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.

Yet another new RPG campaign looms

Soon, I’m going to be running a Shadowrun game and… well I haven’t played Shadowrun in quite a few years so, being me, I had to write an intro.  Not sure if this is going to be used or not but some of the terminology is borrowed from one of favorite dystopian future novels “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson.  So… whatever.  Enjoy 🙂

Afternoon Rush

XO was in trouble.  Those goddamn gangers were more tenacious than the usual crop and they’d followed her down this alley too.  They usually gave up after a couple dozen blocks, but not this time.  Even though she’d ‘Pooned a ride to make her Board go faster than if she just kicked or relied on gravity, they had been riding Scorpions.

That last Rig she’d ‘Pooned had shook off her magnet and she’d had to corner hard to avoid a smear.  She looked around, wondering what kind of drek she’d gotten into this time.  For the first time in a long time she began to really sweat.  This alley was a dead end, and for her that really meant a Dead End.

After grabbing her Board and strapping it firmly to her pack, she moved deeper into the alley, looking for a door, a window a foothold… anything.  The street level here only had Guardian roll up delivery doors and even though she could see the glow of the Ident1 panels there was no way she would have the time to hack one.  Not with those fuckers being so close behind her.

“Lil bitch run down here!”  Their lead tracker… Ork… probably sniffer… shouted and XO snarled silently at the sound of their combat boots stomping over the Ferrocrete of the street that replaced the rumble of the Harley’s engines.

“Let this meeting of the Student Council come to order.”  A beautiful female voice chimed from above.

XO looked up, on the third floor one of the windows had been opened.  That was against code she was sure, but she didn’t have time to wonder who had managed to hack the building’s HVAC system to prevent the alarm from going off.

A tall Elf boy with long golden hair sat on the window ledge staring out into the distance.  To XO’s surprise, he dumped a handful of breadcrumbs on the window ledge and a flock of noisy pigeons landed to peck at them.

She twisted the end of her arm and ejected the nanowire MagNeato Harpoon from its forearm sleeve.  The RepliPendage robotic replacement arm was a cheap piece of drek, but it was all a roach like her could afford.  XO aimed the ‘Poon and hit the release.  The polarity on the magnets violently reversed and the end of the ‘Poon flew out to smack into the window sill, there was just enough metal there to get a good connection.

The pigeons exploded in a clatter of wings as she flew upwards, the Elf looking around in irritation and then surprise as she rose toward him, the whirr of her ‘Poon drowned by the sound of the birds taking flight.

“Oh shit!”  The elf boy shouted, falling backward into the room.

“Sorry pretty boy, maybe I make it up to ya laters if ya got the stones!” XO said, running through the room, “Ya best get yer ass movin if ya don’t want them fucks ta get ya!”

“What?”  The boy said, scrambling backward as she ran to the opposite door.

The sound of the Gangers in the alley below grew into a roar.  “Lil BITCH I have your GUTS on STICK!”

“Laters cutie boy!”  XO blew him a kiss and tore the straps loose from her Board.  As she threw it down, the NanoTech wheels reached out to adjust to the terrain.  She jumped aboard, flying out the door and ‘Pooning the door so as to take the corner at speed.

“Close the damn window!”  The elf girl said as XO blew out the door.

XO laughed, cruising down the hallway and gaining speed as she went.  It was a simple matter to navigate the hall, fly down the stairs, the NanoTech wheels extending their spokes to make the trip down nearly level and, more importantly, fast.

An Ork boy in a rumpled school uniform barely got out of her way as she carved the wall, tearing a poster that was hung there and leaving dirty tracks on the paint.  He threw up his hands in a boxer’s fists.  She slapped one hand, pretending he was giving her a ‘high five’ and only barely dodged a jab.  Yup.  Boxer.  Enhanced too if she knew her shit, and she did.

At the bottom of the stairs, she ‘Pooned the door open, using the extra force from the pull to increase her speed just a touch and standing sideways on her Board to squeeze through the opening.  Some dork was opening the door to the outside and she flew through it fast enough to spin him twice around, jumping the stairs and landing hard on the sidewalk in spite of her NanoTech’s absorbing some of the shock.

Carving hard, she leaned almost parallel to the ground, reaching out to touch the Ferrocrete with the metal ends of her fingertips.  XO was laughing in exhilaration when the fuck rutting Rig pulled out of a side street, opening the door so when she smeared, the ended up inside, slightly rattled from the impact.

“Damn it you stupid gixie, this ain’t no time ta be fuckin’ round!”  She recognized Jack’s voice and quit trying to wrestle her holdout from its hiding place, laughing in relief.

“Fuck you mean?”  XO grabbed her Board’s tether and yanked it inside the Rig.  “What’s with tha scrap heap drecknob?  Where’s tha van?”  She’d liked his battle van.

“Goddamn poxy rat Gangers blew it up.”  He said, punching a button on the dash to rattle the door closed.  “Them fucks after ya?”

XO looked out the window of the Rig, frowning as the Gangers swarmed around the front of the building, revving their Scorpions and throwing rocks at the entrance.  Jack pulled away from the curb, nursing the engines of the Rig along like an old lady.

“It’s a school, they ain’t gettin in.”  She said with a grin, “Awful nice one too, lotsa noses in the air lemme tell ya.  I got lucky, found a window…”  Her narrow escape still thrilled through her blood, making the XCite strands of her Mohawk flare hot pink and electric green.

“Yer a reckless gixy, but fuckit, yer too young ta give a rats dreckhole about it.”  Jack grumbled, “Allright… ya got what I sent ya for tho? “

XO grinned wolfishly and held her hand out.  He passed her a couple of cred sticks and she jacked them into her scanner, checking the balances before handing over the Microdrive she’d lifted from the Gangers.  It was so old only a seriously outdated piece of graka would be able to read it.  Why anyone would want such old dreck she couldn’t fathom.

“Well I’m out boss.  Gotta Kourier run in forty and I wanna stop by Dan Chang’s ta nosh.”

“You know that meat is probably rat doncha?”  Jack asked, “Ain’t no way real meat can be that cheap.”

“Hell yea!”  XO said, “Rat’s good if ya cook it right.”  She slammed the cargo bay button and stood on her Board, waiting for it to open.  When Jack turned the next corner, she glided out, ‘Pooning a passing microvan for a few blocks.  It had been a good afternoon.  It was gonna be a better night.

Getting carried away with back story… that’s OK right?

So the DM of my new D&D campaign decided to allow us all to up the level of our characters to second instead of being first… so of course that meant I had to write a BUNCH more story to justify how he’d gotten that level… right?  Right?  Yeah… I was stuck at a spot in Post Mortem anyway so…

~~~~~~

It had been a long and boring day for Fermin.  Although he was one of the least reputable moneylenders in the city he hadn’t needed to crack one single skull yet and and that always put him in a bad mood.  His hired toughs slumped in their chairs behind the silk curtains that hid their presence.  Even though this was a disreputable place, there was money here to be sure and many of his clients were wealthy even if they weren’t noble.

The bell rang and he sat up straighter, lighting a cigar that was laced with Kreenweed that supposedly sharpened his mind, although he wasn’t sure if that was true or not.  At first he didn’t see the client, but then he looked down and saw a young halfling coming up the four stairs to where his desk was.

“Four stairs.  Lucky number!”  The youngster said cheerily and proceeded to climb on a chair.  He set his pack down and sat on top of it, affording him a much better vantage to see across the desk.

“What may I do for you today sir?”  Fermin said smoothly, stroking his moustache.

“Ha!  Those other guys said you were a crook, but they all called me Little Master’ as though I was a child from a noble house instead of a halfling!  Of course I am from a noble house but that’s beside the point.”

Fermin looked him over with a practiced eye.  No jewelry, although his ears were pierced.  Short curly hair that looked as though it had recently grown in from being shaved bald.  A lute that likely cost as much as a horse, if the instrument inside matched the fine quality of the case.  Very fine silk robes, much too fine for a peasant… but he was carrying a traveling pack with rope and a bedroll.  The last piece that didn’t fit were his hands.  They were rough, callused and showed signs of broken knuckles.

“Well of course sir, I am the most talented and least discriminating of all my associates.”  He said, tapping the ash from his cigar, “I would be pleased if I could render some assistance to a halfling man from a noble house.”

“Great!  Ok, so here’s this thing I found.  Can you tell me what it is?”  He stood on his bag and pulled a roll of parchment from a belt pouch.  It was tied with a piece of silk ribbon that smelled like perfume.

Fermin took the thing gingerly, it was high quality vellum and cut at a very precise size with perfectly square corners.  Untying the ribbon, he rolled it out on the table.  It was a receipt of deposit from the Grimmvault Repository written in a very obscure dialect of Banker’s Shorthand that entitled the bearer to remove “Any and all items stored upon remittance of the storage fee.”

Nobody stored anything mundane or inexpensive at Grimmvault.  Of course, their storage fees were usually exorbitant and not listed on the receipts; to do so would be considered most uncouth.  If you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.

“I’m not used to being unable to read things, especially things that look like they should be written in Common but this looks all funny.  Like it’s a little … I dunno, but I think this is a bank right?”  The halfling pointed to the top right corner of the page where the Grimmvault logo was clearly emblazoned.

“Ah, this is merely a piece of discarded garbage from a bank ledger.”  Fermin said, “I can dispose of it for you if you’d like.”  He stroked his moustaches again and made as if to toss the vellum into a garbage recepticle next to his desk.

“Oh no, that’s OK.”  The parchment seemed to evaporate from his fingers, re-appearing in the Halfling’s.  The little man carefully wrapped it up and tied it again.  “What bank is it from?  I really want to learn this writing for some reason.  It almost looks like it moves…”

“Really, there’s no reason for you to keep such a thing.”  Fermin insisted, reaching for the parchment again, “If they know you have a sample of their code they might cause trouble for you, especially if they learned you were trying to translate it.  Grimmvault is very particular about their cypher.”

“Oooo, Grimmvault?  That doesn’t sound like a very cheery place.”  He tucked the parchment back into his belt just ahead of Fermin’s reaching fingers, idly slapping the man’s hand away as though by reflex and not even seeming to notice he was doing it.  “Not that banks are usually all that cheerful really…”

A mild commotion began to sound outside the shop, but Fermin ignored it.  He had to have that deposit slip, if he could scrape together the finances to make the trip and pay for the storage fee the odds of this being a real find were just too good to pass up.

“Is the weather still sunny outside?”  He asked, the code words alerting the men hiding in the silk covered alcoves that he intended to kill the client and take the goods.

“Sunny?”  The halfling looked at him sideways.  “How long has it been since you went outside?  It’s been overcast for like a week.”

The sounds of scuffle outside the shop were muffled as the door was firmly closed and latched.  The halfling looked around confused, “Why’re you shutting the door?  Won’t it get stuffy in here with all those drapes and all those guys sitting in those little rooms?  Blech, stinking human breath!”

He waved a hand in front of his nose and took a smallish gourd from the row of gourds strapped like a bandolier across the front of his chest.  Popping the cork off, he took a big drink and belched a cloud of foul alcohol fumes across the desk.

“Sorry little master, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take that piece of vellum from you.”  The four men stood and stepped from their alcoves, each holding a wicked cudgel and Fermin took the crossbow from its holster beneath the desk.

“Oops!”  The halfling had dropped his gourd and suddenly bent nearly double to catch it.  The bolt from Fermin’s crossbow took one of his guards in the eye.

“Careful, thosh thingsh are dangeroush.”  His speech was slurring, “Well thanksh for the help mishter.”  He jumped from the chair and stumbled backward momentarily as he struggled with his pack.  One of the guards broke his club over the edge of the table where he’d been standing just a moment before.

“Shorry, you broke your shtick.”  The halfling bent to pick up the piece of club and swung awkwardly around apparently to offer it to the man but ended up catching him between the legs.  The man grunted in pain and stumbled into another man who was running to help.  They went down in a tangle and ended up in a motionless heap at the bottom of the stairs.

The last guard approached cautiously, but the moment he came close enough to attack, the halfling jumped into the air, bringing the heel of his foot down on the hand holding the cudgel, making the man drop it and then smashing his first thumb joint into his eye in a brutally efficient strike that made the sickening crunch of breaking bone reverberate in the room.  The halfling landed slightly unsteadily on his feet with a mildly astonished look on his small face.

By this time, Fermin had reloaded his crossbow and held it carefully, watching the slowly swaying halfling.  He looked at his fallen guards and then at the small person in front of him.  He had his fingers twisted in a manner that made the finger and thumb joints point out at awkward angles, but Fermin could see that each of those jutting knuckles had hardened ridges of bone.  It was ridiculous, but Fermin felt… afraid of him.

“Shorry fellash, I sheem to have made a mesh of thingsh.”  He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, “Ooohhh… I think I drank the wrong shtuff.  That washn’t water…”  He fell heavily on his back, overbalanced by the pack and began to snore loud enough to make the ashtray rattle on Fermin’s desk.

Fermin walked carefully around the desk, keeping the crossbow trained on the snoring halfling.  He had gotten close enough to cautiously nudge him with the toe of his boot when the door slammed open, revealing the bruised and bloodied form of a raging half orc carrying a wicked looking sword.

“BAHN YOU LITTLE BASTARD!!!”  He bellowed, literally foaming at the mouth.  “I HAVE YOU LIVER ON ROASTING SPIT!”

Fermin looked up at the interruption, his crossbow following his eyes unconsciously.  “There’s no Bahn here.  My name is Fermin and I deal in … information, among other things.  I’d be happy to assist you in finding this Bahn character.”

“I don’t need help! HE RIGHT THERE!”  The enraged half orc pointed his bloody sword at the comatose halfling.

“He has something of mine which I will confiscate and then you’re welcome to him.” Fermin said, reaching for the belt pouch.

“HANDS OFF!” The half orc yelled, advancing up the stairs, “Whatever he got MINE!”

At the sound of this less than melodious tirade, Bahn rolled over abruptly his bag swinging to strike the surprised Fermin in the knees.  The man’s finger tightened on the trigger of his crossbow reflexively and the bolt struck the raging barbarian in the chest.

“Wha?”  Bahn mumbled, staggering to his feet as Fermin drew a wickedly sharp short sword from his belt and prepared to defend himself.  “Burn my bacon, how does he keep finding me?”  He rolled under Fermin’s desk and discovered a cleverly hidden bolt hole.  By the time they noticed he’d gone, it was too late.

Bahn emerged from the small tunnel in a back alley a block away.  After a brief pause to orient himself, he trotted down the street toward the city gates, making sure to keep to alleys and less traveled streets.  The sound of an angry crowd reached his ears and, as always, curiosity overrode good sense.

“I’m no demon you insolent mortals!”  A ringing bass voice carried easily to Bahn’s ears, “I have noble blood in my veins!”

He peered around the corner and saw a demon shouting at a crowd of people carrying makeshift weapons.  They all had fearful, angry looks on their faces.  Bahn took a gourd from his bandolier and sniffed it carefully this time to make sure it wasn’t the flamewater the monks had told him never to drink.  This gourd was the only one of the ten that held normal water.

The demon… probably was one of those ‘Tiffler Things’ he’d heard so much about.  They supposedly had one parent from somewhere else, like Hell or something, and this one sure looked the part.  His curling black horns looked for all the world like they had come straight from a stage set and the ruddy red color of his skin made him look even more unsettling, especially when coupled with the tail that twitched like an agitated cat’s from underneath his cloak.

Looking around the alley, Bahn saw an advertisement for a traveling show plastered to the back door of a tavern.  Inspired, he pulled the devil mask he had worn in one of the silly performances at the monastery from his pack and put it on.  Pulling his cloak over his head, he shoved a bent stick through his belt in the approximation of a tail and pulled his lute from its case.  Strumming a dramatic tune, he twirled and strode between the mob and their target.

The all gasped and drew back.  Cries of “An Imp!” and “He has summoned allies!” Rippled through them, but then Bahn threw back his cloak and removed his false tail.  He took a bow and pulled the mask from his face.

“Well done my friend!”  He said to the … demon.  “You have done a wonderful job of promoting the show, but now we must return to the wagons and rest before it is time to perform!”  He flourished the parchment toward the leading person in the mob.

“That’s… makeup?”  The man asked, snatching the paper from Bahn’s hand.

“Of course, what do you think, that he’s really a demon from the abyss who must be burned at the stake for his evil deeds against the” here he paused to imitate the … demon’s rolling bass voice “FOOLISH MORTALS!?” And then broke into a fit of laughter.

The mob began to shift uneasily and the … demon had the good sense to laugh along with them although his eyes still flashed with unsettling anger.  He pulled his hood up to hide the distasteful sneer on his face.

“Come my friend, we must inform the boss about our successful promotion.  Uh, half off if you present that playbill at the show tonight!”  Bahn said, half reaching for the … demon’s arm before changing the motion into a gesture and striding down the alley away from the mob.  He turned a corner and then broke into a run, the … demon following.

He heard the telltale sounds of a tavern and ducked through the back door into the invitingly dark interior, the … demon right on his heels.  Bahn chose a corner table and when they sat, the torch above his companion sputtered and died out, leaving him obscured by dark shadows.

A barmaid approached and for once, Bahn just paid her instead of attempting to play for ale and a meal.  He even paid for his companion, even if only so he wouldn’t have to take the chance of him revealing those huge horns.  When she had gone, hips swaying saucily, he turned to his new … demon.

“So, you’re one of those Tiffler Things right?”  He said brightly.

“My name is Mordai Creed.  I am the First Son of the Creed Family.  I am a Tiefling, the noble blood of dragons and demons runs in my veins.”  Mordai said, “Although I could have handled those … mortals back there I appreciate not having to kill them.”

“Yeah.” Bahn said, “It’s usually better not to have to kill people cause then the mobs get bigger and they have torches and stuff.  I’m Bahn Thistlefingers, you may have heard of my family.  We are of a noble bloodline too.”

Mordai laughed, a rumbling sound much like a growl, “Noble halflings?  Now I have heard every story there is.”

Bahn sighed, “Why does everyone always laugh?  Oh well, it doesn’t bother me, I’m used to it.  You could learn a lesson from that I think, all these humans are rude generally.  You need to be able to ignore it because there’s so darn many of them.  Usually if they insult you they do it out of ignorance, not because they’re mean.”

The barmaid returned with drinks and food and Bahn set to with a will.  He was ravenous after his afternoon’s exertion.  “But the mean ones are easy enough to deal with.”  He said through a mouthful of roast beef and thick hearty bread.  “Ya just trick ‘em and run!”

“I do not run from a fight.”  Mordai said in a haughty tone of voice.

“Uh.  Sure.  Sure you don’t.”  Bahn said, not trying to hide his amusement.  He took a drink of his ale, “Look, when there’s a dozen there’s no dishonor or whatever in running.  They’re the dishonorable ones for coming at you in such numbers!”

Mordai considered this for a moment, “You have more wisdom than I gave you credit for Bahn Thistlefingers.”

“I think that’s what the masters really meant when they called me a smartass.” Bahn said, licking the gravy off his fingers.

The rumble of Moradai’s laugh sounded again.  This halfling was an amusing sort, he hadn’t felt this relaxed in days.  He realized Bahn was still speaking.

“…anyway, I figure we should travel together right?  I mean you with your demon powers or whatever and your awesome horns and stuff and me with all my talents I figure we could be good traveling companions.”  He gave Mordai a big grin, only slightly spoiled by the piece of beef stuck between his teeth.

“Sure.  Why not?”  He could always ditch the halfling if he needed to, and besides… he swore he’d seen that face in a dream and his dreams had been so dark lately.  “Where did you say you were headed?”

“I was thinking Greening.”  Bahn said.  Mordai couldn’t have been more surprised if the halfling had said he was traveling to his home city.  That was the place he’d been feeling drawn toward.  The place that filled his dreams with swirling darkness, the screams of the dying and the scent of brimstone.  It must be fate, and only a fool fought against his fate.

New D&D Character Means Back Story!

So I’m going to be playing in a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game soon, and whenever I start a new campaign I always write back story.  This time I’m slacking a little bit… I’ve written as much as 20 pages in the past… and in fact The Callindra Chronicles started out as back story for a D&D character.  So this isn’t likely to go too far, or at least won’t develop into a full length novel but here’s a start on my silly little Halfling.

Torg the Strong pushed open the door to the Tipsy Tankard and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. Supposedly he was here to meet someone who had information about a job in a noble house, although he hadn’t ever heard of an informant with as frivolous a name as Bahn before. He looked around the common room, there were plenty of people here, but he didn’t see anyone who he thought fit the bill. A bawdy tune was being played, slightly off key, but the patrons were all clapping, stamping their feet and singing the refrain.

She spread wide her arms
To welcome us in
She’s free with her charms
And laughs at her sin
Her love knows no bounds
I can’t count her chins
With each kiss she drowns
The sorrow within

Torg saw a portly Halfling in fine silk robes standing on the bar, strumming a beautiful ten string lute and singing at the top of his lungs. When he finished his song with a flourish half a dozen coins were tossed in his direction. He caught them all and they seemed to vanish up his sleeve, although they likely were tucked into a pouch.

The Halfling bowed deeply, plucking a mug of ale out of the hand of the man nearest to him and draining it in one long draft. “Hey!” The man protested, but the diminutive thief was already staggering down the bar.

Walking up to the bartender, Torg tossed a pair of copper coins on the bar and accepted a lukewarm mug of ale. It was strong and bitter with a lingering citrus tang that felt good on his parched throat. He nodded at the Halfling.

“Who’s the little one?”

Almost as though he’d heard the question, he turned and wove through the mugs of ale and plates of salty sausage rolls back towards them.

“I dunno. Showed up an hour or so ago, asked if he could play an seemed like he knew one end a the lute from the other, so I said sure. He’s tripled my custom.” The balding heavyset man said with a wide grin, “I might ask him to stay.”

“I’m looking for a man named-“ Torg broke off as the Halfling sat down heavily on the breadbox directly to his left.

“Bahn.” He said, flashing a cheery smile. “At your service my good sir!”

Torg’s jaw worked to find words and eventually he just shook his head and took a swallow of ale instead.

“Here’s the deal. I have some folk who’re looking for a caravan guard or two. They say they’ll pay for the best, and judging by their dress and jewelry I’d say they can afford them.” Bahn casually reached for Torg’s ale jack, but the man twitched it out of reach. He seemed to realize what he’d just done and tossed a copper to the bartender and got his own mug.

“So what do you get out of it?” Torg asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Finder’s fee.” Bahn answered, drinking half his ale in one swallow. “So how about it? Are you good enough?”

“I ain’t met better.” He said with a shrug, “That’s why I’m still alive.”

“Good, because here comes your test.” Said Bahn with a cheerful grin. The door was kicked open with a crash and a towering half orc with a huge club walked through the door. He had to duck to fit beneath the lintel.

“BAHN! YOU SWINDLING LITTLE SHIT!” He bellowed, loud enough to shake dust from the rafters, “THAT SWORD WASN’T MAGIC AT ALL! I BARELY ESCAPED WITH MY LIFE!”

Torg turned to look for the Halfling, but he was gone. He stood with a grin, “Bartender. If I take care a this problem for ya I want free drinks.”

“No drinks unless you don’t wreck the place!” He said, pulling a crossbow from beneath the bar. “I’d rather not have to clean blood off my floor.”

Torg drew his sword with a grin, “If you want the Halfling you’re going to have to go through ME!” He said, and vaulted out the window.

Bahn saw his opportunity and slipped out the back door. With any luck, Torg would distract Urod long enough that the stupid tuskface would lose his trail for good this time. Whistling a merry tune he began trotting down the road. He’d heard Greenest was nice this time of year.