Tag Archives: fantasy

SpellJammer

For those who don’t know, Spelljammer is a D&D setting that take the adventure into space via magic. This allowed players a new avenue of play and gave them a chance to explore other settings: Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Realms, and others. The ships were magically propelled through space using Helms and there was a multitude of races, monsters, and ships to experience. In truth, converting the rules isn’t really the issue here. Getting the flavor right is important and everything else is easily swapped over.

Here is my flavoring:

  • No Clerics

Each pantheon works with the sphere of influence of that planet. The old rules state that for a god/goddess to have power they need at least 200 followers in a sphere. Considering this, divine magic seems kind of silly. A cleric without magic become a lack-luster fighter. Not saying a Cleric/Paladin can’t hop a ship to another planet. This is directed for crew-members. Healing would be done via potions or other magical means.

  • Personal Bubble

A ship has a bubble of atmosphere to keep the crew and passengers alive. For my version, each person has a one hour residual bubble if they leave the ship. This is recharged once they are returned to a ship/planet/atmosphere.

  • Charging the Helm

Helms are the way ships are able to fly through space. It requires a spell-caster to do so. To keep the ship in the air, and the atmosphere, the Helm needs to be charged by a magic-user once per 30 days. More if the spell-caster is untrained in the technique or lover than level 5. After charging the Helm the caster cannot use any spells beyond cantrips for the next 24 hours.

  • Helms Guild

Due to the fact that a trained Helms Mage can keep a ship flying indefinitely they are part of a guild. There they are given secrets and techniques to make their jobs easier. Also, any member is considered protected and killing one is an offense even the most dreaded pirates would think twice about.

  • Practically All Playable Races

Your party consists of a Kender, Warforged, Drow, Turian, and a Minotaur? Sweet that works. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Ebberon, and just about anything you can think of is open to the players. Within the limits that you have set that is. I tossed in a Mass Effect race in that list, does this mean that they have advanced armor and sniper rifles? No, but you can say that they were encountered during an earlier time than scientific space travel.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thoughts, comments, and suggestions would be great.

 

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Filed under Fantasy

Better Watch Out- Chapter 1

I tried to block out the speech that droned through the old speakers on the wall. The auditorium was packed with the entirety of the student body to listen to the new campaign speeches. Student council something-or-other hopeful number three was in the middle of a passionate monologue that had to do with student parking. The speakers were at least twenty years old, but they were loud and there wasn’t much else to pay attention to in the room. There were a few pockets of enthusiastic supporters for the candidates, but most of us just wanted to get out of here.

Granted, this had saved me from another one of Mrs. Duvalls’ droning lectures, but I had learned how to adapt to those. Concentrate on the mole just below her right eyebrow and it looked like I was paying attention. History was important, before this year it had been one of my favorite subjects, but I was lucky enough to get a teacher who had only changed her lesson plans twice since she started her job and that was to remove references to the USSR and West Germany.

I looked around, but I couldn’t see any of my friends. Finding the three of them in the seven hundred assembled students wasn’t the easiest thing. Everyone was sectioned off by the class they were in, but the teachers were lined up along the wall. It made it hard to pick out people based on their schedules and cut down on socialization during this oh-so-important assembly. It didn’t matter really. Unless they were right next to me it wasn’t like we would be able to talk.

My search purposely avoided the area where Sara sat. Her natural near-white hair was a beacon among the crowd. The first time I saw her I thought she was a princess. I was eight at the time, but she still looked like some fairy tale come to life. It was easier just not to look at her, otherwise I’d find myself staring. The worst part about it was that she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met, but I didn’t have the courage to talk to her. She was athletic, smart, and sweet.

Up until this year we had been the same height too. We were both five foot tall if we stretched, but then I hit s growth spurt. I towered over her now, like most of our sophomore class, and it made me feel odd talking to her. Not that I did that a lot before, but I had pre-planned conversations based on our mutual shortness. Hobbit jokes, mostly.

Yeah, I’m not exactly lining the ladies up. My new height and the physique that came with it may have turned a couple of heads, but I was still me. I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t in the honors society, and I wasn’t stuck up enough to be a prep. My small group of friends usually migrated between eating lunch with the chess club, man I suck at chess, and under a tree in the quad on warmer days. Of the four of us only I had a car, but it was a hand-me-down beater that didn’t have AC and would die whenever someone turned on the radio.

I stood up in a hunched fashion to keep out of sight and waddled down to the stairs. Mrs. Duvall was giving me the stink-eye by the time I got to the floor. She was a good few inches over six feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to a bad Julia Childs impression. My mom pointed that out to me after the first parent-teacher conference.

“What are you doing Isaiah?” She hissed at me, even that was a monotone.

“Bathroom.” I tried to step around her.

“It can wait.” She crossed her arms.

“If you have a mop, sure.” I shrugged.

“Fine.” She stepped aside.

I made it out of the auditorium and took a deep breath. That many people all closed in like that didn’t do well for my calm. I stood in the open area for a moment to enjoy the extra space. The lunch staff was getting the cafeteria ready for the impending rush of freshmen. Our school had an open campus for lunch, for sophomores and up.

The bathrooms were off to my right by the front doors and to my left was the cafeteria. For a moment I wondered how long I could stay out here. I didn’t actually need to go to the bathroom, and I didn’t want to hang out there until the assembly was over, but going back in didn’t sound like a fun idea either.

I strolled over to the lunch line. The menu was out and who was I to ignore such dynamic options? One of the workers stopped to watch me approach. I didn’t remember her name, but she’d been one of the few that left a lasting memory. Twenty years ago she must have been drop-dead gorgeous, even today in a hair-net and apron she was pretty.

“Cheese pizza and a drink for two dollars.” I nodded as read the menu aloud. “Since there’s no one around, would be able to tell me what the cheese really is?”

She rolled her eyes and went back to work. I opened my mouth to say something else when one of the doors to the auditorium slammed open. My eyes locked on the vice principal as she stormed out toward me. I guess they had some serious rules against bathroom time during an assembly. For some reason my natural reaction was to point at the lunch menu.

“Get back here young lady.”

Young lady?

My gaze shifted down slightly to see Sara already at the door to the outside. She was fast. The vice principal tried to chase after her, but sensible office shoes didn’t lend well to a run.

“I’ll get her.” I found myself saying.

The vice principal was stooped over with her hands on her knees. I rushed after her and caught the door shortly after she went through. Sara stood outside pacing back and forth.

“Hey, Sara.” I closed the door behind me. “What’s up?”

She turned around to face me and suddenly she went from nearly ten feet away to within kissing distance. The irises of her eyes had disappeared, leaving a small dot of black in a sea of white. I took a step back. She had said something, but I didn’t catch it.

“Do you?” She had backed me against the door.

“What?”

“Do you have a car?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “It’s in the student lot.”

“Can you take me home?”

“Sure.”

She was right in front of me one moment and then not in the blink of an eye.

“Come on.” She waved me on from the gate.

I ran toward her and she disappeared again. My brain tried to understand what was happening, but came up with nothing that made sense. I was pretty sure that if I listened hard enough I would have gotten elevator music. When I got to the gate I found her at the entrance to the parking area. She was pacing again. I couldn’t understand how she moved so fast. She wasn’t running, but she was almost a blur as she moved back and forth.

“Which one?” She asked as I caught up to her.

“Here.” I walked up to my car and gave a short wave.

She took in the faded yellow hatch-back that was older than both of us combined and nodded. “Is it unlocked?”

“Yeah.” I chuckled. “No one would want to steal it.”

“Let’s go.” She said from the passenger seat.

I looked at the gate where she had been a moment before and then to the car. “How?”

“Please.” She pleaded. “I need to get home.”

That did it. I hopped into the drivers’ seat and started the car up on the first try. We pulled out onto the road and I started heading toward her house.

“I live on Pierpont Way.” She prompted as I made a turn.

“I know.”

She looked at me for a moment.

“I used to mow your neighbor’s lawn.” I added.

“Isaiah, right?”

I nodded.

“You got tall.”

“Tallest in the Shire.” I quipped.

She looked at me for a moment again. “Hobbits. Right. Sorry, not in the mood for jokes.”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” She put her head on the space above the glove compartment. “I just have this horrible feeling that I need to get home now.”

“Okay.” I nodded.

“I need some music.” She flipped on the radio.

“No.” I managed to say a moment too late.

The speakers crackled at static, but the engine kept on.

“What’s wrong?” She asked as she moved the dial around for a signal.

“The radio doesn’t work.” I said slowly as I tried not to stare at the dials as I drove.

“Oh, because all the stations have gone digital?” She turned it off after she couldn’t find a station.

“No.” I shook my head. “Because it kills the battery.”

“It does?” She looked at me as I drove. “If this is a joke I’m not getting it.”

“No, not a joke.” I missed the turn and did a quick illegal U-turn. “Every time it turns on the car dies.”

“Didn’t this time.” She shrugged.

“I noticed.” I said.

I drove in silence for a few blocks before I took another turn. We were in the tangle of pre-fab suburbs now. The roads were a mess of grids and circles as the models of the houses changed. Each addition was done by a different company so while each subset had few variations on the same theme the general scheme of things was a mess.

Sara leaned back in the seat and brushed her hair out of her face. This was the first time I’d really spent time with her. When we were younger we kind of played together. Not a lot, just when our circles of friends crossed, but once I realized girls weren’t cootie factories it was too hard for me to actually think around her. Most of the time I felt like I would just turn into a mumbling boob and forget how breathing worked.

I turned down her road.

“Why are their cars here?” She muttered.

I stole a look at her to see her hand on the door. “Please wait.”

She looked at me, once again the color was gone from her eyes.

“Let’s take a closer look.” I didn’t know what was going on, but she needed someone on her side. “I’ll drive closer and if we need to we can get out.”

“Okay.” She nodded. “Let’s go.”

I drove along the road a little slower than the twenty-five mile an hour speed-limit. She was on edge and I was starting to get the feeling that something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what, but it felt right to take a cautious approach.

A shape zipped across the sky. I stared for a moment trying to figure out what it was. We weren’t by any airports and there wasn’t any sound attached to it. Helicopters didn’t move that fast anyway. My thought process was interrupted as the passenger side door snapped shut. I looked out the windshield just in time to see Sara open her front door. I left the car in the middle of the road and ran to catch up to her. I made it to the end of her driveway to see the front door close. Damn, she was fast.

The shape swooped by in the sky again. It was too fast to see, but I could tell it was getting closer. For some reason I thought I could hear bells.

I knocked on the door. Sara’s mom answered it. I took a step back as those large white eyes greeted me.

“Who are you?” Her voice had a strange lilting accent to it. “Go away.”

“Mom.” Sara called from inside. “That’s Isaiah, he gave me the ride here.”

“Good.” She hauled Sara through the front door by the collar of her shirt. “Take her back to school, now.”

“Tell me what’s going on.” Sara yelled.

“No time.” Her mother kissed her on the head. “Run.”

Sara winced as her mother’s lips touched her forehead. She looked up at the sky and gasped.

“This isn’t happening.” She whispered.

I looked up at the sky. “What?”

“How did you do it?” She asked her mother.

The door was already closed. She tried the handle to no avail.

“Mom.” She screamed. “Let me in. What is that?”

“Sara.” I pulled her away from the door. “There’s nothing up there.”

Something inside the house crashed. I looked to the door. Sara stared up at the roof.

“Run.” She pulled me down the steps of her porch toward the car.

“What are we running from?” I asked as she literally pulled me along.

“You can’t see them?” She ducked behind one of the cars in the driveway and pulled me down.

There was another loud crash from inside the house. She pulled me down beside her.

“See what?” I asked.

“I couldn’t see them either.” She muttered. “The kiss.”

“What?”

She pulled me close. I closed my eyes as our lips touched. My heart thundered against my chest and my head swam. It wasn’t like I had dreamed, but it felt like I was floating. I opened my eyes. They focused on her face and I blinked. Had she always had pointed ears?

The sound from inside the house made took my attention from inspecting the girl of my dreams. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at her home, or rather, what was on top of it. There was a sled pulled by eight animals that had to be reindeer and a brown sack next to the driver. The only thing it was missing was a fat jolly man in red. In his place there sat a twisted goblin with sickly green skin that held the reigns tight.

There was another crash as a goblin tumbled through a window to the ground outside. He was dressed in a stained tunic that was held tight by a rough cord at its waist. The gnarled handle of a dagger stuck out from its chest.

Sara looked from me to the dagger. “Grab it. We have to help them.”

I reached out and grabbed the goblins hand. It took one good tug to pull it over to us.

“Thought it would be heavier.” I looked down at the goblin.

Its green skin had an unsettling sheen to it, but the face was almost human. If not for the too-large hook nose and long double-pointed ears it would be just some person. My eyes settled on the daggers handle. I looked at Sara. She gave me a nod.

My hand closed on the handle. The goblins eyes snapped open. It let out a cry full of anger and pain. I screamed, stood up, and kicked it as hard as I could in the ribs. The creature sailed through the air. It gave a solid crunch as it hit the side of the house.

I couldn’t catch my breath. It might not have been dead before, but it certainly was now. I had killed it. This creature, a goblin, something that belonged in the fantasy isle, not the front yard of the girls I had a crush on.

“What’s that?” Sara’s voice sounded small and far away.

I looked up to roof of her house. What I had thought was a bag had started to move. I watched as it stood up and shook off its slumber. The form of a large man in a brown hooded robe now stood beside the sled. The goblin that had been holding the reigns pressed itself low in its seat to avoid attention.

“We should run.” I muttered.

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Filed under Better Watch Out, Fantasy

YA Fiction… Attempt #2 – Input Welcome

The new pack of cigarettes sat mockingly on the kitchen table. Her mother stood next to the table with her arms crossed tightly against her chest. Amanda wished that this wasn’t how her morning had started, and yet, there was a brand new pack wrapped in clean, crisp plastic right next to the half empty basket of laundry.

“I can explain.” Her voice came out as a squeak.

“I’d love to hear this.”

“My friend,” her brain searched for a name that wasn’t actually attached to any person her mother knew. “Mary, bought a pack of cigarettes.” She motioned to the pack on the table. “I didn’t want her to smoke, because I know how you’ve said that smoking is bad, and I took them from her before she could open them.”

“And that’s how they found their way into the back of your sock drawer?” Her mothers voice had gone quiet, that wasn’t a good sign.

“No.” Amanda nodded, her shoulders slumped. Nothing left but the truth. “I’m sorry. My friends were saying how I looked like I’m twelve and that I would probably get carded for a Slurpee. I wanted to prove them wrong, so I bought a pack of cigarettes.”

“They didn’t card you?” Yes, the rage had been diverted.

“I.” She smiled at her mother. “Flirted with the guy behind the counter.”

“You what?” Uh-oh, rage back. Her mothers ears turned red.

“Mom, look at me.” Amanda shrugged. “I do look like I’m twelve.”

It wasn’t her wardrobe of jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt that made her look younger than her fifteen years. Her hairstyle was a cute bob which was just long enough to cover the tips of her ears. She avoided pig-tails and shorty-shorts, anything that would make her look younger. At her full height she stood a few inches above five feet tall.

“I’m the shortest person in my group of friends, if I put on shorts I look like Dora, and anything I do to try to look my age makes me look like I should be on a talk show.” Amanda pointed to the cigarettes. “I wasn’t going to smoke them, they were a trophy.”

“This is a stupid trophy.” Her mother picked up the pack and tossed it in the trash. “You’re grounded, straight home after school, got it?”

“Yeah.” Her shoulders slumped. “I look like a freaking Elf.”

“What did you say?” Her mother snapped, the color drained from her face.

Amanda looked up at her,  this was new. “I said I look like an Elf. You know Santa’s little helpers.”

“Don’t.” Her mother waved her finger in the air. “Never say that.”

“Elves, or Santa?”

One moment her mother was standing by the kitchen table and the next she had her hand against Amanda’s mouth. Her eyes were much too large, it took Amanda a moment to realize her brown eyes had lost their irises. The orbs were now full white with a tiny spot of black for the pupil.

“Mom, you’re scaring me.” Amanda watched as

“Go to school, come right home, and no more of this business.” A strange lilting accent crept into her mothers voice. “I’ll talk to your father once he gets home.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Amanda grabbed her backpack and rushed out the door.

[_-_- NOTE _-_-_]
The story-line with Emilio is being developed into a possible full length selection. If all goes well I might have my first YA offering reading later this year. Until then, I will continue to practice getting the voice right. Oh, and doing my summer course. That’s kind of important too.

I’m thinking of making this one a series too.

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Filed under Short Fiction

Distant Relatives

“Excuses me.” The tall, lithe stranger asked as he walked into the diner.

Talia looked up at the man. Even with his raven black hair he had a European vibe to him; like Dracula, but the accent wasn’t right. His clothes were nice, if a bit generic, almost like he had taken an outfit directly from a magazine. Everything was almost too clean, from his stylist shoes and jeans to the way his shirt had the top button undone. His look was like it had never been worn but the moment he walked into the diner.

“Yes?” She tucked a stray strand of her dirty blonde hair behind her ear.

“I am needing the…” He mimed eating as his English ran out.

“Breakfast?” She offered.

“Yes.”

His smile made her knees weak. That hadn’t happened in a long time. She knew better than to flirt with customers. This was just a pit stop on to bigger things, no one stayed unless they were stuck. Plus the scars on his lips didn’t look like they had a nice story attached to them.

“Just you?”

“More will come.” He nodded certainly.

“How many?”

He wrinkled his brow as he gazed up speculatively in consideration. His head bobbed from side to side as he ticked off a few fingers on his hand. “Trea.”

“Three?” Talia held up three fingers.

He nodded.

She led him to a corner booth in her section. “Would you like to order or wait for your friends?”

“Drink?” He offered.

“Sure.” She couldn’t help but smile. “What would you like?”

“Mjöd?”

“Sorry, I don’t know what that is.”

His face scrunched up as he thought about it. He looked at the menu in her hand and motioned to it. She gave his the plastic sheet, which he examined for a moment, and then flipped over. He studied the menu intently, mostly the pictures, and then set it down on the table.

“Milk.” He pointed to the picture of a tall glass on the menu. “Eggs, bacon, and pancakes.”

“Got it.” Talia smiled and headed back to input the order.

It took her a moment to realize that his accent had practically disappeared by the time he had said the word ‘pancakes’. Maybe she had misjudged him for a tourist; he could just be some bored traveler playing tricks on her. It wouldn’t be the first time. She placed the order, grabbed a clean glass, and the pitcher of milk, and then headed back to the table. The process took less than a minute, but there were two other men at the table when she turned around. One was a larger red haired man with an impressive beard that barely fit into the booth and the other was an older man with a patch over his left eye.

They spoke a foreign language in a rapid speed. The other two had that same ‘too clean’ look to them, plus the one with the eye patch was older, but he had sort of an undeterminable age to him. There were some similar features between the large red head and older man, the same strong jawline and powerful ice blue eyes.

“Ah.” The ravenhaired customer clapped his hands as she approached.

Talia set the glass on the table and poured the milk as the three conversed. The word ‘mjöd’ was thrown around a few times, but she still had no idea what that was.

“Do you want some extra time to order?”

The older man made eye contact with her. There was something there she recognized, the shape of his cheeks, or possibly the bridge of his nose if it hadn’t been broken, looked familiar somehow. He took a deep breath and held her gaze. She jumped as something somehow shocked her tongue and ears at the same time.

“Yes.” The older man spoke now, his English was spot on. “May I have your name?”

She pointed to her nametag. “Talia.”

The raven haired customer laughed. “He means your surname.”

Talia slowly turned her head and looked at him. “You’re accent is gone.”

“Yours is horrible.” He chuckled.

“What?”

“Never you mind him.” The older man interrupted, his tone sounded exactly like her grandfather. “Your surname, please.”

“Lawsen.”

“Talia Lawsen. The first name is something of a mystery, but Lawsen is a bastardization of Lawsson.” He motioned for her to sit.

“Thank you, but I’m working.”

“True.” He leaned back against the booth and sighed. “Miss Lawsen, we are in need of your services.”

“I could tell you the specials.”

The raven haired man chuckled again.

“Maybe later.”

Talia looked at each of the three of them for a moment. “What are you implying?”

“I assure you, nothing uncouth.” The older man waved his hand dismissively. “We are, how would you say, distant relatives of yours, and are in need of your local knowledge.”

“I’m not exactly sure how I could help.” Talia crossed her arms and returned the stare. “My studio apartment isn’t exactly spacious.”

“Then let us shake hands as distant kin and part ways.” The older man extended his hand.

Talia looked at it for a moment, shrugged, and took the proffered hand. Something popped between her ears. She was no longer standing in the diner, but on a great open plain. It was the first true day of spring in what had been a long winter. The gentle breeze carried the welcoming smell of dinner along with the familiar scent of the home fire. She adjusted her shoulders, the axe strapped across her back was new, but well used. The trolls kept her in top form.

Odin let go of her hand. She rocked back on her heels, her breath came in short, ragged bursts. She knew them as she knew the stars. Odin, she looked at the older man. Thor, the large red head. Loki, the raven haired one. She curtseyed.

“Allfather, please excuse my rudeness.” She mumbled, and then realized she was speaking Old Norse.

“Your gift will soothe my injured pride.”

Odin reached over and touched Thor with the same hand he had used to shake hers with. Thor closed his eyes for a moment and then nodded. The process was repeated once more with Loki. There was another shock on her tongue and ears, but this one wasn’t as unexpected.

“What just happened?”

“We’ve been away for a long time.” Odin sighed, he nodded quickly for a moment, the broke his silence with a clap of his hands. “Now, how about some breakfast?”

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Filed under Short Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Rereading The Monster Hunters Series

I was finally able to replace my copy of Monster Hunters International by Larry Correia. My first copy tackled the plunger and needed to be replaced. That’s not code for anything, it was knocked off the bathroom counter onto the plunger. As much as I like the book, I’m not going to read it after that.

Rereading the series. Currently on Book 2: Monster Hunter Vendetta
Thoughts:
Contains Minor Spoilers

Below.

1. Myers is a tool.
Seriously, he uses Hood’s death as a reason to leave MHI, but then in a flashback we see that he knew that Hood was summoning undead & ‘willingly’ let out Earl. If he really wanted to redeem himself, he should have stayed with MHI.

2. Owen is a jerk to Grant.
Book 1, I understand. Book 2, why? Grant admits (to Julie) it was a bad call, he gets captured by vamps, and Julie chooses Owen. Sure, no one tells Owen that Grant is coming back, but it should be water under the bridge. I don’t really understand why he went to MCB instead of coming back to MHI, but that’s information learned after the fact.

3. Traitors, how did I not see that coming?
Both traitors, how did I not see thing coming? Oh, he’s just a nice MCB agent, and she’s just a newbie who’s taken a shine on Owen, that’s perfectly natural.

4. Is it possible for a vampire to earn PUFF Exempt?
Susan seems a bit more in control than Ray, but she’s pretty focused. I’m not saying a PUFF Exempt vampire would be a good thing, just wondering if it would be possible. I don’t think it would really last since their main food source is people. Unless they hunted animals. Why wouldn’t they hunt animals? A nice health bison probably tastes better than Todd the junkie down the street.
*shrug*
I don’t know, maybe it’s the whole humans taste yummy thing.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Rant

Short Fiction 2014: Hmm

Russell sat up in bed and swatted a large hand at the beeping alarm clock on the small table nearby.  One mighty blow shattered the plastic device. The cheap particleboard side table valiantly tried to stay upright, but the impact was too much. It collapsed into a pile of neatly stacked slabs.

He ran a hand over the stubble on his chin as he yawned. Russell swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. He picked up the folded T-shirt from the top of the dresser and attempted to pull it on over his head. Russell had lined up with the proper hole, which was stretched to its limit, but the shirt wouldn’t give. His right tusk cut jagged little line in that finally relieved the tension and his head popped out of the expanded hole. The shirt stretched taut across his muscular shoulders and broad chest, it covered to just above his navel. None of his clothes seemed to fit anymore.

His staggering steps found their way to the bathroom. Russell turned on the tap and splashed cold water on his face. The familiar face of the orc in the mirror groggily greeted him as he grabbed his toothbrush and went about the long task of cleaning his tusks; they jutted out from his lower jaw and covered his top lip when he closed his mouth. It was a common trait among orcs. As he started cleaning his right tusk he caught sight of his reflection again.

Slowly he reached up and touched his face. The olive green skin orc in the mirror matched his movement perfectly. Russell watched as strong, thick hands reached up to touch his tusks, they were real, the hands and the teeth.

“What the?” His voice was a gravelly rumble. “I’m an orc.”

That was silly for him to say. Of course he was an orc, he had always been an orc, why would he think differently? Russell shrugged and went about brushing his teeth, but the thought kept tickling the back of his brain.

He was an orc.

The argument inside his head would start all over again. Of course he was an orc, he had always been an orc, why would he think differently? It was a sound platform. Perfectly logical, and the evidence was stacked in support.

Except that most of his clothes were too small for him these days.

His eyes flicked to the calendar. He had today off, and that gave him time to do some research. Russell flipped open his laptop and pressed the power button. He had to do it quickly; otherwise he’d accidentally jump into the setup menu. Compact keyboards like the one on his laptop were the bane of his big hands.

Why would he have a laptop with such a small keyboard if he had such a hard time using it?

“It was on sale?” He answered himself aloud.

And one of those ergonomic keyboards would have cost so much?

“You’re not helping.” He closed his eyes tight.

His large hand covered the attached mouse. He opened up his pictures folder and began to flip through the photos from the past few years. The answer was right there, he had always been an orc. There he was at the park with Sabrina; he would never know what such a beautiful elf like her had seen in him. Not that it mattered now. Even then his clothes didn’t seem to quite fit him right.

“Hmm.” He scrolled through some other photos just to make sure.

In every photo he was an orc. He wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to be looking for otherwise. He closed the pictures file with a sigh, and opened up his web browser. Typing with his pinkies in a hunt-and-peck method he was able to log in to his favored social networking site. He scrolled down through the various updates.  He paused every now and then to read a joke, or to catch up on the news of the few people he actually cared about.

One post finally caught his eye. It was a picture of a group of his high school friends. The caption below it read: Russell, can you believe we’re thirty?

He read it again, and then a third time. Something in his brain didn’t like that sentence, but he couldn’t quite suss out why. He had just turned thirty last month. Sabrina had left the week before and the festivities hadn’t exactly been pleasant.  He had a rather low tolerance to alcohol for an orc his size, and apparently he really liked to talk when he was drunk.

“Orcs don’t live that long.” He spoke the words, but didn’t actually feel like he said them.

It was common knowledge that an orc lived maybe thirty-five years, and that was really old. Except his dad had just turned sixty-two earlier that year, and he was still going strong. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember ever meeting an elf that was over the age of ninety, and they were supposed to live for thousands of years.

Something wasn’t right.

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Elvish Desperado Part 3

He didn’t have much time. The elf picked up the discarded shotgun barrel, popping out one of the shells, and set to work setting up a little surprise on the telegraph. He dropped the keys where the lawman would have to stretch to get them and headed to the station atop the office. The sheriff was beginning to stir as Baelon waked out onto the roof. When a muffled explosion sounded from inside the office the elf smiled to himself and closed the door without a sound. A few moments later the sheriff blustered onto the roof. He lifted a bulky flare gun up to the sky and let the shot go free. Baelon watched out of sight atop the tram.

Imperial protocol was a wonderful thing. A distress signal from a local authority would result in squad of six soldiers sent out for investigation then they would wait for a report for making any more moves. Other than ignoring the general needs of the people, and suppressing any effort for the Elves to become a nation again: the only thing Imperials could be counted on was their deep ingrained need for regulations.

The tram was a two car system, when one started moving the other did as well. Logic being that there would always be a car accessible to the lawmen or the soldiers. In this case, with Baelon tucked against the mechanism atop the car, it meant that the elf was getting a free ride to the fort without having to use the road down below. On horseback the trip would have taken him well over an hour and he would have been exposed the entire time. Taking the tram would cut the time in half while giving him direct access to the fort without detection. All he had to do was sit back, wait, and resist the urge to wave at the passing soldiers.

His Elvish heritage granted him the ability to see in darkness nearly as well as in light. The torches along the forts walls marked it in the distance. He was able to see more details before the flickering torchlight illuminated the side of the tram. The stone walls were built to repel an assault by cannons. In daylight he would have been spotted and shot before the tram docked, but in the small hours of the night it was able to come to rest without interruption. Once it had come to a complete stop, he paused to let a guard march by. Leaving a trail of bodies would attract too much attention. He dropped silently onto the walkway, made sure he hadn’t been seen, and then dropped down onto the fort grounds.

Pausing for a moment, he allowed himself time to take in the surrounding boxy buildings and open corral. He caught sight of two soldiers to the far left, nearly concealed behind a building digging what only could be graves; knowing the Empire that was the best place to start looking. Sticking to the shadows, moving in short bursts, and staying low he made his way over to the soldiers. As he neared he could see a small cart holding at least two bodies wrapped in canvas.

“I don’t see why we have to dig the graves,” one of the soldiers grumbled.

“They’re dead, moron,” the other snapped. “They can’t dig ’em.”

“Those Information people give me the jeebies,” the first one spoke in a soft whisper.

“Do the job, they don’t look at you.”

“What about the one back there?” The soldier nodded with his head to a building farther back.

“Deal with these first then we’ll get that one.”

Baelon could guess these poor souls were part of the caravan. His trail was running cold. Unless of course, this person from Information got anything out of the merchants, and there was only one way to find out. He gave the diggers a wide berth, arcing toward the dark building. The blocky angles and drab color matched the rest of the décor, but there was a general sense of foreboding wafting from it in only a brig could manage. The door was unlocked. A single flickering light at the end of the hallway was the only hint of occupancy.

Doors to cells lined the hallway. There was nothing moving in the hallway but the scent of fear and toil was palpable. Locking the door behind him, Baelon crept forward as silent as the moon at night. As his hand reached out for the latch the door began to open inward. With each inch the hallway became brighter threatening to blind him temporary while his eyes adjusted. Moving as fast as he could he pulled his hand back and let a wild kick fly. It caught the edge of the door with just enough force to catch the soldier coming through off guard.

Light flooded into the hallway, dazzling him but he had enough sense to push himself against the wall and shut one eye tight. After a moment he dove into the room, tucking into a roll and coming up face to face with a befuddled man with a bloodied white shirt. Judging from the rolled up sleeves and the fact that the collar was still buttoned, he guessed this was the man doing the torturing.

A precise flat-palmed jab to the sternum knocked the breath from the bloodied man. The follow up, a sharp stab at his throat halted any cries for assistance, but the kick to the groin was out of sheer frustration. Baelon picked the man up by the collar of his shirt and tossed him into a nearby chair.

“The coins,” he hissed drawing his knife and setting the gleaming edge against the throat of the seated man. “Where are they?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man wheezed. “I’m just a scribe they-”

“A scribe with blood under his fingernails,” the skin beneath the knife puckered as the point drew a single drop of blood. “Where are they? What did you learn?”

“It’s in my report,” his face went hard. “The coins with it.”

“Where is your report?”

“A courier picked it up an hour ago.”  A satisfied smile began to cross his face.

“I make an effort not to kill,” Baelon looked him in the eyes. “It causes too much of a stir and I prefer to move around unnoticed. Where is the report going?”

“Elf,” the man spat. “It’s going to Kingsbay, straight into Imperial Intelligence. No elf will ever set foot in that city.”

Baelon stood, letting the investigator catch his breath.

“What’s your name elf?”

Elves were an endangered species. For the past two hundred years bloodlines had been meticulously recorded. The Empire had access to these records. Simply by giving his name he could doom not only himself but his entire family and their treasured offspring.

“Baelon,” he stared hard at the human.

It took a moment but realization blossomed in the investigators eyes, “outcast? Oh, that’s rich.”

The human started a rough bark of a laugh. He continued until his face was read and his breath came out in gasps. As the man in the chair breathed out the elf whipped the blade through the air and into the investigators chest.

He looked down at the quivering hilt protruding from his sternum, “you said you don’t kill.”

Baelon motioned to the body in the corner. “I’ll make an exception.”

As the dead body ceased twitching, he removed the knife, wiping it clean as he gritted his teeth. Kingsbay was on the other side of the mountains. By land it would take a month or more if he avoided patrols. Imperials liked to monitor travel by sea, air, or rail. His disguise wouldn’t fool close inspection, but for the right price anyone could ignore a set of pointed ears. There were other options, certain ships preferred to move without too much attention and they were available to hire but he was almost out of coin. Imperial pockets ran deep.

He caught sight of a jacket hanging by the door. A quick check of the pockets turned up a wallet thick with Imperial currency and a badge for an Intelligence officer. The previous owner wouldn’t need them anymore. He slipped the loot into his pocket then donned the jacket. He tossed his hat at the man, landing almost perfectly onto the knife, and put the dead mans’ hat on instead. They were both too big for him. He tied the jacket tight and set the hat down almost to his eyes to hide his ears.

There was a crinkle of paper as he stepped forward. Baelon looked down to realize he was still not wearing boots and that there was something in the pocket he had missed. He pulled out an envelope on unmarked pressed paper. It was an order to escort seven goblin prisoners back to Kingsbay to be tried for smuggling. They were confined at this very fort.

A group of smugglers who didn’t like the Imperials could work out nicely.

“Kingsbay it is,” he straightened his hat.

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