Wednesday, July 31, 2013

And Erevis Cale Is Who?

And Erevis Cale Is Who?

Before I begin let me establish something first. I had zero, none, nada, zip, absolutely no clue who Erevis Cale even was until quite recently. Growing up I played way more than my share of Dungeons & Dragons and I am in no way ashamed to admit that I spent a lot of time doing so within the confines of the Forgotten Realms. I have always had a fondness for the setting and over the years have followed its shifting storylines. And yet somehow I had managed to never notice the stories of one Erevis Cale.

Now, Erevis Cale, for the record is a protagonist penned by none other than Paul S. Kemp. Who, also I should point out I had only recently discovered by reading his Egil and Nix books, which are great by the way. But other than that I hadn’t really read any of his established works. So when I received a random email from the book-brownies over at NetGalley explaining how I had magically been pre-approved for the first two novels in the Sundering Series I was curious to say the least. Especially since Paul S. Kemp wrote the second book in the series and it involves Erevis Cale.

To further explain things let me just say that like many readers I am often reluctant to jump into a long standing series that I have never read from the beginning before. Add to that the fact that it is part of an ongoing epic storyline set to reshape a known setting and I was doubly dubious. Even with the reassurance that each book in the Sundering Series was a ‘stand-alone story’ I was a little concerned. There have been several series to make such a claim only to find a reader later lamenting the fact that without reading them all they missed various details or plot elements.

So I tried my hand at the first in the series, and without getting into the gory details had to cast it aside and try my luck with the second. Like I said I had enjoyed some of Mr. Kemp’s other works enough that I felt the leap of faith worth the risk. But what I found waiting for me was a more than pleasant surprise. It was like walking blindly into a room full of friendly folk who allowed their story to unfold around me. I couldn’t tell you thing one about who some of these people were or what had happened to shape them before then and honestly it never once mattered.

Kemp skillfully manages to lay out an intricate and intriguing series of events that draw you in without asking anything of you to know before hand. Everything just blossoms around you to form and you find yourself curiously charging along. Instead of making you feel guilty or lost about missing what has already happened you are trying to figure out what is going to happen next.

I’ll compare it like this; imagine that you are a child who has just been handed what looks like a simple puzzle. But as you work at it you find yourself losing more and more track of time as you become engrossed in the enigma. That experience is not unlike reading The Godborn. And for me, that warm welcome was more than enough to secure it as a worthy read.

Now, I know for some the idea of a review is to analyze the plot, the characters contained within or even divulge a spoiler or three. Well, I am not about to even ruin a single aspect of this book by dancing around any such elements. All I will say is that it doesn’t make demands on the reader to research anything that came before. And if you are familiar with Faerun you will find some things that will easily catch your eye. However, with the nature of the beast being what it is – a part of an epic whole that is promised to bring about change, you will also find new things to enjoy.

So, whether you’re stumbling blindly in from the cold for the first time or you’re an old adventuring companion to the likes of Cale you should enjoy the tale either way. It is a rare find in an ongoing series and one I can honestly say that will have me return for any past or future exploits. Give The Godborn a try when you get the chance, no homework required.

Gauntlet - Episode 12.

Episode 12 – Laughter Is Lethal

Marshall sprinted at full speed down the street in the direction Grandma Grael had pointed him. His first time out he just hoped he made it there in time to make a difference. He did regret having to leave the Hole-Maker and the Scavenger’s Shard, but there simply hadn’t been time to grab all his gear. Besides, he was in a hurry and when you have to deploy rapidly you only grab what is absolutely necessary.

As his feet slammed in a rhythm to pound along the compressed dirt he felt the reassuringly familiar presence of some of his gear. Firmly positioned along his hips, the handles pointed out was both of his Tamel’s. He had practiced with them countless times, honed and perfected their use to the point of nearly surgical precision. Having their weight at his sides was like an old friend their, at once comforting as it was encouraging.

The hilts of heavy gauge blades brushed at his thighs as the reminded him of their presence as well. ‘Claw Breakers,’ he liked to call them, and the humor of the name always made him smile. Their blades were nearly a foot long with handles that were almost that. He had been told they were actually hand-forged unlike most of the automated manufactured garbage most people called a good blade these days. But what had sold him on these little gems was the thickness of the tetrasteel blades themselves. They were easily over half an inch thick and more than capable of cleaving through wood like an axe or turning aside a swung blade. And to think, you could find them in a survivalist shop that catered to explorers and colonists.

Rounding the street corner the sight of a rolling transport still clinging to the ruined rubble of a wall redirected Marshall’s mind in a flash. It was time to focus; it was time for him to get serious and go to work. He tried to take everything in all at once as he assessed the situation. With his back to a small portion of bricks that hadn’t toppled over yet he peered inside carefully.

There were several hostages littered among the ground, most of them unmoving save for the signs of shallow breathing or trembling in fear. No clear sign of a guard or security officer that he could tell, but there were plenty of robbers to deal with. By his count there were at least four in the bank and a fifth moving about in the crashed vehicle. Not the best odds, but then again he didn’t expect to be facing anything remotely resembling a fair contest.

Marshall closed his eyes and took a deep breath before reaching up to tug the brim of his hat down. You only get one chance at an introduction and if this was it, well, he wanted it to be as perfect as possible. “This is going to be your one and only warning,” he stated as solemnly as he could. He kept his tone as firm and final as he issued his ultimatum. “Disarm and surrender yourselves peacefully or else.”

“Is this some kind of sick joke,” Eris asked in spite of herself. She had heard the demands from outside but for the life of her she couldn’t think of anyone foolish enough to make them. “Do you know who you’re dealing with here? Huh, who do you think you are to try and threaten me? Why don’t you just show yourself and explain to me just what you mean by ‘or else.’ Crash, you get out here too, let’s all have a see at what should terrify us so to make us give up this lawless life.”

Marshall cleared his thoughts and emptied himself to keep his senses sharp. Relaxed he let both his arms fall to rest across his waist, each one only just brushing a handle’s grip. Reserved to let the chips fall where they may he decided to test his luck and stepped clear of the clutter to address his foes face to face. “It’s simple, really,” Marshall explained every word a challenge that dared them to test him. “Either you give yourselves up, or you take your chances with me.

So what will it be? You want to give up, or face a Gauntlet that leads to an early grave?” Marshall was hoping to make the most of the dramatic moment and find his foes caught off-guard, perhaps even manage to bluff them down. But instead the reaction awaiting him was somewhat unsettling to his pride. For instead of fear or even serious consideration he found only a chorus of cackles and lively laughter.

“Crash, Bash, Smash; kindly remove our foolish and funny friend here before he makes my sides hurt,” Eris ordered in between howls of humor. All three bot-brothers moved obediently in unison towards Marshall still snickering. He had to consciously push his wounded pride aside to keep it from distracting him. All it would do was strip him of the edge he needed to deal with things, but he couldn’t completely rein it in. It resisted him until he realized it had slipped free from his grasp to demand he respond.

“I warned you,” he declared with deadly determination. And all at once both his hands seized a hold of patient pistol grips and swung out to take aim in a flash of movement. His Tamel’s trained themselves on the trio treading towards him as the first to shots leapt like lightening from the drawn duo he held at his sides. Both blasts barked to life to barrage one of the bots in the chest before he sighted down to send a second series into another.

In quick succession all three thieves were pierced and punctured by Marshall’s projectiles until they fell to the ground. With them went the chuckles and giggles as well. Eris stared in shock as she barely registered that this stranger had just drawn and dealt with three members of her crew in a blink. Who was this Gauntlet character?

“Trap, charge, we need to get clear of this crusading chump,” Eris ordered in a panic. “But I thought you said that badge-bearer promised no resistance,” Trapper asked as she triggered the explosive she had been preparing for the vault. She hadn’t even had the time to wire in more than just a partial charge but it should be enough she figured. “Just do it,” Eris added agitated and Trapper chucked the demolition device.

Marshall barely had time to react, in the split second he watched the devious duo duck into a dive heading for the door. There wasn’t any time to contemplate or consider what to do, so instead of laying chase he rolled his back and angled himself to try and shield the closest civilian. The bomb erupted just overhead with a thunderous concussion that rattled his teeth and threatened to force the air from his lungs. For a few moments all he could feel was a sickening pressure in his belly as if he had been run over by a heavy-hauler.

Once he found his feet again he shook the dust from his hat and tried to look around. As far as he could tell it looked like the blast had only managed to stun most of the people still inside. Only a few folks were still not moving and as his eyes fell on a blood stained uniform he marked one of them who regretfully never would again. Someone had only begun to pay.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 11.

Episode 11 – First Breaks, Tough Breaks

As they shuddered to a halt against the ruined remains of the buildings exterior wall, Eris cursed the decision of having ever even listened to Crash. Crash was one of the three bot-brothers and each one was little more than an irritating nuisance if you asked her. And no this scrap-for-brains had just rammed them through the wall of the only bank in Redemption.

“Crash, you blundering bag of bolts,” Eris exclaimed. “Get this mess free from this debris and fast, we’ll see to that vault.” The unusual Uraor stepped for the door her rust colored form already seeing sunlight as she ducked her head to clear the portal. A growl grew from deep within her gut that rolled its way upwards to make the short tusks that only just protruded out from her lips tremble and quake. Every muscle in her fearsome frame flexed and rippled as what little of what had been a plan escaped her.

“I’ll rip those two defective dimwits to pieces! What do they think they are doing?” As Eris ranted with rage another member of their roster of rogues approached her from behind. Even standing at seven feet tall there was few Eris had to look up at when they spoke to her, but Trapper was definitely an exception. The eternally unhappy Ursian maintained almost a full foot in height on Eris, and stayed in as sullen a mood as anyone she had ever met.

Typically it was well-known that Ursian’s were fairly friendly and somewhat passive folk by their nature. But something had happened to Trapper long ago to mold her into the melancholy marauder she had become. Even though marked by a large furry form, often people misjudged Trapper’s small eyes and rounded ears as a reminder of a childhood cuddle-cub. And she was anything but.

“I’d offer to let you guess,” Trapper commented coarsely. “But we both already know, don’t we?” Eris couldn’t resist the thought that as usual, Trapper was just a ray of sunshine. “Smash will be trying to apply his less than capable mental faculties to the vault, and Bash will be looking for a fight or making one.”

True to form, as Eris rushed out into the bank she found Smash hard at work ramming his head repeatedly into the vault as he attempted to breach it with brute force. And just as predictable Bash had a security guard’s limp body in one hand while his other was busy pounding his prey with punches. “Told you,” Trapper confirmed as she followed Eris out of the vehicle.

“Alright, nobody is going to move,” Eris snarled. “No pretty words or fancy nonsense, just know that if you don’t do as I say Bash and Smash here are going to give you a personal demonstration of how they were named. And that is only if you’re lucky enough that we don’t get our hands on you!” She could hear Trapper huff a little in irritation at the notion beside her, probably already bored with the job at hand.

“Trapper, see if you can’t spare Smash a bit and tinker with those vault controls.” “Yeah, yeah,” Trapper complained with a groan. “Bash, drop that sorry sack and keep your eyes peeled for any trouble makers. What did he do anyways, try to stop you?” The body dropped down to the floor with a thud, still without even a twitch. “Asleep,” Bash admitted automatically and as Eris scanned the room she found herself unable to question the fact.

Nobody moved a muscle. Every single helpless soul still inside the building was frozen in fear. In fact, Eris wasn’t even sure anyone had even heard her little threatening tirade. It was enough to aggravate an Altain – which to be fair didn’t truly take all that much she had to confess. But still, Dyzon probably didn’t have to deal with this kind of headache. Just the thought of that man was maddening.

Taurus himself had sent word for her crew to handle that Titan Train this time, Bloody Bachelor or no, he was playing with fire. But this little job ought to even out the score. Let them have the slim pickings of those passengers, she would lay hands on the bigger prize stored here in town. Rumor was the next scheduled shipment back off-world would be delayed by a storm surge. Which meant that Redemption’s share would be stashed here in the vault before it could be sent out. Nobody was willing to risk sending their share back down the line to wait where they couldn’t keep an eye on it. Anything might happen to it. Including it being stolen or accidentally added to someone else’s yield.

It was precisely the kind of thing people figured couldn’t happen if they locked it up safely in the town’s bank. Eris had to chuckle at that, the idea that anything was safe from them. “How is it coming Trap,” she asked, still feeling more than a little angry about everything.

“Hammer head here triggered a code recalibration so it’ll take another minute to crack the combination,” Trapper explained. “Or we could just blow the thing if you’re in a hurry.” Eris wasn’t about to waste time standing around thinking about it; she wanted some loot in hand and to be clear of this headache. “Blow it then,” she answered.

“Been nice knowing you folks,” Trapper told those trembling faces nearest to her. Reaching into her pack she paused only briefly to ask one thing. “So how much of what is in there do you want to still be there?” Yup, Eris decided, she is just one big ball of happy. And somehow she had been cursed with this whole crazy crew. It was no wonder they kept getting shown up by the Bull-Boys.

Monday, July 29, 2013

An Ugly Truth.

An Ugly Truth

For those of you keeping score at home, it’s been about 5 years and around 3 months since I was asked by the doctor not to return to work. After endless tests and no shortage of hardships I was told quite officially that I was disabled now. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to hear nor did I accept it without a generous helping of decreased self-worth. For what value does a man have for himself when he finds that he can no longer provide for his family?

Well, time passed and truth be told I came to accept the matter to a point. I even eventually came to terms with my own decision to forgo ever driving again. But you know what? One of the things I was both terrified of and regretted was the fact that I had to apply for disability. For one I was still a young man, I was sure there was no way they would ever take me seriously. Especially when I had to answer questions with phrases like ‘can’t stay awake,’ or ‘constantly too drowsy to think straight.’ I was sure that I would be one of those applicants that prompted a few chuckles from clerks before being stamped ‘DENIED.’

But you know something? I was approved the first try. To this day it has always been a daily fear I live with that at any time I’ll get the call that it has all been a mistake and the only thing keeping my head above water will be yanked away. It’s the honest truth, contrary to what some folks seem to think living on Social Security is anything but pleasant.

I have never been able to fathom where anyone can get the idea that any such lifestyle is glamorous or comfortable. Every month I have to make a judgment call between whether or not we can just squeak by with the toilet paper we have or if we can afford to buy more soap. Now let me stop right there to set the record straight on a fundamental matter. This is in no way shape of form me complaining about things. Far from it, in reality I am nothing but grateful to the blessing and support that I have received. Without it my family and I would, well, I shudder to even contemplate the matter.

The problem is quite simply one that has been bothering me tremendously of late. And it spans from two separate events recently that keep managing to pick at me like an irritating sibling on a long trip. One of them is the sudden appearance in the mail that my disability case is being renewed (remember that fear I mentioned?) and the other is that the Department of Defense is going to be staging some disaster relief training in our town to provide free medical help.

Now at first glace the two might not seem related. And in a way you might be right, however for me they both somehow have teamed up to tug at my thoughts. You see even when I was working I was never fortunate enough to have a job that would provide insurance. So I haven’t seen anything resembling a dentist in about 13 years. I only just last year saw an eye doctor for the first time in about 8 years.

The general consensus among most folks seems to be that since I am suckling the social teat as it were, that I should be able to just march in and have all manner of medical things done just willy-nilly. But when all the cards are placed on the table it turns out that it isn’t the case. Even with some subsidized help from the state for being low income and what not doesn’t allow me to do most of the things people think I can.

For example; I cannot even set foot in a dentist’s office. Won’t pay a lick for anything, not a single cent, I puzzle over where people get these bizarre ideas from. But let’s skip past some of these more standard notions and look at something far more basic. Take for instance something as basic as a commonly prescribed generic medication that compared to others is about as cheap as they come. Something like say Ritalin for example. Now it is a cheap enough medication, one that for a long while I had to pay for it myself and it cost me around $30-40 a month. A lot of other people with Narcolepsy have to take medications that run in the $1-2000 range I am not about to even estimate what that would do to anyone’s finances.

Even something as simple as Ritalin, which for me is lifeline to consciousness, is something that I have had to fight to even be able to keep taking. Taking it on a regular basis has allowed me to find a tedious balancing point in my life where I can maintain some notion of a normal life. If I have to wrestle and worry with them over even a cheap prescription that I have had to simply pay for myself then the whole idea of being handed everything on a silver platter goes way out the window.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, sorry I think I might have allowed myself to get worked up enough to bring a wave of drowsiness to disrupt my train of thought. There is going to be a medical clinic in my town as a training exercise for the military. Which is a Godsend for my wife and I, who is our sole driver and yet we cannot afford to even consider replacing her glasses so that she can see well enough to do so. Our expectations aren’t high by any means, she just wants to be able to see clear enough to safely read road signs and could care less what her glasses look like as long as she can do so. And me; well I just want to patch up enough of my teeth that I can maintain what I still have without an endless cascade of dental dominos making my life miserable. Neither of us is asking for anything fashionable or even a complete fix of any kind. We both just hope to find some solution that might ease our burden if even slightly.

Is that too much to ask? Does that make us a monumental drain on society? I don’t think so; in fact I honestly believe that the idea that our only hope is to attend a chaotic clinic and pray we are fortunate enough to make it to being seen is a pitiful shame. I can understand being denied treatment for outlandish or unnecessary things. But it is far cheaper to provide basic maintenance on a person just as it is a machine than it is to have to deal with the costs of it breaking down. Instead of fleecing the system as it stands those of us struggling with needs are left to suffer through them. And then we find ourselves living in fear each waking moment that someone somewhere is going to finally make the decision that keeping money in one pocket is worth more than helping those who can no longer do for themselves.

I worked for years, where every drive to and from work, let alone while I worked was a gamble that could easily have seen me removed from my loved ones. I could have fell asleep behind the wheel and cost myself or some one else their life. The fact that I am around to help raise my children at all is a miracle.

In my meandering minds way I suppose this has gotten a bit bendy, and for that I apologize. But the point I guess I am trying to make here is this; the truth is an ugly one. For the broad painted picture of people living it up on social programs is not altogether a reality. I am sure there are those who take advantage of the situation overly so. But for those who do not we find ourselves living month to month and juggling what can be sacrificed and what cannot. There is no savings account to fall back on and no real safety net of any kind. We live in a trailer with more than its share of problems, and our vehicle is a hand me down one that our family was kind enough to sell us. Without the compassion and charity of loved ones we wouldn’t have a home to live in or much of what we do. And without the aid of programs like Social Security my children wouldn’t be able to grow up and get an education to one day join the workforce themselves. Where I paid in if only briefly to such programs perhaps they will contribute enough to return some portion of the help we have received.

But I have lived through the stigma of shame associated with receiving the help that I have, and now I have to deal with the fear that without it everything I know will fall apart. My only hope is that some day things will get fixed for the better and some measure of truth will be understood about those living in these situations. If we have the ability to help those in need then we have the moral obligation to do so, don’t we? Honestly it is terrifying how many people seem to think the answer is simply not to, or that they receive way too much as it is.

Gauntlet - Episode 10.

Episode 10 – A Gauntlet Is Thrown Down

When Marshall arrived back inside he couldn’t hold back the memories anymore. They came to him in rapid-fire bursts to explode in his mind like barrel after barrel of buckshot barrages. He halted a handful of times to catch himself with a hand reaching for the support of the wall as he made his way for his room.

Waiting for him like a silently patient old friend was his patched and frayed bag laid at the foot of the bed. Moving in automatic empty motions he began to open a series of makeshift straps and buckles along its weathered exterior to unleash its contents. Within a scarce few breaths he had already began unrolling cloth packages that smelled sweetly with the familiar scent of well-maintained machined metal.

As Marshall examined each one in a systematic series of visual inspections he found them all appearing just as satisfactory as when he had packed them. But even the rewarding routine of reviewing his gear couldn’t push the painful punishments from his mind. He could see every angry face and hear every cruelly hurled taunt as the past poured back into him. The torment alone wasn’t what still hurt; it was the burden of being beaten for trying to do what was right.

Their preferred penalty was a gruesome and grizzly affair they pulled straight out of the historical archives. They called it ‘the gauntlet’ and it always managed to bring out the most barbaric behavior from his peers. He would be forced to run between two tightly lined rows of recruits as they repeatedly assaulted him until he managed to reach the other end. It wasn’t the kind of thing easily forgotten, nor was it the sort of thing many ever endured more than once.

“I am happy to see that you were able to lend a hand, Mr. Heart-Helmed,” Grandma Grael declared from the doorway. Without waiting to be invited in the miniature maiden marched straight into the room to stand beside Marshall as he still looked on at the arrangement upon his bed. “You know I haven’t seen one of those in ages,” she confessed as she pointed at a particularly peculiar piece.

It was an aged antique, to be sure, quite unlike anything still in modern use almost anywhere. A pair of barrels, one atop the other were met at their rear by a revolving cylinder that ended with a sawed off stock that held a lever along its bottom. Most men had moved past making use of any such weapon to opt for a more modern one considering such a relic to be quite simply a foolish firearm. But even Grandma Grael could appreciate the simple truth that the trusted and true design of guns like this would never jam on you. Nor would it require external power sources. All you had to do was feed it bullets, crank the lever and pull the trigger. It was the kind of technology that was built to last; simple and dependable.

“You mean my ‘Hole-Maker’,” Marshall found himself asking as confusion mingled with curiosity at the remark. “I’d say it is,” Grandma giggled and Marshall whipped his head around to face her. “Hold the horse here, wasn’t it you who explained that it was foolish to be governed to action by your feelings out here?”

Without any damage to her demeanor, Grandma Grael prepared herself to correct him and licked her lips. “If you will well recollect; what I said was that it wasn’t wise. I never said it wasn’t right. Which is often enough the case, the right road is typically the one that is the most difficult. Now, tell me pup; how in all the heavens did you lay hands on a pristine pair of old Tamel’s?”

She punctuated her question by pointing down at two handguns coupled together before her. They were anything but new as well, revolvers too but perhaps not quite as old. Both of them held the blued steel smooth shimmer of a cared for creation with almost no sign of the wearing age or mishandling could bring. Seeing such sights brought back her own memories as well forcing Grandma Grael to redirect her thoughts back to those presently appropriate.

“Never mind that now,” she interrupted while waiving her hand as if clearing away old cob webs. “We can talk more about such tales another time. Tell me, pup, what is it that you aim to be setting yourself to? Or do you have any plan at all?”

Still distant as a man adrift within a dream Marshall reached down and picked up the handle of a heavy edged blade that ended abruptly, broken off a couple feet from the hilt. “There is an old saying; ‘to throw down a gauntlet,’” Marshall recited. He didn’t have to look back at her to understand that undoubtedly she was familiar with the expression but he continued to explain anyway for his own benefit. “It means to declare a formal challenge – like two warriors tossing down an armored glove to dare the other to face them. I aim to be that gauntlet and cast myself against those who plague this town.”

“Well, I figure Gauntlet is as good a name as any,” Grandma Grael confessed. “But boy, you might want to speed up a step or tree if you plan on making a difference. While you was out back old Mr. Mitchum called to warn me to steer clear of going out for a bit. It seems that he spotted that Dizcord’s lot heading into town in some fierce manner of hurry and likewise disposition.”

“The Sheriff isn’t about to make any move the stop them is he?” Marshall asked the question aloud already confirming what he had suspected since coming to town. Something about Arbiter burned at him inside; what kind of man could wear a badge and swear to an oath only to turn a blind eye? He locked away his thoughts of the past behind a wall he had made out a simple promise. All those who had dared to try to punish him with pain for seeking to demand justice had only helped him to understand that nobody could give it to you. You had to make things right for yourself and stand against such people. Which is exactly what he planned to do; he was going to bring the gauntlet to them and see how they liked having to run for a change.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 9.

Episode 9 – When Good Men Can Do Nothing

Running alongside the General Good and tucking neatly behind it was a small alleyway that lead to where Grandma Grael kept her waste bins and the like. It was also where folks like Jeb and Cut-throat Charlie liked to meet to do a quick spot of business. “You remember to bring your coin this time Chuck,” Jeb joked as he rubbed at the scruffy stubble that littered his chin. “Long as you made sure to not forget to bring with you what I might need it for,” Cut-throat countered before spitting at the ground.

Jeb grinned eagerly from ear to ear as he eyed the potential purchase and awaited the show of money to seal the deal. But instead of reaching inside his jacket’s front as usual, he marked Cut-throat’s hand slowly going for the back of his pants. “Hey, what’s this you’re trying to pull now,” Jeb demanded as he immediately tried to draw a weapon himself. Neither back alley dealer managed to be faster than their opposite as both heard the sound of slapped leather as guns quickly lent themselves to hand.

“You done been cheating me for too long,” Cut-throat challenged, careful to keep his pocket-sized pistol trained on Jeb. “It’s just business,” Jeb said with a shrug as he managed to keep his own weapon locked on his would be mark. Both men watched the other with growing irritation as their trigger fingers itched along with their impatience. That is until a third voice called from the street to draw at least a measure of their attention.

The slight slender shape of a man moved from the sunlit street back to investigate the shadow shrouded landscape of the alleyway. Standing just less than 5 feet tall Deputy Rook had never been known to strike any real notion of terror let alone invoke any measure of authority into those who he came across. As a Gael-Noir he had come to find himself an awkward sight here on Newport and even more so out here in Redemption.

He often wondered if it was the pale purple-grey tone of his skin or the deep iridescent violet of his eyes that made everyone look at him the way they did. But over the years he had come to find it even simpler than that. The fact that he was small, thin and often referred to as ‘that twisted child looking thing’ had come to lend more than enough understanding on the matter.

Despite the feelings others had on the matter he still refused to let that interfere with his job. As the Deputy it was his duty to see to the upkeep of law and order here in Redemption. Even if his authority was vastly limited when compared to the Sheriff’s, he still felt obligated to do all he could. So with a short sigh he relaxed his mind and let a rippling calm slip through him as he entered the alleyway to examine the sudden sound that disturbed his ears as he walked by.

“If anyone is back this way, I would highly recommend they declare themselves. This is Deputy Rook, state your name and business,” said the Sheriff’s substitute. Warily Rook kept his hand on the holstered weapon that hung at his hip as his eyes scanned about in the dim light searching for the source of the sound. He could almost feel it on the air around him that something or someone was back here in the alley. The same instinct also lent him the insight that while he wasn’t authorized to engage in open force on the streets he might be about to walk into a situation where he would have to.


“Would you be so kind as to take this bundle out back to spare an old lady the strain on her back?” Grandma Grael asked as she pointed down at a small parcel that sat next to a few broken remains of what might have once been a broom handle. Judging that he had managed to gather everything to satisfy the Mayor’s order and only required a second pass to ensure the matter, Marshall nodded his agreement.

“Just point me as to where they need putting and I will see to it,” he acknowledged. Grandma rested her hands on her hips and puffed out a petite sigh before jerking her head towards a rear hallway. “Right through there and out the back door is where you’ll find the bins. Mind you, it’s best to be careful sometimes folks rummage about back there.”

“Don’t worry none, I’ll take this stuff out and be right back to finish my work,” Marshall promised. He claimed the bundled bag in one hand and the busted broom handle in the other before heading down the hall. As his hand reached for the door knob he could hear the clear command for anyone to identify themselves, sparking in him a sense of alarm.

Tightening his grip on the handle in his hand, Marshall eased the door open cautiously at first and let his eyes survey the situation. What they found waiting to be witnessed was a grizzly pair locked in a standoff with weapons drawn on each other. Whoever had called from around the corner for everyone to announce themselves had sounded distinctly like an officer. They also it looked like to him were about to walk into a messy situation outnumbered.

There didn’t seem to be much a decision about the matter as Marshall seized on the element of surprise to take action. With a grunt he heaved the bundle like a bullet to slam into the figure on his right, knocking him off balance. Following up the garbage gambit, Marshall rushed into a swing that directed the broken broom to bash the other man’s gun up and away. The brutal blow sent the firearm flying free from the grip that guided the gun to skid away back down the alley.

Reading the registered shock on his victim’s face Marshall continued his crusade and returned his attention towards the other armed assailant. Already spinning to shake off the stun the bag battered bully was raising his weapon for a shot. Reflexes reacted automatically from within Marshall to send the ruined remains in his hand sailing on a collision course with the man’s middle that ended with a groan that emptied him of air. Not wanting to wait for the other suspicious stranger’s shock to wear off, Marshall brought his right up in a savage uppercut to send him toppling to the ground. Then he granted the gasping gunman a quick jab or two as well before pulling the two to lie limply together.

“Hold it right there,” Rook declared as Marshall retrieved both of the men’s weapons. He ignored the order and simply handed both guns out handles first to offer them to the officer. Confused by the gesture, Rook puzzled over the sight of the pummeled pair upon the ground and then looked back at Marshall hoping to find an explanation. The two of them locked eyes, warm walnut staring back into vibrant violet.

Both men measured the other in the unspoken moment and found for themselves a feeling for one another. Of the two, Marshall was the first to break the silence by speaking. “Apologies officer,” he began respectfully. “But you were about to walk into a nasty bit of luck. Both of these men had weapons drawn on one another and if not for myself might have done harm to you or one another.”

“Appreciated, and you are,” Rook asked inquisitively, a slight shimmer in his eye. “My name is Marshall Lawson,” Marshall admitted and offered his hand. As Rook accepted the polite gesture Marshall continued. “I’m new in town and currently at the mercy of Mrs. Grael’s charitable disposition.”

Deputy Rook nodded as he accepted the offered explanation but then his face turned somewhat sour. “Like I said I am grateful for the assistance, truthfully I am. However I am afraid that I have to strongly advise you to refrain from any further such actions. Technically speaking by engaging in open violence on the streets of Redemption I am obligated to see you arrested. But, seeing as how you spared me a potentially permanent end to my duties I am willing to overlook the matter.

Be that as it may, if the Sheriff hears of this he is liable to force the issue and demand you be placed behind bars. Now, I’ll do what I can to try and keep this between us but it would be wise to steer clear of anymore heroics. Understand?”

“Yeah, I understand,” Marshall replied. “But just tell me this though; what would you have done if I hadn’t been around to ambush these two?” Deputy Rook had to consider the question for a moment before he ventured an answer. A wry grin crawled up one side of his face when he found the only possible action he could have chosen. “I would have done my duty as the Deputy of Redemption.”

Marshall never let his eyes leave the deputies as he answered the question. There wasn’t a single waver or sign of weakness in their depths, and he was certain that the deputy would have undoubtedly tried. Fortunately though, Marshall reminded himself with a chuckle he had been around to take out the trash. “I best be getting back to my work,” he excused himself and started back for the door. “Likewise,” said Rook as he held up a hand in parting before turning to gather up the groaning men still on the ground. And then both men returned to their tasks with a fresh friendly grin upon their face.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 8.

Episode 8 – The Mayor, Demure

Marshall had barely finished making one complete circuit outside the shop before he noticed the tale-tell signs of a growing layer of fresh dust draped along the walkway. This had to be one of the most infuriating examples of futile functions anyone had ever had the displeasure of having to perform. Even as tedious and trying as it was to his nerves he also had to admit that it could be infinitely worse.

“If you’re quite finished for the time being why don’t bring yourself in here for a moment and see to this list I have for you.” Grandma Grael’s voice carried out from behind a crudely crafted counter to bring with it an air of authority. It was something Marshall had decided he would have to get used to sooner or later. He was accustomed to the booming commands and trumpeted threats of drill sergeants; such a soft spoken superior was somewhat strange still.

Happy to turn to another task Marshall returned inside to see just what manner of duties the merciful merchant had waiting for him now. With him barely through the door good, the clear hum of a purring hover-hauler slid to a halt behind him. The clear hiss of released air as it settled to sit upon the ground snared Marshall easy enough, but something about the grim look it elicited from Grandma made him curious.

Who could, or for that matter would be cruising around town in one of those notoriously needy machines? He would have thought that anybody out here wouldn’t have the foolishness to try and keep something like that maintained. Besides, it wouldn’t take very long for a hover-hauler to leave you completely stranded if you tried to take it very far outside of town. They had never been known for handling rugged terrain or conditions very well.

The first figure to emerge from the quieting contraption was a short and slender girl dressed in feminine fashion in a form fitting suit that was blacker than a moonless night. Matching mirrored shades masked her eyes from view as she immediately took up a position by the door and began patiently patrolling the perimeter by panning her head back and forth. There was almost an eager cat like tension to the woman as if she eagerly awaited a single twitch that might allow her to spring into action.

After a few long moments and a couple of briefly blustering breezes a second woman appeared this one with an almost regal bearing. Every movement held the hallmark of a choreographed and practiced routine. On another world she might have had another life, a high class model perhaps. But Marshall couldn’t see there being much call for a model on Newport. Even as qualified for the job as this lady looked.

She was easily as tall as Marshall, if maybe a hair taller but that could have been helped by the shinning steel tipped heels that accented her feet. Long loose hair hung like a curtain that fell to cascade over her shoulders as it burned brightly in the sunlight. The light of day seemed to add a subtle shade of red where there otherwise might not have been any to her golden hair. Hugging her ample curves was a brilliant dress of royal blue that managed to keep luring Marshall’s eyes back to re-examine it.

By the time she had crossed the distance to the doorway Marshall had only just realized his rudeness and had to quickly remove his hat. But instead of noticing his nearly missed act of etiquette, an icy entrance devoid of introduction brushed past him as if he was some invisible fixture attached to the floor. “Greeting’s ma’am,” Marshall told the silently suited associate as she shadowed behind her fashionable friend. An empty sneer was the only reply he received in return for his remark.

“Official business I am afraid,” the well dressed woman commented coldly as she came to a stop before Grandma Grael. “We’re dealing with a dispute and I thought it might alleviate some animosity by bringing some provisions with me. It is a Mayor’s duty to see after the people of the town after all.”

“Don’t you mean take advantage of any opportunity to secure more loyal voters to your continual campaign?” Grandma Grael’s alternate explanation was met by a brief polite smile that neatly hid a lack of humor found in the statement. “Either way it matters little about motives, you know full well that if folks are in need I will do my part to aid them. Just spare us the sauntering sally routine Demure, we both know you don’t do anything without making sure it benefits you in some manner.”

“I do appreciate how I can always count on you to be of service to this fine community,” Demure declared as she produced a small list to place upon the counter. “Always a pleasure, and do make sure to have that order ready when my secretary returns later for it. I would hate to think anyone might have to suffer even a minute longer when we could relieve their burden.”

“You should just stick to smiling and swaying those hips, leave the caring to those of us who still has a heart,” Grandma Grael advised as she watched the Mayor make her way back out the door.  “Marshall, let me give you some free advice; never trust a two-faced politician. And trust even less a snake like her who barely bothers to hide her scales.”

“Pardon me,” Marshall apologized for his own ignorance. “But do you mean that she is the Mayor?” He might have guessed that she was the Mayor’s wife or even his secretary but never the Mayor herself. And knowing that she was he couldn’t believe that Grandma Grael had just spoken to her like that.

“She has been a spoiled little brat with a pretty face ever since she could toddle about town,” she explained. “As a young lady she was unfortunate enough to catch the eye of some thieves that were passing through the area robbing every establishment they could get into. They decided to take her with them as an insurance policy and lucky enough for her eventually they messed up good enough some lawmen managed to rescue her.

Using the press from her ordeal and the public’s sympathy she decided to run for office and easily enough found herself a spot as the Assistant Mayor. Eventually the Mayor died while in office and Demure there took over for him. Now she runs the town like it’s her personal popularity contest. But as long as she keeps everything running smooth enough to keep the majority happy everybody nobody bothers much about it.”

Grandma slid the list towards Marshall and let a big grin rise on her face. “So it looks like you best be getting busy if you’re going to fill this order right away.” She giggled to herself as she disappeared back into the rear of the store, leaving Marshall alone with the list. Half cursing to himself he then realized he hadn’t any idea where any of this stuff even was in the store. “Better get to it then I guess,” he decided.

As he set himself to seeing to his job Grandma Grael watched from around the corner still smiling. She liked this young man; he had a good feeling about him. But she would have to wait and see how well he handled finding some of the things on that list. Not everyone could make sense of her organizational methods. The thought prompted another hushed giggle before she went about seeing to some other things herself.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 7.

Episode 7 – Greetings from Grandma

A weather-worn placard hung on the wall by an old wooden doorway reading General Good. It almost looked like some space on the time-tormented title had forgotten a letter or two but Marshall had no way to know for sure. As far as he could tell it could have just been the aged look to the old shop’s sign.

Standing outside the store was a small shopkeeper who looked to be barely 5 feet tall all things told, but older than Marshall was willing to reckon. The grey haired granny moved with strength of purpose as she swept off the outside of her store with experienced ease. There was not even a slight hint of weakness or inability present in the miniature merchant as she carried herself without any pretext of poise. Something silently spoke from her like a slumbering air of simple truth; this little lady was all business and looked to handle the matter masterfully.

She would have to, Marshall thought to himself. Anyone who had survived out here to be as old as this working wonder would have to be about as resilient as those regal ridges surrounding the town. Especially while running something like a business in a town besieged by bandits. While Marshall mused about this mysteriously miniature merchant with mettle he found himself strangely liking her. Although he made a mental note that it might be wise not to make a mention of her small stature.

“Well, you coming or do you plan on sitting out here in the sun all the day long?” The sudden query registered right upside Marshall’s head like he had just been slapped by a school-teacher for daydreaming in class. How had she even known that he had been standing there? He hadn’t even noticed her look over at him not even once.

“No doubt you’re new in town and likely have found yourself without coin needing a place to bunk for a bit.” Marshall got the distinct impression that this wasn’t the first time someone had come to Grandma Grael looking for such hospitality. He also realized quite unmistakably that she wasn’t asking why he was here nor had she directed him to seek his sanctuary elsewhere.

“I, uh,” Marshall began somewhat shaken by her reaction. “I mean to say that Miss Donovaen told me to…” At the mention of the name, Marshall noticed that what the well-dressed woman had said had been proven true. Instantly a pair of sharp cobalt-blue eyes shot up to level themselves squarely upon him. As soon as they did so Marshall could feel a lump form in his throat and his heart skipped a beat.

He started to curiously contemplate how this small shop-keeper could have such an impact on him with nothing more than a directed glance. But then he realized he had completely forgotten to introduce himself as well. There goes my practiced polite presentation he thought to himself and hoped it wouldn’t hurt his chances to earn her good graces.

“Terra told you to come see me did she,” Grandma casually commented before turning to head back inside. “Now that is something then, come on. And unless you’re in the habit of waiting about to make an old lady have to ask you for your name I would suggest you offer one up. Otherwise you might find yourself sorely discovering my disdain for abiding any rude behavior.”

“Yes ma’am,” Marshall tried to find the words to form an apology but instead decided it best to skip straight passed the matter. “My name is Marshall Lawson,” he declared quickly as he moved to follow her inside. “And to be frank, ma’am I wouldn’t have even found myself requiring your charity presently but I used the last of my funds to right a matter of some moral inequity. Otherwise I would have happily paid my due for a room.”

Suddenly spinning on her heels Grandma Grael shot back another stare that might as well have been a gunshot for how it disarmed him. “So you’re a man who lets your heart have the reins instead of your head then?” Grandma Grael once more held the tone of someone explaining a matter more so than anyone asking a question. She also wasn’t about to resist speaking further about exactly what she was thinking on the matter.

“Out here it isn’t wise for any man to ignore his wits to place his decisions to be driven solely by his feelings. Just because you find yourself feeling guilty for another doesn’t mean you need to hand over all that you have to change the matter. While it might be admirable to lend your hand to another who finds theirs empty you have to remember that by doing so you end up allowing your own to become likewise. Now you are yourself dependant on another for a helping hand are you not? And what then if there is no other willing hand to lend to you in aid?”

“With all due respect ma’am,” Marshall tried to interrupt to defend his actions only to be cut off coldly before he could even try. “Don’t you dare even try to ‘with all due respect me’ pup,” Grandma Grael advised. “My point is made, and you would do well to make it a permanent addition to your memory. Now unless you’d like to talk me out of being hospitable then I would recommend you keep your mouth shut and your ears open.”

Obediently Marshall silenced all the rushing words that wanted to find their way out in explanation. If this might be his best odds for finding a place to put his head for the night he didn’t dare ruin his chances any further. Something told him that while he could perhaps find some place to shut his eyes out on the streets overnight that the Sheriff might not think twice about relocating any such drifters to a barred bunk. And he had had his fill of such sights to last him the remainder of his days.

“Here is how it is going to be, so don’t go thinking for a minute that you’re taking advantage of my own charitable nature or going to get a free stay. Most folk manage to make it to Redemption and often enough is the case find their way here ending without funds. So in exchange for a room and some meals you’re going to be in my service for any odd jobs or occasional tasks that need seeing to. Do we have an understanding?”

“Yes ma’am,” Marshall agreed, grateful to accept the merciful token of hospitality. “Good then,” Grandma Grael acknowledged and handed him the broom from her hand. “You can put your things in the room at the top of the stairs on the left and then see to sweeping up outside. It tends to stay fairly dusty around here and afterwards I’m sure I’ll have a few other matters for you to tend to.”

Marshall couldn’t argue as he had already planned on offering to earn his keep even if she hadn’t insisted on it. But he couldn’t help but admit that as charitable as Grandma Grael was there was little doubt that she was just as shrewd. No wonder the merciful merchant had managed to stay in business all these years. He also made a mental note to never ever find himself on the receiving end of her discontentment. Marshall wouldn’t think twice to wager that to those who managed to do so they would be facing something likely fearsome enough it was best left to slumber.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 6.

Episode 6 – The Memories Make the Man

The walk down the street wasn’t exactly a long harrowing affair nor was it what you would call a scenic experience either. But the short jaunt did give Marshall a few moments for his mind to wander about. And for better or worse he found his memories once more drifting back on matters that he tried not to think about all too often. They were things that had undoubtedly shaped him and led him to this particular point in his life. Even though they weren’t times he particularly treasured.

Growing up he had spent his days playing games like heroes and villains where he always had to be the good guy. It was a simple childhood fantasy to be sure, but he always relished those innocent clear renderings of right and wrong that seemed so intrinsic to a kid’s view of reality. He savored every story about how special people were out there fighting against those who broke the law or sought to hurt others. It was a keystone in the foundation of everything he held dear about the world.

But with time and age came a new understanding. As he grew up more and more he began to look for some evidence of those courageous champions of society. Marshall would look around every corner for some sign of a savior stopping some source of sin or slight. Yet the older he became the more he realized there simply was no superhero standing sentry to safeguard them. By the time he had already grown into a young man he had all but given up hope for heroes that he had always held in his heart.

And then he heard the stories about the stoic soldiers who served the New Republic valiantly. Perhaps there was still some among those ranks who fought the good fight for the safety and security of all. So without a second thought Marshall rushed out to sign up for service. It was a proud day for him; one he thought was going to be the proudest day of his life.

Instead it was defining decision that brought with it a dark depressive depth to his already shattered dreams. For once he joined and entered into the recruit program he found a pervasive poison of profound misconduct. At first he felt compelled to report every misdeed or breech of behavior. He charged like some crusading champion to demand justice be done to those who sullied the name of every soldier to bear the banner of the New Republic.

But, much to his dismay only blind eyes and deaf ears awaited him. Before long he found himself earning on irritation and reprimand for repeatedly bringing such reports to his superiors for actions they deemed as expected offenses. It didn’t take long for his peers to take note of his criticism or how often he vanished to seek out an officer. And it took them even less time to decide amongst themselves that the little do-gooder had to be taught a lesson in minding his own business.

Eventually Marshall found himself painfully paying for every thought of doing his duty to uphold the ideals he had signed on to protect. By the time he had graduated from training program he had completely removed all notions of appropriate conduct from his mind. Instead he simply focused his full attention to obeying orders and with any luck he might find himself assigned somewhere where he could make a difference fighting to keep people safe. At least then he could rest with some relief that he had managed to live up to his own reasons for joining in the first place.

He could even recall one of his first assignments; it was a small civilian settlement where some harmless incident had been reported. But it had managed to catch the notice of some superior or politician somewhere who had decided to send a small detachment in to investigate. They had been order to ease or alleviate any fears and deal with the matter using their best judgment. In retrospect Marshall should have taken that as his first clue that something was bound to go wrong. He should have anticipated it but instead he had just assumed things would be different than back when they were just recruits in training.

Everything had happened so expectedly at first, the whole deployment completely by the numbers. And then he and his partner had been ordered to check out a few buildings at the end of the street. Nothing of any importance had even occurred at all so far, not even a single firefight or conflict or any kind. The whole trip had been completely one routine review of their training program. So Marshall had relaxed his guard a bit and figured after this final check they would be done and on their way back to base.

His partner had entered into the last building to take a quick check of the place and Marshall had stayed in position out front to stand guard. All in all he figured they were just going through the final motions before declaring their mission complete. But after awhile when his partner hadn’t returned he began to get curious. He couldn’t just abandon his post or else he risked being written up and odds were it was just nothing anyways.

Eventually there was a commotion inside that almost made Marshall reconsider investigating but shortly his partner reappeared in the doorway grinning and slightly disheveled. “What happened,” he remembered asking. They were the last clear memory he had that he could recall. What happened next had become a matter of official record that according to his trial said he had brutally pummeled another soldier until he had to be restrained by force.

It was his first and last time wearing the uniform in the name of the New Republic as one of its armed forces. After that he had found himself sentenced to a prison cell with only the knowledge that he could have prevented what had happened. Instead of waiting or looking for some hero if he had just went in as well he could have acted. Even if he had simply checked in on his partner instead of waiting outside obediently he might have been rewarded with the consolation his conscience desperately demanded. Instead he was tormented inside far more than any bars or walls could punish him.

The anguish of his past still pained him as it replayed itself in his head. But he didn’t want to dwell on it now; he had come to Redemption to move past it. With some effort he called up his will and pushed the images back down out of his thoughts. He needed to find a place called ‘General Good’ or some such and ask for Grandma. Composing himself with a deep breath Marshall closed his eyes and focused on the task he had set for himself.

“Good day Grandma Grael, My name is Marshall Lawson and Miss Donovaen mentioned the possibility that you might be a woman of some mercy,” he practiced aloud. Content that it sounded sufficiently sympathetic Marshall sighed once more and then made the turn around the corner. All he had to do now was find this place, talk a little old lady into a place to stay and hope no questions about his past came up. Seemed like a simple enough plan, but he knew better than to expect anything going according to plan. Nothing ever truthfully did in his opinion.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 5.

Episode 5 – Redemption, a Fitting Name

Marshall roamed about the dirt pounded paths that served as the streets of Redemption as he considered what to do next. His original plan upon arrival was to secure himself a place to stay and set himself up while he settled into the new town. But now that wasn’t exactly a viable option. As he looked around him he noted only a handful of other people shuffling about town. A few merchants and shop-tenders peered out from their windows to watch him walking down the street. And a handful of townsfolk mulled about in hushed whispers scattered about.

Marshall had the distinct impression that the town of Redemption had perhaps grown too used to being robbed, mugged and terrorized on a regular basis. Nobody deserved to live in constant fear. And if the Sheriff wasn’t about to do something about it then he would. It’s part of the reason he had come all the way out here, a big part of why he was even on this little rock.

Redemption; it truly was a bit of irony that the town had been named so. He had made the choice to redeem himself and gone looking for the perfect place. A place where a hero was needed, somewhere he could make a difference. Here in Redemption all he saw was the need for someone to make a stand. This was as perfect a town to throw down a defiant challenge against those who would prey upon the weak or helpless as ever there could be. And the name alone was a fitting sign. He would make his start here and begin his career as a crime fighter. What better place to do that then a town ripe with criminals and in need of some hope?

Thoughts of the faces he had already encountered on the Titan Train drifted back to his mind every time he closed his eyes, even for a moment. They held the sorrowful emptiness of cattle in a way, void of a life that didn’t know helplessness. How had the people here lived this way for any time at all? And then Marshall pictured the old widow who nearly lost her only piece of luggage as a crewman attempted to recoup the lost ticket revenue taken by the robbers. This truly was a depressing place.

People still moved about up and down the street around him but no one approached or hailed him with greeting. Aside from the seemingly polite encounter with the Sheriff upon exiting the Titan Train he wondered if there was a single hospitable soul left here in Redemption. He couldn’t blame them though, if he was visited by violent villains on a regular basis he might be a bit over-cautious himself. Still, there had to be some kind hearted decent person somewhere in this town. Didn’t there?

Lost in contemplating the matter Marshall found himself absent-mindedly still wandering about the streets of Redemption. His thoughts drifting back and forth from present events to some older encounters he tried to push back down and out of mind. Looking to distract himself from such matters he once more began to scan his surroundings for someone who might be able to provide his some manner of charitable advice or insight. His eyes immediately settled on a single young lady exiting an establishment.

The placard above the door was a simple enough sign that he didn’t need to be spelled out to explain the type of business it dealt in. All anyone needed to see was the unmistakable image of a box and shovel to understand that this could only be the office of the local undertaker. What reasons this lady might have to visit such a merchant of morbid matters was beyond Marshall but something told him that perhaps he might have luck asking her for advice.

There was a sort of mysterious quality to this maiden, moving in slow precise movements with a relaxed and refined care. She was dressed smartly in a neat charcoal pinstriped top and trousers that was accented by a crisp black vest. A coal color topper sat tipped slightly askew upon her head with a flawless braided bun of russet resting to the rear. Everything down to the pristine knee-length buckle-top boots spoke of an almost obsessive attention to detail. If anyone might be able to point him in the appropriate direction it had to be this meticulous maiden.

“Lovely day, isn’t it Miss?” Marshall called to her before removing his hat to approach her with his head bowed slightly. “My name is Marshall Lawson and I find myself at the mercy of being new to Redemption. If you could be so kind as to remedy my ignorance and point in the direction of a charitable place where I might find shelter I would be ever so grateful.”

A pair of amethyst eyes answered Marshall by analyzing him with a scrutinizing stare in response to the request. The ladies lips pursed before pulling to the left in a curious expression that he couldn’t tell was meant to mean disdain at being interrupted or simply caught off guard. Considering where she had just left he hoped he hadn’t caught her at an unpleasant time.

“Apologies stranger, but were you addressing me by chance,” she asked awkwardly. There was a pleasant undertone of cheer in her voice that made Marshall smile briefly before he realized he should answer. “Yes, ma’am,” he confirmed with a nod. Something about his answer seemed to prompt a half-puzzled grin to form upon her face only to be shaken off with a muffled giggle.

“Well then,” she began and recomposed herself. “If that is the case then it would be quite unforgivable rude of me not to avail you of my familiarity of Redemption, or at the very least try to provide some manner of response. As the matter stands the best advice that I can offer is for you to make your way over to see Grandma Grael over at the General Good. You can find her down the street and around the bend. Just make sure to inform her that Miss Donovaen sends her regards. I am sure that will be more than sufficient to provide you enough to get her attention and your foot safely in the door. But let me just say it’ll be up to you to convince her to let you stay for any length. Likely Grandma is about the best bet for a new name come to town seeking hospitality.”

“You have my gratitude then,” Marshall offered before replacing his hat. “Best of luck to you Mr. Lawson, I must take my leave now. I have other matters to see to.” Respectfully Marshall made sure to wait for the lady to leave first before he himself went about finding this Grandma Grael. With any luck perhaps he would be fortunate enough to find himself a bed for a night or so while he got a better feel for the situation here in Redemption.   

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 4.

Episode 4 – This Is Your Stop, Now State Your Business Stranger

The frontier town of Redemption greeted Marshall as he left the Titan Train and it’s crackling Thunder Rail. Carved from the rising ridges that rose to become the reaching mountains Redemption sat at the feet of the rocky range. Surrounding it was a sweeping sea of salt flats that shimmered in the sun. The arcing expanse of stretched steel snaked its way back behind him as it ran up alongside to skirt the edge of town before doubling back on itself. This was the end of the line; people either settled in Redemption or took their chances going any further on their own.

Most of the other passengers had already disembarked save for Marshall and a handful of others. One of whom caught at his attention with a shout as she struggled with a crewman over a small bag. “But I paid for my ticket,” the weary widow objected weakly. “Not my problem,” the man mentioned as he ripped the property free from her grip. Already Marshall could see the woman was falling to tears and he decided he had seen enough sorrow visited upon others for one day.

“Release that lady’s luggage at once,” Marshall demanded as he snatched a firm hold of the man’s arm. “Mind telling me what is going on here or do I need to inform the Sheriff that we have a man mugging the elderly?” The crewman shot Marshall a furious glare and clutched a steady hold at the bag. “This is none of your concern stranger. Every passenger is responsible for his or her passage, and this lady only paid for part of hers up front. The remainder of her ticket was purchased en-route but that money was stolen. It’s simply rail policy that she forfeits her belongings to cover the remainder of what she owes. We are not responsible for lost or stolen valuables that occur in transit.”

“But I already paid!” The widow wept as her strength began to fail her in the face of loosing what little seemed left to her. Reaching deep into a vest pocket Marshall fished out his last remaining Regal and tossed the coin at the waiting crewman. “That should more than cover her expenses now release her property before I decide to change my mind and remove it from your possession personally.”

Catching the coin easily with his other hand the belligerent bag-man’s eyes widened at the sight. A whole Regal was more than enough to pay for the woman’s trip ten times over and he wasn’t about to offer to make change even though they both knew he couldn’t. “Sure thing mister,” he offered as he released the bag to fall to the dirt. Marshall immediately retrieved the luggage for the lady and carefully dusted it off before handing it back to her still shaking hand.

“Th-Thank you,” she gratefully whispered with a sniffle. “Don’t mention it, ma’am,” Marshall added with a slight tip of his hat before turning to bid her farewell. Doing a good deed always left him feeling better inside and planted a grin on his face. Even if it had cost him his last coin, no lady deserved to be treated that way.

“Greetings, traveler,” a smooth level voice called to Marshall the moment he had turned back around. Leaning back on a slab of stone was a broad shouldered man with the weathered features of someone at home in the rough environment. A bright badge of silver gleamed on his breast and Marshall didn’t need to read it to guess that it said Sheriff in scrawling script.

“Good day to you, Sheriff,” he politely returned the salutation with a slight nod and started to walk towards town. Before he could move a full two steps a quick gesture called for him to stop. “Not so fast friend,” the Sheriff interrupted. “I like to make it a point to officially meet every new face that finds its way to our little town. And seeing as how you are another one of those fresh faces I think we should have a little talk. Why don’t we start by you telling me who you are what business you have here in Redemption?”

Already Marshall was finding this local lawman irritatingly annoying. What nerve did he have asking him who he was when he obviously didn’t care about his sworn duty enough to put a stop to these train robberies? And what about the attempted strong-armed mugging that nearly occurred to that poor woman on moments ago? No, he was well past the mood to play nice.

“I’d like to report a crime or two Sheriff,” Marshall mentioned with a veiled hint of sarcasm. He tossed out the claim like a baited lure and waited to reel it in to see what manner of man he might catch behind the badge. A raised eyebrow and crooked grin looked back at him as if there was some humor in the sentiment of a reported crime.

“Alright, stranger, let’s hear it; why don’t you open my eyes for me. Go ahead and reveal to me what breeches to the law I ought to be crusading after. Do be so kind as to let me know before we get started if I’ll need to write any of this down.” The Sheriff made it a point to cross his arms and focus himself fully on Marshall.

“First of all, Sheriff, there was a robbery that took place on the train ride here,” Marshall recalled holding a finger up to mark the matter. “Secondly, there is no way you missed that unfortunate woman nearly be taken advantage of. She was almost mugged man!” As he spoke Marshall tried to keep his head lowered slightly to keep his growing frustration veiled from view. Making a display as a disappointed drifter was one thing but outright disrespecting the local authority was bound to earn him an overnight stay in a prison cell. Already he had begun to fear his mouth might have outpaced his self-restraint.

With a Yawn the Sheriff paused for a moment to patiently ensure all complaints had had their chance to be brought before him. “You heard the man mister, that woman was responsible for her debt same as you. If it is the policy of the Thunder Rail to not cover anything lost then that is the way it is. That is as simple as a customer-relations problem as I see it. And as for anything that occurs outside of the town well it isn’t under my mandated authority. Now unless you have further issues to bring before me, my name is Pierce Arbiter and you can find my office in town. It’s the one with the words ‘Sheriff’ hanging above it.”

“Thank you kindly for your time then Sheriff Arbiter,” Marshall remarked as he once more moved to make his way towards town. “Hey,” Arbiter called from behind him. “You never answered my questions. Who are you and what are doing here in my town?” This time though Marshall didn’t stop to turn back around before he answered.

“I’m just passing through, Sheriff,” Marshall replied. “And your name,” the Sheriff demanded again. “Oh, nobody of any account,” was the only explanation Marshall offered before another booming bellow erupted from the Titan Train. Arbiter watched as this newcomer continued on towards town and scratched at the stubble sprouting on his chin. “Well, we’ll soon see about that then won’t we,” he remarked to himself. “Welcome to Redemption friend.”