A Little Heist…

Happy Thursday, y’aver’body (that’s “y’all” + “everybody”)!

No grand introduction here, just stopping by to say that if you’re one of my California Brothers or Sisters and been working with the power outages, I hope you’re getting through it well and having fun camping.

Anyway, I’m just gonna drop this here:

Coldin “Fade” Cradleson

Coldin began his life in Bosford, a largely unremarkable homestead but holding a name for its farmland and orchards. In his early years, he did as all young halflings would and found mischief with a small gang of other younglings wherever he might find opportunity to shirk his chores. Some years would pass in this fashion before a devastating dry season hit and his family’s farm failed. Now a young adult with an independent fire in his belly, he set off to the capital city of Stettin to find his own way.

The sprawling streets and maze-like alleyways of the metropolis overwhelmed young Coldin at first and, with a lack of work available to him, he chose his cunning deft hands as his means to earn. Rather than live like a guttersnipe in the streets with beggars, he began making his way through the art of petty theft and crime. Coldin managed to carry on in this way for several months before he caught the shadowy gaze of the city’s Thieves’ Guild proper.

One late night in one of the lower districts’ common houses, the Gilded Mare, sitting at a corner table and enjoying a day’s work, he was approached by a small band of four. One, a human with long black hair tied back and a scar under his left eye; another, tall for an elf, but strikingly green emerald eyes; a third, a stocky dwarf with a nasty grimace and a beard trimmed short; and lastly, a halfling like himself, though her skin was, for Fenris especially, exotically dark. The man spoke first.

“Enjoyin’ this evenin’, little master?”

“I was,” Coldin replied. “What’s all this?” He found his gaze repeatedly wandering over to the dark halfling whose eyes never left his and whose coy smile never dropped.

“An introduction,” said the elf, taking a seat next to him. “Seems you’ve been stepping on some toes since you’ve arrived. There are those who don’t take too kindly to it.”

Coldin tensed, ready for a skirmish. “So then,” he said, looking at the gang, “how does this sort of thing get handled?”

“With an invitation, actually,” said the man. “My name is Runil. This charmer is Vaenin, smiles over there is Grum, and this little beauty is Jasmyn.”

“Call me Fade.”

Runil gave a soft chuckle. “Fade it is then. So then tell me, Fade, how about a job?”

“How could I say no?” replied the halfling with a grin.

Several nights later, Coldin was on a sloped rooftop overlooking the Stettin Estates. The moonless sky gifted him total darkness and from his vantage point, he had an unobstructed view of the target’s room. The job was to be simple. Sam Robinsong was in town to personally oversee the sale of a valuable art piece. Runil posed as the prospective buyer, several of Vaenin’s friends filled in the staff of house’s staff to make sure necessary doors and security measures remained accessible, leaving it up to Jasmyn and Coldin to seize the prize once the way was clear. This done, and he was in with the Thieves’ Guild of Stettin. After about an hour of waiting, he watched as Sam Robinsong left the room, called away by the disguised Runil.

“Time to work,” thought Coldin to himself. He slid down the roof top and deftly leapt the small gap. Attaching a grappling hook to the chimney, he lowered himself down to the window sill. He produced his toolkit of picks and levies and set to work on the window. Despite his efforts, it refused to budge. He looked into the room and ducked as he saw someone enter. Daring a glance, he saw that the individual was a halfling and, surmising it was Jasmyn, signaled to her. Meeting his gaze, she smiled sickly as she bagged up the valued painting. She pulled away her face mask, and to Coldin’s shock, the woman standing in the room he knew as Jasmyn looked exactly as he did.

Just then, the door to the room flew open and Robinsong, accompanied by two guards, burst in with swords drawn. Jasmyn produced a black stone from a fold in her clothing and threw it at the ground, and as she did so, it exploded to fill the room with smoke. However, the smoke quickly dispersed, and with Coldin looking on in confusion and awe, he saw Robinsong on the ground, bleeding from the throat. One of the guards took to his care while the other scanned the room and saw Coldin at the window. He shouted for reinforcements and Coldin quickly repelled from the window down to street level. Once his soft boots touched the brick-laid streets, they didn’t stop running until he was hidden quietly behind a pig trough in a butcher’s yard. As the pursuing voices receded, his heartbeat slowly resumed its regular pace. Careful and calculated, he smeared the filth about his cloths and skin, and stole away down the dark alleys towards a beggars’ lane where he fell asleep among the homeless.

He woke the next day to a soft repeated tap against his foot. Standing above him was a man, no older than twenty summers, with short brown hair and a genial smile, dressed in a robe of soft lavender color.

“What’s it? What do you want?” groaned the halfling.

The man never dropped his soft smile. “Hello. I’ve been looking for you. No, don’t worry, not like that. You can relax. I come on behalf of the Order of Bokonon.”

“The fu- who? Listen, I don’t hold to any orders, borders, or robe folders. There are plenty of other people here you can preach to, so, if you don’t mind.”

“My master informs me you’re to serve a matter of great import and in a fortnight’s time, would like to welcome you to our temple personally. Where you will receive answers to any and all questions.”

“Didn’t I tell you, I’m not interested.”

“Ah, but you have reason to be.” With that, the man produced a rolled up piece of paper from his sleeve and handed it to Coldin.

Coldin snatched it from the man’s hand and unrolled it. He gave a short gasp. It was a wanted poster with a depiction of his face on it and a generous sum posted as a reward for his capture.

“The man hunting you is quite resourceful and his reach extends far in this land. This opportunity offers much, but with it, a chance for escape. Here, as a measure of good faith.” The man in lavender discreetly handed him a pouch of coin. “Use this to quickly clean and supply yourself. In two week’s time, at dusk, come to the Temple of Bokonon in Tallin.”

Coldin’s eyes didn’t leave the poster. When he looked up to speak, the man was gone. Thoughts rumbling in his mind, Coldin quickly calculated his odds.

“So then,” he sighed to himself, “to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: This was cool to come back to. It was THE FIRST character backstory I EVER wrote, so it’s a fun look back in time. A little over-complicated? Yeah, in parts, but overall it worked. Unfortunately, the player for whom it was intended wound up not becoming a part of the main group (I legitimately forget why, but I’m going to safely assume a manner of failure on my part), but I trust the bad guys here were going to come back with a vengeance.

Anyway, take it easy, keep safe, enjoy life, and I’ll catch you all Tuesday!

Ciao, for now.

A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

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.

“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.

The Window of War

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

No fancy run-up, let’s just do it. Time for some good ol’ fashioned fantasy.

Crixus, a Beginning

Grumlik watched the rocky dirt road pass under his feet as he doggedly placed one boot in front of the other. His march had been long and, wearied by war, his heart yearned for the warmth of his home’s hearth and the touch of his beloved. Aching, he blinked his tired eyes and shook away his exhaustion as he focused on the nighttime sounds: the moonbirds that sang their distant song, the wind that whistled through the tall grass of the plains, the rhythmic thud of his heavy boots, and the crunch of the gravel beneath them. He lifted his eyes to the star-riddled sky.

The song, the wind, the thud, the crunch.

As he thought, he heard also the soft rustling of what he wore: linked chains that gently chimed with each heavy step, bent plates bearing scars, punctures, and dents that rubbed against pads of leather, the shield that hung loosely to his side with its rattling buckles, and the sword on his hip with its muffled dance within the scabbard. His thoughts now upon the garments which had saved his life many times over, he felt their weight on his shoulders as he trudged onward towards home. In the stars he saw constellations and soon saw faces – the faces of comrades, those who wouldn’t see home.

He crested a small ridge and filled his powerful lungs with a deep breath and held it a long time. When he released it, it was accompanied by a tear in his eye. The wind carried the scent of smoke, not the black smoke of war he’d now become so accustomed, but the smoke of an home’s hearth. Grumlik paused. His mouth watered, his stomach twisted, and his fingers twitched.

The song, the wind.

As he stepped across the threshold of his home, a small cabin on the outskirts of town, the inside was aglow with the warming fire and the air smelled thickly of stew. Wordlessly, Grumlik cast his gaze slowly over the room.

It was good to be home.

He saw her sitting by the fire, but the sound of the door softly shutting behind him roused her.

“Faralda,” he called quietly. The sound of his voice surprised him, he’d been silent so long.

She turned to immediately to his call, her fair skin, wavy brown hair, and deep blue eyes illuminated by the fire’s light. She offered no words, but Grumlik could see the sparkle of tears paint from her freckled cheeks to her trembling chin. After a moment hung in the air between them, like a drop of rain frozen in time, she burst from her seat by the fire and flew to his arms. They embraced, they kissed, and they shed tears with one another. Faralda pulled away to speak, when a cry sounded from a crib Grumlik hadn’t noticed.

She smiled to her husband and stepped over to the crib to hush the awoken child. Grumlik approached and laid a hand on her shoulder. Inside the crib was a small babe, perhaps a year old, yet he bore the features unmistakably of his father and the softness of his mother’s eyes.

“What is his name?” Grumlik whispered quietly.

“After your father,” she replied.

Grumlik smiled with pride.

“Crixus.”

*

While it wasn’t a large town, Faraday saw its share of travelers. Known traditionally for its caravan park, it remained the crossroads of a large amount of trade as well as home to the Fenrici Caravaneers’ Guild base. Crixus would watch the roads, fingers laced over the end of his pitchfork, and gather tales from those passing through. In his meetings with these adventurous travelers, he heard stories of bandit attacks, monstrous ghouls, rescues from raging infernos, the weathering of frightful storms, and much more. Every morsel fed his own fire and thirst for adventure.

Today was time that thirst was sated.

“Ha! You’ve gotten better, boy! Your form is most improved!”

“It seems,” Crixus replied, finishing his parry and sidestepping to his opponent’s left, “you make a fair teacher!” The young half-orc feigned in with his shield and followed it with a boxing motion of his wooden sword’s point. The older caravan guard with whom he sparred was well experienced and dodged the tip of the blow, returning with one of his own, only to have it deflected by a shield. Crixus broke away to re-position and quickly stepped in with an overhand swing. The older man deflected not the weapon but the wrist holding it and, with Crixus off balance, kicked him to the dusty earth with a foot to his bottom.

“That makes it,” panted the older man, “eleven to three now, yes?”

“Calling it quits already are we, Regis?”
“Ah, you’re young, I’m old. I’ve earned the right to say when we’ve finished.”

“Only because you know I’d thrash you were we to keep going.”

“Exactly.”

The two shared a laugh and clasped one another respectively by the forearm.

“Crixus!” came a call from the cabin.

“You’d better go, boy. We’ll have another bout when next I’m in town.”

“Make it soon then, as I’ll have your hide next time.”

“Aye, that you will, I’m sure.”

Grumlik was at the table smoking his pipe and rubbing his knee – an old war wound – when Crixus entered.

“You needed me, father?”

“Yes, son. How was your bout with Regis?”

“He got lucky, this time.”

“Ah, well that’s because you go too easy on him,” Grumlik laughed. “Come, take a seat next to me. Good. Now, I’m no poet or bard. I’ve no way with words, so I’ll just come out and say it. I know that this farm holds no life for you, Crixus. You’ve my strength of arm, your mother’s wits, and the same adventurous fire we’d both had at your age. We do you no good now, holding you caged here any longer.”

“But, father, how will you-”

“We’ll manage here just fine, son. You’ve naught to worry there. No, no more. Just listen.” The old Orc stood up stiffly, motioned his son to follow, and walked over to a trunk against the far wall. He grunted as he leaned down and opened the clasps on either end. The smell of worked leather and redolence of old steel escaped the trunk as the lid was lifted. Inside, Crixus could see his father’s old belongings from his time in the war when the conflict was at its height. One by one, Grumlik removed the items and laid them out across the table. “Here, try them on,” he invited.

After some minutes spent adjusting fittings, belts, and buckles, Crixus stood in the center of the cabin, bedecked in his father’s old armor and his shield at his side.

Grumlik stepped around Crixus to his front after setting the final strap and asked, “How does it feel?”

Struggling equally for words, Crixus moved and shifted in his new garb. “It feels good,” he said, and with a chuckle, “if a little strange.”

“It will suit you well enough, at least until you replace it with something better.”

“Why are you doing this for me, father?”

“Because I am your father. What kind of question is that? Besides, you need not hide it any longer simply for the sake of your mother and I. We’ve seen you watching them, the caravans and guards, travelers and wanderers. You’ve done well by us to aid tending the farm, but it’s long time we do well by you and not hold you here any longer.”

Crixus held his father’s gaze with a hard, stoic eyes for a long moment before his countenance broke into a large, toothy grin with eyes wide and anxious. “I will find it, father.”

“Nothing cryptic, son. Find what?”

“My destiny.”

*

Crixus sat upon an old stump looking up at the ways the smoke from his campfire danced and writhed its way between the stars with the gentle wind. He took a deep breath and the crisp nighttime air filled his lungs in a way he’d come to enjoy, a new way, as for once it was the air of open country not tread by his boots. Thoughts of home had come to him often as he’d marched over the last week. In those moments, he looked to the sky and thought that while the ground he walked and the lands he would see would be strange, it was all under the same sky.

As he mused, there came the crunch of gravel and the snap of a dry twig down the road to his right. He knew the road to be dangerous and since leaving Crixus had defended himself from a wolf separated from its pack (that now found itself the subject of Crixus’ rations pouch) and frightened away a would-be highwayman. He stood and put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Hello?”, he called out. “Who goes there?”

Wordlessly, a robed man approached his site and said, “a simple traveler wishing to share the warmth of your fire, young sir.”

“Hmm, yes. Come. I’d be glad of the company.” Crixus waved the man over to a stump near his own. The figure took his seat by the fire. In its light, Crixus could now see his robes weren’t the dusty rags of a simple traveler but a bright, vibrant lavender. A strange amulet depicting a pair of woven hands hung on a thin silver chain about his neck. Seeing no weapons on the man, Crixus assumed him to be a priest of some obscure order. “How has the road fared you, being as you’ve not a sword to defend yourself?”

“Safe enough,” he chuckled. “I presume many see the robes and think they would do better than tangle with a magician. That, or they are gods-fearing in their own right. Who’s to say, really? What is it that brings you out this way? Do you wander, or are you lost?”

“Neither. I seek something.”

“And what is it you seek?”

“My destiny.”

“Ah, a fine goal to be sure.” And after a breath of silence between them, he said, “You may well be in luck, then. Do you have a destination for the morning?”

“Not in particular. Why do you ask?”

“Come with me then, to the city of Tallin.”

Crixus paused and was slow with his answer. “What awaits us there?”

“Destiny, friend.”

Crixus stared long into the priest’s dark brown eyes as the fire crackled between them. He stared and he searched and in the end found promise in those eyes. The two laid down to rest under the stars and as the sun rose they rose with it. Cinching the straps of his armor, Crixus again breathed deep the morning air and with his new priestly companion began his march towards Tallin, the City of Temples.

END

The Take: Yup! We’re revisiting the Amwren-series. It’s been a while since we’ve put up one of these. I’ve always liked Crixus’ intro. It was short, simple, and none-too-complicated, but personally, I think this was one of the more elegantly written (or, at least, pleasurable in a literary sense) of these serialized shorts. He also went on to be a really beloved character and, in his own dorky way, a sort of central glue for the rest of the group. He had a way of lovably admonishing Revan and his plans, being admonished by Cerlina for his own goofy ideas, kicking impressive heaps of ass with Aldis (when he wasn’t busily selling himself into slavery), pulling ill-advised feats of courage with Tsal, and running schemes with the last member of the group who awaits his introduction next time…

Anyway, catch you Thursday, dorks!

Ciao.

Station 36: The Cutest Space Tale on the Market Today

Hey all, happy Thursday!

First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).

Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).

I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.

Today’s is one of those.

Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand

I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…

Station 36

“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.

Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”

Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.

*

The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.

The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.

“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.

The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.

“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”

Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.

“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”

Archie affirmed with a series of tones.

“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.

Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.

In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.

Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”

“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.

The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.

Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.

This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.

As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.

“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”

Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.

“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”

The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.

The blockage would need to be removed manually.

As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.

“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”

Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.

Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.

The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.

“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.

Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.

“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.

Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”

Archie beeped sheepishly.

“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”

Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.

“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”

Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.

“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.

Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”

Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.

“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.

Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.

END

The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.

Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)

A Gift for Cer’lliarah

Happy Thursday, all..

Let’s do things a little bit backwards today and have our dessert first.

The Take: This one, like a couple of others, came together in about an hour and without any sort of grand idea that inspired it. A scene came to mind and next thing I knew I was obsessively pounding keys until it was done – kind of like the drug hazes or super-focused power montages in movies.
One of my favorite parts about this one is that it was the first time ever in a story that I described someone’s nipples. (Funny story about that, too. I wrote it in the cafeteria of the local junior college and when I got to the part about describing nudity, I checked over my shoulder probably twice, sheepishly feeling like I was somehow getting away with something.)
Anyway, I hope it paints as crisp and glittering a picture in your mind as it arrived in mine.
[Oh! And fun fact: the gift presented in this story wound up inspiring the namesake of the story I’m probably THE most proud of to-date, one I’m currently shipping around to different publishers. You’ll know if/when it gets picked up because that’s probably all this blog will be about the week that it does.]

A Gift for Cer’lliarah

Dorian drew the curtain of moss aside and stepped into the grotto. It was a cavernous space with dark stone walls that glittered like the night sky. Softly lapping waves of a ghostly tide gently foamed at his boots and a beam of moonlight hung over a small central island from which a song chimed harmoniously with its own echo. The words were sweet, indiscernible but melodious, and filled the young duke-to-be with a tingling sense of ecstasy. He was nervously straightening his jerkin and pulling it flat when he saw her step out from a silver pond between two pines.

Cer’lliarah, the water nymph. It was said that she had only ever taken three mortal men, and all three had become kings. Many had tried to curry her favor, but none other than the kings had returned. Besides a gown of transparent water silk, she was completely nude. She was petite in frame, but had long, slender legs and dark hair that flowed down to dimples on her lower back. Her body was completely bare and smooth with fair skin and shapely breasts with perfect, light pink nipples. She blinked at him coquettishly from her island with large nutmeg eyes and beckoned him to her before gracefully retreating from view.

Dorian greedily delved into his pocket and fumbled out a gleaming topaz on a silver chain. Lowering to his knees, he dipped the precious stone into the lapping waves. The jewel glowed brightly a moment and dissolved into the water. A rumble sounded in the grotto and a land bridge slowly foamed out of the waters before him. It had taken scores of ships and fine soldiers to bring him a leviathan’s tear, the only offering Cer’lliarah would accept, but their families had been compensated fairly from the treasury and it would be worth it once the nymph confirmed his destiny as king. His uncle had made a terrible tyrant for Kandar and Dorian’s father was determined to remove his brother from the throne. This would be as close to a bloodless coup as he was liable to get, and he’d entrusted the honor to his son.

Dorian crossed the path trying to maintain a nobility to his stride, but he slipped almost every other jittery step. He had never taken a woman before, so the thought of bedding the legendary nymph made him horribly anxious. That anxiety melted away, however, when he stepped into the island’s small, central glade and saw her laying in wait on a bed of flowers and heather. She rose and began wordlessly removing Dorian’s clothes. As she did, he searched for her eyes, but they were lowered, brushing their sight over his emerging nakedness. When she did look up and meet his eyes, the nerves swiftly returned. They were more beautiful, more enchanting beyond anything in his dreams, and held an ageless, gentle innocence that made him forget the world’s evils, time, even his own body.

He was so taken with their deep golden color he didn’t feel the pain in his back.

The young noble placed his hands on her hips and felt his way to her bosom, quaking in anticipation as her hands did the same. She felt his arms, draped them over his shoulders, and let her hands dance on his chest. They finally fell on the pendant he wore, an emerald from his mother, and she kissed him on the cheek as she undid the clasp. He opened his mouth to protest, but a noticeable pain in the back of his neck caught the words in his throat. He realized he couldn’t move. She met his eyes again and this time Dorian saw himself in their reflection.

He watched his cheeks and jawline become sharpened and defined, his neck and shoulders lost their adolescent chubbiness and grew muscled, and a thick, regal beard adorned his face. His eyes hardened with the wisdom and sacrifices of a just ruler and a great jeweled crown formed on his head. He saw he was the full vision of the ruler he might have become.

Cer’lliarah clasped the pendant around her own neck and took Dorian’s hands from her breasts and crossed them over his own shoulders. The unseen tendrils that had woven their way into his torso now stitched across his limbs and fastened them to his trembling body. She played with the emerald and lay back down on her bed of flowers and heather. He choked on his pleas, but she only smiled up at him with her large, nutmeg eyes as the tendrils lifted him to the ceiling of the grotto. While he couldn’t turn his head, his eyes wildly searched the grotto’s walls and he saw all around him the calcified remains of those who had also come before to entreat the nymph’s favor.

And had also failed.

FIN

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!