Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Answers of a Sort

It is amazing to me how much a small imbalance can throw off everything. I finally got in to see my doctor and after some discussion he decided to run a few tests. I got a chest x-ray to look at the old ticker, an EKG, and a bunch of blood drawn.

First, EKG was normal. YAY!

Next chest x-ray was normal. Also YAY!

Then came the blood work...a lot of it was normal and the things that weren't, combined with the symptoms I've been experiencing, all point to anemia. This I can deal with. So next we start looking for the cause which means more blood work and a couple of other tests.

The fun part of it is that my white and red cell counts were normal.  So I have plenty of cells.  The problem is that they are TINY which is called Microcytic Anemia. This is caused by iron deficiency. Hopefully this just means I need to eat better. 

I have found a couple of studies that have found a link to extended use of proton pump inhibitors(PPI), like pepcid, to a reduced ability for the body to absorb iron. This makes sense since iron absorption takes place in the gut and, for the more difficult to absorb plant based iron, digestive juices are a necessary component to facilitate iron absorption. PPI's inhibit digestive juice production, so it stands to reason there would be a link. Since I am on a daily dose of Omeprazole, which is a common PPI, this is also something I will be discussing with my doctor.

In the meantime, I'm exhausted, muddle headed, and suffering the worst fucking leg cramps I've ever had in my life. No where to go but up. Right?

Also as far as my list of "Shit I Have to Do" is concerned, I am presenting the budget to the finance committee today. My wife graduated Saturday. My car is working reasonably well. All that's really looking over me is finishing the new bedroom we've added to the house. I see light at the end of the tunnel...here's hoping it's not just another oncoming train.

-Tole

Monday, April 22, 2019

Pause Button/Slow-Mo Engaged

This weekend I got a little bit of a wake-up call.  Apparently I'm not a young man anymore, and my body served me notice in no uncertain terms. I've been suffering from the damnedest bout of fatigue. No matter how much rest I think I'm getting I always feel like I've been beat up and left for dead. I get dizzy at the slightest exertion and this weekend I had to stop right in the middle of mowing my yard and sit down...right where I was...in the middle of the yard for almost 15 minutes for tension in my shoulders and weakness in my arms to pass. 

It's as frustrating as hell and more than a little scary. I've been down the catastrophic health issue road once already, and I'm in no great hurry to do it again.

My blood pressure is good whenever I check it, but yet here I am.

So while I was "resting" this Sunday I took a long hard look at my workload. Holy shit am I busy! I've got a budget to prepare for my company in the next week or so around being out of the office for a job fair and a then a benefit meeting in DFW, three hours away.  That burns most of two of those days. 

Couple that with the construction project at my house and my broken ass car along with seeing my wife across the finish line with her graduate school, and I'm headed straight for the sanitarium. Do they even still have those? 

Oh yeah, and I'm trying to write in-and-amongst all of that, so if my additions to any of the ongoing stories take longer than usual, I apologize. I'll be back to it more diligently once I clear a few things of the list of "Shit I Have to Do."

-Tole


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Writer's Group AAR

This last Monday was the monthly meeting of our local writer's group, and we talked about all kinds of interesting things. We had a discussion on the "formula" for romance novels. One interesting thing that I learned that made a lot of things make sense is that romance authors are usually contractually obligated to include a sex scene every 'X' number of pages...usually right around every 60 or so. I guess once an audience is conditioned to have an expectation of how things flow in a typical genre you have to follow it. As a person who constantly struggles with pacing, it seems like forcing me to add specific action points at specific times in a story would only aggravate and worsen my writer's block. I would get so focused on including the required story points that the rest of my writing process would just die.

Our host had informative handouts...as always...on the business of writing. Some of them covered topics like how to do a pre-order if you're self-publishing and how to get your books in front of librarians and other vendors. I haven't really focused on the business side of this industry yet. I'm still learning how to adhere to a writing schedule of any kind.  Once I feel somewhat comfortable with that aspect, then I'll tackle the business of publishing in a way that might even someday make some money...maybe.

There was other discussion about gender bias in certain genres and how authors will take on pen names that are either gender neutral or flat out gender opposite in order to publish their works. One of the more interesting parts is how women still have a difficult time in the sci-fi genre despite the fact that a woman created it (Mary Shelley ring a bell?). The other side of the coin is that several of us know of men who write under a woman's name in the romance genre because publishers believe, and maybe rightly so I don't know, that the target  audience will not buy a romance novel written by a man. Apparently there's a perceived notion that men can't be romantic. Who knew?

As far as the piece I handed out last month went, only one person there had read it. The other few who took a copy didn't make the meeting. However, while she said that it wasn't her genre of choice, she did read the whole story. She said she was lost on some of the genre specific language and skimmed past the swear words, but on the whole she found it solid. I was...let's go with pleasantly surprised. There is one other member who is reading my stuff, but she didn't take the one I submitted. She's reading The Affairs of Dragons and said kind of the same thing.  Not her genre, but she's enjoying the story. I'm good with building an audience one reader at a time.

Enjoy the rest of the week.

-Tole

Monday, April 15, 2019

So I Did a Thing

So last week I did something way outside my comfort zone. I submitted the Working on Terra short story to a competition. It's one thing to put it out on the internet on a blog with only 5 or 6 recurring readers. it's another thing entirely to send something my brain coughed out to an actual publisher. 
I know full well that it’s not going to go anywhere because I’m competing against seasoned authors, but I pulled the trigger anyway. Hitting send on an email should not give a person indigestion, but that’s exactly what happened.
I’ve got two months to wait for results. It would be nice if there’s a critique that comes back, but I’m betting that with the volume of entries that the judges won’t have that kind of time. It’s all good though. As OldNFO said, "I finally came down off of high center." I guess that means I actually moved forward.

Oh well. Carry on,

-Tole

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 5 - A Visit in the Woods


Like I keep saying, the material is coming...just slowly. The part of my brain that makes me a good accountant makes me a terrible artist. I just can't let something go until I think it is right. I have the same issue working on cars. I could never be a mechanic, but I'd make a pretty good restoration/custom car builder. I can't just slap things together and "send it." OH well...enjoy.

-Tole

When Serilla told me she could get me to within a couple of miles of the hunter’s camp, I thought she was signing on to be my guide. Boy was I wrong. If you ever get the chance to travel by dragon, do it. It’s fucking amazing. I’ve flown before…on an airplane. That paled in comparison to sitting in Serilla’s right hand watching the land fly by below me. Yeah that’s right she carried me. A dragon would never allow themselves to be ridden like a common beast of burden, but I guess she’s ok carrying me like one of her young. Regardless of how, we covered a couple of hundred miles in less than a day.

She put us down in a clearing in the forest we’d flown over for most of the day. It blows my mind that a creature as large as she is can move so gracefully. The landing was quiet, almost like she just stepped down from a small step. She put me on the ground every bit as gently and by the time I turned to face her she stood there in her human form again.

“This is as close as I dare get,” she said pensively. “Their camp lies a day’s walk west of this clearing. Their guard patrol should pick you up well before you find the camp. Should I go any further I risk setting off their wards. This forest is not the most hospitable place, but I must leave you here. Be wary though dearest. Fell things dwell in these woods.”

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she was scared. I guess if there was someone hunting me that I had no chance of defeating, I might be a little weary too.

“It’s fine Serilla,” I told her. “I’m a relatively big boy. It won’t be my first time traveling somewhere where everything wants to eat my face. You need to come to Orta’ahn with me some day. Jungle planet where everything has evolved to kill damned near everything else. Up until now, it’s been my favorite place in the multiverse after my home at The Bar of course. My friend Valsh would love you.”

“You are a strange one Killer,” she said leaning in to kiss me, and yes it sped up my cold little heart. “Good hunting. I look forward to your return to my arms,” she said as she turned and walked away. By the fourth step she shimmered and was a dragon again. She leapt into the air and vanished behind the tree line.

The sun was also quickly disappearing behind the trees, and nighttime in a forest is no time to be wandering around. The clearing I was in seemed like a good enough place to spend the night, so I set up camp on the western edge. I have always camped on the western end of a clearing to catch the sun as soon as it crests the trees. That way I’m up as soon as there’s enough light to walk around a forest and not die.

I toyed with the idea of a cold camp, but fire tends to keep bad things at bay. Most nocturnal predators hunt at night for a reason. Add to that the fact that I stand a much better chance of defeating a threat if I can see it coming and the choice was all but made for me. I built a fire and settled in for the night. Not a roaring fire though. Best not to burn down the forest while I slept. I camped just the way I learned when I was a kid studying the Native Americans. I bedded down on pine boughs and kept the fire big enough to give off light but small enough to not throw sparks into the woods.

About two hours after dark the forest settled into the sounds of night. Insects scuttled through the underbrush. Off in the distance something howled to let the woods know it was on the prowl. I never understood the urge to howl. It’s so much easier to get your target if you’re a sneaky bastard. Maybe the ability to plot is one of the things that separates us from the animals.

After about an hour I got used to the sounds around me and finally settled into a light sleep. I don’t normally dream…well at least I don’t normally remember dreaming…but that night my head was filled with images of a hut on a hill and a dark skinned woman bringing me food and tea. I guess the dreams must have settled my mind more than usual because I never felt dawn approach.

What did wake me up was what sounded like someone running a water hose onto a flat rock followed by the loudest fart I have ever heard in my life. That was followed by a very low voice chuckling quietly. I opened my eyes to see Valsh standing at the edge of the clearing with his back to me.
“The hell man?” I asked choking around the smell.

His chuckle bloomed into a laugh and he said, “Sorry. Did I wake you? Where the hell have you been hiding? I’ve been trying to find you for almost a week. All my scrying got me was a headache. Bobby couldn’t even find you. Just knew what world you’d gone to, but not where you were on it.”

“I was behind some wards. My current employer values her privacy. It’s complicated. What the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m on vacation,” he said around his toothy orc grin.

“Bullshit,” I said getting to my feet and taking my turn at watering a plant or three, “ You need something.”

Valsh held up both hands in surrender and said, “Guilty, but it’s not what you think. I owe you a debt, and I need to clear it. It’s a matter of honor for me.”

“What are you talking about Valsh?” I asked him as I laced up the fly of my trousers. “You’ve paid me for every job I’ve done for you. You don’t owe me shit.”

Valsh walked over to my fire and added another couple of small logs and used a small spell to reignite the flame. He pulled out some dried meat and bread from the pouch at his waist. He offered me some which I accepted. Turning down offered food from an orc is not advisable even if you are friendly. He took a bite of his own and chewed staring into the fire. I just sat down and waited. He’d talk when he was ready.

“You’re right. What I owe you is not for work you have done for me. What I owe you is my life, and I can’t let that debt go unpaid any longer. When we were ambushed by the party from the Desert Reaches Tribe when we first met, you jumped into the fray without cause. Likely I would have died that day. I didn’t because of you. I’m not used to having to be saved like that. I was careless, and it almost cost me. Honor demands I thank you appropriately.”

“Damn man,” I said shaking my head. “Like I told you then I saved you because you hadn’t paid me yet. Nothing altruistic about it. Besides you’ve paid me very well for every job…lots of times way more than I asked.”

“Doesn’t matter. Those were jobs and payments. Asked for and given. This is something different.” He looked at the sky for a second and then continued, “The magic on this world is strong…stronger even than on Orta’ahn. Can you not feel it?”

“You know damned well I can’t. Human remember?”

The words had barely left my lips before Valsh threw five pieces of fruit at me that I hadn’t seen before. He followed it with shards of ice he cast from his fingers on his right hand and that he followed with fire from his left. I didn’t have time to think just to react.

Everything kind of slowed down as the adrenaline slammed home into my brain. I could make out the texture on the skins of the fruit as they approached. I drew my long daggers and picked each piece of fruit out of the air impaling them on the daggers in alternating stabs.

The ice shards were oddly travelling just as slowly as the fruit, so I thought I’d show off a bit and picked each of them out of the air by catching them in a piece of the fruit…one shard for each fruit.

Then came the fire. I rolled to the right along the ground swinging my daggers in an arc to avoid impaling myself. I came to my feet and leveled the daggers at Valsh. Amazingly the fire followed the tips of my daggers, and when I came to my feet, it released back in Valsh’s direction. He caught it with the hand he’d cast it from, and it winked out.

“What the fuck man?” I yelled at him, but he just laughed in return.

“Human indeed,” he said as he continued to laugh. “You moved, and I lost sight of you for a second.”

“Horse shit. The old ‘his blades moved faster than the eye could follow’ is crap. You can always see something.”

Valsh shook his head and continued, “I didn’t say your blades you knucklehead. (He actually called me something worse in orcish that doesn’t translate well.) I said I lost sight of YOU. I suspected something like this. You’re gifted boy, but coming from a world with no magic it’s only reflex. I figured with as strong as the magic was here you’d be able to touch it. Oh relax…you were never in any real danger. The fire was an illusion, and I knew you’d counter the ice with or without channeling any magic.”

I really didn’t know what to say, so I just kind of stood there looking at him.

“Dick. Next time warn a guy would ya? I damned near pissed myself when I saw the fire, and what do you mean gifted?” I asked as I pitched a piece of fruit at his big head. “Humans, well at least the Terran ones, haven’t been gifted with magic for over a thousand years and even then there were only a few. Terran magic petered out a long time ago man.”

Valsh caught the fruit and took a bite. Then he sat back down by the fire and looked at me like I just said the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. He just sat there chewing, alternating between bites of the fruit, the dried meat, and the bread. He’d look like he was going to say something and then shake his head and take another bite of whichever thing’s turn it was. It was almost like he was waiting for me to figure it out on my own. He does that shit to me all the time, and it drives me crazy.

After he finally finished his food he just shook his head again and said, “I don’t mean you’re gonna be a shaman or wizard or anything like that. I don’t think that’s your gift. Your gift comes in killing, and I don’t think you’ll ever be able to call on it at will. It’s just too weak. It just kind of gives you an edge when you’re desperate.”

“Well, if I can’t use it as a weapon, then it’s no good to me. Fuck it.”

Valsh burst out into that deep laugh of his and said, “There’s that orc heart I see in you! Honestly though my friend I would suggest you look into why you are the way you are. It could come to be a weakness and weaknesses must be found and dealt with. I can help you with that.”

“You’ve got a tribe to run brother. You don’t have time to be fucking around with a weak little white skin like me. I’ve lived this long with whatever the hell this is. I’ll be fine.”

He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees and looked me in the eye. His face took a serious look I’ve only seen once before when he hired me to kill his War Leader and he said,” No. You will not. The more time you spend on world’s like this one the more power your body will draw in. If you do not know how to release it, it will kill you. You won’t feel it coming either. You’ll just die, and besides my tribe will be fine. I have left my oldest son in charge as War Leader while I am away. He is…competent.”

“If that’s the case why hasn’t it killed me already? I mean, I live at The Bar which is pretty much just a big ball of magic in between dimensions.” I was pretty sure I had him there…I was wrong.

Valsh lowered his head and just shook it back and forth mumbling under his breath.

“You’ve been here what? A week? How much of that week have you spent killing something? When you kill, when you travel back and forth to The Bar, even when you practice you expend your stored energy. You have to use your gift to expend the magic. Dolt.” He reached across and cuffed me on the back of the head like you would a dull child who just wasn’t listening.

I sat there thinking. I practice every day when I’m at The Bar, but I’d been so swept up in my time with Serilla that I hadn’t lifted a weapon in just over a week. Shit. This is all I need. Was that what Serilla wanted to tell me after out Communion? Fuck my life. This shit’s just gonna have to wait.

“Look, I’m on a job you big, green pain in the ass. A walking wall of meat really wasn’t included in my plan of action, so you can just…”

“PERFECT! We will kill together while I teach you to control your gift. This will be an epic adventure worthy of telling in The Hall of Heroes!”

“Valsh, no.”

“If you want to refuse my help and companionship, you will have to settle it in orc tradition. Best me in unarmed hand-to-hand combat.”

Shit. Fuck me sideways.

In the end I finally gave in and let him come with me. I really didn’t want to settle it orc style. I didn’t want to damage his honor by whipping his big green ass. Yeah…that was it.

Monday, April 1, 2019

A VERY Special Day of the Year

I get so excited every year when this day rolls around. Today is a VERY special day. Only once a year does something like this happen. 

Today, and today only, everything on the internet is 100%, absolutley, postively TRUE.

Have an awesome April 1 and do your best to make someone mad at you. It's the only day you have permission to do it on purpose.

-Tole

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mikey's Backstory - 2

Ok, so here's the next bit of Mikey's story. Hopefully it's gonna keep coming this week and I'll have some more soon. I'm kind of excited to see how it turns out!
-Tole

I’d been between jobs for about two months which meant I hadn’t been sober for about a month and a half. At this point in my life I was either killing a target or killing a bottle of Scotch. I hadn’t been down out of my room for a day or seven, so Bobby had come up to check on me and shove some food under my door. Only difference was this time he knocked.

“Hey Tole. Brought you some food and some coffee…oh and there’s someone down here looking for you. Do us all a favor and wash your nasty ass before you come down would ya? I can smell you from out here.” With that I heard him stomp back downstairs.

What does he mean I smell? I just took a shower the other…ok it has been awhile. Fine! I’ll clean up.

Once I had a bath and some food in me, I headed down stairs to find out who or what was looking for me. Bobby hadn’t said they were looking to hire me, just that they were looking for me. Consequently, I went armed. It’s never good to be lacking pointy goodness when that is exactly what the situation calls for.

I stepped out onto the landing outside of my room and made eye contact with Bobby. He nodded and pointed to a table where a mountain of a man was sitting in a chair that was flanked by four metallic men a uniform six foot tall. Each one of them was golden and built like a perfect specimen of humanity right down to the perfectly shaped musculature. The creepy bit was that none of them had a face nor clothing nor genitals. They looked like those faceless mannequins in the department stores back home except they seemed to be alive.

When I looked closer, I could see there were handles by each man for them to carry the chair. Then I noticed why. His legs were all but useless. Crooked things that probably wouldn’t hold my weight much less his. From the waist up though this fella was huge…nothing but muscle and bone, and not the kind you get from working out. You could even tell it through the clothes he wore. This was working muscle like the stuff you see on blacksmiths and stone masons. These muscles did shit.

There was something familiar about him though, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Anytime I’m faced with an unknown my brain starts doing that threat assessment thing it does, and I quickly decided that I would be extra nice to this guy until a time came to not be nice. Boy did I hope that time never came. That would not be a fun fight. Best to not go looking for one then.

As I walked up to the table the four automatons turned to face me, and I got the impression that they would defend their master without hesitation. I decided that was yet another fight I didn’t want to take on because I wasn’t totally sure that they even could be killed. I filed that away as a question to research later.

“I have come to understand that you are a man who solves problems,” he said before I even had the chance to speak. His voice was deep and rumbled like the ground moving in an earthquake.
I nodded, and he motioned to a seat and continued, “Well, I have one that a man of your skills should find entertaining. I am a crafter of things, weapons and armor mostly, but I also craft finer things. Someone has stolen from me and that cannot be let stand. I wish to hire you to find my things, kill the one who took them in a public and messy way as a message to any others with thoughts of thievery, and return my goods to me.”

In all honesty I was starting to get bored with the stories my clients and potential clients told me. In the end it all boils down to the same thing. They’re pissed about some perceived wrong, and they want it dealt with in the worst way possible. In all honesty I couldn’t be bothered to give two shits about their troubles, but I’d be more than happy to kill someone for their gold.  Let’s be honest with each other. In the final analysis that’s all I really want to do anyway…kill someone or something and get paid.

Funny thing was in this case I was actually interested.  Something about this guy told me that it was in my best interest to help him. It was almost a compulsion. When that realization hit my brain, I started to back pedal.  Compulsion had gotten me royally screwed before, but I had safeguards in place to stop magical compulsion. Maybe it was my hind brain telling me there was more here than I realized. I’d learned to listen to that voice by this point.  It’s probably why I was still alive.

He just kind of sat there a minute. He sat so still I wasn’t completely sure he was even still alive, but after what felt like forever he finally kind of snorted out a small laugh. He just sort of relaxed, and when he did, all of his automatons walked away from the table going to sit silently at the table next to us. I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and ask.

“Ok, so the first question is what did they steal that was so important you’re willing to pay my outrageous fee to make an example of the thief? This isn’t going to be cheap.”

He leaned forward in his chair and looked me right in the eye. I could see the anger that was boiling right beneath the surface. I had obviously struck a nerve because when he answered his voice was even lower and there was an edge to it that even set me on edge.

“It’s not what they stole from me. It’s the fact that they dared to do it! I want their guts strung up as banners as a warning to any one foolish enough to consider repeating the act. I cannot allow this to stand. Your fee, however outrageous, is irrelevant to me.” With that he settled back into his chair and drained his mug and before he could set it down one of his drones was there with another full one and another carried away the empty.

Now that is damned handy shit.

That’s when it happened. That process that had been running in the back of my mind trying to figure out why this guy looked familiar finally locked onto it, and I knew who he was. Deciding to be nice was the right call when you’re sitting across a table from a god. That made my second question a little different than I had first intended, but it was far more important.

“I can definitely understand where you’re coming from on that point. If you let one scumbag take advantage of you, they all will. I get that, but here’s my second and I think more important question. What can I do that a god can’t, Hephaestus? That is your name isn’t it? I mean it’s been a long time since I had a class in Greek mythology, but you certainly fit the bill.”

I caught him mid-gulp from his new mug of what I now knew was wine because he sprayed it all over the table and one of his minions. He slowly turned to look and me and then did something I never would have expected…he laughed. It was a huge, heartfelt belly laugh too. I let a little of the tension in my shoulder slip away.

“I haven’t been called a god in a very long time. In our early days of trans-dimensional travel a group of us did take up residence on a backwater world and play the part of gods to a primitive people who called themselves the Greek.  It got old though, and we eventually left. Power is an intoxicating thing, but eventually you do sober up or else you get consumed by it and perish.”

“To answer your question though, yes, I and my people are powerful. The problem is if I go to my people for help they will see me as even weaker than they already do,” he said gesturing to his legs. “That would not be the healthiest of choices for me. The second aspect of this problem is that the thief has somehow masked himself from my power. He…or she…has also hidden my creations from my view which is damned hard to do. The things I create carry some of my power and are therefore linked to me. I cannot imagine what it would have taken for the bastard to confound that link. That is why I am here seeking your help.”

This job was going to require me to find the target not just put something pointy in them. It had been a long time since I had a challenge like this. Hunting someone who didn’t want to be found and was doing a good enough job of hiding that a very powerful being couldn’t find him was going to be tough. This might be worth staying sober for a while.

“I’ll find your thief and end them in the messiest way possible. It may take me a while since I have absolutely no idea where the hell to start looking, but I will get it done…what?”

I noticed he had glanced at me and had done a double take like something caught him off guard.

“Huh?” he started. “Oh, nothing…for a second I could have sworn your face changed…darkened like it was under a veil.  There is something about you that is vaguely familiar, but I just can’t put my finger on it. You carry a touch of power in you…but I just can’t nail it down.”

I waved my had dismissively, “Whatever. Look can you tell me what was taken? I’m thinking that a thief only steals for one reason…profit.  They’ve got to sell that shit, so they’ll look for someone to make that happen. I’ll find the fence and backtrack from there to the thief.”

“Well, most of what was taken were things of minor power…jewelry and such, but there were some very powerful items taken as well. Weapons and armor that I crafted not only for my kin in the Pantheon but also some items that were made for heroic humans back in our days on Terra. The armor for my kin would be of no use to anyone not of my race, but the things I made for the humans…those could be worn and used by anyone. I will have an inventory drawn up and given to you. I could also provide you with one of my assistants who should be able to identify my creations. He seems to have a gift for sensing them. I think once he is within a short distance of them he should feel my touch regardless of any masking done by the thief.”

He opened a portal beside our table as easy as thought and called into it, “Mikey, would you join me please if you’re not too busy?”
At first I thought it was odd that he treats these automatons with such deference. Then I remembered that they are all sentient beings with individual personalities. They’re not his equals by any stretch, but they do help him to do things he otherwise could not.  I guess a little respect isn’t too much to expect him to show.

What came through the portal was not at all what I expected. I was expecting another of these sleek automatons. What came through was…well, it was Mikey. He stood about four and half feet tall, had a body that looked like an old potbellied stove with a bucket on top for his head that unlike the others actually kind of had a face on it. His arms and legs that looked like flat bar steel with rivets at the joints. I was not impressed…not in the least.

“What the hell is that?” I asked, the words coming out before I really even thought. “I seem to remember that you created all of your helpers. Did you have an off day or something?”

“What did you say meat-sack? Did you just insult the Master? May I kill him for you Master?”

I couldn’t help it…I laughed.

Apparently Mikey was every bit as twitchy as I am because he produced a blade from…I’m still not sure where it came from...and leapt to the table while thrusting it in my direction. I didn’t survive as long as I have by being slow, but I only stopped his strike with the stiletto up my sleeve by millimeters. We sat there for what felt like an hour staring at each other over the locked blades before Mikey finally broke the stalemate by withdrawing his weapon.

“Oh, I like him!” we both said in unison.

Mikey climbed back down off of the table the weapon disappearing back to wherever it was he stored it. Once he was down and settled back in beside Hephaestus he asked, “I know you didn’t call me out here to pick a fight with...what’s your name meat-sack?”

“Tole.”

“To pick a fight with Tole over there, who by the way is damned quick…kudos on that.”

Hephaestus chuckled under his breath and shook his head saying, ”No I  did not call you out here to defend my honor, but thank you for that. I have hired Tole to retrieve my stolen things and to deal with the thief. I want you to go with him to identify the things that are mine. You are to do as he asks for the duration of your time together, or I will be most disappointed. Do you understand me Mikey?”

Mikey answered him  with, “Sure Master. I get it. Tole’s the boss until you say otherwise. No problem.”

Something in the way he said it though made me a little uneasy. There was something in the way he emphasized that bit about until Hephaestus said otherwise that triggered something in the back of my mind. I may just watch my back a little closer than usual.
“Now to your price,” Hephaestus continued. “I understand that you are customarily paid in gold and gem stones, and that is acceptable to me. What are your terms?”

Now this is the point where I carefully weigh the perceived difficulty of the job, how long I think it’s going to take, what my client can afford versus their willingness to pay. It’s a very complex process unless, that is, the client is wealthy beyond caring and highly motivated to have the job done. In those cases I tend to just get ridiculous. If they say no, I always have a bottle of Scotch waiting, so I went for broke.

“Tracking the thief and ending his ass plus recovery of as many items as I can locate…I would think my weight in gold, an equal volume of diamonds, and a favor should cover it nicely…plus expenses of course.”

“Of course.”

Wow, he agreed to that way too easily. Maybe I shot too low. Dammit!

“That brings up another question though. What about items that have already been sold? Do you want me to recover those things as well and how shall I deal with a new owner who is reluctant to give them up? I don’t have a problem leaving more bodies on the floor, but I never kill for free.”

He sat there quietly for a full minute which when it’s spent under the gaze of a being as powerful as he was seems a helluva lot longer.

Hephaestus finally shook his head and said, “You are a brazen little malakas aren’t you? If you should have to forcefully retrieve something that belongs to me, I will compensate you, but not nearly like I will for the thief. I should think a gold bar per would be fair, BUT I will expect you to justify my payment.”

I stuck out my hand  and said, “Fair enough. I think we can do business.“

He gripped my forearm and I gripped his to seal our bargain. Before he released me he pulled me closer and stared hard into my eyes. He looked like he was gearing up to threaten me not to fuck him over…they all do that…but before he said word one, his visage changed from stern to questioning. He released my arm and said, “Bargain struck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have things that need my attention elsewhere.”

He opened a portal behind him and his four companions lifted him and carried him through with him facing me the entire time.

Odd.

“So Boss, where do you want to start?”

Mikey’s voice caught me off guard, and I MAY have jumped a little.  Honestly, I was so distracted by Hephaestus’ exit that I had forgotten he was there. I turned to look at him wondering if maybe I had undercharged again. I should have asked for something for having to put up with a tag along. Crap.

I spun on him and said, “We aren’t gonna do shit until I get a lead on the thief, so unless you have a suggestion where I should start, you can just make yourself at home here. I’ll come get you when I need you to check out things I find.”

Mikey somehow managed to furrow his metal brow and say, “Okay! Geez, you don’t gotta be such a jerk about it. Truth be told I’m really not an ‘out in the world’ kind of guy anyway. You go do what you have to do, and I’ll gladly wait here. I’m sure I can find some way to amuse myself.”

“Got a job?” Bobby asked as he came up to the table with a big mug of coffee and a plate of food in his hands.

I nodded at him, took a pull at the coffee, and said, “Looks that way. Hey Bobby, you have any idea where a guy could move powerful magic items without drawing attention to himself? Maybe a discreet re-seller of items who doesn’t place a lot of value on where they came from? He’d have to be able to scramble efforts to track them and maybe even keep them hidden after they were sold. Sound like anyone you know?”

“Why?” he asked. “You thinking of adding thieving to killing and be a double threat?”

I gave him my best ‘quit fucking around’ look and took another drink of my coffee.

“Wow. You really are in a mood huh?” he asked as he took a seat at the table next to me. “I can only think of about three guys who have the skills and the power to do what you’re talking about. I’ll put out some feelers, and see if I can get a sniff of anything for ya.”

I set the cup down and thanked him as I got ready to dig into the food he’d brought.

"Don't thank me yet...you haven't gotten my bill," he said laughing and went behind the bar.

Answers of a Sort

It is amazing to me how much a small imbalance can throw off everything. I finally got in to see my doctor and after some discussion he deci...