Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.
They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.
“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.
“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.
“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.
Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.
“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.
The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.
“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.
A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.
“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”
“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”
“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.
“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart. His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”
Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.
“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”
“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”
“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”
“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”
[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”
Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.
“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”
“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.
“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”
Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.
“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.
“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.
“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”
“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.
The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.
“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.
The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.
“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”
“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”
“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”
“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.
“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!
1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.
2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.
3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.
4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.
5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.
6. And by my butt, I mean —
“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”
“Well, I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.
“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”
The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.
“He’s here.” Wizzle said.
The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.
“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.
“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”
Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”
“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”
“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”
The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.
“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.
He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.
[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.
OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.
Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.
The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.
Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.
[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]