Friday, June 22, 2012

Dearth of a Salesman

David's hand glistened with sweat after he wiped his forehead clean. His ceiling fan churned overhead, doing little to lessen the cloying heat and humidity.

"I would give anything to be out of this heat," he muttered.

He heard the sound of popping bubble wrap behind him. He swiveled his computer chair around and saw the imp hovering in midair in the center of the room. It looked fairly stereotypical: small, somewhat chubby, hairless and with bright red skin and tiny bat wings. Its canine teeth protruded outside its mouth. It held a short, tarnished pitchfork in one hand.

"I hear you got a deal you want to make?" the imp asked. It spoke with an inexplicable Texan accent.

"Er." David had never encountered one of the infernal denizens before and he wasn't entirely sure how to react. He'd read a fair bit about them and how they go about their work, though.

"I was mostly just talking to myself there," he said at last.

The imp's body slumped. "You sure?"

"Yeah, positive. Sorry."

The imp sighed and vanished. David turned back to his computer.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Good Olde Days

"Timmy, come down for dinner!"

Timmy bounded off his bed, sending a cascade of toys across the floor. He would clean it up after dinner, hopefully before his dad would see the mess. "A made bed is a happy bed," he always said.

Tonight the family was having roast beef, expertly made by his mother. She divvied up the portions while Father stood at one end of the dining room, smoking. Timmy wasn't old enough to smoke, not yet, but once he got old enough he would for sure start. Dad smoked and Timmy's personal hero, Wixia Kahn, also smoked. Dad didn't approve of Wixia. "Don't know how the youth got around to venerating a foreigner. All my role-models were from here, not thousands of miles away."

Come to think of it, Dad disapproved of a lot of things.

Timmy wolfed down his meal and even had seconds, but there was plenty to go around. Dad hardly touched his portion, opting instead to push it around. "You seem distracted, dear," said Mom.

Dad took a deep breath and exhaled twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils. "It's the damn higher-ups. They're looking to expand, even though everybody who actually does the work knows it's risky. We don't have any kind of foothold there and it's sure to cause back-and-forth." His voice took on a bitter note. "We're losing all kinds of ground to those damn Japanese as is. No time to waste it fighting among ourselves."

"I'm sure it will work out fine," said Mom, clearing Dad's half-eaten meal away. Mom was really good at calming Dad down. Sometimes, when Dad was especially stressed, the two of them went into the den alone and told Timmy not to bother them.

After dinner the family played with the family pet for a while. They'd just gotten a new one, and Timmy still felt pangs of regret. He'd played too rough with the old one and hurt its leg, so Dad forced Timmy to watch as he put it down. "You've got to follow through on your responsibilities, Son, and be more careful" said Dad as he broke its neck. "These things don't grow on trees, you know, and it takes a lot of time for them to grow large enough to go out on their own."

But the next day Dad had a new one, this time a girl. "Surprise!" he said. Of course she was skittish at first, still was at times, but she'd gotten a little used to her new owners. It was Timmy's responsibility to feed and water her, and to make sure her cage was cleaned every day.

When they put her away for the night, Dad escorted Timmy to his room while Mom cleaned up the den. Dad's keen eyes immediately noticed the trinkets haphazardly strewn about. "Timmychirix, what have I told you about keeping your bed made!" Dad roared. "I put in a lot of effort bringing it all home and the least you could do is respect that!" Dad's eyes glowed redly and smoke trailed from his open mouth as well as his nostrils.

Timmy curled into a servile ball on the cave's floor. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'll clean it up right away."

This seemed to satisfy Dad, who nodded curtly and left. Timmy carefully pushed the displaced goblets and amulets and rings, gems, and coins back into his ovoid bed. Dad wasn't being mean, Timmy told himself as he worked, he was being stern, making sure that I grow up into a dragon that would do him proud.

Friday, May 25, 2012


It woke her up again that night. That damn chirping. Enough was enough. It needed to be stopped.

Her apartment was small but opulent. She spent a lot of money on what sparse furnishings there were, but she could afford it. She did not want for money. This building, like many others in the area, was owned by her father. Her father's contacts in the construction business would be able to help stop the chirping.

She called men up and they set immediately to work. They tore down her walls and put up new ones of a soundproof material over the span of a few tortuous days. They chirped even louder at her brother's house, lurking as they did in his basement. She couldn't catch a wink of sleep. It was a godsend when the men told her their work was done and that her noise problems were ended.

For over a week she lived in bliss. Sweet, sweet silence filled her nights. But one evening, just as she was about to crawl into bed, she thought she heard something, a quiet stridulation. As she focused on it, it grew clearer, louder.

Somehow it had come back. She did not know where it could be hiding. Certainly not in the walls, which were now solid, impervious blocks of material.

She looked around her bedroom. Her eyes narrowed. She ran to the phone, calling up other men she had known her whole life. Many of her calls went unanswered, and the constant buzz of a dial tone or a ringing phone was a splendid respite from the chirping that assailed the other. Finally someone picked up. She told him what she wanted to have done, and when. He was confused. It was late.

She promised him double his usual pay if he would come down and take care of things. After a brief pause, he told her to sit tight.

The next four hours were torture, the bustle of groggy, working men added to the hellish chirping. At las , as midnight drew near, her apartment was cleared of all furniture, all appliances. They were in transit to a storage locker until this problem sorted itself out. All she kept was a single spare set of clothes, a flashlight, a pillow, and a blanket.

The culprit would be found. There was nowhere for it to hide.

She spent the next two days searching every crevice for her culprit. When she heard the infernal racket start up she as she lay, awake and impatient, she flicked on the light, squinted and strained her eyes (and ears, her poor ears) to find the tiny black insect responsible for this torment.

Nothing. It was nowhere in her small apartment, but it was still everywhere. She could hear it. It had to be here.

She got hold of the first group of men, promising them triple their normal wage for another job. They came down immediately and began affixing thick padding to the walls. It must be inside the walls, somewhere, somehow. Let it choke and rot there, so long as she had peace.

The night after the workmen finished was the best night she had experienced in a long time. It was peaceful, quiet, marvelous. The day after she would see about moving back her things, then--

The vestigial muscles in her ears twitched. The chirping. It had come back. How? Where? She took up the flashlight and set to work, trying to uncover the lair of this taunting imp. She worked long and hard and would not stop, no, could not stop until she found it.

Her brother visited her the next day to make sure she was okay. There was no answer when he knocked on her door and called out to her. He turned the knob to let himself in.

He bolted out immediately afterward. He made a phone call.

A wispy halo of gray hair surrounded the man's head. His lips were pressed together in a tight line when he came out of her apartment. He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses on his shirt slowly, surely.

He opened his mouth to speak. "Well, on the upside, her room is already well-padded."

Friday, May 11, 2012


The woman behind the table peered up at him through her thick glasses. Three other people, two women and and a man, paused in their labors in the area behind the tables. They stared at the tall man.

The greeter's nametag read "Hello, my name is ELIZABETH." Her voice carried a slight hitch when she asked, "Welcome to Greycon! Could I get your name, please?"

"It would be under R. Ramaj." The man spoke so quietly that the woman had to lean forward to understand him.

The woman chewed on the end of her pen, the white plastic already covered with small pockmarks, as she scanned the stapled reservation list before her. "R...R...Radden, Ralkin, ah, Ramaj." She turned to look over her shoulder and addressed the man behind her. "Joe, could you dig through the boxes and get the packet for a Ramaj, T?"

"Sure thing, Liz." It took a few seconds for Joe to retrieve the manila folder. When it was passed over, T's fingertips left red smudges on the yellow paper. "That's a pretty intricate costume, friend. This your first con?"

"First time here, yes. I have been to others, however. Thank you for your help." He doffed his wide-brimmed hat to the two of them before turning to his right and marching down the hallway, cutting through the other convention-goers.

Joe crossed his arms and shook his head. "I swear, that is the best Convention Carver getup I've ever seen."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lost & Found, Pt. 5

Jesson ran one of its tendrils over its hairless head, a nervous gesture it had picked up from prolonged human contact. Air whistled out of its spiracles in a frustrated sigh. "This has to be the stupidest thing you've ever done."

Trevor held his knife between his teeth and used both hands to keep the wriggling baby in place. The naked baby lay, giggling, on one of Trevor's old shirts. "I couldn't just leave her there." He hewed at the fabric, cutting excess pieces away.

"You don't know where that baby has been. You don't know who it belongs to or--"

"I know exactly where the baby was. I found her on that altar."

"In a temple, in a swamp, belonging to thrice-cursed Cs'e'erah! What if she was left there for a reason, huh? What if she was a sacrifice made to appease the Dread Sister?"

"Cs'e'erah should have been quicker to pick her up then, wouldn't you say?" Trevor tied the shirt's remnants into a rudimentary diaper. He cut away the tassels dangling from the preponderance of knots he had tied. The baby stretched out a hand to the flashing metal and cooed.

Jesson wrapped a tentacle around the child's wrist and jerked one of its eyestalks away when the baby stretched out to grab it with the other hand. Its other eye glared at Trevor, who had a satisfied look on his face. "Why did I agree to this madness, again?"

"Fame and wealth. Mostly the fame, I'd hope. I also think the compulsion may also have played a small role." The Bibliomancer stepped back lightly and dipped his head in a curt nod. "Let's name her Fortuna. That seems appropriate, given how lucky she was that we came through when we did."

"You are not serious. This child will just get in the way!" Jesson's voice had grown higher and shriller than usual, and magenta blooms were spreading over the Grinn's pale flesh.

"I'll keep her quiet, promise. The Borenan rebels will be able to take her off our hands once we meet with them. Or would you rather that Cs'e'erah receive this girl's energies?"

Jesson flailed two tentacles around, swatting at the drooping branches of a tree that had been unfortunate enough to grow in the wastes near Staxal. It could not win an argument with the human, not when he had his mind made up already. "If the child makes undue noise, I swear upon Maurcke that I will strangle the life from her myself!"

"Fair deal." Trevor lifted the baby and squinted skywards. "The day's getting on. We have some miles we can cover before it gets dark." He began walking to the northeast, feet squelching and sinking into the moist soil. He mumbled nonsense words to the baby as he went.

Jesson piped its frustrations to the uncaring wilderness and followed.


Sprusba squatted and rested his elbows atop his knees. His broad fingertips brushed the ground, gouging small furrows into the dirt and detritus. "Lady Lucinda, I found a thing."

Lucinda pushed past Kravin. "What is it?" she asked. She was tired of her journey, disgusted by her surroundings. Her hair, dirty and listless, twitched from the power she discharged in her ire.

The Chubs pinched a scrap of cloth between his thumb and forefinger. It hung listlessly, discolored and half-rotted by the time it had spent in the swamp. "Clothing fabric." He pointed at other pieces which lay on the ground. "More there and there."

Kravin rubbed at one dirty cheek with an equally dirty hand and asked the question before Lucinda. "Does it belong to him?"

Sprusba grunted. "Could be, could not." He tossed aside the cloth and regarded Lucinda with his deep-set eyes. "If he went that way, would be in the way of East Borena. Could be he went there. Easy to get lost in a big city."

"Easy to be found, too," Kravin said. The Mageslayer dropped his pack into the muck with a sodden plop and dug out a strip of dried fruit. "And Cs'e'erah would gain little by extending protection over a known fugitive, not with things standing as they do."

Lucinda shook her head. "He is craftier than that."

Sprusba chuckled. "He is crafty enough to know that you know he is craftier than that." The Chubs got to his feet with a quiet grunt. "It is my thought that we go along this trail."

Kravin remained unconvinced. "Why cut strips away like that? Was he wounded? They certainly were not torn loose. The edges are too straight." The Mageslayer chewed and swallowed a piece of the fruit. "I think it's a distraction. It seems to contrived and convenient."

Lucinda closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I agree. If we follow the wrong trail, we fall behind and it will be even harder to backtrack. That is something he would have done."

Sprusba nodded, though reluctantly. "Understood. We keep walking that way, then." The Chubs pointed out through the mossy canopy, at the mountain. It was not a good mountain, and Sprusba had aired his misgivings numerous times as they marched closer and closer to its base. Lucinda trusted in his judgment. After all, Chubs resided in the Rocky Succor, the long mountain range that stretched from near Nostrum, in Cahllyn's realm, through the Freelance regions, and into Greatah's domain before terminating to the west of Vijo Geme.

But she had a quarry to retrieve, and she would do this regardless of whether she had to climb to Staxal's peak or descend into the darkest bowels beneath the mountain.

Lucinda shifted her rod from one hand to the other. "Let us continue. We have a number of miles we can cover yet before night falls." She continued walking to the southeast, carefully feeling out the driest possible path with the butt of her staff. Kravin hurried to catch up, gingerly stepping around Sprusba.

Sprusba took a final look at the mysterious pieces of fabric strewn along the trail. A nervous rumble echoed through his stout chest as he followed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lost & Found, Pt. 4

Lucinda cupped her hands, closed her eyes, and splashed her face with water from the basin. She blindly reached for a nearby towel to wipe herself dry when she heard the knock at the door.

Sprusba's gravelly voice carried through the wood. "Lady, there is a Mock here who wants to see you."

Lucinda calmly continued patting her face as she stared into the brass basin. Her reflection looked back at her, blue-eyed and blond-haired. She looked haggard, and she saw more worry lines etched into her features now compared to the last time she had looked, in Admae. That had been a week ago, but it felt like months. She was tired, having slept poorly the night before. The bed had been comfortable enough, she grudgingly admitted, but Marone was not friendly territory.

"Lady? You alright?" Sprusba pounded on the door again.

"I am fine," she said at last. She tossed her damp hair over one shoulder and shrugged out of the brown-itchy robe the inn's proprietor had gladly furnished while her other clothing was laundered. She left it in a crumpled heap on the floor. The man pretended he provided this service out of the goodness of his heart and that it was a courtesy afforded to all esteemed travelers, but Lucinda knew that the Freelance city of Marone remained Freelance only in name. It lay too close to Cs'e'erah's borders to not favor that Sister, and it catered to followers of the two Brothers only so that the illusion could be maintained, and that its inhabitants might play the factions against one another.

She smiled grimly at the thought of encountering a band of Maurcke's followers. The bloody debacle which occurred at Erron still haunted her dreams. Once she finished this mission, she would resume balancing the scales by slaying the members of Maurcke's hordes, one creature at a time.

Lucinda quickly dressed in her Elementalist's attire and draped her amulet around her neck. The weight of the blunt crescent that marked her as a Chosen of Cahllyn reassured her, and she felt the conduits linking her to her patron open. She flicked her fingers one at a time and tiny sparkles of energy flitted from their tips.

She crossed the room and opened the stout door. The Chubs stood before her, hands curled into great bony fists. Sprusba peered up at her with deep-set eyes and a rumbling growl echoed out of his broad chest.

"There is a Mock here," Sprusba repeated. "Will I remove it?" He sounded unsure of himself, and Lucinda could hear him grinding his teeth.

Lucinda pressed her lips together. "What does it want?"

"It says it has information you would find interesting. It would not tell me what."

"I have no time for a Mock's foolishness. Are we ready to move onward?"

Sprusba jerked his head downward in a quick nod. "Kravin got supplies like you said. He waits outside with our things."

"Then let us go. Our quarry's trail grows colder with every moment we dawdle." Lucinda strode past the Chubs, down the short hallway that led to the inn's taproom. She heard Sprusba's heavy footfalls on the plank floor behind her as he followed.

The inn had been functional. Not good by any stretch of the imagination, but far preferable to a night spent eating a meal of trail rations and sleeping on cold dirt. She saw the table the three of them used the night before, off in a corner away from the ebb and flow of the place's usual customers. They had received some strange looks--Cahllesque travelers did not normally come out this way--but no one had bothered them. That suited Lucinda perfectly. The fewer who knew about their reason for being here, the better.

She saw the innkeep, a human, behind the counter, counting money. He shoved the coins aside when Lucinda entered the room and his face assumed a fawning expression. "Ah, Judicator, you have awakened. I have taken the liberty of seeing the objects we had laundered delivered to your Soulweaver, for your convenience. He awaits you outside."

Lucinda nodded at the innkeep. The sooner she was finished with Marone's facile kindness, the better. The traitor could not be much farther off, and when he was captured, in spirit or in flesh, she could return to Imfera, to civilization, to a place where she need not worry about a Freelance Stalker who craved the prestige of killing one or more of Cahllyn's Chosen, or where Maurckian assassins could wait around every corner.

Lucinda stepped outdoors and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the bright morning sun. Kravin stood next to their packs, the palm of his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Marone's townsfolk passed by on the street, ordinary men and women going about their daily labors. They slowed to ogle the group of three only so long as it took for Kravin's or Sprusba's gaze to fall upon them.

The slender man inclined his head at Lucinda. He said, "We are ready to depart, soon as you give the word, Judicator," his voice a low murmur.

Lucinda raised a hand. "A moment, Kravin. Sprusba tells me a Mock was just here?"

The Mageslayer nodded and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "I saw the beast skulk away in that direction. It looked as though it was up to no good."

"Mocks never are," Sprusba grated. The Chubs Corsair snorted and picked up his heavy warhammer from where it leaned against his pack. "They receive their name for good reason. It is good it was not here when you came here, or we would not be rid of it, unless it was in a way that would upset the people here."

Lucinda gathered her own gear. She felt a familiar tingle of crackling energies as her hand closed around her staff, a five-foot length of blue-tinged metal topped with a square-cut piece of amber. She felt the power pulse in her chest, amplified by the magical rod. She did not fear the physical presence of one of the cat-beasts, but she did fear the attention their incessant yammering could bring.

Lucinda pointed at the black smudge which peeked over the horizon. Staxal, the cursed mountain, an unmistakable marker of the boundary where the ostensible neutrality of the Freeland gave way to the tainted realm of Cs'e'erah.

Anxiety filled her, and she resisted the urge to release it. Imfera was far, too far, away. "We continue to the southeast."

Kravin rubbed at his freshly shaved chin. "If he has crossed over into Cs'e'erahn land, what then?"

Lucinda's eyes were hard. "Then we follow. We shall catch him and deliver him, dead or alive."

Lucinda did not look back once they were on their way.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lost and Found, Pt. 3

Kathan stood before Im-Slatner when the Minion opened his front door. The feline creature, who was covered in short blue-gray fur except for the brilliant white-blond ruff about his shoulders, glanced askance at Im-Slatner. Before the Minion could ask what the Mock was doing here, it had writhed between Im-Slatner's legs and the door frame and into Im-Slatner's home.

"It's abuzz, all of it!" Kathan purred in delight. "Oh, things will happen soon!"

"What things? What is happening?" Im-Slatner shut his door and glared at the Mock with his slender hands curled into fists.

"The Cahllesque group! Ke-he-he, not just a group passing through, no, but one here, led by the Lady Lucinda!"

Im-Slatner stiffened. "What could she want here?" he asked, keeping his tone as conversational as possible. He prayed the Mock could not detect the apprehension that tugged at his body, the chilling tingle centered at the base of his spine.

"She's chasing an outcast of some sort. I guess an ex-Corsair, one that swore off Cahllyn. Usually they can't be bothered with that, right, but this one has apparently done something that met with great disapproval." Kathan chortled and swished his tail back and forth.

Im-Slatner could not keep fear from creeping into his voice. "Was his name mentioned? Did you manage to get a name?"

The Mock's eyelids lowered and his mouth curved into a sly smirk. "Worried, are we? Does the Cs'e'erahn fear that he unconsciously brought the ire of one of Cahllyn's finest Judicators upon his head in the regular course of business?"

Im-Slatner had no time for Kathan's games. The Minion snapped out a long-fingered hand and released his breath in a low hiss. A green haze spread from his lips and twisted around the Mock, who had fallen back in a servile cringe.

Kathan mewled pitifully for a moment before breaking into a fit of hacking and coughing. His forelimbs pawed at his head in desperation, trying to push away the foul miasma Im-Slatner had invoked. "M-ahl-Morris! Maurice! Ghak! Some-hek-thing!"

Im-Slatner cut the invisible bonds of power linking him to the Dread Sister and his incantation faded moments later. Not the Corsair Lars, then. Well, likely not. The Mock would not have lied. The craven species blustered and reveled when they held positions of power or possessed some sort of leverage, but quickly turned to fawning when exposed to any real threat. Though Kathan was an infamous purveyor of rumors around Marone, even he could be wrong.

"How would you like to earn some coin?"

Kathan's ears perked up. Mocks were greedy, too. "Will I have to something dangerous?"

"Perhaps. You are to deliver a message on my behalf."

"To the Cahllesque woman." Kathan sat up, straightening his back and puffing out his mane.

Im-Slatner pressed his lips together. Mocks were selfish cowards, but they were not stupid. "Yes."

"This message will be a deceit."

Im-Slatner goggled at Kathan, who gave a high-pitched giggle. "Your skill lies in Cs'e'rahn magics, Bonedaddy. Mine is in this thing which you ask me to do."

"It will not be a complete lie."


"Inform Judicator Lucinda that Sister Ophelia was just sighted in Marone."

Kathan's lips drew back from his pointed teeth in a feral grin. "The devastation holds the potential to be phenomenal."

"Indeed it does." Im-Slatner reached into the pocket of his robe and and retrieved a pouch. He tied a long leather thong around its neck and held it out for the Mock. Kathan crept forward, eyes wary, and snatched the bag to inspect its contents. They apparently met his satisfaction, as he purred in contentment. Im-Slatner pulled open his front door so the Mock could leave.

"I was under the impression that Cs'e'erah stood neutral in the war between Cahllyn and Maurcke," Kathan said as he stepped outside.

I'm-Slatner said, "The Dread Sister loves her two Brothers equally. She simply loves herself far more."