Posts Tagged ‘Western Fantasy’

Undead Reckoning Pt. 8

March 27, 2021

The train chugged on toward its destination and Clarity had pulled out a book and a notebook and expertly balanced both in her lap. She would read from the leather-bound book and then write something in the notebook every so often. Since she had retreated into academia, it left Talbot to his own devices again. He stared past her out the window again and watched the scenery go by. Vegetation was becoming more and more sparse as they headed out toward the desert. Nobody quite knew why the desert had become so dangerous. The desert wasteland had been home to strange mobile rifts of chaotic magic, rumored to be cracks in reality itself. This happened long before Talbot had been born.

Lately, magic experts were reporting that the chaotic energy in the desert was slowly abating. The area was slowly becoming safer or at least as safe as a normal desert could be. Many had started to explore the area and some settlements had sprung up to support explorers and mining operations. The area was largely lawless as the Queen’s government had not yet asserted full control over the region. They had been left very unprepared for the expansion since they previously knew that people feared entering the dangerous desert. Talbot knew that this necromancer that Blackrance insisted on pursuing was out there in that desert with the rest of the criminals. It was the only logical place to start amassing power with a forbidden yet showy skill like that.

The train pulled into Fallshield Station which was not much of a station after all. Still, Talbot and Clarity had arrived at their destination. Talbot stood up and grabbed his pack and his rifle and slung them over his shoulder. He reached back to offer a hand to Clarity who clasped his hand and used it to stand up and follow Talbot into the aisle. Talbot handed her bag carefully.

“Well, Mr. Hawkwing we have arrived,” Clarity said. “you’ve been such a good travel companion so far, would you like to accompany me as we look for Lord Blackrance? It would be silly to separate to seek out the same man. No?”

“You make perfect sense to me, Ms. Havenwood,” Talbot said. “Ladies first, I’ll watch your back. These frontier towns can be rough.”

“Well, go ahead and be intimidating, Mr. Hawkwing,” Clarity said. “They would only bother me because they know not how dangerous I can be.” She smiled in a way that made Talbot believe that she was a formidable magic practitioner and had the guts to harm if necessary. Maybe she was suited for adventure out in the desert.

Clarity led the way off of the train and Talbot followed close behind. Once they were out he walked beside her, blinking in the bright sunlight to get his bearings. He was grateful that he had brought along his wide-brimmed hat. Clarity’s hat had an even wider brim and a large ornate bow as well. She certainly stood out in all of the dust. He had never been to Fallshield before. It had been a military base dedicated to protecting the border of the desert but a little town had grown after the border had become more relaxed. There was still danger out there but the military was letting people take that risk onto themselves.

As the few people who had gotten off of the train cleared away, Talbot spotted a halfling lingering who spotted them and headed their way.

“Are you waiting for us, young man?” Clarity asked. “Clarity Havenwood, at your service. This is Talbot Hawkwing.” Talbot tipped his hat to the man.

“Titus Mapleburrow, at your service,” the man said. “I’m Lord Blackrance’s valet.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Clarity said. “It’s nice to know how thoughtful Lord Blackrance is.”

“Can we speak to him?” Talbot asked. “Where is he?”

“Lord Blackrance has not arrived himself and has been delayed slightly,” Titus said. “However, you are both expected. I’m to convey you to the local hotel. Rooms are already waiting for you. I have a stipend for your food and drink as well.”

“Lord Blackrance thinks of everything,” Clarity said. “Thank you, Titus. Lead the way.”

“Of course, miss,” Titus said and turned on his heel to walk down the platform toward town.

Thistlewhite Manor

December 26, 2020

“These are our iceboxes,” Marian Thistlewhite said with a grand gesture. “We’re one of the first to get them. They keep our food cold so it decays much slower. It is yet another reason that this would be the ideal place to hold the orphan’s fundraiser.” The young Thistlewhite was fairly proud of the acquisition. She had pushed her conservative parents to make the purchase, reasoning that it would be useful and it would help the mage who had invented the thing fund production. If the icebox was widespread, it would help Calla’s economy and general well-being.

“Very impressive,” Lucia Vostova said in her slight Ganarastav accent. “I am very sure that this will be an adequate location for the fundraiser. Your family has such a beautiful house.”

“Thank you,” Marian said with a smile. “We’ve done the best we could.” She was starting to be unnerved by the representatives of the New Light Foundation. There were six of them but only the one called Lucia spoke and the others never reacted to anything that Marian or Lucia said. Still, manor security had cleared the visitors so they were just strange.

“Will your parents be present today to talk?” Lucia asked, snapping Marian back into the moment. “I am such a fan of your mother and your dear father, I wanted to thank him in person.”

“No,” Marian said with a sigh. “My parents were unfortunately detained and could not make it today. They sent me in their stead. My brother was also supposed to be here but he has not arrived. I apologize that I am such a poor substitute.” She made it into a joke but Lucia and her compatriots did not crack a smile.

“Quite the contrary,” Lucia said with a smile. “You have been delightful. It’s just a pity.” Lucia’s smile disappeared.

“A pity?” Marian asked, confusion spreading across her face. “What do you mean?”

“We had intended to send a message to your government by murdering your whole family,” Lucia said, pulling out what looked like a large knife or a small sword. “We will have to settle with using your death as the message. The Light Beyond the Door Will Be Revealed.”

Marian’s eyes went wide. The Light Beyond the Door was a growing cult worshipping an unnamed god. She had never thought she would come in contact with them. “You’ll never get away with it,” she said. “The guards will take you down.”

“Your guards will have been compromised by now,” Lucia said. “Do not make this difficult, young one.” Lucia stepped forward and she raised her blade. Marian frantically tried to calculate her odds of survival and it did not look good.

Suddenly, there was a sharp and distant cracking sound, the shattering of the kitchen window, and then one of the men behind Lucia’s head exploded into a fine red mist. In the confusion, Marian grabbed the glass vial hanging from her neck and threw it at the ground. Her side of the room instantly filled up with harmless smoke and she quickly ducked into the pantry. Somebody had fired a gun at these intruders so she was not as alone as Lucia had thought.

“Find who that was and remove their head from their body!” Lucia shouted, keeping her head down. “Find the girl. She dies slow and painful!”

Marian tried to stay as quiet as possible but she could hear the remaining five moving around the kitchen. The pantry door was yanked open and Marian lashed out with her fist. Luckily, her target was male and she connected hard with his softest bits. He fell backward and as he did, bullets started flying through the kitchen and Marian flopped onto the floor ungracefully but safe enough from the gunfire in the pantry. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a man entering the kitchen and executing the intruders with expert gunfire. The gunfire stopped and Lucia stood up from wherever she had been hiding.

“Well, mystery man,” Lucia said with a smile and leveling her own gun at the man. Marian now recognised Guard Peter Overbrook. “You are now out of bullets and I have you at a disadvantage with no time to reload. You have killed my men but the message will still be sent regardless.”

Marian crawled into the kitchen and the sound distracted Lucia enough that she missed shooting Peter. Peter started to reload his gun. Marian lunged for the closest icebox and tore the heart of an ice elemental that powered it. She lunged at Lucia desperately. Lucia did not have enough time to turn before Marian was shoving the heart into Lucia’s cheek. Marian felt her hand stiffen and sting before she pulled it away, the elemental’s heart stuck to Lucia and her head slowly froze over with ice. A bullet slammed into Lucia’s frozen head and it shattered and fell to the floor.

“Sorry I was so late, Miss Thistlewhite,” Peter said. “I was detained outside.”

“That’s quite alright, Peter,” Marian said, shaking feeling back into her hand. “You were here when it counted. Are the rest of the guards…?” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the question but she could tell Peter got the point.

“Some are dead,” Peter said solemnly. “but not all of us. Your brother arrived just in time to tip the scales in our favor.”

“Thank the gods that he’s always late,” Marian said with a sigh of relief. “As much as I would like to rest, there is far too much to do. We must alert my parents, contact the authorities, clean up this mess, and bury our dead with honors.”

“Right away, Miss,” Peter said. “I’ll rally the troops and we’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you, Peter,” Marian said. “Thank you so much.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 5

December 12, 2020

He was five years old and Talbot was running from the neighborhood bullies. Once again they chased him down the familiar alley blocks from where his family lived. He had no idea what he had done to piss them off this time but they had probably deserved it. At least he was drawing their attention away from Clara and Felix. If he took a beating for their sake, that was perfectly alright with him. He would have preferred no beating but would take any of the abuse that he earned with a smile. His legs were getting tired and his breath burned in his chest like a bonfire. He would not be able to last much longer.

Letitia grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. He felt his nose crack. She turned him around and slapped him so hard that he actually fell forward and barely missed hitting his nose again. He felt a boot slam into his ribs and he involuntarily rolled over. He had forgotten to ball up again and he would pay for it. He was way more vulnerable on his back. He looked up into the sneering faces of Letitia, Jass, and Crendor. The two half-orcs were wrapped around the beautiful Letitia’s finger. Talbot never knew why she chose to bully Talbot and his friends but he always thought it was because her family was one of those rare Humans First group of folks.

“You keep making mistakes, Talbot,” Letitia said. “You’re going to pay once again. You’re going to hurt.”

Why did she always sound like a villain from storybooks?

Jass put his boot on Talbot’s neck and held it there. He was not pushing down but it was a reminder that Talbot’s life was in their hands at the moment. He tried not to panic or squirm. That would just make it worse. Letitia kneeled down in the dirt next to him and glared. She dragged one of her nails down his cheek and he could feel blood well up. He would have to explain that mark to his father. Why don’t you just fight back, Talbot? She actually licked the blood off of her finger with a wicked smile. Maybe she had a crush on me? That was when Crendor kicked him in the nuts and everything went black.

Talbot was in bed and he and his brother were being told the tale of Caleb, the clever thief adventurer who hid himself in a treasure chest so that a dragon would scoop it up to add to its hoard. He picked the lock of the chest from the inside and then was able to lead the town militia to the dragon’s lair. Of course, this was after secreting away as many expensive bauble as he could carry. He wondered how Caleb had managed to pick a lock from the other side. It must have taken all of his skill and wit and luck.

Talbot’s father had always made those adventurers sound so grand. It was probably why he had joined the military. It was probably why his brother had joined too.

When he came to he was inside of a box. They must have shoved him in an old trunk after he passed out from the low blow. The trunk felt so small and it was so dark but the smallest cracks in the lid let in a little light. It was suddenly hard to breathe. He tried not to panic and then realized he was not panicking. He could be like Caleb in the old story. He could be brave. He reached for the lock and only then realized that it was inaccessible from the inside. How had Caleb done it? He moved onto his back and started to kick at the lid of the box. He braced himself and pushed hard upward with his feet and the lid popped open. Smoke started to fill the box and Caleb crawled out as fast as possible, coughing as he went.

He was in the trenches during the early days of the war. Smoke and fire was everywhere as people ran around using blankets or spellcraft to put out the fires. The occasional magic missile hit somebody as they poked their head up. It was the usual controlled chaos. Talbot held his rifle tightly and threw himself against one of the dirt walls to keep out of the line of fire. He looked over and saw an unarmed woman standing in the middle of the chaos. Was she a cleric? A spellcaster? She looked lost. He ran to her and tried to pull her to safety but she shook from his grasp. As he watched, her porcelain white skin turned jet black. Was she a spy?

“You couldn’t have saved me,” the woman said directly to Talbot.

“What?” Talbot asked, looking around to see if anybody else saw her. He aimed his rifle. He didn’t want to use it.

“You could still save them,” she said, gesturing all around her. “Save them.”

Suddenly, her chest erupted as if she was stabbed from behind by multiple swords and she cried out. Talbot reached for her but everything went white.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 4

December 5, 2020

Talbot walked onto the train platform carrying very little baggage. He had always preferred to pack light even when traveling long distances. Only the essentials were necessary, he was not very sentimental after all. Of course, he had brought the rifle but kept it wrapped in cloth and twine to keep it from startling anybody. He wore it slung across his back and it was definitely a familiar feeling that he was trying and failing to ignore. He was also trying to ignore Silas Brickhome who was presently buzzing in his ear. The two of them, along with Cara Moonweaver, had been business partners for years but Talbot had come to realize that Silas was a bit of a worrier.

Silas would call it caution and sometimes it was a good quality. In fact, there were times where Talbot thought that anxiety might be a natural defense mechanism for gnomes. They had been saved by quite a few calamities because Silas had a bad feeling about a situation. Talbot trusted Silas but knew that sometimes his anxiety could go overboard. He thought this was one of those times. Talbot had explained to Cara and Silas that he was only going on a short trip to satisfy his curiosity. He had explained that he wanted nothing more than to return to the shop after no more than a week and work on their projects and assist customers. Cara had accepted it with a grunt and then she had gone back to her coffee and a troublesome bit of fine furniture. Silas had become apoplectic.

“Tal, would you talk to me?” Silas practically yelled over the crowd. “I don’t think you should take this trip. It sounds dangerous.”

“It’s not dangerous, Silas,” Talbot said. “I’m just going for a little chat. I’m not going to be fighting any necromancers.”

“If it’s just a chat then why can’t you send a letter or a telegram?” Silas asked. “Settle the matter and come to the shop tomorrow.”

“Don’t you think I thought of that?” Talbot asked, turning around so Silas had to stop short. “It would be easy to do that but some things need to be done face to face.” Talbot was several feet taller than the other man and for a moment he imposed that size difference on Silas before backing off and shaking his head.

“Don’t you think he might have deliberately poked at your biggest sore spot in order to manipulate you?” Silas asked. “Don’t fall for his ruse.” Silas adjusted his glasses and stared up at Talbot, obviously trying to get through to him.

“Believe it or not,” Talbot said. “I thought of that too. If that’s the case, then I will lay a hand on Lord Blackrance with extreme prejudice. I will make my point felt.”

“All the more reason to stay home,” Silas said in a bit of a grumble. “I don’t want you to be arrested.”

“I know how to stay out of the jails,” Talbot said. “I know how to stop myself before I go too far.”

“You’re traveling so close to the magical wastes, Talbot,” Silas said. “It’s a risk going even that far.”

“I’ll be miles and miles away from the border,” Talbot said. “Relax, Silas, everything will be fine.”

“I promise you nothing is fine,” Silas said. “but your mind is made up.”

“Then wish me a safe journey, old friend,” Talbot said with as kind a smile as he could accomplish. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“I wish you weren’t going at all but I do wish you well, of course,” Silas said as he tried to put on a brave face. “Please come back to us. Not for the shop’s sake but for your sake. You deserve peace.”

“I have it,” Talbot said gently.

“Not if the mention of your past can still bring storm clouds to your eyes,” Silas said. “Deal with what you have to but come back to us.”

Talbot rested his hand on Silas’ shoulder. “I will be back,” he said. “I promise.”

Silas shook his head. “Get on the train, Tal,” he said. “It’s going to leave soon.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 2

September 19, 2020

Talbot put down the letter and leaned back in his chair. He took a couple of deep breaths and then stood up from his desk and started pacing. Astonishment quickly turned to anger. Who was this Lord Blackrance? Talbot did not recognize his name but there were so many lords and ladies in the Eastern District and especially in Silvershore. He was more focused on the nerve of this Lord raking up Talbot’s past. The only thing keeping Talbot from flying into a greater rage was the question of whether Blackrance was being purposefully incendiary or just ignorant.

Either way, he certainly should not have referred to Talbot Hawkwing, of all people, by his military title. Talbot had decidedly soured on the military at the end of his involvement in the Great Elf Wars. In fact, the Battle of Snake Bend was his last major conflict for a reason. Talbot’s only brother had died in a volley of fireball spells. Talbot himself had been burned intensely in the attack and had only been able to cradle his brother before support could put out the fires.

After he was free again, he personally executed eleven wizards and sorcerors. He shot them dead like rabid dogs and never felt a moment of remorse. Well, not until later. He had wondered who he had killed. He had wondered if the cause he had fought for was nobler than the cause of those he killed. He and his brother had been recruited to kill Dark Elves because they were evil. Then at the end of the war, a historic truce was reached and leaders from both sides were found to be corrupt and many were imprisoned or allowed to fade into obscurity. The whole thing had turned Talbot’s stomach and he knew he was not alone. A lot of the old racial enmity had evaporated decades after the truce.

Talbot had put down his rifle forever. In fact, he had sold the damned thing a long time ago to help fund his new life as a partner in a carpentry business. He liked his quiet life. He had no wish to return to a life of adventure. However, he had to admit that curiosity was starting to rear its ugly head. He returned to his desk and picked up the leather pouch and opened it. There were certificates worth three hundred gold. Far too much money to just consider an offer. He looked at the wrapped package and suddenly knew what the special gift must be but shook his head.

He finally sat back down and started to unwrap the package. He cut the string and opened the long wooden box and then started to pull aside the cloth. It was a rifle. He dropped it back into the box. It was not just any rifle, it was his rifle. The one from the service that he had sold ages ago. How was this possible? Who was this Blackrance? How connected was he? Perhaps Talbot would travel to Fallshield if only to tell this Blackrance to stuff it. He did not care about money. It was not his job to take on a necromancer in the wastes.

He would have to make preparations. He would notify his partners that he was taking a short vacation. He would be back in a week. He would talk to this Blackrance in loud tones and then return home. It would hardly take any time and he would be able to satisfy his curiosity and then get back to it.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 1

September 12, 2020

Lord Callum Blackrance
Blackrance Manor
Silvershore, Eastern District

                                                    4th Orombre 2168

Sgt. Talbot Hawkwing
Cragrock Apartments
Flatdale, Northern District

Dear Sgt. Hawkwing:

You do not know me but I am not naive enough that you may recognize my name. In my life, I have been fortunate enough to have found the opportunities to bring me great wealth. As I have aged, I have tried to use the advantage of my wealth more charitably. Gone are the days of excess and mindless luxury and now I am most focused on justice and peace. To that end, I have funded mercenaries and adventurers on missions for the greater good. You may have heard of campaigns I funded to capture Korag the Mad Mage, to sink the river pirate Killi Sharkmaw, and to sack the stronghold at Riverden. However, I have not written to you simply to shower praise upon myself.

In fact, you may be wondering at this point why this letter was sent to you. You may also be wondering about the large sum of gold included with this letter. I will endeavor to explain in text what I wish I could explain face to face like true men of honor. I have come to you because of your success in the Elf Wars. I gather that you especially acquitted yourself well in the Battle at Snake Bend. I gather that you have since left the service of the military and you may be free to take on one of my missions.

I recognize that you have laid down your arms and may be reluctant to return to the fray. However, I would not ask if the situation was not dire. In short, I propose a quest to the magic wastes to the south in order to hunt a necromancer. As you know, necromancers cannot be tolerated to exist in this world. I feel that a marksman of your caliber would be necessary to the success of the mission. In truth, I have been assured that this is the case. I implore you to take up arms and join my expedition.

If you accept this offer, I promise a large sum to be paid to you upon completion of the quest. If you decline this offer, please keep the money that I have sent you as payment for your time. If you accept, please take a train to Fallshield and await further instructions. Your presence or absence in Fallshield will be taken as your response. Be well, Seargeant.

Sincerely,

Lord Callum Blackrance

P.S. I have accompanied this message with a gift that may be useful in this mission.

Redcross, Part 4

January 11, 2016

Redcross

Sarah rode out on Lightning back to the scene of the crime. Thankfully there wasn’t much crime in Essex so this could be properly investigated. Of course, there had never been a sword and animal murder before either at least as far as the Redcrosses had been in town. She tried to visualize the outcropping that the bloody mess had been at. She started to see a few things she remembered. There was the cactus with three arms and there was the rock that kind of looked like a middle finger. Around the back of the next rock should have been the site.

It was gone. There wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere in the dirt. She jumped down off Lightning and gave him a stern look so he would stay put. He snorted which probably didn’t mean anything but he had never run away so he was probably fine. She knelt in the dirt and trailed fingers through the dirty and there was still no blood. It had completely vanished. She stood and looked over the spot she knew the body had been found. There were no rocks, twigs or any other debris there so maybe somebody had raked the blood away. It hadn’t been anyone acting on Sarah’s orders.

There was the sound of an explosion in the distance and Lightning didn’t run away. To his credit he moved closer to Sarah and she grabbed his saddle and swung up into it. She kicked her feet and pulled the reins and they were off toward the source of the explosion. She hadn’t guessed it immediately but as she got closer she was pretty sure it was the abandoned mine. According to locals the mine had been shut down for a long time, longer than anybody could remember. It had been a heavy blow that the town had survived but things had gotten a lot more peaceful since. Now there had been a horrible murder and an explosion in one day.

Sarah had Lightning creep up behind an outcropping and she hopped down and patted his shoulder. Lightning was the calmest horse she had ever met and the name would have been a funny joke except for the horse’s exceptional speed. Sometimes Sarah thought the horse might be deaf. There were hushed voices on the other side of the rocks at the mouth of the mine. There was smoke drifting everywhere from whatever exploded. Sarah left the horse and slowly walked around the corner.

“Now boys, I’m the sheriff. The mine is closed so please explain what you’re doing.” She said, pulling out her revolver just in case. The three men were thoroughly wrapped in cloth and that threw Sarah for a moment. None of them spoke. They all simply drew their firearms and started to shoot at Sarah. She pivoted and ran hard in the opposite direction and dove behind a boulder. She had no idea how she had avoided getting shot. They continued to shoot in her direction and she could hear their bullets ricocheting off the boulder.

There was the crack of a rifle somewhat in the difference and a grunt from the other side of the boulder. Sarah didn’t hesitate. She looked out from the other side of the boulder and opened fire. One of them was already holding his shoulder from the mystery shot and she saw another one drop from a bullet to the head. She buried another shot into the third man’s stomach and she heard the rifle cracking away again. The two men left standing ran and Sarah chased after them but when she turned another corner they were gone. There was all sorts of rags littered across the ground.

“Sheriff! Are you alright?” A voice cried out and Sarah was sure it was Roy Simmons. She was proven correct when Roy came around a corner holding his rifle high up in the air.

“It’s a miracle but I’m fine. How did you know it was me?” Sarah answered.

“Who else would run toward an explosion like that?” Roy said with a grin, slipping his rifle into a sling on his back. He pulled his hat low to shield his eyes from the sun.

“You did. What are you doing here?” She asked as they headed back to the mouth of the mine.

Simmons looked away, back in the direction of town. Sarah sensed that this meant he was going to lie which was unbecoming for a pastor. “I was out for a ride and I wasn’t about to let our Sheriff die out here by herself.”

“Well, thank you.” Sarah said and she meant it. What Roy Simmons was really about could wait until later. Afterall, he did help her out. Though she did think back to his odd behavior outside of Warren’s. She was curious but grateful.

“Should we get that one back to Mr. Chilton?” Simmons asked. He nudged the dead, rag-covered man with his foot. He looked pretty big and smelled awful and Sarah knew that Warren would be interested.

“Not yet. I’m curious about what they did to the mine. Stay put for a bit. It could be dangerous.” Sarah said as she headed toward the mouth of the mine. She took her hat off and started to fan the smoke away as she walked, she felt her hair going everywhere but vanity was a sin. She would survive after all.

“Alright. You’re the sheriff, Ms. Redcross.” Simmons said and sat down on a rock and eyed the dead man carefully.


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