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Extreme Tales

Twin Valley Kingdom

By Matt Stephens
December 30, 2001

On the eastern coast of a temperate land, there existed a medium-sized kingdom. This Kingdom was nestled among two large valleys, with three mountains, several towns, and lots of gullies and rivers. The kingdom was warm in the Summer, and cool in the Winter, and its people were, for the most part, very happy.

One Summer afternoon, the King strode out onto the balcony of his palace. The palace was perched precariously atop a mighty pinnacle of rock, and could only be reached via an elegant, perfectly designed suspension bridge that connected the pinnacle of rock to the cliffside town of Verdania. From the balcony of his palace, the King looked out across the valley, and his heart surged with a tremendous feeling of pride. He was a good King, and he knew that there was warmth in his Kingdom, whether the season was Winter or Summer.

As was to be expected, the Kingdom's main industry was bridge building. As the kingdom's population grew, its many gullies and rivers were forever in need of bridging. And yet, bridge-building was a relatively new science in the Kingdom. It was only in their last thirty years or so that it had really begun to mature, with plans, architecture and stronger building materials. The growing trend was towards modularity, simplicity and predictability, in particular making sure that everyone knows in advance what sort of bridge will be built, how much it will cost, and when it will be completed.

As with most industries in the Kingdom however, Bridging was plagued by charlatans and cowboy builders. The large number of successfully completed bridges was mostly overshadowed by the plethora of disasters - bridges that collapsed halfway through completion; bridge projects that ran out of money or were simply scrapped when it became obvious that that particular project had turned into a disaster. This was a shame, as the successes were magnificent. They ranged from small and simple wooden bridges spanning a humble stream, to beautiful, seemingly impossible constructions spanning gullies almost a half-mile across.

However, in a Kingdom that was forever disjointed by its topography, the demand for new bridges was always increasing. New settlements within the Kingdom required improved road access for their donkeys; old, over-used bridges crumbled over time and needed to be replaced with up-to-date, wonderfully modern miracles of engineering. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be any guarantee that the specified "wonderful miracle of engineering" would ever be delivered. For all its quality control and its engineering processes, bridging was a hit-and-miss affair. It wasn't the engineering that was at fault: it was simply human nature to forget old disasters, and in the process forgive whichever cowboy bridge builder had caused the latest foul-up.

And so the bridging industry grew, and amongst the genuine practitioners of engineering magic, the cheap-at-the-price cowboy engineers also profited.

Five years ago, a mysterious shaman arrived in the Kingdom. He brought with him a strange notion that he called Extreme Bridging. The idea, he claimed, had been born out of a magnificent project that he had spearheaded in a far-off kingdom, for a powerful king known to his peers as King Chrys. The shaman claimed that the project had been a resounding success, and he would be pleased to perform the same miracle engineering process for the inhabitants of Twin Valley Kingdom.

The people were suspicious at first, but the shaman seemed very nice. He even assured them that nothing about his process would be mysterious - he did not seek to profit from this. He simply wanted to share his knowledge and to help the others understand the basic principles, so that they could do the same. To begin, he wrote a book, Extreme Bridging Explained: Loose Change. The book sold moderately well, and the shaman began to teach his methods - for, it did not seem to matter how much somebody read his book; anyone that suggested his process was in error simply "did not understand", or had "got it wrong".

After a few short months, the shaman's mysterious process had started to make its impact. Although no actual Extreme Bridging projects had yet been started in the kingdom, lots of people were talking at great length, extolling the process' virtues. The local forums were busy places, with many people shouting to be heard that they knew Extreme Bridging much better than anyone else in the room.

There was, of course, much debate to be had. Extreme Bridging consisted of some controversial rules, which anyone in their right minds could see were just not suited to the noble profession of bridge building. And yet, these rules were mixed in with some common sense rules that had been a part of Bridging for many years. Thus, anyone speaking out against the bad rules was simply quoted some of the good rules in return, and vice versa. And so the debates raged on, and more and more attention was garnered on the shaman and his teachings.

The key to Extreme Bridging, claimed the shaman, was the Test First technique. Before building your bridge, he explained, you must first test to see whether you actually need a bridge. So you find a tester - someone who is prepared to run out over the gully that you are intending to bridge. If he or she falls to their death, then you need a bridge.

This, he continued, is central to Extreme Bridging. Every time you lay a new part of the bridge, you send someone out over it to see if it is complete. If they fall off the end or the bridge collapses under their weight, you just keep building. Revise the design if you must: halfway across, you may choose to turn the bridge into a rope swing, and make that your way of getting people across. If it's simpler, do that instead. Then, if somebody brings along a donkey, or a cart that cannot be swung across the gully, simply scrap the rope swing and resume the bridge proper. That way, you never do more than you actually need to. Plus, you get the bridge working and in use straightaway.

By the end of each project, he acknowledged, there will be a big pile of dead bodies, donkeys, smashed carts and rotting fruit and vegetables at the bottom of the gully. But sometimes, he half-joked, the pile of bodies and debris can grow so high that you can use that as your bridge! To the shaman's earnest listeners, this made perfect sense.

Then, one cold winter morning, the shaman was joined by nine mysterious hooded figures, who described themselves as the shaman's Council. The shaman rarely spoke to his Council, or referred to them, and yet the Council of Nine talked about the shaman almost every time they spoke. In fact, most of the Council was fairly quiet most of the time, except for one. His name was Butt, and he spoke almost endlessly. Butt quickly became a common sight at the kingdom's many local forums. Some people even claimed that he had been spotted at different forums at what turned out to be exactly the same time, even though those forums were many miles distant from each other in towns at opposite ends of the twin valleys. It was obvious that some strange magic was afoot.

Butt even claimed to have played a key part in the magnificent magic bridge project for King Chrys, which the shaman had sometimes referred to. Butt was quick to publish his own book about Extreme Bridging, helped along by two other members of the Council. That was the moment - the turning point - when Extreme Bridging really exploded. Soon, even non-bridge-builders were talking about it. It started to be known as XB for short. Anyone who dared to speak out against XB was branded a fool, and paraded through the streets by angry mobs of brainwashed XBers.

The first real blight against XB came a year later, when a local glazier invented a new type of window that he also called XB. This only added to the confusion and mystery surrounding Extreme Bridging. Regardless, the XB windows were soon discovered to be much too fragile for everyday use. The surplus XB windows were cut into discs and given to small children to use as frisbees. However, several juvenile decapitations later, the glazier was banished from the kingdom, never to return.

The second, and last, potential blight against Extreme Bridging occurred when a bearded traveller arrived at the Kingdom. He was close to exhaustion, having been travelling non-stop for many hundreds of miles. Through wracking breaths, he claimed to have news of great importance from the West. He then added that he must see the King of the Valley at once.

He was conveyed at once to the edge of a bizarre-looking bridge that bound the precarious cliffside town to the King's magnificent palace.

"What happened to this bridge?" he asked in horror to the guard that accompanied him.

"What do you mean?" the guard retorted, sounding annoyed. "This bridge is perfect! The way it transcends earthly desires of purity and clarity of design, and laughs off all notions of going from A to B in the straightest possible line, this bridge is obviously a work of genius."

"You appear to know a lot about bridge design," the traveller said, sounding impressed.

"Everyone in the Kingdom knows about bridging," replied the guard. "Extreme Bridging is about the people, not the bridges."

"I seem to remember there was once an elegant suspension bridge here," the traveller offered. "What happened to that?"

"Damn fool!" the guard growled, his face turning purple. "That bridge was a mockery of everything that we hold dear! The notion of designing something before creating it, thinking something through, planning ahead to take into account a later stage of the project... poison not my head with these demonic thoughts, or by the King's will I shall run you through!" And with that, the guard, seemingly crazed, unsheathed his sword and stabbed the surprised traveller.

The guard appeared to calm down then, and he became very apologetic. "I'm, like, soo sorry," he stammered. "Here, let me help you."

He put his sword back in its scabbard, and helped the wounded traveller to his feet. Carefully, he guided him across the slightly unstable bridge and into the palace. The traveller was losing a lot of blood from his stomach wound. However, the guard supported him as they walked and stumbled through the palace. When the traveller could no longer walk, the guard stooped and picked him up. He carried him through a seemingly endless maze of richly decorated rooms, until they finally reached the King's reception chamber. There, at the other end of the room, sat the King of Twin Valley Kingdom.

The traveller could not see the King's face, as it was bathed in shadow from the King's cloak. Next to the King stood the court jester, an annoying little man dressed in bright colours and sporting the most annoying mobile phone ring tone in the land. Such was his privilege.

The jester leapt down from beside the King, and snapped at the traveller to quickly speak his business.

The traveller was somewhat taken aback, but said in short, awkward breaths: "Your kingdom... it is sheltering a man that calls himself a shaman, who claims to know a great deal about bridging. This man... I must inform you... he claimed to have built a magnificent magical bridge for King Chrys, in the distant Chrysalis Valley Kingdom. But you must know... the project was never completed! After three long years and the deaths of many poor unfortunate bridge testers, Chrys became angry and banished the shaman from his kingdom forever. I just... had to tell you that..."

The room was filled with silence. The traveller gasped for breath, near to death as he was. He was staring at the marble floor, watching spatters of blood rain down from his stomach, and trying his utmost to regain his breath. Sensing the lengthening silence, however, he looked slowly upwards. The King had pushed back his over-sized hood to reveal his face.

"You..?" the traveller gasped, unable to keep the terror from his voice.

"That's right!" the King laughed. "I was simply a shaman, but my books became so popular that now I have become King of this be-bridged land! And now, I shall mandate that ALL future bridging projects shall use Extreme Bridging! From the lowliest, humblest of small bridges, to the grandest of valley-spanning monuments. That is the destiny of this land."

The traveller choked in horror. "It cannot be..." he gasped.

"You'd better believe it!" the jester kicked in. "And his Council of Nine, cloaked in darkest black, roam the land at night-time, and sort of during the day as well actually, to make sure that all bridges shall follow our teachings. We have won, frail traveller! Do you hear me? Yours is the last voice of dissent! And soon, there shall be only us, and our under-designed rickety bridges..."

The traveller gasped and choked, and soon collapsed in a pool of blood, staining the polished marble floor.

 

On the eastern coast of a temperate land, there existed a medium-sized kingdom. This Kingdom was nestled amongst two large valleys, with three mountains and lots of gullies and rivers. The kingdom was warm in the Summer, and cool in the Winter, and its people were, for the most part, very happy.

One Winter morning, the King strode out onto the balcony of his palace. The palace was perched precariously atop a mighty pinnacle of rock, and could only be reached via an ugly carbuncle of a bridge that connected the pinnacle of rock to the cliffside town of Verdania. From the balcony of his palace, the King looked out across the valley, and his heart surged with a tremendous feeling of pride. He was the King now, and he knew that there was confusion in his Kingdom, a vague feeling of disquiet that no-one could quite put their finger on. But with the death of the traveller, the King knew that his terrible secret would remain a secret for all time.

 


Another Extreme Tale: Emperor's New Code (by Doug Rosenberg)

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All the rest Copyright 1998 onwards Matt Stephens. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.