- Age: Unknown
- Species: Sapient Pearwood
- Weapons: Swallowing people whole, inflicting widespread destruction, unfailing loyalty
- Special Attack: Containing (and swallowing) multitudes
- Overcomes obstacles mostly by smashing through them
- Is made of Sapient Pearwood, which is intelligent and impervious to magic
- Is wildly destructive, has been known to swallow those who threaten its owner
- Is loyal possibly to a fault
- Higher thought and strategy are not its strong points
- Wants to belong to someone
- Age: 26
- Species: Human (Slotter’s Key)
- Weapons: Implant, skullphone, gun, knife
- Special Attack: Outthinking the enemy & setting minefields
- Cool and calm in every crisis, not afraid to get her hands dirty
- Trained in hand-to-hand combat
- A military leader
By Liana Brooks
It started, as most things do at Unseen University, as a bit of a prank.
It was the early part of summer, when the river Anhk was still the glistening shade of green that curry develops after being forgotten at the back of the ice box for six months, and the heat was still less likely to kill you than a sausage-in-a-bun from one of the more notorious street vendors. The senior wizards welcomed the change of seasons almost as much as they welcomed the absence of students that came with the warmer weather and the rather unfortunate aroma wafting off the Anhk when the tide changed.
As the Patrician had once noted, the difference between students and rats was that rats could be trained. But, by pointedly avoiding lectures, hiding from tutorials, and – when no other solution was available – running from students, the senior wizards had managed to clear out a larger portion of the loafers. Temporarily, at least, the halls were once again free of anxious young minds eager to summon demons and conjure terrible things that inevitably meant supper was delayed by at least twenty minutes.
All except two.
In the soft hours of the morning – before a seventeen-course lunch was served and while all the right-thinking wizards were still snoring in their beds – Tophet Geel and Pterry Ratchett decided to investigate a rumor of a terrible creature kept chained by secret and powerful spells by the assistant librarian.
Creeping through the corridors, they peeked into the library where a large orangutan and a thin, weedy man were wrestling with a recalcitrant grimoire.
Rincewind didn’t look like a man (or a wizard, for that matter), who had saved the world on numerous occasions through acts of embarrassing cowardice and knee-jellying fear. It’s hard for the mind to call up exactly what that would look like at any rate, but even the least imaginative person would picture someone with more meat on their bones, fewer knots in their beard, and a pointy hat that didn’t have sequins spelling out the word WIZZARD very poorly.
But there he was.
The orangutan, as everyone knew, was the librarian and while he was paid in peanuts, he charged and arm and a leg for damaged books.
“I don’t see it,” Pterry whispered to his friend.
Tophet Geel pushed the door closed. “I bet he keeps it in his room.”
“I heard it’s a thing he brought back from the Dungeon Dimensions.” Pterry rocked back on his heels, eyes skittering along the walls as if merely mentioning the dark and horrible place between worlds might summon something.
It was always a possibility at UU.
“That’s just a rumor,” Tophet said. He was three months older than his friend and quite confident that he knew exactly what he was doing. “I saw it once. It’s sapient pearwood. Impervious to magic, immortal, indestructible-”
“Now, wait, if it’s impervious to magic-”
“We’re not doing magic. This is gardening.” Tophet held up a vial of liquid stolen from the gardening shed behind the carnivorous roses. “A small clipping is all we need. One splinter of wood, we plant it in this, and in a few months we’ll have our own sapient pearwood sapling to harvest for staffs!”
Pterry, who was arguably the smarter of the two, hesitated. “Didn’t Hughson say it eats people?”
“It’s a box,” Tophet said. “How could it eat anything? Besides, Hughson said there’s a gargoyle on the city watch and that there was once a girl wizard. He’s barmy.”
Two hours later the hapless students ran screaming down an unmapped corridor, furiously throwing spells at the raging Luggage.
Hundreds of tiny feet slapped against the stone floor. The barefoot stomps of doom echoed through the hallowed halls.
Desperate, Pterry turned around and tried Harumph’s Unpredictable Portal. It would have worked better if he’d managed the last syllable, which was more OH-saaa than oh-SH-t.
These little details make all the difference in the world.
In the airlock outside the arena Kylara Vatta, Grand Admiral of the Space Defense Force, Slotter’s Key native, and currently very angry diplomat shoved her foot into her boot. “Run that by me again,” she ordered her cousin.
“It’s a ceremonial thing,” Stella said, handing Ky her knife. “You go into the maze and you find the key before anyone else does. Simple.”
“Except for the death traps.”
“And the other, heavily-armed contestants.”
“Only a few.”
“And the possibility of someone in the crowd venting our oxygen.”
“That only happened once.”
“Last year. Twice. And only once was an accident.” Ky checked the charge on her blaster again.
Her cousin shrugged. “It’s not like-“
Stella was cut off by the sound of heavy boots echoing through the hall.
A runner from the main office turned the corner, breathing heavily. “A-a-a-a-“
“Admiral?” Stella prompted with a cutting smile.
The runner nodded breathlessly. “Admiraltheresbeenachangeofplansandthesupreme-“
“Stop,” Ky ordered. “Take a breath and try again.”
The runner sucked in air like it was the last breath he’d take. Shaking, he said, “Admiral, there’s been a change of plans. The supreme council has an unknown fighter in the maze. We wish you all the best of luck.”
“A new fighter?” Ky raised her eyebrows. “Are they going to tell me anything else? Clothes? Fighting style? Name, perhaps? I like information.”
The runner shrugged helplessly, the silver cords on the shoulders of his uniform shaking like a leaf in the wind. “We… we don’t know anything, ma’am. There was a thunderclap, the lights went out for a moment, and now something is running around down there but no one know what, er… I mean who.” He took a gasping breath and dashed off again.
“That’s not very reassuring,” Stella said slowly. “We could leave, you know.”
“We’re not leaving,” Ky said. “I’m going out there. I’m dealing with whatever is out there. And then I am making them sign the damn treaty.”
“If you insist.” Stella shrugged. “Good luck.” She held out a small box with a small smile. “Do it for the fruit cake!”
The Luggage didn’t stumble through the portal as much as it raged through interdimensional space, leapt madly after its quarry, and plowed through a series of brick and metal walls. Sapient pearwood is known to have many fine qualities, but grace was not numbered among them. In any case, the tumble wasn’t likely to hurt the Luggage.
If the Luggage had been the kind of travel accessory that liked to think about things, it might have wondered how it got here, why the gravity felt slightly lighter, or where – in fact – it was. Over the course of its rather eventful life the Luggage had managed to run through ocean reefs, cross desert expanses, escape hell, jump off the edge of a poorly planned planet, and once had been directly responsible for the destruction of an entire dimension. None of these experiences had prepared it for a multi-biome maze in the middle of a space station.
The Luggage didn’t have anything an evolved animal might consider to be a sensory organ, but all the same, it sensed. It sensed fear, and warmth, and terror, the way a tree senses the sun, and wind, and rain.
With a creak, the Luggage’s lid opened.
A thick, mahogany tongue ran the length of the lid.
With a crack of finality, the lid snapped shut. Hundreds of tiny feet appeared beneath the Luggage and it moved forward with purpose.
Ky stepped into the arena, one hand on her gun, the other brushing aside tendrils of what she’d been assured were perfectly harmless plants. The forest glade quickly gave way to stone walls and a cobblestone path. It would have been charming if it weren’t so silent.
A branch snapped under her foot and she froze, waiting for a reaction.
In the distance she thought she heard the shuffling of footsteps.
Moving as quietly as the setting allowed, she crossed to the wall, bent, and peered around the corner. The path led forward only a handful of paces before branching right and left.
She picked up one of the cobblestones, weighing it carefully in her hand, then tossed it in front of her.
The stone bounced, then rolled down to the intersection.
Again in the distance she heard a shuffling of feet. Several feet, if she were to guess. They wanted to use force of numbers to bring her down? Fine. She’d dealt with problems like that before.
Taking the package Stella had given her, Ky carefully laid her trap.
It took a few more cobblestones thrown across the wall to attract the attention of her opponent. Rushing into battle was for idiots who wanted to be called heroes at their funeral.
There was a sound of footsteps drawing closer. A quick, light step that suggested several women, or maybe a barefoot youth.
She hoped it wasn’t a mob of children. Her surprise was in place, and it wouldn’t kill outright, but it would leave anyone with a nervous system twitching on the ground. The mine was meant to be used for station crowd control, and she only brought it because she wanted to show the council what the Space Defense Force had to offer. But they’d stuck her in this death trap of a game.
And a mine was such a terrible thing to waste…
A shadow fell across the distant wall.
Ky hurried to safety around the corner and waited.
Tense moments passed.
She closed her eyes, listened for the sound of many feet slapping the ground, and –
The mine went off with a terrific echo.
Triumphant, she turned the corner just in time to see an oblong, wooden box barreling through the smoke on hundreds of tiny feet. Fueled by preternatural rage, beeswax polish, and a grudge against humanity, the Luggage barreled forward.
The last thing Ky saw was a dark brand on the left hand corner, word burnt into wood like a tattoo: GNU Terry Pratchett.