FREELANCERS #8 - 06/15/23
Aj Atherii. Well met, Freelancers.
Captain Davius Tolvaren here. It pleases me to grace you all with a rare and beautiful tale of triumph. No, I’m not referring to the sorceress, Kelvyra Nath. She was cute until she made a pact with Infernals. Never fool around with devils, children. They cheat more than I do.
Today, I speak of my good friend, Berrit Ross, the Man With The Machine Gun Hand. A beloved figure in our heavily armed fraternity is a freelancer no more. Unlike the bloody fate slated for most of us, Berrit is retiring. Of his own volition, in fact. He’s had his bullet-spewing cybernetics removed, and he returned to peace and tranquillity.
Normally, I’d tut at someone giving up the life, but his story is one to be remembered.
Formerly a ranger on an arboreal world on the edge of Juno’s Heart, reckless corporate interests burned his beloved home to cinders. Woe betide those who stole his peace, for in between freelancer gigs to fund his ventures, Berrit worked tirelessly to make those who dared write him off as collateral damage realize the error in their ways. If you’d like to put a smile on your face, I’d advise you all to search the extranet for reporting on the explosive shootout at Kerrim Tower. The subsequent trial in Nexus courts that dissolved the corporation gives even my blackened heart reason to flutter.
Let this be a lesson to all of you to be mindful. A stray shot may fall on another Berrit Ross. While I would relish more of him in existence, that is a reaper you’d rather avoid.
So, wherever you are, raise a toast to a sibling who made it. Cheers to one who earned their sappy ever after. As my wild, vine-swinging Anathul cousins would say:
The winds of the world, harsh and cold
Grant repose, with stories told
A leaf from the canopy descends on the breeze
Returning home, home to the trees
It sounds so much better in Anathuloch.
Also, if anyone has a lead on what became of Berrit’s gun arm, let me know.
Guiding to Harmony
A silver-furred fawn jaunted through the conifers of the snowy planet of Za’Din. It munched on some plants poking out near the edge of a babbling brook as it rolled through the hills near the base of the mountain. The fawn’s ear flickered as rays of noon light pierced the clouds and reflected off its small aquamarine accented antlers. It heard a voice approaching upstream.
“Old I’Pachu Rahbee, the spirit of sitting rock
He slept alone on his mountain throne and didn’t want to talk
On moonlit nights with stars all bright, the spirits began to sing
But the children didn’t know the song to wake I’Pachu Rahbee.”
Ji’Du, a nine-year-old monk, sang as he crossed a thin branch that stretched across the clear, cold water. The boy was a Vera’Koo Ra’Shasi, a feline-like humanoid similar to a snow leopard. His thick white fur with black and gray spots poked out underneath his brown monk robes. The blue sash he wore around his waist swayed in the breeze alongside his fuzzy tail as he leaped off the branch onto some rocks sticking out of the creek. He alternated between hopping along on his hands and his bare feet before launching himself over to a nearby road.
He yelped and reached out a foot behind him after he landed. His toe claw barely caught a sealed scroll case that slipped out of his backpack. With eyes opened wide in fear of what would happen if he dropped or lost one of the scrolls, Ji’Du carefully replaced it in his pack and proceeded much more carefully down the road.
Humming to himself, he passed people holding their coats tight around them as the early winter air gave them a chill. Unperturbed by the cold, Ji’Du lit up and bounded into the village market.
Seeing someone surrounded by a mountain of assorted junk, the boy smiled and waved. “Awasi! Hello, Auntie Bev.”
An older human woman took a hand off her hot mug and pulled her heavy hood aside. Her leathery skin, marked with weathered tattoos, wrinkled around her eyes as she smiled back.
“Ji’Du. You’re late young man. Get lost chasing the esoni butterflies again?”
The boy turned up his nose as he handed her the backpack. “No! I even took a shortcut this time.”
Bev chuckled. “Not much of a brag if you’re still late.” She frowned after inspecting some of the scroll cases. “Something happen on this shortcut adventure of yours?”
Ji’Du put his hands on his fuzzy cheeks as his jaw hit the floor. “Are you a seer, Auntie Bev? How do you always know?”
“I didn’t know. You just told me.” She smirked and reached over to brush some snow off the boy’s nose. “Relax, it’s fine. I’m just pulling your leg. Wait here while I get the goods.” She groaned and got to her feet with great difficulty.
As she fished around her pile of stuff, Ji’Du hopped on the display table. He stepped around all the items, careful not to touch them, and hovered his hand over each one. He closed his eyes and held still for a few moments every time.
Bev looked over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “Irrsha’s backside. What are you up to?”
Moving on to a bin of knick-knacks, Ji’Du said, “Everything has an energy and a spirit that exists between realms. These things came from all over the galaxy. I’m trying to hear their stories.”
The old woman scoffed. “Now who’s the seer? If you find a spirit of back massages in there, tell them to help your old Auntie Bev out.” Her spine cracked loudly as the Karanorian merchant stretched up to her full impressive height. “I must have your goods in the back somewhere. Man the fort while I’m gone.”
Ji’Du saluted, then flipped onto her seat. He hardened his face to look more serious business and surveyed the market. His eyes went wide as he saw a rare sight on Za’Din.
A small family of elegant humanoids with pointy ears and cobalt-coloured skin sat in a clearing nearby. They spoke in their enchanting, lyrical tongue and laughed as their eyes sparkled like a starry night. Dressed more like they were on summer vacation, the Avanhin, or snow elves, enjoyed innate blessings that made them comfortable in the cold.
Ji’Du's eyes almost bulged out of his head with a similar starry lustre. He’d never seen something so beautiful in his life. The daughter of the elven family beamed with absolute bliss as she ate an ice cream cone.
The boy didn’t flinch when Bev came back and plunked the bag of old batteries and electronic parts on the table. “Finally found this drash. You should tell your teachers that I’m happy to trade you more than this junk. Mages buy those scrolls for a hefty sum.
Especially in this economy… What are you gawking at?”
She leaned in to better see what ensnared his attention. Ji’Du asked, “What… is that?”
“Never seen an Avanhin before? I’m not surprised. They’re more reclusive than even your fuzzy kin. It’s rude to stare, though, boy.” Bev paused, narrowed her eyes, then cleared her throat. “Unless… Look, I know you live in a monastery, and I’m not exactly in my prime, but surely you know what a girl looks like.”
Ji’Du wiped some drool before it escaped his mouth. “No, no. What is she eating? It looks magical.”
Bev guffawed. “You’re so precious, Ji’Du. Some ice cream fell in my lap last season.
Surprising no one, it’s been a devil of an item to sell out here. Lucky for me, those fine blue folks don’t mind eating a cold treat in a freezing place like this. I still got a tub in the back somewhere. It’ll likely go bad before I—”
“I’ll take it!” Ji’Du rifled through the pockets and folds of his robes.
Auntie Bev shook her head. “Come on now. Slow down. I don’t even know if it’s okay for carnivores to eat.”
The monk held out a string of polished wooden beads he wore around his torso. “Here! This has to be worth at least one scoop. The spirits like me. I don’t need a ward.”
Bev crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Listen. My family traded their warrior’s code for a merchant’s badge a long time ago, boy. I take the deals I make very seriously. Ripping off some poor monk kid doesn’t sound like an honourable deal to me.”
Ji’Du straightened, narrowed his eyes and adjusted his robes. “I can respect that, Auntie Bev. Tell you what… on top of the beads, I will prove my worth and retrieve your missing scarf.”
He raised a finger up toward a now icy piece of fabric wrapped around some wires crisscrossing between the nearby buildings three storeys up.
Bev blinked at the boy. “Ji’Du… you’re ridiculous.”
The Ra’Shasi’s pupils narrowed into steely slits as he tucked in his sash. “You underestimate my power.”
Like a flash of lightning, the monk dashed across the market square, weaving through people, stands and other machinery without breaking his stride. A few deft bounds put him on top of a mechanic’s shack. From there, he flipped onto the remnants of an old aircraft.
He ran up the side of its folded wing to reach a two-storey office. The crowd below gasped as he ran along a thin wire ascending between the buildings. With the scarf only a few metres away, Ji’Du leaped for his prize.
The wind shifted just as he swiped, and the cold fabric slipped between his claws. The boy cried out right before crashing into a cart full of potatoes.
Bev sighed and shook her head. “Great effort, Ji’Du. It seems the Trickster’s breath had other plans for you today, little one. Hope you don’t get in too much trouble for losing these beads. Maybe your elders can take me up on my offer and return it to you after you balance on some pillars for a few days.”
She caught the glint of something shiny out of the corner of her eye. Nursing an injured shoulder from the landing, Ji’Du held up a brilliant gem.
The boy did his best to hide the pain. “This is a canny sapphire. A stone blessed with the insight of the sapphire dragon brood millennia ago. My parents gave it to me as a gift after I finished my first round of exams. Dad told me that if I keep up my studies, I can move mountains.
“So, I have one more deal for you. All or nothing. If you do not hear the mountains song, then you can keep the gem. But if you do… I want a whole tub.”
After his dramatic display of spirited acrobatics, the square fell silent. Everyone was invested in this monk boy’s wager.
Feeling their stares on her, Bev furrowed her brow and grumbled. She stared hard at the boy, then nodded. “Fine. On your head be the consequences of this one, boy. Go on. Let’s hear Urtek sing.”
Ji’Du’s steely determination brightened with a big, confident smile. The boy ran a few steps, then stumbled as pain shot up his leg. He limped over to one corner of the square overlooking an immense cliff below.
The monk took a deep breath, then made circular gestures with his hands before shouting, “Ai ya vee huun’tuaa!”
With his voice still echoing around the cold stone, he jogged over to the opposite end, and repeated the gestures and call over that cliff. Ji’Du climbed on top of a statue in the centre of the square and pulled out an ocarina.
Everyone listened with rapt attention as he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then played.
The first line of the verse sounded pleasant and wistful. The second line felt a little off key. The third had missing or incorrect notes.
“No. Wait. That’s not it…”
Ji’Du tried again with some substitutions. The notes still sounded discordant and wrong. Even those whose ears weren’t keen on music winced at the sharpness of the missed notes. The square was so quiet, the mistaken notes seemed to reach around the entire mountain range.
The boy paused a moment and held the instrument to his head. He set his jaw, taking a ten second inhale and exhale to control himself. With his eyes closed, he brought the ocarina close to his mouth, then went through the mental exercises he’d learned to backtrack and remember the song.
As his fingers moved between the holes in the ocarina, his blue sash came loose and flowed in the breeze building behind him. Everyone braced themselves as the wind whipped around the square. The air’s direction matched the correct positioning of his fingers on the instrument.
The Avanhin family heard it first. The parents stood up and held out a hand to quiet the murmurs building around them. With ice cream streaming down her arm, the daughter’s ears perked up. Soon, everyone couldn’t deny the wind sounded like it recited the first line of the verse.
Amid the gale, Ji’Du forced his eyes to stay open. He paid attention to the wind’s direction and listened for the correct notes of the second line.
“Oh, yeah. That’s how it goes!”
He placed the mouthpiece to his lips and played in undeniable harmony with the wind as it blew through the mountains. The stone below their feet lightly rumbled to provide the bass. Bystanders left the warmth of heated buildings to witness the miracle of a natural orchestra. The Avanhin family, more in tune with such musical and spiritual things, held hands as tears of joy streaked from their star-filled eyes.
An hour later, Ji’Du strolled back up the mountain path with a bounce in his step and a grin from ear to ear. He dipped an oversized spoon into the bucket of ice cream he strapped to his chest and raised it to his mouth. Bright eyed with the fur on his face matted with cotton candy ice cream, the boy looked up to the travelling companion he met in the square. They were heading in the same direction, so Ji’Du offered to guide the fellow to the monastery.
The grizzled, one-armed man carrying a small bag of belongings and some newly purchased painting supplies smiled back at the boy. They hummed the tune they just learned as they strode past a babbling brook, into the forest of snow-capped conifers and esoni butterflies.
Hope you enjoyed that!
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Talk to you next month. Have a good one!