I‘m writing my third fiction book!
It’s a guide to some of the worst tropes in fantasy and science fiction, not written in the form of a dictionary or encyclopedia (because that would make WAY too much sense)…but rather, constructed out of original stories tackling each trope. I’m calling the tropes “Crimes”, because it’s more fun that way.
You have my absolute promise, on my honor as a Dark Lord, that “Rognoth” is not Lin Carter’s “Thongor”, only spelled backwards. I mean, would I lie to you?
CRIME: “The impressionable young woman who’s being sacrificed to the gods confesses eternal love to the dirty, swarthy, probably clap-ridden barbarian who rescues her because she looks good in a shift.”
REPORTED BY: G. Connor Salter, @GCSalter
The enormous warrior eyed the ancient altar with the distrust his kind had for the workings of magic and the strange Gods of the cold Southern lands, and also with a certain amount of alarm at the wreckage of chains with which it was covered.
The High Priest of Spiderion took another drag on his pipe, the peculiar smoke trickling out of his mouth in intermittent puffs. At first, Rognoth had thought the fumes might be some kind of exotic spell-fragrance with which the old man might try to hypnotize or drug him, but it proved to be merely a particularly acrid tobacco. The whole thing was painfully anticlimactic, and while he was no longer quite so determined to pierce the priest’s foul guts with the sharp clean metal of his blade in order to remove the blaspheming wretch from the face of Ur-Earth, he still contemplated cutting the fellow’s throat just to make sure he couldn’t tell anyone about the barbarian’s painfully embarrassing arrival. There’s nothing like riding straight into the wind at the kind of breakneck gallop only a true Stallion of the Blood could accomplish, and that only a Northern warrior, trained to the saddle since birth and possessed of muscular muscles and sinewy sinews, could endure without being thrown off and breaking his fool neck. There’s nothing like your steed’s hooves smashing down the gates of a Dark Temple, trampling terrified acolytes, as you wreak mayhem with the massive sword which seems as much an extension of your body as your massive hands or, possibly, your very slightly overgrown fingernails.
There’s also nothing like the feeling you get when you realize there’s no Ritual to interrupt and no Princess left to rescue, but that last bit was one the barbarian would much, much rather be permanently forgotten.
The Warrior had finely-honed instincts for danger, and the High Priest was about the most relaxed individual Rognoth had ever seen. Rognoth had expected some kind of mighty test to see whether sorcery or steel was the true strength, had expected to battle hellspawn and demons and perhaps Spiderion itself, who was rumoured to be The God of Giant Spiders (he was basically like a regular giant spider, only more giant and more spidery and also he lived in the sky and shot fireballs at people who dusted too many cobwebs).
But the acolytes who survived the trampling bit basically fled, which was quite sensible, but intensely un-accolytish. And then…this.
“So what you’re telling me,” the Barbarian said slowly, “is that the Princess rescued herself?”
“Oh, yes,” said the High Priest placidly. “Didn’t waste any time about it, either. She awakened screaming on the altar, which is generally the intention, but rather than being either petrified or hysterical in the face of His Arachnidal Highness, hanging over us, prepared to sting and then consume her, she gathered her chains together and, with a superhuman effort which strained her body’s resources to the utmost, she tore apart the iron which bound her and fled of into the night.”
The Barbarian wrinkled his brow. “Sounds more like my thing. I thought Princesses generally were too highborn to handle the harsh realities of life outside of the soft, decadent cities, and, like beautiful but delicate flowers, they brought light into the lives of those who cared about them, but could not defend themselves.”
The High Priest gave him an odd look. “You said earlier that the one who trained you in the martial arts and the ways of the world came from ‘a faraway place with an odd name’. Did that happen to be ‘1957’, by some chance?”
Rognoth blinked. “Did you know him as well?”
“No,” replied the man of (spider-) God. “I merely see many lands in my studies, and I happen to be quite familiar with that one. So this was…your first adventure?”
The Barbarian blushed. “Verily, I have left the side of my Teacher, that I might venture into places unknown in search of gold, jewels, and romance.”
“I fear you’re rather out of luck. Your services have not been needed for a long time.”
Rognoth looked at him distrustfully. “I could still slay you, kidnapper of fragile, defenseless—”
The Priest gestured at the altar, and the Barbarian winced.
“Firstly,” said the old man, “should we cease our peaceful discourse, I shall summon forth lightnings from the blackest Hells, and strange and subtle magics to torment your senses and very soul.”
“I fear thee not, for I have been taught to handle such—”
The Priest cut him off again. “You were also trained in rescuing Princesses. How’s that working out for you?”
The young man glowered at him, but was silent.
“Secondly, I shall pass on to thee the wisdom that thou must needs possess. And I promise you, it’s quite brief. If you didn’t keep harshing my buzz with thy boorishness, I’d have told you already.”
The Barbarian regarded him sourly. “Valid points. Anything else?”
“Under this altar, protected by a certain spell to which only I have the psychic key, is—”
“Treasure!” gasped the young man.
“Whiskey,” replied the old man.
“Let me put it this way. Every full moon, I have to stare straight up at a malevolent poisonous spider big enough to stuff an oak tree into its mouth, if it suddenly decided to have a preference for vegetables instead of human flesh, which it hasn’t, which is no help. It’s good whiskey, and there’s lots of it.”
The Barbarian sat down on a stone bench. He noticed it was covered in bloodstains, some of them fresh. This was of no concern to him whatsoever.
“All right, Priest. What’s going on here?”
The High Priest took on a tone of voice which Rognoth recognized as one of lecturing; it gave him a slight pang, and he realized it reminded him a bit of his own teacher.
“Some many moons past (kindly do not ask me how many full moons I have seen, thank you very much), we began to notice a difference in the Princesses we kidnapped. Namely, they started escaping. And escaping was the good outcome. The bad outcome was when they beat us up first.”
“But you kept kidnapping them?”
“We are a religion whose proud traditions reach back through millennia, and also, we have an old folk saying, which is, ‘It’s probably better to die of whatever is attempting to kill you than it is to be eaten by a sentient giant spider who chews his food extremely thoroughly.’”
“That’s extremely specific.”
“We prefer to call it time-tested. At any rate,” the old man continued, “I couldn’t tell you when it started happening. There was a transitional period, when they simply gave Spiderion severe indigestion.”
“What was that like?”
“Let’s just say that I worship and obey the awe-inspiring Lord of Arachnids and will do so until my final breath, but he’s a bit of a whiner.”
“Gotcha.” The Barbarian reflected for a moment. “This has been going on a long time?”
“Some of the acolytes you killed today hadn’t even been born when it started.”
“So Spiderion’s been going hungry for decades?”
“Oh, we’re sure he’s eating something.”
“We’re sure we don’t want to know.”
The Barbarian nodded. “All right. This explains just about everything, except: why do you keep doing the ritual?”
The High Priest looked at the warrior thoughtfully for a moment. “You know much about Gods?”
“I do not. We of the Southern Cold have little commerce with them.”
The old man nodded. “Gods may take physical form; in certain cases, forms far too physical for our comfort. But they are, at core, beings of spirit and mind. All of them. Spiderion enjoys the drama of our rituals; however, She does not require the actual meat for her sustenance.”
“You hard of hearing, boy?”
“I just assumed…” The Barbarian trailed off.
“As an older and wiser head, and one which contains some sort of mind, let me suggest you not make assumptions until you have acquired a certain increase in life experience.” Rognoth swallowed and nodded.
“Here’s the thing: our Goddess feasts on the terror of her victims. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. There are many smaller supernatural entities which do this; how much moreso, then, ought we expect it of a Divine being? I’m quite sure she enjoys the physical ingestion…quite, quite sure,” said the old man, trailing off for a moment. “…but it’s not what she really needs. You’re not the first chowderhead to come charging in here, and also, the majority of our sacrifices aren’t actually of royal blood; there simply aren’t that many Kingdoms in the world, and if there were, we couldn’t afford a blood feud with all of them; we have an army, but not that large an army.”
“Why didn’t I have to fight your army to get in?”
“Why do I care if the victims escape? The life I worry about is my own; I can assure you that if there’d been someone for you to rescue, I’d have been ducking into my preferred hiding spot with extreme haste.”
“What if I’d found you?”
The old man shrugged. “Then it would have been lightning bolts for you, and, if that didn’t work, a new High Priest. It’s happened before.” The Priest paused for a moment to walk over to a huge bin. He opened it. It was about one-quarter full of chain. He noted this with a nod. “Have to get the acolytes to bring up some more restraints from one of the warehouses. I’d say Warehouse…Eight? Perhaps Ten? Perhaps both; haven’t called on either in a while, don’t want the porters getting lazy.” He saw the Barbarian’s look. “We buy it in bulk, of course.”
“…of course,” replied the massive youth.
The High Priest’s voice grew meditative. “You should know this, Hero. Oddly enough, these past decades, my Goddess has grown larger and larger. You see, what the captives do is return home and spread word of the might, the vastness, the unbelievable power and glory of Spiderion.”
“They become converts?”
“No, no, not at all. They simply put their hearts and souls into describing the horror, the deadliness, the unstoppable and mind-bending dreadfulness which is my Dark Queen.”
“But…but…they escape! They kill some of you! In fact, given what you’ve told me, you’re never successful anymore!”
“Oh,” said the High Priest, “as long as they’re creating new fear of the mighty Eight-Legged Devourer, we are more and more victorious every day.”
“But…they could just probably end her! They could just stop. They could just focus on how badly they defeated you!”
“Yeah,” said the old man, taking a long pull on his pipe. “They could, at that.”
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.