Something Better

Something Better
A tale of adventure, romance, death, and pastry
By Eleanor Campbell

Chapter 1

I woke up that painfully sunny afternoon feeling as though I had been very thoroughly trodden on. I made myself some tea, and then went for a walk through the Market Town in my gown and slippers, my mug clutched to my chest.
Ah, that breeze was just the thing for my throbbing head and slightly purple vision. The previous night was more than a little hazy. Jasper and Sander Olive had insisted I go on a bender with them to celebrate the fact it was Thursday. I couldn’t recall precisely where we went, what we did, or how I’d arrived home. The smell of lavender had been overpowering when I woke fitfully, and I’d found three socks in the dining room, none of which I could say with any confidence I owned. I had heard on one street corner that Jasper had woken up earlier today in a lake with his loafers full of frog spawn. If the rumours were anything to go by, the poor lad was likely to find himself disinherited before the school year was out. His parents were a bit traditional.

The Market Town was quiet. Classes would be running at this time of day, so most of my comrades would still be in The Halls and libraries, pretending to be studying. Attention spans shortened when the warmer weather rolled through, bringing with it a much anticipated decrease in the length of skirts. I wondered for a moment whether Sander Olive’s girlfriend would hear about last night, and whether she would leave him once and for all this time, and whether Sander Olive would be entirely miffed if I were to pick up where he left off, so to speak.

I wandered aimlessly for some time, planning my first outing with Sander Olive’s soon-to-be-former-lady-friend, until the Market Town notice-wall grabbed my attention. One of the signs stapled to the very middle of the wall was wriggling uncomfortably, picking at its corners with papery hands, trying to free itself. I flicked some tea at it.

“Why, you pompous little…” it started.

I raised an eyebrow in a manner I hoped said ‘look how aloof I am’, but possibly came across part quizzical, part hung-over. Either way, the sign stopped moving about and proceeded to read itself in a voice like a town herald.

To whom it may interest, excite,
inspire, titillate, terrify, mortify, apple pie, aggravate, misappropriate!
Have WE got an OPPORTUNITY for YOU!
Ever dreamed of travel, adventure, danger and intrigue??
For a one-time payment of nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine pounds, you too can experience the THRILL of the CHASE, the JOY of the QUEST!

If you’re interested, ask for Distevenyl the Polar at the Oldest Tavern, and prepare yourself for the TIME of your LIFE!

The sign, finished with its booming announcement, resumed scratching at its staples.

“Well, slide a candle up my nostril and call me a lantern! That sounds like a positively marvellous way to spend the summer.” I cried. The sign sniffed at me, and looked as disinterested as a sheet of paper possibly can. “Surely I could weasel some course-credit out of it too, don’t you think?”

“I just read the words.” said the sign.

“And what absolutely smashing words they were! What sort of wonderful people offer such opportunities?”

“They need an idiot to finance their expedition.” said the sign.

”Then I shall be that idiot!” I exclaimed, punching the air and subsequently spilling tea down the front of my gown. “I will be that idiot as soon as I’ve gotten out of my pyjamas!”

* * *

The Oldest Tavern was a bit outside my normal stomping grounds. It seemed to be built entirely out of grime and stereotypes. The wooden sign hanging above the door creaked ominously, the floor squeaked with every step I took, and the barman’s elbows groaned and grated as he dried tankards with a cloth that looked as though it had been sneezed in. My voice wavered a tiny bit when I asked the barman for Distevenyl the Polar, but I don’t think he noticed. He smiled a purple smile, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, towards a closed door behind the bar.

I pushed the door open and stepped into a slightly less grimy room.

“Alright?” a rather chipper voice enquired.

A heavy, wooden table stood in the centre of the room, maps and books spread across it like frosting on some sort of knowledgeable cake. Around the table were four slender wooden chairs (which in my delicious baked-goods-analogy, I saw as delicate flans… I should’ve had breakfast before this meeting.) Three of the four chairs were occupied by three of the most interesting people I had ever seen. The one who had spoken was pale of skin and hair, except for a shock of tomato red in his fringe and a mauve tint on his lips, suggesting he had a taste for the harder violet liquors. To his left sat an elf, skin green like summer grass, clothes green like forest floors, eyes green like slime-moulds, or emeralds. A nicer image, emeralds. Let’s go with emeralds. To the elf’s left sat a slight girl, probably eighteen, her face obscured by a black hood and veil.

“Come on then! Don’t hover in the doorway.”

I realised that in my nervousness, I had levitated about an inch and a half above the dusty floorboards. Embarrassed, I willed myself back to the ground and made my way to the empty flan. I mean, chair.

I sat, and the hooded girl offered me a slice of toast, so I fell quite in love with her. As I ate, the group told me of their travels.

The girl was called Eila, and was an assassin from the Walled City. She told me of oceans frozen solid by sudden leaps into winter, waves still curled and icy spray suspended in mid-air as though by art. She talked of the days she’d spent crossing the solid seas, ever fearful of stepping on thin ice and falling into unfathomable depths of black, briny ink.
Mallowfrost, the Elven minstrel, sang to me songs of his home, Horizon Wood, where the trees grow sideways and the forest floor turns to liquid as soon as the sun sets.
The pale, purple-lipped character was the expedition leader, Distevenyl. He told me of his year in the Sky Desert; the plateau balanced on the needle-sharp point of Mount Ret, wide as the mountain is tall. Each day, slaves of the Sky Desert count every grain of sand that blows across the plateau, and ensure that the weight of the grains on one side never outweighs that of the other side, lest the desert tumble from the sky.

When it was my turn to share a tale, I settled on my only story that resembled an adventure; the time Jasper and I decided to spend Hall Master Sphith’s Monday morning lecture smoking magnifera tryptamine cigars, after which we stumbled down to the Wrong Side of the Tracks, where a thickly bearded, thickly accented man taught us how to conjure tiny flames in the palms of our hands. I demonstrated my skill to the group of adventurers, fanning a spark into just enough fire to warm my fingers nicely, before extinguishing it with a flourish. They nodded, and tried to look impressed, for the sake of politeness.
There was a long pause, then Distevenyl clapped his hands together and looked at me expectantly.

“So, are you in?” he said.

“I imagine so,” I replied. “But I can’t be sure until I know what precisely being ‘in’ will involve…”

Distevenyl glanced at his companions. Mallowfrost shrugged. Eila looked frosty, but also delicious.

“Due to the, uh, delicate nature of our quest, we can’t discuss details until money has changed hands.”

I pulled out my wallet and fanned out a neat nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine pounds. Distevenyl tossed his red fringe from his eyes and accepted the cash, then nodded at Mallowfrost. The elf pulled a full-sized concerto-lute from beneath his cloak, which baffled me until I remembered that elves traditionally wear really big cloaks. He began to sing.

 

Across a mirror ocean
Flecked with pinprick lights,
The glassy sea reflects the face
Of endless emerald nights

Arrive ashore ‘twixt knife-edge cliffs
On sand of broken bone,
A wasteland where the clouds cry blood,
Black Mountain stands alone

A gaping maw in mountainside
Lined with granite teeth,
The tortured scream of wrought rock guards
The cave that hides beneath

Within the cave, there sits a box,
Within the box, a key,
The key unlocks a portal
To a roaring orange sea

Upon the sea there is a stone,
In the stone, a knife,
On the knife, an ancient balm,
To bring lost souls to life

One tiny cut is all it takes,
A split in human skin,
To open up the dead man’s eyes,
and let the light back in…

“We’re questing for Deathsbane Blade??”

“Aye,” said Distevenyl. “It’s worth a fortune to the Museum Men. So what say you?”

I must’ve spluttered some sort of affirmative, because the pale young gentleman extended his hand.

“It’s a pleasure to have you on board, Mr…?”

“Aloysius,” I said, shaking Distevenyl’s oddly cool hand. “Aloysius Ursus, of the Oxford Ursuses.”

“It is indeed a pleasure, Mr. Aloysius.”

The travellers stood up to see me out. I was to pack and say farewell to my Hall comrades, and meet the group on the edge of town that evening.

I walked closely behind Eila as we left the tavern, trying to think of something to say. Maybe I could thank her for the toast? My opening line was almost planned when she stopped all of a sudden, and whirled around. We stood face to face. Her hood was pulled back, so I could see her olive forehead and chocolaty eyes. I had to remind myself to breathe.

“You say your ‘s’s weird.”

“I…uh…pardon?”

“The way you say your ‘s’ sounds. They come out like ‘sh’ sounds. Just a little.”

“Oh, I suppose they do…” I replied, listening to myself carefully, but really not hearing anything unusual about my ‘s’s.

“It’s weird.” she said. I decided to take a gamble.

“Weird in a cute way?”

“Weird in a weird way.”

I laughed awkwardly, just to fill the silence. Eila blinked at me, pulled her hood back over her eyes, and walked off.

“Shoot.”

* * *

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  1. On Form « Widely Regarded as a Bad Move - September 2, 2011

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