Wednesday, May 18, 2016

City of Curses: The Grand Ole Game (flash fiction)

A bit of #flashfiction on #Crux for Wednesday? IDK.  Here's a sport in Crux, Pitball.  Maralda gets in a game, even though she doesn't understand the sport at all.

Pitball. 

Maralda frowned at her notebook.  Why did she think seeing a Pitball match would make this any easier?

She'd only ever seen Pitball matches with Lahm.  Without him, she didn't quite understand how the sportworked.

"This isn't the strangest game.  The Ursyklon brought it here thousands of years ago."  Maralda told herself.

A pitball arena required looking down to watch it.  They played it beneath the feet of the spectators.  A series of ringed trenches.  The two teams of three moved in two different ways.

One team had the ball at the start of the round.  Each team hid their hoop from view two.  Each team began the round in their own ringed trench or pit.  The goal was for the ball team to get the ball into the opposing team's hoop.

But the thing that Maralda never understood was where the hoop was.  The defending team could put the hoop anywhere in the arena.  A small extra-dimensional space, the hole within the hoop always had enough room for the ball to fit.

Confusing the game further had to be when rounds changed.  The defense would switch to offense, and then they'd move hoop and ball again.  It all happened too rapid for Maralda to follow.  Lastly, something would cause a bell to ring.  That would end the match.

The bell rung.  Again, she had no idea what happened.  And still didn't have any words other than "pitball" written downin her notebook.

"Who won?"  Maralda sputtered.  "I didn't see-"

"Tie."  A stranger told her.  A voice like a tin can and pig grease.

"Tie?"

Maralda looked to the seat above her.  The Pitball Arena looked more like a jar inside a vase.  The trenches and pits sat at the bottom of it.  The chairs and seats circled it.  Magic and fire allowed the spectators to see most of the nooks and crannies.

Above her.  Above the bard sat a mechanical man of wax, gears, and aetherfire.  The obese android smoked a corn pipe.  Maralda wrinkled her nose at the tobacco smoke.  Some of the android's wax had to be pig's grease too.  It stank.

"Yes."  The android gestured.  "Five rounds of five, neither team could find the hoop."

"They just ran around for ten minutes, and that's a tie?!"

"It wasn't that short..."  The android chuffled with a bit of laughter.

On his left shoulder, Maralda noticed a pin.  A holy symbol.  The three notes of the Singer of the Song.

She didn't recognize their arrangement.  A quarter rest and two quavers?  What sect of the Song would have a rest in it?

"Are you an ariast?"  Maralda pointed at the symbol.

"Ariast?"  The android echoed.  Then he tilted his head.  "I suppose.  Name's Cleaver, Miss."

"Cleaver?"

"Butcher by trade, after my owner freed me.  Came to bet on the games.  See if I can win anything big for my shop, y'know?"

"Oh."  Maralda scrawled the name down.  A android butcher named cleaver.  "How does butchery... Is it ariast?  I don't quite see that."

"Not the butchery."  Cleaver waved a hand.  The wood and brass joints squeaked as it moved.  "The cooking.  I and mine believe food is an art of its own.  A moment to enjoy.  The right taste can solve all a man's problems."

Hence the rest note in his symbol, Maralda thought.

Cleaver continued to explain how the game had ended in a tie.  Being unable to find the opposing hoop before the time had ended, a team forfeited that round.  Both teams had been unable to do that five rounds in a roll.

"Wait.  I'm sorry, this game always confounds me.  They ended in a tie because both sides just moved their hoops around?"

"The game punishes those who defend and never hunt,"  Cleaver smiled.

That unnerved Maralda a bit.  She couldn't quite think of why.

"That makes sense."  Maralda looked back as a new pair of teams started a new game in the arena below.

Maralda noted the hungry look in Cleaver's android eyes.  She'd never seen one of the artificial folk that looked like that.  Dark drool came out at the edges of his waxy jaw.  Maralda jolted notes on it.

"You serve the Song too then?"  Cleaver asked, his glassy eyes fixated on the game below.  Like it was a meal waiting to come off the pan.

"I write stories and the like,"  Maralda said.

"Writing."  He echoed the words.  "Not everything need be a song to help show people the right path, eh?"

"I've never heard of an Android that cooks.  That's... pardon me, kind of strange isn't it?"

"I suppose, but I've found my sense of taste is particular.  Unique.  That it can discern things others can't."

"Unique?"  Maralda's skin itched.  Something about Cleaver made her uneasy.

"Y'know, sometimes an unsorcerous or two can't make their bets.  There are some ingredients only desperation can find."

Cleaver smacked his lips, his eyes focused on the arena below.  One of the pitball players fell back.  His skull split open.  Blood stained one of the pits as he didn't get back up.

"Oh.  That poor fellow!"

"Aye.  Some ingredients that make a meal wonderful.  Minced and sliced things.  Delicious things."

Maralda looked away from the arena.  They carried the injured pitball player out of the arena.  The ursyklon didn't move.  Cleaver didn't look away.  Maralda shivered as she realized he was looking at some of his special ingredients.

She managed to keep the vomit down until she got out of the arena.