Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Town of Unusual Middling

The Town of Unusual Middling
David Stout

You know in my life I’ve seen plenty of people come and go through this town. Merchants, settlers, soldiers; just about everyone has come through this town and have left something behind. That’s kind of the point to this town; it’s more or less a stopping point for most while for others it feels more like home than the very place they’ve grown up in. All kinds of people from just about every kind of place and every walk of life live here and at first you’d think we were a city but that’s not exactly how this place works. For those that have lived here the longest, they tell that the town shifts every now and then, as if to keep certain groups together, but every once in a while newer people from other points will come and visit. There are even specific buildings that are focal points, like the grocery store, the bar, and the local bookstore. I have friends like Jared the Centaur who follows a strange religion that the closest I could compare it to is a combination of Hinduism and Jewish mysticism, then there is Farlen, the wolf man who is a devote catholic, and Minerva, the actual goddess from mythology. She doesn’t believe in any higher power than herself, but that’s to be expected of an ancient being like her. Funny thing though is that none of them have a problem with the other’s faiths, mostly because they chose to live in this town. It’s more a less a safe haven for those who are open minded enough to find their way here, but that doesn’t mean that everyone gets along. Again just because the town shifts so that people can meet, that doesn’t mean this place is going to bring the most easy going people together; we’ve had our fair share of spats and they’ve all left their marks here. I’ve even been in a few of these scraps, though I’ve been lucky in making amends quickly and gaining a few friends. If you’re wondering how time works in this place well don’t worry because it seems it works normally, though people seem to be off by five minutes each time. You could imagine how annoying this is for those that already have a bad habit at being five minutes early or being five minutes late; though in truth everyone always seems to arrive on time regardless; unless you leave later than five minutes. Then you’ll be five minutes of one or the other, depending on how your feeling.

 Again some of the older members of the town had gotten together to try and make things easier for the residents by mapping the areas and how exactly they work. It’s also for any visitors that seem to come by; what is great is that everyone can read it if you speak at least one of the five most common languages: English, Klingon, Elvish, Infant, or Plant. Yes “Plant” is a language and you’d be surprised how common it is in other places. I don’t exactly speak it myself but my friend Joe the Elder Tree says it’s not hard to learn if you have a couple of centuries to spend.  He’s an expert in various languages actually, could tell you how to sit down in Gaelic, Spanish, Draconic, Quibble, and even Time Lord. He prefers English, but that’s just how it works. Don’t worry though if you can’t read it, there is always someone who can translate it for you. It’s the town’s way of being helpful and for introducing you to some of the colorful characters that live here. Ah my manners your probably wondering who I am and what the name of the town is since you’ve probably been curious of ever coming here. Well I can tell you my name, but the name of the town is something that goes unspoken of unless you plan on staying here permanently, it’s one of those “power within a name” kind of thing. For those that want to live here but aren’t here, you won’t find this town as it won’t want to be found if you know it’s name. Trust me, this is a town you’ll want to find when it wants to be found by you. Oh right I was going to tell you my name and how I got here.

My name is Joseph Sterling, and I came here a long time ago, I was actually looking for a new place to live but also wanted to travel abroad for a time. My head was full of ideas for stories but I wanted to garner some experience for myself, mostly to help influence my work and to of course be able to regale some of my travels to friends and family. I was traveling through the Midwestern states of America and was slowly making my way down south to the more desert regions to find some native artwork. I didn’t have much money left, and I was looking for a place to work for a while like a farm or a small shop, of course this was me being na├»ve due to lack of proper nourishment and having decent luck with people. Honestly had I been wiser I would have dragged one or two friends along with me just to keep the journeying from getting too out of hand, but I was a little too eager to start my trip and I had only been traveling for about half a year. I wasn’t exactly sure which state I was in, somewhere between Nevada and Arizona. I’m not great at geography in truth, so really in a sense I was meant to find this town and maybe you are too. I had both stumbled upon and literally stumbled into a diner, where I was greeted by what I thought at first was a hostess in costume. She looked like a witch, and I would find out later that she was indeed a witch. However I thought the diner was having a special theme day and it seemed like everyone was enjoying being in a costume. Then I got my first hint that all was not right when I met a centaur, someone who would become one of my first friends of the town: Jared. At first he and the others assumed I was from another part of the town and had just crossed a rift, and that I was making jokes about their appearances. Until I had caught the eye of a very open minded octopus and had caused a scene when I noticed that it wasn't a costume but actual flesh. That was my wake up call and after a quick mental break down, I had asked where exactly I was and if I was either dreaming or dead. From there you could guess how exactly I came to live here.

You are probably wondering if I miss my family, well that’s the nice thing about this place. You can still keep in contact with your home world, dimension, time, etc. and even visit whenever you want. After all, the town isn’t greedy and knows that if you like it here that you’ll be coming back in no time. Traveling to other peoples realms is a bit trickier but it’s not impossible, especially if you have someone from that place to guide you through. Some realms are more accepting of other beings, while others will see most species as a sign of invading forces, so really there is a list of what places to avoid or who to bring with you when you want to go on vacation.

Well it’s getting late and I really must be going but thank you for the time spent and for hearing me out. I hope you make your way to where I now live and hopefully we’ll see each other there soon. Have a pleasant evening.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Bartender's Speech

A Bartender's Speech
David Stout

“I was once an adventurer like you, but then I learned that the world is a much crueler place to live in.”

The old bartender spoke as he worked at cleaning his bar top.  A female human mage fresh from her graduation at the local magic school and her two friends, an elven male rogue and a female half-orc barbarian, were listening intently after bragging about how they were going to start their first real adventure for the mercenary guild they joined together.

“Listen well young ones, and yes elf I know you’re still young for your race so that still applies to you, but the world you are so excited to be a part of is more dangerous than your illusions of grandeur have made you believe them to be. You’re bonds of friendship will be tested on a good day and that’s if you’ve been close to death more than twice that day. I recommend you find yourselves a good healer, or at least one of you knows the basics in first aid, but the good news is that you eventually get used to feeling sharp objects piercing your skin. Oh and that’s not including building a small immunity to fire, ice, and lightning spells, slowly building up a resistance to various toxins, and of course the sites you’ll see might even drive you mad. Death will be one of the most common things you see, to the point that you might even see the reaper itself at some moments in your travels, worse any gods you believe in will be so familiar to you in sight that you will eventually be able to correct various artist depictions when you reach some of their shrines.”
The mage looked uncomfortable, shifting in her seat a bit while her half-orc friend’s expression remained dour but interested in what the bartender had to say. The elf was nursing his ale, both interested but uncomfortable at what he was hearing so far. The bartender poured some red wine into a mug and placed it in front of the mage and nodded at her to drink.

“You’ll run into monsters that you’ve only read about, heard stories of, or even seen from a safe distance, and then there are the bandits of various races and genders who’ll be ruthless when in numbers, but cowards when their singled out.  You’ll need to rely more on your brain than just your skills with a blade or your fancy spells, tactics and team work will keep you alive longer than working and fighting alone. You may think you know that now, but you’ll lose your wits when the pressure is on and your mates are falling over due to various reasons. Never rely too much in your ability to fight, but remember that words can only go so far, and even coin will not get you everywhere you need to be. Sometimes you will run into allies that will turn out to be enemies and vice versa, so don’t always be too trusting to what you see or hear. A little digging goes a long way when you are doing research, but only make as much time for it as you can spare for it. If you feel you have no time for it then make the time as going into anything blind is guaranteed to end badly for you. Learn to go under different names and changing your appearances, as being heralded as you are can be bait for something sinister.”

The rogue motioned for more ale which the bartender obliged to grant. After he filled the mug he looked up when two more characters entered his tavern: a female half-elf bard and a male dwarven ranger, with a falcon perched on his left shoulder. The dwarf pulled up a stool next to the half-orc and was greeted by both a nod and the bartender placing one of his larger tankard filled with the strongest drink he had in the place. He then motioned towards the falcon on the dwarf’s shoulder towards a freshly caught mouse in a mouse trap for the bird to feast on. After a small exchange of glances between the bird and its owner , the falcon happily flew to its new meal with the bartender resuming to speak.

“There is so much reward though to be had though. I have many treasures of my own, enchanted blades that never need to be cleaned and still generate auras of their ancient magicks placed upon them, various bags that could hold almost an infinite amount of supplies, plenty of gold, jewels, and even special charms that will grant various boons to their holders. I have maps of the dungeons, ruins, and various palaces in this nation, charts that map out the vast number of planes that are filled with even more exotic  flora and fauna that could dwarf some of the these creatures in the world. I can tell you about the demons, dragons, ancient elementals and even dead gods I have helped put into non-existence, the various undead and abominations of the sea that could swallow a whole fleet of ships in one gulf, the machinations of evil tyrants, the hopes of noble leaders, the courage of greater heroes, and the cowardice of fools. Hear me well new comers, there is much to learn in this world and the ones beyond, but only if you survive whatever it throws at you. Remember the injuries you sustain and honor the friends that are lost, but don’t throw your lives away if it will not be meaningful in the long term. I wish you luck on your journeys but understand that even luck is something that can be controlled for both your benefit and your own downfall. The drinks are on me this time, but the next time around be ready to pay with either a good tale of what has happened to you or with the coin you have rightly earned.”

The bartender gave a hearty laugh and a few of the group joined him in their merriment as they raised their glasses in celebration. After they had finished their drinks and have left the tavern another small group of adventurers entered while discussing what they will do after they have gathered their reward for their first assignment. Some were talking about spending the gold on fancier gear, others on saving it for a place to call their own, while the bartender merely laughed at them. After they have quieted from hearing the laugh, the largest one of them, a male human paladin, walked up to the bar and asked what was so funny to the bartender? The owner smiled and motioned for the group to have a seat and began with these words:

“I was an adventurer like you once…”

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Sound of a Pocket Watch

The Sound of a Pocket Watch
David Stout

I can hear the ticking of the pocket watch still, it’s how I concentrate and enter my own state of “zen”. My master told me each great swordsman had their own way, his was the sound of crickets, his master was the sound of a waterfall, and I chose mine to be the sound of the pocket watch my grandfather gave me. Each sound had its own meaning to each swordsman, the sound of crickets for instance was my master reminiscing a summer’s eve on the grassy plains. For me the sound of the ticking meant how a life passes in a second, and how close to my own end I can be within one of those passing seconds. Today though, today I do not believe my life will pass. No the one in front of me, the man that is standing with his rapier at the ready, this man’s life will pass within a second. I can see the sweat start falling down from his brow, I can hear the heaviness in his breath, and I can smell the mixture of fear, anxiety, and anticipation coming off him. I look into one of his eyes hoping that the reflection of myself was calm and collected. I am not, but not for lack of trying though, I seem to be shaking slightly and I remember what my master said again. I need to let go of it all, my own doubt, my own fears, and I need to just concentrate on the sound of the ticking. I slowly match the beats of my heart keep pace with the constant ticking of the pocket watch. I feel calmer, my own breathing giving me the reassurance I need by how relaxed it sounded. I am ready for what will come next, even if I am wrong and the next couple of ticks are the sign of my own end.

Slowly the two swordsmen circled each other, looking for any signs of an opening that they can use while sheathing their weapons. Derrick stopped and entered into a bushido stance showing an outward calm. Inward he was slightly nervous as this was his first duel and wanted to not lose more blood than was necessary. He had already forgotten half of the teachings his master gave him, which was one of his first lessons: you won’t remember everything in your first death match.

A regular sparring match between a teacher and student was something that would never really end in death, most teachers just threaten death as a way to gauge how serious their students wanted to learn, after all a dead student would discourage any real potential to ask for their teachings.  Those stories of brash heroes learning from the first excruciating moment of meeting their master are just that: stories. No true students are picked when they have learned the basics and have shown actual potential. That is when the actual training starts though and when they learn how life threatening the art is. Derrick’s opponent backed away a few feet, positioning his rapier in front of him and charged forward with a small cry of desperation.

Derrick waited patiently, his hand on the hilt of his blade. He closed his eyes and deafened the world around him a bit. He listened to the sound of his pocket watch ticking, matching it to the paces of his opponent’s feet.

He extended his hearing to encompass the shout of desperation from his opponent.
He widened his own stance and drew his blade.
Opening his eyes, Derrick relaxed his muscles.
He slowed his breath as his opponent’s blade was a few feet away.
Without a moment of hesitation Derrick moved like water and ended the fight in one blow.