hwango: (hermit crab)
[personal profile] hwango


1,285 words

--

Good morning, children. My goodness, there are a lot of you today. Well, what kind of story would you like to hear this time? Really? Very well, then.

Once, long ago and far from here, there lived a mighty hero named Gladys.

Now, there are many different kinds of hero. A hero might be a person who rescues someone from a burning building, or perhaps discovers the cure for a plague that turns people into zombies. Gladys, however, was the kind of hero more likely to set a building on fire because that building contained an evil necromancer, or solve a zombie plague by hacking all of the zombies into pieces with an improbably large sword.

As you can imagine, Gladys worked under a pseudonym while engaged in her heroism. What's a pseudonym? It's a name you use when your given name is Gladys but you want people to believe that you can single-handedly defeat a necromancer and his army of zombies. No, an alias is a different kind of false name entirely. You use an alias if you think you might get arrested for killing the necromancer. Although, it does happen now and then that you can't be sure whether you need an alias or not, because the variety of heroism Gladys practiced can be a little subjective at times. Someone who kills a rare and exotic animal like a rhinoceros is reviled as a monster, but someone who kills the Demon Rhinoceros of Vandercrook gets a parade in their honor with some very strange floats in it.

Anyway, Gladys went by the name Vystraka the Heartless while she was at work, which was pretty much all of the time. A career in monster hunting and villain thwarting doesn't leave much time for a social life, other than things like celebratory drinks at the local tavern, assuming the fire hasn't spread that far into town. Alas, that sort of socializing tends to be fairly superficial. It's hard to forge real, lasting friendships with people who are drunk and shouting all of the time. Remember that when you're older, children.

Now, Gladys had chosen the "Vystraka" part of her brand name, but it was the general population who tacked on the "heartless" part. This was because even though Gladys rescued the innocent from ghoulish dismemberment and saved the oppressed from being pushed around by people wearing skulls for hats, one got the distinct impression that the rescuing was less important to her than the terrible violence that led to the rescue. This was because Gladys found it difficult to relate to people, which both fed into and was in turn fed by her general lack of social opportunities. So Gladys was only really happy when she was chopping up something that was trying to kill her.

Then, one fateful day, Gladys was trying to chop up something that was trying to kill her, and her sword broke.

What was she fighting? If you must know, it was vampire elephants. Yes, I suspected you'd think that sounded stupid, which is why I wasn't going to mention it, but here we are.

Now, as I'm sure you've already guessed, Gladys's sword was powerfully magical. You've correctly assumed that no ordinary weapon could fell the Demon Rhinoceros of Vandercrook. Many tales of Gladys (or of Vystraka the Heartless, at any rate) say that her sword was forged from the metal of a fallen star and quenched with the blood of a mountain troll. This was, of course, a story plausible only to the ignorant masses. In reality, the sword was forged from the remains of a haunted bicycle, and as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of mountain troll anatomy knows, they don't even have blood. Quenching? It's part of the sword-making process. No, I've never actually made a sword myself, but that doesn't mean I don't know anything about it. Stop interrupting me.

Where was I? Oh yes, vampire elephants. Now, magical weapons can of course be very difficult to break, but getting stomped on by a vampire elephant was apparently a bit too much for Gladys's sword. It snapped right in half, and all of the ghosts imprisoned in the metal escaped and probably still roam the land to this day, free to lurk under the beds of ill-mannered children.

Fortunately, Gladys managed to prevail in her battle even without her sword, eventually strangling the last of the vampire elephants with its own trunk, a feat that we can be grateful was never commemorated by a statue, tapestry, or parade float. Though victorious, Gladys was disconsolate. It means sad. Really, really sad that she might have to give up being a hero.

Because for her kind of heroism a normal sword just wouldn't do. Do you know what happens if, for example, you try to kill a dragon with an ordinary sword? You know those paintings of dragons where they're sitting on their giant pile of gold and there's usually a few skeletons wearing armor mixed in with all of the coins? I guarantee you that before they were skeletons they were people who showed up to slay a dragon with the wrong tools for the job. And it wasn't as if she could just go get a new magical sword. They're rare, hard to make, and not commonly available for sale at any price. Even repairing her old broken sword would be difficult. For one thing, she'd need another haunted bicycle, and those aren't exactly common either. Why, I bet out of all the children in this room, not more than two or three of you own a bicycle secretly possessed by evil spirits.

And so Gladys found herself for the first time she could remember not devoting all of her energy to fighting terrible monsters and people who make terrible monsters. She found herself, lacking anything else to do, actually talking to people. Even growing close to some of them. In particular, there was a man that she thought perhaps she might be growing to love.

He was kind, and funny, and a good listener. Probably handsome, too. He tried to tell her that her life wasn't over just because she couldn't hunt supernatural evil anymore. He told her that there was no need to drown out her thoughts with terrible violence all of the time. That they could be happy together in peace, and that the world would get along without her somehow. And she was tempted. Tempted to give it all up and settle down.

Fortunately, before she yielded to that temptation, she realized that he was secretly a hive of demonic bees masquerading as a person, and she set him on fire. She then correctly guessed that a horrible demon bee colony person's bicycle was probably haunted, and after a quick trip to the mountain fortress of some dwarven blacksmiths she was back in business carving up evil things and making the world a slightly safer place for ordinary people and a much more dangerous place to be a necromancer.

The moral of the story is: don't become a necromancer when you grow up. It's a terrible job that makes you spend a lot of your time with disgusting corpses, and it's practically inevitable that some thrill-seeking do-gooder will eventually come along and burn down your house, kill your demon rhinoceros, and cut off your head. That, and if someone who claims to love you tries to get you to give up something you love, then they're probably secretly a colony of evil bees. But make absolutely sure before you set them on fire.

Now, I have things to do, so find yourselves some other way to spend the afternoon. Maybe go for a bike ride.
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