If you’ve never had the opportunity to listen to Writing Excuses, you’ve been missing out. It has been the best resource, as an aspiring, that you can easily and freely have access to, namely podcasts. And heck, it’s “fifteen minutes long, because you are in a hurry, and [they’re] not that smart” (TM). Seriously tho, catch an episode (a regular one, not a QA one), give it fifteen minutes, and see if it isn’t just chock full of amazing information for writers. Oh, and it’s nominated for a Hugo as well!
Well, every week Brandon, Mary, Howard, and Dan release an amazing podcast, book picks-of-the-week, and an awesome writing prompt. This weeks episode is a review of Avengers, the 2012 movie, and what they did right from a literary standpoint. The writing prompt is: Writing Prompt: Take an ensemble cast, and have them fighting each other as a prelude to fighting what needs to be fought.
Ensemble, a short story by Michael Bacera
“Just seems like a waste of good gold if you ask me,” Balrom said. He shrugged his meaty shoulders and scratched his full beard. “You would never see me trading gold for a piece of paper.”
“That is why no one is asking you, Balrom,” Salazar said. “It would be beyond a ruffian like you to understand the intricacies of mage craft.”
“Intricacies? You sit around in your frumpy cassock and murmur old Latiran, and then later you wave your hand around and cast some puffs of smoke. Intricate my ax!”
Horen relaxed a little from drawing his bow and scanning the forest around them, to grin at the larger man’s favorite oath.
“I would not call what I do merely ‘puffs of smoke’,” Salazar said, rounding on the stocky brawler.
“Oooh well let’s see what puffy smokey scribbles we got today.” Balrom grabbed the scroll out of Salazer’s hand and waved it just out of the shorter man’s reach. “’cold hands’, if I am getting my Latiran correct, for a ruffian I mean.”
The mage bounced up and down in his robes, creating a very un-mage like spectacle of himself, grabbing for the scroll. “It is ‘Ice Grasp’ you brute,” Salazar said, eyes twitching at the mistranslation. “It will freeze everything within my sight for as long as I Concentrate.”
“And then what?”
“Well does it kill them? Choke em? Freeze them up and stop them from ever moving? Give them a little frostbite?”
“It does nothing of the sort!” Salazar retrieved the scroll and rolled it up and placed it in his belt tome.
“Then what use is it?” Balrom scratched his beard again. “Why hold them still, looking pretty and not able to move, when you can just cut off their arms and legs with this!” Balrom grabbed the double hafted ax from behind his back, and then sent it slashing and crashing down a nearby tree, hewing a large low lying branch.
“In the name of Metarak!” Salazar cursed.
“You all make quite a racket out here where you can’t see your enemies,” Vitik said in a calm voice, face expressionless. “That is not prudent.”
“By Metarakon’s peace, you are a crafty little man aren’t you?” said Horen. “I’ve been trying to spot you for the better part of the hour.” The hunter unknocked the arrow and returned it to his quiver and shook Vitik’s hand. “You are craftier then a wing tipped dear.”
Vitik took the compliment with a neutral nod, and then unlaced his small pouch. “I was able to reacquisition enough funds to last us a good week at comfy inns, that is, if we still have a decent amount left over from the last bounty…” Vitik raised an eyebrow. Horen shook his head. “Haylofts it is then. Again.”
“We wouldn’t need to, if this ruffian had not spent most of it sharpening that brutish ax.” Sal narrowed his eyes at Balrom.
“My ax?” Balrom whirled the double sided blade with one hand around it’s haft and pointed the end spike at the mage. “What if you had not spend the meager rest on buying your ‘hands of useless ice’ scroll.”
“I would not have had to buy the cursed thing if someone had been willing to ‘reacquisition’ it.”
Vitik looked up from tying his bag back to his belt. “I refuse to steal from a mage if he is within flame casting distance of where I am stealing it. Tis better to be cautious then roasted. Or dead.”
Horen nodded his head at the rogue’s words.
Salazar spat at the dirt at his feet. “The man had not even earned his third syllable,” flipping the hood of his robe over his head. “He is a capable enough scroll inscriptor, but I doubt he has the Concentration to cast it at a moving target.”
The mage yelped as a red and green blur flew past him.
“By the five syllables!”
Horen removed his gaze from the quickly shrinking point of red and green in the sky and targeted it at Salazar. “It was only a fern brushed swallow,” said the hunter, “they are native to this region and posses a speed of-”
“No one asked for your trivia, bowman.” Balrom said. “Unless you are going to tell me that they are a delicacy skewered and roasted, I care not.” Balrom repositioned the large ax on his back and grunted. “Did you at least talk to your grimy friend, Vitik?” Balrom swung his thick neck at the rogue.
“The griminess is most truly a farce Balrom,” Vitik said, repositioning the daggers around his waste, now that they were not in sight of town. “Some people, like the grand master of bounties, are not to be taken at face value. Some anyway.”
Balrom planted his hands on his hips. “I have a big ax, and I am not ashamed to show people exactly how big it is!” Vitik spun his twin daggers in a tight loop and then resheated them, his face remaining expressionless. Balrom gave a small grin and then let out a bellowing laugh.
At the sound of his laugh, a indigo ball of fur came speeding through the undergrowth and between the brawlers legs.
“Hm. Strange,” the archer wrinkled his forehead. “A sky footed hare, they normally stay underground, but will only flee in the presence of a-”
“Give it a rest already bowman!” Balrom said. “Like I said before-”
“No, you do not understand friends, the hare is probably running away from-”
A giant mass of iron scales and beefy muscles crashed from the direction that the other two animals had been fleeing.
“Iron tipped boar!” Horen yelled, quickly whipping around his bow, and then flipping an arrow from behind his shoulders, around his fingertips, and expertly knocking it, bowhand trained on the boar already. “Be careful, you will not be able to-”
“Bal dur gis rom!” Horen’s warning was lost as Balrom gave his load clan yell. He spun the ax around, but a low lying branch caught on the head, and he merely grazed the boar, the scales deflecting most of the blow.
Vitik ran and hopped off the brawlers back and and flipped behind the boar, as Balrom tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the ax around the branches and at the boar. Vitik struck 10 times in rapid succession, alternating with his left and right blades with straight jabs, reverse cuts, and downward stabs. He finished his whirlwind attack in a crouch and looked towards the mage. “I cannot find any weak spots!”
“Behold!” Salazar made the focusing hand syllable with his left hand, covering his left eye, and then made the targeting hand syllable for flame with his other, trying to center the boar in his sights. “Back off, you two will get burned!”
The rogue and brawler jumped away from the boar and threw their hands over their eyes. Three arrows were loosed from the mages left, but the boar was able to cut them out of their with it’s gleaming tusks. The beast turned towards the source of the annoyance, and let out a yell of it’s own, and started charging.
“By ‘tarak!” cursed the Archer, rolling to the side in a flurry of cloak and fletching.
Salazar swung his head and arms to the side, drawing across Vitik in his haste.
Vitik threw his arms over his face and body. “Do not roast me!”
Salazar apologized while shewing the rogue. “Out of the way, you are disabling my Concentration!” he reformed both the focus and target syllables again, desperately trying to get a clear sight.
“I require assistance, friends!” Horen yelped, tumbling to ground again. The boar’s foot stamped on the hunter’s green cloak, and pulled him short by the neck, making him gag and gasp.
“Bal dur gis-” Balrom grunted has he took the impact of the boar’s horns on his forearm bracers. He strained against the beast’s weight, and then barked between gritted teeth, “this is” -he gave a mighty shove- “not working!”
“I told you, this is a iron tipped boar!” Haron chocked trying to unclasp the cloak. “The armor is almost impenetrable, and he can use the tusks as a formidable defensive or offensive tool.”
Vitik flipped over the boar, and then slashed twice, then a third time at the hunter’s cloak.
Balrom dragged the archer away.
Haron rubbed at his neck, gulped and said “we need to attack the soft plate at the crown of its skull!”
“Between the trees and his tusks, I don’t have any room to swing my ax. At least not hard enough to crack anything.” Balrom rung his hands around the haft.
“I can root it in place,” Salazar offered, “but someone needs to keep it preoccupied.”
Vitik removed his heavy purse from his belt, and nodded at the mage. “Let me distract it,” he said, as he twirled the two blades. He launched into a quick running crouch, and got the boars attention. The beast bellowed again, and shook its head and stamped its hooves at Vitik’s direction.
The boar’s eyes gleamed and neck muscles strained as it slashed at Vitik, but only shredded air as Vitk crouch, and leaned back parallel to the forest floor, hair whipped back and forth with the ripples in the air from the rushing tusks. He whipped himself upright, and then hoped lightly over the return slash, landing gracefully between the boar’s eyes. In a fury, the boar shook its head, but not before the rogue was able to front flip unto its neck.
The boar craned its neck to look behind its shoulders. Four arrows whistled through the air, the boar and its tusks too distracted to deflect them this time. Two shafts embedded in each forehoof, forcing the boar to its knees. Vitik slid of the scaly back and saluted Horen, flat of right dagger to temple, over the right eye.
During this commotion, Salazar had switched to the focus syllable for “Ice”, and the target syllable for “Grasp”, sighting the ground right below the boar’s hooves. After a few moments, the hand syllables resonated with his chanting, the corresponding syllables in the scroll in his belt tome glowing briefly a bright blue, and then a small frosted breath escaped from Salazar’s lips, and and even bigger frost formed around the boar, in the air surrounding, and crystallizing from the moisture in the ground. Suddenly a mass of crystals ripped up from the forest floor, encircling the boar’s front hooves and neck. The ice creaked from the strain.
“Bal dur gis ROM!” Balrom launched into the air, and then brought his ax from behind his back, to bear on the beast’s exposed head, the impact cutting through scale, bone, flesh, and ice. The beast let out one mighty roar from it’s cloven head, and then crashed to the ground on it’s side, Salazar having already broken Concentration, the ice dissipating back to mist and moisture.
“By the five syllables of Metarakonil’s peace,” Heron puffed, rubbing at his raw neck, “that was quite a beastly beast, was it not?”
Balrom nodded and grumbled in assent as he wiped blood and bone from his ax. Vitik also nodded, then saluted the boar, whipped the blades in a circle and sheeted them. Salazar was a little ways off, his targeting syllable hand still pointed at the boar, shaking.
“By ‘tarak, I almost could not get my Concentration up. I am so sorry I was so useless-”
Balrom stopped the mage by putting one beefy hand on a small shoulder. “Useless my ax!” Balrom’s belly heaved up and down in laughter. “By the syllables, that is a powerful scroll after all, isn’t it!”
Salazar exhaled and his shoulder’s relaxed. Horen approached him, his half shorn and ragged cloak flapping erratically in the breeze. “Friend, you did wonderfully.”
“And you bowman,” Balrom boomed, “I will never disparage your trivia again.”
Vitik took out his thicker, but shorter bladed hunting knife from his boot, and proceeded to cut out the crystal heart of the boar. Salazar picked up Vitik’s belt pouch and tossed it to the rogue. The rogue snatched it from out of the air, and placed the boar’s crystal heart inside. “I think my grimy friend would love to take this off our hands, and we will be able to buy many scrolls and sharpen many axes. And bed’s at comfy inns.”
Balrom and Salazar smiled.
Horen swung his bow around. “And more piercing hunting shafts,” he said, “because I’m pretty sure I just cracked my best set of four. The split forked kind. Friends, the iron tipped boar is quite formidable, but it’s does not compare to the steel plated elephant in the Canafri jungles…”
The crew of four adventures walked through the woods, the archer regaling them with fantastic stories of exotic beasts, the brawler laughing heartily, and mage nodding both disbelievingly and attentively, and in the rear, the rogue listened, expressionless but content.