Deus Ex Machina – Short Story

Author’s note: This piece parodies the Final Fantasy video game series and similar Japanese Role-Playing Games. Those who are familiar with this genre will probably get a few more of the references than those who are not. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy.

Deus Ex Machina

When I became an adventurer, I had no idea what it meant. The weathered parchment tacked up on the town hall’s message board was laced with bold-faced lies with all its talk of “saving the world” and “bringing evil to justice.” Had it been honest, the job description would have been more akin to “trekking through every back-water gods-forsaken village and hamlet in the kingdom and doing everyone else’s work for them.”

Do you know what I was doing yesterday? Mucking out stalls and feeding pigs. Yes. I, Tamarak III, master assassin of the Citadel of Blood, was ankle deep in filth, doling out slop for swine. While it’s lovely to know that I’ve concealed my identity so thoroughly, I cannot get the smell out of the leather. I shall have to purchase new boots the next time we go somewhere civilized. We were supposed to be slaying an ancient dragon and bringing down the foul cult that worships it. Why are we stopping here?

My travelling companions are the pick of the litter. Allow me to illustrate: That blonde man-child spends so much time on his hair that his gel, combs, and clips fill half his travelling pack. The only other thing he pays attention to is that “gun-blade” of his. He got into an argument with this other chap in a tavern some months ago about which was better: swords or guns. He cannot seem to let go of the notion that a hero must have a sword, and that it must be of gargantuan proportions. It looks preposterous and it’s terribly inaccurate. He needs to take potions regularly just to be able to carry the thing and has to employ a great deal of magic to actually swing it when things go sour.

And they do, often. Our “hero” can’t seem to avoid enraging every local beast and barbarian he passes by. I think that might be his most impressive talent. His name is Heart. I wish I were joking.

I have been journeying with this company of assorted “fighters” for three months and sixteen days through mostly unmarked forest. At least the smell of pine is pleasant though it hardly makes up for the lack of a bed and a hot meal. We are no closer to our goal than we were when the king decided to cobble this group together which he must have done under political pressure to do something—anything—about the oncoming threat. He announced us as the best and brightest the kingdom had to offer.

His Majesty was not even at the barracks when we were selected. The captain just picked the first volunteers who came in the door. We aren’t even the only team on this quest, though I have not seen any of the others. This gives me cause to worry.

We would make better time if Heart wouldn’t stop to talk with each and every blacksmith, washer woman, farmer and their dogs—again, I wish I were kidding—in the hopes that they may have some useful information. Perhaps this is what happens when one is afflicted by amnesia? I wish his memory loss had included the notion that he is the Chosen One, born to save us all.

I am still awaiting his first successful act of salvation. He does make for a good distraction, swinging around that bladed abomination and shouting out the names of his attacks as he executes them. How and why he named them I do not know. I simply dart in as stealthily as I can and drive my daggers into the enemy. It isn’t that hard for a Shadowbound.

My companions complain that I don’t do much when it comes down to a skirmish. I can see why. I vanish and they think I’ve run off. I have no inclination to explain. My kind are hunted here, and despite my dissatisfaction with this little flock of wayward twits, I’m not yet feeling suicidal. If they actually managed to kill me, it would be the most embarrassing death in history. So, I endure their taunts of “coward” and content myself that at least they’re paying attention to the combat rather than the flash of my blades. That much I can commend them for.

The white mage, Miyuki, says she worries for me, that one of our party might accidentally hurt me if they cannot see me. Her concerns are unfounded, as that is, after all, the point of remaining incorporeal until the danger has passed. Blade or bullet, it just passes through. The only things solid enough to strike are my knives and I have several.

She has a kind heart and I feel for her. The others keep haranguing her to “speak up” and they do the same to me. I think they do not pay attention to anything said to them at any volume under a shout. She stands in the back with her staff and long, white robes, and keeps the party alive. Bless the little thing, but if she continues casting holy spells on me, I shall have to have a talk with her.

I seem to have been dubbed the “emo kid” of the party, despite the fact that I am older than anyone else here, and possibly all of them put together. Yes, I have brought with me a wardrobe that is exclusively soft black wool. It takes wear and stains better than any other colour, I do not have to be concerned with matching any other piece of gear in my bags, and, unlike Heart’s skin-tight leather, it doesn’t creak every time I move. I can cycle through clothing items, washing one or two pieces and seeing that they dry properly without having to sit about half-dressed or procure new gear.

This is probably the reason why we must stop so often. No one else in the group has survival skills of any kind. I have not seen any of them repair an item, hunt for food, or even wash anything. I have heard them say that I “go off by myself to brood.” They don’t seem to realize that hunting takes time and patience. One would think that, given the fact I always return with game, they would realize this, but their deductive skills are notably lacking.

I doubt we will ever find this magical orb that Heart seems intent on. If any of the other parties have a leader with a modicum of sense, they will have already found it and will be en route to the dragon’s lair. I, personally, do not see how a little ball of glass will help slay the great wyrm. If the king were serious about the matter, he would have allocated more resources to outfitting his adventurers and ensuring that proper mercenaries were hired rather than these children.

So, here I am, a corvid among clowns. I hold my peace, and they cannot see my expression of chagrin behind my mask. I can, perhaps, endure the appellation of “Mr. Spooky and Mysterious” for a little while longer, though I swear I am going to murder Yatomi—or Yaya as she likes to call herself—if she pulls on my shroud one more time. I need that to breathe. It really isn’t funny. How did an underfed urchin in bright yellow, wielding a bladed star larger than herself earn the title “ninja” anyway? I would place her at twelve years of age though she claims to be over eighteen.

The “soldier” among us, Jackson, is large enough to make me doubt his humanity. He is as wide as he is tall, dark of complexion, and has a gun in place of one of his arms. I do not know how he loads and fires it and I’ve no interest in enquiring.

There is also a talking plush creature. No, I am not joking. I do not know what manner of animal it is supposed to represent. When it first popped out of the bushes and introduced itself as Momo, I was quite certain that I was hallucinating and paid it no mind. I often wish it had been a figment of imagination. It likes to “help” by rearranging everyone’s gear, screaming when we are under attack, and occasionally causing things to explode. While this only rumples its fur and turns it black, it is a real hazard to the rest of us.

How long I will have to endure this, I do not know, but the end may come sooner than expected. I received a missive from my father, the Duke of Skarrol, advising me that he is currently negotiating with the dragon cultists. Their emissaries have offered a decent proposal and all that remains now is for the council to approve or decline. I am not worried. The Searin bloodline has chosen the winning side of every conflict for generations and my father is no fool. If the dragon can offer us a greater bounty than the king, we shall simply switch sides and I will be ordered to liquidate Heart’s little band of inconveniences. Probably the other teams as well, assuming any of them have survived.

Perhaps Miyuki can be spared? I might convince her to come with me. Ah, not likely after I’ve killed her friends. Pity. I shall have to think on this.

For now, I hear the distinct howl of direwolves. Time to go save the day.

***

Well, that was fun. Not only were there direwolves but also a forest troll. I swear, that thing was at least twenty feet tall and Heart still could not shoot it. In fact, he almost hit Miyuki. That would have been an impressive feat given that she was behind him.

The fight took a little longer than I would have liked. I had to stay behind the troll for most of it to avoid the blasts of holy light from our healer. Between those, Yaya’s flying star, Jackson’s bullets, and Heart’s blade flailing all over the place, it’s a damned good thing I stay in shadow form for the majority of the time.

Our “hero” believes he struck the winning blow. How quaint. Upon noticing the pulverized organs where I phased through the troll’s gut and cast a blade storm he simply said: “See? Big swords do big damage!” Yes. Clever.

On a side note, Jackson managed to get himself killed. The moppets are all very sad. It’s a little quieter in camp, which is nice. I shall miss his gun. He was actually a decent shot with it. I’ve excused myself from the scene of the carnage to clean the gore off my blades. They

think I have gone off to deal with my grief. It’s a decent excuse.

I think I shall patrol the perimeter for awhile. Direwolves like to attack in waves and we’ve only seen one. The rest of the party is too tired and out of sorts to fight, but me? A shadow has no need for rest. You’re welcome.

Author: Ethan Kincaid

Ethan Kincaid was born in 1985 in Brockville, a sleepy little town on the St. Lawrence River. He graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa with a degree in Linguistics and a minor in Japanese Language. After finishing his education, he settled down there with his wife Kaitlyn and became a full-time writer. In 2011, he moved to Montreal and discovered its vibrant writing culture. In 2015, Ethan moved to Helsinki, Finland with his wife; he works as a props crafter and part time author. His first book, Blood of Midnight: The Broken Prophecy is the first of a new fantasy trilogy. The greatest joy in his life lies in helping budding writers find their voices. In his words: "I like to shake people until cool stuff comes out!"

2 thoughts on “Deus Ex Machina – Short Story”

  1. Would this serve as a good example of a deus ex machina for my 10th grade students? I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and am not familiar with the video game references, but will take your word for it. Thanks!

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    1. Sure! Have fun with it. 🙂 The video game references are pretty generic cliches for the most part. The most iconic games that represent these references would be the Final Fantasy games, particularly Final Fantasy 7. You’ll see what I mean, ahaha!

      Like

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