Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dungeons and dragons (cont.)

Kicking it up a notch

Tonight, though, the sleepy town is transformed. The mundane wooden structures are decorated with magical flame, less substantial than a dream, lending the same quality to those caught in their light. Bathed in dancing, multicolored lights, the people look on at the stages. They are arranged in a circle around the town square, each of the five platforms sporting some new delight for the eyes. On one, the goblin acrobats arrange themselves in the shapes of different animals. The crowd applauds at a particularly impressive Chimera, the three goblins playing the heads each blowing a mouthful of fire. Another platform brags a massive warforged swallowing swords, them spitting them out in creative shapes, picking out nut-sized human fingers from its jaws and handing them out to the astonished children. Two mages juggle balls of fire and ice on the next platform, the elemental magics shifting in midair with sharp crackles of energy, as balls of blue, freezing energy dance from the red-robed mage’s fingers, and brilliant, flaring fire magics dance from the blue-robed mages’s deft hands. Before the astonished crowd, a caged beast roars savagely, yellow eyes glaring as two tentacles writhe, shackled to the bottom of its cage, the six-legged, purple feline stalking within its confines. The last platform is perhaps the most impressive, if not as a display of flash and awe, then as something captivating without such arcane enhancements. An exotic beat fills the air around this stage, a melody from a place far, far away from Deeppath played on pipes by a shifter sitting at the edge of the stage. The attention, however, is focused on the dancer. An elfmaid, the garish light staining her made-up skin at each turn, dances lightly on the plain, wooden stage. Her bare feet tap out an entrancing rhythm as she dances, her body moving with fluid grace, the bells around her ankles and wrists punctuating the music with subtle jingles. Under the flashing light, her clothing shifts and slides, opaque at one moment, nearly invisible the next as her body moves, less real than an extension of the music. Her expression is focused, her eyes closed, and sweat beads her brow. She seems oblivious to the gawking crowd as the music moves her in graceful arcs and circles across the wooden platform.

The stages are not the only attraction, however. Other members of the Fair mill through the crowd, a woman in ridiculously flared robes selling brightly colored balloons, enchanted to slowly shift through eleven colors before exploding into a shower of golden stars. A changeling in bright yellow clothes delights children by changing his face to match their own cotton-candy streaked ones. A half-elf in purple robes and a tall, stove-pipe hat touches the heads of laughing fairgoers for a copper, turning their hair to the color of their choice for the night. A dozen other performers wander the crowd, enthralling the fairgoers or selling small curios, designed to last the night only.
All is laughter, all is light. A million tiny marvels pass before awestruck eyes, as the music plays and the lights dance under the carpet of night, bespeckled with stars. Who could not be entertained by the fair on this fair night?

There is one. He rides through the dark night, towards the distant sounds of merriment in Deeppath. It grows closer with each thundering hoofbeat of his horse, but the distance is impossible. The lights of the town are still too far, and his pursuers too close. He can hear them, the mirroring sounds of their steeds far closer, far closer than the indistinct music of the fair. His cloak flaps in the wind as his pursuers close the distance. He can feel his horse slowing and he spurs the mount to greater speeds, heading straight for Deeppath.

A scream shatters the night, slicing through the music and laughter with terror. A black horse pounds through the crowd, appearing as it from nowhere. The crowd stumbles out of its way, avoiding the mad beast as it rears. The black stallion rears over the crowd, a shapeless lump falling from its back to land with a thump on the dirt as it turns, thundering through the crowd and back out into the night.

The body lies at an unnatural angle, less a human form than a pile of awkward lumps. You turn over the body and reveal the face of a middle-aged man, eyes open and staring, mouth frozen open in a final expression of surprise. A wet stain spreads across his black cloak, and as it’s pulled aside, you see the wickedly sharp tip of a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest.

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