Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Proposal at the Edge of the World

For months I planned and waited, until the moment came for the two of us to get in a rental car and drive east, toward a city in the desert and family. We stopped first to spend the longest night of the year with dear friends. She charmed the children, gathering them to her flame like a pied piper, and she never looked more beautiful. I stood outside with the men while they smoked, and under the cold, bright winter moon, I told them my secret. They heartily cheered and clapped me on the back, and sent us off with many well-wishes.

In the mountains, we took refuge from the snow in the Cinnamon Bear Inn, where we opened each other's presents under a bright tree, sipping hot chocolate and warming ourselves in the glow of a merry fire and each other's affection.

Our next road took us through strange and uninhabited lands, through valleys untouched by man, over forests of stone, past lonely brothels and gas stations, and into that jewel of the wastes: Las Vegas. We walked the strip, sampling its delights (but not too deeply) and returned with gifts for friends and family.

The morning saw us back on the road, across the Hoover Damn, and swiftly out of the realm of civilization. My moment grew close now. It was with sweaty palms and a beating heart that I checked us in at the El Tovar Hotel, oldest and grandest of all inns at the Grand Canyon. She gasped like a child opening a present as she saw the grandeur of our suite. We stepped out together onto a balcony larger than my house, to look out at a world cloaked in white. We laughed together at the irony of coming this far to see nothing but the apparent edge of the world.

She dressed, and I dressed. From the bottom of my bag, I pulled a little package, pacing the room and muttering to myself (so I'm told). While she did her makeup, I slipped downstairs to claim our reservation at the most exclusive restaurant in the village. The staff gave me knowing winks and the best seat in the house, between a window and the fireplace. As she entered, one of them whispered to me, "She is lovely." And she was.

There, by the wood fire, I knelt and bared my soul. When she saw the ring, she burst into tears, nodding fiercely. My shaking hands reached for hers and slipped the ring onto it. A faceted Black Opal, glowing with all the colors under the rainbow in its dark depths, to those with the light to see it.

By the end of 2016, I will be a married man. I couldn't have found a better companion than Callie MacDonell to have by my side as we go through this journey we call life... together.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sometimes I have overactive dreams

Night before last, I dreamed that I was a fighter in an army in this fantasy world. Our kingdom was under attack by a massive army of undead. At first, we went into the battle optimistic, certain that the outcome would be in our favor. But after the first few losses, we were no longer singing around the campfire at night.

We held our own, for a time, but then tragedy struck. In one disastrous battle, the spine of our army was broken. Nearly the entire army was wiped out, and those units which survived were separated from each other. My unit escaped with our lives, but as far as we knew, we were the next best thing to the last ones alive.

So it fell to us to hold the pass when the Undead army began to move to the heart of our kingdom, a great stone monolith that was our place of power. We fought with all the cleverness, courage and tactics we could muster. We fought, and we died. Soon it was just a few of us left. Then just me. And then I was injured, and could fight no more.

I was forced to watch, helpless, as the great hosts of the undead marched past. Only then, did I realize how hopeless our defense had been from the beginning. We had never stood a chance against their numbers and might.

But I refused to give up. Once the land was clear, I forced myself up, bandaged my wounds, and followed the skeletal host.

At the edge of the mountains, I came upon a terrible sight. The undead army had filled our most holy valley. They had taken the monolith, and the Skeleton King himself stepped onto its sacred grounds to perform the ritual that would taint it forever.

But there! One last, shining unit of the King's Knights, flying the banner of Lord Rhygar himself, stood to challenge the Dark King. As I watched, Lord Rhygar's man sounded the charge, his horn a clarion call across the battlefield. My heart sang to hear the music of their warhorns, the tramping of hooves.

And then I saw it... the Skeleton King stepped to the mystic boundary of the Holy Monolith, where ancient magics formed a protective barrier. With a word, he activated those magics, and a shimmering wall of force erupted around him. Absolutely impermeable.

I don't know why the Knights couldn't see it. No more did I understand why I could. But I knew it was there, and I knew how to destroy it--it's existence depended on the ancient sigil at the Skeleton King's feet.

That sigil must be destroyed, or the Knights' charge would break uselessly against the magic barrier, and they would be ground to oblivion by the unnumbered hordes of the undead already gathering behind them.

A strange power came over me. l began to run, faster than I had ever run before, faster than the Knights' horses. I had heard stories, on a time, of my people's Gods themselves stepping in, not to smite our enemies with lightning or the like, but to help individual heroes when they needed it most. Never had I expected such a blessing to fall on me, but I did not question it.

My legs pounded earth with power and agility I had never before known. My wounds did not hurt or slow me down, though I dared not ask what consequence this would have upon them. Slowly, I began to gain on the Knights. I would beat them to the barrier... but what then? I had no magical arts to break through the Skeleton King's dweomer.

Then my eye fell upon it. A sword, tall and mighty, stuck in the earth in its bearer's death throes. It was black and cold, as wide as my torso, longer than my height. Ice shimmered up and down its dark iron lengths. It had been the weapon of a champion, one of the Skeleton King's lieutenants. But that great brute had fallen now, and the weapon was mine.

I swept the sword up in one hand without breaking stride, marveling as my muscles were able to lift this titanic weapon with ease. And I ran. It's dark magics burned my hands with cold, and I ran. The knights approached the moment of their doom, and I ran.

I could see Lord Rhygar's face now, mouth wide in a battle cry, moustaches quivering as his lance lowered into striking position. It would shatter uselessly against the barrier... and his knights would have nothing to strike except the barrier, and him. Each wave of knights would pierce those who came before them, and all would be pinned and destroyed by the undead host coming hard on their heels. With them would die the last of our strength.

Fearing that I would be too late, I took a mighty leap. The Skeleton King saw me at last, his eyes widening. He was focused on maintaining his magical barrier, and helpless to interfere with me. Lord Rhygar saw me too, and checked his charge in amazement.

I raised the dark sword of iron and ice above me as I hurtled through the air. The sword was shrinking now, shifting in my grasp, trying to get away, or at least deny me its power. I wrestled the thing into submission, and held it above my head with both hands.

As the arc of my leap started to take me back down, my eyes locked on the ancient sigil at the Skeleton King's feet, the sigil he used to hold the barrier. That barrier should have been our last, best defense, by rights, but now it was our doom.

Right as I hit the ground, coming to one knee, I slammed the point of the sword into the sigil. A wave of power exploded from that collision, and my alarm went off.

I kept sleeping, refusing to let the Skeleton King win that easily. I pushed on the sword, willing it to overcome. Cracks began to appear in the sigil. I would win, I knew it, but in time? The vanguard of the undead forces were approaching my knights from the rear, and my alarm kept blaring.

I pushed, feeling the Skeleton King's weakness and mounting fear. But I was losing it. The cracks in the sigil, even Lord Rhygar and the Skeleton King himself, they all began to fade.

Callie stirred, and I woke. The dream was gone completely. I was left only with a fading question of whether I had faced impending victory... or complete and utter defeat. Hastily, we dressed to meet our taxi in the snowy New Mexico pre-dawn, which would take us to the airport and home.