Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

An Ode Remembered

April 17, 2019

“Read that last bit back to me, Halas,” Darden said, sipping the last of his glass of blackwine.

Halas finished writing and then took a deep breath. “Of course, sir,” he said. “You said ‘ And so the song of the sea was now safely in the hands of the library in <>.”

“Great,” Darden said. “Another of my stories written down for posterity. You can go home now. Take the rest of the roast with you.”

“Yes, sir,” Halas said, setting his book aside on the desk and wiping the nib of his pen clean and setting it aside too. He stood up. “Have a good night.”

“You too, Halas,” Darden said. “And stop calling me ‘sir’.” He smiled as Halas shrugged and shuffled out of the room, headed to the kitchen to pick up the remains of the roast to take home with him. Darden slumped in his chair, relaxing as he stared into the fire in his fireplace.

Dictating stories of his adventures with Halas always stirred up all sorts of memories for Darden. Some of those memories were very good and some of them were very bad and everywhere in between. In his youth, he had been inspired to leave home instead of following in the family business. He had become a wandering bard, touring the country and performing for money and he had seen a lot. At some point, he had unlocked the magic that music contained thanks to the teachings of an elder bard far to the north. He had become an adventurer then, helping a group of like-minded individuals fight evil and rescue the common man. He had had a long and successful career and he had made his fortune. In fact, he had given away more than he had earned and he still found himself rich.

He remembered how delighted he had been when he discovered that his voice could hurt and heal, weaken and strengthen. He had traveled with a wizard gnome, a drow thief, a human sorceress, a half-orc bruiser, and a tiefling swordswoman. He had made friends with these people which had made up for his lonely childhood. All along the journey, he had found many of the pieces he had felt missing early on. He grew into a stronger person, a hero. He had found love and lost it. Now in his declining years, he was trying to get it all down on paper with Halas’ help. He did not want his stories to disappear from the world when he disappeared from the world. He hated these morose moments in front of the fire. Perhaps it was time to go to bed. There was a knock at the door.

“Halas?” Darden called out. “Why did you knock? You know you’re always welcome.”

A familiar elven face opened the door. “I am not Halas,” the man said. “So I thought I should knock.”

Darden’s heart nearly stopped. “Kalavas!?” He shouted. “Is it really you?”

“It is, old friend,” Kalavas said. “I hope it is not too late for a visit. I was passing through and I heard you had a house in this town.”

“Friend?” Darden asked. “Of course, you’re welcome but I would have thought you were done with me.”

“Done with you?” Kalavas asked, his laughter was genuine. “You were the one who led to my awakening.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” Darden said. “I did lead the way for the wizard that broke the spell on you but…”

“Yes?” Kalavas asked, his eyes curious and amused. “Are you torturing yourself?”

“I could have led somebody to you long before I did,” Darden said. “Somebody could have released the spell years earlier. I visited you and sang to you instead of helping you.”

“Is that all?” Kalavas asked. “I should have visited decades ago. You were a child, you can hardly be blamed for your romantic notions.”

“Romantic notions?” Darden asked. “What do you mean?”

“I still remember the songs you sang to me when I was petrified,” Kalavas said. “I remember many of the words you told me.”

“You could hear all of that?” Darden asked.

“Sort of,” Kalavas said. “It was much like I was in a dream.”

“So you knew I had a crush on you,” Darden said. It was not phrased as a question but he still eyed Kalavas closely.

“I did not want to mention it when I woke up,” Kalavas said. “I thought it might be too awkward and I have no preference for men.”

“I guess I should thank you,” Darden said. “You look exactly the same as back then.”

“We elves age slowly,” Kalavas said. “I wish you could live as long as I will.”

“Me too,” Darden said. “But it is nice to have a proper ending.”

“You had a good life,” Kalavas said. “I have heard some stories.”

Darden smiled. “I did have a good life. Soon you will be able to read all about it.”

Kalavas smiled. “I’m glad. You did a lot of good in the world. I hope your stories can inspire others to do just as good.”

“I hope they do better,” Darden said. “We should always be better than we were before.”

“That is a noble sentiment,” Kalavas said. “I suppose that is something the younger races are better at. Improving.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?” Darden asked. “Have a glass of wine with me.” He turned to grab the bottle but when he turned back, Kalavas was nowhere in sight.

Had he imagined the whole thing? Had he simply had too much blackwine and it turned his own memories against him? Perhaps. Or perhaps Kalavas did not want to linger. Darden had a feeling he would never get the answer to his questions. Still, the experience left him feeling lighter. It also might make for a good page or two for his books. He would think on it when he was clear-headed in the morning.

(Written on 4/13/19)

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Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

The Filí

April 6, 2019

Conor woke up on the bus with a start. He instinctively clutched his guitar closer, a habit he had learned from sleeping in shelters and on the street. When you had something that could earn you money, you did not let it out of your sight and you never let go of it. Of course, those days were long gone now. Instead of falling into a restless sleep on a cot or a stack of cardboard boxes, he had fallen asleep on the band’s comfortable tour bus. As lead singer, he had his own little room on the bus. He had his own house by the beach back in California. Life had changed for the better thanks to music. He had gone from being without family or friends to being part of a band, a new family. He tried not to take it for granted. There was a knock at the door and he hurriedly pulled on a t-shirt and swept his hair back.

“Come on in,” Conor said. “I’m decent.”

The door opened and Ella stepped inside. The band’s drummer was a rainbow of color, as usual, multi-colored hair and flashy clothes. “Decent?” She asked. “I suppose you are fairly decent for a rock star.”

“I do my best,” Conor said. “What can I do for you? Did you read through that notebook yet?”

“It’s always work with you,” Marta said. “You need to rest while you can before we get to the next town.”

“I don’t know how long this ride is going to last, Marta,” Conor said. “I need to get everything I can from it.”

“The ride is going to last at least as long as it takes to get some rest once in a while,” Marta said.

“So why are you here?” Conor asked. “If it’s not work then it means it’s not time for sound check yet either.”

“It’s mail call, you ass,” Marta said with a laugh and she tossed an envelope onto Conor’s bed. “Phil’s office is still going through the latest batch of fan mail but they forwarded this along first.”

Conor picked up the envelope which was already unsealed but he had gotten used to that. “Why’s that?” he asked. “What makes this one so special?”

“I don’t read your mail, jerk,” Marta said with a shake of her head. “But Phil said it was from family.” She shrugged.

“Family?” Conor asked and he looked at the front of the envelope. “Oh, it’s another one of these.” He smiled and tossed the envelope back onto the bed.

“One of what?” Marta asked. “Now you have me curious. Besides, you’ve never talked to us about family.”

“Because I don’t have a family,” Conor said. “I’m an orphan. I never really had anyone at least not for long.”

“I’m confused,” Marta said. “Who is this cousin then?”

Conor rolled his eyes. “She claims that she’s my cousin,” he said. “She spotted one of my tattoos on a magazine cover and swears that it could only mean that we’re family. It’s crazy.”

“But don’t you wonder if she’s right?” Marta asked. “You could connect with actual blood after all this time?”

Conor shrugged. “When I first read one of her letters I worried that she was only after fame and fortune,” he said. “Then after reading on, I realized that she’s crazy.”

“Crazy?” Marta asked. “Our lives are already crazy. What kind of stuff is in those letters?” Her face became concerned. Their band had not exactly achieved superstar status but they definitely dealt with their share of craziness.

Conor picked the envelope again and this time he slid the letter out of its envelope. The writing was done with a calligrapher’s hand much unlike the usual crazies who had wild or disturbing handwriting. At least, most of them did. “Get this,” he said. “She says the tattoo signifies an old, old group called the Filí.”

“How old?” Marta asked.

“Ancient,” Conor said. “And Irish. They traveled around and fought monsters. It sounded really badass when I first read it.”

“That doesn’t really sound like you,” Marta said. “The closest we have to that is Luke but that’s only in his video games.”

“Well, here’s the thing that fits,” Conor said. “The Filí was a group of traveling poets and musicians. They apparently used that as a cover to fight everything that went bump in the night.”

“Then why don’t we know about monsters?” Marta asked. “It seems like that would be front page news at some point.”

“The Filí used to sing about monsters and crazy stuff all the time,” Conor said.

“How metal,” Marta said with a grin. She threw up metal horns with both hands.

“Except nobody believed them,” Conor said. “So they just kept singing and people enjoyed the tales, few knowing that the supernatural things in the songs were real.”

“Weird,” Marta said. “So how did they fight monsters?” She leaned against the wall, completely interested now.

“They used magic,” Conor said. “and they drew that magic from music. Their voices and instruments could summon elemental forces and great power. I’m really not sure exactly how it was supposed to work. In a pinch, they just hit the monsters with something blunt or sharp.”

“So you’re saying there’s a chance that you could do magic?” Marta said a little too loudly. “If there’s even a chance of that, don’t you think she’s worth talking to?”

“I don’t know,” Conor said. “She said all sorts of things that sounded like they came from a fantasy paperback. She said I would see strange things that other people missed.”

“Have you seen anything?” Marta asked.

“Only what I would expect from sleep deprivation and malnutrition from eating out of a dumpster,” Conor said. “I think it’s all some sort of angle she’s working.”

“What’s that on the bottom of that letter?” Marta asked. “It looks like music.”

Conor held it up and looked at it and shrugged. “It is music,” he said. “It’s labeled ‘song of awakening’. Whatever that means.”

“Well, whatever I guess,” Marta said. “We should probably get something to eat before sound check. Put the guitar down and come with me and we’ll grab the rest of the band.”

“Sure,” Conor said and he laid the guitar on his bed. He stuffed the letter into his back pocket and followed Marta out of the bus.

(Written 3/28/19)

The Dragonsong

April 4, 2019

Akhona paced in the hall, the marble echoing under each of his steps, the claws of his feet clicking against the stone. He was nervous, far more nervous than he had been since he could remember. In fact, he did not really ever remember being nervous. He was part of the third generation which meant that he had never known any other world than this one. He liked his life, it was fairly peaceful. He was in training to be a knight like his uncle, a great warrior who protected the peace. He worried that that peace was now in danger. Which is why he was pacing. Finally, the door opened and his uncle, Mpendulo, stepped out into the hall looking very perturbed.  Akhona paused for a moment but he could not hold in his excitement.

“Uncle,” Akhona said. “What is going on? The palace is abuzz with rumors.  Please tell me.” He perhaps got too close to his uncle and had to be pushed back to give some personal space.

“Walk with me, nephew,” Mpendulo said and gestured for Akhona to follow before he started walking. Akhona hurried to keep up. “I apologize for having to exclude you from the meeting, you are not yet allowed to sit in the room during such conferences.”

“I know, uncle,” Akhona said. “I am still in training.” He lowered his eyes to the floor. He knew his place even if he longed for more responsibility, more acknowledgment. He was caught between respect and excitement.

“Yes, my young squire,” his uncle said. “And yet, I am not forbidden to fill you in on what I know.” Akhona looked up with a slow smile and met Mpendulo’s smiling eyes.

“Is that so?” Akhona asked, easily keeping pace with his uncle. The question was tentative as his uncle did sometimes test Akhona by dangling a learning opportunity in front of him.

“It is up to a knight’s discretion to pass on information that might help in their mission,” Mpendulo said. “As my squire, I need you to know what I know in order to keep the peace. If you live in ignorance, you are of no use to me.”

“As you say, uncle,” Akhona said. “My eyes are your eyes, my claws are your claws. My mind is receptive to your teaching.”

“Thank you,” Mpendulo said. “It relieves me some to hear you say so. As golden dragons, we are often given the hardest tasks but there is nobody I trust more than family.” The two of them stepped out onto one of the palace’s balconies. With the additional space, the two of them changed shape from two-legged beings to their full dragon forms. Mpendulo paused and looked out over the beautiful land of Dragonia. It was a rich yet varied land due to the many energies of its denizens. Swamps, mountains, plains, forests, and more had been gifted to their kind to live in.

“Please tell me everything, uncle,” Akhona said. “The anticipation is killing me.”

Mpendulo laughed at that, savoring knowing and holding the power in the situation for a moment. “There is a rumor,” Mpendulo said. “It is a very believable rumor. A strong rumor that a faction is preparing the Dragonsong.”

“The Dragonsong!?” Akhona asked. “That is forbidden! So this faction wants to open the gate wide? They want to return to the land of elves?”

“Yes,” Mpendulo said. “At least, that is the easy assumption. As you know, many of our kind are content with living in this new land. However, others desire to return to our ancestral lands for conquest. Some have managed to slip back there on their own but such travelers are few and far between. With the Dragonsong, they could march on a world that is no longer ours.”

“But those who want to go are undesirables,” Akhona said. “Would it not be better to see them go?”

“We made an ancient promise,” Mpendulo said. “We must make sure they also keep that promise in order to make sure the elves and other races stay safe. It’s their world now. The elves, the humans, the gnomes, and so on.”

“I suppose you’re right, uncle,” Akhona said, backpedaling from his statement and puffing out his chest. “It is our duty and we must do it. We should do it. So how are they meant to do it? What is our first step?”

“Well, the first thing we know is that the song can only be sung from the throat of a small one,” Mpendulo said. “A halfling.”

“I’ve seen those things in books,” Akhona said with a shrug. “I cannot imagine how they would convince a halfling to open the gate.”

“Indeed. The rumor is that the black dragons are abducting halflings to study,” Mpendulo said. “They are taking them by force. Once they have figured out the halflings, I suppose they would find one among them who could change their form to suit their needs.”

“The ability to use our shape change ability to that level is rare, no?” Akhona asked.

“Yes,” Mpendulo said. “Incredibly rare. I’m almost more nervous that the black dragons have somebody with that much ability. I suppose anything is possible in this brave new world but that is for the scholars to figure out. Your sister perhaps.”

“Where do we start?” Akhona asked, both nervous and excited at the same time. He was still a young dragon, merely a hundred years old.

“We find isolated black dragons and we start trying to get information out of them,” Mpendulo said. “We work our way up the chain and we find whoever is doing this.”

Akhona cracked his knuckles and flexed his claws. “So we do this by force?” There was very real excitement in his eyes.

Mpendulo chuckled. “If we have to,” he said. “As always, if we can use or words instead, we will. We cannot be quick to strike when we can persuade or intimidate.”

Akhona took a deep, centering breath and tried not to be disappointed. “You are right as always, uncle,” he said.

Mpendulo actually fully laughed this time. “Not always, nephew,” he said.

(Written 3/26/19)

The Scene of the Battle

March 23, 2019

The battle had happened some nights ago when soldiers from two armies met at the crossroads and the result had not been pretty. Bystanders with their trade wagons had been sent scattering to the four winds. One of the wagons had broken a wheel and their owners had been forced to abandon it. Constable Lucia Ironpaw spotted it in an instant. Apples were scattered on the road beneath it.   Some of the baskets had been taken away from the cart by hand by fleeing traders. There was blood all over the ground but the bodies had already been removed. Frankly, Lucia felt more sympathy for the traders than the soldiers who had only brought the violence. This was no righteous war for peace and liberty, this was a trade war. They had only fought for money and power. It disgusted Lucia to hear of such greed.

It was Lucia who had been assigned to assess the site of the violence for any more clues as to which factions had been involved. There was a low fog but the area was clearly a mess even in low visibility. Lucia had heard that nobody had died in the violence but Lucia doubted that statement when she looked the site over. There was so much blood everywhere. There were even a few puddles of it here and there. Lucia gestured and her celestial cat familiar appeared out of thin air and approached one of the puddles. He sniffed at the puddle and Lucia could smell the rotten iron smell of the blood of battle. She turned up her nose and divorced her senses from the cat’s for a moment. She used her eyes for a moment, trying not to retch from the intense smell.

Directly in the middle of the crossroads, the ground was scorched black in a wide radius. Lucia knew the effects of the fireball spell well. Somebody had detonated a fireball in what would have been the middle of the crowd. This would have been devastating but it also would have taken a lot of the will to fight from both sides. It made Lucia wonder which side had done it. Perhaps a wandering wizard or sorcerer had detonated the fireball in hopes of stopping the fighting. There were no witness reports that mentioned who had cast the spell. Lucia nudged at a bit of blackened grass with her foot. She had long proposed research into time travel magic for law enforcement use but the suggestion had always been shot down. It was the only true way to solve mysteries like this. She shook her head and moved on.

From behind her she heard her cat, Caleb, let out a long plaintive meow which means he had found something. The cat sat patiently, staring with its one eye. The other eye was not damaged, the cat had chosen to appear like that. Somehow, the lack of an eye did not impede its sight in any way. Lucia allowed her senses to be swept into the cat once again which was always both familiar and disorienting to suddenly be so low to the ground. She instantly sensed what the cat had. It was an intense smell of brimstone that meant that this had been no ordinary battle. While she did not want to jump to conclusions, Lucia knew from school that brimstone often meant the presence of some sort of demonic being. With her perspective so low to the ground, Lucia could see something scratched into the dirt. She left the cat’s perspective and shook her head to adjust again. She crouched next to the drawing in the dirt. It had been disturbed by stomping feet and burning fire but they might have been runes at one point.

Magickal runes do not just get drawn for no reason though Lucia supposed they could have been normal runes left as some sort of message left for communication over time. Still, one of them looked like half of a very powerful magickal rune she had seen in many books. She had a hunch that it might have been a trigger for a trap. There had to be more to this. Lucia did not really believe in coincidences. She pulled out a few pieces of paper and carefully sketched what she could make out of the symbols. She then dug a way under them to see if there had been some hidden evil. She came up empty and started to look around to see what else could have hidden whatever the runes had triggered. That is when Lucia spotted the lone tree on one corner of the crossroads. Travelers would often sit beneath that tree to get out of the sun, one last break before reaching the town market. Now Lucia spotted what looked like putrid corruption around a branch high up in the tree. The bark had turned blackish-green with white veins. Was it some sort of side effect of a spell?

Lucia sent her senses back into Caleb the Celestial Cat and the cat slowly began to climb the tree, far easier than Lucia could have climbed. The smell of brimstone was almost unbearable as the cat approached the blighted spot on the tree. The cat’s paws tentatively tested the blighted bark but it seemed stable enough to climb on and it did no damage. Just above the branch, there was a hollow in the tree trunk, somewhere a bird or a squirrel might have made their home at one point. Now, no living thing would make a home there. It was absolutely putrid, the air thick with brimstone. The cat poked its head into the hollow and both it and Lucia saw a small bundle. It looked like a material component bag but it also looked like it had detonated. Lucia was forced to conclude that her hunch was probably correct. Somebody had laid a demonic trap and it was hard to tell what that was now that the evidence was mostly destroyed. Either side could have laid this trap or perhaps a third party. For what purpose? Lucia could only report the results of her investigation to her superiors and see what the information led to. She moved under the tree and caught her cat as he jumped from the tree and headed back to her horse to return to town.

The Border Tavern

March 16, 2019

Syd stepped into the world-famous Iron Border Tavern and was immediately grateful that he had his knives tucked far into his jacket. Of course, there was a weapons collector. With the reputation that The Border had it would probably be a blood bath inside. Of course, with the rumors Syd had heard, there was a good chance of regular bloodbaths anyway. Walking through the deserts of Koshain to the border of Khull in a jacket and a hat alone was bad enough but it was worth it to gain access to one of the most famous places in the criminal underground. Syd had expected the place to be a lot rougher but it was actually quite nice.

He made a face at the weapons collector at the door and passed over the daggers that hung at his hips. He had had them for a long time, they were perfectly balanced. The man who took them gave him no ticket to reclaim them. Syd tried to mentally file away the man’s face in his memory and then walked towards the bar. Nobody stopped him to frisk him, they just believed that he had given up all of his weapons. Syd felt deeply uneasy about this. He glanced around the room, wondering if everyone had done the same exact thing or worse.

Syd knew that he could not be without weapons. He had no magic to speak of so he counted on steel and fists to protect himself. When you were a bounty hunter, you always had to be ready to fight. Syd had survived a lot just by being prepared and he had survived even more just by being quicker than the target. Right there in the taproom, there were plenty of mean-looking customers. There was a mean-looking half-orc by the end of the bar and table full of actual drows in the back corner. They were playing cards as if the sun was not just outside. The list of things that Syd would not have given for a death ward was short at that moment.

He stepped up to the bar and politely knocked on it and smiled. He waited for the bartender to walk over. She was a halfling so she was walking along a platform attached to the bottom of the bar. She looked weathered and tough like she was made of tattoos, leather, and wiry black hair. Syd liked the look of her immediately so it was not hard to give her a smile. She did a double take.

“A human with all his teeth?” the bartender said. “Now I’ve seen everything. Watch your pockets and your mouth, love.”

“Of course,” Syd said. “I know the drill in establishments like this.”

“There ain’t no place like this one,” the bartender said. “The Border is one of a kind.”

“I’m starting to understand that,” Syd said. “Can I get a glass of your worst whiskey?” He punctuated the question by setting down two gold pieces. “And the news of the day.”

The bartender raised both eyebrows high in surprise but she definitely reached forward and palmed the coins quickly. “What sort of news are you wanting?”

“Just wondering if anybody especially interesting has come through recently. I have heard that this place has the most amazing clientele pass through.”

“Criminally interesting, I imagine,” the bartender said. It was not a question.

“I have a feeling that you and I will be good friends,” Syd said. “Yes, those are the sorts of people I want to meet and greet.” Syd took out a journal and spread it on the bar. “In fact, it might help if you’ve seen any of these individuals.”

The bartender briefly flipped through the sketches shaking her head and Syd could feel disappointment start to set in. Finally, she pointed at one of the portraits. “Funny,” she said. “Somebody was asking about this one earlier.”

“Earlier?” Syd asked. “How long ago? Who was it?”

“Fancy lass,” the bartender said. “She’s upstairs in the room with the unicorn on it.”

Syd stood in thought for a moment and then it dawned on him. He downed his whiskey with a grimace and set the glass down. “I’ll be right back,” he said and then he headed up the stairs before anybody could object.

Syd strode up the stairs with confidence and a soft step, hardly making a noise. He started down the hallway while looking at the doors. He saw a bear, a wolf, a rabbit, a leopard and then looked down the hallway for more. Syd could not see the end of the hallway. He had a sick, frightened feeling in his gut at that moment and he felt like his brain was failing to grasp what he was seeing. He looked to his left and there was the door with the unicorn on it. He decided he did not need to know what was going on right at the moment. It was best to keep his head down and move forward. He knocked on the door, waited a moment, and then kicked the door open hard. As he rolled into the room, he just barely dodged a crossbow bolt.

Lacey Thorncatch stood tall in a fancy purple dress, struggling to put a heeled shoe back on while reloading a crossbow. “Syd Scaland!” She yelled. “I would think you would have the sense to not kick open a lady’s door. I’m disappointed.”

“How do you have a crossbow?” Syd asked with some shock. “Where did you hide it?”

Lacey blushed slightly. “A lady never tells,” she said. “You let them take your weapons at the door? I thought you knew how to bribe.”

“I guess I didn’t realize that was an option,” Syd said and stood up and shut the door. “I can’t believe you’re after one of my marks.”

“I’m the best,” Lacey said. “I’m after everybody.”

There was the sound of at least half a dozen people running down the hallway. Lacey and Syd looked at each other and almost simultaneously said: “You tipped them off!”

“The heat is too hot here,” Syd said. “We have to get out of here.”

“You have no idea,” Lacey said. “You have no idea what this place is. I’ve worked a long time to build a cover here. You ruined it!”

“Let’s go out the window,” Syd said. “We can make a break for it from there.”

“You don’t understand,” Lacey said. “This place works differently. This place has entrances around the world. If we use that window, there’s no telling what it might do to us.”

Syd pointed at the door which was now having heavy objects slammed against it. “Do you want to find out what they might do to us?”

Lacey placed her palm against the door and whispered a few words. “That should hold it for a second,” she said and then made a frustrated sound. “Fine! Let’s go out the window!”

Lacey grabbed a few things and threw them in a bag and then they both crashed through the window together. Their world turned upside-down and inside-out and then they plunged into a cold pool of water. They clawed their way out of the pool through patches of mushrooms.

“Where are we?” Syd asked, looking around and not really seeing anything through the darkness.

“Welcome to the Underdark,” Lacey said.

When It All Ended Pt. 16

March 9, 2019

Morgan’s Raiders gathered once again in Percival’s Magical Mansion, a place that had been their home on the road for years. They had been brought before the Royal Court of Eloria as the chaos was winding down in the streets outside of the palace. They had all been in rough shape but high off their victory and honored to have an audience with the King and Queen. After that audience, they retreated into their magical mansion where they each took time to bathe and tend to their wounds. When they met again in the common room, they could all feel finality in the air. It was a momentous occasion. They had slain the dragon, saved the princess, and perhaps saved the kingdom. They had been through so much together.

“So what next, Raiders?” Morgan asked as she sat on the bar.

“Well,” Percival said. “There’s the King’s offer on the table. Posts in the six districts of Eloria. We’d be set for life.”

“Are we really willing to retire and take a government job?” Garth asked. He looked dubious as if he was gauging the others’ interest before answering.

“Forsake all of the glory for a relatively quiet life?” William asked.

“I think I’ve had enough, personally,” Cassandra said. “I’ve learned a lot with you all and I would like to pass that on to the students of the future.”

There was a pregnant pause after that admission. Everybody thought about that for a bit.

“I’m glad you said that,” William said. “I also want to teach. I think I could show the young a thing or two about how to swing a weapon.”

“I’m tired,” Galath said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I think I’m ready for retirement.”

“What do you think boss?” Cassandra asked. She was suddenly worried that she had disappointed a woman who she had respected for a long time.

“I think we just lost half of our party,” Morgan said. “It would be hard to continue on after that.”

“I’m sorry,” Cassandra said but Morgan held her hand up.

“I’m kidding, Cass,” she said. “I think we’ve had our time. I want to go home and spend some time getting to know my mother better.”

“And I would like to return to the library,” Percival said. “I’ve been away for so long now and I’m sure the place is falling apart without me. Besides, you all have given me so many stories to write.”

“I guess I want to return too,” Cassandra said. “Back to New Moon Academy but as a teacher instead of a student.” She thought she might invite Princess Cora along just in case the princess was inclined to say yes.

“You’d be a great teacher, Cassandra,” Galath said. “I prefer the quiet life so I suppose I would choose the plains of Hasse. I have fond memories of traveling across those plains. Also, I believe that William wants to be near the mountains of Stull.”

“You are correct, Galath,” William said. “I have heard good things about the Battle Arts Academy. Besides, it’s closer to my native land.”

“And you, Garth?” Morgan asked. “You are being characteristically quiet. Do you have qualms about working for the law of the land?”

“Well,” Garth said. “I may be a thief but I only became one out of necessity. Over time your good influence has allowed me to change my ways. Maybe I can continue to use my criminal expertise for some good. I would like to get that pardon he offered in writing, though.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Morgan said. “I’m a little nervous about installing you among the Guard near the sea but I suppose you’ve earned Eloria’s trust.”

“I suppose that closes this chapter in our lives then,” Percival said. “Do we have any loose ends here?”

“We unleashed a faery and a djinn on the capital of Eloria,” Morgan said. “Did anyone see what happened to them?”

“Monela and Clio? I saw them fly off together,” Cassandra said. “I mean I promised Monela she could go when the battle was done but I wish she had stopped to say goodbye.”

“Same goes for Clio, I guess,” Garth said. “I had a feeling she would bolt.”

“I worry about the damage the two of them could do together,” Morgan said.

“Should we go after them?” Percival asked. “You know we would follow you on one more adventure.”

“And yet we just retired as adventurers,” Morgan said. “So I guess we’ll have to wait and see if they cause trouble. The king can command us to take action at that point.”

“Agreed,” William said.

“I think it will be fine,” Galath said with a shrug. “What can they really do?”

“Maybe Monela will do something better with her second chance,” Cassandra said. “And Clio was never really evil, right?”

“She always looks out for number one,” Garth said. “She isn’t so stupid to bring the world down around herself.”

“Then I guess we have to go back to court in the morning and tell them our decision,” Morgan said. “Take your time and drink and eat. We have plenty of time. I’m going back upstairs to rest.”

They all said their goodnights to Morgan and she took her leave and went back up the stairs and into the bedroom. After so much time she was grateful to feel the burden of leadership slide off of her. She looked forward to her new life of relative ease. A few moments later, Percival stepped into their room and she turned to smile at him.

“You didn’t have to come up here too,” Morgan said. “You could have stayed down there with them.”

“It was important that I come up here,” Percival said. “Or should I say I came up here for something important.”

“What?” Morgan asked and laughed. “Speak plainly, librarian.”

Percival sank to his knees and held up a golden ring. “Morgan Moonglow, will you marry me?”

Morgan was taken aback for a moment but she grinned and reached for the ring. “Yes!” Her hand slipped through the ring which was somehow insubstantial.

“Sorry,” Percival said. “That was an illusion. I don’t have the real ring yet but we can get it.”

Morgan laughed again. “You know I don’t need anything too gaudy. We’ll pick it out together.”

“Yes,” Percival said. “Together.”

And then they kissed.

The Heartsong Caper

March 2, 2019

Cara was the only one on the street who had not been affected by the spell. In fact, she had not even noticed the spell when it had been cast and only noticed something was wrong when she almost bumped into a fancy-looking lady. She looked around and everybody else was just standing there and staring into space. After a moment’s hesitation, she stopped in her tracks and tried to mimic all of the people on the street. She quickly surmised that the spell had been based in sound, which was why she had been spared. Cara had been deaf from birth and had not heard the spell and therefore had not been frozen in place.

As soon as she had put those thoughts together, a woman in a dark cloak came around the corner carrying a mandolin decorated with heart flourishes. She was also wearing an embroidered corset with a large, fancy heart on it. The woman was followed by a couple of shifty-looking individuals who were thieves for sure. Cara had seen their type around town before. She waited until they were all looking the other way and then she darted into an alleyway. The way was blocked by a carriage but she managed to hide behind a box. She cursed profusely inside her head.

She watched the ruffians start to cut the money pouches off of the bespelled crowd’s belts. Cara’s blood boiled. The brazen gall of anybody doing such a thing in broad daylight pissed her off. She had long considered herself a guardian of the city even if the city law would probably argue that fact. Though, on a certain level, Cara had to admit that she admired the theatricality of the plan if not the ethics. If only she could contact the law, they would be sorry. There was too many for Cara to handle on her own. She gripped her totem hard, almost enough to draw blood. She pointed it slowly at the thugs and suddenly she could hear what they were saying.

“Hey Angelica,” a rat-faced thief said. “I think I saw something move in that alley over there.”

“Nonsense,” the woman who was apparently Angelica said, “Nobody can resist the sound of Angelica Heartsong!”

“Sure but I still saw something,” the thug said. “What should I do?”

“Fine,” Angelica said with a pout. “If it’s on two legs drag it out here. If it’s on four legs just go ahead and kill it.”

“Right,” the thug said and headed in Cara’s direction.

Cara tensed up. Her first thought had been to turn into a cat but they had orders to kill on sight and Cara did not want to risk it. Instead, she whispered softly to herself and turned invisible, a trick that Laren had taught her when she was little. She gathered her nerves and slipped past the thug as carefully as she could. She walked back out into the midst of everyone and tried to slow her breathing. There were some tense moments as the thug in the alley searched around by poking their spear into every corner they could find.

Cara looked over at Angelica Heartsong and watched her pluck a single string on her mandolin. That string glowed pink for a moment and Cara felt that single note reverberate through her body. Cara had a sinking feeling based on the animals she had observed since she was a toddler. Her stomach tightened as she saw Angelica smile for a moment.

“Somebody is here!” Angelica yelled. “They are invisible. Make them bleed. Make them stop moving.”

The thugs started to grope around blindly, forcing Cara to keep moving around to dodge their grasping fingers and their randomly swinging weapons. It was only a matter of time before somebody got lucky and found her. She could run but she hesitated to try it with Angelica’s apparent blindsight spell and without knowing how fleet-footed the thugs were. Besides, she wanted to protect these people and Angelica was revealing herself to be pretty ruthless. Of course, the numbers did not favor her if she stayed. She ended up standing next to Angelica Heartsong who was red in the face as she screamed at her goons.

This was the point where a sword stretched out and dragged across the strings of Angelica Heartsong’s mandolin. Cara thought that Angelica looked like she might explode at any moment as she whirled to face the newcomer who dared harm her instrument. The man who stood there had long, luxurious hair brown hair and his shirt and armor hung open to expose his chest. Before Angelica could manage to form more than a guttural growl, the newcomer yelled out.

“What ho!” He yelled. “What’s all this then? Villainy!?”

“Who in the Nine Hells are you?” Angelica screamed.

“Garen Firrano, if you please,” the newcomer said after a hearty laugh. “You can share that name in prison or in the afterlife. Your choice.”

Cara reached out and yanked the mandolin from Angelica’s hands and clocked her with it. With the attach, Cara lost her invisibility but she sent a stunned Angelica sprawling to the pavement. Garen had a surprised look on his face for a moment but it was quickly replaced with an easy, charming smile and a piercing gaze that made Cara pause for just a moment. She tossed the shattered mandolin aside.

“She’s still got vocal cords,” she told Garen. “I think she has music magic.”

“A bard, eh?” Garen said. “Shall we deal with these other criminals then?”

“Sure,” Cara said and turned off her hearing spell just in case. “Try to keep up.”

At that point, Cara turned into a bear. She turned and started to charge through the dumbfounded thugs. Garen started swinging and thrusting his sword with style. With the element of surprise, they had the thugs on the ropes. The city law officers arrived at about the same time as the crowd started to unfreeze. They saw a confused crowd, a handsome swordsman, a bloodied bear, and a bunch of unconscious or dead thugs. Angelica Heartsong had apparently slipped away in the fracas. Cara quickly transformed back to her normal filthy druid form and tried to look as unthreatening as possible.

“What happened?” A law woman asked.

“We stopped these thugs and this woman from stealing from these people,” Cara said. “She said her name was Angelica Heartsong.”

“Another group of vile villains taken to task by Garen Firrano!” Garen said with a grin.

“Uh huh,” the officer said. “I’m going to need everybody to come down to our barracks.”

Fae and Away

February 23, 2019

Tabitha elbowed Keyli in the ribs, hard causing the much smaller girl to yelp in surprise and pain. Keyli wondered why her new friend would attack her in the middle of a busy street market but she looked down and realized that she was starting to let her glamour fade. Her luminescent white skin was starting to show through the illusion. The two of them had rubbed her skin with dirt and dumped mud in her hair to try to hide her true faery nature. She ended up kind of looking like a bog witch. However, the disguise could only do much to hide a being such as a faery. She focused on reapplying her illusion and she once again looked wholly unappealing and average. She breathed in deeply and kept following Tabitha through the crowd.

“Are you doing alright?” Tabitha asked, drawing close. She reached out to adjust the hood of Keyli’s cloak, making sure the faery stayed covered.

“I am alright,” Keyli said but was unable to put much feeling into it. “At least there is some intriguing nature around here.”

“It’s called a market,” Tabitha said. “Farmers come here to sell their wares.”

“Sell? Like with money?” Keyli asked. “So mortal.”

“We can’t all trade in favors and deals,” Tabitha said. “Would it help your mood if I bought you something?”

Keyli looked around at the stalls and eyed a row of pigs hanging by their feet from hooks and her eyes slid into inhuman shapes. “Flesh,” she whispered.

“Oh geez,” Tabitha said. “Put those away. We should get a room and let you rest up.”

“Fine,” Keyli said.

Tabitha pulled out her money pouch and the two of them started to shop.

Nearly an hour later, the two of them were sitting in a room in an inn. Keyli had a side of bacon in one hand and a turnip in the other hand. Neither was cooked. She was taking bites out of one and then the other in turn. She had already consumed more than Tabitha thought would fit into her slight frame. She was still filthy but she looked a lot more relaxed and happy. Tabitha was trying not to watch her eat since the faery’s mouth moved unnaturally. It was both terrifying and mesmerizing. She peeked through the curtains for a few moments and then checked her weapons. It was a calming ritual from the old days. It had been a long trip already but it felt even longer than it had actually been.

“I am finished eating,” Keyli announced. “Thank you so much for the ‘produce’. May I bathe now?”

“I told you,” Tabitha said. “We need to keep a low profile. Besides, you’re a faery. Don’t you like being so close to nature? How much closer can you get than being covered in dirt?”

“That’s racist,” Keyli said. “The fae are not attuned to all of the elements. All fae draw strength from life the same as mortals. However, a water fae like me draws strength from water as well. I am not an earth fae. I don’t draw strength from dirt.”

“Alright alright. Sorry if I offended you, your majesty,” Tabitha said. “I guess we mortals just don’t understand the fae like we think we do.”

“That’s a true statement,” Keyli said. “The ignorance of mortals is legendary among my people. It makes you easy to trick. And yet you and your friends decided to steal a faery anyway.”

“I didn’t steal anyone,” Tabitha said. “You came willingly against your father’s wishes. We’re risking a lot just bringing you from the Faewild.”

“I had never been to the mortal realm before,” Keyli said. “It seemed like a fun chance to take.”

“Remember the deal,” Tabitha said. “You promised you could unflood my home town.”

“Indeed. The challenge sounded simple but intriguing,” Keyli said, her lips curling into a wicked smile. “Almost as intriguing as when you kissed me.”

Tabitha could feel her face go beet red. “You kissed me!” Tabitha spat out. “I have a husband. You knew that when you kissed me. I’m still angry about that by the way.”

“And yet I believe you enjoyed it and here we are alone,” Keyli said. “As if you planned it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Tabitha said. “We planned it this way because I’m the best at navigating and hiding in plain sight. The others are running interference so that we can get the job done before your family comes to take you back.”

“So brave to face down my family,” Keyli said. “I don’t think they’ll murder your friends or your husband.”

“They had better not,” Tabitha said. “They’ll pay if they do.”

“I’m sure they would,” Keyli said. “All of those weapons look deadly. Have you ever killed a faery before?”

“I haven’t,” Tabitha admitted with a shrug. “but I have killed many people and things before.”

“A bloody past?” Keyli asked. “Tell me.”

Tabitha hesitated but then shrugged. “I was an assassin in a former life,” Tabitha said. “The Red Hand of Behrel. I killed a lot of threats to the Kingdom to protect everyone.”

“Why did you stop?” Keyli asked. “Too much blood?”

“No,” Tabitha said. “I never did stop killing but I met my husband Dero and I asked for my release. I decided to wander the world with him to seek adventure and protect people without borders. We met friends along the way.”

“And this current adventure?” Keyli asked.

“I heard that my hometown had been devastated and I vowed to fix it if I could,” Tabitha said.

“So you sought me out,” Keyli said.

“Actually no,” Tabitha said. “My friends and I ended up in the Faewild by accident and then we stumbled on your court. That’s when the idea came to me.”

“I don’t know how I feel about being an accident,” Keyli said with a pout.

“If you save my town,” Tabitha said. “We’ll do our best to win you some freedom from your family.”

“That does make me feel better,” Keyli said. “It’s a deal.”

Reap

February 16, 2019

20180315_081252.jpg

Lopita put the final touches on her graffiti as she sat on the stone of the train platform. He was late, he was always late and Lopita was always bored. As a free-roaming spirit, she had never been bored but she had been drafted to the Reapers. She enjoyed all of the prestige but none of the responsibility but one did not always get to choose their afterlife. Fugitives were punished and she had to serve out her sentence by preventing other fugitives from escaping. Of course, that meant that she was deployed with one of the most annoying senior operatives.

“I thought I told you to stop vandalizing mortal property,” Ren said. “it’s beneath us.” Ren stood there in the sunlight like a shadow. He was tall and thin and impeccably dressed in a suit. Even though it was August, he was wearing a heavy leather duster. The dead did not have to worry about the weather. He also wore a pair of round spectacles that looked like they were a very antique style. He had a very serious look on his face and a Reaper badge on his belt buckle.

“Like they’ll even know what it means,” Lopita said. “If I have to be a Reaper, I have to represent.” Lopita was a completely different picture in style from Ren. She wore a tattered hoodie and jeans with the cuffs completely frayed. She had fashioned two belts across her chest in an x which she used as makeshift holsters for her multitude of daggers. She also wore no shoes. She also had shockingly pink hair.

“How about you focus on the mission instead?” Ren asked. “We have a squad of fugitives down the rails and they aren’t going to catch themselves.”

“Hey,” Lopita said. “I’ve been here for a while now. Maybe if you dressed down I wouldn’t always be waiting for you. It’s awkward just hanging out in places like this.”

“Why?” Ren asked. “They can’t see you. Only the most sensitive among them can even begin to sense you.”

“Still, I guess social anxiety persists after death,” Lopita said.

“Ridiculous,” Ren said. “Let’s move out.” He hopped off the platform and started to follow the rails south. Lopita sighed and stood up and hopped down to follow him.

“I still don’t understand why we have to rain on their parade,” Lopita said. “They’re probably harmless. I was harmless.”

“I told you,” Ren said. “The longer a spirit is unmoored from reality and does not go to their rest, the bigger chance they have of going crazy. Also, they could be recruited by demons.”

“Ooh,” Lopita said. “I have met demons before. They’re totally unsavory. Very rude.”

“And dangerous,” Ren said. “Always be on your guard.”

As if on cue, a screaming blur came out of the trees, lunging for Lopita. Ren grabbed his tie and it magically extended, wrapping itself around what turned out to be a woman. He held her fast as if she was the dog on the end of a leash. The woman’s hands had grown into impossibly long claws and she was foaming at the mouth. Ren locked eyes with Lopita and nodded. Lopita ducked low and came in with two daggers, spinning around her fingers. She plunged the daggers into the woman repeatedly until she faded away to blue sparks.

“Corrupted,” Ren said. “I’m willing to bet they’ve all lost it. This won’t be pretty.”

“Shit,” Lopita said. “I guess I’m happy I didn’t end up like that.”

What seemed to be bullets rained down on their position. Ren gestured toward their source and his coat formed into a shield as he ran for cover. Lopita merely blinked out of existence and reappeared on the branch of a tree, looking for their attacker. The shooter shifted their attention and she had to blink away again as the bullets ravaged the tree she had been standing in. Meanwhile, Ren had pulled his own handgun. He focused and pieces filtered out of his coat and attached themselves to the gun until it was a sniper rifle. He whirled and fired once and there were no more shots fired but only for a moment. A man rushed out of the woods firing bullets from an oversized arm.

Lopita blinked behind him and brought two daggers across his back in an X shape. She grinned as he turned but then she blinked away again. That gave Ren the time to change his gun again into a shotgun. He ran and slid to the man’s feet and fired up into his center mass, ending that fight in another shower of blue sparks. Ren fastidiously wiped the sparks from his clothes as they straightened themselves up. Lopita blinked to his side and they both scanned the treeline.

A towering woman stepped out of the brush and roared like some sort of alien beast. She charged like a rhinoceros and Ren fired again. The bullets ricocheted off of her skin in all sorts of directions and Ren and Lopita barely dodged the charge. The rhino woman circled around for another charge. Lopita ran toward her before Ren could grab her. Lopita baseball slid between the woman’s legs at the last moment and plunged a dagger through each of the woman’s feet, fixing her in place suddenly. Ren’s gun had been shifting again and he pointed it and shot a grenade at the woman nearly point blank. This time, the gun worked and the woman was blown into another batch of blue sparks.

“Is that all of them?” Lopita asked as she retrieved her daggers from the ground.

“I think so,” Ren said. “The home office said there were three signatures. We put down three out of three.”

“You think so?” Lopita asked. “It sounds like we did it. Come on, be happy for once. We were totally awesome.”

“Those souls weren’t supposed to be that old,” Ren said. “They shouldn’t have had power like that.”

“So I’m gonna guess that this just got more complicated,” Lopita said. “I thought this would be an easy day.”

“Nothing’s easy until you get to head to the afterlife,” Ren said. “And I have a hunch that something very wrong has happened around here. Something demonic.”

Lopita sighed. “Peachy.”


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