Thursday, March 19, 2015

Serial Saturdays I: A Good Day

Each Saturday I’ll be channeling my plot driven railroading urges into actual writing. It’s going to be set in the FfH setting, mostly involving characters of my own creation. Had some fun putting this together. I thought, hey, if this is set in D&D why not use chapter 4 to jumpstart things. For once I wanted to write about a guy who was a working schmuck, so I picked the guild artisan background, and chose his bonds, ideals, and flaws. I thought it’d be fun to write a Book of Job style character. This guy’s life is going to be shit on toast and things are about to get much worse. I’ll be using the Heroic Journey as a reference in building this character’s story. The first couple of installments will be his Call to Adventure: the transformation of his life from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here’s goes nothing.

The woman in white was pinned to a tree, locks of red hair hanging over her left shoulder. It parted at her shoulder where the tail ends of twin crossbow bolts stuck out from porcelain skin. There was pain in her soft blue eyes, desperation even. Yet Isda chose to embrace forgiveness. “Jacque, don’t do this! You can still be saved. It’s not too late!” Isda held his gaze for as long as she could, until Jacque turned away.
Blood covered his face, dripping from sandy blond hair down a leather vest. It was hard to make out how much of it was Jacque’s and how much belonged to everyone else. Cold, grey eyes found the obsidian blade in a clenched fist. Isda thought he looked surprised to find it there, wet with blood. Jacque hadn’t started this life as a killer. She knew he remembered another life. The one that came before. The one where he’d always been a killer. In the depths of that coldness Isda could still see a spark of humanity fighting to come through. She had given him the gift of forgetting, and through that gift he reclaimed a small measure of innocence. But it was fading.
Jacque was both a killer and an innocent. The two sides of himself warred for the meaning of what was in front of him, racing to find a way through the fog of his mind. She couldn’t imagine what he felt, or how he could believe anything that happened today had been real. Isda wondered if believing himself insane might be the only way to cope. Jacque grabbed at his hair, pulling on it as if the pain would give him clarity. After a long moment he let go, and his hands went gently to his sides. The light in his eyes was gone. “Saved? Look at where we are. Nobody get’s saved here. This has no happy ending, only pain.” It wasn’t just Jacque who said it. Those words came from a deeper place, from a past life she wasn’t sure would ever stay in the past again.
Tossing the blade in the air to get a feel for its weight, he decide it’s heft was pleasing. Then flipped it to a reverse grip, blade down. Jacque’s gray eyes went to Uzziel lying at his feet. A look came to him like he wasn’t seeing a man, but something inhuman. Monstrous. On the ground before Jacque, Uzziel was a bloody, beaten mess yet still alive. Raising his arm, Jacque was ready to change that.

Rain beat the ground like it had a score to settle. Its sound forcing its way through the window like a constant pelting of beads against the sorry pavement. Outside it was a dreary day, but inside the little furniture shop on Nock Street, Jacque was sanding down what was to become the seat of a very fine chair until the surface was a buttery smooth maple. The weather may be crummy but he was a having a nice day. Today was his birthday, and he had pleasant things to look forward to - a delicious cake freshly baked by his wife, Tesha, and a family gathering at his humble home. His parents, brother, two sisters, their spouses and little ones were all coming over to celebrate. For Jacque it was a going to be a good day.
A pounding fist shook the door. “Jacque! Open up!” With a well conditioned response to the sound of that gruff voice - it was always tinged with anger, Jacque dropped the sand paper and nearly ran to the door. “Of course, sir. I’m right here.” He flipped the latch and in came a bundle of coats on two soggy boots. Mr. Courter began to peel off his sopping layers and dropped them in a pile by the door. “It’s wretched out there, man. Is the Orville’s dining set finished? That commission will get me back into the black.”
“No, sir. The table is finished, but I’m only half-way through the chair set.”
“Ah, well. I ran into Sir Orville at the market today, and promised him he could pick it up tomorrow. Going to need you to stay late again.”
“But sir, my wife and family are all gathered at my house waiting for me to come home. It is my birthday, and I wouldn’t want to ruin the celebration they put together for my sake.”
“I need this done, Jacque. It can’t wait. I’m sorry to ruin your plans, but business is business. The guild is breathing down my neck for the shop’s back dues.”
“Sir, please. You’ve always made me work hard, but you’ve always been open to reason. Let me make it home for my family’s celebration, and I’ll come back at midnight. The dining set will be finished by noon tomorrow.”
“Oh, Jacque.” With a grand sigh he said, “You’re a good lad. Take the key’s and be off. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thank you sir, you have a heart of gold.” Most would have said this with a sarcastic tone, and a man liker Courter would have heard sarcasm anyway if had come from anyone but Jacque. There wasn’t a mean bone in him. After donning his wool petticoat, scarf, and straw hat, Jacque rushed off home with another, “Thank you, sir!” before entering the downpour.
Immediately the rain was on him, and his straw hat stood no chance against the elements, nor his clothes. Within a minute he was drenched, and needed to hold on to his hat to keep the wind from taking it away. It didn’t phase him in the slightest. The wet and the cold couldn’t take the smile from his face. Today was still a good day.
Jacque hurried down the cobbled streets, as he did everyday after work, skipping the broken cobbles and pits in the road without needing to look down. The streets were desolate. On Nock Street every other shop was already closed. Not a single shuttered window betrayed the glow of a candle or fireplace inside. His friend Darin, whom he shared lunch with most days, would tell him as they sat at his glassware stall that Courter was a penny pinching tyrant. There was no one on Nock Street who liked the man. Though the other merchants and workmen all had a soft spot for Jacque. However, Darin was his only close friend. He was fond of saying, “You know that overbloated cream puff can’t keep you past sun down, right? The Carpenter’s Guild has regulations.” Jacque would just nod and let Darin do his complaining for him.
There really wasn’t much Jacque could do. The shipwright in town didn’t have an opening for another carpenter, and Jacque didn’t have the funds to open his own shop. He did what he had to in order to put food on the table and allow his wife to live the comfortable lifestyle she grew up with. Tesha was the daughter of a well-to-do banker, not quite rich but well off enough to not have to worry about money. Harold Hemsworth was keen to remind Jacque that he’d married up, and Jacque agreed.
It didn’t matter to him how much money she spent. Tesha was worth it. She made them a nice home, and their love had been bliss through the courtship and the wedding. Their first three years of marriage were wonderful as well, but the honeymoon had ended. Things were strained of late. She complained more and more about his long hours. When he was home Tesha was distant, and their conversations short. Jacque wanted to say he didn’t know why she seemed so unhappy, but deep down he knew. After four years of marriage they were still childless, and Jacque feared it to be his own fault. He just didn’t know what else to do. Tonight, however, she would be smiling. Tesha was always at her best when they had company. It would be a good birthday.

On the rooftops not two storeys above Jacque, two figures crouched over the ledge observing him as he strode swiftly in the rain. The pair watched silently in the shadow of taller buildings at the corner of Nock and Crooked Street. They watched until Jacque made his way to the end of Crooked Street and turned down another. A woman’s voice broke the silence, “Destiny here is cruel. It saddens me to see another poor soul walking right into the crucible.” The voice was compassionate, gentle, almost motherly.
The other figure turned to face the first. He spoke in a strong voice. Quiet, but confident. “Control yourself. We are not here to change events, but make use of them.”
“Feeling sorry for him neither weakens my resolve nor hinders my judgement. You may think empathy a weakness, but it is virtue.”
“We have had this discussion before, Isda. I was unswayed. The tears you shed for him do no good.”
“Let us agree that you have your ways, and I have mine.”
“As long as your ways do not get in the way of mine we shall have no quarrel. It is time. Let us move on.”
“After you, Uzziel.”
One moment the pair sat in the shadows. In the next they were gone.

“I say, that boy will be late to his own funeral.” Harold, Jacque’s father-in-law, was sitting at the head of the dining table by the fireplace, and to his left was Tesha’s mother, Mary. They were well into their sixties, and lived on the other side of town. Harold had done well for himself as an accountant at the Mithral Mint, until his vision deteriorated. Mistakes in certain ledgers were happening a little too often and despite assuring the higher ups his vision was fine he was forced into retirement. Yet the decades spent there provided him with a comfortable home, easily able to accommodate the party without the tight quarters of Jacque’s smaller house. Though Howard didn’t bother offering anymore as Jacque assured him that his home was quite large enough. “You’d think after making us travel all this way Jacque would at least be on time. Ooph!” Mary had given Howard a sharp kick in the shins.
“Tesha, dear, ignore him. It’s truly not an inconvenience. It simply means I get to spend more time with my grandchildren. You know, at our age we have nothing but time. Much to everyone’s surprise.” She gave her eldest son Henry a look of displeasure, then took the toddler out of his arms and started bouncing her grandchild on her knee.
“Mother, I only meant to say at a certain age you need to be more careful around the house. With a servant it’d be easier....”
His wife stopped making cooing sounds to the infant in her arms and interrupted Henry, “Clearly your mother doesn’t want one. You need to give it a rest and let her be.”
“Thank you, dear,” said Mary.
Three quick knocks at the door captured everyone’s attention. “Jacque’s home, everyone! Get ready.” Tesha put down the plate of pheasant she was serving at the table. Jacque was late, again, and she couldn’t bear making everyone any later to eat. Tesha ran to the door while untying her apron and throwing it over the empty chair. She grabbed the handle and threw it open. The knocker at the door was met with a chorus of “Happy Birthday!” but it wasn’t Jacque.
“Is this the home of Jacque and Tesha Duquesne?” The knocker was an officer from the local constabulary, and stood in front of a trio of city guards. They stood stiff straight, each dressed in a metal chest piece and a yellow feathered kettle helm. Swords hung at their sides. The feathers were plastered to their metal helmets from the rain beating down on the helms. The dinging sound would have been humorous, if not for the men’s serious faces. The officer himself was unarmored and unarmed, instead wearing a dark coat with silver buttons and a wide brimmed leather hat. “Ma’am?” His thick salt and pepper mustache nearly obscured the officer’s mouth When he spoke the bushy hair came to life looking like it moved of its own accord.
Tesha broke from the stunned trance she entered upon seeing such unexpected visitors. “Yes, I am Tesha Duquesne and this is my home.”
“Very good, ma’am. May we come in?”
“Um...of course. We were just having dinner. Please wipe your boots on the mat.”
The men entered, the officer made a show of wiping his boots while the guards ignored her. “I have a warrant for the arrest of Jacque Duquesne. I do not see him here. Where is he?” The officer’s eyes continued to search the room even as he faced Tesha.
“Probably just late from work. I must not have heard you correctly. I thought I heard you say an arrest warrant.”
“You are not mistaken, ma’am. I am here for Jacque Duquesne.” He turned and gave a nod to the guards. Two went off into other rooms of the house. The last stayed by the officer, his fingers near the handle of his sword. “Does he typically come home after sun down?”
“Like I said, he is late. What is Jacque accused of? He is the most harmless man I’ve ever known.”
“It’s all in the warrant, ma’am.”
He held it out to Tesha, who grabbed it and read through it quickly as she could. When Tesha finished she looked up and asked, “I don’t recognize the name in the signature. Who would want Jacque arrested??!”
“This writ was issued on the authority of the Governor of Innsmouth. It’s all there, ma’am.” The officer of the constabulary pointed out it out in the document. She glanced at it quickly, and then saw something on which Tesha’s eyes froze. She tore the paper in half.
Holding up the pieces she said, “This is what Jacque’s accused of? It’s absurd! I want you out of my house!” Tesha, her eyes watery and head held high, pointed straight to the door. “Get OUT!”
          There was another knock at the door. At least everyone thought it was a knock. The door thudded a second time. This time the wood around the lock splintered and the door kicked open. A man stood in the door frame. His sandy blond hair tangled and wet, but not from the rain. Blood covered his face and dripped down his leather vest. In his left hand was a knife with a six inch blade and a wicked inward-curve. It, too, was wet with blood.

When Jacque got home, thoroughly soaked - the rain hadn’t let up for a single second - he found the door ajar.


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