of undermined your mysterious aura.
With these thoughts occupying his mind, it gave him a bit of a shock when he realized he was actually looking at a young boy at this very moment. A boy of about ten or eleven, sitting a little ways off the ragged trail, hammering on a flat rock with another rock. Caught up in his thoughts, Roscoe had almost walked right past him before noticing him, and the boy still hadn't noticed him.
The Slayer cleared his throat, and the boy looked around quickly, brushing his little project off the rock with a start.
“Hola, Senor,” he called out.
Roscoe frowned. “Senor? Don't you see the jacket?”
The boy switched to English without hesitation. “A thousand pardons, Don. I cannot see. I was blinded by the monster.”
That caught Roscoe's attention. “Monster?” he repeated.
“Si, el Lucidiente.”
“No habla Spaniole, young one,” said Roscoe.
“Your pardon. In English you would say the, uhh, the Glimmerfang. I looked at it by accident, and have been blind ever since. I was lucky to escape with my life.”
“Interesting. It may please you to know that I am a Slayer from Usaf, Roscoe the Rescuer by name. But I have never heard of this monster that blinds its victims. Is it a local beast?”
“Oh, yes. Not many people know of our little village or its monster. We have been troubled by el Lucidiente since Dia del Fuego. The first Dia del Fuego, Don. Many years now.”
“Perhaps I can help to rid you of this pest,” suggested Roscoe.
“Oh, we would be most grateful, Don Roscoe. We have no warriors in our village. We are a community of simple farmers, and what few young men we had were destroyed by the Glimmerfang. Surely you are the warrior of the prophecy!”
“Prophecy?” Roscoe prompted.
“Si, Don. It is foretold that one day, a warrior from the North will come dressed in black to deliver our village from el Lucidiente.”
Roscoe was already thinking of the best way to deal with the monster, but something caught his attention. “How did you know I was wearing black?”
The boy's expression was blank. “I beg your pardon, Don?”
“You are blind. How did you know my jacket is black?”
“It is foretold, Senor.” He seemed to think this was all the explanation that was needed, and maybe he was right. Roscoe wasn't about to contradict the prophecy that made him the expected savior of a village. That prick Mulholland had been the subject of a prophecy years back, and had parlayed that into considerably higher pay rates and an astonishing number of bastard sons. Speaking of which, he had to find a tactful way to find out if they could pay him. Well, that would come. There was always some reward.
“What's your name, boy?”
“A worthy name,” Roscoe nodded. Take me to your village, Juan.”
Clearly used to these environs, the boy led him surefootedly up an almost unnoticeable path, over a low ridge and into a village. It was tiny, no more than two concentric circles of adobe houses around a square that contained a well, a church and a cantina, with small patches of cultivated ground surrounding the little settlement. Well, really, what more did you need? Roscoe asked himself.
Playing by one of the ramshackle huts, a pair of small children turned to watch them approach. The girl shouted a greeting to Juan. He spoke to her for a minute or so, and shortly the children began to grin. When the conversation came to an end, the urchins scampered away in different directions.
“What are they so happy about?” Roscoe asked.
“I tell them you are the slayer of the prophecy. They go to tell all the elders to come to the cantina, bring you tribute. Everyone is excited to see you. Since Dia del Fuego we have waited for you, Senor. Finally we will be free.”
Roscoe nodded. He could get used to this prophecy business. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“To see our Abuelita, the Maga who does her best to protect this village. She will tell you all about the prophecy.” Juan clearly knew the village like the back of his hand, and navigated between the houses as easily as if he had full use of his eyes. He tugged at Roscoe's hand, pulling him towards the smallest hut of all. Standing right next door to the bar, the hut looked as if it would collapse any minute. A white rooster scratched lazily in front of it, looking at them balefully. Juan said something to it in Spanish, and it walked away.
“You manage well without your sight,” Roscoe offhandedly commented. He was, frankly, amazed at the boy's skill, and was starting to think that Juanito might make a suitable traveling companion. How many slayers had blind boys for sidekicks? Not very many, that was for sure. And, of course, it would most likely turn out that the boy had some destined role to play in the adventure of Roscoe's life.
“Thank you, Don Roscoe. They say I have some of the witch-sight from Abuelita. She sees far more than I, though. Here we are.” He rapped on the cracked door of the hut, and was answered by a screech from within. Juan replied with a garble of Spanish, while Roscoe waited.
There was another, slightly less raucous screeching, and Juan spoke back while Roscoe waited patiently. After another exchange, Roscoe heard a shuffling step come to the door. Then the door opened to reveal a woman who was looked almost old enough to have seen the Second Day of Fire with her own eyes. Her days of seeing were probably over, though. Her eyes were blank, white orbs. She wore the voluminous black robes of a bruja, and was completely bald.
“Welcome, Don Rescatador,” she croaked. “Welcome to our village. Please, please, come in.” She bustled him in, groping at the sleeve of his jacket with a clingy touch. Roscoe stooped under the low doorway and entered the smoky, unkempt hut. It was filled to the roof with magical accouterments, and a foul smell wafted from a fireplace, either from the smoke or the contents of a black iron pot suspended in the fire. Juan followed him inside, chattering all the while in Spanish.
“Abuelita speaks little English, Don Roscoe,” he said. “I will translate for you.”
Yes, and maybe earn a few pesos, eh? Roscoe thought. But he kept his thoughts to himself. The boy was enterprising. That would be good for both of them if Roscoe decided to hire him. And it was easier to talk to Juan than to address the eerie blank eyes of the bruja. He waited while the boy talked to the witch for several minutes.
Finally he turned back to Roscoe and said, “we are lucky, Don Roscoe. Abuelita says that tonight is the best possible time for you to fulfill the ancient prophecy. It has been foretold that our savior will come on the night of the full moon one hundred years after El Lucidiente first came to the village.”
“Si, tonight,” said the crone happily.
The accuracy of the old prophecy was amazing, thought Roscoe. The chance turning that had eventually led him to this place was surely a crossroads of destiny. Addressing the witch through Juan, he said, “tell me more about this Lucid – Lucient – ah, this monster. What does it look like?”
“All who gaze upon it fall blind, Don Roscoe,” the old woman reminded him. “But the legend tells of a beast with the fur of a coyote, long ears like a rabbit, stands as tall as two men and has a rat's tail and claws of iron.”
Roscoe considered this, but without much fear. His sword, an artifact of the First Floridan Empire, was surely a match for any beast's claws. And after all, he was Roscoe the Rescuer! He had slain the Black Beast of Austin and the Danwich Horror, had he not?
The bruja shook her head and uttered words that sounded meaningful.
“Abuelita says this is a beast greater than any other,” the boy translated. “But she will help you. There is a formula she can make which will give you the strength of ten men. Of course, a great knight like you probably does not need such things.”
“No, I will be happy to accept her help,” Roscoe replied. “There is no shame in accepting help that has been freely offered.”
There was a noise outside, a growing din of people assembling in front of the bruja's hut. Voices were raised in excitement. Roscoe could only understand the occasional word of it, but there seemed to be some disagreement amongst the people of the village.
“What powers does the beast have?” he asked hesitantly, not sure that he really wanted to know.
After a brief exchange, Juan reported that, other than blinding those who looked directly at it, driving horses mad with its scream, shriveling crops with its breath, and occasionally appearing in places where it shouldn't have been able to penetrate, the Glimmerfang was a purely physical terror with no special powers to terrify a knight of Usaf.
“Good,” said Roscoe with a tiny quiver. “Do you have a mirror?”
He had heard of creatures that killed with a glance, or petrified those who looked at them directly. The Cockatrice of Concord had been one such gorgon, and it was said that the man who slew it had used a small mirror to aim his deathblow. It would not be easy, of course. But Roscoe was confident. If his fight was righteous – and how could it not be? – he would prevail.
The witch gave him a mirror, and several small blobs of a black resin that, according to her, was the concentrated sap of the Burning Bush. “When you set out to slay the monster, take the first of these before you step through the door, the next when you pass the last house of the village, and another when you begin to climb the mountain. You will see the life force wherever it is found, and your strength will grow astonishingly. By the time you reach the beast, you will be all but invincible.”
Roscoe's sword buzzed in its scabbard. He ignored it and continued to talk with the witch woman until Juan announced that the people outside were waiting to throw him a feast.
“We do not have much, but we will gladly share all that we have,” said the boy.
“I would be honored,” said the knight.
The promised feast was rather less than the word implied, but it filled his belly and gave him only a mild stomachache. Best not to fill up too much before a fight, anyway, Roscoe told himself. Especially when the food in question was this spicy Mexi grub. Fighting the banes of humanity's life was hard enough when you didn't have indigestion.
When he judged that he had eaten enough and given the rather pathetic trio of mariachis time to compose and perform a song about his prior exploits, he beckoned to Juan and told him that he needed a private place to commune with his gods. The boy nodded happily, made a brief announcement to the villagers, and led Roscoe away to an empty hut on the edge of the village. To judge by the noise outside the hut, most of the village seemed to have gathered quietly outside to listen to him. But Roscoe didn't mind. It was almost expected.
He put down a small rug and sat reverently, then drew his sword and laid it on the mat in front of him, blade pointing to the left. After several measured breaths, he said quietly, “well? What do you think?”
“Oh, now you're talking to me?” the sword asked.
Roscoe rolled his eyes and waited.
“We spend months in the desert, and you don't so much as ask me the time of day. But when there's a monster to slay, suddenly it's 'what do you think? How are you, beloved blade? Have you enjoyed our journey?' Well, I haven't, O Slayer. I've been scabbarded so long it's dulled my sheen, and if you really want to know, that scabbard isn't tight enough. Haven't you felt me shifting around like a pebble in a can? Do you think that's comfortable?”
The Slayer continued to wait.
“And the battles. Oh, the battles! Oh, wait, that's right, there haven't been any. What the hell do you think you're doing out here, Roscoe? Why are we in the desert?”
“Destiny has brought us here.”
“Destiny didn't bring us here, you idiot. We parted ways with Destiny back in New Orleans. Destiny was finding Gabriel's Tomb, getting the jinn and bringing her back to Florida to destroy the Witch Queen. That was your fucking quest, Roscoe. That was Destiny. That's literally what I was made for, and programmed with the knowledge of the ancients! Not mucking around in some godforsaken desert south of the Rio, hunting monsters nobody civilized ever heard of.”
“We will return to Noorleans when the time is right,” Roscoe replied quietly. “Now, if you're quite through, I'd like to know what you think of the current situation.”
“It's a shoo-in,” said the sword. “You've got a small, blind urchin who guides you to his village which needs rescuing. You've got an old native crone giving you magical assistance. You've got a magical sword, for crying out loud. It's a classic side quest setup. You're leveling up. The only way you could fail this is by leaving halfway through like you usually do.”
“I am glad you concur with my assessment,” said Roscoe. “And I will not leave this. You will see Noorleans again, my old friend. We will fight the Witch Queen yet.”
“I hope we get to do it this century,” said the sword.
“Hush.” In a louder voice, he called out, “Friend Juan!”
The boy was there immediately.
“We will leave now,” said Roscoe. “If you are ready?”
“Oh, si. You have eaten the Sap of Strength?”
“This very moment.” In one motion, he popped the first of the three pills into his mouth, swallowed and washed it down with a swig of wine. He rose, sheathing his sword smoothly, and checked his equipment carefully before striding through the door. Outside, every man, woman and child in the village clapped and cheered. Again and again, he heard the word “rescatador”. It filled his heart with pride.
Juan led him back through the village, pointing towards the craggy peak of the mountain a few miles south of the fields. As they passed the last houses, and the townspeople stopped and waved to them, Roscoe remembered the bruja's instructions, and swallowed another of the black pills.
The moon shone brightly through the corn and beans, lighting the path for them like a lamp of wonders. As they walked, the mountain itself seemed to begin glowing faintly. The closer they came to its roots, the brighter it grew. Every scraggly bush and cactus seemed to shimmer in faint highlights of purple and red. Roscoe exclaimed in wonder at the sight of what looked like a burning cactus to the right of their path.
“You are feeling the effects of the Sap of Strength, Don,” said the boy.
“I see everything lit up,” Roscoe breathed. Juan nodded joyfully.
“Si, you are seeing the life force. When you fight el Lucidiente, you will see its every weakness. This is a happy night for our village, Don Roscoe!”
Roscoe nodded. He was sure the boy was right. He wondered if the bruja would give him more of this wondrous Sap after he had slain the Glimmerfang. He could think of many uses for such a pill.
The crags loomed overhead, infinitely black crevasses on moonbright rock faces, scrub limned in vestal flames of crimson, the path of their ascent lit up like Glory itself. “You should take the third pill,” Juan suggested, and Roscoe happily obliged.
On and on they climbed, up to the higher limits of the mountain, while the lights grew ever brighter. Roscoe was almost overcome with wonder at the dizzying flames of the life force in every bush, every beetle that meandered across their path. His sword hummed in anticipation.
Finally, the peak. A flat surface. Uncountable stars spread from horizon to horizon. It was like standing in the center of heaven. Roscoe looked up and fell into infinity, forgetting to breathe for a moment.
“The Life Force is in the stars themselves,” he whispered.
Then he happened to catch sight of his hand.
“Gods above, look at my hand!” he laughed. “It's amazing. Look at all those fingers!” He stretched his digits, examining each one rapturously, seeing the shine of each nail and the delicate mesh of crinkles in his skin all lit up with the life force.
Behind him, another small mountain of fur and teeth rose slowly out of the rock. It spread wickedly glinting claws thoughtfully, watched the slayer for a few moments, and nodded at the boy from the village.
“Peyote?” Glimmerfang asked, curious about Roscoe's condition.
“The Sap of Strength,” answered Juan. “It shows you the life force.”
The monster laughed. “Life force. I like that.”
“Apparently there's a prophecy that he's going to kill you and deliver us simple farmers from evil.”
“A prophecy?” Glimmerfang laughed raucously.
Roscoe's sword groaned.
“That reminds me. I want his sword.”
“What for?” asked the monster.
“It tells stories.”
With a careful, almost delicate movement, Glimmerfang leaned forward and bit off the knight's head. Roscoe's body fell forward slowly and lay sprawled on the rock. The monster chewed slowly, crunching the skull with the utmost pleasure.
“Delicious,” it finally said.
“Good clean living,” Juan pointed out. “And the Sap of Strength.”
Glimmerfang nodded. “Be sure to thank Abuelita for me. And thank you, too. It's been a long time since I had one of these.”
“De nada. I should go home now.” Juan took the sword and started down the path towards the village, while the monster picked at the knight's body and enjoyed the slowly spreading hallucinogenic glow.
“Hasta la vista, monster,” Juan called.
The sword made an electronic throat-clearing noise. “That was a god-damn fiasco and no mistake. Oh, well. Nothing to be done now, I guess.”
“You belong to me now,” said Juan. “Tell me a story.”
The sword thought for a moment, and said, “have you ever played Chrono Trigger?”
This one is dedicated to rootbeer277.