Author: Paul Kleihege PM
My name is Kaye, and this is a story I helped create.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Humor - Words: 5,034 - Published: 02-08-13 - id: 3099316
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
[AUTHOR'S DISCLAIMER: The story you're about to read is not true, but the people are based loosely on real people. No offense is intended in the characterizations, and no undue flattery is purposefully made in the following story either. My reasons for writing this story are my own, but I find it easy to write what you know more than what you don't. Without any further ado, on to the show.]
The punch clock spat out a slip of paper I barely looked at. I crinkled it up and threw it in the garbage on my way out the back door of the restaurant. My shift was over. Finally! I'd been trying to subtly impress upon my boss the importance of this evening to me and how badly I wanted to get out early if at all possible for almost a month now, and the fact that I had ended up working an extra hour had been somewhat irritating. Now I had to rush to get my errands done before my big night.
I jumped into my car and drove to the store. It was one of those big 24-hour stores, and I devoured the distance I had to travel between the aisles with long strides and a fast, hurried pace. I paid for my items with my day's tips and jumped back into the car. My next stop was the printer, where I finally made use of a flash drive I'd had in my pocket all day. It was a small, quick job, and I still felt pressed for time as I left, carrying a sheaf of papers under my arm.
I broke the speed limit on my way back to my apartment. This wasn't unusual, but I was especially aware of the time today. Having lost an extra hour to my job meant I had even less time than I had planned on to finish my preparations for the night's event. I parked a little haphazardly, I'll admit, and took the stairs up to my floor three at a time, carrying my groceries and my papers. It took me almost a minute to figure out that I was going to have to put one of those things down to successfully use my keys to unlock my door. My mind was admittedly other places.
Once inside, my groceries went on the table, the papers onto what I thought of as my desk when it was really just an end table with a lamp on it, and then everything on the couch, which was folded laundry from the morning, went away. Not necessarily to where it was supposed to be, but at least enough away so as not to be intrusive. My next twenty minutes was a whirlwind of emergency straightening and organizing that I had originally planned on having an extra hour for, and I was just finishing up the last of the dishes when the first knock came at my door.
I toweled my hands off and shouted "Just a minute!" as the knocking came again, impatiently. This did not surprise me. I already knew who was at the door. When I opened it, Howard's bearded face, in its customary half-scowl, met my greeting.
"Hi, bro," I smiled.
"Hey," he grunted stepping inside.
I sighed, leaving the door unlocked and getting back to the dishes. "How was the meeting with the guy?"
"That's... what, that's like the third time?"
"You sound a little pissed."
"I'm not pissed."
"A little bit."
"Maybe a little."
Howard was my slightly older brother, and a brief military career and an unexpectedly exciting and short tour overseas had left him medically unfit for active duty. Really, what had happened was during a training exercise, he'd taken a bad fall and blown out his ankle and dislocated his arm, and further complications had prevented him getting the immediate medical attention necessary to make those two things into not-a-big-deal kind of injuries. They bothered him greatly when it was cold, and even more so when it was hot.
Then again, there wasn't much that DIDN'T bother Howard. He was something of a grumpy old man stuck in the body of a thirty year-old. He'd been a grumpy old man stuck in the body of a something-year-old most of his life, really.
"So when did it get rescheduled for?"
"Oh, that's not-"
"But Saturday's the sixth, isn't it? ...oh."
"So he rescheduled it for next month?"
"And you're only a LITTLE pissed?"
Howard shrugged and shook his head at the same time in a moved I had mentally dubbed the 'Friggin' Duh!'. "Actually, Kaye, I'm REALLY pissed, but the fact of the matter is that I can't do much about it. So I came here to blow off some steam."
"Where's everyone else?"
"So, where's everyone else?"
"You're the first to arrive," the hooded man said.
"Great team you hired," Brand scoffed. He leaned back in his chair, regretting the fact that he was still wearing his padded leather armor. It was sweltering in the tavern. Night had fallen outside, but the darkness had done little to blunt the heat of the day and the candles lighting each table of the common room cloyed the skin with the heat of naked flames.
"Patience, sir knight," the hooded man smiled.
"And you're not going to tell me why you hired us all until they're here, aren't you?"
"That is correct."
Brand sighed and stood up. "Well screw sitting here then. I'm going to go out and have a smoke."
"Oh, yeah, no problem bro," I said. "It should be a little while before everyone else shows up anyway."
Howard nodded, already tapping his cigarette pack on his hand as he opened the door. He was a little surprised to find someone else on the other side of it. "Dude!" he grinned.
"Hello!" James replied. "Sorry if we're a little behind-"
"You're early," I told him.
"Oh. Well that's good! Allison and I brought some snacks and drinks..." James said as he edged past Howard and into the apartment, his girlfriend followed behind him, smiling as she came in and hefting a pair of bags. I jerked my head toward the table and put the last of the dishes away, crossing out of my tiny kitchen and out into the living room of the apartment.
James and Allison were the kind of love story we all might hope for. Brought together first socially by mutual interests, they began a deeper relationship after a long time spent being good friends. The transition had almost been seamless, and they'd actually lived together for a year before they made their status as boyfriend and girlfriend official. They were a good couple, well-matched in both mannerisms and height, and good friends that I wouldn't hesitate to do a favor for.
"I hit the store earlier," I said, "but it's good to have extra things, I suppose."
Howard excused himself and closed the door behind him as Allison unpacked the grocery bags. "So how was work, Kaye?" she asked.
"It was work. It's done now," I shrugged. "Best to just move on."
"I saw your Facebook message about having to stay an extra hour," James said with sympathy. "That must have sucked."
"I made an extra thirty dollars in tips, so I can't really complain," I said, "but given the opportunity I'll complain anyway."
"Thirty bucks in an hour?" James asked. "Crap, I'm in the wrong line of work."
"I'm good at what I do," I told him, which was true enough. Then I added "Also, you work midnights. Of COURSE you're in the wrong line of work."
"Hey, that building would burn down without me there," James huffed. "...four times a week." he added lamely.
"You just woke up, didn't you?"
"A little bit," he admitted.
"Well, sit down and take a load off," I offered, "I still have some setup to take care of."
"You need help clearing your table?" Allison asked from the kitchen where she was laying out bags of chips and cans of soda.
"Nah, I got it."
"I've got it, I said," the robed woman insisted as the door swung open.
"I was merely offering," the man in the clerical vestments said defensively.
"Ah, two more of our number," the hooded man said to himself as he stood up to beckon them over. "M'lady Lilandra, I presume."
The woman in robes curtsied before she sat down at the table. "Lily is fine, good sir. You are the employer I was told about?"
"And what is the nature of the venture you have hired me for?"
"In good time, M'lady. It is Brother Gristler, is it not?" the hooded man asked as he turned to the priest.
"At the monastery, yes. Here in the world, I prefer Gristler or Gris," the priest said with a bow of respect.
Lily hefted her bag up onto the table, and a heavy thump drew the fleeting attention of some of the other tavern patrons. "So this presumptuous priest is also one of our number?"
"Indeed he is, M'lady."
"Oh, perfect," she sighed, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
"If I may, madam," Gris sighed, "All I did was offer to help you with your bag."
"And I told you, TWICE, I didn't need your help," she huffed as she took one of the many books out of the bag. She gave Gris a look as she opened it up and began to read to herself.
"What's that?" Gris asked.
"It's a book," she said pointedly, not looking up.
"Is that a spell book?"
"Possibly. In that any book might contain a little magic, I am sure." Her tone had icicles hanging from the vowels.
"So, am I mistaken in saying you are a Sorceress?"
"Your powers of perception are truly remarkable." If you couldn't sense the subtext of that sentence, I'm not sure I could help you with it.
"Interesting," Gris said as he sat down. "Perhaps you would be interested to know what the Temple of Gia says about magic and those who use it?"
"Not even a little bit."
"Because my holy texts say that-"
The book slammed closed and thumped onto the table, and suddenly a finger was pointed into Gris's face, and at the tip of that finger was a small arc of electricity. A harmless magical effect, easily produced, but very powerful in proving a point and adding extra emphasis to Lily's next statement. Even more so when the finger pulled back slowly and pressed gently to her own pursed lips.
"Yes, dear," James said sheepishly as he shut the door behind him. I looked at Allison and shook my head, grinning.
"Boy, you do have him wrapped around your finger, don't you?"
"Yeah," she smiled brightly. "But I do like it when he's not so puppy-dog-ish."
"Yeah, I don't need to know."
"When he gets forceful, it's like-"
"I so incredibly do NOT need to know!" I insisted.
Now Howard came back through the door. "Why'd James leave?" he asked, looking over at Allison. "Did you dump him?" There was a note of hope in his voice.
"No, but we forgot the Ginger Ale in the car and he's getting it for me."
"Ah," Howard nodded. "Bitch duty. Can't say I miss it."
"Yeah. Not quite unlike being married," Howard remarked. Then added "Or dating. No offense."
"Oh, none taken," Allison grinned. "I probably wouldn't be able to stand dating you either."
James came back in with the promised bottle of Ginger Ale, with another face in tow. "Mike!" I smiled. Mike was my best friend in the whole world. Understanding, willing to lend a hand, and above all, intimidating in look if not in manner. Mike was the kind of guy you'd want by your side if all hell broke loose. He was also, in some select instances, kind of a dick, but only in situations where that sort of thing was necessary. The guy was also built like a freight train, and was my first phone call if I bought new furniture or knew someone who was moving.
"Sup all!" he waved to the room in general. "We still waiting on Rob?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "He called and said he was running a little behind."
"Cool, cool," Mike nodded, helping himself to a chair at the table. James and Allison sat down as well, as did Howard. In the kitchen, I organized some papers and made a few last minute notes as they chattered excitedly.
"A Priest, a Sorceress and a Knight all walk into a bar..." said a small, reedy-looking man as he approached the table.
"Ouch," Gris supplied helpfully.
"Mr. Hans," the hooded man nodded. "Another of our merry company."
"We're merry?" Hans asked, taking a seat.
"Marginally," Brand grunted.
"Are you a holy man Mr. Hans?" Gris asked conversationally.
"Not particularly," Hans shrugged. "I do make OTHERS holey, though. Does that count?"
"You spread the good word of Gia?"
"Oh, no," Hans laughed. "I spread crossbow bolts. Professionally."
"Oh, I see."
"Business is booming then?" Brand asked wryly.
"Less booming and more stealthily killing people in the night, but I can pay the rent," Hans smiled.
"I guess that works." Brand nodded.
"So what's a Knight doing all the way out here near the wastes?" Lily asked over the edge of her most recent book.
"Well, I just picture most Knights rubbing elbows with a king somewhere in some big castle."
"You read too many books," Brand told her.
"Not... TOO many..."
"I'm not a Knight by virtue of having property and being noble-"
"Obviously," Hans smirked.
"- I'm a Knight," Brand pressed on through gritted teeth, "because I'm a member of an order of Knights."
"What order?" Gris asked.
"Who?" Hans asked as Lily's shoulders started to heave with suppressed laughter.
"The Holy Order of Fal?" Gris asked.
Gris turned to the hooded man. "You CANNOT be serious."
The hooded man shrugged. "Oh, does Gia have a problem with Fal, now?" Lily asked from her book.
"Not really-" Gris began.
"They aren't on the best of terms," Brand finished.
"Meaning?" Hans asked.
"Gia expresses through her bishops a cautionary warning about the wanton and irresponsible use of magical powers," Gris said in a recitory manner.
"And Fal is of the opinion that in war, as in all things, you bring all of the tools you need to accomplish your goals.," Brand nodded. "I admit, I'm not the most devout Fallite, but I do appreciate the philosophy."
"I respect your differing opinion," Gris said stiffly.
"Sure you do," Lily put in.
The door to the tavern opened and another man stepped in.
"Rob! How's it going man?" Mike asked. I looked up from my notes, now having relocated myself to the end of the table, ensconced in a bunker of books.
Rob was the most well-traveled of us all. While Howard and I had lived in the city all our lives and Mike had lived in the suburbs before moving to an apartment in town closer to his job, Rob had gone almost across the entire country to go to college, and from there he did numerous semesters overseas in a few different countries. He was full of both interesting stories and a sparkling personality that was just, and I don't use this word very often, delightful.
"Not bad, not bad," Rob nodded, kicking off his shoes. "How goes it with the peoples?"
There was a general round of positive responses and one rather indifferent grunt. "Why were you running late?" I asked offhandedly as I sorted through a book and marked a few pages.
"I forgot my dice," Rob admitted. "I had to go back and get them."
"Did you see the latest episode?" Mike asked.
"I did!" Rob said, his eyebrows raising in excitement.
"The thing with the guy-"
"'I went to college for this!'" Rob quoted, waving his arms around wildly.
The room shared a laugh, and I'm not sure if half of us knew what was going on. Rob sat down and the noise of paper continued beyond my thin cardboard shield. James took the opportunity to ask a question I was about to ask. "Hey, Rob, what did you decide on?"
"Oh, good!" Howard said. "I thought I was going to be the only tank in the party for a second."
"Oh, you're most definitely the tank," Rob replied, "I'm just here to stab stuff in new and creative ways."
"Right, right," Mike nodded. "Also, lack of complication."
"Yeah, I have to admit that was attractive as a selling point to me," Rob nodded. "This is my first character in this system."
"Well, I know it pretty well," I told him," so don't worry about it so much."
"Cool," Rob said, sitting down. "I'm sure that if I want to, I can MAKE it more complicated-"
"Yeah, customization is a big part of DeLVe."
"- but until I'm more comfortable with the rules, I'm thinking I should stick to hitting things with bladed things."
"Not a bad plan," I nodded.
"So I was meaning to ask," Allison was saying, as I caught it across the table, "why are the L and the V capitalized?"
"In DeLVe. Why the weird capitalization?"
James shrugged. "I have no idea, honey."
"Not likely," I mumbled, drawing their attention. I looked up at the assembled faces of my friends, and then smiled a unique kind of smile. A smile I admit I practiced in a mirror. It pulled the corners of my mouth more up than out and bowed my entire lower face around a toothy expression sheer mischief. "We ready to begin?" I asked.
"Everyone is here, then," the hooded man nodded as the thickly built bearded man sat down.
"Oh good lord," Lily breathed, "what is that smell?"
"Oscar," the newcomer said by way of introducing himself. "And you guys are?"
There was a round of introductions, and after a moment of lite conversation, the hooded man cleared his throat, drawing their attention.
"I have gathered you here today," he began, "because I need something done. Something both difficult and lucrative."
"I like the sound of that," Brand nodded.
"Good, because this will not be an easy venture." The hooded man drew a piece of parchment out from under his cloak, breaking the ribbon sealing it into a scroll and placing it on the table before him. "My employer, who I suppose is also, in effect, your employer, received this piece of paper via messenger a little more than two weeks ago. He is... a powerful man, let us say, and it would seem that his youngest son has been kidnapped from his current residence."
Lily bent forward to pick up the paper and started to study it. "No magical script or hidden writing," she said.
"You can tell?" Hans asked.
"Trust me," Lily replied, "I know what to look for." She gave the paper another once over. "Looks like a ransom note."
"Indeed," the hooded man said.
"So why not pay the ransom?" Brand asked. "If this guy is so powerful, why not just pay them off?"
"My employer has reason to believe that his son's life may be in danger regardless of whether the offending party is paid or not."
"Why?" Gris asked.
"Well, the note's written in Orcish, to start," Lily supplied helpfully, putting it back on the table with the flick of a wrist.
"How was that not more relevant than a lack of magical script or hidden writing?" Brand asked her, looking at the note and screwing up his features in incomprehension.
"We all have our priorities," Lily shrugged.
"Orcs, huh?" Oscar asked the hooded man. "I like stabbin' Orcs."
"So we've heard," the hooded man nodded. "That's why you were each contacted. Among you is a common quality my employer desired for this venture as well as a variety of skills to accomplish the task."
"What's the common quality?" Hans asked.
"Hatred of Orcs would be my guess," Brand said. "I'm not a racist or anything, but they usually try to kill me and I usually take offense to that."
"Actually, in this case, it is your common desire to be paid," the hooded man sighed. "Your feelings on demi-human races were not considered."
"How much are we talking?" Gris asked.
"Mercenary talk coming from a priest," Lily commented with mild surprise.
"Being holy does not necessarily put food in my belly," Gris commented dryly.
"I have been empowered to make you an offer of 1000 gold for your services. Split amongst you equally, of course."
"So, what, 200 apiece?" Hans asked. "That's a pretty nice chunk of change."
"Yes, I imagine you would find it so," the hooded man said.
"Where did this boy get kidnapped from?" Brand asked.
"I am not at liberty to say."
"Bull. You're not at liberty to embarrass someone," Brand scoffed. "Tell me where. I'd like to know how capable these kidnappers are."
The hooded man hung his head for a moment and took a deep breath. "It was the Il-Dan War College."
"Would I have heard of that place?" Howard asked.
"You all would have," I told him. "Il-Dan is a well established institution. Lords and Ladies send their offspring there to learn not only war, but politics and how to conduct themselves in the presence of noble company."
"And this kid got stolen from a place like that?" James asked. "Oh, boy, we're going to have to have a more involved discussion about price."
"How many Orcs hit this place to get one kid, an army?" Howard asked me.
"He doesn't know. He just says he has told you all he can, and made you the offer he was supposed to make."
"And the offer's being made because Orcs don't have a reputation for honoring ransom demands?" James asked.
"Pretty much, yeah."
"What about for expenses we may incur?" Rob asked.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, if this proves to be a more difficult job than 200 gold each would normally pay for, we should get paid better, right?"
I glanced down at my notes. "He insists that the thousand gold is all he can make as an offer, but implies that should difficulties come up, it can be re-negotiated at the time of payment."
"Incidentally," Allison spoke up, "how much did the ransom note demand for the kid?"
James whistled low. "You could buy a small country for that kind of coin," he said thoughtfully.
Mike leaned forward. "Can I get a sense for how honest this guy is being with us?"
"What's your Awareness?" I asked him.
"Hang on," Mike said, looking down at his character's sheet. "Uh... yeah, Awareness is a 3."
"Roll it." I nodded. Mike picked up three six sided dice (D6, in the future.) and rolled them. They skipped across the table, one of them settling in front of Howard. Mike gathered them back in front of him, careful not to change any of their results.
"Two successes," he reported.
"Enough for you to know he's acting on instructions and he's being as honest as his instructions allow," I told him, answering his question.
"So he's just a middleman, basically?" Rob asked.
"Okay, well I guess there's not a lot of point in negotiating a contract with this guy then," Rob said, turning to the others. "I say we take it."
"Because it's a good deal, or because it's the adventure hook?" Howard asked.
"One of those, sure," Rob shrugged.
"I'm in," Oscar said. "This sounds like fun."
"Do we even know where they have this kid?" Brand asked the hooded man, "or do we just fumble around in the wilderness until we find some Orcs and ask them?"
"We have a lead," the hooded man said. "The handwriting of the note, while Orcish, contains a symbol of the Orc God Hilgyara."
"Is that what that little wheel thing is?" Lily asked. "I didn't recognize it."
"Can't expect a godless heathen like you to know those things, I guess," Gris shook his head. Lily shot him a dirty look as he continued. "Hilgyara is a god of conquest and power. We're likely looking for some sort of upstart war-leader who's looking for an easy way to expand his war chest so he can buy the loyalty of his fellows."
"Orcs have fellows?" Hans asked incredulously.
"Demi-fellows?" Gris tried. "The point is this is a small camp or group, in all likelihood, and that means to get a single child out of a place like Il-Dan, they had help. Probably from the inside."
"And there's our lead," Brand nodded, standing up. "If they had a guy inside the college, that guy knows where to find them."
"We're not leaving now, are we?" Lily asked, reticent to put her books back into her bag.
Brand gave her a puzzled expression. "Wha... no, I was going to start drinking. It's dark out there, you crazy woman. I'm not leaving until the morning." With that, he turned and walked to the other end of the tavern where a few forlorn regulars sat, sharing pints of various brews. Gris stood up as well.
"The hour is late," he nodded, "and I must offer my prayers to Gia before I slumber."
"You've all been provided a room for the night," the hooded man said. "And breakfast has been taken care of as well, so do not concern yourself with the costs for this evening."
"Well, that's nice of you," Hans said, standing up and stretching his limbs. Gris excused himself from their company and went to find his room.
"Can we also get a bath for this one?" Lily asked, pointing to Oscar.
"I'll clean up when it rains," Oscar grunted, leaving the table to join Brand at the bar. Hans followed him, leaving Lily at the table with the hooded man.
"I guess we accept," Lily said to him, and the hooded man nodded.
"So you all sleep at the inn for the night?" There was a general round of agreement with that, so I moved on. "Okay, when the sun rises, the hooded man will meet you all in the tavern again and tell you that he has hired horses for each of you to expedite your travels."
"I like this guy," Mike commented. "He pays for things."
"That's good," James said. "Priests have crap for starting cash."
"How much do you have?" Mike asked him.
"Two silver. Well, two silver left after all my starting expenses."
"I've got four gold," Allison smirked.
"Not for long you don't," Mike grinned.
"Anyway," I said, drawing their attention back to me, "Il-Dan is a few days travel even on horseback along the north-bound roads from the tavern you guys are in, so you'll have to figure out watches and rations for your trip."
"Kaye, can I pack up some of the food from breakfast for later to save myself on some of my rations?" James asked.
"Yeah, you can squirrel away a day's worth of rations," I nodded.
"Cool," he said.
They began to talk among themselves, planning for the immediate future and discussing their own private theories about both the Orcish leader and what they thought his goals might be as well as the hooded man and whether or not they really trusted him and his mysterious employer. I took the opportunity to drain my can of soda of about half it's contents and make a trip to the kitchen for some food.
As I sat back down, I took the time to appreciate the moment. Moments like this are why I get up in the morning. Moments like this, right here, sitting with my friends and about to engage in a fantastic adventure are the reason I fight to draw breath every waking moment. It's an expression of creativity, and an outlet for emotion that is increasingly out of place in what many people might call the 'real world.' It's a legacy that was handed down to me by my father, and even though he is no longer looking over Howard and me in a physical sense, I'd like to think that no matter where he ended up after we buried him all those years ago he smiles every time we sit down at the table and crack open the paper and pens and start rolling the dice and, collectively, telling a story full of colorful characters with broad, arcing stories and fierce conflicts, that he smiles. That he is, somehow, proud of me every time I spring a trap or twist on my friends from behind this screen.
And it's hard. It's unbelievably hard. Well, hard to do right, at least. That's not an opinion, it's fact. Any rube with the books and the dice can claim to do this in their spare time, but to truly do the ideas behind this hobby, this way of life justice? It takes work, and dedication, and a love for both the hobby and the people who truly give everything of themselves to it. And I like that it's hard.
Some people mock it. Most don't even understand it. Some play havoc with the awesome responsibility it entails, and there are many who would abuse this gift, these opportunities for petty, petulant reasons. But here, in this place, at this table, surrounded by these people? This is as close to a holy place for me as there is in the entire world.
I am a Game Master. These are my Players. And this is a game called DeLVe. And until now, the grand stories and sweeping imagery that we, as a group, conjure for our own private enjoyment have been just that: Private. Now, however, I've chosen to share it with you. What do you think?
Want to join us on an adventure?