Look away from the sky

We were told that where we were going the terrain would get too rough for J-Lo, so we were loaned a thing that was kind of like a dune buggy but barely bigger than a four wheeler.  I was surprised at the offer since a vehicle seems to be the most valuable commodity around here.  But I suppose we are going to save everyone and everything so it’s the least they could do really.  Martialla drove that thing, which I have named Modest Mouse, while I trailed her in J-Lo until we could find a good place to stash her. 

I’ve never been one of those people that got emotionally attached to their cars.  They’re like coffee makers to me, as long as they work I could give a shit about them.  It’s funny how living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland can change your viewpoint on inanimate objects.  I’ve come to view J-Lo as our home and leaving her behind was tough.  It seems like there’s no chance that someone won’t come along and steal it or it will just fall in a crevasse after an earthquake or something.  It felt like I was a turtle being asked to leave my shell behind.

Walking out of Cryogenics West was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Just being “out there” I felt so exposed and vulnerable, like anything horrible could happen to us at any time.  Once we got that car the fear of death went down a full eight percent, which is pretty good under the circumstances. 

And I don’t think it’s just because it’s covered with armored plates, I think it’s more having a base of operations – or just something that’s ours.  I assume this is how old timey nomads felt about their horses or camels or wives or whatever they rode around on.  It becomes your whole life.  I never thought that I would be capable of loving a car, but here we are. 

Once we had J-Lo stashed away, we made our way upriver and the land did get pretty rough but Modest Mouse handled it like a champion.  At one point we saw some guys with spears watching us from not that far away.  We had been told that there were exiles up here that weren’t able to fit into even the loose civic standards of a mudhole like Bosstown.  I can only imagine what kind of kill-crazy lunatics they must be if they can’t hack it in what passes for “civilization” around here but they didn’t do anything.  What could they do?  They had spears. 

Late in the day we came across a couple of mud-brick huts with roofs that looked like they had actual shingles on them.  What is that about?  When did shingles become a thing?  Is the shingle an older technology than I think?  Can you make shingles out of mud?  The place looked abandoned but we did find some saddles and other leatherwork in a half-shed type thing, so maybe it was a ranch or a farm.  We also found out that one of the things we thought was a storage shed or a small building was actually an armadillo shell (skin?) that, I kid you not, was the size of a VW Van.  What the hell do you do with something like that? 

While we were debating staying the night there, we heard the sound of engines approaching.  Good job us for not being caught off guard for once!  We sprinted (well Martialla sprinted, I was a few steps behind, there’s no reason for both of us to run right?) into cover at the edge of the compound and saw a pile of trash coming our way.  It looked very much like the wagon of the peddlers we met at the cryo place, only it was being pulled along by these freaky little things that looked like the front half of a motorcycle attached to the back of an El Camino.  Martialla called them half-track motorcycles which is a dumb name.  There were three of them pulling the heap of garbage like it was a chariot in one of those old homoerotic sand and sandals movies.

The people driving/riding them looked a lot like those traders as well.  I guess it’s like a family resemblance?  We yelled out at them not to come any closer but they didn’t listen.  Or maybe they didn’t hear us, those things they were on were awful loud.  They pulled right into the place with us and seemed surprised when we brandished our pistols at them.  Overall they were a lot less skittish than their cousins we met before.  Their leader (or at least their spokesperson) had a piece of metal strapped to his forehead for some reason and wore a black pelt that looked shiny like it had oil on it or something.  He seemed more annoyed than frightened that we had them on overwatch.  That’s a term right?

“Digger hi baker!” I yelled at them hoping that it wasn’t a deadly insult. 

We put our weapons away once it seemed they had no hostile intent and they just wanted to trade.  Although they were kind of hostile about the trading itself.  Hostile like a pushy car salesman hostile.  I told them we weren’t interested and even if we were, we didn’t really have anything to trade but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Like a telemarketer, oily pelt insisted that I look through their mountain of refuse.  There was a crowbar and some nails, things like that, but most of it was trash.  What am I going to do with broken pieces of brick or some old empty toothpaste tubes? 

Oily kept asking me what I wanted and eventually to shut him up, I said that we were more interested in information than things.  I asked what they could tell us about what we might find upriver.  His response, reasonably, was to ask how much it was worth to me.  I told him again that we didn’t really have anything to trade and he was barking up the wrong tree.  He said that we must carry a lot of food since we’re so huge and we could trade that.  Rude. 

Before I could say anything in response, there was a crack of thunder and I have to admit that I hit the deck like a frightened mongoose.  Martialla had blown one of the other traders away.  Literally, I saw him get lifted off his feet by the force of the bullet and he was airborne for a second with his ratty clothes puffed up around him like he was a kite.  She immediately spun and started firing at someone who appeared at the side of one of the buildings holding a rifle. 

Oily Coat brought up what looked like a literal hand cannon.  It was as thick as a pipe under a bathroom sink – I think it actually was a pipe of some kind.  I can’t remember why but Martialla had told me to put my gun on my left hip even though I’m right handed.  So when I ducked down (cringed might be more truthful) and my hand went to my right side and I felt nothing, I thought my gun was gone. 

On the ground was a machete that we had found in one of the buildings.  It looked like it was made out of fiberglass or something but it was sharp as hell.  It had a big chip out of it about a third of the way down that made it look like an elongated Easter Island head.  I kind of grabbed it and swung it up at Oily Coat’s hands in the same motion as I was straightening out.  He kind of turned to point the pipe-gun at me at the last second.  I don’t know if I hacked into it and it went off, or if he fired at the same time, or if the damn thing exploded – all I know is the next moment I was flat on my back with my ears singing and his mouth was open in a scream I couldn’t hear while he clutched his bloody wrists together.  I’m glad I didn’t get a good look because just in profile, his fingers looked like shredded cabbage. 

His other friend came at me with a blade that was so bent it looked like a boomerang.  Why do people in the future not like straight blades?  Is there some reason you want a thing like that instead of a knife?  I finally remembered I had a gun on my left hip and I grabbed it.  Apparently I can only shoot when I’m sitting on my ass in the dirt.   I fired at least seven times and I didn’t hit him once, but a fifth guy (from where?) coming up behind him with a speargun looking thing got hit several times and kind of stumbled/crumbled onto his face.  It reminded me of when someone sacks a quarterback by taking out their knees – they don’t fall so much as they collapse. 

Boomerang knife ran at that point but Martialla chased him down and bashed him a couple dozen times before walking back and knocking Oily Coat down and putting her knee on his throat until he stopped moving.  She looked over at me with her knee still on the man’s windpipe. 

“Are you okay?”

At least that’s what I think she said, I still couldn’t hear anything.

And he said “Blog the best blog in the world, or I’ll eat your soul”

And I said “okay”.

My other fiction blog is about a magic lady where magic is not something people know about or believe in generally.  It’s also about wrestling because why wouldn’t those two things be together?  I read a novel recently that was about wrestling and the guy that wrote it also runs a magic school and I thought “this guy is my audience!” so I tweeted him about my blog and he never responded.  What good is social media anyway if people don’t do whatever I want with little effort on my part?

Anyway, because this story takes place in a “realistic” world, I really struggle with having the protagonist resolve anything.  The basic story is that magic is becoming harder and harder to do because no one believes in it, so those that do know about it are turning to the dark side because it’s easier.  So she’s going along doing whatever and then she finds out about some bad magic people doing bad shit and then I don’t know what the next thing in the story should be.

Because I’m an RPG gamer who likes writing instead of being a writer, my instinct is of course to have a violent confrontation – roll for initiative!  But I mostly try to avoid that for two reasons.  One, people in a “realistic” world are rarely so cavalier about murdering everyone, morals and emotions and all that.  And two, the police and the law and such tend to frown on murder.  And while it would be interesting to write about a magic serial killer who was killing for “good” and the moral quandaries and technical difficulties therein, that’s not what I want to do. 

So I keep trying to think, what do people do when there’s some bad shit going down and there’s no legal authorities that can get in the mix?  And the answer is that they probably don’t do anything, other than be sad about how they’re helpless.  But that’s most people, and stories shouldn’t be about people that don’t do anything, they should be about people that are exceptional, or at least interesting in some way. 

How do you solve problems without violence?  Remember that episode of Futurama where Vice-Presidential Ranger Michelle Nichols exclaims “Killing him isn’t working and that’s all we good at!”  I do.  The obvious answer is have your protagonist be smart and do smart shit and out-smart them instead of resorting to violence.  MacGyver style!  The problem with that is I’m dumb.  How can a dumb person write a smart character? 

I have the same problem with RPGs.  Sometimes people make adventures where I the player, not the character, have to be smart or solve a mystery or a puzzle or something and I can’t do it because I’m stupid as hell.  So I usually play a character who’s supposed to be stupid because how am I supposed to portray an INT 20 wizard? 

So I’ve been trying to think of some movies or books or media I can check out where the problem is something where the obvious answer is “murder” but the character is question is not a murderer so they need to figure something else out.  The first thing that came to mind was the House of Sand and Fog, but thinking about it, the main lady essentially just got someone else to do her dirty work.  I also thought about Avengers Arena, but looking back at that, it’s mostly just people struggling about violence and then being violent.

If you have any ideas on things I can read or watch to get some inspiration on how characters can deal with extreme circumstances without being smarty pantses or D&D style murder hobos, let me know. 

I suppose the other obvious answer is “if she’s magic, bro, have her magic her problems away”.

I used to have a dream semi-often where I found out about a sex trafficking operation and the police and the state government people and everyone were in on it, so I spent all my dream-time trying to figure out how to do anything about it.  I tried calling the FBI and they said they couldn’t interfere for some reason, and then I spent the rest of the dream freaking out and not knowing what to do.  I suppose it was a stress dream of some kind. 

Anyway, I guess I turned that dream into a blog accidentally.  With magic.  And wrestling. 

Mede 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

There isn’t a road between Crosseneller and Beresford but there is a trail of sorts.  A couple of wagons laden with goods were heading that way as well so we bade farewell to Udi, who disappeared into the woods, and joined with them – because nothing ever goes wrong when I’m traveling with a caravan.  I doubt however demented and senile I become I will ever forget the terror of the Skin-Eaters and their attack on the caravan to Three Rivers.  In a sick way I hope that I never forget it.  Something like that should never leave your memory. 

I suppose it’s natural to want to purge your bad memories but it an urge you should resist.  There’s a difference between being unable to stop thinking about a painful experience – which is an issue – and making the conscious attempt to reflect on your past and try to learn from it.  As my grandmother told me love is a good teacher, pain is a great teacher.  If you blot out the bad things in your mind you’re voluntarily blinding yourself – and I need my eyes wide open.  Ignoring bad memories can let them take control over your thoughts, can make you feel helpless and vulnerable – it’s important to drag them out of the shadows and into the light, so you control them rather than the other way around. 

Sometimes you don’t entirely remember what happened, or you understand what happened but not why it happened.  Having unanswered questions, or having information that you find unsatisfactory, can create incredible frustration. That’s why it’s important to get to the root of your dark memories and find the through line, the truth if you want to call it that.  Doing that sucks, but the only way forward is to forge ahead.  

It should go without saying, but people often forget that we are shaped by our experiences, which of course includes the negative ones. Whether your bad memories are rooted in decisions you actively made, or things that happened to you over which you may not have had any control, it’s important to learn from them. What could you have done differently?  How can you avoid it happening again?  If it’s potentially unavoidable what will you do when it happens?  No matter the scenario, there is always room to learn from the experience.

Naturally though the most important reason to think about the horrible things in your past is so that you can parcel out revenge appropriately.  Just think how mad you’d be if you missed your chance for vengeance only because you forgot about the people that slighted you.  You don’t want that do you?  Most of us only have one life, and it’s important to understand the horrible things that happened to us as fully and richly as possible, so we can better understand ourselves and our decisions, and make those responsible for all of it pay. 

But enough with the touchy-feely jibber-jabber, as I said the caravan was only a couple of wagons, but unpredictably there were a couple interesting folks on the crew.  The leader/owner/whatever was an almost famous explorer by the name of Arien Stolar.  He had published a book no one read about his voyage exploring the islands of the North, the north part of the North.  People down this way often think of “the North” as the end of the world, but there’s a whole bunch of stuff up there – even some people.  I knew of him not because I read his book, but because we had met briefly at court when he was there to beg for money for another expedition – I think that one was to find an ancient city of frog-people or some malarkey like that.  He gave no indication that he remembered me but I suppose I can’t fault him for that.

His dress was that of a milksop, all silks and finery, but I knew that anyone who had made the voyages he had was nothing like the pushover he appeared to be.  He wasn’t a half bad storyteller and regaled us with stories of his travels that were probably only thirty percent bullshit.  Also among them was Togra Strongarm, one of Gisa’s ‘treasure hunters’.  I had already heard his only interesting story about saving a wild pig from a Kostelos feast, but I knew that he was a capable fighter so it was nice to see him.  After turning down my very generous offer to get killed by a dragon Gisa had taken her crew south where they had a disastrous tomb-raiding expedition that prompted her to take a break from the “adventurer” life and take a job cataloging and appraising the finds of other less traumatized thieves, I mean  heroic delvers. 

Bixton took an immediate shine to Togra, as often is the case with squire-types and actual fighting men, and was eager to listen to all his tiresome reports about killing this monster and that monster in highly tedious detail.  When we made camp that night I felt it was my duty to explain to the boy how the real world works.

“That Togra is really something isn’t he?”

“Oh yes, he’s so brave!  Did you hear him telling about how he massacred that whole village of unseelie goblins with nothing more than a hookspear, a healing potion, and a bottle of whiskey?”

“That was a trap, and you fell for it like an imbecile.  Togra is a fool.  Don’t get me wrong, we need fools like that, but you are a gentleman Bixton and that sort of low brow roughhousing is beneath you.  Adventure?  Bah!  Excitement?  Fie!  Fighting for money and glory is for poor people, and you’re the upper crust in case you’ve forgotten.  Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be violent, because you absolutely should, but it has to be for the right reasons.  There is nothing like violence for articulating the intensity of your emotions.  It can communicate your anger, frustration, determination, or resolve.  It can be explosive and sudden or habitual and relentless, but however passionate an outburst of violence may be there still must be control – for twisting and using it to your advantage.  You don’t use violence to save people or get gold, you use violence to establish your own power and authority or to destroy someone else’s.  Violence can be a defense, provocation, or retaliation, but it must always be measured.  You can’t strike out wildly like a tavern brawler, you must be cool and deliberate in your application of violence.”

“The things you tell me are a lot different from what the knight I was attending and the Duke’s master at arms tell me about the world.”

“They have their point of view and I have mine.  I think you would do well to consider the source of this advice.”

“Well you’re a vagabond so far as I can tell and they’re rich and powerful so I should listen to them?”

“I like your instincts, but there’s one exception to the rule that whoever has the most money knows the most and that’s me.  Although to be fair I am also quite wealthy.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Go to bed kid.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0885% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,604 gold

XP: 328,851

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Enchanted Tattoo (Storm) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, +1 Human Bane Dagger, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Ela’s Walking Stick (Rod of Ruin/Agile Alpenstock) Bag of Concealment, Bag of Holding, Black Marketers’ Bag, Handy Haversack, white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Knave’s Robes +4, Nymph’s Favor

Pocketed Scarf, wrist sheath, assortment of Fake Signet Rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), 842 garnets, severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, receipt, tax collector’s badge, Gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, 5 gold trade bars, 3 diamond in amber coins, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8) 

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán