Waking Fever Dreams at 12:45 in the Morning

Rambling thoughts of a feverish writer at 12:45 in the morning.  Created from real live notes written on a notepad illuminated by cellphone screen, for whatever that’s worth.

~

Wearing pajamas for the first time in thirty years, huddled under every blanket I could steal from the linen closet I absently wondered why I was shivering.  Even though my immune system was flooding my veins with magma in a Scorched Earth campaign against the viral intruders, I could not get warm.

Well, that’s not quite true.  I was warm.  The digital thermometer’s frantic beeping had notified me that my temperature was 103.1 five minutes ago.  I knew I needed to exhume myself from my mountain of wool, felt, and fuzzy acrylic to get more ibuprofen but every time I poked my nose out of my little cave the chill of the seventy-degree air on my skin made me shake uncontrollably.  So I retreated and tried to come up with a better plan.  Nothing useful came to mind.

I stayed curled up, waiting for the shaking to go away from my last fruitless attempt to venture forth and spent those moments cheering on the tiny soldiers who were attempting murder me by boiling my brain in order to eradicate the enemy.  Was my brain aware that it was trying to kill us?  I’m guessing not.  I appreciated the effort anyway.  At least someone was doing something.   I was pretty useless all things considered.  I couldn’t even get out of bed.

Inspiration struck.  I remembered that I had put a pair of socks at the foot of the bed.  Socks make me too warm all the time.  Maybe if I could find those socks with my toes I could get them to my hands and put them on.  Surely that’d allow me to make the twenty-foot super marathon to the medicine cabinet.  I sent my right foot, the one with the most prehensile toes questing about and to my amazement located them easily.  This must be a sign.

After armoring my feet against the chill of the hardwood floor, I finally slithered out of bed and washed down a pair of tablets with a mouthful of cold water.  By the time I managed to get my carcass back beneath the blankets I was shaking uncontrollably, but victory had been achieved.

Within a few minutes, I went from being chilled to the bone to frantically shedding layers.  The drugs had made my brain realize its possibly deadly mistake and instead of shivering it was time to sweat.  Finally, after removing my socks and all the coverings but the flannel sheet I prepared for sleep hoping my legions of faithful defenders would rest and be ready to offer a less violent and self-destructive resistance.

Before I could sleep I reached to the side table where my faithful notepad waited.  Notes from this great battle must be recorded.  For posterity, and so I could share my near delirium with you, my faithful readers.

(Author’s note, I did go to the doctor today and got antibiotics for my fucking bronchitis.)

April Horoscopes

April Horoscopes; Drinks Edition

Aries: Stout.  You need sustenance to keep you warm while you’re waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to warm.  It’s springtime but you’re still hibernating.

Taurus: Whisky.  It’s always whisky for you.  You know it; don’t fight it.  Just don’t overdo it like you always do.

Gemini: Gin, but not just any gin.  You need a Velvet Crush this month.  I know, KoolAid and Gin isn’t classy but it’s your month to slum it.

Cancer: Bloody Mary.  The more extra’s the better.  Seriously, if you can find a way to put a pizza in there do it.

Leo: Tequila.  Doesn’t matter if it’s shots or margarita’s.  It’ll remind you of spring break and vacations in sunny climes.

Virgo:  Lite beer.  I don’t know what’s wrong with you that you’re to be subjected to lite beer but there it is.  Sorry.

Libra: Chartreuse.  I know right?  You’ve probably been wondering what the hell it tasted like.  If you can’t handle it straight try a Green Dragon which is Chartreuse mixed with champage.

Scorpio: Vodka martini.  But you’re not James Bond so stir it and make it dirty.  Three olives.

Sagittarius: Boilermaker.  You must hate yourself.  Well if you don’t now, you probably will at the end of the month.  Just take it easy and you’ll probably survive.

Capricorn: Cider.  Not that fake ass ‘malt beverage’ crap either.  Something good.  Probably something from England.  Make sure it’s cold.

Aquarius: Highball.  Use decent bourbon and brewed ginger ale damn it.  Don’t drink the cheap stuff.

Pisces: White Russian. Take it down a notch, chill with The Dude.

March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 57

They found the Brass Rose to be closer and have clean beds which was all they needed to hand over the rather steep cost of two gold each for a night in a shared room.  The bath was communal and Callindra got some strange looks when she walked in carrying an unsheathed sword.

“No blades in the bath.”  The attendant said, giving her a glare.  “You’re going to have to leave that out here.”

“Sorry, but he’s attached.”  Callindra said with a smile, shaking the Mithril chain and showing how it was attached to the cuff on her right wrist.

“At least get a sheath for it then.”  She grumbled, “Can’t have a bare blade in there.”

“I don’t have a sheath for him yet.”  Callindra said, “I’m still looking for the right leather.”

“Then you don’t come in.”  The attendant said, crossing her arms over her ample chest.

“Oh leave off Jendra.”  Someone said from inside the room, “It ain’t like that little chit is gonna be able to overpower us anyhow.”

“Look, the chain is pretty long, I’ll leave the blade over here.”  Callindra said, leaning Shadowsliver against the wooden bench.  “I can still reach the bath and I don’t want to get the leather on his hilt any wetter than necessary.”

The attendant grudgingly let her into the bathing chamber and Callindra stripped, a process made awkward by the chain and Shadowsliver’s razor sharp edges, then sat on a stool to sluice and scrub the dirt of the road away.  When the worst of it was gone, she slipped into the pool of steaming hot water with a sigh.  Her unbound hair floated out around her like a fan and the tendrils of Brightstar flowers released their gentle fragrance into the humid air.

“What’s with them flowers?”  A husky voice asked.

Callindra identified it as the same one who admonished the attendant Jendra to relax and grinned.  “Thanks for your help back there, being Bonded can be a challenge sometimes.”

“Bonded?  To your sword?”  The woman chuckled, “What kinda affliction led you to wanna do that?”

“It’s a long story.”  Callindra said with a matching chuckle, “I’m Callindra.”

“Tarinaotfsatalis.”  The other woman said, “But I go by Arina because that other monstrosity shouldn’t be visited on anyone.  You here for the contest?”

“Well, I guess.”  Callindra said, “Really we’ve just been on the road for a long time and finally arrived at civilization again.  Hasn’t the Abyss come to this place?  I’ve seen some horrible things, even in the most remote regions but here everything seems to be normal.”

“We’ve had some infected here, but they got handled right quick.”  Arina said, “Count Adbar don’t take no damn chances, that’s why we doing so good here.”

“Oh, I was wondering about that.”  Callindra said, running her hands through her long hair and working some tangles out.  “This place seems so much different from other large cities we were a little apprehensive at first.”

“What?  Why?  If we’re not showing any signs, why would you be wary?”  Arina asked, her brow furrowing.

“I guess we’re just a suspicious lot.”  Callindra said with a self-deprecating smile.  “When you’ve been through the things we’ve seen I guess it’s less of a reflection on any given area and more of a commentary on our experiences.  Gods and demons this bath is exactly what my road weary body needed.  Arina, do you know anything about the contests?”

The other woman grinned, “Well, not really.  But there’s said to be great prizes for the winners and Adbar has been solid so far.  His guards get the best of everything and entering their ranks is no easy task.  If this is something special beyond that it must be pretty amazing.”

Callindra finished her bath in silence, drying off before carefully collecting her sword from the bench and exiting to dress.  She looked at her dirty clothing with a disconsolate sigh and decided to simply shrug into her tunic instead of donning all her travel stained garments.

“I cn wash ‘em for ya mistress.”  A girl child with a clean if rather threadbare smock said hopefully.  “Have ‘em ready inna candlemark fer a silver.”

Callindra held out a gold piece, “If you can get me an extra set of trousers, another tunic and two breast bands as well as washing my gear and tending my armor this is yours.”  The girl’s hand flickered out to grab the coin, but Callindra rolled it across her knuckles and out of reach.  “I’ll be able to find you if you take it and run.”

“Oh mistress I ain’t no scapegrace.”  She protested, “They ain’t gonna lemme in if I were nickin from th custom.”

“Not unless you were very good at it.”  Callindra said with a grin, “I’ve seen lightfingers work before and if you aren’t one you certainly have the knack.”

“Jus means I’ll get ya th best deals don’t it mistress?”  The girl said with a gap toothed smile.

“Now that’s what I like to hear.”  Callindra said, “I’m on the second floor, first room on the right.”

“You wif all them boys?”  The girl goggled, “An you stayin inna room wif ‘em?”

“They’re my brothers.”  Callindra said, “It’s fine once you get past the smell.”

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 46

Tryst leaped forward, roaring a battle cry designed to attract the monster’s attention while Cronos hacked into its back with an overhanded swing of his favorite bastard sword.  When the blade met the things back, the steel came away red hot, the edge warped from contacting the creature’s hide.

“What the hell IS this thing?”  He shouted, “We have to get her OUT of there!”

Vilhylm ran forward, growing bigger and stronger; his brutish aspect coming out.  He grabbed the creature’s limbs and tried to pull them apart, struggling to tear it in half and release his sister.  Callindra felt the thing’s throat constrict around her and with horrible force.  With a herculean effort she managed to draw a sliver of Brightfang from his sheath and released a blast of raw magic.  A slash opened in the side of its throat and she gulped a breath of fresh air.

The monster reared up, shrieking in pain and anger.  A flailing limb slammed into Cronos, knocking him onto its back.  His armor began to blacken and burn and he rolled off into the snow, cursing a blue streak.  Vilhylm slammed his fist into the creature’s vulnerable underbelly, impacting Callindra’s body slightly and shoving her face halfway out through the hole her magic had punched.

“This god-cursed bastard.  Is trying.  To EAT ME!”  She grated, trying to free her sword further.

The monster turned and tried to run back into its lair, but Tryst jumped in front of it, dropping his shield and gripping the sides of the wound, pulling with all his strength.  Vilhylm joined him, and they each pulled on a side.  As they pulled, Cronos discarded his damaged sword and drew another, hacking down and opening the cut far enough that Callindra spilled out in a burst of superheated blood.  The digestive fluids of the creature had done their work; her hair was burned off as were her clothes.  And her armor. And her sword sheath.

She shivered uncontrollably and felt as though she was sunburned all over.  “Gods and demons.  I feel burned and chilled to the bone all at once.”

“We must get her into the monster’s cave and build a fire or else she will freeze.”  Tryst said, sweeping his cloak off his shoulders and wrapping her in it.  Callindra winced at the rough wool touching her burns but pulled it around herself with her right hand, grateful for the warmth.

“That bastard burned up all my clothes.”  She said, her voice rough with pain.  “Bring its carcass into the cave, I’ll make boots from its blasted hide.”

“I’m not sure we have time for that.”  Cronos said, looking at the still steaming corpse of the monster.  “Don’t we have somewhere to be?”

“I’m not hiking across a sarding glacier nude Cronos.”  She said acidly, “I think it won’t matter for the short term if they aren’t completely cured since it’s so cold, now shut up and help Vil drag it inside.  We can probably start a fire from its damn hide.  Tryst, can you please do something about these burns?  I think I’m going to … just pass out for a bit.”

Callindra crumpled into Tryst’s arms and he carried her into the cave, followed by Vilhylm and a cursing Cronos as they dragged the beast’s body into the cave.  As Callindra had suggested, the heat from the red hot organs on the creatures back continued to give off enough heat to keep the interior of the cave warm.

After Tryst healed the worst of her burns, Callindra gradually regained consciousness.  Cronos had found some of his spare clothes that more or less fit her, and although she didn’t have the support of a breast band she at least wasn’t naked and shivering.

While her brothers rested, she deftly skinned the beast using her sword as she had so many times before.  With the creature’s brain and a bit of magic, she managed to cure the hide in a matter of candlemarks and made herself a surprisingly serviceable pair of boots that laced all the way to her knee.  She also cut out a rough breastplate that she could later reinforce to replace the beautifully embossed armor she had bartered for so long ago.  Before she could finish that, she would need buckles and more advanced tools though.

After a meal of trail rations and snow melted in a pan on the still warm back of the monster, they set off across the glacier.  Callindra found she didn’t much mind being forced to always keep Brightfang in her hand; his weight was a comfort to her although her hand quickly became stiff from the cold chilling the steel ice cold.

The next night, they camped in the lee of a massive snowdrift, setting up a tent barely large enough for all of them to fit in.  The cramped conditions at very least allowed them to benefit from each other’s warmth.  In the morning, they were able to make it to the base of the ashmount.

There was a large tunnel opening at the base of the mountain.  An unguarded opening that had a stiff breeze blowing at their backs as they walked inside.  The floor was littered with blades.  Swords, scimitars, daggers, polearms and axes were scattered like leaves from a weapon tree.  Some were broken, but others looked flawless at first glance.  There were thousands of weapons more perfect than any blade they’d ever seen for sale in any shop.

A staircase wound around the outside of the room with broken blades scattered over the steps carved into the stone.  The dominant feature in the room wasn’t the collection of weapons.  In the center of the volcano was a pool of lava thirty feet across.  Standing in the center of that pool was a figure Callindra could only think of as a demon.  It was over fifty feet tall with red skin and jet black wings.  Two huge chains ran from an iron collar about its neck to massive pillars of white stone or ice.

Anniversary Night: The Folk of Einn Boer Gather.

The Dungeon Master takes the threads the players have provided and weaves it into the tapestry of story.  I see myself as more of a narrator of an epic epoch than anything else.  Here begins our adventure.  Let’s meet the souls who will shape this world to their will.

 

It was the Day of Anniversary, and the entire city was alive with light, song and the smells of the delicacies that were always baked, roasted and fried in celebration.  Even deep below the city, the feeling of excitement and anticipation hummed like a plucked lute string in the air.  Arn alone did not share any of the other’s thrill at the upcoming event.

“Herdsman Castille.”  Arn looked up to see the slight form of Morrigan, her hair in its perpetual bun.  “It is a special day.  You should be above with the others.”

“I am waiting for the evening.”  He replied, “I wish to avoid the crowds.”

“You mean you wish to go and see the cage fight that ridiculous halfling is staging?” She said mildly, raising an eyebrow in amusement.

“Shepherd, I – “ Arn began, feeling flustered and uncertain.  He had never asked for time out of the monastery.  Quite the opposite, he had usually resisted leaving until recently.

“It is normal for youngsters to want to be entertained.”  Morrigan said, “I noticed your attendance at my own sparring match.  What would you offer as critique?”

“You danced as though reciting a Sutra, Shepherd.”  He said, responding to her request without thought. “The Commander Shepherd … you might as well have been trying to strike the wind.  It seemed he always knew where you would be.”

“It is not the first time we have sparred.”  Shepherd Morrigan said, “He knows me better than almost anyone else.  Your eyes do at least see to the surface Herdsman, even if what lies below the water remains largely hidden from you.  The difference in our fighting styles is distinct, however there is a very valid reason why he is the Commander.”

Arn realized he had offered a very stern criticism of her and felt even more flustered, but Morrigan gave him a slight inclination of the head.  Over the years he had learned that this was a gesture of approval.

“Go to your fights if you wish.”  She said with a hint of a smile.  “But please do not pick up any bad habits.  You are on the cusp of the Stillness.”

“Yes Shepherd, of course Shepherd, thank you Shepherd.” He said, grinning at the memories of the enthusiastic halfling and her strange, wild leaping fighting style so different from anything he had ever seen here.  “I think, in all honesty that many of the fights may be staged.”

Her only reply was a soft laugh that could have been amusement or agreement.

Boris rubbed his hands together, chuckling to himself.  This latest batch of ale had failed, but instead of throwing it away, the Dwarf had left it out uncovered overnight and some form of wild yeast or another had infested it.  Now instead of sitting quiescent and sullen, it was nearly bubbling over with activity.  Quite possibly toxic and deadly activity, but he could work with that.

After giving it a good stir and scooping off the unhealthy looking violet froth from the top of the fermenting cask, he carefully covered it and went back to bottling.  His experiments had all but bankrupted him last month and he didn’t want to resort to eating summoned food again.  Over the last few years he’d begun to think there was something wrong with it, and besides, after eating real food, he couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying that magic stuff.  Tasted like the grains left over from brewing; all the flavor and character drained out of it.

Tonight was the Anniversary Celebration.  Seven hundred years.  He had turned out a lot of ales for this event; he relied on the patronage of the folk who tasted his strange concoctions to keep his neighbors from encroaching upon his tiny tavern.  They were always willing to pay handsomely for a new diversion.

Speaking of diversions, Shaena was bringing her hooligans into his basement again tonight.  Fighting.  In this day and age.  He would never have thought it would be something folk would be interested in, but he supposed boredom would lead to all sorts of deviant behavior.  Besides, if he was honest with himself, it really was amusing to watch them beat the everloving shit out of one another.  As long as it wasn’t his bones being broken, what harm could it be?

It brought in more customers and other interesting individuals as well.  Humming happily to himself for the first time in ages, he set about starting another brew.

“Lirin, you aren’t going out tonight of all nights are you?”  Anna stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips.  “You promised to watch Zoey and Zyrus tonight so that Tobias and I could mind the store.  This is our busiest night of the year!”

“Anna, I’m only going after the youngsters will long be in their beds.”  Lirin soothed, “I have some things that need looking after.”

“Well, don’t expect me to spend an hour getting blood out of another tunic.”  She said frostily, “I don’t like this new obsession some folk have with violence.  Not one bit.”

“The Long Guard has a history of sparring Anna, I fail to see how this is all that much different really.”  He said, “Father would say the more of us who know how to defend ourselves the better.”

“As if this were about self-defense.”  She huffed, “They’re taking bets I hear.  BETS Lirin!  You might as well be going to a gambling den.”

“But there are folk who get hurt.”  He said, “Some of them are my friends too.  I can’t just let them go to some street hack who will dose them with intoxicants for the pain and nothing else.”

“I don’t like you keeping company with those low sorts Lirin.”  She said, “Honestly the Guard has a long tradition of training, but they don’t do it for entertainment.  That’s just wrong.”

“No, you’re right.”  He said, “I shouldn’t have compared these fights to the Guard.”  Lirin smiled at her, “You always were the grounded and sensible one.”

Her expression softened, “You always did think more with your heart.  I can’t keep you from helping others Lirin, just … I worry about you.  When are you going to find your own life?  You should find a woman and start a family.”

Lirin stiffened, a feeling he couldn’t define gripping him.  “I have to take care of mom and da.  There are enough children as it is.”  He couldn’t quite keep the resentment from his voice, “Besides, if I had a wife and children of my own who would watch Zoey and Zyrus while you worked the shop on Anniversary Night?”

“I didn’t mean-“ She began.

“No, I’m the one who should apologize.”  He said, taking a deep breath and giving her a rueful smile. “I guess it’s just that I see your family and can’t help but feel a little jealous Anna.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love you all; sometimes it’s just hard to see what you’ve made of your life and not feel like a failure.”

“Oh Lirin don’t say that.”  She came to him and caught him in a fierce hug. “You’re a wonderful uncle and a great brother.  I’m sure your calling will come.”

At her words, Lirin felt an echo of something he couldn’t quite grasp.  A touch on his spirit that called to him and made him yearn to be able to hear it, but somehow it was just out of reach.

It was Anniversary day and Shaena was even more of a ball of energy than ever.  After her third breakfast and fourth ale she felt finally calm enough to face the day.  Tonight she had enough fighters for a full card, and that meant… well… something.  The Halfling tried to keep track of the business end of things, but it was all just so god’s cursed boring.  Good thing Garrett had offered to handle all that for her; he really was a dear, even if his weird color changing mane of hair and odd clothing seemed a bit off.

The fighters though, that was exciting!  She’d finally gotten a dragonborn and had pitted him against the Catfolk because all those weird critters fighting one another would be really something.  She had wanted to be the first one to fight him, but she’d also gotten her first Goliath to fight and there just wasn’t any way she couldn’t be the one to face him.  I mean come on!  A halfling against a Goliath?  She got the giggles just thinking about it.

Thankfully that nice Lirin gentleman had agreed to come again.  He really had quite the hand for setting broken bones and all that which was lovely and the strange Elf had helped too when that one boy had accidentally almost died.  Probably would have died.  But really, they’d all signed the waiver and fighting was fun!  That Elf seemed to act as though he didn’t even want to use the spell to save the boy’s life too which was quite weird but that’s those Elves for you really.  I mean Elves right?

She was going to try something new tonight too, something for Anniversary night.  This human made the most fantastic patterns with magic, lights and she heard he could even sometimes make a fog seem to roll across the stage.  It would be fun.  Good old Garrett had come through on that one too.  He really was a treasure.

SP put on a tunic and of finest white silk and belted it with a white on white embroidered sash.  Contrary to what most believed, black was not the color of death or mourning after all; at least not among the Elves.  To walk at night down the dim streets in all white was to proclaim that you were such a part of the night you did not need to hide in it.  Not that the streets were likely to be darkened on Anniversary night.  Which was an annoyance.

Straightening the collar of the tunic, SP made final adjustments to ensure the clothes fell properly and turned to leave.  Gathering an ivory topped cane of carved ash, the Elf strode out the front door of the mortuary and into the throngs of folk gathering for the celebrations.

It was nearly time for those pit fights to begin.  They were really quite delicious actually.  Who would have known fighting would be so intriguing and satisfying?  Death was inevitable of course, but watching healthy folk with everything to lose and nothing to gain being so willing to throw it all away for no immediately apparent reason was addictive.

It so defied logic that it made SP want to understand the contrary thinking.  The Elf simply had to understand it.  There must be a reason for that illogical and self-destructive behavior.  It was a knot that made SP’s fingers itch.

Using magic to bring that unfortunate boy back to life had been more instinct than intentional.  SP had discovered something very interesting while studying the necromantic arts that needed further testing.  The Elf had begun to theorize that healing magic, especially the magics that prevented death, were actually a type of necromancy.  The gap between preventing death and returning life was so razor thin that it was often difficult to determine the difference.

That balance was something SP found to be the subject of obsessive interest.  There was a lifetime of study there.  Perhaps more than a lifetime.  Perhaps even more than an Elven lifetime.

Tabitha (The Wind in the Storm) crouched on the edge of a rooftop, peering out over the city.  Her tail twitched and thrashed as she watched the preparations for Anniversary day below.  She was up early; it was barely midday after all, and she was irritated at losing the hours of sleep.  The irritation was mitigated by the presence of those deliciously muscular jugglers in the plaza below.

They were performing for a small crowd of children and harried looking adults or older siblings and this angle was perfect to ogle muscular arms and shoulders.  The men and women in the square were now tossing pony kegs of ale between them; a seemingly impossible feat.  She decided the kegs must be empty.

Then the thought that the kegs weren’t empty occurred to her.  If they weren’t empty and the did contain the Brannagann’s Dark Ale that was branded on one side then she wanted some.  With that thought came a sudden impulse and as she always did, Tabitha acted on it almost before the idea had fully formed in her mind.

Leaping from the third story was, she thought as she fell through the air, a far more interesting and astonishing feat than throwing around some empty ale kegs.  Probably only truly impressive if she didn’t die or break her legs though.  That was why she had aimed for the flagpole.  Her claws caught and she slid down the wooden shaft, peeling spirals of it off as she plunged toward the ground.  Just before she struck the cobblestones, Tabitha leaped off toward the troupe from behind and then bounded high enough to land on the shoulders of the shortest of the jugglers, neatly snagging the barrel out of the air.

The barrel was full.  It hit her like … well … like a barrel of ale.  It hammered her slight form clean off the startled man’s shoulders and knocked the wind out of her in a startled “Oof!” and a second impact when she hit the cobblestones with the barrel on top of her drove the remaining breath from her lungs.  The bung that was driven into the top of the keg popped out and a thick brown stream of Brannagann’s Dark poured into her face.  She was in heaven except for the wet; but it was worth it.

All of the assembled adults and children burst into an uproar of laughter, clapping and cheers.  The man she had stolen the barrel from looked at her in baffled astonishment as trinkets, sweets and small coins showered into the hat they had set out to collect donations.

“Well.  Well now.”  The massively muscular man said, stroking his prodigious moustache and giving her a speculative grin.  “Lass if you ever want a part in our act, all you need do is ask.”  He bent to pick up the cask, still able to easily lift it although she continued to cling to it and to guzzle the ale as it poured out.

When he set it down bung up she gave him a reproachful look and a sulky pout.  “That was mine!  I stole it fair and square!”

The rest of the troupe burst out laughing, as did the assembled crowd who were now unsure if they had seen an accident or a carefully constructed prank that was part of the act.  “She’s got you there Fortus!” One of the other jugglers said, laughing so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.

“I like a man with some heft.”  Tabitha said, licking ale from her furred cheeks and leaning forward to run a hand lightly over his bulging bicep.  “What are you doing for the next hour or two?”

He blinked, and the crowd laughed again, although it was mostly the adolescents this time; the youngsters not understanding and the parents trying hard to keep straight faces.  Fortus seemed to not be able to make up his mind if she was serious or crazy.

“I guess it’s true about the kitties eh?”  He managed to say, and threw in a waggle of his bushy eyebrows to the crowd.

“I could make you purrrrrrr.”  She said, tail twitching.  A motion over his shoulder caught her eye.  A man in a garish purple vest with bright steel studs and a mane of hair spiked straight up that slowly changed colors was shouldering through the crowd on the other side of the square.  It was Garrett.  Well shit.

“Sorry.  Gotta go cutie.  Maybe I’ll find you later.”  She slipped into the crowd before the bookie could see her.  She owed him too much money to have him see her now.  But she was gonna beat that Dragonborn in the fights tonight and she could finally pay him off.  It was either that or she’d have to move to another part of the city.  She never would have thought a place that once had felt so large would feel so small.

The song ended and Telos allowed the patterns and shapes that his magic had been causing to shift in front the white screen of silk to fade away.  The assorted gentry sitting in the audience applauded politely and the musicians stood and bowed.

Although this wasn’t his preferred scene, these people paid better than most and he always got to eat the prepared, not simply summoned, food they made and that was worth putting up with the slightly stodgier and prim attitudes they often had.  Also, the songs that were fashionable among the highborn were quite beautiful and accompanied his artistic passions quite well.

Then again, his best paying, and most exiting gig was happening tonight.  It was so strange to him to think that people would really enjoy fighting.  Enjoy getting punched, kicked and choked.  Weapons were of course not allowed, but when a rather wildly dressed half elven man named Garrett had approached him and asked to hire his services for the show.

Garrett’s foot high Mohawk had flashed assorted colors as the man had gesticulated and explained his idea to make the intro “really pop” and his ideas about showing the fights in larger than life size on the wall were interesting, although Telos wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to pull that off or not.  Thus far he wasn’t having much luck with moving images.  Perhaps with practice though.  He had seen others who had managed as much, albeit not for this specific purpose or on this scale.

He had managed considerable success with creating images that were complimentary in nature that could overlap to create fascinating and captivating pieces of art.  Even better, the art he had been creating thus was temporary and unique.  Like the sand paintings he had seen one of the older monastic orders create, the moment it was complete, it was gone.  This quality made it the perfect accompaniment to music which was also always unique and only truly lived in memory.

Telos paused for a moment, thinking about the interchange of blows that made up a fight.  Perhaps the folk who fought did so for similar reasons.  Some of them anyway.  Could a physical expression of one’s abilities hold the same beauty as an intellectual expression?  Pondering this idea, he began preparing his mind for the display he was planning.  It was Anniversary Day.  A day for celebration.

Trey was following Headmistress Trencher’s orphans as they were heading back to the alleyway that led down to the Little Goblin Orphanage.  He made sure that they didn’t stray, although one or two seemed as though they would try and escape so as to stay out past curfew.  The hour was late, but after the youngsters had been put to their beds the Headmistress turned to Trey with a questioning look in her eye.

“Aren’t you going to ask to be released for the evening?”  She asked, when he remained silent.

“Released?”  He scratched his head with one hand, fingers not quite able to fully unclench due to the restraint gauntlets.

“For the Celebrations.”  She said, “Surely there is something out there that you would like to see?  A dance perhaps or to get one of the actually prepared pastries that Lady Taryn hands out every year?”

The Half-Orc remembered smelling the things being cooked.  He hadn’t ever tasted actual cooking before.  His mouth began to water.

“If it’s all right Headmistress.”  He said.

“I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t all right.”  She all but snapped.  It seemed that showing overt kindness was difficult for her.  “It’s Anniversary day.  Seven hundred years today.  You helped with the rugrats today, saved me some work. Get out of here and don’t say I never gave you anything.”

Trey walked out, feeling mildly confused at the Headmistress’ contradictory seeming words and actions.  Heading for the square where he thought he’d seen Ldy Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third’s attendants handing out sweets.  Following his nose, he almost ran over someone.

He looked up to see Lirin’s serious face looking into his own.  “Trey, where are you going with your head in the clouds?”

“Oh.  Hi Lirin.  To get a pastry.”  Trey said, “You?”

“The Anniversary pastries are this way.”  Lirin said with a smile, “Follow me, I’ll show you.”

“But where are you going?  Isn’t it a little late?”

“I am going to a …”  His voice trailed off as he looked at the other man.  “A place where people might get hurt and need my help.”

“I won’t let you go alone.”  Said Trey.  “You are a friend who has done much for me.  If there is danger I will be there.”

“It’s not really necessary Trey, they won’t be putting me in danger.  It’s a sparring ring.  The combatants there will be hurting each other, not hurting me.”

“I have seen fights get out of hand.” Trey said with a voice that brooked no argument.  “I am coming.”

Lirin gave him a rueful smile, “After all the time I have tried to spend with you learning that violence is not the only answer, I lead you into a place where people are using violence as the answer.  Thank you for your company my friend.”

Tension that he hadn’t known was there unclenched from Trey’s shoulders.  His friend would not turn him away.  He would not go into danger unprotected.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 29

As her brothers prepared themselves, Cronos by beginning to incant a spell and Vilhylm by withdrawing a mask, Callindra began swinging Brightfang by his chain.  The sword wasn’t balanced for it, and instead of spinning smoothly in a circle, the blade began to roll as its curved edge caught currents of the wind.  The effect was a low rumbling thrum; much like the bullroarers village children played with.

Running forward, she launched herself off a lichen encrusted sarcophagus to leap high in the air.  Brightfang’s arc changed, the blade swinging high into the sky to gather a crackling nimbus of living lightning around its spinning length.  With a shout of anger, Callindra brought her sword flashing down with all the power she could muster.  It struck The Ravenger on the right shoulder with a flash of electricity and an impact that she could feel even through the chain.

Her feet touched the ground and she yanked hard on the chain, sending her sword twirling back towards her.  She shook from exhaustion, this wasn’t her first fight of the day and the others had taken a lot out of her already.  The Ravenger covered the distance between them so quickly that it nearly reached her before Brightfang did.

The monster’s intense heat once again scorched her body, but she had a smile of satisfaction on her face.  Its right arm was hanging uselessly by its side.  Unable to dodge its oncoming rush, all she could do was brace herself.

Vilhylm slammed into the attacker, knocking him off his feet even as he reached for her with a flaming arm.  As the monster turned to face this new threat Cronos attacked it from the other side, hacking into it with his broadsword with a spray of blood.  The Ravenger roared, spinning to attack him but Callindra slashed it across the spine and it retreated back into the chapel.

“You can’t run from me!” Callindra yelled, sprinting after it.  Coming through the door, she emerged into a scene from nightmare.

A charnel house of slaughter littered the floor, bodies torn and shredded.  A portal of glowing silver light stood on one side, the view beyond an unending field of fires and torment.  Laughter echoed throughout the chapel, seeming to come from everywhere but Callindra ignored it.  Running inside she gathered the Weave about her and her steps became faster, every movement accentuated by winds and magic.

“I have waited so long.”  The Ravenger rumbled, “I have been waiting for one who can break the seals for what seems like hundreds of years.  Perhaps it has been hundreds of years.”

“To the nine hells with your waiting.”  Callindra said, spinning in a whirlwind, Brightfang a razor sharp extension of her arm as she slammed into her enemy.  As she struck, scintillating bolts of lightning followed each swipe of her sword, hammering into The Ravenger with elemental force.

The creature staggered backwards in the face of her onslaught and she continued pressing her attack in spite of the heat that singed her hair and blistered her skin.  A series of magical bolts streaked over her shoulder in the pale violet color of Cronos’s magic, hammering into the creature one after another.  It staggered back from the onslaught and Vilhylm’s brutish form leaped forward, his arms extended in a parody of a mountain ape but with twining vines growing all throughout.

Vilhylm charged into The Ravenger with a rolling shoulder block as inexorable as an avalanche, smashing his hands into the stone floor of the chapel to give himself more leverage.  As he did so, vines exploded from the floor behind the creature, further throwing it off balance.  With a shriek of rage, Callindra spun Brightfang in a wild arc and the power of Nordji himself burst through the sword’s tip striking The Ravenger in the chest and sending it spinning backward into the shimmering portal.

“NO!”  It howled, “You know not what you do!  I was holding the power and now it returns!”  As it fell, the huge burning body began to shrink and unravel, twisting in a hideous parody until Pierce was revealed at the center, his eyes sunken and burning with emerald fire.

“Return to the Hell that spawned you!”  Callindra cried, and flung her sword forward to strike him squarely in the throat.  With a gurgling cry the desiccated form fell backward into the opening, fully consumed by it and Brightfang sang in protest as she yanked him out of the collapsing portal.  A rumbling, grinding sound began to resonate throughout the chapel and they all ran as best they could to escape before the building collapsed into rubble.

Panting and shaking with battle frenzy, Callindra slowly began to understand the import of what had just happened.  Her brother’s only hope had been of the Abyss.  When she wiped Brightfang off before sheathing him, the cloth caught on her hand and a sliver of metal sliced her palm open.  Staring at her beloved sword in disbelief, she saw that a tiny fracture had begun to form on the thick flat of the blade.  Her bonded blade Brightfang was beginning to suffer the same fate as all the other practice swords she had used.

“No.”  She whispered, not even noticing as tiny vines sprang up to stitch the small wound on her palm.  “I cannot lose you.  Not you too.”  It was too much, and she fell to her knees in the ancient graveyard and let tears fall unheeded from her eyes.  Vaguely she felt gentle hands leading her away, settling her on a bedroll and prying her hands from where she gripped Brightfang’s blade.

Kurien Alyemey

Crossbow bolts fell like deadly hail as Kurien ran down the street with a bag of coins clinking merrily at his belt.  The gold had been freely given, albeit under false pretenses, and he had no intention of giving it back.  He had sold the Lord of this Holding a batch of his ‘Famous Rejuvenating Elixir’ for an exorbitant amount of gold.  It was, of course, really worthless rotgut mixed with a few herbs to make it taste like medication, but how would the greedy old bastard ever learn his lesson if he didn’t pay for it?

He ducked under a bolt that would have punctured his skull, slipped sideways into an alley, put his back against the wall and got ready.  Pulling a dagger from his belt, he cut through a rope that held a stack of empty casks and sent them tumbling into the alleyway.

“Halt you thieving mongrel!”  One of the guards chasing him shouted.  “Come back with the Lord’s gold!”

When the guard came around the corner at a dead sprint, he collided with the tumbling barrels, crashing onto his face.  The second guard was running too fast and had to choose between stepping on his friend or hitting the barrels.  The first guard’s face made a funny squishing sound when it was mushed into the mud.

“Watch your step friends, these streets are slippery!”  Kurien said cheerfully, climbing up a nearby rain gutter to the third floor of a warehouse and vaulting into an open window.  A group of dangerous looking folk all turned to stare in his direction.  A case of something was open on a table between them and all of them were armed to the teeth.

“Raken, is this one of yours?”  A woman with a scar running across her left eye asked in an artificially casual drawl as her hand fell to the hilt of a nasty looking dagger at her belt.

“Jana, you know better, this punk isn’t attached to us.”  Raken said, giving Kurien a narrow glare.  “Although he might be your lackey.”

“Hey I’m just passing through, but The Lord’s Guard is hot on my trail.”  Kurien laughed, “Of course it’s all just a silly misunderstanding.  I didn’t mean to interrupt your er whatever this is.”

“Get him!”  Jana shouted, drawing her dagger.

Kurien struck a theatrical pose and a jangling guitar chord struck up from nowhere.  Jana’s dagger dropped from limp fingers and she stared at him with surprise clear on her face.  She made a calming gesture towards her ruffians as Kurien spread his hand wide.  “Come now friends, there’s no reason to hurt ME, I’m on YOUR side!”

The music continued and this time Raken relaxed, watching the half-elf as he almost danced through the room toward the door.  Kurien didn’t give the others the chance to decide to take matters into their own hands.

“Hey Boss… shouldn’t we be stopping him?”  One of the brighter ones asked.

“He’s fine.”  Raken and Jana said almost in unison.

“Hey wait a minute, that’s a spell!”  Another of the toughs yelled, but Kurien was already through the door and the guard was just struggling through the window.

Laughing merrily, he ran through the hallway, down a flight of stairs and out the door.  He pulled off the hat with its attached wig, stuffed it into a small pack and flipped his cloak so that the drab gray showed instead of the bright scarlet he had been wearing.  It hadn’t been much of a disguise in the first place but these idiots were easily fooled.

A young beggar sat a few streets down with a bowl that contained a single copper, looking up at him with hopeful eyes.  The poor girl was just skin and bone!  Kurien patted her on her grimy head and walked down the street casually, whistling a merry tune.  He was around the corner before she saw the handful of gold in her bowl.  It had been a wonderful day of fooling the so-called “Lord” of this city, and now it was time to redistribute his ill-gotten wealth among those who truly needed it.

Alexander Brigit Macedon: Intro

Author’s note: This is just an introductory piece for a collaborative writing project I’m participating in… there may be more to follow if things pan out.  Hope you enjoy.

The door opened, to Lex’s and he knew it was a regular since they didn’t open it far enough to allow the steel edge to come in contact with the five-foot length of pipe he had near the wall.  The clang was enough to make everyone think twice about mistreating his door.

He liked his door.  He’d found it in a surplus depot and paid nearly two thousand dollars for it.  The inlaid oak, ash and walnut made interesting contrast and the carving of a huge tree that grew up it matched the custom brass hinges he’d had made to look like tree leaves, branches and roots.  Most people didn’t notice his favorite part though.  Just above the polished brass kick plate, the roots of the tree grew not into soil but into a field of bones.  Subtle, but macabre.  Just his style.

Recognizing the man’s silhouette even as he began to walk down the three stairs that would bring him into the bar, Alexander took down a bottle of Belvedere vodka and mixed a gimlet.  He was just garnishing the drink with a twist of lime when Investigator Jon Lee slid into his usual seat at the bar.

“How do you know it’s me?  I’m not even wearing my normal uniform today.”  Jon was one of NYC’s finest.  He also only came to Lex’s when he was off duty and had a rough day.  His usual ankle length cashmere coat was indeed missing; an oddity considering the sleet rattling against the half windows that faced the street.

“I got an eye for people.”  Alex said with a shrug.  “Where’s your coat, this weather is shite.”

Jon grimaced.  “Dry cleaner’s.”  He took a drink and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Alex grunted, but didn’t say anything else.  When Jon’s drink was empty another one appeared in front of him like magic.  He closed his hands around it and glanced around the mostly empty bar.  The usual two old men in the corner were playing chess, each with a pint of Alexander’s bitter ale close at hand.  A bored looking woman sat next to a young man who was ignoring her in favor of his phone.  Nobody was within earshot.

“It was bad.  That fire on 87th?  Well, I’ve heard of spontaneous human combustion but I thought it was a myth or something.”  He shuddered and placed the cold glass against his forehead.  “Nothing else it could have been though.  Burned all the way through her middle right where she was laying in bed.  Didn’t so much as set the sheets on fire.”

“Huh.  Well.  At least the building didn’t burn.”  Alex looked over and saw the girl catch his eye.  “Excuse me Jon.”

He glided down the bar, moving smoothly and silently especially for a man his size.  Looming up behind the man he rumbled, “What can I get you Miss?”  Carefully keeping his expression blank, Alexander chuckled inwardly as the young man started and almost dropped his phone.

“Can I have an appletini?”  She asked.

“No miss, I don’t carry that apple garbage.  I’d gladly make you a regular martini or perhaps a Cosmopolitan?”  Alex said, crossing his thick arms over his chest.  With the black tshirt and white apron, it made him look much less threatening than his words might have initially suggested.  Like a favorite uncle.

“What’s in a Cosmopolitan?”  She asked.

“Vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice.”  Her date said with an annoyed look first at Alex and then at her.

“My Cosmopolitan has Vodka, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice and real cranberry juice.”  Alex said smoothly, “Combined and shaken before being poured into a martini glass and garnished with a twisted rind of lime and lemon.”

“That sounds pretty good actually.”  She said, smiling.

“And for you sir?” Alex asked, looking at the man.

“Bud light.”  He said.

Alex sighed, shook his head and pointed a finger the size of a bratwurst at the chalk board behind the bar.  It listed the available beers with the alcohol content, serving size and price.  At the bottom was written ‘Bud Light.  3.2% ABV 12 oz can. $50.00’

“Fifty Dollars?”  The guy exploded, but Alex pointed to the sign hanging below it which read.

‘This is a brewpub.  I make these beers.  If you want that piss water you’d better be willing to pay me for the insult.’

“I have a very nice British Blonde Ale.” Alex said patiently in a voice that suggested he’d said the same thing hundreds of times.  He pointed to the top beer on the list named ‘Blondes Have More Fun’. “It’s as close as you’re gonna get here.”

“Yeah.  Sure.”  He said shortly.

With an inward chuckle, Alexander went back to the bar and pulled a pint of Blonde and then mixed the perfect Cosmo.  After serving the drinks, he brought a fresh pair of pints to the chess players and returned to where Jon was finishing his second gimlet.  He placed a glass of water in front of the cop and smiled inwardly again at the surprised look his face.

“How’d you know I didn’t want another?”  Jon asked, “You always seem to know exactly what to do or say.”

“Bartender’s instinct.  We know you better than your lover does.  You tell us stuff you wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else.  We get ta know ya.”  He let the smile travel from his mind to his lips, “These are on the house.  You’ve had a rough one lad, take all the time ya need.”

“Thanks Alexander.  You’re a good man.”

“Ain’t nothing.”  He said, turning to take a bottle of scotch from the top shelf.  Just as he was finishing pouring a double shot of Laphroig over ice.  He had a feeling an old friend was about to walk through the door, and all Duff Bowman ever ordered was Laphroig on the rocks.

Id Om Zagod (Stone Crushing Fist)

Id Om Zagod sat in the Wandering Wyvern Inn, watching the adventurers come and go.  The fat, chisel pointed Dao with its long double grip handle sticking intimidatingly out from over his shoulder.  He glared at the patrons, a massive pewter tankard in one hand and a tiny crystal shot glass in the other.  Setting the empty shot glass down, the Dwarf carefully poured a measure of the thick brown liquor from the stoneware jug on the bar next to him.  A small drop spilled on the bar and began to eat its way through the oak, sizzling and burning.

“Hey little guy, what’re ya drinkin?”  A tall and massively musclebound human sat down next to him, the impact of sitting knocking the bottle off the bar.  Ioz, as his friends would have called him if he’d had any, moved as fast as a striking snake, catching the bottle a finger’s breadth from the floor.

“Did you just call me… little?”  He asked, his voice gravely and deadly quiet.

“Oh come now, I don’t mean nothin by it.  Pour me one a whatever that is.”  The human slapped him on the shoulder hard enough to shift him a finger on his stool.

“Fenris, leave Zagod alone!  By the Mother Goddess, that crazy gobshite is drinking Purple Hippogriff!”  Another human had noticed his friend and had intervened at perhaps the worst possible moment.  “If he don’t kill ya th drink will!”

“This is th Stone Crushin Fist everyone’s been on about?”  Fenris asked incredulously, “Canne be him, he’s got a bloody sword don’t he?”

A fist the size and shape of a summer ham smashed into Fenris’s cheek, even as Ioz drained his tankard.  The huge human staggered back, drawing his sword and swinging it in the same motion but Ioz stumbled three steps to the left, then three to the right seeming to accidentally stumble out of the way.  Fenris was only barely able to stop his stroke before the blade struck his friend.

“You little-“  Fenris began, but Ioz had woven his way back into range, draining his shot glass as he came.  Fist, elbow, forearm, knee and foot struck in rapid succession hitting solar plexus, collar bone, temple, nose and then chin as the Dwarf unleashed unarmed fury upon his would be opponent.

“Nobody calls me little.  Nobody spills my drink.  Nobody doubts my fists.”  Ioz sat back on his stool as though nothing had happened.  The human on the floor was groaning and holding his broken nose with one hand and his stomach with the other.  Calmly, he reached out and poured himself another shot of the muddy brown liquor.  Purple hippogriff.  It ain’t purple and it ain’t a hippogriff.

“Very easily managed.” An accented voice said in common.  “I can see that your reputation is very well deserved.”  The second human had retreated, hand on the hilt of the Greatsword over his shoulder and a diminutive figure in a blue robe with the cowl pulled low over its face had stepped forward.  It extended a gloved hand.

Ioz did not take it, instead tossing a pair of silver coins to the Minotaur behind the bar who refilled his mug with frothing ale without comment.  The Dwarf took a long drink and sighed in satisfaction.  Reaching into a belt pouch, he took out a long stemmed pipe and a pouch of tac.  With careful deliberation he packed the bowl full and lit it with a practiced stroke of flint and steel.

Finally, after blowing a perfect smoke ring he turned to the figure where it stood patiently waiting.  “What you want Kobold?”

The human guard flinched and took a step backward, but the cloaked figure didn’t so much as twitch.  “I am offering you something.  An opportunity.  The Mother Goddess has brought all us forgotten here for a reason and I believe yours goes beyond carousing and fist fights.”

Ioz grunted. “Naw.  That’s pretty much all I’m good for.”

“Very well.  Then I challenge you to a fight.  The stakes are-“  The figure broke off as Ioz drained his tankard and took a pull directly from the bottle before leaping at her, his arms spread wide.  She easily slid to one side, tapping his foot with hers as she did so.  Her touch was just enough to spin him around, a motion which he turned into a vicious roundhouse that had the power to sunder a stone wall.

She leaned backward and slapped his heel as it flashed past her face, causing his motion to carry dangerously close to the bar.  Only by pulling his foot in and spinning twice in a circle did Ioz avoid kicking his bottle from the bartop.

“That ain’t right.”  He rumbled, unleashing a mad blur of punches, kicks and other less gentlemanly strikes.  The small figure glided out of reach every time and as was her wont, tapped him in just the right spot to put him off balance, this time sending him crashing into a table laden with food and drink.

Ioz rolled easily to his feet, ignoring the bits of broken pottery jammed into his flesh and the pottery, coming to his feet with an un-spilled tankard from the table which he promptly poured down his throat.  This time when he approached, he wove in an unsteady rhythm, feet crossing over themselves in an unintelligible tangle of stuttering steps.  His upper body wove in a nearly impossible sinuous weaving motion.  Instead of fists, his hands cramped into uncomfortable looking claws, knuckles splayed at wild angles.  A wide, unsteady grin was plastered across his face.

“Now we shtart to shee jusht how good ya be lassh.”  Ioz slurred, and stumbled forward three quick steps.  His foot came down hard where hers had been a moment before and he stumbled into her, his elbow smacking into her temple with force that should have been impossible from that angle.  She neatly turned a sideways cartwheel, turning most of the force of his blow into motion and lashed out with a foot as she did.  The motion flipped her hood back and he could see that her scaled skin was the white of driven snow.

Ioz wobbled back a half step and evaded her strike entirely before weaving back into the fray his arms, elbows and knees a blur of fluid, yet somehow erratic motion.  She retreated, awkwardly countering his blows, ducking and blocking.  Finally, she fetched up against the bar and in the blink of an eye was holding a pair of nunchaku.  Weapons in hand, she launched a furious counterattack.  Steel flashed as she battered at him, attempting to wrap the chains of her weapons around his arms or legs and settling for striking ferocious blows instead.

As he passed the bar, Ioz snagged a bottle at random and downed it before rolling backward out of reach and coming to his feet with his massive Dao in both hands.  The weapon whistled out, the wickedly polished edge shining in the light coming through the tavern’s window as he used it to block his opponent’s deadly assault.

He stepped back, grounding the chisel tip of the sword and bowing slightly from the waist.  “You are good.”  He said without rancor or the slurring speech and slumped back into his seat at the bar which just happened to be where he had retreated.  “You forced me to draw steel… What do you want?”

She stepped forward and poured a shot for each of them.  He raised a bushy eyebrow skeptically but downed his while she did the same.  Impressed, Ioz waited patiently.

“You’ve seen exactly what happens when you cannot maintain balance.  You are defeated, and by a mere Kobold.”  She said the last with irony in her tone.  “That is why I wish you to assist in a little project.  I can promise many strong opponents and a few staunch allies as well as the chance to do something a bit more… meaningful with your existence.”

Her eyes took in the now empty bar, the destroyed tables and crockery and she raised an ironic eyebrow.  “If you don’t have something more pressing in your schedule?”

The doors slammed open and the city watch tramped in.  Ten of them.  Even though he had never resisted, they sent more every time.  They circled him warily and the guard captain came forward with a pair of manacles.

“Zagod.”  He said with a frown on his face, “Don’t tell me that this tiny person over here somehow forced you to destroy the bar.”

Ioz saw that the Kobold had flipped her hood up again.  He looked at the guard captain and snorted in derision, “You know I don’t judge folk because of their size Darious.  You also should know I don’t resist arrest when I’ve broken the city’s laws.”

Ioz turned to the hooded form, “I accept your offer.”  He said, inclining his head.  He paused, noting that its shoulders shook with silent laughter.  Narrowing his eyes, he asked, “What is so damn funny?”

“They call you Zagod.”  She choked out, “They are literally calling you ‘fist’ or ‘punch’ and they don’t even understand it!”

“Punishment for a bar fight is payment of damages and a night in the lockup.”  He said, keeping his face straight.  “So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

“You’re going to actually go with him?  You’re actually going to spend a night in jail?” She sounded skeptical, “Why?”

Ioz shrugged.  “It’s the law.  Part of following the law is acknowledging when you break it and serving the time required.  I’m bad at following the law but I try and atone for those failings by serving my sentences without causing trouble.”

“There is much more to you than it would seem Ioz.”  She said, using the name he had chosen.  The name he had taken for himself.  The name that had no hidden meaning.  “I will ensure someone is there to collect you upon your release.”

With that rather cryptic and unsettling statement, she turned and left.  They all watched her for a minute before Ioz sighed.  “Can I finish my drink before we go at least?”

“We’d be here all night, I know better than that.” Darious said.

Ioz sighed again, deeper this time.  “Damn.”

Sitting in the cell that smelled of vomit, sweat and piss, Ioz admitted that he’d had better accommodations.  Still, it was his own lack of self-control that had led him to this place.  Again.  He leaned back and let the memories of old pain wash over him.

He had been too weak to protect anyone.  Too small to defend those who he cared for.  Too stupid to notice until it was too late.  He had relied on his weapons, hadn’t trained his body to the fullest extent possible, hadn’t honed himself to a razor’s edge… and his friends had paid dearly for it.

After his failure, he had simply walked away from his life or what was left of it.  He had left everything behind and just walked until he could no longer put one foot in front of the other.  Until nothing mattered and it felt like death would be a comfort, a balm, a welcome release from the suffering of continuing to live.  And then he had run.

When The Mother Goddess, Landria Mother of the Lost, Keeper of the Forsaken, Finder of Things that Shone in Darkness found him, she wept at his despair.  She took some of his pain into herself.  She offered something other than the endless darkness that he wanted to give in to.  She gave him the escape he craved without demanding the end of his existence.  It had been a temptation too sweet to resist.  He had regretted it for every day thereafter.

Once he had accepted her salvation, Ioz had discovered that he was no longer able to forsake his own life.  He couldn’t change who he was when the very stones of this place demanded that he live.  That he serve the Mother’s purpose.  That he follow this land’s Laws and obey his set destiny.  He wept bitter tears as he saw the treachery of Landria’s forgiveness.

So he tempered himself in the forge of pain and strengthened himself on the anvil of despair.  He had years, decades, centuries to live.  Without the release of suicide, he simply tried to die by fighting the strongest person he could find in every place he traveled.  Over the years, decades, centuries, he had come to a simple conclusion.  He was the strongest, or else the Mother would not allow him to perish in such a trivial fashion.

Dorda.  Randar.  Shrav.  Terkin.  His friends who had been murdered because he hadn’t been able to fight without a weapon stood always over his shoulder.  Always reminding him of his debt to them.  Constantly exhorting him to greater effort.  And now, this Kobold… a person who hadn’t even had enough respect for him to grace him with her name… now she held the strings of his fate in her clawed, white hands.  She held them and he was too much of a coward to deny it.

Or perhaps this was his chance to redeem himself.  Closing his eyes, Ioz allowed sleep to claim him.  Tomorrow, the true testing would begin.  A test of balance that was sure to strain him to his utmost limits, or so he hoped.  Perhaps it would even break him.  That thought was the first comfort he had felt since Landria, the Mother of the Lost had claimed him.  The jailers found him sleeping with a smile on their nightly rounds and shuddered at the sight.