Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

The Strange Plot

July 9, 2018

Brande had the shovel tied to a loop of rope so he could carry it across his back at all times. He had not let the shovel leave his side since the funeral. In fact, the shovel was rarely not in contact with his body. He had personally dug his sister’s grave with that shovel. The dirt from the grave had finally fallen off completely after two days. it had been nearly a year since her death now and still, Brande could not let the thing go. The shovel was touched by death, connected with her death in particular. It was almost a totem of death in a way. And yet, it was linked to Jana. All of her other belongings and clothing had been sold off. Her magic books, in particular, had been sold first.

Brande sometimes wished he had those books, especially while he was working alone in the shop. He had given up the study of magic himself after Jana’s death. He had been too tempted to obtain those books and texts on necromancy to carry on. Of course, he continued to tempt himself by working in the family bookstore. But no, it was that her notes were written in the margins of her books. It was another little piece of her that was out there in the world. Maybe he would randomly encounter her again in that way some day. Of course, he felt the chances were small. The books could have made it to Eloria or farther with all the time since their sale.

Through the months, Brande’s mother had paid for two attempts at a resurrection spell. The local cleric, Father Pip, had no answer to why both attempts had failed. According to everyone in the know, they had observed the rites of Sarenrae and the proper offerings had been made. The Father had even returned the payment for the second attempt with sad confusion in his eyes. A visiting cleric had confirmed that nothing more could be done and that it was still a mystery as to what had actually happened. Brande had exhausted his own supply of books on the subject and the books he ordered had no answers either. Mother had gotten very quiet after that and eventually, she passed as well. Brande had used the shovel again.

His mother had left the house and the bookshop to Brande along with the remaining funds, considerably less than what was left when their father had died. The house sat on the very end of the central thoroughfare through town, looming over the surrounding houses. It had been far too big for Brande to live in by himself so he had it sold. He moved to live above the bookshop. The small apartment would have been cramped for a wealthy noble but it was just perfect for a humble merchant. That was all Brande wanted for the foreseeable future. He wanted to sleep in his bed and sell books and then sleep in his bed again. He had well and truly canceled his desire for adventure and all he wanted was a simple life. Which was what he had and he was content.

It was morning on Queen’s Day and the shop was empty. The local schools were all off for the day and the local wizards were also usually off for the day. Commerce was allowed by all faiths on Queen’s Day and was actually encouraged. However, most people were often too busy making their offerings, singing, and dancing to get any shopping done. Restaurants would be swamped but most luxury shops would be ghost towns. Brande had made his own offerings early in the morning and then had gone to open the shop to keep his mind off things. Even after so long, death was not something he wanted to dwell on. Regardless, it was expected that the place would be empty aside from possible tourists or maybe the odd adventurer. Neither of these two categories were presently in the shop. The vacancy did not press on Brande too much as he just tried to bury himself in his book. It was a newly arrived book of folktales and it was a pleasant distraction.

“Brande!” Doon yelled from the doorway. “We need you!”

“With what?” Brande asked. He almost immediately had a headache. Doon was one of the biggest rumormongers in town and he could get very excitable.

“There’s some sort of commotion,” Doon said. “and maybe a mystery is afoot. You’re a hedge wizard, right?”

“I was,” Brande said. “I’m not anymore. I’m sure you can find the help you’re looking for down the street. Try Haverford. He’s a brilliant wizard. His daughter is even better.”

“There’s no time!” Doon yelled. “Would you please come with me? We could at least use an extra hand in case things get out of hand.”

“What’s going to get out of hand?” Brande asked. He was standing up and getting ready to go. It would take less time to go help than to argue things up and down with Doon.

“Somebody is violating one of the graves in the graveyard!” Doon yelled. Those words stopped Brande’s heart cold and then after a tense moment, it started to beat again.

“Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” Brande yelled. “Lead the way!”

The two of them ran from the shop. Brande only paused briefly to lock up but he only locked the one lock, not the triple. Hopefully, this was some misunderstanding and he would be back soon. He had given his sole employee, Teresi, the day off so there was nobody to tend to the shop if a miracle occurred and a customer actually showed up. The distance to the graveyard was not large but the two of them had to weave their way through the celebrations. There was music, dancing, fireworks, and food all in the streets on their path. It was hard to do in a hurry but somehow Doon’s panicky run cleared the way for both of them. As they jogged up to the wall around the graveyard, Brande saw a few people standing nearby. The way they looked at Doon, it was clear that he had summoned them too. Brande waved at people he knew and nodded at people he did not. He and Doon headed for the gate and looked in.

There was a dark shape hunched over a familiar grave and Brande was instantly incensed. “That is Jana’s grave!” He yelled. “They are digging up my sister!” Brande did not wait. He pushed open the gate and stormed into the graveyard, straight toward the offender. Doon trailed a little behind and the others sort of lingered at the gate, gathering their courage. The town constable had yet to arrive, apparently. “Get off that grave, you monster!”

“I am done with it anyway,” the man said as he stood up straight again. It was hard to make out his features even in the sun. Shadows seemed to cling to him. Still, Brande saw a long cloak and a broad hat and a face that did not match any of the races.

“What in the nine hells were you doing?” Brande asked. His hands were balled into fists and he was spitting mad for the first time in a long time.

“Well,” the man said. “that is sort of complicated. The short version is that I was here to seek Jana Ambertear and she is not here.”

“She’s dead!” Brande yelled.

“And yet, she is not in her grave,” the man said. “Very curious. We have need of her.”

Brande had had enough and he lunged, swinging the shovel at the man with a cry. “You leave her alone!” The man dodged the blow from the shovel and actually hissed and then his whole formed seemed to ripple and blur and he was gone. Brande was left to stare at the space where the man had been with confusion and wonder. He slowly stepped to the edge of the freshly dug grave.

Jana was indeed missing.

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The Shield of Tau

July 7, 2018

Jace tossed his dice down into the little patch of an alley that the kids had cleaned out. He watched as they clattered to a stop and cursed. Then he looked around to make sure that his parents or grandparents were not anywhere around. If they heard him curse he would have a lot more to worry about than losing a game of Dragon’s Teeth. Still, when he looked up into the grinning face of Sachi, the anger rose and he could feel his face get red. He hated to lose and he had not yet figured out that he was kind of bad at Dragon’s Teeth. Now came the part that he dreaded. The part where he had to part with the money he had earned from doing his chores. This was the last of it, too. He suddenly felt very foolish and emotional but he put on a brave face, trying not to lose his cool.

“Pay up, Jacey,” Sachi bellowed, tilting his head back like a crowing rooster. “Time to pay up!” Jace clenched his fist and gritted his teeth.

“It’s only fair,” Karn said. Karn was always the peacemaker. “You owe him.”

“I know I owe him,” Jace said, accentuating each syllable. “That’s not the issue.”

“Then what’s the problem, Jacey?” Sachi asked with that horrible grin on his face.

Jace stood from kneeling one knee and got into Sachi’s face. He was a few inches shorter but he still stood so that their noses were almost touching. He glared into Sachi’s face and found himself breathing hard. Both fists were clenched and he felt like the dam, holding the waters of his anger at bay.

“What is the problem?” Jace said. “The problem is that my name is not ‘Jacey’. My name is Jace, Son of Tusa and Cole, Shield of Tau!” He glared up at Sachi and practically snorted with anger.

Sachi did not take the bait and instead just burst out laughing. “Shield of Tau? You? You’re in your tenth year, pintsize. You could hardly shield a sick dog.”

“I may be small,” Jace said. “but I have sworn to defend this city just as my father’s father swore.”

Sachi’s eyebrows went up. “You are too young for the pledge,” he said.

Jace shrugged. “My pledge was somewhat unofficial,” he said. “I swore in front of Karn and my sister.” Karn nodded at that, confirming the story.

“Your tiny sister, eh?” Sachi asked, musing over this new information.

“Watch what you say about my sister,” Jace warned.

“Calm down, little one,” Sachi said with a smile. “I would not badmouth your little sister and I respect your pledge.”

“We all do,” Karn said with a solemn nod.

“Thank you,” Jace said and he backed up but puffed out his chest a bit. He was proud of his aspirations of being a fighter like his grandfather. Not just a fighter but a defender, a true Shield of Tau.

“But that doesn’t stop me from collecting what you owe me,” Sachi said. “Pay up, Shield.”

Jace grumbled and reached behind his back. For a moment, both Sachi and Karn tensed as Jace could have been reaching for the stick he had tucked into his belt. Instead, Jace pulled out his money pouch and made a show of dumping out its meager contents and holding it out to Sachi. “I am a man of my word.”

Sachi smiled. “A boy of your word, at least,” he said with a chuckle. He reached out slowly and took the coins from Jace’s hands. He smiled and turned and left without another word.

Jace sighed and breathed again as he calmed down. Karn stood by shaking his head.

“You need to calm down, Jace,” Karn said. “That almost became a fight.”

“I will continue to prove myself,” Jace said.

“Picking unnecessary fights over legitimate winnings in Dragon’s Dice is proving nothing,” Karn said. “We’re still little, there is no need for anybody to fear you.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Jace said. His shoulders sagged a bit as he thought about that.

“You don’t want to get in trouble, right?” Karn asked.

“You are definitely right about that,” Jace said. “My mother swings a wooden spoon harder than most warriors swing a sword.”

Karn laughed at that. “Mine too,” he said. “Speaking of, we should go home. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Jace said. The two shook hands and each headed towards their own home.

That is when the screaming happened. It was not the screaming of somebody chasing after a cutpurse or the screaming of a parent whose child took a tumble. This was screaming from all over the city. For a moment, Jace was caught in the middle of that screaming, not knowing which way to go. Then he pulled the stick from his belt and charged toward what he judged to be the nearest screams. As he rounded a corner, he saw little Lita and Miza running with tears in their eyes. Lita was in Jace’s year and he knew she wished to study the magic arts in the future. He could not see what threat they were obviously running from but they were definitely running from somebody or something.

“What is it?” Jace called out to them and they looked behind themselves and then slowed. There was nothing behind them so they looked around with wild eyes.

“A blink dog,” Lita said. “I don’t know where it went.” She and Miza were definitely out of breath.

Suddenly, the blink dog appeared out of thin air and its teeth caught the edge of Miza’s dress and she barely got away. Jace charged at the thing, swinging his stick hard as he got between it and the girls. The thing vanished just before he made contact and he stumbled a bit as he lost his balance on the swing. He spotted the dog running a few feet away and then it vanished again. He heard Lita cry out behind him and he whirled around just in time for the thing to reappear, lunging for Jace this time. He barely had time to wind up his swing but when he let loose he put everything he had into it. This time he heard the impact and then he felt and heard the stick break against the dog’s face. However, the force sent the stunned dog sprawling. Lita uttered some words and gestured toward the dog and a candle-sized flame arced out and lit the dog on fire. The dog panicked and lunged again at Lita but Jace moved fast and tackled her out of its path. As he did, two crossbow bolts hit the thing in its side and its neck and then it slumped to the ground, still burning. Jace looked and saw two Shields of Tau approaching.

“You saved us!” Lita cried out and then both she and Miza were hugging Jace and he was grinning from ear to ear.

When It All Ended Pt. 13

June 30, 2018

One by one, Morgan’s Raiders stepped out of Percival’s mystical mansion. They were prepared for battle and as geared up as they were going to get. As always, Morgan Moonglow took the lead and came out first, her eyes darting to and fro, always checking for threats. She was wearing hide armor that had been crafted and enchanted by her formerly estranged mother, Irina. It had been made of the skin of the great Questing Beast which Morgan had hunted and felled all by herself. It meant more to her than the pressed leather she had worn in the service and through much of their early adventures. She carried two swords from the crypt of Alander the Great in crossed scabbards on her back. She rarely got in close but it was good to have the option. Lastly, she had the same longbow she had graduated school with. However, the thing had been fundamentally changed when it was exposed to the blood of the Questing Beast. It was more powerful now and a comfort for Morgan to hold.

When she stepped out of the mansion, she saw Amien standing with his equally scruffy pack. He was smiling at her in the sunlight with those crystal blue eyes and for the briefest moment her heart fluttered but she shook it off. There was a moment in time, maybe several moments, when she would have ended up with Amien. He was a werewolf who lived in the woods, she was a ranger who often did the same. There were a lot of similarities between their wild hearts and Morgan knew that Amien had seen that too. She could see in his eyes the arrogance of an alpha wolf who thought it was only a matter of time. However, he did not know the stubborn streak of a Moonglow. Instead of running to the wolf, she turned and smiled as she looked behind her.

Percival Stardane stepped through the door next with a big smile and a flourish. He was dressed to the nines as usual which was hardly practical for battle. Percy never seemed to care as old habits died hard. Besides that, Percy claimed that dressing up created confidence in bystanders and that showmanship could tilt the battle in their favor. He was not one for weapons but Morgan had forced him to carry a short sword on his back, partly obscured by a half cape. On the scabbard of that sword, Percy had painted the opening notes of his father’s signature song. He never followed in his father’s footsteps with a singing career but instead, he had embraced knowledge and created a new path for himself. He also had a bunch of trinkets and daggers hidden on his person which Garth had helped him arrange and design. Close at his hip was his favorite book, a book of Elorian folktales. On his feet, he wore blink boots which enabled easy escapes.

William Havelock stepped through the door next in full plate armor. He currently had his helmet off so that he could make a good impression as Percy had insisted. Cassandra had enchanted the whole set of armor to be collapsible at a moment’s notice. It was an intricate enchantment but it allowed William to be ready for battle at a moment’s notice. It was imprinted with the sign of the lion, like back home in Shura. However, he had altered it to fit him personally by removing any other reference to Shura. He often longed for his homeland but he no longer truly needed to return. He had found a new family in Eloria and they always had his back. He had several javelins in a sling on his back but his prize possession was the great sword on his back. It was constantly cold and its blade froze whatever it slashed at. He was not a great magician but he was grateful to have a little magic in his hand.

Cassandra Oakspring stepped out of the mansion next and her ginger red hair was tied up close to her head. When you dealt with magic, it was smart to not have anything dangling that could catch fire while spells were being thrown around. Her robes were finely crafted with magical runes embroidered into it with silvered thread. There was a barely visible purple aura which was her mage armor spell which kept her safer. She held her book of spells in her hands knowing full well that she had no time to reference it during a battle but, like Percy, she prized knowledge and carried it with her as a totem. She also carried a magical bag of components for her spells. She had a few ings on one hand which periodically glinted with magic power. Since she was planning to be in a fight on the roof, she had worn some boots of levitation. She also had the jar that held their djinn inside of it.

Garth Whispernight came out next like a walking shadow. He had black leather armor on and that armor had a chameleon enchantment on it to allow it to easily change colors. When he turned it black that meant it was time for business. He had the same enchantment on his displacer cloak which often made Garth look fuzzy or out of focus to their enemies. He had the hood on that cloak up and he had taken pitch and smeared it across his eyes which he had explained was a Kofrani style that just happened to compliment his sneaky profession. If one were to search him, they would never find the daggers he had secreted all over his person. Each dagger was enchanted and balanced for throwing. Each dagger had its purpose and he could pull off some amazing tricks by combining their attacks together. To complete his gear, he had dusted off his old boots of haste which felt like constantly having lightning run through him.

Lastly, Galath Wyndham stepped through the door and the door vanished behind him. Galath was wearing brand new armor, imprinted with the symbols of both Pelor and Lathander. He had finally replaced his somewhat ancient armor after it had been damaged in their previous adventure. He has been stubborn about keeping the armor that had been turned to stone so long ago. Galath had been very sentimental about all of his gear since it was one of the only connections he still had to the era of his birth. In fact, he had carried the same mace until they had adventured with Carania Galdon again and she gifted him with a new one. He had spent a lot of time blessing that new weapon in the proper ways. He had also tied a few raven feathers to the handle and he carried it proudly in her honor. Galath was not one for much else in the way of gear, relying on his faith instead.

As soon as the whole team was out of the mansion, Morgan quickly took stock of what they had and saw that everybody was ready. There was just one more part of the plan to set in motion. She turned to Cassandra.

“Contact the princess.”

Darden’s Future

June 25, 2018

“Where do you go every day, Darden?” Errol asked. Darden’s father was tough but fair but even Darden hesitated to respond.

“Out in the woods,” Darden said. He continued packing a meal for midday and grabbed his cloak in case it got cold again. Autumn was slowly rolling in like the world’s fever was breaking. Carrying the cloak in a bag was not too much of a burden. It was better than having to come back to the house early.

“What do you do out there then?” Errol asked. Darden had hoped, with very little conviction, that his father would drop it.

“I just walk around and look at the trees,” Darden said and left it at that. He shoved everything in his pack, all jumbled up.

“Leave the boy alone, Errol,” Mara said. Darden’s mother frequently came to his rescue which often made things worse. He really wished she would have kept silent here. It was embarrassing to have your mother always trying to protect you.

“He is going to have to stay and help with the shop soon,” Errol said with a grunt. “You need to grow up at some point, Darden.”

“Not today, though, Errol,” Mara said. “Let him grow up later. He’s just a boy.”

“Mother,” Darden said. “I can fend for myself. If Father wants me to stay and learn the shop then I will stay and learn.” The look on his face was fierce and his father was taken aback for a moment.

“No,” his father said, softening a bit. “Your mother is right. You’re not ready yet. You will know when you’re ready and only then will I teach you.”

Darden was surprised by that. “Thank you, Father.”

“But,” Errol said. “Keep in mind that it is not far off. It cannot be far off.”

Darden nodded. He knew well that childhood was slipping away and responsibility was coming. “I know,” he said.

“Then take a bow and some arrows,” Errol said. “As long as you’re out there anyway, there might be a chance you could bring some meat home. Be constructive.”

“I guess you’re right, father,” Darden said. “I’ll see what I see.”

Darden reached up and took down his father’s longbow from above the mantle. He grabbed a few arrows from a bucket by the fireplace and shoved them into a quiver and then left without another word, fearful that his father would speak again. As soon as he was out of the door, he felt as if a weight was lifted off of him. He smiled again as he headed towards the forest.

The path to the forest did not go far from the little village of Darden’s birth but it was still a significant distance on foot. They used horse-drawn wagons to bring lumber back to the village. It was for that reason that Darden felt completely alone on his walk. Once he had achieved a good distance from the village, he started to sing. He had a beautiful voice but he did not know this. He had only ever sung on his own, never where anybody could hear. So there was nobody to offer him praise. He sang because he enjoyed singing. It helped pass the time. Out in the nothing, Darden felt comfortable with himself and with his voice.

He kept singing as he made his way through the roots and the brambles, weaving between trees. He was not wandering as he had told his parents, he definitely had a specific destination in mind. Of course, he stopped singing as he got to the clearing. The clearing deserved reverence and reverence meant silence at least at first. He walked into the clearing once again and felt the sunlight on his face. He tilted his head up towards it for a moment, feeling the warmth and love of it. Then he lowered his gaze and looked ahead at the object of his mission. As soon as he had found him, he had wanted to visit every day. He walked forward slowly, barely even feeling his footsteps anymore.

At first glance, he looked like a statue. Almost perfect white alabaster stone, he was obviously a warrior of some kind. He had been wearing some sort of armor although the insignias on it were somewhat foreign to Darden. He had long flowing hair that was partially covering his face. That face was flawless, absolutely perfect and beautiful though Darden wished that it was wearing a smile instead of a grimace. He also wished he knew what color the young man’s eyes were although when he looked into those eyes, his own eyes were drawn to the man’s lips and then his thoughts would wander. He shook himself from his reverie and sighed for the last in what must have been dozens of times.

The man had been turned to stone at some point. Darden did not know the particulars but it looked like it had been a monster of some kind. Darden knew that years ago the Guard had slain a basilisk and Darden had heard the tales of how their gaze could turn people to stone. Darden wished that he had slain that Basilisk himself. He would have stabbed it himself a million times. Thinking about it made Darden see red and he felt himself turn away. Instead of violence, he started to sing to the young man. He wished he could help the young man so much. The problem was that the young man was missing an arm. If he was restored to flesh, he would bleed out almost immediately. It was tragic. And so he kept singing and when his song was over he did something he never did before.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” Darden said. “I’m not even sure who you are but I love you. It’s true that I don’t know your name or what your preference was. It may seem silly but I do love you and it kills me that you cannot love me back.” He paced back and forth in front of the stone man in front of him. He ran hands through his hair and sang again for a bit.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “My father wants me to work at the shop and maybe take it over down the line. If I do that, I will be stuck where I am forever and I will never see the world like you did. I will never be an adventurer like you. No more singing. I don’t know if I can handle that. I’m not sure what I want to do with my life but I will keep coming back here for as long as I can.”

Darden sat down on a log with another sigh and laid his father’s bow in the grass at his feet and just looked up at the mystery man.

Mercer Holliday

February 26, 2018

Mercer Holliday was an android assigned to cleaning up sector 7G of the Haverford Complex for the Titus Corporation. Of course, that was not something that he had any interest in doing. Mercer was loyal and would never abandon his duty but he had different ideas. He knew that he had been constructed for this purpose or a purpose closely related to it. He knew that he owed his manufacturers his life. He had been happy to be a janitor for a long time, never doing a bad job and never leaving a single spot uncleaned if he could help it.

The question was posed a long time ago that if androids dreamed, what did they dream of? The cute answer had been electric sheep. Mercer could tell you that he dreamed of being a hero. After an efficient cleaning of his area of the facility, he would go back to his small home. He was an android and he did not need much which was good because he had very little. Still, when he returned to his abode, and before he powered down to recharge, he always watched a movie. He watched a lot of different genres but he had fallen in love with the ‘Western’ of the American Southwest of the planet Earth. He had never been there but he loved the tales of gunfighters who took on crowds of ne’er-do-wells with nothing but their grit.

He wished that was him. He did not want to be a war machine like those war droids who had been programmed for fighting. He wanted to be a defender, a seeker of truth like the gunfighter, the superheroes, and the knights from the stories he liked so much. He did not know if it was possible but he spoke of it whenever he had the chance to whoever would listen. He wanted to be the guy that people called on when they needed help when nobody else could help them. The dream burned within him and it perhaps once again raised the question whether androids had a soul and what that soul might be imagined as.

“Mercer!” A voice called out that broke Mercer from his reverie. He had been mopping on autopilot, an ability that made it obvious why you would utilize androids as workers instead of biologicals. It was Dr. Toma Wright, the young rebellious prodigy who had arrived a few months earlier. Unlike many, Toma did not ignore those around her and excitedly discussed whatever with the menial workers in her sector. That included Mercer.

“That’s my name,” Mercer said. He tried to blink realistically and Toma laughed, appreciative of his efforts to appear lifelike.

“Yes it is, Mr. Holliday,” she said. “I’m glad I caught you.”

“Holiday is not part of my official designation, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. His official designation was Mercer-2547 after the scientist who had designed him, Victor Mercer. Most androids had no need for an original name.

“No, of course not,” Toma said. “However, I think it suits you after you recommended Tombstone to me. Doc Holliday was one of the most famous historical gunfighters of Earth.”

“I am aware, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. “I admire him very much although he had many ethical failings throughout his life. In the end, he was very loyal to lawman Wyatt Earp.”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Dr. Wright asked. She watched Mercer as if his face would give away some emotion. Of course, he did not even blink.

“Yes,” Mercer said. “If I had my way, I would be a hero like Mr. Holliday or Mr. Earp or Mr. Eastwood in his many roles.”

“Yes,” Doctor Wright said, cutting off a rant she knew might be incoming. “I’m aware you prefer Mr. Eastwood over Mr. Wayne.”

“I just find Mr. Wayne’s dialogue so stilted,” Mercer said.

Toma choked back a laugh and shook her head. There was something profound there perhaps but it was not worth pursuing. “Maybe I can help you achieve your dream.”

“How so, Doctor?” Mercer asked.

“Come with me,” she said. She led him back to her lab and she pressed a button and opened a few compartments. She pulled out a few chips and loaded them into a gun-like device. “Please expose your upper port.” Mercer trusted the Doctor and so he reached up to his neck and worked loose a panel and exposed a communication port.

Toma took up the device and plugged it into Mercer’s neck and pulled the trigger on the device. Information flooded into the construct that was analogous to Mercer’s brain. He suddenly knew how to operate weapons. Guns, knives, and hand to hand combat were suddenly second nature to him. He also suddenly knew more about computers and he had the first inkling about how to perform a ‘hack’, something he would never have even thought of previously. If androids could smile, Mercer would be grinning ear to ear. This was indeed a great gift.

“I’ve also included a program that modifies your hazardous materials containment device,” Dr. Wright said.  “It will now create a protective shield that will allow you to protect yourself and others.”

“Why have you given me these things, Dr. Wright?” Mercer asked.

“I want you to go out there and find some way to protect people,” Dr. Wright said.

“But my position is here,” Mercer said. “I must clean Sector 7G. Forever.”

“Somebody else will fill your position, Mercer,” Dr. Wright said. “I think that your passion will help you be a better hero. I think there are heroes out there without half of your passion. Besides, I have another gift for you.” She opened up another compartment and there hung a long brown duster. Mercer instantly grabbed it and put it on, a little unaccustomed to wearing actual clothes instead of panels that simulated clothes to make humans more comfortable.

“Thank you, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “I have a few contacts that I can hook you up with and soon, you will be on your way. Meet me back here tomorrow and I will have your ticket to your first job. Once you have your foot in the door, nothing will be able to stop you.”

“I will be here as you say,” Mercer said.

When It All Ended Pt. 6

February 3, 2018

The dragon had left Cora alone in her bedroom. The door was not locked and she had not posted any of her lizardmen for guards. She had simply threatened Cora with death if she wandered too far. Otherwise, she could move around the castle to feed and entertain herself as long as she did not make a move against Khandara. She knew she needed help but so far, she was still alone. The remaining Guard members of the castle had been chased off or killed. It was only a matter of time until the dragon got bored and consumed her as it had promised.

“Princess Cora?” A voice echoed in Cora’s head. “This is Cassandra Oakspring of Moonglow’s Raiders. I don’t know if you remember me but we’re here to help.”

“Cassandra?” Cora asked in her head. “Didn’t I meet you at New Moon? I appreciate the help but there is a small army between you and me.” Cora summoned an image from her memory of Cassandra but she could only envision a gawky teen girl from way back when.

“We’re working on that,” Cassandra responded. “We will be at the castle soon and I promise you we will take out that dragon or die trying.”

“I like the former option better,” Cora said. “but this dragon is very deadly. She has me prisoner alone in here. Is there anything I can do?”

“We want you safely out of the way when it begins,” Cassandra said. “The roof! Can you lure the dragon up there when the time is right?”

“I can try,” Cora thought. “She certainly likes playing with me and the longer she’s interested, the more likely she won’t eat me.”

“Think on it,” Cassandra thought. “Keep hope alive. We’re on the case.”

“Be careful,” Cora thought. “I honestly can’t wait to see you again. If you pull this off, my parents will give you anything you want.”

“Let’s focus on the fight first,” Cassandra thought. “Try to sleep tonight and conserve your energy. This is the last message I can send tonight.”

“Thank you and good night,” Cora thought. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then the connection was dead and Cora was alone again. But she was not completely alone. Somewhere out there was the gawky teen who had given her a tour of New Moon Wizardry School along with the renown adventurers group Moonglow’s Raiders. The thought was both comforting and exciting but now Cora had a mission. With that new purpose came a new strength that she had not known she had left inside of her. She was going to get that dragon to the roof.

* * *

Cassandra took a few breaths after using the Sending Pendant. It had limited uses per day and it took a bit of her energy for a little bit whenever she used it. She lay back on the soft bed in her little corner of Percival’s mansion. She had not thought that Princess Cora would remember her. She had imagined that the letters that Cassandra had sent were answered by some servant or something to spare Cassandra’s feelings. Instead, the connection was real and it kind of blew Cassandra’s mind. She was even more determined to save the Princess than before. It was not just her duty but her desire as well.

Now, Cassandra turned her attention to the other task that had been given to her. She sat up and rummaged through her pack and pulled out a cube. She had carefully constructed the cube alongside one of her old teachers at New Moon for a very specific purpose. The party had been trying to figure out what to do with it for a few months. It was not the object itself that was so tricky, it was who was inside of it. Months ago, the party had encountered a wandering Djinn that some students had accidentally released from the Elemental Plane of Air. The party had defeated the Djinn and trapped it in Cassandra’s trap, earning Cassandra a special accolade from her old academy. Now, Cassandra finally had an idea.

She held the trap up near her mouth. “Can you hear me in there?”

There was a long pause and then a whispery voice answered back. “I can hear you, Cassandra,” Monela answered back.

“You know my name?” Cassandra asked with some surprise. When the event had gone down, the Djinn had been uninterested in talking much. It had been more interested in playing tricks and pranks and property destruction. It sounded like it had calmed down some.

“I can listen all the time from inside this box,” Monela replied. “I have learned much about you and your compatriots.”

“Oh?” Cassandra asked. “I’m curious about what you think, then.”

“You are powerful yet kind,” Monela replied. “You bested me and tricked me into this trap. I have much respect for you.”

“Kind words,” Cassandra said. “Pretty words, too. What would you say to a deal which included your release?”

“Well,” the Djinn said. “I would not be adverse to hearing more of this deal. I mean, I am your captive audience so go ahead and speak.” Monela’s voice betrayed her and Cassandra could hear a tinge of excitement there and definite interest. She knew that Monela must be going crazy in the box and Cassandra actually felt sorry for her. She knew that Monela was a spirit of wind and freedom and was not meant to be in one place for long. Still, she also knew that Monela could be a mischievous creature and care was needed.

“We are having a little bit of trouble with some lizardmen, some wyverns, and a dragon,” Cassandra said.

“Nasty sorts,” Monela said. “They never want to have fun. Not my kind of fun. It’s no fun if people actually die.”

“Exactly,” Cassandra said. “I’m so glad we’re on the same page. My friends and I are going after the dragon. Can I ask you to help take care of the rest?”

“Ask?” Monela nearly shouted. “Not order? That is interesting and I find your phrasing pleasing. Speak your deal and I will consider it.”

“The simple deal is as follows,” Cassandra said. “I release you and in return, you fight alongside the Guard but especially target the wyverns. Once the battle is done, you will leave this place.”

“Leave this place?” Monela asked and it was clear she was surprised. “Gladly. If you survive the dragon, you could try and trap me again. I do not wish to be in here again.”

“Understandable,” Cassandra said. “Of course, I make no promises that we or some other group won’t try to catch you again if you make trouble.”

“That possibility makes the thrill of making trouble all the sweeter,” Monela said and laughed.

“Well, then,” Cassandra said. “We have a deal. I will release you inside the city gates tomorrow.”

“Rest well, Cassandra,” Monela said. “I do not wish to hear of your death.”

Elorian Education Services

January 29, 2018

<A robed man enters frame and smooths his robes before realizing that the camera is already running>

Greenwood: Hello, my name is Hynan Greenwood and I am the minister for education here in the land of Eloria. I wanted to take a few moments of your time to highlight some of the specialty schools here in Eloria. Some children and young adults have aptitudes beyond basic schooling and trade apprenticeships. These children may have aspirations for highly specialized fields such as enchanting or becoming members of the Guard. Others may wish to become Adventurers, our land’s unofficial second line of defense. Whatever the reasons, Eloria has set up educational opportunities to help present a more educated workforce so we can all contribute to society in our own way. Let’s meet some of the teachers you might have.

<The shot cuts to a hunched-over tiefling woman in a stereotypical witch’s hat who looks like she has been dusted with soot. She speaks awkwardly as if she is not comfortable with attention>

Woodrow: Hello. My name is Cinna Woodrow and I am the Director of New Moon School of Wizardry. We are situated in Braddish in the District of Coppin, the north side of town. Oh! You’ve just caught me trying to create a new enchantment. <She dusts off her spectacles> I won’t go into detail but it should be a nasty exploding trap to ward off thieves. So far I have the exploding part down but I have yet to lock in the not exploding part. That is what you can expect here at New Moon. We will teach you the beginner and intermediate levels of magic and then we will encourage you to find your own path in high level magic. When you leave New Moon, you will be ready for whatever magical path that lies ahead of you. Our staff includes alumni includes Arcanist Gar Braddon and famous adventurer Cassandra Oakspring.

<The shot cuts to a scruffy-looking man with red hair in plate armor and leaning slightly on a longsword. He smiles broadly at the camera>

Harefoot: Hello! <He raises the sword straight up in the air in salute as he shouts> My name is Donovan Harefoot and I am an instructor at True Cross Swordfighting School where swords cross daily. We are situated outside of Hurlock in the District of Stull at the Battle Arts Academy. Here at True Cross we are dedicated to a lot of things but first and foremost is how to fight. You will leave True Cross knowing how to succeed in any combat situation and you will have mastered at least one weapon. Despite our name, we also have teachers on hand who can teach you all sorts of martial weaponry techniques. We also specialize in a variety of styles and I guarantee we can find one that fits your body and personality. Personally, I came here as a weakling and I left here as a fierce warrior in the last Great War. After some successful time in the Guard, I came back here to whip you young people into shape so we can keep this great land safe.

<The shot cuts to a blonde woman with a few sticks and leaves tangled in her hair but a beaming smile on her face>

Trickfoot: Hi! My name is Harria Trickfoot and you’re lucky enough to get this message about Sunny Valley Ranger School. I became the director of this school after my father passed away a few years ago. Sunny Valley doesn’t exactly have a fixed location. I’m sure you’ve heard what Rangers are like. Wherever we are currently camping is where the school is. This school is incredibly hands-on as we will teach you to excel in hunting and tracking. This is not like normal hunting. We will teach you how not to lose your quarry whether it is a stag, an owlbear, or even a nasty orc. When we set out after a target, we do not stop until we find it and neutralize the threat. We are at home in any kind of terrain and tracking any kind of creature or person. In fact, I always say that a ranger’s home is where they lay there head at night. When you come to Sunny Valley you will be assigned to a squad and we will teach you how to track and fight any target that you need to. Guaranteed.

<The shot cuts to a serious-looking man with a nose that looks like it was previously broken and did not quite set right. He talks with a quiet intensity>

Cole: My name is Harkan Arnell and I am an instructor here at the North Star Dojo. We are situated at the Battle Arts Academy in near Hurlock in Stull. We are solely dedicated to teaching students to center themselves, unlock the chi within, and use that ability to learn how to fight with honor and discipline. Do not apply to this dojo if you are just looking to go around beating people up. That is not what we do. Our students go on to happy, productive lives who only use combat as a last resort. We work to unlock an inner peace inside of our students so that they can use the skills we teach them responsibly. That means that if you come to this dojo, you will take it seriously or you will be gone. Probably off to a school that might tolerate that sort of behavior. While our work is serious, we are not emotionless creatures and we do know how to smile. Many of our students have gone on to successful careers in the Guard and some have even started their own small dojos across Eloria. Please consider North Star if you are serious about becoming a fist against injustice.

<The shot cuts back to Minister Greenwood>

Greenwood: Well, there you have only a few of our land’s brilliant instructors. Eloria supports any teacher of any level who seeks to educate and train each upcoming generation. As usual, any family that seeks beginner level educations will be accommodated at no charge. Trade Apprenticeships will still get young people to their chosen professions such as blacksmithing, ranching, or shopkeeping. These more specialized schools are necessary because what they do is either complicated, potentially dangerous, or both and we need to place those students in a safe, stable environment in order to learn. Most of these schools require applications so send them off as soon as you can. While some schools can be expensive, scholarships are offered every year so don’t be discouraged. Get out there and learn something today. Good luck!

The Singing Sword

January 8, 2018

The sword was singing. It was not humming like it had been struck by metal. It was full out singing mezzo-soprano style. Actual words were coming out of it, pouring out of it while it sat on the blacksmith’s workbench. Of course, the sword was singing in Gnomish which nobody really spoke anymore. So, the blacksmith had to fetch somebody who could actually speak the language because he had not the heart to melt it down an try again. It took two days for the boy who ran errands to find somebody who would come over and check it out. It was a third-string assistant to an honorable wizard on the other side of the city.

The bespectacled young woman scurried her way all the way across town to see the sword. They informed her that they could have brought the sword to her. It would have been disruptive to the flow of the town’s traffic but they still would have done it. Instead, Aricia the Enchantress shoved everybody aside and started yelling phrases at the sword as soon as she arrived. Of course, the sword did not seem to respond and nobody watching understood her or the sword. The sword just kept singing. It was quite close to the strangest thing anybody had ever seen.

“It didn’t seem to respond to you, noble Aricia,” Arik said. At this point, he just wished the stupid sword would stop singing or be removed from his shop. He wished he knew who had dropped it off but nobody could remember who had dropped it off or when. Arik was starting to forget a time when the workshop was not filled with song.

“I think the sword may be stupid,” Aricia said. “It will not listen to reason.”

“I’ll take your word that you were offering wisdom,” Arik said.

“Insolence,” Aricia said but her heart was not in it. “The sword is a mystery. I have never seen such magic before.”

“Too complicated?” Arik asked. As a master blacksmith, he knew very little about magic. It was not in his wheelhouse. He knew that some of his finely crafted weapons were taken to enchanters like Aricia or her boss now and then.

“Too stupid,” Aricia said. “Who would want a singing sword?”

“It does not make much sense,” Arik conceded with a shrug.

“No,” Aricia said. “It is pure frivolity. An enchantment with no purpose.” There was a long beat of silence.

“So what is it singing?” Arik asked.

“What?” Aricia asked. She adjusted her spectacles as if that would help her hear the question better.

“I mean it’s Gnomish, right?” Arik asked. “What is the song actually about?”

“Oh just some ancient treasure,” Aricia said and waved her hand dismissively.

“Treasure!?” Arik shouted and then he looked around the shop wildly. Thankfully the curious crowds had dispersed due to the sword’s obnoxious song looping. “Um, what sort of treasure is it?”

“Whatever it is, it’s dangerous. Guarded by a dragon of all things,” Aricia said. “Something called The Treasure of Bast.”

“Bast, eh?” Arik asked, taking a moment to mop his sweaty and sooty face with a damp cloth. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“I suppose nobody has,” Aricia said with a shrug. “I’ve never heard of a single singing sword.”

“Nobody?” Arik asked with growing excitement. “Suppose we inform a group of adventurers and maybe we could get a share of the treasure.”

“Adventurers would never bring back a share,” Aricia said. “Adventurers rarely look behind them and they would not for us even if we were on fire.”

“What if we went with them?” Arik asked.

“Do you have a death wish?” Aricia asked, for the first time looking directly at the blacksmith and actually seeing him. She sized him up for a moment.

“I can swing a hammer,” Arik said, a little bit hurt by the assessment. “I’m very strong.”

“Well, suit yourself,” Aricia said with a sign. “I have a million things to do for my master. I can’t go on an adventure.”

“But we need you as lore mistress,” Arik said. “We’ll never find our way without an accurate translation.”

“That makes me valuable,” Aricia said with a crooked smile. “They have to protect the valuable ones whether they want to or not. You? Not so much.”

Arik grunted and shrugged. “So we just need to ask the next group that comes in,” He said.

Aricia pointed at a group coming in the door. “What about them?”

“Oh crap,” Arik said. “Not them again.”

 

When It All Ended

December 23, 2017

Hamm Stoutfire walked along the avenue with an armload of firewood in the satchel on his back. The Capital was freezing but, because of the war, the shipments of firewood were slowing down. Hamm had thought about closing his shop and joining the crews searching for fresh lumber. He would be saving lives as the temperatures dropped and there was probably some good coin in it. Also, it never hurt to get a little credit for civil service. His shop was sometimes frequented by less than favorable citizens and tourists as Hamm had never been picky when it came to less savory individuals. ‘Coin is coin and coin is good’ was Hamm’s personal motto. The Guard rarely came around to hassle him so he figured he must not be doing anything too wrong.

He could see his breath puff out before him as he walked down the street. He playfully pretended he was blowing out smoke like had done so many times as a no good kid. He wondered if he would get any customers today. Between the cold and the war along the border, people might just continue to huddle in their homes. Most of the day, only members of The Guard seemed to walk the streets. It made the city’s criminals cautious as there was no crowd to slip into and no pockets to pick. Picking a Guard officer’s pocket was often too risky even for a city whose belt was starting to tighten due to the war effort. If something did not get better, people would start dropping like flies.

Of course, the news from the war front was terrifying. The latest news was that the Sherans had joined their army with the forces of the ancient demon Vistra. Vistra was a name that most Elorians did not speak and barely dared to think. Now the demon seemed to have returned and things looked grim for the Elorian military. Hamm shuddered at the thought of the demons winning the war. He had made his peace with the possibility of the Sherans winning and taking the place over. He imagined that things would not be much different. There was no telling what the demons were capable of. He might end up getting skinned alive or they might all burn for eternity. Not to mention that one of the armies had apparently raised the dead en masse. It kind of felt like the end.

“Hey Stubby!” A voice called out. Hamm turned to look at an open doorway, a woman silhouetted by the candlelight behind her. He frowned. He had never liked how some people made fun of his Dwarven height. It was generally something not done in polite society but, of course, Hamm had never been a

“Moira,” Hamm said gruffly. “Kindly fuck off.” There was a long beat of silence. “And happy solstice.”

Moira laughed, putting her cigar out with the tips of her finger so she did not waste any while she was talking. The warmth of it still filled her lungs along with some illegal magical residuum. Hamm noted the telltale red, wispy smoke. “Give me one of those logs, Hammy.”

“I’m sure you don’t need it,” Hamm said. “You’ve got plenty of wood to keep you warm, don’t you?”

“Very funny,” Moira said. She spat on the cobblestones between them. “I haven’t gotten many customers these last two weeks and besides you know I specialize in female customers.”

“I am not sure I can spare anything, Moira,” Hamm said. “I didn’t get anything out of the last shipment and I’m freezing my ass off in the back of my shop.”

“Well, you know what you can do with those logs then?” Moira asked with a smirk.

Hamm couldn’t help but mirror that smirk though it was mostly hidden by his bushy beard. “What?”

There was huge cracking noise from somewhere in the air. By the time that Hamm realized that it had actually come from the palace, large stones fell and slammed into the homes he was standing next to. In the devastation that followed, Moira was nowhere to be seen. Hamm rushed forward, not wanting the last exchange between them to be disgruntled sniping. Dimly in the back of his mind, he realized that the stones he was scrabbling over were actual pieces of the palace. That thing was the sturdiest building in Eloria. He tried to shove aside wooden beams and smaller rocks as he moved.

When he shoved aside what appeared to be Moira’s wooden door head, he saw the horrible thing that was left of Moira’s body. He staggered back into the street without remembering taking a single step. He retched and unleashed his meager breakfast onto the cobblestones. She had been alive just moments ago. He felt dizzy, weak. Somebody bumped into him as they ran by. The empty street was now full of people running away from something. Hamm shook his head to try to shake away the dizzy feeling.

A flash of green caught his eye and he looked up as the crowd barely moved around him. He ignored the impact of elbows and shoulders as he tried to keep his stance, clutching his load of firewood as if it mattered anymore. He tried to look for the green thing he thought he saw and then there it was. It was a dragon. A huge green one and it had demolished part of the castle. It was not a Sheran, a demon, or a zombie and yet here it was the end at last. The dragon looked around as it crawled over the palace roof and for a moment Hamm thought it looked into his eyes and fear overtook him. He ran in a blind panic for the rest of the day.

When he came to it was because of a firm hand on his shoulder. He looked up at an elf woman with long blonde, almost green hair.

“My name is Morgan,” The elf said. “What are you running from and how can we help?”

Redcross Pt. 11

November 25, 2017

Redcross

Sarah got up early the next day even if she wished she could at least sleep in until noon. She put some breakfast on the griddle and she got a lecture from Doctor Marion about how unhealthy the breakfast was. Even with the lecture, the thick cut bacon, eggs, and black coffee felt good and she began to feel like herself again. After that, she asked Marion to stay put for her own safety and got an argument there as well but it was just for show. Sarah strapped on her gun and grabbed her coat and hat and walked out the door, locking it carefully behind her.

She moved over to Chip Hendley’s door and pounded her fist on it until the door unlocked and Chip was blinking at her through bleary eyes. The man was huge so Sarah had to look up to talk to him and Sarah was fairly tall herself.

“Good morning, Sheriff,” Chip said and the smell of beer and whiskey drifted from his sweat and breath.

“Been drinking, Chip?” Sarah asked.

“I have, Sheriff Redcross,” Chip said. “Last night was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. After those things left last night, I took one drink and just didn’t stop.”

“I don’t blame you, Chip,” Sarah said. “I don’t blame you at all. You said ‘things’, Chip. Do you not think they were wildcats of some kind?”

“Do you, Sheriff?” Chip asked. “I saw you shoot one of them take six bullets and it was still moving. No wildcat on Earth does that, to my knowledge.”

“On Earth? Where do you think these things came from?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t really know,” Chip said. “But I don’t think they’re from here. Just a feeling I have.” He shrugged. Chip was smarter than he looked and Sarah did not discount anybody’s ideas out of hand.

“I don’t either,” Sarah said. “But you may be right. I plan to get to the bottom of it either way. For right now, I need your help.”

“Me?” Chip asked. “I don’t know what I can do but I’m happy to help out where I can.”

“You’re the best carpenter in town,” Sarah said. “I need you to go and replace Doctor Schaefer’s door. One of those ‘things’ broke it down and I would like her to have a good sturdy door to protect her again.”

“For sure I can do that,” Chip said. “I’ll get some coffee and eggs down and go right over there. I’ll try to have it done well before sundown.”

“Great, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll have somebody bring by some lunch and water to you later. When you’re done there, please replace the back door of my office as well.”

“I’ll build both of them stronger than before,” Chip said. “I’ll get right on it.” Chip seemed to come to life as soon as he had a purpose for the day. His eyes looked clearer and he smoothed his hair out of his face and smiled.

“Thanks, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll check in with you later.”

Sarah moved on to her next destination, walking across the dusty main thoroughfare of Essex. There were spots of black here and there where bullets had spilled blood from the creatures. She wondered if they had red blood that merely dried black or if the blood was black in the first place. Too many mysteries and Sarah felt more lost than she ever had. She had a feeling that, had this happened in her father’s time as Sheriff, her father would have been just as lost. This thought was not exactly comforting but it did bring up a resolve to fix this problem from deep inside of her.

Sarah found Holly Dawson peeking through the window of her family’s house and waved at her. The sound of a heavy deadbolt being unlatched preceded Holly slowly, cautiously stepping out into the sunlight.

“Sheriff,” She said softly. “I’m glad to see you survived. I saw you standing out in the middle of it all before mom and I hid under her bed.”

“Thank you, Holly,” Sarah said. “I’m not gonna sugar coat it. That was bad. But I could use your help today if you can muster up some courage for me.”

“Anything for you, Sheriff,” Holly said and her face hardened and her chin tilted up, summoning courage from somewhere.

“I don’t need you fight a battle or anything,” Sarah said. “Although I should teach you how to shoot at some point the way things are going lately. Today I just need you and your momma to cook some lunch and dinner for Chip who will be at Doctor Marion’s place and for Doctor Marion who is at my place.”

Holly just grinned.

“Did I say something funny?” Sarah asked but could not help but smile even as she put on her best confused face.

“You’ve never asked me to cook for you before,” Holly said. “You always just give in when I bring you food.” Her face was so sunny at having this victory. It was a small victory in Sarah’s eyes but apparently not for young Holly.

“I’ve never wanted to trouble you or your family, Holly,” Sarah said.

“You’ve never been trouble, Sheriff,” Holly said. “I don’t think you could be if you tried.”

“Thanks, Molly,” Sarah said. “And thanks to your mother as well. You have good souls.”

“And where should I deliver your lunch and dinner, Sheriff?” Holly asked.

Sarah smiled, at last realizing what this would mean to the girl. “Hopefully, my office but I might be all over the place today.”

“Alright,” Holly said. “I’ll see you later.” She smiled and slipped back into her house, the deadbolt sliding back into place. Better safe than sorry. In fact, the street was mostly empty and, although it was hot, the place should have had at least a little activity. It was not the worse thing for people to hide inside of their houses and shops for the moment.

Sarah made her way further down the street and found herself at the old, ragged church. She paused at the door and then she pounded on the door with her fist. After a long moment, Reverend Simmons opened the door. He looked just as fresh and ready as he usually did. He smiled when he saw who was at the door, those blue eyes twinkled.

“Sheriff,” the Reverend said. “What can I do for you? Come for spiritual guidance?”

“I came to ask you some questions,” Sarah said.

“Questions?” The Reverend asked. Sarah was not sure but she thought he might have looked nervous for a small moment.

“Like, what are you?” Sarah asked.


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