Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

In Case You Missed It: “Lessons from the Deep”

(Quick re-post, cause this got put up a little later yesterday. Enjoy, y’all!)

Whaaaaat’s up everybody? Happy-

…Tuesday! (Sorry, I actually had to scratch my chin to remember what day it was and wanted to reflect that here.)

Wanted to get this out earlier today, but the hectic nature of trying to sell the house now that it’s good and flipped, well, you get it. Now that we’re here, so cues the part where I tell you the passing thought that just cartwheeled around the yard, wispily threaded its way through the window, and slipped through my ear to the top of my head:

If you’ve never been to a speak-easy, like, a “real” one that adheres to its theme, you owe it to yourself. On a recent trip to L.A. for my friends’ wedding, my girlfriend Amanda and I found (okay, really, she found it and I just went) a Speak-Easy the night before the wedding, and y’all, it was AWESOME. I’m talking had to spot the bouncer out front looking inconspicuous out front of the inconspicuous building, get the night’s password out of him, go down a back alley (where Mandy swung my hand all giddy-like while I thought we were gonna get dirked), make a turn where we found a red light, knock on the door where a man on the other side pulled a curtain and asked for the password – the Whole Nine. If you find yourself in Pasadena and in the very specific, nameless speak-easy I’m talking about, get the Mama’s Poison – it’s tops, daddio.

Anyway, in the name of flipping (two paragraphs ago – poor segue), we’re going to go through our little flip book again (like we did last week).

Here’s how it’s gonna go: I’m gonna stop typing to briefly flip through randomly for a prompt, probably sit with my mouth agape for a moment or two while observing what it comes up with, then decide whether or not to tell you before or after to tell y’all what the parameters were.

Ready?

Cool.

-flippy flips-

Heh heh heh, I love this thing.

Alright, so this time, we got the following:

  • Following a disastrous job interview,
  • a big-time weather reporter
  • wakes up in a strange house

Same as last time, we’re taking this nice and gently, not rushing and stressing the shit out of it like on previous fan/friend submitted prompts – even though those turn out awesome and we’ll get back to them soon.

Without further adieu…

The Dark Below Pepperdine Circle

The man in the suit clapped his hand on the desk as he laughed. He had thick fingers and a heavy ring that knocked against the wood. It was here Greg also noticed the two metal teeth on the man’s bottom row, as well as the thickness of his sideburns. He would’ve said something, but he hadn’t exactly had the power in the conversation thus far as it was.

“I love it!” the man boomed. “Oh, I love it, I tell ya! You go ahead and keep that, and you’ll hear from us within the week!” Greg took the item in question from the man in the suit as he resumed laughing. He laughed unceasingly while he held the door open for Greg, during the entire escort to the parking lot, and laughed still as the front door of the office building closed to officiate their parting. Greg walked out to his car, threw his briefcase in the back, and drove around to the other side of the lot, where he parked again, and let his head fall onto the horn for a good long while.

This was the seventh interview that had pushed daisies in the last four days. He looked to the bobble-head James had given him. It was a small figure of Greg, with the usual over-sized head, but an expression of bewildered discomfort and a cartoon-like, green gas cloud erupting from his bottom. “Come on,” his wife had said. “John and Stacey have been inviting us over for weeks. They want to do fish tacos and play some games. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Karen,” Future Greg would say. “Maybe John and Stacey don’t know a spatula from an flattened duck foot. Maybe that rank-ass fish ruins my gut live on air and gets me fired. Maybe I come home that day to bitch about it, and find John bending you over my billiard table. Maybe I move out and live on Curtis’s couch for three months. Maybe, when I’m finally ready to start job hunting again, I find out I’m a new goddamn meme format. So, no, Karen. Fuck their tacos.”

He took his head off the horn and got out of his car, whereupon he hurled the bobble-head over the curve of the nearest building’s wall and started kicking the hell out of his tires. When his tirade finally calmed, he looked up to see an older man staring at him from the sidewalk. He wore a beanie, weathered jacket, finger-less gloves, and sat in a wheelchair. “What the fuck do you want?” Greg screamed, red in the face.

His flat expression unchanged, the homeless man held out a hand with a tab of acid suspended between two fingers. Greg’s heavy breathing slowly returned to normal under the weight of his confusion at first, but then began instead weighing the consequences.

Thus began a series of poor choices.

*

Greg woke up to a splash of water going up his nose. His burning sinuses and coughing fit immediately roused him to consciousness, but he found he was in utter darkness. His eyes opened wide in the black, that they might drink in any wayward light, but to no avail. He could tell he was lying on his stomach in water that was maybe two inches deep, and his fingers were against something soft, like wet fur under the water. He scrambled away at first, imagining he was on the back of a sleeping aquatic bear or wildebeest. When he didn’t hear a roar or the crunching of his own bones, he sopped his way to his knees and listened. Beyond his own heavy breathing, he heard the very soft lapping of water somewhere, distant in the void. And something like…the crunching of gift wrap?

He fumbled about in his pocket for his phone and its flashlight, but when he tried to touch the screen, nothing. Damn, he thought. Soaked.

He began feeling his way around in the dark, sloshing around in the the toe-height chill of the water. After a few, stumbling steps, he knocked something over in the dark. Was that…a chair? He felt around some more. There were chairs and a table. Meaning the fur under the water was actually…carpet? Was he…was he in a house?

He fumbled around until he had roughly mapped out in his mind’s eye what must be the dining room and kitchen, then felt around from there for some sort of hallway where one might keep a flashlight or emergency supplies, all the while eerily confident that a giant, monstrous crab was going to snatch him out of the dark. Finally, he grasped what felt like the handle to a closet door and in a stroke of luck, found a flashlight.

After his eyes adjusted, he looked around and had one thought: “This looks just like my grandma’s house.”

And it did. Pink wallpaper, pastry plates in display shelves (all curiously shifted to one side), and spoons on the walls (all slightly tilted in their angle). Besides the water and the strange arrangement gravity had seemed to have taken on the objects in the room, the only oddity was that it was completely black. No light came even from the windows.

He walked over to one and saw that, besides the utter dark, there was a curious, milky whiteness on the other side of the glass. He pressed his face close to it in some vain hope of seeing beyond the veil when the light caught against the large round eye of a fish. He screeched a leapt back. Now he was certain that he was in some kind of sick Lovecraftian nightmare.

Against his better judgement, he ran to what he surmised to be the front door and flung it open. A huge, white belly forced its way into the door, translucent against the light and writhing with undersea grass and swishing tails. Right when he was sure he was moments from an eldritch, cosmic death, the whole house began to shake and shift. He felt gravity sway and pull him down the hallway as the floor moved beneath him. Seemingly pulled by unseen forces, the hallway felt less like that and more like an esophagus leading to Cthulu’s stomach.

Right when he was about to scream obscenities to God and his aunt Maggie (long story), the scene changed. He heard a rush of water, light poured through the windows, the belly in the doorway deflated of a sudden, and there were…voices? More than voices, it was the sound of heavy machinery.

When the seismic motions finally stopped, he cautiously approached the front door, beyond which he heard voices. The skin of the belly, he now saw, had writing on it, and up close it read: “Tyvek.”

Plastic wrap? Greg thought. What the hell is…

No sooner had he thought the question than a utility knife thrust through the industrial plastic and Greg was face-to-face with a mustachio’d man in a tow-truck company jumpsuit. The both of them squealed at each other, and the next moment Greg was surrounded by a gaggle of uniformed officers who, in perfect stereo, all shouted, “Freeze!”

*

“Jesus, Greg,” sighed his friend Curtis. “You’ve outdone yourself this time.”

Curtis sat with Greg on the back ramp of an ambulance rig, a heat blanket draped over his shoulders and Starbucks in both their hands. They just been shown security footage from the dockside cabin of Greg, at 2:30 in the morning, backing up an enormous flatbed truck carrying a mobile home to the edge of the water, climbing on the to roof while screaming something about “ferrying the Great Turtle Charon,” and falling through a skylight. At approximately 3:14, the truck’s brakes gave out rolled out into the lake, sinking the house just up the edge of the roof.

“I think a homeless man gave me acid,” said Greg.

“No,” said Curtis, “you accepted acid from a homeless man. And probably more than just that. Jesus.”

Greg hung his head.

“But hey,” continued Curtis, “at least we still have this. Turns out the lady who’s house you dunked was a fan.” And he handed Greg one of his own bobble-heads.

Greg looked at the bobble-head, back to Curtis, then back to the bobble-head.

And through it in the lake.

END

The Take: Sorry, sort of rushed it there at the end, but I like the Hangover-style adventure that came of this one. Hope it was coherent enough for y’all. See you Thursday!

Ciao.

Lessons from the Deep

Whaaaaat’s up everybody? Happy-

…Tuesday! (Sorry, I actually had to scratch my chin to remember what day it was and wanted to reflect that here.)

Wanted to get this out earlier today, but the hectic nature of trying to sell the house now that it’s good and flipped, well, you get it. Now that we’re here, so cues the part where I tell you the passing thought that just cartwheeled around the yard, wispily threaded its way through the window, and slipped through my ear to the top of my head:

If you’ve never been to a speak-easy, like, a “real” one that adheres to its theme, you owe it to yourself. On a recent trip to L.A. for my friends’ wedding, my girlfriend Amanda and I found (okay, really, she found it and I just went) a Speak-Easy the night before the wedding, and y’all, it was AWESOME. I’m talking had to spot the bouncer out front looking inconspicuous out front of the inconspicuous building, get the night’s password out of him, go down a back alley (where Mandy swung my hand all giddy-like while I thought we were gonna get dirked), make a turn where we found a red light, knock on the door where a man on the other side pulled a curtain and asked for the password – the Whole Nine. If you find yourself in Pasadena and in the very specific, nameless speak-easy I’m talking about, get the Mama’s Poison – it’s tops, daddio.

Anyway, in the name of flipping (two paragraphs ago – poor segue), we’re going to go through our little flip book again (like we did last week).

Here’s how it’s gonna go: I’m gonna stop typing to briefly flip through randomly for a prompt, probably sit with my mouth agape for a moment or two while observing what it comes up with, then decide whether or not to tell you before or after to tell y’all what the parameters were.

Ready?

Cool.

-flippy flips-

Heh heh heh, I love this thing.

Alright, so this time, we got the following:

  • Following a disastrous job interview,
  • a big-time weather reporter
  • wakes up in a strange house

Same as last time, we’re taking this nice and gently, not rushing and stressing the shit out of it like on previous fan/friend submitted prompts – even though those turn out awesome and we’ll get back to them soon.

Without further adieu…

The Dark Below Pepperdine Circle

The man in the suit clapped his hand on the desk as he laughed. He had thick fingers and a heavy ring that knocked against the wood. It was here Greg also noticed the two metal teeth on the man’s bottom row, as well as the thickness of his sideburns. He would’ve said something, but he hadn’t exactly had the power in the conversation thus far as it was.

“I love it!” the man boomed. “Oh, I love it, I tell ya! You go ahead and keep that, and you’ll hear from us within the week!” Greg took the item in question from the man in the suit as he resumed laughing. He laughed unceasingly while he held the door open for Greg, during the entire escort to the parking lot, and laughed still as the front door of the office building closed to officiate their parting. Greg walked out to his car, threw his briefcase in the back, and drove around to the other side of the lot, where he parked again, and let his head fall onto the horn for a good long while.

This was the seventh interview that had pushed daisies in the last four days. He looked to the bobble-head James had given him. It was a small figure of Greg, with the usual over-sized head, but an expression of bewildered discomfort and a cartoon-like, green gas cloud erupting from his bottom. “Come on,” his wife had said. “John and Stacey have been inviting us over for weeks. They want to do fish tacos and play some games. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Karen,” Future Greg would say. “Maybe John and Stacey don’t know a spatula from an flattened duck foot. Maybe that rank-ass fish ruins my gut live on air and gets me fired. Maybe I come home that day to bitch about it, and find John bending you over my billiard table. Maybe I move out and live on Curtis’s couch for three months. Maybe, when I’m finally ready to start job hunting again, I find out I’m a new goddamn meme format. So, no, Karen. Fuck their tacos.”

He took his head off the horn and got out of his car, whereupon he hurled the bobble-head over the curve of the nearest building’s wall and started kicking the hell out of his tires. When his tirade finally calmed, he looked up to see an older man staring at him from the sidewalk. He wore a beanie, weathered jacket, finger-less gloves, and sat in a wheelchair. “What the fuck do you want?” Greg screamed, red in the face.

His flat expression unchanged, the homeless man held out a hand with a tab of acid suspended between two fingers. Greg’s heavy breathing slowly returned to normal under the weight of his confusion at first, but then began instead weighing the consequences.

Thus began a series of poor choices.

*

Greg woke up to a splash of water going up his nose. His burning sinuses and coughing fit immediately roused him to consciousness, but he found he was in utter darkness. His eyes opened wide in the black, that they might drink in any wayward light, but to no avail. He could tell he was lying on his stomach in water that was maybe two inches deep, and his fingers were against something soft, like wet fur under the water. He scrambled away at first, imagining he was on the back of a sleeping aquatic bear or wildebeest. When he didn’t hear a roar or the crunching of his own bones, he sopped his way to his knees and listened. Beyond his own heavy breathing, he heard the very soft lapping of water somewhere, distant in the void. And something like…the crunching of gift wrap?

He fumbled about in his pocket for his phone and its flashlight, but when he tried to touch the screen, nothing. Damn, he thought. Soaked.

He began feeling his way around in the dark, sloshing around in the the toe-height chill of the water. After a few, stumbling steps, he knocked something over in the dark. Was that…a chair? He felt around some more. There were chairs and a table. Meaning the fur under the water was actually…carpet? Was he…was he in a house?

He fumbled around until he had roughly mapped out in his mind’s eye what must be the dining room and kitchen, then felt around from there for some sort of hallway where one might keep a flashlight or emergency supplies, all the while eerily confident that a giant, monstrous crab was going to snatch him out of the dark. Finally, he grasped what felt like the handle to a closet door and in a stroke of luck, found a flashlight.

After his eyes adjusted, he looked around and had one thought: “This looks just like my grandma’s house.”

And it did. Pink wallpaper, pastry plates in display shelves (all curiously shifted to one side), and spoons on the walls (all slightly tilted in their angle). Besides the water and the strange arrangement gravity had seemed to have taken on the objects in the room, the only oddity was that it was completely black. No light came even from the windows.

He walked over to one and saw that, besides the utter dark, there was a curious, milky whiteness on the other side of the glass. He pressed his face close to it in some vain hope of seeing beyond the veil when the light caught against the large round eye of a fish. He screeched a leapt back. Now he was certain that he was in some kind of sick Lovecraftian nightmare.

Against his better judgement, he ran to what he surmised to be the front door and flung it open. A huge, white belly forced its way into the door, translucent against the light and writhing with undersea grass and swishing tails. Right when he was sure he was moments from an eldritch, cosmic death, the whole house began to shake and shift. He felt gravity sway and pull him down the hallway as the floor moved beneath him. Seemingly pulled by unseen forces, the hallway felt less like that and more like an esophagus leading to Cthulu’s stomach.

Right when he was about to scream obscenities to God and his aunt Maggie (long story), the scene changed. He heard a rush of water, light poured through the windows, the belly in the doorway deflated of a sudden, and there were…voices? More than voices, it was the sound of heavy machinery.

When the seismic motions finally stopped, he cautiously approached the front door, beyond which he heard voices. The skin of the belly, he now saw, had writing on it, and up close it read: “Tyvek.”

Plastic wrap? Greg thought. What the hell is…

No sooner had he thought the question than a utility knife thrust through the industrial plastic and Greg was face-to-face with a mustachio’d man in a tow-truck company jumpsuit. The both of them squealed at each other, and the next moment Greg was surrounded by a gaggle of uniformed officers who, in perfect stereo, all shouted, “Freeze!”

*

“Jesus, Greg,” sighed his friend Curtis. “You’ve outdone yourself this time.”

Curtis sat with Greg on the back ramp of an ambulance rig, a heat blanket draped over his shoulders and Starbucks in both their hands. They just been shown security footage from the dockside cabin of Greg, at 2:30 in the morning, backing up an enormous flatbed truck carrying a mobile home to the edge of the water, climbing on the to roof while screaming something about “ferrying the Great Turtle Charon,” and falling through a skylight. At approximately 3:14, the truck’s brakes gave out rolled out into the lake, sinking the house just up the edge of the roof.

“I think a homeless man gave me acid,” said Greg.

“No,” said Curtis, “you accepted acid from a homeless man. And probably more than just that. Jesus.”

Greg hung his head.

“But hey,” continued Curtis, “at least we still have this. Turns out the lady who’s house you dunked was a fan.” And he handed Greg one of his own bobble-heads.

Greg looked at the bobble-head, back to Curtis, then back to the bobble-head.

And through it in the lake.

END

The Take: Sorry, sort of rushed it there at the end, but I like the Hangover-style adventure that came of this one. Hope it was coherent enough for y’all. See you Thursday!

Ciao.

Some Good News and a Lil’ Diddy

What. Is. Up. Everybody? Happy Thursday!

I know I’ve mentioned at least half a dozen times how hard flooring is lately, but that’s all done now! Spent the better part of a couple weeks on my hands and knees (sh’narf, giggle, chuckle) doing that and other house projects, but today marks the first foot coming down on the finish line. -cue applause-

But that’s not the good news. I’ve also mentioned the NYC Midnight fiction contests I take part in every so often (actually, every year since finding out about them…totaling…two, actually) and the entries I put in towards them. In the standard manner of submitting to fiction markets, I just sort of floated my entry out there without any expectation of success.

WELL THAT CHANGES TODAY!

Got an email this very morning showing I ranked #6 in the top fifteen of Round One. I know it’s not a walk-off Home Run or taking the championship trophy or anything, but it’s pretty cool to me, so, endure my raving- YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!

Ahem.

So my back is sore, my knees and hips are sore, the muscles in my feet, weirdly, are sore, but my heart is full. Anyway, that was the good news, on to the diddy aforementioned as “lil”.

Sort of like the prompt challenges we cranked out for a while, I want to do a brief free-write. It’ll be the same concept as racing the clock to get the story done, but less stressful. We’re gonna be cool, breezy, groovy, laid back, and most chill, brah. At a library event (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARIES) a little while ago, I got a fun little flip-book that supplies writing prompts in three components: a setting, a character, and a basic “quest” (for lack of a better word, and I feel “quest” underappreciated and underutilized).

So we’ll flip through, see what comes up, and get goin’ with a time “limit” of, oh, fifteen short-ass minutes. Excuse me while I flippy flippy.

-flippy flips-

Oh…oh Lord…

Okay, listen. I will never lie to you guys. Even if you have no way of verifying that, it wouldn’t feel right, so I’ll always be honest with you.

I think I fucked up.

I flipped the pages. I proceeded to then flop the pages. After which, I fanned more pages. And this is what we got:

  1. With only a week to live,
  2. a licensed cat-hair stylist
  3. creates a family of robots.

Hmm…, right. Sort of makes a quick right turn there at number three, dun’nit? Well, what the heck, let’s dive on in…

Nine Lives

Stacy lied on her back, watching the ceiling fan slowly spin and draw circles on the white in shadow. Her eyes were dry, but stiff with the salt of recent tears.

Seven days isn’t a lot of time.

She’d spent a childhood in pageants, like she was told to. She’d been the valedictorian of her high school graduating class, like she was supposed to. Then she went to school and got her undergrad in robotics engineering, like she was expected to. There’d never been time for dating, much of a social circle who knew her without her last name, she’d never even been drunk before. It had taken her until her 36th birthday to shuck the yolk of responsibility that’d been foisted on her by her parents and finally pursue a the dream she’d drawn about when she was little, to take charge of her own, adult life.

And now, two months later, here she was going to die.

She wanted to see Paris as more than a postcard. She wanted to go sky diving, with her cheeks blown aside in that funny way they did in videos. But, most immediately, she wanted to get utterly annihilated at a bar somewhere.

A soft ‘meow’ sounded from the foot of her bed along with the jingle of a tiny bell. The meow sprang on to the bed, walked along her leg like a balance beam, and stared at her, inches from her nose.

“Heya, Jethro,” Stacy said, sniffling.

The black, green-eyed cat, sporting a tall, pink-tipped mohawk fade and a curly-q’d mustache of whiskers sat purring on her chest otherwise silently for several moments. Then, a back leg shot out over Stacy’s forehead and the gruff scratches of feline grooming rhythmically commenced.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Stacy sighed. “Waste all those years just taking orders and instructions, to then spend more years sitting in design meetings and looking at someone else’s concept work-up’s – I wouldn’t be surprised if they caused the tumor, y’know – and what do I have to show for it?

Meow.

“Well yeah, you, but you’re hardly a legacy, sorry to say. Don’t worry, Tommy’ll take care of you once it’s all said and done. Just, don’t let him let your fade grow out, okay? It looks good on you.”

Mao.

“Good.” She went back to watching the fan and lingered on that word, “legacy,” for a minute longer. Something that lives after you’re gone. Then, in that moment, either the tumor kicked like a baby in utero, or she had an epiphany.

“Up, Jethro, we gotta go. I have an idea.”

Meow?

“Yeah, we have to hit Radio Shack.”

END

The Take: So, relied a little on the reader knowing the context there, but this one was supposed to be cute and laid back. And even if one wanted to moan, “Ugh, Evan, but she didn’t even wind up building the robots IN the story, you doof,” I would rightly respond, “Yeah, well that pretty quickly took a back seat once there was a cat with a mohawk, didn’t it?” (Hahaha, also just realized we could have called it a “meow-hawk,” but that might have seemed too easy, in retrospect.)
Anyway, hope that landed some chuckles. See you guys Tuesday, and may Jethro be with you.

Ciao.

“Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son” – Our First Guest Post!

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

About a month ago, I started waking up at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday morning to go running with my buddy Eric. I wouldn’t have voted for that start time, personally, but I asked, “What time are you consistently available?”
“In the morning before work,” said he.
“What time do you have to be at work?” asked I.
“Seven o’clock,” said he.
“In the morning?” asked I.
“Yep,” confirmed he.
“Okay,” sighed I.

That’s how it started, and I told him I refused to “bitch out” first, so now I’m pretty committed to those words, lest I eat them. It’s a thing I simultaneously think everyone should do, at least a little bit, and would not wish on someone I disliked greatly.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

You all remember Pierre, right? (It’s kind of funny, because he initially asked to be kept anonymous when I mentioned I was going to put out his debut story, but has since become cool with using his name outside of that…but, nah. I like Pierre, so Pierre he’ll remain.) Well today’s post is both the last installment of the esteemed Amwren Chronicles series AND the first co-written feature on here. He wrote the first half, I finished up with the second to tie it into the campaign, and the result is the following beautiful literary baby.

Without further adieu…

Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son

Few men can trace their change of fortune to a specific event. Karian however can pinpoint it to a single hour on an otherwise uneventful August day. He was barely twelve years of age when he walked into his small one room home to see his father with a beaten face and his mother nowhere to be seen. He asked the question that any man of any age would ask, and was answered with a cold apathetic grunt from his father trying to drink his way out of a half full bottle of spirits. Unsatisfied and still not sure what happened Karian walked back outside to see what he could find.

Days went by before his father was willing to open up about what happened that day, and as the years progressed so did his story. The first time he told it he attacked the man he suspected his wife of sleeping with. By Karian’s thirteenth birthday his father defended her honor from a gang of savage militiamen with ill intent. Less than a year later, he was telling people the local lord challenged him to a duel for her hand. Two things remained consistent throughout his wildly growing stories: he always heroically faced overwhelming odds, and at the end she always left him coldly. He was the victim of a story that never ended, using his perceived misfortune as a crutch. He may as well have grown gills for all the time he spent drowning in a bottle.

Karian can trace his change of fortune to that mysterious day when his mother disappeared, because it was the first day he had no other option than to start believing his father’s wild stories. By the time he was old enough to start thinking for himself the damage was already done; he couldn’t trust anyone but himself, and women were nothing but backstabbing harlots. Eventually Karian got it in his mind to become a smooth-talking bard after seeing one visit a local tavern, and so he set off to join the Bard’s College of Stettin, and changed his family name from Tavistock to Nimblefinger. He dropped out after learning enough to play a lute, albeit poorly, and hum a tune. He survived by becoming a pickpocket and doing the odd job around a local inn.

These days he spends his time fast talking the pretty girls that pass through his inn. But through it all he can’t ignore the nagging in the back of his mind, the need to discover the truth about what really happened to his mother so many years ago…

*

It was the early morning crowing of a rooster that woke Karian, and he judged by the dizzying headache, lingering scent of perfume, and his utter lack of clothing, that the previous night had been a success. Rubbing his eyes to clear the dust, he looked around and decided that how he had come to wake in a barn, when he’d assuredly bed the lovely young lady in the tavern storeroom, was also best left to the imagination. He adjusted himself on the scratchy hay pile on which he was lying, folded his arms behind his head, and enjoyed the first rays of morning sun peeking through the parse planks of the barn’s walls. Anything but a typical man, this was, alas, a typical story in the life of Karian Nimblefinger.

What he was unaccustomed to, however, was waking to the presence of another man.

“Hello?” ventured a voice from the stall next to his.

“Ah, one minute, mate,” called Karian. Not that he held any shame whatsoever in the size of his manhood, or much shame to speak of at all really, he whispered a thanks to the sweet gods that left him with his bard’s bonnet, and covered himself with it. He cleared his throat with a cough. “You may approach, good sir,” he sang.

“Fair morning.” The man who rounded the corner was young, no more than twenty summers behind him, and dressed in robes of light lavender. A large medallion depicting two hands with intricately woven fingers laced with string hung low from his neck. “Are you Karian Nimblefinger?”

“My reputation precedes me. I am he, unique and true, friend. What’ll it be? Autograph or private performance? As you can see, I’m a bit without my equipment – well, my stage equipment.”

“Kindly appreciated, but unnecessary,” chuckled the priest. “I come on request of my master, as one of the Order of Bokonon. He requests your presence in Tallin in a week’s time.”

“Tallin…Tallin…Tallin…” repeated Karian tapping his chin. “Is that the one with all the…buildings?”

“A few, yes. Temples.”

“Ah, right! Well, as you can see, young master, I’m a man of professional…profession. I’m not accustomed to rendering services without payment. So, on that stricture, one of my very few, I would be remiss not to ask: will there be gold?”

“I would hazard to say yes, yes there will.”

“Then I’m in! If you’ll allow me a moment to fetch me pants, it’ll be off to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: Not that I expect the world at large to closely follow this series, but after a few darker notes in the middle with entries like Aldis and Tsal, it felt appropriate to bring it back to a lighter note with Karian. Throughout the campaign, for his part in it (he eventually sojourned at one point to become a pirate – dope), he added to the comic relief, joviality, mischief, revelry, and unfiltered fun of the whole process, but he wasn’t without a humanizing darker side. In fact, he was the member of the group I least expected to learn, much less embrace, utilizing blood magic, but shit did he.

Anyway, it was good to see Karian again. Pierre, this one’s to you.

Take it easy, everyone. Catch ya Thursday.

Another Anecdote from a Gentleman…Again

Happy Thursday (ahem- pretend it’s Thursday. You get it.), everybody!

Just like last time, flooring remains, unsurprisingly, difficult. Eeh, really it’s more tedious than it is hard, but it’s plenty hard, too. My back’s sore, my knees are sore, my feet and neck are sore, but by the powers of Math and Patience, it’s almost done, dammit! Anyway, enough about me.

Well, almost.

I went camping this weekend! It was pretty rad, kind of just a repeat of the one from earlier in the year, just a bit longer. There was hiking, archery, swims in the lake, swaying in a hammock strung between two trees – The Works. There were differences, of course, but here were the highlights:

  1. Learned a New Way to Make S’Mores: Turned out we left out marshmallows behind when we packed up, but I’d bought – completely on a whim – a 25-pack of Rice Krispie Treats. As it turns out, they make a fuuuuucking awesome substitute for marshmallows (you’re welcome).
  2. Overcame My Fear of Water: So, last time, I swam out on open water (-ish, it’s a man-made lake), which was worth a trophy in its own right. This time, however, I swam ACROSS the lake AND BACK AGAIN. I Bilbo Baggins’d that shit. It was awesome.
  3. Spontaneously Jumped into Water Fully Clothed: My girlfriend Amanda and I went for a sweet hike, were having a conversation about if we’d ever or would ever just jump into a pool or lake with our clothes on (pretty sure you can make out where this is going), and each concluded, “I mean, I’d like to one day.” Well, Nature heard us, and we immediately turned a corner on the path that sloped down to the lake’s shore. We stopped, looked at one another, ran down, and dove on in.
  4. Left My Comfort Zone and Paid for It: I…well…actually, this is what today’s post is about, so I guess we’ll just get on to it.

For any that read the title and remembered the last Anecdote from a Gentleman post, you might remember it’s about poop. Same is true for mighty Number Four up there and for those seemingly self-evident reasons, I thought it would be better to frame it as coming from The Gentleman. If you journey on to the rest of what’s written below, just remember: read it in a typical 1800’s American/British (your choice) “bully!” accent.

Without further adieu…

Another Anecdote from a Gentleman

Oh, hello! Why, I didn’t see you there. By the look of your weathered shoes, I can see straight away you’re a fellow of the Great Outdoors. I myself just returned from one such venture, with quite the harrowing tale to tell, you might be sure. Might I share it with you?

Splendid!

All had gone swimmingly, I might say. And I don’t use the term loosely, I should warn you, as we frequented the cobalt waters of the wilderness often, but I digress. The tale at hand is of a far more sinister nature.

You see, when my dear beloved and I had last sojourned to that lovely piece of natural beauty, there had been…ah, well, issues with the facilities’ plumbing. As such, those governing bodies overseeing the estates had been so kind as to generously provide portable loo’s for we campers. Or, as they’re otherwise hailed: “Honey Buckets,” I believe (detestable name, that – downright deceitful). Well, on our initial visit, I became quite accustomed to these “Honey Buckets” in lieu of a proper loo (ho-ho! Did you notice the cleverness of wordplay? Brilliant!).

On this most recent venture, however, the facilities were amply functionable. Despite this being the case, I found myself gravitating towards those bright green boxes in lieu (ha! I’ve done it again!) of a proper potty. I, personally, found them safer and far more private than the boisterous sounds of the all-too crowded men’s room. So, I contentedly sat in my plastic palace, the master of my own space while I heeded Nature’s Call.

Then, on the penultimate day of our adventure, my love gives me a queer glance. “I’ll never understand,” she says to me, “why you prefer that to a proper toilet.” I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t have it. Instead, my case fell on deaf ears within the court of her judgemental expressions. So, on the last day we were there, what would you suppose I decided to do whence I heard the distant howl of Nature ‘pon the wind?

That’s right. I opted for porcelain over plastic. I overrulled my better judgement and the instincts which begged internally that I stay the traditional path. I strode into the men’s room, took my place in the stall beside the northern wall (I’m not some barbarian), and began my business.

What do you suppose happened next? That I, perhaps, simply went about the deed, washed, exited, and that was that? It would be nice were that the case, don’t you think?

But no.

No sooner had I sat down and finished my mantra (“You’re faceless here, they will never see you nor know your name,” in case you were curious) had an anonymous pair of purple shoes trampled into the stall beside me. What do you suppose I heard next? The dignified sounds of what is perfectly human and natural for any of us, performed with a manner of integrity and unoffensive volume?

No again.

Not only was I lambasted with the bellows of a dampened explosion which echoed on the walls, but in between those bouts of hellish, trumpeting fare: sobs. The poor man was crying – shedding very real tears – while committing those atrocities on the toilet near enough I might touch his foot had I the will.

I felt trapped.

I couldn’t make my own noise lest he feels I was trying to upstage him or worse, my trumpeting might upset the poor lad further. But neither could I exit and risk him doing so coincidentally. I couldn’t bear to meet the man’s eyes, knowing what I know, and him knowing the same.

So, rather, I waited. I bided my time until he left. Though, cruel was my fate as no sooner had the man left and I thought for one brief moment I might make my escape, he was replaced by a pair of equally anonymous sandaled feet. I was trapped again, pinned in place, riveted to my seat by a perhaps unending volley of perpetrating poopers.

Then, something magnificent happened.

I heard nothing.

I thought for one moment that perhaps the man was wrestling with constipation, and my heart felt for him. Then, elsewhere in the restroom, someone turned on the faucet and the loud sound of water splashing gaily in the sink filled the space for a brief moment. And it was during that moment, my neighbor produced noise – and no other! As soon as the water stopped, he did as well. It was then that I realized who I had in my midst: this man was a nervous pooper.

We can always recognize one of our own. He wouldn’t judge me for any noise I might make, for he was all too engaged in concealing his own presence to the best of his ability. The groundswell of confidence that followed allowed me to quickly do what needed to be done and promptly exit that nesting ground of nightmares.

All’s well that ended well, I would say, with some valuable lessons to boot!

END

Yup. See y’all Thursday!

I Left my Comfort Zone and I Paid for It

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Just like last time, flooring remains, unsurprisingly, difficult. Eeh, really it’s more tedious than it is hard, but it’s plenty hard, too. My back’s sore, my knees are sore, my feet and neck are sore, but by the powers of Math and Patience, it’s almost done, dammit! Anyway, enough about me.

Well, almost.

I went camping this weekend! It was pretty rad, kind of just a repeat of the one from earlier in the year, just a bit longer. There was hiking, archery, swims in the lake, swaying in a hammock strung between two trees – The Works. There were differences, of course, but here were the highlights:

  1. Learned a New Way to Make S’Mores: Turned out we left out marshmallows behind when we packed up, but I’d bought – completely on a whim – a 25-pack of Rice Krispie Treats. As it turns out, they make a fuuuuucking awesome substitute for marshmallows (you’re welcome).
  2. Overcame My Fear of Water: So, last time, I swam out on open water (-ish, it’s a man-made lake), which was worth a trophy in its own right. This time, however, I swam ACROSS the lake AND BACK AGAIN. I Bilbo Baggins’d that shit. It was awesome.
  3. Spontaneously Jumped into Water Fully Clothed: My girlfriend Amanda and I went for a sweet hike, were having a conversation about if we’d ever or would ever just jump into a pool or lake with our clothes on (pretty sure you can make out where this is going), and each concluded, “I mean, I’d like to one day.” Well, Nature heard us, and we immediately turned a corner on the path that sloped down to the lake’s shore. We stopped, looked at one another, ran down, and dove on in.
  4. Left My Comfort Zone and Paid for It: I…well…actually, this is what today’s post is about, so I guess we’ll just get on to it.

For any that read the title and remembered the last Anecdote from a Gentleman post, you might remember it’s about poop. Same is true for mighty Number Four up there and for those seemingly self-evident reasons, I thought it would be better to frame it as coming from The Gentleman. If you journey on to the rest of what’s written below, just remember: read it in a typical 1800’s American/British (your choice) “bully!” accent.

Without further adieu…

Another Anecdote from a Gentleman

Oh, hello! Why, I didn’t see you there. By the look of your weathered shoes, I can see straight away you’re a fellow of the Great Outdoors. I myself just returned from one such venture, with quite the harrowing tale to tell, you might be sure. Might I share it with you?

Splendid!

All had gone swimmingly, I might say. And I don’t use the term loosely, I should warn you, as we frequented the cobalt waters of the wilderness often, but I digress. The tale at hand is of a far more sinister nature.

You see, when my dear beloved and I had last sojourned to that lovely piece of natural beauty, there had been…ah, well, issues with the facilities’ plumbing. As such, those governing bodies overseeing the estates had been so kind as to generously provide portable loo’s for we campers. Or, as they’re otherwise hailed: “Honey Buckets,” I believe (detestable name, that – downright deceitful). Well, on our initial visit, I became quite accustomed to these “Honey Buckets” in lieu of a proper loo (ho-ho! Did you notice the cleverness of wordplay? Brilliant!).

On this most recent venture, however, the facilities were amply functionable. Despite this being the case, I found myself gravitating towards those bright green boxes in lieu (ha! I’ve done it again!) of a proper potty. I, personally, found them safer and far more private than the boisterous sounds of the all-too crowded men’s room. So, I contentedly sat in my plastic palace, the master of my own space while I heeded Nature’s Call.

Then, on the penultimate day of our adventure, my love gives me a queer glance. “I’ll never understand,” she says to me, “why you prefer that to a proper toilet.” I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t have it. Instead, my case fell on deaf ears within the court of her judgemental expressions. So, on the last day we were there, what would you suppose I decided to do whence I heard the distant howl of Nature ‘pon the wind?

That’s right. I opted for porcelain over plastic. I overrulled my better judgement and the instincts which begged internally that I stay the traditional path. I strode into the men’s room, took my place in the stall beside the northern wall (I’m not some barbarian), and began my business.

What do you suppose happened next? That I, perhaps, simply went about the deed, washed, exited, and that was that? It would be nice were that the case, don’t you think?

But no.

No sooner had I sat down and finished my mantra (“You’re faceless here, they will never see you nor know your name,” in case you were curious) had an anonymous pair of purple shoes trampled into the stall beside me. What do you suppose I heard next? The dignified sounds of what is perfectly human and natural for any of us, performed with a manner of integrity and unoffensive volume?

No again.

Not only was I lambasted with the bellows of a dampened explosion which echoed on the walls, but in between those bouts of hellish, trumpeting fare: sobs. The poor man was crying – shedding very real tears – while committing those atrocities on the toilet near enough I might touch his foot had I the will.

I felt trapped.

I couldn’t make my own noise lest he feels I was trying to upstage him or worse, my trumpeting might upset the poor lad further. But neither could I exit and risk him doing so coincidentally. I couldn’t bear to meet the man’s eyes, knowing what I know, and him knowing the same.

So, rather, I waited. I bided my time until he left. Though, cruel was my fate as no sooner had the man left and I thought for one brief moment I might make my escape, he was replaced by a pair of equally anonymous sandaled feet. I was trapped again, pinned in place, riveted to my seat by a perhaps unending volley of perpetrating poopers.

Then, something magnificent happened.

I heard nothing.

I thought for one moment that perhaps the man was wrestling with constipation, and my heart felt for him. Then, elsewhere in the restroom, someone turned on the faucet and the loud sound of water splashing gaily in the sink filled the space for a brief moment. And it was during that moment, my neighbor produced noise – and no other! As soon as the water stopped, he did as well. It was then that I realized who I had in my midst: this man was a nervous pooper.

We can always recognize one of our own. He wouldn’t judge me for any noise I might make, for he was all too engaged in concealing his own presence to the best of his ability. The groundswell of confidence that followed allowed me to quickly do what needed to be done and promptly exit that nesting ground of nightmares.

All’s well that ended well, I would say, with some valuable lessons to boot!

END

Yup. See y’all Thursday!