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.


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.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Here There Be Pirates - Day 2

There are good ways to be woken up. The gentle kiss of a lover, the laughter of a child, hell even the wet nose of a good dog all come to mind. What does not make that list is a fucking bucket of cold, putrid water in the face thrown by a shit-head of a jailer. Nonetheless that is exactly how my day began. Manky water followed by the oh-so-melodious voice of the guard right in my ear. “Rise and shine boy-o. Time to face the music for your poor life choices.” This guy has no idea the price I will eventually pay, but not here and not today. Oh yeah, this son of a bitch dies today.
Three men stand outside the holding cell. One armed and the other two carrying manacles and shackles. Well, this just got more interesting. At least they’re not connected, so I won’t have to walk all hunched over. The manacles were expected, but they usually don’t shackle drunks before they go to the magistrate. Oh well, it’s not like I haven’t been down that road before. They beckon me out and close the cell door behind me. The shackles are on in short order, I bid a fond farewell to the poor sots left in the drunk tank, and off to the magistrate we go.
This is actually my third official to remove on this shit stain of a world. You’d think they’d eventually learn who the hell I am. What can I say? Bureaucrats are never known for their stunning intelligence no matter what world they’re on. Nice thing about repeat business like this is that I don’t have to keep casing the place and planning for weeks to get a clear shot. One magistrate or governor is much like every other. They tend to be creatures of repetition and arrogance. Consequently they all follow similar schedules and to a man all believe that no one would dare confront them. They’re in charge after all. Besides the assassin who kills the boss usually saves you the trouble of doing it yourself AND opens up the chance for promotion.
We come out of the jail into a courtyard with a gallows in the center. There’s absolutely no grass in the entire space and the dirt is packed harder than concrete. Sure sign that public execution is the national pastime here. There’s also an area off to one side where death by firing squad is carried out. You can tell by the way the wall is chewed up behind a thick wooden post. The ground around the post is dark having been stained with blood. Gotta love swift justice . I know I said my pistol won’t work here.  Doesn’t mean they haven’t come up with something like it native to this place’s rules.  I just don’t bring my stuff. Besides a shot from a distance is just so impersonal.
We cross the courtyard at a pace that is just a little faster than I can walk with my legs bound by these goddam shackles. I only eat dirt twice though and my escort is nice enough to yank me back to my feet by my manacles. My list of those I’m killing for free on this outing just got longer by two.
We finally stop outside of a door that I know leads to the room where the magistrate holds court every day. The lead guard goes in to see if it’s my turn. He nods and the other two shove me forward in the door. It’s considerably darker in here than it was outside, so it takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the new light levels.
“Do you think me stupid?” asks a voice from the shadow behind the desk. “Did you think I would not recognize the man I hired to kill my predecessor?”
Shit. Did I mention that arrogance is contagious? This just got a helluva lot more interesting.
“Jonas, that you?” I ask. “ You’re the magistrate now? Well good for you. Glad to see your money wasn’t wasted.”
I’m using this monologue as an opportunity to slip a finger into my waistband and retrieve a couple of my little miniature knives. The guards have backed up a couple of steps since he started his rant. Probably don’t want to draw his attention. Megalomaniacs tend to become indiscriminate when they start ordering people put to death. It’s always best to look small and non-threatening when they get wound up.
He continues screaming something about doing what is necessary to maintain order and sacrifices being made and examples being set. At one point he slams both hands down on the desk again and leans forward yelling at me. That gaping maw is just too tempting a target, so I flick one of the little blades forward through the opening between his yellow teeth and it strikes home in the back of his throat. Shut him right the fuck up it did and sent him reeling back to fall into his chair clawing at this throat in confusion.
The guard nearest me reaches out and grabs my left shoulder, so I pivot on my left foot and ram the second little blade into his right eye. I finish my pivot on my right foot pulling his head forward under my arm and snap his neck dropping him to floor. His chin got caught up in the chain of my manacles pulling me over and probably saving my life because it got my head out of the way of the slash of the sword of the second guard.
The blade hit a bookcase and stuck. Not hard but hard enough for me to free my hands, close the distance in a hop, and put my thumbs into both of his eyes taking a firm hold of his head. I pull it down hard while I raise my knees to meet his nose. He’s not dead, but he’s out of the fight. I’ll take care of him later.
Guard three, obviously the smartest of the group, has turned towards the door and is heading the hell out of here. I reach behind me and extricate the sword from the bookcase and give it a short toss in his direction. The blade neatly pierces his heart pinning him to the door. It sure gets quiet quickly when I decide it’s time for violence.
I find the keys to my bindings in the pocket of the unconscious guard on the floor. I roll him over and realize it’s Waterboy with the bad breath who woke me so gently this morning. “I’ll be back to you in a second Sunshine.”
With my hands and feet now free, I walk behind the desk to find the magistrate hiding underneath it. “Of course I remember you Jonas,” I tell him. “If you’ll think back to our transaction, I warned you not to be an asshole or else you’d risk seeing me again.  Guess you’re about as stupid as I thought you were.” And with that I drag him out from under his desk and use his own dagger to open the artery in his neck. “There’s no shame in dying at the hands of a skilled professional. You were dead when I walked into the room.”
I sit there on his desk and watch the life bleed out of the slit in his neck and the realization that all of his power and planning didn’t amount to shit in the grand scheme of things. I see him mouth the word “why” and just before the light goes out in his eyes I tell him, “because people don’t like to be meddled with you dumb shit.”
Now back to Waterboy.
 I grab a glass of water off of the magistrates side-bar. I pour it ever so gently up the nose of the sleeping guard waking him with, “Rise and shine boy-o. Time to face the music for your poor life choices.”
I wait for the fear and realization of his situation to set in and then I put the dagger I just used on the magistrate through his chin and up into his brain. I don’t usually enjoy my work this much, but today has been a good day.
I touch the runes on my arm to open a portal home and signal my chest of gold that the job is done. After the runes on my forearm that show the chest with my payment has arrived back in my room at The Bar I step forward into the portal. There’s a brief moment of dizziness when I’m in two places at once and then I’m standing in my room at The Bar. The portal closes behind me, and walk over to my chest to verify my payment. Once I’m happy with the count of shiny coins in the box, I head out for the main room downstairs. I open the door to my room and say” Bobby, how about a cold beer and some of that stew I smell cooking?”
Yep, a good day.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Here There Be Pirates- Day 1

The smell of ocean air is unlike anything else in the world. It really doesn’t matter what world it’s on either. An ocean is an ocean, as long as it’s salt water that is. Waking up with that smell in your nose has to be in the top five best things in all of creation. When I climb up on deck this morning and the sun hits my face, it’s almost like being touched by the gods. This is a life that could easily trap a man and keep him. I stroll over to the railing and look as the waves go rolling by. All of that water reminds me why I came up here so early anyway. The drink from the night before urgently needs out, so I piss over the side. When I’m finished, I take a minute to remind myself of why I’m on this little jewel of a planet in the first place.
I’ve always had a problem with too much governmental meddling in the lives of free men. I guess that’s one of the reasons I keep taking jobs on this world. Well, that and I get to be a pirate. I mean what kid didn’t grow up fantasizing about sailing the seas and doing what you want when you want. Captain Jack said it best. A ship is freedom. The life of a pirate is freedom multiplied a thousand times over. Add to that that I get to put the pointy end of something steel between the fourth and fifth rib of some overbearing, pompous, government ass-hole, and I’d almost do this shit for free, almost. I mean, a guy’s gotta eat.
After I finish with my morning bladder evacuation, I head back to my cabin to prepare the tools of my trade for today’s festivities. I keep most of my steel in an oiled leather wrap until I’m ready to put them to use. Storing them like that helps cut down on the fight with rust, especially when the job takes me out to sea. I’d carry my 9mm but physics and thermodynamics are a little quirky here, and it’s not the most reliable means of defense. Instead, I keep a cutlass on my hip and a couple of daggers at my back. I mean I like these guys and all but, pirates. In that same line of thought, I’ve brought a few goodies back from my adventures that have gone a long way to keeping me working, read that as alive. My favorite is this crazy body armor made from the actual scales of an adolescent dragon. Not only will it stop bullets, it’s also damned effective against arrows, crossbow bolts, and even swords, daggers, etc. One other bonus of the pirate life is that it fits under, and is pretty well concealed by, the puffy shirt these guys seem to favor. Pfft, pirates.
My plan is simple. I get arrested and taken before the magistrate. That will get me close enough to do bad things to him and as many of his folks as possible. Then I use my portal to get the hell out. I know what you’re thinking. They’re going to take away all of my personal effects when they arrest me. You’re right, they most certainly will, which is why none of this shit isn’t going with me. Oh, I’ll carry the cheap steel a pirate is expected to have on his person, but that’s about it. Mostly the body armor and sharp, pointy things I have here are to make sure my escorts don’t get frisky. Once I’m in the magistrate’s office, I’ll get to do what I do best…improvise death, destruction, and mayhem. You’d be surprised what kind of damage a creative person can do with everyday items laying on the average desk. A pen or pencil in the eye is every bit as effective as a stiletto.
The only thing I take from my parcel are some tiny sharpened blades that tuck into small pockets inside the waistline of my breeches. These are my own design and something my wife and I used to joke about in my previous life. When I had to wear a tie every day, I bought these swanky stainless steel collar reinforcements to keep the edges of my starched collar straight. I would joke every morning as I slid them into the tiny pockets that held them that I was putting my assassin’s tools into my collar. Little did I realize I was being prophetic. I may not need them, but then the Seven P’s say take them anyway.
After I put them in place, I remove my body armor and tuck the oiled leather case inside of it. I put the whole kit and caboodle into my travel case and activate the teleportation spell worked into its lid. The spell will send them all straight back to my room in The Bar to wait for the next job, or their next owner if this goes pear-shaped.
My escape from the magistrate’s office will be facilitated by a handy little thing I had done on…one of the worlds I’ve worked, as payment for services rendered. It’s a portal spell just like the one on my travel chest, except this one is engraved into a tattoo on my forearm and powered by a crystal embedded under the skin. The crystal lets me carry a little bit of the power present in the Bar with me wherever I go, even if the world I am on doesn’t have any naturally occurring magic. Touch it with my index and ring finger, say the trigger word and “BAMF!” I’m in the Hall. Pretty neat huh?
I bet you were wondering how I get paid with me teleporting off world the minute the job is done. Same type of chest I just sent my effects home in. Only difference is that this one has two safety features built into it. It can be set to recognize when the agreed amount of gold is contained within. It also has a link to my teleportation spell that will illuminate a crystal on its lid to alert my employer that the job is complete. One really cool additional feature of that particular little piece of magic jewel is that it is also a very powerful explosive. If my employer decides he’s smarter than me or just gets greedy and decides he’ll keep his booty, it goes kaboom like a small nuclear warhead sixty seconds after it turns red. It will also go nuclear if they try to open the chest once they have put they payment inside and sealed it. I don’t trust my employers. Ever. I mean even if they aren’t pirates, they still just hired someone to kill someone else. Upstanding folks just don’t do that sort of thing.
A cabin boy pokes his head into my cabin to let me know that we are about to drop anchor off the main island in this colony, about two miles from the city where I will find my target. The captain had told me this was his plan. I almost stabbed him in the eye for expecting me to hike that far just to get arrested, and man-handled by the local constabulary. He whined on about not wanting to endanger his boat or his crew. We finally agreed that he wasn’t paying me enough to hike through the jungle, so now he’s paying me double. I am a master of persuasion. You’d be amazed how open to negotiation people become when I start talking about walking away. Wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last. Of course it doesn’t hurt that I am known for leaving the body of a cheap sonofabitch behind, as an incentive for future employers to be more flexible in their expectations.
The longboat puts me ashore closer than I expected. I’ll only have to fight through about a half a mile of jungle. I’m not giving the fucker a discount though. Jungle hikes suck. It takes me about an hour to get to the city gates and bribe my way in after curfew. I wander around for about twenty minutes, until I find a bar that looks promising for my purposes. I walk through the door and am not disappointed. The place is crawling with local Navy officers. Now to find an appropriately stuffed shirt and start some shit.
In a table in the corner is a card game. Every player there has a hat with a plume sitting in a chair next to them. Perfect. I pick the guy with the biggest plume and lots of gold fringe on his epaulets, and I stagger right into him knocking his drink over in the process.
He stands and puffs up like the popinjay that he is and blusters, ”Watch where you’re going, you drunken oaf!”
“Sorry there, Sir,” I mutter like I’ve been in the rum all day. “Let me buy you one to take its place.”
He turns towards me, and when he makes eye contact, I yell, “Hey! You’re the bloke’s been defiling my sheep!” And I punch him lightly, right in the snout. Not hard enough to draw blood. Wouldn’t want to force a duel, just want to get thrown in the clink.
I’m immediately dog piled by every other man at the table, and they hold me there until the guard arrives and claps me in irons. Yay! I get to spend a night in the drunk tank with a lot of other idiots who I am sure will smell like roses. I definitely undercharged for this job!
Drunk tanks are another commonality from world to world. Just like oceans, they all smell the same. They’re almost always cramped and overcrowded, with a bucket for piss in the corner that no one seems to be able to hit. Don’t lay on the floor. Just don’t. Drunks the multi-verse over have one other thing in common, a propensity for emptying their stomachs on the floor. The things I do for gold.
Normally getting thrown in the tank isn’t enough to get you before the magistrate, but smacking a naval officer, like the one I nailed, should do the trick. Just to be sure I think I’ll harass a passing guard and see if I can get a little confirmation.
He walks on past like he’s either deaf or ignoring me, so I pick up what I hope is a ball of mud and chuck it at him. He spins around and glares at me, “WHAT?”
“Eashy dere fella,” I stammer. I am supposed to be drunk after all. “When’s a fella getting outta dish stinkhole? I hash fings I needs to be seein’ about.”
“You’ll get out after your appointment with the magistrate in the morning. Providing that is he doesn’t decide you need your neck stretched. You did smack a ship’s Captain after all, even if it was as he said, like being swiped at with a feather. Apparently you hit like a chambermaid.” With that he went on about his patrol of the jail.
That’s perfect. I should be able to wrap this up first thing in the morning and be back in The Bar by lunch time. Guess I should get some rest. I find a sort of dry spot on the floor and settle into a light sleep. Tomorrow holds the promise of violence, and that always makes me sleep well.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Professional Courtesy

I’m a killer. I don’t make any bones about it. I would have asked about the little red button on the bottom of the gun. I don’t adopt causes. I don’t do rescues. I will stab through a hostage to hit my target. I am the sharp end of the spear. I make things dead, and I enjoy the hell out of doing it. That being said, I do have friends. People I would defend as long as there was minimal risk to myself or if my need to kill the other guy outweighed the risk. I try not to let anger cloud my judgement in situations like that. A killer who can’t control his temper becomes a corpse in short order. That being said though, some things just piss me off. Stealing from me tops the list followed closely by marking me as a target. Do either or, gods help you, both and your journey towards room temperature started when you made the choice.

Let me share an example.

My days all really start the same way. I wake up pissed off. I think it’s all part of my psychotic nature that causes me to wake up ready to kill the first thing I see. That feeling has become a comfort though. If the day ever comes that I don’t open my eyes looking for violence, that day may be the day I have actually gone crazy. Once I scan the room for targets, threats, and general mayhem I get my ass up and start my morning routine. The bar doesn’t have plumbing as such. The “flush” mechanism is like everything else here. It opens a small portal to somewhere, and the waste is pulled through. I like to imagine it falling on a pixie or gnome who is always totally confused as to why the universe shits on them every day. Puts a smile in my dark little heart.

After that is all taken care of I start my exercises. All I can do in my room is isometric flexing and body weight resistance. Pushups, sit-ups, chin-ups on a bar that hangs from my ceiling, and so on make up the bulk of it. I do a little Tai Chi as well. I’ll never be normal, but at least I can be centered in my neuroses.

Lastly I do my weapon practice. It’s all muscle memory and trained behavior at this point, but I still like to keep it fresh. Even muscle memory will fade if you don’t reinforce it. I do katas with my short swords, my daggers, and a bo staff. Then target practice with my flechettes, some small stars, and a couple of throwing daggers. By the time I finish all of this, I’m sweaty and hungry not necessarily in that order. So I grab the washcloth in the basin on my dresser and wash the sweat off and get dressed to go eat.

When I get down to the bar, Bobby has something resembling coffee waiting for me. He sets it down in front of me along with some crusty bread, cheese, butter, and scrambled eggs. Well, that’s what I’m going to say they are. I’m not one hundred percent on that but they taste like eggs, so let me have my delusions. He also sets a token on the bar. It means I have a job or at least the offer of one.

I look at the marker and cock an eyebrow at Bobby. “Who?”

“The Bloodborn,” he replies. The tone of his voice tells me he’s not in favor of me taking this one. I just killed an elder Bloodborn less than a year ago, and they tend to hold grudges. Their coin is as good as anyone else’s though, so I don’t see why I should turn it down just because they may be a little upset with me. Who the hell isn’t?

“Huh, well that’s interesting. They leave me anything to contact them by?” Just I finish my question I see the drop of blood in the center of the token. I hold my hand up to Bobby to let him know I figured it out. He just harumphs and walks back down to the other end of the bar to freshen up the coffee of another customer. I raise my cup to him in acknowledgement, and he nods in return. Something odd about him. There’s usually not anyone else here for breakfast, but it’s not unheard of. Still, there’s something just a little off.

I file that away as healthy paranoia and go back to my food. More often than not if something is bugging me there’s no faster way to bring it into clear focus than to quit trying to bring it into focus. Besides, my eggs are getting cold, so I pile into them with the appetite of a man who hasn’t eaten in a week. Exercise uses up calories. I don’t store many of those on my body as fat, so when I work my muscles I get HUNGRY.

I’m wiping my plate with some bread when Bobby comes back to refill my “coffee.” It’s about then that my world snaps into crystal clear focus. I notice Bobby’s hand is shaking a little. Bobby doesn’t shake when he’s pouring a drink…ever. I look up and see the second thing about him that I’ve never seen before. One single, solitary bead of sweat runs down his forehead. Bobby NEVER sweats. I’ve seen the man leaning over an open flame on his stove and be as dry as cornstarch. I make eye contact with him and twitch my eyes in the direction of the fella at the end of the bar and Bobby says, “ Mmm-Hmm” so quietly I barely heard it.

I glance back down the bar and notice the same token sitting by his hand that I have sitting by mine. Typical Bloodborn bullshit. Whichever one of us survives gets the job. What the hell. I’m down. I take a small sip of my coffee and when I set it down, I address my new friend without actually looking at him.

“You know where you fucked up? You should’ve just killed me when I walked out of my room. You might’ve been able to get the job done if you had the jump on me. I’m guessing you have some cred with the Bloodborn, so out of professional courtesy I’m going to let you bow out now.”

Did that son of a bitch just laugh? I’d like to say that it became a matter of professional pride at that point, but that’d be wrong. He marked me as a target. He gets to die. One way ticket to Corpseville. I didn’t bring anything down from my room with me, so I’m not technically armed. I’m not defenseless, but I’m not brimming with pointy goodness either. I look at what’s in front of me and do a quick assessment. I have a spoon, a plate, and a coffee mug. I could cut his heart out with a spoon...nah, fun but too slow. The plate is wooden, so no breaking it into dagger-like shards. Dammit, that just leaves the coffee mug. I decide to break the mug and go with a pottery shard to an artery. That should do the trick.

I catch some movement out of the corner of my eye and I feel the throw coming before his arm even finishes its forward motion. I never get the chance to break my mug because the throw forces me to fall backwards off of my stool. I tuck into a roll and come up to my feet just as his second and third throws whizz past my ear. Damn, he’s fast! Probably not as human as he looks. There are races I’ve met in my journeys that are definitely faster than me. I’m only a human after all and in the grand scheme of things that means I’m almost always at a disadvantage. That has only served to make me more cunning and viscous and willing to take some pain to gain my objective. I’m on my feet now though, so it’s all over but the bleeding.

The distance between us closes quickly. I guess he decided he had me on speed, so he started running towards me right behind his last throw. I notice he’s pulled a dagger from somewhere, so it’s to be twelve inches of steel against my bare hands and a little creativity. Not exactly an ideal situation for me, but hell I’ve been in worse. It’s times like this I hear a sound clip from an old interview with Bruce Lee. Kinda famous line. Kept me alive a lot of times when I shouldn’t have come out the other side. “Be like water.”

In the space of time it takes the two of us to cross the 15 feet or so that separated us the adrenaline slams home into my brain and the world slows down. Everything snaps into crystal clear focus. I can see the tip of that dagger, and I know it’s aimed dead level between the fourth and fifth rib. Means he’s studied my race’s anatomy. Good for him. I’m just hoping that his is similar.

I glance at his throat as he closes in. His skin is kind of leathery. I’m not sure that he even has that soft spot on the front of the neck where I would have had to shove my broken mug handle. Well shit. Guess that plan would have gone to hell anyway. I fucking hate when the universe decides that I need a lesson in humility. It usually means I get to bleed a bit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Here’s hoping whatever world he comes from didn’t have its own version of Bruce Lee.

Ok, decision made. Almost every creature in the known worlds value their eyes, killers and assassins especially. I mean if we can’t see a target, it’s a damned bit more difficult to hit it. I grab a small butter knife off a table as I pass, throwing it at his face like I’m throwing a flechette, and just as I hoped he turns his head a little to the side to protect his eyes. This also has the effect of changing the trajectory of his stab so that it hits my sternum at an angle and deflects off to his left putting a nice little gash across my right pectoral muscle up almost to my shoulder. I grab his right hand by the thumb with my left and twist it back against his wrist breaking his grip and causing the dagger to fall to the floor. My chest hurts like a bitch, but I’ll live. I learned to block pain out a LONG time ago. Hopefully the blade wasn’t poisoned. Oh well, one hurdle at a time.

He takes a step back, and I close the distance with a jump that lets me grab his skull in both hands and plant my knees on his chest. I ride him to the floor and the air blows out of him in one big blast. I hear bones snap when we hit and a little cry of pain slips out of him with his air. As a bonus, when we hit the floor my knees slide to the side of his body and pin his arms to the floor. He looks at me with unmasked hatred in his eyes, but I can also see he knows he’s lost.

I see the dagger laying just over his shoulder. I pick it up and use it to open his throat with a sawing motion until it stops at the bone in the back of his neck. I sit there until his blackish blood stops flowing from the wound, and he stops twitching. When that moment comes, I stand up, grab his head in both hands, and twist to finish separating it from his body. I’ll send all of this mess back to the Bloodborn along with their token to let them know I am declining the job. I should probably stitch up my chest at some point too. A poultice I learned from an orc shaman ought to heal it up nicely. Gonna leave a scar though. It’ll remind me to not be so cocky.

Meanwhile this was a lot of exercise, and I’m hungry again.

“Hey Bobby. Got anymore eggs back there?”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Welcome to The Bar at the End of Everything

I step out onto the landing outside of my room, and look out over the floor of the main room of the tavern where I live. The name of the place on the sign outside is The Bar at the End of Everything, but those of us who come here just call it The Bar. It’s a cozy little watering hole that’s actually a multidimensional nexus, and not the kind of place you just stumble across. You have to know some pretty heavy juju to get here, or have greased the palm of someone who does. The air here is always thick with smoke, some of it is from the ovens and some is from the patrons. Most of it will make a normal guy like me a little light headed. One thing is constant, no matter what world you’re on or from, folks do love an altered state of consciousness. Not many people hanging around just yet, but hey, it’s early. Not too early to have a belt of something strong, but early. I really like this place. Reminds me of all of the old inns and taverns we used to imagine playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid. Oh well, enough reminiscing, let’s start the day.

My name in this place is Tole. I’ve had several others, but that’s the one I answer to the most. I’m not a native of the space where The Bar is located. I started out on an insignificant little rock called Terra. Now though, I live here in a room just at the top of the stairs, and I ply my trade out of this little dive. See, the cool thing about The Bar is that if you know how it works, you can get to just about anywhere, and any-when you can imagine. Yesterday I stabbed some leader of an orc tribe in the neck at the behest of a rival faction. You heard that right…an honest to god orc. Today, I’m sitting on my usual stool in The Bar hoping someone will come along and pay for my drinks. My life isn’t glamorous but it is glorious if, that is, you find glory in killing for coin. I do. I guess that’s why I do it. Don’t really care what I’m getting paid to kill or on what god’s forsaken world I’m doing it as long as the gold is real.

A mousy little fellow at the bar made eye contact with me as I came down the stairs, so I walk up beside him and sit on the stool to his left. I clap him on the back and say, “Welcome to The Bar at the End of Everything.  Most of the booze here is passable. That being said, I suggest the Nerillian rum or one of the darker beers. In my opinion, they’re worth the cost. As far as the food goes, they can feed just damned near any species that stumbles through the door, but I prefer the stew. It’s cheap, and it’s best to not ask what’s in it. Keeps a man strong though.”

“Thanks,” he says. His voice is kind of nasal and almost whiny. He offers me his hand which I politely decline with a nod of my head. “My name’s Smythe…John Smythe. Do you live here? I mean I heard there was a man who lived here who will solve problems in exchange for a little coin.”

I’m pretty damned sure that’s not his real name.  That just means he’s smart enough to try and remain anonymous for now. I look him over again, notice that he smells kinda familiar...sorta fishy, like sashimi,  and nod. “I’ve been known to take the odd job to pay for my room and board here, but I don’t work cheap.”

Mr. Smythe looks me right in the eye. Ok, so he’s got balls even if he’s not too bright. Staring a man in the eye in The Bar will get you cut, or worse, as often as not. “I’d like to know what kind of man I’m hiring before I strike a deal. How did you come to be a ‘problem solver’ and why work out of this place? Why not find a world with lots of ‘problems’ and just take up residence?”

“Storytelling isn’t one of my usual tasks, and if you’re as broke as you look, then fuck off. If you’ll pick up my tab then, what the hell, I’ll tell you a story.” He puts a coin on the bar. “One single, solitary, little old gold sovereign? Buddy, you just bought yourself a story but not much else.”

We move to a table, and I start, “I was born the son of a teacher and a human resources manager, so I guess it’s no wonder I eventually became a killer.” He raises his eyebrow at me and it occurs to me that he’s not from Terra, and he likely has no idea what a human resources manager is. ”A human resources manager is kind of a professional parent. Their job is to keep the workers doing what they’re supposed to be doing, while not breaking any laws in the process. It’s the kind of thing that will drive good people mad, and it has. The home my parents gave me was a good one, nice and stable. Kind of place that should have turned out just another worker drone for the world to grind to dust. In all actuality that’s exactly what I was until my 40th birthday. That day everything went to hell, and the shit show that is now my life turned down a different path.”

I down the rum in my glass and continue, “It was a glorious autumn day. In the place I’m from that means the temperatures are finally tolerable, and people have begun to do things outside again before winter gets here and screws that all to hell and back. There was a table covered in food, and my wife was busy bringing out more. Friends were gathered around, drinking and laughing. Everyone was having a really good time. I thought to myself that if my life was like this for the rest of my days, I’d die a happy man. Some days I kinda wish it had been…”

He nods knowingly, with a sympathetic look in his eye. Then motions for the bartender to bring us another round. “Please continue.”

“Ok, but if we’re gonna keep drinking I’d better get some food in me or this story will never get told.” When the bartender comes back with the next round, I order up some bread and cheese to go with the rum, and I continue my tale. “Anyway, there we were with music playing, and drink flowing when suddenly there was this low thrum that kinda made everyone stop. You know the kind of sound I mean? Feel it in your chest all the way down to...wait do you even have balls? Balls…testicles…gonads…reproductive organs…No! Don’t show me. I’ll take your word for it. The sound came three times and then a hole just kind of opened in the air right over my goddamn birthday cake. A scaly, talon tipped hand came out of that hole, and lighting shot from the fingers across the yard hitting each and every one of my friends right in the center of the chest. To a person they exploded with a thud into a fine spray of red mist. Only people spared were me and my wife. Honestly, I was just lucky. My beer announced that it wanted out, so I was standing behind a tree taking a piss. The bolt meant for me hit the tree and only knocked me down. My wife was apparently the target of this little raid. The hand grabbed her and pulled her into the portal, and I dove through after them without a second thought.”

The bartender came back with the grub, and I dove in with hunger I didn’t even realize I had. “You know,” I said through a mouthful of warm, butter slathered bread, “I still don’t know why he wanted her. Never got the chance to ask him. When he realized I had followed him, he turned and threw fire at me, laughing while he did. I threw my arms up in front of me and screamed, but to both of our amazement I didn’t die in a blaze of glory. Instead a glowing shield of blue appeared in front of me and stopped the fire cold.”

“When I looked up, old lizard face was about to shit himself. He looked at my wife who just smiled and spit in his eye as she lowered her hands from the warding gesture she had used. Never knew she could do that. Maybe that’s why he came for her. Like I said, I never found out. The sonofabitch said something in a language I didn’t know at the time, but I later learned roughly meant ‘Fuck the bonus,’ and he casually snapped her neck.  Something in my mind snapped too, and I was consumed with a need to see him dead. Partly because of what he had just done, but mostly because something in a dark part of my soul just longed to watch the piece of shit die.”

My prospective client fidgeted a bit in his seat, so I asked, “Everything ok?’

“Oh…oh yes,” he replied. “This chair is a little uncomfortable for me. Forgive the interruption.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “The wood is a little hard.” Dumbass, they’re bar chairs, not Barcaloungers. Oh well some people are pussies like that. This guys is probably his world’s version of the stereotypical henpecked accountant,  real Walter Mitty type.

I take another pull on the rum and a bite of bread and cheese. After I wash it down, I continue. “When he turned to look me in the eye again and started to call another gout of flame, he was face to face with a different man. A different man, holding a 9mm pistol that I always carried on my body somewhere.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. “What’s a 9mm pistol?”

“It’s a weapon that uses a small chemical explosion to hurl a projectile about the size of the tip of your little finger at a target at lethal velocity. It holds ten of those little chunks of death in each magazine, which is removable to put more in. Luckily, the laws of physics from my world were still in play. When I squeezed the trigger, the explosion happened as I expected.”

His eyebrow is still about halfway up his sweaty forehead. “So, they normally don’t work here?”

“Nope. Physics and thermodynamics here are a little…quirky. I guess the portal let some of the laws from my world bleed into his pocket dimension. Now all I’d get is a resounding ‘Click!’ from the firing pin hammering home. So am I teaching a class in metaphysics and chemistry, or am I telling a story? Because a class costs extra.”

“A...a...apologies again,” he stammers. “Please…”

“Alright then. Well, the first shot hit that mother fucker right in the eye he had just locked with mine sending some green shit spraying out of the back of his skull. The tunnel of light from the portal we were in didn’t really have walls for it to stick to, and I have no clue where it went. Wasn’t there to clean up later. He dropped to one knee and to my utter surprise didn’t fall down. I later learned that his species, the Goran, don’t keep their brain in their head. Handy information that. Alrighty then, center mass it is. Nine more rounds, slide-lock, reload and repeat until the target stops twitching. I used fifteen rounds to put his ass down. .”

John’s looking a little peaked at this point, probably not used to descriptions of violence. “You ok? Let me get the next round. You look like you could use it.” Get the next round…by that I mean put it on the tab I’m paying with your coin…dumbass.

The drinks arrive and I continue, “I walked over and looked him in the eye, you know, ‘cause he only had the one left, until the light in there winked out. As soon as it did, so did the tunnel we were in and I found myself standing in a street that ran into darkness in both directions just outside of a bar. Wait, I said that wrong, I found myself standing in a street just outside of The Bar. I drug his dead ass through the door, and pitched it into the hearth, then went outside and carried in my wife’s lifeless body. I sat on the floor and held her head, so her soul could watch the piece of trash burn. I must’ve sat there for twenty minutes before I heard someone clearing their throat. The bartender...I call him Bobby, mostly because I can’t pronounce his real name, offered me a drink and some advice. He said, ‘Get that corpse out of my bar before she starts to smell.’ When he saw my face though his mood changed. Men like Bobby know danger when they see it, so he offered to help me find a place to put her to rest. She’s back on Terra, on a hill where she loved to sit and watch the sun set. I haven’t been back there since; don’t really see the point.”

I finish the last bite of cheese and wash it down with the last of my rum. Funny, he hasn’t touched the drink that just came. “Bobby sold me a room for some of my wife’s jewelry, and I started my new life the next day.” I look old Mr. Smythe straight in the eye and ask him, “Now, you want to tell me why I’m about to kill you, or are we just gonna do this?”

I can sense he’s about to move a fraction of a second before he does. With a slight flick of my wrist, I toss the handful of salt I’ve been gathering under the table towards his eyes, move in closer to him, and finish with a thrust of the spring-loaded stiletto on my right forearm into the space under his left arm he exposed when he reached to cover his eyes.

After he rattles out his last breath and I’ve wiped my blade clean on his shirt, I sit back down at my table.  By the time I’ve sat back down Mr. Smythe has changed from his appearance as a mealy mouthed simp back into his actual form.  He probably thought I didn’t notice that he was Goran, young one at that. Surgery or magic can change your appearance, but smells are something else entirely. What the Goran call food gives them a smell that you just can’t miss. They smell a bit like bad canned tuna. Must have been some family member or maybe apprentice of the bounty hunter I put down all those years ago. Doesn’t really matter. Dead is dead. Shame too. I was almost starting to like the guy. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering, Goran brains are in the thoracic cavity just under their left arm.

Oh well, his drink is paid for; no sense in letting it go to waste. I slam it down and lean back on my chair.  Bobby’s already bringing a mop and some towels.  He was a couple of steps ahead of me. He usually is.

Guess I should help clean up my mess.

Damn, I love my life.