Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

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.”

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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.

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

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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.”

Pekko Atlas Pt. 1

January 5, 2019

Today we start exploring the eastern continent of Pekko across The Serpent Sea from the continent of Taldona.  Pekko has less violent changes in climate probably due to it not having as many magical calamities in the far-flung past.  It also has bigger kingdoms due to more stability in its early settlement.  I only have a few more lands to do and I will have completed my world’s atlas.  You can find earlier parts here and here for the western continent.

pekko

Ieshon
Dragonborn 68% Humans 4% Half-Elves 4% Elves 4% Dwarves 4%
Half-Orcs 4% Halflings 4% Tieflings 4% Gnomes 4%

Ieshon is a kingdom settled by the dragonborn shortly after the Great Conflict where they resolved to wait should they be needed again by their patrons, the dragons. Over time, most of them forsook the dragons and formed a civilized society. In Ieshon, many prejudices between chromatic and metallic dragonborn have died down but the blood still calls to both sides. Used to hierarchical rule, the dragons formed a rigid feudal society which is still followed in the present. Who rules the land is determined by bloodline and power. Bloodlines rule the people indefinitely unless they grow weak and another more powerful bloodline wrests control from them. Most dragonborn (and others who have come to call Ieshon home) live in large city-states surrounded by farmland. Regional lords control and manage their land while a king or queen rules on high. The overall ruler is usually a metallic dragonborn but many lords and ladies have been known to be chromatic.  The worship of Bahamut is very popular in Ieshon, even among chromatics as the desire for fun battle is strong in their culture.

Oochar
(An accurate census of races of Oochar is not remotely possible but pretty much every race is present)

Most of Oochar is covered in thick jungle, only cleared out in places where people settle. It is a hard-fought living in the jungles of Oochar and there is very little of what the rest of the world might call civilization. There is only one city and only because they needed a place for important meetings to take place and a refuge for the darkest times. The government is actually made up of a large amount of semi-nomadic tribes with each of them being autonomously governed. The tribes are fairly varied as they are somewhat isolated from each other and it is difficult to determine from the outside how many tribes there are and how big each tribe is. It is also hard for outsiders to deal with Oochar as a whole because you never know who you might encounter once you cross their borders. A diplomatic expeditionary group once went mad trying to track the comings and goings of all the tribes. Most other countries find it not worth their time to do anything but trade on the Oochar borders but the place is great for adventurers. There are legends of the tribes uniting for various causes but it is rare for it to be done. Many tribes leave their elderly or infirm in the capital city as a sort of retirement along with some diplomatic members (with the message spell).

Oskia
Elves 25% Half-Elves 21% Humans 19% Halflings 12%
Tieflings 11% Dwarves 9% Gnomes 3% Half-Orcs >1%

Oskia is a matriarchal society currently ruled over by Queen Lynna and Queen Calasi. It has long been a society that revered the power of women but never treated men unfairly and the men of Oskia always supported the right of rule of women. Their society is highly based on and dependent on magic. Druids shepherd the fauna and flora. Wizards design the buildings and structures. Sorcerers, warlocks, and bards protect the peace with magical might. Not everybody in the country is magical but all are encouraged to learn a little bit of magic if they can. It has given rise to a nation of mostly hedge wizards who may know a trick or two. It is how the small nation has stood out and survived, especially next to the somewhat dangerous nation of Oochar. The country is fairly temperate if a little hot sometimes but definitely a famously pleasant place to live. Historically, Oskia often takes the lead in diplomatic negotiations in its area (even when it’s not asked for). For some reason, there is a higher percentage of sorcerers in Oskia, perhaps due to the more frequent use of magic but it is unknown at this time. There is also heavy prejudice against half-orcs in Oskia and many are driven into Oochar or killed.

Treania
Humans 32% Half-Elves 21% Elves 15% Dwarves 6%
Half-Orcs 9% Halflings 8% Tieflings 6% Gnomes 3%

Treania is home to the three greatest ports of the continent and therefore is the local shipping capital. Most things that come from the other continent or the Crumbs touches Treanian soil at one point even if it is just a quick stop. This has made Treania a very rich land and those riches have in turn made Treania more dominant in world trade. Of course, immense wealth for the trade barons has led to a greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots. At a certain point, the middle class in Treania began disappearing and the economy boiled down to the aristocrats and the working class. The working class people are not serfs but because the aristocrats have so much money, they are often quite powerless in class warfare. The only way the system has remained stable is that the working class bands together while the aristocrats compete with each other. The have-nots tend to look after each other better and are often kinder yet hardier as a result. Treania has also spearheaded the hunting of pirates from The Crumbs as much of their economy depends on shipping.

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 8

December 29, 2018

The adventurers lept into action immediately. Carania ran directly at the two zombie goliaths. They swung their fists but Carania narrowly dodged their attacks. While the zombies were distracted, Galath pointed his holy symbol and there was a brilliant flash. The goliaths turned away in fear from the divine light and started to run but they accidentally ran into each other and fell to the ground in a tangle. Carania descended on them and slashed at them and then pierced both with her sword. Arne finished it by setting them on fire as Carania moved to safety. The zombies did not react as they started to burn to ash. Carania guessed that they did not even feel the flames.

Carania gripped her sword tighter and trudged toward the King of Crows. She stopped short when she saw that the King had a knife up against one of his captives’ throats. She heard Arne and Galath halt as well. She grunted and glared at the man. Close up, she could see how pathetic he looked. He was old and scared and Carania felt all of the adrenaline leave her system and she grew calm as death. The captive, a young girl, was shaking but Carania did her best to offer a reassuring look.

“Leave the girl and deal with me,” Carania said. “Face me fairly.” She gripped her sword tightly, calm but tense like a wound spring. Her years of training had prepared her for these moments and she was not about to back down.

“Three against one is no fair fight,” The King said. His voice sounded a bit like a cawing crow. “Give me but a moment and I’ll summon up some friends.”

“No more moments, Crow,” Carania said. “My Lady of Ravens has requested I deal with you by sending you to meet her. Your time is up. I would not want to disappoint her as you have done.”

“If I go then I won’t be going alone!” The King crowed out and dragged the knife across the girl’s throat with a sick smile on his face. He started to chant something, waving his fingers.

The moment that followed felt like it flowed like molasses. Carania shouted wordlessly in anger and shock. She ran forward and stabbed the King of Crows hard through the stomach. His face seemed to freeze in surprise for an eternity. At the same time, Galath grabbed the girl and laid hands on her, healing the wound with holy light. Carania looked up into the branches above as the symbols of Nerull clattered to the forest floor. The ravens were up there in the trees, dozens of them, and they were glaring down at the necromancer. Carania smiled and calmly dragged the point of her sword across his throat as she mouthed a little prayer to Azrea.

As Carania stepped away, the ravens descended on the body of the King of Crows. She turned away and let them have it. She suspected it was their right as vassals of Azrea. She tried not to think of the sounds the birds made as they tore at the corpse. Arne was busy burning the symbols and tokens of Nerull and instantly the forest seemed to feel brighter. It was as if a fog was lifted and the evil evaporated from the fabric of the place. Carania walked over to Galath and the young girl. The paladin wore concern on her face.

“How is she Galath?” Carania asked. “Will she make it?”

“She will,” Galath said, looking up at Carania with a relieved smile. “She’s lucky a healer was so close by.”

“She’s also lucky the Talons were here,” Arne said.

Carania looked back over her shoulder. “Wait, who are the Talons?”  She asked.

“Just a suggestion for our little group’s name,” Arne said. “In honor of your patron, the Queen of Ravens.”

“I like the sound of it,” Carania said. “I think we’ll add it to our official introduction. I think we’ll be saying it a lot if we continue these fights.”

“I think you’re right,” Arne said.

“I agree,” Galath said. “I think this is exactly what we should be doing.”

Arne walked over and knocked on the cage holding the necromancer’s captives and the lock shattered and the door opened. The people started streaming out of the cage. They thanked the three adventurers profusely. Carania and Arne gave them directions back to town while Galath treated the most grievous wounds. As he did, Carania heard a noise from behind. The young girl was waking up. Carania knelt beside her. The girl was an elf so it was hard to judge her age but the light in her eyes looked very young. She had not yet reached physical maturity. She glanced around and saw no other elves which confused her.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from that pain.”

“You tried,” the girl said. “and you saved us.”

“What is your name?” Carania asked. She smiled at the girl, remembering when her former charge had been this young.

“Taryn Moonglow,” the girl said.

“Are you here with someone?” Carania asked.

“No,” Taryn said. “I came here alone. I was on my way back home when I was surprised by these men.” She sat up a little, taking deep breaths as she took it slow.

“Where do you live? I could take you there. We could take you there,” Carania said.

“The Fangleth Forest,” Taryn said. “I live among druids like me among the trees.”

“The Fangleth?” Carania asked. “What brings you out this far?”

“I came here to fetch a rare flower that grows here,” Taryn said. “It is the Southern Star Flower.” She pulled a dark purple, five-petaled flower from her cloak and held it up for Carania could see. “It can be used to heal some of my people from a specific curse.”

“Well, perhaps we can help with that too,” Arne said.

“Really?” The girl asked.

“Of course,” Carania said and took the girl’s hand. “The Talons are here to help.”

Fairytown

December 15, 2018

20181202_162945.jpg

Princess Cuddlebottom sure was a funny name but there was nothing funny about her getting murdered. The incident had happened in Mount Washington and Detective Danielson was glad that no kids had been around to see it. He was a little surprised to see that a fairy had traveled this far from Fairytown. It did go down outside of a school so maybe she had just been trying to get a glimpse of the kids. Most fairies love kids and many missed being around them. Danielson shrugged and pulled out his notepad and began writing down his impressions. He spotted Detective Waters making her way over.

“I’m surprised you would show up this early, Waters,” he said with a smirk.

“Are you kidding?” She said, holding out a cup of coffee. “You know I’m always there when fairies are involved. Though, this is a bit out of our usual jurisdiction.”

“Our beat is Fairytown so when something happens to fairies, we get involved anywhere in the metropolitan area,” he said. He took the cup of coffee and took a sip with a smile. She may not have been a morning person but Waters could remember how he liked his coffee.

“Lucky us,” she said without a hint of sarcasm. Ah to be young again. “Is this where it happened?” She asked as she walked over to the roped off area. Her face grew more serious when she saw the blood. It looked like somebody had spilled sparkly nail polish but anybody who knew the real story could tell what it was. It turned Danielson’s stomach a little bit and obviously it had a greater effect on his partner. “Steady on, Waters. They’re counting on us to solve this one.”

Waters nodded slowly and composed herself. “I’ve never seen their blood before,” she said. “Do they all bleed glitter like that?”

There was the clicking sound of a lighter as Doctor Gabriella Stone walked up, smoking a cigarette. “Not all of them do,” she said. “There’s a whole rainbow of colors and some of them even bleed oily black.”

“Oh joy,” Danielson said. “What luck to have Charm City’s most sociable medical examiner join us on this beautiful autumn morning.”

“I’m the only ME who has studied fairy physiology,” Stone said. “Who else did you think was going to show up? I live right around the corner, I was here before you were.”

“Where’s the body?” Waters asked, looking around the street.

“I already had it moved,” Stone said. “No need to scare the kiddies. My team did all the forensics and we packed everything up and sent it back to the station. Relax.”

“Not a doubt in our minds,” Danielson said. “I just wanted to see the scene of the crime myself before we started knocking on doors and asking questions.”

“Have fun,” Stone said before walking away. She did not ask permission and she did not look back. Danielson could respect that.

“She’s so cheery,” Waters said. She was staring at the splash of blood on the pavement again but this time with a look of determination on her face.

“The Reapers are usually not the happiest souls,” Danielson said as he turned to walk toward his car.

Waters walked quickly to catch up to him. “Isn’t that kind of a rude nickname for the medical examiners?” she asked.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Danielson said. “What Reapers do is a kindness. They pick the fallen up off of the street and they help us figure out their mystery. They help us get justice. And it’s no wonder they’re cheery. They see and touch so much death in their lives.”

“True,” Waters said. “So what are we dealing with here? I mean, who are we dealing with?”

“The victim was positively identified as Princess Anjelica Snugglebottom, a resident of Fairytown. The system should have her address on file but I have a feeling I already know where she lived.”

“The palace,” Waters said. “Why was she all the way over here? Was she an imaginary friend back in the day?”

“I have no clue until we look into it but I wouldn’t be surprised,” Danielson said.

“Why would she be an imaginary friend?” Waters asked. “Isn’t that sort of thing beneath royalty?”

“Fairytown is lousy with princesses,” Danielson said with a shrug. “I’m not sure where she falls in the line of succession but I feel like it has to be way down the line if she was able to travel this far uptown by herself.”

“So a princess could be an imaginary friend?” Waters asked.

“You know that they do not like that term, right?” Danielson asked. “We all know that they’re not imaginary now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Waters said. “It’s just habit. I had one, did you know that?”

“An imaginary friend?” Danielson asked. “I seem to remember that from your file when you came aboard.”

“This was before we found out that they weren’t imaginary, of course,” Waters said. “Her name was Lady Carinas and she watched out for me when I was little. My parents worked a lot.”

“The fairies that posed as imaginary friends did a lot of good back then,” Danielson said. “They got a bad rap after they were revealed. I really feel for them.”

“Me too,” Waters said. “That’s why I requested this detail. So should we start knocking on doors?”

Danielson shook his head. “The uniforms can handle that. I really don’t think we’ll get anything useful out of canvassing the neighborhood. If somebody was going to come forward, they would have done it already. Besides, I don’t think a human could bring a fairy down so easily.”

“Then what do you think happened?” Waters asked. Though, they both knew as they locked eyes.

“It was probably a monster,” Danielson said. “It’s the thing that makes the most sense but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We have questions to ask.”

“So where are we going?” Waters asked. “Wait, are we going to the palace? I’ve never been.”

“Well, this is your lucky day,” Danielson said. “You get to visit the palace and more than that, you get to meet the queen.”

“I can’t wait!” Waters said.

“Don’t get too excited, Junior,” Danielson said. “I have a feeling that the visit isn’t going to be pleasant.”

The Shield of Tau Pt. 3

November 10, 2018

Jace arrived at the central city square before his time and so he was waiting when the Shields of Tau emerged to set up the trial. The others who would be trying out arrived around the same time. The Shields wordlessly unlocked and opened a trapdoor and everybody walked down a set of stairs. Right before Jace was about to descend below the level of the square, he looked around for a friendly face but he saw neither Lita nor <A>. The trapdoor clanged back into place behind them as they descended toward the Pit of Trials. They were brought into what looked like an ancient armory.

“My name is Captain Cahrn,” a man in armor yelled, his voice echoing in the small stone space. “Choose your weapon wisely.”

Jace looked over his options. There was just about everything a fighter might want, really. There were several different flavors of swords, spears, halberds, shields, daggers, axes, hammers, and everything you could conceive of to slash, pierce or bludgeon a foe. Even though all of those weapons were relatively cheaply made, Jace was definitely wowed. He had grown up loving weapons and here was a room full to the brim. He started walking through the room, putting his hands on all of them and feeling their heft.

“Would you hurry up?” Cahrn said to nobody in particular.

Jace hurriedly picked up a shield and a sword and moved to line up near the door. The shield and sword was not the most exciting choice but it was a classic. More than that, it was the iconic pairing that Jace had fallen in love with when he and Lita had been rescued from the blink dogs. Whenever he thought about protecting the people of the Empire, he imagined himself using a shining shield and a wickedly sharp sword. He had no idea how that imagined reality would match up with his true future but he was definitely ready to give it a shot. Or at least, he was as ready as he was going to get.

They shuffled through a door into the next area. Jace counted five others who were trying their hand at this. There were two women and three men. Jace did not recognize any of them but in a city the size of Tau that was not so strange. They were led to a caged-in area and beyond was a bigger cage, a huge circle. It was the trial pit itself and at the top of it, Jace could see the sun filtering down and he could hear people gathering to watch outside. The Festival to Kord was a big yearly holiday in Tau and the Shield Placement was the biggest event so the crowd was very boisterous. It was a completely different atmosphere from the tension down in the pit as the fighters waited their turn. One by one Jace and his fellow applicants drew lots to see who went first. Jace drew second and started to prepare himself as he watched a young blond man enter the pit.

As the man stood there, a door opened on the other side of the cage and a crag cat leaped out, white and furry. The blond immediately dodged that first attack and tried to maneuver to a place to sink their spear into the cat. The two opponents began combat in earnest, both of them moving fast around the cage as the crowd gasped or clapped above. The crag cat would lunge with tooth and claw and the young blond man would try and dodge and counter. The crag cat was too nimble to be caught by such a simple plan. Fear started to sink in as Jace realized that the cat was toying with its prey. Unless something changed, the cat would win. A few moments later and his suspicions were confirmed as he watched the blond accidentally roll his ankle and succumbed to the claws of the crag cat. Shields rushed into the cage and tried to clear the cat from the body but the cat dragged the body back through the door while the Shields pursued it.

After a beat, Jace got the signal that it was his turn. He took a deep breath and walked into the cage. He saluted the crowd above and he tried to look for Lita. He could not spot her but knew that she would be somewhere in the crowd. He trained his eyes on the opposite door and tried not to look down at the bloodstains. It was time for his future to begin and he would let nothing get in his way. He swung the sword, trying it out again, and made sure the shield was securely strapped to his forearm. He listened to the countdown and then the door began to open but instead of one beast, there were two small ones. He knew these beasts all too well. It was a pair of blink dogs.

For a moment, Jace flashed back to the day one of his friends was killed by blink dogs. It was the first day that he had swung a weapon at another living thing. The horrible moment that had solidified his dream to forge himself into becoming a protector, a true Shield of Tau instead of just a kid pretending to be one. The memory of that promise pushed through the trauma and he felt his resolve become as iron as he gripped his sword tight. He did not wait for the blink dogs to get their bearings, he lunged forward. They both lunged at him but he fended off one with the shield and grazed the other with the sword. The one that was cut suddenly blinked away and Jace worked hard to calm himself. The dog suddenly reappeared in the air above Jace, trying to dive down onto him. He swatted it hard out of the air with the shield.

It was at this point that the other dog lunged at his feet, forcing him to step aside and plunge his sword into the thing’s back. The dog yelped and struggled but was unable to free itself and passed out, bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, the first dog had teleported to the other side of the cage. It growled defiantly at Jace and Jace glared back at it in return. He flicked the blood from the sword which caused the dog to charge in a rage. Jace charged the dog and he saw as the dog failed to teleport again and instead tried to bank right to circle around. Jace spun and struck at the beast, injuring its paw and causing it to stumble but keep moving. As the dog lunged one last time, Jace stabbed it in its throat, putting it out of its misery. The crowd cheered and the door opened and Jace was summoned to leave.


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