jakebe: (Reading Rabbit)

I don't know if I've ever really SEEN the McDonald's at Walbrook Junction before. I've walked past it all the time, and it's always been the same place since I was a kid. The outside is the same fake stucco that covers the entire crumbling strip mall, and the inside is this big, open space that is way cleaner than it should be for the neighborhood but still choked with the smell of a generation's worth of fryer grease and industrial cleaners. The tile is old, the walls are peeling but scrubbed clean, and the chairs are so worn you wouldn't know foam was in the seat. I had always thought it was a dump, like everything there, even if the owner gave a shit about it being clean.


That was until I went in there with Mr. Foster. When he picked me up at my house, it was in a car that was twice the size I had remembered it being. The dashboard was covered with weird knobs and words in another language, but he drove it just fine. We cruised through my neighborhood, and it was like I was seeing everything for the first time. The trees were bigger and greener. The abandoned house looked like it was alive, sitting back from the street with its mouth wide open like it wanted to eat you. There were rats and cockroaches playing double-dutch on the sidewalk.


Walbrook Junction looked mostly normal, except for that McDonald's. It was a castle with -- I shit you not -- an actual moat around it and banners flying and everything. When Mr. Foster walked up to it, a drawbridge just appeared. When he opened the door, one of the old mascots -- the bird with the yarn hair -- curtseyed and greeted him like he was a visiting noble. "Good afternoon, Sir Baobab," is what I think she said.


Everybody seemed to know him. He walked up to the counter and the worker there stared up at him. Mr. Foster is a tall dude, but...he was really tall here. His Afro scrunched against the ceiling, and you could hear the horns coming out of his forehead scraping against it. His skin was unnaturally black but kinda brown, like molasses. And his hair was white with little flecks of black in it. That's not how Mr. Foster looked before. And I had known him for like, five years now.


He ordered two quarter pounders with cheese, two Big Macs, a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets, and the biggest Coke they had. I got a double cheeseburger and a McChicken, then some fries and a milkshake. I don't know why, but it felt like I had to keep up with him. The way everybody was acting around him, it made me want to live up to something.


We got our food, and he wasn't charged for it. He told the cashier where we were going to sit (at a table in the corner) and he said "I'll make sure you aren't disturbed." Before we sat down, he took a lima bean out of his pocket and put it on the chair. It sprouted immediately, and a new chair made of vines formed over it, sized up for him. He caught me staring, but he just pointed at me to sit down.


Mr. Foster tore up his food immediately. I couldn't stop looking around. There was a five-foot squirrel dude mopping the floor and wiping down tables. Every once in a while, a rat walking on its hind legs would walk up to him and he would chitter at it or something, and then it would go off and pick up trash or put balls back in the ball pit.


I've been seeing shit like this ever since I got mugged. It's still straight-up crazy to me, but with Mr. Foster it was the first time it felt like it was a kind of crazy I could live with.


"What do you want to do with your life?" When he spoke, he demanded you listen. He had that kind of voice.


"Uhm, what?" I was distracted by the squirrel-dude, and caught off guard by the question. What did that have to do with anything?


Mr. Foster leaned in and rounded his shoulders. There was a table between us, but I still felt trapped. "I said, what do you want to do with your life?"


I stared at him for a long minute. My mind went blank. Was I supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life when I was just in high school? Wasn't that what college was for? I reached for anything I could think of, the first thing that came to mind.


"I want to cut hair." I felt so stupid right after I said it. Mr. Foster lifted his eyebrows, but otherwise he didn't react.


"Why?"


I shrugged. "It's cool to just be able to talk to people all day while doing something nice for them."


Mr. Foster nodded. "You know how to cut hair?"


Oh shit, I didn't even think of that! I shook my head quickly. "Naw, but I can learn. It looks like something I can get pretty good at."


"Yeah, you think so, huh?" Now he seemed amused. But not in a way that made me feel bad. "You just need some clippers and a YouTube video, right?"


"Maybe a head to practice on or something, I don't know." I returned his smile without knowing why. None of this made sense. Weren't we supposed to be talking about the fact that all kinds of impossible shit was happening all around us right now? That we were in a McDonald's that suddenly looked like a castle? That he was some giant unnaturally-colored dude that seemed to pull a lot of respect here? Why were we talking about hair all of a sudden?


"Listen, I got a few friends who could use a haircut." He shifted in his seat, and the whole thing groaned, vines and all. "I'm going to bring a clipper set over to school tomorrow. It's yours. And in two weeks' time, you're going to come to my house and cut hair. That's how you're gonna pay me back. Deal?"


"Uhm. Deal." I glanced at a small group of rats that seemed to be arguing about a mess on the floor. They were squeaking at each other in these high voices that made it hard to make out what they were saying. "But shouldn't we be---?"


Mr. Foster put up a big hand to stop me from talking. "You'll get to talk all you want in a couple of weeks. But if you have questions, you write them down one at a time on this."


He made a motion like he was sliding something to me across the table. It didn't look like anything at first, but when I looked down there was a piece of paper there. It was thick, like a page out of an expensive journal or something, colored yellow-brown with all kinds of spots in it. It looked awesome. Too good to write on, even. I gathered it up and slipped it in my backpack, not really sure what to say. "Thanks."


"You're welcome. You write the question, and I'll see it. I'll write a response, and you'll see it on that slip of paper."


"How?"


"Magic, that's how." The look on his face let me know he was giving me a big secret. "It's like untraceable email, right?"


"Yeah, I guess." I still felt weird about all of this, but kind of comfortable. "But what if my parents find it or my sister starts snooping in my room?"


Mr. Foster shook his head. "They won't see it. Only folks like you and me can. If you want to know what I mean by that, that's your first question."


He got up all of a sudden, and it looked like he was going to smash right through the ceiling. But he didn't. "I've got to go, but I want you to know two things. First, you're not crazy. You're special. Second, if you ever feel like you're in danger or this is too much to handle, you come here and ask a cashier to get me. I'll come as soon as I can, OK?"


I nodded. I didn't really like it, but I nodded.


"Good." Mr. Foster grabbed my shoulder when I stood up and squeezed it. "You're a good kid, Marvin. It's going to be OK." He stared at me with those weird blue eyes of his until I believed it.


And then he drove me home.
jakebe: (Writing)

It was my first day back in school after the mugging, and people were treating me surprisingly well. I guess word had spread about what happened, which was cool, but what was most interesting was how the story changed based on who told it. The teachers talked about how I nearly got away by telling a story about this little Br'er Rabbit figure I had, which is true -- I made it up on the spot because I didn't know what else to do, and all that fear and anger and desperation just came out of me in this huge rush. It felt great. It made me dizzy, and sick, like I was high af. I couldn't remember what the story was if I wanted to.


If you talk to my classmates, though, they'll tell you how I started "acting crazy" after the first punch was thrown, speaking in tongues and all that. I was pointing to things that weren't there, and having conversations with myself, and got in a fight with thin air. The people who attacked me were so confused that they were about to run off until I clocked one of them real good upside the ear. Then they jumped up and beat me down.


That's true, too, but I don't like to talk about it.


I'm adopted, and my mother was institutionalized for being a paranoid schizophrenic. When I was in the hospital, there were a lot of doctors who told me that I "had taken a pretty good blow to the head" and to let them know if I started seeing things that weren't there. I couldn't tell them that my room was filled with balloons of all sizes and shapes, that somehow managed to change color right in front of my eyes. I couldn't tell them that these had been brought to me by a bunch of creatures that couldn't exist -- rats in waistcoats, or CPR dummies that told me where all the good drugs were, or an elephant that liked to be the size that would be most disorienting for you. I knew where that road lead, and that was one I wasn't going to take.


So I pretended everything was fine, and I got pretty good at living a double life. In one of them, I was the victim of a violent crime recuperating from a possible concussion. In the other, I was this storyteller that every imaginary friend in the hospital would come to for advice or jokes they could take back to kids in other wings. I have no idea where these stories came from; it was like there was some doorway inside of me I could access now, and it all came spilling out. I really liked that feeling, and that disturbed me. I knew that I was getting whatever my mother had, and it was only a matter of time before things went bad.


I really did think that would be my first day back in school. There was so much going on I could barely keep it together. I saw a dragon on the roof, casually muttering to itself how these "insects couldn't appreciate" the value of its own personal "hoard of knowledge". I think it might have been the mascot for our football team. I saw trees gossiping to each other about who did what and when. There was a tiny bus that my mother nearly ran over, taking rats and squirrels right up to the building. The sky was made of rainbows, a feverish ripple of color that never stayed the same thing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but it was also terrifying.


My aunt thought that I was nervous about being back in school after my whole "incident", and I was fine with letting her believe that. The walk from the car to the front door was the longest walk of my life.


How do you tell someone that your mind is broken forever? I knew, deep down, that whatever this was wasn't going away. If I sat down and closed my eyes and told myself that none of it was real, the colors would fade and all of this madness would get harder to see. But it made me feel sick. I was pushing that door of stories further and further away every time I did that, and there was some different part of me that fought against that hard. When the visions came back, they were more intense than ever.


So I was sitting in homeroom, trying to ignore the squirrel seated next to me in a little desk, chattering away about how excited she was to learn about American history from the tree out in the quad. The other students either came up to me to ask if I was all right, or snickered at me for being crazy. I was just getting calmed down when Mr. Foster walked into the room.


Mr. Foster is one of those guys that everybody in your neighborhood knows. He's been at Highland Park High School forever and taught Social Studies to an entire generation of people around the block. He lived alone, and hung out with a bunch of people way younger than he was, and he had this thing about swords. We started calling him "Ghost Dog" a few years ago, and the name just stuck. He was a tall dude with an Afro and a 70s moustache. He wore a trenchcoat like he was Shaft, even in the summer. He was an awesome guy, but he was easy to make fun of.


At least, until now. He ducked under the doorway and pushed himself into the room. At first, he looked like he always did, but then there was this weird snap, like electricity popping. Then he was eight feet tall and blue, with these little horns and ridges coming out of his forehead. The coffee mug in his hand was this this hammer as big around as my chest. His trenchcoat was this steel suit of armor that shined like lavender when the light hit it.


I startled, and Mr. Foster looked at me. He sputtered, and then stared. He flickered a couple of times, back and forth between the old teacher and this monster dude. But then he stayed there. A rat on his desk asked him who the new kid was, and Mr. Foster flicked his hand like he heard it.


When all of the imaginary rodents at the edges of the room piped up with a "Good morning, Mr. Foster!" and he grunted in acknowledgement, I knew that he was seeing and hearing the same things I was. And I have no idea how that's true.


But if I was crazy, then so was he. We shared the same visions. And if he could somehow live his life outside of an insanitarium then he had to teach me how.
jakebe: (Reading Rabbit)

(Continuing my little snippets of fiction imagining Beast settling in at the Jean Grey School, because the news from Marvel coming out of Comic-Con sounded really really bad for our merry band of mutants. While the X-Men line has...maybe seven titles out right now, many of them will be taking a hiatus once Civil War II is over. Then we'll get the ominously-titled Death of X, which then spins right into Inhumans vs. X-Men. The promotional material tips the scales pretty heavily against the X-Men, though this could all be a swerve seeded by Marvel to get X-fans riled up. It's working.

The worst part, of course, is that Beast doesn't actually feature in ANY of the promos. He's working with the Inhumans right now to find a cure for the Terrigen Mists, but it looks like that won't lead anywhere. He doesn't show up in any of the Death of X variants, Inhumans vs. X-Men, or any of the X-Men OR Inhuman titles for the rest of the year.

Someone has to write about Dr. McCoy. Might as well be me, right?)

Henry mumbled to himself as he squeezed beneath one of the computer panels of his shiny new basement laboratory. Something about the electronics just wasn't flowing right, and while he had narrowed it down to the tremendous and chaotic bundle of wires beneath the main monitor, that still left literally hundreds of tiny insulated cables that had to be checked by hand. It would have been a chore for anyone, but with thick and brutish paws like his the work went twice as slowly as it should have. Not for the first time, Dr. McCoy regretted relying on Shi'ar tech so heavily. It allowed him to do so much, but it was an absolute nightmare to troubleshoot.

He held a dozen or so of these impossibly thin wires, feeling them roll through the leathery pads of his fingertips. He used his other paw to adjust his glasses, squinting in the dim light to see the colors of each one. He felt the wrench he was holding brush against the fur above his brow, and was certain that there was now a thin sheen of synthetic oil sinking into it. Another mutter under his breath, this one just quiet enough for him to hear. He was going to take a long, hot bath after this, drying time be damned.

It was hard work, of course, building the tools that would go on to build the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning -- but then, he knew it would be. That was part of what drew him to seek out the position in the first place. It had been far too long since he had been able to put his considerable talents to use for a cause he believed in unreservedly, and now he had his chance. He had a hand -- paw -- in rebuilding Xavier's dream from the ground up, in shepherding a new generation of young mutants towards the ideal that one day human and mutantkind could live in peace. That thought was what propelled him through countless long nights, several hours of poring over manuals of alien technology and navigating his own physical difficulties with performing fine detail work. Most of the time, it was enough. Today, though…

The fur on the back of his neck stood up. There was someone in the lab.

He bumped his head and broad back under the console as he tried to slip out, rubbing the back of his head with a grumble. He tilted his nose up, sniffing the air -- nothing but metal, coolant, the lubricant he was rubbing into his fur again…

He tossed the wrench down with a frustrated "Bah!" and looked around the lab, his goggles glinting as they caught the much brighter fluorescents beaming from the high ceiling. There was no movement, just the chaos of his dream lab being put together. Still, something didn't feel right…

He felt a breeze ruffle the whiskers on his right side, and his ear flicked as he heard the barest whisper of fabric rubbing against fabric. Someone was behind him. He turned his head slightly in that direction and caught the scent he was looking for.

He leaped before the arm had even lifted, flipping a twisted somersault in the air to land on his feet (and one hand) while facing the spot he had been just a few seconds ago. Henry snarled instinctively, ears flattened, mane lifted; it embarrassed him to show his teeth that way, so he followed up quickly with witty banter.

"I don't know who you are…" He looked up then, and saw Katherine Pryde phasing into sight, eyes wide and clearly startled.

"Well," he said, "Kitty Pryde, as I live and breathe…" Henry straightened, grateful for his fur for once. As uncomfortable as it was, it did a wonderful job of hiding it when he blushed. He threw out his arms and rushed into a hug before she had a chance to recover.

Beast felt her stiffen for a split-second before she relaxed, letting her arms drop around his neck. His heart skipped a beat when she laughed; he spun her around and gave her the briefest squeeze before setting her down. For a moment, it was just like old times. All was right with the world.

"Hey, Hank!" She bounced on her feet as she landed, pushing a lock of her hair behind an ear. "Logan told me you were down here, so I thought I'd surprise you...probably wasn't the best idea."

Henry smiled, but not too wide. He knew how off-putting his fangs could be. "Ahhh, my dearest Kitty, a thousand apologies! It's...been an eventful few months. I'm afraid my fight reflexes have gotten a bit too good."

"You don't have to explain that to me!" She smiled back. "When you live the life we do, you learn to hate surprises." She turned around, looking at the enormous space that was only now just taking shape. "Look at all this, though! I'm impressed! You've really outdone yourself."

Beast took her hand in his when she turned around, unable to keep himself from smiling wider. "Ahh, you're too kind! It's easy to do something impressive when you have access to alien technology and unlimited resources. Would you like for me to give you a tour?"

"I'd like nothing better." Kitty squeezed one of his fingers and stepped to the side, letting him lead her. "I thought I recognized Shi'ar tech in this place. It has this really distinct feeling when you phase through it."

Hank's eyebrows lifted. "So that's why I haven't been able to get the main monitor working. I knew the design would be quite touchy, but I figured it wouldn't be so bad once I had safely ensconced them behind the safety paneling."

"Oh, no! I didn't think you had turned anything on. I'm so sorry Henry...here, I'm not doing anything this afternoon, why don't we order in a pizza and I'll help you fix it?"

Henry paused as he walked along with Shadowcat, clapping his other massive paw over her hand. He looked into her eyes, his whiskers practically bristling with contentment. He had his doubts about the Jean Grey School -- it was quite a risk, after all -- but this was the first moment he was certain he had made the right decision.

"Nothing would make me happier. Let me show you the Warbird Fusion Reactor, and then I'll tell you about this marvelous place I've found. They'll even take custom toppings! I had an extra-large steak tartare pizza that was just delightful."

Kitty laughed, "Oh Hank, that sounds awful!"

"My dear, don't knock it until you've tried it." Beast smiled, then lead Pryde through a narrow passage and behind a panel that hadn't been affixed to the wall yet. This place would be really something, once it all came together.

jakebe: (Writing)

I've had superheroes on the brain for a while now, and there are a number of reasons for this. However, Beast of the X-Men is someone I just can't get out of my head -- also for a number of reasons. Ever since All-New Marvel Now!, when Brian Michael Bendis took over as the guiding hand of the X-Books, Hank has been in worse shape than usual. He pretty much broke the multiverse going back in time to get the original X-Men; he underwent another mutation that turned him into a cross between an ape and an elf; his future self was brainwashed by the son(?) of Charles Xavier into becoming one of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and subsequently died; he succumbed to the power of the Black Vortex, becoming an all-powerful nemesis; and finally he threw a hissy fit when the other X-Men confronted him about his hypocritical, out-of-character actions, leaving the Jean Grey School before Secret Wars hit.


I firmly believe that in better hands Hank can be a really fascinating and fun superhero. But to be honest, he hasn't been written well in a long time and the current X-Universe being what it is, it's unlikely he'll be better served any time soon.


I keep thinking that it would be neat to allow the status quo of the X-Men to settle for one god-damned minute in order for characters to evolve and grow in ways other superheroes get to do in the Marvel universe. The period after the Schism -- where Cyclops and Wolverine split mutantkind in two with their differing ideologies -- is a great one to go back to for that. Here, we see the older generation stepping into roles of mentorship and command. New mutants dealing with their own evolution in the unending battle for acceptance are coming up, learning the lessons of the previous set and adapting them to their own time. It's a rich setting, and one that suits Beast perfectly.


So here's a conversation between Wolverine and Beast, who is signing up for a position at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning.



Hank McCoy slipped between the trees with a feline grace that somehow enhanced the bulk that looked to be at odds with it. His boots -- modified to fit his new digitigrade stance -- whispered along the undergrowth of the forest, leaving only the lightest of tracks on a path he scented more than he saw.


It figured that Logan would want to meet him out here. A quick scan of the area told him there was a cabin somewhere in this wilderness, though most people would have a devil of a time finding it. He had to leave his car behind a couple miles ago, slinging a backpack over one broad and furry shoulder to walk the rest of the way.


It wasn't a bad day for it. The sun shone through a thick canopy of leaves, small pockets of light reaching the ground ahead of him. A gentle breeze carried the scents of the forest to him; trees struggling to procreate in the springtime, birds and animals that remained out of sight but which were present just the same, the slight but noticeable trace of Wolverine leading him forward. It was even cool enough that he didn't feel overheated as he moved. Since his latest mutation, his fur had gotten thicker, enough to shift the range of temperatures he was comfortable with. It had been a long adjustment, and he was only now becoming comfortable in his own body again.


Which is why he had no hesitation dropping to all fours (though he looked around, as if to check for anyone watching him) to speed up his pace; it was nice to take a stroll in nature, but he wanted to be prompt for his meeting. Logan might not care about punctuality, but he certainly did.


Hank had only recently taken to exploring the new, bestial attitudes that flitted across his ever-thinking brain. Since becoming a bouncing blue cast member of the musical Cats, he had difficulty accepting his new-found fondness for raw meat, or the powerful instinct to chase or pounce others. It disturbed him, not just because they were present, but because sometimes they were so strong. The Cassandra Nova business hit him where he lived there, and it was a long way back to being unafraid of himself. He had hoped getting back to what he did best -- being the chief scientist for the X-Men -- would complete the healing of that trauma and allow him a chance to feel like himself again at long last.


But first, he would have to convince Logan to take him on.


He loped between the trees quickly now, his paw-like hands churning up leaves and dirt as he galloped along. Wolverine's scent became stronger now, along with the smell of coffee, alcohol, cigars and burning wood. He paused for a moment, then pivoted towards the northeast. Another few minutes, and dense wood gave way to a small clearing with a modest cabin squatting right in the center of it. He scanned the area with sharp and slitted eyes. The birds were at ease here, and he spotted a squirrel or two darting between the safety of two tree trunks. A lazy plume of smoke rose from the cabin's stone chimney, and another one rose from the porch. Logan was there, wearing simple jeans, a flannel shirt and boots. He was chewing his cigar like it was his breakfast. The mutant stared right at him as he stood and stepped out of the trees.


"Hank," he said, as if he had been waiting this whole time.


"Logan," Beast said, clapping the dust off of his hands as he cleared the small distance between himself and the new headmaster of the Jean Grey School. "It's so nice of you to invite me to your summer home."


Wolverine shook Beast's hand without smiling. Hank wasn't offended; it was a weak joke. "I just figured you'd want to meet somewhere private. Those SWORD guys still after you?"


Beast waved him off. "Heavens, no. That was sorted a little while ago, thank the stars. Dr. Henry McCoy has a spotless record once more."


Wolverine simply grunted, turning to sit on one of the chairs next to the cabin's door. "Have a seat. Can I get you something? A beer?"


Hank glanced at the chair; it was solid wood, but a bit too narrow for his hips. He chose to lean against one of the porch posts instead. "No, thank you. It's a bit early for me to indulge. I did bring you something, though."


He slung his backpack off his shoulder and opened the zipper with a claw. "I know it's customary to bring a token of esteem in these situations; most would have gone with a fruit basket of some sort, but I figured you'd appreciate this more."


Wolverine eyed the bottle of whiskey, staring at the label once it was handed to him. "Single malt, huh? Not bad." He wasted no time twisting the top off and taking a long swig.


Beast glanced at him, then looked out over the clearing. "Yes, a small batch distillery from Cork that I thought you'd like. I thought the apple notes were quite a nice distinction."


His ear flicked as he heard the bottle upend once more, a full tumbler of the stuff disappearing down Wolverine's throat in the span of a few seconds.


"Mmm, it's all right." Logan sat the bottle down on the porch, then exhaled. "Now that you've broken the ice, want to get this over with?"


Hank grinned. "Certainly. Though I have to admit I was surprised you wanted to interview me for the position. We've worked well together before, and we seem to be of the same mind on what we want for these children."


"We are. But I need to know where your head's at. You left the X-Men, Hank. You went out to space with your girlfriend and only reached out to me when you found out I was rebuilding the school."


Hank furrowed a brow. Was Logan upset about his defection? Or something else? It was hard to get a read on him; his scent was mostly covered by burning tobacco and the stinging alcohol he had drained a half-bottle of in under a minute. "If you're worried about my commitment, then you certainly don't need to be. I believe I've proven myself to be quite dedicated to causes I believe in."


"True. But you've also had a hell of a time of it in the past six months. This school is going to be a target for a lot of people...maybe some of our own'll be gunning for us or our kids. You sure you're ready for that?" Wolverine kept his voice even, calm, but there was something about that question…


"I've been fighting to protect the innocent for over a decade now, Logan. It's my life's work." He turned towards the mutant, arms folded. "And you've provided me with the opportunity to continue it."


"So why didn't you open the school yourself? Why wait for someone else?"


Beast blinked. "I...didn't think I could do it on my own."


"Who said you would have been?" Wolverine stretched out, leaning back in his chair.


"Call it an educated guess. I am many things, Logan, but a leader of man and mutant I am not. I've never been comfortable convincing others that my choices are the ones that need to be followed. I don't have the knack for it that you or Scott or Ororo do…"


"You think I want to be a leader, Hank?" This time, Wolverine smiled. "I'm stepping up to this because somebody's got to. You'd think that one of Charles' students would want to be the ones to take on his legacy…"


"But Scott is becoming increasingly militant, and Jean is no longer with us. Warren....good heavens, who knows what's happened to Warren. And Bobby is...well, Bobby has his own issues." Beast shook his head. "As much as it pains me to say it, none of us are capable of doing that at the moment. But you are. Let me help you."


Wolverine stared at him for a long time. "Of course you're going to help me." He stood and stepped forward, offering Hank a hand. "Welcome to the Jean Grey School, Dr. McCoy. She's going to need you."


Beast beamed, showing the full measure of his fangs before he could help himself. "Thank you. Now, shall we talk about compensation?"


Wolverine grunted; it's what passed for a laugh most of the time. "Free room and board, provided you design the school and lead the building of it."


Beast blinked. "You mean the mansion isn't rebuilt? How...far have you gotten in this process?"


Wolverine slumped back into his chair and picked up the bottle of whiskey. "So far, I've hired on a Vice-Principal to help rebuild Charles' dream from the ground up. Not a bad start."


Beast took a deep breath and grabbed the whiskey when it was handed to him. He took a swig himself, straight from the bottle. "Not a bad start at all, my friend."
jakebe: (Writing)

Working on THE CULT OF MAXIMUS has exposed a few problem areas for me as a writer -- I really need to get better at writing scenes where characters are in direct conflict, and I could stand to shore up my dialogue so that characters expose their personalities a bit better through how they speak. I wanted to do a little bit of fiction that put two characters in direct opposition AND demands that the resolution be attempted by dialogue. So here goes.


Liam looked up as soon as Victor entered. The bear paused warily as the lion's eyes slid from his face to his outfit -- a red flannel shirt and a pair of heavy work jeans that looked like they were made of particle board judging by their drape. Liam tried to look neutral, but Victor knew his disapproval in the bristle of his whiskers and the single, agitated thump of his tail.

"A flannel shirt?" Liam said as he stood up. "Here? Are you sure you wanted to meet here?"

"Fuck you. This is my best shirt." Victor stuck out his hand, staring Liam down. The pair made an imposing sight; Victor was pushing seven feet and well over 300 pounds of fat-marbled muscle, while Liam was even taller, his mane covering the shoulders of his navy blazer and forcing the light blue gingham shirt to be unbuttoned twice from the collar. If their size weren't enough to draw the attention of the others in the bar, the tension that leapt into the air certainly was.

"Mmm. I suppose so. My apologies." Liam seemed unconvinced. He sat down again and immediately drained what was left in his tumbler. "May I get you something to drink?"

Victor slid into the opposite seat, a small ear flicking at the way the sturdy wood creaked beneath him. "Yeah. They got any beer?"

Liam smiled. "They have an excellent list of Belgian and German beers that I think you will love."

He raised one big paw to the waiter. The weasel slinked over. "A triple of your 15 year Laghavulin, neat, with a splash of spring water. And is your Fastbier still on tap? A glass for--"

Victor rested a mitt on the weasel, who looked like he might leap out of his shirt. "You got Bud?" The waiter nodded. "Gimme one of those."

"Still avoiding new experiences, I see." Liam sniffed after the waiter left.

"No. I'm avoiding some jackhole ordering for me when I already know what I want." Victor frowned and crossed his arms. "Besides, we ain't got time to savor beer. Let's get this over with."
"Very well." Liam looked away for just a moment, and Victor knew that he had gotten to him. The lion recovered quickly, shifting in his seat and crossing his hands on the table. "What would you like?"

The bear sniffed. "Don't need much. Just some of the furniture, a couple of the pots and pans. And the TV."

"All right. Nothing more?" Liam looked at Victor closely, and the bear felt that familiar line racing up his back when he stared back into golden, slitted pupils.

"Nah. I'll make my own way well enough. Unless you got shit you want to get rid of. I can take that off your hands. You wanna keep the wet bar?"

The lion reached across the table and grabbed Victor's hand. "I want to keep us. I don't know why we have to do this."

"Because you think of us as something to keep." Victor pulled his hand away. "You're not really in love with me. You want somebody you can dress up and buy fancy beers for."

The big cat let his hand linger on the table for a moment, fingers stroking empty space before he pulled it back. "I don't think that's fair. I've always supported your interests."

"When you got bored giving me shit about 'em. You know how much a pain in the ass it is to have to justify every little thing to you because you don't understand it? I'm sick of it. We ain't compatible. Simple as that. So now you can find somebody you can go to the opera with or some shit, and I can finally take my boyfriend fishing. It's better for both of us."

"You never talked to me about any of that!" Liam's whiskers bristled, then flattened as soon as the weasel returned with drinks. He gave the waiter a toothless smile, then slumped in his seat when he left. "I didn't know how much it bothered you."

"You didn't care. I'm not that hard to read. As long as I didn't make too big a fuss about it, you did what you could get away with." Victor swallowed the bottle in one paw and took a long draught of it. "I'm tired of doing things I hate just because it's easier."

Liam stared at his tumbler for a moment before knocking the whole thing back. "Why did you stay so long if it was really that terrible? You make it sound like being with me was torture for you."

"I did love you." Victor responded without hesitation. "Maybe I changed, or maybe you took me for granted, or maybe you stopped trying to make me like you and became who you really were. I don't know. The point is, it's over now."

"It doesn't have to be, my love. I can change."

Victor shook his head. "No you can't. If you could, you would have done it by now."

"By magically reading your mind?"

"By paying attention to something other than yourself for five god-damned minutes." Victor grunted as he stood up, drinking the rest of his beer. "What is this? I thought we were here to talk about how to divide up our stuff. But you can't help trying to get your way, can you?"

Liam blinked. "I thought you wanted to meet here because there was still a chance."

Victor sighed. "I asked to meet here because I knew you liked this place and it's down the street from my site." The bear rubbed at his eyes with thick, clawed fingers. "Christ, Lee. Do you even remember where I work?"

"And what do you remember about me?" The lion's voice rose to a near-roar. His hand slapped the table, and the constant murmur of voices around them abruptly died. "What's my favorite piece of classical music? My favorite film? Why did I pick this blazer? How much do you really know about the things I care about?

"You spend so much time being resentful about how I won't go watch grown men beat each other up in their underwear that you never even stopped to consider why I tried to expand your horizons! You're so much better than that. You're smart. You're honest. But you're so much more close-minded than I am. You discount anything I like before you've even given it a chance! What the fuck are you doing with yourself? I was only trying to share the things that I care about. The opera is important to me! This..." --he tugged on his blazer-- "...is important to me! But you couldn't care less. I don't think you're capable of enjoying anything. I think the only thing you want to be is numb. Well if that's it, fine. Drink your cheap beer and watch your wrestling. I'm not going to watch you shut out the world any more. Maybe you are doing me a favor."

They could both feel sets of eyes on them as the entire bar had turned to watch. Victor swallowed once. His face hardened. And he turned to leave. "We're done here."

Liam watched him go. He sat in his chair and stared at his glass. He kept staring, even as the weasel quickly and silently removed it, cleaning the small ring of water it left behind.

jakebe: (Writing)
The sun slunk low behind the canopy as we made our way deeper into the woods. It wasn't low enough yet that the pockets of light were weaker or smaller, but it was low enough that sunbeams hit at crazy angles. You could still feel the difference in the air between the sun and the shade. And you could still see the way the light changed the color of his skin and made the sweat shine, or revealed the true dark brown of his eyes.

I really fucking loved this time of the day.


We were walking to the river -- my spot, the one I went to when I needed to be alone and think about stuff. I still brought my fishing pole, even though there weren't any fish any more; it was nice to go through the motions, to keep the stuff my dad taught me when he was still around. I don't have a lot of stuff to remember him by, and it's important to me that I do.


As far as I knew, no one else came here. So showing him this place was a big deal. But I wanted to make tonight special for both of us -- we weren't used to being open with people, letting them into our secret places. Like almost everybody our age, we armored ourselves against a world we expected to be hostile. The closer people were to you, the more likely they were to hurt you.


Which is why I couldn't believe we had gotten so close. I met him just five months ago after his family moved here from out west; he didn't like to talk about his life before, and I couldn't blame him. It sounded like he didn't have the best relationship with his dad, and though his stepdad was around that was...complicated. His mother was checked out, as far as I could tell, watching soaps and talk shows all day, making canned or boxed shit for dinner. They didn't care where he went or what he did. So he hung out with me.


We went to school, of course. I'm trying to get into college so I can get the fuck out of here, and I know he's smart enough to come with me. But when we talk about it he gets real nervous, like it's some new thing to be frightened of that he had never thought about before. I don't push him, but I want to. Life doesn't have to be this way for him. For either of us. We can get out of here and actually give a shit about people. We don't have to be scared of the world.


We were close enough to the water that I can hear it. It's a quiet tinkle under the sound of the wind and leaves. It calmed me down, but he just seemed to get more and more nervous. I watched him, a little ways ahead of me, looking around at every sound, lifting his nose up like some kind of squirrel, like he could actually smell something. Even though it wasn't that hot, he was sweating enough that his shirt clung to his back. I could see the shape of his shoulder blades and the thin muscle moving around them. I loved to pat him there or put my arm around him, letting it linger just a little longer than it should. He never pulled away. Did he know? He had to know, right?


The river came up suddenly. One minute, you're in the middle of the woods and then there's this drop of about three feet. Right below you was a short little bank with exposed root and stones, and then a thin little river, just big enough to be fast. In the summer, you could wade in it up to your thighs in the middle; now, it was just a little bigger. I guess the snow in the mountains was starting to melt or something. I don't know where the water comes from.


I hopped down to the bank first, and he came in after me. It was completely shaded here, and with the cold water right next to us the air was almost chilly. I stepped close to look at him, to feel his heat on me. He was almost feverishly hot now. He kept looking away from me and up towards the trees. What was he looking at?


"So this is it," I said. I tried to sound relaxed, but with what I wanted to say and the way he was so wound up I couldn't really make it work.


"Yeah." His voice was smooth, like he and the river went together. "It's nice." He watched the sun set, then sat down when he couldn't see it any more. I sat with him and we let the evening settle in silence. When it got dark enough, I brought out the flashlight. He flinched when I turned it on.


"Listen, I have something to tell you." I rose up on my knees and turned to face him. I could feel my palms getting sweaty now, nerves and anticipation all getting my body ready for that rush of relief. I was at the top of the roller coaster, getting ready to take the plunge. It was scary, but I knew that once I dropped momentum would carry me the rest of the way. It would be fun, and fast, and frightening.


"I figured," he said. He turned to face me too, and he grunted as he did, doubled over for a second. "I have something...to tell you too."


"You OK?" It looked like his stomach hurt, bad.


"Yeah, I'm fine." He rose up, breathing hard. Almost panting. He smiled though, to reassure me. "I'm fine."


"OK then." I don't know why I set that worry aside, but I did. "On three, we both say it. Ready? One...two...three!"


"I love you," I said.


"I'm a werewolf," he said.


I looked at him, stunned. He stared at me close, waiting for my reaction. It was like what I had said didn't even register to him yet.


I laughed in his face. "What? Quit playing." I reached for his hand, but he pulled it away.


"I'm not playing." He was definitely panting now, and still sweating even though I was at the point where I wish I had a jacket. He let out this weird noise and doubled over again, then pulled up. "I...you know how I like to go out camping with my stepdad?"


I nodded, but then realized he wasn't looking at me. "Yeah?" That was all I could say. What the fuck was this?


"It's...we go out into the woods so people don't see us. When we can. Otherwise….ughh!...we hang out in our basement."


Suddenly the night seemed a lot darker. The flashlight wasn't nearly bright enough. This was it. This was why people didn't do this kind of shit. "What...what are you talking about?"


"Here...I've...I've just got to...show you. You can use the flashlight if you want."


I picked it up and shone it on him. I could feel myself go numb. Was this dude crazy, or what? Did I just take myself out into the woods with some guy who was about to kill me? Should I run?


He clutched his stomach and growled. It was a real, honest-to-God growl, like an animal would make. I heard this muffled pop, like when someone cracks your back, and then he made this whimper of relief. Another pop, and a there was this gasp of surprise. Then another, and another.


His clothes ripped around his spine, just like in the movies. Black fur pushed out of the hole, and then he heaved up while still on his knees, making the tear bigger. His voice changed, got rougher, like a bunch of rocks tumbling together.


He put his hands on the ground, almost like he wanted me to see what was happening to them. The fingers got long and weird, and his nails got dark and shiny, grew out to points. I could hear his skin stretching, and all of his clothes breaking, buttons popping off, the whole thing. Hair was sprouting out everywhere, that walnut-brown skin curling up between the strands like it was an illusion melting away.


He...it...whatever was in front of me growled again, and this time it's completely not him but some weird cross between a wolf and a bear. I brought up the flashlight and two eyes flashed back from the beam. There was a glimpse of teeth, fangs as big as my little finger and pushing out bigger.


Its breathing was this noise that was half-wheeze, half-growl. It kept staring at me as it changed, all hunched over, getting closer even though it wasn't moving. It just kept getting bigger, growling louder, starting to loom.


I have no idea how long it took before its shape finally settled, but I do know it was this huge, terrible thing growling right in front of my face. It looked at me and pinned its ears back, then rocked back onto its haunches. When its back straightened, the remains of its shirt slid off of its fur and its head rose high above me. It looked...relieved. Its breathing steadied, a rhythmic bellow.


"I haven't told anyone," it said. "But you...I knew you would understand. I had to tell you because...because I love you too."


It reached out for me. All I saw was the flash of claws longer than my fingers. Something...something I had no idea was lurking inside my head leapt up and took hold. I couldn't control myself. I jumped up, I screamed, and God help me...I ran.


"Wait!" The beast roared behind me and I ran faster. I don't remember much about anything until I was out of the woods and booking across the empty lot that separated the projects where I lived from the little patch of park that was my private spot. But I do remember looking up to see the full moon peeking over the building.


And I remember how lonely the howl sounded as it bounced off the high rises.
jakebe: (Writing)

Today's post is a little bit late; sorry about that. It feels like I've been playing catch-up since the year started! I'll be working double-time for a little while to try and get ahead of things.

Anyway, in this installment of Br'er fiction, Gregg meets his boss for the first time in six months to have a conversation about returning to work. I'm still stumbling around a little bit with this setting, but I'm making slow but steady progress with getting the feel down.

"On behalf of everyone at GBI, I'd like to welcome you back to the fold." Horace Bolton smiled at Gregg across his shabby particle-board desk, leaning forward to indicate his sincerity. Underneath the smile, there was a distinct nervousness that Gregg had learned to detect by scent. His boss was doing a very good job of hiding it through body language, though.

The woman standing next to Horace was also nervous, but kept her emotions hidden under an impassive expression. Joyce was the office manager, and she kept the office managed to within an inch of its life. Once you understood her rules and followed them to the letter, you couldn't have a better friend at work. She was here to translate Gregg's sign language to the manager; he found it wholly unnecessary, but they had insisted on providing the accommodation for him to prove how dedicated they were to keeping him employed and comfortable.

Gregg signed at the expectant look Horace fixed him with, and Joyce turned to him with exacting precision. He found himself wondering if there was something about her Korean background that made her so detail-oriented, then banished the thought. "Thank you," she said.

"You've been a vital part of GBI's success, and I just want you to know that you have a place here as long as you want it. We're committed to providing a comfortable, friendly environment for everyone, no matter their race, religion or species. We're a family here." Horace slipped into his familiar pitch. Gregg had heard it countless times at meetings and functions. He was what you would call a "true believer".

And to be fair, Horace walked the walk. He worked hard (mostly through Joyce) to build a culture of informal, easy-going labor. GBI was a little internet service provider that gave dial-up and high-speed access to people who had never heard of cable -- or simply couldn't afford it. Despite the marketplace the company had done well enough to establish itself in the city. They didn't offer quite the same perks that a big corporation would, but the people were solid here. Gregg loved his job, and who he worked with.

He smiled, though he wasn't sure how that would translate. He signed, and Joyce said "Thank you."

"If there's anything I can do to help you transition back into your position after...well, considering your new situation, don't hesitate to come to me, OK? My door is always open."

Gregg signed. Joyce said, "Thank you."

Horace smiled, letting a silence creep into the conversation for just a beat. That was the end of the introduction, apparently. He put on his glasses; that was usually the sign that it was time to get down to business. "Now, as you're aware, I'm sure, there aren't any laws on the books offering legal protections against discrimination for you...uhm, what would you prefer to be called?"

Gregg detected a tightening in Joyce. He could hear the way her suit jacket shifted around heightened shoulders. He wasn't sure if she noticed his ear swiveling in her direction, but he signed. She relaxed when she spoke. "Br'ers is fine as a term."

Horace barked a surprised laugh. "Br'er? I hadn't heard that one, that's pretty cute."

Both of Gregg's ears swiveled forward as he signed. He wasn't sure if he was hoping to catch his boss in something inappropriate or if he was genuinely curious. Joyce hesitated before leaning in. "He wants to know what other terms you had heard."

Alarm flashed behind Horace's eyes. He shifted uncomfortably for just a second. "I...well, you know….never mind, it doesn't matter. What matters is what you prefer to call yourself. Br'ers it is."

Horace cleared his throat and began speaking immediately to bury the moment. "As I was saying, there aren't any laws protecting you, but I spoke with legal to make sure we added anti-discrimination clauses to the company conduct policy. I can guarantee you that you will not be paid less, looked over for a promotion or raise, or experience any hinderances to your career because of what you are. Anyone who uses slurs or engages in inappropriate behavior will be called in for a disciplinary review. If you hear or experience anything, I want you to come to me or Joyce first thing, OK?"

Gregg nodded. He wasn't sure what to say to that, but he was sure that Horace was serious about it. It warmed him to know that someone had his back, even after all this, and was dedicated to at least trying to make sure he could live a normal life. Or as normal as it could be, anyway.

"Good. Now...is there anything you need to do your job efficiently? Some accommodation that would make you more comfortable? I've given it some thought…"

Gregg's nose twitched a bit more rapidly now, and one of his ears flicked towards Joyce. Her nervousness was a lot more apparent now, the stone-faced mask slipping at last. He felt that sensation transfer to him, as if he should be readying himself for something bad. This was the other shoe, he realized, and his heart sank.

"...and maybe we can convert part of the storage room into a personal office. With those ears and that nose, I can only imagine how distracting sounds and smells must be for you." Horace leaned in, a look of grave concern on his face. "It's not too overwhelming in here, is it?"

Gregg looked bewildered. What did this dude think his senses were like? He simply shook his head.

Horace relaxed. "Ah, good. I can't imagine what it must be like, having those senses that you do. It must be kind of like being a superhero, right?" He chuckled.

Gregg looked at Joyce, who slumped. He signed to her, a longer response this time, and she repeated it back in halting and uncertain rhythm.

"He says that no, it's not like being a superhero. He has good hearing, and smell, but it's not like everything's louder or stinkier than before. It's just different."

"Oh really? That's interesting. Good to know!" Horace smiled with the pre-emptive satisfaction of being able to correct someone else later on down the line. "And, as far as...well...using the facilities…"

Here, Joyce's pale face drained of all color.

"...are you going to need space close to the bathroom? My niece has a rabbit, and that thing just goes wherever it wants. I remember hearing somewhere that rabbits can't hold it when they've got to go, so we want to make sure you can avoid any potential accidents."

Gregg was stunned. It took him a moment to understand what was being insinuated here, and when he did his ears swept back. He looked at Horace as if he was insane, but was pretty sure the man couldn't read his expression. Joyce frowned at him; he was sure it was a look of sympathy.

"I'm not a rabbit, though. I'm a man. Just different, like I said. I've never had an accident, and I don't plan to start now."

Horace laughed at that, long and loud. Gregg felt that initial flash of annoyance melting away, and allowed his ears to swing upright. Joyce even smiled, and just like that the moment passed.

"Well, good to know. Listen, Gregg, it's so good to have you back, I really mean that. If there's anything you need, just ask." Horace stood up and offered his hand. Reflexively, Gregg stood up and shook it. He allowed himself to relax. The meeting was over. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, and now he could go back to work.

He turned and walked out of the small office, flicking an ear back to hear Joyce hurrying after him. She reached up and touched his shoulder; when he stopped, she rose on her toes to whisper in his ear.

"I'm so sorry about that. Welcome back." She patted him once and rushed back into Horace's office.

Gregg grinned to himself. It took three steps for him to forget about the awkwardness of that exchange; he had to think about the mountains of email he would have to wade through in order to catch up.

jakebe: (Fandom)

And here's the next little bit. Still figuring out the setting while trying to make connections between Greggory's experience and experiences I've had being a "black face in a white space". This one stems from SO MANY TIMES being the only black guy with the feeling of "you don't belong here" heavy in the air.

Oliver's Cafe had a strawberry and cheese danish that made Gregg salivate just thinking about it. In the long weeks and months that followed his transformation, it was one of the things on a small list that he brought to mind whenever he needed something to look forward to. Under quarantine, his diet was restricted to little more than hay and various vegetables -- he could eat them, but they weren't very appetizing.

The doctors and scientists discovered that it wasn't just the features that were a mixture of animal and man; his palate and nutritional needs had changed as well. He was technically still an omnivore, but his stomach frequently revolted a meat-rich meal and he found the smell of cooked flesh alarming, almost disgusting. Over time, once the shock of his new body had worn off, he found he preferred vegetables and fruits; a little bit of dairy here and there; and a powerful craving for sugar. Six months ago, Greggory had never been one for sweets. Now, he couldn't get enough of the stuff.

The cafe was on Calvert St., right on the way to work. Greggory would stop there every morning to pick up a large cup of coffee and a danish, and this was his first day back. As he squeezed out of his small coupe and made his way across the small parking lot towards the little row of shops Oliver's was nestled between, he felt himself tensing. This was supposed to be a small step towards normalcy, the first brick placed to put his life back in order. When he opened the door, he realized it simply wouldn't be that simple.

A sea of faces turned to stare at him. The room went quiet except for the folk-rock playing over tinny speakers. Greggory felt the burn of thirty pairs of eyes all centered on him; half the expressions were surprise, even shock -- the other half looked vaguely displeased. He had to imagine all of them were wondering what he was doing here.

Greggory smiled and lifted a hand. He waved clawed fingers at the gathered, and made his way in. He had no idea how he looked, but he wished more than anything people would stop staring at him. He was used to being the only man of his kind in one of these spaces, or so he thought; here, the difference burned at him, seeped into his skin in a way that made him feel acutely self-conscious. He felt like a foreign element contaminating the purity of a scene.

The tightness in his chest didn't ease when the barista smiled at him and asked, "Hey, what can I get started for you?"

He pulled out the tablet tucked under an arm and opened his writing app. His pointer claw acted as a natural stylus, but it still felt strange dragging the point of it over his screen. It wasn't something he thought he could ever get used to, even though his doctor swore he would. At least, until he relearned how to speak.

<<It's Gregg.>> He wrote, then showed it to the barista.

Her eyes flashed with recognition, surprise, and sympathy in the span of a second. "Oh! Greggory, hey!! It's so good to see you!" Other workers behind the counter glanced in his direction when they heard the name. Some smiled weakly and nodded, some went quickly back to work, their expressions unreadable. "I'm so sorry about…" Her voice trailed off, suddenly unsure.

<<It's OK. I'm fine. Hope you're fine too.>>

"Oh yeah, I'm good! It's gotten a lot busier here since they finally finished the construction." The barista glanced behind him, and her smile faded. "What can I get you?"

Greggory flicked an ear behind him and heard one...three...four people shuffling in line. He couldn't see their expressions, but he didn't need to. His chest felt tighter. He wiped his app and started writing quickly.

"What's that floating in the air?"

"I think that's fur."

"OK, that's gross."

He tried to ignore that as he wrote, flattening his ears against his head to keep from hearing any more. <<I'd like a large coffee, two sugar, three cream. And a strawberry danish.>>

The barista -- her name was Karen, according to her name tag, and Greggory felt a small pang of shame for not remembering -- smiled at him, glanced at the line, and nodded. "I got you. Is that for here or to go?"

"I hope it's to go," someone said behind him, a little louder.

Greggory's ear flicked up of its own accord, and his nervousness soured into anger. He was tempted to tell her that it would be for here, damned being late for work, and then sit in the middle of the cafe. He'd pour his coffee into a saucer and lick it up like a God-damned animal, lift up his shirt to scratch his furry belly, pluck out loose hairs and let them flow in the air…

<<To go.>>

Karen gave him a friendly and sympathetic smile, and it lightened his mood a little. "OK. Just hang on and your order will be waiting for you at the end of the bar."

Greggory stepped out of line and waited near the condiments. He could feel the eyes of people in line on him, saw people look up from where they were seated as he passed by. He did his best to ignore them, kept his ears folded, but he couldn't help but hear the conversation of the next person in line.

"So you're serving those animals in here now, huh?" The man was tall and white, with grey hair and blue eyes that looked down a strong, proud nose. Greggory imagined himself punching it.

"He's a paying customer here, just like you are." Karen's voice had a hard edge that he had never heard before. "What do you want?"

"Nothing, with that attitude. I'll get my coffee somewhere else." The man turned to leave. "Your manager will be getting a call from me."

The man glared at Greggory as he left. Greggory did his best to look anywhere else but at him.

"Here's your coffee dude." Another barista slipped a cup towards him, along with his pastry. "I gave you two pastries because...you know. Welcome back."

Something in Greggory's heart broke open. He perked his ears, stared at the young, skinny Indian man across the counter, and nodded. He couldn't say how much he appreciated it, but he hoped the other man knew it just the same.

He walked briskly to his car, opened the door and tossed his pastries into the passenger seat. He barely managed to fumble the keys into the ignition before tears started to flow. It took him ten minutes before his vision cleared enough that he trusted himself leaving the parking lot.

jakebe: (Writing)
Greggory looked in the mirror and saw an alien staring back at him. There were big brown eyes spaced too far apart. There was a broad flat nose with nostrils he didn't recognize. There were those strange lips, those big ears, features that couldn't possibly reflect the way he saw himself. He opened his mouth wide and saw prominent incisors -- four on the top, four on the bottom, stacked two deep. There were large gaps on either side, and past those he could dimly see his cheek teeth; premolars and molars that were strange and sharp. His canine teeth were gone.
It had been six months since the shift. One day, Greggory woke up and he realized he was different. His brown skin was replaced with a thick pelt of cinnamon fur; his fingernails thickened into digger's claws; his features had taken on leporine traits. He was the same size, just under six feet tall, but his enormous ears extended his height by a foot or so and when he stood on the toes of long, broad, powerful feet he could tower over most anyone. A lot of good it did him. Despite the strangeness of his look, people weren't frightened of a six-foot rabbit.
One in ten people in his neighborhood had undergone the same transformation. Some had turned into raccoons, hares, squirrels -- he had even heard that there were birds that hadn't been released from the CDC just yet. Others had become something fiercer -- dogs of various breeds, black bears, cougars. He had even heard of a lion or two, though he hadn't seen them for himself. Not for the first time he wondered how he would react if he spotted one walking down the street. Would some alien instinct take over? Would something lodged deep within his new brain leap up and take over, force him into running before he could stop himself?
A shiver raced up his spine, and he watched the fur of his reflection puff out. He sighed and brushed his chest, his arms, his shoulders. Six months with this fur coat and it still hadn't gotten too much faster to groom himself. There were many days where he would have given anything for his pelt to simply fall away, but chances are that would make him look even funnier than he already did.
"You done in there?" A voice popped from just behind the closed door of the bathroom. It was followed immediately by a series of knocks. "Some of us have to get ready for work too, you know."
Greggory grunted his response. He swiped his tongue over the strange shape of his mouth, feeling the contours of his jaw, his palate, his gums. He had been told that he would have to re-learn how to speak; according to the many, many doctors and scientists he had seen he should be able to do it, but it would be an uphill climb. Just one of those things he would have to do in order to re-integrate himself into society. But for now, he was voiceless.
"What's that supposed to mean?" The voice was annoyed and confused. "Is that a 'yes I'm coming out' grunt or a 'leave me alone' grunt?"
He looked at the long ear in his reflection swing towards the door. He saw that odd face crease in consternation. It was expressive, but in so many different ways. His mood has moved from the curve of his cheeks and knit of his brow towards the bounce of his whiskers, the twitch of his nose, the movement of his ears. He had learned how it all worked, but his family was still figuring everything out.
Maybe that's why his mother didn't recognize the swept back tilt of his ears when he threw open the bathroom door, or the way his whiskers flared as his nose wrinkled and then fell into an agitated beating rhythm. She simply looked at those passive, dark eyes staring down at her, took a step back and glanced at the brush in his hand.
"Looks like you're almost finished." She was trying to keep her voice even, he could tell. "I don't know why you have to spend so long brushing yourself. Ain't nobody going to see you."
Greggory simply grunted. He couldn't easily tell her that it wasn't about what other people could see, it was about how he would feel. It was bad enough that he had to go back out into the world before he felt ready; he didn't want to do it feeling disheveled and slovenly, too.
Something must have passed through, because her expression softened. She reached up and brushed her hand through his whiskers, set it on his cheek. He flinched; those fingers brought an explosion of sensation through him and he was still trying to figure out how to deal with that. He only relaxed when she stood on her toes and kissed his chin. It felt weird to him; he could only imagine how it must have felt to her.
"You look fine, son. Breakfast is on the table. I...didn't have what the paper said to feed you, but I didn't think it would matter. You're still my boy, right? Ain't nothing changed." She smiled, then pushed beside him to slip into the bathroom.
He glanced at the clock; he'd need to be out the door in ten minutes if he wanted to have a prayer of making it into work on time. His clothes went on fast; a loose polo shirt that didn't aggravate his fur too much and a pair of shorts that fit a bit snug around his thighs. The sandals took the longest time; he still wasn't quick working those leather straps with his clawed fingers.
Breakfast was not going to happen. He smelled the stench of bacon and eggs before he even got to the dining room, and his eyes glanced over the plate in vain for a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Greggory left a note next to the plate before grabbing his things and slipping out of the door. If he left now, he hoped, he might be able to pick up something on the way.
When his mother stepped out of the bathroom, she saw an untouched hill of scrambled eggs and bacon on the side, with a small piece of paper next to it.
"No eggs. No meat. My stomach can't handle that any more. I'm sorry. I love you. Later."
jakebe: (Writing)
I've been itching to write about werewolves recently, because I feel such a strong attraction to them but never seem them quite displayed the way I'd like to see them. I also have a thing about vampires -- most of the time, I'm going to hate your vampire character because all of the "baggage" that comes with being a blood-sucker is stuff that is decidedly not for me. So I thought I would write about a supernatural couple -- she's a vampire, and he's a werewolf -- and the challenges they face making their relationship and separate lives work together. This is my very first crack at it, so chances are the characters will change significantly over time. 1151 words.
Dr. Gibson droned on in Luneisha's ear, describing the patient's arteries in a manner so disengaged it was almost admirable. She typed the words into the transcription software just as distractedly; she had been at this long enough to know that she could off-load that part of the job to a mysterious automatic process she still hadn't quite understood. What she focused on, instead, was the sound between the syllables.
She imagined him in his office, hunched over a stack of papers in front of his computer, his rolling office chair never content to stay where it was supposed to, his weary head resting on the hand across his forehead. His voice was deep with authority; if he weren't so tired, he would have had a presence about him. As it was, he was a man who had shrunken into his job, let it beat him down until he no longer registered the power and responsibility he had over so many lives and deaths.
When he was uncertain, he tapped his pen on his desk. When he disliked a patient, he leaned away from his desk and back in his chair. When he was thinking about something else, he tumbled over four or five words at a time and filled in the paused with ums and ahs. He struck her as a serious man, in the way powerless people tend to forget that there are things to smile about.
The thought struck her; she glanced up from her typing and realized she hadn't transcribed anything for nearly a minute. Luneisha cursed under her breath and scrolled the recording back. She wanted to get this last one finished before the sun came up.
In five minutes, Dr. Gibson's report was typed and proof-read. She sent off the night's work and stretched, ignoring the pop in her joints. It felt good to stretch, though she didn't know why. The physical processes that governed all of that had stopped a long time ago -- long enough for her to start forgetting what it really felt like. It had been twenty years since she last saw the sun; in all that time, she still wasn't sure how she worked.
Luneisha checked the clock. 5:45 in the morning. She leaned back in her chair and sighed. It would be morning soon, and Sam still hadn't shown up. She was hoping that she would at least get to see him before she had to go to ground, but it was looking more and more likely that she would be going into the basement alone.
She looked around her bedroom. It was small and cheap-looking; a thread-bare carpet covering a concrete floor, particle-board walls that curved in too many places; a bed, computer desk and chair that were obviously rescued from a dumpster. The computer and the monitor were new though -- a sleek tower hummed sweetly next to her leg, baking her clammy skin with the heat from its processor. The monitor stretched for over half the width of the desk itself, the light near bright enough to illuminate her room, its colors crisp, the picture sharp.
Luneisha knew what to splurge on -- this monitor was one of her only links to the outside world. Sometimes, waiting for Sam, she would watch old episodes of Degrassi. It made her feel good to see young people walking in the sun, talking about stuff that didn't matter like it did.
Abruptly she stood and cursed under her breath again. She started to pace the room. She had spent too much time alone this week; she always got like this when she was left to her own thoughts. It wasn't the strength or the speed or the senses that made her feel inhuman; it was the isolation. If she could just go out once in a while…
She turned away from that thought, too. She couldn't trust herself around people, and she knew that. Not after last time.
Luneisha closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. She felt lungs that had stopped working decades ago inflate and collapse. She felt her slim shoulders rise and fall under her shirt. She stepped away from her past, her dark thoughts, her confusion, and stepped back into herself. Things would get better, because she would make sure they would.
When she opened her eyes, she looked right into the panting, grinning face of Sam.
Luneisha hissed and jumped back; Sam laughed. She had no idea how a man that size could move that quietly. It almost didn't seem fair. She glared at him as she waited for him to recover himself.
"Hey girl," he grinned at last. "What you doing here in the dark, all by yourself?"
"Waiting for you, fool." She stepped back into the center of the room as he turned on a light; his clothes were covered in dirt and leaves, and he was barefoot. He still had that wild look in his eye, the one he got when he went a little too far. "I didn't want to go to bed without you."
"Awwwww, ain't you sweet." His smile was too wide and all teeth. "Sorry I made you wait so long, darling. It was hard to get away from the boys."
Luneisha turned her relief into stony-faced disappointment. "Mm-hmm."
"Come on, Lu, don't be that way." Sam slunk towards her, his small backpack dripping from one long arm to the floor. "I was only late because I got you a present."
She raised an eyebrow as he stepped closer, blocking the light. "Yeah? It'd better be good."
"You know it is." He nodded towards the backpack. "It's in there. All yours. But you probably shouldn't open it until we're in the basement."
Luneisha cracked a smile as she stood, breezing by him to scoop up the bag. "Oh, so you make me wait until the sun is almost up, and now I can't open my damn present until I'm already in bed?"
Sam spread his arms wide. His fingertips nearly brushed the walls on either side. "Hey, I'm only looking out for you. We don't have a lot of time."
"No we don't." Luneisha opened the backpack and looked inside. A feeling came over her, and she knew if it could her mouth would be watering. "But this almost makes up for it."
Sam laughed. "Almost?? Good Lord, woman, what else I got to do to be on your good side?"
Luneisha reached for Sam's hand and squeezed it. He was burning hot; maybe she was just cold. It had been so long since she had eaten something. "Come on downstairs, and I'll show you."
Sam followed obediently without another word. Luneisha lead him with one hand and clutched the backpack full of blood bags tight with the other. It was funny how quickly her mood could turn around. All it took was a little bit of company.
jakebe: (Default)

This is the third of four stories featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files RPG. After being shot during an investigation gone horrifically wrong, Veniamin goes to the only person he can think of to help. In this case, the assistance might burn a relationship he never had a chance to deepen. 2747 words.

"Who the fuck is this? Don't you know what god-damned time it--oh, hey Veniamin." The door swung open and Marian appeared, pulling her robe a little tighter around her. Behind her was light and warmth and safety, separated by a sturdy-looking metal and screen gate. "What are you doing--oh my God, you're bleeding!"

Veniamin could do little more than nod. He had been shot before, but never on two legs and never with silver. The bullet wound had become its own miniature sun of pain, with coronas that spread over the whole right side of his torso and huge flares that twisted his stomach into his throat. He had thrown up three times on the way to Marian's townhouse; now he was down to consistent dry-heaving.

She unlocked the gate and he stumbled backwards to let her open it. The world pitched whenever he moved. It was hard for him to keep his feet. Just standing upright took an increasing amount of effort. He just wanted to burrow under a nest of blankets, rest his head, and sleep.

Instead, Marian grabbed his left arm and shepherded him into the house. He winced as she pulled, that slight pressure sending a new, nauseating wave of pain through his body. Veniamin had no idea it would hurt this much. The pain had gone beyond pain and into something else -- he could feel the effects of the silver spreading through him, slowing everything down, making him sweat and shivering cold. When he could open his eyes, he could barely see anything. There were just lines and light and color. His brain couldn't make much sense of it.

He felt himself being pulled through Marian's apartment and set down in the kitchen. Just being off his feet was a tremendous relief; he allowed himself to sag into the chair, the weight of his arm pulling on his wound. It felt awful, but at least he wasn't standing. His head cleared a little. His vision stopped throbbing. He could take a deep breath and look around.

The kitchen was cozy, but small. The counter space was filled with appliances -- expensive-looking coffee makers, a blender, a toaster, a microwave. The walls were almost covered with posters and papers; the clearest part was a corkboard divided into three sections for Marian and her two roommates. Chores and schedules were listed there. Veniamin tried to sniff the place out, but all he could smell was his own sweat and fear and blood. That bullet had to come out.

Marian returned carrying her cell phone, glancing at Veniamin. "Hello, I need the police and an ambulance here at…"

Without thinking, Veniamin's hand shot out and gripped her arm. When she looked at him, he shook his head silently and mouthed "No police." He knew how frightening that would be, but it frightened him more for the cops to have a bead on him.

Marian stared at him for a long time. He had no idea what she was thinking; he couldn't smell her, and that factored more heavily into his reading of people than he realized. After a moment, she looked down at her phone. "I'm sorry. I think I made a mistake. … No, no, everything's fine. Sorry about that. … OK, yes, I will. Thank you." Then she hung up.

"I need a pair of tweezers, a pair of scissors, some gauze and some Scotch." Veniamin's voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.

Marian flew into action, disappearing down the hall. He could hear her shuffling in another room. "So are you going to tell me what happened? Why you don't want me to call the police?"

Veniamin quickly thought about how much he should tell her. Could he trust her with information? He shook that idea out of his mind -- he was encroaching on her personal space and bleeding all over her floor. If he couldn't trust her with the reason why that was happening, he shouldn't be here in the first place.

"I'm a private investigator. Was following someone who didn't want to be followed." Veniamin slumped a little further into his seat. He felt weak.

"So they shot you? That's...that's illegal! Do you know who did it? You should get the police involved." Marian's voice floated into the kitchen from the hallway, from her bathroom, from a closet.

"It was a policeman who shot me." Veniamin forced himself to speak louder, and was surprised to hear Marian gasp right next to him. He startled in his seat, and a bolt of pain lanced from his shoulder to his chest and arm.

She set a pack of cotton balls down on the table, along with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a spool of gauze, some tweezers, some scissors. She stepped back. "A policeman shot you? Were you...somewhere you shouldn't be?"

Veniamin noticed the apprehension that had crept into her voice. He shook his head as he reached for the scissors. "No. This was on the street, several blocks away. The person I'm following is being protected by the police for some reason. I don't know who I can trust there."

Marian stepped in when she saw Veniamin trying awkwardly to cut his shirt. She took the scissors from him, laid a hand gently on the back of the chair, and cut away the fabric as carefully as she could. "That's pretty crazy, Venya. I'm not saying I don't believe you, but this sounds too much like a movie."

Veniamin took a deep breath, and nodded when enough of the wound site was clear. "Trust me, I know how it sounds, and I'm not happy about it either. I'm gonna need that scotch now."

Marian nodded and got the whiskey with two tumblers. Veniamin glanced at the bottle, saw that it was Crown Royal, and said nothing. It would get the job done, and that's all he needed. "So what are you going to do? If you can't go to the police, where can you go?"

"I'm still figuring that part out." He took the tumbler in his good hand when it was offered, drained the whiskey, handed it back. Marian poured another few fingers immediately and shot it back to him. This time, he sipped. "Right now, I just need to get this bullet out of me and heal up a bit."

Marian had gotten herself a drink too, her face scrunching up as the Crown burned down her throat. "You should at least get to a doctor. That looks like a really nasty wound. I...never saw something get infected that fast."

Veniamin followed her eyes to his shoulder, a little unnerved by her expression. The blood around the open wound had turned black and sticky, and clear veins snaked from it in an inky spiderweb. He winced at it. The silver was in his bloodstream. That would explain why it felt like he was dying; he probably was.

"Yeah, it needs to come out right now." He drained the rest of his tumbler and gave it back to Marian, curling his fingers a bit. "I'm going to need those tweezers."

Marian gave him a doubtful look, but passed them on. "Are you at least going to go to the doctor for the infection? You've lost a lot of blood, and what's left probably isn't doing you much good."

Veniamin gave a curt shake of his head. The whiskey was working, but not fast enough. This was going to hurt, and he needed to be ready for it. "Nah, I'll be fine. Nothing that a good night's sleep won't cure."

Marian snorted. "You really went all in on this bull-headed detective stuff, didn't you?"

Veniamin chuckled to himself. He poked at the side of the wound with the tweezers, winced as he felt the bullet lodged within his flesh find a new part of it to sear. "Wouldn't you? Most of it's pretty boring. Watching people. Taking notes. Filling out paperwork. It's not every day you get to act like a bad ass in a pretty girl's kitchen."

He regretted it as soon as he said it. He couldn't bring himself to look at Marian; he had to concentrate on getting this thing out of him, and he didn't want to know just how offended she looked. Hopefully, she would chalk it up to the quarter-bottle of whiskey he just downed and the fact that he was light-headed and poisoned.

"Mmm. Well," she said, her voice sounding distant, guarded. "I guess that's true. Well, you milk that, Sam Spade, and I'll help out where I can. Got some lines to feed me?"

Veniamin felt what little blood he had left rush to his face. "I think you're plenty clever enough to come up with some quips all on your own. I might pass out for this next part. Think you can take the tweezers out if I lose consciousness?"

He heard her say, "Sure." He pushed the tweezers in and fished for the lump of metal nestled somewhere between muscle and bone. Veniamin gritted his teeth against the astonishing pain that blossomed there, rushing through his body in a wave that made him feel like he was floating outside of his body, watching all of this happen. Then came the heat that stole his breath. He couldn't see what he was doing through the tears.

He felt it though. The pain was exponentially worse when he bumped it with his tweezers, and he forced himself to push towards it. His vision dimmed. He felt himself clasp the rounded bullet, paused to make sure he had a good grip, and slid it out as straight and as quick as he could.

Veniamin had just enough strength to toss the tweezers, blood and all, onto Marian's kitchen table. He panted in a cold sweat. It took him nearly a minute for the room to stop spinning, to hear Marian's voice over the beating of his heart inside his ears.

His head was shifting from side to side. It took him another minute to realize she was slapping his cheeks.

"Venya? Venya...wake up! If you don't answer me right now I'm calling an ambulance!" Marian's voice carried a mixture of firmness and panic. When he came to his senses, he felt them brighten a little. The world seemed brighter. He could smell...so much. Blood and sweat and fear and disease, Marian's clothes and the deodorant she used.

He took a deep breath and lifted his head. It felt like a small triumph to look her in the eye. "I'm up. I'm up."

She relaxed. "Good. I don't know what I would have told the paramedics if I had to call them."

He smiled, shook his head. "Yeah, that would have been awkward. Sorry. And thanks. For being here."

She thumped back into her chair. "You're welcome, I guess. So...what now? You're in no condition to go anywhere except a hospital."

Veniamin looked down at himself. She was right. His shirt was cut into tatters, his suit was a bloody ruin, and he wasn't going to be able to make himself get out of this chair. He closed his eyes, tried to avoid the only option he had left until he knew he couldn't any more.

"Yeah...do you have a room somewhere in the house that I could use privately for the rest of the night? I know it's asking a lot, and I wouldn't if I didn't need to." Veniamin took a few deep breaths, steadying himself. The blood loss and alcohol were beginning to catch up with him.

"Uhm….not really. Why?" Marian looked at him, then glanced at the bullet he pulled from his shoulder. It gleamed in the light of the kitchen more than it should have. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but grabbed the cotton swabs and gauze instead.

Veniamin's head buzzed. He knew he shouldn't, but he did. "That's a silver bullet, you know."

Marian nodded as she knelt next to his chair and poured alcohol into a handful of cotton balls. "Yeah, I thought it looked weird. You're not a werewolf, are you?"

She grinned up at him. She had obviously meant it as a joke. He smiled back at her, his heart hammering inside of his chest. "No."

"Good, because that's the last surprise I needed tonight--"

"I'm a werebear."

Marian shot him a look right as she pushed the cotton over Veniamin's wound. He cried out and she pulled back, standing up. "I'm sorry."

"It's OK," he said, clutching his shoulder hard enough she had to know it was very much not OK. "I just...I need somewhere to go, where I can be naked and I won't be seen. I promise nothing bad will happen, and you won't ever have to see me again if you don't want to."

"Veniamin...look, I know you said you didn't want the paramedics involved, but you're burning up and that wound looks bad, and you're...you're not making any sense. I'm going to call--"

Veniamin sighed and quickly kicked off his shoes. He thought about the shift, and it happened. He could feel his hair multiplying, bristling into fur. He could feel his body changing its shape, stretching and then simply breaking his clothes. He could feel the power of his birthright coursing through him, reversing the poison working through his system. He stood up to save the chair, sending it on its back in the small kitchen. His head rose to meet the lights, and then the ceiling. He got down to all fours.

Marian screamed. Veniamin's ears flicked as the last of his changes completed. It was a relief to be in this shape, that felt so much more natural than the other one. But the kitchen was too small, and he was blocking the only Marian's only exit. He had to calm her down.

"It's OK! Don't scream," he rumbled. His voice was different, harsher, clipped by the sharp teeth and heavy muzzle he had to work with. "I'm still Veniamin. I'll heal faster this way."

He pointed his nose towards her, but didn't look her in the eye. Instinct told him that it would be viewed as a challenge, force her into a confrontation she didn't want to have. Logic told him that was nonsense and he just felt bad for doing this to her. The scent of her fear overwhelmed everything else -- the grease that had caked into the walls, the spices on the counter, all of the varieties of coffee that were ground and poured every day, all of the food in the cupboards. It was rolling from her in great waves, lapping at his nostrils in a way he could not ignore.

By now she was in a corner, hyperventilating, clutching her chest, eyes wide and staring. Small whimpers were coming from her throat. She might be in shock. He couldn't say. He should put some distance between them.

"I'm going to go into your living room and try to shut the door. I'm just going to sleep for a while. Don't call the police. Or animal services. Just be cool." He slowly backed his way into the hallway. The floorboards creaked loudly under his step. "I'm sorry. I'll be out of your hair by morning."

She disappeared as he backed into the hallway, his flanks brushing either wall. He kept going slow until he felt the edge of the living room door, then backed into that. His enormous haunches thumped into an end table, her couch, her coffee table. He couldn't help but nudge furniture aside to make room for himself.

Once he was in, he tried to pick at the sliding door with a claw. It took some doing, but he managed to shut himself away; as soon as the hallway was gone from view, he heard Marian silently running into the hall and up the stairs. A moment later, a door slammed above him.

Veniamin sunk to the floor with an ursine curse under his breath. He couldn't believe he had done that. Now that the alcohol was leaving his system along with the infection, he knew immediately what a bone-headed move that was. What did he think would happen? How else could she have reacted?

jakebe: (Default)
Part two in a set of stories about Veniamin Kovalenko, the detective/fixer I'm playing in a Dresden Files RPG. Ryan very astutely noticed that I am hesitant to throw my characters into conflict, so I thought I'd work on a situation that pushed Veniamin a little further then "Oh no, will he like this delicious cup of coffee?" It turns out, I had a lot of fun with this -- expect to see him getting pushed around a little more often!
Veniamin wasn't sure if the man he was following had spotted him or not. He had made sure to keep a respectful distance, look as casual as possible, even stare down at his phone every now and again. Still, he was closer than he would have liked to be. He couldn't help it -- his night vision wasn't too great, and the scents of downtown San Francisco were so overwhelming they made his nose useless. He was just going to have to rely on his weaker senses for this one.
The man walked with his head down and collar up, obviously trying to render himself invisible, trying to pass himself off as just another person shuffling his way from A to B. His gait was long and true; he walked with a confidence and awareness of his surroundings that marked him as someone who knew a thing or two, if you knew how to read body language. Venimain did. His family expressed themselves largely through movement, and over time he developed a sixth sense for that kind of thing.
He slowed down and looked at the phone he held in his hand when the trenchcoat half a block away shifted and the hat above it turned in his direction. This was a residential neighborhood, one of the few that non-technical workers could afford at this point, and it would be obvious that there was nothing of interest for him here. He doubted his mark would believe a feinted look around, at a street sign or one of the barred doors that kept residents safe this time of night. So he scrolled through his apps without looking at them, trying his best to keep his ears trained on his quarry.
After a few seconds, he looked up to see the trenchcoat break into a run. He cursed under his breath and tucked his phone into his pocket, taking a step in pursuit.
Another man appeared in front of him from an alley. Veniamin stopped short to avoid running into him. Before he knew what was happening, the man pulled a gun from his short leather coat and squeezed the trigger.
The bullet punched his shoulder and spun him to his right. He felt the joint crack, then his arm go numb. As soon as he realized what had happened, he felt his senses go dim -- like his nose had been stuffed with cotton, like he was listening to the city underwater. The slug burned the blood that had welled up around the wound. Silver. This guy was using silver bullets.
How did he know? Veniamin had just enough time to think this before he dove behind a set of stairs. Another bullet whizzed past him; he could feel the displaced air ruffle his hair. He fell back into a forward-leaning crouch by instinct. He had only bought himself enough time to prepare for the next attack.
He leapt as soon as he saw the man in the leather jacket round the short flight of wooden stairs, crashing into the center mass with his good shoulder. His long legs provided good propulsion, and he had put on enough weight since coming here that the impact would be more than enough to knock this guy off his feet. Veniamin tried to ignore the way the jolt reverberated through his wounded arm, or the feel of another shot grazing his arm just above the elbow. It opened a line of broken skin that blood welled and seared along the edges.
Veniamin's momentum carried him and his attacker into a parked car, which rocked under their combined weight a moment after he heard a window shatter behind him. The bullet that had just missed him went wide and into someone's home; if the sound of three gunshots weren't enough to get someone to call the police, the sound of breaking glass almost certainly would.
"Stop firing!" Veniamin hissed. He tried to pin the man against the car with his good shoulder, but his momentum made it easy for him to be rolled off to the right side. He flipped until his back was against the car, adjusting his weight to make another leap at the man. Probably sensing this, Leather Jacket took a few steps back and swung the revolver up into the space between them with both hands.
Veniamin stopped. He might be able to rush this guy, but not without taking another bullet. The pain had settled into a deep throb that rung through his clavicle, down the numbness of his right arm and forced tension in his neck and jaw. He wasn't sure if he was light-headed from the sensation or the lack of blood. He was sure he didn't want to get shot again.
"All right!" He put up a hand and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to push the pain aside. This guy wasn't supposed to kill -- or at least, he didn't want to -- because if he did there would have been nothing stopping him now. Veniamin had to assume this was meant to scare him off the trail. He had to be honest, it was a pretty effective maneuver. "Just...stop. The cops are going to be here any minute. Say what you've got to say so I can get out of here."
Leather Jacket shook his head, rolling his shoulder, taking a slow half-step forward. "No they won't. We've got enough time to tell me why you're following Sgt. Schraeder."
Veniamin blinked. He didn't know what to say here. If he told the truth and he was talking to a corrupt cop, he'd probably come off as a threat and maybe the guy holding the gun would feel justified in shooting him right here on the street. He wasn't a good liar, though, even in the best of situations. Nursing a bullet wound wouldn't make him any more convincing.
"Would you believe me if I told you I was hired by a jealous wife?" He tried to smile through his grimace, but it only made the joke seem weaker.
The man in the leather jacket snorted. "Well, you tell your 'jealous wife' that there's nothing going on and you've decided to drop your investigation. Because if Schraeder calls me again, the next bullet is going right between your eyes."
He stepped forward and pressed the still-warm muzzle right against Veniamin's temple, erasing the safety that distance had provided him. Worse, in his pressing of the advantage, he had revealed himself to be a grade-A asshole.
Veniamin didn't hesitate. His left hand came up under the man's right arm and swiped to his left, hard. He ducked down to avoid the gun shot, felt the back window of the car explode against his neck and skull. He slammed into the man's stomach, driving the breath out of him, and brought his head up to slam against his chin. He felt his crown force the man's jaw closed, snapping his assailant's head back and forcing him to the ground. Veniamin took a couple of steps forward and slammed his foot down on the man's right arm. He cried out, but his hand opened up to release the gun.
"You're assaulting a police officer!" The man croaked.
Veniamin's anger flared, and he put more weight on his foot. The man cried out, and a brief, weak sense of satisfaction rose between the painful throbs in his shoulder. "I'm giving as good as I get. A police officer shot me, point-blank, without cause. I'm merely defending myself."
"Fuck you." The police officer spat. A glob of saliva flecked the ankle of Veniamin's suit pants.
He snarled, unable to help himself, and bent down to grab the man's wrist. He brushed the gun aside and yanked up sharply, moving his foot up the arm to keep the man's shoulder in place. There was a satisfying pop and a scream that cut through the sudden explosion of pain that spread over Veniamin's torso. "Tell Schraeder that he has my full attention now. And I will find out whatever he's up to. Make sure he knows that when I'm through with him everyone else is going to know too."
He dropped the arm, letting the man go to curl around it on his side. He started walking, briskly, towards the end of the block. He turned the corner before he grabbed his shoulder, leaned against a wall, and groaned loudly. Now that the adrenaline was starting to wear off, the pain felt like it had moved into his bones. He felt weak, and cold.
Veniamin glanced at the street sign. Who did he know in this neighborhood? Didn't Marian live here? What would she make of him showing up at her doorstep after midnight, covered in his own blood?
He blinked a few times as the sidewalk grew hazy and the street light dimmed. It didn't matter what she would make of him. He had to get off the street, and he had no other place to turn. That bullet needed to come out. He needed to shift. And all of that needed to happen very soon.
Veniamin groaned as he pushed himself off the wall and stumbled into the night, gripping his shoulder. Even with his dimmed hearing, he could hear the wail of sirens coming closer.
jakebe: (Aborigine/Shamanism)
This is a short short story featuring a character I'll be playing for a friend's Star Wars: Age of Rebellion game. He is a Togorian (a tall, feline-like alien species with a really interesting sexual dichotomy) who eschews the typical nomadic lifestyle of his species by choice -- he views traveling throughout the galaxy as merely an extension of that lifestyle, where he gets to meet all manner of different sapient beings and find interesting technology for his wife. I like playing big guys who are more interested in the intellectual, spiritual or social, what can I say?
Kraugh slouched low in his chair, made sure his hands were under the table, kept his voice low and didn't display his teeth. He knew that his size and teeth and claws had the potential to put his trading partner on alert, and he really didn't want that. If he could manage to pull of this score, it'd be a huge boon for the crew.
His ears flicked around the bar as he scanned the riot of people stuffed into close quarters, shouting over each other to be heard. No sign of his partner, but it was early yet. He wouldn't start to feel nervous about being stood up for another few minutes.
For now, he simply watched people. There were a pack of Bothans sitting in one corner booth, drinking something brightly colored out of a glass as long as their forearms. They were speaking quietly, their big ears turned towards each other, fur rippling in ways that meant something only to them. Kraugh briefly thought about heading over there, buying them a drink and striking up a conversation. He'd bet at least a thousand credits that they had something intensely interesting going down. Bothans tended not to gather in one place otherwise. He shifted in his seat and drained half of his drink in one long draught. The evening would pick up soon enough, he told himself. No need to go chasing excitement when it was coming to him.
A Wookiee and a Twilek sat at another table, speaking animatedly. He could pick up a few of the growls and muted roars of Shyriiwook, but couldn't make much sense out of the conversation. They were worried about...either a person or a box that had gone missing either three days or three hundred years before. Either way, that sounded intriguing too. Maybe if he listened closer, he could find a way into--
A Rodian slipped up to the table, holding a satchel close against its chest. A shock of reddish-brown hair leapt between its antennae and presumably continued down the back of its skull. Kraugh would have guessed it to be female, but it was difficult to tell with reptilian races. He shifted his weight to stand, thought the better of it, and simply nodded to the empty chair across the table.
<<Thank you.>> It spoke in Rodese; thankfully it was one of the few phrases Kraugh knew.
"Basic, please," he purred. "I'm sure you don't want to hear me butchering your language any more than I'd want to mangle it."
The Rodian sat down with a nod. "Fine. It's enough of a surprise to see a Togorian away from his homeworld. I guess it's too much to expect one to speak other languages."
Kraugh flicked an ear, taking his partner's measure. Clearly, she was nervous -- the smart play here would be to put her at ease. "I've picked up a few here and there. You can't be a Galactic citizen for very long without learning a few things."
"True." The Rodian clutched the satchel even now. "Like being brief when you're making a deal."
Kraugh smiled, remembered his fangs, and stopped. "I won't keep you." He nodded towards the bag. "Is that it?"
The Rodian nodded, shrugging the satchel's strap from around her shoulder and pushing the package across the table. "Open the bag and inspect quickly. If you need a closer look, you can take it into the refresher."
Kraugh perked a brow. "You'd trust me alone with the package?"
"You wouldn't be. There's a Gamorrean there who'll be glad to escort you back to the table."
This time Kraugh couldn't suppress a grin. "Smart."
"You have to be to do what I do for very long."
"I'm glad you are." He opened the satchel with the flick of a claw and lifted the flap to peek inside.
The gun looked like the standard issue SE-14r given to stormtroopers with a few modifications. The sight was missing, the barrel was slightly shorter and the overall form factor was a bit sleeker. The pack was notably smaller, presumably to make room for a slightly rounded bulge near the safety mechanism. That could mean only one thing.
"They did it." Kraugh purred as he closed the satchel and shoved it back towards the Rodian. "They got the gyroscopic sight to work."
The Rodian simply nodded. "You can fire as many shots with a smaller battery, too. Small, efficient, accurate. It's a big improvement."
"But this is only a prototype, right? So what's the problem?"
"The laser battery is right up against the gyroscopic sight. So if you auto-fire or shoot off a few too many rounds in too short a time, you start to warp the scope."
Kraugh blinked. "So the more you shoot, the less accurate you get."
"That's right. But you don't want a functional weapon anyway, do you?" It was possible that the Rodian smiled. Kraugh would really have to become more familiar with the finer points of their physiology.
"No, I don't. Let's just say it'll be neat to see how this thing works."
The Rodian clicked once. "A Togorian interested in technology? Now I've seen everything."
Kraugh shook his head. "Oh, it's not for me. Give me a good sc'rath any day. This is a present for my wife."
"A romantic Togorian is even more surprising. Who's your wife? I might have had dealings with her."
"Give me your name and I'll see if she knows you. She doesn't meet many off-worlders, but that could change once her position improves." Kraugh grinned, showing teeth this time.
The Rodian waved off the comment good-naturedly. "Perhaps another time, then. Once we've learned to trust each other."
"Once you've learned to trust me, you mean." Kraugh dug into the pack at his hip and fished out a number of credit sticks. They were easily hidden in his hand, and he placed them under the satchel. "You'll find it all there, plus a little extra for making this run so smoothly. Hopefully, that'll help."
He leaned back while the Rodian counted the credits and slipped them into her pocket. "It does, a little. It's been a pleasure, Togorian, but I'm sure you have other places to be."
Kraugh lifted a brow. "Other business here?" He drained his drink and stood, grabbing the satchel in one big hand. "If you have anything else for me, just pass a word along to Talik. He'll make sure it gets to me."
"I sure will," the Rodian said. "Until then."
Kraugh nodded and stalked towards the entrance of the bar. It only occurred to him when he ducked out into the heat of the day that this could be some sort of sting operation, but he quietly dismissed it. Just because they were engaged in a number of under-the-table activities doesn't mean they couldn't trust one another? There had to be such a thing as honor among thieves, after all.
The Rodian looked to make sure the Togorian was gone before speaking into her comm. "The mark has taken the bait. Repeat, the mark has taken the bait."
jakebe: (Fandom)
(The Clarion Write-A-Thon fundraiser was...unsuccessful, to put it mildly. I wasn't able to drum up any donations for the workshop and subsequently my will to follow through on writing Unstable Future plummeted. I didn't actually write much of it at all during the write-a-thon, and to date have raised no money for Clarion.

I'm still planning to write it though -- it's an exciting world and I'm really excited about the serialized concept. Right now I'm learning Scrivener so that I can take advantage of its organizational capabilities to keep me together through the project, and once I feel I have a good handle on it Unstable Future will be the very first thing I work on there. For now, though, here's a small bit of Chapter 1. We're introduced to the setting and the main character here, and I wanted to make it something that folks outside of the furry fandom could pick up reasonably quickly.)

Waterford Avenue in Oleander City was named after the town's founder, a Human named Samuel Waterford. He and a dozen-other shell-shocked families stumbled through the wilderness of Farellia after the war that had threatened to end their civilization until he arrived at a large valley nestled between ranges of hills. The land was good, the weather was temperate, and the wood was plentiful. Here is where we will settle, he decided. So he spent a fortnight sketching out plans for a small farming community and together the settlers built Oleander from their bare hands over the course of several years. The city was named after Waterford's favorite plant, the nerium oleander. For all he knew, it was extinct, one of those things that was lost with the conflict that had consumed the known world. It was the only way he had to remember it, and it was a fitting name for the 83 survivors who now lived there. They were hardy and pretty in their own way, but each one of them were deadly poisonous if they had to be.

Over 150 years had passed since Oleander was founded, but Waterford Avenue had kept much of its ancient charm. Buildings of wood and brick lined the streets, fitted with raised porches that protected people from the dirt of the road. Each building housed one or two shops, many of which had been there since the town's inception. Roland's General Store, The Rose's Thorn Restaurant, Bambarella Hardware. There were other shops that were newer, of course, but each was owned by a member of the community that was known by most of the town's 200 residents. Oleander hadn't grown much in the past century and a half, but many changes were evident.

The road had been paved very recently with smooth asphalt, blacker than the night sky in October. A few of the stores had replaced their old signs with ones of neon, and Shackleman's Dive, the most popular bar in town, even fitted their storefront with a hologram. In the center of town, where Oleander's clock tower had stood for over a century, a floating observation deck was being built on the rubble of the old structure. It was nominally a gift from the technological college that had risen to prominence in the last twenty years, but several of the long-time residents saw it as a clear message: progress is coming, and we will build it upon the bones of the past.

Many symbols of the past were still around, however, rolling slowly down the newly-paved road. A Rabbit drove a large cart down the right side of Waterford Avenue, pulled by a large workhorse. The Mare was solidly built in the manner of her wild cousins, her thick fur and tough hide revealing tremendous strength rolling underneath it as she easily brought the Rabbit and his cart behind her. The Animal sitting in the cart's high seat was bipedal, like a Human, but looked like a leporidae in every other way. He had white fur, brown eyes, long ears and a short, spaded tail that currently flicked in annoyance as he spotted the line stretching out the front door of Roland's General Store.

"Goddamnit," said Abernathy Jones. He tugged on the reins of the cart in front of the nearest hitch (there weren't that many any more; most of them had been pulled up and replaced with parking spots) and sighed as Krystal slowed quickly to a stop.

"Watch your fucking language," the Horse said, turning her long head on her thick neck to look at him over her shoulder. "You shouldn't be so crude in front of a lady."

Abe quirked an ear and smiled. "I'm very sorry," he said. "I forgot my company, and it shan't happen again."

"It fucking well better not." Krystal turned to investigate the trough of water in front of her. She took one sniff at it and snorted; Abe would have guessed that it wasn't fresh, and wouldn't be surprised if it had algae growing in it. Gerald Port, the current owner of Roland's General Store, couldn't be bothered with paying attention to the 'small' details that were easy to take for granted. Abe would surely have to badger him into filling a fresh bucket for her when he got in.

"Just stay there, and I'll make sure you get some fresh water and some nice oats. If I ever get to the front of the line." Abe hopped down off of the cart, right onto the raised platform that served as a walkway between shops. A few of the Animals in line glanced his way, then turned right back to their conversations.

"I'm not going anywhere," Krystal replied. She took a long, lazy look at the line, then stared at Abe. "It doesn't look like you'll be, either."

Abe grinned at her in a way that let her know how much he hated her in that moment. She responded by snorting before finding something very interesting on the road in front of her. He walked back a ways to join the back of the line, ignoring the chatter of the Animals along the way.
jakebe: (Default)

(The final -- and longest -- bit of fiction for the Unstable Future universe so far. Next month, I'll move on to a different setting to get a feel for those characters. Here, we have that first date for Abernathy Jones and Jonathan Quinn (name subject to change later). What I wanted to do here was really work with dialogue to establish a good feel for the characters and use Abe's POV to establish his semi anti-social personality. 1957 words.)

The Oleander Pool Hall was not anyone's idea of a fancy restaurant, but it was about the closest thing the town had. The front of the huge building was divided into a bar, for those pool players who wanted a pint between games, and a large sit-down area for those people who wanted a big, sloppy plate of chili cheese fries. The actual pool hall dominated the back area; you could easily hear the trash-talk of the townies and college students, and you could see the haze of tobacco smoke rolling just underneath the ceiling like mist. Still, you weren't going to find a special that featured a 16 oz. steak and three eggs for as low a price anywhere.

Abe walked into the entrance hesitantly. He almost never came here; it was too far out of the way, and he didn't care for the constant stream of curses and smoke that came out from the back. He wasn't quite sure what to wear for the occasion, so he opted for something slightly dressy yet safe -- a red flannel shirt and a pair of jeans that he swore fit a little looser the last time he put them on a few months ago. The Rabbit scanned the room for Jonathan, but all he saw was an incredibly overbuilt giraffe squeezed into one of the booths along the wall and a sour-looking badger pushing around an egg floating in a sea of grease. Abe checked his pocket watch. He was right on time.

Without a hostess to guide him, Abe simply sat down at a two-seater table near the window. It was furthest from the back, and offered something else to look at beyond the faux-wood paneling or the peeling carpet. He glanced around the restaurant one more time; he spotted dark silhouettes moving through the haze of low lighting and tobacco smoke in the pool hall, but none of the shapes were ones he recognized. The giraffe caught his eye and did that annoying head-nod thing that young people did instead of speaking. "Sup," he rumbled. Abe simply smiled and shrugged. What were you supposed to say to that?

He caught Jonathan slipping through the front door just as he turned to look out of the window. The big tiger briefly filled the door frame as he squeezed in, taking off his deputy's hat as soon as he came in. Abe's heart sank for a moment when he saw the Tiger was in full uniform. Maybe he had misread the situation; maybe Jonathan really didn't want anything more than a statement.

The deputy briefly loomed over a Vixen who stopped to meet him, then followed him to the table that Abe was sitting at. The Rabbit stood up and stuck out his paw, which the Tiger swallowed and shook. They both sat down, and the Vixen placed menus in front of them before they even had a chance to say more than hello.

"Good evening y'all," she said, giving them both a toothy smile. "The special's the catfish and corn fritters, that's just gonna be five Credits. We got pale ale on tap, and the house special is this little microbrew that George Hunter cooked up out behind his shed. It ain't bad, actually, but it ain't for everyone." She wrinkled her muzzle, and Abe suddenly knew that she must get a lot of lonely truckers falling in love with her after that move. "Can I start y'all off with a pint or somethin'? Plate of chili cheese fries?"

Abe shook his head, but Jonathan said "I'll have a pint of that microbrew. I've heard nothing but great things about Hunter's special since I've gotten here."

The Vixen wagged, and her hand reached out to touch Jonathan's shoulder. "Sure thing, hon." She turned to look at the Rabbit. "Should I make that two?"

Abe shook his head again. "No, just water for me, thank you."

"OK, hon. And just so you know, any dish can be made with the herbivore's substitution. You just gotta ask for it, OK?"

"I will." The Rabbit forced himself to smile. "Thank you."

Now it was his turn to get the paw on the shoulder. Abe smelled the subtle perfume she used to neutralize her natural vulpine scent. "You're welcome, honey. I'll go get that pint for ya." With a flounce and a swish of her tail, she was off.

Jonathan grinned wide as Abe looked at him. "That has got to be the happiest waitress I've ever seen."

Abe chuckled and perked an ear. "Why wouldn't she be? College student working her way through school. She's got her whole life ahead of her."

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? I...forgot this was a small town. You probably know everybody's story around here."

"Oh no, quite the opposite. I live so far out of town I might as well be on my own. I've just seen her around on the days when I come in." Abe shrugged.

"You're a farmer, right? Where's your property?" The Tiger, Abe noticed, produced a small notepad and put it on the table in front of him. It looked comically undersized in his paw.

"About 15 miles northeast of the Oleander border. Don't get much in the way of services out there; we got phones when I was a little leveret, and we just got cable TV a few years back." The Rabbit grinned. "Electricity and indoor plumbing's always been there, though."

Jonathan chuckled. "I didn't think you were that bad off. I know that folks around here are used to a...rustic way of life. That's part of the charm, though."

The fur on the back of Abe's neck stood up. Bad off? Rustic? He sounded like one of those Capital animals, so used to high technology they had no idea how to live without it any more.

The Tiger must have saw something in his expression. "I really do like it here. The people are awesome, and it's...peaceful." He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders. His shirt looked like it might lose a couple of buttons. "There's just something nice about being able to see trees and stuff."

Abe grinned broadly. "Well sure. Cities are a human invention, I've always said. Let 'em stay there. We'll keep the good stuff."

The waitress came with a glass of beer and a glass of water, and they toasted to that. She took their orders with the same bubbly, friendly tone she always had and disappeared back into the smoky haze of the pool hall. Abe wondered how long it would take for them to see her again. This place wasn't known for its speedy service.

"So...." Jonathan said, filling the gap in conversation. "...about that altercation in the market parking lot."

Abe's ears drooped automatically. "Oh right, we're here for you to get a statement."

The Tiger shook his head, then moved his notepad to the window's ledge. "Oh, no, don't worry about that. That was just an excuse to get you to come here."

Abe blinked. "Really?"

Jonathan grinned. "Really. I just thought that we had a lot of similar interests, maybe."

The Rabbit stiffened. This was not a community that tolerated much in the way of deviant behavior. Even with the college, Abe had gotten the impression that homosexuality was not looked upon favorably. He didn't know what would happen if word had gotten out about his interests. He could be targeted by the Claw and Fang; businesses would stop taking his produce; he'd become a pariah in Oleander. As little as he cared for the town and its inhabitants, he had to admit he needed them. Keeping himself...hidden was a matter of livelihood. If some rumor had taken hold...

He tried to play it cool. "What makes you think that?"

Jonathan shrugged. "Well, it was just a feeling I had. To be honest, you just looked friendly and a new guy like me could always use some friends."

Abe began to relax. "I don't know what gave you that idea." He grinned slightly. "I usually keep to myself. I don't have much tolerance for people."

The Tiger grinned. "I picked up on that, but I think you might just have a tolerance for ME. I'm a good judge of character about these things. It's one of the reasons I'm in law enforcement."

Abe caught himself laughing. "Oh really? Is another so you can walk around town popping out of your uniform?"

Jonathan's ears flattened, and the sparse fur around his nose showed his blush. "It is a little small, isn't it? But it was the biggest they had! They're working on one that fits me at the tailor's."

Abe waved it off, "Don't worry about it, I'm just yanking your chain. You look fine."

"Are you sure? It doesn't make me look...silly, like one of those cop-strippers?" Jonathan's fang showed as he bit his lower lip.

Abe looked at him sideways. He just couldn't resist a set-up like this. "You definitely look like a stripper. But you don't look silly."

Jonathan only looked partially mollified. "Well, as long as I look like a stripper with dignity, that's all that matters."

Abe nearly snorted into his water, and that sent Jonathan into a fit of laughter. The Vixen -- Melody, if her nametag were to be believed -- smiled at the both of them and dropped off the plates, then quickly disappeared. Abe could scarcely believe how quickly their order arrived.

They didn't speak once about the altercation in the parking lot, but Jonathan did ask for more information about the Claw and Fang. Mostly, they talked about other things; what it was like for Jonathan growing up in the city, how Abe was raised to live and die on his farm, and that was what he planned to do. Jonathan talked about why he became a sheriff's deputy in a one-light country town, and what he planned to do with his life. When Abe asked him if he had plans to find a Tiger and settle down with a family some day, he simply shrugged.

"I really haven't found too many women that interest me, you know? I just can't...connect with them. It's much easier to understand guys, so that's where a lot of my attention goes." He looked at Abe pointedly. That was all the confirmation he needed.

Dinner couldn't have gone much more smoothly. An hour passed, then two. Melody had come to clean their empty plates, refill Jonathan's beer and Abe's water several times, and at last came with the dessert menu. She flicked her ears as she looked from the Rabbit to the Tiger. "I know it's late, y'all, but did you think you might want a little dessert?"

Abe looked behind him. The monster Giraffe, amazingly enough, was still there, talking to a Rabbit that was even smaller than him. There was a couple of elderly raccoons sipping coffee over cold liver and gravy. And the noise of the pool room had gotten markedly louder. The Rabbit could smell the stench of the smoke, could hear the curses striking like bombs in the air. The whole place reeked of grease and beer, of the scent of patrons and workers, and most of all tobacco. It looked cheap and depressing and run-down. There was no place he'd rather be.

"Actually, I think I'll have the apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And a pint of that microbrew." Abe grinned at Jonathan, who grinned back. If he needed to go home, Crystal could practically walk herself to the farm. But he had a feeling he'd be sleeping someplace much closer.

jakebe: (Writing)
(Sorry about skipping the AFI Top 100 review for this week. I took a crack at it and just hated what I wrote -- it sounded needlessly defensive and unworthy of the subject material. I'll try to make it up to you guys with a twofer next week, so stay tuned for that!

For now, enjoy this bit of fiction, set in the Unstable Future universe as created by Neopuc. I really loved the setting, and have been percolating on my own take for quite some time. Now I'm at the stage where I want to figure out the characters and let them tell me who they are, to be all hippie-writer about it. So here we have a seen with Abe, the Rabbit we met last week, getting involved in a slight altercation outside of his neighborhood supermarket. 1731 words.)

As soon as Abe saw the small crowd jostling right in front of the door to the market, he knew there was trouble. Outside of the darkened windows that lead to the small parking lot of Perry's Supermarket, he could see three figures -- two very large ones shoving a much smaller one between them. Of course, they were doing this right outside the exit, so if he wanted to leave he would have to deal with them.

The Rabbit shuffled the two bags in his arms and looked back at the checkout counter. Perry's was unusually busy for a Wednesday afternoon, and the young cashier -- a Chameleon with piercings adorning the edge along his crest -- was scanning groceries at a pace that suggested there actually weren't twelve other Animals behind his current customer. Abe took a few steps towards him, settling his bags on the very end of the counter.

"Excuse me," he said, reminding himself to be polite. "It looks like there's some kind of fight going on outside your store."

The Chameleon swiveled one eye almost directly behind him, barely turning his head to look out of the window. He saw the three figures outside and shrugged. "Can't leave my post, and I'm the only one in the store."

"Can't you call your manager?" Abe had to take a deep breath and fought the rising tide of impatience in his chest.

The cashier shook his head and returned to scanning the same can of peas he had been for the past minute. "Manager's on lunch. You might be able to catch her at the diner down the street."

Abe was incredulous. What kind of manager let a kid like this work an entire store alone---

A slam on the window made the Rabbit jump, along with a few people in line. One of the huge figures, a Bear, cuffed the little one, sending him careening into it. Abe sighed and shook his head, then walked out of the door.

"All right," he said, without bothering to look at who he was dealing with. "That's enough. Why don't you just knock it off and go fight in a bar if you wanna scrap that bad."
The two large bodies turned to look at him, and he tilted his head to look up at them. He felt his throat drop into his stomach, and he instinctively took a step back. Of all the people he could have told to knock it off, members of the Claw and Fang would be the least likely to listen.

Their leader was looming over him and everyone else now, the Bear's beady brown eyes focusing down. "This ain't none of your business, asshole," he boomed. Abe could swear later that he felt the sidewalk rumbling underneath him.

The Bear called himself Tiny, which immediately told Abe exactly what sort of intellect he was working with. He was less of a Bear and more of a wall -- eight feet tall, six hundred pounds of hulking fur, fat and muscle. He was easily the biggest biped Abe had ever seen, and strong enough to give his horse Goliath a run for his money. He spent his days committing petty theft, getting into fights at any bar that would have him and terrorizing liberal arts majors off-campus. Maybe he had finished eighth grade; his criminal record was a lot longer than his educational one.

Abe put up his hands and folded his ears, silently cursing himself for immediately adopting such a submissive posture. But the bear was three feet taller than he was and around four times heavier; there was no way it would turn out well for him if it came to blows. "You're right outside Perry's Supermarket, beating up a townie. It's my business whether I like it or not."

Abe didn't know where that came from. But he couldn't just stand by and watch something like this happen. He'd want someone to come out and stop it if he were being victimized, after all.

Tiny took a half-step forward, but his companion stayed him with a paw. Roeper was a Lion that was every bit the monster the Bear was, if not a little worse. He wore the illusion of civility, using it to justify all kinds of abusive behavior. He was the brains of the operation; though Tiny considered himself the leader of the Claw and Fang since he was the biggest, Roeper was easily the power behind the throne as it were.

"He's right, Bear," the Lion practically purred. "We were right outside the exit of the store. All those poor people would be trapped in there until we were done. I think it's a good thing that this little bunny brought it to our attention.

Abe felt himself bristling. Roeper gave him a smile that was almost a sneer. "Just let us take our friend here somewhere else so we can continue our conversation." The Lion lifted his victim by the back of his shirt with seemingly no effort at all. "You and the rest of your neighbors can take your groceries home in peace."

The Rabbit knew he was being given an out, that the Lion was saying that there was no quarrel with him. It was a free pass. All he had to do was take it. He shook his head and said, "That's not the problem here, and you know it. Listen, just put the Gopher down and walk away. It's really not worth causing all of this trouble."

Roeper raised an eyebrow. "No, it really isn't."

Tiny advanced on the Rabbit, and this time the Lion didn't stop him. Abe's heart sank. He knew he wouldn't be able to reason with the Bear, so things were very likely about to come to blows. Abe quickly tried to think of what he could do to get himself out of this.

His father had taught him to fight, and told him that he didn't have power or size over most of the people he would be up against. But he did have speed and stamina. He'd need to take advantage of the slowness of his enemy, find a weak point and strike it repeatedly, retreating as fast as he could before retribution would come. Eventually, his opponent would tire, or simply topple if he had chosen his spot correctly.

"You can't fight well, son," his father had said. "Rabbits aren't built for that. But we can fight smart."

Abe watched as Tiny advanced towards him, his eyes flicking over the hulking frame for any sign of weakness. The Rabbit could find none; every part of the Bear was massive, covered with a thick layer of fat and hide. He didn't know if he had it in him to even make a blow register. The only thing he could think of would be to go for the eyes, but he'd have to jump to reach and that would leave him completely exposed. He--

Tiny roared and swung, a wild right cross that looked like a tree being swung at him. Abe ducked quickly, but he felt the air woosh right over his ears. That was way too close. He quickly darted forward and punched the Bear's midsection. It was like beating stretched leather. Tiny didn't even exhale; he simply laughed.

"That all you got?" The Bear's voice was slightly deafening, even in the open air of the parking lot. "I've fallen harder than you hit. Listen here, bunny--" he spat the word with a contempt that Abe never realized he was aware enough to be capable of-- "just let me hit you once for interrupting my fun, then you can go home."

"What's going on here?" A loud, threatening growl sounded from behind Abe. The Rabbit spun around to find Jonathan, the new sheriff's deputy, stalking across the parking lot towards them. The look on his face was almost murderous.

Roeper flicked a glance at the large Tiger coming his way, then at Abe. "Nothing, officer. We were just having a spirited debate."

"Debate's over." Jonathan's striped fur bristled. "Why don't you get out of here?"

Roeper's expression cooled considerably, but he nodded and turned towards Tiny. "Of course, officer. Let's leave these two gentlemen to their afternoon."

The Lion, the Bear and a Coyote that Abe somehow missed stalked past them and across the parking lot. The Coyote gave the Rabbit a chillingly direct yellow-eyed stare before they reached the street. As soon as they were gone, he let loose with a huge sigh.

Jonathan quirked an eyebrow. "What was that about?"

Abe simply shook his head. "Just stopping them from messing with some little guy." He looked around for a moment before he spotted the Gopher quietly gathering his groceries and slipping away.

Jonathan watched him go. "Well, I'm sure he's grateful."

Abe smirked. "Obviously."

The Tiger scratched the back of his head. "Well, now that I've gotten involved, I'm going to need to file a police report, which of course includes a statement from you."

Abe's ears sank. He thought of all the work he had to do back at the farm, and how quickly the day was getting away from him. No good deed, he thought.

"Well, I suppose that's protocol."

The Tiger grinned. "Glad you agree. Mind if I take your statement over dinner tomorrow night?"

Abe's ears perked straight up and forward. He had not been expecting that. For several moments, he had no idea what to do. He watched as Jonathan's smile slowly faded in the ensuing awkward silence.

"If you're too busy--" the deputy began.

"No, no, sorry, I was just...uhm...just..."

"Going over your calendar?"

"Yes, that's exactly right. It's clear. I'd be happy to." Abe felt the curious sensation of stepping back and watching him agree to dinner with an impossibly good-looking Tiger.

That big, toothy smile reappeared. "Excellent! Let's say, Oleander Pool Hall at 8 PM?"

Abe merely nodded. He was still coming out of his shock.

"Awesome." If Abe had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Jonathan looked both relieved and very pleased. "I'll, uhm, see you then."

The Tiger stalked away, back to the patrol car that was haphazardly parked across three spots with its door hanging open. Abe turned and went back to the store to get his groceries, wondering what on Earth had just happened.
jakebe: (Gaming)
I run a home-grown Pathfinder game about twice a month that I’ve been having quite a bit of fun with. Through 18 games, I’ve taken my players up to level 7 (about a third of the way through their progression) and get this – they’re still with me. I’ve had pretty bad luck before with running games, and a lot of those wounds were self-inflicted. Still, it feels great to be running a game that people are into, and that I’m managing fairly well.

The players are all villagers in a small woodland community called Oak’s Home. Recently, there’s been quite a few changes to the village and their characters have stepped up to navigate their home through some difficult times. With one immediate threat put to bed and the world expanding to reveal others lurking in the shadows, I thought it would be a good thing for my players to see how their village looks to the outside world.

So I wrote this, an entry in a fictional travel guide. I rather like the way it came out, but I’m curious to see if it makes sense to anyone who hasn’t been playing in the game.

OAK’S HOME PRIMER

OVERVIEW
Oak’s Home is a small village comprised of some 500 souls. It is located deep within the Lunsym Forest 75 miles west of the capital of Splendor, and 50 miles east of the western coast of the kingdom. It developed at the intersection of the Lunsym Road, which runs east-west from the port town of Break Cove to the capital; and the Aileunid Trail, which runs north-southeast from a few half-elven settlements near the Barbarian Lands to the jungles of Drakkar, the kingdom to the South.

The village used to be a major stop along the trade routes, with merchants traveling between Splendor and Break Cove with supplies and exotics from the western lands beyond the sea, or the jungle tribes of Drakkar. However, its prominence in the kingdom has diminished as the world has gotten smaller. Over a century ago the Lunsym Sea changed, and no one has managed to successfully navigate its waters without disappearing or going mad. Some fifty years after that, the port towns fell to madness and supernatural forces, and fifty years ago the forests surrounding Oak’s Home and other towns became enchanted. Trade has been increasingly dangerous, and that has degraded the standing of both the village and the kingdom at large.

These days, Oak’s Home is known mostly for its natural resources and the trades that have sprung up around them. The hills that curve around the town to the northwest are rich in ores, woods and natural magical materials that are hard to find elsewhere. As such, the village supports businesses that typical places of its size doesn’t, such as a magic shop, blacksmith, mason, tailor and pastry chef.

Most of the village’s farming land is situated to the north of the city, where the soil is believed to be more arable and less prone to magical influence. Wheat, potatoes and other root vegetables, apples, peaches and corn are all grown for sale within the town and the nearby baron’s keep. This is supplemented by livestock (mostly sheep and chickens, with a few goats and cows), wild boar, venison, quail and wild berries that can be found in the forests. Mushrooms, truffles, spices and herbs can also be found with patience and luck.

The population of Oak’s Home is mostly human, though there is a significant minority of gnomes and halflings in town. Dwarves are practically non-existent, though ancient passageways beneath the village suggest that they once had a very large presence here. There are a small number of elves and half-elves in its borders. Despite the ever-present threat of magical animals and supernatural creatures in the forests, Oak’s Home is usually not threatened by any organized group.

Recently it was discovered that two cults had been organized within Oak’s Home in secret — the druid-like Group of the Agathion and the sinister Servants of Sslinosh. The Agathion Group has been declared a heathen group by the dominant religion of the kingdom, the Church of the Holy Trinity. Even still, the town enjoys a cool, if friendly, relationship with them. They partol the town’s walls and forests, identifying and neutralizing threats before they can harm the population. The Servants of Sslinosh have been driven out or killed for attempting to cause chaos and mass murder.

The Servants of Sslinosh are believed to be the cause of a phenomenon known now as the Flash, a supernatural event that caused roughly ten percent of the villagers to be changed into supernatural creatures. These people — called the Changed — have been accepted as part of the village, and there is an ongoing effort to re-integrate them into society. Homes and parts of town are being reshaped to tend to their needs, though this transition has been far from easy. Elementals, beast-men and deathless make up the bulk of the Changed, though there are a few more exotic creatures amongst their number. The Changed are a subject of great curiosity in arcane circles; it’s long been thought that creatures of a certain type couldn’t help but be evil, and this appears to be a refutation of that.

In addition to renewed interest by the arcane and holy communities, increased attention has been given to Oak’s Home because of its unique and seemingly plentiful natural resources, and the crafts-people that have been working with them for generations. A recent immigrant to the community, Allanaea Audalis, has spearheaded a campaign to get the unique works of Oak’s Home craftsmen noticed by the kingdom’s elite. It appears to be having some effect, and the small forest village looks poised to rise back towards its former prominence at last.

AT A GLANCE
Official Name: The Barony of Oak’s Home and Surrounding Lands
Population: 520 souls (55% human; 18% gnome; 12% halfling; 9% “Changed”; 5% elf or half-elf; 1% other (orc, half-orc, dragon)
Land Area: 7 sq. miles (including the road leading to the Baron’s Keep as well as the Baron’s Keep itself)
Date of Establishment: June 1st, 1854 M.E. (Modern Era); 498 years old, roughly

Ruling Noble: Baron Foalooke Aileuneid, by grace of Count Jamesmuth McGee the Sixth, under Duke Edward Willingson, by command of King Lensith the Great.

Primary Businesses: Farming, Mining, Trapping, Crafts

IMPORTANT PEOPLE
Baron Foalooke Aileuneid (dragon)
Baron Aileuneid is the owner of Oak’s Home and the surrounding forests; he was given the land by King Shaesbon the II some sixty years ago. The Baron is a just and popular ruler who seems to be more laissez-faire than most nobles in his position; perhaps this is why the villagers hold him in such high regard. Taxes are reasonable, he sends his personal guard out in defense of the town when he sees there’s a clear need, and he visits the village twice a year — during its birthday in the summer, and again during the Winter Festival near the close of the year. Through the duration of his reign, it was believed that Baron Aileuneid was an elf; however, he has chosen to reveal himself as a dragon three months after the Flash.

Regent/Assistant Carwen Elms (human)
Sir Elms is the regent of Oak’s Home when the Baron is away on official business; otherwise, he serves as his chief advisor and head of staff. He is an older gentleman with a serious demeanor, his wispy white hair and furrowed brow making him look perpetually harried and unhappy. However, he is devoted to his work and serves the Baron without question. It is known that he wears a Prisoner’s Ring connected to a Jailer’s Ring worn by the Baron — far from the relationship this implies, it actually signifies a bond of great trust and care from both parties.

Recently Sir Elms has established residence within Oak’s Home, making sure the Baron maintains a closer presence within the village in the wake of cultish activity. He has been replaced as the Chief of Staff of the baronial keep.

Sheriff Anthony Hardin (Changed)
Sir Hardin has held the post of sheriff for almost a decade, and for most of that time he’s had to deal with little more than busting up a tavern brawl or determining the particulars of a dispute over cattle. The last several months have been excessively exciting.

He lost all of his deputies to cult activity, and both he and the people he conscripted into replacing them were changed in the Flash. Instead of a reasonably fit middle-aged man, the Sheriff is now a twelve-foot-tall, four-armed monster with goat’s legs, huge curved horns and solid black eyes. Despite his fearsome appearance, he remains the same man he always was; business-like, forever wary, straightforward and stoic. He prefers peace and quiet, and likes to see things in order. Of course, he’s not above using his new magical nature to encourage rowdy townsfolk to make sure things are as quiet as he likes them.

Father Philo Greeves (human)
Father Greeves is the newest addition to the town; he has filled in as priest for the village since Father Seabring has been called to the Church’s headquarters in Splendor a few months ago. The father is a man just entering old age; his body is fit still but beginning to fail, and grey is beginning overtake the brown in his hair. Still, he radiates a quiet, powerful contentment that can put almost anyone at ease. This comes in handy with his new post, as the revelation that the town has recently become the front lines of a secret war against a fallen god has stirred up some uneasiness.

He can often be seen visiting the villagers at their homes with one of his acolytes, Elburt or Tobin. The other acolyte stays at the Church to manage things there, and that autonomy has seen both of them blossom in different ways. Elburn has taken to updating the scrolls and digging into the maps and histories of Oak’s Home, while Tobin has developed a keen interest in the healing arts.

Dame Jenoiella Clearwater (elf)
Dame Jenoiella is an elf whose clan hails from Splendor, one of the few elven families who’ve remained behind in the world of men. She has been a mainstay at Oak’s Home for quite some time and has fashioned herself something of a leader of culture and arts. She has established a Seamstress’ Circle and invested money in many local businesses for a number of years, always hoping to put her personal stamp on the final product. Her relationship with the local tradesmen have diminished somewhat, leaving her free to establish cultural events and assume command of town festivals. She has a reputation as a busybody and a gossip, but most villagers will grudgingly admit that she gets things done and her events are quite memorable.

Recently her family has taken a bump in reputation, with the revelation that her son, Annais Clearwater, and an old family friend, Kenneth Grossman, were both Servants of Sslinosh. However, her nephew and young ward, Allanaea Audalis, has stepped up to prominence with the Baron’s blessing. Like the rest of Oak’s Home, Dame Jenoiella is looking forward to a renewed prosperity.

Allanaea Audalis (Changed)
Allanaea is a recent transplant to the village of Oak’s Home. When he arrived, the villagers understood that he was an elf from Splendor who needed to retire to the country for a strange affliction that would get better with rest. He has been anything but restful — first he was conscripted to become a Sheriff’s Deputy, and had a major hand in discovering and thwarting the Servants of Sslinosh. For his efforts, he has become one of the Changed — a humanoid silver dragon — and been given ownership of the town’s Tavern and Inn.

He has also attempted to bring together a collection of merchants under the Audalis family banner, introducing an audacious plan to offer discounts to services at the Tavern and Inn if certain goods are purchased. He’s also traveled to Splendor to strike alliances with merchants there interested in selling unique goods that come from Oak’s Home.

November 2016

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