Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pickup Progress

So I spent last weekend out at my friend's house and shop.  When we moved my truck, it would just flat fall on its face and die. I knew it was electrical, and I had a damned good idea what it was.


This little jewel is the ignition switch, and it has contacts sandwiched between the metal and plastic layers. Eventually those layers separate; those contacts quit working; and random stall outs happen. It's mounted way down on the steering column up under the dash. I'm too old and fat to be flipping over upside down and working under a dash, so this happened.


Part of the process also involved replacing my original exhaust manifolds because one of them was cracked...badly. I'm too broke to buy good headers, so I decided to use the ones that came from the salvage yard with the engine. That presented me with a problem in that those manifolds have a lot more emissions provisions on them that the ones from 1984. No big deal. Three 3/4" pipe plugs fixed that right up.


Now some people ask me why I am willing to drive just over three hours to go do work on an old piece of shit truck that I could just as well do at home.  Well, first and foremost, my friend who's shop I am working in and I have known each other since high school. I truly enjoy spending the time out there with him and his beautiful wife. They live in the country, and it is extremely relaxing to go out there for a few days.

Second, he has an amazing accumulation of tools and equipment. For example, we ended up having to do some minor alterations to those manifolds due to warping. (Minor as in using his drill press and a 3/4" bit to drill out 7 of the 8 bolt holes to get all of the bolts started. Yes, they still sealed up with no leaks.)  Remember earlier I mentioned being old and fat? Well, the two post lift is also very nice for that particular situation.

Lastly, I also got to spend some time helping out on these:






It's a rough job, but somebody has to do it. Oh, and in case I haven't shared it before, this one belongs to my friend who's shop I was in.



-Wayne

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 7 - Ready? Fight!

The last couple of weeks were really productive. I've got a few chapters written and in the editing process. If I can keep this going I'm hoping to have this book ready this spring. Here's hoping.

In other news, I've just about got my old truck back on the road. Just need to finish the exhaust and go through the brakes. Looking forward to driving it again.

Any way. Hope you enjoy this next chpater.

-Wayne

Light coming through the window woke me...that combined with a mighty urge to take a piss.  It took me a couple of seconds to disentangle myself from Shala. I'd be willing to bet one of her legs weighs over half what my entire body weighs, but oh lord what a leg. I give serious thought to waking her up, but then I realize I have other commitments today. Dammit, sometimes, life just ain't fair. 
I open the door to the hut and the sight that greets me was something a person would have to see first-hand to fully appreciate. There were naked, sleeping orcs EVERYWHERE. The cook fire was still smoldering and there was still some meat left on the carcass hanging over it. After I finished draining my bladder, I carved off another big chunk and took it back to Shala's hut. She was awake and dressed when I got there. I tore the meat in half and offered her a portion. She took it with a smile and gently stroked the side of my head.
"You are definitely not what I expected, white skin," she said with the softest tone I'd heard from her. "You are fierce for one so small, and I think you will do well today. Try not to let my kinsman kill you. I would like to see you again when I return from my duties for the day." Then she bent forward, nuzzled the side of my head, and left the hut.
"Dying is never part of my plan," I replied to the empty room. Time to find Valsh.
I find my man Valsh right where I left him the night before only now he's naked with a woman under each arm. They're both lying with their heads on his chest, and all three of them are sleeping peacefully. Almost seems a shame to wake him up. As I get closer I notice that there's a little trickle of dried blood running out of his left nostril and the eye on that side is a little swollen and surrounded by a darker green ring that is likely a hell of a shiner. Oh, he's grinning like an idiot in his sleep too. I can respect that.
"Wake up, you old dog," I say kicking the bottom of his foot. No way I'm getting within arms reach of a sleeping orc.
He kind of snorts, opens the eye that isn't almost swollen shut, and smiles at me. Then he gently rolls each woman off of his chest and sits up. He kind of swoons a little and almost falls back over.  I'm guessing hangover mixed with a slight concussion. I can't help but laugh a little which earns me a glare and then a chuckle from Valsh.
"Old is right. I think I may be aging beyond this sort of thing, but gods it is good," he said as he got to his feet and gathered his clothes. "We should head to my hut and I will heal anything serious. It is good to keep some pain. Reminds us we are alive. Have you eaten?"
"Yeah, Shala and I ate before she left this morning. Water would be good though. I am more than a little dehydrated."
"I would be disappointed if you were not," he said with a laugh walking towards the cook fire. He carved himself off a chunk of meat, grabbed some fruit, and came back my way. "There is water in my hut. Shall we go get you ready for your trial. There are things that must be done. This is ritual as much as anything else. The traditions must be followed."
Once we were in his hut, Valsh sat me in the center of the main room and wove some healing magic around me to close up anything that had been bleeding. I was surprised at just how many bite wounds there were. I honestly hadn't noticed them happen. He left the bruising caused by the bite and just closed the wound. He also found a couple of light fractures in my left arm and right thigh. Guess it was a rougher night than I thought.
While he worked, Valsh described what would happen the rest of the day. I would be taken to a hut to be prepared for the trial. Elder females would bathe me, paint my body with symbols significant to the trial, and dress me in the ritual outfit for the fight. Fucker laughed when he said that because they were going to have to make one because of my size. Sometimes being small is a pain in the ass.
The healing took a lot out of both of us, so we ate more and drank about a half-gallon of some fruit juice that was supposed to replenish the body.  I have to be honest I did feel considerably better about twenty minutes after I drank it.  I'm not one hundred percent sure there wasn't some mild narcotic effect from the drink though.  I felt invincible, but Valsh kept reminding me that even a newly blooded warrior was going to be considerably bigger than me.  I kept reminding him that almost everything I had ever faced in a fight was considerably bigger than me going all the way back to John Morton back in high school. This was nothing new.
About mid-afternoon there was a knock at the door of the hut. Outside was a cadre of ancient orc women who announced they were here to see to the white skin. Valsh obviously respected these women because he bowed as they entered. He introduced them each in turn citing their places on the women's elder council. It seems that the War Leader had two teams of advisors. The male elders dealt with war, which meant he ignored them entirely, but the female elders counseled him in the running of the village. They planned all of the hunts, farming, and education of the pups. These were important ladies. I decided it was in my best interest to be nice, so I bowed to each in turn.
They led me from Valsh's hut to a small building beside a ring of stone that encircled a sand pit. That must be the ring. There was another building just like it directly opposite the one I was led to. Smoke rose through a clay chimney in the roof of each. On the other two points of the compass on the ring stood two weapons racks. There was nothing with an edge or a point, so they're training weapons.  Doesn't mean they won't hurt like hell. Each rack held a club that would be a real chore for me to wield, a mace, and what looked like Escrima sticks except they were about two inches thick. Good to know I wouldn't have to stand out in the center and try to trade licks with one of these granite skulled mother fuckers.
From the other hut I could hear female voices singing songs of glorious death in battle and all that warrior bullshit. I, for one, agree with George S. Patton when he said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” Only in this situation it would be something like...the point of war isn't to die in battle. It's to make the other poor fucker die so you can enjoy the victory. 
The one thing I hated about all of this was not knowing who I was fighting. My training is screaming for me to recon the shit out of this situation and then spend time planning the fastest way to end it. It's causing me more than a little anxiety. I tried talking to my escorts as we were walking from Valsh's place, but they wouldn't say word one. I need to find a way to accept that this one is out of my comfort zone, so I can calm the fuck down. 
The bath was done with me standing buck naked in a tub of warm water. The old women sang the same songs I had heard on the way in while they worked. After I was dried, I was put into a leather cod piece and loin cloth. They moved me to the center of the hut to stand near a small fire pit. The oldest, or at least the one leading this ceremony, put some plants into the fire that made a sweet-smelling smoke. The smoke didn't fill the room, just the aroma. While it burned, two of the women began to paint orcish runes on my back and chest and one painted gold and red stripes on my face. Valsh had told me they were symbolic and supposed to hide the combatants from death. 
Whatever. If you're supposed to die, paint ain't gonna fucking prevent it.
When they were satisfied with their work, one of them opened the door to the hut, and I was led to a place on the stone ring and instructed to sit and contemplate what was to come. I was not to move until the Battle Master said to do so. The trial would be just after sundown, so I had a couple of hours to sit there. I was gonna be so damned stiff by the time this shit kicked off.
Shortly after I settled in to wait, the door of the other hut opened and a similar group of women led a mountain of an orc to a seat opposite me. I could tell pretty much right away that this was no freshly blooded warrior. This dude had some years under his belt. I could see the scars on his chest from the twenty feet or so away that I sat. I could also see that he had rings in both tusks. 
What the actual fuck is this bullshit? I thought this was supposed to be a formality with me fighting some wet behind the ears, young warrior. Where the fuck is Valsh? Fuck it. I can handle his ass.
I start to look him over to see if I can gather any information I can use once the fun starts. Scout training and years of being a sneaky bastard make it almost reflex. Start with the scars. He's been stabbed several times. There's a difference between a scar from a cut and a scar from a stab or other puncture wound. They tend to pucker. This poor bastard has played arrow and/or spear catcher on more than one occasion. Mark those as potential strike points...especially the one near the socket of his right shoulder. I bet that one gives him shit right before a rain.
His jawline isn't straight.  Likely he's had it broken a couple of times along with the tusk on the side that is inset slightly. Cracked granite is still granite, but it tends to break more easily along those fault lines.  Strike point number two located and marked.
As I file that away a memory jumps into my head. He was limping slightly. Not like he was currently hurt. More like Jerry back on Terra did back form that old football injury.  Just give to it a little so you don't step wrong and fuck it up again.  That's strike point number three, but only if I have to. I don't need an enemy here, and crippling a warrior might just cause some ill will to develop.
Size-wise he's probably a good foot taller than me and probably weighs twice what I do. Grappling would not be fun unless I get lucky and get him where he can't get me and then somehow force him to yield. Let's not make that the primary plan, but I could probably handle it as long as he doesn't get a hand on me. Something tells me he'd snap me like a dry twig and then apologize for getting carried away.
While I had been doing all my plotting and planning, the village had gathered around the ring. Some torches had been lit. I hadn't even noticed it getting dark. Hyper focus is a bitch sometimes. I hear Valsh before I see him. He's protesting the War Leader's choice of opponent saying that it is an unfair match to put me against a seasoned orc warrior like...Gujek I think he said was his name.
"If your little friend was truly sent by the gods, then he must face a challenge worthy of him. The choice stands," Na'Guk proclaimed then he laughed and called for food and drink as his dais.
So, the old fucker is stacking the deck.  Ok, this just went from proving myself to saving myself. That brings a whole new protocol up for the actions I am going to take. I don't need to kill him, but I do need to make this fast, decisive, and most of all brutal. If the War Leader want to test me, he picked a bad day to do it.
Valsh stepped into the ring and walked to where Gujek was seated. They exchanged a few words and Gujek shook his head in the negative. Valsh nodded and walked to me.
Once he was in front of me he said, "My role in this is to ask you if you wish to withdraw. If you answer no, I will move to the center of the ring and call you both forward to begin the combat. You may use any of the weapons on the racks to either side, but you must gain them after the fight begins. Tole, I would suggest you withdraw. There will be no dishonor if you do. You can alter your plan and still carry out the assassination."
I think of my night with Shala and think I would like to be able to return to this village someday. These people, their lives, and their world speak to me on a very basic level. If I withdraw, that cannot happen. Besides, I don't like being fucked with.
"I fight," I said with enough heat in my voice that there could be no misunderstanding my commitment.
Valsh stands up straight and looks me in the eye. Then he grins and says, "So be it. Fight well my friend."
He turns and walks to the center of the circle and raises his hands into the air. Everything falls silent. He motions to Gujek and me, so we both rise and walk to the center of the ring. Now that we're this close I notice some discolored areas around Gujek's ribcage and his left eye.  He must've had a good time last night too.
Valsh conjures a small flame in his hand and lets it float in the air between Gujek and I. He says, "When this flame winks out, let the trial by combat begin. Remember this is ritual combat, so try not to kill one another. May the gods grant victory to the worthy." When he finished, he walked out of the circle to stand next to Na'Guk.
Right Tole. Knee...ribs...shoulder...jaw. Those are your targets...Get this shit done.
Just as I finish the thought the flame winks out, and Gujek takes a step forward on his weak leg. Thank you. I drop backwards into a Capoeira stance ducking his lead punch and immediately lash out landing the kick on that bad knee. It gives with a satisfying crack, and he roars in pain and anger. 
Knee.
I follow it with a dagger hand strike into the scar on his rib cage and feel my fingers slip between two ribs, so I grab the upper one and pull hard feeling it crack and drawing another roar from my opponent.
Ribs.
He takes a haymaker swing at me which I duck under as it comes. Sometimes being small pays off. The punch combined with the broken knee cause him to over extend, and I end up to the side and slightly behind him. I jump up onto his back and my left arm snakes around his throat, his Adam's apple in the crook of my elbow, and I grasp my right bicep with my left hand.
Choke instead of shoulder? What the hell? Why not?
Startled, the asshole does exactly what everyone else does when this happens, and tries to smack me in the nose with the back of his head. Unfortunately, my right hand is on the back of his head, and his head-butt becomes a pitiful shove.
Automatically, I pull my shoulders back. It's now a countdown. Seven ... six ... I feel his weight start to shift, and I slam my feet into the back of his knees, collapsing the joints and throwing him off balance. He instinctively wastes time trying to stay upright ... four ... three ... He paws fitfully at my arm, buried deep under his chin ... two ... one.
He's out.
I'm not stupid, so I hold the choke for another five seconds, before dropping him like a sack of dead trout in the dirt followed by a roar from the crowd.
I start my walk over to where Na'Guk and Valsh stand to claim my victory when I notice the crowd is silent again. That's when I hear the cough behind me, so I turn to see Gujek on his hands and knees. 
Seriously?!?! Fuck my life!
I walk over to a weapon rack and grab a mace and start back into the ring. About five steps from Gujek I start a loping run and my backswing. I land solidly on both feet right in front of him as my swing comes forward. 
Jaw.
The crack left no room for confusion that I broke his goddamed jaw. He went down hard, and I walked over the edge of the ring where his broken tusk lay where it had landed in the sand. I picked it up and dropped the mace. Dusting the sand off of the tusk, I turned and walked back to the dais where Na'Guk sat with his mouth hanging open. Valsh was behind him with his arms folded across his chest and grinning like an idiot.
I dropped the tusk on the table and walked out of the ring and toward Valsh's hut without a word to anyone. 
I need a drink.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 6 - Proving My Mettle

With all that's been going on with my health I haven't been doing a ton of writing. I have done some, just not a lot.  I was looking at the blog posts and realized it's been almost two months since I put up anything story related. That cannot stand.

There are a couple of pieces of news to share:

First, I've decided to focus on one book until it's done at least as much as I can. I've decided To Kill a War Leader will be the first one I finish as it happens first in the chronology. So there's that. There will still be short stories along the way because my muse is totally eaten up with ADHD.

Second, thanks to everyone who's picked up the stuff I've put on Amazon. I really appreciate that you'd cough up actual money for my drivel.

I've changed the way I'm formatting my stuff as I write so I don't have to go back and redo it all for publishing.  It's almost like I'm trying to be a writer or something.

Well, that's enough blather out of me.  Hope you enjoy it.

-Wayne


Proving My Mettle

The next morning found me in the village's Great Hall in front of Na'Guk, War Leader of the Deep Valley Tribe. I just thought Valsh was big. If I had to guess, I'd say Na'Guk was close to eight feet tall and probably weighed around four hundred and fifty pounds. His skin was slightly darker green than Valsh, and he had a slight gut, probably from age more than anything else. Don't misunderstand, he had muscles on his muscles. I would not want to find myself facing this fella in matched combat. He'd belch and kill me. Lucky for me I had no intention of fighting fair.
When Valsh told the story of my arrival on Orta'ahn, he conveniently left out the part where he came to The Bar to get me. His story started with the ambush in the jungle. He told them that he was caught off guard and couldn't use his magic, so he prayed to the god of the jungle for help. Then he told them how I seemed to just appear from the foliage and help even the odds. He told the gathered audience that I single-handedly bested two Desert Reaches warriors in hand-to-hand combat never mentioning that I poisoned one of them. He didn't say I fought fair. He didn't say I didn't either, the crafty bastard.
Na'Guk stopped Valsh with a raised hand at this point and Valsh lowered his eyes to the floor. My eyes were already there just like Valsh had told me to do.  NO eye contact unless spoken too and then only briefly. Lowering your eyes in deference is expected. I'm not used to deferring, so I'm hoping I can pull this off.
"Why would the gods send you such a small creature? I doubt he could best a pup much less a warrior...even a Desert Reaches warrior," he scoffed.
My first reaction was to stick something pointy in his arrogant ass, but Valsh had prepared me for this. I have to prove myself to the War Leader. Valsh extended an arm in my direction indicating I should approach, so I stepped around him and held out my hand. In it was the tusk rings I had taken as trophies, little gold beads and all. A whisper spread through the room.
"You claimed these from the slain?" Na'Guk asked.
I raised my head and looked him in the eye saying one of the few orcish phrases I had managed to learn, "I did." Then, as Valsh had instructed, I lowered my eyes to about his chest level and waited for the War Leader to acknowledge my victories.
"Impressive...IF those are yours by right...which I doubt," he said and then spat on the ground at my feet.
Valsh rose with a roar, "You doubt my word? I have served this tribe since before you were born! You insult my honor!"
"I have no doubt you saw what the gods wanted you to see and you believe it all to be true,” Na'Guk replied with an edge of danger in his tone. "I just doubt it happened the way you saw it. If this being wants to claim honor for those kills and in the eyes of this tribe, he will have to prove his skill just as any new warrior...in combat. Let us have a test in the training ring!"
An approving roar went up from everyone gathered in the Great Hall. This wasn't totally unexpected. It just wasn't the optimum outcome. It means I'll have to face a warrior of Na'Guk's choosing to prove my worthiness. It's not a fight to the death, but someone (likely me) is going to be bleeding before it's all said and done. Why can't things ever be easy?
I walked back to Valsh and gave him a look like I was considering just stabbing him and going home. As we left the Great Hall he took me aside and said, "Tole, we knew this was a possibility. Do not worry, very rarely does anyone die in these rites, and I can heal whatever injuries result. Just try not to kill whoever it is Na'Guk chooses for you to face."
"No fucking promises." I really wasn't in the mood for this shit. My response might have come out a little hotter than I intended; because, Valsh missed a step when I answered him. I stalked the rest of the way to the room where he had me staying in his hut and pulled the drape across the opening behind me.
Valsh gave me about twenty minutes or so to calm down, and I used all of it.  I was still a little irked when he finally knocked on the door frame, so I took my sweet time getting around to answering him. If I'm being totally honest, I was looking at my new tattoo work wondering if the job was worth the trouble and giving serious thought to just opening a portal home. That deep bass voice snapped me out of my contemplation.
"Tole," Valsh said his voice carrying a slightly frantic note. "We must prepare for tomorrow. There are things you need to know. This is not something to be dealt with blithely. The entire plan now hinges on you winning this contest."
I took one last look at the tattoos and left that thought behind.  I took the job. I'll do the job. That's how it's done. Fuck it. Nothing to it but to do it. How hard can it be? I walked over and opened the door to find Valsh sitting cross-legged in the floor in front of his altar.
"What do I need to do?"
Valsh rose from his seat and motioned to the stacks of pillows he used for chairs. I went and sat down while he drew us a couple of flagons of orcish beer. I only call it beer because that's a close as I can come to anything to compare it to.  It's sweet, foamy, and packs a hell of a kick. I never have learned the drunken master techniques, so if I've got to fight tomorrow, I'd better take it easy on this stuff. 
"Normally," he began, "when this situation arises the warriors will spend several nights before the combat in meditation, so they will be as focused as possible. They will only leave their meditations to eat and train. This situation is different in so many ways, and maybe it is the gods smiling on you that has made it so. This is the third night of the celebration of the Warrior's Moon. Every orc who can fight has been drinking and carousing for two days and will likely carry on through the night tonight. That may work in your favor."
"Hungover idiots are always more fun," I agreed.
"Therein lies the problem," he continued. "Since you are going to be taking part in one tribal function, you will be expected to take part in ALL tribal functions."
"Fuck me running! I have to go party like an orc and then fight tomorrow?"
"Exactly. Shall we?" he asked and rose from his seat motioning to the door of his hut.
Great, this is just fucking great.
We had no sooner stepped outside than a very large, very muscular orc female shoved drinks and food in our hands. She was wearing a skin cut into what was basically a long tank top that was open to her navel. It barely covered the tips of her breasts and was barely past the place where her legs met. The length wouldn't even qualify as a mini-skirt back on Terra. It was tied with a leather belt with a very impressive dagger attached at her waist. She looked at me like I was the next thing she was planning to eat. Her tongue shot out of her mouth and licked her tusk. It was frightening and exciting all at once.
"Hey Valsh," I asked. "What does it mean when a female licks her tusk like that? Doesn't mean she's trying to decide if I'd taste good does it?"
Valsh laughed and clapped me on the back. "Not exactly. She is curious how you would fare if you were to mate with her. I would not recommend it.  Shala can be...enthusiastic and you need to be fully functional in the morning. Oh hell, I could heal you if you are interested in her. Just know that orc women have to be conquered. They will fight you even if they want you. It will not be easy, but it is definitely worth it." He said that last bit with this tone to his voice that sounded like he'd like to knock her down himself.
I'll be honest. It had been a long time since I'd been with anyone. My wife had been gone almost two years. She would have been the first to acknowledge that there are drives that must not be ignored. She was a very earthy woman in that respect. We are, after all, just animals that learned to think. Sometimes we overthink, and in spite of the tusks, this woman was something to behold.  
Fuck it. Nothing to it but to do it.
"What do I do?"
Apparently, I caught him in the middle of a pull on his drink because the spit-take was epic.
"What?" he asked turning his head to look at me. "Oh. You are serious. Idiot. Well, take her some meat from the beast on the fire, make solid eye contact, and snarl a little. A soft grunt might also be appropriate. If she returns the grunt, nod slightly and let her lead you to wherever she wants to go. Orc men are warriors, but we do defer to our women on occasion. Sex is their domain and they rule it with an iron fist."
"What if we've misread her intentions?"
"HAH! You'll know...and quickly too."
I was still kind of on the fence about the whole thing, but my hormones had already made up their mind. I was halfway to the cook fire before I even realized I'd started to move. Once I got there I grabbed a carving knife from a table near the fire and separated a large chunk of a forequarter in one neat cut. I put the knife back and stalked to where Shala was seated.
She turned to look at me as I approached with a look of satisfaction on her face. (I found out later she won a bet with some friends that she could attract the small, white skinned visitor.) I behaved just as Valsh had instructed and was truly surprised when she responded affirmatively. She took the meat, took a bite, and then fed some to me. When it was gone, she got up and led to me a hut just outside of the light of the fires.
Orc females aren't as tall as the males, but she was still a solid six to eight inches taller than me. That put my face just slightly higher than her chest.  No complaints here. Once we were alone she untied the belt from around her waist and let her clothing fall to the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to find that other than being green and completely hairless, all of her parts were in the same places they'd have been on a human woman. Only difference was that once she dropped her clothes, she broke into a fighter's crouch. Conquered...right.
She stood up a little and said, "Well? What are you waiting for? Lose the garments and let's see what you're made of white skin."
Oh, this should be interesting. I stripped down and took a fighter's stance at about the same time she got back into hers and we began to circle the room. After about the second time around she came at me. The sight of this naked, muscular woman charging me caused me to hesitate, and it cost me. She caught me with her hands under my arms, lifted me up, and pinned me to the wall. I was well and thoroughly pinned. I should have asked Valsh how rough I was supposed to be. I could get out of this, but it might hurt her.
"That is truly disappointing," she said. "I had hoped you would put up more of a fight. If that is the best you can do, you will not last long tomorrow."
"I'm new at this. Don't want to hurt you," I replied.
"I do not think you can little man, but you are welcome to try."
I kicked my legs up between and then over her arms breaking her grip. Once I felt it loosen, I rocked up and forward onto her arms and hit the brachial plexus on both sides of her neck. I rode her to the ground and rolled forward over her head. I whirled around to face her taking my fighter's stance again.
She rolled over onto her hands and knees shaking her head to clear the stun I'd given her saying, "Better." Then she charged again.
An hour or so later we were both exhausted, and I don't think there was a piece of furniture intact. We both fell asleep on her floor. Enthusiastic he said.  Worth it he said. Man, was he right. I hurt all over, but I hadn't felt this alive in over a year.
I got up to leave and Shala pulled me back down. "If you have the energy to stand, you have the energy to do that thing with your tongue again." 
Apparently tusks eliminate the possibility of oral sex, so she'd never experienced it before.  There was a slight anatomical difference for her, but once I figured out where to lick, she was thoroughly "conquered." The party was still going on outside. No reason to end the one in here, but goddammit I was going to be sore. Valsh was going to have some heavy healing to do before I go fight later in the day.
I finally emerged from the hut about an hour and a half after. When I stepped outside I was greeted with a cheer from everyone still conscious at the party. Shala followed me a few minutes later. When the crowd noticed she was walking with a slight limp and her legs were a little unsteady, another louder cheer went up.  I looked over to see Valsh sitting where I had left him with a huge shit-eating grin on his face.
"What?" I asked him when I got to where he was sitting.
"Nothing," he said with a chuckle. "Nothing at all. Are you injured?"
"Just sore man. Nothing that a tub of hot water and a couple of hours of sleep won't fix."
"Looking at Shala, I do not think sleep is in your future. Once she has eaten, I believe the rest of your night is spoken for."
"What?!?" I asked turning to look back only to find Shala headed our way with food and drink in her hand. Once she got there, she grabbed me with the other and walked me back to her hut. Valsh just sat there laughing. I'll admit, I didn't fight her.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

User Friendly 2.0

The original of this post is starting to slide further and further down the blog posting list. Since I haven't found a way to "sticky" a post to keep it on the top, I thought I'd do a version 2. 

Amazon Listings

Birth of an Assassin

Here There Be Pirates

Short Stories

Welcome to the Bar at the End of Everything

One of Those Days

Working on Terra


To Kill a War Leader

1-Meet Valsh

2-Journey to Orta'ahn

3-To Be an Orc

4-Ambush

5-Into the Jungle

6-Proving My Mettle

The Affairs of Dragons

1-The Offer

2-Mikey

3-Communion

4-Time Spent on a Hill

5-A Visit in the Woods


Retribution

1-Downtime

2-Terran Beer

3-Back to Orta'ahn

4-Infiltration and Rescue

6-The Box

Mikey

1-Meet Mikey

2-Hephaestus

I will update this until it falls down the list a ways and then I'll make another updated version.  Thanks to everyone who reads my brain drippings.

-Wayne

Monday, September 23, 2019

There's a Giggling Idiot in the Room

I just added John Wick 3 to my collection this weekend.  I saw it in the theater at release, and it was worth the price of admission.  The only thing was during the scene in the knife room I kept hearing this maniacal little giggle from behind me. This was odd because I always sit in the back row of the theater. It's stadium seating and they're really good seats.  It wasn't until I was on my way home that I realized it was Tole who'd been giggling.  Is that weird? Hearing your main character reacting to the real world?

Oh well, as long as he doesn't start telling me who needs killing right?

In other news, I saw the ortho doc today and the good news is that I have a very healthy looking shoulder joint.  Lots of space between very well defined and shaped bones.  Bad news is that means my shoulder pain isn't skeletal.  Now I wait for my insurance to give their blessing for the MRI to examine the rotator cuff.  All because I just had to scratch the back of the opposite shoulder.

I'll give me when I have more.

As for writing, it seems that every time I try I end up editing.  There is more story coming but good lord is it taking its sweet time.

Meantime, thanks to all who picked up Birth of an Assassin.  Hope you liked it.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Old & Broken - The Saga Continues


A while back I put up a post about being Old and Broken.  Turns out that severe, random muscle cramps and getting lightheaded when standing can be tied to anemia. It also just so happens that you can give yourself anemia from donating blood.  Who knew? I'm O neg with some funky missing component that makes my blood easier to use.

Consequently, my blood usually gets earmarked for babies and small children, and the donation center uses that fact to lay on the guilt if I miss a donation. I like babies, so I was going every time I was eligible and was giving the double unit of red cells every time. This caused me to not only use up my current iron stores but also to deplete what my doctor called my long-term iron stores.

I haven't donated now in almost a year and with supplements in my daily routine, my iron levels are back where they belong. Leg cramps and getting lightheaded are also pretty much gone.  Yay me...or so I thought.

A couple of months ago I was stretching, and my left shoulder popped. I didn’t think anything about it; because, I'm damned near fifty, and my joints pop all of the time. Then the pain started. Long story short, my doc has punted and referred me to an orthopedic specialist. I just can’t wait to see what joy this will bring. He also said that while I'm there he's going to add in having them check the hip that's been bothering me for over a year. I foresee pain, both physical and financial, in my future.

Folks tell me all of the time that I'm not old. I always remind them that the human body is like a car. It's not the years. It's the mileage, and the type of miles matter. Most of mine have been done, metaphorically, at 90 miles an hour down an unpaved country road. I should not be surprised that shit is wearing out.

***sigh***

-Wayne


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Never Forget

I know I said that I wouldn't do any political posts on my blog going forward, but to me this doesn't qualify as political.

Eighteen years ago I was at work at the accounting firm I worked for then. My youngest had just had her first birthday in August. Life was just going along as it always had.  Then someone came into the hall outside my office and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We all went to the conference room to watch the new of this horrible accident.  

Just about the time we had all gathered to watch the live feed the second plane hit, and it became obvious that these weren't accidents. I can still feel the shock followed by the anger that I felt at that moment. No one did much billable work that day as we all watched the news from that conference room.  The work just didn't seem important.

As the days passed and the aftermath of those attacks unfolded, I remember feeling the pride in my country and fellow Americans in how we came together and rallied behind the first responders who were dealing with the mess and the military as they prepared to respond.

Never forget means exactly that to me.

Today, when I look back, I still feel the anger over the attacks. I also feel a sense of sadness in how we have once again divided and battle with each other over the stupidest shit. It frustrates and saddens me that it will likely take something of that magnitude happening again to remind us that we are all in this together and that there are those who would see everything this amazing country has accomplished wiped from the face of the Earth. 

-Wayne


Monday, September 9, 2019

Second Effort - Birth of an Assassin

So I spent the last couple of weeks editing and trying to decide on a cover for the next story I planned to send to Amazon. I'm finally happy with the cover and reasonably happy with the story, so today I hit the submit button.

Like the first one, it's Kindle only. Here's the link and a view of the cover.  It does contain a couple of previous stories, but I'm not going to take the blog versions down just yet. 

If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy it. Cover and link below.

-Wayne





Tuesday, September 3, 2019

And I Still Have All of My Fingers

I spent the holiday weekend assembling and installing an engine in my old truck.  I have to give a HUGE thank you to my buddy Travis for all of his help.  He and I have been doing work like this together since high school. Still enjoy the hell out of doing it. The engine is now the nicest looking part of the truck, but hey the old monster is 35 years old. Hell, The "new" engine is 25. 

It's running mostly straight out of the exhaust manifolds in the video below, but it IS running. We towed it into the shop on Saturday and I drove it out on Monday.  Still needs a little work, but I'm smiling.

-Wayne




Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Quick Thank You

I just wanted to take a second and say thanks to everyone who picked up the short story from Amazon. It was my first attempt at using that service, and it went much better than I expected.  I'll have another short up soon, and hopefully a dead tree and kindle version novelette or novella of Tole's backstory by the end of October (just in time for Christmas! LOL).

Seriously though, heartfelt thanks to everyone. Oh, and if you have the time and are so inclined, a review would be greatly appreciated.

This has been an adventure and one that I hope to keep going.


Friday, August 16, 2019

So I Did ANOTHER Thing

Yesterday I finally opened a bank account for my eventual (I hope) self-publishing money from Amazon and other formats. That was my last excuse for not having pushed anything out, so last night I put my first short story out on Amazon. Again I have to give a big thanks to OldNFO for helping me set it up. It's good to have friends with experience so I don't have to reinvent the wheel.

It's Kindle only. Here's the link and a view of the cover.  I'll take the blog version down this weekend, and change the link on the post that lists everything to point to the Amazon page as well.

Onward and upwards. 

Oh and I guess I'll start signing this stuff with my name instead of as Tole.

-Wayne

Here There Be Pirates



Friday, August 9, 2019

Costly Revenge...The Sequel

Follow up to yesterday's post. Apparently you can no longer tape the envelope to a box. The post office will just throw it away. You still can stuff them as full as you can though. Maybe not as gratifying as mailing a box of bricks, but still gratifying just to a lesser degree.

Here's the new rule...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Revenge is Costly...for Them


Once upon a time a friend in law enforcement told me, “the jails are full of stupid people because we seldom catch the smart ones.”

On the way to work this morning, my wife and I were discussing something related to that observation, and I detailed how certain tweaks could be made to different crimes to make them harder to stop.

She then tells me that my son and I both would make great detectives because we both have brains that are just plain devious and understand the criminal mind. Something along the lines of the character Dexter who was great at finding serial killers because he, himself, was a serial killer. 

I said yeah, most people really have no idea what goes on behind my eyes because I hide it behind a façade of mirth and kindness.

I say all of this to tell this story. I have a long history of despising junk mail. It’s pointless and costs me time and makes crap in the landfill. Back in the 90’s I adopted a practice for handling junk mail, and I do it to this day. It’s cathartic; it puts a smile in my twisted little heart; and  it has made me giggle every time I’ve done it for over 20 years.

This is the deal. One of the pieces will inevitably have a business return envelope in it. That is the key part of this equation. Take it and set it aside.

Go through all of the junk mail and black out all of the offer codes, personal information, and the little hashed bar by your name and address on everything that has it.

Once you’re happy that’s done. Fold and stuff everything you can into the return envelope. It doesn’t matter if it is the mail sent by that company or not. Just stuff it all in there; tape the envelope shut; and drop it in the mail. The offending company gets charged for the postage, and they get to dispose of your junk mail for you. Since most national companies have mandatory recycling programs you know that the paper isn’t going in a landfill. The best part is it’s all on their dime.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I get WAY more stuff than will fit in one envelope.”

Never fear. Those envelopes are usually good for up to 75 pounds and can be taped to a box. I have shipped boxes of shredded paper, cut up cardboard, and even some old shoes.
It’s really a lot of fun and costs me nothing but some time. Oh and I do write “No Thanks” on the actual offer slip and even occasionally add a smiley face.

I’m not completely evil.

Tole


Monday, August 5, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 5 - Into the Jungle

Last time we saw Tole in this storyline he'd just killed his first orcs, but had paid a price to do it. He was headed to the hut in the jungle to sleep off the healing Valsh had done to the injuries Tole received. Now it's time to head to Valsh's village and get this job underway.

Feel free to comment and/or critique...especially if I blow a plot hole the size of a freight train in my story.

Hope you enjoy it.  - T


When I woke up, it was dark outside, and the smell of cooking meat drifted into the hut. My stomach started letting me know that all the healing I’d done had burned up my reserves. Ravenous wasn’t a strong enough of a word. I was ready to eat just damned near anything. Luckily I was pretty sure Valsh would have something hearty waiting on me.

Valsh chuckled to himself in that basso voice of his and said, “That took longer than I expected. I guess you were injured more gravely than I first thought.”

“How long was I out?”

“Almost two full cycles of the sun. It is only about two hours until day break. Come. Sit down and eat something. I can only imagine how hungry you must be.”

Valsh carved off a fist sized piece of meat from whatever the hell the thing on the spit was. He dropped it on slice of hard bread on a wooden plate, added from sort of boiled and mashed root vegetable, ladled on a gravy he’d made from drippings from the meat, and passed it over to me. It was amazing, and I tore into it like I hadn’t eaten in...well...two days.

He sat staring at me while I ate, like he was trying to figure out what I was. I stopped mid-chew and asked, “Wha’?”

“Have you given any consideration to how you will enter and exit my War Leader’s home to carry out your task?”

“Portals,” I replied.

Valsh shook his massive head and said, “No, you cannot. His home is warded against it. A portal cannot be opened within the walls of the building. Even if you had a passkey that will allow it, there are alerts that will sound to announce the arrival of a guest.”

“Fuck my life,” I said swallowing that last of the mouthful I was chewing on. “Shit’s just never easy is it? Dammit! Oh well, I’m nothing if not flexible. I’ll figure something out after I have a chance to get a look around your village. On the upside, it will make it more believable that he was done in by an angry god.”

Valsh started carving up the rest of the meat and tossed the carcass back into the jungle with a small prayer of thanks. When he finished he said, “I hope you are right. Now eat the bread and hand me that plate, so I can refill it. You’ll need it. After we are finished, we begin the journey back to my village.”

I was not about to turn down more orc barbecue. I mean, those folks can cook some meat, so I passed him my plate to refill. While I was eating, Valsh went into the hut and came back out with his tattoo and branding kit. At first I thought he was starting to gather up his shit for the hike...that was until he came and sat beside me and started unrolling it on the ground.

“Um, Valsh buddy...whatcha doin’?” I asked trying really hard to not let him hear the trepidation in my voice. I failed...dammit.

He just kinda chuckled under his breath and said, “Not every orc is as educated as I am. Most only speak our native tongue. Given your utter failure to grasp even the most basic communication in my language, I feel like I should at least give you the ability to understand when one of my people challenges you to a fight...and they will. Many of our more formal interactions must be done in orcish lest I insult my War Leader and forfeit my life in the process. I am going to give you an inscription that will allow you to understand orcish. Speaking it will still be an issue, but at least you will know what is being said. I could not do this while you were injured, but you seem healthy enough to withstand it now.”

“Now I understand why you were buttering me up by feeding me all this food,” I said giving him my best stink-eye. It didn’t work. Again I say...dammit.

He just chuckled again and nudged my head to one side so it sort of rested on my right shoulder. I felt him laying the ink in a small spot just behind my left ear. This one went much faster than the previous sessions had, and he set it on fire, so to speak, about five minutes after he started. No screaming this time, but it still hurt like a sonofabitch.

Valsh went on prattling about this custom or that while he packed up his kit and went back to the hut. While he was gone I wiped the water out of my eyes that the tattoo process caused. No they were not tears...I swear. When he came back outside, I could see him again, and he was still talking. Something was different now though, and it took me a second to realize what it was.

Even though I was still hearing common, Valsh’s mouth movements didn’t match his words. It was like watching those English dubbed movies from China or Japan when I was a kid. It was a little disorienting at first, but my mind adjusted quickly. It was about this time that I realized he had stopped and was looking at me with this quizzical look on his face.

“Did you understand any of that?” he asked.

“Yeah, every word. It was damned odd for a second though until I realized what was going on. Pretty fucking cool man. Does it only work for orcish?”

“It will work for all languages spoken on this world. It will not work elsewhere as the magic it employs is specific to Orta’ahn. Remember, magic is just a tool like any other. Do not expect it to solve all your problems,” he said like the teacher and elder he was.

“Preaching to the converted, man,” I replied. “If it’ll help me cool. If not, fuck it. When it comes down to it, my most effective weapons have always been my mind and my own two hands. Everything else is just gravy. Speaking of gravy...anything left in that pot? That is damned tasty.”

He laughed and stuck out his hand to take my plate saying, “Still hungry huh? Your stomach is as big as your warrior heart! You eat as much as a full-grown orc. Want a third portion of everything?”
“You’re goddamned right I do!”

After he set me up one more time, Valsh went to packing up for the journey in earnest this time.

I ate.

After I finished my food, I washed up my plate and left it by the fire to dry. Valsh would pack the dishes away before we left. After he came out with his kit all packed, I went into the hut to pack mine. Before I let the snakes go, I thought to get in one more venom milking session to replace the dart I’d used a couple of days ago. It took me about twenty minutes to work through the five snakes I had in my sack. I could hear Valsh shuffling around outside like he was getting impatient.

I stuck my head out the door still holding the last viper and said, “Hey man, could you calm the fuck down? This is delicate work.”

When Valsh saw the viper, I swear his green skin got a couple of shades lighter, and he sat down on a log. I chuckled and went back to work. I could’ve sworn I heard him say something about me and my sanity and the shit he had to put up with from his gods to save his people. Here I thought I was minding my manners.

Finally satisfied that I had enough venom, I carried the snakes out into the jungle with the sack in one hand and the last viper in the other. I set the first one free in a tree and it crawled away without a second glance at me. What can I say? We’re birds of a feather or some shit. I tossed the other sack a few feet away and let the others crawl away on their own. While I stood there watching the snakes depart, something shot out of the underbrush, grabbed one of the vipers, and disappeared again. Everything is prey to something. 

Man, I am really getting to like this place.

***

When I got back to camp, Valsh was standing next to our gear with an approving grin on his ugly green face. He doesn't smile much so I asked, "What's got you grinning like that?"

"Before I answer that, will you tell me a couple of things?"

"Sure, you're the boss."

He nodded and picked up his grip and motioned for me to get mine. Once we were loaded up he continued, "Just two questions are all I have. First, why let the snakes go? Why not kill them?"

"Because there was no profit in it. They weren't a threat to me or you, so why do it? Besides, they were being helpful, so I kind of owed it to them."

"Fair enough," he said rubbing his chin. "The other thing I would like to know has been bothering me since I first saw that you had them. How in the name of the War Father did you manage to catch them? They almost always strike first. It is in their nature. You should be dead."

I laughed and said, "Man, I couldn't count on both hands the number of fucking times something that should have killed my ass didn't. As for the snakes...beats me man. I was standing in the brush taking a piss, and one just kind of crawled out of the foliage and coiled up at my feet. After I put my snake away, I decided to try and catch it. I just kind of reached down and picked it up. It went something like that every time I went out of camp. There'd be another fucking snake. To be honest it kinda started creeping me out after the third one."

Valsh stopped dead in his tracks with the orc version of an incredulous look on his face. He bent at the waist so he could look me right in the eye and asked, "You just picked them up? Grabbed them by the neck behind the head and picked them up? You are not feeding me a plate of shit are you?"

"It's load of shit, and no I'm not. Hand to Heaven man, I just picked them up and carried them to camp. I found the sack in the hut, so I kept them there. I mean they seemed docile enough, but I'm not fucking stupid."

Valsh stood back up and continued on the path. He went back and forth between looking at me and looking down the path for the next few minutes. I finally stopped him when I said, "Ok big guy,I answered your questions. Time for a little quid pro quo. What was the look about when I came back into camp?"

"Huh? Oh, because I saw you release the snakes unharmed only to see one die as prey. You turned back to camp with this look of contentment on your face, I found it amusing is all."

Now who's feeding a load of shit to whom?

No point is aggravating the big, green killing machine. I decided to let that go for now, but I had a question of my own.

"Valsh. Something ‘s been bugging me. Mind if I dig into your business about something that's been eating at me for a couple of days. I mean, I let you. Seems only fair."

"Ask, and I will answer if I can," he said with a glance in my direction.

"Why hasn't anything attacked us? I mean that damned viper didn't make it sixty seconds after I let it go before something ate it. We were in that camp for almost two weeks and nothing so much as wandered through. Hell, we're walking through the heart of probably one of the most dangerous jungles in the multiverse like it's s stroll in a garden. What gives?"

"This jungle and I are old friends. We have an understanding or rather my gods and I have an understanding. I cannot do their work if I am dead, so they speak to the jungle for me. Their influence allows me to pass unharmed. You are their guest, and it would damage their honor if harm came to you. While you do their work, you too are protected. I did not think they would protect you from your own stupidity, so the vipers are confusing to me.  I shall pray on it when we get to my village."

That was all he seemed to have to say on the subject because he just stopped talking and walked in silence for almost two hours. To call the path we were walking on a path at all was being generous. I'd tracked deer through forests on better trails. We had to walk in single file and pushed foliage out of our faces almost constantly. I was glad Valsh had his understanding with the jungle because I'm pretty sure it was all that stood between us and lots of things deadlier than I am.

After almost three hours of trudging through the jungle the path finally opened into a small clearing. Valsh motioned for me to stop as he stepped into the clearing. After a little less than a minute he returned and said, "The clearing up ahead is empty and will be a good place to stop and eat. We are a little more than half way to my village. We will take a break and then continue on. We should reach my village just after dark. My people will be celebrating the coming of the Warrior's Moon. It is the time when our moon is closest to our world and the light it brings is close enough to daylight that, when at war, fighting can continue through the night. Since we are not currently at war we celebrate. For my people that means drinking, fighting, and mating...sometimes all at once. I think it will be safest if we go to my hut until tomorrow morning. I will mask your presence, so you do not draw any undue attention."

While he was talking, Valsh handed me another big chunk of the meat he'd cooked that morning, a bar made of dried fruit and berries, and a waterskin. We ate in silence for about ten minutes. Valsh finished first and while I was choking down the last of my orc powerbar, he dug out his tattoo and branding kit.

"What fresh hell are you planning to put me through now?" I asked him.

"Well, I have been trying to decide how to tell you this for about an hour. I really have not found a nice way to say it, so I am just going to lay it out for you. You smell weird."

I'll admit it. I laughed...loudly.

"I smell? Brother, you have the entire fucking market cornered on funkiness."

He shook his head and continued, "I mean you do not smell like you belong on my world.  I had hoped that would change as you spent time on my world and ate the food here. It has not. You smell weird, but I can mask it. I can give you a tattoo that will camouflage your smell. It does not make you smell like you belong. It just takes away your aroma altogether. Hold out the arm with the stone in it."

Half an hour and a blinding white pain later I had a new tattoo on my forearm with a tail leading to the scar containing the power stone just like the tail on my portal tattoo. After I was steady on my feet again, we continued our journey to his village. True to his word we reached the outer defense wall just after dark. Also true to his word there was one helluva fucking party going on. I'd just like to say that naked orc women are every bit as sexy as human women are...maybe even a little more so. They are all warriors so their physiques are very impressive.

Valsh showed me how to activate my new stealth runes and then he cloaked me so that I couldn't be seen or heard also. It took us about twenty minutes to get to his hut at the center of the village. It's not that the village was huge. It wasn't small either, but you could probably walk from one side to the other in ten minutes if the streets...such as they are...were clear. We just had to dodge partiers almost the entire way.

Once we were finally at his place, he shut the door behind us and said, "I will go grab food for the both of us and then you had better get some rest. We meet the War Leader in the morning."

He disappeared again for about half an hour and came back with food and something resembling beer. I ate until I felt like I was going to pop open and then passed out on the floor. The last thing I remember hearing was Valsh starting to chant his nightly prayers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Finally Quiet


My eldest offspring gave me a book of writing prompts for Christmas last year. I haven’t used it much, but since I seem to have hit a bit of a dry spot on my stories dealing with Tole, I figured I’d take a shot. I flipped to a random page and found the prompt “a writer with noisy neighbors.” This is what my somewhat off-center brain came up with. I worry about me. – T

In his twenty odd years as a homicide investigator Detective Robert Johns had never thrown up at a crime scene. This morning that streak came to an end. The sheer violence and unabashed animal rage that would have been required to do those things to another human being, let alone two, touched some primal part of his brain that would not be ignored. Luckily all he’d had in his stomach was the stale coffee he drank when he had come on shift that morning, so there wasn’t much to purge.

The case, however, will be an easy one to solve. All the he had to do was follow the trail of blood and shit to the door of the apartment across the hall. Inside they found the lone resident sitting at his computer typing away with a look of serenity that was broken by the fact that he was covered in blood and bits of his victims from across the hall.

When the killer noticed the detective standing in his doorway, he turned to and said, “Can you hear that? It’s finally quiet. Maybe now I’ll get some work done on this book before my deadline passes.”

Then he turned back to his computer and resumed typing.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Retribution Pt 6 - The Box

Yes, I skipped part 5, mainly because I haven't written it yet. It is going to deal with the interrogation of the captured Goran and the things Tole will learn about that race and their society.  It's not pertinent to this chapter, so I feel ok posting it out of sequence.  

Apologies again for the dry spell between posts, but life is crazy right now.  Almost no down time at work, and at home, all my time seems to be going to cars. I DID get the $600 Mustang on the road just in time for my oldest son to start driving. I'll take a win on that one. I'm working on a post about that saga.  Hopefully that'll be done next week.  

In the meantime, it's time to abuse my main character's soul a little...enjoy.


Now that I know HOW to hurt them, I need to know why they came after her. That little scaly bastard wasn’t part of the same guild as the one who took my wife from me, but I’ve learned enough about their world to give me a good idea of where to begin and what to do once I have. Their race holds reputation in high regard in a way similar to the way the orcs hold honor. For the Goran, your prowess in your profession is all that matters. Doesn’t matter how you earned it as long as you did it well. Honor doesn’t come into it at all. It’s about how many wins you rack up versus your rivals. It’s about getting the job and completing the job regardless of who you hurt along the way.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it sounds an awful lot like what I do, and you’re right. It is almost exactly how a professional killer operates with one glaring difference. I’d just as soon kill my rivals as outscore them. It’s a lot easier to be the best game in town if you’re the only game in town. I don’t care about being known for being the best. I’d rather be lucky than good, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work to perfect my craft. I just want to put a pointy thing into someone. I’d do it for free, but a fella’s gotta eat. Another big old difference is that, on most worlds, what I do is generally frowned upon by those in power…at least until they need my services that is.

So now the big question is why? Why come to Earth? It’s a back water, no magic, insignificant little pocket of nothing in the grand scheme. So why come all the way there, abduct my wife, kill a bunch of my friends, and send my life spiraling into the pit of joy it’s in now. I’m hoping that the message in the little box I brought back from my last trip home will shed some light on that.

First thing’s first though. I’ve got to discharge these runes and gems, or bad things can happen. I kind of like Bobby and The Bar, so I guess I should disarm this stuff. I put some water into my wash tub and strip down to the suit I was born with. On the wall beside the tub are some runes scribed around a couple of handprints that are uncannily similar to mine. Once I’m in the tub, I reach across and touch the runes in the proper sequence to activate the grounding effect. I know I’ve done it right when the hand prints take on a faint bluish glow. I so fucking hate this part. I put my palms onto the handprints and lightning courses through me. Ok, not lightning but it’s enough of a shock the stand my hair up and make me pee a little. Dammit, it stings ok?!?

Once the tingling subsides completely, I know that I am effectively a dead battery and safe to be around when I’m upset. Ok, less accidentally lethal to be around. I’m never going to be OSHA’s poster child for a safe working environment, but at least now I’m pretty sure I won’t accidentally set some shit on fire.

I step out of my wash tub and towel off. Once I’m dry, I strap on some jeans, a harness that goes around my chest and holds a few bits of pointy goodness, and loose fitting shirt. I used to go around unarmed in The Bar, but a random encounter with a fellow practitioner not too long ago broke me of that habit. In addition to not sitting around unarmed, I decide it’s probably a good idea to activate the wards on my door. I don’t doubt that Bobby would stand in the way of anyone intent on doing me harm up to a point. Better safe than finding out where that point lies though.

Bobby was nice enough to send me up to my room with a bottle of a really good single malt Scotch that I favor. Sure there’s better stuff out in the multidimensional space I play in, but I like it. It reminds me that I am human, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing to be. It’s somewhere about halfway through my third glass that I realize I’m stalling. I really don’t know what to expect but if it’s to be an image of her it’s not going to be easy. Like I said before though, there’s nothing to it but to do it, so I guess I should quit being such a nancy about it.

I put my glass down on the table that sits beside my memory totem cabinet. My hand lingers for a second, and I take a deep breath. On the exhale I turn to the cabinet and deactivate the wards. I open the door and reach in to take out the little silver box that is sitting all alone on one side of the second shelf. Still interesting how the orc totems won’t stay near it. I feel a little tingle run through my fingers when I touch it. Don’t remember that from before. Maybe my own stored magic masked it. Who knows?

After I take it out of the cabinet, I close the door and reactivate the wards. I turn to the table and set the box down next to my glass. I pick the glass back up and take the last slug of Scotch. Then I sit down and take a small knife out of its holster under my shirt. I prick the tip of my middle finger and squeeze it to get a little ball of blood to well up. Once I’ve got a drop about the size of a lentil, I touch it to the hole in the lid of the box just above the gently glowing blue gem.

I don’t know what I was expecting to happen. Maybe I was bracing for impact from some kind of a magical head butt or something. That is definitely NOT what happened. Instead the room kind of shifted out of focus making everything seem fuzzy and then she was standing there off to my right. I turned my head slowly to face her, but it took effort, like the muscles in my neck just didn’t want to comply with what my brain was telling them to do. I literally had to force my head to turn to look at her.

It hurt…a lot. All of the pain of that day all of those years ago rushed back in and damn near crushed me. I felt a tear form in my eye. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of that anymore.

“Husband.”

The word hit me like a wall of rock. It crushed me, and I lost track of time. I have no idea how long I lay there in the floor, but when I came back to my senses every muscle in my torso hurt. She still stood there patiently waiting for me to rejoin her, so I got my ass up out of the floor. I put my chair back on its feet and sat down.

“If you are hearing my voice now it means they have found me, and I did not survive it. I recorded this in the hope that it would never need to be seen. The magic of the box would only have brought it to you if I were dead. I had hoped to eventually have this conversation with you in the flesh. I am so sorry you have to suffer this alone.”

Found me? That means she knew she was being hunted? Why wouldn’t she have trusted me with that? How deep is this rabbit hole gonna go?

“Please know that despite the façade I was forced to put up to hide from those who would do me harm, my love for you was very real. Never have I known a man of such deep passion and conviction. I was drawn to you. Men like you are rare on your world and non-existent on mine. I could not help but love you, and protect you. You have darkness in you that was threatening to consume you when we met. Maybe that was what attracted me. I saw a potential protector in you…a man capable of great violence but also a man capable of a deep love.”

If she only knew.

“I feel I should tell you everything, but the capacity of this box will not allow it. It will have to be the abridged version then.”

“My people are creatures of ancient magic. When a race exists for as long as mine has, political maneuvering and intrigue become almost innate behaviors, and my father was an elder on the ruling council for our people. Despite our scheming and political maneuvering we could not even fathom that one of our kind would ever seek power over all. Unfortunately that short sightedness cost my people dearly. One of the most powerful of my people went mad and killed our council and set himself as the supreme ruler of all. He began to hunt down and kill any surviving family member of the council, so my family fled into exile across the multiverse. I had been fleeing for just over a hundred years when I finally came to your world and found you that night.”

A hundred years? Good lord what that must have been like. It’s no wonder she was so desperate to find a protector.

“I came to Terra looking for a protector. I never expected to find you. When we first met, I was interested only in a warrior who could protect me from those who would have me dead. After the altercation in the bar that first night I knew it would be you. The way you attacked without hesitation and the ferocity with which you fought to defend me told me you were the one I needed. I must admit that at first I saw you only as a weapon for my defense. That is why I did what I did, and I hope you can understand and forgive me that transgression against you.”

What the fuck is she talking about? What transgression?

“Before The Enlightenment, my people were also violent and murderous. Out of that grew a magic called The Binding. The enchantment was designed to tap into the murderous part of the target’s psyche, no matter how small, and amplify it while also creating a bond to the caster that borders on fanatical devotion. The target of the enchantment will defend the caster to their dying breath and utterly destroy anyone or anything they view as a threat. They were hardly more than rabid animals. It was barbaric but necessary at the time. We evolved beyond our violent nature and had lived in peace for countless millennia. My people have not used The Binding since The Enlightenment, until I used it on you. That first cry of fear was actually a net I cast out over the bar. It touched everyone but only the one who would be my protector would respond. When our eyes met after the fight, I cemented the Bond.”

I could feel my anger firing up, but there was a feeling of hurt and betrayal that overshadowed it. Used it on me?!?! Used it on me?!?! Was any of what I felt for her even real, or was it all some kind of magical mind-fuck?!? Suddenly I was very glad I had discharged all of my magic storage. I’d probably burn my room down with the way I feel right now.

“Husband, I would be willing to bet that you’re on the edge of a murderous rage about now. You would be completely justified in that, but I ask you to bear with me and listen before you judge me too harshly. I bound you to me, true, but I worked very hard to bury that binding. I did not need to bring out your violent side. I knew that from the first night. In fact, while we sat and talked I also wove an enchantment to suppress it a bit and bring you a measure of peace, but that enchantment would burn away should you need to protect me. You were in so much turmoil and pain. I needed your protection, but you needed me as well. That is why I did what I did.”

“The Binding also made you fall in love with me, but over time I suppressed that as well when I realized you had begun to love me truly. I could sense it through the Bond. In the end you were bound to me, but instead of a steel cable, I tried to tie you with a ribbon. The magic of The Binding could never be undone. In most cases if the caster were to die, the protector would be driven insane and have to be killed. Otherwise, they became an indiscriminate killing machine often killing many of my people before killing themselves. I regretted that, but I did need a protector. That’s why I bound you, but I tried my best to bind you in a way that would be the least controlling of your will.”

She says that as if that makes robbing someone of their free will ok. “But why?” the words slipped out of my mouth before I even realized I was speaking out loud.

“Because, Husband, I had seen my family slaughtered in front of me by one of my own kind advocating a return to our unenlightened ways. A return to the unchecked barbarism of an age long dead.”

“WHAT THE FUCK?!?” I exclaimed jumping up from my chair. Did the illusion of my wife just answer my question? “Can you interact with me?

Up until now the image had been staring straight ahead, but now she turned and looked me squarely in the eyes and responded, “To a limited degree yes. Original thought is beyond my capability, but I can answer questions about happenings and circumstances I contain memories of. What would you like to know?”

“I just want to know two things,” I said through clenched teeth.

“Ask and I will answer if I can.”

“Fine. How can I trust that she loved me and wasn’t just with me for protection?”

“As I said before, in the beginning, it was purely an act of self-preservation, but as time passed I came to love you with all my being. I do not know how to convince you of that, but know that it is true.”

I let the feeling of that soak in for a minute. I felt the fire for retribution in my belly reignite and give me the strength for my second question.

“How do I turn off this goddamn box?”

“Simply touch the blue stone. You can reactivate me at any time you wish with another drop of blood.”

She had confirmed everything Serilla had told me about the bond, but I still didn’t know how it was purged from my mind. I touched the stone, and she winked out of existence.

 “Yeah…don’t hold your breath.”

Pickup Progress

So I spent last weekend out at my friend's house and shop.  When we moved my truck, it would just flat fall on its face and die. I knew ...