Short Story: Jinki the Tinker

Jinki Shizzlecrunk pulled a lever on the side of her tent. The lever connected to a string, which was pulled tight. The other end of the string was connected to the foot of a rooster who let out a squawk and ran.

Some might say the rooster ran like a chicken with its head cut off. But in fact chickens with their head off run like a rooster attached to an automagical-folding-tent. They run in big circles wildly trying to get away. But their brains are too small, or in some cases too unattached, to realize they aren’t getting anywhere.

Gears and cogs spun. A loud whirring and cranking sound came from the contraption which further scared the rooster who ran even harder. The tent collapsed. Articulated metal arms accordioned in, neatly collapsing the tent into a compact form.

With the tent now folded, Jinki threw the rooster into a cage. The cage, tent, and belongings were all piled onto, into, and in some cases hung from a cleverly designed backpack. All told, the backpack was at least twice the height of the young gnome, and much too heavy for her to move unaided. It wouldn’t have been a problem for a human, but gnomes came in at around half the height of an adult human. Jinki had solved that problem with a series of metal bars, pulleys, and rope which served to reduce the effort required to lift the load but left her looking like some sort of medieval cyborg.

The road to the next village was long and dangerous, but it wasn’t even sunrise yet so she figured she could make the journey in one day as long as she didn’t run into trouble. Jinki didn’t normally have any problems with bandits. Her pack might have been filled to the brim, but there was little any thief would want.

To be fair, this wasn’t why they didn’t bother her. It had more to do with the ridiculous contraption she was wearing and the universal spirit of my-god-surely-its-going-to-collapse-and-crush-her-any-minute that every onlooker had. She was protected from bandits by the spectacle. In fact, sometimes the bandits themselves protected her from wild predators just so the show wouldn’t be ruined.

The pack clanked and jingled on Jinki’s back like someone trying to close an overstuffed junk drawer. But it wasn’t junk, at least not to Jinki Shizzlecrunk. It was the stuff dreams were made of. The bag was overstuffed with gears, pulleys, rods, and all manner of gizmos. Trash to most humans. But one man’s trash was another gnome’s autonomous-hole-digger or automatic-dog-crusher.

That last one had been a horrible accident, but it turned out the device worked on melons pretty well. Although come to think of it, there didn’t seem to be a good reason to crush melons. Now, dropping them off a building, that was tried and true scientific method there. Need to make sure gravity is still working properly? Melon dropping gets you there every time. And if you should happen to need a crushed melon at the same time? Well, that was killing two birds with one melon.

That gave Jinki an idea for a melon cannon, but she mentally filed it for later. She didn’t have any melons on hand. While she could probably make a reasonable wireframe facsimile, it wouldn’t break properly when it hit the target, and how was she supposed to find the most efficient melon crushing method if she didn’t use an actual melon?

It was possible, she supposed, that she was getting off track slightly. Keep it together Shizzlecrunk. No one needs a melon crusher. Now a melon baller, now that was something everyone would surely want.

“Get out of the way!”

Jinki whirled around and spotted a horse-drawn carriage fast approaching. She attempted to step backward, but the contraption holding up her pack wasn’t designed for reverse movement. The hinge on the leg was designed to only move one way as part of the pack-stabilization-thingamajig.

Shizzlecrunk fell to the ground with a loud clatter.

Onlookers hidden in the bushes groaned or silently cheered as the pack managed to not crush her to death. Jinki climbed to her feet slowly. A couple of gold coins exchanged hands as a series of wagers played out.

The carriage continued without slowing down, In fact, it might even have sped up.

“Well, if their wheel breaks, they better not come begging me for help.”

“Hello!” a voice shouted from a distance away into the trees.

“Yes!?” Jinki shouted a reply. “Come on out if you’re planning on robbing me!”

“Help! Please! I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on!”

Shizzlecrunk forced her way through the underbrush and ran into the woods towards the voice. It was a sort of run anyway, the pack didn’t allow much speed. She climbed over roots and gullies as best she could, her pack bouncing up and down as she went.

She almost ran off the side of a cliff.

“I’m down here!” cried the voice.

Shizzlecrunk looked down the face of the rocky edifice. There, hanging from a root, was an elderly human. The weight of her pack almost pulled Jinki over the edge. She teetered for a moment but managed to regain her balance. She thought she heard the faint clinking of coins exchanging hands in the bushes, but there was no time to give it much thought.

Jinki stepped back and hit the quick release which allowed her to step out of the cobbled together mechanical bracings and set the pack on the ground. She flattened herself on the ground and reached out her hand, but it was clear that even if the man let go with one hand and stretched, he still wouldn’t be able to reach.

“Just great,” he said. “A gnome. Couldn’t have been a human or even an elf? They’re pretty tall.”

“Sorry,” Jinki said. “I can leave if you want?”

“No, no. I love gnomes. One of my best friends is a gnome. Do you have a rope or something?” he asked.

“Would you be able to pull yourself up? I’m just a gnome after all,” she said with a hint of disdain in her voice.

The old man nodded his bald head at his spindly arms, “No, I don’t think so. The only reason I haven’t fallen is my arthritis won’t let my fingers let go. These old arms ain’t what they used to be.”

Jinki started rifling through the contents of her bag. “No worries. I’ll get you up here in a jiffy. We’ll just have to use science.”

Jinki grabbed a rope. Then a couple of pulleys. She started pulling springs, valves, and cogs out and assembling them. The rooster crowed She had a plan for something that was definitely going to work. It would just take a bit to work out the kinks.

The sun rose over the forest. The rooster began to crow to let the world know that morning had arrived, but the sound turned into one of fear as Jinki eyed the cage and approached with the rope. Roosters don’t have very large brains, but this one had been used as the engine for enough devices to know that it wasn’t going to like this.

The sun was setting in the distance. It was really quite beautiful, but there was no time to appreciate that, After a few false starts, a couple of prototypes, and a complete redesign the machine was finally assembled.

“There we go! Now we’ll get you up here no problem,” Jinki said.

She smacked the side of her latest contraption, the automatic-rope-puller-upper. She flipped a lever. The rooster squawked and ran. Rope started spooling out of the machine and dropping down the cliff face. “Now just grab a hold and it’ll pull you right up.”

There was no sound from the man.

Jinki looked over the side of the cliff and didn’t see him anywhere. Oh-

No, she did see him. He was at the bottom of the cliff.

This wasn’t the first time Jinki had been slow with device construction, but it was the first time she’d been responsible for someone’s death. Next time she would have to build faster. Perhaps a device that could be assembled that would aid in the quicker prototyping? Or possibly increase build speed itself? With the correct application of forces, one could construct mechanical arms and fingers that could move faster than living ones.

Or maybe she shouldn’t have built the scale replica beforehand. Next time she could settle for all the sketches. And if a replica was needed, maybe it didn’t have to be built to such exacting detail.

Jinki spent a few hours building a device that would disassemble the automatic-rope-puller-upper and was proud of how few prototypes she ended up making.

It was terrible that the old man died. But the good news was, at least the machine worked.

As the gnome wandered into the woods and back to the path, two men crawled out of the bushes. They walked to the edge of the cliff and peered down at the body down below.

The first man said, “Well, I guess you win the bet.” He handed the second man a couple of gold coins.

The second man took the coins and secreted them away, “My back is killing me. I can’t believe we had to sit in these bushes all day. Still, it was worth it. Sometimes robbing people gets a little tiresome, you know. Always have to run away, nobody trusts you. It’s tiresome. Sorry again about…” He vaguely gestured at his urine soaked trousers.

“Don’t worry about it. A bet’s a bet. Can you believe that guy thought we were going to pay his family if he fell to his death?”

“I know we’re thieves, but maybe we should pay them. We told the man we would do something, we should do it. I have my honor, you know. Even if I don’t have my dignity.” He gestured again at his damp pants.

“Wait, what?”

“No, I’ve been thinking about it all day. We have to do it. If we show up with the coins and his corpse, they’ll never think we’re thieves. Then we can rob them in the night, we won’t have to run, and they’ll still make us breakfast in the morning.”

Short Story: Fizzledorf the Blind

Fizzledorf the wizard tapped the ground back and forth with his staff. His hand grasped the purple gem ensconced on the end of the gnarled wood. He wished he’d never found the damned stone.

Finding it might have been his highest achievement, but the cursed gem had taken his sight the instant his fingers touched its violet facets. He should have suspected something would happen, it was called the Cursed Eye of the Blind God, but he had assumed that to be more metaphorical than literal.

It was bound to be worth a fortune, but he didn’t feel comfortable trying to sell it after what it had done to him. Instead, Fizzledorf kept the jewel as a memento of bygone days.

Things had never been what you might call easy for Fizzledorf. Magic flowed through some like too much spicy food, but for Fizzledorf it was more like the aftermath of a cheese plate. He had to push and strain for even the tiniest spurt of magic.

But despite his lack of magical prowess, he yearned for adventure. He tagged along with every mercenary, adventurer, or gypsy band that would take him on. He could get by for a while saying things like, “the magic comes with a heavy cost to the soul.” Or, “this is the strongest anti-magic field I’ve ever encountered.” But it didn’t work for long.

Eventually, they caught on. He couldn’t swing a sword or shoot a bow, and his magic was paltry, to say the least. He could barely manage a passable pot of beans.

And now even the bean cooking was over thanks to the damnable gemstone.

Fizzledorf entered the alley next to his home. It was grimy and littered with refuse, but that sort of thing didn’t bother him as much anymore. Out of sight, out of mind. Of course, the smell wasn’t great, but this was by far the quickest route to his favorite tavern, The Greasy Pudding.

“‘Ere we go, grandpa, give us your money and we’ll let you go,” said a menacing voice. The voice came along with the point of something sharp in the back of Fizzledorf’s robe.

Fizzledorf held his empty hand and his staff high in the air and said, “Really? Nothing about this makes you nervous?”

“Not really, ‘ur a old coot. Whatcha gon’ do?”

“An old man with a long beard? A robe and a staff?”

“So what?”

“Maybe you haven’t heard of me. I’m Fizzledorf. The wizard.” He put extra emphasis on the wizard part in the hopes that maybe the ruffian would get the point. But the point in Fizzledorf’s back jammed in a little farther.

“No, I hearda ya. ‘Ur that useless ol’ coot that can’t even cast a spell. Gimme that gem too, looks like it’s worth a fair bit.”

Fizzledorf slammed his staff back into the gut of his assailant and dashed further into the alley. It would have been an okay plan if he could see, but he tripped after only a few steps. In his adventuring days, he would have sprung up and made another dash for it. If there had been one thing he was good at, it was running away. But nowadays the only thing that really got him moving was his bladder in the middle of the night.

“You shouldn’ta done that wizard,” said the thief. Fizzledorf could hear his footsteps approaching in the debris-littered alleyway.

Holus benatin trazadar moliavus,” Fizzledorf chanted and shook his staff in the direction of the oncoming feet.

The words were gibberish, but he hoped that maybe the threat of magic would scare the hoodlum away.

Fizzledorf thought he felt something as he gestured with the staff, and he braced himself for the searing pain.

But it didn’t come.

He listened for footsteps or breathing, but there was nothing. Just the sound of something dripping.

“Oh, scared away by a little magic? Who’s the tough guy now, hunh?”

There was no answer. Eventually, the old wizard decided he was alone. He grunted as he pushed himself up from the ground and resumed his short walk to the tavern.

He could hear the music already. And smell the food. And almost taste the beer.

It was good beer. It tasted like horse piss more than anything but it did the job and didn’t cost much – the basic recipe for good beer everywhere.

“Fizzledorf, good to see you,” a female voice said.

“Wish I could say the same, Lola,” Fizzledorf half-joked.

The tavern girl laughed politely and guided him through the tavern to his regular spot near the fireplace. As he sat down, she asked, “One mug? Anything to eat?”

“No, just the beer,” Fizzledorf replied. “Lola, I can’t feel the fire today. Am I getting that old?”

“Oh no love, I couldn’t get it to start, I’ll have to get Mack to do it when he’s done cookin’.”

“Nonsense, nonsense. I might be a useless ol’ coot, but if there’s one thing I can manage, it’s to start a fire.”

“Well, be careful, I’m gonna get your beer.”

He heard her walk off. Not that he could hear her footsteps in the busy room, but he could hear the other patrons making remarks about her figure or the sound of them getting slapped as they tried to grab her as she passed.

Fizzledorf stood up and tapped his way to the fireplace. Once he was properly oriented, he stepped back a few paces. He concentrated on the words of the one spell he could always manage. He felt the mystical forces flow through him as he sent a spark into the fireplace and the fire roared to life.

At the same moment, he felt an arcane power the likes of which he had never felt before from somewhere very nearby.

Magic was like that, especially for Fizzledorf. Fuzzy. A better sorcerer might be able to pinpoint the exact location of another caster from 20 miles away. Fizzledorf couldn’t even pinpoint it if he was in the same room.

But the spell was powerful, he knew that.

The music stopped.

“Tulin’s ghost!” someone shouted.

“Get some water on it quick before the whole block burns up.”

“Form a chain!”

A mad rush of activity filled Fizzledorf’s ears. He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but something told him it was his fault. Missed the stupid fireplace most likely, or a spark flew out and caught on something.

If there was anything he had learned after years of adventuring, it was to get out while you could. He pulled the hood of his robe up high and hurriedly tapped his way through the crowded bar. Maybe no one would notice him in all the commotion.

He could smell the smoke from outside, and hear panicked voices.

“There he is! He’s burned the bloody tavern down. Somebody grab ‘em!”

Fizzledorf hurtled into the alley, wildly swinging his staff. He hoped that anyone in his way would move before he smacked them. But he couldn’t afford to slow down.

If only he could make an invisibility spell work. He tried to remember the way the words went together, but it was no use.

His foot slipped on something, and he skidded across the pavers. Fizzledorf fell to his knees, his hands landing on some sticky substance. He gave his hand a sniff.

Blood.

And judging by the feel of the thing under his other hand, possibly intestines.

Fizzledorf thought back to his fight with the miscreant earlier. He retraced his steps in his head and realized it must have happened right around here.

Some poor creature must have been ripped to shreds right after they left here. Probably stray dogs or cats involved. The whole town was filthy with them.

“There he is! Catch the witch!”

“Excuse me, I am a wizard!” Fizzledorf shouted as he clambered to his feet and rounded the corner. His knees couldn’t take much more of this, but just a little bit farther and he could lock the door and maybe be done with this whole mess.

He smacked his head into a post and fell flat on his back.

“Aha!” Fizzledorf exalted, remembering the way to form the invisibility spell.

He climbed back up once more, feeling the strain in his old muscles. He gathered the mystic powers. He concentrated as hard as he could. He knew there was very little chance of achieving real invisibility, but if he could at least make himself less noticeable, maybe the searchers would run past.

“There he is!” they shouted as they rounded the corner.

Fizzledorf released the arcane power. Once again he felt another spell being cast close by. The other wizard must be with those after him.

A confused voice said, “What happened? I can’t see-”

Ha! The other wizards counter spell must not have had any effect. Fizzledorf, you’ve still got it.

He hurriedly made his way into his house, slammed the door and barricaded it. He pushed his back against the oaken slab and waited. Even if they couldn’t see him, they all knew where he lived.

But the knocks didn’t come. The glass in the window didn’t shatter.

Eventually, he felt safe enough to climb into bed, but he kept his robes on in case he needed to flee in a hurry.

There was a pounding on the door.

Fizzledorf pulled the blankets over his head and groaned loudly. His whole body ached liked he’d been sat on by a dragon. Blindness aside, maybe he really was getting too old for adventuring.

“Fizzledorf!” came a muffled shout through the heavy oak door.

More pounding.

He grunted and managed to stand with the aid of his staff. He crept to the door and said, ”I’m just in the bath, you’ll have to come back later.”

“No, you’re not. You’re right on the other side of the door.”

“Well I’m just in my skivvies, give me a minute.”

“You’ve got on the same robe you were wearing last night.”

“Well, I’m not coming out either way.”

“The whole town’s here, we’ll knock the door down if we have to.”

He didn’t like the sound of that. If they could see him through the door, it must be in a greater state of decay than he thought. It had been hard to keep the house up since he lost his vision.

Resigned to his fate, he lifted the barricade and opened the door. He could tell from the sounds of rustling and throats clearing that the voice had not been lying, there was definitely a crowd outside.

“You’ve got to fix this, Fizzledorf.”

A chorus of agreement arose from the crowd.

“Well now, I’m sure you can guess, but my adventuring days didn’t pay very well. I’ve got a few coins I can spare to The Greasy Pudding, and if you want this cursed gem you can certainly take it. Though if you value your eyes, I wouldn’t recommend you touch it.”

“What good are eyes when you’ve made the whole blasted town invisible?”

Invisible?

“I did no such thing. You’ve all known me for years. It pains me to admit, but you all know I am not capable of such magical feats. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to cast something like that, much less undo it.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Each voice of agreement was like a proverbial stab in Fizzledorf’s heart, but it was better than the real thing.

“Well, someone made everything in town invisible except you and your staff.”

“And someone’s done something to my son,” an elderly voice cried. “He’s a good boy wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Fizzledorf thought back over the events of the previous night. Age had taken some of his faculties, and the gem hadn’t made the process any easier, but he still had a mind like a… well like a thing that worked very well.

He thought about the blood in the alley where he had been accosted by the vagrant, perhaps it had been some kind of sacrifice. Then there was the moment in the tavern. He had felt another more powerful spell being cast. Most likely that was responsible for the fire, it was possible someone was trying to frame him. And there had been another spell cast while he was trying to go invisible, maybe someone had twisted his spell and turned it on the whole town.

It all added up.

He couldn’t believe he hadn’t realized it before.

Fizzledorf raised his staff high and gestured with the gemmed tip. Its purple facets glistened in the sun, throwing off a glow that seemed more than natural, though Fizzledorf couldn’t see it.

“There is only one rational conclusion…”

The gem seemed to pulse. The people of the town were used to the stone glowing and shining at odd moments. But if anyone in the crowd had known how to read the body language of a magical stone, they might have realized it was acting much like a cornered man getting ready to do anything necessary to survive.

“…there is a dark wizard about.”

The purple gem flickered once more and stopped.

An arcane crystal expert, if there had been one present, might have known what this meant. But the people of the town didn’t suspect anything at all. It was the gemstone equivalent of a smile. The smug smile of a guilty man who has gotten away with a terrible crime and very much likes the feeling.

Short Story: Rothgar the Bored 2

If you haven’t read the first Rothgar story already, you should go do that first.

Rothgar stood before the king and queen, attempting to look like he was listening intently. Rothgar scratched his side surreptitiously, the woolen cloak he had been forced to cover himself with was itchy. For some reason, the king didn’t want Rothgar standing there with his chest bare. Possibly because the queen was 30 years younger than the king and had a glint in her eye.

Rothgar wasn’t interested. It was always the same. Sleep with the queen and get run out of the kingdom. It just wasn’t worth it.

The king droned on, “…and the orcs seem to be organized. What do you think, Rothgar?”

“Er…um…well,” Rothgar hesitated. He really needed to pay more attention. “Organized means someone in charge. Orcs don’t stay organized unless there’s someone smarter around.”

“That’s what I was saying,” the king said in an irritated fashion. Rothgar didn’t care.

“Perhaps, my liege, Rothgar was implying that there was someone of a race smarter than an orc, probably someone quite smart. Some brilliant fiend come to take over the kingdom.”

That was the king’s sage, Kline. He stood beside the throne leaning on an intricately carved staff. Rothgar was glad the sage was here, it would make this easier.

“Well, he don’t have to be smart,” Rothgar said. “Just smarter than a orc. Maybe do a few simple magic tricks. Like, make a fire or something. Not real magic. A person that could do that, why would he need orcs?”

The king seemed to consider Rothgar’s words. “Kline has told me rumors of dark magics being performed around the countryside, haven’t you, Kline?”

“Oh yes, my king. Good heavens, we’ve heard about so many powerful works. This wizard must have great powers you know, oh my yes. It really is quite foolish to think this barbarian will be able to root him out, my liege.”

“Possibly, but we will give him a chance if he will accept this righteous quest. I’ve heard many tales of Rothgar’s adventures.” The king slid his throne a bit so it was closer to the queen’s and eyed Rothgar warily.

“I’ll need full freedom, sir. Permission to kill anyone without a trial. Especially the wizard. He’ll be too powerful to jail.”

Kline seemed a bit taken aback and asked, “Are we not a land of laws, your kingliness? You would trust this berserker?”

“Rothgar who took down the banshee queen? Rothgar who traveled through the nineteen hells? Rothgar who defeated a dragon without getting up from his breakfast? Yes, I believe he can get the job done.” The king shuffled his throne even farther over until it was actually in front of the queen’s throne. “Yes, Rothgar. You have full permission to do what needs to be done.”

Rothgar dropped the woolen cloak with a flourish, revealing his loincloth, his greatsword, and very little else.

The sage collapsed to the floor, his severed neck spewing blood everywhere.

Ulsidar, Rothgar’s mighty sword, quivered in the wall behind his falling body. The queen gasped, but Rothgar thought it might have had something to do with his state of dress rather than the gore.

The king was apoplectic, his face red and his fists clenched. “Guards!” he shouted.

But the guards were wary. Everyone knew the tales of Rothgar. They entered the room slowly, hoping that someone else would be the first to act.

None made the mistake of drawing a weapon.

“Go ahead and lock me up,” Rothgar said, pulling Ulsidar out of the wall. He examined the blade carefully, then flipped it so that the handle was pointed outwards. “I could use a safe place to sleep for a while. You can let me out when the orcs disperse.”

The guards visibly relaxed but still none of them stepped forward.

The king stood up from his throne, “But how do you know it was Kline?!”

Rothgar shook his head, “You heard the same thing as me, right? He was bragging. I could go out and do the whole business. Kill some orcs. Bash some heads. Torture a few. Stay at the local inn. Sleep with a few barmaids. Get kidnapped in the night. Wake up tied to a chair with Kline standing in front of me in the blackest robe he could find, probably with a few skulls on and mystical symbols. Then I snap the ropes, steal some trash orc blade and kill the lot.

“Or I could do it this way. It saves a lot of time. Sages and mystics, mark my word. They’re all the same. It’s boring as hell, honestly.”

The king seemed to calm down some but said, “We will see. If the orcs disperse, you have my word we will release you.”

Rothgar said, “Good. And could someone sharpen Ulsidar? I think I chipped the blade.”