Onion Soup for the Adventurer's Soul
A couple of weeks ago, Tyry wanted to write a 4500-word chronicle that had nothing to do with the stories in our more recent chronicles/TSes. By doing this, February 2015 would break the record for "most chronicle-words in a month," and also it could be one last entry for the Valentine's Day challenge. I thought it sounded fun and told Tyry I would help him, but then I flaked out, barely contributing anything (and the things I contributed only made the story weird and creepy). Tyry and Kat decided the story stunk, so Tyry gave up on it and told me I could do what I wanted with it.
I'm too late to help with breaking the monthly record (though Kat did post some Sail revisions, did we break the record?) or to enter the Valentine's challenge, and I didn't quite reach the word count goal either (By my count, it's 4208 words. Tyry wrote 2039 of them); but I think it's really sad to not post a story just because it's not very good. I mean, if everyone followed those rules, most of our old TSes and chronicles wouldn't be here to entertain us, years later : __( So, I cut out the bits I originally wrote for this story, re-arranged it a little, and tried to finish it off.
The snow was blinding. The man held his arm in front of his face, but it did little to shield his vision from the hail of frozen ice. Clumps of it clung to his plate armor, freezing into clusters of ice. He wasn’t quite sure what he had expected to find, pursing an old rumor, but a sudden blizzard wasn’t it.
Slayer began to regret bringing his plate mail along with him, as the extra weight made each step more difficult in the knee-high snowdrifts covering the path. Yet, imbued in the metal was his magic, and alone out here, magic could save his life. If only he had brought along that fire mage from the tavern, but the mage had a bad habit of disappearing at inopportune times.
He tried to peer out again into the whitewashed world around him, looking for any kind of shelter, but the pass here was featureless, save for some large cliffs further up the mountain. He was alone, surrounded by sheets of white flurries and a mysterious – yes, it looked like a light.
Loathe to leave the path, but in dire need of a warm fire and a cup of hot chocolate, Slayer fought his way across the deepening snowfield towards the light. Each step came slower than the last as his strength waned.
Realizing he wasn’t going to make it before he collapsed, he briefly considered invoking the spell in his armor. But doing that might deplete the mana reserves stored in the metal, and it took an awfully long time to recharge, one of the reasons he almost never used it. Besides, it made for a better story when one used their secret magic reserves to defeat dragons. Nobody wants to hear about the spell that cleared snow off the sidewalk.
It was only after he found himself lying face-first in the wet powder did he admit it would have been a good idea to use his magic, but now it was too late. His limbs were numb from the cold and he couldn’t even lift his head. This would be the last time he listened to old fools at the tavern who had had too much to drink. He closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
The last thing he remembered was a woman’s voice. "My my, what do we have here?"
And then he passed out.
Slayer woke to a soft light. Blinking, trying to adjust to the brightness, he turned on his side and found to his surprise he was in a warm, cozy bed. Smooth blankets covered him, their colors faded, but the embroidered patterns still visible.
Hearing footsteps, Slayer looked up to find a woman staring down at him. Her hair hung loose but didn’t quite reach her shoulders – an unusual style. Mixed in with the brown strands were flecks of gray.
"Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had to share my bed," the woman said, a tender smile on her face. "My name is Marlea."
"I’m um...Slayer," Slayer said, hoping that didn’t sound too threatening. He supposed at times like these it would be handy to have multiple code-names to fling around, like that eccentric Fox fellow. Maybe he should have introduced himself as Hector instead, unless she knew a Hector. After all, he didn’t want her to think he was after her money.
"Well Slayer," Marlea said, testing the sound of his name. "Welcome to my humble abode."
Slayer took his first look around and saw he was in a small cabin. A quilting stand stood near the bed, covered with layers upon layers of fabric. In the center of the room, a fire warmed the hearth. A polished wooden table with two chairs occupied one corner near the door. On the opposite wall was a more comfortable-looking cushioned chair. A small end table accompanied it, currently holding a large, bound book, opened to some page near the middle. And the windows…
Slayer sat up with a gasp. The snow drifts had nearly covered the windows. It must have snowed at least five feet!
"Oh, that?" Marlea waved dismissively. "It does that every year. In fact, I’ve come to depend on it." She peered down at Slayer, studying him. "You see, this is my winter vacation home. When the blizzards come, the pass gets blocked and my boss can’t send me messages for a while. I like to hole up here and relax."
"I see," Slayer said, pretending to listen. "How long will it last?"
"Oh, I’d say about a week."
If he wasn’t distracted, he would have noticed the gleam in Marlea’s eyes, but as it was, he had just discovered he was dressed only in his woolen undergarments. "Where are my...um...clothes?"
"I hung your suit of armor by the fire to let it dry. If you’re not careful, it’ll shrink on you!" Marlea paused and then gave a start. "Oh my, where are my manners? Would you like some tea?"
"Uh, no thanks. How did you get me in here?" Slayer asked, wondering if she was significantly stronger than she looked.
"Magic," said Marlea simply.
"You're a magess?" Slayer asked. "I'm a mage too! Are you a Freemage or a Master?"
Marlea opened her mouth and stared at Slayer for a second. "You could say I'm a Master," she said finally. "What about you? Are you a member of the "LandKing" serving, Tyrant defying Pnyx mage group?"
Not noticing Marlea's tone of contempt, Slayer answered, "no, not exactly. Magic is just helpful for my career."
"Oh?" asked Marlea. "What do you do for a living?"
Slayer thought for a moment. Beating up ruffians and stealing their stuff didn’t sound very heroic, even if it was kind of noble. Nor did researching old ruins so he could steal precious artifacts, even if it was kind of practical. But maybe it was better to be honest. "I...um, slay things. You know." He shrugged.
"I bet a man like you could ‘slay’ any woman he wanted!" she chuckled. He thought she might have winked at him, but that was probably just the candles flickering.
"No, uh-" He coughed to cover his embarrassment. "I’m actually an explorer. I research old rumors and look for mythical artifacts."
"Oh, an archaeologist?" She leaned forward. Her sultry demeanor vanished and her eyes shown with genuine interest. Did he notice before that she had blue eyes?
"Yeah, I’ve visited a few places already. An undine stronghold, the ruins of Tavara."
"I must say I’m impressed. What brings you out here this time?"
"Ah, well, I’m not sure it actually exists yet. It could just be a rumor, but I thought there might be an old research station around here?" He thought about telling her of the long-lost sorcery tower hidden deep in the mountains, but decided against it. She probably wouldn’t believe him anyway. "Uh, so what do you do?"
She pursed her lips. "Would you believe me if I told you I ran a cult of reclusive mages that seeks to topple our upstart rivals and restore the land to its former glory?"
"That does sound a little far-fetched," Slayer said, knowing she meant it as a rhetorical question.
"Of course it does." Marlea chuckled. "I supervise the research and development for my employer’s lab."
"What do you research?"
"Yes, I mean, what kind of magic?"
"This and that. You know." Marlea grinned.
Slayer felt a bit of warmth rise to his face. "But all the way out here? It must be hard to find reagents."
"That’s why I make most of the things around here myself." She gestured towards the sewing station. "It’s such a pain to find good delivery service to the mountains."
"I can see why," Slayer said, pointing his thumb towards the snow-covered windows.
"It’s not all that bad," Marlea said, setting her glass on the table and sliding into the chair next to the bed. "Nobody is out here to disturb us."
"That's true!" Slayer brightened. "No one jumping out at you so that you accidentally kill them."
Marlea stared at Slayer for a moment. "Indeed... Is that a common occurrence?"
"Oh, no!" Slayer reassured her. "Maybe once a week, twice a week, tops."
"Well, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that."
"Plus, there's no drunkards to burn down your house, or spill bear on the floor," Slayer added.
"Don't be silly!"
"It's true! I've lost count of how many times the Tavern where I live has been burned down."
"No, not that," said Marlea. "The spilled bear!"
"Oh, that's true too! No one knows how the bear got into the Tavern, but it was very difficult to get it back out."
Marlea laughed, and Slayer joined in. "So, you live in a Tavern?" Marlea asked in a sympathetic voice, after she had finished laughing.
"Only when I'm not off on an adventure," said Slayer. "It's a nice place, but sometimes you can get a headache from it constantly collapsing on you."
"That sounds like a lonely life..." commented Marlea.
"You're talking to me about lonely?" Slayer raised an eyebrow and glanced at the wall of snow out the window.
"I do appreciate the company," said Marlea, looking at him from the corner of her eye and smiling.
"So what do you usually do all week during a blizzard?" Slayer asked.
"I catch up on my quilting!" she said in excitement. "My niece is getting married, so I'm making her a nice quilt for a wedding present. Do you want to see it?"
I'd rather drown in a giant pit of acid , thought Slayer to himself. But, Marlea had saved his life. He felt obligated to be polite to her. "Sure."
Marlea grabbed her quilting frame and dragged it over to the bed. She held up the quilt inside it the best she could. "My niece and her fiancé chose blue and green for the quilt colours," she explained. "An odd combination, right? Not really complementary. So I went with a "land and sea" motif."
"It's pretty," said Slayer. (That was all he could think of to say about it.)
Slayer tuned out while Marlea droned on about all the details of the quilt. Once he got his armor back, he could simply cast Directed Nexus, but he found himself reluctant to do so. It would be such a bother to have to explain to Alaric’s guards again why he showed up in the middle of the night, especially after the last “incident” (which technically wasn’t even his fault!).
Dealing with the LandKing Hall night shift, or listening to Marlea talk about quilts for a week? Tough decision.
After what seemed like hours, Marlea finally quit talking about the quilt. "Oh my, look at the time!" she said. "I'd better get supper started. Is soup okay?"
"Soup sounds great," said Slayer, relieved that Marlea would leave him alone for a while.
"Make yourself at home!" said Marlea as she put away her quilt, and started getting out soup ingredients.
Slayer slipped out of bed and went over to his armor, but it was still damp. Disappointed, he took one of the blankets off of the bed and wrapped it around his shoulders. What would he do here all week? He wandered over to her bookshelf and ran his thumb over the titles in the bookshelf, curious if she had any good reads.
"Feel free to read any of those you want," Marlea told him. She was in the kitchenette, chopping vegetables.
There were several books about the third Tyrant and more about magic. There were also some about cooking, quilting, and crafting. On the bottom shelf stood fifteen volumes about some kind of treasure hunt that sounded enticing, but after skimming through a few pages, Slayer found himself hopelessly lost and confused. Nothing else seemed interesting enough to last a week, while waiting out the blizzard.
"Let's see," babbled Marlea. "How many onions do we need? There's two of us, so we probably need three in the soup, and two ones to serve raw on the side..."
Slayer glanced over at her. The onions were each about the size of his fist. "You really like onions, don't you?" he observed.
"Oh yes, of course!" said Marlea. "Slicing them up always makes me so happy. Sometimes I even have to step back because I can’t see through all the tears of joy. Will it be distasteful for you if I put in this many onions?"
"Uh, it does sound like a lot..." Slayer mumbled.
"All right, all right," Marlea consented. "I guess we could have only two and a half onions cooked into the soup. I'll still cut two for the side."
Slayer wandered over to watch. He picked up one of the onions and inspected it. “You must really like the taste of these things.”
“What? No, I hate it!” Marlea stared at him with an expression of horror.
“Because they remind me of what’s important.” Marlea took the onion from Slayer and held it in front of his face. “Love.”
“Yes. Love.” She set the onion down and paused to study him. “Do you know what love is?” she asked quietly.
Slayer thought for a moment. “Well, someone once told me that it’s when someone is the first thing you think about-”
“That’s preposterous!” Marlea cut him off. “Love is like an onion!” She picked up the onion and waved it at him. “People are like onions.”
“I…” Slayer stared at her in befuddlement.
“When you first meet someone, you don’t reveal all of your deep, dark secrets. Do you?”
Slayer shook his head.
“Correct. You show off your outer shell.” She dug her thumbs into the onion and peeled off the outer layer. “But once you begin to know them better, begin to trust them more, you shed that false layer for something more true to yourself.”
“I see. So showing someone what is underneath all of your layers – the very core of your soul – is love?”
“So love is an onion because they both have layers. How about a cake then? Cakes have layers too!” Slayer suggested, trying to make conversation.
“Nonsense! You can’t turn a cake into soup!” Marlea tossed the onion into the pot, making a loud splash.
“Uh Marlena, weren’t you going to cut that first?” Slayer pointed at the knife in her other hand.
Marlea turned and looked at the onion floating in the soup. “Oh my! I hope you don’t mind chunky soup,” she said, her face reddening.
For a moment, Slayer watched her chop the next onion. He had never revealed many of his secrets to anyone, and suddenly he felt sorrowful about that.
Slayer woke the next morning and found himself in a warm, pleasant bed. Yawning, he stretched and reluctantly extracted himself.
A quick glance around the room revealed Marlea was already up. She stood in front of the bookcase, making slow swishing movements over the leather covers with a feather duster. Seeing he was awake, she beckoned him over.
“Look!” she whispered and pointed at one of the shelves. Three dust bunnies rested peacefully in the corner. It took a moment before Slayer realized the dust bunnies were alive.
“Aren’t they adorable,” Marlea cooed.
“How did you do that?” Slayer whispered.
“I’ll teach you later, now let’s let them sleep.” She tugged on his hand, leading him away. "Your armor is dry."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Slayer, and hasted to don his armor. It was warm and cozy from the fire.
"I heated up some leftover soup for breakfast," commented Marlea.
"Oh, good..." lied Slayer.
"There was quite a bit leftover," Marlea continued. "There might be enough left to last us the entire blizzard!"
Looking at the large pot of soup, Slayer had to agree. And he had to escape. It would be unfortunate to waste the mana, but he really should be going. If only he could figure out some way to distract her long enough. He glanced at the windows again, seeing the snow piled up outside, glowing dimly from the daylight.
"Let me borrow a few of your tea leaves," Slayer said, scooping a hand into the container and pulling out six green leaves. He walked over to the door, Marlea watching every step curiously. Opening it, he dug his hand into the wall of cold snow and pulled out a fistful. Then a second, and a third. He took each ball of snow and smoothed it into an egg shape, rounding off the edges, filling out the sides. He set the three snow eggs on the table and shut the door. A pair of leaves and a pair of olives for each, and three snow bunnies stared back at him.
"Aww, they're so adorable!" Marlea set down the soup spoon and walked over to inspect them.
Quickly now! While her back was turned! Slayer began to incant the magic ritual that every mage knew: Directed Nexus. He looked apologetically at Marlea, who still hadn't noticed. She had saved his life. And when she hunched over the table like that, poking gently at the cute snow bunnies, a delightful charming smile on her face, she looked kind of attractive.
Slayer paused mid-spell. Would a week make much of a difference? The tower – if it existed – wasn't going to grow legs and wander off. But he might not be able to find his way back to this cabin again.
Marlea looked up and saw him standing next to her. His spell forgotten.
"So, how about some onion soup?" Slayer asked.
When it came time for lunch and Slayer was faced with yet another serving of chunky onion soup, he was only a little bit tempted to cast Directed Nexus. He had spent the morning playing with the delightful dust bunnies while Marlea worked on her quilt. Slayer had tried to persuade her to teach him how to bring life to dust bunnies, but she dodged his questions, saying it was very complicated. Maybe once he got to know her better, he could peel away enough layers to learn about her mysterious art of magic.
Slayer looked at the window as he ate with Marlea. He could see a few rays of sunlight through the very top of the window.
"The snow is melting," he commented.
Marlea nodded sadly. "It looks like my vacation will be cut short this year. I hope I can finish the quilt in time." She wolfed down her soup and went back to the quilt.
"You don't have any magic to speed up the process?"
"I wouldn't use it if I did," said Marlea. "That would spoil the fun. Besides, I couldn't say every stitch was made with love if it was just done by magic."
Slayer rolled his eyes. Every stitch made with love, how sickeningly sappy. This lady needs more excitement in her life. Although... it is sweet how much she loves her niece...
She'd be hard-pressed to finish that quilt before the snow melted. Feeling sorry for her, Slayer decided to help her out by washing the lunch dishes.
"Oh, you don't have to do that," said Marlea when she realized what he was doing.
"It's the least I can do," said Slayer humbly.
"No, I mean, I have a spell for that," said Marlea. Then she murmured something, and her sponge wiggled out of Slayers hand and began washing his bowl of its own accord.
"So that , you have a spell for."
Marlea shrugged. "No one's ever scrubbed dishes in love."
"But that's what I was trying-" Slayer cut himself off, blushing.
"Huh?" asked Marlea, oblivious.
"Do you have any nines?" Slayer asked.
"Go fish," said Marlea.
Slayer drew a card from the deck. "'Draw Four'? What am I supposed to do with this?"
Marlea giggled. "I guess you have to draw four more."
"Remind me again why we're using Uno cards to play Go Fish?" grumbled Slayer.
"Because face cards are evil," said Marlea patiently.
"And Uno cards... aren't."
"Of course not, why would Uno cards be evil?"
"Why would face cards?"
Marlea sighed. "Do you know what cards are in a deck of face cards?"
"Yeah..." said Slayer. "The four suits are spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds, and each of the four suits contains a one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, guard, cook, and king. Some decks also have two "fool" cards, which don't have any suit."
"And have you ever noticed whose likeness is printed on the "king" cards?"
"Alaric's, of course."
Marlea nodded smugly. Slayer was still confused. "So... you don't approve of printing Alaric's likeness on playing cards?"
"Exactly!" agreed Marlea.
Slayer shrugged. Maybe she thought Alaric's likeness was too sacred to produce cheaply. "Your turn," he reminded her.
"Do you have any "Skip"s?"
Besides Uno, Marlea didn't own very many games. Slayer saw in her game cabinet, Third Tyrant Trivia , and Risk, the game of global domination. But it didn't matter, because Marlea decided she'd "wasted enough time" and went back to working on her quilt.
Slayer settled down to play with the dust bunnies.
"It's so nice to be able to relax and quilt," commented Marlea. "It's a shame I'll probably have to go back to work tomorrow."
"Indeed," said Slayer. He was excited to go back to the Tavern and recruit a group of people to come exploring with him, but he also felt a pang of hesitation. He tried to avoid thinking about why.
"What do you do when you're not out exploring and "slaying"?" asked Marlea.
"Uhhh..." What did he do when he wasn't on an adventure? "I hang out in the Tavern..."
"Well, sometimes I read a book or study magic. Sometimes I take a nap. And sometimes I stare at the wall."
"Oh," said Marlea quietly.
"I also carry around big heavy locks so that I can lock up topics anytime someone mentions Digimon."
"But, don't you have any hobbies?" asked Marlea.
Slayer considered. "I publish a fiction magazine, which requires a lot of editing."
"That sounds nice."
"Do you have any hobbies besides quilting?" asked Slayer.
"Why would I need another hobby?" asked Marlea. "There's always plenty of quilts to make!"
"Don't you get bored of it?"
"Oh, dreadfully!" agreed Marlea. "But I'm sure it's less boring than staring at the Tavern wall. Maybe you could tell me a story to entertain me while I quilt?"
Slayer smiled, wondering which story to tell her. Should her tell her about the undine stronghold? Or the journey through the Void, attempting to find Thera? Or the time he cloned himself, and his clone tried to take over the world? Suddenly he thought of another story.
"I'll tell you the story of how I found a powerful, mysterious, and ultimately evil crystal," said Slayer.
Marlea looked at him with wide eyes. "That sounds very interesting! Go on."
Slayer had never told anyone this story before, but for some reason he wanted to tell Marlea. He made himself comfortable, and told her the story.
For the rest of that evening, and the next morning, Slayer told Marlea stories of adventure, and Marlea provided astonished reactions to the stories while she quilted. It was great fun, and a disappointment when, around midday, the snow became shallow enough to walk through.
"I guess I should go back to work," said Marlea.
"And I should go back to my friends," said Slayer.
"You could come with me."
"Come to my lab with me," said Marlea. "My employer will hire you, if you agree to the contract. You'll learn the most amazing things. I'll teach you how to breathe life into dust bunnies."
Slayer's mouth fell opened as he stared at Marlea. A regular job? He'd love to learn her magic, but what about his adventures?
Marlea turned away from him. "I see."
That was it then, time to go. Slayer went to the door. "See ya, Marlea," he said, opening the door.
As soon as he opened the door, twenty harpies swarmed in and began terrorizing the cabin, humming with magic.
Marlea shrieked in alarm. "Slay them! Quickly! Use my rolling pin!"
"Your rolling pin?" asked Slayer, staring flatly a Marlea. "That's not going to do any damage to a harpy."
Marlea rolled her eyes in frustration, ran past Slayer, grabbed her rolling pin, and whacked the nearest harpy with it. The harpy died quickly, and evaporated.
Slayer blinked in surprise, but drew his sword and managed to kill a few harpies before Marlea got the rest with her rolling pin.
"It's a magic rolling pin," Marlea explained, once the harpies were taken care of. "I have arthritis."
"Are you sure you won't stay?" asked Marlea.
"I have this expedition to lead..."
"Right," said Marlea gloomily. "Goodbye, then."
Slayer was most of the way back to the Tavern when he realized that he'd forgotten to ask Marlea for her number. He'd be unlikely to ever find her cabin again.
No face cards? Wouldn't that make it hard to play Solitaire?
I'm sure one could play Solitaire with Uno or Skip-Bo cards, if one was inclined.
I suppose, although that might affect game length and such.
You mean because you'd have to make a regular 52-card deck before playing?
No, because you'd have more than 52 cards. I would think that would prolong game time somewhat.