Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boot to the--er, Head.

"Hooch," my mother accused.

"I am NOT," I countered. "KIM!" Shouting to my boss. "My mother just called me a hooch!"

Laughter. No support there.

"Well," Indignance dripping from the phoneline. "if I'm a hooch, then that makes YOU a Hoochy-mama."

Astonished silence. More laughter from the boss.

"I am NOT. How could you say such a thing?!"

"Think about it." Smugness may not get me much, but it is at least satisfying. "If I'm a hooch, then you MUST be a hoochy-mama."

Finally, intelligent words among the laughter from my boss's office.

"It makes good sense!"

There really is nothing like starting off your day by stepping out the door right into a pile of half-frozen dog leavings, which one of your beloved animals has kindly left for you on the front porch. There are worse ways to start off one's day, but I can think of few that are so stupid.
I didn't realize my mistake until I was halfway to work--and it wouldn't even have been then if not for the rich aroma that permeated the air inside my car as the heater kicked in.

Luckily there is still a lot of snow on the ground near my office. However, snow is only useful for removing disgusting things from the bottom of your shoes if you actually sink into it. I scuffed and shuffled in the parking lot for a while, then tried to step into the snow proper for a real cleaning. The first step took me knee deep. The rest, though, had me mincing along an top of the snow like some kind of moronic fairy-princess, looking in dismay at all the other footprints, which actually managed to find the ground. I got hold of a stick, eventually, and tried to pry some of the deeper stuff out of the treads. No luck. More scuffling. Snow mixed with crap was flying everywhere.

I ended up standing in front of the sink in the bathroom armed with papertowels, soap, hot water and my fingernails--and spent another ten minutes trying to get the stuff out. I was a half hour late to work (to be fair, I was a little late to begin with), but now my boots are very, VERY clean.
Close scrutiny of my boots reminded me, though, that they are ancient and falling apart. So I went to the mall on my break, thinking that a nice pair of office boots would not be hard to find.
Apparently, my shoe requirements are unreasonable.
Low heels are unheard of, unless I would like a pair of (undeniably cool) lace-up goth-ish boots from Hot Topic, or an insanely expensive pair of pretty-girl motor-cycle boots that aren't designed to actually be WORN (heaven forbid).

Rounded toes are a faux-pas this year as well, but apperantly zippered stretch snake-skin stilletto boots are totally acceptable, and reasonably priced to boot! (Ha)!

I think I shall start wearing my five-inch thigh boots around town. If that doesn't convince shoe-sellers to start selling boots worth buying, I'm sure nothing will.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Encounters of the Draconic Sort, or, My Hands Are Cramping Up From Too Much Typing

I warn you, this is VERY LONG. However, I wrote it and would love to share it if anyone will take the time to read it. I think it's enjoyable, but I am not to be relied upon.

It would be unfair of me to blame this particular situation on anyone but myself, but I feel that I must, in my own defense, state that I would not be where I was if I had not listened to the tantalizing clues dropped by a certain dwarf with a penchant for shiny objects.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of scholarship is the tendency to focus on a goal--whether it be the proving of a theory or a discovery of fact or artefact--and to allow the details of such finding fall to the wayside to be lost in vaguary. One of the only scholarly pursuits in which this does not happen to an alarming degree is the study of alchemy, in which the method is as important as the outcome if the alchemist does not wish to blow him or herself into tiny pieces.

But I perceive that I am wandering from the point of this narrative.

At any rate, however I had gotten there, I was there and I would have to find my own way out, blame or no blame.

I had always heard that dragons favored caves and that many of them also liked to collect certain kinds of valuable objects in a single place, usually said cave, with the same single-mindedness that marks certain scholars of my acquaintance. Thus, when Norad began to speak of a cache of objects in a cave that had appeared to be magical in nature and unlike anything that had been seen before, I should have guessed that the dragon would be the corollary right away.

I do not recall if he mentioned it or not--I'm afraid I had allowed myself to be distracted by certain of his descriptions of the objects he had seen.

The cave was somewhere in the Stonetalon mountains. I'm not sure where, exactly, though I'm sure I could lead anyone who is interested back to it if they liked--and if they wished to give me a very large incentive to do so. At any rate, Norad's directions were clear enough and I found my way with very little difficulty. It was a large cave, slightly smaller at the opening, but widening very quickly into a cavern of prodigious size.

I do not feel I can express the feeling that overcame me when I beheld what lay in that wonderful, terrible place. There was not a tell-tale pile of gold, which might have alerted me to the pending danger even in that fae state, but rather the most marvelous collection of magical armour, arms and other items. I darted from one thing to another like a child let free in a sweet shop, unable to contain my excitement. The objects were among the finest I had ever seen, many of them quite old and bearing enchantments I had only seen once or twice in my entire life, if at all. I even recognized a few pieces with the same properties as the armour for which Ekimdnaleve was searching, and decided that I would bring them back for him.

It was at this point that things began to "go south," as the quaint saying goes (though why "south" would be a direction indicating ill-luck and malevolent actions by outside forces, I cannot imagine). If the dragon had had better eyesight or better aim I would not have lived to tell the tale. Or perhaps it was more concerned about not squashing any of its treasures than making a mash out of me right away. Goodness knew I had little enough chance of escaping.

The clawed fore-paw that slammed into the ground mere feet away from me frightened me more than I can say. Luckily for me, as my mind froze my body decided it was time to take action. I believe I rolled away, then jumped to my feet and made a beeline for a crevice in the wall which I had noticed only marginally in my earlier distraction. Luckily for me it was deep enough and wide enough for me to slip inside, which I did with considerable alacrity, noting that the massive bulk of the dragon filled the room behind me, blocking the door and effectively trapping me within. The claws that pursued me into my refuge stopped a mere twelve inches from my body, straining against the stone to reach me as the dragon discovered that its bestial hands were too massive to pluck me from my refuge.

The claw withdrew and I blew out a sigh of relief. Trapped though I was, I had my life for now. My first thought was to simply teleport out, if that were possible through solid rock, and I rummaged frantically in my scrip for a rune. There were none, I realized with a sinking feeling. I had used the last to port a friendly Dreanai from the Exodar to Stormwind, and had forgotten to thereafter replenish my supply.

Then there was a massive, floor-shuddering thump and the eye of the giant creature appeared in lieu of the claws at the opening to the crevice. It must have lain its giant body on the floor, I realized. I reached for my dagger, having read somewhere that the eye was the dragon's most vulnerable part of its otherwise armoured body, then remembered with an ever sharper sinking feeling that I had left it sitting on my desk after I had used it to cut a new point for my quill. A queer rumbling sound emanated from the monster, and I realized after yet another heart-stopping moment that the thing was laughing.

At me.

"What a mouse I've got holed up this time," it said, in a tone of voice I would most certainly call smug if I knew that dragons could do such. "I was going to stop up this hole sooner or later--pity I didn't do it sooner. Now you've just made this harder for the both of us."

I had no answer to this, so I fear I simply continued to stare back at that giant eye. I'm sure I must have appeared singularly feeble-witted, eyes wide and jaw slack as they were.

"Come," the beast continued, laughing its earth-shattering laugh again. "You have nothing to say of yourself? Where are your manners, little mouse? I like to know who it is that will be providing me with my lunch."

"L-l-lunch," I said, my voice breaking. "M-m-more like a m-mid m-m-morning s-snack, I t-think. T-t-there's not e-enough of m-me with which to b-bother!"

"My my," the dragon said disapprovingly. "Speak clearly, my dear, or we shall be at this all day. But you are right, you are hardly more than a morsel. But a sweet morsel indeed, and who could turn down such a tempting tidbit when it so foolishly wanders practically onto one's plate?"

"I...I d-do not t-t-taste good," I countered, aware of how flimsy an argument this was. "M-my flesh is s-stringy and b-b-bitter from t-too many y-years of..."

I couldn't think of a single thing that I had done that would have made me even remotely stringy or tough. Those particular adjectives would apply more to people like Zytonis than to a soft little book scholar like myself.

"O-of s-s-study." I finished lamely. This sent the dragon into fresh gales of laughter, and I scowled.

"Oh come," it said, once it had recovered itself, though it was still blowing great gasps of mirth. "You can come up with something better than that. What is your name, little mage, and what did you want with my lovely collection?"

I thought fast. If I managed to escape and yet left my name to the brute, it might be able to track me down thereafter and finish me off wherever it might find me. Though, if I did not escape, giving my name to the monster might ensure that eventually my friends might know what on earth had happened to me. Deciding, however, that it would be better for me to plan as though I were to live than otherwise, I quickly made up my mind. I drew myself up and tried to look as haughty as possible.

"Augustina S-Schlothiem Reinbach III," I said loftily, "and I w-was here b-because I had h-heard of a a-ancient and c-clever creature who had a-amassed a n-n-notable collection of r-rare and b-b-beautiful things. I h-had hoped for p-permission to s-s-study them."

"That's rich," the dragon chortled. "Augustina, is it? Well, my dear, I'm afraid you should have sent ahead. That way you could have known ahead of time what sort of welcome you could expect. I have given many a scholar a chance to stay here--indefinitely. I'm afraid I don't share my findings with the rest of the world. I find there are too many willing to try to wrest my...acquisitions from me."

"W-what's the use of h-h-having them t-then?" I inquired, losing track of my danger as I considered the dragon's words. "T-they do you no g-good, hidden a-away as they a-are, and if you r-r-remove such t-things from m-mortal ken the c-chances of more p-precious things b-being created after t-their same m-manner is less and l-less l-l-likely!"

"Precisely." The great eye blinked and then shifted away from the immediate vicinity of my refuge as the massive creature changed positions, settling itself to wait. "Why on earth would I want people making copies of these lovely, unique things for which I have gone through much trouble to acquire? And as for using them--why should I? I have no need of their power, but I admire them much as a lady might admire her jewels."

"T-that is s-selfish," I said indignantly. "T-those things m-m-might be d-doing m-much good for s-someone who needs t-them, right n-now!"

The dragon blinked, then displayed most of its shining ivory teeth in a wide grin. "Selfish? I suppose so. Are you going to come out now? I tire of arguing."

"N-no. I t-think I shall r-remain in h-h-here, thank y-you. I am q-quite c-c-comfortable as I a-am."

The dragon began to laugh again and stretched itself out to lie where it could see me still clearly. "It will be a shame to cut you short," it said almost regretfully. "You've made me laugh more in the past hour than I have for ages."

"I-I'm quite t-t-the entertaining s-sort, actually." I said quickly. "I'd b-be happy t-t-to s-stay for a b-bit and r-r-regale you w-with w-witty stories, if y-you should l-like."

I got the response this preposterous suggestion deserved when the creature simply gave me a pointed look and an unpleasant smile.

After an interminable ten minutes of silence which I filled with frantic attempts to figure out what on earth I was to do, I noticed that the dragon seemed to be falling asleep. Its breathing became more and more regular and its great copper eyes were half veiled by drooping lids. I knew this would either be my chance to escape--or a ruse that would seal my fate.

After another ten minutes the dragon did seem to be actually asleep. If it was not, then the creature was a better actor by far than any I had ever seen. Its paws and tail twitched, and it mumbled low in its throat much as a sleeping dog might. I moved forward cautiously and silently then, glad that I had taken so much care in my youth to learn to make no sound while walking. I was halfway out of the hole when then thing I had been dreading--but hoping that would not happen--happened. Luckily, it took the massive beast just long enough to raise its fore-paw and heave itself into a sitting position that I was able to move mostly out of the way before the blow fell. Instead of crushing my bones and sweeping my head from my shoulders, the claws grazed my head and right shoulder and left several long, bloody furrows behind.

I stifled my cry of pain and pressed myself back yet again, watching those dreadful claws scrabble at the rock as the creature sought to pull me from safety. There was blood streaming down into my eyes, and running down my arm to drip off my fingers. As I pulled the mangled remains of my hood from my head with my left hand and clumsily tried to staunch the bleeding, I saw the dragon look curiously at its reddened claws as it withdrew them, and give them an inquiring lick with a long purple tongue.

"Oh my," it chortled. "You ARE a catch! I haven't had anything that sweet in years. Come out, my dear, before you waste all of that lovely blood on the rocks. Might as well put it to good use, hmm?"

I was done bantering with the creature. However, I began at this point to take a rather dim view of my future. Either I would bleed to death and die in this hole, or I would make another half-baked attempt to escape and end up crushed in a dragon's jaws. Neither one was all that appealing, though I have to say that, on the whole, would rather have preferred the former to the latter.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard another voice--this one oddly distorted and seemingly to originate right in the crevice with me. After a moment I identified it--Rask's voice, coming from my forgotten hearthstone. Cursing myself for a fool, I closed my left hand around it to muffle the sound, lest it alert the creature to the plan that had sprung up in my mind.

"Celune? Are ya a'right? Did I hear yeh scream?"

"R-R-Rask," I hissed frantically. "A-a-and anyone e-else w-who can h-h-hear me--for t-the sake of m-my life, I need you a-all to m-make as m-much n-noise as p-possible. S-shout, s-scream--s-sound like the b-biggest army y-y-you c-can."

There was a long silence in answer to my request, then after a moment I heard several other voices along with Rask's giving willing, if puzzled ascent to my request. I toggled the thing up as loud as it would go, then spoke again.

"R-ready--NOW!" In one move, I hurled myself to the opening of the hole, throwing the hearthstone as far as I could toward the back of the cave. The sound the burst from the thing was startlingly, blessedly loud--and sounded like a very angry group of people which had somehow gotten in behind the dragon and were now descending upon it to do battle. As the dragon turned to defend itself, I hit it with the most powerful frost spell I commanded, praying to whomever would listen that it would hold the thing long enough for me to get away. For a miracle, frost encased the creature's feet as it swung about, looking for the source of the threatening sound and I ran for my life along the wall towards the light, and life.

I would not have made it, I believe, were it not for a little spell known as "blink," which I had learned as an afterthought, thinking that it might shave a few minutes off of travel time when I was in a hurry. Now, as it sped me along every few seconds, leaving the confused sounds of the cavern farther and farther behind me, I swore I would never ignore a minor spell as long as I lived.

I will never forget the sight of the sky as I burst from the foul den--the west was blood red with sunset and the clouds blazed trails of glory up into the midnight blue bowl of the sky. I continued to run, knowing that the ice wouldn't hold the dragon much longer, and lost myself in the forest beyond.

I spent that night shivering in an abandoned fox den, listening to the dragon as it raged and then quieted at last towards dawn. I was rather weak with blood loss and reaction by then and was glad to set out under the protective canopy of the trees before the sun had risen over the mountains in the east.

I don't remember the name of the settlement I stumbled on at last, only that the people there were very kind, and that I knew that I would have quite the story to share when I made it back to Stormwind. I would probably scar, and I would never live down my foolishness--but at least I was alive for yet another day.