Friday, September 21, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 2 - Mikey


The next part of this whole deal is how to acquire my targets and then to decide the best way to end them. I give a brief thought to just taking the BMG .50 cal and popping holes in them all from a distance.  I dunno.  Still seems so impersonal and killing someone is a very intimate thing for me.  I like to look my victim in the eye and watch their reaction to the realization that they’re done.  It’s very fulfilling.  Besides, if dragon fire won’t penetrate his armor and warding, I’d be willing to bet a projectile is gonna bounce off his gear as well.  Might work for the minions though.  No need to individually stare twenty men in the eye…although it  would be a new personal best. That settles it…pointy things at hand-to-hand range it is.

That choice makes packing easy.  I walk over to the armoire on the wall opposite the entrance to my room. It’s a gaudy, overdone thing with relief carvings on both doors of scenes from Greek mythology. One door shows Perseus’ battle with the Kraken and the other depicts Hercules’ battle with the lion.  The center of the two doors has a snake carved into it that begins on the leftmost door, winds through the handles, and ends on the right hand door. The snake not only locks the handles together, but it is also the security system that prevents forced entry.  Touch the snake and it will hiss as a warning to the would-be intruder. Pull hard on a handle or try to break the snake. and it will pull its head free of the door and strike.  The venom it carries is deadly and fast. Once its job is done the head will reattach to the door, locking them tight once again.  It was a gift from a grateful client, and it’s very cool.

I put my index finger lightly on the head of the snake. When it hisses, I speak the Greek word for peace, “Eiríni.” As the last sound of the word ends the snake crawls out of the handles and coils itself on a rock in the carving of Hercules. Now I can open the door and not die. Funny thing is that’s not even the coolest part. What’s inside is the part that’s truly mind blowing to someone who grew up on a world completely devoid of magic.

 If you look around the side of the cabinet, there’s a space between it and the wall.  From the outside it’s about thirty inches deep and about fifty four inches across.  Inside though…that’s something entirely different.

If I had used a different password it would open up to an standard armoire with my clothes hanging  neatly in a row on one side, and shelves with folded items and boots on the other. Like so many things here in The Bar, when opened correctly, the door to the armoire is actually a doorway to somewhere else. The particular password I used to soothe the guardian opens a doorway to my armory.  There’s a slight tingle as I step through into the armory which is a room roughly twenty feet by thirty feet. It is lined on both walls with weapons of every kind imaginable.  There’s even more than a few that were purpose built for me to use on specific jobs.  I never throw anything away though.  I mean, you never know when a wrist mounted scorpion launcher will come in handy.

In the center of the room is a forge, a workbench, piles of raw materials, and Mikey. Mikey is my weapon smith, quartermaster, and one twisted piece of technology.  Mikey’s an intelligent automaton.  At one point in his existence I think he may have been flesh and blood.  Never really got him to commit on that but some of his stories lead me to believe he hasn’t always been a mechanical being. He’s got a sick sense of humor and has created some of my more sadistic weaponry.  A tendency to violence like he has can’t be programmed.  It’s got to be nurtured and grown in a life of tragedy…ask me how I know.

Now though, he’s a clockwork man.  Reminds me of some of the things from steampunk novels I read in my youth.  He stands about four and a half feet tall and kind of looks like an old pot belly stove with arms, legs, and a head.  There are no real servos or anything anywhere on him.  His arms and legs are literally metal bars with a hinge where the joints would be. In all honesty I don’t know how he works.  Nothing about him looks like it should function the way it does.  He came with the armoire, so I don’t question it too much.  He’s handy to have around though.

“Morning Mikey,” I say as I walk into the room.  He’s jumped me before when I snuck up on him. Punches from a metal fist hurt, so I’m careful to announce my arrival now.

He looked up from his workbench and said, “Hey Boss-man! Since you never come in here just to hang out and shoot the shit, I’m guessing it’s time to do bad things to people again. I’ve been working on a small, wrist mounted dart gun that uses those neat little compressed CO2 canisters you brought me  to fire little metal darts laced with your choice of substances from poisons to hallucinogens and anything in between.  It’s really quite good…if I do say so myself, and I do.”

“Thanks Mikey, but I think this one is going to be a strictly pointy things into other people kind of job.  Problem is the intended target is magically armored and warded.  Impervious to just damned near anything a dragon can throw at him, so it might come down to catching him taking a shit or bedding a woman, so I can sneak up and stab him somewhere soft. Although I do have to deal with about twenty henchmen along the way.  Tell you what.  Load it up with some kind of sedative that will keep a big man down for a couple of hours.  This could be fun after all.”

“SWEET! I’ve got just the stuff for you!” he squealed as he started rifling through things on his workbench pausing to look up each time a new idea hit him.  “ I was looking at that vial of liquid you brought back the last time…what did you call it? LSD?  That stuff shows some potential.  I mixed it with a small amount of venom from that spider from Orta’ahn.  Should make the victim very calm and open to suggestion if it doesn’t just kill them outright. Might even make an orc a little woozy for a good while. Heh…yes, that will do nicely…” Mikey was bouncing up and down and clapping his little metal hands.  I swear he’s got to be every bit as psychotic as I am.

He spent the next few minutes demonstrating the dart gun. The darts were lined up in a little five round magazine that ran the length of my forearm.  They were made of surgical steel and had a cavity that held about half a milliliter of the drug he had come up with. There are several other magazines on a harness around my forearm that can be rotated around and loaded into the gun without pulling up my sleeve. The CO2 cartridge inserts into a small tube on the underside of my wrist, and he’s made a pouch for my belt that holds several more. The gun itself was uses a spring to load the darts and is fired by pressing a small button that rested in the palm of the hand. It could be reloaded and cocked by flexing the wrist back and then forward. I spent about an hour practicing with it until I could hit a target the size of a gold sovereign consistently from about twenty feet away.  This thing might be fun after all.

I also chose a couple of medium length daggers, a short sword, a pair of bracers that were enchanted to make them all but impervious to steel.  I’m pretty sure they won’t stop a weapon designed to pierce a dragon’s hide, but then again I’m not planning on giving him the chance to bring that particular weapon into the fight. Lastly, I load my trusty, spring loaded stiletto onto my other forearm.  I’ve only not had it with me once and I wished I had.  When it comes to the choice of pointy things I take on a job, I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

As I tuck the last of my weaponry into place I turn to my twisted little friend and say, “Mikey, I’ve been thinking maybe I should start wearing something a little more protective than a loose fitting shirt. I don’t want to go to plate or even scale mail armor, but I’m getting more and more scars every time I take a job.  Give it some thought would ya?”

“Sure thing boss.  I’ll have a few ideas drawn up by the time you get back. Try to not get dead before I get the chance to…” His voice trailed off as he walked back over to his workbench and started sketching on a notepad.  I stood there for a second waiting to see if he wanted any input from me, but he never looked up again.  He just sat there scribbling, muttering, and tearing pages off of his sketch pad and wadding them up.  Nutcase…dedicated nutcase but a nutcase nonetheless.

With that I closed the door to the armory and put my finger on the head of the snake again.  I felt it move a little under my finger, so I said, “ Prostatévo,” the Greek word for “protect” to lock the cabinet and reactivate the security system. It crawled across the door from the rock it had been resting on to wind itself around the door handles once again.

As I turn from the door to the armoire I glance at the carvings.  The one of Hercules has a grapevine in the background on it. The image musty have touched some back part of my brain that handles hunger because my stomach started to grumble that it was empty. That thought leads me down another rabbit hole wondering if the world I’m about to go to will have anything I can eat there.  I’d better grab some road food from downstairs. Bobby makes a mean energy bar out of grains, nuts, and dried fruit.  Packs a lot of calories into a small package.

I grab a small pouch that ties onto my belt and head down stairs to load up.  While I’m there, Bobby puts a sandwich, an MLT...mutton, lettuce & tomato on rye just the way I like it, where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe, along with a bottle of dark.  It’s like he knows me. While I’m eating my sandwich, he fills up my pouch with his energy bar creations.  I take a second bottle of the dark and head back up to my room.

Just as I’m about to open my door I hear Bobby say, “Have fun storming the castle!”

I laugh, shoot him the finger, and head back into my room shutting the door behind me. I turn back to the door and activate the runes that shift its purpose from a doorway to The Bar to a portal to my intended destination.  I put the dragon scale in my palm and press it to the last rune in the center of the door and picture my new employer in my mind.  I feel the magic of the portal connect, so I open  the door, draw daggers, and step through.

After the momentary dizziness of stepping through a dimensional gateway clears, I take a look at my surroundings. I’m standing in a hut.  Looks like a two roomed building with a thatched roof, daub walls, cobble stone floor, and a cozy little stone fireplace.  The furniture is rough construction and simple but looks study and comfortable. There’s a trap door in one corner that likely leads to a root cellar. It kind of reminds me of some of the old country cottages in the British Isles back home. Well, this is not what I expected at all…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Please Feel Free to Call Me a Hack

Like I said in an earlier post, these stories are just random thoughts that are running in my head.  Comments are always welcome as is criticism be it good or bad. All I ask is please don't leave me in a bloody mess on the floor.  When I write I tend to get drawn into thoughts and find myself running down rabbit holes all of the time.  One of the unintended consequences of indulging my ADHD is that i will sometimes contradict something I have said in a previous entry.  Call me on it.  I want to have consistency in these, so please feel free to point out when I blow something up.

I do want to thank Lawdog, OldNFO, my wife, and my daughter for taking up this banner already. Without their encouragement Tole would still just be an interesting idea that I talk way too much about.

So if you like them, please say so and feel free to share with your friends.  If you don't care for them, tell me that too.  It'll keep me grounded and may even push me to try and be a better writer.

Thanks.
Tole

Monday, September 10, 2018

Quick Blurb on Being Old and Broken

So after the doctor spent about twenty minutes or so shocking the ever loving snot out of me nodding and "um hmm"-ing to himself the entire time, we have confirmed what I already knew.  My wrists are well and thoroughly FUBAR.

It was an interesting experience though.  He'd shock me and look at the screen of the machine.  Next he'd take out his phone and use it as a calculator to do some math that the machine wasn't doing for him. Lastly he'd take a pencil (yes an actual yellow #2) and jot some numbers onto a form.  It was all kind of a surreal mix of old and new technology.

When it was all done he said, "well these numbers are text book for carpal tunnel syndrome. Is one hand worse that the other?"

I told him that the left seems to be dead to the world more often and more deeply than the right.

"I see that too," was all he said.  Then he discussed my options which include physical therapy (not his recommendation since the wrist braces haven't helped at all), steroid injections, or surgery.  The latter of the two required referral to an orthopedic surgeon.

YAY!

So that's pretty much where we are.  Numb and waiting for the phone to ring. Writing is slow but it is happening.

Tole

Friday, August 31, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 2

I decided the best course on this job would be to learn as much as I could about my target then choose the best tool for the job and then formulate my plan to put it to use. Sounds complicated right?  That’s because it is.  When you’re going up against a target that is well protected and three times your size, planning is key. I’m naturally a sneaky bastard and like to make sure I’ve got at least half of my ducks in a row before I run off and get to work. That’s just how I roll.  A plan to get in, two plans to get out, and the creativity to improvise when it all goes to shit has always served me well. Don’t see any reason to change.
All of that factored in I chose to spend some time living with the tribe. Valsh and I would have to come up with a cover story about why I am there. I mean if a stranger shows up for no reason and suddenly the chief drops dead, the stranger is going to be the natural suspect. Gonna have to play this one out carefully.
Valsh had left me a little carved, wooden totem with a stone base as a link to him on his world.  Ugly damned thing…kinda like him.  From the way he told it the totem is capable of opening a portal just big enough to pass it through to a small altar Valsh keeps near him. If it is safe for me to come across he will return it to me through a similar portal linked to the stone base along with something else to link me to him.  Then I can travel via my usual method.  It’s all so James Bond.  I dig it.
I press the little purple stone in the top of the totem’s head and a small portal opens directly behind it.  I can feel the hot, humid air of the orc world through the opening.  I can also see the top of what looks like a table just the other side.  I pick up the totem and set it through onto the table behind.  As soon as I pull my hand back through the portal it closes with a little pop leaving the smell of ozone in the air. I put the small stone base on the table beside my bed. I grab a glass of water  and a piece of hard bread and some cheese from the plate on that table. Then I sit on my bed to eat.
I have no idea how long it will take for Valsh to signal me to come through so I decide to finish getting cleaned up.  I’m starting to sweat out the Scotch I was drinking last night, and I smell like death. Bad enough that it’s corrupting the taste of this cheese. Right, time to wash my nasty ass.
There are a lot of things from my previous life on Terra that I don’t miss.  I gave them up and never looked back.  A hot shower and soap are not on that list. There is something ritualistic about it for me.  Maybe it helps me center and focus my ADHD brain on the task at hand. Maybe it calms that nervous cat that lives in my hindbrain. Maybe it’s that and a whole lot more.  Regardless I enjoy it.
The room came with a wash basin in the floor that’s big enough to use as a tub and Bobby helped me rig it into a shower.  The shower bit is really just a small barrel of water hung from my ceiling that refills from some rainforest planet through…you guessed it…a small portal that I can open just above it when it gets low.  The water is heated by a small magical gemstone that I can activate with key word.  The plumbing is super simple. Had to be because I had to make it, and I am NOT a plumber.  It consists of a small piece of pvc piping attached to the bottom of the barrel with a valve that opens with a pull chain and a shower head on the end. It’s rustic but it gets the job done.
Somethings about life in The Bar and life back on Terra are exactly the same.  Every time you get in the shower the goddamn phone rings! I was just starting to lather up my hair when I hear the pop of the portal close from, I assume, the return of Valsh’s totem.  Sonofabitch! I rinse everything quickly and dry off.  I follow that with the usual strapping on of clothing and kit, including a wide array of pointy things.  Finally I think I’m ready to go.  Hopefully nothing has changed in the time that has passed, and Valsh is still ready to receive company.
On the table next to the totem is a gold earring that Valsh sent through when he returned the totem.  He was supposed to send me something to link directly to him…oh nasty! That’s the ring he had through his goddamn tusk! Oh well, it does create a vivid image in my mind.  Should make it pretty easy to travel directly to him.  I keep forgetting he’s not stupid.  I’ve got to get those fantasy novel stereotypes out of my head. One day it’s gonna get me in trouble.
I walk over to my door and start the routine that will change its destination from The Bar to Valsh’s home world.  I know I’ve said this before, but everything in The Bar works on this principal.  Every door is a portal.  This one just happens to default to the landing outside of the guest rooms in The Bar unless it’s aimed somewhere else.  The runes carved into the door are what allows me to change where it opens. Just before I activate the last rune, I close my left hand around the ***shudder*** tooth-ring and focus my mind on Valsh.  Once I have his ugly mug firmly fixed in my mind, I touch the last rune. It kind of tingles under my touch signaling a connection. That’s my cue to make my entrance, so I open the door and step through into the jungle on the other side.
When the momentary dizziness of walking through the portal clears, I see Valsh sitting by a small fire chanting softly under his breath.  We’re in what appears to be a camp in the jungle.  I’ve seen ritualistic chanting more than a few times in my travels, so I decide to let him finish before I speak.  The chant goes on for about five more minutes before he finally stops and opens his eyes.
“Thank you for not interrupting my prayers Tole.  Communing with my gods is the source of my shamanistic powers.  It is through their benevolence that I am able to do what I do,“ he said rising to his feet. “Would you like anything to eat or drink? We are going to be here for at least a day before we can return to my village.” Motioning to a log that had been crafted into a bench he said, “Please sit.”
“Why so long?” I asked. “I didn’t bring provisions for camping in the jungle.”
“The camp is well stocked and what we lack the jungle can provide. I left the village under the pretense of a religious retreat to seek guidance from the gods in our War Leader’s planned assault on the Green Mountain Tribe’s village. These retreats usually last three to four days, and I have only been gone for two.” He picked up a gourd and tug a long pull from it followed by one of the more impressive belches I have ever heard. “My intent is to bring you back with me as having been sent by the gods to aid us in the battle. We do not know much of the Green Mountain orcs and you are of a good stature to be able to sneak around their village and gather information that would prove useful in the battle.”
“And your leader would be willing to take help from an outsider? I mean if your people are as honor bound as you have said won’t this be an affront to their prowess as warriors?”
“If you had just walked into our village offering to do it, you’d be dead before you finished your first sentence.  If you come with the blessing of the gods and under my protection, no one would dare touch you.  My War Leader may be insane, but he is also devout in his beliefs. He would never question me in matters of the will of the gods. Funny thing is, you actually are here at the will of my gods.  Just not for the reason I will give.  You were sent here to end the needless deaths of my people.”
Oh great! That’s just fucking perfect! I’m working for a nutcase! Oh well, as long as I get paid.
“I was hired to end a target.  Saving your people isn’t even on my radar. I’m just here for a job. It’s all business to me Valsh.  Any side benefits are purely coincidental.”
He laughed at that.  That big booming laugh carried out into the jungle and things cried out and fled before it. “I always find non-believers amusing,” he said once his laugh was under control. “It has been my experience that things like our meeting do not just happen.  Random circumstance rules most of our lives because the gods must use our actions to judge us worthy or unworthy.  That said though, when something dire befalls a people, the gods do intervene.  If they do not, it is likely because they are the cause of the dire happenings. Your name was given to me during prayer as was the plan I now follow. Believe what you will small one, but the gods do watch over this.”
“Whatever,” I said with a little chuckle. “I’ll trust my skills over divine intervention any day.  Just point me at your target and get out of my way.  Tell your gods to do likewise and their will gets done.”
Valsh walked back to the small hut in the camp laughing under his breath. He had to turn sideways and squat a little to enter.  My first thought was that the door was a terrible design for someone as large as these orcs seemed to be. After a second of thought though I saw the genius in it.  No one can kick the door in and charge into the room with the way that door makes them contort to pass through it. I’d have no problem with it, but then I suppose one my size isn’t considered much of a threat. What a way to live. Always on guard. Always vigilant for someone or something wanting to kill you.  I could get used to this place.  It suits me.
Valsh came back a few minutes later carrying a small leather pouch and a bowl filled with a black paste. He placed the bowl on the log next to me and then unrolled the leather pouch.  It contained several small steel needles and what I can only guess were branding irons. It also contained a brush, small knife, and some waxy looking thread. After he finished arranging his implements he took my left arm in his hand.  It looked like a grown up holding a baby’s arm. He turned my arm over in his hand a few times examining the skin.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked him.
“Thought I’d give you a down-payment on our agreed upon price.  How do you open your portal home?”
I took a small stone and a small piece of leather out of my pocket and showed them to him. “I put this stone on this leather and activate the runes inscribed on it.  The stone carries the magic of The Bar in it to power the spell so I can open the portal from worlds that have no innate magic.”
“Bah!” He spat. “Cumbersome and risky.  What if you lose the stone or the hide? How will you get home? Let me show you something. Press hard here with one of your fingers.” He was pointing to a spot on the inside of his forearm, so I pressed like he said. I could feel a hard spot. I cocked an eyebrow at him and he continued, “I have a power stone much like yours imbedded deep in my arm. It serves to power the runes that have been inscribed on my flesh. I would do this for you if you are willing.”
I nodded at him and he took a small brush out of the leather pouch.  He dipped it into the black paste and carefully began to draw runes on the inside of my forearm. I was so focused on the work he was doing it took me a second to realize he had begun a kind of sublingual humming. Something told me that it was part of the ritual of inscribing the runes and that there was more to this that simple tattoo work and jamming a rock in my arm. The level of detail and precision that Valsh was able to get despite the size of his hands was amazing.
It took him the better part of an hour to finish his work. I assumed that this was the pattern he would use to do the final tattoo work.  I’ve got more than a few tattoos from my life before and that’s how it’s always worked.  The artist spends a little time laying out his plan in ink before he begins the painstaking work of tattooing. I was so wrong. When he was done with the inscription, Valsh looked at me and said, “Brace yourself. This may sting a bit.” Then he gripped my arm to either side of his work and said something in orcish. It felt like he’d set the ink on fire.  I won’t lie…I screamed and the world went white.
When I came to I could smell burnt flesh.  It took me a second to realize it was mine.  The runes, however, were there on my forearm seared into my flesh in the darkest shade of black I’ve ever seen. The last rune had a tail that trailed to a small incision that was held closed by very small and delicate stitches.  I guess he put the stone in while I was unconscious.  He started putting a foul smelling paste on the incision and then covered it in a bandage.
“I cannot use magic to heal the incision.  It would interfere with the connection of the stone to the runes.  By the time your work here is done it should be healed enough to let you travel home. Here drink this,” he said as he handed me the gourd he’d been drinking from when I arrived. It was sweet and tasted kind of like fermented pineapple. It had a kick.
“That hurt like hell,” I said. ”Will all of the work you are doing for me as payment hurt that bad?”
“No. I thought I’d do the easy one first. The others will be much worse,” he said with a toothy grin.
“Worse?” I asked and then took another long pull on the drink he’d handed me.
“Much…” he said and then burst into that deep laugh of his all over again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Don't Taze Me Bro'!

In the ongoing saga of my sleeping hands...neuro-conductivity testing.

If you've ever had it done that's all I need to say.

If you haven't, basically I'm going to pay a doctor to use a taser on me...on purpose.

***sigh***

Getting old is not for wimps.

Tole