Amwren Origins IV: Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Did you know that the name for “Haagen-Dazs” ice cream was actually created by a Polish Jewish couple who immigrated to the United States in 1921 and made the name up to sound Danish-ish? The more you knooooow!

Anyway, right down to it.

Today’s is the fourth installment in the Amwren Origins series (duh, by the title) and it’s the one that I probably put the most time into. We’ll explore just why that is more fully in The Take (below), but for now, may I present:

Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Tsal awoke with a gasp. His head pained him terribly and his wrists ached. Turning this way and that, he saw only darkness, as he could feel the cloth of a blindfold covering his eyes. His breathing quickened as his mind searched for answers to his many questions. From what he could tell, keeping himself from panic as best he might, he was chained in some sort of prison with manacles clasped about his wrists. He felt cool, rough stone against his back, and the air was moist and gave him a chill. He noticed the pain in his shoulders and, at the same moment, realized he could move his feet freely, meaning he was suspended by the manacles the held him. Tsal strained his ears, but heard nothing more than a soft drip and his own breathing to break the silence. He tried to think through the pulses of pain and remember how he’d come to be in such a circumstance.

He’d been in his stall back home in Calypso, keeping up his work as a wheelwright, when Dabjorn, his adoptive father had called for him. He remembered setting his tools and rag aside where he’d always set them and left out the cabin’s western door. As he crossed the small homestead where the two lived, he recalled taking note of how low and full the moon was set in the sky. Crossing the threshold of he and Dabjorn’s home, he saw his father sitting by the fireplace with his back to the door.

“Father,” he had said to announce his presence, but the man by the fireplace didn’t stir. Tsal repeated himself as he crossed the room and, with a hand on the man’s shoulder, shook gently to rouse him but yelped with shock as Dabjorn’s head fell limply back to reveal blank, white eyes. Tsal’s heart raced and a hooded figure leaped quickly from the shadows behind him. After that, he awoke here.

The sound of a heavy wooden chamber door interrupted his thoughts. He heard the shuffling of several pairs of feet and, after a soft clattering of chain, collapsed to the ground as his legs suddenly took on his full weight. He opened his mouth to speak, to question his captors or saviors, but was swiftly struck and silenced. While he was dragged through what felt like winding halls and across steep stairs, he heard those that carried him speaking in a tongue he did not recognize. He could tell he was being handled by men, but the language was guttural and sounded as if to come from abyssal, nightmarish creatures. He heard the sound of another heavy door opening, this time into a chamber full of chanting voices. The air grew hot and he was forced onto his knees. His mouth was forcefully opened and stuffed with a cloth gag. There came a flash as his blindfold was gruffly removed and his eyes adjusted to what light there was.

Tsal looked around in a panic to take in his surroundings. He was encompassed on all sides by tall figures in robes of deep red and embroidered black trim. There were perhaps a dozen of them in the room and they wore tall headdresses and dark veils over their faces. Amid the many robed figures that surrounded him, there stood one dressed more elaborately than the others with a skeletal mask on its face in place of a veil like the others. It carried a scroll held tightly to its chest in one hand and a wand of darkened bone in the other, held at its side. The room Tsal was in was actually a small cave, perhaps the size of a tavern’s common room. It was dimly lit by candles of dark wax and, looking up, he saw the ceiling had been made into a mirrored surface. There also was a hole in the cavern’s ceiling that gave a ray of moonlight to a central altar, before which he had been made to kneel; however, it was what adorned the altar that dominated Tsal’s vision and would plague his dreams for years to come.

It was a man also on his knees and restrained with rope about his wrists, his arms outstretched and held wide by those tethers, and a sack over his face. It looked to Tsal as though the man had suffered lengthy torture at the hands of their captors. What rags he wore about his waist were filthy and his exposed body showed bruises, burns, and cuts both deep and shallow. As Tsal looked on in disgust and imagined what sort of methods had caused such harm, two of the robed ones stepped up to the altar and removed his hood. As the man on the altar was revealed, Tsal gave a unintended shriek into his gag. The man looked exactly like him – the same eyes, the same nose, hair color, brow, everything – a perfect likeness, as though looking at his reflection.

The two locked eyes with equal horror and Tsal’s heart began to beat faster and faster until it raced as though meaning to break from his chest. Tsal saw the other man cough in pain with him as he felt himself torn from the crown of his head to the pit of his stomach, an excruciating, ghastly pain that reached his very soul. And so the two stayed for several long moments, feeling their existence wrenched from them, before the masked one barked orders and the other robed figures assembled from the cave’s edges to a circle around the two Tsals, their chanting growing more intense.

The collective voices hummed and reverberated off the cave walls, assaulting and wracking Tsal from all sides. He looked up and the two men once again locked eyes. The pain intensified and they saw one another’s form begin to shift and leave them, each other’s outline swaying from them like a shadow cast from a flickering fire. The droning chants of the collected mages, as now Tsal could only assume they were mages of the occult, hummed steadily on and a deep red glow began to emanate from behind his other self. The figure with the wand once more barked orders in the same infernal tongue and two followers moved to the man on the altar. Together they held a long, sleek dagger which they raised high above the man’s head. One last look was shared between Tsal and his ‘other’ as a third follower approached and forced the man’s head low.

The red glow grew brighter.

The chanting ceased.

The knife found its way driven down the man’s back and into his heart. His body fell limp and lifeless, there came several red flashes that filled the room with a dreadful light, and Tsal felt a force assault his body and fill it as if with hot coals. He wailed with agony and writhed against those that held him. They loosed their grip and he fell to the floor on his back as, internally, he wrestled with this foreign, burning presence. Tsal felt the pain of claws raking him as the chanting returned and he saw his reflection in the ceiling above. Glowing runes of deep black and brilliant ruby were carving themselves onto his torso. When they’d finished and the pattern complete, they covered his body in the fashion as one might where a cross harness. The glyphs on his body soon lost their glow, but the agony remained. His mind dazed from the ritual, the next several minutes Tsal would only ever recall as a panicked blur.

The chanting abruptly halted and the door to the ritual chamber crashed open. Soldiers in decorated plate mail flooded the room, brandishing shields that depicted a golden flame and glistening swords. The skirmish between the two groups was as intense as it was terrible. Bolts of hideous arcane energy cracked the air and cries sounded from those that fell to the sword, with the splatter of gore and gnashing of bone to accompany the screams of both sides. He had no idea how he’d managed to escape the halls during that time of madness, but the next sensation Tsal would remember was the brush of soft grass about his legs and the breeze of cool, midnight air on his arms.

Days later, Tsal wandered the streets of Kolbath, unsure and with no memory of how he came to be there, so many days’ travel from his home. His only thoughts when he tried to recall the days since his capture were of tortured unrest or plaguing, nightmarish dreams. He walked amid the poor and collected himself the best he may, a crescent moon adorning the high sky, when he heard the muffled cries of a young woman. Following the sound, he came across a woman being battered by a stumbling man that stank of sour ale. A finger to his lips signaled at the maiden, he crept up being her assailant and, finding a loose brick in the wall to his right, struck him.

The drunk fell to the ground, motionless. Tsal moved to drop the brick, but found himself strangely unable to. Rather, he held it in hand and, staring at the man’s chest rise and fall with unconscious breath, felt a strange anger begin to churn in his belly. He gripped the brick tight, dropped to a knee, and began to strike the prone form again and again well after the man had stopped twitching. Tsal looked up from the fresh corpse and, looking the frightened woman in the eyes, felt the foreign rage subside as they locked gazes. The woman’s expression slowly lost its edge of shock and fear and became one of a strange softness and allure. He dropped the brick and approached her.

“And what is your name, m’lady?” His words’ sound was sweet to ear, but held an acrid taste.

“Lydia,” she replied with a coy smile.

He gripped her gently by the waist, pulled her close, and intimately they knew one another.

“It’s a late hour that finds you here, m’lord. What can I get you? Look to me like you could use a drink and a bed.”

“Stiff drink, soft bed,” Tsal replied. He tossed a pouch of coin onto the bar.

“Very good, sir. The key. And that drink’ll be with you shortly.”

Tsal found the batterer from the alleyway hadn’t much on him once he’d sent the young lass on her way, but there’d been petty coin enough for a drink and a room for the night at the Hewn Heart, a local tavern and brothel. Tsal felt he didn’t like the innkeeper very much. He didn’t quite know why, he’d known plenty a man like him back home in Calypso, but tonight the man’s features annoyed him. His balding head, pockmarked face, clammy complexion, and unkempt beard all repulsed him very much. He took his drink and key and moved to a table across the way, far from the innkeeper. At that time, a man in lavender robes entered the tavern, seeming to look around the room rather frantically. Tsal was just lifting his mug to his lips when the robed one laid eyes on him and swiftly approached.

“Are you Tsal Maveth?” he asked, breathing hard.

“And who wants to know, pretty boy?” Again, the words that came were not his own.

“My name is not for you to know,” he said, pointedly, “but I come on behalf of my master and the Order of Bokonon. I come to you on purpose of summons, as you are called for a matter of great importance.”

“Right,” sighed Tsal, intent on moving tables, “I think you have the wrong guy.”

As Tsal made to stand, the man in lavender robes waved his hand briskly through the air and Tsal felt his muscles tense, unable to move. The priest gave a sad sigh.

“I see that I was too late. I’m sorry, friend, that I could not find you before…well, before this.” He reached into a fold in his robe and produced a pendant on a thin silver chain. The jewel set in the necklace was a deep colored amethyst and when the priest laid it on Tsal it gave a soft flash. Immediately, Tsal gave a deep, desperate gasp and fell forward, clawing at the table. Other patrons, as well as the innkeeper, looked across the room at the commotion, but with a look and a hand from the lavender priest, they each went back to their own business. Tsal continued breathing hard, but this time with thanks, not struggle. He looked down at the pendant and saw it now held a soft glow, and deep within it something stirred, like a mass swimming on the bottom of a murky lake.

“Th-thank you,” Tsal stuttered. “What did you do?”

The priest seemed to give a soft sigh of relief. “It will ease your struggle, but I’m afraid it won’t remove it of you. For that, I’m sorry as I was too late. It will, however, protect you from their sight.”

“From what?”

“We have been watching you, Tsal Maveth. I’m aware of your ordeals of late. You-…we are very fortunate that you escaped, but I’m afraid so did a handful of your captors. When they finish licking their wounds, they are sure to pursue you.”

“Pursue me? Why? I haven’t done anything to them. I haven’t done anything to anybody! Why would they want me?”

“You’re a foreigner in these lands, friend, and a very valuable one at that.”

“I’ve been to Kolbath before. I know people here and my homestead’s only a few days ride-”

The lavender priest gave a soft, sad smile and a shake of the head.

“In the days to come, you will come to know my meaning. You sought a place in your world from your first steps. Now, you will feel that ever more strongly in this life.” The priest searched Tsal’s expression and his confusion before continuing. “There is much to explain, and understanding your new place takes more time than we may afford. You must come with me to my order, in Tallin. Here, for supplies,” the priest offered him a small pouch that clinked with coin. “Rest tonight, and we must leave with the rising of the sun.”

Desperately confused but with little other recourse, Tsal acted as he was bid. In the morning, the two supplied and made ready for the two day journey to Tallin. While Tsal had many questions that longed for answers, their march was a largely silent one. Though, as they walked, something changed with Tsal. As he looked at the roads they walked, the fields and people they would pass, there came a sensation that would not leave him. Everyone he passed felt like a stranger, whether he would know their face or not. The land he walked, though familiar to him from travels past, felt foreign and may as well have been the Scythian tundra. The longing for answers, he knew, would eventually drive him to madness.

After a few days of walking and meditation with the priest, the crested a hill in the road and Tallin lay before them, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: I always really liked this one. Life wasn’t kind enough to let it play out quite as imagined in the actual, living campaign, but it stayed a favorite anyway. Prepare yourself for some woo-woo, because the main idea at work was this:
Tsal had been kidnapped by a group of blood mages from a parallel plane, stolen from his home plane to theirs. Their goal was to abduct a vessel from another plane because that person’s substance would be…loose, in a foreign plane compared to someone who is existing on their home world – kind of like the separation from one’s home plane leaves microscopic cracks in the fabric of their being, cracks that a summoned demon could then fill (like water filling a sponge).
From there, they proceeded to take him to face his alternate self who was of that world and ritualistically sacrifice that Tsal, since the same being cannot existence twice in the same time and place, and therefore binding Tsal Our Hero to this foreign plan.
That’s why the ritual plays out as it does, as well, explains Tsal’s uncharacteristic behavior when first in Kolbath.

Anyway, I know this one was dense, and while I don’t expect it, I rigorously welcome any hardcore fantasy nerds to comment, message, or email me with questions or comments. And if you missed any of the previous chronicles of the Amwren Origins series and wanna get caught up, I encourage you to spend some time and meet Revan, Cerlina, and Aldis. We’re nearly there to having the whole gang together!

Otherwise, I catch you all Thursday. Ciao!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:  https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/haagen-dazs-fake-foreign-branding?utm_source=reddit.com

Amwren Origins III: Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Happy Tuesday everybody!

Did you know that the Issus coleoptratus is the only known insect on the planet that has gear-like joints? They synchronize its joints for even jumps. Neat.

…yup. Don’t have much more of a cheeky intro than that, so let’s dive on in.

Today’s is another installment of the Amwren Origins series, introducing Aldis, this time. Perhaps the group’s most somber character – though certainly well within his reasons – I always liked him for the way he kept his compass straight, if that makes sense.

Oh! And bonus points if you can spot the homage to Kurt Vonnegut running through all these.

Anyway, may I present:

Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Aldis spent his younger years in the small, unremarkable town of Zylast. His childhood days were passed avoiding chores brought to him by his mother and father. Instead he chased the caravans that would come through on their way to Faraday or the bands of fighting hopefuls off to the desolate lands beyond Neven. As he watched, his mind would fill with dreams of his own adventures: the monsters he would slay, the duties he might perform, the women his tales would woo. Years of these thoughts aged him restlessly, and he grew eager to make them real. A few moons after his seventeenth birthday, he stole away into the night with naught but his clothes, the spear his grandfather had gifted him, and a farewell whispered to his sleeping sister, Talia.

The road to Stettin was straight and relatively safe, but stretched far. After weeks spent connecting with caravans headed in the same direction and foraging for what food he could not barter for, he crested a small hill to see the capital city’s walls on the horizon. Making camp, he new that defining days lay upon his near future.

Through the outer villages and eventually the towering city gates, he parted from the caravan with whom he’d arrived and sought out to earn his stay within the walls. The size of the walls, crowds, and deafening noise overwhelmed him at first, but he soon grew to quite like the buzz that the city offered. Knowing his goal, he searched for the city’s recruitment office and barracks of the capital guard. When he approached, he was laughed away by what soldiers were present and waved away by the attending officer. Sullen and dejected, but no less determined, Aldis found himself in the dark, unlit streets of the Stettin Warrens.

From his left, he heard a small clatter, and as he tensed, a figure leaped out at him from his right. A club struck him in the shoulder from the right and he felt the piercing pain of a dagger to his left thigh from his flanked side. Surprised and frantic, he thrashed with his arm and caught the knife-wielding figure on the chin with his elbow as the other man made for his head once more with the club. Aldis barely deflected the strike with the butt of his spear and spun around as he had practiced back home. Now facing his assailants, he was slowly backing away down the alley. They poised to attack again. Aldis turned and ran down a side alleyway.

Dodging under beams and leaping over refuse, he ran with his pursuers hotly behind him. His foot caught the edge of a hole in the cobbled road and he was sent into a tumble. On the ground, he turned around as the knife-wielding man leaped at him. Aldis closed his eyes and screamed, expecting to feel a sharp sting to the chest. What he felt instead was a warm spatter of viscous fluid across his cheeks. He opened his eyes to see the man with the knife, mouth agape, shocked, and slowly dying on the end of his upraised spear. As the man fell to the side, Aldis saw the other man standing in the street, looking on as his friend lay there dead. Slowly, he peddled back then turned to run away, apparently determined not to meet the same fate. Aldis breathed a sigh of relief that was cut short when he heard a voice not ten paces behind him.

“Well done,” it said, the speaker behind a veil of shadow.

“What do you want?” shouted Aldis, expecting more trouble.

“Me? Nothing. The question might be, though, what is it you’re looking for?”

“Listen, I don’t want anymore trouble here.” Aldis stood up and braced his spear. The man speaking to him was dressed in scale mail that shimmered against the moonlight, but his face remained hidden.

“That kind of attitude might mean you’re in the wrong part of town.” The man stepped forward so Aldis could now see him. He was tall and may have at one time been handsome, but had clearly seen years of conflict and weathered many adventures as his visage was now marred and rough. “But, you show promise. How’d you like to learn to use that thing?”

Aldis breathed slowly and, after several long moments’ silence, gave a soft nod.

Aldis’s first days at the Fighters’ Guild in Stettin were difficult, but justly rewarding. There, he worked hard under the tutelage of the man who’d found him, whose name, Aldis learned, was Hommin. He worked for his keep, scrubbing the dishes the fighters used, assisting the guild hall servants, working to maintain the guild members’ practice gear, and polishing the warriors’ weapons and armor. In return, he was taught the rudimentary lessons in movement, placement of one’s self in a fight, sizing up one’s opponent and analyzing them for weaknesses to exploit as well as strengths to be wary of. He learned to use his spear and weapons of its like, how to fit and dress one’s self in armor, and how to attend to wounds to some degree.

After some months spent in this manner, Hommin approached Aldis and told him to gather his things, saying that his days at the Guild were over. Hommin quieted his Aldis’s protests and as the young man was stepping out the door, his mentor caught him by the shoulder with a powerful hand.

“Where am I even supposed to go?” Aldis objected, fervently still.

“Go back to the recruitment office.”

“They wouldn’t take me!”
“They will now.” Hommin handed Aldis a rolled up piece of paper with the seal of twin swords across a rook tower, of the Stettin Fighters’ Guild.

Aldis walked the streets of Stettin, now on patrol for the city’s Honor Guard as an apprentice. He accompanied two pledged members and he felt a little out of sorts as his armor was brigandine under the light robes and the badge on his chest that marked a trainee, while the armor of pledged guards was a shimmering plate mail. They walked the streets, keeping order where it was needed, and as these days wore on, Aldis became quite accustomed to the unexpected as the matters of the job presented him with all manner of strange goings on – fights, brawls, drunks, occasional small riots, missing persons reports, even reported sightings of monsters and illegal wizards.

This experience could not steel him for the arrival of his sister, however, late one evening. He sat at a table in one of the Market District’s taverns that catered to the guard, The Bronze Toad, when she came through the door.

“Talia?” Aldis exclaimed, nearly covering himself in ale he coughed out his nose.

“Hello, brother.” Her voice was soft as heather and her smile was wide upon seeing her estranged sibling.

The two sat and spoke to the late hours over what he’d done since coming to the city, what their family had done in his absence, and, of course, what she was doing there.

“I’m pregnant,” she explained, “and soon to be married to Patryck. You remember him, from the Feishod farm? Ah, no matter at all. Anyway, I’m here with father to meet with an associate of mother’s to see about a wedding dress. Can you imagine? From a tailor!”

“Let me go with you! I’ll ask to make it a part of my patrol tomorrow. Not every day you come around, after all.”

“It might be. Patryck’s pursuing an apprenticeship under a master cobbler near here in Market Square. We’ll be close again.”

With that, each smiled and agreed to meet the next day at high sun in front of the shoemaker’s building.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing to be done’?” Aldis screamed. “We have to catch the fucking whoreson that did this! We have to find him and catch him! Kill him! We can’t let him get away with this!”

Aldis knelt beside the limp, mutilated body of his sister. It was the early morn, and her body was reportedly discovered not an hour ago. Dark dried blood ran from her still eyes and the corners of her mouth. There was a deep depression in her chest, a sign of a ritualistically removed heart, as well as dark tracks along her arms and neck which indicated she’d been subjected to chemical or magical paralytics. Most horrifically grotesque of all, though, was the viscera that ran from between her legs into the street. It was apparent to the examining officer present, as he would explain to Aldis and the other guards at the scene, that the goal of her attackers was the attainment of the unborn child she had carried; towards what purpose, he couldn’t say, but the work was indicative of skilled Blood Mages.

“So we do nothing?” Aldis exclaimed, standing. “This man or group of men are a menace and they have to be dealt with!”

“That’s not your call to make, boy,” reprimanded his accompanying guard.

“He’s right,” continued the officer. “Blood Mages are a dangerous ordeal, true, but from this it seems they’re targeting pregnant women, which is a far cry from a wide set crisis. Their target group is a small, temporary minority, and a harvest like this will keep them and their work busy for some months. It’s better that we not address this immediately while we have the time to do so.”

“We do nothing,” repeated Aldis solemnly.

“I’m afraid so.”

Aldis looked down once more at Talia and knelt beside her again. He looked to her neck and saw the opal necklace he’d given her when they were children. He’d found the stone at the bottom of a small river and thought of no better purpose for it. He’d almost drowned getting her that damned stone. He took it from her now and closed her eyes. With it, he turned his back and walked away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” called one of the guards.

“Let him go,” calmed the officer. “He’ll come back when he’s ready.”

Aldis would not return to Stettin’s walls. If those blind, pig-headed fools in the guard won’t do anything about an atrocity like that, he thought, then he would.

For months, Aldis traveled the countryside. He hunted names and chased rumors that had anything, even remotely, in line with the arcane nature of what had befallen his sister. One night, while in a tavern in the town of White Tower, he drank away his frustration as his most recent trail had gone cold. The doors to the establishment opened and a man walked in, dressed in robes of light lavender. The man approached Aldis and, without so much as a word, extended a hand offering a rolled piece of parchment with a seal that held an emblazoned ‘B’. While confused, Aldis cautiously accepted the parchment and the man, giving a warm smile, turned and left the building. The parchment sat on the table for a long moment before it was opened.

The note was addressed to Aldis personally by a man named Alistair, of the Order of Bokonon in Tallin. The parchment offered him details of his own recent life, from his training in Stettin to the murder of his sister, as well as his investigations since then. It warned of a matter of great importance coming to the world and his role to play in it. As a measure of good faith, the letter bore a name and promised it meaning in his search: Morvanna.

Without hesitation, the next morning, Aldis rose with the sun and traveled due west to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Looking back on this one was cool, if strange. Since it was meant as a backstory for a D&D character, it was already pretty detail-rich for what it was. Given what he has happen, though, it would have been pretty well served in a longer form; especially the confrontation with the officer towards the end. The guard has a pretty calloused reasoning for handling the situation the way they are, and while they rationalize it, Aldis doesn’t accept it. Call it naive, call it moral or emotional, it’s a revenge story at its most classic.

See ya Thursday!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source: 
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-insect-has-the-only-mechanical-gears-ever-found-in-nature-6480908/

Literary Dim Sum: The Life Best Lived, n’ All That

Happy Thursday, all.

Did you know that hippos can’t actually swim on account of them being too muscled? They just sink, so rather than swim, they just run along the bottom of whatever body of water they’re in. (No joke this time, this one’s just cool on its own.)

Short and sweet this time, and we’re going to do a two’fer. Both are…I’d call them excerpts, but there was never anything more to either of them. They were just thought experiments (but even that’s loose), mostly dialogue between two mostly-unnamed characters, that I wrote out forever ago in a form loosely called prose and gave titles.

First up:

The Why of It

“I can’t stop thinking about that man you killed back in Raen.”

Vrok shook and bobbed his head in response.

“Because he didn’t know why,” explained the warlock. “I think that’s the saddest thing. We all live stories and it’s important to know how and why it ends. Whether that’s living to a natural conclusion, dying for a war’s cause, or because the armed man wanted your money, at least these ways you understand your last page. It’s a pretty ubiquitous sentiment, I feel.”

Vrok grunted.

“Well, to most of us. I think that’s why most minds agree it wrong to harm small children and animals that were domestically raised. I doubt they understand nature’s crucible of hunters and prey and what side of the line they fall on; so there’s no way for them to know why it’s happening. Violence with reason is a means to an end. Violence without it is just cruel and cold.”

Vrok ruffled his feathers and patted his beak with massive paws.

“The why of a matter is the heart of a matter. Next time, show restraint. Just because we can look into his past and see his crime doesn’t mean he knows that’s the reason for his end or that he even remembers it. It isn’t fair.”

Vrok loosed growled bark.

“You’re right. I doubt he’d even heard of an owlbear before.”

FIN

The Take: This one could have been used for more, or been a part of something larger, but I think at the time I just wanted to get out there the idea of understanding one’s end and the importance that holds. Dunno, felt fun at the time.

And secondly:

Earth Everlasting

“We’re not destroying this planet, don’t fool yourself. She’s too large and too grand for that. We’re simply making her shell inhabitable for ourselves. She will regrow what we burn, rake up, or poison and she will live on while we die. But it will be by our own hands that we die.”

“But what about the responsibility we owe our children, or the animals whose homes we certainly do destroy? Human expansion is responsible for so much loss of life.”

“True, our kind is far from blameless, though I think it ignorant to believe this the first time it’s happened. Life ebbs and flows yet exists as consistently as the ocean’s waves. Don’t think the view gained from our tiny slice of time here to be the entirety of it; that our constructed time-line encapsulates the earth’s whole story. The clues of lost times and histories were long ago reclaimed, their ages set to equilibrium as ours inevitably will be.”

“I don’t understand how you can be so heartless and without empathy. How can you not keep in mind our children, or their children after them, or those uncounted future generations? We will be those to blame for the apocalypse they inherit from our actions. You see that, don’t you?”

“I don’t see the reason in fretting for those who haven’t life yet. Though, still, they should be so lucky,” she chuckled.

“What makes you say that?”

“My dear, people have for thousands of years believed themselves and their generation significant enough to be worthy of the End Times. That you and I stand here today having this conversation shows that to have been self-aggrandizing fantasy. For a people to experience a monolithic event that was dreamed of and preached by their ancestors for millennium, never mind the earthly horror of it, there would be a beautifully bleak privilege to it. In some sense, perhaps, that cosmic shedding could be seen as a gift.”

FIN

The Take: It’s surprising actually how often this one’s come up in my own life. I think it came about right when I was personally becoming privy to the whole Climate-debate at large. This isn’t the place to get political and I’m not about to, so I don’t expect that. I will just say that it provided a handy example, an anchor to combat a lot of the nihilism out there.

Aaaaand that’s it today. We’ll dive back into the series of Amwren Origins again Tuesday, so see ya then!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/04/flight-of-the-hippopotamus/524343/

Amwren Origins II: Cerlina, Voice of the Dawn

Sweet Tuesday evening to you, everybody!

Did you know that upwards of 150 wallabies roam the wild forests near Paris due to a jailbreak zoo-escape in the 70’s? Definitely in the running for most adorable jailbreak in history

Hopping straight into it, tonight’s tale is another of the Amwren Origins series. This one introduces Cerlina, a young half-elven girl, born into poverty and strife, but she holds her head high through it all and emerges as something…different.

Also, if you’re sensitive to foul language and racist attitudes…I mean, maybe just read over those parts.

(And in case you missed it, check out Revan’s origin story here:
https://thelightofday.blog/2019/04/30/amwren-origins-i-revan-of-the-crossroads/)

May I present:

Cerlina, Student of the Dawn

Born to an elven mother and a father unknown, Cerlina spent her early years enduring the cold gazes of man and elf alike. She and her mother, a woman fit of body but of waning mind, lived with Cerlina’s aunt, Maydene, in a communal living circle on the outskirts of the small town of Zylast. The circle was primarily composed of elderly women and their husbands who were, like Maydene, though a widow, practiced spinsters and herbalists. Cerlina’s childhood was but a glimpse as at age six, old enough to carry a pail, she worked tirelessly about the community, doing chores that the elderly could not and caring for her mother to the best of her ability.

This was the life she knew until her early teenage years when there came an unusually harsh winter. The cold air bit one’s skin, killed what few crops could manage the earth, and even hearth fires faltered, lashed by the chill. Inspired by the danger it proved to the old and frail, Cerlina made the march to Lomas, two day’s journey with a caravan, and appealed to the local baron. Despite his people’s stores of plenty, the man haughtily denied Cerlina’s call for aid and dismissed the poor peasant girl. That night, she found herself wandering the paved Lomas streets, kneading in her mind how she would word her disappointment to her aunt and her mother.

“Hey, half-breed!” she heard called out from a group of boys by the town’s central well. “Oi! You ‘ear me? I called to ya, ye prick-ear’d bitch!”

Resolute not to provoke any conflict or to make a scene, knowing Fenrici prejudices against elven kind, Cerlina quickened her pace. She soon heard several pairs of shoes smacking the ground behind her in pursuit and so she broke into full flight. She rounded a corner and squeezed down a tight alleyway, leaping over piles of refuse and sidestepping stray beams. She broke out the other side as footfalls echoed off the walls behind her. Making the mistake to look back, Cerlina’s breath escaped her as she was tackled from her blindside. From there, her memory of the clash was blurred.

The sound of approaching shoes.

The cold, stone street against her cheek.

The taste of blood in her mouth.

The next clear memory Cerlina had left her always with a strange blend of gnawing regret and anxious pride. She looked down after the frantic scramble at three boys laying in the street, bloodied and moaning, while two others fled so quickly the wind removed their hats and neither stopped to catch it. “Animal! Bloody she-devil!” they called behind them as they ran. Cerlina suppressed an embarrassed smile and looked back to the squirming bullies. The flash of a ring caught her eye and her pride turned to fear. She recognized the crest as the Halwin family sigil, the ruling family in Lomas. Fearing reprisal and punishment, Cerlina couldn’t wait until the morning caravan and instead set immediately to the dark night road alone, to Zylast. In two day’s time, she sat by the fire with her aunt and mother, relaying the news of the unhelpful baron.

“Well,” sighed Maydene after a long moment’s pause, “it may be time, if only too soon, to recognize what we must do.”

“I’m confused, Aunt May,” Cerlina said softly. “We already appealed in Lomas, the wood’s running out and our axe is broken. At this rate…”

“We won’t last the winter, I know, dear. We’ll be fine.” She smiled sweetly and looked into Cerlina’s eyes for a long moment before continuing. “What I was talking about was you. We planned this quite some time ago, but we wanted you to grow and, well, we still needed the help. But now is as good a time as any, and when opportunity knocks, you don’t turn her away. Those bruises you came home with are evidence enough that you’re ready.”

“I still don’t know what you’re-”

“We’re giving you to the temple of Idun, dear. Perhaps there, you might learn the healing arts, escape this life, and maybe one day…” Maydene’s voice trailed as her eyes moved to her sister sitting voicelessly by the fire. “Well, one day you might find us again and show us all what you’ve learned.”

Against her initial protests, Cerlina was taken to Tallin, the City of Temples. Once there, she was greeted by the head priestess with a knowing smile and quickly inducted into the order. Her beginning weeks were full of learning. She was set to rigorous study under the head priestess herself, Ana Salde, and in that time she spent long hours in the central cloister learning the basics in the proper use of herbs, natural remedies, and the rudimentary beginnings of spellcraft; though it was not to last.

After three weeks with the priestesses of Idun, Cerlina lay in her room, modestly furnished with only a small cot to sleep, a candlelit desk, and small stool, looking out her window at the passing clouds. Her wandering thoughts were interrupted by calls of commotion and protest from the cloister. She moved to investigate the sounds but was met by three armed men at her door as her feet touched the stone floor.

“Ah, there you are,” spoke the first, his comrades behind him holding back Cerlina’s classmates. “Took us a lil’ long to find you. Now,” he produced a scroll and read from it with mock elegance. “Under the authority of Lord Hammel Halwin his’self, Baron of Lomas, we’re to bring you in for the mistreatment of Lord Halwin’s firstborn heir, Ulfric Halwin.” The man rolled the scroll back up and smiled at her nastily. After a long moment’s pause, Cerlina quieted her peers and accompanied the soldiers with no more than a scornful frown.

Four years and untold lashings later, Cerlina sat in the corner of her cell. She was listening to the soft, familiar drip coming from a crack in her ceiling when she heard the clack of approaching boots. She slowly rose and stood up straight with her chin high. The years had been hard, but it had been a test for the resolve her aunt had taught her. “Don’t forget where you come from, child,” Aunt May had instructed. “People will scorn you, mock you, try to hurt you for your lineage. Never, never fall prey to their low thinking.” The jailer rattled his keys in search of the correct one and, upon finding it, opened the heavy door with the dull thud and grind of iron.

“Today’s your lucky day, little fairy. Free to go. Go’on, get out.”

Cerlina said nothing. Eyes closed, she emptied her lungs and then filled them with a strong breath before gracefully stepping forward and out of her cell. Her footsteps fell silently as she walked the hall toward the exit.

“What the…” muttered the jailer as he inspected the inside of the cell. What had been at one time a small, featureless, stone cell now had a bed of thick moss and was framed by a modest hanging gardens with bulbs in the beginning stages of bloom, all lush green despite there being no sunlight.

“Fucking elves.”

Cerlina sat in the shade of a grove on the outskirts of the city. She held in her lap the belongings she received upon leaving the prison, and among them was a package of letters. They were dated through the years of her stay. The first was a pardon from Lord Halwin for the “mistreatment” of his heir. She scoffed to herself and folded it behind the others. The rest were from her family in Zylast. In them, she read of her relatives’ lament for what had become of her, the close of the harsh winter which had taken her there, the success and failure of crops, various celebrations that had been held in town, as well as other general news.

As she read, kissed by the gentle southern breeze, Cerlina would smile, laugh at tales told by the page, until finally she came to the last letter, dated by eight months. It told of her once-widowed aunt remarrying a well-off man from a far away land whom her healing herbs had saved from sickness, stating his wishes that she and those close to her move with him to the city of Hallendren.

While she wished with all her heart the best for her aunt, Cerlina could not deny the pang of loss that she felt and of renewed loneliness, even now free from her cell. She made her way home to the community where she’d lived and toiled, finding her aunt’s now vacant cabin. Inspecting the outside of the cottage, it seemed everything was in place and as she remembered it.

“There were looters,” said one of her neighbors, a beanpole of a man whom Cerlina recognized as one of the younger husbands in the circle. “But we chased ’em off. We figured you was comin’ back some day and, well, wouldn’t feel right to let it happen. All you’s done for us, that is.”

“Thank you,” Cerlina replied sincerely, a soft smile adorning her lips.

The man bunched up his lips and offered an embarrassed nod before resuming his work.

She laid her hand on the door’s handle and left it there for a lingering moment before finally pulling it open. The inside of the cottage was not as she’d expected it. All the furniture and family possessions were as they were when she’d left, but beyond that, the cottage felt lived in, not abandoned. There was a fire in the hearth and she was surprised she hadn’t noticed smoke from the chimney. Her eyes eventually fell upon her mother’s chair and she gasped silently.

“You there,” she announced. “What are you doing here?”

The man stirred, as if from a gentle nap.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he yawned looking over his shoulder at her. “I had wished to be awake and ready to receive you but it appears I dosed off.”

“What are you doing in my home?” she repeated.

“Looking after her, of course.” He stood and now Cerlina saw that he was not a vagrant but some manner of priest, as indicated by his lavender robes. As she came slowly closer, she heard the scratching of dull claws on the wooden floor and she saw a large dog rising also to its feet. “She came here seeking shelter once your family had gone. I thought it only right to take care of her until you returned.”

“No, wait. How did you know I was coming back, or even gone, for that matter? Who are you?”

He smiled warmly. “I am from the Order of Bokonon, in Tallin. That is who I am and why I know you, Cerlina. I trust Ana prepared you properly, despite your time with those of Idun being short?”

“Are you why I was accepted?”

He gave a soft nod. “We did so because you’re needed, Cerlina.”

“Needed for what?”

“There is coming a time of great strife, a time you’re to play a role in guiding. Come to the Temple of Bokonon in a week’s time at dusk.” With that, he nodded and moved gently by her to the door. “Please, gather what you need and I hope to see you then.”

“Wait,” she called.

He stopped.

“What about your dog?”

“Her? She isn’t mine.”

“But,” Cerlina looked down to the dog who was looking back at her with large, gentle eyes. “Then who does she belong to?” she asked, but when she returned her gaze to the man in lavender, he was gone.

“Well,” she sighed to herself, looking to the dog again. “What do we call you, hmm?”

The dog cocked her head to Cerlina’s words and barked.

“What about ‘Alma’?”

She clacked her paws against the wooden floor and wagged her tail.

“Great! Alma it is, then.”

Cerlina and Alma spent one more night in the house they’d both known to call home and, rising with the morning sun, gathered what provisions they each might need. Together, they put step to path and journeyed out, returning to the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Much like Revan, I really like Cerlina. She’s born into a pretty crappy hand of cards, but uses what she’s given to the best of her ability, does what needs to be done, and doesn’t complain while enduring the world’s prejudices. Even though she’s treated unfairly, she doesn’t mire in that. She’s hardened, but she isn’t stern – a virtue I think resonates with a lot of us, because it’s such a difficult balance to strike: strong enough to steel against hardship, but not so jaded by that one’s guard never lowers.
Also like with Revan’s story, you might notice some similarities. They both start a little impoverished and they both also wind up speaking to a man in lavender robes – that’s a theme that will continue through the origin stories; albeit, in various forms and for various reasons.

Anyway, see ya Thursday!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11763787/Up-to-150-wallabies-living-wild-near-Paris-in-Rambouillet-forest.html

‘Hitchcock and Grayson’

Happy Thursday evening, all!

Did you know that a female turkey can, in the absence of any males, reproduce all on her own?

-snaps fingers “Don’t need no man” style-

That’s weirdly topical because of today’s story. It’s an excerpt from from a longer work that I wound up scrapping, but thought was really fun on its own. It might make a revival some day in one form or another, but the basic gist was about a kid sorcerer named Samson that ran a magical detective agency/law firm inside his own head called “Hitchcock and Grayson’s”.

The name came from a trip to Oakland my girlfriend I went on some years back. We went to the Morcom Rose Garden where we met a house cat with a little name tag that informed us his name was Grayson (the name tag, not the cat – though that would have been pretty cool too). As well as a (presumably wild) turkey that we named Hitchcock for the shape of its neck and jowls. Thus, ‘Hitchcock and Grayson’s’ was born! (In name, anyway.)

Without further adieu, may I present:

Virgin Mental – Hitchcock and Grayson’s

Phelp Harris stood outside a door in an alleyway as a clock somewhere struck midnight. He breathed out of his nose as he shivered and watched the cold turn his breath into wisps that danced in the air. Should be in and out in twenty, they’d said. Forty minutes ago, he’d believed the guy. Personal Protective Services usually meant a lot of standing around looking tough, but not in the freezing goddamn cold. This job was supposedly easy money, though. They didn’t expect any trouble, so They said, and just wanted some muscle with a background in brawling if the situation called for it. Maybe a shady pitch by a shady character, but for what They were paying him, Phelp felt it was easily worth it.

The soft clapping of footsteps sounded at the edge of the sidewalk by the alleyway. Phelp straightened his back and puffed out his chest as the sound came closer. Showtime, he thought. Standing in the bubble of bleak lighting offered by a single exposed light bulb, the approaching figure was smaller than he’d expected, silhouetted against the distant streetlight. “Hey, can I help you, kid? Doesn’t seem like the kinda place you ought’a be.”

Stepping into the pale light was a boy, no older than maybe twelve or thirteen with light, woody brown hair, hazel eyes that blinked more often than they should, and a space between his front teeth big enough to fit the right Lego piece if you tried. He was dressed in a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt under a puffy red vest, jeans with holes at the knees, shoes just a size or two too large for his feet, and a backpack. “Is Danny home?” he asked.

Phelp blinked his eyes in confusion. “Kid, I don’t think you heard me. You don’t belong here, understand? Now run along and find your parents, or something.”

“If they were around, you think I’d be in a back alley with some perv at midnight on a weekday?”

“What the? I ain’t no perv, kid,” said Phelp defensively.

“Just sayin’. You’re the grown up here with an unsupervised eleven year old. It’s the dead of night, no one knows where we are. Kind of fits the formula wouldn’t ya say, PedoBear?” The kid pulled out his phone and made a show of pretending to tweet about it.

Oh, a wise ass, huh? Time to turn this up a bit. “Listen kid,” Phelp said pulling back the flap of his jacket to reveal the handle of a 9mm Glock. “Like I said, you need to go. Ain’t the place for you.” Phelp gave a half guilty smirk at the kid’s startled reaction. It soon faded as the boy’s sobs became hiccups and then a full fit of the chuckles.
“Listen, Harris- can I call you Harris?” began the boy. “Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll double it.”

“Hang on a second, kid. How’d you know my name?”

“You’re wearing a name tag.”

“No I’m not.”
“Yeah, ya are.”

Phelp looked down and saw a ‘Hello, my name is’ sticker on his chest that he knew sure-as-shit wasn’t there a minute ago. “What the…?”

“You want some gum?” offered the kid, already chewing.

“What? No,” he said, inspecting the sticker with his name written on it. Looking at it more closely, he could smell it had been written with scented marker.

“Suit yourself.” The boy chewed for a moment and, after a look of eye-crossing focus, blew a gum bubble through the gap in his teeth. “So, what d’you say? Wanna make some money?”

“Look, kid,” Phelp said, discarding the sticker. “You really gotta get outta here. Not safe for you. You don’t go, I’m gonna have to make you.”

“Ooo-hoo-hoo!” sang the boy. He did a little dance in place pretending as if he was scared.

Strike two, you little prick, thought Phelp.

“You seriously don’t want to take the bribe? I thought bribes were like, like hotcakes to bouncers n’ hired goons. Seriously, I can pay.” The boy reached into a pocket in his vest and produced a roll of bills which he undid and counted out eight hundred dollars.

Phelp stood in place with eyes wide as the youngster handed him the money.

“Who the hell are you, kid?”

The boy smiled coyly and said, “Your worst nightmare.”

Before Phelp could react, there was a bright, silent explosion of color. A massive rainbow of light spouted forth from the kid’s open palm like a snow making machine, enveloping the surprised bodyguard. When the effect ended and the lonely bulb resumed its monopoly on light supply in the alley, Phelp was left dazed and stupid on the ground beside the door, froth dripping from the corner of his mouth. The kid blew another bubble through his teeth and wore a proud smile.

He stepped over the crumpled body that was Phelp and tried the knob on the, frankly, shack door to the building. It was locked. The boy gave a short huff before laughing to himself with an inspired tap to his noggin. He bent over and closely scrutinized the door’s surface. He reached out and gave it a light flick of his finger. The face of the solid door rippled like the disturbed surface of a still pond. The boy looked down at Phelp before stepping through.

“Oh, or just Samson for short.” And with a wink, a name tag appeared on the front of his vest before he disappeared through the once solid door.

FIN

The Take: This one was really fun. I think it was one of the first little doo-dad’s I wrote where I got to use magic. It was a bit of a hump getting over those jitters and realizing it was sort of okay to say something happened “because magic”. Anyway, edited a little bit because the sentences were, upon review, pretty damn run-on-y, but I left in the dumb PedoBear joke that I still think is pretty cringey. Overall, it was a fun little scene to put together with magic, character, n’ goofs.

Anyway, happy Thursday and I’ll see ya next week. Ciao, for now.

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here: 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:
https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/t/Turkey_%2528bird%2529.htm