Friday, July 13, 2018

To Kill a War Leader pt.1

You’d think after a couple of years of living at The Bar and traveling between worlds I’d be used to the unexpected. Still there are days that I run across things that catch me completely off guard. Today though, I found myself standing on my balcony with a slack jawed expression on my face looking down at a new visitor to The Bar. I say new. Let’s go with new to me.  I mean hell, who knows how many people have passed through here in the millennia before my three year stay. This guy however just reached right back to the part of my brain that was a nerdy teenager and woke it right the hell up.

Luckily I’m really hungover and not fully conscious, so I didn’t squeal and run down the stairs like an idiot.  I mean, I’ve got a reputation as a stone cold killer to think of after all. Can’t let the public know that there’s an old school gamer lurking in the back of my mind that just keeps pissing his pants every time I come across something straight out of the fantasy novels I read as a kid. I’m supposed to be unemotional and difficult to shake up goddammit.

It was my intent to come down the stairs with a casual air of indifference.  You know be cool…smooth even.  Unfortunately I spent most of last night drinking myself stupid on the cheapest shit Bobby keeps behind his bar and smooth was not on my list of capabilities. I did, however, manage to get within two steps of the main floor before I tripped over my own sluggish feet. I also managed to have enough reflexes still functional to keep from landing flat of my face on the stone floor.  The tuck and roll I executed may not have been the best in my long list of moves, but it at least I managed to end it standing up.

I managed to walk the rest of the way to the bar without further incident.  I sure hope this guy isn’t looking to hire me, or at least he’s willing to overlook my first impression. Once I get there, I take a seat a few places from what I can only describe as an orc.  He was well over six and a half feet tall probably closer to seven and had to come in around 350 pounds. Did I mention he was green? His skin had this really dark green hue, kind of like the undergrowth in a rainforest. His face and arms were covered with tattoos in tribal designs and what I assume were symbols from his language.  His arms also had raised brands where some of the symbols had been burned into his skin. He was dressed in buckskin pants and a buckskin vest adorned with feathers, wooden beads, and small skulls.  He had a mace hanging from his belt that was fashioned from the leg bone of something roughly the size of a T-Rex. It too was adorned with feathers and skulls.  His right tusk had a hole drilled through it and a large gold ring passed through it.  He was an orc’s orc.

Once the initial gawking phase passed my rational brain kicked in and did a threat assessment.  He was big, and I was willing to bet he was strong as hell, but .  Probably not that quick though.  Best tactic would be strike and retreat repeatedly cutting  as deeply as possible and hope to wear him down before he gets a hold of me and pops me like a ripe grape.  Did I think I could kill him?  I’d have a better shot at it than most, but I would pay for it in pain and blood.  I mean if the Hulk had tusks, that would be what I’m looking at. Here’s hoping he’s not here hunting me.

I order my breakfast and tell Bobby to leave the pot of coffee. He does it with a little chuckle and a shake of his head then walks back down to talk to our new guest.  They exchange a few grunts and growls and then they both break into a laugh so heartfelt I couldn’t help but smile.  The orc notices my grin and bursts out laughing again even harder.  Paranoia kicks in when it dawns on me that they must’ve been speaking in orcish, and I must have been the butt of some joke shared between them.  I felt like that idiot nerd I had been back in high school and my face flushed red, not with embarrassment but with anger.  It took me a second to realize my hind brain was trying to decide if the possibility of pain was acceptably low enough to try and put this guy in a hole.

Bobby must’ve noticed what was happening because he turned and said something else to the orc and all laughter stopped. That’s when the really odd thing happened. The orc turned to me and lowered his eyes in deference and spoke…in English.

“I apologize if we have offended you with our laughter.  It was not at your expense. I was explaining to Bobby that I had heard tales of your deeds, of the ones you have ended, and they all portray you as a giant.  One who is able to crush his enemies with a mere flick of his hand. To hear those who have had cause to fear you tell it, I expected you to be…taller.”

He’s right.  I’m not tall at all. However, he’s also right that I have ended more than a few of my targets with a flick of my wrist.  It’s not that hard to throw a dagger or a flechette hard enough to kill someone with that little motion.  Provided you know where to put it when you do. That’s when I realize I had already dropped a flechette into the palm of my right hand. I tell myself it’s a bad idea, so I push it back into the scabbard on my wrist and turn back to my food.

“I get that a lot,” I say. “Usually from someone I’m standing over as their life is draining away. No offense taken. Please excuse my rash behavior. I’m still more than a little drunk and my emotions tend to run a little higher when I’m like this.”  I turn to Bobby and ask for a refill on my pot of coffee.  I  should probably get my head as clear as possible as quickly as possible, so my new friend doesn’t have reason to pop it like a zit. As a general rule I try not to die whenever possible.

The orc laughs again. The rumble of it makes my fork rattle on the bar.  I’ll admit it. I was impressed.

“We often drink and fight in my tribe.  Since we are orcs it’s usually not fatal.  My people do love battle, even with each other. May I join you? I’d like to talk to you about a proposition.”

I give him a nod and tilt my head to the barstool next to me. He crosses the space between us in a couple of short steps and the sound of his feet hitting the floor of the bar reminds of that movie about a theme park full of dinosaurs.  I look and sure enough the surface of my coffee is rippling from the impact of his steps. Damn. Easy Tole…do not sit here slack jawed…shut that gaping pie-hole!!

“I’m afraid we did not get off to the best of beginnings. My name is Valsh. I am the shaman for the Deep Valley Tribe.  My world is called Orta’ahn. My people need your help.”

Normally this is where I cut off the conversation with my prospective clients and tell them I don’t give a shiny fuck about their people and their need for my help.  I just don’t care.  All I need to know is who you want dead and if you’re willing to meet my price to have me kill them. However, this guy’s an orc and I’m a big old nerd so I kinda want to learn more about him and his people.  Who knows? Maybe some of the things I learned and read when I was a punk ass kid will be confirmed and maybe I’ll learn something I never expected.  Only thing it’ll cost me is time which I could use to sober up before I commit to something that’s gonna get me dead. I motion for him to continue.

“Before I can ask this thing of you I feel you should know who you are working for and what you are getting involved with. My people live for battle. We believe that if a man has honor and dies at the hands of a worthy enemy in a well fought battle will guarantee us a hero’s place in the Halls of War where can battle on for all of eternity. Without honor the guards of the Halls will laugh at us and cast us out.  This is what we strive for.  This is what guides us in everything we do. This is why I am here.”

“Our tribes are led by a chieftain we call our War Leader.  He alone is responsible for deciding where and when our warriors fight and die.  He alone can commit us to honorable battle to assure our places in the Halls of War. We fight and die at his whim. He is the commander we all follow…and he has lost his mind.”

When he said this last bit, his shoulders slumped forward and his voice lost its edge of  confidence and pride.  He was a man who was defeated and lost. He almost seemed…smaller somehow.

After a minute to gather his thoughts he continued, but now there was anger in his tone.

“He sends us against those with whom we have no hostility.  Weaker tribes have been wiped from existence. We normally absorb the women and pups from tribes that are devastated beyond recovery.  He orders them put to the blade as well. There is no honor is the slaughter of the weak. He has sent those who oppose his views into battle against much larger forces they had no hope of defeating.  Senseless waste of life for nothing but the displeasure of a maniac. It must stop.”

Everything he’s said to me so far sounds a lot like a culture of warrior monks or maybe something like what Gene Roddenberry envisioned for one of his alien races.  If so, a crazy leader shouldn’t be a leader for long.

“Sounds to me like someone in your tribe needs to challenge his right to rule…provided that’s how it works in your culture.”

“Normally that is exactly what would happen and if things were different it would have happened already. The problem with that is that he’s also one of the smartest among us and realized long ago that he wanted to rule for as long as he could.  He has surrounded himself with a cadre of fanatics who believe he is the chosen of both the god of battle and the god of death. They defend him with their bodies and their lives.  In order to earn the right to challenge him directly you have to fight your way up the chain to him. That means you have to kill them all, and no one in our tribe is that skilled.  The best of our warriors not in his personal guard fell at the third challenge. I fear we are left with a most dishonorable choice.”

“You want me to kill him when your best warriors have failed to? If I do this, you do realize I’m not going to face him in open combat. I’m going to sneak in and kill him in his sleep or poison him or shoot him from a very long way off. Are you ok with that?”

“Yes, I understand exactly what I’m asking of you. I am asking you to deny my leader his eternal reward.  More than that though, when he is found dead his guard will all take their own lives as well. Suicide for failure to perform your duty is required, but it also means denial into the Halls of War.  I am asking you to kill one but damn fifty. Does this change things for you?”

“Don’t see why it should.  Far as I can tell they all damned themselves. Choices have consequences.  Speaking of which, can’t be much honor in hiring a killer to do what you should be doing yourself. I can’t imagine I’ll be doing your personal honor much of a favor.”

“You are right,” he sighed. “I am also asking you to damn me.  I will not be given entrance either.  I know that this is the right thing to do for my people, but the Guards of the Halls will not see it so.“

“Like I said…choices.  Free will’s a bitch and we fuck ourselves as often as not.  Oh well, I have no doubt where I’m headed when I finally find someone deadlier than me, so maybe I’ll see you there.”

This brought another round of laughter from my green friend and he clapped me on the back nearly knocking me off my stool in the process. It was a lot like getting smacked with a fucking country ham.

“Could be that you are right there. I think I like you Tole.  You may have the frail little body of a human, but I think you have the heart of an orc.”

After that we sat in silence for quite a while.  I finished my second pot of coffee and third plate of food before either of us spoke again.  I really didn’t know what I was going to say other than working out my price, but something told me that was not where I needed to go next.  I was scanning his body, studying the anatomy, and analyzing anything I could see as a potential weakness.  Valsh caught me doing it and cocked an eyebrow.

“Already planning where to strike? We haven’t even discussed your fee or even if you’re willing to do this thing. Like I said…heart of an orc.” He finished that last with another rumbling chuckle.

“You know damned well I’m going to take the job.  I didn’t want to risk insulting you by starting the price negotiations too soon.  Once you agree to pay me, I have no doubt you will. Normally I tell my clients that payment is not optional and imply that it can either be in currency or their blood.  I don’t think that’s an issue with you.  I know you will honor a bargain once it’s made.”

“I’m going to guess by your lack of shiny adornments that orcs don’t place a great deal of value in gold and jewels.  I do, but I also trade in favors.  You said you are a shaman.  Is it safe to assume that all of those markings and brands are you are mystical in origin?”

“They are,” he replied but his tone was now more curious. “and you are right in that my people do not value material things. I can see you have some markings of your own. Perhaps I can offer you something that will be of more value than trinkets that are easily lost.”

“My thoughts exactly,” I said while trying to hide the grin on my face that my mom used to call the cat who ate the canary.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Brief Update

A little out of character blurb real quick.  I'm back from my vacation and I am writing.  However, it is taking FOREVER thanks in no small part to carpal tunnel crap acting up.  Without the braces I can type for about five to ten minutes before my hands are numb.  YAY! With the braces I can type a lot longer but it is ungodly slow going.  Ain't life grand?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Snippet

I've depleted my backlog of short stories and I'm working furiously to get some finished.  That being said, I'm about to go on vacation, so it may be a couple of weeks before I have a turd that's polished enough to share.

In the meantime I thought I'd share some of the longer book I'm working on for this character.  Hope you enjoy it.

-Tole


Downtime sucks. There’s not a more delicate way to put it. I worked hard to become the best at what I am, so I live to test those skills against the next challenge. When the next challenge is taking its sweet fucking time showing up I get a bit testy. Sometimes I will take a trip into my memory and relive some event from my past. Once upon a time I used deep meditation and even a consciousness altering substance or two to enhance the memories. That was before I met Valsh.

Valsh is an orc shaman on Orta’ahn, an orc dominated world. Imagine if Sauron were an orc and had won the battle for Middle Earth. That’s Orta’ahn. It’s beautiful in its brutality. Only the strongest survive there, and it feels like a second home. I’m not the strongest by a long shot, but I’m smart and fast and that’s enough. They respect me for the killer I am. The ability to deal death in a decisive manner speaks more to them than any amount of gold ever could.

Valsh hired me to kill his War Leader. Apparently the old fellow was starting to lead his tribe into battles that were costing them dearly and his strategies had begun to cost them victories. Unfortunately he also had a very loyal cadre of personal guards that kept any significant challenge to his rule from getting close enough to do anything about it. That’s where I came in. I’m considerably smaller than even an orc runt, as if one of those would survive long enough to be able to compare it to me, so I was able to move around the camp relatively unnoticed. Only took me about two days to find my way into the old bastard’s tent at night and end his rule, but that’s a story for another day.

Valsh rewarded me with memory totems. I remember reading an article in my first life about how some psychiatrist, psychologist, self-actualization guru, or some shit had this theory that all memories are complete in our minds we just lose the ability to recall them. They said that with the proper mental discipline and through the use of meditation techniques we can recall even the smallest detail of a particular event in our lives. We can remember every smell, taste, sound, emotion, even if we didn’t give it our full attention at the time. It’s all encoded in our memories. I never got to that level with mental discipline and/or chemical enhancement. The memory totems pull all of that out of our minds and copy it into themselves. When you use one, it’s like being there all over again.

The orcs use them to store tribal history because their written language is as basic as they are. Not much use for scholars in a war driven culture, but you do need to keep records of important battles and victories. Warriors use them on the battlefield to record their deaths to bring honor to their families. You can imagine how precious these things are, and I have about thirty of them in a magically sealed chest in my room. I’m very well regarded among several of the tribes on Orta’ahn.

Anyway, back to the fact that downtime sucks. You can only train so much until muscle memory takes over and you hit the target every time. When I get to that point I turn to the memory totems kind of the way Sherlock would turn to his 7% solution just to pass the time until the next case came along. The problem with that is, just like Holmes’ cocaine, my memories are addictive and the more I use them the more I want to. Most of what I’ve stored there are memories of times with my wife, and when I use them, I want to stay in those memories as long as I can. She was glorious.

Bobby used to give me shit about not looking into her death. He just never understood why, if I loved her so deeply, I didn’t dig into why she was taken in the first place. I always told him I’m a killer not a detective. I’d dealt with the son of a bitch who killed her and that was all the closure I needed. That being said, as I stand here looking at this shelf I realize that every single one of these fucking totems holds a memory of her and our time together.

Huh. Maybe I’m not as done with it as I thought.

I carefully put the memory totem I have in my hand back in its place on the shelf. I close the door and activate the wards. I go sit on my bed and stare at that cabinet full of my former life. It only takes me about two seconds to make up my mind. Fuck it. Time to learn some new skills and go be a detective. If it just so happens I get to kill a few more mother fuckers tied up in her death, all’s the better.

First things first though.  I’m starving.  Thinking about it I can’t remember the last time I ate.  That happens when I get lost in my memories.  Better go get some Bobby Stew.

I sit down at the bar and Bobby turns to me. “Wondered if you were ever coming out of the goddam room,” he says with a grin.

“Don’t need smartass man.  I need food and beer.  Hook me up would ya?”

He turns back to the stove where the stew is bubbling away and dishes me up a big bowl of the meaty goodness.  He also gets me a really nice dark beer and a couple of hard rolls.  I’m in heaven.

“Hey Bobby,” I start and he turns to me with a quizzical look on his face. “You know much about that piece of shit bounty hunter I cooked in your hearth a few years back?”

He turns to face me fully and lowers himself down to eye level with me and fixes me in his gaze.

“Bout fucking time,” he says. 

He reaches under the bar and takes out a well-oiled old wooden box. He opens the lid and takes out a medallion made of some tarnished metal that looks kind of like old brass.  “Been keeping this thing for when this day finally came.  Knew you’d want it. Fell off of the corpse as you were dragging it across the floor.  Guild crest for that dickhead’s bounty hunter gang.  It’s a good place to start.”

I stop with a bite of stew halfway to my mouth and just look at it. After a second or two I set my spoon down and take it from him.  It’s lighter than I thought it would be.  Probably similar to challenge coins back on Terra.  Kinda shows who’s who in the guild.

“Thanks Bobby,” I say and put it in my coat pocket and go back to my meal. I should be able to use it to create a passage to the Goran home world from The Bar. Kinda how this place works.  You need an anchor to open a portal to a world.  Something to guide the magic to a destination.

I finish my bowl of stew and then another chasing them down with a really good dark that I bring back from Terra when I go to work there.  While I am chewing it gives me time to think about what exactly I’m going to do.  I mean hell, I’m usually the subject of an investigation not the one carrying it out.  The thought of me being on that side of the equation makes me laugh a little, and it catches Bobby’s attention.

“What?” he asks.

“Just amused by the absurdity of me trying to solve a murder instead of commit one man. I thought when I killed that son of a bitch that I was through with the whole deal you know? Figured life is tough and shit wants you dead.  Trick is to kill the things that want you dead before they get to you. Never gave it much more thought than that.”

He looks across the bar with a crooked grin on his goddamn ugly face and says, “Something tells me you’re gonna get plenty of chances to do what you’re best at. If you’re lucky, you might even get some answers to the shit that’s been eating you. A man should know why bad shit happens in his life, if for no other reason than to try and keep it from coming back around.”

That brings a thought up to the surface about that little punk that came after me a while back. “Damn right,” I say tipping my bottle his way. Then I turn it up and drain what’s left. Guess it’s time to get this shit show started.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Starlight Shines on an Idiot


I’ve spent so many nights sitting on this barstool in the only dive bar in the one horse town where I grew up that it’s hard to remember a time I wasn’t here.  Same people here every night.  Damned near all of them grew up here, and I’ve known them all of our lives.  That being said, I wouldn’t lose six seconds of sleep if the place was nuked from orbit and blown off the map.
 
I was sitting on the same damned stool, drinking the same cheap shit bourbon, and suffering through the third or fourth cycle of the same goddamn country song when I heard a commotion off to my left.  I turned on my stool to see two hands from the local ranch accosting a young woman I didn’t recognize.  They had her hemmed in and boy were the lewd comments flying.  Those boys obviously weren’t listening when their momma tried to teach them how to treat a lady.

Normally I wouldn’t have given two shits about it, but that’s when I heard a small cry of fear from her. It was like getting hit by lightning.  I found myself overcome with the urge to step in an protect her from the danger she was obviously facing.  Those boys were drunk and they were getting insistent.  I tried to turn my back and ignore it, but that little whimper just dug right into me and found a conscience I thought was dead.

“Sonofabitch,” I said as I finished my drink. “Something tells me I’m gonna regret this.”

I set my glass down on the bar and walk over to where they’re carrying on.  Now I know both of these  boys from back in high school and they’re both right at six feet tall, maybe a little more, and they have the muscle of men who work for a living.  I’m only about five seven or so, and I MIGHT weigh 175 fully dressed and wearing boots.  This is not going to be an even weight class fight. I’m mean as hell though and kinda drunk, so I figure what the hell.

“Hey fellas why don’t we dial the asshole level back down a few notches and let the lady be?”
Jerry, who’s the bigger of the pair, turns to look at me and says, “Tole, why don’t you go sit down and shut yer hole before we have to remind you of the ass whippins you took in school.”

Right, figured it was gonna go this way, but I had to try to settle it peacefully.  I like this bar and really don’t want to bust it up, but sometimes people only learn through pain. Once the decision for violence is made, I’m committed. 

I turn my back on them like I’m taking his advice while I run the scenario in my mind.  Jerry has a bad left knee from football.  Mike, the one holding the young lady by the shoulders has had multiple jaw fractures from fights just like this one and shoulder surgery more than once on his shoulder from football and baseball back in the day.  Ok, that’s my initial attack points.  I’d never last in a stand up toe-to-toe pissing contest.  Like my grandfather once told me, “Hell with fighting fair.  Always fight to win.  If it’s not an even match, equalizers are always close at hand.”

All this is decided before my foot hits the floor with my first step away.  When it does hit the ground it becomes a pivot point, and I spin planting a stomping snap kick to the kneecap on Jerry’s bad leg. It gives under the pressure and hyperextends with a very loud pop.  He falls back into the booth with a cry of pain.  Pretty sure he’ll get up in a minute, but he’s out of the way for now.

Mike shoves the woman to one side and advances toward me with murder in his eyes.  He throws a haymaker at me. Oh please, like I didn’t see that coming a mile away.  I duck inside his punch catching his wrist and extending the arm locking the shoulder joint forward.  As part of the same motion I throw a punch of my own to the front of his shoulder making sure the point of my knuckles buries itself in the joint where the ball and socket meet.  Releasing his wrist, I spin into him, landing an elbow to his jaw which I feel break under the impact.  He goes down in a pile, and I finish our transaction with a heel kick to his temple.  Pretty sure that leaves me with only one conscious opponent remaining.

I come back around just in time to take a punch in the face from Jerry.  Apparently I overestimated how much my kick was gonna hurt, or I underestimated his tolerance for pain.  I file that away for later as my ass hits the floor. Break the damned thing next time idiot! Mercy’s only gonna get you killed!

I feel him grab my shirt and haul me to my feet.  He puts his face right next to mine and says something that doesn’t register; however, what does register is that he’s close enough I can smell what he’s been drinking.  Getting that close to me is a bad move.  Should’ve stabbed me or shot me or hit me with a table, maybe then he’d have gone home with his nose.  I latch onto that goddamn thing with my teeth and bite it right off of his ugly face. Then I draw my head back and land a Liverpool kiss right where it used to be shattering whatever was left.

My feet hit the floor as he lets go of my shirt, and I plant a second kick on that knee making sure I break the fucking thing this time. Once he’s down at a level I can work with, I put three rapid punches to the base of his skull, and that’s all for him. I realize I still have a hunk of his nose in my teeth, so I spit it onto his shirt.  Maybe Doc can sew it back on. Don’t really care though.

I stand up and look around as the last of the water clears from my eyes.  He still hits like a mule.  I’m just better at taking a punch now than I was the last time he hit me.

“Thank you,” said a voice so soft and gentle I’m actually surprised I heard it over the noise of the bar.

At those words I turn and really look at her for the first time since this all began. I must’ve gotten hit harder than I thought; because, it was like those old movies my dad watched when I was a kid.  The outline of her face was softened and the lighting made every aspect of her beauty stand out and demand to be noticed.
 
She was tall and lithe.  Had to be close to six feet herself, but I’d be shocked if she weighed more than a buck thirty. She was wearing this blue diaphanous thing over a white blouse that was closed with a crisscrossed draw string in the front. Her pants were these form fitting leather things and her feet were wrapped in soft leather shoes. She looked like something out of a fashion magazine…not that I read a lot of those.  She was just flat out supermodel beautiful, and she was smiling at me…ME.

“This is gonna sound trite, but what’s a girl like you doing in a dive like this?  Hell, you don’t even fit this stinking town, much less this shithole of a bar.” I can’t take my eyes off of her though and then I realize I’m hanging there waiting for her to speak like my life can’t continue until she does.

“Strangely enough, I think I am here looking for you.”

And that was all it took.  I was totally hers.  I always called bullshit when I heard anyone talk about love at first sight.   I didn’t really even think love of any kind existed and the concept of instantly falling in love seemed like a weak justification for acting out of fear of being alone.  Now I am learning better.

She stepped in a little closer to me and my head swam. She smelled like lilacs and sunshine.  The aroma was intoxicating…even more than the bourbon I’d been slamming down all night.
“Maybe it would be best if we went somewhere a little less…hostile so that we can talk.”

In all honesty I would have followed her anywhere, but the thought of one of these jack-holes waking up and possibly hurting her made me think they’d be best off if I put them the rest of the way down. When she touched my hand though, all thoughts of that fled. I just wanted to get her somewhere safe.

We spent the rest of the night sitting in a booth in a diner in the next town over.  It was, I can honestly say, the first time in my life I can remember being at peace.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of Those Days

You ever have one of those moments when you realize that today would have been a good day to just stay home and catch up on some reading? Well, for me those days come along more often than most.  Take today for example.  When I got up this morning, I would have never opted to end up lying here on this dirt floor with a little trail of blood running out of my left ear, left eye, and nose. Turns out that if you get punched in the side of the head by a stone golem that’s exactly what happens.  I don’t know how I missed that damned thing  when I was casing this job, but I did.  Now I’m lying here on the floor really wishing I was anywhere else.

Let’s go back a bit and I’ll tell you how I came to be in this sorry state.

I came down to breakfast three days ago like I do just damned near every day. When I sat down at the bar Bobby brought me my coffee and food and a token. I was glad to see it.  I hadn’t killed anyone or anything, other than a bottle of Scotch, in just over two weeks and I was getting a little antsy.

“Who’s the offer from?” I ask him cocking an eyebrow while I take a pull on that coffee. Damn, but for a not-so-human fella Bobby sure makes a mean cup of joe.

Bobby points to a corner booth, and my eyes follow his finger.  There’s a cloud of smoke hanging around the head of a, let’s use the term diminutive individual. Holy shit! It’s a dwarf! That’s probably not what his race actually calls itself, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a straight out of Tolkien stereotypical fucking dwarf.

I get a refill on my coffee and make my way to the booth taking the token with me. When I get there I set the token on the table and give a gesture asking permission to take a seat. The cloud of smoke with a long reddish beard  nods, so I sit down across from him. I take sip of my coffee and wait for him to start the conversation. Dwarves are supposed to be stoic, but after about five minutes I was starting to think this one was a mute. Fine, I’ll start.

“I’m guessing by the token you left with Bobby that you have someone in your world that needs killing. If so, then you’ve come to the right person.” Pause…wait…pause…wait some more. Maybe he is mute. “Would that be a safe assumption?”

After what seemed like a solid five minutes, he set his pipe down in a holder to his right and with a wave of his hand dissipated the smoke cloud surrounding his head. Ok, I had some expectations where this fella was concerned.  I mean everything I’ve ever read, every movie I’ve seen, or fantasy role playing game I’ve ever played portrays these people as hardy folk with deep bass voices and rich Scottish brogue from back on Earth.  What I did NOT expect was proper grammar and a formal tone to his voice.  Is that racist? Oh right…I don’t care.

“It has been my experience,” he began, “that business rushed into is often disastrous for everyone involved.  Let us take a moment to observe the formalities shall we?”

With those last words he reached to his right and broke a small loaf of bread in half and then did the same thing to a small block of cheese putting both on a simple wooden plate.  He then poured two mugs of beer from a pitcher sitting to his left.  After he was finished with this little ritual he pushed a plate and a mug across the table to me. He sat back down and said, “It is a long standing tradition among my people that no business can be conducted on an empty stomach and food shared between business partners begins the relationship on a strong footing.  We must observe the small rituals that define us or else we risk losing who we are.”

“Well said,” I replied and we dug into the food.  Hell I hadn’t had time to even eat the breakfast Bobby had for me, so I was starving.

After he finished the last of his food he turned his tankard up, drained it in a single pull, and let go with a belch that lifted my bangs up off of my face.  Nice to see Tolkien got that part right at any rate.

“Now then,” he said, a little more relaxed than he was 10 minutes ago. “Now we can get to why I have crossed the dimensional barrier to attempt to procure your services.  My people are dying…”

“Hold it right there,” I interrupt. “I don’t adopt causes or fight wars or do any of that noble shit. I don’t care that your people are dying or being oppressed or are being ass raped daily by rabid goats. I kill plain and simple. You want someone dead and are willing to pay me to do it we can talk.  Otherwise, thanks for the food and the beer and fuck off.”

“Good enough.  I had heard you were a man of a practical nature.  A conjurer and summoner of stone monstrosities has taken my people’s homeland and put us to work mining and creating magical treasures for him.  Where we once worked as free men we now slave for him.  He must be put down so that my people can once again work without the yolk of oppression on our shoulders.  You will be well paid of course.”

Like I said earlier, I hadn’t killed anything in a long time so maybe my judgment was a little clouded by the need to spill some blood. I took the job and spent the next hour or so extracting as much tactical information as I could from him.  This one could prove interesting. It breaks down something like this:


  1.  Magic user with some big mojo.
  2. Summoned security detail of stone golems. From what the dwarf could tell not more than ten active at any given time.
  3. Target’s living space has only one way in or out being a cave and all.

This will be fun.  I’m thinking that I’m gonna need some extra stuff for this.  I’ve never faced a golem before.  My mind has already started racing down side street after side street when I hear my new employer clear his throat.  Heh, forgot he was there for a second.

“Regarding your payment, I hope this  small gesture will be enough of a deposit to begin our transaction.”

I look up at him, and he’s holding a gleaming red gem in his right hand about the size of a small avocado. I hear Bobby gasp from all of the way across the bar.  He has a penchant for shiny rocks.  Me I prefer hard currency, but I have to admit that damned thing is pretty.

“Done, but I’m gonna need a few days to do some recon and gather what I need.”

He replied, ”Success is imperative, so please take what time you need.  My people have endured this long. A few more days will be nothing insurmountable. “

Patience.  See if I had just taken a moment to admire this stoic little guy’s patience, but NO.  Ok, fast forward  a little bit.  I consulted with Valsh and a couple of other spell slingers I know and the general consensus is that summoners are tough sonsabitches and stone golems are some of the worst shit to have to face.  That being said, they can be dealt with.  It just sucks doing it because you basically have to get inside their arms reach and deface the symbol inscribed on their chest…with an enchanted blade because, you know, their stone hides are impervious to normal weaponry. Yay!

So a few coins in the right palm and I became the proud owner of an enchanted chisel.  That should make it possible for me to deal with the golems, but the magic user who created them is another story entirely.  When I take out his first minion, he will know something is going on. For the first time in a long time I give serious consideration to a sniper rifle or whatever the equivalent would be on the world I’m headed to.  Magic users are often best killed from a great distance.  Safest for everyone that way.  Except in this case not so much.  Another interesting little tidbit from my research is that killing the summoner sets the golems free to rampage about, and rampage they do.  Generally the conjuror sets a failsafe into his minions that should he die, they go wild and kill everything in reach.  That might perturb my employers, so it’ll have to be golems then the summoner, who will know I’m coming long before I get there.  The shit I do for money.

All of that research and gathering of the necessary paraphernalia this job required took me the better part of 48 hours. A little longer than I planned but I wanted to make sure I’d done my prior proper planning.  At least I thought I had. Since I was sure I had the bases covered I made my way back to my room at the Bar so I could make the jump to my client’s home world.  He’d been kind enough to give me an engraving of an area in the mines that was not well patrolled so I could open my portal in a relatively safe place. That image in my mind plus the giant fucking ruby should give me enough of a link to that world to get me there. Time to be a killer.

Once I was there, I found an nice little alcove in that dark little part of the mine to make a camp.  I stashed some basic food, some water, a sleeping mat, and a bucket.  I also kept a rudimentary map of the areas I explored marking down locations of the golems and any patrol routes I noticed. The most I ever saw active at any given time was ten.  Maybe that was the limit of his ability to maintain.  Hopefully he wouldn’t have time to activate any more once I start taking them down. When I felt my plan was relatively complete, which took another couple of days, I decided it was time to earn my money.

I had planned a route to the summoner’s quarters that was as straight as I could make it taking out his minions along the way. I came into the first corridor where I expected to see a golem and was not disappointed.  Luckily it was focused on beating a dwarf who wasn’t working fast enough I suppose.  I took the chisel in my right hand holding in a grip for a downward strike, closed on it unnoticed, and  punched a line right across the center of the symbol on its chest.  The thing just collapsed into a big pile of rocks. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought. Then I heard the bellow come rumbling down the corridor from the other nine.  Shit! I should’ve realized they’d all be connected. Time to pick up the pace, so they don’t have time to gather in force.  They don’t move fast, but they do move. One at a time I can handle, nine at once would be a recipe for Tole pizza.

I break into a run headed towards the next location on my map.  As I round a corner I hear the sound of stone grinding on stone and drop to my knees in a slide just before a stone arm passes right where my head was. I shift my grip to a traditional stab and bounce back to my feet raking the chisel up its chest as I stand.  Two down.

It goes like this for about fifteen minutes as I make my way to my final target.  With each fight I get more determined to kill this sonofabitch.  Not out of any sense of nobility or because I’ve begun to feel for these oppressed people.  Nope.  I just want to kill a wizard.  Never done that before.

When I finally reach his quarters I can see the glow of a magical barrier across his threshold.  Idiot. I reach into my belt and pull the last gift Valsh gave me before I left his camp this time.  I’d like to think it was friendship that motivated him, but more likely he just wanted to make sure I’d be available the next time he needed me.  He’s a practical guy like that. His gift is a small ivory cube with orcish runes inscribed on its surface.  It’s designed to nullify magic, but is only good for one use.  Like I said he’s practical.  Made sure I couldn’t keep it to use on him later if someone decided he needs to die. He told me not to waste it. This seems like the right moment, so I casually flick it at the barrier. When  it hits, the cube turns to ash and the barrier just dissipates like smoke.

I hear a little squeak from inside the room.  Coward. I step through the door and the world sort of explodes into a really bright light…

That brings us full circle back to where my story began.  I’m lying on the floor bleeding a little with a rather impressive stone golem standing over me while this little fellow in the corner chuckles quietly while he looks at me through his round rimmed wire glasses. Is he a gnome? I think he’s a gnome. Conniving little bastards.

“So…the Steinpfünder finally decided to push back huh? They thought to have me killed did they? Well, once I have replenished my force I’ll just have to show them I am not to be trifled with. Now, what to do with you…”

I love when my targets monologue.  Gives me time to clear my head and rethink my plans. They never seem to count on the fact that I EXPECT shit to go sideways. I expect to have to adapt.  It’s why I continue to survive and they continue to feed the insects.

I can feel the press of the chisel into my chest where I fell on it.  Glad it was flat on the ground.  I groan a little for effect and shift my hand opposite of him under my chest and grip the handle.  Hope this pans out. My other hand slips down into my boot for the throwing dagger there.  Once I’m ready and committed to this it’s gonna have to happen fast. Ok, let’s see if my luck is still solid.

I roll away from the golem and towards the little ass in his chair and flick the dagger in his general direction. I didn’t mean it to kill or even really hit him.  Just wanted to break his focus. I come to my feet and charge the golem ducking it’s attack and planting the chisel dead in the center of the symbol on his chest.  It crumbles to the ground in a pile of rubble as the summoner screams.  I turn to find that the dagger had hit him in the shoulder and he was slowly pulling it free. That should keep him from making any magical gyrations while I close the distance.

As I close I pull a punch blade from its sheath in my other boot.  I can see the fear in his eyes and it speeds my heart.  Once I’m there I plant that blade in his other shoulder just to be sure that his magic is completely out of the equation. Now I can do what I’m being paid to do, but there’s nothing in the agreement says I can’t take a moment to savor it. To take in the fact that he now knows he’s done.

I walk back across the room and pick up one of the chunks of stone that was the golems hand.  Feels like it weighs about five pounds. Yeah, this should do nicely.  I turn around and return to where he sits.

Some might feel the urge to monologue at a moment like this.  Me? I just want to bash his head in, and that’s exactly what I do.

When it’s done I turn to find several of the… Steinpfünder I think he said…staring at me with more than a little shock and maybe even some disgust on their faces.  The one who hired me is at the front of the crowd looking just as scared as my target had a few short minutes ago. I raise my head and ask him, “What did you think you were getting for your money?  Killing is nasty business done by nasty people.  I’m one of the worst, but I only kill what I’m paid to kill. You’ve got nothing to fear from me unless you make that list. Have the rest of my payment in the Bar in two days, and you’ll stay off of it.”

With that I activate my portal and step through into my room.  I’m gonna need an ice bath and some pain relievers, but I’ll live.  First though will be food and maybe a few minutes to reflect. I almost bought it this time around.  I’m getting sloppy. Time to tighten up my game. I’m getting too old to keep having “one of those days.”