Stefan has asked me to ramp up my ‘reflection’ in this. To quote:
“You remember quite a lot, even if half of it is wrong. It suffices. What does not suffice is your complete lack of philosophy. There is not a scrap of development here. What about your – our – place in the world? Reflect and learn. Not merely what ought to change, but meta-observations on the schema of being, in yourself, in your past, and the cosmos entire. What is your purpose here?”
Stefan talks a lot of shit for someone with no tongue or intestinal tract. Not sure what he means by misremembering, but then again half the stuff he says is hot, smelly air. I do know what it’s supposed to mean, though. He wants me to agree with his angst-ridden brooding about meaninglessness and what-so. How does one get so depressed? Likely sexual frustration, due to the lack of tally-wacker. Maybe I ought to rethink this Lich thing.
Anyway, reflection on things. We’re in the ‘Third’ round. The first started because, so we are told, our Grandfather sun was extremely bored. As something of a lark, he decided to bring forth life. Through some sort of solar genital, he-she-it-whatever birthed forth five planets. Thoroughly voided, the Sun said one word to these newborn celestial bodies. ‘Contend.’
Reflecting upon this, I have decided that seeing the planets smack into one another must have been thoroughly amusing, and I can see why Grandfather made it happen. A lonesome star, floating through space – who wouldn’t have made life and started them fighting? Surely it was exciting for them to tussle about. Nevertheless, they got bored as well, and began the ‘Second’ and slightly less fun round.
If I’m remembering correctly it was O’ko that tried first: birthed - pooped, vomited, who cares - the Moketta. Those twig little insect bastards, dumb as a rock alone, smart as a whip together, started inventing all sorts sort of things O’ko had never even thought possible. Millions of the creepy gnats, crawling all over its surface, scraping together contraptions half made out of their own poo. I reflect that this is gross.
Having apparently been impressed O’ko barfing insects all over itself, the rest tried to do the same sort of thing, with varying results. ‘The Home’ spat out ‘The Twenty,’ dumbest creatures in existence, couldn’t even think of a good name for their parent. Canine-head, four arms, obsidian skin, supremely murderous, utterly boring. One dies, mama ‘Home’ just farts out another one, keeps it at Twenty at all times. Not very impressive.
Ankeesh tried next, saw the swarms on O’ko, the idiots on that other one, took the daring decision to make even fewer. The Seven Enkili. Don’t remember all the names, never seen all of them, but they’re creepy, floaty, amorphous things at best. Wind one, fire one, some others, don’t remember at the moment. Powerful, but dull.
Myria, our dear mother. She used to talk in the early days, apparently. She made us for the contest, but wanted us to be happy too, something of an abnormality in this solar system. Stefan has some weird ideas about Myria, wondering why she made us able to suffer seemingly more than the other races, when she knew we were destined to fight and die for Grandfather’s contest. Frankly I think he’s somewhat ungrateful. She also invented alcohol, sex, and Power – and therefore, and most importantly, money.
Like every planet Myria can control her atmosphere, the ground, the animals, the trees and so forth all she wants, at will. With us here, since things seemed to be heading in the direction of a new round, she decided to give each human a fair say in how things go about on her surface. When we were made, we each had one millionth of Myria’s total ability to change herself. Apparently that was quite a lot. But then, geniuses that we are, we started trading it, and other things. She arbitrates it all, listens to agreements and holds them true, allowing civilization to exist in the form of bartering, negotiating, mercantile. The real stuff.
Then Alaxia made the Dragons. Alaxia gave half its power, and near half its mass at that, spawning a hundred or so of those massive, gold-leaking reptiles. With an investment like that, no wonder the things were obscene murder-cupcakes. It had been a stalemate before, but now those winged bastards were winning, everywhere simultaneously. Very unsportsmanlike. The rest of us, and our planets, decided against it. Banded together, showed the Dragons what’s what.
Now Alaxia is gone, most of the Dragons are gone, and what remains are ‘non-combatants’ that spend their days burning villages and eating livestock on Myria, though a few do bother the other planets, or so I’ve heard. And the fighting continued.
Then after a while we also got bored and declared the games would be how we solved things. So, Third round.
And what lessons – O, ancient Stefan, you tongueless, shitless, crotchless bone mound – am I supposed to learn from this? That we’re all the slaves to Grandfather and that we’ll never be free? That it has no meaning or whatever drivel your mass-murdering mentor had to say? I don’t see it. I get to be here, making money, buying stuff, participating in this beautiful haven Myria set up for us, and frankly I don’t see the issue. Well, I do, just not your issue. Reflect on that you ponce.
Not long after the discussion which resulted in the above passage, which I was only half listening to, I gathered for a meeting to hash out just what we’d lost in becoming criminals.
It’d been a good few days since our ousting, and we’d nestled into the grass-furred moors of the land bridge, north of Taneca. The sea salt air brushed the hilltops about us, because of which we were mired in the shadow of night while the backdrop of clouds were still cast in fire from the setting sun. The cold nights on the porch came to mind. Molly. I’d dreamt of it, the night before.
Then as now I shook myself out of my reverie. As they say, the past is dead and the future is full of piss. Well worth getting excited about. My back to my wagon, a few barrels placed around a secondary campfire, me, Raufa and Stefan waited in silence as the others finished up their chores for the evening.
“Before the rest come,” Stefan muttered from beneath his mask, skeletal digits worrying the leather that hid them. “What does – did – Raufa use for the extraction? Contract wise.”
“Uhh.” A puffed cheek did not help with the recollecting. “Not much, really. We’d thought of a few that could help, but never bothered. She always manages on her own, good lass that she is.”
“Hrn,” Raufa said.
“Yep. I had a water-spout contract, for cleaning up after, that’s about it,” I said.
“Nothing at all?” That faux-face tilted towards me. “You let your underlings dabble in cantrips, but don’t fund your prize worker’s safety?”
“What for? It’s Raufa. The she-beast, the scariest Dragon-Piss-Merchant around, including you. No dragon is going to kill her. We had money to save.”
The fire-set glimmer of eyeball shifted beneath the mask, towards Raufa. They shared a glance.
“Oskar,” she began.
“Quiet,” Stefan said. “Seems they’re done at last.”
And glad I was for it. With Stefan out and about more, those two had been so very buddy-buddy, and it was starting to get tedious. Whatever lecture those two were concocting was not one Iwanted to hear.
Bearing a couple lanterns between them the rest of the camp came, each carefully matching or avoiding Stefan’s, they each took a solitary stool or barrel. Actually, Henrique sat on the floor at first, but a shove from May set him up onto his barrel proper.
“So is he just… part of the crew, now?” Pritchard asked.
“I sense you have issues,” Stefan said.
“Yahuh,” Henrique said. “’Richy always has issues.”
“Actually I have issues too,” Madeline said, raising her hand. “If… If that’s what this meeting is about.”
“Yeah, what is this one about?” May said, arms folded over one seat-perched knee. “That last one didn’t really help much. Ranting at us, high as shit.”
“The only thing I was high on was life,” I said. I took my hat in hand, holding it in contemplation. “You’ll forgive me if the spirit of commerce overwhelmed me, I’d had a bit of an epiphany and was enjoying the moment. Yes and no, Madeline, but we’ll hear you out. Pritchard was first though.” I wafted my headpiece at the blanketed skeleton. “Yes, Stefan is… out and about now, I guess. Still not sure what the difference is myself, but oh well.”
“We are all set on the same path.” Like a drawl of boring prophecy, Stefan’s breathless voice misted into the night. “Regardless of the outcome, the last line of this play shall conclude all threads..”
“Do you have to talk like a twat?” May asked.
“I do not speak like a ‘Twat,’ girl.”
“A twat’s what I’d call you,” Henrique said. The twins glanced together, shared a high-five, and returned to sternly examining Stefan.
“I concur,” I said. “That’s three votes for twat, I’d say that’s enough to settle the matter.”
“I don’t care what he talks like,” Pritchard said.
“No-one asked you,” Henrique muttered beneath his breath.
“But I do care about his reclusiveness, and sudden willingness to talk now that we’re outlaws. It suggests to me that we have been smuggling a criminal in our midst this entire time, without knowing it.” He looked at me then. “That you have made us complicit in hiding him, whoever he is.”
“Criminal?” I glanced at the undead, unholy abomination casually reclining on a piss filled barrel. “I… Statute of limitations?”
“You will not know who I am until I deem it necessary,” the solar terrorist said. “As we have said before, both Oskar and Raufa vouch for me, and surely that is enough?”
“Hah, no!” Henrique clapped his hands and pointed at me . “That guy’s greasier than a warty slug! And Raufa doesn’t say a goddamn thing, so I didn’t hear any vouching!”
May leaned closer to her brother, though maintaining her stern, agreeing glare at me, whispered: “Warty slug?”
“I’d appreciate hearing what Raufa has to say about it as well,” Madeline said, her smile a stronger ray of sunshine than any reflecting off the clouds above. “With due respect, of course. I’m the one been fixing your machines, keeping them Piss-Pumps nice and tight, making sure to lubricate the tubes… I’d like to know who I’ve been working for.” A flicker of tongue moistened her lips as, wide-eyed, she continued. “And, well, I’ve been wondering why you’ve never eaten anything I’ve cooked, Mr. Stefan?”
Holy shit what a dumbass – My exact thoughts as I forced a slow, casual turn to Stefan. I’d never noticed he’d not taken food, but of course Madeline would! Aside from me, and apparently Raufa, she’s the one who works closest with Stefan, even if only in proximity. It was almost funny, to have pompous, superior Stefan make such a stupid mistake. Still, my exterior remained as unruffled as calm pond as I awaited a reply from him.
“I have Chronic In-digestion,” he said.
It was a good answer, I admit.
“I vouch,” Raufa said. As always her rare speech coming out like the deep sounding of a low drum managed to undercut the entire flow of conversation. Excellent timing. Each regarded her passive face, framed by those folded meat-cannons of arms, and an awkward silence passed like a breeze over the camp’s flames.
“Well, that’s good,” Madeline said after a moment. “Broccoli and potatoes are good too, by the way.”
“Thank you, miss, for the suggestion,” Stefan said.
“Excellent.” I clapped hands over the campfire. “Onto the next order of business.”
“Shut up Pritchard. About that nonsense, I mean, we need you for this next part. We’re only a day more away from Oblissa, and we need to discuss options, requirements, so forth. Being considered criminals, non of our Council overseen contracts will work. Now that word is out about the mysterious properties of our marvelous product, we’ll need some sturdy investments to protect it. We’ve got near seven Oranges of piss in these barrels – probably more, now - and people are going to want it. We’ll all have to arm up.”
“Except, I thought the idea was that people didn’t know,” May said. “Just, like, the authorities.”
“Well, sure, but that’s what marketing is for.”
“Marketing?” she said, leaning forward, face growing brighter against the light of fire. “We’re going to advertise that we’re criminals, smuggling shit the Council is afraid of?”
“That’s the hub of this plan, May. Until the every-man knows about our wanted status, the intrigue of our product will be stagnant. We have to become famous out-law merchants for this whole thing to work! Honestly, you’re not going to run a business with listening skills like that.”
“I don’t think I want to run a business anymore,” she said. “Business is stupid.”
“You take that back!”
“Alright that’s enough of that,” Stefan said, waving a hand between us. “I have studied the old contracts, back when the war required efficiency above all things. Those of today are lazy in comparison. Starting with finite resources as we are, we must equip ourselves adequately with cunning and exactitude.”
“Twat…” One or both of the twins.
“Our primary concern is defense of ourselves, and our product, in the case of approach by authorities. I personally feel no compunction about murder in self-defense, but perhaps some of you feel differently, and I will not at this time force my methods upon you.”
“How kind,” I said, already tiring of his monopolizing the conversation. Spotlight whore.
“Yes, it is,” he, of course, had to add. “Before our arrival to Oblissa I expect each of you to consider your strengths and weaknesses, and concoct one defensive contract, and one offensive contract. Although for you Pritchard, perhaps stick with the former.”
“I gladly will, thank you,” the accountant said through teeth straining against clenching. “I don’t intend to add murder to my list of charges.”
“Your humanitarianism impresses us all,” Stefan said. “Regardless, when you have some conception of what you wish to try and acquire, come to me and we shall refine these abilities. Remember, the less Power it uses, the less often its activation, the more restricted its uses – these specifications will optimize our price. Balancing these with usefulness is the art of creating effective contracts. For example, one popular contract based on Druidic power was a short-range, small area of effect thrust of wind away from ones self. Though low in power, strict in direction, small in scope, such a tool could be easily applied in a variety of combat situations.”
“A short, strong thrust,” Henrique said, stroking that flawless chin of his. “Sounds potent. Satisfying to use.”
May’s swat-ready hand paused as Stefan raised his own. Those fingers interlaced as he leaned forwards towards the boy.
“I want to make it clear, Henrique my boy, that the only thing your immature comments assure of is the small size of your mind, and of your… maturity.”
Aghast. Henrique’s dimensions were not the first thing to come to mind when he spat out those boyish comments, and for the most part all there seemed disgusted at the idea. Madeline, however, gave a solemn nod, though in agreement to what I don’t know. The boy cringed into himself, and kept his mouth shut. Possibly the first wise thing he’d done all evening.
“I think we all understand our homework for this last day,” I said, giving my cuffs a stately adjusting for the authoritative effect. “A gimmick or two, something useful. By this time tomorrow, should things go well, We’ll be riding away from Oblissa, Piss-less, re-stocked, well weighed down with all sorts of fruit, and perhaps even with a dragon in sight for the next extraction. All we need do is remain calm and, most importantly!” My index finger regarded each member in turn, demanding their attention. “Let me do the talking. Got that, May? No more dancing.”
“It was your stupid fucking idea, dumbass.” May said. “Just one question. We’re going to sell the – the merchandise, I get that.”
“The Piss, yes.”
“Right, thanks.” She made that lipless face again, took a deep breath. Pritchard leaned into the discussion. “And long-term we want to make money. I get that too. But… Why?”
The crew all turned to me , even Stefan, as I blinked and wrestled with the question. Why? Why earn money? The implications of such a question boggled my mind, yet I attacked it as best as I could, looking for a way in, to understand the need for such a question. Too much.
“Alright, time for bed everyone,” I said, rising from my stool with a hearty clap. “Night’s rest, dream up some useful contracts, chip chip.” I began easing my tie loose, already weary from engaging with these poor-minded people. “Madeline, make sure we’re all up early tomorrow. Not a drop of daylight to go wasted!”
Some eager, some not so, they all stood and began their wandering away. Pritchard muttered something about ‘never going to be an answer.’ From anyone else, that might have been worth a second thought.
I, in the course of writing this entry, have decided on a couple of options for my own Contracts. Similar to my previous, legally obtained defenses, enhanced by my illicit inspiration. No need to confer with Stefan. Tomorrow, Oblissa!