Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of Those Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

It's those pesky 'little' details... sigh

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