How we think the fight will go
He had certainly been looking forward to a warm fire at the end of his long journey, but this was not exactly what he’d had in mind. Riding up into the clearing where his little stone cottage lay, Merlin was greeted by blackened stones and mounds of ashes that still gave off radiant warmth. Charred roof-beams poked crazily from the debris like broken fingers.All of this he saw, but did not lament the loss of his dwelling. It was the books he thought of, the books, the piles and towers of them, the shelves groaning under the weight of them, the books, many of them inked in his own severe script. Most of them quite rare, some irreplaceable, a few positively esoteric. When one thought of the scrolls that had somehow managed to escape the inferno at the library in Alexandria, only to meet their end in a tiny cottage-fire somewhere a thousand years later and a thousand miles away, one might lose one’s mind. Merlin sat stone-still in his saddle; the blue nag beneath him went rigid also, more alarmed by its rider’s sudden change in spirits than the sight and smells of devastation that lay before them.
In one deceptively careless gesture, a disc of bloodstone appeared in the magician’s fingertips, dark green and polished to a mirror shine, shot through with red flecks. Merlin inhaled deeply and focused inward while gazing outward, quieting his thoughts. It was a simple trick of the mind mostly, this crystal-gazing business. However, if you looked with both your eyes and your mind at the same time, occasionally you could glimpse The Truth.
The stone’s blood-spots swam before his eyes; an image slowly formed around, behind, between them. Yes! He saw a silhouette of a gaunt man on horseback – possibly within this very clearing! His pulse pounded in his temples as he fought to prolong the trance, intent on identifying the rider before the vision dispersed. It was …
It was Merlin, himself! Viewed from directly behind, through unblinking and inhuman eyes. And as if it sensed his awareness, it began to advance; he watched as the back of his own head grew larger and larger across the face of the stone, until all was in shadow.
Merlin leaped from his saddle, throwing himself to the ground. As he rolled onto his back, some kind of beast lunged from the underbrush and flung itself into the space where he’d just been sitting. The nag screamed and lunged. The beast gripped her with eight insectile legs and could not be shaken. The wizard watched in fascination as a silver needle flashed from the beast’s muzzle and plunged into the horse’s straining neck. Almost instantly, her front legs crumpled beneath her and she twisted and crashed to the ground.
Two of the beast’s legs were pinned to the ground beneath her.
Merlin let out a jolly laugh that startled the remaining birds from the treetops. Flames burst out of his palms and spurted up from his collar, until the magician’s entire body was crawling with spectral fire. Only then did he cross the clearing to where his unfortunate steed had fallen, and where this unholy creature writhed on the ground – not in pain, he noted, but in a kind of methodical anxiety, using its other legs as levers to push and strain and dig out from under the stiffening body. Merlin thought first that it must be some sort of clockwork, the sort of elaborate creation that one might find in the most extravagant courts of Arabia. But as he drew nearer and observed the logic of its contortions, he saw this wasn’t so: it was a thing unbound in time, a truly intelligent and daemonic entity.
The grass sizzled around Merlin’s boots as he approached. “Be still,” he commanded, and lowered his hand like a blazing torch upon what passed on the thing for its head. It emitted a low growl that sounded like chain mail rustling, and all the sleek, sensitive fibers that lined its muzzle lay flat in unison.
Like a scorpion’s sting, a four-inch needle shot from the hound’s muzzle and plunged directly into the magician’s burning palm. Merlin countered without flinching, leaning his weight forward so that the needle simply passed all the way through. The gleaming spike stood straight out of the back of his hand, impotently dribbling a clear liquid clearly intended for his veins. Insensitive to the wound, he gripped the thing’s faceplate with his slender fingertips.
“Good girl,” the wizard crooned. “But not good enough.” In a flash, the magical flames crackled down his arm and leaped into the creature’s skull, churning through its mysterious cavities. The thing shook and spasmed and belched greasy smoke before falling limp, the rubbery pads on its feet still tapping weakly against the spring earth.
Merlin rose to his feet and flexed his injured hand. Then, stooping over the corpses, he rummaged through his poor mare’s saddlebags for a quill and scrap of parchment. Shelter could wait – he must take advantage of the remaining daylight to begin his new library, starting with a thorough account of the incident.
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON WEDNESDAY, March 6th, 2013, AT 5 PM, EST
Merlin is a character from Arthurian Legend; The Mechanical Hound is a character from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”