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==EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS ITS 103RD PUBLICATION==
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============= ISSUE # 3    MARCH 2014 ==============
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==== SAXON BRENTON, ANDREW PERRON & TOM RUSSELL ====
=============== Editor, Tom Russell ================
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CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE

"Grudge Match", by Saxon Brenton
A serious mistake, and the reason it was so. On the twin powers of fandom and literature. A promise made, and most violently kept.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 2, by Tom Russell
Our old friend Gulliver, and the qualities that recommend him. The marksman Dash Adams, his druthers, and his beard. Also: the occupational hazards of a veterinarian: the Old West is a hard place.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 3, by Saxon Brenton
Theories regarding the origin and composition of the painting. Chemistry proves unequipped to describe the ineffable. Heaven, Hell, and the Earth between them.

"Strange Profit", by Andrew Perron
The story of a name: not how it was earned, but how it was lost. An unusual business model for an unusual business. Everything has its price, but it is not counted in coin.

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================== "Grudge Match" =================
========== copyright 2014 Saxon Brenton ===========
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   It is well known that embodiments walk the mortal realms. Mother Nature. Father Time. Death. War. In all sorts of worlds that fall under the description of fantastic fiction abstract ideas both profound and trite take on self-awareness and occasionally even material form, and then go about their business. And with that in mind, it should be understood that Early Onset Alzheimer's made a serious mistake when he had adopted the habit of manifesting on a single day each year.

   The disease had heard the story – quite well distributed by now, thanks to the works of Neil Gaiman – that on a single day each year Death took on mortal form, so as to better understand the lives and hopes and dreams of those whose existences she brought to a close. Early Onset Alzheimer's had brooded on this, not really seeing the point, but in the end he had determined to experiment with the notion, just to see what the fuss was about. Almost by accident he had discovered that he quite enjoyed the experience of being a gourmet. After that he had set aside a day for good food as a yearly treat.

   And the reason that this was a mistake was quite simple: Sir Terry Pratchett held a grudge.

   This was hardly a secret. "I will not die of Alzheimer's," he had announced in 2009. "I shall make other arrangements; I'm going to take the disease with me."

   So there was Early Onset Alzheimer's, enjoying a light lunch (an acceptable Steak Diane and salad, rounded off with a glass of shiraz) when Terry Pratchett caught up with the disease.

   At this point the more thoughtful among you might pause to wonder how, exactly, Sir Terry had known where Early Onset Alzheimer's was. It is a reasonable question. But consider this: even in this day and age, when most of the population are so wedded to their social media that there is a growing trend of people being run over because they were paying more attention to their ipods than to oncoming traffic as they crossed the street, there are still people who actually read books. And many of them read the works of the man once described as Britain's most shoplifted author. Multitudes. Legions. Honest-to-god hordes. And they were keeping an eye out for just this occasion.

   Does that sound somewhat Dickensian? Like Fagin directing his team of urchins? Perhaps. But it was a solid literary reference, and so Pratchett fans would not begrudge the description. (Although they would, of course, endlessly quibble, cross reference, footnote and annotate it...)

   The fight did not take long. It couldn't afford to. Not having the advantage of being infused with super soldier serum and then frozen in ice, Terry Pratchett was working with the disadvantage of having a body that was exactly as physically fit as it was chronologically old. There was a notable absence of speed lines and energetic fist swings and dynamic Kirby poses. What there was was biting and eye gouging and knees to the groin.

   The two figures, staggering as if drunkenly, arrived not-at-all by chance at the edge of a pit. A pit hastily dug by the some of the aforementioned horde. And in that moment Early Onset Alzheimer's felt a grip of fear as he realised, as if by instinct, that the pit was exactly six feet deep.

   Strength failing, the author grabbed Early Onset Alzheimer's by the throat and threw himself backwards. For a moment there was a liberating feeling of weightlessness and freedom as he hung in the air, his foeman struggling futilely in his grasp.

   And then Sir Terry Pratchett dragged Early Onset Alzheimer's with him down into the grave.

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========== "Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 2 ==========
=========== copyright 2014 Tom Russell ============
===================================================

First man Silke thought of for the job was Gulliver. Partially this was on account of they had embarked on many profitable enterprises together, so Silke knew he could be trusted. Partially, it was on account of Gulliver was just outside Bleeding Branch and was thus geographically convenient. And partially, it was on account of Gulliver being able to catch himself afire and fly; Silke reckoned that sort of thing might come in handy.

   "Who's the dandy?" asked Gulliver. He pointed yonder at Paul Strife, who hung back some thirty yards with Silke's boy.

   "The client," said Silke. "He and his brother got a big ranch from their daddy. Supposed to share it."

   "Brother don't like to share?" said Gulliver. "I suspect we ought to learn him some manners."

   "I suspect," said Silke.

   "I'm in," said Gulliver.

The four of them— Strife, Gulliver, Silke, and the boy— had a lean supper at Strife's hotel. Soon as his plate was clean, Silke got up abrupt-like and wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. He tipped his hat and headed towards the door.

   "You're going to get Peake?" said Strife.

   Silke twisted something in his insides, then relaxed it. "Not just yet."

   "Peake's good for defense," said Gulliver. "I suspect Silke wants to help beef up our offense."

   "I suspect," echoed Silke.

   "Whatever you think is best," said Strife.

   Gulliver spoke again. "I suspect Silke is going to find him the second-best killer what walks this earth."

   "Why not the best?" said Strife.

   Gulliver started to answer. "Already g—"

   Silke looked at his boy. "Not available." And then he went on his way.

Silke found his man sitting and stinking of piss and beer outside a bawdy-house, flat on his ass, legs stretched out straight and gangly. An old orange tom paced back and forth across his knees. Silke knew the tom, biggest one he ever saw, and awful ornery most times. Seemed like he'd mellowed lately, since the vet'nary took his balls. Poor vet'nary lost one of his eyes and a finger in the bargain, and it was reckoned that the tom used up in that afternoon near all the ornery the Good Lord had measured out for all nine of his lives. So folks said, anyway, but Silke kept his cautious distance.

   "You're Dash Adams," said Silke; weren't a question.

   The man sat up sudden, too sudden. It frightened the tom who took it out the man's knee. Ornery. "Afraid you're deadly mistaken, sir. Quite unfriendly, too, accusing people of being a no-good", and here the man said something rather indelicate, "like Dash Adams. Best you mosey, stranger."

   "I'm John Silke."

   The man twisted his mouth thinking, rubbing his beard raw in his palm. Finally, he said, "Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Silke. If you find me and you say I'm Dash Adams, well, no use denying or disguising. Which is fine, because I always hated this beard. Pardon me for a spell, Mr. Silke, so that I might rid myself of it. I won't run or hide, for where can I go where you surely won't find me? But I won't go with you neither. I like living, sir, near as much as killing. If I've my druthers, I'll die killing as opposed to hanging."

   "Ain't here for the bounty, marksman. Only makes me money, which strikes me as selfish, unchristian. Come with me, we both make money, if both of us live to collect it. And if we die, we die killing."

   Adams screwed his face again in thought. "Well, let me shave anyway."

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=========== "Beyond the Fields" Part 3 ============
========== copyright 2014 Saxon Brenton ===========
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   Something not made of matter. Deidre rolled that description around in her mind, considering the ramifications. "What are they up to?" she wondered rhetorically to the world in general. Then she added, "Whoever 'they' are."

   "Might be random trouble making," suggested Joan.

   "It's an awful lot of effort to go to for random trouble making," said Deidre doubtfully. "I mean, it might fit a mad scientist's MO. Have a random flash of inspiration, do something just to prove you can, then let loose your creation on the world when you grow bored with it and want to move off to the next project. So I guess we can't really dismiss the idea completely." Then she shook her head. "But really, there's not many supervillains, military R&D projects, or esoteric conspiracy groups would be able to make something like that."

   "The effort involved does suggest it's likely to have been done deliberately," the angel agreed.

   Deidre gave Joan a look. "And which do you think it is?"

   "Actually, I think it could be a combination of both. Hell has both the means to deliberately create something like this and the method to distribute it at random." She leaned forward slightly and asked, "Do you know much about Crystal Ineff?"

   A bit, as it turned out. "Pure ineffability, crystallised down into physical form – even if it keeps freaking out the chemists who try to examine it because it isn't atomic matter," Deidre said automatically. Which made it a good but not-quite-exact comparison for the painting. Then she realised what Joan was getting at. "Ah, right. Both Heaven and Hell make it," she said (mentally adding that so did various pagan deities), "but the infernal stuff is more common because sometimes Hell just dumps a load of it into the drug market simply to... cause trouble at random."

   Joan spread her hands in a 'there you go' gesture, but then under-mined her own point by adding, "But I think it would be a good idea to make sure it isn't part of some wider scheme."

   "Okay. But I think you'll also want to follow up on any leads that might implicate other groups. If you're going for means, motive, methodology and opportunity," Deidre said, mangling the better known phrase, "then the Heresiarchs of Chaos fit the pattern just as well as demonkind. And I've already mentioned the fortunately-few-in-number mad scientists who could pull this off through sheer carelessness," she added ruefully.

   Joan nodded, but Deidre had the feeling that she wasn't taking that warning seriously. Oh dear. Well, at least Joan wasn't one of those militantly self-righteous angels. Still, Deidre needed to get her to see past the shadow cast by her traditional enemy. With as little rancour as she could manage Deidre said, "I'm serious. Humans are a lot more dangerous than you probably realise." Then she smiled mischievously. "Probably because our monkey curiosity means we keep poking at things that we shouldn't to see what happens, and sometimes people just don't think through the consequences of their actions."

   Joan returned the smile. "You're trying to win me over with self-deprecating humour," she accused.

   "Ah. You noticed that then," said Deidre, with only a little bit of contrition. "Okay, let's cut to the straight shit. I suppose I could give you a spiel about how when you walked in you probably thought you were going to show some ignorant mortal that the world was larger and stranger than I could possibly imagine..."

   "And which you'd prefer to turn on its head, and use to show me a world with more things than are dreamt of in my philosophy, Horatio," replied Joan drily.

   "And then we could even do a musical number based on that song from the Aladdin movie by Disney," snarked Deidre. She waved her hand, as if dispelling all of that. "But that's patronising to both of us. Bottom line: whether or not those other groups are as dangerous as Hell is beside the point. They're still dangerous, especially if they're overlooked until it's too late. I would appreciate it, as a personal favour, if you could keep an eye out for all possibilities."

   "I can agree to that," replied Joan simply. "In any case, I'll need to have this tested properly," she said, picking up the painting and carefully packing it away in her handbag. Then she said, "Now, tell me the story of how you discovered this thing. Any bit of information might be important."

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================ "Strange Profit" =================
========== copyright 2014 Andrew Perron ===========
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   Welcome, weary traveler! Won't you come in?

   Thank you, but I am just a humble shopkeeper. If you like, you can call me The Merchant.

   No, I agree, it's not much of a name – but I gave away any other name I had long ago.

   Ah, so it's that story you're interested in, eh? Well, nothing in here is free, not even a lusty tale – but if you like, we can sort the price out afterwards.

   Yes, take a seat, they are not free but they are complementary. There you go. So, then...

   It was in spring that I bargained for the right to a franchise. I had trained for countless hours in haggling. I spent seven hours in session against the Commerce Committee and brought them down, centimeter by painful centimeter. In the end, they would sell me the right to open a store that would, could sell anything, in exchange for a single consideration, which I have already described to you.

   I opened my shop with great hopes. I would sell to people, giving them just what they asked for, for a price that would be fair to them.

   My business, though I cannot tell you on what worlds it was on (not without an additional fee), did excellent traffic. And yet, looking at my balance sheet as the weeks and months went on, I could not help but feel that something was not going according to the five-year plan.

   Finally, I nailed the problem – customer satisfaction was down. The things I had sold had not changed lives in the ways I expected. Well – no, sometimes they had. If one was on a quest, if one had a goal already... but even then, what one asked for was not always the solution to one's problem.

   And thus... what was the point of me? What was the point of a place where one could get anything if one did not truly know what one needed?

   I stuck on this problem. My attention was focused on it to the point of reduced hours. I nearly shuttered my doors, for what was the point of providing a service if it did not produce a profit to the world?

   And then, slowly, like the clouds parting to reveal the sun, the realization came upon me. The price you set is just as important as what you're selling.

   If you sell someone a mystic phial or a map to a secret cave, then you are giving a valuable tool. But if you ask for something more than money – ask them to do something or create something or be something in return – then what you are giving them is a far greater profit. You are giving them the sense that their own efforts are valued.

   Since then, my policy has been to give my customers what they want and ask of them what they need. Unorthodox, I admit, but it brings a strange and wonderful profit.

   Now, as for the matter of your payment for the story...

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=============== See you next month! ===============
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All characters and stories are the copyright of their respective authors.

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