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Old 09-21-2013, 12:38 AM
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A rough draft of a short story I wrote for a monthly challenge at another site. You may recognize certain character descriptions.
__________________________________________________ _


The One


Serge and Cerena stared in wonder at the youngster marching back and forth before them, swinging his axe in wild circles over his head. His long brown hair flew each time he turned, threatening everyone in the immediate area should it become entangled with the axe-handle. His brown eyes flashed in the afternoon sun, and he was shouting things like ‘Yes!’ and ‘Oh, yeah!’ as he strutted, putting extra emphasis into his swings with each yell.

“What is the lad going on about?” Serge asked from the back of his black gelding as he looked askance at Cerena.

“I have no idea,” she replied, “but let’s keep going before we find out.”

“Too late,” Serge said as the boy stopped in front of them and planted his hands on his hips. “What’s your name, lad?” he asked, stopping a stupid from happening.

“Max,” he replied, his stance aggressive and defiant despite having to look up at them. “Maxemum Eejit. What do you mean you don’t know? You’re here for me, right?” Before either could respond he pressed on. “Isn’t that how it works? You ride into a flyspeck of a village, find the lowly sheepherder and whisk him away on a grand and dangerous adventure, yes?”

Serge stood up in his stirrups, various weapons rattling, and looked around at the bare, stump-riddled countryside. “I don’t see any sheep,” he said. “Or villagers. Or a village for that matter. There’s just your little cabin here and a lot of open ground. Oh, and this dirt road.”

“Well, my father says this is a likely spot. Villagers should be flocking in any time now. You didn’t happen to pass any nomadic settlers on the road, did you?”

“Sorry, no,” Serge answered. “You’ve certainly cleared a lot of space in anticipation.”

“Yes, well, father’s a woodcutter.” He looked around at all the stumps. “Damned if I know what happens to the trees, they’re always gone in the morning. Probably they’re taken away by magic wood elfs, or something.”

“So what makes you think we’re here for you?” Serge asked as Cerena looked on serenely, making no attempt to interrupt them.

“I’m an apprentice woodcutter,” Max said. “More lowly than even a sheepherder, especially here. You two are the wise sorceress and her weapons-master guardian.You must be here for me. Stands to reason.”

“You don’t think it has something to do with this road then?”

“There’s lots of roads. You’re on this one and so am I, so I guess it has everything to do with it.”

Cerena laughed at that. “It’s hard to argue with that one, Serge. My name is Cerena, young man, and this, as I’ve just said, is Serge. What gave us away?”

“Oh, you know, the jewels in your hair and the fancy, blue dress . . . er . . . the way you’re dressed, I mean . . . not an actual dress. Also the appearance of ageless wisdom and stuff. You just have a look of, I don’t know, sorceressness.”

“I see,” Cerena said. “And him?’

“Probably it’s all the weapons, the leather-padded armor, long ponytail bound with a leather cord. That sort of thing.”

“We’re going to have to work on our disguises,” Serge interrupted blandly. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re right. I ask again, young apprentice, what makes you think we’re looking for you specifically?”

“I knew you were looking for ‘The One’ as soon as I saw you.”

“The one what?” Cerena asked.

“You know,” Max said. “‘The One.’ The obscure nobody with the hidden magic who is unavoidably destined to save the world? What could be more obscure than an apprentice woodcutter with no village and no prospects of a village? You’re here, I’m here, it must be me?”

“He makes a pretty good case,” Serge said after some consideration.

“It’s a fair assumption,” Cerena agreed as she also studied the youngster. “But it’s not you,” she decided, dismissing the apprentice from further consideration.

“Then why are you here?” Max asked.

Serge gestured at the road. “This passes through here.”

“Right, right. Dad said the same thing, but you’re the only people we’ve seen since we stopped here.” Max paused thoughtfully. “So, where are you going, then?”

“Fisk,” Cerena said, adding a haughty sniff.

“But, that’s just a flyspeck village five leagues north of here.”

“Exactly.” Cerena studied the high clouds drifting on the winds. “We must be off, Serge.”

“Can I come?” Max asked. “I’ll just follow if you say no,” he added before they could respond.

Serge studied Cerena, waiting for her judgement.

“Oh, very well,” she said, “but, just so you know, I’m a witch, not a sorceress. I could turn you into something to stop you, but it’s not worth the effort.”

“Excellent,” Max said as he was simultaneously running for his horse and making wardings against evil. “Dad,” he shouted, “I‘m running off with a witch an a warrior to save the world.”

“Okay, son,” came a muffled response from within the cabin. “Be sure to send any wandering villagers this way, would you.” There was a short pause. “Oh, and be back by dinner. You know how witches get after dark.”

“Peasants,” Cerena muttered when she heard that interaction, then added more loudly, “I don’t understand why that word has such an effect on people.” Serge just shook his head as she went on. He’d heard this rant many times before. “Not all witches are ugly crones with long, warty noses who ride brooms. This grand, white mare is perfectly acceptable transportation for a witch, I’ll have you know.”

Max was twirling a finger around his ear as he rode up to Cerena and Serge on an old bay. “See what’ll happen to me ig I stay here? So, why are we going to Fisk anyway?”

“If you must know,” Cerena replied with another sniff, “all the signs point to ‘The One’ being there.”

“But . . . I’m ‘The One.’”

“No you’re not! ‘The One’ always tries to avoid his, or her, destiny. He runs. He hides. He denies. He does not come running up shouting ‘Here I am, throw me to my destiny!’”

Max rode silently behind as they left his father’s potential village.”I’m telling you, I’m ‘The One,’” he finally said.

“No your not!”

#

If Cerena was right, then Meelo Kerensk was definitely ‘The One.’ He complained and protested that he wasn’t ‘The One’ so much that she'd finally had to bind an gag him and throw him in the back of her new cart, purchased just to carry their reluctant new hero.

She’d also had to hide their trail to prevent angry Fiskians from pursuing them. Max was pretty sure that, given Cerena’s criteria, and most people’s aversion to kidnapping, there were quite a lot of ‘The Ones’ out there. Wisely, he kept his mouth shut on this issue.

That had been three days earlier. They were now approaching Waupaca, a fair-sized town of about five thousand. Cerena and Serge were discussing how to begin Meelo’s training so he would be ready to face ‘The Other One’ when the time came.

“Teach him everything you know, Serge,” she said. “Make him the second best warrior in the world, next to you, of course. I’ll take care of the magical aspect, when it finally appears.”

“Of course,” Serge replied. “It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

“Assuming he’s ‘The One,’” Max muttered to himself, “which he’s not.”

“Quiet, you,” Cerena admonished. “About how long, do you think?” she asked, turning back to Serge.

The warrior thought about it before replying. “Given the innate ability and untapped magical aptitude ‘The One’ usually possesses . . . about a month or so.”

“That sounds about right. See to it first thing tomorrow. For now, let’s find a comfy inn in which to rest and formulate further plans.

#

“Have they found him yet?” ‘The Other One’ asked from the cover of deep shadows in the far corner of his inner sanctum. No one was allowed to see his true form, on penalty of penalty.

“Yes, Master,” Hyrum replied, “though this one appears to be extremely recalcitrant.”

“That’s always the way with ‘The One.’ It’s why I always win.”

“Yes, Master,” Hurum agreed, well aware of ‘The Other One’s’ selective memory. “Shall I set a hoard or two of Illthings in their path?”

“No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting. We shall bide our time, Hyrum. We’ll watch and we’ll wait for the perfect moment. Then, and only then, will we strike.”

“Yes, Master,” Hyrum agreed. He knew the penalty for disagreeing.

#

Cerena and Serge had spirited Meelo off for training earlier that morning, so Max was strolling the Waupaca town square, casually shopping and otherwise wasting the day. He was just finished a meat pie he’d purchased from a mobile vendor when he was approached by a pair of obvious twins about his own age.

“You’re ‘The One,’ aren’t you?” said the female of the two.

Max was so surprised he dropped what remained of his meal. They were of a height, he noticed, with shaggy blond hair and brows. Identical hazel eyes stared at him, unblinking as they awaited his reply.

“Yes, I am,” he said cautiously. “How did you know that?”

“It shows,” said the male in a soft, monotonous voice. “We’ve come to join you.”

Max rose and shook their hands. Or tried to anyway. The girl looked at his hand as if he’d offered her poisoned apple and thrust hers behind her back. “Okay then,” he said, drooping his hand. “Let’s get the laughing out of the way right now. My name is Maximum Eejit.”

“Why would we laugh?” asked the girl. “My name’s Seryus Ishoes, and this is my brother Tedyus.”

“Surely you can’t be serious,” Max said without thinking.

“I am Seryus, but you can call me Sery. And never say that again.”

Max put both hands up in surrender. “All right, I won’t. Well, you’re the first people I’ve met who can see what I already know.”

“Right,” Tedy said. “What do we do next?”

“We have to wait for Serge and Cerena to return with Meelo,” Max replied. “They’re the witch and the warrior I’m traveling with.” Both made warding signs when he said witch. “Don’t do that in front of Cerena,” Max advised. “She really hates that for some reason.”

“Who’s Meelo?” Sery asked.

“They think he’s ‘The One.’” Max cleared his throat when the both raised their eyebrows. “Don’t ask, it’s a short story I don’t want to tell right now. Let’s back to the inn we’re staying at and wait. I’ll fill you in there.”

It was nearly impossible for Sery not to step on any cracks in the packed-dirt road, but she made an admirable job of attempting it.

Cerena and Serge returned to the inn around sunset, sans their would-be hero. It was obvious by her countenance Cerena was in no mood to talk. Serge was wide-eyed and looked completely dumbfounded.

“What happened?” Max asked. “Where’s Meelo?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Cerena said darkly. She marched stiffly to a dark corner and sat alone. Max and his new friends turned questioning expressions toward Serge, who sat down at their table.

“Meelo is no longer with us,” Serge said after some moments of grim silence. No one said anything so Serge continued. “When I crossed swords with him to begin his training, Meelo ran himself onto my weapon.”

There was more silence and uncomfortable shifting. Finally Tedy broke the mood in an atonal, emotionless way. “That seems a little extreme,” he said.

“Is ‘The One’ allowed to do that?” Max asked at almost the same time.

Cerena stormed back over from the corner. “No! ‘The One’ is not allowed to do that.”

“Well,” Max said in consolation, “he did try to tell you.”

“They all say that,” she said, flinging an arm uselessly through the air. “Always. How was I supposed to know?”

They all stared at her, even Serge.

“Shut up,” she said with another dismissive wave. She at the two new people. “Who in blazes are you?”

“They’re my new friends,” Max replied. “They, at least, know I’m ‘The One.’”

“Surely you can’t be serious,” Cerena said.

“I’m not,” Max answered as he gestured to his left, “but she is.”

“What?”

“He means me,” Sery said, pointedly not extending her hand. “I’m Seryus. Nice to meet you.”

“What?”

“That’s her name, Cerena,” Max answered. “And this is her brother, Tedyus. They know I’m ‘The One.’”

“No they don’t. No you’re not.” Cerena paced back and forth a few times. “I must seek an answer in my crystal ball. Excuse me,” she said and abruptly left

Serge stared blankly at them for a little longer before following after his mistress.

#

Over the next months they ‘found’ several more possible ‘The Ones,’ but each, in his own way, proved not to be so.

One of them got ‘lost’ while practicing other-dimensional travel. She had been Cerena’s favorite. Another charged a hoard of Illthings which were actually looking for something else at the time he attacked them. It was not a pretty sight.

They were getting quite near ‘The Other One’s’ Fortress of Badness when the latest one decided he would swoop down from the over-looking cliff in a surprise attack. As it turned out he was far better at dropping than swooping.

“Now what do we do?” Serge asked as he and Cerena stared down from the cliff.

“I didn’t know he was going to do that. How could I have known? Why didn’t you warn me?”

Serge didn’t answer. He was busy looking around the bluff. “Where did Max and his friends go?”

They both searched wildly about for several minutes before Cerena spotted them entering the fortress gates far below. “Oh no," she whispered.

#

“‘The Other One’ was chortling softly to himself as he looked through his magic mirror. It had once belonged to an evil queen, but she had no further use for it. Mostlt it showed him sleeping girls, but, every once in a while, it showed him things he was uninterested in, such as his enemies.

He had managed to witness the demise of all of the latest ‘Ones,’ and was mildly surprised to find he was indirectly responsible for one of them. It was his hoard after all, even if it wasn’t looking for ‘The One.’ He’d had a strange feeling of loss and sadness for that one. His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his fortress’s doorbell.

“Hyrum!” he shouted. “There’s someone at the door!”

“I’ve got it, Master!” came the echoing response.

He waited in his accustomed dark corner as Hyrum brought the new arrivals in. There were two people flanking and slightly trailing another, and they were obviously twins. The female was touching the heads of every statue they passed, apparently counting them, and the male had his hands folded in front of him, mumbling something unintelligible in a monotonous tone.

The lead figure, on the other hand, seemed very, very familiar. For the first time that he could remember, ‘The Other One’ came out of the darkness to face his visitors. H stopped a few feet from the procession, which also stopped. Hyrum, his mouth hanging open in astonishment, moved out of the way.

At that moment Cerena and Serge burst into the room, then skidded to a halt at the sight. They stared at ‘The One’ and ‘The Other One.’

“Oh, I don’t believe this,” Cerena blurted in surprised frustration. “I’m taking my ball and going home.” Serge stared a moment longer, then shook his head and hurried after Cerena.

Sery stared. Tedy stared. Hyrum stared.

“Max?” ‘The Other One’ said.

“Max?” ‘The One’ said.

“Dad said you were dead,” ‘The One’ said even as ‘The Other One’ cried “Mom said you were dead.”

Then they were hugging and slapping backs and laughing as Hyrum, Sery and Tedy still stared in dumbfounded awe.

Max and Max walked away, arms about each other’s shoulders, as the others heard Max say, “You know, brother, you really should move in with us. Bring dad, if you must. I’m sure he’s tired trees by now, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know,” Max said, as their voices trailed off. “It’s much too dark in here. This place could really use some lightening up. Where’s mom . . .”

* * *
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Old 09-21-2013, 04:06 AM
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Quite good. Makes me wonder what would have happened if Rand had rung the front door bell on the Pit of Doom.
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Old 09-21-2013, 01:31 PM
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Thanks. It needs some work, especially on Sery and Tedy, plus possibly some detail on the "evil one." But . . . it was fun to write.
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Old 09-22-2013, 04:30 AM
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In the next installment, when mom appears, will we learn what happened to all the cut down trees?
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Old 09-22-2013, 07:21 PM
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I think Max's dad was planning to build the empty village but the wood nymphs keep stealing the wood.
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:31 AM
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Are we going to get a wood nymph bathing scene?
If not, then HBO will put one in anyway when they film it, of course.
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Old 09-23-2013, 12:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GonzoTheGreat View Post
Are we going to get a wood nymph bathing scene?
If not, then HBO will put one in anyway when they film it, of course.
With HBO involved it's possible 'wood nymph' could have more than one connotation but nothing is set in ... er... wood yet.
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Old 09-26-2013, 10:49 AM
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Very entertaining
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Old 09-27-2013, 12:20 PM
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Quite entertaining!

Clearly a spoof of WoT and the heroic fantasy genre. A few things though.

Is there a name pun on Maxemum that I don't see? Similar to Tedyus and Seryus. It seems it is but I don't get it.

I didn't find anything that would prepare me to know Maxemus had a brother or that they both are named Max? What's the deal with that?



I also found a you're - your mistake in there
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Old 09-27-2013, 11:50 PM
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Thanks for the read. I agree it needs some work. I was going for a pun with Max (Eejit = idiot) but I'm going to change that. I only had 3 days until the challenge deadline (write a story that turns a fantasy stereotype on its head) when I got this idea so it was rushed. I had no idea I was going to make 'The One' and 'The Other One' brothers until I did it. The midnight deadline was only a few hours away and I needed and ending.

When I revise this to a more fleshed-out version I'll post it and, hopefully, it will address some of these issues. Thanks again
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Old 05-19-2014, 11:33 AM
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Default The One (Revised)

When I posted my other story here, I couldn't help but notice (and be very surprised) at the number of views this story had. I can only think that someone's computer must have gone crazy and opened 8,000 windows. I don't even want to think about how long it must have taken to close them all.

Anyway, I said I'd post a revised version when I had one - so here it is. Hopefully I've addressed most of the issues with the first draft. I removed some scenes and added others. I also added some extra stuff to some of the secondary characters to give them more ... character.

It's almost twice as long as the original, so I'm going to post it in two parts.
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Old 05-19-2014, 11:48 AM
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Default The One (Revised) - Part 1

See first post for explanation for removal. Sorry.
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Old 05-20-2014, 08:53 AM
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Default The One (Revised) - Part 2

Se above for reason of removal. Sorry.
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Old 05-28-2016, 10:11 PM
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The story has been accepted for publication by Fiction Magazines. It'l be published in the Jun 11 issue of New Realm Magazine.

I've changed the ending and made a few other edits since the last version that was in here, and there will probably be a few be a few more as I work with the editors over the next week or so.

If you happen to read it, I hope you like the final version.
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Old 05-31-2016, 07:54 AM
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Congratulations!
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Old 05-31-2016, 11:13 PM
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Thanks
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:31 AM
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Default The One (Final Edit)

While the story was published by New Realm in July, 2016, that ezine has since met its demise and I never received a single penny for this story.

Ah well. In hindsight it's rather a bit too silly and probably didn't deserve publication anyway.

In any case, while I may someday include this in a self-published, short story anthology ... for now I'm putting the final version back up in here (Next two posts).

I also put the original back at the beginning of this thread so the two can be compared.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:51 AM
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Default The One (Part 1)

The One



Hyram approached The Manse with a spring in his step, as he had every day for the last decade or so. He had purpose now, and that hadn't always been the case. For generation upon generation, the place stood empty, the old Lord disappearing suddenly and inexplicably.

There were rumors of course. Stories. Some said he'd been sealed within a fiery mountain by evil witches. Another said he was destroyed when his ring was thrown into a fiery mountain. Still one more said he'd been eaten by a dragon come raging from its fiery mountain lair for trying to steal its treasure. All of the stories involved a fiery mountain.

Hyram never believed any of them, and now it didn't matter. Family legend said that a Lord or Lady would return one day, and it'd been right.

Hyram wasn't sure what it was that drew the Lady and her charge. Most likely they were of The Blood, and the power of this place called to them. He didn't really care why they were here, only that they were. He and his staff were bred to serve the Lord or Lady of The Manse and now they had one.

“And what shall we call you, my lady?” Hyram had asked when she first arrived and took up residence.

“Oh, I think that will do nicely,” she replied.

“Um . . . what will do nicely, my lady”?

“Why, Lady, of course,” she answered, and thus it was so.

From that day forward, Lady Lady made decisions and gave orders, Hyram and his staff carried them out, and the peasants did all of the peasanty stuff required to support such a system. That's how it worked.

But Lady Lady was a little different. When the peasants were at their limits and couldn't possibly be asked to do more, she didn't force them to do more as so many others did, even though she knew more would be needed in order to survive.

“The peasants cannot give you things they don't actually have,” she said. “So, if you need more than your current supply of peasants can provide, the thing to do is get more peasants.”

“Of course, Lady Lady,” Hyram replied, browning his nose slightly. “That's precisely what I was thinking.”

“Revenue,” she added as she absently scratched a sudden itch on her behind. “Revenue is what is needed.”

To that end she created the Revenants, and sent them out with a long speech telling them exactly what she wanted and why she wanted it. “It doesn't matter to me if they come willingly,” she commanded them at the end, “just so long as long as they come.”

That was almost a decade ago, and the Revenants' success rate was phenomenal. Their viable holdings had tripled rapidly and were still growing.

And there'd been one other change in that time. Hyram no longer dealt with Lady Lady. Her charge had come into his own recently, so she placed him between herself and all further contact with others.

And he was also . . . a little different.

“And how shall I address you?” Hyram asked on that first day.

“Oh, just call me The Other One,” the boy replied.

“What other one?” Hyram asked

“Just, The Other One.”

Hyram could see future difficulties arising from that, and so he referred to him as sir from then on, but called him The Other One when giving orders, as in: “The Other One wishes . . .” or “The Other One commands that . . .”

And that wasn't the boy's only idiosyncrasy, either. No one was allowed to see his true form, for one thing. Everyone thought there was some sort of evil spell or curse attached to The Other One; that he was deformed somehow, or in some some way hideous to view. But Hyram knew better. The Other One was just very shy.

He entered the chamber, strode to the lighted area in the middle, bowed his head and waited.

“Have they found him yet?” The Other One eventually asked from the cover of deep shadows in the far corner of his inner sanctum. He always asked that question. “Have they found The One?”

“No, sir,” Hyram replied. “All sources report that they're still searching.”

“Excellent,” The Other One replied. Hyram thought he heard a soft noise from the darkness, as of two hands wringing around each other. “Keep me informed, and continue with the relocation program.”

“Yes, sir.”

#


Sarge and Alvina stared in wonder at the youngster marching back and forth before them, swinging his axe in wide circles over his head. His long brown hair whipped around wildly each time he turned, his eyes flashed with azure excitement in the afternoon sun, and he was shouting things like “Yes!” and “Oh, yeah!” and “Finally!” as he strutted, putting extra emphasis into his swings with each cry. If the boy hadn't been blocking the road they'd have just kept going, but his gyrations posed a serious danger to their horses.

“What is the lad going on about?” Sarge asked from the back of his black gelding.

“I have no idea,” Alvina replied, “but let's keep going before we find out.”

“Too late,” Sarge whispered.

The boy stopped in front of them and planted his hands on his hips. Or tried to, anyway. He had to put the axe down, first. “I always knew this day would come,” he said.

Sarge decided to deal with the boy before he had a chance to say or do something really stupid. Alvina didn't like stupid. “What's your name, lad?” he asked.

“Maxemum,” he said, his stance somehow aggressive and hopeful at the same time, despite having to look up at them. “You don't know? You're here for me, right?” Before either could respond, he pressed on. “Isn't that how it works? You ride into a flyspeck of a village, find the lowly shepherd or whatever, and whisk him away on a grand and dangerous adventure, yes?”

Sarge stood up in his stirrups, various weapons rattling, and looked around at the bare, stump-riddled countryside. “I don't see any sheep,” he said. “Or villagers. Or a village for that matter. There’s just your little cabin there and a lot of open ground. Oh, and this dirt road.”

Max had the decency to look slightly abashed, but not for long. “Well, my father says this is a likely spot. Villagers should be flocking in any time now. You didn't happen to pass any nomadic settlers on the road, did you?”

“Sorry, no,” Sarge answered. “You've certainly cleared a lot of space in anticipation.”

“Yes, well, father’s a woodcutter, and so am I.” Max looked around at all the stumps. “Damned if I know what happens to the trees, they're always gone in the morning.”

“I'm sure there's a mill somewhere that's grateful.” Sarge said.

Although Alvina looked on stone-faced and silent, Sarge knew she was already annoyed. She always got annoyed when they encountered situations. He couldn't begin to count how many times he'd heard her say, “Sarge, deal with this.” usually while airily waving whoever it was away.

He sighed inwardly in long-suffering frustration and turned back to the boy. “What makes you think we're here for you?”

“I'm an apprentice woodcutter, more lowly than even a shepherd,” Max immediately replied. He looked around, gesturing at the empty, stump-filled clearing. “Especially here. And you two are the wise sorceress and her weapons-master guardian. You must be here for me. Stands to reason.”

“You don't think it has something to do with this road passing through, then?” Sarge was getting so frustrated with the boy that he almost frowned imperceptibly.

“There's lots of roads,” Max answered. “You're on this one and so am I, so yeah, I guess it has something to do with it.”

Sarge opened his mouth to answer, but Alvina laughed, likely sensing his growing frustration, and waved him off.

“It's hard to argue with that one, Sarge.” she said as she turned to Max and leaned forward. Her sudden amusement vanished. “My name is Alvina, young man. What gave us away?”

Her attempted intimidation had no effect.

“Oh, you know,” he said, waving blithely in their general direction. “The fine, fancy horses you're both riding, you sitting side-saddle, I might point out. The jewels in your hair, and the ornate, blue dress. Also the appearance of ageless wisdom and stuff. You just have a look of, I don't know, sorceressness.”

“He's got you pegged, there,” Sarge said, his tone and expression impassive once more.

“I see,” Alvina said, glancing first at Sarge, then eying the boy more closely. “And him?”
Max grinned, and Sarge could see the lad was still completely unaware of how much he was annoying his would-be discoverers.

“Probably it's all the weapons,” Max replied before Sarge could stop him. “Also the thick, leather-padded armor. The weathered, expressionless face and long ponytail bound with a leather cord. Plus the . . .”

“Enough,” Sarge interrupted, then turned to Alvina before she could comment on the boy's rather accurate observation. “We're going to have to work on our disguises.” He faced Max again. “Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you're right. I ask again, what makes you think we're looking for you specifically?”

“I knew you were looking for The One as soon as I saw you.”

“The one what?” Alvina asked.

“You know,” Max said. “The One. The obscure nobody with the hidden magic, destined to save the world. What could be more obscure than an apprentice woodcutter with no village and no prospects of a village? You're here, I'm here, it must be me.” He paused, frowning. “Didn't I already say this?”

“He makes a pretty good case,” Sarge said after some consideration.

“It's a fair assumption,” Alvina agreed as she studied the youngster more closely. “But it's not you,” she said. “Your attitude is all wrong.”

“What do you mean?” Max asked, mouth wide in astonishment.

“If you were The One,” Alvina replied, waving a blithe hand in much the same manner Max had, “you wouldn't know you were The One. And you certainly wouldn't want to be The One. Therefore, you're not The One.”

Sarge heard Max mumble several imprecations as he looked away. Curses spoken too softly to be clearly understood, but he caught words that sounded a lot like “am too” and “stupid” and “blind”, and smiled to himself. He was enjoying this. Alvina wasn't used to someone, anyone really, defying her.

“What was that?” Alvina asked before Sarge could signal Max to shut up.

The lad's face was all innocence and smiles when he turned back. “Oh, nothing,” he said brightly.
“So why are you passing through here, then?”

“This,” Sarge said, gesturing at the road, “passes through here.”

“Right, right. Dad said the same thing, but you’re the only people we've seen since we settled in this place.” Max paused thoughtfully. “Where are you going?”

“Fisk,” Alvina said shortly. She was still pouting over the boy's defiance. Sarge wasn't stupid enough to point that out to her, of course. No-one with any sense told a fierce and powerful witch she was pouting.

Max's eyes widened. “But, but . . . that's just a flyspeck village five leagues north of here.
Nothing there but a bunch of shepherds and stuff.”

“Exactly.” Alvina studied the high clouds drifting on the winds, purposely ignoring Max. “We must be off, Sarge.”

“Can I come?” Max asked.

Sarge and Alvina looked at each other.

“I'll just follow if you say no,” Max added before Alvina could say no.

Sarge studied Alvina some more, waiting for her decision.

“Oh, very well,” she said.

“Excellent!” Max said, and was about to run for his things when Alvina went on.

“But, just so you know, I’m a witch, not a sorceress. I could turn you into a newt or something to stop you, but it's not worth the effort.” She turned her nose up slightly and wiggled a couple of fingers at him to make her point.

When she didn't say anything more, Max made a few wardings against evil and dashed away, running for his horse. “Dad,” he shouted, “I'm running off with a witch and a warrior to save the world.”

“Be careful. You know how witches get after dark,” came a muffled response from within the cabin.
“Send your mother and brother back if you see them,” There was a short pause. “Oh, and any wandering villagers you find, too, eh.”

“Peasants,” Alvina muttered to Sarge when she heard that interaction, then added more loudly, “I don't understand why that word has such an effect on people.”

Sarge just shook his head as she went on. He’d heard this rant many times before.

“Not all witches are ugly crones with long, warty noses who ride brooms, you know. This grand, white mare is perfectly acceptable transportation for a witch.”

Max was twirling a finger around his ear as he rode up to Alvina and Sarge on a frisky bay. His axe was strapped across his back like a sword.
“See what'll happen to me if if I stay here?” he said.

“What's this about your mother and brother?” Serge asked.

Max shook his head and waved his arms back and forth. “Keep it down,” he said softly. “Dad's kind of in denial about that.” He glanced back at the cabin. “Mom wanted a big house, you see. A mansion, at least, if not a castle. She didn't think dad's aspirations were high enough.”

Alvina's eyes glinted with sudden interest. “It sounds like she and I have a lot in common. I'd like to meet her someday. Where did they go, boy?”

“I don't know. When dad and I stopped here, they didn't. Told us she was going to look for a shady spot to rest, took Max with her, and never came back.”

“Wait, wait,” Sarge said. “You and your brother have the same name?”

Max rolled his eyes and snorted. “No. My name is Maxemum, his is Maxemus. They're totally different.” He leaned forward and put one hand up beside his mouth, presumably to keep his father from hearing him. “Max has hero issues, if you ask me.”

“Really?” Sarge asked, dragging the word out a little.

“Yes. Thinks he's destined to save the world, or something.”

Alvina blinked at him. Twice. “I see. When was this parting?”

Max shrugged. “About ten years ago, maybe. I was just little then. Dad still asks me to check the shady spots when I'm out chopping.” He shook his head sadly, then looked up. “So, why are we going to Fisk, anyway?”

“If you must know,” Alvina replied with another sniff, “all signs point to The One being there.”

“But . . . I'm The One.”

“No you're not! The One always tries to avoid his, or her, destiny. He runs. He hides. He denies. He does not come running up shouting, “Here I am!” for all the world to hear.”

Max rode silently behind as they left his father’s potential village. A short time later they reached the forest, the part he and his dad hadn't turned into logs, and Max studied the trees, muttering softly to himself.

#


If Alvina was right about The One not wanting to be The One, then Meelo Kerensk was definitely The One. He complained and protested that he wasn’t The One so much that she'd finally had to bind and gag him and throw him in the back of her newly purchased cart.

She’d also had to hide their trail to prevent angry Fiskians from pursuing them. Max was pretty sure that given Alvina's criteria, and most people's attitude toward kidnapping, there were quite a lot of The Ones out there. Wisely, he kept his mouth shut on this issue.

That had been three days earlier. They were now approaching Omro, a fair-sized town of about five thousand. Alvina and Sarge were discussing how to begin Meelo's training so he would be ready to face The Other One when the time came.

“Teach him everything you know, Sarge,” she said.

“Make him the second best warrior in the world, next to you, of course. I'll take care of the magical aspect, when it finally appears.”

“Of course,” Sarge replied. “It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

“Assuming he's The One,” Max muttered to himself, “which he's not.”

“Quiet, you,” Alvina admonished, then turned back to Sarge. “About how long, do you think?”

The warrior thought about it before replying. “Given the innate ability and untapped magical aptitude The One usually possesses . . . about a month or so.”

“That sounds about right. See to it first thing tomorrow. For now, let's find a comfy inn in which to rest and formulate further plans.”

“You know, sergeant,” Max said into the silence that followed, “it's a funny thing.”

“I'm not a sergeant,” Sarge said.

Max opened and closed his mouth a few times.
“Well, why does Alvina call you Sarge, then?” he finally asked.

“That's my name.”

“Oh,” Max replied. “Right.”

Sarge sighed. “So what's funny, then?”

Max had paused to get his thoughts back together. “Well, in all the excitement of meeting you and then looking for Meelo, it never occurred to me to ask. Why are you looking for The One?”

Alvina snorted daintily from Sarge's other side. “I was hoping he wouldn't ask that question.” She urged her mare ahead. “You might as well answer him,” she called back. “He won't shut up until you do, you know.”

Sarge rolled his eyes. “If you must know, villagers have been mysteriously disappearing over the last ten years or so, along with all of their personal belongings. No signs of battle, no bodies lying about. Homes, shops and fields abandoned. Just gone. Rumors say something called Revenants are spiriting them off.”

“Huh,” Max said. “Maybe that's what happened to our villagers.”

Sarge almost squinted. “That's one explanation,” he replied.

Max was quiet for a moment. “How do you know they're not leaving voluntarily?”

Alvina dropped back to them, an angry scowl coloring her face. “Why would they do that?”

“Well,” Max answered, “they're not treated very well, here.”

“They're not treated well anywhere,” Alvina retorted. “They're peasants.”

Max just looked at her. She snorted again, not so daintily this time, and heeled her mount ahead.

“In any case,” Sarge said softly when she was gone, “there's something evil afoot, and only The One can stop it.”

#
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Old 01-15-2018, 10:15 AM
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Two Rivers Man Two Rivers Man is offline
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Default The One (Part 2)

“She's not evil, you know,” The Other One said from the cover of deep shadows in the far corner of his inner sanctum.

“I know, sir,” Hyram replied.

“She just needs more villagers,” the voice continued. “We have all this arable land and not enough peasants to work it.”

“They do tend to be self replicating, sir.”

“But not quickly enough, Hyram. It takes years to grow a working peasant. We need them now.”
Hyram shook his head. They had this same conversation every time he visited. “You could take more from the peasants you have, Master.”

“She's not evil, you know,” The Other One repeated, as if that explained everything.

“I know, sir.” Now, Hyram thought. Now he's going to ask the question he always asks.

The Other One sighed. “Have they found him yet?”

“Yes, sir,” Hyram replied, “though this one appears to be extremely recalcitrant.”

“Isn't that always the way with The One.”

“Yes, sir,” Hyram agreed, well aware of The Other One's relative inexperience. This was his first time being in charge, after all. “It seems they've also picked up another. A servant perhaps. All reports say they ignore him most of the time, and treat him poorly when they do acknowledge his existence.”

“Likely a servant of some sort then, as you say. Have an eye kept on him, anyway, though. I want no surprises. We shall bide our time, Hyram. We'll watch and we'll wait for the perfect moment. Then, and only then, we will act. Aha. Aha-ha. Aha-ha-ha, ack.”

There was a short bout of coughing before The Other One recovered his breath. “Keep me informed of all developments.”

“Yes, sir,” Hyram agreed, ignoring the laughter being cut short. He knew the penalty for disagreeing . . . and for noticing . . . and he did not want to sit through another long lecture about what was his business and what wasn't.

#


Alvina and Serge spirited Meelo off for training early that morning, so Max strolled the Omro town square, casually shopping and otherwise wasting the day. He was just finishing a meat pie he'd purchased from a street vendor when they returned to the inn around sunset, sans their would-be hero. It was obvious by her countenance Alvina was in no mood to talk. Sarge stared, wide-eyed and completely dumbfounded.

“What happened?” Max asked. “Where’s Meelo?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Alvina said darkly. She marched stiffly to a dark corner and sat alone. Max turned a questioning expression toward Sarge, who sat down at the table.

“Meelo is no longer with us,” Sarge said after some moments of grim silence. Max just stared at him with his jaw hanging open, so Sarge continued. “When I crossed swords with him to begin his training, Meelo ran himself onto my weapon.”

Max stared a little longer. “That seems a little extreme,” he finally said. “Is The One allowed to do that?”

Alvina stormed back over from the corner. “No! The One is not allowed to do that.”

“Well,” Max said in consolation, “he did try to tell you.”

“They all say that,” she said, flinging an arm uselessly through the air. “Always. How was I supposed to know?”

They both stared at her.

“Shut up,” she said with another dismissive wave. “I must seek an answer in my crystal ball. Excuse me,” she said and abruptly left.

Sarge stared blankly at him for a little longer before following after her.

Over the next months they found several more possible The Ones, but each, in his or her own way, proved not to be so.

One of them got 'lost' while practicing other-dimensional travel. She'd been Alvina's favorite, though the feelings were not reciprocated. Max suspected Trena had used her first solo traveling practice to effect an escape.

Another charged a mounted party of armed men before anyone knew what was happening. They were too far away to hear what was being said, or to offer Ronstadt any aid if the situation turned ugly. Alvina watched curiously as The One waved his arms around and yelled a lot.

“What do you think he's doing?” Max asked.

“I don't know.” Sarge rubbed his chin in speculation and urged his mount forward. “We should probably move closer, in case he needs assistance.”

“No,” Alvina said, halting Sarge with a touch. “He's probably preparing to cast some devastating spell. We don't want to be in the middle of it.”

The men he was confronting waved their arms and shouted too. Then they all wheeled their mounts and vanished into the nearby trees.

“He probably just doesn't want us to see the gruesome results of his spell,” Max said. “I'm sure he'll be back soon.”

“Shut up,” Alvina said as Sarge made frantic slashing motions across his throat. An hour or two later, they continued their quest for The One, Alvina vowing to keep a much tighter reign on future candidates.

#


“Have they found him yet?” The Other One asked from the cover of deep shadows in the far corner of his inner sanctum.

“Yes, sir,” Hyram replied from his little patch of light. “They've found several, in fact, but they keep losing them. The only one they can't get rid of is the pesky servant who doesn't seem to actually do servanty stuff.”

“Excellent. It's all falling into place. Aha. Aha-ha. Aha-ha-ha, ack.”

Hyram waited patiently until the coughs subsided.

“Continue the program and the surveillance, and keep me informed.”

“Yes, sir.”

#


There was never any definitive proof, but all of the downtrodden peasants they talked to told them of mysterious bands of men who disappeared entire villages and farmsteads overnight. None of them witnessed these things first hand, of course--it was always rumor from a friend of a friend's cousin's daughter or something--but all of the rumors pointed to the valley across the rivers, over by the mountains, that-a-way.

Max felt the power calling to him as soon as they crossed the second river, and for once he knew to keep his mouth shut. Armand, their latest protegé, was actually starting to believe he was The One. Max had to admit, at least to himself, that Armand was picking up the weapons training rather quickly, and might have some magical talent to boot.

Alvina was leading them up into the mountain passes that overlooked the valley when Max allowed his mount to slowly drop back from the rest. When they rounded a bend in the lane, he turned back to the last crossroads and followed the road not taken. The wider, rutted, more heavily traveled one.

The one that lead down into the valley.

From the glimpses Max caught through breaks in the trees, he could see the valley was huge and still largely empty. The number of potential village sites was nearly unlimited. Dad would love it.

He stopped at an outcropping and surveyed the landscape. A large estate situated where the two rivers merged drew his eye. The power he'd sensed when he first entered this land emanated from there. He knew it more intimately than his right hand knew his . . . well . . . he just knew it.

Max urged his mount forward.

#


Alvina and Sarge were standing at the edge of a cliff higher up mountainside, shaking heir heads sadly as they looked down. Their latest discovery decided he would swoop down from the cliff in a surprise attack on their unsuspecting foe. As it turned out, he was far better at dropping than swooping.

“Now what do we do?” Sarge asked as he and Alvina stared down from the cliff.

“I didn’t know he was going to do that. How could I have known? Why didn’t you warn me?”

Sarge didn’t answer. He was busy looking around the bluff. “Where did Max go?”

They both searched about for several minutes before Alvina spotted him entering the fortress gates far below. Anger colored her face scarlet. “By all the covens, what is that boy up to now?”

“Well, at least he's not following us anymore,” Sarge replied. “That is what you wanted, right?”

Alvina gave him a furious frown. “Come on,” she said as she heeled her mount back down toward the valley.

#


“Have they found him yet?” The Other One asked from the cover of deep shadows in the far corner of his inner sanctum.

“Yes, sir,” Hyram replied, continuing their ritual. “The latest reports say the most recent candidate just dove off the cliff right above us.” Hyram lowered his head for a moment of silence. “Damn shame, too,” he said after a respectful amount of time. “That one had potential.”

“And the other?”

“He seems to have disappeared, sir. No-one knows where he went.”

Ding Dong

“Hyram,” The Other One said, a tone of happy surprise in his voice. “There's someone at the door.”

“I'll get it.”

The Other One lingered in his accustomed dark corner while Hyram went to the door to greet their guest.

His mouth fell open in shock and amazement when he saw the figure waiting on the other side of the door, but Hyram held his tongue as he led the young man back to his master.

For the first time that Hyram could remember, The Other One came out of his dim corner and stopped a few feet from the visitor. Hyram, his mouth still hanging open in astonishment when he saw them together, stepped back out of the way.

“Maxemum?” The Other One asked.

“Maxemus?” The One asked.

Then they were hugging and slapping each other's backs and laughing as Hyram still stared in dumbfounded shock. After a long hug they held each other out at arm's length and grinned like idiots.

“You know,” Max said, hooking a thumb toward the axe on his back, “dad still has me look for you and mom when I go out chopping.”

“Well, what can I say?” Max replied, gesturing around the dim room and the mansion beyond. “She always did want a big house.”

“Nice,” he said, then his expression became serious. “So what's with you guys stealing all those villagers?”

“We're not stealing them,” Max answered. He turned to look at his still slack-jawed servant. “Tell him, Hyram. You've met Hyram, haven't you. This is Hyram. Tell him, Hyram.”

“Th . . . they come willingly, sir,” Hyram stammered. “The Lady specifically told her Revenants that it didn't matter to her that they came willingly. She much prefers that way, actually. She says that if others want to force them to do things, that's their business. She doesn't work that way, and the peasants seem to like her way of doing things.”

“That's the beauty of it, Max,” Max said. “Mom takes less of the hard-earned fruits of their labor from them than the surrounding Lords do. When the Revenants tell them this, they can't drop what they're doing and move fast enough.”

“Why Revenants?” Max asked. “I mean, why call them that?”

“That was mom's idea, too. She always says that if you're not getting enough revenue from the peasants you have, the thing to do is get more peasants. And the Revenants do that.”

“Ah,” Max said, “you do understand the difference between Revenants and revenue, right? Just because they sound similar doesn't mean they are.”

Maxemus shrugged. “I'm sure it made sense to Mother.”

“I see.” Max shuffled a foot around for an awkward moment. “It's kind of dim in here,” he said to change the subject.

“You know how mom likes her shade,” Max answered, “and I've grown accustomed to it. But I think we can air out one of the wings for you, if you wish. Let me show you something else.”

Hyram followed silently behind as Maxemus lead Max up into one of the high towers that poked out from The Manse here and there, and gestured at the valley spread out below. “There's a power here, Max,” he said. “Can't you feel it?”

“Yes,” Max answered. “I've felt it ever since I crossed the river.”

“Me, too. And mom. It's what drew us here. It's in our blood, or something, I think. We can defend this place, and the people living in it.” Max was grinning again as he pointed to a spot near a bend in the greater river. “There,” he said. “That would be a perfect place for dad to start clearing space for a village. And mom would like to have him nearby, too. She does miss him, you know.”

“You mean, there'll finally be a Lord, too?” Hyram asked, a note of excitement creeping into his tone. Then he thought about what he just said and went pale. “Err . . . I didn't mean that like it sounded, sir.”

“What?” Maxemus asked. “Oh that. Pfft. Think nothing of it, Hyram.”

“Right,” Maxemum said. “Dad's hardly one to demand you call him Lord. In fact, it would probably upset him, but you can work that out later.” Max paused a moment then continued. “It might be difficult--you know how he is--but I think I can convince him I found a better place to wait for villagers. I just have to make it seem like his idea.”

“Excellent,” Max said. Then a mischievous grin appeared on his face. “Now. About your companions.”

Ding Dong

“Hyram,” Maxemus said, a tone of happy surprise in his voice. “There's another someone at the door.”

“I'll get it.”

Maxemus and Maxemum followed the still semi stunned servant back downstairs. Max led Max to his accustomed dark corner while Hyram went to the door to greet their guest. Or rather guests as it turned out. Hyram returned with Alvina and Sarge in tow.

Both wore stunned expressions, staring back and forth between them as The One and The Other One emerged from the shadows. Alvina recovered first.

“What's the meaning of this?” she demanded while Sarge's stone face bore an imperceptible smile.

“And which one of you is Max?”

“I am,” they both replied.

“Err,” Max said. “It turns out you were right after all.” He approached them both, put his arms companionably around their shoulders and hustled them back toward the exit. “I'm not The One, so . . . it was was nice knowing you and all but I'm sure you must be going.”

Sarge's mouth dropped open to protest, but Max rushed on before he could. “No, no, I mustn't keep you from your quest. Time waits for no man . . . or woman, as it were, and neither does a reluctant hero.”

“He's right, Sarge,” Alvina said when he tried to protest again. “We've been saying all along he's not The One and if he now realizes we were right who are we to argue? Now, come along.”

She turned on a heel and stormed out of The Manse. Sarge stared a moment longer, then shook his head and hurried after.

Max and Max looked at each other, then broke into broad grins. “Well, that takes care of that,” Max said.

“Right,” Max said. “I'll just go get dad and bring him back. Shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks depending on how stubborn he gets.”

“See you then, brother,” Max said.

#


Max was barely across the larger river and out of the valley when he was jumped by two shadowy figures who whacked him over the head, pinned him to the ground, stuffed him in a sack and tossed it in the back of the cart.

“We've finally found The One,” Alvina said.
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