Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd Page 29

Dave Nash was standing there, wearing his wizard’s robes, which meant he would be the gamemaster and not an active participant. Next to him were the twins, Jubal and Jirah, equipped and dressed as elven scouts in green and tan leather, with their boffer long swords at their sides. They didn’t have their bows. Dave didn’t allow even boffered bows, since he’d nearly lost an eye a few years before. Other groups did use them, and Jubal and Jirah were fine archers, even with the very light draw bows used in LARP.

Besides Jubal and Jirah, there were five regulars Tony knew, all of them already geared up in armor from Dave’s Orc armory, with an array of foam-core axes, halberds, and other polearms. Their latex masks and helmets were stacked on the steps. No one put them on until they had to. It got very hot and sweaty very quickly fighting in a latex mask. But it looked good.

That meant the strange car belonged to the two people Tony didn’t know. A girl he guessed was around his age, who wasn’t wearing armor, but a serviceable dress of red and gold, square-cut around the neck. She had a lute on her back and a reed pipe through the gold cloth belt she wore, so she was clearly a bard.

The boy at her side was younger and had the same dark but slightly strange good looks as the girl, so Tony guessed they were brother and sister. He wore leather trousers, a leather brigandine coat and a leather cap that was a bit like a WWI aviator’s helmet. Two long daggers were thrust through broad loops on his belt. Boffer weapons didn’t scabbard very easily. The foam cladding made them bulky but was of course essential to not getting hurt.

Dave walked up to the top step, tapping his way with his six-foot oaken staff that was tipped with a Cyalume chemical light. He turned at the top and spread his arms wide.

“Are all who would essay tonight’s adventure present?”

“Aye!” called the people around the steps.

Tony hesitated, then strode forward toward the light, stamping his feet as he walked so he made more noise.

“Ah, the Quiet Knight approaches!” declaimed Dave, a smile flitting across his face. He was the only one who knew who Tony actually was, and he respected the confidence. “You are welcome, as always, Sir Silent.”

Tony saluted with his sword, and went to stand off to one side, near but not close to Jubal and Jirah.

“We have two newcomers, recently moved to our fair realm,” said Dave. “Sorayah the Bard, and Horace the Halfling Rogue. Welcome, Sorayah and Horace.”

Sorayah was cute, Tony thought, and she and Horace were definitely sister and brother. They had the same nose and eyes, and probably the same ears, though it was hard to tell, as Horace had stuck artificial hairy ears over his own.

“Tonight we seek to find a passage through the ancient tunnels of Harukn-Dzhur,” said Dave. He nodded at the orcs, who picked up their masks and helmets and walked off to one of the entrances around the side of the woolshed. “If we can but find a way, we may escape those who have pursued us from the wilds….”

Tony listened carefully as Dave set up the scene. “Tunnels” meant that Dave would have spent the last week rearranging the walls and lowering the temporary ceilings inside the woolshed, and there would be lots of close combat, with only enough light for safety. Dave liked strobe lights, too, and color effects for magic, and he had a lot to work with, since he’d bought all the old lighting gear, sets, and props when the city had condemned the Alder Street Theater.

“We begin with the long crawl through the zigzag way,” intoned Dave. “Horace, will you scout a little way ahead? Not too far, mind. Ten feet, no more.”

“Aye,” said Horace. He drew his daggers and moved to the door.

“Sir Silent, if you would follow, and Sorayah behind you,” said Dave. “I task you with protecting the Bard, for she wears no armor, and we will need her magic and her song in times to come. I will follow, and Jubal and Jirah will guard our rear.”

Sorayah came over to Tony and curtsied, inadvertently giving him a good look down the front of her dress.

Tony bowed back. He was glad she couldn’t see him blush.

“I thank you for your protection, gallant knight,” she said. He liked her voice. It sounded cool and pure, and she had the trace of some foreign accent that sounded real, not like it was put on for the game.

He bowed again, and led the way up the steps. Horace was lying on his stomach, listening at the gap in the bottom of the door. As Tony approached, he stood up and slowly opened it. There was darkness within, but slowly a weak red light blossomed, revealing a narrow passage no more than three feet high.

“The long crawl!” hissed Dave. “Let the adventure begin!”

Tony didn’t get home till just before midnight, his curfew time. It had been a great game, one of the best, and the others had stayed behind to have a drink and chat around the fire, wrapped in the cloaks from a long-ago Alder Street production of Henry V.

Tony had wanted to stay too, to talk to Sorayah, and it wasn’t the curfew that stopped him. It was his inability to talk. He knew that as soon as he opened his mouth and she heard his hoarse crow-voice her face would show scorn, or even worse, pity. He didn’t want that. She respected him as the Quiet Knight; they had enjoyed playing their parts; it was best to keep whatever they had in the game.

Tony laughed at himself for thinking such stupid thoughts. Whatever they had! They didn’t have anything. He’d protected her in the game, sure enough, and had taken bruises enough to show for it, including the one across the back of his left hand that was coming up purple and brown. But that didn’t mean anything in real life. He didn’t even know her real name, or where she lived, or anything.

Tony was sore and his arms and legs were very stiff the next morning. Splitting two tons of wood for the potbelly stove and later fighting for four hours was way too much, too much even for a blindingly hot shower to totally remedy. His bruises had come up as well, on his hand and forearms and the back of one leg. He applied anti-inflammatory cream to the worst of them, but didn’t take a painkiller.

The bus trip to school was normal. Tony sat two-thirds of the way to the back, alone as always, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head. He was big and mean-looking enough that the bullies and the petty annoyers left him alone, but since he didn’t talk, no one else interacted with him, either. In fact, most of them, including the bullies, were afraid of his dark, hooded presence, though he didn’t know that.

He spent the time looking out the window, wondering what the hell he was doing with his life. There was one more year of school to get through, which he could do. His grades were good, better than anyone ever expected from a silent ox. But he had no friends. Not real friends. Dave was the closest to a real friend that he had, but Dave had a family and a job and was just being kind to a kid.

Tony supposed he could be friends with Jubal and Jirah. They went to the same school, though they were a year behind. They had lots of friends, too, gamers and fantasy freaks and alternative drama types. That was the trouble. Tony already felt he was an outcast. A disguised outcast, to be sure. He looked normal enough. No one in the street would ever know he that he had a weird voice and liked to dress up and play pretend fighting.

If he revealed himself to Jubal and Jirah as the Quiet Knight, they probably would welcome him as a friend, and he could hang out with their friends. But everyone would know he was a real weirdo. Besides, if he had friends they’d expect him to talk….

What would the Quiet Knight do? Tony asked himself. Not talk, that’s for sure. He’d just get on with things, in his own quiet way….

The bus stopped outside the school. Tony waited for everyone to get out, then slowly followed, steeling himself for another day of trying to minimally answer questions. The teachers usually didn’t push him too much now, not after a long trial with one particular English teacher a few years before, which had ended with Tony still stubbornly refusing to deliver a speech, his father raging in the principal’s office, and the teacher requesting a job transfer to another school.

The usual stream of student foot traffic filled the front drive, most of them heading for the main doors, with knots of people here and there delaying the inevitable. Tony strode through them, his mind on last night’s game. Younger students scattered out of his way without him noticing. He didn’t know that he was a legend to the lower years, his reluctance to talk transformed into a story of backwoods tongue mutilation and bloody revenge. Even if the backwoods in question were only ten miles past the outer suburbs.

There was a small commotion just before the doors, to the left of the front steps in the blind spot that was hidden from the security cameras out front and the gaze of the teacher on door duty. There often was something going on there; it was a favorite spot for some casual bullying or lunch money shakedowns. Tony never paid much attention to this kind of thing. It never happened to him.

This time, he stopped. Two students were being terrorized by five of the spoiled brat girls, the ones who liked to think they were rough and tough and had some kind of gang readily identifiable by infected eyebrow piercings without the studs (since the school wouldn’t allow it) and expensive leather jackets bought by their daddies and driven over to rough them up.

The two students being tormented were Soraya and Horace. Soraya was wearing another medieval-style dress, this time in dark yellow. She looked good, but totally out of place at school. Horace, though in jeans and a T-shirt, still had on the stupid hairy ears. Two of the self-proclaimed bad girls were holding Soraya back with difficulty; two more were holding Horace, and the five-eyebrow-piercings leader, whose name was Ellen, was trying to tear the ears off Horace.

“They’re stuck on; he can’t get them off!” Soraya shouted. She shook off one of the girls and swung at Ellen, but there were too many of them and she was dragged back.

“Stop! Let him go!”

A baseball cap was shoved in Soraya’s mouth, muffling her shouts. She kept struggling, kicking back at her captors’ knees. Horace was trying to bite his enemies, tears of pain welling up as his real ears were twisted every which way.

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