UPDATE: This post has been updated as 'Full of Holes,' and included in the recently released book, How to Play a Character & Other Essays, available for purchase from the Lulu marketplace.
The large man in armor stood upon the ledge, looking up at the cliff from which a rope dangled. The rope extended upwards some fifty feet, and showed a little movement. Someone was fighting up there. The man gave no sign that he was worried about it. He calmly paced around, gripping the pommel of his sword and letting it go again, before looking up at the cliff and the rope.
A woman in armor sat on the ledge nearby; it was a large ledge. Her back was against the cliff wall, and she casually sharpened her dagger with a whetstone. “How is he doing?” she asked.
“He must be okay. He hasn’t called for help.”
“You could help him anyway, you know.”
The woman did not press her point further. But she did notice when the man furrowed his brow, and so she questioned him about it.
“I’ve been thinking,” said the man.
“Just strange things. Things I haven’t been able to put together.”
“Well, like my name for instance.” The man hesitated. “Xaxlan.” He repeated his name again, saying it slower. “Xaaaxxx...lan. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?”
“Well, now that you mention it, no.”
“Exactly. I’ve been thinking about that for a while now. Why would my parents name me Xaxlan? I mean, your name is Melissa. There are lots of people named Melissa. I’ve never met anyone named Xaxlan. It sounds like a name someone would make up.”
“Someone did. Your parents.”
“Hm,” said Xaxlan. “Okay, what about this?” Calmly, he took his sword out of his scabbard, laid it on the ground, and then took his scabbard off his belt. He handed it to Melissa. “Look at this scabbard.”
Melissa took it.
“Do you see a mark on it? Any scratches? Anything that suggests use at all?”
“And neither do I. Yet I bought it more than a month ago; I’ve used it practically every day, putting the sword in, taking the sword out ... and remember, since I bought it, we’ve crossed through a forest, waded through a swamp, gone down into a deep series of tunnels and now climbed this mountain. Not exactly what you’d call a light month’s work, is it? But look at that scabbard. It’s not even stained.”
“None of my clothes are stained. Not my backpack, not my shirt, not my cloak ... and believe me, I’ve been sweating up a storm every day. But you can’t even smell me sweat, can you? No, don’t bother to answer. I don’t smell you sweating either. Yet we are sweating. Isn’t that strange?”
“Don’t think about it so much.”
“I can’t help it.” He took the scabbard back and reattached it to his belt.
She returned to using her whetstone.
“Now that’s a thing too,” he said. “You use that whetstone all the time – and I never use mine. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference. My sword is as sharp as your dagger. So why do you use it?”
“I like to use it. It feels right somehow.”
“Okay,” Xaxlan said. “I understand that ... strangely. Still, there’s all these little things. Like, for instance, everything I’m wearing right now – everything I’m carrying – I bought it all at the same time. I remember having a big fist full of gold – a month ago – and buying all I have. Why did I have to do that all at once? I have a vague recollection that just prior I was naked ... though I’m not sure about that.”
Melissa shrugged. “I bought everything I have at the same time.”
“YES! That is exactly my point!” Xaxlan waved his finger at her. “You bought everything you have at the same time I did. Isn’t that some sort of weird coincidence?”
He paced back and forth. “Listen, I know I’m onto something here. I’m going to put something to you ... and all I want you to do is give some serious thought to it before you say anything back.” Xaxlan stared at her.
She stared at him. “Well?”
“I’m working up to it,” he said. “See, this seems wrong to me, but I don’t know why. Do you realize that we’ve known each other only a month?”
That made her stop using the whetstone. “A month?”
“Yes. In fact, it was right about the time that we both bought all our stuff. Don’t you remember?”
She nodded. “I remember. I just hadn’t thought about it being a month. It feels like longer. A lot longer, like forty or fifty weeks.”
“It does to me too,” he agreed. “But it has actually only been a month. And despite that, I feel like ... well, like I know you really well. Like I’ve known you for years. Just think about it. We never argue; you don’t have any habits that bother me; most of the time, we talk everything through and most of the time we kind of always agree. It’s not that I don’t think I can have that kind of relationship with a woman, it’s just that –“
At that moment, two large, humanoid creatures suddenly climbed onto the ledge, on either side of Xaxlan and Melissa. The two did not hesitate. There was no hint that either was caught unsuspecting. Xaxlan easily snatched his sword up from where it lay at his feet, and Melissa was on her feet in a time too quick to tell. Her dagger went through the eye of the one humanoid, though it was much taller than she was. It died immediately. Xaxlan’s sword struck the other humanoid and it died immediately as well.
They kicked the two bodies off the ledge, and went back to what they were doing.
“That was easy,” said Xaxlan.
Melissa grunted agreement. She found her whetstone and, without cleaning the blood from her dagger, went back to sharpening it.
“I can’t figure out why just a month ago that was so hard,” said Xaxlan. “Seems a month ago I had trouble even hitting creatures like that.”
“Practice,” said Melissa.
The rope started to jiggle, and Xaxlan looked up. He could see Rupert skimming down the rope ... then suddenly, Rupert seemed to lose his grip. He fell twenty-five feet, landing square on the ledge, right at Xaxlan’s feet, without so much as a bounce. Rupert let out a curse.
“Are you all right?” asked Xaxlan.
“You’re not hurt?”
Rupert looked around himself. “Hm. Not apparently. Not in any way I can tell.”
“How did you fall?” asked Melissa.
“I don’t know. One minute I had my hands on the rope, the next, I didn’t. It happens.”
“Really?” Melissa’s eyes widened.
“Yes. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just sort of live with it.”
“How often does it happen?” asked Xaxlan.
“As near as I can tell, about eleven percent of the time. Give or take a percent. Don’t worry about it. What are you two chatting about?”
“Oh, Xaxlan was saying we’ve only known each other a month.”
“Thirty-two days,” said Rupert. “But who’s counting?”
“You are, it sounds like.”
“Yes, but I don’t remember counting. Seems I wanted to know how long it had been and I just knew. And when I calculated it out in my head after, I was right. What about it?”
Xaxlan moved next to Rupert and pointed at Melissa. “Just this. We’ve only known each other thirty-two days. Now tell me. Is Melissa attractive?”
Rupert tilted his head. “Yeah ... I’d say so.”
“Me too. Nice height, nice weight, nice curves. And that robe is tight and she has it pretty much tucked into all the right places.”
“Oh, I agree.”
“Melissa,” said Xaxlan. “You don’t mind if we talk about you like this?”
“No. Why would I mind?”
“I just thought somehow you ought to. But forget it. I’m making a larger point. Rupert ... do you want to have sex with Melissa?”
“Oh god no.”
“And me either!” said Xaxlan. “The thought didn’t even occur to me until just now. It’s like ... somehow, she’s not exactly a woman. If that makes any sense.”
“It makes a lot of sense, I guess,” agreed Rupert. “I mean, yes, I agree, I see that she is a woman ... but she doesn’t exactly strike me the way a woman normally does. Isn’t that odd?”
“It is odd. Melissa, do you find either one of us attractive?”
“Okay, I don’t want to bother you. It’s just that ... Rupert and I are kind of well toned, wouldn’t you say? I mean, he’s lean and at that last town, all the women seemed to fancy him ... and I’m huge and strong and women usually go for that. If you were my sister, I could understand you not wanting to sleep with us ... but we’re not related and we’ve known each other only a month.”
“Right, Rupert. Thirty-two days. Isn’t that weird?”
“I guess so.”
“It seems weird to me.”
They all stood together, not talking.
“What should we do now?” asked Rupert.
“I don’t know.” Xaxlan craned his neck. “Is there a cave up there?”
“Nope, just a dead bear. Kinda hard to kill him. I’d have had more trouble last week, I think ... you know, before we found that treasure chest. Things have seemed a lot easier since then.”
Melissa stood up. “Well, I’ve got to get some rest. Got to memorize some spells before we get attacked again.”
“There, that’s another thing,” said Xaxlan. “Why is it you can’t remember your spells after you –“
“Just shut up and lead. We have to get back to the ledge where the steps lead down before nightfall. Harpix can play while you get started.”
“Harpix?” Xaxlan looked around, saw the bard with his lute, who seemed to have materialized from nowhere. “Oh, right, sorry Harpix. I didn’t see you there.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Nice robe. Where’d you get it?”
“Shopkeeper gave me a list,” said Harpix. “Are we ready to start?”