Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Lee of My Own


Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Journey For Heroes (part one)

Dolan was mildly surprised at how undemanding a master Sir Fexis was.  While going through a short list of chores Dolan wondered if he should have been grateful that the list was light or insulted that Fexis thought his capabilities so limited.  Ultimately, he was grateful to have hope of a second chance and so resolved to endure any slights.

Dolan arrived at Fexis' dwelling in the keep and was surprised at the visitor.  A tall woman with a 7-pointed star tattooed on her hand.  This time she was dressed plainly, almost like a thief, and without rouge or jewels.  The difference in dress and of manner left Dolan unsure if he should mention having met before or not, lest he give a secret away.

She turned at his entry and smiled.  "So we meet again!"  she said.

"You've met before?"  Fexis asked.

"Yes, last night.  I had to meet a client at the inn.  This young warrior looked as if he was going to slice poor Farbus in half and I couldn't let him do that."

"Well, that saves on introductions, at least."  He turned to Dolan "she and I are deciding who else to take on our adventure into the unknown.  You've got blade and board covered, she's impeccable at getting into places made to keep people out, and quick with a blade just in case"

"I thought you sold..."  Dolan said.

"After she steals them, kid."

"I don't steal, I recover."  Fortunestarrr said, unconvincingly. 

"Even if you steal from thieves and dead people you're still a thief."  Fexis said with a crooked smile.  "And you were still just a thief when you got caught and bonded to service for the Mage's Guild for ten years."

"Don't remind me!  I'm just hoping this little adventure of yours can get some time taken off that."

"I'll do everything I can.  In the meantime, I need to grab that weasel of a hunter Azorf.  He's perfect for this mission.  I need you to get someone from the Guild to come along.  Anyone you know who needs a break?  That we can count on?"

"I know just the person."  Fortunestarr said.

"Great.  Take the kid along with you.  Maybe they can use him to practice turning someone into a sheep."  Fexis said.  "Just kidding, kid."


***

Dolan was silent as they walked through the maze of buildings towards the Magic Quarter.  He was still awestruck at the splendor of the Keep and words kept escaping him.  Fortunestarr seemed like the quiet type and didn't seem to mind the silence.

As the entered the Quarter the air seemed to thicken and darken.  Dolan had always avoided anything to do with the various magicks that were practiced.  Some of it was simple fear but some was a far deeper worry at the workings of something he just didn't understand.  He wondered why that was so.  He had equal ignorance of mechanical tinkerers but the ignorance lacked that deep dread that came with magic.

They came to the apprentices hall.  After entering they were met by the headmaster of the hall, Magister Majol.  "What do you require?"  He asked, indifferently.

"I require Apprentice Nozira to accompany Sir Fexis on a quest of great importance."  Fortunestarr said.

"Why her?"

"Sir Fexis requires someone with talents of Arcane powers and spells.  That is Nozira's speciality, yes?"

"Yes.  But one so inexperienced?  Nozira has barely finished training.  Surely Sir Fexis would like a more accomplished assistant."

"Sir Fexis believes a newer mage might be a better asset as she has not become too specialized in her talents.  And someone so new to the arts may bring more energy and drive to our effort."

"But Nozira..?"  Majol pauses, then sighed.  "Well, I can't refuse a Paladin in any case, even Sir Fexis.  Wait here."

Dolan didn't know what to make of Headmaster Majol's reluctance and wonderment...until he saw Nozira.  She looked as if she was trying to fight the urge to hide.  She looked as if even looking up at anyone in the room was taking a massive risk.  She mumbled a vague greeting at Fortunestarr and didn't even look at him.

***

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Into The Keep

The late morning saw Dolan again try to enter the Keep of Goldenwood.  There were even more guards on hand than there were the previous night.  Dolan took little notice of this as he again presented his credentials.  This time, an officer of the Guard came to collect him.

"You're early."  Captain Vills said.

"Yes, sir."  Dolan replied.  "I didn't want to make a bad first impression, Captain, sir."

"Well, come on in and let's see how long that impression lasts."  Vills made a discreet gesture and the guards blocking Dolan parted to let him in.  Dolan studied Vills, and then the other guards and doubt struck him.

"Captain, sir, I can't help but notice that all us guards kind of resemble..."

"Each other, right?"  Vill finished.  "You've spoken with that vile barkeep at the Inn, haven't you?"

"Well, yes, Captain, sir."

"And, to bolster some near-treasonous speculations about Prince Vaduk's personal proclivities, he mentioned that the guards all have a similar appearance.  Is this correct?"

"Yes, Captain, sir."  Dolan said.  "If you knew he spoke that way, why haven't you dealt with him?"

"Partly because he's an excellent drinks-mixer but mostly because he's a worthless little troll.  But there's truth that we recruit with appearance in mind.  Having a contingent of guards at the keep who all bear a similar likeness gives the impression that the guards are everywhere and that the guards are more a force than a group of individuals.  And, it gives a sense of continuity - it's been done now for 5 centuries, after all."  Vills regarded Dolan seriously  "But being good with sword and shield are still important.  You weren't asked to come here just for your looks."

"Yes sir, thank you sir!"  Dolan blurted.

Vills made as if to speak but was interrupted by a messenger.  "Captain, Guard Lord Werces' compliments, you are to proceed to the Main Chamber at once!"

"Very well," Vills replied formally.  With a glint in his eye, he turned to Dolan.  "Come with me.  There is a ceremony officiated by the King, himself.  Chances are that you'll not see him again very many times, if at all."

Dolan was too awestruck to do anything but nod and follow.

***

The Main Chamber was rather less grand than Dolan imagined, but everyone had such grand notions that they were easily disappointed.  Gold and gems were tastefully adorned on a room that looked as if it would stand forever.  Guards, different from the keep contingent, watched the proceedings with stoic silence.  Dolan stood next to Captain Vills, to the King's left only 10 feet from the throne itself!  Across the aisle, three Paladins stood near the throne.  Dolan recognized Knight-Commander Blucus the Just and Knight-Captain Mortian the Brave among them, although the third, the youngest and shabbiest, was unknown.  This was indeed a day to remember for a few generations, Dolen thought triumphantly.  It was almost as if Providence herself ordained it.

And now, to fife and drum, came the king.  Striding up with dignified stride he moved past the paladins, the guards and all else to take his throne.  After a moment, the music stopped and the King rose.  Into the silence he said  "Men of Goldenwood Keep.  A grave crime has been committed against the Kingdom.  An artifact of great significance to my forebears and to the magnificent kingdom which they have wrought has been stolen by despicable scoundrels.  Are there men in the land who will retrieve it and bring justice to the foul thieves?"

"I, Sir Blucas of Athemere, shall venture south, through the darkwood and the jungles to the commerce town of Oraxis!"

"Is there no other?"  The king asked.

I, Sir Mortian of Ferrinholme shall sail beyond the sea, to the city Eracart, on the far continent of Rodlak!"

"Is there no other?"  The king asked again.

"I, Sir Fexis of Gideon's Hitch, shall go forth to the lake country to the west!"  he said, far less portentously that the other two.

"And is there no other hero?" The king asked.

This was it.  Fexis's being from his home province convinced Dolan in that split-second that Providence had indeed guided him here, in this place, in this time to do this mighty deed.  With no further thinking he cried out "I, Dolan of Gideon's Hitch shall search the land...for...um..."  The pointed looked he was getting slowed and then crushed first his words, then his spirit and then his dignity.  Even The King, without moving an inch, seemed to be ignoring him in contempt.

Captain Vills leaned in close and whispered deadpan "This is purely ceremonial.  They were all picked hours ago and you don't have the rank yet to do latrine duty, let alone a mission of this scale"

"I...am...so...sorry...I..."  Dolan whispered back, his mortification slowing his voice to a crawl.

"Don't worry about it.  It will be forgotten"  Vills said "in about fifty years, maybe forty if you're lucky.  The only consolation I can offer is that this may end your career with the guards, so you won't be around to have to live it down."

The rest of the ceremony passed in an anguish-induced haze.  Vaguely, he heard Vills talking as he numbly turned to leave.  He was jolted by a rough, armored hand on his shoulder.  "So!"  Said Sir Fexis, "A young adventurer from my homeland!"  Dolan nodded dumbly.  "I have need of a squire for this undertaking and Captain Vills tells me you're in need of some time away.  Come along with me and possibly you may redeem yourself!"

****

"You know, I'm beginning to think there's a really good reason this place is called Foulshire."  Trimble mused.

"What gave it away?  The huge spiders, the carved bandit signals, the graveyard which is twice as big as that town we passed through or all those ghosts in the trees?"  Enox asked peevishly.

"I think it was the ghosts that tipped it, Enox."  Trimble said after pausing for thought.  "Lucky thing we got those ghost-warding amulets."

"Yeah. You know, it's a pity that someone got us lost by asking the absolutely worst possible person to get directions from, do you know what I mean?"

"He looked alright to me."  Trimble said.

"Alright?  He had one eye, one arm, three teeth and two halves of legs.  And, coincidentally, he was selling ghost-warding amulets.  None of that made you think that sending us into ghost country was a wee tad suspicious?"

"Okay, okay.  How did we get lost in the first place?"

"Don't blame me!  I followed the map perfectly."

Trimble buried his face in his palm and muttered "You had it upside down..."

"Well, we're on the right track now.  We'll be a few days later than expected but we'll get there."


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Best Seat in The House

Some little while before the Philadelphia Rush "R40" show.  Okay, Geddy, Alex and Neil looked like ants dancing on a supernova but it was a straight-on view where I could see everything without turning my head.  Damn good show!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The New Vulgarians

I'm just tired of a lot of things I see on the webz. Overall, it's like the internet just either brings out the worst in people and/or allows the worst people a global platform to worsen everyone else. It proves that, despite the technological achievements of the last 500 years, when given a chance, the vulgar savage breaks loose.

I find this keenly depressing because I've always been an optimist.  I want to believe that, in time, humanity can push forward and be a better, more noble species.  Maybe what's going wrong is just that technology has finally completely surpassed our ability to cope with it.  It's a common theme in Cold War sci-fi that the heroes of the future pontificate about man's surviving his base nature by refraining from using nuclear weapons.  Bullshit.  Humans are not so inherently warlike that we couldn't refrain from using super-weapons without some heroic moral progress.  Human history is pretty messy but if were any more so there would have been no history to write.

The mindless primitive still lurks within, though.  There was a notion among intellectuals that television would be used as a tool to elevate the masses.  How crushed they must have been when Mr. Ed, Batman, The Brady Bunch and crass consumerism won the day.  Their grandchildren, the Internet Evangelists, must share that disappointment that the tool they thought would unite and enlighten the world is used mostly for griefing, stalking, kiddie porn, crudely drawn pictures of Charlie Brown doing Snoopy up the ass, spamming ads for penis enlargers and animal porn, Star Trek slashfic, fraud, libel and a near singularity of crass consumerism.  Are we really so advanced when this is the sum total of human thought?  Is this, in short, the best we can do?

It's a world which is the tragic answer to the question:  "What would you do if you could get away with it?"  On the web and in online games, anonymity gives let to the mindless primitive who faces no consequences involving meaningful loss or punishment.  Humanity learned a long time ago that even a successful war involved pain and loss to themselves and those on their side.  By the time the A-Bomb rolled around and the consequences of even a limited nuclear exchange were drastic it was understood that an all-out war was to be avoided.  True, every now and then a refresher course or two is required but when it comes to war, we're still not so savage as to go all in on it.   The next moral elevation in our nature will be when we can refrain from negative behavior when there are no immediate, physical consequences to be had.  Maybe the debased state of the internet is just the sort of mirror we need to see just how ugly we humans can really get.