The girl with the headphones pinched her nose and closed her eyes. The bus and the people roared around her, her thumb cycled the volume up and up.
She opened her eyes, and the bus was hers. The people were back behind the glass where they belonged. The girl with the headphones coiled a finger through the wire, and leaned her head back against the window. Frost and steam did battle behind her, in the gray streets.
The old steel worm chugged along, bending in the middle – armor rippling around a corner. A tall boy with corkscrew hair dangled from a white pole. His eyes were black and curious, making a naked cartography of her shape.
The girl frowned, and her thumb moved.
The boy let himself hang from the rail, his body making a triangle between the floor and the roof. He smiled at her, and refused to get behind the glass where he belonged. His shirt was a grimy green, and had a mermaid printed with blank ink.
Her stomach crawled and she turned her face toward the front of the bus.
The mermaid boy twined around another moment, then thudded to the floor when the bus screamed to a stop. The girl with the headphones gritted her teeth in satisfaction.
He hooted and grumbled, then pulled himself to the doors of the steel worm and was gone.
The glass reformed, and the girl was alone and satisfied.
A block later and she forgot the mermaid boy. She did not think of him again.
[Story on demand for Leigh — her suggestion too me in a weird direction, as it often does — mainly because I was thinking more about my last trip to Chicago, the City of Ice. Thanks for the idea!
For those of you playing the home game, I did write another “mermaid” themed SOD, click here to be underwhelmed. Suddenly, Mermaid.]
Let me tell you about the first time I saw Fairchild.
I was working at Papa John’s — the day shift. I had just moved back to Athens after a blurred year away, and it was the first job I found. It was terrible money, and ultimately destroyed my car at the time — but hey, free pizza.
One of the big tasks that I had to do everyday, was food prep. All of the various pizza ingredients had to be carted out of the walk-in freezer. The cheese had to be fluffed [no-shit technical term], the meats had to be sorted — and all of the vegetables needed to be prepped fresh each day. The tomatoes were chopped, the onions were diced [pure misery], everything sliced and prepped with a big steel knife.
I hated it, but in a mute sort of way. It was systematic and mindless. Plenty of time to plot my escape, or let my mind wander.
For some reason, I really did enjoy cutting up the green bell peppers.
For the uninitiated, here’s the process. You cut off the cap [stem part] with a knife, then scoop out the seeds and guts inside. Then you would toss the whole thing into a big chopper with a crank, a few spins and out would come eviscerated vegetable.
It’s hard to explain exactly what I enjoyed about it. Other than the wanton destruction. The peppers were always nice and cool, and pleasantly crisp when you sliced into them. It was neat and self-contained, a little green world — protected by a thick barrier. Chop up onions, you get more onions — chop up a green pepper, you are Galactus.
One day I cut the top off of a bell pepper, and found something new.
The pepper looked completely normal on the outside, maybe just a little twisty at the bottom — but inside was a tiny green growth, a nub of another pepper growing inside. It was a much brighter green then its host, almost fluorescent green, twisted and strange growing in the center of things.
My immediate thought : “This is what cancer is.”
Because it wasn’t a blight, or a bug — it was something that grew from within the little world, innocent and merry and green, green, green. All it wanted was to grow, and was blithely unconcerned with what that meant for rest of the pepper.
I’ve scanned the internet for a good picture of one of these things, and I absolutely cannot find one suitably impressive.
It was just so pleased with itself — that’s what struck me. So vibrant and wicked and sure of itself – it almost waved in delight to be discovered.
Look what I am doing, it said. It’s so very nice inside of here, would you like to pull up a chair? Things are going so well!
That image sticks with me. And so when it was time to create a villain for the last act of Lodestar — the green, green cancer sauntered into my mind, as blithe and merry as ever. A devil, a prince of devils dreaming of being King. A trickster and a manipulator — one so very, very sure of his success. Fairchild, the King of Glass. He had appeared in bit parts in other stories, but it was time for him to take center stage.
And if the heroes of Aufero aren’t most clever and potent, he will sit on the throne of my little world until the end of days.
But even if they succeed, I know the image of the green pepper in my mind will survive — so Fairchild will too.
A short story that features my green devil – The Cost – if you care to peruse.
The heat of her day, and the hat on her head, and the crease of her waist and the slight boredom in her green-green eyes.
I thump down on the strings and an eruption of trees – pines today. Green like her eyes, but I place them outside her reach with petty twangs. She spins faster, catching the rhythm. A few coins clatter. It’s hot.
I throw gold notes at her feet, but her steps erase them – Nena the Cruel, the Cat Dancing. Give her a heart, and she will return a hard-scrabble scrap rat-tat-rattling around your rib cage.
She makes the devil jealous. The sun weep.
I fill the plaza with water, my fingers on the strings. She steps onto the waves like a birthright, her hem dry.
The crowds pass, but they do not see. This marble and stone corner of the world full of spite and spiders — full of amaranth and ambrosia. At the end of the day I will slide my hand under her elbow, and she will jerk it away. My desire-sweat drips, and she kills me again with green-green daggers.
I bring a spirit of fire into the forest, I build a wall of earth — it is never enough to hold her. A snake winds around the base of my spine and I want her and want her. I scream down into my hands, and the strings do their best to answer.
[Spoiler Alert: I’m a giant nerd. I’ve been running a Pathfinder campaign for the past two years, and I’m starting to work on the next one. All of my new players are relative neophytes to the game, and I put together this rough breakdown to guide them through choosing a proper character class for their style. One of my players really liked it, and suggested I put it up on my blog for use by nerds throughout the land — and since I’m lazy, and going to be away for a week — WISH GRANTED, Mr. Yellow Devil.
Any other tabletop nerds out there? I’d love any feedback or suggestions you have on this chart.]
Here’s a rough break-down of the nineteen character classes available. Think of this as a very rough overview, to give you some idea for further discussion with me and the other players. I’ve also included links to further descriptions of each class — it’s very technical, but there’s a good overview of each through the link, enough to give you more idea of what each class can do.
“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death..” S.Snape
Making themselves more powerful; influencing enemies and the battlefield in unexpected ways.
If you want to do damage: Barbarian, Magus, Monk, Gunslinger
If you want to hurt things with magic: Wizard, Sorcerer, Magus, Witch
If you want to heal things: Cleric, Oracle
If you want to be a leader: Cavalier, Paladin, Cleric, Bard
Sneaky, stabby type: Rogue, Ranger, Inquisitor
*It’s tough to pin Kvothe down to one class. Bard/Assassin/Wizard/Fighter/Rogue would just about cover it.
[I know I just posted this a couple of weeks ago — but I STILL LIKE IT, DURN IT. It’s funny how names and associations stick with you throughout the years — I never grow tired of the name Cyrus for any sort of warrior, swordsman or knight — and Chrono Trigger is completely to blame.]
And his hand slid through the hilt as if it were made of dream.
The barbarian stumbled forward, thrown off balance. He turned around, and the sword was gone.
In its place stood a hooded figure, old gray travelers cloak worn thin from endless miles on the road. Agnar glanced around and saw the temple seemed to be caught in gray amber, the clerics at the doors were nearly statues they moved so slow, the demons outside were a painting in stillness. A moment out of time.
The figure squared his shoulders, and fell into a natural fighting stance. Strapped across his back was a massive greatsword, the length of it tightly wound in dark cloth. The cowl slipped back, and Agnar stared into a stranger’s face. His face was clean-shaven, flat as slate — his hair was nearly gone, just gray fuzz on the sides of his head.
“Need is not enough.” the traveler said.
Agnar tried to respond, but found himself mute.
“Fate is not enough.” the traveler said, and Agnar felt the winged mark on his palm burn and itch.
“Rage is not enough. Skill is not enough. Might is not enough. All of these are dust.”
Sand began to pour from the sleeves of the traveler’s cloak, Agnar tasted the desert on his tongue.
“Only love is enough. Only truth is enough. Only sacrifice is enough.”
The traveler turned, and looked out towards the doors of the temple.
“You can bring death, but can you bring life? You have walked in the Light, can you bear its lack? Go out into the world, go without the Bright Lady’s balm, survive, and redeem one of the wicked. One evil soul brought back to the light, and I will be yours to wield — from now unto the Cracking of the World.”
The traveler walked away, and faded even as time slowly wound back to its proper pace. Agnar stared ahead at the demons pounding on the doors of the temple, and felt a dry, empty feeling steal through his limbs. A man who has lived his life ever by the sea, withers and dies when he can not hear the waves crash.
Marlowe looked up with great pain, and smiled with the sadness of knowledge. “Your trial begins, brother. You have stepped out of the Light.”
[One of my first Story on Demand offerings. I have to fess up, I totally ripped the style and tone completely from Bill Watterson/Calvin & Hobbes for the style and tone. This is a female Tracer Bullet, completely.]
Her overcoat was stiff with congealed agar and the shattered glass of a dozen Erlenmeyer flasks. She slid her battered arms into the sleeves, and tried to ignore the bullet wound in her leg. A pair of pipettes were still lodged in the right sleeve of the jacket, as well as some tissue cultures from the family Malvaceae. The battered gumshoe shook the detritus from her coat sleeve, and reached into her pockets — finding her two best friends right where they belonged.
A pair of ugly Colt revolvers, with worn pearl handles. Watson and Crick — the only partners she’d ever needed in this dirty job.
It had been quite a dust-up in the back offices of ECO-RICH, the multi-national botany conglomerate. She’d been called in on the case, when a pair of their top researchers had turned to whistleblowers–setting up interviews with dozens of prominent science and home gardening blogs. Then they’d turned up dead. Both researchers had simultaneous heart-attacks during a purported sex romp in a jury-rigged jacuzzi powered by eighteen Bunsen burners.
But then the autopsy reports had come back: Baby carrots.
Baby carrots lodged in their aortas.
A contact on the force, Overstreet, had sent her the tip — and she’d made her way down to the offices of ECO-RICH to do a little snooping.
A brace of white-coat goons had been working late, and before she could spool up an alibi — things had gotten frisky.
An ethno-biologist with arms like a steel trap got the drop on her, grabbing her from behind and pinning her arms to the side. Without hesitation she kicked off hard from the face of an approaching zoologist, propelling her captor into a nearby Spectrograph. A weasely ginger had pulled a snub-nose out of his pocket protector and gotten a shot off, grazing her leg — while the other researchers tossed Petri dishes and glassware like a tipsy housewife when she finds a collar with the wrong lipstick in the wash.
Crossing through the test tube hailstorm, she’d headbutted the ginger sap — the sound of his nasal cartilage snapping was sweet music, and a pair of electron microscopes ripped off a nearby table helped her finish the symphony on the rest of the jolly green thugs.
The gumshoe reached down, and riffled through the pockets of the closest researcher. She pulled open their Twitter account, and banged out a warning.
— Just got the chloroform forcibly removed from my cell wall’s chloroplasts by a punitive ass-kicking. #ECO-RICH #MURDER #SCIENCE SLEUTH #WATCHOUT
She tossed the device aside, and walked back out into the late night rain.
She was on the case, and had a very promising beginning to the data field required for the x-axis of her perspective bar graph.
My beloved and our associates are driving south until we hit water. My access to the internet should be gleefully sporadic at best. I have a little bit of time before I leave, so I may queue up a few things to post while I’m gone next week — unless I get distracted or fall asleep.