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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Don't Taze Me Bro'!

In the ongoing saga of my sleeping hands...neuro-conductivity testing.

If you've ever had it done that's all I need to say.

If you haven't, basically I'm going to pay a doctor to use a taser on me...on purpose.

***sigh***

Getting old is not for wimps.

Tole

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 1 - The Offer


For someone not in my profession it is hard to explain that I really don’t care who’s on the side of right in any situation.  From my point of view the person paying me is always right.  Good, bad, benevolent, or malicious is all irrelevant to me.  I really couldn’t give two shits as long as the money spends. Does that make me bad? Amoral maybe, but not bad. Bad would mean I never do the right thing.  That’s not the case.  I honestly don’t care about right or wrong.  I care about getting paid.
A job I did earlier in my career comes to mind.  It will serve as a shining example of what I’m trying to explain. A dragon was terrorizing the countryside of this little backwater world.  It had been eating virgins, burning villages, hoarding treasures…standard stuff really.  The locals were getting really tired of its shit, so they had gone out to find someone to kill it.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t me.  Fighting a dragon is insane.  Those motherfuckers breathe fire, and the more intelligent ones use magic as well as any other race I’ve ever encountered. Nope, fighting a dragon dances dangerously close to joining a cause, and as I’ve said before I don’t do causes.  Causes get killers killed. Knights take up causes, and the people had found a good one.  That’s what got me hired.  The dragon didn’t want to fight this particular knight, so it hired me to kill him before any kind of a fight had to happen.
Yeah, you read that right.  The dragon hired me, and I took the job. Did I mention hoarded treasure?  Yeah, a big old pile of gold speaks to me more than saving a damsel in distress ever could.  I did that once.  Never again.
I’m getting ahead of myself though.  Let’s go back to the start because this one is worth hearing from the beginning. I’d only been in the business for about a year at this point, and my reputation had already started to reach out across worlds. I’d had quite a few people come to me hoping to find a champion or a white knight.  That’s not me.  Most got sent away disappointed. Some ran away with fear or disgust in their eyes once they realized what kind of a person they were dealing with.  Either way I lost about three seconds of sleep over them all…in total.
The night I landed the job we’re talking about though was one that still stands out in my memory years later.  I came down from my room for supper.  I was on day three of a three day bender and really wasn’t in the mood for people and/or people-like things.  Bobby won’t let me eat in my room, so I have to come down if I need food.
I found an empty seat at the bar and planted my scrawny, hungover ass on the stool.  I kind of waved to Bobby. He came over with stew and bread already in his hands which he placed in front of me with a grunt.  He tapped his finger twice on the counter which meant there was a token under the bowl.  Someone in the bar was looking to hire a killer.  I just happened to be a killer in need of a job. What a coincidence.
I raised my head and looked at Bobby with a cocked eyebrow.  He pointed to a table just to the left of the fireplace where a man was sitting having a bowl of the self-same stew that I was getting ready to shove in my face. I nodded a thanks to Bobby while gathering up my shit and made my way across the common room to the table where my new prospective client sat.
It’s almost a reflex to do a threat assessment on anyone I get close enough to see the color of their eyes.  If I can touch them, they can touch me, so I run scenarios in my head to be prepared in case things turn violent.  There may be nothing coming, but in my line of business retribution comes in many shapes and from many directions.  Killers who aren’t vigilant don’t stay killers for long. I’m pretty sure Bobby wouldn’t send me into a situation like that…if he saw it coming. That being said, it’s just good practice to always watch your ass and plan for the worst.
First thing I noticed was that my prospective employer wasn’t a man as I had first thought. The darkness of the room combined with the shadows cast by the fire made it difficult to tell from across the room.  She was wearing a wide, flat brimmed hat which hid her face in shadows. Add to that the fact that she was probably close to six feet tall with shoulders and upper arms like a linebacker and the mistake was an easy one to make. Doesn’t matter that he was a she as long as the money was good.
Second thing I noticed was that she was wearing scale armor which probably also meant she was armed.  Bobby doesn’t have any “disarm at the door” rules, so that too was no big deal.  People didn’t start shit here usually because Bobby was more than capable of finishing it and he could magically bar entrance to his establishment once the dust settles.  I hear getting bounced out of here hurts.  Don’t plan on finding out though.
Last thing that stood out was that she was sitting with her back to the fire and facing the door.  That spoke volumes to me.  Sitting with your back to the main light source would obscure your features to anyone coming into the room and that could give you precious seconds to react while someone looking for you waits for their eyes to adjust to the light levels and searches the crowd.  Facing the door just magnifies your advantage in that your eyes are already adjusted and you get first look at everyone who comes in.  She’s smart and wary. I like her already. The only thing that could spoil it is if she’s looking for a rescuer. Something tells me though that she’s not the damsel in distress type.
“Mind if I join you?” I asked as I sat my food on the table.
“Depends on if you are the company I came here to find.” Was the reply.
I sat the token on the table, and she nodded to a seat to her right that wouldn’t block her view of the door. Smart.
I parked my butt in the chair and made eye contact for the first time. Her eyes were a kind of orange-yellow and shone out from under the shadow of her hat like glowing embers in a fire…literally.  They were fucking GLOWING.  The weird part of it was I couldn’t look away.  My eyes were locked on hers, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t look away. I was unable, and maybe even a little unwilling, to look away.  I have no idea how long we sat there, but when she finally turned her head away I sagged into my chair. Every muscle in my body had been tensed and now fatigue was hitting me like a freight train.
“Yes,” she said, “you shall do nicely.  I see the killer in you, and it speaks more to me than any words that have reached my ears.  Once you are pointed at a target that target falls or else you do.  I can admire that.”
As she spoke she pulled a small cigarillo out of a pouch at her waist and placed it between her lips. She turned to the fire and reached into it with a bare hand pulling out a coal lighting the small cigar.  Once it was lit, she casually tossed the coal back into the hearth, took a long drag on the cigarillo, and turned back to me.
Magic…great.  Once I realized what had just happened I got a little angry. I was just about to express my displeasure with the point of the dagger that I had up my sleeve when something in the back of my mind made me stop. I replayed the last few seconds in my mind and when the light finally dawned on my marble head I sat back into my chair.
Like I said before, the threat assessment process is almost a reflex, and this time it probably just saved my ass as my thoughts crystalized into a realization.  One, she just stuck her bare hand into a burning hearth and pulled out a coal without even the slightest hint of pain. Second, the scale armor she was wearing wasn’t armor at all.  When the light of the fire hit it, it revealed it to be reptilian scales and not metal ones.  It was her goddam skin!  Glowing eyes, immunity to fire, and scaly skin all pointed to one conclusion…dragon.  I’m sitting across from a real deal, fire breathing, shapeshifted dragon.
There’s a saying that I used to think was funny, but I suddenly found it very applicable.  It went like this, “Never meddle in the affairs of dragon for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.” I wonder if that still applies if you’re on the dragon’s side in the aforementioned “affairs.” I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet Bobby would have a tough time bouncing her if shit went sideways. Probably best for all if I don’t try and find out. So be nice Tole!
“So, what does a dragon need a tiny little man like me to kill that she can’t just burn down herself? I mean, if you can’t handle it what chance would I me have?” I shoved a spoonful of stew in my face as I finished my question, partly because it was getting cold and partly to keep my snark under control. Snark aimed at dragons is only tolerated for so long.
She laughed at that. Her laugh was musical and genuinely heartfelt. When I heard it I breathed a sigh of relief.  Maybe I won’t be a charcoal briquette before this is all done.
“Do not think I have not tried,” she said once her laugh died away. “The dragon hunter that has been sent against me is one of the best in the realm where I reside.  He has had a long career and has killed many of my kin much older than I.  He uses weapons created to easily pierce our hides.  Nasty things created by mystical beings from other worlds. His armor wards him against my fire, but it also protects him from cold, lightning, acid, and magic.  He is all but immune to any attack a dragon can bring against him.  It is why he has lived so long. He forces us to close combat and his cohorts trap us with nets and cables fired from ballistae.  Then he strides in the confident champion and dispatches us at his leisure.  It’s disgusting and it makes it all but impossible for us to be victorious.”
“Why come to me?  Why not look for help on your own world? Surely there are men of questionable character there?” I realize I’ve reached the bottom of my bowl while I listened to her talk, so I wave Bobby over for a refill and ask him for a beer to go with it. He grunts and goes back to the bar to get them.  As he returns with my order, my new friend takes up her story again.
 “That is a valid question.  Of course there are those like that on my home world.  However, when it comes to helping one of my kind, everyone on my world is of a similar mind.  Everyone has lost at the hands of my race at some point.  They are far more likely to help my foe than me, so I am forced to seek my help elsewhere. I have heard you are a man who does not trifle with moral implications and once a bargain is struck you will not waiver from your goal.  That is why I am here.  That is why I have chosen you, but know this. Should you decide to betray me, I will burn you to ash with my dying breath.”
“I can respect that. I have never turned on a client, and I don’t intend to start with you. I have however ended more than one client who turned on me.  If I suspect for an instant you do not intend to honor our bargain, that hunter will be the preferable option for you.”
A puff of smoke rolled out of her nostrils and I didn’t remember seeing her take a drag on her cigarillo. Great Tole, make the dragon mad.  Good idea. I was just getting ready to defend myself, when she leaned forward and took my hand.
“No one has dared speak to me in that manner in a long time, and none have done so that I honestly believed could follow through on the threat. I find it…invigorating. You are an interesting man assassin.  If you were a dragon, I would consider taking you as a mate. Hell, I am half tempted to finish my transformation to human and do it anyway.” As she finished that statement her eyes flared a little brighter and smoke curled from the corners of her upturned mouth. I’m not sure I’d survive that particular joining. I’d better find a new direction for this conversation to go.
“I am honored, but I have a strict rule about romantic involvement with my clients.  It’s never a good idea to mix my kind of business with pleasure.  Emotions can cause me to hesitate and hesitation can cost me a client or even my life. I’ll kill your hunter for you. The price will be significant because in order to provide you the true result you seek…safety, I will have to kill his entire hunting party. If I don’t there’s nothing stopping his second in command from taking up the mantle and coming for you later.”
She leaned back in her chair and seemed to relax a bit.  She drug a nail across the table carving a small furrow. The wood curled into a little roll as she gouged it out. A small growl rolled up her throat.
“Too bad. I think you might find it enjoyable. Perhaps another time.  You do raise a valid point about the hunter’s cohorts though.  I had not considered that one might rise to take his place. There are fortunes to be made in the killing of my kind. Name your price killer, and it shall be done.”
“Twice my weight in gold and exclusive first option rights to similar work for you and your kind in the future,” I said extending my hand to seal the bargain with an exchange of grips.
“Done,” she said as she took my hand. As she did she pulled me to my feet and forward and kissed me...hard. It bordered on pain but wasn’t unpleasant. As she leaned into the kiss deepening it, she exhaled softly and heat came with it. Smoke curled up between our lips and rolled from both our nostrils. It was damned sexy and I almost threw my rules out the window.
She glanced down at the part of a man’s body that tends to have a mind of its own and smiled.
“Definitely another time.”
With that she vanished in a cloud of smoke. As she did a single scale fell to the table. It would provide me the link I need to find her on her world.  This shit is gonna be interesting.
After she was gone and my pants weren’t doing their impression of Barnum and Bailey’s big top anymore, I went back over and sat down at the bar.  Bobby met me with another beer and another bowl of stew in his hands. Did I mention he’s my hero? When I looked up at him, he had the biggest shit eating grin on his face.
“What?” I asked.
“You kissed her huh? She offer to have sex with you?”
“Maybe, but you know I don’t mess around with clients…especially not ones who could cook me if I piss them off.”
“Probably for the best,” he said. “I hear it can be kinda dangerous. Also hear Serilla’s worth the risk.” He finished that sentence with a wink. Then he spun on his heels and walked away.
“Bobby! Bobby! What do you mean worth the risk?!?  Hey! How do you know her name?!?! Bobby! Answer me goddamit! Bobby! BOBBY!”
That motherfucker just laughed and kept on walking.
After I finished my last bowl of stew, I went up to my room to get ready to go to work. I may or may not have grumbled under my breath as I climbed the stairs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In the Interim


I received a scolding from a friend that I need to put up a blog post. In all honesty he’s right, but I have sworn to not discuss politics or any kind of divisive topic.  There’s enough of that going around without me kicking in my opinion, so don’t expect any of that sort of drek out of me.  Not gonna happen. I just don’t feel the need to prove I’m right. (Please read that with the appropriate amount of snark.)

I’m also not going to talk too much about my personal life. Not because I’m worried someone will discover my secret identity and expose me to the world. Ask anyone I know and they’ll let you know I am not one to shy away from attention.  I thrive on it.  In all honesty I’m not talking about me because I would bore the hell out of you in about 6.7 seconds. Unless, that is, you guys would like to hear about budgeting and preparing for a year-end audit for the financial statements of the company I work for.  No? Don't blame you.

Well, there is one thing I could talk about that has developed in the last couple of years. Wait, that’s not true.  It’s an addiction I’ve had all of my life but just now got to a point where I can sort of afford to indulge it. Since high school way back in 19…something or other I have had an unreasonable love for the Ford Mustang.  I have set a goal to have one of every generation at some point…even the Mustang II from the 70’s. See?  I told you in was unreasonable.

Maybe, I'll mix some things about that stuff in as I go along if anyone cares to see it. Might even put up some pictures of the custom stuff I'm doing to them.

For now though, there's a story that needs my attention.

Tole

A Drowning Pickup

This just in from the Isn't That Interesting Department ... But first some backstory. The area I live in suffered an ungodly drought...