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.

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 entrée 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?”

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 2 - Mikey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Please Feel Free to Call Me a Hack

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

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

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

Thanks.
Tole

Monday, September 10, 2018

Quick Blurb on Being Old and Broken

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

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

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

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

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

YAY!

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

Tole

Friday, August 31, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 2 - Journey to Orta'ahn

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

Blog Changes

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