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View Full Version : The Centipede's Game, Chapter One



Stephanie Andromeda
June 15th, 2012, 03:39 AM
I've been working on a number of different angles, trying to figure out how to get this first chapter to work, so I'm posting the current incarnation here to see what you think. There's a placeholder partway through because I haven't really developed the Ludlami language yet. But, in any case, the typo-ridden Chapter One:

AS THE sun rose over the rocky hills on the morning with which our story is concerned, its light shone through the thick, melted glass windows of a palmist's hut just outside of the city of Amond. Or perhaps we should say that it was a palmist’s shop. It was a bit large for the former, yet a bit small for the latter. The sign on the outside merely read “Hans Lehrer’s Palmistry”, a simple, but fitting title in simple,but fitting hand-painted letters.
Its front room appeared tidy enough, with the front door on one side, and bench made of some pale gray wood on the other. A bookcase was to the left of the entrance; Hans’s desk was to the right; and a door leading to the back rooms behind the desk. The back rooms were not tidy enough. They were not tidy in any possible permutation of the word.

Stephen Sebastian did not want to dig up all of the belongings that he could have buried there, so he occupied himself with trying to find and pack all of the things he’d hidden in the front,which was difficult enough in and of itself. In regards to these sorts of tasks,Stephen worked as hard as he had to, but not one iota harder. Looking at him,it was clear he took a similar attitude to his half-combed chestnut brown hair;his off-white teeth; his thrown-on clothing; and his terrible posture.

“I still don’t quite understand why you’re leaving.” said Hans, stooping behind his desk and picking up the copy of The Chiromancer’s Handbook that Stephen had left there about a week ago.

Hans was a stout, middle-aged man, his once-smooth olive skin becoming wrinkled, and what little hair he had left fading to gray as his youthful exuberance was fading into a sort of “contented”quality, whatever that was.
“Well, it ain’t that I don’t like bein’ your apprentice…” Stephen said, taking the book from his teacher.

“Go on…”

“I just don’t think I oughta be stuck in this hut.”

“Shack. Call it a shack.”

“Call it whatever,” said the apprentice, stuffing the Handbook into a brown cloth messenger bag “but however much I like you, I still think I should leave.”

“But what will you do next?”

“Go to some other town, I guess.”He shrugged “Maybe travel ‘round the country, earn a livin’ doin’ what you do.”

“So, become a traveling palmist?”

“No,” Stephen smiled “become a travellin’ guy-who-pretends-to-work…person...man.”

“Hey! Pretending to work is a lot harder than it looks. I like to think of it as an art form. But no,seriously, where do you plan to find a job?”

“I dunno, honestly. I mean, unless some mystical, fate-tastic adventure person happens to just, right now, knock on the-”

At this moment came a loud knock at the door. The window’s glass was too malformed to discern any of the facial features of the knocker, all that was obvious was a clearly femalesilhouette. Hans suddenly took on a sort of serious, businesslike, yet nonchalant expression. This was not an improvised expression; he had clearly rehearsed this. He opened the door for the guest, a woman with long, braided dark hair, bronze-tinted skin, and brown eyes, wearing a long, forest-green coat over a modest black dress. In doing so,Hans had completed his share of labor for the day.

“Could you put into my palm a spell?” The woman said to Hans, in an accent that sounded a bit like a mix of all the worst parts of every other accent Stephan had ever heard.

“I’ve got paperwork to look at,”said the master palmist “but my apprentice will be glad to help you.”

“But,” the woman said “your desk is empty.”

“In that case, I’ve got woodwork to look after, but my apprentice will help you.”

Hans gestured to Stephen, who had jerked his spine had been moved into a less hook-like position. “How may I help?”

“You do not very vell listen,are you deaf?” chastised the woman “I-vant-you-to-my-palm-put-a-spell-in.”

“That’s pretty much all we do here. We’re a palmist shack, so-“

“Wigwam!” interrupted Hans“This is a wigwam.”

“But you said earlier to call it a shack.” said Stephen.

“I had a semantic revelation!From here on out, this is a wigwam.”

“Okay. I’m pretty sure you’re makin’ that word up, but okay.” Stephen said to Hans, before turning to the customer “As I was saying, we’re a palmist’s wigwam, so we can prepare a wide variety of spells on people’s hands. You may need to be more specific.”

“Oh! A disappearing spell. I vant a disappearing spell so I can make me disappear.” She punctuated her speech with such violent gesticulation that Stephen worried she’d knock over the bookshelf.

“A true invisibility charm is beyond my expertise, not to mention expensive. I can, however, make a glyph that will allow you to be, for all practical purposes, invisible so long as you keep to the shadows during the day. Someone could still see you in broad daylight,of course, but it’s much cheaper and easier than true invisibility, which is,to be honest, more trouble than it’s worth.”

“So, I still get to disappear?”she asked.

“Yes, but you have to stay in the shade while you do.” said Stephen.

“How much?” she asked.

“Four Flags.” the apprentice said, opening his palm.

“Vill a Ludlami Jewel do? It’s the same thing.” she said, pulling out a copper coin. Because of something boring that happened once, Verolami merchants were required to take Ludlami currency.

“Hans,” he said “pull out an exchange table.”

“I’m busy examining the woodgrain” Hans said “but alright.” He handed Stephen a scroll, on which a nice,illustrated table was printed, showing exactly how much one coin was worth incomparison to another.
After about a minute of examining the chart; getting frustrated; cursing said chart under his breath; concluding that it was made on the assumption that none of the buyers of the aforementioned chart would ever encounter foreign currency; silently callingits makers all sorts of nasty names; and then realizing he was holding it wrong,he checked it against the coin, and had this to say: “Ma’am, you had the wrong exchange rate, I’ll need nine more of those one-Jewel pieces.”

“Oh, I am most apologetic.Forgive me for about silly currencies not vorrying ven I have to consider the fate of-oh, never mind.” she said “How do we exactly do this?”

“Sit down on this bench.”Stephen gestured towards it. She did as he said.

“Are you right or left handed?”he asked.

“I have two hands.” She turned to Hans and cupped her hand as though she where whispering, and then loudlysaid “Find new apprentice. Yours is deaf and is blind!”

“Ma’am, I just need to know which one you use to write. Draw. Throw things. Etc.” he said, whilst keepinghis mind on the thrilling task of not strangling her.

“Oh, I do vith my right.” She said.

“And may I have your name?” he asked, pulling her right hand onto her lap. It was of a rosy pinkish color,with a square palm and long, spindly, spider-like fingers. The head line was long and deep, albeit very straight and rigid, indicating a stubborn, logical bent.This seemed to contradict her vitality line, which indicated a short, careless life. These improbable hands indicated an improbable woman, especially when one looked at her heart line, which was as confusing as all Hell; we could go on for pages about how unreadable it was. But we haven’t so many pages, so we won’t.

“Valery Khruthi!kalai.” she said after slightly too long a pause.

“Crew-thick-all-eye? How would you spell that?” asked Hans, pen in hand, writing down her name.
“No, Khruthi!kalai. With a click.”She spelled it out for him.

“You don’t see too many names with clicks around here.” Stephen said, as he traced over the lines of her palm, getting a feel for how best to work the openings it held into a spell.

Valery giggled. “It’s very common back home in Ludlam.”

“I’d imagine.” said the apprentice. Stephen had heard the Ludlami language spoken a few times before.He couldn’t help but speculate that the speakers must have hurt their mouths pronouncing absolutely anything. In fact, he’d half expected Valery to spit out a little blood when she told Hans her last name.

The boy turned his focus towards his work. He figured the fingers would have enough power in them that he wouldn’t have to draw much from the palm itself. Her head line, he figured,would be veritably leaking fate juice,but he’d have to be careful not to impede on the lifeline, and he could probably ignore the negligible line of marriage, bringing him to…

And so went his train of thought. He spent some time figuring out exactly what he’d be doing, far more time than he’d actually spend doing it. This was typical of procedures in applied palmistry.

After mapping out her palm and figuring out how he would make the necessary glyph, he reached for the bottle of oil. He rubbed it on his hands, and then started to work weaving the threads of potential, of all possible destinies, to produce an effect that would otherwise be impossible. He began to single mindedly work this woman’s myriad potential into actuality, carefully tying a knot in the threads of fate that,when undone, would bypass the conventional rules of the universe.

And she couldn’t be bothered to keep her hand still long enough for him to actually do anything. When one gets interrupted in the, albeit routine, process of rewriting the fabric of the universe, one tends to get rather annoyed. “Ma’am, please try to keep your hand still.” said Stephen.

Stephen continued his work, and again Valery clenched her fingers at a critical moment. “Valery, stop twitching.” he said.

But her hand twisted and turned as if she was trying to irritate him. “Stop that!” he said.

“It tickles.” She replied, laughing.

About a million witty, biting responses to that statement flooded Stephen’s head. He chose none of them.

Instead, with gritted teeth, he said “Ma’am, please try to cooperate. I’m almost finished.”

“I am sorry.” She said.

“No, it’s alright,” lied Stephen“now, how would you like to activate the spell? It has to be something with your hand, like a gesture, a flick, a wave, something along those lines.”

“How about ven I snap it turns on?”

“I don’t think that’s the best idea,” said the apprentice “you might snap and activate the spell when you don’t mean to. Perhaps I could make the key gesture something like a ring finger snap. You know, like snapping except you use your ring finger in place of your middle.”

“Sure. That problem with snapping should have been thought of by me. You see, in Ludlam, ve do not like you have magic-” Stephen realized this wasn’t her fault, and that he shouldn’t begetting hung up on this, but her syntax was getting a bit grating.

He made the last mark, drawing a horseshoe shape to connect her ring finger with her thumb. “Aaaaand done! Have you ever had any kind of palmistry done before?”

“No, like I said, in Ludlam, your kind of magic is illegal. Our only magic comes from the spirits and the Num Movoi. Their prophecies are far more accurate than those a palmist,” She almost spat the word, “could ever make.”

“Okay,” said the Hans. “I suppose the two arts each have their strengths and weaknesses.”

“Chiromancy has more veaknesses than strengths. You try to control the vorld. You try to move fate to your vill,vile the vill of the spirits, ve merely channel! Ve are oath-bound to serve ancestors, vereas you vill sell your magic for a profit!”

“Calm down. You’re coming off, to me,at least, I’m not sure about my student, like you’re attacking my profession.”

“You’re polluting the world. You-“

“May I remind you-“

“You can’t even throw a dice nowadays vithoutfinding two dice on your table, only for vone to disappear ven you touch it. Chance pollution is turning this vorld to-“

“May I remind you that you bought a spell from here?”

“In the service of the Movoi, I did.”

“But you did.”

“You accept money from anyone. I bet half the money you accept is cursed.”

“I’m not sure if we have time to hear about your superstitions,” Hans said, and then paused, “Stephen, check if wehave time to hear about her superstitions.”

As the boy stepped out of the doorway, and into the crisp, cool morning breeze that carried the scent from anearby grove of fir trees. He was relieved not to be in the same room as that Valery woman. He listened in case anyone was coming, but besides the whistle of the wind and the very faint, distant echoes of Amond’s bustling noise, he heard nothing.

Stalling before he went back inside, he stopped to enjoy the view. Though the plateau immediately outside of the hut was featureless save for some dead grass, the view just beyond was breathtaking. The purple hues of trees and houses from distance peppered the wide green berth, and made Stephen wish he could be in every spot he could seeat once. Though Stephen had seen this view probably a thousand times, it still amazed him, not because the view was amazing, but because Stephen was easily amazed.

He likely would have admired this for a lot more time, but he had forgotten to put on a coat, so he had to step back inside stepped back inside. “No one’s coming.” he said, but Hans seemed already to be listening intently to Valery.

“It’s not quackery.” She said.“And I can prove it.”

“How?” he said, in a tone that was not accusing, but curious.

“I’ll close my eyes,” she said,sitting down. “And the Movoi vill tell me your story.”

Stephen went back to packing up his stuff and getting ready to leave. While doing so, he watched Hans and Valery’s conversation intently.

“I can tell that you from someone close to you are falling avay. There’s going to be a great change inyour life soon, almost as if you are closing a chapter in your existence. You often feel very lonely, don’t you?”
Hans nodded slightly, though there was no way Valery could have seen it.

“You have your apprentice, but you’ll always be lonely. It really hasn’t been the same since- the Movoi’s vispers are saying Bad`aar- I think. Ludlami for, loosely, father, or father figure. Some kind of demon- no- definitely a lesser Vomoi, vich is a dark Movoi,spoke the vords of a fatal curse and pointed at his torso. It cursed him, and he died. He vas far more important than you, or he, realized.” She paused“Sorry, go ahead and continue to believe vatever ‘rational’ excuse the demon has planted.”

Stephen shuddered. Hans’s adoptive father had died of a heart attack. No demons, no curses, just a perfectly mundane heart attack. That was all.

“I’m sure,” she continued “that your Bad`aar vould be proud. He always taught you to seek the truth but no, go ahead and believe a lie. Doesn’t bother me.”

She began to shake, and spout strange, throaty words. “NOTE: PUT IN A COUPLE OF LUDLAMI WORDS WHEN LANGUAGEHAS BEEN DEVELOPED.” She lost balance, propping her body up against the bench.Her eyes twitched without fully opening, her arms writhed frantically. Her face twisted as she started to slur the Ludlami she spoke. She seemed to have to force her lips to speak coherently.

“The funny part is that you don’t know how much your story into fate ties.” Her syntax positively unnerved Stephen. “You in the fate of the world a pivotal piece are. You cursed ones are.”

“Wait,” said Stephen, lookingup from the task of trying to fit a hat into his overstuffed bag “We’re cursed?”

“Yes. The boy vith a lack of passion and inattention has been cursed. He quick to run avay is. Easily distracted, too. And forgetful.”

“The man money problems has.All related to the curse.”

“What curse?” asked Hans.

Valery regained her composure. “If I tell you, it’s my job to break it. I’ve proven my point, now let me leave.”She started for the door, but before she could reach it, she collapsed onto the floor, and began writhing again, screaming more phrases Hans and Stephen could never hope to understand.

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” She said“for the Movoi command it.”

“There are a lot of shady people in the world. Con men and crooks, you understand that, right?”

Hans nodded.

“You cater to them. You put spells in theirpalms. You give them the power of magic.”

“Yes. That’s my job.”

“But you do it for people who you legally should turn away, don’t you? You’ve done it.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Hans gestured for her to say what she was going to say.

“You just care about money,don’t you?”

“Get on with it, will ya?” said the boy.

“I’m getting there. Anyvay,thieves and liars often deal in things that are stolen. And things that are stolen are often cursed. They’ve cursed you.

“Some families’ Movoi,” she continued “are charged with protecting their gold. And when that gold is stolen, they are corrupted by the presence of thievery. They become Vomoi. First it found its vay to him, your… father figure. And then to you. And now, I am mixed up in this.”

“How?” asked Hans.

“Only destroying the Vomoi can break the curse. Only destroying the gold can destroy the Vomoi. And only a Scion of House Kruthi!kalai can destroy the gold. Vell? Anyvone else here an Oath-bound scion of House Kruthi!kalai? Let’s have a show of hands, shall ve?” She raised her hand. “Anyvone else? I didn’t think so. It’s just me. It’s alvays just me. I have to take all of that gold to be destroyed. And I doubt you’ll just let me at it either.”

“Have it.”

“Vut?”

“Take the cursed stuff away from me, I don’t want it.” He showed her to the wooden chest where they kept the money, and opened it, revealing all of his accumulated wealth of the last few years.

“ But this is cursed.” She said taking a handful of gold pieces “And these.” She said, taking a couple pieces of foreign money. “And this.” She continued to dig through the chest, meticulously picking out specific coins, silver and copper and gold, even taking one platinum twenty flag piece “ Aren’t you going to cling to your evil money? Surely you’re not just going to let me leave vith it.”

“Look, I don’t know how you did it, but after the things you told me about myself, I’m not going to resist. Go on your quest. Best of luck to you. I just want to be left out of this.”

“Well, then thank you, dear.” she said in a Nordamshire accent, an accent much more familiar to Stephen. And then look came over the master palmist’s face. An “I-just-realized-I-fell-for-superstition-I-didn’t-even-know-I-had-time-for”look. And, without so much as a goodbye,she just walked right out the door with Hans’s money.

“Did I just get conned?” Hans asked his apprentice, who was almost finished collecting all of his useless keepsakes at the moment.

“Yeah. I’d say you did.”

“Who was she anyway?”

“Dunno. Guess I’m gonna find out.” He said, bolting out the door.

He saw her figure, a few yards away in a westward direction. He ran after her, eventually catching up to her near a patch of pine trees just a bit downhill. “You!”

The trickster turned around,and her face took on an expression of condescending amusement. “Me.” she said playfully.

“You just pretended to be from Ludlam, and then just stole thirty-two Flags.”

“You are so very observant; unfortunately, I’ve got better things to do than continue fascinating discussion.” said Valery.

“No, wait, hold on, who are you?”

“You forgot your coat again.Look, just go back and try to earn that money again. Attempting to get me caught would be a much greater waste of your, and my, time.”

At this moment Stephen noticed the chill wind though the thin fabric of his shirt.

“No.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“No.”

“One word sentences, is that a thing now?”

“Maybe.”

“I like you.”

“Good. Enough to tell me who you are?”

“Not Valery.”

“Who are you? We both know you’re a lyin’ thief, so are you a successful, classy, first rate thief or one of those ‘penniless, tryin’ to feed a family’ types?”

“Both.”

“How can you be both?”

“I con those who have things,”Not Valery explained, as if to a small child “into giving me the things that they have. But I don’t take those things. I give them to people who don’t have those sorts of things. I don’t keep anything, so I’m still penniless, but I also succeed at what I try to do, which is to make things more fair than they otherwise would be.”

“So… who are you?”

“Doesn’t matter. You couldn’t possibly tell any authority what I did, and leave out the bit where I have you admit to illegal business dealings.” she said with a smile.

“What?”

“Well, whatever else could lead you to believe your money was cursed? Are you really going to tell me now that you only cater to honest customers?”

“That’s, I mean, there’s no law that-"

“But it would be due cause for someone to go through your sales records,search your history, and, well, I’d imagine that would speak for itself.Remember the marmalade incident?”

“How do you know about that? I don’t even know who you are.”

“You could ask.”

Stephen growled. “Who the hell are you?

“Why, I’m a giver who steals, and a thief who provides, as Providence sees fit, for the downtrodden, hungry, and poor. You could call me a philanthropic fraud, a giving grifter, the kindest kind of conman or kind of a self-deluded scumbag. I’m a slimy, scheming, snakelike saint; I’m the justice the law will never bring and I’m the fear that justice strikes into your heart. I am Amelia Logan,” She bowed slightly “and this is a confidence game."

She snapped her ring finger against her thumb, and vanished.

TheStory
June 15th, 2012, 04:36 AM
I actually really enjoyed this. I was amused and intrigued by the characters and situation. I would love to know more and experience more of the world.
Not much I can comment on the writing so far except that it really needs to be broken up and edited so its easier to read through.
I'll certainly read more when you update.

Stephanie Andromeda
June 15th, 2012, 04:57 AM
Yeah, there was a bit of a glitch when copying and pasting from Word. I just manually inserted spaces where there should be spaces, though I may have missed a couple, so it should be a bit easier to read.

Skodt
June 15th, 2012, 05:26 AM
Can you space it so it's not a big block fo text?

Stephanie Andromeda
June 15th, 2012, 05:53 AM
Bam! Line breaks!