Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sheaf, Part Three

Note:  This is Part Three of the story.  Part Two can be found here.

I was incapacitated for a few days at that point, as my body--and more importantly, my mind--underwent it's uncontrollable transformation.  I thirsted, but no water would sate me.  I gained a terrible fever that refused to break under any treatment.  I hungered, but any food I dared consume would inevitably be ejected from me in a most uncouth manner.  Worst of all, my head ached with such an excruciating pain that, to this day, I find it impossibly to aptly describe.  Finally, after three days, I awoke from the first decent rest that I had received in days to find myself feeling...perfectly fine.

He sat himself up, throwing the thick blankets off of him.  Judging from the light peeking in through the slats of the shudders on the windows, he assumed it to be mid-afternoon.  "Dad?" he called, his voice hoarse.  A glass of water stood on the table next to his bed and he picked it up, drinking greedily, and could barely suppress a frantic giggle when he realized that, once he drained the glass, he was no longer thirsty.

The door opened abruptly, and Adem walked in.  "What can I get for you, son?" he asked, before seeing the empty glass on the table.  He quickly moved to pick it up.  "I'll get you another glass, and don't worry, there's another doctor coming.  One from Heathridge.  He'll be here today, with any luck."

"Dad, it's okay," the boy said, swinging his legs down and stepping up.  A quick rush of dizziness hit him and he blinked, swaying back and forth for a moment.  "Stood up too quick."

"Are you...are you feeling better?" Adem asked, feeling his forehead.  "Your fever's broke."

"I'm all right," he said, nodding.  "It always lasts about three days."  He realized his chest was bare and quickly remedied the situation with a simple brown shirt, before heading towards the stairs, his father not far behind him.

"What always lasts three days?" his father asked as they entered the tavern proper.

The boy looked around for his backpack, finally finding it in a corner behind the bar.  "The transferring sickness," he said, grabbing some of the trail rations his father kept behind the bar and shoving them within his pack.

"Joseff, what are you doing?"

"Don't call me that," he said, as he began filling a waterskin."

"What?  What are you talking about, son?"

"Sheaf.  My name is Sheaf."

"What? Son, are you sure you're all right?"

Sheaf sighed, and massaged his temples.  "How can I put this?  Okay.  You remember Sheaf?  Not me, the last one, the one with the fondness for wine."

Adem nodded slowly.

"He wasn't the first Sheaf.  He was," the boy paused, doing some quick counting in his head, "the forty-seventh Sheaf, actually.  Whenever one of us is near death, we can feel it.  So we find a suitable person to transfer to."

"What?!  Joseff, what are you talking about?!"

"My name is not Joseff anymore," Sheaf said, frustrated.  "I have the memories of forty-seven people that were born before me.  I possess knowledge vastly beyond what Joseff could learn in his seventeen years.  I was Joseff, yes, but you have to understand that's not who I am anymore."

"I...son, what are you talking about?"

"Except for the wife of Roland, the twenty-third, none of my other families have understood, either.  I don't expect you to, Dad."  He grabbed his backpack, now complete with three waterskins, and began walking back to his room.

Adem followed him.  Sheaf began stuffing a few sets of clothing into his bag before closing it and shrugging it on.  "My sword is...." he paused, closing his eyes for a moment.  "Three-hundred feet East of here."

"You don't have a sword, Joseff!"

Sheaf sighed.  "You really need to stop calling me that.  And yes, I do.  The sword Veracity has always belonged to Sheaf, and is the source of much of my power.  I cannot travel without it."

"Son, you're not traveling anywhere," Adem said, grabbing his shoulders and looking into his eyes.  "Now, I don't know what's gotten into your head, but--" he was interrupted by the side of Sheaf's hand crashing into the back of his neck.  Sheaf caught him as he fell, lowering him gently to the ground.

"I'm sorry, Father," he said quietly.  "But Sheaf must wander.  My goal is much too important for your emotions to stop me."  He sighed and began walking towards the door, before stopping one last time.  Then, without turning around, he said, "But I do love you.  And you will be missed."

Continue to Part Four

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Design

How do you like it?  I felt the need today to just kind of pimp it out :D  It's still got a tad left that needs to be done, but I think it'll make for a more pleasant reading experience, and, to top it off, it just looks cool :D

Anyways, said design was done by the extremely talented Jay Davis, over at Billion Dollar Design Club.  You should definitely check him out there, or mayhap pay a visit to his facebook or follow him on twitter, a place where I've heard tweets are made, but not necessarily of a Hitchcockian variety.  Bonus points to anyone that actually got that reference...

Regardless, let me know what you think of the new design, and be sure and visit Jay's stuff!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Forbidden Lines

A short list of lines I'm no longer allowed to use whilst playing an RPG.

1.  "Yeah, yeah, we get it, you're evil, you have a plan, yadda yadda.  Can we skip the monologue part and get to the 'poking you with pointy things' part?"

2.  "You're a tenth level fighter, and a pacifist?  Literally the only thing that you can do is hit people with pieces of metal particularly well, and somehow you even managed to screw that up."

3.  "Oh, I'm aware that, as a wizard, full-plate armor gives me massive penalties.  I'm also aware that most wizards don't survive past fifth level, so you can take your list of ideal equipment and shove it up your rectum."

4.  "Yes, I'm a bard.  No, I don't play the lute, I play the electric guitar.  What?  They don't?  Well, fine, I play the artificer's guitar."

5.  "I don't have to outrun the dire bear.  I just have to outrun you."

6.  "Weren't you paying attention?  I don't care if we can 'probably' take the bear down, all I have to do is outrun you."

7.  "Okay, now that we've killed the bad guy, I start eating him.  What?  I'm a catfolk, and he's covered in flesh.  It makes perfect sense."

8.  "Listen, Your Highness, I'm not saying that burning down the orphanage was just.  I'm not saying it was right.  I'm not even saying that we have a good excuse.  All I am saying is that we're level twelve, and you're packing guards who are maybe level seven."

9.  "So the villain's in there?  That building right there?  The one made of wood?  Someone pass me a tinderbox."

10.  "You're just being prejudiced against my catfolk paladin because you don't want me to eat people.  WHY WON'T YOU RESPECT MY CULTURE?!"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Story of Lyra Swiftfist, Part Three

This is Part Three of a story created by guest writer Beth Stoneman.  Part Two can be found here.

In the coming days, I felt at peace. My revenge had been more satisfying than I ever dared dream, and I was praised as a hero in the slums where I grew up. However, something bothered me. I spent those days enjoying the meager hospitality my friends could offer, but I could not shake the inexplicable feeling that I was being followed. One day, as I sharpened Mother's sword in the small home where I'd spent my childhood, I heard a knock. Instantly I tensed, ready for combat, but when I walked out a host of about six humans stood there staring at me in wonder.

They were dressed strangely, although something about their dress seemed familiar. They wore no armor and carried no weapons, and nearly all had long hair tied back like my father always wore his. One of them, wearing a medallion, and apparently the leader, stepped forward and reached for my hand. Smiling, he said, “I am Brother Aric Wisehand. My brothers and I were in the crowd that watched as you defeated that man, and I must say, I have never seen such skill from someone of your age. Where do you study?”

His assumption that a half-breed would be allowed to study anywhere was nearly ridiculous, and I had to choke back a laugh. “That was all stuff I picked up from my parents,” I replied. “My mother was skilled with the sword, though I really saw my father fight the most. He was good with his hands and feet. They put up a good fight against their assailant, the man you saw me kill, and I decided that, in their honor, I should try to memorize all the things I'd seen them do. I practiced mostly the way I'd seen my father fight, because it seemed more resourceful and I'd seen so much more of it.”

I remember how nervous this mysterious traveler made me as he raised his eyebrows and stroked his chin, deep in thought over my answer. “You fought well,” he finally said. “I am astonished that you brought down an opponent of that size without formal training, and the way you used his weaknesses was quite impressive.”

“I only used my memories of the night my parents were killed and the areas I noticed him guarding.”

“That is wise,” he said, nodding. “We belong to a group of men and women who spend years practicing the many ways to fight skillfully and sensibly with the weapons we were born with, our fists, feet, elbows, knees. We are called the Order of the Flickering Flame. We are not your...conventional monks, sequestered away in some distant monastery, contemplating the meaning of life. Rather, we take an approach focused more on combat, and the perfection of your own skills. After seeing the raw prowess that you displayed, we decided we would like to help you hone your abilities. We'd like to extend an invitation for you to join us at our monastery in Onegas.”

I blinked, this earth-shattering invitation flooring me. It was something new and different, and there hadn't been anything left in Alcarinore for me in five years, since the death of my parents. Additionally, something seemed oddly familiar—almost comforting—about these men, bringing me to feel more at ease around them than I had with anyone in a long time.

Finally I found my tongue, and replied, “Your offer is gracious. I am honored that you thought so highly of the way I fought. How long will you be here? I may need to consider your offer.”

Brother Aric smiled again, and answered, “We will be here as long as you need us to be. We are traveling in order to find someone who will reinvigorate our desire as a brotherhood to achieve perfect harmony with ourselves, others, and our enemies. We've needed a new face in the monastery for a very long time, and your raw potential is something we have never seen.” He chuckled. “This city was not even a recruiting destination. It was more of a vacation spot to rejuvenate us and help us get on our way.”

I shuffled my feet meekly, something I never did, and said, “Thank you. I will come find you when I have my answer.” They gave me a slip of parchment telling me where they were staying, and departed.

Of course, I had made up my mind practically before they had even left, but I wanted to spend some time saying farewell to the friends I had in my home town. This was going to be the journey of a lifetime, and now that my parents' killer was taken care of, I decided that learning to fight like my father did would be the best way to honor them. I would never find where he had studied, but this was as close as I could get.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Quest, Part Three

This is Part Three of the story.  Part Two can be found here.

"So you were raised in the temple?"  Nadia asked, the eyebrow over her visible eye raised.  Her other eye was covered by a leather eye patch, as it always was when she wasn't belowdecks.  On many women, the patch might appear unseemly, but it seemed to further add to the charm of the lively woman, an accomplished warrior that was in charge of the ships' defenses.

Garek nodded.  "Since I was young, yes.  When I turned sixteen, I applied for squireship, and was apprenticed under High Paladin Alteris, and when I was twenty I was named a full paladin."

"So...have you ever lived outside of the temple?"

"When I was young.  But not in many, many years."

"That sounds incredibly boring."

Garek chuckled.  "Not at all. The library at the Temple of the Silver Wing is very large.  Besides, I keep myself busy."

"Oh?" the woman asked.  "A great many female companions for the mighty paladin, no doubt."

Garek frowned.  "No.  I've had precious little time to waste on such frivolities."

Nadia laughed, letting loose a musical, pleasing sound that Garek had found he quite enjoyed over the last few weeks.  "One of these days, Garek, you're going to have to stop taking life quite so seriously.  When's the last time you enjoyed yourself?"

"I've had more important things to deal with than having a good time.  There are grave evils in the world, and for others to have their good times, I must sacrifice mine.  Trust me, nothing of value is lost."

She rolled her eyes.  "And you have to be the one to vanquish all of the evil in the world?  It seems quite the feat."

Garek sighed and moved past her to the edge of the deck.  "If I don't," he said, after a moment, "who will?"  He turned his gaze to her once more, and she felt her blood chill by a few degrees as she saw his eyes.

When Nadia was seven, her father had taken her on a trip to the country of Echorigon, and, during her time there, she had discovered that slavery was, although restricted, perfectly legal.  It was her first trip outside of the Vigilant Empire, and it shocked her to her core.

Luckily, though, she hadn't had the misfortune of meeting anyone during her short stay that owned any slaves.  As long as she ignored the various signs of slavery about the port town they had stayed in, she could pretend that nothing was different there than from back home.

Until the day they left, at any rate.

As they waited on the docks for the chance to board their vessel, a slave ship began unloading.  A large orc, with lean muscles and an impossibly thin frame, was imprisoned in a small steel cage, being pulled by two sailors.  His bony hands were wrapped around the bars of the cage, and spittle flew from his mouth as he roared in anger and hopelessness.  But that didn't compare to his eyes.

His eyes projected pure, unadulterated rage, malice, enmity, and absolute hatred.  The mere sight of his eyes caused Nadia's breath to stop, her heart to skip a beat, and her bladder to loosen.  Now, almost twenty years later, she had completely forgotten about those eyes, until she saw the same raw emotions exploding from Garek's.

"That's how I have to live my life," Garek said, his voice the sound of a blade of ice slicing through the air.  "Because if I don't, no one will.  It's been proven before, and once I'm gone, will undoubtedly be proven again."  He turned and began to walk towards his small quarters.  "If you'll excuse me, I've praying to do."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sorry, Guys

No new chapter today.  I've been dealing with court stuff since Friday, and, now that it's all over and done with, I think I'd like to take the day to just veg out on the X-Box 360 before I have to go to work tonight.  New chapter tomorrow!

Oh, in case you're wondering about the whole court thing--we won :D

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Great Gaming Music, Part Two

Once again, we dive into the realm of some of my personal favorite music to game by.  This time, though, before we start, I'd like to pimp out Ominous Sounds, a great blog that does a far better job of showing off wonderful gaming tracks than I could hope to do here.

With that out of the way, let's begin!

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords Theme
 While I really like this track, it can be a little hard to pinpoint a place for in gameplay.  Personally, I tend to use it towards the beginning of a game, usually during exposition with a major character.  It also works pretty well when the GM is describing an important place, such as a new city or a mysterious keep.  The song has a slight ominous tinge to it, but it isn't too overbearing.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Main Theme
Quite the epic track, in my humble opinion.  I like this song for epic journeys, maybe accompanies by a 'verbal montage' explaining what the characters face on the months they've spent traveling (assuming it's a situation in which you're not actively roleplaying those months).  Players feel like they're doing something important, and are really making a difference in the world, when you play this track.

Final Fantasy XII Main Theme
Yet another main theme...perhaps I'm lacking originality?  Nevertheless, this track works very nicely at the starting of an adventure or campaign, during the short bit of time it takes to fill the players in on where their characters are and how they got there.  Players feel like they're at the beginning of something big when they hear this track.

Esper Battle Theme
Also hailing from the Final Fantasy XII soundtrack, this song is great for boss fights, especially those of the climactic end-of-dungeon variety.  It's just somber enough to let the players know that they might be in a bit of a bad situation, and, if your final bosses are anything like mine, they are.

There you go, another four tracks certain to perk up gaming sessions!  Hope you enjoyed, and I'll see ya next time :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Story of Lyra Swiftfist, Part Two

This is Part Two of the story written by guest writer Beth Stoneman.  Part One can be found here.

I lived without parents in the slums for several years, hiding during raids and staying with some of the families that survived the same raid in which my parents were killed. Through these years, the guardsmen of the city hunted the members of the cult that had raided our district, with a noticeable measure of success—despite the poor treatment of cross-racial marriages, there were still laws against what this cult did, and actions were being taken effectively and swiftly. Life was even harder than it had ever been, but hearing this news gave me hope that the man that killed my parents would pay for what he did.

With nothing better to do, I spent time emulating some of the things I had seen my father do. It was not much, but learning his fighting style helped me remember him and what he did, in addition to giving me a way to defend myself. I tried to did the same for my mother's swordfighting style, but I had seen her do substantially less fighting as a child, and I rarely seemed to make any real headway. I always kept my parents' weapons with me. Fathers' fistwraps were always wrapped around my own fists, and Mother's swords were always tied, however crudely, to my hip. I kept their most precious belongings in a sack. They may, perhaps, have fetched me a pretty coin with which to sustain myself, but that would be as awful as destroying a memory, which I simply couldn't do.

One day, as I was traveling about the city under my father's cloak, I was approached by a hulking figure, also under a cloak. He stared at my mother's magical sword,sheathed at my hip, then stared into my hood, which obscured my face. He nearly screamed at me, rage in his voice, demanding to know where I had gotten the sword. Staying silent, I turned my hip away, guarding the precious keepsake that my mother had so bravely wielded in the face of death.

In one swift motion, the massive elf threw off his cloak before tearing down my hood with such raw force that I staggered to keep my footing. He studied me, and I him. He was a monstrosity of an elf, not built like the others, with horribly butchered ears and scars marking nearly every bit of his oddly-toned skin I could see. His arms and legs were disfigured, perhaps from shattered bones that had never healed properly. He wore dark clothing that looked familiar to me, even though it was faded and worn.

While he stood there, dumbfounded, I slowly began to recognize him, and my eyes widened in shock. I had only seen him before as a whirling silhouette against the burning homes in the background, but I knew this man.

I knew him as the monster that had killed my parents.

When he reached for Mother's sword, I leapt back and screamed, “NO! No one may have this sword, least of all, you. You are a filthy monster, guilty of murder and near genocide. This is my mother's sword! I am the child whose parents you brutally murdered.”

After I said this, he snarled and lunged, knowing that he needed to finish the job he had unwittingly left incomplete. Imitating one of the attacks I'd seen my father do, I threw a kick to the side of his knee, unconsciously noting the sound of a crack as his weight shifted to his other side.

The ferocity he once had was now gone, no doubt drained by the fight that my parents put him through. He had no weapons, and was obviously weaker than last I had seen him. I dropped my belongings on the ground behind me, and gave this fight everything I had, using all the techniques I'd taught myself. As we fought in the middle of the city, a crowd formed around us, spectating as a half-breed in her teens faced off against a brute that dwarfed her. My kick had substantially weakened him, and I threw punches and kicks at his limbs where they seemed crooked. I took advantage of weak points, like the side he seemed to favor throughout the fight – no doubt another injury that my parents left for me to exploit – and after only a few attacks, he was staggering. I took out his other leg with a sweep I'd seen my father utilize many times, and he collapsed on the ground, wiping blood from his face. While he struggled to stand, I kicked him once in each shoulder, then grabbed his head and brought my knee up to his face.

My ceaseless barrage, driven by pain, anger, and a well-nursed desire for painful revenge brought so much suffering down on this pathetic excuse for an elf that he gave up on attempting to stand and curled up in a ball on the ground, mewling a feeble plea for mercy. Grimacing, I seethed, “I will say this slowly, so that your pathetic mind, so filled with hatred, can understand every word I say before I kill you. Did you have mercy on all the innocent people in the slums, torn from their homes and maimed? Did you have mercy on my mother when you sliced her head from her shoulders? Did you have mercy on my father when you cut him open like cattle at the slaughter?” I drew my mother's sword, slowly, with grim, unshakable purpose. “I know no mercy for the likes of you, monster.

I raised my sword, intending to kill him the same way he killed both my parents, administering the same wounds that killed me inside, but he shrieked, “ WAIT! I never knew they had a child! I was...I was just following orders! I know how it feels to be a half-breed. I'm an abomination! My father was an orc, my mother an elf, I'm not even half human! I am a monster! I was hired by the Crimson Hand. Please spare me. I know your pain....”

If all this is true, I only want to kill you more. A half-breed who works for a cult that murders half-breed and mixed families. You really are an abomination.” My free hand clenched itself into a fist as I continued, my voice issued behind teeth gritted with rage and malice, “You could never know the pain I felt that day as I WATCHED THEM DIE!” My mother's sword sliced ruthlessly across his torso, biting as deeply as possible, severing his twisted, revolting head from his crumpled body.

After his blood-curdling scream stopped reverberating, I raised my mother's sword, covered in her murderer's blood, high into the air and turned slowly to face every spectator that had seen me vanquish the monster that had haunted my dreams for six years. Authoritatively, I shouted, “This is what happens when you let bigotry and anger control your actions! I am half elf and half human and would not trade my troubled life for anything! My parents married because of a force stronger than politics or purity of blood! The married because, despite the torment they faced, they loved each other more than anything in the world! Before you murder a mixed couple, remember that your hatred will bring about your death! This abhorrent creature is an example of what will happen. All of you have been warned! I will forever be a champion of those who lose loved ones because they are a half-breed. Remember this face.” My eyes narrowed as my vision swept the crowd, staring at me in awe. “Remember this sword.”

Continue to Part Three 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Story of Lyra Swiftfist, Part One

This story was created by Beth Stoneman, a player in the game I'm currently running, and the first of what I hope will be many guest writers on Cerebral Vomit.  'The Story of Lyra Swiftfist' is her character's backstory, and, in my humble opinion, is an excellent read.

When I was young, my life was fraught with nothing but hardship. The memories are so painful to recall, but I need to get them out there, so that they stop haunting me and swimming in my head.

Our family was treated poorly because my parents, who married out of love, were neither both human, nor both elf, and a union of such impurity was more than frowned upon in my home country of Darinus. My mother was an Elf, and formerly of high standing in Elven society. Named Ellyria Sageheart, she was one of the more wealthy Elves in Alcarinore, and the head of an Elven mercenary company, though she never did any mercenary work herself.

One day, a human man by the name of Davin Swiftfist, an adventurer who had been exploring woods near her home, came into town to stock up on supplies and get a few days' rest. He investigated her mercenary organization, looking to hire a scout to help navigate forests and support him in his travels. There, he met my mother. They always told me that the day they met, they felt a surge of magic that couldn't be learned by the most powerful magic users in all of EbonHurst. They fell in love the moment their eyes met, and my father decided not to hire a mercenary, instead taking an extended stay in town and subtly courting my mother under the radar. After a time, they decided to get married. He took her back to a human city, where people where moderately more accepting—though still wary of their union—and they married. After the wedding, they returned to the city where she had her home. When they returned together, word of their shameful union had reached the people, and she was stripped of her status and company, and forced to live in the slums reserved for mixed-race families.

Despite her ostracization, Mother told Father that living in the city that had treated them so poorly was important to her. She had deep emotional ties to the trees and animals that lived in Alcarinore, and couldn't bring herself to leave. He obliged, wishing only to make her happy, and they had me. I was born into destitution and bigotry, an unfit life for a small child, but my parents' love for each other and me made it more bearable. Sometimes there would be raids, but my father's combat prowess always kept us safe. For food, Father had to travel to the market under a cloak and keep his face hidden, because many stores would either increase their demands or sometimes deny service completely. The other families in this part of town were kind, and I played with the children there. We lived there for most of my childhood, until one night, tragedy struck.

During our slumber, we heard a great racket outside. An extremist cult, wishing to go against the council's laws, had grown to the point where they could wipe out the entire mixed-race slums, and they did. That night, the worst raid ever seen destroyed our way of life, and killed nearly every resident. One of the most ferocious members of the cult entered our house. Mother, having been trained with the sword, and father, being deft with his fists and feet, battled valiantly against this monster, while I watched from a secret room that Father built into our small house in case of raids like this one. They weakened him to near incapacitation before he felled both of them with his dual axes. My parents were mighty and skilled, but could not stand up to the attacker's ferocity, and I watched them both die right there in my own home. After weathering many smaller raids, I learned not to cry when my parents were injured, and only sat there, dumbfounded in my perfect hiding place. However, when their dark champion left, and the raid ended, I saw fit to cry, and did not stop crying for perhaps hours.

Pain still fills my entire being when I think of that day. I saw my parents, both bloodied and beaten on the floor. Mother's beautiful glowing elven swords that had once slain the greatest of foes still lay in her hands. Father's intricate, ornate, hand-sewn fistwraps that had always guided his attacks so seamlessly fell from his clenched fingers. All the weapons and furniture were soaked in blood, both from my parents and from their assailant. I had never seen what carnage was until that day, when it had been dropped without mercy upon my house. I cried ceaselessly and without abandon for days, eating little, and sleeping poorly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Carrion, Part One

The sun was setting, and Naomi Caldress wept. She cried hard, taking great breaths before succumbing once again to her tears.

Finally, after what seemed like hours (but in all truthfulness was less than thirty minutes), she calmed, her tears slowing. Then she looked at her hands, stained red with blood, and she again began sobbing.

“You seem rather distraught,” a strange, gravelly voice said. Naomi gasped and whirled around to see a man she had never seen before, wearing immaculately tailored dark clothing, a crimson cloak the color of dark blood, and a sword with a well-worn hilt in a simple scabbard at his hip. “One would think the average murderer less capable of tears.”

Naomi fumbled for the dagger she had dropped, finally finding the blade with her finger, slicing it open and mixing her blood with that which was already coated on the weapon. The pain was distant, and it didn't deter her from grabbing the weapon , standing, and bringing it to bear at the man. She grasped the handle with both hands, but was unable to keep the blade from quivering violently.

The strange man rolled his eyes. “Indeed,” he said dryly, before calmly walking past her to kneel next to the body on the slick floor. “Sloppy work.”

“What...what do you mean?” she asked, the blade quivering more fiercely before her.

“Superficial,” he said, pointing at the shallow cut along the shoulder. He pointed at another wound. “You removed half of the ear, which was pointless. There's no real reason to aim for that section of the skull at all with a weapon as light as the one you used. You're not apt to do any real damage.”

He continued, pointing at the various damages she had inflicted upon the corpse, and explaining the inadequacies of each. Finally, he came to the gaping hole in the middle of the throat. “That was what did it,” he said. “If you would have gone for at once, the whole ordeal would have gone much smoother. And been much...cleaner.”

Who are you?” Naomi asked.

“I am...a friend. Perhaps the only friend you have, now, wouldn't you say?”

“I've never seen you before in my life,” she replied, trying to sound confident. “Now you had best get out of my house, stranger, before you enter a world of hurt.”

She didn't see him draw, or turn to face her. All she knew was that one moment he was kneeling on the ground, pointing the opposite direction, and the next moment he was standing in front of her, sword drawn, and her hand stung viciously from the dagger being wrenched out of it by the force of his slash, an attack made in too short of a time for her eyes to even begin to process. It occurred to her then that this was a very dangerous man, and that if he had so much as fancied the thought of moving forward another few inches during his attack, she would have lost fingers, or her hand, or perhaps half of her arm.

He could very easily kill her before she even realized the thought to do so had crossed her mind, and then there would be two Caldress bodies lying on the floor of the simple wooden abode.

I don't very much appreciate being threatened, Naomi,” her 'friend' remarked casually. “No, not at all. You may very well consider me old-fashioned in such a manner. And speaking of manners, where are yours? You've a guest in your home, and you don't even put on the tea?”

She swallowed, wondering if perhaps she was the one who died in the earlier struggle, and this was but the beginning of her torture on one of the endless levels of Hell.

“We...I don't have any tea, sir,” she said, her voice quivering.”

“It was a jest, ma'am. And as for my name—I am called Crow. At your service.”

“What do you want?”

Well now,” he said, sheathing his sword and walking to the other side of the room before easing into the rickety rocking chair that once belonged to Naomi's grandmother. “That is the question, isn't it? I suppose, in the short term, I want to ensure that you don't end up in an Imperial prison, rotting for twenty years.”

It was almost funny, but she just now realized that very distinct and likely probability. She had grabbed the dagger in a moment of fury and passion, had fought with the same presence of mind, and had cried thinking of the loss in her life, of how impossible it would be for her to afford to give him a decent burial, of what her family would think, of what her friends would think, but she was just now thinking of what the town guard would think.

She'd be tried, and found guilty. There was no escaping that. Of course, she could run from town, but as soon as someone found the body, there would be a bounty on her head, and she'd have more to fear from bounty hunters than from the guards. At least the guards wouldn't take advantage of her when she was being brought in. She thought, briefly, that perhaps she could hide, the body, but she knew it would be impossible. Her home was in the middle of town, and she wasn't a strong girl. Dragging the heavy corpse outside of town would take her hours, and what would she do with it then, anyways? Bury it? Digging a hole sizable and deep enough would take as much time as dragging the body through town, and filling it back in would take half that. The thought of doing all that without a single person noticing was the bad punchline to a cruel joke.

“Begging your pardon, stranger,” she said, collapsing back to the floor, “but I don't think you have much say in the matter.”

“You'd be surprised,” Crow said, a faint smile briefly lighting his face.

“If it's all the same, I'd just as soon not talk about it.”

He nodded, and reached in his cloak. “Well enough.” He produced a finely-crafted pipe, the likes of which Naomi had never seen. It seemed to be made of ivory, and around the entirety of the bowl she could make out small figures engaged in battle. The craftsmanship was amazing, and she knew she was looking at something worth more than her house and the combined value of everything she had ever owned, or dreamed of owning. He loaded the pipe with a hefty amount of tobacco and lit it with a match, taking a few long puffs in the silence.

“I don't think you'll be able to dispose of the body yourself, if you don't mind me saying. Not without half the town noticing, at any rate. So, I've a proposition for you.”

“ use me?” she asked, knowing the answer. She had no delusions about being the most beautiful woman in the town, but at the same time, she knew she wasn't hideous. But wouldn't it be worth it? A few minutes, hours maybe, of enduring this mans passions would pale in comparison to years spent in prison, where she would be abused, regardless.

He let out a hearty chuckle halfway through a drag off of his pipe, and tobacco shot out of the bowl, landing on the floor, the embers smoking gently. He crushed them with the heel of his boot and once again began to load his pipe. “No, milady. If I desire carnal pleasures, I'm certain I could find a less despicable way to attain them.”


You're destined for greater things than this, Naomi,” he said, once again lighting his pipe. “Therefore, if I remove your...problem, shall we say? You succumb to training, under my tutelage. Learn to properly wield a sword, to fight, to defend yourself. And, when we're done, you leave this town, never to return.”

“I don't think that I'd be much of a swordswoman,” she said.

“You will be. After I'm done with you.”

“And why do you want me to leave my home?”

“Is it much of a home, then?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her. “If you'd prefer, I can leave as swiftly as I entered. You'd be forced to leave, regardless, but instead of walking out on your own two feet, you'd be forced into the back of a locked carriage and shipped to the nearest prison.

“My reasons are my own, milady. You can either allow me to help you, and trust that it is in your best interest, or you can fend for yourself. I'll not force you into anything. Now, shall I dispose of this body, or not?”

She licked her lips, looking at the corpse on the floor. “Do it.”

He nodded, standing. “Very well, then.” He walked to the kitchen table and took a small scroll from a pouch on his belt, spreading it flat on the table. “Nommus: Gob Drazil.” He slammed his open hand on the scroll, and it began to glow before the edges caught aflame. The flame quickly expanded, and Crow stepped back as it began to take a strange shape, forming what appeared to be a large, low-slung body with four stubby legs and a long tail. The flames died out, all at once, and revealed a large alligator underneath, whose tail whipped back and forth as it turned its head to regard Crow. It seemed to ignore Naomi completely, and she was certainly glad. She backed into a corner, her face white, taking shallow, rapid breaths.

“Calm down,” Crow said. “A summoned creature obeys the person who called it explicitly. I promise you that if I had desires to end your life, I'd not need a beast such as this.” He turned his head back to the creature. “Down,” he said, pointing at the floor, and the alligator clumsily dropped to the floor, before looking back at Crow. “Eat,” Crow said, pointing at the body, and the alligator closed the distance to the corpse with a surprising swiftness.

“Come,” Crow said, taking her elbow and gently leading her into the bedroom. “There's no reason to watch it. When it's finished, there will be nothing left, I assure you, and then the beast will be unsummoned.” He pointed at the rapier mounted on the wall. “Yours?”

“It was my father's.” She picked it up reverently. “He was a master fencer.”

“Excellent. How much did he teach you?”

“Nothing. He died before I was born. There was a raid on the town, and he died defending it.”

“Ah. A shame. All the same, it means I don't have to work making you unlearn anything. I think now would be as good a time as any to start our first lesson.” He unsheathed his sword and held it before him in a defensive stance. “Now. Come at me, Naomi, and let's see how much you have to learn.”

“Wait, what? This isn't a dulled blade, sir.”

He snorted. “I think I should be able to defend myself, milady. Now, come at me.”

She sighed, and thrusted forward with the tip of the rapier. Crow easily batted the blade aside. “Again. Do better, if you please.”

She thrusted again, and this time, after batting the rapier's blade aside, he twisted around, facing away from her, and drove his elbow into her forehead. She cried and fell to the floor, her vision imprinted with dozens of tiny points of light. “What in the hells was that for?!”

If you attempt the same thing over and over again, you'll simply become predictable and leave yourself even more open to counterattack. I promise you, in actual combat, you'd receive much worse. Now, stand, and come at me.”

She had a lot to learn.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sheaf, Part Two

Note:  this is Part Two of the story.  Part One can be found here.

The arrival of Sheaf was a breath of fresh air.  He brought with him a worldliness, the likes of which I had never seen before in my young age.  The knowledge he possessed was astounding, but he never expected me to take his word on anything, instead urging me to research what interested me and to find my own truths in the world.

He stayed in the inn for nearly a week.  Each day, at around lunchtime, he would come downstairs for a glass of wine and a bit of food, and pay a platinum Imperium.  Each night, as business dwindled, he would find the time to converse with me, on all manner of ranging subjects, from the histories of various gods to the politics of countries and provinces near and far.

I was a young man, then, and perhaps easy to impress, but impress me he did.  And, daily, he continued to impress me with his knowledge and wisdom, until the day came that I was no longer a young man.  Time, you see, is a fickle lord, and does not always see the need to age us according to our years.

"Oh, the current Emperor's line stretches back a few thousand years," Sheaf said, taking a sip of his wine as Joseff polished the various bottles of spirits behind.  "But no, he is not of the original family.  That line died out long ago."

"I...didn't know that," Joseff admitted.  "So what happens if the Emperor dies without an heir?"

"A series of elections.  The Senate and Council of Governors each appoint a candidate from within their ranks, who must meet a stringent set of criteria.  Then, both parties vote, and the winner of the election is appointed Emperor."

Joseff nodded, thoughtful, and opened his mouth to ask another question when the front door burst open.  "Raiders!"  Patrick, the blond-headed farmer from the West end of town shouted, his chest heaving.  "They attacked the Millbrooke's farm first, and they're--" he abruptly stopped and toppled forward, showcasing the handle, as well as half of the head, of the throwing axe that had found itself planted in his head.

Joseff stared for a moment, certain that it was a joke.  Certain that Patrick and his friends had gotten together, and decided, hey, let's play a trick on Joseff.  He's always got his head in a book, why not give him a dose of reality?  We'll make him think someone died right in front of him.  Hells, maybe his father was in on it, too, and that's why he was being so quiet, not saying anything, not doing anything, maybe it was all just a fantasy, some stupid joke and he needed to laugh, to show that haha, he got it, and wasn't it just so funny, because they had really pulled the wool over his eyes!

He bent over, suddenly, the mutton and bread he had eaten for lunch ejecting itself from his stomach with the speed of a ballista bolt.  Then came the subtle clinking of chains, and Joseff looked up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, before freezing.

The creature that walked through the door stood maybe four and a half feet tall, with mottled green skin.  His face was unusually flat, his eyes wider and shorter than those of a human.  His ears were pointed, and the teeth that Joseff could see were yellowed and sharp.

The goblin wore a simple chain shirt over his outfit, and a metal cap protected his head.  In his left hand he held a short sword, and his right hand grasped the handle of the throwing axe in Patrick's head, his foot bracing against the farmer's neck as he wrenched free the weapon.

"Gonna diiiiiiiie," the goblin said, singing the word in his guttural voice.  He slowly began to approach the three men, a cruel smile alighting on his face.

Sheaf was the first to react, quickly striding towards the goblin.  There was a soft noise, almost the sound of a page within a book turning, as the traveler drew his sword, and Joseff saw for the first time how impossibly thin the blade of the weapon was.  The goblin slashed at Sheaf, who parried the blow easily, and continued to twist his body, making a 360 degree turn with his sword, bringing the business edge of the weapon back around to sever the goblin's head at the neck, neatly and effortlessly, as if he had practiced the act since he was three.

"You are armed, Adem?"  Sheaf asked, not turning.

"Aye," the barkeep said.  He drew the simple cudgel he kept behind the bar and, after a moments thought, opened a drawer.  "Joseff," he said, and his son turned to him to see the revolver in his hand.  "Take this, son.  You're not as strong as I, you'll do less damage with the stick."

Joseff nodded, swallowing heavily, and took the firearm.  His father passed him a pouch filled with rounds, which he buckled around his waist, before checking to see that the gun was loaded.  Six rounds were in their respective chambers.  Six rounds of death.

"I'm going out there," Sheaf said.  "The two of you would probably do best to protect your establishment.  I daresay, when the day is done, this will be quite the popular building."

"Wait!" Joseff said, careful to avoid the puddle of vomit as he walked around the bar.  "I'll go with you."

Sheaf opened his mouth, and for a moment, Joseff was sure he would refuse, but then a shadow of understanding, and...sorrow?...appeared on the mans face.  "Yes," he said, finally.  "You may join."

The events that occurred after they walked out the door of the tavern passed in a haze for Joseff, a well-intentioned man who had never seen evil, had never known violence other than the occasional drunken brawl.  It seemed that blood was everywhere, painting the walls of the buildings, staining the glass of the windows, forming miniature rivers in the worn ruts of the roads.

There were hundreds of them, and for a town that boasted maybe 400 people on a good day, it was a challenge the likes of which no one was prepared for.

Still, the townsmen fought on, and fought well.  They weren't warriors, true, but many of them had held a hoe since they could walk, and strong muscles count for a lot, even if they are untrained.  And the raiders were fighting for profit.  The townsmen were fighting for home.  Never underestimate a man who fights for his home and family, for they are prone to perform feats greater than you can imagine.

Joseff wasn't sure if he actually hit anything.  He fired his weapon automatically, whenever he saw a clear shot.  Now that he was outside, he could see that there were more than just goblins--humans, orcs, and even a few elves were counted amongst the attackers.

He pulled the trigger again, and didn't feel the comforting shock as the weapon fired, didn't hear the accompanying miniature crack of thunder.  Again, he thumbed back the hammer and pulled the trigger, and heard only a faint click, barely audible over the sounds of battle.  Again, he tried to fire, and with the same result, before remembering that he must need to reload.

He fumbled the cylinder open, spilling the useless casings on the ground.  Awkwardly, as if each finger on his hand was new and untested, he began to push new rounds into the weapon, before raising it, thumbing back the hammer, and pulling the trigger, the face of an orc raider rushing towards him disintegrating in a cloud of light red mist.

He turned to see Sheaf engaged against three combatants at once.  Blood so dark it almost appeared black dripped from numerous wounds he had already endured, but he fought on with a ferocity and skill that was incredible to watch, singlehandedly turning the tide of the battle against the attacking forces.

In a daze, Joseff followed his lead, absently firing at raiders, reloading whenever he realized his weapon was empty, his brain unable or unwilling to fully comprehend the chaos of the situation it found itself in.

After a period of time that seemed simultaneously an eternity and an instant, the attackers knew that they had lost.  They began to flee, in greater and greater numbers, until only the stragglers that were unable to escape from combat were left.  Sheaf himself had three of them, trapped at the end of a shallow alleyway.  Joseff tried to fire, but his gun had run dry once more.  He clumsily opened and emptied it, his free hand diving into the pouch for more bullets.

The pouch was empty.

But that was impossible!  His father had at least fifty rounds in that pouch, they couldn't all be gone!  His hand searched the pouch, frantically, until it finally alighted on the smooth metallic surface of a single bullet.  He pushed it into place, closing the cylinder back into position, and looked up just to see the sheen of wet metal push through Sheaf's back.

It seemed impossible, but there it was.  The other two combatants lay dead on the ground, but one, a goblin, had somehow gotten the upper hand, and his long sword had been forced through Sheaf's midsection.

Joseff pulled the trigger.  The goblin's head vanished, as if there were a wizard showcasing his abilities.  Slowly, Joseff walked to Sheaf, who turned to see him.  "," the man said in a strained voice, pain evident on his face.

It was at this point that Joseff noticed that the blood oozing from Sheaf's copious wounds didn't merely appear black, but was black, as dark as ink.

"Please," Sheaf said, struggling with the effort of speaking.  His breath came out in ragged bursts, a cruel mockery of true breathing.  Not without struggle, he held his sword up, red blood flowing off of it, and Joseff saw the oddness of the blade up close.  It almost appeared to be...paper.  Dark words were scribbled on the blade, here and there, and Joseff saw that they were names.  "Take it," Sheaf said, holding the sword by it's paper-thin blade.  Joseff's hand moved, and then stopped.  "Take it!"  Sheaf said once more, pain and desperation in his voice.  And then, "Let me die in peace!"

Joseff grabbed the handle of the sword, and pain erupted through his body.  He saw the names on the blade begin to disappear, as if they were evaporating, and out of the corner of his vision, he saw the blood from one of the cuts he had sustained begin to darken.  My blood is turning to ink, he thought, like his.

The man he had begun to consider a friend fell to the ground in death, and the boy began to feel his head flood with information and memories.  The last thing he could remember before darkness stole his world from him was one word, burning in importance above all others:  SHEAF. 

Part Three 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Great Gaming Music, Part One

I'm a sucker for a good RPG.  In fact, if you haven't noticed the tags in any of my stories up to this point, they're all tagged with 'Dungeons and Dragons', and take place in my campaign setting for the game.

Anyways, you can find all SORTS of great stuff to help your tabletop games work better, but I think one of the things that is skimped out on is background music.  You rarely see a fantastic RPG video game without hearing pretty great music relevant to whatever you're doing--it helps set the tone, and keeps any silences in the room from being overbearing and taking you out of the game.  That said, here's a list of some of my favorite gaming music.

Requiem for a Dream
Originally composed as the score for the climactic fight between Anakin Skywaler and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, this song makes for a great boss fight.  Not just any boss, mind you--save this score for a big one.  I'm talking the mastermind pulling all the strings.  The guy who your PC's aren't quite sure if they're ready for yet.  The guy whose death signifies a big change.  Players get leery, but resolved, when they hear a song like this, and they know that someone is going to die--hopefully, not them.

Oblivion Battle and Morrowind Theme Remix
A fantastic mix of two songs, I love this song for boss fights.  I find it just a little too epic to use on your run-of-the-mill skeleton fight, but that first miniboss in the dungeon?  Perfect.   Players get pumped with a song like this, and they know that it's time to kick some ass.

Chapel of Skorm
From the soundtrack of Fable, on the X-box, comes this great track.  Personally, I like it for dangerous areas that haven't quite gotten to the point where swords have been drawn, such as the party sneaking through an enemy camp, or walking through a city they know they aren't too welcome in.  When players hear this music in the background, they get the feeling that everything could go South any moment.

Dusk at the Market
This hails from the fantastic Elder Scrolls IV:  Oblivion.  As it's name suggests, it works great for a market/town track, but it also works great for traveling music as the characters walk through plains, forests, and the like.  Players hear this track and are reminded that the world isn't always about killing dragons, goblins, or whatever else they may face in your game.

There you have it!  Four great tracks, sure to liven up a game session.  See you next time!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Quest, Part Two

Note:  This is Part Two of the story.  Part One can be found here.

Garek slowly walked towards the ship he had purchased passage on, framed on each side by guards--one from the Temple of Pelor, one from the Temple of Saint Cuthbert.

The trial had not gone well.

He had presented his case well, and honestly, but it seemed the Council had, by and large, made up their minds before the trial had begun.  The questions he had asked were simple, with no real look at his character or his justifications for each choice he had made.

Did you kill an Imperial Ambassador?  'Yes, I killed a slaver, an evil man, who also had the great fortune of being an ambassador.'

Were you paid to kill him?  'No.'

Did you accept money for his death?  'I accepted a gift from the father of one of the girls who died in slavery due to his crimes.'

So his death directly profited you?  'That was not the reason I killed him.'

And yet, his death still directly profited you?

The questions continued, each as thinly-veiled as the last, trapping him with the truth.  The sentencing was quick, at the end of the trial, with the Council members convening for less than two minutes.  Permanent exile.  An attempt at appeal in ten years, but it would have to be done out-of-country, and with all twenty-one heads present--making it impossible.

"You're gonna need to wait a bit," the shipmate at the walkway leading from the dock said, eying his armor and the guards appreciatively.  It almost appeared the guards were there to protect Garek--their armor was ornate, though not quite so much as his, and all three had a weapon in reach.  Still, the paladin had no illusions--had he drawn his weapon for virtually any reason, they would draw, as well, and he would be thier first and only target."Captain doesn't allow any passengers on board until all cargo is stowed and secure."

Garek nodded, and walked to the end of the dock, staring out at the ocean.  "To Weatheroot," he said softly.  Leaving the country wasn't new to him--he'd done it dozens of times in his career.  But the thought of leaving the land that he was born, raised, and trained in much as he didn't want to admit it, that did shake him, just a little bit.

But there were more important things to be done, anyways, weren't they?  He still had a goal.  Still had an endgame.  Still had something that he had to do.

Hurried footsteps on the wood of the dock sounded behind him.  The exiled paladin paid them no mind, assuming them to be another shipmate, until he heard his name called out.

He turned to see Cadeus approaching him quickly, and then embracing him.  "I'm sorry, child.  I'm so sorry."

Garek returned the embrace.  "It's of no matter," he finally said as Cadeus stepped back.  "There is work to be completed elsewhere.  Good work."

"It breaks my heart," Cadeus finally said, softly.  "Seeing you leave.  I love you as if you were my own, boy."

Garek nodded.  "If you hadn't been there, after they died...I don't know how I would have turned out."

"All right, paladin, come on board!" the shipmate at the walkway yelled to him.  "All the cargo is secure, we're casting off!"

"On my way!"  Garek closed his eyes briefly, then called upon the Light.  He opened them to see slight auras surrounding Cadeus, the sailors, the two guards, but none of them signified evil.  He reached into one of the pouches on his belt and withdrew a sealed parcel.  "Don't open this until you can no longer see the ship on the horizon, Cadeus." He said, before he leaned close to his surrogate father and whispered, "and burn it before you let anyone else think of reading it."

With cleverly-hidden heavy footsteps, Garek, exiled paladin of the Order of the Silver Wing, walked down the dock and up the walkway to the The Losgud, the decently-sized cargo ship leading to Weatheroot, one of the largest cities in the Vigilant Empire.  He nodded at Cadeus, who had a hand raised in well-bidding, and went to find the captain, knowing his entire life had changed.

Continue to Part Three.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Censorless, Part Three

This is Part Three of the story.  Part Two can be found here.

"It's a bit small, ain't it?"

"Well it's supposed to be small," Harris explained.  "It's a holdout pistol.  You can hide it under a belt, or in a boot."

The shopkeep frowned, turning the small firearm in his hands.  "And it only holds a single round?"

"Umm, that's correct.  It's not meant to be used as a primary weapon, though, it's a backup.  Something a lady might use, for example, for personal protection."

The shopkeep grunted as he pulled out the chamber to make sure the weapon wasn't loaded before peering down the barrel.  "It's not even rifled."

Harris winced inwardly--it was sloppy to not rifle the barrel of the gun, but he didn't have the proper tools to do so, and if he botched it by using poor tools ill-suited to the task, he'd likely ruin the weapon completely.  "It's a weapon for safety," he said again, almost defensively.  If he wasn't able to sell the weapon, then he'd be stuck in the most expensive city on the planet, as close to penniless as mattered.

His hand, hidden below the counter, twitched, as if he was searching for something in the air.  Very slowly, very carefully, as if too quick a movement would send whatever elusive dust mote he sought scurrying into hiding.  "I assure you, it will sell," he said, almost as a distraction.

There.  His forefinger traced a line in the air, as if it was gliding atop an invisible surface.  Then, his finger twitched sharply.

The shopkeep nodded, slowly.  "Yeah, I think I could move it.  I'll give you fifteen gold for it."

Another twitch.  "I was hoping for something a bit...higher," Harris said.

The shopkeep furrowed his brows.  "I...suppose I could go for...thirty gold?"

Harris considered pressing his luck further, but knew it wouldn't be a good idea.  "Deal," he said.

The shopkeeper reluctantly counted thirty gold Imperiums into a small leather sack, a frown on his face the entire time, as if he had an idea that this should have gone quite differently.  Harris took the money from him and turned to walk out when the door to the shop exploded inwards, with the force of a mighty shove, one of the hinges snapping.

"Harris!" Kote said, his voice excited.  "Come on!  I have to cut this kid's hands off!"  With that, Kote tore off once again, running down the street with reckless abandon.

The shopkeep gaped, and it was impossible to tell if he was more shocked by the damaged door or the words of the young man who did it.  "Is he joking?" he asked.

Harris grit his teeth, shoving his freshly acquired bag of gold into a pocket in his cloak.  "He doesn't know how!"  He yelled, sprinting out the door and taking a hard right, the direction that Kote ran.  He could see his friend in the distance, absently barreling through people, jumping over small obstacles and dodging bigger ones.

"Hells," Harris said, running after him.  People saw him coming and moved out of the way, making his passage slightly easier than Kote's, but it was still almost impossible to keep up.  Back home, Kote was out in the fields and the forests near their home almost every day, gathering various herbs and minerals for his alchemic experiments.  Over time, he had developed a number of large circuits that he would take, doing a different route every day, running at a breakneck pace through the wild so as to devote as little time as possible to what he considered the 'boring' practice of gathering, and to save more time for his experiments.

Harris, on the other hand, rarely had a reason to run.  He had never really considered Kote to be his physical superior before, but it had become plainly obvious that he decidedly was.  After nearly ten minutes of their wild rush through town, Kote was nearly twice as far ahead as he was when Harris first exited the shop, and gaining.  In addition, Harris' breaths were more like gasps, bursting from his mouth like a battering ram through a parchment door, and Kote barely seemed fazed.

The chaos mage took a sharp turn into an alley, and Harris prayed that the chase was finally coming to a close.  He arrived at the entrance to the alley just a few short minutes later, and was pleased to see Kote standing only a few feet deeper in.  About ten feet beyond Kote, the passageway turned into stairs leading maybe fifteen feet down before the alley became a dead end at a wooden door with dark iron bands.

"What in the hells, Kote?" Harris asked between great whooping breaths, bending at the waist to put his hands on his knees.  He felt nauseous.

"I saw him," was Kote's reply.

"What?  Saw who?"

"The kid who stole your bag.  He was wearing it."

"What?  How do you know it was mine?"

Kote rolled his eyes.  "You've had the same bag for years, Harris.  It wasn't hard to pick out.  Anyways, I followed him here."

"And?  Now what?"

"I figured I'd cut his hands off.  Come on."  He began to make his way down the stairs, and Harris reluctantly followed him, trying to talk sense to him through his heavy breaths.  "Kote, you can't cut off some poor kid's hands."

"I'm not going to."

"What?  You just said you were!"

"No, I'm going to cut the hands off of the kid who stole your bag.  He's obviously not poor, even if he was beforehand, because we had enough gold stuffed in there to pay for both of our tuition at the University for a year."

"That--that doesn't matter, Kote," he said, but his comments fell on deaf ears as Kote pushed on the heavy door and walked inside.

"Oh, damn it all," Harris said, following.

Very little light penetrated this far into the alley, and the room beyond the door was lit only by a few dim candles.  It took Harris' eyes a few moments to adjust, and when they finally did, he wasn't very happy.

"Oh.  Well.  Hello, there."

Six men stood, each with a very menacing revolver pointed at the two teenagers.  The men were each heavily muscled, and they all looked like very qualified competitors for the title of 'The Most Scarred Man in the Land.'

"Yeah?  Hello, eh?" The man who looked as if he might have placed third place said.  "And who the hell are you, then?"

Harris opened his mouth to try and find a diplomatic way out of their predicament, but Kote saved him the trouble.  "That's Harris.  I'm Kote.  We're here to cut off the hands of the boy hiding behind you."

Harris' eyes widened in shock, and he noticed for the first time the child, maybe eleven years old, hiding behind the line of armed men.  And yes, that was indeed the backpack Harris had owned for nearly seven years resting firmly against his scrawny back.

"Really, then?" the second prize winner asked.  "And what gives you the right to threaten Harold's son?"

"He's a thief," Kote said simply.  "So I'm going to cut off his hands, so he can't steal from us again.  Then, Harris is going to take his backpack back."  Leave me out of it! Harris thought, but said nothing.

Kote considered for a moment.  "Backpack back.  Backpack back.  Backpack pack.  It gets harder to say that the more often you say it."

The men exchanged wry glances with one another.  "Well, we're thieves, too," Third Place said.  "Ain't that right, Fred?"

"Sounds about right to me," Fifth Place, 'Fred', replied.

"Yep, we're thieves, too.  So you going to cut off our hands, so we can't steal anymore, either?"

Kote frowned, obviously in thought.  "No," he finally said.  "I don't really care that you're thieves.  Not as long as you haven't stolen from me."  Then, as if an afterthought, he added, "Or Harris."

"I'm tired of this crap," one of them finally said.  "Let's just kill them."

Kote narrowed his eyes.  "Let's not."  He threw his hands out in front of him, making strange gestures in the air.  "Nommus Tseab!"

A vibrant bronze light began to shine from Kote's hands.  He quickly brought them together, seemingly molding the light into a small ball that he flung at the feet of the thugs.

The thugs took a cautious step back, but the sphere shaped itself too quickly for them to gain any real distance.  It began to grow, and four legs sprouted from it.  A head formed, and the light began to fade as the rough gray fur appeared.  Finally, the creature stood.

" Baaa," the sheep bleated.

The men burst out laughing.  "A sheep!"  One cried.  "Don't threaten the boy, or he'll summon a sheep and make us all new pants!"

Kote sighed.  "That wasn't really what I was going for," he said, and he began making more arcane gestures.  "Ria Tsrub!" he yelled, throwing his hands out before him.  A semi-visible pocket of air launched itself at the crowd, and four of them, plus the sheep, were thrown into the air, flying nearly ten feet back before slamming against the far wall, crying in pain as the cruel stone cracked ribs, skulls, and arms.

Harris' arms flung out, his fingers performing elaborate dances that no one could predict.  Finally, he made grasping motions with both of his hands, and made a great yanking motion with each.  The two guns that had been dropped on the floor were the first to fly towards him, followed shortly after by the four guns that were still held, each tearing itself from the grasp of it's master to fly through the air, clattering at the feet of the two arcanists.

"We need to cut off the boy's hands," Kote said.  "And retrieve our belongings.  But the rest of you can go."

"Kote, we're not cutting off his hands."

"No?  Why not?"

"Because.  That's a solid six.  Maybe a seven."

Kote sighed.  "Fine," he said, and he walked over to pull the backpack from the cooperating child.  He put the six revolvers in the top before shoving it into Harris' arms.  "At least we're not poor, anymore," he said, as they turned and walked back outside.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Next Chapter?

So I'm trying to decide what I should work on next...anyone have ideas on what my next chapter should be?  The choices are Sheaf, Censorless, The Quest, or a new story that hasn't been started on here yet.

Total Votes:

The Quest:2
Sheaf:  1

Looks like Censorless won!  Expect a new chapter Thursday morning.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sheaf, Part One

And so it is, as I near the end of my life, that I feel the need to once again take pen to paper, but, for the first time, to tell my own story.  For many years, I have walked over Ebonhurst, hunting down the truth for our wise and benevolent Emperor.  Before that, I traveled for no reason other than a sense of estranged wanderlust, a feeling that there was always something more important, some greater truth to behold, some greater story to be written over the next hill.  But, before that, I was the simple son of a bartender.  Before I was known as Sheaf, the Emperors Historian, the man with ink for blood, I was simply Joseff, the bartender's son.

"How's that stew looking?" Adem asked, the cords in his neck bulging as he lifted a large new keg full of ale and moved it to it's proper place behind the bar.  He was a large, tanned man with a shaved head and a bushy, dark brown beard.  He looked intimidating, some would say brutish, but there was a wisdom that shone through his dark eyes, and he was the mediator of many issues.  "Counselor, ambassador, cook, historian, and guide," he was fond of saying. "If you want to open a tavern in a small town, prepare to be all of 'em.  Oh, and you'll pour drinks sometimes, too."

"Should be ready in another hour or so," Joseff said, looking up from the thick tome he was reading, An Abridged History of Weatheroot:  Three Hundred Years of Chaos and Progress.  "I put some more onions in, since Whedon and Patrick have been eating in so much lately."

Adem frowned as he took a rag and began polishing the oak bar.  "Like they really need worse breath," he said.  "Still, it'll show 'em we approve of this years crop, and it's always nice to show the neighbors a kind gesture.  Now put that book down and get to sweeping, son."

Regretfully, Joseff memorized the top two lines of the page he was on so he'd be able to pick up where he left off later, and closed the book.  "Did you know that a lot of people think that Orodox lived in Weatheroot before he became a god?"

"No, never heard that."

Joseff picked up the broom and began sweeping behind the bar.  "Yeah.  Apparently, there are people that also believe that the Seven lived in the same mansion that Orodox owned after he ascended, and before they did."

His father looked at him, a stern expression on his face.  "You want to be quiet about that, son.  I know you don't mean any harm, but folks don't like hearing about the Seven."

"I know, but some of the stuff I'm reading makes me think that maybe they weren't as bad as everyone thinks they are.  One of the things in this book talks about how a group of orcs had kidnapped a few hundred citizens of Weatheroot, back when it was really small.  They were rescued by a group of seven warriors, led by a drow who wielded a fullblade, like Blaid, and this would have happened just a decade or two before the Seven ascended.  One of the warriors was a cleric of Heironeous, and in Warriors of Faith there's a mention of a powerful human priest of Heironeous named Alwa."

Adem grunted.  "So?"

"So think about it.  First of all, the time line fits completely.  We know one of the seven--Blaid--was once a drow, and he used a fullblade.  We know another of the seven, Alwa, was some sort of a cleric, and he used a longsword, which is the same weapon that Heironeous used, so it's not really a stretch to think that he may have worshiped Heironeous, or at least that he would have appeared to worship Heironeous.  And, this was right around the time that the drow started to vanish, so there couldn't have been that many adventurers out there that were comprised of seven warriors, two of them being drow--and An Abridged History of Weatheroot clearly states that there were seven warriors, one of which was a drow engineer, another of which was a cleric of Heironeous, and that they were led by a drow who wielded a mighty fullblade.  That completely fits with the Seven, before they ascended."

Another grunt.  "What race was the cleric?"

"Well, the author doesn't specify.  But, Maxwell Arison--the author--is a human, and he seems to always take for granted that, unless otherwise stated, an individual is human.  He's described orcs, goliaths, elves, giants, minotaurs, satyrs, dwarves, halflinsgs, but he never specifically calls anyone a human.  So you could assume that anyone he doesn't specify as being a race is a human."

"Sounds like your son has a very good head on his shoulders," a strange voice said.  Adem and Joseff both looked up from their respective chores to see a man had entered the tavern so quietly neither of them had heard.  He wore a black set of clothes, well-tailored, but obviously worn in, and the filled scabbard of a sword hung from his hip.  He raised his hands and lowered the hood of his dark cloak, and Joseff noted that the man was pale as one of the moons.

"Apologies, stranger," Adem said, quick to recover his wits and play the hospitable bartender.  "I didn't hear you enter, and I usually don't expect company for another hour or two, yet.  I'm afraid the stew we have isn't ready, but if you'd like something to wet your throat, I'm sure we can help."

The stranger nodded, and approached the bar.  "Would it be foolish of me to ask if you have any wine of elven origins?"

Adem nodded seriously.  "That it would," he said, before breaking into a large smile, "because I always make it a point to have cases brought back from Onegas anytime someone in town makes a trip that way.  I've grape, apple, darkberry, and maple wine.  What could I interest you in?"

"I'll take a glass of grape, sir," the stranger replied, laying a platinum coin on the bar.

Adem uncorked the bottle and poured a generous glass before spying the coin.  "I'm afraid there's simply no way I can make change for that at the moment, traveler," he said.  "You're our first company today, and only yesterday I sent a courier to Hearthridge to deposit most of our silver in the bank."

"No fret, friend.  It's been many moons since I've had elven wine."  He took a sip appreciatively.  "Delicious.  So."  He turned to Joseff.  "Been studying the Seven?"

"Um, not...particularly," Joseff replied.  "They've just come up in some of the texts I've read."

"They're actually quite fascinating.  And I'd quite have to agree with your assessment.  I've found nothing credible that states the Seven were, in fact, anything other than very competent and heroic adventurers before their ascension into godhood.  Quite the contrary to popular belief, they seemed to have been quite popular--even loved--before the Fall."

The Fall.  When the Seven, the once mortal adventurers who each ascended into godhood at the same time, brought their full divine powers to bear in an attempt to shatter the world.  Each was destroyed, but one survived slightly longer than the others, falling to the ground a charred husk.  He was unrecognizable, and all that could be determined was that he was one of the six males of the group.  He uttered one sentence, "I...didn't know...." before his death.

Understandably, people were enraged.  Mobs descended on temples of any of the Seven, on libraries that held knowledge about them.  Books, tapestries, scrolls were lit on fire, temples were destroyed, and now, because of all that, the truth behind the lives of the Seven was nearly impossible to track.

"I don't know about all of that, now," Adem said.  "I've heard my fair share about the Seven, but not much saying they were loved.  They had temples, sure, but so does Nerull, and I don't know many people that love the god of Death."

"Oh, I'm not speaking about their temples.  I've read numerous texts of adventurers that must have been the Seven saving various towns, freeing slaves, and many other heroic acts.  Some even point to them having embarked on a quest so important it was directly handed to them from the gods, and the completion of it was how they ascended in the first place."

Adem shrugged, clearly not agreeing with the stranger, but not being one to argue with paying customers.  Joseff, however, was intrigued.  "What kind of quest?"

The stranger chuckled.  "I daresay it would require quite a bit of research and travel to track down the answer to that question, friend."

Joseff nodded, and extended his hand.  "I'm Joseff, by the by.  Well met."

"Well met, indeed," the stranger said, grasping his hand.  "You may call me Sheaf."

Part Two

©2011 Cerebral Vomit DESIGNED BY JAY DAVIS