Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My Friends...How I Loathe Them

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

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

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

ME:    Hmm. Interesting story line.

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

LD:     Terrible thought for a creature that hoards everything.

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

LD:     You’re welcome.

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

ME:     (middle finger emoji)

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

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

LD:     Teach you to ask a question.

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

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

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

LD:      And…You’re welcome.

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

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

-Tole


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Oh My Wandering Mind

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

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

2. To Kill a War Leader

3. Retribution

4. The Affairs of Dragons

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

-Tole

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Mikey!!!

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

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


So cool.

Tole

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

And the Hits Just Keep On...

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

Grrr....

-Tole

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Edits and What-Not

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

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

-Tole

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...