Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tales from Ferelden; stories based on the DragonAge RPG series and computer games, part one

I decided to start GMing a DragonAge RPG this month, and am having such a good time I decided, being a writer, and, as GM, essentially narrator of the game, to storyline the characters' adventures for the fun of it.  The games, campaign arcs, and world copyright the makers of DragonAge; characters copyright their respective owners.

            Late spring had fallen on Ferelden in the form of late, icy drizzle that worked its way under the armor to chafe massive sores where it rubbed and chill to the bone.  It had muddied the Northern Road to the point everything that traversed it was covered in thick sludge.
            For Arden, it was just one straw closer to breaking the metaphorical camel’s back.  First, he’d been sent halfway across the continent in search of new and exotic materials for his forgemaster, the legendary armorer Wade of Denerim.  Sure, Arden had wanted to travel, but this time of year the weather was fickle and he hadn’t known what to prepare for.  Second, given Wade’s…finicky tastes in armoring materials, it had been nigh impossible finding enough variety to justify the price of the trip.
            At least, finally, he was on his way back to Denerim with his small supply caravan.  The weather was making travel difficult; he and his escort had been forced to push a loaded wagon out of deep mud.
            Arden was exhausted and irritable when the small city of West Hill came into sight through the misty rain.  Evening was starting to fall, and he was looking forward to getting his precious materials out of the elements so he could sit down and get a hot meal.  And sleep.  Sleep would be nice after far too many hours on the road.
            The apprentice weaponsmith got the horses stabled, rubbed down, and the carts packed away, then all but drug himself to the inn.  The warmth of the place made his cold, damp skin immediately start to sweat, but he had no complaints.
            There were few patrons; Arden noticed a slim redhaired Dalish Elf woman sitting at a table near the fireplace with a Circle Mage eating what looked to be bread and thick stew.  Both, he noted jealously, were dry, though the woman’s hair still looked damp.  The two were talking quietly and barely spared him a glance.
He also saw a giant of a man in heavy leather armor with an axe and a huge “bastard” sword strapped to his back—a shield, short bow and quiver of arrows, too!—headed up the narrow stairs to the second floor, followed by an anxious-looking robed mage and a very small boy who couldn’t have been more than seven.  Other than that, there didn’t appear to be any guests despite the weather.
            Good.  That means I’ll get a room.
            Arden went to the bar and waved at the serving girl at the far end.  She came over and regarded him with what he figured she thought was a sultry come-hither look.
            “A meal, a room for the night, and a hot bath,” he told her.
            The serving girl sized him up, then brought him a brass key, leaning carefully on the bar so he had ample view of her cleavage.
            “Would you like your bath hot, ser?” she asked.
            Arden kept his attention on his pouch of money while he counted out his coins.  “Not in the way you’re thinking, sorry.  Thank you for the offer nonetheless.”
            She pouted and straightened, crossed her arms over her bosom.  “No company, no bath,” she told him flatly.  “Or dinner.”
            Irritation flared.  He was wet, hungry, tired, and sore.  He didn’t need a rude barmaid to add to his list of today’s grievances.
            “Fine.  Forget the bath, then.  And the meal.  I’ll just take a room and haul in my own water.”
            She slapped a room key down on the counter in front of him, then huffed off to the kitchen.
            Arden sighed and heaved himself up off his stool, grumbled his way upstairs.  At least he’d have peace and quiet the rest of the night.

             From the table by the fire, the Dalish Elf woman watched the soggy newcomer head upstairs.  She knew she and her companion, the mage Rylan, had looked much the same upon their arrival that afternoon, but several hours of warmth and dry clothing had improved their spirits immensely.
           Riari had been hired by the Mages’ Circle to escort Rylan from the Tower on Lake Calanhad to the Great Library in Denerim so he could do research on the Primal and Creation branches of magic.  Usually, Riari didn’t deal with mages.  She was more accustom to acting the guide to traveling merchants or the occasional band of adventurers throughout the wilds of Ferelden.  It wasn’t common for a mage to leave the Tower, let alone without a Templar escort.  Most mages were decent enough, but the Chantry—and its Templars—seemed to think all of them would be possessed by demons without church supervision, and they took great pains to convince the world—mages included—this was the case.  Riari didn’t believe them, but had heard stories of the occasional mage losing a fight with a demon, but she’d also heard stories of that happening to normal people, who let ambition or greed or vengeance blind them, too.  Either way, it was extremely rare, and quickly dealt with.  Riari was more concerned of a spell being miscast and being on the receiving end.
            So far, though, Rylan had been the perfect gentleman.  A bit nosy in his attempts to be friendly during their long trip by foot to Denerim, perhaps, but polite and helpful.
            With the worsening weather, they had agreed a dry night at an inn would do them both good after days on the road.  They had made good time reaching West Hill, and made arrangements shortly after noon, which had given them time to dry out and relax.
            She almost pittied the newcomer.  Almost.
            The evening had brought another interesting arrival as well.  About an hour before the latest traveler, a big man Riari recognized as an Avvarian Hillsman, had come in and settled at the bar, his heavy leather armor and weapons dripping with water.  He had eaten three plates of stew and secured a room by the time a young apostate mage had come in with a young boy in a state of shock.
            The Avvar warrior had gone about his meal while the runaway mage and the innkeeper spoke in hushed tones.  Even with Riari’s remarkable hearing, she couldn’t hear what was said over the sounds of the locals who had gathered for ale to ward off the day’s chill, but was able to gather the apostate wanted to leave the child at the inn before the Templars hunting him came sniffing around.  The innkeeper seemed concerned as to the boy’s welfare, but didn’t appear to want to be saddled with him.  There had been some arguing, then the giant had shifted and added himself to the conversation.
            The innkeeper left shortly after, and the Avvar offered to share his room with the apostate and the boy for the night as protection.  Riari had heard rumors of bandits during the trip here, and assumed they were the reason the apostate had a child in tow.
            “Are you finished?” Rylan suddenly asked her.
            Riari became aware she’d been toying with her food for the last few minutes.  She nodded, and the mage took both their plates to the bar.  She got up and headed upstairs to the room they’d procured earlier.  She didn’t like sharing a room, but until they reached Denerim she was short on funds, and, since she was supposed to keep an eye on the mage, sharing a room was more feasible.

             Solel gestured to the bed in the corner of his room as he stripped off his pack and set it against the opposite wall.
            “You and the young one may share the bed.  I have no need of it.”
            The renegade mage eyed him dubiously, so the big Avvar ignored him and unpacked his bedroll.  He didn’t particularly want to be stuck with this Anders fellow, but Solel had a soft spot for children.  The moment the apostate had told the innkeeper he’d saved the boy following a bandit attack that had seen the boy’s mother and older sister raped and murdered, and his father murdered for trying to stop them, Solel had known he would involve himself regardless of what the innkeeper said.
            And regardless that Solel was on his way back to his Hold in the Frostback Mountains, having been delayed with guarding a caravan for the past two weeks.  West Hill was the last civilized place he intended to see for a while.
            The innkeeper had seemed a decent sort—he’d run out to gather a group of locals to help hunt down the bandits, leaving Solel to offer his protection for the night.  The apostate, who introduced himself as Anders, was a bit reluctant to take him up on his offer, but Solel was a difficult man with whom to argue.  His size alone intimidated most people into agreeing with him.
            While Anders got the boy settled, Solel removed his armor, cleaned and dried it as best he could, tended his weapons, and went about setting a rather nasty surprise for anyone who might try to enter the room unannounced.
            “What’re you doing?” Anders asked, coming to peer over the giant’s shoulder.
            “Leg trap.”
            Anders made a face, impressed.  “That’s nasty.”
            “Supposed to be.  I told you I’d protect you and the boy for the night.  I keep my promises.”
            Solel grunted and continued his work.
            “Just one question, though, Avvar.  If we need to get up in the middle of the night to use the…facilities…how do you propose we do that without risking an important limb?”
            Solel nodded in the direction of the window.
            “That, or I’m sure there’s a chamber pot under the bed.”
            “Oh, right.”
            Solel finished with his trap and settled on his bedroll.  “When you’re ready, turn down the lamp, but don’t put it out.”
            “Smart idea.”
           Solel snorted.  “I’m just full of them.”

             Riari, too, set a couple of traps before climbing into bed in full armor.  At Rylen’s raised eyebrow, she shrugged.
            “Call me paranoid.  My kind aren’t exactly welcome most places as anything but slaves, and your kind are feared throughout Ferelden because of what you can turn into.”
            Rylan studied the door.  Riari had laid a pair of tripwires in close succession; one appeared to be just that—a thin line meant only to trip an intruder—the other attached to a small pouch.
            “What’s that?” he asked, indicating the pouch.
            Riari pulled the blanket up, laid her short sword beside her.  “Sneeze powder.”
            Rylan winced.  “Cruel woman.”
            “Just thorough.”
            The mage got settled in the room’s other bed; Riari was impressed to notice he had the sense to keep his wand with him.  She reached over and turned the lamp down so it barely gave off any light.
            “The nightlight’s charming,” Rylan commented.
            “Another necessity.”
            “Scared of the dark?”
            She shot him a glare.
           “All right, all right!  Sorry.”

             Arden sighed as he settled into bed.  It was good to be out of his wet, chafing armor.  He had taken the time to clean it and his weapons—Master Wade wouldn’t have taken him on as an apprentice had he not known to care for his gear—and laid them out to dry as best they could overnight.
            He still wished he’d been able to get a warm bath—he hadn’t had a way to warm the water he’d drawn from the pump, but he was warm now and—mostly—dry, and that made a world of difference.  He’d made a meal out of a few travel rations he’d still had in his pack; not much, but filling.  Now that he felt better, he also felt far more exhausted.
            He crawled gratefully into bed, oblivious to the scratchy straw mattress and the stiff blanket.  It still beat sleeping in the back of a wagon or on the hard or muddy ground.
           He was so eager to get to sleep he forgot to bolt the door or turn out the light.

             Arden was awakened at a freakishly early hour to the sound of a sword clattering to the floorboards out in the hall and quiet swearing.  The lamp on the nightstand had nearly burned itself out, but he could see enough to grope for his sword and scramble to his feet before the door was kicked in and he found himself face-to-face with a beefy local man wielding a longsword.
            Arden dimly heard shouts from the other rooms before he was forced to scramble to defend himself.  The intruder swung at him with a powerful two-handed strike he barely managed to block.  He and his opponent circled, trading blows, but neither could break the other’s defense.  Arden knew some basic combat training thanks to Wade’s coaching—“One must know how to use the weapons and armor one makes!  One can’t be an artist without the knowledge!”—and it seemed like the lout he was fighting had similar experience.
            The apprentice weaponsmith suddenly lunged in and caught his attacker across the arm, drawing blood, but received a slash across his chest in return.  Swords rang again, then the enemy was backing out the door, holding an arm to a nasty belly wound.
           Arden let him go—scrambling instead for his armor and shield.  He didn’t care if it chafed anymore.

             Riari cranked the lantern up in the same movement she unsheathed her short sword and leapt at the pair of bandits to come stumbling into her and Rylan’s room.  One of them hit the tripwire and sprawled flat on his face; the Dalish woman was on him immediately with a strike that laid open his shoulder.
            The other got a faceful of sneeze powder and wobbled unsteadily into Rylan’s path as the mage unleashed a surprisingly potent Arcane Lance spell.  Bright white lightning lit up the small room and the intruder, and set Riari’s hair on end from her proximity as she dodged a swing from the other man.
            “Rylan!” she barked, throwing him a glare as the mage’s opponent dropped hard to the floorboards, unconscious.  Her attacker, having met her brutal offense and seeing his friend sprawled on the grounds, made the sensible choice and fled.
            “Sorry!” the mage shouted back over the noise of the dissipating energy, though he looked far too smug over the success of his spell.  “Rather a good hit, if I do say so myself.”
            “It’ll be your last, you idiot!” Riari snapped, slapping at the resultant flames licking the doorframe.
           “But it worked…”

             Solel’s leg trap caught itself a rather unfortunate victim as well—the last of the bandits, intent in sneaking into the room to deal with the apostate and the boy.  What he hadn’t been counting on was the Avvar.
            Solel closed with him and in two quick blows it was over—the man fell head-over-heels down the stairs into the common room, practically on top of the stunned innkeeper before hobbling as fast as he could for the door after his companions.
            “Hey!” Anders said, looking after him, “that was one of the men that attacked the caravan!  These weren’t local bandit catchers!”
            Solel gave him a glance as he flicked the blood from his battle axe.  “Apparently not.  Someone must have told them you were here.”
            Anders looked utterly befuddled.  “That can’t be right—the innkeeper said the bandits were staying here and he was gathering a group to catch them.”
            Solel scowled.  “They attacked us.  Were we supposed to be the bandits?”
            Anders started pacing.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know.”
           The Avvar gestured him back toward the bed, where the boy was sitting up, wild-eyed.  “Stay put.  There might be more of them.”

             The shouting down the hall was getting louder.  Arden heard the sounds of fighting, then the loud, receding crash of a body falling down stairs, then more shouting.
           Realizing there might be more bandits attacking other guests, the young weaponsmith ran down the hall—barefoot but armored and armed with sword and shielf—to help.

             Solel heard running footsteps approaching from further up the hall and stepped into the doorway, throwing his arm out just as the man approaching reached him.
            The unfortunate Arden found himself effectively clotheslined by the massive Avvar’s arm, then was staring up at the giant in pure terror as the big man stood over him.
            “Hey, you got another one!”
            Arden had just a split second to see the mage from downstairs with the elf woman coming from down the hall, then he was hit by the potent zap of the mage’s Arcane Bolt spell.
            He had enough time to think, Well, this is the perfect ending to a horrible day… before blackness swept over him in a ripple of white-hot electricity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finally got some time to post an update.
Yes, I successfully finished Camp NaNoWriMo in June.  I absolutely didn't like what I'd written, so I'm not going to post the rest of it...that and it was sporadic sections of scenes that wouldn't make sense unless someone had read a great deal of my older Immortal works.
No, I'm not going to do the Camp NaNoWriMo for August.  Work, lack of inspiration, and a funeral at the beginning of this month showed me it wasn't a good idea.
I'll try my best to tackle the true NaNoWriMo in November, but no promises.  Things have been complicated and I need to sort a few things out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo

     I have a dilemma on my hands this summer.

     This year, the group that puts on National Novel Writing Month is doing two "Camp NaNoWriMo" months...June and August, in which the same challenge put forth in November for National Novel Writing Month occurs: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
     I was debating to attempt at least one (if not both) Camp months this year, but that was back in November, before my finances grew tight enough I can't afford to replace my computer.
     Another complication is this: in November, with my current job, I have no work, so can focus on my writing all day most days for the month to easily make quota.  In the summer I work nearly 40 hours a week at hard manual labor in heat and humidity.  It will take a lot more willpower to reach the goals, even on a day-to-day basis with access to a computer.
     June is closing fast, so I need to reach a decision soon.
     If I decide to do it, I will be working further on the story I started back in November: Dragon-Child.  I made it to nearly 75,000 back then and the story's not done yet.  I won't be counting my earlier quota, of course, but definitely furthering the storyline since it's unfinished.

     Should I attempt a Camp NaNoWriMo?  Both?  Or not at all?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Vault, co-written with Dan V. part four

Raio motioned to her, but she ignored him and approached the bar instead.  Raio scowled; in all the time Banner had known him, he'd hated to be dismissed like that.  The girl made it look easy.
Must be history between them.  Banner didn't voice the thought aloud.  He didn't want Raio mad at him, too.
The girl appeared again, and this time she approached the table, bearing a trio of drinks.  She set a Blue Moon in front of Banner, and a Heineken at Raio's elbow.  She sat in the third chair, her back to the door and the crowd, and sipped her own drink--what appeared to be a hand-mixed cherry Coke with maraschino cherries floating in it; Banner could see the thick red syrup in the bottom of her glass.  She settled back and regarded him with sharp violet eyes.
She looked like any other young woman Banner might see in his line of work--average height, average build, average features.  Not too much makeup, and unremarkable red-brown hair long enough to be pulled in a tail--or braid like it was now--or tucked up and hidden under a wig or hat if needed.  It was no wonder Raio had chosen her; she could blend in pretty much anywhere.
Raio was still scowling at her over his beer.  She ignored him, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth, like she and Banner shared some amusing secret.  Banner sipped his beer and pretended not to notice.
He turned to Raio instead.  "What the heck is all the secrecy about, Raio?  You'd think we're undercover spies or something."
Judging from the girl's growing smirk, she felt the same way.  It made Banner wonder if she'd deliberately botched her tailing technique to tick Raio off.
"Oh, you know Raio," she said with a shrug.  "Likes his drama."
Raio sighed and indicated the girl.  "Banner, meet my latest protege, Capri."  He glared at her.  "And--I hope--my last."
Capri snorted.  "Don't believe him."  She offered Banner her hand in a firm, confident shake.  "He wouldn't give up his hobby for the world."  She sipped her Coke.  "It makes it all the more fun to drive him nuts."
Banner didn't doubt her.  Raio was former-CIA, now "retired" and had started a lucrative business to training security teams.  His "hobby" as Capri called it, was to recruit and in-depth train a select few for higher freelance work and exclusive private government contracts.  His specially trained operatives--like Banner--were allowed to live and work where and as they wished, but had the obligation to drop everything and answer when Raio required.
Banner was a little different from the others.  He could turn Raio down.
"Whatever you're selling, Raio, I'm not buying."  Banner crossed his arms over his chest.
Raio sighed again.  "Banner--"
"No.  No way.  Not after last time, remember?"
Raio made a face.  Of course he would remember.  Banner never intended to let him forget.  At least he had the decency to look guilty.
"It's not a big thing," Raio protested.
"Raio, no means no.  I've got a good job and a little something I'd call an actual life now.  Not interested."
Capri studied him.  "What's the matter?  Afraid?"
Banner ignored her mocking tone.  "No, but I'm not stupid, either.  He nearly got me killed last time.  Told me he wouldn't do it again."
"This isn't like that," Raio said quietly.  He looked stricken, but Banner didn't let it change his decision.
"No offense, old man," Banner answered, "but it always turns out that way.  I'm tired of it."
"Don't you even want to know what he wants before you turn him down?" Capri interrupted, seeing Banner open his mouth to cut Raio off again.
Banner shook his head.  "No, because then I'd feel guilty and inclined to change my mind.  Besides.  I have a good job I don't want to sacrifice.  I've already done that for him before."  He pinned Raio with a hard look.  "Twice."
"You owe him, Banner."
Banner nearly snorted beer out his nose.  "Owe him?  For what?"
Raio looked helpless; the conversation was utterly beyond his control.  Banner almost felt sorry for him.  Almost.  Given how Raio had treated him over the years, and up until a few moments ago still did, he couldn't, quite.
"He taught you everything you know!" Capri snapped, now defending the man she'd been harassed.
Banner grunted.  "Not true.  Not even half true.  And I think the last thing I did for him more than squared us."
"Then do it to one-up him," Capri suggested.  "Not many can say Raio owes them a favor."
"No."  He pushed his seat back and got up.  "Thanks for the beer.  Maybe next time you come to town you could just come to chat.  It's been fun."
"Banner." Raio spoke quietly, almost quiet enough he couldn't be heard over the pounding music.  "I'm sorry."
Banner shook his head.  "No, you're not.  If you were, you wouldn't be here."
He didn't look back as he marched out the door.

It was past two when Banner finally dragged himself home.  He bolted the door and heaved a sigh.  He didn't want to help Raio; he didn't want to screw up what little life he'd managed to carve out for himself in the last couple of years--he didn't care what he owed Raio.  His life might suck, but at least it was his.
As much as a run-down apartment and night job can be.  Who am I kidding?  It's not a life--it's barest survival.
He stepped around the pile of laundry he'd tossed in the middle of the living room and approached the aquarium by the bedroom hallway.  It was a seventy gallon saltwater tank; he'd chosen to put it where the hall and the far wall of the living room cornered so it was one of the first things he saw when he came home--it helped remind him to feed the fish, but also kept the light from crawling down the hall into his bedroom at the far end.
A smile tugged the corner of his mouth at the sight of the flame angelfish flitting between chunks of coral-covered live rock.  The black-barred bright orange fish had been the last addition to the tank, given the species' reputation of aggression toward newer tank mates.  As things were, everyone was getting along.
He opened the hood and sprinkled some food across the water's surface.  There was an immediate rush by most of the tank's occupants to gobble it down before the others did.
"Sorry I'm late, guys," he told the whole community, when even his shy blue-dot jawfish emerged from its den under a solitary piece of live rock.  "You've got to be starving."
They certainly acted like it.  He put some more food in, and this time some of it floated down where the invertebrate members of the community waited.  He watched them scramble for a moment, then shut the hood again.
The tank was pretty much the one nice thing he owned.  It had taken him years and a lot of money to set up the miniature reef, but it had been well worth it.
Watching the fish was calming after the tense meeting with Raio.  Banner sighed heavily and sprawled on the worn full-length sofa that ran along the wall to his right, between the tank and the door.  What a night off this turned out to be.
He heard the soft, hurried pad of footfalls approaching from the back bedroom a moment before he heard the chirp-purr greeting fro his big orange cat.  Banner hadn't bothered to turn on any of the lights when he'd come in, so all he could see in the tank's light was a blue-tinted orangish cat-shaped blob in his peripheral vision.  A moment later, the cat landed on his chest with a heavy thump.
"Oof.  Hey, buddy."  Banner stroked the cat's broad head.
The cat, a stray tom he'd taken in and neutered, was orange tabby mixed with Siamese.  His thick fur was creamy in color, and instead of a Siamese's dark points, he had orange striped ones.  He also had the build of a tabby instead of being thin and leggy.  Banner hadn't come up with a good name for him yet.
He lay there with the cat purring on his chest and watched his bright blue starfish climb the glass at the front of the tank now that the feeding frenzy had finished.
Maybe I'll call in sick tomorrow, he thought.  Raio would think that means I'll take the job, though.
His stomach rumbled.  He sat up and transferred the cat--who meowed in protest--to the floor.
"I need something to eat, too, bud."
The far side of the living room was also the dining room.  Banner ducked into the small kitchen, its doorway in the wall opposite the tank's.  The cat followed him, still meowing.
"Yes, I know I'm home late," he told him.  "There's no need to yell at me."
The cat twined around his legs while he rummaged in the fridge, dug out week-old pizza.  He ate it cold, along with a can of Barq's, standing in front of the fridge in the dark, illuminated only by its glow.  To appease the cat, he poured a shallow bowl of milk.
"Where's your girlfriend?" he asked with a mouthful of pizza.  "Hmm?  Where's Sparkler?"
The former tom ignored him, distracted by the milk.
"Spark?" he called.  "Sparky?"
He found the leggy black-and-white kitten curled up on his pillow in the back bedroom.  He'd found her, spunky and fearless, out behind the Vault when he'd taken trash to the dumpster not long after he'd taken in the tom.  She had white toes on both front feet and a white stocking on her left hind leg, a splash of white on her belly, and a drop of white on her nose.  She'd been little more than bones and claws and appetite when he'd caught her.  He'd gotten scratched pretty good.  Now she was growing like a weed and queen of the apartment.  He hadn't gotten her spayed yet; she was still too little.  He'd named her for her spirited personality.
"Hey, little Sparkler," he greeted softly, scratching her small head with one finger.  An immediate purr answered him; it sounded like her head was full of little ball bearings.  She stretched her front paws out, little claws extending like tiny needles.  Banner chuckled.  "How's my sweet girl?"
Sparkler made a funny sound and stretched to turn belly up, then relaxed and fell asleep again.  Banner chuckled and left her alone.  He kicked one of her catnip mice when he headed to the closet; it squeaked cheerfully as it bounced away.  He turned the closet light on and stripped down to his boxers, left his clothes in a pile on the closet floor.  On cue, the big cat trotted in and made himself a nest in them.
"I think we're getting predictable, old man," he told the cat.
He turned the closet light off again and climbed into bed, carefully lifted Sparkler from the pillow and deposited her next to him.  She got up and insisted on pillow space, curled up beside his face so her fur covered his nose.  He snorted and rolled onto his back; the tom abandoned the closet and landed on his chest.
Banner sighed and closed his eyes.

A knock on the door woke him instead of his alarm clock.  He shuffled through the living room, beyond groggy, jealous of the two cats still asleep in his bed.
Capri stood on the other side, holding a box of fresh Cinnabon giant rolls and a package of uncooked bacon.  She wore a bright red cami and a comfortable pair of blue jeans.
"Hey," she said into his befuddlement.  "Can I come in?"
Banner scowled.
"Raio didn't send me," she told him when he went to shut the door in her face.  "This is just me."
With a grumbling sigh, he let her in.
A look of utter delight lit her face at the sight of the fish tank.
"You have an aquarium?"  She set the food on the table and flitted around the laundry to peer in at the inhabitants.  Banner could only watch in his blurry-eyed, brain-muddled state.  He couldn't even figure out how to wonder why she was there.
"A flame angel, an orchid dottyback, a golden semilarvatus butterflyfish…" she named each of his inhabitants in turn, then looked at him in surprise. "A blue-dot jawfish?  Aren't they hard to care for?"
Banner's brain still wasn't working properly, but Capri didn't seem to notice, too taken by the underwater world.  He could smell the Cinnabons on the table and his stomach growled.
Capri walked right through the mountain of laundry to reach the table.  "You have a skillet?  Figured you're a guy--you'd want bacon for breakfast."
Banner's brain managed to offer her a grunt and a vague wave toward the kitchen.  Capri smirked, then rummaged around until she found it.
"No good until you've had your coffee, huh?" she asked him, searching the cabinets.  "Do you even have coffee?"
The smell of frying bacon woke him up enough to wonder why she didn't seem to be bothered he was only wearing his boxers.  It also woke the cats; they came trotting from the bedroom, Sparkler mimicking the former tom, tails in the air.
The big cat stopped dead in the kitchen doorway at the sight of the strange woman and looked at Banner with his big blue eyes as if to ask what the heck she was doing there.  Banner couldn't have told him.
Sparkler had a much larger reaction.  She bolted back around the corner and down the hallway, every hair standing on end, and darted in the nearer bedroom.  Banner heard her claws scrabble and knew she'd gone under the armchair.
Capri gave Banner an amused look, but didn't say anything.
"You can get dressed, you know," she told him.  "This is going to take a little bit."
He rankled at her tone, but she was right.  There was no sense arguing that it was his apartment and he could throw her out if he wanted.
He stopped outside the first bedroom door and saw Sparkler's white-toed paws and white nose peeking out from under his chair.  He got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the room, picked up and rattled one of her bell balls back and forth in front of her nose trying to lure her out.  The kitten was interested, but not buying it.
Banner left her to calm down and pulled on his jeans from the night before.  Then he fed his fish and waited for Capri to get done with the bacon.  She'd set two of the big cinnamon rolls out on plates with forks and knives, so he dug into one.  He was halfway done before she set a glass of milk in front of him.
"Guys are all alike," she muttered.
"Hey, I didn't ask you to show up and feed me," he said around a mouthful.
"No, but you could be a more gracious host."  She didn't look at him, occupied with the remaining bacon in the pan.
"I let you in.  I think, given what I know about you and what we both know about Raio, I think that's gracious enough."
She didn't have an answer to that.  She finished with the bacon and put the plate between them on the table.  The former tom took up the third seat, peering over the edge of the table at the meat.
"Cute.  What's his name?"
Banner shook his head.  "Doesn't have one yet."
"You're an interesting guy, Banner."
He shrugged.  "Why are you here?  It's not to get to know me."
Capri echoed his shrug.  "I want you to reconsider."
Banner glared at her.  "No."
A muscle twitched in Capri's jaw.  "This isn't about Raio.  It's not even for him.  It's about me!"
That stopped Banner's retort short.
"He talks so highly of you, Banner," she told him.  "And I want some safe but real life experience.  My father runs a big security company and asked Raio to train me--called in a favor from when they worked together.  I asked if I could learn from you.  Raio told me you wouldn't take the job if he asked, but I insisted.  You're his best."
Her gaze went to the aquarium while she talked.  Her expression was almost…wistful.  "It seemed like a great idea.  Raio said you'd settled down and wouldn't be doing anything…high risk anymore."  She held up her hand when he started to open his mouth.  "No, he didn't say what happened.  And no, I didn't ask."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New Story: The Vault co-written with Dan V. part three

So here is Dan's first contribution.  Given the fact he has little writing experience, lost two family members this week, and had to endure two rounds of editing from me to tighten his sentences and help him hear Banner's voice...quite the trooper.  I didn't expect or ask him to work on it given his family losses, but he did anyway.

            “Lovely.  Of course it would be raining,” Banner muttered.  At least it’ll be hard for anyone to sneak up on me.
            The line of patrons waiting for the bouncer’s approval stretched clear down the block and around the corner despite the downpour, crowded together in mutual misery but unwilling to miss the chance to be on the other side of the famous Vault door.  Rumor ran rampant that the door was actually one from a bank Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had robbed back in the cowboy heyday.  It seemed that everyone wanted to claim they’d been through it.  It was sad.
            Banner lived close to the bar so the current weather was only a minor annoyance.  He liked the convenience.  It was close to the bar so he could easily walk to and from work.  If there was trouble he could be there in minutes as backup.
            There was a disadvantage to being security—he was always looking over his shoulder.  He’d learned the hard way when he was starting out under his mentor.
            When Banner reached the apartment building he noticed something was amiss.
            “That’s not where I left you.”
            He double-checked the flower pots, welcome mats, and light fixtures.  One flower pot was shifted – not a lot, but enough.  He went over, lifted it, and found a note written on the underside.
            Good job, boy.  The skills I gave you haven’t died.  I need to speak with you.  It concerns both of us.  Usual place and time. – Raio
“Well, I’m not going to get much sleep tonight.” Banner grumbled.  It’s been a long time since he’s tried to get in touch with me.  I wonder what he wants.  He always wants something.
            Banner erased the note, replaced the pot, and headed back to the Vault.
            He had to get a taxi because he didn’t have a car.  Finding a taxi willing to stop in the rain was like trying to break into the Vault.
            There was an advantage to living down the street from Vault.  It was the best place to get a cab this time of night.
            Five or six yellow taxis were parked in front of the Vault waiting for fares.  Banner got into one.
Spokane International Airport, domestic entrance please.”
            “No problem,” replied the cab driver.
            As the cab pulled away from the curb, Banner thought more about the note; something about it felt wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.  Then it hit him.
            That wasn’t his handwriting. He realized, the words were written too neatly.  Raio writes coded messages.  He didn’t do it this time.  I wonder why.
            His hackles stood on end.  The feeling had saved his life before.  He looked out the cab’s window.  He noticed a nondescript car about five vehicles back.  He’d picked up a tail from the bar.
            It was something Raio had taught him, and did himself.  I wonder if he’s trained anyone else.  It seemed like something Raio would do to strengthen his organization.
            Banner started to discreetly flex his muscles in anticipation of trouble.  He’d learned many multi-situational fighting styles under Raio.  He’d also been taught never to have cold muscles.
            The cab pulled off the interstate at the airport exit.  A quick glance behind him said the car was still there.
            “Where would you like me to drop you off, again?” the driver asked.
            “Domestic flight arrivals please.”
            “Very good.”
            The driver pulled the vehicle up to the curb and stopped.
            “Here we are.  That’ll be $53.46.”
            Banner handed the man three twenty dollar bills.
            “Keep the change.”
            “Thank you.  Have a nice night.”
            Banner scanned the crowd, saw a man standing in the loading zone.  He had dark hair with gray beginning to show through.  He was also wearing an expensive, well-tailored dark blue pinstripe suit.  It sat well on his broad frame.  Banner knew for a fact his appearance was misleading; the suit was deliberately padded to make him look big.
            “Hello, Raio.”
            Raio always radiated presence.  His look commanded respect and authority without seeming arrogant.  He was only twelve years Banner’s senior, but in security that was a lifetime.
            “Were you followed?”
            “Yes.  I was tailed from the bar.” Banner answered.
            “Was the tail obvious?”
            “To the trained eye, yes.”
            “I see.”
            Why is Raio asking these questions?   If there was a tail he’d be more on edge.
“Was the tail a new recruit?” He hoped that was the reason for the interrogation.
            Raio waved him off.  “Not here.”
            “Where do you want to go?”
            “Perhaps I shouldn’t have given you that compliment, boy.” Raio spat the insult. “That should be obvious.”
            “Fine.  I know a place with tight security, and you can get a drink.”
            “Good.  Take me there,” ordered Raio.
            They hailed another cab and headed to a bar secluded in the back alleys of Spokane.  It was very close to the airport, but not one of Banner’s usual hang-outs. 
            The cab made the final right turn to reach the bar and Banner checked behind them, wary of another tail.  Yep.  It was the same vehicle.
            “The tail’s still there.”
            “Good?!  Why is that good?”
            “Not here,” Raio hissed.
            They reached the seedy looking bar, paid the driver, and went inside.  Raio chose a booth with a view of the room.  Before conversation got started, another person entered.  She looked younger than Banner by the same margin he was younger than Raio.  Given his profession, Banner knew not to judge age by the exterior.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

New Story: The Vault, co-written with Dan V. part two

Rizo was behind the bar this evening, mixing cocktails and making passes at a couple of fangirls down the bar from where Banner sat with his Blue Moon.  Rizo was a ladies man, darker and more chiseled than Banner's rugged looks.  More than once he'd seen the other go home with a girl he'd turned away.  Rumor that he was a vampire didn't hurt, either.
"Yo, Ban."  Riz was suddenly standing in front of him.  "It's your night off.  Don't you ever go home?"  The bartender's lips pulled in a smirk and the dim house lights glinted off the gold ring in his left ear.  "Got nothin' better to do?"
Banner shrugged and took a pull on his beer, which Riz immediately topped off.
"Your paycheck won't make it out the door," Riz warned though they both knew it was a lie.  Riz wouldn't charge him--boss's policy.
Banner shrugged again.  He didn't drink enough for the boss to want to charge him, anyway.  As for going home…Banner frowned as Riz echoed his shrug and moved away to offer the fangirls his attentions again.  He knew he probably should go home to his shoddy little apartment and deal with the mountain of laundry piled in the tiny living room--he was wearing his last clean shirt.  He didn't like being home much.  It reminded him how much his life currently sucked.
"All work and no play make Ban a dull boy," a voice teased from his right.
"Yeah," Banner agreed without elaboration.  He didn't even glance over at the speaker.  "Hey, Vesi."
The woman who stepped up beside him made Rizo's two fangirls glare in utter, furious jealousy.  She possessed naturally what they had gained artificially, and carried herself with the confident grace of knowing that.  She wore an open-backed silvery-blue haltertop that fit like her own tanned, smooth skin and equally snug denims with a pair of high heels that matched her shirt.  Her dark hair was shot through with bright blue.  She only allowed it to grow to her shoulders.  Her eyes were as bright blue as the streaks in her hair.  Banner knew she had been in more than one man's dreams--himself included.
Like Banner, Vesi was a Pariah.  Her abilities dealt with the properties of water.  Her name even meant Water in Finnish.  Like Banner, Vesi could also hide easily in society, and, like Banner, she chose to work at the Vault.  Unlike Banner, she could make a small fortune every night.
"Go home and get some sleep," she chided him as Rizo filled her drink orders.  "Then go out tomorrow and play."  She elbowed him in the chest when he pivoted to regard her.  "The last place you need to be on your day off is at work."
Banner grumbled into his beer as she walked away, but Vesi was right.  He watched her navigate the narrow paths among the tables as he finished the Blue Moon.  He set the glass down, nodded to Rizo, and shoved off after Vesi.  He followed her through the maze of patrons until he was near the Vault's door, then slipped out without saying goodbye.  She'd probably gripe about it when he came to work late tomorrow night.