Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas from The Bar

On behalf of Tole, Bobby, Serilla, Valsh, and all of the other voices in my head, here's wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

When Sinuses Attack

I've woken up with drainage and a throat that felt like someone's been working it with a bottle brush for the last couple of days. I tend to get bronchitis very easily and my wife loves to point out when I should have gone to the doctor sooner, so today the sore throat and what not was bad enough I actually went to see the local saw bones.She looked in my gullet and took a step back saying, "Ima swab you."

Strep tests suck. I managed to not yack on the pretty lady with the sadistic q-tip and luckily it wasn't strep or anything else bad yet. So I take my Z-Pack and Mucinex and wander through my hazy life for the next few days.

In the meantime I went back and looked over Working on Terra. Lawdog has been nudging me to publish it but there are just too many parts of it that are dependent on previous material. So my illness addled brain decided I could sort that out. Three hours and six hundred more words later I now have a 5,000 word short story all so I could use the word "dearth" in a sentence.

I had planned to give it to my primary grammar editor tonight since she's done with grad school for the semester.  I can even remember thinking, "Don't forget the thumb drive." as I was packing my shit to come home. 

Guess what? It's still in my other pc. Being sick is awesome, but it's even better with a little ADHD thrown in for fun. I'm gonna go lay down now.

-Tole

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Drowning Pickup

This just in from the Isn't That Interesting Department...

But first some backstory.

The area I live in suffered an ungodly drought from 2010 through 2015. We were literally about to start deciding who could have water today when the rains came. Everything flooded. We went from having lakes that were about gone to lakes that were running over their spillways in literally a couple of weeks. It was amazing.

During that time I developed a habit of looking over the side of a bridge I cross every day on my way to work to see just how close it was to the bottom of that bridge and to see how far up into the flood plains it had gone.  It's been over three years since and I still look every time. I probably will for the rest of my life.

All that being said I was not prepared for this...


Now that old boy is a good ways out into the water.  A helluva lot farther than he could have driven. Especially when you consider that this was the second day after I saw it. The first day the water was over the hood, but I was too awestruck to stop and take a photo.

That part of the river is surrounded by pastureland not roads, so they couldn't have been going THAT fast. Could they? I mean if you were driving through the countryside and were surprised by the sudden appearance of a river brakes would come into play.  It did prompt a conversation among some friends about exactly how he got that far into the water.

Here is the winning suggestion:


Has to be the case. I can almost hear the "YEEEEEHAAAAW!"

-Tole

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 4 - Ambush

Sometimes as I write I have these "forehead slap" moments when I realize I needed to give Tole something to accomplish his job, and I forgot to do it.  That requires me to go back and do a little more editing. This bit is a shining example. Tole needs a blowgun and darts. Tole did not bring one in the original equipment load out, so I had to go back and find a way to get him one.  Part three now has that bit of story added. I was also told I'm a "seat of the pants" writer by some friends (specifically Lawdog and OldNFO) and this just drives that point home for me.  Hope you enjoy it.


The next morning I was awakened by shouting. I couldn’t understand a damned thing being said, but the tone was clear enough. Someone was most unhappy with someone else. I’ve heard yelling like that before, albeit in English and not orcish, and it usually precedes someone doing something decidedly lethal to someone else.

Peering out of the door of the hut where I’ve been sleeping and being very careful not to present a target, I assess what’s going on. The sight that greets me is a group of four orcs surrounding Valsh.  The one whose face I could see had a look in his eye hatred and barely contained violence that I knew all too well. They also had a slightly different hue to their skin. Where Valsh was as green as the foliage of the jungle he lived in, these fellas were a sandy brown like the color of a desert. That combined by the way they kept glancing into the undergrowth around the camp told me these boys were a long way from home.

Valsh said something to the one with the most adornments on his face…piercings, tattoos, and such…that I am guessing was the orcish equivalent of “fuck off” because that fella lost his shit. He roared like an angry bear and hit Valsh in the breadbasket with his club. That was all the incentive I needed. I’m not saying Valsh can’t handle himself in a fight.  One-on-one or even two-to-one I think he’d have as solid shot at coming out on top. Magic is a helluva of an equalizer, but four-to-one is just a lot to ask. Besides, a dead employer can’t pay his debt. I guess it’s time to show Valsh what he’s paying for. Besides it would be good to test this snake venom on something resembling my final target anyway.

Quickly strapping on my two long daggers, I grab my blowgun and one of the syringes filled with venom. So far I’ve only managed to milk enough venom for three, so I don’t want to use more than one in the job takes more than one. I head out through the back door of the hut to look for a position to strike from. Well it’s not a back door per se. It’s more like a scuttle space I dug under the wall beneath my bunk as a bolt hole in case I needed it to get away from Valsh. What can I say? I’m a realist and all that.

Skulking around the hut takes a minute, so I use the time to put together a plan of attack, or at least as much of one as I ever do. I’m considerably smaller than even the smallest of our four visitors by a solid foot. I’ve got to bring them down to my level if I want anything even close to an advantage. Luckily most bipeds are similar in the way we’re put together. We all have something like a hamstring, and we all have something like an Achilles tendon. I just hope that once I make my move, Valsh picks up on what I’m doing takes out his share.

Once I have a clear view of the group again, I assess the situation. The orcs are arranged in a four point circle around Valsh. One has his back to me. One is to his left, and one to his right. The fourth is out of my field of view on the other side of Valsh. My target for the dart will be the one to my left. Second target will be the one with his back to me. If I have to engage a third it’ll be the one to my right, but hopefully Valsh will be in the fight by then, and I can focus on just the two.

In order to make sure I would know where to strike when I kill the War Leader , Valsh has been kind enough to teach me about orc physiology. Here’s hoping these new orcs are built the same way. The attack will have to be fast, so I am going to follow my shot and assume I hit what I’m aiming at. Drawing the dagger for my left hand, I turn it point down. That way I can use that hand to steady the blow gun while still having it ready to use.

Blowgun loaded, the familiar sensation of adrenaline slams into my brain and everything slows down as I draw in a deep breath and hold it. Once I am sure I’m on target I give the blow gun a quick, hard puff of air and drop it. Before it has even hit the ground I am sprinting into the clearing while drawing my other dagger with my right hand. I see the orc I fired the dart at swat at his neck just behind and below his ear as my shot hits home. He gets a confused look on his face that freezes in place as he falls over backward, stiff as a board.

I reach my second target at about the same instant that the first one hits the ground. He has broken down into a fighter’s stance and has his head on a swivel scanning to his left. The stance opens a pretty good gap between his legs, so I drop into a slide dragging both daggers across the back of his heels. I bounce to my feet on the other side and come around in a slice at about his knee level.

Have I mentioned that orcs are tough? Don’t ever doubt it. This guy was falling to his knees and obviously in a lot of pain, but he still managed to hit me as he fell. It knocked me to the ground in front of the third orc. I lay there with the world out of focus waiting for death. When a second or so had passed and I was still alive, I decided to get back in the fight shaking my head to clear my vision. I could feel the heat of the blood running out of my ear and down my neck, so I knew he’s probably fractured something and likely given me a concussion.  I’d just have to worry about that later.

Halfway back to my feet, I promptly threw up.  Yup, definitely  concussed. As I looked around I could see Valsh just wailing the fuck out of the big orc that hit him earlier. The one I expected to hit me was laying on the ground with a smoldering wound in his chest where Valsh had apparently applied a healthy dose of orc battle magic. The one I had hobbled was working his way towards me on his hands and knees with murder in his eyes. Right, first thing’s first then.

I stagger toward him like I’d been drinking all day. This should be fun. He reaches out to grapple with me, like I’m stupid enough to let that happen, and I put a slice through the palm of his hand that’s deep enough to sever most of the tendons in his palm. He roars in frustration, and I step inside his reach to drive the twin daggers through his eyes. Well, that’s what I intended to do anyway. He managed to turn his head, so all I really did was slice open his forehead and the back of his skull. Don’t’ think I even scratched the bone, and he caught me in the back with his good hand knocking me clear of him again.

Fighting orcs sucks eight kinds of donkey dick. They are some damned tough critters. Getting back to my feet, I make a mental note that in the future I will only fight an orc if I can cheat like hell. I turn back around to find that bleeding, angry pile of meat is closing in on me again. This time, I’m going to go at this a little differently. The plan now is to not let this fucker touch me again…mainly because I don’t know if I can take another shot and live.

Despite the concussion and the now likely fractured rib or three, I’m still a little faster than he is crawling around on his one good arm. I back away from him to give me time to assess. Nothing I do is going to put him down instantly which means I’m going to have to take another shot if I go in hand-to-hand. File that as the last resort. Sure would be nice if I had some help.  Where the hell is Valsh?

“Hey Valsh,” I yell as I take another shaky step backwards. “You about done over there?”

“I’ve been done for a while now. I just didn’t want to interfere in your fight. You started it. You finish it,” he said with a tone so serious I knew he meant it.

Well fuck me. Nothing to do it but to do it, and if I die, I die.

Breath is the first thing to get under control. Unchecked adrenaline will cause bad decisions, and the only way to burn it is with oxygen. Next get the fear back in its box. Fear is healthy. Fear will keep you alive, but uncontrolled fear is a weakness. With all of that done, I feel like a killer again. This guy is just a wounded animal fighting to survive. That means he’s probably doing all of the bad things I just mentioned, and I can use that.

I feign an attack at his good arm which he instinctively pulls back exposing that side of his neck. My foot sliding as I stop has built a pretty big pile of dirt at the leading edge. I drop to one knee, releasing the dagger in my off hand as I do and scoop up a handful of dirt flinging it in his face. I follow it in and sink the dagger into his neck in the same spot I put the dart in his buddy a few minutes ago. I pull the dagger out in a slicing motion and fall back out of his reach. The gout of blood is spectacular. Adrenaline means accelerated heart rate which equates to bleeding out at a helluva rate.

It takes less than thirty seconds for his face to settle to the ground in the center of the growing pool of blood. I stand there panting watching him die for a few of those seconds before I fall on my ass as the last of my adrenaline burns away. My head swims and I almost throw up again. What the hell? I’ve never had adrenaline put me out before…oh yeah…concussion. My vision starts to tunnel and everything goes quiet and dark.

The sound of Valsh chanting pushes back the darkness and I feel of his hand on my forehead. I open my eyes and find the my vision is surprisingly clear, and my back and ribs hurt a lot less than they should.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he says in his contrabass voice. “You took a pretty solid shot to the head. I am impressed that you were able to finish that fight.  Heart of an orc indeed. I have healed almost everything.  You might need a day or so to work the stiffness out.”

“Who were those idiots?” I ask sitting up. I’m still right where I fell.

“Desert Reaches Tribe,” he said with a tone of regret. “They are one of the many who have been attacked without cause. This will not be the last time something like this happens…even after the War Leader is dealt with. That one with the facial markings was my counterpart for his tribe. It is regrettable for a tribe to lose a shaman…even more if the death was unnecessary. He thought he had countered my magic, and, truth be told, he had until you acted. It seems I owe you a debt.”

“You don’t owe me shit. I only attacked to make sure you’d be around to finish paying me when I was done.” The last living member of this little attack party was still on the ground to my left and was still breathing. “Oh…hey…it looks like the venom is going to work like I expected.”

“So it would seem. His people have no exposure to the leaf viper, so it worked more quickly than it is likely to against one of my tribe. You should plan accordingly,” Valsh said while helping me to my feet. Still a little dizzy, but at least I’m not gonna barf again.

“Noted,” I said as I gathered up my discarded dagger.  I walked over to the paralyzed orc and wiped the blades clean on his tunic. I look over my shoulder and ask Valsh, “Mine?” He nods, so lean down and open the poor bastard’s throat to let him bleed out. When I stand back up, a wave of dizziness and nausea rolls over me.

“Tole, you should go lay down and rest so the healing magic I’ve woven onto you can finish its work. Before you do, take the tusk-ring from each of those you defeated. It will show you have defeated orcs in honorable combat and will earn you respect with my tribe when we arrive in my village. I’ll see that these warriors are dealt with and given the honor they deserve. Take some water.”

I pull the ring from the tusk of each orc. Each one is slightly different. They have little gold beads on them, and each bead has small markings carved into it. The one I poisoned has one and the orc I fought has four. I look at Valsh and notice his is almost completely covered in them.

“Hey Valsh, what’re these little gold beads for? They mean anything?”

He turns and looks at me and says, “Each bead represents a battle that they fought in and claimed at least two enemy lives. If you were an orc, you just earned your first one. Now go lie down before you fall down…idiot.”

I turned and went back to my bunk taking a water skin and some jerky with me. I was out before my head hit the pillow.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Old & Broken - The Late Night Edition

This time though it's kinda funny.

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, my right thigh decided it would catch a cramp from just shy of the 9th Circle of Hell. This has been happening quite often since I started a new blood pressure med that boasts dehydration as one of it's most common side effects.  Funny thing is that dehydration will also elevate blood pressure as well as cause these hellacious muscle cramps.

Anyway, leg cramp. So I do what any red blooded American man would do in that situation. I scream like a 5 year old and bolt upright out of bed to try and stretch the demon muscle back into a more relaxed mode. Here's where it gets interesting.

You see I am actually on two different meds for blood pressure and oddly enough both bottles come with a warning about causing dizziness if you stand too quickly. Well, I didn't just get dizzy. I went straight to tunnel vision and damned near passed out.

Here's the conundrum. Give in to the dizziness and sit down effectively giving the muscle cramp permission to kill you, OR continue stretching and risk ending up unconscious in the floor.

My dad always said that getting old ain't for sissies. I never knew how right he was.

-Tole

Quick edit.  As I was discussing last night's adventure with a co-worker I remembered that I gave blood last night on the way home from work. Maybe the near-faint was aggravated by the fact that I was a pint low.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Working on Terra

Sometimes a story comes at me from a weird place.  I was sitting in my office last week and for some reason the word dearth popped into my head.  I wrote a paragraph just for the sole purpose of using that word. The paragraph grew into an intro including a new character. I fully intended to keep this character for a recurring role in the future. Apparently Tole the Killer overrode Tole the Author. I swear her grinned at me right before he paragraph that starts "Once everyone is seated and pointless conversations start..." Oh well, I've always said that I'm just chronicling his story not writing it.

This  story is set in the time after "The Affairs of Dragons."I hope you enjoy it.

-Tole

I don’t do much work on Terra for a couple of reasons. The first one is that there really aren’t that many people capable of reaching me in The Bar. Magic withered away on Terra a long time ago, and what is there isn’t potent enough to open a portal to The Bar. Even if someone on Terra gains enough power to get here, they tend to use that power to do the job themselves. Secondly, Terra has never suffered a dearth of people willing to kill someone. You can get it done for much less than I charge. Hell, a lot of times you can get it done for free if you know the right things to say to someone who’s more than a little twitchy to begin with.

All of that being said, I came down into The Bar today to find a plain, vanilla human being in an off-the-rack suit sitting at the bar in The Bar drinking some of the Scotch I keep in stock here. He was talking to Bobby like they went to high school together. I even heard Bobby laugh as I walked up to the bar.

“Hey Bobby. Can I get some stew, cheese, bread, and a couple of bottles of dark?” I ask as I sit down next to the visitor.

“Sure thing,” he says choking off a chuckle.  “Tole this is Daren Scott of the Terran Interdimensional Coalition Tactical Assessment Command. He’s been looking for you for almost a month while you were on that pixie job.”

The pixie job that should have only lasted a couple of days, a week tops, but those things are a lot damned harder  to kill than I ever would have expected. I don’t think I’m ever gonna take another job from the wee folk, the devious little shits. I’m still cleaning pixie dust out of places it should never have gotten into. That shit is like stripper glitter; once you get it on you, you’ll never get it all off.
About the time I finish the shudder passing through my body thinking about all that fucking pixie dust, I realize what Bobby just said. This guy’s from Earth and here in The Bar! Then I remember that humans have a propensity to make anagrams out of everything, and I can’t keep the giggle from bubbling out.

“You work for T.I.C.T.A.C.?” I  manage to choke out around the giggles.

“Sir…” he starts, but I just can’t stop laughing.

“What no toe? Couldn’t get three more letters?” I manage before my giggle box gets going again.

“Sir…” he tries again, but it’s all over now. The lunatic in my head is in full hysterical mode now. It’s all over, or so I thought.

“Mr. Randall… if you please!”

That did it. He barely finished his sentence before the other part of my crazy shoved the giggling idiot back in his box, grabbed a knife off of the counter, and was sitting on Agent Scott’s chest in the floor with the knife’s tip firmly pressed against his jugular. One single little drop of blood leaked out around the spot I was pressing against.

“That man is dead and that name died with him,” I force out between gritted teeth. “If I ever hear it pass your lips again, it’ll be the last fucking thing you say. Get me? My name…is Tole, and the only reason you aren’t dead is Bobby would make me mop up the mess.”

“Understood. Apologies.”

I’ve always thought it was funny how fear will reduce a man’s speech capabilities to one word sentences. I take a deep breath and push the urge to kill him back into the recesses of my mind. That urge doesn’t go quickly though, and I am kind of enjoying watching the arrogance drain out of this ass hole’s face.

I let a couple of extra seconds pass before I hop back to my feet and offer him my hand with a big old smile on my face.

“Good,” I say just as cheery as a child with a shiny new toy. “Now that we have that mess out of the way, what brings you here?”

I sit back down and dive right back into my food. Agent Scott casts a worried glance over at Bobby who just shrugs as if to say “I told he was crazy” and goes back to wiping down the bar.

“Mr. R…” he starts but then corrects himself as he takes a seat leaving two empty spots between us. “Tole, we have a problem back on Earth that the brass at Command believe is best handled by someone with your…skills.”

“Look Agent…Scott was it?” I say between before shoving a spoonful of stew in my mouth. ”I don’t do much work back home for a lot of reasons, but the most relevant one here is that humans are just too goddamn easy to kill. We are, in comparison to the rest of the multiverse, kind of squishy. A well trained sniper or a cruise missile could probably do the job every bit as well as I can. I’m sure one of your member nations can handle this just fine. Why not just head on back home and blow some shit up?”

“We’ve tried all of that,” he said with a sigh. “He’s countered every sniper we’ve sent. Several came back to us in tiny plastic lined boxes. As far as just blowing him up goes, we’ve tried that too.  The target seems to have more luck than any one person should. He’s walked unscathed out of more rubble than human should be able to.  That’s why I’m here.  We are now convinced he is not human and likely not from our dimension or plane. ”

“Well, what about magic?” I asked. “You got here. That implies you guys have picked up some mystical mojo. I thought magic was gone on Earth, but hell, I’ve been wrong before.”

He showed me a tiny little box with some dials on the front and a small digital display and said, “We don’t use magic per se to travel between dimensions. We discovered some work done by Germany during World War II that was very close to breaking through the dimensional barrier. One of our theoretical physicists managed to finish the equations. We discovered a small amount of an element in a meteorite in the same  Nazi bunker that let us generate a new form of energy that is for all intents and purposes identical to the energy you refer to as magic. The only difference is that we cannot control time…yet. However, it’s not a weapon.”

I gave a little cynical laugh and said, “Everything’s a weapon.  You just haven’t gotten creative enough to use it as one yet.”

I’ll be honest here. The thought of any government, much less a coalition of governments, being able to traverse time makes me nauseous. Luckily I haven’t seen any evidence that travel to the past is possible. That thought truly terrifies me. It’s bad enough that they are opening portals to other dimensions at random. They have no idea what’s out there.  Odds are that’s exactly how they got into the mess they’re asking me to clean up in the first place. God people are stupid.

“Fine,” I agree as I put the last of my food away. “I’ll be your killer, but the price is going to be high. You probably won’t be willing to pay it.”

“I would think defending your home world against destruction would be payment enough, but our pockets are quite deep. Name your price.”

I love cocky people, especially wealthy cocky people. This time though I’m not after money.

“First and foremost, my home world don’t mean shit to me anymore. It’s just a rock. Defending it for free would be too much like taking up a cause, and I don’t do causes. I want the technology you’re using to open portals, and I want your coalition disbanded. I want Earth to stop travelling between dimensions. You aren’t ready for what’s out there.”

The way he fell back from me you’d have thought I kicked him in the balls or maybe asked him to eat a live kitten.

“Impossible!” he yelled with a look of shock and horror on his face. “The Coalition would never agree to such terms! Surely we can find another acceptable method of payment.”

“Fine. I guess we can work together for three times my weight in gold with an option for doubling it if unexpected difficulties arise…like I’m going to have to kill an old god or some shit like that. That a little more palatable?”

He settled back into his seat and said, “I don’t see any reason that would be disagreeable. You have a deal.”

I get up off of my bar stool and say, “Ok, just wait here while I grab a few things out of my room and then we can head back to Earth and see if I can earn my payment. Have another scotch. I’ll be a few minutes.”

I head upstairs thinking about what all I may need for this job. I really don’t see it taking anything much. I pick up a few ampules of clear liquid and slip them into pockets in my flechette belt. Then I grab something to protect my vital bits and something with a pointy end to put in the other fellow. Don’t really even need to take food since I know I can eat what’s indigenous to the world I’m working on. Plus, it’s a government agency so they’ll have plenty to eat. That makes packing easy, so I grab my dragon scale shirt, my loaded flechette belt, two long daggers, and the spring loaded stiletto. Anything else I need can be improvised on the job.

Time to go be a killer.

I came back downstairs to find Agent Scott waiting on me. When he saw me, he took the small device out of his pocket and manipulated the dials. A small portal just big enough for one man to pass through opened up. It was surrounded by an orange ring of energy that spit and crackled. It really didn’t look at all stable.

He gestured for me to go first, so I turn to Bobby and say, “If Serilla stops by, tell her I’m on a job and should be back in a couple of days. She’s welcome to stay in my room if she’s got nothing better to do.” With that I stepped through. Agent Scott came through right behind me.

The first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t that moment of disorientation from passing through a portal. Maybe science had one on magic in that area. The second thing I noticed is that we were in a nice, clean, sterile, gray room. There was a small machine in one corner that was making a whining noise as it powered down. It kind of looked like the old electric motors we used in the oil field to run the pumping units in their bucking horse motion. It was attached to a small box with some very heavy gauge wires attached to the top.  That must be the device that powered the portals.

The opposite wall was made of very thick, clear acrylic. There were about a dozen people in white coats behind it. This must be the crack science team that breached the dimensional barrier.  By the way they’re moving around they’re very excited about something. One of the first things I notice is about half of them move like they’ve had some training. Don’t ask me what it was that gave it away. Maybe it was the way they stood a little straighter, or the way they held their clipboards. Something about them triggered that automatic threat assessment thing my subconscious is always running.  It would make sense that some of the eggheads would be military. Interesting.

 To the right was the door out of the room. It was flanked on either side by big men in grey camouflage uniforms with black berets on their heads. The patch in the center of the beret actually did have T.I.C.T.A.C. embroidered in an arc across the top. I almost lost it again, but I kept it together…barely.

Agent Scott led me out of what I later learned was named the “Portal Room.” Bureaucrats are nothing if not creative…Jesus. We walked down a hallway with twenty doors including the one we just came out of. Eighteen of them were on the sides of the hallway and one at each end.  Fifteen of the doorways were labeled with a person’s name, including one for Agent Scott. One was labeled Mess Hall and two for guests.  The doorway at the opposite end of the hall was an elevator with a palm scanner.

That added up to a room for each scientist, one for each guard, one for Agent Scott, one for me, one empty, and a dining room. My guess was that no one came or went from this place on a regular basis. Maybe the powers that be aren’t as stupid as I thought. A secure underground bunker most likely wired to be buried in a nuclear blast isn’t a bad start to be ready for something bad to follow you home. They could always dig out the rare element later.

We got to the door to what was to be my room.  Agent Scott opened it and led me inside saying, “There is a computer here that is loaded with all of the intel we have been able to gather on your target. The computer is not on any network, so anything further you require will have to be requested and obtained by one of our science team. The next meal is in 3 hours. If you require anything before then, the phone on the desk is a direct connection to me. Just pick it up and I will answer.”

As soon as he was done he turned and left closing the door behind him. I went to the computer and pulled it up. There was a folder on the desktop with images of maps, lots of redacted copies of memos, and a single close-up photo of the being they wanted me to kill. One look at the orange eyes on my target was all I needed to confirm my suspicions. This was definitely going to be interesting. I looked at the clock on the computer screen.  It showed it to be two in the afternoon, so I decided to take a short nap before supper.

I woke from a dreamless sleep about two and a half hours later. I hit the facilities and washed my face slicking my hair back with the water at the same time. I wonder what they eat down in this rabbit hole.

I no sooner finished the thought than there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Agent Scott waiting. We walked down to the dining hall together.

As we walk Agent Scott points at my belt and says, “You really don’t need those while you’re here. The base is quite secure.”

I laugh at him and reply, “Man, you are thick. You’re opening random portals to other dimensions with zero idea what’s waiting on the other side. I’m not going ANYWHERE without my weapons. So…what’s for dinner? I’ve had military food, and I’m starting to think I should have had Bobby make me something to go.”

“It’s always better when we have a visitor,” Agent Scott commented as he led me to a seat. “One of the guards is a solid cook. He’s doing steak with garlic mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. I think he said something about  some kind of cobbler for dessert. I also picked up some of that dark beer Bobby said you prefer. Too bitter for my tastes, but we wanted you to feel welcome.”

The smell of cooking steak and garlic drifted down the hall to me. One thing I haven’t found in my travels is a world with anything better than a nicely grilled, medium rare porterhouse steak. My mouth watered at the thought.

Agent Scott opens the door to the dining hall. I give him a nod of thanks and take a seat at one of the tables next to the other guard. There are four tables around the room. Three are square with four seats at each and the fourth, where I am sitting, is round with five seats. That makes one for each apartment. So no families here.  This group is keeping it compartmentalized as much as possible. Smart.

Everyone gets their drinks while we wait for the food to be ready. Once the call comes from the kitchen we file through with a tray and get our supper. It looks and smells really good. Maybe the army of whatever country the guard/cook comes from actually teaches a useful skill. Pity.

Once everyone is seated and pointless conversations start, I take in a breath, and it’s time to go to work. I lead with the stiletto extending it with a flick of my wrist and driving it up and into the brain of the guard next to me.  In the same motion I draw the dagger from my belt with my left hand driving it up and through the brain of the man to my left. Placing the tip of the stiletto on the edge of the table I push it back into the locked position as I stand. I push the man to my left over with my foot using the force of his fall to pull the dagger from his skull.

Someone grabs me from behind, but he is obviously not trained in hand to hand fighting because my hands are still free. I spin, and my elbow connects with his jaw. I feel it break under the impact. I finish the spin planting my dagger firmly into his heart sliding it neatly between the fourth and fifth rib. He’s dead before he hits the floor. That’s three.

I chose my seat because it was near the door. I pick up a butter knife and step to the door. I ram the knife home between the door and the jamb and snap the blade wedging the door closed. No one gets out of here until they’re all dead, or I am.

A kitchen knife imbeds in the door just inches to the side of my head. Ah, the cook has joined the fight, so I pull the knife free and return it to him with a flick of my wrist. He dodges it easily, but then he was supposed to. Killing should be done up close and personal. Here he comes charging like the bull he is.

To my left I see one of the scientists coming at me as well, so I sidestep his charge, catching his shirt and redirecting his momentum into the oncoming guard. They collide with a mighty crash. Goddamnit this is fun! I’ve missed having a challenge like this!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering where Agent Scott is in all of this. Well, he’s sitting in his chair unable to move thanks to the small vial of Ortah’ahn snake venom I dropped into his tea right before I got up to get my food. I need him to die last, so I can’t have him messing up my plans.

Two more of the scientists are coming at me charging side-by-side. This is why I got my ass handed to me so much in high school. I was smart, but never bothered to learn how to fight. You never charge a prepared opponent who has superior fighting skills. He’ll beat you every damned time.

When they close to within about four steps I draw both daggers. At two steps I fall backwards and open their abdomens as they pass overhead. It’s kinda nasty, but it’s also really effective. They hit the floor with a wet but satisfying smack.

I bounce back to my feet covered in blood to find two more scientists frantically pulling on the door knob. They turn around and see me. I have no idea how I look, but it scared the shit out of these two eggheads…literally. They turn back to the door with the evidence of their terror running down their pants legs onto the floor. Their backs are just too tempting a target. Two quick throws puts a dagger into the heart of each. They fall to the floor with blood running from their mouths.

My breathing is so fast now it’s almost like I’m panting, but I’m not winded…just really excited. I haven’t been this jazzed up in a couple of years. I’ve been taking it too easy, playing it safe since I met Serilla. The animal is loose now though and there’s nowhere to hide...for any of them.

The other guard is on his feet and yelling for the remaining scientists to get in the kitchen behind him. Yes, please get in the corral like good little cattle. Make it easy for me to lead you to slaughter.
Once they’re in the kitchen behind him he turns back to me and says, “I told him it was a bad idea to bring your psychotic ass here. Time for you to die little man.”

“I may be crazy, but I have rules. One of the  first is never threaten me. Let’s see who’s time it really is you walking side of beef,” I say as I take some steps to my right to get my feet out of the blood pooling on the floor. While he and I were bantering, I was pulling the tiny little flechette knives I carry in my belt. I have three in each hand between my fingers like that grumpy old dude with the metal skeleton.

He comes at me in a fighters crouch which lowers his height down from about six five to right at six feet, Hell, he’s still half a foot taller than me, and once he’s in range he leads with a right hook. I drop to my knees and punch him in the inside of the thighs right where the muscles attach to the top of the knee and once in the balls. About an inch and a half of steel in the nuts takes the fight out of just about anyone…eventually. He did manage to hit me and stars swam across my vision. The second and third punch to the nuts took most of the ability to follow it though.

I passed the rest of the way between his legs and deployed the stiletto again. I drove it into his heart from behind, and he fell to his knees. I finished with it up into his cerebellum with the tip exiting his right eye.  I pushed him over with a foot to the back and he hit the floor like the side of beef he was.

I walked over to the door, retrieved my long daggers, and returned to the kitchen. The six remaining scientists were huddled together in a corner. One of them pulls a small revolver from behind his back and fires a shot at me…center mass.  From the sound, I would guess it was a .38. The slug hits my dragon scale tunic which eats almost all of the inertia the round carries with it. Still hurts like a bitch though. At impact the round simply flattens out, and falls to the floor. It’s followed by four more rounds…also center mass.  Thankfully this idiot was trained to put them there. A real killer would have paid the insurance with at least one round to the brain bucket. As a last ditch effort he threw the empty revolver at me, and I dodged it easily. They were begging for mercy as I came into the room. None of them found any in me. I won’t bore you with a story of shooting fish in a barrel.

Once it was down to just Agent Scott and me, I went back to my seat. My food was still hot, and I had worked up quite an appetite. I finished everything on my plate and the plates to my right and left. I had to move a dead guy to get one of them…totally worth it. What? They were really good steaks.  The only thing I did wrong was to go to work before the dessert was out of the oven. I really like cherry cobbler, but it was burnt beyond eating…dammit.

With supper finished, I went and sat beside Agent Scott and said, “I bet you’re really confused huh? I bet you’re asking yourself ‘what the fuck just happened here?’. Well, I’ll tell you. See, while I was on the pixie job someone came to me and offered me more than you could ever hope to match to steal that little rock that powers your portals and leave no one alive to recreate the science that allowed humans to travel the multiverse. See, with the exception of a very select few, most humans are considered just too damned reckless and dangerous to have this kind of power. Personally, I don’t give a shit, but my employer does. That can only mean one thing. You lose.”

With that I put a dagger through his heart, pull it back out, and walk away. I dig the wedge out of the door jamb with the tip of the same dagger and walk back to my room to gather up the rest of my shit. From there it’s back to the portal room where I break open the metal box and pull out a purple gem that is almost a twin to the one embedded in my arm. I toss it into the air, catch it, and drop it into my pocket all while whistling “A Pirate’s Life for Me.”

I open my portal back to the bar, but before I step through, I press Agent Scott’s palm to the emergency scanner that triggers the self-destruct. I hear the computer start the ten second count as I drop Agent Scott’s hand on the floor and step through into my room at the bar. Serilla is sitting on my bed wearing nothing but a smile.

“Hello love,” I say. “You should probably tell your eldest to stop fucking around on Terra before they decide a nuke is an acceptable option.” I take the purple stone out of my pocket and toss it to her saying, “Oh, I brought you something pretty, just as you asked.”

She pulls me onto the bed and well, the rest is between us.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Thought I'd take a minute to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to my readers...all seven of you. In all seriousness though I truly hope anyone who happens across my mad ramblings has a great day. I for one have a lot to be thankful for and plan to eat a piece of pie for each and every thing I think of. If I die, I die happy and full of pie with friends and loved ones by my side.

-Tole

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blog Changes

I spent a little time this morning changing my blog's theme and layout.  It had been like it was for over ten years, so I kind of felt like it needed changing.  Let me know what you think, and for your enjoyment here's Vehicle by The Ides of March. It's been stuck in my head all day and I hate to suffer alone.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Don't Taze Me Bro'! - Follow up

In an effort to stave off surgery the orthopedic surgeon I saw this week for the carpal tunnel issue stabbed me in the wrist with a VERY long needle. The steroid injection into the carpal tunnel kinda stings at first, that is until the blessed anesthetic kicks in. Fingers were numb for a little over an hour. Made typing interesting.

One thing I found fascinating is how even though the doc was stabbing my wrist I felt the pain in my finger tips and palm. Doc moved the needle a little and that went away but referential pain has always been fascinating.

Another fun bit from the shot was that my thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the inside part of my ring finger were numb for just over an hour. When the doc handed me my paperwork I took it in my left hand and dropped it straightaway.

She told me, “That is what severe symptoms are like.”

My only thought was, “how could someone function like that? I couldn’t.”

The way the decision for the injection was explained to me is that they like to do the injection first because it has a two-fold purpose being both therapeutic as well as diagnostic.

IF the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is correct the shot will give symptom relief. If the symptoms return sometime in the not too distant future, the shot may be repeated. If the symptoms return again, then that indicates a surgical procedure is likely to be the only permanent option.

IF the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is wrong the shot will have no effect on the symptoms and further investigation is warranted. (The doc is confident in the diagnosis though and we HOPE that this is not the case.)

So for now I sit and wait for the next couple of weeks to gauge how effective this is going to be. I'm hoping I fall into the small percentage where the shot takes care of it. Knowing my luck though...

Here's hoping I break from my norm.

-Tole

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On Elections and Such

Yesterday people went out and voted. Some are happy with the results and some are not. However, I can truly say I'm happy. Not because one party/person won or another lost. Not because one party or the other controls this or that. I am happy because people got up off of their assess and cast a vote. I'm happy because our system, whether you think it flawed or not, functioned just as it has for over two hundred years. I feel beyond blessed to live in a country where the population at large has a voice in their own destiny.

So take a second before you start foaming at the mouth over this issue or that. Take a breath before you start your vitriolic tirade over the evils of the other guy. Seriously stop and be glad that we live in the biggest social experiment in the history of mankind and that it is still working relatively well despite all of our best efforts to break it completely.

And if any of you disagree with me...you will be shot. (Yes, I know it's not funny and that's the damned point.)

Tole

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 4- Time Spent on a Hill

Hope this isn't too far out in left field for this story.  Feel free to comment on plot holes and whatnot.  I think I've tied this all to the story and some of the other stuff pretty well, but I also know me. I get easily squirreled.  Hope you're enjoying it. -Tole

Before I left her, Serilla and I spent a few days above ground in and around the house on top of her cavern. Since the night I met my late wife, I’ve never felt comfortable around anyone who made me feel at peace. The instant I start to feel myself relaxing around someone the urge to flee rises up into an all-consuming flame. For some reason that didn’t happen this time, and that made me even more uneasy than if it had. What can I say? I’m kinda fucked up.

In addition to some of the best cooking I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I left Terra behind, I learned a little more of what I was getting myself into. The fact that the knowledge came while we sat and watched some of the most breathtaking sunsets I can remember was just a bonus. On one of those evenings we were sitting in a pair of chairs on a small porch on the back of the house when I decided it was time to clear up a few things that were bugging me.

“So, I’m guessing that this hunter was put on your trail because of the terrible things you were doing to some village or barony?” I asked her while we were watching the sun go down. “You know eating virgins, burning villages, hoarding treasures…the standard dragon stuff? That about right?  Not that I give a shit.  Power belongs to the powerful. I’m just trying to see how big of a hoard of people I’m about to piss off.”

“Where in the name of the Great Mother did you get that idea?” she asked me turning in her chair to look me in the eye. “Is that what you think of my kind? Think back to the Communion Tole.  Did you learn nothing?”

I sat there for a while reflecting on the Communion I’d shared with her. Dragons are predators to be sure.  With the glaring exception of this magically enhanced hunter they are the alpha predator on this world.  Top of the fucking food chain. They hunt their food, but like every other predator in the known universe they hunt the old and weak first.  Unlike every other predator they do it consciously to maintain a healthy herd and food supply. Livestock is only taken if there is no other option.

What they are not is egotistical or megalomaniacal. They don’t need to be feared or worshipped. They don’t demand sacrifices or tribute from weaker species. They prefer to hoard things that they find beautiful, but they steal it fair and square not by coercion through fear. If that old wyrm from those Tolkien novels had been a real dragon, there wouldn’t have been any survivors to come back and retake the mountain. Once again I’ve let the mythos of my home world color my perceptions of things. I feel like an idiot.

I take her hand and say, “I’m sorry Serilla. Someday I will bring you books from my home that will show you how the storytellers of my world imagined your kind.  It is nothing like reality, but it did become ingrained when I was younger and it continues to color my perceptions when it should not. That being said though if you weren’t terrorizing the countryside, why the bounty on your head?”

“Because I had a moment of mercy,” she said shaking her head. “Maybe it was because I had just hatched my brood, and I was feeling maternal. I went to the keep of a local noble to take a gem I had gotten word was in his possession.  Normally I would have just killed them; taken it; and been done with it. As I approached the bedroom of the Baron and his family I saw his wife suckling their new born child. I just stood there in the doorway holding this ruby the size of an apple. I turned to walk away and he summoned his guards.  Before they arrived I leapt from a window, transformed, and flew away.”

“A few days later I was in the market in the village and heard that the Baron was hiring the land’s greatest dragon hunter to kill the terrible beast and rid the countryside of the menace. It was all I could do not to burn the place to the ground right then.  Instead I went to the father of my brood and told him of what I had learned.  He expressed his anger with me for not killing the Baron by very nearly killing me himself. He told me he would deal with the threat, but to never come to him again. I limped back to my cave to heal and care for my young.”

Her shoulder slumped and she leaned forward looking out to the horizon.  Then she continued, “Four days later he had not returned, so I went in search of him.  I found his corpse in a field still tied to the ground with his heart cut out. I knew I was next and I knew I could not defeat the hunter. That is when I began my search that led me to you. The rest you know.”

I was suddenly reminded of that night so long ago on Terra when I backed off of a kick to the knee trying to not permanently maim a local cowboy.  I heard a distant voice in my head say, “Break the damned thing next time idiot! Mercy’s only gonna get you killed!”

I looked at Serilla and told her, “We’ve all had moments when we showed some mercy and it came back to bite us in the ass.  The important bit is to learn from it if you live and not to make that mistake again. The reason your brood sire failed is because the hunter expected him.  He was ready to face a dragon.  He’s not ready for me.  I’m something new. He’s not gonna see me coming, and he will die.”

She smiled, stood up, and walked over to me. She sat across my lap draping her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.  I still haven’t figured out why she doesn’t weigh six tons even in human form.  I’ve asked her, and her only explanation is “magic.“

“Killer,” she whispered in my ear. “if you were a dragon I think you would make an exceptional one. Not to mention a more than acceptable mate.”

“You’re just not gonna let that go are you?” I asked her with a grin on my face.

“Never,” she said with a little wiggle of her ass that did interesting things to the part of my lap where she was sitting, “but I can see you’re still not giving in to my wiles.  Alas…oh well, tea?” she asked with a sigh of resignation.

“That sounds good,” I said and smacked her on her firm human ass as she walked away.  I knew it was an affectation, an illusion, but it was a damned good one. As I watched her walk into the house I realized something.  Tea and water was all I’d had to drink for nearly a week.  No rum or beer or anything mind altering had gone down my gullet since I got here. The odd thing was I really hadn’t wanted any. First time in years I was sober and not on a job. Weird thing was I seemed to be content in my sobriety. Huh…that bears further examination when time allows it.

She came back a few minutes later with two mugs of tea. It wasn’t quite what we’d call tea back on Terra. It had a nutty quality to it. I liked it.  Have to take some back to Bobby to add to the menu. Serilla handed me my tea and then promptly sat back down in my lap to drink hers. I started to protest, but hell it was nice to have someone close that I wasn’t worried would stab me in the back…literally. We say in silence and watched the sun go down.  Only after it had set did I notice that she had laid her head on my shoulder and had fallen asleep.  I guess I’m not the only one who’s enjoying having someone close who can be trusted.

The sounds of her breathing eventually lulled me to sleep as well.  When we woke up the next morning, my legs were completely useless for about ten minutes.  I wouldn’t have changed anything. Once I could move though I found her in the kitchen making food.  Next to Bobby, she’s my new hero.

Breakfast was eggs of some kind, fruit, a small steak, gravy, and a stone oven bread with more of that hot tea to drink. I’m telling you it was heaven. I realize that domestic skills are part of the whole “wiles” package, but it was getting damned hard to resist her. If I’m ever gonna get out of here and not end up hitched to a dragon (Which I’m sure Bobby would think was hi-fucking-larious.), I’d better get this show on the road.

 “Serilla,” I said between bites, “this time we’ve spent together on your hill has been great, but you’re not paying me to play house. I need to go find these assholes and end this.  I know you’ve said you think you’re not high on their list, but you are on it.  They’re going to come eventually, and I’d rather they die without ever knowing the location of your home. It’s safer for you and your brood. I need to get the hunt started.”

She had been sitting with her head on her hands watching me eat, but now she leaned back in her chair. A look of concern crossed her features, and she took a deep breath.

“You are right of course, but I had hoped to stall your departure a little longer,” said dragging her finger along the grain of the wood table top. “I had half hoped you had reconsidered and were going to let me release you from our bargain. I should have known you had not. You are a man of commitment and focus. That was one of the things that stood out to me the most during our Communion. Once you take a task you do not shirk from it regardless of the danger. You are a man of your word, and I have found that to be rare among your kind. What do you need from me?”

“I just need to know where to look.  The rest is up to me.  I have a plan…sort of, so I just need to find them. After that we can sit on this hill until I’m old and grey…or until I get bored and need to kill someone or something. ”

She thought it over for a couple of minutes and then said, “I can get you within a couple of miles of wherever they are camped. They have detection magic that alerts them if a dragon gets any closer than that, so that will have to suffice.  I cannot risk them following me back here.”
I honestly hadn’t considered them having their camp warded against the approach of a dragon, but it makes sense. If I made my living hunting giant, fire breathing lizards, I’d want a little heads-up if one was coming for a little revenge on me.

“That’ll be fine. I’ve walked further to take a target. I remember this one job taking out a magistrate for some pirates when I had to hike through some damned thick jungle.  Forest and grasslands will be a casual stroll compared to that. Besides I need to look like I’ve been traveling on foot for a while if I’m going to sell my story to them. I packed my kit yesterday when you went hunting, so we can go as soon as you’re ready,” I said finishing that last of my breakfast.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My Friends...How I Loathe Them

Kidding...mostly. I am truly blessed to have some twisted friends…bless their evil little hearts. For instance, I NEVER intended for Tole to have a love interest, but OldNFO suggested it one time. I guess he sent an email to my muse, and she responded with “Oh that’s gotta be a thing.” Enter Serilla.  Well, I had a thought cross my mind this morning about this developing relationship, so I sent a text to Lawdog. Below is what happened next:

ME:     I can’t decide who’s the deviant in this relationship between Tole and Serilla. They’re both pursuing an inter-species relationship. Both of their races would consider them pervs. Interesting concept to explore. Maybe Serilla will become a pariah to her kind for loving a human.

LD:     Or maybe it’s not the first time a dragon has loved a human.

ME:    Hmm. Interesting story line.

LD:     Older dragons caution the younger dragons: “They age so quickly, you’ll just get your heart broken.”
“You can’t hoard a human, sooner or later you’ll lose them.”

LD:     Terrible thought for a creature that hoards everything.

LD:     Romantic legends tell of a dragon who found a human lover who lived a dragon’s span. But it’s only a legend.

LD:     You’re welcome.

LD:     Young dragons wistfully dreaming of a human that would live as long as they do, older dragons shaking their heads ruefully.

ME:     (middle finger emoji)

LD:      I can hear the teeth grinding from here.
Young dragons think of other dragons as stodgy, grey flannel types. Humans are the long-haired BAD Boy Poet dreamers with the tragic, romantic fate.

ME:    (middle finger emoji) (middle finger emoji) (ROFL emoji) (ROFL emoji)

LD:     Teach you to ask a question.

LD:     I now have this mental image of tween dragons in human form throwing their panties at Elivs.

LD:     "What Axl Rose didn’t know was that most of the rabid fans in the audience were actually young adult dragons."

LD:     An older dragon awkwardly patting his fledgling on the shoulder as she cries on her pile of gold. “What about Grillsnax? He’s got a lovely hoard…”
“No, mama, I’ll never love anyone again!”
“Go out, have a nice sheep or maybe a cow…”
“No! Grillsnax is BORING!”
Older dragon sighs, “I know, sweetling. Things will look better after a while. I promise.”

LD:      And…You’re welcome.

ME:     Young Dragons in Love needs to be written…go!

Oh and I've just about got the next part of The Affairs of Dragons ready, so stay tuned.

-Tole


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Oh My Wandering Mind

Back in June I threw up a post called Book Snippet (now titled Retribution in my piles of unfinished crap) because I had run out of short stories/vignettes/whatever.  Well, it would seem that my complete inability to focus on something for more than 6.2 seconds now has me following three different stories that seem to be rushing headlong to book form. If I know my brain (and after close to half a century I'm getting a feel for it), it's not gonna stop there. I felt I should stop for a moment and lay out the chronology of events.

1. The Birth of an Assassin (maybe The Birth of a Killer. I haven't settled on it yet.) This is planned to be book one and I'm going to take the short Welcome to the Bar and expand the story.

2. To Kill a War Leader

3. Retribution

4. The Affairs of Dragons

The short stories just happen in Tole's day to day existence. Some of them may get drug into the books. At this point I'm just along for the ride like everyone else.

-Tole

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 3 - To Be an Orc

It seems no matter how hard I try to keep this character lighter and snarky he keeps going dark on me.  Definitely a challenge.  Please feel free to comment on the story and let me know what you think.  This may see some edits as I go down the road.  Thanks for your time. - Tole

One day turned into almost a week. The first few days were spent learning the basics of orcish culture, and it was a hell of a lot more complicated than I would have ever thought. I always assumed that orcs were just mindless fighting machines who lived to make war. Boy was I wrong. There are more ways to insult an orc’s honor than there are ways to use cotton.  A sneeze at the wrong time in front of the wrong orc could result in a multigenerational feud between families. It all got very confusing very quickly, and Valsh got more than a little frustrated with me.

“AAARRRRGGG!! WHY DO THE GODS TEST ME SO?!?!?,” Valsh roared into the jungle after my fiftieth failed attempt to say the appropriate greeting for a War Leader. “I swear a three year old pup can get this, why can’t you?” He finished his question by throwing a long dagger at a tree and sinking it well over halfway to the hilt.

“Because a three year old pup has been learning it for three years. Not to mention the fact that I don’t have tusks to talk around that play very heavily into your phonetics. I’m trying Valsh, but your culture is much more complex than I ever expected it to be.”

He cocked an eyebrow at me then turned to go retrieve his dagger from the unfortunate tree. He pulled it free with no more effort than I would have used to pull a dart from a cork dart board. Then Valsh turned back to me and paused like something had bubbled to the surface in his mind. He shook his head and chuckled.

“You’re right, Tole.  I’ve been going at this all wrong,” he said as he sat next to me picking up the gourd of pineapple hooch and taking a long pull at it. He passed it over to me and continued, “I’ve been trying to teach you a lifetime of orc behavior, how to be an orc, and that’s just not gonna happen.  I should be teaching you how to be a human living among orcs.  Forgive my foolishness my friend. Let’s start again.”

This time we skipped language lessons altogether.  Instead Valsh focused on helping me understand the hierarchy of the tribe.  He taught me who I can make eye contact with and who to defer to.  Most importantly he taught me who to fight back against and who could hit me unchallenged. Oh and hitting in orc culture is done A LOT! They hit like humans shake hands.  The harder you hit, the more respect you’re showing. Kind of the firmer the handshake the more of a challenge it is to squeeze back. A gentle tap on the forehead is the biggest insult you can give an orc warrior. It tells them that you don’t think they’re worth fighting, and there is no greater insult than that. With my relatively small size, I’m not sure that even full out I could hit hard enough to NOT insult them, and I said as much to Valsh.

“Never thought of that.  Better test it out.  Hit me,” he said and stuck out his chin with a grin on his face.

I fully intended to knock that smirk right the hell off of his ugly mug.  All I managed to do was sprain my wrist and probably break a damned bone in my hand.

“Holy shit Valsh!” I yelled at him while cradling my swelling hand. “Is your head made out of a big damned rock or something? It felt like I just punched the side of a mountain.  Did your head even fucking move?”

“Orc skulls are tough.  Have to be to take the beatings we give them. You’re right though. You can’t hit hard enough to honor a warrior. Hell, you’d probably piss off a pup. Not your fault.  You just don’t have the size to put enough behind a punch. I’ll have to give this some thought,” he said and plopped his big green ass back down on the stump he used for a chair. “Give me your hand and I’ll see if anything’s broken.”

A quick check revealed a broken bone in the wrist and two broken fingers.  Luckily it was on the arm opposite the rune work, so Valsh was able to knit the bones with magic.  Oh and by the way that fucking hurts! There’s a reason we heal at the rate we do.  Having that process forcibly sped up is not natural, and the body will let you know what it thinks of the whole concept in no uncertain terms. Basically it kind of felt like sticking my hand into a blow torch.  It burned like a sonofabitch!

“”Grah’ahkt!” Valsh said around a laugh when I pulled my hand back when he first started.  I found out later that’s orcish for wimp, wuss, pussy, sissy, and every other invective we use to call a person’s toughness into question all rolled into one. I stared him dead in the eye and let him continue.  I was determined not to flinch again…I failed. He laughed at me the whole time. Asshole.

After Valsh was done with my hand we hunted for some game for lunch. Turns out most everything on this world is compatible with my digestive system which was lucky for me because I ran out of The stuff I brought with me from The Bar about a day after Valsh did my first tattoo.  Healing makes me hungry. We managed to bring down what looked a lot like a squirrel except it was the size of Labrador.   Good eating though when cooked over an open fire with a glaze made from that pineapple hooch Valsh seemed to have an endless supply of.

We were eating lunch and a thought came to me. “What if I pick up an equalizer, like say a log or a rock and clock them with that? Would that satisfy their honor? I mean, I’m half your size. Surely a reasonable warrior wouldn’t want to squash me for trying to even the odds.”

“No,” he said while licking some juice from his fingers that had run down from the rib he was gnawing on. “The minute you use any kind of weapon the fight moves from ceremonial to active combat. Do you want to start a real fight and go toe-to-toe with a full orc warrior? You’d be dead in less than a minute…if it took that long.”

“Well shit,” I said taking a drink from my gourd. “I’m just trying to help man.  You don’t have to be a jerk…wait a minute. I’m not coming to your people as a warrior.  I’m coming as a scout and a spy.  How does your culture handle outsiders who aren’t warriors? Surely you wouldn’t treat say an artisan who crafts clothing the same way you’d treat a warrior, right?”

Valsh paused with his gourd half-way to his maw and pondered my question.  After about thirty seconds he slammed it to the table and burst out into that raucous laughter of his saying, “Tole, I swear you are really sent by the gods and one devious bastard to boot. I can bring you into the village under my honor. I’ll have to take your punches and return them, but hell that’s nothing new. I get greeted and challenged on a regular basis. It will also allow me to take any fallout if you screw up on protocol…Yes, that will work.”

We settled back and ate the rest of our lunch in silence.  I have to admit Valsh was one hell of a cook, and the foods that his jungle world provided were like nothing I’d ever seen before. In addition to the dozens of species of animal that teemed in the jungle around us, there was also a wide variety of fruits, berries, roots, and herbs that Valsh knew and used.  Some of it was medicinal and some was food.  In spite of my failed lessons in orcish culture I did learn what I could and could not eat.  I also learned some new poisons, their antidotes (when there was one), and some medicinal herbs for pain and infection. The longer I am here the more I like this place.

Probably my favorite part of being on Orta’ahn is that you have to be on your guard constantly.  Total situational awareness is a way of life.  Everything, and I mean everything, on this world is designed to kill something. It’s like Australia back on Terra only dangerous. At any given moment you will hear the death scream of something in the jungle that wasn’t paying attention.  It’s an amazing place.  I spent all of my spare time exploring and sharpening my skills at just staying alive. For a killer like me this felt like home. Maybe I’ll retire here.

I was brought out of my reverie by the deep guttural belch that signals Valsh is finished eating.  It is an impressive sound to behold and usually results in the flight of all small wildlife from our immediate vicinity. It makes me laugh every time he does it. I know it’s immature, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Plus, sometimes I think he just does it because it makes me laugh like an idiot.

We spent some time cleaning up the camp from the meal. There really weren’t any dishes to speak of. Valsh served all of the food on these big leaves and everything was eaten with our fingers.  Basically we just took the leaves out away from camp or burned them in the campfire and then washed our hands.  Any leftover food was thrown far out into the jungle for scavengers as a way to give thanks back to the jungle for providing for our needs. Simple and efficient like everything else he does.

“I think tomorrow we will return to my village,” Valsh said while hurling the last rib bone from his lunch out into the underbrush. “With this last issue sorted out, I think it will be relatively safe for you in our village. Besides you can’t do what I brought you here to do if we never get you near the War Leader. I guess the last thing we need to decide is the way you will kill him. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job.  It just has to be a mystery.  If my people think for a second that a rival tribe is responsible, a war is inevitable. I am trying to avoid more useless orc death not cause it.”

“I am already working on a plan for it Valsh,” I said with a grin. “I just need to scout the village to finalize how it will be done. Your people will never see it coming, and they will never know how it was done. Like you said I am a devious bastard, and I’m ungodly sneaky to boot. He will die in his bed in a hut surrounded by his guards.  No one will see me come and no one will see me leave. As far as your village is concerned I will be in the mountains on a scouting mission gathering information about the Green Mountain Tribe. I can’t promise that it won’t be messy though.  If you want it to look like he angered your gods, then I will make it look like an angry god took out his wrath on your War Leader.”

We spent the rest of that afternoon polishing up on my jungle survival skills. Learning things like how to not get lost in the dark, how to identify direction when you can’t see the sun, and what tracks and signs to watch for to be alert to predators in the area. I was going to have to hide out and survive in the jungle for a few days on my own to complete the illusion that I was out scouting and spying.  I wanted to be sure I made it back alive to collect the rest of my payment from Valsh once the smoke had cleared. I also bounced back and forth to The Bar a couple of times to be sure my new method for opening a portal worked as intended.  On one of my trips I picked up a small blow gun and some projectile syringes.

We sat down to eat our evening meal and Valsh turned to me and asked, “Tole, I’ve got a concern.  You are planning to face my War Leader alone in his home correct?”

“Yes.”

“I see.  Tell me this then.  How are you not going to die? Even if you manage to come upon him sleeping, orcs do not die easily.  He will come awake and fight back and then you will die,” he said with something that almost sounded like worry in his voice. Not for me of course, but for the success of his mission.

It wasn’t an insult, just a simple statement of fact, and a valid statement at that. I held up one finger to him to let him know I needed a second. I got up from the table and went into the hut to where I’d been sleeping for the last week or so.  I reached under the cot I was using for a bed and pulled out a rough sack made of what felt like burlap.  I walked over and dropped it on the ground beside Valsh.  The vipers inside hissed their displeasure.

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF…” Valsh exclaimed as he backed away. “Are those leaf vipers?!?”

“They are, and I’ve been milking their venom for the past few days. I think I have enough to make an effective poison.  I will inject it into his neck while he sleeps.  The neurotoxin should paralyze him and make it very easy for me to do my work. He will be dead in less than a minute…if it even takes that long,” I finished looking Valsh in the eye with a finality that told him this is what I do and why he hired me.

“You are crazy aren’t you?” he asked with a tone in his voice I don’t think he was used to making. “The gods sent you, so I will not doubt in their wisdom. I will, however, start sleeping with one eye open.”

“Just make good on the promised payment and you have nothing to worry about,” I assured him. With that I gathered up my sack of snakes and headed to bed. “Better hit the sack friend. Tomorrow starts the next part of this adventure. Get some rest.” I shook the sack making the vipers hiss one more time. I laughed softly and went to bed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Mikey!!!

My daughter is totally in love with Mikey from The Affairs of Dragons.  I have to admit, I like the character a lot too.

Anywho, I recently celebrated the completion of another trip around the sun and one of the gifts I received was this sculpture of Mikey that my daughter made for me. The awesomeness is overwhelming.


So cool.

Tole

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

And the Hits Just Keep On...

Ok, I guess I should be grateful that my a/c made it through the heat of summer, but dammit we still have upper 80's and lower 90's happening here! Hopefully this is something simple and my trusty a/c repair guy will patch it up one more time.  I mean these things should last more that ten years right?!?!?

Grrr....

-Tole

Update: two blown capacitors replaced and we are cool again! Had them go ahead and check the Freon while he was there.  This is Texas and we are known to have unexpected heat through October.  Serviced the heater also cause it's just that time.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Edits and What-Not

At the suggestion of Lawdog, I have made a small edit to the stories concerning the dragon.  Let's see if anyone catches what's different.

Hint: It all has something to do with the dragon herself.

-Tole

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 3 - Communion


A couple of minutes passed, and  I started to think that the portal may have glitched and dropped me in the wrong place…again.  The magic of the portal is kind of delicate. If my mind isn’t clear on exactly where I want to be, I can end up in the wrong place.  I remember a time I was hired by a chieftain of a tribe of desert nomads, and I was supposed to be traveling into his tent.  When I activated the portal, I had been wondering if his tribe embraced the practice of polygamy and maintained a harem like some of the peoples back on my home world. I stepped through my door into a tent full of semi-naked and more than a few fully naked women. I mean, I’m not complaining, but my employer was none too happy with me.

I had put my daggers away and was preparing to activate the runes on my arm to open the portal home when a voice behind me spoke.

“I see you found your way to me after all. I had hoped you would…” Her voice trailed off into a sultry little purr, but  I’m not used to people being able to get behind me. Throw in the fact that I was coming here to meet with a dragon, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped. I turned around and Serilla was standing in front of me in the same partially human form she had taken back in The Bar. I know she’s a giant lizard in reality, but this form was damned sexy.

“I took the job.  You know what that means. I’m here to kill your problem.  Anything other than that will have to wait.”

“Pity…ah well, to business it is then. Come along Killer,” and with that she walked over to the trap door in the floor and started down the stairs.

Here’s hoping I’m not the next entrĂ©e walking into her pantry.

The stairs were wooden and went down about fifty feet or so.  There was a lit torch in a sconce every ten feet.  They ended on a stone landing that was roughly ten feet by ten feet and surrounded by a guard rail made of cast iron.  At the far end was an opening in the railing indicating more stairs. The landing turned out to be high up on the wall of a cavern.  The opening in railing was for more stairs, stone this time that led further down into the cavern. In the light emanating from the torches which continued down the walls I could see the glow of gold.  I glanced over the edge of the railing. Now THIS is a dragon’s lair.

“Welcome to my home Killer. You should count yourself fortunate.  Not many are invited here and fewer yet come with assurances that they will leave again. I have lived here for quite some time in safety and hope to continue to do so after our business is finished.”

The implied threat didn’t go unnoticed. I turned and looked back up the stairs at the trap door that leads back into the cottage. It seemed odd to me that anyone would have built that house on top of this cavern, especially if it had been occupied by a dragon. That led me to conclude that she must have built it. Surely she didn’t live there in human form. I turned back to her and said, “so the house is a duck blind.”

“A duck blind?”

I explained to her. “A duck is a bird that is hunted for sport and food on my world. Hunters will build a canopy over themselves to hide them from view from the air.  The idea is to go unnoticed. You built the house on top of your lair. You come and go in human form so that no one will suspect the location of your true home.”

“Were we not allies, that knowledge would be your death Killer. However, I have to give you credit.  You are not as dim witted as most of your kind. You may survive this yet.”

With that she leapt from the ledge and a few seconds later the stone I stood upon shook and dust fell from the ceiling.  I looked back over the edge of the rail and saw Serilla in her true form for the first time, and she was…magnificent.

I know dragons are supposed to inspire fear.  A normal person who’d been confronted with a killing machine that was three hundred feet long tail to snout would probably have pissed themselves.  The hindbrain would have kicked in and fight or flight (usually flight) instincts would take over. I’d beaten my hindbrain until it quit caring about life or death a long time ago. I’m a fucking predator, not some mewling little piece of shit prey animal.  What I saw was everything I value, everything I wanted and needed to be. She WAS death, and she was glorious!

Like I said before, she was three hundred feet long from the tip of her spiked tail to the tip of her snout. Her wingspan had to be close to the same distance because folded at her side they stretched from her shoulders to her rear haunches. Her eyes had the same glow that they had held back at The Bar and smoke curled from her nostrils. It hinted at the inferno inside of her that just waited to be released.  Her scales had an iridescent quality and shimmered in the light shifting hues from green, to blue, and then to purple. Extremely well defined muscles rippled beneath those scales.  The power they hinted at sent a shudder through me. Her talons, both fore and aft, were as thick as my thigh and damned near as long and ended in points designed to pierce the toughest of hides. This was a creature that could level towns and devastate populations. The thought that the people of this world sought to destroy her triggered an unexpected reaction.  I WANTED to protect her, and I would make these assholes pay for their arrogance.

Whoa Tole. What the hell is that? Don’t get personal.  Do the job. Take the gold. Emotions get you killed…or worse. Let that shit go!

My first thought was that she’d put some sort of spell on me to make me feel this way, but I’ve taken steps to prevent that.  I’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well.  I’m still working on getting past it, and I wanted to make damned sure it never happens again.

I shook my head to clear the fog, but the anger that rose up continued to smolder.  I managed to pull it back to a slow burn, but burn it did nonetheless. For a split second I considered turning around and going home. I squashed that thought as fast as I had it though.  My reputation was that I took a job; I do the job; I get paid.  I was not about to tarnish that hard fought record because of some stupid knee-jerk, emotional reaction. I’d deal with that shit after I finish the job.

“You are going to swallow a fly if you do not close your gaping maw. I thought you stared hard at me when I was in your form, but now…” Serilla said. Her voice was almost the same as before just…bigger.

I snapped my jaw shut and unconsciously straightened my shirt. I walked over to the opening in the rail and started down the stairs which descended into the cavern in a spiral around its perimeter . As I walked I noticed that the walls of the cavern were covered in wards, most likely to prevent her being discovered by scrying.  Long lived beings don’t get to be that way by being careless, and again I found myself impressed by her.

About fifteen feet from the floor I hopped the rail and dropped the rest of the way down tucking into a roll when I hit.  Granted it wasn’t as impressive as the hundred feet or so she had dropped but then I couldn’t turn into a dragon on the way down either. I did manage to look somewhat coordinated though. I do practice that shit after all.

“You honestly have no fear of me do you?” she asked me. “Most men would have turned and fled back up the stairs once they saw me in my true form, but not you Killer.  You stride down the stairs like you have done it a thousand times and even leap into the dragon’s maw so to speak. You are truly a wonder.”

I kind of  cocked an eyebrow at her and smiled saying, “Nothing wondrous about me. If you wanted me dead you’ve had more than enough chances up to now.  I figure you really need my services, so until the job is done I’m off the snack list. You may eat me later, but for now I am useful and therefore safe.  Besides, I’m warded to go boom if I’m ever killed, and it’s probably big enough of an explosion to level your hill. However, I’m betting you already know that.”

“Truth,” she said with a nod of her enormous head.

“All of that aside though, I came down here because I am drawn to you.  I grew up reading about dragons without ever imagining that your kind were real.  I would have come down here even facing death just to get a closer look at you.  This is not flattery in any sense of the word, rather it’s statement of blatant fact…you’re magnificent. I can’t stop myself staring at you, at your terrifying beauty.”

I stood there for a minute after I said that with my heart pounding in my chest. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a nerdy teenager waiting for the girl I had just asked to the movies to either lift my heart or crush it.  It was a very uncomfortable few minutes, but that’s when something unexpected happened…she cocked her head at me and looked me square in the eyes. While our eyes were locked a shimmer formed around her and where one second stood a dragon the size of a battleship there now stood the woman from The Bar.

“Killer…Tole…you are definitely not what I have come to expect in a human. I think I have chosen wisely in a protector, and I would offer you something no human has known from me, and no, I do not mean laying with me.  I offer you a glimpse at the soul of a dragon. This is something that is not shared lightly.  It is called Communion, and you will see exactly who and what I am. In exchange I will see exactly who and what you are. It is far more intimate than mere sex and far more intense. Do not take this offer lightly though.  Once it is done it cannot be undone.  What you will see cannot be unseen. What do you say?”

I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable offering me this, and again I heard “for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup”  in the back of my mind.  I know killing me would kill her too, but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to become a nuclear warhead.  Then it hit me, she was nervous, the kind of nervous a person is the first time they’re naked in front of someone.  She was offering to bare herself in a way much more deeply than mere nudity ever could be.  She was offering to make herself vulnerable to me, and she was asking me to make myself vulnerable to her. For killers of any race, that’s asking a lot. I felt my resolve about keeping this job professional beginning to slip away. I didn’t really feel any urge to fight it either, and for once in my life I kept my sarcasm in check.  Likely that’s why I’m here to tell this story. I took a deep breath and looked at this beautiful creature standing before me and asked her, “What do I need to do?”

“Simply open your mind,” she said.

This is where it got a bit sticky, and I should have seen it coming.  I’ll admit that I was a little swept up in the moment and that may have caused me to be blinded.  I’d have to let down the wards that protect my mind from being touched by magic. I’d be open to control again.  She’d have the ability to bond me to her in a way like my wife had before. While I had a driving need to protect her, I also had a deep seated need to keep my free will. I reflexively took a step back.

“Is something wrong?” she asked with a look on her face that was part confusion and part hurt.

All I meant to tell her was that I had once had a bad experience with magic getting into my mind and robbing me of my free will.  That was all I was gonna say. That wasn’t all that came out. The next thing I knew I had told her the whole story from the meeting her in that bar on Terra, to her death, and finally to my vengeance on her killers.  I hadn’t told the whole story to anyone.  Bobby knew, but he’d been there for most of it.  Valsh knew some of it but not all.  The really fucked up part of it all was the fact that I still don’t know if it was my choice to see it through to the end or if it was the magical mind fucking she had given me.

After I finished the story I was exhausted, so I sat down on a chest that was nearby. I looked up her and said, “I haven’t told anyone that whole story, and I honestly don’t know why I told you.  What’s done is done though, so there you go. Now you know what you’re asking me to do.  You’re asking me to trust you, and I’m not sure I can no matter how much I’d like to.”

She sat beside me and took my hand saying, “Be assured I would never bind the will of another.  Freedom is at the core of everything my kind value.  Being bound that way is an abomination and an affront to all that I hold dear.   Besides, if I had wanted to make a slave of you, the wards on your mind would not have stopped me.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “ Did you not notice when I read your resolve in The Bar? My magic is older and stronger than anything even the Altanian know. I would have merely swept them away like so many cobwebs on a forest path. The wards you have in place would have watered down the experience of Communion. If we are to share it, I would have you receive the full experience. If you would like I can tell you if your will is still colored by her invasion, and if so, I can cleanse your mind of its effect.”

I nodded and mentally deactivated the wards around my mind. Even though I was bristling with pointy goodness I suddenly felt very defenseless.  It was extremely uncomfortable.

She took my face in her hands and her gaze deepened. The next few minutes were very…odd. It was like being examined by a doctor.  All she did was move my head this way and that and mutter under her breath.  Most of what she said came out as “mmm-hmm” or “hmm” and even an “interesting.” After what seemed like about half an hour she let go and sat back.

“Well that was enlightening.  I am old enough that I’ve seen Altanian bindings before. That one was…odd. It was definitely a protector’s binding, but it was delicate. It is almost as though she saw that you already possessed the killer instinct the binding usually instills, so all she did was touch you with the emotional bond.  Even that though was light. Almost like she lessened it over time. I would say you actually loved her after a while. The bond was actually put there to help you NOT be a killer. When she died, the last bit of the magic died with her.  Everything you did after that point was all you.”

Confusion and relief and elation all rolled through me at once. The feelings brought with them a few tears. I didn’t turn into a blubbering idiot or anything, but that kind of relief is gonna pop a tear out whether you want it or not.  I really didn’t know how to react to that news, so I just reached out and embraced her.  Now it was her turn to be uncomfortable. She went rigid until she realized I wasn’t going to try and hurt her. After that she relaxed into my embrace, and we just sat there for a few minutes. When it was over I felt like a giant boulder had been taken off of my back. Now I know who I am…who I’ve always been. I am a killer. Period. End of story.

 “Thank you,” I told her. “If your offer still stands, I would very much like to experience Communion with you.”

“Of course,” was all she said and she took my hand and led me to a kneeling position on the floor. “This is usually done between two of my kind in our natural forms. I have never done this with a human much less in human form.  It may take a moment for me to orient myself.”

She knelt across from me with her knees touching mine. She reached out, took my hands in hers, and locked her eyes with mine. After a minute or so a glow began to form around us both. Shortly after it formed I realized that the glow was actually a ball of flame with us at the center.  Strangely though it wasn’t hot. Her eyes drew nearer until they passed right through me and I found myself in the night sky gliding among the stars.

The landscape below me is mine and mine alone. There are green fields, a cabin on a hill, a mountain range where unearthly light dances among the slopes, and a scarred and burnt wasteland.  All of it belongs to me to do with as I will. I decide I should land and explore but when my feet touch ground I am in all five places at once. Each version of me is slightly different. I realize that each land represents an aspect of a dragon’s existence. All I have to do is concentrate and I can slide between aspects like chasing a thought.

The night sky is freedom, freedom to go and do as I will.  It is unfettered joy. There is nothing here that can touch me. The green fields of grass are hunting grounds. This is where the predator stalks its prey. This is where my dominance over all life is asserted. The cabin on the hill are safety and home. Nothing can touch me there. It is where I find peace, comfort,  love, and…family.  The mountains are magic, old and powerful. This is where my will and my intellect live. I am all powerful and all knowing. The burnt wasteland is my rage.  It is destroyed because I wish it so, and it pleases me. When you combine all of these things…freedom, predator, home, magic, and rage… you have a dragon. Woe be to anyone who threatens any of it.

I could feel the Communion coming to an end, and I fought against it. I railed against being forced back into that frail human frame. I longed to stay and bathe in the glory of being a dragon. No matter though.  The world came back into focus, and I was looking into those glowing eyes once again. This time though there was something new in her eyes. It took me a moment to recognize it because I hadn’t seen it in a very long time…respect.  No one respects the paid assassin.  They fear him.  They hate him. Some even look down on him, but no one respects him.

I took her hand back into mine and locked my gaze on her saying, “Serilla, thank you for sharing that with me. It was beautiful. You are beautiful, and I will end the threat to you and your brood or I will die trying.”

I felt her hand tighten on mine at the mention of her brood and she said, “I should have realized that I could hide nothing in Communion.  I do have a small brood of four younglings. The first for me in close to a half of a millennia. I would have gladly died to protect them if I thought I could end the threat to them…but Tole, now that I have seen what you hold inside I feel I should release you from our bargain. I would not risk having someone such as you perish. Would you like to know what I saw of you?”

“No.”

“But I think you should kn…”

“No.”

“Very well,” she said and leaned forward kissing me again every bit as hard as she had back in The Bar. “I will know you as a human woman knows a man, Killer. Now that I know who and what you truly are I will regret it if I do not.”

I stood and told her, “Once I’ve ended this bastard and you’ve added his weapons and armor to your hoard, we can explore that for as long as you’d like. Now though, I’ve got people to kill. Where are they?”

What I Did This Weekend Instead of Writing

Part of the fun of having a large family is running out of space as the kids get older.  Because getting rid of a kid is apparently off the ...