Cable and the Sword of Destiny
Cable was the oldest boy in the world, and his dog was the ugliest dog
in the world. (Actually, there was a farmer who thought he had discovered
an uglier dog once, one with two heads and eight legs; on closer inspection,
however, the farmer found himself to be extremely and embarrassingly mistaken.)
The dog, whose name changed daily, was currently going by the name Audacious
Behavior, and he'd roll his eyes and snap at invisible creatures every
once in a while to demonstrate. The pair walked leisurely along a well-traveled
road, scuffling the dirt with five limbs (the dog was missing a forepaw)
and generally doing everything in their power not to hurry. As they crested
a hill that had chosen to rest beneath them, they saw the gates of a large
"A city!" Cable cried.
"It is indeed," Audacious Behavior agreed, drooling and huffing a
bit. "And how far did that last gentleman say it was to the next city?"
"Three days' journey."
"And how long ago was that?"
Cable watched the dog's face closely. "Thr . . . fi . . . uh--"
"Se-evv . . . "
"Seven days?" Cable guessed tentatively.
"Seven days exactly, very good. And my name, much to my own amusement,
is now Tripod. It's a good thing, too, because my teeth were starting
to throb from all that gnashing."
(It should perhaps be explained at this point that the well-intentioned
traveler who informed the pair of the distance to the next town was not
in error in his estimate. Rather, he was mistaken in his audience; like
most people, he assumed he was speaking to someone with some comprehension
of time. He could not have known that Cable and the now aptly-named Tripod
had their own little arrangement going--they ignored Time, and Time ignored
them. It worked out quite well for them, although most people would have
had at least some difficulty with this, especially when it came to planning
"Ah, the city!" Tripod exclaimed. "How many memories it brings back!
Even now, I can see myself on those streets, a young pup, facing every
hardship the cruel world had to offer with an insouciant snarl, my well-formed
features twisted by sardonic laughter as I mocked my enemies--"
"I thought you said you've never been here."
"Well, not to this particular city, no, but I'm speaking
more in the general terms of--"
"I thought you said you were never a puppy."
"Again, in the strictest terms I haven't been, but
there is a certain--"
"For that matter, you don't actually have any enemies, do you? And
while we're on the subject, there is the matter of 'well-formed features'
to be confronted--"
"Do you smell food?" Tripod asked.
Cable lifted an eyebrow. (Unfortunately, he had to use a finger to
do it, which quite spoiled the appearance of superiority he was striving
for.) "No, I don't, actually."
"Strange. I suppose that delicious scent must be coming from the
veins in your throat."
"Oh, food! Yes, yes, now that you mention it, I do
smell food. Sorry, I thought you said hippopotami." Cable
did his best to look sincere, pushing his eyebrow back in place as subtly
"That's what I thought you'd say. Shall we enter the city now, O
Hopeless One, or would you rather stay here and sniff out ungainly herbivores?"
After an hour or so of searching the underbrush in order to prove
his sincerity, Cable followed the dog to the city. The two mating hippos
in the nearby river never missed them.
The city throbbed like a giant heart as the pair passed through its
gates (which may have explained the blood flowing through its gutters).
They breathed deeply of its fumes, which proved unfortunate for Cable,
for they were immediately behind a large cart of dung at the time. The
breath caught in his lungs and sat there for a while, lying about and
making itself quite comfortable until Cable evicted it with some force.
"Awfully strange air they have here," Tripod remarked. "It actually
seems to have color."
"Flavor, too," wheezed Cable.
After a long moment in which Cable retaught his body the basics of
respiration, he and the dog moved through the crowds clogging the city's
main gate and entered the marketplace. They were immediately assaulted
by a cacophony of shouts, screams, laughter, music, and strange, unidentifiable
squishy sounds as the press of bodies around them thinned, ceasing to
muffle the noise of the place. There was much to be taken in, and there
were two ways of doing so. Tripod chose the scientific approach. "We shall
start here, Cable, and by careful maneuvering we should be able to take
in the highlights of this festive panoply with a minimum of discomfort
Cable, on the other hand, chose the path of more immediate gratification.
Tripod looked about suddenly, realizing that he was, at present,
unencumbered by companionship.
"Hey, Tripod, lookit meee!"
The dog burrowed through a tunnel of legs to see Cable, wrapped in
various cloths, assorted necklaces, and sundry dried meat products, darting
from stall to stall as a growing horde of angry merchants fell over each
other in an effort to catch him.
"This is useful!" Cable shouted, grabbing something that looked
remarkably like a jewel-encrusted sausage as he enraged yet another hot,
sweaty, heavily-armed tradesman.
"It's my fault, really," Tripod muttered to himself. "I suppose,
somewhere along the way, I should have brought up the concept of payment
with the boy." Taking a desultory nip at a nearby ankle, he followed in
Things did not look at all well for Cable when Tripod found him.
Cable was bottled up in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by large men with big,
angry noses snorting air into big, angry faces while their big, angry
swords menaced the collection of trinkets and oddities that was their
prey. To make matters worse, Cable, having weighed the options available
to him, having carefully considered the long-term benefits of judicious
reasoning, abject apology, even foaming at the mouth and raving like a
loon, chose instead to follow the path least taken-keep everything and
be damned with the rest. By the time the dog got within earshot, Cable's
self-defense consisted mainly of one rationale.
"But you've all got lots of great junk and I don't have any."
There was nothing for it at this juncture but for Tripod to save
the situation. It was time to go into battle.
The aura of menace surrounding Cable was broken momentarily by a
trail of shouts and curses that traveled inwards toward the front of the
group at about the pace of a trotting three-legged dog.
"I've been bitten!"
"By the gods, so have I!"
There was a short lull. Then:
"I've been PEED on!"
"My hero!" Cable shouted.
"Yip!" responded Tripod as a well-placed sandal sent him tumbling
into Cable's feet.
"Not my hero!" Cable shouted.
"No, boy," a voice swelled from behind the duo's antagonists, "I
There was a single moment of confused silence as all involved listened
for the next sound. It came, and it sounded curiously like GUSH.
Then there were shrill screams and various impolite dying noises
and, in the space of time it takes for several grown men to call for "Mommy!"
a man appeared beside Cable.
Of course, to say he was a 'man' is rather misleading. To say he
was a MAN with bold letters and exclamation points and little curly things
all over it would be getting more to the point. To say he was some slavering
cross between a bull ox and a cave bear who had somehow been taught to
wear a loincloth and walk about on its hind legs most of the time would
just about put it right.
"My hero!" Cable shouted.
"Fickle," muttered the dog.
The man/ox/bear drew in a deep breath, which also managed to draw
the breath from several of those standing close to him, and, in a loud,
yes-I-work-on-it-but-I-don't-obsess-about-it voice, addressed the surviving
"LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS!"
There were thumps as several weapons hit the ground, and at least
one man was observed actually trying to dislocate his shoulders.
"Can you not see who you are attacking?"
Entire faces squinted in order to improve the owners' eyesight.
"What kind of men are you who would raise swords against this poor
idiot-boy and his hideously deformed monkey?! Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?"
There were heart-rending cries of abasement from the audience.
"Look at the face of this poor child! He has nothing! Not even a
proper pet! Instead, he has to drag THIS around!" He picked Tripod up
by the scruff of the neck. "By all the gods' codpieces, look at the mange!"
There was open weeping in the crowd.
"Men like you make me sick!" he spat, thrusting his sword
forward to make the point. Two men stopped crying in mid-wail.
"Now, go back to your depressing little carts and try to live with
The area was filled with the sound of inrushing air as a large mass
of exiting bodies demonstrated the concept of a vacuum.
Tripod and Cable flanked their savior as the man wiped his blade
on a dead man's shirt. "Thank you for your help, there, my good fellow,"
the dog said. "I especially liked the way you confused them with that
nonsense about the monkey and all. Clever use of battle tactics, that,
though I must say that I was about to bring the situation in hand myself."
"Oh, be sure of it. In fact, I can tell you even now that there's
a certain sandal-wearer out there whose ankles won't be safe for some
time, I assure you."
"So . . ."
" . . ."
"How about a drink?"
The warrior looked up and smiled. "Who's buying?"
"But the main thing, the most important thing to remember,
is to never, ever, laugh when someone's head comes off. They hate
it when you do that."
The warrior, whose name was a strange, guttural sound akin to a wet
belch, but who was known as Clot to his friends (all, unfortunately, deceased),
was showing his new acquaintances the rudiments of swordplay. After a
long afternoon of drinking, paid for by the many charming and unique curios
that Cable had collected, the trio had wandered about the city until they
had found themselves in a desolate courtyard. (Of course, when they'd
first stumbled upon the place it was quite popular, but Clot decided that
this would be the perfect place to get in a little exercise, and after
the first several bystanders were unburdened of extraneous limbs, there
was a general consensus that the charms of the spot were quite overrated.)
Clot had continued to parry, thrust, chop, slash, and generally decimate
the foliage for a while, until Cable asked if he could try the sword for
a bit. Clot was amused.
"You wish to try my sword? You wish to challenge your pasty, uncalloused
fingers with the grip of a real man's weapon? You wish to suffer the shame,
the utter humiliation, of placing yourself into the mold of true, no-mincing-allowed
heroism, only to find your pitiful form sadly lacking?"
"Sure, why not?"
There are stories throughout the worlds of swordsmen, special swordsmen,
to whom the blade serves as an extension of their bodies; men whose speed
with weapons blurs the very air around them; men whose accuracy in battle
is unerring, whose gifts of grace and style have been known to draw tears
of gratitude from the very foes they were eviscerating; men whose dedication
to the sword has become the stuff of legend. Men who are one with death,
whose weapons bear proud, imposing names, and whose hair is always long
and perfectly windswept whenever they finish a battle.
Cable was none of these men. But if you leave out the accuracy part,
and throw dedication right out the window, then he was definitely a swordsman.
Cable leapt about the courtyard with unfettered abandon, thrusting
slashing at shadows:
"Haa! Hooo! BONK IT ONNA HEAD!"
He looked like nothing so much as a dust-devil with a point.
Clot turned to Tripod, who was currently huddling beside him behind
a cracked but still intact fountain. Both were covered with leaves, branches,
and a fine layer of sawdust. "That boy definitely needs
The dog shuddered.
"His own sword."
The dog gulped.
"When he's finished playing with mine, just bring it to the nearest
tavern, will you?"
The dog nodded.
Clot ran away, losing very little blood and only part of an ear in
the process. Tripod watched him leave enviously. He huddled a bit closer
to the fragmented statuary and waited for Cable to run out of energy.
Or targets, whichever came first.
Clot sat talking to Cable and Stoic Virtue (it had taken two days
for Cable to wind down, according to the dog's reckoning); every so often
he would gaze in dismay at the nicked and battered blade of his sword.
By the time the smith restores the edge on this, he mourned
to himself, I'll have to use it as a boot-knife.
"As I say," Stoic Virtue continued, "it seems there's nothing to
be done but get Cable a sword of his own, otherwise . . . well, you can
see for yourself."
They both turned to look at Cable, who sat with a glazed look in
his eyes, his hands twitching as he mentally enacted some private fantasy.
"What ho, varlot! Take that!" he cried out, grinning dashingly. (It was
actually a rather silly grin; he'd rubbed some fireplace ash on his upper
lip to emulate a thin mustache, and it looked as if some sort of fuzzy
slug had taken residence there, which was almost certainly not the desired
Stoic Virtue sighed. "As you can see, there'll be no living with
him until he gets one."
"En guarde, cowering fiend!" cried Cable.
Clot shifted uncomfortably. "The way he uses a sword, there may be
no living with him when he gets one."
"No, no, no," the dog assured him, "once he actually has it,
he'll lose interest soon enough. Cable has a very short attention span.
It'll be just like the time he got that Orb of Ultimate Evil. He played
with it for a couple of eons, then he left it lying around somewhere,
and sure enough, the first fallen angel that comes along snatches it up
and sets up shop for himself. Cable didn't even miss it. It'll be the
same with this whole sword business."
"Tremble, knave, for I will surely dine upon your impaled heart 'ere
this night is out!" cried Cable.
"I hope," Stoic Virtue added.
"S'gotta be a good sword, a special sword." Clot was
drunk again. It was the only way to get him to agree to help the pair
find a sword for Cable. "S'gotta be strong. Better be magic,
the way that kid works." Clot was still a bit morose about his own blade.
Maybe a butter knife, he kept thinking. "S'gotta
be big. Real big. An', an' heavy. Slow him
down some, give bystanders a chance to hide. Maybe some kind of anvil
on a stick--"
"No, I'm afraid he'll settle for no less than a true sword, friend
"Are you talkin' ta me?" snarled Cable.
Stoic Virtue cleared his throat a time or two. No response. "Cable,
dear boy, yoo-hoo, back from whatever strange little world you've
drifted into, it's time to find you a sword."
"Yes, yes, handle, blade, deadly killing instrument, looks great
with a cloak. Shall we proceed?"
Cable snapped to alertness. Reaching out, he seemed to unzip the
air in front of him, holding an edge open like a curtain and ushering
the others through with a small bow. Clot hesitantly followed the dog
through, knowing as he did so that he had not drunk nearly enough ale
for this, still being conscious and all. "You travel like this all the
"Of course not," Stoic Virtue chuckled. "Usually, we're being chased."
The three travelers searched, and they found many swords, but none
of them seemed right to Cable. He discarded swords with hilts carved from
dragonbone and unicorn horn, swords with blades of ebon hue, covered in
mystic runes, singing swords, shouting swords, even one that told
off-color jokes and made farting noises a lot. Whatever the nature of
the weapon, Cable would find something wrong with it: it's too big, too
small, too gaudy, too loud, but I like my soul, et cetera.
(Actually, they found one wonderful sword just lying around in an old
rock, but some old bearded guy ran out and made Cable put it back.) After
tearing several holes in the very fabric of space and time, Cable was
grouchy, the dog was limping on two of his three legs, and Clot was looking
This last occurrence, naturally, drew attention.
"It seems, noble warrior," the dog said, "that an idea has had the
temerity to insinuate itself into your gray matter."
"That is to say, you seem to be in the midst of a cogitation."
"Oh. Well, I know of a sword . . ."
"Yes?" Cable echoed.
"A sword of great power . . ."
"Yes, again yes?"
"A sword of legend . . ."
Cable quit counting his fingers. "Yes, yes . . . yes?"
"It is the Sword of Destiny. It is said that the fate of worlds rests
on its pommel. It is said that it waits at the end of all time, locked
in a tower surrounded by unsurmountable obstacles, floating in a swamp
of poison acid, guarded by a wise and powerful sorcerer, waiting for the
Final Hero to conquer Death itself in order to finally wield it in the
battle for Light against Darkness."
Stoic Virtue sat on his haunches, overly impressed. "You memorized
all that yourself, did you?"
Clot reddened. "All us barbarians have to."
Cable hopped from foot to foot, crowing with excitement. "That's
it! That's the sword I want!"
Clot was aghast. "But--but the swamps! The guardian!"
"Eh," sniffed Stoic Virtue.
"Double 'eh'," sniffed Cable.
"But only the Chosen One, the Final Hero, can take the sword!"
Stoic Virtue snorted, which for him was a nasty sound indeed. "Red
tape," he explained.
They stood on the edge of a vast quagmire. The air reeked of deadly
gases, and from the depths of the swamp issued horrid cries of animal
agony and the booming, soul-wrenching voices of creatures too malignant
to name. In the distance, a wall of living vines writhed against the yellow
sky, their foot-long thorns glistening with green ichor, glowing with
sickly phosphorescence. Even from their current vantage, the trio could
see the mingled bones of adventurers and their mounts, fused together
with immeasurable strength by some unknown force. Many warriors had died
in this place, and only their contorted skeletons remained to tell of
Cable gave a low whistle. "Appalling."
The dog concurred. "One might add formidable."
"Oh, yes, yes, certainly that. Seems fairly impassible, doesn't it?"
"To be sure."
"Good thing we're on this side, then, isn't it?" Cable asked as he
zipped the sky closed behind him.
Stoic Virtue turned to see the dark tower which loomed several paces
behind him. " 'Truer words . . .', my boy, 'truer words . . .' "
"What's with our friend?" Cable gestured towards Clot, who seemed
actually to be crying, moaning something about a wasted life.
Stoic Virtue shrugged, scratching an ear. "Must be the fumes."
Cable and the dog turned and walked to the doors of the tower, which
were, despite the absence of anything resembling a lock, firmly secured.
Clot stood where he was, staring transfixed at all the imminent peril
he had missed out on. Stoic Virtue sniffed the air.
"Magically barred, no doubt," Cable said.
"Yes, indeed, my boy, and a splendid job of it, too. My deepest respects
to the architect of this particular spell. The weaving is sublime, the
quality of the lines of power are unsurpassed, and . . . look at that!
He even threw in a villainous laughter glyph! You know, it's so rare to
find quality craftsmanship these days. If someone were to break through
these doors, their body and soul would be shattered into cosmic dust and
spread throughout the universe. And with the built-in time delay, they'd
actually remain conscious through the whole affair! A masterpiece, pure
"Can we see it work?"
"I admit I'm tempted . . . but no, Clot's been much too generous
already. It's probably better if you just knock."
"Knock?!" Clot's voice thundered from behind them. "Knock?! A mighty
wizard has been guarding this tower for centuries from all who seek it,
and you think he'll answer the door for you if you knock?!"
Stoic Virtue gave the barbarian a patient glance. "I know
he'll answer it. Cable has a way with knocking."
And with that, Cable began to knock. He knocked, not in the way of
a stranger wanting admittance, nor in the manner of an expected visitor
announcing his presence. Instead, he knocked like your stupid, drunken
friends who have no responsibilities at all and expect you to get out
of bed at four in the morning on a week night and join them on their oh-so-merry
way as they try to find at least one tavern that hasn't already thrown
them out once or twice, and so what if you have to work the next day.
He developed a sort of drum rhythm, starting soft and then getting gradually
louder, then he threw in little side riffs, as if he'd just thought of
a song that fit the beat, then he'd lose the beat altogether, trailing
off into stacatto raps that gradually became yet another rhythm altogether,
all the time shouting, "C'mon, open up, it's dark out here!" and other
such inanities. Within moments (about the length of time it takes to to
be pulled kicking and screaming from a perfectly wonderful dream full
of scantily-clad enchantresses, remember where you are and what
ungodly hour it is, and trip two or three times in the dark as you try
to throw on some semblance of clothing), the doors to the tower burst
open, and a withered, white-bearded gentleman shouted, "What the blazes
He would have shouted more, but at that moment the spell, which he
had neglected to disarm, went off in a flash of brilliant color.
"Yes!" Cable enthused.
The wizard waved his hands frantically, mouthing something the trio
could not hear over the sinister laughter which filled the air, and the
lights and sound died as quickly as they had begun.
"Rats!" Cable complained.
The wizard sagged against an open door as he beat small sparks out
of his nightclothes. Sensing that there would be no further pyrotechnic
amusement, Cable entered the tower, followed closely by his two companions
(although Clot seemed fairly disgusted with the whole thing). The wizard
looked up from quenching a small brushfire in his beard to see the three
staring at him, two of them expectantly, one in apparent sympathy. "Well?"
"We're here for the sword."
The wizard appeared shocked, to say the least. "Excuse me?"
The dog stepped forward. "Allow me. I am, for today, Ipso Facto,
and this eager lad who now stands before you is Cable, also known to his
friends as the Final Hero."
"This is the Final Hero?"
Cable offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Ipso Facto continued. "Cable, who shall heretofore be referred to
as the party of the first part, having fulfilled all prerequisites set
forth in a verbal but valid and legally binding agreement between the
Forces of Light, who shall henceforth be referred to as the party of the
second part, and all comers, who shall remain nameless until notification
of next-of-kin, is hereby and forthwith entitled to all benefits offered
by the party of the second part as payment for fulfillment of said agreement,
which shall henceforth be referred to as Exhibit A."
The wizard merely shook his head, dumbfounded.
"In other words, he passed the tests, so give him the sword."
"Oh." The wizard closed his eyes for a moment, trying to conjure
up visions of those naked witches again. If he got right back to sleep,
maybe . . .
"Right." Reaching into the air and muttering several eldritch phrases,
he pulled a shining sword from the nether regions. "Here. Happy hunting.
Give Darkness a good rap in the ass for me, too."
Then he stumbled back to bed. . .
. . . only to be awakened again what seemed like scant moments later
by a rustling outside his window. This was a significant event, considering
that his window was two hundred feet up the unscalable side of the tower.
He prepared a spell (why hadn't he thought of that before?) and crept
to the shutters, quickly throwing them aside and cocking his spell-throwing
arm (the right one; he used to use the left one, but someone told him
he threw spells like a wizardess that way).
The man outside the window fell into the room, rolling with the fall
and springing at once into a defensive stance. His clothes were shredded,
hanging in strands across his muscular torso; his body was covered with
bruises, scratches, and burns from the various creatures and substances
he had battled on his way to the tower; ichor dripped from his face, his
arms, his legs; his fingers were torn and bloodied from the grueling climb
up the side of the tower; but his hair was immaculate, and a small breeze
seemed to emit from a spot two feet in front of his face in order to gently
toss his golden locks.
In short, he was a Hero.
"I have arrived, O Wise One, after seven years of struggling with
innumerable foes, overcoming inconceivable odds in order to reach this
tower. The struggle between Light and Darkness has reached the crux; without
the Sword of Destiny, and the warrior foretold in the prophecies to wield
it, Darkness will surely prevail. I am that warrior, O Wizard, here to
lay claim to the sword and vanquish the evil that threatens us all!" The
Hero assumed a very dramatic pose, causing his muscles to vie furiously
The wizard smiled sheepishly. He backed surreptitiously away from
the warrior, ready to make a mad rush for the front door when the time
came. "Well, you see," he explained, "it's like this . . ."
Cable and Ipso Facto sauntered casually down a sunny roadway. They'd
left Clot in the middle of a particularly fierce battle at his insistence,
even though he had no idea what the fight was about. As they left the
place, Clot was proceeding to do a very good imitation of Cable's swordplay,
and many of the combatants were wondering where the third army had come
from. Now, though, Cable and the dog were enjoying the peaceful afternoon
as they followed one of their favorite paths, Cable pausing every mile
or so to strike another pose, sword flashing brilliantly as it caught
and intensified the light that shone down on it.
"Why don't you give it a go, my boy?"
Cable swung the sword in a shallow arc at his side. "Oh, no, I couldn't
do that. I might nick it or something."
"Ah, the responsibilities of ownership."
"If I had a room, I could hang it on the wall over my bed. That would
"Right next to that Grail, eh?"
"No, no, that's being used as a paperweight."
"That's right. Well, put it away, then, and one day we might just
be able to find someplace for you to hang it."
Cable opened a small space in the air beside him and dropped the
sword into it. "Do you really think so?"
The dog paused to shake himself, then chuckled. " 'Stranger things
. . .', my dear Cable, 'stranger things . . .' "
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