Have you been wondering what the currency in Madripoor looks like? Well, it might look a little something like this.
Writing that title reminded me that I worked with a lady who said that she was the third smartest person in the world – her parents being the first and second. She didn’t seem that smart to me but the third smartest person in the world would be smart enough to not seem smart right?
Since I started writing on wordpress I’ve been reading a lot blogs about D&D and some about writing. A common topic people bring up is how playing D&D (and other roleplaying games of course) can help you become a better writer. Which is true. Character development, plot, worldbuilding, playing roleplaying games can really help you with those things. Among others.
But I’m starting to realize that it can be a double-edged sword.
I’ve done a lot of writing in my life. In college and the years afterwards I often wrote several hours a day. I don’t write nearly as much anymore but I still do some writing most days. It’s a toss-up if I’ve done more roleplaying or writing. There was a year where we played D&D every damn day for hours and hours and hours. Probably half my life I’ve had a regular weekly game. There were years when I had 2-3 regular weekly games. Then add in conventions and one shots and other stuff – that’s a lot of time roleplaying.
Tangent, when I first started online dating sometimes I would tell women one of my hobbies was roleplaying – boy were they disappointed when they found out I meant D&D and not sexy sexy sex times. I hate homonyms.
Before my writing was whatever I wanted. I have dozens of half finished “novels”, tons of partially written screenplays, hundreds of short stories, and thousands of blog posts where I talked about whatever was on my mind. I wrote until it wasn’t fun and then I stopped.
Starting the Ela blog, and later the Grace blog (hugely popular and read by millions) “forced” me to write about the same thing and it’s exposed some flaws. Chief among them, tossing out story hooks without any idea where to take them.
I think this comes from D&D. When you put together a D&D adventure sometimes you have everything planned out. But sometimes you just have a neat idea and you throw it out and see what the players do and react to that, “writing” on the fly.
Such as, one time my players found a cane that had a secret compartment in it. I had forgotten that they had found a similar item in the last adventure and they spun out a whole conspiracy theory around them. I had no such intention of that being a thing but as they were talking I was thinking “wow that’s a pretty cool idea, that’s definitely what happened now”.
Players give DMs way too much credit in terms of foreshadowing and callbacks and call-forwards and things like that – it’s that old chestnut about the human mind looking for patterns, and making them up even if they’re not there. Your players come up with all kinds of ideas as to what the DM may be up to, even when they’re not up to anything.
The collaborative nature of rpgs results in some pretty cool ideas. D&D is kind of like writing with several writing partners.
But since my “real” writing it just me, myself, and not Irene I really need to break myself of the habit of throwing out half-formed ideas that I think are neat because there’s no players to react to them and shape the narrative. Telling a story all by myself requires discipline.
The idea for the Grace blog came from How To Survive Camping, from reddit/no sleep. The idea of HTSC is that it is an interactive thing where the commenters act like it’s real and suggest ways to solve problems and the like. It’s a style that allows for collaborating in a way D&D type where you’re writing it but lots of people are adding in ideas. It’s a pretty cool concept. I wanted to do something like that. But since I’m old and scared of reddit because I don’t understand it I just did a “normal” blog.
The end. Good writers always say “the end”. Otherwise how would you know it was the end?
I swear I won’t ever do this again, I know how SUPER invested you all are in 70s Ela story. Ela Classic was written ad hoc based on random charts and whatnot, rules turned into a narrative, but I did wake up late one night and write this bit about her being forced into a battle in THE NORTH. I think I had it for more than a year waiting to fit it into the “story”.
I figured I’d post it because I’m lazy and clearly I have to stick to the pretend schedule I came up with of posting Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
Why was Ela forced into this battle?
Who is Keorl Thunderhand?
Is it still called polygamy if you have wives and husbands?
We’ll never know.
I’ve never seen a battle down south and I hope I never do, but from what I understand it’s quite an affair. Huge blocks of men lumbering around in ragged squares getting into lines. Banners and pennants and tents and guys with big hats and all kind of shit like that. I’ve heard that the reason army people get up at dawn is it takes them until lunch just to get everyone to the battlefield and ready to kill one another. There’s barely enough hours to even get on with the slaughter before it gets dark. And you can’t fight in the dark. It’s too scary.
Clearly things are a little more loose up here. People seemed to be milling about and wandering down to the front lines like it’s a county fair. Some people were already killing each other when I got up. Others were still asleep. Seems like it would have been the perfect situation to avoid the battle and just say you were there after the fact but I don’t think I can fool magic like that. Always the damn magic. So Instead of doing the smart thing and staying under cover until all the killing and dying was over, I went in search of Keorl Thunderhand, finding him in a heap with his wives and husbands.
I tossed a bucket of . . . something on him “Come on, the battle’s starting and it’s a race between which is going to freeze off first, my nips or my nose.”
Grinning, he disentangled himself from the pile and came out of his tent shrugging on a chain shirt and slapping on a helmet “That’s the problem with you southern women, too skinny. You need some blubber on your bones to stay warm.”
I rubbed my hands together and blew on them “I don’t see how you people get so big up here with the warmed up dogshit you call food.”
He laughed and led me over to the “cavalry wing” which was a bunch of dudes and horses just as disorganized and chaotic as the rest. He motioned for me to mount up on a grey and black beast that was eyeing me as dubiously as I was it. These northern horses are so small and shaggy they’re more like sheep than equines if you ask me.
“Shouldn’t I put on some armor or something first?”
He shrugged “Sure, grab that cmail and slip it on.”
I grabbed the pile of metal he gestured to and could barely lift it “Okay, never mind, point taken.”
“Yes, and a fine point it was too. Put on that helmet.”
I picked it up gingerly “Seems too big for me.”
He shrugged “Better than too small.” He surveyed the half-battle going on below as we mounted “Do you have any battle training?”
“How good a rider are you?”
“Good, that’s more important anyway. If you want to survive, and you’ve certainly made it seem like you do, there’s two things you need to do. First, stay mounted. That may seem obvious, but I need to emphasize this because footmen do most of the dying. You do not want to be anywhere near the earth in that mess. Mounted, you have two things someone on foot doesn’t – vision and mobility, and that’s what you use to stay alive. Don’t get near the middle, stay on the edges of the action where you can see what’s happening and react. React meaning ride away of course.
If you get knocked off your horse get back on immediately, don’t worry about anything else – get back in the saddle. If your horse gets killed, find another. I’ll deny ever saying this but if you have to take one from someone on your own side, do that. People tend not to expect their battle-brothers, or sisters in this case, to kill them and take their horse so you can catch them off guard. Your horse is your best armor and your best weapon. Keep it between you and the people trying to kill you. If you can, use it to crush them, if you can’t, let it take the hits for you. How do you feel about horses?”
“I love them.”
“Will that prevent you from using one to keep yourself alive?”
“No. I’ve done it before unfortunately.”
“That’s good. Horses are fine animals but they’re not worth risking your life over. I’ve seen men in the middle of battle trying to save a horse. You can imagine how well that goes. If someone wants to take time to murder your horse, that’s time they’re not using to murder you – let them use it while you find another mount. What you have to avoid is getting down in the melee with the foot soldiers. You may have heard some old veteran waxing nihilistic about the chaos and blood and horror of being in the press of combat and you may have dismissed it as bold talk – it isn’t. It is the absolute worst thing you can ever be involved with. Call it nightmarish, call it Hellish, call it whatever you want, just avoid it.
When you’re up on your horse, unless a man has a spear or a pike they’re going to have a hard time striking at you effectively. Once you’re on foot they won’t even need to bother, at your size you’ll get knocked down and trampled to death. It’s a risk for even a strong man – you got a dozen men behind you pushing you into another man who’s got a dozen men shoving him into you. You’re pinned together so that you can’t even fight unless you have a knife. Men trapped like that bite at each other like dogs. It’s no lie that in the crush of battle, you don’t even know who you’re attacking.
That’s first. The second thing is don’t take your helmet off. Not ever. It’s heavy and it makes it hard to hear and it cuts off your vision and it’s going to get so hot in there you’re going to feel like you can’t breathe. But don’t take it off, not even for a second. If your helmet gets knocked off, find it, or another, and get it back on as fast as possible. Don’t worry about anything else. If it gets knocked askew and you can’t see, don’t try to take it off and put it back on, just turn it around. If you can’t get it back right way around you’re almost better off being blind than taking it off, it’s a hard call.
There’s filthy weakling healers around that can heal you as long as you don’t get stabbed directly in the heart or in one of the main bloodlines in your thigh. You have a chance to survive most wounds long enough to get healed. What you can’t survive is getting your brains bashed in or an arrow through the skull. If you get hit in the helmet it’s going to make you dizzy, you’re going to want to pull it off – do not do this. If you lose your helmet and you can’t find another, you may be tempted to pick up a shield to protect your head. Don’t. If you can even lift it, you’re not going to be able to hold it high for long and then you’re just going to be tired. You’re better off shielding your head with your weapon or even your arm – even if you’re not wearing armor. You can live just fine with one arm, you don’t have a spare head. Not to mention you’re rich you can regrow a new arm magically.
Stay mounted, protect your head. Horse, helmet, that’s how you stay alive.”
“Got it. What about attacking the enemy?”
He laughed “I wouldn’t worry about that, you don’t look like you could break an egg.”
I mentioned that my parents and I were never really on the same page. It wasn’t that they disapproved of me or I hated them or any of the normal young person-parent stuff, we just didn’t belong together. I think somewhere along the line, someone passing out babies mixed me up with someone else. I think my parents were supposed to have a son who was a solid B student, played sports but wasn’t great at them, became an aluminum siding salesman, married his HS sweetheart – pretty (but not too pretty), nice but kind of stupid – had some kids and ran out the clock like everyone else.
I don’t blame my parents for anything, they just didn’t know what to do with the loud rambunctious little girl that burst into their mild life wanting to be a singer and a dancer and an actress and travel the world. I told my mother once I wanted to experience everything that life has to offer, that I wanted to “wine and dine with kings and queens, and sleep in the alley eating pork and beans”. I think she needed a glass to sherry to get to sleep that night. What would the neighbors think if they knew!
My parents didn’t beat me or lock me in my room or say that I was possessed by the devil, and I think that was the best they could do. They could have made my childhood Hell, but they didn’t. It’s weird to say about a child-parent relationship, but we just stayed out of each other’s way. If you want to be uncharitable, you can say there was some neglect there. Such as, when I was sixteen I went with some friends to a concert. There was another concert in another city the next night and on a whim I went to that one too. At that concert I met some other folks and went to a festival with them in the US. Six months later when I got home, my parents had moved all my stuff out of my room. They said they didn’t think I was coming back.
While my mother and I are not close, my grandma (dad’s mom) and I were very much the otherway. No offense to my dad, but it’s hard to see how a woman like her raised a square like him. She was born in New Orleans and always kept a place there. She said she liked living somewhere the entire world came to visit. She used to tell stories and say things like “This was after the Irish mob came for my father and we went into the swamp with my mother’s kin for a few years of course” as if it was no big deal. She told me a thousand tales about her life and I guarantee you that was just the tip of the iceberg. If anyone should have written a memoir, it was my grandma, but she had no time for that, she had a life to live.
She was a dance hall girl, she attended Straight University where some people hassled her because she was mostly white, she studied law where some people hassled her because she was a woman, she shacked up with a painter in Panama, she lived in a commune in Australia, she drove in a cross-country race in Russia, she had an affair with the mayor of New Orleans (she broke his heart of course) she dabbled with communism, she visited every continent, she didn’t take shit from anyone, and when the doctors told her she had to stop smoking, drinking, and eating rich food she said “I live the way I live and I’ll die the way I’ll die.” When the end did come she planned the whole thing, it was like a pharaoh preparing a tomb, only instead of a pyramid she was putting together a party that people still talk about today. Clark Gable was there and no one knows why.
Again, not to be a jerk, but I never really give my parents a thought – I miss my grandma every day. She had a million sayings, not all of them were gems, but she had one for every occasion. She felt that it was part of her duty to make sure I knew what the world was and how to deal with it. The thing my grandma used to say that is relevant right now is “If you’re going to do something stupid, make sure it’s really stupid.”
Blue and I have been hanging around the Russian (actually I now think he’s Polish) guy’s bar in touristville, which never has any customers and is clearly not a front for money laundering. Just two unemployed, down on their luck superpeople drinking gallons of booze and talking hoops. Somehow Blue managed to attach wires and foil to the bunny ears on the crappy TV in the back and get a signal from the CS. It was a game between the Spirits and Pacers but hey, I hadn’t seen any hoops in months. Any port in a storm right?
Blue didn’t like my idea of approaching the yakuza. I figured that since the Shadow Lords are their enemies, that would make us friends, but Blue said that was an even worse plan than trying to befriend pirates. So I asked Blue if it was true that the Shadow Lords have some supermen on the payroll. He said that he knew of at least two. I told him my plan was to find one of them and confront them in some kind of high noon type scenario to show the Shadow Lords that messing with me was more trouble than it’s worth. He said that was the worst idea he ever heard. He said that a show of power wasn’t going to back off the Shadow Lords.
I said that maybe if I beat one of their champions, that would allow me to bargain with them from a position of power. He asked me what I would be bargaining for. My goal is to leave and never come back, their goal is to have me make money for them – he said that didn’t allow for much of a meeting of the minds. Plus he said that I probably wouldn’t win anyway. When I pointed out that I kicked his ass, he had an answer for that.
“You caught me by surprise, I underestimated you I admit. But that wasn’t a fight, that was you breaking my neck in a couple seconds. If you want to ambush one of these guys and throw a car at him that might work, but these guys are killers, you don’t want to get involved in any kind of straight up hand to hand combat with them.”
“If I’m such a worthless fighter like everyone keeps saying, why did they kidnap me in the first place? What did they want me for if not breaking heads?”
He shrugged, which made his blue lizard skin ripple in an unpleasant way “Maybe they had some heavy boxes they wanted moved.”
That’s when I had my brilliant idea “Okay forget about the high noon plan, what about the ship? Maybe the ship that brought me had other people on it like me, brought here against their will. Maybe I can find them and gather more allies.”
He sighed “Are you still on this idea of creating a super team of crime fighting heroes? That’s comic book shit. And if there was anyone else on that ship, the Shadow Lords already have them.”
I grinned and clapped him on the back “All the more reason to save them!”
He made a weird puffing sound that I think is the lizard equivalent of a sour grunt “This is even worse than your first idea.”
I laughed “You got anywhere else to be, big man? I’ll give you a moment to check your day planner.”
Born in Saskatoon 1930, Lucien Basilières spent his youth in Montreal. Volunteering for the Army Special Force at 17, he was shipped to boot camp in Denver before being deployed to the fighting in Borneo in 1948. He would go on to fight with the 1st Commonwealth Division in 1950-1952 on the mainland. After returning to Canada, Lucien’s records indicate that he was assigned to an ill-defined unit that at various times appeared to be an attachment of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a branch of RCMP Security Service, or an independent agency. It is suspected that Lucien was involved in anti-terrorist and espionage operations, many of which were extralegal or illegal.
Lucien was ousted from the Canadian military after the issuance of Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO) 19-20, Sexual Deviation – Investigation, Medical Investigation and Disposal, which required members of the military suspected of being homosexual to be investigated and then subsequently released from service. The officer that headed this investigation was murdered, a crime for which Lucien was questioned but never charged. The case remains unsolved.
It is believed that for the next two years, Lucien used his skills on behalf of Aboriginal-based organized crime groups with connections to the Rizzuto crime family. The fact that he hastily left Canada in 1970 with false papers indicates a falling out with these criminal groups.
Lucien joined a group of “military advisors” made up of English, Welsh, and Dutch mercenaries expelled from or fleeing prosecution in southern Africa. He was working in this capacity in Pakistan during the alien contact labeled Deep Space 99. Most alien visitors to earth are the result of crash landings or other accidents, making enforcing the Covarrubias Convention, which requires the immediate extermination of all alien lifeforms on earth, relatively easy.
The DS 99 incident was one of the rare cases of intentional alien landing – seven ships carrying highly trained teams of alien explorers with a mission to study earth. Russian alien extermination teams were able to destroy five of the smaller ships and kill dozens of the explorers, but hundreds more were able to scuttle their remaining damaged craft and escape. Making their pursuit and extermination difficult is the fact that the DS99 aliens, dubbed HIET (humanoid intelligent extra-terrestrial) 277 are indistinguishable from humans in visible light (they are noticeably different in the UV band).
Lucien was captured by a splinter cell of HIET aliens and subjected to experimentation. Although HIET 277 are known to be human in appearance, Lucien claims that his main tormentor had a prominent lizard-like face and long scaled fingers. Whether this is an additional species associated with HIET 277 or merely the hallucinations of a man under intense pain and stress remains unknown.
Lucien claims that he saw other humans being experimented on, or merely tortured, many of whom died. Lucien does not remember escaping the facility or being set free, his next memory being waking up with his new form in the custody of authorities in Karachi. Authorities who had very little interest in dealing with a massive blue lizardman.
Left a stateless outcast, Lucien made his way to Madripoor where he makes a poor living as muscle for hire to various criminal enterprises.
The physical mutations of the alien experiments by HIET 277 on Lucien are obvious. He is now close to eight feet tall and weighs more than fifteen hundred pounds, not only because of the physical bulk but also due to hard calcified dermal deposits and superdense bone and muscle structure. His skin has been replaced with blue scales similar in appearance to the Martinique anole, although in function they are similar to the armored scales of crocodilians.
In addition to this enormous body size, Lucian’s ratio of arm-to-leg length is significantly higher than a similar sized human form would dictate. His strength, reflexes, and speed are all outside of human norms. He has not been formally tested but his observed abilities appear to be on the low end of the Briggs-Hollymere scale for NBHs. Due to his mass, scales, and dermal deposits, Lucian is highly resistant to physical trauma. Lucien’s vision encompasses a broader spectrum than baseline humans, extending into infrared.
His most noteworthy demonstrated ability is regenerative power, allowing him to heal rapidly to the point of restoring lost limbs and quickly recovering from injuries that would otherwise be fatal. Based on observations, it is speculated that Lucien can eventually recover from any damage that does not result in instant death (decapitation, massive heart trauma, some spinal injuries, etc).
Since the Shadow Lords have chased me out of my apartment with their wicked ways, I’ve been flopping with whoever Elvis, Mary, or Saysamore have been able to talk into letting me crash with for a few days. I’ve been a couch hopper before but I was the one choosing the couches. I don’t like being at the mercy of others like this but there’s not much I can do about it. Also most people here don’t have couches, so it’s more like borrowing some floor.
Since I have no income I’ve been mooching food as well, which normally wouldn’t bother me too much but I need a trucker’s buffet worth of food just to feel like I’m not going to pass out. Something’s got to give here or I’m going to use up all the goodwill of Elvis and his friends and be left to die in the gutter. It’s a precarious position when every day things get a little worse.
Sidenote, Elvis has a lot of girl friends for me to stay with. Not girlfriends, he doesn’t seem to have any of those, but a lot of friends that are girls. So many that it seems like something is going on. I don’t know what that something could be, but it’s odd. I’ll have to figure that out one of those days.
Last night I slept in the store room of a bar in touristville. The deal was that I could stay there for a couple days if I got this giant oil drum out of the basement. I don’t mean like a 50 gallon barrel, I mean like a rusty old hunk of metal that used to hold fuel oil. It looked kind of like a giant BBQ smoker. Or just a normal BBQ smoker in Lone Star.
I ripped it out of the concrete and crumpled it up like a wad of tinfoil which was good. I cut the shit out of my hands doing so which was bad. I need to get used to being super strong. Things like that keep catching me by surprise. My skin certainly isn’t super-strong. Hopefully my super metabolism can protect me from tetanus. The owner, who I think is Russian, watched me do all this with a cigarette in his mouth and little to no reaction. Like a woman ripping a half ton of old metal out of the ground was something he’s seen so much it’s become tedious. These Madripoor folk seem like they’re pretty jaded.
In the morning he made me some kind of spicy egg dish and then we sat around the bar staring at each other. He doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak any Russian (or whatever) so there wasn’t much to say. I found an old guitar and was messing around with that for a while. When I started to sing he said “przestań robić” and waved for me to stop. Everyone’s a critic. I had a top 40 hit damn it!
I’ll grant you that most bars aren’t really hopping during the day, but for a tourist bar this place was absolutely dead. Which didn’t seem to bother the owner and seeming only employee in the slightest. Probably a front for money laundering or something. Everything here seems to be a little crooked at least.
No one came in until around five o’clock and the person who did come in wasn’t looking to drink. It was my friend the blue alligator-rhino man from the other day. The fact that he was able to find me so easily calls into question the effectiveness of my Shadow Lord evasion strategy. Perhaps they’re not hunting for me as ruthlessly as I think.
I was ready to duck out the side door, figuring Big Blue was there for round 2, but it wasn’t that at all. He’s one of these guys where if you kick his ass then you’re his friend. Usually with this kind of guy, that doesn’t cross gender lines but when superpowers get in the mix the lines are blurry. Nice to know that he doesn’t discriminate.
He started ordering whiskey sours and once he found out that I could out-drink him as well as out-fight him, I think he fell in love with me. His French was funny sounding to my ear but we understood each other well enough. He loves basketball. And, as you all know, the only thing I love as much as music is the Tropics. We sat there drinking and talking hoops all night long. He thinks Willis Reed is better than Mel Daniels but he was watching the game where Jackie Moon got thirty rebounds against San Diego so I’ll let that slide.
He seems kind of sad. You know, on the inside. I guess being a seven foot tall blue dinosaur man is about as lonely as being a CS girl stranded in a foreign land hunted by a ruthless international criminal syndicate and presumed dead by everyone back home. We freaks have to stick together.
Editor’s note – I know what you’re thinking “Jeremy, the Kool-Aid Man character didn’t come out until 1974 you moron! You’re the worst writer ever.” Well I am the worst writer ever but you’re forgetting that this is an alternate history deal. In this world the Kool-Aid Man commercials started airing in 1972! The changes that led up to this alteration and the staggering ramifications of it will be explored in my forthcoming graphic novel Kool-Aid: 1972.
A quarter of the world’s maritime trade passes through the Malacca Straits. Half of all seaborne chemical and gas shipments pass through. So of course the area is infested with well-organized, well-armed, and ruthless pirates. When they aren’t chased off by local brutal corporate-sponsored hired goons anyway. It’s estimated by people that estimate things that over one hundred ships a year go missing around Madripoor. Hijacked and redirected to another port. This does not include the innumerable others attacked and raided on their journeys.
When I first heard people in Madripoor talking about pirates, it threw me for a loop. I never hear anyone in the CS talking about pirates. The word pirate makes me think of ships with sails and guys with swords. But I guess, thinking about it logically, there’s no reason for pirates to have gone away. If you can’t stop people from stealing your shit, they’re going to steal it. That’s a rule of some kind.
Grain of salt because it’s all rumors, but I understand that it’s sometimes part of an insurance scam. You got a shipful of hot pants headed for Africa and suddenly hot pants aren’t cool anymore. They’re just going to take up room in your warehouse in Johannesburg. So you get in touch with your fixer who knows a pirate boss. They “attack” the ship, you get the insurance, and they get some ransom money. You dump the hotpants into the sea and everyone wins. Except the insurance company.
I figured that pirates wouldn’t be afraid of the Shadow Lords and also could get me out of here. You may be thinking “Dealing with pirates, Ela? That sounds like a terrible idea.” You happen to be right but where were you yesterday asshole?
In my defense I’m a singer, not a . . . person who deals with whatever this situation is. Whatever Steve McQueen would be if he was a real badass and not just an actor. Whatever that is, I’m not that. I’m all alone here and I don’t know what’s going on. Plus, you don’t understand what kind of place Madripoor is. If you were here you’d think that buddying up to pirates was perfectly normal.
Elvis’s friend Say likes to party so we went to a couple bars, a couple clubs, a couple parties, and it just so happens that I managed to rub elbows with a couple people in the piracy world. Sidenote, about twenty percent of the men here are super into me because I’m white. And about twenty percent think I’m super gross for the same reason. It’s interesting.
I met a guy I thought was named Preman. I learned later that “preman” means gangster in Indonesian. Although it’s actually from the Dutch language and means rooster. Language is complicated. “Preman” and I hung out a few times, smoked something like weed, drank some weird booze, and got to know each other. Once we were good pals, he said a friend of a friend of a friend of his could help me out and wasn’t scared of the Shadow Lords and I should meet him at a restaurant the next morning to talk details.
It was a set-up of course. What I didn’t know then is that the Shadow Lords were basically the seaside agents of the local pirates when the first came to Madirpoor. The pirates would steal the stuff and then pass it off to the Shadow Lords as the middlemen. Not only that, but most of the pirates around here are groups that grew out of the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, a resistance group from the Philippines that fought against Japanese occupation. The Huk and the Shadow Lords both hate the yazuka so they bond over that. The point is that the entire idea was more or less the worst thing I could have done.
“Preman” and a friend came in to the restaurant, we sat down, and next thing I know someone is behind me and has a rag over my mouth. Here’s the thing though, with my new metabolism nothing like that seems to affect me much. I don’t know if the Shadow Lords didn’t warn them or if they didn’t know.
I grabbed the ragman’s arm and flung him across the room like I was tossing a Frisbee (or a bag of rags, a ragbag if you will). When I swung him around, I felt his arm come out of the socket. Which was a little nauseating, but if we’re being honest it felt good too. I was angry and frustrated and it felt good to hurt someone. Does that make me awful? I don’t know.
“Preman” got the hell out of there but his buddy went for a gun. I flipped the table into him and the gun fired. You always forget how LOUD those damn things are. As he raised the gun again, trying to get disentangled from the table, I tried to yank the gun out of his hand. Instead I crushed them both. The gun and the hand. I never heard a human being make a noise like he did as he fell back against the wall cradling his hand to his chest. It was truly chilling.
I took a hold of his forehead in one hand like Jackie Moon palming a basketball. I wanted so badly to squeeze it. That’s all it would have taken. One little squeeze and a man is dead. It would have been no more effort than checking the ripeness of a peach. Just a little squeeze. I wanted it more than I wanted any cigarette or any drink. A part of my brain told me it would make everything better. It would make all the pain go away. No one would ever fuck with me again. He was a bad guy, wasn’t he? Why did he deserve to live?
I wanted it.
But I didn’t do it. Just as I let the guman go, their ace in the hole came smashing in. And I mean that literally. He crashed through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. I have no idea why, the door was wide open. He was easily over seven feet tall and he had electric blue scales. It was like the skin of a technicolor crocodile on acid. Only you know, on a big dude. He didn’t look like a rhino but something about him made me think of a rhino. Maybe just because he was massive and leathery and mean looking.
He came charging at me like a bull (a bull rhino) and I threw another table at him. He batted it aside like he was swatting a volleyball. I managed to leap out of the way of his crashing tackle and he slammed into and through the other wall out into the street. I hope this restaurant is owned by the pirates or the Shadow Lords, because I’d hate to think some innocent people got their place wrecked just because this is where some assholes chose as their kidnap location.
As the blue alligator rhino man was getting back to his feet in the wall-hole, I grabbed him around the waist and hurled him back over my shoulders like a sack of grain. It feels weird when you can throw someone ten times your size, but I knew from working on the docks I could lift him easily. He slammed into the ground hard enough to shake the building. Which was getting pretty shaky already from being run through on both sides. I think I saw “Run through on both sides” on the marquee of a movie theater once. You know the kind I mean.
I was ready to rumble but I saw that blueman’s head was twisted at a funny angle. Not funny ha-ha but funny “oh shit I just killed a guy”. I won’t lie, I stood there staring, mouth agape for a moment. I’m not a murderer you know. But while I stood there I heard a crazy crackling, snapping, popping noise and his head jerked back to the right way and his eyes opened. I guess he can heal super-fast.
Since he wasn’t dead, I went outside and pushed the building down on him. I should have grabbed something to drink before I did that. Fighting is thirsty business.
The Shadow Lords have their origin in the 1937 invasion of China by the Empire of Japan. The Japanese Imperial Army brought coastal China under their control and they were followed by the yakuza as closely as lightening after a storm. All the local criminal groups either fled or were killed.
One of the survivors of this purge was a member of the Green Gang called Fat Yuan. Rumors say that he was half Japanese, the son of a powerful oyabun and his Chinese mistress. As the story goes, he was able to survive and escape the extermination of the Green Gang due to his superhuman abilities and inside information about the activities of those that sought his death.
Fat Yuan fled south before the oncoming Imperial tide and began studying at the monastery of Four Winds outside of Vientiane. When Fat Yuan and his followers stole the mystical shadowknives protected by the masters of the Four Winds, it instigated bloody infighting that saw the destruction of the Four Winds sect and the deaths of the teachers Howling Over Thunder and Crimson Mask.
Lacking the resources to challenge the Yakuza directly, Fat Yuan and his followers traveled the Indonesian Archipelago, Polynesia, and Australia each recruiting their own followers – creating many small gangs that would eventually coalesce into the Shadow Lords. Their ranks were swelled by other Chinese gangsters who had survived the purge, but included a diverse cross section of criminals from across the region. This loose collection of criminal enterprises began to establish their own small spheres of influence in the Madripoor underworld.
The Shadow Lords are essentially cults of personality formed around a specific individual. As such, they usually disintegrate if that leader is killed or removed from power. Experienced members will break off from their parent gangs to establish their own independent outfits with the approval of their former leader. The Shadow Lords are not overseen by a central authority like the Mafia or similar groups.
Despite this lack of top down leadership, conflict between Shadow Lords is rare, unlike the mob wars between Yakuza clans, Mafia families, or Triads.
In contrast to those other organized crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are small, consisting of fewer than thirty sworn members. Those members control front gangs, larger networks of criminal associations on the street. Due to the necessity of protecting themselves from larger rivals, the members never inform the operatives on the street that they are actually in the employment of the Shadow Lords.
When a group becomes too big and attracts the attention of their enemies, it fragments into two or three smaller groups. By splitting up and recruiting, they evolve and change their face and shape, keeping a low profile.
In essence, the Shadow Lords are a confederacy of criminal outfits that share the same goals. Each leader has their own culture, their own separate hierarchy, and what motivates them may be different, but they all help each other survive while they strike at the Yakuza. Due to their single-minded obsession with hurting the Yakuza, the Shadow Lords have not grown as fast as they could.
The Shadow Lords use every resource possible and are willing to take greater risks than rival syndicates. Compared to the larger crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are far more likely to cooperate with outsiders. Besides their comfort with magical artifacts, this manifests by the Shadow Lords being one of the few organized crime groups that actively recruits “superhumans”, which are not welcome in more traditional enterprises.
Elvis and I ended up on a couple of rickety chairs on the roof of his grandma’s place. Not like a roof roof you know, it was like a patio with a garden. Sort of. It’s a different building style out here so I don’t know how to explain it. Check it out sometime and you’ll know what I mean. The first time I saw Elvis, I thought he looked like he had been sleeping in a dirty alley. Now I think that’s just what he looks like after a day of crawling under sinks and on roofs to fix things. Also he may have been sleeping in a dirty alley. He handed me a bottle of . . . something alcoholic. It tasted sort of like candy. Shitty candy. The kind that the bad house gives away at Halloween.
I took another drink and grimaced “I don’t mean to sound provincial but what you people need is some decent booze.”
“Sorry, for some reason it’s hard to find good American Kentucky bourbon here. Must be eight thousand years of having our own culture. I’m sure your Imperial overlords will straighten us out soon enough.”
“You keep acting like I’m from the US, and I keep telling you I’m from the Coalition, we save all our military atrocities for South America, not south Asia.”
He nodded apologetically “My mistake.”
I asked him to tell me about the Shadow Lords and he did. Nothing terribly useful though. In the 1800s someone starts cultivating drugs and selling them to a cartel in the Andes and that leads to one gang which leads to another and Triads from China get involved and then the yakuza during the war and a bunch of people get killed and one group takes over another and etc. etc. Long story short they’re an organization of violent gangsters in a place where the authorities don’t really care as long as they don’t stop rich people from becoming richer.
“So, Madripoor has more than its fair share of NBHs right? What we need to do is gather them together to stand against the criminals.”
“Stand against how? You want to kill them? Gang warfare?”
“No of course not. I mean just . . . stop them . . . somehow. You know, with superpowers. We could form a league of justice of some kind. Or a justice league if you will.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure how being able to jump really high or lift heavy boxes helps with the societal and economic conditions that lead to crime. Plus anyone like that is more likely to be working for the Shadow Lords or another gang rather than against them. I know they have two people like that at least in their crew.”
“Like that guy who pulled that weird knife?”
Elvis shook his head “No, that’s just a shadowknife.”
I waved irritably “Sure just a shadowknife, we all know what that is.”
“It’s a mystic weapon that cuts not just the flesh but also the soul, to enslave the spirits of the people killed by it. You know how that goes. Also it allows you to travel to the Plateau of Leng if you believe in that kind of thing.” Elvis raised his glass as if in a toast “The leaders of the Shadow Lords all have them, stolen from a monastery on the mainland, hence the name.”
“Wonderful. So I’m not hearing a ton of support for my league of justice idea coming from you.”
“Well, there’s a guy I know a little who has bulletproof skin, he’s an asshole but he likes money. He’ll help if you pay him. There’s a guy around who can turn into a tiger that’s not affiliated with any gang in particular. He might help if you want to kill these guys. He likes killing people.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone! I just . . . want to do whatever Superman does.”
“What does Superman do?”
“I don’t know, send them to the Phantom Zone? I’m not a dork that reads comics. What if I made a deal with the Shadow Lords? If I defeat their champion then they leave me alone.”
“Why would they agree to that? And why would you trust them even if they did?”
He ticked off on his fingers “Drug trafficking, sex trafficking, slavery, murder, what makes you think these people have honor? This isn’t a kung fu movie, the bad guys don’t have a code you can exploit. Besides which, and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, you’d never win anyway.”
“Why do you say that? I could knock this whole house down.”
“First, please don’t knock my grandma’s house down. Second, strength is fine, but who would you bet on in a fight – Joe Frazier or Vasily Alekseyev?”
“Who’s Vasily Alekseyev?”
“A Russian power lifter. The strongest man in the world. The strongest normal man anyhow.”
“I take your point but you said it yourself, they’re normal. I’m stronger than him. I’m superhuman. That has to count for something.”
Elvis stood up “Try and hit me.”
“I’ll kill you.”
He shook his head “You wont hurt me.”
After much prompting I eventually got up and stood in front of him. I threw the lightest punch I could and he slapped it away like a fly. I tried a little harder and he avoided it again. He didn’t really dodge or block it, but kind of did both – sliding away and moving my hand a little at the same time. After the third time, he not only slipped my strike but he smacked me back in the face.
“Hey! Don’t do that!”
“Is that what you’re going to tell the man you want to fight? Don’t hit me? All your strength you’re so proud of, what good does it do you if it’s going the wrong way? Try and hit me for real. Don’t hold back.”
I did hold back some, but even a half-strength punch would have killed him I’m sure. Which made what I was doing rather stupid. If you’re going to hold back it should be enough to make a difference, otherwise what’s the point in doing it at all? I did almost catch him once and as he twisted away he threw a strike of his own, I think without even meaning to. He barely touched me, but I dropped to the ground and started to bawl.
“You hit me!”
He came forward with his hands out “Oh shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .”
When he came to comfort me I grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him up off the ground and held him over the edge of the roof “I win. Don’t tell me I can’t beat someone. I just need different tactics.”
He gulped and looked down at the street “No one in the Shadow Lords has any feelings for you to take advantage of.”
I set him down “Sure they do, they’re just different feelings than you have. I need to think about your advice, use my opponent’s strength against them. I can’t win a fistfight or a gunfight, but there are other ways to fight.”
I’ve had some hard times in my life. The music business isn’t a cakewalk. Even when you have a top 40 hit. Which I do. There’ve been times in my life when I was just crashing on couches and not sure where my next meal would come from. Hitching across the CS and the US and the Republics playing in whatever clubs you can find isn’t a life people would call secure, and I’ve done that too.
But I’ve never felt like this before. No money, no place to stay, no friends. People bitch about the CS because that’s what people do, but it’s a place with a lot of safety nets. You can fall pretty hard in the CS but they’re there. Madripoor is different. I could very easily starve to death here. The other day I saw a woman walk into the ocean. She had just had enough. No one even spared her a second glance.
If there’s any silver lining to my current predicament, it’s that working down at the docks was getting me nowhere anyway. Hopefully I would have realized that on my own sooner rather than later, but regardless I don’t have to worry about that now.
What’s my main problem? The Shadow Lords. So what can I do about it? Back in the States I’d go to the police right? I feel like they have to have police here but I’ve never seen one of them. Given the general vibe of the place, I have a feeling that wouldn’t do me any good. So what next? If I’m going to do something about the Shadow Lords I need to know more about them.
The only person I met who didn’t seem afraid of them, or maybe he was just willing to face them anyway, is Elvis. I wandered a long time trying to find the street he said his grandma lives on. A guy grabbed me at one point. I don’t know if it was to rob me or what. I pulled his arm off of me and I felt it snap like a candy cane in my fingers. He made a weird sound and spun to the ground cradling his arm.
Part of me thought I should pick him up and throw him into a brick wall. That caught me off guard. I’ve never been a violent person. I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anyone before. Well, that one time back home, but that was special circumstances. The voice telling me to wreck this guy scared me more than him attacking me.
I guess this is what they mean when they say that power corrupts. It’s easy to say give peace a chance when you’re the one who’s likely to get victimized. Once you have the power things look a little different. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. I’m not sure what I think of having this strength yet. It doesn’t feel real. How strong you are isn’t something that comes up in everyday life. So it’s easy to forget.
I didn’t have much of a plan, okay I didn’t have any plan, of what to do when I got to the street I was looking for. I don’t know if Elvis even stays here, I just know that his grandma’s street is the only piece of information I have about him. I guess I was just going to walk around and see if I saw him, but I didn’t even make it down the street once before an old woman was in a doorway waving me over.
Her French was atrocious. She told me that Elvis wasn’t there and I should come in and help her while I waited for him. Cooking has never been my thing but she set me to helping her anyway. Did you know that you can make pasta out of rice? I didn’t. Until I came here I never saw pasta in soup either. If nothing else, getting left for dead in Madripoor has enriched my culinary experience.
Cooking may not seem like hard work, but it is. Although part of that was that we seemed to be making enough food for an army. A small army, but still an army. Every so often a kid would show up on a bike and take away several pots of food. I don’t get tired anymore because I’m enhanced, but how can you explain the same thing for a tiny million year old Asian woman? Maybe all those right wingers in the US are right, maybe we are getting soft in the west.
I asked her if this was her business and she gave me a funny look and didn’t say anything. I don’t know if it was because she didn’t understand me or what. When I tried again, I asked her who the food was for and she gave me another weird look and said “Tout le monde” – everybody.
I missed at least three quarters of what she said because as I mentioned her French was awful, but in addition she often slipped (intentionally maybe) into a language I didn’t know. But what I did pick up was mostly her grousing about how Elvis needed to find a nice girl and settle down, stop all this nonsense with getting in fights. It took me a while to pick up on the subtext because of the language barrier, but eventually I figured out that her looks and comments were trying to communicate to me that Elvis needed a nice girl like him, not some crazy white foreigner who shamelessly flaunts herself with improper clothing. I have long pants on, what more does she want from me? Not that I’m interested anyway. Point is grandmothers are grandmothers the world over.
When we took a break for lunch, she told me about how she had an affair with a Frenchman back on the mainland. This I gather resulted in Elvis’s mother, who granny had nothing good to say about. She blamed herself for not keeping her away from the communists. She cast a cold eye on me and asked me if I was a communist. I assured her that I wasn’t. So far she’s the only person I’ve eaten in front of who didn’t freak out over the amount of food I was packing away. She just kept bringing me more.
Elvis did show up in the afternoon and upon seeing me, his first comment was that I looked like a “soggy peacock” which I guess is the same as a drowned rat.
“Give me a break, it’s like a steam room back in that kitchen. You try spending twelve hours in there and see how you look.”