Thursday, 24 of August of 2017

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Episode 2: Fixer 2

 
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Links from the intro

Show Notes

Here we have another first for Digital Busker, the second installment of an ongoing story. Hope you enjoy.

–Jake out


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Failed NaNo Friday: Headlong Part 1

I mentioned my 2006 NaNoWriMo entry last week, and here’s the first part. There’s a content advisory on this one, so be advised.

Warning: Contains explicit language, violence, and an unsympathetic POV character.


Zero

“Another one, Ziggy. And maybe get some booze in it this time?”
The thick bald man behind the bar rolled his eyes, but he got to work without dawdling. Soon enough he came over with the finished drink. “If you just wanted rum, Gunner, you shouldn’t have ordered a mojito.”
Just mix the drinks, bar monkey. Gunner didn’t let his annoyance show, flashing his best smile–best any guy was going to get, anyway–as he slipped what would have been Ziggy’s tip out of the little pile of bills on the bar. He took his drink and started making his way back through the bar crowd. Even after four months in this town, he didn’t understand why Thursday was a big bar night for the students, but he was more than willing to take advantage of the target rich environment.
His latest conquest to be was back from the bathroom, waiting at the table with his pitcher. She flashed what she probably thought was a coy smile when she saw him. Oh yeah, he grinned back, you’re mine. He slid onto his stool, setting the sugary minty monstrosity he’d ordered on the table between them. “Shelley, you’ve got to try one of these. They’re supposed to be really hot right now.”
She grinned, a little unsteady, and reached for the mojito. “Okay, but you’re going to have to give me a lift home.” She chuckled, drunkenly pleased with her innuendo.
“We’ll work something ou–What the fuck!” Gunner shot to his feet as cold liquid drenched his back. He whirled, one hand making a fist, the other slipping into his pocket. Two frat boys had taken over the table behind him. One had a dripping upended pitcher and an angry smile. The other was trying to stifle laughter. They both stood up.
“Sorry, br-bro,” Chuckles choked out. “Didn’t, ah, didn’t see you there.”
Gunner’s left hand closed around the yellowed ivory case of the straight razor in his pocket and he felt himself calm down. A little. His eyes narrowed, but he forced a cold smile. “So, did you guys lose a bet? Or did you just decide it’d be fun to get your asses kicked tonight?”
Pitcher stepped forward, poking the empty container at Gunner’s nose. “We’re friends of Candi’s, asshole.”
“Good for you. That means what to me, now?”
Pitcher swung then, and Gunner knocked over his stool getting out of the way. The legs caught his leg, almost tripping him. Even so, he’d have a bruise or two in the morning. Oh you’re making yourself a real nuisance, college boy. For his part, Pitcher overbalanced and wound up sprawled over the table, spilling Gunner’s beer and Shelley’s mojito all over. Shelley shrieked and jumped back, falling over into the backs of the people at the next table. As they turned and yelled, Gunner crouched down next to Pitcher. “Listen, buddy, you don’t want to do this here, you’ll get us all kicked out. Let me get you a beer and we’ll talk.”
Knocking his breath out on the table seemed to have taken some of the fight out of Pitcher, and he nodded. Satisfied, Gunner stood back up and checked on what was to have been his night’s entertainment. She was drunkenly trying to apologize to the people she’d crashed into. Gunner raised his voice so they’d hear him over the bar roar. “Sorry, folks, she’s a real sloppy drunk. Honey, you’d better call the drunk van and get out of here before you hurt yourself.”
His sneer got through, undoing everything he’d been working on all night. Hurt flashed in those vacant eyes, followed swiftly by anger. She drew herself up with as much dignity as a drunk nineteen year old can manage, flipped him off, and stalked off into the crowd, only stumbling twice. Gunner grinned. Plenty more where you came from, chicky.

An hour later, Gunner had Pitcher and Chuckles–they said their names were Brandon and Joe, but they would always be Pitcher and Chuckles to Gunner–eating out of his hand. They’d polished off two pitchers of Gunner’s beer between them and were feeling charitable.
“No hard feelings, bro, right?” Pitcher wasn’t slurring. Apparently he was one of the loud, expansive drunks. “I mean, for the beer, the beer on your shirt.”
Gunner smiled, showing all his perfect teeth. “No… bro, you’re fine, really. I know how it is. A girl comes in, all broken up ’cause some jerk hasn’t called, you get involved, I get it.”
Chuckles leaned over and clinked glasses with Pitcher. “Bros before hos, man, bros before hos.”
They’re going to go on like this until last call. Gunner got up. “Listen, guys, I’ve got to go. I’ve got work tomorrow and it’s late.” They stammered their fond farewells but Gunner wasn’t listening. He threaded his way through the bar crowd for the last time and slipped out the back door. The other side of this block had been hollowed out for parking, and he had no trouble finding what he was after. Just like Pitcher had said, a huge black monster of a rich kid’s blinged out SUV. Student parking permit in the window, right next to the decal with the Greek letters. The carving on the razor’s handle was familiar enough that Gunner could picture it with just his fingertips in his pocket: a naked woman with a bad case of mermaid hair standing on the shore of a storm tossed sea. Supposedly his grandfather, a man he’d never met, had killed a man with it in the second world war. Gunner had always appreciated the clean simplicity of the thing. Even with the ivory handle and the carving, it was basically just a straight blade, honed to perfection. Gunner had used it for many years, but never to shave.

Brandon pushed open the back door of the Ox and held it for Joe, who got his drunk ass through the door on the first try, mostly by luck. I hate having to sober up by last call. “Come on, bro, we’re going home.”
Joe held up his hand in the universal “Hang on a second, I’m going to puke over here in the alley” signal. Brandon rolled his eyes and started for his car. Behind him he heard Joe take a few deep breaths, then call out “False alarm, bro.”
“It better be.” Brandon fished his keys out and pushed the button that unlocked the doors and started the engine. As his eyes adjusted to the glare he mused aloud. “You know, I don’t know what happened with him and Candi, but that Gunner actually wasn’t a bad guy.”
Dimly, “Yeah, he was a real urk–”
“Oh, man, you didn’t get any on you, did you? ‘Cause you are not riding with me if you’re dripping puke.” Brandon started to turn, but suddenly there was a hand over his mouth and something warm running down his shirt. The hand released, and Brandon tried to ask what was going on, but his mouth was full of something salty and he couldn’t talk.
As Brandon fell to his knees, a cheerful voice said “Sorry, bro, didn’t see you there.”

Gunner moved on after that night. He always did whenever a town got exciting. It wasn’t fear of being caught, he just knew from experience that things only went downhill after he relieved a village of its idiot. Pitcher’s penismobile was tempting, but too easy to trace. He kept his leased Lexus, or rather M. Shedisky of Boca Raton’s leased Lexus, and moved on down the Interstate. When he got low on cash or good credit cards, or just got horny, he stopped at the next town for a while. He’d stay a while, running short cons, picking pockets, maybe even doing honest work if it seemed easy enough. A few years ago he’d spent three months selling luxury cars in Kansas City. When he finally left he’d been driving his first Lexus and wondering if he could get the blood off of his boss’s Rolex.
Not that he left a trail of bodies everywhere he went. Gunner wasn’t one of those sick serial killer bastards, no sir, killing nurses or hookers or schoolteachers because they couldn’t bust a nut any other way. Hell with that. But if somebody pissed Gunner off he’d go a little out of his way to help them kick their oxygen habit. And Granddad’s razor was just so perfect for the job. Leaving a body wasn’t nearly as fun as leaving a dozen or so knocked up college girls, either.
The towns after Pitcher and Chuckles went by pretty quick, none held his interest very long. More by chance than anything he found himself working his way up the Interstate towards Chicago. That’s how he wound up in Larson. That’s how he met Cora.

One

Cora knuckled her back, groaning. The lunch rush was finally over, just a few tables left to watch, people with no pressing business chatting over their coffee. She liked to think she was in good shape, but her second day waiting table’s in Bob’s Classic Diner was making her wonder whether “thin” and “in shape” weren’t farther apart than she’d realized. All the more reason to get EMT certified so I can quit taking these crappy part time jobs… and start lugging stretchers around. Wait a second! Suddenly Cora stopped knuckling her aching back and slapped her forehead. She backed into a corner behind the lunch counter. When she was sure nobody was looking, she spread her right hand over the sore part of her back and concentrated. Without looking, she knew a white glow had enveloped her hand, light too bright to look at that somehow cast no shadows. The pain in her back melted away in a rush of warmth. Not as noble as healing a concussion or stopping a heart attack, but it’s not like I’m going to run out.
She knew nobody had seen, but she still jumped when the bell over the door rang. When she looked, the man letting the door swing shut behind him was backlit by the early afternoon sun shining off a windshield. From just the silhouette he didn’t look like much: tall, a little gawky, in some kind of bulky jacket and with hair sticking out randomly to the sides of his head. Then he moved, and she moved, and suddenly she could see colors and textures. The dark hair resolved into an elaborate coif that might have been a painstaking duplication of the kind of bed head angels got. The jacket likewise was a very expensive thing slumming in the role of something you’d pick up at the Goodwill. She was sure that it had come off the rack looking just that rumpled, complete with the hand mended rips. She was also sure its outer shell had a higher thread count than her sheets. He wore it open over a similarly rumpled and faded striped oxford (open to the third button and displaying an inch or so of a silver necklace) and expensively decrepit jeans and Converse sneakers. She smiled, the outward expression of the inward guffaw that was building in the back of her mind, when he glanced her way.
Gray. His eyes were gray. But “gray” just didn’t describe them, somehow. Towering prairie thunderstorms were gray. Dolphins jumping in shimmering ocean sunlight were gray. These were… Suddenly she realized that her sarcastic smile had turned to an ear spanning grin, and that the stranger was grinning back in a way that said “Yeah, I know.” Cora’s face burned, and she whirled around. Waiting for her composure to return, she walked over to the supply cupboard and replaced the perfectly good ticket book in her apron with a new one. She still felt flushed, so she got a new pen, too.
Cora realized all at once how silly she was being. She wasn’t some stupid teenager to be swept off her feet by a cute guy every other day. She was almost twenty five, and she had a job to do. Besides, he clearly wasn’t local. Just another traveler who’d disappear up the interstate after he finished his late lunch. Squaring her shoulders, she turned around to go get his order. He was studying the menu and rolling one earlobe between thumb and forefinger. Something about the sight of him reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t say what or whom. She was still wondering when she reached him, and he looked up, pinning her with those amazing eyes again. He grinned and reached for her hand. Folding strong, warm fingers around her suddenly clammy palm, he said “Hi, I’m Gunner.”
I hope he’s not getting back on the highway today.

For his part, Gunner was starting to hope he wasn’t getting back on the highway that day either. This waitress–Cora, her name tag said–was worth another look. Tall but not too tall, thin but not bony, with big brown eyes and rich brown hair, and a brilliant smile. More importantly, her hand trembled in his like a baby bird. He was already halfway there, and she knew it. From here on it would just be a matter of keeping up the pressure without spooking her. He would have to be smooth, but then, he always was.
He ordered the patty melt because she seemed to want him to, and filled up the wait with a stream of effortless patter. By the time his patty melt (which was excellent, just like she’d promised) arrived he had found out everything worth knowing about Cora Lessing. Born and raised in Larson, popular but not outstanding in high school, a couple years away at UIUC, then drifted back home, confused about her goals. Currently sharing a rental house downtown with three friends and taking night classes towards an EMT certification, “So I can heal the people who need it most.” Cora, on the other hand, came away with the impression that Gunner was an entrepreneur, or maybe a day trader, or maybe a retired dot commer, or maybe a venture capitalist scouting for the next big thing. The only thing she was sure of by the time she cleared away his plate was that the ten year old Lincoln Towncar he’d pulled up in was not his car, or maybe it was, but only because he hadn’t gotten somewhere where he could purchase a vehicle that was up to his normal standards. She didn’t know she’d been meant to overhear him sigh “I miss the Lexus.”
Well, that was almost the only thing she was sure of. She was also sure she was going to let him take her dancing after she got off work.

Two

Ward rolled over and stopped the music. Somebody was knocking, pounding really, on his door. “Come in,” he tried, but the pounding continued. Sighing, he took a deep breath and yelled. Finally the pounding stopped and the door swung open. A tall young black man tossed something in a plastic bag at Ward, which landed on his stomach with a thump and a rush of outgoing breath. “Howdy, banjo picker!” Ward sat up on the couch and made room for his guest.
“‘Sup, Token Black Man?” Ward unwrapped the package and found a spindle of blank CD’s. “Does this mean I made another fan?”
“Only potentially,” the other man closed the door and plopped down on the couch next to Ward. “One of your existing fans ordered half a dozen copies. My guess is he’s Christmas shopping.”
“Oh? Was it Hank in Georgia? He mentioned he had a couple of nieces who might like my stuff.”
“Um… I can’t place the name for you, but the guy’s in South Dakota.”
“Oh, that’ll be Jim then. I don’t think he’s married; maybe he’s giving them out at work or something. I’ll send them out tomorrow before work.” Ward balled up the bag and tossed it in–well, near–the trash and set the spindle on his coffee table.
“And collect your filthy lucre, too. Speaking of which, it’s time to pay me.
Ward snapped his fingers. “Crap, has it been a week already?”
“‘Fraid so.”
“Okay,” Ward got up, “just let me get…” Stepping away from the couch, he turned to face his guest. He sank to one knee and stretched one hand out, clutching the other over his heart. “Lucas?”
“Yes?”
“I just want to say that you are a wonderful and generous and brilliant human being, and my eventual fame and riches will be entirely due to the most excellent website you created and even now run for me. And in return for this, when I achieve the aforementioned riches and fame, you can stay in the guest house as long as you want and decorate it however you want.” Ward stood up. “Did I get it right?”
Lucas shrugged, grinning. “Not quite, but improvisation is the soul of art, right?”
“Close enough. I’m getting a Coke, you want anything?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
Ward’s apartment was a tiny basement studio, so walking to the “kitchen” was a matter of taking three steps away from the “living room” (which also doubled as the “bedroom” at night) and opening the fridge, which was right next to the door to the bathroom. There were only a few Coke cans left, hidden behind the leftover containers filled with various attempts at turning ramen into food. While he snagged one, he called over his shoulder to Lucas, “Aren’t you usually watching cartoons on Saturday night?”
“Ken and Stacy are at a show in Urbana tonight, and Cora’s boyfriend is cool, but she was giving me the ‘leave us alone for the evening’ vibe like you wouldn’t believe.”
Ward closed the fridge and took the two steps into the “computer room” to grab his chair. He wheeled it over by the sofa and sat down, propping his feet on the arm of the couch. “Cora’s got a boyfriend? Since when?”
“Since, like, Tuesday. I can’t believe you don’t keep up with the gossip around here.”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t been to the beauty parlor this week. Tell me everything. Is it scandalous?” He grinned and took a gulp of Coke. He barely knew Cora, but “scandalous” just didn’t seem applicable, somehow.
Lucas laughed, then seemed to stop and think. “Actually, you might say it is. He’s not from around here, and he’s been staying with us all week.”
Ward raised an eyebrow. “Really? Couch surfing?”
“Ah, not since Wednesday, no.”
Ward put his feet on the floor and set down his Coke. “Tell me more about this mystery guy.”
Now it was Lucas’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You don’t approve, Headmaster?”
“Let’s just say I’ve got a suspicious nature. Now spill.”
Lucas spread his hands. “Okay, but it’s nothing to get worked up over. He’s a good guy, really. You’d like him. And it can’t be some kind of con, the guy’s loaded. Anyway, yeah. He’s like an entrepreneur or investor or something. Keeps him on the road a lot. He was just passing through when he met Cora and they hit it off. So he’s put off whatever he was heading toward to stay here for a week or two. They’re really sweet together, if you can stand the saccharine factor. And it’s not like anybody else has been knocking on her door lately.” He finished pointedly, literally pointing a finger at Ward.
“What? How did this get to be about me?”
Lucas shrugged. “You’re the one who runs away any time a pretty girl wants to talk about your music, or anything else. Apparently quick fingers make up for your looks for a certain kind of girl. If you weren’t so skittish you wouldn’t be single. And if you weren’t single, maybe you wouldn’t be worried about what Cora’s up to with Tall Dark and Handsome.”
Ward gritted his teeth. “Damnit, Lucas, I’m not… I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, so it’s not a good idea to go looking for–”
“Bullshit (no offense). You’ve been saying that for three years, man.” He waved a hand, dismissing the old argument before it could go further, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “Look, man, it’s okay, but… If you’re gay you should tell me. I can work it into the website, probably open up whole new markets for you!”
Ward rolled his eyes and slipped a pick out of the watch pocket of his jeans one handed. From the hip, he flicked it at Lucas, who took it right on the end of the nose. “Maybe when I get the classical guitar album done. Gay bluegrass banjo doesn’t sound like a winner to me.”
Lucas sat back, rubbing his nose ostentatiously. “How you can do that kind of freaky shit with a pick when you can’t even hit your garbage can…” His hand dropped as a thought struck. “I have to see you play quarters against Gunner. He’s freaky fast, too.”
Ward’s hand, reaching for the Coke on the floor, jerked and knocked the can over, but he caught it in time. “Gunner? His name is Gunner?”
Lucas nodded uncertainly. “Yeah, why?”
“What’s his last name?”
“It’s… You know it’s never come up. Why do you ask?”
“Because it’s Carson.” Unconsciously, Ward had begun rolling his earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. “He’s my brother.”

Outside, Gunner sat beside the basement window and sipped his beer, grinning.


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Episode 1: Fixer 1

 
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Show notes:

This is the first regular episode of the Digital Busker Podcast, and the first episode of a serialized work–specifically, Fixer. Hope you enjoy it.

–Jake out


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Failed NaNo Friday: Crooked Crown Part 1

National Novel Writing Month (hereafter: NaNoWriMo) takes place each year during the month of November. It’s free to participate, and all you have to do to claim victory is churn out 50,000 words before midnight on the 30th. It’s a quantity-over-quality jump start for people who always thought about writing a novel but let themselves get put off by their internal editor. If you’re of the school that holds that every author has a certain predetermined amount of crap they have to write before the good stuff can arrive, this is your event.

I like the idea of NaNoWriMo. It’s the kind of big, dramatic, and self-consciously silly gesture that I go for. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve entered it twice. You’re not allowed to reuse an old idea, so both times I spent the last couple weeks of October brainstorming something, then hit the ground running on November 1st. In 2006 I dove into an urban fantasy called Headlong. In 2007 I sought more traditional fantasy fare with Crooked Crown.

Neither one came anywhere near the 50k finish line.

Neither one came anywhere near a complete story, either.

Still, I like these almost-books, so I’m going to use them in Digital Busker’s first regularly scheduled feature (the podcast doesn’t count because we’ve only had the soft open). I give you: Failed NaNo Friday. We’ll start things off today with the first section of Crooked Crown.


Quick walked under the Lamplighters’ Arch, which glowed as always with a steady yellow light. The guards inside the courtyard looked him up and down as he passed, but didn’t stop him. Either they remembered him, not impossible even after two years away, or they didn’t think he was worth detaining. Certainly any bravo or assassin would be mad to challenge even the youngest Lamplighter with nothing more than the gentleman’s targe and short sword that hung from his shoulder.

Across the broad courtyard rose the family mansion, all arches and columns and stained glass windows streaming light out into the twilight. As he reached the main entrance, Quick was finally stopped by one the two guards there. He looked like a hard man, harder than Quick remembered the men in the red livery being. Have they changed, or have I? he wondered.

“State your name and business, please,” the guard grumbled.

“Quick. Master Daire’s expecting me.”

Black brows drew together and color started to rise in the guard’s face. Quick understood; it must have seemed like the guest was telling him how to do his job, and dodging a question to boot. He could have phrased his answer more helpfully, but this way was funnier. Before he had a chance to try on his innocent confusion face, much less his how dare you address me that way face, a window on the second floor swung open, and a shock of unruly red hair appeared, attached to the head of a young man whom Quick had known since they were children. “Quick, you’re here,” Daire said, obviously trying to sound enthusiastic. “Brynnin, he’s welcome, on my word. Come on up, Quick.”

“You need some more time to make yourself pretty for the party?” Quick called up, hoping for a chuckle or a smile, but Daire was already out of sight again. He shrugged at the guard, then extended a hand. “Quick Callan, by the way. I’ve been away for a while, so I forget that not everybody knows me anymore.”

The guard reluctantly took his hand in a firm grip. “Brynnin,” he said simply, “no house.” There was a moment of surprised assessment on his face as he squeezed Quick’s hand and recognized the swordsman’s callouses. He let go just an instant too late for normal politeness.

“It’s my fault for not putting it together. I’ve heard enough Quick stories I should have recognized you. Except you’re not juggling a half dozen wenches. On you go, then,” he stepped aside and pulled the door open.

Quick sighed theatrically as he walked past, grinning impishly. “I’m afraid those days are behind me, good Brynnin. I’m practically a Monk of the Rule these days.” He was rewarded with an incredulous snort as the door closed behind him. He decided not to let the fact that he’d spoken the simple truth spoil his mood.

The entry hall of Lamplighter Mansion was, of course, spacious and well lit in a dizzying variety of hues and manners. Gleaming marble, brilliantly polished mirrors of every metal that would take a shine, and a chandelier made entirely of the same glowing crystal as the main arch were all he had been able to remember, and that would have been more than enough, but he’d somehow forgotten the backlit stained glass installation over the blazing fireplace showing the first generations of the family, with the near-mythical founder, Praecetus, smiling down on them from the sky in place of the sun. Subtlety was not a Lamplighter watchword. Framed by the sweeping wings of the grand stairs, the crystal fireplace was placed to awe guests. Quick hated to admit how well it still worked on him, no matter he’d been here dozens, maybe hundreds, of times.

Seeing no one about, Quick jogged up the gold-carpeted stairs to the second floor, as richly, though not as ostentatiously, appointed as the entry hall. He didn’t see anyone here either, and he wondered at that. Even at twilight, there should have been servants scurrying about the place, seeing to the innumerable needs of the house and the family. At least, in the old days there would have been. Now Quick looked at the furnishings with a fresh eye, and saw dust on the tops of mirrors, rugs ever so slightly askew, and a long smear on a marble tile. Has the whole house caught one of Daire’s black moods? Newly concerned, Quick made his way to Daire’s door and knocked twice.

“Come in, Quick,” came the barely audible answer. Quick stepped in to Daire’s sitting room and saw his friend clambering up from a divan. Daire smiled, more than a little sadly, and extended a hand. “Good to see you again, friend.”

Quick crossed the room in two long strides and grabbed Daire’s hand, pulling him into a one armed back slapping embrace. “You don’t know the half of it, my fine shining fellow.” Releasing Daire, Quick’s expression turned serious. “But what is chewing away at you, Daire? You’re looking half snuffed.”

Daire whirled and threw himself back onto the divan, sighing. “How should I look, Quick, with my heart in the hands of another?” He sat up and visibly reconsidered. “No, not the hands, the feet! Under her feet! While she stomps, and stomps, and stomps…

Without letting his mask of grave concern slip, Quick sighed inwardly. Ah, a girl. And here I thought he might have grown out of this by now. Well, at least I know how to deal with it. “Keep in mind I’ve been away for two years, Daire. Whom are we discussing, please?”

Daire blinked and smiled sheepishly. “My apologies. I forget myself. Her name, the sweetest and most painful sound in my world, is Miaria, and her beauty outshines…. but I am being a terrible host. You’re back after two years away at the academy, I should think you have other priorities than listening to me eulogize my broken heart.”

Quick sat down at the foot of the divan and flashed a mischeivous smile. “Not just I, Daire. Both of us have more important matters to attend tonight. And by ‘attend,’ I mean,” he pulled a thick folded parchment from his pocket with a flourish, “attend. This is my invitation to the biggest and best party of the year, at the Thane’s hall. Tonight. And it’s for me, and whomever I should choose to honor as my guest.” He tapped Daire on the forehead with the heavy document, making sure the golden wax seal with the Thane’s crest was visible. “That would be you, my old young heartsick friend.”

Daire’s eyes crossed as he tried to read the waggling parchment. “That is a fine welcome home gift indeed, but you should pick someone else for your guest, I have no parties in me tonight.”

Quick let him finish the sentence, but only because he didn’t want to let on that he had the conversation planned out three moves in advance. “Nonsense. If I know you, and I like to flatter myself with the thought that I still do, your Miaria is just the kind of lovely, well bred young woman to get invited to this party herself. This is your chance to impress and woo her. You can let her think I’m your guest, if it helps. Order preserve us, once my novelty wears off–I judge a week on that, and will accept wagers–we will return to our old relative statuses, you and I, you providing the coattails, and I the grip.”

Daire shook his head glumly. “No, she’s set against me, I’m afraid. Her family works for the Shroudweavers, and there’s nothing I can do to make her see past my family.”

Quick silently puzzled over that for a time. Certainly the Lamplighters and the Shroudweavers had been feuding for longer than anyone living could remember, but that had rarely stopped the younger generation from fraternizing. Either this Miaria was stodgy in the way only a young person can be, or the feud had gotten worse since he’d been gone. He would have to ask his father for a more detailed account of what he’d missed than he’d gotten. That was a problem for later, though, after he got his friend back. “Well then in that case, you’ll have a chance to see her up against her competition, and I’ll wager a crown to a penny there will be girls there that make you forget all about… whatever he name was.”

Daire opened his mouth to protest, but Quick barely listened. He’d seen the flicker of interest in his friend’s eyes. He was going to the party, it was just a matter of time.

* * *

Indeed, an hour later Quick, Daire, and Daire’s cousin Naiden were walking through Old Tewett, surrounded by a loose screen of subtle but vigilant Lamplighter guards, led by the unsmiling Brynnin. Naiden and Daire seemed accustomed to the guards, so Quick took his cue from them and ignored them, but he found their presence unnerving. In his short life, Quick had never made any enemies serious enough to warrant a bodyguard–he wasn’t important enough or unpopular enough for anyone to seriously want him dead. The thought that someone might want to kill or abduct Daire or Naiden made more sense–the Lamplighters were very nearly as powerful in Tewett as the Thane himself, albeit in a near tie with the Shroudweavers. But when Quick had left, the protection had been much more subtle. Again he wondered what could have brought such an escalation, but abandoned fruitless speculation in favor of enjoying his time with his friend. Time enough for gossip gathering at the party. Quick glanced at Naiden, a head taller and about twenty years older than Daire, in soul if not in body, and found something new to wonder about. “Naiden, if you don’t mind me saying, it’s an unexpected pleasure to have you along. Did you take up society parties while I was gone?”

Naiden smiled broadly and winked. “I still think the starched collar crowd is dull as cinder, but Uncle insisted.” His smile vanished and he mimed spitting on the cobbles. “Everything is political these days, and I’m supposed to make friends if I’m… going to serve the family.” What he hadn’t said was “if I’m going to take over the family,” Quick was sure. The Lamplighters weren’t exactly nobles, but their succession was usually from father to eldest son, unless there was some reason to believe the presumptive heir was a poor choice. Old Donel, the current patriarch, had exactly one son, Daire, and they didn’t get along. As far as Quick knew, Daire didn’t actually want to succeed his father, but it would have been rude to say what everyone apparently still whispered, that Naiden was being groomed to take over if Daire didn’t show signs of growing up. Both men glanced at Daire to see if he had heard the unsaid and taken offense, but he was gazing off into the distance, apparently in his own world.

Naiden just smiled affectionately and rolled his eyes, but Quick stepped in and put his arm over Daire’s shoulders and made a show of looking for whatever his friend was staring at. “Is my friend the seer having a vision? Pray, wise one, share your gift with these poor sinners. What does the future hold?”

Daire shook Quick off with a laugh. “You jest, Quick, but our family’s gifts have been known to include prophecy. For all you know, I did just see the future.”

Naiden waggled his finger at his cousin, grinning. “Yes, and who was the last Lamplighter with the sight? Our great grandfather?”

His great grandfather, I believe,” Quick put one hand theatrically to his forehead and feigned a swoon. “No word from the heavens on the fate of this poor supplicant? Must I continue to make my way through this world of trouble and strife blindfolded? Oh woe!”

Daire grew serious again, and said quietly, “Be careful what you wish for, Quick. I had a dream last night, and I fear it may be prophecy. That’s what I was thinking about just now.”

“A dream? Not a good one, either, by the sound of it. But what makes you think it’s more than just a dream?”

Daire shook his head. “It was no ordinary dream. All the time I knew I was dreaming, but I couldn’t control the dream, the way you normally can when you know that. And it was so clear, even on waking, even now. I can remember every detail. Not that I want to.”

Naiden looked genuinely concerned. “What did you see?”

Daire shuddered and ran his hands through his hair. “I was running through a swamp, chasing will o’the wisps. I lost my compass, then my staff, but I kept running. I knew I wasn’t going to catch one, because you can’t, but I kept chasing them despite that. Finally I saw what I took at first to be the largest wisp yet, but when I go closer I saw it was a fire. I slogged my way onto an island of dry land in the swamp, where I saw a neat, empty campsite. There was the fire, of course, and a pot of something savory, and wash water, replacements for what I had lost, and a large dry tent. I knew then that this was what I had been searching for, and the wisps had merely been distractions.”

Naiden nodded approvingly. “Well at least it had a happy ending, then.”

Quick winced inwardly, because he knew better. Daire was too emotional by half most of the time, a failing common in his family, but he wouldn’t have been so broken up by the dream if it hadn’t gotten much worse than what he’d already revealed by the end. And indeed, Daire was scowling at Naiden as he continued. “That was not the end, cousin. Though it’s funny you should speak up here, because you are about to enter the story. Just as I was surveying the camp, you walked up, girded in your armor. You said ‘We must go, you are needed.’ Then you reached out with your right hand and…” Daire paused, face etched with remembered pain, and took a quick breath before plunging back in. “You reached into my chest and pulled out my beating heart. Then you placed it in my hands and said ‘That belongs here.’ I nodded and walked over to the tent with it. I placed it on the ground in front of the tent, covering it with a corner of the flap over the entrance. I stood and followed you out of the camp. As we walked through the swamp, we started to burn, brighter and brighter with every step. The very swamp around us was burned away and we walked across an empty plain, blazing like the sun. The shadows grew around us, though, and ate our light as fast as we could produce it. For a time it seemed we must prevail, but the darkness surged around me and I felt my fire die. The darkness crawled down my throat and into the hole in my chest and my limbs went cold and dead. I fell into the darkness, and I knew no more.”

There was an uncomfortable silence, then, that seemed to last for hours. Quick was, as usual, the one to break it. “That is a truly harrowing dream, Daire, and no wonder it still haunts you. There’s no reason to suspect it’s truly prophetic, though. Everybody gets strange dreams from time to time. Just last night I had one myself. Shall I tell it?”

Naiden stared at Quick, apparently trying to decide if he was being serious. Daire knew better, and just smiled weakly. “Well,” Quick said, feigning reluctance, “if you insist. My dream began at a party very much like the one we are about to attend. All the most influential and beautiful people in Tewett were there, dancing the night away. Around they spun, in a complicated pattern that I didn’t recognize. I joined in, though, and the steps came to me as I danced them. I was having the time of my life.” Quick was speaking faster now, though he didn’t realize it, and he was only vaguely aware that he was ahead of Daire and Naiden, zig zagging across the cobbles in an imitation of the dance he described. Suddenly he clambered up a light pole and hung by one hand from the bar next to the shining crystal. “But it was not to last, my friends! The pattern of the dance spun me into a corner where I stumbled into a moldy old tapestry, and I fell through a concealed passage into darkness.” Naiden and Daire were just passing the pole then, and Quick kicked off from the pole and dropped between then, grabbing their shoulders. “I couldn’t find my way back to the light and the music, so I went deeper into the dark, through dust and cobwebs and the names of the dead.” Somewhere in Quick’s head a rational voice said That was an odd thing to say, but his mouth kept going. “I walked for a thousand years in a few minutes and then I saw a light ahead. I knew I hadn’t found my way back to the party, because the light was cold and blue–frozen light, frozen time. Not at all the right light for a party, you see. But it was better than the dark and the dead, so I sought it out. I entered a crypt of marble, lined with the stony visages of great men and women long dead. In the center of the room was a simple stone block the size of a table, and on that block was the source of the chilly light.” Quick let go of their shoulders, now, and darted out ahead again. Dimly he realized that the two Lamplighters were not his only audience. A number of the surrounding guards, and even what looked like random passers-by were watching him with interest.

“Shall I describe the source of this eerie incandescence? Alas, I cannot, for I could not bring myself to look upon it, even in a dream. I was filled with dread, and my feet were rooted to the floor as though by mortar.” As if for contrast, Quick turned and walked backwards down the uneven cobbles, gesturing wildly at his rapt audience. “Desperate to lay my gaze somewhere other than the source of my dread, I turned to the marble walls and the faces of the honored dead. And what I saw then, my friends, wounded me to my very soul–more terrible and horrible than anything that had come before! I saw….”

Quick’s heel struck an upturned brick and he feel backwards. Automatically he caught himself, albeit just barely, with his outstretched hands. Too stunned to move, he held himself there, one foot sticking up, suspended on his other foot and his hands mere inches from staining his breeches on the street. He knew he must look ridiculous, and his face flushed hot.

Daire was the first to laugh, long and hearty, and soon Naiden joined in. Taking their cue from the Lamplighters, but unwilling to risk offense, the guards and random citizens who’d been following the strange performance indulged in scattered chuckles as well. Daire stepped forward and helped Quick back to his feet, turning the movement into a brotherly embrace and a hearty slap on the back.

Quick strode on down the street, trying to hide his embarrassment. Daire stayed just behind and to his right, asking “I’m afraid for both our sakes to ask, Quick, but what was it that you saw?”

Quick stumbled again, although there were no uneven cobbles here, but kept his feet. Forcing a smile, he looked over his shoulder at Daire and lied “I saw people who were stuck in marble when they could have been dancing!”


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Episode 0: Fetch

 
download Episode 0: Fetch

Show notes:

  • 0:00 - Intro and explanation
  • 2:35 - Short story: “Fetch”
  • 7:19 - Outro and feedback

Thanks for tuning in to the shakedown cruise of the Digital Busker Podcast. In this episode I explain what the name is about (see About digitalbusker.net) and what I want from the podcast.

–Jake out

ETA: If the Flash player sounds noisy, it’s the player, not the file. If you download the mp3 directly it should come through clean.


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