Fantasy Week!

Hey everybody!
My blog is turning three on Friday, 21 April, and in the tradition of previous Birthday Weeks here at spalanz.com, I’m having a theme week where I explore all manner of stuff in something of a microcosm of what my blog is about. This year, I’m declaring it Fantasy Week, and will be taking a look at all sorts of media with a fantastical setting.

This could of course be contentious, as some things will naturally be left out. I’ve got blogs lined up that will be taking in Dungeons and Dragons, the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy, as well as some other odd bits that I hope you’ll enjoy! Of course, one week of blogs can’t encompass everything, and there will naturally be some things that fall somewhat by the wayside – most glaringly, Lord of the Rings isn’t being featured this week.

Why?

Well, because my love and enthusiasm for Middle Earth really needs its own week – maybe when it comes time for the fourth birthday…

I’ve enjoyed fantasy books since I was a child, and regularly used to devour them over all else in the school library. In later years, particularly after discovering there were Star Wars novels, I’ve moved more into the sci-fi realm, though always find myself full of unbridled enthusiasm whenever I discover something new, such as The Elenium or the Powder Mage trilogy. Indeed, even modern classics like the Legend of Drizzt, I’ve come to quite late-on! I’m hoping to share some more of these fantasy classics as the week progresses, however, so stay tuned for more amazing stuff!

I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I love a good fantasy novel, covering a fair breadth of the staples in this blog from 2014, so I’ll say no more for now, but let’s get on with the show!

A New Beginning

It’s post 400! To celebrate this wonderful milestone, I’m starting a series of short stories once again, something I did a while back and enjoyed, but haven’t done for over a year now. This post is going to serve as something of a prologue, and I hope to develop this character in the coming months, so that’ll be something to look forward to! So without further ado, I present: A New Beginning…


 

Ty Lorancza sat facing the setting sun of Kintan and began to meditate. Eyes closed, he focused on his breathing, feeling his chest expand with the inward breath and visualising his lungs filling with the warm night air. He held the breath for a count of five before slowly exhaling, feeling some tension leave his body as he did so.

It had been a long time since he had felt truly at peace, and even with the daily routines of meditation to clear his mind, he rarely felt the balance as he once had. While still young for a Borneck, he had nevertheless felt old since the tumultuous events of the Clone Wars and the removal of the Jedi Order from the galaxy. A committed pacifist by nature, Ty had been one of the modest number who had outright refused to lead clonetroopers into battle. As such, he had managed to escape the cull by virtue of the fact he had been stationed in a far-flung Jedi Academy at the time so many of his fellow knights had been killed.

The sun slowly crept lower in the sky, bathing the wasteland in front of him in a burnished copper glow. Despite the lateness of the hour, the frequent breezes that blew across the plains were still warm against his pale yellow skin. He inhaled again, attempting to focus his thoughts on the Force alone, yet the past continued to intrude.

Since the war, he had quietly slipped away into the galactic periphery. His student charges had been taken from him by Loran San, the charismatic Weequay Jedi Master who had often visited the academy to instruct the students in lightsaber defense. Loran San had tried to bring Ty with him, to bring the fight back to the nascent Empire, but Ty had refused, as he always had.

“You’re letting down our sisters and brothers, good women and men who have already given their lives that we might yet live!” he had insisted. “Is their sacrifice to have been in vain?”

Ty could still see the look in Loran San’s eyes before he went to sleep at night. It was a look of anguish, to be sure, but as the years had passed, Ty’s imagination had added in a look of betrayal, too.

He inhaled for five, and slowly let his breath out once again.

The galaxy had been torn apart during those dark times. Good people had been branded as traitors, and a madness seemed to overcome the senate. Paranoia reigned supreme in the heart of the galaxy, and Ty was glad to be away from it. But, at the back of his mind, a nagging doubt had taken root. Had he really betrayed his comrades? Were his own principles and beliefs to be compromised, that he might exact some small sense of justice for their loss?

He inhaled again, filling his lungs with the warm, dry air once more, before slowly exhaling, willing his doubts to follow his breath into the ether.

He had never seen Loran San, or the two apprentices, again. He had abandoned the academy, feeling a profound sense of loss of self in the wake of the news the Weequay Master had brought with him. The Jedi were being hunted like dogs across the stars, and while some were attempting to mount a resistance, Ty knew he could never conscience such a course of action. He had always been a scholar, a seeker of knowledge, not a warrior. In a galaxy torn apart by war, there was no place for Ty Lorancza, and so he had just – disappeared.

He inhaled again, counted to five, and slowly released the breath, willing more of his unease to leave him. But it never did. In the fifteen years since he had left the small academy and wound his way to Kintan, the sense of loss had been with him. Feeling he would not achieve peace this night, he slowly got to his feet, took one last look across the rusty mesa before him, then returned to the modest dwelling he had made in the hope that he would find some measure of peace at least in sleep.


 

 

Adventurous thoughts

Hey everybody!

Birthday week continues here at spalanz.com, and I wanted to talk a little bit about creative writing today. Well, like I said at the top of the week, I was thinking of presenting something of a microcosm of my first year within the week. Indiana Jones is a great theme for this, with the amount of stuff that it has spawned over the years.

A few years ago, I entertained some dreams of adding to that spawn myself!

As a child, I was utterly enraptured by the sense of adventure in the Indy films, and used to try to continue and recapture that adventure long after the credits had rolled. As life wore on, I thought about the possibility of making something of those adventures by writing essentially fan-fiction, an idea that eventually mutated into my own original story idea. Somewhere, I’ve got a lot of stuff written down for an adventure story set in the 1930s and featuring a globe-trotting academic. I’m not entirely sure where, though I am sure that if I found that stuff, I would be fairly unimpressed with it.

The basic kernel of my idea was for a character who wanted to be Indiana Jones, possibly a schoolfriend or somesuch. The idea that this guy who he sat next to in class was off fighting Nazis and unearthing religious artifacts really fired his imagination, so he got together with another guy and they set off to have their own adventure. While George Lucas has described Indy as a guy who’s always getting in over his head, my guy was just inept from the get-go. I think he was fluent in Ancient Greek and Arabic, as he was a scholar of the dark ages and early medieval period, but he wasn’t much good at anything else.

The guy along for the adventure with him was also a medievalist, and had something of a fascination with medieval weaponry. I suppose this was an answer to Indy having a whip – this chap used a flail at one point, and I think I wanted to show him train with tonfa and three-section staff (I don’t remember the actual Chinese name for this). There was also a lady along with them, who was fluent in several languages, and an elder-statesman-like chap who may or may not have been a college professor.

Yeah – a large part of the adventure took place in China.

The story had something to do with breaking into an international gemstone smuggling ring, and trying to prevent the theft of some kind of legendary stone. It might have been my inability to develop this effectively that proved the undoing of this endeavour. Part of the story took place in Africa – I think I originally wanted to involve Egypt, but then felt it was too hackneyed and wanted to move into Nubia or someplace. My intrepid band was foiled at this stage, but decided to forge ahead through India and Nepal and into China, where the final showdown would take place.

For the villain of the piece, I envisaged all sorts of crazy, though I think I eventually settled on a Dutch guy. Diamonds, you know? Anyway.

Along the way there would be boat chases along the Ganges (or similar), airplane chases over the Himalayas, car chases through Peking, and midnight excavations with traps and terrors at every turn. It was going to be awesome.

And yet, it remains unwritten. A loss the world will no doubt have to bear! I think what put me off was The Mummy 3, which I haven’t seen, but which sounded too much like my projected tale, with its oriental setting and whatnot.

However, there were also a number of challenges that I felt insurmountable at the time, foremost among them being how could I write something this close to an adventure classic and still keep it original? A fear of becoming derivative was a constant companion. Another major consideration was whether I was intelligent enough to write it. I mean, it’s a story about a group of highly intelligent academics, and I suppose my constant insecurity led me to believe I couldn’t pull it off convincingly when I wasn’t in that same stratum. The vast majority of my notes for this story were mainly educating myself on things like weaponry and toxicology, for instance, to say nothing of ancient history of Africa and Asia…

I began to think instead of something more fantastical, which I could control – my fantasy story that I talked about some last summer. If I’m making everything up, then it’s much easier to write than having to do all that research – no matter how interesting it was! My fantasy story originally began life in 2006, but soon overtook my adventurer story, though neither has made any real headway!

It’s a series of ideas that have refused to go away, however, and every so often I find myself fondly looking back and thinking I might actually make something of it. I suppose time will only tell on that score…

Anyhow! We’re getting close to the end of Birthday Week now, but I hope to have something faintly interesting for you to end the week with… stay tuned!

Pursuit (part two)

Hey folks!

Happy Easter! Whatever you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope you’re having a wonderful time of it! Personally, I’ve been having unmitigated awesome so far, it’s just a shame it’s only confined to the long weekend!

Remember for my 200th post, I wrote part one of a short story, and promised the second part would be along soon? Well, somehow life got in the way, and part two of said story has ended up being my post 250! That wasn’t intended, I can assure you! Anyway, you can read the first part of the tale here, then part two continues on directly from there. Hope you enjoy it, and as always, comments are greatly appreciated!

Nar Shaddaa

The setting sun couldn’t make the cityscape of Nar Shaddaa beautiful. The Smugglers’ Moon was rotten to the core, a place where most came to hide from the law. Rando and Mazzic had arrived in the Corellian Sector a little over a Standard day ago, and while Rando had been meticulous about the job at hand, Mazzic had headed over to the Lucky Star casino in the hopes of making some more money out of the trip.

Rando stood with his hands in his pockets as he ordered what passed for shasa ale at a cantina a short walk from the Besadii warehouse. The cantina was a real dive, with only three tables to sit at. Most of the patrons were stood around the narrow room in small huddles, not making eye contact with anyone outside their groups. The ale was foul, but this was the best place to survey the warehouse as inconspicuously as he could.

Besides, given how run-down the cantina was, Mazzic was bound to show up sooner or later.

During the hours he had spent watching the warehouse, he had only seen two guards – Weequay, both. He was fairly sure he had their routine down, and intended to make one final check this evening before making his move.

Taking a final gulp of his ale, he shuffled out of the cantina and onto the walkway that led past the Besadii warehouse. A chasm yawned to his right, with small, crumbling blocks of plastcrete dotted partly along the edge as a token attempt at safety. As he turned his attention to the warehouse, a long, single-story structure on the left, he noticed a pair of aliens fighting amid a pile of trash. The moon was so densely-populated that he wasn’t all that surprised he couldn’t identify the species. Walking past without pause, he passed the rear of the warehouse, and sure enough, there was the Weequay he’d spotted in previous trips, trying his best to look nondescript with a very long vibro-knife badly concealed against his thigh.

Rando kept close watch out of the corner of his eye as he shambled along, trying to appear more concerned with where he was walking than what he was walking past. A steady scuffing of boots behind him momentarily made him think he’d been unsuccessful with his attempts, but he relaxed as Mazzic nudged him and mumbled, “We need to clear out of here, buddy.”

Rando, while certain the Weequay hadn’t paid him any attention, was careful not to give up with his charade too suddenly.

“What do you mean?” he mumbled back.

“I mean, we need to get this job done and get ourselves off this rock as soon as.”

Panic crept across Rando’s chest. “Why?”

“I met some fellow smugglers yesterday, they let it slip during our last game of sabacc that they’ve got a big job for Besadii coming up, offered to cut me in. For what they offered, I turned ‘em down, but sounds like they’re getting ready to clear this place out. They do that, this Anjiliac job isn’t gonna pay squat. Think you’re ready?” Mazzic seemed oddly on edge.

“I’m pretty sure how I’m gonna do it, yeah. Tonight, then?”

“Tonight it is, my friend.”

***

Neither of them had noticed the robed Twi’lek walk past them twice while they were out on the walkway. The infochant had to be sure his quarry were who he thought they were before he called it in, and once he received confirmation that he had been paid for the information, he made straight for the lower levels.

The Empire always paid well when the information was good.

***

Rando made it a point to maintain a network of acquaintances he could rely on to provide him with the tools of his trade, should he ever need help. Nowhere in the galaxy was that easier than Nar Shaddaa, where he had learnt the art of explosives from a man known simply as Grey Lord. A legend in criminal circles, Grey Lord had had a prosperous career during the Clone Wars as a mercenary working for both sides throughout the conflict. When accused of being nothing more than ‘good at bangs’, he had used explosive charges to carve the face of his accuser into a rock mesa on Ord Mantell. He’d then killed the man, on principle.

With enough thermex to more than make Anjiliac’s point, Rando met back with Mazzic at the cantina and the two made their way to the warehouse. As predicted, the Weequay was nowhere to be seen, having most likely grown bored of his sentry duty and found something more interesting to occupy his time. They still proceeded cautiously down the alleyway that ran alongside, making sure nobody was following. Much like Coruscant, true night was hard to come by on Nar Shaddaa, given the vast neon signs that illuminated the skies, and the alley had a hazy red glow to it from a nearby holosign for an upcoming shockball tournament on Affavan. Mazzic had “borrowed” a speeder truck from someone he claimed to have worked with once, and it was parked unobtrusively nearby.

Forcing a window, the two managed to steal inside without anybody noticing. Mazzic had expected to emerge into the warehouse staring into the muzzle of at least one blaster, but the warehouse was disarmingly quiet. They found themselves in what looked like a workshop area, while crates were stacked in reasonably-neat rows throughout the room ahead of them.

“Reckon they’ve just gone to bed?” Rando breathed beside him.

Mazzic crept forward further into the main floor of the warehouse, straining to hear for any sound, but the warehouse did indeed appear to be completely deserted.

“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Mazzic took one final look around, finding the quiet odd in light of what the smugglers had told him earlier. “I’m gonna take a look around. You start doing your thing, and I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

Mazzic headed off, and Rando set to work with the thermex. Not his explosive of choice, it nevertheless did a great job in the end. The downside was the fact it was a remote charge, but required the operator to remain nearby to detonate. In spite of the life he had chosen for himself, Rando actually disliked the criminal sides of his profession. It was a life of necessity, in order to pursue what he felt to be his only skill, demolitions. Thanks to the advances in droid technology, construction droids has rendered all legitimate demolitions obsolete, and so he had turned to what he felt to be the only option left open for him, crime. Fortunately, Vrandil had given him some good jobs that didn’t involve too much risk with the law, as he was often aided and abetted by other operatives who would keep the way clear for him. Jobs like this for Anjiliac, however, required too much risk for his liking, and the sooner he could collect the payment, the better.

But it had been fun seeing Mazzic again.

Methodically, Rando applied another charge to a supporting strut, and ensured the detonator was wired and in place. As he turned to the next strut, he felt a hard object poke into the small of his back.

“Having fun?” came a guttural voice somewhere near his left ear.

Rando’s first thought was the vague hope that Mazzic was just playing some kind of joke, though the unpleasant smell of Weequay swiftly dispelled that. “Well, I was…” he said, weakly.

“Put the bag down, carefully, and then your hands on your head,” the guard ordered. “And don’t try anything funny. This ain’t a funny business we’ve got here.”

With exaggerated care, Rando placed his satchel on a nearby crate, then did as he was ordered. The Weequay didn’t seem to know that he still held a detonator chip in his hand, however, so he was careful to conceal it while he thought of how he would get out of this mess.

“That’s it. Nice and easy. So let’s go find your buddy – but don’t think I won’t shoot you soon as you try anything funny.”

Slowly, Rando began to walk around the pile of crates and out onto the main floor of the warehouse, the guard’s blaster poking into his back, and a leathery hand on his shoulder. There was neither sight nor sound of Mazzic, and Rando found himself hoping fervently that meant a rescue was imminent, that Mazzic had seen the Weequay sneak up on him and was about to leap from the shadows. With each step they took, that hope died a little more.

“Looks like your friend has decided to –“ Whatever the Weequay had been about to say was cut off when the front door to the warehouse was kicked in, and a squad of stormtroopers burst in.

Rando felt sure by this point that he was dreaming, that there had been some hallucinogen in the shasa ale he’d been drinking. But no, this was no dream. The troopers fanned out, handlights and rifles coming to bear on Rando and the Weequay, and the filtered voice of the sergeant came clearly through the otherwise deserted warehouse, “In the name of the Galactic Empire, you are all under arrest!”

The remark seemed to catch the Weequay off-guard. His grip loosened on Rando’s shoulder, as he presumably tried to move to address the troopers, perhaps to announce his role here. Rando, however, didn’t wait long to find out exactly what the guard was about to do; he seized the chance and triggered the detonator he had kept a hold of. Whatever the Weequay was about to say was drowned out by the sudden explosion of half the warehouse.

Rando dived to the limited cover of a nearby pile of crates. Evidently he was just in time, as a moment later the guard was knocked prone by a falling metal beam. The stormtroopers, obviously confused, decided to open fire on the warehouse at large.

I sure hope Mazzic got out while he could…

***

Mazzic had indeed gotten out of the warehouse, and was in the process of loading a sixth crate onto the speeder truck when he noticed a second vehicle pull up near to the warehouse. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the stormtroopers disembark, though after taking a moment to calm himself, he realised there weren’t any Imperial warrants out on him at the moment. Either Besadii had come under the scrutiny of the Empire at last, or they were after Rando.

Unsure of what to do, Mazzic checked his blaster before heading back into the warehouse, cursing himself as he did so. Rando was a friend, and he still felt somewhat obligated to him after he had saved his skin back on Corellia.

Just as he ducked back in through the side door to the warehouse, everything went to hell as the place blew up, and the stormtroopers started firing at random. A few blasts came alarmingly close to where Mazzic stood, and he quickly ducked behind some sort of workbench area as he tried to make sense of what was going on. Had Rando triggered a blast by accident? Was it something the Imperials had done? Whatever the reason, he had to find his accomplice, and quickly.

“Rando!” he risked, though it was difficult to be heard over the inferno. He moved further into the back of the warehouse, where he had last seen Rando setting charges, and found a Weequay on fire. Slightly taken aback, he began to move again before choking back on the smoke. Squinting to see, he was about to give up hope and leave when he saw the demolitionist moving towards the main doors. Quickly, running at a crouch to avoid the Imperials’ fire, he grabbed a hold of Rando by the arm and made to pull him back to the side door.

Rando’s eyes widened in momentary horror, until he realised who had caught up to him. Visibly relaxed, he followed Mazzic out into the alleyway and the speeder truck, both men grabbing another crate as they left the burning building.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Rando coughed, as Mazzic began to manoeuvre the truck out of the alley, and hopefully away before anything else could go wrong.

“You and me have got different ideas of what’s fun, Rando, that’s for sure.”

***

As it turned out, Zietta the Hutt was pleased with the way things had turned out on Nar Shaddaa, and Rando was paid the 1500 credits that had been agreed. Mazzic had managed to secure enough spice to make the trip worthwhile, though it had been phetaril in that specific store, while he had been hoping for something a little more lucrative. “I’ll take the credits where I can,” he had said, and, combined with his gambling while on the Smugglers’ Moon, had more than covered his expenses.

Rando still hadn’t the credits to replace his ship, however, so had followed Mazzic to Junkfort Station to sell the phetaril. Thinking he might be able to hitch a ride to Murkhana from one of the spacers there, things went from bad to worse when Mazzic caught up with him at the station’s cantina.

“You’re not gonna like this, but you’ve got a bounty on your head.”

Rando felt suddenly cold and clammy. “Me? What for?” The question was almost instinctive; he assumed it was for having blown something up, but nobody had ever specifically come after him for retribution following a job. He was like a tool – his employers were the ones who had the bounties posted on them.

“Well, turns out the Imperials have a special interest in you. I think it’s time you took off someplace quiet, disappeared for a while.” The two left the cantina and casually made their way back to the dock.

Rando felt light-headed. This is why I hate the criminal side of the job.

“Got any thoughts?”

A harsh, rasping voice came from the right. “I’ve got a thought for you; you can come with me now, quietly, and you get to live.”

Both men whirled around, Mazzic’s hand automatically going for his blaster.

“Don’t even try it, Mazzic, or I’ll blow that hand right off.” It was the croaking, filtered voice of an Ubese, that much Rando knew. Mazzic, however, seemed to be more familiar.

“Solvek! What’s going on?”

Solvek held a blaster carbine levelled directly at Rando’s chest. His breathing mask made a quiet ticking sound as he stood, eerily still, regarding the two.

“Your friend here has an impressive bounty on him for a first-timer. Luckily, I seem to have found you first.”

Mazzic hadn’t made any further move towards his blaster, though his hand remained halfway to his holster. “Gonna tell us who’s splashing the creds?”

“The Empire, who else?” Solvek still hadn’t moved, the carbine held unwaveringly in front.

“The Empire? Why?” Rando was convinced the squad had survived the warehouse explosion, though admittedly he hadn’t hung around to check on the troopers’ welfare.

“Turns out they don’t like their troops being blown up. You have two counts against you, crimes against the Empire on Felucia and Lianna, and they want you to answer for them.”

Rando’s head swam. This can’t be happening! “They were just jobs, I have nothing against the Empire!” he heard himself say, as if it would make everything better.

“Irrelevant. The bounty has been posted, so I’m collecting it. Mazzic, don’t try to interfere.”

Mazzic stepped back as Solvek, making his first move since this nightmare had started, expertly threw a pair of stun cuffs over Rando’s wrists with one gloved hand while keeping the carbine levelled at his target with the other. “Good. Don’t try to resist, and this will be a lot easier.”

Rando was in complete shock as the Ubese bounty hunter dragged him off to his ship, Mazzic stood awkwardly behind.

***

Captain Faise stood on the bridge of the Bayonet-class light cruiser Dauntless, in a slow orbit around Jabiim, and waited for the prisoner to be brought up. He hadn’t really expected the bounty to have been claimed so soon, but then, being in the Outer Rim Territories, where hunters were plenty, perhaps he should have.

The blast doors opened with a hiss, and Ensign Bick entered, followed by four stormtroopers who escorted the criminal between them.

“Captain Faise,” the Ensign came to a smart attention. “The criminal, as ordered, sir.”

“Thank you, Ensign. You may leave us.” The Ensign came to a second salute, then marched off to the duty officer’s station, no doubt in search of something else to do. Faise ignored him, giving his attention instead to the wide-eyed, scruffy human in front of him.

After what he felt to be a suitable length of time, enough to unnerve the man, Faise finally spoke. “You’re the demolitionist who destroyed Jianzi water station on Felucia?”

The man looked terrified, but nodded.

“Tell me why.”

The man gulped audibly, then managed to stammer out, “It was just a job.”

“Who asked you to do it?”

“My boss. A Koorivar. He’s like a broker. Don’t know who wanted it doing, he just assigns the jobs. Nothing personal,” he added, almost hopefully.

Faise looked him over once again, drawing it out to unnerve the other. Normally he wouldn’t interrogate a prisoner on the bridge of a ship, but he didn’t anticipate being that long with this criminal. As a testament to the discipline of the crew, no-one on the bridge had neglected their duties to watch. The four stormtroopers stood silent guard around the criminal, unmoving white-armoured sentinels.

Finally, he asked, “Why did you accept the job?”

He shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with everything about his situation. “I like to blow stuff up,” he mumbled.

“Really.” Faise returned to his silent stare, drawing another audible gulp from the criminal.

After a few more heartbeats, the criminal stammered, “So, what do you want from me?”

Faise wasn’t entirely sure what his prisoner meant. Did he think the Empire wanted to hire him? “You are responsible for the deaths of twenty-seven stormtroopers, that we know of, due to your recent activities here in the Outer Rim. What do you think I want from you?”

“It was just a job,” he mumbled in defence.

“Whether it’s ‘just a job’ or not is irrelevant. I do not spend my troopers lightly, you piece of filth. Twenty-seven men died because you ‘like to blow stuff up’. Twenty-seven men who lived, and breathed. Twenty-seven men in whom the Empire had invested, twenty-seven men whose job it was to keep the people of this galaxy free and safe from criminal low-lives such as yourself. But you killed them, because you ‘like to blow stuff up’.” Faise was angry, though had managed to keep himself under control as he delivered his diatribe.

When the criminal made no move to speak, Faise continued. “This ship is poorly equipped to deal with prisoners, so I’m afraid you won’t be a guest with us for long.” He paused, enough to give the criminal hope for his future. “So here’s what we’re going to do with you. Twenty-seven of my stormtroopers will take you to the cargo hold, and show you the effect your actions have had on them. These four troopers, in particular, are no doubt eager to make your acquaintance more fully; they lost brothers-in-arms to your little hobby back on Lianna. Sergeant, you know what to do.”

The four stormtroopers snapped to attention as one, then hauled the criminal out from the bridge. Faise had no doubt that his decision would be viewed with scepticism by some, but he also felt it was the right thing to do for his men.

“Navigation, plot a course to Sriluur. We still have a job to do.”

Pursuit (part one)

Here it is, folks, my 200th blog! To celebrate, here’s the first part of my latest foray into writing Star Wars short stories! 


 

The setting sun cast the city in a rich golden colour, as former senator Giddean Danu switched off the comm unit. So that’s that, he thought to himself. Since Palpatine had dispossessed him of his authority, Danu had been seeking ways to exact his revenge. The news that one of the self-styled Emperor’s Advisors was leaving the centre of the web had prompted Danu to contact Vrandil once again, with a request that Lord Verpalion be eliminated.

Taking these steps against the Empire wouldn’t bring back his old life, Danu realised, but he carried them out nevertheless. His experiences during the end of the Republic had hardened him, and made him vengeful. Seeing his fellow senators murdered had been a particularly traumatic experience, and he swore to hurt Palpatine as he had been hurt.

Perhaps one day things would improve, but Danu no longer knew who he could trust from his old life. Former colleagues in the now-Imperial Senate still debated the injustices of the Empire, but such debates never went on for long. Twice, he had thought about approaching Mon Mothma, who had been active at the end of the War in seeking out opposition to Palpatine’s continued tenure as Chancellor, but he had stopped himself at the last minute. Palpatine had agents everywhere, after all, just poised ready to root out treason and sedition. What if Mon Mothma had been bought off, and worked to expose enemies of the state?

No, Danu thought it best to work alone. Using the contacts from his family’s business for corporate warfare, he had established a relatively productive relationship with the Koorivar, Vrandil, who he had engaged to wreak a modest wave of sabotage throughout the Thanium Worlds, most recently on the jungle planet of Felucia. Vrandil certainly had his uses, that was for sure.

Turning his back on the viewport, Danu reactivated the comm as he decided to use the second piece of information he had recently acquired, and make contact with one of the Gossam aides to former Commerce Guild president Shu Mai.

Strange times make for strange bedfellows, he thought.

***

Rando was exhausted. It felt like everything had gone wrong on this one. A small-time industrial sabotage, that’s what Vrandil had told him. Instead, he was being chased by the Imperials, his ship impounded. Fortunately, an old friend had been passing through the system on semi-legitimate business, and he had managed to score a ride off-planet with him.

He mused on the loss of his ship for an unnaturally long time. Big Blue wasn’t anything special, of course, but it had been his ship, all the same. These days, it was a pretty big deal for a guy like him to have a ship. Most folks back home were trapped there, thinking a speeder was the height of the big-time. Not one for long periods of musing, Rando nevertheless felt the loss keenly. He’d thought about talking to Vrandil about it, perhaps securing the loan of something the Koorivar might have before he could get another. He owes me that, at least. Eventually, however, he’d decided to just go with the flow, and take jobs wherever he could until he had the credits to replace it.

The clatter of boots on deck brought Rando back to reality.

“Just made hyperspace, my friend, so you can stop looking so glum!” came the voice accompanying the boots.

Rando looked over with a half-sardonic expression. “I always look like this.”

Mazzic scratched at the side of his face for a moment. “So, how hot is the water this time? You in some local trouble, or something bigger?”

“Local, I think. Job went sour, had my ship impounded, but I dunno if it’s anything bigger.”

“It sure looked bigger, from where I was standing.” Mazzic checked some readouts on the opposite wall.

Rando shook his head slowly. “Industrial sabotage, that’s what I was signed on for.” My specialty, he wanted to add, but thought better of it.

“Uh-huh.” Mazzic propped his boots up on the console in the lounge, and folded his arms. “So, where to?”

Rando thought for a moment. “Not sure, if I’m honest. Murkhana too far out of your way?” he added, hopeful.

Mazzic’s bark of laughter was answer enough. “Murkhana? What the gfersh do you want to go there for?!”

“My boss lives there. Some kinda business man or something. Pay’s good, though.”

“You still gonna keep blowing stuff up, then?” Mazzic shook his head ruefully. “You should get into the easy work. You’re sneaky, Rando, you’d make a great smuggler.”

Rando blew out his breath. “I like seeing stuff blow up, what can I say? Smuggling’s just not for me, I guess.”

“Well, listen, I need to lie low for a while, so we’re headed for the nearest shadowport. Call your boss, see what he’s got for you, and we’ll see what we can do from there. Okay?”

“Cheers, Mazzic, I owe you one.”

“This makes us even, Rando. Don’t sweat it.”

***

The nearest shadowport turned out to be Point Nadir. Officially a comet with the unassuming label of Resh-9376, centuries ago it was turned into a hideaway for a Corellian pirate, but more recently had come under Hutt control. Mazzic had come across the location early in his career, and always made sure to keep the position of the comet plotted, in case he needed to evade Imperial pursuit – like now. While few could claim to be fans of the Hutts, the fact remained that they were among the most influential groups in the galactic fringe, and no self-respecting smuggler could really afford to avoid business with them. Not if he wanted to make the big money.

As for Rando, well he didn’t care who he worked for, so long as he got to blow stuff up.

Mazzic had been cleared by Traffic Control, and had landed his ship in the Tethers area of Fische’s Cove, a huge cavern named after the pirate who first called the comet home. After paying a Houk thug the customary bribe, the two set off into the Arcade, what passed for an entertainment district within the confines of a comet.

The two entered Lucky’s Casino in the hope of getting food that wouldn’t kill them, Mazzic heading straight for the bar while Rando went for a look around. The explosives expert had an almost child-like wonder about him whenever he found himself outside of his relative comfort zone, as if seeing the galaxy for the first time. He passed by the sabacc tables, not really knowing how to play the game, and briefly watched a Rodian and a Devaronian engaged in a lively game of horansi, before moving back to the bar to join Mazzic.

“Here,” the smuggler pushed a tankard towards him. “I might have a heads-up on a job that’ll get me off this pebble.” Mazzic picked up a couple of the berries that were on offer around the bar, looked at them dubiously for a moment, then thought better of it and returned them to the dish. “You had any thoughts on where you’re going next?”

Rando sniffed cautiously at the tankard Mazzic had offered, and took a tentative sip before replying. It turned out to be a decent shasa ale, at least. “Nothing solid, no. Don’t know who’s running around here, to see if there’s any work going. You say it was the Hutts?”

Mazzic looked warningly at the other before replying in a low voice. “The Hutts are only nominally in charge. Last time I was here, there were a whole bunch of organizations trying to take control of this joint. Try not to be conspicuous when you look, okay?” He took a gulp of his own ale. “There could still be some pretty nasty guys around here…”

“’Nasty guys’? I hope you ain’t including me in that, you old pirate.” The voice coming from behind Mazzic was strangely accented, though definitely Outer-Rim. Mazzic turned slowly to face the newcomer, his hand drifting from the bar as he did so, but stopped well short of the blaster it had been moving towards.

“Well I never… When did they release you from hell, Chac?”

“Good to see you haven’t lost your old charm, Mazzic.” Rando shifted slightly in his seat, and finally saw the newcomer as a tall, blue-skinned, red-eyed Duros. “I’m fine, by the way, thanks for asking. Take more than a blaster bolt in the stomach to finish me off, I can tell ya.” He slapped Mazzic on the shoulder before moving closer to the bar. “Who’s your friend?”

“This here’s Rando, best explosives guy in the business. He’s an artist with a detonator, lemme tell ya. Rando, this is Chac, a fellow smuggler that just might make the big time one day, but I don’t hold out much hope.”

Chac threw a look at Mazzic before nodding politely to Rando. “You’re not looking for work, by any chance, are you?”

“Just finalising a deal, then I’m outta here. You don’t need an explosives man, do you?”

Chac looked at Rando as if appraising him. “Well, I don’t, of course, but I keep my ear to the ground, in a manner of speaking, and I could point you in the direction of some very profitable work, if the price is right…?” The Duro’s voice had a strange, almost buzzing quality that had a vaguely soporific effect for Rando.

“What’s the job?” he asked, taking another gulp of the shasa ale as nonchalantly as possible.

“A little bit of commercial rivalry, someone wants to take a competitor down a peg or two. I’m sure you’d have no problems, if you’re the artist young Mazzic here makes you out to be…” Chac was almost hypnotic with that voice.

Without many options open to him, Rando nodded assent as he put the tankard down. “Sure, why not?”

“Excellent. I’m headed over there myself for another job, if you’re about finished here…?” Chac invited.

Rando nodded once to Mazzic. “See you later, I guess. Thanks for the ale.”

***

Zietta the Hutt undulated around the circular audience chamber, impatient for the tedium to be over. The nominal head of the Anjiliac Clan on Point Nadir since the assassination of her cousin, Zietta had ever since maintained a wariness of these audiences with smugglers and mercenaries. Once the latest round of contracts had been doled out, she planned to retire to her chambers for a snack, possibly a nap. She was in the prime of her life, and needed to maintain her corpulence as a show of her importance.

The Rodian bounty hunter bowed low, and turned on his heel before leaving the chamber. Rude, Zietta thought.  Tis Dolan was already tapping at her datapad for the next contract, however, so Zietta let it pass.

“Demolitions,” the Wroonian enunciated curtly.

A grubby-looking human male stepped forward, with short, greasy hair and a generally unkempt appearance. Zietta looked disdainfully through her heavily-lidded eyes before returning her attention to the shadows across the chamber. It wasn’t so long ago that Tirello had been killed, and while Tis Dolan had assured her no harm would come to her now she was head of the Clan, Zietta nevertheless felt exposed with so many other beings in the room. She noted six Houk guardsmen close by, their hulking arms clutching force pikes across their chests, beady eyes staring balefully from beneath scaly brows, and forced herself to relax.

“…payment for the job is 1500 credits, payable only on successful completion…” Tis Dolan was saying. Zietta felt herself lucky to have such a competent aide, allowing the Hutt to indulge herself with more meaningful pastimes while on the comet.

The grubby-looking human male nodded his head, and accepted a datacard with the coordinates of the job. He nodded his head and also turned to leave. Will these lesser beings never learn respect? Zietta wondered, as she once again glanced around the room to confirm the guards’ presence.

A Devaronian stepped forward to accept a smuggling job…

***

“Are you nuts?”

Rando was taken aback by Mazzic’s tone. “Whaddaya mean?”

“Accepting a job without any payment upfront? From the Hutts? You must be insane!”

Rando thought about it for a minute. “I know the Hutts are a bit seedy…” he began.

“’Seedy’?” Mazzic let out a bark of sarcastic laughter.

“But they’re businesspeople,” Rando finished, as if that settled the issue.

Mazzic wiped his hand across his forehead. “You must be nuts,” he said again, calmer this time. “Rando, you need to learn to negotiate.” They were back on Mazzic’s ship, the captain once again with his legs propped on the console. “So what’s the job?”

Rando looked back at his datapad, giving it a slight tap to wake it up. “Warehouse demolition, over on Nar Shaddaa. Seems pretty straightforward, anyway.”

“Uh-huh,” Mazzic came over to look at the particulars. “Need a ride?”

“You wouldn’t be offering, would you?” Rando asked, hopeful.

“Well, my job went sour, so I’m free if you wanna cut me in on the deal.”

Rando scrolled through the rest of the document. “I can do better than that.”

Mazzic turned to look at him. “Go on…”

“See here, the warehouse they want me to blow up? It’s in the Corellian Sector. I spent some time there once, learning the trade and whatnot. This warehouse is owned by Besadii, it’s a spice store.”

Mazzic looked thoughtful for a moment. I don’t wanna get caught in some kinda Hutt war, but that’d be a heck of a lotta spice in there… Out loud, he said, “So you think we should empty out the warehouse before blowing it? Assuming there’s anything in there?”

“Says here it’s full. I’ve heard rumours of Besadii stockpiling spice, hoping to drive up the market price, that’s probably why these guys want it blown.”

“Since when do you know anything about anything? Besides blowing stuff up, of course?”

Rando gave an awkward smile. “Well, I keep an ear open, I hear things, you know?”

Mazzic snorted with amusement. “You are a sneaky fish, you know that?!” He shook his head.

“Why does everyone always think I don’t know more than how to blow stuff up?!”

***

The man running from the scene appeared to be the pilot of the ship Big Blue, whose registry details match those of the ship that evaded Imperial patrols over Felucia six months ago. This ship has since been impounded by customs officials. Upon searching the ship, officials discovered items consistent with a demolitionist. The man is therefore to be detained for questioning about the incidents on Felucia and Lianna upon arrest…

Captain Faise had read the report twice, and felt no less angry the second time than the first. The elusive criminal responsible for the deaths of his stormtroopers on Felucia had resurfaced, this time in an attack on one of the Emperor’s Inner Circle. Intelligence seemed in no doubt that this person was a rebel, and could possibly lead to the discovery of a major cell, if not more.

The Dauntless had been given the singular privilege of his capture, something that Faise was looking forward to immensely. He called up the Lianna report again, and skim-read the details of the criminal’s pursuit through the city. His evasion of pursuit was linked to the departure of a Kuat Drive Yards freighter, though the report was a little hazy as to the connection. That it was mentioned at all was worth pursuing, however, so he logged the reference in the ship’s computer, for the duty officer to be aware.

The comm unit buzzed, briefly startling the captain. “Faise here.”

“Captain, we’ve received a report from an informant on Nar Shaddaa. It seems the demolitionist has been seen on the Smugglers’ Moon.”

“Is the source reliable?” The Empire had informants everywhere, though some were little more than con artists.

“It’s the same source that led to the capture of the Duros weapons smuggler by Captain Pomeran, sir.”

Interesting. “Very well. Thank you, Ensign. Have navigation plot our course immediately. Faise out.”

I have you now…


 

To be continued – soon!

The Curse of the Bog-Fiend

Hey everyone!

I’m keeping the Halloween spirit going all this week, today with some short fiction! Remember the board game A Touch of Evil, and the excellent expansion, Something Wicked? Well, this was a session report I wrote up following a game with Inspector Cooke vs the Bog-Fiend a while ago, and thought it’d be an idea to share it with you guys this week. So sit back, and enjoy!

Something was wrong in Shadowbrook. Anybody who spent any amount of time in the town couldn’t shy away from that fact. However, nobody could say precisely what it was. I suppose that’s why they called me to the town. As a police inspector, I pride myself on my intelligence and my cunning – if anyone could get to the bottom of what was happening in Shadowbrook, I like to think it would be me…

It was raining when I arrived. The town, nestled in the dip of a shallow valley, had a slight haze surrounding it. My arrival caused no little surprise among the locals, but when they realised who I was and where I came from, I like to think I detected a slightly more positive shift in their attitude. I made at once to the manor house of Lord Hanbrook, with whom I had had some past dealings, and was apprised of the situation fairly quickly by a meeting of the town elders.

For weeks now, the countryside around Shadowbrook had been sinking. I admit, I was at first slightly nonplussed by this fact. However, where once was firm ground, good roads, and arable pasture, there was now fetid swamp. Hanbrook called me in when a local lad named Jack had disappeared, only to turn up one Sunday morning dead, having drowned in one of these newly-appeared swamps.

The locals were understandably afeared. Hanbrook appeared more concerned that he was losing the use of his land for rents, but the locals had different ideas. Age-old legends about bog-fiends began to surface, the stuff told to youngsters to make them more obedient, though this time repeated as fact. Well, I was unperturbed, and set off in my investigation.

I was staying at Hanbrooks manor, where one night I discovered a secret passage that led, it seemed, into the bowels of the earth. I followed the tunnel for what seemed like an age, and was utterly baffled – yes, I! – when I emerged at the monastery I had passed by on my way in to the town. The monastery, it turned out, was well-equipped with all manner of tomes and scriptures on the locality, and my perusal of the library there turned out to be quite fruitful.

I determined to return overland to Shadowbrook to converse more thoroughly with the locals, but a chance encounter at a wayside inn that evening turned me from this course. I was given a battered old book by a hooded stranger, who insisted I take it “for when the time comes”, before he left. That night, I studied the ancient text – which called itself the Book of Death – and determined to return to the monastery the following morning, having developed a strange inkling that there was more going on there than I had first thought.

The following morning dawned bright and crisp, and I walked up to the gate expecting to be met by one of the friars, yet no sooner had I arrived at the outer walls than the bells began to toll ominously. The monks began to scurry off in different directions, like ants under attack, and I had a prickly feeling as if something were not right here. Turning my gaze about the place, I kept being drawn to the mist-shrouded island across the lake – Echo Lake, I believe the locals call it. However, when I turned back to the monastery, I found myself set upon my hooded, masked individuals!

Two of these men – for men I assumed them to be – came at me with knives, while the others seemed to be whispering in some unknown language. My time in Shadowbrook had been strange up to that point, but now it had turned absolutely deadly! I searched my person for anything to use as a weapon, and fortunately came upon a crossbow I had purchased some time ago. I managed to loose a bolt at the nearest of the fiends, and  – just like that! – the other devils vanished.

Squaring my shoulders, I marched up to the great West Door of the monastery and, seeing it open, slipped inside. Something at the back of my mind was telling me that the monastery lay near the heart of my investigation, and I determined to root out the cause of it. While wandering the echoing cloisters, however, I found myself attacked once more, this time by a short, stocky figure in a cowl. I had at first thought it one of the monks, but when that cowl fell back, I was shown the error of my judgement. The face that stared back at me was a cruel one, pallid and evil, with incised markings on the forehead and cheeks in the shape of a “x”. Luckily, my crossbow made short work of him, and with one bolt in the stomach, he fled back into the dusty catacombs from whence he came.

It was following this attack, however, that I felt the compelling need to return to Shadowbrook. Not a moment did I waste as I once again took to the road. As I drew nearer to the town, it seemed that my adversary had not been lax in his work. Vast swathes of the countryside had begun to simply sink; there was no other way to describe it. That haze of rain once more engulfed the town, but it was in no way enough to have brought about this much widespread flooding. However, my greatest shock was reserved for when I reached the crossroads just outside of the town.

Standing on that slightly raised bluff overlooking the town, it was as if Shadowbrook had been flooded. The town square was completely submerged, but not with rain water, or from the nearby river having burst its banks. This was a murky, green-tinged swamp, wreathed with clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Not one townsperson was to be found, and I rather felt then that I had failed to save them all. However, as I stood gazing down on the land, a lone rider emerged through the mist – Lord Hanbrook himself.

The townspeople had fled when the swamp water began to rise out of the ground in the night, and were now temporarily housed on his estate. He bade me come with him to the crumbling ruin of a pre-war keep, where, he believed, the foul demon had made his lair. As we approached, it became increasingly obvious that something had happened close-by, for there was barely any solid ground to stand on. When we came upon the keep, however, the sight before us was one of foul horror.

A hunched figure, with a vague look of a man about him, sat in the dark recesses of the crumbling keep, gibbering to himself in a tongue not unlike the creatures that had attacked me in the monastery. It was completely naked, its skin a mottled blue-green, scaly in parts and weeping a slick, greasy ooze. When we drew nearer, its head came up quickly, revealing a scaled face with bony protrusions extending from either side, almost like a crown. It spat something evil-sounding, hissing and cursing in that unknowable tongue.

Hanbrook wasted no time in attacking the monster, and after my momentary horror, I too joined in the fray. The foul creature appeared to turn away our blows without so much as a gasp of pain, and it looked like we would not prevail. However, Hanbrook managed to subdue the beast long enough for me to get a shot with my crossbow right in the demon’s face, which elicited a disgusting wail. To my utter shock, the fiend’s final act on this earth was to rake its ghastly claws across the throat of Lord Hanbrook, causing my friend’s life to bleed out as did the foul beast’s own.

Whatever spell the bog fiend had placed upon the town of Shadowbrook was evidently broken with its passing. I returned to the town, with Hanbrook’s body carried by his faithful mount, to discover the swamp had disappeared, and the townsfolk returning to their homes and their lives. I charged Hanbrook’s corpse to the care of the doctor, and without a second look, left the town of Shadowbrook behind, hopefully forever…

My fantasy story! part three

Hey folks!
So my current fantasy project is still underway, and taking up a fair bit of my spare time creatively. That’s the main reason why I haven’t been doing much in terms of the Star Wars fiction cycle that I had started back in May. However, I still have to actually make any headway in terms of writing!

Currently I’m planning to write a prologue that will serve to introduce some of the setting for my plans, that hopefully will be available online soon enough…