Subject: [FFML] [Original] The Replacement King
From: StudioPC
Date: 2/15/2007, 2:47 AM
To: FFML

Author's note at end. C&C welcome.


Since the first story was told, storytellers have made much of destiny.

It has been twisted, redirected, denied, passed on, defied, and of
course, accepted.

But not refused, never refused . . .

* * * *

A man stood in the clearing. He was a tall skinny man, the sort who
looked like he might be more at home in an old bookshop or tiny,
cramped antique shop full of knick-knacks and trinkets. He was bald,
with a short beard and gray eyes.

Next to him was a rock. It was little more then a lumpy piece of
stone jutting out of the earth. A totally unremarkable rock, save for
the sword sticking out of it.

The man's name was Merlin, and he had prayed that this day would
never come. Sadly, he had no other choice.

He sighed and paced a few times.

Where was he?

At that point, a car pulled into the clearing. It was a sports car,
unsuitable for the rough path it had just taken and very expensive.
Yet it had made the trip.

The driver stepped out and Merlin felt his breath catch. Yes, it was
him. This life had cut his hair short, and the chin was far too
square, but it was him. He wore a jacket emblazoned with the logo of
Mount Ryland University and the helmet that proclaimed its wearer a
member of the football team.

"I know you," he said, pointing at Merlin as he walked over. His
steps were jerky, as though carrying him against his will. "I know
you," he repeated, shaking his head.

"My king," Merlin said, bowing his head. "Would that this day had
never come, but there is no choice. Arthur King, you are called once
more to take up your birthright. You were once King Arthur of
England, and your people need you."

"King Arthur?" The boy blinked. "Like in the stories?"

"In a sense. It was mostly accurate. Now," Merlin gestured at the
sword. "Take Excalibur--"

"Didn't he die?" Arthur inturrupted. "Stabbed in the back by his own
son?"

"Well, yes, you did, but Mordred was--"

"And then his wife ran off with his best friend?"

"My King, I--"

"Forget it."

"If I could, I would," Merlin said sadly. "But that was the past. You
must--"

"No. No way. Forget it. I have a game this Saturday."

"The game is--"

"Forget it. I'm gonna play football. I remember those legends, old
man. Even if I am Arthur, there's no way I'm gonna get caught in that
trap again." Arthur ran back to his car and sped out of the clearing.

When the engine noise faded, Merlin grasped Excalibur and sighed.
"Come, my ancient friend, it seems this will be harder then we thought."

The hilt trembled in his hand and then the sword rose from the stone
and settled into his grip.

Over time, the sword had taken on a life of its own and was aware of
things, and Merlin had unexpectedly found himself in the role of a
servant. He did not begrudge the sword's whims and demands. Excalibur
was made for the hands of someone worthy to be a king, and it was
Merlin's fate to counsel and guide kings and kingdoms.

All in all, he and the sword were a worthy pair, suitably matched to
keep company, until one worthy of their service came along.

Sliding Excalibur into its sheath, Merlin changed his robes into a
rumpled suit and set off at a brisk walk towards the university.

Excalibur needed a king.

Excalibur would have its king.

* * * *

Mount Ryland University was the brainchild of Samson Ryland, a
billionare from the second world war who had gotten it into his head
that a mountain would be the perfect place to build a factory powered
by geothermal power plant.

He'd gone bankrupt and died penniless, but the half-finished complex
remained until thirty years later, when the state bought the property
and rennovated the buildings into classrooms, dorms, and other such
things. Massive, artifical plataues became host to the athletic
fields and buildings.

Over time, other buildings were added. New dorms, paths, roads and
the stream that ran down from the summit was redirected into a lazy
path, with pools and tributaries, eventually coming to rest in a lake
next to the main entrance at the base of the mountain.

All in all, it was very impressive.

Merlin wasn't impressed. Indeed, his mood was bleak as he wandered
over the university grounds.

At the edge of the creek, he paused, to watch the water flow past
when a shout attracted his attention.

"Hey! Robbie! The king is on fire!"

Merlin looked up at the word "king." Two students stood nearby.

"Fire?"

"Yeah, he's kicking ass on the battlefield. You have got to see this.
It's why he's the king."

Excalibur surged with interest eqaul to Merlin's. Was it possible
they could be talking about Arthur?

"All right, all right, let's go."

The two boys hurried off and Merlin followed, casting upon himself a
spell to ensure that they would not notice him following.

They crossed a bridge and then up several flights of stairs until
they arrived at the Computer Sciences building. Here, they walked
down to the basement.

There were no carpets here, no paint. Cool and bare metal walls and
plain concrete. Stenciled on the walls were names of rooms, and
arrows pointing the way.

Down a hallway, they went, and then through a set of double doors.
Over the doors was written, "Tertiary Server room". Taped to the door
was a handwritten sign that read "MT. Ryland Anime Club. Meeting in
progress."

Inside, perhaps twenty or so boys, all in various stages of obesity,
were crowded around one computer. On the large wallscreen was an
overhead view of a simulated battlefield, upon which strange
creatures of various colors fought and died.

Near the computer, a girl dressed in black leaned against the desk it
sat on. She wore a sleeveless shirt that left her arms bare and her
mouth was a thin line. She paid no attention to the war behind her,
but was watching the crowd instead.

"Go, Tristan!" Someone in the crowd shouted.

"Stomp the orcs!" yelled another.

"Use more Thunderheads!" yelled a third.

"You're the king, Tristan! Kick their ass!"

On the screen, the battle raged even more fiercely. As Merlin
watched, he began to discern that some of the creatures were wearing
different colors then others and that the purple ones seemed to have
the upper hand against the ones in red.

At that moment, one of the larger red creatures did something that
caused most of the purple creatures to begin glowing green.

"A trap spell!" Someone yelled in delight as a new wave of red
creatures swarmed in and proceeded to overwhelm the purple warriors.
Within minutes, the battle was over and "Red Team (Ryland Raiders) is
victorious" was flashing on the screen.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen." A young man with a belly almost as large as
he was stood up on a chair, which creaked ominiously under his
weight. "You witnessed it here. A game fresh from the store, released
today, which means my man Tristan has never played it until now, and
yet he still beat it. There can be no doubt that he is the undisputed
king of online gaming."

"But he wasn't playing online, he was just playing the computer,"
someone in the crowd piped up.

"Be that as it may, gentlemen, he has satisfied the terms. Those of
you with markers should see Miss Lance here, and I must remind you
that she takes a very dim view of dishonesty."

At this, the girl cracked her knuckles and a line quickly formed.

Now that they were out of the way, Merlin could see the computer. The
fat man was climbing down from the chair as he addressed its
operator, a very skinny young man with a bad complexion and glasses.
His hair was brown and cut short and his hands and feet seemed to big
for his body.

"What did I tell you, Tris?" the fat man said. "Nerds and their money
are soon parted."

"I don't know about this, Sam," the one called Tris, replied. "It
seems wrong, somehow."

"What's wrong about it? We offered fifty to one odds that you could
win a game you've never played before in under two hours. We'll be
rich."

"You said that about the last two schemes you hatched."

"We made a profit both times, didn't we?"

"Would that be before, or after Mexico labeled you 'Persona na grata'?"

"Relax, would you? You're Tristan Cross, king of online gaming. A
geek's geek. Nerd amongst nerd. The Duke of dorks."

"Your meal ticket."

"Tristan, I am hurt, cut to the quick. I, who have known you since
you were a wee lad in the sandbox."

"You were my first roomate freshman year, and that was because the RA
decided that the out of town guy was the perfect roommate for you."

"And who was it who guided you through the first painful days of
campus life?"

"Jenny."

"And was it not I who--"

"I did that myself, Sam."

Sam put his hand on his heart and sank down into his chair, the very
picture of injured grace. "You wound me, Tristan."

Now Tristan looked Sam directly in the eye. "Sam, the only reason
you're still alive is because no two people can agree on how to kill
you, leaving the lynch mob in limbo."

Over in the line, the girl Sam had referred to as Miss Lance kicked a
man in the stomach, shoved him aside, and called for the next person.

Sam wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. "I know, it makes me proud."

Tristan rolled his eyes and pushed his glasses up his nose as Miss
Lance finished with the last of the gamblers. The room was almost
empty now.

"Three thousand twelve dollars," she reported, carrying several
stacks of money over to where Tristan and Sam sat.

"An excellent take," Sam mused, taking a stack of bills and leafing
through it. "Why is Eisely on the floor?"

"First he welched and then tried to offer a night of passion instead
of money. I'll deal with him later. He'll either pay up or spend the
next week in the hospital." She grabbed Sam's wrist and twisted. "Put
it back, Sam."

"But fair Jenny," Sam protested, "Would I cheat the club out of its
earnings?"

"Sam, you would cheerfully cheat Jesus if you could," Tristan
observed scornfully. "I firmly believe you're president of the club
only because you rigged the voting somehow."

"You make it sound like a bad thing," Sam said loftily. "And rigging
is a perfectly acceptable practice. The professionals have been doing
it for years."

"Give back the money, Sam," Jenny repeated. Sam sighed and produced a
small wad of bills from somewhere about his person. "You are a cruel
woman, Jenny," he said, handing it over. "Taking a man's hard won
earnings from him like a common thief in the night."

"Sam, if you've ever earned a penny fair and square, I'll eat my
hat," Tristan scoffed.

Merlin looked down as someone tugged on his jacket. A small, freckle-
faced boy was looking up at him in awe. "You're Merlin," he said
loudly and Merlin felt the spell dissolve as the rest of the room
took notice.

"Gavin, quit bothering the nice man," Sam called out.

"But he's Merlin," Gavin pointed out. "Merlin the wizard. King
Arthur's right hand." He looked up at Merlin. "Is Sam one of the
Knights of the Round Table?"

Merlin blinked, groping for a response when Gavin sighed mournfully.
"He is, isn't he? We're all doomed. He'll sell Camelot to the highest
bidder and Arthur will be out in the cold."

"Don't mind Gavin, Good sir," Sam called out. "We certainly don't."
He grabbed a chair and pulled it from under the desk. "Have a seat,
my good man, and tell us how the club can be of help to you."

"I . . . " Merlin said as he sat down in the offered chair. "I . . .
uh . . ." He ran a hand through his hair. "You're a king?" he said to
Tristan.

Tristan shrugged and pushed his glasses back up his nose. "I
suppose," he said. "I have a knack for games and stuff. I've yet to
be defeated, by a computer or a human. It's depressing, to be honest."

"He even has a kingdom," Sam said expansively. "Ans a castle from
which to gaze over his domain."

"I don't think a window cubicle in the science building counts as a
castle, Sam," Tristan said sourly. "Nor does the view of the library
quad qaulify as a domain."

"No imagination," Sam mourned, shaking his head. "A sad state, the
youth of today."

Merlin directed his thoughts at Excalibur. It was ultimately the
final judge, and the decision rested with it alone.

"Why do you ask, are you with one of the gamemakers?"

"Not precisely," Merlin said and then held unlocked Excalibur from
his belt and held it out towards Tristan without drawing it.

Tristan took it by the handle and then gasped as the sword began to
glow, its decision made.

"Hail Tristan," Merlin intoned, dropping to one knee. "Hail the Lord
of Camelot, and the One True King!"


This is an old project of mine that I was going to do for NaNoWriMo
'04 and it never got past chapter 1. Got to thinking about it lately,
went through, fixed it up, and thought I post it here, just to see
what people think and if there's anything I missed. Should I
continue? What?

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