Periodically Updated Webtronically Enabled Personalized E-Diary : An attempt at humour, every week.
CHAPTER 1THE PANDA IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORDThe gypsy bandits sharpened their blades as they watched their victims below. It was a ragtag group, but as far as gypsy bandits go, that was pretty standard. Barkle Throp, their leader, absently rubbed a gold tooth with his good nail. "I can't believe travellers still try and travel this route without so much as an armed escort. At the very least they could travel with the cowering apprehension of attack. Look at those two. So relaxed, enjoying the day. It's a professional affront is what it is." Barkle spat. Mangor, his right hand bandit, attempted to assure his fearless leader, "I'm sure they are only putting on a brave face. Granted, from here, they could either be a large wood shipping container bound for the Ocean Farthing, or two bears in hibernation." Mangor thought some more, "From this distance, they could be anything, really. But my bandit intuition tells me that they are really cowering below that thin veneer of lacksadaisacal bravery." Mangor clanged with certainty (Mangor's clang was most people's nods, he liked his armour (unfortunately he liked his armor 2 sizes too big, he felt safer in it)). "I suppose. You do have a good eye for that sort of thing." said Barkle. "I do, I do, and I'm not just cowtowing to you in order to avoid any possible violent retribution. They really do look to be ill at ease." The rest of the bandits murmered in agreement. They only wanted to get with the waylaying already. It wasn't that they particularly savoured banditry. But fate had given them a gift for swordplay, the earlobes for gold earrings and the style to pull off red and black silk trousers. From the top of the Valley Rushing, Barkle gave his victims one last skeptical glare. The Valley Rushing ran all through the Land of Ga. It was full of thick waving grass and curious, perfectly rounded hills. A constant rushing breeze blew through the Valley. But during spring, the rushing became a torrent, and few things survived its deluge. The odd thing about the Rushing Wind was that it also pushed the curious hills, ever so slowly. Not so much as to be a danger, but enough to make any sort of real estate investment a tricky proposal at best. It was on one of these curious hills that Steve and Patrick stopped for a breather. "How much farther?" Steve flopped into a lying position, thumping the hill. Patrick had his bespectacled attention focused on a golden contraption. He twisted some knobs, adjusted some valves, and looked mildly alarmed at a whistle of escaping steam. Luckily for Patrick, he had a distinct advantage with looking mildly alarmed*. But the alarm didn't phase him. Nor did it move his fuzzy explosion of a beard, furry brown hat or leather overalls one mote. He only scratched his beard absently. "Hmmm?" "How much further to Quarin?" "Much, much further. To tell you the truth, I'm slightly lost. I'm hoping a passing caravan will get us back on track. There are many heading to The Faire this time of year," said Patrick. A low rumbling began up the Valley. So low that its first sign was the slightest quiver of Steve's fur. Before they were aware of the sensation, the rumbling became a stumbling, grinding noise, coming down the valley. "That's our cue Steven, time to get off your ample derriere." Patrick packed away his machinery, folding and collapsing it until it fit into one of his many pockets. Steve sniffed the air. "Are you sure?" "Traders don't play the lute or fiddle on the road like that." Patrick gave a decisive nod. "It's definitely a Faire-bound group. Possibly even artisans, if not performers." Steve clapped his hat onto his head with his giant paw. The rumbling became a roar as a river of people and carts came into sight. The appearance of the caravan was louder than its noise. A hundred or so wheeled carts, carriages and people arrayed in an explosion of colours and textures. Silks and furs, reds and blues, symbols and sigils, signs and paintings, carvings and puppetry seemed to clutter every nook of the band. Everything was painted, down to the lowliest spoke on the most flea-ridden cart. A small girl and an old man on a cart led the procession. The girl's eyes bulged. Her limbs bubbled with the nervous energy of the most innocently naive or sagely manic. Then she pointed her pudgy hand frantically at them. "Panda!" Steve looked down and shuffled his feet. "Oh, dear." "Now Steven, pandas aren't terribly common in these parts." The driver at the front hailed them, "Hello there strangers, are you going to The Faire?" Patrick bowed slightly. "Indeed we are, may we walk along with you?" "Can't see why not, these roads aren't as safe as they used to be, what with those savage--" The driver caught himself and glanced at the girl. Patrick interjected, "Yes, yes, indeed so. Not the friendliest of lots." Steve and Patrick took their place alongside the girl's cart. The caravan consisted of mostly artisans and merchants. They were the sort with soft hands or silver tongues. The perfect target for an ambush."I can't believe our luck, look at them all. Either this is an elaborate ambush by a rival gang. Or the usual Faire bound groups have gotten stupider!" Barkle looked over at Mangor. "Do you see any weapons about?" "There's nothing there Mr. Throp," Mangor was a stickler for formalities. "Not a sword, bow, spear?" "No, none in sight." "Not even a falchion? Perhaps a poleax of some sort?" "No, none of them either." "Perhaps a.. overly sharpened kitchen utensil perhaps? A traveller with a dangerous sense of destiny?" Mangor put down his seeing glass. "Now who's being over cautious" he echoed from the confines of his armour. "It's just too good to be true. Not even a hardy one among them, who might put up a fight. Maybe it's just our lucky day, eh men?" he looked over to his bandits. Startled to be included in the thoughts of the high command, the men only blustered out a 'huzzah'. With a sign from Barkle, his bandits lept silentedly onto their horses, shot down the valley. The wind rustled through the bandits as they sped across the Valley floor; their horses galloped faster and faster kicking up a cloud of dust. The cloud boiled with bloodlust, anticipating the violence that had come so many times before. The setting sun glistened off the sweat of their steeds, and the significant heap of metal Mangor called armour. As the sun set, the caravan huddled closer together. It clambered slowly through a ravine, a muted rainbow of painted wood and wheels, clustered and awkward, like a gigantic wounded cow. Suddenly, a howl shot through the ravine, followed by the frenzied whoop of bandits on horseback. "Baaaaandiiiiits!" rang a warning cry. The group clustered together, assembling something that might have been a circle if you were very drunk or very lax about geometry. And then suddenly, they were surrounded. Barkled ordered his men into a circling position. He couldn't help but smile at his bandits, bedecked and festooned in gold earrings, bandanas for as far as the eye could see, and armed with sabres, spears, hooks and bows. Many pointed objects all designed to make varying sized holes in people who would rather keep their state of unpuncturedness. Silence blanketed them as the travellers watched the bandits with wide fearful eyes. The only sound was the quiet knock of wood on wood as the caravan pulled tighter together. The gypsy bandits made their approach, slowly closing the circle. They had a violent grace about them, professionals who knew their business. The caravan looked like sheep being cornered by slavering wolves; or country folk being cornerd by an all-commission sales staff.This was the point where someone begged for fogiveness. Preferably started throwing valuables at their feet. Barkle eyed the group. Except for that massive panda bear, they looked like an easy enough group. He looked closer at the panda, dressed modestly in soft and mildy decorative clothing. He seemed to be lacking something in his eyes that the others did not. Fear. Patrick nudged Steve, "Psst, Steve." "Why are you whispering?" Steve whispered back, " These colourful people, if somewhat loud and heavily armed, are just coming to greet us. Perhaps they'll have a welcoming dance ceremony," his eyes brightened, "or fruit basket. " Patrick returned a calculating look."Steven. I think, perhaps, these fine gentleman and ladies might enjoy some fine South Panda Dance, perhaps a selection from 'Flying Lilies' " "You don't say, eh?" Steve looked about quizzically. "You know, these sort of folks might just enjoy High Panda Art, officially sanctioned by Her Bambooedness Herself." He ever so subtly began some stretches."Well then, mustn't keep our guests waiting, an ignored audience is a grumpy crowd, as they say." Steve unslung his sack and started digging. "Oh dear, I'm not sure if I'm going to be limber enough for the long version. And I hardly have the necessary props. There are no Flaming Bogs Of Authentic Cruelty or even a Tribe of Spear Parrots nearby... At least I have my dancing outfit." Carefully and quietly, he got dressed.Barkle held his breath as the panda dressed. It was more like arming itself... He stole a quick glance over to his men, whose easy smiles of menace were replaced by abject fear. He quickly looked back over to the panda. In stupendous speed, he had put on what could more precisely called an edifice of armour. It was squarish and red, with enough spikes and menacing designs on it to crush any hope in Barkle's heart that it just might be some heretofore unknown Surrendering Armour. Or Cowardice Costume. A bandit's mind goes to strange and unlikely places when faced with a 700 pound animal in spiked armour.In a flash Steve was moving, his costume glinting and spinning in the reddish sun. Being a panda, he was shaped somewhat like a gigantic, menacing, furry pear. And yet he moved with a fluid ease. His claws sliced through the air with deftness and his body floated over the ground. Moments later, Steve stopped mid-step. The screams of terror from the fleeing gypsies were still fading against the ravine walls. All of the caravan had shifted from raw fear to a bemused and shocked silence. "What... what was it? They didn't like my interpretation? That was it, wasn't it? My interpretation is always a bit too contemporary for the more foreign palate." He fell to muttering to himself. "Oh, you did fine Steven, I'm sure they just had more pressing things to attend to." Patrick stifled a chortle and patted the expansive back of Steve. "You did your homeland very proud." The little girl made her way off her cart and tapped Patrick's shoulder. "Why's the panda looking so mean?" "Oh that? That's nothing. Have you never seen formal Panda Dancing Armour?" *Gnomes in general, being very much into gadgeteering, are usually doing things that cause alarm (to the general populace and to anything flammable, gnomish gadgeteering usually caused apocalyptic alarm). Over hundreds of years of near lethal work the gnomish alarm response has been reduced to a mild alarm. Indeed, using gnomish alarm as a benchmark to gauge the current danger level is the quickest way to experience a near death experience (in some cases, the experience isn't so much 'near' as it is 'permanent').
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